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Another Chance

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It is with a gasping, clawing, burning that Harry Potter wakes, panicked and confused and terribly tired. He wakes to darkness, disoriented from the abrupt departure from pure white. White floor, white tracks, white benches, white beard on a man made of Light magic, given way to a darkness that brings with it sensations that are so familiar they are practically branded into the grey matter of his brain. The hard springs under his rear, the scratchy blanket twisted in his grasping fingers, the smell of dust and lemon scented floor cleaner not quite managing to drown the more concerning scents of sweat and old blood and the ozone of his magic as it reacts to his fear.


After long minutes (hours?) of trying to steady his breathing, Harry untangles his fingers from the blanket that’s over his legs and reaches a trembling hand straight up, grabbing hold of a string that he knew would be there even as he prays that he’s wrong. A sharp tug and the light bulb above his head flickers weakly on, casting the confines of the cupboard (because yes, he’s in his childhood prison) in a dim light that highlights just how miserable the space truly is. After affirming his suspicions, Harry tugs again, deciding that darkness is far preferable for one to panic into. And panic he does.


This had to be hell, right? He was dead after all, or at least he should be. Harry had gone into the Forbidden Forest, intentionally stood in front of Voldemort’s wand and embraced a Killing Curse right to the heart. Even now his chest feels bruised, and with wide eyes Harry yanks off his shirt and stares at his chest, unintentionally casting a wandless Lumos in his haste. There, right over his heart, is another fucking lightning bolt. As of now it’s a jagged slash, not bleeding but looking as though it only just stopped doing so, and it rests in the center of a watercolor mess of purple and blue bruises that cover nearly his entire chest.


Once Harry has managed to process this (while also trying not to pass out from his rapid, shallow breathing) he notices another curious sight. His bare chest is not quite what he remembers it to be, thin but toned from years of Quidditch and months of dueling with Ron and Hermione in and around their tent. His chest right now is that of a child, a thin, short, malnourished child, pale from years locked in the dark. He pulls the shirt back over his head and stares at his hands, scarred from years of cooking and gardening much too young, but not nearly as scarred as they should be. And tiny. These are not the hands of a man, not that Harry ever really felt like one honestly, but regardless, he ought to look like one.


He abandons his scrutiny and uses those (tiny, so small) hands to grab at his hair, tipping forward to press his forehead against his drawn-up knobbly knees. He screws his eyes shut and tries desperately to assess, to breathe. As the nausea fades, as his hands slowly release the tight hold on his messy locks, Harry decides his first course of action should be to leave the cupboard, assuming he can. He needs to find out if this is real, or if he is in some sort of hellish afterlife. He reaches over to the door and tries the handle, huffing in frustration as it seems to be locked from the outside, which is nothing new. He’s just about to try a wandless Alohamora, something he perfected on the run while his wand was broken, but he freezes with his hand an inch from the handle when he hears a door open upstairs.

Harry’s breathing comes quick and shallow once more, heart thudding like he’s prey before a predator. Footsteps overhead, and then a soft thump, thump, thump, Harry’s eyes following the sound down the underside of the stairs, watching as a spider scuttles away from the final step as the person reaches the main floor. The steps come down the hall and stop right outside the door. And though he half expects it, Harry nearly goes into cardiac arrest when a sharp knock rattles the cupboard door.

“Up, boy! Breakfast won’t cook itself, and you mind the bacon well. Vernon is still furious about that stunt of yours at the zoo and he won’t be forgiving.”

It’s Aunt Petunia. The lock rattles as she, presumably, unlocks the padlock, and Harry hears her move off once she’s done, likely to start the coffee if his memory proves true. His eyes are wide and it takes long enough for him to gather his wits that eventually Petunia comes back, opens the cupboard door and yanks Harry out by the hair. He’s so shocked that he simply lets her when she snatches his glasses off the shelf above his bed, puts them into his hand and shoves him in the direction of the kitchen. Harry has always done his best work under pressure (though this is the strangest thing to ever happen to him, which is saying a lot) and so he puts on his glasses, which are held together with tape in a way they haven’t been for years, and goes about the once-familiar routine of making the Dursley’s their typical breakfast, enough food to feed the entire Weasley clan just for the three Dursley’s. Not Harry though. Never Harry.

Luckily for him, cooking is something he can do on auto-pilot. He zones out as he fries up bacon and eggs, trying hard to hold onto his magic as his fear threatens to undo him. So far he cannot disprove this being hell, but he remembers his accidental Lumos from earlier and he can actively feel his magic writhing under his skin in reaction to his emotional state. A true hell would lack magic, he thinks. Magic has always been something of a salvation to him.

Despite his distraction, Harry manages to get the breakfast cooked and onto the table in no time. He isn’t actually a child after all, and cooking is something he’s managed to become excellent at over the years. Aunt Petunia eyes the perfect bacon with some suspicion, but as she doesn’t have anything to criticize she sends him back to his cupboard with nothing more than a sniff of disdain.

He goes without argument. He needs time and space to bloody think. A plan, perhaps. To...to do what? Harry sits in his cupboard once more, in the dark. Making plans was never one of his strengths. Usually he just goes right into things and, as previously stated, does his best work on the fly. That isn’t to say he’s not clever, he rather is honestly. But there’s quite a difference between his quick processing in a tight spot and strategy. Harry is a fighter and a survivor, all fast strikes and venom and reflexes, a warrior more than anything else. He always left strategy to Ron and planning to Hermione. His heart aches fiercely at the thought, desperately wishing they were there with him.

That thought tastes a lot like deja vu. He thinks that a similar thought had been the last one he’d had in the whiteness of the King’s Cross Limbo. Dumbledore had laid out his options, to either move on or go back to the fight. Harry had detested both ideas. What he wanted, wished for so much that it had felt a lot like yearning, was to go back to a simpler time. A time when it was just Harry and Ron and Hermione, sitting in front of the common room fire. Hermione lecturing him about leaving his Potions essay too late while Ron made hilarious faces at Harry behind her back, only for Hermione to spin around and catch Ron with two Bertie Bots Beans in his nose and a stricken look on his face at being caught. And Harry would laugh at his misfortune, which would cause Ron to snort, thus shooting the beans out of his nose, which would crack Hermione’s stern mask and she would join them in their unrestrained laughter.

Such moments were long gone from his grasp, even before he’d gone into the Forest. The war had aged them far too early, and he knew that, even if he turned out to actually be a child once more (plausible but unlikely), he would never be able to return to those carefree times. He wasn’t the same boy he had been then, eyes full of delight and hope as he’d walked through Hogwarts stone corridors.

Harry spent that entire day trying to make a plan. He was set to tending the garden for most of the day, which was perfect because it gave him the time he needed to work out a vague idea of what he needed to do, including escape from the Dursley’s and a trip to Gringott’s, though there wasn’t much else to be decided yet. Maybe he could coax Tom to let him rent a room at the Leaky Cauldron? He certainly didn’t want to stay here. Uncle Vernon had been at work today and so hadn’t been able to find fault with Harry, but he would eventually. And he favored his belt to ease his frustration. Harry wasn’t actually a helpless child anymore but he wasn’t sure how much of his magic returned here with him. Was it the magic of a child, or his adult magic? There was a large difference and he wanted to test that on his own sans the threat of bodily harm, though his few bits of wandless magic thus far had been promising.

Every single half-formed plan he’d made crumbles to dust that night.

Harry was sitting miserably on his cot sometime in the middle of the night, mulishly poking at the new bruising around his right eye. Uncle Vernon had come home in a particularly foul mood and had spent dinner insulting everything about Harry as a person. When Harry didn’t react other than to blandly ask his Uncle if he’d like a refill of his brandy, Vernon had steadily got more and more furious until he’d snapped, lashing out a quick fist to Harry’s face and then sending him to his cupboard. In pain and mortified that he was once more allowing himself to be pummeled by his piece-of-shit family, Harry had gone without argument, sorely tempted to test his magic on his relatives despite his previous resolve. He tried to look on the bright side. First; the earlier theatrics had made the Dursley’s forget to lock him into the cupboard, which was a relief to Harry as he didn’t fancy the trapped feeling of that potential situation even if he knew, logically, he wasn’t in danger at this particular point in time. Second; his uncle had had to grab him and spin him around earlier to hit him. As such, his glasses had slipped off before his eye had met Vernon’s pudgy fist, thus saving his glasses from shattering and potentially blinding him.

Harry was jolted from his pouting and frankly alarming revenge fantasies by the sound of the deadbolt on the front door giving a foreboding thunk. His immediate impulse was to leap out and confront whatever or whoever this was, but the likelihood this potential assailant would think to check for a person in a boot cupboard was slim, so as he heard the front door creak slowly open he placed his feet on the floor and readied himself to jump into action if needed. The sound of the door clicking shut once more had him holding his breath, and the light footsteps of this intruder came down the hall.

And they stopped right outside the cupboard, just like Aunt Petunia had done this morning. But he knew this wasn’t Petunia, as she was sleeping upstairs with her family.

The lack of lock on the cupboard this night was suddenly both a blessing and a curse. It meant that this intruder could get to him much quicker, but as Harry was...well Harry, and so he did not wait. He shoved open the door and lunged, slamming into a warm body. His momentum carried he and this mystery assailant straight down to the floor, and Harry had a hand twisted in the front of the person’s shirt and a fist drawn back before he caught sight of the face under his assault and froze in shock.

Laid out on the floor, eyes wide and fearful, was Hermione Granger.

Chapter Text

Brightest witch of her age, Hermione scoffs to herself in her head. If that were true, she probably would have found a better way to go about this. What had she thought would happen? She had been absolutely confident that Harry had come back with her, after all, these sorts of absurd happenstances always involved him. And Harry was just like her right now, half feral from being on the run and quicker to strike than to listen. She’s lucky he recognized her before she actually got her face smashed, but she is a little proud of him when he doesn’t relent immediately. True, his shoulders relax fractionally at the sight of her, but he keeps his fist raised and her back pinned to the floor. When he speaks, his voice is low and hostile, but she has known him long enough to hear the waver of hope underneath.

“That night a week after this last Christmas, what did you confess to me?”

Hermione cringes minutely. It was an excellent question to prove her identity, as it had been just the two of them, and wasn’t something she had ever or would ever have admitted to anyone else, save Ron, though she hadn’t had a chance yet.

Harry had just barely recovered from their confrontation with Nagini and he’d...well snapped really. He had given her a long, hard look, one she recognized as his ‘I’m going to drag you into something fun but stupid’ look, then handed her the locket horcrux and said “If I’m not back in an hour, leave.” And she’d watched him stride right out into the snow. She didn’t stop him, she knew that when he got that look in his eye that neither hell or high water would stop him.

To her relief, he had returned in barely a half hour with a large bottle of muggle whiskey in hand. He dragged her out into the snow where they nearly tripled their protective wards. They then left the locket tucked safely into her beaded bag and spent the night huddled together by one of her bluebell fires, drinking whiskey out of chipped coffee mugs and sharing stories and secrets, both happy to just let go for one single night. Harry had told her about the cupboard and his Uncle’s abuse (not that he’d called it as such), much to her shame, she felt she should have noticed. In return, she told him that while she was sad about modifying her parents, she thought they might all be happier for it, that she didn’t plan to reverse what she had done, if she even could have. Only master Legilimens were known to be able to reverse an Obliviate. Since she’d started Hogwarts, she and her parents had grown further and further apart to the point it was like living with strangers. It didn’t help that Hermione never told them about any of the danger she repeatedly faced. They never even knew she had been petrified in second year, Hermione hadn’t wanted them to pull her from the school.

Pulling herself back to the present, Hermione smiles tremulously up at Harry. “I told you that, in a way, I was happy I had wiped their memories. That I felt freer for it.”

Harry releases the breath he’d been holding and promptly slumps in relief, leaning down and pressing his face into her shoulder. After a moment she feels him trembling and realizes that, for the first time in the nearly seven years she has known him, Harry Potter is crying. She wraps her arms around his too-skinny shoulders and lets him have the moment, not heartless enough to point out that she was still pinned to the floor, or that her jumper was getting wet.

When he finally manages to collect himself, he pulls away without looking at her. Not willing to have him shut her out she grasps his chin gently and makes him meet her eyes. Seeing her concern, he allows her a small smile before he finally scrambles off of her and the floor, offering a hand to help her up which she takes gladly. He motions for her to follow and leads them through the meticulously clean home, out the back door into the garden.

“How did you get here?” his volume a little higher now that they’re outside.

“Apparated as soon as I knew my parents were sleeping.”

“Don’t you need a wand to apparate?” he asks incredulously.

Hermione pulls her wand from the pocket of her jeans and shows him. “My birthday is quite a few months before yours. I’ve already gotten my letter and school supplies.

Harry scowls at her wand for a moment. “Bloody hell, no wonder you had time to memorize all our course books. I only had about a month”

Hermione nods agreeably. This had been something that had bothered her immensely for a few years. She’s done the research of course and knows that the Ministry registers most muggleborn students years before Hogwarts, usually as soon as they have their first bout of accidental magic. She can’t fathom why they wait so long to approach newly discovered witches and wizards, but she hasn’t had much time to delve further into her research over the years what with trying to keep her boys alive.

“What now?” asks Harry, and Hermione pulls herself from her distracted musings, reminded that they have more important things going on right now.

“Well…” she begins slowly, considering, “I plan to talk my parents into spending the last few weeks of the summer at the Leaky, convince them it’s the perfect way for me to immerse myself in the new culture. They’ll go for it I think. Can you get yourself there?”

Harry nods slowly. “Yes, I think so. What’s the date?”

“July 24th,” she says curiously.

Harry grins. “That’s perfect! My first Hogwarts letter arrived a week before my birthday last time, which is tomorrow morning. Once I get it, I’ll hide it from my family this time so they don’t go running all over the country. I’ll just...take off, leave Petunia a note explaining where I’ve gone. She won’t make a fuss, she’ll be glad to see the back of me.”

Hermione fights off the urge to march into the house and punch Petunia Dursley like she did to Malfoy in third year. Or hex Vernon, the bruise on Harry’s eye looks awful. She reaches out and sadly brushes her fingers along the edge of it. Harry just shrugs, entirely to casual about his injury for her liking.

“The Trace doesn’t start until we cross the Hogwarts ward line. I could heal that for you,” she offers.

Harry shakes his head. “If Vernon sees it’s healed in the morning before I can leave he’s likely to do worse.”

Once more Hermione is forced to rein in her urge to harm Harry’s relatives. Once, her instinct for immediate revenge would have worried her, but she isn’t as naive as she once was.

Then again, she did set Snape on fire in first year. Perhaps she was always willing to drop her morals for her friends.

When she’s sure she isn’t going to snap and assault the Dursley’s, Hermione nods her head decisively. “Okay. If all goes well you should be in the Alley by tomorrow, yes?” Harry nods. “If that works out, send me an owl immediately please. If I don’t hear from you I’ll come back here. Should...should we owl Ron, do you think?”

Harry seems to think this over for a moment before answering. “No. If his family sees he’s suddenly getting mail from people he’s never actually met they’ll be curious. I don’t want anyone caught on to this just yet, not even the Weasley’s. If he’s come back with us, I bet he’ll get in contact.”

There’s not much else to say after that. It doesn’t feel right to make any sort of decision without Ron there, and what’s more, Hermione knew that dawn wasn’t far off. Her parents were early risers, and she really did not need them asking questions right now. She hadn’t decided how she would handle them this time around, but for now she wanted to avoid any suspicion. She detested the idea of leaving Harry alone here with these horrid people, but her presence would likely make things worse. Harry seemed to realize the same after a few moments of silence and pulled her into a tight hug. She flushed in embarrassment when he had to push some of her absurd hair out of his face, but he just chuckled quietly.

“Stay safe, ‘Mione. I’ll get in touch as soon as I can. I’ll be fine.”

He steps back, gives her a strained smile and returns to the house. Once he’s safely inside, Hermione closes her eyes and breathes deeply.

Before she goes, she indulges in a fit of petty revenge. She weaves a curse into the soil under Mrs. Dursley’s prized petunias, the only plant in the garden that she never let Harry touch, (another bitter anecdote she learned that cold January night). It was something she had found in one of the nastier books in the Grimmauld Place library. It was dark magic but needs must. Over the next two weeks or so the curse would sap the life from the flowers and nothing would ever grow in that spot again. Satisfied for the time being and knowing Harry would be long gone before the petunias died, Hermione apparated home with a smirk.

Inside Number 4, Harry heard the familiar crack of apparition and sighed, tucking himself back into the cupboard and trying to get some sleep. If all went well, he’d be free soon. Or at least, as free as he ever was.

Chapter Text

Despite the opinion of most of his Hogwarts peers, Ron Weasley was not, in fact, a dunderhead. So, upon waking to the blinding orangeness of his bedroom at the Burrow and realizing he was decidedly child-sized, his first thought once the panic passed was that this absolutely had to be Harry’s fault, shit like this always was and it wouldn’t even be his best friends first tangle with time travel. The last thing Ron could remember was being bent over Fred in the Great Hall, mourning with his family.

His second thought, once that one had fully processed, was a slow thing. It crept over him in a prickling wave and his mind refused to put words to the feeling in his gut for long minutes. Because...if he was a child then it was most likely time travel, yes? Not just some strange de-ageing incident, otherwise he would still be in the Great Hall. And if he was back in time then...Fred…

Ron was up and out of his room in a flash, down a floor and bursting into the twins room. Two identical heads popped out of their respective beds, sleep-ruffled and confused, and Ron couldn’t say anything. He just threw himself into Fred’s bed and cried, loud ugly sobs that seemed unfit for a child. Despite being mischievous pranksters, the twins were also his older brothers. Possibly they assumed he’d had a nightmare, but George climbed into Fred’s bed with them and they just held onto him while he poured out all the grief and disbelieving joy in his chest.

That had been yesterday, though. They’d let him leave their room with nothing more than pats on the back and a softly asked “You alright?” and Ron had been so bloody thankful that he was here. He didn’t care how it happened, didn’t care that he might have to fight another war all over again, didn’t care that he had to forcibly fight down the sight of dead, unseeing eyes whenever he looked at Fred. Anything was worth getting his brother back.

As for today, Ron is finally writing a letter to Hermione. He had wanted to yesterday, but Errol had been out and in no condition for another flight once he’d returned. He would have preferred to have written to Harry, for he was absolutely certain he had to be back too, but he knew the Dursley’s would likely kill his owl and then go for Harry too. He just has to hope that Hermione is tangled up in this mess too, otherwise little kid Hermione is about to get a very cryptic letter from a stranger.



Mione,

Please tell me you made it back too. And Harry? I’m sure you’ve already got a plan so let me know what it is as soon as possible.

Fred is here.

So is Scabbers.



Ron



Ron waves the parchment to dry it, the rolls it up and ties it to Errol’s leg, determinedly not looking at the rat in the cage on the corner of the desk.

When he had laid down for bed last night, Scabbers had curled up on his pillow and Ron had nearly fallen off his bed in shock, no longer used to something small and furry crawling around the sheets. It had taken every ounce of his willpower not to immediately snap the miserable rat’s neck, and instead he had masked his rage and disgust as best he could and put “Scabbers” in his old cage. The rat had looked confused for a moment, the emotion quite clear now that Ron was in the know, but he hadn’t fussed and just crawled into his little hay nest.

He had not slept a wink after that, so was quite tired this morning.

Letter sent, Ron pulls his first year potions book out of the stack of Hogwarts supplies in the corner and begins to review. He can’t leave Pettigrew unattended, and besides, if he has another shot at this he might as well do it better.

For most of the day Ron only leaves his room for meals and the bathroom, though having Pettigrew out of sight even those times makes him twitchy. Mum praises him for his studiousness when he claims to be studying all day, and though it’s true, his brother’s and Ginny all give him suspicious looks when they see him. Twice now the twins have burst into his room trying to catch him doing...something, though he’s not sure what they expect to find. They seemed disappointed each time they’d only caught him reading a textbook or taking notes.

Not a dunderhead, thought Ron.

Hermione’s letter returns that evening just after dinner. Ron’s pleased for the distraction. He’d walked into the kitchen earlier to help his mum clean up, but she was dancing with Dad to some sappy song on the wireless, holding each other tightly with soft smiles. The rush of joy and grief he felt at the sight was becoming distressingly familiar to him, and he’d had to make a strategic escape lest he burst into tears. Again. He refused to let another war touch his family.

Hermione’s letter is surprisingly short and succinct compared to what they usually are, though he supposes that makes sense. She’s not the same girl she was, and the situation is...strange.



Ron,

I sneaked over to see Harry late last night. He’s here too, and he’s as well as he can be given the circumstances. His Hogwarts letter arrived this morning and I’ve received word that he’s made it to Diagon and will be staying at the Leaky. I’ve convinced my parents to spend the last two weeks of the summer there as well. Meet us when you can, bring the traitor.

And give Fred love for us. I’ll warn Harry before he sees him, you know how he gets.

With love,

Hermione



Ron sometimes forgets that Hermione is a Gryffindor. What did she do, just pop on over to the Dursley’s and break in? He pauses, then nods. Yes, of course she did, she’s Hermione. He wonders if she managed to refrain from throttling Mrs. Dursley, though if it was late than Hermione probably didn’t have to see her. Luckily for the Dursley’s.

He already has a plan formulating for getting mum to agree to frequent trips to the alley. Just claim he forgot something on his list, “meet” Harry for the first time, then explain his new friend’s situation, vaguely, to mum. Her motherly instincts won’t allow her to leave a child unattended like that in Diagon and while they can’t afford to stay at the Leaky that long, they can visit for free, just a bit of Floo powder here and there.

Ron smiles and tucks the letter into his school trunk. As he returns his attention to his Transfiguration text, he breathes in relief at knowing that Harry is far from the Dursley’s reach, and he’ll be with his friends again very soon.

Chapter Text

Step step step step, turn, step step step step, turn, step step…

Griphook sighs, Harry pauses.

“Sorry,” he says sheepishly, only just noticing that his agitation has caused hoarfrost to form around the room, to the point that the ceiling is starting to form tiny icicles. He waves an absent hand that pushes out a soft warming charm, melting the ice but leaving the room damp. Griphook sighs again and Harry winces, sending a quick drying charm around the room as well.

Normally, Harry imagines he would’ve been thrown out by now, or at the very least snarled at, but the goblin nation values three things above all; Their nation, gold, and power. Harry, it seems, has the latter two in spades. He had come to the bank today expecting a quick trip down to his vault, only to be waylaid by an irritated goblin claiming that Harry has unattended business to see to regarding his vaults.

Vaults. Plural.

Harry shoots a dirty look at the scroll of parchment sitting on Griphook’s desk, feigning innocence.



Harry James Potter

Born: July 31st, 1980

Died: May 2nd, 1998

Reborn: July 24th, 1991

That on it’s own had Harry gaping and Griphook, who was apparently his account manager (how had he never known this?) sat up straighter and eyed Harry with a sharper, calculating look. But then it had gone on to name Harry as the Heir to the Black and Slytherin lines (Black from Sirius and Slytherin from both blood and conquest, which meant maybe his parseltongue was hereditary) and Lord to the Potter and Peverell lines. Ridiculous...but potentially very useful.

Despite his surprise at having all these titles, they make sense. The Peverell’s were descended from Slytherin, just like the Gaunt’s though the Gaunt’s were considered the main line and the Peverell’s a secondary line, making Harry and Tom Riddle distant cousins, perish the thought. He hadn’t known he was Sirius’s heir, but that made sense as the man was entirely head over heels for Remus Lupin, thus probably not expecting to have his own children to continue the Black name. He’d never admitted as such but Harry could see it. And naturally he would be Lord Potter. Heir Slytherin came from being the only other Slytherin descendant, and no doubt Voldemort had taken on the Lordship. No, none of these new revelations were causing his distress. It was his last named title that was concerning him, added casually to the end of the list as though it belonged among the others.

Master of Death.

For fuck’s sake, of course. It even had a vault attached like the others. Vault number one. He doesn’t particularly want to deal with that today, but there is a summary of the contents of each vault, and the contents of Vault 1 are a bit concerning.

All three of the Hallows are listed. His cloak, the Stone, and the Elder Wand. Nothing else.

As far as he was aware, both the Cloak and the Wand should be in Dumbledore’s possession at present, (and thinking of how close the man got to possessing the Hallows scared him, though he wasn’t sure why yet) and the stone should be buried in the Gaunt shack, pretending to be a ring and a horcrux. Harry is rather hoping this change in the timeline doesn’t drastically affect anything too much. He also fervently hopes that Dumbledore never traces the Elder wand back to him. The man may have been his mentor, but he had also carefully orchestrated Harry’s death, as well as repeatedly threw him into Voldemort’s path. Harry does not want to find out how he’d be used if Dumbledore ever learned of his time traveling and death mastering.

Seeming to sense the direction of Harry’s thoughts, Griphook smirks nastily.

“We’d be willing to keep some of this information secret, Heir Potter-Black. For a fee of course.”

Harry smirks right back, suddenly taken by an idea that could seriously increase his income as well as the banks. “I can make you a list of businesses that will be very successful in the next six or so years, as well as the victors of the Quidditch World Cups for the same amount of time. I have two friends that can expand on that as well. I can also get you three of the Founder’s artifacts, possibly the last as well but that might take time.”

Griphook’s eyes widen. “Heir Potter-Black...should you be truthful about the Founder’s artifacts, you may very well need audience with our King.”

“I know all of their locations, but there’s an...issue with three of them. The Diadem, Hufflepuff’s cup, and Slytherin’s locket have all been made into Horcruxes.” Harry replies seriously.

Griphook snarls in outrage, but doesn’t seem as put out as Harry had expected him to.

“Luckily, we have a ritual that can remove Horcruxes from their vessels and move them into another.”

Harry wants to spit and rage. Of course the goblins can just casually move around horcruxes. He only walked right into an Avada to get rid of his.

“Does that include human vessels?” asks Harry.

Griphook pins him with a sharp look, and Harry lifts his fringe and taps his scar lightly.

“I see,” Griphook says, voice surprisingly soft as he loses himself to his thoughts, “a product of the curse rebounding, no doubt. If he’d had multiple tears in his soul already, it must have been unstable when he attacked you. Hmm…” Griphook shakes his head and his eyes refocus on Harry again. “It has never been done, to my knowledge, but our King is well traveled and may have more information. I have no doubt he would be willing to look into it as reward for returning the Founder’s artifacts to us. Now, where are they?”

Harry raises an incredulous brow at him. “Not so fast. I want it in writing that you’ll help me once I’ve revealed their locations.”

Griphook laughs, an eerie sight that Harry feels privileged to witness. Griphook wastes no time in drafting a simple contract for an exchange of services and signs it before offering it to Harry. He makes sure to read it over carefully of course, but it’s straightforward. There’s no reason for them to try and swindle him in this trade, as they both stand to gain quite a lot from it. He signs.

“The locket is at the Black ancestral home, I could probably summon the house elf that lives there and have him bring it since I’m Heir Black. The diadem is in a secret room at Hogwarts, I’m willing to bring that to you too over the first holiday break. The cup is here in the bank. Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault.”

Griphook remains behind his desk, still as a statue for a long moment, and then abruptly stands and heads for the door at a rapid pace. “Apologies, I’ll return shortly.”

Harry waits, bemused. If there is a document for each vault stating its contents, how could they have missed the cup being in Bellatrix’s vault? Maybe they hadn’t bothered checking since she’d been sent to Azkaban?

He sits for nearly an hour before he gets an answer, nervously twisting his fingers and losing some of the bravado he’d gained in his dealings with his account manager. Griphook returns looking furious, followed by another goblin practically dripping in gold jewelry, every piece adorned with large gems of every color. The way he carries himself and the way Griphook carefully maneuvers around him leads Harry to believe this might be the goblin King. Harry offers his respect with a nod, but this isn’t his King and he’s here to do business, so he doesn’t do anything else. The goblin takes Griphook’s seat while Griphook stands off to the side looking serious.

“Welcome, Heir Potter-Black. I am Ragnok, King and Director of Gringotts. It seems we have much to thank you for. More than offering the return of the Founder’s artifacts, you helped us uncover a traitor. The Lestrange account manager has been taking payment from their vaults to keep the Goblet of Hufflepuff hidden. He has been beheaded for treason and replaced.”

Harry is equally impressed and unnerved by this efficiency, but does not have a chance to comment on it as Ragnok sets the cup on the desk. Harry can feel the tendrils of black magic coming off the thing, probing the air around the cup, searching, hunting for a mind to ensnare, a life force to consume. It whispers in his ears in disjointed parseltongue phrases, and Harry can feel a sneer steal across his face.

“Shut it!” he snarls at the creeping tendrils, accidentally slipping into the snake language, and they draw back abruptly, but Harry can feel that it’s more from curiosity than fear. Riddle always was rather arrogant.

He takes a deep breath and addresses King Ragnok, ignoring the goblin’s raised brow at his angry display.

“With your permission I’ll summon the Black elf to get Slytherin’s locket.”

“Lead on.”

“Kreacher!” Harry calls sharply, and is relieved when the elf pops into existence beside him.

“Who is this that calls on Kreacher? Nasty masters heir, the filthy half-blood child, yes.” Kreacher grumbles. Harry doesn’t want to drag this out and vows to be blunt but kind. He stands in front of Kreacher, a little disgruntled that at eleven he’s not that much bigger than the elf. He scowls at the smirks on both Ragnok and Griphook’s faces.

“Kreacher,” he begins, soft but firm, “I know of your task, the one set to you by Regulus. I know you haven’t been able to destroy the locket.”

Kreacher abruptly silences his furious muttering about mudbloods and stares at Harry with wide eyes.

“The Dark Lord made more of these, Kreacher. Look,” Harry gestures to Hufflepuff’s cup, and he knows Kreacher recognizes the magic coming off of it by the look in his eyes.

“Master Regulus died in vain,” Kreacher croaks, but Harry shakes his head.

“No, Kreacher. The goblins have a way to put the magic into another object, and I know how to destroy them,” Harry hesitates, then turns to Ragnok, “Will you allow Kreacher and I to watch the ritual that transfers the magic to the new vessel, for peace of mind?”

Ragnok looks stoically between Harry and Kreacher, something unreadable in his eyes, but he nods. “Yes, I see no harm. But I want your word that you will destroy the horcruxes.”

“You have my word. I’ll do it as soon as the ritual is over, if I can visit Vault 1. I’ll need the wand from there.” Harry assumes it will work for him if he’s the Master of Death. Whatever that means. No doubt this time travel re-birth business is a product of that title.”

“I can have someone retrieve the items now, while the elf retrieves the locket,” says Ragnok, glaring pointedly at Kreacher. Harry bristles slightly at the condescension in Ragnok’s voice but doesn’t fight him on it. Yet. Kreacher turns to Harry and musters him intently for a moment, before disappearing with a crack.

When he returns, he places the locket slowly and carefully into Harry’s palm, reluctant to release it. He probably doesn’t expect Harry to keep his word, which is fine. He’ll prove Kreacher wrong.

Moments later, a third goblin brings in a polished ebony box, hands it off to Ragnok, then departs. Ragnok gestures to Harry, who comes forward, opens the silver latch on the front and lifts the lid. He’s pleased to see his Cloak but incredibly wary about the other two Hallows. He happily lays his Cloak over the back of his chair, pockets the wand while ignoring the sparks and flood of warmth that signify an accepted bond, and warily picks up the Stone. There’s no taint of a horcrux on it and he wonders if the ring is still in Little Hangelton, hopes it is. He vows never to use the Stone as he puts it in the same pocket as the Elder Wand.

Harry and Kreacher follow the two goblins out into the labyrinth of marble halls, twisting and turning until they reach a nondescript wood door. Inside there is a large circle set into the floor, inlaid with iron. Ragnok produces chalk from somewhere and begins to line the inside and outside of the circle in Runes. The locket and the cup are set in the center by Griphook, as well as two crystal orbs that he assumes are to be the new vessels. while another five goblins enter from a side door. Harry recalls that three and seven are numbers quite powerful to magic, though he isn’t entirely sure why that is. He vows to take Arithmancy this time around. It would do him more good than Divination, that’s for certain.

The ritual is anticlimactic in the extreme. For all the drama surrounded the destruction of the Horcruxes in his previous life, he expected more. Although, perhaps it’s simply because they’re moving them, not destroying them. Regardless, the ritual is just the seven goblins stood around the circle and chanting in Gobbledygook. The air fills with magic that presses against his eardrums but only lasts a minute. Then the pressure eases and the chanting stops. The silence seems loud in the absence somehow. The cup and locket seem unchanged, but Harry can see writhing black shadows inside each of the crystal orbs. The sight sends a cold shiver down his spine. He withdraws the Elder wand and catches Ragnok’s eye, who nods him forward.

“Come with me, Kreacher.” and Kreacher follows, unusually silent. Harry enters the circle, picks up the locket and passes it to Kreacher. When the elf feels the lack of magic, he passes it back to Harry, eyes watery and red. Ragnok takes the two Founder’s objects and Harry puts them from his mind, turning to the orbs. He gestures for the goblins and Kreacher to move back and they all go without argument. The goblins likely know exactly what he’s about to do. He hasn’t ever cast it but he imagines if it gets out of control that the goblins will help him tame it.

Eyes fixed on the writhing darkness of the soul fragments, Harry allows himself a moment of mourning for who Tom Riddle could have been before he whispers, firmly, “Fiendfyre”

Harry immediately has to seize fierce control of his magic as the flames pour from his wand. He manages to keep the flames small enough that only a single creature forms, and despite being too large for its species he thinks it might be a crow, though the bright red and orange of the fire make it hard to tell. The maybe-crow descends on the crystals, sharp claws shattering the orbs and beak instantly swallowing the twisted souls as they try to escape. The sight is gruesome and satisfying in equal measure, and Harry has to put a choke-hold on all his emotions in order to bring the crow to heel and dissipate the flames. Once he has managed, all that remains are crystal shards, warped from the heat of the Fiendfyre.

Chapter Text

It is quite a few hours later that Harry leaves Gringotts, Lordships and Heirships accepted, a multitude of gaudy rings on his hands (thankfully all charmed invisible except the Potter ring) and his parents will safely in hand. He hadn’t the courage to read it yet.

He had spent those hours making lists of successful businesses for Griphook and setting up his investments. Apparently he’s the second-richest wizard in Britain. Only the Malfoy’s have him beat, but with his foreknowledge, Griphook estimates it will only take a year or two to surpass them. It’s wonderful news. Harry isn’t a particularly materialistic person, but he’s been in this world long enough to know that money means status, and status turns heads. He’s going to need influence and allies, he’ll need to be heard. So, gold. Lots of it.

He’s got a lot of shopping to do, but between escaping the Dursley’s that morning and all that had happened at Gringotts, Harry wants nothing more than to fall into his rented bed at the Leaky. Besides, it’s quite late and everything in Diagon is closed, except for a little emergency clinic for familiars. He’s not sure he feels like braving Knockturn tonight, no matter how old or experienced he technically is. School supplies and posh robes can wait for another day. Soon, yes, but it’s not dire.

When Harry enters the pub, Tom glaces up from the bar and sends him a small wave, which Harry returns with a smile before heading up the stairs to his room. The man had been very concerned when Harry had shown up earlier that day. Nobody expects the Boy-Who-Lived to be tiny, skinny, bruised and alone. He was even more concerned when Harry asked for a month’ stay, but he’d relented when Harry confessed that his relatives hated magic. Tom was a smart man, no doubt he knew that Harry would bolt if he tried to press or called any authorities. At least this way he knew Harry had a safe place to stay and food at hand, so it suited them both just fine.

Upon returning to his room, Harry’s pleased to see that the owl he’d sent to Hermione this morning from the post office has returned with a letter. He pays the owl and sends it off before throwing himself onto the bed and opening Hermione’s letter.

Harry,

I heard from Ron, he’s here too. I expect you’ll hear from him soon, although he might possibly just show up at the Leaky Cauldron. He’s not the most subtle of people.

I did manage to talk my parents into visiting but we won’t arrive for another two weeks. Behave please.

Ron says that Fred is alive. I hadn’t considered that before he mentioned it in his letter.

He has Scabbers too. I told him to bring him when he visits. If I’m not there, don’t kill him. Take him straight to the Ministry. Amelia Bones is alive still and she’s the head of the DMLE, she’s very fair and you’re magical Britain’s golden boy right now, it’s good timing.

Keep in touch, I’ll see you in a couple weeks.

With love,

Hermione

Harry’s hands are ice cold and pale by the time he reaches the end of her letter, which is alarming given how short it is. Fred. Pettigrew. Sirius, Remus, Tonks, Cedric, Colin and Lavender, Hedwig, they’re all alive. It should have occurred to him before now, he had just spent the entire day with Griphook after all, and Harry had watched Voldemort personally kill him in a vision just after they robbed Gringotts.

Fuck,” he whispers to himself, nearly breathless from the rush of emotion he’s experiencing, something painful, but in the best kind of way. It reminds him of the sharp burn of phoenix tears as they burned the basilisks venom out of his bloodstream. It feels him with the familiar urge to do something, a call to action that actively makes his brain engage and his muscles twitch.

But Harry is tired. And alone. He has too damn much think about right now, and the idea of processing this on his own is too daunting. He needs Ron or Hermione here, he just...he can’t…

And maybe some day he ought to learn to manage these sorts of things (ugh, emotions are the worst) on his own, but today is not that day and Harry wants to be selfish just this once. The sight of his bed is seductive, and barely two days ago he walked to his death and even that is something he hasn’t had the luxury to truly absorb. His bruised chest is aching, so is his black eye, all he wants to do is curl up under the thick blue patchwork quilt on then bed.

So Harry strips himself down to nothing, refusing to wear Dudley’s old castoffs any longer than he has to, crawls into bed and waves a casual hand at the gas lamps, turning them off. Tomorrow is a new day, and tomorrow he can go back to being Harry Potter but tonight he is just Harry who is ten going on eleven (kind of) and tired and small and hungry and he reckons he can get away with living for himself for just this night.

Morning comes creeping in softly hours later. Harry’s disoriented and on edge as he goes from asleep to instant wakefulness in barely a second. After months and months waking up to the same stretch of canvas ceiling in their tent, these last couple days waking up in different places is adding to his hyper-aware state of being.

He scowls through a mass of his sleep-mussed hair at the soft pinkish glow of sunrise filtering in through the grimy window, wishing, not for the first time, that he wasn’t such an early riser, a habit formed first by the Dursley’s and then cemented by years of Hogwarts. Make no mistake, Harry is absolutely not a morning person. He spends his mornings irascible and stony-faced until he’s had either a strong tea or, more recently, bitter black coffee. Even Hermione has learned not to even bother speaking to him before his allotted caffeine hit, lest she get a few choice words snarled in her direction. Harry has said a great many hurtful things those mornings, and unfortunately for whatever chosen victims he’s targeted, Harry is cruelly, painfully honest. His inner curmudgeon comes to the surface in the worst way. It wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t also an insomniac.

He decides that breakfast and a bath are the only way he’s going to feel human enough to deal with whatever today brings. He slips on the robe provided for the room, which is meant for an adult but dutifully shrinks to his small frame, and writes out a breakfast order on the enchanted menu Tom had shown him yesterday. Then he slips into the bathroom and into a hot bath with a small smile.

When he finally emerges an hour later, wrinkly-fingered, re-robed and entirely unguarded, Harry is not at all prepared to find someone in his room. His wand is still on the far nightstand right next to this person, much to his chagrin, so Harry snatches up the lamp on the table next to him and hurls it at his intruder.

Who drops to the floor in a blur of orange and an incredulous “Bloody hell!” as glass smashes against the wall.

Harry freezes, then sighs as he sees Ron’s ginger head peek over the edge of his bed warily, ready to dodge any other flying furniture. Harry pushes up his glasses and pinches the bridge of his nose.

“First Hermione, now you. Honestly, how did you expect me to react to that?” Harry sighs, though he knows he’s failing to hide the smile starting to twitch around the corners of his mouth. He doesn’t bother questioning Ron to make sure of his identity. Nobody else on this earth could perfect that unique mixture of sheepishness, amusement, and defensiveness on his face as he rubs the back of his neck.

“Right, erm, sorry. I saw Tom making your breakfast and told him you were my friend and that I’d bring it up to you.” Ron gestures at the breakfast tray on the coffee table that Harry hadn’t noticed previously, then walks over, picks up a mug of coffee and presses it firmly into Harry’s hand.

“How’d you know it was mine?” asks Harry, taking a sip of the coffee and feeling marginally less murderous as it warms his chest.

Ron grimaces. “Same thing you always have for breakfast at the start of term every year after coming back from them. Dry toast and a bit of bacon.” Ron scowls darkly at Harry’s thin wrists as though personally offended by them, and then glares accusingly at Harry’s meager breakfast as though it’s personally responsible for Harry’s malnourished state. Harry ignores this, quite used to his friends helpless irritation at his situation. With luck, he won’t be returning to the Dursley’s ever again.

This thought draws Harry’s eye subconsciously down to Ron’s breast pocket, where he can see the outline of Pettigrew beneath the fabric. Ron stills, and Harry forcibly meets his gaze.

“I know what Hermione says we should do, mate. But it’s up to you, not her. I’ll follow your lead,” and he squares his shoulders, looking fierce. Harry can tell from the set of his jaw that he means it, that if Harry wanted, he would stand aside and let Harry kill a man right in front of him. Somehow Ron’s staunch loyalty in this helps ground him and tempers the temptation to go through with it. Revenge would be lovely, but it won’t achieve the results they need. He owes it to Sirius, Remus, even his parents to see this through.

So Harry shakes his head, and Ron slumps, looking both relieved and frustrated. No doubt he hates walking around with a Death Eater in his pocket. Harry wonders idly what Pettigrew is making of their conversation, if he’s confused or concerned at all, not that he has any context for their words. At this point in time he doesn’t even know that he’s Harry Potter yet, hasn’t seen him. Harry wonders what Pettigrew thought, those few years he spent sharing a dorm with him. Did he see James in him? Did he remember the baby Harry had been when his friends entrusted their lives to him? Did he feel remorse for what he had done?

Harry sighs and casts a wandless muffliato over the rat. He’ll never know the answer to these questions, but that’s okay. He has more important things to deal with right now than Pettigrew’s introspection.

“How are you even here?” asks Harry curiously.

“Told mum we forgot to get me knot grass for my potions kit. She’s getting that now while I wait here because I ‘needed the loo’. Pretty sure the twins know something’s up but they won’t rat me out.” Ron grimaces at his accidental phrasing, sending a disgusted look at the lump in his pocket.

 

“Okay. Let’s make a quick plan for you and I ‘meeting for the first time’, conveniently and spontaneously and not at all suspiciously,” says Harry with more confidence than he truly feels. Ron sees right through his attempt, if the raised eyebrow is any indication, but he doesn’t comment on it. Instead, he sits in one of the armchairs by the hearth and glares pointedly between Harry and the breakfast tray. Harry rolls his eyes, but he and his coffee join Ron who doesn’t relent until he’s taken a bite of his toast. Satisfied for now, Ron adopts the same expression he wears when he’s contemplating a very vicious move in a game of chess, something full of intent and wicked amusement.

Harry feels something warm unfurl in his chest at the sight of it, and he nearly feels at home.

Nearly.

Chapter Text

On the morning Hermione is due to arrive at the inn, Harry and Ron are having breakfast down in the pub with the rest of the Weasley clan and looking very smug indeed. Their plan to get Ron in Diagon had worked. Ron had eagerly introduced his “new friend Harry” to his mum that first day, and Harry had played up a shy, abandoned orphan. He’d felt a twinge of guilt at the manipulation, but if it got Ron to Diagon, well…

And it had! Mrs. Weasley was so appalled at the idea of Harry being all alone, wandering the alley by himself that she had shown up every single day, always with Ron and Ginny, but often with the twins and Percy as well. And though it had taken three entire days for him to stop flinching when he saw Fred, he managed. The downside to all this was that they had no time in which to hide out in Harry’s room and pin down details of a long-term plan, but they had managed to get the bare bones of their first steps figured out. Hence their smug faces. They felt very clever for once and were excited at the prospect of telling Hermione and seeing that look she got whenever they shocked her by actually displaying the surprising presence of actual brain cells.

Harry works his way slowly through a large bowl of porridge, still trying to get used to normal sized portions, feeding Hedwig pieces of bacon occasionally (he had dragged Ron straight to the menagerie over a week ago for his girl, nearly bursting into tears at the sight of her). His eyes flick to the door every time someone new enters, waiting. Beside him, Ron is grudgingly passing bits of his breakfast to an unsuspecting Pettigrew. It wouldn’t do for the traitor to die before he can face justice. The rat hasn’t seemed to notice that he’s had a near permanent muffling spell over him for a fortnight.

Harry darts another look at the door as it’s opened once more, and both he and Ron stiffen in their seats, very carefully feigning nonchalance as Hermione makes her appearance, parents coming in after and looking about with curiosity. They weren’t supposed to know her yet after all. Hermione’s eyes scan the pub and they can see exactly when she clocks their location, though she very nearly succeeds in turning away casually, though her smile is nearly blinding, and widens even further upon spotting Hedwig on Harry’s shoulder. Her parents seem to chalk it up to excitement, smiling back indulgently as they rent a room from Tom.

Luckily for them, Mrs. Weasley has some household shopping to do and plans to let the boys (Ginny pouts) run around the alley on their own so long as they stay in pairs and return to the pub in couple hours. This will give them plenty of time to “meet” Hermione. Harry leads Ron right past Hermione and her family as they chat with Tom about the pubs meal schedule, and Harry makes sure to eagerly and loudly insist to Ron that they visit Flourish and Blott’s for their new books of Animagi’s. He sees Hermione smirk in his periphery and knows she understands. He figures her parents won’t be the least bit surprised that when she insists on visiting a bookstore immediately.

Once they’re out in the alley proper, Hedwig takes off from her spot on Harry’s shoulder. He’s not worried, she’ll find him later when she’s ready. Harry and Ron make their way to the bookshop and head straight to the transfiguration section. There actually are new books on the animagus transformation that he wants to buy, so he picks up three copies and waits. Ron eyes the books excitedly. They plan to become animagi as soon as possible and have spent the last two weeks making bets on their forms and teasing each other about becoming pygmy puffs and the like. Harry insisted Ron would become a ferret, which had earned him a shove into a barrel of pickled eel eyes as they’d walked past the apothecary. Worth it.

It only takes another five minutes for Hermione to shoot around the corner and launch herself at them, and then the boys are surrounded by Hermione’s riotous curls and excited chattering.

“Oh I missed you so much! I know it was only two weeks but it felt like so much longer and I couldn’t even do any research, all I had were my first year texts and I mean I did have some muggle books on the theory of time and I read that but I think this problem is magical and-”

“Breathe, Hermione,” the boys interrupt simultaneously. Hermione does as asked, pulling back with a deep breath and a beaming smile.

Harry gives her one of the Animagus books, then takes a shrunken stack of parchment from his pocket and passes that over too.

“Ron and I have started scheming, and that’s what we’ve come up with so far. D’you have a sec to look it over?”

Hermione nods absently as she returns it to normal size. “Yes. Mum and Dad walked me over but they’ve gone back to the Leaky to unpack a bit and have some breakfast. Fortescues?”

Never one to turn down food of any sort, let alone ice cream, Ron agrees for the both of them and leads the way to the ice cream parlor. Once they’re seated with their favorites, (“Free of charge for you, of course, Harry Potter, and your friends too”) Hermione settles in to read their lists and notes. The boys both lean in a bit and wait with bated breath as one of her eyebrows slowly climb higher and higher until...yes, there it is. Hermione looks up and shoots them that pleasantly surprised look that says “see? And here I thought you were a particularly slow troll but it seems not” and they lean back in their chairs, noses in the air and looking smug, emulating a young Draco Malfoy at his worst.

At least until Hermione smacks them both on the backs of the head, but even still their grins remain.

“Fine, yes this is brilliant. But it’s going to be difficult.” she admits grudgingly.

“Right. Because our lives up to now have been so simple. I wonder what difficult will be like,” Harry replies dryly.

Their plan is, on paper, fairly simple. At least one of them needs to become a Slytherin. That house has an immense amount of influence in politics, though Harry supposes that makes sense given the values of the house. Harry doesn’t think he’ll have any issue being sorted there, he was apparently enough of a snake at eleven, he reckons he’s doubly so now after all they’ve been through the last few years. With Harry’s inheritance, he’s going to have a lot of votes on the Wizengamot and they’ll need to start gathering powerful allies. The best way to do that is approach the children that will make up most of their governing body once the currents members abdicate their seats. They can hardly approach the current members looking like kids, they’d be laughed at no matter their competence.

Once they’ve started that process, they plan to train. Spellwork is just the beginning, and very important, but they’ll need to be physically fit as well. Their stint in the tent had been quite an eye opener. Wixen relied so much on magic that physical fitness was nearly unheard of outside of Quidditch or heavily physical jobs, which certainly explained Charlie Weasley’s absurd muscles. Hermione had, somehow, researched this while they were on the run (Merlin knows how many books she’d had in that beaded bag) and learned that physical activity helped to grow your magic, that the bodies wellness helped nurture a stronger magical core. This made sense to the boys, so they didn’t argue against what was basically to be a self induced phys ed class, though Ron had no clue what that was.

And, much to the chagrin of all three of them, they were going to have to do a deep dive into the etiquette and culture of those snobby purebloods they’d spent years scorning. They knew some of the customs, Hermione having researched them years ago because that’s just what she did, and Ron had taught Harry some over their last fortnight together, as his parents had taught him the bare minimum so he wouldn’t offend anyone, not that he’d bothered to use it in the past. There was no room for error here, however, and while Harry could possibly get by with just his status, Ron and Hermione could not. This was not something they could do on their own, however, so they needed to find collateral with one of the other snakes to get lessons. Harry had an idea on this, though it made Ron and Hermione wince in sympathy on his behalf.

Harry was going to have to strike a deal with Malfoy, and he knew exactly how to snare the boy. He sighs, scooping up his last bit of ice cream with a pout. Hermione and Ron pat his back in commiseration.

 

Chapter Text

The trio reluctantly splits up after their “ice cream and scheme” as Harry called it, much to the exasperation of his friends. Hermione wants to get an inheritance test done at Gringotts, so heads back to the inn to find her parents. Harry drags Ron off to Twilfitt and Tatting’s, ignoring the redhead’s complaints. Harry doesn’t much like shopping either, but they’ll have to look the part. Harry is determined to get Ron a full wardrobe too, although they haven’t yet figured out how they’ll spin that for the other Weasley boys. If Ron ends up in Slytherin with him (and with that ambition, it’s possible) then they can just claim that Harry insisted so Ron had an easier time of it in his house. If not, well...that’s a problem for future Harry. Present Harry figures it’ll work itself out.

The shopkeeper is a cheerful man, short and slim but so loud and cheerful he seems to take up much more space than he actually does, and introduces himself as Terrence Twilfitt. Harry likes him instantly, even when the man initially eyes them both top to toe and asks, no tact in sight, if they’re sure they can afford his wares. Harry casually dismisses the glamour from his Potter and Black rings and shakes the man’s hand with a small smirk. No need to unveil his Slytherin and Peverell titles just yet. He feels like a prat, probably looks like one too and his posturing is probably more cute than impressive as an eleven year old, but this is how it starts. If he wants to be somebody that people look at, he’s got to play the part. Ron, despite initially turning red at Twilfitt’s insinuation, catches on and adjusts his posture, tucking his hands into his pockets casually and looking around in bored disinterest. Harry notices the slight way his eyes widen when they land on a robe made of what looks like silk, but he doubts Twilfitt does. The man in question tilts Harry’s hand to eye his rings and beams a smile so bright Harry wonders if the sparkle from his teeth might be refracting rainbows off Harry’s glasses.

The next hour is spent in a whirlwind of tape measures and colors and fabrics. Ron’s feigned nonchalance dissipates into blushing and scowling as Harry and Twilfitt repeatedly overrule him. “No, no, definitely not. Ron, you’re getting the acromantula silk. Yes I am aware it’s more expensive. Nope, shut up.” “Mr. Weasley, I can not have you leave my shop in anything less than the best, and Lord Potter has already informed me that I am not to listen to anything you say outside of color choices. A boy of your height needs this cut, you shall look coltish otherwise.”

Harry fares a little better, though he simply tells Twilfitt to outfit them both in an entire wardrobe, for every season even down to socks, underwear and scarves. Harry has zero sense of fashion whatsoever, except he knows that whatever the hell Dumbledore usually wears is absolutely a no-no for high society. Although the one cloak he’d picked out for himself, a deep forest green winter cloak with black fur lining the inside and the hood, had met Twilfitt’s stern approval. His blinding smile stretches so far it looks like it hurt, and Harry is sure the man is daydreaming about ways he would be spending Harry’s galleons.

“Please, loves, call me Terrance. Not Terry though, too plebeian and I’ll set you on fire if you dare” says Terrance, and the boys acquiesce, not wishing to be set aflame at the present moment.

By the time they’ve both been measured and made the decisions (well, allowed Terrance to decide) about their new wardrobes, they need to be heading back to Mrs. Weasley. Terrance needs time to actually make their clothes anyway, as his clothes are not mass produced like Madam Malkins, it’s all custom. Harry pays in advance, pointedly ignoring the way Ron’s faces goes worryingly pale beside him when he sees the receipt.

“It has been a pleasure, loves. I’ll have this ready by the end of the week.” says Terrance, and Harry has no idea how the man isn’t keeling over from exhaustion after all that. He and Ron nearly are, and all they’d had to do was stand around and stammer.

There’s no sign of Hermione when the boys return to the pub and Harry has to rein in his worry. It’s hard to remember that it isn’t just the three of them anymore, fighting a war and living in a little triangle of fear and codependency. Ron looks equally discomfited, especially when the Weasley’s bid Harry a goodbye for the day and make off through the Floo, the redhead throwing a last forlorn look back at Harry as he departs. With a sigh, Harry returns to his room and settles in with a cup of tea and a lost expression. He never really knows what to do with himself when he’s on his own.

At least until his sight lands on his parents will, still sealed and sitting on his temporary desk. Harry’s hands tighten around the teacup and he straightens his spine, walking over to sit in his desk chair. He was raised as a Gryffindor for Merlin’s sake, surely the echo of his dead parents isn’t enough to defeat him.

Harry cracks the wax seal carefully, not wanting to break what he’s just discovering is the Potter family crest. If asked previously what he expected it to look like, he may have imagined it as something terribly Gryffindor-ish, red wax and lions and some motto about chivalry. He’s pleased this isn’t the case. The wax is a sapphire blue, which must be the main color of the Potter house, and the crest depicts a stag leaping across a field of stars, looking like it’s dashing across a night sky. Harry smirks. He’d always wondered about his dad’s animagus form. They’re meant to reflect a person’s personality, it seems his father was quite proud of their roots.

The will itself isn’t anything personal, just a lot of legal jargon allocated the various monies and items and properties to their recipients. Remus and Sirius both were to receive large sums of gold, a shared property and the Marauder’s prank journal and their notes on the Marauder's Map creation. Harry hopes they will let him read both once they’re reunited. Pettigrew would have received gold as well, but only under the condition he did not betray his role as Secret Keeper, which he was named as right here in the will. Harry feels a rush of vindictive satisfaction through his growing grief, he has the means to free Sirius right here in his hands. Frank and Alice Longbottom were given gold as well, and Alice was to get all of his mother’s scarves. Harry hadn’t realized they were that close, and vows to try and be a better friend to Neville this time around. Dudley was getting a sum as well, to be used toward his education exclusively. Professor McGonagall was getting gold and the Marauders journal on their Animagus research and record of their journey to becoming Animagi. Snape was receiving gold as well, along with his mum’s potions textbooks. Remembering all the scribbles in the Half-Blood Prince’s book, Harry imagines Snape and his mum may have done something similar together in her books before they had their falling out. It seems his mum forgave Snape. Harry hopes this makes the man less bitter, but he won’t hold his breath. Dumbledore is named too, and Harry is amused to see that he’s been given a year supply of lemon drops from Honeyduke's, to be paid for out of the Potter vault. Harry would bet his magic that it was his dad’s doing. Harry is, naturally, to receive everything else in the Potter estate, and there’s a trunk in the main family vault with letters for all of those named in the will. The thought of his parents leaving letters to him directly makes his gut clench, and he forcibly breathes through it.

With a weary sigh, Harry sets aside the will and pens out two letters. One is to Amelia Bones of the DMLE, describing what he had just read about Pettigrew and requesting a meeting and possible investigation. He has to work to sound his physical age but also mature enough to have his claim taken seriously. Next was a letter to Gringotts, requesting a will reading so that everyone would get their dues. The thought of facing so many people that he has strong emotions about in one room makes him more than a little anxious. Harry can face down dragons and Dark Lord’s just fine, but making him face his feelings in any form and he wants to cower and snarl like a cornered animal.

He sets aside both letters, ready and waiting for Hedwig’s return.

Harry stares longingly at his bed for a moment, wishing he could just climb in and stop thinking. But alas, he swore to himself that he would do better in this life. And so, Harry retrieves his new Animagus book and curls up in an armchair by the hearth. If he insists on being productive, at least it can be something fun.

Chapter Text

The following morning, Harry finds Hermione in the pub, alone at a corner table and surrounded by piles of books and an intimidating stack of parchment. Her fingers are stained with ink, she’s shoved her quill straight into her bushy hair for safekeeping, and she’s muttering under her breath as her eyes fly across the top sheet of parchment in front of her.

Harry grins and joins her.

“What’s this, then?” asks Harry after a solid five minutes, realizing Hermione hasn’t even noticed he’s there. She startles and looks up at him with wide brown eyes. Harry can practically see the clarity returning. Eventually, she rifles through her parchmentwork and shoves a slightly mussed sheet into his hand. With a raised brow, Harry adjusts his glasses and looks it over.

Ah. Her inheritance test. Turns out she actually is related to the Dagworth-Granger’s like Professor Slughorn had thought. Her great-great-granddad, Adrian Dagworth-Granger, was a squib, likely cast out and the name had reduced to Granger with the birth of his son. No wonder she’s so distracted this morning.

“What does this mean for you?” he asks, not knowing enough about that family to have an opinion.

“Well,” she says, half her attention on him and half on her work, “Adrian, my grandfather passed quite some time ago but the line is actually still going. Adrian was the brother to Hector, the famous potioneer. Hector had two sons, one of which died in the last war but the other lived to have a son of his own, whose name is Perseus. He never had any children, his wife died when they were in their twenties and he never remarried. He’s still alive, seems to have taken on Hector’s potion work. He makes regular entries to Potions Monthly and the goblins say he still visits the bank regularly. They’ve sent him a notice that an heir to the line has been found.”

Hermione has said all this with her usual breathless rush, the new knowledge fueling her excitement, but her voice trails off into something small at the end and Harry’s pretty sure he knows why.

Hermione has never felt quite at home in either of their worlds, just like him. In the muggle world they’re considered something strange, odd, other, for their magic. Both of them have faced the disdain for the color of their skin as well, Hermione always looked down on for her heritage despite the success and intellect of both herself and her parents, and Harry was sneered at by his relatives for his Indian roots, not that he had quite understood at the time. And in the wizarding world Hermione came expecting to finally belong, to not be looked down on for her dark skin or her magic, only to be told to her face over and over that her blood was dirty, that she was something less. He imagines that this, finding family in the magical world, is both hopeful and terrifying. She may finally find acceptance, but she may also find rejection. They had cast out a squib in the past, there’s no telling how this Perseus might react to an heir with muggle blood.

Harry doesn’t have anything to say, because any reassurances or platitudes would be false. He can’t assure her that everything will be okay, that he’ll take care of her no matter what happens, because she knows this and it won’t lessen the hurt of rejection if Perseus Dagworth-Granger decides she isn’t worth his regard. So instead he just takes her hand as she pores over the history of her magical heritage, and is pleased to see some of the frantic energy dissipate, her magic fading from the air just a bit and returning to it’s usual softly-inquisitive nature.

Tom swings by after awhile with a pointed look at Harry, who sighs. Mrs. Weasley (and probably Ron too, he’s very like his mother in that regard) has commandeered the man to her cause of “feeding Harry”. Harry just sighs and nods, Tom smirks at him and heads into the kitchen to give the cook Harry’s usual breakfast order.

When Tom returns, he brings Harry’s meal, a large pot of coffee that has Harry grinning, and a tea service for Hermione. She doesn’t look up for even a moment and so Harry fixes her a cup the way she likes with a small sigh, then makes one for Ron too as he suddenly comes tumbling through the floo, Mrs. Weasley on his heels.

“Harry, dear, are you sure you wouldn’t rather have the tea? I’m not sure a boy of your age should be drinking coffee.” Mrs. Weasley asks, as always trying to care for him without outright forcing him into anything. He appreciates this greatly.

“I am an old soul, Mrs. Weasley.” he says, and Ron rolls his eyes, and, despite her distraction Hermione scoffs at him, drawing Mrs. Weasley’s attention.

“Hello! Are you a friend of Harry’s?” asks Mrs. Weasley, and when Hermione looks up both he and Ron can see that calculating look in her eyes and brace themselves. Hermione is one of the best on-the-fly bullshitters he knows, it’s like watching an artist at work.

“Oh yes of course! I'm Hermione Granger. We were friends in primary school, I’m muggleborn you see. I’m ever so pleased to find out we’re both magical, we never really could figure out why we were so different. And I met Ron yesterday too, any friend of Harry’s is a friend of mine.” Hermione says in a rush of child-like happiness, sweet smile on her face. Mrs. Weasley melts, nobody can withstand Hermione’s smile, nobody. It’s second only to her tears which often send Ron and Harry into a panic.

“You seem like a good egg, dear, I’m glad to see my boys are in good hands.” says Mrs. Weasley. Harry tries not to show how much he’s affected by being called one of her boys. Ron squeezes his hand under the table. With a sudden scowl, Mrs. Weasley marches up to Tom and orders a large breakfast for Ron and Hermione, and says upon her return, “I don’t know what it is with you kids these days, all so skinny it’s disheartening.”

The trio smile fondly. While it’s true that both Ron and Hermione are quite thin, it’s just their genetics really, and their age. Harry knows for a fact that Ron will pack on muscle when he’s a bit older from Keeper training, and Hermione develops curves later that used to have Alicia and Angelina swooning about it in the locker rooms, much to Harry’s misplaced pride. The only one truly skinny enough to be concerned with is Harry, and he’s working on it. He takes another large bite of his oatmeal as Mrs. Weasley watches in order to appease her. She seems satisfied and leaves Ron with them in order to shop in the alley.

Ron smirks as she leaves. “She’s not actually shopping. She and Andromeda Tonks meet up once a week for tea and gossip.”

“Why does she hide it?” asks Hermione.

“Dad doesn’t approve of her,” says Ron with a small frown, “Mrs. Tonks is a dark witch, and she’s very proud of it. Mum and Dad have very different stances in the Light vs. Dark debate. I used to take after Dad but...well.”

He doesn’t need to explain any further. The trio learned long ago that there’s quite a difference between dark and evil, and they’ve all speculated before that Harry himself may very well have a dark magical core, given the ease in which he has used dark magic in the past. There’s a ritual Hermione found in one of the Grimmauld books that can identify a person’s magical core, but Harry doesn’t understand why it’s needed. He can’t see his own magic, obviously, but everyone else is pretty obvious.

Wait.

“Hold on...can you guys not see magic?” asks Harry with a frown.

Hermione and Ron snap their attention to him, eyes wide.

“What?” Ron asks, voice sounding a bit strained, “you mean...like all this time you’ve had Mage Sight?”

“Is that what it is? I mean...I can see your magic, yeah. It reacts to you emotions and stuff, I just...isn’t that how you guys always know when I’m upset?”

Ron makes a strange sound between a laugh and a cough. Hermione rubs her temples with her eyes closed.

“Jesus Christ, Harry.” she says in exasperation, slipping into a muggle expletive in a way she hasn’t for years, “no. No, we know when you’re upset because we are friends and we just notice. Mage Sight, honestly. Well, go on then. Tell us about our magic. Might as well know our core type before we start training. Saves on ritual supplies, crystals are very expensive you know.”

She sounds long-suffering, which makes Harry smile despite his shock at having this other new thing that sets him apart. Freakish.

“Well…” he begins, looking over his friends and letting his eyes see their magic. It’s a similar feeling to focusing on the glass of a window instead of looking past it. “It’s more than just, you know, light and dark. It has a personality, a color, a smell even. It...feels personal, are you sure?” he asks, feeling oddly shy. His friends just answer with a nod so he hesitantly continues.

“Ron, yours is definitely light oriented, which I know because of how it reacts to light magic or dark magic, it’s stronger when casting exclusively light magic. Light magic is usually warm colors, dark usually cool colors, yours is bright yellow. Most of the time it floats about warm and slow, like honey, but it follows your temper and almost...boils, bubbles when you’re mad,” Ron’s ears have turned red, but he doesn’t ask him to stop so he continues, “it smells like fresh-cut grass and your mum’s fudge.”

Harry turns to Hermione, eyes unfocused. She looks both nervous and excited. “’Mione, yours is a deep purple, sometimes more blue, sometimes more red, so I think your core is very neutral. There are always little...tendrils, I guess, that poke and prod at your surroundings, it’s very curious. Whenever you’re mad or scared it tightens around you, defensively, and when you get into one of your research binges it goes absolutely mad, spinning around and searching for...something, I never can tell. Knowledge, I suppose. It smells like chamomile and spearmint.”

“Oh,” says Hermione.

“Yeah,” says Harry.

“Bloody hell,” says Ron.

The trio laugh, the heavy atmosphere fades, and they feel closer than ever having shared something so intimate, though they’re all very pointedly ignoring each others flushed faces.

Harry decides a change in subject is in order.

“Why the fake backstory for Mrs. Weasley?”

“Right! Well, I figured it would be very difficult to pretend we aren’t all as close as we really are, so much of our behavior around each other is subconscious. You and Ron have spent almost every minute of the last couple weeks together, so that makes your closeness plausible. I, however, have only just shown up, totally unknown. We needed an explanation for our familiarity.”

“Merlin. Wish we could do that,” says Ron, looking suitably impressed.

“Oi! I’m not that bad a liar,” says Harry, indignant.

“Roonil Wazlib.” says Hermione with a deadpan stare.

Ron snorts, Harry blushes, Hermione looks smug.

Chapter Text

Despite the looming dread of returning to Hogwarts once more with the weight of stopping an impending war left entirely upon their shoulders, the trio spent the last weeks of their summer holiday happier than they could remember being for some time.

Harry hadn’t heard word from Amelia Bones as she’d simply decided on immediate action. She had sent a squadron of aurors, lead by the woman herself, to the Leaky Cauldron the very moment she received his letter and they apprehended a squealing, traitorous rat right from Ron’s pocket, much to Mrs. Weasley’s horrified shock. Pettigrew tried to flee in rat form, and when that didn’t work he changed into a man and attempted to snatch a wand from one of the aurors. Even though they weren’t honed and sharp from a war, the aurors were not so incompetent as to let that happen. Pettigrew was removed to Ministry custody and Sirius was placed in a holding cell in the Ministry pending an investigation, though Harry was assured he was given all the rights and treatment of an innocent individual, including meals, a healer, and a barrister.

Gringotts had sent notice to all the individuals mentioned in the Potter’s will, and they were able to set up a formal will reading for the Yule holidays, the soonest they were able to accommodate everyone. Augusta Longbottom would, naturally, be there in her son and daughter-in-law’s stead.

Perseus Dagworth-Granger (Merlin, what a mouthful) replied to Hermione right away, scheduling a meeting between her and her parents that went incredibly well. Hermione described the man as “stern as McGonagall, but with his humor closer to the surface” and as the boys knew that Hermione greatly admired Minerva McGonagall, they took this to be a very good thing. Perseus insisted that he pay for all of Hermione’s schooling, provide her with a dowry, as well as “a wardrobe fitting of a girl of her standing”, and Harry and Ron shoved Hermione into the waiting tape-measure held in Terrance Twilfitt’s hands, grinning evilly as she grew flustered in Terrence’s busy bee atmosphere.

The boys ceased their laughing very quickly, however, as it turned out that their own wardrobe was finished and Terrence made the boys try on many of their items right there in the store. Harry felt harassed, but Ron seemed to stand a bit taller when he saw himself in the mirror, his magic sparkling at the edges as though it was happy, so Harry felt it was worth his own chagrin and kept his complaints to himself.

Mr. and Mrs. Granger had grown rather fond of Mrs. Weasley’s stern but kind handling of her own children, and had felt confident enough to leave Hermione in her care for their last night. They’d said a long and tearful goodbye, but Harry couldn’t help feeling a bit irritated that they were willing to leave Hermione here with a practical stranger instead of spending their last day together and seeing her off. Hermione had noticed his growing indignation, however, and gave him a quelling look, so he left it be. Ron was bunking with Harry, Hermione was next door with Mrs. Weasley and Ginny, and Arthur and the twins were sharing further down the hall.

The boys are not asleep, and really are not expecting to change that any time soon. Harry is leaning against the headboard of his bed, knees drawn up and reading the third year potion textbook. Luckily he wasn’t such an idiot that he needed to review the first and second year books (though he had looked them over, just in case) but he was a bit miffed that he was finding the third year text was just challenging enough to need review. Ron was at about the same level though, so it eased the sting. A little.

Ron has abandoned his camp bed and is curled up on his side beside Harry, fingers idly fiddling with the hem of Harry’s tshirt where it rests on the bed, staring of into space, thinking about goodness knows what. With Ron it could be anything, he does this quite often. Harry’s interrupted him enough to have heard complex chess maneuvers and tactical Defense strategies, speculations on why Percy is such a prick and, on one memorable occasion, a drunken monologue on the merits of Viktor Krum’s Quidditch-toned arse. Ron insists this never happened to this day.

A small knock at the door has the boys grinning, though neither moves as they know Hermione will come in anyway, and she does a moment later.

“How’d you manage to sneak away?” asks Harry as he and Ron wiggle apart to opposite sides of the bed.

Hermione climbs into the gap they’ve made with a sigh, flopping down on her stomach, face turned to the side to avoid the pillow. “I might have slipped a light sleeping draught into Ginny and Molly’s evening tea. Sorry, Ron.”

Ron shrugs, “They’ll be alright, yea? Means you’re here. Wish we’d considered that when we were trying to plan the Horcrux hunt.”

Harry reaches out and softly pets at Hermione’s hair and she hums happily. He’s become much more tactile since their return. Dying has put things in perspective and he never wants to take his friends for granted.

“Was there something you wanted to talk about, or did you just want to visit?” he asks, and tenses all over when Hermione and Ron share a loaded look. He knows instantly what they’re about to ask, and he had hoped to put it off for longer.

Hermione takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly before she asks, “Harry...you disappeared, at the battle. You went to view the memories but when Ron and I went to find you in Dumbledore’s office, you were gone. Where were you? What...what happened?”

Harry knows he has to answer, has to confess that not only did he sacrifice himself but that he somehow dragged them back here with just his wishful thinking, but how does one even explain such a thing? He has to try. So, he begins in the bluntest way he can.

“I am a Horcrux.”

Chapter Text

For a long, horrible moment there is only silence. Ron and Hermione have adopted the exact same expression, eyes wide and mouths dropped open, faces pale. Even their magic has stilled, making the air in the room feel heavy with anticipation. Harry can see it all passing through their eyes, the memories of Harry’s visions and flashes of Voldemort’s mood, and they know it’s true.

“Well, fuck,” sighs Hermione finally, dropping her head back onto the pillow.

If Harry had thought Ron was shocked before, it was nothing on how his face looked now, staring at Hermione. He looks scandalized.

“Hermione Jean, did you just say ‘fuck’?” asks Ron, whispering like a conspiratorial child.

Hermione groans into her pillow, dismayed. Harry’s lips twitch as the fear of their anger dissipates. Hermione sits up and the three of them arrange themselves into a formation very similar to their Hogwarts days. Sat in a circle, (or triangle, perhaps) cross-legged, knees touching, cocked and ready for a Very Serious conversation.

“You went to him, then?” asks Ron, though Harry can tell he already knows the answer.

“Yes,” he answers. Ron grips his shoulder tightly for a moment, and Hermione bumps his shoulder with hers. They’re both still terribly pale, but he presses on. “Snape’s memories...were a lot.”

Harry tells them, though he wishes he could keep this from them, wishes he didn’t have to face the stain on his soul or his disturbing willingness to die, but they deserve his honesty and he holds nothing back. He tells them every memory of Snape and his mum, of Dumbledore’s machinations and careful maneuvering, using both Harry and Snape as tools, means to his preferred ending. Harry describes how it felt coming out of the pensieve, cold sweat, heart pounding, dread filling his gut like acid but forcing himself out of Dumbledore’s office anyway, doing his duty as he always had. He tells them about seeing them as he passed in his Cloak and wishing he could join them, wishing they’d somehow see him and stop him.

Ron looks glassy eyed now and Hermione is crying, but they don’t interrupt.

Harry tells them of the Stone, his parents and Sirius and Remus coming to welcome him home. Of the clearing in the Forbidden Forest, Hagrid tied to a tree and the Death Eaters watching him in barely restrained glee. Voldemort’s crimson eyes, head cocked like a curious child, and then the green of the killing curse crowding his vision and fading into blackness.

And finally, Harry tells them of King’s Cross, with Dumbledore explaining all that happened as if it was some grand tale and not the horribly clever manipulations of an innocent boy turned martyr extraordinaire.

Harry tells them of his last, desperate wish that he could be with them one last time, the yearning to have his friends at his side for one last adventure.

When he’s finished, they all stay silent as the grave for long minutes, Harry staring at his hands, cowering from any potential backlash and his friends trying to process.

Eventually, arms wrapping around his waist has him looking up in surprise. Ron buries his face in Harry’s bony shoulder and just holds him tightly without a word. On his other side, Hermione leans against him and lays her head on his other shoulder.

“You know what this means, right?” asks Hermione. The boys look at her in question. “Research.”

Harry chokes out a laugh as Ron sighs mournfully from his other side.

“Well, remember what I said about the goblins helping me with the locket and Hufflepuff’s cup?” They nod, “They said they’d look into human Horcruxes for me. As payment for returning the Founder’s artifacts.”

“That’s quite helpful of them, but I still think we ought to see if we can find any books in Knockturn over yule. Or perhaps Grimmauld Place, since Mrs. Weasley and Sirius haven’t decimated the library yet.” Hermione scowls. Despite the dubious contents of most of the books in the Grimmauld library, she had been fiercely against them throwing out all that knowledge. Given their rather relaxed morals over the past year or two, he reckons they won’t find those books nearly as repulsive as they used to, though Harry will always think Horcruxes are crossing the line into unacceptable.

The trio don’t sleep the entire night, but neither do they discuss Horcruxes, Harry’s or otherwise. His friends nudge him to the center of the little bed and curl up on either side of him, making him feel protected and warm. They talk of smaller things, Hermione admonishing Harry for buying a Nimbus 2000 to smuggle into the school, or Harry and Ron discussing their newfound interest in Runes while Hermione looked on with wide eyes. It wasn’t until a pink glow started to peak in through the window that Hermione vacated the bed and sneaked back to her shared room.

The boys, resigned, got up and dressed for the day ahead, Ron making sure his new clothes were packed at the very top of his trunk so he could change easily on the train. They had business to discuss with Malfoy, after all, and though the other boy might only be eleven he was still sharp and raised to be a politician. They all needed to make a good impression, and even if they were “mudbloods and blood traitors”, they would make sure the Malfoy heir took them seriously.

Harry ordered them a coffee service, and he and Ron spent the last couple hours before the rest of the Weasley’s woke playing chess and tossing back too much coffee for their younger bodies. They could have been more productive but...they couldn’t help but grab the last moments of peace that they could. Once they entered the train, they’d be all work and no play.

When they heard the rumbling, shouting commotion of a Weasley family morning coming from the hall, the boys sighed and grabbed hold of their luggage, dragging it out into the fray and being enveloped in the sea of redheads. Hermione and Harry, caught in the center, shared a fond look, both feeling sympathy for the other residents in the inn as the Weasley family thumped down the stairs to grab a quick breakfast to go.

The procession of Weasley’s (plus Harry and Hermione, though they knew they were already honorary Weasley’s, despite the “short” association) filtered one at a time through the public floo and tumbled out on the other side at platform 9 ¾.

The trio stood slightly apart from the commotion of Mrs. Weasley giving last minute admonitions and rounds of hugs to her children. They hadn’t seen the scarlet train in more than a year. Was it two by now? Regardless, the sight of it sent an amalgamation of fear, joy, sorrow and determination through each of them, underscored by Hermione’s softly hitched breath, Ron’s pale face and Harry’s clenched jaw.

Once Mrs. Weasley had freed her sons from her attention, the trio made their way onboard and into an empty compartment. Ron dropped the blinds so he could change into his new clothing, slacks that actually fit, his button-up crisp and new and not a third-generation hand me down, his new black robe actually reaching the floor as it was meant to. By the time Ron had his perfectly polished dragonhide boots on (he, like Harry, absolutely refused to wear dress shoes all day no matter how smart they looked) he had a small smile on his face, and he preened a bit once he had packed away his old clothes.

There wasn’t much for them to say, as they had rehashed their various plans over and over and over during the last fortnight, so they all dug books out of their trunks and settled in for the long ride. They had all thrown occasional glances out into the corridor on occasion, but when Lavender passed by, so young and smiling and alive, Harry stood and pointedly drew the blinds over the inner windows once more. They remained that way for a solid hour before there was a firm knock on the compartment door. Harry, having a solid guess as to who it was, opened the door to confirm his suspicions.

Draco Malfoy, bracketed by his usual bookends, Crabbe and Goyle. Harry smiled, a sharp, unfriendly sort of thing, and instead of being put off, Malfoy seemed to relax.

It was showtime.

Chapter Text

Malfoy doesn’t pretend he’s unsure of Harry’s identity this time around. Something in his expression, recognition perhaps, maybe expectation, maybe even just the straightness of his spine and the carefully constructed smile, a sweet and naive thing that is belied by the hardness in his eyes. Regardless, Malfoy seems to approach their encounter with much more caution and decorum than he had before.

“Well met, Heir Black.” says Malfoy, and for a fleeting moment Harry is surprised that Malfoy refers to his Black heir title instead of the Potter lordship. His brain catches up quickly however and he remembers that Malfoy and his mother are Blacks, of course they would refer to that first, as Harry is lined up to one day be the head of Black house, which takes primacy over the Malfoy line. Harry could potentially use that against Malfoy to ensure his cooperation, take advantage of his fear of the power Harry will someday hold over him but...despite Harry’s dislike of him, he’s just a child. Besides, forcing his compliance would only breed resentment. He’s sticking to their original plan.

“You as well, Heir Malfoy. I’m glad you’re here, I have a proposition for you.”

Malfoy raises a brow but steps into their compartment without an answer. Crabbe and Goyle follow him in, close the door and then stand on either side of it, arms crossed. Had they been older, it would be impressive. As it were, the trio are not actually eleven and it’s very hard not to start cackling.

Malfoy looks between Ron and Hermione as he enters, sizing them up instantly. He seems to be undecided in who to sneer at first, but eventually chooses a well-known path.

“Weasley,” he says with a pompous sniff, but hesitates as he takes in Ron’s appearance. He smirks, “good to see you’re rising above those those awful blood traitors you’re unfortunate enough to be born to.”

Ron’s ears turn a bit pink, but he otherwise holds his composure. “Heir Malfoy. Good to see your manners are still intact, no doubt due to your...superior inbreeding, ah, I mean breeding.”

Malfoy looks surprisingly delighted by the cutting banter, but clearly has no clever rebuttal, as he turns to Hermione. To her credit, she doesn’t look the least bit interested in the blonde, though Harry can tell from the way her magic is wrapped tight to her body that she’s feeling defensive. When she catches Harry’s eyes, however, it loosens a bit and then turns sharp, like a knife’s edge.

“Heir Malfoy, well met. I am Hermione Granger, Heiress Dagworth-Granger.” Malfoy opens his mouth, likely knowing exactly how a new heiress had to have been discovered in a previously dead line, but Hermione cuts him off before he can begin, “If you call me a mudblood I will happily eviscerate you.” and she says the word ‘eviscerate’ with so much venom that Malfoy takes the tiniest step back, closer to his muscled friends. Once more, Harry is surprised by Malfoy, as the blonde does not huff and puff and blow out a bunch of slurs like he expected. Instead, he looks over the three of them with a keen eye. Right, the Malfoy’s have a long history of attaching themselves very closely to those with power and influence, they have a knack for it even. He hopes that’s what’s happening here.

“Very well, Heiress Dagworth-Granger. Weasley.” Malfoy nods to them both, then returns his attention to Harry. “What is this proposition, Heir Black?”

Harry sits and waves for Malfoy to do the same, waiting until the other boy is sat primly across from him.

“First, I have a question for you. Where do you think I’ve been living all these years when I’ve been out of the public eye?”

Malfoy frowns, clearly confused about this direction in the conversation. “Well...Father thinks you’ve been living with some Light family, learning about your place in our society. Mother thinks you’ve been placed with distant relatives of your father’s, away from the medias influence on you.”

“I was sent to live with muggles, my mother’s sister,” says Harry, and Malfoy’s mouth pops open in surprise, “I did not know about magic at all until I received my Hogwarts letter.”

Malfoy replaces his shocked expression with one of righteous outrage, every inch the offended noble. “Harry blood Potter, sent to live with muggles?! How in Merlin’s name did that happen?”

“That, for the time being, is exclusive information. My upbringing, however, is what we needed to talk about.” Harry gestures to Ron and Hermione. “We need to be taught everything one needs to know about wizarding culture, and not just the day to day, we can handle that bit. No, we need someone of higher standing, a pureblood that knows the ins and outs of the game.”

Malfoy is preening, looking very much like one of his father’s prized albino peacocks. Ron’s face is turning pink from suppressed laughter and much to his surprise, so are Crabbe and Goyle’s. Harry ignores all this and drives the final nail into the proverbial coffin. “And, naturally, I can provide compensation, in return for your services.”

Aha, there it is. Malfoy’s eyes sharpen and he focuses back on Harry intently. “What could you possibly offer me, Heir Black? I am hardly in need of galleons, and while your reputation would raise my standing a bit, it’s not so much as to be worth the effort of giving you lot lessons.”

Harry gives a little smug grin of his own and reaches out to Ron, who dutifully hands Harry the invisibility cloak. “Now, don’t get to excited, Heir Malfoy,” says Harry as the blonde’s eyes fixate on the cloak, clearly recognizing it for what it is, “you cannot have this permanently. But I am offering you its use, once a week no questions asked, for as long as you provide the three of us with lessons. And I mean all of the necessary info, etiquette, vernacular, dress, you understand.”

“Agreed. Though we’ll need some assistance on occasion for the-...for Heiress Dagworth-Granger, I obviously can’t teach her anything about being a Lady. I recommend Daphne Greengrass, Heiress Greengrass. She’s neutral, and a bit of a bleeding heart no matter what else she might pretend. You’ll still need to come up with a favor, but she’ll do it.”

Thank Merlin they’d had the foresight to recruit Malfoy, he is already an asset.

“You can start using my cloak after our first lesson. Make sure nobody catches you with it.”

Malfoy rolls his eyes. “Of course. It’s hardly useful to me if everyone knows it exists.”

Here, Harry initiates the last phase of their plan. Start laying the foundation for the type of reputation they’re trying to cultivate; powerful, intimidating, but not unreasonable. Harry lets his magic unwind from his core and creep into the compartment. He’s been practicing this, and the strain is less than it had been weeks ago but it’s still quite difficult, not that he lets it show on his face. The room temperature drops significantly, and the windows grow a bit of frost around the edges.

“One last thing, Heir Malfoy. I need you to be careful with that. It’s the only heirloom I have left from the Potter’s. If it gets lost, I will make you sorry.”

Though Malfoy is clearly afraid, eyes wide, pupils dilated, face pale, his reply is surprisingly earnest. “I would not sabotage a family heirloom, Heir Black, especially not the last of your father’s. Even I’m not that cruel.”

Harry lets his magic recede and tilts his head, eyeing Malfoy. Then, making a decision, he sticks a hand out for the blonde to shake. “Harry.”

Malfoy grins, the most genuine one Harry has ever seen. “Draco, then.” The boy turns to look at Ron and Hermione speculatively. Ron sighs in false dismay, and offers his hand as well.

“Well, what do you say? Fresh start? I’m Ron.” Malfoy...well, Draco, shakes Ron’s hand as well though he seems a bit wary. He then looks to Hermione, who gives him a cold look.

“Not a chance, Heir Malfoy. Not today, at least.”

Draco looks torn between relief and offense, but voices neither.

“I suppose we’ll be seeing you lot later then. Harry, Ron...Heiress Dagworth-Granger. Good day.” and he spins promptly, leaving through the compartment door that Crabbe opens for him, and the trio head back down the hall to their own compartment.

For awhile, there is only silence. Then Ron begins chuckling softly under his breath.

Then Hermione starts up.

Harry is the last to break, and finally the trio is clutching at their sides and wiping away tears. And if their laughter has a hysterical edge to it, well, it’s not like anyone else is there to hear it.



Chapter Text

Severus knows that he is an unkind man. He is bitter and cruel to everyone and everything outside of Slytherin house, his tongue sharp and his patience thin. Yet today happened to test his limits even further than usual, causing all his colleagues to give him a wide berth.

Except Minerva, that old cat had given him snide comments and little smirks all day.

The Potter brat was due to arrive any second now, Minerva having gone to retrieve the first years. He’d heard all about it from Albus, the boy looked just like his father, acted like him too. Doted on and spoiled by whatever Potter cousin the Headmaster had seen fit to send him too. The Potter’s were all filthy rich, no doubt the boy had been raised with a silver spoon in his mouth.

The double doors at the end of the hall creak open, and Minerva sweeps in straight down the middle aisle, the first years trailing after her like ducklings.

Kittens. Maybe? Because Minerva was…

Merlin, he needs to take it easy on the wine for the rest of the evening. Severus pushes aside his goblet and reaches for the water jug instead, doubling down on his occlumency barriers as he scans the line of first years. When he finds the Potter spawn with his messy black hair and round glasses, his heart stutters and he nearly drops his freshly-poured drink.

Those are Lily’s eyes. So very green, bright, even shielded by glasses as they are. Fuck.

As his shock wears down and the boy lines up between another blasted Weasley and a bushy-haired girl, Severus can’t help but feel the first stirrings of doubt. The boy is...small. Very nearly the shortest out of all the other children, and despite his eyes being those of his mother, they seem to hold very little of the same warmth and wonder he’d loved her for.

Severus breathes deeply and pushes the boy from his mind. Whatever the case, he will not be in Slytherin house and therefore will not be his responsibility outside of Potions lessons. He needs to focus. Given the type of child his house usually attracts, he likes to try and get a basic analysis of each new student as they sort into his house. The cunning and ambition of the snakes often came from dark places, and they were his charges now for most of the next seven years. Focus.

The first Slytherin of this year was a Millicent Bulstrode. He already knows of her circumstances, as her elder brother Mars is two years ahead and made sure he knew she was coming. She would need to be met with. While her brother is the Bulstrode heir, Millicent is the halfblood daughter of Lord Bulstrode’s mistress, a muggleborn. This would do her no favors in his house, even though her brother is fiercely protective of her.

The fact that the girl’s mother was found mysteriously dead a year after her birth was also a cause for concern over her mental health.

Then follows a short run of Ravenclaw’s and Hufflepuff’s, and Severus finds his eyes straying unerringly back to the Potter boy. He just cannot focus. The brat looks to be very friendly with the two children on either side of him. It wasn’t terribly noticeable to anyone else, but Severus’s years as a half-blood in Slytherin and then a spy had left him with a keen skill at detecting body language. Perhaps they were childhood friends? And because he’s already watching, when the little witch is called, Hermione Granger it seems, he sees as Potter sneaks a hand out and squeezes one of hers quickly. Very close. Severus resigns himself to be overly interested in this trio, and blames it on his vow. He watches closely as the Granger girl approaches the hat. As far as he’s aware, the girl is muggleborn, unless she was one of the Dagworth-Granger’s, but Perseus has no heirs at the moment despite the prodding of the Pureblood elite and Severus himself, who quite admires the man.

The girl is only sat on the stool for about a minute before it shouts “SLYTHERIN!”, and Severus has to forcibly suppress a groan. If Granger is as nameless as he thought, he has another child to add to his watch list. No student would come to harm in his house, he had vowed that to himself when he took up the Head of House position.

The next in his house is Draco Malfoy, his godson. Severus is not surprised by that sorting in the slightest, but he isvery shocked when the Malfoy heir walks right up to Granger, gives her a nod and sits across from her. Draco glances at the girl who gives him a smile that’s so sharp it could cut diamond, and his godson pales but remains seated, not even sending the girl a single sneer. He is deferring to a muggleborn. Why? What had happened? What had he missed?

Severus remains inwardly gobsmacked (outwardly stoic as always) as the line of students dwindles. “Moon...Nott...Parkinson...Patil….Patil…Perks” And though two of those are sorted to his house, still Severus can’t focus. Not until Minerva calls out the name that sets the whole hall to whispering.

“Potter, Harry!”

Severus watches as the boy approaches the hat, looking calm and confident, but Severus can see the tightness around the boys eyes. He can also see a smug little smile on Minerva’s face, no doubt she’s waiting for the expected shout of Gryffindor.

“SLYTHERIN!” says the hat after nary a second.

Minerva’s smile drops into an “O” of surprise.

The hall grows entirely silent.

The silence is disrupted first by the Granger girl, who is clapping politely but glaring pointedly at his godson, who begins clapping himself a second later, not looking the least bit surprised. Seeing the Malfoy heir give his support, the rest of the Slytherin table follows suit as Potter hands the hat back to Minerva (who had been too shocked to take it off the boy’s head) and takes a place beside Granger, giving a small nod to Draco, who nods back with a slight smile.

What the fuck is happening.

Severus resigns himself to a long, hard year. Surely, though, there will be no more sorting shocks? After all, the universe could not be so vexed with him as to make things even more complicated.

When Ronald Weasley sorts Slytherin amid the gasps of his multiple brothers over at the lion’s table, Severus regains his wine goblet, drains it, pours another. He watches as Weasley number...what, six? Sits next to Draco across from Potter and Granger. Draco does not sneer, Weasley does not start a fight. Severus feels more than a bit nervous (not that he will ever admit as much) as the trio share sly, sharp smirks, and his unease seems to be mirrored in his godsons face down among the snakes.

Severus drains the next goblet of wine. Despite being the youngest of all the Hogwarts staff, Severus wonders how long this particular group of students will take to give him grey hairs. This does not stop him giving Minerva a sly grin as she passes him on the way to her seat at the high table though. She scowls. Her prized lion cub, as well as another Weasley, were swiped right from her den. He may not like the idea of either boy being in his house, but Minerva looks fit to hiss. That alone may be worth the trouble.

Chapter Text

If asked, Hermione would have said she expects the Slytherin common room to be cold, uninviting, and damp from being under the lake. She’s pleasantly surprised as they pass through the blank stretch of wall that hides the entrance. It’s enormous, easily triple the size of the Gryffindor common room, warm and dry. The stone walls and floor and ceiling would have been a little off-putting, except you could hardly see any of them. The floors are covered in various plush rugs in green and black and grey. Oil lamps with little colored glass windows hang from the ceiling in all the corners, chasing away the dark. There are two enormous fireplaces on either side of the long rectangular room and casting a warm glow, surrounded by leather couches and velvet wing-back chairs. Various bookshelves line a large portion of the available wall space, and what other space remains is covered in portraits or tapestries that she can’t see the details of just yet. There’s a walkway above their heads that wraps the perimeter of the room, no doubt accessed by the dorm level (there’s a narrow set of stairs on either side of the room) and she can see various couches, chairs and study tables up there.

For now the new first years are lead to the center of the room by a prefect, where there are multiple long study tables set up beneath a large crystal chandelier, because of course Slytherin has a chandelier. The prefect, a tall, pretty girl with long brown hair and a small smile, gestures for them to settle themselves at one of the tables and waits until they have done so. Ron and Hermione take places on either side of Harry, as they’d discussed. Harry had thrown a little fit, of course, at the idea they would defer to him, but that’s how it had to be here.

“I’m Gemma Farley, fifth year prefect and assigned to you firsties for your first week. It’s my job to give you a brief overview of our house rules and procedures, and I’ll be available for questions or concerns this entire week. After that, you’re on your own.” Farley sends a doubtful look down to Crabbe and Goyle for a moment, but quickly moves on.

“Our rules are fairly basic, but strictly enforced. Rule number one, and arguably the most important rule; what happens in Slytherin, stays in Slytherin. You’ll have your arguments with your housemates and politics and power plays within this common room, but outside of it you keep your mouth shut and present a united front. No other students outside of Slytherin are allowed into the common room, not even family members. The other three houses and most of the Professors hate us all on principal, and if we don’t watch each others backs outside this room, things can get nasty. There’s a designated dueling room next to Professor Snape’s office, he’s our head of house. Should you take issue with a house mate, that is how you resolve the issue, and once the duel is finished the argument is put to rest for at least a month, at which time the losing party can challenge the winner once more. Nobody is allowed to challenge you firsties at all, but you can challenge whomever you wish. Once you’re in second year, anyone can challenge you but it’s considered bad form for anyone fourth year and up to challenge the third years and below. Make sense?” They all nod, some looking nervous. Hermione sees Harry’s wand-hand twitching. No doubt her ridiculous friend is itching for a fight, he always is.

“Excellent,” Farley continues, “moving on then. These tables we’re sat at now are designated to upper years for tutoring you youngsters. A fourth year or sixth year in various subjects will be assigned to these tables and rotate out every few days. Professor Snape takes our marks very seriously, I suggest seeking help if you’re struggling. Do not bother our fifth and seventh years. They’re in their exam years and don’t need to be distracted. The books you see around the common room are free for use, but they cannot leave the threshold of the common room, so don’t bother trying to leave with them or take them to your dorm. And finally, a certain amount of rule breaking is expected, but don’t get caught. Professor Snape expects us to be cunning, not, as he puts it, ‘clumsy, blundering dunderheads’.”

The firsties all chuckle, though she can see that most of them are a little overwhelmed. Hermione is impressed. On their first night in Gryffindor, they were shown their dorms and then left to fend for themselves. Gemma Farley passes each of them a map, then directs them up the stairs to their dormitories.

Their dorm itself is as opulent as she’s beginning to suspect all of Slytherin house is. She expects the sheer size of the place is due to there being nothing but Snape’s classes and quarters down here. Each of them has the usual four poster bed-though she nearly laughs when she notices the silk sheets-but also two nightstands, and a wardrobe. There’s a fireplace at the end of the room, surrounded by a low coffee table and poufs.

Hermione expects derision or snide comments and petty schoolgirl bullying, but she’s surprised. Sure, Parkinson turns her nose up at her a bit, but she does still introduce herself. The other girls do as well. Daphne Greengrass, if Malfoy is to be believed, is entirely neutral in politics, and she doesn’t see anything but the same polite stoicism that’s on her own face as they give their names. Millicent Bulstrode gives her own name shortly, then disappears into their bathroom (every dorm has their own, it’s brilliant) without another word. Tracey Davis seems to be the warmest of the lot of them, introducing herself with a smile and trying, in vain, to draw them all into conversation. Hermione gives Davis an apologetic look, then gathers her pajamas and toiletries and enters the shared bathroom with Bulstrode.

“Oh Merlin,” she whispers to herself, though from the snort Bulstrode gives as she’s brushing her teeth at one of the sinks, she heard.

The bathroom is stunning. While it’s true that it seems to be communal like the one in Gryffindor, she can’t bring herself to mind. The entire room is done in white marble and white tiles, the potential monotony broken up by the thick gray rugs, silver faucets, and the silver glitter running in veins through the marble counters and floors. The large shower area has multiple shower heads as expected, but unexpected is the bloody sauna room right next to it. The sinks line one wall, one for each of them (She wonders if there are always that number or if it’s magic), and an equal number of vanities line the opposite wall. The center is taken up by a pool bath that rivals the one in the Prefects bathroom, though it’s a bit smaller. As she prepares for bed, she’s already making a plan to spend a good long time in that bath tomorrow.

As Bulstrode leaves, Parkinson enters and abruptly, Hermione has an idea. It would never work on an older Parkinson, but this one, calculating though she may be, is an eleven year old girl. All Hermione knows about Parkinson is that she’s a lover of hair and fashion, to such an extent that Lavender and Parvati’s obsession pales in comparison. Thus, she makes a show of eyeing Parkinson’s perfectly straight black hair, then her own in the mirror. When she’s sure the other girl has noticed this she spins around and pins Parkinson with a look, stern but edging on pleading.

“Is there any way you can help me tame this?” Hermione gestures to her hair. It’s always been beyond her. Her mum had always been very adamant that Hermione just let her hair grow as it was, which is...fine. Her hair is a bit more manageable than her mother’s, no doubt due to her father’s genes, he has pin-straight hair, the bastard. But despite being soft and silky in texture, it still grows in a riotous mass of dark curls, tight, tiny ringlets that conform to no rules, at least none that she’s aware of.

Parkinson eyes her hair, unable to hide her sudden, near-manic glee. Hermione grows wary.

“Oh, Granger. You’re my new favorite person. I’ll be right back, this calls for reinforcements. Go pick a vanity and sit.” and she dashes back into their dorm.

Hermione does as asked, and when Parkinson returns with an equally eager-looking Greengrass, both wielding brushes and multiple hair potions, Hermione wonders if this was a good idea after all.

With a sigh, she resigns herself to her fate and wonders how her boys are doing.

Chapter Text

Harry and Ron meet Hermione in the common room the next morning, grinning hugely at her blushing face. Pansy Parkinson and Daphne Greengrass are stood on either side of her and looking smug, so Harry can only assume that Hermione’s hair-now perfectly styled in controlled bouncy ringlets-is their doing.

“Wow, Hermione! That looks much better.” says Ron obliviously. Harry winces and takes a step away, out of range...just in case. Ron, seeing all three girls suddenly scowl at him, seems to realize what he said and looks very nervous. “Not...not that it was bad before! But you have to admit, this looks great,” he finishes with a weak smile.

Hermione lets him sweat a moment before she smiles as well. “You’re right, it’s better. But have some tact, honestly.”

“It was an honor, really,” says Parkinson, and Harry doesn’t think he’s ever seen such a lack of animosity on her face, “Daph and I have the straightest, most manageable hair ever. It’s a blessing, but I’ve always wanted to have a go at some curls.” she eyes Hermione’s hair with an expression similar to Hagrid’s when faced with a baby dragon.

Greengrass rolls her eyes and links her arm through Parkinson’s, towing her out of the common room, “Come on Pansy, let’s go before you propose. See you later, Hermione.”

Harry raises a brow at Hermione. “Seems like you had as much success as we did.”

“You managed to make friends with your dorm mates? I’d have thought you’d have a harder time of it.” says Hermione.

“Nope,” says Ron, “Malfoy did a good job of pretending he wasn’t afraid of Harry. I almost couldn’t tell. He mostly spent the night complaining about how small the beds are and that the bathroom isn’t ‘pretty’ enough. The bloody thing is covered in black marble and silver, if that’s not enough for him I wonder the bathrooms look like at his Manor.”

Harry nods, “yea, and then there’s Nott and Zabini. Nott seems a bit bookish, he didn’t say much. I think I make him wary, given who his father is. Zabini talks near as much as Malfoy, but he seems like less of a prat.”

“Then Crabbe and Goyle were a surprise,” Ron continues, eyes wide, “I mean they’re still a bit daft, but they were incredibly nice. Goyle has a cat and he spoils her. It was surreal.”

Hermione’s brow furrows as she considers this, and she hooks her arms through theirs to lead them out of the room, much like Greengrass had just done with Parkinson. “We can’t assume anything about the Slytherin’s. We might have spent years as classmates, but we know nothing that happened all the times in between class and meals. Not to mention, they’re not the people we once knew. Not right now, and maybe never.”

Harry thinks of Malfoy’s pale face, gasping and crying just before Harry split him open with Sectumsempra, and hopes she’s right.

The trio settle in at the Slytherin table for breakfast and Harry feels odd sitting on this side of the hall. Parkinson and Greengrass give a small wave and go back to their gossip. Nott glances up from his book to give a nod, then returns to his reading. The others aren’t present yet. Harry doesn’t know what the other girls are up to of course, but Malfoy and Zabini had been busy with an intense morning skin care routine and arguing over whose was more effective while Crabbe and Goyle waited for Malfoy to be finished.

Ron piles a plate full of bacon and eggs and shoves it in front of Harry before he grabs his own food. Harry ignores it in favor of a cup of coffee, which he sucks down with enthusiasm and a happy sigh. He catches Hermione sneaking toast onto his plate and gives in. They’ve been doing this since their original first year, sneaking food onto his plate or snacks into his school bag, stuffing chocolate frogs or pasties into his hands whenever he’s distracted. It would be annoying if it didn’t also make him secretly pleased.

The others in their year join them halfway through breakfast, and it seems Davis has roped Malfoy and Zabini into some asinine (in Harry’s opinion) conversation about Italian clothing designers, of all things. He’s happy to be excluded from the rapid-fire conversation, it’s far to early. Harry scowls harshly into his mug, wondering if he could talk the house elves into sending up a stronger brew.

Unbeknownst to Harry, Malfoy turns to speak to him only to be waylaid by Ron, who frantically shakes his head and gestures meaningfully to Harry’s face. Malfoy takes one look at his intense contemplation of his coffee and decides his own life is worth more than drawing Harry into a conversation at present. Smart boy.

Snape approaches them after they’ve all finished eating to pass out their schedules, not looking impressed in the slightest by Harry’s dark demeanor. His gaze flickers along the first years, most of whom are nervous under the head snake’s scrutiny. Harry straightens and sends the man the sweetest, most polite smile in his arsenal and is thrilled when Snape goes from mild disdain to a long-suffering sort of look, one without much heat. As the man sweeps away in his usual billow of robes, Harry wonders what he has to look long-suffering for. He hasn’t even really met Harry yet. With an unconcerned shrug, Harry turns to his friends to go over their class schedule. Transfiguration with the lions, it seems. Harry looks to his old house table and scans the firsties. His eyes lock onto Neville, sitting alone at the very end, not separated from his roommates, but not part of their conversation either. It’ll just be him with Dean and Seamus, who had always been inseparable.

Newly determined, when they all reach Professor McGonagall’s classroom, Harry sits directly next to Neville. The other boy squeaks a little, staring at Harry in surprise. Harry pretends not to notice, instead just giving Neville a polite nod and removing his book, quill and parchment from his bag. The other first years begin to mutter a little at seeing a Slytherin sit with a Gryffindor so casually, but one poisonous look from Harry silences the entire room.

Aside from that, the entire first day is rather anticlimactic. Harry’s bored nearly to tears as their classes are mostly theory at this point and he wonders how the hell he’s meant to survive this. Even Hermione adopts a glazed look in her eyes, one that he’s usually used to seeing on Ron. By the time they return to their common room after dinner, Harry feels ready to tear his hair out. Hermione follows the boys up to their dorm, ignoring the offended squawks from Draco. They clamber onto Harry’s bed in their familiar cross-legged triangle and throw up a muffliato. They do leave the curtains open though, that might have been pushing it. After a few minutes, the other boys go back to whatever they had been doing previously, looking bemused but not bothering them further.

“I’m gonna go chat with the basilisk,” says Harry. Ron and Hermione gape at him. “What? I’m sure it’ll be less...you know, murderous and such without Tom Riddle around. And I’m so bored already.”

Ron turns to try and share one of his usual ‘Harry is barmy’ looks with Hermione, but is horrified to see that her face is contemplative.

“I wouldn’t mind studying it, if it’s amenable. The last one to be discovered was nearly two hundred years ago in Spain.” she says. For all that Hermione claims to be the logical one, as usual her curiosity and love of a mystery overrides her common sense.

Ron, ever their voice of reason, sighs mournfully. Harry and Hermione chase after adventure like sharks that have scented blood in the water. He resigned himself to this fate years ago, and as he catches the unholy excitement in his friends eyes, he wonders what he did to deserve this insanity. Harry had the same look in his eye when he dragged them into the Forbidden Forest after a trail of spiders, and look how that turned out! But...he can’t let them go alone, and so resolves to steal one of Hagrid’s roosters. Just in case.

Chapter Text

While Harry had wanted to go to the Chamber immediately, Ron insisted they wait to do any sneaking around until they talked Fred and George into giving up the Marauder’s Map. He can’t really argue. He imagines that the Slytherin’s won’t exactly be forgiving if they were to lose massive amounts of house points from their after-hours excursions like they used to in Gryffindor.

The urge to get into mischief and the ache in his gut from not having his dad’s map has Harry determined to retrieve it as soon as possible. As such, only three days after their arrival, Ron grabs the twins from the Gryffindor table after dinner and the five of them rendezvous in an empty classroom in the dungeons.

“What’s this, then? An ambush?” asks Fred.

“And you, brother-ours. What’s with the get-up, hm?” says George. The twins level Ron with identical accusing expressions. Ron looks right back, entirely unapologetic, and offers the perfect excuse, because really, it’s the truth.

“I had a feeling I might be going to Slytherin. I couldn’t exactly wear Bill’s old hand-me-down’s and expect to get by, they’d eat me alive. Harry helped me out this summer.”

The twins turned to Harry and fixed him with an unusually serious look. After a quiet, intense moment, they turn to each other, nod, then each offer Harry a hand to shake.

“Thanks for helping out our ickle Ronniekins, Potter.”

“You’re alright, for a snake.”

“Oi!” says Ron, feigning offense. The twins are clearly not convinced, as they just smile placidly back at him.

“So. What can we do for you, little snakelings?” asks Fred.

Harry, feeling cheeky, says “I solemnly swear that we have serious business to discuss.”

The twins gape at him, clearly stunned. Then, slowly, George pulls the familiar shabby, folded piece of parchment from his pocket and passes it to Harry curiously. He and Fred watch him closely, clearly wondering just what he knows. Harry can’t help the fond, happy smile that steals across his face once the map is back in his hands.

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” he says with a tap of his wand. As the ink bleeds across the surface, Harry looks back to the twins who are nearly ready to burst with questions. First, Harry points to the name of Prongs. “My father,” he says softly. Next, he taps on Padfoot. “My godfather,” then taps Moony, “a good friend and mentor,” lastly, he glares at Wormtail’s name. “A traitor. Ron can tell you his story later.”

Ron nods a confirmation, and the twins look even more curious than before. The day that the aurors had arrested Pettigrew, the twins hadn’t been in Diagon with them, and Ron said his mum had decided to keep the details quiet except for her, Ron and Arthur. Harry isn’t too worried, though. The twins wouldn’t narc to their mum, and Ron will know to spin the story in a way that explains without giving away their secrets.

“This map is mine by rights. I was hoping I could have it.” Harry will be taking the map regardless of what Fred and George think of the matter, but he’s not surprised when they nod agreeably. They’re a good sort.

“Of course,” says Fred. Then, with a quick glance at each other, both twins start bowing and swooning dramatically.

“We are not worthy, oh son of Prongs!”

“Godson of the great Padfoot!”

“Student of the marvelous Moony”

“Progeny of greatness!”

Harry cackles while Ron and Hermione roll their eyes, though they’re all well used to the twins antics.

“Well...I suppose you can borrow it now and then, so long as it’s for pranking purposes,” says Harry magnanimously. He resolutely ignores Hermione’s exasperated sigh.

“As if we do anything else,” says Fred with a scoff. Harry, of course, can’t tell Fred about the one time he’d ever borrowed Harry’s map, because that was in fifth year. He’d stumbled into him and Angelina that night, snogging in an abandoned corridor.

In his mind, Harry sees Fred lying on the stone floor, eyes blank and hair dyed crimson with his own blood, Angelina standing behind the mourning Weasley’s and staring at her boyfriend with an eerie lack of emotion. He shoves the thought away and focuses here and now, where Fred is laughing with George as they tease Ron about his “Posh, princely, prattish robes”.

They all leave the classroom soon after that, the twins headed one direction, the trio the other. But Harry, feeling watched, turns back to find the twins pinning the three of them with an intense look. They tuck it away behind their usual smiles, but Harry’s seen it. They’re suspicious. They had known they’d never be able to pass as the usual first years, but they’d hoped to come off as just mature and withdrawn.

Whatever it is the twins currently suspect, Harry comforts himself in the fact that there’s no way they’ll assume time travel. That’s just too far a leap to make, even for Fred and George.

So, a few days later on Friday morning when George slams a hand down on the Slytherin table and shouts “Time travel!”, he lets out a beleaguered sigh. Fred is standing behind his twin and making faces at his year mates.

Draco opens his mouth, no doubt to sneer at the intruding Weasley’s, but he snaps his mouth shut again at a sharp look from Harry and goes back to eating his scone primly, as though nothing happened.

Harry can feel that familiar itch under his skin, the writhe of dread and adrenaline and irritation all wrapped into one horrible package. The twins are grinning, no doubt thinking they’re wrong about their curious little private investigating and just having a spot of fun. Harry had noticed them following he and Ron and Hermione around, but he hadn’t thought they’d ever gotten close enough to hear anything. He was very vigilant about silencing charms.

While the twins wouldn’t cause them harm intentionally, Harry knew they’d spread the rumor around just for the chaos of it. If the wrong person followed the breadcrumbs, they could very well be discovered. Even Dumbledore would not hesitate to use them in the coming years to fit his own agenda, regardless of what any of them want.

Harry stands, Ron and Hermione a beat behind him. He wonders what his face looks like at that moment, because the twins smiles have gone a bit tight, Ron looks nervous, and Hermione looks resigned.

“So be it. Come on, then.” says Harry, voice hard. He loves Fred and George, idolized them in his younger years and felt camaraderie with them in the later, but this is too important. He will not put the fate of the war into the careless hands of teenage pranksters. He leads them from the hall and down to the very same classroom they’d used earlier that week. Once inside, he uses every locking ward and silencing spell he knows, then double checks the map to make sure they’re alone in the entire corridor.

Harry turns to face his companions and notices that Fred and George look wary, but don’t have their wands drawn. It reminds him all over again why this is so important. Ron and Hermione have theirs out, have since they left the Great Hall. Harry never wands that to be the twins first instinct.

“I could just obliviate them,” suggests Hermione, smirking at the twins incredulous faces. Harry can tell from the twitch of her fingers around her wand that she’s not joking, at least not entirely.

Ron must see it too, because he clears his throat pointedly to draw her attention away from his brothers. The twins only look relieved for a split second, because Ron replies “Only as the last resort.”

“Oi!” says Fred, and his face can’t decide if it wants to be amused or offended. Regardless, it’s clear the two of them don’t think much of the trio’s threatening, despite the NEWT-level wards Harry layered around the room.

Harry knows quite well that they could probably get some Vow off the twins, a Secrecy Oath or something of that nature. He also understands that the boys are just thirteen and not too much of a threat yet, especially not against Ron.

But Harry also knows that even at thirteen, the Weasley Twins are some of the most brilliant, tenacious, vicious students in all of Hogwarts, and will continue to grow more into that role as they age. If Harry can play this the right way, they might just have seriously underestimated allies to help them cause havoc and mayhem around the school when needed, providing distractions or alibis.

The grin that unfurls across his face probably shows to many teeth, feels more like a snarl than anything and given the way the twins have gone quiet in their protests, he assumes it’s nothing nice to look at. Harry summons the boys wands with a theatrical snap of his fingers, pulls up a couple dusty chairs that smack into the backs of their knees, causing them to sit with a thump, then conjures he and his friends nice, plush black armchairs to sit across from the twins, which feels like a watered-down Dumbledore move. Hermione scoffs, but Ron throws himself into his sideways with a delighted grin.

“Let’s talk,” says Harry, and he’s delighted to see that, while Fred and George look incredibly nervous, there’s also that unholy light of insatiable curiosity in their eyes.

Harry intends to use that.

Chapter Text

Ron feels a bit numb on their way to Potions after talking to the twins. It hadn’t gone the way he’d thought at all, and he isn’t sure if it was Fred and George that had shocked him the most, or Harry.

He had always known Harry was powerful, had seen it over and over, even when they were titchy little firsties...well the first time they were, that is. He had also always known that Harry took to leadership like a fish to water, but the whole meeting with his brothers was an eye opener. Harry was his best mate. That didn’t seem an accurate enough descriptor for his fierce willingness to follow Harry into war, but those are the words he had. After this morning, though, Ron thinks he would have followed Harry anywhere, even if they hadn’t been friends previously.

The most prevalent factor of their meeting had been Harry’s magic. He had always downplayed his power, never used it unless forced by dementors or dark lords, never showed any indication that he knew or cared what power he held. Faced with the twins, Harry had let his magic entirely free. It filled the room slowly like a mist, and somehow Ron had been able to sense more in Harry’s magic than he had in anyone else. Usually a person’s magic was just noticeable, a slight tickle or brush of wind, and only when they used it. Harry’s made his hair stand on end, crackled in the air smelling of ozone and rain, the electric feeling of a storm just before it breaks. It had filled him with the instant urge to do something, sprint around the lake, start a fierce duel, punch some random pillock, anything to satisfy the giddy energy building in his limbs and chest. Hermione and the twins absolutely felt it too, if the widening of their eyes and tense muscles were any indication.

Then Harry had told the twins everything, in a disturbingly succinct fashion. Of dark lords and trolls and basilisks, dementors and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, even Fred’s death, which had George looking ill and clutching at Fred’s hand. Ron was a bit perturbed that Harry was trusting them so easily, but he wasn’t about to object, not if it meant he got to keep his brothers closer than he’d thought. Standing before them, Harry had laid it all out, the need for allies and friends, the plan of action for preparing for the potential coming war, or the prevention of it if they could. Basically, Harry fed them a call to arms, and the twins had eaten it up with a nearly manic determination. If they had been anyone else, Ron has no doubt they’d have actually bent a knee to Harry. His thirteen year old, infamously independent brothers should not have been able to look so reverently devoted to an eleven year old skinny waif of a boy like Harry, but he’d seen it...and he’d been right there with them. Harry had the twins ensnared in barely half an hour. Ron would have been worried, except he knew his best friend would do all in his power to keep his brother’s from harm.

Fred and George had stood shakily once their meeting had come to its end, planted a kiss to Ron’s forehead one after the other, then left with wide eyes. Harry had gotten them to agree very easily to a secrecy oath, one that Hermione had written up for them over the summer just in case. It was so airtight that there was no way the twins could let slip their information, and they’d be joining the trio for Occlumency study too.

Once they were alone, Harry had slumped as though he were a puppet with cut strings, dropping into one of his conjured chairs and looking weary. He ran his hands through his hair and tangled his fingers in the black curls, leaving them their to rest his head, elbows on his knees. Ron had looked at the tense line of his spine where he’d bent forward, too prominent even through the school robes, and was brought back down to earth at the reminder that Harry was as human as the rest of them, and almost hated himself for nearly forgetting. He sighed and dropped onto the floor, leaning against Harry’s legs and resting his head on Harry’s thigh. Hermione approached quietly and sat on the arm of the chair opposite Ron and threaded her fingers through Harry’s hair too, grip much gentler than his own. There they remained until the bell signaled the end of the breakfast hour, and they’d set off for Potions without a word, Ron slowly sinking into his delayed, shocked numbness.

One thing was for certain, he thought as he followed Hermione into the Potions classroom, life would never be dull with Harry Potter around. Ron smiles.

Chapter Text

Severus is tense. That, of course, is nothing new, but usually it’s one of the blundering Gryffindors that is making him so, not one of his snakes. He’d gone so far as to skip breakfast entirely this morning, lest he snap and take out his frustrations on his innocent colleagues.

Potter is due in his first class of the morning, and he just doesn’t know how to feel about it. He wishes he could go back to hating the very idea of the child, blaming the boy for his father’s failings, but it’s been impossible. He’s spent the entire week observing Potter when he could, and he’s nonplussed. Yes, he’s seen that mischievous glint in his eye like his old tormentor, but it was only ever directed to Weasley and Granger, and never malicious in nature. The three are always wrapped up in each other, heads close at meals and in the corridors, whispering as though there’s some great mystery afoot. They don’t giggle like children their age ought to while solving mysteries, though, they look grim and serious as though their first-year problems have all the gravity of an oncoming battle. That’s not to say they’re reclusive. He’s seen Potter moving about the common room in the evenings, speaking softly to various housemates who always look hostile when he starts speaking, then cautiously curious by the time he ends the conversation, and the trio have definitely ensnared his godson somehow.

That’s not even to mention the way they move. Weasley and Granger bookend Potter in the same way that Crabbe and Goyle do to Malfoy, though they’re less aggressive, and Severus has no doubt that if Potter were threatened they would jump into action in his defense. He can see it in the way their eyes fixate on anyone that strays a bit too close to him, though Potter seems oblivious of his friends hyper-awareness on his behalf. He seems to be overly aware in his own way, cataloging exits to every room he enters, never keeping his back to a door, always reaching out a hand to brush his friend’s robes, as though reassuring that they’re indeed still beside him. The trio seem to orbit around the others seamlessly. Severus has seen it before in the close-knit groups of his sixth and seventh year student, dorm life tends to promote a sort of codependency, but the only other students with this level of closeness at so young an age are usually twins.

The bell rings, and after a few moments the first year Gryffindors and Slytherins start to trickle in, taking seats on either side in a clear house divide. He notices that the snakes have left the very front seats open and cocks a questioning brow at Draco, who has taken up the table behind it with Crabbe and Goyle. Draco just looks back at his blankly. His unasked question is answered moments later, however, as Potter, Granger and Weasley enter the room just as class is to begin and slip into the open seats. None of the other young snakes seem surprised or perturbed by this. Politics in Slytherin house take off from day one, but usually his youngest Slytherins are not so subtle or proactive about their moves. He does his best not to cast the trio suspicious looks as he gives his usual speech to the first years.

“You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making,” he begins, and nearly falters at the sudden, identical amused expressions on the trios faces. “As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses...I can teach you to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death-if you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.” Severus sweeps his eyes across the room as his speech comes to an end, pinning the room with a hard stare. There has not been a single permanent injury in his class since he took up this position, let alone any casualties. No previous Professor’s could claim such a long streak of harmlessness. As such he needs to make sure these little brats understand how serious his class is. Nothing like a little fear to keep them on their toes.

Catching Potter’s eye, he notes that the irritating child still looks amused, and, bewilderingly enough, fond.

What the hell? Fine, let’s see if Severus can wipe the expression off his face.

“Potter!” the boy doesn’t startle. Damn. “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

Granger’s hand snaps up into the air, and both Potter and Weasley send her exasperated looks before Potter turns to answer his question.

“The Draught of living Death, sir,” he says softly, and Severus gestures for him to continue, “it’s an extremely strong sleeping potion.” He refuses to be impressed, even though that question was from the third year syllabus. Instead, he turns away from the boy sharply, pointedly ignoring the child’s smirk to fire off another question, glancing at his seating chart for a name.

“Patil! Where would I find a bezoar?”

“The stomach of a goat, sir,” says the girl, and she elaborates without prompting, “It’s a stone that, when ingested, will same you from most poisons.” Patil preens at Severus’s nod.

“Longbottom, difference between monkshood and wolfsbane.”

Longbottom, quivering at the back of the room, gives a startled squeak, but he does take a breath and make an attempt, though his face is beet red. “There’s no difference, sir. It’s also called aconite,” the boy says softly, haltingly. Severus makes a note to keep an eye on the child. A lack of confidence in one’s brewing can be nearly as deadly as overconfidence.

Severus sweeps his eyes across his students once more, and allows himself a small smirk. “Perhaps I may be blessed with a lack of dunderheads in this particular classroom,” he says softly, they all sit a bit straighter, even Longbottom. “Continue this work ethic and perhaps I will reconsider rendering you all down to potion ingredients. I am a strict, unforgiving teacher, and I expect hard work. Is that understood?”

He accepts the frantic nods of his students, and then writes the Cure for Boils up on the board, sweeping about the room as the students start brewing. Much later, he notices Longbottom about to add his porcupine quills too early, but then the boy halts, reads the board once more, and takes his cauldron off the heat first, thus saving the child’s potion. He looks up to find Potter’s eyes fixed on Longbottom as well, and Potter slumps in relief when the Gryffindor prevents his near mistake.

How curious. Why would Potter have noticed Longbottom’s impending mishap from the very front of the room?

The lesson ends amicably, and his students leave his classroom in much higher spirits than most of his first years usually do. Severus slumps behind his desk, happily losing his wound-tight countenance now that he’s alone. With some deliberation, he dashes off three notes, one each to Potter, Granger and Weasley, scheduling meetings with him over the weekend. He’d already seen to Bulstrode, the girl surprisingly well-adjusted for someone in her position, and he’s been putting off meeting these three. There could be no more excuses, had to be done. And maybe with a bit of cunning, he could get at least one of them to explain the reasons for their curious natures.

With a pout, Severus remembers he has another class in ten minutes and thus cannot remain at his desk, brooding.

Shame. He does so love to brood.

Chapter Text

Harry enters Snape’s office with trepidation. He had only ever been in this room for Occlumency lessons, and it’s safe to say that there is not a single fond or happy memory associated to the place. It’s his turn for a meeting with his head of house. Ron and Hermione both had theirs yesterday and had told him everything discussed. To his surprise, it had been fairly benevolent. Snape had made sure that both of them were doing well, ensuring that they were not being harassed by their housemates, as Ron was from a family of blood traitors and Hermione was muggleborn. Snape had commended them both on their excellent marks thus far and even made sure they were making friends in their house (other than each other that is). Sure, the man had prodded a bit about the origins and nature of the trio’s friendship, but they’d stuck to their original stories. Hermione was Harry’s childhood friend from muggle primary school, and Ron and he had met in Diagon and spent the rest of the summer becoming friendly.

Surely the man was just going to rehash all that? Harry couldn’t fathom what else he may have to say. So then why did he feel so nervous?

“Mr. Potter, have a seat,” said Snape, gesturing to one of the chairs before his desk. Harry tried to contain his fidgeting. Snape had always hated it when he sat there bouncing his leg or tugging on his robe sleeves. No need to set a bad tone this early. He took a deep breath, keeping still and running over his rehearsed answers in his head.

“It seems, Mr. Potter, that we have no records of yours whatsoever. Usually when a child comes to us we receive their home address, emergency contacts and medical records from their Healer’s. I attempted to get the name of your guardian so that I could owl them and correct this oversight, but there was no record of your guardianship either.” Snape raises that one particular eyebrow of his, the one that somehow is able to ask silent questions, imply suspicion, and also call him an arrogant dunderhead all at once, even when he’s innocent of any wrongdoing. Harry tries not to bristle instantly, as the question Snape is asking (without verbally asking) seems fairly standard for this sort of meeting. It’s true that Harry technically ran away from the Dursley’s, but Harry imagines they’ll keep that to themselves if Snape contacts them if it means Harry doesn’t darken their doorstep again.

“I wouldn’t have any Healer records, sir. I live with muggles. My mother’s family.”

Snape seems freeze, piercing Harry with a look that he doesn’t know how to interpret.

“That would be...Petunia Evans?” he asks softly, and Harry suddenly remembers that Snape knows his Aunt Petunia, and likely hates her as much as Harry does. Well...maybe not as much as Harry, as Harry is intimately familiar with the shape of his aunts wedding ring, as it’s made contact with his face many times in his life. Princess cut sapphire and diamonds. He shakes his head and focuses.

“Petunia Dursley. She’s married.” Harry can’t prevent the way his eyes shoot straight down to his boots at even the passing reference to Uncle Vernon. No matter his age or what he’s faced, something about Vernon Dursley makes Harry feel small. He wants to snarl at himself for this weakness.

Snape, because he is a Slytherin and a spy and has been Head of House for years, knows the signs Harry is displaying, and since Harry’s eyes are fixed on his shoes, he doesn’t see the hastily obscured dismay of his professor’s face.

“Do you have the name of the doctor or hospital you visited as a child? Or remember when you last had your vaccinations?”

Harry’s brow furrows and he looks back up to Snape.

“I’ve never been to a doctor, sir. I’ve never been ill or anything. And I’ve never had any sort of vaccinations...do I need them? Maybe my parents had them done before I was sent to the Dursley’s.”

Snape is quite tense, and Harry’s fight or flight instinct kicks into overdrive. He glances at the door to the office, making sure it’s still unlocked in case he needs to make a run for it. Why he would need to run, he has no idea, but his nerves seem to think otherwise.

Snape notices the way he’s cataloging an escape route and forcibly relaxes himself. Harry appreciates the gesture, even if it doesn’t help him overmuch. After a long moment of Snape pinning him in place with a heavy look, the man finally sighs and practically slumps in his chair, one hand coming up to rub tiredly at his eyes. Harry gapes. He’s never seen his professor look like this.

“Harry,” starts Snape, and the use of his first name makes the urge to flee even stronger. Harry locks his knees pointedly to keep himself in his chair. “Normally I would go about this conversation in such a way that my student would never realize what they were revealing. You, however, are far too observant for such prodding to work, and I will not insult you by attempting it. So let us be direct. Do I need to make investigations into your home life?”

Harry stills, the instinct to run leaving him as he considers what he’s being asked. He spent most of his life hiding how he was treated by his relatives, the shame of being bested by someone as stupid as Vernon and Dudley or as thin and small as Aunt Petunia making him keep his silence. After he entered the magical world, his silence was due to a greater fear of being seen as weak, incapable. The Boy-Who-Lived, bested by his idiotic muggle relatives. Harry Potter can defeat basilisks and Dark Lord’s, but Merlin forbid his red-faced uncle even glance in his direction. It would be all over the papers, and whether it be reported with pity or derision, he would hate it.

But he had confessed the self perceived weaknesses to Hermione and Ron long ago, one late night at the Burrow before they left for the Horcrux Hunt, and his friends had spent ages convincing him that he wasn’t worth less just because of what he’d allowed himself to endure from his relatives. Snape had consistently saved Harry in his previous life, even though he’d loathed him. Maybe if he fessed up now, Snape could save him again, albeit in a different way.

Harry returned his gaze to the floor, unable to look at his professor as he quietly replied, “Yes.”

With a sharp nod, Snape stood and gestured for Harry to do the same.

“Very well. Our first order of business is to get a full scan from Madam Pomfrey.” Seeing Harry’s concerned look and correctly interpreting it, he continues, “She is magically bound by Oath not to reveal your medical records to anyone unless there’s evidence of abuse, which is then to be reported to your head of house. Thus, your information will not be revealed to anyone but Madam Pomfrey and myself unless you give permission to disclose it.

Harry nods and follows Snape out into the corridors, idly wondering how Madam Pomfrey had never seen any issues with his health before. He had spent plenty of time in her care, after all.

What follows has to be the most awkward moments of his existence, in either life, far surpassing that horrible date with Cho, or that time Ron caught him checking out Charlie the summer before fourth year. (What could he say, the Weasley kids were an attractive bunch and looked brill in Quidditch gear). Madam Pomfrey gets more and more angry the more she finds, he’s still malnourished, improperly set bones scattered about his person, bad eyesight exacerbated by the long hours he spent in the dark cupboard. When he explains this, the water pitcher on his side table shatters, and given the thunderous looks on both Snape and Pomfrey’s faces, it could have been caused by either one of them.

By the time he leaves, Snape sweeping off to start brewing the potions for Harry’s intense regiment for correcting his skinny stature, Harry is exhausted and trembling, for some reason.

Ron and Hermione are sat on one of the plush couches in the common room, waiting for him. They bombard him with concerned questions upon seeing him, but Harry can’t bring himself to explain what’s happened or even why it has unsettled him so thoroughly. Instead, he drags them both up to the boys dorm, pushes them gently in the direction of his bed, and when they get the hint they all pile up under the covers. Hermione and Ron tuck Harry between them, petting his hair and letting him cry quietly in peace. When he falls asleep, his friends don’t leave, and the other first year boys take one look at Harry’s puffy eyes and Hermione and Ron’s defiant expressions before deciding they don’t really care if Hermione is there or not. Draco pulls a chocolate frog from his bag and leaves it on Harry’s nightstand. Goyle frowns, takes his favorite knitted blanket from his grandmother off his bed and lays it over the trio, and the others simply ready themselves for bed quietly. Ron and Hermione smile softly. Leave it to Harry to charm even the surly snakes of Slytherin.

Chapter Text

September bled into October with an ease that Hermione and the boys were not accustomed to, and it had them all a bit on edge. As it turned out, many of their early problems during their original first year were negated by the simple act of rational thinking and maturity. Neville never crashed his broom during their flying practice because Harry made sure to reassure him for days beforehand that all it took was a bit of confidence. Neville would never be a great flier (and neither would she for that matter) but he’d managed to hover with the class for a bit before returning to the ground, legs shaking but smiling softly. Since the lesson went off without a hitch, there were no sneering Malfoy’s or Remembrall’s being tossed about, so Harry did not make the Slytherin team. He claimed he was thankful for this, at least for this year, wanting more time to get accustomed to being back at Hogwarts. Ever since Snape had started investigating Harry’s relatives, he’s been a bit out of sorts.

Hermione had attached a note to the first essay they turned in after that meeting, on which both she and Ron had simply written “Thank you.” When she received the essay back, the note was gone and the both of them had received extra credit on their essays for seemingly no reason. Ron had been gobsmacked.

Because Draco was following them around like an overeager puppy (though with a bit more subtlety and less wagging tails) he never challenged Harry to a midnight duel, therefore there was no Cerberus, no Peeves harassing them, no running frantically from Filch. They went to classes, continually baffling their professors with their prowess. They were labeled prodigies. Hermione took to the title easily, as it wasn’t the first time she had been called as such. Harry and Ron felt ridiculously guilty, knowing that their supposed advancement was due to experience and age only, and both vowed to dedicate themselves to their studies forcefully, so as to actually earn the title. Ron finds that he’s a dab hand at Runes, instinctively understanding how they fit together in various sequences, and Harry is good with math, so Arithmancy was right up his alley, a blessing from their early muggle education. The two boys were able to help each other understand the subjects with her frequent help.The three often spent evenings in the Room of Requirement, pouring over books Hermione recommended or using training dummies to improve their spell casting. They had mock duels nearly every day, and Harry was a little smug that neither she nor Ron had yet to best him.

Hermione made sure to spend time with Pansy and Daphne frequently as well. She would never grow weary of her boys, but she had also never had female friends before and was coveting the time spent with them. The Gryffindor girls were never interested in her, Lavender and Parvati too gossipy and giggly for her tastes, and though she got on well with Lily Moon, who had also been a bit bookish, Hermione had always been so wrapped up in Harry and Ron And their adventures that they’d never managed a friendship. It was uncannily easy for Hermione to fit herself in with Daphne and Pansy. Despite their “age difference”, the girls were raised in a cutthroat fashion by their mothers, which had made them far more shrewd and cunning than many others. Both girls were raised with the assumption they’d one day marry a rich pureblood, someone of good enough standing to raise their own family higher. Both girls were already planning to ignore their families wishes, though for different reasons. Daphne wished only to marry for love, and Pansy didn’t want to marry at all, hoping to be something other than just a man’s wife.

Hermione remembers Ginny telling her all about her fling with Pansy back in their fifth year. The girls hadn’t lasted long due to Pansy being in the Inquisitorial Squad and Ginny mostly being in love with Harry. It wasn’t Hermione’s place to press the girl on her sexuality, however, and Pansy was eleven anyhow. Even if she was aware of where her interests lay, she wouldn’t be worried about it over much at present.

The thought of relationships did linger with her after these talks with her new friends, however, and she finds herself deep in thought one night. It’s nearing Halloween and her boys are trying very hard to keep themselves distracted. They all have deep-seated dread about Halloween and they’ve been trying to keep their minds off of it. She casts her eyes back and forth between her friends, as the trio is, unusually, sat apart in the common room.

First, she regards Ron. He’d struck up a surprising friendship with Millicent Bulstrode last week, one that revolved around nothing but chess. He had many more opponents in Slytherin house than he had in Gryffindor, but it had only taken two weeks for even the upper year snakes to refuse to play with him, to preserve their dignity. Nobody likes to lose a game of intellect with a first year, and a Weasley to boot. Many thought the Weasley’s useless. Bulstrode, despite also being eleven, was much closer to his level. She had yet to win a game, but Ron claimed that, had he actually been her age, Bulstrode would have knocked him off the top spot.

Hermione’s relationship with him is very strange at the moment. Before this whole time-travel-rebirth thing, they’d had feelings for each other that had been building up for years, culminating into that feverish, frantic kiss during the battle. The pent up sexual tension (Hermione flushes just thinking this) that had plagued the two of them had dissipated, their age and lack of hormones negating that sort of thing, but the emotions are still there. She loves Ron. It was a love born from circumstance, but strong nonetheless. They have shared so many battles and trials and pains together that it’s impossible not to be tied to one another. But the thing that cements them together the most is Harry. It’s always been Harry.

Hermione wonders if Ron realizes he’s in love with Harry as much, or even more, than he loves her. Although as she’s watching Ron, the redhead glances up on occasion to find her or Harry wherever they are in the room, and the soft look on his face doesn’t change depending on who he’s looking at. Ron is more observant than anyone gives him credit for. Surely he knows how he feels. He probably knows that she, too, is in love with their friend. He probably knew how she felt for Harry long before she ever did. He may have been jealous and mean about it once upon a time, but things have changed. They have changed. There is no Ron and Hermione without Harry, and there is no Harry without Hermione and Ron. It’s inevitable, they three.

She turns her eyes to Harry, who is sitting in an armchair before one of the fires. There’s a mixed group of older students arrayed on the seats around him and they all seem to be explaining to him the ideals of Samhain and the other corresponding holidays that follow the Wheel of the Year. Despite the other’s being older, and teaching Harry something, they seem to be deferring to him, letting him lead the conversation and providing him with information eagerly, as though they will gain something from it. Harry doesn’t seem to even register the hold he has over people, always sees himself as someone plain, someone who would be unnoticeable if he didn’t have that lightning strike on his forehead. Hermione knows better, though. Harry has a smile that can be sharp and sly or warm and sweet depending on who he is speaking to. His verdant eyes can make a person puff up with pride or cower in shame. Harry can spit venom with the same mouth that smirks around mischievous jokes or snarl around an accusation. Despite his lanky frame, Harry has always managed to be larger than life. He has presence, he practically glows with life and vitality, whether in the face of war or planning pranks with the twins. Even at his most downtrodden, riddled with grief or weariness, covered in dirt or blood or whatever else, he never seems to dim.

He’s beautiful. Always has been.

Hermione tears her eyes from Harry when she hears a little cough next to her. Ron has seemingly ended his game and come to speak to her. She nearly launches into excuses as to why she’s staring fixedly at Harry, but falters at the soft amusement on Ron’s face. He smirks and glances over at Harry as he sits in the chair next to hers.

“Don’t worry. He’ll figure it out eventually.” says Ron. His ears are a bit pink, but he looks pleased. Hermione smiles right along with him and reaches her hand over to twine her fingers with Ron’s. He’s right, of course. Harry never expects love, so it always takes him a bit to recognize when he has it. They can wait until he’s ready.

Chapter Text

“This is bloody stupid,” says Ron, gripping the silenced rooster in his arms a bit tighter. His freckles stand out starkly, all the blood having left his face long before. Beside him, Hermione seems to be bouncing between excited curiosity and fearful anxiety, her magic twirling about inquisitively one moment, only to recoil and tighten around her in the next.

“So you’ve said,” says Harry, resolutely pretending that he isn’t having misgivings about this whole venture.

The trio are standing just outside the final door into the Chamber of Secrets. They’d been eager upon first entering the tunnel, but once they’d come across the shed basilisk skin, it had struck them all that perhaps three tiny people should not be confronting a giant, murderous snake.

Harry sighs. Maybe they’re all a bit...apathetic to the idea of death, to be so casual about this little adventure.

“Alright...maybe I go in alone at first and talk to it?” he asks, but he knows it’s not going to happen just by the stony, resolute expressions on Ron and Hermione’s faces. He slumps but nods, turning and hissing a parseltongue “open” at the carved snake guardians on the door. They slither back and away and the stone grinds loudly as the door slides sideways. The trio wince in sync. There’s no way the basilisk didn’t hear that, but luckily it’s nowhere in sight. Possibly it can’t get to them, Harry remembers Tom Riddle’s echo having to open Slytherin’s statue to let it into the main chamber. He tells his companions this, but oddly, they don’t seem to relax much. Taking the initiative, Harry strides past the snake statues and into the center of the cistern, then spins around to face his friends with a raised brow and gesture that seem to say “Well? What do you think?”

Hermione’s excitement seems to have drained away and she’s staring into the stone cavern with a stricken expression. At his questioning look, she inhales and exhales a long, shaky breath.

“Sorry. It’s just...seeing you standing there. You weren’t much bigger when you came here the first time and...I suppose it’s just really registering how young you were. When you told us the story it seemed so heroic but now...you were twelve, Harry. And you just nearly died down here, alone.”

“I wasn’t alone,” he protested, “Ginny was there, and Fawkes.”

Hermione doesn’t look impressed. “Yes, Ginny told me all about it. How you told her to take Fawkes and get out and leave you there.”

Ron joins Hermione in the sad staring, making Harry shuffle his feet sheepishly.

“She didn’t need to see that,” he says quietly. Ron nods a little.

Rallying, Harry turns to face the statue, pausing to look back at his friends. They hesitate only a moment before nodding together in determination. The three stare fixedly at the floor the moment Harry hisses out another “open”, hoping he doesn't have to use the pretentious phrase Riddle used in his last life.

The grind of stone as the statues mouth opens sounds like their doom, but Harry would be lying if he didn’t relish the sudden rush of adrenaline that shoots through him, which only intensifies as he hears the scraping of a giant, scaly body against the stone as the basilisk, presumably, slithers out into the cistern.

Hatchlings, it has been many years since I’ve had visitors,” it says, and it’s voice is deep, gender-less, and surprisingly soft.

He can feel the way Ron and Hermione’s magic have gone still behind him, frozen like prey in the eyes of a predator...and really, that’s what they all are.

We knew you were down here and we wished to meet you.”

The basilisk was circling them slowly, surrounding them. Harry can see it moving past in his periphery.

So curious, that children so small could smell so much of Death. You especially, little Speaker.” Harry shivers slightly at that. “Look upon me, child. My gaze is shielded from you and yours, so long as you mean no harm to me. I insist you let me eat that feathered beast the red hatchling holds in his arms, however.”

Harry laughs nervously at that, not sure which is funnier, the rooster being called a beast, or Ron being called the red hatchling. He takes a deep, steadying breath and wonders if the last killing curse that struck him drove him into madness as he determinedly locks eyes with a fucking basilisk.

It’s eyes are a bright, glowing yellow, but Harry can see a clear film over them and he laughs again, much steadier than before. He’s not sure how, maybe it’s the magic of Parseltongue, but Harry knows that the basilisk is female.

“She’s shielded her eyes, you can look,” he says breathlessly. The loud gasps behind him indicate that his friends have trusted his word and done so. The basilisk certainly is quite a sight, poison-green and enormous, it’s body as thick as the largest trees in the Forbidden Forest, yellow eyes glowing and a crest of deep crimson feathers atop it’s head and trailing partially down its back. A forked tongue tastes the air as the basilisk waits patiently.

Oh...it’s stunning!” says Hermione, seemingly incapable of keeping that to herself. Harry translates this to the snake, who bloody well preens.

I have missed company that knows beauty when it is before them. The last Heir through my home only saw beauty in himself. Come, little ones. I would hear your story, and perhaps I shall tell you mine in return.”

The trio watch in morbid fascination as the basilisk snaps up the silent rooster (Harry valiantly ignores Ron’s squeak of surprise) and watch as the serpent forms a tight coil around them before resting her head on her own tail. Hermione conjures pillows and cushions of all shapes and sizes, and they settle into the makeshift pillow nest, beginning their tale in the shadow of the Serpent Queen.

Chapter Text

Leaning against the pillows at the head of Harry’s bed, Ron eyed his two friends nervously, Harry beside him and Hermione at the foot.

 

Once they’d finally left the chamber, the trio had made for this spot instantly and wordlessly, tumbling onto the four-poster together, drawing the curtains shut. Now they were ensconced in a tiny space, layered with privacy wards and lit with little rainbow colored lights that floated around the canopy. Ron wanted to ask Harry how he’d made them (wandlessly at that) but he was using a previously unheard of sense of self-preservation. Hermione was spitting mad, muttering under her breath, her hands tugging at the ends of her hair in an effort to stop herself from ripping the books and parchment out of Harry’s hands. Harry wasn’t much better, but as he was translating parseltongue at present, all his snarling and cursing came out in the distinctive hissing, thus seeming to soften his anger.

 

And Ron was keeping his distance as much as he was able in the limited space. He had a tendency to put his foot in his mouth, and had no desire to be shredded by Hermione’s scathing words or Harry’s icy glare.

 

That’s not to say that Ron wasn’t also furious about what the basilisk had told them, but for various reasons, the others were more so.

 

Harry personally hated anything to do with You-Know-Who anyway, so learning that the man had used the familiar bond between the basilisk and anyone of Slytherin’s blood to force her against the students just compounded on his previous hatred. Turns out, Slytherin had built the chamber as a last stand defense in the event that the castle was besieged, somewhere large enough for all the castles occupants to retreat to, and the basilisk was meant as a guardian of the school and its occupants.

 

Hermione was particularly mad about You-Know-Who’s actions upon finding the chamber for the first time. Apparently, the man had found Slytherin’s journals in the hidden study that the basilisk had shown them. Upon reading and finding out that not only was Salazar Slytherin not at all against muggleborns but was, in fact, a muggleborn himself, the man had flown into a rage and tried to destroy the Founder’s history. Luckily, the journals were charmed well, and his efforts proved useless. He had instead continued the false rhetoric everyone else believed to further his pureblood agenda.

 

The fucking hypocrite, honestly.

 

Ron sighed and attempted to read the book that Hermione had summoned for him several minutes ago. The basilisk’s name was Echidna, which took Harry nearly ten minutes to figure out how to translate into English for them. Hermione had immediately gone into a swot frenzy over this revelation, something about Greek mythology and mother’s to a sphinx and a Cerberus and a chimera. Ron was familiar with Granger-speak, words that flowed out at a rapid pace and making no sense to anyone else unless heavy research was done, and so he’d waited with glazed eyes until she’d relented and promised to give him the abridged version at a later time. She had not done so, too angry now to bother, and had instead shoved this book on Greek myths into his hands.

 

“I think it’s time to destroy the diadem,” says Harry, unintentionally drawing out every ‘s’ in his speech after reading and writing parseltongue for so long, “I’d wanted to wait, it’s safe where it’s at for now but…”

 

“But now we have a cooperative basilisk to help us destroy it,” Hermione continued.

 

“Not to mention a sudden urge to get one over on old Noseless,” Ron added sagely, pleased when his friends both laughed in surprise, the tense lines of their shoulders easing slightly.

 

“We can get it during the Christmas break. No need to have it around the students if we don’t have to,” says Hermione.

 

Harry frowns, setting aside his translation for the time being. “Speaking of the break, I’ve got my parents will reading on Boxing Day. Think I can talk Snape into taking me? He’s mentioned in the will, so he’s going anyway.”

 

“Not the Headmaster?” asks Hermione.

 

Harry’s frown deepens. “No...not this time. I’m not really sure how I feel after the whole…” Harry gestures toward his scar, and Ron gets his meaning. He doesn’t know how to face Dumbledore after the man had orchestrated his death, whether his intentions were good or not. Ron feels pity bubble up in his chest, but squashes it down immediately. Harry is abandoned and betrayed at every turn, it seems, but he wouldn’t want Ron’s sympathy for it.

 

Hermione similarly battles with herself, and settles on smiling softly. “Well, I don’t see why he would object to escorting you. He seems less antagonistic towards you this time. To all three of us.”

 

“Yeah,” says Ron slowly, “except now Quirrel is extra creepy. I think you being is Slytherin made him wary.”

 

Harry nods in agreement. They’ve only had two lessons with Quirrelmort, but Harry’s said his scar burns nearly twice as much as it used to around him (probably due to the increased scrutiny), and the professor always has his eyes fixed on Harry in a way that would have seemed perverted, if they hadn’t known the man’s true intentions.

 

“D’you think if I just like...casually bump into him in the corridor sometime his skin will burn up like it did before? That would be a way easier way to stop him than going through all that nonsense with Fluffy and the chess and the mirror.”

 

Ron gapes at Harry, astounded that they hadn’t considered this sooner. Hermione seems to consider the question,

 

“You know, that’s not a bad idea. I suggest we wait until it’s closer to the date of the original event, though. Who knows what will happen to the timeline if we do it early,” she replies casually, as though they’re discussing Charms class and are not planning the murder of a professor and the banishment of a Dark Lord’s parasitic wraith.

 

Never a dull moment.

 

Ron leans back into Harry’s pillows, more relaxed now that the tense atmosphere has receded a bit. Hermione bids the boys goodnight, returning to her dorm to have “Girl’s Night” with Parkinson and Greengrass. The very idea makes him shudder. Not the girl’s night, no that’s perfectly normal. It’s the company Hermione is keeping that sends a chill down his spine. Those three together are terrifying. No doubt they aren’t braiding each others hair or whatever else girls are expected to do at sleepovers, no. Ron expects they’re plotting world domination, or at the very least the subjugation of all men. Which, fair enough, they’ve had a good run.

 

Harry returns to his translations,. The other boys that share their dorm are down in the common room, enjoying their weekend, so for long minutes the silence is broken only by the occasional soft hisses that pass Harry’s lips whenever he thinks aloud. Ron abandons his contemplation of their fierce witch friends and watches him for a bit, thinking hard.

 

What he’d said to Hermione was true. Harry would eventually get his head out of his arse and realize how he and Hermione felt, and it was a foregone conclusion that Harry would reciprocate their interest.

 

But the only time he had any patience at all was during chess. The reason he and Hermione were waiting for Harry to find his own way was because if they pushed it would likely backfire. For all his fire and bravery in a fight, Harry was outrageously skittish when it came to matters of the heart. Likely a product of being raised the way he was, devoid of a kind word or loving touch for a solid decade. If he felt pressured or cornered, he was likely to retreat into himself. Surely, though, there were ways they could nudge him in the right direction without overstepping Harry’s unspoken boundaries.

 

Thinking it over, Ron lit upon an idea. He feigned the most realistic yawn he was capable of, (and if it was lacking a bit, Harry was too focused on his work to notice) then slowly sank down onto the bed, as if to nap. He carefully made sure his head rested lightly against Harry’s thigh (though facing away from Harry, he didn’t trust his poker face), not laying on him, but enough to be noticeable. Then he shut his eyes and pretended this was an entirely innocent, subconscious gesture. There. He was close enough for the idea to cross Harry’s mind, but not putting any pressure on him otherwise.

 

The scritch-scratching of Harry’s quill stopped, then after a silent minute, started up again, much slower. Nothing happened for so long that Ron was actually dozing off, but then hesitant fingers wound into his hair, brushing through and occasionally tugging softly. Ron grinned triumphantly into the pillow and allowed himself to pass the last little bit into sleep. He couldn’t wait to tell ‘Mione.

Chapter Text

Hermione stands nervously outside the door to the first year girls dorm. This...is entirely new territory for her. Before Harry and Ron, she’d never had a single friend before, let alone enough for a “Girls Night”. Lavender and Parvati used to have them, politely requesting that Hermione and Lily Moon stay out of the dorm for a few hours instead of inviting them. Hermione had never complained, just turned her nose up and joined the boys in the common room for their usual late-night plotting by the fire.

She’d read of such things, and seen them on the telly. Make-overs and talking about boys, ordering pizza and watching romance movies. While she could imagine both Daphne and Pansy doing as such, the idea of Millicent Bulstrode talking about boys was not something she could imagine, and Tracey Davis was still an unknown entity.

She scolds herself harshly in the privacy of her own mind. She is a grown woman! Intelligent, fierce, proud, war hardened! What nonsense, to be dithering about in the hallway, stricken at the potential rejection of a bunch of schoolgirls.

She valiantly pretends that her little pep talk worked as she steps into the dorm.

Daphne and Pansy have set up various drinks and snacks on their coffee table and seem to be having a fierce but quiet argument off to one side of the room. Bulstrode and Davis are sitting on cushions near the fire. Davis seems to be eyeing the argument nervously, but Bulstrode seems entirely unfazed.

“Hermione!” shouts Pansy, having caught sight of her. “Come talk some sense into Daph, she’s made an itinerary for our sleepover!”

Daphne’s cheeks are a little pink, though whether that’s from anger or embarrassment, Hermione is unsure. She sniffs haughtily.

“There’s nothing wrong with being prepared.”

“Daphne, it’s Girl’s Night, it’s fairly straightforward.”

“Yes but we aren’t all acquainted, this will help keep things going.”

“Well, let’s let Hermione be the deciding factor. She’s the most level headed of us, I’m sure.”

Daphne seems to agree with this, as she nods, and then Hermione is pinned under twin expressions of expectation. Pansy groans instantly upon catching the look on Hermione’s face, however, as she’s staring at the parchment in Daphne’s hands (presumably the itinerary in question) with naked eagerness and curiosity.

Hermione and Daphne smirk at Pansy, who doesn’t look as put out as she claims she is. No doubt she’s quite used to Daphne’s quirks.

“Okay,” says Daphne, shaking out the parchment to read as though it’s something highly important, “So first on the schedule, Pans and I made a mud mask based on the ones muggles use, but we’ve added things to our own recipe naturally. So! We’ll put those on and have a run in that sauna we’ve all been eyeing. After that, I say Granger teaches us a hex.”

Hermione startles, having been lost in thought about the potential modifications to their mud mask recipe.

“I’m sorry, what? A hex? Why me?”

“There’s no way a girl like you doesn’t have a nasty hex or two up her sleeve,” says Pansy with an eye-roll. “I’ve seen the way your wand hand twitches when Weasley gets to running his mouth. A girl with two boys as best friends definitely has creative ways to get them to shut up.”

At this, Bulstrode speaks up for the first time that night, sending Hermione an approving sort of look.

“Day before yesterday I saw her transfigure some donkey ears from his own.”

“What for?” asks Davis, eyes wide.

“Well, he was being an ass,” scoffs Hermione.

A beat of silence, then they’re all laughing, even the ever-surly Bulstrode.

“Merlin, Granger. That’s brilliant,” Davis wipes a tear from her eye.

“Thanks,” she replies, trying her best not to be shy.

“Well, come on girls, let’s get these masks on. No doubt you’re salivating over the chance to read over the recipe, Hermione,” says Pansy. Hermione can’t really be offended by that remark, because frankly, Pansy’s right on the mark.

The night then passes at a shocking rate, with gossip and giggling, but also secrets spilled and grim humor.

Millicent (for they’ve all agreed to first names) confesses to her suspicions that her father killed her mother in a fit of shame, worrying that he might some day decide to get rid of her as well.

Daphne, as it turns out, is betrothed to a man nearly twenty years her senior. Her only saving grace is that it was made illegal for parents to force their offspring into marriage without their consent about fifty years ago. Not long enough in her opinion. She plans to break the betrothal, hoping to build up friends, allies, and galleons before then to make it on her own once she’s inevitably disowned. She’s going to take her little sister, Astoria, with her, because without Daphne they’ll shove her into Daphne’s previous betrothal.

Tracey’s mother left the wizarding world entirely after she was dosed with Amortentia by an unwanted suitor and raped. Her mum couldn’t stand to be near magic ever again, fearing her own magic and, subsequently, her daughters. Tracey had to fight tooth and nail to get her parents to agree to Hogwarts, her step-father being the eventual voice of reason.

Pansy didn’t so much have a secret to share, so much as a fierce declaration that she never wanted to marry and instead wished to open a shop, clothing, made to be more modern than the stuffy robes most wix insisted on wearing.

As the girls wound down into a morose sort of mood, Hermione vowed to protect these girls as best as she was able, and to teach them to protect themselves. Hoping to lift the mood a little, Hermione cleared her throat and gave a sharp smile, too many teeth.

“I’ve decided which hex to teach you,” the girls perked up a bit, looking eager, “I know one that can cause a man to be impotent for a week. There’s no counter, just has to wear off.”

And hey, maybe she should be worried about the surprising blood-lust in their eyes, but it was likely mirrored in her own anyway. Better that they were able to defend themselves.

War waited for no woman, after all.

Chapter Text

Harry is pouting.

 

He knows he is, and he knows he’s being unreasonable, but he’s just so bloody frustrated.

 

Coming back in time, escaping the Dursley’s, claiming his titles, extracting and destroying two Horcruxes, and then coming back to Hogwarts, meeting Echidna. It had been so much, so fast. Harry had felt productive, had felt as though he was actually making proper progress in the war effort.

 

But now he feels...stagnant. True, he’s slowly working his way through translating Slytherin’s journals, but the trio had agreed that even when that was done, they would not be able to reveal them to the public yet. They would have to explain where and how they’d gotten them, and none of them knew how to explain why three first year students knew the location of the Chamber of Secrets, let alone how to enter it.

 

And true, Sirius and Pettigrew finally had trial dates set. The Ministry had pushed it off as long as they could to give Sirius a chance to heal. Apparently, they can’t give Veritaserum to victims of long term exposure to mind magics, such as dementor exposure or imperius, until their mind has had time to heal. Veritaserum forcibly opens the mind, cutting through Occlumency shields. Harry doesn’t know exactly how the potion manages to force the truth, and frankly he had nearly fallen asleep during Hermione’s attempt to explain.

 

So yes, there is progress, but Harry has always been more of a go-getter than anything. Sitting about, doing all this damn waiting, was wearing on him. So much so that he’d very nearly fucked up and destroyed the diadem of Ravenclaw. It had taken some very stern words from Ron about the folly of reneging on a goblin contract, and reassurances from Hermione that if he, Merlin forbid, just waited, then they could take the diadem with them to Gringott’s and destroy it then.

 

To put the cherry on top of this cluster-fuck, tomorrow is Halloween. Nothing good ever came of Halloween, and the trio are appropriately paranoid and superstitious about it. Harry had half-formed thoughts that one of the best ways to get out of his funk was to go to that one bathroom they knew the troll would be in and confront it. He just wanted to do something, anything. He felt like he was going to crawl out of his own skin. The closer they got to Halloween, the more he itched, tensed, paced like a caged animal. He was full of a jittery, almost furious sort of energy. He wanted to fight something, whether that meant a hard right hook or a stupefy didn’t matter, or maybe go sprinting around the grounds. Maybe borrow a school broom and practice his Wronski Feints, getting closer and closer to the ground each dive, tasting the adrenaline in the back of his throat whenever he pulled up just seconds from becoming a bloody smear on the ground.

What on earth was wrong with him?

 

Looking up from his aggressive pacing, Harry suddenly remembers that he’s in the common room. The Slytherin’s, being who they are, are pretending he’s not being weird as hell. Harry can tell from the way their magic’s are all coiled tight, however, that he’s actually managed to make them all nervous, wary. Probably has something to do with the fact that the fire flares unnaturally high each time he passes it, or that the entire common room has grown so hot that his housemates, despite valiantly pretending nothing is amiss, have all removed their outer robes and rolled up their sleeves. Harry sighs and exits the common room, pretending he doesn’t feel the sudden release of everyone’s magic as they all slump in relief.

 

Ron and Hermione had been missing for the last two hours, and Harry feels increasingly adrift without their presence. He knows that it isn’t healthy for him to be so dependent on the two of them, and he knows that they’d been working up to being a couple before they’d come back in time so it makes sense they’d want to go off without him, but he can’t help but to selfishly seek them out whenever he misses them. Surely they would send him away if he was being a bother? Or were they just too kind to say anything about it? They’d always been a bit over protective of him.

 

To his delight, he runs into them just as he’s reached the Entrance Hall.

 

“Perfect! We’ve got something to show you, Harry,” says Hermione, and without further ado she grabs his wrist and tugs him back the way she and Ron had just come from. Bemused, he ignores the little smirk on Ron’s face and allows himself to be towed up and up and up the grand staircase and up to the seventh floor. He’d be stupid not to recognize that they were headed for the Room of Requirement, and wonders what his friends have done.

 

Ron steps forward to call the door into existence, and when Harry gets a look at the inside, he’s confused. They seem to be in a dense, dark forest, all towering trees and underbrush.

 

“What’s this about?” asks Harry.

 

“We managed to get the Room to change scenes every twenty minutes. We’ve made forests, fields, city settings, Hogwarts corridors, there’s even Malfoy Manor and the Burrow cycling through here,” says Ron.

 

“Okay...right. But why?” asks Harry.

 

“Well, so we can learn to adjust to environment in a fight,” Ron replies reasonably.

 

And now Harry understands. Sure, they’d been using the room for duels against each other or conjured training dummies, but this was on another level. It was brilliant, and Harry is briefly furious that he never thought of this during their DA lessons.

 

This might be exactly what he needs today, and so he throws off his robe and sends a petrificus totalus at Hermione without warning. Luckily for her, she’s got the instincts of a veteran and twirls out of the way gracefully. Ron fires off two rapid stunners at them, and the duel is on in a mad dash through trees and rocks, then in alleyways and streets. The itch is still writhing madly under his skin, but is muted by the sweat and adrenaline and pounding of his heart while he dodges and rolls and volleys spells about.

And if Harry waxes poetical in his own head about how arresting Ron is when he’s grinning madly, flushed and disheveled, or how beautiful Hermione looks with the juxtaposition of evading spells sinuously like a dancer but firing offensive hexes with a methodical, clinical precision well...he’s not an idiot. Not entirely, at least. He knows what that means for him. And for now there isn’t the lust attached to such thoughts, but this is how it starts, the warmth in his chest and need to be close to them.

 

But these are his best friends, and they have their own thing going on. Harry is quite used to wanting what he can’t have. So long as they’re happy, so is he.

 

Or, he will be. Eventually.

 

Chapter Text

Harry woke suddenly, snapping from dead sleep to full awareness from one second to the next.

 

He felt...odd. The same energy of the days before seemed to have grown impossibly larger in his sleep, and he felt ill-contained, his small, scrawny stature feeling inadequate somehow. Harry waved a hand, casting a tempus charm. Two in the morning, Halloween.

 

Witching hour, thought Harry, immediately feeling on edge. He had never been the brightest lumos, but Harry had always been more instinctively aware of magic and it’s workings than most of his peers. Something about this, the time and the day and the feeling writhing under his skin. Pulling back his bed curtains, Harry’s feet met the cold stone floor and he gazed around the dorm blearily. Everyone else was still sleeping, soft breathing, an occasional grunting snore from Zabini, who was, shockingly, the only boy in the dorm who snored. Emerald hangings drawn shut around every bed, except for Malfoy’s, as he was claustrophobic. Catching sight of one of the windows leading into the lake, Harry was drawn toward it in wonder.

 

He’d never payed much attention to these windows at night. Usually he only noticed them during the day, when sunlight filtered through the water of the Black Lake and into their dorm or commons, casting everything in a soft, shifting green glow. But right now, it was pitch black out there. The sight of it seemed to suck him in.

 

Must be cold. Harry had grown very fond of the icy temperatures that pervaded the Highlands, as they meant home to him. Warm weather brought his back to the Dursley’s. Staring into the endless dark of the lake, Harry imagined what it would be like to be out there this very minute. Cold and dark and weightless and quiet. Not a breath to be heard...or to be had. The thought of it was more of a comfort than it ought to have been, and he pressed his palms flat to the glass, smiling softly as the cold glass nipped his fingers.

 

There was suddenly a hand gripping his shoulder, but Harry didn’t startle. He knew, somehow, that it was just Ron there with him. Harry turned slowly to find him there, all warm and sleepy and muzzily concerned.

 

“Hey,” said Ron quietly, “why are you up?”

 

“I don’t know,” Harry replied honestly, “did I wake you?”

 

“No, there was...something else. I feel…” Ron trailed off, frowning lightly and staring at Harry. Confused but not worried.

 

Harry was abruptly filled with the need to leave. He had somewhere to be. He had no idea where, exactly, but the tug in his chest and the tension in his muscles was quite convincing.

 

“Put on something warm, you might as well come with me.”

 

Ron immediately moved to start tugging on some socks. On a normal day, he’d ask what sort of mischief they were about to get up to, but this moment felt bigger than words and idle wandering about their castle. Harry grabs his invisibility cloak, pausing momentarily when the magic of the cloak, silvery and flowing constantly like a stream, brightens in a way he’s never seen before. When nothing further happens, he brushes it off as his imagination.

 

Down in the common room, Harry is not surprised to find Hermione dressed and waiting by the entrance, frowning. No doubt the strangeness of this early morning is irritating the logical side of her brain. She doesn’t protest, though, or even ask about what’s happening. He could delude himself into thinking it’s because his friends trust him implicitly, but that can’t be the only reason for their easy acceptance of this impromptu wandering. They can feel it too. Something else is at play here, and the lure of strange magic is coaxing them onward, whispering softly, sweetly. Harry wraps his Cloak around himself and tugs Ron and Hermione underneath. It’s been a long time since they could all fit, and they spend a short moment grinning stupidly at each other. As one, they turn and exit the common room.

 

Ron and Hermione stay tucked just behind him, allowing Harry to lead. Given the way he needs to direct them around corners and down specific corridors, he assumes that whatever force is pulling him is not affecting them. They seem content to follow along however.

 

Out on the grounds, Ron and Hermione finally start to get nervous as they creep in the direction of the Forbidden Forest. Harry can feel it in the air, their magic twitching and curling like a fidgeting first year that’s pinned under McGonagall’s stern eye. Alternately, the closer they get to the dark treeline, the calmer Harry is. The itch under his skin is easing, the furious energy in his limbs soothing into something warm and languid.

 

Ron and Hermione’s auras spike in anxiety when they finally enter the trees, but Harry breathes deeply, smiling. He yanks off the Cloak, and his friends sounds of shocked protest die in the air when they catch sight of his face. He wonders idly what his expression looks like, as they both looked caught between awe and fear. Not of him, but of the unknown of this whole venture.

 

Still, they don’t question him, just falling back into step at his back when he continues on, deeper. The curious magic tugging at him persists, but Harry’s fairly certain now of where it’s leading him. He may have only been there once, but the path is seared into his mind. He will never forget.

 

Harry is correct. The clearing they’ve entered is as familiar to Harry as the blood in his veins and the magic in his core. It’s different now, the trees painting in reds and golds, though muted under the grey blanket of moonlight. There are no Death Eaters, no Hagrid, no Voldemort.

 

But they aren’t alone, either. There’s a small herd of Thestrals that raise their heads to watch them, intently but unafraid, though the trio spares them not a glance. For in the center of the clearing is another Thestral, pure white from tip to tail, though it’s eyes are as black as the view of the lake Harry had admired earlier. He tries not to get lost in them.

 

His friends have paused at the edge of the clearing. Harry knows now that they’re only here as extensions of himself, witnesses, but not participants. He wonders if they understand what this place is. Surely they must, they know he came to the Forest that night, sacrificed himself. There would be no other reason to be here.

 

There’s not really a precedent for this sort of thing, but some outside force still seems to guide him. Harry takes a few steps forward until he’s stood in the exact spot he was hit by the killing curse. He notices a fairy ring grown up around the white Thestral’s hooves. Despite his curious blankness up to now, the sight does make him a little wary and he glances down at the grass around him to make sure he hasn’t accidentally stepped into a fairy ring as well. He hasn’t, and breathes deeply in relief.

 

The white Thestral stretches out it’s wings, bat-like and shimmering faintly, iridescent like an opal.

 

“Child of Death. Welcome.” says a voice, deep and genderless, singular and many. Harry knows this voice belongs to the Thestral, yet it seems to be speaking in his mind instead of into the air. The mushrooms around the Thestral decay and fall right before his eyes, and the creature steps to the side, beginning to circle him slowly. Harry stays in place, not at all suspicious or worried. The same cannot be said for his friends, going by their frantically spinning magics, but they don’t interfere, and Harry doesn’t turn to them.

 

“You have impressed me, child. My gifts were sent into this world to test the mettle of wixen kind, and they failed time and time again, with the exception of two. Ignotus, my favored, used his given boon for nothing more than his own safety, and that of his son. He was a worthy man, and when his time came, he walked with me into Death’s realm with a smile.”

 

The Thestral comes to a stop in front of him once more, and meets his eye.

 

“Then you, Harry Potter. Not even my Ignotus managed to unite his brother’s gifts, though he tried to find them, wished to return them to me. And yet you united the Hallows, and rejected them. I admit, I had not ever imagined that a human would reject the call of such power. I had deemed humanity too selfish, the greed of life too tempting for the gluttony of man. Yet here you stand, a boy out of time, once a man who greeted me without a thought of the power he could hold over me. Even Ignotus considered it, thought of all he could do if he had my power at his call, fleeting though the thought was.”

 

Harry doesn’t have anything to say to this. It’s true that he had never, and likely would never, want power over Death like the tale of the Hallows claimed. He does not want to live forever, and he does not want to pull the dead from their realm, wherever that happened to be. He had never been afraid of death, per say, just...not living. Too many games of Quidditch left to play, places to travel, experiences to be had. Death itself sounded...peaceful. The idea of some Merlin-damned rest was seductive, after the life he’d had. So no, he doesn’t fear Death, and he doesn’t want the power the Hallows would grant him over it.

 

“Which is why you shall have it.”

 

Harry startles, eyes wide as he stares at the Thestral. He can’t gauge it’s mood, as it has a curious lack of magical aura, but the beings tone managed to come across as amused.

 

“I will answer your questions, child, but our time is short. The end of the fourth hour draws near. I will bind my magic to yours, and you can call to me whenever you wish.”

 

Well, that sounds vaguely ominous, but Harry was still unafraid. He doesn’t back away when the Thestral approaches him, and the creature stops directly before him and bows it’s head, dark eyes drifting shut. Harry tentatively places a hand against its forehead, feeling a little giddy when he makes contact with its shockingly cold skin.

 

He is overtaken by blackness in an instant, and wakes up to the sight of the emerald canopy of his four-poster in the Slytherin dorm. With a gasp, he tumbles right off the side, eyes wide and darting about. In his bed, previously unnoticed in his sudden panic, Ron and Hermione’s heads pop up and peer down to the floor where Harry has landed. Harry feels a familiar sting on one of his temples, indicating he fell asleep in his glasses. He retrieves them from the floor where they’d likely just fallen and puts them on. Half afraid it was all a dream, half afraid it was entirely real, Harry takes in the state of the three of them. Fully dressed, muddy shoes and all, and Hermione has a few leaves caught in her hair.

 

Bloody hell,” breathes Ron, and the trio break into quiet, incredulous giggles. They remove their shoes and warm cloaks, the boys pick the leaves from Hermione’s hair. More comfortable now, they tangle together on Harry’s bed and drift back to sleep, deciding that processing the events and implications of the previous night can wait.

Chapter Text

“Did...did we all get spontaneously summoned to the Forbidden Forest last night?” asks Harry.

 

“Yep,” answers Hermione, eyes glassy as the trio lay tangled up in the bed.

 

Outside the curtains of the four-poster, they can hear the other first year boys shuffling about, getting ready for the day and chattering excitedly about tonight’s Halloween feast.

 

“And...and I bonded with an albino thestral who is, presumably, Death?”

 

“Pretty sure that’s what happened, mate, yea,” reassures Ron tonelessly.

 

“Okay,” says Harry weakly. “I think I’m gonna just...erm. I’m going back to sleep.”

 

“Same,” say his friends.

 

And so they do.

Chapter Text

The walls of Hogwarts were long said to only be held up by all the hot air blown by the immense amounts of gossip that permeated the school. Should the collective population of the castle cease to prattle on about each other’s business (be it which girl the Head Boy was snogging, or theories on the pallor of Professor Snape’s skin and whether or not it indicated vampirism) then it was likely the old stone walls would simply...collapse in on themselves.

 

As it were, if it was true that the gossip kept the walls upright well, they were in safe territory. There was always news and scandal to be had in a population as small as that of magical Britain, and that particular year was rife with whispers as the school played host to the Boy-Who-Lived.

 

None of the more mundane students of the school knew what exactly to think of their newly-introduced Savior. There had been hundreds of articles and speculations about Harry Potter in the newspapers in the year after the Dark Lord fell, and even after the fervor had died down, the anniversary always reignited the rumors, rehashed the well-known story. The complete disappearance of the Potter heir from their society following that tragic night only stoked the curiosity of the populace further. Between the yearly articles in the papers and the increasingly popular adventure novels of their wayward boy-hero, the mystique of the person that was Harry Potter grew.

 

Some said he was whisked off to lands unknown to be trained as Dumbledore’s protege, completely ignoring the fact that the Headmaster never left his post outside of the summer holidays, therefore could not, conceivably, be teaching Harry Potter anything.

 

Some said he was given to relatives, though this theory was the least popular. There were no Potter’s left, and what wix in their right mind would leave Harry bloody Potter with the muggles on the Evans side of his family? Nobody was that stupid.

 

Most assumed he was tucked away with a distant cousin branch or relative somewhere. Just because Harry was the last of the Potter’s main line didn’t mean he wasn’t related to other families via secondary and cousin lines. Every pureblood, and most half-bloods, knew just off the tops of their heads that Potter was related to the Patils, the Blacks, the Longbottom’s, and the Greengrass’s. When the present heirs and heiresses of these lines were asked, however, all claimed that Potter had never been seen by any of them prior to this school year.

 

The majority of the students and staff had expected a stereotypical Gryffindor. Loud, brash, self-righteous, cockiness to the nth degree due to his fame. Perhaps he’d be competent enough to deserve a bit of that cockiness, too.

 

What nobody had expected was for Potter to be a Slytherin. Quite the majority of the castle’s residents assumed the Sorting Hat had to be mistaken, perhaps its magic was finally beginning to fade after all these years.

 

That is...they all thought this until they had time to observe or interact with Potter. Once they had, it was clear that Slytherin was truly the only place for him.

 

Potter was dangerous. This fact was a unanimous, unspoken understanding between the staff and student body. He cased every room he walked into, verdant eyes darting to every window and doorway. His wand hand twitched often and it wasn’t always clear who or what had made the boy contemplate violence, and whenever this happened, Weasley and Granger would instantly tense and look about for a threat. It was uncanny, disconcerting, confusing and...fascinating. Even the way the three of them walked seemed full of intent, though luckily it seemed more protective in nature than combative.

 

Until Halloween morning, or Samhain, depending on who you asked.

 

There was something...something off about Potter and his shadows that day. Heads always turned when the trio passed, but on that Samhain, every eye was quickly averted the second they laid upon the three, and nobody could pinpoint why.

 

Maybe the way they moved that day, the unnatural stillness of them when movement wasn’t strictly necessary, like a snake coiled in the grass. And when they did move, it seemed too sinuous, too smooth to be real. Many would turn to the trio in alarm as they passed, having thought they’d seen something distinctly other in place of the young Slytherins in their periphery, something pale and winged.

 

Perhaps it was that the usual fond exasperation in Weasley and Granger’s eyes when they looked at Potter was replaced with a muted sort of reverence, and possessive glares were thrown at all and sundry that came too close to Potter, even the trio’s housemates.

 

Maybe it was the strangeness of Harry Potter’s eyes. His pupils seemed dilated, taking up enough of the usual green that it seemed to darken his entire being. Many of the upper years that knew of such things wondered if the boy was on something. But surely not, he was eleven for Merlin’s sake.

 

Or perhaps it was down to something none of them could see, except Potter, not that anyone else but his shadows knew that bit. Because on that fateful Samhain day, Harry Potter’s self declared “strangest adventure yet” had begun in earnest. For in the night he’d met with Death and been granted power most mortals couldn’t even imagine having. It twisted and churned and begged to be unleashed upon the masses, and only the stubborn willpower of it’s new master kept it in check.

 

The next morning, Potter, Granger and Weasley were all back to normal, or as normal as they ever seemed to be. And if every public smile was sharper, if every step and gesture of theirs held more confidence, well. Only a small number of people noticed it.

 

Draco Malfoy, who was caught between awe and fear, reaffirming his vow to never cross any of them.

 

Severus Snape, who looked upon the them and wondered how he could feel so wary of three first years.

 

Fred and George Weasley, who found themselves feeling a bit drunk from the strange aura coming from little Harry Potter, let themselves follow along after him, unlike they’d ever done for anyone before.

 

And Albus Dumbledore, who eyed the innocently charming smile Harry Potter graced his classmates with, the old man pretending as hard as he could that he didn’t see another boy in young Harry’s shadow, a boy that had become a monster.

Chapter Text

Watching as Harry prowls about the Chamber of Secrets, Ron wonders how Harry could ever think himself ordinary.

It takes Ron’s breath away, to watch him now. Pacing, hissing idly to Echidna who looms behind him like a sentinel, ignorant entirely of the way the stones under his feet have begun to crack in hairline fractures like lightning, or the way his agitation is making the flames of the torches pulse higher and lower like a heartbeat. The air has grown even icier than it already was, and the edges of the perimeter pool have started to freeze over. Since they woke, Harry’s movements seem more deliberate, calculatedly graceful, and his pupils have dilated so far that only a thin ring of green remains.

And yet, despite this unintentional display of casual power, Harry stops abruptly and turns to face them, his expression is lost, adrift, and he runs a hand through his wild hair and shoots a shy, crooked little smile and him and Hermione, those dilated pupils bringing to mind a kitten with mischief on its mind. Suddenly, he’s just Harry again, who stumbles out of bed every morning with bleary eyes and a scowl, who wears mismatched socks and eats treacle tarts like they’re a rare delicacy.

Just Harry, who is powerful but sweet, kind but fierce, who wears blood and sweat and tears as casually as he does Molly Weasley’s knitted sweaters and his ratty old muggle converse shoes.

If they didn’t have something rather important to be doing at this moment, Ron would snatch him and Hermione up right this second, bundle them into Harry’s bed (always Harry’s, he’s not sure why) and wrap his gangly arms ‘round them tightly until they succumbed to his insistent cuddling. Hermione would blush and turn her nose up primly, putting up a token protest about the homework or training they should otherwise be doing. Harry would be stiff and nervous and bewildered until one of them starts to run soft hands through his hair, at which point he’d melt into a pliant puddle of tiny, scrappy, green-eyed trembles. But they do. Have something more pressing, that is. Ron sighs.

“It’s probably best to just get on with it, mate,” he says.

“Right…but erm. How?”asks Harry.

“Perhaps just your intention will be enough. Maybe just...think really hard about wanting to...meet them…” Hermione’s voice trails of softly at the end there, probably realizing how absurd it sounds. But Harry nods eagerly, clearly happy for any direction at all, and screw his eyes shut. Quite suddenly, all of his nervous shuffling and fidgeting stills, and he takes a deep breath, exhaling fog into the air in the cold of the Chamber. His eyes fly open, and as one, Harry and Echidna swing around to face Slytherin’s statue just as a rolling mist sweeps into a being, thickening until it nearly resembles white smoke before coalescing into the familiar form of the white Thestral.

Death.

Ron’s bones feel like jelly, suddenly, and he can see Hermione’s knees trembling from his peripherals (he refuses to take his eyes off of Harry and the thestral) so he reaches out and grabs hold of her hand. It’s as clammy as his own, and he feels oddly relieved that she is as affected as he is. Ron focuses on Harry’s face, expecting to see him as afraid as they are. He reevaluates Harry’s hold on his sanity when he sees that all the anxiety is gone, replaced by an amused smirk and a raised eyebrow. Like the fucking Slytherin that he now is.

“Bit unoriginal, isn’t it? A thestral,” says Harry steadily.

Hermione gasps, whether in fear or offense, and Ron bites down a hysterical giggle, not sure whether to be impressed at Harry’s audacity or grab him and shake him.

It seems the being, Death, doesn’t mind Harry’s irreverent opinion, for it laughs. At least...Ron thinks it’s a laugh, but it has the sound a thestrals shriek behind it and a dark cadence that puts him in mind of Severus Snape, and it makes cold fingers of dread shiver down his spine.

“Perhaps, but they are marvelous creatures. What would you prefer, youngling? A Grim? No, you already know one of those. Not an owl, you have a stunning white owl in your cohort already.” says Death.

“A niffler,” says Harry, and Death laughs again. Ron represses a shudder.

“Oh child, I am glad to have chosen you. Not many could speak to me with so little fear.”

Harry raises a brow. “You chose me? I thought it was because I gathered the Hallows, even if it was unintentional.”

Death turns its head to the side and musters Harry from a singular eye. “It is true that the Hallows granted you a chance at my power, but I am hardly one to be subjugated. Had I not wished it, you would never have united the Hallows.”

Harry seems to consider this for a long moment before nodding hesitantly.

“What do you expect of me?” he asks, soft, unsure.

“Very little that you would object to,” says Death, and begins to pace, not acknowledging Echidna at all as it gets close, “Magic is waning, and I need a champion to restore it.”

He feels as though the air has been punched out of his lungs. It’s not like Death itself would make something like that up, but the idea of magic disappearing...he can’t even imagine it. He thinks Harry and Hermione can though, given the very grim looks on their faces.

“How am I meant to fix it?” asks Harry. Ron thinks this is a fair question, but if anyone can literally save magic, it’s Harry bloody Potter.

“Bring the Dark back into being. Magic is meant to be a balance, Dark and Light with those of the Grey helping to keep the peace of either side.”

“Like emissaries?” asks Harry, “Is that what you’ll wish of me? Because my magic is not Grey.”

Harry hasn’t discussed his magic outright before, not even when Ron and Hermione had asked about their own. He tilts his head speculatively, realizing that he’s not surprised in the least that Harry’s core is Dark. He remembers Harry’s eerily easy use of the Unforgivables toward the end.

“You do not have the temperament to be a peace-keeper,” says Death, blunt as could be. It seems Harry agrees, for he just gives a wry little smirk and nods.

“Then I guess I’ll need to be a figurehead for the Dark. The Light has one already in Dumbledore, and Voldemort isn’t doing his people any favors.”

“We’ll need to start making moves in Slytherin,” says Hermione, speaking up for the first time. Ron agrees. They’ve been biding their time a bit, mostly easing the snakes into getting used to them and coaxing them slowly into seeing Harry as something other than the Boy-Who-Lived. Maybe it’s time to be a bit more obvious with their intentions. He says as much to his friends, who murmur their agreement.

"Child,” says Death, regaining Harry’s attention, “As I am sure you recall, I bound my magic to you. Do you no what this means?” When Harry shakes his head, the being nods and continues, “I have granted you some of my magic, a small piece of my core which, while negligent to me will be significant for you.”

Harry frowns. “I mean...I feel a little different, almost unsettled. But I wouldn’t call it significant.

“It will come slowly, your core will grow as it comes. To receive my gift all at once would kill you. Not that you would remain dead, but I have been told that reanimation is painful,” says Death.

“Reanimation is painful,” Harry repeats weakly, “Right. So. I can’t die?”

“Not until you wish it so. The same for your mates.”

“My...my mates?”

“Yes, your chosen. The red one and the sharp one.”

Ron would have been delighted and amused at the obvious blush he could see on Harry’s cheeks despite his darker skin, but he’s too busy processing the fact that he can’t die and trying not to faint. He doesn’t even register the bruising grip Hermione has on his hand.

“Oh. Of course, right,” says Harry, pointedly Not Looking at them, “anything else I should know right this moment? I rather think I’d like to go and hyperventilate now.”

“Ah. Well yes, you will be granted other abilities as well, due to the influx of my magic.”

“Abilities? Like what?”

“I am unsure,” says Death.

“You don’t know?” asks Harry incredulously.

“I have not done this before, child.”

“Oh Merlin,” says Harry, and he closes his eyes tiredly, but then cocks his head for a moment, and bloody fucking apparates across the Chamber. Inside the Hogwarts wards. He pops into being next to Death looking so utterly shocked, as though not expecting his attempt to be successful despite trying.

“Well,” says Harry faintly, “I suppose you’d better write to Bathilda Bagshot, Hermione,” he says, looking bemused, “looks like Hogwarts: A History needs updating.”

Hermione gapes at him, and Ron finally dissolves into those hysteria-tinged giggles, gasping out a strained “what the fuck, Harry” with the little breath he can manage to spare.

Chapter Text

Hermione twists her hands nervously, pacing back and forth in the girls dormitory, an action the trio seems to be doing a lot these days. She has an important role to play tonight, and she just knows she’s going to mess it up. The other heiresses are sharp, cunning, and when they wish it, they are every bit as prim, cold and cutting as they were raised to be. Even though she’s much older than them mentally, Hermione feels intimidated by the prospect of what she’s about to do.

She’s just...not much of an actress. Remembering back to her messy impersonation of Bellatrix Lestrange makes her cringe with her whole body. Honestly it’s a miracle they even made it into the bank. Harry is counting on her to start making moves with the girls, and even if it’s just small ones given their age and current lack of influence, it still makes her nervous. She isn’t like the other Slytherin’s, she’s not well bred and proper. She needs to convince these girls that she is. Or...wait. There might be another way...

Oh, she thinks, halting in her pacing and smiling slowly, softly, oh, but that’s it. I know exactly what to do.

The ice-breaker among Hermione and the others had been that night she’d asked Pansy for help with her hair. Such a small, innocuous thing, but then again, they were young yet. Sure, she wasn’t one for word play and sly manouvers. She’s a Slytherin now, but she was raised as a Gryffindor. That’s where her heart lies, anyway.

She just has to jump in. Blunt, as usual. She doesn’t need to pretend anything with these girls, because they’re willing to help. And with this new plan, well, maybe they can all tighten their loyalty to each other even closer.

She came to this conclusion just in time, for the other girls all spill into the dorm together. They’d all grown surprisingly friendly after their little sleepover, more than Hermione remembers from her own timeline. It warms her. They’re more than reluctant allies at this point, which is all she’d expected going into this. They’re, dare she say, friends.

“I need help,” she blurts out instantly, and the Slytherin girls all stop and turn wide, surprised eyes to her.

You need help? Asks Millie incredulously, because the girls have propped her up as the de facto leader and tutor of the first year girls.

Hermione sticks out the hand that has her heiress ring for the Dagworth-Granger’s, letting the invisibility charm dissipate. She would have shown them before, but they’d been trying so hard to find out like Slytherins, whispering quiet speculations when they thought she wasn’t listening, trying to catch her out slyly in conversation. It was quite funny.

“Ha!” shouts Pansy, turning to a disgruntled looking Tracey. “You owe me a galleon.”

Hermione sighs. “Yes. And Daphne owes three galleons to Millie.”

The girls gape at her. “You knew the whole time?!” says Daphne, to which Hermione just smiles placidly. The girls all pout.

“Look,” Hermione starts, taking a breath and preparing to just get on with it, “my Lord Perseus is very kind. He doesn’t go out into society much, as I’m sure you all know. Well, most of you,” she amends, noticing that Tracey looks lost, “He doesn’t expect much of me besides keeping my grades up and not outright sullying our name. But…”

“But you wish for more,” states Daphne shrewdly.

“Yes. I have plans for my future, and I’ll need the Dagworth-Granger name to mean more. We’re well respected now for my Lord’s Potions expertise, his academics, but I plan to be a bit more...political.” She can see that the other girls are starting to catch on, so she drives her point home. “I need tutoring. The boys and I have been learning the workings of the Wizengamot on our own, but there’s a difference in the way they’ll need to behave, and the way I will. I may hate it, but I know my job as a woman will be much different. I have no idea how to behave like a Lady.”

Hermione does hate it. Immensely. She’s not an idiot, though. While the magical world isn’t discriminatory about sex when it comes to their lines of succession (mostly due to their low population than actual sense), most of their other ideals about women in Pureblood culture dictate them as bargaining chips to make marital alliances or broodmares to produce new heirs. Homemakers, a warm body for a Lord’s bed, a director for the children and house elves. She will not be any of those things, and her boys would never expect that of her (nor would Perseus, she thinks), but if she wants herself, as well as Harry and Ron, to be taken seriously then she has to walk the walk, talk the talk.

Pansy and Daphne are sporting Cheshire grins that get broader and sharper the longer she speaks. It should have made her wary, but she knows that they won’t steer her wrong, not now. They’ll have her up to snuff faster than Harry after a snitch.

“Oh Hermione,” Pansy nearly croons, a dangerous glint in her eye, “I’ve so been hoping for this. First step, posture!” the girl darts forward and slaps Hermione’s bum, causing her to snap straight with an indignant squawk. “Perfect! Nice and straight. Now stay that way.”

So Hermione does, spine straight and face red, trying to look dignified. She laughs heartily when the other girls force Tracey into training with her, as she also has no experience and they refuse to take her lack of family name for an excuse. She shuts up rather abruptly though when Pansy delivers another sharp smack to her behind for letting her posture slip.

“Good,” says Daphne, circling them like a predator before her prey, “Now, while you perfect this stance, Pansy and I will go over appropriate topics for a Ladies tea.”

Hermione very nearly sags in defeat, but fear for her rear keeps her in place and she valiantly ignores the knowing look Millie shoots her.

Chapter Text

While Hermione’s occupied with defending her bum from enthusiastic posh girls (not that our intrepid hero knows this bit) Harry is making advancements of his own. The trio had, of course, been trying to integrate themselves into their house as subtly as possible, making sure to be seen conversing with future political powerhouses such as Malfoy, Pucey, Greengrass, and Ogden, ensuring they were heard touting very neutral ideals as opposed to the heavily Light-oriented rhetoric that many of their housemates would expect from the Boy-Who-Lived, a blood traitor Weasley, and a muggleborn. Their views have been firmly progressive, but without sacrifices the old traditions of their culture.

It’s true that the wary side-eye looks have faded in the two months since term began, but Harry has no interest in seeing the war return in any form. He can’t wait too long to get the ball rolling. He’s made some necessary progress with his personal life, what with Sirius’s eventual trial and Snape starting the investigation for the Dursley’s, but in terms of actual, real-world power he’s still at zero.

No, that isn’t true, he supposes. He has the stupid Savior title they’d all foisted upon him, and he has his titles, but those only went so far. He hates the thought of it, but what he truly needs is loyalty, allies and friends and, fuck, followers, even. The Ministry is a corrupt cesspool and he will get nowhere fast if he doesn’t learn to play.

Harry’s perceived age will make any important maneuvering useless to attempt for now, but there are easier ways to start. He has Draco in his pocket already of course, between the etiquette lessons (Harry hated passing up his Cloak for their tutor, but Draco always returned it in good shape) and his obvious awe of Harry’s magic, and the twins who are enamored with the chaos they could sense will follow him. A good start, for certain, but not every worthy ally could be swayed by oppressive magic and a mischievous smile. So, as an eleven year old, he has to start somewhere. He needs to gain the respect of a majority of his housemates without seeming like he has ulterior motives, and he has exactly two options.

Option 1: the Slytherin currency, or alternately named, trading favors. As someone with the near foolproof ability to sneak about the castle with his Cloak and Map, Harry is ideal as a contracted third party to carry out some of his housemates nefarious deeds, or the perfect person to sneak out to collect Slytherin’s bi-monthly illegal purchase of firewhiskey and cigarettes from Mundungus Fletcher in Hogsmeade. This little endeavor is an open secret in the snake house, though, having once been a Gryffindor, Harry knows no other houses are aware of this transaction. He wonders why Snape allows it. Surely he knows. This option is clever-and he plans to offer himself up for it anyway-but it will take time to integrate fully and gain his reputation for it. And so he needs his trump card, Option 2.

He feels a little guilty for the embarrassment he’s about to cause poor Draco, as the blonde has been entirely sweet to them in this timeline, but he’s being very well compensated for this. Harry actually had to namedrop for Draco, securing the boy a reservation for two at the most exclusive restaurant in wizard Britain over Yule, which will be his gift to his parents. Apparently, even with all of Lucius’s connections, he’s never managed to get in. It’s usually reserved for private parties of the Minister and foreign dignitaries of high standing or special favor. While Lucius has influence as Fudge’s walking coin purse, he doesn’t have much past that.

And so, they enact their plan.

“Oi, Montague!” Draco calls across the common room, “Potter and I need a favor.”

Graham Montague, current Captain of the Slytherin Quidditch team, comes over to them with a frown. He reminds Harry of Krum a bit, heavy and shuffling on the ground, unlike his ease in the air.

“Make it quick, brat. I’ve no use for firsties.”

“Oh please, you’ll want to hear this,” Draco sneers, before smirking playfully at Harry. “Harry here claims he’s a better flier than I. As you know, I intend to try out next year for the opening Seeker spot, but Potter claims he’s better. We’re going to have a Seeker’s match, two out of three catches. Would you be willing to be our referee?”

Montague can’t reign in the excited gleam in his eye, as zealous about Quidditch as Oliver Wood but better at hiding it. Barely.

“Fair enough, been meaning to keep an eye out for talent this year anyway. Higgs doesn’t even want to play this year, wants to focus on his NEWTS. If one of you is good enough, I can talk Snape around and get you on the team, save myself from his whining.” Montague mostly addresses Draco, clearly expecting him to win. Draco doesn’t shoot Harry any smug looks, like he might have. Harry had told him there’s not a chance he could win against Harry, and apparently he’d said it with enough conviction that Draco believed him.

Two hours later and Harry lands in front of Montague and the rest of the Slytherin Quidditch team, snitch in one hand and his technically-not-allowed Nimbus in the other. He and Draco had gone all three rounds, despite the fact that Harry had easily won the first two anyway, and Montague looks to be near tears, though, as a Slytherin, actually shedding those tears would be uncouth. Draco pouts a little, but when he catches Harry’s apologetic look (he’s been practicing, Ron and Hermione compare him to a stray kitten) the blonde sighs.

“Don’t look at me like that, Harry. It’s alright. It’s Pucey’s last year, too, and I’ve always made a better chaser anyway.”

Harry smiles, hiding how bemused he is by this new easy friendship with Draco sodding Malfoy of all people, but decides to take it in stride. He links arms with the blonde, who smiles warmly back at him as they talk Quidditch.

And if Harry notices the way the bright blue eyes of his favorite redhead jealously narrow in on the contact between them, well, he allows the little flutter of hope to bloom in his chest. But that’s a thought for another day.

Chapter Text

Hermione stares up into the bright blue sky, feeling more content than she could ever remember being. The clouds are picturesque, the breeze smells like crisp frost, yet the spot where she lay is as warm as late spring.

Harry had brought her and Ron out here early this morning as a surprise, and she’s not sure how he’s done it, but this little patch of grass under their favorite beech tree is in full bloom, wildflowers and thick, soft grass, making a perfect circle of spring big enough for the three of them to lay out on a large blanket with a picnic basket. The orange and white and yellow of the wildflowers make a pretty scene underneath the gold leaves of the fall-touched tree above them. When she tried to grill him with queries and questions, he’d just given her a soft smile. What else could she do in the face of that but desist? Her boys are becoming far too used to her stern looks.

When they’d first arrived at the spot, Harry, a blush darkening the apples of his cheeks, had unloaded coffee and pastries from the magically-expanded basket he’d gotten from the kitchens. They’d shared a quiet breakfast as the sun rose over the treetops of the Forbidden Forest, highlighting the bright colors of fall, softening the dark spikes of the various pines.

It’s near lunch now, and the trio have eaten yet another perfect meal from their basket, cold-cut sandwiches and lemonade that put her in mind of the summer holidays. An hour or so ago (she isn’t sure, as she’s only keeping track of time by the sun’s movement) she had run back to the dorms for a moment to grab a few things to pass the time, a couple books, Ron’s chess set, and after a moment’s hesitation, her very few bottles of nail polish, gifted to her by Tracey.

She makes moon eyes at Ron until he agrees to paint her toes for her, and he chooses a bright yellow. She remembers what Harry said about Ron’s magic, wonders if this choice of color was deliberate or subconscious. She doesn’t ask. This is one of the rare questions she decides is best left as a mystery. Harry gestures to the bottles too, a brow raised in question. Hermione knows he’s asking if she wants him to do her fingernails, but she pretends to misunderstand. She places his hand on her knee and has a go at his nails with her black polish. Harry looks bemused, but he doesn’t stop her. Neither she nor Harry asks Ron if he wants his painted too. They know what his answer would be, which is fine. To each his own.

Nails dry, the boys both put their heads in her lap for a cat nap while she reads, hair that’s black as night curling together with fiery locks in a bright contrasting tangle that musses further as she pets at them. She’s not reading a school text today, but a sappy, sugary sweet romance novel that Millie lent her. It’s just as ridiculous as the muggle ones, and yet it hooks her. Occasionally, cheeky and mischievous eyes peek up at her, ocean blue and leaf green. This honeyed afternoon just seems drenched in color. Every so Ron will tickle at her bare feet where they’re curled under her, or Harry will reach up to tug gently at one of her curls, smiling when they just bounce back into place.

She thinks this may be the memory she uses for her Patronus in the future.