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Hadrian James Potter was a quiet boy.

This was not entirely unusual, as young Harry had witnessed the violent murder of his parents at the tender age of one, and that sort of thing does not often give a child an inclination to laughter – but it was unsettling nonetheless.

Especially because Harry’s quiet nature did not abate as he grew. In fact, by the time Harry was five, he had spoken a grand total of eighteen words in his life, twelve of which had been variations of ‘mum’ and ‘dad’. The other six had been compiled into a single sentence on the night of his parents’ death, unheard to anyone but the corpse of his mother on the floor who, unfortunately for Harry, had very little to say in response. Those six words would not leave Harry’s lips again for over a decade, and until that day, they would remain a secret to all but Harry himself.

Vernon and Petunia Dursley did not appreciate silence. Silence lead to all sorts of odd things, like creativity and imagination, and if there was anything the Dursleys hated, it was things that were odd. Perhaps this is why they hated little Harry from the day he was placed on their doorstep, just an infant, or perhaps it was something else altogether.

(For Petunia Dursley, it was a combination of several things: her sister’s eyes in an unfamiliar face; memories of strangeness and wickedness in the form of flowers blossoming in winter under her sister’s touch; and of course, that unnatural silence that was so awful and odd that it could cause hatred of even an innocent.)

(For Vernon Dursley, it was a lot of other things, involving a lot of words which should not be spoken in front of children, even silent ones.)

However, because of a very old man named Albus Dumbledore (and, indirectly, the imprisonment of a man named Sirius Black and the wild grief of a man named Remus Lupin), Hadrian James Potter had nowhere else to go after his parents’ deaths, and so he was placed with a man and a woman who hated him, and a child whose screeching almost made up for Harry’s silence – and there Harry stayed.

Perhaps if Harry had been raised in different circumstances, he would have grown up to be a very different man.

But he wasn’t, and so he didn’t.

Chapter Text

Harry woke up on the 23rd of June, 1991, to the sound of his aunt’s shrill voice piercing through the door of his cupboard. This was normal.

A few minutes later, Harry was moving silently about the kitchen preparing breakfast for the Dursleys. This would have been strange in most households (as he was only ten) but for Harry, this too was normal.

At the same time, Dudley Dursley was complaining (rather loudly) about his lack of an adequate amount of gifts in front of a pile of thirty-six neatly wrapped presents. This was not quite normal, as Dudley Dursley’s birthday came only once a year as it did for everybody else, but neither was it unusual – as he made the same complaints every year.

(Harry Potter did not receive gifts on his birthday. In fact, July 31st had not once been acknowledged in the Dursley household in all the ten years Harry had been living there. Each night after his birthday had been and gone, Harry told himself that he did not care about this injustice. This was the only time he permitted lying to himself, and he had made it almost a game to see how convincing he could be. This, because of its regularity, was normal.)

Because of this collection of perfectly normal happenings on one perfectly normal morning, Harry felt that it was going to be a good day. After all, he had long ago learned that his aunt and uncle loathed anything strange or unusual or odd, and quite enjoyed everything normal, and so with this logic Harry had learned to equate normal days with good days, and good days in turn were equated with minimal pain for Harry.

“Boy!”

Harry looked up and then immediately lowered his eyes again. That was something else he had learned: when Uncle Vernon was addressing him, it was in his best interests to pay attention in the most docile way possible. This act of self-preservation, Harry believed, was the only reason he had not been thrown onto the street years ago.

“You’ll be coming with us today,” Uncle Vernon growled, in such a way that Harry thought for a moment he was in physical pain. “So no freakishness, or it’ll be the cupboard for you for two weeks, understand?”

Harry nodded his acquiescence, and when it became clear that Vernon had nothing else to say, turned back to his preparation. To the outside world, Harry was as passive as usual, but inside his mind was racing. Harry was rarely allowed out of the house – only for school, gardening, or to be left at Mrs Figg’s house when the Dursleys were going away – and for Vernon to let him out on Dudley’s birthday was highly unusual. Petunia and Vernon were taking Dudley to the zoo with Dudley’s friend Piers Polkiss, and Harry was never allowed to the zoo. He had been to the library, once, but other than that knew very little about the entertainment Little Whinging had to offer. He wasn’t entirely certain whether to be excited or afraid.

By the time Harry was climbing into the car next to Piers, he had settled on a sort of wary excitement, which couldn’t even be dampened by the other boys’ comments.

“Hey, freak,” Piers sneered, just quiet enough to be out of Petunia and Vernon’s range of hearing (though Harry very much doubted that should they have heard, they would have cared a single fig). “Finally allowed out of the house, are you? Bet you’ll cry when you see the animals, you little freak.”

“Yeah,” Dudley snickered, “I bet he’ll wet his pants, too, like a baby.”

Harry ignored them, as he always did. They couldn’t employ their usual pastime of Harry Hunting while they were out at the zoo, and were therefore not worth his time. Harry thought very little of Dudley and his friends, particularly of their intelligence, and was most likely correct in his judgements. Besides, he was excited, and he wouldn’t let their dumb bullying dampen that.

The zoo in Little Whinging was everything Harry had hoped it would be. There were tigers, and zebras, and other creatures Harry had only seen in the few books he had found and read around the Dursleys’ house. The last place they visited was the reptile area, because Piers had been bragging about having seen a snake once and Dudley had whined that he wanted to see one, too.

 Harry wandered past the enclosures, peering through the glass of each one, but he didn’t stay at any for long. For some reason he felt like there was something he needed to see, and though he wasn’t quite sure what it was, Harry wasn’t in the habit of ignoring his instincts.

This paid off, as towards the back of the row of enclosures he found what he had not known he was looking for. The information panel read ‘Boa Constrictor’, and then Harry found himself making direct eye contact with a very large snake.

“Hello,” Harry said quietly. He wasn’t entirely certain why he did this – Harry didn’t overly like talking, and had not quite broken out of the silent habits of his younger years – but once again, he did not question it.

The snake lifted its head, and replied, “Hello.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “You can speak?”

“It is not my speech that is fascinating, hatchling,” the snake hissed, and shifted forward a little. “I have not met a two-legged who could speak the snake-tongue before.”

“I’ve never met a snake who could speak English, either,” Harry said. “Maybe we’re special?”

The boa constrictor eyed him oddly, and Harry felt the strange urge to blush.

“Perhaps,” the snake said eventually, and probably would have said something else had Dudley not chosen that precise moment to shove Harry to the ground and begin shouting at the top of his lungs for Piers to come and see.

Harry landed on the ground with a thud, pain shooting up his arm, and felt a rage that he hardly recognised rise within him. Something tingled within his chest as he glared at his cousin and then the next second, the glass between Dudley and the snake had disappeared, causing the large boy to fall into the enclosure in an undignified heap.

Harry stared at his cousin in shock, but had little time to process before the snake was slinking out of the enclosure and bowing its head in Harry’s direction.

“Thanks,” the snake said.

“You’re welcome,” Harry replied automatically, and watched the snake slither away.

And then Dudley was screaming behind the reappeared glass of the enclosure, and Petunia was shrieking, and Vernon’s face was fast turning purple as his beady eyes locked with Harry’s, and Harry felt the stirrings of fear begin in his stomach.

 

That night, after a slap across the face from Vernon and the promise of not two but three weeks in his cupboard with minimal food, Harry sat on his cot beneath the stairs and turned the memory over and over in his head. He had no paper or pen with which to write, so he put his thoughts in the dust on his broken desk instead.

‘I must have caused the glass to disappear,’ Harry thought logically. ‘I was angry, and that tingling I felt must have been- something responding to me being angry, and that something caused the glass to vanish so Dudley would fall through, and the snake could escape.’

Harry thought this, and then wrote: ‘Anger = tingling = glass disappears.’

‘So, could this be something I’ve done before?’ Harry asked himself, and all of a sudden was hit with an onslaught of memories in which he had done unexplainable things. One memory in particular stood out: during a game of Harry Hunting, Harry had disappeared from the ground and reappeared on the roof of his school. At the time, Harry had supposed he must have blacked out, as that was what the school nurse told him after the incident, but now he wasn’t so sure.

It didn’t take Harry long to draw the connection between the instances and his emotions – he had been scared during the Harry Hunting before he disappeared, and he had been angry at the zoo before the glass vanished.

‘So it happens when I really want something. That makes sense. But can I do it on purpose?’ Harry wondered, and decided, with the simplistic determination of a ten-year-old, that he would find out.

The first thing Harry thought he really wanted was light. It was very dark in his cupboard, as the light bulb had blown several days earlier and Vernon had not wanted to fix it. So, Harry closed his eyes, and concentrated on wanting light.

Five minutes later, nothing had happened, and Harry was getting impatient. He might have given up had he not had the idea that perhaps he must be more specific, and so rather than focusing on light, he instead focused on the idea of a candle.

This time, Harry could feel the tingling from earlier, and with a sudden rush in his chest akin to the feeling of exhaling a large amount of air all at once, there was an unlit candle lying in front of him.

Harry blinked once, then twice. Then he began to grin, and before he knew it he had to hide his face in his thin pillow so his laughter would not wake the house.

Little Harry got no sleep that night, so focussed was he on practising with his new ability. He did not think up a name for this ability, but he very carefully avoided the word ‘magic’. After all, the last time Harry had mentioned magic his uncle Vernon had backhanded him so hard he had fallen into a wall and broken his arm. Magic was strange, and odd, and Harry knew better than perhaps anyone just how much the Dursleys hated anything that was odd.

Chapter Text

The next few weeks saw Harry practising with his ability every chance he got. He found that there was very little he couldn’t do if he really concentrated, and he greatly enjoyed sitting in his cupboard and making things fly, or change colour, or even appear out of nothing such as he had done with the candle (which he found he could light with naught but a thought). He even made himself hover several inches above the ground, once, but had passed out soon afterwards from a sudden rush of exhaustion. Still, this was perhaps the first thing in Harry’s short life that made him feel truly happy, and he relished in it.

One day, not long after Dudley’s birthday, Harry was collecting the mail when he found something odd that was not caused by him. This odd thing was a letter, which would not usually be out of place amongst the Dursleys’ mail except for the fact that to Harry’s shock, it was addressed to him.

The letter stated, in emerald cursive, ‘Mr. H. J. Potter, the Cupboard under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey,’ and was quite possibly the strangest thing Harry had ever seen. After all, Harry’s Uncle Vernon had told him many times that he was unwanted in the Dursleys’ house, and this message had been reinforced at school by Dudley and his friends bullying anyone who even considered making friends with Harry (and of course proceeding to tell Harry that no one wanted to be friends with him in the first place, because Harry was a freak, and who would want to be friends with a freak?)

“Boy! What’s taking so long?” Petunia shrieked from the kitchen, making Harry jump.

As quickly and quietly as he could, Harry slipped the letter into his cupboard and out of sight, and got on with the rest of his chores – though he thought of little else but that letter, and by the time he was finished he was feeling quite impatient with the whole thing.

Harry opened the letter carefully, and he felt his heart stop as he read the contents:

                HOGWARTS SCHOOL of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY

Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore (Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)

Dear Mr. Hadrian Potter,

We are pleased to inform you that you been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term begins on September 1. We await your owl by no later than July 31.

Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall

Deputy Headmistress

Harry felt as though he couldn’t breathe as he read the letter once, twice, thrice, and many more times over, trying in vain to comprehend the words addressed to him.

‘Witchcraft and wizardry? What’s a mugwump? What do they mean, ‘await your owl’?’ Harry’s mind was filled with questions, and after reading the letter once more, he promptly had to sit down and take several deep breaths in an effort to recover.

‘Does that mean… I’m a wizard?’ Harry wondered. ‘I must be. Then my ability has to be… Has to be…’ He blinked. ‘Magic.’

After a minute or three of thinking, Harry had decided what it was he would do, and that night he executed the first stage of his plan. With the noiselessness of a child who spoke little and had learned to be silent under threat of pain, Harry snuck out of his cupboard that night and selected Aunt Petunia’s favourite pen from her stationary drawer, along with some crisp white paper. It took him some time once he was back in the relative safety of under the stairs, but eventually he composed what he thought was a rather good sounding letter:

                Dear Ms. McGonagall,

I was very surprised to receive your letter. I have never heard of Hogwarts, and I am very confused about what is going on. Is there someone I could talk to, to get more information? Honestly, I’m a bit lost.

                Yours sincerely,

                Harry Hadrian Potter.

He considered retrieving another piece of paper after messing up his name (no one called him Hadrian – the Dursleys called him ‘boy’ or ‘freak’ and his teachers called him ‘Harry’ in a feeble attempt at kindness through a nickname), but ultimately thought it too much of a risk. So, Harry folded his letter as neatly as he could, and placed it carefully under his bed. He would work out the whole ‘owl’ business tomorrow he decided, and, quite satisfied, settled down to sleep.

 

As it turned out, Harry did not need to work out the ‘owl’ business at all. This was because the next morning, after Harry had woken (earlier than the Dursleys so he could make their breakfast, as per usual), he discovered a large number of owls surrounding Number 4, Privet Drive. Harry was quite understandably shocked by this, but nonetheless went outside to investigate.

It did not take him very long to make the connection, and once Harry had run inside and back out again with his letter clutched between his fingers, he was fairly certain of what he needed to do. Thus, he was very pleased with himself when a tawny brown owl snatched the letter from his fingers and flew off in as purposeful a manner as an owl could manage. Harry watched it fly away with a beam on his face, and then went happily back inside.

 

The owl did not return, as Harry had thought it would. In its place, however, came a rather tall, thin woman to the doorstep of Number 4, Privet Drive. When she saw Harry, her already stern face became even sterner.

“Harry Potter?” she asked, although she knew very well that no other boy in the world had that particularly distinctive scar.

“Hello,” Harry replied, shifting rather uncomfortably in his baggy, tattered clothing, not entirely knowing why the stranger was displeased but perhaps guessing instinctively that it had something to do with his ragged looking appearance. “Can I help you?”

“My name is Professor Minerva McGonagall,” said the woman. “I’m here about your letter.”

Harry blinked. “Oh,” he said, eloquently.

“’Oh’, indeed,” Professor McGonagall answered with perhaps the barest hint of a smile. “May I come in?”

“Erm…” Harry glanced nervously back up the stairs.

(Minerva McGonagall noticed this, and said nothing, though the feeling of suspicion that had settled in her chest since receiving Harry Potter’s letter tightened, just a little.)

“Are your relatives’ home?” she asked instead.

“They are,” Harry told her. “But I’m not certain they’ll be very happy if they see you.”

Professor McGonagall’s eyes narrowed a fraction, before she simply nodded. “Then perhaps we should go for a walk?”

On this walk, Hadrian Potter and Minerva McGonagall discussed many things. Minerva was not one to hold back from the truth, and so she rather frankly told Harry about his parents’ deaths at the hand of the Dark Lord Voldemort; of the basic wizarding world; of Harry’s fame; and of course, of Hogwarts.

Privately, Minerva thought Harry was handling this remarkably well for a child raised in a Muggle household, but Harry had had a lot of practice in not showing emotion (his cousin Dudley had taught him when he was quite young that crying got you nothing but more pain, and had since learned to keep his thoughts off his face. He did not tell the Professor this, but perhaps he didn’t have to – perhaps tattered clothes and nervous looks were enough. He was unaware that yes; they were).

The two eventually made their way back to Number 4, much to Harry’s displeasure, but Minerva reassured him with a few simple words.

“I’ll return tomorrow, Mr. Potter,” she said, “And we will go to Diagon Alley for your school supplies. Would that be agreeable?”

Harry politely told her that yes, that would be very agreeable, but inside his mind he was jumping about in celebration. There was a whole world out there – a world full of people just like him. The Dursleys were wrong; Harry wasn’t a freak. He was a wizard, and he had so much to learn!

This was the beginning of Hadrian James Potter’s introduction to the Magical World, and in a way, the true beginning of his life.

Chapter Text

September 1st came quickly – though not as quickly as Harry wanted it to. One moment he was in the strange man Ollivander’s wand shop with a familiar tingling warmth rushing through his bones and the next, he was standing next to Professor McGonagall on platform 9 and ¾, staring at a bright red train that took his breath away.

“Ah, Mr. Weasley, Mr. Weasley,” Professor McGonagall called, drawing the attention of two identical red-headed boys.

“Hello, Professor!” one of them greeted cheerfully.

“What-”

“Can we be doing-”

“For you-”

“On this very fine-”

“Day?”

Harry blinked at the display, but it appeared that this was not out of place, as Professor McGonagall simply continued:

“You two will be in charge of making sure Mr. Potter here gets his luggage on the train and such,” McGonagall said. “I must be getting to Hogwarts.”

“Potter?” a twin asked, eyebrows raising.

“As in-”

“Harry-”

“Potter-”

“The Boy Who Lived?” they finished together.

Harry blushed uncomfortably, but soon fought the flush away. It would do no good to be seen as weak on his first day. Besides, Professor McGonagall had already briefed him on his status in the wizarding world. Harry would just have to get used to it.

“Treat him well,” McGonagall said sternly, fixing both boys with a stare one at a time. “I’ll be seeing you at Hogwarts, Mr. Potter.”

And with a short nod, she was gone.

“Well then-”

“Harry-”

“I suppose-”

“That we had better-”

“Introduce ourselves!”                                                                                                                                                         

Harry looked from one twin to the other, as one introduced himself as Fred, and the other as George.

“Nice to meet you,” Harry said quietly.

“The pleasure is all ours,” the twins said in unison, and bowed simultaneously.

Harry felt the urge to giggle at the display, and that seemed to be the boys’ intention, as once they saw him relax they each grabbed him by an elbow and began dragging him to the train.

Harry tried to keep up with their conversation, but the split speech was giving him whiplash. Still, he found the boys quite funny, and they seemed kind enough. Plus, they loved to talk, which made up quite nicely for Harry’s own quiet nature. Once Harry was settled in a compartment, however, they had to go.

“See, it’s our brother Percy-”

“He’s a bit of a prick, really-”

“And as his brothers it’s our job-”

“To take him down a peg, so-”

“We’ll be seeing you, Harry!”

The twins disappeared in a flash of red hair, and Harry found himself sitting alone in a compartment. Thankfully, Harry didn’t mind being alone, and with a small smile he settled himself down to read through his first year Transfiguration text (Professor McGonagall had recommended it, stating that Transfiguration was the most complex subject of the year and he may enjoy it – it had been his father’s best subject, after all).

Unfortunately, the silence didn’t last very long, because only a few minutes later a familiar boy with platinum blond hair and pointy features opened the door to Harry’s compartment.

Harry looked up warily. He had met this boy in Diagon Alley, in Madam Malkin’s robes shop, and he had reminded him an awful lot of his cousin Dudley.

“Is it true?” the boy asked, rather snottily. “Are you Hadrian Potter?”

Harry shifted uncomfortably, but nodded.

The boy seemed uncertain for a moment, before sitting opposite Harry (Harry had never seen someone sit down arrogantly before, but this boy seemed to make everything he did a supercilious gesture).

“My name’s Malfoy; Draco Malfoy,” the boy said, sticking out a hand.

Harry shook it silently, and gave a small smile. After all, Malfoy, Draco Malfoy didn’t seem very nice, but Harry didn’t want to make enemies on his first day.

Draco bit his lip for a moment, before apparently making up his mind on something and sitting up straighter on his seat. “Do you want to be friends?”

Harry was rather confused. He had gotten the impression that Draco didn’t think very much of him, regardless of his status as the Boy Who Lived – but now he wanted to be friends? Harry himself didn’t particularly want to be friends with a boy who seemed so stuck-up, but he didn’t want to be enemies with him either, and Harry got the impression that Draco Malfoy would take a rejection of friendship as a sign of war.

For this reason, Harry smiled once again, and nodded.

Draco’s face lit up with a beam, and he leaned forward in his seat. “Perfect! Now, what house do you think you’ll be in? Personally, I think Slytherin, because everyone in my family’s in Slytherin, and everyone knows it’s the best house.”

Draco continued talking for most of the train ride, with the exception of a few questions that Harry had the time to answer and an interruption by a girl with bushy brown hair and buck teeth asking about a toad. Harry found that Draco wasn’t all that bad, when he wasn’t being so stuck-up, and had the sudden realisation that he had just found his first friend.

 

Hogwarts was the most beautiful thing Harry had ever seen. It rose high into the sky from the children’s view crossing the Black Lake (which Draco very confidently told Harry contained a Giant Squid, because his father had said so). The inside was just as aweing as the outside, and Harry was very pleased to see Professor McGonagall was the teacher who greeted them. He gave her a large smile, and she nodded to him slightly in return.

Harry was listening to Draco talk rather animatedly about all he had heard about the Sorting Ceremony when they were interrupted by a boy who looked rather like the twins Harry had met earlier. He soon found out why.

“Hey, you’re Hadrian Potter, aren’t you?” the red-head asked, eyes locked on the spot where Harry’s scar was hidden beneath his hair.

Harry shifted, and nodded.

“My name’s Ron,” the boy said, sending Harry a smile before throwing a dirty look at Draco.  “And who are you?”

Draco sneered at him in response. “Malfoy; Draco Malfoy. I don’t even need to ask for your surname. Red hair, and a hand-me-down robe? You must be a Weasley.”

He said the name like it was the worst insult one could receive, and Ron scowled at him in response.

“You should come stand with me, Harry,” Ron said, turning away from Draco. “You don’t want to be friends with a Dark wizard.”

Harry gave him a long, evaluating look. Ron Weasley seemed rather rude, and his eyes kept flickering up to Harry’s scar. It was making him quite uncomfortable, and that combined with Ron’s greeting of Draco – Harry’s first friend in the new world he’d found himself in – made up his mind for him.

Still, there was no need to be excessively rude with his response.

“No, thank you,” said Harry, politely, and promptly turned to look at Draco. “You were saying?”

Ron’s mouth had dropped to the floor, and the other first years had gone silent. Except for one.

“You’re Hadrian Potter?”

Harry turned around to see the bushy haired girl from the train standing behind him, looking curious.

“Obviously,” Draco drawled.

The girl looked between them, before leaning towards Harry. “I heard you were raised by non-magical people- er, Muggles. Is that true?”

Harry nodded slowly, and the girl smiled, showing off her prominent buck teeth.

“So was I! It’s fascinating switching worlds, isn’t it? I’m Hermione Granger, by the way.” Hermione stuck her hand out, and Harry was rather amused to note that it was in a very similar fashion to how Draco had offered friendship on the train.

Perhaps this is why he accepted her hand, or perhaps it was simply because of her enthusiasm.

(Perhaps, it was just a little bit to hear the indignant sound Ron Weasley made behind him – but only a little bit.)

“If you are all ready,” Professor McGonagall said, sneaking up on them and causing several of the children to jump.

Harry turned to her, noticing with a frown the rather disgusted look Draco was shooting Hermione Granger, and filing it away for later.

The Great Hall of Hogwarts was an intimidating area, not least because of the four tables filled with older students staring at them - not to mention the professors. Harry was rather distracted, however, so focussed was he on studying the charmed ceiling he had read so much about in-

Hogwarts, A History,” Hermione Granger was saying to the highly uninterested and slightly sick looking girl on her left.

Harry smiled to himself, and looked back to the sky. Perhaps she would be his second friend?

The Sorting Ceremony sped by after the Sorting Hat’s odd little song. Bones, Susan was sorted into Hufflepuff to kick off the sorting. Harry wasn’t paying all that much attention except to see Granger, Hermione be sorted into Ravenclaw, and Malfoy, Draco into Slytherin. Then it was his turn, and he climbed the steps to take a seat and have the rather old-looking Hat placed on his head while the Hall erupted into murmurs around him.

“What do we have here?”

Harry managed to control his startled jump – but only barely.

‘Hello?’

“Hello, Mr Potter,” the Hat greeted him. “You are a difficult case. Plenty of courage, I see. Not a bad mind either. There’s talent, oh yes, and a thirst to prove yourself. But where to put you?”

Harry thought for a moment. Professor McGonagall had told him all about the four Houses of Hogwarts (though he got the feeling she was a bit biased towards her own House, Gryffindor) and Draco had told him about them, too (though he was definitely biased towards Slytherin). Overall, he thought they all sounded like fine places. Harry liked the thought of being loyal like a Hufflepuff, courageous like a Gryffindor, witty like a Ravenclaw, and cunning like a Slytherin – he wanted to be all of them at once.

‘I’m not sure where I should be,’ Harry told the Hat honestly.

“Hmm… well, I think Slytherin may be the best choice… Yes, you could be great, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, there’s no doubt about that.”

Harry opened his eyes. The whole Hall was staring at him, with varying degrees of hope and shock, but none looked so hopeful as Draco Malfoy.

Harry closed his eyes again, and thought: ‘Okay.’

“Good luck,” the Hat said, before shouting “SLYTHERIN” for the whole Hall to hear.

Chapter Text

Harry ate little at the Welcoming Feast. This was partially because it was quite uncomfortable, eating under the stares of every person in the Great Hall, and partially because he had never had opportunity to eat so freely before – but Harry tried not to think about the latter reason.

No one spoke to him, despite their staring; not even Draco Malfoy. Harry didn’t think it was entirely Draco’s fault, however, as a girl with dirty blonde hair and an upturned nose was happily clutching at his attention.

Unfortunately, the reprieve was a brief one. By the time Harry and the other students of Slytherin House had been led down into the dungeons, introduced to the lavishly decorated Slytherin Common Room, and given a speech on Slytherin House rules by a fierce sixth year prefect named Gemma Farley (keep all squabbles inside the dungeons; don’t take the blame for anything; and don’t ever, ever get caught), the other students had gotten over their silence and swamped Harry all at once.

Draco, unlike Harry, preened under the attention.

I made friends with him on the train,” Draco told their audience proudly. “We’re the best of friends.”

Harry didn’t think you could be best friends with someone you’d only really known for a day, but he didn’t say anything. He was good at that, anyway – silence. His tactic of letting Draco do all the talking didn’t satisfy the other students for long, however.

“What are you doing in Slytherin?” a snooty looking fifth year asked.

“How’d you kill You-Know-Who?” a bold seventh year questioned.

“Where do you stand, Potter?” a narrow-eyed sixth year quizzed.

“Oi!”

The questions stopped. Gemma Farley was standing on a table – understandable, considering her small stature – and glaring at her House.

“Professor Snape will be here soon for his speech. Do you all want to be crowding around a firstie when he comes by like a bunch of pigeons? Sit down, all of you.”

There were a lot of glares and a fair amount of irritated muttering with Gemma’s interruption, but the Slytherins obeyed – with the exception of Draco Malfoy, who stuck to Harry’s side like glue.

Gemma Farley, Harry thought, was not someone to be messed with, if she could bend the snakes into submission.

“Sorry about that,” Gemma smiled at him, jumping off of her table. “I love our House, we’re the best of the school, no doubt – but some of us just don’t know when to back off.”

Harry gave her a small smile in return. She was very pretty, with dark skin and a smattering of lighter freckles across her nose, and she stood at only a few inches taller than Draco. Despite her unthreatening appearance, however, there was a glint in her dark eyes that told Harry to do everything he could to stay on her good side.

“Why don’t you introduce him to the other firsties, Malfoy?” Gemma was saying. “I’m sure you’ve been introduced to a fair few of them. See you around, Potter.”

As it turned out, Draco knew every single Slytherin in their year. Harry was introduced to a dark-skinned and stoic Blaise Zabini; an arrogant and beautiful Daphne Greengrass; a grumpy Millicent Bulstrode and her equally grumpy cat, Sabre; a quiet boy named Theodore Nott; a brown-haired Tracey Davis; and the girl who had distracted Draco at the Feast, who Harry learned was Pansy Parkinson.

“Oh, and that’s Vince and Greg,” Draco added dismissively, once he had finished his introductions.

Harry glanced in the direction of the flippant hand wave to see two large, gormless looking boys staring out the window into the Black Lake – though as far as Harry could tell, there was currently nothing to see.

Harry turned back to Draco, and raised an eyebrow.

Draco grimaced, but it was Daphne Greengrass who responded, with a flip of her hair and a condescending tone.

“Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle. They’re the thickest people you’ll ever meet, of course, but they’re Draco’s hired muscle.”

“They have their uses,” Draco said diplomatically.

Blaise Zabini rolled his eyes. “Yeah, as cannon fodder.”

This comment startled a laugh out of Harry. Blaise gave him a small smirk, and Harry’s smile grew.

The sound of the room’s concrete door sliding open drew everyone’s attention, and silence had fallen over the entire Common Room before Severus Snape had even walked in the door. He fixed his students with a hard stare, focussing particularly on the first years, who quivered under his gaze. That is, except for Draco Malfoy, Professor Snape’s godson; and Hadrian Potter, who had lived through scarier things than a man’s glare.

“For some of you, this will be your first year in Slytherin House,” Professor Snape began. His voice was soft, yet heard clearly by every ear in the room. “I trust Miss Farley has already briefed you on what is expected of you.”

Gemma nodded respectfully, but Snape was already continuing.

“That being said, there are some messages that you must still hear – some of you, not for the first time.” He glared at a lanky third year boy, who wisely kept his gaze firmly on the floor. “You have been chosen to join the House of cunning and ambition. This is an honour. However, many of the people – students and teachers alike – outside of this room do not think so. Therefore, you will all of you remember Slytherin House’s third key trait: fraternity. I do not care if you like your Housemates. I do not care if you hate each other with the passion of a foolhardy Gryffindor, so long as the very second you step out of that door you present a united front. The rest of the school will not help you. Slytherin students must appear as one. United you stand, divided you fall, and there are those in this school who want nothing more than to see every last one of you fall.” Snape’s beady eyes fixed with Harry’s out of nowhere, the ferocity in them almost frightening. “Therefore,” he continued, keeping his black gaze on Harry, “If I see or hear of any stupid, rash, Gryffindor activities being committed by any of you outside of this Common Room, do not doubt that your punishment will be,” he paused, stare darkening even more, “Severe.”

The silence after Snape’s speech was apprehensive. The entire Slytherin House was on edge, waiting for something unknown – but Snape simply turned with a swish of his black robes, and stalked out of the Common Room.

No one spoke for two, three beats after his departure, and then everyone began murmuring at once.

“That was intense,” Pansy Parkinson wrinkled her nose.

“What did he mean by ‘Gryffindor activities’?” Tracey Davis asked, a concerned crease forming between her brows.

Draco rolled his eyes. “Obviously he meant no stupid fighting in the corridors; pranks; that sort of thing.”

“And how would you know?” Blaise drawled.

“Because my father went to this school, and is close friends with Professor Snape,” Draco snapped.

“Won’t that lead to unfair treatment?” Tracey questioned.

“Of course not!” Draco huffed. “Honestly, he’s a professional. Besides, everyone knows that Snape favours the Slytherins, because the rest of the school hates us.”

“Who bloody cares,” grumbled Millicent, “When we still have to do Potions?”

“Don’t you like Potions?” Pansy asked.

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I just don’t.”

“But why?”

“Oh, don’t start,” Blaise tilted his head back against the wall. “It’s only the first night here.”

“Speaking of, we should probably head to bed,” Tracey advised. “We don’t want to be overtired tomorrow.”

Draco snickered at her. “You sound like a grandmother.”

“Actually, I think it’s a very sensible idea,” said Theodore Nott – the first words he had said all evening.

Harry looked at him, but tried to keep the curiosity off of his face. Theodore’s voice sounded rough and unused – as though he rarely used it. Harry himself didn’t like to speak often, but he’d never had his voice run out on him as it sounded Theodore’s had.

“What do you think, Hadrian?” a sweet voice said, cutting into Harry’s train of thought. Daphne met his eyes and gave a honeyed smile. “You are the local celebrity, after all.”

“Oh, leave it alone, Daphne,” Blaise said, rolling his eyes again.

“He can answer for himself, Blaise.”

Harry glanced from Daphne to Blaise and back again, before saying, “I was quite tired, actually. I thought I’d head to bed early.”

“See? Sensible,” Tracey said triumphantly.

Daphne sighed. “Be quiet, Tracey.”

Harry was pulled away from Tracey’s snappish response by Draco’s hand tugging on his arm.

“Come on,” Draco said, “I’m fairly tired, too.”

They made their way down a narrow, darkened corridor to the boys’ dorms. As they were only a small year, all the first year boys would be in the same dorm, and the first year girls were the same. Since Harry and Draco were the first up to the dorm, they were able to have first pick of the beds. Draco immediately claimed the bed at the end of the room, farthest from the door, and Harry picked the one beside it. There was a small porthole-like window above his dresser, looking out into the darkness of the Lake. Harry touched a hand to the cool glass, and smiled slightly to himself.

Harry relaxed into bed not long after, drawing the surrounding curtains with his spare hand. He heard Draco settling in the bed beside him, followed by soft breathing and then:

“Hadrian?”

“Yeah?”

There was a pause. “Do you like it here?”

Harry smiled. “I do.”

“Me too,” whispered Draco. “Goodnight, Hadrian.”

Harry bit his lip. “Call me Harry.”

“Okay,” Draco said after a moment. “Goodnight, Harry.”

“Goodnight, Draco.”

Harry slept all the way through that night, and dreamed of swimming in the Black Lake with creatures he could not name.

Chapter Text

Harry settled in quite nicely at Hogwarts. The first few days passed in a blur – between lounging in the Common Room with Draco and the other first years, reading as much as he could about his whole new selection of subjects, and going to all of his classes, Harry was never bored – and never alone.

This was why, after only a few days at Hogwarts, Harry found himself hiding behind a stack of books in the library, and sighing in relief as Madam Pince, the librarian, turned Draco, Vince, and Greg away. Apparently shouting “Harry” wasn’t allowed in a library – who knew?

Harry finally felt himself relax. As much as he liked his new friends, he had spent the vast majority of his life being generally ignored by everyone around him. But now he was popular (by his association with Draco or his fame, he didn’t know) and the sudden change was frazzling his nerves.

Therefore, it was with a small smile and relaxed shoulders that Harry settled himself into the nearest empty table, pulled out his Potions text, and began to read.

His peace lasted one hour.

“Hello.”

Harry looked up, and met the anxious brown eyes of Hermione Granger. She was clutching a large stack of books and gnawing on her lower lip fiercely, yet her blue and bronze uniform was pristine.

“May I sit here?” she asked, rather hesitantly.

Harry nodded. He didn’t want a reputation as being rude to the other Houses after all, and perhaps Hermione wouldn’t be such bad company.

Indeed, the first year Ravenclaw simply sat down next to him, cracked open a large copy of Standard Book of Spells, Grade I, and began to read.

Harry watched her for only a moment before going back to his own text. Perhaps Hermione would turn out to be rather good company, if she was as pleased as Harry to read in silence.

She was. Neither of the two spoke for several hours after that, and in fact the next time either of them looked up from their books it was to be ushered out of the library by Madam Pince, only thirty minutes before curfew.

Harry blinked his eyes rapidly to re-adjust them to long-distance focus as they walked out into the corridor, nudging his glasses further up his nose. They were taped together rather badly, as Dudley had snapped them when Harry was eight and the Dursleys had declined to buy him a new pair.

“I can help with that – if you’d like,” Hermione said suddenly, all in a rush.

Harry tilted his head at her. “Help with what?”

Hermione flushed. “Your glasses. I learnt a spell that will fix them for you.”

“Oh.” Harry wasn’t particularly keen on the idea of letting someone point a wand – essentially a weapon – directly at his face, nor did he like the thought of taking them off and handing them to her when without them he was essentially blind, but he did the latter anyway. He thought perhaps this was another gesture of friendship, though he wasn’t entirely sure. The only other friends he had ever had were the Slytherins, and the one time they had mentioned his glasses was for Daphne to tilt up her nose and tell him they were thirty years out of style.

Oculus repairo,” Hermione said confidently, and there was a snap as Harry’s glasses clicked back together. Hermione peeled the tape off carefully, and then handed the fixed glasses back to Harry with a bright smile.

“Thanks,” Harry told her, genuinely. “I haven’t read about that spell yet.”

Hermione flushed lightly. “It’s in Standard Book of Spells, Grade II. I just thought I should read ahead seeing as I’ve already finished this year’s books, and-” she went quiet, biting her lip uncertainly.

“That’s a smart idea,” Harry said with a smile. “I planned on doing the same.”

Hermione beamed at him, and tucked a lock of bushy brown hair behind one ear. It bounced back to frame her face only a second later, but she didn’t seem to mind.

They chatted of their classes and teachers for the rest of the walk. Hermione was enjoying every class, it seemed, though she held a sort of hero-worship for Professor McGonagall, and looked on with slight envy when Harry told her how the professor had collected him from Number 4 Privet Drive. They were both very excited for Potions the next day, though Harry had gotten the feeling from the feasts and the speech in the Slytherin Common Room that Professor Snape didn’t like him all that much. Hermione dismissed the idea, and Harry didn’t push it, but the feeling remained.

Finally, they reached the entrance to the dungeons where they would have to split – Hermione to Ravenclaw Tower, and Harry down beneath the Black Lake.

Hermione looked slightly nervous again as they came to a stop. Harry opened his mouth to say good night, but was cut off.

“Wouldyouliketodothisagainsometime?” Hermione rushed.

Harry frowned. “Pardon?”

The Ravenclaw took a deep breath, seeming to gather her courage, and said much more slowly: “Would you like to do this again sometime? Meet up and study together?”

Harry wasn’t certain what he had done to give her any idea otherwise, but perhaps it was just a girl thing.

“Of course,” he said. “Tomorrow, after Potions?”

The Slytherins were paired with the Gryffindors for double Potions on Friday mornings, but the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs had the same in the afternoons. Knowing how long they had spent in the library this time, Harry suspected they would miss dinner – but he didn’t mind, and he doubted Hermione did either.

“Okay,” Hermione said, beaming at him. “See you tomorrow.”

Harry gave her a wave as they turned in their separate directions, and began to make his way further into the dungeons.

 

There was a horde of first years waiting for him in the Slytherin Common Room.

“Where were you?” Draco demanded, jumping up from their table.

Harry blinked at him. “In the library.”

“Doing what?” Pansy asked suspiciously.

Harry gave her the same slow blink. “Reading.”

Blaise snickered and lounged further back in his chair, but Draco was not deterred.

“We looked all over for you! Honestly, you need to tell me next time you’re going wandering off, I mean-”

“You fixed your glasses.”

Harry turned to face Theodore Nott, rather thankful for the distraction as he was getting quite annoyed. Hogwarts was meant to be his escape from being ordered about. He would not tolerate being mothered by Draco, friends or not.

“Hermione did, actually,” Harry told him.

The first years froze.

“Hermione who?” Daphne asked, something ugly building in her pretty green eyes.

“Granger,” Harry said.

Pansy looked at him in disgust. “You’re joking.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong with Hermione?”

“Well, she’s a total know-it-all,” Millicent commented from the floor, where she was petting her cat, Sabre.

And she’s a mudblood!” said Pansy with a grimace.

“What’s a mudblood?”

“A Muggleborn – a witch or wizard who’s born to Muggles,” Tracey told him. She looked uncomfortable with the topic. “Those born to one magical person and one muggle are half-bloods, and those with two magical parents are-”

“Purebloods,” Daphne finished, arrogantly. “The superior kind, obviously.”

Harry didn’t like where this was going. “What should blood matter?”

Draco looked at him like he was stupid, and Harry felt his own blood boil. “Harry, blood is everything.”

“Why?”

“Purebloods are the most powerful witches and wizards because there are no Muggles tainting their line,” Daphne said, flicking her hair. “Everyone knows that. That’s why it matters.”

“But Hermione is incredibly intelligent,” Harry argued. “She fixed my glasses with a second year spell. You can’t say she’s less intelligent than those idiots.” He gestured at Vince and Greg, who were napping in their chairs, mouths open and leaking drool.

Millicent snorted. “He has a point.”

“I didn’t take you for a blood traitor,” Daphne snapped at her menacingly.

Millicent looked up with hard eyes. “I’m not a blood traitor. I’m just saying Hadrian has a point about the idiots. Granger may be a know-it-all, but we’re only three days into the year and she’s already pulling ahead as top of the class. That’s not the mark of someone who’s less powerful than the rest of us.”

Pansy sneered. “She’s still a dirty mudblood, and you can’t be seen hanging out with her.”

Harry raised both eyebrows incredulously. “Excuse me?

“Pansy’s right,” Draco nodded. “You can’t talk to her. She’s a mudblood, and Slytherins don’t associate with mudbloods.”

“I will associate with whomever I like, Malfoy,” Harry growled. He felt as though the whole room were shaking, he was so furious. “I’m not here to be told what to do – by any of you. I will not be controlled!” His last words were a snarl.

“Hadrian!”

There was a hand on his shoulder, but it seemed so far away.

“Hadrian, calm down!”

That was Gemma Farley, but the hand was someone else – Blaise?

“Someone get Professor Snape!”

‘No,’ Harry thought distantly. ‘I’m fine, I can handle it…’

But his vision was already darkening, and the last thing Harry saw was Draco’s pale, worried face before the whole world went black.

Chapter Text

Harry woke up with a piercing headache to a blinding white room and a collection of worried faces.

“He’s waking up – quick, go get Madam Pomfrey!”

“Mr Potter? Mr Potter, open your eyes for me.”

Harry winced at the light, but cracked his eyes further open. A slightly harried looking woman was standing above him, with greying hair and a white matron’s hat.

“What happened?” Harry croaked, before he began to cough uncontrollably.

“There, there, Mr Potter,” the matronly witch said, patting his back until the fit subsided. “My name is Madam Pomfrey. Can you tell me what you remember?”

Harry immediately went to say yes – after all, he had never forgotten a thing in his life – but found his usually perfect recollection oddly fuzzy.

“I… I remember having a disagreement with Draco and the others,” Harry said, working through his memory. “I wasn’t very pleased. And then…” he scowled in annoyance. “Nothing.”

The medi-witch hummed to herself, waving her wand in the air above Harry’s head. Harry fought to stay still beneath the stranger’s movements, but he couldn’t stand to be helpless under someone else’s wand. No one had ever called him a trusting child.

“It seems you knocked yourself out from magical exhaustion,” Madam Pomfrey told him. “Hardly surprising, considering Miss Farley’s telling of the events. You’ll be fine after some Pepper-Up potion. Your Head of House is delivering that now. Though honestly, fourth day of the year and already I’ve had two patients. Children!” she snorted.

Harry glanced to his left and was met with three familiar sets of eyes. Draco was leaning forward, anxiety written clearly over his features; flanking him, to Harry’s surprise, were Blaise Zabini and Gemma Farley.

“Hey, Harry,” Draco said, softly.

“Quite the dramatics you had going, Potter,” Blaise smirked.

“You scared the pants off everyone in the Common Room, Potter,” Gemma told him seriously, before smiling. “It was actually pretty funny.”

Harry frowned. “What did I do?”

“You were angry, and your magic reacted accordingly,” Gemma explained. “It’s not too uncommon, but it was pretty impressive. You made everything in the Common Room shake, and then it was like an earthquake ran through the dungeons. Everything was floating, and you seemed really- well, out of it, honestly. And then you passed out.”

“It was actually rather frightening,” Draco confided.

“Aw,” Blaise grinned in amusement. “Were you scared, Draco?”

“Of course not!” Draco protested. “I meant objectively. It was objectively frightening. I wasn’t frightened, obviously.”

“Sure, sure.”

“Boys,” Madam Pomfrey scolded. “The last thing Mr Potter needs is more conflict. Perhaps it would be best if you left?”

“No!” Draco and Blaise said quickly.

The medi-witch gave a small smile. “Then hush, the both of you. Professor Snape will be here soon.”

“Right now, in fact,” Gemma said, nodding in respect to their Head of House as he entered the Hospital Wing.

“Miss Farley, Mr Malfoy, Mr Zabini,” Snape paused, a slight sneer taking over his features. “Mr Potter. I believe I explained the consequence for any Gryffindor foolishness.”

“Hadrian just lost control of his magic,” Gemma explained. “It wasn’t really his fault.”

Snape didn’t look pleased at the interruption. “Regardless, it caused great disturbance. Detention, Mr Potter.”

“Severus!” Madam Pomfrey looked displeased. “The boy did nothing wrong.”

“I am in charge of Slytherin students, Poppy,” Snape glared at her. “I will choose how to discipline them.”

“But sir-”

“Silence, Mr Malfoy, or you will be joining Mr Potter in detention,” Snape looked to Harry. There was something like triumph and loathing mixed together in his beady black eyes. “Anything to say, Mr Potter?”

Harry had a whole list of things to say. However, seeing as numbers one through ten were variations of the word “unfair”, and number eleven was “you bastard”, he kept them to himself. He had dealt with worse than this. Vernon Dursley had taught him how to keep his mouth shut and his anger hidden – Harry had not dealt with ten years of the Dursleys’ treatment to give it all up now and get himself expelled.

“You have my apologies, Professor,” Harry said instead. “I had no intention of causing a scene. May I ask when my detention will be?”

The polite answer caught Professor Snape off guard, but he quickly recovered. “Tonight, in my classroom.”

Harry nodded, keeping his eyes down in a show of deference and his face impassive. No doubt Snape had something particularly unpleasant in mind, but Harry wasn’t all that concerned. Snape would have to do a lot worse than a humiliating detention to match Uncle Vernon. Then again – this was a whole new world. Perhaps the laws surrounding treatment of children were more lax in Wizarding Britain. A tight knot settled in the pit of Harry’s stomach at that thought, and he shifted marginally closer to his friends – and away from his Head of House.

Punishment settled, Snape removed a small vial from his robes and handed it to Madam Pomfrey, ignoring her disapproving looks, and swept from the room.

“I’m sorry, Hadrian,” Gemma petted his arm sympathetically. “He really seems to dislike you.”

Harry shrugged it off. “What time is it?”

“Seven o’clock,” Draco replied. “Breakfast starts in half an hour. You slept through the night.”

Harry held back a grimace. He felt like he hadn’t slept in years.

“Which means it is time for you three to go,” Madam Pomfrey said, uncorking the vial. “Mr Potter will be ready to join you at breakfast.”

Draco looked ready to argue again, but Gemma took his arm gently.

“We’ll see you later, Hadrian,” she smiled at him.

“See you at breakfast, Harry,” Draco said, slightly sulkily.

Blaise was the last to leave. He hadn’t said much – rather, he’d been watching Harry with dark, careful eyes since the conversation with Snape.

Harry met his gaze steadily. His fellow students, at least, didn’t make him uncomfortable.

Finally, Blaise stood. “Talk to you later, Potter,” he said, and left.

Harry wondered at the implications behind that farewell. He was sure Blaise was hiding another meaning beneath his words, but he couldn’t quite decode the message.

“Come, Mr Potter,” Madam Pomfrey brought his attention back to her – and, more importantly, the slightly bitter smelling potion in her hand. “This will make you feel much better.”

Harry steeled his nerve, and drank.

 

Though little could be said for the taste of Pepper-Up potion, Harry could write a thousand essays praising its effectiveness. He arrived at breakfast later that morning feeling worlds better, though the tenseness in his chest anticipating his detention – and the double Potions period he had before it – with Professor Snape had not dissipated. Thinking of the detention reminded Harry, irritatingly, of the plans he would have to cancel.

Harry changed directions to head for the Ravenclaw table, and frowned at what he saw. Hermione Granger was sitting on the far edge of the long benches, back to the wall and as close to the Head Table as she could get. Surrounding her was a conspicuous emptiness about three people wide. Harry filed the image away to investigate later as he approached the table.

“Hello, Hermione,” he greeted.

She looked up in shock. “Oh! Hello, Hadrian.”

“Just Harry is fine,” he told her.

“Okay, Harry,” she gave him a wide smile. “What’s up?”

“I just had to tell you I’m not going to be able to meet this afternoon; I have a detention.”

“What? What for?”

Harry shook his head. “I’ll explain tomorrow, if you’re alright with meeting on a Saturday. At ten?”

“Um, yes, that should be fine,” Hermione nodded, slightly awkwardly.

“Okay,” Harry smiled at her slightly. “See you tomorrow, then.”

He walked casually back to the Slytherin table, ignoring the stares he got as he sat down. Draco very obviously wanted to say something, but apparently decided against it considering Harry had only just gotten out of the Hospital Wing. Pansy had no such qualms, but Draco silenced her with a glare.

“So, Hadrian,” Millicent began. “Detention four days into the year. Is that some kind of record?”

“I doubt it,” Harry replied, deadpan. “I couldn’t bear to take that title from whatever poor Gryffindor holds it.”

Draco snickered; Blaise smirked; Daphne giggled; and things went quite back to normal.

 

Harry entered the Potions classroom already on edge. He sat at a table with Blaise, behind Pansy and Draco on the left side of the room. The other first year Slytherins followed suit, and the Gryffindors filed into the right. Ron Weasley gave Harry a scowl as he passed. Draco scowled right back, but Harry ignored it. He had bigger problems – namely, Professor Severus Snape.

“There will be no foolish wand-waving or silly incantations in this class,” Snape’s voice echoed around the room as he strode to the front of the class. “As such, I don’t expect many of you to appreciate the subtle science of potion making. However, for those of you who possess the predisposition, I can teach you how to bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses; I can tell you how to brew glory, bottle fame, and even put a stopper in death.” His eyes locked with Harry’s.

“Mr Potter,” he sneered. “Our new celebrity. Tell me, what would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

Harry was suddenly very grateful that, like Hermione, he had taken an interest in the more advanced text books, and for his perfect memory, because he could very clearly picture the page in the third year Potions text he had flicked through out of interest that stated the answer to that question.

“The Draught of Living Death, sir.”

Snape’s eyes narrowed. “And where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?”

Another third year question. Harry had only glanced this information, but it was enough.

“The stomach of a goat, sir.”

Snape’s upper lip curled into a snarl, but he wasn’t done. “What is the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane?”

Harry’s fingers clenched on his leg, but he kept his eyes fixed on Snape’s shoulder, head bowed slightly in submission and his face blank. “There is no difference, sir. They are the same plant.”

‘And I do not take kindly to people trying to trick me.’

Snape’s face was tinged an odd shade of purple that reminded Harry rather strongly of his Uncle Vernon. His fingers tightened on his thigh and he shoved that thought away.

‘They are not the same. I am not weak. Not anymore.’ Harry repeated the mantra in his head several times, until Blaise nudged him lightly to get his attention. Harry tensed, but forced himself to relax a split-second later and turned to look at Blaise.

“I’ll get the ingredients, you set up the cauldron?” Blaise suggested. The calculating look in his eyes from the Hospital Wing was back again. Harry tried to ignore it.

He nodded silently, and got to work.

 

By the time class was over, Harry was so tense he thought he might explode. Snape had a habit of leaning over the shoulders of his students threateningly, and if that wasn’t enough, an anxious looking Gryffindor named Longbottom blew up his cauldron towards the end of class. All in all, Harry had rather hated his first Potions lesson – though he and Blaise had brewed a perfect potion due to Harry’s snapshot memory and Blaise’s previous experience from tutoring – and he doubted his following ones would be any different.

Snape picked on the Gryffindors relentlessly, taking points for the smallest of errors and giving the Slytherins points at every opportunity. He never took points from Harry – because of his House, no doubt – but constantly berated him like he was dressed in red and gold rather than green and silver.

‘And it isn’t over,’ Harry reminded himself with an internal groan. From the Potions lesson, he could guess at how his detention would go, and he could already feel his already present exhaustion intensifying.

 

Harry wasn’t wrong. The moment he arrived in Snape’s classroom after dinner that night, the Professor was looming over him with harsh words and an intimidating presence.

Harry cleaned the cauldrons he was ordered to (by hand, of course), and very determinedly did not think of a small, dark cupboard under a staircase. Neither did he think of heavy fists on that thin door, or cruel insults cutting at his self-esteem.

Harry didn’t think of any of these things, except for when he did, and when he got into bed that night and drew his curtains, the wetness on his cheeks was from brushing his teeth, and nothing more.

He told himself this with as much confidence as he could muster.

Apparently it wasn’t enough, however, because the words still tasted like a lie.

Chapter Text

Hermione was furious when Harry told her about The Incident.

“But that’s horrible!” Hermione exclaimed. “He had no right to do that!”

“Shh!” Madam Pince hissed.

Hermione flushed, though the righteous anger in her eyes did not abate in the slightest.

“It’s fine, really. It’s done with now, anyway, and so long as I keep out of trouble I should be fine,” Harry told her, resisting the urge to shift uncomfortably. He hadn’t been expecting such a vehement response. In all honesty, he wasn’t sure why she was so angry – nor did he know how to calm her down.

Hermione was obviously still fuming, but she stopped arguing. Whether this was because of Harry’s placation or Madam Pince’s admonishment, Harry didn’t know.

“I still think you should tell Professor McGonagall,” she muttered.

“Snape’s right, though. He has total authority over the Slytherins,” Harry explained with an uneasy shrug, before quickly changing the subject.

Harry didn’t think about the Incident after that. He didn’t want to – every time he remembered crying like a baby after his detention with Snape he felt a sick curl of disgust start in his stomach. It was easier to just not think about it at all.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t given much choice.

 

That Sunday afternoon, Harry found himself cornered in an abandoned potions classroom somewhere in the vast labyrinth of the dungeons by one Blaise Zabini.

The tall, dark-skinned boy settled himself on a rickety desk between Harry and the door, and proceeded to stare Harry down with a calculated gaze.

Harry stared right on back, until Blaise said, “I think it’s time we had our chat, Potter.”

“Is that a threat, Zabini?”

Blaise smiled humourlessly. “You’d know if it was a threat.”

Harry pushed himself onto the opposite desk as elegantly as he could (considering his below-average height), and waited. He was not kept waiting long.

“You dislike Professor Snape,” Blaise said. It was not a question.

“And he dislikes me,” Harry replied. This was not a question, either. “So?”

“He makes you uncomfortable.”

Harry didn’t deny the statement.

“Why?”

Harry snorted. “Have you seen how he treats me in class?”

“That’s reason enough for dislike, maybe even hatred, but you tense up whenever he comes near,” Blaise spoke like they were discussing the weather, and somehow he made his perch upon the desk look like a lazy sprawl. “It’s painfully obvious, you know. So what I want to know is why.”

“Why do you care?” Harry asked, tense.

“It’s disrupting me.”

Harry smiled. It was a confident but unfriendly thing. “No it isn’t.”

Blaise seemed to look right through him. “Okay. The truth, then?”

“Yes.”

“I want to know why the Boy-Who-Lived, the Saviour of the Wizarding World, is afraid of adults.”

Harry’s face shut down. He didn’t say anything.

“Actually, no,” Blaise continued, tone still infuriatingly casual. “I can guess the why. What I don’t know, is the who.”

Harry’s heart was jackhammering in his chest. He hadn’t realised he’d been that transparent; a single week at Hogwarts and already he was flaunting his weaknesses on his face, just like he’d spent his whole childhood teaching himself not to do. Disgust twisted his stomach again.

“Hadrian.”

The world snapped back to awareness at the sound of his name. Harry blinked, and found Blaise Zabini looking at him with something he didn’t recognise.

“I live with my uncle and cousin,” Harry said. "They aren't kind people." His voice sounded foreign to his own ears, strange and unfamiliar. He didn’t say anything else. He didn’t need to.

Blaise looked at him a moment longer, before nodding. “Alright. You need to learn to control your face.”

Harry stared, uncomprehending.

“Your mask is pretty good already, but it falls to pieces when Snape comes near. I noticed, soon enough someone else will too, and they won’t be as understanding as I am.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying you need to practice. Shut out your emotions. Learn to keep your mask up even when it feels like you can’t.” Blaise leaned forward. His eyes were black and cold.

Harry held his gaze. “Why are you telling me this?”

Blaise jumped off of his desk gracefully and moved towards the door. “I’m not sure yet,” he said. “But I get the feeling you need it.”

Then he was gone, and Harry was left with his heart in his throat and his nails making crescents in his palms.

 

Blaise Zabini was everywhere, after that. He sat next to Harry in the Common Room, in the Great Hall, in the majority of his classes – most notably Potions. Draco was obviously displeased, but tolerated it by constantly sitting to Harry’s left, when Blaise would sit to his right. This in turn threw out the whole first year Slytherin hierarchy – Vince and Greg now had to sit in front of Draco rather than on either side, because Pansy refused to abandon her spot next to Draco and Daphne didn’t want to give up her spot next to Pansy. They adapted, however, and though no one mentioned the obvious change, it was silently accepted, and the Slytherins moved on.

Harry’s second week at Hogwarts also brought his first flying lesson. Harry, Draco, and Millicent were the most keen, being the only three flying enthusiasts in the group (though unlike Harry, his friends had grown up with Quidditch and broomsticks and the like, and therefore, in Harry’s eyes, had less of a reason to be so excited).

Pansy and Daphne shared the opinion that flying and Quidditch were really only of interest when the older boys were playing (preferably in the rain, Pansy added, with a dreamy look in her eyes), while Tracey was scared of heights and Theo had no interest in sports of any kind. When asked, Blaise explained with a shrug that he thought it no more fun than their other classes, and Vince and Greg – well, they were more interested in going to lunch than going to class.

All these opinions Harry could understand, on some level – after all, his friends were purebloods, raised in pureblood households where flying was common and magic was an everyday occurrence. What he didn’t understand, however, was Hermione’s point of view.

“It’s ridiculous,” she told him on one of their evenings spent skipping dinner in the library. “What’s the point in doing something that has such a high risk of getting you hurt, or killed? Although the charm on the brooms is quite fascinating. Have you read about it?”

Harry had indeed read about it, and agreed that it was fascinating, but he wanted to experience the thrill that he just knew would come with flying. The wind rushing past his face, the view from high above the ground – he couldn’t imagine anything more exhilarating.

So it was that the first year Slytherins made their way to the Quidditch pitch that Friday afternoon, with varying degrees of excitement, to meet the Gryffindors for their shared lesson.

The flying instructor, Madam Hooch, seemed a bit stern but overall simply passionate about Quidditch. Harry wished she’d move a bit faster, though. He raised his broom with a simple “up” on the first go, and waiting around for everyone else (with the exclusion of Draco, a few Gryffindors, and, surprisingly, Pansy) was not helping his impatience.

Unfortunately for Harry, they didn’t actually get to the flying part of the lesson.

Harry watched, frustrated and annoyed as Neville Longbottom – the same nervous Gryffindor who had blown up his cauldron in their first Potions lesson – cried out as his broom lifted him up into the air, before he promptly fell off onto the hard ground. There was a sickening crack, and Harry’s irritation grew as he realised Longbottom had broken his wrist, and Madam Hooch announced the lesson would be postponed while she delivered the Gryffindor to the Hospital Wing.

“What an idiot,” he muttered to Draco under his breath. “I really wanted to fly.”

Draco looked just as pissed off, but was suddenly distracted by a clear silver ball lying on the ground by Longbottom’s abandoned broom.

“What is it?” Harry asked, squinting at the ball.

“It’s a remembrall,” Tracey said, coming up alongside. “It turns red when you’ve forgotten something.”

“Is it Longbottom’s?” Pansy wrinkled her nose. “If it is, I wouldn’t touch it.”

“His grandmother sent it to him.”

The Slytherins turned around. Ronald Weasley had marched forward behind them and apparently decided to intervene. He glared at Draco and stuck out a hand, palm facing up.

“Give it here, Malfoy.”

“Are you going to make me, Weasley?” Draco sneered arrogantly.

Harry stepped up to Draco’s side, Blaise moving next to Harry and the other Slytherins falling in line.

‘Fraternity,’ Harry thought, and held back a laugh as the majority of the first year Gryffindors took steps back, leaving Weasley with only three people as backup. Harry recognised them from the Sorting as Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan, and Hope Fawcett. He couldn’t quite hold back a smirk as Fawcett suddenly realised where she was with a startled look, and took a small step back.

‘So Gryffindor has courage,’ Harry thought to himself. ‘But they don’t have loyalty.’

“Give me the remembrall, Malfoy,” Weasley said, lip curled in a poor attempt at being threatening. “Or I’ll take it back.”

“Ooh, I’m really scared,” Draco snickered. Pansy laughed out loud.

“Why don’t you back off before you get hurt, Weasley?” Daphne suggested with a sickly sweet smile. “I’m sure Madam Pomfrey doesn’t want to see two little Gryffindors in one day.”

Harry smirked. Weasley’s face was red and his eyes hot with anger as he turned.

“Something funny, Potter?” he asked. Harry assumed it was meant to be menacing. “I guess the rumours are true. You are going dark. You don’t even care about your parents, do you? Suppose you should be thankful they’re not alive to be disappointed in you, huh?”

Harry wasn’t amused anymore. Something cold and furious licked through his veins as he took a step forward; two; three, until he was standing toe to toe with Weasley. Blaise and Draco at his sides and the other Slytherins at his back registered to his brain only vaguely as he slid his wand from the holster on his forearm and pressed it under the Gryffindor’s chin. Weasley stared back at him, defiantly. Harry wanted to break that look into a thousand tiny pieces.

“If you ever dare to speak about my parents again,” he said, calmly, quietly. “I will make sure that it is the last thing you ever say.”

There was a spark of fear in Weasley’s eyes. Harry let the triumph that spark made him feel curl his lips into a cold smile.

“Am I understood?”

Weasley swallowed under the pressure of Harry’s wand on his throat, and gave a shaky nod.

“Good.” Harry stepped back, slipping his wand away and returning to the spot next to his broom.

No one spoke until Madam Hooch returned. Harry wasn’t sure if it was pride or fear that made Weasley and the other Gryffindors keep their silence. He hoped it was the latter.

 

“Harry.”

Harry looked up from his Potions homework that evening to see Draco and Blaise standing in front of him. Blaise was impassive, though Harry thought he saw a slight smile twitch at his lips, and Draco was beaming.

“Yeah?”

“You really wanted to fly, right?” Draco asked, excitedly.

Harry tried not to scowl at the reminder of their failed flying lesson. By the time Madam Hooch had got back, there had only been enough time left before lunch to hover a foot or so above the ground for a bit, and so no actual flying had taken place. Harry still felt remarkably cheated.

“Is that even a question?” he returned.

“So,” Draco lowered his voice to a whisper. “What do you say we go flying?”

Harry raised a brow. “Our next lesson isn’t until next Friday.”

“Who said anything about a lesson?”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Isn’t that a bit dangerous?”

Draco waved a hand flippantly. “Blaise and I have flown loads of times before, it’ll be fine.”

“So, Potter,” Blaise slid his hands into his pockets. “What do you say?”

There was a small voice in Harry’s head saying this was a bad idea. He’d planned on avoiding any breaking of the rules after his horrible detention with Snape, and sneaking out past curfew to go flying without a teacher present definitely counted as breaking the rules. But – he really wanted to fly.

Harry dubbed the resistant voice Hermione, and decided to ignore it. He moved his Potions work onto the side table and stood up to face his fellow Slytherins.

“Alright,” he said, a smile just starting to tug at his lips. “Let’s go flying. Oh, and Blaise – you know you can call me Harry, right?”

Blaise shot him a smirk. “Now where would be the fun in that?”

 

Despite Harry’s buried concerns, the trio made it out of the castle, into the broom shed, and then into the air without any troubles.

And oh, but flying was amazing.

It was everything Harry had wanted it to be, and more. He swooped and dived and did loop-de-loops around his friends for what felt like hours, and decided then and there that there was nothing he’d rather do than fly forever.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible, and eventually the three made their way back to the ground. Harry got off of his broom with slightly shaky legs and a wide grin.

“Damn, Harry,” Draco panted. “You’re a natural!”

Harry flushed under the praise. “You think so?”

“He’s right,” Blaise added. “You should try out for the Quidditch team next year.”

Harry had already intended to, but the words made him blush even harder. Compliments were uncommon for him, after all, and though he didn’t want to, Harry cared a lot about attaining his friends’ approval.

They chatted all the way back into the castle, forgetting, perhaps, that it was far after curfew. That is, until a loud meow disrupted their conversation.

“Mrs Norris,” Draco whispered in horror.

“Why do you know the name of Filch’s cat?” Blaise whispered back.

“Quick, up the stairs,” Harry urged.

They ran a fair way, up and down several staircases in attempts to evade Filch, his cat, and any prefects on patrol.

“I think we’re safe,” Draco sighed eventually.

“We’re several floors up with no riskless way of getting back to the Common Room,” Blaise rolled his eyes. “I’m not certain that counts as safe.”

“We can’t be that far away, surely.”

Blaise looked at him as though he were dim. “You do realise our Common Room is in the dungeons, right?”

“Guys, shut up,” Harry ordered quietly. “We need to work out where we are.”

“Excuse me?” Draco was gaping. “You can’t just tell me to shut up!”

“I can if you’re being stupid, now sh!”

Blaise was looking around. “I think we’re on the third floor.”

“Wait, but this looks like…” Harry trailed off.

“The forbidden corridor,” Blaise finished. “We shouldn’t be here.”

“I think we should head back to the dungeons,” Draco said, looking quite nervous now that he realised where they were. “Didn’t Dumbledore say coming in here was dangerous?”

“He said, ‘the third floor corridor, on the right hand side, is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a most painful death’,” Harry quoted absently, peering at a thick wooden door with iron studding across from him.

Draco looked at him oddly. “How do you even remember that?”

Harry gave him a blank glance. “I remember everything. What’s through that door?”

“Something dangerous, apparently,” Blaise commented, narrowing his eyes.

Harry moved towards it, slipping his wand into his hand.

“What are you doing?” Draco hissed.

“I want to know what’s behind it. What’s so dangerous that it could kill us, yet can be kept in a school with kids passing it every day?”

“What are you, a Gryffindor?”

Harry threw him a dirty look, before pointing his wand at the door’s heavy lock.

Alohomora,” he whispered, and pushed the door open.

“Honestly, what is wrong with you?” Draco whispered angrily from behind him. “Oh, Blaise, not you too? If someone says a room is dangerous, you avoid that room! How did you two even get into Slytherin, you have no self-preservation, honestly. Ugh, okay, let me see.”

Draco moved forward, lifting himself onto his tiptoes to see above Harry’s shorter head. His heart stopped.

“Oh,” he whispered.

Harry swallowed.

Blaise stopped breathing.

Draco’s eyes widened in fear.

The massive, three-headed dog in front of them snored loudly, oblivious.

“So there’s a Cerberus in the school,” Blaise whispered. “I think we should analyse this back in the dungeons.”

“Seconded,” Harry replied.

“Agreed,” Draco nodded.

Slowly, Harry re-closed the door and locked it as quietly as he could.

The trio looked at each other for a long moment, before turning silently for the long trek back to the dungeons.

The shadows of Hogwarts Castle seemed darker than usual on their return trip, but no one said anything, and they made it back to the Common Room without incident.

This would certainly be a night to remember.

Chapter Text

The Hospital Wing was oddly quiet on the Saturday morning after Neville Longbottom broke his wrist. Harry couldn’t help but compare the sight of the Gryffindor’s empty bedside and end table to the memory of his own crowded alternates, after he had passed out in the Slytherin Common Room. He had been gifted large amounts of sweets from half the school, scattered across all years and houses – though the majority had been from Hermione and his friends in Slytherin. There had been so much that Harry hadn’t been able to eat it all, even with the help of his friends (though Hermione opted out with the concise explanation that her parents were dentists), and much of it was still sitting on top of his trunk in the dorm room, having become a sort of communal snacking area. Unsurprisingly, Vince and Greg had been extremely pleased with this arrangement.

The point remained, however, that the whole school was concerned when Hadrian Potter was injured; Neville Longbottom, on the other hand, was inconsequential. Perks of being the Boy Who Lived, he supposed.

Harry wasn’t overly surprised by the lack of visitors, either – he had noticed Longbottom sitting alone at the Gryffindor table, and he had already guessed that Weasley had badgered Draco for the remembrall simply for the sake of starting a fight rather than for any sense of loyalty.

These thoughts, and ones like them, were the main cause of Harry’s intense relief that the Sorting Hat had elected to place him in Slytherin, not Gryffindor. At least in Slytherin, fraternity was a key trait – rather than the shallow act of chivalry Harry had observed of Gryffindors like Ronald Weasley. Gryffindors liked to appear loyal; whereas Slytherins actually were. That is, once you’d earned their loyalty, of course. Being Sorted into Slytherin was just the first step – Harry got the impression that the more important part of earning loyalty came by proving yourself as worthy of it, which seemed rather sensible to him.

Longbottom’s eyes widened rather comically as Harry approached his bedside. It appeared he hadn’t been expecting anyone – true to Harry’s observations – let alone the Boy Who Lived.

“Hadrian- um, Potter,” the boy stuttered. “What are you doing here?”

Harry cocked his head, already bored with Longbottom’s incompetence. If there was one thing he had in common with Severus Snape, it was a deep set hatred of people who allowed themselves to appear weak – people like Neville Longbottom.

“I’m here to return something of yours,” Harry said, choosing to bypass any pleasantries and simply retrieving the clear ball from his pocket. He didn’t want to stay here longer than he had to – he was missing breakfast, after all, and he still had a long explanation to give Hermione about a certain Cerberus.

“Oh!” Longbottom’s eyes widened even further. Harry wondered if it was possible for them to pop right out of his skull. “Thank you!”

The Gryffindor reached forward, but Harry pulled his hand (and the ball) just out of reach.

“For a price, Longbottom,” Harry said. He tried very hard not to roll his eyes at the obvious confusion on the other boy’s face. He was working on his mask, after all.

“W-what do you want?” Longbottom stammered. Harry wondered if he was even capable of speaking clearly.

“You are a walking catastrophe in Potions,” Harry told him. “It’s very distracting for me, not to mention rather stressful. I want you to get a tutor, and I want you to work on the class every spare second you get. I don’t care if you start failing your other classes – just pick up your act in Potions.”

Longbottom looked shocked – though he had looked shocked since Harry had walked into the Hospital Wing, so perhaps that was just his resting face.

“But- but who would want to tutor me?”

Harry thought of Hermione’s love of explaining and teaching, regardless of the student, and nearly smiled. “I have someone in mind. She’ll come to you. Now, do we have a deal?”

Longbottom nodded enthusiastically, eyes still stretched open in surprise at the whole ordeal, and shook Harry’s offered hand with his good one.

Harry resisted the urge to cringe and wipe his hand on his trousers when he pulled away. Why were Longbottom’s hands so sweaty? It was gross.

He tossed the remembrall onto Longbottom’s stomach, and turned to leave.

“Wait- Hadrian.”

Harry glanced back with one raised eyebrow.

Longbottom was flushed with embarrassment. “Thank you,” he said awkwardly.

Harry couldn’t stop the eye roll this time. “You’re delusional if you think I did this for you,” he replied, and left without so much as a ‘goodbye’.

 

Harry met up with Hermione, Draco, and Blaise later that evening. It had taken a lot of convincing to get Draco to even meet his Muggleborn friend, but Harry had insisted. Hermione was intelligent, and she was his friend – she deserved to know about their adventure the night before, and maybe help them work out what a damned Cerberus was doing in Hogwarts. He’d only gotten Draco to agree by threatening to just go to the library and discuss it without him. Blaise, as per usual, was unbothered.

Hermione was positively scandalised that they’d snuck out to fly around, but Harry eventually managed to steer her around to the important stuff.

“It was sitting on top of a trapdoor,” Harry told her, leaning forward over the desk they had chosen, hidden in the back of the library. “No lock that I could see on the outside, but it was just made of ordinary wood – not exactly secure.”

Hermione hummed, chewing on a stray piece of hair that had wandered too close to her mouth, brows furrowed in thought. “Did the first door have any locks?”

“Yeah, but just one, and it was opened by a simple alohomora.”

“Simple?” Blaise raised an eyebrow. “That’s a third year spell.”

“But if they were really trying to hide something, they wouldn’t rely on a spell a thirteen year old would know,” Hermione pointed out.

“Unless they wanted someone to find it,” Harry mused.

“But then why warn us away from it in the start of year feast?” Hermione asked.

Draco snorted. He was sitting as far away from Hermione as he could get, even leaning back in his chair. Harry thought he was being ridiculous, but at least Hermione was ignoring him, and Blaise seemed totally unconcerned with the situation.

“Not everyone’s like you, Granger,” Draco said, obviously trying very hard to keep his tone civil. Harry had made him promise, after all. “For most people, kids especially, saying ‘don’t go in there’ is like charming a spotlight on it with a sign that says ‘come on in’.”

Harry didn’t bother pointing out that Draco had admonished him for having that attitude last night. He didn’t need Draco mad at him in the middle of their investigation. He did, however, share a look with Blaise that made Harry want to grin in amusement.

“We can deal with the why later,” Harry told them. “Right now, I want to know what’s beneath that trapdoor.”

“And how do you expect to find that out?” Hermione arched one brow at him.

“There’s got to be someone we could get information from.”

“Professor Kettleburn? He teaches Care of Magical Creatures, and a Cerberus is definitely a magical creature. Maybe he’s taking care of it,” Draco suggested.

Blaise huffed out a laugh. “Kettleburn has fewer limbs than a Gryffindor has sense. He can’t be taking care of a Cerberus.”

Hermione hummed again. “What about the groundskeeper? Professor… Hagrid, was it?”

“Rubeus Hagrid,” Harry supplied.

Draco grimaced. “He’s not a professor, and my father says he’s a total oaf. Plus, have you seen the size of him? He looks to be half-giant.”

“Sounds like the perfect guy to take care of a huge and vicious three-headed dog,” Blaise grinned. “Big enough to handle it, dim enough to want to go near it, and irrelevant enough that it’s no big loss to the faculty if he gets injured or killed in the line of duty.”

Harry and Draco both laughed, but Hermione was gaping at Blaise in shock.

“Don’t you think that’s a bit harsh, Zabini?” she asked eventually.

Blaise smirked at her. “I speak only the truth, Granger.”

“So are we decided?” Harry interrupted before Hermione could continue. “We go to see Hagrid, see if we can find anything out about what the Cerberus is guarding?”

Draco and Blaise exchanged a look.

“Perhaps you should go, Harry,” Draco suggested. “Blaise and I ought to stay behind.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“Hagrid was a Light supporter, wasn’t he?” Hermione said suddenly. “In the last war. Whereas your parents…”

Draco glared at her viciously. “You don’t know anything about my parents,” he growled, before promptly storming out of the library without another word.

Harry watched him go, confused. “I don’t understand.”

“Draco’s parents were alleged Dark supporters in the War,” Blaise explained, though Hermione frowned slightly at the ‘alleged’. “Light supporters still don’t take too well to the other side, even now.”

Harry furrowed his brow. “You can’t choose your parents.”

“I know that,” Blaise nodded. “You know that. Draco knows that. Merlin, even Granger here knows that, given her parentage,” Hermione narrowed her eyes at him for that comment, “But it’s still a touchy subject.”

Harry thought that over for a moment, before tilting his head to one side and meeting Blaise’s black eyes. “And your parents?”

Blaise smirked, though Harry thought it looked slightly forced. “Neutral. My mother doesn’t care for wars.”

Harry nodded. This was something he would have to research himself, he decided. But later – right then there was still a Cerberus to think of.

“So I go see Hagrid, then,” he said, changing the subject. “You could come too, Hermione, if you’d like.”

Hermione straightened her back. “Of course I am. I have to make sure you don’t get yourself into any more trouble.”

Conversation turned to lighter things, then, with Blaise leaving shortly after to go find Draco. Soon enough, it was curfew, and the Cerberus was the last thing on Harry’s mind, so distracted was he by his discussion on the use of magically enhanced plants in various potions with Hermione.

It was only just before they left each other that Harry remembered what he had meant to ask.

“By the way, Hermione,” he gave her a slow smirk. “How do you feel about Neville Longbottom?”

Chapter Text

The next few weeks seemed to speed by in front of Harry’s eyes. In fact, time passed so quickly with classes, keeping a year or two ahead of the designated Potions work and having to split his attention equally between his Slytherin friends and Hermione that Harry never even found the time to continue his investigation. So, the Cerberus on Hogwarts’ third floor remained undisturbed, and Rubeus Hagrid blissfully unaware of the curiosity of a group of eleven year olds, for just a few weeks longer.

There was one interesting development, however – Hermione and Harry brought a newcomer into their mini study sessions. Just a week after the Cerberus incident, Tracey Davis cornered Harry in the Slytherin Common Room and told him, rather snootily, that she would be accompanying him on his trips to the library from then on. Harry might have been annoyed, had he not seen Tracey’s look of relief after he gave his assent. Harry was no stranger to insecurity, after all.

So Hermione and Harry’s study group spread to Hermione and Harry and Tracey (much to Daphne’s thinly veiled disgust), and sometimes even Neville Longbottom, when his Potions tutoring with Hermione aligned with the study group’s meetings. The added exposure to Longbottom wasn’t really increasing Harry’s opinion of him, but it wasn’t decreasing it either. The Gryffindor still came across as irritatingly weak and cowardly, but he wasn’t as incompetent as Harry had initially thought. On the occasions when the group was studying Herbology, for example, Longbottom seemed to suddenly come alive. He would chatter excitedly about different plants and their uses until somebody took it upon themselves to stop him, and then he would blush and look down and not say anything for the next hour. Harry didn’t really understand how Longbottom could be so good at Herbology and so terrible at Potions, but at least he was putting his attention to something useful. Herbology was an important subject, after all – just not as important as, say, Defence against the Dark Arts (at least in Harry’s eyes). Still, as Hermione frequently reminded him, not everyone had his memory, and Harry would just have to live with that. It’s not like he minded being at the top of his classes anyway (though he shared the spot with Hermione in most subjects, and Tracey was only a few steps behind them).

Regardless of the why, time passed quickly for Harry those few weeks, and before he knew it he was waking up on October 31st – Halloween.

Harry had never celebrated Halloween before. The Dursleys didn’t like it (too strange, he supposed), and Harry wasn’t certain he did, either. After all, it was the day his parents were violently killed by a mass murderer, and as much as he tried to block those memories out, he could always feel them, hovering at the back of his mind, waiting for his attention.

Still, it wasn’t a huge thing. He’d never known his parents, he reasoned, and so it made little sense to spend a whole day mourning them when he could be doing other, more productive things. So Harry spent his day as normal (classes, mixed in with the occasional lecturing from Draco and Daphne about the original wizarding Halloween celebration of Samhain), and by dinner time had almost gotten himself excited for the holiday.

The Great Hall that night was one of the most beautiful things Harry had ever seen. Floating Jack-o-Lanterns hovered above the House tables, and tiny black bats flapped their way between students and teachers alike. The charmed ceiling portrayed a clear black sky filled with tiny glittering stars. The ghosts were particularly active as well (due to the excess magical energy charging the world on Samhain, Tracey informed him matter-of-factly), and their usual silvery glow seemed shining against the warm light of the hundreds of suspended candles. Even Peeves, the Hogwarts poltergeist, was on his best behaviour for the evening (though from the way his translucent fingers were twitching, Harry guessed that wouldn’t last long). All in all, Hogwarts on Halloween stole Harry’s breath away. Not for the first time, he marvelled at the feeling of being home.

That is, until Professor Quirrell ruined it all.

“Troll!” the professor screamed, sprinting into the Hall faster than Harry thought he could move. “Troll! In the dungeons!”

The school stared at him blankly, all as one.

Quirrell swallowed. “Thought you ought to know,” he said, and passed out.

The Great Hall erupted into screams as Quirrell’s turbaned head hit the floor. Draco let out a squeak from Harry’s left, and across from him Pansy looked like she was going to cry. On his right, Blaise was cursing in a language Harry didn’t recognise.

“Silence!”

Everyone quietened under Dumbledore’s command.

“Everyone remain calm. Prefects, take your Houses back to your Common Rooms immediately,” he ordered.

The prefects hurried to obey, though Harry heard Gemma Farley grumbling under her breath. He could relate – what the Hell was Dumbledore thinking?

“Oh yeah, there’s a troll in the dungeons, let’s just send the Slytherins back to their Common Room – in the dungeons!” Millicent said, sarcastically – though she couldn’t quite wipe the fear from her face.

Harry stood up from the table as calmly as he could. They wouldn’t let the Slytherins walk into danger, right? The troll had to be on the other side of the dungeons. The troll. That was in the school. That Harry was about to walk towards.

Harry took a deep breath. Stay calm. That’s what the Headmaster had said. How hard could that be?

“Hadrian!”

There was someone tugging on his sleeve. Harry turned to look, and met the anxious brown eyes of Neville Longbottom.

“Shouldn’t you be with your prefects?” Harry asked. His voice sounded absurdly relaxed to his own ears. Perhaps he was getting better at his mask after all.

“But Hermione!” Longbottom was saying, still pulling on the sleeve of Harry’s cloak.

“What about Hermione?”

“She’s in the dungeons!”

Something clenched in Harry’s chest. “What?”

“She was upset, so she went to the bathroom. The bathroom in the dungeons! What if she’s in trouble? We have to help her! We can’t just leave her to-”

“Longbottom, shut up.”

Harry’s mind raced. He had to help Hermione. She was one of his closest friends; he wasn’t just going to leave her. But the prefects were already leaving the Great Hall, and the teachers were rushing out as well. Who could he ask?

Thinking quickly, Harry grabbed Draco’s shoulder as he was leaving.

“Draco, you need to get Snape,” he said urgently.

“What? Why?” Draco pulled away. “Harry, we need to go, now.”

Harry shook his head. “Hermione’s in trouble. Listen, just get Snape and send him to the girls’ bathroom in the dungeons, okay?”

“Are you insane? Harry, no-”

But Harry was gone, with Neville Longbottom hot on his heels.

 

“Hermione?” Harry whispered, pushing open the door to the girls’ bathroom. “Hermione, are you in here?”

There was a soft sniffling sound, before he heard: “Harry? What are you doing in here?”

“Hermione, we have to go, I’ll explain later,” Harry took another step inside.

“Is she in there? Is she okay? How is she-”

“Longbottom,” Harry sent him an irritated look. “Be quiet.”

“Sorry.”

“Neville? What’s going on?”

The door to one of the stalls opened and Hermione stepped out, wiping at her eyes. Her face was red and blotchy, and Harry realised with a start that she had been crying.

“Hermione!” Longbottom rushed towards her, stopping just short of squeezing her into a hug. “I’m so sorry.”

Harry glanced nervously over one shoulder. “Guys, we can explain everything to each other later, right now we need to go.”

“What’s going on?” Hermione sniffed, moving towards the sinks. “Why are you two down here?”

Harry gave her an incredulous look. “Did you not hear what I just said?”

“Honestly Harry, you can explain while I wash my hands, I’m not- oh.”

“Oh no,” Longbottom whimpered.

Harry took a deep breath, and turned around. He was met with grey legs the width of tree trunks, and tilting his head back as far as it could go gave him a clear view of flared nostrils the size of Harry’s head and above them, a pair of dull, yellow eyes.

“Troll,” Hermione squeaked – redundantly – before all three of them dove as one into the stalls.

The troll roared behind them, and Harry realised with a start that their actions really weren’t the smartest as the creature smashed its club into the stalls above their heads.

“Out of the stalls!” Harry shouted, ducking beneath another swing of the massive wooden club and dodging behind the monster’s legs.

Hermione’s bloodcurdling scream turned his head and Harry’s heart stopped when he saw the troll slam its weapon into the sinks, a bare inch from her leg.

‘Think, idiot, think,’ Harry pulled his wand out of his sleeve frantically, hands shaking as he struggled to remember any spells that might help them, but all he could think of were the hexes Millicent and Theodore had been teaching him, they wouldn’t do jack against a damn troll, he knew, he could clearly see the page in his Magical Creatures book that described the thickness of a troll’s skin that made it impervious to minor spells, he had no clue what to do and Hermione was screaming again and-

Wingardium leviosa!” someone shrieked, and Harry looked up as the troll did to see its club hanging, loose, in the air above its head.

“Oh no, oh no, oh no.” Neville Longbottom was shaking as badly as Harry was where his wand was keeping the club aloft.

The sight kicked Harry’s brain back into gear. “Drop it, Longbottom!” he yelled, and the Gryffindor locked panicked eyes with Harry’s own.

“I- I don’t know the counter spell!”

The troll was lumbering forward angrily, so without thinking Harry struck it behind the knees with every hex he had been taught. Before he could tell Longbottom the counter, however, someone was already crying out:

Finite Incantatem!”

The club dropped from the air and slammed into the troll’s head with a satisfying thud. At first Harry thought it wasn’t enough, but then the troll swayed forward dangerously, and slammed face first into the ground, cracking the tiles beneath its force.

The three students stared at it.

“Oh my God,” Hermione breathed.

Longbottom swallowed audibly.

Harry just put a hand against the wall and tried to catch his breath.

“Harry!”

And then there were warm arms around his shoulders and Harry was being hugged for the first real time in his life, and he turned his head to meet the anxious grey eyes of Draco Malfoy.

“Draco?”

“Hadrian,” Gemma Farley met his eyes over Draco’s shoulder, “What in Merlin’s name were you thinking?”

Harry shrugged helplessly. There was a bone deep tiredness settling in his chest.

“Is it dead?” a lanky boy behind Gemma asked curiously, poking the troll’s leg with the point of his shoe. The troll let out a loud, shuddering snore. “Okay – apparently not.”

‘Adrian Pucey’, Harry’s brain supplied, ‘Third year Slytherin,’ – but he couldn’t find it in himself to care.

“How’d you know we were here?” he heard Hermione ask from behind him. Her voice was shaky and small.

“Draco came to find us when he couldn’t find Professor Snape,” Gemma told her. “He said Longbottom had collected Harry from the Great Hall, something to do with you being in danger with the- well, with the troll.”

“So we came to help,” Adrian continued, “But it seems you’ve taken care of it for us.”

Harry couldn’t see, but he could guess Hermione was blushing.

“Neville used wingardium leviosa to raise the club, and Harry distracted it while I cancelled the charm so the- the troll was knocked out.”

Harry winced at the stutter in her voice, and pulled away from Draco to see her, but Gemma wasn’t having any of it.

“Lucky idiots,” she muttered, while dragging him into her own warm hug. Harry let his eyes drift close. He thought he quite liked hugs, now that he’d experienced them.

The rest of the night passed in a blur. The teachers arrived, eventually, Snape and McGonagall and Quirrell, while Gemma and Adrian kept an eye on the first years – and the troll. Snape wasn’t pleased, Harry could tell, but McGonagall ignored him, and gifted fifty points each to Harry, Hermione, and Longbottom, for “sheer dumb luck”, plus another fifty each to Draco, Gemma, and Adrian for their “remarkable initiative”. Harry’s exhausted mind calculated that as a whopping two hundred points to Slytherin in one night, and he somehow dragged up the appropriate giddiness at the win. Still, he figured he had had enough adventure for one night (and from Longbottom and Hermione’s equally drained expressions, he guessed so had they), and he wanted nothing more than to collapse into his bed.

Unfortunately, the other Slytherins weren’t going to let that happen. As soon as Harry and Draco stepped foot into the Common Room, Gemma and Adrian behind them, they were swamped by questions. Harry didn’t particularly enjoy the attention – and even if he had, he was too tired to enjoy anything – but he still felt a quiet warmth start in his stomach as his friends worried over him. Gemma directed the older Slytherins away from the first years anyway, so it ended up just being the other first years surrounding him.

“You stupid Gryffindor!” Daphne cried, before collapsing onto him dramatically.

“You should really be more careful, Hadrian,” was Tracey’s response, though she too gave him a brief hug.

“Idiot,” Millicent muttered, but squeezed his arm.

Blaise ruffled his hair with an exasperated look, and Pansy latched onto his other side just as dramatically as Daphne had. Theodore watched him for a very long time, before placing a steadying hand on his shoulder. It was a far more reserved approach than the other Slytherins had, but from Theodore it was a lot, and Harry appreciated the silent support nonetheless.

And then there was Draco. Draco hadn’t let go of Harry’s hand since they left the bathroom, and from the way he was clinging to Harry’s side it seemed he had no intentions of letting go any time soon. Harry got the feeling he would remain that way for the next few days – and, surprising himself, found that he didn’t quite mind that thought.

Relaxing into bed was still a relief, however. Harry was on the verge of falling asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, but couldn’t quite reach it. He turned onto his back and stared at the roof of his bed’s canopy.

“Draco?” he whispered, though he doubted the other boy was still awake. He was proven wrong a mere moment later.

“Yeah, Harry?”

Harry swallowed. “It’s amazing, you know.”

“What is?”

“Having friends,” Harry said, closing his eyes and remembering the warmth of Gemma’s hug, of Blaise’s fond annoyance and Hermione’s anxious parting look. He thought of Pansy and Daphne’s dramatics, and the pressure of Draco’s hand in his. “I haven’t really had friends before.”

There was silence for a moment. “I’ll be your friend forever, Harry,” Draco declared eventually, youthful determination colouring his voice. “I’ll always be your best friend.”

Harry smiled, a genuine smile of carefree happiness. “I’ll be your best friend too, Draco,” he replied.

With that, the two boys drifted off to sleep, minds blissfully free from worry of what the future could bring.

 

Harry found Neville Longbottom first thing the morning after Halloween. Draco was with him – true to Harry’s predictions, Draco had refused to let him go anywhere alone after the previous night’s fiasco – but Harry had made him promise to keep quiet while he spoke to the Gryffindor boy.

“Uh, hiya Hadrian,” Longbottom shifted uncomfortably. It seemed he didn’t know how to speak to the Boy-Who-Lived after they’d battled a troll together. For once, Harry didn’t blame him for it.

“Hi, Longbottom,” Harry gave a slight smile, and took in a deep breath. “I just wanted to say thank you, for helping with Hermione and the troll, and- I think I was wrong about you. I haven’t been exactly kind, and honestly I didn’t think very much of you, but you weren’t just brave last night, you were loyal. And that’s something impressive, to me.”

The Gryffindor’s mouth dropped open in shock. “I- I mean, you’re welcome, you were, you were really brave too. And- and loyal, to Hermione.” He swallowed. “I mean, the other Gryffindors don’t say many nice things about you – especially Ron, but – they’re wrong.”

The general Gryffindor opinion of him wasn’t a surprise, so Harry shrugged it off easily.

“Thanks. And, by the way,” Harry shot him a grin, “You can call me Harry.”

He struggled to hold in his laughter at Longbottom’s reaction. The other boy’s jaw dropped even further, and he began to splutter slightly, even taking a step back. It was everything he’d hoped for – after all, he might be turning over a new leaf where Longbottom was concerned, but he could still have a little fun.

“I- thank you,” Longbottom replied eventually, clearing his throat several times in a row. “And- and you can call me Neville – if you want.”

Harry smiled, genuine this time. “Okay.”

Neville smiled back at him, if a bit nervously, and Harry waved a goodbye.

‘Friends,’ he thought to himself as he walked away, Draco still stuck to his side. ‘Who knew?’

Chapter Text

Embarrassingly, it took a full week for Harry to think to ask Hermione exactly why she had been crying alone in the bathroom, and when he heard, he was nothing short of furious. Ronald Weasley had no right to attack Hermione, calling her a snooty know-it-all – “no wonder she doesn’t have any friends”, Hermione had recalled with tears in her voice rather than her eyes – and Harry was quite ready to tell him that right to his damned face before Blaise calmed him down. Blaise, of course, didn’t actually care for what had happened, but he did care about their House points.

“You put Slytherin in the lead for the House Cup with your little hero stunt,” Blaise told him with a lazy drawl. “Don’t ruin it just to get back at a Weasley. He’s not worth your time – or the potential punishment.”

Harry conceded this point eventually, but threw himself back into the Cerberus investigation to let off the excess steam – and of course, dragged Hermione, Neville, Draco, and Blaise right along with him.

This was how he met Rubeus Hagrid.

 

“Do we knock?” Hermione asked, nervous.

They were standing outside the groundskeeper’s hut, as directed by Professor Sprout – ‘they’ being those of the investigators with Light backgrounds: Harry, Neville, and Hermione.

“How do we know he’s in?” Neville whispered.

Harry didn’t answer; rather, he lifted a hand and knocked as loudly as he could, with all the assertiveness he could muster.

The door opened mere seconds later to the giant of a man Harry remembered from his first day at Hogwarts – the one who had directed him and the other first years into the boats that would carry them to their new home.

The trio tilted their heads back as one to meet Hagrid’s eyes – and his wide grin.

“Ah, ‘adrian Potter! I was wonderin’ if I might be seein’ you,” Hagrid greeted them. “And ‘oo are yer friends, then?”

“Hello, Mr Hagrid,” Harry replied, hiding his intimidation behind a polite tone and a confident smile. “This is Hermione Granger and Neville Longbottom. Have we met?”

Harry knew for a fact that they hadn’t met. The only haziness in his memory came from the night he had passed out in the Slytherin Common Room, after all, and since he doubted he had met Hagrid then-

Oh. But there was a time they had met – when Harry was a baby. His memories of that time weren’t as clear as everything else, but they were still there. Rather, it was as though he were watching them from under water: muffled voices and tinted images. But he remembered Hagrid, if he thought hard enough – remembered being held in trunk-like arms and carried on a motorbike, staring up at the sky and up at the groundskeeper’s face. That was the night his parents died. The night the leader of the Dark had killed his mother in front of him, with a bright green light and two simple words. Before he knew about magic, Harry had thought he had perhaps imagined the strange light, but with research into his own history in the wizarding world he had discovered the truth. At least they said the Killing Curse was quick.

“I knew yer parents, ‘adrian!” Hagrid was saying. Harry shook off his memories. This wasn’t the time, after all. “Great people, Lily and James Potter. Great people.” Hagrid pulled a grimy pink handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his eyes with it roughly. “Yers too, Neville. Lost a lo’ of great people back then. Bu’ anyway! Wha’ can I do for you three?”

Harry blinked away his discomfort at the clear display of emotion, and put on his sweetest smile. “We were wondering if we could just have a chat, if that’s alright Mr Hagrid. Since you knew my parents, and Neville’s.”

“O’ course! And just ‘agrid’s fine, for you three!” Hagrid beamed at them, and ushered them inside.

It took a fair amount of time – and a large selection of rock cakes that truly lived up to their name – before the trio managed to steer the conversation towards what they were really there for.

“So, Hagrid,” Hermione began casually. “With you being the groundskeeper, do you take care of many animals, at all?”

Harry nearly rolled his eyes at the lack of subtlety, but apparently Hagrid didn’t notice.

“Oh, plen’y,” he replied, with a frankly unnecessary amount of enthusiasm. “Love animals, I do. ‘specially the rarer ones, y’know? A lo’ of creatures are just misunderstood, really.”

‘If he thinks a giant three-headed dog is misunderstood, he’s insane,’ Harry thought.

“Ever encountered a Cerberus?” Hermione continued.

Hagrid froze.

‘Gotcha.’

“Now, wha’ makes you ask tha’, then?”

“A fairytale,” Harry said quickly. “We found a fairytale about a Cerberus in the library the other day. Honestly, they seem like fascinating creatures.” He smiled, innocent as could be.

“Oh,” Hagrid’s whole body relaxed. “Well, they are. Did y’know, you play a bi’ of music to one, they go righ’ to sleep? Really swee’ lil’ things.”

‘Little?’ Harry screeched silently. ‘Little? That thing was massive!’

“That’s really interesting,” he said.

“Ain’t it?” Hagrid beamed.

Neville piped up, “So, are they used for anything? In particular, I mean? Like- guarding, maybe?”

“Like in Greek Mythology,” Hermione cut in. “With the Cerberus that guards the Underworld.”

“S’pose so,” Hagrid said, uncomfortably. “Say, mus’ be time for you lo’ to be off to bed, hm?”

Then he ushered them out of the hut, and shut the door behind them.

“Well,” Hermione huffed. “He definitely knows something.”

“So he’s in on it, then,” said Neville. “Whatever ‘it’ is, anyway.”

“Did you see the paper open on the table?” Harry asked, clicking his teeth in thought.

“Yeah, it was the Daily Prophet. Why?”

Harry shook his head. “No, I mean the article.”

“What was it?” Hermione raised a brow.

“Someone broke into Gringotts,” Harry told them, running over the image in his mind. “But didn’t steal anything – because the vault that they had been trying to rob was emptied that very same morning.”

“You think that’s connected somehow?” Hermione chewed on her lip thoughtfully.

Harry shrugged. “Maybe. I mean, Hogwarts is considered to be one of the safest places in Britain, right? Right up there with Gringotts itself. So if you thought something was going to be stolen from one safe place…”

“You’d move it to another safe place. That makes sense.”

“Yeah. And then, it’s like you said – Cerberus’ are like guards, like with the Cerberus from Greek Mythology. So, we have the an item that someone is trying to steal, that’s been moved from one safe place to presumably the next safest place, and a glorified guard dog in that next safest place – on top of a trapdoor, no less. Convenient, don’t you think?”

“But it’s still a bit of a stretch, isn’t it?” Neville looked up worriedly. “I mean, we don’t even know if the thing was moved to Hogwarts.”

“True,” Harry allowed. “But it’s still an awful big coincidence.”

Chapter Text

Once again the investigation was put on hold, though this time it was for a combination of reasons. One was because they simply had little idea of where to go from there – they had no idea of what was taken from Gringotts, after all, though Draco swore he would ask his parents for anything he could get over Christmas, what with them both being involved in the Ministry; and Pansy promised she too would ask her mother, who was the Chief Editor for Witch Weekly magazine and thus was a central part of the gossiping scene.

Another reason – the most important, according to Hermione and Tracey – was that the teachers seemed to have all realised at once just how close they were to Christmas break. Therefore, every teacher in the school started piling on ridiculous amounts of homework all at the same time. Harry, Millicent, and Pansy took to sitting together in the Common Room so they could moan about the workload to each other while Blaise watched them amusedly and Tracey told them to shut it so she could work.

Gemma found their plight particularly hilarious, and would often lean over the shoulders of the first years to remind them that they hadn’t seen anything yet – just wait until O.W.L.’s, not to mention N.E.W.T.’s. This had the desired effect: hyperventilation for Tracey and wide, terrified eyes for everyone else.

But Christmas break came, as it must, and Harry found himself facing a whole new dilemma. For the first time since coming to Hogwarts, he would be without his friends. He liked being alone, sure – but there was a big difference between choosing solitude and having it forced upon you.

“I’ll write as often as possible,” Draco promised on the last day of school, before hugging Harry fiercely.

The rest of the Slytherins exchanged similar goodbyes, and Neville and Hermione even gathered their courage to walk over and face the several glares they were greeted with so they too could say goodbye to Harry.

“I’m sorry I can’t stay with you, Harry,” Neville shifted guiltily. “But my gran – she really doesn’t like being alone at Christmas, you know, and she thinks it’s disgraceful for me to stay, so-”

“No worries, Neville,” Harry told him. “I’ll see you after break.”

And then all of his friends were gone, and Harry was alone.

 

But not quite. Harry entered the Slytherin Common Room (feeling rather sorry for himself, of course) to meet the cheerful grin of Gemma Farley.

“Hey, Hadrian.”

“Gemma?” Harry blinked. “I didn’t realise you were staying for Christmas.”

The prefect shrugged from where she was sprawled over one couch. “I wasn’t going to, but my mum’s visiting her sister, so.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “So?”

“So I don’t really get along with Aunt Abigail. At all.”

“What are you still doing here, kid?”

Harry looked up. Adrian Pucey jumped the remaining five stairs to the Common Room and fixed Gemma with a judgemental stare.

“Feet on the sofa, Farley? Really?”

“Who’s the prefect here, Pucey? Oh right – me.”

Adrian snorted, and turned his stare to Harry. It took him a moment to realise he wanted an answer to his question.

“Oh – I didn’t really want to go home to my relatives,” Harry told him, rather awkwardly. “I thought I should experience Christmas at Hogwarts, is all.”

There was something curious in the tilt of Adrian’s head, but thankfully he didn’t say anything. “Fair enough. So, kid, do you fly?”

“Honestly, Pucey, do you think about anything else?” Gemma rolled her eyes.

Adrian ignored her. “Do you?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Good kid. Care for a round? One-on-one, first to catch the snitch?”

Harry started to grin. “Sure.”

Adrian nodded. “Let’s go, then. Coming, Farley?”

“Only because I have nothing else to do.”

 

Flying with Adrian Pucey, who was a chaser for the Slytherin Quidditch team and probable captain once beater Marcus Flint graduated, was very different to flying with Draco and Blaise, Harry found. For one, Adrian was very obviously a much better flier than Harry’s friends – constantly using tricks Harry had never seen before to throw Harry off, and dodging the automatically charmed bludgers with a greater deftness than Harry could even dream of having. Yet when they finally returned to the ground, Gemma cheering from the stands and the snitch in Adrian’s hand, the third year was grinning.

“You didn’t tell me you played, Potter.”

“I don’t,” Harry replied. “I mean, this is only the second time I’ve flown.”

“You’re kidding,” Adrian’s smile dropped. “You need to try out next year, kid.”

Harry felt himself blush and hoped the flush from the cold would hide it. “You think so?”

“Absolutely! You’re a natural, kid – a little more practise, you could be one of the best damn seekers in the game!”

“Thanks,” Harry muttered.

“Hey, Farley!” Adrian was yelling. “I just got our team a seeker!”

Gemma’s laughter carried strong on the wind, and Harry’s smile spread into a beam.

 

This ended up becoming the pattern of Harry’s days over Christmas break. He would wake, join the rest of the school for breakfast (all at one table, the teachers and stragglers of the four Houses in one), and then read in the Common Room until Adrian came to get him for a game. Gemma would accompany them more often than not, though she always claimed it was merely out of boredom. In the evenings, Gemma began to teach him Wizard’s Chess with the soundtrack of Adrian’s snarky comments. Harry found their interactions rather hilarious, and quite enjoyed sitting back and watching the two of them battle each other (though sometimes it was so fast-paced that he wouldn’t know who was winning until the loser was cursing under their breath).

When he had the time, Harry wrote his friends and prepared their presents. Every letter he received was placed in a small box beneath his bed with the strongest locking charm he knew on it. It wasn’t enough to stop Gemma or Adrian, and especially not a teacher, but Harry was satisfied it would keep the other first years away. He didn’t care to be mocked for his collection, though he held no shame over it. What was the harm in keeping physical copies of his memories? He might never forget what was written on them, but an image in his brain wasn’t the same as holding it in his hands.

The only irritants in the holidays were the glares from Ronald Weasley (which Harry found easier to ignore by the day), and the constant pranks by the Weasley twins and Peeves the poltergeist (which were actually incredibly funny – when Harry wasn’t affected by them). Harry’s personal favourite was when the twins charmed snowballs to follow Professor Quirrell around and hit him on the back of the turban. Maybe that would make it stop smelling so strongly of garlic, Harry mused.

In this way, Harry passed his days until Christmas morning. Despite knowing, logically, that he did have friends who would send him gifts, Harry was still shocked by the large pile of presents he found at the foot of his bed when he woke up on Christmas day. He dressed faster than light and settled down to see what his friends had gotten him.

The Dursleys had sent him a fifty pence coin taped to a piece of paper, which he cast aside without another thought. Hagrid, startlingly enough, had sent him a carved wooden flute. Harry hadn’t thought to send him anything – after all, they weren’t exactly friends – but decided it was Hagrid’s choice to send him things if he wanted to. Hermione had given him a large book on the alphabet of rare magical creatures – Harry laughed when he read out ‘c’ for Cerberus on the third page, and again when he thought of his own gift to her (an equally large book on the history of several important wizarding figures). They knew each other well. He had sent Neville a self-expanding Herbologist’s notebook, and received a book on the best brooms of the 20th century in return. Pansy and Theodore he sent their respective favourite sweets to, and they returned the gesture. Millicent bought him a book on the deadliest (but still legal) curses of the modern age, in return for his gift of Most Innovative Hexes in Wizarding History. Vince and Greg received a pack of chocolate frogs each, to which he was given similar presents. Tracey he gave a specialised quill designed for studying, and she gave him a copy of The Art of Dark Arts. Adrian had sent him Quidditch through the Ages, the vintage edition, and Gemma a small book of defensive magic. He felt rather bad about those ones – they had sent him such thoughtful gifts, and he had simply sent them sweets. Blaise gave him a set of soft leather boots enchanted with silencing charms, while Harry gave him a book of historical insults between famous wizards. Draco’s gift was, if Harry had to choose, his favourite: a handheld mirror, made of gilded silver, through which the user could communicate with the owner of its counterpart. Harry called Draco through it immediately, and he answered just as promptly.

“You liked my present, then?” Draco smirked as soon as his face appeared on the glass.

“It’s amazing, Draco, thank you,” Harry was too happy to be snarky. “Did you like mine?”

Draco’s face softened. “I loved it, Harry.” His hand reached up almost subconsciously to touch Harry’s gift: a silver pendant charmed to grow warm when the wearer was in danger. On it was engraved the word, amicitia – friendship, in Latin.

“How are your holidays going?” Harry asked, and Draco launched into a lengthy explanation of everything his mother and father had given him, where they had gone, and the details of everything he had done. Harry listened, and his smile remained genuine on his face the whole time.

Eventually Draco had to go, however, and Harry carefully put the mirror away. That was when he noticed it – one last present. He picked it up curiously, turning it this way and that, but it had no name tag. The only note had but three words on it – use it well.

Harry opened the gift cautiously to reveal a large, soft cloak. It seemed to be fairly standard, until he put it on.

“Oh my God,” Harry breathed, before rushing to one mirror. The cloak swished around him, as he moved, and Harry’s heartbeat jumped as he checked his reflection.

‘Why would someone send me an invisibility cloak?’ he thought to himself, but for a moment let his excitement overwhelm him. He was invisible, for Merlin’s sake! He could let himself enjoy that.

 

That night, Harry snuck out of the Slytherin Common Room. He had already decided on what he would do with his new cloak, and that was explore the castle as he had never been able to before. He steered clear of the third floor, of course (he didn’t want another Cerberus incident, at least not while his friends were away), instead roaming the halls and corridors, dodging Filch and Peeves and Mrs Norris. The thrill of exploring was awfully exciting, and he carefully ignored the little Hermione-Voice in his head that was lecturing him on the danger of rule-breaking.

It wasn’t until his third night of exploring, however, that Harry encountered any danger.

Harry watched in shock as his Head of House shoved Professor Quirrell into a wall with a glare.

“Severus, I-I thought-”

“You don’t want me as your enemy, Quirrell,” Snape sneered.

“W-what do you mean?”

“You know perfectly well what I mean,” Snape growled. “We’ll have another chat soon. When you’ve had time to decide where your loyalties lie.”

Harry backed away, slow and soft-footed despite the silent boots Blaise had sent him keeping his footsteps inaudible. Quickly, he ducked into the closest room, and froze at what he saw.

There was a large mirror in the room, with a muddled engraving on the high arch – but it wasn’t the engraving Harry was distracted by.

He saw himself in the reflection, unsurprisingly, but behind him…

Behind him stood a young woman with bright red hair and familiar vivid green eyes, next to a man with messy black hair and glasses. Harry didn’t have to note the similarities to know who they were. Plenty of books recording his history contained pictures of his parents, after all.

But that’s not where it ended. Behind them were his friends, everyone from his life that he considered even remotely close to him. They crowded together, so many that it seemed there was no way they could all fit in the reflection, but still they did. Amongst the familiar faces were people with blurred masks covering their features. Harry wondered who they were supposed to be, but only absently. He was too busy staring at his mother’s gently smiling face.

Harry remembered Lily Potter’s face. He remembered her green eyes, and her soft red hair beneath his fingertips. He remembered her voice cooing his own name at him. He remembered her scream as she died.

All memories paled in comparison to this image.

Harry remembered his father, too, but James Potter had died out of Harry’s sight. Somehow, the connection didn’t feel the same when he hadn’t witnessed his death.

 

Harry spent many nights in a row in that room, staring at his parents and his friends and the strangers with blurred out faces. He went there for six nights in a row. He didn’t notice when he was followed.

“Hadrian, step away from there.”

Harry looked up. Gemma’s dark eyes were carefully avoiding the mirror, and her brow was furrowed in concern.

“Gemma?”

“That mirror is cursed, Hadrian. You need to stop looking at it.”

Harry glanced back at his reflection; at his parents, and his friends. “Cursed how?” he asked.

“Miss Farley is correct, Mr Potter, though not, perhaps, in entirely the right way.”

That voice was surprising enough to call Harry’s attention. Headmaster Dumbledore seemed to materialise out of nowhere into the room, his eyes twinkling.

“Headmaster,” Gemma nodded in respect. “I’m sorry we’re out of bed so late, I-”

“No need to apologise, Miss Farley,” Dumbledore held up a hand. “This mirror has ensnared many a witch and wizard, and you were simply looking out for your House member.”

Gemma didn’t look pleased at being interrupted, but seemed to take being absolved of rule-breaking as the more important action. She nodded again.

“You see, Mr Potter,” Dumbledore continued, “What you have discovered, is the Mirror of Erised.”

Gemma inhaled sharply. “I thought that was just a legend.”

“Many do, Miss Farley, but no.”

“What is the Mirror of Erised?” Harry asked, struggling to keep his gaze from the mirror.

“Well, Mr Potter, let me give you a clue. The happiest man on Earth would look into that mirror and see only himself, exactly as he is.”

Harry furrowed his brow. “So it shows us what we want?” That would make sense, he supposed.

“Yes,” Dumbledore tilted his head. “And no. It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desires of our hearts. Now you, who have never known your family, you see them standing beside you. But remember this, Harry. This mirror gives us neither knowledge nor truth. Men have wasted away in front of it, even gone mad. That is why tomorrow it will be moved to a new home, and I must ask you not to go looking for it again. It does not do to dwell on dreams, Harry, and forget to live.”

Harry looked down for a moment. The room was silent.

“I think we should go to bed, Hadrian,” Gemma said eventually, voice soft. “Goodnight, Headmaster.”

“Goodnight, Miss Farley, Mr Potter.”

Harry was lost in thought all the way back to the Slytherin Common Room. Gemma seemed to understand, as she didn’t attempt to start a conversation. Rather, she simply walked by Harry’s side in silence, with one hand brushing his arm as he thought, and thought, and thought.

So distracted was he by mulling over the mirror and what Dumbledore had said, that it wasn’t until he was lying in bed that night that he thought to wonder how, exactly, the Headmaster knew what he saw in the mirror, when Harry had sworn to never tell.

Chapter Text

Having his friends back at Hogwarts with him was a great source of relief for Harry. Gemma and Adrian were great, of course, but they were much older than him (and Harry still felt rather awkward around Gemma after the incident with the Mirror of Erised). He hadn’t ever really known proper loneliness when he was with the Dursleys (after all, loneliness was missing friends and family, and Harry had never had any friends and family to miss), but he felt it keenly over the holidays. He spoke excitedly with all of his friends about their separate holidays when they returned, and didn’t stop smiling from the moment he spotted them to the moment he went to sleep.

He told only Draco, Blaise, Neville, and Hermione about the Mirror of Erised – and he didn’t tell them what he saw within it. It felt private, somehow. It was the first time he’d seen his parents since their deaths when he was one, and Harry thought this was something far too special to even say out loud. He did mention how Headmaster Dumbledore had seemed to pluck the phrase from his mind – but they were all as confused as he was about that.

Unfortunately, neither Draco nor Pansy had had any luck with asking their respective parents about the Cerberus mystery. Though as it turned out, that wasn’t too big of an issue.

“Hagrid’s invited me to his house after dinner tonight,” Harry told his friends with a frown that lunchtime, peering at the note in his hand. The handwriting was nearly incomprehensible, but Harry’s wasn’t exactly a breeze to read either, so he didn’t think he could judge. “Neville and Hermione, too.”

Daphne scoffed from down the table. “As if you could call that hovel a house.”

Harry ignored her. “I wonder what he wants?”

“Maybe it’s just a social call,” Millicent suggested. “You said he was awfully fond of you last time, wasn’t he?”

Harry’s frown deepened. Hagrid seemed likeable enough, but his size still made Harry uncomfortable, reminding him far too much of his whale of an uncle.

“Well, if it’s just a social call, then you can refuse,” said Draco. He still wasn’t pleased that Neville and Hermione got to visit Hagrid with Harry, while he had to stay behind.

“I don’t know if you should refuse,” Tracey shivered. “He’s massive. What if he got angry?”

Harry wanted to tell her to shut up, but he simply closed his eyes for a moment and shoved his bad memories away. When he opened them again, Blaise was watching him.

“He said he wants to show us something. And he seems harmless,” Harry added, if just to appease Blaise.

“He’s an oaf.” Pansy rolled her eyes. “Oafs make mistakes.”

Millicent wrinkled her nose.

“What?” Pansy asked her defensively.

“Nothing,” Millicent replied, raising her hands. “I just didn’t realise ‘oafs’ was a word.”

“Well, it is. So there, Millie.”

Millicent raised her eyebrows. “Excuse me?”

“What?”

“Don’t call me ‘Millie’.”

“Why not?”

“It’s a stupid nickname. My name is Millicent.”

“Millicent is such a long name, though,” Pansy whined.

“I don’t care.”

Pansy sighed dramatically. “You’re so mean to me, Millie.”

“Parkinson, if you don’t-”

“Oh be quiet, both of you,” Tracey rolled her eyes. “Honestly. Weren’t we talking about what Hadrian should do?”

“Yes,” Draco agreed. “We were talking about how he should tell Hagrid to leave him alone.”

Blaise laughed. “Jealous, Draco?”

“Of course not,” Draco glared at him. “I just think there’s no need to go back there, don’t you?”

“And you don’t think that would look a bit strange? Going down there for a visit and then refusing to visit him again?”

“He’s only the groundskeeper,” Draco sniffed. “Who cares what he thinks?”

Harry shook his head. “I’m going to see what Neville and Hermione think, but I reckon I’ll go see him. I have nothing to lose, right?”

“What a charming Gryffindor attitude,” Daphne said, raising her eyebrows.

“Reckless,” murmured Theodore, staring straight at Harry.

Harry sighed. “It’ll be fine.”

“And if it isn’t?” Draco pressed.

Harry just shrugged, ignored the slight tightness in his chest, and went back to his lunch.

 

Hermione and Neville both agreed to visit Hagrid with him, and that night after dinner the three of them marched down to the groundskeeper’s hut.

Harry knocked. “Mr Hagrid?”

“Ooh- ah- one second!”

“What on Earth is he doing in there?” Hermione asked.

“Maybe he’s making more rock cakes,” said Neville, gloomily.

The door swung open, and Hagrid stepped out, slamming the door quickly behind him.

“Erm- hi, ‘arry, ‘ermione, Neville.”

“Hello, Hagrid,” Harry said cautiously. “Is everything alright?”

“Yes, yes!” Hagrid replied, a touch too quickly, fidgeting with his oven gloves. “Now, listen. I wanted to show ye something, alrigh’?”

“Okay…” Hermione said slowly.

“Bu’ see- ye need t’ promise me somethin’.”

Harry didn’t want to promise him anything before knowing what it was, but Hagrid was already continuing.

“I need you lo’ to no’ say anythin’ abou’ this, alrigh’? Just, keep it our secret.”

Harry was very suspicious by now, and opened his mouth to tell Hagrid that he couldn’t possibly promise to keep a secret when he didn’t know what that secret was, but Neville and Hermione were nodding on either side of him and Hagrid was ushering them inside and Harry only had a few seconds to think that he’d never promised a thing before-

“Is that a dragon?”

The words had come from Hermione’s mouth. Harry didn’t know how she could focus on making words when, yes, there was a bloody dragon sitting on the table in front of them. On the very wooden table in front of them. In Hagrid’s very wooden hut.

“Oh, no,” Harry breathed.

“Why do you have a d- a dragon, Hagrid?” Neville stuttered.

“Isn’t he beau’iful?” Hagrid leaned over the table, rubbing one large finger over the baby dragon’s head. “Norwegian Ridgeback, ‘e is. Named ‘im Norbert.”

“Norbert?” Neville looked like he was going to pass out.

“You named a dangerous creature… Norbert?” Hermione asked. Her face was only a few shades paler than Neville’s.

“Gotta ‘ave a name, don’t ‘e?” Hagrid grinned.

Norbert sneezed, and a puff of flame blew from his nostrils. A few embers caught in Hagrid’s beard, but he simply patted them out with a chuckle.

“Aw, ‘e knows ‘is mummy!”

Harry shook his head and promptly decided that Hagrid was insane. “Where did you get him?”

“A stranger, down the pub,” the groundskeeper said casually. “Seemed glad t’ be rid o’ ‘im, if I’m honest.”

Hermione furrowed her brow. “What did he look like, this stranger?”

Hagrid shrugged. “Dunno, ‘is ‘ood was covering ‘is face.”

“Did he say anything odd?” Hermione pressed. “Was he curious about Hogwarts?”

“Didn’t seem t’ be. Just Fluffy.”

“Who’s Fluffy?” Neville and Harry asked at the same time.

Hagrid had gone still. “I shouldn’ta told ye tha’.”

“He’s your Cerberus, isn’t he?” Harry leant forward, excited. “You own the Cerberus on the third floor.”

“Now, ‘ow do you lo’ know abou’ Fluffy?”

“We got lost,” Harry said shortly. “Where did you get him?”

“Bough’ ‘im last year, off an Irish feller down the pub. Then I lent ‘im t’ Dumbledore t’ guard the-” Hagrid stopped himself. “I shouldn’ta told ye tha’. I should no’ ‘ave told ye tha’.”

“But Hagrid, someone’s trying to steal whatever it’s guarding!” Hermione cried.

“Codswallop. Besides, tha’ item is strictly between Dumbledore an’ Nicholas Flamel.”

“Who’s Nicholas Flamel?” Neville asked.

Hagrid winced at his mistake. “Now, listen, I reckon you three should ‘ead off. Don’t go meddlin’ in this, it’s dangerous, alrigh’? Off t’ bed with you.”

Harry looked away in frustration- and locked eyes through the window with one very familiar boy.

“You’re right, Hagrid,” Harry said quickly. “It’s time for us to go. Come on, Hermione, Neville.”

“What?” Hermione furrowed her brow, but Harry was already tugging her out of the door.

“What the Hell are you doing?” the Slytherin hissed angrily, storming towards where Draco Malfoy was standing away from the hut awkwardly.

“Making sure you don’t get yourself killed!” Draco snapped in return. “Honestly, a dragon! You have such a thing for walking in to danger, don’t you, it’s ridiculous!”

Hermione was looking at him, aghast. “You followed us down here?”

Draco sneered at her. “I followed Harry down here, Granger, you and Longbottom over there mean nothing to me.”

“But you could have gotten caught, it must be after curfew by now!”

“Why would you follow me, Draco?” Harry asked, infuriated. “I come back and I tell you everything anyway, you’re being ridiculous!”

“Guys, I think we should be quiet,” Neville interrupted nervously. The two Slytherins ignored him.

“I followed you because you don’t think!” Draco yelled. “You get yourself into trouble constantly, first with the Cerberus, then with the Mirror, now with an illegal dragon-”

“You were with me for the Cerberus!” Harry protested. “There’s no point in-”

“I’m worried about you, you idiot!”

Harry’s anger fizzled to a stop in his chest. “What?”

Draco didn’t stop glaring at him. “What if you get yourself hurt? Or expelled, or killed? And I’m not there?”

“I can take care of myself.”

“You’re smart, Potter, but you’re not invincible. You’re only a first year, just like the rest of us.”

Harry swallowed. “So, you were just worried about me?”

“That is what I said, isn’t it?” Draco was beginning to flush. “You’re my friend, you git.”

Neither of them said anything then, just staring at each other in the dark – Draco embarrassed but decided, Harry awkward but strangely pleased. No one had ever risked getting in trouble out of worry for him before.

“Erm, Harry?” Hermione began nervously. “We should really get back.”

Draco turned away first, and Harry fell into step beside him as they walked silently up the path to Hogwarts.

The rest of the world didn’t seem to care about their unspoken pact of silence, however.

“Well, well, well-”

“A little group of firsties-”

“Out on their own.”

“Dangerous, don’t you think Georgie?”

“I do, Freddie.”

“A regular group of-”

“Rule-breakers, right after-”

“Our own-”

“Hearts!”

The Weasley twins grinned down at the group and leaned dramatically against each other with their hands against their foreheads in a mock swoon.

“Hello Fred, George,” Harry said carefully.

“Hello there, Hadrian,” they replied in unison.

“What do you think-”

“You’re doing out-”

“After curfew?”

“We were just visiting Hagrid,” Harry told them. “The groundskeeper.”

The twins shared a look. “Oh, we know Hagrid.”

“Served some great detentions with him, haven’t we George?”

“That we have, Fred, that we have.”

“Are you going to tell on us?” Hermione asked anxiously.

“No,” said Fred. “Not if-”

“You tell us what you were doing,” finished George.

Harry exchanged a glance with the other members of his group, focussing on Neville as the twins’ Housemate.

“They won’t tell anyone,” Neville said hurriedly. “At least, I don’t think so. They get in trouble lots, anyway. They’re not like Ron.”

“Atta boy, Neville,” said the twins.

Neville flushed. “Sorry.”

“Nah,” Fred said, though they both shrugged. “Ron can be a git sometimes.”

“Nothing like Percy, but just as annoying, eh Fred?”

“Couldn’t have said it better myself, George.”

“So, Hadrian-”

“What’s your story?”

Harry told them – albeit reluctantly – about visiting Hagrid to see his new pet, and when they kept on pressing, told them about Norbert the dragon.

“Harry!” Hermione admonished. “You promised not to tell anyone!”

“I did not,” Harry told her. “You and Neville did, but I didn’t. Besides, owning a dragon is illegal in Britain, remember? Maybe,” he looked at the twins cautiously, “Fred and George can help us.”

“As a matter of fact-”

“We can.”

“We have a brother in Romania, see-”

“Charlie, great fella-”

“Who just so happens to be-”

“A professional dragon tamer.”

“He’d be willing-”

“To take it off your hands-”

“So long as you agree-”

“To owe us a favour.”

“Don’t, Harry,” Draco whispered. “You can’t owe the Weasley twins a favour, for Merlin’s sake. They’ll get you to do something horrible. We should tell Professor Snape.”

“I’m not going to Snape for anything,” Harry replied firmly.

“Dumbledore, then,” Draco suggested, but Harry ignored them.

“Deal,” he told the twins.

“Pleasure doing business with you,” Fred replied.

“We should do this again sometime,” George grinned.

Then they bowed extravagantly, and were gone.

“Well,” Hermione huffed. “At least that’s one problem dealt with. Now we just need to find out about-”

She was cut off by the sound of someone clearing their throat, loudly. The group jumped, before turning around to see a stern, wrinkled face staring down at them.

“I trust you four understand the trouble you’re in?” Professor McGonagall said.

Harry sighed.

‘Two detentions already,’ he thought as they trudged after the professor. ‘How am I going to beat this next year?’

Chapter Text

The rest of the Slytherins were not pleased when they saw the hourglasses of House points the next morning. They were even less pleased when they found out Harry and Draco were the ones who had collectively lost them one hundred points (fifty each for being out after curfew). Draco sneered at their comments, but Harry just ignored them. They had broken curfew, after all, and he had better things to worry about – namely, their upcoming detention. Professor McGonagall had not told them with whom their detention would be served, and Harry could already feel the imposing presence of Snape at his back while he scrubbed at a line of disgusting cauldrons.

His only solace was that the twins made true on their word, and delivered Norbert the dragon to the tower to be given to their brother Charlie within the week, and with little fuss.

There was still the detention to worry about, but even that didn’t seem so bad when the caretaker, Filch, told them that they would be serving their detention with Hagrid, not Snape.

Filch escorted them down to Hagrid’s hut, telling them delightedly about what it was like back in his day, when students were hung from the ceiling by their thumbs, and were penalised with all sorts of other terrifying punishments.

Their detention wasn’t that bad – but it wasn’t a walk in the park, either. Rather, a walk in the forest. The Forbidden, Dark Forest. Within which, Draco informed Harry in a terrified whisper, lay all sorts of creatures – werewolves, vampires, ghouls, and the like.

Filch chuckled cruelly when he heard them. “There’s worse than werewolves in those trees, lad. You can be sure of that.”

“Come on, you lo’,” Hagrid interrupted.                His eyes were suspiciously red. “Best get in t’ the Forest.”

 “Are you alright, Hagrid?” Harry questioned, once they were away from the sadistic caretaker.

“Is it Norbert?” Hermione asked sympathetically.

Hagrid sniffled. “Yeah. I just miss ‘im, is all.”

Hermione made a compassionate sound in the back of her throat, and Neville gave Hagrid an awkward pat on the arm – or rather, the back of his palm, as Neville couldn’t reach any higher.

Harry glanced at Draco, shifting uncomfortably on the balls of his feet. He didn’t really like big displays of emotion – especially displays of sadness. That had never gotten Harry anything but more pain. Thankfully, Draco didn’t look particularly pleased with the situation either, though whether it was for Harry’s reason or something else, he didn’t know.

“Alrigh’,” Hagrid said eventually, wiping the back of his hand across his eyes. “Alrigh’. Sorry abou’ tha’. Ahem. So. You lo’ will be helpin’ me in the Forest, today. Just some trackin’, nothin’ too hard. See, here.”

They emerged as one through a patch of trees into a small, dark clearing. Right in the centre lay a small, silver pool.

“What is that?” Neville asked, eyes wide.

“Tha’ is wha’ we’re here for,” Hagrid replied, kneeling down next to the liquid. He scooped his fingers through it and held his hand up for them to see. “Tha’s unicorn blood, tha’ is. I found one dead a few weeks ago. Now, this one’s been injured bad by somethin’. It’s our job to find the poor beast. So, Neville, ‘ermione, you’ll come with me.”

Neville immediately perked up a little, though his face was still ghostly pale. Hermione took a small step closer to him.

“And ‘arry, you’ll go with Malfoy.”

“Okay. Then we get Fang,” Draco snapped, grabbing Harry’s hand fiercely and tugging him towards Hagrid’s dog.

Hagrid gave him a dirty look that made Harry narrow his eyes. “Fine,” he said. “But just so ye know – ‘e’s a bloody coward.”

Fang whined at their feet. Draco’s grip on Harry’s hand tightened – but under the shadows of the trees, Harry couldn’t bring himself to mind.

 

“Honestly, what is he thinking?” Draco complained. “Sending two first year students off on their own into the woods. Deadly woods, no less. My father will hear about this.”

“Your father will get Hagrid fired,” Harry reminded him, lifting the lantern Hagrid had given them a little higher and snapping his fingers to call Fang a bit closer. It was awfully dark in the Forbidden Forest, after all.

“So?” Draco scowled. “He deserves to be fired, if he’s going to be sending us, defenceless, into a dangerous area. Come on, Fang.”

The dog trotted closer to Draco with a pathetic whimper.

Harry didn’t really want Hagrid to be fired. He was sweet, in his own way, if a bit too emotional (and a bit too big) for Harry’s comfort. But he didn’t want to start a fight with Draco, either – so he simply changed the subject.

“If I didn’t know any better, Draco,” Harry began casually. “I’d say you were scared.”

The diversion worked; Draco gave a loud scoff and instantly began to defend himself. “Of course I’m not scared, Potter. I just have a healthy amount of self-preservation, something you, by the way, seem to be missing. Besides-”

Whatever he was going to say was cut off suddenly by a fierce, distant howl.

“Did you hear that?” Draco whispered.

“Yeah,” said Harry, swallowing nervously. “Let’s keep moving.”

But only a few moments later, Fang stopped abruptly, nearly tripping Draco.

“What is it, Fang?” Harry asked over the sound of Draco’s grumbling.

The dog began to growl, and it was then that Harry looked up and saw what must have been the most beautiful thing in the world.

The creature was nothing short of luminescent. It could have been a horse, if not for its ethereal beauty and the twisted marble-like horn stemming from its forehead.  The unicorn was lying unnaturally on one side, head lolling against one tree, silver liquid pouring from its side, and it was only with that closer inspection that Harry realised it was dead.

Several things happened in quick succession, then:

A shadow on the unicorn’s side moved, revealing itself as a monstrous wraith dripping silver from its deformed mouth;

The wraith shifted towards them;

Harry’s scar began to burn like it had never burned before;

And Draco screamed, long and loud and shrill.

Harry was dimly aware of a hand on his side pulling him backwards, of a voice in his ear begging him to move, to run, of the wraith getting closer and closer and closer, but everything seemed vague and unimportant behind the agony in his scar.

Then the pain was gone as suddenly as it had come, and Harry was looking up into the deep sombre eyes of a-

“Centaur,” Draco breathed by his side.

Harry blinked. Where was the wraith? What happened? Had this centaur saved them somehow? How much time had he missed?

“Hadrian Potter,” the centaur greeted him, tilting his head in acknowledgement. “You must leave. You are known to many creatures here. The Forest is not safe at this time – especially for you.”

Harry pushed himself shakily to his feet, Draco supporting him on one side. “What do you mean? What was that thing you saved us from?”

“A monstrous creature.” The centaur turned its head to the dead unicorn, mourning its passing with a bow. “It is a terrible crime to slay a unicorn. Drinking the blood of a unicorn will keep you alive even if you are an inch from death – but at a terrible price. You have slain something so pure that the moment the blood touches your lips, you will have a half-life. A cursed life.”

“But who would choose that life?” Draco asked, clenching his fingers tighter around Harry’s arm.

“Can you think of no one?”

Harry could. “Voldemort,” he said. His voice did not shake.

Draco gasped in alarm. “Don’t say his name!”

“Harry!”

Harry turned instead of answering. He didn’t believe in fear of a name.

Hermione was running towards them, Neville only a step behind while Hagrid and Fang approached more slowly.

“Thank God you’re alright!” Hermione cried, hugging Harry fiercely.

“We thought you were hurt – or, or killed!” Neville told them shakily.

Harry released Hermione as gently as he could, though he didn’t bother trying to remove Draco. “How did you know where to find us?”

“Malfoy sent up red sparks,” Hermione explained. “It was rather clever of him, actually.”

Draco turned up his nose at the praise, but thankfully didn’t comment.

“Hello there, Firenze,” Hagrid said finally, nodding his head at the centaur. “I see you’ve met our young Mr Potter. You alright there, ‘arry?”

“I’m fine. And Draco is alright, too,” Harry replied pointedly.

Hagrid ignored the hint, simply nodding.

“Hadrian Potter,” Firenze said, calling back Harry’s attention. “This is where I leave you. You’re safe now. Good luck.”

‘Safe,’ Harry thought, ‘Is a very strong word to use after one has just discovered that the mass murderer who killed their parents is still alive.’

Out loud, he simply said, “Thank you,” and left it at that.

 

The group reconvened in the library first thing the next morning, though this time with the addition of Blaise.

“So you’re telling me,” Blaise said after they had finished their tale, “That the Dark Lord of the last great war is hiding in the Forbidden Forest, keeping himself alive with the blood of unicorns, and plotting his return?”

Harry nodded.

“Any idea how he’s going to be executing this plan?” Blaise raised an eyebrow.

“No,” Harry said. “But I’m certain it has something to do with whatever Fluffy – er, the Cerberus – is guarding.”

Blaise graciously ignored his stumble, and continued. “And what is this mystery item?”

“We don’t know,” said Hermione. “But it’s something to do with a Nicholas Flamel. And the problem is I know I’ve heard that name before, I just know it, but I can’t think where…”

Blaise had gone still. He and Draco were staring at each other across the table, identical looks of realisation on their faces.

“You know who Nicholas Flamel is,” Harry said. It was not a question.

“Yeah,” Draco answered anyway. He swallowed, opened his mouth, and swallowed again. “He’s a famous alchemist. Most famous for creating-”

“The Philosopher’s Stone,” Blaise finished. “The Elixir of Life.”

Hermione gasped. “Of course!” She turned to Harry excitedly. “It was in the book you gave me for Christmas! The Philosopher’s Stone can be used to give the owner immortality – that must be what You-Know-Who is after!”

“But if he comes back…” Neville looked to Harry nervously.

“He’ll try to kill me,” Harry nodded. “Yeah. Apparently he was pretty keen on trying that last night.”

Draco shivered. “The way he looked at you…”

“But aren’t we forgetting something?” Hermione interrupted. “Dumbledore is the one wizard Voldemort always feared. And Dumbledore is in the school! Which means you’re safe!” She faltered. “Right?”

Blaise looked at her, for once allowing his scorn to coat his features. “Granger, no offence, but Dumbledore didn’t stop the Dark Lord last time. Baby Potter over there did. There are a lot of people who believe Dumbledore is – shall we say, past his prime.”

“My gran says he’s amazing though,” Neville said. “She says he’s the most powerful wizard since Merlin.”

“Your grandmother says a lot of things, Longbottom,” Blaise replied. “I don’t suggest you listen to all of them.”

“You’re missing the point,” Draco interrupted quietly, eyes fixed to the table. “Dumbledore can’t stop the Dark Lord’s return. The Philosopher’s Stone is his for the taking.”

“Then we go to Dumbledore,” Hermione suggested.

Blaise shook his head. “And what if he doesn’t listen? We’re just a bunch of kids, remember. Besides, the Stone can’t just be guarded by a Cerberus. There have to be other defences – tricks and enchantments. Which means there is a small group of people, most likely teachers here at Hogwarts, who know exactly how to get to the Stone. The Dark Lord wouldn’t leave anything to chance, either – he’d want to know what he’s up against in getting the Stone. Which means he has a teacher on his side.”

Harry’s first thought was Snape. He was harsh, and unfair, and hated Harry for a reason he still couldn’t understand. But… he didn’t want to jump to conclusions. That was how mistakes were made.

“It doesn’t matter for right now who it is,” Harry said. “What matters is that they’re stopped. Hermione’s right – we should go to Dumbledore. If he doesn’t listen, then at least we tried, and we can think of something else.”

“I’ll talk to Professor McGonagall,” Hermione said firmly. “She’s the deputy headmistress – she can get us to see Dumbledore.”

 

“Harry!” Hermione tore down the hallway the next day, bag shaking dangerously and hair flying wildly behind her. “Harry! I talked to Professor McGonagall, but Dumbledore’s gone! He was sent to London, the Ministry called him urgently!”

Harry stared at her, not taking any note of the other Slytherins behind him. “But that means…”

“It’s happening tonight,” Hermione said breathlessly. “Professor McGonagall didn’t believe me, I did try but-”

“It’s alright, Hermione, breathe,” Harry thought quickly, before taking a step closer to her so they wouldn’t be heard. “Okay. Meet on the third floor tonight, alright? You bring Neville – you have Herbology next, don’t you? – and I’ll bring Draco and Blaise.”

“But what are we going to do?”

Harry set his jaw resolutely. “We’re going to stop Voldemort.”

Chapter Text

“So,” Hermione whispered. “Is everyone clear on the plan?”

“Yes, Granger.” Blaise rolled his eyes.

Hermione glared at him. “I’m just checking, Zabini.”

“For the fifth time in a row?”

“Guys, shut up,” Harry snapped as quietly as he could. “So, we go in, we play some music like Hagrid said to lull Fluffy to sleep, we go down the trapdoor ready for anything. Are we good?”

“Yes,” Blaise said.

“I suppose so,” Hermione sighed.

“I can’t believe we’re doing this. Yes,” Draco muttered.

“Okay,” Neville whispered.

“Okay. Then let’s go. Alohomora.

The third floor door swung open, and the group braced themselves for an angry Cerberus.

Their action proved unnecessary.

“Oh no,” Hermione chewed on her lip anxiously. “Whoever it is has already passed through here.”

Harry eyed the enchanted harp in the corner of the room. The melody it played was soft and unfamiliar, but Fluffy seemed to like it, as he was snoring in time with the gentle music.

“Okay,” Harry said quietly. “That’s step one. Now for the trapdoor.”

“We’re going to need to move it,” Blaise murmured, pointing.

Harry’s heart dropped when he saw the trapdoor – hidden rather fully beneath one of the Cerberus’ giant paws. The claws alone were the size of Harry’s arm.

Harry supposed he must have some survival instincts, no matter what the other Slytherins said, because he could very clearly hear them shouting at him to not go anywhere near that huge, dangerous paw.

“Let’s go,” he said.

 They all huddled together around Fluffy’s paw, and Harry counted them down.

“Three, two, one- now!”

Slowly, oh so slowly, the great limb shifted until the trapdoor was fully revealed. They were all panting by the end of it – though Blaise turned his face away so Neville and Hermione couldn’t see.

“Alright,” Harry said, kneeling by the door and tugging it open with a creak. “Down?”

“Down,” Hermione nodded firmly.

“Who first?” asked Draco.

Neville shuffled forward on his knees. “I’ll go.”

“You don’t have to, Neville,” Hermione put a hand on his arm.

“I’m a Gryffindor,” Neville shrugged. “I should act like one.” And with that, he jumped down.

“Neville?” Harry leant over the hole. “Are you alright? What’s down there?”

“I think it’s a plant. Um, one of you will need to come down with your wand out though. I’m, uh, sitting on mine. But with light I’ll know what it is!”

“Okay, we’re coming down, Neville!” Hermione called, before turning to Harry. “You ready?”

Harry nodded, and looked up, locking eyes with each of his friends one by one. “Listen, guys, if anything happens down there…”

“Shut up, Potter,” said Blaise, before he pushed Harry down the trapdoor.

“Harry! Oh my God, Harry! What’s wrong with you, Zabini? Oh!”

Harry jerked his head up at Hermione’s cry, squinting through the dark just to see Blaise drop through the ceiling and land with a ‘thud’ next to him.

“Ugh. Lumos.” Light began to emanate from his wand, just in time for Draco to drop down, followed by Hermione. “Alright Longbottom,” Blaise looked at the tough, dark plant they were sitting on with disgust. “What is this?”

“Erm,” Neville had his eyes closed. “Well, since it’s uh, pulling us down, I think it’s- well, I know it’s Devil’s Snare.”

“Devil’s Snare?” Hermione gasped. “But that’s deadly!”

“Wonderful,” Draco muttered, panic lacing his voice.

“No, no, it’s okay!” Neville said quickly, snapping his eyes open. “Just, keep still, you’ll fall right through. It’s like, uh, playing dead, you know?”

“And if we don’t?” Harry asked through gritted teeth, forcing his muscles to relax as thick vines began to squeeze his waist.

Neville winced. “Well. Hermione did say it was deadly.” And then he was gone, slipping through the Devil’s Snare easy as butter.

“Oh, Merlin, oh no oh no oh no.” Draco was beginning to hyperventilate, struggling against the plant as it tightened and tightened.

“Draco,” Harry tried to meet his eyes, but he had them clenched shut. “Draco, you need to calm down.”

“Longbottom, is there another way out of this?” Blaise called. His voice was strained, and he too had his eyes scrunched shut.

“Um, um, yes, I just need to remember…”

“Quickly, if you don’t mind!”

“Oh! Lumos Solem!

There was a pause, and then a shining bright light burst through the vines, pushing the Devil’s Snare back and back and back until the four dropped through, landing on hard ground below with a crash.

Harry fought to catch his breath, before reaching over and grabbing Draco’s hand tightly in his own with a burst of confidence. Draco managed a shaky smile in response, but Harry didn’t really feel okay until Draco had squeezed tightly at his hand.

“Good thinking, Neville,” Hermione was saying breathlessly.

Harry glanced over to see Neville still looking shocked.

“I- uh, Devil’s Snare hates sunlight. It was in a book I read.”

Hermione beamed with pride and gave him a tight hug. “That was really clever. Thank you.”

Harry smiled his own gratitude, and even Blaise gave a nod of acknowledgement, but Draco simply turned his head away.

“I’m not going to thank a Gryffindor.”

Harry elbowed him in the side.

“Ow!” Draco rubbed his side, but reluctantly continued. “But… it was good thinking. Well done.” He glared at Harry. “Are you happy?”

“Very,” Harry said genuinely, and Draco’s eyes softened.

“I’m not sure how long that will last,” Blaise interrupted. “Considering we haven’t reached the Stone just yet.”

Harry stood up. “Right. Let’s go.”

“There’s the door,” Blaise nodded towards it.

Harry breathed in deeply, and kept moving forward.

 

“Well,” Hermione huffed. “They practically made this room for you, Harry.”

Harry moved his gaze from the hundreds of fluttering winged keys above their heads to look at her. “How so?”

She gave him a look that very clearly said he was stupid. Harry tried not to be offended.

“Didn’t you say that Slytherin third year – Pucey – was raving about your Quidditch skills as a Seeker all holidays?” She pointed at the broom hovering a few feet away. “You have to get on that, and seek out the right key for the next door. It’s obvious.”

Harry looked from the broom, to Hermione, and back again, before shrugging. It was obvious.

“Alright,” he said, and stepped forward.

“No survival instincts,” he heard Draco mutter behind him, but he was rather distracted as the moment he hopped onto the broom every single key in the damn room changed course to aim in exactly the opposite direction to him.

“Clever,” Blaise commented from below.

“Not helping,” Harry hissed, and shot into the air.

He darted and dove, as more and more keys flitted around his head before leaping away when he turned to look. They were all identical – except for one.

Harry made a beeline for his target. The key was slower, given one of its wings was twisted and broken, but other keys zipped in front of his vision every second, distractions and obstacles in one. Harry took a breath, flipped his broom upside down and snatched at the damaged key. That seemed to be the signal for the rest, as the moment his fingers touched the metal the rest of the keys turned to attack.

“Get the door open!” Harry yelled. He threw the correct key blindly to the ground, making loop-de-loops around the room in a desperate attempt to throw off his pursuers.

“Harry!”

He turned, and there was Draco, holding the door open and gesturing wildly. Harry made one last loop before pushing all of his speed towards the open door. Draco slammed it shut behind him, and the sound of hundreds of keys slamming into tough wood echoed in the air.

“So,” Harry said, jumping lightly off his broom and pushing his glasses further up his nose. “What’s next?”

Hermione slapped him upside the head, and gave him a quick hug.

“Wizard’s Chess,” Neville announced quietly. “We have to play Wizard’s Chess. Oh, I’m hopeless at chess.”

“Not a problem,” Blaise stepped forward with a smirk, Draco half a step behind. “Some of us have a knack for strategy.”

 

“We have chess tournaments every time Mother throws one of her parties,” Draco explained half an hour later as they exited the room. Harry couldn’t quite clear his mind’s eye of the image of the black side, left decimated behind them. “It’s led to quite the skill, don’t you think?”

Harry looked at him. “You guys are amazing,” he said genuinely.

Draco flushed. “Well,” he said, eloquently, and left it at that.

“Can you smell that?” Neville complained.

Hermione froze. “But I remember that smell. That was the-”

“Troll,” Neville breathed out, as they approached the monster’s motionless body.

Harry furrowed his brow. “But that’s the same one.”

Hermione didn’t look away from the creature, her sleeve covering her nose. “How can you tell?”

“That mottling on the side of its head, see? That’s the same troll from Halloween.”

“So it escaped?” Neville guessed.

Blaise narrowed his eyes. “Or someone let it out.”

“Why would they do that?”

“A diversion?” Draco suggested. “Maybe someone tried to get the Stone on Halloween, and failed.”

“So the only question left,” Harry frowned, “Is who.”

 

“Oh, brilliant!” Hermione beamed at the note in her hand, found on the table of the sixth room along with seven bottles of varying shapes and sizes. “This isn’t magic – it’s logic – a puzzle. A lot of the greatest wizards haven’t an ounce of logic, they’d be stuck in here forever. See here – we’ve been given clues.”

“So can you solve it?” Blaise asked, leaning against the table. “Because I don’t really fancy staying here much longer than we must.” He eyed the black flames covering the door behind them.

Hermione lifted her chin stubbornly. “Of course I can,” she said, and proceeded to do just that.

“See, the third one here takes you back, and the last one takes you forward! But- oh,” she faltered. “To go forward – it’s only a small vial.” She held the potion up as proof. “There’s only enough for one.”

Harry swallowed. “Well, might as well be me then.”

“No,” both Blaise and Draco said immediately.

“No one should go forward alone,” Hermione agreed, biting her lip. “It wouldn’t be safe.”

“But we can’t just let it go, either,” Neville murmured. “That could be- could be You-Know-Who through there, or at least one of his followers.”

“There could be other rooms before it.”

“Unlikely,” Hermione shook her head. “Seven is a significant number. Seven potions, seven rooms. It’s lucky for a reason, Harry.”

Harry sighed. “Look. If Voldemort is through there, what difference is it going to make if there’s one of us or five? We’re first years. We can’t beat a Dark Lord. But one of us needs to go through, and he killed my parents. He tried to kill me. This needs to be finished, one way or another.”

Blaise fixed him with a sharp, perceptive stare. Harry did not flinch.

“You really need to work on this hero complex, Potter,” he said finally, and plucked the small vial from Hermione’s hand to place in Harry’s. “Don’t get yourself killed.”

“Blaise, are you serious?” Draco cried. “You’re just going to let him walk into danger?”

“He’s his own person, Draco,” Blaise said, picking up the large vial to take them back. “He can do what he wants.”

Draco continued to argue, but Harry was suddenly swept up in a fierce hug.

“Please be careful, Harry,” Hermione murmured into his ear. “Please, please be careful.”

“I will,” Harry told her, patting her on the back. “I promise.”

Neville shuffled forward. “We’ll get Dumbledore,” he promised. “We’ll make them listen. They’ll come help, you’ll see.”

Harry gave him a smile. “Thanks, Neville. I’ll be counting on it.”

When he turned back to Draco, the blond boy had his arms crossed and his gaze on the floor.

“No hug goodbye?” Harry joked softly.

Draco looked up, suddenly furious. “This is not goodbye.” He jumped forward, uncrossing his arms to latch them around Harry’s neck. “If you die, I swear to Merlin himself I will bring you back just to kill you again!”

“That does sound like you.”

Draco pulled back to hit him on the shoulder, and wiped his face with his sleeve. It came back suspiciously wet.

“See you later,” Harry said, mustering up a smile.

“You’d better,” Draco replied fiercely.

Harry downed the potion in one, gave his friends a last wave goodbye, and stepped through the flames.

 

“Oh,” Harry said, once he had entered the final room.

Professor Quirinus Quirrell raised an eyebrow, far calmer than Harry had ever seen him. “That’s all you can say? The great Boy-Who-Lived? ‘Oh’?”

Harry shrugged. He would not show his fear. “I just wasn’t expecting it to be you, is all. Though I guess that’s what you were going for, right?”

Quirrell smirked. “Of course. Next to someone like, say, Severus Snape, who would suspect ‘p-p-poor s-stuttering Professor Quirrell’?”

Harry had considered Snape, but still. He didn’t appreciate being fooled so easily. “So it was you the whole time, then? What about Halloween?”

“Ah, yes. Halloween was when I discovered you could be a danger to me – and Snape proved himself.” Quirrell turned, staring at a tall, covered object against the wall. “I let the troll in, but Snape wasn’t fooled. While everyone else was running to the dungeon, he went to the third floor to head me off. He, of course, never trusted me again. He rarely left me alone.”

Quirrell tugged at the covering of the object, removing it without ceremony to reveal something very familiar – the Mirror of Erised. Seeing it, somehow, sent a stab of pain through Harry’s scar.

“But he doesn’t understand,” Quirrell was continuing. “I’m never alone. Never.” He seemed to shake himself off then, focussing on the Mirror and not whatever debate was happening in his mind. “Now… What does this mirror do? I see what I desire. I see myself holding the stone. But how do I get it?”

Harry was beginning to formulate a snarky response in his mind, but was unfortunately cut off by a grating, scraping, rasping sound that could only barely be called a voice saying:

Use the boy.”

Quirrell snapped around again. “Come here, Potter!”

“Are you going to tell me where that voice came from?” Harry asked, though he obeyed.

The professor gave him a brief smirk, before turning them both to face the Mirror.

“Tell me,” he said, almost gently. “What do you see?”

Harry waited for his parents and friends to appear, but instead- his Mirror-self gave a slow, deliberate smile, and reached carefully into his pocket. When he removed it – without Harry’s real self moving in any way – within the Mirror-self’s palm lay a small, blood-red stone. The Mirror-self winked, and carefully place the Philosopher’s Stone back into his pocket.

Harry’s heart was beating faster than it ever had before. He forced his fingers to keep still, and instead clenched the muscles of his thigh – and felt the sharp lines of the Stone in his pocket press onto his leg. The Philosopher’s Stone was in his pocket. The Elixir of Life was in his pocket. Oh God-

“What is it?” Quirrell demanded, snapping Harry from his daze. “What do you see?”

Harry kept his face blank. “I’m shaking hands with Dumbledore. I’ve won the House Cup.”

“He lies,” the harsh voice interrupted.

“Tell the truth!” Quirrell stepped forward threateningly. “What do you see?”

“Let me speak to him.”

Quirrell took two steps back. “Master, you are not strong enough.”

“I have strength enough for this.”

Harry was confused. He could think of one man whose voice that may be, but where was he? He got his answer when Quirrell finished unwrapping his large purple turban, revealing-

“Ugh,” Harry couldn’t stop himself from making a noise of disgust. There was a face on the back of Quirrell’s head. An actual face. What the Hell? Harry didn’t recognise it – pale, nose-less, and snake-like as it was – but he could guess.

“Hadrian Potter,” the Dark Lord hissed, stretching out from Quirrell’s skull. Harry tried not to retch. “We meet again.”

“Voldemort,” Harry said. He paused, and then continued honestly: “I wasn’t expecting this.”

“Yes,” Voldemort replied in his raspy, nails-on-chalkboard attempt at a voice. “You see what I have become? See what I must do to survive? Live off another. A mere parasite.” Disgust coloured his tone. “Unicorn blood can sustain me, but it cannot give me a body of my own. But there is something that can. Something, that conveniently enough, lies in your pocket.”

Harry clenched his hands into fists behind his back and twisted them together to keep himself from running. Instead, he walked slowly around the Mirror, putting the sheet of glass and metal between him and what remained of the Dark Lord. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

“You have to know I’m not just going to hand it over, right?” he said, conversationally.

Voldemort hissed. “Don’t be a fool. Why suffer a horrific death when you can join me and live?”

Harry paused. “Join you?”

“Yes,” Voldemort rasped as invitingly as a horrific face on the back of a skull could be. “Join me, Hadrian.”

Harry met his eyes around the Mirror. “You killed my parents. I have a good memory. That means I’m not great at forgiveness.”

“Ah, but together, you and I could return your parents to this world, Hadrian.” Voldemort smiled, strange and horrible and full of teeth. “We could bring them back. All I ask is for one thing in return. You see Hadrian, there is no good or evil in this world. There is only power, and those too weak to seek it. Together, we will do extraordinary things.” His voice was getting desperate. “Just give me the stone!”

Harry shook his head. There was an anger running beneath his skin that was foreign and fierce, and he did not want to hold it back. Not while the man who had taken his mother and father from him stood just feet away.

“How to put this simply,” Harry tilted his head, voice shaking with anger. “No.”

Voldemort snarled. “Kill him!”

Quirrell turned and started forward, hands outstretched. Harry shoved the Mirror, knocking it into the parasite. It teetered dangerously, nearly falling, but Harry wasn’t watching because it hadn’t slowed Quirrell for long, in fact, in just seconds Quirrell’s hands were up to him, were on his throat, and he was falling to the ground and he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t breathe-

Harry lifted his hands to Quirrell’s, desperately trying to pry Quirrell’s hands off his neck. But then there is smoke, everywhere, and it is originating from the professor’s hands.

Quirrell stumbled backwards, screaming in pain, but Harry wasn’t done. He had found his weapon, he would damn well use it. Stumbling forward, Harry lifted his hands to Quirrell’s head, putting one on Voldemort’s face and one on Quirrell’s, watching with a vengeful grin as the professor and Dark Lord screeched and disintegrated, until with one last press of Harry’s palms the thing that was Quirinus Quirrell fell into ash.

Harry staggered backwards. His vision was hazy and fading, but as he turned around he thought he saw Headmaster Dumbledore staring at him from the entryway, something like worry and disgust on his face.

Chapter Text

Harry woke in a white room. It was the sterile scent piercing his nose rather than anything he saw that let him recognise Hogwarts’ Hospital Wing. There was a large selection of chocolates and sweets by his bedside and, most strangely, the smiling form of Albus Dumbledore.

“Headmaster?” Harry pushed himself up in the bed, wincing slightly at the ache in his muscles.

“Good afternoon, Hadrian,” Dumbledore greeted. His blue eyes twinkled brightly.

Harry looked up at him cautiously as his memory returned. “Did I… kill Professor Quirrell? Or Voldemort?”

Dumbledore’s twinkle dimmed slightly. “Ah, well. Quirinus had his life taken from him by Voldemort when he was possessed – so no, you did not kill him.”

“And Voldemort?”

“There are many ways evil can return to the world, Hadrian. Unfortunately, I do not doubt that Voldemort will find one of them so that he may revive himself once again.”

Harry looked down at his hands. He had done nothing but postpone the inevitable, then.

His eyes widened all of a sudden as he remembered something. “Are my friends okay? Draco and Blaise and Neville and Hermione?”

“They’re just fine, Hadrian, just fine indeed,” Dumbledore reassured him. The twinkle had returned full force. “And of course, what happened down in the dungeons between you and Professor Quirrell is a complete secret – so naturally, the whole school knows.”

The old wizard smiled genially. Harry did not return the gesture.

“What about the Stone?” he asked.

“The Stone has been destroyed. Nicholas and I both agreed it was for the best.”

“So he’ll die, then,” Harry murmured. He didn’t know Flamel, obviously, but he had an appreciation for genius, and anyone who could create the Elixir of Life in stone form had to be a genius.

“He and his wife have enough Elixir to set their affairs in order. But yes, they will die.”

Harry nodded. Everything and everyone had to die sometime. He had seen enough to know that.

“What about the Mirror, sir?” Harry asked eventually, after a long moment of silence. “Why did it let me have the Stone and not Quirrell?”

“Ah,” Dumbledore sat up straighter, his smile widening. “You see, only a person who wanted to find the Stone – find it, but not use it, would be able to get it. That was one of my more brilliant ideas. And between you and me, that’s saying something.” He let out a chuckle.

Harry remained sombre. “When I touched him, he seemed to burn. Do you know why that is, sir?”

Dumbledore leaned forward to pat his knee gently. “Yes, Hadrian. It was because of your mother. She sacrificed herself for you, and that kind of act leaves a mark.”

Harry’s fingers twitched towards his lightning bolt scar, but the Headmaster shook his head.

“No, no. This kind of mark cannot be seen. It lives in your very skin.”

Harry raised one eyebrow as politely as he could, and waited.

“Love, Hadrian. It is love.” He stood then, and moved over to the table of sweets. “Ah! Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. I was most unfortunate in my youth to come across a vomit flavoured one, and since then I have lost my liking for them. But I think I could be safe with a nice toffee…” He tossed the sweet in his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. “Mm. Alas. Earwax.”

Harry had stopped paying attention the moment he started talking about the sweets. He was too busy thinking about what Dumbledore had said. Love had saved him? Harry loved his mother, or at least the memory of her, and from the way he remembered her he knew she had loved him too, but love wasn’t magic. Love was strong, he was sure, but it couldn’t physically save a life the way Harry had been saved from the Killing Curse. That just didn’t make logical sense.

Unbeknownst to Harry, while he was lost in thought, Albus Dumbledore was watching him with shrewd blue eyes and an evaluating stare. Plans were rearranged that day, though none but Dumbledore knew this – and none but Dumbledore would know for many more years yet.

 

Harry’s friends visited him in the Hospital Wing just minutes after the Headmaster had left.

“We were waiting for him to leave,” Daphne told him in a conspiratorial whisper, perching elegantly on a cleared out spot on his bedside table. “Everyone knows he hates us Slytherins.”

“He’s the Headmaster,” Hermione huffed. “He can’t have a bias.”

Daphne flicked her blonde hair back. “No one asked you, mu- Granger.”

“Guys! Play nice,” Tracey glared at them both, before turning a gentle smile on Harry. “How’re you doing, Hadrian? Draco and Blaise told us what happened.”

Harry shrugged. “I’ve been worse. Where are Draco and Blaise, by the way? And Neville and Theodore?” He peered through his circle of friends, but couldn’t find the four.

Tracey glanced at the others quickly. “They’re just setting something up, they’ll be here soon.”

“So, Hadrian,” Millicent interrupted before Harry could ask anything, flopping across his legs. “We heard you killed Professor Quirrell.”

“Millicent!”

“It was just a question, Tracey.”

“Plus, we really want to know,” Pansy whined, sitting on the edge of his bed to lean against Millicent.

“You don’t have to answer that, Hadrian,” Tracey told him apologetically.

Harry grinned back at her. “It’s fine. No, I didn’t kill anyone, not really. But, when I touched Quirrell, his skin got all burned and kind of crumbled, it was pretty cool!”

“Sweet!” Millicent exclaimed.

“Ew!” Daphne cringed. “Gross, Hadrian.”

Pansy laughed excitedly. “Oh come on, Daph, that’s awesome!”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m with Greengrass on this one,” Hermione grimaced.

Daphne looked scandalised at the thought, while Hermione just looked disgusted – whether with herself or with Daphne, Harry didn’t know, but he, Millicent, Pansy, and Tracey all burst out laughing at once.

“Don’t laugh!” Daphne shrieked. “This is a travesty!”

Harry just cackled louder.

The missing four arrived not long after – and they brought a gift.

The giant cake was met with cheers, and then laughter as the slightly shaky lettering became clear: CONGRATULATIONS: YOU SURVIVED.

The letters glittered and moved over the surface of the cake, clearly enchanted, until the message was muddled and misspelled. Harry thought it was the most amazing thing he’d ever seen.

“Welcome back, Potter,” said Blaise. His smirk was casual, but there was something in his eyes that Harry thought might have been relief. Relief that he was safe – that they all were.

“Let me guess,” Harry smiled. “Your idea?”

Blaise just shrugged. “Maybe.”

“It was,” Neville told him. He seemed a touch more confident than usual – or maybe that was just his grin. “But we needed Nott to do the enchantment, because Hermione wouldn’t, and Zabini made Malfoy decorate.”

“My parents are dentists, they would cry if they saw me making a cake!” Hermione explained with a huff.

“You didn’t need to make it, Granger, just enchant part of it,” Blaise rolled his eyes.

Harry wasn’t listening. Instead, he beamed at Draco, but the blond boy still looked sombre. Harry’s smile softened into something gentler. Draco, finally, smiled back.

“Thank you guys,” Harry said. “All of you, really.”

“Don’t get sappy on us, Potter,” Blaise raised one eyebrow.

Pansy rolled her eyes. “Shut up, Blaise. We all know you’re soft on Hadrian, anyway.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“It’s no problem, Hadrian,” Tracey interrupted. “Really.”

“After all, what else are friends for but to give you stuff?” Daphne said haughtily.

Hermione reached forward to give Harry a sweet smile and a squeeze on the arm. “We’re here for you, Harry. Whatever you need.”

Harry was stuck somewhere between passing out from shock and bursting from the flood of warm happiness in his chest. He had friends that cared about him. He’d never had that before – but now here they were. He knew he wouldn’t trade them for the world.

“Harry.”

Harry looked up at Draco’s quiet voice. The other boy was standing by the bed, looking more vulnerable than Harry had ever seen him.

“Yeah, Draco?”

“Don’t ever do that to me again.”

Harry gave a half-smile. “I’ll try not to.”

Draco sighed. “I suppose that will have to do,” he said, and gave Harry a hug.

 

Harry was released from the Hospital Wing that very evening, and not long after came the last day of school. The Great Hall, to Harry’s delight, was decorated in green and silver.

“Good job everyone!” Gemma was saying from the senior end of the Slytherin table. “Seven years running – we are officially awesome!”

Harry laughed at her version of congratulations, and turned back to where Pansy and Millicent were in yet another argument about nicknames. Around the table, Daphne was explaining witches’ fashion to an amused Blaise; Tracey and Theodore were exchanging lists of books for the other to read; Vince and Greg were attempting to shovel as much food into their mouths as possible before they had to leave for the train; and Draco was-

Oh.

Draco was staring at Harry.

“Are you alright?” Draco asked, worriedly. “Do you want to check in with Madam Pomfrey before we leave?”

Harry laughed. “I’m fine, Draco, really. Promise you’ll write?”

“Of course,” Draco said, before pausing. “Are you really okay though? After everything?”

Harry simply smiled at him, wide and genuine and at peace. “Do you know, Draco – I’ve never been better.”