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Silver Trinkets

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“Hogwarts too?” the platinum blonde boy asked as Madam Malkin pulled a long cloak over Harry’s head and began pinning it to the right size.

“Yes,” said Harry. This boy was the first person his age that he’d met in the wizarding world, and it wasn’t until then that he’d realized how desperately he wanted to make friends. He paused for just a moment before deciding to introduce himself, speaking just as the boy opened his mouth to say something else. “I’m Harry Potter.”

“Really?” The boy stared at him in disbelief for a moment. Harry nodded, but his only response was more gaping. After a moment he glanced up to Harry’s forehead before stammering, “Do… you really… have the- the…” he gestured to his own forehead and Harry couldn’t help but smile at the flabbergasted boy. He lifted his hair out of the way and the other boy gasped in shock.

“I’ve read all about you!” An excited voice cut in from behind them.

The blonde boy was so surprised by the sudden appearance of the voice that he jumped sharply and yelped, toppling off the stool and tearing his robes as he hit the ground.

“I’m so sorry!” the voice shouted as its owner—a girl about the same age as the boys—revealed herself. She rushed over to help the boy up. He was red in the face and clearly embarrassed, but he stood up proudly and tried to remain dignified. “I didn’t mean to scare you! I just got so excited.”

The witch who’d been attending his robes clucked her tongue at him in exasperation. “Mr. Malfoy,” she sighed, waving the piece of torn fabric in her hand at him. “We were almost done. Now we’ll need to start over.”

“Sorry,” the girl apologized again, this time to the tailor. Another tailor, this one a wizard, approached the girl and set another stool near the boys, guiding her to stand on it while he fitted her robes. “I have read all about you, though,” she continued, smiling wide up at Harry.

“They’ve written books about me?” he asked curiously.

“Oh yes! Quite a few, though a I haven’t read all of them of course. I did read about you in ‘Modern Magical History’ and ‘The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts’ and ‘Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century.’ Those were just a couple of the books I picked up a few weeks ago for a bit of background reading. That’s why I had to come back today. I spent so much time picking out books that I didn’t have time for much of anything else.”

She said all this very fast, and both Harry and the blonde boy—Malfoy—bore identical dazed expressions just from trying to keep up with her.

“I’m Hermione Granger, by the way,” she added on as an afterthought.

“I’m really in all of those books?” Harry asked. Despite his experience in the Leaky Cauldron, he could still barely believe all of this fame business. The idea of him being written about in books was incredible.

“Didn’t you know? It-”

“That’s right!” Malfoy cut in before Hermione got too carried away. “They said you were raised by muggles,” he frowned pensively at the thought. “What must that have been like?”

Harry frowned back at him. “Terrible,” he answered shortly, not particularly wanting to talk about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his relatives.

“I’m not surprised,” Malfoy offered him a pitying smile, but Hermione looked a bit put out by the comments.

“Well, they’re not all bad,” Harry quickly amended. “It’s just my family. They’re… the worst.” That was the best he could think of without getting into any details.

“Muggles are all just so different from our kind,” Malfoy began, scrunching his nose in distaste. Before he could continue, this time Hermione cut him off.

“They’re not actually that different,” she explained.

“Of course they are,” Malfoy argued. “They don’t have magic, we do.” He said it as if it were obvious, just barely avoiding rolling his eyes at her.

“Actually, that’s not quite true. Some muggles do have a bit of magic in them.”

“And how do you figure that, young lady?” Another voice added to the fray as a tall man with long platinum blonde hair and a regal air about him approached their group. Judging by the similar appearance and the way Malfoy looked up at him, it seemed clear that it was the boy’s father. He had a bit of a condescending smirk on his face as he looked upon Hermione as if he pitied the poor, confused child.

“Well,” she began, standing up straight and speaking directly to the man. “I read about it in a few books I got the other day. You see, I was thinking that it doesn’t make any sense at all for a person to have magic, if neither of their parents did. It just seems impossible for it to come about naturally-”

“Indeed,” the man replied quietly, before allowing her to continue.

“So I bought some books on magical genetics to see how it works, and it turns out that it’s really not that simple. In fact, most people—even muggles—have at least a little bit of magic in them. But just having a little bit doesn’t make you a witch or a wizard. You have to have a certain amount of it in order to be able to use your magic.

“Each person gets genes from each of their parents, and it’s possible to inherit all of your parents’ magical genes, or some, or even none of them. So depending on how much each parent has, and how much they pass on, it’s possible for two people with only a little bit of magic to have a child that has a lot. That’s how you get muggleborns.

“I don’t recall the numbers exactly, I’d have to read the books over again, but for example: Say it takes 50 percent of magical genes in order be a witch or wizard. That means if you have one person with 48 percent magical genes and one person with 35 percent magical genes, then you’ll have 2 muggles. But if they have a child, they can pass on any number of those magical genes. So if the first parent passes on 40 of their 50 percent, and the second one passes on 30 of theirs, then their child will have 70 percent magical genes. And there you have a muggleborn witch. Or wizard.

“It also works the other way. You can have 2 parents who both have 70 percent magical genes, but if each parent only passes on 20 percent, then their child will only have 40 percent, and not be able to use their magic, making them a muggle. Or a squib, I suppose.”

“Interesting…” The elder Malfoy muttered, looking just this side of utterly gobsmacked.

“It is, isn’t it?” Hermione rambled on, continuing her lecture. “Really, it doesn’t actually make much sense otherwise, but apparently, most wizards and witches don’t know this. They think it’s as simple as pureblood, halfblood, and muggleborn. But it’s all so very much more complicated and interesting. It’s a shame more focus isn’t put into magical genetics. It’s not even a subject to be learned at Hogwarts-”

“What did you say your name was?” the man interrupted her.

“Oh! I’m Hermione Granger,” she introduced herself again, reaching a hand out to shake.

“Lucius Malfoy,” he shook her hand delicately before gesturing to his son. “I see you’ve met my son Draco, and this is…?” He looked over to Harry, but Draco spoke up before he did.

“This is Harry Potter!” He said excitedly. Mr. Malfoy looked slightly taken aback, but recovered quickly, reaching a hand to shake Harry’s.

“My my, Mr. Potter. Quite the surprise. Pleasure to meet you.” he asked.

“You as well,” Harry mumbled, giving the man a firm shake.

Madam Malkin pulled the robe over Harry’s head, declaring him all done. “Thanks,” he smiled at her gratefully, then followed her to pay and give his information for delivery.

As he stepped away, he could hear Mr. Malfoy ask Hermione where she had learned all the information she’d told them and the girl began to happily rattle off a list of books she’d purchased, as well as their authors.

Not long after he finished, Harry was joined by the Malfoys to pay, then Hermione a few moments after that.

“Where are you all off to, next?” Draco asked the other 2 children as they gathered outside the front door.

“Not sure,” Harry answered, looking at his list. “This was my first stop, so I guess I still need everything else.”

“My parents just told me to meet them at the bookstore when I’m all finished, since they know I’ll wind up there eventually,” Hermione explained. It made sense. She was already proving to be quite the bookworm.

“Mr. Potter,” Mr. Malfoy asked, “If I may, who brought you to Diagon Alley today?”

“Oh, Hagrid did,” he answered happily. “He’s gone off to the Leaky Cauldron for a bit.” He peered into the crowd of people rushing by, not spotting the large man anywhere. Given his size, there was no way he would have missed him thundering over the crowd, so he figured he must still be inside.

“The Hogwarts gamekeeper?” Mr. Malfoy asked, a look of distaste on his face. Harry nodded and he frowned. “I should be insulted on your behalf. An important person such as yourself shouldn’t have been left to such a simpleton as that.”

“I think he’s brilliant,” Harry defended, a little offended that Mr. Malfoy thought so low of someone he was beginning to think of as his friend.

“Yes, I’m sure he’s nice enough,” Mr. Malfoy blew it off. “But you’re a very important person, Mr. Potter. If the headmaster cared enough, he should have sent someone a bit more capable. There are plenty of members of the staff that are qualified enough, yet he chose the person who’d been expelled from school as a third year for harboring a monster that killed another student. Hardly a responsible choice.”

Both Harry and Hermione gasped in horror at the statement.

“Surely, he didn’t,” Hermione asked.

“I’m afraid he did. I’m on Hogwarts’ Board of Governors. So while I wasn’t there at the time, I’ve been told all about it.”

“But, why would Dumbledore keep someone like that around the students?” Harry asked, not wanting to believe such a thing about Hagrid.

“Yes, well, he’s always had a bit of a soft spot for… misfits of sorts. A bit unwise, if I may say so myself, but he hasn’t always been the best decision maker.”

“Lots of people think Dumbledore is really powerful,” Draco added, “but these days he’s just a barmy old man. Anyways, you should come with us to Ollivander’s. Mother is there picking me out a wand right now.”

“I’ve got mine,” Hermione added merrily, whipping it out of her pocket. “I’ve been practicing with it already.”

Harry looked at it almost jealously. That’s definitely what he wanted to get next. “I’d love to. I can’t wait to get mine!”

Mr. Malfoy led the group down the road to Ollivander’s where they met a very beautiful woman with fair blonde hair and silver eyes that matched Draco’s exactly. She smiled at her husband, son and his friends politely before introducing herself as Narcissa, then Mr. Ollivander.

The wandmaker recognized Hermione right away. “Ten and three quarters of an inch, vine with a dragon heartstring core,” he greeted her.

“Yes,” she answered gleefully. “I was here just a few weeks ago. I’m here with my new friends this time.”

“Very good. Well now,” he turned to Draco. “Your mother picked a few out for you Mr. Malfoy, let’s see if she’s got as good an eye as she hopes.” He reached behind him to grab one of the 4 wands on the counter there, and handed it to Draco handle first. “Give it a whirl,” he suggested.

Draco did so, with no reaction. The wandmaker scrunched his nose disapprovingly and snatched it out of his hand, quickly replacing it with another from the counter. This one sparked a bit at the end, making Draco smile hopefully, but Ollivander didn’t seem impressed. He swapped it for another, but Narcissa stopped him and gestured to the last one on the counter. He reluctantly switched them, then handed it off to Draco.

As soon as he wrapped his hand around it, Draco broke out into a satisfied smile. He waved the wand in the air and a burst of silver and green sparks shot out and soared toward the roof before crackling as they dimmed out like fireworks.

“That’ll be the one,” Ollivander stated, mildly impressed. “Ten-inch hawthorn with a unicorn hair core.”

Narcissa sported a rather smug smile. She clearly knew a bit more about wands than the average person. Certainly more than the wandmaker had been anticipating.

Draco made sure that his parents waited for Harry to get his wand as well. It took far longer than it did for Draco, or even Hermione. She was sure to inform him after Ollivander had set aside the tenth wand.

“Hmm,” the old man mumbled to himself as he pondered his next choice. “There’s a chance… Hmm, perhaps… It’ll be a long shot, but maybe not that long after all.” He looked along his shelves, searching for a specific box, clucking his tongue until he found it. When he did, he gave the Malfoy’s a quick glance before heading straight to Harry, holding the box out for him.

Harry reached to take this wand, somehow sensing that it must be special. It warmed in his hand as his magic reacted to it positively.

“Go on,” Ollivander encouraged, a pleased twinkle in his eyes.

Harry raised the wand above his head and pulled it down in a long sweeping motion. A flurry of multi-colored sparks shot from the end, casting a show of rainbow lights reflecting on the walls.

“Very good!” Narcissa cheered for him politely, while Draco and Hermione clapped.

“Curious…” Ollivander mumbled. “Very curious.” His eyes were darting between Harry and Lucius, and Harry felt like he was missing something.

“What’s curious,” he asked.

“It just that this wand,” he gestured to the wand Harry hadn’t realized he was already clutching possessively. “Eleven inches, holly and phoenix feather, nice and supple… It has a brother.”

“A brother?” Harry lowered his eyebrows in confusion. “How does a wand have a brother?”

“You see,” Ollivander explained, “the phoenix that provided a feather for your wand provided another, but just the one. I fear, I must admit that I made the other wand as well.” He hesitated for a moment before gesturing toward Harry’s forehead. “The one that gave you that scar…”

Harry looked down at the wand curiously, knowing what that meant. His wand was related to Voldemort’s.

“I suppose that means we ought to expect great things from that wand, Mr. Potter,” Ollivander continued. “For its brother did great things as well. Terrible, terrible things, but great nonetheless.”

When Harry looked back up at Ollivander, it was to see him looking at Mr. Malfoy. Though Mr. Malfoy appeared to be pointedly ignoring him.

Harry was definitely missing something.

Narcissa herded their group to the till so they could take turns paying, then led them out the door and towards the apothecary. Harry allowed Narcissa to gather his and Draco’s potions ingredients while he trailed Hermione and Draco around the store. They pointed out and named all of the interesting things he saw and took turns explaining what they could be used for—or what they thought they could be used for in a few cases.

Seeing how much the others knew, Harry couldn’t help but feel rather underprepared for the school year to come.

“You both know so much already,” he mumbled as the other 2 marveled at a basket of silver unicorn horns for 21 galleons each. “I don’t know anything. I bet I’ll be the worst one in our class.”

“Don’t worry, Harry,” Hermione soothed. “There’ll be loads of other muggleborns in school with us that didn’t know about the magical world before. They’ll all do just fine. You’ll just have to study up. You can learn anything from the right books.” Draco nodded in agreement, but the expression on his face looked skeptical at best.

“It isn’t very fair though,” he complained. “I mean, he spent his whole life not knowing about magic. Then they’re going to put him in Hogwarts with us purebloods who have been raised in it? How can he possibly be expected to keep up when he doesn’t know anything about it?”

Hermione frowned at Draco a bit. “Well, it is unfair, but it’s not like it’s his fault. He didn’t choose to be raised by muggles.”

“Still though,” Draco waved a unicorn horn through the air as he spoke. “Even if all that stuff you said earlier is true, it doesn’t change the fact that wizards have their own culture and history that he knows nothing about. How is he supposed to be a proper wizard if he doesn’t understand any of that?”

Hermione huffed at Draco in frustration. “He’s got magic, just like you and me or anybody else. All he has to do is learn to use it at Hogwarts, and he’ll already be a proper wizard. That’s all that’s important. He’ll have plenty of time to study up on all the rest.”

“I dunno…”

“Besides! He’s already defeated You Know Who as a baby! I think that there is proof enough of how good a wizard he’ll be. You heard Ollivander. He’s destined for great things.”

“Alright, alright. Fair enough.” Draco raised his hands up in surrender before dropping the horn back into the basket with the others.

“Hey guys,” Harry interrupted. He’d been pretending to ignore their argument, but really he’d heard every word. Now, he just wanted them to drop it, so he changed the subject. “What’s an acro-man-tula?” he asked. He lifted a ladle out of a barrel labeled “Acromantula Leg Fur,” and watched as the tiny hairs fell while he emptied it out slowly.

“Giant, man eating spiders,” Hermione supplied helpfully as she approached, examining the hairs as well.

Harry put the ladle back, frowning as he contemplated exactly how big a spider would have to be in order to be able to eat a man.

Draco started in on a story he’d been told as a child about a man who fought a whole army of acromantulas. In minutes, he had all three of them laughing at the visual of a man attempting to tickle a spider as a distraction when the elder Malfoys beckoned them over.

Harry gratefully excepted the ingredients Narcissa picked out for him, then they headed to the next shop for parchment and quills, then one a few doors down for more equipment.

Hermione laughed at Harry when he suggested she get a solid gold cauldron, and Draco thought a solid silver one would be perfect to match his eyes. They all three wound up with pewter.

After debating cost vs effectiveness of glass phials vs crystal, they’d all decided crystal would be best. But when Draco accidentally dropped a crystal one and it shattered, they all three rushed over to get glass ones. They were much sturdier, and cost efficient after all. They were also far enough away from the scene of the crime that if they acted innocent enough no one would be suspicious.

They ended up with a nice set of scales each, and 3 different types of telescopes. Draco’s was the most expensive, but Hermione’s was the largest, and Harry’s had the most extra features. Overall, they were each satisfied with their individual hauls.

The last place for Harry to go was to the bookstore, Flourish and Blotts, but Draco knew Hermione would have to leave after that, so he prolonged the inevitable by dragging their whole group into Magical Menagerie to look at the pets.

Hermione cooed at a basket of puffskeins while Draco examined a raven as it attempted to pick the lock on its cage. Harry moved to another corner of the shop where there were rows and rows of tanks with all manner of reptiles and amphibians in them.

In a tank about shoulder height, Harry saw a long black snake warming itself under a lamp. Are you very warm under there? He asked it.

Yes… The snake replied. What are you?

I’m a person. I’m Harry.

You are a strange snake, Person Harry. None of the other person snakes can talk to me.

Really? I thought all kinds of wizards would be able to speak to animals.

No. I have been here for at least 2 hibernations. You are the only person snake I have been able to speak to. Only other snakes can talk to me.

Do you have a name?

The wrinkly person snake calls me Black Adder. The snake lifted its head and gestured to the old woman behind the counter who was telling Hermione about one of the cats in a cage behind her. Or sometimes, it calls me Her.

So, you’re a girl?

I suppose.

Do you lay eggs?

I have not, but I could. Do you lay eggs, Person Harry?

No. People don’t lay eggs. But if they did, I wouldn’t because I’m not a girl.

“Harry?” Harry jumped at the sound of his name. He hadn’t heard Mr. Malfoy come up behind him. “Are you speaking to that snake?”

“Oh! Yeah, I suppose I am.”

“And you can understand it?”

Harry nodded as Draco approached the pair of them, wide eyed. “Wow!” he whispered.

“Is that strange?” Harry asked. “Black Adder said she’s never met another person who could speak to snakes, but I thought all kinds of wizards would be able to do it.”

“No, Harry,” Mr. Malfoy shook his head, eyebrows raised in a more muted version of the wondrous expression his son wore. “Not many wizards are capable of that at all.”

“Oh…” Harry frowned at himself. Great, he was even weirder than he thought.

“It is a rather impressive skill,” Mr. Malfoy encouraged, seeing the strange look on his face. “Only some of the most powerful wizards in our time have been Parselmouths.”

“Parselmouth?” Harry didn’t recognize the word. Hermione answered him before Mr. Malfoy could, having just joined them and hearing the tail end of the conversation. Narcissa was right behind her.

“That’s a person who speaks Parseltongue,” she revealed. “Snake language.”

“It’s an inherited trait,” Mr. Malfoy continued. “It’s been thought that only members of the House of Gaunt are capable of.”

“Do you think he could be related to the Gaunts?” Draco asked his father, curiously. Harry had no idea who they were.

“Not likely,” Narcissa answered. “The Potters weren’t very near to the Gaunts on the family tree. They weren’t Sacred 28 regardless, so even if they were, it seems a bit strange that the gene hadn’t been diluted enough by the time it got to young Harry, here.”

Parseltongue? House of Gaunt? Sacred 28? Harry kept hearing new words and he had no idea what they were talking about. He was starting to see what Draco had meant earlier. He was completely in over his head with all this wizard stuff. He was beginning to feel overwhelmed.

“I have an idea!” Draco piped up. “Father, you should buy Harry that snake!”

“No!” Harry disagreed immediately. “You don’t need to do that.”

“Nonsense!” Draco insisted. “You said your muggle family was terrible anyways. I bet this snake would be better company than they would. And you can take him to school with us.”

“She’s a girl,” Harry corrected absently. “But really, I can’t accept. I don’t know what the Dursleys would do if I came home with a snake. They’d probably try to kill her. I wouldn’t want that.”

Draco frowned, but gave up. He wouldn’t want them to kill Harry’s pet either. “They’re horrible people,” he muttered in distaste.

“You’re telling me…” Harry agreed. “Come on, let’s get to the book store.” Reluctantly, their group filed out of the pet store and headed further down the road toward Flourish and Blotts, where Hermione immediately took over.

She led them expertly through the shelves and to all of the books they needed for class, stopping once or twice by some other books that she found rather interesting. The trio stopped at a large tome titled “Hogwarts: A History” and they flipped through it excitedly, skimming pages and picking up little tidbits about the school they’d be attending.

It didn’t take long before Hermione decided that it would be her new favorite book. However, when she looked at the cost, she saw she didn’t have enough for it, having spent just a bit over her limit when she splurged on her telescope and scales.

“Oh, well,” she lamented. “Next time, then. I’ve got everything I need anyways. I suppose I should find my parents now.”

“Before you go, Ms. Granger,” Mr. Malfoy stopped her. “I’d love it if you could show me those books you were telling me about earlier.”

“Absolutely!” she exclaimed merrily. As she led him to the section on magical genetics, she started in on another speech about how interesting the whole topic was, and how she was thinking she should petition the school to have it as a class, at least for the upper years.

While she was otherwise occupied, Draco was able to convince his mother to buy “Hogwarts: A History” for her, as a surprise. He felt it only seemed fair that they buy both of his new friends something. Even though Harry couldn't exactly accept the snake Draco had offered.

Hermione really did seem smart and full of interesting facts and details. Though she talked a lot, neither boy found it particularly annoying as many others would. Both Harry and Draco could see themselves having a meaningful friendship with her.

They brought all of their things to the till and soon, were laden down with bags. Narcissa saw Harry struggling with carrying all of his things, so she placed a lightening charm on his bags.

“Thanks, so much,” he sighed in relief.

Hermione returned with Mr. Malfoy, who was carrying a rather large stack of books. A quick glance showed them all to be on magical genetics, although Harry caught the word “Potions” on one of them as he set them on the counter. Harry wasn’t too sure how potions could be related to genetics, but he figured the purebloods would know far more than he did. So it probably made perfect sense to them.

Hermione was thrilled about the book and even gave Draco a hug for it. She was still holding the book as she did so, nearly crushing him with it from how hard she squeezed. Fortunately, it only served to make Harry and Draco laugh.

After exchanging addresses and promises to write before the summer was over, Hermione took her leave and headed off to the other side of the book shop to track down her parents.

The Malfoys accompanied Harry outside, in search of Hagrid. He was spotted easily, towering over the crowd as he made his way over.

At first, it appeared as if he didn’t see Harry. He was glaring in the direction of the Malfoys, but continued walking as if he intended to go past them. Finally, he spotted Harry standing with them, then his glare turned into a shock, then quickly shifted into suspicion as he changed course to approach them.

“And wha’ ar’ you folk doin’ ‘ere wiv Mr. Potter?” Hagrid asked loudly, drawing the attention of passerby.

“We were simply helping him collect his things,” Mr. Malfoy answered calmly. “Since he’d been left completely alone in a new place he’d never been before. We figured he could use some help from a responsible adult.” The way he put emphasis on the word responsible made it clear that he didn’t think Hagrid fit the bill.

Hagrid definitely caught on. “Why you-” he started, but cut himself off. “Cadswallop!” he crowed, turning red in the face. “He was doin’ jus’ fine, I’m sure! You lot are up to sumfin! I know it!”

Remembering what Mr. Malfoy had said about Hagrid being expelled, Harry couldn’t help but feel a bit cautious around the giant man. He hadn’t seemed threatening at all, but if a creature he’d been caring for had killed a student, he clearly didn’t have the best of judgement either.

“Something such as what?” Mr. Malfoy rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Helping him buy his school supplies? How very diabolical.” Draco snickered at his father’s sarcasm.

This only made Hagrid even angrier and Harry could see a crowd gathering. Honestly, he wasn’t even sure what it was that the Malfoys had done to elicit such anger. Hagrid had been the one who approached them as if looking to start a fight.

“Let’s just go, Hagrid,” Harry stepped between the enormous man and the blonde family, trying to diffuse the situation. “There’s no point fighting. I’ve got everything I need now, anyways. Let’s just get out of here.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Hagrid didn’t look the least bit happy about it, but for Harry’s sake, he backed off.

“Bye.” Harry bid a somber farewell to the Malfoys before turning to lead Hagrid away.

“Be sure to write, like you promised!” Draco called out to him before he got too far away.

“He will do no such thing!” Hagrid roared back. He sounded so ferocious that many of the people nearby shouted and ducked out of his way in fear. Harry himself, was certain that he could feel the echo of his words vibrating in his ribs. Hagrid seemed terrifying in that moment and, for the first time in his company, Harry was actually a bit afraid of the man.

Harry didn’t know too much about Hagrid, but he definitely knew about adults being angry. Even if he wasn’t angry with Harry in particular, Harry knew from experience that his best bet was to shut his mouth and to keep it that way. So he remained in silence for the rest of his journey home.

He couldn’t even muster up the courage to ask him why it was he hated the Malfoys so much. They seemed like perfectly nice people to him.

The next morning at the Dursleys’ house, Harry was awakened bright and early by an insistent tapping on his bedroom window.

At first he thought he was in his cupboard again, and the tapping was his Aunt Petunia rousing him to prepare their breakfast as usual. But once he opened his eyes and recognized his surroundings, he was happy to note that there was a snowy white owl holding an envelope on his windowsill, asking to be let in.

Happily reminded that the day before had not in fact been a dream, he scampered over to the window in excitement and let the owl inside. She dropped the envelope on his bed, then landed on his headboard, examining the room curiously.

Harry rushed to open the letter, seeing right away that it was from Hagrid. He frowned a bit, having hoped it was from Draco or Hermione, but really he was just glad enough to have received owl post in the first place.

 

Dear Harry,

Sorry about getting so mad yesterday. I think I might have scared you. Them Malfoys just get me so riled up. They’re bad people, they are. I don’t want you having anything to do with them. Dumbledore had me bring you to the Dursleys to keep you safe from people like them. So just forget about them.

Anyways, I forgot to get you your birthday present yesterday, so here it is now. It’s the owl. You can take her with you to Hogwarts, and she’ll be right useful for sending your mail. I hope you like her.

Can’t wait for you start school. I also put your train ticket with this letter. Train leaves at 11am, September 1st from King’s Cross Station, Platform 9 ¾.

See you soon,

Rubeus Hagrid

 

Harry was grateful for the owl. She looked real pretty, and when he went over to pet her, she nipped his finger playfully.

Despite his appreciation for the new pet, Harry couldn’t help but get stuck on a few of the things that Hagrid said in his letter. For one, Hagrid insisted that the Malfoys were bad people, but gave no reason as to why. Harry couldn’t understand this. They’d been perfectly nice to him as soon as they met him. Narcissa even seemed to know a little bit about the Potters. Who knows what else they knew about his family.

From the way Harry saw it, Hagrid was being rather unfair toward them. He was the one who approached looking for a fight, and even then, the Malfoys hadn’t risen to the occasion. Narcissa and Draco were quiet, and Mr. Malfoy had maintained a perfectly level head while Hagrid was screaming at them for no reason. Hagrid had been the one in the wrong.

Draco had just wanted to be his friend, but Hagrid was the one being rude for no reason. The only thing Hagrid had to say on the matter was that Dumbledore wanted to protect Harry from people like them.

That brought Harry to another thing the letter had said. It said that Dumbledore was the one who sent Harry to live with the Dursleys. He couldn’t help but be a little indignant about that. He was certain he’d heard Hagrid mention that when he was ranting and raving at the cabin, but with the opportunity to think on it a little more, Harry realized the implications.

Dumbledore had known where he was this whole time. He’d been the one to send him there. He’d been checking up on him as well. He knew he was sleeping in the cupboard under the stairs. He knew the moment he’d been put into a different room. He’d been paying enough attention to be able to send Hagrid after him on the island out at sea. He’d even warned him of the difficulty he might have with the Dursleys.

That means that Dumbledore has known how he was living this whole time. He knew how the Dursleys had been mistreating him, and he left him there. He knew he was living in a cupboard, knew the Dursleys were keeping his identity from him, and he did nothing to stop it.

Hagrid said Dumbledore sent him there to protect him from people like the Malfoys. Well, the Malfoys had been perfectly kind to him. Far kinder in a few hours than the Dursleys had ever been in his entire 11 years of life. Why wasn’t Dumbledore concerned with protecting Harry from them?

Harry could feel himself shaking in frustration. This Dumbledore man was the reason for all of his problems, it seemed. Certainly there had to be hundreds of different places in the wizarding world he could have gone. How on earth could it have been fair for him to be stuck living through the abuse of the Dursleys?

In the back of his mind, he remembered Draco offhandedly calling Dumbledore a barmy old man. He also remembered Mr. Malfoy saying that he hadn’t always been the best decision maker. Just then, Harry couldn’t help but agree.

His fingers trembled in rage, bending the page of the letter until both his hands were clenched into fists and the parchment was nearly torn in two. He tossed it aside haphazardly and turned toward his school books to take his mind off his anger. Sitting around being upset wasn’t going to fix anything.

The next few weeks with the Dursleys were boring to say the least. They’d taken to completely ignoring him, going so far as to pretend like he wasn’t there, even if he was speaking directly to them. It was rather lonely, but thanks to his new owl—whom he named Hedwig—he was at least able to exchange letters with Draco and Hermione.

With the help of his school books and the purebloods, Harry was beginning to feel less overwhelmed with what was going on in the wizarding world. Draco had even taken to sending him clippings from “the Daily Prophet” so he could at least know the bare minimum of what was going on around him.

He also learned that Draco’s own Godfather was going to be their potions master at Hogwarts. Draco warned them that it didn’t mean he’d get any special treatment. He was a very stern man, and could be scary when he wanted to be.

The final weekend before it was time to leave for school, Draco invited Harry and Hermione to his home for a party. He cautioned them that it was going to be full of adults, so it wasn’t likely to be a very fun party, but Harry was excited to be able to spend some time with friends. Thanks to Dudley and his cohorts, Harry never had any friends before. So he was eager to have his first sleep over, despite being a little nervous being around so many witches and wizards. He was plenty excited to be able to spend a few extra nights away from Privet Drive regardless.

The Malfoys arranged to meet him at a park in Surrey that Friday afternoon, and they would return the following Monday. It was a good thing they’d picked that location. It was a park that Harry had walked to numerous times, so getting there required no work from the Dursleys. He wasn’t entirely sure they would have allowed him to go otherwise.

Technically they hadn’t allowed him to go at all, since they were still adamantly pretending he didn’t exist. However, with no response from asking, and after warning them multiple times before he left, no one had attempted to stop him. So, he figured that was the best he’d get.

Chapter Text

Malfoy Manor was far more extraordinary than Harry had ever predicted. He was still a bit nauseous after the apparition, but it wasn’t enough to take away the glory that was Malfoy Manor. The estate itself was impressive enough, with beautiful gardens filled with flowers and fountains, and a menagerie out back. The flock of albino peacocks milling about the property added a sense of whimsy about the place.

Inside, the home was ostentatious and a little intimidating. The cream white walls were filled with moving portraits of Malfoys of old. Some were snoozing. Others watched him with a careful eye as he followed Narcissa up the stairs. Intermittently, he would pass an expensive looking vase or a strange artifact displayed on a pedestal. There were so many rooms, Harry wasn’t even sure if he could count them all.

The stairs were lined with plush carpeting, and on the way up, Harry passed a crystal chandelier that was charmed to float in the air, with nothing to hold it in place. He couldn’t help but to stop and gape at it for a moment.

When they reached the 3rd floor, Narcissa said it was Draco’s floor. Harry couldn’t believe that Draco had an entire floor to himself. The walls on Draco’s floor were lined with images of landscapes and dragons. She pointed at the second door on the left, telling him that the room it led to was for Hermione. The first one to the left, was the playroom. Draco and Hermione ought to have been in there just now. The second door on the right was Draco’s room. Then they stopped at the first on the right and opened it. That one was for him.

“I hope you like it,” she smiled at Harry as he stepped inside. “It’s just a guest room, so it’s a little on the plain side, but there ought to be everything you need.”

The room was the size of the entire bottom floor at Privet Drive, possibly a bit larger. The carpet was the same sandy color as the one on the stairs. Matched with the ocean blue walls, white accessories, and large windows letting in lots of bright sunlight—the room had the perfect beachy feel.

“Feel free to set your things down, then you can head to the playroom with the others.”

Harry was speechless, so all he could do was nod as he continued drinking the room in.

The king sized bed was high enough off the ground that it had a step stool beside it, and the frame was made of painted white wood. The bed spread on it was very nearly the same color as the walls, with a pattern on it that resembled the ocean swell. They flowed forward and back, creating waves and white froth as the water silently crashed together. Around the bed, was a translucent white canopy drifting open and closed in the gentle breeze of the windows.

The whole thing was, for lack of a better word… magical.

Just as Narcissa was about to turn away and head back down stairs, Harry remembered his manners enough to force out a sincere “Thank you!”

He’d never seen anything like it and was absolutely astonished.

“Of course,” Narcissa dismissed it. “We just want you to feel right at home.”

“This is nothing like home,” Harry mumbled, eyes still round and shaking his head in disbelief.

“Which is a shame,” Narcissa sighed. “You deserve to have grown up like this.”

Harry thought she had no idea how much he wished he could have. Instead of saying that he tried to make light of it. “I think I did alright, though.”  No thanks to his relatives at all.

“If you say so,” Narcissa agreed, though sounding a little reluctant. “See you at dinner.” She waved to him quickly, then made her leave, leaving Harry standing in the room, still marveling.

Wanting to talk to Draco and Hermione in person again, Harry quickly shook himself out of it before setting his bag on the bed and heading to the playroom.

When he went inside, he received hugs from both Draco and Hermione, but was surprised to see that they weren’t the only ones in there. Draco quickly went around, and introduced Harry to the others in the room.

There was a pair of heavyset boys named Vincent Crabbe, and Gregory Goyle. A girl with long dark hair going all the way down her back named Pansy Parkinson. Another girl who was easily the tallest in the room named Millicent Bulstrode. A boy with milk coffee colored skin and light eyes named Blaise Zabini. A girl with thick blonde curls called Daphne Greengrass, and her younger sister with the same hair named Astoria. Then there was another boy who seemed to be sitting off to the side, away from the rest of them named Theodore Nott.

After introductions, they all immediately started bombarding Harry with questions about Voldemort and what it was like being famous, or what muggles were like and any other thing they could think of. Harry tried to answer them all as honestly, yet diplomatically as he could.

After about 20 minutes of this, Hermione was kind enough to save him, by steering the conversation toward Hogwarts and their excitement to start classes. This was a conversation Harry was more comfortable with and that he could join without feeling interrogated.

The majority of the others were set on Slytherin. Harry wasn’t surprised considering he knew them all to be proud purebloods. However, Daphne was certain she’d be in Ravenclaw. After a bit of complaining from Astoria, she insisted the younger girl would likely be Ravenclaw as well when her time finally came. Pansy was insistent that Crabbe and Goyle would be Hufflepuffs, which had the majority of them laughing until Crabbe flicked a strangely colored jelly bean at her head.

Hermione had the most diplomatic answer. She claimed she didn’t care which house she was in. They all had their own positive and negative qualities. Millicent chuckled at this, promising that she was headed straight to Hufflepuff with that attitude. Harry agreed with Hermione, though.

In the letters he’d exchanged with her, she told him all about the different houses. He supposed he could see why everyone was so against Hufflepuff. It didn’t seem anything particularly worthwhile, but he didn’t think it would be so terrible either.

“You’ll be Gryffindor for sure,” Theodore spoke up for the first time that night. “I mean, come on. You’re the Boy Who Lived. You couldn’t possibly be anything else.”

Pansy squinted her nose at Theodore pensively for a moment before nodding her head and looking back at Harry. “Yeah,” she started. “He’s probably right. You are the savior of the wizarding world and all. If that doesn’t scream brave Gryffindor, then nothing else does.”

“That’s too bad, Potter,” Blaise sighed dramatically. “I was just starting to like you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Draco asked, indignant in Harry's stead.

“Come on, Draco.” Millicent rolled her eyes. “You know there’s no way the Gryffindors will let Harry bleeding Potter hang around with the likes of us Slytherins once school starts.”

“Forget Gryffindors,” Daphne waved a dismissive hand through the air. “Dumbledore himself would probably forbid it. The old berk.”

“I dare him to try!” Draco argued. “Don’t worry about the old man. I’ll still hang out with you.” He nudged Harry in the shoulder playfully. “I mean, someone’s got to teach you how to be a proper wizard, after all.”

“True…” Harry fake mused, putting a finger on his chin. “Hey Hermione,” he turned to the girl suddenly. “You know anyone who could do that?”

Draco scoffed while the others laughed at him. He reached for the abandoned deck of exploding snap cards on the table beside him and tossed a handful of them on Harry’s head. The others in the room giggled as he jumped and shrieked in surprise when they exploded on him. In retaliation, Harry grabbed the rest of the deck and riffled the cards one handedly so they would shoot back at Draco and explode as they hit him.

Draco’s shocked screech as he ducked out of his seat away from the cards had Crabbe and Goyle in hysterics. Draco batted a few of the cards off his shirt and they landed on Pansy’s leg, causing more startled shouts as they exploded on her. She pulled a second deck off a shelf and threw a couple handfuls back at Draco.

A good number of them missed and went flying around the room, hitting the other unsuspecting occupants and dissolving the room into uproarious laughter and screams. In no time at all the playroom had turned into a battle field as everyone scrambled around for spare cards to fling at the others.

People were ducking for cover, hiding behind chairs, lamps, boxes of games, anything to avoid being caught in open fire.

They divided into 3 clear teams: Millicent, Blaise, Pansy, and Astoria vs Crabbe, Theodore, Daphne, Nott, and Goyle vs Hermione, Draco and Harry. When the others noticed how much they outnumbered Harry, Draco, and Hermione, they decided to team up against them and smash them into the dirt.

Exploding cards came cascading down on them in a hail fire from their spot behind the couch. Then Hermione suddenly had an idea. Draco and Harry were tossing back every single card they could get their hands on when Hermione whisper shouted at them.

“Wait! Stop!” She grabbed each of their arms, to halt their counter attacks. “Don’t throw the cards back! Just keep them!” she instructed.

“Why in Merlin’s name would we do that? They’re killing us!” Draco argued.

“Think about it!” Hermione explained, already gathering cards off the floor. “There’s only two decks of cards. Right now, they have most of them. And they’re throwing them at us!”

“Yeah! I know!” Harry shouted back, dodging a card that would have gone off on his forehead otherwise.

“If we don’t throw them back, eventually they’ll run out!” Hermione told them. “And then, where will all the cards be?”

Draco cracked a mischievous grin when he realized where she was going with this. “You’re a bloody genius, Hermione!” he complimented. She scoffed at him, then started working double time grabbing the fallen cards.

After a while, the barrage came to a stop and the room fell in silence. Between the 3 of them, it appeared as if they’d captured both decks, save only a few cards, if any.

“You guys ready to surrender?” Pansy called tauntingly as she led the group toward their couch.

“You’re way outnumbered,” Blaise warned, gesturing for the others to surround them. “Three against nine. There’s no way you’ll make it out alive.”

“Want to bet?” Hermione shouted back, barely concealing a laugh. She gestured to the boys that they’d jump out from behind the couch on 3.

“Come on, now,” Millicent teased. “Even Crabbe can count well enough to know that you lot are buggered.”

1…

“Go on,” Daphne joined the fray. “Just give it up. You’re done for, now.” Astoria could be heard giggling from somewhere behind her as they approached none too stealthily.

2…

“There’s no way out of it,” Theodore told them. The heavy clunking of footsteps came to a stop very near to their couch, and Hermione knew this was their shot.

3!

All at once, Draco, Harry, and Hermione stood from where they’d been crouching and—one at a time—they threw their cards rapid fire at the surrounding group. The once again quiet room exploded into screams and laughter and booms as Hermione and the boys made it rain like a hurricane upon the others.

They finally ran out of cards just in time for the playroom door to swing open with Narcissa and a pair of house elves standing amusedly in the doorway.

“Alright. That’s enough,” she called. Her voice hadn’t been particularly loud, but it rang out with such calm authority that it cut through the room and commanded instant silence. When all eyes were on her, Narcissa continued speaking. “I’m glad you’ve all been having fun, but Aunt Walburga is here and it is time to get cleaned up for dinner.” She gestured to the house elf to her left. “Tizzy here shall help you with anything that you might need to look presentable. Harry, if you’ll please come with me and Tidal.”

Harry nodded and dutifully followed her out into the hallway, then over to his room.

“Since I know you were raised by muggles,” she started explaining to him, “I’m certain that you won’t have any proper dress robes. So, I hope you won’t mind borrowing a pair of Draco’s. You’re a bit smaller than him, so these are a few years old, but I promise they’re in good condition. If you need any adjustments, Tidal will be happy to do so for you.” She gestured to the elf who was holding a few garments over his shoulder.

“Now,” she continued. “My Aunt Walburga is here. She’s a very traditional witch, and not particularly kind or patient. Most of the other children know her very well and, I’m sure, will have no problem letting you know that. I have warned her that you will be here and that she should be sensitive of that, but… She doesn’t take kindly to advice on the best of days and- well let’s just say she’s in a bit of a mood right now. The best way to avoid any of her wrath or disagreeable temperament is to maintain your best, most polite behavior. If anything should confuse you, or you’re not sure how you should best respond, look to Draco or Millicent. They’re very good examples, and are both Aunt Wally’s favorites.”

Harry nodded as he took in the information, already growing nervous just hearing about the woman.

Dinner itself was a rather awkward affair. Fortunately for Harry, he didn't have to interact with Aunt Walburga much. He gave her the required pleasantries, then was sat far away from her and was saved further interaction.

She hadn't seemed particularly mean during dinner, but Harry had spent enough time around the Dursleys to know how easy it is to pretend like you aren't unpleasant when in the proper company.

The adults at the table all seemed to be overcome with a layer of discomfort. If Harry had to guess, they'd all been having a none too pleasant conversation beforehand, and the uncomfortable atmosphere was lingering around.

While he ate in near silence between Hermione and Astoria, he couldn't help but notice that the adults seemed to all be wearing matching bracelets on their left wrists. Between the main course and dessert, the silence lifted for a moment while everyone commented on how delicious the new course looked. Harry took the opportunity to nudge Hermione and ask about the bracelets.

"I noticed them too," she whispered back. "But I've never seen them before. I wonder what the different colors mean."

"Colors?" Harry had seen the bracelets and they were silver chains with a thin hexagon plate. The borders of the plates were silver with an intricate design and the space in the middle was filled with a deep red color. "Aren't they all the same?" he asked.

 Hermione shook her head. "No, look." She nodded with her head towards the head of the table. "Narcissa's and Aunt Walburga's are blue and Lucius' is purple."

Now that she mentioned it, Harry did see that theirs were the only ones that were different. He hadn’t the slightest idea of what they could have meant. Perhaps they were just some new fashion statement? Before he had the chance to ask Hermione, the room returned to silence as everyone tucked into their desserts and his opportunity passed.

After dinner, the children were ushered into the retiring room with the adults. Based on the look on Draco and Millicent’s faces, this was unusual.

Harry tried to stick by Draco and Hermione, so the three of them wound up sat together in a settee near the window. Before the window was a long table that was covered in identical velvet boxes. A good number of them were open and empty, while the rest remained sealed shut. It didn’t take much thought for Harry to realize that the bracelets the adults were wearing must have come from them.

After a few minutes of small talk while everyone settled in around the room, Lucius and Narcissa stood in front of the long table. Lucius cleared his throat as he prepared to address the crowd. In an instant, all eyes were on him.

“Alright, everyone,” he began. “Earlier, we discussed whether or not to endow our… Trinkets upon our children.” The way he hesitated then put emphasis on the word trinkets implied that there was clearly something more special about them than just being ordinary pieces of jewelry. “I know that there was a bit of dissent in regards to who shall and shall not receive them. I trust that we’ve had enough time to make up our minds about that.”

A rather pug-faced man coughed politely into his fist before speaking up. “I think,” he began, “that, perhaps, it should be up to the children themselves whether or not they would like a… Trinket.”

“I think that’s a great idea, Mr. Parkinson,” said a woman with a slight Italian accent. Harry hadn’t noticed before, but the bracelet around her wrist was a light green. The woman was absolutely gorgeous, with dark skin contrasted against vivid emerald eyes. Her light brown hair coiled around her head like a cloud of ringlet curls, pouring down her back and over her shoulders. She looked exotic and enticing. Harry didn’t think there could be a single other person on the planet as beautiful as she.

“I think they are old enough to decide if they’d rather not know,” she continued. Even her voice was captivating. She glanced over to Blaise who was standing beside where she was seated. So close together that way, the resemblance was striking.

“Understandable,” Narcissa spoke up, drawing Harry’s attention back to the front of the room. “In that case, Draco?” She gestured for her son to join her and kneeled beside him so they could be nearly eye to eye. She lifted a velvet box from the table and handed it to him. “Inside this box,” she explained to him, loud enough that everyone in the room could hear. “There is a bracelet, like mine.” She twisted her wrist a bit to draw attention to it, then continued. “If you agree to wear this Trinket, it can never be removed.

“It’s charmed so that a drop of your blood will change its color. The color it turns will correspond to how much magic you have in your blood. It will determine whether you are a pureblood or not.”

Draco frowned, looking a bit frightened. “I thought I was a pureblood,” he disputed. “I should be a pureblood because you are, and father is. That’s how it works, isn’t it?”

“Actually, it is not,” Mr. Malfoy cut in. “It was your friend Ms. Granger who alerted me of this. Do you recall the day we met her in Diagon Alley?”

At this, Hermione went stiff, trying not to fidget under the stare of all the eyes in the room now. Harry remembered their conversation very well. She had been telling Draco the very same thing that day.

“She told me of the books that alerted her of this, so I took it upon myself to study them and came to the very same conclusion. All people have magical blood. What determines your status as muggle, wizard, or otherwise is how much you have exactly. Everyone here today has agreed to don the Trinkets, and I must admit. We were all very shocked to learn the results.”

“Everyone in this room has considered themselves a pureblood,” Narcissa joined in. “They have based their entire lives around the premise of having only magical blood. However, these bracelets indicate otherwise.”

“In fact,” Mr. Malfoy continued. “My research has led us to the conclusion that there are no humans at all with purely magical blood. We’ve discussed all of this with our guests here today, and we all know where we truly stand. Now, it is merely a matter of where our children stand.”

“But…” Draco looked more frightened than ever, but he was putting on a brave face for the audience. “What does that mean if we’re not actually purebloods? Everything is going to have to be different now, isn’t it?”

From her perch across the room, Aunt Walburga spoke up. Her voice was deep and slow, slightly hoarse from her old age. She started off with an annoyed sigh that cracked in the middle. “Of course it is, child,” she answered dismissively. “Everything we ever knew to be, has just been proven wrong. Of course everything is going to change. But only the people in this room know about it. So we get to decide how it’s going to change. We get to decide what it’s going to mean, not just to us, but to society as a whole. Everything may be different, but ultimately, we are still the ones in control.”

Draco swallowed very hard, then turned back to his mother.

“Will you take the trinket we wish to bestow upon you?” Narcissa asked with a surprising sense of formality. Draco glanced up at his father, but the elder Malfoy’s face was reserved and impassive. Finally, he nodded and opened the velvet case.

Narcissa smiled at him as she removed the bracelet and set the empty box near the others on the table. She fastened it around his left wrist, then pulled a needle out of the piece of chain that connected to the wide hexagonal plate at the top. She pricked his finger with the needle, moving quickly so that the first drop of blood to fall, landed on the center of the plate. Then she replaced the needle from where she got it. When she did, the bracelet made a low hissing sound as it spelled into place.

The place on the plate where the blood landed began to glow a bright white color. The white drop shifted in shape until it resembled a small 70. Then the light faded out, leaving the number lightly engraved into the metal, nearly imperceptible even from how close Harry was sitting. After another second, the silver of the plate filled in with a vibrant purple that matched the Trinket Mr. Malfoy wore.

Both of the parents smiled in satisfaction, but Draco looked at his new Trinket curiously, though less frightened now. “What do the different colors mean?” he asked.

“Yellow is for muggles, who only have up to thirty five percent magic in their blood. Orange is for a squib who has up to forty five percent. Ordinary wizards—we’ve decided to call them redbloods—have up to sixty five percent magical blood. Their trinkets are red. Purebloods are purple. A pureblood has as much as eighty percent magical blood.”

“Why are they called purebloods if their blood isn’t pure?” Draco cut in.

“It’s like your father said,” Narcissa replied. “No human can have one hundred percent magical blood. Anyone that does, can no longer claim to be human.” That made sense enough.

“Then, what does blue mean?” Draco asked, eyeing his mother’s Trinket. “Or green?” He must have seen Mrs. Zabini’s as well.

“That’s a bit complicated,” Narcissa looked over her shoulder, then gestured to the austere looking man in all black that was sitting on the other side of Mr. Malfoy. “Perhaps Severus could explain better. He helped make the potion that determined where the number lines lay.”

Earlier, Draco had pointed out that Severus Snape was his godfather. The one who was meant to be their potions master at Hogwarts. He seemed as severe as his name would suggest, and Harry couldn’t help but notice that the man had been glaring at him earlier, until he caught his eye. The he proceeded to spend the rest of the night pointedly ignoring Harry’s existence.

“As I perfected the potion we infused into the trinkets,” Severus revealed in a deep, but monotonous voice. “I came across a clear distinction between eighty percent magical blood and eighty one. With a bit more research, Lucius was able to determine that the distinction came from a difference in the strength of one’s magic.

“For purebloods and redbloods, the strength of one’s magic is determined by a number of things, and varies greatly from person to person regardless of blood status or parentage. However, for anyone who’s magical blood exceeds eighty percent, their magic appears to be innately stronger than those of lesser magical blood. We have decided to call these rare people truebloods.

“It is an advantage that they are born with. It can be cultivated into great power. Or, if left alone, it can diminish and leave the trueblood with equal strength to their peers. However, it is only these people who can ever have such strong magic. By any natural means, anyways. If one’s magical strength is gained in any other way, it will have no effect on the colors displayed.”

 “There is another distinction,” Mr. Malfoy added on. “There are wizards with this natural strength. Their Trinkets are blue for truebloods with eighty-one to ninety-five percent magical blood. However, there are also those whose power comes from an extra boost of magical blood. Those with ninety six to ninety nine percent magical blood are considered creature-bloods. Their extra magic comes inherited from any non-human species that has been bred into their bloodline. Their Trinkets are green.”

Draco examined the purple trinket on his wrist and gave it a shy smile before looking up at his mother. “So, that means I’m a pureblood then?” Narcissa nodded at him, smiling proudly. “Like Father?” Mr. Malfoy smiled at his son as well, eyes just barely sparkling with pride. “And mother, you’re a trueblood?” Narcissa nodded again.

“Of course,” Aunt Walburga butt in, haughtily. “Only the best from the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black.” She crossed her arms in boredom, doing it the opposite of the way that came naturally to her, so that she could none too subtly show off her own blue trinket.

Narcissa stood again, kissing Draco on the cheek before ushering him back to his seat beside Harry. “Now,” she began again. “Any older siblings not in attendance today shall return another time if they would like to be bestowed a trinket. But for today, if anyone else wants one, please come and form a line here.”

She gestured to the empty space beside Severus’ seat, and the children scrambled forward. Pansy threw all caution to the wind and took off at nearly a run to be sure she made it to the front first. One by one, all the children who’d been in the room with Harry and Draco got their trinkets.

Unsurprisingly, they were nearly all red. Astoria was shocked to discover that hers was purple, despite neither of her parents nor her elder sister having been pureblood. Blaise was a creature-blood, but seeing his mother’s green trinket, that was no surprise. Millicent was also a pureblood and when she returned to her parents’ side to show them, they showered her in proud kisses and hugs.

Hermione was nearly the last to get her trinket and when the plate turned purple, she froze for a moment, staring at it utterly gob smacked. Even when Theodore pushed her aside to get his trinket next, she couldn’t keep the stunned expression off her face.

Harry was the absolute last to get is trinket. He had been internally arguing with himself. He couldn’t set aside his irrational fear that his trinket would turn out yellow or orange. Of course that made no sense. He got his Hogwarts letter. He’d seen his wand shoot a rainbow of colors that day in Diagon Alley. There was no way he was a squib or a poor lost muggle. His trinket was going to be red and he knew it.

Yet he couldn’t shake the feeling that it wouldn’t be. He couldn’t really be magic. The Dursleys had made it plain and clear to him that he wasn’t special. He didn’t belong here with all the purebloods—well, and redbloods—who’d been raised in magical society. He didn’t fit.

He was the last person in the room without a trinket on his arm, and now all eyes were on him. Narcissa lifted a velvet box and offered it to him with a kind smile. With a deep breath and a thick swallow, Harry approached her and opened the box. It only took her a second to remove the trinket and affix it around his wrist. The prick to his finger hurt more than he thought it would, but in no time at all, the needle had been returned to its home and the blood spatter glowed white, forming into the number 80. When the white faded away, the thin silver plate turned a rich purple and Harry gasped in surprise.

He was a pureblood.

Chapter Text

Harry slid the purple plate back and forth over his wrist. He was so proud of it. Him, an actual pureblood? He still couldn't believe it. Even sitting in the posh dining room of Malfoy Manor with all the magic and pureblood superiority, he still found it hard to believe.

After receiving his Trinket last night, things seemed to move in a bit of a blur. He remembered sitting in stunned silence for a bit more as the adults in the room continued talking and making plans. They could have been planning their strategy to take over the world and Harry wouldn’t have noticed.

The children had been dismissed at some point. Harry remembered Draco tugging him along back to the playroom with the others, but the room had stayed somber and quiet the whole time. The results of the Trinkets had everyone in a similar state of shock. Harry vaguely recalled Pansy throwing a small fit about being “just like everybody else.”

In no time at all, everyone except Hermione and Harry had been called by their parents to return home. Then suddenly Harry found himself tucked into the bed of the beach themed guest bedroom and lulled to sleep by the barely perceptible sound of crashing waves coming from his enchanted duvet.

Now, he was sitting diagonally across from Severus Snape in the dining hall, continuing to be ignored by the man. On either side of Harry sat Draco and Hermione, with Mr. Malfoy at the head of the table. Narcissa was to his right, and Aunt Walburga was across from her, to his left and beside Severus.

Harry supposed he should get used to thinking of him as Professor Snape. Considering how dutifully the teacher was ignoring him, Harry couldn’t see himself ever being addressed directly by him. So, it likely didn’t matter, anyways.

"Harry, dear," Aunt Walburga called across the table in her deep, crackly voice. Harry turned his full attentions to her and sat up straight. Aunt Walburga had been kind enough yesterday despite his upbringing, but mostly that meant ignoring him. Even with him presenting as a pureblood, she was still a clearly racist woman. Harry wouldn't put it past the Black Family matron to hold him to a different standard than the others, regardless of blood status.

"After breakfast, I would like to ask you and Hermione to join Severus and I in the library for bit. With last night's discovery, we ought to teach you two how to behave like proper purebloods. We can't have you embarrassing my grandnephew's name by allowing you to behave like muggles when you arrive at Hogwarts."

"Yes, ma’am," Harry and Hermione agreed in unison.

"Thank you," Hermione added.

“Please, you may both call me Aunt Wally.” Aunt Walburga dismissed their formalities with a brush of her hand through the air. “All the pureblood children do.”

“Thank you, Aunt Wally,” Harry nodded at the elderly woman.

“Yes, thank you very much,” Hermione gave her a tight smile.

Neither of them could find it in themselves to despise muggles like Aunt Wally clearly did. However, Harry would jump at any opportunity to learn more about the wizarding world.

Hermione seemed equally as eager to learn the old fashioned pureblood traditions. She wasn’t Sacred 28 like the others, so she had never been privy to such customs the way Draco and some of the other children were.

Knowing their blood statuses, it was hard for the both of them not to feel like it was owed to them for having to spend so much of their life being oblivious.

"It's a shame, how it all works," Aunt Wally continued to the table as a whole. "The headmaster knows at birth whom all the magical children are. The muggleborns should be taken from their parents and raised properly in the society where they belong."

Narcissa looked over at her Aunt in surprise. Despite having still been racist, that must have been the most diplomatic thing she'd said about muggleborns in Narcissa's entire life. It was more than a bit shocking.

"Yes," Hermione agreed tentatively. "It does feel a bit unfair to have been deprived of the knowledge of the wizarding world. Especially if there were people who knew all along and just left uh… them in the dark. It’s like being denied a piece of our own heritage." She frowned at the way she began to stumble over her words. “Although, I’m not sure taking children from their parents is the best idea,” she added in a mumble.

Harry nodded his head in understanding. If he thought about it, it sounded a bit like what the Dursleys did to him. They knew he was magical, but hid it and lied to him for years, keeping him as far removed from his culture as possible. That was the same thing Dumbledore did with the muggleborns. Only instead of actively hiding it from them, he merely left them ignorant when he didn't have to. Like Hermione said, it left them deprived of their heritage just like he was.

"Wouldn't that be something that the ministry should handle?" Narcissa asked before taking a sip of her tea.

"No." Lucius shook his head. "The names are accessible to the headmaster at birth, but the ministry doesn't know about muggleborns until they're registered for school. Before then, they technically only exist in the muggle world and not at all in ours. So there's no way for the ministry to know without having been told by the headmaster first."

"So it all boils down to Dumbledore," Aunt Wally sneered. "I always hated him. Even as a teacher. Headmaster Dippet had always been much better."

"I must admit," Harry decided on a whim to voice his own opinions on the man aloud. "I'm not very happy with him either. I discovered that it's his fault entirely that I had to stay with my horrible relatives. They treated me like garbage my entire life, and never told me anything about wizards or my parents. Dumbledore knew all about it, but he made me stay anyways." Harry couldn't help but be resentful about it.

“Despicable man,” Aunt Wally spat offhandedly, before tucking into her sausage with a knife and fork.

“I don’t think Harry should have to go back,” Draco piped up. “He said before that they treat him terribly. He doesn’t deserve that!”

“I would love to never have to go back,” Harry agreed. “But I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

“You’re the savior of the wizarding world,” Draco scoffed. “I’m sure there’s plenty of places you could go. Loads of people would love to take you. You’d be spoiled like a king with just about anyone.”

“I wouldn’t want all that,” argued Harry. “I’m happy enough with the basics, really. Besides,” he shrugged, “I could never ask someone else to take me in. I’d never want to be a burden that way.”

“I’m a bit curious,” Hermione mused, fork suspended above her plate as she thought aloud. “Why did Dumbledore choose where to send you? I mean, I know he’s respected as the leader of the light side, and was You Know Who’s biggest rival. But what does that have to do with Harry? When you were orphaned, shouldn’t the ministry have been in charge of where to send you? I mean, they must have a department dedicated to the welfare of children, right? Especially after the war. I’m certain you weren’t the only one to be orphaned by the violence that took place. So why was the Headmaster the one to decide where to send you? Clearly, he didn’t make the best choice.”

Harry hadn’t thought of that before. When he realized that Dumbledore was the one to send him to the Dursleys, it never occurred to him that it would be strange that the headmaster of Hogwarts would be in charge of that.

“That is a very good question, Ms. Granger,” Mr. Malfoy smirked as he looked at her. “You are quite a clever girl.”

“I must admit,” Aunt Wally sighed loudly. “It is partially my idiot son’s fault.” Severus sent a dark look her way, but either she didn’t notice, or pretended not to as she continued on. “He was supposed to be your Godfather, Harry,” she told him. “Until he went and got himself arrested, the fool.”

“How do you know that?” Narcissa asked, so shocked that she didn’t even bother attempting to mask her astonishment.

“I may have burnt the blood traitor off the family tapestry, but he was never legally disowned,” she explained. “Only my dearest Orion could do that, and he was holding out hope that he might get his head on straight one day. He was a fool as well. Anything that happened to Sirius legally would appear in the official family ledger. So when the Potters were killed, Harry became a ward of the House of Black.”

“It was probably for the best that Harry never wound up in your son’s clutches anyways,” Severus added on stiffly. “Considering what it was he was arrested for.”

Aunt Wally scoffed loudly at that. “I never would have thought you were a fool as well, Severus.” She sneered at the man who, unashamedly, sneered back at her. “My Sirius was far too stubborn to have ever betrayed James Potter. If nothing else, he was absolutely in love with the man. Only a complete moron could ever believe he’d actually betrayed him.”

“Wait, what?” Harry had meant to mutter that mostly to himself, but he’d said it quite loudly. He had no idea what they were talking about. Clearly they were talking about Walburga’s son and Harry’s father, but he didn’t understand a thing she was saying.

“That’s right,” Mr. Malfoy chipped in. “I forget you had no idea what happened back then. It’s such a shame no one told you, considering how much of it is based completely around you.”

Narcissa decided to explain everything to Harry. “My cousin, Sirius—Aunt Wally’s eldest son—was best friends with you father since the moment they met on the Hogwarts train. They were as close as brothers. Little terrors they and their friends always were.” Here, Severus scoffed and rolled his eyes, stabbing a sausage vigorously. “Sirius and the rest of our family were always at odds with our beliefs. Mind you, this was long before we learned that we’d all been building prejudices off completely false pretenses.

“Our beliefs have always been aligned with… the wrong side of the war. Sirius wouldn’t stand for it, and it alienated him from the rest of us. Though for the record, the only person who bore the name of Black to actually join He Who Must Not Be Named’s ranks was Aunt Wally’s youngest son Regulus.”

“Bless his soul,” Aunt Wally added in, wistfully. Here Mr. Malfoy took an uncharacteristically loud sip of tea.

“The point is,” Narcissa continued. “When the war came to head and You Know Who attacked your family, the only reason he was able to reach you was because they were betrayed by Sirius. He was their Secret Keeper. That means their home was put under a very difficult charm that kept anyone from finding it. The only way for You Know Who to learn where it was, is if the Secret Keeper—Sirius—had told him. Such is the charm that it can only be told willingly, not via threats or torture.

“After betraying your parents, he went after their other friend Peter Pettigrew. I don’t think anyone is really sure why. He followed him out into the middle of muggle London and caused a huge explosion that killed Pettigrew and thirteen muggles. The only thing left of the poor man was a finger. When the Aurors arrived, Sirius was just stood there, laughing like a maniac. He didn’t even try to fight them off. He was convicted of mass murder and sent straight to Azkaban.”

“Without a trial, might I add,” Aunt Wally inserted. “More of Dumbledore’s doing. The barmy old wretch. I don’t believe a bit of it. He was always far too attached to those boys, and their other friend, What’s-his-name. When my Sirius ran away, he ran straight to go live with the Potters. After finishing school, he and that other boy bought a flat together. He was far too stubborn and loyal—even to that Pettigrew boy—for any of that to be true. I’m sure if he’d gotten a proper trial, everyone would have known that.”

“If you’re so sure he was innocent,” Harry asked, “then how come you never stood up for him?”

“I tried, but no one would listen to me. Why would they? Sirius hated me, my other son was a Death Eater, and the House of Black is quite famous for having no tolerance for muggles. I’m the last person they’d have paid attention to so soon after the war ended with tensions still so high. Besides, I’m sure he deserves to rot in Azkaban for any number of things, anyways.”

“Hold on!” Draco spoke up again, nearly shouting. While the conversation had continued, he’d been stuck on something else. “You said before that Harry is a ward of the House of Black! So that means he should stay with you Aunt Wally!”

Harry blanched. After hearing everything Narcissa and Aunt Wally said, the last place he wanted to stay was with Aunt Wally. Not that he’d have been too keen on the idea beforehand either. “I could never put such a burden on you!” he scrambled to say.

“But that’s where you belong!” Draco insisted.

“Oh no!” Harry argued. “I would feel absolutely awful forcing myself into your responsibility. Especially under such short notice. I don’t think that would be a good idea at all. Besides, I’m quite used to the Dursleys. I can handle them just fine.”

“But you shouldn’t have to…” Draco complained. Harry couldn’t think of a nice way to explain that perhaps he didn’t have to, but he could handle the Dursleys, and there was no way that he could handle living with Walburga Black!

“Oh it’s nothing to worry about anyways,” Aunt Wally cut in. “School will be starting soon anyways, so it hardly matters at this point.” Harry sighed in relief, glad she didn’t seem too fond of the idea either.

Harry had a lot to think about throughout the rest of breakfast. If learning he was pureblooded was a surprise, the conversation at the table that morning was merely bombshell after bombshell. He was absolutely wrought with nerves just trying to comprehend it all. Learning he was a wizard had tilted his world on an axis. Everything he’d learned in just that 24 hours had seemed to flip his world over completely and shake it around until its lunch money fell out of its pockets.

Breakfast seemed to stretch on forever after that, though conversation switched to a far less earth shattering topic.

Pureblood lessons in the library wound up being simple enough. It consisted of being drilled on facts about customs by Severus, and proper etiquette by Aunt Wally. Both Harry and Hermione were ordered to memorize the names of all members of the Sacred 28, as well as the entire Gaunt and Black Family Trees. They were also required to learn a fact or two about each family. At the end of an hour, they were each bogged down with a stack of books on the topics they’d covered, and warned to study them well.

After managing to escape, they caught up with Draco in the back garden and played chess for a while before grabbing a couple of broomsticks and playing hide and seek in the hedge maze. Hermione was very reluctant at first, having a mild fear of heights, but was eventually convinced by the boys when they promised not to go higher than the hedges.

After separating, it took them a good few hours to find each other again. Draco had a particularly good advantage having been so familiar with the labyrinth already. There were a few close calls, but eventually, all 3 of them had been tagged by the others and they found themselves settled around an iron table under a gazebo for refreshments. They were in the middle of the maze, tucked away in a nook to the left of a large fountain that marked the exact center.

The statue in the fountain was of a bathing woman and a pair of children. The woman lifted a large pot of water to pour over herself, while the children danced around her, tossing their own smaller pots at each other. Occasionally, the woman would turn to pour water on one of the children, then skip out of the way as the children threw water back at her.

“You’re a liar!” Hermione accused Harry, laughing as she pretended to be indignant. “You said you’ve never ridden a broom before today!”

“I haven’t!” Harry raised his arms up in defense of himself. “I’ve been raised by muggles! When would I have had the chance?”

“There’s no way possible you can ride a broom that well after only having been on it for seconds!” Hermione argued.

“She’s got a point.” Malfoy nodded with false suspicion. “You ride it better than I do, and I’ve been riding brooms for ages. Where’d you learn?”

“Honestly! I didn’t!” Harry laughed at the both of them. “It was just natural, I suppose. Like riding a bike, but far easier. And so much better,” he added as an afterthought.

“What’s a bike?” Draco asked, eyebrows drawn in confusion.

“Well,” Harry explained. “It’s got two wheels—one in front and one in back—and they’re attached by a piece of metal. It’s got handles so you can turn and pedals for your feet to make it move forward. Then there’s a seat for your bum. Muggles ride them to take them places. They’re much faster than walking, but they’re not as fast as cars.”

“I’ve seen a car before!” Draco piped up, excited to have recognized something. “I see them all over the place when we have to go to muggle London. I’ve never heard of a bike, though. Do they go fast?”

“Not as fast as a broom!”

“Good!” Hermione exclaimed. “Brooms go too fast!”

“What?”

“Are you mad?”

Both boys shouted at the same time.

“They are!” Hermione defended. “They’re dangerous! Someone could get really hurt if they fall! Especially up high!”

“Of course they can! That’s why it’s fun!” Draco looked at Hermione as if she’d lost her marbles. “Besides, how else are you supposed to play quidditch? It’d be right boring if all the players had to stay on the ground.”

Now, it was Harry’s turn to be confused. “What’s quidditch?”

Draco’s mouth dropped open, astounded. “’What’s quidditch?’” he repeated. “How can you not know about quidditch? It’s only the most important game in the world!”

“Hello!” Hermione waved an arm in Harry’s direction. “Raised by muggles! He only really knows what we’ve told him!” She rolled her eyes at Draco’s silliness.

“Right, right. I keep forgetting,” Draco brushed it off. “It’s only the best game ever. I’ll explain. You win by getting the most points, right? It’s played with three types of balls-”

“Three balls?” Harry couldn’t fathom being able to keep up with that many.

“Technically its four, because there’s two bludgers. Those ones are heavy—mean little things they are. They fly around and do their best to hurt everybody on the pitch and knock you off your broom.”

“That sounds horrifying!” Harry’s eyes were wide as he imagined being pelted with bludgers.

“Only if your beaters are no good,” Draco soothed. “Each team has got two of them. It’s their job to make sure the bludgers don’t hurt anybody on their team. They carry around bats to keep them away. Then there’s three chasers. They handle the other ball, the quaffle.”

“What’s a quaffle do?” Harry asked cautiously. He hoped it wasn’t as violent as the bludgers sounded.

“Quaffles don’t do much,” Draco continued. “The chasers use them to score points. They pass them back and forth between each other to try to keep the other team from catching them. Then they have to try and put them through one of the three hoops at their end of the field to get ten points each. Those are the goals. The goals are protected by a keeper from the opposite team.”

“Sounds simple enough,” Harry mused. “Keep the quaffle from the other team. Get it past the keeper, and through the hoop. Try not to get killed by a bludger in the meantime.” Simplified that way, it didn’t sound so hard. “Wait, what’s the third type of ball?”

“That’s the snitch. It’s a tiny gold ball with wings. It’s super-fast and super hard to see on a huge quidditch pitch. That’s what the seeker is for. It’s their job to find the snitch and catch it. Each team has one, and whoever catches it gets one hundred and fifty points added to their score. Then the game ends.”

“What if nobody catches the snitch?” Harry asks.

“Then, the game can’t end. They have to keep going until somebody catches it, even if it takes days. The longest game on record was three whole months long.”

“That sounds exhausting!” Hermione huffed as she imagined it.

“Yeah, but that’s only ever happened once. Quidditch is really fun! I’ve got a few quaffles, we should play!”

Harry grinned in excitement. “Yeah, that sounds fun!”

“There aren’t going to be any bludgers are there?” Hermione asked.

“No,” Draco moped a bit. “Father won’t let me use them anymore since the last ones I had took out all the windows on the south side of the manor. It’ll be fun anyways, though.”

Hermione nodded in relief before mounting her broom and lifting a few feet in the air above them. “Lead the way, then,” she said.

“Quidditch” wound up being more a game of catch than anything else. They all took turns throwing the ball back and forth, seeing who could throw the farthest, who had better aim, and who was better at catching. Harry seemed to be a natural at all of it.

At first, Hermione still had her reservations. When she saw how much better the boys were at catching the quaffle than she was, she began to get competitive. She clearly wasn’t the kind of person to not be the best at something. So she stopped paying as much attention to how far from the ground she was and started focusing more on the ball. She wasn’t anywhere near a natural at it the way Harry was, but she did alright considering she’d never played quidditch before either. By the time they had to pack it all in, even Draco was impressed with her progress.

“Still think it’s so dangerous?” Draco teased Hermione as they started to head in.

“Oh, absolutely,” Hermione didn’t hesitate to respond, making Harry chuckle quietly.

They were drifting on their brooms only a few feet off the ground, tossing the quaffle lightly to each other as they made their way back toward the manor. Moving slowly like this, Harry didn’t have a single hand on his broom and was steering with his knees. Whenever she went to catch the quaffle, Hermione did the same until she threw it again, although she didn’t even notice.

“It’s certainly fun,” she continued. “And I can see why it’s such a popular recreational pastime. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still terribly dangerous.” Harry sighed playfully, figuring that was the best they’d get out of her.

While the trio had spent the day outside, it turns out that the manor had been full of visitors popping in and out. So far, it was only the close relatives of people who’d attended the dinner party the night before. They had been coming to be endowed with Trinkets as well. According to Aunt Wally—who was spending the weekend at the manor—there wasn’t a single pureblood in the bunch.

The next morning, the children were woken by a house elf each. They were instructed to eat breakfast on Draco’s floor, and that they ought to make themselves scarce for the day. More guests were expected to come, but not all of them were quite as close to the Malfoy family as their dinner guests had been. Mr. Malfoy felt it most prudent to keep things as professional as possible to maintain a modicum of peace.

“I’m pretty sure that just means Father doesn’t want any of them to know that Harry is here,” Draco explained over a bowl of fruit.

Draco, Harry, and Hermione were sitting at a table in a nook at the end of Draco’s hall. It overlooked the menagerie where the ostentation of peacocks was kept when not allowed to roam the grounds. They were currently being fed by a pair of house elves who—judging by how often they were getting pecked—weren’t used to having to do that job. Hermione was distracted from her plate of Belgian waffles as she watched the poor house elves with a dissatisfied frown on her face.

“Why would he want to keep that a secret?” Harry asked.

“I’m sure he wouldn’t want anyone to bother you,” Hermione replied, still preoccupied by the scene outside the window. Finally, she turned to face the boys. “Or perhaps to keep them from bothering him with questions, or asking to see you.”

Remembering the reaction at the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley, Harry supposed that made sense. He certainly appreciated it. All the attention was overwhelming. Although, now that he thought about it, aside from the other kids, no one had bothered him about being famous at the dinner party. In context, that did seem a bit strange. Perhaps, Mr. Malfoy had asked the adults not to pester him. To be honest, he still would have expected a few stares or curious glances. But he hadn’t gotten anything thing. In fact, the adults there hardly seemed particularly impressed with him at all. He appeared to be just another child to them. He wondered what that was about. Not that he minded. He rather preferred it, as a matter of fact.

“That could be,” Draco replied to Hermione. “I think it might have more to do with the fact that there’s a lot of people that wouldn’t be happy to know that The Chosen One was here at Malfoy Manor.”

“Why not?” Harry questioned. “What difference would it make?”

Hermione nodded, as if realizing what Draco had meant. She decided to share it with Harry. “Because of the war, you know?” Harry figured that had something to do with it, but he didn’t quite get it. The tilt of his head expressed as much, so Hermione continued to explain. “Remember what Draco’s Mum said yesterday? Their family didn’t follow You Know Who, but they were supporters of his side of the war. I’m sure there are lots of people who are aware of that. So the people on Dumbledore’s side probably wouldn’t be too happy to know that you’re basically fraternizing with the enemy.”

Fraternizing with the enemy? Harry scoffed at the phrase. It made things sound so sinister when all he was doing was hanging out with friends. “That shouldn’t even matter anymore. The war’s over. Voldemort-” here Draco and Hermione both flinched- “is gone. And we know that everything he was fighting for was complete nonsense anyways. So, what difference does it make?”

Draco answered this, shaking his trinket between Harry and Hermione’s faces for a second. “We know that, but not everyone else does.” Hermione lifted her eyebrows at Harry to suggest that Draco had a point, and it dawned on Harry.

The rest of the wizarding world had spent generations believing in the same nonsense that Voldemort had. The same nonsense that sparked a war. They had no idea how wrong they were, and only had their centuries of misbelief to go off of. After believing something for so long, there was no way that they would so easily turn their minds to anything else. Even if it was the truth.

Harry himself had been so easy to accept it because he’d only really known about the wizarding world for hours when he found it out himself. Then after that, only a few weeks until he was endowed with his Trinket and was able to see the proof in the pudding. That wasn’t the case for everyone else. Accepting the truth wasn’t going to be so easy.

It all went just barely above Harry’s head. He wasn’t ready to think about wars and different sides and wrong or right. He just wanted to get through pureblood lessons, survive his last week with the Dursley’s then go and learn magic at Hogwarts. The war was over now. The threat was gone. Why couldn’t everyone just move on?

“Hello, Purebloods,” Pansy Parkinson’s voice floated down the hall as she made her way towards the trio. “It is quite an honor to join you today.” She bowed deeply as she approached the table, voice dripping with such over the top reverence that it made Draco laugh. “I do hope that I’m not bothering your graces,” she mocked.

“Oh, stop with that,” Hermione brushed her off. “Come, have a seat.” She gestured to the last empty chair at the round table, between herself and Draco.

“Are you sure?” she continued in her exaggerated voice. “I wouldn’t want to taint the pureness of your table.”

“You see how silly you sound?” Hermione asked, unable to stop from grinning. “That’s how silly all these blood purists and followers of You Know Who have sounded all these years.”

“I guess, you have a point,” Draco agreed, smiling as he realized that Hermione was right. “It does sound quite ridiculous, doesn’t it?”

“Of course,” Hermione continued. “And for no reason, mind you. That just makes it all the sillier.”

“Anyways,” Harry cut in, “what are you doing here? They told us we’d be keeping to ourselves, today.”

“That’s what my mother told me, too,” Pansy answered. “She’s helping your mum,” she jerked her chin toward Draco, “and Aunt Wally to write an article about the Trinkets. They’re going to put it into The Daily Prophet and Witch Weekly. They’re also supposed to be giving a whole bunch of other people Trinkets too, and my mum wants ‘an in depth look of how it happens’, or so she says.”

“Do you know who else is coming?” Draco asked.

“No, but I know they’re all people we used to think of as purebloods. My mother said there’s no way Aunt Wally would let anyone else through the floo.”

“Of course,” Hermione frowned, rolling her eyes. “Even if they’re magical blood is strong, she still hates anyone with muggle influence. I get that she’s not going to change her mind that fast, but it’s just all so stupid in the first place.”

Pansy shrugged, indifferent. “Hardly matters. She’s an old loon anyways. She’ll be evil until the day she dies.”

“Let’s just hope she doesn’t come back as a ghost,” Draco shivered in disgust. “That’d be the worst.”

Harry had never met a ghost before. He’d discussed them at length with Draco through their letters, so he knew that they were real, unlike what muggles believed. But he’d never seen one, or any evidence of one that he knew of. The way Draco described them, they didn’t seem quite as terrifying as muggles made them out to be. He found himself rather interested in them. Although, if Aunt Wally were to be a ghost, he didn’t doubt that she’d be exactly like the muggles believed. She’d been kind enough to him so far, but the more he heard about her, the more he feared her.

After a brief discussion of the various ghosts that lived in and around Malfoy Manor and The Parkinson Estate, breakfast was finished and the boys and girls split off to study for Hermione and Harry’s pureblood lessons in their respective rooms. Draco wound up being a very good study partner, but after a few hours, all 4 of the children were beginning to get stir crazy. Well, perhaps only 3 of them. Hermione seemed perfectly content to spend the rest of her day studying.

After lunch time, they’d all convened in the playroom to blow off some steam. After a rowdy game of exploding snap—with minimal card throwing—Draco found himself struck with an idea.

“I know something we can do that’ll help you with pureblood studies, and a way to spy on the adults!” he exclaimed.

“Why would we want to spy on the adults?” Hermione asked.

Draco shrugged, not really having a good reason. “Because I want to,” was the best he had. Hermione didn’t look approving, but he told them all to wait there while he darted out of the room for a moment.

When he came back, he had a mirror that was nearly as large as his torso. He set it up on the coffee table in the middle of the room and sat on the floor in front of it. Harry, Hermione, and Pansy came to sit around him and see what it was for.

It was rectangular, with a bronze frame and a stand to keep it upright. At the top of the frame, the bronze was shaped to look like a small child with his arms reaching out to hold the mirror up. He appeared to be looking down at the reflection of the mirror, smiling gently. Draco reached up to tap a finger on the boy’s forehead.

“Wake up!” he snapped at him.

The boy looked up at Draco, glaring at him in distaste. “What do you want?” he groused in a small voice with a heavy French accent.

“What do you think?” Draco raised an eyebrow. “Show me what your mother sees.”

“And why should I?” The mirror continued glaring.

“Don’t be like that. Just show me.”

“What if I don’t want to.”

“I will shatter you!” Draco threatened, losing his patience. Hermione gasped in horror beside him, muttering about how rude that was, but Draco wasn't paying attention to her.

“Fine! Fine!” the mirror relented unhappily. “But you shouldn’t be spying…”

“Don’t worry about me spying. Just show me the parlor.”

The mirror stuck his tongue out at Draco before it’s reflection rippled. When it stilled again, it showed a wide view of the parlor. There was a pair of twin girls sitting on a couch between their parents. They looked to be of South Asian descent and about the same age as the quartet in the playroom. Across from them was Narcissa, sitting primly in a chair beside Aunt Wally. Aunt Wally was in a matching chair, but was twisted around to face the fireplace. It was as if she was refusing to look at her guests. On the low table between them sat 4 velvet boxes.

In the far corner, Pansy’s mother was watching intently with a Quick Quotes Quill scribbling away on a long parchment floating in the air beside her. She had a parchment in her own had, taking notes on that as well.

The father of the family seemed to be talking just then, but there was no sound. That made sense. Mirrors were for seeing, not hearing. Narcissa replied back, politely enough, then glanced at her Aunt who continued looking away. The man placed a small bag of coins upon the table, then Narcissa reached for a velvet box and beckoned him over. He kneeled before her and offered his left hand, then Narcissa began the process of endowing him with a Trinket.

It turned red and he nodded, looking a little disappointed. He returned to his seat and his wife took his place to be endowed with her own Trinket. Hers was red as well, then one of the girls took her turn, walking away with a red trinket too. The last girl got up, very hesitant, but finally went to receive her own trinket. She appeared to gasp in surprise when hers turned purple, smiling in excitement before bowing to Narcissa graciously, then rushing off to show her parents.

Only then, did Aunt Wally turn to address the family, looking at the pureblood girl with an air of interest. Hermione scoffed at the woman.

“Okay,” Draco finally spoke up again. “Harry, Hermione. Time to put your skills to the test, who is this family?”

Harry thought to himself for a moment. Purebloods, obviously. Or not, according to the new standard. They were south Asian, but not a part of the Sacred 28, otherwise they would have met them on Friday. There was only the 2 girls present, so they didn’t have a named heir, otherwise he probably would have been first after the father. The girls looked the same age as Harry and the others, but with no brothers. They were also twins, which ran in the family for…

“The Patils,” Hermione answered just as Harry figured it out.

“Correct,” Pansy answered. “That’s Padma and Parvati. Despite being twins,” she gossiped, “they actually hate each other. They’re nothing alike and it really shows. Parvati’s the one with all the jewelry and the magenta robes. Padma’s the one in the dark green robes, who’s a pureblood. They’re always competing over everything. They’re going to hate each other even more, now.” She chuckled at the idea.

Not long after, the Patils flooed away and Narcissa levitated their pouch over to Mrs. Parkinson, who immediately stowed it away in a lock box beneath her seat. She read something off the paper in her hand, and Narcissa nodded, before placing 2 more velvet boxes on the table.

After a few more moments, the floo lit up green and in stepped an older woman, with a chubby boy practically clinging to her leg. When they moved to sit down, Aunt Wally actually seemed to greet them, although it was clearly begrudgingly.

“Okay,” Draco asked. “Who are they? This one might be hard,” he warned.

Harry contemplated it for a while, but he couldn’t quite figure it out. An older woman with a young boy? He couldn’t think of any purebloods that fit the description that didn’t have any older siblings. Well, the lady didlook rather old. Perhaps that was his grandmother.

It wasn’t until the boy’s trinket lit up blue to indicate he was a trueblood, despite his grandmother’s red that it finally clicked for Harry. He’d been looking terrified the whole time, but when Narcissa pricked his finger, he turned green in the face. When she let him go, he practically took off running to get away from her. “The Longbottoms!” he nearly shouted as soon as it came to him. He’d recalled something Draco had told him earlier and it all made sense.

“But, they’re Sacred 28!” Hermione disputed. “Shouldn’t they have been at the dinner party?”

“No,” Harry replied. “Because the Longbottoms actually hate the Malfoys and the Blacks. They’d never come to a party being thrown here.”

“Harry’s right,” Draco agreed.

“Then, why come at all? And why do they hate them?”

“Mrs. Longbottom has always been a big gossip,” Pansy offered. “If anything is going on, she’ll know. And despite being on opposite sides, she always manages to cart Neville around to all the pureblood’s houses for something. She’s proud of being Sacred 28, even if she didn’t agree with a lot of the rest of them. So she stays cordial enough not to cut off ties. She probably only came because she heard about the Trinkets and knew she wasn’t getting one anywhere else.”

That made plenty of sense to Harry, but Hermione wasn’t convinced. “But why does she hate them?” she questioned. “You said she’s cordial enough, so where would all the anger come from? And why’s Neville so scared?”

“Because Narcissa’s sister tortured his parents,” Harry answered. Draco had told him earlier about his mother’s psychotic sister, Bellatrix Lestrange. She was locked up in Azkaban with her equally crazy husband and brother in law for their crimes. According to Draco, she was far scarier than Aunt Wally could ever be, and the Malfoys wanted nothing to do with her, even before their discovery about magical genetics.

“They were on opposite sides of the war,” Draco explained to Hermione, who’s mouth was agape in horror. “Unlike my mother, my Aunt wasn’t neutral. She actually worshipped You Know Who. She was completely nuts. She’s been locked up for a long time for what she did to Neville’s parents. I say, good riddance.”

“Poor Neville,” Hermione sympathized. “That’s positively dreadful.”

“Lots of people lost family in the war,” Pansy posited. “On both sides. And for what?” She scoffed angrily, looking at the Trinket around her wrist. “All of it meant nothing, anyways.”

“All those adults who were fighting,” Harry started, shaking his head as he thought about his own loss from the war, “Voldemort, Dumbledore, all the people on either sides… They’re all idiots!” He realized his own parents were a part of that list, but he couldn’t find it in himself to disagree. They were all idiots. They were so ready to fight over something they were completely ignorant about, but no one had even stopped to do the research? Hermione had found it all out by coincidence!

“Well, at least we’ve got Hermione here to sort them all out,” Draco wrapped an arm around the girl in questions shoulders as he echoed Harry’s thoughts.

Hermione’s cheeks went red as she opened her mouth to protest. “Maybe I’m the one who pointed it out, but it’s all thanks to your parents, Aunt Wally, and Professor Snape that anyone’s doing anything about it. I didn’t really do anything but read a book.”

“Yeah,” Draco disagreed. “But you reading that book made a whole lot of difference. People are going to realize all the mistakes that they made, and they’ll have no choice but to fix it and change.”

“You know,” Pansy mused aloud, changing the subject. “I wonder what it’s going to be like at Hogwarts, if other kids have these Trinkets too. Do you think it’ll make things different?”

“I have no idea,” Harry admitted. “But then, I have no idea what Hogwarts would be like if they’d never been made in the first place.”

They sat around the mirror for a while longer, guessing more families. By the time dinner rolled around and there wer no more guests for the day, they’d guessed all right, and Pansy and Draco declared that Hermione and Harry had passed.

During their spying, the Trinkets had shown an overwhelming amount of red, with only 11 exceptions. There were only 2 other truebloods that they saw, the head of the Shacklebolt family and a very young girl from the Cattermole family. There was one unfortunate orange Trinket from a girl in the Abercrombie family who was near Astoria’s age, though her siblings and parents all presented as red. She and her mother left crying. There was also one large family that all showed up green.

Harry, Hermione, Draco, and Pansy spent a considerable amount of time trying to decide what creature they were mixed with, but couldn’t settle on anything.

Pansy went home after dinner, then the trio spent the remaining time before twilight flying through the hedge maze until it was too dark to see. After that, they washed up and went to bed, but Harry wasn’t ready to leave in the morning. He’d had a great time at the Manor, despite the strange tensions between the adults, and he could hardly imagine what it would be like to return to the Dursleys.

He allowed himself to be lulled to sleep by the barely-there sound of the ocean swell and the repeating mantra of “Only one more week until Hogwarts. Only one more week until Hogwarts. Only one more week until Hogwarts.”

Chapter Text

Harry was furious! How could Hagrid have done this to him?

Hagrid told him where to go, and when to be there. What he didn’t tell him, was how to get there! Hagrid was so foolish!

Harry looked at the clock nearby, panic growing as the minute hand ticked closer to 11 o’ clock. There he was standing in King’s Cross Station, with a crowd of people giving him and Hedwig stares as they rushed by. He was stood between platforms 9 and 10, with a ticket for the Hogwarts Express at Platform 9 ¾ and no idea how to get there. There had to have been some trick to it, like at Diagon Alley, that Hagrid had forgotten to tell him about.

In the back of his head, Mr. Malfoy’s voice drifted through his mind, snidely implying that he didn’t find Hagrid to be a responsible adult, and that he was offended on Harry’s behalf for not being assigned someone better. He could hear the older man pointing out that Hagrid had been expelled from Hogwarts for harboring a creature that killed another student, and that clearly he didn’t have the best judgment.

That thought segued it's way to thoughts of Dumbledore and his poor decision making skills. Harry was beginning to despise the man. If he were petty enough, he could probably find some way to blame the war and his parents’ death on Dumbledore as well.

Those thoughts flew from his mind when he heard a voice behind him claiming rather conspicuously that Platform 9 ¾ was “this way!”

He turned around to find the source and saw a plump redheaded woman with a line of children with matching hair trailing behind her. They seemed to be dressed as muggles, but having just barely missed the mark of looking normal. None of what they were wearing appeared particularly nice or new either. He spotted an austere looking boy, walking proudly ahead of the others with an owl on his trolley. Behind him was a pair of twins, then a boy about Harry’s age with dirt on his nose and a very apprehensive expression on his face. There was one girl, clinging to her mother’s leg, though she didn’t look much younger than the last boy had. She didn’t have a trunk or trolley with her, so she must not have been boarding the train this time.

Red hair, lots of sons, clearly didn’t come from money… They must have been Weasleys. They were members of the Sacred 28, but they had a history of not having much respect among the other families. Or so Draco and Pansy said.

It hardly mattered to Harry, especially now. Although, he did notice that none of them appeared to be wearing Trinkets. Considering that Narcissa and Aunt Wally were charging for them and the Weasleys likely didn’t have a huge surplus of money, they were probably deemed unnecessary expenses.

He pulled his trolley to the side to step out of their way, and watched closely as one by one, they ran up to the wall between platforms 9 and 10, then continued straight through. Harry sighed in relief, seeing how simple it was. After the mother and daughter pair ran through last, Harry checked around himself to make sure no one was looking, then ran straight at the wall.

Just before the nose of the trolley would have made impact, he was fearful that he wouldn’t go through and would collide with the bricks. But, just like the others, he made it through unimpeded.

When he reached the other side, he slowed to a stop as he stared in wonder. The large red train gave a loud whistle and a puff of steam settled on the platform. It was thick enough to be clearly visible, but not so thick as to block the view of the people scrambling to get on the train before they ran out of time and it took off.

Knowing he needed to hurry, Harry picked a cart at random and stowed his belongings. He didn’t struggle much because although it should have been heavy, the trunk was considerably light. When packing it, he’d gotten the clever idea of putting all of his heavy things into the bags that Narcissa had put the feather-light charm on. It managed to reduce the overall weight by a lot.

He ran to the nearest door and just managed to get in before the whistle blew again and the train began to slowly start forward. He was so relieved that he’d just barely made it, that he didn’t spare a second before he walking through the corridor to check for empty compartments. They appeared to be mostly full, but finally, he spotted one with Draco, Blaise, Pansy, and Millicent.

Just as he was about to slide the door open, he spotted Hermione out of the corner of his eye down the corridor. She was standing with Neville Longbottom and was about to follow him into a compartment.

“Hermione!” Harry called. She looked over at him and her eyes lit up with excitement. She said something to trueblood boy, then waved quickly before dashing down the hall toward Harry.

“There you are!” she exclaimed, giving him a quick hug. “I was looking all over for you. I was worried you would have missed the train!”

“I nearly did!” Harry slid the door open and stepped into the compartment, greeting everyone and sitting down beside Draco. Hermione gave Draco a half hug in greeting before sitting down on his other side and saying hi to everyone else.

“Where were you guys?” Blaise asked. “We couldn’t find you anywhere?”

“Yeah,” Pansy added. “We finally had to give up otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to find an empty compartment.”

Harry couldn’t help but notice that Pansy's hair had been cut short. It was no longer waist length, but was now trimmed to a neat bob just barely brushing her shoulders. Harry didn’t think the style suited her, but had enough experience with Aunt Petunia’s haircuts to know better than to point that out.

“I was looking for Harry,” Hermione explained to the rest of the group. “Apparently, he nearly missed the train.”

Millicent scoffed, “How’d you manage to do that?”

“It wasn’t those awful relatives of yours making you late on purpose, was it?” Draco asked, face scrunched in distaste of said relatives.

“No, it was Hagrid’s fault!” Harry huffed. “He gave me my ticket, and told me to go to King’s Cross Station, but he never told me how to get onto the platform. I got here in plenty of time, but I was just stood around lost because I had no idea how to get to the train.”

“Hagrid?” Pansy asked. “Isn’t that Hogwarts’ gamekeeper?”

“Yeah,” Draco scoffed. “Barmy old Dumbledore sent him to bring Harry to Diagon Alley. The big oaf left him all alone there too. Hermione and I had to save him or he’d have been completely lost.”

“He should have told you how to get onto the platform when you were in Diagon Alley,” Hermione insisted. “In fact, your ticket should have come in an envelope with a small card with instructions. How could he have messed that up?”

“He had forgotten to give me my ticket at all,” Harry explained. “He sent it to me the next day with my birthday present he promised me, but had forgotten about too.”

“He hardly sounds responsible,” Hermione frowned. “Dumbledore should have sent you an actual professor, just like Mr. Malfoy said. That’s what he was supposed to do, anyways. That’s what he does for all the muggleborns.”

“Well,” Harry rolled his eyes, “I’m starting to question all this greatness that people keep claiming about him.”

“I told you,” Draco chimed in. “He’s a total nutter.”

Pansy and Millicent nodded in sympathy.

“Oh well,” Blaise spoke up. “You probably won’t have to see Hagrid much anymore. He’s not a professor, so I doubt we’ll see him around all that often. So, you shouldn’t have to worry about him.”

“So,” Pansy started, changing the subject. “Have you guys seen how many people are wearing the Trinkets?”

“I’ve been seeing them everywhere!” Blaise laughed. “And there’s so much red! All these people who thought they were special are being pushed off their pedestals and finding out they’re just like everybody else. Mother finds it hilarious to watch.”

“You have to admit though,” Millicent replied, “It’s not exactly easy for a lot of people to just accept. I mean, there’s so many people who said they didn’t care either way, but as soon as they see red they freak out.”

“Hypocrites, all of them,” Blaise stated.

“Hey!” Pansy argued, “Don’t go forgetting that was all of us too, not that long ago.”

“Not me and Mother,” Blaise defended. “We always knew we were different than other wizards. All these Trinkets do is confirm that we were right.”

“By the way,” Harry pressed, “If you don’t mind my asking, what are you and your mother mixed with to make you creature-bloods?”

Blaise smirked. “We are Lilin, or Children of Lilith,” he replied. Harry had never heard the word before. The look on Blaise’s face suggested he hadn’t expected him to.

“I’m not sure what that means,” Harry frowned.

“Neither do I,” Hermione spoke up. She actually seemed rather alarmed by that fact. As if the notion that something existed that she didn’t know about was completely unheard of. To her, it probably was.

“It’s kind of hard to explain. You’ll probably just have to look it up in the library to understand.” Hermione nodded as if accepting an important mission, but Harry just shrugged.

After that, conversation drifted to more neutral topics, such as another round of guessing on house placements and what the test to be sorted was going to be. Soon, it was time to change into their robes. Then in no time at all, the train was coming to a stop.

After disembarking at Hogsmeade station, Harry spotted Hagrid towering above the crowd with a lantern, beckoning the first years to follow him. At first, Harry tried to linger in the back and go unnoticed, but he should have known that wouldn’t happen.

“Harry Potter!” Hagrid bellowed over the crowd when he spotted him. The overjoyed tone in his voice instantly turned to anger when he caught sight of the people around him, particularly Draco. “Oh now, Harry. You’ll be wantin’ ter separate yerself from that lot. Come on up front wif me.” He reached a hand out for Harry to take, despite having a large group of people between them.

Harry looked around at his group of friends and the mildly offended looks on their faces. “They’ve been perfectly nice to me,” Harry defended. “There’s no reason to be so mean to them.”

At this, Hagrid’s face dropped in disbelief. He stepped forward, wading through the throng of 11-year-olds to get closer to Harry. When he was right beside him, he leaned down toward him as if whispering a secret, but his voice was still loud enough for the surrounding students to hear him just fine. “Harry,” he started. “You’ll soon fin’ out that sum wizar’in’ fam’lies er…” he glanced suspiciously at Draco, “much be’er then others. You don’ wan’ a go makin’ frens wit da wron’ sor’. I can ‘elp you there.” Hagrid stood back up straight and reached his hand out toward Harry again, offering to lead him away.

Harry looked at his enormous hand pensively for a second as he recalled that it was Hagrid’s fault that he’d nearly missed the train. Hagrid that had been so mean to the Malfoys for no reason. Hagrid who was now being mean to his friends for the same nonexistent reason. Hagrid who was kicked out of school for harboring a creature that had accidentally killed a student. Hagrid who took him to the Dursleys. Hagrid who was blindly loyal to Dumbledore (who was essentially the one at fault for all the bad things that happened to him from the moment his parents were killed).

He lifted his eyes up to meet Hagrid’s. “I think I can tell who the wrong sort are for myself, thanks,” he said, coolly.

Hagrid jerked his hand back as if it had been stung. “Oh,” he said, looking hurt. “Well, then…” he trailed off, turning around and heading back to the front of the group. He cleared his throat loudly. “Is tha’ ery’one, then?” he asked. There was no response, but he didn’t see any stragglers, so he continued on. “Alrigh’. Follow me. Stick to da paff.”

He led the group down a steep, narrow path. Either side was full of trees, so thick you couldn’t see through them. The mood was rather somber the entire walk, with not much noise other than the heavy footsteps, the sound of the wind through the trees, and the occasional sniffing from one of the students.

They came around a bend and the group burst into oohs and ahs as they caught their first looks of Hogwarts over the Black Lake. The castle was perched atop a cliff, looming in the distance with lights sparkling from the windows. Harry could make out its many turrets and towers even in the low light, and it was incredible. He couldn’t help but to gasp in excitement. It took a moment to realize, but he’d actually reached to grip Draco’s sleeve.

He let it go before he thought the other boy noticed, and followed as Hagrid directed the student into boats, warning them no more than 4 to a single one. Harry’s group wound up splitting up, boys in one and girls in the other, with no one coming to fill either empty slot.

The trip across the lake was mesmerizing. It took so long but also not enough time at all. Harry could have continued gazing up at the castle that way forever, but all too soon, the boats drifted through a curtain of ivy and through a long tunnel. The tunnel seemed to go underneath the castle until they reached an underground dock where the boats came to a stop and Hagrid helped the students out.

Harry noticed that when checking the boats as everyone left, Hagrid found a toad. He handed it off to Neville Longbottom, and the boy sighed loudly in relief.

Hagrid led them through a passageway that cut through the surrounding rocks and up a flight of stairs until they were at the doors of the castle. Hagrid knocked 3 times and the giant doors swung open to reveal a stern looking witch with black hair and emerald green robes. Hagrid passed the first years off, and she led them inside to the entrance hall.

She introduced herself as professor McGonagall and gave a brief speech about the sorting ceremony, giving no hints as to what it would be, then warned the students to straighten up before they headed inside. She left them for a moment, telling them to be ready to enter when she returned.

As soon as she left, the crowd started whispering excitedly and Harry grew nervous as he continued to wonder at what the sorting ceremony would be. He heard someone near the front of the steps whispering about a test and his nerves rocketed up even higher.

He’d read through all of his school books, and he even managed to impress Aunt Wally with his pureblood knowledge before he went back to the Dursleys. But what if that hadn’t been enough? What if he should have read those books more closely? What if he couldn’t remember a thing? He would be in front of the whole school. What if he failed?

He heard Pansy gasp loudly from a few steps in front of him, then turned to look at what was the matter. He wasn’t the only one who turned to look, and some of the others began to scream in shock. He whipped his head around to see and spotted a procession of about 20 ghosts.

2 of them seemed to be having a heated discussion, but they stopped midsentence to say hello to the first years. Some of the students were still looking on with horror, although others—Pansy included—looked more annoyed at having been surprised than fearful of the ghosts.

Harry found them to be quite interesting. They seemed to be devoid of color, mostly white like muggles assumed, with only varying shades of gray. They hovered above the ground, but they appeared perfectly human shaped, and even wearing ghostly clothes. They floated by, as opposed to walking, which made sense, considering. He’d fly if he had a choice as well.

For those last few moments, thoughts of ghosts managed to take his nervousness from his mind until Professor McGonagall returned and shooed them away. She ordered the students into a line, then led them into the Great Hall.

Harry gasped aloud when he saw the room. He’d never seen something so spectacular. Not even Malfoy manor could compare to what he saw here. He looked up at the roof and was greeted with the picture perfect image of the night sky. In front of him, he could hear Hermione whispering to Pansy and Millicent that it had been charmed to look that way since the school was created, and that no one else had managed to so excellently replicate the charm.

Professor McGonagall led them between 2 of the 4 long tables and up to the front of the room. She directed them to spread out a bit in the gap of space between the rows of student tables and the raised platform where the teachers sat at a separate table that stretched horizontally across the room.

On the platform, there was a stool, with an oversized, tattered old hat. The witch directed their attention to the hat, and after a moment, it sprung to life and began singing. It described the different houses, and sang a mildly funny song about only needing to wear it, then the hat would decide which one to put them in.

Harry felt the tension he hadn’t noticed in his shoulders drain with relief. He could wear a hat. That was easy enough.

Professor McGonagall opened up a long scroll, and one by one began calling the names of the students in alphabetical order. She raised the hat and dropped it on their heads, after a few seconds, it would shout the name of the house they were sorted into. The table that seated their house would applaud—in addition to the teachers’ polite applause—then the student would join them at the end of the table, where some empty spaces were left.

As the first few students were sorted, Harry spotted Severus—Professor Snape—and couldn’t help but notice that the only time he clapped was when a student was sorted Slytherin. Even then, it was only a very polite clap that looked as if it hardly made any noise. He caught the professor’s eye for a moment, and smiled at him politely. The man blinked at him blankly, lifted an eyebrow at him, then returned his attentions to the next student to be sorted.

Harry supposed that meant the man would continue to ignore his existence. He hadn’t been outright rude to Harry at all, not even during pureblood lessons. Though he did always appear to be a rather curt man. However, he was that way to everyone as far as Harry could tell. He wondered why the man seemed to dislike him so much.

Hermione was called next, and Harry tore his eyes away from the teacher to send her a good luck smile. She smiled back, just before the hat was dropped on her head, masking her view. She tipped it back with her hand, to return her vision and it sat upon her head, pondering. It took a long time considering. It seemed unable to come up with an answer.

Hermione was getting nervous. She caught a finger un the purple plate of her Trinket, fiddling with it in apprehension. Unknowingly, she was drawing everyone’s attention to it as well. After a moment more of thinking, the hat finally shouted “Slytherin” and Hermione’s whole body seemed to droop with relief. Professor McGonagall removed the hat, and Hermione practically leapt off the stool, then skipped to the far side of the hall to sit beside Millicent Bulstrode.

The next to be sorted was Daphne Greengrass, and it took only a few moments for the hat to put her into Slytherin. She didn’t appear upset, but Harry couldn’t help but wonder if she was hiding it. She’d been so set on Ravenclaw before. Perhaps she didn’t really care, and was just glad to be with people she knew.

Neville Longbottom was another person who took a long time to be sorted. Judging by the look on the bottom half of his face, he didn’t seem to like what the hat was saying. The longer he sat there, the more Harry noticed people in the crowd pointing at him and whispering. He overheard the words trinket and bracelet numerous times, and knew they were gossiping about his true-blood status. Finally, the hat shouted “Gryffindor,” and Neville took off to sit with his new house. He ran off so quickly, he still had the hat on his head and had to turn around to give it back, making most of the room laugh at him.

Draco, Nott, then Pansy were all sorted Slytherin as well, then Harry and Blaise were the only ones of their original group left. He hoped he could be with his friends. But they had all seemed so certain that he’d be Gryffindor. He hoped at least if that was where he was sorted, that Draco would keep up with his promise to hang out with him anyways. Who knows, maybe he’d find some friends in Gryffindor too.

The Patil twins were called, and Harry wasn’t the least bit surprised to see them put into different houses. Padma was a Ravenclaw, and Parvati was a Gryffindor.

Finally, Harry’s name was called and the hat was placed upon his head. “Hmm,” the hat whispered in his ear as it seemed to ponder to itself. “Not at all what I expected to see in here,” he commented. “Even as an old hat I’ve heard tales of you.” Of course the Sorting Hat had heard of him. He repressed the urge to roll his eyes. “Yes, it is quite clear, there’s really only one place to put you… Slytherin!” The last word was a shout.

Harry broke out into a grin as the Slytherin table erupted into applause. The hat was lifted off his head and he could feel his adrenaline pumping as he raced down the few steps and over to sit with his friends. Draco and the others looked shocked, but glad to see him, and a few of the older students nearby reached over to pat him on the back in congratulations, or shake his hand.

He chanced a glance up at the High Table and immediately spotted Dumbledore. He was sitting in a gold chair in the center of the table and watching Harry with a curious expression, even as the next student was called.

Harry only looked back at him for a second before averting his eyes to the other side of the room, where Hagrid sat. He was also staring at Harry, but with a horrified expression on his face and a bit of sadness in his eyes. Harry felt a little sympathetic, not having wanted to hurt the man’s feelings. But he’d still been mean to Harry’s friends and downright prejudiced against Draco’s family. None of that was fair! Especially now that the truth was out.

The Malfoys had clearly seen the error in their ways and were trying to do things differently. It hadn’t even taken them long to accept that they’d been in the wrong, which obviously meant that they hadn’t been that passionate about it anyways. The other families wearing the Trinkets were just the same, and all of Harry’s friends and their families were wearing the Trinkets.

The redheaded boy that Harry assumed to be a Weasley was, in fact, a Weasley and was sorted Gryffindor. Harry absently ticked that off in his mind on the list of facts about the redheaded family. Weasley’s were always sorted Gryffindor. The twins he’d seen earlier were making a huge raucous as their brother joined their table. The elder one tried to shush them, while congratulating his brother in a more civil way.

The last person to be called was Blaise and he was sent straight to Slytherin, where he sat with the rest of them.

With the sorting finally done, Dumbledore stood up and took the opportunity to say a few words. They were “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” With that, dinner began.

“He’s definitely a bit mad,” Harry whispered over to Draco.

“I think it was meant to be funny,” Hermione argued, lightly.

“No, he’s definitely barmy,” Draco agreed with Harry. They all 3 chuckled a bit, then were immediately distracted with the literal feast that appeared before them.

Harry had barely eaten that last week at the Dursley’s so he was more than ready to stuff himself until he was fit to burst. Crabbe and Goyle seemed equally as eager across the table beside Nott, and Harry made a silent bet to himself to see if he could keep up with the stockier boys.

He absolutely failed that bet.

He rested his head against the table as he moaned in pain at the stretch of his stomach, while the other 2 boys were still stuffing their faces with desserts. Hermione patted his back sympathetically. “That’s why you’ve got to pace yourself, Harry.”

“You’d better not get sick in our dorm room tonight!” Draco threatened playfully, tossing a kernel of corn at his head. “There’s no way I’ll be able to sleep with the stench of sick filling up the room.”

Harry’s only response was another groan and a halfhearted swat in the other boy’s directions.

Hermione chuckled at their antics, brushing the piece of corn from Harry’s head.

Harry’s sure that at one point in the night, Dumbledore gave an actual speech, but of it, the only thing he recalled was a long belch that gave his stomach some sweet relief and something about dying on the third floor. By the time a prefect led them to their dorm in the dungeons, Harry was ready to fall into a 15-year long food coma.

His attention peaked for a little while as they entered the common room and he marveled at all the green and silver, and the Victorian style furniture. It looked very traditional, but cozy, and the fire in the hearth kept it at a nice warm temperature. Harry liked it a lot. His favorite part had to be the giant window that looked out into the lake. Not at the lake, but into it. Their dorm was beneath the waterline. Harry wondered if he’d ever catch a glimpse of the Giant Squid.

The boys and girls were separated and led to their dorms. They boys’ dorm had 6 identical four poster beds with black wooden frames, lush green bedding with silver lining, and silk sheets and pillowcases. Harry picked the nearest empty one and collapsed into it while the other boys fought over who got the rest.

He wound up between Draco and Blaise, and across from Crabbe and Goyle. Right as he was starting to doze off, Draco nudged him awake and made him change into his nightclothes and actually get under the covers. His food induced sleepiness was so effective that he fell asleep as soon as he was in his bed properly. He was certain he’d never fallen asleep faster in his life. Even when the Dursleys would deprive him of sleep for punishment.

Or at least he would have been, if he’d been awake long enough to complete the thought.

Harry’s first day of classes was interesting to say the least.

He woke up belching, stomach still full from the night before.

“Can’t beat the masters,” Crabbe teased, patting his stomach smugly after buttoning up his robes. “I’m already ready for round two. What about you, Goyle?”

Goyle stood up from tying his shoes, smiling. “Oh yeah. There’s nothing I’m better at than food.”

“I believe it,” Nott snickered from his side of the room. He slung his bag over his shoulder, then left the dorm.

Crabbe brushed him off. “What about you, Potter. Think you can handle a round two?”

Harry groaned loudly. “No!” he whinged. “I’m never going to eat again…” Crabbe and Goyle burst into laughs, then left the room after Nott.

The door to the bathroom swung open and Blaise stepped out in a huge cloud of steam.

“Ugh!” Draco scoffed loudly, “Blaise! How am I supposed to fix my hair with the mirrors all fogged up?”

“With a brush?” Blaise snarked as he straightened up his robes.

“But I can’t see my reflection!” Draco retorted. “How am I supposed to see what it looks like?”

“Use a steam clearing charm,” Blaise suggested nonchalantly.

Draco glared at him as if he were an idiot. “This is our very first day at Hogwarts! When would I have learned a steam clearing charm?”

“I dunno. Find it in a book.” Blaise grabbed his bag and headed out the door, leaving a scowling Draco alone with Harry. He chuckled darkly as he left.

“You know,” Draco growled. “I don’t think I like him anymore.” Harry chuckled at his grumpiness. “Or you,” Draco snapped, making Harry laugh more.

Harry quickly got dressed and ready for the day while Draco fussed with his hair in the reflection of every metal surface he could find.

“You look perfectly fine,” Harry sighed when he was finally ready.

Draco scowled at Harry’s head. “Have you even seen your own hair? I can’t trust it when you say that!”

“Hey!” Harry scoffed. “I don’t make my hair look like this.” He gestured wildly toward his head. “It just does it on its’ own. I can wash it, brush it, comb it, do whatever I like. I have no control over what happens up here.”

Draco frowned. “That explains a lot.”

Harry huffed at him again. “You look fine. Now let’s go upstairs and get our schedules.”

With a final glance at the doorknob, Draco put his brush down and grabbed his bag, following Harry out of the room. Upstairs, Harry found himself frowning as the rest of the people around him ate their food. After much prodding, Hermione was able to get him to eat a single piece of toast and a glass of water.

Attempting to maneuver the castle proved to be quite the task. The trio had been lucky that they’d followed a few of the upper year students to the Great Hall for breakfast, but they seemed not to have much luck as far as getting to classes. Fortunately for them, Hermione was clever enough to suggest their whole class move as a unit. That way, if one of them had managed to find their way around, they all would.

Thanks to Hermione’s good memory, Blaise’s brilliant sense of direction, and Daphne’s knowing from her eldest brother which ghosts would help and which would try to trick them for laughs, they weren’t late once that first week, and had only managed to get lost twice.

The first time was because as they neared their class, a staircase changed on them, and they couldn’t find their way back. The second time was because Crabbe insisted they listen to The Fat Friar’s advice, despite Daphne warning him that he tended not to be very kind to Slytherins. He’d seemed nice enough at first, and promised them that he would never trick a student. He sounded genuine, but when Nott called him the Fat Friar to his face, his eyebrow twitched ominously, then he led them down a hallway with a door that vanished as soon as they tried to open it.

By the time they were able to get back to a place they knew how to navigate, Nott had been smacked in the back of the head enough times that he knew to never call him “Fat” Friar to his face again.

Despite the lack of consistency and confusing nature of the castle, they all had a pretty good grip on how to get around by the end of the week.

The classes themselves were something else. Harry was glad that he’d spent so much time reading his books and trying to catch up to the kids who grew up in wizarding society. Ultimately, it wasn’t necessary. Most of the wizarding kids were at about the same point as the muggleborns as far as knowledge. Harry found that he’d actually been ahead of them all. It felt nice to be considered ahead of the class after years of having to lag behind on purpose to make sure he didn’t outshine his idiot cousin.

Of course, Draco and Hermione were both far ahead of him, especially Hermione. But, he’d already expected as much considering they were the ones to help him catch up.

He’d been particularly far ahead in History of Magic. It had become one of his favorite subjects during the last month of the summer. During that time, he’d managed to finish the entire textbook, and even reread his favorite parts. That along with his Pureblood Lessons had given him a great head start.

However, sitting in class listening to Professor Binns go on and on in a drawling monotone proved completely impossible. His interest slipped almost immediately, even as he tried to take notes on everything the ghost said. By the end of the class, he decided his best bet was to take enough notes to see what they were studying at the time, then to research it all on his own. Otherwise he wouldn’t learn a thing.

Transfigurations was another class that seemed rather interesting, although very difficult. Professor McGonagall was as strict a teacher as she appeared and Harry made a mental note not to cross her. Though calm and quiet, she was a rather intimidating witch. She was clever enough that even Hermione seemed to admire her, but also witty enough to keep the class engaged. Though she wasn’t very patient, she had a tongue like a whip that made up for it, as long as you weren’t the focus of the lashing.

Their first class involved trying to turn matchsticks into needles and, while no one had managed to accomplish it, she had seemed particularly impressed with the progress the Slytherins had made. Hermione of course, had done the best and even managed to earn a small smile from the woman.

Harry was starting to realize that Hermione clearly didn’t give herself enough credit. He knew that she was smart, but he was starting to think that she might actually be some kind of genius. All he could do was try his best to keep up.

Herbology wound up being a class that he didn’t particularly like. He found the plants and fungi to be interesting enough, and it was easy to keep up with. He just couldn’t find a particular passion for it. Regardless, it was nice to get out of the castle and head to the greenhouses a few days a week.

There was one major annoyance that he had to deal with. Between every class, he continuously heard whispers following him.

“Look, it’s him!”

“That’s Harry Potter!”

 “I can’t believe he’s in Slytherin!”

“It’s the Boy Who Lived!”

“I can’t believe it!”

“Look! He’s wearing a Trinket!”

 “The Chosen One!”

“I wonder if he’s turned evil?”

“Did you see his scar?”

At first it really bothered him, but Draco and Hermione could see how annoyed he got and did their best to shoo people away. Eventually, they quieted down a bit, and he got better at ignoring them. The Slytherins quickly got used to seeing him all the time, and the novelty wore off by the 3rd day. So at least he had somewhere that he could get away from it. The common room and the library had become Harry’s 2 safe havens.

Originally, Draco had thought Harry would like being so popular and having everyone pay attention to and want to talk to him. Draco himself seemed almost envious at first. It didn’t take long for him to flip his switch when he saw how much it actually stressed Harry out, and how all the stares were more aggravating than anything.

Finally, Friday morning came and the Slytherins’ first class was double potions with the Gryffindors. So far, none of the first years seemed to make much fuss about House rivalries, but the upper years seemed to all take it very seriously. The tensions between Gryffindor and Slytherin were particularly nasty. By the time Friday rolled around, the temperament of the upper year Gryffindors had trickled down to the first years. They all sent dirty looks to their green clad classmates that had made it to the potions dungeons first.

Harry tried not to think too hard about it. He’d noticed that some of the looks he’d been getting all week from Gryffindors were particularly dirtier than the rest. If he didn’t know any better, he would have said they felt betrayed by him or something. It had been making him so uncomfortable that morning that Harry rushed Hermione and Draco away from the table more quickly than usual. Draco had just gotten his copy of the Daily Prophet and had to cram it in his bag before reading it to even keep up.

When everyone had finally settled into their seats, there was a clear divide in the room. The Slytherins sat up front, attentive and with quills and parchment ready to take notes. In the back, the Gryffindors were more relaxed with the absence of a teacher. They were chatting quietly amongst themselves and preemptively complaining about the class.

With the slam of a door and a dramatic whipping of black robes, Severus billowed into the room, invoking instant silence by presence alone. He went straight to his desk, snapping up a parchment to take roll call. He turned to face the students, piercing them with a dark glare that sent shivers along every spine in the room.

As he called the names, one by one, there was a distinct difference in the way the houses responded to him. The Gryffindors, despite all their talk of being courageous lions, answered in meek, clearly intimidated voices. The meekest of which belonged to Neville Longbottom who received an unimpressed sneer in return. The Slytherins however answered in strong, respectful voices, confidence ringing out from each one.

When Severus—or rather, Professor Snape—came across Harry’s name, he hesitated for the briefest of seconds. In that nanosecond, Harry was certain the professor would continue pretending he didn’t exist and skip over his name entirely. Instead, he was called on the same as the others and Professor Snape moved on to the Dean Thomas with no fanfare.

Hermione elbowed Harry lightly when she noticed the tiny sigh of relief he let out. He glanced at her, and she gave him a tiny supportive smile. She probably thought he’d been worried the professor would make a fuss about him as opposed to the literal opposite, but he appreciated the gesture nonetheless.

After marking Weasley and Blaise present, Professor Snape tossed his attendance sheet aside and left the students hanging off a dramatic pause. After a few seconds of him glaring at them one by one, he started in on a speech about the greatness of potions and its usual lack of enthusiasm from his dunderheaded students.

With no preamble, he immediately started asking the students questions.

“Longbottom!” The boy flinched when the Professor snapped his name. “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

“Uh…” Neville clearly had no idea.

“Finnigan!” Snape barked, losing his patience quickly. “Do you know?” The boy shook his head fervently, frowning. “What about you Weasley?” The boy just gulped and Snape rolled his eyes. “Surely one of you has got a drop of intelligence in your tiny little heads. Anyone?”

Every Slytherin student raised their hand.

“5 points from Gryffindor for overall underprepared-ness.” The professor called. “Parkinson. What is the answer I’m looking for?”

“The Draught of Living Death, sir,” she answered with a glance to the Gryffindors and a smug grin.

“Two points to Slytherin. Where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar? Anyone?” This time, only about half of the Slytherins raised their hands. “Granger?”

“In the stomach of a goat, sir,” she replied eagerly.

“Two more points to Slytherin.” The others who sat with their quills ready, rushed to take note of her reply as he continued with the questions without pausing. “What is the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane?” This time, only Harry, Draco, Hermione, and Millicent raised their hands. “Malfoy?”

“Nothing, sir. They are the same plant, that also goes by the name of aconite.”

“Two more points.” He looked around the room, glaring as he noticed some of the students sitting still. “Well, I see some of you are smart enough to be taking notes. What about the rest of you idiots? Do you need an invitation?”

At that, the Gryffindors scrambled to grab quills and parchment to catch up with their classmates. After note taking and a brief reading assignment, Snape set them off to work in pairs to brew a boil curing potion.

The professor stalked up and down between the rows of students, watching carefully as they took each step, and throwing around criticisms as if that’s what the air he breathed was made of. When speaking to the Slytherin children, his criticisms were slightly more constructive. However, when speaking to the Gryffindors, he was far more insulting. Except for Neville, who he seemed to take joy in outright demeaning.

The only people safe from his criticisms were Draco and Harry. Snape clearly preferred his Godson, using him as an example for the class, every time he and Harry got something right. Harry himself was being studiously ignored, as per typical.

The only other ones to get off easy were Hermione and Millicent. He merely warned Millicent that she should have crushed the snake fang bits smaller, and Hermione waited too long to add the porcupine quills. He had actually just begun commenting to the class on how both pairs had managed to perfectly stew their horned slugs, when the dungeon filled with hissing and a toxic green cloud.

In the back of the room, Neville, who’d been partnered with Finnegan, had managed to bungle his potion so badly that it burned through their cauldron and was seeping onto the floor. In moments, the entire class had stood up on their seats to avoid stepping in the acid he’d created.

Neville, the poor sod, had been covered in it from when the cauldron spilled. He began moaning and whimpering in pain as his whole body broke out in boils.

“Idiot boy!” Snape hissed. “Let me guess, you added the porcupine quills without taking the potion off the fire?” His only answer was more whimpering. “Finnegan, take this moron to the hospital wing,” he dismissed them, vanishing the potion with a wave of his wand.

Chapter Text

Early Monday evening, Draco, Harry, and Hermione found themselves outside, near the Black Lake. They were sat in a circle, sharing 2 boxes of treats between them. Draco’s mother had sent him a care package with a lovely letter and a few things that he’d forgotten. Aside from that, it was full of sweets that were meant to last him through the week until his next one. According to Hermione, if that was only meant to last him a single week, then he’d have cavities before Halloween even came around. By New year’s she promised he’d be out of teeth.

Surprisingly, Harry received a similar package from Aunt Wally. The note had been far less loving, but the gesture was shockingly kind of the woman. Although, she did mention that she was proud of him for making Slytherin like a proper Pureblood and that she expected only the best from him in the following year. She insisted that he would not like it very much if he disappointed her.

Draco and Hermione couldn’t decide if that was a thinly veiled threat or not. Harry didn’t care. He’d planned on doing his best regardless, and he’d gotten as much free candy as Draco had. That was all that mattered to him, so he and Draco combined their hauls and decided to split it between the 3 of them.

“Do you think we’ll ever catch a glimpse of the Giant Squid?” Draco asked, peering out over the water. It looked rather beautiful reflecting the late afternoon sky against the backdrop of the Forbidden Forest. It was warm enough that they didn’t need their cloaks, but they could definitely feel autumn coming around the corner.

“It’s likely,” Hermione replied. “The Black Lake is rather large, but I hear that the Giant Squid does like to come up and air his tentacles.”

“It’s too bad we haven’t seen him through our window yet. That’d be incredible.”

“Yeah, it would. I wonder what species of cephalopod it is. ‘Hogwarts: A History’ doesn’t say, and there aren’t any known species that can survive in fresh water. I think I might like to study it, but there’s not much I can do without at least seeing it first.”

“Do you think Professor Snape would know how to lure it to the window?”

While Hermione and Draco chatted about the squid in the Black Lake, Harry’s mind was caught on a different kind of Black. He couldn’t help but wonder about his Godfather, locked away in Azkaban. Aunt Wally was absolutely certain that he was innocent of the crimes he was convicted of. She clearly didn’t even like her son much, so Harry couldn’t figure out what difference it would make for her to be so confident if she was actually lying.

Moreover, though the woman was unpleasant—among other things—she certainly didn’t seem like a liar. She was so brutally honest that it was outright rude and often blatantly uncivil. So, why was she so sure of her son’s innocence despite the obvious evidence? And how could they have convicted him without a trial?

“I wish there was a way to figure it all out…” he mumbled to himself.

“What’s that, Harry?” Draco asked, still grinning off the tail of Hermione’s joke.

“Oh,” he shook his head, not having meant to speak aloud. “I was just thinking about Sirius Black…”

Hermione nodded her head in understanding. “Thinking about what Aunt Wally said?” she asked.

“I just don’t know how she can be so sure he’s innocent, despite all the proof.” Harry frowned at the grass pensively. “There has to be something that she knows or sees that we don’t get. Or, that no one else does.”

“In all of the reading that I’ve done,” Hermione explained, “I’ve never come across anything naming him, or his role in what happened. There are plenty of other notorious Death Eaters, and even people on the Light side that are mentioned by name. Dead, in Azkaban, or alive. But not a single thing on Sirius Black.”

“It’s almost as if history wants us to forget all about him,” Draco suggested.

“But why?” Harry didn’t understand. “I wish there was some way to figure it all out,” he repeated.

Hermione pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Actually, there might be.”

“How?” both Draco and Harry asked eagerly.

“We should be able to just ask the ministry. His trial should be a matter of public record. All we would need to do is send the Department of Magical Law Enforcement an Official Inquiry, and legally they can’t refuse. That should be all we need.”

“But remember what Aunt Wally said?” Draco added. “He never got a trial, thanks to Dumbledore.” Harry found himself having to hold back a sneer at the man.

“I don’t think that’s true. They can’t convict and sentence a person without giving them a trial,” Hermione argued.

“But why would Aunt Wally lie?” Harry asked. “I’ve been going over it in my head, and it just doesn’t seem likely that she’d lie at all. On top of that, I can’t figure out what she would get out of it. Why would she lie if it didn’t change anything? Especially for the reputation for her son, that she doesn’t even like?”

Hermione pondered it for a moment, brow furrowed. “Yeah, I guess you have a point. But if he didn’t have a trial, sending an inquiry would make them aware of that. That would give them a reason to launch an investigation, then they’d have no choice but to give him one now.”

“Then we have to do that!” Harry insisted. “He’s my godfather! I owe it to him, at least!”

“But Harry…” Draco looked up at Harry with cautious hesitation in his eyes. “Even if he didn’t have a trial, he could still be guilty. Then what?”

Harry was blank for a moment. He hadn’t thought of that. He’d only been considering it from the standpoint of Sirius actually being innocent. But what if he wasn’t? “Then,” Harry began, “he’ll just have to go back to Azkaban. But at least it will all have been fair. Guilty or not, he at least deserves a trial. Everyone does.”

Draco looked unsure, but Harry was confident.

“I must say, I agree Harry.” Despite her words, Hermione still looked skeptical. “However, it’s not going to be as easy as writing the ministry and asking. There’s a whole process we have to go through, and it takes time. I’m not even certain of all the steps myself. We’d need to do a bit of research before we even sent the inquiry.”

Harry stood. “Then, we need to get started right now.” He looked over to the sun setting over the lake, realizing it was going to be dinner time soon enough. “Well,” he corrected, “How about this weekend, once we’ve finished our schoolwork?”

Harry regarded Hermione and Draco with earnest eyes and the slightest hint of desperation. Hermione exchanged looks with Draco, then they both nodded at Harry.

“Sounds like a plan.”

“Let’s do it, then.”

They set to work as soon as they could, holing themselves up in the legal section of the library whenever they had free time. They didn’t make any immediate progress. Initially, they didn’t really even know where to look.

After a week of not much of anything, Hermione finally found what appeared to be the only book in the non-restricted section of the library that talked at length about the Ministry of Magic Public Information Services.

The not oft used process of getting—so called—public information from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement was far more complicated than the trio felt it needed to be. Draco was insistent that they set it up that way to prevent people from bothering. Harry was willing to believe it, but that wouldn’t deter him.

In order to read any information they had on Sirius Black, they first had to petition the DMLE to release it to the Public Information Services. Once it was there, that was where they had to send the Official Inquiry. Although if they sent them at the same time, the PIS should be able to continue on with no delay.

That was all simple enough, however, the DMLE had the option of refusing to release the information. One way to circumvent that, was to fill out a specific form called the DMLE-IR(HS)-429. The Problem arose from the fact that none of the places the trio had looked actually had a copy of the form to use. They couldn’t even find where to look for it, or even what department they should contact for it, should they need to.

In addition to that, if the information was sealed, all the DMLE would send to the PIS was a fancy scroll that stated it was sealed. The PIS would then send the trio an unnecessarily long letter stating essentially the same thing. The trio couldn’t be sure if it was actually sealed or not, but if it was and they moved forward as if it wasn’t, then they would need to start the process all over again after they somehow managed to get it unsealed.

If what Aunt Wally said about there never being a trial was true, and the ministry was trying to cover it up, then Harry was certain that they were going to pass it off as being a sealed file in the hopes of warding off anyone looking for answers.

If they made sure the files were unsealed, found the proper form, petitioned the DMLE, and sent the inquiry to the PIS, then things would unfold the way they wanted. If there was a trial, Harry could read the files and put all his worries about justice to rest. If not, the DMLE would be forced to tell the PIS that no such information existed, which would be reported directly to the head of the department with orders that would launch them into an immediate investigation. There was no way for the investigation to end other than with a real trial for Sirius Black. Then, justice will finally be served officially, albeit rather late.

One thing Hermione was stuck on, was that the DMLE could take as long as they wanted to release the information. They’d have to unseal it right away once given the order, but they could delay the actual release for months.

Hermione wanted to put the name of someone influential on their inquiry to prevent that from happening. The only person they could think of who might have enough sway was the headmaster. Considering he’s likely the one to be first in line to prevent them from launching the subsequent investigation, that didn’t seem likely to happen. They weren’t sure who else to ask.

Draco seemed to think that having The Boy Who Lived’s name on it would be good enough. Harry was far more influential than he thought. Still, he was only an 11-year-old boy. Hermione and Harry himself doubted that his name would mean much to the Ministry.

Regardless, none of that mattered if they didn’t find the DMLE-IR(HS)-429, and they couldn’t get the order to have the file unsealed. If the DMLE wanted to get the papers caught up in the system, the trio could always ask someone for help moving it along later. So they continued searching in every spare moment they could find.

One morning in late September, Draco was shuffling through 2 separate Daily Prophets. One of them was from that day. The other, he’d found crumpled in the bottom of his book bag from a few weeks before. The battered headline stated that someone had attempted to break into a vault at Gringott’s in July.

“What’d they steal?” Hermione asked, curiously, having not seen that one when it was new.

“Hm?” Draco looked up from the comic section, then glanced at the cover. “Oh, they didn’t get anything.”

“They got caught?”

“No. The vault they broke into was empty. They came too late.”

“Well, that’s good at least. I wonder what it was-”

Hermione was cut off by Harry slamming a book onto the table between the 2 of them. “Look!” he pointed to a paragraph just about halfway through the page. The section was titled “Statute of Limitations.”

Draco dropped his paper and leant over the book, skimming through it and finishing it about 15 seconds after Hermione. Her eyes lit up, and when Draco’s mouth fell open, she caught his eye and they both broke into a smile.

“This is definitely getting put into the petition!” Hermione promised. “This is the exact loophole we needed!”

“Yes!” Harry agreed. “The Statute of Limitations marks seven years as the length of time a high security case can stay sealed. The only exception is top security cases that are matters of national security. Sirius Black’s case was most definitely not a matter of national security. And it’s been ten years.”

“So they can’t even pretend that the file is sealed, then claim ignorance. They’ll have to fork it over no matter what!” Draco was beginning to feel like this was going to work in their favor.

“We’ve still got to find the form to make the DMLE release their files to the Public Information Services, though,” Hermione warned. “Otherwise, this means nothing. And I still think we’d have a better chance with an influential name on the inquiry.”

“Then we’d better hurry up and find that form,” Harry stated. With that, the trio grabbed their things to head to the library, and all thoughts of the Daily Prophet were behind them.

Their next breakthrough came about a week later, in the beginning of October. They’d hit a wall in their research and were contemplating sending a letter to each department in the ministry to ask for a copy of the DMLE-IR(HS)-429. One would think it would be easy to find in the DMLE, but every source they found (few as they were) indicated that the form had been gotten from somewhere outside of the Ministry.

If Harry hadn’t been so determined to get justice, he would have just given up already. Draco reminded him of his original theory that it was the whole purpose behind making the process so much more difficult than it needed to be. Determined not to lose, they hunkered down double time to find it.

It had been pretty late in the evening in the Slytherin common room. Most of the students in their year had gone to bed already because they had class in the morning. However, the trio was still poring over the same legal books they had been for a while. Pansy and Millicent were studying for transfiguration as well. They were having a quiz soon and they’d both been beginning to slip on their studies. So they joined together to cram.

There were a few of the upper years still spread out around the room, and it must have been one of them who gasped loudly. It was loud enough for everyone else to jerk their head in their direction and see what was wrong.

As it turned out, nothing was wrong. The Giant Squid had decided to make his first underwater appearance of the year just then, and he bumped a few of his tentacles on the window. In seconds, all the habitants of the common room rushed to crowd the window. Hermione took a piece of parchment with her and began scribbling notes on the back of it as quickly as she could.

An older girl with very long black ringlet curls and dark skin cooed at it, saying how cute it was. Draco reminded her that it could eat people, but the crazy girl only squealed, suggesting that made it even cuter.

The squid hung out at the window for about 10 minutes, occasionally tapping the glass and moving back and forth, up and down, around it. A few of the other boys tapped back, making a beat on the glass with it. One of them even began to sing to it, though not very well.

“Do you think,” the crazy 4th year girl asked, “that he thinks we’re the ones in the aquarium?”

“What?” Harry scoffed at her.

“No, I mean think about it. He’s just spending his days out in the lake living his life, right? What if he comes over here every now and then to come and get a look at the weird looking fish trapped in a box on the other side of the glass? Like we’re the ones in an aquarium. It’s just like we do, only from his point of view instead of ours.”

“You’re absolutely mad…” Draco blinked at her, curiously.

“That is a legitimate question!” she argued, pressing her oversized glasses up the bridge of her nose.

Hermione took as many notes as she possibly could, absolutely relishing in the opportunity to examine the squid so close. By the time the squid left, she’d run out of parchment and began writing on the backs of papers that had notes about Sirius Black’s case on them.

She was rereading one closely as she walked past the couch where Pansy and Millicent were sitting on her way back to the circle on the floor she and the boys made.

“DMLE dash IR High Security dash four two nine?” Pansy asked, brows drawn in confusion.

“What?” Hermione was snapped out of her musings about the squid and stopped in her tracks. “What do you know about that?”

“Why do you need one of those?” Pansy questioned.

“Do you know what it is?”

“Of course I do. It’s to make the DMLE give up information they’re holding on to for no reason. Any self-respecting journalist knows that. How do you know what it is?”

“We’re trying to figure out where to get one from!” Hermione nearly shouted in her excitement.

“Well,” Pansy smirked. “Look no further. I’ve got a small stack of them buried in my trunk somewhere.”

“Are you serious?” Draco’s mouth had just about hit the floor. “We’ve spent weeks trying to find this form,” he complained “and you’ve just casually got a stack of them in your trunk?”

“Yeah?” Pansy quirked a confused eyebrow, not seeing what all the hubbub was about.

“Why on earth have you just got a stack of them lying around?” Harry probed.

“I’ve seen my mum fill them out dozens of times. I figured if I ever found something I’d want to get the real scoop on, it’d be nice to have. So I stole a few of them to last me the school year. If nothing else, it’ll provide me with some good blackmail material if anybody wants to get too frisky.”

Draco nodded as if that made perfect sense. Well, Harry supposed it did, devious as it was.

“So you’re going to give us one?” Hermione cut to the chase.

Pansy chuckled at her desperation. “That depends, how bad do you want it?”

“Come on Pans! Don’t be like that!” Draco croaked.

“Fine, fine!” she laughed. “I’ll go grab one.” She headed upstairs, Hermione close on her heels.

Thanks to Pansy’s help, the trio had managed to put together a small packet of documents to be used in the formal inquiry into the case of Sirius Black in just a few more days. The relief of being ready to send it in was so strong, Harry couldn’t imagine how he’d feel if the whole thing turned out being true and they managed to help free an innocent man.

Hermione still had little hope that it would be taken seriously, let alone get a timely response without the addition of an influential name to push it through the system. Harry wasn’t much more optimistic, but he had to do something. He couldn’t just sit by with the knowledge that Sirius Black could have been falsely imprisoned and was rotting away in Azkaban. He had to know the truth about him and what happened that night.

When the owls flew in that morning, Hedwig was suspiciously empty handed. Unlike most Sundays or the occasional Monday, she wasn't carrying Aunt Wally's care package for Harry. The first one he’d received was a surprise, but he’d quickly gotten used to being spoiled by the old woman.

Other than candy and sweets, she’d been sending him presents. Most of it was books on Pureblood and Wizarding tradition, or various robes. She’d seen some of his muggle clothing over the summer and was far less than impressed. Piece by piece, she appeared to be trying to replace his entire wardrobe with what she considered proper attire for a pureblood. There was also the occasional random object that she thought might prove interesting, if not useful. She often sent something for Hermione as well.

Their weekly correspondence was causing Harry to like Aunt Wally a lot more. The majority of her nastiness disappeared when he realized how lonely she was and how bitter that left her. Harry could certainly relate to that. He’d even been keeping her up to date with his endeavors to free her eldest son, though she expressed no particular interest.

Over time, the letters became less stiff and more familiar, warmer. He even noticed that she was quite funny when she wasn’t being racist.

All throughout this, she showed a genuine interest in how he was doing, and showered him in praise when she heard that he was doing well. She still had high expectations of him, but instead of feeling pressured, he felt eager not to disappoint her. He liked having someone to feel impressed when he accomplished something, and having someone to work hard for. He imagined that is was what it felt like to have a real grandmother.

"Wow," Draco exclaimed, perking up as he read the letter he’d received. Strangely enough, he hadn’t received a care package from his mother either.

"What is it?" Hermione asked.

"Aunt Wally and Mother are here," he replied. "They'll be downstairs in Professor Snape's office, endowing students with Trinkets all day.” He read a few more lines ahead in the letter. “Mother says they’ll meet the three of us there after breakfast and that’s where she’ll give us our packages. Oh!” he gasped, putting the letter on the table excitedly. “She says she and Aunt Wally have an idea of how to get our inquiry through to the right people.”

“That’s perfect!” Hermione quickly finished her tea then gathered her things, rushing the boys to hurry up as well.

Harry crammed a whole sausage in his mouth, giving the other to Hedwig. She took it and left with Draco’s owl not too far behind, leaving the trio as they scrambled to get down to the dungeons.

Just before they made it inside, they paused outside the door to check and make sure that they were presentable enough to avoid Aunt Wally’s wrath. Harry took a nanosecond to thank Merlin that on a whim he’d decided to wear a set of green robes from Aunt Wally that Draco had been particularly impressed with. His hair was a lost cause, but everybody knew that by now.

Professor Snape was standing in his office with a grumpy frown. The trio greeted him politely and he offered them a curt nod in return. Behind his desk, Aunt Wally was sitting comfortably. She had a smile on her face that suggested she rather liked making Severus unhappy. Narcissa was sitting on the other side and immediately stood to give all 3 children a hug.

“I’m so proud of you all,” she cooed. “The top three students in your year.”

“The semester has barely begun,” Severus scoffed at her pride.

“Don’t belittle it,” she scolded. “They’ve all done a great job. Besides, you should be proud of them too. They are your little snakes after all.”

He arched an eyebrow at the trio, eye lingering for just a second on Harry. “Indeed…”

Draco and Hermione gave their greetings to Aunt Wally, but Harry approached her. He had instinctually wanted to give her a hug, but hesitated, not sure if that was appropriate.

“Harry, my dear,” she called, smiling and reaching out to him. “How are you?”

He grinned back, settling into the hug. “I’m alright. How are you Aunt Wally?”

“I’m well,” she replied, pulling back. “I’d be better if I weren’t here, about to deal with all of these mudbloods and blood traitors. But I made an agreement when I helped make these Trinkets. If nothing else, I am a woman of my word.” She rolled her eyes as if the very idea was bothersome to her.

Well, at least Harry could always count on her to be consistent.

“Speaking of blood traitors,” Aunt Wally continued, “I think I’ve found a way to help you in your efforts with my son.”

Harry wasn’t sure if he imagined it, but it sounded to him as if Professor Snape gagged a little when she said that. He glanced over to him and he was definitely scowling more than he had been a second ago.

“What was your idea?” Draco asked eagerly.

“Miss Hermione said an influential name on your petition might speed the process along,” Aunt Wally explained. She reached into her bag and withdrew a piece of parchment, handing it to the girl in question. “He’s not as influential as certain idiot headmasters, but I think Arcturus Black, Head of the only remaining Noble House, and Order of Merlin First Class might be a little helpful.”

“Yes!” Hermione bounced up and down on her toes in excitement as she skimmed the letter. “This is brilliant! Thank you so much Aunt Wally!” She pulled the folder she kept all of the documents for their inquiry out of her bag and placed the letter inside.

“Narcissa has an idea that ought to be even more beneficial for you.” Aunt Wally gestured to her niece.

“Actually, this was Lucius’ idea,” Narcissa clarified. “He also seemed quite eager to do it, though I can’t fathom why. He and my cousin were far from close to—or even tolerant of —each other.”

“What was his idea, Mum?” Draco asked. His tone was polite, but Harry could see the impatient twinkle in his eye.

“He wants to deliver your petition to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, personally,” she replied. “He’s refused to tell me why, but he’s certain that he’s got a piece of information that will keep them from putting this on a shelf. He’s also got a bit of influence at the ministry himself. He has a certain way about him that makes it hard for others to tell him no.”

“She means threats and bribery,” Aunt Wally simplified for the children, smirking at them as if divulging a great secret. Narcissa threw her aunt a dirty look, but the old woman shrugged at her with nonchalance.

Hermione didn’t look so sure about that method, but Harry figured if it worked then why not?

“He won’t be able to influence the results, will he?” Harry asked. That was his main concern. He wanted the truth about what happened 10 years ago. He didn’t mind so much if a bit of subterfuge was used to make sure they got it.

“Of course not,” Narcissa soothed. “He won’t have access to any of the files or what they say. He’ll just be able to put enough pressure on the right people to hurry the process along.”

Hermione sighed in defeat. “I can’t say I’m too keen on the idea of threats and bribery,” she said. “But if he can get the DMLE to put a rush on their end, then that’s exactly what we need. If they get everything in order quickly, then the Public Information Services should be able to take care of the rest in no time at all.”

“Are you finished with all the paperwork?” Narcissa asked the trio. “If you are, I can take it to him when I return home tonight.” With no hesitation, Hermione handed the folder off.

Harry almost couldn’t believe that things were finally about to happen. It almost didn’t feel real. In the back of his mind, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going to go wrong. It always did for him, didn’t it? He allowed the detached feeling to continue for a while. If he didn’t let himself get to excited about it, he wouldn’t be so disappointed when things finally did go wrong.

“Good,” Narcissa smiled at the children. She passed the folder off to Aunt Wally, who put it in her own bag. “Now that business is done, time for pleasure.”

After digging around for a comfortable place to put the folder, Aunt Wally reached her arm deep into the bag, much farther than she should have been able to. When she withdrew it, she was holding a package that definitely should not have been able to fit inside. Clearly, the bag was magic. She checked the name, then passed it over to Draco. “From your mother, dear,” she told him. She reached inside for another package, then handed that one off to Harry. “From myself,” she offered him a warm smile. Next, she pulled out 2 small boxes and handed them both to Hermione. “Just a little something for you. One from Narcissa, and one from myself,” she told her. Hermione was pleasantly surprised.

They all expressed their gratitude, but before they had a chance to open any of them, Professor Snape cut in.

“Might I remind you all,” he started, “that you ladies have appointments to keep? Perhaps the common room would be the best place to open such gifts…”

The trio took that as the dismissal that it was and bid their goodbyes. When leaving Snape’s office, they walked past a line of students that wrapped around the wall, continuing into the corridor and nearly all the way to the staircase leading to the ground floor.

Harry imagined he’d be seeing a lot more Trinkets around after today.

Chapter Text

On the morning of Sunday, October 13th, Harry, Hermione, and Draco were quizzing each other on History of Magic facts at the Slytherin table in the Great Hall. Harry had finally fallen asleep in that class for the first time, so the trio decided to give up on it completely. Instead, they’d gone through Professor Binns’ syllabus and made an outline of what they needed to know for exams. Using that outline, they came up with a schedule to study the information themselves. There was no way they would learn anything otherwise.

Getting the syllabus was easy enough, with only minimal subterfuge involved. They waited until lunch time, then Draco and Hermione both began asking the dead professor questions and arguing about his responses until he was completely absorbed in the conversation. When he was, Harry approached him and asked quietly if he could see the syllabus. Too distracted to realize what it was Harry was really asking for, the professor told him yes and continued his discussion without pause. Harry copied it with a spell he’d been practicing, then went to save the other 2 by saying they were needed elsewhere.

Ever since then, History of Magic became Harry and occasionally Draco’s official naptime. Hermione could never sleep through a class, but with the knowledge that she was still learning everything she needed, she allowed herself to take the time to complete homework for other classes.

They knew there was a “pop” quiz coming up, so they were studying double time to make sure they wouldn’t miss a thing.

Their studying was interrupted by an unfamiliar owl landing on the table between them. He stuck his leg out for Harry to retrieve a very official looking letter. Harry saw that it was from the Public Information Services and his heart immediately shot to his throat.

To be honest, once they’d handed off the file that they’d put together, Harry had allowed the whole topic of Sirius Black to fall to the back of his mind. It fell so far back, that he’d very nearly forgotten completely about it. It was only in those last few moments of full consciousness before bed that he thought of it at all. Or when someone brought up the topic of his parents, or that fateful night all those years ago. With the novelty of seeing him beginning to wear off, that didn’t happen too often anymore.

“This is it,” Harry addressed Draco and Hermione. Hermione stopped speaking mid-sentence to turn her full attention to the letter in Harry’s hand. Neither she nor Draco needed to ask what “it” was.

“Go on,” Draco encouraged. “Open it, see what it says.” Hermione nodded eagerly, across from him.

Harry’s fingers were trembling just the slightest as he tore the letter open. He was far more nervous to hear the response than he thought he would be when he first decided to send the inquiry. He was so anxious, his fingers nearly crinkled the letter as he removed it from the envelope.

As tenderly as he could, he unfolded the letter and read it aloud:

“Dear Mr. Potter,

“We here, at the Ministry of Magic: Public Information Services regret to inform you that the information you seek does not exist. We recognize that this is an unheard of occurrence, and wish to inform you that the necessary steps have been taken to rectify this.

“An investigation into the records of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement has revealed that there never was a trial for the conviction of Sirius Black III. This was an egregious error on the part of the DMLE. Here at the Ministry, we maintain a motto of “innocent until proven guilty.” This clearly was not enforced in the case of Mr. Black. To correct this, Mr. Black has been immediately removed from the custody of the dementors at Azkaban, and is now being contained in a holding cell at the Ministry of Magic Headquarters, awaiting an actual trial.

“The date of this trial is to be the 31st October, 1991 at 9:00 in the morning. This shall be a private trial, with no audience. As you requested, we will send you the results and all information pertaining to the case, as soon as they are made available.

“We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you, and appreciate your patience as we work alongside the DMLE to solve this issue.

“Best regards,

“Alton Pennywhistle

“Chief Clerk and Librarian

“Public Information Services Department.”

“I can’t believe it!” Hermione breathed. Her eyebrows were drawn in anger and Harry could tell he and Draco were in for a rant if they didn’t cut her off soon. “There really wasn’t a trial? I thought that Aunt Wally was just misinformed, but she was right? What kind of government would do such a thing? People are supposed to trust the Ministry of Magic! How can they do that when they won’t even give their citizens due process? And no one would have even known about it if we hadn’t gone looking! I wonder how many other people have been locked away like this! How can the ministry treat people so completely unfairly?”

“I know!” Draco jumped in before Hermione got carried away. “At least we’re helping Sirius Black. At least we’ll know the truth now.” Hermione looked as if she still had more words to say, so Harry jumped in as well.

“I wonder what it was that Mr. Malfoy knew,” he changed the subject. “Remember, your Mum said he knew something that would make them put a rush to this whole process?” Draco nodded. “I wonder what it was.”

“Probably some kind of black mail,” Hermione spat, clearly not liking how easily that could be done. “The Ministry is so corrupt!”

“I think it must have been something more than just blackmail,” Harry mused. “What if he knows something about the case that we don’t? I can’t shake the feeling that Aunt Wally knew something too. What if your father also knows?”

“But why wouldn’t he have come forth already, then?” Hermione asked, unbelieving. “We all know Aunt Wally hates her son, but even she tried to say something in the beginning. Narcissa said they didn’t like each other, but why would Mr. Malfoy hate Sirius Black enough to let him rot in Azkaban for ten years?”

Both Harry and Hermione looked to Draco. Mr. Malfoy was his father. If any of them could figure it out, Draco could. “I haven’t the slightest idea, honestly,” Draco shrugged. “It’s not something he’s ever talked about with me. I couldn’t even begin to guess.”

“There’s more to the story,” Harry purported. “There is, and I want to figure out what, and how I fit into all of it. Draco, do you think you can ask your father what he knows?”

“How would I even go about asking that?” Draco scoffed. That was a very loaded question, and not exactly a casual topic of conversation.

“I don’t know. Just, ask him outright if you have to.”

“I guess, but that’s not the kind of thing I’d want to send through a letter. I’d rather talk face to face. Unless he visits the school on business, the next time I’ll see him is for the Yule holidays.”

Hermione sighed heavily. “The only thing we can really do for now then, is wait for the results of the trial.”

Harry nodded. He was impatient to know more, but Hermione was right. The trial was less than a month away, he figured he could wait that long for answers.

The next 2 weeks seemed to drag on forever. Harry tried to do everything he could think of to keep himself preoccupied, but his mind always seemed to wander back to the trial. Then, he’d work himself anxious worrying about the results. He would get caught up in the what ifs, and every possible scenario that could occur. He would have to catch himself and find something to do.

He wasn’t always able to do that, and sometimes Draco or Hermione were the ones who had to pull him out of it. He was really grateful for his friends in that time.

One of the things Harry used to distract himself was by paying close attention to all of the Trinkets he saw. He thought he’d been seeing them everywhere before, but after Aunt Wally and Narcissa came to the school, he was sure that at least a third of the student body had them. Even some of the Professors had them.

To his surprise, Professor McGonagall was a Trueblood. Knowing that Truebloods were particularly powerful had he and Hermione admiring the woman much more. Although, Draco seemed rather unimpressed. He was more interested in Professor Flitwick’s green Trinket.

It seemed like the whole school was taking bets on what creature he was mixed with. The going bet was that he was mixed with goblin, but there were a few other common guesses as well. Some were even outrageous like dragon, or giant. There was no possible way the tiny man was mixed with giant, and Hermione insisted that humans and dragons could not interbreed. That didn’t stop the few bets from coming in anyways.

Harry put a galleon on goblin, while Draco put a galleon on some type of fairy. He was sure that the man was far too good at charms to not have some fairy in him somewhere. Hermione refused to take a bet, insisting that the whole thing was meddlesome and rude.

A lot of the Gryffindor students seemed eager to figure out what Dumbledore’s Trinket would present as. He hadn’t taken to wearing one at all, but the Weasley Twins started up a bet that he’d be a trueblood. Harry was inclined to agree, but wouldn’t join the betting for that one. He was generally against anything that involved Dumbledore, as a rule. He still didn’t like the man.

From what Harry could tell, almost the entirety of Slytherin had Trinkets now. There were no truebloods in the house at all, nor were there any squibs. However, Draco explained that squibs don’t get accepted to Hogwarts, so Harry supposed that made sense.

There was only one other creature-blood in the house, aside from Blaise. Surprisingly, it was the crazy 4th year girl who thought the giant squid was cute. She wouldn’t admit what she was, but Draco was absolutely certain that she was part mermaid. She had to be, otherwise why would she sympathize with a sea creature so much? Hermione didn’t know if human-mermaid interbreeding was possible, so she added it to her never-ending list of things to research.

One thing she did manage to cross off the list was figuring out what Lilin were. Apparently, Lilin—or the Children of Lilith—was a collective term for incubi and succubae. It was strange to think of Blaise as being an incubus, especially considering what they were rumored to need to sustain life. Although, it certainly explained why both the boy and his mother were absolutely gorgeous.

After a bit of prodding, Blaise explained to all of his classmates that the legends they’d all heard were not the truth. He wouldn’t need to be concerned with any of that stuff anyways, until he was 21 and those types of traits began to develop. Until then he was a normal boy. Since he was only part incubus, he wasn’t even entirely sure which traits he would or wouldn’t get. He was just certain he wasn’t getting all of them.

After admitting all that, Blaise became nervous that the others might judge him. He ultimately turned out to be nervous for nothing. Draco cracked a joke about his part incubus status not being enough for him to cheat off Blaise’s DADA homework, and—after a short bout of laughter—everything returned back to normal. Blaise was clearly relieved.

As October came to an end, the weather got colder and the decorations for Halloween started going up. Soon enough, it was the 31st and the entire castle was decked out for the holiday.

The majority of Slytherin was complaining about it.

Halloween was a muggle holiday. Most of the traditional families didn’t celebrate it. Instead, they celebrated Samhain, the eve of the new year on the lunar calendar. Hogwarts also used to celebrate Samhain. It wasn’t until Dumbledore took over that it was changed to a Halloween celebration as a way to be more muggle friendly. Aunt Wally had warned Harry all about it, going on to explain how Dumbledore didn’t consider the fact that it would alienate the “purebloods.”

Over the centuries, more and more muggle influences were added to wizarding society. Wizards eventually adopted the solar calendar as well. That was one of the main problems Aunt Wally had against muggles. She claimed they were infecting their world and erasing wizard culture.

She used that as a part of her argument as to why muggleborn children should just be raised in wizard society. She wanted to keep the 2 separate. She didn’t care if the only thing separating the 2 was an 11% difference in DNA. Their entire worlds were different and if they weren’t going to live together due to the Statute of Secrecy, then she wanted them completely apart.

The traditionally raised wizards that composed most of Slytherin House had similar ways of thinking. Even if they didn’t go so far as to hate muggles outright, they did harbor a bit of bitterness for their own culture and holidays being ignored.

Despite the contempt for the celebration, the Halloween Feast was never anything but spectacular. So the Slytherins found themselves in the Great Hall with the other Houses. The hundreds of floating candles had been replaced with lit jack o lanterns and a colony of bats flying. They were dipping and diving, weaving in and out between the pumpkins. Occasionally, some of them would sit on a pumpkin for a rest, or on top of one of the tall trays that were filled to the brim with various candies. They seemed to be avoiding the roof itself, but given the enchantments on it, there was really no surprise there.

The tables were covered in all manner of food. The spread was similar to the start of term banquet, but with more autumn themed dishes. There were apples, turkey, soups, pies, carrots, sweet potatoes, and the list went on and on. Then, of course, there was the mountains of candy. The tables were so laden in candy that Hermione was having a hard time believing that the school was actually offering it to them.

“It’s almost like they’re promoting tooth decay,” she complained. She frowned at Crabbe and Goyle as they loaded their plates high with anything sugary that they could reach. Between the two of them, there wasn’t a vegetable in sight.

Harry started off with a baked potato smothered in toppings, but before he could even take his first bite, the doors to the Great Hall flew open. They slammed against the walls, echoing loudly and startling the room into complete silence. Professor Quirrell came thundering in, disheveled and turban askew. He ran straight to the Head Table, hollering as soon as he got there.

“Troll!” he shouted to the headmaster, frantically. “Troll in the dungeon!” He took a breath and more calmly explained, “Thought you ought to know,” then fainted where he stood.

Instantly, the Great Hall exploded into chaos. Screaming came from all directions as the students panicked, climbing out of their seats and running in every direction. No one seemed to know where they were going, they all just ran around in a panic. Heedless of the calls for order from the Head Table, the students were too frightened to sit still, but too nervous to head for the door.

Hermione got an idea and grabbed Draco by the collar because he was closest. She pulled him close and shouted into his ear. “Tell everyone to calm down!” she told him. “If the troll’s in the dungeon, we’re safe in here! Tell everyone you see to sit down and be calm!”

He nodded at her, looking paler than usual, then reached over to a Ravenclaw girl who was standing near him and shouted Hermione’s directions in her ear. Hermione repeated them to Harry, who then told Millicent, who then told Pansy, who told another Ravenclaw girl, then so on and so forth.

Hermione told everyone she could reach the same thing, and they all repeated it to whoever they could reach. In under 2 minutes, everyone had returned to their seats and the screaming quieted down enough that it was about the same level as the general chatter had been. It was more frantic whispering than anything else.

Dumbledore stood up at the front of the room. “Thank you, for settling down so quickly,” he addressed the students. “Prefects, please lead your Houses to their dormitories, immediately. Teachers, if you will follow me to the dungeons-”

“WHAT?”

Just as the prefects began trying to corral their classmates together, Hermione stood up from her seat and screamed the word in such a furious shriek that it echoed across the Great Hall and plunged the room into instant silence again. All attention was on her, but she didn’t even appear to notice.

“Headmaster, that’s a terrible idea!” she contradicted. She was talking loud enough for her voice to echo. There was no way the man wouldn’t have heard her, despite how far away he was. “The Slytherin dormitories are in the dungeons! We’re nowhere near them in here, and there’s only a few entrances to this room. The entire school is already here, so this is the safest place.

“You should go to the dungeons with just a few teachers, and leave the rest to stay here and protect us just in case. It makes no sense to send us wandering the halls with only the prefects to protect us.

“It’s only one troll. If you could defeat Grindelwald, surely you could stop a single troll on your own. Why would you need nearly every fully trained wizard in the castle to get together to stop it? Especially, if that means leaving all of the students to protect themselves? That’s a terrible idea!

“Also, someone needs to get Professor Quirrell to the infirmary! That’s another place that’s nowhere near the dungeons.”

Dumbledore raised his hand to silence Hermione, but when she continued, he spoke over her. “Thank you, Miss Granger, for your wonderful idea. I think I rather prefer your plan. However, I will have to deduct fifty points from your House for the random outburst and disrespect of the headmaster. Now, please have a seat, Miss Granger.”

Hermione’s mouth fell open in shock. She hadn’t thought it completely through when she stood up to berate the headmaster, so hadn’t really known what to expect to become of it. What she definitely hadn’t been expecting was to lose so many house points. She flushed red in embarrassment and returned to her seat, stiffly.

“Alright then, students, you shall stay here and are welcome to continue your feast. Professor McGonagall,” he looked over to the woman. If Harry didn’t know any better, he’d think she were trying to suppress a smile. “You shall come with me to the dungeons. Professor Flitwick, will you please bring Professor Quirrell to the Hospital Wing for an examination?”

Flitwick immediately went to work, casting a silent spell on the downed professor to keep him still, and floating him out of the room, using the same spell he’d been teaching the first years earlier that day.

Dumbledore instructed a few other professors to guard the doors to the Great Hall, and for the Head Boy and Girl to help them, then he and Professor McGonagall left.

The room remained in tense silence for another 20 seconds before Professor Snape cleared his throat loudly from his place guarding the entrance. “Miss Granger,” he called in his usual curt tone.

She stood again, looking fully chagrined, and eyes locked on the floor. She knew she was in for it, now.

“I would like to reward you with one hundred points for your incredible problem solving and decision making skills, and for the impressive ability to remain levelheaded in the midst of a crisis.”

Hermione’s mouth fell open in shock for the second time that night, but she recovered quickly and nodded. “Thank you,” she said in a low voice that still rang out in the eerily quiet hall.

“You may now, all return to your feasting,” Snape dismissed.

The Slytherin table burst into cheers, and even a smattering of people across the other tables were clapping for Hermione too. House rivalries or not, what she did had been incredible. Standing up to the headmaster and telling him he was wrong was not something to be taken lightly. That wasn’t even taking into consideration how quickly she’d come up with an effective plan that was far better than Dumbledore’s himself.

Hermione took her seat, and the applause quieted down, returning into more nervous chattering as students slowly began working up the nerve to continue eating.

About 10 minutes later, Professor Flitwick returned. Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall returned another 30 minutes after that and announced that the troll was taken care of. The nervous tension in the room lifted into excitement once more as the students began gossiping about what must have happened in the dungeons.

With the all clear, students soon began leaving the room and heading back to their dorms. The Slytherins seemed to hang back a little longer than the rest, nervous about going right to where the troll had been, despite the promise of it being gone. Finally, Professor Snape did his duty as Head of House and comforted his students by reminding them that they were all idiots, then leading them to the common room himself.

The next morning, the excitement of the night before was still on everyone’s minds. Even Harry’s. So much so, that when a tawny owl landed on the table beside him, offering him a medium sized package, Harry initially had no idea what it possibly could have been.

It wasn’t until a moment later when Crabbe and Goyle began loudly discussing trading the remnants of their candy haul from yesterday that Harry remembered that more than just a troll break in had happened. It was also Halloween, the 31st. Which meant the package before him had to have been the file about Sirius’ trial.

After collecting the Daily Prophet from another owl, Draco caught sight of Harry’s package and elbowed Hermione to draw her attention to it as well.

For a moment, Harry was paralyzed. This file held the answers. Perhaps not all of the answers he was looking for, but a good number of them. First and foremost, it had the truth of Sirius Black’s innocence.

Harry was afraid to open it.

He wanted so badly to hear that the man was falsely imprisoned, but that would mean he wrongfully spent a decade under the torture of the dementors at Azkaban. He didn’t know how he would be able to live with the guilt of knowing his own part in that.

The only thing that would have been harder to hear would be that Sirius Black had been guilty the whole time, and that he’d put his faith in a traitor. His parents had put their faith in a traitor.

“Open it, Harry,” Draco urged.

Harry swallowed hard and—with surprising steadiness—tore the package open. He just began to pull the file out when Professor Snape approached the trio.

“Miss Granger,” he called. “The Headmaster would like to see you in his office. Now.” He raised an eyebrow at the last word, as if to rush her.

She hesitated for a moment, but stood up slowly. She had hoped she’d be able to get away with only the 50-point deduction from yesterday, but it would appear Dumbledore wasn’t finished with her.

“I’ll open it later,” Harry told her before she walked away. “When you get back.” She shook her head at him.

“No. You’ve been waiting this whole time. Read it. Figure out the truth. You and Draco can tell me all about it later.”

Harry nodded jerkily to her, having half hoped for the excuse to put it off. Hermione sent him a supportive smile. It didn’t quite reach her eyes, but it was comforting regardless. Snape made an impatient noise behind her, and she turned to follow him.

With no other distractions, Harry pulled the file from the large padded envelope. He leaned closer to Draco, so they could see the contents together and they both gasped at the first page they saw.

It was Sirius Black’s original mugshot from 1981. It started off with him keeled over, hands covering his ears and fingers knotted in his long dark hair. 2 pairs of arms reached into the frame and jerked him upright, pulling his arms down as well. It revealed his face, twisted with a grotesque combination of elation and fury as he cackled hysterically at the camera. His manic smile exposed most of his teeth as he fought against the arms holding him in place.

That was the very first time either Harry or Draco had ever seen the man. Harry could feel his stomach crawling up his throat as he realized that there was no possible way that the man in this picture was anything less than psychotic. Whatever shreds of hopeful optimism he had left, instantly turned to dread.

He quickly turned to the next page which was the man’s original intake information for Azkaban. It listed off the man’s basic physical information along with the belongings confiscated from him, where in the prison he was being placed, information such as that. The next page was a list of monthly behavior reports for his first year, ending with a physical examine and a smaller mugshot.

He appeared to have lost nearly 3 stone. He was clad in ill-fitting prison stripes and what appeared to be a tattered blanket. His hair was significantly longer, tangled, and half covering his face. Through the mess of his hair, his eyes could just barely be seen giving a dark glare directly into the camera. He was so still, that if Harry hadn’t caught him blinking, he might have thought he was looking at a muggle photo.

The next few pages were similar to the third, one for each year up until the last. Each picture, he looked worse and worse.

By 1990, his hair was long enough to sit on, and so matted that any attempts to pull a comb through would have probably broken the comb. His eyes were dull and lifeless with bags dark enough to bring forth thoughts of sleep deprivation as a form of torture. His cheeks were sunken in, and he was deathly pale. His lips were dry and obviously peeling, with bruises on his jaw and neck. The prison garb looked as if they were the exact same pair as the first photo and hadn’t been washed since. The opening over his chest showed the corner of a tattoo that hadn’t been there before and a clavicle pressing sharply against his brittle skin.

He slumped over as if he could barely stand, and his eyes were directed at something out of the frame. He didn’t appear to be looking at anything, that’s just where they appeared to have landed.

Harry couldn’t help but to feel sorry for the man. The first picture was terrifying. The last one was just pathetic.

“It’s weird…” Draco mused aloud.

“What is?” Harry asked. There were a lot of things about the pictures that would have been considered weird under ordinary circumstances, but according to stories he’d heard about Azkaban, it all sounded pretty standard.

“The notes…” Harry turned to Draco and frowned, not knowing what he meant. “In the beginning, the monthly behavior notes all say that he’s strangely quiet.” Harry went back to look, and they did. “After that, there’s a few that say he’s unreactive toward the dementors. Then in June of each year, there’s an inspection by the ministry and it notes that he’s the only one to ever talk to the people that come through. Look.” Draco pointed at the June entry for 1988. “It says that he asked the Minister for Magic if they could have better food, then told him the dementors weren’t very good cooks.”

“I don’t understand how any of that is weird.” Harry didn’t get it. It made sense for Sirius Black to be quiet, or want to talk to the only other humans that were really around.

“Azkaban makes people go crazy, Harry,” Draco explained. “People lose their minds after just a few weeks in the place. My Dad went there once for an inspection, he said all he could hear anywhere he went was people screaming. Some of them asked for help, others begged to die, some of them were even just laughing like maniacs or shouting nonsense. But they were all screaming. Being quiet is definitely weird. And none of them are ever responsive. They’re more likely to carry a conversation with the wall than actually talk to the few people who show up. It’s because of the dementors. They’re the ones that drives everyone to insanity.”

“But,” Harry finished the thought, “he’s unreactive to the dementors.”

“Exactly.”

“How could that be?”

“I don’t know…”

Hesitantly, Harry turned to the next page. Where he should have found the behavior notes for 1991, he instead found info about his release to the Ministry of Magic on October 12th. There was another mugshot that didn’t look much different than the last, with more info about his physical status. After that, were notes about the trial.

There was a long list of people in attendance. They each had something to do with the original case, as well as the current Head of the DMLE. To neither Draco, nor Harry’s surprise, Albus Dumbledore was among the list of people involved, but was not in attendance.

There were pages and pages of details about the case, including a brief segment of Sirius Black being questioned under veritaserum, and a number of pensieve memories from the various parties involved. They were all interspersed with snapshots of the proceedings.

Surprisingly, Lucius Malfoy made an appearance in the courtroom more than once. Harry supposed it made sense, considering he was supposedly holding some particularly useful information. That must have meant—like Harry had guessed—that it was more than just your ordinary blackmail.

The trial notes didn’t go into excruciating detail, so while it was easy enough to follow, Harry didn’t find himself with too much more information than he’d already had. What he did know, was that the final verdict was that Sirius Black was innocent.

The trial proved that the man was innocent of having betrayed Harry’s parents. Lucius’ testimony even supplied the name of the true traitor, as Peter Pettigrew. In the back of his mind, Harry wanted to know how exactly Lucius had known that. The thought was overpowered by the realization that Sirius Black was also found innocent of the deaths of the 14 people that he’d supposedly murdered. According to Sirius’ pensieve memory, the whole thing had been a trap set up to frame him by the very same Peter Pettigrew. He was the true culprit of the whole thing.

Pettigrew was an unregistered animagus. A brown rat, according to Sirius’ memory. He’d faked his own death by blowing off his finger in the explosion he set off, then escaping into the sewer.

After the trial notes was a paper describing the terms of his release, the Ministry’s plan to pay him 5,000 galleons in restitution, and reinstating his title and all of his assets that had been under Arcturus Black’s name after his incarceration. There was also a short message about a private trial to be held against the Ministry Members who were at fault for the mistake. There was no date set and no list of names.

When he finished reading through it all, Harry passed the whole file over the Draco. He was utterly gobsmacked. It was too much to take in. He had so much fluttering around in his mind after all that. Through it all, he tried to cling on to 2 main things. The rat—Peter Pettigrew—was the real traitor. And Sirius Black was innocent.

His godfather was innocent. And now, he was free!

It was hard to describe the mood Harry was in after that. He didn’t really understand it himself. He allowed Draco to drag him off to potions without any fuss and didn’t even register any surprise at finding Hermione already there in her usual seat at the front of the room. He sat down beside her quietly, and Draco sat on her other side.

“So what happened with the Old Goat?” Draco asked. On another day, Hermione might have scolded him for it, but today she didn’t seem bothered by the rude name.

“I’ve got detention,” Hermione huffed miserably. “Every Saturday until the Christmas Hols.”

“That’s rubbish!” Draco complained. “You pretty much saved everyone’s butt’s with your advice! He should have been rewarding you, not giving you detention. Even Professor Snape recognized that.”

“Whatever,” Hermione waved the thought away, but she was clearly still upset about it. No doubt, this was the first time she’d gotten a detention in her life. “It doesn’t matter. Anyways, what’d the file say about Sirius Black?”

Draco glanced to Harry, saw that he was still off in his own head, then answered himself. “He’s innocent. Just like Aunt Wally said. Turns out Peter Pettigrew is the one who did it all. He framed Sirius and faked his own death and everything.”

“That’s terrible!” Hermione grew even angrier. “And this whole time, he’s been off in hiding while Sirius Black has been in Azkaban? Meanwhile, Harry’s been raised by his evil family? All thanks to Dumbledore?” Hermione growled in frustration, just in time for Snape to glide in the room and catch everyone’s attention on him.

Chapter Text

Harry seemed to be coming back to himself over the weekend. When he received his usual care package from Aunt Wally on Sunday, he almost seemed completely back to normal.

His candy haul was much smaller than usual. Aunt Wally said she didn’t want him rotting his teeth after all the candy he surely had on the Samhain celebration. She made a point of not calling the holiday by its muggle name. She gave him a book on simple spells for use around the home, and another on tips for making spells work to their maximum effects. He was more interested in the second, but knew the first would come in handy as well. He also received a pair of “casual” robes that were far nicer than anything he would ever deem casual.

Her letter was particularly interesting this time. In addition to the usual doting and pride over his hard work, she added a note to Hermione expressing her pride in the way she handled the events on Samhain. Anything to undermine Dumbledore was O for outstanding in her book.

The most interesting thing, however, was when she mentioned that Sirius Black was living with her ever since the trial. She complained a bit about how a decade in Azkaban did nothing for his mood, but he spent most of his time hiding among the many rooms in her home to cause much of a fuss.

Apparently, she had managed to get him to agree to be endowed with a Trinket and, to no surprise, he was also a Trueblood. It was more cause to be haughty about the superior Black genes.

She only really mentioned him in passing, then continued talking about how she and Narcissa had endowed over 100 people at the Ministry of Magic with Trinkets as well. The letter ended with a question of how he planned to spend the rest of his week, as well as a barely concealed order to visit her over the Christmas holidays, hidden under the guise of a reminder of his invitation.

Harry passed Hermione her note, then sat his letter aside to respond later.

“Sirius Black is staying with Aunt Wally,” he announced to the other 2.

“He is her son,” Draco reasoned, flipping through his copy of the Daily Prophet.

“But, they hate each other,” Harry argued.

“Likely,” Hermione added, “he has nowhere else to go. He’s just spent the past ten years in prison, and all of his friends are…”

She didn’t finish the sentence, but she didn’t need to. All of his friends were dead.

“Look at this,” Draco set his newspaper down on the table and pointed to a small box in the middle of a page filled with continuations of larger articles. Hermione read it aloud.

“A wrongly convicted man was released from Azkaban on Thursday after a decade old confession revealed his innocence. An investigation has been launched into the circumstances of his arrest to determine further information. Currently, he is at home with family, recuperating and enjoying his much deserved freedom.”

Harry stared at Hermione as she finished, then glanced over incredulously at Draco.

“That’s it?” he asked.

“That’s it,” Draco replied.

Hermione was outraged. “He’s been locked up for 10 years without even getting a trial, and is finally free and they don’t even have the audacity to print his name?” she practically shouted.

“I can’t believe it,” Harry scoffed. “This should be front page news! And they’ve got it crammed in the back, where no one will see it? That’s ridiculous!”

“The Ministry is trying to brush all of this under the rug,” Draco explained. “They made a huge mistake, and they’re trying not to let anyone notice.”

“That’s bullshit!” Hermione shouted, causing the group of people around them to turn and stare. She was well and truly pissed. Hermione never swore. “The Ministry is so corrupt! How can anyone stand it? They ruined someone’s life and now they’re just going to pretend it didn’t happen? Just like they tried to pretend like he wasn’t thrown in Azkaban without a trial in the first place? This is absolute madness! They need to be stopped!”

Without another word, Hermione grabbed her things and stormed out of the Great Hall, ignoring any attempts to console her.

Harry wanted to chase after her, but Draco knew she just needed some time to cool down. They were both outraged by what was going on as well, but Harry was used to adults being unfair and taking advantage where they could. And Draco grew up with his father in politics, and often being party to the group of people who benefitted from the unfairness. It was infuriating to see it all spread out before them, but it didn’t catch them so completely unaware to know that it existed.

It wasn’t until just before dinner that Harry and Draco decided it was time to go looking for Hermione. She was in the first place they looked, the Library. She was tucked away in a corner, sitting on the floor amidst a stack of books. Harry didn’t catch the titles of them all, but they all seemed to be revolving around the same things: the workings of various ministries of magic around the world, and successful coup de ’tats in history.

Harry and Draco squeezed their way into her stacks of books, and sat down on either side of her. They didn’t say anything for a while, as she stared thoughtfully into empty space, absently licking her teeth behind her closed lips.

“I’m going to fix this,” Hermione said suddenly. “I swear I am.”

“Fix what?” Draco asked. “All these books?” he gestured playfully to the at least 50 books surrounding them.

Hermione threw a quick glare at him, before directing her eyes back to their original place. “The Ministry. It’s completely messed up, and I’m going to fix it.”

“How?” Harry asked. “Are you going to become the Minister for Magic?”

“If I have to,” Hermione insisted. “But that can’t happen for a while, I don’t want to take that long.”

“What could you possibly do, now?” Draco asked. “You’re twelve.”

“We helped Sirius Black get free,” she insisted. “We just needed help from the right people. We can keep doing the same. We just need to get the right people on our side.”

“So,” Harry mused sarcastically, “you’re just going to gather a group of followers and take over the Wizarding World? Gee, that sounds familiar.”

“It’s not like that at all, and you know it,” she snapped. “I don’t want to hurt people. I want to help them, and I’m not taking over anything! I just want things to be fair! I want people to be treated like people, and I want all the corruption and blackmailing and sweeping things under the rug to go away.”

“How are you going to do that?” Draco asked.

“I’m not entirely sure,” she admitted. “But I’m going to start by getting rid of as many corrupt people in power as I can.”

“I don’t know if you’d stand a chance against any of those people in a battle,” Harry warned. “I mean, you’re a genius Hermione, but you’re still only twelve.”

She rolled her eyes. “Not like that! I’m going to get them removed from their positions. It’ll take a lot of work, and a lot of help from the adults around us. But I’m certain I can do it.”

“Who are you going to start with?” Draco asked, warming up to the idea.

“Who’s the one that’s been sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong, and causing problems for people that didn’t have to exist? The one that everyone thinks is a genius, but is really just a loony old fool? The one that most of the adults in our lives pretty much hate already, anyways?”

At this, Harry smirked darkly. “Dumbledore.”

Draco burst into laughter. His chortles were so loud that Madame Pince shushed them noisily from whatever opposite corner of the library she was in.

“What’s so funny?” Hermione asked.

“Is this all just payback for Dumbledore giving you detention?” Draco asked between chuckles.

Hermione snorted in disbelief, while Harry joined the laughter. “Maybe,” she teased, making the boys giggle even harder.

The first step of Hermione’s Revenge Against Dumbledore was to write an angry letter to Hogwarts’ Board of Governors.

“Would you stop calling it that!” she snapped at Draco and Harry as she skimmed through the chapter on protections in ‘Hogwarts: A History,’ later that week.

“But I’ve grown quite fond of that name,” Draco complained.

“It’s completely misleading. That’s not what this is about.”

“Well,” Harry interjected, “it kind of is.”

“I know!” Draco exclaimed quietly, trying not to draw attention in the Common Room. “Let’s call it Project RAD!”

“Oh, I like that one,” Harry agreed. “It’s shorter, so it rolls off the tongue better.”

“Oh, whatever,” Hermione huffed, knowing that was likely the best she’d get out of the 2 of them.

She had planned to write to the Board of Governors about Dumbledore’s failure to protect the castle, by allowing a troll to not only get onto the campus, but make it into the building. She intended on including having Hagrid get Harry and the mistakes he made as well.

There was something else she wanted to add, but she would need to look into it first.

“We’ve got to figure out what Dumbledore is hiding on the third floor,” Hermione told the boys.

“What are you talking about?” Harry asked. “What makes you think he’s hiding anything?”

“Don’t you remember his speech at the beginning of the year?” Draco asked.

“No…” Harry thought back to the opening feast. “I ate myself sick, I wasn’t really paying attention to what else was going on.” Draco laughed, remembering Harry’s complaints of never eating again, the morning after.

“He said,” Hermione explained, “the third floor corridor is off limits to anyone who doesn’t wish to die a horrible death.”

Harry scoffed. “He can’t be serious.” He looked at Hermione who held a stoic expression, then glanced to Draco who looked doubtful himself. “Okay, then what the heck could it be?”

“That’s what we have to find out.”

“Why don’t we ask one of the ghosts?” Draco said. “They’re sure to know something.”

“But they’re all loyal to Dumbledore,” Hermione disagreed. “If he says its off limits, they won’t say a thing to us.”

Harry smiled as he came up with an idea. “The best way to get someone to do something, is to tell them not to do it,” he stated.

“So?” Draco didn’t follow what he meant.

“Dumbledore told the whole school, not to go on the third floor. What are the chances that a bunch of people have tried it already?”

“I don’t know.” Draco shrugged. “It depends on how many people would totally just ignore the rules. Some idiot Gryffindors, I bet.”

Harry smirked and nodded. “Do you know of any idiot Gryffindors who have a complete and utter disregard for the rules?”

Hermione smiled as she figured it out. “The Weasley Twins.”

The Weasley twins were a few years older than the trio, but they were notorious around the whole school. They were the biggest troublemakers and pranksters in Hogwarts. Closely followed by Peeves the Poltergeist. If there was any snooping, or tomfoolery to be done, they were the culprits. They were the most likely to know all about what was on the 3rd floor.

“But how do we get them to tell us?” Hermione asked. “They aren’t just going to reveal a secret like that to some first year Slytherins just because we ask nicely.”

“We could threaten them,” Draco suggested.

“What do we have to threaten them with?” Harry stated.

They thought for a moment, but came up with nothing. “I think bribery is going to be our best bet,” Hermione concluded.

“What could we possibly have that they would want?” Harry asked again.

“Money?” Draco offered. “The Weasleys haven’t got much of that.”

“But would Fred and George specifically, want it?” Hermione questioned.

“Everybody wants money, Hermione,” Draco smiled condescendingly to the girl. “It’s merely a matter of what price.”

“I think I have a better idea!” Harry jumped in. “The twins are the ones holding all the bets about the Trinkets, but neither of them have one. I bet it’s because they can’t afford one.”

“So you think they’d give up the information if we offered them some for free?” Draco caught on.

“Probably!”

“How are we going to get them Trinkets?” Hermione queried. “It’s not like we can endow them ourselves.”

“I’ll ask Aunt Wally.”

“How are you going to explain that one to her?” Hermione was skeptical. Harry laughed.

“I’ll just tell her that we’re trying to bribe someone.”

And so it was, the following Saturday, while Hermione was writing lines for Professor Quirrell, that Harry and Draco set about the task of cornering the Weasley Twins after their Quidditch practice.

“What do you little snakes want with us?” one of the twins—presumably Fred—started.

“Trying to spy for your Quidditch team?” the other continued.

“Doesn’t matter how much you berks cheat.”

“You still can’t beat us.”

“We’re not here for that,” Harry interrupted.

“Although you’re idiots, if you think your pathetic Seeker is gonna beat ours,” Draco couldn’t help but taunt.

Harry ignored him. “We want information, about something else.”

The redheads looked at each other, smirked, then looked back at the younger boys.

“Nope. Not gonna happen,” they said in unison.

“We don’t have anything to say…”

“To a couple of slimy gits like you.” They both walked past the first years as they started to leave.

“Not even for a price?” Draco asked. That stopped them in their tracks. They looked at each other again, then turned around to face the Slytherins.

“We’re listening,” they said in unison again.

“What we want to know,” Harry explained, “isn’t even information that you should have trouble parting with. We’re just curious…”

“About?” The twins asked simultaneously.

Draco answered. “We want to know what’s hiding on the third floor corridor.”

Presumably Fred laughed, while presumably George asked “Why?”

“Third floor’s off limits, you know,” Fred continued.

“What makes you think we’ve been there?”

“Please,” Harry scoffed. “Like an off limits sign ever stopped the two of you.”

“You have a point,” Fred smirked.

“But that’s valuable-”

“Dangerous-”

“Information you want, there.”

“What’s in it for us?” they asked together.

“How about a pair of Trinkets?” Harry asked. The twins’ eyes went wide in shock at the offer, and Harry knew they had them.

“How do you plan on getting those Trinkets on?” George asked.

“Cause, you know, they’re useless without the spell to seal them…”

“And don’t act like the two of you would know.”

“We don’t,” Harry agreed. “But my Aunt Wally is the one who created the Trinkets, and the spells on them.”

“And,” Draco continued, “she happens to be sitting in Professor Snape’s office with two brand new Trinkets, right this instant.”

The twins glanced at each other again—holding a silent conversation, Harry realized. Fred lifted his eyebrows, then George mirrored him. They both tilted their heads in the same direction by just a fraction, then they looked back at the Slytherins.

“Show us the Trinkets, first.” They ordered together.

In under an hour, Aunt Wally had gone back home and Gryffindor house had its second and third Truebloods.

Hermione, Harry, and Draco were sitting on Harry’s bed with the curtains drawn, and under a silencing charm that he’d perfected thanks to the books he’d gotten from Aunt Wally.

“A three headed dog?” Hermione shouted. “Why on earth would Dumbledore have a giant three headed dog inside the school?”

“The twins say its guarding something,” Harry explained. “They said there was a trapdoor beneath its feet.”

Hermione scoffed so loudly, it was nearly a screech.

“That’s not even the best of it,” Draco continued. “They’ve gotten past the dog. Evidently, it will fall asleep at even the slightest bit of music. They’ve been sneaking in to try and see what it’s guarding and managed to get it to fall asleep by spelling the room to play chamber music.”

“That’s insane!” Hermione was flabbergasted by the whole thing. “Not only is the thing unprotected enough for third years to get to it, but they were even able to subdue it? What was it guarding?”

“The twins still don’t know,” Harry continued. “Underneath it was a devil’s snare, but they got through that easily.”

“Just hit it with light,” Hermione offered absently, waving the thought away with a hand.

“Exactly. Then they had to ride on a broom to catch a specific flying key from a bunch to unlock a door. It took them a while to catch it cause the other keys attacked them, but they’re brilliant on brooms, so it was easy enough. That door led to a room with a life size chess set. There was a door on the other side, but they had to play across, and neither of them are very good at chess. So, that’s where they gave up and turned around the last time they went in there.”

“So, one would only need to be good at chess to be able to make it across that one, as well?” Hermione asked herself, but Harry and Draco nodded anyways. “That’s absolute poppycock!” she shouted again. “All of this is going into my letter! Dumbledore’s mad as a hatter to allow all of that in the castle. And it’s not even well protected! A couple of third years got past all of those supposed protections!” She scoffed loudly again, but this time not so shrill.

“And here I thought he had to be an idiot for hiring Professor Quirrell, and allowing Professor Binns to keep teaching. But, this really takes the cake.”

“I want to know what he’s hiding behind all that stuff,” Draco wondered.

“I don’t even care,” Hermione snapped, crossing her arms.

“Not even a little bit?” Draco smirked at her and she sighed, rolling her eyes.

“Fine, maybe a little.”

“I think I might know,” Harry contemplated.

“You do?” The other 2 asked in unison.

“Well,” Harry qualified, “not completely. The day I met you guys in Diagon Alley, Hagrid had gotten something from a vault at Gringotts, saying it was special Hogwarts business. He was getting it for Dumbledore. I bet, that’s what he’s hiding.”

“Do you know what it was?” Draco asked.

“No. It was a small package, but it was completely covered up. So I don’t know what it could be.”

Hermione’s eyes went wide as a sudden realization crossed her mind. “Do you remember what vault it was?” she asked carefully.

Harry put a finger on his lip as he thought really hard on it. “Seven thirteen, I think. I can’t be sure.”

“I knew it!” Hermione gasped.

“Knew what?” Draco didn’t get it.

“The day Harry was at Gringotts with Hagrid was the same day as the break-in.”

Draco’s mouth fell into a surprised O as he realized what Hermione did. “When someone broke into a vault that had been emptied out earlier that day!”

Harry was confused, mainly because he didn’t recall hearing about that. “I don’t understand.”

“That’s got to be why its hidden here, now.” Draco stated. “He moved it because he knew someone was after it. If they missed their chance, they’re probably going to come after it again!”

“This time, they’re going to get it,” Harry admitted quietly.

“What makes you so sure?” Draco asked, but Hermione already knew.

“Gringotts is supposed to be one of the safest places in the world,” she explained. “Whoever’s after the thing Dumbledore is hiding was able to break in, regardless. An idiot troll was able to cross the castle’s wards. A pair of third years were able to make it most of the way through all of the protections where he’s hiding it now. There’s no way someone that strong would be deterred by those measly protections.”

“Dumbledore’s just asking for trouble.” Draco shook his head in disbelief. “This is the man who was supposed to be the leader of the Light side in the war?”

“It’s a good thing for Harry, then,” Hermione sighed. “Or we would have been buggered.”

“No,” Harry disagreed. “It’s a good thing for you. You told Mr. Malfoy about the magical genetics. He wouldn’t have created the Trinkets without you, and it’s the Trinkets that are going to keep people from going back to previous prejudices.”

“What are we going to do about the thing Dumbledore’s hiding?” Draco asked. “Someone should say something, right? Before it gets stolen?”

Hermione shook her head. “If it gets stolen, that’s Dumbledore’s fault. He shouldn’t have brought it here in the first place. I couldn’t care less what valuable item he’s trying to hide. All I know, is all of this is going into my letter to the Board of Governors. At this rate, he ought to be out of here by Christmas.”

Being so focused on Dumbledore all the time, left the trio in a rather sour mood for more of the day than not. Luckily, the quidditch season was starting. Once Hermione had passed her letter to Mr. Malfoy to read at the next Board of Governors meeting, they were offered a fun distraction.

The first match was Slytherin versus Gryffindor. Harry was excited to see his first quidditch match, and allowed Blaise to paint his and Draco’s faces in green and silver respectively. Pansy got all the first year girls to agree to putting green and silver flowers in their hair, and Hermione charmed them all so that they would flash brightly while the game was on.

They all got bundled up and headed to the stands together, huddling close to preserve warmth in the chilled air. The game itself was rather exciting, although Harry noticed that more than once, the Slytherins appeared to be cheating. That didn’t stop him from clapping wildly and cheering every time they made a goal.

The announcer was friends with the twins. His name was Lee Jordan, and he was often found as their third musketeer when making trouble. He had a clear bias against Slytherin, which Harry found annoying, but it was almost made up for by how much he could hear McGonagall scolding him for it in the background.

Ultimately, Slytherin won. Draco had been right when he warned the Weasley twins that their seeker wouldn’t stand a chance against Slytherin’s. The 2 players had been neck and neck on the tail of the snitch toward the end. They were both plummeting toward the ground at surprising speed as they chased after it. The Slytherin seeker pulled up before the Gryffindor girl did, and she looked like she’d had it in the bag. But finally, she got too close to the ground and had to pull up as well. By then, Slytherin’s seeker was already coming from the other direction and grabbed the snitch from behind, zooming past her and nearly knocking her off her broom in the process.

The green stands erupted in cheers. The trio had leapt out of their seats and were screaming, jumping up and down with everyone else. Harry could hear an echo of boos coming from the rest of the stands, but he paid it no heed. His team had won! He allowed himself this moment of happiness and pride for his fellow snakes.

Chapter Text

Now that autumn was closing in on winter, Hogwarts found itself blanketed in snow. The Great Hall, common room, and most classrooms were kept warm, but the corridors were chilling to the bone. Harry had taken to charming the first year Slytherins’ robes to be self-heating before leaving the common room. It was especially useful in potions, that took place in the freezing dungeons. The Gryffindors all seemed to huddle close to the cauldron fires for warmth, but Professor Snape didn’t appear too inclined to warn them of the fire hazard.

History of Magic was another class that stayed frighteningly cold. Being dead, Professor Binns didn’t take notice of the change in temperature at all, and continued droning on in his boring voice as usual, despite the violent shivering that went on among the students.

Soon enough, Christmas was due to arrive, and Harry found himself nervous about going to visit Aunt Wally. Luckily, Draco and his family would be staying at her home for the holidays as well. At least he wouldn’t be alone.

Still, he was apprehensive about meeting Sirius Black for the first time. He was glad the man was free. He also appreciated the intermittent updates he got from Aunt Wally about how he was doing. So far he seemed to be doing well, but still hated his mother, so there was only so much she could glean from him. At least it didn’t seem like they were fighting according to her letters. Avoidance might not have been the best solution, but given the Black tempers that they were known for, it was likely the only option to keep their home from being reduced to rubble.

After the train ride to London, Harry and Draco met Narcissa at King’s Cross Station. From there, it was only a 20-minute walk to get to where they needed to be. Harry was surprised at how ordinary and muggle like the neighborhood was. He never would have guessed a regular, though posh looking, townhouse to be the home of Aunt Wally. It was far too normal, but he hadn’t been inside yet. So he didn’t let his guard down.

12 Grimmauld Place was far nicer than Harry had expected it to be. Although he supposed that was due to the quartet of house elves that Narcissa had insisted come to prepare the home before their arrival. The stifling dark colors, high ceilings, and narrow halls still had the place looking haunted. However, it was easy to see that it was a grand and luxurious home without the several inches of cobwebs and dust that Narcissa had warned of.

Harry followed the Malfoys into the sitting room, which he was surprised to see had been lavishly adorned in brightly colored and sparkling Yule decorations. They looked very much like Christmas decorations, but with a far more natural and less plastic and manufactured theme.

There was a pentagram made of evergreen branches hanging on the wall above the sofa. It was garnished with holly, pinecones, and crystals, and the whole thing seemed to glow with an inner golden light.

Nestled in a corner, there was a large tree, bare except for the candles charmed to float among the branches. It was topped with a large fairy that closely resembled a snowflake dancing around to the sound of music trailing through the halls.

Beside the tree was a long table filled with translucent ornaments of different shapes and sizes. Some were perfectly clear, while others were stained various shades of reds, greens, purples, and blues. Behind them was an array of jars filled with various herbs, stones, crystals, ribbons, and pretty much anything else Harry could think of. Beside those were small scrolls, paintbrushes, and quills. Harry couldn’t fathom what all of those things had meant to be used for.

The whole thing looked so familiar yet foreign to Harry, and he found himself impatient to learn more about Yule. It was a shame that Dumbledore had changed the Hogwarts tradition to celebrate Christmas like the muggles. Although, according to Draco, lots of wizards celebrated Christmas instead of Yule. For the most part, it was only the ancient families that refused to incorporate any of the Christian holidays into their yearly celebrations.

The Malfoys’ house elf, Dobby, led Harry and Draco up the stairs to rooms that would be theirs. Harry was given a room on the top floor that was decked out with silver, black, and green from ceiling to floorboard. It was a bit extravagant for his tastes, but he quickly grew rather fond of it. Draco’s room was on a lower level and a bit plainer, but it was the same room he’d used any other time he stayed at the townhouse, so he quite preferred it.

After settling in and playing chess for a bit, it was time for dinner. Draco was creaming Harry like usual, anyways, so Harry didn’t mind.

The formal dining room was enormous. It was much larger than the Malfoys’. So large, in fact, that it seemed much too big to fit into the townhouse. Aunt Wally explained that it had been the meeting place of the entire House of Black. It had once been a very large family. The majority of the House was either dead and gone or married into another family. Once Sirius was gone, there would be no House of Black any longer.

Harry had wanted to ask why she was so certain Sirius wasn’t having any children, but Narcissa warned him off it with an awkward smile and a brisk shake of the head.

At the head of the table sat Arcturus Black. He was an ancient looking man. That said a lot considering wizards often lived into their triple digits. Arcturus was much younger than that, but Aunt Wally had explained in a letter to Harry that he was ill. Despite being a fighter and a tough old man, he wasn’t long for the world.

His silver eyes were milky and listless. He wasn’t blind, more just bored than anything else. He glanced at the few people entering the room at the time, but returned his blank gaze ahead at nothing.

“Lord Black,” Harry addressed the man, bowing before him. “I would like to express my gratitude for you so graciously welcoming me into your family home, and allowing me to join you at your table.”

Arcturus Black regarded Harry curiously before nodding to him. “Please, young man,” he replied in a quiet, raspy voice. “You are welcome at my table anytime. You are technically family, after all. Feel free to call me Uncle Arty.”

Harry smiled, remembering that he was legally a ward of the House of Black. The thought soothed him as he recalled that meant he didn’t have to go back to the Dursleys’ unless he chose. And he most certainly did not choose. “Thank you, Uncle Arty.”

Arcturus smiled back at him softly, slowly moving an arm to gesture for him to have a seat. When Harry stepped away, he saw Aunt Wally smiling proudly at him. He went to greet her as well, and was enveloped in a warm hug. Despite his previous apprehensions, he really did quite like the woman. She was far better to him than he was used to. A part of him couldn’t help but wonder how Sirius could hate her so much. Then again, she hadn’t said anything racist just yet, so there was still time for a reminder.

Dinner was a nice—if quiet—affair, and Harry found himself in a pleasant mood for the rest of the night.

A few hours after dinner, Harry couldn’t help but be curious as to where Sirius had been. Aunt Wally had started their meal off by apologizing for his absence, but she never said where he was. Draco had been wondering the same, and actually asked Narcissa. She told him that he was hiding away in her Uncle Orion’s study on the 4th floor.

Harry was nervous, but with a solid amount of cajoling on Draco’s part, he finally trekked up the stairs to search for the man.

Most of the doors were open, exposing a number of empty rooms. That meant the remaining room, that was shut, had to be where Sirius was hiding. Harry knocked on the door lightly, then waited for a response.

There was only silence.

He knocked again, a little harder this time, but was only met by more silence.

“Um, Mr. Black,” Harry called. “Are you in there?” Harry could hear the sound of footsteps on the other side of the door, but no one came to open it, or reply.

“That’s just rude!” Draco squawked indignantly. He slammed his fist on the door a few times, banging on it loudly. “Mr. Black! You should open this door! Harry wants to meet you! It’s the least you can do! He is the whole reason that you are free from Azkaban, after all!”

Still silence.

“Let’s just go, Draco,” Harry sighed, giving up. “Clearly, he just wants to be left alone.”

“Left alone, my foot!” Draco reached over and swung the door open impatiently. To his surprise, he was greeted by a giant black dog. It was easily the size of a small bear, with long, scraggly black fur. His mouth was pulled back in a snarl and it was growling loud enough to echo in the hallway.

The dog gave two deep, vicious barks and that was enough. They were loud enough to vibrate the bones in both boys’ rib cages and leave a ringing in their ears. Without further hesitation, Draco pulled the door shut as quickly as he could and they both took off running down the stairs, barely containing howls of fear.

They made it back to Draco's floor, and hid away in his room for a while.

That was fine. Sirius didn’t want to be talked to tonight. That’s alright. No big deal.

Things were much less exciting the next morning. It was the day of Yule, and the boys were up early to attend a formal family breakfast. Harry got ready, then donned his nicest black robes. The sleeves were slitted from just below the shoulders, exposing his bare arms when he moved them to walk or reach for something. The robes were fitted snugly to his torso, with deep green accents and embroidery over the chest. They were looser below his waist, where they trailed down to just a few inches above the floor.

He spent a significant amount of time fussing with his hair. One of the spells he’d picked up from Aunt Wally’s books was a hair neatening spell. He’d tried it a few times before, but all to varying degrees of little success. This time, he combined a few of the techniques from the most recent book she’d given him and was actually able to get his hair to look mildly acceptable. It wasn’t neat, by any terms, but it at least looked artfully tousled instead of like a general mess.

Once he was ready, he finally left his room, but was greeted by an odd sight.

“Please, Master Black!” Dobby frantically begged the door on the opposite side of the hallway. “Mistress Black is not being very happy if you is staying upstairs for breakfast and festivities!”

There was no response, and Dobby began wringing his hands together and shuffling his feet nervously.

“Dobby will not leave Master Black alone until he is downstairs!” the house elf threatened. There was still no response and he grew even more anxious. “Mistress Malfoy has commanded it!” After another moment of silence, Dobby rapped his bony knuckles on the door again.

“Dobby?” Harry asked, approaching the elf. “What are you doing?”

“Oh Master Potter!” Dobby fell to Harry’s feet, sobbing. “Master Black will not come out of his rooms! Mistress Walburga is wanting him to be attending the Yule breakfast, but Master Black is not cooperating. Dobby is not listening to Mistress Malfoy’s orders! Dobby is a bad elf!” Through his tears, Dobby lifted his head off the floor and slammed it into the carpet repeatedly.

“No!” Harry yelled, trying to stop him, but the elf was surprisingly strong for such a small, skinny thing. “Stop it, Dobby! That’s not necessary!”

Draco exited his room just then. He glanced up the stairwell and chuckled as he caught sight of Harry struggling with the elf.

“Don’t laugh!” Harry shouted. “Come help me!”

Draco scoffed and rolled his eyes. “And you call yourself a pureblood?” he teased, scaling the steps. Harry glared at him when he reached the final landing and he chuckled again before pulling himself together. In his sternest and most impatient voice, he snapped, “Dobby!” The elf froze immediately. “Stop this, at once!”

Dobby scrambled to his feet and bowed at Draco. “Yes, Young Master Malfoy. Dobby is very sorry, Young Master Malfoy.”

Draco threw Harry a smirk, which he stuck his tongue out at. “You’ll get it one day, Harry. I promise,” Draco taunted. “Now, what’s going on?”

“Dobby’s trying to get Sirius Black to come out of his room, but he won’t listen,” Harry explained. “He’s not responding at all.” Dobby sniffed loudly at that.

“Is he even in there?” Draco asked, skeptically. They’d been told he had been staying at Grimmauld Place ever since he was released on Halloween, but aside from Aunt Wally’s complaints in her letters, they had no real proof that he was there at all. For all they knew, Sirius could have been dead.

The first time Harry and Draco tried to speak to him, they were attacked by a monstrous black dog. The dog could have eaten him.

“Have you tried just opening the door?” Harry asked Dobby. The elf whinged even louder.

“Dobby cannot be barging into Master Black’s bedroom without permission! That is very rude!” he shouted. “Oh no! Oh no! Dobby is not allowed! Mistress Narcissa is not the lady of Grimmauld Place. She cannot order Dobby to be breaking boundaries here! If Master Black wants Dobby in the hallway, then Dobby is being in the hallway!”

Draco shrugged, seeing that the elf had no choice. He approached the door, pulling his wand out of his inner robes pocket and pointed it at the doorknob. “Alohomora.”

The door clicked unlocked and cracked itself a bit as the bolt unlatched. Dobby gasped and threw his arms over his head protectively, cowering away. Draco gestured Harry toward the door as if to suggest “after you.”

The last time they did this, they were attacked, so Harry couldn’t exactly blame him. Even though he was kind of throwing Harry under the bus if they had trouble again.

Harry hesitated for a moment, taking a deep breath as he prepared to enter the room. Carefully, he pushed the door back, until it gently clicked against the wall. Draco stepped up beside him in the doorway as they peered cautiously into the darkened and silent room.

Harry cleared his throat. “Mr. Black?” he called. There was no response. “It’s… uh. It’s Harry. Harry Potter.”

There was a sudden rustling in the left corner of the room and both boys jumped as they snapped their heads over to find the source. Draco hadn’t realized it, but he’d grabbed Harry’s hand and was squeezing it painfully.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” Harry continued, speaking to the dark shape in the corner. “But Aunt Wally wants you to come down to breakfast. And uh… and I wanted to meet you.”

There was a low wheezing that drifted across the room. It was raspy and animalistic. 3 short huffs that cut off abruptly. Draco grabbed Harry’s sleeve with his other hand and the boys pressed closer together.

“I suppose,” came a hoarse throaty voice, barely above a whisper. “I owe it to you at least, considering you’re the whole reason that I’m free, after all.” It echoed the words that Draco said last night.

The dark shape in the corner rose as the man stood and took a few careful steps toward the boys.

Draco gulped loudly and Harry stepped in front of him protectively. Previously, Harry had been more nervous to meet the man than scared of him. With Draco suddenly so riled up, it was hard not to remember that this man had been convicted of mass murder and literally no one had bothered to question it. That spoke volumes as to the amount of power he had, and exactly how dangerous he had the potential to be. That’s without even remembering that he was a Trueblood. With that thought in his mind, Harry found himself just this side of terrified.

Regardless, he stood his ground, and waited for the wizard to approach.

Sirius stepped into the light from the hall and Draco and Harry found themselves face to face with the man they’d spent the past few months obsessing over with Hermione. Harry had to admit, he didn’t look a thing like his latest mug shot.

It was clearly still the same man, but he was no longer deathly thin. The glint in his silver eyes looked less manic and more intrigued. What was a longer than waist length mane of dull matted locks, was now barely past shoulder length, neatly trimmed and parted in the middle to curl gently out of his eyes.

He didn’t look filthy and sleep deprived, although the circles under his eyes were still noticeable. The scraggly beard had been shaved to a thick stubble and trimmed into neat, sharp edges that showed off his jawline.

He was taller than the mug shot made it seem, so he was unexpectedly towering over both boys. The shabby prison garb had been exchanged for clean cut dress robes in teal and deep aqua with silver accents. For having been a mere 2 months out of Azkaban, he looked as if he was doing rather well. Harry might even go as far as to admit he was quite attractive.

Not that it mattered.

“You look just like your father,” Sirius stated, blankly. He was staring at Harry with an expression just a few degrees away from completely flat. “Except for your eyes. You have your mum’s eyes.”

“You were my father’s best friend?” Harry asked quietly, almost too nervous to ask.

Sirius nodded. “You know, I’m also actually your Godfather.”

This time, Harry nodded. “I know. That’s why I had to get you out of there.” He didn’t need to explain where “there” was. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t get you out any sooner.”

“No.” Sirius frowned. “That’s not your responsibility. I’m just grateful you got me out of there at all. Although, I hardly deserve it.”

“But, you’re innocent,” Draco finally spoke up, looking up at the man with barely concealed wonder.

“Not completely,” he replied somberly.

“But you weren’t the one who betrayed my parents. And you didn’t kill all of those muggles, either. Peter Pettigrew did all of that.”

“That doesn’t make me innocent…” Sirius dropped his eyes to the floor, as if he couldn’t even look Harry in the eye anymore. Harry opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by the voice of Narcissa drifting up the hall.

“Boys,” she called. She wasn’t yelling, but she could be heard all the way up on the top floor anyways because of the way the sound traveled. “It’s time to come down for breakfast. We don’t want to keep Aunt Wally waiting.”

“You will come down with us, won’t you?” Harry asked, instead.

Sirius scoffed. “As much as I would love to irritate my mother more, I suppose I can.” On the other side of the hallway, Dobby sighed loudly in relief.

Draco chuckled at the way Sirius’ expression betrayed the tiniest bit of petulance through the blank haze. “You really don’t like your mother, do you?”

“Of course not. I hate the vile woman.” He stated it, as if it were a simple fact. The sky is blue. Grass is green. Sirius Black hates his mother. “In my defense,” he continued, “she doesn’t exactly like me, either.”

“We know,” Harry and Draco said in unison as they moved out of the doorway and led the way downstairs. They’d heard all about Aunt Wally’s disdain for her eldest son.

“You’re going to have to explain all of this to me, by the way,” Sirius said as he followed them.

“All of what?” Harry asked.

Sirius gestured to the whole house around them. “All of this. How you wound up here for Christmas, of all places. Why you’re calling my mother Aunt Wally. Why you seem to be attached at the hip to the little Malfoy.”

At the last sentence, the 2 boys leapt apart. Draco had long let go of Harry’s sleeve and slackened his grip on his hand. But neither boy seemed to realize that they were still pressed very close together. They had even stayed that way as they turned around to descend the stairs.

When they jumped away, they heard that low, grating, animalistic noise from before behind them. Apparently, it had been Sirius chuckling.

They continued the last steps to the ground floor landing in silence until they met with Narcissa.

“There you are,” she smiled at the children. She looked up to see Sirius behind them and gasped quietly. “Oh my,” she whispered. Sirius gave her a blank look and she cleared her throat. “I must be honest, dear cousin. I hadn’t expected you would actually come downstairs.”

“Well, Harry is capable of being very persuasive,” he explained. “Not to mention, that persistent house elf of yours.”

Narcissa smirked playfully at him. “I see you met my son, Draco.”

“Yes, actually I met him yesterday evening.” Draco frowned momentarily. He didn’t remember that. “The boys barged into my father’s study yesterday while I was attempting to avoid any visitors.” Narcissa shot Draco a disapproving look, but he didn’t notice, looking contemplatively at Sirius. “I’m afraid I gave them quite the scare.”

“You mean!” Draco gasped as realization hit him. “You were the-”

Sirius shushed him with a finger over his lips. He nodded at the younger boy with a barely there smile.

Narcissa gave her cousin a curious look, but he extended his arm for her to take and wordlessly lead her to the dining room.

Chapter Text

Breakfast was more peaceful than Harry anticipated. He’d been expecting some kind of argument between Sirius and Aunt Wally, but Sirius kept quiet the entire time. There was a tense moment when he first walked in and she tried to guide him to sit on his grandfather’s right side, and he refused. Aunt Wally had opened her mouth to say something, but Uncle Arty waved her away, so she gave her son a sour look, then left it alone.

Instead, Mr. Malfoy took that spot, and Sirius sat beside Harry.

The food was extravagant. It was fancier than anything Harry had ever eaten, even at Malfoy Manor. He got heaping plates full of all sorts of French food that he had to ask Draco the names of, before promptly forgetting. It was all delicious, and he wound up stuffed.

He’d been smarter than the opening feast, though. He left plenty of room for digesting, and didn’t give himself a stomach ache. That was not a lesson he needed to learn twice.

After breakfast, Uncle Arty retired to his rooms, while everyone else headed to the sitting room. Aunt Wally’s house elf, Kreacher, lit a fire and played some music on the gramophone while the others chatted and decorated the tree.

The ornaments weren’t like the usual Christmas ornaments. Draco explained that they were all clear and hollow, because you were meant to fill them with ingredients to turn them into charms. That’s what all of the pieces on the long table were for. It was ancient magic, from long before the use of wands. The way Draco described it, it seemed a lot like potions, only with no cooking involved, and far less wet.

These charms were a lot less direct than ones done with a wand, and a lot more ambiguous in intentions. The whole process was a bit ritualistic and primitive. Harry found himself enjoying it a lot. He particularly liked coming up with his own combinations of ingredients to use, instead of having to follow any specific recipe.

At first, Sirius sat on the couch, staring off into the distance absently, instead of participating. He was completely silent, and absolutely still. It was a little eerie, once Harry noticed it. He had a blank expression, and a dejected look in his eyes, and Harry couldn’t help but remember the way he looked in the photos from his stay in Azkaban.

He didn’t want the man to feel that way anymore, so he approached him with an empty ornament.

“Mr. Black,” he addressed him quietly. The man blinked, but otherwise didn’t react. “Mr. Black?” Harry repeated, wondering if his godfather had even heard him. This time, he jerked slightly, as if the sound startled him, but didn’t turn to look. Harry put a hand on his shoulder, then called to him again. “Mr. Black,” he called.

This time, Sirius turned to look at the boy, expression still flat. “You know,” he said blandly, “you can call me Sirius.”

“Oh, okay.” Harry frowned at the strange response, but continued on anyways. “I was wondering if you’d like to make an ornament?” He offered the hollow bulb in his hand. Sirius stared at it strangely, then lifted his eyes to meet Harry’s. He gazed into them for a moment, and Harry was afraid he would say no. But after a few seconds, he nodded, then stood. Harry smiled widely at the man, then led him to the table.

Sirius took the proffered ornament, then pondered for a second as he looked over the ingredients. Finally, he picked some out to fill the hollow bulb. He started with a few dried marigold petals, then covered them in bay leaves. He pushed two pieces of a hawthorn twig inside, then followed it up with a small bunch of honeysuckle. He stoppered it with one of the premade corks that already had a hook attached to it, then went to hang it about midway on the left side of the tree.

“I like that one,” Harry complimented. “Could you tell me what it’s for?” he asked. “If you want to, that is.”

Sirius looked down at the boy, mouth pressed firmly into a straight line, but eyes glittering with sadness. “I made it for your parents,” he replied simply.

“Oh.” Harry didn’t really know what to say to that. “That’s kind of you. Um, thanks… and I’m sorry.”

Sirius drew his eyebrows together in confusion, expressing the most emotion Harry had seen on his face that entire morning. “Sorry for what?” he asked.

“Um,” Harry started. “Sorry for your loss. Of my parents, I mean.”

Sirius shook his head. “But, you lost them just as much as I did.”

“Not really though,” Harry explained. “I was too young to know my parents. What I lost was more like an idea of parents, than actual parents. But you did know them. They were actual people that you lost, and I’m sorry for that.”

Sirius frowned pensively as he considered what Harry said. “You’re very clever,” he complimented. “You’re much too insightful for an eleven-year-old boy.” Tentatively, he reached an arm out and wrapped it around Harry’s shoulder in an awkward sort of half hug. Harry could tell it was strange for the man, and wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about it either, but cherished the contact anyways.

They both went back to making ornament charms with the others, and soon the tree was covered in wishes of good will, hopes for fair fortune, and a single ornament meant as a curse to those who wished to ruin tradition.

That ornament was the subject of the only actual argument between Sirius and Aunt Wally that Harry had witnessed so far.

Sirius just knew it was meant as a thinly veiled threat against muggleborns, and remanded his mother for it.

“I will break that if you put it on the tree!” he threatened. “It’s a symbol of hate, and it has no place there!”

“It’s your mother’s tree,” Mr. Malfoy cut in, voice weary with exasperation. “She can put whatever she wants on it.” He balanced his elbows on the arms of his chair and rubbed his temples, as if the arguing were giving him a headache.

“Quit being so dramatic, child!” Aunt Wally scolded. “Of course, it’s a symbol of hate! I’d hate anyone who wants to threaten our culture! You should too!”

“Don’t act like this is about culture!” Sirius yelled. “This is about your blood purism, plain and simple!”

“It’s really not!” Aunt Wally argued. She waved her Trinket around in his face. “Not with these! These prove blood status doesn’t matter anymore. All that matters is magic and tradition. Anyone who wants to threaten that deserves to be cursed.”

“I don’t believe that for a second! Your racism comes second only to that of Voldemort’s! There’s no way I’m buying that you’ve just abandoned all that because of a couple of bracelets!”

“She’s right!” Harry interrupted. Sirius turned to look at the young wizard, perplexed expression twisted onto his face. “I mean,” Harry continued. “She believes what she believes, but it’s a little hard to argue about muggleborn and halfblood when you’ve got these Trinkets saying that it doesn’t matter. Look!” He showed his own Trinket to Sirius. “I should be a halfblood, but this says I’m Pureblood. If she was still as blood purist as you say, she wouldn’t even tolerate me. Let alone allow me to stay in her home.”

Sirius couldn’t argue that Harry had a point. He just couldn’t believe that he was actually sticking up for Walburga.

“The Trinkets prove that everyone was wrong about the way magical genes work,” Harry continued. “So, none of that stuff matters anymore,” Harry continued. “It’s a hard thing to accept, but it’s true. Aunt Wally’s being honest when she says it all about culture. She even said herself that she wants to teach muggleborn children how to behave like proper magical folk. Like she’s doing with me.”

Sirius stared at Harry, not wanting to argue with him, but unwilling to believe.

Narcissa stood up and put a hand on her cousin’s shoulder. “A lot has changed in the years since you’ve been away. Most of these changes are very recent. So, I get it’s difficult to get accustomed to them so quickly, but we have all honestly changed.”

“Some, more than others,” Mr. Malfoy interjected. “But it’s like Mr. Potter said. It’s hard to argue when the proof that you’re wrong is sitting in your face.” He twisted his own wrist around, jingling his Trinket noisily as if to emphasize his point.

Having recognized his defeat, Sirius huffed in exasperation then stormed out of the room. Harry wanted to go follow the man, but Aunt Wally put a firm hand on his shoulder and smiled down to him proudly.

Harry was more confused than ever. He was happy to have made Aunt Wally proud, and was hard put not to preen under her attentions. But he didn’t want to push Sirius away either. He was in a difficult predicament. He needed to tread carefully, but he wasn’t sure at all how to do that.

Sirius stayed hidden away for the rest of the afternoon.

Meanwhile, Harry and Draco were busy investigating the library. Aunt Wally only agreed to let them, under the condition that Mr. Malfoy chaperone their excursion. At first, Harry didn’t understand why they would need a chaperone to read books. By the 3rd book that attempted to bite him, he was starting to get it.

Harry reached up to grab a book on one of the higher shelves. It was titled “Beginners Guide to Spellcrafting Vol 3: Dark Curses.” He didn’t think he’d actually try any, but it was the first book on spellcrafting that he saw that wasn’t glowing a strange color. He thought the topic was interesting and wanted to give it a look. Right before his finger made contact with the spine, a silver snake head blocked his reach, brushing his hand out of the way gently.

“I wouldn’t touch that if I were you,” Mr. Malfoy warned. The snake head was the handle of his cane. Harry looked up at him curiously, so Mr. Malfoy gently rapped the snake head against the book. In response, the book created a loud cracking noise and a bright orange light glinted off the point of contact. “I imagine that would have hurt.”

“Uh, thanks, Mr. Malfoy.” Harry was grateful to be protected from burning his hand off, or something equally painful. “If I may,” he started, “why are so many of the books in here cursed?”

“To keep them out of the wrong hands,” Mr. Malfoy replied simply. “This entire townhouse is covered head to toe in curses and protections. This library in particular happens to be the home of many a valued item. Might I direct you to this section,” he gestured to a few rows away, where Draco was skimming a book on potions. “You’ll find its contents to be far less dangerous than here.”

Harry wanted to look around the whole library, but figured he’d rather keep all of his fingers, so he led the way to the section by the windows that overlooked London. The blinds were open and streaming in lots of light, but Harry knew the windows were charmed to look eternally closed from the view off the street.

“Did you know,” Draco asked as Harry walked past him to another shelf. “That if you make a boil curing potion in a solid silver cauldron, that it’ll turn into a skin dissolving acid?”

Harry scoffed. “I had no idea. I guess it’s a good thing Hermione talked you out of buying that silver cauldron to match your eyes, then.”

Malfoy chuckled. He’d forgotten about that. “Could you imagine the look on Professor Snape’s face if I’d have pulled that out on the first day in class?” The boil curing potion was the first one they’d brewed. “Uncle Sev would’ve gone mental.”

“Is it possible for him to go mental?” Harry asked, smiling. “He can be mean, but he’s always so calm. I think it’s even scarier than if he were yelling. What would “going mental” for him even look like?”

Draco laughed. “I don’t know,” he pondered. “He’d probably just glare at you so hard, your head exploded.”

“I don’t think that’s possible!” Harry denied, even as he was caught up in giggles himself.

“Well,” Mr. Malfoy cut in nonchalantly, “if anyone can do it, he certainly can.” That had both boys in a fit, cackling at the unexpectedness of Mr. Malfoy joining in on their teasing of his long-time friend.

After having settled down a few minutes later, Harry went to a shelf against the wall, and randomly selected a book, hoping it wouldn’t cause him any harm. After a second of weighing it in his hands, it seemed innocuous enough. So, he took it back over by the window, settling into one of the cushy green chairs that were spread about in the streams of light.

He skimmed the table of contents and found a section about the famous alchemist, Nicolas Flamel. As Harry recalled, he’d created the philosopher’s stone. It was a stone that could turn any metal into gold, or could become the Elixir of Life.

That sounded rather interesting, so he decided to read that. Surprisingly, there was a lot of information about Dumbledore in the article. Harry hadn’t realized that they’d worked so closely in the past.

When he finished the article, the Philosopher’s Stone was on his mind for a while after. Such a valuable stone likely had to be under threat of being stolen at all times. He wondered where a person would hide such a thing. Flamel was 600 years old. He was clearly a powerful wizard, but Harry doubted anyone that old could be at their dueling best. It would need a lot more protection than Flamel could likely give.

Draco and Harry soon grew bored of the library and headed to one of the townhouse’s many empty rooms to hang out in. They started off playing exploding snap, but eventually abandoned it in favor of practicing their spellwork.

Harry was grateful that neither Aunt Wally nor Narcissa cared if they practiced magic. After learning the way that the trace on underage wands worked, it was rather pointless in a house full of wizards anyways. Just another way that muggleborn students were disadvantaged from their lack of magical heritage.

The boys were laughing hysterically at their failed attempt to transfigure a pillow into a frog, when Narcissa found them. They had so many tears in their eyes, they could barely even see the shiny cylindrical pillow with slimy green legs anymore, as it hopped around the room.

“There you are,” Narcissa called. “It’s time to come down for dinner.” With a wave of her wand, she turned the hopping bolster pillow back to its original form, and it landed gently on the couch.

“Aw!” Draco groaned for a second, but then he stood up from the spot on the floor where he’d doubled over in laughter, and followed a still smiling Harry out the door.

Dinner was another peaceful affair, with lots of desserts. Sirius was still missing, and didn’t finally show up until about an hour afterwards.

The Malfoys, Blacks, and Harry were gathered in the sitting room, preparing to open gifts. Draco and Harry sat on the floor near the tree, doling out the presents to their respective recipients.

Sirius came slinking into the room quietly and sat on the floor in the furthest corner from the others. None of the adults paid him much attention, but Harry watched as he walked across the room, and offered him a small smile when he sat down. The older man didn’t smile back, but offered him a head nod in return.

When all of the presents were properly dispersed, Harry was surprised at how large his pile was. Given his treatment by the Dursleys, he didn’t often receive anything for Christmas. When he did, it was never much more than an old coat hanger, a box of pencils, or hand me down socks. From the Malfoy-Black family, he’d received enough presents to make Dudley jealous.

He liked Yule a lot more than Christmas already.

He received several books, a few wizard board and card games he’d never heard of, lots of candy, more expensive robes that everyone else claimed were “casual,” and a host of other things. He’d never felt so spoiled in his life. He treasured the feeling.

There were a few items of note, one of them being a lumpy package from Dumbledore with a long letter accompanying it. As soon as Harry saw who it was from, he was a bit wary of opening it. He didn’t even bother to read the letter. He just set it aside and moved on to a different present, deciding to open that one last.

He was very excited about the gift he received from Mr. Malfoy. It matched Draco’s, but it was absolutely perfect. They each got a brand new Nimbus 2000 broomstick. Harry couldn’t wait to ride his. He nearly dropped the rest of his gifts and took off with it in the house. He glanced at Uncle Arty, who was grinning at him pleasantly, but decided not to. He was a quiet, old man, but something told Harry that he was worse than Aunt Wally when angered.

He hadn’t been expecting a gift from Sirius at all, so he was taken by surprise to even see one. When he opened it, he was absolutely heartbroken.

Sirius had given him a scrapbook full of pictures of his parents and their friends in their Hogwarts days. Every few pages, there were handwritten notes, doodles, and even a few full letters that were spellotaped to the pages.

Harry could feel his eyes burning with tears that wanted to be shed, but he wouldn’t allow it. He closed the book quickly, hugging it to his chest before looking up at Sirius. He swallowed back the lump in his throat and said, “Thank you, Sirius.” The man looked up at him cautiously and met his eyes. “This is the greatest thing anyone has ever given to me,” he added, sincerely.

Sirius opened his mouth to reply, but no words came out. Instead, he snapped his mouth shut and nodded at Harry in acceptance, before dropping his eyes down to the floor near his own pile of presents that he hadn’t even touched.

Harry kept the book in his lap as he moved to open the only thing he had left, Dumbledore’s gift. He flipped it over in his hands, eyeing it warily, still not sure if he wanted to open it or not.

“What’s that one you got, there?” Draco asked, setting aside the kit of vials and jars for potions ingredients that he received from Severus.

“Dunno,” Harry admitted. “I’m not sure if I want to open it. It’s from Dumbledore.”

Aunt Wally grimaced when she heard the name, turning away from the portrait of herself that Narcissa gifted her with.

“What could that old fool possibly want?” the portrait asked haughtily.

“Probably trying to weasel his way into Harry’s good graces,” the real Aunt Wally replied. “I’m sure he’s realized by now that my Harry wants nothing to do with him.”

“I don’t know why he’s so obsessed with our boys,” the portrait exclaimed. “First, he turned Sirius against us. He tried to get Regulus, but he was too clever for the man’s nonsense.” Across the room, Sirius scoffed at that statement, but the portrait ignored him. “Then he got Sirius locked up for no reason, and now he’s after my Harry. You’d think he has some type of complex or something.”

“That man’s no good at all,” Aunt Wally agreed. “He’s poison, I tell you.” She turned to Harry, who was glowing with pride at being considered one of her boys. “Go on then,” she urged. “Open it, and let’s see.”

Harry couldn’t quell the golden feeling he had inside, even as he tore open the plainly wrapped gift. Inside it was a silky, silvery fabric. He unfolded it to reveal that it was a cloak.

Upon seeing it, Sirius gasped loudly. “I don’t believe it!” he cried, standing up with incredulity. It was the first time he spoke that evening.

“What is it?” Aunt Wally asked, not seeing all the fuss.

“That’s James’ invisibility cloak!”

“Invisibility cloak?” Draco asked with a mischievous glint in his eye, at the same time that Harry asked-

“My father’s?” He stood with it, and wrapped it around his shoulders. His entire body disappeared, so now he looked like only a floating head.

Draco cackled at him, partly in amusement, and partly in anticipation of the trouble they could get up to with it.

“Yes,” Sirius replied, walking over to where Harry was. “It’s been in the Potter family for generations. Your grandfather wasn’t even entirely sure how long they’d had it.” He reached a hand out, brushing his fingers against the light fabric. He pinched his fingers to grab some, then pulled it a bit closer to himself, revealing just a bit of Harry’s torso. He relished in the nostalgic feeling of the cloak, remembering times long lost, before letting it go. “I wonder how Dumbledore got to it,” he mused aloud. “This should have been in the Potter Vault.”

“He has the key,” Harry replied.

“What?” Sirius asked in confusion.

“He has the key,” Harry repeated. “When I went to Diagon Alley on my birthday, Hagrid already had the key to my vault. Said he got it from Dumbledore.”

Sirius shook his head. “That makes no sense. Dumbledore wasn’t the beneficiary to anything in your parents’ will. I was with them when they drafted it. Their accounts should have gone to me, then when I was arrested, it should have gone to the Longbottoms. When they were incapacitated, it should have reverted back to the Blacks, to remain sealed until you came of age. The only thing you should have access to right now is your trust fund vault, and the cloak wouldn’t have been in there.

“Your parents’ other vaults and accounts should have been sealed, then become property of the House of Black. No one should be able to get into them.”

The portrait scoffed again. It was a very talkative thing. “We already knew that Dumbledore has no concern for propriety.”

“Or the law,” the real Aunt Wally finished.

Harry had gotten caught on something Sirius said. “Accounts?” he mumbled to himself. So then, that vault he saw with all of those galleons was only a small portion of his parents’ fortune? He couldn’t fathom how much money it must have been.

“So, my family was filthy bloody rich,” he said aloud, interrupting Aunt Wally besmirching the headmaster’s name. “But, I was forced to live in a cupboard all my life?” His voice was full of rage, whole body shaking slightly as he tugged the cloak from his shoulders. “Because of Dumbledore?”

“WHAT?” Sirius exclaimed. The entire room went silent, with the exception of the gramophone in the corner, playing music quietly.

Harry could feel that all eyes were on him. Part of him was embarrassed at his admission, but he was too angry for it to bother him.

“You lived in a cupboard?” Sirius asked, face drawn into a blank expression that somehow showcased every ounce of his fury. “They put you in a cupboard?” he gestured to his family, eyes locked on Harry’s.

Harry’s surprise at the accusation was strong enough to temporarily distract him from the anger he felt. “No!” he insisted.

“We would never!” Aunt Wally cried.

“The Dursleys did that to me,” Harry explained. “They treated me like a slave! Worse than a house elf! Like a… a freak.”

“Hold on,” Sirius took a step back, trying to wrap his head around what Harry was saying. Just then, Harry realized he never had the chance to give Sirius that explanation he’d asked for earlier. So, the man must have come to his own conclusions. Clearly, they weren’t very near to the truth.

“You mean Lily’s evil sister, and her hateful lump of a husband? Who the hell took you to the DURSLEYS?” Sirius still had a blank face, but his voice loud and echoing across the room.

“Hagrid did,” Harry answered, anger swelling back up slowly. “On Dumbledore’s orders. That’s what he told me.”

Sirius’ face paled, and he took a few more steps back, legs stiff and moving awkwardly. He dropped his eyes to the floor, frowning, and almost appearing to draw in on himself.

“That’s utterly outrageous!” Aunt Wally stood from her seat, brushing past Sirius and coming to envelope Harry in her arms. “I knew that muggle scum treated you poorly, but I didn’t know it was that bad!”

“Absolutely disgusting!” the portrait added from where it had been left on the seat. “Poisonous little creatures! All of them! That utter filth would dare treat my Harry poorly? They should be eradicated!”

“Perhaps,” Narcissa added quietly, patting Uncle Arty on the shoulder where he seemed to be wearing an expression as acidic as the one Sirius had been bearing moments ago. “It is possible that Dumbledore didn’t know the extent to which they were treating him…”

“No,” Harry contradicted. “He knew all about it. My first Hogwarts letter was addressed to the Cupboard Under the Stairs.”

“First?” Draco asked.

“Well,” Harry elaborated, not even trying to move from where he was folded into Aunt Wally’s chest. “The Dursleys didn’t want me to go to Hogwarts, so they wouldn’t let me read the letter. After that, they moved me to a bedroom. I was sent more letters, and they were addressed to the Second Bedroom. Technically, I received hundreds, if not thousands. The Dursleys kept taking them from me until the whole house exploded with them.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Draco scoffed, but Harry wasn’t finished.

“After that,” he continued, “they moved us all out of the house and we were on the run for a while, staying in random hotels, and driving around for days, but the letters kept coming. Eventually, the day before my birthday, my uncle rented a cabin on a tiny island off the coast somewhere, out in the middle of a storm. Right after midnight was when Hagrid barged in and explained everything to me. Some of it, anyways.”

“Why on earth would they try so hard to keep you from going to Hogwarts?” Draco asked. “If they hated you that much, you’d think they’d send you just to get you away.”

“Because they didn’t just hate Harry,” Sirius explained in a dejected tone. “They hated magic entirely.”

Harry nodded. “They wanted to force the magic out of me. They hoped if I didn’t learn it, it would just go away.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of,” Lucius muttered. It had been the first time he spoke in a while.

Aunt Wally hugged Harry tighter for a moment, before letting him go and putting her hands on his shoulders. She looked him right in the eye, making sure he understood the seriousness of her next words. “I hadn’t expected you to go back there this summer anyways. However, rest assured knowing that Dumbledore will have to pry you out of my cold dead fingers before I allow you to be sent back there.”

“Even if he manages that,” Lucius added, “he’s got the full force of the Malfoys to deal with as well.” Narcissa nodded, and Draco looked resolute as well.

The anger in Harry seeped out and was replaced by a familial warmth as he realized that he had so many people around to support him. It wasn’t something he was used to, but he completely trusted these people, and knew they would follow through on their words.

“Harry,” Uncle Arty spoke up. The typically quiet man surprised Harry with his words. Harry hadn’t heard him say anything at all since their introduction at dinner the night before. His deep, raspy voice was a surprise amongst the din of the others’ chatter. “Tell me,” he asked, a curious light in his eyes, “what exactly did the address of your first letter say?”

“It said, ‘Mr. H. Potter. The Cupboard Under the Stairs. Four, Privet Drive. Little Whinging, Surrey.’” Harry recited it from memory. Somehow, the words seemed to be etched into his mind, from that first moment onward.

“Ah.” Arcturus nodded his head, but said nothing else. Harry wasn’t sure what he’d been looking for, but he appeared to have found it.

“Well then,” Narcissa stood from her seat. “I think that’s enough drama for one night.” And with that, all discussion of Dumbledore and the Dursleys came to an end. “Dobby, Kreacher!” she called, and the 2 elves appeared in front of her. “Why don’t you two help move all of these presents to their respective owners’ rooms?” Both elves bowed to her, then set about their task, vanishing with groups of presents one at a time.

“Drilby,” Narcissa called another house elf that Harry hadn’t met yet. He appeared before her in the standard grubby pillowcase, with slightly droopy lids half covering his bulbous brown eyes. “I’ll leave it to you to clear the trash from the presents and neaten up in here.” Drilby bowed deeply, then set about his own task.

“Boys,” she continued. “You two should prepare for bed.” Draco opened his mouth to complain, but she cut him off. “I know it’s not late, but I’m sure you’ll want to be well rested when we drop by the Manor in the morning for you to test out your brooms.”

That was enough to get Draco off the floor and moving. Aunt Wally gave Harry a kiss on the top of the head, before allowing him to trail off behind the blonde.

“Now,” Narcissa’s voice drifted into the hall as the boys headed up the stairs. “Why don’t we find a place to hang that portrait of yours, dear Auntie?”

Chapter Text

Harry spent a while lying in bed, staring at the black and silver canopy of his bed.

He couldn’t sleep. He was too riled up from the events of the evening. He wasn’t angry anymore, but he couldn’t get his mind to still.

Sometime after 1 am, he decided to give up completely, and finally climbed out of the bed. Without really making the conscious decision to do so, he grabbed his wand, then the invisibility cloak and draped it over his shoulders. He was going to wander about the townhouse and explore some of the empty rooms. He figured it’d be the perfect time to try out his father’s cloak.

Sneaking as quietly as he could, he made sure to stay away from the floors where the adults were sleeping. He took the stairs slowly, knowing they had a tendency to creek, then quickly found himself meandering around the 1st floor.

He headed to what appeared to be the drawing room. His eyes immediately caught on a huge tapestry that took up the entire far wall, and spilled over onto the other walls as well. It was too dark to make it out completely, but he saw multiple lighter spots dotted along the whole thing and a few black patches. He was curious to see what it was.

He pulled the door shut behind him, then cast a lumos to brighten the room. Resting the cloak on the back of one of the chairs, he approached the tapestry.

They were faces. Each face had a label beneath it, bearing a name. Most of them ended in Black, but there were quite a few others among the mix. They were all connected by thick, dark branches.

Something large and black suddenly moved into Harry’s peripheral vision and he leapt around in shock, barely suppressing a scream. His heart pounded in his chest a mile a minute as he realized it was the dog that attacked he and Draco last night.

He stuck his wand out in front of him protectively as he scrambled backwards and away from it.

It didn’t appear vicious this time, or even angry. In fact, it was simply sitting there, watching Harry carefully with its bright yellow eyes. Still, he couldn’t lower his heart rate, or settle the sudden rush of adrenaline as he waited for it to spring and attack him.

The thing really was huge. Even sitting down, it’s head was chest height for Harry. Its paws were huge, and sporting claws that looked the size of his own fingers. They could tear him apart easily. He couldn’t see it’s fangs, but he remembered from yesterday that they were large and razor sharp. Honestly, the beast appeared as if it could swallow Harry whole if it wanted to.

Just then, it was sitting there ominously, unmoving. It was almost eerie the way it watched Harry. He couldn’t help but be reminded of Black Shuck, the Grim. The thought sent a chill up his spine.

He stood there, frozen with his wand suspended in the air, waiting for even the slightest of movements from the dog. He didn’t know how long he stood there. It could have been minutes, or it could have been hours. More likely, it could have been a few seconds. They both sat there, staring at each other closely.

Finally, the dog moved, but not in the way Harry had expected. Instead of surging forward or even opening its mouth into a snarl, it’s whole outline blurred and shifted. In the space of a single second, in the dog’s place stood Sirius Black.

“I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he said quietly. Harry let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. “What are you doing here so late at night?”

“Um,” Harry started, trying to reign in his surprise at his godfather being an animagus. “I couldn’t sleep, so I just went exploring. I had no idea you were in here,” he added on, recalling the dog’s-Sirius’ reaction to his first intrusion.

“That’s alright,” Sirius explained. “I was… hiding.” He seemed remiss to admit it. “You weren’t supposed to notice.”

“What are you hiding from?” Harry asked.

“You,” Sirius admitted without skipping a beat. Harry flinched, so the man rushed to continue on. “Myself. My mistakes.” At that, he lowered his gaze to the ground, unable to meet Harry’s eye.

“What mistakes?” Harry questioned. He knew this was going to be a sensitive topic, but he wanted to talk it out, and there was no time like the present.

At first, Sirius just shrugged, saying nothing, but Harry waited him out a few minutes, and he finally answered.

“Like your parents,” he whispered.

“That wasn’t your fault,” Harry disagreed. “Pettigrew was the one that gave them up, not you!”

“That doesn’t make me not at fault.” Sirius stated simply. He took a deep breath, then elaborated. “I was supposed to be your parents’ Secret Keeper. They trusted me, and I let them down. Peter only traded places with me because I convinced your father to switch us.

“We knew there was a spy among us. So we knew it would eventually get out that your parents were under the Fidelius Charm. Knowing that, it would be completely obvious who their Secret Keeper was. There was no one in the world your father trusted more than me. Everyone knew that. So I knew the Death Eaters would come after me. I’d never have given them up. I knew if I was ever caught, that I’d be tortured to death, and the Charm would die with me. I couldn’t let that happen.”

Harry already realized where Sirius was going with this, so he stopped him right there.

“Which is why you switched with Pettigrew,” he finished. “But you’re not to blame for Pettigrew’s betrayal. No matter what your actions led up to, only Pettigrew is responsible for what he did. They were choices that he made. He didn’t have to, but he did. You’re not at fault for that. I would say that I forgive you, but there’s nothing to forgive.”

“You’re a very clever boy.” Sirius’ eyes filled with tears, but they never spilled. Instead, his face twisted into a half smile, half grimace and he quietly laughed. It wasn’t happy, or amused laughter. It sounded gruff and sad, more like a wheeze than anything else. He stopped after only a moment, then looked up into Harry’s eyes again.

“Thank you,” he said, sincerely. He stepped forward and put a hand on Harry’s shoulder, squeezing it briefly. “But that’s not the only mistake I made.” He took a deep breath before continuing. “I’m so sorry Harry, but it’s my fault you were sent to the Dursley’s.”

Harry gasped, jerking back a little. “How?” he asked, more sharply than he intended. Sirius’ hand slid off his shoulder.

“I was there that night,” Sirius explained. “When your parents were killed. I was the first one there. I found them… I found you.” Harry’s eyes opened wider as he caught on to where this story was going as well. “Honestly, I barely even remember it.

“I remember…” he stopped and took another deep breath, as if afraid to say it. “I was distraught,” he corrected, instead. “My entire world was ripped out from under my feet, and I could barely function. I don’t even know how I made it back outside with you. But Hagrid was there. He said he came for you. Dumbledore sent him. I didn’t know what to do, I could barely think. So, I handed you off. Just like that. I even gave him my motorbike.

“We all trusted Dumbledore back then. Did whatever he said, blindly. Of course, I know better now. But back then, it never occurred to me to do anything but follow his orders. That’s still no excuse. I still gave you up and let you get carted off to those wretched people.”

Harry stood there in silence, barely comprehending. He wasn’t even able to look at Sirius any more. He had so many emotions flying around in his head, and he couldn’t make sense of a single one of them.

“I’ll understand if you hate me,” Sirius whispered. “Really, I deserve it.”

Harry was overwhelmed. Suddenly, he felt very tired. He needed to lay down.

“I…” he started. “I need to go to bed.”

With that, he cancelled his lumos, went to grab the invisibility cloak, and fled the room.

The next morning, the men were noticeably absent from the breakfast table. Though, admittedly, it was earlier than usual. Sirius was likely hiding again. No one was certain where Uncle Arty went, though Aunt Wally was promised by Kreacher that he left by floo, just after dawn. Mr. Malfoy had gone to the Board of Governor’s meeting, and was finally presenting all the evidence Hermione had so studiously compiled.

Harry tried to focus on that, instead of any new discoveries he made last night. Hopefully, Dumbledore would be done for, now. He wondered who would be next on Hermione’s Hit List once Project RAD was officially over.

The idea of the bookish Hermione being the mastermind behind their “evil plot” had him smiling into his eggs.

“What’s got you so happy?” Draco asked, quietly.

“Just thinking about flying our new broomsticks,” Harry fibbed, smoothly. He didn’t want to discuss their plans in front of the adults.

When they flooed to the Manor, Narcissa warned them to keep themselves scarce for a while. She and Aunt Wally had a long list of people being endowed with Trinkets that day. Apparently, it had become a bit of a trend to present a person with an appointment card as a Christmas present.

Harry and Draco had no issue with that. Spending the whole day flying over the grounds sounded like paradise to them. They’d be sure to steer clear of the windows on the east side of the manor, where the appointments were being held.

The Nimbus 2000s were fantastic! Riding Draco’s Cleansweep had been exciting, but riding the Nimbus was an absolute thrill. It moved so fast that everything around Harry turned into a blur. The handle was so sensitive as well. The slightest tip to the side had him weaving in and out, up or down.

He saw Draco streak past him, going the opposite direction, and laughed as he heard the echoes of the other boy whooping through the air.

They caught up with each other, chuckling excitedly as they hovered hundreds of feet in the air.

“Just imagine playing quidditch with these!” Draco exclaimed. “We’d be unstoppable!”

“I can’t wait until next year when we can finally try out for the team,” Harry sighed whimsically.

“What position would you like to play?” Draco asked.

“I dunno,” Harry pondered. “Probably seeker.” He thought about it for a minute longer. “Yes. Definitely seeker.”

“Nah,” Draco disagreed, playfully. “You’ll have to try a different position. I’m going to be seeker.”

Harry scoffed back at him. “You don’t know that! I could be!”

“Nope,” Draco insisted, smiling. “You’d have to beat me in order to do that. And we all know you can’t do that.”

“You think so?” Harry challenged, smirking.

“I know so.”

Harry glared at the other boy. “Oh, you are so on!”

“Alright then,” Draco accepted. “On the count of three, first one to the menagerie, then back over to the game shed wins.”

“Okay.” They both held up 3 fingers, then counted in unison.

“One… Two…”

They both took off at 2.

After racing a few times, Draco decided they would chase the peacocks through the maze, trying to herd them all to the middle then back. Once they finished terrorizing the poor things, they tested their bravery by flying impossibly high, then seeing who could drop down the furthest before pulling back up. After nearly killing themselves, they decided it was time for a lunch break.

“So,” Draco began as they tucked into a couple of meat pies at the table in the center of the hedge maze. “What do you think of Sirius Black? He’s kind of weird, isn’t he?”

Harry blanched at the topic. He’d been pretty successful at avoiding thinking of the man all morning. Now, he didn’t have much choice.

“Weird how?” Harry asked.

“He’s so… quiet,” Draco explained, thinking of how to extrapolate. “I mean, he hides a lot, then when he does come out, he barely speaks. Unless he’s mad about something. Then, remember yesterday when we were trimming the tree and he just sat there looking at nothing. It’s like he wasn’t even in the room. Then last night…” Draco continued, trying to speak carefully. “When he got angry about what you said about your relatives, I could just feel his magic thickening the air. It was so heavy, like fire or… poison. Honestly, it’s no wonder the ministry so easily believed he was a mass murderer, without any evidence.”

“Wait,” Harry was distracted from his Godfather for a moment. “You said you could feel his magic?”

“Yeah,” Draco agreed.

Harry remembered reading about being able to feel a person’s magical aura from all of the studying up he’d done. Everything he’d read had explained that it was a pretty difficult thing to do, that needed years training. Even then, it would take lots of studying to be able to understand it at all. Most wizards these days didn’t bother because it was a lot of work for something with such a narrow range of usefulness.

“How did you learn to do that?” Harry asked, amazed.

“I’ve never learned,” Draco replied, offhandedly. “I’ve always just been pretty sensitive to it, I guess. Usually, only when I’m paying attention, but Sirius’ was so strong yesterday that it practically slammed into me. I’ve never felt anyone’s that strong before.” He shuddered, recalling the sensation.

“He’s weird though, right?” Draco returned the conversation to the man in question.

Harry thought for a moment. “Yeah, he is, but I guess it makes sense. I mean, after ten years in Azkaban, I don’t think anyone would be normal. Even if the dementors didn’t affect him.” He thought about Sirius’ demeanor when they met in the drawing room.

“Honestly,” he continued, “I think he’s just really sad. And lonely. He feels really guilty for everything that happened with my parents. And me.”

“Well, that’s stupid,” Draco asserted. “It’s all Dumbledore’s fault. And You-Know-Who’s. He can’t take the blame for what they did.”

“That’s what I told him last night…”

“When?”

“I couldn’t get to sleep,” Harry explained. “So I went walking around the house and I ran into him in the drawing room.”

“Oh,” Draco nodded, understanding. “What did he say?”

“He said he was hiding from me. From himself, and the mistakes he made. He also said he was sorry, because he’s the one who gave me to Hagrid.”

“What?” Draco’s eyes grew wide with incredulity.

“He said that he was there that night, when my parents died. He’s the one that found them and me. Then, Hagrid showed up and told him Dumbledore wanted to send me away to the Dursley’s. And he handed me over, even gave Hagrid his motorbike.”

“I bet he blames himself for that, too…” Draco shook his head in pity of the man.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked.

“For you getting sent to the Dursleys,” Draco explained. Harry was still confused. Of course he blamed himself. That one was actually his fault. Draco continued. “It’s hardly his fault that Dumbledore sent you there.”

“Yeah, but he could have stopped him,” Harry added.

“How?” Harry just blinked at Draco. “He’s so distant and out of sorts now. I imagine it was ten times worse right when it all happened. He probably had no idea what he was doing. Even if he did, it was Dumbledore’s orders. The Great Dumbledore,” he said in a mocking tone. “The Leader of the Light. The Greatest Wizard of All Time save Merlin himself.” He scoffed, then continued speaking regularly. “Nobody could have stood up against him. Even You-Know-Who was scared of him. No one even bothered to question why he was the one to choose where you’d live. Dumbledore’s word is basically law. He took advantage of that.”

Draco was right on all accounts. Ultimately, this was still all down to Dumbledore. Even if Sirius had fought, Harry would have wound up on Privet Drive anyways.

And Sirius himself said he didn’t even know how he made it down the stairs. Hagrid probably could have told him Dumbledore’s orders were to toss him off a bridge and he’d have handed him over. Dumbledore would have known he’d be affected so strongly. He’d taken advantage of the situation.

That seemed to be a recurring theme.

“You’re absolutely right,” Harry agreed. He really couldn’t blame Sirius for what happened. Despite having been the one to pass him off, it was still Dumbledore who decided to send him to Surrey as opposed to anywhere else. And, like Draco said, he would have gotten his way regardless.

“I wonder what Hermione’s doing,” Draco suddenly changed the subject. He could see how somber Harry was becoming with the topic at hand, so he decided to switch to something more cheerful. It was quite obvious what he was doing, but Harry was grateful.

After a long day of broom riding under heavy cloaks and warming charms, both boys were exhausted when they made it back to Grimmald Place for dinner.

By then, both Mr. Malfoy and Uncle Arty had returned. Despite his typical aloofness and stoicism, the elder man seemed rather happy about something. He even had the house elves bring out a bottle of Nettle Wine to toast to “family and the future.”

Harry found that to be rather vague, leaving him curious. But he kept quiet, sipping the sweet blue liquid and being grateful that no one cared he was underage.

The next day was Christmas Eve, though it meant little to nothing to the Malfoy-Black brood. Aunt Wally in particular wanted to ascertain that the day—and the one following—went about as plainly as possible.

Harry and Draco found themselves in the Library with Mr. Malfoy again. Draco had found an interesting potions book to read that stopped stinging him once he opened it up, and Harry found a non-cursed book about spellcrafting.

Surprisingly, Sirius joined them in the Library that day. He kept to himself and hid in one of the corners that had more cursed books in it than safe ones. He managed to find one unimpeded and sat with it in silence for a while.

Harry was interested in his book, but once Sirius entered, he found it hard to focus on the complex equations and arithmancy. His mind kept wandering to the way he ran from Sirius the other day, and he wanted to apologize.

Giving up on reading, Harry set the book aside then approached the man. “What are you reading about?” he asked, tentatively.

“Werewolves,” Sirius answered. His voice was quiet and, though his face betrayed no emotion, he somehow seemed sad.

“Scary things, aren’t they?” Harry joked, trying to lighten the mood, but Sirius frowned.

“Not all of them,” he disputed.

“Well,” Harry rushed to correct himself, “I suppose not on the other days of the month.”

He could see that this conversation was going nowhere, so he decided to cut to the chase.

“Look,” he began, “I just wanted to say, I’m sorry for running out on you the other day.” Sirius looked up at him with his eyebrows drawn. “I don’t blame you for sending me to the Dursleys. Whether you’d given me to Hagrid or not, I’d have wound up there anyways, and that’s all Dumbledore’s doing. There’s no point in being upset with you for it.”

Sirius’ face relaxed as he gazed at Harry, silver eyes glistening. “You’re far too kind. Just like your mother. I don’t deserve it.”

After a brief pause, Harry got an idea. “Can you tell me about her?” he asked gently. “And my father?”

Sirius nodded. He patted the seat beside him and gestured for Harry to sit down. He took a deep breath as he did.

“Your mother was the kindest and bravest woman I ever knew, and your father didn’t deserve her.” He looked at Harry with a twinkle in his eye, and Harry knew he meant it as a joke. “He and I were… well, we were right berks in our Hogwarts days. Me especially. Lily was the only one who could keep us line. Well, her and…” he dropped his eyes to the book in his lap, then lifted them back up. “Our other friend R-R-Remus.” He stuttered on the name.

“Lily was clever and beautiful, and James was in love with her from day one, on the Hogwarts express.” Harry smiled at the thought. “You look so much like him. You’re his spitting image. Except those eyes. Those are one hundred percent Lily’s eyes.

“Anyways, James was always up to something to try and impress her, but it never worked.” The right side of his mouth quirked up for just a second, and it was the closest thing to a smile that Harry had seen from the man. “We were quite the pranksters in our day,” he continued. “Most of our pranks were attempts to catch Lily’s attention. Others were because we were bored. Then, there was the occasional vengeance for some assumed slight.

“Lily was one of the only people to ever put James in his place. Her and Professor McGonagall.” Harry chuckled softly. He could definitely see that.

“Don’t get me wrong, though. James may have been a love struck idiot, but he was quite clever when he wanted to be. He was hilarious, brave as can be, and fiercely loyal. If you were his friend, he’d do anything to protect you. He was so noble and stupid that way. I loved him like a brother.”

Harry could hear his tone growing even more somber, so he thought of something that might have been a bit more cheerful.

“What kind of pranks did you get up to?” he asked.

Sirius made that gruff, chesty wheeze that was the closest he ever came to a laugh. “All sorts. From simple things like ruining a classmate’s potions, to bigger things like altering a professor’s exams so the questions would change, or make no sense.” He paused for a second, seeming to ponder something amusing.

“Our seventh year,” he began, “on the last day, your father and I decided to have one last little competition. We decided to see who could make Professor McGonagall the angriest.”

“That sounds like it would have been a disaster…” Harry scoffed.

“Oh, it was spectacular!” Sirius’ eyes lit up, and for the first time since Harry had met him, he was smiling. Not just both sides of his mouth quirked up at the same time, but full on grinning with his teeth showing and everything.

He looked so much younger and attractive that way, that Harry was almost blown away by the image. He could feel his heart rate soar and blood rushing to his face. He smiled in return, absolutely ecstatic to see that his godfather could even feel such positive emotions.

“It started off with me charming the banners around the Great Hall to all sing ‘God Rest, Ye Merry Hippogriffs.’” Harry laughed aloud there, imagining the raucous it would have caused. “Of course, your father couldn’t take that, so he retaliated by transfiguring some of the Hufflepuff’s plates into Frisbees, which then began to fly around the room.” Sirius grew animated, whirling a finger through the air as an example.

“That just wouldn’t do,” he continued. “You see, your father was always quite adept at transfiguration. He often liked to pretend that he was better at it than me. So every now and then, I had to remind him who was really boss. So I transfigured all of the Ravenclaw’s hats into actual ravens.”

Harry dropped his mouth open in shock. He could just picture the students all screaming and shouting with birds and Frisbees soaring through the air. All to the soundtrack off the banners’ singing.

“It was utter chaos!” Sirius confirmed. “McGonagall shouted my name across the room, and I just knew I’d won. But your father—clever git that he was—went and cursed all the candles above the Slytherin table. So instead of showering the students in light, they showered the students in silver and green paint.”

Harry snorted a laugh, finding the prank hilarious, but also a tiny bit indignant on behalf of his fellow Slytherins.

“Poor McGonagall,” Sirius reminisced. “It’s a miracle she didn’t burst a blood vessel, she screamed his name so loud. I was done for, then. There was no topping that. Lest I wanted to give the poor woman heart failure.”

“I can’t imagine what it must have been like going to school with you two,” Harry chuckled out.

“Me neither,” Sirius replied. “We were dreadful. It’s an honest miracle that we were never expelled. Dumbledore’s doing, I’m sure. He always seemed to have a soft spot for the two of us. Though, Merlin knows why.” At the mention of Dumbledore, Sirius’ grin became pinched, then devolved into a grimace as his eyes bore a hole into the floor.

Harry mirrored the sentiment. “I hate that man,” he stated.

“So do I,” Sirius agreed, full on scowling. “It’s one thing that he locked me up even when he knew I was innocent. But what he did to you… That’s unforgiveable.”

Harry didn’t want to dwell on his own misfortunes at the hand of Dumbledore. “He knew you were innocent?” he asked instead. “I knew he was the one who approved you being sent to Azkaban, lobbied for it even. Although, there’s no proof of him having a hand in your lack of a trial. But I wouldn’t think he’d have done so if he knew you were innocent.”

“Neither would I,” Sirius replied, darkly. “But he’s the one who performed the Fidelius Charm on Peter. It’s a powerful spell, and he refused to let anyone else attempt it. So there’s no way possible that he could claim not to have known that Peter was the one to betray your parents. But he and Crouch sent me off to Azkaban anyways, and left me there to rot.”

Sirius’ demeanor was quickly turning sour, and he didn’t appear to be in the mood for reminiscing anymore. Harry thought it’d be best that he left the man alone for a little while, now. He stood from his seat and tried to smile at him.

“Thanks,” Harry told him. “For telling me about my parents. Hopefully, you can tell me a bit more about them another time.”

Sirius’ face withdrew into its usual blank expression, and he nodded. It hurt Harry’s heart to see him withdraw into himself again, after those brief moments of opening up completely. He resolved to get his godfather to smile again before he went back to Hogwarts. He was beautiful when he smiled, and his eyes lit up the brightest silver. He deserved to always feel that way.

With that silent promise to himself, Harry waved goodbye, then turned to head back to the other side of the library.

Chapter Text

“Probation?” Hermione scoffed at the letter she received from Mr. Malfoy.

“What’s the matter?” Harry asked before taking a bite of his gummy wand.

“Dumbledore’s been put on probation,” she replied. “That’s it.”

“That’s a good thing, isn’t it?” Draco asked. The way Hermione rolled her eyes warned them that the boys were in for a lecture. So Harry pointed his wand at the compartment door and whispered a spell to get it to slide shut and lock. He whispered another to keep their conversation from getting out.

“Hardly!” Hermione shouted. She took a deep breath, then lowered her voice. “With everything I put in that letter to the Board, he should have been sacked. Phineas Black was sacked for much less. This-” she waved the letter in her hand violently, as if the parchment itself were to blame. “Says that he has so much of a good reputation that no one was willing to just toss him out. They all trust him too much.

“So he’s been put on a probationary period until the end of the school year. They’re going to send people out to observe how he handles things a few times throughout the term. Then he gets a review at the end of the year. The review will decide if he stays or goes. Then, if he fails his review, they’ll launch an investigation to see if he should remain Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. But that’s only if he fails.”

“That’s something, at least,” Draco soothed.

“It’s not enough.” Hermione crammed the thick packet back into its envelope, then shoved the whole thing into her bag. She cast the bag aside angrily, slamming it on the train seat beside her in frustration. “He’s going to know all of this ahead of time, too. So he’ll have plenty of time to cover everything up. If he was able to use his reputation to get him out of trouble without even being at the Governor’s Meeting, imagine what he’ll do when face to face with the reviewers they send.”

Harry shook his head in disappointment. “Hermione’s right. He’ll be back next year, just fine.”

“Oh, honestly!” Draco huffed at them in mock exasperation. “Giving up already? Are you two Slytherins, or not?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hermione asked, mildly offended.

“He’ll only be back if his reviews go well, right?” Draco explained. “Then, let’s just make sure that they don’t go well.”

“You want to go out of our way to sabotage his reviews?” Hermione asked incredulously, eyebrows raised. Draco grinned at her, then she glanced at Harry to see he was grinning too. Her eyebrows lowered as she quirked the right corner of her mouth into a smirk.

“Do you know what days the review will be?” Harry asked, grin turned evil.

“Yup. The first observation is on February 5th. That’s when they’ll be focusing on how he works with the staff. The next is April 4th, to see how he handles his administrative work. Then the last is during exams to see how he handles the OWLs and NEWTs. He’ll be given his results in the morning on the day of the End-of-Term Feast.”

“So then, we’ll know exactly when and what to sabotage,” Harry mused aloud. “All we need is to come up with the how.”

“Dumbledore’s doomed,” Draco stated with a diabolical smile.

The rest of the train ride was spent in malevolent glee as the trio schemed ways to make the headmaster look incompetent, without exposing themselves as the culprits.

“The twins!” Harry gasped, as they disembarked the train.

“You want to use them as our scapegoats?” Draco asked in a whisper. “Brilliant! No one would ever doubt those two as being up to something.”

“No,” Harry shook his head, but then scrunched his nose as he thought about it. “Well, yes, but not how you’re thinking.” He looked around to make sure no one was close, before boarding an empty carriage and rushing the other 2 to follow him. When they were settled, he continued.

“The twins have been trying all year to get to the Philosopher’s Stone-”

“The Philosopher’s Stone?” Draco asked in confusion.

“Wait, what?” Hermione widened her eyes in shock.

“That’s right!” Harry wanted to smack himself. He’d been so preoccupied with revenge on Dumbledore, that he’d forgotten the discovery he made. He’d only just made it early that morning when skimming through books in the Library with Uncle Arty because he was too antsy to sleep. “I think what Dumbledore’s hiding on the third floor is the Philosopher’s Stone.”

“What gives you that idea?” Hermione asked.

“Well, it was mostly just a guess,” Harry admitted, “but it makes the most sense. I was reading about Nicolas Flamel in the Black Library, and it mentioned how the Headmaster and Flamel had been partners in Alchemy. They were very close for years, and supposedly, Flamel taught Dumbledore everything he knows. He’s the one person that Flamel trusts, other than his wife, Perenelle.

“The Stone is his prized possession, but because it’s so coveted, it’s rarely ever actually in his possession. He keeps it hidden away in the safest place in Wizarding Britain.”

“Gringotts,” Draco supplied helpfully. “But, if Gringotts got broken into, then it’s really not the safest place, is it?”

“What other place is known as being at least as heavily protected as Gringotts is?” Harry asked.

“Hogwarts!” Hermione had read “Hogwarts: A History” front to back plenty of times. She knew perfectly well that the school was considered an impenetrable fortress. Of course, with Dumbledore slacking, she didn’t think that could be said anymore.

“Exactly,” Harry agreed. “And Hogwarts is Dumbledore’s domain. The one person Flamel trusts most. It makes perfect sense that the school is where he’s hiding the Stone.”

“You do have a point.” Hermione agreed. “Who do you think is looking for it? I mean, they wanted it enough to break into Gringotts. It’s only a matter of time before they get into the school.”

“Hold on,” Draco interrupted. “What’s all this got to do with the twins?”

“Right!” Harry shook his head, bringing the original conversation back on track. “What if we get the twins to steal the Philosopher’s Stone?”

“How would we do that?” Draco was skeptical.

“They’ve been obsessed with it all term, haven’t they?” Hermione asked. “It should be easy enough. At this rate, we would only have a matter of time.”

“Remember, though,” Draco warned, “they said they gave up once they got to the giant chessboard. So we’d have to convince them to start trying to get past it. How would we do that?”

“We could offer them chess lessons?” Harry offered.

“I don’t think that’ll work,” Hermione disagreed, absently. “I’m not really all that spectacular at chess, but I could destroy the both of you with my eyes closed. I don’t think we’re good enough.”

Draco burst into laughter at that. “Well,” he chuckled at his friend, “so much for modesty.”

Hermione scoffed. “Modesty is for Hufflepuffs.” She swung a hand through the air gently, as if brushing the mere thought aside.

“If we can just figure out how to get them across that chessboard,” Harry brought the conversation back on track, “and steal the stone, all we would need is some type of public reveal at the right time, and Dumbledore’s toast.”

Draco started to smile in satisfaction that their plan was beginning to come together, but then he was struck by a thought, and he had to frown. “What if the chessboard isn’t the last obstacle?”

That brought the trio to a tense silence as they pondered the idea.

“It would have to be, though,” Harry disagreed, but with heavy skepticism. “I mean, the chessboard would be the fourth obstacle. Who would need more than that?”

“No, Draco’s right,” Hermione mused aloud. “We don’t really have a way of knowing how many obstacles there are.”

Harry had to admit defeat. “How could we prepare the twins for more obstacles, if we don’t even know what they are?”

“If we can’t get them past the chessboard,” Draco added, “then the other obstacles are pointless anyways.”

Hermione was deep in thought, trying to work it all out. “There’s got to be some kind of pattern to the obstacles that can help us predict the next ones. Some algorithm, or something…” she trailed off as the carriage slowed to a stop outside the castle gates.

They exited the carriage and began the walk to the Entrance Hall, keeping a fair distance from the other students returning from the holidays.

“I don’t know.” Hermione sighed in temporary defeat. “I’ll figure it out,” she promised—and if anyone could, it would be her. “For right now,” she continued, “we’ve got to focus on how to get the staff to look insubordinate for Dumbledore’s first observation. The Philosopher’s stone will have to be secondary. If we can screw up Dumbledore’s reviews badly enough, we might not even need to expose the stone to get him sacked.”

“You’re right,” Harry agreed as they made it inside. They had to keep their priorities straight.

Though he hadn’t been gone for long, Harry already found himself missing the Malfoy-Black brood. With Project RAD coming into its 2nd Wave, he was glad for the distraction to keep him busy. Between their scheming and his attempts to beat Draco and Hermione in good grades—Who was he kidding? Just Draco—he wouldn’t have the time to miss them. His family.

He smirked at the passing thought. He had an actual family to miss, and to miss him. Even if they were a hodge-podge of varying degrees of shady people, they were still his family. They proved that with all of their love and concern over the holidays. It was a new, and novel feeling. Harry liked it.

Despite having been at Grimmauld Place a mere few days ago, Harry received his usual start of the week care package from Aunt Wally. This one was larger than usual. In addition to his gifts from Aunt Wally, he received a letter from Sirius. Accompanying it was a book titled “(Mostly) Harmless Hexes and Jinxes for the Impractical Practical Joker.”

Sirius hadn’t been clued in to the goals of Project RAD, so he likely had no idea just how helpful that book was going to be in their endeavors. Harry waved it teasingly over his plate of scrambled eggs to catch Draco’s attention.

“Oh, this is going to be perfect,” Draco smirked evilly before taking the book. While Draco skimmed through it, Harry read through Sirius’ letter.

 

Dear Harry,

I suppose a letter from me is long overdue, but I must admit I was afraid to send you one. Now that we’ve met face to face, I have no such qualms.

My mother tells me you’re doing well in school. She says you, Draco, and your other friend Hermione are all the top of your class. I’m proud of you. I know your parents would be so proud of you too. They were Head Boy and Girl our 7th year, so they had their swotty moments as well. Your father would claim that you inherited your smarts from him, but I promise you, they came from your mother. Your father wanted to name you Elvendork, for Morgana’s sake. You did not get your brains from him.

I must admit, I was surprised to learn you were sorted Slytherin. They don’t exactly have a reputation for being the kindest, or most diplomatic of people. Then again, I have always been rather biased. There was also a war going on in my time. While I don’t doubt your ability to take care of yourself, I find I have to warn you anyways to be very careful. Most of your housemates are the children of Death Eaters and their supporters. The very people who joined Voldemort and plotted to kill you and your parents. I would hate to see you come to any harm.

Narcissa assures me that such prejudices are in the past, due to the Trinkets. I dearly hope she is right, and that all my concerns are for naught. However, I myself find it hard to believe. Perhaps I’m just paranoid. I really hope I’m just paranoid.

While I personally haven’t got the best memories of Slytherin, please don’t let rumors or my opinions deter you from House Pride. Your mother once said something to me that I’m only just beginning to understand. “Not all Slytherins are bad people, and not all bad people are Slytherins.” At the time, it meant nothing to me because I was young, pigheaded, and bitter. But as an adult, I realize now what she meant.

Your mother was able to see the good in everything, so I have no doubt that she would see the good in you being sorted Slytherin, and be proud of you for it. Your father, like me, would have been shocked. But, also like me, he would love you unconditionally no matter what. With a smart woman like your Mum around, she’d have been able to straighten him right out.

I really miss your parents, and I’m so sorry that they aren’t here to see you grow up. I won’t try to pretend that I can make up for their loss, but I can promise you that I will always be there to protect and support you. And to make sure you support the right Quidditch teams.

What’s this nonsense I heard about the Holyhead Harpies? Don’t let those Malfoys sway you! The Blacks and the Potters are Puddlemere fans! Don’t worry, when we get to spend more time together over the summer, I’ll get you straightened out. We’ll put that broom Lucy got you to good use and have you prepared to join the Quidditch team in no time. Maybe if we get Draco to join us we can get him on Puddlemere’s side as well. It will be a wonderful way to irritate his father, which used to be a sport of mine. I thinks it’s about time I bring that back.

I miss you already, and can’t wait to have you back. Good luck with your classes, but make sure to leave some time for fun.

Love,

Sirius

 

The letter left Harry smiling. It seemed that Sirius opened up a lot more through the writing than he did in person. That made sense. When writing you had time to think your thoughts over and come up with the right thing to say. It made Harry happy to see.

He also wasn’t sure which was funnier, Sirius teasing Mr. Malfoy for sport, or calling him Lucy.

In the common room that evening, the trio were back to their evil schemes. They were sitting in a circle on the floor, knee to knee under a silencing charm and a cushioning spell.

They decided the best way to ruin the staff reviews would be in 2 parts. The first part was to prove that the teachers Dumbledore hired were incompetent. That would be easy enough.

The second part was to cause some sort of mass miscommunication that would get the teachers all confused and frustrated with the headmaster, making him look ineffective at working with his staff. That one would be harder to pull off. Especially if they wanted to evade all blame.

“The teachers we use as targets are likely to get sacked,” Hermione explained. “So we’ve got to pick teachers who really deserve it.”

“So basically, Quirrell and Binns,” Draco supplied helpfully.

“Well, obviously,” Hermione dismissed that with a wave. “But we’ll have to pick more than just the two. Two staff members being incompetent won’t be enough to make Dumbledore look like an idiot. We’ll need to pick more.”

“I vote Filch,” Harry suggested. “He’s not a teacher, but he’s still staff. And he’s right poisonous.”

“Good idea, Harry,” Draco agreed. “What about Hagrid? He’s just one of Dumbledork’s mindless flunkies anyways. He’d probably just leave with him when he gets sacked.”

Harry and Hermione giggled at him.

“Really?” Hermione asked. “Dumble-dork?” Draco just shrugged, grinning, and Hermione rolled her eyes. “Anyways,” she continued, “you’re right about Hagrid. He’d be a good target.”

For a moment, Harry felt that he might argue in defense of the large man. He really was just a simple man. And he did his job just fine, it seemed.

Then he remembered the way he spoke about the Malfoys as if they were scum. The way he roared at them in Diagon Alley for no reason. Harry remembered that Hagrid was the one who came to take him away from Sirius and gave him to the Dursley’s, at Dumbledork’s bidding.

No. He wouldn’t mind at all. Draco was right, anyways. He was the headmaster’s mindless flunky, and he’d probably leave with the old man.

“You think that’ll be enough?” he asked instead.

“Maybe,” Hermione pondered. “I’d like another, but I can’t really think of any other staff members that are just pants at their job.”

“Then let’s focus on how to get these four,” Draco suggested.

“I’ve got an idea for Quirrell already,” Hermione smirked. “You remember Halloween when he passed out because of the troll?” The boys nodded. “Clearly, he’s afraid of them-”

“You aren’t suggesting we lure another troll into the castle?” Harry asked incredulous. “I don’t think that would work out so well for us…”

“No! No!” Hermione scoffed. “Nothing like that! I think, if we can get enough students to bombard him with questions about trolls, we can get him all flustered and make him freak out again. I doubt he’d pass out without actually seeing one, but he’s a stuttering, nervous wreck on a normal day. Just that bit more stress—in front of an audience—will have him looking like a buffoon. Not to mention, he likely knows nothing about them anyways, but dark creatures are a part of the subject he’s supposed to be teaching.”

“That’s pretty clever,” Draco complimented. “We’ve just got to figure out how to get other students to attack him all at once.”

“That might take some work,” Hermione admitted.

“We can work out the details later,” Harry said. “What about the others?”

After a moment of silent contemplation, Draco gasped with excitement. “I know how to do Binns in, and it won’t even be hard,” he stated.

“Go on, then,” Hermione urged.

“All winter long, his classroom’s been freezing, and he has no idea,” Draco began. “We can simply play off that. If we can get it so cold in there that students get sick, he’ll be considered a danger to the students. Then, if the observers ask around, all the students can agree that he keeps it subzero in there. We wouldn’t even have to coerce them, because it’s true.”

“That’ll definitely work,” Harry admitted. “I’m not sure how I feel about getting other students sick, though.”

Hermione nodded. “Yeah,” she agreed. “Biological warfare seems a bit extreme.”

“Oh, come on,” Draco pleaded. “It’s just so easy. In fact, it requires so little work from us, that it might even happen on its own. We’ll just need to move it along to make sure that it does. Besides, no one’s ever been done in by a bad cold. It’s not that dangerous.”

Hermione thought on it, then finally she agreed. “I suppose,” she relented. “But we’re going to have to do something nice for the students to make up for it. There’s no way I’ll be able to sleep at night with that guilt weighing on my chest.”

“If Hermione’s for it, I’m for it,” Harry chipped in. “I think I’ve got a way to handle Hagrid.”

“Alright, then,” Draco leaned forward eagerly. He was trying not to, but Harry could still see that he was smug about winning the little disagreement.

“It’ll be easy too,” Harry explained. “Maybe not as easy as making Binns’ classroom cold. Colder. Hagrid’s simple, though. His dedication to Dumbledork makes him easy to take advantage of. We’ll just need to trick him into thinking Dumbledore wants him to put up some ridiculous display in the Great Hall. Something totally inappropriate. He’ll absolutely embarrass himself. If we can trick him into doing it drunk, that’d be even better.”

“That’ll be perfect,” Hermione smiled deviously. “Now, all we need is Filch.”

“Honestly,” Draco scoffed, “All we need to do is piss him off enough to have him threatening to torture the students. That’ll be simple enough. Hell, we could get the Twins to do that. Or Peeves.”

Harry chuckled. “We might not have to do anything at all. He does that enough on his own anyways.”

“What we need to do,” Hermione added, “is get students to complain. If we can get enough students to openly complain about these people, it’ll make Dumble-dore look even worse for ignoring them. I mean, people complain plenty, as it is, but we need them to do it louder. Launch official complaints. If we get enough people to make it into a big deal, Dumbledore’s reputation won’t be able to hold any water when it all blows up in his face.”

“You’re a genius Hermione,” Draco sighed. “This is going to work. Dumbledork is going down!”

“The sad part about it is,” Harry began to explain, eyebrows drawn in thought, “except for Hagrid, we aren’t even getting anyone to do something that don’t already. We’re not making them do anything unlikely, like Binns joining Peeves on his pranks, or Quirrell doing something ridiculous, like going after the Philosopher’s Stone himself. All we’re really doing is exposing them for what they already are, to an audience that's willing to listen.”

“Exactly,” Hermione agreed. “That’s why this is all worth it. Dumbledore doesn’t fix these problems because he doesn’t care. Otherwise they’d have been fixed ages ago. He needs to be gone.”

Chapter Text

The first month of the year went by quickly, and to the soundtrack of many noses sniffling.

Harry easily found a room chilling spell that bypassed basic warming charms in what was becoming his favorite book from Aunt Wally. It seemed innocuous enough, filled with household spells that were above basic level, but still easy enough for him to master after a few tries. In the hands of the conniving and creative trio of Slytherins it was quickly proving to be the source of some of their best weapons.

To keep any sort of suspicion from arousing, they decided that one of them should get sick too. If they kept themselves under strong enough warming spells and the whole class except them became ill, someone might grow curious. Though they thought their tracks were covered well, curious eyes were the last thing they wanted anywhere near their sordid plans.

Harry decided that he’d be the one to risk catching cold. Due to his treatment from the Dursleys, he deduced that he’d have the weakest immune system out of them all. That would make him a lot more likely than the others to actually get sick.

Draco thought it was perfect. He wanted to use the “Boy Who Lived” angle to ham up the impending fallout. “The Chose One? Sick? How dare they treat him with such neglect!” Draco had teased when he mentioned it.

Harry really didn’t like to play that card. It drew too much attention to him, and he hated the way it made him feel so othered when it happened. But he figured whatever works, works. He could deal with it, if necessary.

So when February 5th rolled around, Harry felt absolutely miserable as he watched part of their plan unfold from the Slytherin table in the Great Hall.

He was bundled up in the warmest cloak he owned, despite that it broke the dress code for being a dark purple, and lined with light brown griffin fur that flared out around the hood and sleeves. His throat was scratchy and sore, and it hurt to swallow. His nose was red enough that he found himself having to tell Draco about a reindeer named Rudolph. His head was clouded and constantly pounding. To top it all off, he’d been so unfocused lately that Hermione and Draco offered to do his homework for him in sympathy.

Professor Quirrell was reaching for a slice of toast under the dark glare of Professor Snape when it all began.

“Professor!” A 7th year Hufflepuff boy approached the Head Table with a panicked look in his eye. “I can’t find anything about trolls in the library. Do you think you could dedicate a couple of classes to them in the next few weeks?”

“T-t-t-rolls?” the man stuttered.

A group of 5th year Ravenclaw girls ran up to him next, not even waiting for the Hufflepuff boy to finish before the first one began to speak.

“I think I know pretty much everything about trolls already,” she said, “but I can’t remember whether they can inhabit lands with a dry climate, or only forested areas?”

Another of the girls, a blonde, began immediately began afterward. “Are troll hides thicker or weaker than giant hides? Or are they the same?”

“Uh… well,” the professor was growing very nervous, his eyes darting around at the students gathered before him.

Another wave of students approached the table with more questions.

“Troll skins are strong enough to deflect most magic, does that count for dark magic?” a 5th year Hufflepuff girl asked.

“Yes, obviously!” a Slytherin girl snapped at her before rounding on the professor next. “Is the aging process of trolls similar to humans? Or is that only for giants?”

A red haired Gryffindor boy with a prefect badge elbowed his way through the small crowd and slammed his hands on the table importantly. “This takes precedence over all of that!” he announced drawing the teacher’s attention solely to himself. “If the intelligence level of trolls is lower than that of a giant, why is it that trolls are still able to utilize and make tools and weapons? How do they learn to create clothing from animal skins? If their intelligence level is among the lowest of the humanoid dark creatures, then how did they learn to skin animals and use their pelts? Why do they even wear clothes? Do they have some standard of modesty, or is it a purely protection thing?”

Quirrell sat there, mouth agape as the group in front of him waited for an answer. After a few seconds of silence, the group completely exploded as they all began talking at once. Asking questions over each other, and everyone yelling for their voice to be heard above the din.

Quirrell was absolutely panicked, sliding down meekly in his chair as the students terrorized him. Beside him, Professor Snape was leaning away to avoid the reach of the students, but looking rather amused at the situation.

Harry wanted to find amusement in it too. He really did. The pounding in his head from the rise in volume was keeping him from feeling anything other than the overwhelming desire to be well. He laid his head down on the table beside his warm cup of tea and put his arms over his head.

Hermione elbowed him in the rib, and when he reluctantly picked his head up to see what she wanted, she pointed to one of the side doors into the Great Hall. Standing there was a group of unfamiliar faces. They were all holding clipboards and watching the scene before them with disdainful expressions. They had to be the reviewers.

As they stepped further into the room, Albus Dumbledore came trailing after them, looking very displeased.

“Students!” he called, but none of Quirrells attackers seemed to notice. “Students!” he called again, to no avail. Finally, he waved his wand in the air and caused a spark of light to fly out of it, exploding into a firework above the Head Table. The resultant boom was enough to silence the entire Hall.

“Students,” Dumbledore said more calmly. His unhappy look straightened out into the usual vaguely amused and dreamy expression he wore. “There appears to be a problem here. I’m sure it can be solved more peacefully if we were all to take our seats and approach the professor one at a time.”

Draco scoffed noisily across the table from Harry before whispering, “It’s like he wants to get sacked. He’s serving himself up on a platter!” Hermione could be heard snickering beside him. “I told you the fifth and seventh years were our best shot. They’re all stressing about OWLs and NEWTs.”

“Hiding all the books on trolls in the library was also a brilliant idea. Your welcome,” Harry added smugly. It was hard to sound it with his voice so hoarse and nose completely stuffed up, but smug he was. “Remind me, Hermione, how did you start the rumor that this year’s defense exams were going to heavily feature questions about trolls?”

“Oh, you know,” she waved a hand through the air with faux dismissiveness. “A little whispering here, a little lying about conversations with the coordinator there. Being seen openly complaining about the lack of books on trolls definitely helped to drive the point home. Reverse psychology and all.”

“Have I told you you’re a genius lately?” Draco smirked.

The ruckus at the front of the room settled down as the students returned to their respective tables. The only person left, was the Gryffindor prefect. Harry was almost certain he was a Weasley.

“Professor,” the boy started, much calmer than previously. “I don’t understand how trolls can be so capable, if they’re considered to be on the lower end of the intelligence spectrum for similar creatures. Can you explain how this is possible?”

“Uh,” Professor Quirrell was shaking with anxiety, barely able to get a word out of his mouth. “I-I-I-I I’m… I m-m-mean… th-that is to say… I uh… d-d-don’t kn-n-now either-er.”

The Weasley boy looked absolutely horrified at that response. “How can you not know? You’re the professor. This is going to be on our OWLs!” he replied nervously.

“P-perhaps, the C-c-care of M-m-m-magical Crea-a-a-atures Prof-f-fessor can t-tell you?” Quirrell suggested with a meek smile.

“It’s going to be on the Defense OWL!”

Quirrell opened his mouth to stammer some more useless platitudes, but Dumbledore stepped in before he could get anything out.

“That’s enough, Mr. Weasley,” he said. Harry had been right. “Perhaps, any further questions should be taken up in the Professor’s office, during his normal hours.”

The Weasley boy bowed his head respectfully to the headmaster before returning silently to his table.

Harry glanced back over to the reviewers still standing by the door, and their expressions hadn’t changed a bit. Only, now they were scribbling furiously on their clipboards. That spelled danger for Dumbledore, but was great for the trio.

Harry turned to give Draco and Hermione a satisfied smirk, but when Hermione opened her mouth to reply, Harry went into a coughing fit. She rubbed his back comfortingly, and Draco poured him more tea. They felt so bad for leaving him to get sick.

The reviewers dispersed around the room. One of them continued to trail Dumbledore as he sat to begin his own breakfast. 2 others walked back and forth along the Head Table, speaking briefly with a few of the professors. The last one walked away from the Head Table entirely and headed straight toward the Slytherin table.

He greeted a few of the Slytherins and Ravenclaws as he walked down the aisle, keeping his hands firmly to himself as he tried to avoid anyone who was obviously ill. Finally, he reached Harry and stopped to wait for his coughing fit to finish.

After a few more seconds and another sip of tea, Harry turned to greet the man.

“Hullo, sir,” he said.

“Alan Milligan,” the middle aged man introduced. “And you’re the great Harry Potter.”

“I don’t know about great, but, yeah…” Harry trailed off. “I’d shake your hand,” he offered, “but that’s probably not the most sanitary at the moment. It’s a cesspool in here.”

“Yes,” Milligan agreed. “I did notice that a surprisingly large number of students seem to be unwell. Is there a bug going around?”

Hermione had to turn the other direction to hide the huge smile that crept onto her face. Was this really working out this easily?

“Not really,” Harry replied. He didn’t think he personally would be the one to sell out Binns, but he didn’t regret it one bit. “It seems everyone’s just caught a cold. Hard to avoid.”

“Ah,” the man nodded, with understanding. “Having massive snow ball fights? In my day we had them every other week in winter. Not so many of us ever got sick, though.”

“No, sir, there haven’t been any snowball fights,” Harry disagreed—this was it. “It’s because of our History of Magic classroom. It’s always freezing cold in there. Having to be in class for over an hour every other day is just horrible. But it’s a required class for first years.”

“History of Magic?” Milligan questioned. “With Professor Binns, right? The ghost?” Harry nodded and the man put a finger to his chin pensively. “I do remember that class had always been chilly, but I don’t know about freezing…”

“It must have gotten worse over the years,” Harry added. “It’s far past chilly. It’s cold enough to see your breath in there. It’s like having a class outside.”

“And what has Professor Binns done about this?”

“Nothing,” Harry replied, faking nonchalance. “There’ve been complaints, but he’s a ghost. What does he care how cold it is?” Harry seemed to be brushing it off as if it wasn’t something to be taken seriously, downplaying it. But he knew that the reviewer would find it important and take note.

“What about Dumbledore?” Milligan asked. “What’s he done about it?”

Blaise—who was sitting on Harry’s other side, and not even pretending not to listen to their conversation—interrupted and answered for Harry.

“Absolutely nothing!” the boy complained. “We’ve been sending complaints to his office since November, but we haven’t gotten a single result. It’s no wonder we’re all sick.” As if to emphasize his point, both Pansy and Marcus Flint further down the table sneezed one after the other. “Poor Millicent just came back from the hospital wing yesterday!”

Millicent glanced over at Blaise, giving him a look that said she didn’t need his pity. With her red nose and puffy eyes, it was a little hard to take seriously.

“Well,” Milligan sighed in a distinctly disappointed tone. “That’s no good at all, is it?” He lifted his clipboard and scribbled a really long note onto it. “I’ll have to take my leave now. It was a pleasure meeting you, Mr. Potter.” He nodded at the others then walked back to the head table.

As soon as he was out of earshot, Hermione elbowed Harry again.

“Did you tell Blaise to say that?” she whispered, looking irritated at not having been included in a part of the plan.

“No!” Harry breathed back, with difficulty. “I didn’t tell him anything. He just said it on his own.”

Hermione raised her eyebrows with impressed surprise. “Then, he must be telling the truth. That means we aren’t the only ones to catch on to Dumbledore’s shortcomings as headmaster.”

“Of course not,” Draco scoffed at them. “The man’s a hack. Eventually somebody had to have noticed.”

With Quirrell and Binns having unfolded so well, the trio was excited to see the rest of their plans play out through the day.

At lunch time, the meticulous planning to cause a disruption amongst the staff came to fruition. That was the more difficult part of their scheme for them to devise. It took a lot of finagling and preplanning to get it all to work, but ultimately, there was success.

Much like with their efforts to get the subpar teachers fired, they decided it would be easier to pick out a few members of the staff to include instead of trying to get all of them at once. At the same time, it also needed to be between people that made an impact. So that meant, the 4 Head of Houses. However, the Head of Houses were all quite formidable people in their own rights. They didn’t get their titles for nothing.

It all started with a rumor.

Hermione “whispered” to Draco in the Slytherin common room that she saw a note in Dumbledore’s office last semester that said he planned on firing one of the Head of Houses and that they’d be notified by the end of January. She idly wondered which one would get the letter, judging by each teacher’s demeanor.

Pansy overheard the conversation and, gossipy thing she was, soon let that spill to the rest of Slytherin house. By the end of the day, the whole school save the teacher’s in question were aware.

It continued with a question. An innocuous question, really.

In a potions class with the Gryffindors, while waiting for his cauldron to simmer, Draco asked Professor Snape: “Have you seen Dumbledore lately?”

Snape arched his brow at his Godson, then decided to extend the one drop of patience he had.

“No,” he replied curtly. “Not that it’s any of your business. Why do you ask?”

“No reason,” Draco answered shortly, returning his attention to his brew.

“What are you up to?” the Potions Master snapped, last bit of patience gone.

“I was just thinking…” Draco began, “that the Heads of Houses probably have to meet with the Headmaster a lot. To keep him updated on things, or whatever. No reason, the thought just popped into my head.”

“Perhaps you should spend more time thinking of the cauldron before you, and less time on irrelevant matters?” Snape suggested with an annoyed glare.

“Yes, sir,” Draco responded before appearing to do just that.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the Weasley boy staring at him. Weasley turned to look at his partner, they both shrugged, and Draco knew the deed was done. The seed was planted, and now all he had to do was watch it grow.

By the following Monday, word had spread that of all the 4 Heads of Houses, Professor McGonagall was the only one that seemed to meet regularly with the Headmaster.

Pansy was sure that meant she was the one to be sacked. Probably for being too strict on the students. She assigned way too much homework and didn’t give anyone lee way. She was clearly being unfair.

The Gryffindor prefect, Weasley, thought that was preposterous. Dumbledore met with her so often because she was Deputy Headmistress. More than that, she was an excellent teacher. She was probably the only one not in any real danger. If anyone should be worried, it should be Professor Snape. He was ruthless to his students, a downright bully to someone. He deserved it more than anyone.

A fourth year Hufflepuff named Diggory was certain it had to be Professor Flitwick. He was the one that seemed to meet the Headmaster the least. It must have meant he was being kept out of meetings. He didn’t need to be informed of the things going on because he wasn’t going to be there much longer.

Padma Patil argued that it was because he needed the least interference from Dumbledore, since clearly he was doing better than the others. No one ever had a single complaint about Flitwick. Sprout needed to be the most concerned. Sure, she knew plenty about herbology, and was a nice teacher and all. But she wasn’t particularly knowledgeable. McGonagall had been a transfiguration prodigy in her. Snape was one of the greatest potioneers in the country. Flitwick was even a Dueling Champion. Sprout was the only of the 4 who didn’t have any particular accolades to her name.

By the end of the month, the entire school was in a tizzy trying to figure out who it would be. The 1st of February was the start of days of scrutiny to decide who’d gotten the boot. The tiniest change in behavior or shortness in patience would be the indicator. The teachers had never found themselves watched so closely.

Finally, it all ended with a letter.

4 letters to be exact.

Harry’s prank book had a small section in it on faking letters. If one had a letter written by the person they were attempting to imitate, they could easily recreate another letter that seemed to come from the same person. The fake could say anything. They could make it say that the reader was a complete buffoon and should cram chocolate frogs down their pants. They could say that the reader was being fired from their position. They could ask the reader to meet in the headmaster’s office. Or they could make it say that the Head of Houses were gathering in a neutral location to discuss the merits of the expulsion of the Weasley Twins. All of them signed by Albus Dumbledore.

Half an hour before midnight on the 4th, Harry took his invisibility cloak for its first run through Hogwarts. The trio easily fit beneath it, and they snuck up to the owlery. From there, they found 4 nearly identical school owls, and instructed them to each take a letter to their respective recipients at the same time the next day.

They timed it perfectly. Each class had been in session for 30 minutes, and the students were working away obediently. It was the last class before the lunch break, and everyone was eager for the chance to refuel, more easily distracted than they would have been earlier in the morning.

Harry, Hermione, and Draco were in transfiguration with the Ravenclaws when an owl flew into the room. It swooped around the professor’s desk and dropped a letter before her. Without stopping, it turned to the door and continued back out of the room.

McGonagall opened her letter, looking it over quickly. Her face became drawn and angry. She crumpled the letter then, with a flick of her wand, set it aflame.

Instantly, the class erupted into loud whispers. That was the letter. It had to be! McGonagall was the one who was sacked. The students filled with jittery anticipation as they couldn’t wait to share the news with their other classmates at lunch.

Pansy in particular looked rather thrilled. Harry wasn’t sure, but he thought she was taking bets. She must have thought she won.

“Silence!” McGonagall snapped. She was suddenly very short with the students. It merely served to further their certainty of her fate.

The class crawled on at the slowest pace possible, taking ages to reach the lunch hour. When they were finally dismissed from the room, each student surged out of their seat in a race for the door. No one could get to the Great Hall fast enough to get the rumor mill going.

The Headmaster took his seat at the Head Table, just in time for the whole thing to unravel. The quartet of reviewers were standing off to the side of the room, observing his interactions with the teachers.

First, Professor Snape stormed into the room, cloak billowing ominously behind him, making him resemble a bat flying out of hell. He had an absolutely petrifying look on his face. It was enough to make Harry flinch by just seeing it. He couldn’t imagine what it would have been like to be on the receiving end of that glare. He likely would have turned to stone.

Snape approached the table opposite Dumbledore and pressed his hands down gently before the older man, but with a vice-like grip. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked in a voice that was dangerously calm.

Dumbledore looked back at him with a confused twinkle in his eye. After a moment, he responded, “I think there seems to be a bit of a misunderstanding, my boy.”

“Misunderstanding, indeed,” the Potions Master hissed. “Here I thought you at least held a modicum of respect for me as a person, but I guess that’s just asking far too much of the Great Albus Dumbledore.” He sneered the last bit. “Far too busy up high on that mountain top of yours to bother mingling with the scum of the Earth like me, I see. Honestly, Headmaster. A letter? You couldn’t be bothered to spit in my face in person?”

“I assure you,” Dumbledore warned in a voice just this side of threatening, “I have no idea what you mean. Whatever this misunderstanding is, I am not at the center of it.”

A wave of confusion spread throughout the room. It seemed as if Snape was the one who received the letter stating he was fired. That made no sense because nearly half of the school was already so certain that it had been somebody else.

Professor McGonagall approached the Head Table next, standing beside Snape and across from Dumbledore.

“Honestly, Albus,” she gave a long suffering sigh. Her tone was stern, clearly irritated, but still respectful enough to not be considered to be making a scene. Unlike other professors. “I appreciate your insistence that I be included in your endeavors to spread humor among the school.” She forced a tight smile. “However, I find it highly inappropriate that you should send me such missives as the one I received this morning. I should think you would know by now that such potty humor does not amuse me in the slightest. I wish I could say I’d expect much more from you, but given your history, I know better than to expect any less.”

“Minerva,” Albus replied, “something is afoul here. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

A moment later, Professor Sprout poked her head through the door. Spotting what she was looking for, she shuffled into the room and stood right beside Snape.

“I’m confused,” she began. “Have you started discussion without me? I thought we were to meet on the 4th floor. I found an empty room and no one coming so I came back to double check. Why did you change the location without telling me?” She was obviously frustrated, but kept her voice cordial. However, anyone with eyes and ears could tell she was angry. “I let my class out early to meet you. You had me standing around waiting there, for nothing? Where’s Filius?” she added to the end.

By then, the Great Hall was abuzz with confused whispers and chatter in undertones. What could possibly be going on? Where was Flitwick? Was he the one getting sacked? Or was it Snape? What about Sprout? Why did she get ditched? Were she and Flitwick getting fired? Was it really McGonagall? Does she think it’s some kind of sick joke? Is that what she was talking about? What in Merlin’s name was going on?

While the teachers squabbled and tried to figure out what happened, the reviewers were busy writing endless notes on their clipboards. Hermione was practically wringing her hands in glee. Draco thought the whole thing was hilarious, and Harry was just having a hard time believing it really all worked out so well.

Then again, he was only just barely aware of what was going on. His cold was getting to him. If he weren’t so determined to see how everything turned out, he would have been in the hospital wing the night before instead of sneaking around in the owlery.

Just as everything seemed to be getting worked out, Professor Flitwick raced into the room, huffing and face red with exertion.

“Professor!” he panted with great irritation. “I went all the way to your office, only to be sent back down here? Why did you call me there in the first place? What is it that you wanted to discuss that was so urgent? If it was so urgent, why did you leave when you were supposed to meet me?”

Frustrated, and utterly confused, Dumbledore stood from his seat. “Professors,” he addressed the Head of Houses at once. “Perhaps we can should take lunch in my office, where we can discuss this in further detail and get to the bottom of this mishap.”

“I was just in your office!” Flitwick muttered angrily.

The fiascos of the day were all anyone could talk about. Even at dinner students were still discussing Quirrell’s morning breakdown, and the angry expression on McGonagall’s face. The teacher’s themselves still seemed rather disgruntled, indicating that they in fact had not gotten to the bottom of it in Dumbledore’s office earlier.

The only ones left on the itinerary for the day were Filch and Hagrid.

The plan for Hagrid, however, did not come to fruition. Harry couldn’t help but wonder why that was. He was supposed to have been setting up a large and very graphic fertility tribute in front of the Head Table.

Harry knew that Draco had dropped the seed in the giant’s mind, so he had no idea why he hadn’t come through. Perhaps he was cleverer than they thought and was able to see through the manipulation. He wasn’t even in the Great Hall at all.

Despite the Hagrid snag, things seemed to be going swimmingly when the twins came running through the Hall. They were each waving a long purple banner that flashed what appeared to be random words that all started with W in sparkly green letters. Filch came thundering behind them, spitting obscenities and threats all the way. Behind Filch, Peeves followed in their wake, cackling in amusement as he drifted in circles. Beneath him, Mrs. Norris was hissing and yowling in anger as she attempted to claw the ghost’s face every time it swung near.

“I will hang you brats from the ceiling by your thumbs!” Filch screamed as he slowed down, panting and clutching a stitch in his side. “Just like back in the old days! I miss the screaming…” he muttered. “Won’t be missing it no more when I’m done with you two!” While he was down, the twins made a break for the door, splitting up when they got through it. Mrs. Norris went after one, and Peeves followed the other, both making noise as they went.

“Does he often threaten students?” Harry could overhear a female reviewer asking the Head Table as a whole.

“All the time,” Snape answered blandly.

The reviewer scowled, then went and scribbled more on her clipboard. She unclipped her page, flipping it over, then continued writing on the back.

Harry chanced a look at the Headmaster. For once, he was full on frowning. Today had been a disaster from start to finish and the old man knew it.

For the first time that day, Harry wheezed out a few laughs.

Chapter Text

Harry spent 3 days in the hospital wing before Madam Pomfrey declared him well enough to return to class. He received a proper scolding for waiting so long to see her in the first place, but she nursed him back to health, dutifully. Well, as healthy as he could be until the weather warmed up and killed off the cold virus.

He was still stuffed up and sneezing, but the sore throat, headache, chills, and body aches were gone, so he called that a win.

When he returned to the Slytherin common room, he immediately sought out Draco and Hermione. They were sitting in a pair of winged chairs that had been turned to face the window looking out into the lake. There was a bunch of empty seats around them facing the window as well, so the squid must have been there not too long ago.

Harry went straight to Draco’s chair, where he sat down on the arm, leaning his head on the high wing.

“So,” he began immediately, “what’s the plan for Dumbledore’s next review? It’s April, right?” Draco looked up at him and smiled, glad for his best friends’ return.

“Welcome back,” Hermione chuckled. “Straight to business then, I see.”

“Problem is,” Draco went straight to it, “his next review is for his abilities to handle the administrative tasks of being Headmaster. We’re not exactly sure how to sabotage that.”

“Well,” Harry pondered aloud, “what even are his administrative duties?”

“That’s just it,” Draco replied. “We don’t know for sure. Hermione says she can get a few books on running a school to get a general idea, but there aren’t any resources in the library.”

“What with Hogwarts existing,” Hermione explained, “there’s never really been much need or interest in opening another school. So there’s no reason to have resources to explain how. But I’ve written to my parents, and hopefully they’ll be able to find some muggle books on the subject. Obviously, it’s not the same, but it’s got to be the same set of principles, right?”

“Your parents can get their hands on muggle books?” Draco asked Hermione, rather impressed by the idea.

“Of course they can. Why wouldn’t they?” Hermione dismissed.

“I don’t know, just… How?” Draco couldn’t really wrap his head around the idea. He’d lived his life so far removed from muggle influence that the idea of it being so easily reachable was a little mind blowing.

“They would just have to walk into a muggle book store,” Hermione explained. She made a pinched face as if steeling herself for something, then took a deep breath and added, “It’s really easy considering they’re muggles themselves.”

“They are?” Harry asked. That was a surprise. He’d spent this entire time thinking she was pureblood. In the old sense of the word, that is. If Harry was shocked, Draco was utterly gob smacked.

“But… But” Draco stammered, eyes wide and mouth pulled into a perfect O. “But… but you’re brilliant!”

“Thanks…” Hermione trailed off with a sigh, knowing he didn’t mean it as a compliment.

“How could you be a mud- uh! Muggle born?” he had to correct himself. “You’re so good at magic!”

“Yeah,” Harry asked as well. “You always seem to know so much about the magical world. I assumed it was because you grew up in it.”

“I never said I did.” Hermione dropped her eyes down to her lap, as if unable to face the boys and their bewilderment at her blood status. “I learned it all from reading,” she admitted. “When I found out I was a witch, I read every book I could get my hands on. I wanted to know everything there was to know about the wizarding world, so I educated myself as best I could.

“That’s how I wound up with the book on magical genetics. It made no sense to me how I could have magic without magical parents. So, I researched it. I never really lied about being pureblood. You just all assumed and, well… I just never said I wasn’t.”

“Hermione…” Harry called, voice airy with disbelief. She looked up at him, face drawn into a carefully composed blank state. “… You’re incredible.”

That clearly wasn’t what she’d expected to hear.

“You managed to read yourself into expertise on the wizarding world. You did it so well, that neither of us” Harry gestured to himself and Draco, “had even begun to consider that you were anything other than magic raised. You’re kind of a genius.”

Hermione shot him a grateful smile. That was definitely a compliment. “Thanks,” she said, feeling a small weight lift off her chest. It was good to know Harry didn’t judge her for her heritage.

Draco, however, was still looking at her with a frown on his face and eyebrows drawn in thought.

“I guess that just goes to show,” he started, shaking his head in disbelief, “that all the blood purism that’s been going on has really been pointless. I mean, you’re the most brilliant witch in Hogwarts. You’re smarter than Dumbledore himself. And you’re a muggle born. If that right there doesn’t prove that purebloods are no better than muggle borns, then I don’t know what will.”

It went against everything that Draco was raised to believe. Wizards were superior. Muggles were inferior. Dirty. And muggle borns were no better than their muggle counterparts. The less muggle blood you had, the better wizard you would be, and the more muggle blood you had, the worse.

This new revelation merely served as more evidence to support what the Trinkets had revealed. Not only was it not that simple, but the playing field was a lot more level than Draco ever thought it could be.

“None of it matters, anyways,” Harry finished. “Even if her parents were muggles,” he lifted his Trinket and jingled it on his wrist, “we’re all purebloods. So, we’re still all the same.”

Draco lifted his own Trinket, and Hermione did as well. A “pureblood,” a halfblood, and a muggle born, all in matching purple. Harry was right. Blood status really didn’t matter. The color on their wrists was what did.

Draco and Harry smiled at Hermione, and she smiled back. They accepted her just fine, despite her lie by omission. That was all she could ask for.

“Now,” Harry asked, back to the task at hand. “What are we going to do about Dumbledore?”

“For now, we’ll just have to wait until I get those books,” Hermione explained. “I don’t like the idea of letting time slip idly by, but it’s pointless to jump into anything without a solid plan, like a bunch of Gryffindors.”

Harry and Draco had to agree.

“In the meantime,” Draco chirruped, “why don’t we see what we can do about those Weasleys?”

Harry wasn’t surprised that was where Draco’s mind went. Despite the entire Malfoy family’s general annoyance with the Weasleys, lately Draco seemed to be a bit fixated on the twins. It was usually under the guise of using them as scapegoats in their plans, like with baiting them to taunt Filch at just the right time. However, Harry was beginning to fall under the impression that Draco might actually enjoy their company.

He knew much better than to ever suggest so out loud, though. Draco would deny, deny, deny.

So they set about tracking the twins down. Draco had figured out weeks ago that they liked to hide in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom to avoid prying eyes. The ghost was annoying and liked to flood the bathroom anyways, so the whole school pretty much avoided it. That made it the perfect spot to get up to mischief.

It was merely a matter of good timing that Harry, Draco, and Hermione managed to corner the twins while they were in there.

Once again, Harry’s favorite book came in handy. It supplied the trio with an unlocking spell that was a little more complex than the basic alohomora. The twins were much cleverer than they acted. So, to maintain secrecy, they used an above basic locking spell.

If a pair of 14-year-olds could figure that out, you’d think the headmaster could as well.

When the trio entered the room, one of the twins looked over his shoulder in shock.

Behind him, a large open book was floating in the air. A luxurious powder blue quill had been striking out what appeared to be a list of ingredients that spanned both pages. Beneath the book was a small trunk that seemed to be full of potions ingredients and various candies.

When the redhead spotted the Slytherins entering the bathroom, he whipped right back around and said “Finite Incantatem,” making the book and quill fall into the trunk, and the lid to snap shut. With that out of the way, he crossed his arms and slowly spun around to face the approaching first years.

The way he was standing, something about him seemed slightly off to Harry. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

“What do you snakes want?” the twin asked suspiciously. “How’d you even get in here?”

“We unlocked the door, obviously,” Draco replied with a superior air.

You knew how to break the spell?”

“Of course! Child’s play for us!” Draco taunted haughtily. It really had been tricky to get the first few times they’d practiced it, but any opportunity for Draco to look superior was an opportunity he’d take.

“Oh!” Harry exclaimed suddenly. He finally realized what seemed so odd about the Gryffindor boy. “You’re alone!”

It seemed like the simplest thing, but it was so strange for Harry. Of course the boys were each their own individual person, but Harry was so used to them being together that he often thought of them as a single entity. Two parts of a whole.

“Yeah?” the boy asked, still suspicious. “What’s it to you?”

“Nothing!” Harry reassured. “I’ve just never seen one of you without the other. It’s strange, I guess.”

“Yeah, it is,” Draco agreed. “Which one are you, anyways?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

Hermione finally spoke up to get their conversation on track. “We’re just here because we were curious if there were any updates on your explorations through the third floor corridor.”

“Ah,” the Gryffindor uncrossed his arms, no longer on the defensive. “Fishing for information, then?” Now he was the haughty one. If they wanted information out of him, then he was the one with the upper hand, and he knew it. “What do you want to know?”

“Have you gotten past the chessboard yet?” Hermione asked.

“Not yet, but not for a lack of trying. We tried playing a few times, but we’re just not that great at chess. And those giant pieces are vicious.”

“How do you mean?” Harry asked.

“The way you play, you have to replace a piece on the board. So if you get taken out…” He drew a line across his throat with a finger while simultaneously making a dramatic choking sound. “Poor Fred nearly broke his arm last time. That was better than when the queen tried decapitating me after Christmas, though. Only reason I made it out alive is because we managed to outrun her and make it to the previous door in time. Just barely, mind you.”

“Wow!” Harry found himself thoroughly surprised. With as feeble as the other protections were, he never imagined the chessboard would be a formidable task. If it was playing to kill like real wizard’s chess, then it might actually be a proficient protection for the Philosopher’s Stone. “I didn’t think Dumbledore had it in him.”

“Neither did I,” Hermione scoffed. George gave them a curious look at their comments, but Hermione continued before he could say anything. “Do you and your brother have any ideas how you might get past it?”

“We just have to keep playing, I guess. If all else fails, we do have an ace up our sleeves, but we don’t want to use that unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

“What’s your ace?” Draco asked eagerly.

“Not telling,” George smirked. “I just gave you all that information for free. There’s no way I’m telling you anything substantial without a price. You’re lucky I’m cooperating at all. If Fred were here, you wouldn’t be getting anything.”

“Oh please!” Draco argued. “You didn’t give us anything at all! All you had to say was that you made no progress!”

“You wanted an update,” George shrugged. “That’s your update. Now scram before I lose my patience and turn you into real snakes,” he threatened.

“Third years can’t do human transfiguration,” Hermione scoffed.

“Want to bet?” George lifted his wand and aimed it at the trio.

At the very same time, the bathroom door swung open behind them as Fred and Lee Jordan came barging in.

“Hagrid’s doing alright now!” Lee announced loudly. “He’s definitely not taking any more food from us after this time, though. We’ll have to find a new- hey! What are you lot doing in here?” He cut himself off midsentence when he noticed the Slytherins standing near George.

“What do you snakes want?” Fred asked suspiciously. “How’d you even get in here?”

“Never mind that!” Harry was stuck on Lee’s words. “What did you do to Hagrid?”

“Nothing!” all 3 older boys said in unison.

“You just said-” Harry started to argue, but Fred cut him off.

“All that happened is he ate something that disagreed with him, and he’s been sick for four days. No big deal. He’s right as rain now.”

“What’d you give him?” Harry snapped.

“Doesn’t matter.” Fred pulled his wand out and pointed it at the Slytherins. “Now, scram before I lose my patience and turn you into real snakes!”

“Alright, alright,” Hermione placated, raising her hands in surrender. She turned and led Draco and Harry back out into the hallway. They already got what they wanted to hear, anyways.

“Guess that explains why Hagrid never turned up during the review,” Draco mused aloud.

“What do you think they’re doing in there?” Harry asked, glancing back at the bathroom door as they continued away from it.

“Probably just some prank,” Hermione dismissed. “But I just had an idea about the Philosopher’s Stone.”

“What was it?” Draco whispered in excitement. They rounded a corner and a group of Hufflepuffs were leaning against the wall having a heated debate about recent quidditch results.

“Not here,” Hermione whispered back.

They hurried back to the Slytherin dorms and in no time at all, were sitting on Draco’s bed, behind the curtains and under a silencing spell.

“So what did you figure out?” Harry questioned.

“I think I found the pattern to the obstacles protecting the Stone.”

“How?” Draco gaped at her in disbelief.

“I must admit,” Hermione explained, “I haven’t been thinking about it as much as I ought to, but it all came to me when George said he’d turn us into snakes.” Draco tugged his eyebrows together in confusion, so she continued. “Turning us into snakes is transfiguration. Turning a wizard’s chess set into a life size board game is also a type of transfiguration. Shrinking and expanding. Transfiguration is taught by Professor McGonagall, the Head of Gryffindor House.

“The flying keys were charmed to avoid being caught, and to attack anyone who tried to catch the right one. The Head of Ravenclaw House is the Charms Professor. The devil’s snare is a magical plant. The Herbology Professor is Head of House for Hufflepuff. So that means, there must be another obstacle from the last Head of House. Professor Snape.”

“But, what about the three headed dog?” Harry asked.

“I was stuck on that for a moment as well,” Hermione answered. “Then the other two barged in and mentioned Hagrid. He’s not a Head of House, but he’s the one who got the Stone from Gringott’s. Obviously, Dumbledore trusts him, so why not let him help protect it? Not to mention, Hagrid was kicked out of school for harboring a dangerous monster that killed a student. Even if the three headed dog wasn’t that monster specifically, he’s obviously not adverse to dangerous creatures. So it makes perfect sense that the Cerberus came from him.

“Dumbledore himself is likely to have some sort of protection on the Stone as well. So that means, there should only be 2 more obstacles left, and one of them will definitely have to do with potions.”

Draco and Harry both had their mouths wide open in shock.

“You managed to work all of that out because the twins threatened to turn us into snakes?” Harry asked, voice slightly higher than usual in his disbelief. “Have I ever told you, you’re a genius before?”

Hermione rolled her eyes playfully. “Yes, once or twice,” she teased. “I can’t help but think of that troll, though,” she pondered aloud.

“The one on Samhain?” Draco asked. “What about it?”

“I’m thinking about how it got into the castle so undetected. It managed to make its way all the way into the dungeons without being noticed. The castle is surrounded by protective wards and spells that should have kept it far away. Or at least someone should have been notified when it got close enough. But what if none of the warding was triggered because it was already here?”

Harry gasped. “You think the troll was the last obstacle?”

“And it just escaped?” Draco finished.

“That’s something I can’t make any sense of. Trolls really aren’t very smart. I can’t figure out how it would have managed to escape. Especially if it had to make it back through all the other obstacles to do so.”

After a moment of silent thought, Harry spoke up again. “What if it didn’t escape?”

“What do you mean?” Hermione asked.

“What if somebody let it out?”

“Like who?” Draco asked.

“The person who was looking for the Stone in the first place,” Hermione deduced. “But there weren’t any guests at the school around then. Not that I know of.”

“So then, it must be one of the teachers,” Draco decided. “But that still doesn’t tell us who?”

“Quirrell,” Harry stated.

Draco scoffed at him. “Oh yeah, Quirrell. The man’s a blithering idiot and a coward.”

“True,” Harry agreed. “He may be an idiot, but he’s still a fully trained wizard. If a pair of third years could get past all those traps, I’m sure he could.

“It makes perfect sense,” he explained. “He was the first one to find out about the troll. What if he went to the third floor while everyone was distracted with the feast, and he made it past the other obstacles until he made it to the troll? He’s clearly terrified of them, so he must have run away after that, but it followed him. It lost his trail in the dungeons, then he ran to the Great Hall to get help.”

“But why would Quirrell want the Stone?” Hermione asked.

“The same reason anyone would,” Draco replied. “He probably wants to use it to get rich and never have to teach again.”

“Yeah, that does make sense, doesn’t it?” Hermione wasn’t exactly hung up on the idea. He was an absolutely terrible teacher. “Dumbledore didn’t do anything about it. He must have figured out that Quirrell set the troll loose, but he didn’t sack him, or turn him in to the aurors or anything.”

Harry rolled his eyes and scoffed. “Quirrell never made it past the troll, so Dumbledore must have figured that meant his protections worked, so he didn’t bother worrying about it. He probably brought it right back to the third floor and forgot about it.”

Hermione pursed her lips in thought. She didn’t seem completely satisfied with Harry’s assumption, but didn’t argue. “So, do you think we should protect the Stone from Quirrell?” she asked instead.

“Why?” Draco asked. “Who cares if he gets it? It’s not our problem. As long as someone does so we can use it to embarrass Dumbledore, then it doesn’t matter. Although, I personally would prefer if the twins got it.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “Him being thwarted by a pair of third years just has such a stronger impact.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Hermione admitted. “I definitely think we should keep an eye on him, just in case.”

Chapter Text

The muggle books ended up being a total bust.

They were full of useful information, but nothing that could help the trio and their schemes.

They did provide Hermione and Harry an amusing few minutes while Draco attempted to threaten the pictures into moving. Other than that, it was all for naught.

The books revealed plenty of ways to sabotage Dumbledore’s administrative review. However, none of it could be done without them being caught. Dumbledore kept anything they would need in his office, and getting in there without permission was a near impossible task. Definitely not something any of the first years were up to.

Even if they did make it in, they still had the task of finding and getting to whatever they would need undetected. Then they would need to tamper with it all in a way that couldn’t be traced back to them.

It was all much too risky.

With extreme reluctance, they decided it would be best to turn their focuses elsewhere.

Where exactly elsewhere was, was beginning to be a problem.

Harry decided that elsewhere meant Professor Quirrell. He began keeping a watchful eye on the man, which proved to be just as boring as he’d expected it to be. Aside from catching the man nervously mumbling to himself and learning that Professor Snape may actually hate his colleague more than he hated Harry, there wasn’t a whole lot to see.

Initially, Draco decided to focus on sabotaging the NEWTs and OWLs at the end of the year. Between he and Hermione, the only things they could come up with meant getting all of the students to fail, and Hermione absolutely would not put up with that.

“No way!” she’d insisted. “Biological warfare is one thing, but causing so many students to fail their exams is just too far!”

After hitting that wall, Draco decided to turn his attentions to the Philosopher’s Stone. Or rather, getting the twins to get to it. Or, more specifically: the twins.

He was beginning to become obsessed. He spent the majority of his time watching them carefully, guessing what they were up to, and trying to decide what they liked enough for him to bribe them with.

“They must like sweets,” he stated one day at the Slytherin table. “I never see them eating any, but they always seem to have a ton of it. They must be trading people for them.” Draco was gazing across the Great Hall, watching as the twins collected various candies from the members of their quidditch team. “Do you think I could bribe them with some really expensive, foreign candies?”

“I don’t know,” Harry sighed boredly.

One evening in the library, Draco spotted one of them researching spellcrafting, while the other researched mostly harmless poisons. Beside them, Lee Jordan was reading up on medical magic.

“What in Merlin’s name could they be trying to do?” Draco asked.

“I don’t know,” Hermione answered blandly. “Perhaps they’re studying,” she hinted.

“No,” Draco disagreed without looking away. “They must be up to something.”

“What about the potions essay?” Harry asked.

“The third years don’t have a potions essay,” Draco argued.

“No. The first years have a potions essay. Have you written it yet?”

“Maybe they’re trying to make someone sick?” Draco barely even heard his friend talking to him.

Harry just had to roll his eyes and turn back to his own homework.

On a Hogsmeade weekend, Harry and Hermione found Draco lurking around the 3rd floor.

“What are you doing?” Harry asked. “We were looking for you.”

“The twins!” Draco replied. Harry scoffed in annoyance and barely managed to contain an eye roll.

Hermione, however, saw significance in the twins being around the 3rd floor. “Do you think they’re going after the Stone today?” she questioned, voice rushed with excitement.

“What?” Draco asked in confusion. “Oh!” he exhaled when he realized what she meant. “No! They came back from Hogsmeade early. I spotted them over here. They were bogged down with a load of toys from Zonko’s.”

“Why would they be here?” Harry was skeptic. “We’re nowhere near the entrance to the castle.”

“I don’t know,” Draco shrugged, exasperated. “But they were definitely here. Unless they got Zonko’s products from the troll, then there’s nowhere else they could have come from.”

“Well,” Hermione huffed, “if they’re not headed for the Stone, then it hardly matters.” She started to walk away with Harry and a reluctant Draco following after. “If we finish lunch quickly, we’ll have more time to practice the organizing spell from Harry’s book before we have to head to the library to study for the history quiz.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Harry replied cheerily. He was always eager to practice magic, whether it was school work or extracurricular. “I hope I can get it to organize my books in alphabetical order this time instead of just tallest to smallest.”

“I got mine to go in alphabetical order last time, but it stacked them all on their side,” Hermione admitted. “I think it’s all got to do with the wrist. I tend to do more of a sweeping motion,” she raised an invisible wand in the air and made the movement as an example. “Maybe I should do more of a swish.” She made the swishing movement. “What do you think, Draco?”

“I don’t know,” he replied distantly, mind clearly elsewhere. “Oh!” he exclaimed suddenly. “I know of a fantastic jokes shop just outside of Paris. They’ve got incredible products there. Much higher quality and way more creative than Zonko’s. I bet I could bribe the twins with those!”

Harry heaved a sigh in exasperation. “Always with those twins…” he muttered. Hearing about them so much was really getting on his nerves. “Draco, do you even know what you’re trying to bribe them for?”

“Of course!” Draco snapped. “I’m bribing them for…” he hesitated. “Um, for… information? Yes! That’s right! Information!”

Harry scoffed. “What information? What information do they currently know, that we don’t?” Harry clearly had Draco there.

“It doesn’t matter!” Draco argued. “What are you insinuating?”

“I don’t know!” Harry rolled his eyes. “You just seem to think about them a lot, lately. It’s like you’re obsessed or something.”

“I am not!” Draco squawked in outrage.

“Yes you are!” Harry accused. “They’re the only thing you’ve been talking about for weeks now. Weeks! Tell him Hermione!”

“Oh no!” Hermione raised her arms in front of her defensively. “I’m not in this one!” She sped up her walking so she’d arrive at the Great Hall faster and avoid the impending argument.

“I am not obsessed!” Draco insisted. “You’re being dramatic!”

“Oh, yes you are!” disputed Harry. “I think this whole bribery thing is just an excuse for you to get to know them better. It’s like you fancy them, or something!”

Fancy them?” Draco gasped. “That’s preposterous! Like a Malfoy could ever fancy a Weasley.” He grimaced as he said it. As if the very name were in insult in itself.

“Seems like one could to me! You’re always talking about them! ‘I wonder what they’re doing!’” Harry put on an exaggerated posh accent as he mocked the boy. “‘What kind of expensive candy do you think they’ll like?’ ‘I wonder if they’ll like this book.’ ‘They’re so clever. They should have been Slytherins.’ ‘Oh no! They’re coming! I need to fix my hair!’”

“That was one time!”

“One time you said it out loud! Don’t think I haven’t noticed you checking your reflection in every surface you can find when they’re around!”

“Oh please! I do that anyways! A Malfoy can’t be caught looking less than his best.” He popped his collar then smoothed it back down, brushing imaginary dirt off his shoulder. In Draco’s defense, that was actually true. “Besides!” he continued. “So what if I do fancy one of them! What’s it to you?”

“Hah!” Harry pointed at him accusingly. “So you do fancy them!”

Draco turned red in the face once he realized his slip.

Harry’s smug look of satisfaction morphed into one of absolute shock as he realized the implications of his words. “Wait!” he frowned. “So you do fancy them?”

Draco pouted his bottom lip defiantly, but refused to respond. His silence was answer enough.

“But…” Harry was completely astonished. “I was just teasing you. I didn’t think you really…”

Draco fancied the twins? How was that possible? Harry couldn’t wrap his head around it.

“But…” he stammered. “But… they’re… they’re boys!”

“And what difference does that make?” Draco challenged.

That was a good question. What difference did it make?

Harry had only very briefly been faced with the way homosexuality was considered in the wizarding world. Aunt Wally had mentioned in one of her letters having attended a wedding between 2 witches. Aside from saying that it was boring, she had nothing else to say about it. In fact, she’d only mentioned it in passing at all.

If the most racist woman in the wizarding world had no qualms about homosexuality, then it must not have been a big deal, the way it was in the muggle world. Harry wasn’t used to the mentality.

He honestly never thought of it much himself, but the obvious prejudice was always around him. He heard the emasculating jibes and taunts. He’d been subject to a few of them at the hands of Dudley and his goons on occasions. He knew it to be considered something shameful. Something dirty and wrong that should be hidden at all costs. It’s just not something he’d ever been confronted with in a way to make him actually stop and think about it.

The idea of it being something widely acknowledged and openly accepted was completely foreign to Harry. He didn’t know what to make of it.

“Well…” he tilted his head to the side pensively for a moment. “I guess it doesn’t?” he shrugged, not confident in his answer.

It didn’t really change anything. Draco was still Draco. And he was still obsessed with the twins, whether it was because he fancied them or just admired them. So, it really didn’t make a difference.

“Yeah,” he nodded to himself, certain this time. “It really doesn’t matter.” After a moment of thinking on it, he let out a teasing chuckle and smirked at Draco.

“What?” Draco snapped. Harry only laughed a little harder.

“You fancy a couple of Gryffindors,” he snorted. “Wait until I tell Pansy. She’s going to flip.”

“You will not tell Pansy!” Draco panicked. “The whole school will know by the end of the day if you tell her!”

“Fine,” Harry agreed. “But I’m definitely telling Hermione. She’ll get a kick out of the fact you’re a lion lover.” Harry pursed his lips and made obnoxious kissy noises toward Draco.

“Shut up!” Draco complained, shoving Harry out of his way. He brushed past him and rushed to catch up with Hermione.

April 4th came and went, but not much progress had been made at all.

The twins had gone after the Stone two more times, but still couldn’t make it past the chessboard. Draco noticed that Fred had been missing for a few days after the second attempt, and George was sporting a bruise under his left eye. That certainly didn’t bode well for their success rate.

“How can you even tell them apart?” Harry asked.

“Because Fred is the bossy one-”

“They’re both bossy,” Hermione scoffed over a plate of toast.

“And he’s almost always the one who talks first.” Draco continued as if she hadn’t even spoken. “George will finish his sentences, but rarely starts them on his own. He’s a lot quieter when Fred’s not around. Whereas Fred is always pretty much the same. Fred comes up with all the ideas, but George is the one who figures out how to do them. George is obviously the smarter twin. Also, George can write with both hands, which I’m sure he must have taught himself, because Fred is only right-handed.”

“I don’t know how you manage to see all of that,” Harry sighed in disbelief. “They both seem exactly the same to me.”

“That’s just because you aren’t looking.”

“No, I’m looking,” Harry disagreed with a smirk. “I’m just not paying quiet as much attention as you are.”

Hermione chuckled knowingly, and Draco stuck his tongue out at both of them.

Professor Quirrell didn’t seem to be acting any fishier than usual. Though Harry did notice he attempted to avoid Professor Snape as much as possible. Considering their seats at the Head Table were right beside each other, that wasn’t nearly as much as the Defense professor would have liked.

Knowing how clearly Snape disliked the man, Harry could also perfectly understand his reluctance to be near him. The potions master still vehemently pretended that Harry didn’t exist, so he was never at the receiving end of the man’s wrath. But baring witness to it directed at others was enough not to question it.

The only thing Harry couldn’t figure out was why Professor Snape hated Quirrell so much.

Of course, Quirrell was a rather infuriating man, and Snape hadn’t a drop of patience to spare. So it made sense that they wouldn’t get along. However, Snape’s distaste for the man seemed to be too severe for that to have been the only reason behind it. Quirrell seemed to be so stressed about it that he was growing pale and appeared to be losing weight.

There had to have been something else behind it that Harry wasn’t aware of. He knew better than to think either man would tell him, but he wasn’t sure who else to ask. It would require more snooping, and hopefully another opportunity to use his father’s invisibility cloak.

On an unrelated note, Harry was beginning to get headaches. They weren’t like ordinary headaches, though.

At first, they weren’t really bothersome. More like the occasional tingle right behind his scar. He would brush it off and not think of it again, until the next one. After a while, the occasional tingle grew into a constant tingle with the occasional stinging, or sharp burning pain.

As April was heading to a close and impending exams overtook the majority of the school’s minds, being in near constant pain was becoming very problematic for Harry.

After a Saturday morning of rubbing his forehead while failing to study in the library, Draco came up with an idea to help.

“We should make a potion to relieve your headaches,” he offered. “There’s one in this book I’ve been reading that doesn’t look too hard to manage. We should even have most of the ingredients.”

Hermione wasn’t so sure. “It’s against the rules to brew outside of the classroom.”

“No,” Draco disputed, “it’s against the rules to get caught brewing outside of the classroom.” Hermione arched an unimpressed eyebrow at him, and he shot her his most innocent smile. “Besides, that’s not what I meant, anyways.”

“Then what did you mean?”

“We could ask Professor Snape to let us do it in his classroom. He does it for the upper grades all the time. He’d be there to make sure we get it right, and it’s above first year level. So if – I’m sorry, when we get it right, he’ll probably reward us with extra points or something for being so far ahead. And it would be great practice for the practical potions exam at the end of the year. Besides, we need a cast iron cauldron for it, but we all have pewter.”

“That’s actually pretty brilliant,” Harry agreed. “But one of you have to ask him. He’d probably just ignore us if we said it was to help me.”

As much as the others hated to admit it, Harry did have a point. No one had any idea why Snape hated Harry so much, but there was certainly no denying it.

“I’ll ask,” Hermione promised.

Thus, the following afternoon found the trio situated around a borrowed cast iron cauldron in the potions lab and under the watchful—and somewhat bitter—eye of Severus Snape.

“Surely,” he drawled, “I won’t need to remind you of the consequences of ruining one of my own personal cauldrons…”

“No, sir,” the trio intoned in unison.

“You have until three o clock, at which time you will be dismissed from the room, regardless of the state of your potion.”

“Yes, sir.”

With that, Harry, Draco, and Hermione set about measuring and combining ingredients. Occasionally, they would take a moment to discuss each step and consult their reference books to be sure they were brewing it to the maximum effect.

With over an hour and a half to spare, their potion was cooled, bottled into 10 individual doses, and ready for inspection.

Snape popped the lid off one of the vials and examined the light blue liquid inside. “Proper color,” he acknowledged. He waved it under his nose a few times. “Proper smell.” He held the bottle level with his eyes and swiveled it around in the vial. “Proper consistency. No sediment.” Finally, he dabbed a single drop onto his fingertip, then stuck it into his mouth. “Proper taste. Congratulations. You have brewed your potion to perfection.” He recapped it, then handed it back to Hermione. “High praise from me, which is not given lightly.”

“Thank you so much, Professor!” Hermione smiled at their Head of House widely.

“Ten points to Hermione for properly multiplying the ingredients to double the recipe.” Hermione practically squealed at that. She had been adamant that merely doubling the ingredients wasn’t the proper way to make a larger batch. It actually involved a small bit of arithmancy to calculate exactly how to change the measurements.

“And, another ten points to Draco for using the proper stirring pattern needed for the larger potion.” Draco grinned smugly at that. He’d been reading lots of extra potions books in his free time, so he was rather well versed in the subtle nuances of stirring potions. The original recipe called for figure 8s, but the increase of certain ingredients meant it needed to alternate between vertical figure 8s and horizontal ones.

Harry had taken special care to keep the cauldron temperature ascending by a single degree a minute to maintain perfect brewing temperature the whole time. Then, he made sure it decreased by 2 degrees per minute to maintain proper cooling temperature before removing the potion from the cauldron.

Of course, Professor Snape made no notice of that, and dismissed the trio without further ado, returning to his desk. Harry wasn’t the least bit surprised, but he couldn’t help but to be a little disappointed.

As Draco and Hermione began cleaning up, Harry drained a vial, in the hopes that his headache would go away. He gave it a minute. Then two. Then three, but nothing happened. The pain was still there. He rubbed his forehead again, frowning in frustration as he helped straighten up their station.

“Why are you rubbing your head?” Professor Snape asked suddenly.

It wasn’t until Draco elbowed Harry in the ribs that he realized the professor was talking to him. Those were the first words he’d ever said to the boy.

“Well,” Harry stammered, so surprised to be speaking to the man that he nearly forgot how. “I uh… I have a headache.”

“It should be gone now,” Snape disagreed. “I saw you take the potion. You brewed it perfectly. It should take immediate effect.”

“I’m not sure what’s wrong then,” Harry shrugged. “My scar still hurts.”

“Your scar?” the professor snapped, standing up out of his chair.

Harry was confused by the reaction, but he nodded. “Yeah, it’s been hurting on and off for the past few weeks,” he explained. “Lately it’s been more on than off.”

“Is there any pattern to the way it hurts?” Snape asked frantically, stepping around his desk and storming over to Harry. “Are there times when it hurts more than others?”

“I guess?” Harry was really confused. Professor Snape was acting so strangely. “I mean, it always hurts pretty bad at meal times, or if I’m in the Great Hall. I just figure it’s because it’s so loud in there. Often in Defense too. Probably because Professor Quirrell is so boring. Other than that, it’s kind of just random. Mostly it stays the same.”

“Listen to me, Potter,” Snape took on a grave tone. He put his hands on Harry’s shoulders and bent forward a little to look him directly in the eyes. “The next time you feel your scar hurting particularly bad, I need you to come and tell me immediately.”

“Even if it’s in the middle of the night?” Harry asked carefully.

Especially if it’s in the middle of the night. You come right to my office, even if you have to wake me up.”

“Professor, I don’t understand. Is there something going on? Is there something wrong with my scar?”

Snape removed his hands from Harry’s shoulders and stood upright. “Nothing you need to worry about.”

“I’m sorry Professor, but considering it’s my own head, I think it is.”

Snape sighed. Snark aside, Harry did have a point. “I’m not sure that it’s anything,” he said cryptically, “but in the event that it is, I’ll need to know.” His face returned to its usual bland but stern expression, and Harry knew he wouldn’t hear a word else on the matter.

“Yes sir.”

The professor returned to his desk and the trio gathered their things and left the classroom.

“What do you think that was about?” Draco asked as soon as they were a good distance away.

“I have no idea.” Harry shrugged.

“Don’t worry,” Hermione insisted. “We’ll figure it out.”

Chapter Text

“What if we mixed up the testing schedule?” Harry asked.

Draco and Hermione looked up from their transfiguration revising with questioning looks at Harry’s random outburst.

“We wouldn’t be able to fool the proctors,” he continued, “but we could fool the students. If every student showed up at the wrong time, they’d be forced to realize the mix up and allow them to retake their tests. It would all look like Dumbledore just gaffed up when organizing the whole thing.”

“But how would we fool every student?” Draco asked, schoolwork gone from his mind.

“I’m not certain,” Hermione began, “but I think the Heads of House post the schedule on the bulletin board a day or two before the tests. If I’m right, we’d just have to find a way to change the times before the students saw it.”

“We’d have to break into all three other houses in the same night,” Draco stated. “Harry’s got his cloak, but there’s no way we can get into the other houses undetected. We don’t even know what times the Heads of House plan to post them.”

“That’s true,” Hermione admitted. “A bit of snooping might help us out, but it’s still not really foolproof. How do we make sure none of the students see the original one before we make the switch?”

“What if we switched the schedules before the professors post them?” Harry asked. “That way, we don’t have to break into any of the other houses. The professors will do the work for us.”

“Then we’d have to break into the professor’s offices.” Hermione warned. “I don’t know about such an invasion of privacy.”

“Hermione,” Draco rolled his eyes in exasperation. “With everything we’ve done so far, you’re going to draw the line at breaking into the professors’ offices?”

Hermione huffed back at him. “Fine, but I’m only doing it if we use the invisibility cloak.”

“Done!” Harry agreed easily. He’d been looking for an excuse to use it again anyways.

Their days were filled with so much revision and studying that they found themselves with less and less time for scheming and hijinks. According to Draco’s reports, even the twins were spending less time on pranks. Although their focus was more on the Stone than studying. They seemed to be determined to get to the Stone before the term ended.

The trio were definitely pleased about that. More fodder against Dumbledore.

May 30th fell on a Saturday. 2 more days until OWLs and NEWTs began. Harry, Draco, and Hermione had carefully crafted a plan to sneak into Professor Snape’s office and steal the schedule. From there, they would quickly create a new one that would cause the most chaos, duplicate it, then head to Professor Sprout’s office. Flitwick was next, then McGonagall was last.

They planned to take the least traveled routes to get around the school. It would add loads of extra time to their expedition, but it lowered their chances of getting caught by Filch.

Since it was a Saturday, they would have plenty of time to catch up on their rest before they had their own classes to attend. Everything seemed to be going perfectly according to plan.

Except Harry’s headaches.

Despite the potion they’d concocted, the headaches weren’t getting any better. In fact, they were getting progressively worse.

To add to Harry’s troubles, he’d been having these awful nightmares about a sickening green light and a high pitched cackling. They weren’t exactly new. They were the same frightening dreams that he’d had intermittently throughout his entire childhood. Now, they were happening nearly every night. Then he’d wake up with a splitting headache that would last throughout the day.

They left him feeling exhausted and barely able to focus on his revision.

That Saturday morning, Hermione allowed him a break, and let him sleep in while she and Draco went to ask Professor Flitwick a question about charms theory that the trio had been stuck on. Technically, it was 3rd year material, but any extra understanding would only serve them well in the end. Besides, it left them all frustrated—Hermione the most—to not be able to understand something.

After lying down for a while, Harry was just barely about to drift off to sleep again when the doors to the dorm flew open, slamming against the wall. He didn’t bother to look, figuring one of the other boys must have been angry about something. Probably Crabbe or Goyle. Both boys had short tempers and aggressive tendencies.

Without warning, his curtain was ripped back and a body pounced onto his bed, landing on top of him and bouncing up and down.

“Wake up!” Draco whisper shouted. “You aren’t going to believe this!” Harry groaned in irritation, trying to push Draco off. His arms were trapped under the blonde’s legs, so he wasn’t having much success.

Hermione reached through the curtain, shoved Draco over, then climbed onto the bed herself. “Budge up!” she warned, heaving a stack of papers onto the duvet. Harry sat up and tugged his knees into his chest while Hermione applied a silencing charm against prying ears.

“What is all this?” Harry asked, gesturing to the stack of papers with one hand while the other rubbed his eye.

“You will never believe how bloody lucky we are!” Draco sang, excitement twinkling in his eyes.

“On our way to Flitwick’s office,” Hermione explained, “we ran into Professor McGonagall!” Her eyes were alight with elation too, and Harry didn’t understand all the fuss.

“So what?” he asked, confused.

“No,” Draco continued, “we literally ran into her!”

We didn’t,” Hermione corrected. “We were just right behind the Hufflepuffs who did.”

“They knocked her clean over!” Draco added.

“Her arms were full of a bunch of papers,” Hermione continued, “and they went flying all over the hall. We helped her to pick them up, and guess what we found?”

“Her testing schedule?” Harry asked, figuring it out.

“Not just her schedule,” Draco cut in again. “All four of them, plus the master copy!”

“I don’t know why we didn’t think of it before,” Hermione shook her head. “She’s Deputy Headmistress. Of course she’d be the one to pass them out.”

Hermione dug through the pile and about halfway through, pulled out the 5 identical schedules. Smirking evilly, she waved them through the air before handing them over to Harry.

“What’s all the rest of the paper for?” Harry asked.

“They belong to the Hufflepuffs who hit her,” Draco explained. “We’ll give the papers back to the Hufflepuffs with the fake schedules mixed in. They’ll find them, realize they aren’t theirs, and give them back to McGonagall. They must have picked them up by mistake. No harm, no foul.” Draco added the last part with his exaggerated voice of innocence.

“This is perfect!” Harry laughed with incredulity. “It’s like the universe itself just wants us to get rid of Dumbledork!”

The trio immediately set to work scrambling the schedule. The first thing they did was to change it so that all the tests started an hour later. Then, they began switching the subjects so that the written exams were in the afternoon, and the practical exams were the following morning.

They started the week with History of Magic since it had no practical examination. Care of Magical Creatures was next. That would cause an impressive amount of confusion with all the students going outdoors when they should be in the Great Hall for Transfiguration. Herbology was next, creating the same effect with the greenhouses during DADA on the following morning. The next test would be Divination, and the week would end with Ancient Runes because it had no practical either.

The second week would begin with the Muggle Studies because it was another class with no practical. Then they’d be taking the written test for Charms when they should be in the potions lab. They’d be in the Great Hall for the Charms practical the next morning, but they should be taking the written Care of Magical Creatures test. They’d be indoors taking the written Transfiguration while they were expected outside.

They’d have their written Astronomy test that afternoon, then get up a few hours later for the practical. After a long break in between, they’d have their written Potion’s exam. That wouldn’t cause too much trouble because they’d both be in the same room. However, the room would be full of crystal balls and tea leaves for the Divination practical that should have been taking place.

While the Arithmancy test should be going on, the students will be in the potions lab, then the tests would end with the actual Arithmancy test, because it was another with no practical.

By the time they finished creating the fake schedules and destroyed the real ones, the trio was overtaken by laughter as they imagined the confused proctors looking at empty rooms, while the students found themselves outside with no supervision nor a test in sight.

“The only reason I’d laugh at something so horrible is because I’m certain they’d have to give the students a second chance,” Hermione admitted between chortles.

“Besides,” Harry added, “they’ll probably figure out the problem and have it sorted by the end of the first day anyways. I’m sure someone around here is competent at their job.”

Harry had missed his opportunity for a nap, so he went with Hermione and Draco to track down the Hufflepuffs they’d “bumped into”. They found them in the Library, frantically searching through their notes to get them all in order.

“I found these mixed with my things,” Hermione lied, handing them over. “I must have picked them up on accident. I was in such a rush, that I guess I wasn’t paying much attention.” That was the furthest from the truth. Hermione hadn’t actually dropped anything at all, and when she spotted the first schedule, she was paying very close attention to what papers she grabbed next.

She was met with so much congratulations and verbal expressions of relief that Madame Pince had to make an appearance and shush them.

Now, they just had to wait.

Much to the trio’s pleasure, Monday morning was absolute chaos. Of course, the first years’ only signs of that were the number of people running back and forth through the hallways while they were taking their own exams.

Nothing appeared to be solved by the time lunch rolled around. The corridor in front of the Great Hall was full of confused students, unable to get inside. There were still tests going on because of the late start, so the rest of the school had been locked out for privacy.

Finally, an aggravated Professor McGonagall—followed by an unrecognizable face that must have been one of the reviewers—instructed the students that lunch and dinner were to be served in their common rooms until further notice.

By the end of the day, none of the 5th or 7th years looked particularly upset, but they wouldn’t stop talking about how confused they all were. Hermione was glad that the change in schedule didn’t appear to lead to anyone failing when they ordinarily wouldn’t. Although, Draco reminded her that of course the Slytherins and Ravenclaws would have been able to adapt quickly, but that didn’t say much about the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs.

To the trio’s surprise, Tuesday was just as hectic as Monday. They figured things would have been fixed by then, but apparently not.

Through the window of their upstairs class, Draco spotted a proctor leading a troupe of students indoors, from where they’d gathered for their Care of Magical Creatures practical.

When in the halls to switch classes, the first year Slytherins and Hufflepuffs had to wade through a crowd of upper years surrounding a proctor who was trying to figure out which student was supposed to be taking which exam and which ones were missing.

The proctors and advisors were having so much trouble trying to get everything back on track that, finally, the tests were just canceled for the day. The whole school was allowed to eat in the Great Hall again and the upper years spent the entire lunch hour frantic and confused, stressing about what to do next.

Finally, Professor McGonagall addressed the students and told them to check the bulletin boards that evening for a revised schedule. The tests that were missed that day, would be made up on Saturday.

The whole time, no one ever caught a glimpse of Professor Dumbledore.

With the new schedule, everything was resolved on Wednesday, and it was smooth sailing from there.

Or at least, mostly smooth.

Harry’s headaches had been getting progressively worse. Though, he was far enough ahead to have no trouble on his exams, by the time they were over, the pain had times where it was nearly debilitating.

He finally got a moment of reprieve after they’d taken their final exam. In the Great Hall that evening, he was able to actually enjoy the fact that testing was done with the others. Hermione, however thought it may be a little too soon to be rejoicing.

She put up a small perimeter of a silencing charm around them, then leaned forward to talk to Draco and Harry.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about your scar, Harry,” she started, “and I think it’s time you tell Professor Snape about it.”

“Why?” Harry asked. Despite the man’s advice, Harry hadn’t mentioned the pain in his head to him at all. “He won’t even tell me what it’s about. Why should I trust him?”

“Because, I think it has something to do with You-Know-Who,” explained Hermione.

“Voldemort?” Harry asked doubtfully. Draco flinched at the name, and Hermione winced, not liking to hear it either.

“Yes,” she agreed. “Just think about it. He’s the one that gave you that scar, it would make the most sense that the pain you’re feeling from it has to do with him.”

“But he’s dead!” Draco argued. “That can’t be possible!”

Is he dead though?” Hermione questioned. “Everything I’ve read on it says they never found a body. He just disappeared in a huge explosion. But what if he’s not actually gone?”

“There’s not exactly going to be a body left after an explosion like that,” Draco disputed.

“Maybe not, but what if it only destroyed his body? What if it left a piece of him behind?”

“Like a piece of his soul?” Harry asked, putting a hand to his forehead. “You think there’s a piece of Voldemort’s soul in my scar?” Draco flinched again, but this time Hermione only frowned a little.

“I guess that’s possible,” she replied, “but that’s not what I’m saying. What if another piece of his soul managed to escape? A sentient piece. What if it’s been in hiding this whole time, but now it’s come back because it’s come up with a way to get a new body?”

“The Philosopher’s Stone,” Draco breathed.

“Exactly,” she agreed. “I think your scar keeps hurting,” she gestured to Harry’s head, “because he’s getting close.”

“But, Quirrell is the one after the Stone,” Harry said. “Do you think he’s working for him?”

“I don’t think he’s just working for him…” Hermione trailed off.

“There’s no way!” Draco nearly shouted in disbelief. It was a good thing Hermione put up the silencing charm otherwise he would have drawn a lot of attention to their small group. “You can’t possibly believe that Professor Quirrell is You-Know-Who! He’s a complete coward! You-Know-Who would be way more powerful than that blubbering idiot!”

“Wait,” Harry interrupted. “Draco has a point, but if Voldemort has no body,” Draco grit his teeth, “he could be possessing him. He’s been weak the whole school year, which is why I never felt anything before. Then he’s been getting stronger. That’s why my scar hurt in the Great Hall and in DADA. It was always when Quirrell was around. And now, he’s gotten even stronger! He must be about to go after the Stone soon!”

“Exactly!” Hermione agreed again.

“We can’t let him get to it!” Draco panicked. “Last time, it was absolute war!”

“I don’t think things would be so bad,” Hermione shook her head. She lifted up her left hand and drew her sleeve back to reveal her Trinket. “Not with these. These prove that everything he stood for was completely wrong.” She didn’t sound completely convinced.

“But his followers used to worship him,” Draco said frantically. “He used the Imperius Curse to force my father to work for him the first time, and he told me what it was like. He said the others would bow before him like he was a god in their eyes. They were willing to die for him. Lots of them did. If he comes back, they aren’t going to care about a bunch of bracelets!”

“Draco’s right!” Harry agreed. “So many people died last time. We can’t let that happen again. We have to stop Quirrell.”

“Dumbledore’s review is in the morning,” Draco reminded them. “He’ll probably be gone most of the day. I bet that’s when Quirrell will go after the Stone.”

“Then that means we have to go after it tonight!” Harry declared.

“But the twins-” Hermione started.

“We can’t trust them to figure it out tonight!” Harry interrupted. “They don’t even know that there’s other obstacles after the chess board. We have to do it! Let’s go!”

Harry stood up from the table and stormed out of the Great Hall. Hermione ended the silencing spell and went chasing after him, Draco on her heels.

They caught up to Harry in the corridor, waiting for one of the staircases to turn back toward him.

“Stop!” Hermione called. Harry turned to look at her and she grabbed him by the sleeve, tugging him away. “Don’t be an idiot Gryffindor!” she accused in a whisper. “We can’t just go running to the third floor! We have to be smart about this!”

“Like how?” Harry snapped.

“Like preparing ourselves, for one!” Draco retorted. “We know the next task is potions related, and then there’s the troll, but we don’t know what the task is!”

“Then how are we supposed to prepare ourselves if we don’t know what it is?”

“Then, we’ll just have to be prepared for anything!” Draco replied. “I’ve got an idea.”

Despite Harry’s arguments of wasting time, the trio returned to the Slytherin dorms. There, they quickly scoured all 3 of their remaining potions kits, then condensed them into a single large kit.

One of the many gifts that Harry received from Aunt Wally throughout the year was a satchel that seemed to be able to hold an unlimited number of things. It had a featherlight charm on it, so it weighed nothing, and it came with an alphabetical file system so things were easy to find.

Harry never found a reason to carry so many things at once, so it remained in his trunk. Now, the trio filled it with all of their ingredients and brewing supplies. They also added Draco’s entire collection of extracurricular potions books for good measure. They had no idea what they were up against, so indeed everything helped.

Harry added his invisibility cloak, then shouldered the bag. Prepared—or as much as they ever could be—they headed back out to the third floor just in time for the bulk of the students to be leaving the Great Hall.

Before a large group of Ravenclaws walked by, Hermione tugged the boys into a small nook behind a suit of armor. Harry carefully removed his cloak and covered the 3 of them with it, just in case someone happened to look their direction.

They waited for the group to pass, then gave it a few more minutes as pairs and individual stragglers continued by. Just when it seemed like no one else was coming, Professor Quirrell walked by. He was hunched over nervously and walking with stiff legs. Not far behind him, Professor Snape was glaring daggers at his back, keeping a careful—and vicious—eye on the man.

Fortunately for the trio, they were going the complete opposite direction from the third floor corridor.

With the coast finally clear, the trio stepped out from their hiding spot, still huddled beneath the cloak. As quietly and carefully as they could, they continued down the halls until they reached their destination.

They rounded a corner and had to freeze in place as they were greeted by the Weasley twins pointing their wands directly at them.

“Where are they?” a voice behind the twins asked. “It says they’re right there.” The youngest Weasley brother poked his head around the twin on the left, holding a large piece of paper in front of himself. He looked back and forth between it and the empty space where the trio stood. “This map must be broken,” he complained.

“It’s never failed us before,” the twin on the left disputed.

The twin on the right waved his wand in a circular motion, jabbing it forward at the end. “Homenum Revelio,” he cast. A light blue cloud appeared over the trio, swooping low over their heads. “Aha!” Righty scoffed. “We know you’re there, Slytherins.”

“Reveal yourselves!” Lefty ordered. “Before I start shooting curses.”

Defeated, Hermione poked her head out from under the cloak and Harry pulled it off of them, returning it to the bag.

“An invisibility cloak?” the younger Weasley gasped. “Wicked!” He seemed to come to himself, and his wondrous expression morphed into one of disdain. “What are you snakes doing here?” he spat.

“We could ask the same of you!” Draco accused, crossing his arms and eyeing the redhead suspiciously.

“You know why we’re here!” Lefty broke in. “So what do you want? Come to spy?”

“No,” Hermione disagreed calmly. “Come to make sure you get through.”

“We’re coming with you,” Harry posited.

“You snakes aren’t coming with us!” the younger Weasley argued.

“Yeah,” Lefty agreed. “How can we trust you?”

Draco smirked at the Gryffindors, basking in the moment of superiority before saying “Because we know what it is you’re looking for. We also know that the chessboard isn’t the last obstacle. And we even know how many and what the next obstacles are.”

“How could you possibly know all of that?” Righty asked, seeming more curious than anything.

“We have our ways,” Draco replied cryptically.

“Do you think you can make it past the chessboard this time?” Hermione asked.

“Of course we can,” Righty insisted. “We had to pull out our secret weapon, but we’ve definitely got it.”

“What’s your secret weapon?” Harry asked.

Lefty jerked a thumb over his shoulder at his younger brother. “Dear Ronnie-kins here is,” he answered.

The trio sized him up, but none of them were impressed.

“He doesn’t look like much,” Draco stated, having his doubts.

“Hey you-” Ronnie took a step forward as if to start a fight, but Righty grabbed him by the shoulder and tugged him back.

“We know he doesn’t look like much,” Righty agreed, “but he’s an absolute master at chess. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.”

“Whatever,” Harry shrugged it off impatiently. “Let’s just get on with this!”

“What’s the rush, Potter?” Lefty asked.

Hermione rolled her eyes and brushed past the Weasley boys. “Doesn’t matter,” she tossed over her shoulder. “Are you coming, or not?” Without waiting for an answer, she pointed her wand at the locked handle of the door at the end of the path. “Alohamora,” she cast, and the lock automatically clicked open.

Harry and Draco were immediately on her tail, wands at the ready as she slowly tugged the door open. The Weasleys were right behind them, prepared to protect themselves.

Luck appeared to be on their side that night. As the group crept silently into the room, it became apparent that the Cerberus was already sleeping. Now they just had to make sure he stayed that way.

As quietly as he could, Harry cast a spell he’d learned from one of the books Aunt Wally had given him. It was an endless lullaby spell that caused a gentle tune to flow quietly from the cracks in the wall. It was meant to soothe disgruntled babies, but a three headed dog was close enough.

Keeping an eye on the dog, Hermione led the group to the trap door in the middle of the room and lifted it up, revealing nothing but darkness within.

“How far is the fall?” she asked the twins in a whisper.

“ Straight down? It’s enough to hurt,” Lefty explained. “Better to land on the devil’s snare and sink all the way through. Might twist an ankle if you get rid of it first.”

Hermione nodded her head and took a deep breath. “I’ll go first,” she stated.

“No, I’ll go.” Harry said. “This was my idea.” He stepped up to the gaping hole in the floor and with one last look to the others, he jumped down.

Landing on the devil’s snare didn’t exactly hurt, but it wasn’t a comfy landing. At first, nothing happened, then Draco came down next. After a few more seconds, Hermione was next. One of the twins came after that, then Ronnie, and the second twin last. Once they were all on the plant, that’s when Harry finally felt it move.

At first, it only wrapped around an ankle. Then he felt another tendril circle his waist. Another crept over his shoulder, binding his arm to his side, and even more crawled over his legs. He couldn’t help the nerves, but he kept as calm as he could, knowing that was the best way to get out of the carnivorous plant’s clutches.

He could hear Draco taking deep, calming breaths a few feet away as he too was wrapped up. Both of the twins—it was impossible to tell which was which at this point—seemed perfectly calm. They’d been through this plenty of times and had nothing to be nervous about. Ronnie however, was not doing so well.

“Be still, Ronnie!” Hermione ordered. “If you keep squirming like that, it’s going to strangle you!”

“It’s Ronald,” he snapped. “And that’s easy for you to say. You know what’s coming next!”

Hermione rolled her eyes, recognizing the Gryffindor’s stubbornness from the few classes they had together, and knowing she wasn’t going to get through to him.

“If you’re supposed to be the secret weapon that gets us across the chessboard, then you’d better not die on us!” Draco threatened.

“It’s not like I’m trying!” Ronald argued as he attempted to wriggle out of the grasp of a vine wrapping around his shoulders.

“So much for the brave Gryffindor,” Harry sighed in exasperation.

“I am too brave!”

“Then prove it!” With those last words, Harry was fully enveloped by the plant and sucked to the bottom, where he fell through and landed on a cold stone floor.

Harry could hear Ronald whining quietly as he grew more and more entangled.

“Honestly, Ron,” one of the twins said. “You’re only making it more difficult on yourself.”

“Just relax,” the other added.

Draco fell through the plant next and landed right beside Harry. Hermione came not long after, and both boys reached their arms out to catch her.

Ronald groaned loudly, but the sound was cut off abruptly. Likely, a vine had wrapped around his mouth. The trio exchanged glances and silently decided to put the poor Gryffindor out of his misery.

Simultaneously, they lifted their wands to the devil’s snare and called out the incantation, “Lumos Solem.” With the force of 3 wands, the plant immediately began to shrivel and dissipate, releasing its remaining victims with a high pitched keening that could only be described as a scream.

With all 6 students on solid ground, they continued through to the next task. The twins mounted a pair of brooms with no preamble, and in no time at all, they found themselves walking through a door and into a cavernous room, set up like a giant chess set.

Harry had the image of a giant chess set in his mind for months, ever since he first found out about it. But none of the things he imagined could possibly compare to what he saw before him. The chess set was spectacular.

The board and pieces were made of sparkling white and black marble. Though, some of the pieces had obvious damage from previous games. They reminded Harry of the ancient Greek and Roman statues he’d learned about in muggle primary school. Worn and decayed over time, yet still masterpieces. Brilliant works of art.

Stepping onto the board made him feel small and insignificant. He was surrounded by knights and castles and kings and queens, even the pawns towered over him ominously.

“Alright,” one of the twins commanded, “take your places on the board, then let Ron do all the talking. He knows what he’s doing, so just listen to the directions he gives you.”

Harry could see Ronald take a nervous gulp as he watched a knight spring to life and dismount his steed.

“We’re doomed,” Draco muttered under his breath, frowning as he saw the same thing.

Their group took their places on the black side of the board. Ronald and Draco were knights, the twins were each a rook, and Hermione and Harry were bishops.

Ron stared at the board pensively, already working out the moves in his head. A white pawn slid forward a space, grinding across the board with an eerie echo that grated against Harry’s ribs. With that, the game had started.

45 minutes later had only Harry, Ron, and Hermione on the board, Draco and the twins amidst the chunks of white and black marble scattered around the sides like a disarrayed graveyard, and everyone’s nerves on edge.

So far, no one got seriously hurt, but there had been a few close calls. Draco had an apple sized bruise blooming on his cheek and one of the twins was gripping his arm painfully.

It was the black side’s turn, but Ronald seemed to be taking a lot of time deciding how to move. After what felt like an eternity of thinking, he finally spoke up.

“I got it!” he called. “We can win this! But, I’ll have to sacrifice myself to the Queen.”

“No way, Ron!” one of the twins called. Draco had been certain it was Fred. “She’ll kill you! Find another way!”

“There is no other way!” Ronald argued. “It’s this or lose!”

“It’s not worth it!” he yelled back. “Just forfeit. You don’t need to get hurt!”

“It’s very important!” Harry nearly shrieked. They couldn’t give up now! Especially this close. Not with Quirrell coming for the Stone in 12 hours or less.

“No it isn’t!” Fred disagreed. “We don’t need to know what Dumbledore’s been hiding that bad!”

“You don’t get it!” Harry interrupted. “This is life or death! Dumbledore’s hiding the Philosopher’s Stone! Professor Quirrell is possessed by Voldemort, and he’s going to come after it! If he gets it, he can use the Elixir of Life to give himself a new body, and pick back up from where he left off.”

The room was silent for a moment as the Gryffindors allowed the thought to sink in.

“You’re lying! He’s dead!” Ronald shouted. His voice was laced with a nervous fear.

“No, I’m not!” Harry told him. “Why would I lie about something like this?”

“You’re a Slytherin. You’d lie about anything if it got you your way. How do we know you aren’t working for him, and you don’t want it just to deliver it right to him?”

“Not all Slytherins are evil!” Hermione reprimanded. “Stop using your generalizations, and use your head! Vo-Vol-” she tried to say the name, but she couldn’t. “You-Know-Who killed Harry’s parents, and I’m a muggle born. Why would either of us want to help him come back to power?”

“What about Malfoy?” George asked, saying the name as if it were a swear. “His father was one of his followers.”

“My father was imperiused!” Draco scoffed angrily. “He never wanted to be a part of any of it! He doesn’t want You-Know-Who back any more than the rest of us. And I certainly don’t!”

“Likely story!” Ronald scoffed.

“Ron!” Harry pled. “You have to trust us! Please! We’re trying to help! This is so much bigger than house rivalries. If Voldemort comes back, it could mean war!”

Ron hesitated, locking eyes with Harry. It was as if he was searching for something. Whatever it was, he must have found it because in the next moment he turned to face the queen.

In a steady breath, he shouted, “Knight to H3!”

“No!” the twins shouted in unison from the sidelines.

“Ron, jump off the horse!” George instructed as the White Queen came sliding toward him. “As soon as she swings her sword, jump!”

Ron followed his older brother’s directions. While the White Queen took her time sliding toward him in an agonizing build of anticipation, he switched his position in the marble saddle. Clutching onto the reins, he moved so that he was crouching rather than sitting, legs at the ready to kick off as soon as the queen was close enough.

She lifted her heavy sword above her head, light glinting off the shining finish. Then, with a powerful swing, straight from the shoulder, she crashed her blade into the knight. The moment of impact was an atomic explosion in the wide echoing room. Dust and crumbled bits of marble shrapnel went flying in every direction, leaving a thick cloud and the battered base of the chess piece all that remained in its wake.

Without wasting any time, Harry went straight to the King. “Checkmate!” he shouted, ending the game. The king removed his crown and tossed it to Harry’s feet. The remaining pieces on the board slid out of the way, leaving an open pathway for the students to move to the next task.

Instead of rushing to the door, Harry ran straight to where the last piece of the Knight was, checking to see if Ron was alright. The twins were already there, and Hermione and Draco were standing nearby.

Ron was okay, coughing on the dust that was still thick in the air. His left leg appeared to be broken and his brothers were lifting him up on each side.

“I was just barely fast enough not to get hit,” he joked. “Landing needed work, though.”

“Thank Merlin you’re alright!” Fred sighed in relief.

“Are you kidding?” George disagreed. “Mum’s going to kill us!”

“Why?” Fred asked, with false innocence. “It’s not our fault ickle Ronnie-kins fell down the stairs.”

“Yes,” George agreed, immediately catching on. “He should be more careful in the corridors.”

“Especially with those moving staircases.”

“Dangerous, they are.”

“A total hazard.”

“I think we should move on,” Draco interrupted.

“Alright, alright,” the twins crowed in unison.

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist,” Fred finished.

Carrying Ron on his good foot, they led the way to the door leading away from the chess set.

“So what is the next challenge, anyways?”

Chapter Text

The trio was only mildly surprised to learn that the troll came before the potions task. Though, it hardly mattered because they were prepared either way.

While the Gryffindors struggled to get any of their attacks to work on the troll, the Slytherins were already perfectly aware that a troll’s hide was much too thick for typical spells to be effective.

Just as they preplanned, the trio cast seize and pull charms in unison on the troll’s head, causing him to topple over. Next, they cast freezing spells to stick his legs together and his arms to his sides. Once the troll was unable to attack them or stand, they walked right up to his face—the only part of his body fully susceptible to magic—and cast stupefy.

When they stepped away from the incapacitated troll, the Gryffindors were standing off to the side, utterly gobsmacked.

“You three…” Fred started.

“Are utterly terrifying,” George continued.

“For a couple of firsties,” Fred finished.

“Bloody hell,” was all Ron had to say.

Draco was practically preening at the comment. Harry rolled his eyes and grabbed him by the sleeve, tugging him to the next door. A chuckling Hermione and a confused threesome of Gryffindors followed behind them.

Once they’d all made it into the next room, bright purple flames shot up from the threshold, blocking the doorway. Across the way, black flames covered the door leading out. They were trapped.

“Now what?” Ron groaned.

Along the wall of the narrow room was a long table. Spread among the table were 7 various sized and shaped bottles. Beside them was a small scroll. Hermione reached for it and read it aloud.

“Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind,

“Two of us will help you, which ever you would find,

“One among us seven will let you move ahead,

“Another will transport the drinker back instead,

“Two among our number hold only nettle wine,

“Three of us are killers, waiting bidden in line.

“Choose, unless you wish to stay here forevermore,

“To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:

“First, however slyly the poison tries to hide

“You will always find some on nettle wine's left side;

“Second, different are those who stand at either end,

“But if you would move onward, neither is your friend;

“Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,

“Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;

“Fourth, the second left and the second on the right

“Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.”

“What?” the twins asked in confusion. Hermione chuckled at them.

“It’s logic,” she explained. “Wizards are so accustomed to magic, that sometimes even the greatest wizards of all time haven’t got a drop of logic in them.”

“What’s that got to do with potions?” Ron asked.

“Nothing,” Harry replied. “It’s a puzzle.”

Hermione silently read through the scroll a few more times. She alternated between having her finger on her chin pensively, and pointing at the various bottles. Finally, she seemed to have figured it out.

“This one,” she lifted the smallest bottle, “will get us ahead. This one,” she lifted a round bottle, “will get us back out.”

“There’s only enough for one person.” Harry frowned as he swilled the tiny bottle around, gazing at its meager contents.

“Hold on,” Draco said. He took the bottle from Harry and popped the cork. He sniffed the cork, then lifted the bottle to swirl it around at eye level. He then licked the cork and grimaced at the taste. “I know what this is,” he stated. “And I know how to make more.”

He reached his arm out and Harry hurriedly passed him the satchel. He pulled out a cauldron, a burner, 2 cutting boards, a mortar and pestle, a scale, and 6 different bottles, one of which was a completely different potion altogether.

“It’s a powerful body cooling potion with a flame retardant mixed in,” he explained. “I’m going to need some help.”

Harry, Hermione, and one of the twins volunteered. Hermione measured out bits of sulfur, then ground them into a fine powder. The twin began dicing and chopping various roots and some kind of insect legs. Harry manned the burner, making sure the potion within the cauldron kept its temperature moving up and down rhythmically between 174 and 177 degrees Celsius. Whenever it reached 175.5, Harry notified Draco so that he could stir the potion once to the left.

Draco and Harry’s careful work was to separate the elements of the original potion--which was a weaker cooling potion—by playing with the temperature so certain ingredients would just begin to solidify. They needed to separate it enough that when they added the extra ingredients, they would be infused properly to add all the necessary elements to reach the final product.

They had to be very meticulous, because if they separated the elements too well, they wouldn’t be able to return it to its fully compounded form. Then the whole potion would be ruined.

Bit by bit, Draco stirred in the rest of the ingredients until he ended up with an oily black potion, identical to the one in the rounded bottle.

“I can’t believe you knew how to do that,” the twin who helped praised Draco. “You’re absolutely incredible.”

Draco turned red as a beat and beamed at the taller boy. “Thanks, George,” he breathed.

“How do you know he’s George?” Fred demanded. Draco just shrugged, not wanting reveal how carefully he watches the twins. George looked mildly impressed anyways.

“He’s alright, I guess,” Ron scoffed from the spot on the floor he’d found. “Still a Slytherin, though. Let’s hurry up and get on with this.”

Draco grabbed a ladle and decanted the potion into individual beakers. They wound up with more than enough. They didn’t even need to use the original bottle. One by one, everyone swallowed a mouthful then stepped through the black fire. Fred and Ron were last, having gone together because of Ron’s leg.

The potion didn’t taste particularly bad, but it filled the body with an icy feeling that was sudden enough to shock the drinker. A gasp or a frown was warranted as the chills shot up the spine.

The potion worked perfectly, and in no time at all the 6 students found themselves in a large, circular room with stairs leading down like an amphitheater. At the center of the room was a giant mirror, standing all by its lonesome.

“What is it?” Fred asked.

“Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi?” Harry read the engraving at the top of the mirror aloud. “Does anyone know what language that is?”

“I don’t know,” Hermione said, stepping toward the mirror. “I don’t know what this challenge is. We weren’t expecting there to be anything after Snape’s protections.”

“Snape?” Ron asked, offended by the name alone. “What’s that git got to do with any of this?”

“Who did you think set up the protections?” Draco asked in exasperation, as if the answer was obvious.

“I don’t know!”

“The teachers did,” Draco told him. Saying it slowly like Ron was an idiot. “As the Potions Master, of course Snape set up the protection with the potions.”

Ron rolled his eyes, muttering epithets under his breath as Fred sat him down on one of the steps so he could continue down the rest unhindered.

“‘I show not your face, but your heart’s desire,’” George recited.

“What?” Harry was confused.

“That’s what the mirror says,” George explained. “It’s backwards. The way it would look if you saw it in a mirror.”

Hermione finally reached the mirror and gasped when she saw her reflection. She whipped around to see the room behind her, but was confronted with 5 boys looking at her in shock.

“What is it, Hermione?” Harry asked frantically, rushing to her side. “What did you see?”

When Harry reached the mirror, he too gasped in shock. He did a double take around the room, just like Hermione did, then turned back to stare at the mirror in disbelief.

“You see it too?” Hermione asked breathily.

“Yeah,” Harry nodded. Staring back at him was not just his own reflection, but that of his parents. Beside them were the Blacks. Sirius—looking happier than Harry could have imagined—ruffled his hair playfully, while Uncle Arty and Aunt Wally looked on proudly. On the Potters’ other side, the Malfoys stood watching fondly, Draco included.

“But how?” Harry questioned in disbelief. “How are my parents there? They’re dead.”

“What?” Hermione snapped her head to Harry. “I don’t see your parents.”

“They’re right there,” Harry pointed. “Between the Malfoys and the Blacks.”

“I don’t see any of them.”

George approached the mirror behind them with a sharp intake of breath. He blinked his eyes in shock at what he saw. “‘I show not your face, but your heart’s desire,’” he repeated. “You wouldn’t be seeing the same thing then, would you?” he explained. “Everyone’s heart has a different desire.”

Harry took a deep breath in understanding. Of course he would be seeing his parents. He wanted nothing more than to have a family. The Blacks and the Malfoys were there too because they were already like family.

It was incredible. Harry gazed into the mirror longingly. As he did, his mother reached a hand down to firmly grasp his shoulder. He lifted his own hand to meet hers, but when he reached his shoulder, there was nothing there. How he wished that he could feel her fingers.

Reflection Draco brushed past Harry’s parents with a careless familiarity and wrapped his arm around Harry’s shoulders almost possessively. He pulled their bodies close and they giggled at each other, while the adults looked down at them, expressing various forms of fond exasperation.

A brown, bushy head of hair peaked out from behind Sirius, and the smile on real Harry’s face lit up as reflection Hermione revealed herself and joined the boys in a group hug.

It was everyone that was important to Harry, together as a happy family in a way that could never happen in reality. Harry almost didn’t dare look away.

“What’s any of this got to do with the Philosopher’s Stone?” Ron shouted, catching everyone’s attention.

It almost physically hurt for Harry to turn his eyes away and look at the Gryffindor boy who’d been left behind. George was still looking into the mirror, but Hermione had turned away as well.

“It doesn’t,” she mused aloud. “Unless…” she trailed off pensively and stepped away from the mirror. “The key to getting the Stone must be inside the mirror somehow. The only way to get it would be for it to be your true desire.”

With that thought in his mind, Harry looked back at the mirror. He knew that he would never have the family that had looked back at him, but he knew he could have the Stone. He absolutely needed it. If Voldemort got his hands on it, the world would be slipped into chaos. Harry would not allow that to happen. Even more than he wanted to have that family behind his back, he needed to have the Stone. Otherwise, the world as he knew it was over.

The people standing behind reflection Harry warped and blurred, fading out of existence. Instead, only Harry looked back at himself. At first, Harry thought perhaps the mirror had stopped working for a moment. But then, reflection Harry winked at him.

He watched as the boy in the mirror reached into his inner pocket, and removed a sparkling red gem, about the size of his palm. He lifted it up, showed it to real Harry, then returned it to his robes. When he did, real Harry felt a sudden weight against his chest. His eyes widened in shock and he gasped aloud. Reflection Harry winked at him again, then warped and blurred like the previous reflection.

Harry didn’t wait around to see what appeared next. He stepped away from the mirror and went to join Hermione. She was standing a few feet off, outside the line of sight of the mirror. Draco was beside her, looking torn between going to see his own reflection and staying where he was.

Harry reached into his inner robes pocket and pulled out the same red gem from his reflection. He showed it to his friends, still somewhat in awe of the fact that he had it.

“You’ve got it!” Draco gasped, voice echoing in the large open room. He reached a finger out to touch it and it gave him chills. “I can feel the magic radiating from it. It’s so powerful.”

A few yards away, Fred was standing, arms crossed, facing away from the mirror. He had an annoyed expression on his face, like he didn’t want to see his heart’s desire. Harry couldn’t fathom why not. But it was almost as if the older boy were afraid of what he might see. Or was afraid that like George, he’d have a difficult time looking away.

When Draco shouted, Fred whipped his head to the Slytherins, then stalked over to see.

“Bloody hell,” the red haired boy breathed. After a moment of silent contemplation, he smirked then snatched the Stone from Harry’s open palm. “George!” he shouted over his shoulder. “We’re rich! Imagine all the gold we’ll have with this thing! We’ll be millionaires. No, billionaires!”

“Absolutely not!” Harry contradicted. He reached to take the Stone back, but Fred danced away from him. He raised his arm above his head, and far out of short Harry’s reach. The twins were tall for their age, and Harry was short for his. Even jumping, he wouldn’t have gotten it back.

“Give that back!” Harry demanded. “We need to destroy it! If Voldemort gets his hands on it, we’re doomed!”

Fred flinched at the name, but dashed up the stairs with a smile on his face. George was right behind him, but walking casually. “Don’t worry!” Fred called. “We’ll keep it away from You-Know-Who!”

Harry, Draco, and Hermione went chasing after him. “Are you mad?” Draco yelled. “He was very nearly able to steal it from Gringott’s. How do you intend to protect it from him?”

“I have my ways!” Fred shouted cryptically before sprinting into the room with the potions. The black fire was gone, so he had no trouble getting through. He quickly grabbed the bottle Hermione pointed out to get them through the purple fire and poured some into his mouth. He slammed the bottle down and continued running so fast that he’d barely swallowed the liquid before he made it through the flames.

The Slytherins stormed after him as quickly as they could, but he was too fast for them. Harry whipped out his wand and shouted a disarming spell at him as they passed the still unconscious troll, but Fred had just barely dodged it.

He made it into the chess room and that’s when the trio began really attacking him. They sent spell after spell. Expelliarmus. Leg locker curse. Jelly legs jinx. Petrificus Totalus. Anything they could think of to stop him. But Fred was too smart for his own good. He either expertly dodged it, or was able to counter or block each one with a shield.

He made it to the room with the keys and the trio knew they were doomed. Without even needing to slow down, he grabbed one of the broomsticks, mounted it, and zipped off through the air even faster than before.

Out of breath, the Slytherins slowed to a stop. It was futile now. He’d gotten away. Even with one of the other brooms, he was so far ahead of them to begin with that they’d still never catch up to him.

“Bloody buggering fuck!” Hermione shouted. “What do we do now?”

“We could tell Dumbledore!” Harry suggested between puffs of breath. “Get them expelled. I’m sure the old bat would be able to get it off him.”

“No,” Draco disagreed, panting. “Cause then we’d have to explain how we knew he had it, and we’d get expelled too.”

“If Quirrell doesn’t know they have it,” Hermione reasoned, “then he’ll have no reason to go after him. If we can figure out a way to get it off him discreetly…”

“How would we do that?” Draco snapped. “The End of Term Feast is tomorrow! Then we’re all going home!”

“We’ll have to sneak into the dorms,” Harry suggested. “We have to do something! He won’t be able to keep it safe for long. Dammit!” Harry smacked his hand on the wall, cursing himself. “I had it! And he snatched it right out of my hand! I’m such an idiot!”

“This isn’t your fault!” Hermione defended him. “We did everything right! This is on Fred and George!”

“Hold on,” a voice called from down the long stone hallway. “I didn’t have anything to do with this. We aren’t the same person, you know.”

George came walking toward them with Ron’s arm slung over his shoulders.

“George!” Draco huffed. “You’ve got to stop your brother! You’ve got to get the Stone back. If Quirrell gets it-”

“I know, I know,” George agreed. “I can get it back. I can’t guarantee he won’t use it first. But I’ll get it back.”

“I don’t care if he uses it!” Harry retorted. “As long as it gets destroyed before Voldemort does!”

An hour later, the trio found themselves sitting on Draco’s bed in the Slytherin dorms, with drawn curtains and under a silencing charm. Ron was tucked away safely in the hospital wing, and George was—hopefully—talking his brother into reason.

“Do you think we can trust him to get the Stone back?” Harry asked.

“Absolutely not!” Hermione scowled. “I don’t trust those idiots with anything!”

“We have to give him a chance,” Draco said.

“We don’t exactly have a choice, at this point,” Harry stated.

“We’ll have to watch Quirrell and the twins very carefully tomorrow,” Hermione instructed. “We can’t let Quirrell catch on to anything, and we can’t let Fred get away.”

Keeping an eye on the twins was a lot easier said than done. After somehow managing a few hours’ sleep after the night’s adventures, the trio rose early for breakfast in the Great Hall. As expected, Dumbledore was nowhere in sight. Hopefully, he was busy getting sacked.

Quirrell showed up a little while later. He wasn’t acting like anything was different, so they were in the clear on that front. For now, at least.

After waiting, and carefully watching every person who came through the door, breakfast had come and gone, but there was no sign of the twins.

“They must be hiding out on purpose,” Hermione deduced.

“At least, if we can’t find them, neither can Quirrell.” Draco tried clinging on to the sole piece of positivity from the whole situation.

The day dragged on sluggishly. While the rest of the school was enjoying their free time and frolicking in the sun, the trio was bogged down with anxiety about what was to come next.

Suspiciously, Harry’s scar hadn’t been hurting too badly. The pain hadn’t totally gone away, but it was a much more tolerable buzz. Unlike during testing when it was nearly unbearable. The trio wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad sign.

Dumbledore didn’t finally show up until the feast began.

The day had been so uneventful that Harry, Hermione, and Draco were able to relax a little and enjoy the food. They even joined in with the other Slytherins’ excitement at having won the House Cup.

As the night wore on, and the feast was coming to an end, Dumbledore stood up and called the room to silence.

“Good evening students and staff,” he called. “We’ve reached the end of another successful school year. The end of an era, in its own way. Before we send you off to enjoy your holidays, I feel it is my duty to inform you of a few upcoming changes.”

Hermione’s eyes widened in anticipation, hoping that this little speech was leading to where she thought it was.

“As usual, there will be a change in students as the new first years join us, and we say goodbye to our graduating class.” At this, a few of the 7th years cheered and whistled. “Also, there will be a change in staff. Our dear Professor Quirrell has resigned from his position as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and will no longer be joining us. I do ask that we all thank him for his year of hard work, and wish him luck in the future with a round of applause.”

There was a smattering of unenthusiastic clapping from around the room, and an unnecessarily loud cough from the Gryffindor table.

“With a heavy heart,” Dumbledore continued, “I would also like to inform you, that I shall be retiring.”

The whole room filled with gasps of shock and scattered, frantic whispering. Hermione could barely mask her peals of smug laughter beneath the sound.

The majority of the Slytherin table seemed a lot less worried than their peers. The news was quite shocking, but not exactly unwanted. Many of the families that were traditionally sorted Slytherin were a bit at odds with the Headmaster. Former Headmaster. Many of the students distrusted the man and outright disliked him. Those students, and especially their families, would be happy to see him go.

Dumbledore raised his hands for silence, then continued.

“I have been Headmaster here for 36 years, and a Professor for much longer. I have seen many students walk through these doors, and I am proud of nearly each and every one of them. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to touch the lives of so many and to help shape generations of witches and wizards. But now, it is my time to leave.

“Professor McGonagall will take my place as the new Headmistress, and Professor Flitwick has been promoted to Deputy Headmaster. May you please give them a round of applause to wish them good luck with their future posts.”

The clapping for Professors McGonagall and Flitwick were much more enthusiastic than for Quirrell. The Ravenclaw table in particular seemed to rejoice in the news. The applause calmed to silence and Dumbledore spoke again.

“I can only hope that the remaining staff and students can continue to spread my message through my firm belief that love is the most powerful magic. So with these final words as Headmaster, I ask you all to love each other. Be kind to one another.

“Thank you, and I love you all.”

With that, Dumbledore returned to his seat. As soon as he sat down, the room burst into thunderous applause, louder than ever. Within seconds, most of the school was standing on their feet, clapping and whooping in reverence to the old man.

It was all a little too much for Harry. The noise made his headache powerful enough to blur his vision. He carefully stood up, hands clamped over his ears and pushed his way through the crowd and to the exit.

When he got to the hall, the sound receded exponentially, but it did nothing to change the way his head felt. He could hear his heartbeat in his ears and felt it pounding on the inside of his skull.

He continued down the hall, stumbling his way back to the Slytherin dorms. Maybe he should go see Madam Pomfrey instead.

Before he could make the decision, he felt a hand grasp his upper arm roughly and drag him into the nearest empty classroom. He heard the door slam behind him, then he was thrust into a wall, the back of his head cracking against the brick. A heavy hand pinned him to the spot.

“Where is it?” a powerful voice screamed.

“What?” Harry asked weakly. His vision was spinning and he could barely see.

“Where is it?” the voice repeated. “Where is the Philosopher’s Stone?”

Harry blinked his eyes repeatedly, urging them to focus. As he began to register the room around him, he saw an angry face beneath a purple turban.

“Quirrell?” he asked, brain finally catching up with him.

“I know you have the Stone, boy!” Quirrell hissed, spittle flying from his mouth and pelting Harry in the face. “Where is it? What have you done with it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Harry began wriggling, trying to pull out of the man’s grip, but to no avail.

“Do not play games with me!” With surprising strength, Quirrell jerked Harry away from the wall and threw him across the room where he landed in a crumpled heap. He began stalking toward the boy slowly. “I know you’ve been watching me,” he growled. “I don’t know how you worked out what I was up to. I don’t know how you got the stone. But I know it was you. I know you have it.”

“I don’t have anything!” Harry insisted, scrambling to sit up. “You’re bloody mad!”

“Is that how it’s going to be?” Quirrell roared as he finally approached the boy. “If you won’t tell me, then I’ll have to beat it out of you!”

Harry tried to scoot away, but Quirrell was too fast for him. He reached down to grab Harry’s ankle, but as his fingers wrapped around the bare skin, his hand made a hissing noise and smoke began to escape from it.

Quirrell screamed in pain, snatching his hand away and looking at it incredulously. It was burned.

Harry looked on in bewilderment, wondering how the hell he’d done that.

Quirrell recovered from his shock faster than Harry did, so he surged forward and grabbed him by the neck. Quirrell’s fingers began to burn again, so he quickly adjusted his grip so that he was choking Harry through the fabric of his robe.

Harry was panicking. He couldn’t breathe. The pressure from the man’s grip was too powerful. He struggled to pull from his grip, but he wasn’t strong enough. Harry could feel pressure building up in his skull and he could tell his face would soon be turning purple. He was starting to see spots before his eyes and he just knew he was going to die.

He couldn’t die! He didn’t want to die!

Suddenly, he was struck with an idea. He reached his hand into Quirrell’s sleeve and grabbed his bare skin as tight as he could.

Quirrell screamed in pain at the contact and his grip loosened a little. Harry reached his other hand to put on the man’s face, and Quirrell was in agony. He jerked his hands from Harry’s neck, but Harry held on. He burned his face and his arm until he could feel the skin beneath his fingers turning to ash and crumbling.

As Quirrell struggled to push Harry away while half his face was missing, there was another high pitched keening. It sounded like someone else was screaming too. But who could it have been? Suddenly, a cloud of dark smoke rose from beneath Quirrell’s turban. There appeared to be a face within it. The face had an open mouth, contorted with anguish as it fled Quirrell’s body.

That had been the source of the second screaming.

The smoke rose up to the roof, where it circled the classroom, then escaped from a window. Once it made it outside, it appeared to dissolve into thin air. Or perhaps Harry just couldn’t see it anymore.

Quirrell stopped struggling when the cloud left his body. Harry let him go and he collapsed to the ground. On the moment of impact, his entire body turned to ash, leaving just his clothes behind.

His professor was gone. Dead. Harry had killed him! He looked back and forth between his hands and the remains of his professor, horrified at what he’d done.

A moment later, he was startled by a bang on the door. There was a brief pause, then another bang. There was a longer pause, about 5 seconds long, then the door exploded open, flying off its hinges. Professor Snape burst into the room through the cloud of splinters and sawdust, frantic with worry.

He slowed as he spotted Harry in the middle of the room, hands still suspended before his face and mouth open in shock. Then he came to a complete stop when he spotted the dusty mess of ash and purple robes that used to be Professor Quirrell.

“What happened in here?” Snape demanded.

“It was Quirrell,” Harry tried to explain. His voice was hoarse and broken from having been strangled, and he was still having difficulty breathing. “He attacked me! My hands… they…” he couldn’t bring himself to say it.

“Come on,” Snape approached him and grabbed him firmly, but not roughly by the upper arm. “Let’s get you to Madam Pomfrey.”

Snape left Harry alone for a while as the nurse fussed over him. She gave him a potion that would heal the damage to his throat, and another to curb any long lasting or delayed effects of strangulation. Finally, she covered his neck in a salve that would remove the nasty, hand-shaped bruises.

By the time Snape returned, Pomfrey was just finishing wiping the salve off and was returning to her office to put it away. Behind Snape trailed Professor McGonagall and Dumbledore.

Harry was not happy to see the former headmaster. He’d been hoping that he could avoid meeting the elderly man at all. Especially since he was now “retired.” But it would appear that Harry’s luck had run out.

“Alright,” Snape addressed Harry when he reached his bedside. “Explain.”

Harry glanced around at his audience as he debated whether to tell the truth or not. He decided that he would not lie.

“It started at the end of the feast,” he began. “My scar was starting to hurt really bad, and the sound of the applause was making it worse, so when everyone stood up at the end, I couldn’t take it anymore and I left.” He didn’t want to acknowledge that Dumbledore received a standing ovation.

“While I was walking down the corridor, Professor Quirrell dragged me into a classroom and he demanded I tell him where the Philosopher’s Stone was. I told him I didn’t have it. I said I didn’t know what he was talking about, but he insisted I give it to him.

“He started choking me, but when he touched me, it burned his skin. When he noticed, he switched his hands so they were on my robes instead. I panicked. I didn’t know what to do.

“I don’t know why my hands burned him, but they did. So all I could think of to get him off me was to burn him more. So I put a hand on his arm and the other on his face, and I kept them there until this weird cloud of smoke rose out of his body. It had a face in it, and it just flew out of the room. When the smoke left, Quirrell just collapsed into ash.”

After a moment of silent contemplation, Harry added, “I think that smoke cloud was Voldemort.” There was no flinching at the name. “I think he’s been possessing Professor Quirrell all year.”

Professor Snape snorted and turned to Dumbledore with a look in his eye that said, clear as day, “I told you so.”

“I think you may be right,” Professor McGonagall admitted.

“Harry,” Dumbledore asked. “Do you know why Professor Quirrell was so sure that you had the Philosopher’s Stone?”

“He said he knew I was watching him,” Harry explained. He looked at Professor Snape when he said the words, not wanting to even meet the former headmaster’s eye. “He said he didn’t know how I figured it out, but that he knew I had it.”

“And do you, Harry?” Dumbledore asked. “Do you have the Philosopher’s Stone?”

“No,” Harry admitted.

“Do you know where it is?”

“I haven’t the slightest clue.”

Harry could see the old man nodding in his peripheral vision.

“Am I in trouble?” Harry asked meekly, voice low and eyes dropping to his lap. “Will I be sent to Azkaban?”

“What on earth for?” Professor McGonagall asked.

“For…” Harry had to force himself to say it. “For killing professor Quirrell.”

“Harry,” she put a hand on his shoulder comfortingly. “Absolutely not. What you did was self-defense. You won’t get sent to Azkaban for protecting yourself. Besides, you didn’t kill Quirinus. Voldemort did.”

“How?”

“The only reason his body reacted so badly to your touch was because of the bit of Voldemort that was inside of him. As soon as he accepted that piece into himself, he was doomed to a grisly death.”

“Why did my touch burn him, though? I don’t understand. Does it have to do with the night my parents died?”

“No one truly knows what happened that night, Harry,” McGonagall explained. “But, there are theories. The most likely of which, is that your mother sacrificed herself to save you. It was an act of pure, unadulterated love. What Albus said earlier tonight was right. Love is a source of powerful magic.

“When your mother made that sacrifice, she protected you with an ancient magic. That protection is what kept you from perishing that night. I believe it is also what protected you from Quirinus today.”

“So,” the tiniest smile began to spread on Harry’s face. “My mother saved me?”

“In a way, yes,” McGonagall agreed. “I suppose, she did.”

The thought of his mother saving him made Harry feel warm and loved inside. He kept his smile until Professor McGonagall’s previous words made him think of something Hermione said.

“Professor,” he asked. “So, Voldemort was able to possess Quirrell with a piece of his soul, right?”

“It appears so, unfortunately.”

“Is it possible… that there’s a piece of his soul in me? Could that be why my scar was hurting when he’s around?”

Mcgonagall glanced at Dumbledore—who minutely shook his head no—then continued on, anyways. “I hate to think so,” she frowned, “but it is a distinct possibility.”

“That is why,” Dumbledore interrupted, “the protection your mother placed upon you is so important. As a sacrifice, it is blood magic. Meaning, the only way to maintain it is through direct interaction with your mother’s blood.”

Harry frowned as he realized what Dumbledore was getting to.

“Therefore,” Dumbledore continued, “you will be going back to Surrey this summer, with the Dursley’s.”

With that statement, every ounce of anger Harry felt toward the man rushed forward. He launched off the hospital bed, getting as close to Dumbledore as possible without touching him, and locked eyes with him. He gave the man the most vicious glare he could muster as he shouted the words:

“I WILL NOT!”

There was no way that under any circumstances Harry would be going back to Privet Drive. He didn’t care about any blood protections. He didn’t care if Voldemort himself tried to drag him back there, he wasn’t going!

“Harry,” Dumbledore tried to plead, “it is the safest place for you. You will be returning there.”

“Says who?” Harry snapped

“Harry,” McGonagall scolded. “Show some respect.” Harry ignored her.

“You don’t get to tell me where to go!” he yelled. “You’re just a headmaster! You don’t get to decide where to send me! You aren’t even related to me! You have no say in it at all! You never did! You shouldn’t have sent me to live with those awful people in the first place!”

“Harry,” Dumbledore tried to reason with the boy. “With the Dursleys was the best place to put you to protect you from Voldemort and his followers.”

“Yeah?” Harry scoffed. “Well, who was supposed to protect me from them?” Dumbledore had no response to that. “They are horrid people! They treated me worse than any house-elf! They locked me in a cupboard for ten years!

‘Mr. H. Potter, Number 4, Privet Drive, the Cupboard Under the Stairs.’ That’s where my Hogwarts letter was addressed to. You knew how they were treating me! You knew! But, you left me there! And you want to send me back? I will never go back there!”

“Harry!” Dumbledore finally appeared to lose his patience, raising his voice as he spoke over the shouting child. “I know you don’t like it there. I know your Aunt and Uncle are harsh with you. But it is the only way to maintain the protections on you. Without it, you will be vulnerable to attack by Death Eaters and Voldemort himself. You will go back.”

“You don’t have the authority to make that decision! Headmasters don’t control what students do when the school year is over. And you’re not even the headmaster anymore!

“I am a ward of the House of Black! I’m their responsibility, and they’re the ones who get to decide. Not you!”

With those final words, Harry stormed out of the hospital wing. He sprinted across the castle as fast as he could until he reached the Slytherin common room. He tore through the room and went straight for the dorms and into his bed, collapsing on the mattress as he tried to catch his breath.

He lay there, lungs on fire, panting for what seemed to be an eternity.

He was so angry! He couldn’t believe the audacity of the old man. Harry’s chest continued heaving up and down, but no longer struggling to breathe. He reached a hand up to his face and came away with wet fingers.

Wet?

He was crying?

He was crying. Why? It didn’t make any sense. He was absolutely livid, not sad. Why was he crying?

The very idea of Dumbledore sending him back to Surrey was ludicrous and infuriating. He didn’t get to do that!

But what if he did?

What if Dumbledore somehow was able to take him away from the Blacks, like he did before? What if he got away with sending him to the Dursleys like last time?

He would have to give up magic all summer long. They would belittle him, and hurt him. Dress him in rags and Dudley’s oversized hand me downs. They’d turn him back into a slave. He’d lose his dignity as a human being. All over again.

That would be the worst thing possible. Harry couldn’t let that happen. Harry would rather die a thousand deaths at the hands of Voldemort than have to return to that hellhole.

Suddenly, Harry’s panting picked up and he couldn’t breathe again. He huffed and he gasped as hard as he could, but the air just wouldn’t fill his lungs. It was like Quirrell’s hands were wrapped around his throat again.

He wheezed and croaked as he tried to force the air through but nothing would happen. His heart was thundering in his chest and he could feel a pressure building in his head. Oh no!

Oh, Merlin, he was going to suffocate! He was going to die! For real this time! There was no visible threat to him. No one to fight or push off. He was just going to choke and choke until his lungs burst and his heart stopped.

“Harry!” he heard a voice call his name distantly.

“Harry!” he heard it again, but different this time.

Without warning, there were two sets of hands on him. Frightened, he looked over to see that it was Hermione and Draco. He sighed in relief that they were there to save him, and he could feel the air come through this time.

“Come on,” Hermione beckoned, climbing onto the bed beside him and wrapping an arm around his shoulder. She helped him to sit upright and she used her other hand to stroke up and down his arm in a soothing motion. “It’s alright! You’re going to be okay.”

Draco climbed up on his other side, wrapping his arm around Harry’s back, beneath Hermione’s. “You’re okay, Harry!” Draco promised. “Just breathe!”

Harry followed Draco’s orders, and another burst of air filled his lungs.

“Good job,” Hermione praised, hugging him close. “Keep doing that. Deep breaths.”

“In and out,” Draco instructed.

Harry listened to his friends, inhaling and exhaling on cue. Breath by breath, it became easier for the oxygen to reach his lungs until finally he didn’t have to struggle to get the air through.

Head cleared and breathing back to normal, Harry couldn’t help but feel embarrassed about his freak out.

“Sorry,” he said. “I don’t know what that was.”

“It was a panic attack,” Hermione explained. “I have a cousin who used to get them all the time. They always seemed scary.”

“It was scary,” Harry agreed.

“What happened?” Draco asked. “I mean, what happened to cause all this? What happened after you left the Great Hall?”

Harry took a deep breath and recounted his tale for his friends. By the end, they were all livid with Dumbledore and expressing their gratitude that they managed to get rid of him. Now, Hermione was just waiting to see if she needed to step in for him to get kicked off the Wizengamot.

They fell asleep cuddled together in Harry’s bed again, Harry smashed in the middle. He never felt safer.

There was no sign of the twins the next morning, so the trio decided to corner them on the train. They wouldn’t be able to escape there. But it appeared the twins were smarter than the trio gave them credit for, because they were hiding out with their elder brother in the Prefects carriage. The trio didn’t have any connections to be smuggled on.

After a long ride to King’s Cross station, Draco, Harry, and Hermione scoured the crowd in an attempt to find the redheaded brothers. At the very least, they ought to be able to spot their family. It was hard to miss the gaggle of ginger hair.

Finally, Harry spotted one of the twins standing next to Lee Jordan. “Where is it, Fred?” Harry shouted, grabbing him by the shoulder and forcing him to turn around.

“Yeah, Fred,” Lee repeated, smirking. “Where is it?”

Draco rolled his eyes. “That’s George,” he sighed.

“Where’s your brother?” Hermione asked impatiently.

“Hiding.”

“You said you would talk to him!” Harry huffed.

“Yes,” George agreed. “I never said I would get through to him in a night.”

Lee narrowed his eyebrows in confusion. “What are these brats talking about?” he asked.

“So what?” Draco asked, ignoring him. “Are we supposed to wait the whole summer? Anything can happen between then and now!”

George arched a brow at them. “I told you I would get it. Unlike you Slytherins, I’m a man of my word. Now, shove off.”

“You know who’s after it,” Harry warned darkly. “The longer you have it, the more danger you’re in. If anything happens, it’s going to be your fault!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Lee scoffed, not taking the trio seriously. It was a testament to George’s honesty that his best friend didn’t even know what they were talking about. “Go home now, you little snakes.” He waved them away impatiently, then turned George back the direction they were facing to continue whatever discussion they were having.

Sighing in temporary defeat, the trio went back to scouring the crowd for Fred. They had no luck and eventually had to give up, or risk being left behind.

Harry and Draco each hugged Hermione tightly goodbye, and they promised she’d be over during the summer to visit. She couldn’t wait to finally meet Sirius Black in the flesh. Draco met his mother soon after and they both waved goodbye to Harry, knowing they’d be seeing him in the next few days. Then, Harry was the only one left.

Remembering Dumbledore’s words, he took a deep breath, and stepped through the barrier.

When he stepped through into the muggle part of the train station, the first thing he saw was Uncle Vernon’s disgruntled red face looking nothing less than desperate to get out of there. Harry caught his Uncle’s eye and fear swooped in his belly as the man glared at him, gesturing for him to hurry up.

Harry flinched when a hand reached out to touch his shoulder. He looked to see who it was and was flooded with relief when he met the silver eyes of Sirius Black.

“C’mon kid,” he said with a barely there smile. “Let’s go home.”