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Snake Whisper

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Chapter 1: The Snake

It was a hot day at Privet Drive, Little Whinging. People who didn't need to work were eating ice cream in the shadows of the trees or prepared for visiting the local swimming hall or even one of the lakes nearby.

But one child couldn't enjoy the weather. Fourteen-year-old Harry Potter sat in the garden of the house that was known by the address of "Number four, Privet Drive", the House of the Dursley Family. And he didn't even sit in the sun to tan or anything. He sat in one of the corners that wasn't visible to the neighbours and the street, hiding.

Dudley Dursley, his lovely cousin, was searching for him. And whenever Dudley searched for Harry it meant trouble. Especially since Dudley was big and stupid, a great combination for the bully he was, while Harry was skinny and not exactly a big fighter. At least not in a physical sense. He was quite the duellist, but sadly, he could not show his cousin that part. Not only because his school had forbidden it. But because it involved magic. And if there was anything the Dursleys hated, it was the m-word and anything that seemed even remotely not normal. Like Harry, for example.

Because Harry was a wizard. And not just a normal wizard, but Harry-bloody-Potter, the Boy Who Lived, the wizard that had survived the killing curse while he was still an infant, defeating one of the darkest wizards known to mankind when he couldn't even walk.

So he now went to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry every year, the best - and only - magical school Great Britain had to offer. But still, Dumbledore - the headmaster of said school - insisted on sending him back to that hellhole his relatives called home every single year. And his relatives weren't exactly happy with that, either. He was quite lucky that his godfather - Sirius Black, who was known as a mass murderer even though he had been framed - kept them in check. Before he had broken out of Azkaban, the wizarding prison, Harry had been forced to do all sorts of labor around the household - like cooking, cleaning or gardening - without getting so much as a 'thank you' for his efforts. Especially so since he was still underage and as such wasn't allowed to do magic outside of school. But now, with the threat of a 'crazy mass murderer', they mostly chose to ignore him, pretending that he didn't exist.

Harry liked the calm, but sadly, even though his uncle Vernon and his aunt Petunia ignored him, their son never did the same. Sure, he was frightened as hell if Harry ever drew his wand, but at other times he and his gang did the same as all the years before. A 'nice' little game called 'Harry hunting'.

Hence the reason why he was currently cowering between Petunias prized magnolia bush and the wall of the house. With the few braincells his cousin had he might remember how to walk and punch, but he almost never found any hiding places Harry chose as long as they weren't too obvious.

Anyway, since Dudley and his gang normally searched him for a while before they got bored, he had already made himself comfortable here.

Sighing slightly, he looked at the clear, blue sky above and the birds that flew through his field of vision. What would he give to be one of them. He loved flying on his broomstick at Hogwarts, but said broom was currently in his tiny bedroom upstairs, hidden away and unusable since there were too many muggles - non-magical people - around.

At these times he envied Hedwig a little bit. His snow-white owl was currently delivering a letter to Ron, his best and first friend since year one, and he was sure she had fun flying around, hunting and doing whatever she did when she was away. But he was also pretty sure, that he wouldn't like whatever answer he got. Just like Hermiones letter last week.

Lately, the letters of both of his friends seemed to get less and less informative. They always wrote him that they were not allowed to talk about whatever they did, but he wondered why they mentioned it at all, then? Making him curious and then not telling him anything... that was downright awful, even if they probably didn't mean it that way.

But he got increasingly wary here, having to live with his way too muggle relatives, completely cut off from the wizarding world except for the few letters of his friends and his copy of the Daily Prophet, which was brought every morning by a grey Ministry owl. But the newspaper these days had no news about anything of interest. Namely, Voldemort.

Despite of the heat, Harry shuddered. Nightmares of the resurrection ritual of the Dark Wizard that had tried to kill him when he was a baby still haunted him. It had taken place only a few month ago, but after that, there was nothing. No sudden deaths, no vanishing muggles, no terror. And since there had been no witnesses of that ritual other than Harry and Voldemorts followers, no one except for Dumbledore and his friends even believed in it. They were quite happy with their peaceful life and didn't want anyone to disturb it.

Though it was strange that nothing had happened yet. Was Voldemort gathering his strength? Was he recruiting? The feeling of not knowing anything was driving him crazy! And the fact that his friends left him out of the loop with whatever they were up to didn't cheer him up at all!

A small rustling sound pulled him out of his musings. Confused, he looked for the source of the rustling - fearing for a second, that Dudley had begun poking the bushes - but he let out a relieved sigh as he saw that the noise had been made by a small snake which had just come out of the little hedge that separated the property of the Dursleys from the neighbours.

Wait a second.

A snake? Here, in Little Whinging?

Harry blinked, surprised, at the little animal. It didn't look like your typical garden snake or anything... though he certainly wasn't an expert on reptiles...

He continued staring at the animal. It had black scales, with a dark brown diamond-pattern that seemed to cover it's whole length of about forty inches, and slitted, yellow coloured eyes that were probably normal for a snake.

The snake itself did already seem a bit strange and out of place, but it all started being really weird as the snake began talking.

"So this is Harry Potter..."

Harry stared, baffled, before he remembered that it had to be Parseltongue. Of course, snakes didn't randomly plop out of perfectly muggle hedges and started speaking English! And if he concentrated a bit, he even heard a slight difference.

As he stared, the snake seemed to come to a conclusion and turned back to the hedge, but a hurriedly hissed "Wait!" from Harry stopped it.

"How do you know my name?" he asked curiously, since it wasn't exactly common knowledge among snakes.

Said snake only stared at him, before slowly lifting it's head to look him in the eye. "You are a speaker?"

"Um... yes?"

"Mother did not tell me that. 'Protect Harry Potter' she said. 'The skinny human with black hair and a scar' she said."

Now Harry was frowning. He didn't knew any snakes as the only reptiles he had ever spoken to had been the boa constrictor in the zoo three years ago, which didn't know his name, and the basilisk in the chamber of secrets, which he had killed afterwards. So who was 'Mother'?

He asked the little snake, but it just shook its head.

"Mother said I may not tell anyone of her identity. Not even a speaker, I am sorry. But she seemed very worried about you."

He pondered that for a moment. He did not know said mother, so he should probably be suspicious, but that little snake did seem worried about him and he could not detect any dishonesty. He wondered briefly if animals were able to lie at all, but then dismissed it.

It didn't matter, at least he had someone who seemed to worry for him. His friends seemed too busy with not telling him anything and Hedwig might have been worried, but he couldn't understand her.

And Sirius... he didn't want to burden his godfather with even more problems, being on the run probably led to more than enough things he had to consider.

So in the end, he extended his hand to the snake. "Wanna come inside with me? I can't imagine that you like the heat..."

He didn't know why exactly he had offered. Probably because even a snake was better company than no one.

But in the end, this decision would change his life forever, even if he didn't know that yet, as he took the snake and snuck back to his room...

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: Thoughts and Hunches

After that quite unusual meeting the following days and weeks were even stranger. Sure, still no helpful letters from his friends - though Hermione seemed to have understood that he didn't like being purposefully left out of the loop and had started writing about other stuff - and no news about Voldemort anywhere.

But at least he was beginning to form some sort of friendship with the little snake. Since there wasn't much to do these days he spent a lot of time upstairs inside of his room, where he began to simply talk with his new found companion, so that they could get to know each other.

The snake was a female one and though she couldn't tell him her species she knew that she was quite poisonous and that her mother was a really big snake. She also knew that she had no name - since snakes normally didn't need one - so Harry spent quite a bit of his time reading to find something suitable. And for once he was glad that there was a bookshelf with a few unused muggle books in his room, which had originally been Dudleys room for broken toys.

In the end they decided on 'Shiva', a name he had found in an old book about different religions. He had no idea why the hell the Dursleys had something like this but at least he knew why it stood here, unused, instead of in the living room, where his relatives tended to place everything of value to impress their visitors.

Anyway, since he had a surprising amount of free-time, Shiva convinced him to do some reading and start his schoolwork early. Normally he tended to forget about it during the summer, having to rush through everything the last few days before school started again, but the snake was quite insistent that he could work now as he was bored anyway.

She seemed to have an unusual amount of knowledge about human stuff too, like which of his schoolbooks he should consult if he didn't understand something. It was really quite easy to forget that she was just a snake.

What surprised him even more was the fact that, after a few hours of moaning about it, he found his schoolwork actually not very hard at all and kind of interesting, if he took his time instead of hurrying through it like he had done all the years before.

Since Ron had been his first friend he had always tried to be like him, he had been his role model. But now, without the redhead to distract him with games or talks of Quidditch, he found the wonders of magic so much more appealing! Sure, he was only able to do theoretical work, since he was still underage, but before, he had seen schoolwork as a burden. Right now it seemed more like a chance. Not only helped it ceasing his boredom and took his mind off of Voldemort and whatever he was doing right now, he also began to understand some of the theory behind his classes, like Charms or Transfiguration. When once he had struggled with the spellwork itself, memorising the theory only for the exams and forgetting about it soon afterwards, he now understood what McGonagall and Flitwick had tried to teach them. It was quite strange, but at the same time he felt like he had finally accomplished something on his own. No one had been telling him that he had to learn that - well, except for Shiva, maybe, but she was mostly suggesting things, not ordering him around - or talked about it being great until Harry himself had believed it.

No, it was his own little achievement and he would keep it to himself for now. Let his so called best friends be surprised that even at his personal hellhole and without their help he could achieve something.

 

Many more days came and went as he concentrated on studying, wanting to prove himself. Including his birthday. He had almost forgotten, since there were so many books to read - starting with his first year books, he had been such a lazy student! - but as he heard the owls he remembered.

He was still a bit miffed about his best friends, even though their letters were friendly and Hermione even hinted that they might meet up soon, but he hid their boxes of Honeydukes chocolate under the floor just like last summer anyway, since he knew Dudley - and with him, everyone else in this household - was still on his so called diet.

He knew that if he hadn't been able to vent his frustration while studying, or sometimes even voicing them to Shiva, he probably would have been really angry at them by now, but... that way, he was only frustrated, remembering the last time they left, at the beginning of last years triwizard tournament. Of course, he had forgiven Ron his ignorance long ago, but if they continued like that... he wasn't sure. But for now, he put that thought out of his head and went through the other letters he got.

One was from Hagrid - Harry recognised his messy scrawl before he even read the card - and had a box full of rock cakes attached to it. He put them aside, knowing he'd not eat a single one of them, but cherishing the thought.

Another one was from Sirius and was delivered together with a small cake that was self-made if he could believe his godfather and quite good if he could believe his taste buds. He had also gotten a copy of Kennilworthy Whisps He Flew Like a Madman, which was a biography of some known Quidditch player called Dai Llewellyn. Harry decided he'd add it to his mental list of books he wanted to read before the end of the holidays.

The last letter was the most confusing though. He didn't recognise the bird, which was a dark brown eagle owl that flew off the second he took it's letter, and the writing was only vaguely familiar.

Harry,
Happy Birthday.
Take care.

No signature or anything. Frowning confused, he stroke Shivas head, since she rested next to him right now, lying comfortably on his bed. Was that some kind of warning? But who had sent it? He knew that Dumbledore liked to leave his messages unsigned, but that didn't seem likely here, he was pretty sure the handwriting of his headmaster looked different.

Actually, he kind of hoped that this wasn't Dumbledores doing, because the man should know all too well that he was not having a happy birthday being cooped up at his relatives home while his friends were doing whatever... wherever!

He sighed slightly, before writing clipped thank you notes for Ron and Hermione and slightly longer ones for Hagrid and Sirius.

After all of the owls were finally out again, he continued reading, while carefully trying to simultaneously eat some more of Sirius' cake. It may not have been his best birthday, but it also wasn't the worst by far.

 

He continued his little reading marathon for another day and a half, before he finally decided that he needed to get out again. Sure, he went out every few days to let Shiva hunt for food, but most of that time was spent waiting near the Dursleys front garden since the snake was quite fast. Which actually was great, because he really didn't want to imagine what his aunt would say if she knew that he kept a living snake near her 'ickle Diddykins'.

But that wasn't important right now. Shiva was hidden beneath his clothes - for once he was glad that he had to wear Dudleys old clothes where three Harrys would've fitted in fine - and he began walking aimlessly around, away from Privet Drive, across Magnolia Crescent and down Magnolia Road. He had no destination in mind, but he didn't care very much. It was only evening, more than enough time for a little walk.

After a while he arrived at a small park where he made a beeline for the nearest bench and plopped down on it. Almost instantly Shiva wriggled out of his shirt and placed herself next to him, on the warm wood of the bench. It had cooled down now compared to the midday heat, but it was still pretty warm outside. Warm enough that the snake hissed contently the second she stopped moving.

 

For a while, no one said anything. Harry found that he actually liked the peace out here, where the only noise came from the wind that blew through the nearby trees. He had no idea why no one else seemed to think that this park was a great place to be at this time of the day, but he didn't care all that much. At least he wasn't stared at and called freak behind his back, as most of Little Whinging seemed to think he was some kind of insane brute who went to St Brutus's Secure Centre for Incurably Criminal Boys.

He guessed that the Dursleys were the ones that started spreading this rumour, for them it probably seemed to be the better alternative to anyone finding out that Harry actually went to a magical school.

Oh well, twenty-nine days and he'd sit in the Hogwarts Express again. He'd live.

A few more minutes came and went in silence, before Shiva started speaking up for the first time since they had left the house.

"Say, master..." she began and Harry grimaced slightly at the display of her newest nickname. He had tried to get her to call him Harry, but she never did. At first it had been 'speaker' and now she had begun with that 'master' thing... "Why do you still trust that Dumbledore man?"

"Huh?" He blinked, confused. Where had that come from? Sure, after the initial distrust and quite a few times where he had followed her while she went hunting - to make sure she really wasn't spying on him and using her need for food as an excuse to report back - he had begun telling her bits and pieces from his life, about his adventures while at Hogwarts and the people he had met. It was mostly for himself, to get some of his worries off his chest, but she always listened patiently. He just hadn't expected her to comment on it.

"Well... after all you told me, he does not seem like a trustworthy man."

Harry frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I have been thinking... you said this Voldemort human lived at the back of a teachers head in your first year?" He nodded. "How could no one notice that? And the chamber of secrets? You said it had been opened before, fifty years ago. And Dumbledore had still no clue at all how to find it? And don't get me started on that Tournament thing. I cannot believe they let you participate even though you were still a fledgling!" She was getting quite irate now, seeing that her hisses got more and more aggressive.

Stroking her scaly body, he tried to calm her down, even though he was not only surprised at her way of expressing what had happened - he had never thought of it that way - but also touched that she seemed to get angry on his behalf.

"But Dumbledore wants to protect me," he tried convincing her half-heartedly. Honestly? He was still quite angry with his headmaster himself, seeing that there seemed to be no problem in getting Ron and Hermione to spend their holidays together but he was still... well, here.

"I do not think that sending you back to your relatives is a suitable form of protection. It might be safe against the Dark, but you told me Hogwarts is the safest building, so why aren't you allowed to stay there? I have seen the humans you stay with. They reek of disgust when you are near."

His eyes widened. She was right! Everyone always told him that Hogwarts was the safest place in the world, but he still wasn't allowed to stay, even if the darkest wizard alive seemed to be after him...

He sat very still for a while, mulling over the conversation. If he looked at the situation this way what did that mean for the headmasters motives? Why keep him miserable when there were other, safer possibilities?

 

He was pulled out of his musings as Shivas head shot up.

"What's wrong?" he asked, worried about the sudden movement.

"I sense something... we need to go!" Without losing a second, she slipped back under his top while he stood up, slightly confused. "Uh... what? Why?"

"I'll tell you later, now go!"

Still confused, but also on alert, he hurried back to his relatives house. And he was quite glad that he did. The second he turned into Privet Drive he felt something too. He couldn't really place it, but it seemed dangerous... and the fact that the night suddenly became a whole lot darker and colder didn't make it better.

He walked even faster, almost running the last feet to number four, but the second he stepped into the house, everything stopped. The presence vanished completely, leaving him warm again as if nothing had ever happened. But as he turned around he could still see the unnatural darkness.

What the hell was going on...?

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: Worries

In the end, Harry opted to observe the unnatural darkness from a distance. He knew that there were some protections in place, something about the sacrifice of his mother, so he guessed that he would be safe inside the house.

That didn't mean that he wasn't curious though, so he sat next to his window, looking out at the way too dark street, wand in hand, Shiva on his shoulders.

"What is that stuff?" he wondered aloud, while observing that the darkness seemed to blur at the ends. Behind it, the normal night seemed bright if compared to the mist.

"I do not know. But it smells of fear."

Harry frowned as an idea formed inside of his head... but it couldn't be right. That simply wasn't possible... was it? But then, he saw evidence that prove his theory.

He saw black cloaks.

Sure, in the wizarding world black cloaks weren't exactly uncommon, as almost every wizard wore robes and black was the most common colour, but... down there were no wizards.

There were Dementors.

His eyes widened and he heard Shiva hissing sharply as she saw them too. Dementors? In Little Whinging? How was that possible, he was sure these creatures stood under the control of the Ministry...! And surely no Ministry member would-

He stopped, suddenly remembering something. He still received the Daily Prophet every morning and while he once had only looked at the headlines for news of Voldemort, he had started reading the newspaper more precisely lately, after a suggestion of Shiva. After all it was his only source on what was going on in the wizarding world as long as he had to stay here.

And while most of the stuff was rubbish he remembered reading several small comments about himself, being the laughingstock of the nation once more. Because he told them the truth.

But of course, people were like that. It didn't matter how often he saved their behinds, they'd always turn against him if he said or did something they didn't like. They were just as bad as the Hogwarts students...

Anyway, right now a lot of people hated him, so... maybe it wasn't all that strange for Dementors to appear here?

He watched as they glided up and down the street, before taking the path down Magnolia Crescent. Dammit, he had never been so glad to take up advice from a snake. Though he knew by now that Shiva was no ordinary snake.

 

After the Dementors were gone for a few minutes, he relaxed a bit and went to get one of his books. He didn't trust the silence enough to go back to normal just yet, but he could just as well read while occasionally watching the now empty streets.

He had about fifteen minutes of peace before something happened again. He noticed movements from the corner of his eye and as he looked up, he saw an owl flying hurriedly in his direction. Confused, he opened his window and the bird bolted inside, before almost collapsing on his floor, an action that made Hedwig - who, for once, sat happily in her cage, dozing - give off a disgruntled hoot.

He carefully took the letter from the exhausted animal and began to read.

Harry,
Please tell me you're alright!
I overheard something about Dementors in Little Whinging, was that true? Did you meet them?
Whatever you do, stay inside, don't leave the house!
Sirius

He frowned. News certainly travelled fast. He had no idea where his godfather was - though he had a feeling it had something to do with wherever Ron and Hermione stayed, seeing that Sirius' letters weren't all that informative either - but how that place had gotten the news so quickly... it was beyond him.

He was the only wizard in Little Whinging after all... wasn't he?

Stopping that train of thought, he managed to write a short answer note, telling Sirius that he was fine and wouldn't go outside. He then let the owl recover a little bit longer before sending it off again. For a second he had wondered if he should ask how the hell the story had gotten to whomever his godfather had overheard, but seeing that news were so rare these days he probably wouldn't have gotten an answer anyway.

He went back to his book instead - Intermediate Transfiguration, he was slowly catching up - and got quite absorbed in it again, forgetting the time and everything around him for a while, before he heard another owl. Guessing that it had to be one of his friends, or maybe even Sirius again, he let it in without taking his eyes off the book, since he was at a quite interesting part right now.

Only an impatient hoot brought him out of his little trance and he looked up in surprise as he recognised the bird being the eagle owl from his birthday. He took it's letter and it set off once again without giving him a chance to read the parchment first, much less writing a reply.

Harry,
Do not worry, the person who sent the Dementors will not bother you again.

News did travel fast, then... he wondered if this mysterious writer was with Sirius, though on the other hand, if Sirius was still worried they might not have the same source of information...

He shook his head. It probably wouldn't do to keep wondering, he'd figure it out sooner or later. For now he should better concentrate, Transfiguration was a complicated subject and he wasn't able to test any of the theoretical knowledge...

 

What followed were another two weeks of waiting. The only news he got were about Mrs. Figg - an old lady that had always been his babysitter when the Dursleys went somewhere before he got to Hogwarts - who had been found lying on one of the streets between her house and Privet Drive the day he had seen the Dementors. The muggles had hurried to place her into a hospital, saying she seemed to be in some kind of coma, but Harry had a distinct feeling that she wouldn't wake up ever again, as her body couldn't work without a soul...

He actually nicked a candle from his relatives to mourn for a few minutes, knowing in his gut that the arrival of the Dementors had somehow been his fault.

On a happier note - more or less - Sirius wrote another letter, in which he said something about someone being uncharacteristically stubborn about insisting that Harry stayed with his relatives as long as possible and that he was working on it, but after that, no other letter made his way to Harry.

It annoyed him quite a bit but Shiva always managed to calm him down, suggesting other things Harry might want to read. At least he had had more than enough time to finish all the books on his list. He had even read Hogwarts: A History now (Hermione would be proud!), after which he had moved on to some other books he found in his trunk, that weren't terribly interesting but also not too boring. He really needed to pay Flourish & Blotts a visit... if the book list for school would arrive in time and he wasn't left here to rot of course.

 

But then, one evening - the Dursleys were gone to some kind of Lawn Competition - Shiva noted that she smelled people. Harry closed the book he had just been reading and drew his wand, asking her what kind of people she smelled. It couldn't have been the Dursleys, since their departure had not been too long ago, but he had no idea who else to expect.

"I... I smell wolf... and dog. But they are humans," she said, after a short, startled silence and Harry smiled. There was only one duo that matched this description.

Wand still in hand - no need to get careless now - and Shiva once more under his shirt he made his way downstairs. And as he got closer to the living room, he began to hear voices.

"Look at all this stuff! Who needs so many photos of some fat kid?"

"Sirius, hush! We don't want to seem like burglars!"

"Come on Moony, nothing a small Obliviate wouldn't cure."

Harrys smile broadened as he stepped into the room, watching as his godfather looked at the different photos of Dudley with disgust, while Remus Lupin - his Defence against the Dark Arts teacher in his third year - observed Sirius with mild interest. Both actually looked better than the last time he had seen them, but that probably didn't mean much, since they had both been in bad shape then.

"Don't curse the neighbours, please."

As both men whirled around he couldn't help but chuckle slightly. Not only at the situation, but he also remembered that these words had probably been the first English ones he had used since he had met Shiva a month ago.

"Harry!" His godfather grinned and wanted to walk to him, but Lupin held him back.

"Please, Sirius, remember what Mad-Eye said."

"Yes, yes... then hurry up!"

Harry had watched this little exchange of words slightly confused. Mad-Eye? As in, Mad-Eye Moody? The man he had thought his teacher last year until he had found out that it had actually been Barty Crouch Junior, a Death Eater who had disguised himself as the auror?

Lupin nodded shortly and looked at Harry. "What form does your Patronus take?"

He frowned. "A stag."

The werewolf nodded and his features softened, before he looked at Sirius again. "That's him."

And suddenly Harry found himself in a big hug that made Shiva almost lose her grip on him.

"Dang, I've missed you, pup!"

And he felt what was probably the biggest grin since forever on his face. "I've missed you too."

They stayed like this for a few more moments, before Lupin cleared his throat and Sirius let him go.

Harry nodded in greetings to the other man. "Professor Lupin."

Lupin smiled. "Please Harry, the days I taught you are long over. Call me Remus."

Harry nodded again, smiling himself, before he got serious again, deciding to get to the point of that surprising visit.

"So... I'm finally allowed to leave, then?" He raised an eyebrow as he got two short nods. "Great... about time."

"Sorry pup, I would've gotten you out of here earlier but, you know... wasn't allowed to and everything," Sirius grumbled before rolling his eyes and muttering something about old men and their sense of safety.

"Anyway, how about we get you packed?" Remus interjected the other mans mumbling. "Thankfully, we were able to convince Mad-Eye that Side-Along Apparition would be much safer for you than flying on brooms. Though not nearly as fun, I fear. But this way, Sirius was able to come."

Harry frowned. "Where are you staying anyway? I didn't know that you were living somewhere together?" he asked confused, but Remus shushed him.

"We will tell you once we've arrived at our destination. Sorry, but these are the safety measures we had to agree on before we were allowed to get you," he explained, though looking not too excited about it himself.

He probably didn't want to know who had set these safety measures...

 

A few minutes later all of them stood just outside of the house, next to Harrys trunk that was packed and closed now. Hedwigs cage was empty, since she was out hunting again, but she always knew where to find him so he wasn't too worried.

Instead, he watched as Sirius took the trunk and Remus the cage, before the former extended an arm to his godson.

"Hold on tight, you hear? We don't want you to fall off early or anything."

Harry nodded and did as he was told, wondering how apparition would feel.

The next thing he felt was Sirius turning on the spot and then he knew exactly how apparition felt.

One word? Awful. It was as if he had been compressed and sent through some kind of black tunnel way too small for him, before coming out and taking on his normal shape again.

He gasped for breath as the sensation was over and heard Sirius chuckle next to him.

"Don't worry, you'll get used to it," he said after a while, still holding Harrys arm - thankfully, he didn't knew if his legs would've supported him completely.

"That is one of the worst things you humans ever came up with!"

He blinked at the hissed words, before his eyes widened as Shiva stuck her head out of his shirt. How could he forget his not so little snake friend?

"Yeah, you're probably right..." he answered, shuddering slightly at the memory, before looking up and seeing the surprised glances of the two older wizards.

"Harry?" Sirius asked frowning, before shaking his head in a 'I should have known' way. "Trust you to acquire a pet snake while staying a month with your horrible relatives. Because anything else was too boring, huh?"

Today just seemed full of surprises.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: Dumbledores Fanclub

There was another surprise waiting for Harry.

After recovering from the shock that a Gryffindor student had actually a pet snake, Remus gave him some strange piece of parchment where only the address of some 'Order of the Phoenix' was written on, telling him to think about it. Confused, he looked up, just in time to see buildings with numbers eleven and thirteen move sideways to reveal a number twelve. 'Grimmauld Place Number Twelve' if he was guessing correctly.

Sirius grimaced as Harrys eyes widened, indicating that he could see the house now, too.

"Welcome to my humble home..." he muttered, not looking very enthusiastic. "Be sure to stay quiet in the entrance hall, I'll explain the rest once we're inside."

Harry nodded slowly, before crossing the street to get to the house - Remus going first, Sirius last - already wondering about the 'home' part his godfather just mentioned.

The entrance hall was quiet and dark and gave him the chills, even after one of the men turned on the lights with a flick of his wand. Even Shiva hissed something under her breath, but it was too quiet for him to hear, he just felt her vanishing back under his shirt.

Which turned out to be almost perfect timing, as a nearby door opened only seconds later, revealing a smiling Molly Weasley.

 

A rather... enthusiastic greeting was followed by a wonderful dinner, courtesy of Mrs. Weasley, though Harry ate only with Sirius and Remus, since it was quite late and the others had already finished and went off to somewhere else.

But he was fine with it, at least he finally understood some things about who 'the others' where and what was going on.

It turned out that this house belonged to the Black family and since Sirius was their only heir, it was now all his, even though he had never really liked his family and had always tried to be the complete opposite of them. Also, the house had been empty for about ten years, except for Kreacher - who was a slightly barmy house elf - and a portrait of Sirius' mother that screamed insults at everyone she deemed unworthy.

So the main job of everyone living here was cleaning everything, with the house elf stealing the darker artefacts to hide them. Great.

Additionally, this house was headquarters to that 'Order of the Phoenix', a defensive organisation Dumbledore had put up against Voldemort, which was adults only, Mrs. Weasley had explained, as Fred and George seemingly wanted to help but weren't allowed to since they were still students.

Not that Harry would've wanted to join. In the last few weeks he came to terms with himself a little bit better and had decided for a few things.

He would continue studying, learning more about magic itself and expanding his repertoire of useful spells.

He would not try to fight Voldemort himself. Sure, he didn't want to put others into dangers just because of him, but they were all adults, as Mrs. Weasley had explained just now. They should be able to make their own decisions, right? Also, the way he was now he was sure he had no chance at all against the dark wizard, so why should he try to get himself killed?

And of course, he would not follow Dumbledores orders blindly any longer. That man was brilliant, yes, but after that talk with Shiva so many days ago, he began doubting that his headmaster did everything he did out of goodwill. And he refused to let himself be used by anyone!

But for now, he'd wait and observe. See if his theories were proven to be correct or not. He had been forced to learn being quite patient over the last month, waiting for any useful letter to arrive, so he could just as well put that skill into use.

Back to the three adults in the kitchen. Except for that titbit of information about the order he only gathered that Voldemort seemed to lay low as of now, since there had been no surprising deaths of anyone as far as anyone knew.

Oh, and - on a side note - he got that the whole Weasley family was living here for now, just like Hermione, helping with the cleaning. Which actually almost acted like the cue to go upstairs and meet them.

He wasn't all too happy about it, but Sirius told him he'd give him a tour through the house afterwards, he just needed to finish something else first.

So Harry had just shrugged and went upstairs, following the directions of Mrs. Weasley until he stood at the second floor in front of the first door on the right.

Mentally bracing himself, he turned the knob - ironically it was formed just like a snake - and opened the door before stepping into the room.

He now had about two seconds - in which he took a look around the poorly furnished room that seemed quite dark and only had two not very comfortable looking beds - before he heard a slight squeal and found his vision full off... hair.

"Harry!" Hermione half-screamed, hugging him tightly, though thankfully with her arms above the area where Shiva rested. He really didn't want to explain his snake again today. "You're here! We were so happy that Dumbledore finally allowed someone to get you! All that time I feared that he wouldn't and I'm so sorry that I couldn't write you anything useful. I know it must've sucked to be so uninformed but we couldn't get any important information passed on to you, even though we tried and-"

"Hermione, breathe," said Ron as he walked to stand next to her. "Let the poor guy arrive properly first." He then looked to Harry, grinning. "Great to have you here, mate."

Hermione pulled him inside and closed the door, before finally letting him go. Now it was his turn to look at both of his friends, while still thinking about what Hermione said.

"What do yo mean you couldn't get any information passed on to me? I sent Hedwig straight to you, where was the problem in sneaking something to me?"

Hermione fidgeted, clearly not sure if she should tell him, but Ron beat her to it anyway.

"It was Dumbledores idea of safety measures," he grumbled, not looking all too happy about it. "He has this weird protection charm placed around the house, disabling owls with letters to fly out of it. Only he himself, Moody, Kingsley - who is an auror by the way - and Mum can lift it temporarily. And he didn't want us to tell you anything, Moody is the most paranoid man I've ever seen anyway and Kingsley and Mum trust Dumbledores safety measures completely. They scanned our letters for order information first."

Harry raised his eyebrows. "Why does Dumbledore think I need to be kept in the dark? Of course, letters can be intercepted, but there are enough safety measures one can take so that I'd get at least informed enough to not feel as out of the loop as I do now."

"I don't know," Hermione confessed and Ron shrugged.

"That's Dumbledore for you. The man is just full of secrets..."

Harry snorted. "That he is. Manipulative old bastard."

Hermiones eyes went wide. "Harry! Don't talk like that about our headmaster!"

But Harry didn't feel inclined to listen to her.

"Well, I'm sorry to be angry at the one person that could make my life less miserable by various means but isn't doing a thing to help me! And don't try telling me he just wants to keep me safe!" he snarled as Hermione opened her mouth, probably to say just that. She shut it again and he continued. "Honestly, he keeps telling me I should go back to the Dursleys because I'm protected there. But if I hadn't been inside as the Dementors showed up, what do you think would have happened? After all, I'm not allowed to perform magic outside of school, especially not near muggles. I don't think the Ministry would have been very happy. Or even believe me that there were bloody Dementors roaming the streets of a muggle village so far from Azkaban."

By now, both of his friends looked at him pretty stunned, but didn't argue. Probably because what he said was true, the Ministry really wouldn't believe him. After all, right now he only was "The Boy who lied a lot" to the readers of the Daily Prophet.

But he still went on, explaining to them what Shiva had explained to him, how many inconsistencies surrounded the headmaster and his actions concerning Harry and his safety.

He didn't know why he was telling them as he really didn't want Dumbledore to know what he thought, but he guessed that he probably just wanted them to understand. They were his friends after all.

 

He actually needed quite a while to get them to understand what he was suggesting. He didn't hate Dumbledore or anything, he was just... wary now that he looked at some things differently. He didn't want to assume that the man had manipulated him all these years to actually confront Voldemort, but he had no other explanation which made him feel sick and even more inclined to mistrust his headmaster.

He also made them swear not to tell anyone about all this, especially Hermione, since she sometimes seemed under the impression that it was alright to tell other peoples secrets if she thought it would help them. And it wouldn't, not this time.

After that, the conversation went to more pleasant things, like a few funny situations that happened while cleaning the house or the newest pranks Fred and George had pulled. It actually wasn't all that bad and after a while they were even joined by Ginny and the twins, who had gotten bored and had decided to visit Ron and Hermione, not expecting Harry to be with them. Not that it was a bad thing. Only... interesting, just like the fact that the twins where quite happy with their new apparition license and that they were of age now and could perform magic everywhere.

It ended up being quite a nice time and they were all laughing about some joke of the twins as Sirius came up, knocking at the door before taking Harry on a tour through the house, which turned out to be pretty interesting, too.

The Black house was - of course - bigger than it had looked form the outside, with many rooms. Most of them were bedrooms - or at least used as bedrooms right now - and accommodated the whole Weasley family, Hermione, Sirius and Remus. The rest of the order tended to visit, but never stayed long.

Other rooms were the kitchen, quite a few bathrooms, a drawing room and they even had a gallery of ancestral portraits of various Black family members. Sirius didn't seem very enthusiastic to visit it. He did show Harry a tapestry with the Black family tree though.

It was quite fascinating to see how many pureblood families actually were related to each other and that Sirius was some distant cousin to the Malfoys, the Longbottoms and even the Weasleys and the Potters!

"That happens if pureblood parents want their children to only marry other purebloods," Sirius had grumbled, seemingly not very happy about having to look at his family tree. He had told Harry before that he had run away with sixteen, which resulted in him being blasted of said tree just like many other family members that didn't fit into the standards. Though the 'standards' were quite... unusual in Harrys opinion, if people like Araminta Meliflua stayed, who tried to make hunting Muggles legal.

His godfather shook his head, staring out of one of the misty windows that didn't really help chasing the darkness of the house away.

"I hate being coped up here, you know?" he mumbled, quiet enough so that his voice wasn't heard through the closed door of the drawing room.

Harry frowned. "Coped up?"

"Well... most of the world is still seeing me as some kind of mass murderer, the wizarding part believing I'm a Death Eater par excellence, right? And this house... well, I guess it's one of the safest places in Britain right now, Orion Black - my father - was quite insistent on that back when he was still alive. He put up all the safety measurements he could - which were probably all that existed, he was quite good with his spellwork - and Dumbledore added even more protections, like the Fidelius charm," Sirius explained grimly. "So he told me to stay put, since it was the only safe place for me as Voldemort probably knows my animagus form by now."

And there was Dumbledore again, meddling in the lives of other people...!

Harry sighed frustrated. "And you never once thought about just ignoring these orders and going on a walk or anything? Even if Voldemort knows your animagus form, why should he come after you? Just because you're on the light side? Also, you're a grown man, you shouldn't have to listen to anyone. Honestly, it's almost like some kind of fanclub, why does everyone believes whatever Dumbledore wants? You're adults, you can decide for yourself!"

Sirius stared at him, surprise showing on his face. "Since when are you that critical pup? Though... I never looked at it this way before... I've always taken Dumbledores word for it, especially so since Molly always backs him up and you know how she can be. You won't believe how long Remus and I had to work until we finally got them convinced that it was a stupid idea to let you fly all the way here if Side-Along-Apparition was not only faster but also safer as it can't be tracked..." He sighed. "Though I wouldn't even know what to do outside, it's not as if I can go anywhere without being recognised."

Harry raised an eyebrow. "I really don't think this involuntary stay has done you good. Where is the problem in throwing up a few glamour charms and blending into the crowd? Sure, it wouldn't be safe to do that among wizards - and I would advise you to not do that, I do like you alive and well! - but muggles won't notice a thing. And even if it's only for a few hours... it would do you good, I'm sure of it."

Sirius groaned. "Why didn't I think of that before? But dammit, pup, since when do you know about glamours? I thought that would be more Hermiones cup of tea."

"Well, excuse me, I was bored this summer! The only remotely interesting things were my schoolbooks," Harry grumbled, but didn't take it as an insult. It was strange for him, he couldn't blame anyone for being surprised.

His godfather chuckled. "Ah well, so you've developed a liking for books, can't blame you. Guess it's been the same for me. Sure, the cleaning is well and good sometimes, but I think Molly's overreacting a bit. As long as the rooms we're using are clean, everything's good, right? But she wants the whole house cleaned up. So when I'm feeling fed up with it I'm using the family library for a good read."

He smirked as Harrys eyes went wide. "Yes, there is a library in the house," he answered the unspoken question. "Sure, there are quite a few dark books inside, can't help that with a family like mine, but I've also found some real treasures, which are almost unique since most other copies have been destroyed. And the best thing is probably that it's hidden. The only ones who know about it right now, except for me, are Remus, Hermione and now you. Oh, and Kreacher of course, it has been Regulus' favourite room so that little bugger knows the location. At least he has kept it surprisingly clean, unlike the rest of the house."

"Ah, about Kreacher..." Harry started, having remembered something he had wanted to tell his godfather the second he had seen the house elf muttering under his breath for the first time. "I know he probably reminds you of your family, but I'd suggest that you at least try to be slightly nicer to him. I've only heard you talk about him badly, but really, maybe being nice helps. Just a suggestion."

Sirius frowned and Harry shrugged. He didn't think that he man would do that overnight, but maybe he'd think about it.

"Soo... what about that library?" he asked, changing the subject and smiling at Sirius' relieved look.

"Come on, I'll show you."

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: Old and New

He snapped his eyes open as he heard the sound of a bell ringing.

"Finally..." he whispered under his breath, before reaching for his wand and vanishing the bell with a flick. He then slowly stood and climbed out of the big tub he had sat in for the last hours. The water had an unnatural white colouring but he only glanced at it shortly before conjuring a black robe for himself.

"Libby!" he called, waiting for the faint plop to announce the house elfs arrival before continuing. "Bring Lucius to the parlour and tell him to wait!"

"Of course master, Libby will do as ordered."

With that, the creature vanished again and he waved his wand once more to conjure a mirror that was big enough to fully look at himself.

Clad in his dark robes stood a man, tall and handsome, with pale skin. He had jet black hair that looked fairly normal, strongly contrasting his dark red eyes which were everything but normal.

But if one ignored these eyes, he looked like a perfect copy of a Tom Marvolo Riddle in his twenties.

"So it has worked," he said quietly, smirking.

He let the mirror vanish again before he left the bathroom, making his way through a narrow hallway. Passing a few nondescript doors he finally opened one that led into a small room with large windows at the opposite wall. Only the pale light of the moon shimmered through the glass, the rest of the light in the room came from a small chandelier at the ceiling.

A man with long, pale blond hair stared at him, wide-eyed, before hurriedly kneeling as he snapped out of his little trance.

"My... My Lord...! So I take the ritual has been a success?" the man muttered subserviently.

"Of course it has! Now rise and tell me of our newest plan. Do they suspect anything?" he asked, coming straight to the point. "We need to be absolutely sure, I do not want a massacre at the Ministry!"

"Everything goes just as you have predicted, my Lord. No one is aware of our actions and no one will be killed. We will be done before anyone notices."

He nodded. "Very well. Now, to my newest... pet project, I was thinking-"

 

"Harry? What are you doing here?"

Harry groaned sleepily and sat up, rubbing his eyes before opening them.

"Hermione...?" he mumbled, confused. The girl stood before him, looking slightly worried and he wondered why, until he remembered where he was.

After Sirius had shown him the library, he had began to browse the shelves almost immediately, looking for some interesting books. He really had evolved into some bookworm over the summer, but oh well, he actually liked it better that way.

He had then brought his selection of interesting books to one of the tables that had been placed at one side of the room and began to immerse himself in his readings, while Shiva had come out of his shirt, resting on his shoulders instead, the way she always did while he was reading. He wondered sometimes if she was able to read, but she never commented on it and he never asked.

Anyway, because there had been so much to read he must have eventually fallen asleep here.

And really, as he looked down he could still see the copy of What's a mudblood? Studies of Blood and Magic by Asterion Black he had been reading. Which was a truly mind-blowing book, even though the title suggested strong pureblood prejudices.

Thankfully he didn't drool in his sleep.

But to get back to his friend who still looked confused as to why he was here...

"I guess I've been more tired than I thought, I dozed off while reading. Wasn't that obvious?" he mumbled, shrugging, before he suddenly remembered something. He had dreamed! And not about anything, it had been some kind of vision!

His eyes widened as he tried to remember the specifics. He had seen everything from Voldemorts point of view and... He frowned. If he remembered correctly, the mirror had depicted a person that looked more like the Tom Riddle he had encountered in the chamber of secrets two years ago than like the snake-like man he had met at the Graveyard in June... had Voldemort really performed a ritual to get his old body back?

He had no idea why the dark wizard would need that, he had always guessed that being inhumane helped creating fear in his followers... And then there was that Ministry thing... He was sure the conversation between Voldemort and Malfoys father had included something about 'no deaths'. Really confusing...

"Harry!"

He blinked frowning, being torn out of his musings.

"What?"

"I've called your name about three times now, are you alright?" Hermione asked, her face definitely showing concern now.

"Yes, sorry..." It was probably better to keep that strange dream to himself. He was sure that Hermione would want him to tell Dumbledore, as the man was still seemingly the only wizard Voldemort seemed to fear. But... his scar hadn't even hurt, maybe it had not been a vision but some twisted dream... no need to cause panic now about such a strange thing...

She still stared at him for a second, not looking completely convinced, before changing the topic.

"So... what are you reading?"

He looked down at the book. "Right now? It's called What's a mudblood? Studies of Blood and Magic. Sounds like racism, I know," he added hastily as he saw Hermiones look. "but it's actually very different. It states that the term 'mudblood' hasn't always been an insult because once there had been no other term for the people we now call 'muggleborn'."

She frowned. "What do you mean? Isn't 'muggleborn' the most logical term for wizards born to muggles?"

He nodded, slowly. "That's the thing: According to this book there has never been something like a 'muggleborn'!"

Hermiones eyes widened, before she looked sceptical and he continued.

"The first few chapters are just about that issue. And sure, the book is old, but everything I've read so far seems logical. Maybe the content has been forgotten - I have no idea why else no one these days seems to know about it - but it sounds probable. The key thesis is that magic cannot grow out of thin air. Because of that no wizard can actually just 'pop up' out of nowhere, meaning the magic has to be passed down by someone. The author - who is by the way some ancestor of Sirius if the name 'Asterion Black' is anything to go by - thinks, that every so called 'muggleborn' is actually a descendant of a squib! Because most pureblood families remove their squibs from their families, disowning them while they're at it, the probability of them marrying muggles and giving birth to non-magical children is very high. And all these children and their descendants carry the magic within them so that it can activate again centuries later and produce a witch or wizard, who has many generations of muggle blood within them, hence the term 'mudblood' as wizards back then referred to muggle blood as unclean blood."

By now, Hermione just stared at him, speechless.

"Sounds completely surreal, doesn't it?" he admitted and she nodded. "I still think it's possible. I mean, it seems logical that magic can't just show up without any reason, doesn't it?"

"Well... yes, but... I don't know, if that's true, why don't we learn something like that in school? I'm quite sure I've never heard of it before and I've read all of our schoolbooks and a few more. Maybe it's just an outdated theory?" she muttered hesitantly, clearly not sure if she wanted to believe him or not. It was quite different for her to believe that at least one of her parents was the descendant of some pureblood family than it was for him. The Potters had been purebloods after all...

"We still have about two weeks left before the first of September, right? And the Black library is huge. Let's just research a bit, I'm sure we'll find other books to disprove that theory. Or confirm it," he suggested and she nodded rather enthusiastically. Of course, she loved reading and it would make a lovely pet project to kill time for when there was nothing else to do.

In fact, she looked as if she would've liked to start reading right now, but then Harrys stomach made it clear, that he hadn't eaten since early evening of the last day.

"Oh no!" Hermione said suddenly, looking worried. "Breakfast is ready! I just wanted to get a book from here to read afterwards but forgot about it as I saw you sleeping...! We have to hurry, they'll get impatient!"

Harry was now sharing her look. If they arrived late without any reason they might get quite the scolding. Or simply no breakfast at all, Mrs. Weasley cooked a lot, but she also had quite an amount of hungry mouths to feed and her meals vanished fast.

He stood up, shaking Shiva awake - who had vanished back under his shirt as he now noticed - and Hermione went to grab her book, before they both hurried down to the kitchen hoping that they weren't too late.

 

As it turned out, they weren't and since some people - most notably Ron who was probably still asleep - were absent anyway there was more than enough food left for a nice, English breakfast.

Harry had a relatively calm time then, before excusing himself early, claiming he still had his summer homework to do. That got him a disapproving glance from Hermione and a stern look from Mrs. Weasley but they didn't say anything so he just left the kitchen, firmly closing the door behind him before stopping in the hallway.

"Hey, do you need to hunt yet?" he hissed at Shiva, after checking that there was no one else within earshot.

"No, I will be fine for a few more days," she answered, having enough common sense to stay under his shirt for now. "But I would like to ask why you did not introduce me to your... friends. Even the wolf-human and the dog-human do not know more about me then my existence. Isn't that very impolite?"

He sighed. "I know. I guess I'll properly introduce Sirius and Remus to you later, but you have to stay hidden while I'm with Ron and Hermione... especially with Ron. I fear he'll react... badly if he knows I'm with a snake. He hates your kind, you know?"

She gave off a hiss without any specific meaning and stayed silent after that.

Harry wondered if he might have offended her or something, as she normally would've continued discussing with him, but he then knew why she was keeping silent as he heard footsteps.

Only seconds later, Ron entered the hallway, still looking half-asleep.

"Morning," Harry greeted his friend in a normal town, frowning as his only answer was a hurried "Shh!"

"What's-?" he started again but Ron clasped a hand over his mouth.

"Blimey, remember where you are!" he whispered quietly, shooting a panicked look at something behind Harry.

Who took the hand from his mouth and turned, before his own eyes widened in realisation.

Damn, he had been standing directly in front of Walburga Blacks portrait! He was really lucky that the curtains had not flown open, revealing the screaming woman behind them while he had been talking. Maybe she was asleep?

Not wanting to test his luck he hurriedly made the same excuse to Ron as he had to the others - now in hushed tones - before going back upstairs, back to the library. He collected his books and moved down another aisle, one that was filled with books about Dark Arts. He didn't want to read anything of the sort, but he knew that Hermione would not come here and discover him by chance, so that was probably the best idea if he wanted to stay alone for a bit.

He might even luck out of the whole cleaning business, since he had still 'summer homework to do'.

He sure hoped so.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6: Something interesting

The next days were considerably quieter, except for one morning, when a young auror everyone called 'Tonks' came to visit. She had managed to fall over some troll-leg umbrella stand and awaken Walburgas portrait, that started screaming on the spot.

Harry, confused as to where the noise was coming from as he had never heard the woman scream before, had come down from the room he shared with Ron and asked Sirius what the hell was going on. But after he had shouted the question to his godfather, to be heard over all the racket, the portrait had suddenly shut up, looking surprised before its curtains had been pulled close.

No one knew why Walburga had stopped screaming that particular moment but as everyone was relieved they soon forgot about that incident, opting to tell Tonks to be more careful instead.

That day the order had held some meeting, meaning Harry saw quite a lot people coming and going from his spot inside the library as the window in the Dark Arts section was seemingly charmed to show the front door of the house and part of the street. Well, for once he was thankful for Orion Blacks paranoia.

But except for the fact that Snape seemed to be part of the order - as he could clearly see the dark figure of his potions professor entering the house - he never learned something of interest through that window.

 

About a week after his arrival he got another letter from the unknown person he felt he should recognise. It was the longest he had received as of yet but nonetheless very straightforward.

Harry,
I assume Dumbledore never told you but there is a prophecy about you and Voldemort. It was made by a seer during a job interview at the Hogs Head, shortly before you were born. I have enclosed a memory of a person you most certainly know. It contains the first part of the prophecy, the part he overheard and relayed to the Dark Lord. Maybe it will help you understand a few things, it will also stand as proof that what I tell you is correct.
Also, keep this parchment. It is charmed to show you the whole prophecy if you speak the name of the man the memory belongs to.
Be careful.

The memory was contained inside a slim glass vial, most likely spelled unbreakable, but it still posed a problem. To view a memory he needed a pensieve. And he was absolutely sure he could not use Dumbledores for that.

Maybe a trip to Diagon Alley would help? He wanted to pay the street a visit anyway, as soon as the book lists arrived. Though until now there had been nothing. Fred and George spread the rumour that Dumbledore was not able to find a new teacher for Defence Against the Dark Arts, but he had not heard a confirmation of that yet.

He had even considered asking Sirius if the Black family had a pensieve, but then he would have needed to explain his godfather what the hell he was doing with some unknown person that kept sending him letters. And even though he was still suspicious himself he was pretty sure that a memory could not be charmed to be dangerous. It could be fake, yes, but he'd be on alert for any signs of that.

 

Surprisingly, the pensieve problem solved itself the day after he got the letter.

Harry sat on the windowsill of the fake window in the Black library that morning, as always, reading about blood wards, when he heard a slight plop. He looked up and saw Kreacher standing in front of him, looking torn.

"Kreacher...?" he asked, confused and the house elf jumped slightly.

"Kreacher is very sorry if he has interrupted Harry Potters studies," the elf mumbled, still seeming not very happy about the situation.

"It's fine, what's wrong? Did Sirius send you?" Which would be very strange, seeing that his godfather probably still hated Kreacher with a passion. Who scoffed in disgust anyway before shaking his head.

"No. Mistress Walburga sent me."

Now Harry was stumped. Walburga Black? The portrait downstairs? He knew that Kreacher still took some orders from her and was free to do so as long as they didn't go against Sirius' orders, but why would the old woman send the house elf to him of all people?

"Alright, what does she want?" he asked, trying to maintain a friendly tone. Maybe Kreacher wouldn't look as unwillingly as he did now if Harry cooperated a bit.

"Mistress said she will be happy to show Harry Potter the secret room. She said he has passed her test and Kreacher is allowed to bring him there." The elf beckoned Harry to follow him and even though he had no idea what kind of test he had passed he was quite curious what secret room the other was talking about.

Kreacher led him out of his standard isle, deeper into the Dark Arts part of the library, and stopped in front of a plain wooden wall, with candleholders on every side. There were many of these walls thorough the library, so it really was nothing special.

Harry had a vague idea what might be different this time anyway and really, with a surprisingly big jump Kreacher grabbed the left candleholder, pulling it slightly to the side with his weight. It was not very noticeable and it didn't seem to change anything, but as the house elf let go he stuck his hand through the wall, just like the wall at Kings Cross. He then bowed slightly.

"This is a secret room Salazar Slytherin himself approved of. Mistress said Harry Potter is allowed to go in there now."

Harry frowned. The fact that he couldn't see behind the wall made it a great hiding place, but also a great trap.

"Kreacher can go in first if Harry Potter likes," the house elf added and Harry thought about it. He was pretty sure Sirius had ordered Kreacher to not cause trouble for anyone inside of this house. He didn't think the house elf would really lead him into some kind of trap.

"Let's go in together," he decided after a moment. It would've seemed mean to let the elf go first but he didn't want to go in there alone as he had no idea as of yet if he could open and close the passage way from inside too.

That got him a curious look of Kreacher, but he nodded and with that both of them walked through the seemingly massive wooden wall.

And the room behind was... amazing. It wasn't very big, though he could navigate through the furniture without any problems.

On the opposite wall he saw a big Slytherin banner framed right and left with the same candleholders as outside. Underneath the banner was a strange table, which had only one leg right in the middle that was shaped like a snake and a curious looking box placed on top of it.

On his left, he saw a big, cushy-looking couch - of course, it had a dark green colour - and a light grey coffee table, as well as a bookshelf with what he guessed were books about the Dark Arts next to the snake-table.

Across from that stood a small, wooden desk complete with a not very comfy looking chair and at the far end there was a simple shelf with nothing in it except for a stone basin... he blinked.

"Is that a pensieve...?" he asked, surprised as he noticed the slight silver glow that the bowl seemed to emit.

Kreacher looked up, followed his glance and nodded.

"Yes, as far as Kreacher knows. Harry Potter may use it, mistress said it is alright," he explained, but then turned to point at the box on the snake-table. "Mistress wants to give Harry Potter the content of that box. She said to open it one has to speak to it like Salazar Slytherin did."

Harry raised his eyebrow, staring back and forth between the box and the house elf. Speak to it like Slytherin did? Parseltongue? But how did Kreacher know about his ability, much less Walburga- he stopped.

Hadn't he talked to Shiva in the hallway in front of the kitchen multiple times? Maybe Walburga wasn't as deaf as everyone believed her to be even if the curtains were closed and one whispered only...

It was certainly a possibility... if she had heard him speaking Parseltongue she'd probably come to the same conclusion as everyone. That he had to be Slytherins heir. Though of course he wasn't, Voldemort was. He had proven so while opening the chamber of secrets.

He shook his head, trying to chase the dark thoughts from it, focusing back on the box. So... to open it with Parseltongue...?

"Open," he hissed, the words coming so much easier to him than a month before. He didn't even need to look at a snake anymore. Though Shiva poked her head out anyway, seemingly curious. And really, the box gave an audible click and sprung open, revealing it's content.

On a velvet cushion laid a metal bracelet, slim and decorated with small, green stones. In the middle was a slightly bigger stone with a tiny, but almost real-looking snake carved into it. It was truly a masterpiece, but Harry wasn't sure if he was a big fan of jewellery.

"That looks... incredible," he said after a while. "But why is it that protected?" No one would hide a normal bracelet in a hidden room, locked into a box that could only be opened by speaking the language of the snakes.

"Kreacher doesn't know the specifics, but mistress Walburga said it was left here by Salazar Slytherin himself. And she said that the bracelet has magic inside. It is also activated with the tongue of Salazar Slytherin and it is said to protect the wearer from all spells that would reveal their location."

Harrys eyes widened. If that was true... all the possibilities! He knew that locator spells were easy once you had some DNA of the person you searched. So if that bracelet truly worked, it would give him a great advantage if combined with the Invisibility Cloak...

Like that, he might even go out again, maybe together with Sirius!

He smiled and took the bracelet carefully out of the box, hesitating only for a second. It was very unlikely that someone had cursed it, since Slytherin seemingly wanted his heir (or someone like that) to get it and Voldemort was probably still thinking that he was the only Parselmouth alive. Even if he knew about that bracelet he probably would've ignored it.

Harry proceeded to look at it more closely, wondering if the green stones were real emeralds. Well, they certainly complimented his eyes.

While he examined the craftsmanship he thought about what kind of phrase he'd need to say to activate it. The box had had a simple 'password', maybe it was the same with the bracelet? After all there were few words he could say by accident in Parseltongue.

He tried a few things that didn't do much, but after a hissed "Hide me" - something Shiva had suggested after a few amused words at his failures - it began to emit a soft glow. He probably wouldn't have noticed it if he hadn't stared at the ruddy thing for the last minutes, but it made the jewels seem even more radiant and gave the silver some kind of mysterious gleam... he liked it.

A bit more of experimenting and he got that the counter-phrase was "Show me", which immediately stopped the glowing.

He then finally decided to put the thing on, observing with interest, as the metal seemed to close itself around his wrist the second it had touched his skin. By now he was sure the bracelet wasn't cursed, so he analysed it calmly until he found out how to take it off again. It was a pretty simple 'mechanism' as the only thing he had to do for that was pulling at it, though he strongly suspected that it was charmed to do so only if the wearer wanted it to. It was some kind of... heirloom of Slytherin after all.

The thought actually made him feel bad for a second - he wasn't Slytherins heir, so the bracelet technically didn't belong to him - but then he thought that it was probably better for everyone if it was in his hands instead of Voldemorts. And it would be very impolite to decline a gift like that.

So instead he put it on again, activating it once more, and thanked Kreacher happily, which made the elf stare at him in wonder for a bit before bowing deeply.

They left the hidden room and Harry straightened the candleholder before asking Kreacher if he could pass his thanks to Walburga as he still had things to do.

The house elf happily complied and Harry made his way out of the library in search of Sirius. He'd told himself to enjoy the rest of his summer holidays while making his godfather leave the house at least once.

And what better way to accomplish both of it together than by going on a little walk?

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: Time out

To say that Sirius was happy to go outside would've probably been the understatement of the year. Harry had the growing suspicion that his godfather hadn't been outside at least since the beginning of July - not counting the little rescue from his relatives home - and that had been almost two month ago.

So he really couldn't blame him that he wanted to go out as fast as possible, though that made it a bit harder to explain that he really should apply a few glamour charms before changing into his dog form.

They then snuck out of the house, barely making it past the kitchen where their biggest worry - Mrs. Weasley - was quite often, preparing a meal. Thankfully she was too busy yelling at someone named 'Mundungus' to notice anything else, so they went unnoticed.

As the house was located in some muggle neighbourhood they had no problems as they appeared out of nothing, walking down the road to a more populated part of muggle London.

They walked for a while and Harry had fun watching Sirius, who enthusiastically chased cats and doves, ran around his godson and barked happily at some pedestrians, who jumped before abruptly crossing the street. Well, his godfather certainly wasn't a small dog.

Still, as the streets got busier - it was a warm Wednesday afternoon after all - Sirius returned to his side, walking obediently next to him for a while, as Harry took a look around.

Really, even though he was raised by muggles, since said muggles were the Dursleys he had never been able to walk through any muggle town freely and it was quite interesting. Though after four years of Hogwarts he was already sure that the non-magical part of the world held too less wonders for him to consider staying. His place was with the wizards.

It was still really nice to be able to walk through a crowd where no one stared at him. No one knew his name, his past or his parents. No one expected anything of him except behaving like a fifteen year old kid should. It wasn't so bad.

After a while he found a small café at some corner that looked nice and not too busy.

"Hey, how about a drink?" he asked, turning to Sirius who barked approvingly. They went into some dark alley where Sirius could change back, before going into that café, seating themselves at a nice, small table outside of the shop, near the street.

It was... weird, somehow, to sit with his godfather - who was thought to be a mass murderer by wizards and muggles alike - at a table, between muggles, just enjoying the good weather.

The glamour charms changed Sirius' face a bit, as well as his hair and eye colour, which was somehow irritating, but necessary for his safety, so Harry didn't comment. Instead, they struck up a conversation about this and that, catching up on the more trivial aspects of their lives while they ordered drinks and cake. Though there really weren't a lot of trivial things that happened to them, really.

They had just gotten their drinks as Sirius noticed something.

"Say, pup... since when do you wear bracelets?" he asked, frowning. Harry had decided to wear and keep it activated at all times before asking his godfather to go outside, so that he couldn't be tracked anymore by anyone, but he had thought that Sirius had noticed it before and just chose not to comment on it.

He shrugged. "I don't, not really. This one's different though. It keeps me from being tracked. Not even Voldemort should be able to find me with a spell now."

Sirius eyebrows shot up. "Where did you get something that powerful?" he asked, definitely curious now. "I'm sure you didn't wear it as Remus and I picked you up from your relatives."

"Well... that's actually quite the story..." Harry thought for a moment if it was safe to tell his godfather, before mentally slapping himself. Honestly, he needed to stop with that mistrust thing or it would get a habit. And while it wasn't such a bad habit, he really saw no reason to fear that Sirius of all people would tell anyone his secrets or anything.

So he recounted what had happened earlier that day and how he had concluded that the bracelet wasn't cursed, but probably really useful.

Which ended with a frowning Sirius. "You trusted Kreacher? What if he'd led you into a trap or anything?"

Harry sighed. He knew that he could be just as stubborn as his godfather was now, but they really tried to stop that and think more logical instead. "Look, Kreacher isn't as bad as you think. Sure, he practically worships your mother and is a bit on the barmy side, but other than that, he's fine. He just always insults everyone because that's what he was taught to do. Try being nicer to him and he'll stop."

"You sure? He hates me for decades already!" Sirius mumbled, clearly not wanting to do anything about it but still at least halfway open for advice.

"Well... try giving him things he likes. You said he adored your brother, right? Just give him a bit of Regulus' old stuff you want to throw out anyway. It'd be out of the way and Kreacher would be happy. Isn't that killing two birds with one stone?"

His godfather grumbled something under his breath.

"Pardon?"

"I said, I'll try, okay? But honestly, I don't know what you see in that little bugger-"

"Sirius! No name-calling anymore, alright?" Harry tried looking reproachful, but it seemed to amuse his godfather more than anything.

"Fine, fine... man, you're worse than Moony."

Sirius leaned back at his chair, running his hand though his wrong coloured hair.

"So... how's it going with your homework?" he wondered aloud, changing the topic not so subtly and confusing Harry for a second before he remembered the excuse he'd used to escape all the cleaning frenzy. But he guessed he could be honest with his godfather once more.

"I'm actually done since mid-July. Was the first thing I did after Shiva opened my eyes."

"Shiva?" Sirius asked, frowning again.

"Ah, you met her last week, the day you brought me here," Harry explained, grinning slightly as his godfather understood.

"Your pet snake... How come you've gotten a snake anyway?"

"Well... it was some kind of fluke, actually. She kinda got lost and landed in the front yard of the Dursleys, where I found her. And since I'm able to speak Parseltongue she actually makes the best 'pet' I could get. She's quite intelligent, too."

He left out the part with Shivas mother - who he still didn't know - and that she had told him she was there to protect him. No need to make his godfather even more suspicious, seeing as it was already quite the surprise that he had nothing against the snake itself.

But that explanation seemed fine to Sirius, as he just shook his head with a smile. "Dang, you're crazy pup."

"Not as crazy as becoming an animagus to run around with a werewolf on school grounds," Harry retorted and his godfather laughed.

"Touché... So, what are you doing if not homework? Reading again?"

Harry nodded. "Quite a lot, actually. Your family library is awesome!"

"What topics?"

"Well..." There was the problem now... he wasn't exactly doing the goody two shoes reading at the moment. "This and that..."

But Sirius pressed on, probably guessing it wasn't something normal. "For example?"

"Uh... Blood magic?"

Sirius' eyes went wide. "Harry! That's seriously dark magic, I hope you know that?"

"Yes, I'm not stupid. I know where the books stood. But it's not as if I want to use that knowledge. I just want to know how Voldemort managed that resurrection ritual, maybe find a flaw or anything... I mean, my mother died while protecting me... after which even touching me hurt Voldemort! Not to mention all the bloody wards around my relatives house that are the reason why I need to go back to them. I want to know how. That can't be a bad thing."

They looked at each other for a while, before Sirius nodded slowly. "Alright. I guess that's understandable. Just be careful. The Dark Arts are dangerous and you need powerful self-control to withstand their lure. Never let yourself get controlled by it, you hear?"

There was a glint in Sirius' eyes that showed Harry his godfather had learned that lesson himself once. Which wasn't all that surprising, considering where he grew up. He might have rebelled against his upbringing, but even Harry knew (by now) that pureblood children got special lessons before they went to Hogwarts and probably during the summer holidays, too. And if the family was as dark as the Blacks seemed... it certainly weren't only lessons in writing or pureblood traditions...

So he nodded at his godfather just once, before leading the topic to some lighter parts.

"You know, Hermione has a new pet project, too. We've found a book of one of your ancestors that was denying the existence of a 'muggleborn' and claiming every witch and wizard had to have at least a squib in the family tree."

He explained the content and Sirius looked thoughtful for a while, before shrugging.

"I guess it would be a possibility. I've never known much about heredity and stuff, but I know an easy way to test if that's correct."

Harry blinked. "Really?"

"Yeah. It's a small ritual every pureblood child is taught. Though it's not exactly easy to execute and not very fun for the person who uses it. Because it draws blood from that person to draw a family tree with their ancestors. The more blood it gets, the more ancestors it shows. So it can be dangerous for the person if it's used for too long. And it only shows the parents of each person, no siblings or anything beyond blood relation," Sirius explained, looking thoughtful.

"So... if we'd want to prove it, Hermione could use that ritual to go back a few generations - as far as she's comfortable with - and look if there's any pureblood family we know in it?" Harry asked.

"Basically, yes. You'd need blood replenisher potions of course, for safety, and an adult wizard, if anything goes wrong."

"You would do that for us, right...?"

"...I knew you'd ask... but oh well, I've nothing better to do anyway. And I told you about it so I guess that makes you my responsibility." He smiled. "A little adventure can't hurt, right? It's not that dangerous anyway..."

Harry chuckled. Yes, that was his godfather. He just hoped that Mrs. Weasley would never find out about that, she'd flip.

"Thanks, Sirius. I really hope it's worth it..."

"Never mind. And it probably will be. Even if that theory is rubbish Hermione will have quite the family tree. Or you, I guess, if she doesn't want to do it, Lily has been a muggleborn too after all. I'll just need a bit time to brew the necessary potions, so maybe we can use the weekend."

"Potions...?" Harry had do inevitably think of Snape and how he'd never help them to do anything.

As if sensing his thoughts, Sirius rolled his eyes. "Oh come on, you're not really thinking of Snivellus, are you? For your information, I have been an auror, pup. You need a NEWT in potions for that..."

Harry blushed slightly. "Right, Sorry..."

Thankfully the waitress finally arrived with their cakes then - apologizing that they had to wait for so long, but the cake had had to be made first - so they ate, listening to the bustling activity of the muggles around them.

Like that mother on the other side of the street who hurriedly pulled a crying kid along, clearly embarrassed by the little boy that was currently throwing a small tantrum.

Or the couple that sat at another table in the café, flirting wordlessly with each other through gestures and looks...

Yes, Harry liked that, to observe the everyday life of some muggles while eating his surprisingly delicious cake and enjoying the sun. And the fact that his godfather was with him made it even better.

Sirius seemed to think about the same, as he stretched happily, looking as if he enjoyed the weather.

"You have no idea how much I missed that..."

Harry only smiled amusedly, though already thinking about something else. He didn't really want to broach another serious subject so soon, but they had their privacy here and who knew when they could talk that freely again?

So he got serious again, looking at his godfather. "Say... how come you never did go outside? I mean, sure, Dumbledore said so and stuff, but... that can't be the only reason, can it?"

Now Sirius was looking at him too, chuckling dryly. "Believe it or not, it was the only reason." He sighed, looking at the people who went along the street. "You know, Dumbledore is a really good speaker. He knows what to say to get what he wants and how to formulate it. I don't think he outright lies to you, but he makes you think of things the way he wants you to, using the fact that you trust him for manipulating you. He told me everything I'd risk if I went outside. About how you'd be without me again if I got caught and everything. Of course, he masked it as being concerned - and maybe he really was - but he told me these facts as if there was no other option. And I believed him. He had me completely convinced that there was nothing I could do. That's just the way Dumbledore is."

Harry stared at his godfather, surprised. Of course, his logic was flawless and it mostly equalled his own thoughts about that matter, but it was still hard hearing that stuff from someone else.

Only a few month before, he would have thought someone with that theory crazy and now he was so sure of it... it was almost creepy.

But there was something else confusing him.

"I think you're absolutely right, but... how come that you of all people have thought this through so thoroughly? No offence, but I would've thought you'd be... angry at Dumbledore instead of... thinking logically about it," he mumbled carefully.

Sirius huffed. "Hey, I'm not always rushing into things headfirst!" Harry raised an eyebrow. "Alright... maybe I told Moony and he told me his point of view..." his godfather added grumbling.

Chuckling lightly, Harry nodded. That sounded more like it, Remus seemed more down to earth then Sirius. Though he was a bit surprised anyway, he had always thought Remus completely under Dumbledores control.

On the other hand, if he could see the old mans wrongdoings - albeit with a little help - then almost anyone could if it was explained to him or her correctly.

"So... you're backing me up?" Harry finally asked after a silent moment where they both ate the rest of their cakes and Sirius nodded.

"We'll always back you up, pup, remember that. Though we'd suggest not to tell everyone, because in times like these we need solidarity. It's no use to openly antagonize Dumbledore if Voldemort is still out there. We can't give him even more possibilities to attack when he does."

Harry nodded. That made sense. He'd still try to convince Ron and Hermione, but that was it. He would see what could be done about Dumbledore once Voldemort wasn't a threat to everyone anymore.

For now, knowing that there were people who shared his opinion was enough.

"But... promise me something?"

Harry looked questioningly at his godfather as he spoke up again.

"If you ever want to go against him, tell me. I had a week to think about everything and by now I'm not so sure anymore if it was just bad luck that I went into Azkaban without a proper trial."

Harrys eyes widened. No trial? He knew back then many people had gotten no trial, but that no one ever had questioned it, even after Dumbledore had known that Sirius was innocent...

But his godfather wasn't finished yet.

"With certain measurements I'm sure we could get my name cleared and the people at the Ministry would be more than happy with dirt on Dumbledores name. You're the 'Boy Who Lived', even though they discredit you now, it could change just as easily. Just don't rush things."

Harry nodded, smiling slightly, and as they stood up, finally deciding to go back, he hugged his godfather. It had really been a good idea to come here.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: Truths

What followed was a brief panic on Harrys side - he had no muggle money on him, how to pay for that little visit?! - that ended abruptly after Sirius had finished laughing about it and got out some muggle bank card he had gotten wile he had still been keen on buying muggle motorcycles.

He paid and they went back to Grimmauld Place, with Harry sulking only a little bit. Really.

Stopping in front of the door, Sirius looked at Harry.

"Thanks for that walk. I think it was the most fun I had with anyone since almost fifteen years..."

"Nah, thank you too. It was great, being able to talk to you freely without having to fear being overheard, or having to go somewhere in the middle of it... we really need to do that again," Harry answered, smiling brightly, and Sirius smiled back before dropping his glamours.

Even though they had talked about some serious subjects, he knew he'd cherish that memory.

Though... speaking of memories... hadn't he forgotten something? He blinked, then swore in his mind. That prophecy thing! He had completely forgotten about it and the fact that he had wanted to use the pensieve inside of the hidden library room...!

"You alright?" his godfather asked and he nodded.

"Yeah, sorry, just remembered I need to look for something."

Harry shot him a quick smile and Sirius patted him on the shoulder, before letting them both in.

It was weird, needing to think about an address to be able to see the house, really... but oh well, in the magical world almost nothing seemed impossible and more than enough stuff was weird.

Though he would have taken almost any weirdness instead had he known who awaited them inside.

The second both of them were safely inside they found Molly Weasley standing in front of them, seemingly furious. She pointed at the kitchen and went there herself, without a word - which was probably better if they didn't want to wake Walburga - and Sirius and Harry shared a look, that clearly said 'Uh-Oh' - at least on Harrys side - before following her.

She started the second the door was closed behind them.

"Would you like to tell me where you have been?" she asked in a clipped tone.

Sirius took a deep breath. "Outside."

"Yes, I saw that. And where exactly?" Mrs. Weasley pressed on.

"In muggle London," Sirius answered, surprisingly calm.

"Don't you play smart with me Sirius Black!" It was obvious that his answer hadn't satisfied her and she was getting worked up. But this time, Harry watched with anxious interest as Sirius didn't back down, like he usually did. Instead, he straightened up, now towering above her.

"Then don't treat me like I'm one of your kids. I appreciate the fact that you are worried about me, but I'm a grown adult-"

"A grown adult who behaves like a child!" she interrupted him, clearly not wanting to hear his reasoning. "You know exactly what Dumbledore said! It's not safe for you to go out! And to take Harry with you, were you thinking at all? What if You-Know-Who had shown up?! He could have died, Sirius!"

At this, Sirius actually had the nerve to roll his eyes. Harry himself actually wouldn't have done that, he feared the wrath of Mrs. Weasley almost as much as her children did, even though she wasn't often angry with him.

"Honestly, as if Voldemort-" His godfather ignored the hiss of the woman as she heard the name. "-would show up at a random muggle café in the middle of London. And we were taking precautions." The scoff that followed was ignored, too. "Look, I want to see Harry alive as much as you do, but you can't honestly believe that a fifteen year old boy is best while being coped up in some unknown house during his summer holidays, now can you?"

Mrs. Weasley hesitated only for a second before answering. "It might not be the best way to spend ones holidays, but it is by far the safest! You should know that his safety goes first! I can't believe you risked it for something like this! I know it's not easy living here, but it's the best for everyone, especially for you and Harry!"

Sirius didn't miss a beat. "That might be, but what Harry and I do and don't do is our own decision, not yours, as much as you'd like it. It's our lives we're risking."

"Don't be so selfish! You might think that and you seem to imprint your views on Harry too the way things are looking now, but you both shouldn't forget that our hopes rise and fall with Harry! Don't risk his life because of meaningless stunts like these!"

By now, even Sirius' surprisingly found patience seemed to be wearing thin. "Meaningless stunts? Well, excuse us for having fun these days! Not forgetting that I'm an adult wizard and not a bad duellist either. And I have been an auror, too. I know how to watch out for dark wizards. That was my job!"

"Well, it has been your job, yes. And then you got yourself into this mess with Peter Pettigrew and landed in Azkaban, didn't you?"

Sirius stiffened and Harry frowned. To remind his godfather of that time was really low and he suspected Mrs. Weasley knew that.

He really wished Remus would be here, he always seemed to have a calming effect on everyone and right now, it would've helped greatly as he didn't trust himself to say anything.

"I will not discuss this any longer," Sirius said coldly, already turning towards the door.

"Then better remember Dumbledores orders next time and stay inside!"

Though Harry was sure - okay, actually he was hoping fervently - that Molly meant well, she shouldn't have formulated it like this.

In a flash, Sirius stood in front of her, looking furious, but so controlled that, for a split second, Harry was almost worried that his godfather was possessed by someone or anything.

"You should do well to remember that this is my house. And Dumbledore may have my permission to use this as the secret hideout for the Order, and he may have cast a fidelius charm to protect it even more, but I am the current Lord of the Black family and I won't tolerate being a prisoner in my own house any longer! I understand that Dumbledore told me to stay put for my own safety, but from now on I will decide if I follow his advice. And I won't follow orders from you. I don't care if you are only worried about Harry, so am I even if you don't seem to understand that. And while I will always regret that I couldn't be there for him these last years I will not put up with you mentioning it again and again any longer. I will be there for Harry as long as he wants me to be and if you cannot accept that you may as well leave this house and not come back!"

Silence followed his words, as Harry and Mrs. Weasley both stared wide-eyed at the glaring Black Lord. Who finally seemed to have accepted his heritage, even though he hated his family.

Mrs. Weasley seemed to recover first, storming out of the kitchen and slamming the door, which woke Walburgas portrait that started to scream almost instantly.

But at least the noise shook the two remaining males out of their little trance.

"Sorry you had to witness this," Sirius mumbled, having cooled down a bit. "It's not normally that bad, but she tends to use that Azkaban thing against me and... I guess I was tired of backing up. It's some of the worse traits that come with being a Gryffindor I fear." He smiled weakly, before shaking his head. "I guess I'll go tell Remus now. He'll find out on his own sooner or later and I'll get reprimanded anyway."

Harry nodded slowly and Sirius left too, probably going upstairs, ignoring his screaming mother.

Deciding that he didn't want to stay at the kitchen - and even though he felt quite... queasy now after listening to that argument he still had a memory to view - he made his way through the door, preparing to close Walburgas curtains first so that she wouldn't disturb everyone any longer.

The funny thing? The second he stepped into her point of view, she stopped, regarding him closely instead. So he decided to do the same.

She was an old woman, definitely long past her good years, and while the portrait was expertly drawn - if he didn't know better he would've thought it being a window! - it had a weird colouring, which gave the woman yellowish skin. Other than that, she had probably been a beautiful young lady once, but the old age really hadn't done her any good. Even though she still had a certain aristocratic aura around her... if she wasn't screaming her lungs out, that was.

"So... you are the heir..." she finally mumbled, quietly, but loud enough for him to understand. "Kreacher told me your name, Harry Potter. I am surprised that one of Lord Slytherins descendants married a Potter of all families, but I guess they are purebloods... Maybe they've finally shown some interest in the right kind of magic... Haven't had contact with them for ages... and I'm quite glad about that... But you wear the bracelet, you have to have Lord Slytherins abilities..."

She continued mumbling like that for a while and Harry tried to listen patiently, but by now, he was really curious as to what these memories meant.

"Um... I'm sorry to interrupt you Mrs. Black, but I really need to get some urgent business done, would you mind if I close your curtains again?" he asked hesitantly.

To his surprise, she smiled! "Oh no deary, thanks for listening to me. I'm glad that you seem to possess at least a few manners, so much unlike my son. Just continue your business, don't mind me. I'll just send Kreacher if I want something from you." With that, she actually winked at him.

Suppressing a shudder, he closed the curtains with a forced smile and a polite goodbye before rushing upstairs, trying not to think about whatever she was up to...

He got the memory and the letter out of his trunk, where he had placed it the day before - thankfully, Ron wasn't there to ask him about it - and made his way to the library that was located just outside their room.

He went into it, nodding to Hermione who sat, once more, in one of the corners with a table, a stack of books next to her. She was taking the whole research thing very seriously, he'd tell her of Sirius' idea later.

For now, he just made his way through the room, past his normal spot on the windowsill and to the hidden room, easily twisting the candleholder and walking through the wall, now that he knew how to do it.

Inside, he made a beeline for the pensieve, stopping in front of it to read the letter again... A memory from someone he most likely knew... He wondered who that might be and how the unknown person knew that...

But oh well, if he didn't look at it he would never know. So he pulled out the vial and poured the memory into the pensieve, watching as the silvery substance flowed into the basin where it swirled for a moment before it began to depict a scene.

At first, Harry was unsure of where it could be, before he recognised the town Hogsmeade. At least it seemed safe enough.

He leaned forward until his nose touched the substance and he was practically sucked into the memory...

 

The next thing he knew was standing next to the Hogs Head, slightly confused. He wasn't used to pensieve travels, so that was part of it, but another part was bugging him, a part he only recognised after a few seconds: The comfortable weight around his body was missing, as Shiva had not visited the memory with him. He had become so used to it...

Shaking his head, he focused. This was no time to think about Shiva, he'd tell her what had happened later, first he needed to find the owner of that memory!

He looked around the village, slightly surprised at the scenery. It looked like the Hogsmeade he knew, but there were a few changes too. So it was probably an old memory.

Also, most of the buildings were strangely blurred, as if he would look at them without his glasses on, but the Hogs Head was as sharp as it could get.

He wondered why, until he noticed most of the people being blurred as well, just like the landscape. Maybe the person who the memory belonged to didn't remember these things? It was only a memory of someone after all, it had to follow a certain logic.

Harry let his gaze sweep over the crowd near the pub, searching for the one person that shouldn't be blurred as they were the owner of this memory. Only to frown as he finally found them.

It was no one else then Severus Snape, his potions professor, though a younger version of him, maybe about twenty.

And as he was already at the door, Harry hurried to follow him inside, he was really curious now. Though not exactly happy that it was Snape that had relayed anything of importance to Voldemort... Not that he hadn't known about him being a Death Eater, but anyway. It didn't help increasing his trust in the man now that Voldemort was back...

Inside the Hogs Head the atmosphere was more or less solemn, so unlike the Three Broomsticks. But in this memory - if it really was from more than fifteen years ago - Voldemort was still on the loose, it probably wasn't all too surprising that not many people wanted to celebrate anything.

Harry watched as Snape went through the small room, sitting down at one of the tables on the far end of it, next to some stairs that probably led up to... more private rooms? Or something like that.

He thought the potions master looked pretty suspicious, but on the other hand almost every other customer here did too - as far as he could see, they weren't very sharp except for one person at the counter, who seemed to be the bartender and was looking strangely familiar - and Snape did blend quite nicely into the background.

As the bartender had his back turned, probably to take something out of the shelves behind him, Snape suddenly stood up and went up the stairs. He was so fast in fact that Harry almost didn't notice and hurried to go after him. His potions professor moved silently, quieter than Harry would've managed outside of a memory, before suddenly jerking to a halt, outside of a door. Harry almost ran into him - or in this case most likely through him - before stopping himself, listening to whatever Snape was trying to listen to.

And really, he could hear voices behind the closed door in front of which they stood. Quiet voices, but easily recognisable.

One definitely belonged to Dumbledore. It wasn't hard to identify it, he had had talks with his headmaster more often than most other students.

It was the other voice that surprised him. He needed a second, but then it was clear to him. He had had the subject since his third year after all.

The second voice belonged to Professor Trelawney, his slightly weird teacher of divination.

It was obvious that they held a job interview right now, with Dumbledore asking about her qualifications and so on.

She was just answering one of his questions as the situation turned strange.

It wasn't the memory, surprisingly, but her voice. And the change was something that sent a shiver up Harrys spine. Her tone had changed drastically into a harsher one. One he had heard only once before, the day she had predicted Peter Pettigrews return to Voldemort... which had come true mere hours later.

"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches..." she said in that strange voice of hers. "born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies..."

By that time, Harry was focusing entirely on that closed door, wanting to hear the rest of that prophecy. Which probably was the reason why a sudden thump made him jump and turn around. Snape now laid on the floor, motionless, and the barkeeper stood behind him, wand drawn.

"Now, now, who do we have here...?" he muttered darkly, before grabbing Snapes arm and pulling him up.

He knocked sharply on the door before opening it. But as he dragged the immobile man inside - who was insisting he had just gotten the wrong door - telling a slightly younger Dumbledore about what had happened, Harry only had eyes for Trelawney. Sadly, she had already stopped talking, looking slightly confused at the commotion. Harry cursed in his head. That prophecy didn't seem fake to him at all. It actually seemed to be rather vital. And... hadn't Dumbledore told him only two years ago that the 'Pettigrew prophecy' made a total of two real prophecies from Trelawney?

As the memory faded into black, Harrys mind was racing. 'The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches...' Was that really about himself and Voldemort? It seemed to fit if he looked at the age of the people that were present inside of the memory and the fact that he seemed to have 'defeated' Voldemort as he was one year old... and even though he had no idea if his parents had 'thrice defied' Voldemort he was definitely 'born as the seventh month dies', as July was the seventh month in the year.

Dammit.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9: Aftermath

He pulled out of the pensieve, taking a seat on the wooden chair next to the desk inside of the hidden room of the Black library, just staring forward for while, thinking.

That... had been enlightening. Somehow. It was hard to believe, but it seemed valid.

And also insanely frustrating! If that was everything Voldemort had heard of the prophecy it was no wonder that he had tried to kill him. It didn't make the fact that the man had killed his parents any better, or his overall actions any more tolerable, but at least it helped him understand a few of Voldemorts motives better.

Maybe not the killing, but... something.

Though that couldn't be everything, he was sure the prophecy contained more. Something Snape hadn't heard since that barkeeper had gotten him before Trelawney was finished.

"Would you mind explaining to me what on earth just happened?" a voice suddenly came from next to him as Shiva - who he had almost forgotten again! - spoke up. "One second you look into that stone thing and the next you seem almost as lifeless as a rock!"

He smiled apologetically and stroke the back of her head. Of course, she couldn't know about pensieves, it was probably quite a shock for her.

"I'm sorry. I just visited the memories of another human to understand what was written about that prophecy in the letter," he explained to her, showing her the letter again to emphasise on that.

"Quite a scary way to do that. But did it help?"

Harry then proceeded to tell her what he had seen inside of Snapes memories. She listened patiently but chose not to comment on it, instead she slithered out of under his shirt and on his shoulders.

"So... what's with that letter? Let's see what it will tell you," Shiva hissed and Harry nodded, looking at the parchment for another second before speaking to it - not without feeling slightly ridiculous while doing so.

"Severus Snape."

Surprisingly - or maybe not so much - the parchment began to shimmer slightly as more text in the same handwriting as the rest appeared.

Curious, though apprehensive, he looked at the newly written part to read.

I am assuming you saw the memory now. Not very satisfying, is it?
The full prophecy isn't either, though:
"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches...
born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies...
and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not...
and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives...
the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies..."
I have never been a big fan of seers. I am sure you now know why. Incomplete prophecies are dangerous.
I apologise if I made you uncomfortable or seem too rash, but I think it is safer if you know the content of that prophecy now. You might prefer that to Dumbledores idea of the 'perfect time' to tell you things like these.
Regards

Harry stared at the words. Read them once more, before staring again.

If that was true... was he... practically destined to kill Voldemort? He knew that many people seemed to expect it from him - if they weren't busy hating him for some reason or another - but if he was to believe these words, he was the only one that was even able to do it.

He shook his head. That so couldn't be true. He didn't even have a power Voldemort hadn't... at least nothing he knew of.

What a great outlook, wasn't it?

Though honestly? He wasn't sure if that prophecy was really that important anymore. The way it seemed now Voldemort wanted to see him dead anyway. They would have to fight sooner or later...

Even though the text was really vague. But of course, the first part did seem quite clear... Oh he was hating divination more and more.

Why did other people have to screw up his life so much? Couldn't he at least do that himself?

He sighed. But it was probably really better to know it now then to be told whenever Dumbledore thought he was ready. He had the distinct feeling that his headmaster wouldn't think so for a very long time, as long as nothing drastic would happen. He was never told anything more than absolutely necessary anyway...

"I hate my life," he grumbled, mostly to himself.

Of course, Shiva answered anyway. "Oh come on, it is not so bad right now."

"Well, I don't know... being kept in the dark if it's concerning important information, a psychopath who wants to kill me because of a stupid prophecy and people who can't decide if they want to hate or love me even though I'd prefer it if they wouldn't even know my name..."

He felt her muscles contract slightly, increasing the pressure on his neck by only a fraction. He blinked confused, before realising something. Was that meant as a... hug? The pressure lessened again and despite his mood he smiled slightly.

"Thanks..."

"You are welcome. And do not worry too much, I am sure everything will work out. You have many resources here, you can find your information yourself. Rely on yourself, that way you can't get disappointed."

Harry chuckled slightly. Shiva was a snake, snakes almost always relied only on themselves, that was different. He told her he'd think about it anyway.

Not wanting to go back to the others now he went to the small bookshelf inside of the room and looked through the titles. As he had assumed, the books all dealt with the Dark Arts, even their titles suggested as much. And most of them seemed pretty old, too. What else were books that called themselves Magick Moste Evile?

He knew that this stuff was probably disgusting, but he couldn't help wondering if Voldemort had read some of these books too. Because really, it was clear that one needed to know what to fight. Defence Against the Dark Arts was only possible if you knew about the Dark Arts... even if you'd never use it.

So after hesitating a few more moments he finally pulled out one of the books, called Secrets of the Darkest Art. Might as well begin with the worst stuff, it could only get better then.

 

That night, as he left the hidden room to finally go to sleep, he felt sick.

He had been right. The first book he had read really had been the worst. The rituals that had been described there... why anyone would do that voluntarily was beyond him!

He shuddered. Though the following books hadn't been much better. Even Shiva had commented on it, wondering why humans would think of rituals and spells like that. He had no idea, but he guessed that this stuff really was the more fucked up branch of dark magic. The worst of the worst, so to speak. At least he had never heard anything like that before... he shook his head. Hopefully not even Voldemort would use spells like these... at least he hadn't done so at the graveyard, sticking to the Unforgivable Curses.

If it was true that the Avada Kedavra killed painlessly... well, it seemed friendlier than any of the spells Harry now knew. And would never ever tell anyone about, let alone use them!

He really needed to go to bed and stop thinking about it...!

 

The next days were filled with harmless research. He had decided to avoid the Dark Arts section for a while, opting to sit with Hermione instead, researching things about prophecies and their correctness.

He had told her about Sirius' idea and though she was reluctant she had agreed eventually, probably because her curiosity was stronger.

Also, she was still researching, telling him that newer books didn't include that topic at all, but a few of the older ones hinted that magic couldn't come out of nowhere and she was beginning to think about genetics.

He had made the mistake of asking, which had led to a complex explaining session. Something about a magical gene that was passed on to every child a magical person had and it being the cause for one being able to use magic. And with squibs it... somehow changed or anything, so that it was still present, but inactive.

That way there was a possibility that descendants of Squibs still had that inactive magical gene. And if it changed again, after a few generations, and became active once more, that child was called a 'muggleborn'.

She told him that there were still a few inconsistencies in her theory but she was positive to work it out before the weekend.

And he was positive that he had no idea what she was talking about. One of the side effects of a purely magical education (after elementary school that was, but they focused on reading, writing and the basics of maths). Sure, a little bit of Biology was taught in Care of Magical Creatures and Herbology, but about humans and genetics? Nope, nothing.

No wonder purebloods still valued their 'purity' so much if they had no idea about incest and it's aftermath.

But despite him not really getting what she was talking about, at least it helped distracting him. Not that the books about prophecies didn't, too.

By Friday he had found out that prophecies didn't have to be fulfilled, that, in fact, many prophecies never happened. As divination was a very vague branch of magic it wasn't uncommon to misinterpret things.

Sadly, this probably wasn't the case with 'his' prophecy. But something else he found proved more or less fitting. It said that one could deliberately go against a prophecy. There was no Fate forcing their hands, if there was a prophecy about someone doing something and that person chose not to do it, it became void.

He wondered if that meant - just in theory - if Voldemort and himself would stop trying to kill each other they wouldn't have to do so?

Not that 'No one can live while the other survives' strictly told them 'One has to kill the other', but... it was his closest guess.

He had even let Hermione in on that prophecy, though it was mostly because she had insisted on knowing why he was researching prophecies if he hated divination so much.

But it proved to be a good idea in the end, as - even though she was entirely distrustful as to how he had gotten that prophecy - she got him the final proof that this wasn't a hoax.

As she had taken divination herself in third year she had read quite a few books about it, some of them not available here - the Blacks probably didn't like divination either. And one of these books had clearly stated that, though most seers fell into some kind of trance while making a prophecy, every person was different when predicting the future.

That meant at least the memory part had to be true, as Harry had recognized Trelawneys 'trance voice' since he had heard it once before. Snape couldn't have heard it otherwise though, because Dumbledore himself had told Harry Trelawney had only made two true prophecies yet.

Sure, there was always the chance that there had been another prophecy around Snape, without Dumbledore knowing about it, but... that was very unlikely.

No, even Hermione had reluctantly agreed that this prophecy seemed plausible. But she had still insisted on telling an adult and since Dumbledore was out of question they chose Remus. He seemed to be the most impartial person right now and wasn't as hot headed as Sirius.

 

But that had to wait, as time flew by and suddenly the weekend was there.

Both Harry and Hermione were equally nervous - they had tried researching the ritual but it seemed that this was a purely verbally relayed information as they had found nothing.

Sirius seemed only mildly concerned though, casually telling them what Hermione had to do and how she should stop herself if she started feeling weak, but that he would stop her by force if necessary.

He then took out his wand and locked the door behind them - even though they used a room that no one normally visited as it was still quite dirty, it was better to be safe than sorry - before beginning to chant the words needed for that procedure.

Compared to other rituals it was quite short, but Harry still watched nervously as Hermione drank one of the potions Sirius had brewed and began to emit a soft glow. As Sirius finished the spell she took the knife that they had nicked from the kitchen and cut her index finger lightly, before pressing the small wound on the prepared parchment.

The effect was instantly.

She gasped as the magic began to be draw her blood out of her finger and onto the parchment, forming a small line that soon split up, writing the names of her parents, followed by more lines, the names of her four grandparents, and so on. It was really fascinating to watch as the red lines spread further, forming names after names.

Of course, since every generation was twice as big as the one before and therefore needed more blood Harry could see by now how it wasn't exactly safe...

But Hermione seemed to concentrate, her eyes hurried over all the names, hoping to see anything familiar. They had found an old book with a list of pureblood names and memorised them. A few names had been familiar to them - like Malfoy or Longbottom - but there were others too.

Thankfully, the lines were slim and as Hermione took a surprised breath and stopped touching the parchment she seemed only slightly paler than usual.

Sirius came up to heal her finger but she had only eyes for the parchment.

"Look there!"

She pointed with her free hand at a name. A maternal great-great-great-grandmother of her.

Larissa Greengrass.

The parchment showed Hermiones ancestors with their maiden names, meaning that she was probably the squib, seeing that she had a Greengrass-father - though it was the last Generation depicted by this family tree now - and a Malfoy mother.

"It's true...!" Hermione whispered, quite shocked. It was clear that, despite her research, she hadn't thought it was possible. "I know for a fact that the names of my parents and grandparents are correct, the chance is low that the magic jumbled up the others. And Greengrass was definitely on that pureblood list we had. I'm sure of it, because I was thinking of Daphne Greengrass, one of the Slytherins in our year, and wondered if her family was still pureblood."

She sat down on the bed that was occupying the room, taking the blood replenisher potion Sirius was handing her as a precaution and drinking it silently.

"So... do you still want to do it, too?" Sirius asked cautiously, obviously unsure after he had seen Hermiones reaction to it.

Harry nodded anyway. He was really curious now. But he also hoped, that he wasn't actually related to Malfoy too. Not that he wasn't already because of his paternal grandmother that had been a Black, but that wasn't directly, as his family had married into another branch than the Malfoys. And he really didn't want to be a descendant of a Malfoy family squib or anything.

So he took a deep, calming breath as Sirius took Hermiones family tree away, making room for another big parchment, before drinking the second ritual potion his godfather had brewed after the chanting had begun.

It tasted weird, almost like liquid rubber, but he had already drunken worse. So he just scrunched up his nose before cutting his own, now glowing index finger and pressing it on the fresh parchment.

Instantly, he understood why Hermione had gasped before. He did too. It was a really weird feeling to feel ones blood being sucked out.

As the first names appeared, he tried ignoring the sensation, reading them to look out for anything of interest. But it was quiet hard to focus on that task, actually, especially after he had read the first names. His parents, who he had never really known... his grandparents, one of which was Dorea Black... and then his attention was already lost as he saw parts of the Black family tree spreading out from his fingers over the parchment, which thankfully grew magically as the family tree expanded.

He was completely enthralled and didn't even realise how he felt increasingly dizzy.

Only a worried "Harry!" and Sirius, who forced his finger from the parchment, pulled him out of his trance-like state.

He blinked, surprised, looking at his family tree. While Hermione had depicted just about one hundred names - six generations - his family tree was, with only two more generations, almost five times as big as it held more than five hundred names.

At least the writing was small and it hadn't drawn too much blood, but the dizziness still crashed down upon him as he turned to look at his godfather. Who luckily had good reflexes, catching him before he hit the floor.

"Harry! Honestly, I like your curiosity, but one or two more generations could have killed you!" Sirius muttered, silently summoning another blood replenisher potion and making Harry drink it more or less gently.

That stuff tasted icky too...

Still, a few minutes later he was feeling slightly better and now the three of them looked at his family tree, searching on his mothers side for anything interesting.

And again, it was Hermione who found something first.

"Look, isn't that...?"

She didn't have to finish her sentence. The name she pointed out - about five generations away - was pretty easy to recognize.

Alastor Moody.

Harrys eyebrows shot up. "You can't mean... he's not that old, is he?"

Now it was Sirius spoke. "Oh come on, that generation is more than one hundred years away. I know he looks old but... that's probably his grandfather or anything."

"Or a brother of his grandfather, which is more likely," Hermione chipped in. "That Alastor Moody was probably a squib too, otherwise Lilys grandparents should have been magical. And I don't really think so."

Sirius chuckled. "So Harry could be the great-great-grandson of Mad-Eyes great-uncle?"

Hermione nodded. "Basically, yes."

"That's wicked!"

Harry nodded slowly. It really was kinda cool, even though Moody always seemed so paranoid. He hadn't seen the ex-auror very often as he was mostly busy with missions for the Order, but the prolonged stay in his own trunk probably hadn't done him any good.

"So... now that we have this knowledge, what do we do?", Hermione finally asked, voicing out the question Harry had asked himself in his mind already.

Sirius shrugged. "Dunno. I guess we can't do much right now, since there probably are reasons no one knows about this anymore. There might be a possibility someone wanted that information to be unknown. I guess we should wait, maybe one day there will be the perfect opportunity to publish a theory like that."

Harry nodded again. That seemed plausible. For now it should suffice to know about it, it shouldn't really change anything.

The three of them concluded to keep their knowledge for themselves for now, with the exception of Remus and Ron, before parting ways. It was almost lunch time anyway and they needed to interact with some other people again. Especially Harry and Hermione, who had been in the library way too often lately.

As Sirius made his way up to his and Remus' room - though why they shared a room even though there was plenty of space in the house Harry didn't know - both students went downstairs to look if they could help Mrs. Weasley with anything in the kitchen.

Chapter Text

Harry and Hermione had almost reached the ground floor as they nearly collided with Ron.

Who in turn blinked surprised as they saw them before focusing on Harry.

"There you are! I've searched half the house for you now! Could you come with me for a sec?"

Harry stared at him, slightly confused, before shrugging. "Sure." He turned to Hermione. "Just go on without me, I'll come down later."

With that they parted and Harry followed Ron back to their room.

At first, he wondered why his friend had searched him so intently, but then he noticed the owl on his bed. A certain dark brown eagle owl.

"Sorry mate, but this owl flew in here and refused to let me take it's letter." He showed Harry his right hand, which had a few peck marks on it. "Be glad that the incoming owls aren't controlled, too. That bird would've caused a commotion!" He wrinkled his nose before looking at Harry again, now definitely curious. "Who is it from, anyway? Haven't seen that owl before."

Harry shrugged, feigning ignorance. "Can't know it till I've read it, right?"

He walked over to the bird and carefully took off it's message. Surprisingly, it didn't fly off as fast as normally, so he even had time to pet it for a second. It's feathers were soft and clean, he really began to like that bird.

Only as it flew off through the opened window he looked at the letter.

Harry,
I have decided to divulge a few facts to you.
Facts, that will hopefully amuse or enlighten you, but will not give away my identity as it is not the right time for that yet.
My owl is a male called Quetzalcoatl. Please do not abbreviate his name.
Regards

Harry blinked, surprised, before smiling. Somehow, he thought that name fitting, even though it was quite long. And it couldn't hurt to get a few facts about this mysterious person. Maybe he could still find out their identity like that.

"So...?" Ron wondered aloud, looking questioningly at his friend. "Who's it from?"

Harry wondered for a split second if he should tell Ron what he knew, before deciding against it. That would just bring up more questions and he really didn't want to answer everything Hermione had asked again. Especially since their talk with Remus still lay before them.

Instead he chose another tactic, giving the letter to Ron. "No idea, ever seen that handwriting before?"

Ron took the parchment and read through it, before grinning slightly. "Nope, never, but it has something girlish, don't you think? Maybe it's a secret admirer? Can't have everyone hate you, right?"

"Uh... yeah." Somehow, Harry was pretty sure that this wasn't the case, considering his earlier letters, but that way, Ron would stay out of his business.

"But she's a bit weird, huh? Who the hell names his owl Quetza... something?"

"Quetzalcoatl. It's some kind of god in an old muggle religion," Harry explained, for once glad he had read so many names in search of one for Shiva. Though he was surprised that a wizard knew about it. That meant they probably had at least one close muggle relative or very special interests.

"Ah... well, whatever. It's not as if you're interested in her, right?"

Suddenly, the mood turned serious, leaving Harry even more confused.

"Eh... what?" he asked with raised eyebrows.

"You've got another love interest, haven't you?" Ron grumbled.

"What are you talking about...?"

"Well, Hermione of course! You've been spending so much time with her, it's obvious! Even mum hinted abut it..."

By now, Harry was staring incredulously at his friend.

"Seriously? I mean... look, I may love Hermione" Rons eyes went wide. "but only as a sister!"

Also, he was pretty sure she was crushing on someone else, judging from her letters she had written him during the summer, talking excitedly about a special pen friend of hers. He had an idea who that was, but telling Ron would've been the most stupid thing he could do right now.

"But... but even mum said so!"

"Well... I think she's just exaggerating. Honestly, I don't even like any girl right now..."

Rons eyes widened even further "You don't mean... You're not..."

For a second, Harry wondered what was wrong, before he recalled what exactly he said. And what Ron must've misunderstood. "Um... you're not thinking I'm gay, do you?"

His friend blushed slightly. Well, that was answer enough.

"Look, I didn't mean it that way. I'm just not romantically interested in anyone currently. No girl, no boy. Alright?" Not that he'd care which gender a 'potential love interest' of him should have. He knew the Dursleys disliked homosexuals because they 'were not normal', but really, they were all human beings. Personality was the most important thing, wasn't it?

But Ron was looking too relieved to tell him that, instead he changed the topic to a slightly safer one, telling him about the blood test results. He was bound to learn about that anyway sooner or later and since Hermione knew it was only fair anyway.

Though Harry still wasn't sure if Ron believed him in the romance issue. But he'd worry about that later.

 

The next day was a Sunday, which mainly stood for a quite full headquarters and less work. Meaning it was the perfect time for Harry and Hermione to talk to Remus without being missed.

They didn't need much time to convince him to listen to them - though finding him before had been proven quite difficult with someone always interrupting their search. Like the Weasley twins who had created some new powder out of something connected with Doxys. Harry really didn't want to know and Hermione had started a small lecture before being reminded that they had other things to do first.

So after a few interruptions like that the three of them finally sat together inside of one of the empty rooms, Remus looking confused at both students and Hermione staring intently at Harry, who gave a resigned sigh before explaining to them (since Hermione only knew about half of it) about the letters. Since he had kept them all, he could even show them, though only under the promise that he would get them back unharmed.

He had really started to grow fond of his anonymous writer, but Hermione always was way more analytical than him. The last time he had gotten anything from an anonymous person - namely his firebolt - had resulted in a long wait as three of his professors had insisted on completely taking it apart after Hermione had told them. He really didn't want to live through something like that again.

After he had finished, silence ensued. He could see both Remus and Hermione thinking over what he had just told them and wondered what they'd say.

It was Remus who opened his mouth first.

"I'm sure you know that you should be careful. Anonymous letters should always be taken seriously. Of course, in this case, the writer does not seem to want to cause trouble, but he or she has also not given you a name. There has to be a reason for that."

Harry nodded. He had had some of these thoughts too and he was glad that Remus didn't outright try to talk him out of it.

"You know, I think it's Snape," Hermione suddenly piped up, looking nervous as two bewildered stares met her.

"Snape...?" Harry asked incredulously. "Why would you think that?"

"Well... I was thinking about people who could write you without you knowing, maybe because they knew you would never listen to them if you knew their identity, since that prophecy thing was quite the big piece of information. And while I had a few ideas, I could not imagine people like the Malfoys or anything, since they honestly seem to hate you. And I don't think they'd have the resources for getting the full prophecy anyway. But Snape... remember how he saved you from falling to death on your bewitched broom in first year?"

"Well that was because of some stupid debt he had with my father," Harry answered, but Hermione wasn't finished.

"Oh come on, Snape hates your father, I don't think it has been just that. Also, he did try and protect us in third year that one night... remember?"

The last words were said a little bit quieter, with a worried look to Remus, who gave a forced smile, motioning for her to continue.

Of course, that night she was talking about had been the one where Remus had forgotten to drink his wolfsbane and had transformed in front of them. And it had been Snape who had woken up just I time to stand before them, shielding them with their arms.

Harry had almost forgotten that incident, since Snape had never commented on it again, hating him even more after Sirius had vanished and with him the chances of an Order of Merlin.

But he had to agree that Snape could've let them fend for themselves... still, it was highly unlikely...

And his face must've shown his thoughts, because Hermione rolled her eyes at him before continuing.

"I know you don't like him, but think about it logically for a moment: Could you name a person not only willing to help you but also close enough to Snape for him to give away that prophecy-memory of his? I might not know much about what Snape does in his freetime - and if I'm honest I don't want to know - but I don't think he has many friends. Especially not those who want to help you. It must be him..."

"But... it's Snape!" Harry was so sure of their mutual hatred, he just couldn't make it work in his head that it should have been him of all people sending these letters. "I mean... it's not his writing, I'm sure of it! Ron even thought it'd belong to a girl and we all know Snapes writing."

Hermione had an answer for that too. "He could have used a spell to change his handwriting. And the wording sounds like something he would write, too. He might not be a very nice person, but he talks eloquently."

She turned to Remus, looking questioningly at him. "What do you think? You probably know him better than us. Could it be him?"

The man looked thoughtful for a while, before slowly answering. "Well... it's not completely impossible. Severus is a very difficult person, it's hard to assess him. While he does seem to hate you, Hermione is right too as he also protects you if necessary. Maybe it has something to do with your mother? I'm not sure, but back when we all went to school, he and Lily were often seen together. At least I remember James complaining about them on several occasions... though all of that ended before our seventh year and Lily and James came together... I wonder what happened?"

Harry blinked. Snape might have been been friends with his mother? No way... he shook his head.

"Look at the second message! That doesn't sound like him at all!"

Hermione thought about it. "Well... he could have written it to throw you off his path..."

"But how did he know about the Dementors?"

This time, it was Remus who answered. "Sirius told me he had overheard Dumbledore ordering someone to check up on you that day. He said he had only heard Dumbledore speaking about Dementors and the tragic accident of Mrs. Figg, but not the answer. So it might have been Snape."

That... sounded logical. Sadly. Slowly, Harry had to admit, that the reasoning made sense somehow... even if he didn't want to- wait a second.

"How did he know about Mrs. Figg?" He frowned. He had no idea how Dumbledore could have known about the Dementors so fast anyway, but about a muggle woman?

"Well, Dumbledore probably didn't tell you, but she has been a member of the order," Remus explained, as if that cleared everything up.

But it only did the opposite. "An order member? Why should a muggle be a member of the Order of the Phoenix?"

Now it was Remus' time to look confused. "Muggle? But she was a squib, I thought you knew that? She was one of the guardians to look after you..."

"...Guardians? You mean, I was watched?"

"Well... not very closely as far as I know, but yes... I thought you knew, since we were always told they'd be there for you if you had a problem." Remus shook his head. "We should have enquired further, I'm sorry."

Harry just sat there. It was... quite a shock, that he had been watched but never been told anything. Not that it wasn't always like that. Why tell him anything? It wasn't as if everyone wanted him to save their behinds or anything...

So... honestly? If that writer really was Snape, then whatever. At least he told him things. Important things.

He'd probably never come to like his potions professor, but he could still pretend it being some weird nice second personality of him, writing these letters. That way he at least could continue to like reading these letters.

Telling the other two his decision they nodded and agreed that Snape was their main suspect but that they wouldn't mention anything to anyone else unless Harry knew for certain.

Until then, he'd continue being on his guard a little, telling Remus if he thought something was off, but otherwise letting his friends see his letters. Ron could continue believing it was a girl for now, his hatred against Snape was even bigger than Harrys, they'd only tell him if there was proof. It'd probably be easier for all of them.

So... for now, they could focus on enjoying the last few days of holidays before school would start again. And by then they'd probably have enough other problems to think about.

 

Their Hogwarts letters arrived at the last day of holidays. Harry had just been packing his trunk after asking Sirius if he was allowed to take a few books from the Black library with him - his godfather had agreed easily, since he didn't care about most books in there anyway - as Ron opened the door, handing him his letter with a remark of how it was bloody time for it.

Which was true, considering they had to get all their stuff today. Diagon Alley would be packed.

Harry took his letters out, just skimming over the first one, the standard 'We're happy to welcome you back'-text, before looking at the book list.

This year, it was pretty small, featuring only three new books, one of them being the expected The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 5 for Charms, the other two being called Self-Defensive Spellwork and A Compendium of Common Curses and their Counter-Actions.

As if sensing the perfect moment, Fred and George apparated into the room, with identical grins on their faces.

"Hey guys, already looked at the book lists as of yet? I don't know about you, but judging from the titles we think we might even get a useful teacher this year!" George said, patting Harry - who was standing right next to them - on the shoulder.

"Yeah, seems way more useful then books like Holidays with Hags, doesn't it?" Harry answered, rolling his eyes at the memory of his most incompetent Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher as of yet. "Makes me wonder why the book lists have arrived only now though. A bit late, isn't it?"

The twins nodded simultaneously.

"We've overheard mom and dad talking yesterday." "They said something about Dumbledore having trouble finding a new teacher-" "Not that we didn't know that already." "-so we guess he finally found one."

Harry blinked for a second, trying to comprehend what they said - the twins had began to use all of that switching while talking quite often lately, mainly because it drove their mother mad when they did.

But they always liked confusing people, so it wasn't all too weird.

"Hey, what's wrong with Ron anyway?" Fred asked suddenly, looking at Ron who seemed to stare at his letter with a slightly opened mouth. " I'm pretty sure he hasn't moved since we came in."

"Maybe his brain has finally stopped working?" George joked, walking over to his younger brother and looking over his shoulder to see what had shocked him.

Immediately, his mouth fell open too.

"Watch out, it's contagious!" Fred mumbled to Harry, who grinned slightly, though honestly curious what was going on now.

Thankfully, George solved that problem about one second later.

"Prefect? Prefect?" he stuttered, shell-shocked.

Immediately, Fred jumped over, taking the envelope Ron still held in his hands, turning it upside down. And really, there it was. A red and gold badge, lying on Freds palm.

"Prefect...? Ron?" Fred mumbled, before looking at Harry. "We were so sure it'd be you."

"Honestly, what was Dumbledore thinking?" "Maybe Harry has too much of a bad reputation?" "But then, why Ron? Look at him, it's as if Dumbledore had made one of us prefects!"

During the twins little argument, Harry had taken the badge from Fred to take a look at it. It had a large 'P' across the red and gold background, with a lion on it. Just like Percys had been.

Yep, definitely a prefect badge.

He gave the badge to Ron, who was now staring at him as if he wanted him to confirm it.

"Uh... congratulations, Ron," he murmured, unsure what to think of that whole thing. Sure, secretly he had hoped to become a prefect too, but lately he had wondered if that was such a great thing to be. Fred and George were the most obvious examples that even without a prefect badge you could do well in life. And without a badge he probably had way more freedom anyway, since he didn't need to do patrols and stuff.

Yes, maybe someone had needed to show him the downsides of being a prefect first - or at least remind him that it wasn't all sunshine and power - as they had talked before.

And surprisingly, this someone had not been Shiva this time. Though maybe it wasn't all that surprising, she was a snake after all and couldn't know about prefect duties at Hogwarts.

No, it had been Hermione. She had given him a huge lecture on all the things a prefect had to do after a casual remark that it would be cool to be able to give detentions to other students.

And, speaking of Hermione... That moment, the door banged open, revealing the bushy-haired girl looking excitedly at the boys before running to Harry, hugging him tightly.

"I did it!" she exclaimed happily before letting him go again.

He grinned. "Congratulations! I knew you'd make it."

"So... who's the other one?" she wondered aloud, looking hopefully at Harry, who shook his head apologetically.

Ron gave a sound that sounded more like 'thnkme' than the 'I think it's me' it should probably have been.

Hermiones eyes went wide as she saw that badge in his hands.

"You? Um... I mean... congratulations!" she said awkwardly, poorly hiding her surprise.

But really, who could blame her? Even Ron himself wouldn't have thought it possible, so how could anyone else? Actually, if Harry thought neutrally about it, Dean would've seemed the best option for prefect. He was the only Gryffindor boy in their year who didn't get into big troubles each year, blew stuff up even if it should have been incombustible or had so little self-confidence he probably couldn't give a detention to a second-year.

Why Dumbledore had chosen Ron was a mystery itself. The only thing Harry knew was that it would make this school year probably less entertaining, with both of his best friends being away for duties like patrolling the school after curfew... great.

This school year would certainly be... different.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11: Onwards to Hogwarts

The rest of the day had been a flood of events. After Mrs. Weasley had heard of Rons little achievement, she had been so happy she bought him a new broom - his wish instead of an animal or something - while getting all the books the students needed.

That meant Harry wasn't able to go to Diagon Alley himself, but there were still Hogsmeade weekends, he'd find whatever he needed then.

For now, a whole crowd of order members surrounded them, including Remus, Tonks and Moody, all of them disguised more or less obviously - since Tonks was a metamorphmagus and could change her appearance at will, her disguise was perfect, but Moody... well, with a bit goodwill one could think of him as a normal deranged old man... or something. Everything to protect them, though Harry wondered if Voldemort would really do something so stupid as attacking him on his way through Muggle London. It was a possibility, but chances were low.

Still, Sirius insisted on coming with them, earning a disapproving look from Mrs. Weasley, but wisely she didn't comment on it.

Instead she watched the black dog warily as he followed them through the streets, wagging his tail happily, scaring a few muggles again, until they finally reached Kings Cross.

They made their way through to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters where a few people commented on Sirius, telling Harry what a cool dog he had.

He just thanked them happily before Remus walked up to him to whisper something into his ear.

"I think Padfoot wants to talk to you..."

He led Harry and Sirius to a more private part of the platform, before waving his wand - Harry wondered what kind of spell that had been, maybe some privacy ward? - and turning his back to them.

Sirius looked around, sniffing a bit before deciding that the coast was clear and changing back. He once more had a few glamours applied, so Harry blinked for a second before he was already pulled into a hug.

"Have fun, pup, okay? Don't let your school year get spoiled by anyone." He let Harry go, smiling slightly. "I remember my fifth year, I had lots of fun back then. I'm sure you'll do fine."

By now, Harry was smiling too. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." He then pulled a poorly wrapped parcel out of his pocket. "Look, I actually wanted that to be your birthday present, but someone was against it, so I'm giving it to you now. It's a two-way mirror."

At Harrys confused look he added "It's one of two mirrors - the other one being in my possession - which are charmed to show the other ones reflection if you tell it the name of the other owner."

"Meaning if I'd say your name, it would connect to your mirror?"

"Exactly! James and I used it to keep in contact if we had different detentions. The teachers never found out how we did it," Sirius explained proudly and Harry had to chuckle. Yes, that did seem like something his godfather would do.

"That's wicked..."

"Absolutely. If you ever want to talk, just try it out. It doesn't even have to be something important - as long as you don't wake me up in the middle of the night to talk about the weather, that is."

Both of them grinned at each other and Harry put the parcel safely away, before looking at the clock. He had about five minutes to get into the train, now.

"Well... I guess it's time, huh?" Sirius said, having followed his gaze. "Good luck, pup."

With that, he hugged his godson once more before turning back into the black dog, dutifully trotting over to Remus, with Harry following him, and together they made their way back to the others.

"Harry, where have you been?" Hermione asked worriedly as she saw him. "We have to hurry or the train will leave without us!"

"Yeah, sorry...!" he answered, slightly distracted, before turning around, hugging Sirius in his dog form.

"Bye, Snuffles," he whispered, smiling at the intelligent eyes that reminded him so much of his godfather in his human form. "I'll write."

With that, he waved once to the rest of the group before following Hermione, Ron and Ginny into the train.

Once inside, Ron and Hermione had to hurry to get to the prefects compartment, leaving Harry and Ginny to search themselves an empty compartment. Which turned out to be quite difficult as most of them had already been taken by other students.

After walking through most of the train they found Neville standing on the corridor, looking nervously inside a seemingly empty compartment. When asked why he was not going in he mumbled something about not wanting to disturb anyone and Harry raised his eyebrow has he took a look inside himself.

There actually sat a blond girl who had a magazine in front of her, staring intently at it's pages.

"Oh come on, she looks nice."

"I know that," Neville mumbled defiantly. Ginny shortly seemed as if she wanted to say something but Harry had already opened the door so she stayed quiet.

"Excuse me, are these seats still empty?"

The girl looked at him with a dreamy expression on her face, probably due to her prominent eyes. Sure, she seemed a little strange, having her wand tucked behind her ear and a necklace out of Butterbeer caps around her neck, but she gave a small smile and nodded.

Harry smiled back and the three fifth-years seated themselves - Ginny sat next to the blond girl and Harry was sitting across her with Neville beside him.

There was silence for a few seconds afterwards, before the girl spoke up again.

"You're Harry Potter."

Harry blinked, slightly surprised - people asked him mostly if he really was THE Harry Potter instead of simply stating it - before nodding slowly. "That I am. And you are...?"

"My name is Luna. Luna Lovegood."

"Well, nice to meet you, Luna."

"She's a Ravenclaw in my year," Ginny interjected, but Luna didn't seem to notice. Instead, she had focused her eyes on Neville.

"I don't know your name..."

"Uh... I'm nobody..." Neville mumbled, blushing slightly as he suddenly held the whole attention of the three other students.

"Oh come on!" Harry prodded him with his elbow. "Luna, this is Neville Longbottom. A fellow Gryffindor."

"Then hello, Neville," she said, smiling at him.

"Hello..." he smiled back, slightly, and she nodded, before returning to her magazine.

A more comfortable silence followed as the train began to move and passed the landscape that would ultimately lead to Hogwarts...

Harry was already thinking of getting out a book - one of the more harmless ones of course, since he had chosen to bring a variety of books with him - as Neville suddenly started to speak up again.

"Harry! Do you know what my grandmother gave me as a birthday present?"

Slightly confused - Neville seemed surprisingly enthusiastic all of a sudden - Harry shook his head and Neville rummaged in his trunk before pulling out a slightly deformed looking cactus. He proceeded to show him how great that plant was - which ended in a temporary disaster, as they quickly found out that an irritated Mimbulus mimbletonia (the name of said cactus) could spew Stinksap. And a whole lot of it.

Thankfully, Ginny was quite apt at cleaning spells and Harry joined her after a few moments of shock - sitting next to Neville proved fatal when trying to dodge smelly green fluids - doing an acceptable job himself. Thankfully, no one seemed to have heard the quiet hiss of frustration Shiva gave as the rancid smell reached her sensitive tongue. So at least Harry didn't need to explain why he had a snake coiled around his body.

Instead, only moments after the Stinksap incident, the door opened. At first, Harry thought that Ron and Hermione might be back, but it turned out to be Cho Chang instead, the Ravenclaw Seeker who had seemingly come for some smalltalk. They chatted a bit, but mostly about how the summer had been and stuff and since Harry couldn't really tell her about the order - or, even worse, about the Dursleys - he stayed pretty vague, which didn't really help either so she soon said goodbye.

As she left he turned to look out of the window, wondering what he had liked about her last year. Sure, she was really pretty with her long, black hair, but the only conversations he had had with her were mindless chitchats... nothing of interest...

 

Ron and Hermione turned up about one hour later. The food trolley had already passed and the four students each munched on one or another sweet as the door opened and the prefects came in, both looking exhausted and frustrated.

Harry offered each of them a chocolate frog that they took gratefully as they bemoaned the choice of prefects in the other houses. Especially Slytherin, where Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson seemingly had gotten the badges.

And while Harry could understand their frustration about it perfectly well - his animosity with Malfoy had quite a history already - he wondered if it was just by chance (as it seemed to be with Ron) or if there was a reason why these two got appointed. After all, prefects should normally be students to look up to... who knew how Slytherins acted when they were alone?

At least Harry himself had recognized that Gryffindors were pretty funny to be with and everything but could get outright vicious if there was another Gryffindor-Slytherin quarrel coming up. So why shouldn't Slytherins be the same, only... sneakier? It held a certain logic if he thought about it this way, but - of course - he had to be pushed into that direction first.

Shivas train of thoughts where so different she really helped him seeing some things in a different light sometimes. Just one of the reasons he loved that snake.

They talked a bit about prefect duties, before falling silent, each following their own thoughts.

It was then that Harry looked a bit closer at the magazine Luna was reading. It was hard to guess, since she held it upside-down, but after a few moments he made it out to be "The Quibbler".

Wondering what a magazine with this name published, he concentrated on reading the headlines on the cover, making out something about Fudge, the current Minister of Magic, and... was that an article about Sirius?

"Um... may I take a look at that when you're finished?" Harry asked politely and Luna looked up, looking almost startled for a second before nodding and handing it to him.

"Sure. Take your time."

He thanked her and, ignoring the confused looks his best friends where giving him, began to study the magazine while Luna stared out of the window instead, a dreamy smile on her face.

 

Most of the articles were... just as strange as Luna was, really, but even though many things where rubbish - like "Sirius Black" actually being a false name for a singing talent named Stubby Boardman - most of them actually had a true core. Yes, Sirius was innocent. And yes, Harry could easily believe that Fudge had a few skeletons in his closet. After that whole 'Voldemort isn't back and everyone who objects will be declared mentally unstable'-thing he had pulled Harry saw the minister in a very different light now. Though he didn't think it had to do with killing goblins.

So maybe the Quibbler wasn't the most stable source of information, but nonetheless an interesting one.

Sadly, he couldn't finish the magazine as the door opened once more. This time, with a far more unpleasant guest.

The obligatory visit of Draco Malfoy.

At first, Harry tried to ignore the Slytherin by continuing to read, but sadly, the boy had other plans.

"Look at what we've got here...! Poor, non-prefect Potter is reading a magazine for loonies. Has the loss of that privilege hit you so hard?"

Harry just sighed, mentally memorising the page before closing the magazine.

"What do you want, Malfoy?" he asked, already tired of all this squabble. He knew, if he had lived his summer differently he would probably have jumped right into an argument, but as the things stood now he was bored of it. Why continue hating each other if ignoring would probably benefit both of them?

Malfoy himself seemed slightly startled about Harrys lack of response, but that didn't last long. "Loosing to Weasley must've been worse than I thought. But oh well, it wasn't me who did that bad. Shame that you still dare to come back to school."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes, I'm such an idiot. Finished yet? I'd like to continue reading."

Malfoys eyes widened. "You little...!"

He didn't finish his sentence, having drawn his wand. The only problem? Harry, Ron and Ginny had drawn their wands too and even though Malfoy had Crabbe and Goyle to back him up, they weren't the best duellists.

"Tch. I'd be careful if I were you. Unlike you, I'm prefect now and can give out detentions. I'll be watching you!"

With that, he turned on his heels, going back to wherever he came from, Crabbe and Goyle behind him.

Harry just shook his head as Hermione closed the door again. He briefly considered magically locking it, but then again, Malfoy probably wouldn't bother them again today. Thankfully.

Still, that little encounter had left some kind of impact, which ended in Ron and Ginny talking loudly about what an arrogant prat the Slytherin was.

Harry just wished they'd leave it alone, he guessed that Malfoy just liked to be the centre of attention and they were practically doing him a favour by talking endlessly about him. Of course, someone like Ron wouldn't think about that so Harry tried to continue reading without being dragged into that particular conversation every few minutes with something like "Malfoy's a nitwit, right, Harry?".

Surprisingly, Luna acted as his saviour. She had been quiet for a while now, choosing to observe instead of taking part in it - like a true Ravenclaw he guessed - but now, she chose to speak up again.

"How do you like the magazine?" she wondered quietly, just barely audible over the noise the Weasley siblings were making. He was still glad for the distraction and leaned over to her.

"Well... it's interesting, really, but I think that some of the facts are... a bit mixed up. Like that article about Sirius Black. You know that he was at Hogwarts in our third - or, well, your second - year, right?"

She shrugged. "I have heard about it, but I don't think anyone saw him. Dumbledore has been really vague and father thinks that vague people have many things to hide. That was what you did with Cho before, too, wasn't it?"

Harry looked at her, surprised that she had noticed. Cho didn't seem to find it all too weird, talking about her summer in France with her parents...

"Well... yes, but that's beside the point. You know, Sirius Black has really been in Hogwarts. I've seen him."

"Are you sure you haven't been manipulated by a Blibbering Humdinger? They're prone to do that to you sometimes, making you see strange things..."

"Um... no, I don't think I've been manipulated. I've talked to him," Harry explained after shortly collecting himself. These weird names were everywhere in the Quibbler, small articles about creatures he'd never heard of before. Most of them seemed to be fantasy, but with some he wasn't so sure. Who knew?

"Really? Oh, my father would surely be delighted to hear that. He's the editor, you know?"

Well, that probably explained her strong belief in these creatures. But anyway, as he was talking to Luna an idea sprung up in his mind.

"You know, If you'd like I could give you an interview some time in the future. About my thoughts on Sirius Black."

Her eyes seemed to get even wider than they normally were. "You would do that? Of course, there are a few other stories that need to get printed first... we're having a new lead on Wrackspurts and someone who claims to have seen a few Heliopaths within the Ministry... but I'm sure we could do something about it around New Year's Day."

"Sounds good. Just tell me whenever you're free, alright?" Harry told her, grinning slightly as she nodded.

It was quite the plan he had in his mind and he really needed to elaborate it, but if he played his cards well there was a chance his godfather could be a free man again. If the Daily Prophet wouldn't listen he just needed to get creative...

 

The rest of the train ride was pretty uneventful, the worst thing happening was a small chaos that ensued as Ron and Hermione made their way outside for patrolling and Trevor got out of Nevilles hand, but as the toad stayed inside of the compartment the search didn't need long.

Harry had finished the Quibbler, even finding the reason why Luna had held the magazine upside-down - some runes that were told to have special effects if read that way - and given it back to her, before continuing his other book that he had gotten about halfway through before the train slowly came to a halt.

The six students departed, making their way to the carriages as they heard a female voice calling the first years instead of the known, deep voice of the castles gamekeeper.

"Hey, where's Hagrid?" Ron wondered aloud, voicing Harrys thoughts, who just shrugged.

"Maybe he's ill?" Hermione suggested, getting a frown from Ron.

"But that's Professor Grubbly-Plank, isn't it? If he was just ill, why should Dumbledore get her as a substitute?"

"Well... maybe it's something serious? We'll see soon, won't we?"

Ron nodded, though not seeming very happy about it.

Well, another thing to... more or less look forward to, now, wasn't it...?

Chapter Text

Chapter 12: The new Teacher

As they got to the carriages there was another surprise waiting for Harry. Instead of just standing there as always, this year there were black, winged horses in front of them, ready to pull them all the way to the castle, it seemed.

Curious, he went closer to them, wondering what kind of creatures these horses were. They seemed slightly creepy as they looked almost skeletal, with white eyes that didn't seem to have pupils or anything. The wings were more leathery too.

"Mate, what're you doing, staring into nothing? Come on!" Ron called from inside the carriage, poking his head out of the open door.

"I'm just wondering why they're using horses this year..."

"Horses? What are you talking about?"

Harry raised his eyebrow, pointing at the winged horse.

"Well, these horses. Hard to miss, aren't they?"

Ron still looked as if Harry had gone crazy and he realised that his best friend obviously couldn't see them. Or he was pulling his leg but he didn't think of Ron as such a good actor.

"I can see them too," Luna said dreamily, having followed them after leaving the train.

"Uh... me too..." Neville added quietly, looking nervously to the carriage as if fearing it would start without him. "I've always seen them, they're pulling the carriages every year..."

Harry stared at them. "Weird..."

They all climbed in as Harry continued thinking about it. What was the reason why Luna and Neville knew the horses, Ron didn't and he himself had only started seeing them this year...? He really needed to take a look into the library.

 

The rest of the ride was calm, they talked about this and that, but nothing of importance, except for a short argument about Hagrids teaching skills. While Luna argued that she and her fellow Ravenclaws never much liked the half giant as a teacher as he wasn't very competent, Ron and Ginny defended him rather rigorously.

Harry abstained from the argument, having probably the same idea as Hermione in mind, who stayed quiet too.

While Hagrid was a very nice person in private, brave and everything... he really hadn't been the best teacher as of yet. Harry remembered with horror the Blast-Ended Skrewts... And while it was good that Hagrid knew a lot of creatures since he worked as the gamekeeper too, his obsession for dangerous animals was... not a very positive trait for a teacher.

But the quarrel subsided soon, as Luna didn't bring a lot of arguments after her first one, opting to change the subject completely, asking Neville something about his Mimbulus mimbletonia instead.

Because of that, they could peacefully enter the castle - though not without Harry looking back once more to the strange, bony horses - and follow the stream of students into the Great Hall.

Once there, Luna took her leave to the Ravenclaw table and Ginny vanished soon afterwards to her group of Gryffindor friends, leaving the trio and Neville to seat themselves on their usual seats.

It was probably a good thing that Gryffindor had no hierarchy of a sort, having students of all years mixed together somehow. Only the first years were still missing...

Not that a lot of people cared for the first years right now. Most of the students were already looking at the staff table, searching for the new teacher.

Only a few - like Ron - still commented on the lack of Hagrid, as his place was occupied by Professor Grubbly-Plank too, but most of the eyes were fixed on the person who sat next to Dumbledore.

It was a man, probably in his thirties, with fair skin and dark brown hair that almost reached his shoulders, curling slightly. He looked alright, but Harry couldn't tell much more about him, he sat too far away for that. He did sit near enough to Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown though, who where discussing the new teacher quite loudly. Harry just needed to listen in for a few seconds to get the idea.

"-looks soo handsome, doesn't he?"

"Absolutely! Let's just hope he's not a fraud like Lockhart has been...!"

Harry silently agreed with them, before concentrating on something else. He really didn't need to hear most of the conversations both girls were having when they came together, really.

Instead, he watched as Professor McGonagall brought in the stool together with the Sorting Hat, who soon began to sing his song, silencing everyone else with it. Harry was slightly surprised to hear that it held some kind of warning instead of only the usual introductions of the four houses, but then again it probably wasn't that surprising.

The hat stood in Dumbledores office. Dumbledore, who was one of the few people who knew that Voldemort was back. Of course the hat would think so too, then, and try to give everyone else a warning...

At least that was Harrys interpretation of it. Wasn't all too hard to come to that conclusion, considering there were quite a few new students to sort.

Of course, he politely clapped whenever a new Gryffindor was announced, but that didn't mean his attention was fully there.

Only after McGonagall had taken the stool away and Dumbledore himself stood up, Harry focused back onto what was happening. Because now came the important stuff.

"To our new students: Welcome to Hogwarts, and to all the other ones: Welcome back!" the headmaster began, smiling his grandfather-like smile, which Harry had grown to like so much over the years. Now, he was just focusing on what was said, rather than how he looked while doing it, wondering if there would be any manipulative intentions.

"While I know that you are probably very hungry, I need to capture your attention before your minds are clouded with food. But do not fret, I won't need long." He made a short pause as some of the students groaned, probably because they were already quite hungry or something, before continuing. "This year, I am pleased to welcome back Professor Grubbly-Plank, who will once more teach Care of Magical Creatures to all third-year or higher students who elected this subject."

Polite applause rang through the hall, especially so from the Slytherin and Ravenclaw tables, while Gryffindor was less enthusiastic, already whispering in wonder where Hagrid might be, since his huge form was very obviously lacking at the staff table.

"Furthermore, I'd like to welcome Professor Pyrites, your new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher!"

This applause was slightly louder, but of course, everyone - except for the first years - still wondered if this teacher was any good and if he'd stay longer than one year.

Dumbledore proceeded with a few other things - like how the Forbidden Forest was off limits, the dates for the Quidditch Tryouts and so on - before he finished his little speech and allowed them to eat.

Much to the excitement of Ron, who hurriedly began to pile food on his plate as if it was the last meal he'd ever have.

Rolling their eyes simultaneously at his antics, Harry and Hermione filled up their plate much slower before eating the delicious food Hogwarts always had to offer.

 

As the clattering noise began to tune down a bit, signalling that most of the students were now full and had finished eating, Dumbledore rose again.

"Well, now that you are full and ready to listen again, Professor Pyrites wants to direct a few words at you," he explained, before making a gesture to said professor, who rose himself as Dumbledore sat back down.

"First of all, thank you, headmaster, for your words of welcome," Professor Pyrites began, looking at Dumbledore shortly before turning his eyes to the students, looking slightly lost as, surprisingly, many eyes were focused on him. "So... actually, the Ministry has provided me with a huge speech telling you how Hogwarts needs to be regulated and stuff... well... I forgot most of it anyway and I don't think even half of you would've listened. Instead, I just want to say that, even though I was sent here by the Ministry, the most important thing to me is that you guys are able to learn whatever necessary to get through life. Oh, and probably through your O.W.L.s, too, but I'll have to talk enough about that later."

He sat back down again, smiling slightly as the students began to whisper with each other.

The Ministry? What had the new teacher to do with them? Had Dumbledore known? It was a good thing, then, that Professor Pyrites didn't seem to think too highly of the Ministry, wasn't it?

Harry himself didn't participate at all the chitchat, opting to study the teachers. No one up there seemed terribly surprised, so he guessed at least the staff had known, that the new professor had something to do with the Ministry...

Well, Harry was pretty sure his first Defence class would be... interesting, at least.

As Dumbledore dismissed them, most students stood up at once, leaving the hall in one big, jumbled mess.

Harry turned to Ron and Hermione instead, remembering that, being prefects, they had to bring the first years upstairs.

"So... did you already get the password?"

Ron just looked at him, probably confused as to what he was talking about for a second, but Hermione answered him almost immediately.

"It's Mimbulus mimbletonia."

At this, Neville - who Harry had almost forgotten as he had been quiet most of the time - perked up.

"Really? That's brilliant! I'll finally be able to remember the password!"

He was still grinning to himself, cactus in his arms again, as Harry said his goodbyes to his friends and made his way to the common room with him.

Though he was pretty glad to move away from his friends right now as Ron had begun to shout "Over here, midgets!" which was followed by a stern lecture of Hermione.

He really didn't want to witness that.

Instead, he and Neville easily moved to the Gryffindor common room, ignoring the whispers that once more seemed to follow Harry through the corridors. The Daily Prophet was still writing rubbish about him, it seemed. He mostly skipped articles about him these days, focussing on other things instead if he read the newspaper at all, but... he seemingly was the only one who did that.

But well, he had survived multiple encounters with Voldemort, he'd survive this.

At least the common room seemed as warm and welcoming as always as the two boys made their way through it before arriving at their dormitory.

Harry pushed open the door, sending both Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan - who had obviously arrived before them - into silence.

Surprised, he looked at them.

"Did you just talk about Neville or me?" he asked directly. At least he guessed that much and honestly: If one of them had a problem with him - and that was more probable than having a problem with Neville of all people - it was probably better to get it out of the way now instead of later.

"Well... indirectly, I guess," Dean answered after a short pause, looking uncomfortably to Seamus, who still looked surprisingly similar to a deer caught in the headlights.

"Let me guess: At least one of you believes the crap the Daily Prophet is spouting off, am I right?"

Now Seamus was turning slightly red. So it was him... Well, Harry could hardly blame him, they had never been really close and not once talked to each other since the end of fourth year.

"Look... I can't tell you what you should believe, I'd just like it if you could form your own opinion. I know the Daily Prophet likes to stir up hatred against me, but... well, since you know me in person, maybe we can get along. I promise I won't talk about Voldemort being back a lot..."

He snorted slightly after having said the last sentence. It just seemed so ridiculous, having to tell someone he wouldn't speak about something he'd probably not have on his mind most of the time anyway. Schoolwork wasn't easy, really.

"Uh... actually, it's mostly my mother..." Seamus explained, looking as if he wished to be anywhere but here. "She didn't even want to let me go back to school..."

Harry stared at him. "She didn't want you to come back because of me?" he asked, incredulous. "I mean... I've met your mother, she's nice... but honestly, why would she believe that I'm dangerous or anything...? Even if I was lying, what would I get out of it? Negative attention? Great. And I'm still ignoring the fact that, officially, I never even voiced my opinion on everything. It was mostly Dumbledore who spoke to the Prophet."

By now, all three boys were staring at him.

"So... you don't think You-Know-Who is back...?", Dean asked, confused.

"I was just saying, that everyone should build their own opinion. It doesn't matter what I said, what Dumbledore said or anything. Think for yourself guys! Don't let you get manipulated by a bloody newspaper!"

With that, he crossed the room to his bed and let himself fall on it, before closing the curtains. Honestly, that talk had stressed him more than it should have. It was just Seamus... but somehow, he at least wanted the boys in his dormitory to know that he wasn't a bloody liar! He didn't care if they believed in Voldemorts return as it wouldn't change anything, but at least he himself wanted peaceful evenings without any hatred.

But for now, he stayed on his bed, applying a sticking charm to his curtains so that he would have his peace, waiting until the other boys had gone to sleep.

Of course, as Ron came back up from his prefect duties there was a small commotion again, as he wondered what had happened to Harry, but since no one seemed to want to explain it to him, he went to bed, being frustrated.

Harry was sure he'd get an earful the next morning... but he'd live.

 

After waiting for what felt like hours Harry could finally hear Rons loud snores and Nevilles softer ones. He had been incredible bored, having forgotten to take a book or anything with him, but finally, he could change into more comfortable clothes - meaning his pyjamas, though he really needed to get ones that fitted him and weren't old things of Dudley - and let Shiva go.

"You can come out now," he hissed softly, knowing that no one would eavesdrop now, which was the main reason for staying up for so long. He really wanted to talk to Shiva again.

The snake easily uncoiled from his body, making her way to his lap instead where she could properly look at him without being cold.

"Finally. I still do not understand why you cannot simply tell them about me. It would make taking me with you so much easier," she began and he sighed.

"Look, I understand why you think that, but... talking with snakes is something most humans find... unsettling. Most of them already hate me right now and while I couldn't care less what the students think about me, the teachers would probably get suspicious too. And I need to improve my score this year, so I can't show you to anyone for now, alright?"

"If you say so... But don't blame it on me if anyone finds me, then. Humans are weird this way. Just like before. What was that strange ritual where the whole world seemed to vibrate?"

Harry blinked confused for a second, before getting what she was talking about. "You mean the Start-of-Term Feast? Don't worry, the whole clapping stuff won't be happening again for now." He was just now guiltily remembering that snakes might not have the best sense of hearing, but they were good with feeling vibrations in the ground. It had probably been quite stressful to feel him and the others clapping every few children... dammit.

"Sorry, I'll remember that next time."

She bowed her head slightly. "Thank you."

After that, he began telling her what else had happened the day - it wasn't very helpful being under a black robe, hearing things but not understanding them he guessed - and she listened patiently, only sometimes throwing in a short comment.

They talked until Harry grew really tired, after which he laid down, pulling his blanket up to his chin, with Shiva curling up next to him. They slept like this most of the time - Shiva was a very early riser, able to wake him before Ron got up to hide again - so Harry soon felt as protected as ever as sleep began to overtake him...

 

At the same time, Lucius Malfoy was just leaving his home - Malfoy Manor - behind to meet up with a certain Dark Lord.

His attendance had been specifically requested just about five minutes ago, so he had hurriedly made himself look presentable before kissing his wife goodbye.

He then turned on the spot, apparating from the safety of his manor to a little road inside of some Muggle forest.

He wasn't keyed into the anti-apparition wards of the residence of the Dark Lord - as far as he knew, no one was - so he had to walk the last few feet to the little manor that acted as their temporary headquarters.

It had belonged to some lonely old muggle before, who had had a strange fixation with collecting a lot of weird and so very muggle instruments.

Still, since the Dark Lord was able to ignore them, Lucius did too and just knocked at the front door, standing tall and looking every bit a Malfoy should.

Mere seconds later, the door opened, revealing a small house elf that bowed slightly as it laid eyes on him.

"Master has been expecting you, sir. He is waiting in the parlour."

Without taking another look at the small creature the Lord of the Malfoy family strode past it, passing a few unused muggle rooms, to the parlour where the Dark Lord held most of his meetings.

He knocked at the door and, after a short "Come in.", entered the room before closing the door behind him. What greeted him was almost blinding, unnatural light. He didn't know why, but the parlour was illuminated by a weird muggle lamp that didn't work with fire but... something else.

He fell to one knee, looking at the wooden floor below him.

"My Lord."

"Rise...!"

With that, he stood up again, now looking at the Dark Lord though not meeting his eyes. As always these days, Lucius was... slightly disturbed by his appearance, looking even younger than the Malfoy himself though being much older. It was weird, even weirder than the snake-like form had been, and though he had seen his Lord like this often already he wondered if he would ever get accustomed to it.

Though now wasn't the time to think about things like that.

"You called...?"

The Dark Lord nodded from his position, sitting behind a wooden desk on a chair with a high backrest, looking almost... human.

"That I did. I was under the impression that your son - Draco, wasn't it? - has went to Hogwarts today. He is in the same year as Harry Potter as far as I am informed." he said slowly, looking calmly at Lucius, who got increasingly nervous. It was never a good thing if the Dark Lord began enquiring about your family.

"Yes, my Lord..."

"Very well. I need to talk to him, soon. I have a task for him. Oh please" he added, as he noticed Lucius flinching, even though it was only slightly. "it's nothing... dangerous. Really, if it was I would not request your son of all people."

The Malfoy bowed slightly. "Of course, my Lord. Should I send him a letter, informing him about your wish...?"

"No need for that. Just give me one of your family owls. I want it do be... a friendly surprise."

The Dark Lords lips curled upwards in a smirk and Lucius shivered.

But still, nothing could prepare him for the surprise he was about to feel, as suddenly, the lights went out.

In a flash, his wand was out, but the Dark Lord beat him to it.

"Lumos! That man, I swear, if I catch him only one time playing with that muggle stuff he'll suffer!" he muttered, clearly aggravated, before pointing the tip of his wand at his throat. "Sonorus."

Thankfully, Lucius was quick-witted enough to cover his ears, as what followed next probably would have made him deaf.

"GREYBACK, TURN THE LIGHTS BACK ON RIGHT NOW!" the Dark Lord bellowed, making sure it was heard in the whole house. Only seconds later, the light flickered and went on again.

Cancelling both spells he sat back down again - Lucius hadn't even noticed that he had stood up - taking a deep breath.

"Where were we? Ah, yes, Draco... just send your family owl to me the next time it will-"

A knock on the door caused him to stop talking once more. Flashing the door a murderous glance, he uttered a cold "Enter!", seemingly wanting to know who had dared to disturb him anyway.

A house elf entered, the same that had answered the door, looking terribly frightened.

"Libby is most sorry to disturb master, but master has told Libby to alert him if a certain eagle owl wants do deliver a letter..." she said, surprisingly coherent for having her nose almost touch the ground because of her deep bow.

She held out an owl - since this place was heavily warded, any owl coming here was first checked by this house elf - and Lucius blanched slightly. It was the owl of his son.

Of course, it wasn't that unusual for Draco to send him a letter on the first day of school, bemoaning this or that, mostly complaining about Potter and his friends, but... to get this letter just now... and, even worse, to have the Dark Lord order his house elves to disturb him if Dracos owl came... it was a very, very bad sign.

"Well, well, well... I think our problem has just solved itself, hasn't it?" the other man said, a smirk replacing his previously angered features. "Bring me that letter, won't you, Lucius? I'm very curious as to what your son might write you, this early in the year."

Forcing his hand to stay calm, he took the letter from the owl, before crossing the room to hand it to the Dark Lord with a small bow, stepping back afterwards.

The other man just continued smirking as he opened the letter deliberately slow, probably to see Lucius squirming a bit longer, before reading what Draco had written.

Another few minutes of silence passed between them and while the Dark Lords expression never changed, Lucius grew more and more nervous. He really hoped it was one of his sons... better letters. Sometimes he whined about things for ages, as if Lucius could do anything about it!

After what felt like forever, the Dark Lord looked up again, with a mostly neutral expression, but his lips curved slightly upwards.

"You may go now."

Lucius bowed again, just barely gathering enough courage to ask "My Lord, what about that letter...?"

The Dark Lord chuckled dryly, but it wasn't a friendly laugh.

"Do not worry, I will take care of it. Now go!"

"Of course, my Lord..."

He left the room before hurrying out of the manor. He had no idea what was in store for his son, he could only hope that he wouldn't be harmed.

Well, Narcissa certainly wouldn't be pleased. She'd probably insist to contact Severus right away.

And with a silent prayer that their combined wrath wouldn't be too bad, he disapparated just behind the end of the wards.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: The Calm before the Storm

The next morning, Harry awoke with a very strange dream fading out of his mind.

He didn't remember much, only... something about Voldemort and blackouts... he had no idea why he had dreamed such rubbish, maybe it had something to do with how he had talked about him with Seamus?

But it didn't matter, it probably wasn't a vision anyway since... honestly, Voldemort and electricity? Didn't seem to fit.

Instead, he sat up, searching his clothes to get into the bathroom, taking Shiva with him. It was early enough to assume that no one else was awake yet - Harry was glad he had had the whole summer to adjust to that new sleeping rhythm - but Shiva stayed in his clothes anyway.

Not a very long time after that he came back, fully dressed and Shiva around his body again. He let himself fall back on his bed and pulled one of the more... questionable books out of his trunk, before charming his curtains close again. No need to let anyone know what he was reading.

It wasn't a particular bad book, really, being called The (not so) Dark Arts, or: The big prejudice of wizardkind. He had found that book stuffed into some corner of the Black library and decided it was worth a shot.

Because honestly? Maybe a different view on the Dark Arts would do him good. Know your enemy and stuff, yes, but why not look into different aspects of Magic just out of interest?

Sadly, the library had not held any good books about Light Magic - though that had been predictable - but now that he was back at Hogwarts... he'd probably find something.

For now, he concentrated on reading the book in front of him, seating himself cross-legged on his bed, leaning his back against the wall. Even Shiva came out again, once more looking over his shoulder. He really needed to ask her how she was able to read if she couldn't understand spoken words, but that had to wait until he didn't need to fear someone waking up soon.

So the only sound that was heard for the next few hours or something was the quiet sound of pages being turned and the soft breaths of the sleeping boys.

Not that Harry could blame them, since the 2nd of September was a Saturday this year, of course the guys wanted to sleep longer than usual. He still occasionally looked at his watch as he really didn't want to miss breakfast. Especially so since Professor McGonagall would hand out the timetables then and he was honestly curious how his would be.

Thankfully someone finally woke up then, not speaking, but making enough noise to wake up the others and they started getting up.

Harry only sighed, bookmarking the page he had been on and closing his book, as Shiva returned back under his robe. He removed the charm from his curtains and opened them to put away his book, earning a surprised stare from Ron, who was just changing next to his bed.

"What?" Harry asked, raising his eyebrows.

"Nothing... I just thought you'd still be asleep..." Ron mumbled, before shaking his head and continuing to dress.

Harry only shrugged, closing his trunk and sitting back on his bed, waiting until Ron was finished to go down to the common room with him.

He did wish the three other boys a good morning, but only Nevilles own was more or less cheerful. But well, Seamus had probably still a lot to think through and he had always been rather close to Dean, so Harry was fine with it.

He just followed the more or less normal morning routine, meeting up with the waiting Hermione, who was staring with furrowed brows at a note on the noticeboard right now.

It was an advertisement of Fred and George, who seemingly wanted testers for their newest products. Which sounded... not exactly harmless, but interesting nonetheless.

Of course, Hermione didn't think so, angrily stomping over to the twins, who sat in a corner of the common room, taking Ron with her.

Harry followed behind, listening with growing amusement as Hermione tried to reprimand Fred and George while Ron didn't want to be pulled into that whole thing - probably because he liked the idea too - and the twins only grinned at her, probably not finding her very intimidating.

"Come on Hermione, let them advertise it. They've clearly written that anyone who wants to test it is doing it at his own risk. And you know them, they're going a bit over the top sometimes, but they'd not seriously harm another student," Harry finally interjected calmly, looking at her.

She huffed. "But what if an accident happens and a student will get harmed?"

"Oh come on, listen to Harry, Hermione!" George said - at least Harry believed it to be George.

"Yeah, we're practically harmless!", Fred added, though his grin didn't exactly match his words.

"Also, we're testing most of the stuff on ourselves, so the stuff we'll give other people is already regulated!"

Hermione crossed her arms, still looking a bit miffed. "Fine! But if I'll hear of any student who gets hurt because of you, I'll give you detention! And yes, a Slytherin is counting too!" she grumbled, having sealed the one loophole Fred and George seemed to have hoped for, judging from their fallen faces.

But they recovered soon. "Alright, we'll make sure you won't hear about them!"

Hermione just grumbled something under her breath before turning and striding towards the portrait hole, leaving Ron and Harry to follow her, the latter still chuckling slightly.

Honestly, it could be quite funny to watch Hermiones fury as long as it wasn't directed at yourself.

Still, he didn't comment at it so they reached the Great Hall in silence.

Neville and the others already sat there so the trio just went to him before helping themselves to a nice breakfast.

Just as McGonagall came along to pass them their timetables - Harry wondered absent-mindedly if she was running around doing that the whole time, since students came and went quite irregularly on weekends - the owls came in, most of them swooping down to their recipient immediately, though there weren't as many as usual. Probably because a few students had already left, their owls must've went directly to them.

As Harry was still looking up, searching for a certain eagle owl or maybe even Hedwig - after having paid the Ministry owl delivering his newspaper, at least - Ron nudged him.

"Harry, look at Malfoy!" he said with a full mouth. Harry was glad he had known Ron for so long, otherwise he probably wouldn't even have understood his name.

He followed Rons gaze, only to see how said Slytherin held a letter in his hand, looking even paler than usual.

Ron swallowed, before continuing, grinning. "He looks as if someone has died."

"Ronald! You can't joke about something like that!" Hermione instantly reprimanded but he just rolled his eyes.

"Come on, as if one of them would just drop dead. Honestly, maybe his father has just written him what an arrogant prat he is and now he's shocked. Right, Harry?"

Harry just gave a non-committal shrug, deciding to study his timetable instead. He wasn't so sure what to make of it but he liked to think himself more grown-up now, to not laugh about other peoples serious-looking miseries anymore.

Even if it was Malfoy.

Because honestly, there was no real reason behind their hatred except for hurt pride, and to hate someone for years because of that... it was childish, they really needed to stop that.

 

After breakfast they decided to look if there was still space at the Black Lake for them, seeing that the weather was quite nice for September. So they left the great hall and were nearly outside, as they almost ran into Professor Snape. Great.

"Mister Potter, what are you and your little friends up to this time?" he asked, as if just waiting for a reason to take points away from them before the term had really begun.

"We were on our way to the lake, professor. Enjoying the last days of sunshine," Harry answered as calm as possible, though his brain was flooded with different thoughts. It was Hermiones fault, really, with her bloody theory about how Snape might have written his letters. Now he couldn't help but wonder what Snape was thinking. If what he said was an act or if he still hated him.

"Were you...? Well, I'd suggest using the free time to learn for once. Maybe you and Weasley wouldn't fail brewing a simple potion this year, then."

He passed the three of them with a sneer, luckily not noticing how he had struck a nerve with Harry, who was seething right now, just barely refraining from saying something that would have probably given him detention.

But he restrained himself, wanting to try and get through a year without too much detentions... He really needed to learn holding his tongue.

And for that, Snape really was great practice.

They continued their path down to the lake, the fresh air cooling Harry temper for the time being - though Ron, who had begun ranting about Snape the second said man was out of earshot, and Hermione, who had been sending him meaningful looks since Snape had talked about staying inside, didn't really help.

They sat down between a group of Ravenclaw girls and one consisting of two guys from Hufflepuff and Slytherin, talking about this and that, mostly about what Hagrid might be doing if he wasn't at school. Though Hermiones theory that he was still on that task Dumbledore had given him back in June seemed to be the most probable.

All in all, it was nice to be back at Hogwarts, especially so since this would be one of their last peaceful days until their O.W.L. Exams...

Not even Malfoy could ruin that, who was now sitting at the lake too, together with his Slytherin cronies, looking considerably better than he had during breakfast. Thankfully, he had chosen not to come over, so for now, everything was fine.

Harry had just laid down to relax a bit as he noticed the shadow of a bird in the sky becoming bigger and bigger.

Confused, he sat up again, only to notice Quetzalcoatl swooping down, gracefully landing next to him in the soft grass.

"Hey there," he said, smiling at the eagle owl while taking the letter from him. Even though he had just been angry at Snape, he couldn't help but wonder what kind of information might be included this time. Slowly, he ran his hand through the soft feathers, looking curiously at the parchment.

Harry,
Did you know that, during his time as a head boy, Lucius Malfoy once got his hair turned permanently pink? If Madame Pomfrey had not found an antidote in time, even Draco might have inherited it.
Regards

Harry couldn't help but grin as the image of a pink haired Draco entered his mind. Chuckling slightly, he gave the letter to Ron and Hermione, who read it while Quetzalcoatl spread his wings and took off again.

Only seconds later Ron roared with laughter and even Hermione couldn't help but smile slightly.

Really, a pink haired Malfoy would have been hilarious... he definitely needed to give the Weasley twins a hint... it would be a brilliant stunt.

Though as he looked over to the small group of Slytherins for a second, he was surprised to find most of them staring back, looking... almost flabbergasted.

What was their problem anyway? He raised an eyebrow, staring back at them and finally they seemed to have collected themselves, hurriedly looking away, starting to talk among themselves.

Whatever they had wanted to play at, it seemingly hadn't worked. Ron was still laughing, obviously getting a kick out of imagining that scenario.

Unlike Hermione, who had already gotten that knowing look back on her face, leaning over Ron, who by now lay in the grass.

"You know, maybe the author of this letter was in Hogwarts during Lucius Malfoys last year...?" she hinted, quietly.

Harry just rolled his eyes, knowing she wanted to convince him that it was Snape again - yes, there was a possibility that Snape and Malfoys father went to school together - but Ron seemingly had calmed down enough to hear at least part of it and bolted upright, almost toppling over Hermione with that move, but looking wide-eyed at Harry.

"Imagine if your admirer is almost as old as Malfoys father!" He made a face. "That would be too old for you...!" Then, he looked back at the letter. "But really, if you ask me it's a girl from somewhere around here. She probably knows about your feud with Malfoy and thought that up to amuse you!" He nodded, seemingly convinced of his own theory, probably because the idea of a middle-aged woman asking out Harry would creep out anyone.

Harry just chuckled, sure it was neither, but didn't comment on it. Instead, he pocketed the letter to add it to the other ones in his trunk.

Which reminded him... he really needed to go look for a new trunk too, preferably one with secret compartments. He needed a safe place for his letters, as well as his more questionable books. He'd watch out for anything as soon as the next Hogsmeade weekend would be announced. For now, he could simply enjoy the son and his mental image of a pink-haired Draco Malfoy.

That sounded like a good idea.

 

The rest of the weekend passed without major problems. He had escaped his two friends for a quick visit to the library Saturday evening - a visit that had needed more time than he had assumed, but after which he finally understood that the winged horses that had pulled the carriages were called Thestrals and could only be seen if you had seen death.

Also, he had borrowed a few books on Light Magic for later use, getting a stern look from Madame Pince that clearly told him 'Don't you dare returning these books in a less than perfect condition', and had told Ron what had happened between Seamus and him.

Sunday afternoon he had asked Ron to keep watch for other Gryffindors to enter their dormitory as he had unpacked Sirius' present and tried talking to him through that mirror.

It had been a fun hour before Ron had to interrupt them as Dean seemingly needed something from his trunk.

But it didn't matter, Harrys mood stayed high for the rest of the day and it got even better as Malfoys hair suddenly turned pink in the middle of supper.

Of course, it was not that funny anymore as Professor McGonagall came to their table, giving the twins two detentions each, but her eyes were not as stern as they should be. The twins thanked Harry for that brilliant idea anyway.

With this, the Sunday drew to a close and Harry sat once more on his bed, book in hand this time, and read the last pages of his book together with Shiva as he waited for the other guys to fall asleep.

It was weird, really, how he had practically devoured that book, but it turned out that the title hadn't just been chosen to grab one's attention. The author had been able to prove his claim and now Harry wanted to know more about it.

The book had showed him that there was more to Dark Magic than torturing or killing. That there actually was a "good" side of Dark Magic, too. It was said that there were spells and rituals that were sometimes very complex or required things you could not legally buy anymore, but at other times fairly easy but still classified as "Dark" by the Ministry, that could do good things.

Heck, Harry had found a bloody healing spell in that book!

But the author was probably right... Renowned healers couldn't use Dark Magic to heal as that would be outrageous. And Dark Wizards normally focused on destroying instead of building, not even using their magic to it's full extend, simply because no one would want to go to a Dark Wizard to get healed.

There even had been a few hints that this kind of magic - in contrast to Neutral and Light Magic - could heal wounds that originated from a Dark spell, since their cores were the same.

It was... enlightening, really, and Harry pondered on it for quite a while before sleep could snatch his attention away.

As Shiva woke him the next morning, he had decided on it. He would spend his free time usefully, studying all three brands of magic. He wouldn't use any of it to harm someone, but the idea to miss out on such a big part of knowledge... No, for once, he wanted to do something without having to fear any kind of public backlash. And if he needed to do things in secret to achieve that, he'd do so.

This once, Harry Potter would not be a puppet in the game of grown ups. He was a teenager and he should be allowed to make mistakes. And if wanting to study every aspect of magic would prove as a mistake, fine. He'd learn his lesson, then.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14: Defence Against the Dark Arts

The day progressed horribly slow.

They had started with History of Magic, probably the most boring subject ever invented, though mostly because of their teacher. Professor Binns did not seem to be able to convey any emotions and droning on and on about giant wars wasn't exactly interesting.

Sadly, Harrys resolution to try and learn things included this subject so he forced himself to listen and take notes while trying not to get distracted by anything.

It was probably the worst class he ever had, including Divination, but he survived it just barely, with notes that made both of his friends stare at him as if he'd gone crazy.

"Since when do you take notes in Binns classes?" Ron asked incredulously as they went down to the dungeons, since they had potions next. "You didn't even talk with me!"

"Sorry Ron, but since the OWLs are coming up and everything... I thought it might help. And if I can memorise it that homework we've gotten is only half as hard."

Ron just stared at him as if he had gone mad - well, maybe he had, at least a little bit? - but he got an approving nod from Hermione.

"That's the spirit, Harry." She then turned to Ron. "You see, even Harry has understood that learning is important! Try that too, won't you?"

"Hey, what do you mean 'even I'?" Harry protested and the three of them continued bickering until they had taken their seats inside of the potions classroom.

The following lesson was almost as strenuous as History of Magic had been. Sure, Snape wasn't talking a lot, since they were requested to brew a quite complicated potion - the Draught of Peace - but the concentration needed was a lot and Harry was determined to not make any mistakes.

 

At the end of the lesson, Harry took a deep breath, a thin layer of sweat covering his face due to the heat of the flames under his cauldron as well as all of the multicoloured fumes.

The potion was said to emit a silvery vapour by now and Hermiones seemed to do just that, causing Snape to pass her without any comment. So he probably didn't have a reason to criticise her.

Many students had various problems with their potions though, Rons was shooting green sparks and Nevilles looked as if he had tried to mix cement.

Nervously, Harry looked at his own potion as Snape walked to him, already with a look on his face that made clear he was just waiting to humiliate him. It did emit some silvery mist, but it was much darker than Hermiones.

Still, the face of his potions professor as he took a look into Harrys cauldron was priceless.

"It seems as if you actually were able to read the instructions this time, Potter," he said, though clearly disappointed. It didn't last long, though. "Well, it was a very simple potion."

He passed his place, but turned around once more after a few steps, a small smirk back in place.

"Five points from Gryffindor for getting help from Miss Granger. I said you should work alone."

With that, he went to the Slytherin side of the room, leaving Harry to exhale frustratedly, but not commenting on it. It could have been worse. At least he could fill up a vial of his potion to turn in, guessing that it wouldn't be too bad as Snape hadn't said anything about it.

What followed was lunch hour which was pretty uneventful, just like Divination afterwards. The latter was incredibly boring, yes, even though the idea of interpreting ones dreams sounded vaguely interesting, but nothing much happened anyway.

No, the really interesting part came after Divination, since they had Defence Against the Dark Arts now. A double period, even.

Curiously, the whole class, consisting of Gryffindor and - of course - Slytherin students, sat at the tables, awaiting Professor Pyrites' entrance.

 

He turned up about two minutes after class should have started, looking slightly dishevelled.

"Sorry, some urgent business was delaying me, I missed the stairs..." he explained, grinning embarrassedly. A few girls giggled and some students looked sceptically at him, as he straightened himself and his clothes before clearing his throat.

"So... to begin the lesson... Welcome to 'Defence Against the Dark Arts'," he said, putting the name of his subjects in air quotes. "I'm sure you're having a few questions before we start, judging from your expressions. Shoot!"

Immediately, quite a few hands went up. Professor Pyrites looked around for a second, before pointing at Parvati. "Yes, Miss -?"

"Patil, sir," she said, smiling broadly. "Could you tell us something about you...?"

He looked surprised for a moment, before chuckling.

"Not the question I would have expected, but alright." He looked at the class. "My name's Aquila Pyrites, I'm too old for you-" He was looking at the girls now, who blushed, looking down. "-and I have been a Ravenclaw student once. I always liked Defence but not the way it was taught here. That's why I went to the Ministry, to see if I could improve the education for future students. And... well, I guess I've had success somehow, they did sent me to teach you."

As he talked he had an easy smile on his face, having taken a seat on the teachers table.

"Other questions? Yes, Mr. -?"

"Thomas. You said you're from the Ministry... Why did they sent you, what about Dumbledore?" Dean asked, voicing the thoughts of most other students, Harrys included.

"Good question, Mr. Thomas. Though I'm not sure if I can answer it completely. I do know that the Ministry has very recently established a law that says they might appoint a teacher if the headmaster of a school cannot find someone in time. So my best guess is that Dumbledore didn't find a teacher himself which led to me being appointed by the Ministry," Professor Pyrites explained, not looking too sad about the whole matter. "I've actually been sent to see how the education of the student works, too - sure, I've also been a student here once, but... you know, curricula can change. Don't worry though, it shouldn't be too bad. Just some observing, asking questions and stuff."

"Are they allowed to do that?" Seamus wondered aloud, sounding surprised.

"What's your name?" Professor Pyrites asked.

"Seamus Finnigan."

"Well Mr. Finnigan, the Ministry does have a certain power over Hogwarts, since it should be their job to ensure the students are well-educated. Of course, that power can be misused, but... I'll try to act on behalf of the students."

Seamus looked slightly impressed but stayed silent, giving Professor Pyrites enough time to call up another student. This time, it came from the Slytherin part of the room.

"Why did you put 'Defence Against the Dark Arts' in air quotes as you introduced yourself? The name's Blaise Zabini."

At this, the teacher seemed to ponder for a while as if he didn't know how to answer that question.

"That is also a very good question, Mr. Zabini. The easiest way to answer it is probably to show you."

He hopped of the table and drew his wand. He turned to an empty spot and conjured a straw doll out of nowhere.

"Imagine if this is a human being." He waved his wand again and robes appeared, making the straw doll look slightly more like a wizard. "And now... Diffindo." He pointed his wand at the puppet, the spell going straight through its body, leaving a big cut in the middle of it. "Sure, a real human being isn't a straw doll, but a well-aimed Diffindo still bloody hurts. Also... Incendio." Immediately, the puppets robe caught fire and soon, the straw was burning nicely, illuminating Professor Pyrite face from the side as he turned back to the class.

"As you can see, these spells were very simple, Neutral ones. They are taught to first-years and no one ever thinks about how dangerous they can be if used with ill intent. Actually, you can hurt a person with almost every spell. So why did they call this class 'Defence Against the Dark Arts' if it is way more probable to encounter someone who wishes you ill and isn't able to cast Dark spells?"

He looked questioningly at the students, but no one talked.

"Exactly. So... while I do think it's important to be able to defend yourself against the Dark Arts, it is just as important to defend yourself against any other spell, hence my dislike against the name of this class. Why not just 'Defence'?"

The stunned silence continued and Professor Pyrites just shook his head before vanishing the meagre remains of the straw doll.

"Anyway, I think that's enough for now. I'll just give you a short version of what I've planned for this year - which, mind you, isn't much since the Ministry actually appointed me on a very short notice - before you can do something more practical."

He was now completely concentrating on the students again. "We'll start off with repeating older spells, testing your knowledge and stuff. The OWL exams will probably feature quite a few practical spells and I want you to be roughly on the same level for that. Afterwards, we'll begin talking about wards. Warding is quite difficult but as fifth-years, you should at least be able to do some easy muggle-repelling charms and, depending on your natural affinity for the subject, maybe you'll even be able to cast anti-owl wards. And at the end of the year we'll probably look more closely into what kind of theoretical stuff will be tested on your exams. But if you get the practical stuff right I'm sure you'll do fine."

 

Harrys opinion on the matter? He thought the teacher was bloody brilliant! Sure, he hadn't seen much practical competence yet, but he definitely already liked the mindset of his professor. Because he had come to the same conclusion once: Almost all magic could be dangerous if the caster wanted it to be. Sure, he was pretty sure that many Dark spells had been created to hurt, making using them for friendly purposes was difficult, but he knew by now that not everything was bad about the Dark Arts, so... he liked Professor Pyrites' point of view.

After that much talking, the teacher finally motioned for them to get up, putting the tables out of the way with a flick of his wand. Soon, the students were gathered in the middle classroom, with Professor Pyrites standing in front of them.

"Alright guys, first spell: Expelliarmus. Does anyone of you not know how it's casted?" he asked, looking cheerfully around as no one raised his hand. A few people grimaced, though Harry wasn't sure if that was because of the spell itself that, admittedly, was pretty easy or because of a certain memory of the first and only lesson of their 'Duelling Club' back in their second year. "Doesn't matter, I will demonstrate it anyway. Any volunteers?"

As Harry looked around, no one seemed very eager to do so. Well, it was kind of understandable, who wanted to show a weakness in front of the house they disliked most?

It was only seconds before Harry had wanted to raise his hand that he heard Draco Malfoy not-so-quietly whispering something to one of his cronies.

"Who does he think we are, first-years? As if an Expelliarmus is any help in a real fight."

Surprisingly - or maybe not so much - that brought him more attention that he probably would have liked as Professor Pyrites turned to him.

"So, Mr. Malfoy seemingly wants to volunteer," he said, still smiling happily. "Your name is Malfoy, isn't it? Lucius Malfoy is a well-known face in the Ministry and you are looking strikingly familiar to him."

Malfoys face contained a mixture of horror, pride and frustration for about half a second, before he caught himself and nodded, haughtily walking up to their professor.

"Great. Now, first of all, the wand movement." He turned sideways, showing all of them the correct wand movement in slow-motion. "You probably knew it anyway, but to see it one more time can't hurt. Of course, to cast it you have to be a bit quicker." He looked at Malfoy. "Mr. Malfoy, as you seem to doubt my abilities, how about a little duel?"

Malfoy began to protest - rightly so, a teacher knew a larger variety of spells which wasn't very fair - but Professor Pyrites interrupted him soon. "Of course, I'm not talking about a real duel. Quite the opposite, I will use that to show you what you can do with Expelliarmus. Feel free to use any spell you know, Mr. Malfoy, while I will stick to the Disarming Charm. Not even a shield charm, only Expelliarmus. What do you say?"

The offer sounded easy enough... Especially so, since Malfoy could protect himself with a Shield Charm while their teacher could not. But Harry was sure that there had to be a catch, even though Hermione whispered frantically about it being a very bad idea as Professor Pyrites should not duel with students, especially not with Draco Malfoy.

"Alright." Was the word that sealed Malfoys fate and the two more-or-less duellists soon stood in front of each other in the middle of the classroom, both looking surprisingly serious. The rest of the students were watching from the sidelines, wondering what would happen.

And dammit, the teacher knew what he was doing.

The second Professor Pyrites had counted to three Malfoy had thrown up a shield before shooting a variety of spells at his teacher. This actually surprised Harry to an extend, though it was probably only natural that the youngest Malfoy wanted to prove his worth to... whomever. It would be quite a feat to win against a teacher, especially so if said teacher taught Defence Against the Dark Arts.

But did Malfoy really think it was that easy?

While he fired spell after spell, Professor Pyrites seemed to be quite content with dodging them for now. He seemed to be a true expert regarding that as he easily side-stepped every single blow of his opponent, which got Malfoy increasingly frustrated. Which worsened his aim even more and so on. It was like a vicious cycle that went on for about two minutes, before their teacher raised his wand for the first time after having ducked under a particularly vicious cast Stunning Spell.

"Expelliarmus!"

The red beam of light shot straight at Malfoy, crushing his shield as he had obviously forgotten to focus on maintaining it, thus weakening it enough for the spell to come through.

About one second later Malfoy was left looking dumbstruck at their teacher, who held two wands in his hands.

Well, that had been... interesting, at least.

"Thank you for your cooperation," Professor Pyrites announced, now smiling again before giving Malfoy back his wand. "I am sure you have understood by now that Disarming Charms are actually pretty useful. Especially so if your opponent doesn't want to kill you. And it is more probable to face someone in an official duel - in which making your opponent drop their wand is the actual purpose of it - than fighting a duel to the death. Though without a wand, your enemy can't attack anyway so it's always a good idea to know how to disarm someone." He turned to the other students. "Any more questions?"

No one said anything. "Great, so then let's form groups of two to practice the spell. Just search yourselves a free spot and start practising, I'll take a look at your skills once I've had a word with Mr. Malfoy here. There are a few things you can learn with every duel you have."

He then turned to Malfoy, leaving the rest of the class staring stupidly at each other for a second, before chaos erupted as everyone tried to partner with his or her best friend.

Ron and Hermione both looked at Harry questioningly, probably unsure of how to form pairs as they were three, but he motioned for them to partner with each other, making his way to Neville instead.

The boy was staring into nothing, looking somewhat lost just standing there, probably because most of the time no one wanted to have him as a partner.

"Hey Neville, care to join me?" Harry asked, smiling at him, who looked surprised.

"Uh... don't you want to partner with someone... useful?" he mumbled, looking somewhere else.

"Well, I'm doing just that, aren't I?" Harry met Nevilles stare with a wink, before getting serious again. "Honestly, you need to get a little bit more confident. You're a genius herbologist, why should that be your only talent? Let's just practise for a bit, alright?"

Neville shrugged helplessly and they moved into position. On the count of three, they began casting, though Harry was way faster, easily disarming the poor boy.

He summoned Nevilles wand and gave it back to him. "How about you simply try to disarm me?" He knew that he was quite good at disarming other people - hell, Expelliarmus had already saved his life! - so it probably wouldn't do to take turns.

But with only Neville casting he could try to analyse why it didn't work and the worst thing happening to him was a small shudder and his hair standing on end. Actually, it was a very easy problem, one he could relate to as he had done so too in the beginning.

"Your hand movements are too sweeping. Try it a bit smaller, like this." He pointed his wand at Hermione, who was waiting for Ron to retrieve his wand somewhere in the classroom and disarmed her, making sure that Neville could see his wand movement.

Surprised, she whirled around and while her face was priceless for a few seconds it turned into a frown shortly afterwards.

Harry only smiled sweetly at her before looking back to Neville. "Want to try it again?"

He got a nod and they continued their training.

 

It wasn't until the time was almost up and Harry had given a few more hints that finally, his wand flew out of his hands, landing somewhere behind them.

Both Harry and Neville stared surprised at each other for a second, before grinning.

"I did it! For the first time, I did it!" Neville exclaimed happily as Harry clapped him on the shoulder. "Congratulations!"

Though their excitement was cut short as Professor Pyrites stepped on a table, casting a quick Sonorus to get their attention.

"Alright, enough for today!" he called, before cancelling the amplifying spell again as the last shouts of Expelliarmus rang through the room.

"Soo... while I haven't been able to look at all of your performances, I did see that whoever taught you that spell probably wasn't the most... effective teacher. But most of you seemed to have grasped the concept of the spell by now, I guess it won't need as long to get the rest of you to get it, too. Afterwards we can proceed with another spell." Suddenly, his smile changed slightly, almost into a smirk, as if he'd just gotten a brilliant idea. "You know, to prevent further... complaints about spells, how about suggesting the ones you'd want to learn about? Homework: Write... let's say... at least six inches about any spell you'd like me to let you practise. The only important thing is that it can be used in duels or in Defence in general. Write about what it does, how it's cast and why you think it should be covered. The more and the better you write, the more probable it is that I will use your suggestion. Have fun!"

With that, he hopped from his table and went to repair a few thing inside of the room that had gotten damaged by stray Disarming Spells, leaving the class to stare at each other in wonder.

That didn't last long though and soon everyone moved again to leave the room.

Harry went to retrieve his wand that still laid somewhere behind him as most of the others made their way outside.

"Mr. Potter, one word..."

Harry looked up to his professor questioningly. He didn't need to ask how he'd been recognized, it was fairly easy anyway. "Sir...?"

Professor Pyrites held his wand out to him, looking fairly amused.

"It was quite entertaining to see you disarm one of your friends through half of the room, and nice to know that you are able to do it, but please try to keep it to your partner - or at least out of my sight - alright?"

He winked as Harry felt his face grow hot. He hadn’t thought about checking if he was being watched. "Of course..."

The man smiled. "Great! Now off you go, I'm sure you already have massive amounts of homework to do."

Harry nodded once and hurried back to his things, which he hurriedly grabbed to leave, wand still in hand.

Well, he certainly needed to watch out as his Defence teacher was more perceptive than he seemed.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15: Time to think

The rest of the week was just as different for Harry as the Monday had been. Really, his decision to learn had influenced his... experience in school stronger than he would have thought. The simple fact that he now understood what was going on instead of struggling with the easiest theories helped greatly, of course. But it also was really fun, practising new spells. And the face of McGonagall as Harry managed to cast the Vanishing Charm they had tried to do in Transfiguration on Tuesday only minutes after Hermione? It was worth everything.

Though of course, not everything was that funny. There were loads of homework in every subject and each teacher reminded them that the OWL exams were coming up this year and that they needed to work hard. But as Harry sat together with his two friends in the Gryffindor common room - with Neville sometimes joining them as Harry had decided to invite him over after seeing his distraught face - even Homework was bearable. Especially at these rare times when he could outsmart Hermione for once.

Only Ron didn't seem all too happy with the current situation. It was only logical, since Harry had always been the one who didn't care about school either, but now, with him working about as efficiently as Hermione, it probably took a lot of fun out of everything for the redhead.

Harry tried to appease him with chess games after they had finished homework but he wasn't a real challenge for Ron as he was still pretty bad so it presumably didn't work all too well.

His dream diary was pretty much useless too as he didn't remember his dreams often and if he did, it was either completely trivial stuff or the occasional nightmare. And he wanted to share neither with Professor Trelawney.

The worst thing was still potions though, because Snapes hatred was still as bad as ever. Harry had turned in his essay about the properties and uses of moonstone which was three inches longer than necessary (though still shorter than Hermiones, however she had managed to write so much) and even finished the potion they had to brew on time, but the only thing happening was that Snape took points from him again, telling him to sit in the Slytherin part of the class at Monday, because he had seemingly managed to cheat twice in a row directly under Snapes nose.

And how he had wished to tell his potions professor that, but he didn't want to spend the weekend scrubbing cauldrons.

At least Defence on Friday had been a glimmer of light. After handing in their homework - Harry had soon decided to write about the Patronus Charm, simply because it was one of the spells he could do best, and had gone slightly overboard with it, having written about twice as much as needed - they returned to practise the Disarming Charm. Neville was progressing much faster now and even managed to disarm Harry as Professor Pyrites came to watch which was followed by an approving nod of their teacher.

Afterwards they began with the Impediment Jinx at which Ron just groaned. After a quick consultation on Tuesday the trio had each chosen a different spell and the redhead had taken Impedimenta. While it wasn't all too bad it meant that if Professor Pyrites read their essays he would probably expect Ron to do well in class. And that meant actually working.

Though Defence was one of Rons better classes, so he'd live. Especially so since even Neville practised with newfound vigour after having managed the Disarming Charm.

That afternoon, Quidditch tryouts were held and even though Harry felt that Qudditch would kill even more of the little freetime he had, Angelina would probably kill him if he didn't show up. So he went and got his usual position back easily. Also, he was pretty sure it had been the right decision, as flying always ceased his worries.

Shiva declared she never wanted to do things like that ever again though, which meant he would need to leave her somewhere safe during practises. But he'd work something out.

 

The rest of Friday evening, as well as most of the next day were used for homework and after Harry had finished that he had quite a few schoolbooks to read.

Ron called him a nerd for that while Hermione praised his efforts and told Ron to be more like him, which resulted in another one of their typical quarrels and Harry leaving the common room to get a little bit of peace. Really, with both of them always arguing it was no wonder he sometimes felt as if he was going crazy!

He really needed a room to think, somewhere he could be without anyone disturbing him...

Then it hit him. Dobby was working at Hogwarts now, wasn't he? And the Hogwarts house-elves cleaned the whole castle as far as he knew. So... if anyone knew a place where one could be alone it would be them. And he had a good idea where Dobby might be at this time of the day, it was just after lunch right now.

He walked through the castle, his next destination clearly in mind. The kitchens. In fact, his mind was so full of that thought that he didn't really look where he was going. Which worked fine, as the corridors weren't very full, until he was at the ground floor, colliding painfully with someone who had decided to walk around that bloody corner just at the same time as Harry did, only into the other direction.

"Watch where you're going, idi-"

The voice stopped just as Harry realised who he had ran into.

Draco Malfoy. Of course. And even without his cronies today.

But surprisingly, the other boy just stared at him wide-eyed for another second, before stepping sideways and hurrying further down the hall, leaving Harry to wonder if Malfoy was just acting cowardly since Crabbe and Goyle were nowhere to be seen or if there was something weird going on...

He shook his head. It wasn't important right now, he should just go to the kitchens. It's not as if they were that far away anymore.

He went to the fruit painting, tickling the pear after having made sure no one else was watching - he wasn't sure if students were allowed to go to the kitchens, even though the house-elves always acted very friendly - and entering the kitchens without any problems.

It was... weird, to say the least, to walk into that huge room alone, especially so since he captured the attention of most of the house-elves instantly. A lot of bowing and curtsying followed and Harry nodded to the little creatures before looking for Dobby.

He didn't need to search.

"Harry Potter, sir!"

The elf was already hugging him, mumbling things about how happy he was that Harry came to visit him. He looked almost the same as he had last year, the only difference was that he wore different clothes. But he still seemed very happy.

"Hey Dobby," Harry said, smiling down at Dobby as he finally let go.

"Does Harry Potter want tea?"

"Uh... sure." Instantly, a few house-elves trotted over, bringing a tablet with tea and biscuits. Harry thanked them - sending them into fits of whispering to each other - and took a sip of his tea, before continuing. "Look, I came to ask you something I have been wondering about..."

"Harry Potter may ask whatever he wants, sir, Dobby will do anything he can to answer!"

Dobby bowed low, making Harry feel uncomfortable, but he asked anyway.

"So... you're cleaning the whole castle, aren't you? I mean, the house-elves in general..." Harry began and Dobby nodded. "Do you know a place where one can think? Maybe some quiet corner, a secret passageway or anything, somewhere not many people know of..."

Dobby pondered at that for a bit.

"Well, if Harry Potter wants his peace... he could stay in one of the lesser used secret passageways. Or..." Dobby looked around, as if wondering if he should say more. "Well, if Harry Potter sir wants to be very alone, there would be a special room..."

Harry frowned. "A special room?"

"We house-elves call it the Come and Go Room. Or sometimes the Room of Requirement. If Harry Potter wants, Dobby can show him!"

Harry blinked. Come and Go Room? He had never heard of it before and he had studied the Marauders Map for quite a while already. So he did the only logical thing: He nodded.

"That would be nice."

Dobby squeaked happily. "Dobby will show Harry Potter, sir!"

He walked to the door and Harry drank his remaining tea and grabbed two biscuits, before thanking the elves and following Dobby.

 

It was a short walk, especially so since Dobby led him through a few secret passages Harry himself had almost forgotten about, and they soon reached their destination. At least Harry guessed it was, since Dobby suddenly stopped walking, telling him "There we are!".

Confused, Harry looked around. He vaguely knew where they were, it was the seventh floor if he remembered the location of that tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy who tried to teach trolls ballet correctly. But he couldn't see any doorway.

"Are you sure this is the right place...?" he wondered aloud, earning another big nod from Dobby.

"Yes, sir. This is the place, but the room isn't there yet. It only comes if someone needs it. To make it appear a person needs to walk past this tapestry three times, thinking about what he wishes to have. The room will appear then, looking just the way it has been asked."

Harry stared at the elf. Honestly? But oh well, he had nothing to loose, right? He walked past the tapestry three times, thinking about how he needed a room where he could think in peace and talk to Shiva without being overheard.

And really, the third time he walked past, the wall on the other side morphed into a door, leaving Harry slightly stunned.

"Wow..." He opened the door, catching a glimpse of an empty room before turning back to Dobby, grinning. "Thank you! That's just what I need, you're great!"

The house-elf bowed deeply. "It was an honour to help Harry Potter, sir! Dobby will always help if he can! Harry Potter can ask him whatever he wants!"

"Yeah, thanks, Dobby."

Harry watched as the elf vanished with a plop, before finally entering the Room of Requirement, closing the door behind him.

The room was pretty small, but with enough space for him to move freely. The whole wall on his left was covered with big shelves that contained a whole lot of books and continued on the wall opposite of him. Also, there were quiet a few comfy-looking armchairs and pillows around a crackling fire, reminding him of the Gryffindor common room, though the furniture was mostly held in dark colours like brown or black. He thought it looked great.

Plopping down onto the armchair nearest to the fire, he told Shiva it was alright to come out and soon she had rolled up on his lap, enjoying the warmth of the fire while inquiring where they were.

Harry gave her the short version before pulling out a book on Light Magic. Its content wasn't as new to him as books about Dark Magic could be, but he couldn't risk walking around with these books, so he stuck to the lighter ones he had gotten from the library.

 

He left the room around dinner time, answering Hermiones worried questions about where he had been with an easy 'Walking around the castle.' before helping himself to some potatoes.

As he lay awake this night after the other guys had gone to sleep, he also finally got around to asking Shiva if she was really able to read.

"Yes. But it is not the human script I can read," she answered, confusing Harry even further. "I have been part of a ritual that allows a snake to view any human script as if it was written in Parseltongue."

At that, Harry stared at her. "Written? You mean, there is an alphabet and everything?"

"Well, of course. It is a valid language, though not many humans can speak it. I do not know who has created it and I do not care, but snakes have always been able to read it, and only it."

That... sounded really interesting.

"Can you teach me?"

The snake cocked her head, probably thinking about it. "I am not sure. As you know, snakes cannot write, so to learn writing it I would need to explain to you how different sounds look like. That could be difficult."

Harry shrugged slightly. "I don't mind. I'm sure it could be really interesting, learning something like that."

Also, having a possibility of writing in a language almost no one could read? It might not be useful, but it would surely distract him if he had finished his books.

So they ended their little talk for today with the promise to look for an opportunity to learn that language and Harry went to sleep with a smile. Even though there was still so much to learn, it was quite... thrilling.

 

The rest of the weekend went by way too fast and soon it was Monday again. Harry just barely survived the first few classes without falling asleep in History of Magic, screwing up his draught in Potions - oh how Snape had looked at him as he couldn't find a flaw, it was just too funny - or strangling Professor Trelawney in Divination. And finally, he was back to his favourite class.

Professor Pyrites told them happily that he had looked through the essays and had chosen the spells he would teach them. Though of course, he didn't tell them which. Afterwards, they continued to practise Impedimenta.

They had formed groups of two once more, but were mostly working with dummies now, taking turns to cast the spell at them. These things were great, as they were enchanted to glow for a moment if the spell that hit them had been done correctly.

Harry had already mastered it and was just trying to understand what Neville did wrong as Professor Pyrites reached them.

"Mr. Potter, I take it that you are able to cast the spell since you're helping your partner again? Care to demonstrate it?"

Harry just shrugged and did as told, earning an approving nod. "Very well."

Their teacher turned to Neville. "What about you, Mr... Longbottom, wasn't it?"

Neville nodded nervously and turned to the dummy.

"Impedimenta!"

The spell did shoot at the dummy, it even connected, but there was no glow. The spell had been too weak, though Harry was pretty sure the hand movements were correct.

Even Professor Pyrites seemed to ponder this situation for a moment.

"That was strange... as far as I could tell, your hand movements were alright, if only a bit shaky... But normally, lack of confidence shouldn't interfere enough, except for..." He stopped, before looking directly at Neville. "Say, what's your wand made of?"

Neville blinked, surprised at the sudden change of topic. "Um... aspen wood and phoenix feather."

The teacher frowned. "Strange... usually aspen wood makes a particular good wand for offensive spells... It's a duelling wand, you know?"

"It was the wand of my father... and he was a skilled duellist."

Neville looked down, clearly not very happy to talk about this topic. Not that Harry could blame him. Last year he had accidentally witnessed a memory of the trial of Barty Crouch Jr., a known Death Eater who had been loyal to Voldemort even after his 'defeat' fourteen years ago. He had been part of a group that had tried searching for their master and therefore tortured Nevilles parents into insanity. It was a horrible thing, so Harry could completely understand Nevilles lack of enthusiasm.

Professor Pyrites just nodded slowly.

"I am sure of that. But phoenix feather wands tend to be very picky as far as their potential owners are concerned. It could very well be that your wand isn't working properly for you... I'm guessing you've never visited a wandmaker to get your own wand?"

Neville shook his head, still not facing their professor. "My grandmother wanted me to use it, to honour him..."

"Though I understand her motives, I would suggest to buy a new wand anyway. You current wand obviously doesn't work very well with you and I'm sure a fitting one would improve your performance and thus your confidence quite a bit."

"How do you know so much about wandlore?" Harry finally asked, having wondered about it since Professor Pyrites had made that comment about the aspen wood. Things like that weren't common knowledge as far as he knew.

But the teacher just shrugged. "My father's a wandmaker. You pick up a few things if you get told stuff like that for years as a child."

That... seemed surprisingly logical. Though to be honest, Harry had never thought about the fact that Ollivander certainly couldn't be the only wandmaker in the world. In retrospect, it seemed obvious. It wasn't as if every witch and wizard in the whole world could go to Diagon Alley just for getting a wand...

"Anyway, how about it? A little trip to Ollivanders the next time you're at Diagon Alley? It might even help with your OWLs," Professor Pyrites continued and Neville nodded, though looking uncertain.

"Alright... though I don't think I'll be visiting before the summer holidays..."

"Well... don't worry about it, sometimes life offers surprises," Professor Pyrites just answered, winking, before finally resuming his tour through the classroom, leaving the tow boys staring at each other, confused, before continuing to practise.

 

But their confusion cleared at the end of the lesson. Only a few minutes before the end, Professor Pyrites stopped their spellcasting with his Sonorus, having climbed on top of his desk once more.

"Alright, you all did great! As far as I have seen, everyone should be able to cast an Impedimenta now. For the next lesson I will change the tactic a little bit, because I had the feeling some of you were overly bored today."

Harry wondered if he had imagined Professor Pyrites looking in Malfoys direction. "So... starting with Friday, everyone who is able to cast the spell correctly and feels confident with it is allowed to first help their partner master it before looking out for other classmates, helping them. It should get all of us to progress faster, since I cannot duplicate myself as of yet." He winked, before turning serious again. "Though please keep in mind that some people might not appreciate your help. So you should ask if a person wants your help first and don't get too disappointed if they decline. Has everyone got that?"

A small murmur of 'Yes's and 'Yeah's followed. "Alright! And now, to something much more enjoyable: We're all having a field trip!"

Professor Pyrites grinned, spreading his arms and looking expectantly at the students, who mostly looked at each other, sharing confused looks. A field trip in Defence class? They never even had a field trip in any class before... but their teacher wasn't finished yet.

"So... I've convinced Professor Dumbledore to let your whole year go on a trip to Diagon Alley." Now the whispers were starting. Typical... "Now, now... you have a whole break of talking in front of you, just wait a few more minutes, okay? On October 14th we - as in, all fifth-years, me and another teacher I still need to convince - are going to see a friend of mine. Because auror Gawain Robards will present his book Wards from all around the World at Flourish & Blotts. As it fits almost perfectly with our colloquium - at least it would if we wouldn't revise our spellwork first, but whatever, nobody is perfect! - we'll go there, listening to him and afterwards you may ask him a few questions. Even though he's a busy man I've managed to get enough time for us to do so. Buut..." He held up one finger. "since we'll leave school grounds, I'll need an explicit permission of your parents or a guardian that you're allowed to go."

A collective groan went through the class. "Yep, sorry about that, but rules are rules and Professor Dumbledore told me you need to do this. But on the upside, you'll get a little bit of freetime afterwards. Though if you choose to part with me I will collect your wands first, I won't have you wreaking havoc in Diagon Alley!"

He jumped down the table, looking pleased. "I think I've told you everything you need to know. And now, off you go, enjoy your freetime, be the first to break these news to everyone else, let the rumours go crazy, do whatever you kids do if you have news like that to spread. Oh, and because I'm sure getting your allowance is work enough: No homework. Have fun!"

With that, he left the room, leaving a surprised bunch of students to comprehend what he had just announced to them.

Well, Harry couldn't say he was in a much better state, but he knew one thing:

They had so hit the jackpot with this teacher.

Chapter Text

Mere hours after that lesson, the whole castle knew about that field trip. For that, the dinner must have been to blame, as almost everyone talked about it.

Harry himself kept quiet though, mostly because he really had a problem right now.

'Parents or guardians', Professor Pyrites had said... and for him that included only three people. His muggle relatives - who probably wouldn't sign anything for him ever again after that fiasco with Aunt Marge - and Sirius. A convicted mass murderer, whose permit would probably been frowned upon. Sure, Sirius had given him permission to visit Hogsmeade, but that slip of parchment had gone directly to Dumbledore instead of a teacher... Harry wasn't sure if a stunt like that wouldn't get him more attention than necessary this time...

On the other hand, didn't he want to improve Sirius' reputation? And the letter would go straight to Professor Pyrites anyway, no one else needed to see it...

 

Thankfully, the notes weren't due to the week before the trip, meaning Harry had more than enough time to ask Sirius himself what to do.

Because of that, he decided to go to the Room of Requirement once more that Sunday afternoon, ditching Ron and Hermione after a particular stressful Quidditch practice. He had claimed being tired, retreating into the dormitories before getting his Invisibility Cloak.

Being invisible had it's advantages, so he had time to snatch a darker book out of his bag as well as Sirius' mirror before he sneaked out of the common room just behind some younger Gryffindor who was just leaving.

He went to the seventh floor without encountering any problems, easily materializing the door that led to the Room of Requirement after making sure no one else was around.

Only after closing the door behind him he pulled off his Cloak and sat down next to the fire again. Shiva had just assumed the same position as the last time as Harry pulled out the Mirror, speaking Sirius' name clearly and waiting for his godfather to appear.

It needed a few minutes, but that was to be expected. The mirror was big and not very handy to carry around, so Sirius had cast some kind of charm on his part to let him know whenever their mirror was called, up to a certain distance. Though that didn't prevent him from being busy or just not noticing the call, of course.

Still, it was worth the wait as finally, Harrys reflection vanished and the face of his godfather appeared. He was inside of his room, as Harry knew his mirror hung there, but Sirius seemingly had just arrived. He looked slightly out of breath, his shoulder-length hair, currently wet, sticking to his head, probably freshly washed.

"Harry! Glad to see you, what's going on?" he asked happily, looking even better than the last time they had talked. Obviously, his little trips into muggle London did him good.

Harry couldn't contain a smile while answering. "Nothing much, we've finally experienced our new Defence teacher. I hope I haven't interrupted you shower?"

Sirius seemed slightly confused at first, as if he hadn't expected that question, before shaking his head. "Don't worry, I was already putting on my clothes as I got your call. But anyway, what about your new teacher? Is he any good?"

Harry nodded, proceeding to tell his godfather about Professor Pyrites and, while he was at it, a few other things that had happened too.

Sirius listened patiently, asking a few questions when he thought Harry wasn't specific enough and adding his own opinion from time to time.

"Are you sure abut that?" he finally asked after Harry had come to an end, talking about the permission that a guardian of his had to sign and his thoughts about letting Sirius do it. "I mean... I would do it, but you told me the Ministry sent him. You do know that they're still searching for me, thinking I'm the danger instead of Voldemort? I don't know that Pyrites guy personally, but I wouldn't be too keen on being responsible for... the efforts to feed the aurors false information being in vain."

Harry nodded, slowly. He knew that - though that piece about the aurors getting false information was new to him - but he really didn't see another way...

"I know what you mean, but Professor Pyrites doesn't seem like a bad guy. Sure, he does some weird things sometimes, but... other than that, he's nice. Also, I couldn't tell him where you are even if I wanted to, you're still under the protection of the Fidelius Charm, right? I just thought... since the Dursleys will probably never sign anything connected with Hogwarts ever again after that last time, I could at least ask you."

Sirius nodded thoughtfully and Harry wondered what his godfather was thinking right now, but he just smiled.

"Look, let me think about it and talk to me again in a week, alright? I'm sure we'll have a solution until then! A trip to Diagon Alley, you can't pass up something like that!"

Harry smiled back, letting the good mood of Sirius infect him. He'd think about something too, it would be alright...

He had just opened his mouth to say his goodbyes - he wanted to use his little bit of free time with Shiva to either get some reading done or, and that would be even better, to start learning about Parseltongue-script - as suddenly, a door behind Sirius opened, revealing a fully clothed Remus who was just stepping out, towelling his hair, not paying any attention to anything.

So instead of his intended sentence, Harry just stared behind his godfather. "Is that Remus behind you...?"

Sirius blinked surprised, before turning. Maybe he hadn't heard the door? Harry couldn't know, the audio transmission regarding background noises wasn't very good so Harry rarely heard anything else except what was said directly in front of the mirror anyway.

That didn't mean he couldn't hear Sirius practically shouting across the room.

"Moony! Glad to see you've finally stopped showering!" … "Don't know what you're talking about." ... "Yep, wanna say hello?"

Remus' answers had been too quiet to hear, but at least the last response had probably been an affirmative, seeing that the man was walking across the room now.

"Hello Harry. How are you?" Remus inquired with a friendly smile.

"Alright, I guess. School's surprisingly fun and our new Defence teacher is alright," Harry answered casually, deciding not to worry his former teacher with his little predicament for now. Sirius would probably tell him anyway, that old gossip.

Remus nodded slowly. "Glad to hear that. It has gotten a lot calmer here too, Molly is still obsessed with cleaning every room, but since most of her helpers are at Hogwarts right now and the others don't get why they should clean rooms that won't be used anyway, she is doing most of the work alone now." Sirius mumbled something Harry couldn't understand. Remus seemed to do so though, as he rolled his eyes. But he didn't comment, changing the topic instead. "So... any other news? Is Hedwig alright?"

At first, Harry was confused at the question. Of course Hedwig was alright... but then he got it. Remus was probably asking if he had gotten more anonymous letters while trying to leave Sirius in the dark. Quite a feat actually.

"Yeah, she's fine, she hasn't much work to do these days. But no other interesting news," Harry responded, trying to convey that Quetzalcoatl was showing up only rarely, without really surprising news or anything. Just the occasional fun fact.

"That's good to hear." He looked as if he wanted to say something more, before deciding against it, turning to Sirius instead. "I'll go look if my help is needed downstairs, alright? You can continue talking, just remember that the meeting starts in about ten minutes."

Sirius rolled his eyes. "As if everyone will be on time today. But alright, I'll see you then."

With that, Remus said his goodbyes to Harry and vanished out of the mirrors field of vision. A few seconds later Sirius had turned back, smiling.

"That's Moony for you. Anyway, I'm guessing you'll have things to do, too, right? I don't want to keep you, just one more thing: How's your snake?"

"Huh?" Harry actually panicked slightly at that before he remembered that both Remus and Sirius had once seen Shiva as they all had travelled to London. And at least his godfather obviously hadn't forgotten about it.

"Well, I'm guessing you still have it? You two did seem rather close as far as I could tell from that one time I saw it. I'm not sure what I should think of that, but as long as you're happy..." Sirius explained, shrugging.

"Well... yes. She's still here. I just didn't think you'd remember her."

"Of course I do. How could I forget my Gryffindor godson suddenly having a pet snake?" He chuckled. "So, it's a female?"

Harry nodded slowly. "Yeah. And her name is Shiva, in case you wondered. It was pure chance that I found her but she helped me a great deal to get through the summer without losing my sanity to boredom. She's incredibly intelligent for a snake."

"Glad to hear that. Though, what do the other kids think about it? Not to mention the teachers... Do they know about her?"

"Well... no," Harry confessed. "Currently, the only ones who know are Remus and you."

Sirius frowned. "What about Ron and Hermione?"

"Well... I don't know... I fear that they'll think bad of me... You know Ron, he's pretty much the kind of guy who thinks 'snakes are dark and dark is evil'... and Hermione wouldn't like it that I'm bending the rules for Shiva. It's written that every student is allowed one pet, not two, and I already have Hedwig. Also, it explicitly states that every pet needs to be an owl, cat or toad."

His godfather raised an eyebrow.

"Come on, they're your best friends. Don't you think you can trust them?"

"That's not it... I'm just worried about everyone finding out and thus alerting the teachers..."

"Even if that would happen - which would require a pretty big slip of the tongue from one of you - I can't imagine any teacher would do something. Could do something. Think about it, how many people have brought different animals to school? Think about Pettigrew. Ron never got in trouble for bringing a rat to school, did he?"

Harry nodded slowly. And hadn't Lee Jordan brought some kind of tarantula once? Now that he was thinking about it, there were quite a few students with other animals in school... maybe it really couldn't hurt...?

"Anyway," Sirius continued. "Think about it. You don't need to decide right now, but I do think it's better if they'd hear it from you than see Shiva accidentally and get to know you had her all year."

"Yeah... I guess I will think about it."

"Good! And I'll come up with a solution for your permit-problem. Anything else?" Harry shook his head. "Alright, then I guess we'll speak again next weekend, okay?"

"Definitely. I'll see if I can get away again."

"Yeah, just call me whenever, I'll be there."

They exchanged goodbyes and waved to each other, before Sirius ended the connection.

Harry put the mirror next to him, absentmindedly wondering if he should buy a case or something to secure it, before switching to Parseltongue to inform Shiva about what had happened.

She also agreed, once more, that he should tell his friends about her. It would be so much easier to hide, then. And the fact that they kept Sirius' identity or the existence of magical items like his Invisibility Cloak or the Marauders Map hidden clearly meant they should be able to keep other secrets too.

And Harry couldn't really go against that logic. He still said he'd think about it though, because rushing things would just lead to problems. Even if he decided to tell them he would still need to think about where and when... it would need a bit of preparation.

But whatever, he still had time right now, so he focused on Shiva, changing the topic altogether.

"So... how about these lessons in writing Parseltongue? Do you think we could start now?"

"Sure. If you are having something to write?"

He didn't, but as he looked around he suddenly found a stack of parchments laying on top of a table just behind him, complete with ink and a nice but simple quill. He wondered briefly where the hell that table had come from, but then again... it was called the "Room of Requirement".

So instead of wasting more time wondering, he and Shiva moved to the table that was still close enough to the fireplace for Shiva to feel comfortable. He himself sat down on the matching chair, which was cushier than it looked like. Sweet.

Shiva then began describing to him how certain sounds looked like when they were written, but after they needed almost ten minutes for the first two letters they decided on a different approach.

As most letters in the Parseltongue alphabet pretty much looked like snakes - well, they were simple lines, at least - Shiva would try to position herself the way the letter looked like. That way, Harry just needed to copy it before she would look if he had done it correctly, telling him to add one or two details if necessary.

This procedure worked much better and soon Harry had most of the letters written down. The only problem now would be connecting them, because like with every language, there were things that differed between spoken and written words. But as he was able to speak the language, he at least had a sight advantage. He would manage it.

 

He was working very focused, completely forgetting the time. It had felt like minutes, but as his stomach grumbled he looked at his watch, noticing it was almost curfew time!

Cursing slightly, he quickly told Shiva that they needed to stop for now - though he would probably continue practising to write the letters later - before collecting the rest of his stuff and leaving the room, wearing his beloved Invisibility Cloak again, heading once more to the kitchens. The disadvantage of skipping dinner after Quidditch practise.

He was just walking through one of the corridors on the first floor as he saw two small girls, probably first or second years, standing next to each other in an alcove, looking worried.

Cursing himself for not taking the Marauders Map with him, he carefully crept forward, hoping to not make any suspicious sounds as his feet touched the cold stone floor of the castle. The girls seemed lost or something, looking around nervously as one of them clutched at a pair of scales, but they did not look into his direction, so he probably was safe.

Having already passed them, he just wanted to take a relieved breath as the door of a classroom to his left suddenly opened, revealing a tired looking Draco Malfoy.

Surprised, Harry took a few steps back, fearing that Malfoy might somehow notice him, but the boy just closed the door behind him, locked it with an easy locking charm before looking at the two girls.

"Let's go, we're finished for today!" he told them and a dumbstruck Harry watched the two girls following the Malfoy heir without further questioning. What the hell...?

He waited until all three of them were out of sight, before pulling out his wand, pointing it at the locked door.
"Alohomora!" he whispered. The lock clicked and Harry easily stepped into the classroom, now incredibly curious what Malfoy had done in here. Of course, he was careful, he didn't want to be the victim of any of Malfoys pranks, but he couldn't detect any spells or other weird things.

Instead, the classroom was virtually empty. No tables or chairs, the only thing left was a whole lot of space, a board at the front of the room and a black and gold cabinet that somehow seemed familiar.

But his focus lay on the board in the front. A lot of different runes were drawn on it, but as Harry had oh-so-wisely decided to take courses like Divination instead of helpful ones like Ancient Runes he had no idea what they could mean. Perhaps Malfoy tried to create new spells? That would explain the space... but he had no idea if the fifth year curriculum in Ancient Runes and Arithmancy covered enough to try these things...

He opened the doors of the cabinet too, just as a precaution, but it was empty. So there really was nothing else in here to do... oh well. It really wasn't his business.

He left the room, locking the door again in the process, before continuing his way to the kitchens. It wasn't that far away anymore...

 

The next few days went by without any thing big happening. He got another fun fact from Quetzalcoatl, but other than that, his days were filled with learning, homework and the trying to remember the different letters in Parseltongue. He had almost no time to think about telling Ron and Hermione about Shiva or if there was another possibility to get his permit for Defence. Of course, his two best friends had simply written their parents, easily getting their okays... leaving him to wish it would be that easy for him too... Just another reason to get Sirius out of trouble as soon as possible.

But because of that, he was hit completely by surprise as a nondescript, brown owl dropped a letter in front of him at breakfast that Thursday.

He had already gotten his copy of the Daily Prophet, so what kind of letter could that be?

He easily found out by opening it, though he thought he couldn't believe his eyes at first.

Hereby we, Vernon and Petunia Dursley, guardians of Harry Potter, allow him to visit Diagon Alley at the 14th October 1995 for Defence Against the Dark Arts.

There even was their signature below! How the bloody hell had they even known about it, much less signed so willingly?

"Harry, you've dropped something," Neville muttered across from him as the Boy-Who-Lived turned the letter, wondering if it was a cheap joke.

And really, there had been another parchment enclosed which Harry had overlooked. It was also very short.

Best solution, don't you think?
Snuffles

He blinked. Sirius? Now, that was weird, he definitely needed to confront his godfather about it.

As Ron next to him wondered why he was looking so surprised, he showed both of his friends the notes and while Hermione frowned, probably focussing on what had happened to get this result, Ron grinned, clapping him on his back.

"That's great, mate! There shouldn't be any trouble with Pyrites if you give that to him tomorrow!"

Harry nodded slowly.

"Yeah... but I really need to talk to Si- Snuffles about it. Maybe this weekend. Care to join me?"

He looked at his two best friends questioningly, finally deciding that Sirius was right. If he couldn't even trust them, who else was left? And really, just because he wanted to think for himself didn't mean he would keep everything a secret from everyone!

It was necessary to talk to people, otherwise he might just go crazy with all his secretiveness. Sure, there were secrets he still wouldn't tell - like his newfound vigour to study every brand of magic, he'd keep that for later - but he could at least try to let his friends in somehow.

So, after receiving two affirmative responses, he put the letters safely away, before returning to his breakfast.

 

That Saturday, Harry led the three of them to the Room of Requirement. At first, he had thought about using a different room, since he had used this room to be alone until now, but then again, he could always wish for no one being able to follow him... that should actually be possible.

So he did show Ron and Hermione the room and actually, Hermiones facial expression as she took in all those books was so worth it. Though he assumed she wouldn't be that enthusiastic if he had told her it was Dobby who showed him this room. She liked the house elf well enough, but he did have a very strange definition of 'helping Harry'. Instead, he had told his friends that he had found the room by accident.

Anyway, the interior had changed slightly since last weekend. The table was still there, but there were even more books and armchairs, and the room itself had slightly expanded.

"Wow..." Ron was the first to utter his astonishment as Hermione was already staring at the books longingly.

Harry chuckled slightly at their antics - though he could understand it, the room was fascinating.

"Yeah. Quite a cool room, isn't it? And almost no one else knows about it, it's not even on the Marauders Map, so... I trust you can keep this a secret?"

"Of course we can!" Hermione instantly told him and Ron nodded.

"Sure. It's like the perfect hiding place if you don't want anyone to find you!"

"Exactly," Harry agreed. "That's why I thought it was the best place to talk with Sirius."

Both of his friends nodded, but Harry had no intention of calling Sirius now. First, there was his... other problem.

"Is there something wrong?" Hermione asked confused, as he didn't move and probably looked slightly nervous too.

"Uh... yes, I just wanted to tell you and Ron something..." he muttered, causing both of his friends to look at him questioningly.

"Well... what is it?" Hermione prompted, probably wondering why he was making such a fuss about it.

Harry sighed. "I... have made a new friend over the summer. I felt pretty lonely because some people wanted me to stay with the Dursleys and... well. She was there for me."

"But... that's good, why do you look as if we'd bite your head of for that?" Hermione asked, frowning as she tried to understand his problem.

"Because... she's here. Right now. And she's not a human."

By now, both of his friends were looking through the room, but of course, they couldn't find anyone. Well, there it went.

"Uh... try not to freak out, okay?" He looked down. "You may come out now, carefully." he hissed quietly and Shiva stuck her head out of his robe, focussing on his friends. "That's her."

Their reaction came instantly. Both of his friend froze, staring wide eyed at the snake, with their mouths hanging slightly open. Truly, Shiva had become slightly bigger, but not that big or frightening. If Harry hadn't been so nervous, he would have laughed. He had obviously hidden her well.

Ron got his voice back first once more.

"That's... a snake!" he said, pointing out the obvious.

"Well... yes. That she is. And I actually thought about telling you guys before, but... I kinda feared it would turn out like that..." Harry explained, nervously looking back and forth between his two friends.

"Well... I won't say that this isn't quite shocking," Hermione said, slowly regaining her composure. "But... it... she actually suits you. Somehow... What's her name?"

Harry blinked surprised. Was it really that easy?

"It's Shiva," he told her, just as Ron exclaimed "Hermione! Snakes are evil!"

She turned to Ron, frowning. "Oh come on, animals itself can't be evil. It's either self-defence or the way they're trained that make them seem so. And you can't think Harry instils evil behaviour into animals now, can you?"

He stared at her. "Well, no, but-!"

"No buts! I don't like the fact that he has waited that long to tell us about a pet he already has for more than a month, but he probably knows her better than any other animal. He is a Parselmouth."

Ron looked from Harry to Hermione and back, obviously unsure what to say. In the end, he opted to a small, grumpy murmur.

"Whatever. But keep it away from me..."

With that, he walked down the room, took a book out of one of the shelves on his way and seated himself on the armchair which was farthest from them but still near the fireplace.

Harry looked helplessly at Hermione - honestly, Ron reading a book? - who shrugged slightly.

"He will get over it, I'm sure he's just moping because you didn't think you could trust us enough for that," she whispered, before raising her voice back to a normal level. "Please understand, that you can trust us. We won't spill your secrets, even if we might not necessarily like them."

Harry shrugged. "I know that... but there are some things I'm just not comfortable sharing with anyone... Everyone has a few secrets, right?"

"I think I do understand what you mean. But it would be nice if you could consider telling us anyway, at least once you feel comfortable with it. I can't speak for Ron, but I certainly won't hold you trusting me with your secrets against you. And I don't think he would, either."

Harry just chuckled drily. Well, they didn't know the secret. He wondered if Hermione would still say the same if he told her right now that he was studying Dark Magic. He didn't think so.

Though it was quite the predicament anyway.

On the one hand, he wanted to trust his friends with his secrets. He didn't want to change into a person that was so paranoid they only ever trusted themselves. He knew he would probably always try to handle problems alone, but that was because he didn't want to drag his friends into dangerous situations, not because he didn't trust them enough.

But on the other hand, he wondered if they would ever look at him the same if they knew his secrets. He could probably tell Hermione one day, since her thirst for knowledge was pretty big too and he could argue with logic, but Ron...? His whole family firmly believed that Dark Magic had to equal evil. Was it safe to tell him that this wasn't true? He didn't know.

"Harry? Are you alright?"

Hermiones voice brought him out of his thoughts and he nodded once.

"Sorry, I was just thinking. Let's call Sirius, alright?"

She looked at him frowning, as if she wanted to know what he had been thinking, but agreed anyway.

Time to tell off his godfather for writing to his relatives! And thank him anyway, since however he did that he managed to let Harry go to Diagon Alley without risking Sirius' exposure.

That would be a fun talk.

Chapter Text

Chapter 17: A Trip to Diagon Alley

In the end, their 'fun talk' consisted mostly of Hermione giving Sirius a lecture about things one should and shouldn't do after he had explained that getting the permission for Harry had been a piece of cake with the Dursleys thinking he was a convicted mass murderer. He didn't even need a compulsion spell or anything. A simple letter had been enough, though Sirius didn't tell them what exactly he had written. Which was probably for the better, since every approach Harry had in mind would have probably angered Hermione further.

Sometimes she was quite similar to Mrs. Weasley.

But Sirius just smiled as she lectured him, because really, Hermione was fifteen, she might have been frightening to Ron or Harry, but Sirius...?

Still, Harry listened to her for a while, before placing his hand on her shoulder.

"Lay off, alright? It might have not been the nice way, but otherwise I wouldn't have been able to got to Diagon Alley without revealing him to Professor Pyrites. Who works in the Ministry. Which wouldn't be good, don't you agree?"

That shut her up as she undoubtedly thought about what might happen if the Ministry got wind of the fact that Sirius was in touch with Harry. Who was right now using the resulting silence to talk.

"I just wanted to thank you for doing that. It has probably been the best solution and Professor Pyrites has accepted it without a problem."

Sirius smiled and Harry noted in passing how he finally looked how a man his age should look, with the visible after-effects from his visit to Azkaban - including the haunted look in his eyes which Harry had still found to be there during the summer holidays - gone. The occasional visits to muggle London and the fact that he did have some extent of freedom had certainly helped.

Now the only thing left to do was bringing back his real freedom.

 

Soon after that they said their goodbyes as Sirius had promised Remus something he didn't want to tell them, but they didn't pry, telling him to have fun before he ended the connection.

They still had time until lunch, so they opted to stay for a while longer and Hermione went to the bookshelves to find a good book as Harry got back to the table to continue practising his Parseltongue script. Ron hadn't moved from his position, ignoring everyone and everything, staring at the book in front of him. Harry just hoped his... condition wouldn't last forever as he began revising what he had learned last time together with Shiva.

 

Thankfully Harry remembered to look at his watch from time to time after last weeks surprise. Since as he looked around only minutes before lunch would begin, both of his friends seemed to be completely absorbed in whatever they were reading.

He first walked over to Hermione, surprised that she didn't even look up as he stood directly next to her.

"Uh... Hermione?" he mumbled, causing her to jump and look up from her position on a fluffy looking pillow next to the shelves.

"Harry! Don't scare me like that! What's wrong?"

"Well... lunch starts in about five minutes, I just thought you'd like to know," Harry explained and she nodded hurriedly.

"Of course, sorry!"

With that, she bookmarked wherever she had stopped reading and stood up, before glancing to Ron, who still hadn't moved.

She looked back to Harry and they had something like a silent conversation about who should go talk to him. It ended quickly and she walked over to the redhead.

"Uh... Ron? Are you coming? I'm sure you can finish that book later..." she said softly, placing another bookmark next to him.

That did cause him to look up. "I'm coming... And I don't need that, it's just a boring book!" he grumbled, though as Hermione looked back to Harry he could see Ron bookmarking his page anyway, with red ears, before placing it on the ground.

Both of them walked to Harry, Ron looking increasingly uncomfortable. As they arrived, the latter looked up, obviously wanting to say something. Harry stood still, waiting for it.

"Look, about that snake..." Ron mumbled, quiet enough so that Harry needed to strain his ears to understand him. "I guess I'll just need time to accept it... I just wanted to say... I don't think you're evil or anything..."

With that, he hurried out of the room, Harry barely had time to say "Thanks!", hoping his friend had heard it, before he was alone with Hermione.

"See, I told you he will work things out," she said, smiling slightly. "It's probably just his upbringing, I fear Mr. and Mrs. Weasley - as wonderful as they are - have neglected to show their children that the world isn't always black and white... But he'll obviously think about it."

Harry nodded, thinking mostly the same, and both of them left the room, hoping that they wouldn't turn up all too late for lunch.

 

Night had fallen once more in the manor and he was just walking out of the room, ignoring the faint sound of disapparition behind him. Instead, he walked down the corridor and after passing three doors he opened the fourth, revealing a room that obviously was a library. But he didn't care for the shelves he knew to be full of muggle books on almost everything. Right now, he needed something else.

He walked up to a chair, before stretching out one arm.

"Accio book."

He didn't even need to pull out his wand or specify what kind of book he wanted, he already heard the rustling of pages as his wanted book rushed to him.

He easily caught it, looking at the cover for a few seconds. Anti-Magic and Wards to face your Enemies. It was perfect. He smirked slightly, sitting down before opening the book, wanting to start reading.

The lights flickered.

He frowned, looking up. Up there, the muggle lamp looked quite normal, nothing unusual going on. He looked back down, just about to dismiss it as an accident, as the lights flickered again. He frowned, putting the book aside. "Why do I have to tolerate them...?" he asked himself, annoyed at this interruption.

He stood up, quickly leaving the library as the lights flickered a third time, making his way to another room just down the hall.

The door was open and he had moved quietly, so the two men didn't notice his arrival as he stood by the entrance.

"Do that again...!" the younger one of the two said, a big grin on his face and his focus completely on the man next to him. Who was grabbing the first one around the wrist right now, before doing something incredibly stupid. He couldn’t see what exactly it was, but judging from the shivering form of both men and the fact, that their hair stood on end - literally, they looked like agitated cats! - it had something to do with electricity.

He watched the whole procedure repeating itself about two more times, before deciding it was enough. He cleared his throat.

Instantly, both men whirled around, looking bewildered at him before falling to their knees.

"My Lord...!" they said, almost in unison as he looked past them. An electric socket. And one of the men held a fork in his hands. He raised an eyebrow.

"Now, really, Greyback?" he wondered aloud. "Have you stooped that low..? Getting electric shocks at the expense of the light in my room?"

His lips twisted into a slight smirk as the eyes of both men in front of him widened in shock. They obviously hadn't thought their actions through.

"Oh well, who am I to deny other people their pleasures? You want electric shocks? So be it." He drew his wand. "Cade Fulminibus!"

Instantly, a few lightning bolts shot out of his wand, hitting Greyback in the shoulder. He held the spell for only a few seconds before stopping it, watching as the werewolf twitched on the ground.

"Be happy that I didn't hit your heart. You might be as well as dead then, but you are too valuable to die. Though if you continue with these things I might change my mind," he stated coldly, before turning and walking back out of the room.

 

It was then, that Harry Potter awoke with a start, sitting up in the process.

"Bloody hell..." he whispered, not noticing that he had spoken Parseltongue out of habit. Though he did notice how Shiva stirred next to him.

"What is wrong...?" she asked, instantly alert.

He shook his head.

"I'm... not sure... I think I just had a vision, but my scar doesn't hurt... and some of it's content... I think I once dreamt of something similar..."

She seemed to ponder it for a while.

"Was someone hurt?"

"One of the werewolves that are on Voldemorts side... Greyback, I think... But he did kind of provoke him..."

"Well, in that case, I do not think you can do anything, vision or not. Try sleeping some more. You will need your strength, the trip to Diagon Alley is tomorrow."

He nodded, smiling slightly at her. "I guess you're right... thanks, Shiva."

"No problem, master. Now, sleep..."

He laid back down, closing his eyes, trying not to think about anything to let sleep claim him once more...

 

He wasn't very well-rested as he awoke the next morning, almost oversleeping since he had needed quite a while to get back to sleep after his weird vision-dream-thingy, but thankfully, his friends didn't comment on it. Instead, they - just like almost every other fifth-year, if Harry looked around a bit - were just talking about the trip to Diagon Alley and how it would be so cool to leave Hogwarts during the year not going to Hogsmeade.

About an hour after breakfast they all met up in the Defence classroom, which was empty otherwise as it was a Saturday and no classes were being held. Soon, Harrys year - which consisted of about forty students - was assembled and most of them were now looking at Professor Pyrites, who stood at the front, together with Professor Vector - she would help him to keep track of the students. Both of them had been chatting among themselves, only occasionally looking up to count the assembled fifth-years.

Now that they were complete, Professor Pyrites raised his voice.

"Alright folks, now before you will try to act civilised while forming a nice, long queue, a bit of information. First of all: We're going to floo!"

A few people groaned and Harry just barely held back one of his own.

Great.

His only experience with the floo network had been a disaster. And he had tried to get to Diagon Alley that time, too. Professor Pyrites wasn't finished, though.

"Who has never flooed before, gets easily floosick or otherwise has no confidence with his flooing skills? Just gather in this corner, we'll get back to you, alright?" he explained while pointing into the far corner of the room.

Harry looked at his friends. Should he go into that corner? Really? Especially since no one else wanted to make the first step, probably afraid to be the only one who had never used floo powder before or anything...

He guessed he wouldn't have moved, had Hermione not taken his hand, pulling him with her as she walked more or less confidently into that corner.

"Hey...!" he protested half-heartedly but she just rolled her eyes.

"We both know how you think about flooing and I've never travelled that way before. We'll be fine."

That being said, once people noticed them standing there, some of them seemed to gather enough courage to follow and soon they were about ten students, mostly muggleborns. As far as Harry could tell, only he himself and Padma Patil weren't 'first-timers', but on the other hand, what did he know? He had no idea what most other people in his year did in their free time, maybe they all had problems with flooing or simply got sick?

It wasn't that important anyway so he turned to watch Professor Pyrites instead, who explained the other basics of their trip, like when they should meet where and so on. Afterwards, the other students were told to build a queue leading into the next room, where the fireplace to Diagon Alley had been opened for now. Both professors led the students into the next room and the queue soon began to move as the first people flooed to Diagon Alley.

Everything went by surprisingly quick as they talked quietly with each other and finally, mere minutes after the last students had entered the room next door, Professor Vector left it and walked up to them.

"Thank you for waiting so patiently. Professor Pyrites and I had already anticipated some of you not being able to floo. Those of you who have never done it: It's actually not that hard, you just walk up to a fireplace which is connected to the floo network, take a bit of floo powder and throw it into the fire, before stepping into it and saying your destination very clearly," she explained patiently, but in a tone that clearly said 'Listen, I will not repeat myself'. "Since you need to speak clearly and are spinning quite fast while flooing it is understandable that this method of travelling is not for every witch or wizard. I prefer other means of transportation too. And because of that, we have asked Professor Dumbledore to provide us with an alternative. Especially so since we don't want first-timers to end up somewhere else."

Harry couldn't help nodding slightly at her words. He didn't want to think about what would happen if half of them would land in Knockturn Alley because of bad pronunciation or anything.

While he was still thinking, their teacher had pulled out a roll of parchment, showing it to them.

"This is a Portkey. I'm trusting all of you know what a Portkey is?"

They nodded. Except for that experience back at the Quidditch World Cup last year - and at the Triwizard Tournament, but Harry liked to block out that particular day - they had actually discussed Portkeys and how to make them in Charms. Though they had also learned that creating them had to be allowed by the Ministry first, so they had not been allowed to practise that particular charm.

"Good. This special Portkey was made by the headmaster himself and it will bring us safely to Diagon Alley and back. It's triggered with a key word instead of time or touch, as that would be the safest option to move all of you," Professor Vector continued, before looking at them. "Another thing: Since Professor Pyrites and I cannot supervise you completely in Diagon Alley, as the place is huge and it would be easy for any student to give us the slip, we've decided to confiscate your wands as long as we are outside of Hogwarts. You will get them back once we have returned. If you do not want to let go of your wand you may stay in the castle. It is your decision."

They looked at each other, slightly nervous - to give their wand to someone else wasn't their favourite thing to do, since that would leave them mostly defenceless. Though really, there shouldn't be any dangerous stuff in Diagon Alley and if there was, there were quite a few adult wizards around them...

Once more, Harry and Hermione were the first to give Professor Vector their wand and the others followed, except for a Ravenclaw girl who declined politely, saying she'd rather stay at Hogwarts as she had made bad experiences without her wand and preferred to stay safe, before leaving the room. Understandably, in Harrys opinion, but he had Shiva so he really wasn't defenceless, even without a wand.

After Professor Vector had put away nine wands and did a quick scan for any secondary wands - "Just to play safe." - , she hold out the scroll. "Now, please touch the Portkey. One finger will be enough, but don't dawdle."

Everyone touched the scroll and after she had made sure that there wouldn't be a student left, she said "Bumblebee" - it was so obvious who had made the Portkey - and Harry could feel the weird sensation of something behind his navel pulling him forwards, sending them flying until they had finally reached their destination, falling over themselves mostly.

After disentangling himself from Hermione, as she had stood next to him, Harry rose and looked around. They were standing just behind the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron, though... actually, only Professor Vector and two Hufflepuffs had remained standing and the former was just kneeling next to a slightly green locking Lisa Turpin, giving her a potion.

They needed a few minutes to sort everything out, before Professor Vector instructed them to follow her to Flourish and Blotts, where they would meet with the rest of them, ready to listen to Gawain Robards' book launch. Harry just hoped that it would be more interesting than the one Lockhart had given, back before his second year.

 

At the end of the presentation, Harry was glad that he had been able to come. Mr. Robards was a man with a strong sense of justice and he was incredibly well-informed on wards. His book would surely become a success if it was written the way he talked. Especially after that little 'interview-session' they had with him, where they were allowed to ask questions and everything. Harry had already decided for himself to get a copy once the store wasn't as full. They had a few hours to themselves now after all and wards would surely prove to be a very interesting thing.

He was just on his way out of the store, together with Ron and Hermione, as he noticed Neville to the side, standing next to Professor Pyrites.

"-and since it would be pretty unfair otherwise, I'd like to accompany you, alright?" Harry heard their teacher say and Neville nodded, though obviously wishing to be able to say no. Harry wondered for a second what that talk had been about, before he remembered that Neville would probably get his new wand now. And that it would hardly be fair if he was allowed to keep the new wand right now, as no other student had one.

He turned to his friends, who stood next to a bookshelf right now, Hermione looking longingly at some book.

"Um... guys? I'll be right back, Neville seems slightly overwhelmed with Professor Pyrites and he's my partner in Defence after all. I won't be long, alright?"

Hermione looked up, looking as if she was torn between wanting to stay to buy that book and following him to support Neville.

In the end, Ron decided for her. "Alright, do that. I'm sure Ollivander will be happy for not having five people in his realm if only one of them needs a wand. Also, Hermione looks like she really wants to buy something today. We'll meet again here later, just go!"

"Thanks!" Harry smiled gratefully, happy to have his best friend back after the strenuous days while Ron needed to come to terms with the fact that Shiva was also one of Harrys best friends now and nothing he could do would separate them. He still didn't like her much, but had accepted her presence, though he still looked at her very closely if Hermione came near her to pet her or anything.

Harry raised his hand, waving to his friends before turning and hurrying to Neville, who had made it to the door as Harry had talked. He finally caught up with him just outside of the shop.

"Hey Nev, I just saw you leaving, may I join you?" he asked with a smile, startling the Longbottom heir.

"Hi Harry, um..." Neville looked at Professor Pyrites, clearly unsure if Harry was allowed to come with them. The teacher just shrugged.

"Sure Mr. Potter, you may follow us. I guess you know where we're headed anyway."

Now it was Harrys time to shrug. "Ollivanders, I'd say. After all, Neville still needs a new wand."

"Well spotted. I'm sure you understand that I need to accompany Mr. Longbottom for that, too?"

Harry just nodded and Professor Pyrites beamed. "Very well then, off we go!"

 

They didn't need to walk a long distance, so Harry and Professor Pyrites soon stood at the back of Ollivanders, while Mr. Ollivander himself talked to Neville, measuring him just the way he had done with Harry so many years ago... It seemed almost surreal.

But the store itself hadn't changed much. The long rows full of wands were still there just like the quiet, dusty atmosphere of the shop. Still, there was one major change Harry soon noticed as Neville began to try the wands Mr. Ollivander gave him.

On the righthand side, where a plain wall had been back in 1991, now stood another shelf, but there were no wands in it. Instead, a new looking sign said 'wand holsters, 1 Galleon each, extra charms at a premium'.

Curious, Harry came closer, wondering since when Mr. Ollivander sold other things than wands, just as sparks shot out of the wand Neville had swung around.

"Wonderful!" Mr. Ollivander said and Harry turned back to Neville, grinning.

"Congratulations! What's it made of?"

Neville blushed slightly, not used to so much attention. "Thirteen inches, cherry wood and unicorn hair..." he mumbled, though smiling slightly as he pulled out the money for the wand, handing it to Mr. Ollivander.

"Great! I hope that wand will help you with your Defence performance. At least I would think so, as unicorn hair cores can help you with a lot of strong magic," Professor Pyrites said happily, before holding out his hand.

Neville gave him his wand, and the teacher nodded. "Thank you. I will take my leave, then. I expect to see you two at Flourish and Blotts at half past three." He put the wand away and left the shop with a quiet goodbye.

Neville was already at the door, wanting to follow him, as he noticed that Harry still stood at the shelf.

"Um... Harry? What are you doing...?"

Harry had just opened his mouth to explain why he was still standing there, but Mr. Ollivander beat him to it.

"Ah, I guess Mr. Potter has noticed the wand holsters..." He looked at Harry. "You know, I can make my living simply with selling wands. But over the years I have noticed that most wizards have no idea how to properly stow their wands, even if they are experts in handling them... So I decided to design a wand holster. The standard ones can be attached to the belt, leg or robe, which should help the average wizard to stow away their wands safely and without leaving scratches."

Both boys found themselves staring at the old wandmaker. Harry himself had always regarded Mr. Ollivander to be slightly weird - though certainly not stupid, he didn't seem to believe in the Daily Prophet after all - but that idea...

"That's brilliant!" he commented, smiling as he thought about all the times when he had wished that his wand was easier to get. "Though, what kind of extra charms do you offer...?"

"Well... There are certain charms that not every wizard is able to cast which could really help. Of course, one can always buy the standard version and apply any other charm themselves, but I offer permanent spells to turn the holster and the wand invisible while in use, as well as a selective sticking charm that makes the holster unable to come off if anyone except the owner tries to remove it. There also is a special version of these wand holsters available, which is fastened at your forearm, together with your wand. It will then require a certain password to be spoken aloud to shoot the wand directly into your hand, you just need to catch it."

Harry blinked, slightly overwhelmed. These were quite a few extras... but to have an invisible wand holster that could only be removed by himself as well as shoot his wand directly into his hand? That could be dead useful in any dangerous situation. And while there probably weren't much in school, he still had a certain Dark Lord to worry about. Also, he was sure that there were people who hated him solely because of the Daily Prophets slander.

"Um... How much would a wand holster with all of these charms cost?" he asked after considering it for a moment. He didn't trust himself to cast any of these charms successfully himself, though he might be able to do so with enough practise, Mr. Ollivander simply was the more experienced wizard, especially concerning permanent charms. And money certainly wasn't a problem for him.

"Seven Galleons, Mr. Potter. Do you want a specific design?"

Harry shook his head. "No, as long as it doesn't get in the way while moving normally..."

"Good. Then I can give you one of the basic ones I have already prepared. Just wait a moment."

Mr. Ollivander turned, on his way to the backroom, as Harry caught Nevilles expression of interest.

"Wait, please make that two!" Harry called and Mr. Ollivander nodded, emerging with two boxes about a minute later.

The boxes were bigger than the ones in which wands were stored - naturally - and he opened one to show Harry it's content, explaining how to fasten it onto ones forearm as well as how to apply and change the password.

Harry listened well, storing the information for later when he'd be back at Hogwarts with his wand.

Afterwards, he paid for both wand holsters, thanking the wandmaker before leaving the shop together with Neville.

Just as the door closed behind them, Harry turned to his fellow Gryffindor, taking one of the holsters and handing it to Neville.

"Here."

Nevilles eye got big. "W-What? No, Harry, I can't keep that...!"

"Of course you can. I saw your face inside, you so wanted that, too. And like that your grandmother can't even tell you that you shouldn't have bought it since it was a gift," Harry explained seriously. Neville opened his mouth, probably to protest more, but Harry interrupted him. "No, nothing you can say will discourage me. Just... consider it a late birthday present."

Neville stared at him. "...You can't be serious. I didn't get you anything!"

Harry just rolled his eyes, smiling. "Than you'd better think up an awesome Christmas present for me! But honestly, I don't except anything in return, I just think you'll make really good use of it. Did you listen how to use it?"

Neville nodded, though still looking unsure.

"Don't worry about it. Make your grandmother proud," Harry said, winking. "But anyway, I guess I'll head back to Flourish and Blotts, Ron and Hermione said they'd wait for me there. Want to come?"

Neville shook his head. "Sorry, I need to take care of a few other things my gran wanted me to do while I'm here."

"Alright. Maybe we'll meet again somewhere else in the Alley and if not... three thirty at Flourish and Blotts at the latest. See you then...!"

Harry raised his head and Neville waved back before they parted, Neville going in one direction, Harry in the other, back to Flourish and Blotts.

Little did he know though that he would find neither Ron nor Hermione, but a completely different person at the bookstore.

Chapter Text

Chapter 18: Dahlia

As Harry entered Flourish and Blotts most of the mob of people who had been there for Auror Robards' presentation had left. He could easily walk around through the shop now but there was no sign of Ron and Hermione. He hadn't needed that long with Neville, had he? Though there was still the possibility of his friends getting something which also 'wouldn't need long', not expecting him back so soon.

So he decided to look through the books instead, he had wanted to buy some anyway. As long as he went to Gringotts afterwards there shouldn't be a problem with buying clothes and a trunk later, too, as these things also were on his mental shopping list.

But for now, he focused on the books. Apart from Wards from all around the World he wanted books about Wizarding Law, as it could never hurt to know ones rights. Also he decided to get some biographies of himself. He could kick himself for never having bought any of them as there were several, because all those people who he had never met probably believed every word from these books... time to understand what the Wizarding World actually thought how he lived and so on.

He took a few other books that caught his interest before paying for them, asking the clerk behind the counter if they could keep his books for him until he came back at about half past three. The man didn't seem all too happy, but Harry had just spent quite a lot of money at the shop, so he agreed.

Harry then leaned against the side of a bookshelf to watch the door, wondering when his friends would be back.

It wasn't very interesting, even though many people entered and left, ignoring him as they didn't recognize him, for which he was incredibly glad. Still, staring at the door kind of looked suspicious so in the end he looked around in the shop instead, observing the buying habits of some customers.

There was a woman who was standing near the fiction section, seemingly absorbed in one of the books she had taken out of the shelf.

Another woman seemed to be in a hurry, quickly scanning the shelves before taking out whatever books she needed.

Then there was a boy, looking almost ready for Hogwarts, who tried convincing his father into buying him Quidditch Through the Ages... Another, younger looking boy showed his mother a book named The Tales of Beedle the Bard that he obviously wanted.

It was actually a pretty entertaining occupation and only after quite a few minutes Harry noticed someone who seemed to be a bit out of place.

Flourish and Blotts mostly prided itself on it's variety, so of course there also was a small section of books with questionable contents. Sadly, Harry had not been able to buy any books from there, he didn't even dare to linger around there for too long. People would surely jump to the wrong conclusions, thinking he wanted to become the new Dark Lord - or another one, since Voldemort was still around, even if they didn't believe it.

But right now, he saw a girl - younger than himself, but definitely older than eleven - standing at one of the shelves, on tiptoes, trying to reach one of the books at the top shelves. Since the 'good' people completely ignored that section and the people who didn't were mostly of the 'fend for yourself'-type, no one seemed to be helping her.

Harry sighed. Oh well...

He walked over to her, needing to stand on tiptoes himself - thanks to his small size for his age, courtesy of his lovely relatives - but being able to get the book anyway, handing it to her.

"There... That's what you wanted, wasn't it?" he asked, smiling slightly while at the same time hoping she wasn't one of the people out to get his head because of him being a 'freak' or a 'crazy liar'.

"Thank you!" she answered, smiling brightly as she took the book from him. "I've tried to get that bloody book for the last five minutes, but I'm just too small...! And no one deemed it proper to help a lady in distress!" She scrunched up her nose while looking at the other customers, before shaking her head and looking back to Harry, the smile back on her face. "But now you are here, my knight in shining armour!"

Harry stared at her, unsure of what to say. The girl seemed oddly spirited and quite... unpredictable. Though at least she had stopped talking now, probably having noticed that her 'knight' hadn't said anything more after his initial question.

"Ah, sorry, I was rambling, where are my manners? I'm Dahlia," she explained, holding out her free hand to shake.

Harry hesitated for a moment, wondering if she really didn't know who he was or deliberately ignored it, deciding that it didn't really matter if he just said his first name.

"I'm Harry."

He returned her smile, albeit a little hesitant, before shaking her hand. Which she hadn't withdrawn. She didn't even flinch or showed any other reaction. So ignorance, it was. Well, all the better for him.

After that, silence spread out between them as Harry didn't know what to say and Dahlia didn't offer a new topic either.

"So... How is it that a girl like you finds herself in this part of the shop?" he finally asked rather awkwardly, since it would have been really impolite to just leave.

Dahlia raised an eyebrow at that. "...Are you flirting with me?"

Harry eyes widened at that. "No!" he hurriedly said, before realising that this probably was quite impolite too. "I mean..." He stopped, blushing in embarrassment. Great way to make a fool out of himself. Why did girls have to be so complicated?!

Though his opponent just started giggling.

"Don't worry, it was just a joke. I know it's probably looking weird, a thirteen years old girl looking at the darkest books Flourish and Blotts has to offer..." She shrugged. "Not that these are any good. I mean, the one you got me is probably the only real useful thing." She held the book up for him to see. "It's about potions that are classified as dark. You don't even get the recipes, just a bit of general blah. But at least there are names and descriptions of their effects and durations..."

Harry stared at her. If she knew what the book contained and didn't really like it, why did she buy it at all? And if she was thirteen, why was she not at school?

"Judging from your expression, you want to know why I want the book if I don't much like it, right?" she asked, smiling once more as she saw him nodding hesitantly. "Well, I'm buying the book for a friend of mine who doesn't want to be associated with the 'Dark Arts'..." She shook her head, having used air quotes for the last two words. "Really, that stuff isn't even really dark. Sure, some ingredients are... harder to get then others, but most potions can be used for good purposes too. Well, except for the poisons, but there are many poisonous potions that aren't labelled 'Dark' either, so whatever."

Harry stared at her as she ranted about things he privately thought too. He couldn't believe that he was actually meeting someone who thought the same...! Most of the wizarding world seemed so... ignorant about things if they had to think to come to a conclusion. It was... tiring.

"Um... I guess you don't care for stuff like that, huh? You're against everything Dark after all..." Dahlia suddenly said, having probably misinterpreted his expression.

Now, how to answer without starting rumours about him turning Dark...?

"Well, yeah, I am against the 'Dark side', hard not to be if it's the side of the guy who killed your parents," he mumbled, barely registering Dahlia cringing slightly at his intonation. "But that doesn't mean I'm believing everything I'm being told. I've heard about falsely classified spells and potions too. Some healing spells for example."

Now it was her turn to stare, flabbergasted. "You mean, you believe me?"

"Uh... yes?" Harry wasn't sure if it was a good idea to announce that openly, but oh well, most people thought he was delusional anyway, what difference did it make if people did get to know about it? Though he hoped that would not happen.

Dahlia certainly didn't seem mad about it. In contrast, she was beaming.

"That's brilliant! Sure, a few relatives of mine look at things the same way that I do, but to have a complete stranger thinking about things like I do? And that stranger being... well, you? I've never thought that you are crazy by the way!"

Somehow, the girl reminded Harry of Colin Creevey with her enthusiastic chatter, but at least she spoke quietly and didn't outright state that he was Harry Potter even though it was more than obvious that she knew.

"So... have you read much about... 'good Dark Magic'?" Dahlia continued as he didn't interrupt her.

He just shrugged. "Not really. It isn't a very common topic to be breached in books. And I'm not exactly in the best position to buy books covering these things."

She nodded thoughtfully. "That makes sense..." Suddenly though, she perked up. "You know what? I could buy the books for you! I'm used to things like that and I've actually read quite a lot of interesting things...! I know where to find them, too. I would just go there, buy some of the best and we could trade books against the money when I come back, as I'm pretty sure you won't just give some random girl your money to buy something for you. How about it?"

Harry stared at her. Was she serious? To get new books of these themes would be great, since he had already finished the ones he had taken from the Black library, but to trust someone completely unknown to buy something for him? Sure, the girl looked innocent enough, but these days you never knew, especially if someone already read about Darker themes...

Dahlia obviously noticed his hesitation as the thoughtful expression was back on her face.

"I can understand your concern, with magic around it's hard to believe anything you see. Though if it reassures you at all, I'm a Squib. I couldn't cast a spell if my life depended on it. Though I'm pretty good with potions as you don't need magic for that. Anyway, I guess I shouldn't bombard you with more information about myself that you didn't even ask about, so instead, how about that: I'll go buy the books, we meet up somewhere later and you can look at them. If you don't want them or anything just tell me, I will either return them or give them to someone else. Hell, you don't even have to show up if you change your mind..."

He blinked, surprised, wondering for a second if Dahlia could actually read his mind or anything as she managed to solve most problems he saw with that whole thing. They really seemed to think alike. And he could still change his mind...

"Alright... though I still need to do a few things... Let's meet in... about an hour at... Florean Fortescue's?" he suggested and Dahlia nodded in response.

"Sounds good to me. That should give me enough time to get all the books I have in mind... And we can wait fifteen minutes if one of us gets delayed before leaving if the other doesn't show up, alright?"

Harry agreed and soon they said their goodbyes, with Dahlia paying for her book and Harry leaving the shop to go to Gringotts as Ron and Hermione still hadn't shown up. They would survive one afternoon without each other and Shiva was very aware of their surroundings in case someone decided to do something stupid.

Not that this was very probable as Harry was pretty good at blending into the crowd, especially since he had begun to let his hair grow slightly longer which made him look less like his father than before and concealed his scar nicely as long as no one looked too closely. He would be fine.

 

The next surprise awaited him shortly after he had used the last of his money to get himself a decent lunch - as he had not eaten anything after breakfast today. He had went to Gringotts to get enough money for the books - though he had forgotten to ask how many books Dahlia wanted to buy... What if he did not have enough money with him? - and other stuff.

And he had just stated his name.

"Mr. Potter. We have been expecting you for a while now," the goblin behind the counter interrupted him before he could even state his purpose. Confused Harry watched it leave the counter for a moment, soon returning with another goblin. One Harry actually recognized.

"Griphook...?"

Now it was the goblins turn to look surprised, albeit only slightly, almost as if he hadn't thought Harry would know his name. But he nodded.

"Exactly. Now Mr. Potter, if you would follow me?"

Without awaiting a response Griphook turned and walked to one of the doors, leaving Harry to hurriedly following him. The only confusing thing was that they didn't go to the door that lead to the railway and thus, the vaults.

"Um... Where are we going?" he asked quietly, since the hall itself wasn't very noisy.

"To one of the private rooms," Griphook replied curtly.

Furrowing his brows Harry looked around as they went through the door the goblin had headed for, seeing another marble corridor in front of them. From there they passed a few doors with all kinds of crests on them, one for each door, before finally stopping at one. Harry examined the crest for a bit - it was mostly coloured in red and gold and somehow reminded him of the Gryffindor crest though the only animal present was a stag, it's antlers flowing into the border on both sides - as Griphook placed his hand on the door knob, waiting for a bit before a slight click signalised that the door had opened.

"Only I am keyed into this door so you do not have to fear others entering to steal your secrets," he explained, before opening the door fully to let himself in, waiting for Harry to follow.

He did, blinking at the tingle that went through him as he passed the threshold, looking once more at Griphook.

"Don't worry, the doors are enchanted to only let goblins and wizards of the correct family through them. The tingle you probably felt was the magic checking if you were a rightful member of the Potter family. Which you are, as you would have crumbled to ashes otherwise."

Harry just nodded absent-mindedly, not all too surprised by the glee he could hear at the last words. Goblins were quite the sadistic folk.

As Griphook closed the door, Harry took a look around the room. It wasn't very big but since the furniture was very basic it didn't need to be. There was a small desk in the middle of the room as well as two wooden chairs on both sides, one obviously made for a goblin as it was higher. There were no windows and the only light came from a fireplace at the far wall, while wooden cabinets standing on the walls left and right of him, full of whatever stuff this room was used for.

Which brought him back to the main question.

"Say, to what exactly owe I the visit of the... private room of the Potters?" Harry wondered aloud, putting together the purpose of the room based on Griphooks comments from before, as they sat down on the chairs.

The goblin stared at him as if he had asked how to fly a broom.

"Did you not care about the changes awaiting you after your emancipation?"

Now it was Harrys turn to stare at Griphook blankly.

"...Emancipation?"

If a third person looked at them right now they probably would have thought they walked into a private 'Who can look more confused?'-contest. It would have been quiet fun, too, but since Harry was one of the 'participants', it wasn't.

Thankfully, Griphook caught himself after a few seconds.

"Mr. Potter, we do not know - nor do we care - how it happened, but you got emancipated at the 31st October 1994. Since that day, we were waiting for you to arrive to inform you of the changes your emancipations brings for you in regard of everything that is managed by the goblins."

"Well... great... but what does emancipation mean?"

Griphook stared at him once more.

"You... do not know?"

Harry silently shook his head, wondering how often you could see a speechless goblin. He somehow felt as if he was breaking some record.

Griphook sighed.

"I will never understand you wizards. Obviously not understanding when things should be kept a secret and when it is important to inform others." He looked Harry in the eyes. "Emancipation basically means coming of age without turning seventeen. That means you have been a major since almost a year."

Harrys jaw dropped and he needed more than a few seconds to collect himself, happy to already sit on a chair. He wasn't a minor anymore?

"What... does being emancipated entail...?" he finally asked after another long moment.

"Just the same things turning seventeen would. You are allowed to make your own decisions without needing your guardians permission. You can use magic whenever you want and you can take the apparition exam. But most importantly, there are changes regarding your access to your Gringotts vaults. Since you are the heir of the Potter family, you now have access to the family vault - the vault you have accessed up until now being your trust vault which has been created by your parents shortly after your birth - and the estates of the Potter family. Also, since you are the last Potter and the former Head of your House - James Charlus Potter - is dead, you are now the new Head of House Potter," Griphook explained, looking slightly smug at Harrys obvious confusion.

Whose head was spinning by now. That was quite a lot of information to process. He was... the new Head of House Potter, because he was suddenly emancipated? How did that happen anyway?

He thought about it. Last Halloween...?

And then it struck him.

Last Halloween. The Triwizard Tournament. It was the day his name had come out of the Goblet of Fire. The day he had been selected to participate in a tournament for adults only. Somehow the fact that he had to participate must have led to his emancipation. That way, he was an adult and could participate...

At least that's what he thought, he really needed to take a look at a few books concerning the Goblet of Fire.

"So... I'm the Head of House Potter now... does that come with any... obligations?" Harry finally asked weakly.

"You will be expected to wear the Head of House ring as a proof of who you are. That way, your voice will weight slightly more as the Potters are a respected pureblood family. You may buy or sell any kind of estates and make any contracts, magically binding and otherwise. But no, there aren't real obligations as the Potters kept themselves mostly out of the political department."

 

With only five minutes to spare Harry finally left Gringotts, heading to Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour at once.

It had been... really enlightening, to talk with Griphook about everything... By now, Harry wore the signet ring which had the crest of his family engraved - the procedure to place it on his finger had been full of safety measures again, making him happy that he wasn't some impostor or anything as he probably would have died pretty fast - which was proof enough that he was allowed to do as he pleased. Also he now knew of all estates the Potter family had, which meant the small house in Godrics Hollow that was currently used as some kind of memorial for his family, a castle somewhere in Northern Ireland where his family had lived at times when castles were normal that dusted away by now, and a manor in Ireland which had been the main house for his family.

He really wanted to visit the last place, he even had taken two of the five two-way-Portkeys that brought a person to the manor once you said the correct password ("Dílis don deireadh", the Irish family motto of the Potters, basically meaning "loyal to the end") and could even transport you back. The second Portkey was, of course, for Sirius.

Also, he had shortly visited the family vault, which had stunned him again with it's size - though the all different trinkets had been more impressive than the money, actually - and finally he had been able to make his withdrawal from his own vault.

Which brought him back to the fact that he was almost late, so he hurried down the street, soon standing in front of Florean Fortesue's. A quick look showed him that Dahlia sat outside at one of the tables, eating green coloured ice cream with a book in her other hand, two bags full of books next to her. Harry stood there for a bit longer, wondering if it really was okay to meet up with her, but she seemed innocent enough. Shrugging, he went over to her after making a quick detour to get himself a strawberry sundae, getting a smile and a "I believe in you!" from Florean Fortescue, who had helped him two years ago with his history homework. Really, he was a good man.

Anyway, Harry had finally reached Dahlia, seating himself next to her after a short greeting.

She positively beamed at him.

"You came! I wasn't sure about it - of course not, how could I? - but I'm glad you did! I got everything I thought of and more, but of course you don't need to take them all, you can simply browse and see what sounds interesting!"

She continued talking for a few seconds before suddenly interrupting herself. "Sorry... I should stop talking so much, shouldn't I? What do you think?"

"Well... I guess the idea is pretty good, though I don't think the location is the best for openly looking at books like that..." he answered, lowering his voice as to not attract the attention of other tables.

"But isn't that making it so brilliant?" Dahlia said, smiling happily. "No one would suspect someone reading anything forbidden at an Ice Cream Parlour."

She held up the book she had been reading. Dark Arts and Healing: A Contradiction? Harry blinked. That certainly didn't sound like a book a thirteen year old girl should read... but he really hadn't noticed.

"Alright... What do you have?"

 

In the next forty minutes they finished their ice creams while looking through both bags, Harry deciding if it was something worth to be bought.

Surprisingly, he and Dahlia had quite a similar taste as he really liked the books she chose, causing him to merely skim the last ones - though not totally trusting her, that would have been careless.

In the end he opted for buying all the books from her except for one which he had already read as it had been in the Black Library.

It was surprising how well they fitted and he had the feeling that Dahlia felt the same, though her constant chattering made it hard to guess what she was thinking.

Still, Harry insisted on somehow returning the favour of her buying his books, so he convinced her to pay for a small ring she had wanted to fetch from the small jeweller of Diagon Alley.

Standing in front of the shop it was now time to part, as Dahlia had to go home while Harry still needed new clothes and a trunk.

"So... It was really nice meeting you," the girl stated happily, smiling at him.

"Yeah... Think we could see each other again?" Harry asked, causing her to smirk slightly.

"What, two meetings and you already fancy me? Can't deny my attractiveness I guess."

She winked while Harry rolled his eyes, smiling - he had blushed the first few times she had pulled that thing on him, but by now he knew she was joking.

"Anyway," she continued. "I'm very sure we will meet again, just not the way you might think right now."

Harry blinked, confused. "Huh?"

She smiled again. "Don't worry, you'll see! But I really need to go now, so... until then: Goodbye!"

She kissed him on the cheek, laughing at his dumbstruck expression, before vanishing in the crowd, probably not even hearing the hurried "Bye!" Harry shouted after her anymore.

That girl was certainly something and only in retrospect Harry would realize that he had been really, really lucky that that whole 'meeting with a stranger to let them buy something for you' had went so well, especially considering the fact that even Diagon Alley hadn't been the safest place to be at these times.

Well, he guessed that it was simply his weird luck and slightly different appearance being behind it. The real reason was something for... later.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19: Seriously?

Harry found Ron and Hermione about half an hour later - he had used the time to visit Madame Malkins and the local trunk shop to order both new clothes and a new trunk, though he had to return later to collect the things - standing outside of Quality Quidditch Supplies, the former staring longingly at the broomstick that was on display. A Nimbus Two Thousand Five Hundred if Harry could believe the sign next to the broom, that promoted the broom not unlike it had done with the firebolt two years ago.

Well, their rivals never rest, huh?

But at least he had found his friends that were right now apologising profusely for leaving Flourish and Blotts.

"Honestly, we thought it wouldn't be long, Ron just wanted to take a look at the new broom and... well..."

"Mate, you won't believe it!" Ron interrupted her, sounding completely baffled. "Hermione bought something there! And it wasn't for you or me, I asked!"

"Yes Ron, I sometimes buy Quiddtich-related things, so what? You do too!" Hermione mumbled, blushing.

"But I'm actually playing!"

"Oh whatever...! Anyway, we needed longer than we had thought and... well, once we returned to Flourish and Blotts you were nowhere in sight. We waited a bit hoping you'd show up later but we got hungry so we left again to get something to eat. Ron wanted to return here to goggle at that new Broom and... yeah, here we are," Hermione explained, ignoring the protesting Ron who said he had just wanted to look at the broom and that he certainly hadn't goggled. Harry secretly was on Hermiones side with this, but wisely kept his mouth shut, being glad that he had everything he wanted with his firebolt.

Instead, Ron added something... surprising... after their little squabble had ended.

"So, did you have fun with your girlfriend?"

"What?" Harry asked, completely confused, just as Hermione said "Ronald! You can't just ask something like that! You don't even know if it is his girlfriend!"

"What the hell are you talking about?" Harry asked, again, before another argument could arise.

"Well, after we had eaten we thought about getting ice cream... And then we saw you with that brown-haired girl at Florean Fortescue's, deep in conversation over some books or something like that. But you both ate ice cream, so we assumed it was a date and left," Ron explained, causing Harrys eyes to widen.

"Well, actually, Ron wanted to go over to you and ask, but I dragged him away before he could," Hermione added, rolling her eyes. "It was obvious you two wanted to be alone, I mean, the way she looked at you...!"

"So, is she your girlfriend?" Ron asked bluntly, earning a slap on the shoulder from Hermione.

"No!" Harry hurriedly said, though he wasn't sure he hadn't blushed, judging from the warmth in his cheeks... And Hermiones weird comment didn't make it better. "It's nothing like that, I just met Dahlia today! She was nice, but we just talked, nothing more! Honestly..."

His friends stared at each other and then back at him, not looking very convinced.

Harry took a deep breath to calm himself. "Look guys, you know I can't have a girlfriend, how should I have gotten one? At the Dursleys? At Headquarters?"

Hermione nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, you're right... I'm sorry."

Ron still looked more suspicious. "Huh... What if she's the one sending you those letters? Wouldn't it fit?"

"Uhm... no, I don't think so... But I'll try to keep an open mind, alright?" Harry said, trying not to sound too sure. Because honestly, there was no way she could have gotten the full prophecy, or something like that. But Ron didn't know that, so he shouldn't make it too obvious that he had more information available about his secret writer than Ron had.

Instead, he changed the topic, asking about the broom on display, which effectively erased any thoughts of Dahlia in Rons mind. Instead he launched into a lengthy description of why the newest Nimbus was better than the Firebolt. With Harry soon joining in defending his favourite broom, as really, the new Nimbus was just the try to get some of the fame of the Firebolt, it had no breakthrough improvements inside.

 

They talked about a few other things afterwards, returning to Florean Fortescue's for ice cream meanwhile. Only fifteen minutes before their meeting to leave the Alley, Harry remembered the two shops he still had to return to to get his stuff and he and his friends hurried to Madame Malkin's, which was nearer than the trunk shop.

He had bought five tops, three trousers, some underwear and socks and two casual wizarding robes. Madame Malkin had taken his measurements and made the stuff from scratch, which was the only reason why he had chosen to come back later even though she was incredibly fast, thanks to magic. But since he had wanted self-repairing and auto-resizing charms on them - he would, hopefully, still grow and with his luck his clothes might get damaged from time to time - it had needed slightly longer.

Soon he had paid for his stuff and was now carrying another two bags, though actually, Hermione and Ron each kindly carried one of them, leaving Harry only with the two book bags. Yes, it was really time to get his trunk.

He had went there first, not knowing how long charming a trunk might need, especially since he had no idea what he wanted. Thankfully, the shopkeeper had been very nice and helpful, explaining to him the pros and cons of the different charms one could put on a trunk. After the consultation he had chosen a very simple, brown trunk that didn't seem very flashy. The only real eye-catcher was the Potter family crest which was visible on the upper side of the trunk. Once you opened it, it stood at an angle of ninety degrees, the lower part being slightly enlarged, to stow away clothes and stuff like that. The upper part had two modes, depending on which password you uttered before opening the trunk. Without any password, all you got was a boring old trunk with tattered old clothes inside. Otherwise, each revealed a bookshelf that was slidable from left to right, helping the owner of the trunk to stow away a lot of books inside as there were seven rows that fit quite a lot of books each. And the shelves of both compartments weren't connected, meaning the space was doubled and Harry finally had a place to put his darker books to without having to fear their discovery. Under each shelf were two drawers that could be extended to cover the trunk part with the clothes, being divided into smaller segments for potion ingredients or other more valuable stuff. These things also were in both compartments and not connected. It truly was a trunk designed for bookworms or Potions masters.

Honestly, that thing combined with a charm to make it feather-light - which had been added for free as a thank-you for Harry spending way too much money at the store - and full compatibility to any charms Harry might want to add later was almost perfect. Yes, it had been expensive, but Harry really hoped to not be needing a new trunk anytime soon, preferably never again.

He opened the first compartment right away, storing the bags of his shopping trip inside while deciding on a relatively simple password ('Padfoot'), before he and his friends finally went back to Flourish and Blotts, needing to hurry slightly to get there on time.

But they managed it.

 

Once they had arrived, Harry talked to the clerk behind the counter to get the rest of his books to put away into his trunk before the three of them went to their teachers who already stood at their meeting point.

"Ah, Mr. Potter!" Professor Pyrites said as he recognized Harry. "Would you have a small talk with me in private? The students will probably need a few more minutes to gather anyway. Don't worry, you're not in trouble."

"Uh... sure."

He told his friends he'd be right back before following his teacher to a more secluded spot in the shop, wondering what he wanted to say that was important enough that it couldn't wait.

Once they had arrived, Professor Pyrites took a look around, before starting to talk.

"Look, you are probably wondering why I wanted to speak with you right now instead of once we are back at Hogwarts, but it's actually pretty simple: I want to make you an offer. Sadly, I'm not very sure if Headmaster Dumbledore would approve, so I didn't want to let everyone know I wanted to ask you something."

Harry blinked, surprised. What kind of offer could that be if Dumbledore might not approve?

"Oh, it's nothing bad," his teacher assured as he saw his expression. "I just wanted to know if you would like to get extra training. I have noticed that you are very talented in Defence, but I can only put so many spells into my class. Especially, since some of your classmates obviously have more troubles than others."

By now, Harry stared openly at Professor Pyrites. Extra training? From an actually competent teacher? Wicked...!

"Glad you like the idea," Professor Pyrites commented, signalising that Harry had accidentally spoken the last word aloud. Oops...

"But, why would Dumbledore - I mean, Professor Dumbledore - have something against it?" Harry asked.

"Well... I'm not sure, but I remember him being not very keen on an idea I had back at the start of September, about some kind of study group where I could help my better students with more spells and tactics."

Huh... weird. Especially so since Dumbledore had had no problem with Lockharts duelling club back in Harrys second year. Even though that thing had been a complete disaster.

"Anyway, it's not as if he will ask you if you receive extra training in Defence, right? So you don't have to lie."

Harry nodded, slowly. If Dumbledore did ask, he probably knew about it already, so it wouldn't matter anymore anyway. And with that problem out of the way there was only one question that remained.

"When should we meet up for that training?" he wondered, causing a thoughtful expression on his teachers face.

"Well... my timetable is pretty full most of the week... How about Wednesday, first period?"

Harry thought about his own timetable, before shaking his head. "I'm in Divination then, regrettably. Though I'm free the next period."

"That's when I'm teaching the seventh-years. After lunch?"

Harry shook his head again. "I'm busy the rest of the day. Though Thursday is pretty free, there is only Potions in the afternoon."

"That's good, my Thursday is almost free too. Let's use the first period. Provided you are already awake by then," Professor Pyrites said, grinning at the last part.

Really, for being a teacher he sometimes had quite the 'big brother'-attitude. Which made it almost too easy to forget that the man still could give and take house points however he saw fit.

Harry nodded anyway. "Thursday morning sounds good. I'm an early riser, there shouldn't be any problems with getting up."

"Very well! Then that's settled. We'll start in two weeks which should give me enough preparation time for everything. Let's go back to the others now!"

Harry nodded and already turned back as Professor Pyrites spoke up once more. "Oh, right! Mr. Potter, you may tell your friends about our agreement, but please stick to those who are less prone to gossip."

"Of course professor," Harry answered, having turned back to look at his teacher once more before finally making his way back to Ron and Hermione, to tell them what was going on.

Well, now that had been an interesting road trip!

 

The following days were considerably calmer. By Thursday Harry had discovered the reason of his emancipation: The Goblet of Fire was known for placing a magically binding contract upon the champions of the Triwizard Tournament but since those contracts could only be established between legal adults, every wizard that wasn't of age in their country got emancipated once their name came out of the goblet. A fact everyone who had wanted to participate in the past had been informed of.

It had needed quite a few trips to the library to get it, with Hermione following him around, sometimes even reading over his shoulder as she insisted that these books had not been there last year, but it had been worth the search as he liked understanding the things that happened around him. It didn't happen often enough anyway.

After that problem solved he finally started with the books Dahlia had bought for him, choosing one at random since he really didn't know much about them. He had sorted them all into the second compartment of his trunk after returning from the trip to Diagon Alley (choosing a Parseltongue password for it, just in case) but he hadn't had the time to look any closer into them than he had done at Florean Fortescue's. So he had thought that it didn't matter.

But once more, his incredible 'luck' had come forth, guiding him to take one of the few books he had not really looked into before accepting them. And while the cover looked very promising, something about the history of Dark Arts, somehow the content didn't match the name. At all.

It was a book about holidays.

At least the holidays mentioned weren't your typical holidays like Christmas or Easter. It was a book about wizarding holidays, named Imbolc or Lughnasadh. He had never before heard of them, so he read the book anyway, but swore to himself to check the contents of every book he would get in the future, even if the cover seemed fitting. Errors could happen but he'd rather know beforehand.

Still, the insight into wizarding traditions at least proved to be quite entertaining, as he noticed a few things he had never cared for in the past. Like how on the twenty-fourth of October - the eleventh new moon this year, making it a holiday called Samhain, to honour the dead - quite a few Slytherins were missing from their table, as well as some other students if he paid attention to it. He wondered if they were allowed to go home just for the evening, as they had been present before and the day after that.

He had gotten a letter from Quetzalcoatl that day too, wishing him a nice Samhain as well as telling him a spell to expand the internal space of any object while letting it seem the same on the outside. It certainly reminded him of the tents they had used at the Quidditch Worldcup last year and he told himself that he would practise it in private later.

Still, nothing all too exciting happened. Not until Halloween.

 

The day itself was quiet, too, though Harry had been slightly wary of it, but as he walked back to the Gryffindor common room with Ron, Hermione and Neville after the Halloween Feast he had almost convinced himself that this year there wouldn't be any unpleasant surprises. No troll, no opened Chamber of Secrets, no believed to be crazy mass murderer or a confounded Goblet of Fire.

But really, he shouldn't have bothered.

Only a few feet separated him from a fun evening with his friends as suddenly, he heard someone call out his name.

"Harry, wait!"

He turned around to see Colin Creevey run up to him. Inwardly he groaned, fearing that his personal fan might want to spend time with him now as they really didn't talk much these days.

He had already opened his mouth to say that the timing was really bad, but the fourth-year just held out a folded piece of parchment to him.

"Here, I was told to give that to you. And Happy Halloween!"

"Um... thanks. And Happy Halloween to you too," Harry mumbled, slightly perplex, as Colin had already passed him with a smile.

Well, it seemed as if he had grown up a bit... All the better.

"So, what does it say?" Hermione suddenly piped up next to him, looking at the parchment and Harry opened it curiously.

 

Dear Harry,
I know this letter must reach you at an inconvenient time, but I would like to speak with you in my office. Preferably as soon as this letter reaches you.
Yours sincerely,
Albus Dumbledore
P.S. Did you know that Fudge Flies are quite well-liked sweets?

 

Harry stared at his friends confused, before Ron voiced just the question he had wondered about.

"Why does Dumbledore want to speak with you right now? Couldn't it have waited until tomorrow?"

"Ron, maybe it's something important!" Hermione said at once, showing her trust in any authority figure once more, before looking at Harry. "You should go and see what he wants."

Harry nodded slowly. Yes, it was probably better.

"But what does that P.S. mean?" Neville piped up.

"Well... I guess it's the password for the gargoyle, you know? He always uses sweets as far as I'm aware," Harry explained and Neville nodded.

"Makes sense, I guess. So... see you later?"

"Yeah, you guys have fun, I'll probably tell you whatever is going on once I'm back."

He raised an arm before turning around, leaving his friends to walk to the fat lady while making his way to Dumbledores office, quietly explaining what was going on to Shiva once he turned into an empty corridor.

 

He didn't need long to reach the headmasters office, knocking twice before already hearing the "Enter." from Dumbledore thus letting himself in.

Harry stood awkwardly at the door, unsure of how to proceed.

"Have a seat, my boy," Dumbledore began, motioning to a chair that stood next to his desk and watching as Harry sat down just there. "Sherbet lemon?" He held the box with them up, but Harry just shook his head and Dumbledore put it back, studying them with his eyes while continuing to speak. "Alright. I am sure that you want to know why I called you today of all times as it wasn't the most fortunate appointment, but alas, you have to forgive an old man for wanting to cease his worries as soon as possible."

Harry didn't say anything, unsure if it was wise to nod, but as Dumbledore obviously knew it anyway, he decided on just keeping quiet to listen what that meeting was all about.

"First of all, I just want to ask you a question: Did you have any kind of weird dreams lately? Nightmares, perhaps?"

Harry frowned. What was that question about? And why did Dumbledore still look at his sweets? That was pretty rude.

"No, sir," he answered honestly anyway. "Should I have them?"

Dumbledore shook his head, looking deep in thought. "No, no, of course not. I merely feared that your connection with Voldemort might trouble you after his rebirth, but luckily I seem to have been mistaken."

Harry thought about his weird, Voldemort-related dreams for a moment. Should he tell Dumbledore about them? This would be his chance, but on the other hand, he had no idea if these were real visions or just weird dreams caused by stress or anything. After all, nothing indicated their truthfulness. His scar didn't hurt, Voldemort looked about as handsome as his sixteen year old self had been and the content didn't match anything he knew about the Dark Lord. And to trouble Dumbledore with mere dreams seemed stupid, Harry was sure the headmaster was a busy man.

So he just nodded, before another question sprang to his mind. "Sir, do you have any idea what Voldemort is planning? Why hasn't he attacked yet?"

Dumbledore was silent for quite a while then, making Harry fear he had somehow overstepped whatever boundaries existed with the headmaster.

But before he could open his mouth to apologize, Dumbledore decided to answer after all.

"That I do not know. I presume he wants to use the fact that the Ministry still believes him dead to operate in secret. But as for what he is planning... Only he knows for sure."

Well... that certainly seemed plausible. Though Harry was pretty sure that Dumbledore at least suspected what Voldemort was up to, it did make sense not to tell him everything. He was only a student after all. Well, except for that prophecy-thing, but really... Dumbledore wasn't honestly believing in that, was he?

"But Voldemort aside, that wasn't the only reason I asked for you today," Dumbledore continued after a short pause. "I noticed that you have taken a liking to certain jewellery lately?"

By now, Dumbledore had finally stopped looking at his muggle sweets and instead studied Harrys hands, where his signet ring was visible from their current position.

In a split second, Harry decided to use this question as some kind of test. He certainly wasn't the worst liar and it would be the perfect opportunity to see how much trust Dumbledore had in him.

It was one thing not to tell him about Voldemorts plans, but something else entirely if it had to do with his inheritance.

So Harry looked down at his ring, too. "Well... the goblins gave it to me when I visited Gringotts at the trip to Diagon Alley."

He wasn't sure how much Dumbledore knew about goblins and if it was normal for them to explain everything regarding these rings.

For now, the headmaster simply looked curious.

"Oh? Did they say anything about it?"

"Not much... I thought it looked cool, so I continued to wear it... Was that a bad idea?" Harry wondered aloud, hoping his innocent curiosity sounded believably enough. Which was probably easier as Dumbledore still refused to look him in the eye.

"Bad? Oh no, I actually expected something like this sooner or later. Do you know what it is?"

"Um..." Harry wasn't sure how obvious it should be, but Dumbledore probably expected him to have guessed what it was anyway. "It's some kind of family ring, I think?"

"Very good," Dumbledore confirmed. "It's the signet ring of the Potter family. Do you see that crest? It belongs to your family."

Harry nodded, feigning surprise. "Wow... But, does it change anything, sir? I mean... Why did the goblins give it to me?"

He had added the second question as he noticed the first one sounding too much as if he knew there should be something. But Dumbledore didn't seem to notice.

"Well, Harry... The ways of the goblins are mysterious, so there are many reasons why they might have given you the ring now. They might have recognised you as the sole heir of the Potter fortune, as these days, it is relatively common to give fourteen-year old children their heir rings. As for your first question: For now, it doesn't change anything. But it will once you will come of age when you turn seventeen. Because then you will be able to access your family vault, which contains family heirlooms and such."

"I... I have another vault?", Harry asked disbelieving, knowing that that had been his reaction back at Gringotts too.

Dumbledore nodded. "Yes. Most wizarding families have more than one vault: There is a main one, for heirlooms and objects of sentimental value, and heirs mostly have so called 'trust vaults', from which they may take money as much as they like. But everything else is off-limits until they come of age."

"Ah..." Harry mumbled, unsure of how to continue. So Dumbledore didn't want to tell him about his emancipation? Fine, then... He decided to give the man one last chance.

"So... I was wondering, is there any way for me to not go back to the Dursleys this summer? Maybe something being an heir helps with?"

Dumbledore seemed to ponder this for a moment before shaking his head. "No my boy, I fear you will have to go back to your relatives once more in June. But I am sure that getting you to Grimmauld Place can be arranged later during the holidays."

Ouch. He wondered how much Dumbledore actually knew. Was that the lack of knowledge talking? Or was there something else going on...?

Anyway, true to his expected reaction, he slouched his shoulders and looked down.

"Oh, alright..."

"Do not worry too much, I am sure it will not be that bad. You are family after all."

Harry didn't say anything to that, wondering if Dumbledore really believed what he was saying. It did seem probable, as the headmasters habit to try seeing the good in everyone was a good trait in it's essence, but there were situations when it did look like ignorance. Like right now.

But oh well, it didn't matter anymore, he had made up his mind by now. Dumbledore didn't seem to trust him with information, he wouldn't trust Dumbledore with information. Simple as that.

As he was dismissed with a wish for a good night and sent back to the Gryffindor Tower Harry was already pondering which persons were trustworthy enough to keep a 'secret' like that. After all, one man alone could never hope to achieve a lot, especially not once politics were involved. He would find a few supporters of his opinion and see what he could do once 'problem Voldemort' was out of the way.

His headmaster had just sort of dug his own grave.

Chapter Text

Chapter 20: We need to talk.

Once back at the Gryffindor common room he soon found Ron, Hermione and Neville sitting next to the fire, talking to each other.

"...so stop asking!" Hermione was just saying, while she looked pretty annoyed at Ron. "I'm sure he'll tell you when he returns!"

"But what if he-" Ron began, but Neville interrupted him. "Harry!"

He looked incredibly relieved and Harry couldn't blame him. Having to listen Ron and Hermione arguing wasn't fun at all.

"So? What did he want?" Hermione asked, her annoyance forgotten as she looked at him curiously.

Harry took a look around. The common room was still pretty full, people were chattering with each other about this or that, maybe about the Halloween Feast... No, it was a bit too risky to talk about it here.

"Let's go to the dormitory, okay?" he suggested and they all nodded, confused and - in Hermiones case - frowning slightly. Probably because it wasn't exactly the proper etiquette to go into the boys dormitory as a girl, but she had already done it before. She'd live.

Thankfully, Dean and Seamus were still downstairs, completely engrossed in a big battle of Gobstones between the Weasley twins and the Creevey brothers, so the room was empty before the four of them entered, with Harry magically locking the door afterwards, earning himself three confused stares.

"Sorry guys, just wanted to make sure our conversation stays private. I trust you not to tell anyone my secrets, but you can never know what people think of snippets they overhear, putting it together to some wrong idea."

The others nodded, though it was obvious that they didn't know why he wanted so much privacy.

He slowly walked to the window, looking at the already dark sky.

"So... what happened?" Hermione asked again, seemingly torn between impatience and curiosity.

"Well... before I'll tell you all the details, just a question: Do you know what that is?" he asked, turning back around to face them, holding up his hand with the signet ring on it.

Hermione looked thoughtful for a second before answering. "It's a signet ring. With the crest of the Potter family, as it's the same one you have on your trunk. So... it's probably your heir ring? I noticed you wearing it before, but I've never paid much attention to it..."

Harry nodded slowly, already opening his mouth to explain to her that she was at least mostly right as Neville suddenly spoke up.

"Um... Hermione? I don't think it's an heir ring. Though they do have the family crest on them they typically are completely silver, like mine." He put up his own hand where a ring just like Harrys was sitting, gleaming silver in the light of the candles that illuminated the room. But it did differ from Harrys ring, that - although it was basically silver too - had a fully coloured family crest. "That's a Head of House ring."

Both Ron and Hermione gaped at that. "Blimey Harry, you are the new Potter Head? Why didn't you tell us?" his best friend asked, while Hermione looked confused. "But... you can't be the Head of House, you're not even seventeen yet!"

"Well... that was something I wanted to explain to you but forgot to do..." he began, looking slightly embarrassed before telling them what had happened in Gringotts back then and how he had finally understood what happened.

"You mean, that was the reason you looked through all the books about the Triwizard Torunament?" Hermione asked after he had finished his story and he nodded.

"Exactly."

"But what does this have to do with Dumbledore?" she continued and he chuckled dryly.

"Well... How probable is it, not to know what the difference between an heir ring and a Head of House ring is?"

Neville frowned. "Unless you are muggleborn or a halfblood who hasn't had much contact with purebloods... I'd think it's pretty well-known."
"That's what I thought. So... is there any reason why Dumbledore of all people wouldn't know what that ring really is?"

Neville shook his head, looking thoughtfully while Hermiones eyes widened. "He wanted to talk to you about the ring?"

Harry nodded. "Yep."

"And he... thought it was an heir ring?"

"Well, I don't know what he thought, you know Dumbledore, but he did tell me it was an heir ring. And he looked at it during almost the whole talk, I think him not recognizing it for what it is would actually make him slightly senile..."

"Harry!"

"Well, what am I supposed to think?!" he asked, growing annoyed with Hermione always defending her authority figures. She needed to learn that 'authority' didn't automatically mean 'good and always doing what's best'. "Really, he began asking about nightmares as if I should be having them, but after I told him I didn't - which is the truth by the way, no reason to look at me like that - he began asking me about that ring. And yes, here I did lie to him. I was angry that he didn't even want to look me into the eyes when talking to me so I decided to play innocent, hoping he would actually explain to me what it means to be the Head of House Potter. You know what he did? He told me that it was an heir ring that many people got with fourteen or fifteen and that this wouldn't change anything if I wasn't seventeen. He even specifically told me I needed to go back to the Dursleys which I know I don't need to, because I'm now the owner of three properties! I'm sorry, but how can I trust anyone who doesn't even trust me in the slightest? Especially if he just doesn't get how bad the Dursleys really are!"

Silence rang through the room after he had finished his rant, before Hermione piped up again.

"Surely it can't be that bad...?"

He stared at her and she almost visibly shrunk. "Hermione, do you really think I'm exaggerating when I'm saying that I don't want to go back every single year? Do you think it's a coincidence that I asked you for food last summer? There were bars before my window the summer before our second year! Is that something you call a loving family?"

"But... maybe Dumbledore doesn't know...?"

"Well, that might have been a possibility, had he not placed an old lady who sometimes babysat me when I was younger as a watchdog. If she reported to him at all - which is pretty certain - he knew what was going on."

Really, he still felt bad about Mrs. Figgs death, especially since he knew by now that squibs were able to see Dementors. It must have been a horrible experience for her. But he was also angry that no one had ever informed him that she had actually spied on him.

He sighed, shaking his head. Really, that certainly didn't help Dumbledore to gain his trust back. If that was even a possibility anymore.

"Anyway. Think whatever you want, I just wanted to tell you what was going on. And I'd appreciate it if you'd keep that to yourself. I'm just really angry and disappointed in Dumbledore right now, so don't expect me to go to him anytime soon if I have a problem. Because really, I have friends like you. And if I'm asking you a question you won't lie to me because of some weird reason no normal human understands. At least I hope so."

He got three nods.

 

The next day went by without further surprises. He had quietly told Shiva everything that had been going on in the morning, practising writing Parseltongue later during the day - he was slowly growing accustomed to the weird, squiggly lines - and finished most of his homework to pass the time until Astronomy. It was pretty usual.

The next day wouldn't be though and he already awoke even earlier than normal, being nervous about his first private lesson with Professor Pyrites. He wondered what he might learn and if it would be easier or harder than learning with Remus had been... He wondered enough that he wasn't able to concentrate on his book at all and finally made himself ready for the day instead. He arrived at the common room with fifteen minutes to spare, settling down on one of the comfortable chairs to wait, while looking around the almost empty room.

He knew that Ron wouldn't get up before lunch today, he never did on Thursdays as they only had Potions in the afternoon, but Hermione sometimes woke up early enough to join him.

And really, about ten minutes later he saw her descending the stairs leading to the girls dormitories, frowning slightly as she saw him.

"How do you always manage to be down here before me?" she asked him before he could even open his mouth.

He chuckled. "Good morning to you too. And maybe it's because girls need ages in the bathroom?" he answered, grinning as she harrumphed, crossing her arms and grumbling about men and their sense of humour.

They both made their way out of the common room soon afterwards, as Hermione stopped pretending to be annoyed with him, walking towards the Great Hall. It was actually quite cool to be awake that early, because you could calmly eat without the usual troublemakers making loud noises and - as an added bonus - watch some half-asleep students scribbling the last lines of their essays or something, mostly making a mess out of their breakfast. It sure was fun.

Though today they hadn't even reached the Great Hall yet as a voice called out.

"Mr. Potter, may I have a word with you?"

Surprised, they both turned around, looking at Professor McGonagall who stood behind them. She had probably come from her private chambers as she was one of the few teachers that sat at the teachers table for almost the whole breakfast, supervising the students to prevent too much chaos. So it wasn't all that surprising for her to walk the same way as them, Harry just wondered what she wanted.

"Good morning Professor," he greeted after overcoming his initial surprise. "Is there anything wrong?"

"Good morning," she replied. "You aren't in trouble if you were wondering, but I would like to talk to you in private for a moment."

She seemed almost hesitating which made Harry all the more curious. Still, he turned to look at Hermione, who just smiled.

"Don't worry, I'll save you a seat."

"Thanks," he answered, smiling back before turning back as she continued walking.

Professor McGonagall beckoned him into an unused classroom and he followed her with growing confusion.

After the door had been closed behind them she looked at him, as serious as ever but with a concerned glint in her eyes.

"Mr. Potter... I had a very interesting conversation with Professor Dumbledore yesterday evening and he seems to be under the impression that the ring you are wearing is not a normal ring. May I see it?"

Raising an eyebrow, Harry showed her the ring. What was that all about, was it some weird plan of Dumbledore? But that really didn't make any sense, so...

"Just as I have thought..." Professor McGonagall mumbled.

"Excuse me, but what's going on?" he finally asked after another few seconds of silence.

"Well, as far as I am aware, Professor Dumbledore has not told you this, but I think that you are acting responsible enough to understand the situation. This ring isn't for an heir, it's for the Head of House. Meaning it doesn't only symbolise what you will get once you turn seventeen, you are actually already having it. I think it is the work of the Goblet of Fire last year."

Harry blinked, surprised. "Why are you telling me this?"

Now it was Professor McGonagalls turn to look surprised. "I... must say I expected a different reaction. But oh well. I told you because I know that Professor Dumbledore wants to keep you in the dark. I think he means well and doesn't want to burden you with even more responsibilities, but I know what he told you and I cannot stand for it any longer. I have watched the Dursleys back when your parents had just died and I do not understand how the headmaster could still send you back without a problem. Especially since you aren't any better protected than at the headquarters of the Order."

Harry frowned. "Huh? But the blood wards-" he began, but his teacher interrupted him. "Are gone! I know that I am not supposed to tell you this, but I won't stand aside anymore. Once the Goblet of Fire had given out your name and you agreed to participate you were emancipated. It is as if you had turned seventeen on that very day. The blood wards were designed to protect you until you come of age, which has already happened. The only protections left are the most basic ones that every good hideout should have. You don't need to go back to refresh anything."

"Well, that's new..." Harry mumbled, staring wide-eyed at his Head of House. The protection Dumbledore insisted on wasn't even there anymore? And even Professor McGonagall knew? His expression darkened.

"Thank you professor. I really appreciate that you told me even though Dumbledore didn't want that. The reason why I wasn't as surprised as you thought I would be was because I didn't tell him everything either. I already know about my ring, what I can do now and so on. And I didn't plan on returning to the Dursleys. But I didn't know that the protection has vanished already anyway."

Professor McGonagall stared at him. "You... knew? You lied to Albus Dumbledore?"

"Um... I didn't lie, I just... omitted information. The same way he likes to do. Though it wasn't very hard, he just kept staring on my ring, not once looking up into my face."

He frowned again, but Professor McGonagall seemed appeased.

"Fine. I cannot dictate your life nor do I want to. You seem to be mature enough to know what you are doing. You may go enjoy breakfast now."

Harry nodded and was already at the door, as Professor McGonagall spoke up again.

"Potter?" He turned around. "If you ever need someone to confide in, my quarters are always opened."

He smiled gratefully at her, though pretty certain he wouldn't take her up on that offer. "Thanks professor. I really appreciate it."

Then he walked out of the door and continued to the Great Hall. He was pretty sure that Hermione was dying to know what was going on, regardless if she would ask him about it or not.

And really, maybe that fact would help her understanding, that Dumbledore had long stopped being only the grandfatherlike headmaster he was supposed to be and instead meddled in things that had nothing to do with him.

 

During breakfast he explained everything to Hermione, who looked very thoughtful after he had finished. He looked around the Great Hall, watching a few other students who ate quietly before his eyes travelled to the teachers table.

Besides Professor McGonagall he could see Professor Sprout, who was talking to Professor Vector, Professor Pyrites and Professor Grubbly-Plank.

He wondered for a moment were Dumbledore was, but decided that he didn't care, especially because it wasn't all that unusual for the headmaster to show up at the end of breakfast. It wasn't as if there was any obligation for the headmaster to constantly watch all the students as long as they were safe.

He looked once more to Professor Pyrites, wondering how early he should arrive to not seem too eager, because really, classes wouldn't start for an hour or so, he didn't want to seem even weirder than he probably was.

But Professor Pyrites seemed completely focussed on something, having his gaze fixed on the table in front of him, but food blocked his sight so he didn't knew what it was. He just saw that whenever Professor McGonagalls gaze landed near Professor Pyrites she gave him a puzzled look.

He turned back to Hermione, quietly talking to her about homework, having almost forgotten the strange sight as suddenly he heard a few 'oh's and 'ah's and saw some students pointing up. He followed their stares and saw a quiet beautifully crafted origami bird flying in circles around the ceiling.

It began to sink and most students wondered to whom it would fly, but suddenly it vanished.

A disappointed groan ran through the tables but Harry looked over to Professor Pyrites whose eyes sparkled with amusement. He no longer looked in front of him but at least the mystery of what he had done had unravelled right now. Harry rolled his eyes, though with a small smile, and focused his attention back on Hermione. There still was that one problem with his History of Magic essay as she had pointed out a mistake he honestly couldn't see for himself.

Only a surprised gasp from her brought him out of that discussion as she pointed to his plate.

Yes, that weird origami bird had somehow landed in front of him, visible again. He wondered what to do with it, but that problem solved itself after he touched the bird, because it unfolded itself, revealing a short note.

Mr. Potter,
I see you weren't lying when you said you were an early riser.
Just show up once you have finished eating, I don't have a problem with starting a bit earlier.
A.P.

Harry stared at it for a moment, before looking back at the teachers table, but Professor Pyrites had already left.

That... solved his problem, though it was quite an unusual way.

He showed the note to Hermione before excusing himself. At least he did not have to wonder now what he should do the remaining sixty minutes.

He walked through the almost empty castle, dodging Peeves once who thought it funny to throw chalk at unsuspecting students, before he finally arrived in front of the office of Professor Pyrites.

Knocking once he was surprised that the 'Enter.' followed almost immediately. He slowly entered, observing the room once he had closed the door again.

And... wow. Professor Pyrites certainly loved swords.

He almost felt as if he had walked into a museum of a kind. Three of the four walls were full of swords, there were shelves full of books with swords in between and... yeah. It was all very dangerous-looking.

"Good morning Mr. Potter!" Professor Pyrites greeted from behind his desk that was located at the far wall, in front of a window which was the only part of that wall without a weapon on it.

"Good morning... " Harry answered, still feeling a bit overwhelmed.

"I guess you are surprised?" his teacher asked while standing up and walking around his desk.

Harry just nodded.

"Actually, it's pretty simple: As my father tried teaching me the depth of wandlore I got quite rebellious, tried to do something completely different. I started to learn sword fighting because I thought it would annoy my father the most - and it did - but I actually came to like it, so I began collecting swords."

Harry blinked, surprised. "You can fight with these things?"

"Exactly. Wicked, eh?" Professor Pyrites answered, winking at him. Harry chuckled slightly, but nodded anyway. The way this teacher talked to the students, it was really easy to feel comfortable. That probably explained his high popularity. Especially since he could be serious if necessary.

"Anyway," he continued after a short pause. "You're not here to learn sword fighting, and though that's a pity, I think Defence is important as well. I've thought for a while about what to teach you first, because there are many things that sadly, I cannot fit into the normal curriculum. But then I got an idea." He grinned, looking expectantly at Harry. "Have you ever heard of Occlumency?"

Harry frowned and thought about it. He was pretty sure that he had read the word somewhere in his books, but he couldn't remember where... He shook his head and Professor Pyrites nodded slowly.

"I thought so. Don't worry, it's not wide-spread knowledge, but it's a very helpful thing in many ways. It helps you to keep your mind organised and may even improve your resistance against the Imperius Curse! Though I've heard you don't really need assistance with that..." He looked approving, which made Harry look away, slightly embarrassed. "Anyway, the main point of Occlumeny is the defence against Legilimency, an art that, if used weakly, allows the user to know whenever you lie, but if used strongly he may read your thoughts, the ones you are thinking now and even your deepest secrets... The only good thing is, that it requires eye contact, but there is a spell that let's it's caster use Legilimency without looking into your eyes or even knowing the skill themselves."

Harrys eyes widened slightly. That... sounded really dangerous. "Are... there any known people here at school who are able to do Legilimency?" he asked after hesitating for a second, before, as an afterthought, adding "Or Occlumency?"

Professor Pyrites chuckled. "So you're having a few secrets? Don't worry, everyone has them, there's nothing wrong with it. As far as I am aware Professor Snape is a master Occlumens - which is the noun for people who are able to use Occlumency - and Professor McGonagall as well as Professor Flitwick have strong mental shields. I am quite sure that most of your other professors know Occlumency too, at least some basic level, but I don't know that for sure. Oh, and Headmaster Dumbledore is able to use Occlumency and Legilimency, of course."

Harry cursed inwardly. Of course Dumbledore was able to use Legilimency. So he was probably really, really lucky that Dumbledore had been so impolite and not looked into his eyes... He didn't want to imagine what the headmaster would have said if he had seen his new.. hobbies. Yes, learning Occlumency was a brilliant idea.

Professor Pyrites must have seen his expression, because he laughed slightly. "Yeah, most people look that way once they realise that Professor Dumbledore has that little skill. But as far as I'm aware he doesn't usually use it with his students. Except for that little thing to know if they're lying, I image that's helpful..." He shook his head. "Anyway, are you ready to start? Because though what we'll do today won't look like much, but it might be quite exhausting."

Harry nodded, focussing on his teacher, and their first lesson began.

 

He rarely had been that exhausted after one hour of training. Professor Pyrites hadn't lied, it had been mentally demanding, even though the exercise itself hadn't been hard. Professor Pyrites had shown him different ways to clear his mind, because thinking simply nothing was the first step to defend oneself. But that was easier said than done, because it needed a lot of concentration to stop thinking...

He wasn't rubbish at it, but it would need time and practise to maintain that control even in the face of an attack. Though Professor Pyrites had told him more than once, that simulating an attack would be something for much later, once he had mastered the basics in peace.

For now he would keep practising in the evenings before going to sleep, if he was awake long enough.

Because these days it was harder and harder to stay awake after falling into his bed, mainly because Angelina tortured the whole Gryffindor Quidditch team with her training methods. Sure, Harry could understand her, it wasn't easy for her being the Team Captain after Oliver Wood had left and the expectations lay high on her shoulders. But still, once there was only a week left until the first Quidditch game - Gryffindor versus Slytherin - she drilled them as bad as Wood had done in the past.

Which in itself wasn't a bad thing actually, mostly because Ron... well... he was very new at being the keeper and that fact was obvious because he was so very nervous he sometimes missed the Quaffle completely. Still, it narrowed the time span Harry had left for other things considerably. But well, it was only a week after all and they simply couldn't afford to loose against Slytherin. He would survive.

Chapter Text

Chapter 21: Return

The remaining week up to the Quidditch game went by faster than ever, though the game itself was pure torture. Some seemingly intellectually challenged Slytherins had composed a weird song called 'Weasley is our King' with which they made Ron so nervous that he was even worse than during their training, even though they had met various people before the match who wished him luck. Even Luna had been there, wearing a huge lion hat that could roar, trying to encourage Ron. But it hadn't helped. The only good thing was that Harry had been able to catch the snitch pretty soon, so Rons torture hadn't been long.

Though that had been almost too easy, because Malfoy had kept his distance at all times. Which made Harry honestly wonder what in the name of Merlin was his problem, but he couldn't very well walk up to him and ask.

Instead he tried his best to cheer Ron up, because really, the Slytherins might have shot a few goals... and maybe Ron didn't even save one of them... but it would surely get better once he got his nervousness under control. It was always difficult at the beginning.

Thankfully, Hermione came to them that evening, announcing something that took Rons mind off of Quidditch for now: Hagrid was back!

As soon as they heard it, Harry got his Invisibility Cloak and the Marauders Map and together, they hurried out of the castle and down to Hagrids hut. True to Hermiones words, they saw smoke rising out of the chimney and light shone through the window.

Though none of them had expected the way Hagrid was looking. Being a half giant there were only so many things that could seriously hurt him. And obviously, Hagrid had encountered something like that. That really stirred up their curiosity.

 

It had needed a bit of persuasion and witty thinking from them to get Hagrid to spill the beans, but in the end, he did, and what he told them... it was crazy. Quite a tale, with him and Madame Maxime trying to convince the giants to help them... though sadly, it held no happy end for them, as the giants ended up being either too afraid to help or under Voldemorts control. Damn.

"That still doesn't explain why you've needed that long... Sirius told me that Madame Maxime had returned ages ago... where have you been?" Harry asked, after a short pause.

"And where did you get all these wounds? Where you attacked?" Ron added after a second.

Hagrid looked uncomfortable, but resolute.

"I haven' bin attacked! An' really, I don' think it's yer business at all...!", he grumbled.

Hermione shook her head. "Look, Hagrid, we're your friends, we worry about you...! It's not that we don't trust you, we just want to know why our friend is looking so beaten up... After all, you are a strong man, how many things can injure you like that...?"

Harry could practically see Hagrids chest swelling with pride as Hermione called him their friend and he wondered briefly if that had been her intention, because after hesitating a bit more, he finally sighed deeply.

"Fine, but don' tell anyone, alrigh'? I... Originally, I had wanted ter bring back me brother..."

"Brother?" Hermiones half-shrieked as the trios eyes went wide.

"Shh!" Hagrid shushed her, looking at his window, slightly nervous as if fearing to be overheard. "Well, me half-brother, really. I wanted ter bring 'im, but Olympe talked me outta it after some time... I really wished ter take 'im in, but he kept wantin' ter go back so she convinced me ter give up..."

He looked sad enough that even Ron, who was currently sitting next to him, noticed and patted him slightly on the arm. Though he proved his natural ability to be horribly insensitive directly afterwards.

"But there are still about two month left, aren't there? That's enough time to go back, what kept you?"

Hagrid still looked nervous. Was there more to come...?

Yes, Harry would immediately hear, there was.

"Well... Olympe needed ter go back ter France an' we split up soon afterwards... I was already on my way back as I saw the poor thing..." He fidgeted slightly. "There was a dragon lyin' near the road, badly hurt... I couldn'ta left it there!"

All three students gasped.

"A dragon!" Hermione hissed, though remembering to keep quiet this time. "Again? Hagrid, you know what happened with Norbert!"

He frowned. "I know, but it was hurt! It coulda died!" Hermione still didn't look convinced, but she didn't say any more. "Anyway... I took 'im with me an' cared fer 'im 'til he was well enough ter walk again... Then we made our way back here. It jus' took some time 'cause we needed ter travel at night, as a dragon is pretty noticeable..."

Harry slowly shook his head. "That was pretty dangerous... Where is he now?" At least he supposed the dragon was male since Hagrid had called it 'him' too.

"...I left 'im in the fores'... He's mostly a nice fella, jus' a bit touchy at times... Hasn' put me on fire even once, but he knows how ter scratch, I tell yeh."

A dragon. In the forbidden forest. Great... Harry was reminded of the first task of the Triwizard Tournament last year... and how many dragon-keepers were needed to keep each dragon occupied...

"Hagrid... you can't keep it... It might put the whole forest aflame! Or worse, it might kill you!" Hermione said, obviously trying to get him to understand. But she had forgotten how stubborn Hagrid could be. He insisted on his earlier statement, that the dragon wasn't dangerous and that was it.

Before their squabble could get out of hand Harry cleared his throat, causing both of them to look at him questioningly.

"Look... we can't do much about it now anyway... It's not a baby dragon, is it, Hagrid?" The half giant shook his head, looking happy. "So then we can't just call Charlie again to get it without anyone noticing... Maybe we should let the dragon stay in the forest, though once he starts setting fire to the trees or wants to leave it, we'll still tell Charlie... He'll think about something. Does that sound alright?"

Both Ron and Hermione nodded slowly, though the latter still looked quite put out, as Hagrid grinned happily. "Thanks, yeh three really are true friends."

That made all of them smile, before Hagrid seemingly got another idea.

"Yeh know, we could ask Dumbledore 'bout it, too!"

Suddenly, the three smiles all seemed slightly forced, and even Hagrid, who sometimes happened to miss these sort of things noticed.

"...What's wrong?"

Both Ron and Hermione stared at Harry, who sighed quietly. Of course, it was up to him to explain. Though it probably was only fair, he was the one with the problem after all.

"Actually, I don't think you should ask Dumbledore about these things... He is the headmaster afterall."

Hagrid frowned. "But he has already helped me a lot!"

"I know, but..." He looked seriously at his half-giant friend. "Look, what I'm about to tell you is a big secret, alright? Please don't tell anyone that you know, otherwise I might get into really big trouble..."

Hagrid seemed confused for a second, but then he nodded, looking resolute. "I promise I'll keep yer secrets!"

Harry smiled softly. "Thank you." Then he grew serious again. "I... don't think I can trust Dumbledore anymore. And although I understand why you do, I would like to ask you if you could re-evaluate your opinion with new information I can give you."

He then proceeded to tell Hagrid the same things he had already told his other friends. About how he didn't think Dumbledore was lying - except for that one occasion on Halloween - but still believed the old man manipulated their believes. He concluded with his new-found knowledge, that the headmaster could easily detect lies with his skill at Legilimency and was able to read mind if he chose to do so.

Though judging from Hermiones shocked gasp and Rons surprised face, he had actually forgotten to tell them this part.

"Harry! Do you know how risky telling so many people about these thoughts is if Dumbledore might read them out of their minds?" Hermione asked, but thankfully, Harry had a way to easy her worry.

"Stay calm, it's not that bad... He's just able to do it if you look him in the eyes for a long period of time...! And there is a way to counter Legilimency, called Occlumency... I'm currently trying to learn that, I can tell you what I know if you want." He turned to Hagrid. "You don't need to worry though, I've heard that Legilimency doesn't work on half-giants..." Or any other non-human beings... Professor Pyrites had told him some more information before they had started practising.

That seemed to placate Hermione at least somehow, though he was pretty sure she'd want to learn Occlumency too now, but he'd gladly tell her and Ron what to do. After all, it wasn't anything complicated right now.

He wondered if Hagrid had heard him at all though, he looked very deep in thought, staring at his mug of tea.

"...Hagrid? Are you okay?"

He looked up.

"Huh? Yes, sorry, I've bin distracted... I dunno what ter say abou' all this, lemme think for a while, alrigh'?"

Harry nodded. He could understand that it was very difficult for Hagrid, who practically worshipped Dumbledore, to suddenly believe something else, but he was very glad that Hagrid at least considered it, since he could be very stubborn at times. But he really had wanted to tell him his thoughts, because even though the half-giant had his faults, everyone had, and Hagrid had been the very first person ever who had acknowledged him as a person and had even introduced him into the wizarding world. He would probably feel grateful for him forever, so in Harrys opinion he deserved to know. Also, he actually didn't believe that Hagrid would spill his secrets, because even though he had been surprisingly open with the whole secret of the Philosophers Stone, he had never told anyone another secret afterwards. Harry could actually say he trusted him.

"So... Now that you're back, you will be teaching us again, right?" Ron asked after a moment of silence, changing the topic which lessened the slight awkwardness that had built and brought Hagrid into a talk of making them curious without telling them what exactly they would see. Though it did look as if the would not use professor Grubbly-Planks lesson plans anymore...

Which was actually a pity, because she had been a very good teacher.

Still, the four of them continued to talk about a few other topics, mostly staying on the safe side now, before they bade Hagrid goodbye, sneaking back into the castle to their common room, where Ron and Hermione cornered Harry almost immediately about that Occlumency thing, which he told them after getting Neville, too, just to be fair.

He knew they were slightly disappointed that it turned out to be such a simple thing, but he was sure that at least Hermione would try quite fervently to learn it. She always did.

 

Their Care of Magical Creatures class on Tuesday was actually pretty interesting as Hagrid showed them a herd of Thestrals, the only tame one worldwide. Also, it turned out that next to Neville and himself there was only one other student, a Slytherin, who could see them in this class... Which was probably good, as that meant there weren't many people who had seen someone die.

The week itself wasn't very exciting though, Quidditch practise had returned to normal after their victory over Slytherin and though their teachers gave them loads of homework it wasn't that unusual and actually not all that hard since he actually started working in the evenings instead of procrastinating.

So it probably wasn't very surprising that he found himself back in the Room of Requirement the next weekend, wanting to try some of the spells Quetzalcoatl had brought him after the last letter had come with a horribly interesting charm to prevent people from overhearing conversations.

Ron had wanted to come with him, but Hermione had dragged him off to some prefect duties - once more Harry was actually thankful not to be one - and Neville was still busy with his Charms homework.

So he practised alone, while Shiva watched from her favourite spot next to the fire, happy to be able to move freely again. Sure, she did too when she went out to hunt, but being otherwise confined to stay under his robes probably wasn't very exciting. She sometimes commented on his style, but was otherwise content to watch.

And he actually wasn't half bad. At least he felt that way, being able to cast the simpler spells pretty soon while he worked out the harder spells after some time. The only real problem he had was the Undetectable Extension Charm that simply didn't want to work, but he had no idea why. It did extend the small bag the room had provided him with, but it was still easy to detect. Maybe his movements were wrong, he would need to research that Charm in detail later.

He was just trying again as suddenly, the door opened. He turned around, wondering if his friends had finished their duties - he hadn't looked at his watch for a while - but didn't expect the blond hair he saw.

"...Luna?" he asked surprised after she had closed the door.

"Hello Harry Potter," she answered dreamily, clutching the newest Quibbler magazine in her hands. "And hello to you too, Miss Snake."

Harry stared at her, almost dropping his wand in surprise, while she waved happily at him and Shiva.

"Wha- How do you know about Shiva?" he asked after collecting himself.

"Oh, I just didn't believe that you had gained that much weight," she answered, as if that explained everything. He just stared a bit more. Was it that obvious? Really? "Don't worry, I don't think other people noticed it," she continued as if she had read his thoughts. He wanted to say something more, but didn't know what, so in the end, he just accepted it as one of Lunas oddities. She did and said some weird stuff sometimes, that much he had gathered from the few times he had met her. Instead, he asked something else.

"But how did you know that it was a female snake?"

Luna smiled at him as she walked over to one of armchairs, plopping down on one of them as if she did it a lot. "I guessed."

He blinked, dumbstruck, before beginning to chuckle. Honestly, Luna was awesome. She might have been slightly weird sometimes, but it was a good kind of weird, it certainly never got boring with her.

"Alright." He sat down next to Shiva, who slithered onto his lap.

"What's happening? Did you tell her about me?" she wondered, confused. Of course she was, she could not have understood what was being told.

"No, but she somehow guessed. Don't worry, she doesn't seem to have a problem with you," he explained, noticing how Luna watched him quite interested.

"Ah... alright. But how did she find this room then? I thought it was a secret one?"

Good questions, actually.

"Say, Luna... How did you find this room?" he asked, switching back to English after a second.

"Well... I found it when I was hiding from an Umgubular Slashkilter."

A... what? He didn't dare to ask, instead simply accepting her words, making sure to remember asking the room that no one that didn't know about Shiva should be allowed to enter.

Harry watched her looking at Shiva for a moment, before he remembered something.

"Say... are you still interested in an interview?"

Her gaze went up to him, slightly surprised. "Do you still want to give it?" she asked back and he nodded.

"Of course, otherwise I wouldn't have suggested it in the first place."

She smiled happily at him and soon they made some preparations for an impromptu interview.

 

The weeks afterwards almost flew by without anything surprising. After their talk at the Room of Requirement, Luna had promised him that she would send it to her father who would publish it as soon as possible. Also, he had finally gotten a subscription for the Quibbler, something he had wanted to get for a while know, though Hermione in particular couldn't understand why he wanted to read that magazine. He just smiled at her, telling her he thought it might get really big one day. After all, the Quibbler wasn't being controlled by the Ministry, in difference to the Daily Prophet, and had no special audience to apply to. That meant they could write more independent articles, which was great.

Other than that, the teachers burdened them with mountains of homework and Ron and Hermione often needed to do some of their prefect duties, like supervising the decoration of the castle, meaning Harry either hung out with Neville, doing homework or practising some spellwork together, or went to the Room of Requirement to read, practise his Parseltongue script or his Occlumency or talk with Sirius from time to time.

His lessons with Professor Pyrites had been divided into physical and mental exercises now, starting with his dodging skills - the teacher didn't want to teach him new spells yet since he would mostly learn them in classes anyway or somewhere else, opting to teach skills you couldn't learn by yourself very well - for half an hour until Harry couldn't move a muscle anymore because he had been hit with one stinging spell too much. It was really a great motivation to dodge, being hit with these spells hurt, but didn't leave any kind of lasting damage. Afterwards there was another half an hour mental reserved for his Occlumency where Professor Pyrites checked how long Harry was able to empty his mind and sometimes gave him a few suggestions or just meditated himself.

It led to Harry being completely exhausted afterwards, but thankfully Potions was in the late afternoon which gave him enough time - and a meal in between - to gather his wits back together to brew. And somehow angering Snape who couldn't find reasons to take points from Harry anymore as he still sat between Slytherins while making his potions. They didn't even try to sabotage his potion, which actually made him pretty suspicious, but he certainly didn't want to encourage them so he kept quiet.

 

But because of all these things to keep him occupied Harry was pretty surprised as they actually needed to pack for the Christmas holidays. The Weasleys had invited him to stay at the Burrow - they had returned there sometime during the term - but he had politely declined, opting to stay with Sirius and Remus at Grimmauld Place instead, though he had promised to visit for Christmas celebrations. Hermione wouldn't be there though as she had made plans to go skiing with her parents.

The Hogwarts Express ride was uneventful too, not even Malfoy made his usual visit and so Harry, Neville and the Weasleys apart from Ron - he and Hermione had to patrol the train again - used their peaceful time to play a few rounds of Exploding Snap together before each minded their own business until the prefects came back, which resulted in some talking, but nothing all too interesting.

They all said their goodbyes once they had reached Kings Cross station, Hermione needed to hurry because she would leave the next day and still needed to do her packing while the Weasleys went to floo home after they had a quick talk with Harrys escort. Which consisted of the same elderly woman that had sent them off in summer, meaning it was Tonks in disguise, accompanied by Remus and his favourite dog. Of course, the latter once more got a scolding look from Mrs. Weasley, but she just hugged Harry, telling him he needed to eat regularly and to stay safe, before she invited him once more to come over at Christmas.

He reassured her that he would definitely be there, before he waved them goodbye and started walking with his small escort.

"So, how has school been?" Remus asked once they had emerged from the wall between Platforms Nine and Ten.

Harry shrugged. "Alright, I guess. The last month was mostly working, since our teachers collectively decided to give us a bunch of homework, even Professor Pyrites makes us write essays about spells even though his lessons still mostly consist of catching up on our spellwork." But at least their teacher had announced, that after the holidays they would soon start with warding which was good, because though practise was great and Neville was doing better than ever, he himself knew most spells already and was mostly teaching other students instead of learning something new. But at least he was never bored, though there were some students that avoided his help, like most of Slytherin.

Remus chuckled. "Yes, I remember doing something similar two years ago. Do you have a lot homework to do during the holidays?"

"Nah, I've already finished most of it." As he got two surprised looks he rolled his eyes. "Yeah, Hermione finally had success and transformed me into some kind of model student. Or something like that..." The two laughed while Sirius let loose a happy bark, breaking the slight awkwardness that had surrounded them.

"So... Do you have other plans for the holidays?" Tonks asked curiously, but friendly. "Want to go somewhere?"

Somehow it sounded as if she knew he would, which made him look at Remus for an explanation. After all, as far as he knew Sirius tried to keep the fact, that he was regularly visiting muggle London these days quiet, as most other Order members would disapprove, just like Mrs. Weasley had. The man just smiled.

"Don't worry, Tonks is a fine person. She actually covered for us a few times, you can trust her," he explained and Harry nodded.

He did not know the young auror very well but she had seemed nice, if a bit clumsy, and he at least trusted Remus' words.

"In that case... yes, I actually want to go somewhere. Potter manor, to be exact. I'll tell you the details later." He had added the last part after looking at stunned expressions, obviously the fact that he was the head of the potter family had not made it to them. And judging from the amused bark Sirius gave off next to him, he could imagine why, since he had actually told Sirius about it.

But he had no problems with informing them about being a legal adult in the wizarding world now. And maybe they could even visit the manor together...?

He was certainly looking forward to the next few weeks!

Chapter Text

After a big hug from Sirius back at Grimmauld Place it was decided that Harry would get his own room for the holidays, not needing to use the one he had shared with Ron that summer. Sirius and Remus had been busy, taking one of the cleaned, but empty rooms on the third floor and redecorated it together with Tonks. It was one of the most touching things anyone had done for him, so Harry thanked the three of them quite thoroughly for it.

His new room now had a comfortable four-poster bed, much like the ones back at Hogwarts and the dark and eerie atmosphere had been mostly eliminated through colourful cloths that had been enchanted to stick to the wall. Also, he had a window showing the street in front of the house and candles that he could easily turn on and off with a flick of his wand. He certainly loved magic!

Afterwards the four of them went down to the dining room to talk about the current situation. Tonks had been invited to stay by Sirius as her parents had wanted to celebrate their wedding anniversary somewhere in France and wouldn't manage to return for Christmas. That way, she would have some company and she liked both men obviously well enough and took a liking to Harry too, though he wasn't sure what he had done to deserve it.

Still, she was a very nice woman and soon he showed all three of them of his heir ring, explaining about the Potter properties he now owned and the fact that he actually was an adult wizard now.

"You know what? That means you can learn how to apparate before all of your classmates!" Sirius said happily, suggesting the most interesting advantage of being emancipated, of course. And something Harry hadn't really thought of yet, as apparating wasn't possible at Hogwarts anyway.

Noticing the look of understanding on Harry's face, Sirius grinned. "And do you know what's even better? You are able to apparate inside of this house, but you can neither leave nor come in, so no worries about getting lost somewhere. How about a little training these holidays? That is, if you're not too busy..." He made a face at the last sentence, as if he couldn't imagine anything more important than learning how to apparate.

Harry pretended to think. "Well, I think I might be able to squeeze it in somewhere."

"Great! And don't worry about splinching, though Moonys strength doesn't really lie in healing spells, there's still me and Nymphadora."

"It's 'Nymphadora and I'," Remus corrected, just as Tonks said "Don't call me Nymphadora!" while glaring at Sirius, who smiled innocently.

"Or what?"

"Or I'll hex you where the sun doesn't shine!"

Sirius' smile looked slightly more forced now, which made Harry try to hide a chuckle. Not very successfully though.

"Just see if I'll help you if you do splinch yourself," his godfather grumbled, but didn't look very serious. Instead he changed the topic. "So, about Potter Manor... when do you want to go?"

 

They discussed the issue for a while before it was decided that Harry should simply go the next day as he could buy his missing Christmas presents too and it would be out of the way. But since none of them wanted him to go alone, Tonks would accompany him, leaving Sirius and Remus to visit another time, as both of them felt they might get overwhelmed by the memories of the place and wouldn't want to spoil Harry's first visit to the former home of his family.

The chance to actually see where and how his parents and grandparents had lived made him slightly nervous, but he also anticipated the day a lot, barely managing to sleep the fist night inside of his new room.

 

The next morning had him awake as early as always, reading a bit before he got up and went into one of the two bathrooms on the floor. Afterwards, he went into the kitchen, wondering if he could help preparing the breakfast, but surprisingly, Kreacher was already at it, so he left again, not wanting to disturb the house elf. Instead, he fetched himself another book, this time about wizarding law - these books were quite difficult to understand so he could never just read them at once - before sitting down at the dining room table, waiting until someone else awoke.

Thankfully, he didn't need to wait long before Tonks arrived, yawning as she stepped into the kitchen.

"Wotcher, Harry," she greeted him sleepily, almost bumping into the table before sitting down next to him, sipping coffee from a cup she had brought with her.

He smiled at her. "Good Morning."

"Did you sleep well?"

"Well... alright, I guess." He shrugged. "I'm slightly nervous."

Tonks nodded thoughtfully. "Understandably. Did the newspaper arrive already?"

Harry was just shaking his head, as the fluttering of wings was heard and a few owls came flying through the door. There was an open window in the first floor that was used if any owl arrived, though Moody himself warded it heavily against all kinds of things, including animagi, tracking spells and even some spells that could be placed on letters to hurt the recipient.

That way, the Daily Prophet and letters from acquaintances could easily be delivered. Which meant, at least three owls would arrive regularly these Holidays, as Remus, Tonks and Harry each had a subscription to the Daily Prophet. Though today, there was a fourth one there, dropping the newest edition of The Quibbler on the living room table.

While Tonks grabbed the Daily Prophet to flip through it, Harry ignored the newspaper to take a look at The Quibbler, because really, if there was something else of interest Tonks would probably tell him.

And he was slightly surprised that he had obviously made the front page, since he was looking at himself, rolling his eyes at the camera before smiling. He remembered how Luna had argued with him about it - well, she had insisted and he hadn't been able to say no, really - to take a photo after the Room of Requirement had provided her with a camera and a background to stand in front of, but he had thought it would be a small photo next to the article, not... well, a big one taking up the whole cover, completed with a big headline.

HARRY POTTER SHARES HIS SECRETS
The truth about Sirius Black and that fateful night of You-Know-Who's downfall!

Harry rolled his eyes at the title, but he understood that it needed to be an eye catcher so that people would buy the magazine so he ignored it and read on.

Sirius Black - known for murdering twelve innocent Muggles and one wizard and for being the first person ever to escape from Azkaban - is still at large, believed to be a mass murderer and being searched everywhere by the Ministry of Magic.
BUT IS HE?
Harry Potter himself has agreed to give an interview about that man, claiming to know the truth about Black and his assumed allegiance to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and has brought to light many things that should be considered by the public even though many currently believe him to be a liar.

Luna Lovegood, student of Hogwarts and a year below Harry Potter, reports.

Luna Lovegood (LL): Hello Harry. May I call you that?

Harry Potter (HP): Hello, and yes, of course.

LL: First of all: Why did you decide to give an interview about Sirius Black of all people, why not about the accusations of the Daily Prophet of being a liar?

HP: Because I do not want to talk about You-Know-Who. I do know that many people think I am lying even though I have never even made an official statement at all. But it is not important, I just think people should switch on their brains and think for themselves, not simply believe whatever the Daily Prophet tells them. Or what I tell them, by the way.

LL: But you still wanted to tell the public something through this interview? (He nods) Why?

HP: Because it's not some petty thing about if I'm lying to get attention. It's about murder and an innocent man that lived twelve years of his live in Azkaban without having done anything wrong. Or at least, nothing that is worth a lifelong time in Azkaban.

LL: Alright. So your thesis about Sirius Black is similar to what The Quibbler already published back in September?

HP: Yes and no. I do fully agree that Sirius Black is innocent, but I do not think he is actually a man named Stubby Broadman. At least he never told me so.

LL: So, you have had contact with that man?

HP: Yes. And more than once.

LL: When was the first time you two met?

HP: It was last year, in my third year at Hogwarts... The year after he had escaped Azkaban. I think you know he was reported to have entered Hogwarts multiple times?

LL: Yes, I think I remember that. For our readers who don't know: Sirius Black had managed to intrude the castle of Hogwarts at least twice during the 93/94 school year. Both times his target was the Gryffindor tower and there were many rumours for him to be after Harry Potter. (Harry shakes his head) So, you do not believe that?

HP: Well, I know it's untrue.

LL: I assume it has something to do with how you first met?

HP: (nods) It was in the Shrieking Shack. I won't tell you how we got there, because that information is something that could potentially endanger other people, but two friends of mine and Sirius Black had been there. And he did not once try to kill me. Instead, he told me the truth of what happened back then.

LL: You mean, at the 31st October 1981?

HP: Exactly. I don't know how many people know about it, but back then, my parents - James and Lily Potter - went into hiding under a Fidelius Charm.

LL: Would you mind explaining what a Fidelius Charm is?

HP: Well... It basically is the best way to hide any kind of property. You need one person as the Secret Keeper, who then will be the only one that is able to divulge the location to anyone else. All other people who know of the location may be able to see and enter it, but cannot tell anyone else. Also, as far as I know, the Secret Keeper must give the location voluntarily. No spell can make him or her share that information unwillingly, not even the Imperius Curse.

LL: Alright. So, in order to be able to kill you and your parents, their secret keeper must have betrayed them to You-Know-Who?

HP: Yes. And that's the point. The Ministry thinks that Sirius Black was their Secret Keeper and betrayed them to You-Know-Who. And that's wrong. Sirius Black has never been their Secret Keeper. He knew that everyone would think they would choose him, so he convinced them to use another friend of theirs as a decoy: Peter Pettigrew.

LL: But... wasn't Peter Pettigrew the wizard that was killed by Black that day?

HP: That's the thing... Isn't it peculiar that Pettigrew was screaming Sirius had betrayed my parents just before everything blew up? Or that they actually found a finger of him, but nothing else? No body, nothing? Even though they obviously found twelve muggle corpses? The thing is, Pettigrew was the traitor. He framed Sirius, blew up the street and escaped.

LL: But how? He was never seen again afterwards.

HP: He's an unregistered animagus. A rat, to be precise. He cut off his own finger, before transforming into a rat and fleeing. (clearly agitated) That bastard is the reason why Sirius spent twelve years in Azkaban!

LL: So... you are saying that Peter Pettigrew was the real traitor, not Sirius Black? And that the latter told you that?

HP: I know, he could have lied to me. But that night, I saw Peter Pettigrew myself. A friend of mine had a pet rat. Surprisingly, it had lived for twelve years already, and it was missing a toe. Nobody ever thought much about it, but there are spells that force animagi to regain their human form. I have seen it used on that rat and I have heard Pettigrew confessing that he has betrayed my parents. I know people thought that back then me and both of my friends had been confunded, but I still believe what I saw back then and I have met Sirius Black multiple times afterwards. He never once tried to hurt me in any way.

LL: And you do not think he might have greater plans with you or anything?

HP: (resolute) He isn't a Death Eater. He hasn't even got the Dark Mark or anything. Peter Pettigrew has, though. So I think I know who to believe.

LL: But if that is true, why did no one ever question Black's stay in Azkaban.

HP: Well, I know that he never got a trial, for starters. Of course, back then it wasn't very unusual since so many Death Eaters were captured, but I know that at least two other Death Eaters got one after the downfall of You-Know-Who. And the use of Veritaserum or something like that would have easily proven that he wasn't a traitor, even though back then he was convinced that he had indirectly killed my parents, because he had been the one to propose Pettigrew as their Secret Keeper.

LL: These are very powerful accusations. Do you think people will believe you?

HP: ...Probably not. I am still a big liar in the eyes of the public after all. But I do think that the readers of The Quibbler are more open-minded regarding new ideas and the truth. Also, I wanted to support Sirius so that one day he might be a free man again. I am his godson after all.

LL: You mean, you parents wanted him to be your godfather?

HP: (nods) That will probably make people less likely to believe me, but really: I hope nobody honestly thinks that I would protect the man that betrayed my parents, leading to their death. Because you can be certain I don't. And Pettigrew, you traitorous bastard, if you are reading that: I once saved your ass from being killed on the spot, you fled straight back to your old master as a thank you. Don't think I will forget that, ever.

LL: Okay... so... anything else you want to say in conclusion?

HP: I just hope that when Sirius Black's name will be cleared - and I will make sure that one day that will happen - people remember that I told them the truth now. And that they finally understand that truth isn't something a reporter writes for a newspaper, but something you need to find for yourself. Oh, and even if I would know the current location of Sirius Black, I would not tell anyone, so don't bother asking me.

LL: Alright, thank you for your time, then, Harry.

HP: And thank you for allowing me to say what I wanted without being manipulated. Goodbye, Luna.

LL: Goodbye.

(Editors Note: Harry Potter kept calling You-Know-Who by his real name, but I replaced it as to not unsettle our readers)

 

Harry actually liked how that article had turned out, though in reality he had been much more insecure and Luna had been more... well... herself. But she had done a great job in making it seem surprisingly professional.

"What's that?" Tonks suddenly piped up, staring at the cover of The Quibbler just as Sirius and Remus entered the room, the former looking pretty sleepy himself.

"What's what?" Sirius asked, sitting down across from Harry.

"Dunno, I was just wondering why Harry's photo was on that Magazine... which one is it, anyway?" Tonks wondered aloud, causing Harry to hold it up.

"It's The Quibbler."

His answer were six raising eyebrows.

"Isn't that a rather... peculiar magazine?" Remus wondered, causing Harry to shrug.

"Yeah, but I'm friends with the daughter or the editor." He wasn't sure if 'friends' really was the right word, but he liked Luna well enough. "And this issue is fine."

"But why are you depicted on the- Wait a second..." Sirius interrupted himself as he had spotted the headline next to the more or less smiling Harry on the cover. He stared at it. "What have you done...?"

Harry threw the magazine towards him and he caught it opening it at once to search the proper article, with Remus looking over his shoulders and Tonks practically jumping over the table to get a look at it too.

Harry just rolled his eyes at their antics and let the three adults read while he snatched his copy of the Daily Prophet to look at their headlines. Though he couldn't really concentrate because he was nervous as hell. He hadn't told Sirius that he had given this interview, he could just hope that his godfather wouldn't be against it, even though it would be too late anyway now.

 

Remus was the first to look up again, looking thoughtful at Harry.

"You know, that was quite dangerous," he said, just as Sirius had finished reading and looked up himself.

"That was bloody brilliant!"

Remus rolled his eyes, turning his head to Sirius. "Honestly Sirius, that might actually get Harry or you into trouble."

"So what? I think it was so worth it. Not everyone can think Harry is a liar and even if they do they'll want to read an interview he gave... And these accusations weight heavily, once it's proven that Harry in fact wasn't lying, they'll consider it... And he didn't say that I'm an illegal animagus too, so... don't worry."

By now, Tonks had finished reading too, though she looked slightly confused. "You know what I don't understand? There's no reaction."

"Huh?" Harry wasn't sure what she meant, he thought both Sirius and Remus gave plenty reaction.

"Well, you haven't got even one letter about it. Wouldn't people be writing you, saying they believe you or that you're an idiot? Anything?"

Harry raised an eyebrow. "Why should they? Most people I know don't even read The Quibbler."

"Oh come on, don't be so thick, she's talking about fanmail!" Sirius said, rolling his eyes.

"Fanmail? I've never gotten any 'fanmail', why should it start now?" Harry was met with three incredulous stares. "...What?"

"Well... you are the 'Boy Who Lived'... That you have never gotten a letter telling you how thankful the writer is that you defeated Voldemort... It's unlikely," Remus explained.

"Also, we always thought you were getting plenty of hatemail this summer since everyone thinks you are a liar and stuff..." Sirius added, but Harry just shook his head.

"Sorry guys, I've never gotten any kind of letter from anyone besides friends, Hogwarts or the Ministry."

All three of them frowned, but in the end, they dropped the topic, because there wasn't more to say. Instead, Kreacher finally brought the breakfast - without uttering even one insult, Harry was even more surprised - and they ate while planning their trip to Potter Manor.

 

About one hour later, Tonks and Harry said their goodbyes to Remus and Sirius, who would stay at Grimmauld Place doing whatever - Sirius assured his godson he would keep looking for any owls that might deliver fanmail to him though, causing Harry to roll his eyes - before stepping out of the house, since it was warded against Portkeys. Once they were on the street, Harry pulled out the small figurine of a black dog - that somehow looked suspiciously like a certain animagus - and both of them made sure they touched it, before Harry whispered the activation phrase.

"Dílis don deireadh."

At once, he felt the almost familiar pull on his navel and they made their way all the way to Ireland...

 

Once they arrived he barely managed not to fall over Tonks, who remained standing, looking almost proud of herself. She chuckled as she saw him on the ground though, holding out her hand to help him up.

"I know how you feel, I've needed years of Portkey travelling before I managed to stay upright," she said, winking at him, before taking a look around. "Niice..."

Harry followed her gaze after he stood again and couldn't help but stare.

Dammit, the manor looked huge.

Sure, he could imagine manors of Purebloods like the Malfoys being bigger, but... it was certainly a larger manor than he had imagined. They stood on a small patch of grass surrounded by conifers and in front of them was a gravel path that led to the house which was visible between the trees.

"Let's take a look!" Tonks said enthusiastically and went forwards, pulling Harry with her until both of them stood in front of the door. A door without any kind of handle or knob. Great.

She blinked. "Do you know how heavy the property is warded?"

Harry shook his head.

"I just know that there are anti-apparition and anti-Portkey wards on the manor, as well as most of the standard wards. And there are Muggle-Repelling Charms and other protection spells on the property which should also be unplottable," he told her, repeating most of what the Goblins had told him about the estate. He also knew that he, as the owner, could actually use Portkeys and apparate inside of the manor and he could somehow key other people into it too, but he had no idea how to do that, so he just kept quiet.

Instead, he watched as Tonks seemed to think about it, casting a few spells at the front door he didn't recognize - maybe he should start learning proper Latin? - before shrugging.

"Alright, looks like there aren't any curses or anything on it. Still, I'm not willing to risk anything, you should go first as you are the owner. The doorway might be trapped against strangers. Just touch the wood with your palm."

"If you say so..."

Slightly nervous, Harry placed his hand on the door, the same way he had seen Griphook doing it back in October during his visit at Gringotts. And really, only seconds later he heard a soft click and the door opened.

Nervously he stepped inside, Tonks at his heels. He could see some kind of entrance hall, looking quite good, but one thing was really odd.

"Why does it look so... clean?" Tonks spoke out what he thought. Grimmauld Place had been so filthy and Potter Manor had been empty for at least fourteen years now, but it looked as if it had been recently cleaned...

Then, he heard a soft plop.

"Welcome home, master!"

Chapter Text

Chapter 23: Revelations

Harry gaped at the two little creatures that had appeared in front of him. Behind him, Tonks whistled.

"I didn't know you had house-elves, Harry."

"Neither did I," Harry answered slowly, still slightly overwhelmed.

Both house-elves had stopped bowing by now and the one on the right started talking.

"Tink is very sorry that we could not come and look for master, but all Potter elves are bound to this house as long as master doesn't call," it explained and Harry wondered absent-mindedly if Tink was a male or a female. The voice did not sound as high as Winky's, but if that was any indication for a gender Harry didn't know.

"It's alright. So... you two belong to this house?" Harry asked, wondering if there were more surprises waiting.

Both elves nodded and now the left one spoke.

"We serve master's family for generations now. Tink and Lettie are the main elves. But there are two more. We are proud of working here."

She - and Harry was pretty sure that 'Lettie' was a female name, apart from the fact that her voice was much higher than Tink's - seemed to say the truth and Harry belatedly noticed that both house-elves wore black aprons with the crest of the Potter family on them. They didn't look anything like the rags Dobby and Winky had worn... but didn't clothes set the elves free...?

Tink must have noticed Harry's gaze because he - for now, Harry would think of him as a 'he' as long as he wasn't proven otherwise - hastily spoke. "Master Charlus has ordered to wear these uniforms, if master Harry is wanting something different Tink will-"

"No, no, it's alright!" Harry interrupted the elf and Tink bowed again. "Would you like to show me around? I've never been here before..."

Both elves nodded. "Would master like both of us to show him and his friend?"

Harry shrugged. "Only if you want. You may, um... do whatever you're normally doing if that's more important."

Both elves looked at each other for a second, before nodding, as if they had a silent conversation between each other.

"We can start with the ground floor," Lettie said, pointing at one door on the left.

"Tink and Lettie will answer any question you might have," Tink continued and both of them started walking into that direction, with Harry and Tonks following them, looking around curiously.

 

Minerva McGonagall was horribly disappointed and quite agitated as she made a floo-call to Grimmauld Place. She couldn't believe what she had heard just now and even though she didn't want to disturb Harry's holidays with his godfather he needed to know this.

Kreacher was the first to notice her, basically living near the kitchen, and was surprisingly obliging in notifying Sirius that she wanted to talk to him.

And though the man looked slightly dishevelled he greeted her jovially.

"Good morning Minerva. Is there something wrong?" he asked, probably having noticed the frown on her face.

"May I come through? There is something I'd like to discuss in person," she answered, doing her best to keep her anger out of her voice as it really wasn't Sirius' fault.

He frowned slightly but shrugged. "Sure, feel free to do so."

"Thank you." She pulled her head out of the flames and stepped through the fire, easily forming the words that would bring her to the base of the Order of the Phoenix.

Once she had stepped out of the fireplace, cleaning up the soot on her clothes with a wave of her wand, she looked at the door that had just opened, revealing Remus who looked much more decent than Sirius did as he greeted her himself.

She replied accordingly before turning back to Sirius.

"I know that I probably do not have the best timing, considering that holidays have just started, but I really need to talk to Mister Potter. I have found something quite... astonishing that directly concerns him," she explained, coming straight to the point as she liked to do.

Though she wondered what was going on as both men looked at each other, Sirius - having the worse poker face - looking almost panicky. But it only lasted a second before Sirius got his features back under control.

"Um... sure, I'll go get him, just wait a second," he said and walked up the stairs, leaving Minerva to wonder what the boy was doing... Still, it couldn't really be bad, Harry had actually behaved less hot-headed and impulsive this year and his grades had gone up quite a bit, making her wonder if Miss Granger's efforts finally worked out.

 

A few minutes later, Harry walked down the stairs, looking almost as bad as Sirius, making her wonder if maybe his godfather was a bad influence... If she remembered Sirius from his own schooldays...

Especially once she noticed that Sirius hadn't come back down with Harry. But oh well, it wasn't her business, she had more important things in her mind right now.

"Professor?" Harry asked confusedly.

"Mr Potter, I know it must be surprising to see me here outside of any kind of order business or anything, but just a few hours ago I learned something that you should know. Maybe you should sit down?"

Harry frowned but obliged, sitting down at one of the chairs of the small table, just as Remus moved again, pulling out another chair for her, acting like a gentleman.

She nodded at him and sat down herself before turning her gaze back to Harry, who looked quite uncomfortable and also a bit nervous. Well, maybe it was understandable, considering he didn't know what she was about to say.

"Should I leave the room?" Remus asked politely, looking worriedly at Harry but she just shook her head.

"As long as Mr Potter doesn't have a problem with it it's not necessary." it would be easier if Harry had someone nearby who was close to him. And since Harry just shrugged Remus stayed and Minerva took a deep breath before starting to explain what was going on.

"Alright. I will start from the beginning. This morning, I had a meeting with Professor Dumbledore in his office. It was perfectly normal for him to do so and it doesn't matter what it was about. But when we were almost finished a few owls arrived. That, in itself, would not have been that surprising either, the headmaster does get his fair share of mail every day, but the weird thing was that it did not stop. More owls arrived, almost flooding his office and after at least twenty birds dropped a letter on his desk I could not help but see the recipient written on one of them. And I must say I had not been prepared to read your name, Mr Potter."

Harry stared at her, obviously still confused as to what she was trying to say, though she was sure his mind was rushing through all the possibilities these words entailed.

"Of course, I asked him about that letter," she continued. "But before he could answer I saw even more letters with your name on it. Of course, that led to me interrogating him for a bit and while I can fully understand his initial idea of taking care of your mail - since the muggles you have lived with wouldn't have liked all the fanpost you received as a baby - I cannot fathom why he never lifted the spell. Instead, he has added exceptions for the Ministry and your friends."

By now, Harry was staring at her in shock after understanding had dawned on his face.

"I know it's a lot to take in. But you can be relieved: I made him cancel that spell on the spot and took every letter he had collected for you with me. The seals are unbroken, so he never read them or anything, he just collected them to give you 'once you are ready'."

She almost snorted before taking out quite a few matchbox-sized boxes that expanded with a wave of her wand.

Harry - and Remus too for that matter - gaped at the boxes.

"That's... All of that is H-... my fanmail?" Harry asked in a disbelieving tone.

Minerva nodded. "The headmaster has put all of it away, only destroying the ones that brought harm to you, but other than that, it's the complete collection from letters since you were born."

"Merlin's pants... that's... a lot to take in."

"I know. And I am sorry that I am dumping it on you in such a way, but I thought it would be best to tell you as soon as possible. At least you can be sure now that every letter addressed to you will reach it's destination for now."

Harry nodded slowly and she stood up.

"So... any other questions? Otherwise I would leave you to sort through your mail now, especially since the job of Deputy Headmistress is pretty time consuming."

"No, but... thanks," he said. "For letting me know about it. I... have never really thought about the whole mail thing, but... it's good to know."

Minerva nodded once. "You're welcome, Mr Potter. Goodbye, both of you," she said, by now addressing Remus too, who had stood in the background listening without saying anything, and walking to the fireplace. "Give my goodbye to Sirius too and have a nice remaining holiday. And don't forget your Transfiguration essay."

With these words, she threw floo powder into the fireplace, before vanishing with a clearly uttered "Hogwarts!" from the kitchen in Grimmauld Place, leaving Harry and Remuslooking at each other, wondering about what had happened right now...

 

All the while, Harry and Tonks had a lot of fun at Potter Manor. The house-elves had shown them the whole property, the many rooms including a few bedrooms, guest rooms and bath rooms, study rooms, a dining room and a huge library which was filled to the brim with books about Light Magic. Completely mesmerizing, Tonks had to almost physically pull Harry out of that room to stop him from sitting down right then and there to read.

Also, they now knew all four house elves belonging to the Potters and how Harry could key in other people onto the property. Though Remus and Sirius were already keyed in, Harry had time to lock out Pettigrew again, since he had been keyed in too, having been a friend of the family.

Afterwards, Harry and Tonks sat down in the dining room to talk while the house-elves prepared lunch for them. They had insisted on doing so and Harry had not been able to politely decline their offer since they had sounded so overjoyed to be able to make lunch for their master again.

At first, there was silence between them, as both obviously didn't know a good topic to talk about, before Tonks opened her mouth.

"So... how's your love life?"

Harry stared at her as his cheeks warmed up a bit. "Huh?"

"Well... It was the first thing that came into my mind and since you're the Boy-Who-Lived and stuff, you've probably a lot of admirers, don't you?"

"Uhh... probably? I've never really noticed, you know?"

Tonks frowned. "Honestly? How boring! Is there no one that strikes your fancy? Not even a bit?"

"Uhh..." Harry thought about it, but he honestly couldn't think of anyone. Sure, he was pretty sure he had had a small crush on Cho Chang last year, but that was over. And the only other people he found even remotely interesting - not counting Ron and Hermione since they were his best friends and he wouldn't want to get involved with them romantically in any way, thank you very much! - were Luna and his mysterious writer. And he was pretty sure his feelings for Luna weren't romantic at all, while he didn't even know the name of the writer... and was pretty sure that he actually hated the person, considering what they wrote. And having romantic feelings for someone like Snape? Not before hell was freezing over!

He shivered in disgust and made a face, causing Tonks to laugh.

"No one, huh? I always thought that boys these days were faster in finding a girlfriend, but oh well... take your time, can't be that bad."

Harry rolled his eyes, still blushing. "Come on, I don't want to have a girlfriend who only likes me because of what happened when I was a baby!"

She nodded. "Yeah, I guess I can understand that, I just wanted to tease you a bit, sorry." Though she didn't really sound sorry, causing Harry to roll his eyes again.

"Liar. Is your love life so much more interesting?"

That had Tonks actually blinking in surprise, probably because she hadn't expected that question form him - and to be honest, he himself hadn't excepted that question but didn't want to take it back now - before she smiled. "Well, more interesting than yours? Definitely. But your non-existing one is probably happier."

That caused Harry to frown. He certainly wasn't an expert - actually, he felt like anything but - but that didn't sound good and he knew from experience that it helped if one talked about his problems. "What's wrong?"

Tonks shrugged. "I'm obviously not very good with falling in love. Always the wrong ones."

"The wrong ones? ...If I'm allowed to ask."

"Sure, feel free. I don't think you're the gossiping type, and I know enough secrets of yours to stop you from telling anyone anyway if I'd need to. Which I don't, do I?"

He raised an eyebrow. Did she think that badly of him? But she had obviously meant it as a joke, because she continued without waiting for an answer.

 

About two hours later Harry had a full stomach after a wonderful dinner courtesy of Muffy, the house-elf who prepared their meal, and more information he had ever wanted about Tonks love life.

It turned out she had first gotten a crush on Remus once they had started working together in the order, but since he was taken (a fact Harry couldn't quite believe as he had never seen Remus with any woman but Tonks had been absolutely sure) she had never pursued him and tried to focus her interest on something else. And now, she had taken a liking to none other than Bill Weasley, who certainly was good-looking enough for Harry to understand what she was talking about, though the other Weasleys - especially Ron, Ginny and the twins - were gossiping about him and Fleur Delacour, who had taken up an apprenticeship in Gringotts, supposedly to improve her English.

But there wasn't anything known about them officially, so Harry did his best to encourage Tonks to pursue Bill anyway. After all, where had hesitating brought him with Cho? Cedric had asked her out first, even though she might have went with Harry too, had he been a little bit more confident.

And at least it had managed to cheer her up a bit, so both of them could leave Potter manor in a light mood, promising the house-elves to return soon before apparating into Diagon Alley after a bit of thinking. It would be the easiest way to get Remus and Sirius some Christmas presents, as well as something for Harry's other friends.

 

The mood had further lightened as they arrived back at Grimmauld Place. Shopping with Tonks had been surprisingly fun, especially considering that Harry had to somehow disguise himself so that no one would recognize him. For Tonks doing that was easy but Harry had gotten quite a few different glamours until they were both content with his appearance. But at least he had gotten a few nice presents.

For Hermione he had gotten a very interesting book about house-elves and their rights and history - although she had not announced her protest very openly after a small hunger strike at the beginning of the year he knew she was still thinking thoughts of slavery and he wanted to make her understand what almost everyone else could see: that house-elves liked their work as long as they weren't treated as scum. For Ron, it was brand-new chess set for wizarding chess which could be easily shrunken by a tap of the wand ("No magic required to make it fit you trousers' pocket! Perfect for minors!") and Neville would get some kind of rare plant. Harry had already forgotten it's name again, but the shop owner of the Herbology store in Diagon Alley told him a little bit about it and since it was neither particularly dangerous nor completely boring it sounded fine for giving it to Neville. At least he would be able to do something with it as Herbology certainly wasn't Harry's favourite subject. And for the last of his Hogwarts friends, Luna, he had decided to get a bag made of mokeskin. He had noticed how more often than not a few things of her suddenly got lost and Ginny had mentioned a few times in passing how Lunas homework seemed to miraculously vanish sometimes. At least a bag like that would make it impossible for other people to take something out of it. Sure, it was a pretty expensive gift for someone he only knew since September, but it was also a thank you gift for that wonderful interview. Harry sure hoped she would like it.

The gifts for the few adults he wanted to give a present to were more difficult though and they had went to almost every store Diagon alley had to offer before Harry remembered his last visit of the Alley and promptly bought both Marauders a wand holster after checking with Tonks that they owned nothing like that. Tonks herself would get a book about goblins, their customs and language. Harry had had no idea at all if she would like it, but maybe knowing a bit about goblins helped breaking the ice between her and Bill as they had something to talk about. Though it had been quite difficult to purchase the book without her noticing.

But then, they were done and talking happily about this and that as Tonks opened the door of the Black family home and they made their way into the dining room.

Only to see Sirius and Remus sitting in the kitchen, with a few big boxes around them, talking. Though they stopped once they heard the door and Sirius looked almost ashamed as he turned around to look at Harry.

"We're back, what's going on?" Harry asked, looking at the boxes confusedly.

"Welcome back," Sirius said, sounding more uncomfortable than enthusiastic. "I think there's something I need to tell you..."

Chapter Text

Chapter 24: (Dis)Approval

Harry frowned as he saw his godfather fidgeting. "All right, spill the beans."

"Weell..." Sirius started, drawing out the word. "I have good and bad news, which do you want to hear first?"

Harry raised an eyebrow. "The bad."

"Thought so..." Sirius grimaced. "Alright. While you and Tonks were visiting Potter Manor, McGonagall came here, wanting to talk to you."

Harry's eyes widened. "What did you say?"

"Well... that's the thing: She left thinking she had actually talked to you and delivered her message."

"You confunded her?!" Harry wasn't sure if that was a good idea, considering it might have been something important, but Sirius already shook his head.

"No, no, don't worry, nothing like that, it's just..." He faltered, before rolling his eyes at himself and continuing. "I might have used a little bit Polyjuice Potion from the secret potions stack of the Black family and some hair of yours I found on your sheets to... properly convince Minerva McGonagall that you actually were at home and not doing stuff you shouldn't somewhere you shouldn't be."

Harry blinked, needing a moment to comprehend what Sirius was implying. "You changed into me to talk with McGonagall?"

"Yeah... I'm sorry, I know it was a stupid idea but I had to think quickly and I had no idea how to convince her that you weren't available without telling her the truth!"

Harry watched Sirius rambling in discomfort for a moment longer before he couldn't repress a chuckle anymore. "You know, actually I think it was a brilliant idea."

Sirius stopped talking. "Huh?"

The dumbstruck face made Harry grin before shrugging. "Well, sure, it's a bit weird and I'd appreciate it if we would clarify now when this kind of... emergency-stuff is allowed in the future... but hey, it was a necessity and you did save my bum... As long as you seemed convincing enough..." He looked at Remus. "Did he?"

Remus looked thoughtful for a moment. "I would think so, at least Minerva did not seem to doubt who you were. Otherwise she wouldn't have said what she did."

Which made Harry frown again. "Well, what did she say?"

"That's the good news... well, more or less," Sirius continued and pointed at the boxes. "We now know what happened to your fanmail and why you never got any."

Sirius and Remus did their best to explain what McGonagall told them and how "Harry" had reacted to the news. At least, the reaction of the real Harry wasn't too far off, if a bit more agitated.

"I... don't know what to say," he commented after they were finished. "I mean, I knew that Dumbledore likes meddling with other people's lives, but to take it that far? Once I had turned eleven I should have gotten every letter addressed to me. Before and after that birthday. I can't believe it!"

"That certainly isn't increasing anyone's opinion of him."

That sentence had come from Tonks, making all three wizards look at her. Harry knew that Sirius and Remus had about the same opinion of Dumbledore as he had because of the whole no-trial thing, but Tonks...? He certainly hadn't known her opinion.

She even blushed slightly under their stares. "What? You obviously think the same, don't you?"

"Well... yes, but it's surprising to hear it from you. What happened?" Remus asked calmly and she shrugged in response.

"Nothing, really, but... you know how Mad-Eye returned from his retirement to train me of all people?"

Sirius and Remus nodded but Harry just stared at her. "Really?" he asked.

"Yeah. Dunno why he thought it would be a good idea, but I'm not complaining. He's brilliant, if a bit crazy. Anyway, if he's your teacher you can't help noticing some of his opinions. And I know that his opinion of Dumbledore has shrunken rapidly after that incident last year," she explained.

"You mean, Crouch impersonating him for a whole year and Dumbledore doing nothing?", Harry asked drily.

"Exactly! I mean, Dumbledore and Mad-Eye should have been good friends, you know? How can anyone not notice that a good friend of yours is impersonated by a Death Eater a whole year? Mad-Eye could have been dead or worse for all Dumbledore knew, no reason to keep the impostor around if he had known about who he was. Also, Voldemort would not have been able to return that night if it hadn't been for Dumbledores inaction!"

Harry blinked at the outburst, but could absolutely follow her argumentation so he just nodded in agreement.

"Yeah, it's certainly understandable. Sadly, there's not much we can do about it with Voldemort running around."

Tonks sighed. "I know. That's the main reason why Mad-Eye and I are in the order. Something has to be done. Even though there isn't much to do right now as Voldemort is still laying low."

Harry nodded and there was silence for a moment as everyone contemplated the situation.

"So... what will you do about the letters?" Remus asked after a moment and Harry shrugged.

"I guess I'll have to go through all of them, just sorting some of them would be pretty unfair after all. I'd say... sorting them into piles of when they were sent before answering the ones that need an individual response? The other positive ones can be answered with a normal 'Thank you'-Note and - in the case of the older ones - an apology for the belated answer?" He knew that this would take up quite a bit of his time, but at least he had something to do. And it might even help his reputation a bit.

With that, the four of them began sorting through all the letters Harry had ever received. Which turned out to be a bigger task than anticipated, because they didn't do much else the rest of the evening and even then continued the following day after lunch. Except for Remus, who was busy with some kind of order business which Harry wasn't allowed to hear.

It was crazy how many people had actually written him while he had lived in blissful oblivion. Thankfully, most letters were "Thank You"-letters from people who were so glad that Harry had defeated the Dark Lord - as a baby, honestly, were people that naïve? - or letters that gifted him something because he was the 'Boy Who Lived'. There were also things like marriage proposals and wills of people that had included him as an heir, which Harry found pretty creepy, but he still put them on the small 'letters to answer individually' stack.

Though not all letters were like that. Sure, McGonagall had said that Dumbledore had destroyed the more harmful letters, but there still seemed to be some left. Harry himself had already opened one that had included a dead Doxy - and he wasn't sure if that thing had been alive when the letter had been first sent - one that had combusted into flames once he had broken the seal and one had even bitten him!

But Sirius had even worse luck. He had actually gotten several letters that tried to spit several weird looking substances on him. Some missed, some didn't and Harry and Tonks had already been able to laugh their heads off as Sirius' nose vanished or as his ears grew up to elephant-size. Currently Sirius' hair was glowing in many different colours, something that Sirius himself hadn't noticed yet and Harry tried his best not to show his amusement as Tonks was currently out of the room to make them some sandwiches as an afternoon snack. They had all gotten slightly hungry by now and he wanted her to see that hilarious thing. Even though Sirius was already casting him wary looks, as Harry just couldn't keep the grin off his face.

Sirius frowned as he dodged another letter that tried to soak him in goo. "Honestly, I thought Dumbledore had filtered the bad ones out?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "That's the fifth time you complain about that, you know? And I will tell you for the fifth time now that I don't know how Dumbledore has filtered the bad ones out. But we already tried every detection spell you know on the bad letters and they didn't work, so I'm guessing the protective spells on them are strong enough to confuse the detection spells as long as the stuff inside isn't all too bad. And it isn't, every adult wizard can reverse it." So the no-nose-Sirius had just lasted a few moments, just like the elephant-eared Sirius, but oh well.

"I know, I know... it's still annoying though," Sirius grumbled and glared at the small pile of bad letters as he threw the newest letter to it.

"Yeah, that's true." Harry placed his current letter on the highest stack, the one for the generic 'Thank you' note including an apology for the delay, and took another one.

"Don't open that," Shiva suddenly hissed, making Harry almost drop his letter in surprise. When he had human company, Shiva stayed quiet most of the time since most people didn't know she existed or weren't completely comfortable with her.

"What's wrong?" he hissed back, making Sirius look at him with confusion.

"That letter reeks of something bad..." Shiva answered, putting her head out of the front of his shirt.

"Really?" Harry tried another detection spell on the letter, but it didn't show anything. Of course not. He frowned.

"What's wrong?" Sirius asked, obviously confused.

"Shiva said there is something wrong with that letter..."

"Huh...Let me see." Sirius took the letter from Harry, levitating it to a safe distance before breaking the seal with a flick of his wand. And really, the letter spewed something that looked - and smelled! - quite a bit like Bubotuber pus in the direction where the seal had been. Meaning any person that would have opened that letter would have gotten that stuff either in the face or at least on their hands.

Sirius turned to him, surprised. "How did she know?"

"Well... she said it smelled bad," Harry answered.

Sirius thought about it for a moment before speaking up again. "Really? Do you think she can smell the other bad stuff too?"

Harry slapped his forehead with his hand. "Of course, why haven't I thought of that before?" He switched to Parseltongue. "Shiva?"

The snake turned to look at him. "Yes, master?"

"...Thank you. That really saved me from a few nasty boils and quite a bit of pain." Sure, it wouldn't have needed long to revert, but it would still have hurt.

"You are welcome."

"Say... can you smell other things too? I mean, bad things in these letters?"

She turned to look at the still unopened letters. "I do think so. I would need to try it since most contents do not smell as strong as that, but I am positive that it is possible."

Harry smiled at her. "Thank you!" Then he looked up to Sirius. "She said she will try. But we need to be careful, Tonks still doesn't know about her..."

"Doesn't know about what?"

Harry cringed. That voice hadn't been Sirius. He looked at the door, where Tonks was standing, three plates with sandwiches hovering next to her.

"And why is there a snake looking out of your shirt?"

But before anyone could answer she looked at Sirius, unsuccessfully trying to suppress a chuckle. "Merlin's pants, Sirius, did you see your hair?" she asked, before beginning to laugh in earnest as Sirius hurriedly conjured a mirror. Looking into it he paled, before staring at Harry.

"How long...?" he asked, his expression and Tonks laughing causing Harry to grin himself even though he had things to worry about.

"A while?" He said and actually had to laugh as Sirius punched his shoulder slightly.

"I'll get you back for that!" he said but Tonks' laugh was contagious, so soon all three of them were laughing.

It needed some time before they had calmed down enough that Harry could turn to Tonks asking her a serious question.

"You're not freaking out because of Shiva? I mean, the snake?" He added the last part as she seemed confused at first.

But then she shrugged. "Not really. I mean, it's a slightly unusual pet, but I've never had a problem with snakes. I've been in Hufflepuff, you know? None of that weird house rivalry for me."

Well... that surprised Harry, though if he thought about it it did seem logical. Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw were pretty much neutral so it might not be such a big problem for them if a Gryffindor was running around with a snake. Also, Tonks obviously did not go to Hogwarts anymore, maybe one could adapt a more adult view on these things if one wasn't always surrounded with other people who thought the same.

Afterwards, Shiva helped them more openly to find jinxed letters, and really, the amount of bad letters shrunk rapidly. Only once in a while there was a letter with a spell inside - which Shiva obviously could not smell - but these were rare and not very harmful.

In the evening they finally interrupted their task for the day, since all three of them were tired and Sirius loudly complained that he'd probably burn all notes if he had to read one more letter about how much some kid loved Harry Potter even though it didn't even know him. Harry understood him perfectly, but he actually had had quite a bit of fun with these letters. After all, many children knew of him when they were little and wrote to him... and many of them were about his age, so he had read quite a few... interesting letters from his now-schoolmates. Ron and Ginny for example had both written to him when they had been younger. He really wanted to confront Ron with it, even though it might be a bit mean but his reaction would surely be fun.

And the best letter he had found was once from Draco Malfoy! He had no idea why the young Malfoy heir had written to him back then, but it was there and absolutely embarrassing! Though he wouldn't show Ron that one, or even Draco himself. He'd probably keep it as blackmail material. One could never know when their newfound truce would end, so... better safe than sorry.

Harry awoke the next morning as he heard some weird kind of rapping at his door. It didn't sound like Sirius, Remus or Tonks, so grabbing his wand and his glasses from his bed stand he carefully made his way to the door. Of course, normally nothing bad could enter the house, but it still sounded quite strange. He slowly opened the door, just to be assaulted by feathers, which made him jump back and Hedwig, who perched on top of her open cage, hoot in indignation. Only after recovering from his shock Harry recognized the bird. It was Quetzalcoatl.

"Hey there, I wish you a good morning too," Harry said, smiling slightly as the bird just stared at him, an aura of pure innocence around him. Harry rolled his eyes and walked back to his bed after closing the door, curiously taking the letter from Quetzalcoatl to read it while petting the owl's head.

Harry,

Happy Yule!

I sure hope you know what I am talking about, if not, maybe you should refresh your knowledge on wizarding holidays. They are an important part of wizarding culture, even though many people seem to slowly forget about them.

However, the main reason why I am writing you is not that simple. Actually, it is rather complicated.

I want to meet you.

Of course, we have already met, but we never really talked to each other. As you should know by now, you have never liked me at all as far as I am aware, and since I would like that to change we need an environment as safe as possible, to ensure we may listen to each other without interruptions.

I promise that I only want to talk to you, but once you know who I am I do not know if you would still believe a promise of mine, so I propose several safety measures. First of all: The Truce Ward. It is an old one, mostly used by families with blood feuds to discuss different things without having to fear the other family attacking them as any magic inside that ward that hasn't been approved by everyone inside leads to the complete loss of magic for the caster. Furthermore, I'd like to build a ward that forbids everyone stepping inside to tell someone else of what has been discussed without the spoken permission of the other. That's a safety measure to prevent one of us slipping up and telling people we don't want to about what has happened. I will allow you to tell your friends anyway, it's really just a precaution.

Please inform yourself about these wards and don't take my word for granted. Also, should you decide to take my offer, I'd like you to bring someone who knows his way with wards to check that every ward is applied correctly. A Curse Breaker would be fine too, they can check for hidden traps or curses too. I really do not want to deceive you, so please try to cross out any possibility for me to do so beforehand.

Now, this letter has been long enough, I have instructed Quetzalcoatl to wait until you have decided on an answer. If you say yes, I'll send you another letter with possible dates. If you do not want to meet me, which I could fully understand, I will not ask for a meeting again. Instead, you may tell Quetzalcoatl once you have decided that you actually want to meet me and I will know.

Thank you for reading this.

Regards

Harry needed to read that letter twice to fully comprehend what was being said. His mysterious writer wanted to meet with him! That could be either very good or very bad, depending on who that person now finally was. He wondered if there was any reason why Snape thought it a necessity to provide these wards... it wasn't as if Harry wanted to hurt that man, really, he just really didn't like him.

Sighing, he decided to wait with an answer until he had shown that letter to Remus. Since no one else except for him and Hermione knew of these letters it was the best chance to get some guidance. Because even though he would have liked to accept that offer at once, if it was that carefully worded he really needed to get a second opinion about if it was a good idea to do so. Also, he didn't even know anyone who was good with wards - except for Professor Pyrites, who he certainly wouldn't ask! - and nothing about Curse Breakers except that they worked at Gringotts. Maybe Remus could help him with that. He'd ask him after breakfast.

Chapter Text

Chapter 25: Preparations

After breakfast, Harry and Remus sat, once again, inside of one of the unused rooms at Grimmauld Place. Harry was glad that he had met him beforehand to tell him he'd like to talk, because Remus still hadn't finished his work from the day before and needed to leave soon.

So now, the two of them sat next to each other as Remus read through the letter, frowning slightly.

"You know, your mysterious writer sounds quite nervous if you ask me..." he finally said as he had finished reading, before adding, quieter, as if talking to himself. "I didn't even know Severus could be nervous."

Harry frowned. "Really? I didn't notice."

"Well, it's pretty long, to me it looks as if the writer is rambling a bit before coming to the point," Remus explained.

"Huh... could be. But... I can't really imagine Snape being nervous either... you sure it's him?"

"Well, do you know anyone else who would actually take these precautions to meet you? Sounds as if he's really worried you'll hex him or something, not believing him."

"Hmm..." Harry thought about it. "Not really. I don't really dislike many people. Snape, Draco... Mr. Malfoy..."

"Don't forget Voldemort," Remus added and Harry snorted.

"Yeah, but honestly, why should Voldemort of all people write letter that help me? He wants to kill me after all." Although the idea of Voldemort having such a girly handwriting somehow amused him.

"I know, I'm just thinking of all people who would fit into the 'You hate that person'-schema."

Harry shrugged. "No idea who it is. I guess I'm in for a surprise."

"So, you want to go?"

"Well... yes. I just wanted to know if you think it's a good idea..."

Remus thought about it. "Well, it seems as if he really doesn't want you to get hurt. I mean, it could be an elaborated scheme to hurt you, but that would take a lot of patience and I don't know anyone you dislike who has that kind of patience. Though it's probably a good idea to take a Curse-Breaker with you to check the wards. It would mean there was an adult nearby who could protect you in case of an emergency."

Harry nodded slowly, knowing what Remus was talking about as he had thought about these things too. "The question is, how to get a good Curse Breaker to come with me? I don't even know any?"

Remus frowned. "You don't? Wasn't William Weasley a Curse Breaker? You know, the oldest of the Weasley children?"

Harry stared at him. "You're right! Ron has told me about him a few times and I've even met him last year during the Quidditch World Cup... How could I have forgotten?"

"Well, I'm sure you have quite a few things at mind currently. It's not that surprising. Still, you could ask him at the Burrow. The Weasleys did invite you to celebrate Christmas with them, didn't they?"

"Well... Ron told me about it and that he'd send an 'official' invite over, but I haven't gotten a letter from him yet..." Harry frowned. Now that he thought about it, normally Ron or Hermione always sent him a letter at the start of the holidays, but this time he hadn't gotten anything... Were they that busy?

Remus frowned too. "Well, Sirius and I have gotten one from Mrs. Weasley... Maybe Ron has forgotten yours, I'm sure it will arrive soon."

Harry nodded slowly. "Probably..."

"So for now: Do you have any idea where to find books about the mentioned wards?"

"Well, I have a copy of Wards from all around the World?" Harry answered, smiling sheepishly. While the book was probably quite interesting he wasn't sure it featured old wards like the mentioned Truce Ward.

And judging from Remus' expression, it didn't. "Well, it's a good book, I've read it myself, but I don't really think it's what you need. I would suggest asking Sirius about it, after all, wards are your new topic in Defence Against the Dark Arts and he might know where to find it."

Harry nodded. That was probably the best course of action. Thought he would need to help Sirius and Tonks sorting through the rest of his fanmail first.

So he bade his goodbye to Remus, who went upstairs to prepare himself for his order business, and went back to his room to give Quetzalcoatl a small piece of parchment, on which he only wrote two sentences.

 

Alright, I guess I will meet you. When and where do you have in mind?

 

As he was basically writing to Mr. (or Mrs.) Unknown, he didn't think it was necessary to write a formal letter, so he just gave that piece of parchment to the owl before sending it on it's way.

Afterwards, he petted Hedwig for a bit, before going back downstairs. There were still quite a few letters waiting for him and he wanted to finish them as soon as possible.

 

They needed another day, but finally, every letter they had for Harry was categorized and the answers were taken by Tonks and send off with the post office in Diagon Alley. Harry would have loved to see the face of the post officer once he'd notice how many letters she wanted to send - even though they had already grouped them so that some owls could deliver multiple letters - but it would have been too risky. Tonks was the only one who could perfectly disguise herself without any effort, so it had to be her.

The rest of the day Harry spend back in the Black library, after he had asked Sirius about books about wards and getting the answer to look there. Not very helpful, but oh well. At least he was able to read something good again, not just the scribbles of six year old kids who just learned how to write or adults who thought he was bonkers.

And after some research he had actually found a few books where the Truce Ward was at least mentioned and even one that explained it in detail. Though the last one was full of complex words and Harry only understood about three quarters of it. Still, as far as he understood it, the writer of the letter hadn't lied. The Truce Ward basically meant just that. A forced truce, no one being able to cast magic without permission if they didn't want to loose their magic. Though it also was a pretty neat shield, since no magic from outside could disturb the inside, preventing attacks from behind once you thought yourself safe. The downside was that it needed quite a bit of magical power to build and the preparations were complicated. It certainly wasn't done in a few seconds.

At least taking it down was just as difficult, since it had to be done from the inside, which was only possible if the one who wanted to do that was alone or if the other person gave their permission. So no sudden taking down the ward to betray the other fraction. It was really well thought-out.

Still, Harry definitely needed to ask Bill if he had time. And for that, he needed to understand why his Christmas invitation still hadn't arrived. Had he angered the Weasleys somehow? He didn't know.

 

Another hour passed in which he silently read more about wards, before a quiet knocking pulled him out of his musings. He looked up and saw Sirius standing in the doorway, with a letter in his hands.

"What's wrong?" he asked, noticing the frown on his godfather's face.

Sirius hold up the letter. "It's a letter from the Weasleys. They are horribly worried if you are alright 'cause you've not answered a single letter they sent. Actually, every single letter came back within a few hours, unopened. What's going on?"

Now Harry was frowning too. "What do you mean, every letter they sent? I didn't get any letter, not from them, Hermione or anyone else..." Except for this mysterious writer. Which was pretty weird, now that he thought about it... He looked at Sirius. "Do you think there's another spell like Dumbledore's on me?"

"Well... I wouldn't think so, but I can test you if you like? We hadn't thought of doing that before, but actually, spells like that should be traceable once you know what you're looking for."

Harry thought about it. "Yeah, I guess it would be great if you could try."

"Alright, it will need just a moment."

Sirius drew his wand and cast the spell, but judging from his facial expression it didn't look very promising. "Sorry pup, I can't find anything out of the ordinary. No redirection spell or something like that..."

Harry frowned. That was weird. What was going on...?

 

He spent the next hour searching through the library again, looking for spells or anything that could redirect owls without being detected, but he had no luck. Everything he found somehow didn't fit, most of the spells were either obvious or easily traceable, or some kind of Dark Magic that would harm the victim. Also, he had still received letters during his summer holidays, so it would have needed to be cast afterwards...

He groaned, putting his head into his hands after having read another pointless text. What was happening? It couldn't have been a too obscure spell, nobody in his nearer vicinity ought to know it. Well, Dumbledore might, but he already had cast a spell on him, so why would he need another, much more obvious one?

Feeling frustrated and helpless, he stared at the only thing even remotely interesting that wasn't a book: His recently acquired bracelet.

And then he remembered something and stared some more, before jumping up.

"Kreacher?", he asked softly, wondering if Sirius really had made Kreacher obey him too. And really, with a soft plop, the elf appeared next to him.

"What does Harry Potter want?"

"Say... about the bracelet of Slytherin you've showed me this summer... Do you know if there are any kind of anti-owl wards or something like that?"

Kreacher looked thoughtful for a moment, before he shook his head.

"No, Kreacher hasn't heard of that. But Harry Potter might ask Mistress Walburga, she has told Kreacher everything he knows about it."

Oh joy... Harry had honestly hoped he wouldn't need to talk to that portrait ever again, but it was important...

"Thanks, Kreacher. I will do that." With that, Kreacher went back to whatever he had done before Harry had called him and Harry left the library to talk to Mrs. Black.

 

Fifteen minutes later had Harry knocking impatiently at the door to Sirius' room.

"What's wrong?", Sirius asked confusedly once he had finally opened the door.

"I've got it. I know why the Weasleys weren't able to send me any letters."

That had Sirius blinking in surprise. "Really? What was it?"

Harry held up the arm with his bracelet. "You remember the anti-tracking thing this bracelet did?"

That had Sirius nod as understanding dawned in his face. "Of course! Normal owls weren't able to track you either, then, right?"

"Exactly!" Conveniently ignoring the fact that he had needed the help of Kreacher and Mrs. Black to get this, Harry just continued talking. "Just tell the Weasleys it was a messed up hex of some sort and that I'm absolutely fine. They'll be able to see that for themselves in two days anyway."

Sirius nodded thoughtfully. "I guess I can do that. Although it might be better if you write to them yourself, I'm not sure if Molly is going to believe me anything if it concerns you."

Well... there was some truth to it if Harry remembered the confrontation between them that had happened this summer... "True... I'll send them a letter right away then."

"Do that. And I'm going back into my room if I may?"

Harry chuckled. "Sure. Sorry for sounding so impatient but I wanted to get that out of my head before the Weasleys built a rescue squad."

With that, he left Sirius and went to his own room to write Ron a letter. And since he had turned his bracelet off, he should even be able to receive an answer! He had decided that always leaving the bracelet turned on was obviously a bad idea, since the special owls sent by the ministry or newspapers might bypass them - although he didn't know if that was because the bracelet was designed to do so or if the owls had been charmed to ignore lighter anti-owl wards - but a normal post owl certainly couldn't. As seen with Errol and Pig. But at least he now knew the reason - at least he certainly hoped that this was it - so everything should work out.

 

Ron had answered his letter the next day, sounding relieved as he wrote that his mother had actually been thinking of showing up at Grimmauld Place to ensure Harry's safety. She obviously still didn't believe Sirius could be a proper guardian.

Harry begged to differ, he thought Sirius was great. Sure, he hadn't really set any rules like when Harry should go to bed and stuff, but Harry mostly thought himself mature enough to be able to go to bed at reasonable hours. Although Shiva scolding him when he wasn't might have had something to do with it too.

Apart from that, Sirius had also started teaching him the basics of apparition, promising him to start the practical part after Christmas was over.

 

But first, the actual Christmas day had to be survived. In the morning, Harry had noticed that Quetzalcoatl was back, delivering a note telling him about a possible date to meet, but since he needed to ask Bill first if he had time, he told the owl he would answer the letter in the evening, causing it to fly off again for the moment.

He then made himself presentable and had a nice, long breakfast together with Sirius, Remus and Tonks, after which they practised apparating a bit more (which meant that Sirius was telling Harry what to do, Remus intervened once Sirius' instructions got too weird and Tonks just watched because she seemingly thought it very funny).

They spent their day having quite a bit of fun up until the early evening, when Sirius side-apparated Harry to The Burrow, Remus and Tonks following, where they would spend the night.

At once, Harry was greeted by a bone-crushing hug, courtesy of Mrs. Weasley, who instantly began mothering him.

"Harry, my dear boy, there you are! We've been so worried about you after all our letters came back unopened! Are you alright? Have you eaten enough? Gotten enough sleep?"

"Now now Molly, let the poor boy breathe," Remus intervened, and although Mrs. Weasley indeed let Harry go, she now focused on the men next to him.

"And you two! Why didn't you notice earlier that Harry wasn't getting any letters? He could have been in serious danger as far as we knew!"

"Look, he was fine and well with us, how should we have known that it wasn't normal for him to not receive letters? Or that he wasn't receiving letters in the first place? It's not like I'm controlling his post or anything," Sirius intervened, making Molly turn her glare exclusively to him. But she seemed to remember their last argument, so she kept quiet and turned back to Harry with a smile.

"Now, how about you go upstairs? I'm sure Ron and Ginny will love catching up on things with you!"

Although Harry couldn't imagine that they had much more to say than five days ago when they parted he still nodded and waved his temporary goodbye to the adults before heading upstairs.

At the very least he could calm his friends down with his repeated explanation of why he supposedly hadn't received any of their letters.

 

After a long talk with the two youngest Weasleys Harry somehow envied Hermione, who had gone skiing with her parents these holidays, as she at least didn't need to worry about panicking redheads. But after the initial rebuke he had a nice time with Ron and Ginny anyway and was laughing with them as Mrs. Weasley called for dinner.

They all went outside, where a small tent had been placed to accommodate all of them as the kitchen of The Burrow simply wasn't big enough for twelve people. Thankfully the tent was one of those magical ones that were larger on the inside then they seemed - it must have been an advanced kind of an extension charm - and as it was magically held warm no one ought to freeze while enjoying the feast Mrs. Weasley had prepared for all of them.

It was a fun evening with a lot of talking and since Bill and Charlie were here too they probably got the most questions, especially from their mother, who seemed to dislike the idea of a long-haired Bill as much as ever, trying to get him to let her cut his hair. Because of that, it was especially difficult to get Bill alone, but after the meal itself was over and everyone formed small groups to sit and talk, Harry was able to get a small "Can I talk to you for a moment?" through to the eldest Weasley child after Mrs. Weasley had gone into the house to get more drinks. Bill easily agreed, although sounding slightly confused - unsurprisingly, had they never interacted much before - and both of them went into an empty corner of the tent.

"So... what's going on that needs you talking to me in private, Harry?", he wondered and Harry thought how to best explain his situation.

"Well... basically, I need someone to check a few wards for me... Especially a Truce Ward... And since you're working as a Curse-Breaker I thought you might be able to help me with that...?"

Bill stared at him, surprised. "Why do you need checking of a Truce Ward? Normally these kinds of wards are used for mortal enemies to negotiate terms, nothing a fifteen year old boy should concern himself with."

Harry hesitated. He knew that he couldn't lie to Bill since he didn't know enough of wards to be able to do so convincingly. Also, if he didn't trust him enough with this the whole point of getting someone trustworthy to check the wards would be moot. The best solution was probably to tell him part of it, since that had been his intention anyway if asked.

"I want to meet someone I don't know," Harry answered in the end. "Well, 'not knowing' might be wrong, I just don't know who I am meeting with, it might be a person I know. It's just... I've been getting letters from that person and they're proposing a meeting under a Truce Ward, so obviously I'm a bit wary. It would be great if you could help me with that... And I wanted to talk in private since I think that most of the adults simply wouldn't let me go, even with enough precautions, but I'm really curious and a Truce Ward seems to be just what I need."

Bill was silent for a long moment as he thought about it. "Huh... I do understand why you wouldn't want to tell the adults, especially mum would probably prefer chaining you to your bed than letting you meet someone potentially dangerous. But of course, I'm wary too. There are many things that could happen even when using a Truce Ward, since there are possibilities to attack you before or after that meeting... We'd need to set a quite tight security for you, especially these days... But I guess I could think of something. When is this meeting taking place?"

Harry shrugged. "Well, the fourth of January would be fine with whoever wants to meet me, but I wanted to know if you have time first."

Bill grimaced. "The fourth is a Wednesday, isn't it? I fear that I'm in a meeting with a few goblins on that day. But I'm free the rest of that week, so I would suggest the fifth or sixth. Maybe send me an owl once you've confirmed the date or if these don't work either?"

"Yeah, I'll do that. Thanks a lot, Bill, that really took a load off my mind. I'd rather have your help than the one of some random Curse-Breaker who might not even know a lot about that special ward. Just promise me that you won't tell anyone about this?"

"I won't," Bill said earnestly. "Although I would propose telling at least one other adult, just in case."

"Remus knows," Harry told him. "In fact, he was the one who recommended you."

"Oh, really? I guess I'm flattered." Bill smiled at him and Harry smiled back, thankful that this conversation had worked out the way it did. "Anyway, I guess we'll just go back to the others. Tell them you asked me something about goblins or anything, lest they get suspicious of us, alright?"

"Yeah... Thanks again! Oh, and I think Tonks wanted to talk to you before I got to you, maybe you could go talking to her?"

Although the last part wasn't really true, Harry was pretty sure that Tonks did want to talk to Bill, so he just smiled a little as the latter made his way to the metamorphmagus while he himself returned to Ron and Ginny, who - of course - questioned him about his talk with Bill.

But he just told them he wanted to know a little about goblin customs - mostly because he'd probably need to converse with them more often if they managed his estates - and left it at that, changing the topic to Quidditch, which soon made the two Weasleys forget about his talk with Bill, especially once the twins joined them as they compared different brooms and teams to determine which was best.

All in all, it was a great Christmas with a lot of fun, making Harry glad that the worst that happened was that Percy didn't come, which he himself didn't mind nearly as much as Mrs. Weasley did, although he was sorry for her. That way he had at least some sort of peace.

Chapter Text

Chapter 26: The Meeting

The next morning Harry was awoken by Ron - they had shared a room again for the night - who was obviously ecstatic about opening presents. And Harry couldn't help but be happy too as he looked at his own pile. That was certainly more than he had ever expected getting when he was little and it got bigger every year... It was nice to see one had friends, really.

As he opened his presents - feeling particularly joyful about a rather rare tome about difficult Light Magic he got from Sirius and Remus - he mused a little about his current situation, mostly feeling nervous about the upcoming meeting with this mysterious writer... Thankfully, he had Ron there to keep them distracted as he was commenting his gifts rather loudly.

"Blimey, look at what Hermione got me! A bloody homework planner...! What did she get you?", he was just asking him.

Harry shrugged, showing his friend her present. "I got a book from her. Defensive Magic and Its Use Against the Dark Arts."

Ron snorted. "Yeah, sounds like her. So, got anything real interesting?"

"Dunno, Tonks got me a working Firebolt model, that's pretty cool. Oh, and thanks for the Every Flavour Beans."

"No problem mate, I need to thank you myself, this chess set is brilliant!"

Harry smiled, before his attention returned to his own stack of presents. By now, he had opened almost all of them, except for one small, nondescript package. Although he had no idea who this might be from, as he had already opened presents from all the people he could think of. Even Neville and Luna had given him something - the former had actually held true to his words back from Diagon Alley and bought him a complete and rather expensive set of healing potions to go, for all kinds of problems that might arise - so they were out too. He opened the gift and was surprised to find a small snow globe inside... Or at least something that looked like a snow globe. But instead of some tiny scenery with fake snow falling down from above when shaken this seemed to be the magical equivalent of the muggle version. Also, there was a note coming with it.

 

Harry,
I didn't know what you liked so I got you this instead.
It's a model of Godric's Hollow, as realistically as was possible.
Originally I wanted to give it to you at Yule, but I thought it was inappropriate regarding the content of my letter, so you get it now. I hope it fits your tastes at least a little.
Regards

 

Harry blinked a few times before regarding the snow globe more closely. And really, the village inside differed largely from what normally was in those snow globes. Also, he didn't even need to shake it for some snow falling down on the roofs, covering them with a fine layer of snow that didn't seem to increase even though it was constantly snowing. Yes, he definitely loved magic!

 

The four current inhabitants of Grimmauld Place stayed at the Burrow until lunch, mostly giving everyone present their thanks for the gifts before returning to London where they spent the next days having a lot of fun, although Harry couldn't help but feel a little nervous after his mysterious writer had actually confirmed the fifth of January as their meeting date. Thankfully though, Sirius was really good in making him forget about his worries and focussing on other stuff instead. Apparition, for example, which was demanding enough without getting distracted by other thoughts.

And still, time basically flew and before long it was the fifth already. Harry felt as if their little New Year's party had ended just yesterday but still, today was the big day. He had talked this through multiple times with Remus, with whom he had agreed to keep his Portkey to Potter Manor on his skin at all times for emergencies - which also meant that Remus and Sirius would be staying in there for the day to be available should such an emergency arise - and once Bill arrived at Grimmauld Place he Side-Along apparated with Harry to Hogsmeade, where the writer had proposed their meeting.

They appeared a little south of the village, with Harry once more needing a moment to not vomit on the spot and Shiva hissing her discomfort under his robes - which he had chosen to wear as he didn't want to be regarded too closely which would be difficult if he appeared in muggle clothes near a wizarding village. Bill waited patiently until Harry had himself under control again, before giving him a ring. They had talked about that before, as the question of Harry having any kind of physical protection arose, and after neither him nor Remus having any idea Bill had told them about this ring he was using when exploring the pyramids of Egypt. Curse Breakers always needed to be careful and while they could detect and dismantle magical traps easily, there always were some non-magical traps too. Those rings were designed to let them survive at least one physical hit that otherwise might have killed them, giving them enough time to disapparate into safety. They were designed as an emergency option and could only successfully stop one strong physical hit before they needed to get recharged, but that was enough time to flee in most cases. Harry put it on just as Bill started talking.

"So, where are we supposed to go?"

Harry looked around, not quite sure himself as he pulled the letter out again, showing it to Bill.

 

Harry,
The fifth would be fine with me. I would propose meeting near Hogsmeade, as there are people around that would make all kinds of ambushes a lot more difficult, don't you agree?
If you have no objections I will prepare the wards on the small meadow south of Hogsmeade, just next to the path that leads to Hogwarts. I should be done around noon, so feel free to come by any time after that but before dinner.
If there is anything else tell me now, otherwise just send Quetzalcoatl back to me and I will take it as an affirmation.
Regards

 

"Well, the meadow the person is talking about is just there, so... Let's take a look. Keep close for now though, in case we need to depart suddenly."

Harry nodded and together they made their way over to the spot that was described in the letter. Thankfully somebody had cleared most of the meadow from snow, so it was rather easy to see the runic circle that had probably to do with the wards. Judging from Bills "Aha!" he had seen it too and so he crouched down to look at the runes that were carved into the dirt, glowing slightly.

He needed a while, walking around the whole circle, staring at the runes and even going so far as to move the earth next to it a little, as if trying to make one of the runes vanish, but the earth around it didn't move, the rune stayed in place. Harry couldn't do much but follow him around, watching the runes himself but he really couldn't say much about what they were supposed to do... Still, Bill seemed to have found something, because when he finally turned to Harry it was with an approving whistle.

"Whoever your mysterious writer is, they certainly either know their way with runes or a very good Ward Creator. That's a perfect Truce Ward if I've ever seen one. Additionally, this person managed to weave two other wards into it... One seems to be some kind of warmth field, probably to make the temperature inside of the ward warm enough to be able to stay outside for a longer period of time even in winter... And the other..." Bill seemed to hesitate for a moment, staring into the circle as if searching for something before continuing. "It's some kind of invisibility ward. So that whatever happens inside cannot be seen from the outside... And the Truce Ward already prevents sounds from inside leaving it, so... you're probably going to have the most privacy one can hope for, while still being perfectly safe. You could even apparate or portkey out of it if necessary, but not enter with those measures. Whoever built that was good..." He hesitated another moment. "And I think they're already inside... All the runes are activated and cannot get destroyed from outside, so there must be something inside where they get their magic from. And since this is a Truce Ward I don't think some minor wardstone would suffice..."

"Wardstone...?", Harry asked, never having heard of that before, but Bill just shook his head.

"Nevermind, I can explain that to you later. For now, just enter this ward and remember our security measures..." He gave Harry a slap on the back. "You know how it'll work, so good luck!"

He didn't leave - they had agreed on Bill staying close for at least five more minutes in case Harry would walk out of the Ward for whatever reasons so soon - but he obviously expected Harry to now enter the ward. So Harry took another deep breath, trying to calm his rapidly beating heart, before taking a few steps, entering the Truce Ward...

The first thing he noticed was warmth, as if he had just walked into a building, just like Bill had said. Also, there was a small table with two chairs standing where the middle of the circle must be, but it was the person sitting on one of those chairs, the one facing to him, that made Harry freeze, wondering if he was dreaming, making him wish to run away as fast as he could if he wasn't still frozen in shock...

It was nobody else than Voldemort himself.

And he actually looked like an older version of Tom Riddle, just as Harry had dreamed before.

"Hello," he said, almost softly, in a deep voice so very different the high and cold voice Harry was used to, but he couldn't really believe it anyway, was instantly on his guard and drew his wand. To which Voldemort responded with raising his hands, empty and with his palms in Harry's direction. "Please, be careful with that, any sudden spell could cost you your magic. Remember the Truce Ward. I promise I'm not here to harm you."

Harry just stared at him with narrow eyes, not believing a word of it. How could he have been so stupid? In fact, how did it even fit together? Why was Voldemort here of all people?!

"Look, just put your wand away and sit down, I will explain everything. I know how it must look to you but I really do not wish you any kind of harm right now. I just want to talk."

Harry lowered his wand a little - the part about the Truce Ward had finally registered with him - but made no move to sit down. In fact, he was very much tempted to just use his Portkey right now and vanish.

Voldemort sighed - he sighed, what the hell?! - before continuing to talk. "Well, then don't sit, just listen to me please. I know you will probably think this is a trap or something, which is the exact reason why I insisted on these precautions. And if you allow me, I would add another... Have you heard of Magical Oaths before?” Harry frowned, but nodded. When researching wards he had almost accidentally stumbled upon them, some obscure branch of magic that was used by people with a lot of magical power to ensure somebody of something, most of the time it was about speaking the truth. To make such an oath one had to repeat a certain set of words and once this was done - needing a lot of magical power, hence the rare use – the breaking of the oath would result in all magic leaving the caster. Another reason for it to be used only in the rarest cases. So why did Voldemort enquire about this thing? "Would you allow me to swear a Magical Oath then? I will use my wand only for that. I need a vocal answer though."

Harry still didn't really get what Voldemort wanted to do, but in the end he shrugged. "Fine."

Voldemort took out his wand - although he did it rather slowly, as if not to give Harry a false impression, though it mostly creeped him out - and held it in front of him.

"Hereby I, Tom Marvolo Riddle, swear on my magic that everything I will tell Harry James Potter during this meeting will be what I consider the truth." At this, the tip of his wand flashed for a moment, signalising that the oath had taken its hold, making Harry actually gape at him for a second. What the hell was he planning, even using his real name and everything...?!

But Voldemort just calmly placed his wand on the table in front of him, looking at Harry with those red eyes of his that currently seemed to be the only unnatural thing about him. Physically, at least. "There. And now please just listen to me. I do realise that it's not that easy, for our past encounters were all but peaceful-" Harry snorted. Yes, that was also a way to say how Voldemort had tried to kill him multiple times already. "-but what I'm trying to offer you here is a truce. An actual, no strings attached truce. Just don't get into my way and I'll promise you I won't come after you anymore."

Harry rolled his eyes. Yeah sure, great idea, just let Voldemort win and kill everyone he loved...

"Why should I do that?", he asked dryly, though not really expecting any answer that made sense.

Voldemort looked as if he wasn't sure what to say - of course, he probably had no argument to counter that! - before speaking up again.

"Because I have changed. And stop with that disbelieving expression, I wasn't finished yet. In fact, I think I need to tell you about something that currently, to my knowledge, nobody else knows about me. It will not make you think any better of me, I am sure, but it might explain some things, so just listen to it, alright?"

Harry frowned, wondering what he was talking about, but nodded after a moment. Honestly, he still didn't quite believe that Voldemort of all people wanted to talk to him, saying so many things he would never have believed hearing him say, but in the end, they were here and absolutely safe for the moment... Even Voldemort could not find a way around this Truce Ward, Bill had told him that it was perfectly done after all...! So if his worst enemy had made so much effort to talk to him, even going as far as assuring him he wouldn't lie, he could at least listen, even if he was sure this wouldn't change anything.

"Have you ever heard about something called Horcruxes?", Voldemort asked, sounding as if he was expecting a 'no'. But in fact... Harry had. He would never be able to forget what he had read in this book in the secret place at the Grimmauld Place library back in summer... Was Voldemort indicating...? Had he...? Harry blanched as he realized something. "The diary...", he whispered, mostly to himself, before looking up at his enemy in a mixture of disgust and disbelieve. "You created one... One of those things..." And Voldemort nodded, despite looking surprised. He nodded! "Why? Why would anyone want to create something like that?"

"I was young and curious. I had knowledge and I wanted power. I never thought it would turn out the way it did. One might even say I was rather foolish, not properly thinking the consequences through. But I always was rather afraid of dying."

"That doesn't excuse murder!"

"I never said it did. Although I have to say that what happened back then was mostly an accident. I never intended to kill Myrtle - at least not when it happened - but when the opportunity arose I couldn't help myself. I created a Horcrux and split my soul... The only problem was that I didn't know the repercussions... Nobody ever knew until it was too late. Only recently I understood them myself." He looked directly at Harry. "A Horcrux splits your soul exactly in a half. And a person can only stay sane if they have at least more than half of their soul. So with splitting my soul back then I basically lost most of my sanity, I just never noticed."

Well I did, was what Harry wanted to say, but instead he just tried to process what Voldemort was saying and how that fit together with what he knew. "So you want me to believe that all you ever did was because you are insane?" That actually wasn't all that hard to believe, until Voldemort corrected him. "Were. I was insane, yes, and although not all of my actions can be excused with that, it is the reason for many. And that includes chasing after a baby because of some prophecy I only heard a part of. The point I am trying to make however is that I am no longer insane. I cannot say what exactly happened, but the part of my soul resting in the Horcrux you destroyed, my old diary, must somehow have found its way back to me. I know it sounds rather fabricated, but I actually woke up one day and had some kind of... epiphany."

At least with one point Harry agreed here: It did sound completely fabricated. Despite the whole truth oath, Harry stayed sceptical. "So now your soul is miraculously whole again?"

Voldemort seemed to hesitate, before he slowly shook his head. "No... I do think it returned to me, giving me the half of my soul needed to have enough to stay sane, but... my soul is not whole."

"You created another one...", Harry breathed, wide eyed, as realization hit him. And Voldemort actually looked uncomfortable then!

"In fact, I created five more..."

Harry gasped. "You're a monster...!"

"I was a desperate man, driven insane by the feeling of incompleteness inside of me, hoping to numb it by shredding my soul even further, thinking it would give me more power to reach my goals while at the same time losing said goals and replacing them with irrational hatred..."

Harry just shook his head, still disbelieving of everything he had just heard. He knew that Voldemort had to be speaking the truth, but it still didn't seem to make any sense. How could he honestly believe that the insane man he had been told about all his life and encountered three times for himself already was supposed to be all better now just because some miraculously returned soul part?

At least Voldemort himself seemed to guess what he was thinking. "You don't need to believe everything right away. I know it's difficult, maybe even impossible for you to see anything but a madman when looking at me, but I had to at least try it." He stood up, slowly again. "I do not want to see you dead anymore and I promise you that I will not hunt after you with this goal in mind again. Also, I will not tolerate it if my followers try doing so. But this promise ends if you actively try to seek my demise, I hope you understand that. I would simply prefer you at least as a neutral party. I do not seek the demise of muggleborn witches or wizards anymore either, you know? I rather went back to my original goals of equality. Maybe you can ask someone you trust who is old enough to remember them." He looked at Harry, who still looked sceptical. "I guess this is enough information for one meeting. Please at least think about what I just told you. Also, should you ever want to contact me - which is rather unlikely right now, I know - you can just sent an owl. I will make sure that it stays unharmed." He reached for his wand. "Now, would you allow me to apparate away? It will prove that I told you the truth as I still got my magic and you can leave to wherever. I will return in two hours to deactivate the ward."

Harry slowly nodded. It was probably for the best if Voldemort left now. "Yes..."

"Alright. Then... thank you for at least listening to me and not running away the second you saw me. I hope that when we see each other again it will not be under less favourable circumstances." He gave Harry an almost respectful nod, before turning on the sport and vanishing, leaving Harry to stare vacantly at the spot for a few more seconds, before slowly whispering "Dílis don deireadh" and getting whisked away to the safety of Potter Manor, with probably enough thoughts whirling in his head to fill an entire Pensieve...

Chapter Text

Chapter 27: And what now?

Only seconds after Harry arrived at the manor Tink appeared out of nowhere, bowing low. "Welcome home master! Do you want to go to Messrs Remus and Sirius?"

Harry sighed, tiredly. "No, thanks, Tink. I would rather prefer some room to be able to think for a while if that would be possible? But you can tell Remus and Sirius that I'm here now and that everything worked out. I'd just prefer not to be disturbed for now, alright?"

Tink stared at him for a second, but immediately nodded afterwards. "Yes, of course master. Just follow Tink."

They went out of the entrance hall, through some corridors and into one of the guest rooms, furnished with just a simple bed, a wardrobe and an empty shelf. But it was enough for his current needs, so Harry quickly thanked Tink, who nodded again before leaving him alone. Once the elf was gone Harry physically and magically locked the door, casting a Muffliato on it before sitting down on the bed, sighing deeply.

"So... would you mind telling me what was going on?" , a hissing voice broke through the silence, making him jump a little. He had completely forgotten that Shiva had probably witnessed everything, despite not being able to understand what was said. And she was leaving his robes now after checking for a second that they were alone, slithering onto his lap before looking him into the eyes. "Who did you meet up with?"

Harry sighed again, not sure if he really wanted to discuss this... But on the other hand, maybe talking about it would help him to at least somehow be able to understand what had been going on... So, after a moment of hesitation, he answered her.

"Voldemort."

Shiva hissed in something that could have been surprise or thoughtfulness. "Voldemort? Are you sure?"

"Yes, absolutely."

"Huh... That was... unexpected. But it does make sense somehow."

Harry frowned. "What do you mean?"

"You told me he wanted to kill you, right?" He nodded. "And we know that your mysterious writer always wrote that he knew you hated him. Of course you would hate him if he wanted to kill you."

"Well, sure, but... I still can't believe it..."

Shiva seemed to think about it for a moment. "How about you start telling me what happened from the beginning? Of course, I noticed that you were shocked when you found out who it was, but I could not exactly follow your conversation."

"Well... He told me he had changed... And that he wanted to make peace with me and he didn't want to kill muggleborns anymore and stuff like that... This makes no sense whatsoever!"

"It does sound different to what you told me of him before... So you think he lied to manipulate you?" She was as direct as ever, really... And still, Harry shook his head.

"No... Well, yes, I would like to think so, but... He actually swore an oath before that he would be telling me the truth... So if he didn't go confunding himself or something I just can't see how he could have lied... But I still can't really believe him... It just sounds too good to be true, you know?"

"Yes, I understand. I am sure it is difficult to understand the difference between truth and manipulations in this case... Did he say anything else?"

Harry hesitated. Did he really want to tell Shiva about the Horcruxes? But then again, he needed to get it out somehow, so she was probably his best bet...

"Shiva, he... he's a monster..."

"You already told me so before, what has changed?"

"He... told me something about himself. I don't understand why, but... it makes sense. And he was supposedly telling the truth anyway... He... he told me he created Horcruxes... You remember what I told you about them? Those evil things that rip your soul apart to store it in containers?" If snakes could have shivered Shiva might have done so right now. Instead, she just hissed in discomfort.

"He created one?"

Harry shook his head slowly. "No... he created six..."

There was silence for a few seconds as Shiva processed what he had just told her. "Are you sure?", she finally asked, making him nod.

"He told me so while under his oath... I just don't understand why... Does he want me to kill him easier or what?" Another silence followed, even longer this time, before his snake spoke up again.

"I think he wants your trust. And although this might very well be a complicated trap... You know him better than I do, what do you think, would he actually do this just for... Well, some higher goal? After all, killing you would have been easy if he had left out all those safety measures. Or would you have thought of them?"

Harry pondered those words, stroking Shivas scales slowly while thinking about what she had said. Of course, it was nothing new, really, he had had those thoughts himself already, but... To hear it from somebody else was still different in a way... "Hm... probably not, so maybe you are right... But still, what can I do? I certainly won't stand by and watch how he slaughters everyone just because he promised he won't kill me if I stay away..."

"Of course not," Shiva reassured him. "I do not think that anyone who knows you at least for a while would honestly think that about you. But you said he told you he had changed his goals?"

Harry snorted. "Yes, he said something about turning back to his 'original goals' or something... Whatever that's supposed to mean."

"Well, you probably would have to ask somebody who knows about those supposed goals... Maybe somebody that was there when Voldemort still was a student?"

"But who? How should I find someone that went to school with-" Harry stopped as an idea hit him. How could he have forgotten that?

"Master?", Shiva asked, obviously confused. Harry looked at her.

"I actually know someone like that... Hagrid!"

"The gamekeeper of Hogwarts you mean?"

"Exactly! I completely forgot, but he went to school together with Voldemort... Well, at least until Voldemort framed him for opening the Chamber of Secrets and got him expelled... But I think he stayed on the grounds afterwards..." Harry was rather sure Hagrid had been with the gamekeeper back then already, so... He could imagine that he at least gathered a little bit of interesting information regarding Tom Riddle... Well, it was probably rather biased, but at least Hagrid would know about other people he could ask.

Resolved to do this once he was back at Hogwarts Harry laid back a little, letting Shiva slither up onto his chest, continuing to pet her while staring at the ceiling for a while.

This whole thing was bound to get messy sooner or later... He could just hope that whatever he did wouldn't come back to bite him in the end...

 

Harry needed almost the whole next day to get Sirius and Remus off his case when it turned out that he wouldn't talk about who he had met or what exactly had transpired between Voldemort and himself, although he was actually supported by something he had already forgotten when he noticed that he wasn't even able to hint at what had happened when he wanted to: Obviously this ward Bill had told him about regarding the safety of what had been spoken inside was working... And a little bit too well, too... He wasn't able to tell anything to anyone, that he was able to talk with Shiva about it must have been because she had actually been there, despite not understanding a word of what had been said. But he was rather glad about it, as otherwise he might just have gone crazy with all of this new knowledge.

At least he could safely disperse the notion of the writer being Snape now, much to everyone's relief... Although Harry wasn't sure if at least Remus wouldn't have preferred Snape had he known that Voldemort had written to him. But he didn't, and Harry kept silent, working on his apparition skills after Sirius had stopped moping about the fact that Remus and Harry hadn't told him about this whole ordeal before they were more or less forced to tell him after Harry's rather... suspicious return from the meeting...

Still, Harry was making a good progress, keeping his splinching to a minimum while at least being able to apparate to places he could see easily by now... It got harder if he had to imagine where he wanted to go first, though. But Sirius had already promised him to teach him even more during the next holidays so that he might get to 'apparition exam level' during the summer holidays. Provided they would find a way to keep him from the Dursleys of course.

They had just finished the lesson for the day - quitting early as it was the last day of the holidays and they wanted to do some more interesting things then just learning stuff for the whole day - when things turned bad.

Harry, who had actually just wanted to quickly get some snacks from the kitchen to eat together with Sirius and Tonks - Remus was allegedly still recovering from the last full moon two days ago and preferred to stay in a quieter room somewhere on the ground floor - almost got a heart attack when he saw nobody else but bloody Snape standing inside the room.

"Sn- Professor!", he said in surprise, only barely managing to not be disrespectful to him by calling him by only his last name. "What are you doing here - if I may ask?"

He was at least trying to be more polite to him, to maybe reduce the hatred between them a little, but that was not only proving to be rather difficult but also probably too late anyway... The way Snape was looking at him, as if he was some spot of dirt on his shoe or something just proved it, really.

"Looking for you, Potter," was the short response, although not exactly helpful.

"What for?" Had he done something he wasn't supposed to? Or well, the better question probably was: Had he been caught doing something like that? And if so, why was Snape of all people coming here to tell him so, at least his Potions grade should have been fine after all the trouble he went through to keep up with his work...!

"The headmaster has sent me to tell you, Potter, that he wishes for you to study Occlumency this term."

Harry stared blankly at him. Dumbledore wanted him to lean Occlumency now ? After he had already spent most of his first term actually learning it? Also, why should the headmaster want him to do so? Did he still think Harry was having nightmares? He had already told him that he didn't...!

Obviously misinterpreting his silence, Snape just sneered at him. "Of course you wouldn't know what it is, Potter. Occlumency is-"

"I know what Occlumency is!", Harry interrupted him, albeit maybe a little unwisely as there was now a mixture between surprise and contempt at being interrupted visible one Snape's face.

"You do? Well, then you hopefully understand that it is an important skill to learn. You will receive private lessons once a week but you are not to tell anybody else about this. Do you understand?"

"Um... But I already know Occlumency," Harry told him, a little insecure now, as he wasn't sure it was a good idea to tell Snape that. But really, he wasn't stupid, if Dumbledore sent Snape to deliver this message it was painfully obvious who he wanted to make the teacher of those lessons. And Harry definitely did not want to meditate and leave himself exposed in the vicinity of one of the people who hated him most!

Snape didn't even seem to believe him anyway as his sneer returned.

"Don't be so arrogant, Potter. Occlumency is nothing you can learn from books alone, you would have to practice this regularly. Just because you may have recently found some book in this house doesn't make you an expert."

"I'm not an expert but I do know the basics...!", Harry insisted, not wanting to back down on this. He certainly wouldn't tell Snape about his agreement with Professor Pyrites, but that didn't mean that he would let his skills get insulted... he had actually worked hard for them and it had been two months of difficult training already!

"You most certainly do not. Legilimens !" Snape had whipped out his wand and cast faster than Harry could say 'Leave me alone!' and as such the spell surprised him completely. Instantly, the kitchen of Grimmauld place started swimming in front of his eyes as memories began randomly flooding him...

Some birthday of Dudley's... the fight with Ron just after his name had come out of the Goblet of Fire... the moment they found a petrified Mrs. Norris in his second year... But then the memories started to get more recent and it was like a wake up call. Harry immediately tried to clear his mind, driving the attacking force out by thinking of nothing, first slowing the flow of the many memories down a little before stopping it completely, bringing the kitchen back into focus for a moment...

There were a few seconds of peace - with Harry breathing heavily from the mental strain he wasn't used to - before the force suddenly got even stronger, almost tearing through his brain... He tried to concentrate on thinking nothing, but it just wasn't enough, he hadn't progressed that much yet... He saw the argument with Seamus at the beginning of the year... A moment of peace with Dahlia at Diagon Alley... And then the scene shifted to a certain visit at Hogsmeade with Bill just a few days ago... Harry redoubled his efforts to keep Snape out - certainly not wanting him to see what would undoubtedly follow as he saw Bill and himself walking to the meadow - developing a rather big headache through that... And then, just before they reached the wards it was over, and Harry fell painfully to his knees back at Grimmauld Place, a splitting headache like he hadn't felt in months, disoriented and confused as to what had happened... At least until another thump was heard and he noticed the figure of his potions professor lying in front of him and Shiva's head showing out right next to him, with her hissing angrily without really saying anything. His eyes widened in shock.

"Whoa, what the hell just happened...?!"

"I don't know!" , Shiva responded, clearly agitated herself, actually hissing much faster than usual and not nearly as sophisticated. Right now, her anger seemed to go hand in hand with some grade of panic. "He did something to you and you were starting to shiver and moan and I wasn't sure what he was trying to do and so when you started to scream I just... bit him...!"

Harry cursed under his breath. "With venom?"

"Yes... it was a reflex... He was a threat and I just wanted to defend you...!"

Harry could understand, but he now had an unconscious, poisoned Snape in front of him, with two bloody holes on his neck - although at least Shiva seemingly had missed the carotid artery as it wasn't gushing - and froth building in the corners of his mouth as he breathed raggedly, just short of convulsing on the floor... With Harry in his own panic having no idea of what the hell he was supposed to do right now!

"Harry, are you alright, I thought I heard you screa- Merlin's Beard!", a voice behind him suddenly exclaimed, which Harry recognized as Remus after a second. Said man needed a few seconds to assess the situation before conjuring some sort of bandages, letting them wrap around the bite marks of the paling man while kneeling down next to Harry, looking seriously at him. "What happened?"

Harry swallowed hard before trying to explain. "He... Snape was here because Dumbledore wanted him to train me in Occlumency... I told him I was already learning it and... he hit me with some Legilimency spell... I blocked him but he made it stronger... That was when I must have screamed and Shiva heard that and thought I was in danger and bit him and she used her venom...!" Harry was slowly talking himself into another state of panic when Remus placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Calm, Harry... Take a few deep breaths and try to concentrate."

Harry did so and felt at least a little bit more collected after a few moments. Enough at least to speak up again.

"We need to get him to a hospital! There must be a magical one somewhere, right...?"

"Of course there is. It's even in London. Just give me a moment, I will alert Tonks. She can pull this off the easiest," Remus answered him kindly. "Please just sit down on a chair for the time being, alright? We will talk about this once Severus was moved to St. Mungos."

Harry nodded quickly, slowly getting up from the floor while Remus left the room. He sat down at the kitchen table and put his head to his hands.

"Merlin, what have I done...?"

"Master, you are not at fault here. This man attacked you...! Also, if anything, I was the one who bit him, so I should take the blame," Shiva tried to argue with him, but he wasn't exactly reasonable right now.

"I shouldn't have told him how I was learning Occlumency just because I didn't want him to teach me..."

Shiva gave what must have been the snake equivalent to a huff.

"Master, are you a seer?", she asked, making Harry stare at her at this seemingly out of the blue question.

"No, of course not..."

"Well, then how were you supposed to know that a teacher of yours would attack you at home just because you may or may not have said something he did not like?"

Harry stayed silence at that, not having a suitable counter argument but still not quite believing it. Thankfully he was saved from further over-thinking when Remus returned, with Tonks and Sirius right behind him.

"There he is. Tonks, would you please...?", Remus told her, pointing at the form of the potions teacher. Tonks herself just nodded, morphing into some plain, middle-aged woman before taking Snape's arm.

"I will be back later," she said seriously before disapparating - Sirius must have somehow loosened the wards for the time being - leaving the rest of them in silence.

Chapter Text

Chapter 28: Visiting Hagrid

"Mr. Potter, a word if you please."

Harry sighed, looking at Professor McGonagall. Since he had arrived at Hogwarts a few hours ago - just before the Welcoming Feast which had ended right now - he had known that this moment would come, just not when exactly. And really, it wasn't surprising given how the entire school was whispering about Snape's absence at the teacher's table, their speculations running from 'He had developed a severe case of Spattergroit' to 'He had eloped with a muggle woman over Christmas and went to live with her in America'.

Still, Harry had to force himself not to wince every time Snape's name came up. Sure, he had had a long talk about what had happened with Remus and Sirius - although Sirius was decidedly unhelpful at times with his comments about how 'that greasy bastard got what he deserved' - and had thought out a strategy for the meeting that was undoubtedly to come, but... He still didn't feel good about it. And since as a precaution Shiva was currently resting with Hermione he felt much more vulnerable than usual.

He couldn't help it for the time being though, so he just nodded at Ron and Hermione - whom he had quietly told what had actually happened with Snape back in the privacy of their compartment in the Hogwarts Express before Neville, Ginny and, surprisingly, Luna had joined them - to go on without him before following Professor McGonagall. The trio had already been out of the Great Hall when she stopped Harry, so the two of them just needed to navigate through a few more students before reaching the empty corridors of the castle. His Head of House didn't tell him where they were going and he didn't ask, as both of them knew that it was Dumbledore who wanted to speak to him. So after telling the gargoyles the password ('Ice Mice'. Really, why was it always sweets?) they travelled up the stairs and finally, Harry stood in front of Dumbledore once again this year.

"Harry," the headmaster greeted him, almost the same way he always did, if a little more serious than normally. "Take a seat. Lemon Drop?"

Harry sat down, shaking his head. "No, thank you."

"Alright. Minerva, what about you?" Professor McGonagall must have shaken her head too, because Dumbledore sighed. "A pity. Well, that means more for myself." He took one of the sweets and plopped it into his mouth, followed by a small smile, while Professor McGonagall bid him goodbye. Of course, even afterwards no eye contact from Dumbledore to Harry was established, but Harry had actually begun to appreciate that. "Alas, our topic is of a little more serious nature today. I will try to make it quick, as I am sure you will want to return to your friends soon after being separated for so long during the holidays, but I fear it cannot wait any longer. I assume you know what it is about?"

"The absence of Professor Snape...?", Harry answered quietly, not having to try very hard to sound sincerely sorry. Yes, he disliked, maybe even hated the man, but that didn't mean that he had wanted to sent him to the hospital!

"Of course. Would you mind telling me what happened yesterday? Of course I had Severus tell me the story once he was conscious again - and do not worry, he will recover soon - but I fear his injury has made him remember the details a little different."

Harry refrained from asking what story Snape had told - probably how he had attacked him unprovoked like the deranged liar the Daily Prophet still painted him as? - and instead nodded slowly.

"Well... I was training a little with Sirius and Tonks when Sn- Professor Snape surprised me with his visit. He said something about wanting to teach me Occlumency, but I think he grew angry when I told them that I had already started learning it... He wouldn't believe me and when I insisted he used some spell on me... Something that made me see different memories of mine..." They had agreed on not announcing that Harry knew perfectly well what spell it had been, as just because he was learning Occlumency didn't mean he knew much about Legilimency. "Well, and since I had come straight from practice I was still carrying a snake around that I had summoned and... Well, it bit him as it noticed I had been hit by a spell... I'm really sorry!" He sounded almost a little desperate at the end, so maybe he was laying it on a bit thick, but he was sorry, so it certainly wasn't a lie. "I alerted the others and Tonks then brought Snape to the hospital immediately... And I guess you know the rest..."

Shiva had apparently some rather strong, magical venom, so even though she hadn't bitten to kill, there was quite a bit of venom left in Snape's body... And it was especially bad since nobody was sure what type of venom it was, so while Snape was conscious again already they still needed to keep him there for a while longer to remove all traces of the venom from his system. As far as Tonks was informed at least, who had updated Harry on the whole thing after checking up on the man in her disguise.

"I see..." Dumbledore was silent for a long moment afterwards, making Harry's nervousness grow. Did he suspect anything? But then he continued talking, relieving Harry's worries - or at least some of them. "It does sound like a rather unfortunate accident. I will talk to Severus about this. But I would advise you to not keep conjured snakes with you anymore. They are normally only used in duels around here and tend to be rather... aggressive."

"Of course, sir..." That didn't mean that Shiva would listen should she believe his life being in danger again... But really? He'd rather live with the consequences of her existence be discovered than die because she had held herself back.

"Good. And one other question, if you allow. How did you come by the initial knowledge about Occlumency? You said you had started learning the basics?"

"Well..." Harry fidgeted. This part would probably be the hardest, as it was a complete lie. "I found a book about it in one of the book stores in Diagon Alley and started studying it because it sounded incredibly useful..."

"In Diagon Alley you say? I was not aware that Flourish and Blotts had such tomes in their assortment," Dumbledore answered, sounding surprised and maybe even a little disbelieving.

"It wasn't Flourish and Blotts," Harry hastened to correct. "It was a second hand book store... I don't quite remember the name but the Weasleys have been visiting it at times and so I was looking through it myself when I had some time..."

"Ah... So it was your curiosity, I can understand that. Although I must ask you to refrain from doing those things in the future, or at least take a responsible adult with you. You never know what kind of dangerous things can be hidden inside second hand books..."

Harry nodded quickly. "Of course, sir." In case he ever wanted to visit a second hand book store again, he would take Sirius, then. He wasn't sure if Dumbledore agreed with the idea of him being a responsible adult, but... that wasn't his problem, really.

"Very well." Dumbledore seemed appeased and Harry was glad, as he really didn't want to make the man suspicious of him. He couldn't help gaping though as the headmaster continued to speak. "I will talk to Severus about starting your Occlumency lessons after he feels better, then."

"B-But sir, I already told you, I can do some Occlumency training on my own...!", Harry tried to argue, but Dumbledore just shook his head.

"I am sure of that my boy, but alas, nobody can learn Occlumency just by reading. You will need a teacher and Severus has my complete trust."

But certainly not mine!, Harry wanted to say, but of course didn't dare. Still, he was already afraid the man might try to kill him in normal potions class because of this, but actual private hours with him?! Either of them would probably be dead after the first one...!

"But it is getting late and I think I have taken up enough of your time. Once Severus is recovered I will send you a note with a more detailed plan regarding your lessons. Good night."

"Good night, sir..."

Harry left the office with mixed feelings, glad that he had seemingly managed to get away with Shiva's attack on Snape without her being discovered but also disbelieving and angry that Dumbledore still wanted Snape to be his teacher. As if what had happened wasn't bad enough! So when he arrived in the Gryffindor common room he was rather quick with bidding his friends a good night after taking Shiva back from Hermione with a grateful look, hurrying to bed to tell her what had happened... and maybe to whine a little about how he was always forced to spend time with the only person who seemed to genuinely hate him right now...

 

The next morning at breakfast, Dumbledore announced that Snape had had an unfortunate accident over the holidays and that this day's Potions classes would be cancelled because of that, but that he would try and find a substitute for those few days left until Snape's recovery. This was the cause of a generally cheerful mood in school which lasted throughout the day up to dinner, where Harry remembered his plan to go and pay Hagrid a visit. Since there wasn't much homework to do yet anyway, he excused himself from Neville - Ron and Hermione were off again for some prefect duties - and went down to Hagrid's hut.

He just wanted to knock as the door opened, revealing the half giant that jumped in surprise as he saw him.

"Harry! What're yeh doin' here?"

"Um... visiting you?", Harry answered, a little surprised how... defensive Hagrid sounded. "Are you alright?"

At least he was looking better than when they had first seen him back when he had just returned from the giants... Although Harry had to admit that he hadn't really thought about visiting again with so many other things to do... Which made him feel rather bad now that he thought about it.

"Eh... Sure I'm fine, I jus' didn' expect yeh ter c'mere today o' all days...!", Hagrid answered, by now looking rather uncomfortable.

Harry frowned. "I'm sorry? Was it a bad timing?"

Hagrid seemed torn for another moment, before shaking his head. "Nah, doesn' matter, yeh know 'bout 'im anyway...", he mumbled, almost as if speaking to himself, before looking back to Harry. "I wan' ter visit Talon."

Harry just stared at him. "Talon?"

"Yeh know... me friend I told yeh abou'."

Harry's eyes widened. "Are you talking about the dra-"

"Shh!", Hagrid immediately shushed him. "Not here! Jus' follow me..." With that, he turned towards the Forbidden Forest, making Harry gulp for a moment as he recalled some not so nice memories he had about the forest... But at least Hagrid was with him this time... And he couldn't help but being curious what kind of dragon Hagrid had brought here, even if that might have been highly irresponsible of him. But hey, technically, Hagrid was a teacher so it probably wasn't even illegal that he took a student there...!

So they walked in silence for a while, into the forest and along some barely visible path that stopped after some time... Without Hagrid Harry would have felt rather crept out, but the half giant at least helped keeping the nervousness at bay... Although maybe some talking would help? But before Harry could think about anything to say Hagrid had began to speak.

"So... Remember tha' talk we've had back when I had jus' returned from the giants? 'bout Dumbledore an' ev'rythin'? Y'know, I've kept thinkin' about this an'... I can't jus' say that yeh're right, since Dumbledore really saved me back then, but... I think I get wha' yeh were tellin' me..." He steadily looked forward while basically mumbling his words, but Harry could still understand them if he tried. And since it was rather important for him that Hagrid understood he certainly did try.

"So... you will keep my secret then...?"

"O' course! I know I've some reputation 'bout not bein' good with secrets an' stuff, but really, the only times I've slipped up was with yeh...!"

"Thanks...!"

Harry smiled, being honestly glad about that, but didn't know what else to say, so they walked in silence for a moment until he finally couldn't help himself anymore and changed the topic.

"Say, Hagrid... you went to school during the forties, right...?"

"Huh? Sure, why are yeh askin'?", Hagrid asked, obviously confused.

Harry just hoped he wouldn't sound too insensitive as he continued. "Well... I've been thinking... I don't really know much about Vol- I mean, You-Know-Who's childhood... Of course, everyone knows how evil he was during the last war, but... I was just wondering how he was before all that... 'Know your enemy' and so on, you know?"

Hagrid stayed quite for a long moment and Harry already feared that he had offended the Half-Giant, but then he did speak up again and at least he didn't sound angry or anything.

"I guess it's a good mindset ter have... I don' like ter talk 'bout tha' time, but yeh're right if yeh wanna know..." He seemed to think about what to say, before continuing. "O' course, I dunno much 'bout it, I was two years below 'im an' in Gryffindor, but even then he had surrounded 'imself with shady lackeys already... Malfoy's grandfather, Abraxas, fer example..." Hagrid shook his head, Harry found it rather interesting though.

"So he was already talking about how he wanted to kill muggleborns and everything?"

"Well, he never said so outrigh', always playin' the perfect little prefect in front o' the teachers... But Dumbledore knew all along tha' there was somethin' wrong with 'im. I think he never trusted 'im, despite bein' the one that introduced 'im ter the magical world. But that feelin' was mutual anyway."

Harry blinked. That was... rather harsh. Sure, it was Voldemort they were talking about, but he couldn't have been that bad as a child, could he? As a teenager, Harry had no doubts that the man was already at least partly insane - setting a Basilisk on to the student body, really? - but he couldn't have been that evil when he was eleven... At least Harry couldn't imagine. Mean? Sure. Arrogant? Possibly. But evil? Not so much. Still, Harry couldn't blame Hagrid for believing that, and it was still more than he had ever heard of Voldemort's school time than before.

Hagrid wasn't finished though. "He managed ter fool the best o' us. I've heard that even Moody - he was in Slytherin too, yeh know? - once thought that You-Know-Who was a great man... Tha' was long before the war, though... And I think he's bin workin' so much in the war 'cause o' that. But I don' blame 'im, You-Know-Who's always bin convincin'... Though besides Moody and Snape most people couldn'ta jus' left 'is side I guess after noticin' that..."

Harry actually agreed with that, but hearing Snape's name made him feel guilty again and he slowed down a bit, making Hagrid turn around once he noticed Harry wasn't walking next to him anymore.

"Yeh alrigh'?", he asked, obviously concerned, but Harry didn't really know if he was alright. But at the same time, he had a rather crazy idea. Hagrid knew a lot about animals, especially if they were dangerous, right...? So he decided to do something reckless for once - he was a teenager after all, he was allowed to do things like that at times!

"Um... Hagrid, you know a whole lot about animals of all kinds, right?"

Hagrid frowned, probably not understanding the next sudden change of topic.

"Sure...?"

"Well... Do you also know stuff about snakes? Venomous ones, maybe?"

"I guess... What're yeh tryin' ter tell me?"

Harry fidgeted a little, before finally coming clear. He knew that this was risky, but none of the adults back at Grimmauld Place had been able to relieve his worries, so maybe this could help?

"Look, I'm not sure what Dumbledore told you about what happened to Snape, but... He got bitten by a snake. A venomous snake..."

"Yeah, Dumbledore said as much in the teacher's meetin' yesterday... But he didn' know too much 'imself apparently and didn' say how that happened... Why do yeh ask? An' how do yeh even know 'bout tha' anyway?"

"Well... it kinda was my fault..."

"What?!"

"W-Well to my defence, he attacked me first...! It was all about Occlumency and he didn't believe me when I told him I could already do some of it so he cast some sort of Legilimency spell... Shiva only wanted to protect me!"

Hagrid blinked for a moment. "Shiva?"

Harry blushed. "Well... yes... Please don't tell anyone, but I actually own a snake... Though, 'own' is probably the wrong word, she's more like a friend... But she seems to be highly venomous... I don't really know much about snakes though..."

Hagrid stared at him for a few long moments as they stood in the forest, surrounded by nothing but trees... For a moment, Harry was afraid that Hagrid would think him evil now or anything - snakes were the animal of Slytherin after all and Hagrid could be rather simple-minded at times - but he would not have needed to worry. Instead, Hagrid was in the end patting his shoulder in a way that made his knees buckle slightly under the weight.

"Now now, don' worry... Snape will definitely recover an' it wasn' yer fault... Bu' yeh really have a pet snake...?"

Harry nodded slowly and Hagrid seemed to gulp at that, but still looking resolved.

"That's... surprisin'... Bu' I don' wanna judge you, so... may I see it? Is it a female or male?"

"Female. Her name's Shiva," Harry explained, before taking a deep breath.

"Shiva...? Can you come out for a moment, please?", he hissed at her in Parseltongue, trying to ignore the visible shiver that shook Hagrid's form when he heard it.

"Master? You do realise that you are in company of the gamekeeper...?", she asked, obviously confused as to what was going on.

"Yes."

Another moment nothing happened, before she finally moved, slithering around him a little to be able to poke her head out of his robes.

Hagrid now actually jumped, as if he hadn't really believed Harry and was now surprised, but Harry tried not taking it too hard. A snake was a rather unusual choice for a pet...

"Eh... alrigh'...", was everything Hagrid said for the moment, but he actually stared at Shiva rather intently, as if looking for something. "Well, she's a beauty, tha' much I can say... Bu' I'm not sure 'bout her species... The pattern looks a lil like a bushmaster, an' those are pretty venomous, bu' they're normally livin' in America... She a magical snake?"

That was a pretty good question actually. Somehow Harry could believe that, with her knowledge about wizards and everything... Still, he didn't even know.

"Say... do you know if you are a magical snake?", he asked her, still working on ignoring Hagrid's shiver.

Shiva looked at him for a moment. "I do not know. Maybe? Mother was always together with a wizard, but I do not know if that means that she was magical. Or that I am."

He nodded at her before looking back to Hagrid.

"She doesn't know... And I don't either, sorry..."

Hagrid shook his head. "Nah, don' be, it's always a lil difficult to find out species of animals... Let's jus' keep walkin', we're almos' there now."

Harry nodded and they finally continued on their path...

 

Which soon got a little lighter, until they finally stepped out to some sort of clearing... But Harry had no time to inspect it, for his gaze was immediately caught by the huge dragon that lay in the middle of it, head on its front paws as if sleeping or resting.

Harry just stood there, gaping, for a moment and even Shiva - who had yet to vanish back under his clothes - stared.

The dragon was huge, it looked almost big enough to let Hagrid ride it, just about the size of the dragons Harry had seen during the Triwizard Tournament, if not bigger still... It had pearly scales all over, that gleamed and shimmered wherever the setting sun hit them, casting small reflections throughout the clearing... It was rather breathtaking.

"He's a real beauty, isn't he?, Hagrid asked, almost proudly. "Was in a rather bad shape before, but I helped 'im heal most injuries... An' he's rather tame, too..."

Harry really didn't know if that meant anything, for Hagrid had thought the Blast-Ended Skrewts from last year had been 'tame' too... Still, for now, the dragon just lay there, almost unmoving even though you could hear it taking deep breaths.

"Beautiful...", Harry breathed quietly, almost a little afraid what would happen once the dragon had noticed him...

"This is an Antipodean Opaleye," Shiva hissed next to him and he nodded slowly, having guessed as much himself.

"Yes, the colour is pretty unique, I-" He stopped at once as the moment he had started to hiss, the dragon had opened his eyes. And despite not having any pupils inside the colourful irises, Harry got the strange feeling as if the dragon was staring right at him. It raised its head, which almost made him take a step back, but he held his ground while the dragon stared at him. Even Hagrid seemed surprised, but also curious, for at least there did not seem to be any malicious intent behind the dragon's movements.

And then, the dragon focussed his gaze on Shiva and talked.

"Serpent Queen, please tell me... Did my old ears betray me or did this human fledgeling use the Serpent's Tongue with you just now?", it asked, his voice very deep and rough... Which was when Harry finally realized that the dragon was hissing! Well, it was more like growling or grumbling, but still, it was most definitely Parseltongue!

Shiva seemed just as stunned, but she caught herself earlier and answered. "He was indeed... My master is a Speaker and a friend..."

Harry blushed a little, Shiva had never been one for telling him how she felt, so those short moments of truth were much appreciated. Still, it was hard to concentrate of much else when there was a huge dragon standing in front of you, looking at you... Talking to you.

"Then I must apologize for my rudeness just now. I only wanted to make sure. It has been centuries since I last met a Speaker of the Serpent's Tongue..."

"N-No problem...", Harry hissed back, still feeling overwhelmed.

"Harry? Are yeh alrigh'? What am I missin'?", Hagrid asked, now probably feeling rather confused about the whole ordeal.

Harry looked at him, a mixture of disbelief and awe still on his face.

"I... think your dragon can speak Parseltongue," he said after a moment, making Hagrid stare at the dragon in surprise and wonder himself.

"Really?! That's... not somethin' I've heard before... Yeh sure?"

"Well... it just talked to me..."

Hagrid was quiet for quite a bit after that, seemingly thinking about something. The dragon used that silence to speak up again.

"I hope the Half Human does not have a problem with you being a Serpent Speaker?", the dragon asked. "I have noticed that the Serpent's Tongue has become rather rare over the last centuries. And not-Speakers have always reacted rather strongly to those with the talent."

Harry quickly shook his head. "No, don't worry, he was just... surprised, I guess. We didn't think... well, I never thought that dragons could speak Parseltongue..."

The dragon nodded slowly. "It is of no surprise. Most dragons cannot do so after all, especially not the younger ones. But I am not a fledgeling anymore, I have been around back when dragons were still used as mounts, bonding with humans that could speak the Tongue of the Serpents... But the knowledge of the tongue lessened and so did our contact with the humans... Most younger dragons do not see the value in learning the Serpent's Tongue anymore."

Harry blinked in surprise. "I thought one could not learn to speak Parseltongue...?"

"Well, humans cannot, for it would take longer that the little life they have to spare, but dragons have a different life expectation, of course..."

Of course... But before Harry could answer he heard Hagrid speak up again.

"Yeh were righ'... Dragons can actually speak Parseltongue... Merlin, an' here I stood thinkin' how nice it would be ter understand 'him...!" Still, he didn't seem jealous, more like happy for Harry that he could, in fact, talk to the dragon. "Could yer ask 'im if he needs anythin'? Yeh know, jus' in case I misunderstood somethin'..."

Harry quickly nodded in agreement, before looking back to the dragon.

"Um... Can you understand English?", he asked, a little insecure, before the dragon slowly shook its head.

"No. While we can learn the tongues of different animals it is beyond us to understand the tongues of the humans... I remember a lot of humans trying to teach it to us, but... I am guessing that dragons were just not made for understand. Although we do realize when a human is good to us and when he means us harm even without understanding what he says."

Harry nodded thoughtfully, but asked Hagrid's question anyway. "So... Hagrid here wanted to know if he can do anything for you... Since he cannot understand you and is afraid he misunderstood something..."

The dragon now looked to Hagrid, who smiled at him.

"The Half Human is very nice. He does not need to worry about me, he is very good with understanding my needs without me having to say anything. Please give him my gratitude for helping me to recover if you will. He is a good person."

Harry smiled at the dragon before repeating its words to Hagrid, who positively beamed.

"Yeh know, don' let other people tell yeh that bein' a Parselmouth is a curse... Jus' tell 'em in their face that yeh can talk ter dragons an' they'll shut up," Hagrid said, clapping him on the back, making him stumble forwards a little. Harry chuckled, not believing it to be so easy but glad that at least Hagrid didn't seem to mind his gift as much anymore... "I think we should go back ter the castle soon though... Don' wanna see yeh walkin' back in the dark!"

Harry nodded, but turned back to the dragon once more.

"We will have to go now... Um... thank you for talking to me?" It came out more as a question than he had intended, but he really didn't know what to say to a dragon of all beings when saying goodbye.

The dragon lowered his head a little, now almost being at the same level as Harry's head. "It was my pleasure. It has been a while since I was able to talk with a human. You are welcome to join me any time you want. This offer extends, of course, to the Serpent Queen too." He looked at Shiva at that, before returning his gaze to Harry. "Also, should you ever feel the need to, you may call me Zephyr."

Harry blinked a moment, before nodding. "Thank you... I am Harry and this is Shiva."

"Well met, then, Serpent Speaker Harry and Serpent Queen Shiva."

Harry really wanted to ask him what he meant when he was always calling Shiva 'Serpent Queen' but Hagrid seemed a little impatient and so he just thanked the dragon - Zephyr, he corrected in his mind, although Hagrid might be sad to hear that 'Talon' wasn't his preferred name - again, before waving a little and following Hagrid back to the school, while Zephyr laid his head back onto his front paws, looking for all the world as if he was a glittering marble statue... Certainly beautiful.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 29: I've taken what you'll sorely miss

Harry couldn't keep Zephyr out of his thoughts for the rest of the evening, though he did not yet tell Ron and Hermione, wanting to keep this for himself just a little bit longer...

He even dreamt about the dragon, about flying through the air on him and doing a lot of small stunts he would normally only do on a broom. But then his dreams slowly changed...

 

He entered the building like any other visitor. Asking the lady at the counter with a smile where a Severus Snape was staying - she didn't even seem to mind that it was already long past the visiting hours when answering him - before thanking her with a wink and a bow and walking up to the First Floor, "Creature-induced Injuries". In front of a non-descriptive door he stopped, quickly putting on a ring, making his skin shimmer a little - settling to a paler degree, looking almost boney now - before walking straight into the room, without so much as knocking.

A quick sleeping spell took care of the only other patient in the room, ensuring they would not witness what would be happening right now. A small privacy ward followed, before he stood at the bed of Snape. Who was already awake it seemed, looking at him with an expressionless face. As always.

"Severus," he said, his voice high and clear as he looked down to the man from the side of his bed. "What happened? I have heard you got bitten by a snake... But I do wonder what kind of snake it was that you had to be kept here... And, what's more: How did this happen?"

The question was asked quietly, sounding almost friendly, even. Snape didn't seem to agree though.

"It was an unknown species. Potter had it with him," the man spat, sounding very restrained. "He obviously couldn't control it."

"Potter has a snake with him? A venomous snake, even?", he asked, sounding surprised.

Snape just shrugged very lightly, before wincing. Obviously he was still in pain, despite the bandage around his neck.

"Dumbledore said it was a conjured snake. The boy was training or something..."

"The question of how still remains."

Snape actually looked a little uncomfortable as he answered. "I may have antagonised him a little."

He sighed. "Very well. That is sufficient."

He turned around as if to leave, but after walking two steps he turned around again. "Oh, and Severus? I will be expecting a resignation. You know why."

The man in the bed swallowed hard, but nodded a little. "Of course."

"Good."

With that, he cancelled the privacy ward with a flick of his wand and left the room...

 

When Harry awoke the next morning he remembered little of what he had dreamt, except for that his beautiful dragon-dream had in the end turned to one with Snape... Not the best turn of events, really...

Still, he needed to get up and working, for they had classes in the morning. Divination, not exactly his favourite subject - in fact, it was probably the only one his performance didn't change at all and he would so drop it after this year. He even regretted not taking Ancient Runes, for runes were really helpful when warding and while he had no idea yet of what he wanted to do with his life, at least wards seemed damn helpful...!

He woke up Ron and Neville after reading a bit in one of his darker books - it was a more reasonable time by now - and together they made their way down to the common room, just moments before Hermione arrived. She had Arithmancy first class and so she had no problems with joining them to the Great Hall, together with most of the student body, some looking more tired than others. But Dumbledore had told them at dinner the day before that it would be good if as many students as possible where there at eight o'clock for two more announcements, so most had managed to get out of bed by now.

Just when it turned eight Dumbledore then rose from his chair at the teacher's table and people who saw him quietened down, bringing the rest of the students to silence soon after.

"Thank you," Dumbledore said, looking at them with a content face. "I just wanted to let you know that, starting this very morning, we have found a temporary replacement for Professor Snape, who should be joining us again around the beginning of next week. You may remember him from last year, though this time it is definitely the real one: Professor Alastor Moody." With that, he turned around a little and, true to his words, Moody stepped out from the shadows where he had managed to hide himself from plain sight rather spectacularly. "As he was once an auror, Professor Moody has more than enough skills in potion making to be able to teach that class. He will not be able to give or take points in his position as a substitute teacher, but he is allowed to give out detentions, so I would advise you to behave."

The students had already begun to whisper among themselves again.

"You think he'll be anything like last year?", Neville asked, nervously looking up to Moody. Since the other three had basically spent part of their summer holidays with the man but couldn't really say so, they mostly just shrugged.

"I guess, after all nobody noticed that it wasn't him last year, so the behaviour must have been like him...", Harry commented, but actually his thoughts had already wandered off. Hagrid had, after all, just yesterday told him about Moody once following Voldemort... But Harry wasn't sure if he could even broach that subject without getting hexed, really... And then there was this fact, almost forgotten at the back of his mind, that he was even somehow related to that man... But he didn't think that this would help...

He was still pondering these problems when Dumbledore continued to talk.

"The second announcement will be made by Professor Pyrites."

With that he sat down and motioned for the teacher to take over, which he did just then.

"So... as some of you might remember, I was sent by the Ministry to see how this school fares in terms of teaching standards and so on. And while I think I can evaluate your progress in Defence pretty good by now, I'm still missing knowledge about the rest of your classes. So starting today I will randomly watch some of your classes to check what's going on there and if everything works out the way it's supposed to. I may also question you on some things but I will try not to disrupt the flow of the classes if possible, so don't worry. I just wanted to announce this so none of you get confused later... And of course, nobody has to answer any of my questions, it's just additional feedback, really. Thanks for listening."

He sat down again, bringing the student body back to whispering and wondering about what this would mean... Some were even slightly hopeful that maybe they would, for once, get someone who could do something against some of their worse teachers... And Harry supported that fully, just imagine if Binns was finally kicked out... But even if that would happen, it would still need some time, so instead he should focus on his more current problems, really. After all, he had a busy day before him...

 

The day went by rather quickly and since the next day was a Thursday he had another lesson with Professor Pyrites in the morning. Harry was now motivated more than ever to master Occlumency, so he asked if there was actually a quicker method of learning Occlumency than meditating. His teacher seemed surprised by the question.

"Well, there is, but it's also more... exhausting. And a lot less private. Why do you ask?"

Harry bit his lower lip as he wondered on how to answer this. He couldn't just tell his teacher about Snape after all... Instead he changed his words a little.

"Well... I have noticed that Legilimency is still pretty much unblockable for me. I mean, I can block it a little bit, but... I think it would be nice to be properly protected now instead of in a few years..."

Professor Pyrites looked thoughtful for a moment.

"It's not that I cannot understand your request, but I am not sure if you would want me to be the person to teach it to you...", he said slowly, before explaining what he meant with that. "The fastest way to learn Occlumency that holds against attempted Legilimency would, of course, be the practice of just that. Someone would have to cast the Legilimens spell on you again and again, making it stronger once you successfully diverted a weaker attempt... But that would mean showing this person a lot of your memories, as it is decidedly difficult to tell somebody to stop when your mind is being invaded..."

Harry cursed inwardly. He really wanted to learn how to defend against those attacks, but who could he trust enough to actually let them see everything he had seen and done in those last months? In his entire life, even? For example, would this privacy ward from Voldemort regarding their meeting even hide his memories from outsiders? Probably not... So what to do...?

"Take your time to decide that, it doesn't need to be today... Maybe tell me next week? I could offer you a privacy ward though, ensuring that I will not be able to talk to anyone about what I saw, except for those participating in what happened and knowing of it."

Harry just nodded for the time being, after which they commerced with their dodging lesson once more. Although Harry was beginning to get rather good at it, using his environment for protection, always moving around to be able to dodge much better than by standing around, waiting for the spell to get cast.

He was even able to hold out a little longer by now than back when they had started, but he was still horribly exhausted afterwards. Once more, he was very glad he had some free time before Potions with Moody, so he could calm down a little and eat some lunch before they all stood in front of the Potions classroom, waiting for their substitute teacher.

Thankfully he didn't let them wait as long as Snape at times did, so they could quickly enter the room, taking their normal tables to brew. Once they were all sitting down, Moody went to the front, the door closing with a bang after a wave of his wand, making the students jump.

"If you jump like that every time a loud noise happens nearby you will have a hard time today," he barked at them, shaking his head. "You need some stronger nerves than that..."

Then his gaze fell on Harry. "Potter, why are you sitting in the Slytherin part of the room?"

Harry blinked in surprise, gulping before giving an answer. "Well, Professor Snape wanted me to sit here..."

Moody just stared for an uncomfortable moment, before shrugging. "Oh well. Now..." He looked back at the whole class. "Since I have no idea what Snape was last doing and don't really care, we will be making a Sleeping Draught."

"But that's a second year potion!", somebody complained, making Moody glare at him.

"I know that perfectly well, whoever you are. But since I will not be grading you or anything I don't care. Especially since I would not be too sure that you will be able to have a correctly brewed draught in the end. That goes for all of you. I won't be sitting around doing nothing for the lesson. Now start, you have the whole two hours for it, whoever gets it actually done... Well, we'll come to that should it happen. Go!"

There was a lot of bustling around as always as the students raided the ingredient shelfs, while Harry stayed put - like a few others - and waited for the students to finish before getting his own stuff. Meanwhile he wondered what Moody was up to... This whole 'banging the door' thing already screamed of his usual 'constant vigilance!' attitude and since one normally needed thirty minutes at most for the very simple Sleeping Draught they were supposed to brew there was definitely something shady going on if Moody expected them to take more than two hours...

But he couldn't very well ask, so he just took his ingredients after most students were gone and began preparing them...

The first five minutes everything went by quietly - with having Snape as a teacher for years they knew by now that any kind of talking was not tolerated at all and Moody did not look any less menacing - before suddenly, Parvati spoke up, even if it was quietly. "That was not supposed to happen...!"

"Learn to brew, then," Pansy Parkinson commented snidely, making Parvati glare at her.

"I can brew this potion perfectly alright!"

Pansy just snorted and turned back to her own potion, before gaping. "What's happened, this was supposed to simmer a little, not change colour."

"Well, maybe if you had paid attention to your own cauldron instead of that girl's there, you would have seen," Moody barked at her, making her - and most of the class - stare at him.

He didn't seem to care, instead he seemed focused on moving his wand... Which put not only Harry on guard, but nothing seemed to happen, until Seamus cried out that his potion was ruined too. Shortly followed by Theodore Nott.

Slowly, people seemed to gather what was going on, although it was hard to believe at first: Moody was actively trying to manipulate their potions!

"Sir, how can we focus on brewing if you keep trying to prevent us from succeeding?", Hermione finally asked frustratedly as something happened with her potion too.

"It's called multitasking," Moody just answered easily. "I am not here to teach you how to brew a simple potion. I want to see if you can actually brew something decent and check for hidden manipulations at the same time. Be creative!"

That was easier said than done though, for in fact, creativity wasn't something they had been taught, really. Still, a small Protego helped Harry once against something that was rather obviously thrown in his direction - although his potion still turned awry as he had forgotten to stir while casting the Protego. And his next try went bad despite his Protego, for whatever Moody had done avoided the Protego, that was cast like a shield in front of his cauldron since he needed to put stuff in there himself after all...

He could see Blaise Zabini with some sort of powder in front of him, which moved whenever something passed through it, making him more aware of invisible things and Hermione had resorted to simply put a lid on her cauldron, although that made it rather difficult to judge the status of the potion...

All in all, it was a horribly chaotic Potions lesson and despite their best efforts, none of them had managed to circumvent Moody's efforts in the end... Harry had no idea how he did it, maybe with some help from his magical eye, but Moody always had a backup plan and always knew whenever somebody was close to finishing the Potion, thus ruining it next. Or just causing some random noise to startle them and make them forget either their potion or their protection...

"Time's up!", he finally shouted, looking at them as most of the students seemed horribly relieved. Especially Neville, if Harry judged his facial expression correctly. "And while some of you had some nice ideas, all of you missed the two most simple solutions, really: Option A would have been just leaving the room to brew somewhere else."

As he was met with incredulous and frustrated stares he just shrugged. "I never said you weren't allowed to leave, I just wanted to have a finished draught at the end of the lesson. Learn to exploit the rules you are given and never try to brew with a lot of other people nearby. And Option B would have been even easier: Teamwork. If you would have tried to combine your ideas or just took turn in brewing with one or two people guarding the cauldron of a third one, passing those defences would have been a lot harder. I never said not to partner up either."

"But Professor Snape-" Pansy started before getting interrupted. "-is not here, girl! Just because he might not tolerate this, don't assume everyone thinks the same. Never assume two people think alike just because you found some similarities. In fact, if something is unclear about a person and you are able to, just ask! If they won't kill you - and this would fall under the 'you are not able to ask'-part - you will be fine!"

There was a lot of grumbling and Harry couldn't quite believe it either, but at the same time, Moody did have some valid points...

And still, it was pretty obvious that everyone was happy that the lesson had ended... It had been probable the most infuriating Potions lesson ever, at least Snape let everyone brew quietly... Most of the time. But he didn't sabotage his student's potions that openly...!

Harry took his time packing his things together anyway, gathering all of his Gryffindor courage meanwhile... He knew he probably wouldn't get a chance like this again any time soon... So when he was one of the last remaining students he walked to Moody, trying to squash his nervousness as the man looked to him.

"What's it, Potter?", he almost growled.

"Well... I know it's probably a bad time, and that you might be pretty busy-"

"Stop rambling and come to the point!", Moody barked and Harry quickly complied.

"I wanted to ask you something about Voldemort."

That seemed to take Moody by surprise, though.

"Voldemort, you say? Why do you think that I am the best person for that? Ask Dumbledore for all I know."

"If he would tell me anything...", Harry grumbled before he could stop himself, but quickly continued as he realised his quiet outburst, hoping to distract Moody from it. "I just think you are the best choice for it regarding the nature of my questions..."

Moody looked at him for a long time, long enough to make Harry wonder if he should just leave, before finally answering, just moments before Harry wanted to go.

"Alright. But we will doing it in my office."

With that he left the room, leaving Harry with no choice but to follow him. Outside of the room, Ron, Hermione and Neville had waited for him, but one look from Moody had them excusing themselves with apologetic looks to Harry.

"I won't eat him, so don't look so horrified!", Moody called after them before motioning for Harry to continue following him.

Harry was a little wary to return to Moody's office after last year and found walking behind a slightly crazy old man - that was really Mad-Eye Moody now, hopefully! - didn't help much, but thankfully for the time being Moody had gotten another office it seemed, so they quickly arrived, with Harry getting ushered into the rather blank room first. Nothing like the office full of spyglasses and sneakoscopes and much more stuff from last year. Although Harry could see one of both things anyway, planted on the windowsill. Other than that, a desk and a few chairs, the room was empty, there weren't even any portraits on the wall or anything.

"So. What did you want to ask me about Voldemort that not even Dumbledore should know about, huh?", Moody asked once the door was closed behind both of them.

"Well...", Harry began nervously, still trying not to think back too much on his last experience with 'Moody' in his office, no matter that it had not been Moody back then... "I was wondering about... How Voldemort was when he was still younger... Everyone knows the crazy mass murderer part of course, but... was there never a time when he was different?"

Moody stared at him again, his Magical Eye swirling around wildly, giving him a rather creepy look...

"Why do you think I can give you the information you need?"

"Well... I want a overview about Voldemort as a whole. Everyone seems to expect me to fight him in the end and Merlin knows how often he tried to kill me now, but I still know almost nothing about him. So I thought it would be useful to know how he acted as a teenager... He can't always have been that crazy, right...? And since you probably understand the principle of "know your enemy" best, I thought you surely have some information about him..."

Again, silence stretched between them, but this time Harry waited patiently. He didn't know just how paranoid Moody was and what he might deem safe to tell, he could only hope...

And then finally, Moody actually started to talk.

"Well, when he was still in Hogwarts he was charming, managing to get basically everyone to like him. He never really had any friends though, even back then most of the people he surrounded himself with were followers. He also had a rather difficult childhood, living in a muggle orphanage during the Second World War. I personally think he tried to compensate his lack of friends with followers."

He paused for a moment, as if remembering something, before continuing. "In the beginning his goals seemed innocent enough. He wanted to separate wizards and muggles completely and promoted equality for all wizards and all kinds of magic... The type of things expected for someone with his background. Although he was exceptionally talented even back then, making people believe he actually had a chance at accomplishing it. And while many of his pure-blood followers didn't believe it was a good idea to give muggleborns the same treatment as them, most of those had some magic or another that wasn't exactly known for being innocent so they wanted to be able to use that freely. It was an easy way to gain supporters, really, although I think back then he really believed in those goals."

Harry frowned. Actually, this equality didn't sounds half bad, how the hell had that morphed into 'Dark Magic is the best let's kill all muggles and muggleborns'?

But Moody wasn't finished yet.

"He held on to this goals until shortly after he had finished school. I remember how he even came back once to apply for a teaching post, but Dumbledore - who was headmaster by then and already distrustful of him - did not want him there... After that Riddle vanished for a few years and when he came back he was already calling himself Voldemort. Most people who knew him before in the end thought he had been deceiving them and was finally showing his true colours now, but I think he went crazy somewhere on the way. I know a lot about deceiving people but Riddle had been serious in the beginning. Still, whatever the reasons, since those days he has been what everyone knows of him."

Harry thought about that. So... it might in fact be true that creating the Horcruxes had driven him mad? Although he had already had the diary in his sixth year, so it didn't necessarily have to be connected... But if even Moody thought so...?

"Do you think he could become sane again?" Harry knew the question must seem ridiculous, but he couldn't help wondering what Moody's opinion of that was.

The man scrunched up his face, as if in thought.

"Taking Dumbledore's 'Everyone deserves a second chance' philosophy to heart, are you?", he grumbled, but answered anyway, thankfully. "Well, the possibility is there, of course, you should never think something is impossible, otherwise it will one day come back to bite you. Always stay vigilant. But also don't think that you can be the one to change him, that will just lead to disappointment and your death, probably. So if he tries to kill you, don't argue with him, run. Don't try playing the hero and get killed. Understood?"

Harry nodded quickly. He knew Moody didn't know that he had already met with Voldemort and that right now, there actually seemed to be not as much killing involved, although Harry had no idea why, but still... Not that this meant he would just go up to him and trust him with anything, so he would still keep to Moody's advice. Should Voldemort decide to try and kill him again, he definitely needed to run. He wasn't even close to being prepared enough for having chances to win an actual fight.

"Good. And now, off you go, I have another class after this and need to prepare some new ways to circumvent their protections as they're seventh years."

"Of course. Thank you, sir."

"Knowing one's enemy is essential, so you're welcome. But now leave."

Harry nodded, before quickly leaving the office, breathing out a sigh of relief as he closed the door behind himself.

Well, this had gone better than he had feared, at least.

 

After talking to Shiva about what he had heard they both decided that, while it was interesting information to say the least, they would not yet act upon it. After all, even if all of this was true, the chance of it being a trick were still there and besides, they really had no reason to contact Voldemort, so Harry pushed it to the back of his mind for the time being and focussed on school...

On Monday there was another announcement from Dumbledore, surprising a lot of students as he was saying that Snape was, in fact, resigning. Nobody quite believed it but it had to be true, for the headmaster already continued, saying that Moody would stay as an intermediate teacher until he had found a replacement for Snape, causing quite a few people to groan.

Honestly, while Snape had never been very popular, Moody was downright horrible as a Potions teacher. He only assigned them the simplest of potions and still nobody ever managed to successfully finish them! There were even quite a few people that were wishing Snape back, and while most of them were, of course, Slytherins, certainly not all of them were. It was giving Harry almost a bad conscience, as he had been responsible for sending Snape to St. Mungos in the first place... But nothing could be done for the moment, so except for Hermione complaining at times that this was not fitting preparation for their O.W.L.s there was not much going on.

Professor Pyrites had inspected a few of Harry's classes, but true to his words he was mostly keeping in the background, only asking the student's opinion after the class was over or at times during the practical assignments.

Regarding their private lessons, Harry had in the end accepted the offer of learning Occlumency the fast way, which meant Professor Pyrites was now actively casting the Legilimens spell on him, although he always cast a Secrecy Ward around them and most of the time tried to keep to innocent memories while Harry did his best to keep him out. It was exhausting, but he knew that he was getting better, growing accustomed to the feeling of somebody else trying to invade his mind and finding it easier to drive that person out as long as they did not power up their spell a lot.

Still, he preferred that very much over the potential alternative of having somebody who was out do discover his secrets getting everything without him being able to defend himself against it.

 

Because of that he was in a rather good mood when he went to his third lesson of active Occlumency training on the first of February. Just yesterday Dumbledore had finally found a replacement for Snape too - an older man called Professor Slughorn, who would not only take over the Potions class but also the position as Head of House Slytherin - so today's Potions lesson would hopefully not be the hell he had begun to dread.

He knocked happily on Professor Pyrites' door as he always did, but the "Enter." that followed was not the usual chipper one, but in fact sounding rather resigned.

Frowning a little he opened the door and stepped in, just to freeze where he stood when he saw that Professor Pyrites wasn't alone.

Next to him stood none other than Dumbledore, looking thoroughly disappointed.

They were busted. Crap.

"Harry," Dumbledore said, as if it deeply pained him. "What are you doing here?"

Harry just looked at Professor Pyrites, but it was obvious that he couldn't make up a convincing lie quick enough. His teacher nodded very lightly.

He sighed. "I... came here to take a private lesson from Professor Pyrites," he said quietly, mentally cursing whatever had betrayed them. Judging from the way Professor Pyrites looked it hadn't been him, at least not voluntarily, and really, that would not have made any sense anyway. After all, he could have just told Harry if he had wanted the lessons to stop.

"But Harry, surely you realize that private lessons need to be approved by the headmaster before they are taken...?", Dumbledore asked.

"That would be my fault," Professor Pyrites interjected calmly. "I did not tell him that the lessons I offered were not authorized by you."

"But why did you feel the need to do so? Surely you realize that I cannot condone having a teacher offer private lessons to one student but not to all the others as well?"

"Of course. I just thought he might need them more urgently, with what I have heard about his adventures as of now... I know this is not an excuse, but my reasoning."

Dumbledore looked at the teacher now.

"What did you teach him, if I may ask?"

Professor Pyrites shrugged. "Nothing much. The lessons have not been going on for long. We were mostly working on his dodging skills."

Harry tried hard not to look surprised at that - not that Dumbledore would have noticed as he was fixated on the teacher, but still. His teacher was actually lying to the headmaster? Well, not really lying as to mostly omitting information, but still... That was quite surprising.

When Dumbledore looked at him for confirmation he had brought his face back under control again, nodding once he saw Dumbledore's eyes on him. The man still didn't look into his eyes, but that was all the better, really.

"Very well," Dumbledore said after a moment of silence. "This one time I will let it go, but under the premise that you will both not try such a thing again. Aquila, if you want to tutor a student privately in the future, please consult me beforehand. And Harry... I can understand that you must feel frustrated, but I assure you that I am not doing this to be mean. I just want the best for you. How about you use your new found free time to hone your Quidditch skills a little? I believe there will be a match against Hufflepuff in a month. Or you could spend some time with your friends, I am sure Mister Weasley and Miss Granger would love to see more of you after coming back from their prefect duties."

"But... what about Voldemort?", he asked, ignoring the slight flinch of Professor Pyrites. He couldn't believe Dumbledore was just telling him to basically 'go and enjoy his life' while at the same time they both knew that Voldemort was out there... targeting him, for all Dumbledore knew!

"Now, while the man is certainly a threat you are perfectly safe at Hogwarts. As you are with your relatives. You know that too, don't you? So do not worry, everything will work out in the end."

"Yes sir...", Harry mumbled quietly, trying his best to not let the anger show that was slowly starting to course through him, instead focussing on sounding as dejected as he was feeling.

"Good. Then off you go."

It was said almost merrily and Harry just muttered a quiet goodbye before leaving the room. He hurried away from it once the door was closed and to the only place where he could calm down now: The Room of Requirement.

He was slightly out of breath when he arrived, as he had run the whole way, but when the door appeared in front of him he was unbelievably relieved.

He quickly entered the room and was glad that besides his usual comfy room this time there was a larger area behind it that held a few training dummies. Some were straw, some wood and some metal, so he had a variety to work with. Quickly calling his wand into his hand - he had long since gotten used to his wand holster, so it was like a second nature to him to catch it as it shot out - he began taking out his anger on the innocent dummies. He cast mostly destructive curses, raging from Diffindo to Reducto - though firmly on the light or neutral side of the spell range - and after a good fifteen minutes of casting and seeing all the mutilated dummies he felt much better for the moment, though still pretty angry. He sat down into one of the comfy chairs by the fire and Shiva slid out from under his robes.

"Alright, what was going on? I could smell the headmaster inside of Pyrites' office... Did he catch you?", she asked, coming straight to the point. He liked that about her, at least they did not need to have pointless discussions.

"I don't get how he managed it, but yes... And the bastard even forbid me of ever training with Pyrites again! Damn it, how am I supposed to get stronger if he forbids any kind of training? He just said that I would be safe at the Dursley's and of course 'perfectly safe at Hogwarts'." He made air quotes around the last part because honestly, the worst things that had ever happened to him had happened in Hogwarts. Almost being killed by Voldemort? Almost being killed by a Basilisk? An Acromantula? A werewolf? Kidnapped by Voldemort himself? That was certainly not what he considered 'perfectly safe'.

"Really?", Shiva hissed angrily, oblivious to his internal thoughts. "He thinks sending you back to those humans is the best course of action? Another summer without any possibility of magical training or education in general?"

"Exactly! Although, since I am officially emancipated now, I think I could even use magic without any problems..." The possibilities of being able to cast magic near the Dursleys sounded pretty funny, but he was still sure he preferred not staying with them at all. He would need to see if that was possible. Shiva meanwhile still wasn't satisfied with that.

"But he does not know that you know, since he did not tell you when he had the chance! Honestly, sometimes I wonder if he even wants you to survive all of your meetings with Voldemort...!"

Harry frowned. He had thought so too at times, but still, hearing it out loud kind of made the whole thing more creepy...

"But honestly, what reason would he have to hope I won't survive?"

"That I do not know... Maybe he doesn't want to share the fame of defeating a Dark Lord and hopes you and Voldemort kill each other?"

Harry blinked. "No... honestly, I don't think he would be that evil, really. Maybe if there is something else he is not telling me besides that prophecy... Some reason why he thought me being dead was better for everyone..."

He grimaced. He really hoped he was imagining things... But the way he had been treated today...

How was he supposed to act if Voldemort ever gave up on his weird quest to make peace with him and attacked outright again? Harry wasn't sure if he would survive that. Hell, he had survived up until now only because he seemed to have a huge amount of luck and lucky coincidences surrounding him... And that wouldn't hold forever of that he was sure. So if he wanted to survive this brewing war he needed to change his tactics, obviously.

"Shiva...", he finally hissed after a moment of quiet. "I think we need to send a letter..."

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 30: Lost

Harry had just finished the letter with Shiva's help and put it away into his bag to send out later when the door of the Room of Requirement opened, making him look up, startled. Hermione and Ron knew by now that he was always busy Thursday morning and so they had begun to do some of their prefect duties during that time, like checking if certain parts of the castle were safe... And Neville preferred to sleep long the only day in the week he really could, so he couldn't be it either.

But of course not, entering the room right now was Luna.

She didn't even look surprised, just sat down on the sofa nearby with a dreamy smile.

"Hello Harry," she greeted him politely, as if it was perfectly normal to find him here and he blinked for a moment, before just going with the flow and greeting back.

"Hi Luna."

Her smile widened, before she began looking around the room.

"This is quite a chaos," she commented after she found the destroyed dummies and he winced a little. He hadn't thought of vanishing them or anything since he had not expected company. "It looks like some Umgubular Slashkilters had their fun."

"Well... yes, you could say so I guess..."

She turned to him and leant back into the sofa.

"That's nice then."

He just smiled and then there was silence for a bit since he didn't know what to say and Luna was just continuing to look around the room. Until she suddenly spoke up again.

"You know, I'm glad to see that you managed to defeat your Wrackspurt infestation."

Harry, who had kept himself busy with doodling a little on his parchment, thinking about what to do now looked up in surprise.

"Huh?"

"The Wrackspurts. Back when we were returning to Hogwarts in January, you had a lot of them flying around your head, but by now most of them are gone... Which is good, they keep people from concentrating as they constantly focus one's attention on other topics," she explained patiently and Harry stared at her some more. Was it really just a coincidence that he had stopped pondering about what to do about Voldemort's offer just today and she commented on the lack of her 'Wrackspurts'? He didn't know and she probably couldn't say either. But she was certainly more attentive than she let on.

So he finally smiled at her a little and nodded. "Yes, then I guess the infestation is gone for now. But I cannot promise that they will not come back."

"Oh do not worry, they are persistent but not unbeatable. Maybe Daddy will publish an edition of the Quibbler soon that will feature Wrackspurts. You can read up on possible counter measures there."

"I will think about it, thanks," he answered evasively and she smiled.

"Alright." Then her eyes widened a little as if she had just remembered something else. "Oh, and I wanted to say thank you again for your Christmas gift. How did you know that Nargles are allergic to mokeskin and stay away from it?"

Harry blinked in surprised and confusion, before chuckling. That was so Luna.

"Lucky guess," he said with a smile. "But I'm glad you like it. It was the least I could do after this wonderful interview. Did I ever thank you for it? I don't think so... So: thank you. I know there are not many people who will believe it, but as long as it convinced at least one more person it wasn't in vain."

Luna's smile widened even more, losing a little of its dreamy touch. "You are welcome. I know a lot of people do not believe you right now, but as anything, this will pass."

Harry returned her smile, actually feeling much calmer and generally better now. Luna could have those effects on people if she tried. "Thanks, Luna."

She kept smiling, before pulling out a Quibbler from her pocket and started reading it.

She really was one weird girl, but in the best way possible!

 

He stayed a while longer with Luna in the Room of Requirement but finally he had to leave, wanting to send off the letter before changing his mind. So he said his goodbyes and went to the Owlery, where he was greeted by Hedwig, who flew directly to him as if sensing he had a letter to send.

"Hey there girl," he said with a smile, petting her once she had landed nearby. "I know you are probably bored, but I don't really have anyone to write to right now... And the letter I want to send right now-" He shook his head. "-is just too dangerous."

Hedwig hooted angrily, as if to say that nothing was too dangerous for her.

"Look, I know you can watch after yourself, but... This time, I would prefer knowing you were safe... I mean, I do not think there will be any problems, but..." He shook his head. "I don't want to loose you, you know...?"

She still didn't seem happy about it, but he couldn't do anything. Instead, he just laid some owl treats in front of her to placate her, but she didn't touch them.

"Alright, alright... I will write a letter to Si- Snuffles, okay?", Harry muttered after a moment, caving in. He just couldn't win arguments against his owl, and considering she couldn't even talk that was saying something! "You can bring it to him and say hello to Buckbeak. How about it?"

She hooted again in indignation, but she started picking up an owl treat. So it was at least something.

To stay true to his word, Harry took out a piece of parchment and scribbled a short note to Sirius on it. Nothing big, but it actually wouldn't hurt to write him anyway.

Hey Snuffles,
I hope you are faring well and it's not too boring. School is alright, we will soon have a Quidditch match against Hufflepuff. Sadly, this is almost the only thing that is occupying my mind these days...
Still, flying is as fun as ever. How are you faring?
Give Moony my regards.
Harry

He wondered if Sirius would understand the small reference to the fact that he wasn't allowed to have Occlumency lessons with Professor Pyrites anymore. But if not, it wouldn't hurt either. When he had finished the letter he drew his wand and cast a spell on it to make the ink dry quicker, before offering it to Hedwig.

"Friends again?", he asked in an almost pleading tone and while she still looked a little disgruntled she finally held out her foot.

"Thanks Hedwig, you're the best." He stroke her feathers a few more times before she hooted again and finally flew off, now probably on her way to London.

He looked after her for a moment before taking out the other letter he had written. He quickly read through it again.

I have been thinking and the idea of a truce has its merits. If you are still interested I would suggest another conversation. Otherwise, please don't kill the owl, it's just a messenger.
H.
P.S. I think I remember how you told me you would allow what happened in our last meeting to be told to my closest friends. Well, you obviously forgot. Please fix that.

He knew it wasn't exactly nice, but if Voldemort thought Harry would be all friendly in his letter just because he was maybe thinking about a truce he was dead wrong. Although Harry had tried to stay polite, because he didn't want to anger the man either.

So he took some school owl and gave it the letter, asking it to please be careful just in case the recipient was in a bad mood, before watching as it, too, flew off.

He sighed, just hoping he wasn't making a mistake right now. But he couldn't see into the future, he would just have to wait and hope for the best.

"Harry...?", a surprised voice suddenly said, bringing him out of his thoughts and he whirled around, startled, before he recognized the voice and blinked at the owner.

"Cho? What are you doing here?"

She held up a letter with raised eyebrows and he felt like hitting himself. Of course, what else was she supposed to do in the Owlery?

"Right, sorry," he apologized, before starting to walk to the door. He should probably get back to the common room, there was still quite a bit of homework in front of him...

But before he reached the door Cho called out to him. "Wait!"

He turned around, looking questioningly at her. She blushed.

"Well... I just... You know how it's a Hogsmeade weekend soon? I just thought... Maybe we could do something together...?"

Harry's eyes widened a fraction in realization. Did she want to ask him out or something? She was rather beautiful, that he had to say, but... He didn't really think they fit together very well.

"Um... I fear I have already made plans for that weekend", he answered because of that, trying to let her down gently.

"But... it would just be a few hours... Maybe just one small meeting at Madam Puddifoot's Tea Shop?"

Harry tried not to cringe as he heard the name. He had seen that shop before at Hogsmeade and... He definitely did not want to go there. "Look, I really am busy... "

"Are you meeting up with Hermione Granger?"' she asked suddenly, making him blink.

"Well, maybe? I don't know if she'll be there." After all, maybe she and Ron would be on prefect duties, then they wouldn't have much time. But otherwise there was a good chance that the three of them might do something together.

Cho didn't seem very happy about this though. "What does she have that I don't?"

Harry frowned, not quite sure how to answer that. Was she jealous now? In the end, he opted to try a different strategy.

"Look, Cho, we don't even have a lot of things in common, do we...?"

"We're both interested in Quidditch, Seekers even," she replied instantly.

"Well, okay, but other than that?" He couldn't very well tell her that his interest in Quidditch had lessened a lot over the past few months, could he? But she didn't seem to want to back down.

"Well, we're both at least interested in getting good grades and I like Defence Against the Dark Arts too, which is one of your favourite subjects."

It was the way she was wording it - albeit surely without noticing - that made him frown internally. What did she know about what his favourite subjects or hobbies were? Sure, he liked Defence, but that was because he liked practical magic in general. Also, he didn't really care about writing good notes, he just wanted to learn, and if he did it while writing an essay for a class it was all the more motivation. She knew nothing about him, really!

Trying not to snap he tried yet another approach.

"Look, I am not sure if it is... wise to start something new so shortly after Cedric's..." He trailed off, for the second he had mentioned Cedric's name tears had appeared in Cho's eyes. Damn it, that hadn't been planned.

"L-Look, I know how this must look, but... You're the only one who understands! Y-You've been there when Cedric... when he..." She was now honestly starting to cry and Harry cursed himself. He really shouldn't have started on this topic, angry or not.

"Cho, please talk to your friends about what happened," he finally muttered quietly. "I know how hard this can be but I am not the right person to turn to for that..."

But Cho didn't seem to be appeased, she just shot him a hurt look, before actually turning around and running.

He bit his lower lip, now feeling rather guilty for making her cry, but he knew he would not make anything better if he followed her now. If anything he would probably upset her even more if he refused to talk about Cedric...

But it was the best course of action for him. After telling Shiva what had happened the nightmares had gotten a little better, but he still mostly tried to bury any memories of that night deep in his mind... Not even the Occlumency lessons had brought them forth, but one meeting with Cho could do so much more effectively than any Legilimency attempt could have done...

He really needed to be alone for a while now.

 

Sooner than anticipated, the next Hogsmeade weekend was there. And it was a special day because of two reasons. One - which was most important for many other students - was that it was the week-end before Valentine's day, so almost every couple actually wanted to go to the village to spend some bonding time there as they would not get the chance to do so on the actual day, since that would be a Wednesday. And the other one - which was more important to Harry - was the fact that he would meet Voldemort again today.

It was slightly ironical, really, how two enemies met at the day the rest of the student body dedicated to their love, but it was important for Harry. The last time he had been completely overwhelmed by what Voldemort had told him. So for today he had come prepared, thinking of at least a few questions he wanted answered.

Also, Voldemort had told him that he would take the privacy ward's confinements off of him, since that could only be done in person. And they would, of course, meet under a Truce Ward again. Although since Harry had no Curse-Breaker with him this time, Voldemort had given him a spell to research that could detect a properly cast Truce Ward. He had written that he had not known that previously, but of course, Harry should research it for himself to be sure of it's correctness.

And so he had researched, even resorting in asking for the help of Madame Pince after a wasted day in the library. He could still vividly remember how she had wanted to snap the answer at him - she always did when asked about something - before she seemed to realize that she had no answer for this once. She had vanished, leaving him feeling a little stupid, before returning two hours later with a huge, old looking leather tome containing his answer. He was even allowed to look through it after promising her to be absolutely careful with it. And so he had seen Voldemort's claim being valid. He had even asked Professor Pyrites after Defence once, as he seemed to know a lot of wards in general. And while Harry wasn't sure if his teacher believed the lie about a small side project of his he still had promised to ask his auror friend, Gawain Robards, for an answer. Which had resulted in the very same spell a few days later.

So Harry was reasonably sure that it would work and, just in case, had practised a spell that revealed if there were humans nearby, to be safe. After all, they would meet in a rather secluded space again. They had chosen the Shrieking Shack, since nobody would come too close and it was easy enough to get to when walking from Hogsmeade.

He had just said his goodbyes to Neville and Luna - who had both decided to join him as Ron and Hermione had, in fact, supervision duties for the day - and was now making his way over to the shack as he heard the whispered word.

"Stupefy!"

But his reflexes were too slow with him not actually having counted on an attack when still so close to the village, and even as he tried to jump aside the curse still hit its mark, suddenly plunging the world around him into blackness...

 

Albus Dumbledore sat in his office, his head in his hands, and sighed. He was alone, so he allowed himself this weakness for the moment, because he couldn't believe everything had gone so wrong today...

Harry Potter had vanished.

It had been a normal Hogsmeade weekend until Mr Longbottom had told Minerva how Harry had wanted to go somewhere alone and had not reappeared. At first Minerva had thought he might have forgotten the time and soothed Mr Longbottoms worries, but once it was time to go back to the castle she had been assaulted again, and this time Mr Longbottom was together with the Gryffindor prefects and Harry's friends: Mr Weasley and Miss Granger. Who had looked for him in the whole village without having any luck.

She had then sent the children back with Filius, who had been on duty too, and began looking for the boy herself, but he didn't seem to be in Hogsmeade anymore.

Once the student all were safely back in the castle the actual search began. Albus had sent the four Head of Houses out to look through the village, maybe find any hint at all where Harry could have vanished to, while the other teachers interrogated the students in the castle, trying to find out who had seen Harry last. But as of now, nobody knew anything except for the fact that Harry had been seen walking in the direction of the village exit around lunchtime. After that, nothing.

Albus sighed again, before looking at his multiple devices. Right now, all of them seemed fine, so it was unlikely that Harry was mortally injured right now and he was definitely alive... But he couldn't track him down, wherever he was prevented that from happening, so it was probably some heavily warded place.

Which made him more worried than ever. Harry would not leave like that voluntarily, so something bad must have happened and a warded place like that could only mean the worst. Albus had, in fact, thought that Voldemort might make his move at the end of the year, as he did so often, but maybe he had done it earlier this year? If so, he could only hope that the man would make a mistake, finally outing himself to the wizarding world... They needed to be aware of his return.

And preferably, Harry would return soon again, he wasn't ready yet to face the ultimate sacrifice he had to make for the Greater Good...

Albus was pulled out of his musings when somebody knocked at his door. He straightened before calling out. "Enter."

The door opened to reveal Kingsley Shacklebolt, a loyal member of the Order of the Phoenix and the person that had been able to come fastest.

"Albus, what is going on?", he asked as he saw the grave expression Albus had adopted.

"Kingsley, get the order to gather, we need to set up a search party as soon as possible. Harry Potter has gone missing."

 

When Harry awoke, the first thing he felt was that his back was hurting horribly. Then he noticed the darkness and how his movements seemed heavily restricted.

He shot up nonetheless once his thoughts had caught up with his brain. He remembered the Stupefy from behind, how he had tried to dodge it but been to slow and then... nothing.

"Hello...?", he asked softly, but there was no answer. Taking that as a sign that he was alone, he at first tried to use his emergency Portkey - to no avail, he noticed with much regret - before trying to find out how strongly his hands were tied together behind his back - for that was what was restricting his movement, probably a well-placed Incarcerous - and if he still had his wand holster.

"Master, you are awake again! Are you alright?", Shiva hissed frantically and he was immensely relieved that she was still with him.

"Yes... I think I'm okay, but my back hurts pretty badly... Do you know what happened?"

"No... You slumped suddenly and then people were talking. I could smell at least two that took you and did this... travel thing where one feels like dying afterwards."

"Apparition?", he asked, remembering her dislike for this form of travel while cursing inwardly. That meant he could be anywhere right now. And to add to his misery, the Incarcerous used to bind him had been done well, he could really barely move his arms at all.

"Yes, that. And then they threw you in here and left. I do not know why, I am sorry..."

"Don't be, it's not your fault... I shouldn't have agreed to meet with Voldemort again, I am so stupid! Of course It was a trap!"

"You think it was Voldemort?", she asked, sounding almost surprised.

"Well of course, who else?"

"I do not know. But I could not smell him, so those people must have been others."

"Death Eaters, probably..." Harry sighed, before suddenly hearing a noise from somewhere a little away. "Look, I don't know how we could escape from here, but... In case one of the guys comes near, bite him. It will cause a distraction," he quietly hissed, just moments before a loud creak and sudden light indicated a door being opened. By now he knew they had taken his wand - it seemed that despite the wand holster being invisible and secured against being taken off, the wand inside could be forced out anyway - so he was practically defenceless, but he sure hoped that he hadn't practised dodging for months without learning anything.

So when at first he winced against the light that was carried into the room - it wasn't much, but against his eyes that had been used to the darkness it felt really bright - he quickly tried to assess the situation afterwards. Four people had entered the cellar, all of them cloaked in Death Eater robes. So he had been right and it had been a trap. Damn it, he was so stupid! Believing the ideas about some sort of truce with Voldemort...!

He tried to stand up - as at least his legs weren't bound - but one of the Death Eaters pushed him back down.

"Stay down, boy!", he bellowed, holding him tightly at his shoulders. But Harry really didn't care about talking right now, and obviously, Shiva had taken his words to heart. Despite the little light making everything difficult to see he felt her moving under his robes, as quick as a flash. The man cried out, ripping his hand away from Harry, but it was too late. It wasn't like with Snape, Shiva had not bitten accidentally, injecting only a little venom. This time she had bitten to kill and within seconds the man was on the floor, choking and looking even worse than Snape had while Shiva hid herself back under Harry's robes just as quickly. But Harry had no time to look at the man the way the other three did in shock, instead scrambling upright again, trying to aim for the door, sidestepping again and again to be harder to hit. He was about halfway to the door when the three remaining Death Eaters recovered.

"Get him!", a female voice cried out.

He ran for his life as curses flew past him, and he had just reached the door as one curse hit him again and he crashed down, landing on the lower steps of the stairs, crying out in pain - he had the feeling that something might be broken as he could feel blood running down his face... Still, he tried to ignore it, to get up again, but the spell that had caught him had been a body bind, he now noticed... Damn!

He heard his attackers coming closer and cursed himself. He knew this escape plan had been rather rash, but he was sure they wanted to kill him, so what was he supposed to do? Sit and wait until they were done?

But it seemed as if he would have do do that now... He was magically turned around, so that he could see the remaining three Death Eaters, before they levitated him back into the room, towering above him, casting their shadows over him as the light hit them from behind.

"You little bastard will pay for what you did to my brother!", one of them - a woman, if Harry could trust the voice - hissed and before he could really process it already pointed a wand at him. "Crucio!"

Raw pain went through his body and despite being bound by the previous curse and his jaw being forcefully held together because of it he still screamed out, not being able to move a muscle but feeling as if he should writhe in pain, wishing for nothing more than it to be over as any other thought was gone...

He didn't know how long it continued on, for him it felt like ages thought it could not have been more than seconds, but then it was finally over and he could breathe again, panting heavily, his whole body hurting as it fought against the body bind even involuntarily now.

"Let's just end it," one of the other Death Eaters said, another man, and the woman nodded curtly.

"Fine." She then took off her mask, revealing her face, that was set in a fierce scowl that added to the fact that she wasn't exactly a beauty. "Remember my face as you die, Potter, and know that your death made our Lord stronger than ever before!"

The words were spat in his face, laced with hatred as she pointed his wand at him, now forming a malicious smile as she opened her mouth.

"Avada Kedavra!"

Chapter Text

Chapter 31: Found

The words were spat in his face, laced with hatred as she pointed his wand at him, now forming a malicious smile as she opened her mouth.

" Avada Kedavra !"

 

Harry had wanted to close his eyes, to somehow try to ignore it, but the body bind forbid it. And so he could see perfectly well how the wand of the woman did not light up. In fact, the voice that had just uttered the curse had not been female at all. The woman did not even look satisfied or anything. She looked downright shocked. And then she crumbled to the floor, her life having been forced from her by somebody else. The two remaining Death Eaters seemed stunned, but before they could even think to react there was another flash and one of them began to scream. A scream that, after a third flash, quickly turned into a gurgle as he crumbled to the ground too. The remaining one went down through a bolt of red light, and what was left was silence...

Harry tried to see the attacker, but from his position the doorway wasn't visible, so he spent a few agonizing seconds wondering what was going on, before his saviour stepped into his view, causing all of his thoughts to halt momentarily.

It was none other than Voldemort, looking at him in a mixture of rage and... was that concern? Harry would never have guessed to see this sort of expression on the man so he wasn't sure, but it seemed that way. And he even looked rather... dishevelled, with his hair being a small mess instead of very proper, the way Harry had seen before.

Not being able to even look surprised - although he certainly felt like it - he just stared until Voldemort seemed to notice the body bind and actually cancelled it with a wave of his wand!

Harry was completely confused by now, but he still slumped, thankful for the fact that whatever spell the man had used had removed his bonds too, so his arms were free again.

He breathed a little in relief, but at the same time felt horribly anxious. The last time Voldemort had released him from somewhere had led to a duel between them...

So when Voldemort suddenly came closer to him he hurriedly scrambled backwards, eyes wide with barely suppressed fear that was now slowly washing over him. "Sday away from be...!", he said, only barely noticing how weird he sounded with his broken nose as he kept crawling backwards until he hit the man that had fallen under Shiva's bite, preventing him from going further.

Voldemort frowned, as if he could not understand this reaction.

"Look, I already told you, I don't want to hurt you. Although I think you should really let me heal your nose. It's broken, in case you didn't know."

Harry just violently shook his head, not caring that it started to throb while he was doing that.

Voldemort sighed.

"Fine, be that way."

He then turned away from Harry and to the Death Eater that had collapsed last. A flick of his wand and the person was bound by dark ropes all around their body, after which Voldemort took off the mask, revealing a man in his fifties under it. He hissed in displeasure. "Gibbon. Who are the others, then? I can see Alecto, and this one..." He removed the mask from the third Death Eater around him. "Ah... Jugson. Never trusted this imbecile for a reason, then." He looked over to Harry, who flinched again, almost involuntarily. He couldn't help it, without the protection of the Truce Ward he felt like a sheep in front of a wolf, just without knowing if said wolf was a vegetarian or not...

At least Voldemort didn't comment as he pointed at the man behind Harry.

"Could you remove his mask, please?"

Trying not to be too shocked that Voldemort had actually said 'please' Harry complied, if only because he himself wanted to see the face of the man that he had killed - even if it had been indirect and in self-defence.

"Amycus. Of course. Although I am surprised that you took him down, he has been a rather nasty duellist."

Harry just shrugged, having fixed his gaze back at his nemesis... Or was it ex-nemesis? He didn't know, but a lack of vigilance had brought him down once already today, no need to make that twice.

Voldemort sighed. "Oh well, feel free to speak up once you are ready to talk to me. I will interrogate Gibbon meanwhile."

And without further ado he cast a quick spell at Gibbon, who soon after opened his eyes.

Despite the cellar - or wherever they were - being only dimly lit by the little light entering through the opened door, Harry still couldn't help but try to watch what was transpiring, since it held some sort of creepy fascination...

Gibbon first looked confused and when his gaze turned to Voldemort downright horrified.

"M-Mylord...!", he stammered, but Voldemort's face had changed from almost concerned to horribly angry in these seconds, so he broke off again.

"Gibbon," he said slowly, his tone being as cold as ice, every word dripping with venom. "Remind me, what did I tell you about Harry Potter?"

"Th-That he's not to be touched...?" It sounded more like a question, but even then Voldemort didn't seem satisfied.

"And...?"

The Death Eater swallowed. "That... if you ever find anyone h-hurting him or his closer friends... The consequences will be-"

"-severe, yes. So why, exactly, did you, Jugson and the Carrows thought it was a good idea to kidnap him, directly under Dumbledore's nose even, and then try to kill him in a secluded space?"

"I-It wasn't my idea...! The Carrows came up with it, we just-"

"I don't care, Gibbon!", Voldemort interrupted. "I couldn't care less who of you thought about it, who planned it and who did it, I want to know why."

The man stayed quiet, but so did Voldemort and Harry had no idea what was transpiring right now until the man began to whimper, fighting against the ropes holding him... Voldemort was obviously doing something, seeming rather concentrated. Was that what real Legilimency looked like...?

And then it was over and Voldemort scoffed at the man again. "That was your great plan? Pathetic. It would never have worked. And now, face the consequences for your insulting actions." Without pausing, he pointed his wand directly at the man's chest.

"Avada Kedavra!" The man instantly went limp.

Harry's eyes widened.

"Why did you do dad?", he asked, his voice a mixture of fear and disbelief.

Voldemort turned to him, his eyebrows raised.

"Oh, so you are talking to me now...", he commented dryly, before answering the actual question. "Why did I do what? Interrogate him? Because he defied me in a most unpleasant way and I needed to find out why and if somebody else was behind this."

Harry frowned. "I beand gilling hib!" Merlin was he sounding pathetic... But all the blood really didn't help.

"What should I have done instead? Let him run around telling everyone that it's not so bad if one breaks my rules, causing more people who are currently unhappy to openly rebel? Obliviating him of today, making it probable that he will rebel again because he forgot that it already didn't work? Obliviate him completely for an endless stay in St. Mungos? I think death was the friendliest alternative here."

Harry still didn't believe that, there surely would have been a better solution, but at the same time he knew he had lost this argument as he, in fact, couldn't give Voldemort a valid alternative right now, despite trying to think of one.

So Voldemort only shrugged after a few seconds of silence.

"There you have it." He then looked back to Harry. "Would you let me look at your nose now? You are loosing quite a bit of blood there, it looks rather bad."

Harry tensed, shaking his head a little again before staring as Voldemort's face suddenly changed again, as if he had forgotten something. He turned around and looked through the three corpses that were lying around him, until he straightened with a small, triumphant smile.

"There it is." He looked once more to Harry, showing the object to him. It was his wand. "That belongs to you, right?"

Harry nodded slowly before tensing again as Voldemort walked over to him. But the man stopped a few feet away from him, throwing him the wand. Harry just barely caught it, his Seeker reflexes helping with that, before staring at it, then at Voldemort and back again. He didn't want to duel or anything, the way it had happened last year, right...?

"Now, can I look at you nose? It is rather starting to annoy me and it's not even me that is hurt. I won't do anything else, just healing the fracture. You just need to stand up for I will not be crouching in front of you."

Harry still hesitated. His nose was starting to hurt rather badly now that a lot of adrenaline had left his body - despite sitting in front of Voldemort, but the man was just looking so different and acting so out of character it was hard to keep the constant fear and anxiety there - but the possibility of everything being a trick still remained... Didn't it?

"Harry, if I had wanted to kill you, I just had the perfect opportunity. In fact, I just killed three people that had wanted to hurt you. So just let me have a look at your face." He was sounding slightly frustrated by now, enough to make Harry stand up, simply because this was all getting too surreal. Maybe it would get better if Voldemort didn't look so... concerned anymore...!

So he stood in front of the man, shaking a little still - if it was fear, blood loss or the aftereffects of the Cruciatus Curse from before he didn't know - and his wand clutched tightly in his hand while he waited what the man would do. In the end, he wouldn't win a fight against him right now anyway so he could just hope that there would be nothing like that.

"Fine..."

Voldemort seemed almost a little surprised, but still came closer.

"I will have to look at the wound before healing it," he said, as if talking to a scared animal. Well, maybe the comparison wasn't too far off as Harry did feel like he stood before some kind of predator... Still, he nodded and Voldemort raised his wandless hand, gripping his chin lightly to turn his face a little to the side.

Harry was kind of surprised to notice how the touch did not hurt at all. He had come to expect pain when Voldemort was involved so to feel the man's fingers at his chin without any pain whatsoever stemming from that - so different than back at that horrible graveyard - was... rather relieving.

Although the sudden gasp from the man set him instantly on edge again. Voldemort was... gaping at him?

"Whad? Whad's wrong?", Harry asked, bewildered. But nothing could have prepared him for what he heard next.

"What kind of idiot was I? How could I have been so stupid not to see? God damn it!"

Now, Harry was the gaping one. He had never heard Voldemort actually cursing! What was going on?

Voldemort seemed to notice his expression too now, as his expression calmed a little.

"What's wrong?"

Harry stared. "You swore..."

Now Voldemort was staring again. What was this, another round of 'let's all look surprised at each other for a moment'? But then he caught himself and took a deep breath, as if to calm himself.

"Alright, I think we have a few things we need to talk about. And I fear you will not like some of them. But let's get your nose out of the way first."

With that, he pointed his wand directly in Harry's face, and before the latter could do anything more than blink he cast. "Episkey."

Harry almost dropped his wand at the weird sensation going through his nose, but after just a moment it was over already and when he used his free hand to touch his nose it felt perfectly alright again... He really loved magic.

"There, that's better, right?", Voldemort commented, making Harry realize that it had still been the Dark Lord who had healed him. It was just so weird...

"Evanesco," Voldemort continued, vanishing the fresh blood that had been running over Harry's face, before actually conjuring two rather comfortable looking chairs in the middle of the room, as well as a ball of light floating to the ceiling, finally shedding some proper light around. "Since I am reasonably sure you will not want to leave this place together with me right now but we still have quite a few things to talk about, let's do this right here and now, alright?" He reached into his pockets, making Harry flinch again, but he just pulled out some small, white object, throwing it to the ground where it shattered into a million pieces. Harry felt a slight tingle going through him that somehow reminded him of the way Professor Pyrites had always cast his privacy wards before their newest Occlumency lessons... And true to that, Voldemort explained what he had done right now.

"This was a privacy ward, about as strong as the last one we met under. Although, before I forget: You may talk about our last meeting to your trusted friends. But they will not be able to discuss it further with other people not in the know, and you may not tell anything of it to Dumbledore. The same goes for this meeting now. Your friends, but not Dumbledore."

Harry didn't feel any different, but he hoped that this would actually help. Although he was surprised that Voldemort had actually allowed this. In fact, he had been rather sure by now that the whole 'I will allow you to tell other people later' thing had just been a lie to get him to come... But he would see about that later.

So for the time being, and because he did not see any other possibility right now as he didn't even know where he was and kind of wanted to know what Voldemort had to say, even if he was acting so very... out of character, basically, he sat down on one of the chairs now, waiting for the other to start.

Said man took the other chair just across from him and then began to speak.

"Thank you. Now, about my reaction just now: First of all I want to say that I did not know about what I'm about to tell you. Had I known... Well, I think a lot of things would have been very different."

Harry frowned. What exactly was he talking about? But he would hear in a second as Voldemort seemed to take a deep breath before continuing.

"You're a Horcrux."

"What?!" Harry gaped at him, wondering if he had just misheard him. "You're joking, right...?"

Voldemort shook his head.

"No. I am absolutely sure. I felt it when I touched your face before. This feeling, I only get it with Horcruxes."

"Then why didn't you notice it before?", Harry asked sceptically, remembering the scene at the graveyard all too well for his liking. He had felt so much pain back then even as Voldemort had just touched him...

"I do not know. My best guess is that my sense of that was... hindered by the insanity. But I am absolutely certain."

Harry closed his eyes, leaning back in his chair in a mixture between shock and resignation. He was a Horcrux. That meant... a part of Voldemort was... inside of him. The same way the diary in second year-

Harry paused. Second year. Where he had destroyed what he now knew was one of Voldemort's Horcruxes. The year, when in the end he had been so very afraid of turning out like Tom Riddle, that the hat had put him in the wrong house... He opened his eyes wide again as realization hit him. Dumbledore knew!

"Dumbledore? What does he know?", Voldemort asked, confusion evident in his words, making Harry realize had had spoken his last thought out aloud. Damn it.

But at the same time, if he was right, if he remembered correctly... then Shiva had spoken the truth. Dumbledore might really want to see him dead after all. And even if he didn't yet, if he really was a Horcrux then Dumbledore would realize that sooner or later and would expect Harry to die to defeat Voldemort... Basically it meant that if he stayed of Dumbledore's side he was as good as dead. He sighed deeply before looking up at Voldemort, feeling sick.

"Dumbledore probably knows that I am a Horcrux. Or at least he strongly suspects." Voldemort seemed rather shocked by this, but now that he was talking Harry didn't want to stop. "Back in my second year I was really insecure about being in Gryffindor. There was this talk about me being the Heir of Slytherin and I felt that I had a lot of similarities to you. Or at least your Horcrux. Back then Dumbledore told me about how people are defined depending on the choices they make and everything, but he also told me, completely casually, that the night you tried to kill me... A part of you had most probably been put into me... He told me a part of you lived inside of me."

Harry still couldn't quite believe it, but the longer he thought about it the more sure he was. He had spent almost his whole summer holidays after that revelation coming to terms with it, because despite the casual way Dumbledore had announced it he had found it rather disturbing to have a part of his nemesis inside of himself...

Voldemort was silent for a while, leaving Harry to mull about the situation he was in now. He could either continue to fight Voldemort on Dumbledore's side, knowing that when the headmaster thought the time was right he would get sacrificed as without the Horcrux in him dying Voldemort could not die.

He could also try to stay neutral, leaving Voldemort and Dumbledore to fight one another, but when the time came, Dumbledore would surely still try to get him to make the ultimate sacrifice - or would sacrifice Harry himself if necessary.

Or he could join Voldemort's side... But he couldn't do that with a clean conscience either, for he had no real idea what the man's plans were. Although if he was a Horcrux he would be reasonably safe, right...? He couldn't imagine Voldemort killing him if it meant killing his own Horcrux. Especially not if one considered that Harry was no threat to him anymore. Because even if he had wanted, he simply couldn't kill Voldemort without killing himself too. And in that case, Voldemort still had more Horcruxes. So as long as he didn't actively work against Voldemort the man really had nothing to fear of him anymore... Not that he seemed particularly intent on killing Harry anymore anyway.

"Well, it is unfortunate, but not very surprising, really. The old meddler always knew too much about me," Voldemort was finally saying, making Harry frown a little once his brain had caught up with his words.

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, Dumbledore had it out for me since he met me for the first time. I am sure he thought even back then that I was an evil kid. I will admit that I wasn't very pleasant, but growing up in an orphanage does this to children. But I certainly was not evil back then." Voldemort grimaced, making Harry keep staring. It was still so weird to see Voldemort, the epitome of a crazy mass murderer, act so very... human. "Anyway, this is a tale for another time I'd say as it has nothing to do with our problem at hand. Which would be you being a Horcrux. But I do not have a solution in case you were wondering. Living things are not normally used as Horcruxes, because they have a soul of their own. Unforeseen things can happen when a soul suddenly has to share a body with a part of another."

Harry snorted. Yes, he could easily believed that. After all, it certainly was not normal to be able to look into other people's heads. And of course, the ability to speak Parseltongue...

"Which reminds me," Voldemort continued to speak, ignoring Harry's outburst. "You were telling me that I swore before, remember?"

Harry nodded, turning his thoughts away from being a Horcrux for the time being to remember this particular weirdness.

"Yes. I wouldn't have thought you would do that."

"Well, I don't. You shouldn't have been able to understand that at all."

Harry frowned. To him, that had been loud and clear. Or at least, mostly, it had only sounded a little hissy- Oh. He felt like hitting himself now for missing that little detail.

"It was Parseltongue, wasn't it?", he asked, not seeing any sense in trying to lie about it now.

"Yes. I was not aware you were able to speak it, despite it making sense knowing what we have just learned," Voldemort answered, making Harry raise his eyebrows.

"You really didn't know? I thought everyone did by now..."

"What do you mean by that?"

Harry shrugged.

"Like I said, in second year, the whole school was gossiping about me being the heir of Slytherin. Just because I spoke to a snake, telling it not to attack a fellow student."

"This is... remarkably short-sighed."

Harry snorted. "Welcome to my life," he commented dryly. "Where people love to change their mind regarding me every few months."

"My sympathies."

If the situation hadn't been so surreal Harry might have laughed, he would never have thought to hear these words from Voldemort of all people.

But before one of them could say anything more Harry's stomach suddenly began to rumble. He blushed, embarrassed by that, but at the same time he noticed that he didn't know what time it was. He had no idea how much time had passed since his kidnapping and he only realized right now that he hadn't even thought to ask.

And Voldemort actually chuckled! As if destiny wanted to prove to him that his day could get weirder still...

"You must be hungry. You were out for... About nine hours, at least."

"What?!" Harry's eyes widened. In fact, he had thought it had been maybe a few hours. Merlin, he needed to go back! Everyone would be looking for him! He jumped up.

"Harry, keep calm," Voldemort said. "They are already looking for you, what difference does it make if you return a few hours later?"

"But they're worrying!" He didn't even know why he was still talking, he needed to get back to Hogwarts! He wondered if he would be able to apparate to Hogsmeade... But better not risk it, he wasn't that good with apparating larger distances yet...

"And what do you think you should tell them about what happened? 'Oh, I got kidnapped by Death Eaters but then Lord Voldemort showed up and killed them'?"

That made Harry freeze. Damn it, he hadn't thought of that... But still, he didn't want to back down now.

"I'll think of something."

"That's so Gryffindor," Voldemort muttered, looking as if he wanted to roll his eyes but thankfully refrained from doing so, instead just looking at him. "Well, then do so. Imagine I was Dumbledore, asking what happened. What would you say?"

Harry stared at him, wondering if he was serious, but he definitely seemed so. Harry tried to think about possibilities, but had to agree after a moment that it was harder than he had thought. He was sure that despite everything the public would be interested in hearing what had happened too and he couldn't mention Voldemort to them at all without sounding like the deluded, attention-seeking kid they were currently painting him as. But Dumbledore wouldn't believe anything he could tell the media... How close to the truth was he supposed to stay?

"Time's up," Voldemort said suddenly. "If you did not say anything by now Dumbledore would definitely suspect something. So, are you sure you do not want to eat something now and think about what to tell him in peace? It's already past ten anyway, they will survive to worry one night."

Harry sighed. He knew that Voldemort was right, but at the same time... What was he supposed to do? He didn't exactly want to stay in a cellar with four corpses...

"What do you propose, then?

Voldemort thought for a moment before reaching into his pocket. Harry stiffened instinctively, but the man only pulled out an innocent looking ring.

"I have an idea... But you will have to let me finish speaking before arguing, alright?"

Harry grimaced, already guessing that he would not like the proposal, but nodded anyway.

"I could take you to my current hideout." "Are you crazy?!" "What did I just say about interrupting? Just listen for a moment." He waited for a moment to ensure Harry was quiet again before continuing. "I would apparate us directly into my private quarters. No Death Eater that might be in the house would notice. This ring here has a glamour charm imbued, so it would offer additional protection. And if worst would come to worst... You know, being a Horcrux has its advantages."

Harry just stared, sceptically. He couldn't imagine anything good coming from having a piece of a Dark Lord inside - well, except for being able to talk to snakes, which he was liking quite a bit, but even then this brought some problems.

"Well, there are very few possibilities to destroy a Horcrux," Voldemort explained. "And because of that its... container is protected against almost everything too. I could put a Horcrux into a glass figurine and it would not burst anymore, no matter how strong it's thrown. Also, a Horcrux container is immune to most spells."

"Well, that certainly doesn't count for living ones then," Harry had to interject, grumbling a little, remembering how often he had already broken bones, received cuts or being beaten by Dudley in the past...

"Well, normally spells against non-living containers are meant to destroy the Horcruxes within. So basically, I am reasonably sure that you, as of now, cannot die through normal means."

Harry stared at Voldemort disbelievingly. Did he really think so? That sounded even crazier than everything he had said before.

"I know it sounds rather implausible, but I do have another living Horcrux. She got hit by a stray Killing Curse once and while the caster of said curse met a rather... drastic end, she survived. She didn't even really feel it. And normal Horcruxes are not destroyed through a Killing Curse either. That means even if a Death Eater would enter my chambers, somehow being able to look past the glamour to recognize you and throw a deadly curse at you that I could not deflect in time you most probably would not die. Is that sufficient safety for you?"

Harry was slowly starting to develop a headache... All of this made no real sense to him! But he also saw no sense in arguing, for Voldemort seemed to have an explanation to everything! That didn't mean he wouldn't ask some more questions though.

"Where did you even get this ring from? Isn't it awfully convenient to have this at hand just now?", he asked, looking at the small object in Voldemort's hand.

"I have carried it around with me for a while already, just in case," the man answered, making Harry raise an eyebrow.

"Just in case of what? That I suddenly get kidnapped and you need me to stay the night at your base?", he asked wryly.

"Of course not. But your looks are rather well-known. So I prepared it just in case you ever actually would want to use something coming from me. Alternative looks can be very helpful. I am using those myself at times. They are not as safe as Polyjuice Potion regarding their chance of being discovered, but they hold much longer than both the potion and normal glamour charms and do not need the wearer to cast magic."

"Why is it that not everyone is using those, then?". Harry couldn't help but ask.

Although that caused Voldemort to smirk a little. "They are my own creation. And obviously, no other wizard thought about how practical they are as of yet. Or at least nobody showed those to the world."

Well, that was actually a decent enough explanation Harry guessed. Despite everything, he didn't really have it in him to argue any longer. He was tired, hungry and dirty, he felt horrible in this small cellar and horrible at the idea that Dumbledore would want him dead...

Yes, it really was time for something reckless now he supposed.

"Fine, I'll come with you."

He couldn't quite believe the smile tugging on Voldemorts lips following that statement, but the man didn't seem to mind, just holding out the ring to Harry, who slipped it on his finger.

Thankfully it fit and there was just some small tickling sensation over his body before it returned to normal. Did it work...?

"Alright, your appearance has changed, let's go," Voldemort unknowingly answered his mental question. "Have you Side-Along-Apparated before?"

Harry frowned.

"Well, yes, but aren't there Anti-Apparition-Wards around the property or something...?"

"Oh, sure, but this was Jugsons home. He lived alone and made me his heir in case of his death. Many Death Eaters do. So technically this is my home too now, the wards already recognized that."

Harry stayed sceptical, but grabbed Voldemort's arm anyway. It wasn't his problem if they couldn't apparate after all.

But they could, and so the two of them were soon sucked into the void, to be spat out again at whatever place Voldemort called his hideout...

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 32: The Dark Lord's Tale

When the sensation of apparition stopped Harry tenderly opened his eyes, a little afraid of what he would see. A part of him still feared that all of this was a trick, after all. But he found himself in a spacious bedroom. He could see a comfortable looking double bed, two armchairs and a sofa in front of a big fireplace and a huge wardrobe. And everything looked so... muggle that it was almost strange.

"It doesn't look like one would imagine it, does it?", Voldemort commented from next to him and Harry couldn't help but nod. He had always imagined everything to be... darker, maybe in Slytherin colours, but actually the wood was a light brown and the dominating colours were light blues and greens.

"It's... surprisingly normal," he said after a moment, making Voldemort chuckle.

"Well, it did not originally belong to me. But the former owner died - not caused by me, before you ask - and since the location was rather secluded I took it as a base of operations for the time being. We really need something better, but it's working. And it is rather interesting to see pure-blood Death Eaters dealing with muggle technology."

Harry wasn't sure if he could agree in finding this interesting, but that was mostly because he didn't like Death Eaters in general. For he couldn't deny seeing a certain humour in watching the wizarding world in general deal with muggle things. He just needed to remember his trip to the Quidditch World Cup last year and how they had tried to build their tent the muggle way.

"Anyway," Voldemort continued. "Let's sit down for a moment and eat. Just choose wherever you want to sit."

He gestured to the fireplace and Harry slowly sat down on one of the armchairs. At least it was halfway comfortable, although he really hoped he wouldn't dirty it too much. For while he had not seen himself in a mirror yet he was pretty sure that his robes had been a lot cleaner before his stay in the cellar.

Meanwhile, Voldemort called a house-elf and asked for a nice dinner for two before seating himself on the sofa at the opposite side of Harry, conjuring a low table to be able to eat from with a wave of his wand between them, before erecting another privacy ward with the wand movements Harry had seen from Professor Pyrites too.

"So... While we wait for the food, let's talk some more. I am sure you had some questions that you wanted to ask me during our planned meeting, didn't you?"

Harry blinked. It was true, of course, but honestly, this morning felt like it had been so far away, so much had happened in between... Still, if he thought about it for a moment at least some of the questions did come to his mind again, so he nodded.

"I wanted to know something about your goals. I mean, I asked somebody about them, but... I am not sure I got the whole view. I mean, your old goals sounded pretty good, so what changed? How can you go from 'equality for all' to 'muggles and muggleborns need to die'? What happened?"

"My life," Voldemort answered dryly, making Harry stare at him blankly, getting the feeling that the answer to this question was bigger than anticipated.

"What do you mean with that?"

Voldemort closed his eyes, seemingly thinking about how to answer that. Harry wondered if he was just unsure about how much to tell him or if he was trying to think of a convincing lie, but when he opened his eyes again they at least seemed honest enough.

"For that I will have to explain a little bit more about my childhood, I'm afraid, so it might need a while." Harry just shrugged. He was now really curious. And knowing more about the man's childhood could have it's advantages. As long as it was true. "Do you remember how I told you before that I was... not exactly the nicest child?"

Harry nodded and Voldemort continued.

"Well, while I cannot deny that I always was a rather... difficult child, I had the problem of growing up in an orphanage in the forties. There was a war raging in the muggle world, a lot of orphans filled the orphanages and money was always a problem. How much time do you think they invest into a difficult child? So I was never the most popular child and once my magic started to manifest... Well, it wasn't funny. So of course, even as a child I began to search for power, to get stronger than the other children... I am not sure it is easy to understand, but children can be very cruel at times."

Harry couldn't help but snort humourlessly. Oh yes, he knew exactly how cruel children could be. Although he only had Dudley and his gang to deal with, not a bunch of orphanage children. Instead, he had his aunt and uncle. He wondered briefly who of them had gotten the better deal.

"I assume you had quite a few experiences with it in Hogwarts, so you may have an idea, yes," Voldemort said, oblivious to Harry's actual thoughts. All the better, really, if he didn't know. "But anyway, while my stays at Hogwarts were great - you may have heard already that I was a brilliant student and very interested in learning everything I could - I had to go back to the orphanage every summer, despite me basically begging Dippet - who was headmaster back then - and Dumbledore every year to stay somewhere else."

"Oh, Dumbledore likes sending people back to where they are hated every summer," Harry muttered darkly, remembering all too well his own pleads to not make him go back to the Dursleys anymore. The headmaster had declined even when he had no right to that anymore!

"What do you mean by that?", Voldemort asked, surprise in his words, but Harry just shook his head. He had already said too much regarding that topic, really. Thankfully, Voldemort seemed to be fine with ignoring that for the time being, instead continuing his story.

"Whatever. My goals always were total separation from the muggles in hopes that no other wizarding child had to live through the same as I did. And during my stay at Hogwarts I had met enough children that actually felt the same. But to realize that I needed power, so I learned everything that was necessary, including Dark Magic. I always thought I could use it for good anyway, there were enough spells that could work both ways. But at the same time I was extremely afraid of dying. The war raged on in the muggle world and while I was safe at Hogwarts I had to live through it every summer again, and without magic too as I was still a minor. So when I found out about the idea of a Horcrux I didn't care how difficult it was to create one, or how horrifying the ritual would be. Although I had intended to make a Horcrux out of somebody who deserved it, that Myrtle died had not been planned, nor wanted."

"But you did open the Chamber of Secrets" Harry said, frowning. "The Basilisk was petrifying students left and right, what was your reason behind that if not to kill?" That didn't quite fit in after all...

"I have to admit, I had been rather... naïve. I had discovered the Chamber of Secrets and was overly proud of myself since I could talk to the Basilisk inside. She was a beauty and I released her regularly from her prison - for nothing else was the Chamber for her - to let her roam around freely. But she had lived most of her life with Salazar Slytherin, who was well-known for his views on blood-purity and so half of the time when I let her out she went... hunting. Of course, I do not want to say that I am innocent, to blame everything on her, I didn't care about the petrified students either, for I am not a human lover at all. But it was just petrification after all. Something that could be reversed. When she actually killed the first student I left her in the chamber, as despite me using Myrtle's death for that first Horcrux I had not wanted anyone innocent to die."

Harry listened intently, for he had to say that Voldemort really was a good speaker, but he still wasn't sure about all of this. It sounded so... convenient.

"So after her death you went crazy or...?"

"Not quite. I mean, I think it began back then, yes, but for a while I felt just great, having assured myself immortality, working with new vigour towards my goals. But over the next months I grew frustrated... Having only half a soul makes a person feel very much incomplete. And while I managed to ignore that feeling as long as I was in Hogwarts, it hit me badly during the summer. And in the end, I was driven to make another Horcrux, hoping the pain would lessen once it was done. Back then, I had not yet known how, but when I visited my father that summer it wasn't a hard decision. You know, I had always thought my father was the wizard, thinking my mother too weak for dying after giving birth to me, but he was not. He was a muggle and he hated me and my mother with a passion. You see, she had drugged him for years with a love potion. I do not know why she stopped, but she did and my father left her at once. If viewed objectively it is, of course, understandable, but back then I was sixteen and I couldn't deal with the hatred I received from my father and his parents... So I lashed out, killing them in the process. And so I had the means to create a second Horcrux."

He paused for a moment, actually looking pained and Harry couldn't help but pitying him, even if he wasn't sure if this all was an act or not.

"To summarize the rest of the tale: I lived with two Horcruxes until after I had finished school, until Dumbledore was already headmaster and turned me down as a teacher for Defence Against the Dark Arts."

"You wanted to be a Defence teacher?", Harry couldn't help but ask, not being able to imagine that.

"Yes. Dippet had even told me I would surely get that position if I re-applied in a few years, for I had been a little young directly after school. But of course, Dumbledore didn't even consider it. And without any kind of stable goal in mind I had a lot of time on my hands. Time, in which the hole those first two Horcruxes ripped into my soul tore at my sanity until it had me convinced that more Horcruxes were necessary if I ever wanted to stay alive, for the two I had could be found and destroyed too easily. I grew paranoid and short-tempered and I began looking for valuable things I could turn into a Horcrux... Well, suffice to say I found them, and subsequently lost even more of my soul and subsequently my sanity. And when I re-emerged from the shadows I had all but forgotten my original idea, being driven by hatred against the people I had always hated, just a hundred times stronger: My father and the people in the orphanage. Muggles. And muggleborns coming from loving families began to feed my envy."

He was looking into the fire by now, seemingly completely absorbed into his tale, not even noticing how his house-elf had brought some food by now, silently placing it on the table before leaving again. "Yes, I acted wrongly and I do not know if I would create this first Horcrux again if I could go back right now, knowing what happened because of that. But at the same time, there is no use regretting your past actions for nothing you do will ever change those. I will try to make it better now, getting Great Britain to the place I had always wanted it to be: A place without racism and fake separations of 'good' and 'dark' magic."

"You know, that sounds an awful lot like some sort of recruitment speech," Harry commented after a moment of silence, this being the first thing going through his mind. He knew it was rather mean to say so, but... Damn it, worded like that it sounded almost as if there had been reasons behind Voldemort's actions! Really, Harry had always imagined him just being evil, never having been anything different... It would have been an easier view, but after this tale - if it was true, he would need to remember and research some of those facts - it was rather difficult to do so. Just as he was not able to see Dumbledore as the ultimate good guy anymore since his last summer holidays.

He leaned back into his armchair, thinking about everything he had just learned. It was rather creepy how similar Voldemort and himself had been, hated by muggles, being forced to go back to them every summer... He wondered if history would have turned out differently if Voldemort had been sorted into another house. Maybe gotten some friends? Or had he been to damaged even back then? Harry could imagine both, he knew how close he had come to breaking himself, being an isolated boy in a world where everyone close to him had at least disliked him, if not outright hated. He didn't know how he had survived that without going insane to be honest. But he had, and that was what was important.

Thankfully, Voldemort interrupted his train of thoughts when he spoke up again.

"This was... a rather deep topic. I hope it did not overwhelm you. I do not expect you to condone my actions, but did it help with understanding my motivations and change of goals a little better?" Harry nodded quietly. "Good. That was all I wanted. Now, let us eat, I believe you are starving and I myself haven't eaten for a few hours."

 

The meal was a quiet one, which meant Harry's thoughts continued to stay on what Voldemort had told him, but at the same time he was rather glad to be eating again. With only very little to eat over most summers he might have been used to not getting regular food, but during the school year with all the Hogwarts meals his body grew accustomed to being fed three meals a day, which made it surprisingly annoying if he did miss one or two then.

But the food here was rather tasty, the house-elf - or -elves if there were more than the one Harry had seen - was doing a really good job and Harry made sure to thank it when it appeared to take away the dishes, making it smile a wide smile and bow deeply.

Voldemort just stared at him for a moment at that, before opening his mouth, as if to say something. But in just that moment a hesitant knock was heard through the room and his expression turned into a frown.

"Wait here," he muttered, before leaving the room through one of the two doors Harry could see from where he sat. Although the knocking hadn't come from them, for that it had sounded too far away. Maybe there was another room between the door Voldemort had just left through and wherever other people were allowed to go? Harry didn't know and as Voldemort had closed the door behind him he couldn't even eavesdrop.

He busied himself with looking around, still slightly disbelieving in the fact that this innocent looking room belonged to Voldemort, while he tried to keep his eyes open. After now having properly eaten it was becoming rather difficult to fight of the fatigue that had been with him for a while now, he was absolutely knackered. But he didn't really want to let his guard down right now, which posed a problem...

Thankfully Voldemort returned only moments later, although his news were not quite as good.

"This was a Death Eater just now. They noticed how your kidnappers suspiciously all went missing at the same time. I will probably need to go and make some damage control. I would suggest you staying here, no Death Eater would ever dare to come inside, especially not without me present. And if they would, the might find some unpleasant surprises. It should only take a few hours and you can use anything you can find here. The bed, the bathroom behind this door" he pointed at the other door Harry could see. "and also read any book from the shelves. Some are magical, some are muggle, whatever you prefer. Would that be agreeable?"

Harry hesitated, not really sure what to say. Did he have a choice? But at the same time without Voldemort next to him he might feel a little safer, even if it was his room, basically... So he nodded after a moment.

"Good. Then I will be back once I solved this problem. It should only take one or two hours." He turned around, walking back to the door, with Harry's eyes following him, before he looked over his shoulders for a moment. "Thank you for listening."

And with that he was gone, leaving Harry to his fight against being tired and the thoughts about what to do for now.

 

When Harry opened his eyes, he was rather confused. Why wasn't he sleeping in a bed, but in an armchair? Had he fallen asleep in the common room? But he didn't recognize the fireplace in front of him... Which was when it hit him. Right, he was at Voldemort's base! He shot up, letting a blanket fall from his shoulders that hadn't been there before and startling Shiva in the process, who tightened her grip in response. How could he have fallen asleep, he had wanted to stay vigilant!

He quickly thought back tot he previous evening. At first he had talked to Shiva for a while, trying to somehow process the events that had happened and the drastic change in Voldemort's behaviour. It hadn't helped much, but at least he had been able to lighten the pressure on his shoulders a little by sharing the events with her. Also, he had afterwards advised her to stay hidden for the time being, since despite Voldemort now knowing about his ability to speak Parseltongue he didn't need to reveal her to him yet.

Afterwards he had been even more tired, but had still tried to stay awake, had even taken some rather interesting book about healing magic to read! But he must have fallen asleep meanwhile, he didn't even remember Voldemort coming back from his meeting with the Death Eaters...

"Good morning, Harry," a voice from behind him suddenly spoke and he whirled around, almost falling off the chair in the process. Voldemort was standing there, leaning against the bedpost, looking rather well-groomed and surprisingly calm.

"Voldemort," Harry said, trying to stay on his guard around the man, although still being rather sleepy, which didn't really help.

And Voldemort... huffed?

"Could you stop calling me 'Voldemort' as if I would start to curse you every moment now...?"

Harry frowned.

"Well, for all I know you could."

"You know why I wouldn't. Even if you don't believe in my change of heart, you know the facts. Even my crazy self wouldn't have outright tried to kill you anymore if it had known."

Harry didn't reply, still doubtful, although the man had a point there. He couldn't imagine 'crazy Voldemort' outright killing his own Horcrux... So instead, Harry returned to the topic at hand.

"So, what should I call you instead? There is no way I will start grovelling like most of your Death Eaters seem to do."

At that, Voldemort actually grimaced.

"Merlin, no! It's bad enough to see them doing it without question, I don't need another mindless minion. Maybe call me Marvolo."

Now it was Harry's turn to grimace.

"'Marvolo'? That sounds just as bad as 'Voldemort' to me. Does that come from 'Tom Marvolo Riddle'?" Voldemort stiffened a little and Harry took that as a yes. "Can't I just call you 'Tom', then, if I have to use another name?" At least that would be shorter and in fact, the man in front of him did look a lot more like his memory of 'Tom Riddle' than what Voldemort was supposed to look like in Harry's eyes.

But he didn't seem very happy.

"No way. I hate that name."

"Well, it's either that or Voldemort," Harry replied. He had no wish to stroke the man's ego any more than absolutely necessary, so if he would comply to this request it would be on that way. No matter how much Voldemort might dislike the name, 'Tom' fit him much better than 'Marvolo' anyway.

Silence stretched on for a few seconds and it seemed like a battle of wills, who would back out first, except that Harry had no reason to do so, so Voldemort was basically fighting a lost cause here.

He seemed to have noticed too, for he sighed now.

"Fine, then call me Tom. But refrain from doing so in front of my followers, please."

"Sure, whatever." Harry didn't want to talk to Death Eaters anyway, so that was easy enough. Now, starting to think of Voldemort as Tom in his mind... That would probably be a little more difficult. But maybe it would help if he split the man into two personas, with Voldemort being the evil madman and Tom being this... nice version of the man. He was acting so very different now, it wasn't even hard. And Harry could still revert to calling him Voldemort if everything turned out to be one elaborate plan to... do whatever. He really didn't know what kind of goal such a plan could have, so he ignored it for the time being.

Instead, he focused back on the present, and a topic they hadn't even begun to discuss yet.

"So, Tom," he began, a little amused at the man's disgruntled facial expression. "you were so adamant about me needing a plan for what to tell the people when I come back, right? Could we come to that part now?

Instantly, Vol- Tom's face changed to form a small smirk.

"In fact, I have an idea in mind you might like... How good of an actor are you?"

Harry blinked. That was a weird question, but he still shrugged.

"Okay I guess. Depending on how much I can feel whatever I'm supposed to say. Why?"

Tom's smirk broadened as he began to explain his plan, and when he was finished Harry couldn't help but smirk a little himself.

Oh, that would be brilliant.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 33: Harry Potter returns!

Rita Skeeter was so very frustrated this morning, as she sat in the Leaky Cauldron - for her dwindling money was not allowing her to go to her usual places anymore thanks to that bushy haired menace Granger - and read the headlines of the Daily Prophet.

Harry Potter gone missing - another ploy to seek attention?

She scoffed internally at the headline. How the Daily Prophet painted him as a lying attention seeker was so pathetic. Oh, she would have done the same , but she would at least have gone all out and still having known this was something she had thought of for her readers. Those people seemed to actually believe what they were writing.

Really, Potter was the exact opposite of that, which was the exact reason why she had loved writing her articles about him, he didn't seem to know how to fight back. He hadn't even sued her for libel, something she was quite familiar with if she was honest to herself. No, his little friend had to blackmail her to keep her quiet, basically ruining her career with it. What did this little girl knew about the mechanics of being a reporter?

Still, she couldn't do anything against it. Only wondering what really had happened at the last task of the Triwizard Tournament last year and why the Boy-Who-Lived had actually vanished yesterday... And she was still cursing whoever had heard of that first, she would have written a much better article, honestly!

She put the newspaper on the table, disgusted with it, and had just stood up, for her cup of coffee was empty too, when the door of the Leaky Cauldron leading to muggle London opened. This was, of course, nothing unusual, but since she had chosen to take a place very much near that door - just in case - she was one of the first to realize who, exactly, had entered.

A dirty, bloodied Harry Potter.

Her eyes widened, partly in shock, but also because she knew a perfect opportunity when she saw it. She hurried over to the boy.

"Mr. Potter!", she called out, drawing the attention of the whole room to herself. Oh yes, people should see that she was the first one to notice, to care about him... "Are you alright? Should I call a healer?"

She hoped not, for it would be much more difficult to get answers from him then, but she was in luck, he slowly shook his head, although his eyes were still wide.

She gently led him over to her table, seating him on the chair across from the one she had occupied before.

"Tom, some hot chocolate for the boy, please!", she called out to the barkeeper, who hurried to comply. All the while, she was focussing her gaze back on the Potter boy. He was shaking a little, covered with dirt and the front of his robe was torn a little, revealing blood stains on the muggle shirt he wore under it.

Yes, he was looking like he went through hell. That was perfect!

"Can you tell me what happened...?", she asked, putting on a concerned face for the public. This could be her way back into business if she did this right!

"W-Well... I was in Hogsmeade... And I had wanted some time alone, so I walked on my own for a bit... And then I... I think I got a stunner to the back... it's all a little fuzzy..." He shivered, just when Tom came back with the hot chocolate, which the boy took with a thankful look, sipping on it. Rita was meanwhile hanging onto his lips, doing her best to memorize every little word. She could not write it all down right now, so she needed to have it in order once the boy was gone.

"Who was it? Was it You-Know-Who?", she asked, wondering if she should after all jump on the bandwagon of him being a crazy liar. Or, well, better just sell the story to somebody else then, lest that Granger girl read the article. It could still make enough money.

But the boy's eyes just widened almost comically and he shivered again.

"Why is everybody asking about him?", he whispered, making her lean towards him a little to try and understand everything. "Everyone is always asking about him..."

"Who is everybody?", Rita asked with a frown. What was the boy talking about?

"The... the men... There were two... They had read the Prophet and thought if the paper printed me as a liar then it must be the truth... They thought... Voldemort was back and that I knew where he was... They cast the Cruciatus Curse..." His face contorted, as if he remembered the pain and despite everything Rita could only wince in sympathy. She knew the boy hadn't had it in him to lie like that, he was the perfect little Gryffindor after all, so he must have actually gotten hit with that. She didn't envy him at all right now.

"You poor boy...", she said appropriately. "Could you describe the men? Or anything else?"

Potter slowly shook his head. "They... they were masked, like the men at the World Cup. And I was in some sort of cellar... It was very dark, I'm not sure..."

"How did you escape?"

"They... this morning, they were gone somewhere... and they had forgotten to lock the door of the cellar correctly. Maybe they thought that I was too weak. I had no food or sleep the night..." That Rita could believe, the boy looked quite exhausted. "But I managed, I opened the door and I ran out of it, just grabbing my wand. They had mocked me with it before, telling me its location... I thought I would never see it again..." He shivered again and she gestured to the hot chocolate.

"Drink a little more, it will make you feel better." By now she was actually concerned about him, this sounded horrible! But she needed to get more information, she was sure Tom had called Dumbledore by now so she needed to hear as much as possible as long as she still could. "So the men were Death Eaters? Did you tell them about what you saw when You-Know-Who returned?"

"But that's it!", he cried out, sounding distressed, making her jump a little at the unexpected outburst. "I don't remember! I... I just remember Cedric's... Cedric's..." he looked so pained she felt almost sorry that she had asked at all. "His face... I don't know what happened at the graveyard, I just remember how we touched the cup! And besides Cedric... my next memory is the infirmary..."

This time Rita couldn't stifle a gasp. The boy didn't remember?!

"But what about You-Know-Who's return?"

"I don't know! I told people again and again that I never made an official statement, as I just don't remember...!"

Merlin's beard, that was perfect! Of course, Rita actually felt very sorry for the boy, but hearing that from him... He was right! They only had one official statement and that had come from Dumbledore! It did seem a little fishy though that he conveniently didn't remember anything, but it didn't matter! She could have a field day with this!

"So... you're saying that you're not supporting Dumbledore's claims then?", she asked for clarification.

"I don't remember...", he just repeated, but that was answer enough for her. There was just one peculiar thing left...

"Mr. Potter, would you let me write an article about this? I will not fabricate anything about it, just write what you just told me..." It was enough to not even need any fabrication and like that Granger couldn't do anything about it! "I am sure the people will want to know what happened to their saviour, after all and-"

"That is quite enough, Miss Skeeter," another voice interrupted her and she only barely kept herself from growling. Damn this headmaster, showing up at the worst times!

He seemed to have just entered from Diagon Alley and thus had come up from behind her. Now he was looking at Potter.

"My dear boy, what happened to you...?", he asked, looking worried.

But she wasn't done with him yet.

"Headmaster Dumbledore, what do you say to the fact, that Mister Potter got kidnapped while under your watch?"

He ignored her, making her fume silently, while he was still looking at Potter, though he seemed more interested in the boy's clothes than in his face.

"Let us get you back to Hogwarts where you can explain, yes?"

Although phrased like a question, it was more like a command, and Harry seemed to know that too, for he stood up, looking at her.

"Thank you for the hot chocolate," he told her politely after he went past her, causing her to turn around to watch how Dumbledore was leading him away... But just before they went out of sight, Potter turned around once more, looking her straight in the eye and nodded. It was just a small nod, but she was sure she had seen it!

Instantly, she paid for the hot chocolate and rushed to the pubs floo connection.

She needed to get home right now, there was an article waiting to be written!

 

The whole way to Dumbledore's office, Harry couldn't quite believe that he had pulled it off. Of course, he wasn't one hundred percent sure that it had worked, but the way Rita Skeeter had looked when he had nodded at her... As if it had been Christmas! Well, or Yule, more likely.

Still, he had been rather lucky that she had been the one to discover him, for she would not dare to slander him openly for fear of Hermione revealing her secret but at the same time would jump at the chance to write something big. Tom might have assured him that every journalist would do what she had done, but he hadn't quite believed that so this had been most fortunate.

Although the worst challenge was yet to come: Talking to Dumbledore. He would never believe what he had told Rita Skeeter, especially since he knew Voldemort was back, so he had to change tactics a little.

So when he was sitting in Dumbledore's office and the eyes of his headmaster were on him he waited patiently until Dumbledore spoke up first.

"Harry... I am very sorry that I have to interrogate you right now, but rest assured, you will be sent to Poppy for a check up directly after that. Alas, I must ask you to recount what happened to you yesterday. It is of grave importance!"

Oh, of course it was, surely Dumbledore cared a whole lot about him... In the role of a sacrificial lamb, maybe.

...He was getting rather sarcastic when it concerned Dumbledore, wasn't he?

Trying to shove those thoughts way for the time being he recounted what was happening again - but in another, slightly altered version. Instead of claiming he did not remember much he described pretty much what had truly happened up to the point of the interrogation. He did tell Dumbledore how they had wanted to kill him, but he didn't mention that Voldemort had changed at all. Instead he tried to make it seem as if they had just acted on their own, being tired of Voldemort's fixation on a teenager. Which wasn't even a complete lie anyway.

His escape attempt then was the same as with his official story again. It sounded almost ridiculously lucky, really, but at the same time... He had survived being bitten by a Basilisk, his luck was actually unbelievable at times. And it still sounded more believable than him beating multiple grown-up wizards without a wand.

When he had finished with arriving at the Leaky Cauldron, where Rita Skeeter had, surprisingly, cared for him, Dumbledore had a pensive expression on his face for along moment.

"I understand," he finally said. "Although one must wonder why Voldemort did not stage that kidnapping himself. It would have been the perfect opportunity..."

Harry wondered briefly if Dumbledore would have preferred that. If he really was a Horcrux only Voldemort himself would have been able to destroy him easily after all. Harry knew a little about Horcruxes and while he didn't know what else besides Basilisk venom would destroy one he did know that the creator could do so much easier...

Still, he just shrugged, as the headmaster seemed to talk to himself mostly anyway. At least until he spoke up again.

"I am very sorry that this happened during a Hogsmeade stay. I fear this means that for now it would be safer if you do not participate in further Hogsmeade weekends..."

"What?!" Harry gaped at him. What, because of Dumbledore's lax security he was now forbidden to go there again? Of course, he had been trying to get away, but really, it had been ridiculously easy! Had he for example been forced to think of using his Invisibility Cloak to slip away all of that could have been avoided altogether!

"Yes, I believe it is safer for the time being. I will try to improve the security of the village so you can continue to go there next year, but not until the end of the school year.

Harry barely refrained from gritting his teeth as he answered.

"Yes sir..."

"Thank you. Oh, and while you are here, I need to tell you something else too. Unfortunately, after Professor Snape handed in his resignation he was also making it rather clear that he would not teach anything anymore, including Occlumency. And while I must admit losing Severus because of such a tragic misunderstanding is very unfortunate, I have taken the liberty to arrange a new teacher for you Occlumency lessons. They will begin after the Easter holidays and go to the end of the year. And depending how quick you are learning we might begin them anew next school year."

Harry wasn't sure if that was a good thing, but he was immensely relieved to hear that Snape would, in fact, not be allowed to enter his mind. Although who else would it be...? It would not be Pyrites, he was pretty sure of that after Dumbledore had caught them.

"Yes, sir. But who will then be teaching me?"

"I believe Alastor will make a sufficient teacher," Dumbledore answered, making Harry gulp. Moody? If he was anything like he was in Potions that would be hell...

Thankfully, Dumbledore finally remembered that Harry was looking worse for wear - really, Harry was thinking it had been a bit over the top, as Tom had added more dirt and dishevelled him magically, but it seemed to have worked - because when he was continuing to speak he sent Harry to Madam Pomfrey.

Happy to finally get some quiet Harry nodded and bid the headmaster goodbye, exiting his office and walking to the hospital wing. He was rather glad that the castle was mostly empty right now, since it was a Sunday and still rather early in the morning. He really had to get Shiva to hunt or something after all, for the hospital wing was not exactly a good hiding place for her.

 

He was stuck in the hospital wing until lunch, when he had finally managed to annoy Madam Pomfrey enough that she kicked him out. After her initial check and the hurried shower he was allowed to take she had checked him thoroughly and while she had actually found some weak residual effect of the Cruciatus Curse he had mostly been fine, only some small scrapes from the cellar and she noted how he must have fallen on his face at least once for his nose looked rather worse for wear.

Still, the minor injuries were healed in a few minutes and as the Cruciatus Curse residue had basically vanished too he was then finally allowed to go. Just to be bombarded by questions from his friends the second he entered the Gryffindor common room - Madam Pomfrey had obviously forbidden them entry to the Hospital Wing for the time being.

With a guilty conscience he told his three friends the same lies he had told Dumbledore. He knew it wasn't right, but he couldn't yet tell them any of it. Especially not in Hogwarts, were everything could be overheard. Instead he managed to convince them that he was mostly alright and that he just needed some quiet right now. They could at least respect that and left him some space, so that he could go to his dorm and change clothes. And while looking into his trunk for some spare clothes he noticed Sirius' mirror lying in a corner, just above some of his socks.

His eyes widened. Sirius! He was getting the Daily Prophet too! Of course, Dumbledore might have told him already that he had found him, but... maybe not. He quickly pocketed the mirror and went down to the common room again to explain to Ron and Hermione where he wanted to go. The Room of Requirement, the only room where he could make sure nobody interrupted him for a while. And while they insisted on at least accompanying him to it they also understood his need to talk to 'some people' in peace and left him alone.

He sighed in relief for a moment, enjoying the absolute silence in the room, before he blinked in surprise as he felt the mirror in his pocket heat up, to notify him that Sirius was trying to call him. That was pretty good timing.

He walked over to the couch before looking at the mirror. "Sirius," he spoke clearly, and instantly his reflection was replaced with Sirius face, who was looking completely panicked.

"Harry!", he called once he had noticed him, sounding almost exasperated. "There you are, thank Merlin, what was going on? I tried to call you about fifty times since I've read of your vanishing... Is this true? How much of it was crap the Daily Prophet thought of? Why did even they knew before me damn it!"

"Hold on, what do you mean, they knew before you?", Harry asked, staring at his godfather in surprise.

"Well, nobody had seen it fit to tell me that my own godson went missing! And when I tried to contact Dumbledore nobody answered, of course... Damn it, and there I was wondering why nobody showed up to the order meeting last night... Honestly, once Voldemort has been defeated the man will get what's coming to him, I'm telling you!"

Harry bit the inside of his cheek. He would have loved to tell Sirius about everything that had really transpired yesterday, but he needed to wait a little longer... He didn't dare to do so via this connection, no matter how safe it seemed... This was something he wanted to tell Sirius and Remus in private... Still, he had plenty of anger at this situation himself, so he focussed on that for now.

"That's horrible! Why did they do that?"

Sirius gaze darkened even further. "Oh, I have some ideas alright. Dumbledore always seemed rather obsessed with me staying inside the house, didn't he? And if he, or anyone else for that matter, had told me that you were missing of course I would have insisted on joining the search party. Even if I would have needed to join as a dog! But no, let old Sirius Black stay unknowing, leave him alone to go bonkers... Damn it, I started to be nice to Kreacher to have somebody to talk to, I must be going crazy! Even my mother was talking to me civilly, praising me that I managed to get all the blood-traitors to leave me alone..." He shuddered, as if the mere thought repulsed him. Well, Harry could understand somehow. He didn't even want to imagine the Dursleys praising him if he came back to them one day without any of his wizarding friends or something...

"Where's Remus, though?", he asked, having thought the two men were rather good friends...

Sirius made a face.

"Dumbledore's sending him to senseless missions for the order... Something with convincing the werewolves not to join Voldemort, despite having nothing to offer ourselves. And Remus actually isn't even allowed to tell me that bit - although he does anyway. I really don't get why Dumbledore thinks it's a good idea to anger the person who is the owner of his bloody headquarters, honestly... If Remus would be here and if Dumbledore wouldn't have taken my wand I would kick them out faster than-"

"Hold on!", Harry interrupted him, not believing what he had just heard. "Dumbledore took your wand?!"

"Well, technically speaking it wasn't my wand, I took it from one of the unsuspecting guards at Azkaban - honestly, without the Dementors prisoners would be breaking out left and right, the security there is horrible! But yes, he took that wand. Believe me, I have raged quite a bit already, but he's not giving it back. He says it's 'for the best' if I cannot go outside under glamours anymore, as that would be too dangerous." Sirius snorted, clearly showing what he thought of that.

But Harry still was rather shocked. Sure, headquarters was as safe as it got, but taking Sirius' wand, just because the man did not want to stay trapped in his own house? That was too much!

"Sirius, once I'm back for the Easter Holidays I really need to talk to you and Remus. I have something to tell you that should be done in person," Harry said quietly, making Sirius frown a little but nod.

"Alright... I'm pretty sure this mirror is absolutely safe, but I will trust you on that. At least Remus will surely manage to come here for one or two days during your Easter holidays - Even if I will have to drag him there, so don't worry."

Harry smiled a little at his godfather, even if he was still fuming inside.

"But what will you do about your wand?"

Sirius, surprisingly, grinned at that.

"Well, I have some ideas... I am, after all, still a Marauder at heart. I've thought about some possibilities. Especially since the outcome might be a wand that's actually better suited for me than the one Dumbledore currently possesses. You will just have to wait and see..."

He winked, making Harry frown at him, but at the same time he felt rather relieved. At least Sirius seemed to have the situation more or less under control. He didn't even want to think about what might have happened without Sirius rebellious streak. Trapping a person inside of his home without a wand or any possibility to flee... That reminded Harry of the Dursleys a little too much... He would never wish that to his godfather.

 

Sadly, without Harry being able to tell Sirius what had happened, they ran out of topics to talk about pretty soon and so they had to say goodbye. But at least Sirius had been able to talk to someone again and maybe, with Harry being back, some of the order members would return to the house to keep him company... Harry could just hope it would be Tonks or someone with a similar mindset and not, for example, Mrs Weasley. Even though he rather liked the woman she and Sirius really didn't like each other, for she seemed set in her beliefs about Sirius being a bad influence on Harry - which was true, if they were honest - and was taking everything Dumbledore said a little too serious - which was a shame, but not very surprising, all Weasleys from the Burrow had been taught with him as their headmaster after all and they had probably mostly seen the grandfatherly side of Dumbledore.

But for now, the Weasleys were not the most important problem in his mind - because he definitely had to find Shiva. He was feeling really bad that she knew so little about everything going on right now but since she could not understand English all he could do was translate all events to her. And he had quite a few things to tell her still, since today a lot of things had happened. He just needed to find her...

He made his way to the exit of the Room of Requirements, set on looking for Shiva on the school grounds, but when he opened the door it was not leading to the seventh floor, the way it was supposed to. He stared a little as the Hogwarts school grounds spread in front of him, the Forbidden Forest looming in a distance...

He nervously stepped out, though holding on to the door tightly, a little afraid that it would vanish once he closed it - a valid fear in his eyes - and looked around a little. Really, somehow the Room of Requirement had managed to build a door directly outside of the school, currently being embedded in the thick outer walls of the castle.

Thankfully nobody else seemed to be out around here - which wasn't very surprising considering it was rather cold, even if there wasn't any snow at the moment, and this seemed to be a more secluded part of the castle - but that meant he could look easier for Shiva.

"Master...?", a surprised voice echoed just then, and Harry was surprised to find his snake looking at him, slithering closer from nearby. He wondered if this was a coincidence or if the room had somehow known where she would be...

Still, he smiled at her. "Shiva. Come on, let's get you inside." He pointed with his free hand into the room.

She didn't need to be told twice and went in, hissing in pleasure as the warm air of the room met her.

He felt even worse as he remembered how badly snakes reacted to cold temperatures, being cold-blooded animals, but thankfully she didn't seem to hold it up against him and while she was moving slower than usual, she seemed to be content with rolling up directly in front of the fireplace in the room.

"How did you manage to find me so quickly?", she asked after a moment, not moving one bit although sounding curious.

Harry just sat down on his favourite armchair next to her before answering. "I'm not quite sure either. It seems that this room can do more than we thought. Besides providing whatever one needs inside it seems to be able to lead to different places too... We should investigate this later."

Shiva just gave some sort of agreeing hiss, before quietening again.

Harry used the silence to fill her in with the happenings of the day, including his talks to Dumbledore and Sirius, as well as a small rant about what the hell the headmaster was thinking, meddling with their lives like that.

Shiva patiently listened, only commenting rarely as she warmed herself up. Only after he was half-way through with his explanation of his talk with Sirius she began to slowly uncurl, as if stretching a little, staying like that until he was completely done.

"At times like this I notice how impractical it is that I cannot understand your language," she said almost grumpy, making Harry chuckle slightly.

"True, but at least I get to work through what has happened again, I think that helps me understanding it a lot better. And your commentary is always appreciated of course." He grinned at her, genuinely happy that she was always there for him.

She hissed something unintelligible, not looking quite as happy about that as he had thought she would.

"Is everything alright?", he asked, hoping that her small escapade outside hadn't made her sick. Could snakes get sick? He was now cursing himself for never actually trying to look for books about snakes, thinking that if Shiva had a problem she could just tell him. That had been rather short-sighted of him.

Shiva stayed silent for a few long moments, causing Harry's worry to grow. If she had been sick she would have just told him so, right? But finally she gave the snake-equivalent of a sigh and turned around, looking him in the eyes, looking almost guilty.

"Master, I need to confess something to you."

Chapter Text

Chapter 34: Confessions and Decisions

But finally she gave the snake-equivalent of a sigh and turned around, looking him in the eyes, looking almost guilty.

"Master, I need to confess something to you."

 

Harry stiffened. Beginning like that, whatever was to follow couldn't be good. Still, he waited for the inevitable and let Shiva speak once she was ready.

"I know that this may not be the best time, but if I do not say this now you will find out through other means and I would prefer to explain it myself," she started and Harry tried to quell the feeling of dread growing inside of him. "Do you remember the day we first met? You were wondering who my mother was." She stopped again for a moment, as if having to force herself to continue speaking. "She is called Nagini by her master."

Harry's eyes widened as he heard about that and he felt as if the world around him froze. Shiva... Basically his best friend since over half a year now, the one person - well, snake, but whatever - he trusted more than anything... And she had been sent by Voldemort?!

"I know what you must think now, but please believe me when I tell you that I never betrayed you. I was only sent to watch over you, never to spy, and I never did."

Harry wasn't so sure if he could believe that. But he did remember how he had thought just that at first, that somebody had wanted to spy on him, but he had watched Shiva very carefully and she never seemed to have done anything... Of course, that didn't mean that she could not have started with it later in time though...

He stood up with a heavy sigh, turning and walking to a window that had always been there, unnoticed. But now he was using it to stare out, at the Hogwarts grounds, the view being as it should from a room on the seventh floor, fitting to just stare into the nothingness...

"Master, I can understand if you do not want me to stay with you anymore," Shiva hissed, her voice sounding sad, but accepting. "But nevertheless I want to say that my loyalty is with you, absolutely. If I had to decide between Voldemort's side and yours, I would take yours, even if that meant going against my own mother." She sounded serious and despite everything Harry was surprised at the fierceness. But at the same time he didn't really know what to do now... He felt terribly insecure about having her around now, as if Voldemort himself could emerge from her any second now.

He knew that Voldemort had had some change of mind, that 'Tom' was now a lot nicer actually, but Harry still didn't trust him. And that very much conflicted with what he had felt for Shiva...

Finally he sighed and turned around again, looking at her. "Look... I need to think about this, alright? I just... I can't go back to how it was right now, this is just too big. I mean, I expected your mother to be something special, but Nagini?" He shook his head. "I just can't..."

Shiva nodded.

"I understand. Just know that I never lied to you, I always told you what I thought was the truth, as well as my honest opinions." She then slightly deflated, curling back up in front of the fireplace. "May I stay in this room for however long you may take to decide? Otherwise I would have to return to the cold outside and I would prefer not having to do so."

"Y-Yes of course...", Harry muttered, for despite everything, he knew he still cared about the snake. He could never just throw her out into the cold.

Still, with a heavy heart he turned around and left the Room of Requirements, leaving Shiva behind. He needed some time to think about all of that, really...

 

The next day started rather interestingly, once the owls started swooping in at breakfast, bringing everyone their copy of the Daily Prophet. Despite his rather subdued mood since leaving Shiva inside of the Room of Requirement Harry just barely managed to hide a small, amused smile as he read it.

HARRY POTTER RETURNS!

All speculations regarding Harry Potter's confusing absence have been outshone by the truth, writes Rita Skeeter, Special Correspondent. While many have wondered if all of this was yet another ploy to seek attention the truth very different from we all thought and a meeting with the boy the just yesterday ended with the discovery of something far more nefarious in its nature.

It all started in the Leaky Cauldron, where at least a dozen witches and wizards that were enjoying their lives at that morning witnessed the scene.

"I had just been finishing my morning coffee when the door burst open," one of the guests who wishes to remain unnamed explains. "Imagine my surprise when it revealed no one else but the famous Harry Potter! He stumbled in, covered in blood and dirt, looking like he had just gone through hell, I can tell you!"

Coincidentally a Daily Prophet reporter was nearby and was able to provide some hot chocolate for the boy. Even Tom, the barkeeper of the pub leading to Diagon Alley, remembers the state of the boy: "I thought the poor lad would collapse any second. He was shivering badly." Of course, he instantly contacted the Department of Magical Law Enforcement as an investigation seemed to be in order, as well as Albus Dumbledore, for as the headmaster of Hogwarts, Harry Potter's current school, he had a right to know that the student was found.

Surprisingly, the boy began to talk after drinking a little, explaining what had happened to him in a small, broken voice, stopping every few moments to collect himself. He recounted in horrifying details how Death Eaters (once loyal followers of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named) had caught him during a Hogsmeade weekend and even went as far as torturing him to disclose You-Know-Who's hiding place. They had been deluded into thinking that the claim of the dark wizard being back held any truth and tried to find more information with using the Cruciatus Curse on Harry Potter.

When talking about those events the boy's face contorted in pain at the memory and several witnesses, one of them being a Healer of St. Mungos, confirm that his pain seemed very much real.

The boy then continued to explain how he only narrowly managed to escape them. He misses to tell exactly where the cellar he was imprisoned in was, but as he appeared in the Leaky Cauldron it might belong to one of the wizarding homes throughout London?

Of course, some might say, it could all have been a lie. A ploy to get even more fame and attention. But no, good readers, it is even worse! We have been deceived by somebody else, someone we thought we had already seen through: Albus Dumbledore himself.

After something Mr. Potter mentioned in passing the Daily Prophet looked through the transcripts of all the interviews conducted with either Mr. Dumbledore or Mr. Potter regarding the topic of what happened at the Triwizard Tournament and we noticed that while there are plenty with Mr. Dumbledore there is nothing to be found on Mr. Potter.

In fact, Harry Potter never stated that he thought He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had returned!

Dumbledore did that all by himself. While he did claim that Mr. Potter had seen You-Know-Who's return, the boy himself had been unavailable for comment at that time. But Dumbledore had insisted on Mr. Potter's opinion and with Mr. Potter's history it did fit very well, especially since Mr. Potter never retracted his statement, making it seem very much legit.

But yesterday it was made clear why there has never been a word of Mr. Potter: Just shortly after the boy had finished his drink his headmaster entered the room. At once, the boy grew quiet, not a single word left his mouth anymore except for a very polite thank you. After which Dumbledore instantly took the boy away, not even waiting for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, whose members turned up a few minutes later but could not do anything anymore for it is well-known that they are not allowed on Hogwarts grounds without having a proper case.

This makes one wonder if this was the only time Dumbledore used his influence on the children under his care. If even the Boy-Who-Lived is cowed by that man, what else might there be that our children do not tell us in fear of him? Sadly, Dumbledore himself was unavailable for comment, even after multiple letters being sent.

The Daily Prophet hereby sincerely apologises to Harry Potter for not trying harder to uncover his predicament. We vow to learn from it now and to keep our readers updated on Dumbledore's machinations!

A detailed analysis of Dumbledore's more blatantly manipulative actions on page 2.

The complete transcript of what Harry Potter said and some reactions to it, page 3

Speculations about the location of the cellar where Harry Potter was kept on page 4.

 

Harry had just finished reading when he heard Hermione's gasp.

"I cannot believe she did that!", she said, her voice angry. "I mean, sure, it does paint you in a better light than what the Prophet did before, but really, this is all so much bogus I should just expose her secret! How did she even hear the gist of what happened?"

"Um... Hermione?", Harry asked her carefully and she turned to look at him, still frowning unhappily.

"What?"

"Actually, she's printing the truth."

"What?!" At her exclamation quite a few faces turned to her and she blushed, quietening again as she continued. "What do you mean it's the truth? You told us another story yesterday!"

"Well... It's because I lied to her, okay?" By now, both of his friends were frowning at him, seeming confused.

"Why would you do that?", Ron asked and Harry raised an eyebrow.

"Well, what do you think? I was sick of everyone behaving like I was some sort of monster. And I did never openly state that Voldemort was back. It's not my problem what they make out of it."

"But now everything will fall back to Dumbledore! Do you think it's wise to let his name get slandered like that? It will be even worse for him now then when you shared the blame. He is the last stand in the fight against Voldemort, no matter what you think of him," Hermione continued, making Harry shrug.

"Maybe, but honestly, the Ministry does not care about Voldemort, that much is obvious. And without solid proof Dumbledore will never be believed. It would make much more sense to try and convince people to believe in Voldemort's return differently... Or try to get the public to improve their safety through other means."

"What, don't you think he does that anyway?", Hermione argued.

"Well, maybe, I'm certainly not being told anything. And even then, he is an adult. He can do whatever he wants. It's much more difficult for me to do anything if my name is slandered and nobody was there to help me either, so just let him deal with it..."

Hermione tried a little longer to convince him, but he stayed stubborn, so she finally gave up to instead eat her breakfast.

Honestly, Dumbledore could deal with the repercussions of this himself. Harry was sick of being the public's punching bag.

 

Of course, the article prompted another visit in Dumbledore's office. Sometimes Harry wondered if the old man had nothing else to do with his time, although the pile of letters he could see growing on the ground even during the short time he was there spoke different.

He was sure a lot of concerned parents would write to the headmaster now, wondering if he treated their children correctly, and while Harry had not actually known that something like this would happen he found that he didn't particularly mind either. Dumbledore had gotten what was coming to him, really, he was meddling with Harry's life so often that this little thing was more than well-deserved.

Sadly, he couldn't say so into the man's face - for besides being his headmaster and even now easily having the power to make his life hell Harry actually prided himself on not being as vocal in his feelings as he had been a year ago - so he played his role as the chided boy after Dumbledore sternly told him how this had not been a wise move at all and how disappointed he was in him.

He had tried to make Harry swear to always come to him before talking to the press, but thankfully Harry had been able to get out of that by pointing out how he was sure Dumbledore was a very busy man and that he couldn't always annoy him with smaller things. But he did have to promise to talk to at least another adult beforehand.

Harry was sure that Dumbledore had adults like Mrs. Weasley, Moody or Kingsley in mind, but Harry had never specified and was more thinking along the lines of Sirius and Remus, of course.

Still, he was rather relieved when he could finally leave the headmaster's office again, leisurely walking to History of Magic, not much caring if he got there late for it would be boring anyway.

Only a small pang in his chest reminded him of the fact that he would not be able to discuss these new events with Shiva. She would surely have loved it.

 

Harry lived through the following weeks with mixed feelings. Sure, after Rita's article the Daily Prophet had happily given him back the title of the 'misunderstood Boy-Who-Lived' and began denouncing Dumbledore all the more for misleading everyone and making them think the lies he was spouting were coming from Harry too. They never really mentioned how they themselves had destroyed Harry's reputation, but well, he didn't expect that anyway. Still, some students came to him in the breaks, apologizing for thinking him a liar and even if he took all of that with a grain of salt - what, now they were apologizing? - he was glad that he wasn't hated anymore. Not that he cared much about what the rest of the school thought of him, but it had gotten annoying.

School work and regular Quidditch training were keeping him rather busy too, but there always was this nagging feeling in his mind... At first it was easy to ignore, but soon he noticed how he was simply missing Shiva. Despite knowing that she had been sent by Voldemort he couldn't bring himself to hate her. She had never really gone against him anyway, had she? In fact, Voldemort had seemed genuinely surprised by the fact that Harry was a Parselmouth - something he had not needed to fake, as Harry had, in fact, been sure he had known. So Shiva could not have told him about it, otherwise he would have been able to say he knew because almost everyone knew just as well.

 

It was now the beginning of March and Harry still hadn't decided. Frustrated and trying to clear his head a little after a particularly annoying homework session - really, they still had about three months to the OWL exams but the teachers seemed to think they were tomorrow the way they were acting at times! - he decided that it was a good idea to take a walk around the lake.

He hoped that the cold air would help him ordering his thoughts a little and since Hermione was learning and Ron had convinced Dean to play chess against him Harry finally had some quiet again too. It was getting a little annoying that they followed him around most of the time after what had happened in February, but he knew they meant well and at least they kept his mind occupied and away from Shiva.

He sighed, staring at the water in front of him. He still wasn't sure about leaving her, but he also didn't dare to get her back... And he couldn't really talk to anyone about it, since he couldn't very well walk up to Ron and Hermione and tell them "Oh by the way you remember Shiva? She's been sent by Voldemort, what do you think I should do now?". So he was stuck.

"Hello Harry," a voice said, making him jump and whirl around.

"Luna," he said, slightly shocked. He really hadn't heard her while lost in his thoughts.

She just smiled her usual, dreamy smile.

"I'm sorry for scaring you. I was just curious what you were doing here. I thought I was the only one near the lake. Most find the weather too cold."

"Nah, no problem I was just... lost in thoughts," he answered, returning her smile.

"Yes, I can see the Wrackspurts are back," she said, sounding almost a little sad.

Harry sighed again, looking back at the water.

"I know, I can't help it, I kind of... well, recently a friend of mine turned out to be not quite what I had always believed. I mean, she kept something big a secret from me until it was almost too late..."

Luna made a humming sound.

"Did you try talking to your friend?"

"Well... She was the one telling me about it in the first place. I just... I don't know if I can trust her again."

"That is your mind talking, right?", Luna asked, coking her head to the side. "What does your heart say?"

Harry stayed silent for a long time, thinking about her words and how to answer. But in the end, he chose simply the truth.

"I'm missing her."

She nodded. "I thought so. Well, maybe you should talk to her again? What is the worst that could happen?"

Instinctively Harry wanted to answer 'I could die', for really, he did feel like that, although... Now that he thought about it, even if Shiva would continue to spy on him, what good would Voldemort get out of it? Knowing his thoughts on Dumbledore? Making him believe that if he had to choose between them his choice might not be Dumbledore? Well, Dumbledore was doing that just fine by himself, no need for external help there... And Dumbledore was also more likely to send him to his death, so what exactly was the worst? Except for maybe not being able to trust Shiva again?

"I don't know... ", he finally confessed, making Luna smile a little again.

"Well, maybe you should just try then? Sometimes it's easier to try and maybe get hurt than to never try at all." Her smile held a certain sadness that made Harry wonder what exactly she was thinking of just now, but before he could come to a conclusion, the sadness vanished again. "I think I will try to find some Thestrals now. Maybe I will even meet a Blibbering Humdinger...?"

And with that, mumbling a little to herself, she set off, walking along the lake without even saying goodbye, leaving Harry to stare at her back in wonder. Luna really was a strange girl... But somehow he did feel a little better.

 

In the end though, the last straw that made him talk to Shiva once more had been Hagrid. Since he had finished most of the books he had been really interested in - both light and dark, for the others he had were not quite as exciting to him - he had opted to visit Hagrid a few times. Normally that meant visiting Zephyr too and as the old dragon was really knowledgeable about everything Harry greatly enjoyed those meetings. The only problem was that since Hagrid knew about Shiva now he had become interested in her and Harry had needed to tell him about their falling out.

Of course, he had heavily edited the circumstances, opting to tell Hagrid something similar to what he had told Luna: He felt that she had betrayed him by keeping something huge a secret from him until he had almost found out by himself.

Hagrid had stayed silent for a while, but in the end he had told Harry that he needed to decide for himself. Did she ever seem untrustworthy? Would he have believed her had she told him before? But the best would be listening to his heart.

Hagrid had explained that he had been in a rather similar situation himself once, and that he had decided against what his heart told him and ended up regretting it for a long time. He didn't elaborate and Harry didn't ask, but it had been what had made him set on at least talking to her once more.

 

Sadly, Angelina had unknowingly thwarted his plans since they were training every day now for the upcoming match against Hufflepuff, mostly because Ron was still playing terribly when put under pressure.

So Harry concentrated on that, exhaustedly falling into his bed every evening after homework and training, no time left to go to the Room of Requirements...

At least until after the match. On the second Saturday of March they finally had their match against the badgers, easily winning despite Ron's bad performance - which might have been better had the Slytherins not continuously sung their horrible 'Weasley is our King' song - but the rest of the team had made up for it and so they won 210 points against 90.

And that meant that he had the Sunday off, which was why he was now standing in front of the Room of Requirements, staring at the wooden door that had just materialized, taking a deep breath before finally entering it.

It didn't look any different than when he had left it a month before. He didn't know what he had expected, but it looked as if barely any time had passed at all.

"Shiva...?", he hissed quietly after not being able to spot her immediately.

For a short moment he was worried that maybe she had left, leaving him unable to ever talk to her again, but she soon appeared from behind one of the chairs in the room, looking at him.

"Master, you are back!", she hissed, relief evident in her voice, but also a certain apprehension.

Understandable, really, as Harry was feeling rather similar when he saw her just then.

"Yes," he agreed anyway, before continuing to speak. "I wanted to hear your side of the story... I mean, the whole story of what happened. Because I feel that I can't decide anything about this whole situation without knowing that."

She nodded slowly, slithering in front of the fireplace while Harry himself walked over to the seats and sat down on his favourite armchair. He just hoped it would all make sense, somehow...

And then Shiva began to talk.

"I hatched about two weeks before we first met. I do not know why I was bred or how long I needed to hatch, but as far as I have learned up until now there must have been a good reason why mother was pregnant and I do not recall having a father. I do remember that Voldemort was a lot like he is right now though and that multiple rituals were carried out with me, mostly to increase my knowledge about the world quickly. I do not know how they worked, but they did and mother then instructed me that my purpose was to watch over a human called Harry Potter. She said I was to make sure nothing bad would happen to him and that I should act the way I saw it fit as long as no harm came to him. Mother also told me that it was very important to never share their identity to anyone, not even another speaker, for they were afraid that those might tell other people."

She sighed, curling up a little.

"You know the rest. I was very surprised that you were a speaker too, but I had made my promises. Also, while I will admit that at first I just thought it was easier to watch over you when staying nearby I grew to genuinely care about you. I did not bite your old Potions professor because of some sort of obligation towards Voldemort, I did it because I was worried about you."

He was silent for a while, mulling over what she said. It did somehow make sense, and she had never lied to him before, after all... Were animals even able to lie? He certainly had not yet witnessed that consciously. And Shiva had never outright denied coming from Voldemort or Nagini either, had she? She had just always insisted on not telling him where she came from. But even then...

"Why didn't you tell me sooner? Knowing that might have been interesting before too, you know?"

Shiva seemed to fidget a bit.

"Well... I was afraid you would cast me away. You know, when it was just a job, the loyalty to my mother was strong enough to not give her away, but when I grew to like you... I was scared that you would hate me for being sent by a person you hated. But I wanted to stay with you..."

Harry thought about that. Again, it did make sense, somehow...

"So you never spied on me? Never ever told Voldemort anything I was doing?"

"Never. And I would not even if he asked me. Even if you would cast me away now. I would rather fight him than betray you." It was said with such a conviction that Harry stared at her for a long moment in wonder. How was it that she always seemed so honest in her answers? How was it that despite of her actions he was still willing to believe her excuses...?

Maybe because they are believable, a small voice in his head whispered. Maybe because you might have done the same if in her situation...

And it was true. If he had been sent by someone he deemed nice to watch over a third person but began to like that third person more? How easy would he have found it to tell that person from whom he was sent if they hated his sender?

Did that even make sense?

He groaned a little, putting his head into his hands. This was just too much! How was he supposed to decide, he would never think of all the possibilities of what might happen if he chose wrongly...

Luna and Hagrid came back to his mind. 'Listen to your heart,' they had said. Well, maybe he should do that... At least his heart wasn't full of insecurities and fear... He knew that he wanted Shiva back, just trying to justify it logically was difficult... He sighed.

"Can you promise me to never hide those things from me again?", he asked, making Shiva who had rested her head on her scales after a while of silence look at him again.

"I can promise that I will not intentionally hold back information that I think you might want... Is that acceptable?" Harry thought for a moment, before nodding. "Then it is a promise. You are, after all, my first friend in this world and my master. I would not want to betray you ever!"

Harry smiled a little at this little outburst, before holding out a hand to her. She seemed just as relieved as he felt when she came closer and slithered up to him, carefully curling around him in her form of a hug.

"Thank you, master."

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 35: A small break begins

The following weeks were as stressful as ever, with all teachers bringing out loads of homework in preparation of their exams, but somehow Harry didn't mind nearly as much as the weeks before... It was really a lot easier now that he was talking to Shiva again, complaining about homework, asking her opinions on some things or just talking about general stuff...

It wasn't quite as relaxing as before as a certain tension didn't leave, but still, it was way better than when they had been separated.

On the vernal equinox, a wizarding holiday called Ostara took place and, surprisingly, Harry got a new letter from Quetzalcoatl on that day.

Harry,
I hope you are alright. I apologize for the long pause since my last letter but I am rather busy at the moment. In case you ever feel you need to write me use one of the school owls. I will receive the letter.
Apart from that, I hope you have read up on wizarding holidays by now. I enclosed a willow twig for you, just in case.
Happy Ostara.

And when he had turned around the envelope there had been an actual, blooming willow twig he could plant somewhere, just the way the wizarding tradition required it, as it was some sort of ritual to connect with the earth. He was feeling a little silly, but had done it nonetheless, creating a small patch for it near the lake. Who knew, maybe it would actually grow? It would certainly be a good sign, according to the traditions.

Although he never quite understood what the other petals were that fell out of the envelope besides the twig. Big, innocent looking yellow petals and small, pointed reddish ones... Harry was sure that they had some meaning, though he didn't think they were connected to Ostara. But he just didn't get it and soon forgot about them again.

 

Instead he busied himself other things, like with visiting Zephyr once more at the last weekend before the Easter Holidays. The first time since Shiva had returned to him.

The old dragon gave his equivalent of a smile - though it was more looking like a snarl, admittedly - as he watched Harry stepping into the clearing. Today he had come without Hagrid, seeing how the path to the dragon was pretty easy to see and most creatures of the forest stayed away from it. It was a little creepy and he did stay on his toes for the whole time, but nothing had happened.

"Hello, Serpent Speaker. I see that you managed to resolve your conflicts regarding your Serpent Queen. Congratulations," the dragon rumbled as a greeting.

Harry smiled nervously. He liked Zephyr but he could be kind of straightforward and Harry wasn't quite sure how to respond at times. It was still a dragon he was talking to after all.

"Yes... We're good again."

Zephyr nodded. "That is good to hear. Then hello to you too, Serpent Queen."

At that, Shiva carefully slithered out from her usual place under Harry's robes - although it was slowly getting more difficult to hide her, she was getting close to being two meters long by now! - and nodded at him.

"Hello."

There was a short pause after that which Harry used to finally ask a question he had had in his head since they had first met the dragon.

"Say, why are you calling Shiva 'Serpent Queen'?"

Zephyr looked at him and cocked his head to the side.

"You mean you do not know?" Harry just stared at him in confusion. "Ah, maybe this is another thing lost through the ages. Humanity has problems with keeping knowledge at times... Presumably because of their short lifespan." The dragon shook his head a little. "Never mind, I will explain. Do you know which race of serpents are called the Serpent Kings in general?"

Harry didn't need to think long about this. This was one of the few creatures he knew well. A little too well, even.

"A Basilisk."

"Correct. And since you were so quick in answering this, you surely know that Basilisks are bred through letting a toad hatch a chicken's egg." Harry nodded, though not quite sure where this was going. Shiva was no Basilisk, that much was obvious. And Nagini wasn't either. "So, what happens if a Basilisk lays an egg?"

Harry stared at Zephyr.

"That's actually possible?" He imagined with a shudder what a dark wizard could do if he bred an army of Basilisks through having only two under his control...

But Zephyr shook his head. "Not in the way you are probably thinking of. If a female Basilisk actually manages to lay an egg it will not contain another Basilisk. Instead, inside you will find a snake species quite unlike any other. It will not get as big as a Basilisk will, stopping to grow somewhere between ten and twenty feet, though still as quick as a flash when moving. It will also not be able to kill with its gaze, but it will be immune to a rooster's cry instead. Its skin is very durable, though not quite as much as a Basilisk's skin, and their venom will be absolutely deadly too, although it can be treated if found quickly enough. This is what would be called a Serpent Queen."

Harry stared at him, disbelieving. And in fact, Shiva seemed to be just as shocked.

"But mother is no Basilisk, at least of that I am sure."

Zephyr looked at her for a moment.

"Is your mother of the same species as you are? Female, about the same pattern, absolutely venomous? Maybe more intelligent than other snakes you met?"

Shiva stayed quiet for a moment, as if not wanting to affirm his speculations.

"Serpent Queens are always female, you know? Or, well, maybe female is not the right word, for despite sounding female, which gave them their name, they do not have a specific gender. They reproduce asexually."

Harry frowned, not quite understanding what Zephyr meant with that. Really, his understanding of reproduction barely went far enough to know where babies came from and that had happened in form of a horribly embarrassing lecture from Hermione.

Zephyr thankfully saw his confused face and elaborated.

"If a Serpent Queen lays an egg, the child will be genetically identical with the parent. It will, so to speak, be a clone of its parent."

Harry gasped as he finally understood the concept, looking back and forth between Zephyr and Shiva.

"So... I actually am my mother?", she was just asking, sounding terribly insecure. Harry winced a little in sympathy. Hearing you were a clone from another being sounded like an unpleasant experience...

"So to speak," Zephyr just agreed. "Although you are, of course, yourself, probably with another personality than your mother, or other views, you will grow to be just the same serpent physically."

Shiva stayed quiet at that, probably thinking about what it meant.

"Well, at least you know that you will grow even more beautiful," Harry said, trying to cheer her up.

"Huh?" It was probably proof of just how startled Shiva was, for she did not normally make confused noises like that.

"Well, of course you already are beautiful, but I do have to say that Nagini is a beauty too, just much bigger," he explained. For despite him being horribly afraid of her the last time he had seen Voldemort's snake, she did look pretty cool... Although she was also huge, so he really needed to think about an alternative where Shiva could stay soon... Well, he was sure they would manage.

 

After this talk, the last week before the Easter holidays was pretty boring, so Harry was more than glad when he sat at dinner on the last day of school, knowing that they would be leaving just after breakfast tomorrow. Although he, like most of the school, was surprised when Dumbledore announced that Professor Pyrites had something to say after the feast was over.

Said teacher stood up, clearing his throat before talking.

"Don't worry, I won't be talking long, but I think this is very important for you. As you know, I spent the last months inspecting all of your teachers and having to decide if they all were up to a certain standard. As such I'm sure you all will be very interested to hear who has to go. I already talked with all the teachers who are concerned and they did agree with me that it might be the best course of action."

He looked down the teachers table, looking even a little sad.

"I'm sorry that it had to be done this way, and even this close to your exams - especially for the fifth and seventh years - but believe me, it will be for the best." He then turned back to the students.

"So, teachers that will not be returning after the Easter holidays are the following: Professor Burbage..."

A small murmur ran through the hall at that, though Harry barely knew who the woman was. Hermione seemed torn between seeing a teacher go and approving at the change, for what Harry remembered of her one year of muggle studies had been rather weird, so to speak.

"...Professor Hagrid..."

At that, the murmur was even louder, especially from the Gryffindor table, who seemed rather aggravated by that. Harry understood, but he could also understand the decision to make Hagrid stop teaching... He was a good friend, but not a very good teacher.

Still, Professor Pyrites raised his hands.

"Now, don't curse me. In fact, Professor Hagrid was more than ready to agree with me. And he will stay as the Groundskeeper for the time being."

The murmurs quietened a little. Harry could also see a lot of students looking happy about it. He just kept his opinion to himself, not wanting to get pulled into some sort of verbal sparring right now. Besides, Pyrites was continuing already.

"So... Another teacher who will not come back, although this time probably more than literally will be Professor Binns."

At that, the Great Hall actually burst with applause, one could even hear a few people cheering loudly. Harry himself was applauding happily. No more Binns? That was great! Harry couldn't see one person disappointed with that, even Hermione had a relieved look on her face! And that was saying something.

Professor Pyrites waited until the cheering had died down before continuing to talk.

"That was it, regarding the teachers. The others I deemed fit for their subjects, if anyone still has complains left for teachers that stayed you can come to me if you want. There is just one thing left..." He turned again, looking at someone to his right. "I am sorry to say that our caretaker, Mister Filch, will also be leaving the castle. I noticed how he is not quite comfortable in working with students."

By now, the hall seemed to almost burst with excitement, though it was subdued, as if nobody quite dared to cheer for Filch leaving as much as they had done for Binns... Binns wasn't here after all, he almost never was. Still, those were great news and it was pretty obvious how the student's opinions of Professor Pyrites were just growing a lot.

"The Easter holidays will be used to find replacement teachers," he continued then. "I am confident that this will work out." He smiled at the hall. "And that was it already. Thanks for listening and have a good night and happy holidays!"

With that he sat down again, making the whole hall break out in whispers about how brilliant this was and, of course, thousands of speculations of who their new teachers might be and if they would be any better than the old ones... And who the new caretaker would be. Would it also be a Squib? Or a wizard? Some people were convinced it would be a creature, like a centaur or something, but Harry really doubted that, having met the centaurs in the Forbidden Forest. It would be much too creepy to have them as a caretaker, Harry could just imagine the casualties among students rising... He grimaced at the thought.

No, he was setting his hopes on an actual wizard.

 

The ride back towards London the next day was as uneventful as it could be, with mostly just Harry, Neville and Luna sitting together, talking about this and that, since Hermione and the Weasleys were staying at Hogwarts. At least Harry could notice how the two were growing rather close, with Neville finally having relaxed a little around Luna and them laughing together... It was really kind of sweet. Not that he knew a lot about that, but still.

So they had a pretty great time up to when they were leaving the train, saying their goodbyes to each other, with Neville being greeted by his stern looking grandmother and Luna being hugged by a man that was obviously her father.

And Harry? Well, he could see a certain dog waiting for him, so he waved at his friends and walked over to the dog, sitting down on a nearby bench to wait until most students were gone.

"Hey there, Padfoot," he greeted quietly and the dog barked happily at him, wagging its tail. "Glad to see that you made it out again. Where's Moony though?"

He didn't want to use Remus' real name right now, just in case, but of course Sirius understood, though he was just whining a little. Whatever that meant. Still, after another moment Sirius stood up sniffing at Harry, before turning around himself.

"Uh... what?", Harry asked, feeling very eloquent right now. Not. "I'm afraid I don't understand dog language..."

Sirius huffed before seeming to think for a moment. And only seconds later he began slobbering onto the stones of the platform.

Harry grimaced.

"I hope you realise that this is so gross!"

But Sirius seemed concentrated and finally Harry understood how he was trying to write letters... It was still really gross, but he could somehow recognize some letters.

"P... or... Port...", Harry tried, thinking aloud, trying to guess what Sirius wanted to say. "Portkey?"

The dog barked happily and Harry rolled his eyes.

"Next time, just bring a piece of paper with you."

Still, he pulled out his emergency Portkey - guessing Sirius was talking about that one - and crouched down, holding it out for the other to touch it with his paw. He waited until it was in place before whispering the activation phrase to whisk them both away to Potter Manor.

At least Sirius could change back there and properly explain to him whatever he had wanted to say. Slobbering letters, honestly...

 

The second they landed in the forest near the manor Harry was already assaulted by Sirius, who had turned back into a human to hug him tightly.

"Merlin I've missed you!", he told him, his happiness being so sincere that Harry couldn't help but smile and hug back a little.

"I've missed you too Sirius. Though please, refrain from doing icky stuff like that slobbering again."

"I'll think about it," his godfather answered with a grin as he let him go. "Anyway, let's go inside?"

Harry blinked in surprise.

"Aren't we going to headquarters?" Somehow he had thought that this would only be a stop in between. But Sirius looked a little sheepish at that.

"Eh... just come on in, I will explain it to you then."

With a small frown Harry followed Sirius into the house and into some sort of parlour where, to his surprise, Remus was already sitting. Though he looked pretty horrible, with his whole demeanour signalising sickness and he even had a few scratches in his face. Still, he smiled at Harry as he noticed him.

"Hello Harry. Pardon my appearance, but the day before yesterday was a full moon and I haven't quite recovered yet," he explained, pointing at himself.

Harry nodded.

"Is that why you didn't come to Kings Cross? I thought you would be the one to come since Sirius is... well, still a fugitive."

"Well... Partly, but the main reason is that I didn't want Dumbledore to know I am here. I guess he will probably suspect it anyway but it is still better than having proof." By now Harry was completely confused and it must have shown on his face too for Remus sighed. "Just sit down for a moment, Sirius will surely love to explain it."

And wile Sirius nodded with a grin Harry sat down on the big, circular table that was in the centre of the room, facing Remus and Sirius, as the latter sat beside the former.

"Soo...", Sirius began, glee evident in his voice. "To make it short: I kicked everyone out."

Harry stared at him, not sure if he had misunderstood.

"You did... what?"

"I kicked the order out. Honestly, they kept telling me that I was supposed to behave like an adult, right? That I should show some responsibility etcetera. And while I know they were talking about me staying inside and doing what they wanted me to, I did the perfectly mature thing instead: I kicked them all out for permanently trying to tell me what to do in my own home, dictating my lifestyle, basically imprisoning me in my house, controlling my mail, stealing my wand..." He was counting the things at his fingers while he spoke, before shrugging. "Yes, I think it was more than sensible to tell Kreacher to lock down the whole house. Nobody can enter the house anymore besides myself and people I bring with me. And I have no intention to return to that place very soon."

Harry was stunned, but he really couldn't blame Sirius. He could definitely understand that. He just wondered...

"How come Dumbledore still let me come with you? I can't imagine he would have let me come home for the holidays if he hadn't expected me to stay at headquarters the whole week..."

"Well... Probably because he doesn't know it yet? I basically instructed Kreacher to put everything on lockdown just when I was getting you from the platform. Nobody was there at that time. But they will notice when they try to enter the next time." He chuckled. "I made sure they knew that I intentionally kicked them out. And they can't do a thing about it." He then grew a tad more serious. "I hope it's okay that I came to Potter Manor for the time being? I mean, I could leave the country in theory or something, it was just the easiest solution right now."

Harry shook his head, smiling.

"Don't worry, you can stay as long as you want."

"Thanks!"

"How does Remus fit into this though?", he wondered, looking at said man. "I mean, last I heard you were supposed to look for some werewolves to convince, right?"

Remus grimaced a little.

"Well, full moon happened. Just believe me if I tell you that you don't want to be near a pack of werewolves near that time of the month if you aren't at least friends with one of them."

"Oh..."

Harry winced in sympathy, able to imagine a little how that was meant... Although this reminded him on the talk he had had a few weeks before with Sirius.

"That reminds me: Sirius, do you have your wand back?"

His godfather now looked a mixture of happy and angry - if that was even possible, but he managed it just fine.

"No, I haven't. I did try a few times more, but Dumbledore just said how sorry he was for it having to come to this and that he would make sure if there would be a fight I would of course get it back." He snorted. "Sometimes I wonder if he actually believes what he is saying. But it doesn't matter anymore anyway. The wards here are strong, he won't even find me anymore. I mean, you'd probably have to explain to him where we are - sorry about that - but he won't be able to get in. Not even onto the property. Also, I got a new wand."

"Huh?" Harry stared at him. "How did that happen?" Hopefully he hadn't stolen one again...?

"Now, don't stare at me like that! I bought it fair and square. In Knockturn Alley people couldn't care less if you are a wanted fugitive and they have quite a collection of wands too. Mine's not a perfect match, but certainly better than the old one I've been using. Look!"

He pulled out a wand, showing it to Harry. "Dragon Heartstring and Dogwood," he explained, causing Harry to chuckle slightly.

"Dogwood, really?"

Sirius rolled his eyes, though smiling. "I know, I know... Moony already made fun of me for ages."

"I don't know what you are talking about," said Remus innocently from his place, though smiling himself a little.

Harry couldn't help but chuckle, glad that Sirius seemed rather happy. It was a vast improvement to being locked in Grimmauld Place he supposed.

Though a lot would be very much easier if people would just understand that Sirius was innocent... Maybe if they could somehow get Pettigrew... Harry wondered for a moment if Tom could be convinced to turn the rat in... But it wasn't as if he had any kind of counter-offer and they had barely managed a truce, so this was more like a wish than anything else.

"You alright?", Sirius asked, probably sensing the drop in Harry's mood.

"Yes, don't worry, it's just..." Harry fidgeted a little. Did he really want to tell the two what happened? But he needed to, he couldn't trust anyone else with this knowledge for now and he needed to tell it to somebody who wasn't biased. And no matter if Shiva said she would side with him should he go against Voldemort, her opinion was not completely objective. Of course, Remus and Sirius would be very subjective too, but they would have the same stand as Harry... Maybe that would be easier. He sighed, looking at Sirius.

"Remember when I told you I had something to say that I wouldn't want to do over the mirror?"

Sirius nodded, a mixture of confusion, curiosity and worry on his face.

"So, you can tell us now?"

"Yes... It's about that person writing me letters... You know, Not-Snape?" Both adults nodded at that. "I couldn't tell you his identity before because of a Privacy Ward, but... well, I met him again and he lifted that bond, as long as nobody tells Dumbledore."

"You met him again?", Remus asked, frowning a little.

"Well, the idea was another Truce Ward, but... it did happen a little different. Just let me finish explaining, alright?"

After waiting until both men gave their nods, Harry took another deep breath and began to explain.

 

Of course, Sirius and Remus did not stay quiet once Harry had uttered Voldemort's name, but they quietened after a moment again and then let him finish. And he told them everything, from the first meeting to the second one, the truth behind his kidnapping and his doubts about what was going on, although Sirius was looking like he was itching to say something the whole time. Probably something vulgar, if one looked at his face.

But when Harry was done it was Remus who spoke up first.

"I have to say, somehow I am not as surprised as I thought I would be."

Sirius stared at him, disbelievingly.

"What? How can you not be, Harry got saved by Voldemort...!"

"I know, I listened to him. But despite everything, I could not come up with any other person who fit those letters and hated Harry enough for a Truce Ward. Lucius Malfoy, maybe, but he would have used other means probably, and would not have left Harry so shaken after their first meeting," Remus explained calmly, stunning both Harry and Sirius with it. "What? It wasn't as if I expected my guess to be true, I just thought it was a possibility and had no better idea."

Sirius shook his head.

"I still can't believe it. Why should he suddenly change his goals like that? This story he told you sounds awfully convenient."

"I know... Which is why I have no idea on what to do," Harry explained, sounding about as frustrated as he felt. "I don't want to be Dumbledore's puppet anymore and I am honestly afraid of what he has planned for me since I learned about myself being a Horcurx."

"Which in itself is quite creepy and Voldemort must be at least some sort of sick if he created so many of them," Sirius interjected.

Harry ignored him.

"But I also don't really want to turn to Voldemort, probably being his puppet then. It's like deciding between two evils..."

Remus hummed in thought.

"This is really a difficult situation. Both sides could want your death and I do not think that you could stay neutral as you would be the key to Voldemort's downfall - or survival."

Harry just groaned, knowing that it was true but not really wanting to hear it right now.

"You know...", Remus then continued, looking determined. "Leave it to us. We will check the information you gave us and try to find out as much as possible about Voldemort's current motivation and goals."

"We will what?", Sirius asked. "Are you insane? This is obviously just a scheme to pull Harry to the dark side! We can't let him win!"

"Which is why we will check everything. I think we can judge this pretty good, especially if you are so much against it. It will be easier to find inconsistencies if we stay disbelieving, but we don't know how much of his plans were a lie. And we can't make Harry do everything, can we?"

Sirius didn't look all too convinced, but nodded after a moment.

Remus took it as the cue to turn back to Harry.

"Let us for once be the adults we should be and we'll present you with whatever we found once you return for the summer holidays. We won't make the decision for you, so don't worry, but we can try to make sure the risks should you decide to turn away from Dumbledore's control will be as small as possible. No matter what else will happen afterwards. What do you say?"

"And if Voldemort lied to you or tries to pull you into a trap, we will find out and we will protect you with all we have!", Sirius added, obviously having decided that this course of action would be the best.

Harry stared at both adults for a long moment, being surprisingly touched at how much they seemed willing to do for him, even though they had spent only very little time knowing him...

In the end, he nodded lightly, trying not to get emotional right now.

"That would be great, thank you...", he muttered, just before Sirius hugged him again.

"Don't worry pup, we'll work something out. And while I can't read Moony's thoughts, I'm pretty sure I can speak for the both of us when I say that we will stay with you no matter what you decide. And yes, although I think everything being a trap, if this small chance that it actually isn't turns out to be true, I will still be there for you." He sounded absolutely serious, which made Harry feel incredibly relieved. He would have had a hard time to do whatever he thought was right if that would mean leaving Sirius behind.

"Of course," Remus agreed and Harry just returned the hug, not daring to say anything but feeling for the first time that he had something like a real family in the world...

Chapter Text

Chapter 36: Time flies when having fun

The rest of the evening then passed a lot happier, with the highlight being a Howler from Mrs. Weasley. Sirius showed Harry a handy little spell with which he could tune down the volume of a Howler to a normal speaking voice - something the marauders had needed to invent after becoming the pranksters they were famous as - and so the three of them listened amused to her ranting. She was actually rather good in insulting Sirius, from telling him she was disappointed how childish he seemed to be, to calling him selfish for not letting a secret organisation (that didn't even seem to do much) living in his house for free... She even once threatened him that if he didn't open his house again they might kick him out of the order, to which Sirius started laughing loudly, explaining to Harry how he hadn't wanted to rejoin them anyway.

Before Harry had told him about Voldemort's weird change of heart that was still to be proven, Sirius had been more than ready to fight against him, just not on those conditions anymore. So he - and Remus, who he had seemingly dragged along - had basically left the order already anyway, it was just that nobody else seemed to have noticed it yet.

 

The three of them had a lot of fun this following week, exploring the house and the grounds around it. Harry finally learned how large the property really was - certainly a lot bigger than he had thought, as the arrival point of the Portkeys already was very close to the front door. People wanting to visit him without those Portkeys - that only worked for people that were keyed into the wards and those touching the object at the same time as them anyway - had to apparate to outside of a gate and then if they were let in walk for maybe a minute on the gravel path leading through a lot of trees. The wards then went from the gate along a tall wall that surrounded the property. The house itself was even more heavily warded than the property and Sirius explained to him how the structure of the wards was built and which wards were put where and with what exceptions. It sounded really interesting and Harry listened attentively, once more feeling that knowing about warding seemed to be a rather useful skill, really. Maybe he should honestly think about this as a career path.

Besides that, Sirius continued to help Harry with his apparition skill and it worked out surprisingly well. At the end of the week, Harry was able to apparate from one end of the property to the other without splinching - thankfully! - and both Sirius and Remus told him that if he could do this, he was able to apparate anywhere else too. He still wanted to keep it a secret for the time being, maybe it would help him one day? It couldn't hurt to be underestimated after all.

 

When the break was over, Harry felt well-rested and happy. He had done all of his homework with the help of Remus and had devised a plan together with Sirius of what to tell Dumbledore should he ask about his whereabouts - although they were mostly sticking to the truth as Dumbledore couldn't enter Potter Manor without Harry allowing it anyway and this made a great excuse as to why Harry would most certainly not go back to the Dursleys this summer.

Another thing he had done was answering his fanmail. At first he hadn't been sure what Sirius had been talking about when he mentioned it, but then he remembered how his godfather had mentioned in passing that he was creating some sort of mailbox for him over Christmas. It was outside of Hogwarts, so that it wouldn't interfere with his studies, and both Sirius and Harry could add someone to the list of people that could send letters directly to him, but that didn't mean that he wanted to ignore the anonymous fanmail forever again. And he had gotten a lot of it, some of it answers to the huge package of letters he had sent out over the last holidays, some apologies after the Daily Prophet printed the article rectifying his reputations and a lot of other stuff, now that he was the public's darling again. Of course, some hate mail was there too, but he just threw those letters away and that was it.

It was rather annoying, but with his standardized answer letters he only had to write very few individual responses... And it did feel kind of nice that so many people seemed to love him - or, well, the 'Boy-Who-Lived', really. He would never be another Lockhart, of course, but he guessed being that popular did have its merits, really.

Thankfully the stack was much smaller than over Christmas, so with Sirius and Remus helping him again there was quite a bit of free time left, for example to explore the surrounding forest a little or just fly around on his broom, enjoying the view at the manor from above. He didn't dare going too high as he did not know how far up the wards went, but he had been high enough a few times to see that there was even more forest behind the wards.

He didn't even think about Easter besides the small package of colourful eggs he got from Mrs. Weasley, but even then he just sent back a polite thank you, not thinking the day as anything special anymore. It helped that Sirius and Remus didn't celebrate it either though.

 

Of course even then, one week was horribly short, especially when having fun, and so Harry found himself back at Hogwarts in no time at all, enjoying another calm ride with the Hogwarts Express together with Neville and Luna, who looked even closer than before, admitting after a question Harry couldn't hold back that they had met up over the holidays, with Luna showing Neville all kinds of curious plants that were growing around their house - like dirigible plums - and Neville showing quite some interest in her father's collection of oddities. It sounded pretty nice and Harry happily listened to them talking, although he was glad that eh could finally tell them a little bit of what he had done without fearing he'd give away some Order internals or whatever.

But he was also glad to see Ron and Hermione again, even though they seemed to have gotten into a fight over the holidays, since they weren't talking to each other. Harry tried to ask but after both just evaded the question he ignored it for the time being. They would make up again, they always did. Also, they were old enough to solve those problems for themselves without needing Harry's help.

Thankfully Harry's attention soon turned to something else than his brooding friends, for while they sat at their table during the small welcome back feast they had a clear view on the teachers table and could see quite a few new faces. Most students were already whispering about it and Harry himself was really interested too.

So when Dumbledore rose to speak, the whole hall quietened down, looking expectantly at him. Harry noted in passing how the headmaster looked a little stressed out, but didn't mind too much. He had to find three new teachers, a new caretaker and a new headquarter for the Order of the Phoenix after all, and all while dealing with the press somehow. Harry didn't envy him, but also didn't feel particularly sorry. It was his own fault after all for not thinking about some things earlier.

"To everyone who arrived here today, from a week of joyous holidays, let me welcome you back! And of course, I am glad to see all the students that stayed here over the holidays too, making the castle as lively as ever." He smiled his grandfatherly smile that made Harry hide a grimace. "As you were easily able to see, we have a few new faces in our faculty. To begin with, let us all welcome our new caretaker, Madame Genevieve Ollivander!"

He pointed at a woman sitting at the end of the teachers table, who looked decidedly normal, with dark blond hair that went just barely over her shoulders, making her look younger, despite her surely being older than thirty. There was polite applause all around and a lot of whispers - had he said Ollivander? Like the wand maker? - but she just looked at Dumbledore as if waiting for something. And he seemingly gave in after a moment.

"Madame Ollivander wanted to say a few things to you, so please bear with her just for a moment before the new teachers will be announced."

Instantly, said woman stood up, now looking to the tables where the students sat.

"First of all, I know you liked to call your previous caretaker by his last name, but do not try doing this with me. I am not 'Ollivander', for that will always be either my brother or my father. And yes, I am the daughter of Garrick Ollivander, the wand maker that probably sold most of your wands to you. Still, just call me Viv, or Madame Viv if you want to be formal. And remember that just because I gave you permission to call me by a nickname doesn't mean I won't give out detentions if you can't behave like civilised young men and women. Thank you."

She sat down again, leaving the hall in silence for a moment before the whispers began anew, just to be quietened when Dumbledore now continued to speak.

"Thank you. Now, let us welcome the rest of our new staff:" He pointed to the person occupying the place next to Hagrid. "Professor Grubbly-Plank will now be the permanent teacher for Care of Magical Creatures. Since many of you already had the pleasure of working with her I am sure this will work out splendidly!" Another round of applause, with about three fourths of the hall applauding a little harder than what was considered normal politeness... Well, Harry couldn't really blame them, he really liked Hagrid and at times the man had some interesting classes too, but at other times the creatures were just too dangerous for teaching... Professor Grubbly-Plank was a lot steadier there.

"The new teacher for Muggle Studies will be Professor Tonks," Dumbledore continued and Harry abruptly turned to stare at the spot where Dumbledore pointed at. But instead of the young woman with bubblegum pink hair he saw a fair-haired, big-bellied man, much older than Tonks herself, who was smiling merrily at the students.

Harry made a mental note to ask Tonks about that whenever they would meet up again as he joined the new round of polite applause. Maybe this man was her father or uncle? Not that he minded much, he didn't even take muggle studies after all, although he could hear Hermione mumbling under her breath that she wished she wouldn't have dropped out just to see how this teacher was faring.

But that wasn't as important for there was only one person left that had not been replaced, and said person probably was the cause of most of the rumours as of yet.

A pale, gaunt-looking man sat on the place that had, at times, been occupied by Professor Binns before, observing the students. As far as Harry could see he looked amused at something while playing with a strand of his rather long, dark hair.

Of course, many of the gossiping girls had already been enthralled by him, much like what Professor Pyrites had had to endure his first weeks of being here. Actually this time the man looked even younger than their Defence Professor, although Harry found it rather difficult to judge his age.

And as Dumbledore continued to talk it became rather clear as of why that was so.

"And while it is a pity to see Professor Binns leave us after more than fifty years of teaching, we can now welcome Professor Drakul into the staff."

At that, the hall basically exploded with noise as everyone seemed to be talking at the same time.

Harry felt mostly confused. Sure, the name sounded a little like 'Dracula' but other than that...?

"Werewolves, Vampires... What comes next, a Veela teacher?", he could hear someone at Gryffindor table asking acidly.

"I think it's awesome!", Seamus disagreed. "Just imagine what he can teach us! He's been alive for centuries!"

"What are you talking about?", Dean asked, confused, speaking Harry's thoughts.

"What do you mean? There's only one Drakul in history! Vlad Drakul, a really old vampire...!", Ron explained, sounding like he wasn't sure if he was to be excited or terrified.

"Wait, so this guy up there actually is Dracula?", Harry asked, looking disbelieving.

"Exactly! He's even got a Chocolate Frog card, did you never get it?" Ron sounded almost disbelieving, but Harry could just shrug. He didn't remember ever having seen that card, so... yeah.

Hermione joined in then too, seemingly forgetting that she was angry with Ron for the moment.

"How could a vampire be a teacher here, honestly? I mean, aren't they vulnerable to sunlight? Also, why would a centuries-old vampire choose to teach a bunch of children? That doesn't make sense!"

"He might be bored? I would certainly be after being alive for centuries," one of the older Gryffindors easily answered. "Also, it's currently dark outside anyway. If he has a room without windows or darkens the windows I don't think there should be a problem regarding his aversion against sunlight."

Hermione still seemed sceptical, but in that moment a loud bang sounded from the high table, making the students whirl around to look at it. Dumbledore was standing there, wand drawn and a smile on his face.

"There. I can understand that you are all very willing to discuss this most unusual development, but I suggest first listening to what Professor Drakul has to say for himself. You can continue your talks after the announcements are over, of course."

He almost seemed to wink at them, before turning to Professor Drakul, who was now rising from his seat, a smirk still visible on his face.

"Thank you for indulging me, headmaster," he said, in a velvety voice that held only a slight accent, making some girls swoon over him. It did sound rather nice though, Harry had to agree there. "Now, I am sure many of you students are wondering a great deal about me and whether I am who you think I am. So I will clear this up for you: Yes, I am Vlad Drakul, or, to be more precise, Count Vlad Drakul, voivode of Wallachia and member of the Order of the Dragon. Some of you might also know me as Dracula, for it was me who inspired that particular piece of fiction." There were a lot of whispers again and his smirk just seemed to widen. "This also means that I am a vampire, but do not worry, I can control my desire for blood. Although I would not mind voluntary donations... But I will explain about those at a later date. That was all."

With that, he sat down again and before the whispers in the hall could get too loud, Dumbledore spoke up again.

"Thank you. Now, since we are surely all well-fed and tired, I propose all of you go to their respective common rooms to catch up on what they did over the holidays and surely exchange some more ideas about the new teachers. But don't worry, you will be seeing them in action starting tomorrow, so your curiosity will soon be satisfied. Good night!"

And with these words chaos broke out as everyone stood up, wanting to talk to friends, gossiping and generally being excited. This seemed to be almost more interesting than the beginning of a new year, really!

Harry didn't quite get it, but even he was rather interested in seeing how having a vampire for a teacher would work out. For once he was looking forwards to History of Magic the next day... It might be something different for once. They would have to see.

 

Of course, the next morning he found himself back in the headmaster's office. He began to seriously wonder if this was allowed, for he was pretty sure that he had been called up into this office more often in this year alone than most students were their whole seven years in school. But of course, he was Harry Potter, he had to get the special treatment again, hadn't he? Even if it wasn't what he wanted. At all. Not that Dumbledore seemed to care. He didn't even have a justifiable reason to call him here! He was only his headmaster after all, that was no reason to inquire about where he was during the holidays. But Harry tried to stay calm, remembering what Sirius and Remus had told him, what they had planned together.

So when Dumbledore looked on the table between them, gravely asking where Harry had vanished to these holidays he hesitated just enough to seem reluctant, before starting to talk.

"Well... Sirius took me to Potter Manor."

He wasn't sure if Dumbledore was shocked at this revelation or not, if he was he hid it well, as he sounded completely calm, a little apologetic even.

"So you know about it. I am sorry for not telling you earlier. Did Sirius explain to you about it?"

Harry wondered if Dumbledore was fishing for information - although if he was honest, wasn't the headmaster doing that all the time? - as he answered the way he had practised with Sirius.

"Well, he told me that this was a house my parents wanted me to live in and how many pranks they played there." And Sirius had actually done that, so Harry didn't need to act when a small, amused smile played around his lips. "Also, he said that he was keyed into the wards, which means that he can come and go there whenever he wants."

"Did he tell you why he chose to bring you there instead of the headquarters of the Order?"

"Well... He said he kicked everyone out," Harry admitted, knowing that feigning ignorance in this wouldn't work. "But I don't really know why."

Dumbledore nodded slowly, as if in understanding.

"I see..." He then leant forwards a little bit. "And I am sure you had a fun holiday, but alas, I have to ask you to try and talk sense into your godfather..."

He sounded almost sad, making Harry frown in confusion.

"What do you mean?"

"I do not know why he closed the doors to the headquarters for the time being, but if you could try and convince him to reopen them it would benefit us all... I am sure Sirius had his reasons but this is a major setback in the fight against Voldemort, so please, explain the situation to him if you can," Dumbledore explained.

It seemed as if he really couldn't reach Sirius himself, Harry just couldn't imagine being asked for help otherwise. Although he was surprised that Dumbledore didn't flat out ask about getting keyed into the wards of Potter Manor, but who knew why the man was omitting this piece of information now...

"I can try, but I'm not sure he will listen to me," Harry answered nervously after a moment, pretty sure though that this wouldn't be happening, even if he would actually try and convince Sirius of this.

Dumbledore nodded slowly.

"Of course, I understand. Although I fear that if you do not manage this task I am not sure when we can move you from your relatives. We need to find new headquarters and ward them accordingly, so please, do try your best..."

Harry stared at the table between them in surprise and anger. Was Dumbledore now blackmailing him into this thing? He couldn't believe it!

"Alright, I will try..." he muttered, unable to keep keep the anger completely out of his voice and as such sounding a little strained. But Dumbledore just sighed.

"I know this irritates you my boy, but I will try my best to manage something at least before the end of summer holidays. Earlier of course if we manage to get our headquarters back."

"...I'll talk to him," Harry said, before standing up. He wasn't sure how much longer he would be able to keep this act up, he was seriously getting angry now. "May I go? I don't want to be late for History of Magic..."

Dumbledore nodded.

"Certainly, I don't want to keep you. Oh, and before I forget: Your first Occlumency lesson will start on Thursday morning. You have a free period there usually if I am not mistaken?"

"No, sir, it's true," Harry agreed quietly. Of course Dumbledore knew, he had cancelled Pyrites' lessons after all...!

Still, he quickly bid the headmaster goodbye then and hurried to the Great hall, hoping to at least catch some leftovers from breakfast before having to go to History of Magic.

And he definitely had to check if there was a rule against summoning a student to the headmaster's office that often... Just in case.

Chapter Text

Chapter 37: It's (almost) all about History

When he arrived in the History of Magic classroom together with Ron and Hermione who had been nice enough to wait for him, they couldn't help but stop and stare. Each window was completely darkened with thick, velvety curtains, the only light in the room coming from torches at the wall. Of course, thinking about it it made sense, for their teacher was a bloody Vampire, so letting in the sunlight wasn't exactly the best idea, but still... It was a pretty unusual sight for this classroom, especially so since for once the room was already almost full, filled with the constant chattering of their year-mates. This was probably the most excited Harry had seen the others in this class since ever, but he could understand. He himself was more than curious, so the three of them quickly took their seats next to Neville, who had been nice enough to reserve some for them and prepared everything for the lesson.

The second the bell rang to signalise the start of the lesson their teacher materialised in front of them, causing some of the students who sat at the front to scream in surprise.

The rest of them, Harry included, mostly stared. How had the man done that? Apparating wasn't possible inside of Hogwarts after all!

"Good morning," Professor Drakul greeted them evenly. "If anyone missed it yesterday, my name is Vlad Drakul and I am a vampire. And yes, I do have an aversion to sunlight, which means that we will soon be relocating into the dungeons. Setting up a classroom needs some preparation though, so this room here is the temporary solution. But if anyone thinks it would be a funny joke to open the curtains at any time to let some sunlight in, I will count this as attempted murder and suck the offender dry." He smiled at them at this, making it all the more unbelievable that he had just basically given them a death threat... That was certainly... unusual for a new teacher. Well, Harry was rather glad that he wasn't sitting near the windows right now, for the people who did had blanched rather strongly. Professor Drakul didn't seem to care much. "Now that this is out of the way, a few other announcements before we start: I will not give or take any house points, just so you know. I want no part of this contest to see what house has the most teachers pets. Same goes with detentions, I will not give out these time-wasters for you and me. But I will kick you out should I notice that you do not have the will to learn. I noticed that this lesson was not the most popular in the past and I do understand that history can be difficult to get into with the wrong teachers, but I will not stand for students who do not wish to learn in this class. I won't care if you are here or not, but as long as you are in this classroom you will either learn or leave. Is that understood?"

Surprised silence reigned between them. This certainly wasn't what they had imagined but if it was better or worse... Only time would tell, probably.

"Very well, I will take your silence as a yes," Professor Drakul then said after nobody spoke up for another long moment, before grabbing a list off of his table, probably for doing roll call. But instead of reading the names of the students aloud, checking if they were here or not, he just seemed to skim the list until his eyes locked on something.

"Mr. Longbottom, please stand up for a moment," he said and Harry shot a worried look over to Neville, who had gone white but shakily stood up. Nervously Harry looked back and forth between the teacher and his friend, but Professor Drakul just mustered the other for a moment before nodding. "Thanks, that was all."

Now even more confused Neville just stared at him, but the teacher had already turned away, looking onto some other parchment on his desk so he slowly lowered himself back to his seat.

Harry frowned a little. What was this all about? Did Professor Drakul want to single Neville out? If so, this could get even worse than with Snape as Neville hadn't even done anything yet... But the teacher hadn't looked particularly mean... Hm...

"Good... Now, as my part of the introduction is over, are there any more questions before we begin with the lesson?"

At first nobody seemed to dare asking anything, until Lavender nudged Parvati - something Harry only noticed as they sat directly in front of him - and the latter carefully raised a hand.

Immediately, Professor Drakul's eyes were on her.

"Yes?"
"Um... Yesterday you said something about... blood donations, right...?" she asked, fidgeting a little under his gaze. "What did you mean by that?"

"Ah, that..." his face cleared and he even smiled a little. "Yes, I decided on organise blood donations once per term. Every student who wants may donate some blood to me. There is no reward or anything though as I would be perfectly fine without those donations, but whoever wants to help me may do so. I will only draw a little blood too, and only with fierce regulations. I will add some information about it on the black boards in all of your common rooms at the end of each term, but the basics are that you have to be deemed healthy enough for a blood donation and either seventeen or with permission of your parents or guardians. Everything else will be explained later, for I think you should be worrying more about passing your OWLs than about donating blood."

She blushed a little and nodded, before staying silent - something he seemed to see as a sign to keep looking through the room.

"Any other questions?"

"How did you appear out of thin air before?" Michael Corner asked, for they had History of Magic together with the Ravenclaws. "You can't apparate inside of Hogwarts after all..."

"Well, I didn't apparate. I was there the whole time," Professor Drakul answered easily.

"Did you turn invisible then?" another student asked.

"Let's just say, it has certain merits to be a vampire," the teacher answered mysteriously, leaving Harry to wonder if there was any real reason behind keeping this a secret or if he just wanted to keep this air of mystery around him... Because that at least was working perfectly well, he found it difficult to judge the man at all...

"Anything else?"

Silence reigned after that. Harry thought about asking what this action with Neville was supposed to be, but if he was honest with himself he didn't quite dare... Also, he was rather glad that for whatever reason the professor hadn't paid attention to him as of now, so it was probably better to stay quiet for now.

"Very well," Professor Drakul was saying then, taking a stack of paper into his hands. "Then let's begin with our actual first lesson. I've prepared a short questionnaire concerning different time periods and historical events. Please fill out as much as you know without using your books, I need to see on what level you currently are to make sure you are as prepared as possible for the upcoming O.W.L. exams."

A collective groaning was heard - a test in their first lesson with the new teacher? Just great - but Harry was actually rather curious. He had tried his best to keep up with the material of Binns this year, so he could only hope that it would at least somehow help him there.

"Mr. Longbottom, be so kind as to help me distributing the sheets," Professor Drakul continued then and once again Neville was white as a sheet as he stood up and stumbled to the front. Harry nervously watched how his friend shook as he got handed half of the sheets. "Now now, no need to be afraid, I won't bite."

Harry wasn't sure if that was supposed to be humour - the professor was even winking - but Neville seemed to get even whiter, giving off some sort of nervous squeak before hurriedly bringing some distance between them, distributing the sheets to one half of the room as Professor Drakul took the other half.

"What's that?" one of the pureblood Ravenclaws suddenly called out, pointing at the paper in front of them. And only then Harry realised that it was actual paper, not the parchment he had become used to in Hogwarts.

"Paper," Professor Drakul answered calmly. "The muggle version of parchment, so to speak. I know it's not wide-spread around here, but I will use it for my lessons, no arguments."

Huh... What a weird decision... Although Harry guessed that if he had already been alive for centuries maybe it was just normal to get a little weird.

And then, finally, all the sheets were distributed and Neville was back on his seat, looking very much relieved.

"Very well. You may begin, write the answers to the best of your knowledge, you have... Let's say, thirty minutes for it," Professor Drakul said before sitting down behind his desk and actually pulling out a book.

Harry stared at the scene for a few seconds, not quite comprehending the seeming... randomness of the teacher, before shaking his head and focussing on his questionnaire. No use in pondering over stuff like that now.

The first question on the paper seemed innocent enough, too.

'Name one major conflict that has happened in the last one hundred years and the partaking factions.'

It felt almost like cheating but Harry still wrote the last Wizarding War down, he knew it well enough he guessed... Including the factions, the Death Eaters and the rest of Great Britain - though the aurors were probably the main faction.

He would have liked to include the order of the Phoenix too, but... It was kind of a secret organisation, so... bad idea. Instead he focussed on the next question.

'Now, point out why the winner of the previously named conflict won and name at least three things you can learn from this conflict - take both factions into consideration for that.'

Harry blinked. That was much more difficult! And actually not something he had expected, but after a moment of thinking he began writing anyway.

 

The other questions followed mostly the same scheme. Only few of them actually wanted dates and even the ones that did were normally fine with a very rough naming like 'the second half of the fifteenth century'. But at the same time many questions related more to the 'Why?' and 'How?' than to the 'What?'. Harry certainly didn't know all the answers - the question regarding an early Goblin rebellion he even outright skipped, remembering only hangman games with Ron in those long lessons with Binns - but he still rather liked the style of the questions, for it gave more room to interpret and think about what had happened instead of just plain out writing what was standing in the text books anyway.

He was at one of the last questions when suddenly, the classroom door banged open, startling most of the room as two men entered, with their robes billowing behind them and their wands drawn.

"Stay right there Mister Drakul! We're from the Vampire Registry of the Being Division from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures!" one of them said, holding up some sort of badge in the teacher's general direction.

"I don't think reading a book implies a particular high risk of flight," Professor Drakul replied wryly, but he closed the book and placed it in front of him on the table. "Although I would ask you to please return after the lesson is over. You are interrupting a test."

"I don't think you've got the right to talk anymore! You've been accused of illegally entering Great Britain without registering yourself and even taking on a job without previously seeking approval with the Ministry. As such we've come to arrest you for illicit work. Will you come quietly or do we have to use force?"

Harry's eyes widened a little at the scene unfolding in front of them and the silence that followed these words was apprehensive, as if nobody dared to move and miss something.

Finally Professor Drakul stood up.

"I don't think so," he said calmly, causing the Ministry official to straighten his wand, pointing it directly at him.

"What? You vampire scum-"

He had to stop then, for the vampire had suddenly moved from his position at the desk to directly in front of him, causing the official to stare in shock.

But Professor Drakul wasn't attacking. Instead, he gently placed a hand upon the other's shoulder, looking directly into his eyes, suddenly seeming a lot more... appealing?

"Now, why don't we talk like civilised men, hm?" he said softly, before slowly running his hand up the official's neck until it rested on his cheek.

"Uh... well... I..." the man stuttered, looking flustered and confused, his colleague watching the whole scene mortified. What the hell was going on there?!

"You don't want to inspect me right now, do you...?" Professor Drakul muttered, leaning forward until his lips almost touched the other man's ear. "In fact, I think you deserve a day off... How about you take your friend here to a bar? I'll not leave the castle after all... Just come back another day, maybe in the evening? Does that sound good...?"

"Uh... yeah..." the man answered weakly, his face flushed as he kept staring at the vampire who smiled at him.

"Very well. Then off you go...! Have fun!"

He turned the man around to face the still opened door before pushing him slightly, making him take a few insecure steps forward, before turning to the second official.

"Now, I would suggest following your colleague, yes?" he said, still smiling and the men hurriedly nodded, leaving the room quickly, causing the teacher to close the door behind them.

Immediately it seemed as if some sort of... aura fell away, for as he turned around he looked totally normal again, as if nothing weird had happened at all.

"Now, I believe you had still about... three minutes left before those officials were interrupting us, correct? So please just continue, I will give you additional time to finish, hopefully without another interruption."

"What did you just do?" Terry Boot asked incredulously, making Professor Drakul look at him.

"Nothing at all... I just explained to them that it was an inconvenient time, did I not? I don't really like unexpected interruptions."

"Are you gay?" a girl asked, obviously not happy with that explanation. He turned to her.

"Why would you think so?"

That seemed to make her insecure.

"W-Well the way you acted with this man just now..."

"Like I said, normal conversation. He wasn't even my type anyway," he answered, waving his hand. "But to clear the confusion for you: No, I am not gay. And now I would suggest to write, you've got two minutes left."

That seemed to be all they would be getting for the moment and the girl seemingly had realised that too, so she quietened down and they all settled back into answering their last few questions, although Harry couldn't help but keep thinking about the situation just now... He could have sworn there had been... something weird going on... As if it had become difficult to tear his eyes from the vampire... But maybe he had just imagined it? He probably should just forget about it, but he told himself he would have to check his literature again regarding vampires and their skills... There was pretty much Professor Drakul wasn't telling them and Harry couldn't help but being curious about some of it... He would have to see.

 

After that the rest of the lesson was almost boring compared to the beginning, but it was still loads better than any of Binns's lessons had ever been. Professor Drakul talked about historical events as if he had been there - and with some, he even freely admitted that he had been there - and instead of just giving them dates and happenings, although that was part of it too, he explained more about the motivations of the people, of the aftermath and what one could learn from it. Because he was a strong advocate of the principle that history was something everyone could and should learn from, to keep it from repeating itself indefinitely...

It was very interesting.

Sadly the lesson was over way too soon and as such they went back to the usual stuff, where nothing else seemed to have changed very much. Although it was very interesting to see Madame Viv walking the huge corridors of the school instead of Filch, as she was a much friendlier presence than the old squib had ever been, even though she was also scolding people if they made the floors of the castle overly dirty and fairly reported the troublemakers to their Head of Houses... But it seemed that with magic, the whole caretaker job was a lot easier, making Harry wonder why Filch had ever been doing that... Keeping a huge castle clean without magic sounded horrible, no wonder he was always grumpy.

Because of all these things happening time flew though and as such it was Thursday way too soon and Harry was standing in front of the small office he and Moody would meet in. He had gotten the location just this morning via owl and while on one hand he was glad to get more education he really missed his training sessions with Professor Pyrites... The teacher had acted so much like an older brother of some sorts and helped him a lot, it was not easy to see his lessons replaced with Moody. Who wasn't a bad guy or anything, but still... Firmly on Dumbledore's side, wasn't he? Maybe he should speak to Tonks about that, she had been trained by Moody too after all if he remembered correctly...

Still, he was not exactly somebody Harry wanted to share his memories with.

"Potter, stop standing in front of the door like a coward and come in!" Moody's voice suddenly shouted from inside the room, making Harry jump a little.

Damn him and his magical eye that could see through everything it seemed...

Taking a deep breath he opened the door and stepped into the room. It was mostly empty and there was a lot of space to move around. Moody was already standing in the middle of the room, his wand drawn.

As Harry was just closing the door, he suddenly heard a shout.

"Legilimens!"

Reflexively ducking, the spell only barely missed him, hitting the door instead where it vanished with a quiet hiss. Harry whirled around.

"What the-?"

"Not bad," Moody just commented. "But also not good enough. Legilimens!" Another bolt of light shot out of his wand, but while Harry dodged that one too - he had trained for quite a while after all - he hadn't been prepared for the second one, cast only a moment later but silently it seemed, for it quickly connected with him and memories began flashing in front of his eyes once again.

Using the little exercise he had with Professor Pyrites he did his best to clear his mind, trying to keep the other out... Only to be brought down after a moment with his sight growing dark...

When he woke up again Moody was standing over him, his wand pointed at him.

"If that would've been Voldemort, you'd be dead now, Potter," he said harshly and despite the situation Harry couldn't help but think that he wasn't so sure about that anymore... But of course, he kept that particular info to himself. "So, what did you do wrong?"

Harry tried to think. "Um... I should have anticipated you attacking me, sir?" Harry tried, having no idea what Moody wanted from him.

The man grunted.

"That too, but not what I meant. First: Dodging is all well and good, but use the time you gain by dodging to cast a shield, otherwise your enemy can adjust his tactics and catch you off-guard. And second: While it's a good idea to have some Occlumency shields, don't just stand there and wait while your opponent tries to enter your mind. Fend him off by firing a spell in his direction, interrupt his concentration somehow. If you stand against a stronger opponent you won't hold out against his mental attack forever anyway, and if not it's easy to overpower him while he's distracted. Otherwise people might cancel their mind attacks on their own and hit you with something while you're still confused. Which was what I did just now. Always keep one step ahead of your enemy! And now get up, we'll try again."

Staring for a moment in surprise and disbelief Harry only barely managed to scramble up as Moody began to throw more spells at him.

Damn... This would not be fun...

Chapter Text

Chapter 38: Who needs a quiet end of the year?

If Harry had ever thought Professor Pyrites' lessons had been hard, he was reconsidering now. They were nothing compared to what Moody made him live through. But at the same time he was a little surprised, for while the main theme of everything the man was teaching him did revolve around Occlumency and Legilimency, the way he was getting taught resembled a real defence training much more, including several points of 'How to overpower your enemy best' and 'How to make sure you're safe in the face of an unwanted duel'. Although that, of course, meant that Harry was spending way more time bruised or even unconscious than he liked... And he was wondering if that really had been what Dumbledore had had in mind for this, but... It was still way better than the auror actually invading his mind so he wasn't complaining.

And History of Magic was actually interesting now, with Professor Drakul announcing the day after Harry's first lesson with Moody that their knowledge really was pitiful and that he would try his best to improve that in those last weeks leading to their exams... A difficult job but he did pretty well, when he talked history felt almost alive, especially so when he was beginning to sprinkle some of his own experiences into his explanations. The only weird thing was that he never called anyone by their name except for Neville and a handful of other students spread throughout the years and houses. But he never explained that particular habit so in the end they just got accustomed to it... Also, it was easier than ever to listen attentively and Harry even noticed how Ron of all people was paying attention to the lessons, sometimes even going so far as to scribble something down.

If that wasn't proof that the quality of the class had shot up drastically, Harry didn't know anymore.

Although that didn't mean it got any easier, Professor Drakul was basically flooding them with even more homework that, together with the rest of their classes, piled up even though Harry tried his best to work on them as early as possible... A lot of his time was spent studying now and as such he had to cut his trips to the Room of Requirement short and even in the evenings he could barely talk to Shiva anymore, wanting to catch as much sleep as possible before the chaos that called itself schoolwork continued... He didn't even have time to check out the books about vampirism he had had in mind.

Adding further to their stress was Careers Advice, where students were supposed to sit together with their Head of House and discuss what they wanted to do after school, to make sure they took the right courses for their NEWTs and stuff. Originally planned to happen the first week of this term it had been moved to the third week to let the students get accustomed to their new teachers first, as Careers Advice meetings could happen during class too. Not that Harry cared too much, his was scheduled at the beginning of Divination, so it was a very welcome thing as despite everything that had been happening he still hated that subject with a passion.

A lot of flyers had already been spread throughout the common rooms too and Harry himself had looked through quite a few of them, but it was pretty difficult to think of what he really wanted to do... Because of that he was rather insecure when walking to his own Careers Advice session, but he thought he might just give it a try anyway.

He knocked at the door of Professor McGonagall's office at the scheduled time and was quickly asked in, where the first thing he noticed was that she wasn't alone. In fact, Professor Pyrites was sitting in a corner, a plain, black clipboard in his hands, just like the one he had used when checking their classes.

"Professor?" Harry asked in surprise, not sure if the question was directed at Professor McGonagall or Professor Pyrites, but the latter reacted first.

"No worries about my presence Mr. Potter, I'm just here for statistical purposes, you know? The Ministry likes to be informed about the general gist of what students want to become et cetera... Just ignore me," he explained with an easy smile, making Harry nod after a moment and focus on Professor McGonagall, who didn't look all too happy about that arrangement but kept quiet.

Instead she just gestured to the chair in front of her desk.

"Sit down, Potter," she said while shuffling the pamphlets that were displayed on the table, and after he had done so she continued to speak. "So, as you should know by now this meeting is there to find out what career ideas you might have and help you decide on some suited path, so let me come straight to the point: Have you already thought about what you might want to do after Hogwarts?"

"Well... I had thought... Maybe I could look into warding?" Harry answered hesitatingly, knowing that this choice of career probably wasn't what she expected. And, true enough, she raised her eyebrows.

"Warding?" she asked in surprise, before frowning a little. "With all due respect to your improved grades Potter, but going into that branch requires NEWTs in Ancient Runes and Arithmancy, and at least 'Exceeded Expectations' grades too. And you elected none of them."

Harry groaned slightly. He knew his choice of electives had been stupid, but this was more than annoying to hear now.

As if sensing his frustration Professor McGonagall relented a little. "Of course, it's possible to learn them on your own, but that requires a lot of work even after your Hogwarts years..." She shook her head a little. "To be honest with you, I would suggest another career. Not that I don't believe you couldn't do it, given enough motivation, but... still. Don't you have anything else you might want to do?"

Harry thought about it, but he really didn't know. Warding sounded neat and he liked Defence in general, but what kind of job description fit that?

Professor McGonagall once again seemed to somehow know what he was thinking, as she changed tactics.

"Alright, let's try a different approach: What subjects were you planning on keeping for you NEWTs?"

For that Harry at least didn't have to think long. "Well... If possible all of them except for Divination and Astronomy." And maybe Care of Magical Creatures, he really wasn't sure if that was what he needed, he was already almost overwhelmed with Shiva and his rare visits to Zephyr... And besides that, most of his meetings with magical creatures as of yet had ended more or less horrible, so... yeah.

Professor McGonagall looked rather surprised for a moment though, before nodding.

"Well, that is favourable then." She pulled out as small, dark folder from below her desk and looked through it for a moment. "Yes, most of your grades seem to fit... To be accepted into the NEWT courses of at least Transfiguration and Charms you will have to achieve at least "Exceeded Expectations" or higher at Ordinary Wizarding Level, something you will most probably manage if you keep up your work from this year. I can easily see that you are more than adept in Defence Against the Dark Arts and your Potions and Herbology grades seem satisfactory too. The only subjects you need to take care of are History of Magic and Care of Magical Creatures. If you want to continue those you will have to put a bit more work into it, for Professor Grubbly-Plank only accepts students with at least an 'Exceeded Expectations' and while your theoretical work is about the correct level your practical performances seem to rank more into 'Acceptable' range... And regarding History..." She pursed her lips for a moment. "While Professor Drakul is fine with taking anyone who will at least achieve an 'Acceptable' grade your grades from the previous years are... rather abysmal."

Harry looked at the ground, knowing she was totally right. But - to his defence - everyone's grades except for Hermione's were probably on a similar level...

"I'm trying to improve this year," he said as such and she nodded.

"Very well. But let's get back to your career options: With high NEWTs in the core subjects you will have quite a few options available after school. How about auror, for example? Your father has been one, after all," she proposed, but he just grimaced. There was just no way he'd throw his life away like that, he had already experienced enough troubles like that in school for a lifetime, honestly!

"Sorry professor, but I think that's not quite the right path for me," he answered carefully as such. "I know I once wanted to be one, just like my father, but I think I prefer to walk my own way these days..."

She looked at him for a long moment with an unreadable expression before nodding.

"It's your decision of course. Another option you might want to look at would be healer, or maybe teacher?" she proposed and he hummed in thought.

Both choices did sound rather nice too, but he wasn't sure if he wanted to work with people to be honest, especially as those people would most probably only see the Boy-Who-Lived in him, something that didn't sound very appealing.

"Oh, you could also think about pursuing a professional Quidditch career. You are a formidable player, I'm sure there are quite a few teams who would accept you without a problem," she added, almost as an afterthought but with a certain vigour behind her words.

But he already shook his head.

"I don't think that would work out. I mean, I really like flying, but I'm not sure if I would want to play Quidditch professionally... Actually..." He hesitated for a moment, unsure about voicing what he had already been thinking about for a while. But in the end he needed to tell his Head of House anyway, so right now would work too. He took a deep breath. "I want to quit the team next year."

"What?" Professor McGonagall asked sharply and her face morphed into absolute shock. "But why?"

Harry shrugged. "I want to concentrate more on my schoolwork and while Quidditch is a lot of fun all the training sessions cut into my free time a lot..."

"But Potter, you can't quit, I wanted to make you Team Captain next year!" she announced, making him blink in surprise. Did she? On one hand that sounded great, for being a Quidditch Captain meant having rather similar privileges as prefects had, but at the same time it meant even more responsibility and less free time...

"I'm sorry professor," he answered as such, actually honestly sorry but unwilling to change his mind. "I'll do my best against Ravenclaw next month to get the Cup, but after that I'm out... I'm sure you'll find a suitable replacement."

She stared at him, still looking a little shocked, but finally she got herself back under control and nodded slowly.

"Alright, if that's what you want...Should you change your mind up to the beginning of August though please send me an owl, yes?"

"Of course..."

 

In the end they decided on nothing really. For himself, Harry would keep the three major choices he had - warder, healer and teacher - in his mind and, depending on his grades and his thoughts about everything after school, would decide on one of them when it was time.

For now, all focus was on the upcoming Quidditch game, taking much time to learn away from him but he was still nervous, knowing that they'd have to get a high win to get the Cup, as Hufflepuff only narrowly beat Slytherin in their match.

He needn't have worried though, for Ravenclaw got crushed. He didn't quite know how, but Ron had finally managed to get his stuff together and been awesome, almost rivalling Wood as he saved Quaffle after Quaffle. In fact he'd been so good, that that horrible 'Weasley is our King' song coming from Slytherin side had been spontaneously reinvented, now functioning almost like a hymn of praise for Ron. And Harry was most definitely happy for his friend, gladly supporting him - while enjoying not being the one in the spotlight for once - and in general being in a great mood.

Until June arrived and with it the last weeks of preparation for the OWLs.

Besides now learning full-time when not in classes Hermione - and by that Ron too - was busy with confiscating all kinds of things that students wanted to sell as 'aids to concentration' like some sort of black-market and Harry was once more glad he didn't have to do that, instead using the time to polish up his knowledge of History of Magic, his weakest subject by far. At least he could cheer Ron up with talks of the latest Quidditch game whenever their workload seemed too dreadful to continue...

 

When the OWLs finally arrived, they were rather... anticlimactic, considering all the stress they had went through for them. They had been split in theoretical and practical examinations and in the end, Harry was pretty sure that he had done alright with them all. Even History of Magic hadn't been as horrible as he had feared - although he had spent a lot of time on revising everything - and he was pretty sure that at least in the practical Defence exam he had achieved an "Outstanding". Casting a corporeal Patronus after being asked if he had any other spell he might like to perform probably helped with that though.

Still, it was like a weight as huge as Hogwarts itself had been lifted from his shoulders the moment he walked out of the History of Magic exam - which had been the last - and judging from the expressions of the people around him they felt rather similar. Except for Hermione of course, who frantically tried to find someone to ask if her answers to certain questions had been a little too vague and so on, but... Well, that was rather normal for her.

What was left was a week of relaxing as nothing could be done anymore now until they received their results sometime in July. Even the lessons with Moody had ended for the time being, with the auror explaining to Harry that he would assume that Harry kept up his practise during the summer holidays - at least the mental part - and that he would check at the beginning of the next year if further lessons were necessary. All on Dumbledore's orders, of course... Harry was just glad that most of the Legilimency attacks of the man had been weak ones, to show how Harry could work around it, instead of real attacks. He just had too many secrets he didn't want revealed...

Still, he didn't have to worry about all that for a few months now, so Harry used his newfound free time to retreat back into the Room of Requirements for some time together with Shiva, often joined by Ron and Hermione, to read, talk or in general relax for it seemed that for once in his life nothing weird or horrible seemed to happen at the end of the year...

Of course, life seemed to like proving him wrong.

It was the last day of term, the day of the End of the Year feast for they would take the Hogwarts Express back home the next morning. Harry had already talked to Sirius and Remus and made sure that while he would have to go back to the Dursleys for the time being - they didn't want to go too openly against Dumbledore after all - they would be taking him to Potter Manor the very next day, so everything was set.

He had just been leaving the Room of Requirement for the last time this term - taking the stuff he had left there some time during the year with him to pack it up - when he noticed a movement in the seventh floor corridor.

He wasn't sure if he had seen it correctly, but for a moment... He shook his head. He had thought he had just seen Dahlia, but it couldn't have been. He hadn't had any sort of contact with her after their meeting in Diagon Alley and she had told him herself she was a squib, so... No.

Hurrying through the corridors he made a quick trip to the Gryffindor tower to put away the books he had gathered before excusing himself once again. He wanted to make one last trip to Zephyr for this school year.

When he arrived, the dragon once again had his head on his paws, looking as if resting. But he did open an eye as Harry approached, looking at him calmly.

"Hello Zephyr," Harry greeted politely as Shiva came out from below his robes, repeating his greeting, and the dragon nodded slightly.

"Hello Serpent Speaker and Serpent Queen. What brings you here today?"

"Uh... Well, I wanted to tell you that I won't be able to visit you for the next few months," Harry said, causing the dragon to incline his head.

"Why is that?"

"The school year is over and that means we will be having summer vacation, far away from here, for a little over two months."

"Ah... is that the reason why your big friend, Hagrid, has been looking so sad?"

Harry blinked a few times before frowning.

"What do you mean? Hagrid normally stays here over the holidays as far as I know..."

"I do not know. To me he seemed to behave like he was leaving," the dragon explained. Huh... He needed to speak with Hagrid, then, what meaning there was behind this. Maybe Zephyr had simply misinterpreted Hagrid's actions?

"Anyway, I was wondering..." Harry hesitated for a moment. He hadn't really thought this through, but it had been an idea in his head for a while now and Shiva had agreed to at least ask, for it couldn't hurt. "In case you might get bored over the holidays, I thought maybe you want to visit me? I have a big property in the middle of a huge forest and everything..."

Zephyr looked at him for a moment, making Harry wonder what he thought as it was almost impossible to judge the dragon's mood for him, before giving off a rumbling sound. Was that laughter?

"Thank you for the offer Serpent Speaker, but I do not think it is necessary. Two months are not very much for me, time flows a little different for us dragons I believe. But your kindness is appreciated nonetheless," he explained, making Harry blush a little. He hadn't really thought about it like that...

 

He was just on his way back to the castle after some more talking with Zephyr when it happened.

At first, nothing seemed amiss as he hurried along the path between the ancient trees of the Forbidden Forest... Until the first spider jumped out of nowhere, blocking his path and sending him to an abrupt, shocked halt.

In front of him an Acromantula towered, easily fifteen feet tall, it's pincers clicking agitatedly. And as if that hadn't been worse enough, even more Acromantulas suddenly appeared left and right, some taller, some smaller than the first one, practically enclosing him.

"You insolent human walked the path through our territory for the last time today," one of them said, it's pincers clicking with every spoken word.

Harry's eyes widened. Their territory? Had Hagrid actually put the dragon into the Acromantula part of the forest?!

"I-I'm sorry, I didn't know!" he tried to placate the spiders, pretty sure that he would not be able to fight them all, as he remembered his previous pretty much unsuccessful tries all too well.

"Liar!" one of them said, clicking angrily. "We saw you passing through with Hagrid! He knows where our boundaries lie! But we may not kill him because of Aragog. He never said anything about other meat though..."

The Acromantulas were now slowly advancing all around him and he knew that it didn't matter anymore what he said, they would kill him if he didn't act now.

He let his wand shoot into his hand and ripped it up, casting the first spell he thought might help: "Incendio!"

Fire burst out of the tip of his wand and hit the first Acromantula straight in the face, setting its body hair on flame easily, making it screech in pain and reel back. Which was a good thing, but at the same time it caused the other spiders to attack. Something he probably should have seen coming, but what still caught him by surprise.

One of them grabbed him, raising him up in the air, causing him to wince at its strength. Still, he had at least one spell he knew worked against that.

"Expelliarmus!"

The Acromantula dropped him again and - learning from past mistakes - he tried his best to break his fall as to not hurt his feet again as he still needed those to somehow flee...

Well, the resulting snap at least didn't come from there, but instead a lot of pain shot through his left wrist, making him close his eyes for a short moment as he suppressed a curse.

Sometimes he hated his life...

When he opened his eyes again he quickly had to roll away though, for a spider had positioned itself over him, ready to strike.

As such it just managed to scrape his arm with its pincers, which caused him to scream out in pain nonetheless, doubly so as he supported himself on his probably broken wrist to get up again.

Damn it!

The Acromantula turned around, obviously ready to strike again, but just then Shiva finally managed to emerge from below his robes and shot towards the spider, sinking her fangs into its leg, causing it to collapse.

Immediately Shiva flew to the next spider that was close, giving Harry enough time to come back to his senses - as fast as his pain-clouded mind was allowing it - and cast another Incendio at an Acromantula that was coming too close.

Knowing that normal spells had almost no effect on those creatures he then switched to a spell he had read about a while ago, though back then he had thought he would never have to use it: A darker, stronger variant of the cutting spell, that actually cut through the nearest leg of the Acromantula he had aimed at, causing it to stumble and him to repeat the incantation.

Right now he really didn't care if that was supposed to be dark magic, for it was most definitely saving his behind...

But no matter how many spiders he cut away or tried to incinerate and no matter how many of them Shiva bit as she slithered around him, hissing aggressively and causing the Acromantulas near her to back away, it seemed as if for every spider they killed another took its place, and judging from his fuzzy memory from second year the Acromantula colony was huge... They'd never manage to get away... And Acromantula venom was pretty bad, too... Not as deadly as Basilisk venom of course, but he had still gotten quite a bit of it in his bloodstream it seemed and it was already making its way through his system...

As his eyesight began to blur he heard a roar and suddenly there were bright, scarlet flames all around him as the Acromantulas began to scatter, screeching and clicking in hate and pain but otherwise fleeing.

The last thing Harry saw before his vision went black was a lot of white and a slightly reproachful voice was heard.

"You should have been more careful, Serpent Speaker..."

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 39: Summery Surprises

When Harry returned to consciousness he groaned slightly, for he felt absolutely whacked. He dimly remembered fighting with a group of Acromantulas, so... was he in the Hospital Wing again...? And here he was hoping he'd skip that place for one year...

"Harry? Are you awake?" a voice asked and Harry's eyes shot open.

That had been neither Madame Pomfrey nor one of his friends.

"Sirius...?" he croaked out, noticing just then how his throat felt like sandpaper. Ouch. But that was still secondary to his surprise, especially as he noticed that he wasn't in the Hospital Wing at all, but some room that looked surprisingly much like Potter Manor...

"Harry!"

Immediately he felt arms around himself as he was hugged tightly.

"Sirius, let him breathe," Remus' voice came from the side and when Sirius sheepishly let him go Harry slowly sat up, wanting to get a better look around while trying to ignore his aching body. Although his wrist didn't hurt anymore, so he must have gotten at least some sort of treatment.

He really was in Potter Manor, he kind of recognised the design of the room - though it wasn't the one he had been living in during the Easter holidays even if it looked similar - and he was now sitting on a bed, with Sirius directly next to him and Remus positioned by the door.

"What... How did I get here?" Harry asked quietly, not wanting to strain his vocal chords more than necessary. He slowly began to remember the fight in more details... He had been infected with some Acromantula venom, right? But that should have been curable in Hogwarts too, nothing too difficult as far as he knew, just some rather generic antidote...

Sirius and Remus only stared at him strangely just then, making him nervous.

"What...?" he asked in confusion.

Sirius seemingly found his voice first.

"Well... You came here on the back of a dragon, Harry..." he explained, making Harry gape at him. Zephyr had carried him here?! But... how? He couldn't have known where to fly, he had never described him how to get to Potter Manor even when he was proposing to stay there...

Just then the door opened a bit and before Harry could wonder who had opened it he already heard another familiar voice.

"Master! You're awake again! I was so worried!"

Quick as a flash Shiva was with him, slithering around him in her version of a hug. Harry couldn't help but smile a little at that, stroking her scales softly.

"Yes... But I don't quite understand what happened... Why am I here instead of Hogwarts?"

"Well... That's my fault I guess," Shiva answered, sounding a bit nervous, but before she could continue Sirius spoke up again.

"Maybe... we should continue this conversation in the dining room?"

Harry stared at him in confusion. Why did it matter where they talked about all this? But Sirius looked uncomfortable enough, so for now Harry decided to just play along.

"If you say so..." He looked at Shiva. "Sirius wants us to change rooms for some reason... Let's keep talking afterwards."

"Yes..." Shiva answered, sounding similarly nervous. Honestly, what was going on here?

Once Shiva had wrapped herself around him Harry stood up and - after a needing moment to regain his balance - left the guest room. He quickly realised that he had just been in the first guest room in the west wing, meaning the dining room was very close and he quickly walked over to it, with Remus and Sirius following him.

Only to freeze the second he opened the door.

Leaning against the farthest wall, arms crossed and staring directly at him, was Voldemort. Tom. Whatever.

"W-What... How...?" Harry knew he wasn't exactly eloquent right then, but damn it, how had that happened?

"Hello Harry," Tom was just greeting him calmly, but Harry just turned to Remus, thinking him the most responsible adult in the room.

"Explain, please," he said, maybe a bit desperate, but he tried his best to sound as even as possible... he just didn't understand the world anymore right now.

Thankfully Remus seemed to somehow get his problem, as he finally began to talk.

"I know this whole situations must seem horribly confusing, but let me try to explain it from the start: After you went back to Hogwarts Sirius and I began to ask around to see if what you had told us could work out or not. And it turned out that yes, a lot of it was actually valid. But of course, we couldn't just leave it at that, so we decided that we had to meet up with Voldemort to confirm these things for sure. Of course, we made sure that all kinds of safety measures were in place." At that Harry - who couldn't help but look over to Tom every few moments, still wondering if this was maybe a crazy dream - noticed how the wizard was rolling his eyes, but he didn't say anything. And Remus was continuing as if nothing had happened. "After a few hours of discussions we managed to agree on the fact that he really doesn't want any harm to come to you. Which was why today we had planned on meeting up again to see what's actually in it for you should you - for some reason - decide on joining his side. Because that seems to be what he would prefer."
Remus looked at Tom as he was saying that and said wizard shrugged lightly.

"Well of course. Regarding the conflict between me and Dumbledore there won't be a neutral position very long, especially not for Harry. So obviously I'd prefer him on my side when things go bad."

"Yes. Well, anyway, we had decided to meet up here because Sirius and I can manipulate the wards best which gives us the advantage in case of... disagreements. After all, there is no way we could rely solely on fair wards should we ever think about cooperating. But do not worry, he does not know where we are except for the fact that we are in one of your family estates." Harry nodded slowly, having already opened his mouth to ask about that. Because truce or not, he didn't really want to disclose the location of this manor to anyone who didn't already know as of now... So he was rather thankful that the two adults seemingly had thought about it.

"We had hoped to come to a suitable conclusion today to present to you tomorrow," Remus continued then. "That you arrived today was... unexpected. I'm not quite sure what happened there, but we managed to heal your broken wrist and cleanse the Acromantula poison from your system. I guess it was a good thing in a way that Voldemort was here today as he could ask Shiva what happened."

Harry's eyes widened a little as he realised - no matter how belatedly - that this meant that Tom now knew of Shiva. Of course, he must have known of her anyway for he had sent her, but he couldn't have known that she was friends with Harry... up to now.

"Shiva, what happened after I passed out...?" he asked her now and she tightened her grip around him a little as she answered.

"Zephyr killed the remaining Acromantulas... And we both knew we had to get you to a healer because you had gotten the venom into your system but we couldn't use Hogwarts because nobody knew of him and they would probably attack first and maybe harm you... Also, we had no way of communicating what had bitten you, so..." She looked down at the ground. "I decided to bring you to the only other speaker I knew..."

"You mean... you wanted to bring me to Tom?" Harry asked incredulously.

"I know it wasn't a good idea! But I do not know how well wizards can determine what poison was used on somebody... I did not want to risk it! Also I had a way to find out where he was in case of an emergency... And you told me before how you had made peace for now, so I directed Zephyr to him and we landed here..."

Harry sat down on a nearby chair, his head in his hands. Damn, this was all too much for him.

"Shiva..." he hissed weakly. "There are detection spells for those situations... the Hospital Wing would have been perfectly acceptable to heal me."

"How should I have known?" she answered defensively. "I'm just a snake..."

"Oh come on, you're not 'just a snake' and you know it," Harry tried to placate, before shaking his head a little. "Still, bringing me to Tom of all people..."

"You do realise that I can understand you, yes?" Tom suddenly interjected innocently, speaking in Parseltongue himself, making Harry freeze.

Damn it.

"It would be very appreciated if you would speak in English," Sirius suddenly spoke up, looking at Tom sharply.

Right, they didn't know what had been transpiring and it was obvious that Sirius wasn't entirely comfortable with this situation. No wonder, he had been the first to demonise Voldemort whenever possible. And with good reason too.

Still, in that case it wasn't really justified, even though his godfather couldn't know that, so Harry looked up to him.

"Don't worry, it wasn't anything bad if you thought so..." he explained, making Sirius look back to him, worry evident on his face. But after a short staring contest he nodded finally, backing down.

"Alright, if you say so..."

A rather uncomfortable silence followed, during which Harry couldn't help but wonder how all of this had happened... Honestly, seeing V- Tom in his home wasn't something he could ever have imagined. At least not without a lot of spells cast to kill flying around.

"I guess this is my cue to leave," Tom then said after a moment, pushing himself off the wall. He looked over to Remus. "Thank you for meeting up with me and hearing me out. I hope I have been able to sufficiently explain my motivations." He then turned to look at Harry. "In the end it will probably boil down to your decision, so of course I hope you will decide for my side, but take your time. Maybe talk to Mr. Lupin and Mr. Black a bit more. Whenever you make your decision just let me know. I'm sure we could meet up again?"

The last part was more a question as he looked at Sirius, who shrugged.

"Depends on what Harry wants."

"Of course. Would you then be so kind as to apparate me back to our initial meeting point?"

"Yeah yeah..."

Sirius reluctantly walked over to Tom, stretching out an arm. Tom looked back to Harry as he took it, nodding in goodbye.

"Until later."

And with that Sirius turned on the spot and whisked them away to who knew where...

This day certainly had proven to be a worthy end of the school year it seemed... Totally confusing and including an appearance of Voldemort...

Harry shook his head in disbelieve, barely managing to refrain from snorting. Just when he had thought his life couldn't get any weirder.

 

The rest of the day and the one following after that were spent mostly with managing the aftermath of that. First of all Harry had wanted to thank Zephyr for bringing him here - no matter how unnecessary it would have been - and the dragon had decided to stay around for the time being, for it was nice to be able to fly openly again, something he did not do at Hogwarts because Hagrid had seemed against it. Which prompted Harry to write a letter to his friend, apologising for being so careless and explaining how Zephyr was alright and that he would be staying with him for the time being. Harry also had to calm down Shiva who still felt horribly bad for leading him to Tom, but in the end she hadn't known any better and this had led to him being here and not with the Dursleys even earlier, so Harry really couldn't blame her and did his best to calm her worries.

It wasn't so easy with Dumbledore though, whom Sirius had written a letter in the evening still to explain how Harry was fine and with him and that he would stay here for the summer. Something that had ended with a barrage of owls to him from various Order members who had tried to get Sirius to tell them where he was. Harry himself got quite a few owls asking where he was and to return to 'his family'. He politely answered them all, telling them thank you very much, but he was with his family and he would not go back to the Dursleys. They couldn't make him after all.

The only letters he answered a bit more detailed were the ones from Ron and Hermione, and he wrote a letter to Neville explaining the situation.

After that the only important thing left was getting more details from Sirius and Remus regarding their meetings with Tom, as he had seriously been wondering how they had been convinced of his motives.

It turned out to be a rather easy thing: As they already knew that Harry was a Horcrux they could also easily believe that Tom did not want to hurt him, kill him or otherwise let any harm come upon him - especially so as he had, once again, claimed so under a magical oath. Also, it seemed that Tom actually wanted to train him. His reasoning, according to Remus, was that with Dumbledore at least assuming that Harry might be a Horcrux and Harry unwilling to cooperate there might be... consequences one day. And while Dumbledore in general was seen to want the best for everyone, this did not necessarily mean the best for every single person. He was an advocate of sacrificing individuals for the big picture after all.

Which, in the case of Voldemort's downfall would mean Harry.

Nobody could really disagree there, as they all had their various experiences with that man. He wasn't malevolent in his nature, but an opportunist and pragmatist... Which could mean that, while improbable, Harry might one day be used as a sacrificial lamb if there was no other way.

So in the end it meant that the only options Harry had were siding with Tom or staying out of the conflict completely. Which then would make him a target for both sides. Great.

 

Deciding to postpone the decision for the time being Sirius convinced Harry to try and get his head free for a while and as such they visited Diagon Alley the second day of the holidays, trying to just have a good time for now. Sirius had learned some new tricks though, for instead of using a glamour - that might have been more or less obvious in a street full of wizards - he had bought a wig in muggle London, as well as glasses that made him already look so different Harry was rather surprised at how well that worked.

Like that they had no problems walking through Diagon Alley and they had quite the good time, eating some ice cream at Florean Fortescue's before looking through Flourish & Blott's after Harry had admitted that he needed some new books to read.

Sirius had stuck around for a while although obviously growing rather bored of the atmosphere soon, so Harry had ushered him off to Slug & Jiggers as Sirius had earlier been complaining about needing new supplements for potions - just in case Harry decided to get bitten by an Acromantula again or something...

Still, Harry was just busy looking at a particularly interesting book about vampires - not having forgotten his original plans to research about them a bit - when someone suddenly began to talk right next to him in a hushed but excited whisper.

"Mr. Potter? Is it you, I almost didn't recognise you you changed quite a bit didn't you?"

Harry made the mistake to actually turn his head in confusion, for the moment he did the small man's face lit up.

"It is you! I'm so glad I found you, you know? So many people are looking for you at the moment! I was told you were at a safe place but to find you here of all places... It's dangerous to walk Diagon Alley alone for you, who knows who could come and whisk you away!"

The man - who Harry finally recognised as Dedalus Diggle, from the cheery way of speaking and the top hat - was talking so quickly that it was difficult to follow and much more difficult still to interject something.

"Sir, I'm not-" Harry tried but again he was drowned out by the other.

"Listen, I know a perfectly safe place to go to but I need some preparation for that... But I'm sure your relatives would be very happy to know where you are and that you are alright! They were already very worried when you didn't appear the day before yesterday at the station!"

Somehow Harry doubted that and he tried to explain that to the man.

"Sir, I don't want to-"

Again, he went by ignored as Diggle seemed to get an idea as his face lit up.

"I know, I'll just quickly bring you to them and inform the others that you are alright!"

"What? No!" Harry tried, but the other was already grabbing his arm. "Stop!" he called a bit louder, dropping the book while trying to get free, but Diggle was already turning on the spot and in that moment the world around Harry blurred as he was side-along apparated away...

 

As he regained his senses he stood in the front lawn of the Dursleys. As he had by now grown accustomed to the feeling of apparition he needed only a moment before anger began to overshadow his discomfort. That little bastard had basically kidnapped him!

He turned to shoot an angry glare at the man who was currently hurrying over to the door, knocking enthusiastically.

"Are you crazy?!" Harry asked finally and Diggle turned around to look at him.

"No worries, there is nobody around that could have witnessed our arrival, I've already cast a muggle detection charm!" he said happily, totally misunderstanding Harry's question.

"I'm not talking about tha-"

"Anyway, your relatives should come out any moment now, take your time with them it will need a while to inform Dumbledore that you've been found... No worries once that's happened we can safely put you to our new hideout... It's protected with a Fidelius too, you know? I'm sure we can tell you that secret very soon! Until then I'll just leave you here I guess... And no worries with the blood wards you're better protected than anyone else! I'll see you later Mr. Potter!"

And just as the door opened he disapparated again.

"You bastard!" Harry growled, registering too late that he was now looking almost directly at Uncle Vernon.

Whose face had changed from surprised to an angry purple in about one second flat, as he quickly reached out, took Harry by the collar of his robe and pulled him inside.

"You!" he shouted, spit flying as he glared at Harry. "What are you doing here now? We waited for you at King's Cross yesterday, waited until all of your... crazy friends appeared and told us how you wouldn't come! We could have used that time for-"

"Get away from master!"

He stopped abruptly as Shiva gave off an angry hiss, her head shooting out from below his robes, fangs bared to strike, causing Uncle Vernon to let him go immediately, jumping back with a squeak until he stood with his back to the wall. The ruckus had attracted aunt Petunia's attention too by now, who had just stepped into the hallway to check what was going on as she noticed Shiva herself and let off a small scream.

That finally got Harry out of his small stupor as he remembered that no, for once he was not weak. He didn't have to do anything his aunt or uncle told him, in the magical world he was a legal adult. He was allowed to cast spells now.

So instead of cowering before them he did his best to stand straight as he began to talk.

"Listen to me: I was placed here against my will and I will not stay here for long. In fact, I will be leaving right now and if possible never come back. You won't have to bear with me anymore and I'm free from you. Sounds good? Great, because I really don't want to argue with you anymore. I'm sick of all this."

He shook his head as he closed the front door with a light thump. He wasn't so crazy as to apparate away outside in broad daylight. But he wasn't finished yet, looking at Aunt Petunia as he kept speaking. "If any other wizard will come to you, just tell them the truth: I'm gone from here. And if anyone of them ever tries to put me back I'll file this as a kidnapping. Thank you."

And with that he walked past the stunned pair of adults into the living room, uncaring that Shiva was still out - maybe if people saw her they'd be more careful about approaching him randomly! - before concentrating on Slug & Jiggers. He remembered the store's basic layout from earlier visits so he had quickly visualised his destination, before turning on the spot, apparating right to it.

 

Now more than glad for the practice he barely stumbled as he appeared in the shop, though multiple witches and wizards gasped at the resounding crack. He knew it wasn't exactly proper behaviour to apparate directly into a shop but right now he didn't care, only quickly scanning the room for Sirius who had just finished buying whatever he had needed and belonged to the group of people gaping at him.

Harry just rushed over to him.

"Let's go home, please? Now?" he asked quickly and Sirius, confused but determined, just nodded, pressing Harry's hand to the Portkey he liked to wear as a bracelet, ignoring the partly confused, partly angry stares they got as he whispered the activation phrase, whisking them away, back to Potter Manor...

 

Once they had arrived back in the forest surrounding the building Sirius held Harry by the shoulders, looking worriedly at him.

"What's happened? Why did you apparate into the store? Why is Shiva sticking out of your robe?"

Harry explained to him what had been transpiring just then and once he finished Sirius looked about as angry as Harry had felt just moments ago. Although right now, he felt mostly... drained. This was all a little too much for him. What did they even want from him, he was just a fifteen year old boy damn it, why did he have to be the centre of everyone's attention again and again?! Couldn't they learn to deal with their problems without the help of a kid?

"Let's get you to Remus," Sirius muttered, his anger barely suppressed, as he pulled Harry inside and towards the room he was again for some reason sharing with the werewolf, one of the three bed rooms in the east wing of the manor.

Remus - in less than pristine condition as a full moon was approaching quickly - whirled around as the door opened with a bang and the two of them stormed in, with Sirius already beginning the tale about what had transpired - though a little overdramatising if Harry was honest. Still, he made no move to correct his godfather for he couldn't care less right now if Remus's opinion on that ruddy order sank even more.

After Sirius was finished Remus was quiet for a while, obviously thinking about what had transpired.

"This sounds like something Dedalus would do," he finally said, slowly, but with a frown. "He's prone to be over-enthusiastic at times... I don't think Dumbledore knew about it. In fact he has to know that this will not have endeared you to his cause... So he wouldn't have ordered it."

Harry snorted. Well alright, maybe this once the man had been innocent of something, but that didn't mean Harry didn't hold him at least partly responsible for what actions the member of his order thought were helpful.

Which was why, after a moment, he looked at the two adults, his mind made up.

"You know what? If it's going to be like that with the order, my decision is pretty easy: Let's join Voldemort."

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 40: On the other Side

After his bold statement Harry had been close to immediately writing Tom about his decision but was convinced by Remus to at least sleep one more night over it, just to be sure. Even though in truth Harry knew that there was no other option he could take. With the order blindly loyal to Dumbledore who so desperately wanted to control Harry's life, there was just no way he could remain neutral, honestly...

So when he was sitting with Sirius and Remus in the dining room, enjoying a delicious breakfast the house elves had provided, Harry was already thinking about how to best phrase his letter. He even ignored the owls that brought the Daily Prophet, thinking them less important than his current task. At least until he heard Sirius suck in a sharp breath - which resulted in a coughing fit as he still had food in his mouth, but definitely caught Harry's attention.

"Sirius! What's wrong?" he asked worriedly, but Sirius just pointed at the front page of the Prophet. What, had his weird vanishing and sudden reappearance in Diagon Alley from the day before made the title page or...?

But when Harry focussed on the headline he saw something completely different that made him gape, before grabbing the newspaper to check the article more closely.

PETER PETTIGREW FOUND ALIVE - SIRIUS BLACK INNOCENT?

What began as a normal day in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement ended with the revelation of probably the biggest injustice of the last century, writes Rita Skeeter, Special Correspondent. For as we all thought a mass murderer was sitting in Azkaban and feared his breakout in 1993 - especially since he has yet to be recaptured - yesterday's events have brought new facts to light nobody would ever have thought of!

"It all began in the afternoon," a Ministry employee who wishes to remain unnamed remembers. "It was a quiet one, nothing unusual. Until that owl appeared. It carried a small cage and inside of this cage was a rat. At first we thought this was a bad joke or something, but there was a letter with it too."

As it turned out, the letter claimed the rat to be an animagus and when this hint was checked the rat turned into none other than Peter Pettigrew! Although his memories of the last two years seem to be gone for some reason a few tests have been run that confirmed his identity. Pettigrew is most definitely alive!

For our younger readers: Peter Pettigrew was known for being a close friend of the Potter family, just like Sirius Black. On that fateful Halloween fifteen years ago it was thought as a fact that Sirius Black betrayed the Potters and sold them out to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, who came to them and sealed his own fate, thanks to Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived.

Afterwards it was thought that Black, angry about his master's failure, continued to hunt for the Potter's friends and found Peter Pettigrew soon after. Pettigrew barely managed to shout out how his former friend had killed the Potters, before Black blew up the whole street, killing Pettigrew and a dozen muggles with him.

But all of these things previously assumed as facts turned out to be, in fact, a deceit!

The newly recovered Pettigrew confessed under Veritaserum how it had been him all the time! He had been the traitor and framed Sirius Black before blowing up the street, turning into his illegal animagus form of a rat!

Even worse, a Daily Prophet reporter tried to find transcripts of the trial of Sirius Black from the past and it turned out that there was none.

Sirius Black had been sitting in Azkaban for twelve years without a trial!

When asked, Minister Fudge said the following:

"It is very horrible that a mistake like that could still have happened in times like these. My predecessor, Bagnold, surely meant no harm with this, but I can only shake my head over this act of negligence. The order for a 'Kiss on Sight' regarding Sirius Black is, of course, immediately retracted."

The Minister even spoke about an immediate pardon, although he also said that Black would have to show himself for that as it can only be done in person.

Nevertheless, that the Ministry is ready for such a big step shows how the evidence pointing at Pettigrew has to be very much incriminating.

Did we hate the wrong man for all those years?

And if so, what does the Ministry plan to do with the real culprit?

The Daily Prophet will keep you informed. 

The complete interview with Minister Fudge on page 2.

What will now happen with Sirius Black, page 3.

Possible sentences that will await Pettigrew now and an interview with the DMLE, page 4.

Theories if this is connected to Harry Potter's sudden vanishing on the same day, page 5.

Well, that had been... unexpected.

Harry looked to Sirius once he had finished reading, but his godfather was still staring at the paper, unmoving. His expression looked like he wasn't sure if he was supposed to be relieved, angry or happy and he didn't even blink.

It was bordering on creepy and Harry was already thinking of at least shaking him when another owl arrived.

It was Quetzalcoatl, a letter bound to his leg. And - to his surprise - it passed right by Harry and landed in front of Sirius. Who didn't make a move still until Remus - who had been just as shocked it seemed but caught himself a little faster - elbowed him lightly, causing him to jump a bit before looking at the bird and taking the letter.

Only to snort once he opened the folded piece of parchment, first showing it to Remus, who raised his eyebrow, before giving it to Harry.

Who blinked in surprise as he read the only word that was written there, in the fine handwriting he knew so well by now.

Truce?

So it really had been Tom then, who had willingly given away Peter to get Sirius's alliance... That was kind of crazy, even though Harry felt Peter hadn't deserved any better.

"Well, it looks like you have the perfect opportunity to write your letter here," Remus said after a moment, although he sounded almost hesitant. "That is, if you're still convinced of your choice.

"More than ever," Harry replied, before getting up from the table. He had lost is appetite, but he didn't mind. He had to write that letter now.

Even if Tom had actually planned this whole thing to get them on his side, the offer was too good to ignore. Honestly, the only thing Dumbledore had ever done was not even trying to free Sirius during all those years, even after he had known the truth for sure. And now Tom was trying to get into their good graces and the first thing he did was actually giving away one of his more loyal servants - even if it was out of fear - away as some sort of peace offering? This would make sure Sirius's name would be cleared in no time flat... Certainly a good enough reason in Harry's opinion.

 

After sending Quetzalcoatl back to Tom with his decision as well as a request for a meeting Harry had the rest of the day for himself, basically. Remus was opting for some quiet, to come to terms with the fact that Peter was caught now and because he would be transforming that night and Sirius had done the same for the time being, leaving Harry free to do whatever he wanted.

Time he spent partly with Zephyr and Shiva, talking to them about all the events that had transpired just these few last days. Somehow it was hard to imagine that summer holidays had only just started and would still go on for two months... He could only hope that the rest wouldn't be quite as eventful.

Although of course, everything was better than being stuck with the Dursleys.

Also, he got a few responses from his friends. Hermione was scolding him a bit, although she sounded more worried than angry - he really hadn't meant to fly away on a dragon, honestly - and Ron was on one hand telling him how very cool his stunt had been and that he wished he could do stuff like that too without fearing that his mother would probably ground him forever, and on the other complaining how this had meant so much excitement over at their place. Actually, Ron had been pretty outspoken in his letter to Harry's surprise, even hinting rather blatantly that there were a lot more people with them than usual and that, while chaotic, this was also pretty cool.

As if anyone thought Harry would prefer staying with the order just because Ron wrote him about it this time... But it was still an improvement to being told nothing, he supposed.

Neville had also written him back with a thank you, as he had been rather worried, but the most surprising letter came from Hagrid.

He was actually thankful to Harry for taking Zephyr away from Hogwarts, for it turned out that he would be leaving the school. Madame Maxime had offered him the groundskeeper's job in Beauxbatons and although Hagrid wrote that he had felt a bit bad to leave Hogwarts as Dumbledore had done so much for him and how he would miss being able to see Harry, Ron and Hermione, he also felt that it was for the best. It seemed that there were a lot of interesting creatures to be found only in the French wizarding school too, including the beautiful winged horses they had been using to fly over to Hogwarts, though he would miss Hogwarts' Thestrals. And from how he wrote Harry assumed that his crush on the French headmistress was still very much there, so for him it was pretty clear what had influenced the decision of the half-giant most.

Not that he was complaining. While he was sure he would miss his huge friend it wasn't as if they would never see each other again and besides, it was all the better to have Hagrid out of Dumbledore's reach for now... The man was, at times, a little too easy to manipulate...

Still, that meant he used quite some time for answering the letters of all of his friends too and as such he felt rather accomplished when he let himself sink into the soft sheets of the master bedroom, which was his alone... So nice...

 

He was sitting in his study, alone with the exception of the huge snake that was lying at his feet, its head raised to be able to look at him. And currently she was shaking her head.

"Master, no matter how much you keep asking, I cannot tell you the answer. I do not know how the boy thinks of her," she hissed, sounding a little reproving.

"I know that," he hissed back, clearly annoyed. "But I need to find out what to tell him about that sooner or later..."

"Well, lie to him," the snake proposed in a matter-of-fact tone. "You're good at that."

"Nagini, you know that this is not an option. If he ever finds out that I lied to him like that any kind of trust I might manage to earn would vanish immediately again."

"Well, I was just proposing the most pragmatic solution. Besides telling him the truth, of course."

"Yeah, right," he answered, almost scoffing. "That would go well if I'd just tell him that I'm-"

He broke off as suddenly, there was a knocking sound coming from the door.

Quickly pulling a small ring from a pocket and slipping it on his finger he turned around to look at the room's entrance.

"What is it?" he asked in a high, cold voice and the door opened, revealing two men, one of which was held at wand's point.

"M-My lord, I have brought Mr. Pyrites, just as you requested," the other said, his voice shaky.

"Ah, very well. Then we shall-"

 

"Master, wake up!"

Confused and tired, Harry shot up as something heavy landed on him. He needed a few moments to orient himself, his mind still full of his most confusing dream with Nagini and Pyrites... But then he realised how Shiva was lying basically on top of him and there was a lot of noise and movement in the room. He grabbed his glasses and put them on, finally recognising the source of the trouble as Quetzalcoatl and Hedwig and... where they fighting?

Now glad that he never put his wand far away he grabbed it and waited for a moment until the birds where apart, before shouting "Protego!", creating a shimmery barrier between them.

"Damn, have you gone mad?" he asked as he scrambled out of bed, addressing both of the birds that only barely avoided crashing into the barrier, landing on nearby furniture. "What was that supposed to be?"

Of course, the owls didn't answer him, although Hedwig gave off an affronted hoot.

Harry just huffed before turning to Shiva.

"What happened?"

"Quetzalcoatl came in here a few minutes ago, carrying a letter. Your owl arrived sometime earlier I think, because she was already here. And somehow she seemed to take offence by his existence or something," the snake explained dutifully, making Harry blink a few times. Honestly? Hedwig was... well, jealous because of that?

Although to be honest he had mostly been using other means of communication, even the owls to Hagrid and Neville had been sent via a local post office as the house elves had taken care of his mail...

He sighed, hissing a quick "Thank you." to Shiva before turning to Hedwig.

"Look, I'm sorry for not sending so many letters with you anymore, alright?" he muttered, trying not to think about the fact that he was currently apologising to an owl as if she understood him. "I'll give you the ones for Ron and Hermione, okay? I just... You know I don't want to send you to places that I'm not totally comfortable with, right?" Of course he was talking about Tom's lair, wherever that was actually located. He had after all only seen one room within it. So he really didn't want to send Hedwig there. But he would try to use her more, he knew she liked the exercise and only ever going out to hunt couldn't be what a post owl like her wanted. Or at least it definitely seemed so.

She just hooted again but he took it as a grudging confirmation for the time being - honestly, she was so intelligent at times - and turned to Quetzalcoatl, who, after a moment of staring at him, stretched out his leg where a slightly crumpled but otherwise alright looking note was tied.

Harry took the note and opened it.

Harry,
I must say I'm surprised that your answer came this soon.
But I also wanted to say thank you.
Since you wrote you would be fine with another meeting I would propose today, your godfather knows where and when he could get me. I think we still have a lot to talk about regarding your decision.
Regardless of your answer, simply send Quetzalcoatl with it back to me, he will wait.
Regards

Harry looked at the eagle owl. "I will just quickly check this with Sirius and get back to you afterwards, alright?" he said, before going back to the bed to get Shiva and leave the room.

It wasn't that early anymore anyway...

 

He quickly found out that, although it wasn't that early for him, it most definitely was too early for Sirius, who came to the door with small eyes and dishevelled hair, trying to turn him away again, telling him to ask again in a few hours.

Thankfully the mention of Voldemort then got him halfway awake, barely enough to agree with the proposition, before he promptly closed the door into Harry's face.

Yes, his godfather definitely wasn't a morning person.

But at least Harry had an answer now, so he would just write an affirmative back and spend some more time reading until breakfast was ready, he supposed.

 

Although he had been expecting it the afternoon came way too soon for Harry and before long he was seated on the table in the dining room again, with Tom sitting on the opposite chair.

Sirius had brought him in before quietly explaining to Harry that he had to go somewhere but that Remus was still nearby just in case. He had already taught Harry how to kick people out of the house too, so Harry was probably as safe as it went.

And still, right now this didn't seem to be important, for he and Tom were just sitting there, staring at each other in some sort of awkward silence after the first greeting. Harry really didn't know what to say despite first writing about wanting to meet, because regardless of his earlier decision he still didn't really feel like he had actually changed sides or anything... It felt like nothing had changed at all, but he couldn't really explain that, so he kept quiet.

Until the silence seemingly started to annoy Tom or something, for he was speaking up finally.

"So... You have a snake now," he stated softly, looking at Shiva who had wrapped herself around Harry as usual, but had refused to go under his clothes, preferring to stay visible almost like some sort of warning. He had tried to argue with her but she had been very much adamant. And true enough, as Tom knew about her by now anyway there was really no reason to hide anymore.

Harry nodded slowly.

"Yes. I guess you know her already." It wasn't really a question, for he knew that Tom had sent her, although he did believe Shiva that she had not spied on him.

"Yes... I didn't know you did, though. May I ask how that happened?"

Tom seemed honestly curious, so Harry decided to play along for now.

"I found her almost a year ago actually," he explained, though at the same time a bit surprised himself. It had already been that long, huh?

"A year ago? So, you found her almost immediately then?" Tom asked, sounding surprised, and Harry shrugged.

"Pretty much." Not that he was complaining. Though, as they were on the topic already... "But actually, why did you send her to me anyway?"

Tom blinked a few times, seeming almost as if he hadn't anticipated at the question.

"Well, for protection, obviously. After I regained my senses I soon realised that you had a rather frustrating tendency of getting yourself in trouble so I created a snake with Nagini's help to protect you should the need arise."

"And... that's it?" No hidden agendas, no masterplans?

"Yes?"

Huh... Somehow Harry wasn't sure if he could believe that... But at the same time, what did he know? He didn't exactly know a lot about Tom besides the fact that he had wanted to see Harry dead for the last fifteen years...

"So... Was she the snake the papers are speculating about?" Tom asked after another moment and Harry looked at him in confusion.

"What do you mean?"

Tom blinked a few times. "You mean you haven't read the article about your own kidnapping - which didn't happen, I assume?"

"Uh, well..."

How to explain to your arch-nemesis-turned-ally that you actually got kidnapped but escaped again?

Meanwhile Tom's face changed into a lightly suspicious frown.

"What happened?"

"Nothing much..." Harry muttered, trying to downplay the situation. After a night of sleep the whole thing didn't feel just as frustrating anymore, only a bit dumb, really. "A member of Dumbledore's stupid order was a bit over-enthusiastic and tried to take me with him..."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, he apparated me away and I apparated back, basically..."

Tom's eyes widened slightly.

"He did what?" he asked in surprise, before frowning a little. "Alright... Despite the fact that it's impressive for you to already being able to apparate, however you learned that, you do realise that you can protect yourself from getting apparated away without your consent, right...?"

Harry stared at him.

"I can?" Well, that would have been useful to know before...

Tom stared back.

"Yes," he answered dryly. "It's a rather complex set of spells, but usually the heir and head rings of pureblood houses have those on them. The head can then activate or deactivate them at will and if there is no current head - like in your case - any magical guardian should be able to do so instead. Like Mr. Black for you, for example."

Harry blinked in surprise and brought up his hand to muster the ring he had long grown accustomed to wearing. In fact, since he had started looking for it he had realised a lot of Hogwarts students wore rings like that, some even multiple ones, so it wasn't actually unusual and nobody had ever commented on it after his talk with Ron, Hermione and Neville. But that it had options like that he had never been told, and he had been busy with researching other stuff to actually try and find something to read on this topic...

"Harry?" Tom suddenly spoke up again and when Harry looked to him he saw the other's gaze fixated on the ring.

"Yes?" he asked in confusion. What was wrong now?

"Is that a Head of House ring?"

Oh...

"Uh... yes?"

"Do I want to know how you got emancipated...?"

Harry shrugged.

"Triwizard Tournament," was the only thing he offered. Now that he was thinking about it though wasn't it kind of Tom's fault that he had to participate there at all? Oh well, at least something good had come out of the whole disaster...

"Alright..." Tom muttered, before shaking his head. "Anyway, back to topic: That kidnapping? Where were you sent to?"

"My relatives," Harry muttered almost automatically. But really, Tom probably didn't even know their names, so-

"The Dursleys?"

Harry gaped at him, causing Tom to roll his eyes.

"Oh come on, don't think I'm an imbecile. It's almost ridiculously easy to get the address of them, you just need to know about phone books for Merlin's sake. Well, and research a little bit about who the sister of your mother married, but that's doable too. I've known how to get to you for over a year already, but there are wards specifically against me and the Dark Mark, probably cast by Dumbledore, so I couldn't really get close."

That was... disturbing and relieving at the same time, somehow... Disturbing for it didn't exactly sit well with Harry to be so... well, exposed, almost. Sure, Tom probably had access to some more sources than most other wizards, but still... Harry was rather glad that for all the stupid decisions Dumbledore had made he hadn't actually left him completely unprotected besides the Blood Wards.

But actually he wanted nothing more than to change the topic right now so he fervently thought what else he could ask - until his mind returned to the newspaper of the previous morning.

"Uh... Actually, was it you that send Wormtail to the Ministry?" he asked as such, catching Tom by surprise for a moment it seemed, before his face turned into a small smirk.

"Maybe? I've heard they have no idea who might have done it..."

Harry blinked once at the almost playful answer, but decided to take it as a yes for the time being.

"Why? I mean, wasn't he rather loyal to you?"

Tom snorted lightly.

"Yes, loyal because he was afraid I would kill him the moment he set a toe out of line... Of course, before I might even have done that, but he was so pathetic in his antics. No other Death Eater ever looked so much like he would flee the moment I wasn't looking at him like Wormtail did. What use did I have for him? I couldn't even send him somewhere because he was believed to be dead and like that I did the only thing he was still useful for: I made sure Mr. Black would no longer be seen as guilty for a crime he never committed."

"But what do you gain out of it? Do you want Sirius's loyalty or something?" Harry asked, not getting why he had done that. He could see that Pettigrew was useless as a spy or anything, but giving him away like that...?

Tom only shrugged lightly.

"That would be an added bonus, yes, but it wasn't my main reason."

"Then what was?"

Tom shook his head.

"This is one thing I can't tell you at the moment. But I promise it's nothing malevolent."

Harry frowned, rather unhappy with the answer, although he could understand it in a way. Tom had, as of now, answered every question truthfully - or at least very close to it - and there had to be some questions even he didn't want to answer. He had already shared quite a few secrets, including this Horcrux thing Harry was pretty sure Tom didn't want to go public, so... It was only fair to let him some secrets he feared.

But what to do now...? 

Chapter Text

Chapter 41: Deceiving appearances

A long moment of silence stretched on after that, before it was once again broken by Tom.

"So... Are we done with the basic questions?" Getting a shrug from Harry - he at least didn't know anything else to ask at the moment - he continued. "Good. How about we come to the main point then? I am not sure how much Messrs Black and Lupin told you, but I hope they explained that - in the case of you joining my side, which seems to have happened now - I would prefer it if you got some more training, yes?"

Harry nodded slowly. They had, but in the end this point had been only very vague. Maybe it was actually a good idea to get some more information here? At least this seemed to be what Tom had in mind right now when he continued to talk.

"Good. I have put a few more thoughts into this and in the end decided that it all boils down to a few core skills: First of all you need to be able to duel, and I mean a real duel and not just casting a few spells at your opponent and hoping to hit. That might help you in a normal fight, but if you ever meet a master duellist you will need all the tricks you can get. This also means broadening your spell repertoire. Did you ever try out some of the spells I send to you over the year?"

Harry needed a moment to remember what Tom was talking about before recalling that those spells - some of which he had actually already begun to use regularly! - had originally been coming from Tom. Damn, it was still so difficult to wrap his mind around the fact that his mysterious writer had been Tom all along, especially when he remembered older letters, where he still hadn't known...

"Actually, yes. Some of them were really helpful too, so... thank you." It was only the polite thing after all. "Oh, but I had some troubles with the Undetectable Extension Charm. At least with the 'undetectable' part of it."

Tom nodded slowly.

"That's not very surprising, the charm is a rather complex one and that part requires a little bit of work. If you want I can show you how to do it later. But back to the core skills I was talking about. So, besides duelling and more spell knowledge you most definitely need Occlumency training. Although as far as I know you already got some of that."

Harry frowned. How did Tom know that? His only lessons had been with Professor Pyrites and Moody as of now, so...

Tom raised his hands in a placating manner as he caught Harry's look.

"Now, don't look at me like that. Severus told me."

"You do realise he is a double-spy, don't you?" Harry muttered, his dislike for the man bubbling up again although he tried his best to squash it.

"Well of course. And I also know that probably neither Dumbledore nor I really know which side he is on, but that doesn't mean that I cannot appreciate his skills as a Potions master. Anyway, Occlumency training. We need to see who can teach you this, for I am pretty sure that you don't want me as your teacher, do you?"

Harry kept silent, not wanting to outright confirm that statement although it was most definitely true. He was joining this side more out of necessity than because he suddenly trusted Tom with his secrets...

"I thought so," Tom just stated then, correctly assuming his silence meant agreement. "I will think of something then. The third thing I would like you to improve are your Potions skills. I know how Slughorn teaches and while it is all nice and well to be able to brew a potion according to a schoolbook you will need a bit more knowledge than that, just in case."

Harry opened his mouth to argue but Tom held up a hand.

"Let me finish, after that you can argue, yes? So, the last thing would be healing, to be honest. I noticed how you are somehow attracting trouble at all times, so being able to heal some minor injuries yourself will be very helpful, don't you agree?"

Here Harry found himself actually nodding along. That sounded very helpful and he probably should have looked into that a lot earlier.

"Good. So to sum it up, the four things you would have to learn in my opinion would be duelling, Occlumency, Potions and healing. And I know that you will not get perfect in only two months time, but I do think you could manage at least a few major improvements. Now, your concerns?"

"Potions," Harry immediately said, wanting to get that out of the way. "This has nothing to do with Snape, has it? Because I understand why you want me to learn more I guess, but Snape will never ever teach me anything useful. In fact, I think he believes me incapable of brewing a correct potion at all..."

"Well, are you?" Tom challenged, causing Harry to glare at him, a little offended.

"No! Actually I'm pretty good at potions as long as my teacher doesn't try to dock my points for breathing too loud!"

"Then there should be no problem. You didn't honestly think that I would let a double-spy know about your decision?" Tom asked and Harry was a second away from sighing in relief as the other continued. "So of course he won't know who you are."

Harry stared at him for a while, uncomprehending, and Tom sighed.

"Remember the glamour ring you used after your kidnapping? I still have it and I fully intend to make use of it. I cannot bring all your teachers here after all, can I?"

Harry blinked. Did that mean...?

"You... want the lessons to take place in your hideout?" he enquired, not sure if he had interpreted the other's words correctly. But Tom nodded.

"Yes. It's been properly warded and I would be able to find you adequate teachers without bringing them here and probably revealing your identity, glamoured or not. Potter Manor is not that hard to recognize. If they teach you at my place they don't have to know who you are as long as you don't want that. In fact..." Here Tom seemed to hesitate for a moment before speaking on. "In fact I was thinking about introducing your glamour-self to my followers as my apprentice."

"What?" Was he crazy?! Well, actually that was maybe a stupid question, but... still!

Tom just looked at him calmly though.

"Yes, I know it sounds strange, but in the end it's necessary. If you want to join my side you can't just hide in here all the time. I can try my best to make sure none of the dangerous Death Eaters come close to you, but you would have to be seen around the manor. Under a glamour of course. But I would prefer it if you'd attend some of the meetings to know what's going on at my... well, our side."

Harry was quiet as he thought about what he had just heard... It was true in a way he feared, he couldn't just say he would join Tom's side and then never do anything, but... In the end, he had only decided he would join the other because he was annoyed at what Dumbledore's side was trying to get him.

"Maybe you should just try it once and see if you can bear with it?" Tom suddenly proposed, making Harry shift his focus back to him.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, take the glamour ring, put it on and come with me to the manor. As long as there are no meetings scheduled there are only a few people around and I do not usually get unannounced visitors as long as it's not a life-or-death situation. So it would be the safest it could be and you could decide there if it really is as horrible as you seem to be imagining it right now."

"But..." He couldn't just go waltzing into Toms headquarters like it was nothing... Sure, he had already been there once, but it had only been Tom's room and nobody had known...

"Harry," Tom said softly as he looked him in the eyes. "I promise you I have taken a few additional safety measures. I do not want anything to happen to you. You just need to take the glamour ring..."

At that he actually took something out of his pocket and threw it over to Harry, who almost automatically caught it, thanks to his Seeker reflexes.

Looking at it he saw how it was the same ring he had already worn the last time he'd been with Tom at his hideout.

"Just think about it, alright? You don't have to immediately agree, but I would feel better anyway if you would wear the ring."

Harry raised an eyebrow in suspicion.

"Why? It's not like I need to be disguised right now."

"Well, since you wore it last I modified it a little. You can turn the glamour spell on and off now, also there are a few protective charms weaved into it."

"For example...?" Despite not being sure if he could believe that he was rather curious, for weaving multiple different spells into one object was very advanced magic. Not that he didn't believe Tom capable of doing it, he just couldn't help but wanting to know a bit more about it.

"Well, besides the obvious glamour that now has a simple Parseltongue activation phrase there is a weak shield charm inside. It won't take more than one stronger or two or three weaker hits to break it probably, but it should be enough just in case anyone ever tries to attack you from behind. Of course, it's no use against the Unforgivables, but if anyone ever casts an Unforgivable at you they'll have other problems anyway. Also, it's not connected to the glamour, so even if the shield fails it doesn't affect the glamour."

That... was actually rather thoughtful.

Harry was still wary, but Tom's arguments were pretty good and it was difficult to think of other risks that hadn't been already taken care of...

"It would only be for today, afterwards you can still decide if you don't want to do this anymore, but deciding without at least seeing how it's like could prove rather short-sighted... And the manor will be almost empty anyway."

Why did the other always sound so... convincing when explaining away Harry's worries? It did make sense, all of it, so what kind of counter-arguments was he supposed to give?

But Tom still wasn't finished yet.

"I know this probably isn't very high on your priority list, but maybe just trust me this once." Harry snorted quietly and Tom raised an eyebrow. "Is that really so unbelievable? I mean, I'm trusting you and your guardians in case you didn't realise. You could have easily laid a trap in here, filled the manor with all of the aurors and I wouldn't have known until it was too late. This isn't just a one-sided fear, you know?"

That actually got Harry to think. He hadn't seen it from this perspective as of yet... Tom was kind of trusting them with this, as of now he had always made sure to either have a completely neutral ground or to see to it that he was on the lower ground while Harry and whomever else was there had the upper hand. That was kind of risky for a Dark Lord when meeting with 'light people', wasn't it...?

And there were all of the times when he could have done something to get Harry killed, tortured or worse and he had helped him in every single instance... Damn it, that was more than Dumbledore had ever done for him and he had been trusting that man with his life up to only one year ago!

So maybe one little visit couldn't hurt...?

"How long would that take?" he asked nervously, making Tom shrug.

"One hour maybe? I would just show you around the place a bit, nothing more. Though if you want to leave earlier you just have to say so."

One hour, and afterwards he wouldn't have to go back there if he didn't want... And that included a lot of safety measures again it seemed... Harry sighed.

"Well, fine. But if you have anti-Portkey wards it would be great if you could key me in for the time I'm there..." he muttered, remembering his Portkey back here as an emergency option.

"Of course," Tom agreed easily, before looking at Harry with an expression he didn't recognise. "How about going right now? I'm reasonably sure that there is only a small group of people around, most of them not very dangerous. I've pushed the worst lot to Lucius anyway."

Harry blinked at that, wondering what Tom was talking about. Who smirked a little as he saw the look.

"I've decided to punish him in a slightly unconventional way for giving the diary I entrusted him with away. So he's allowed to watch over any followers I might have that are... not quite as sane as I would like them to be but without an own home to return to for the time being," he explained, before waving his hand as Harry started to frown, still not quite understanding what kind of followers he was talking about. Weren't most Death Eaters from old pureblood families? "Nevermind that now. Just try to believe me when I say that there shouldn't be anything dangerous at my base at the moment. And that if there would be I would be most careful to not let it harm you."

To be honest Harry still wasn't absolutely convinced, but there wasn't much he could do in regards of that. He would have to go to that manor sooner or later anyway, so better just get it over with, then he could decide if he would repeat that experience a lot easier.

 

So after getting Tom out of the manor - on foot, for Harry couldn't side-along apparate yet and Tom certainly wasn't keyed into the wards - and activating the glamour on the ring they soon stood in the empty entrance hall of the muggle manor Tom occupied.

Spreading out his arms slightly Tom turned around to Harry.

"There we are, welcome to the manor," he said, sounding almost bored as Harry looked around a little.

Like the bedroom he had been in before the entrance hall was similarly decorated, with light wooden walls and mostly green and blue colours around.

It was so confusing to think that the Dark Lord was living in a muggle manor...

But oh well, at least it didn't scream "dark magic" to Harry, so that was a definite plus.

When Tom started to move, beginning his little tour through the house as he seemingly took Harry's silence as agreement to start Harry followed suit, actually a bit curious about the house despite everything. It wasn't every day you got to visit the secret base of your ex-nemesis after all, was it?

 

They were mostly done with the tour, having visited the largely empty west wing first which mainly included the library, the parlour and Tom's private room, and were now headed towards the east wing, where the few other people living here were residing, when they first met another person.

It was a surprisingly scabby looking man in his forties who came to a quick halt a few metres in front of them, kneeling down.

"My lord," he said, sounding like he would prefer being anywhere else than here. "Your... guest has arrived early, he is already in the manor, I thought you might want to know..."

Tom's expression changed into a scowl almost immediately.

"Alright, I will take care of him," he said, making the man nod quickly and hurry away, leaving the two of them alone again.

Turning to Harry, Tom sighed.

"So it seems that I have found some urgent business to attend to. Originally this was supposed to be happening tomorrow, but it looks like some people cannot be trusted with adhering appointments..." He shook his head, still not sounding very happy. "Would you be willing to wait for me? It shouldn't take long, I will just make sure that my... guest won't start thinking this manor belongs to him. There are people who can get rather... obnoxious when being left alone for too long."

"Uh, alright?" Harry said, really curious now about who this guest might be but guessing that Tom wouldn't want to talk about it if he didn't offer the information right now. Maybe he could ask once the other didn't look that unfriendly.

"Thank you. Just... maybe wait in that room over there, it has a TV if you get bored." Damn it this sounded weird, hearing Tom of all people talk about a TV like it was totally normal. There really were too many ignorant wizards around... "If there are others inside just ignore them, they won't act up. For emergencies use your Portkey, you know I keyed you in."

And with that he was already gone, hurrying down the corridor, leaving Harry to stare after him, honestly wondering what kind of guest would make the other leave in such a hurry...

Still, he would probably have to wait for a bit now so with a sigh he finally turned around and entered the room Tom had pointed at, wondering if the man really had a working TV connection... But if this manor had belonged to a muggle it wasn't totally improbable.

Though the moment he opened a door he froze.

There were about five men sitting in the room already, all looking a bit shabby but at least rather sane, with three of them playing cards, one playing muggle chess against himself it seemed and one reading. All of them but the chess player looked up for a moment, but when he didn't say anything they quickly went back to their respective doings, making him relax a little.

So the glamour was working and they weren't bothered by Shiva who was still curled around his body, very much visible for she had fervently resisted hiding back under his robes. Well, probably they were used to Nagini or strange visitors in general or something, all the better for him...

The TV was turned off though, so after standing in the entrance for a few awkward seconds longer he finally decided that just watching the telly for a while might help calming his nerves and he walked over to it, taking the remote control and switching it on.

What he hadn't counted on was the chaos that ensued the second noise came out of the speakers.

The three card players jumped back violently, knocking the whole table over while the guy who had been reading flew behind the couch. The chess player managed to knock down a few of his figures as he also jumped up and everyone was staring wide-eyed at the screen, where some sort of quiz show was running.

When the first man drew his wand Harry's eyes widened and he quickly turned off the telly again, not wanting to get cursed.

"I'm sorry, I didn't know I wasn't supposed to turn on the TV," he apologised quickly, mentally cursing Tom for telling him it was alright to do so and already grabbing his Portkey in his pocket, just to be sure...

The man just stared at him, wand still raised but not looking particularly aggressive, more shocked. And vaguely familiar, now that Harry had time to actually look at him, but he couldn't place it.

"What in Merlin's name is a teevee?" he asked, sounding honestly shocked. "And where did those voices come from? There were no additional people in here!"

Right... those five men were wizards, obviously, and none of them muggleborn it seemed.

"Well, a TV - or telly - is something muggles use to broadcast something... Kind of like a radio, but with visuals..." How came wizards knew of radios anyway but not of TVs or telephones? "It's pre-recorded somewhere and then later sent out and TVs can receive and depict it..."

Actually Harry himself didn't know much more, but he had caught a few facts whenever Dudley had broken the telly because his favourite show had been cancelled or something as a repairman usually had to come immediately afterwards...

It seemed to be enough for this bunch though, for most of them were now staring at him with wide eyes, as if he was explaining some sort of foreign magic to them - well, to them it probably actually felt that way.

"You mean muggles can record more than just voices?" one of the other men wondered while the first one finally put away his wand again.

Harry nodded.

"Yes. I don't know the details but it's pretty advanced... Although the recorded things won't speak to you or react to you in any way, not like portraits or something..."

Slowly the men straightened again, curiosity seemingly outweighing the fear of the unknown.

Though to be honest, the sight of a grown man diving behind a couch because the telly had been turned on was something to remember.

"Can you show us how it works?" the first man was just then asking, a gleam in his eyes that somehow reminded Harry of Mr. Weasley when he was talking about plugs... It seemed that even Death Eaters could be interested in muggle technology... Who would have thought?

"Uh, Sure..." Harry answered as such, holding up the remote he was still holding in his hand. "You just have to press this red button there, it will then tell the telly to turn on. It's... well, some sort of muggle stuff, I'm not quite sure either how it works."

He got at least three nods as the three men closest to him looked at the remote in curiosity. The fourth was standing a little away, watching with mistrust in his eyes and the last had returned to his book, but looked up at times to watch anyway.

So Harry just pressed the button on the remote and turned the telly back on, causing the others to twitch a little, but now that the shock was gone they looked a lot more interested at the small TV, mustering it and walking around it, as if to make sure nobody was actually behind it or something.

Damn, it looked ridiculous, if these five people had been anyone else Harry would probably have laughed. He didn't quite dare to laugh at Death Eaters though, so he bit his lip and kept quiet.

 

Harry didn't know how long he was standing there, showing them how the telly worked, explaining channels and how to switch between them as well as whatever was currently running as they also had never heard of quiz shows, slapstick comedy or crappy drama series.

"Damn, you're so knowledgeable about these things... You a muggleborn or something?" the one Harry thought looked a little familiar inquired, making Harry wince. Those guys were still rather pureblood fanatics, right...?

Seeing the wince the man waved it off. "Don't worry, we couldn't care less about blood status. We'll leave that to the fanatics. I'm just curious. So, are you?"

Harry blinked a few times, not sure if this might be some sort of tactic, before shaking his head.

"No, my parents were both magical. But I've had quite some contact with muggles."

it wasn't even a lie, though he thought it was probably better to stay vague, as he wanted to keep his true identity a secret after all...

The man seemed to easily accept it though, nodding along.

"Alright then. I sure hope we'll be seeing you around more often though, especially if you know that much about other muggle stuff too!"

Harry made a non-committal sound, slowly getting a little uncomfortable. Not that he minded the man's seeming obsession on muggle stuff, but this reminded him tat he was kind of on almost-enemy territory... So maybe he shouldn't be too casual around here...

"Very well... Oh, what's your name though? I don't think I've caught it before," the man continued, causing Harry to curse mentally. Great, what was he supposed to say now?

"Uh... Lesath," he finally said, hopefully before making anyone suspicious, just spouting off the first name he got in mind right now - it was the name of the author of the book he was currently reading and it sounded wizard-y enough, really.

The man grinned. "Well then 'Uh Lesath', welcome to the pack! I'm -"

Suddenly he stopped, making Harry - whose eyes had widened a little at the name 'pack' - frown. But before he could ask what was wrong the door already opened again, revealing Tom, who looked around the room for a moment as if assessing the situation before focussing on Harry.

"So, you have met the werewolves it seems," he noted, making Harry blink a few times. So it was what he had thought... He looked once again at the men and while all of them had stiffened at the mention Harry just focussed on their looks for a moment, now noting smaller things like their ragged appearance... It probably made sense, although they were certainly looking a lot more energetic than Remus did one day after a full moon...

"It seems so," he answered evasively as such, still a bit puzzled but guessing he could question that later.

"Very well. Then we're almost finished, just follow me."

Harry nodded, muttering a goodbye to the men - it couldn't hurt to be polite in the end - and followed Tom out of the room, back through the manor until they reached Tom's room, entering it through the set of two doors that was there for some reason.

Once they had arrived there, Tom turned to him, something akin to surprise on his face.

"You were surprisingly comfortable with Greyback," he stated, making Harry stare at him.

"Huh?" Greyback?

Tom raised an eyebrow.

"Don't tell me you don't know the stories they tell of Fenrir Greyback?"

"Well, I do, but..." Harry trailed off as he finally caught on to what Tom was hinting at. The man who had seemed vaguely familiar? Who had taken the lead in their conversation and said something about a 'pack'? He paled, before cursing lightly. He had been in a room with Greyback and four of his men? Bloody hell!

"I take it he didn't introduce himself yet," Tom commented dryly, causing Harry to shoot him a dirty look.

"No, he didn't. Didn't you say the people you had here were alright?"

"I did. And I will not take it back. None of them tried to hurt you, did they?"

That actually caused Harry to pause for a moment, before shaking his head.

"Well, no, but... it's Greyback! He's best known for biting - if not outright killing! - children of his enemy, in case you had forgotten!" he finally retorted, not sure if he was supposed to be angry, afraid or both... Hearing Tom snort didn't help his mood in the least though. "What?"

Tom shook his head, amusement in his eyes - something that actually put Harry out of his anger, for he still couldn't quite believe that Tom was even capable of positive emotions - before answering.

"Nothing. It's just amusing to see how humanity so easily believes any kind of rumours as long as it fits into their picture of a person."

Harry scowled, having the feeling he was missing something that made this funny.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, Greyback spread those rumours himself. It was shortly after he came to Britain and was working on creating his own pack. He needed some sort of reputation and what's more evil than attacking children?"

Harry's eyes widened in surprise, but there was still disbelief in him.

"You mean he just faked all of this? And you knew and worked with him anyway?" He had done his reading after all, especially regarding the last wizarding war - and Professor Drakul had talked about that too - so he knew how Voldemort had been closely working together with the werewolves.

Tom shrugged at that.

"I found out only recently. Never cared enough about him to check the sources when I was still insane. For while he certainly isn't as bad as he makes himself out to be in the public he is a very good fighter. Even if you disarm him or if he is in wolf form. You shouldn't underestimate him. But away from fights he is... Well, you saw how he is. You wouldn't think such a personality would work until you meet him. Also, for some reason he is obsessed with muggle technology."

"Yeah, I noticed that," Harry answered slowly, still trying to wrap his mind around the possible fact that Fenrir Greyback wasn't quite as evil as he would have thought.

That made already two, he just hoped this wouldn't turn into a habit... It was way too creepy, seriously.

"Do you have any other Death Eaters who, in truth, are incredibly nice people and just fake being evil?" Harry dryly wondered after another moment, causing Tom to raise an eyebrow.

"Oh, make no mistakes, none of us is nice, in the truest sense of the word. But we're also not just plain evil. Everyone has their selfish times, when they are aggressive or even plain cruel, but that doesn't mean that they can't be nice when surrounded by people they like - or at least not actively hate. Only very few Death Eaters are truly evil or even insane and I'll work on not letting those near you until you are ready."

It was said almost in a joking manner, but Harry couldn't help but notice how Tom's eyes were very much serious during his speech. It seemed that he wanted Harry to understand that he wasn't on the light side anymore with this.

And damn it, Harry knew. Deep inside of himself he knew that he was probably doing something incredibly stupid, siding with the people that were partly insane, but what other choices did he have? The alternatives were even worse!

He sighed.

"Alright, I'll try to remember that," he muttered after a moment, staring at the fire that flickered merrily in the fireplace. He should go back to Potter manor now he supposed, he didn't want Remus to worry and their tour was finished too, right?

Tom seemed to agree, for after a moment of silence he cleared his throat.

"You should probably return home, as to not make your guardians worry about you. I already took a bit more time than we planned after all."

Harry nodded and took out his Portkey, though before he could say goodbye and activate it Tom spoke up once more.

"Also, I wouldn't worry too much about all of this. I know it's a peculiar situation, but it is no less so for me and I am determined to make the best out of it. We will manage."

Somehow the thought that Tom actually faced similar problems adapting to all of this - especially considering he always seemed to well-prepared - relieved Harry a little, so when he finally returned to Potter Manor it was with a slightly lighter heart than before.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 42: Summer lessons

When Harry arrived back at the manor he quickly turned off the glamour from the ring he was still wearing - Tom had insisted he should keep it, if at least for the protection charms - before he entered the house.

His original plan had been to sneak into his room to be able to think all of this through a bit more, as well as telling Shiva what exactly had happened, but that plan was delayed when he realised that both Sirius and Remus were in the entrance hall, arguing about something.

"-changes nothing! This was dangerous, you fool! What if they would have just recaptured you?" Remus was just saying, sounding more distressed than Harry had imagined he could be, causing him to freeze in surprise.

"Now now Moony, of course I had taken some precautions... Nothing could have happened, I promise!" Sirius tried to placate him, but without much success it seemed.

"This was still the single, stupidest thing I've witnessed in quite a while and you can be damn well thankful that I can't stay mad at you for long, for otherwise-"

He broke off in surprise as he finally noticed Harry, his face first showing surprise, before the scowl came back full force, making Harry gulp.

"And where are you coming from young man?" Remus inquired frostily and Harry just knew that he was in trouble.

He had never told anyone where he would be going. Blimey.

"I've... been at Tom's hideout," he muttered, looking at the ground as to not have to meet anyone's eyes, causing a moment of silence to stretch on, before both men cried out in sync.

"What?!"

Harry grimaced. This did not bode well.

"Sirius, I take back what I just said," Remus said, his tone a bit higher than usual. "This is the stupidest thing I've witnessed in a while." Now obviously talking to Harry he continued. "What were you thinking?"

"Uh..."

Harry hesitated, not really sure what to say. For the longer he kept thinking about it the more crazy the whole idea of simply going to Tom's hideout seemed to him. But then again, the other man's arguments were still valid, what use would it be to do something now, when he would have had much better chances already...?

"Harry," Remus continued, his voice now quite a bit calmer. Too calm, really, like the storm was just around the corner. "I assume Vol- Tom gave you very good reasons for joining him, but you need to be careful! This man has always been a master of manipulations, even more so before he completely lost his mind. I know that the probability of him doing something to you now might have sunken, but... You cannot simply trust his words for keeping you safe. Just because we assume he means you no harm doesn't mean he won't if tempted. He is just too big of a mystery right now..."

"What Moony is trying to say so eloquently," Sirius injected, his tone not quite as admonishing. "is that we worry about you. I know you like to rush into things headfirst - hey, I'm doing the same! - but I dare say that I am a bit more knowledgeable than you and if worse comes to worst I can defend myself a lot better. So... if you decide to do these things in the future, by all means, do so, but at least inform one of us before so we can talk you out of it or at least join in if necessary?"

If Remus's words had already made Harry feel bad, Sirius was now hitting it home, making his consciousness flare up.

"I'm sorry," he muttered miserably, really meaning it. Thinking about it like that made him almost want to hit himself. He was really lucky that nothing had happened he supposed, for even if Tom hadn't wanted him hurt, he had been in the room with half a dozen of the worst werewolves Britain had to offer too!

Even if they had behaved like children in the face of some technology like a telly.

Suddenly he felt someone's arms around him, making him stiffen for a moment before relaxing into it as he realised that it was Sirius.

"Now now, don't be too harsh with yourself, alright?" his godfather said, trying to sound cheerful. "I guess it was just as much our fault for leaving you unsupervised with Voldemort, even though he couldn't do much... Looks like we underestimated his way with words, although I'm really glad that nothing happened to you..." He pulled away, holding Harry at an arm's length. "Nothing did happen to you, right?"

Harry shrugged.

"I feel fine." Well, he wasn't, not really, but he was more talking about physically fine, so... yeah.

Sirius then began to grin.

"That's good, because I have the most interesting news for you!"

"Sirius!" Remus cut in from the side, but the other man ignored it, focussing only on Harry.

"Your godfather is a free man now!"

Harry stared at him for a few seconds, forgetting about his misery for a second as he wondered if he had misheard something.

"What?"

Sirius's grin widened even further.

"I'm free! I went to the Ministry today to turn myself in and they conducted the trial almost immediately. After all they had already interrogated Wormtail before and found out the truth, so... yeah. It was quick and I got a full pardon, including quite a compensation. They have imprisoned me wrongly for twelve years after all, and breaking out wasn't even illegal! Looks like they thought they didn't need a law for their 'inescapable prison'. Though I suppose they'll change that now..."

Harry's eyes went wide during that talk, before he began to smile too, happiness flowing through his body, washing away part of his bad mood.

"Congratulations!" he said with a smile. Sirius was free! Justice had been brought to Pettigrew and finally the public knew what he had known for two years already.

He couldn't help but wonder if anyone still remembered the Quibbler article in which he had told the public about this half a year ago...

"Doesn't it bother anyone that Sirius simply walked into the Ministry, taking this huge risk that could have just as well resulted in him being carried back to Azkaban for a while longer?" Remus asked from the side, his arms crossed.

Sirius smiled at him.

"Now, I told you I had made preparations... I even took my Head of House Black ring with me!" At that he grimaced a little but continued nonetheless. "They wouldn't have simply thrown Lord Black into Azkaban without solid proof of his crimes and with Pettigrew in their hands this situation wouldn't have happened. The worst thing would have been me spending a night in their holding cells and those are actually quite comfortable."

Remus started at him piercingly.

"Why do you sound as if you know what you're talking about?"

"Oh, I don't know... Must be your imagination," Sirius answered innocently, causing Harry to chuckle.

Well, at least in here everything was still normal it seemed. Or as normal as living with Sirius and Remus was ever going to be, he supposed.

And he really liked it.

 

In the end it turned out that Sirius and Remus didn't have a better proposition regarding a place where Harry was supposed to be taught though. They agreed that it was a bad idea to do it at Potter Manor as they certainly didn't want to show who Harry really was to any teacher, but they also knew no real alternative that wouldn't associate Harry with anyone.

At least the two adults had checked the glamour Tom had woven into the ring more than thoroughly to make sure nobody would be able to discover who Harry really was. And while it was possible to find out that Harry did use a glamour, they didn't find a way to actually remove it without touching the ring, so in the end they decided it was the best it could get for now.

Also Sirius helped activate the anti-apparition wards on Harry's own Head of House ring and showed him how to turn it off again too after confessing it had simply slipped his mind before as he didn't usually wear his own ring anyway. Or particularly care about the topic of ancestry and heads of houses.

Of course, that didn't mean Sirius or Remus were any happier with letting Harry get taught at Tom's place, but in the end they agreed - making Harry wonder if they had spoken to Tom again - under the condition that Sirius could join in for the first lessons. In dog form of course, for anything else would have raised suspicions.

 

The next days were spent with more preparations then, including a small commotion when Tom sent the list of teachers he proposed. Harry had the right to complain about any of them but Tom explicitly stated that he wanted a real reason for it, with 'But I hate Snape and he hates me' not being a valid one.

So obviously, Snape had been chosen for Potions. No surprise here and although Sirius - who, together with Remus, obviously wanted to check the list too - had been less than happy, ranting at least five minutes about how stupid this decision was, they all had reluctantly agreed that it was at least worth a try. Snape was a terrific Potions master and if he didn't know Harry was Harry maybe it would work out.

Otherwise Sirius promised to personally take it up with Tom to change the teacher, something Harry was a bit wary of but appreciated nonetheless.

Also not very surprising had been the choice of Tom himself as his teacher for duelling and advanced spells. Harry could easily believe the man capable of all kinds of magic and both Sirius and Remus could agree that even during his period of insanity he had been feared not exclusively for his quick hand with the Unforgivable Curses.

Regarding healing, Tom surprised them all by proposing Sirius as the teacher for he knew the man cared for Harry's well-being more than any appointed person could. Also, a healer would have to perform diagnostic charms, something that could give Harry's identity away too easily. Sirius himself was just as surprised - flabbergasted, really - but the reasons Tom offered were sound and while he wasn't a certified Healer he agreed that he knew enough to teach Harry at least some basic spells. He had been an auror after all. Harry himself certainly didn't mind, for having at least one teacher he actually trusted was great. And of course they could do the lessons just here, in Potter manor. Perfectly safe and everything.

Occlumency had bothered him a bit already though, for it was something that also couldn't be taught by someone who didn't know Harry's true identity. His memories would otherwise most certainly betray him.

Well, it didn't anymore. What was bothering him much more now was the teacher Tom proposed:

Aquila Pyrites.

At first Harry had straight out refused to believe that his former Defence professor - 'former' as he would not returning again as according to the Daily Prophet Dumbledore had managed to find a replacement by now and thus making the Ministry unable to protest, even with their educational decree - but then he had read on.

To put it short, it seemed that Tom had his own set of spies - understandable, really, Dumbledore had too after all - and of those none were marked. He even added that marking every follower of his with such an easily recognizable symbol had been one of his stupider ideas and as such it was no wonder that he had begun to gather a variety of people again. And Pyrites seemed to be one of them. Tom wrote that he had recruited him only a few weeks after his resurrection, but that for anything else they would have to ask the man directly. Also, he of course wouldn't disclose the identities of any other of his spies, he just wanted to make sure Harry knew that Pyrites was trustworthy enough to their cause. And yes, Pyrites had told him that part of Harry's Occlumency training had been done by him, but nothing else. His main job had been spying on Dumbledore and, originally, Snape anyway.

Still, having what basically was an unmarked Death Eater teaching Harry Occlumency obviously made Remus and Sirius wary. Sirius even exclaimed he would prefer teaching Harry himself, just to be gently reminded by Remus that his stay in Azkaban, while leaving him saner than usual prisoners, hadn't passed by without leaving its marks on him. Harry wasn't sure he understood it perfectly, but it made Sirius stand down. And after Remus explained how he hadn't even learned Occlumency - for as a werewolf this was close to impossible, although he got natural shields from his inner wolf the closer to the full moon it was - it was concluded that they would indeed have to rely on an 'outside person' for teaching Harry this. So Pyrites, who had been doing so before and knew of secrecy wards well enough was probably the best choice, Death Eater or not. What other allies did they have in the end? There was Tonks, maybe, but she was too busy with her auror training and order business to be of much help. She had written to them before, but when offered to being keyed into the wards she declined for the time being, pointing out that Dumbledore would then try for her to get to Harry as she would be the only one he could reach. And she wasn't too keen on hiding herself away. She promised to visit later though.

 

Harry's first lesson - Occlumency, about a week after their last meeting - was rather strange then. Sirius had joined him like he had promised but it turned out that watching a disguised Harry sitting together with his former teacher - who had even apologized for the deceit but also admitted that it had been a necessity, something Harry couldn't deny, and explained how he had been sworn into secrecy regarding Harry's identity by Tom himself - mostly meditating in silence wasn't all that interesting so he had soon grown bored and vanished to who knew where.

 

During a break inbetween - for working on Occlumency for too long without interruptions could get rather frustrating, and as such more contra-productive - Harry went looking for his godfather as such, wondering where he might have wandered off too. He was still decidedly doglike and Harry didn't want to imagine what some Death Eaters might do with what they might think of as a stray. Even with the reassurance that they weren't all psychopathic madmen.

As such he was stunned when he found Sirius in the garage, back in human form, working with none other than Fenrir Greyback on some old motorcycle.

He stood there, gaping at the two men that were working together, unable to comprehend what he was seeing - usually Sirius was the one with the most problems if it came to working together with Death Eaters after all! - until Greyback finally noticed him, waving a little.

"Hiya Lesath. How are you doing?"

Feeling a little helpless Harry decided to simply go with the flow for the moment.

"Alright, mostly, what about you?"

Greyback grinned. "Splendid! I didn't think I'd ever find someone who knows how these weird muggle transport things work, they look so different to a broom! Luckily Sirius is really knowledgeable about it!"

Harry took that as a sign to stare at Sirius intently, wondering what he was missing.

His godfather just grinned sheepishly though, before turning back to Greyback.

"I guess he's got some break right now, let me talk to him for a moment, alright?"

Greyback shrugged.

"Feel free, I'm gonna grab some snacks in the meantime. Also, maybe I'll find that wrench we need..."

With that he left, leaving Harry to stare at Sirius in a mixture of confusion and frustration.

But before he could begin to ask what the hell was going on Sirius raised a hand.

"I know this must seem incredibly confusing, but let me explain."

He motioned for Harry to come sit next to him as he flopped down on a nearby box.

"First of all: That Greyback saw me was an accident, but he could smell I wasn't a normal dog and I preferred explaining myself to getting killed because he thought I was an intruder or something that snuck on the grounds." He looked around for a moment, before drawing his wand and casting a quick spell. "Sorry, now we should have some privacy," he explained, before lowering his voice anyway. "I knew you hadn't yet given away a last name for your persona, so I made you a Black now, telling Greyback that I've come to see how you were faring. I'm pretty sure he believed me too, as there really isn't any reason not to."

Harry was still staring at him incredulously.
"But... you're you. You fought against Voldemort in the last war, why should anyone accept you being here?"

At that Sirius grinned.

"Well... First of all, it's not very difficult to explain how I've been very put out with the people that left me to rot in Azkaban for twelve years. I'm now officially rebelling against them by joining their 'Dark Lord' as I've found some remaining family here as well."

"And he believed you?" Harry asked, still unconvinced.

"It's actually not that difficult to believe," Sirius said, sobering a little. "Or very far from the truth. We did decide to come here because we know the order won't do, didn't we?"

"I... guess." Harry shook his head in confusion. "But still... it's Greyback!"

Sirius frowned. "Oh I know that, we had an... interesting conversation before finding some common grounds."

"About?" Harry asked, unable to restrain his curiosity for the moment.

"Remus, actually," Sirius explained. "He's told me that it was Greyback who changed him and as such I obviously wasn't very pleased with the man." He grimaced a little. "Though I hadn't yet heard Greyback's version of it. Remus's father, Lyall Lupin, was a rather bigoted moron it seems. He insulted Greyback pretty badly, including something like 'I wish all werewolves would be just put down' or something because he couldn't prove that Greyback had killed some people - something I'm actually not sure if he did or not, for he claimed he didn't but... well, it is Greyback we're talking about." He shook his head before continuing. "Anyway, Greyback was pissed and bit Remus during a full moon, ensuring that Lyall would have to live with his son being one of these beings he hated so much."

Harry frowned. That did sound believable as such, but...

"Do you believe him?"

Sirius shrugged.

"I knew Remus's dad before he passed away a year after we finished school. Certainly wasn't the nicest bloke and he did have a few prejudices against non-humans... It's at least possible that he would have said something like this. Of course, both he and his wife claimed Greyback had wanted to kill Remus, but if what you told us is true and he really just made up some rumours about killing children to seem more evil, it doesn't necessarily have to be true."

Sirius sighed, running a hand through his hair as he looked up at the ceiling of the building.

"I guess in the end I'll try to save my judgement until I've actually seen him commit some atrocity. Or have some other proof of it. Because currently it seems to be one word against another and I can think of a bunch of things I'd prefer spending my time for than thinking about who might be right or not. I certainly won't force Remus to talk to the guy though, and if there would be a conflict I know which side to take, but for now it's more some sort of... temporary camaraderie over motorcycles or something."

Harry blinked a few times, before nodding slowly. He could understand that, in a way. For while none of them could really prove if Greyback's claims were true right now the man had been rather nice around him as of yet. As long as he didn't let his guard down it should be possible to spend some time with him.

Especially so as he could imagine Tom being very displeased if something happened to them while Greyback was nearby.

 

The real challenge for Harry came in the afternoon though. He was feeling his 'post Occlumency training headache' coming already after his second half of the lessons with Pyrites and even as he ate lunch together with Sirius, provided by a kind house-elf, he couldn't concentrate much as the lesson for the afternoon would be Potions.

It had been decided to do two things per day, each going two times one and a half hours with short breaks in between, a bigger one for lunch, and to alternate the lessons daily as to have a bit of variation in between. Harry couldn't say he was looking forward to spending his whole summer holidays with even more lessons, but he understood that this was done for him, to make sure he would survive whatever would be thrown at him in the future, so he certainly wasn't complaining. At least not out loud. And he did have weekends, at least...

With Sirius back at the motorcycles - as he couldn't be near Snape for fear of the man recognizing his Animagus form and immediately scorning anyone associating with him - Harry now took a deep breath to calm himself before knocking at the door to the potions lab, only entering once he heard the man stiffly calling him in.

Snape stood in the middle of the room, behind a table full of various ingredients and two cauldrons right and left of it. Harry quickly entered, closing the door behind him, trying to ignore the way Snape stared at him, hoping the glamour would hold.

At least he didn't comment on Shiva, who was, once again, openly wrapped around him, refusing to go into hiding again. She argued that if she was visible fewer people would even think of attacking him and as she was more than six foot long by now it might have even been true. Harry was just glad that Snape didn't seem to recognize her or anything though. For he might have only seen her for a split second, but Harry had still been a little afraid of it...

"So, you are the Dark Lord's apprentice. Lesath," Snape stated and Harry nodded as he quickly refocussed on the man, trying his best to be as polite as possible.

"Yes sir."

"Well, then let us see if you are what the Dark Lord wishes you to be or not," Snape continued with a light sneer - though noticeably less so than if he would have known who Harry was - and immediately began to question him. "Name two potions in which Flubberworm Mucus is used."

Harry blinked a few times, before starting to think, trying to make his still slightly sluggish brain remember.

"Uh... the Sleeping Draught and... the Wiggenweld Potion?"

"Is that a question or an answer?" Snape sneered, making Harry barely hold back a flinch. Damn it, being alone with the man was even worse than in class, even if he didn't know it was him.

"An answer, sir."

"Then intonate it as such. Now, give me another name for Aconite and a potion it's most commonly known for."

Now, that he knew! "It's also called Wolfsbane, for it's most common use is the Wolfsbane Potion." For one he had never quite forgotten the embarrassing start of his first Potions class and also, with Remus depending on the potion and Harry being close to him near full moons too he had learned a little about it.

Snape didn't seem impressed though, of course. He just kept firing off questions, ranging from the properties of Moonstone to what would be the best course of action if somebody was poisoned in front of him and he couldn't brew the antidote. Not once did he even acknowledge if Harry got them right, though he did correct him if he was wrong or not specific enough.

It went on like that for quite a while until he finally announced that while Harry's theoretical knowledge might barely be sufficient for a kid - something Harry only barely managed to not comment in a bad way - they would have to see about his brewing skills.

So Harry started brewing a Sleeping Draught. It really wasn't difficult for Snape even gave him a textbook with the instructions, but the real deal came once Harry had finished the potion.

"This is barely acceptable," he said, looking disdainfully into the cauldron.

Harry frowned. "Why?" he couldn't help but ask. He had done it just the way the textbook said, his colour was just right too!

Snape just scowled back. "If administered correctly it would put a subject to sleep, yes, but it is much too weak." Harry opened his mouth to protest but Snape cut him off. "The problem is that you weren't thinking while brewing. You were blindly following the instructions without even knowing why."

Harry closed his mouth again, still frowning but also thinking about it. It was true in a way, he hadn't actually thought about why he did what he did, but going by the book had always worked with Slughorn at least...

"So, why did you add Lavender to the potion?" Snape was asking now, making Harry try to think of a reason that wasn't 'because it was written in the book'. He wasn't that crazy.

Sleeping Draught... Lavender...

Then he got an idea. Aunt Petunia had liked to drink lavender tea before going to sleep.

"Because... It helps you relax?" Harry tried to deduce, before noticing the scowl. "I mean, it helps you relax. Sir."

"And why four leaves? Why not three or five?"

For that, Harry had no answer. So he told Snape so, but surprisingly the man didn't seem to take some sort of pleasure out of this, but simply explained that while three lavender petals would make the potion stronger, the timing for the stirring would have to be much more precise and as such it was easier to mess up. As the book he had used was a school book it was no surprise that it went with the safer option of four petals, giving the potion more stability at the price of effectiveness. It wasn't like the potions of the students were usually used for anything anyway.

Needless to say, when Harry left the room a few hours later his head was swirling with a lot more information - delivered in Snape's unique way of making everything he said seem like an insult - as well as a list of potions they would cover the next time, for him to check out the ingredients beforehand and try to deduce what was the reason behind each of them. And maybe even what could be used instead, but Snape didn't sound like he believed Harry could do it. That man was rather aggravating, seriously. But at least he had some free time left now, provided he could get Sirius away from the motorcycles to get back home.

 

Harry hadn't seen Tom for the whole day so he was a bit surprised to be greeted by him at the front door the next day. Sirius had once again joined him and, in his dog form, stood next to him, though Harry could see his gaze wandering to the part of the house that held the garage a few times. He really hoped Tom was okay with Sirius's endeavours regarding that...

They exchanged greetings and Tom led them into the house, into one of the bigger guest rooms of the east wing. To Harry's surprise the room had been cleared of furniture or anything else besides the lamp on the ceiling, really. A perfect room for duelling, he supposed.

"We will be working in here for the beginning, to see what you can already do and where we need some work, before we will gradually move to including our surroundings in duels," Tom explained, making Harry nod in understanding. "Mr. Black can either stay in one of the corners for the time being or take his leave now or during any break, whatever he prefers. Any other questions before we start?"

"Uh... Where you here yesterday? I don't think I saw you?" Harry couldn't help but ask, still wondering what to make of the other man's actions every time they met. Or didn't meet, really.

But Tom just shrugged lightly.

"I was busy, mostly doing paperwork. But I was nearby so I would have noticed if anything was amiss, in case you were wondering."

Harry nodded, curiosity satisfied for now - it did somehow make him feel better, although he was a bit surprised that the other hadn't said hello or anything. Then again, it wasn't like he had to play babysitter or anything, so whatever.

"Very well," Tom was just replying, before adopting a tone that sounded much more like a teacher than the almost casual one he had used before. "So, how much did you learn about duelling before?"

Harry had to restrain himself to not answer the first thing that came into his mind, thanks to his memories of the duelling club in his second year resurfacing. 'Dropping one's wand is bad. As is trying to speak to a snake in front of the whole school with nobody else understanding you.'

"Well, I had some training with Pro- Pyrites and Moody before," Harry answered instead, barely remembering that his ex-teacher had told him to drop the 'professor' the day before. "Mostly dodging spells though. Other than that we never really came to duelling, the only duelling club we had barely taught us the Expelliarmus spell before it was cancelled again after the first meeting turned out to be a disaster."

Tom grimaced slightly.

"So no actual duelling experience?"

"If you don't count the times I cast simple spells against my classmates in Charms or Defence... No," Harry admitted. He was also thinking of the one time in the graveyard over a year ago by now but... He supposed that better was left unmentioned.

Tom sighed and Harry wondered if he had thought of the same thing. But then again, maybe not, his next words were unrelated enough.

"Very well, then it looks like I have my work cut out for me..." Tom then straightened a bit more and looked directly at Harry. "So, for today we will check your basic skills in Defence, Transfiguration and Charms. Depending on where your strengths lie we will find a duelling style for you to utilize. Of course, for now you'd do good in just hoping your opponent underestimates you and then surprising him when he least expects it, but nevertheless, actually learning how to perform in a real duel should prove most benefiting."

"What about the Trace?" Sirius suddenly said, having changed back to a man, causing Harry to jump.

Tom looked at Sirius, an eyebrow raised.

"As far as I have learnt he has been emancipated. The Trace only works on minors after all."

Now Sirius turned to Harry and frowned slightly.

"You told him?" he asked almost accusingly, causing Harry to wince slightly.

"Well, kind of... It was an accident."

"Anyway," Tom interrupted before they could start arguing. "as the Trace is gone we can effortlessly start our practise right now. Though I would propose for Harry to get a second wand sooner or later."

"What?" "Why?" Sirius and Harry asked simultaneously.

Tom huffed lightly.

"Do you seriously think I will only teach light and neutral spells? Of course Harry has to learn some that are supposedly 'dark'. But what would the Ministry think if anyone ever performed a Priori Incantato on his wand and found anything questionable there?"

"Why should Harry want to learn Dark Magic anyway?" Sirius retorted, spitting out the words 'Dark Magic' like they were something particularly foul.

Harry winced again. Looked like he had forgotten to ever tell Sirius - or anyone besides Shiva for that matter - about what he had been reading about... And if he was honest with himself, some of those spells he had been dying to try out, though never did for he didn't know if there was a way for Dumbledore to detect what kind of magic was cast inside of Hogwarts. And then over the holidays he had simply forgotten...

Tom was actually looking at him with a strange expression, but Harry had no time for that right now, actually focussing on Sirius instead.

"Uh... did you know that there's good dark magic?" he asked nervously, hoping he would somehow manage to explain this correctly.

Sirius stared at him. "What in Merlin's name is 'good dark magic' supposed to be? And how would you know about that anyway?"

Harry sighed. He might as well get it out now.
"I've been reading about it for a while now," he said quietly, causing Sirius' eyes to widen, but before his godfather could interrupt him he quickly continued. "At first it was more of an accident but after reading a few books I realised that dark magic isn't evil at all! Of course there are some spells that are horrible and I certainly didn't read up on them-" Well, except for that one time, but that didn't count! "- but there are also good things there! Healing potions that require ingredients from questionable creatures, but turn out to be very strong because of it. Spells that can fix damage from other dark curses that were simply labelled dark because to understand them you would have to understand the curses... All kinds of things!"

Sirius was frowning, not looking like he believed him to be honest, but what else as he supposed to say?

"I can show you the books if you want...?" Harry offered nervously, making Sirius huff.

Silence reigned for a while after that, with Sirius clenching his fists and Harry being nervous. Tom didn't seem inclined to interrupt them either, content with just watching them for the time being it seemed.

Finally, Sirius let out something that sounded like a mixture between a growl and a frustrated moan.

"Well fine," he grumbled, throwing his arms up in the air. "Go and learn this stuff then! But I want to know every spell you're taught!" Harry thought this sounded rather ridiculous really, until Sirius continued, his gaze dark. "I've already lost one person I once held dear to the lure of the dark arts, I will not have this happening again!"

Harry didn't quite know who Sirius was talking about, but he could see the pain in his godfather's eyes, so he nodded.

"I promise I won't fall, alright?" Harry said, his voice just as serious. Of course, he couldn't know that, but he would do his damn best to make sure his morale stayed where it was supposed to be. At least it was easy enough to remind himself that just that had driven Tom to become Voldemort once, and Harry most certainly never wanted to become like that.

"I sure hope so..." Sirius muttered, before shaking his head. "I'll be outside, find me at the garage once you're done here. And remember to tell me what happened."

With that he left the room, still sulking and Harry nervously watched him go, hoping he hadn't just destroyed something way too important for him...

"I think he will come around," Tom suddenly spoke up, making Harry jump a little. "He has obviously had some bad experiences with dark magic before, but it will only do the both of you a favour if you can show him that not all magic that is classified as dark is actually evil."

Harry sighed. "I suppose." He could only hope that it was true.

"Now, let's start with the lesson, yes? You can check on your godfather during the break."

Tom took a few steps backwards as Harry grimaced a little, but he guessed the other was right, so he nodded, focussing on him.

"For the beginning I want you to show me a bit of Transfiguration," Tom explained, making Harry nod again.

"What kind?"

"Well, that's up to you," Tom replied with a smirk. "Half of the deal with duelling is that you need to be able to think on your feet. So show me something interesting. It doesn't have to be useful in a duel yet though. Just some creativity."

Stifling a groan, Harry began to think. Seriously, everyone was all about creativity these days while he hadn't done much else but going by the book in the last five years... Well, except for Divination, but making up how you're perishing in a gruesome way didn't count, really.

Still, maybe he'd get some ideas, surely he wasn't that bad at thinking creatively...

 

After Tom's lesson was over Harry had reassessed his ability to think creatively. Yes, he had been able to conjure some things and transfigure them into something different, but after that Tom had demonstrated what he had actually been talking about and... Well, it had been overwhelming. The man could wield his magic so well, create dragons out of fire and small thunderstorms indoors... He had turned water to glass and petals to arrows... It gave Harry a lot more reason to think magic was awesome than Hogwarts teachers usually did... The display had been breathtaking.

Of course, afterwards they had continued on with Charms and Defence, taking a bit wonder away again, but at least Harry had been faring a lot better there, knowing quite a few more Charms and Jinxes than he knew transfiguration spells.

He was still a long way off from where Tom seemingly wanted him to be though, so he had a lot of work to do...

At least Tom was a rather good teacher, his teaching methods reminding him a bit of Pyrites', although he was a lot more strict and less carefree than the ex-teacher.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 43: Celebrations are in Order

Thankfully Sirius had calmed down again by the time Harry returned to him and as such their healing lesson worked out pretty well.

Sirius taught Harry the basic diagnostic charm as well as a few other, more advanced ones. They didn't go into actual healing for the time being as that would require injuries, but Harry still thought he was learning quite a few interesting things.

Of course, having lessons during the summer meant he was in general very busy, but at the same time he found that he didn't actually mind the learning. As long as things were explained to him in a way he could understand he didn't have a problem with sitting through the small lectures he got - although he had to admit he was glad that ninety percent of his lessons were practical. He found he learned a lot better when just doing the things people were trying to explain to him, but at the same time it was easier to do once he had the basic theory down. So in the end the promise of practical execution fuelled his desire to learn the theory and all was well. So to speak.

 

Nevertheless, Harry was more than glad for the occasional letters from his friends, giving him a break from all the lessons. Talking about all kinds of normal things, almost as if he wasn't spending his summer inside of the manor of his ex-nemesis, learning all kinds of stuff Hogwarts didn't seem to offer. Well, mostly.

Hermione for example wrote a lot of details to him about her holiday in Germany and how she was glad that she had decided to join her parents instead of accepting the Weasleys' invitation to come to them early this summer. Although she was a bit wary about how her O.W.L results would find her but as far as she had read it shouldn't pose a problem. Also she was now able to study how German wizards lived and had even arranged a visit with the German version of Diagon Alley, found hidden in a well-known castle called 'Hohenschwangau', space provided by the owners of said castle, the House of Wittelsbach, who were widely known amongst the muggles even though there was quite some magical blood running in their family.

This went a bit over Harry's head if he was honest with himself, for geography and history had never been his favourite classes, but when he read about a meeting with Viktor Krum - who was, 'surprisingly', visiting the same place - he could at least imagine what the main reason had been for declining the invitation of the Weasleys.

Although, reading the letters from Ron, Harry could only agree that it was a good idea that Hermione spent most of her summer far away.

At first his letters had continued to be full of awe and excitement, that the order was residing at the Burrow now and everything, but soon the excitement turned into complaints. Ron and Ginny - the only remaining children to stay since Fred and George had moved out into their very own joke shop they had opened in Diagon Alley just after returning from Hogwarts - were not allowed to play Quidditch anymore as the house had been heavily warded and the fields they had used as a Quidditch pitch up to know hadn't fit into the wards. Also Mrs. Weasley seemed to be rather stressed out, for she was shooing the two around more than usual. Ginny seemingly fled to Luna quite often these days as they were year mates but Ron had nobody living nearby and didn't want to get too close to 'the girls', so he was stuck at home, having to help his mother with everything.

Harry actually pitied him in a way, but couldn't offer any solution - it wasn't as if he himself had a lot of free time either after all - so it came as a huge surprise to him when Ron finally wrote that he had taken up a summer job with his brothers. At first Fred and George had seemingly been suspicious, but Harry guessed Ron was doing alright for he hadn't complained about them kicking him out. Yet.

As for Neville, he had only written once again after Harry's strange leave from school had been cleared up and that had been to see if Harry was alright after what the Daily Prophet had written about his kidnapping. But Harry was totally fine with that, it was only the second week of the holidays after all!

 

Of course, this also meant that the date of the O.W.L results came closer and when the unknown tawny owl arrived on that following Saturday morning Harry couldn't help but be incredibly nervous.

"Come on, open it," Sirius urged as he was sitting on the opposite site of the table. "Aren't you curious?"

Harry didn't find it in him to answer right now so he did his best to keep his hands from trembling as he untied the envelope from the owl and took out the parchment inside.

 

Ordinary Wizarding Level Results

Pass Grades:
Outstanding (O)
Exceeded Expectations (E)
Acceptable (A)

Fail Grades:
Poor (P)
Dreadful (D)
Troll (T)

 

Harry James Potter has achieved:

Astronomy: E
Care of Magical Creatures: E
Charms: O
Defence Against the Dark Arts: O
Divination: P
Herbology: E
History of Magic: A
Potions: O
Transfiguration: O

 

Harry stared. And then stared a bit more. Even as his tension slowly left him he wasn't able to do much more, until Sirius finally grew impatient and stood up to walk around the table to get a look at the parchment from over Harry's shoulders.

A moment later a wide grin split his face.

"Eight O.W.L.s? Blimey Harry, that's more than James and me ever hoped to achieve!" he announced, slapping Harry on the back happily.

That shook him out of his stupor a little and he looked up just in time to see Remus getting up too, also smiling.

"Well done, Harry," he agreed, obviously also wanting to get a look, so Harry passed the parchment to Sirius, so he could share it with the other. Although his head was still swirling slightly.

It wasn't so much the amount of O.W.L.s itself, for if he was honest with himself he had already assumed to pass almost everything besides Divination, with only History being a point where he hadn't been sure. But he was surprised at the amount of 'Outstanding's. Sure, he had been learning a lot and the practical exams had worked great - he had even asked Neville for help with Herbology and in turn helped him with his practical spellwork - but still... It was a surprisingly nice feeling to know that his hard work had actually paid off.

 

With these results in mind he was in a rather good mood as he went to Tom's manor that day. Sirius was still coming with him every time, but as usual they quickly split up as he hurried back to the garage, working on various muggle motorcycles.

Harry rolled his eyes at the other man's antics but smiled anyway as he made his way through the house. As weird as it probably sounded, he was happy with his current setup. Tom was an incredible teacher, for even though he was very demanding and accepted nothing but perfect executions Harry was good enough with a wand that it didn't usually end up being too frustrating. And if Tom actually praised something - which was rare enough - Harry knew he had gotten it down.

When he entered their training room - he didn't bother with knocking anymore, at least not on this particular door - Tom was already there, lightly leaning at one of the walls, staring out of the window as if lost in thoughts.

It was a strange view, really, if compared to what Harry used to think of him as, but it did fit into this "new version" of him surprisingly well. Besides it was interesting to see that even Tom could be lost in his thoughts, despite usually seeming so organised.

Of course Harry didn't get to enjoy the view for very long, as Tom noticed his arrival only a second later, turning to him while straightening.

"Ah, you are a little earlier than I expected. I take it the O.W.L results have arrived?" he asked, now looking as rigid as ever.

Harry blinked in surprise. "How do you know that?"

Tom snorted lightly.

"Lucius has been talking about nothing else for days. Even he doesn't have enough influence to see his son's O.W.L results early. Especially not after having managed to get himself removed from the Hogwarts Board of Governors." He shook his head. "But I digress. How did you do?"

Harry shrugged, not wanting to seem like he was boasting with his score - not that he hadn't heard by now that Tom had gotten straight Os for his O.W.L.s, probably like Hermione - but in the end he just gave Tom the parchment he had taken with him exactly for this reason.

Tom took it easily and looked over it, before nodding in what Harry hoped was approval.

"Not bad. History of Magic is a bit questionable, but I know you had Binns as a teacher for more than four years, so this is acceptable."

Was that a compliment? Harry could only assume it was, for while his grades weren't on Tom's level they also weren't bad, in his opinion. He had qualified for the N.E.W.T. courses everywhere after all.

Well, everywhere but...

"Why in Merlin's name did you decide to take Divination though? This class is... bothersome, to say the least."

Harry winced slightly.

"I know... I was young and didn't care about school or anything... It seemed to be the easy way out."

"And now?" Tom inquired, causing Harry to sigh.

"Now it seems like a huge waste of time. I should have taken Runes instead."

Tom raised an eyebrow.

"You are interested in Ancient Runes? I am surprised."

"Why does everyone keep saying that?" Harry asked, a little defensively.

"Well, it's an extremely theoretical subject, for once," Tom simply responded. "And I took you more for a practical type of person. If you really are interested I can recommend you a few books about the topic though, especially for beginners."

"Really?"

For some reason Harry was rather surprised by it - probably because usually people simply assumed he would not be able to do it, had no time or wouldn't like it. To get a recommendation was new, but certainly not something he would want to reject.

 

In retrospect, deciding to start studying runes in the one summer where his days were already packed with other lessons might not have been his smartest idea, but Harry still began to work through the books he had bought after Tom's recommendation during what free time he had.

And as of yet, he found it utterly boring.

He had thought the idea of wards was wicked, and as such had started with vigour, but it soon turned out that for being able to even create the most simple runic wards - which, by definition, were stronger than spell-cast ones and also the main field of work for warders - required a level of understanding runes that was hard to comprehend at the beginning.

Even more so as each rune had so many different meanings, depending on the combination, context and sometimes even the degree at which it was drawn, that it was mind-boggling.

The only really interesting thing he had gotten out of it yet was the most peculiar fact that there was a rune that looked just like his lightning bold scar. Sowilo, which in that angle stood for protection.

How ironic.

Still, he was stubborn enough not to give up, even though it did make Sirius wonder about his mental health at time. Not that he was one to talk.

 

No, something that did make him wonder about his sanity was another request of Tom, coming only about a week later.

He asked Harry to be present for a Death Eater meeting.

At first Harry thought Tom was joking, despite the man really not being the type for pranks, but Tom assured him that yes, he was absolutely serious.

It was another one of these 'You are on this side now, you should participate a bit more' things - this time aided though by a simple statement Tom made just a bit later. To Remus and Sirius too - as Harry actually was capable of learning and had asked them for help.

Basically Tom wanted him to join for two main reasons: Harry getting accustomed to the Death Eaters - and they to him, behind his disguise though of course and only the most loyal ones - and him getting to know what Tom's side, their side, was doing.

After all, what kind of help could he ever be if he did not know the full picture?

Tom obviously handled things differently than Dumbledore.

Which was an argument even Sirius and Remus couldn't counter it seemed, so after adding more safety nets, like Harry being supposed to hold on to his emergency Portkey at all times during the meeting, they reluctantly agreed to let him try it out one time.

As such, when he sat in his first Death Eater meeting the next day - now officially introduced by Tom as Lesath, his apprentice - and stared into the faces of a few purebloods that mostly were the parents of his Slytherin year mates - he remembered Mr. Malfoy as well as Mr. Nott, and saw Mr. and Mrs. Parkinson too - it was totally surreal. Sure, he didn't actually do anything besides sitting in the back and trying to listen what was being discussed - mostly the political situation in the country, really - but still... Him, sitting in a room filled with Death Eaters! Even if those were the most harmless ones like Tom proclaimed and he held his Portkey in his hands at all times, this was... crazy!

Not that anything actually happened, he left the meeting the same way he had entered it, if a bit less shaken - really, it had simply been politics, of which he hadn't even understood everything, but certainly no nefarious scheming... at least not then and there.

Still crazy though...

 

As such Harry was really glad that in the following week nothing unusual happened at all. Sure, there was another wizarding festival, Lughnasadh, in the meantime, which was basically a harvesting festival and consisted of a small fasting period before, leading to a nice, if a bit rural meal at the actual day - although as it also crossed with a full moon both Remus and Greyback's pack were unavailable. But besides that the days were quiet, filled with learning and sometimes even relaxing a bit with Sirius.

Well, and the small birthday party the two adults had decided to throw, somehow having managed to excuse him from Tom's lessons for the rest of the week. Harry himself had almost forgotten, again, with all of his lessons going on every day and his head usually swimming with information he was working on processing.

 

But it was very nice, even Tonks had come over, having managed to sneak out to them by asking her parents to give her an alibi - something both did more than willingly it seemed, for they weren't in the order and obviously believed a bit more in Harry's safety then Dumbledore did.

They talked quite a bit too, and it seemed that she was finally making some headway with Bill, for he had taken her for dinner a few times already. So it seemed like Fleur had missed her chance... Well, Harry could only hope so for Tonks. Though of course, he hoped Fleur would find someone else then anyway.

Besides that meeting, obviously one of the most interesting things were his presents.

All of his friends had gotten him something, mostly books and sweets - with Neville's gift, a rare plant, reminding him that he had totally forgotten about Neville's birthday just the day before, making him decide to definitely get something for him the next day! - and Tonks had given him a book too, about more advanced healing magic, stating that what she knew about his adventures certainly sounded like he could use it. The best from the pile had definitely come from Sirius and Remus though, who had given him... well, a collar. For Shiva.

Now, as snakes weren't exactly suitable for collars it could also have been some sort of bracelet, but it was charmed to fit around her perfectly and - what was much more important - to be able to shrink her. A Featherweight Charm was included, so with it, Harry could carry Shiva around much easier and she could continue staying with him despite her size having doubled since he had first met her, by now being close to seven feet.

For the rest of the day they were trying it out then, seeing how Shiva liked it and if it would be alright to use once school continued - after all, she wasn't hiding anymore outside of school and very much argued against hiding again once the next year started. So making her at least appear smaller would probably help in preventing people from thinking he was the next Dark Lord in training or something.

Though strictly speaking...

At any rate, she seemed to be content with it, and as such Harry could only thank both adults profusely, for it really took care of one of the biggest worries he had had on his mind for now.

It really was nice to not have to keep doing everything on his own.

 

The next day, a Thursday and the first of August, the official Hogwarts letters arrived, including their book lists. And since Harry still had his day off and Sirius didn't work anyway, he proposed to just immediately go to Diagon Alley. Usually families preferred to go during the weekend after all, so it might not be just as crowded yet.

Remus opted to stay back at home for he was still feeling exhausted after the full moon two days ago, but told them to have fun, and judging from the grin on Sirius' face, they just might.

He quickly apparated them to the Leaky Cauldron - after all, Harry wasn't supposed to be able to do this already, and maybe, if they did it that way, the public would not be reminded how he had already done it just a few weeks ago - and together they made their way to the alley. Shiva had, true to her words, refused to hide but with her new collar she was now a lot smaller - having wrapped her body around his upper arm with her head resting on his shoulder - and easier to explain, really. They had simply decided on the excuse of Harry having gotten her as a pet from a muggle pet store because he was sick of everyone seeing Parselmouths as evil.

It was rather lucky though that the press had stopped their smearing campaign against him after his supposed kidnapping by Death Eaters, for going shopping when everyone thought you were a lying schizophrenic or something didn't sound very enjoyable.

 

They had decided beforehand that it would be easiest to get the annoying parts out of the way right at the start, so they went to Madame Malkins first, getting new school robes for Harry after he had finally grown a little taller over the last year - though he was still short for his age - and getting some other school supplies Harry had run out of.

The school books were next on their list, including a rather standard looking text book for defence. Which was good, for it did at least not scream horribleness to Harry, instead making him wonder who Dumbledore had found as a teacher this time... He already missed Pyrites though. That man was a blast, and the lessons with him never really got boring, even now as he finally managed to get a grasp on Occlumency even in the face of an attack. Sure, he would not be able to simply throw off a powerful attacker just like that, but his defence was proficient enough to at least give him a little time to disrupt an attacker - should he get hit by the spell in the first place. For their lessons had mostly turned into dodging lessons by now. Something Harry still very much appreciated.

But back to the books, at least the book itself made the teacher seem not totally incompetent, so he would await their announcement with interest for now.

 

After finally having bought anything of importance and shrunk it to easily fit into one bag instead of multiple ones they made a quick stop at Florean Fortescue's, before finally deciding to visit the highlight of Diagon Alley for them right now: Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. It was pretty obvious the closer you went, for they had put up some colourful advertisements around, and despite it being the middle of the week it was surprisingly full. People of all ages, genders and even species - Harry was sure he had just seen a hag - were inside, wanting to buy all kinds of products. And there seemed to be a lot of different product lines, not even all focussed on jokes. Harry could see a corner of violently pink products called 'WonderWitch' which seemed to contain everything from small, fluffy creatures called Pygmy Puffs to... were those love potions? Was this even legal?

"Harry!"

Harry turned around at that, noticing Ron coming closer from some back row. He was grinning brightly, to Harry's surprise, and in general looking more confident than usual. It seemed that the job here was doing him some good.

"Hey," he greeted happily as such, though he couldn't really get out any more, as Ron suddenly let out a small... well, squeak, paling a little as he looked at his shoulder.

"Um... D-Do you know you have a snake on your shoulder...?"

Harry stared at him oddly for a moment - he knew of Shiva already! - before realising that when Ron had last seen her she had been quite a big bigger. So he just smiled and lowered his voice.

"It's Shiva. Sirius and Remus got her a collar to make her shrinkable."

Immediately, Ron relaxed a little, sighing in relief.

"Oh... that's good. I mean... no offence mate, Shiva is tame enough, but I really don't like snakes..."

Harry nodded in understanding, before trying to think of an easy way to change the topic.

"So... Did you get your book list already?" he asked slowly, not wanting to bring up the subject of O.W.L.s here in fear of ruining Ron's mood further with unnecessary comparisons.

Thankfully he didn't need to, for Ron's expression immediately brightened again and he started to talk excitedly.

"Yes! Looks like you didn't get my owl yet?" At Harry's confused head shake he continued. "I was made Quidditch Captain!"

"What?" Harry asked in surprise, unable to quite believe it. Though he quickly spoke on after Ron's face fell slightly, probably because of the disbelief in his voice. "I mean, that's great! See, you're a good player after all, you just need to believe in yourself a bit more!"

Thankfully that brought Ron's grin back.

"Yeah, I was so surprised! I thought for sure it would be Katie, after you quit the team." He still shot Harry a disbelieving look at that, like he had done every time this topic had been breached. And, like every time, he tried to make him come back. "Are you sure you don't want to come back? The Seeker spot is still vacant, obviously, you would be back easily!"

Harry just smiled though, shaking his head.

"I'm sure, thanks. I really need the time to catch up on my studies."

That made Ron grimace, but shrug.

"If you're sure..."

"Definitely."

"Hmph..."

Thankfully, the awkward silence that was about to happen got interrupted just then, by two identical faces appearing behind Ron.

"There you are, Ron! Could you quickly check on Verity, she needs some help with the stashing of our newest delivery of joke cauldrons."

"Right." Ron didn't look particularly pleased, but he also didn't grimace at the prospect, instead just quickly nodding at Harry.

"Nice seeing you again. Let's meet up again soon, maybe you can come over later this summer?"

His voice was full of hopeful hinting, but Harry just shrugged with a light smile.

"I'll see what I can do," he answered evasively, but Ron couldn't really argue as he was basically shoved to the side by one of the twins, presumably into the direction he was supposed to go.

"Now now, Ron's hogged you enough. Hello there!" the twin that had shoved Ron away said with a grin. "If that isn't the most wanted teenager of Great Britain!"

"Glad to see you found your way to us at last," the other one said, an identical grin on his face. "How do you like it? We managed to buy the store just recently, thanks to your... ah... generous donation last year."

The other twin leant down conspiratorially to Harry, lowering his voice to what was probably supposed to be a whisper, but thanks to the general noise inside was still pretty loud.

"Mom's going crazy about how we did this instead of getting a supposedly 'normal' job after our NEWTs, but really, I think she's starting to come around after noticing the popularity. Really, people love some distraction these days.. Especially since You-Know-Who still doesn't seem to have made his move, so... He's really lying low it seems..."

Harry did his best to simply nod non-committally, hoping his face did not betray any emotion at that. Really, what was he supposed to say? 'Oh no worries, Tom's doing fine, why, I just saw him two days ago?' Yeah, right...

He must have displayed some sort of emotion though, because the other twin - Harry was now reasonably sure it was George, for he always did seem a little more sympathetic than Fred - patted him on the back.

"No worries there Harrikins, we've got our very own way of helping."

He walked over to some area that was cut off from the rest of the shop with a small curtain. Behind it, all colours were a bit darker, not quite as colourful as up front, and the advertised products seemed a little more normal too, though rather put of place. Mostly hats and robes...?

"This is our slightly more serious line," George told Harry with an easy smile.

"Not quite as popular as our normal joke products, probably because everyone really likes their little happy bubbles, but surprisingly we do get quite a few regular orders," Fred added, causing George to smirk as he explained more.

"Actually, we developed those Shield Hats over there as a joke product. You know, get someone to jinx you and have a laugh when it bounces off. But quite a few people seemed to like it a lot, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement bought a whole batch of those too, so we expanded a bit. Feel free to browse."

Harry listened with interest, for he was, in fact, finding the idea rather practical too. Of course, he could cast his own Shield Charm, and he was learning some more tricks than just relying on a single spell for his defence, but they also seemed to have quite a few other things around. Something Fred immediately started to explain once he saw Harry's gaze wander.

So he got a quick overview of all kinds of useful things. Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder for example, or Decoy Detonators.

"By the way, I assume you have realised that there is a snake clinging to you?" Fred said conversationally after having quickly described almost every item in their nearer vicinity, causing Harry to stare at him.

"What is it with people assuming I'm too dumb to realise I am carrying a snake around today?" he huffed, ignoring the apologetic smile directed his way as he looked at the man accusingly. "Ron asked me the same thing, you know?"

That made the other gasp playfully, as if he had been insulted.

"Now you wound us, Harrikins! Do not compare us to this boy who claims to be our brother!"

"Tough you have to admit, he's becoming better with our expert tutelage!" George interjected, causing Fred to shrug.

"True, maybe at he end of the holidays we can even stop denying being related to him."