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What Doesn't Kill You

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Harry Potter believed in Fate.

His entire life had been dictated by prophecy. A prophecy delivered by an utter fraud at the exact moment she was interviewing for a job she wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. A prophecy that was overheard by a man, who was directly linked to the subject of that prophecy. It was true that Voldemort could have interpreted it other than he did. But of the two children due to be born, the man had chosen Harry, whose parents then chose the one person amongst all their friends in whom they couldn’t trust.

The perfect alignment of circumstances carried on from there. His mother’s protection. The inadvertent Horcrux. Pettigrew’s escape on the very night that the second prophecy was made. Harry's great slip-up of saying the one word that would ensure the trio's capture during their quest for the Horcrux. The resulting confusion of wands that made Harry the owner of the wand that was turned against him. Despite Dumbledore’s assurance that a man dictates his own fate, Harry couldn’t help but think that some things were just pre-ordained.

Harry believed in Fate - most of the time.

There were times when his faith wavered. While he felt that his path was laid out before him, when he began to contemplate questions like 'by whom' and 'why', logic and reason began dissecting his otherwise solid faith. Harry wasn't a religious person. He had a hard time imagining that there was some celestial being out there, dictating the various plots of the individual lives on Earth. Whenever he did try and imagine such a being, it looked remarkably like Albus Dumbledore.

But Albus Dumbledore didn't believe in Fate.

Maybe he was right. Perhaps Harry's life had been merely a series of events – fortunate and unfortunate – dictated by nothing more than cause and effect, as Severus would have him believe. But there were moments in which the universe seemed to be conspiring to lead him in a given direction. He could recognise these moments by their urgency. They were usually preceded by a dark period of uncertainty and indecision until suddenly the path forward glowed before him, beckoning him along like a will o' the wisp. And when he looked back on those moments, it became clear that there was no other possible choice.

It was one such occasion that landed him here: in the marbled halls of Gringotts Bank, Cairo branch, waiting to meet his new curse-breaking master.

"Mr Potter," the tall, slim man greeted him from the doorway to his office. "It's a pleasure to meet you in person at last." The man had a rich, warm voice and his tongue tripped pleasantly over the words. His skin was a smooth, golden brown and his eyes, dark and smiling.

Harry stepped forward to offer his hand in greeting. "Master Husef. Thank you for coming in on a Sunday to meet me," he said with a smile.

Master Husef waved him into the large room, which reminded Harry a little of Dumbledore's office. Cabinets lined the far wall, containing various objects and gadgets, most of which he didn't recognise. The rest of the room was made up of book shelves, overflowing with books. Although his dark, cherry wood desk was clear of clutter, behind his desk dozens of stacks of paper and files were held down by jewels and gold objects that looked far too valuable to be mere paperweights.

"I would be here anyway," the man said, gesturing Harry into a chair in front of his desk. "It is a busy time. We are bidding!"

"Bidding?" Harry asked, feeling like this is something he should already know about.

"Bidding!" Husef repeated enthusiastically. "The bank has nearly secured new land. We must prepare to ensure that when the Goblins have sealed the deal, the work is ours!"

Harry nodded, no clearer on what the man was on about. He supposed he'd find out eventually.

"You look tired, Mr Potter. I can call you Harry? You look tired, Harry!"

Harry felt tired and keeping up with the speed at which this man spoke was doing nothing to help this. "I didn't sleep well last night," he said vaguely, ignoring a sudden tight feeling in his chest. He took a deep breath to relieve it.

"Of course not! You are so excited to come and work for me! And we are very excited to have you here! Very excited!" the man declared. He pulled out his wand and waved it. Two glasses of red liquid over ice appeared. "Drink! Pomegranate and fireweed juice! It will wake you up!"

Harry thanked the man and brought the glass to his mouth, sniffing cautiously. He took a sip and nearly choked as his mouth and throat burnt as the juice went down. He coughed. The man laughed joyously. "It puts hairs on your chest, yes?"

Harry took another sip. The juice was ice-cold and refreshing, but with a sting to it that did, indeed, make him feel like hairs were growing. Not so much on his chest, but in his oesophagus, his stomach. It was remarkably stimulating and had a nice fruity flavour, once his taste buds recovered from the searing pain.

"It's nice," Harry decided. "Different," he added.

"Like me!" Husef announced. He gave a great, bellowing laugh and smacked the table.

Harry laughed nervously, slightly uncomfortable with the man's overpowering enthusiasm for... well, just about everything, it seemed. He'd had a similarly befuddling conversation with the man on a Firecall prior to coming here, but seeing him in person was somehow larger and more imposing.

"Now, Harry. We have much work to do, yes?" the man said, rolling his chair back and spinning to pull a file from under a heavy-looking golden statue of a naked, fat woman. He opened the file and pulled out a piece of parchment, smoothing it out between them. "Mistress Marchese has prepared your schedule. You will need to rest well tonight, yes?"

Harry looked over to see a timetable that began at 7:30 and ended at 9:30 at night. The weekends were filled with criss-crosses with the words "AS REQUIRED" written in bold print. His eyes widened slightly in surprise. They had discussed that Harry would need to do extra work to make up for his lack of qualifications in Arithmancy and Ancient runes, but seeing it all laid out before him made the whole thing significantly more daunting.

"You will take night classes at the Centre for Alchemical Studies in arithmancy and ancient runes. You must earn an O or above to remain here with us, yes?"

Harry felt slightly ill when he nodded.

"But we are not worried about this, Harry! You have faced evil greater than Arithmancy!" He let out another loud laugh that reverberated through the room. It stopped as quickly as it started. He jabbed the paper with his finger. "For three weeks you will have safety and first aid training every morning. Very important. You must pay close attention to this. I do not want to be known as the man who killed the Boy who Lived, yes?"

"Yes," Harry echoed. "Er, no," he amended.

"No," Husef repeated. "Raven and Zhan, my assistants, will coordinate these trainings between them. Then, when you have passed your test with Mistress Marchese, we can do more interesting things, yes? Detection and Diagnostics, Curse breaking and Counter curses. You will also have lessons on research methods after lunch, and then you will help the team in their research in the afternoons – we are here to make money, after all! We must never forget this, yes?!"

"Yes," Harry said, feeling not just a little panicked and overwhelmed. Yesterday, his life had been so calm. Even working for Severus seemed easy compared to this.

"Now! Mistress Marchese – you'll meet her tomorrow, she is a wonderful woman! – she follows the education of all apprentices and acolytes of the three teams. She makes sure all of you have the same level of knowledge, but of course, you are with me! You have the best, yes?" the man declared with another bark of laughter.

"Yes?" Harry said uncertainly. "The best what, sir?"

"The best Master, of course. You have Master Husef! Master Müller and Master Winter are not bad, but they do not have our secrets! Harry, I will teach you everything I know, and I know so much! You're head will be three times bigger when you leave here!"

Harry couldn't help but laugh. He didn't think his head could possibly be bigger than Husef's ego, but the man was so pleasant that it was hard to hold his arrogance against him. "But don't you work together, sir?"

"We work for Gringotts, Harry. But we work separately. As an acolyte, you might be asked to help out another team, but you will tell them nothing of what we do, yes? This is very important. We must get the work! To get the work, we must be the best, and to be the best, we keep the secrets, yes?"

Harry nodded. "Right."

"Right! Yes!" Husef declared. "Now, I will bring you to Raven, who will explain everything you need to know, yes? But before I do this, Harry, we must talk about a very important thing." The man looked uncharacteristically serious, and it made Harry appropriately attentive. "Now, this is a dangerous job, curse-breaking. It takes a particular type of person to do this work, yes? When we get results, the bank doesn't care what else we do with our free time. But! We live in Egypt, and outside this building, there are Egyptian Muggles, who are not as forgiving. Outside, we must follow their rules, yes? You understand?"

Harry nodded. "Yes, sir. I grew up with Muggles, sir," he added, wanting to reassure the man that he knew how to behave outside the Wizarding world.

"Ah, but this is Egypt. And Egyptians are not like British, Harry. Homosexuality is a crime here. If you get caught, it will be very bad for you."

Harry stomach gave a sickening lurch. He felt his face go hot and wished the ground would open up and swallow him. "Sir... I ... that article-" Harry choked.

"You do not need to explain! It is no problem for me. I only want to warn you to be very careful about this! But!" the man barked. "You will have no time to find trouble! We will keep you very busy, yes?"

"Yes," Harry said weakly.

"So, let's get started!" the man said, rising suddenly with a heavy smack to his desk top. His gold trimmed blue robes billowed out behind him as he strode to his office door, throwing it open with flair.
Humiliated and weary, Harry followed the man out the door.

The corridors were empty. They passed countless closed doors as they made their way through the narrow corridors. Husef's boots clacked confidently against the marble floors, unabashed by the racket they were making. Harry shuffled silently beside him.

They reached the end of the corridor and took the stairs down to yet another long narrow corridor, at the end of which, light spilled into the hall from an open office door. When they reached the office, Husef pushed Harry inside. Two men looked up from their desks, which sat facing each other in a comparatively small office. Harry's attention snagged on the one nearest to him, who stood as soon as they came in.

The man was unlike anyone Harry had ever seen. Albino, Harry's brain supplied, taking in the man's colourless skin and fan of white hair that fell over his left eye. His eyes were, by contrast, glowing with the brightest blue Harry had ever seen. To add to the man's naturally peculiar look, multi-coloured rings adorned his nose, lips and ears. He wore a long black coat that had been patched and pinned in a way that looked less like mending and more like art. Under the coat, he wore a black t-shirt and ripped, tight jeans with tall boots that laced up to his knees.

He was at once, the coolest person Harry had ever seen and one of the creepiest.

"Harry Potter, these are my assistants, Zhan Zhakipaby," he said, indicating the asian-looking man who remained seated at his desk. “ He is a second year assistant, so we must be careful with him. He may plan to kill me so he can steal my job, yes!" Husef clapped Harry on the back and laughed loudly.

"Master Husef, you must not say such things," the dark-haired man said, with a reproachful expression. He rose from his desk and gave Harry an appraising look. "You are Harry Potter?" he asked with unmasked disbelief. His accent sounded vaguely Russian, but Harry couldn't be sure. "But you are so..." He gave a dismissive wave of his hand.

Harry blinked and smiled, unsure what to say in the face of such blatant disappointment.

"Don't mind Zhan," the other man said in an American accent. "He has no filter between his brain and his mouth. I'm Raven Kennedy," he said, extending a heavily ringed hand, with dozens of bracelets circling his arm that tinkled faintly when he shook Harry's hand. Harry couldn't think of a less appropriate name. The man anticipated that remark and said, "My parents have a keen appreciation for irony."

"Pleased to meet you," Harry said.

"The pleasure's mine," Raven said, grinning. "You're something of a legend around here."

Harry felt his face flush. He lowered his eyes. "There's nothing legendary about it, trust me," Harry said, feeling very awkward. He'd moved from Britain to get away from all of that.

"Nothing legendary," Raven laughed. "Dude, you broke into Gringotts and lived to tell the tale. I mean... and you killed that other guy, which was pretty cool, too," he teased.

Stupidly, Harry hadn't even thought about how the Goblins might feel about him coming to work here, after what he'd done. It hadn't even occurred to him to worry about it. "I forgot about that," he said. "It's a wonder they let me come here at all." He looked over at Master Husef, who grinned at him.

"Not let you work here? They should have offered you a job on the spot! You are a natural. I cannot wait to get you in the tombs!"

"Acolytes aren't allowed in the tombs," Zhan said suddenly firmly.

"Bah!" Husef replied, waving dismissively. "How is our bid coming?"

"Icarus is working on one last report," Zhan answered. "We will be ready, sir."

"Niamh found something really exciting. It was just a fluke that she found it at all, but it will change everything," Raven added enthusiastically. "It's big, Husef."

Zhan shot him an irritated look that Raven didn't see. "We haven't done all the fact-checking yet," Zhan added. "We must confirm, but... it looks promising," Zhan admitted.

"Excellent! I knew there would be something. Niamh has erased the trails, yes?"

"Naturally," Raven said with a grin.

"Ha! We will win this bid and Heinrich and Ursula will choke on their envy!" He threw and arm around Harry's shoulders and jostled him. "Now, Harry, Raven is your mentor. He will explain everything and show you everything, yes? He is a very clever boy, you are lucky to have him!"

Harry began to get the impression that there was no one that Husef didn't like. But Raven seemed kind enough, compared to his abrupt and serious counterpart, and so Harry agreed that he was lucky.

"I will check on you later in the week, if you are still standing, yes? You must come to dinner and meet my wives and children. At least with you I do not need to worry about my daughters, yes?" The man gave another boisterous laugh and clapped Harry on the back so hard, he stumbled forward.

Harry successfully kept from hiding behind his hands, but couldn't stand to look up at the other two men in the room. Husef took his loud and boisterous leave, and Harry took a deep breath before raising his eyes again. Zhan looked incredibly annoyed as he flopped back to his desk chair. Raven appeared amused.

"You are lucky. I was in the team four years before I got an invitation," Zhan said bitterly.

Raven rolled his eyes and shook his head as though to say, Don't worry about him. "Come on, Harry. I'll show you around," Raven said, picking his wand up from his desk and stuffing it in his inside pocket. Harry eagerly left the room and the unfriendly man in it.

"You look tired," Raven said sympathetically, as he began leading Harry down the corridor and back up the stairs.

"I had a late night," Harry said vaguely.

"Yeah. Me too. We've been working hard on this bid," he said.

"I'm not sure I understand what that's all about," Harry admitted.

Raven chuckled. "It's all politics," he said. "The Goblin's are working to get this property. We think there's quite a lot hidden there. Normally, we shouldn't know about it until the deal is done, but Husef got a tip off last week. We've been working ever since."

"But don't we all work for the Goblins?" Harry said, still confused.

"Sort of," Raven said. "The bank funds the apprentice program. We are officially employed to provide curse breaking services to the bank's clients. But that's not where the money's at. When the bank acquires a new property they put a base value on it. The different teams do research – you know, on the family, on the property itself – was it owned by some noble family a thousand years ago? Could there be tombs hidden beneath? Are there any ancient artefacts that might still be around? And then, based on our research, we offer a bid. It has to be high enough to beat the other teams, but low enough so that we make a bit on the deal as well."

There had been something in Harry's contract about a one-percent commission on treasure found, but Harry hadn't paid much attention. He'd paid a small fortune for the honour of working for Gringotts and being trained. Not to mention what he was paying for the additional courses he needed to take to get the proper qualifications. One-percent didn't seem like much, and Harry hadn't accepted the post for money anyway.

"Are you ever wrong? I mean, with the research."

"Not often," he said. "We're really thorough. But if we bid too high, Husef has to make up the difference out of his own pocket. It's the same with all the teams. There's pretty fierce competition between us."

Harry nodded, happy to understand a little better now. "What are the others like?"

"You'll meet them all. They each have to give lessons to the apprentices and acolytes," he said. "They all have their strengths. Master Husef has the advantage of being a local, so he gets a lot more information out of the people than the others. But Müller is wickedly clever when it comes to the Goblins. Sometimes I wonder if he's not part Goblin himself. And Master Winter – not Mistress Winter. You don't want to get that wrong. Trust me. – she's an Egyptologist on top of having an encyclopaedic knowledge of curses. We're supposed to use her if we run into trouble, but we try to avoid it. She's been known to steal work out from under us."

"Wow. It sounds brutal," Harry said.

"It's fun," Raven assured him. "You'll see." He turned down another long corridor that branched off from the one where Husef's office sat. "We're a really great team, actually. We all sort of complement each other, you know? But it's hard work. It's a wonder we have any acolytes at all."

"Why?"

Raven shook his head. "It shit work," he said. "You learn a lot, but you get all the really boring jobs. Depending upon who the apprentices are, and who your mentor is, it can be really painful. You're at the bottom of the pecking order, Harry. It's not a nice place to be," he said.

He pushed through a door that led outside to a court yard where several tables sat empty. "These are the dorms," Raven told him as they came up to a smaller building across from where they came out. "Normally we would have four acolytes – two for Zhan and two for me. But there hasn't been much interest in curse-breaking lately. Husef thinks it has something to do with your war, but I don't know. Those we get are either swiped by the other teams, or can't handle the pressure. Given that we lost Ellis, you have a room to yourself."

They opened a second door that led to a common room. Two girls sat chatting in the corner. Two boys sat separately, quietly studying. Another girl with fiery red hair sat in a chair near the door. She wore headphones and made notes from a book she was reading. She's the only one who didn't look up when they came in.

"Hi, Raven," one of the girls said eagerly. She clearly fancied him.

He grinned back at her. "Meredith. Harry, let me introduce you to –"

"Holy shit! That's Harry Potter," the girl called Meredith exclaimed. "How did you get Harry Potter?" she said with mixed surprise and dismay.

"You kept that quiet," said a blond boy who sat on the floor with his back against the chair.

The other dark-haired boy smiled brightly. "Why did I not know?" he asked in a French accent.

"Master Husef wanted it kept secret," Raven told him. "Harry, this is Michel. He's Zhan's acolyte. You'll be working pretty closely with him. That's Meredith, she's a second year apprentice under Müller, and Astrid is a second year under Winter. Sven," he said, nodding to the blond boy, "is also Müller's, a third year apprentice. And this," he said, kicking the chair where the red headed girl was ignoring the scene in front of her. She looked up slowly with heavily lined eyes. She pulled the earphones out of her ears. "This is Niamh. She's a second year apprentice on our team. Niamh, this is Harry Potter."

Her eyes widened slightly and searched for Harry's scar that was hidden under his fringe. "Niamh has a thing for your...um, friend," Raven said.

Harry blinked, thinking that he couldn't wait to tell Ron that there was some bird in Egypt who fancied him.

She glared at Raven. "I don't have a thing," she said in a heavy Irish accent. "That's the new acolyte?" she asked. "Why the big secret?"

Raven shrugged. "You know what Husef's like."

She snorted and then eyed Harry. "Well, just so long as he doesn't expect anyone to bow to him," she said and then put her earphones back in.

Raven looked at Harry and shook his head. "She'll warm up," he said with a grin. "Come on. I'll show you to your room." He led Harry back out of the common room into a long, yellow corridor dotted with green doors.

As they left the room, Harry heard the girl called Meredith say, "I'd bow to him." The others sniggered.

Michel answered, "If I am right, he will not be interested in you bowing to him."

Harry cringed, and then cringed again at the response. "Then you bow to him, Michel. I'll watch." Harry gave up the pretence of not hearing them and covered his face with his hands. Raven put a hand on his shoulder.

"You'll want to be careful with them," he said.

"I heard that, Raven."

"I wasn't being subtle, Mer," Raven called back before swishing his wand to unlock the green door in front of them. He pushed the door open and then guided Harry inside. "As an acolyte, you're sort of fair game. Any team can use you for any task, really. And they'll try and use you to get information on what we're doing. It's best to steer clear of them as much as possible until you know what sort of information you can safely give. Of course, as an acolyte, you won't really get a lot of information anyway," Raven said apologetically.

Harry pursed his lips. "So, basically, I should treat everyone like a spy," he summarised.

"Exactly. Apart from our team. Really, your first task is learning as much as you can. Just concentrate on that. You'll be able to make friends with them, in time. We all get along pretty well. You just need to learn to keep the game in mind. It's us versus them. And some of them fight dirty."

Harry gave a worried smile. He wondered if this is what it would have been like had he been sorted into Slytherin. It sounded like survival of the fittest, and he wasn't at all confident that he'd make the cut.

"You'll do fine," Raven reassured him.

Harry snorted. "I don't know. Zhan and Niamh don't seem to care much for me," he said.

Raven grinned. "Zhan is extremely ambitious, but he's also very passionate about what we do. He takes the game a bit too seriously sometimes, but he's good at what he does. You'll learn a lot from him. And Niamh... well, she'll warm up to you eventually. She'll probably be in here grilling you about your ... friend. She's a little obsessive. Wait until you see her room. She's got a little shrine going."

"For Ron?" Harry asked incredulously.

Raven frowned. "Who's Ron?" he asked.

Harry blinked. "My friend. Who are you talking about?"

"Snape. I thought-"

"Oh." Harry's chest grew tight again. Suddenly the hesitation before the word "friend" took on a new significance. He felt his face heat up, and he wondered if he should tell the truth or not. He wasn't even sure what the truth was. It had been far clearer twenty-four hours ago. He could have confidently said that there was nothing between him and Severus. But now... well, he wasn't sure. The night he'd just spent had been puzzling and weird, if he were honest. Severus had held his hand. Harry had slept in the man's arms.

Severus hadn't kissed him, and Harry was both relieved and confused about that.

"I guess you two... broke up?"

Harry blinked. "The article about us ... it was unfounded," he said. And it had been. The interest at the time was completely one-sided, and Harry wasn't certain if it still was or not. Severus might have just been humouring him.

"Oh. So, you're not... Well, Niamh will be glad to hear that," Raven laughed. "In that case, I urge you to really steer clear of Meredith, yeah? In fact, it might be best if she went on believing you were ... not interested." Raven grinned.

Harry felt incredibly uncomfortable. On the one hand, everyone already assumed he was gay and so, he could be spared the whole business of coming out to anyone. On the other, Harry wasn't ready to be out. He wasn't ready to admit to it. Perhaps he could get by with simply not denying it. It was a step, he thought.

"That won't be a problem," he said quite truthfully.

"Great," Raven said. "So if you want, I can show you around some more. Or, I can leave you to get settled. You have me first thing tomorrow, so I can give you the rest of the tour then, if you're as exhausted as you look."

Harry smiled apologetically. "Thanks," he said. "I'd quite like to get settled, if you don't mind."

"No worries. So, if you need anything, go to Niamh or Icarus. Michel could probably help as well. You haven't met Malika yet. She's Niamh's roommate, but she's a bit quiet. She keeps to her room a lot. Icarus will be around later. He's finishing up a report for Husef. I'll make sure he introduces himself." He gave Harry a searching look. "Don't worry about Niamh, okay? Her bark is worse than her bite. She's obligated to help you, so don't take any shit from her, okay?"

"Right," Harry said quietly.

"Okay. So, dinner is through the common room. There are two house elves assigned to the dorms. They do dinner at six and breakfast from six to eight. They don't do lunch, but you can eat anything in the kitchen that isn't labelled or hexed. I suggest you do both for anything you leave there, or it will disappear. The elves will do your laundry if you put it outside your door on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Make sure you label your clothes."

Harry nodded that he understood. "Do you live here, too?"

Raven shook his head. "No. I moved out in September. One of the perks of being an assistant. Well, that and an actual salary," Raven laughed. "I have an apartment near to the Alchemy school. It's small, but it's mine, you know?" Raven grinned and pushed away from the wall. "You're going to be all right?"

Harry smiled. "I've faced worse," he said.

Raven nodded and opened the door. "I'll see you tomorrow morning, all right?"

"All right. Thanks," Harry said.

"It's good to meet you, Harry."

"Same here. Thanks again," Harry said and watched the man go, shutting the door behind him.

Harry sat on the lower bunk and surveyed the small room. It was no smaller than the room that had been his when he lived with Severus, but this was devoid of warmth. The yellowing walls with the peeling paint clashed with the grey concrete floors and did nothing to help his desolate mood. His nervous excitement that he'd had upon arriving this morning was gone. Instead of being excited for this new adventure, he felt somewhat defeated and wondered if he'd made the right decision.

And was it his decision at all?

Harry ignored the question in favour of settling in. He did away with the lower bunk of the bed to make room for his trunk. A few flicks of his wand saw the room re-painted a soothing dark green that didn't clash as badly with the grey floors. He hung his robes in the wardrobe and put the important books on the small book shelf above his desk, storing the rest in his trunk. He'd nicked quite a few of the books he'd used when he first settled into Grimmauld place. Books that helped him break quite a lot of the lingering curses around the place.

He hung the picture of his mother and father on the wall and propped up a picture of Ron and Hermione on his desk. He hesitated before taking out his shoebox, which he'd tried to leave at Grimmauld Place, but ... couldn't. He set it on his desk and opened it to reveal hundreds of scraps of paper with various names printed on them. He pulled out a clipping of Severus, shaking hands with Kingsley, taken the night he was awarded his Order of Merlin. The night that their paths intertwined once more.

Harry sighed, staring down at the man's tight expression. Every now and again, Severus forced a smile that looked painful to maintain. Harry stroked the man's head in the photo, feeling heartsick and ridiculous. He slid the photo between two books and closed the shoe box before slipping it into a drawer.

Having tidied away his sparse belongings, Harry was as settled as he felt he could get. He considered going back out into the common room to try and get to know the people with whom he'd be working, but the thought of forcing himself to be cheerful just made him feel more miserable. He crawled up into his bed instead and gave in to the call of sleep.

A quiet knock at his door called him from his sleep sometime later. It was dark in his room and it took him a moment to get his bearings. He slid his legs over the edge of the high bed and jumped down, before opening his door to reveal a man he didn't know.

"I woke you up," the man said with an apologetic smile. "I'm Icarus," the man said, with a lilting accent that Harry couldn't place. Icarus held out his hand. His other hand went up to brush back the fall of his dark fringe. His wide smile stretched below a large, curved nose. His dark brown eyes were kind and warm.

"Harry."

"Yes, I know. You're a legend."

Harry dropped his eyes uncomfortably. "Er ... did you want to ..." He stepped back to allow the man to enter, but the man shook his head.

"I'm here to bring you to dinner. Raven said your first meeting with the group might have been overwhelming."

"I was a bit tired," Harry said dismissively. A yawn overtook him, followed by the sound of his stomach complaining that he'd not eaten anything since leaving Severus' kitchen that morning. He laughed and covered it. "I'll just put my shoes on."

"Don't bother," the man said. "We're not going far."

Harry followed the man back through the common room to a door that opened onto an enormous kitchen, with a long table that was already full of chattering people. The room went quiet as Harry entered. He recognised some of the faces from earlier, but their names had escaped him. Niamh, he remembered, sat next to Michel, the French acolyte. Meredith offered him a broad grin.

Icarus led him to the middle of the table, where two chairs sat empty.

"Did you sleep well?" Meredith asked him from across the table.

"Yes, thanks," Harry said. Harry's eyes fell over the food, which looked foreign and unfamiliar, but smelled wonderful. He helped himself to couscous and some sort of meat dish. Slowly, the table started humming with conversation again. To his right sat a woman whose head was covered in a purple scarf with silver threads woven through that glinted in the lights of the room.

"I'm Malika," she offered. "A third year apprentice with Husef."

"Pleased to meet you," Harry said. "Raven mentioned you earlier," he remembered aloud.

"Malika rooms with Niamh," Icarus added. "She has to wake up every day to pictures of your boyfriend."

"Shut up, Icarus," Niamh said resentfully.

Harry nearly didn't hear her for the blood pounding in his ears. "He's not my boyfriend," Harry said irritably, deciding to stop this once and for all. "You can't believe half of what the Prophet prints about me," he insisted.

The room was quiet again. Niamh stared at him with keen interest now. "So, you broke up?" she asked pointedly.

Harry sighed. "We were never together. We're friends."

"I knew it," Niamh said, satisfied. "I told you," she added, glaring at Meredith.

Meredith laughed. "You're obsessed," she said, rolling her eyes. "She's obsessed," she told Harry.

Harry shook his head. "Why?" he said, dumbfounded. He knew why he found the man attractive, but that was something that developed over time, once he got to know the man. He couldn't imagine how anyone could have a crush on Severus without knowing him well enough to dismiss the man's irritable and crotchety demeanour.

"I'm not obsessed," Niamh insisted.

The room exploded into incredulous laughter. Niamh's face burnt red. "He's interesting," she said defensively.

"He is interesting," Harry agreed. "Did you go to Hogwarts?" he asked, sure he'd never seen the woman before.

She shook her head. "Beauxbatons," she said. "My dad's French and my mum hates the British."

"Ah," Harry said, not sure what to do with that. That she'd not had Severus as a teacher explained how she could see the man as anything other than a total prick. But it didn't explain why she thought him interesting. "So ..." He shook his head. "You realise he's a complete arsehole like ninety percent of the time, right?"

"I've tried to tell her. She said it's part of his allure." Harry turned to see a vaguely familiar face at the end of the table. "Jenna Watson," she said with a smile. "I was a few years ahead of you in Hufflepuff," she said. "We never really met."

"I recognise you," he said. "You were in Cedric's year."

"A year ahead of him actually," she said quietly.

"Jenna is a third year apprentice with Master Winter," Icarus offered. His tone carried a hint of warning that Harry interpreted to mean he shouldn't get too close to his compatriot.

"The Prophet said you were living with him," Niamh said. Her eyes shone with keen interest.

Harry nodded. "I stayed with him for a bit."

"What was that like?" Jenna asked, equally interested now that the subject was broached.

"Not as bad as you might think," Harry said with a sideways smile. "A bit awkward at first, I suppose, but eventually we got to know each other."

"Why were you living with him?" Jenna asked. "I mean, it wasn't a secret that he hated you in school."

Harry stayed quiet a moment, unsure how to respond to that. No one knew about Severus' relationship with Harry's parents. Harry had never told anyone the whole truth behind Severus' motivations for turning spy. He didn't think Severus would want it to be common knowledge. He shrugged. "I don't think he hated me, exactly. He had a role to play, and he played it well."

It wasn't The Truth, but it was a truth. Harry hoped it was enough to appease them. "My house was the old Order of the Phoenix headquarters. It was once owned by the Black family and so, it's pretty dark. He worried about me living there and offered to let me stay with him," Harry summarised. "I didn't have anything better to do." He shrugged.

"But he is gay," Niamh said, looking to Harry for confirmation. "My mum knew a bloke who had a thing with him when they were young."

Harry nodded. "Yeah. He's gay."

"Did he ever try anything?" Meredith asked.

"I didn't even know he was gay until the article came out," Harry said, blushing again.

"Of course he didn't," Niamh insisted. "I told you. Harry's not his type."

Harry bristled. For someone who had never met the man, the girl seemed to think she was an expert. For a moment, Harry thought he'd take great pleasure in telling her where he'd slept the night before. "And what type am I?" he challenged.

"I can't imagine Snape has a type," Jenna said with a laugh. "Seriously, Niamh. You've never even met the man. He's greasy and ugly and just plain nasty."

Niamh glared from one Brit to the other and then lowered her eyes to her plate.

"He's changed a bit since the war," Harry told Jenna. "I mean, he's still a bit of a git, but he and I got on all right."

"Enough about Severus Snape," Icarus decided. "What we really want to hear about is how you managed to break into Gringotts."

Judging by the enthusiastic response, the others at the table were just as keen to hear the tale. Harry did his best to explain things without sounding like he was boasting. He tried to manage their expectations, telling them that he and his friends had got pretty lucky in the end, but as he described his escape on the back of a dragon, it occurred to him that it was a pretty spectacular tale, after all.

By the time dinner was finished, Harry felt moderately more comfortable with the group. Apart from Niamh, who had a permanent chip on her shoulder, everyone else was friendly. Harry joined a relatively small group in the common room after dinner. Despite the competition between them, it was clear that they were all good friends. He laughed along with the banter exchanged between Meredith and Icarus, listened to Sven talk about what Durmstrang was like, and paid no mind to Niamh, who ignored all of them.

He said goodnight relatively early and put a muffling charm over his room to block out the laughter filtering through his door. His mind stretched across the world to Severus, wondering how his Sunday had gone. He sat at his desk, pulled out a piece of parchment, and wrote a letter.

Dear Severus,

I arrived safely. I'm not really sure what I'm doing here, but I suppose it's too late to change my mind now. You'll be happy to know that as an acolyte, I won't do anything more dangerous than research. They apparently don't let us do any real work. Of course, that doesn't explain how the boy I replaced managed to get himself killed, but no one seemed to want to talk about that.

Apart for a few exceptions, everyone seems really nice. When I got here, Master Husef warned me that being gay in Egypt wasn't okay, and that was a little humiliating. I've spent a good part of the evening answering questions about the nature of our relationship. There's a girl here who is obsessed with you. When I told her that the Prophet didn't really have their facts right, she said that she knew it. I'm not your type, she told me confidently. What exactly is your type? And what type am I, for that matter?

Harry frowned at the letter that had gotten rather out of hand and ripped it up. He started again.

Dear Severus,

I arrived safely. Everyone is really nice here. I'm a bit worried about my timetable, as I have to take Arithmancy and Ancient Runes to make up for my lack of NEWTS. At least I'll be busy. You'll be happy to know that acolytes aren't allowed to do any real curse-breaking, so you don't have to worry about me.

I hope your Sunday was restful. Try and be nice to your assistant. Please write soon.

Love,
Harry