Actions

Work Header

Sine Qua Non

Chapter Text

Harry isn't sure when his life changes or even why. Even decades later, he can't quite put his finger on the exact moment things shift.

It's like one day the Dursleys wake up to decide that Harry isn't a complete waste of space and drain on the economy. Thereafter, he's less an unwanted house-elf and more like an unfortunate boarder, one they have to take in to pay the rent and now keep lest the money stop. After that, there's no more swats to various body parts, no more harsh words, not even Harry Hunting anymore. There are still chores. For surely, Petunia would have to have a brain transplant for those to stop, but they're much fewer, easier, and almost relaxing truth be told. Dudley even gains a few, much to everyone's surprise. Most of all his own.

Harry isn't sure what caused this miraculous change and probably never will, but he really doesn't want to question it too deeply. He can live with three square meals a day, his own room – small though it may be – and new if very basic clothes. Even if answers remain elusive.

And if some nights, right before sleep claims him, Harry remembers a man's voice. A flash of light. A whisper of air. And then, gentle hands that tuck him into bed.

Well, it's probably better if he never mentions it.

-O.o.O-

He receives his letter the first part of July, and while it makes his relatives turn interesting colors, they do little more than grumble to each other. The Dursleys do, however, take a holiday right before his magical escort arrives. Which means that Harry's left to his own devices when Hagrid shows up to take him to London.

The Leaky Cauldron is both exciting and disappointing, and after shaking hands with all and sundry, meeting a professor with an unfortunate speech impediment, and managing to elbow their way to Diagon proper, Harry's a bit put out. That quickly fades though as they make their way down the street, and one whirlwind trip to the bank later, Harry's still goggling when he realizes that Hagrid has stopped just in front of the apothecary. It's by a miracle alone that Harry doesn't run into him, but he still stumbles and nearly falls until a firm hand on his elbow keeps him upright.

Harry turns then to see a smiling man with pleasant eyes and a calm demeanor. The introductions are short. Since really, Hagrid's still looking faintly green in the face. But he does seem to genuinely like the newcomer. Who, in Harry's humble opinion, doesn't look nearly old enough to be a professor. He's far too young appearing for one, and he's the polar opposite of Quirrell for another. Not to mention Aunt Petunia would most certainly lift her nose at the long dark hair he has tied back at the base of his neck. She certainly wouldn't approve of his wizarding robe over Muggle clothes or the boots that look to be made of scaly skin. Much less the easy smile he gives Hagrid or the clap on the arm, likely the only place he can reach.

Whatever the reason though or maybe a combination of the above, Harry decides that he likes this man immediately. Especially when Hagrid introduces them and he doesn't start, stutter, or stare at the scar.

Instead, Professor Prewett offers him another grin.

The conversation is short. To the point, as introductions go. And the professor gives a jaunty wave before heading off towards Gringotts.

Harry watches him go with a strange feeling that he can't quite put his finger on.

"What does he teach?" he asks curiously as they turn back to their own shopping.

"Ah… Muggle Studies." Hagrid actually gives a frown at that. "Dumbledore asked 'im originally ta take the Defense post, seein' as how he's got a mastery an' all. But Prewett wanted Muggle Studies instead. Said it was more important or sumthin'." He shakes his head and gives a half-shrug.

Harry thinks it rather peculiar that the study of normal people needs its own course – or even that normal people need to be studied in the first place – but he politely keeps that to himself. Harry makes a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat even as he turns to see the professor leave.

But Prewett has already disappeared from the street.

-O.o.O-

Hogwarts is a strange place, but Harry very quickly decides that he loves it here. The castle is oddly homey for all its large size and strange habit of randomly changing staircases and doorways. The classes are interesting if difficult. The food is excellent and served in large quantities. The students are slowly getting used to his presence and don't quite stare as much anymore. The faculty… well…

McGonagall is stern and unyielding, but Harry's caught her giving the students fond glances when she thinks nobody's looking.

Snape swoops about like an overgrown bat, scowls at everyone, and is the whisper of fear amongst many. Harry already dreads his first Potions lesson tomorrow.

Flitwick is friendly and excitable. Spout is much the same though far more grounded. Quirrell, he of the purple turban, stutters constantly and seems afraid of everything from his own subject to the students themselves.

Professor Prewett is the odd one out amongst them. It isn't his robes, a proper cut in a deep blue, or even his long dark hair that's pulled back from his face. It isn't his age – youngish but with wizards it can be so hard to tell. It isn't even the fact that out of all the facility he seems the most normal and approachable of the lot.

There's just something about him that draws Harry's eyes. That begs for him to pay attention. That seems so oddly familiar. Like a forgotten favorite song. Or the words to a book he'd once loved.

It's a strange feeling. But not an unpleasant one.

And if Harry happens to look at him more at mealtimes or to catch his eye in the hallway, nobody has to know the reason why.

-O.o.O-

"There was a break in at Gringotts," his tablemates whisper amongst themselves as Harry goes down to breakfast one day. And truly, even only a week or so in, Harry has already learned that the students – Gryffindors in particular – are all hopeless gossips.

"Really?" the girl to his left – Lavender, if he remembers correctly – says back.

"Yeah," answers an older boy Harry doesn't know. "But it was stopped by somebody."

"Who?" another girl questions from further down the table.

"Gringotts won't release his name," the first boy puts in. "They say that their patron wants his anonymity."

Harry can tell that's a direct quote. He bends down to peer at the upside down newspaper across from him. The moving picture on the first page shows a very disgruntled looking goblin out front and a slew of other ones mingling about behind him.

"Whoever it was didn't even ask for a reward," a second-year comments with obvious surprise as she skims her own copy of the paper.

"My da told me the goblins were practically besides themselves," someone else says from her left. "Especially when the Ministry bungled it."

"Like usual then," a seventh-year mutters, but they all hear.

Harry tunes them out as the people around him start to argue about the intelligence of the Ministry. Or the lack thereof.

As is quickly becoming his habit, his gaze travels to the professor's table. Dumbledore and McGonagall are both gone, but Flitwick's in his seat. At least Harry assumes he is, but it's hard to tell with the enormous newspaper blocking him from view.

Further down, Snape and Prewett are in their usual seats next to each other. But they're leaned forward, speaking so quickly that Harry can't even begin to read their lips. Though he does see Snape roll his eyes before saying something that earns him a wicked grin. Snape has pained expression on his face as he leans back, and it's so surprisingly human that Harry nearly gapes.

Prewett just laughs.

-O.o.O-

School continues on in much the same manner as it started. Flying lessons go much better than expected, and through a strange series of events, Harry somehow ends up on the Quidditch team. Which isn't quite something he wanted, but it's still better than the alternative, and he even earns a nod of approval from McGonagall.

His housemates take the news very well indeed. Others not so much.

Naturally, and truly Harry does have both the best and worst luck, Prewett's the one to overhear Malfoy challenge him to a duel and Ron accept on his behalf. But the detention he gives the three of them isn't much of a punishment at all. They don't have to write lines or scrub cauldrons or even get lectured. Instead, it's little more than a study hall. With Prewett willingly answering any and all questions Harry has. Even Malfoy's on his best behavior and spends most of the three hours either ignoring them or reading quietly.

The only one who really complains is Ron, but Professor Prewett is nice enough to pretend he can't hear the grumbling as he helps Harry through the wand motions of his Transfiguration homework. The man even stays after to keep helping, taking the time to explain each concept step by step. Beaming when Harry successfully makes multiple matchsticks turn to needles and back.

"I hold a study time every Tuesday and Thursday evening after dinner and Sundays in the afternoon," Prewett says as he helps Harry pack up. "You're more than welcome to come. We can work on anything you want."

"You'd do that for me?" Harry questions, honestly surprised.

The Dursleys aren't exactly mean anymore, but they aren't helpful either. Aside from Hagrid asking him to tea, no adult has ever shown true interest in him.

"I'd do that for anyone," the professor corrects, and his voice is soft. Like he knows exactly what Harry's thinking.

Harry droops a bit, but that earns him a hand to the shoulder that gives a gentle squeeze.

"But I'm inviting you personally and not them. So no worries."

Harry beams then and keeps beaming all the way back to his dorm.

He doesn't miss a single study hall all year.

-O.o.O-

Harry's guilt sits heavy in his stomach all day, and he brushes off Ron after their last class and says that he'll meet him at the feast. Ron shrugs, heading back to the dorms, and Harry watches him go before squaring his shoulders and heading the opposite direction. He'd heard from Parvati earlier that Hermione has spent the better part of the afternoon in the girl's toilet, and it seems like she's even planning to spend the rest of Halloween there, too.

Harry feels his insides squirm at that thought. Just as they had when he'd originally decided to do something about it. Apologize. Or grovel. Or… just something to make it better.

If he could.

He makes it all the way to the second floor and is just coming down the stairs when he sees them. Hermione's voice is too soft to hear as she dabs at her eyes, but Harry does catch the reply.

"Don't pay them any mind," Prewett tells her as she blows her nose into a handkerchief. "No matter what they say, it's only words in the end. It doesn't make any of it true. They can only hurt you if you let them."

Hermione says something back as Harry inches forward, properly coming around the corner. Both she and the professor are turned away, and he can see that Hermione's hunched forward and sniffling as she whispers something.

"Yes, going home might be an option. But it's rather final," Prewett responds softly, reasonably. "There's also the choice to stay here. To try again."

Hermione clenches her fingers around the handkerchief. "But I… But I don't have anyone here. Nobody cares about me. They all think I'm a friendless know-it-all. Some poor little Muggleborn who doesn't fit in."

"You know that isn't true, Miss Granger. And no, I don't just mean the faculty," he interrupts before she can open her mouth. Prewett turns then, and there's a smile on his face as he tilts his head towards Harry. "See. You've got at least one other person that worries for you."

Hermione blanches as she finally glances up. Her eyes are red and huge, and she seems ready to bolt. But Prewett's hand keeps her in place.

Harry swallows hard as they look at him. He hesitantly steps forward.

"I just… I wanted to…" Harry feels himself flush as he tries to collect his thoughts but somehow finds the strength to continue. "I'm sorry. About what we said. I know you were only trying to help."

"About what Ronald said," she corrects automatically but stops when Prewett nudges her.

"But I didn't stop him," Harry insists, tone stronger as he moves even closer. "I should have, and I should've apologized earlier."

Hermione bites her lip and glances at Prewett. He gives an encouraging nod. It grows even more encouraging as Hermione squares her shoulders and lifts her head.

Things are sorted out in very short order after that. Harry is forgiven, and Hermione gains a new friend.

Both of them are already at the feast, sitting together and well into dessert when Snape enters the hall through a side door and comes up to the headmaster. He whispers something in Dumbledore's ear that makes the old man practically jump from his seat. Both he and McGonagall leave less than a minute later, but their departure is so swift that only the teachers and very few of the students even notice.

Harry does because he was looking. Of course, it's only then that he notices that neither Prewett nor Quirrell are present.

-O.o.O-

The Muggle Studies professor quickly becomes the prime topic of gossip as the weeks pass and the grounds grow too cold for most to brave going outside. Even the recent excitement – read, troll break-in on Halloween – is forgotten.

Fred and George, Ron's older twin brothers, are among those fortunate enough to have Prewett's class. They've spent most of their meals fielding questions from the rest of the house. Something that surprises Harry since he would've thought everyone used to Prewett by now.

"No, this is only his second year here," Fred informs him as he hands over the basket of rolls, "but I'm not sure the first one counted."

"Didn't count?" Ron questions around his pork chop, even as Hermione elbows him for talking with his mouth full.

"Well, he only came in after Christmas," George chimes in. "The teacher last year was Quirrell, and he took a sabbatical on the continent for half the time."

"Quirrell taught Muggle Studies?" Harry asks and tries to imagine the man in his purple turban talking about something as mundane as a car.

The thought alone is laughable.

The twins blink as Harry laughs. Fred shakes his head, even as George rolls his eyes.

"I'm still amazed that Dumbledore managed to bag him," Lee Jordan puts in from Fred's other side.

"Why?" Harry asks, honestly confused. Since really, this whole magic thing's still in the process of sinking in, and of all the people he's met so far, Prewett seemed the most normal and unremarkable of the lot.

"He's famous," George replies from around a bite of potato, and were it anyone else, Harry'd say his voice is gushing. "Not as famous as you, mate. But famous enough. Has his own frog card and everything. Hear it's worth a lot, too."

"Travels all over the world, hunting nasty beasties," Fred continues at Harry's blank look, and he almost seems star-struck as he casts a glance at the head table.

"That thing with the Nundu made international headlines," Lee adds after taking a drink of pumpkin juice.

"Not to mention that time with what's-his-name," Fred says. "What was it, George?"

"Flophard?" his twin suggests.

Both of them snicker.

"Lockhart," Percy grumpily corrects from across the table. "Gilderoy Lockhart. He was a very well-known author. Wrote all sorts of books about battling monsters," he adds for Harry's benefit. "Until that nasty scandal."

Harry isn't sure he wants to know, but he asks anyway. Percy makes a face, but it's George who answers.

"Well, that's the trick of it." He runs a hand over his red hair. "All that stuff that Lockhart wrote about… Other people did it. Not him. He just stole their memories and took credit."

"Nobody even knew it was him," Fred adds, and the star-struck tone is back. "Until Prewett that is."

George gives a grin. "He tried the same trick on Prewett apparently. But our professor was too quick for him. Beat Lockhart at his own game. Heard the poor bloke's off in some hospital now. Drooling on his chin."

Harry blinks and casts a glance at the head table. Where Prewett is smiling and engaged in a very animated discussion with Flitwick and Sprout. Even Snape, on his other side, is joining in.

Harry looks back at the twins.

"Seriously?"

They nod emphatically.

"Mum cried for nearly a week when she heard," Fred leans in to confide. "She loved Lockhart. Used to have his books."

"But now, she collects the newspaper clippings about Prewett," his brother adds with a smirk. "She convinced that we have to be related. Her maiden name was Prewett, you know."

Harry tilts his head. Looks at the twins. Then, Ron. Followed by Percy. Back to Prewett. He just doesn't see it.

"Are you?"

Both of them sigh. So utterly disappointed.

"We wish."

-O.o.O-

His first Quidditch match is just as ridiculous as it's exciting. For months afterwards, Ron and Hermione are convinced that Snape's trying to murder him. Harry thinks that they're taking it way too far; it's far more likely his broom is simply defective. Especially after his Flitwick and McGonagall examine it and place new safety charms.

It all starts when his broom gives an unexpected lurch mid-flight. It isn't really a big deal, not even enough to move him from his seat. Just unexpected.

Harry wonders about it for all of two seconds before a bludger flies at him and he has to swerve out of the way. He continues on after that for several minutes when his broom suddenly jerks again.

It's stronger this time. Shifting him forward an inch or so before he can right himself. But it again subsides.

The third time, his broom lurches twice in a row. Hard enough that his teeth clack together.

Things continue in this vein.

Several minutes of normal flying. Followed by a bucking broom for a second. Then back to normal.

Harry isn't the only one to find this peculiar. Especially when he casts a glance at the Gryffindor stands. Only to find Hermione, Ron, and Hagrid gaping at him in horror.

His broom jerks a few more times just as his eyes meet Hermione's. But she's driven from his mind when the snitch chooses that moment to zip by his head. Harry's off in close pursuit then, managing to keep it in sight even as his broom bucks again. Which actually works out in his favor since it happens at the exact same second that the snitch changes direction. It does everything but fly into his hand as he's jerked forward.

He lands immediately after that. He looks up in just enough time to see that Hermione has accidentally knocked Quirrell from his seat and is in the process of furiously apologizing to him. Snape and Prewett are just behind her, exchanging glances with each other and then staring straight at Harry.

His team swarms him then, and Madam Hooch confiscates his broom sometime later. Harry dodges questions and concerns for days afterwards, and he's only saved by Hagrid when they go down the following weekend for teatime.

Bless the man but he can't keep a secret. And he only sets Hermione on an obsessive path looking for someone who may or may not actually exist.

At least it serves as a distraction. And it does keep Harry otherwise occupied reading through textbooks instead of sleeping during Binns' class. It also keeps Hermione and Ron focused on something else for the time being, and in the end, Harry counts that as a win.

-O.o.O-

The last study hall before winter break is held on a Thursday evening. Friday is the final day of classes, which naturally means that all the professors are piling on assignments before the holiday. Harry's already started because he knows how hard it'll be to work since all of the Weasleys are staying over, too.

Prewett is the only other person present. Even Hermione skived off to finish packing since she's catching the train right after classes let out tomorrow. Ron has only been to two study halls total, and one was for detention. Neville's the only other first-year who shows up more often than not, but he's fast asleep on his bed when Harry leaves the dorm. Harry doesn't want to wake him, and to be perfectly honest, it's nice to have the professor to himself. Nice to have him looking over the last minute assignments that are all coming due.

Though he does have to revise that opinion a little when Prewett makes a face while reading his Potions essay. Harry knows he needs as much help as he can get in that subject, especially since Snape is a harsh grader, but he's hesitant when Prewett stands and comes around his desk to Harry's seat in the front row.

"Is there are problem with my essay, sir?" he asks uncertainly.

"The argument itself is sound, and the conclusion is at least second-year level," Prewett informs him kindly. "I also like that you're citing your sources now."

Harry perks at that. However, he can sense that there's a but coming. Doubly so when he's handed back his essay and Prewett points to the ink smears in the margins and between the lines.

"I'm not very good with a quill," Harry explains sheepishly and dips his head.

"I can tell," the professor replies dryly.

He wrinkles his nose in apology immediately afterwards. Then, he pauses for a long moment before reaching out to adjust Harry's grip.

"Hold it like this," he instructs. "It'll make the quill more secure, and you'll be less likely to break the tip."

He guides Harry's hand as he writes several lines on an extra piece of parchment. The letters flow smoothly, and the ink doesn't blotch when he moves between words.

Harry blinks at that and blinks again when he does it unaided and the writing is just as good, if a little wobbly. He grins at Prewett, who winks and proceeds to show him a number of other pointers. Not to mention a very helpful spell that removes any stray ink. Harry manages to get about half of the drops from his Potions essay, and it's actually rather legible now.

"That's much better, Harry," Prewett tells him. "After all, we wouldn't want to give Professor Snape eye-strain, would we?" He offers the edge of a wicked grin.

"He'll just find another way to take off points," Harry grumbles before he can stop himself.

Prewett snorts, but he does give Harry a serious look afterwards.

"Professor Snape is very passionate about his subject and expects that same mindset from his students." He taps the essay, and the remaining ink blots disappear immediately. "He's also a stickler for his instructions. Not to mention that he likes to see if his students are truly paying attention. If he says for you to do something, he wants it done exactly to the letter. No short-cuts. No laziness."

Harry is silent as Prewett gazes at him.

"He isn't a bad man, Harry. Just strict. Potions may not seem like it, but it's among the most dangerous material taught here," Prewett says then. "It's so very easy for a potion to go horribly wrong with a single missed step or ingredient. There's room for innovation or improvisation but not at your current level. It isn't unheard of for people to become seriously injured or even die during a potions accident."

Harry sucks in a breath.

"Really?" he whispers.

Harry suddenly sees Snape's hovering and watchful eyes in a new and very horrifying light.

"Yes, really." Prewett purses his lips for a moment. "I had a friend when I was younger. Her mother was renowned for experimenting. Thought she'd found a new way to combine ingredients, but she died when a cauldron exploded in her face."

Harry gulps.

The professor's face softens then, and he sighs.

"I don't want to scare you. I just want you to understand."

"I do, sir," Harry insists, even as he stomach roils inside him.

He's still queasy long after study hall has ended and Prewett has wished him a good holiday. How dangerous magic can be tickles in his head for days afterwards, and he doesn't think of Potions the same after that. He doesn't look at Snape the same either.

-O.o.O-

His cloak is amazing. It's quite literally the best gift he's ever gotten.

It makes him invisible. Helps him dodge Peeves. And it's something his dad had. Something his dad used even. The first thing he's ever really had of either parent.

The fact that it saves him from being eaten by the three-headed dog on boxing day is a definite bonus. It's all Ron's fault, really. Insisting that they use the cloak to explore the forbidden corridor, but Harry knows that he could've said something. Could've refused.

He's just as much to blame. Doubly so when Ron cons him into exploring two nights later and they find the mirror.

Ron looks first. Harry lets him because he's too busy studying the inscription. Thinking it frontwards and backwards and suddenly getting it.

He looks at the mirror differently then. Hesitant. Almost afraid. More so as he notices Ron staring like he's seeing every single hope and wish come true all at the same time.

Harry calls his name, but Ron doesn't answer. He doesn't even respond as Harry starts to tug him away. He finally snaps out of it when the reflection is out of sight, and it's like he's coming too from a very good dream.

He insists that Harry look then. Practically shoves him forward. Harry doesn't want to. Not really.

But at the same time he does. Even if he already suspects what'll be there.

And he's right. It's there in front of him in all its terrible glory. Making his chest hurt and his breath catch and his eyes water before he can turn away. He breathes hard then, and his hands shake. It takes everything in him to walk to the door. To ignore the calls after him. To keep walking all the way back to the dorm.

He never tells anyone, not even Ron, what he sees in the mirror.

It's too silly. Too pathetic.

Too heartbreakingly impossible.

He cries himself to sleep that night and every night for a whole week after. Harry doesn't search for the mirror again.

-O.o.O-

He's in a mood for some time after that, and Harry knows it.

Hermione doesn't ask – read, interrogate – him, but he knows that Ron had to have told her. Both of them walk on eggshells around him. As does most of Gryffindor after he hexes Fred during Quidditch practice. Oliver nearly gets it too when he turns to berate Harry for interrupting drills, but he quickly wises up.

The only person who treats Harry normally during that time is Prewett. Offering smiles and encouragement and being all too insufferably nice.

That really makes it all the worse.

Harry finally shakes it off towards the end of January, and with his professor's help, he orders chocolates for his friends as an apology.

Things are as normal as they get after that point.

They're on their way to visit Hagrid, hoping for more hints about Nicholas Flamel and how the three-headed dog plays into this, when they spot both Dumbledore and Prewett outside the door to his cabin. Hagrid's been acting peculiar the last few times they've come by to see him, so it really isn't a surprise that the faculty's also noticed.

Ron's all for going over regardless, but Harry and Hermione hang back when they notice how Hagrid jumps at seeing just who's at his front door. They exchange a glance and simultaneously grab the back of Ron's robe, all but dragging him to the castle.

The next day, Hagrid isn't at breakfast or lunch. They head back to his cabin as soon as classes let out, and after knocking hurriedly on his door for almost ten minutes, Hagrid finally answers. Harry glimpses red and watery eyes before Hagrid all but falls on the three of them, and he still isn't sure how they manage to manhandle him back inside and into his chair. It's even harder to figure out what's going on through the sobs.

Harry has no idea who Norbert was, but he must've been a really good friend to make Hagrid this upset.

-O.o.O-

The next Quidditch match goes better than the first. His broom doesn't try to dislodge him for one. Harry catches the snitch in less than five minutes for another.

Beforehand, the twins hear a nasty rumor that Snape's going to referee, but it's fortunately false. Not that it really would've mattered with how quickly it's over, but Harry breathes a sigh of relief nonetheless.

Either way, Potions class goes much better in the spring. A combination of Harry studying and preparing well ahead of time, more legible and neater essays, and sheer determination to do his absolute best.

Snape is naturally suspicious at first, but he gradually – grudgingly – seems to realize that Harry's being sincere. That isn't to say that he stops swooping around like an enormous bat or that he no longer hoovers over the students. As if daring them to mess up.

But his tone isn't quite a harsh when he asks Harry questions, and he actually gives a nod when each is answered correctly.

Hermione huffs a little when she sees it but doesn't comment. Ron calls him a git when he knows Snape can't hear. But at least both of them lighten up and seem to forget about the whole thing when Harry distracts them by recalling where he's seen the name Nicholas Flamel before.

He even grins triumphantly when he shows them his chocolate frog card. The very first he ever receives. Albus Dumbledore.

Hermione immediately squeaks and races off. Only to return with a ridiculously oversized book that she dumps in his lap. Flipping through pages and babbling about philosophers and alchemy.

At least they know what Fluffy the three-headed dog is guarding now.

-O.o.O-

Times passes. It's the end of the school year.

Hermione fumes as they leave McGonagall's classroom one fateful day. Harry's never seen her so angry or out of sorts. Not even when she got points taken off her Potions exam for going over the length limit. Snape had told her not to do more three inches per question, and she'd done double that.

But even Ron's furious now, where he just laughs before. Both of them are all but ready to run off and get the Philosopher's Stone themselves.

Harry's actually being the sensible one here. He thinks that they should still tell someone. They just picked the wrong teacher.

"Wait here," he tells both of them as they huddle in the corridor down from the Transfiguration classroom, trying to decide what to do.

"But Snape could already be going for the Stone," Ron whispers heatedly.

Harry still isn't convinced that it's him, but he's tired of arguing that point. He just waves them off and races down the hallway and stairs. The path he uses is so familiar he could get there in the dark, and the door opens immediately.

Prewett asks all the appropriate questions, gets all the details. From Hagrid's hints to Fluffy to Nicholas Flamel to Dumbledore now conveniently gone.

Despite how utterly ridiculous it sounds, he doesn't once look as if he doubts. Doesn't once act as if he thinks Harry's lying.

He stands after Harry's finished. His face is cheerful as ever, but his gaze is unusually fierce, determined. He moves in front of Harry before bending down on one knee and looking him right in the eye.

"Thank you very much, Harry," he says then, "for coming to me with this. For not trying to go after the Stone yourself."

Harry swallows hard then and nods.

"Thank you, professor," he whispers right back, steadily staring past his professor's shoulder.

He doesn't say it's for believing him. Or for all those hours spent helping him. Teaching him. Listening to him.

Prewett seems to understand anyway.

-O.o.O-

Harry doesn't find out what really happened to Quirrell. Not for years.

There are rumors, of course. A million of them.

Everything from a vampire attack to spontaneous combustion to alien abduction. Seamus insists that he's eaten by a zombie, but Dean elbows him in the side before he can go into much detail. Lavender and Parvati think maybe he ran off with a Veela – whatever that is. Neville is the only one with a sensible theory; Quirrell was fired or got into trouble for something.

Naturally, nobody really listens to him.

The last day of the school year comes quickly.

Harry passes all of his classes with excellent marks. Even Potions. He gets a note back from Snape with his final that he had the highest exam score in his year. Of course, Snape also writes that he shouldn't let it go to his head and that he'll be held to an even higher standard than before.

Gryffindor wins the cup.

It isn't hard to figure out why. Not with the fifty points that get added to their hourglass the same day that Harry tells Prewett about the Stone. Of course, nobody even notices since they're all too busy speculating about Quirrell.

But Harry knows, and Prewett knows. And that's more than enough.

The feast is especially excellent, and Harry goes to bed that night satisfied but quietly dreading the next day. He doesn't want to leave. Hogwarts is the closest thing to a home he has, and he hates even the idea of being with the Dursleys over the summer.

But dawn still comes despite his wishes.

The ride back is quiet, and Harry spends most of it looking out a window. He steps off the train with a heavy heart and heads toward the portal to the Muggle world slowly. The Dursleys are easy to spot. Vernon by his girth and propensity to resemble a walrus. Petunia by her horse-face and stuck up nose. Harry's almost over to them, but a voice calling out his name brings him up short.

Harry turns then to see Prewett striding over. He's shed his normal wizarding robe, and the clothes underneath are perfectly Muggle; they don't even earn him a raised eyebrow from the Dursleys. Not that they're really looking at him.

"Heading home, Harry?" he asks, but it isn't truly a question so much as an observation.

"Ah… yes, professor."

His hand squeezes Harry's shoulder as Harry notices his relatives finally spot him and come over. Petunia's face is drawn and narrowed, as if annoyed to be kept waiting. She stops just in front of him without a care to whoever might be watching and opens her mouth but abruptly closes it. Her face drains of color, and her eyes go huge. Beside her, Vernon looks over, too. His reaction is much the same. Only he seems even closer to fainting than his wife.

Harry belatedly realizes that she's looked past him to Professor Prewett. He's smiling now. It's all tooth.

"These are my relatives, sir." Harry nods to Petunia and Vernon in turn. "And this is my professor," he introduces.

Prewett turns to them. "It's a pleasure to meet you both." He offers his hand.

Vernon stares like he would at a snake. After a minute, he mutters something in place of shaking and immediately quiets afterwards. Petunia is still, white as a sheet, barely breathing.

Prewett doesn't even blink at their rudeness. Instead, he turns back to Harry.

"I hope you have a very good summer. Don't forget to keep on your studies." His eyes flicker to Vernon for a split second. "I'll know if you don't."

Harry blinks but purposefully ignores the strange undercurrent.

"Certainly, sir. I promise." He looks up at his teacher.

"Good, good." Prewett nods at him and steps back. "Feel free to owl me if you need anything, Harry. I'll see you soon." His smile is blinding as he turns.

Harry waves as he goes and keeps waving until he's out of sight. Vernon and Petunia don't dare move until then. They trade a shaking glance that Harry barely notices as he starts walking to the exit. He's smiling, too, he realizes. And then laughs.

He can't wait for school to start back.

Chapter Text

Harry sighs once and then again. His summer isn't going as planned at all. Sure, he's had plenty of time to finish his schoolwork – in the first week no less. Even more time to read, walk the neighborhood, visit the local library, and otherwise avoid the Dursleys. But that's during the daytime. At night, when he's so sick of books he wants to throw something, there's only so much chess he can play against his own set. He always loses anyway.

Harry supposes though this is only a side effect of the real problem.

He's bored, yes. More than that, he's lonely.

Which leaves him here. Lying in the backyard. Willing time to move faster so that it'll be later and Hedwig will be awake at least. She's the only thing he has for company these days; even if in the end, she's still just an owl. She can't talk back. She can't write back.

And maybe that's really the problem.

No one's written him at all. It's been nearly three weeks, and no matter how many times Hedwig goes out, she returns annoyed and empty-clawed.

Some friends his are. Not even writing to him at all.

Harry huffs and contemplates that, but there's a strange noise then. Liked a muffled pop from somewhere to his left.

Harry cocks his head and sits up, but he doesn't see anything. He's just standing to go look when he's suddenly very aware of a person on his other side. Harry, regretting that he doesn't even have his wand on him, glances over and all but jumps out his skin.

What?

Harry can't help it. He stares.

"What…" he breathes. "Who are you?"

The creature – for really, it can't be anything else – blinks large tennis-ball eyes at him and offers a bow that nearly reaches the ground. Harry belatedly realizes that this thing… that he – assuming here – is rather short and dressed in a dirty pillow-case.

"Dobby is sorry, Master Harry Potter sir!" it… he says then in a high voice and gives another bow. "Dobby didn't mean to startle you."

Harry opens his mouth but then promptly closes it again. Since really, he has no idea what to say.

Dobby doesn't seem to notice. "Dobby is so bad sneaking up on a great wizard, but Dobby had to come see you."

"See me?" Harry parrots before he can stop himself. "Why on earth would you want to see me?"

Harry's aware that he's been transported into some strange new universe since that's the only logical explanation. Still, he's completely unsure how that happened. And the fact that this Dobby character has come to see him personally is probably the weirdest part.

Dobby blinks at him for a second, and his face has a weirdly uncomfortable look. It seems like he wants to say something but has suddenly thought the better of it. Instead, he reaches into his pillow-case and produces a stack of paper. It takes Harry a moment, he's still not flying through a cloudless sky here, but he suddenly realizes that it's a pile of letters.

His letters.

"You have my mail," Harry states dumbly and then shakes his head. "Why do you have my mail?"

Dobby shifts his bare feet in the grass. "Dobby is… hm… Dobby is bringing your mail. It got lost! But here's it now!"

Harry would say that Dobby seems nervous, but really, it's so hard to tell. Especially since his brain is going back and forth between his mail and trying to decide what's going on to still figuring out what exactly Dobby is supposed to be.

He may have said the last part aloud, however, as Dobby offers another bow. This one is even lower than before and practically putting his face in the dirt.

"Dobby is a house-elf!" he replies, seemingly more cheerful now. Maybe because the subject has changed. "We is doing all sorts of helpful things for people! Cooking and cleaning and all sorts of things!"

"Like delivering their mail?" Harry asks suddenly.

Dobby jerks then and shifts on his feet again. "Yes, Master Harry Potter Sir!"

"Right." Harry, finally overcoming the strangeness of this all, studies Dobby more closely. Taking in the fidgeting fingers of his free hand that are now reaching up to twist at his pointed ear. "You know, you don't have to call me that. Harry works just fine."

"You is asking Dobby to use just one name. Your name!" His eyes somehow become even bigger than before, and he all but dances on the spot. "Master Harry is truly a great wizard!"

And it's back to being weird again.

Harry exhales slowly, but Dobby is too busy buzzing with happiness to really see the pained look on his face. Not even when he suddenly sobers and peers into Harry's eyes intently. Dobby looks away only to glance about for a moment before hunching and leaning forward. He comes so close to Harry then that their noses nearly touch, and his mouth barely moves as he whispers.

"Master Harry should be careful at school this year, yes," he murmurs, but his voice isn't nearly so squeaky now. "Very careful. Hogwarts is very dangerous. Especially for Master Harry!"

Harry feels his heart stutter and his blood go cold.

"What do you-"

Dobby cuts him off though as he jumps back suddenly. His head whirls over his shoulder, startled as if he'd just heard something scary from behind the fence.

"Dobby has already said too much! Far too much!" he declares then before turning back to Harry. His hand is already reaching up to twist at his ear again. "Be safe, Master Harry!"

Then, Dobby is gone. Vanished into thin air.

Thankfully, the stack of letters remains.

-O.o.O-

By the time school rolls around, Harry still hasn't put the whole episode from his mind. It's too bizarre for one. Even having spent the last year in the magical world, this is amongst the strangest things to have ever happened to Harry. And that's counting the time he accidentally spoke to a boa constrictor.

Harry doesn't know what to think about the whole thing. He's never even heard of house-elves before, much less why one would have his mail or personally deliver it. Neville's helpful in filling in the background at least and even sends him a book on various magical species. While useful, it doesn't tell Harry what he really wants to know. Or even truly explain things.

Not knowing who else to ask since Ron is unhelpful, Hermione just wants to research, and Neville seems equally confused, Harry writes to Prewett.

He's been too nervous before to write his professor, even though he'd been told it was more than okay to do so. This gives him an excuse at least, and really, he just wants some sort of explanation. Or at least an assurance that someone is taking this – whatever this is – seriously.

Prewett does. He writes back in less than a day, already promising to look into the matter.

That, of course, gives Harry the opportunity to write his professor more frequently. Ostensibly to keep up to date, but his letters turn to other matters. Prewett seems happy enough to oblige him and never once calls him out.

It becomes something of a habit every couple of mornings to see Prewett's pitch black owl perching in the tree by his bedroom. Kaiser is a friendly enough bird. Clever, too. Always seeming to show up right around the time Harry finishes his next missive.

Prewett does keep him updated on the house-elf angle. Even if it isn't much. Just that Dobby appears to belong to a high-ranked wizarding family. Still, the fact that Prewett has even bothered to find that out fills Harry with a sense of warmth. It's nice really. To be believed. To have someone actually willing to trust what he says. To search, even if there aren't answers.

That more than anything settles any lingering weirdness to the whole thing, and Harry's mind moves to other topics.

Summer is flying by quickly now. As opposed to when it dragged on earlier, now that Harry has actual correspondence to get him through, things aren't so bad. Hedwig looks much happier, too. She hates being cooped up with the Dursleys just as much as Harry.

Soon enough, it's August. Which means that Harry has his belongings packed and somehow manages not to become too antsy as he waits for the Weasleys to pick him up. The Dursleys, perhaps sensing that something's going on, wisely choose to vacate the premises for the day. Harry subsequently is left to patiently wait for them all on his own, and when Mrs. Weasley arrives with Ron in tow, she gives a very notable sniff before ushering him along.

Her eyes are very narrow as Harry locks up, but her arm is warm as it wraps around his shoulder. Apparition is not very pleasant. Rather like trying to squeeze through a doorway between two other people while wearing an incredibly tight sweater. Still, it's quick, efficient even. Which is rare enough for wizards.

He gives a happy sigh when it's over, and he's standing in Ron's front lawn, blinking up at a very peculiar house.

Ron's ears turn pink when Harry tells him how brilliant it is.

-O.o.O-

Molly Weasley, Harry decides, is rather like a matronly and polite tiger. She feeds him second and third-helpings, seems to be constantly cleaning, and yet still finds it within herself to quell both twins simultaneously with a single pointed look.

It's very inspiring.

Arthur Weasley is less fierce – or fearsome, perhaps – than his wife. He's a calm sort, seemingly sensible. Unless something Muggle is mentioned, of course. Then, he becomes a star-struck fan, and Harry spends most evenings explaining everything from the telly to cars to the function of rubber duckies. There's also one notable time that involves electricity and some very undignified squealing that Harry tries hard to forget.

The other Weasleys are rather known to him. Ron, obviously. The twins and Percy.

The only remaining member of the household is their younger sister, Ginny. She's a rarely glimpsed presence in the house. The only time Harry really manages to see her is during mealtimes, and then, it's only to have her barely say a word, blush a lot, and try to put her elbow in the butter dish whenever Harry looks at her.

He prefers not to think too much about that either.

Instead, he spends the remainder of the summer uneventfully. Which is to say he's either flying, exploring, and generally enjoying himself. Even the trip to Diagon Alley is more of the same, though it's delayed by a day or so do to some weird Floo malfunction that's soon enough resolved.

Before Harry knows it, August is ending. His things are once more packed up, the Weasley parents hurry them off to the station, and he's boarding the train.

The ride to school is as uneventful as his summer. He spends most of it playing exploding snap with Neville while Hermione reads and Ron tries to put last minute touches on his assignments.

They have a carriage to themselves and are amongst the first seated at Gryffindor's table. Prewett's in his usual spot next to Snape, and he offers a wink when Harry catches his eye. Just down from them, however, there's an unknown witch. Her hair is dark, face very pale in the torchlight, but she's seemingly holding her own in conversation with Flitwick. By process of elimination she has to be Defense teacher, a fact that's only confirmed by Dumbledore after the last student is sorted.

Then, it's the feast, more announcements, a song, and shuffling off after Percy back to the tower. Walking through the castle is more relaxing than tiring though, and Harry falls into his bed in Gryffindor dorm, content to be home. He sleeps the entire night with a smile.

-O.o.O-

Professor Jones is an improvement over Quirrell. She not only knows her subject, but she doesn't stutter. Or smell. She doesn't seem afraid.

Her face remains pale, almost deathly so, but eyes are just as dark as her hair and are warm. Her manner is equally so, and Harry feels himself relaxing as more lessons pass, and he actually manages to learn something. The fact that she doesn't reek of garlic and her classroom has working lights are a nice bonus. As is the fact that he doesn't leave with a headache like he had all of the previous year.

The rest of his classes are about as expected.

McGonagall's as strict as ever, but Harry earns a rare smile by being the first one to make his beetle into a button, beating even Hermione. Much to her dismay.

Snape still hovers like an overlarge and foreboding bat, and he doesn't cut Harry one inch of slack on his work. He does, however, give Harry an O on his summer assignment. Even Neville manages a passing grade.

Flitwick beams at all of them and eagerly gushes about how well everyone did on their finals. Sprout, in turn, hustles them up to a new greenhouse and rewards points like they're going out of style. Sinistra merely gives a curt nod on seeing them all back and promptly launches into lessons like they hadn't just been gone for two months.

Binns is boring enough to cure insomnia, and Harry spends most classes doing homework for other subjects or reading the extracurricular history books that Prewett recommends.

The rest of Hogwarts isn't much a surprise either.

Hermione drags them off to the library the first chance she gets. Practically racing up to the shelves and hugging them in her eagerness to be back. Harry sighs but trails after her calmly while Neville and Ron exchange a very pained look. They spend the second evening back watching her jump from book to book in untold glee, and she doesn't even notice that they're trading frog cards beneath the table while Harry's working on the crossword from the Daily Prophet.

Study halls resume by the first Tuesday. Harry and Neville are the only ones who show up and spend most the time having dessert and talking about their respective summers. Harry lingers afterwards, receiving ruffled hair and a grin for his efforts. He doesn't even care that Prewett hasn't again mentioned Dobby, and really, Harry has rather stopped noticing by this point.

Oliver, maniac that he is, starts Quidditch practice back the first week of school. Harry is up by five and is the only one truly awake the whole time. Oliver's all for having practice three times a week, but it's quickly vetoed, and he backs off lest he have a mutiny before even playing a match.

All told, things are moving rather nicely as September eases in October and the nights turn cool.

-O.o.O-

Luna Lovegood is a very odd person.

It isn't necessarily what she says or even how she acts, though that likely doesn't help. There's simply an air about her. An aura of otherness that Harry can't quite pinpoint.

It's something in the way she moves, as if swaying to a song only she hears. Something in the cadence of her voice. Singing to some unknown melody.

Harry isn't quite sure what to make of her. To be perfectly honest. At least, not at first.

She just appears in Prewett's study halls one evening and never seems to leave afterwards. And it isn't like she asks many questions or even seems to do much studying. Mostly, she sits in the corner chair, closest to the windows, and gazes outside.

Harry isn't entirely sure why she's there at all, and truth be told, it doesn't seem like Luna has much of an idea either.

She just sits off in her own little world, barely interacting with Prewett, much less anyone else. Even when the professor approaches her, she's so distant. Dreamy as her large eyes look past him at nothing.

Harry watches her. She's something of a mystery that everyone else neglects, but he does like puzzles. Always has.

So he watches. Catches her watching everyone else. Eyes not always so distant. Instead flitting between her yearmates who already seemed to have broken off into their own little groups even by the second month in. Always clustering together, backs turned away. Leaving Luna on her own. Alone.

And suddenly, maybe it isn't really a mystery why Luna's here at all.

Harry understands perfectly what it's like being outside and looking in. That's how it was for him before Hogwarts, and not just with the Dursleys. Not just when he was treated like an unfortunate houseguest. Retrospectively, he understands some of it was his magic. That even with none of their own, the other kids in the neighborhood and his primary school had known there was something peculiar about him. That there'd been something under the surface, something different than them.

They'd never been outright mean to him; the teachers watched far too closely for that. But they'd been distant. Harry had been the odd one out. Seemingly forgotten half the time and off doing his own thing when he wasn't.

He'd never really had a place until Hogwarts. Never really had anyone until coming here.

And that decides him more than anything.

The next study hall, he sits beside Luna. It's still the front row – his row – only a little off to the side.

He knows Luna's watching without her having to turn her head, but Harry merely sits and turns to his own work. He doesn't say anything, not even when she finally moves to glance his direction. Even then, Harry only offers her a smile and nod before going back to his Charms assignment.

Luna blinks at him. Were it anyone else, she'd likely be goggling.

Harry pretends he doesn't see her surprise.

Neville gives him a long and searching look as he wanders in five minutes later. But he still takes the seat on Harry's other side.

The entire session is spent in silence between the three of them, but Harry doesn't let it bother him.

He still sits next to her the following time. And the one after that. And even after that.

But by then, Luna greets him with more than silence.

-O.o.O-

Things at Hogwarts are going rather well. Which naturally means everything takes an abrupt nosedive.

It doesn't happen until Halloween. And really, that particular holiday's shaping up to be a terrible one in general for Harry.

The feast itself is fine. Full of sweets and pumpkins and enough cheer that even Vernon might perk up, but it's also loud and bright. Makes the headache Harry's been building all day that much worse. He gets up before dessert has even really started, and Neville gives him a sympathetic look. Harry vaguely recalls Neville had been back late the night before, having stayed to work on project with Sprout, and the other boy looks just as tired when he stands, too.

It's something of a cue because Hermione flashes a smile of relief and immediately grabs her bag with one hand as she pulls Ron with the other. He makes a muffled noise of protest around a mouthful of cake, but she practically elbows him into following. He does so grudgingly and with a handful of chocolate biscuits. Luna meets them by the door, as she's been prone to do the last several weeks. Ron rolls his eyes behind her back as she hums a song to herself, but he hunches his shoulders at the look Neville gives him.

The short-cut they take is one Harry's known about for months, and he only uses it because it drops them near a crossway that leads to both Ravenclaw and Gryffindor dorms. He's slightly out in front of the others, which is probably why he spots it before they do. Still, it's the last part that Harry actually sees first, and it stops him short.

Enemies of the heir, beware.

His brain can't seem to process the words, and he reads them again from the top.

The writing is neat, precise, but not very familiar. The paint – and Harry really hopes that it's paint – is red.

Beside him, Hermione gasps, and he feels Luna suddenly jerk her hand into his sleeve.

"Blimey!" Ron mutters. His tone is hoarse and shaky.

Harry follows Neville's pale pointed finger to a nearby torch. Hanging from her tail is the very stiff form of Mrs. Norris, Filch's cat. Her eyes are wide open, and her face is fixed in an expression that'd be terror on a human.

Harry swallows hard, and his stomach roils. He doesn't dare tear his eyes away though.

"Ron," he says, voice echoing painfully loud.

Ron breathes out harshly. "Yeah, mate."

"Go get somebody."

"Sure thing." Ron gives a jerky nod and steps back.

"I'll go with you," Neville volunteers too quickly.

They're off like a shot, and Harry feels both Hermione and Luna shifting closer to him. Hermione is breathing very loudly even as she murmurs the message on the wall out loud. Luna just trembles and twists her fingers even further into his sleeve. Harry looks at Mrs. Norris, and his skin crawls.

It feels like an eternity before they hear footsteps. Harry doesn't turn, still doesn't dare, but he already knows who it is.

"Is everyone alright?" Prewett asks in something bordering on a demand. His eyes flicker to the message, the cat, and to each and every shadow around them before fixing on Harry.

He doesn't have a chance to answer before Snape is beside them only seconds later.

"Mother of Mordred," the man breathes before also turning dark eyes their direction. "What happened here?"

The three of them can only shake their heads. Harry tells them all that he knows, which is very little, and he repeats the same story minutes later when reinforcements arrive. Dumbledore's eyes have long lost their twinkle by then, and McGonagall is nearly white when she finally ushers them over to Percy Weasley and a Ravenclaw prefect Harry doesn't know. Her instructions to immediately return to the dorms are very firm, but Harry can already see her gaze sliding back to the wall before she's even finished.

Still, it's more than enough to get Harry moving, and he firmly takes Luna and Hermione with him. The last he sees before turning the corner are the teachers gathered around Mrs. Norris. Dumbledore's bent over her with Snape and McGonagall hovering behind him. Meanwhile, Sprout attempts to console Filch, and Jones puts a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

Prewett is several steps away, but he isn't looking at Mrs. Norris or Filch. Instead, his eyes are turned to the message on the wall. His gaze is cool, assessing, face almost unrecognizable.

-O.o.O-

The whole thing is naturally the talk of the school for weeks. There are rumors, hundreds of them. Even more theories. Thousands probably.

Facts are the only thing in short supply.

Hermione scours the library for any reference to the Chamber of Secrets and even dares interrupt Binns to ask. She's dismissed, of course. Binns doesn't care about anything save goblin wars and the occasional witch burning. He's less than useless.

The only reference any of them finds is actually in one of the books Prewett gave him last year. It's not much. Barely even a page, but it's more than anything else.

Harry still isn't sure why Salazar Slytherin would go so far as to attack students in his own school. Muggleborns or not. If he cared that much, why not just prevent them from entering in the first place?

"But that's too logical for most wizards, yeah?" Neville murmurs as they hunch over the book at the Gryffindor table.

Nobody around is paying the least bit of attention. Especially not since Hufflepuff's celebrating their Quidditch victory over Ravenclaw. As for their own house, Gryffindor hardly needs a reason to celebrate, and they're being even more boisterous than usual. Considering that they have the Weasley twins, that's really saying something.

As it is, no one has even noticed Luna sitting at their table. She's nearly curled into Harry's side but with her head pillowed on her arms.

"Wizards are very blind to the obvious," she says in a slight sing-song. "To many of them, if it can't be done by magic, it's not worth doing." She yawns then.

Harry nods but is interrupted before he can speak.

"I still think it's a prank," Ron mutters from their other side. Grimacing as he nearly gets knocked from his seat by the jostling fifth-years at his back. "This is exactly that kinda thing Fred and George would do."

"They'd attack a cat. Petrify her?" Hermione asks and draws her cloak closer, as if suddenly chilled. "String her up by her tail?"

"They did turn my broom into a big spider before," the redhead points out with a frown. "While I was holding it even. They've done all sorts of stuff like this at home. Hexed bedsheets to wrap around Percy in the middle of the night. Made the lights flicker and the floorboards creak to scare Ginny. Jinxed Scabbers all sorts of colors and gave him boils."

He pats his pocket and the large lump inside. Harry knows that Ron would get him out to pet, but he's already been told off by Snape just yesterday for having him out at the table. McGonagall had even threatened to confiscate him before that, too.

"You think if Filch made them mad enough, they might do this," Neville surmises before Ron can go on.

"But what about the message on the wall?" Harry questions. "Unless you think that's completely rubbish. That they just made it up."

Ron shrugs and fiddles with his pocket. Neville glances at him before taking a sip of pumpkin juice. Luna isn't even paying attention anymore. Harry is half-convinced that she's now asleep.

"The staff would've ruled that out first, I think," Hermione cuts in. "Especially since they're known trouble-makers. McGonagall at least would've questioned them." She inclines her head to the Transfiguration teacher who's in the midst of scolding a group of fourth-years who had decided this would be the perfect opportunity to enchant the dishware.

Ron makes a face, while Neville lifts his eyebrows. Harry settles for casting a glance at the head table. Few professors are in their seats, though some are scattered about the hall. Snape is completely gone. Harry had seen him stride off a while ago, and he hasn't been back since. Prewett's there though and has been the entire time. Scanning through the milling students with pleasant but narrowed eyes.

Only he's not looking around anymore. In fact, his gaze is rather fixed. On Ginny Weasley of all people. Now that Harry notices, Prewett's looking at her very intently. All but staring into her eyes. She's staring back, Harry belatedly realizes. And she only looks away when Lee Jordan walks in between them. She blinks then and shakes her head as if coming out a dream.

No one else seems to have noticed anything amiss. Even Percy who's sitting right next to her hasn't stopped talking to the girl across from them the entire time.

Harry feels his heart speed up, and he isn't certain why. Especially when Prewett's attention flickers to him then. His gaze is the same it always is when he looks at Harry, warm and soft. But Harry swallows hard, like he's been caught doing something he shouldn't. It must show on his face since Prewett tilts his head and his expression momentarily turns puzzled.

But then, Snape walks in from the side door. Making a beeline for the head table and taking the seat next to Prewett. Harry can finally look away, and for some inexplicable reason, he breathes a sigh. Not sure if it's from relief or something else.

He doesn't look at Prewett for the rest of the night

-O.o.O-

December comes. Snow arrives with it.

Speculation has been thoroughly exhausted at this point, so the students turn to other matters. The faculty clearly hasn't forgotten, however. That much's clear to Harry as he watches them watch their pupils. It's not unusual for him to spot Dumbledore's shaking his head or McGonagall's pinched face or Jones' searching eyes. Harry has often seen Flitwick and Sprout trading looks or Snape and Prewett murmuring to each other. He's even passed them in the hallways a few times, wands subtly out. Harry almost things that they're casting spells, but he never sees anything or hears them say any incantations.

Searching then? For the chamber perhaps? The heir? It's hard to say.

Of course, the staff isn't the only ones who haven't forgotten about the chamber. It still dwells on Harry's mind at inopportune times. Curling into his thoughts as he does his homework. Winding around his dreams when he tries to sleep. Whispering in his ear as he walks the corridors.

The library has told him nothing though. The books all seem to be useless. His friends don't have a clue. Harry finally goes to the one person who will actually give him answers.

Prewett is there when Harry peeks his head in. The door is open; it always is. But the man is turned away, over by the aquarium that he keeps in the corner. There are several large koi inside, but Harry knows for sure there's at least one snake – Levi. In fact, she's against the glass, watching Prewett with interest as he leans down to look at her.

"It's not her," Prewett muses to himself as Harry lifts his hand to knock. "But who could it be?" He turns then and smiles, idly waving his wand over the tank. "Ah, Harry. Do come in."

Harry nods and accepts the offered chair. He knows his face must show something, especially when Prewett takes one glance at him and closes the door with a twitch of his fingers.

"I would ask what brings you by today," Prewett begins, "but I do believe I can guess. The chamber, is it?"

Harry shifts, unable to get comfortable. "What do you know about it?"

Prewett sighs and leans back. His eyes are bright, but there are slight circles beneath if Harry looks closely enough.

"Not as much as I should," the man replies. "It was before my time here, Harry. Very well before. Decades, I'd say."

"It's been open before?" Harry questions eagerly. "The chamber?"

He figures that it had to have been at some point. Particularly if people knew enough to have written it down.

Prewett nods. "Several times I'm told. But only once within the last few centuries." He grimaces for a second before his face smooths out. "That's more than enough, I can assure you."

Harry feels something cold pool in his stomach. It bites at him, gnawing and unsettled as he turns that over in his mind.

"Someone was hurt?" he asks but already knows the answer.

"Several people were hurt," Prewett replies, and his tone is peculiar. Something between gentle and furious. "One… very permanently."

It doesn't take Hermione to figure out what he means.

Harry sucks in a breath and clenches his hands. The gnawing in his belly is fully blown ripping now.

"They died, didn't they?"

Prewett closes his eyes for a long moment before looking at him again.

"Yes," he says softly, "she did."

Harry swallows hard. His hands are fists, and his heart has stuttered. He still has to ask though.

"Did they catch anyone? A culprit, I mean?"

Prewett lets out a little laugh that isn't humorous at all. He looks older then. Older than he should.

"Someone was punished," he responds, "but it's quite clear with retrospect that he wasn't involved. Merely an opportune scapegoat." His voice is still light, but there's an undercurrent that's bordering on bitterness.

Harry can quite agree with the sentiment. Especially as he thinks over the implications.

"Why?"

Since really, that's the true question.

"It was swept under the rug, Harry." Prewett shakes his head. "You have to understand how bad it looked. Students attacked. One dead. They found someone to blame and went with that to save their own necks. To cover up their failure. When the attacks stopped, they patted themselves on the back for a job well done."

Harry can hardly believe it. It's just too ridiculous. It sounds exactly like something the Dursleys would. It is something the Dursleys would do. Blame someone they didn't like when it was really Dudley.

"And they never thought that…" He shrugs helplessly. "I don't know… the real attacker was using that as a cover. Or wised up and stopped."

Prewett studies him for a moment, but his look is approving. "Magicals aren't known for using logic."

Despite himself, Harry snorts.

"Neville says that, too," he mutters.

Prewett manages a smile then. A real one. It lightens his face and chases away the shadows. Makes him seem young and bright and unafraid. Makes the cold in Harry's belly unravel and slink away. Harry sits straighter then, hands held loosely in his lap.

Prewett watches him for a long minute before inclining his head.

"Well, Neville's rather smart," he says then, almost conspiratorially.

It's a sentiment Harry agrees with completely.

-O.o.O-

"Is Professor Jones okay?" Luna asks him one day as she comes over to their table in the library and promptly wedges herself between Neville and him.

Harry, who's nice enough to move his Charms book, looks over at her. But it's Ron who answers.

"I heard that she's sick," he comments but doesn't look up from the frog cards that he's trading with Seamus at the end of the table. They've already been at it for some time now, especially since the Irish boy is the only one in Gryffindor with the card that Ron really wants.

Harry tilts his head and thinks about their professor.

The woman is a rather good Defense teacher, better than Quirrell in just about every way imaginable, but she does seem ill. Always pale and wrapped in layers of robes. Shivering despite the warmth of the castle.

"How serious?" Hermione questions as she looks up from a book propped up against her bag.

Ron gives a one-armed shrug and offers his Circe, but Seamus shakes his head.

"I don't think it's deadly or anything. She's supposedly being treated by Pomfrey." Ron taps on his Queen Maeve card, earning him a frown when he pokes over her nose.

"How do you even know this?" Dean asks from across the table, having apparently been listening in rather than finishing his Potions essay.

"My dad knows her dad," Ron says before throwing down his Agrippa, too. "They went to school together, I think. I overheard mum and him talking about it during the summer. The Defense post's supposed to be more laidback than her job at the Ministry, so she can still work as she recovers."

He smiles when Seamus finally offers the card he's been really wanting, and Ron pumps a fist in the air before accepting Henry Prewett.

"What's she do? I mean, at the Ministry?" Harry asks suddenly, trying and failing not to look at his professor's smiling face as Ron reverently lifts the card up.

It's Neville who answers though.

"I think she's a Hit Wizard… er… Witch."

"She's a Hit Witch?" Dean repeats. His quill is dripping ink all over his essay, but he doesn't even notice.

Since really, this is so ridiculous. Jones has been nothing but friendly to everyone since starting. And she's supposed to be a Hit Witch? Like a magical equivalent of a police sniper?

It boggles Harry's mind. Apparently, he's not the only one.

"But she seems so nice," Hermione murmurs, moving to pack her things away so that they can head off to dinner.

"I don't think those are mutually exclusive," Neville replies already standing and waiting for the rest of them. "My grandfather – my mum's dad – was a Hit Wizard, too. And he's probably the nicest relative I still have."

They think that over for a moment, but there isn't much to say to it. Not really. Not when they have other distractions.

The topic isn't brought up again. Especially not at dinner that night. By then, their minds are already filled with other things. Most notably when an older student, a prefect Harry thinks but doesn't recognize, races into the hall. He heads straight down the divide between tables and right up to the staff. Stopping to stand directly in front of Dumbledore. Harry can't hear what he says, but the look on the headmaster's face tells it all. The old man is up from his chair and rushing out, many of the faculty hot on his heels.

The students watch. Weary. Confused.

Soon though, the whole school knows.

They've just found a boy in the hallway, a first-year with his camera. He's been petrified.

-O.o.O-

Winter break doesn't come soon enough. Harry spends it at the castle, but he's among the few who stay. Neville tries to invite him over, but Harry feels guilty leaving the Weasleys in the tower alone. Most of the holidays are with them, doing everything in his power not to jump at every shadow and spending an inordinate amount of time playing and losing at chess with Ron.

He also spends time with Prewett, who always stays regardless of the holiday, and is taught the beginning stages for formal dueling. While he highly doubts it'll help him with Slytherin's monster, it does allow Harry to center himself, and he often finds that going over the motions and steps in his head eases his worries.

Yule itself is uneventful, and Harry has an even bigger haul of presents than the year before. Including not one but two sweaters from Molly Weasley and a large variety of chocolate frogs from Prewett, which coincidentally includes the man's card. Harry doesn't dare tell Ron.

Despite the tension, nothing untoward happens. Soon enough, the students return, but they don't seem the least bit reassured. It's the first week back, and they move through the hallways in packs. There's already an underground trade in talismans and lucky charms, and Neville gets a stern telling off from Hermione before he can buy a large purple crystal for protection.

Of course, that's probably preferable to what happens to Ron the fourth day back. He earns a week of detention with Snape for having Scabbers out in the Great Hall, and it's only by the skin of his teeth that Scabbers isn't taken then and there since Snape's already told him off for this before. Apparently, he doesn't find it very sanitary to have rats at the dinner table.

The first night is spent cutting up frogs. The second involves pickled newt and a shudder anytime someone asks for details. Ron has to be forced to go to the third, and only a threat from Hermione gets him heading down to the dungeons.

He's been gone for over two hours before Harry starts to worry. Usually, Snape only keeps students for an hour or until whatever task he has is finished. It'd only taken Ron twenty or so extra minutes the two previous nights, but he's still not back when curfew rolls around. No one else seems particularly concerned though. Hermione has long gone off to her room, and Neville is asleep at his desk with his head on a book. But Harry has an uneasy feeling as he walks over to Percy and tells him that Ron's still not back.

Percy gives a very put upon sigh as he rises from his chair, but he doesn't even have a chance to walk to the portrait before McGonagall's there. She's in something of a state, bun unraveling and jittery as she motions for Harry to come over. She's practically pulling him along with her as she goes back out the exit, and for all her strange behavior, she's rather tight-lipped as they head down an unfamiliar hallways and stop outside a gargoyle.

It takes Harry a moment once they're up the stairs and inside, but he quickly realizes that this is the headmaster's office. A glance around shows innumerable portraits, trinkets, a very interesting red and gold bird on a perch – one that chirps at Harry momentarily. Harry doesn't have time to investigate more thoroughly before he spots Dumbledore himself, Snape with the other heads of house, followed by several people in red robes. All of them are clustered around the headmaster's desk, whispering to each other. Seated out front and off to the side is Ron.

He's green-faced, nearly seasick as Harry moves to sit next to him. His knuckles though are white as they grip the armrests, and Harry can see that he's shaking. Something a lot like dread winds down Harry's spine to coil around his middle.

"What's going on?" Harry murmurs as they're momentarily ignored by the adults.

Ron finally looks at him. His eyes are wide and incredibly blue. He opens his mouth, but no sound comes out. It takes him a moment to work his jaw, and when he does, his voice is little more than a horrified whisper.

"Scabbers… He wasn't… He isn't… He's not a rat."

-O.o.O-

Harry's mind is still reeling weeks later. It's all so much, too much. Animagi and traitors and trials. Or rather, the lack thereof.

Since apparently, the ministry likes to arrest people and throw them into prison before promptly forgetting about them. And what does this say about the magical world that this is their government?

Still, it's freaking strange. Even for Harry and his weird life in general. He says as much to Prewett as they sit in the man's office and drink cocoa, purposefully not looking at Daily Prophets spread out on the table in front of them. Pettigrew's ratty face is plastered on most of them anyway.

"I just don't… I don't really get any of this," Harry confesses as he takes a sip and immediately grimaces since it's gone cold.

Prewett is nice enough to tap it with his wand to reheat it a moment later, but by then, Harry has fully turned away. He idly watches Levi – Prewett's snake – as she swims through the aquarium, slithering around the koi.

Harry sips his cocoa again, and it's thankfully warm. He sighs even as he sees Levi bobbing her head in the water.

"Why didn't anyone notice Scabbers… I mean, Pettigrew sooner?" he finally asks the question that's really been bugging him all along.

Since if Snape can figure out that Scabbers isn't just a rat by simply holding him – read, confiscating him from Ron, who by a sheer stroke of luck had actually brought him to his detention – why hadn't anyone else.

Prewett sips his own cocoa for a minute, as if collecting his thoughts.

"It wasn't really that simple, Harry. Not many people know an animagus personally. Or have even seen one before. Severus had an advantage in that he's knows Minerva… Professor McGonagall," he clarifies absently. "His magic knew that there was something wrong about Pettigrew as soon as they touched."

Harry frowns at that. Hating that it sounds so sensible and simple.

"But what about the Weasleys? How did they not notice? He lived with them for years," Harry points out.

"I highly doubt they know many animagi, Harry. As for their house…" Prewett sets down his cup. "The Weasley home might not look it, but it has rather impressive wards. A result of the last war, I suspect. Not to mention that Molly Weasley's line is known for their warding skills. It's said that they even helped with the ones on the Ministry building." He taps his fingers on the tabletop, right over Pettigrew's face. "Anyway, Pettigrew was invited, so he could get in. Guest-right, you see."

That stops Harry short.

"What?" he questions. "What's that?"

"It's protection for someone invited into the wards of a dwelling. It's ancient magic," the professor explains. "Some of the very oldest there is. Pettigrew was invited in by the Weasleys, and he had no hostile intent towards them." Prewett tilts his head up and rubs his chin. "Quite a brilliant plan really. No one outside knew it was him, and if they did, they couldn't get in the wards. Not since it would've harmed him, harmed someone invited in by the family. A guest, as it were."

"What about in the castle?" Harry waves a vague hand around them. "I mean, Ron had him here all last year, and Percy before him."

"And he was in Gryffindor dorm much of the time, no?" the professor returns easily. "Had actually been a student here himself." Prewett looks at Harry for a long moment as he mulls over that. "Time matters in magic. So does intent."

He reaches out and taps the newspapers in front of them again. Finger tracing over one section in particular.

"Pettigrew was a Gryffindor. Hogwarts knew him. The Tower recognized him as one of her own, and he never hurt the students there. Despite being a Death Eater, he never intended harm to anyone in the castle. The wards protected him," Prewett continues with a hint of frustration. "Any outsider would've been in more danger from them than Pettigrew if they were trying to capture him. A student probably would've been able to get to him, but it's also possible the wards might even recognize him as faculty given his age. Which would've gotten very messy. It already was with a staff member catching him. Luckily for us, Severus has just as much claim on and by the castle. More so since he's been both a student and professor here."

Harry turns this over in his head.

"It didn't matter that he was a rat?"

Prewett shakes his head. "No, an animagus form is technically a true one. It's based on a person's personality and magic. It's part of them. The wards didn't recognize it as a disguise, and there aren't ones against animagi specifically."

Harry isn't sure he likes that implication. Or the one where a known Death Eater can waltz in – well, be carried in – and the castle's protections don't do anything about it.

"Does this mean that any Death Eater who went to school here can get in?" Harry asks suddenly.

Prewett shoots him a speculative look but seems to be considering that.

"Not necessarily," he allows. "It would depend on their intent, for one. I also suspect the headmaster is going to be updating the wards and their triggers."

Harry takes another sip of cocoa, but it sits heavily on his stomach and leaves a bitter aftertaste in his mouth. Or perhaps that's just the turn his thoughts have taken.

He looks at Daily Prophet again. From Pettigrew and his lies to the other man pictured prominently. People might be worried about Harry's role in this mess, but if anyone's a victim, it's Sirius Black.

"What will happen to him?" Harry inquires, hand sitting just under the picture. "To Mr. Black?"

"I expect he'll spend several months with healers," Prewett says softly, and his eyes look at the photo but don't really see it. "Azkaban's a horrible place, and he's been there for a decade. He'll need counseling at the very least, and most likely extensive mind healing before he'll be safe. For others. Not to mention himself."

There's something in his face. In his eyes. Something like sorrow and guilt. For what, Harry can't begin to imagine. Maybe just the knowledge that an innocent man languished for so long.

"McGonagall said…" Harry begins but falters. "She said that he's my godfather." He toys with his cup even as he says it, finger tracing around the rim before dancing along the handle. "I don't know what to think about that, honestly. I mean… I don't know him."

"You could write him," Prewett suggests, and he's watching Harry closely when he suddenly looks up. "Get to know him that way. See if you truly do want to meet with him."

Harry nods but doesn't say anything more. There really isn't any need. There's too much to think on for the moment. Too much to consider. To accept.

He just looks at the picture of Sirius Black, thin as a skeleton, gaze hollow and empty. Harry closes his eyes and exhales.

-O.o.O-

Harry does write. It takes some time. Days for him to mull it over. To weigh the pros and cons. To then find the right words to put to parchment.

It's so hard to send the first letter. He knows that this man's supposed to be his godfather, but Harry doesn't know him. Doesn't remember anything about him at all. He can spot him in many of the photos in the album Hagrid gave him at the end of last school year, but it's hard to reconcile the laughing and boisterous man with the gaunt photo the papers all seem to have slapped onto their front page.

And what's he supposed to say? How's he supposed to introduce himself? What's he to write about his life? What would an adult find interesting about a twelve-year-old? His studies? His friends? Quidditch?

In the end, he settles for writing a little bit of everything. His letter is rambling but not overly long, and he stuffs it in an envelope and offers it to Hedwig before he can change his mind. She seems to catch his mood and nibbles at his ear before taking off.

He waits for a reply almost anxiously. Not even reviewing movements and dueling stances can keep his thoughts completely occupied.

His friends watch him with saddened eyes the whole time. Hermione actually cries when he initially fills her in on the whole debacle, and Neville is nearly shaking by the end of it. Luna's very solemn, remorseful, and assures him that her father will be running the story as a special addition of his magazine.

Ron, meanwhile, seems to be in a state of denial. Alternating between pretending nothing's the matter and utter disgust that Scabbers had really been a human. Had lived in his house. Had slept on his bed.

The last part he's reminded of several times by the twins, who earn themselves a lecture from Percy, a Howler from their mother, and thorough hexing from Hermione and Neville – surprisingly enough – when their backs are turned.

Of course, it doesn't help that a mediwizard and an Auror come to interview Ron right before Pettigrew's put on trial. He has to undergo a complete medical scan and answer a boatload of questions, but fortunately, nothing else turns up. As far as anyone can tell, Pettigrew never did anything to Ron or the members of his family.

And if anything else positive comes out of this, at least Ron doesn't have to finish his week of detention. Finding out that your pet's really a Death Eater is apparently punishment enough by Snape's reckoning.

Ron finds that less than helpful when Luna points it out.

It does serve to distract him though, which is probably Luna's goal in the first place. In turn, worrying about Ron takes Harry's mind off of other things. Namely Pettigrew's guilty verdict and subsequent trip to Azkaban. The stares from the other students, questions from some very insensitive housemates about his defeat of Voldemort as a baby, and overly annoying reporters with nothing better to do but send him requests for interviews.

And finally, two days after Harry writes his godfather, he gets a reply.

-O.o.O-

Spring comes.

Neville misplaces his toad and can't find him anywhere. Not that he seems to be looking very hard. Gryffindor beats Slytherin in Quidditch, which makes Malfoy – their new Seeker – shoot death-glares his direction for several days.

The weather outside is beautiful, which is a stark contrast to the mood of the school as break arrives. The students are leaving in droves; Harry can't blame them. There's been another attack just the week before. This time, it's a Hufflepuff in Harry's year and Sir Nicholas, the Gryffindor ghost. Both had been found by the large windows on the fourth floor, ashen and petrified.

Now though, it isn't the Hufflepuff – Justin – that everyone talks about. The fact that the monster can work on ghosts seems to terrify people the most.

Nearly the whole school's gone now. Hunkered down in their homes. Harry stays, naturally. Despite Neville's offer to the contrary. The Weasleys remain, too. Their parents are gone to visit Ron's brother Charlie. Largely, Harry suspects, because they haven't been told what's going on. Otherwise, all of them would be long gone by now.

He writes to Sirius throughout this time but decides against saying anything. He still isn't sure what to make of the man or how he'd react. Their letters are somewhat stilted. Not quite formal but not overly familiar. Still testing the waters as it were.

Harry spends nearly the entire break with Prewett. It's either that or the tower since they aren't allowed to roam the hallways or visit the library without an upper year. Which basically means Percy since he's the only one left for Gryffindor, and he's too busy spending time with his girlfriend.

There are whispers that the school will be closed, but no one can confirm them. Regardless, Harry still has to pick his electives. Crossing his fingers the whole time even as Prewett looks over what he's written down on a spare piece of parchment. The professor manages a chuckle. The first Harry's heard from him in quite a while.

"You hardly need Muggle Studies, Harry," the man says with a ghost of his normal good humor. "And you aren't Miss Granger. You don't purposefully weigh yourself down for no apparent reason."

He blushes at being called out but shrugs at Hermione's description. She's something of a glutton for punishment when it comes to her studies.

"What should I take then?" he asks since he really has no idea. He isn't sure what advantages each has. Or even what real-world use they'd be.

Prewett turns over the parchment and starts writing what looks to be a list.

"Hogwarts has limited electives," he begins. "At least for third-years. There are several more that start fifth or sixth year, but many students outright ignore those options." He pauses for a moment before starting a new column. "They don't advertise it, but there are more courses that'd be available to you next year. Ones without a physical teacher on-site."

Harry blinks at this. Since no kidding, this is the first he's heard of this. And he's already endured a lecture from Percy over dinner.

"Like a mail-in course?"

"Similar," Prewett agrees as he keeps writing. "Most are done through Beauxbatons or the Roman Academy. There's another one through the Salem Institute as well, but I think only two people from Hogwarts have ever taken it, and it's been offered for decades."

He finishes with a flourish and offers the parchment back. Harry scans it slowly, realizing that he's listed each subject with a short blurb on what they entail and can be used for.

"If you want an actual teacher here," Prewett continues, capturing Harry's attention again, "then I'd suggest Arithmancy and Runes."

Harry, who's always been good with numbers and even better with languages, nods. He notices that Prewett has circled both on the parchment.

"Did you take those?"

"Not initially, but I picked them up under self-study and realized that I loved them. Very useful in wards and curse-breaking, which are coincidentally both something you can take after your OWLs." Prewett taps lower down on the parchment.

"What about for your mastery?" Harry asks as he re-reads the bottom, which lists electives available as an upper year and the prerequisites for those.

Prewett tilts his head. "A little of everything. Curse-breaking. Creatures. Dark Arts-"

"You took a class on the Dark Arts?" Harry interrupts, flabbergasted.

"I studied Defense," Prewett reminds him gently. "That by definition includes the Dark Arts, depending on the country your program's through. Mine was from Salem." He takes in his student's very wide eyes. "You can't defend against something if you don't know anything about it, Harry." He smiles at the look on Harry's face for several seconds before continuing. "Anyway, Defense isn't my only degree. The sole mastery but not my only degree."

"It isn't?" Harry tries and fails not to sound even more surprised.

Prewett doesn't seem to buy it. He gives Harry a look that is half between fondness and exasperation.

"I may not seem like it, but I can actually study when I put my mind to it." He gives another shrug and leans back. "I've a Muggle degree in psychology as well. Salem requires a university degree or equivalent in all their mastery candidates," he explains. "I've also been studying more in-depth with runes and languages in my free time. Severus… Ah, Professor Snape thinks I should apply that towards a mastery project."

There's something in his voice, in the way he says it that makes Harry jerk his head up. He studies Prewett for a moment and offers a little smirk.

"He's been harping on you, has he?"

Prewett's face is more sheepish now. "Not in so many words, but he threatens me with getting the other faculty involved. It's all a big bother. They're meddlesome, the lot of them."

Harry can't help it. He laughs then.

It feels good. Freeing even. Lifts a weight from his soul he hasn't before realized is there.

Even better, Prewett laughs, too.

-O.o.O-

It's May now.

There hasn't been another attack since before the break. The students take it as a positive sign, but there's still an undercurrent. Still a slinking dread beneath the surface. A slithering sense of wrongness that strikes at Harry as he walks the corridors. A coiling at the base of his brain that just won't go away.

He tries to shut it out. To go about this day as normal. It really doesn't work.

Harry picks his electives. Arithmancy, Creatures, and Runes. If he wants a Defense mastery – and really, that sounds like a fantastic idea – he'll need all three eventually.

Ron has opted for the easy courses, Creatures and Divination, while Neville has agreed to both those and Runes besides. Hermione has signed up for everything offered on-site, and Harry hadn't dared tell her there were extra classes that she could also take. It's probably best that she doesn't know.

His yearmates are still deciding it seems, but he suspects that all the girls will be in Muggle Studies. Especially as he watches them goggle at Prewett during mealtimes.

"He's so handsome," Lavender breathes and nearly sticks her elbow in the scrambled eggs even as Harry looks on with bemusement.

Dean laughs, while Seamus flutters his eyelashes. Parvati's too busy also staring at Prewett to notice, and her sister Padma has joined their table since it has a better view.

Ron makes a gagging noise but wisely keeps his thoughts to himself.

This is at least better than the argument the day before when they'd nearly gotten in a catfight with the girls from Hufflepuff on his eye color. Which no one seemed to agree on, by the way.

Blue perhaps. Harry's heard several older girls say hazel. A few even swear they're green.

But looking at Professor Prewett's eyes, Harry can only say that they're tired. Weary almost. Like he's stayed up too late the night before – and maybe a few nights before that, too – and hasn't enough sleep.

He's not the only one.

Snape is even surlier than usual. He seems to have taken the attacks as a personal affront; perhaps because he's already caught Pettigrew and nothing seems to have changed. Flitwick and McGonagall too have been seen scouring the school, and Harry overheard that Spout's actually sleeping in the Hufflepuff dorms now. Jones is even paler than usual, and Harry can tell she's lost weight by how ill-fitting her robes are.

A round of chittering rouses Harry from his thoughts then, and he looks over to see Parvati blushing furiously and Lavender elbowing her in the side. Both of them are ogling Prewett as he rushes from the hall.

Hermione chooses that moment to all but slam her book shut.

"Honestly," she mutters to herself as she jerks to her feet and grabs her bag. "People are being attacked, and this is what you focus on." She shakes her head in disgust and stomps from the table.

Harry doesn't follow her, and for months later, he'll wonder why he doesn't. Even then, he still doesn't have an answer. Not then. Certainly not when McGonagall comes to Gryffindor tower and personally escorts he, Ron, and Neville to the Hospital Wing that very night.

Hours later, Harry's still at Hermione's bedside. She's stiff, face frozen in time. Hand hard and cold beneath his.

They found her in the library, McGonagall tells him with tears in her eyes. They'd found both of them in the library. Hermione and a Ravenclaw prefect, petrified and holding a mirror.

-O.o.O-

Harry barely has a grasp on it. Barely has a chance to have a grasp on things. It's all too much. They've all done so little.

He skips his classes the next day. Staying with Hermione in the Hospital Wing the entire time.

Luna wanders in later that morning and spends the day reading aloud from a storybook. Ron and Neville join them after lunch and don't leave.

They hear the announcement just before dinner, and Harry feels his heart stop, even as his blood chills. A hissing sound fills his head, and his vision whites out for moment before Luna puts a hand on his wrist and jolts him back to reality.

A student has been taken!

He meets the equally horrified looks of the others in the same moment that the door to the Hospital Wing bangs open. They all jump as Snape glides inside, but it's the people behind him that steal Harry's attention.

It's the Weasleys. It's Ron's parents followed by the twins and Percy. Only one of them is missing, and Harry knows with coiling horror exactly who it is. He doesn't have to see Molly's tears or Arthur's ashen face or see Percy with an arm around his brothers.

The anguish is there for all of them to see.

Snape escorts them in, even as he's motioning for non-family members to stand up. Neville and Luna are reluctant but follow him. He turns to Harry then, gaze dark and glittering in a manner that Harry can't quite catalog. But Harry doesn't want to leave. He can't. Not now. Not like this.

Snape unexpectedly caves. Pleading eyes are all it takes for him to let Harry remain, and he does. Sitting next to Ron on the bed across from Hermione. It has to be hours that they spend like that. It feels even longer. The clicking of Pomfrey's clock is only muffled but the occasional sob Ron's mother makes into her hands and her husband as he breathes out heavily.

Harry doesn't know what to say or do or even think. He doesn't know what the teachers are doing. Are they after Ginny? Or off battling some monster? Are they even still alive?

His thoughts are a complete whirl. Twirling and twisting and knotting into a jumble that makes even less sense than before. Harry starts to recite dueling steps and proper forms in his head, and that's probably the only reason he doesn't crawl out of his own skin from sheer worry.

The creak of the door makes him jump and nearly gives him a heart attack besides. Harry still has a hand over his chest and his wand in the other as it opens fully. He looks on blankly as a stretcher floats inside.

Prewett's right behind it. Hair ruffled and robes dusty. Face solemn but eyes brighter than Harry's ever seen. Practically glowing.

It takes a second, but Harry belatedly realizes the stretcher isn't empty. Jones is on it, whiter than a sheet and seemingly near death. Harry can see her chest rising and falling, barely. Madam Pomfrey, who has already sprang into action, is casting feverishly at her. Throwing out spells like it's the end of the world.

Maybe it is.

Prewett just lets her, moving out the way in the same manner Harry would a rogue bludger. It's only then, when Prewett has stepped more fully into the room, that Harry realizes there's another person with him. She's pale, shaking even as she bites her lip, but she's walking under her own power as Prewett leads her over to a bed.

Harry feels more than sees Molly Weasley freeze. Feels the collective inhalation. And then, Molly's up. Running.

"Ginny!"

-O.o.O-

Later, while Molly Weasley is still alternating between hysterics, squeezing her daughter to death, and babbling her thanks, Harry follows Prewett to the Great Hall. It's an easy choice really. The Hospital Wing had become increasingly awkward between all the grateful Weasleys, the appearance of Dumbledore and Snape, Madam Pomfrey rushing around, and Saint Mungo's staff finally arriving. Besides, now that Ginny is saved and it's clear that the petrified students will soon be righted, there isn't much reason to stay.

Not to mention, Harry's insanely curious.

Dumbledore leads the way, while Snape and Prewett trail after. Harry can't hear them inside the spell Snape's cast, but he can tell from the way the man's left eye has narrowed and the movement of his mouth that Prewett is getting the lecture of a lifetime. The fact that the younger professor looks like a scolded but thrilled dog certainly doesn't help matters.

Of course, his reaming only seems to be put on hold as they finally come to the Great Hall. What has to be every member of the Hogwarts staff is clustered just outside the double doors, and every single one of them's in a stage of shock. Particularly when Prewett arrives and they turn as a unit to gape at him.

Dumbledore keeps walking past them, but in the doorway, he misses a step. It's only because Snape is now beside him that he doesn't go headfirst into the floor. Just beyond them, Harry can make out an enormous dark form lying between the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables, both of which are now overturned. Gryffindor table is little more than splinters, which is probably the origin of the rather large chunk of wood that Harry spies sticking out of an eye socket. What's left of Slytherin's house table seems to be in various stages of transfiguration, and...

And are those chicken feathers?

"What is this?" Snape asks then, and his voice is oddly blank. Like he'd forgotten how furious he's supposed to be.

"It's a basilisk," Prewett replies quite cheerfully.

He seems to have recovered admirably from the hug – read, assault – that Mrs. Weasley had unleashed upon him. In fact, for all that he's just rescued a student, battled a possessed professor, and fought an enormous monster, he seems in surprisingly good spirits.

Naturally, everyone from Dumbledore to Flitwick to Sinistra to Sprout stares at him like he's grown another head. Possibly a leg or two. Maybe a whole body. They gawp at first him and then the snake. From one to the other and back.

Harry can't blame them; he's staring, too.

"Basilisk," McGonagall repeats dully. Her voice is dry, nearly croaking, and her bun is completely undone.

Not so far away, Dumbledore's eyebrows have disappeared into his hairline. For once in his life, he seemingly has no idea what to say.

Snape, still next to him, is in much the same position.

Prewett just nods. "Quite a large one actually."

Hooch, who's the only one brave – stupid – enough to go over to the snake in the meantime, whirls around to look at him again.

"Large?" she repeats loudly. "This thing has to be seventy feet long." She nudges it with her foot, but it doesn't even budge an inch.

"Only sixty-eight," Prewett corrects. "I measured." He seems taken back when they turn to stare at him again.

There's a moment of stark silence before Snape lets out something that's the lovechild of a snort and chuckle.

"This is utterly ridiculous," he tells them then before turning to Prewett and lifting one hand into the air. "You are utterly ridiculous. This is… This is insane. You've rescued a student and another professor, battled Slytherin's monster, defeated a fifty-year-old phantom, wrecked the largest room in the castle, and you just stand here. Like this is something you do every day."

There's a pause then. As if no one quite knows what to say.

"It all turned out okay though," Prewett points out weakly. "I mean, we can fix everything. The hall and tables-"

Snape laughs then. It's a terrifying sound. Part amusement, part hysteria.

Some of the faculty seems to agree with Harry's assessment, already backing towards the basilisk. Dumbledore opens his mouth. Only to close it again before saying anything. Prewett looks at him helplessly. McGonagall just closes her eyes as she bites her lip. Flitwick puts his head in his hands, while Sprout gently pats him on the shoulder.

Snape keeps laughing. So hard he starts making small wheezing sounds and has to lean forward with hands on his knees.

"I think that I broke him," Prewett says then, utterly flummoxed.

That only makes Snape laugh harder.

-O.o.O-

June is a wonderful month.

Harry finally learns from Prewett that Dobby the house-elf previously belonged to the Malfoy family but has now been freed under rather mysterious circumstances. The students are cured of petrification in short order once the mandrakes are ready, and Hermione probably spends the first ten minutes sobbing all over Harry's shoulder. He still can't tell if it's from relief or horror that exams are coming and she missed so much study time.

Not that she really has to worry about the last part since finals are canceled for everyone but the fifth and seventh years. Mostly because of all the unrest and not the least of which because the teachers have to take turns substituting for Defense. Professor Jones remains in Saint Mungo's for the rest term, and Prewett tells him that she's already sent in her resignation since she's projected to need months to recover.

The final Quidditch game of the year comes, and Dumbledore lets them play lest he have a rebellion on his hands. Gryffindor wins, beating Ravenclaw easily and securing the Quidditch cup for the second year in a row.

Then, it's the end of term.

The feast is even cheerier than the year before, if possible. Everyone's in an excellent mood, most especially the faculty. It's been a very rough year on them, too, Harry realizes. One of their own had been possessed, after all. And another had freed her.

Still, it's rather surprising to see them so relaxed as they speak amongst themselves. Harry can even hear them bantering, positioned as he is at the end of Gryffindor table.

Snape is just shaking his head when he says, "A Death Eater, a possessed professor, and a basilisk. What next?"

"A vampire?" Prewett suggests wickedly; that earns him a glare. "Maybe a Veela."

"One can only hope," Flitwick chimes in from his other side.

Which earns him a snort from Snape, a chuckle from Prewett, and a near-sputter from McGonagall. Flitwick gives her an innocent smile.

"Really, Filius," Sprout says then, voice mild and sweet, "I never knew you felt that way about vampires."

Now, it's Flitwick's turn to start. Prewett's subsequent laugh is nearly a guffaw, and Snape smirks before he can stop himself.

They only quiet when Dumbledore chooses that moment to stand and announce the House Cup winner. Which is also Gryffindor, coincidentally enough. Though that may have something to do with the fifty points Ginny won for "keeping her head" during the encounter with Jones and the basilisk.

Either way, she's is both beaming and blushing furiously as the whole school cheers for her. She seems to take it in stride until Harry glances at her and she promptly knocks over a whole jug of pumpkin juice.

He doesn't look at her for the rest of the feast, which is probably for the best.

Soon enough, it's next day. Trevor, Neville's toad, is found lurking in a girls' bathroom right before they board the train, and the ride back is rather relaxing. Harry gathers his trunk, says his goodbyes, and ventures out the station on his own. He meets the Dursleys in the parking lot, mostly because they were too terrified to come inside, but they say absolutely nothing as he gets in the car.

The ride to Privet Drive is made in near silence, but Harry welcomes it. Particularly after Petunia reveals that she knows Sirius Black's his godfather. Harry quickly informs them that they've been exchanging letters, and the purple color Vernon's face turns is almost lovely in its irony.

Harry doesn't laugh. It's a near thing.

He also doesn't tell them that Sirius has been threatening to drop in for a visit.

Life is good.

Chapter Text

Cornelius Fudge is an idiot.

This really isn't a surprising thing once Harry considers the matter further. Given what he's learned of the wizarding world in the last two years – their hatred of anything resembling logic and sometimes even real thought – why should it be? And why should the Minister of Magic be any different? Why shouldn't have Harry suspected this outcome in the end?

Pettigrew escaped. Pettigrew escaped from Ministry custody. Not Azkaban at least, but rather from the idiots who decided it'd be an excellent idea to move him from top security to somewhere most definitely less secure for further questioning. All because the Minister didn't like the idea of having to go to Azkaban unless he absolutely had to. Apparently speaking with a known and dangerous Death Eater didn't qualify.

Naturally, Pettigrew vanishes somewhere and sometime between leaving Azkaban and his scheduled interrogation. The Ministry still apparently isn't exactly sure when or where. Harry should be shocked, but he really isn't here either. It's more fuel for the fire. Or ingredients for the cauldron, as it were.

This, of course, isn't even the Minister's biggest blunder. It isn't even the Kiss-On-Sight order that he issues for the Dementors. Or even the fact that Azkaban's guards are now wandering the countryside and not – he'd think – off securing the rest of their prisoners.

No, it's only two days after the fiasco hits the papers that Harry really learns just how much of an idiot Cornelius Fudge truly is.

The day starts off normal enough. Harry has long ago finished his homework, and he's spent most of his time reading, walking the neighborhood, and keeping up with his correspondence. He's actually searching the sky for Kaiser when he spots three men loitering on the sidewalk as they glance between house numbers. It takes him a few seconds to recognize Fudge, and shamefully, it's only because of the stupid hat that the man always wears in his photos. Even as his heart stutters, Harry's mind races. It doesn't take Hermione to figure out why Fudge and two men in red robes – Aurors, Harry assumes – would randomly show up at the Dursley's. Not with what he's been reading in the Prophet recently. And there's no way on Gaia's green earth that Harry's going anywhere with them, Minister of Magic or not.

By the time Fudge actually makes it inside, Vernon alternates between yelling and spluttering, and Petunia has a fainting spell, all Harry's things are packed. He's already out the back door and two streets over. A quick wave of his wand summons the Knight Bus, and an alias barely earns him a second look. It's disturbingly easy to slip through the Leaky Cauldron afterwards, head to the alley entrance, and go on his merry way. All he has to do is put his hood up and walk with purpose to Gringotts and then out again after a whirlwind ride to his vault.

That's where Harry hits a snag, however. For all his plan to get to Diagon and his money, he's yet to actually figure out where to go from there. Which leaves him here. Huddling in a back lane off of Diagon. Trying his hardest to decide what to do.

Minutes pass, and Harry's heart, which had finally resumed a normal rhythm, starts to speed up again. Thoughts are a jumble in his brain, snaking and tangling together in such a large knot that he worries he'll never untie it. He just needs to calm down. He just needs to think!

He's already sent Hedwig off with a hasty letter to Neville, but he has no way of knowing when – or if – his friend will even get it. Not to mention that it's well after dark, and most of the surrounding shops are already starting to close. Traffic in Diagon has dwindled to next to nothing, which is at least good in that there'll be fewer people to see Harry. But it also means he isn't likely to find somewhere to stay tonight. He could perhaps find somewhere open in the Muggle world, but they're more likely to ask questions about a soon to be thirteen-year-old boy out so late.

Maybe a park then. He certainly can't spend the night here in an alleyway.

Harry's still silently contemplating his options when there's a prickle along his neck. It's a foreboding feeling, the sensation of someone coming up directly behind him, and Harry knows that he's run out of time. He's already operating on paranoia, and it's only through luck that things don't go very badly indeed as Harry spins, wand in hand. Of course, that's only to come to a screeching halt and gape at the smiling man in front of him.

Prewett merely offers a wave. Hedwig, sitting on his shoulder, hoots.

The next several moments are certainly the calmest of the entire evening. Prewett, who has thankfully cast some sort of ward on the alleyway, listens to Harry's story intently and even nods in all the right places. The fact that he agrees that it's wise to ditch the Minister is very telling, but Harry's too agitated to truly find that funny.

Prewett manages a small grin though, but it doesn't last as Harry finally reaches the end of his story, up to and including his tentative plans for the night.

"Harry, I can hardly leave you out in the Muggle world completely unsupervised."

Harry, grudgingly and if only to himself, admits that this is probably true. Pettigrew's on the loose after all. Not to mention there are probably several other of the Dark Lord's supporters who'd love the opportunity to get back at him. Of course, the Ministry will also likely be looking now, too.

Bugger.

"The Weasleys are in Egypt," he says then and runs a rushed hand through his hair that only serves to make it stand up even more. "Hermione's with her parents in France. Neville hasn't answered yet. I'm not even sure Luna knows it's the summer."

Prewett pinches the bridge of his nose. There's a look on his face like he wants to say something but thinks the better of it. Instead, he waves his wand, and a silvery form shoots out. It takes Harry a second, but he quickly realizes that the shape now twining around Prewett's legs is actually a fox. An incredibly detailed one at that. Harry can actually make out the individual hairs in its fur.

He turns to Prewett then, but his professor's staring at the fox with something like surprise. He watches for a few heartbeats before he shakes his head. He belatedly leans down then to whisper into a pointy ear. The fox nods and swiftly departs.

Prewett sighs then before turning back to Harry.

"Reinforcements will be here shortly, I'd think. We may as well sit while we wait," Prewett murmurs and transfigures two loose pieces of stone into seats that are astoundingly comfortable as Harry all but drops into his.

The next few minutes aren't nearly as tense as they should be, especially not as Prewett somehow produces a pair of apples and chocolate frog for Harry to have. A good thing since dinner seems so very long ago.

Harry's just showing the card he'd gotten to Prewett – Nicholas Flamel, if you'd believe his luck – when the man suddenly glances up at the obscured entrance to the alleyway. He flicks his wand, and Harry feels more than sees magic pulling back before two more people appear next to them. This must be something of an interesting tableau, Harry thinks. He and Prewett in cushioned chairs in a back lane of Diagon, looking at a frog card.

Snape merely lifts an eyebrow, but Flitwick actually lets out a laugh.

"Mr. Potter," Snape begins then with a very put-upon voice, "why must you always get in these situations?"

Harry can only offer a shake of his head as Flitwick moves to conjure himself a very fetching armchair made of blue leather. He's even nice enough to make one for Snape, although this one is green. Prewett's quick to catch them up on everything, even as he places a hand on the arm of Harry's chair.

"How do we stand?" he questions at the end.

Flitwick, face unexpectedly solemn, seems to be considering matters. "Things aren't as unfortunate as they were at first glance. Our exalted Minister is under the impression that Harry's off with friends but keeps demanding that we tell him where. Minerva's headed to the Ministry to run interference."

Prewett nods. "And the headmaster?"

"Already there. Undoubtedly arguing with Fudge and all the other toadies," Snape puts in, tone dark and biting.

Prewett lets out a breath. "Options?"

Flitwick taps his chin but remains silent.

There's a pause before Snape makes a near growling sound.

"What about Black?" he asks with a curl to his lip.

Prewett gives him a look. "A man who hasn't been out of Saint Mungo's two weeks and was in Azkaban over a decade before that."

"Sirius doesn't even have a house yet. He's staying with a friend," Harry adds helpfully and sees Prewett chuckle even as Snape and Flitwick start. Both of them have temporarily forgotten he's still there.

"Point," Snape concedes eventually. "But what are we to do then, Mr. Potter? You've already ruled out all of your little friends. Unless you've been keeping a few hidden in the wings for such an occasion."

His face is pinched as he says this, and his eyes are very black, fathomless but with a look that's familiar but also almost unrecognizable. Harry nearly jolts when he realizes that Snape's actually very troubled. Worried even, that Harry will be taken by the Ministry.

Prewett's face is nearly a mirror of it, and Harry can see him thinking very quickly even as his fingers tap out a senseless rhythm. Flitwick, conversely, doesn't seem the least bit concerned. Instead, there's a small curl tugging at his lips. He merely looks at Snape, next at Prewett for a longer time before glancing at Harry and back.

Then, he grins.

-O.o.O-

Prewett's house is rather like Harry's always imagined his own will one day look.

It's far cleaner than he thought a typical bachelor's would be, but growing up with the Dursleys, Harry can't say that this is a bad thing. Petunia might be tidy, but neither Dudley nor Vernon is, and Harry's had to clean up after them more than once. Neatness is something rather ingrained in him by this point.

The house itself is situated in the countryside near the outskirts of a mostly Muggle village and is larger within than first glance would expect with a good-sized garden just beyond the back door. The inside is comfortable, done mostly in shades of green, blue, and brown. It's somewhere between calm and cluttered. The guest room, Harry's room, is mostly green and cream with a bed that puts his own at Hogwarts to shame and enough bookshelves that he could completely unpack his trunk and still have some left over.

He hasn't seen inside Prewett's room, but the man's office and the other guest room are very similar. There's a small library downstairs, which hasn't occupied nearly as much of Harry's time as one would think, and he hasn't yet been to the attic but strongly suspects there's a potions lab up there or at least something similar. Harry's favorite room by far is the kitchen, which is light and airy. It's unexpectedly large for two people, let alone the one who normally lives here.

The fact that Harry's actually here, at his professor's own home, is rather mindboggling. He still suspects that Flitwick had to have confounded the lot of them to get him here, but Prewett simply shakes his head at the suggestion.

"Who better to look after you than the man who killed a thousand-year-old basilisk?" Flitwick had said with firm hand to his shoulder and something disturbingly like a cackle. "It's only temporary. A day or two at most I'd wager before we work out something."

Now, it's four days later, and sure enough, Harry's leaving that morning to go stay with Neville for the rest of the summer. He isn't sure what to think of this, truth be told. On one hand, he's excited to see Neville – who's arguably become the closest out of all his friends. On the other, he rather likes it here with Prewett, which isn't really all that startling.

It's quiet, restful even. Certainly calmer than the Weasleys. Not full of chores or unhappy looks like the Dursleys.

He feels welcome, Harry supposes. Feels like he could belong here. Like he does belong here. It hasn't been long at all, but this place feels almost like Hogwarts does to him. Far more like a home than the house he grew up in.

A shame that though. Harry doubts he'll have much opportunity to return here.

Prewett's in his favorite chair at the kitchen table, situated so that he can look out at the back garden, but his attention is actually turned inside for once. His eyes are in fact pointed towards the floor, studying something that only comes into view when Harry walks over to the table. The same silvery fox that Harry had seen only days before sits on its haunches in front of Prewett. One paw is lifted up to rest on his knee as if trying to get his attention, even as Prewett watches it intently. The fox turns to Harry for a moment as it notices him and gives a silent yip before dissolving.

"What was that?" Harry asks curiously, taking a seat that he's already decided will be his.

"That?" Prewett blinks at him. "That was my Patronus."

"Patronus?" Harry repeats. He scours his brain and comes up with a vague memory. Something about happy thoughts.

"Yes, a very clever bit of magic really," Prewett slips into teaching mode easily. "Meant to ward off evil for the most part. Dementors. Lethifolds. So on." He makes a motion with his hand before glancing back to where the fox had previously been. "They also serve in other capacities. Guards or as very useful messengers. Nearly impossible to intercept or block."

He's got a peculiar look on his face as he continues to gaze at something no longer there. As if by sheer will alone he can make the fox reappear. Prewett seems almost astounded by its shape, Harry thinks. As if something about it's strange, but Harry can't possibly figure out what.

He considers the matter as Prewett offers him breakfast, happily waving Harry away when he offers to make it. They eat companionably, and Prewett offers Harry part of the Daily Prophet to read over his toast. Harry mostly glances through since there's nothing truly of interest save the crossword. Amelia Bones, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, is on the front page with an update on Pettigrew. While there's nothing at all new, her face is a definite improvement over seeing Fudge there.

They're just finishing up with Harry managing to finagle away the dishes to wash when he hears a tapping at the back window. He glances over his shoulder from his place by the sink and spots what appears to be a very lovely colored hawk. It ignores him completely, too busy staring arrogantly at Prewett. He, in turn, makes an exasperated noise before opening the window. The hawk swoops inside like it owns the place and quickly takes up residence on the back of the seat Harry had previously occupied. The hawk makes a sound that is less a screech and more like an order for Prewett to take the letter from its leg, and Harry is snorting to himself as he heads upstairs. By the time he returns with his trunk, the bird is gone.

It's just about time for them to leave. Harry's nervously waiting in the kitchen, fiddling with another crossword that he's only half filled out. Prewett, in the meantime, is just finished fetching something from his study when he walks over to the table.

"Ready, Harry?" he asks and receives a nod in return. "Very good. She'll be expecting us soon."

He pauses for a second, and it's only then that Harry realizes he has something in his right hand. It can't be very large since it fits perfectly in Prewett's palm as he places it on the table.

"For you," his professor offers and steps back.

Harry stares on the object and dazedly picks it up. For some reason, his brain decides to take a holiday just then, stuttering and starting and then just giving up as he keeps staring.

It's a key. One made of bronze metal that matches the lock to the front door perfectly. To open that then. And the wards as well, Harry guesses. So that he could even use the Floo to get here.

Harry finally tears his eyes away to gape at Prewett.

"Just in case," the man says then, and his eyes are bright. "I hope you don't mind."

Harry swallows and has to look away. He focuses again on the key because it's so much easier. Turns it over and runs his fingers over the patterns in the metal.

Harry knows what this is. More than a key really. It's an open-ended invitation. A promise that Harry's welcome here should he ever need it.

Looking back, Harry isn't sure why he does it. He isn't even sure when he stands up. Harry isn't one to initiate physical contact, but somehow, this seems appropriate. The hug is spontaneous and quick, leaving Harry with an embarrassed glow to his face, but once Prewett recovers from his shock, he smiles.

There aren't any more words as they situate themselves, Prewett shrinking and pocketing Harry's trunk with a tap of his wand. A minute later, they're in the parlor, the only room in the house with Floo access or where Apparition is possible.

Prewett steps up then, wrapping a warm arm around his shoulders. Harry has a flash of nervousness before the arm squeezes, and then, they're gone with a twist of magic.

-O.o.O-

The rest of vacation is spent in a blur of flying, laughing with Neville, visits with his other friends, and general fun. That's interspersed with a very odd dinner at Neville's where Sirius and his friend, Remus Lupin, come over. Madam Longbottom spends most of the meal all but glaring at both of them before deciding over pudding that she actually likes them. They're subsequently allowed to take Harry – and Neville whenever he wants – on a few outings, but nothing that lasts overnight. They do come over again the evening before school starts for another but much more relaxed dinner and don't leave until quite late.

Then, it's time.

Harry and Neville are early to the station, mostly because Madam Longbottom insists due to the increased security. They've already been told that there'll be teachers and perhaps a few Aurors patrolling the train, and Remus is actually already there with a bit of sleepy smile of greeting. He doesn't sit with them, merely waving them to the next compartment over. There, they find Luna waiting with her face stuck in an upside down book. Hermione arrives soon after and immediately shows them her new cat, a very grumpy-faced animal named Crookshanks. Ron rushes in with only minutes to spare, and they're still stowing his trunk when the train starts to pull away.

It's raining as they leave London, and it grows darker outside the further north they go. Neville pulls the shade to the windows down after a rather bright burst of lightning, and they spend their time catching up and discussing the latest rumors about Pettigrew. Luna takes nearly a half-hour trying to convince them that his true Animagus form is a snorkack that can become invisible and walk through walls. Not even Ron looks convinced and quickly changes the topic by challenging her to a round of Exploding Snap.

Several hours later, they're still playing cards, and Hermione and Harry have now moved on to trying to explain Go Fish to the three purebloods in their group. It's just as they're finishing the first round that the train starts to slow. Neville lifts the shade to glance out, but he's quick to tell them that it doesn't actually look like they've arrived in Hogsmeade.

Naturally, that's right when the lights decide to start flickering. In true creepy fashion, that's also when ice starts to flow over the windows, and Harry exhales to see his breath fogging the air.

The air turns steadily colder. Harry stands, determined to go next door to Remus' compartment, but a chill down his spine makes him pause. His heart flutters in his chest, and he feels it then. A bite of something at his very core, so cold that it burns.

The door to their compartment opens. There's a figure hovering in the doorway, shrouded in a black cloak, but Harry can see a skeletal hand before it disappears in a dark sleeve. All he feels in that instant is the chill to the air, brittle and biting. Creeping through his skin to bone and settling in. Freezing him from the inside out, chilling his blood and quieting his heart.

He hears it. Hears her. A voice, terrified and begging. Shrieking. Laughter high, terrible, cold. A flash of green light. Burning over his face.

Screaming and screaming and then… nothing.

Harry comes to with Neville's worried face taking up his whole view, but he quickly backs off to give him more air. Sitting up and glancing around, Harry notes that just about everyone looks as horrible as he feels. Luna is actually lying on the bench across from him with Hermione breathing hard as she kneels down next to her. Beside them, Ron's green-tinged and sweating, and Crookshanks mewls pitifully as he tries to curl onto the redhead's chest.

Neville helps Harry sit up, but both of them are shaking. It takes Harry a second to realize that Remus is actually in the compartment with them, and he gives Harry a thorough looking over before handing each of them a sizable piece of chocolate. Certain now they'll be fine, he heads off to speak to the driver. They've started moving again by the time he returns with Prewett in tow, but Harry's more embarrassed than anything by this point.

The rest of the train ride is fortunately dull. Prewett periodically checks in on them, as does Remus, but Harry waves them both off. It's raining buckets by the time they arrive at the station. Luna's recovered enough to spell away the water from each of them, and they're probably the only dry ones under fifth year by the time they make it from their shared carriage to the castle. Harry definitely doesn't envy the first-years who're currently crossing the lake, but that thought is shaken from his mind as McGonagall appears and takes Hermione aside. The deputy headmistress shoots Harry a knowing look just before she does, but she thankfully lets Harry go to the Great Hall without incident.

He's burning with mortification as he slips into a seat between Neville and Dean. His only saving grace of the whole fiasco is that the only people who witness it are his friends and Remus, who's already loaded him so full of chocolate that he barely eats anything at dinner. Ron doesn't even tell his brothers about it later, but that's probably because Harry overhears Neville threatening him if anybody else finds out. Thinking back about how the twins are still teasing him about Pettigrew sleeping on his pillow, Ron wisely says nothing.

The sorting and dinner can't end soon enough in Harry's opinion, but the introductions for faculty are thankful quick. Hagrid's appointment is surprising but also not. After all, his wand-rights were restored following the discovery of the basilisk, and since really, who else would assign a biting book?

On the other hand, Harry already knew Remus is taking the Defense post for the year. It's a combination of Pettigrew on the loose and Sirius wanting to be closer to his godson. He knows that it's also Dumbledore's condition for letting both men stay in the castle, though as far as Harry's aware very few people know that Sirius will even be coming and going at all. He'll only be around enough that he'll be able to see Harry while still being supervised, something that Harry suspects Dumbledore also insists upon.

Everything's over soon enough, and they all trudge to Gryffindor tower in various states of fullness, fatigue, and plain relief. Harry barely manages to change into his pajamas before he's flopping onto his bed and pulling the covers over his head for the night.

If he dreams of green light and screams, Harry fortunately doesn't remember.

-O.o.O-

The following morning, Harry's very discomforted to learn that the Dementors are to be stationed at the school. Why, he has no real clue. Since it doesn't make the least little bit of sense.

Maybe they're mad because Pettigrew got away, even if it wasn't on their watch. Perhaps they really are worried he'll return to Hogwarts. Or maybe it's merely a publicity stunt to be seen doing something, and that certainly sounds like something Fudge would do. Instead, of course, of having the Dementors keep an eye on the remaining prisoners. That'd be too logical, Neville helpfully points out.

The day only goes downhill from there. His first class is Care of Magical Creatures, and that's nothing short of a disaster. Harry does fine with the hippogriff – Buckbeak – on his own, but that prat Malfoy manages to get himself slightly mauled and subsequently has be taken back to the castle by Hagrid. Double Arithmancy with Hufflepuff is next, and it actually goes very well. Harry finishes his assessment quiz before anyone else, including Hermione, much to her chagrin. However, break afterwards is all abuzz about Malfoy still being in the Hospital Wing. That makes Harry's mood worsen, and it only plummets when he goes to Transfiguration and the entire class is muttering and pointing at Neville. They've just been in Divination, Hermione tells him quickly as he sits down on Ron's other side, and apparently, the batty woman who teaches it predicted Neville's excruciatingly painful death.

How lovely.

McGonagall thankfully shares that sentiment and informs them to ignore Trelawney, who seems determined to off her own students, as she does this every year. Neville's a bit less put-out after that, but Harry can see how tense he is for the rest of the day. Their year-mates certainly aren't helping as they speak about him in hushed whispers, as if he's already on death's doorstop.

Harry smartly skips dinner that night, taking Neville with him to see Sirius. He's even less enthused by the prospect of the Dementors. He's spent over a decade with them already, but at least, they aren't allowed in the castle. He has to still feel them though, too attuned after how long they've been together, but the fact that he's still willing to stay in castle at all means more to Harry than he can really say.

Both of them stay with Sirius – and later, Remus – nearly until curfew, and it's only because of a few short-cuts that he and Neville make it back on time. Still, they enter the portrait under Percy's watchful eye before he turns away, and they share a grin. The other Gryffindors have apparently wised up by this point and are very careful not to stare at Neville as they head to the dorm, and the rest of the evening passes uneventfully as they get ready for bed.

It's only later as he's looking back on the day and preparing for sleep that Harry puzzles over something he hadn't truly noticed before. How had Hermione known what Trelawney said about Neville? She'd spent the morning with him in Arithmancy while the others had Divination.

-O.o.O-

Study halls resume, but this year, Harry's the only person who shows up to the first one. Neville is off hiding in the greenhouses, avoiding the stares after yet another deadly prediction in Divination. Luna's who knows where since Harry last saw her at lunch, and he'd left Ron and Hermione in the middle of an argument about Crookshanks, who's taken to sleeping on Ron's bed for some strange reason.

When it quickly becomes obvious that no one else will show, Prewett waves Harry over to his office instead and orders both of them cocoa from the kitchen. Harry uses the opportunity to give a few welcoming words to Prewett's snake Levi while the man's back is turned, and she actually comes up out of her tank to rub her head against his hand.

He's in his usual seat by the time a house-elf pops in, bringing an array of biscuits and other sweets that Harry is pretty sure they didn't actually order. He still helps himself, and they make idle conversation, but there's something hovering between them that makes Harry's eyes narrow. It's in the way Prewett studies him over his cup. In the tilt of his head. The way his finger taps the table.

"Is something the matter, professor?" he asks, honestly unsure what it could possibly be.

There haven't been any new developments with Pettigrew, and as far as Harry knows, the Ministry hasn't suddenly seen sense and decided against the Dementors.

Prewett just sighs and sets his cup down. The look he gives Harry isn't one he's seen before, at least, not from this man. It's not cold, not really, more assessing. Searching and weighing. Deciding.

"I've been debating with myself to be honest, Harry," Prewett states then, and his voice is rather peculiar, "and while some wouldn't want me telling you this, I believe that the truth is generally preferable to lies, even if lies are sometimes unavoidable. It's better to know what's out there than to have your head in the sand."

Prewett pauses to let that sink in.

"Ignorance will hurt you," Harry summarizes and receives a sharp nod in return.

"Oh, most definitely. You and those around you." Prewett exhales very slowly. "Which is why I think that's it definitely time to bring you up to speed on several matters. All of them pertain to you in one way or another, and quite frankly, I think it's your right to know about them."

Harry blinks at this. He's not sure what to think at such a statement and tells his professor as much.

Prewett closes his eyes momentarily. "Harry, there's more to the goings on of the last few years than most people realize. Even those who witnessed nearly everything. Last year and the year before, these were not isolated incidents. They were part of a pattern, one that relates back to a single man."

"A pattern?" Harry questions, not really following. "One man?"

"A man you've actually met before, Harry. Much to… well, both his and your misfortune, I'd think."

But that's all the hint Harry needs. The puzzle pieces slide into place, and perfectly terrible picture is formed.

"Voldemort," Harry murmurs, and his heart skips a beat.

Prewett's face says it all. "Yes, Harry. Voldemort. The Dark Lord himself."

"That's who was really after the stone first-year?"

Harry's voice is remarkably calm as he asks that, reasonable even. Prewett inclines his head.

"After a fashion," he allows. "It was Quirrell who I confronted, but Voldemort was also there. He was… cohabitating with Quirrell. Sharing his body."

Harry isn't sure if it's horror or disgust that he feels.

"Sharing his body," he repeats numbly. He doesn't like where his imagination takes him with that particular statement.

Prewett, as if sensing his thoughts, clarifies, "He wore the turban to hide the fact that Voldemort's face was on the back of his head."

If anything, that's even worse.

"That's possible?"

Harry knows that the expression he wears would probably set the twins to laughing for days, but really, this is too much.

"Disturbing but yes, it is," Prewett agrees. He leans forward and rests his elbows on the table. "It was a willing possession. That means both of them were there and could switch control back and forth. Voldemort was with Quirrell for months, but I can't be sure when exactly it began. They were in league by the time school started, but I'm not sure when Voldemort actually joined him."

Harry allows that to digest. He'd thought that Quirrell had wanted the Stone for himself. For the gold and elixir. That he'd failed and been arrested or something. But with Voldemort involved…

"Quirrell… What happened to him?" Harry doesn't want to ask it, but he does anyway. "Did he… die?"

Prewett sits back again. "Unfortunately, he did. Voldemort drained too much from him, and Quirinus fought me too strongly. If he'd allowed it, if the possession wasn't willing and he'd helped me resist, I likely could've saved him. But… well…"

Prewett gives a hopeless shrug.

"But what about Professor Jones?" Harry questions with a sinking sensation in his stomach. "She's going to be fine, right? She was possessed, too."

"Hestia's in for the long road," his professor admits, "but yes, she's slowly recovering. It'll be years to get her to full strength again though."

"And you said earlier," Harry begins, brain coiling and twisting through the minefield of this conversation, "that Voldemort was involved both times. Was he the one to possess her, too?"

Prewett somehow seems pleased by Harry's conclusion.

“It was Voldemort, under a different guise but the same man. Different mechanism as well. Voldemort used an enchanted diary to snare her.” He taps his chin with his forefinger. “Hestia’s possession was entirely unwilling. She fought, but she also fell for the same trick many do. She trusted a magical artifact of questionable origin. Despite her training and background, it seemed innocuous, so she wrote back, not realizing until far too late that she was already trapped.”

"But how could she not know it was him?" Harry all but demands with his hands outstretched. "She's a Defense master. A trained Hit Witch. How could she not notice?"

"The diary hardly had Lord Voldemort stamped on the front," Prewett replies with a snort before he can stop himself. "It was something he made while he was still in school. He used his birth identity: Tom Marvolo Riddle. Lord Voldemort is something of an anagram of that." He shakes his head. "Either way, she had no reason to question that name. Thought it was merely a clever thing made by a student. She actually told me that she was amazed by the charmwork and was trying to figure out how he'd crafted such a thing. A book that was self-aware and could write back. Hold an intelligent conversation just like a person."

He breathes out and looks down for a moment. The expression on his face clearly says that Prewett blames himself for not noticing sooner. For not seeing what was happening to his colleague.

"Hestia was… well, lonely, I suppose. She was sick and away from her work, all her friends. Surrounded by students and strangers…"

"And then, she finds this clever book to keep her company," Harry realizes abruptly. "Someone to commiserate with."

"Exactly," Prewett acknowledges with a wan smile. "By the times she realized something was wrong, she was in too deep."

Harry sits back in his chair, not really sure when he'd leaned forward. He taps on the tabletop thoughtfully for a moment.

"But why threaten Ginny?"

Since really, that question's been bothering Harry for months. Why had Ginny been drug into the whole mess? Was it random? Coincidence?

"Hestia's an adult," Prewett explains then. "That means a larger portion of her lifespan has been used. Riddle was leeching energy from her, but like most possessions, the goal is to either take over completely or to use a person to create a form for himself. He needed more than she had. He needed someone younger. Someone with more life."

"She's also sick, you said," Harry remembers. "That's why she took the Defense post in the first place. She needed time to recover."

Prewett makes a noise of confirmation. "Hestia simply didn't have the energy to spare for him."

Harry chews his lip thoughtfully. He rolls his cup in his hands, but his drink is long since cooled.

"But again, why Ginny in particular?"

"I don't believe Ginny was targeted per se," Prewett carefully replies. "At least, not in the way you're thinking. I think that Riddle… that the diary simply wanted a student. The younger, the better. Ginny happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The fact that she was a Gryffindor and a blood-traitor were bonuses." He exhales. "Though I also suspect there were other factors at play. After all, Hestia's a friend of the Weasley family. Her father and Arthur Weasley were yearmates at Hogwarts."

Harry sets down his cup and pulls his shoulders backward. He rubs his hand under his glasses as all of this sinks in. In some ways, it's a relief to know. In others, it's a horror. Terrible but great. Puzzle pieces coming together to make a picture that turns Harry's stomach as his mind goes over each event of his first and second years once again.

"Is he really the Heir of Slytherin?" Harry inquires after a long pause. "Like what was painted on the wall? Or was that just for effect?"

Prewett, who's been fiddling with the handle of his own mug, looks up.

"He's a descendant of Slytherin, yes," the professor admits. "But Salazar Slytherin lived a thousand years ago, and his family branches out. There are several people still around from his direct line alone, and it'd be nearly impossible to find out everyone. Even with magic."

"And the basilisk? It's because he's a Parselmouth? Like Slytherin?"

He asks that even as he dreads the answer. Despite what Hermione thinks, he actually has read Hogwarts: A History. Several different editions, in fact. He'd looked through them last year when they were trying to figure out the mystery. Every single copy mentions Slytherin's gift with serpents. To be honest and thinking in retrospect, it's pathetic that no one figured out his monster was some type of snake before this.

"The entire line is known for that," Prewett tells him softly, and both of them purposefully do not look at Levi swimming around her tank. "One of the few in all of Europe, I believe."

Harry swallows. It's on the tip of his tongue then. It rolls so close to the edge, but he pulls it back.

"The hat wanted to put me in Slytherin," Harry reveals instead. "Malfoy got sorted first, and I refused to share a dorm for seven years."

Prewett chuckles, and the mood shifts then. The heaviness around them dissipates, and the tension eases. Prewett doesn't at all seem surprised. Or disgusted.

"I won't say that I blame you for that, but Mr. Malfoy is…"

"Difficult," Harry suggests, dizzy with lingering dismay and reprieve both.

"Different," Prewett concedes very diplomatically.

But Harry's seen him watching the sling Malfoy has taken to wearing ever since he was scratched by Buckbeak. He's also seen Prewett roll his eyes when he didn't think anyone's looking.

As if catching that thought, Prewett winks. He leans forward then, and before Harry knows it, both mugs are steaming again.

"What house do you think you'd have been in?" Harry asks, glad to have a different topic. "If you'd gone to Hogwarts?"

Prewett considers that as he helps himself to a chocolate biscuit.

"I rather think Hufflepuff is an excellent house," he says after a few seconds.

He laughs at the face Harry makes.

"Their house qualities are hard work, perseverance, and loyalty. Their motto is that there's room for everyone." He offers Harry an oatmeal biscuit. "How are those bad things?"

Harry shrugs half-heartedly. "Hufflepuff's not bad, I supposed. But… I guess that everybody acts as if there are only three worthwhile houses here."

"Some even say there are only two," Prewett suggests with a look of understanding, "but I personally think all of them are important. Each is necessary and couldn't really survive without the others."

Harry nibbles on his biscuit and thinks it over carefully.

"I'll remember that," he decides then.

Prewett just smiles.

-O.o.O-

Weeks pass. Quidditch practice starts up soon enough, and Oliver, a seventh-year and soon to be graduating, seems to be determined to once more win them the cup. His enthusiasm isn't catching, however. Not with the terrible weather that continues for days on end, and it's all Oliver can do not to have a revolt when his Chasers pointedly refuse to practice every Friday and Saturday evening.

Harry prudently stays out of the matter. Amazingly, so do the Weasley twins. The three of them exchange a glance before quietly flying off on their brooms, leaving Oliver to deal with the girls on his own.

Harry falls into the rhythm of classes easily, and it doesn't take him long at all to decide that Arithmancy is his favorite subject, closely followed by Defense. Both Vector and Remus are excellent teachers, if in different ways. Vector is strict, much like McGonagall, but her manner is easier, less harried. Remus, in turn, is very warmly and friendly. Harry knows that he's quickly becoming very popular in the school, and he's tied for first as the favorite in Gryffindor.

Runes is rather good, too, but Harry still hasn't decided what to think of Babbling. He can tell she's very much a scholar at heart, but she's also rather absentminded, often forgetting what topic they were supposed to be on and not remembering to set homework at the end of class. Not that Harry minds really, but it also means he has to do a good deal of self-directed study if he wants to truly learn the material.

Prewett's helpful with this, muttering under his breath that Flitwick is still pressing him to do a mastery project in the subject. Harry largely suspects the man probably is in some fashion or another if only to prove to himself that he can.

Divination, which Harry very smartly avoided, seems to be a disaster. Neville's still having his death predicted in every session, though the manner at least changes. He's not particularly scared, more like annoyed with the whole matter, and Harry suspects that if things don't shape up, that he'll just go to McGonagall and drop it.

Of course, when Luna loudly points this out over lunch one day, it only serves to draw Hermione's ire. The bookish girl thinks dropping a class is nothing short of a travesty and takes to harping on Neville about his academics at every single meal. Which subsequently means that Neville takes to eating in the kitchens instead of the Great Hall. Harry joins him more often than not in a show of solidarity – not to mention that he can have his treacle tart in peace.

It does leave the other three left out though. Luna usually joins them, but Ron's taken to sitting with his brothers or Dean and Seamus more frequently. Especially since Hermione isn't quite happy with him either. Not when Crookshanks seems to like Ron more than her, going so far as to sleep in the boy's dorm and curl up in Ron's lap whenever they're in the common room.

Hermione starts to calm down about Divination the first week of October, though Harry largely suspects it's due to loneliness at mealtimes more than anything. She and Neville declare a détente and mentioning Trelawney is now all but taboo. Still, Harry does see Hermione shooting Ron looks whenever he absentmindedly pets her cat.

Fortunately, or perhaps not, other matters soon catch her attention. Such as Hagrid's classes going from exciting to duller than a Binns' History lecture. This is probably due to the complaint lodged by Malfoy's father over Buckbeak. It doesn't help that Malfoy's strutting about the school with one arm in a slinging, alternating between brags that Hagrid will be sacked or that Buckbeak will be punished.

While both issues flare Harry's temper, it's the latter that really gets him. Especially when he notices that Buckbeak has been separated from his herd and chained out behind Hagrid's hut. When they ask their large friend about it during one visit, they're quickly subjected to a crying spell over Ministry inquires and disposing of supposedly dangerous animals.

It's rather sickening all told and quickly sets Hermione on a researching rampage into Ministry regulations on magical creatures. Luna's rather helpful on that matter, particularly since she has such an interest in zoology. Her solution to the whole matter is exceptionally brilliant as well, particularly when all it takes is a very pleasant conversation with Sirius and Remus over Saturday afternoon tea.

By the following Monday morning, a bank draft is already filled out and presented to the school. That afternoon, sale complete, Buckbeak leaves the castle grounds with a very smug Sirius. Harry larges suspects he did it to shut up the younger Malfoy, while also showing up the prat's father.

Harry doesn't care. Buckbeak's safe, off enjoying himself at the paddock Sirius has specially built at one border of his property. Even better, Malfoy no longer has anything to hold over them since Sirius also snidely insisted that if the boy's still so injured he clearly needs to leave school and go to Saint Mungo's for treatment.

The sling disappears the next day.

Of course, that also means Slytherin has no excuse to get out of the ensuing Quidditch match that weekend. The weather is absolutely terrible, as it has been since the beginning of September. Luna takes him aside the night before and they spend nearly a half-hour spelling his Quidditch gear to be water resistant. Thanks to Sirius, his glasses are already charmed to stay on his face and be impervious to just about anything short of a Killing curse

Harry even thinks to mention what they'd done to the twins before he goes to bed, and by morning, the whole team is nearly glowing with how many spells they've cast on themselves to keep the water away. A good thing, too. It's somehow raining even harder that morning than it has been all week, and considering that Sprout has been doing some heavy-duty spellcasting to keep her greenhouses from flooding, this is really saying something.

The rain isn't the only thing unpleasant outside, and despite the fact that the Dementors are actually beyond the castle wards, Harry can feel the chill of them as they step out onto the Quidditch field.

The match, like the rest of the school year so far, is horrible. Gryffindor still wins but only very barely. Mostly because Harry manages to all but land on the Snitch when he falls off his broom. The cause is likely the hundred odd Dementors that choose to show up. Likely in support of Slytherin, Ron later grumbles.

Harry spends the weekend in the Hospital Wing under Pomfrey's narrowed eyes, but at least, he survives the fall.

His Nimbus 2000 doesn't.

-O.o.O-

In spite of their win, Harry is in poor spirits the next week, and his mood plummets as Halloween approaches. It's forever marked in his mind as a terrible holiday. Mostly because of his parents, though the incident with the Heir of Slytherin last year has certainly not helped matters.

It falls on a Hogsmeade weekend, but Harry remains behind. He knows he could go if he wants; Sirius has already signed his permission form. But he also knows that he shouldn't. That the risk is more than the reward, and if he wants to go to Hogsmeade some other time, like the summer, it's perfectly feasible.

He skips breakfast in favor of heading to Prewett's office to feed Levi. Prewett is good enough company most of the time, but he's strangely out of sorts that day. Harry doesn't linger too long, though he'd hoped to cash-in the promise of a Patronus lesson. It's something Prewett offered while visiting him right after the Quidditch match, but neither of them has really had the time for it yet.

Harry wanders off to roam the castle aimlessly instead. Neville, Ron, and Hermione are all in Hogsmeade after Harry all but ordered them to go without him. Luna's with Flitwick, working on some mysterious Ravenclaw project. Or more likely just visiting with him. Dean, Seamus, and the rest of his year are also all undoubtedly at the village. He knows Oliver is probably down at the Quidditch pitch, and he overheard Alicia being teased by the others about having a date this weekend. Angelina and Katie also said they were both going shopping. Fred and George are…

Actually in the hallway in front of him.

The subsequent conversation is a whirlwind. Filled with magical maps, twin-speak, banter, some threats, and the idea that Harry probably owes the twins a very large and expensive Yule gift this year. Especially when he wistfully tries to hand the map back, only to have them both refuse.

"For you, mate," George states and slings an arm around his shoulders. "I think you need it far more than we do at this point."

"And besides, we've already memorized everything on it," Fred adds with a grin from his other side.

"Be sure to cause plenty of mischief," his twin continues. "And, you know, to stay alive. Too many dangers in this school, I think. Don't you agree, dear brother?"

"Brother dear," Fred replies, "I do. Too much out to kill us. And probably you most of all, Harrikins."

Both of them shoot him a thumbs-up after that, and George adds a wink for good measure before they scurry off for parts unknown. He gazes after them for a second before turning back to the prize in his hands.

Harry can hardly contain himself as steps into an empty classroom. He knows what this is. What it has to be. There can't have been too many groups named the Marauders in Hogwarts, after all.

It's nearly dinner before Harry remembers that he's supposed to meet his friends, and he smartly blanks the map and hurries to the Great Hall. He's breathless as he drops into a seat on Neville's free side, and Harry manages a laugh when no less than ten chocolate frogs are subsequently shoved at him by various other people at the table.

Despite the fact that he hates this holiday, Harry does manage to be in much better spirits during their meal. Enough so that he and Neville reminisce over their families while the others linger after pudding. They're actually still at the table when they hear the announcement. It's Dumbledore, and it takes Harry a moment to figure everything out, but they're just starting to wonder what's going on when the entire student body unceremoniously appears back in the Great Hall.

It's chaos after that, but their housemates are more than happy to fill them in. Especially since Seamus heard the whole story from his cousin, a Ravenclaw, whose sister's roommate is the one that started this whole mess.

Or as Ron summarizes with a roll of his eyes, "Some jumpy fifth-year thought she saw Pettigrew hiding behind a suite of armor."

The entire school sleeps in the Great Hall that night, while the professors alternate between searching the castle and checking in on the students. Harry isn't fooled by the fact that not only Prewett but also Remus and Snape seem to patrol by his corner more often than the others. Harry half-hopes that Sirius isn't around, if only to completely keep him out of this mess.

Harry half-dozes most of the night, but around three, he wakes when he hears footsteps approaching. His eyes aren't even really opens when he feels more than sees Prewett walk by, and he's only slightly more awake when Snape comes over from his previous position near the Ravenclaw and Slytherin first-years. The two of them are just at the edge of his hearing, and Ron and Neville's snores make it even harder, as does Luna murmuring in her sleep, but Harry still manages to catch their conversation.

They still aren't certain it was Pettigrew since he'd have to be an idiot to return to Scotland, but Prewett seems inclined to believe it really was him. They speak for several more minutes about the matter, but then, the conversation takes a strange turn. Prewett almost seems hesitant, voice odd as he asks Snape to meet him the following morning.

Harry lifts his head to glance at them as Snape slowly agrees. All he can really make out in the very faint light are their profiles. Prewett is turned away, but Harry still makes out the tightening of the man's shoulders and the way Snape looks after him when he walks away.

-O.o.O-

Harry rushes down to Prewett's office first thing. He doesn't bother to check the map; he knows the man will be there already since he's supposed to be meeting Snape anyway. Harry only hopes he beats the Potions master there since he's burning with questions about Pettigrew.

The outer door to the office opens automatically; Harry's been keyed in to the portrait guardian since the start of school. Prewett isn't at his desk strangely enough, and when Harry looks, Levi's gone from her tank. Harry isn't all that surprised about that part since she's usually out in the mornings anyway, but he's momentarily unsure what to do. He supposes he can wait and is making to sit when he hears voices nearby. Harry turns to the far corner and notices that the door to the back area is just barely cracked, open just enough for Levi to slip through perhaps.

Harry walks over and peers inside, but all he sees are the various Muggle objects Prewett stores for his classes. Of course, there's also a short-cut back there that leads to his private quarters, so it's possible that he left that open, too. Harry can't see the other door from this angle, but he's willing to bet that's where Prewett is.

He doesn't dare go though since he's never been before, but the sound of voices again catches his attention.

"It's not… It's not a joke, Severus," Prewett is saying, tone nearly pleading. "Or a trick. It wasn't meant to hurt you."

"Why would you ever tell me this?" Snape demands, and his voice is horrible. Angry and broken both. Edged like a knife.

There's a crash. As if something's just been thrown, and Harry imagines it's a glass.

"Who else would I tell?" Prewett questions, but he's different now. Bitter, aching. "Who else would I trust?"

A laugh then. Harry can't tell who it's from. It's too brittle and burning.

"And you thought I'd be your best option?" Snape bites back.

A pause then. Silence save for Harry's breathing and the pounding of his heart.

Prewett's reply is softer when it comes but no less pained. "You're my friend. You deserve the truth."

Another crash, then the tinkling of glass. But louder this time. Closer.

Harry jumps back. There's the sound of stomping over and towards the door to the next room. Harry backpedals and uses every ounce of sneakiness ingrained in his body to make it back to the outer door quietly, finding and throwing his cloak over himself in the same motion. The footsteps don't follow him, but Harry smartly chooses to make a tactical retreat.

He's more than overstayed his welcome anyway.

-O.o.O-

Afterwards, things are different. Strained. Tense in a way that not even the Dementors have managed.

Snape, to put it bluntly, is absolutely furious. It's obvious to anyone with even a lick of sense. Clear in the dark fire to his eyes and the whip of his robes as he stalks the corridors. More so in the set to his mouth and the lines on his face. The echoing burn in his magic when Harry passes by him too closely in the Potions classroom.

It doesn't take the students very long to catch on.

At the best of times, Snape isn't someone who'd ever be considered friendly. But now, he's downright hostile. Shooting glares at just about everyone, handing out detentions for breathing loudly, and leaving terrified pupils in his wake. Even his Slytherins have been on the receiving end of his sharp tongue more than once. Harry actually sees Pansy Parkinson burst into hysterical tears during Potions one afternoon and have to be taken to Hospital Wing for a calming draught.

Harry's at least fortunate in that he seems be steadfastly ignored. Stared past in class as if he isn't even there and it wouldn't matter if he were.

He's not the only one either.

Prewett, for all that Harry thought would on the receiving end the most, is actually getting little more than the cold shoulder. It's as if Snape is trying his damnedest to pretend Prewett no longer exists. Walking by him in the corridors without acknowledgement. Avoiding him at meals. Speaking right over him in every conversation. Ignoring every single overture.

Speculation abounds, but no one comes even close to the truth. Not that Harry really knows what the truth is either.

He isn't the only one who's entirely flummoxed. He's caught Flitwick and Sprout trading worried looks more than once, and McGonagall's thoughts are easy to determine based on the thinness of her lips.

Not even time seems to be making things better. It's been nearly a fortnight, and Snape seems to make a point of sitting as far from Prewett as humanly possible while still being at the same table. The fact that it puts him nearest the Gryffindors truly says something about his mood and questionable life-choices.

Prewett, on the other hand, is at his usual spot. However, it's Remus beside him today, talking very animatedly. Prewett smiles and speaks at all the appropriate intervals, but it's clear to Harry that he's just going through the motions. That as much as he might be friendly to his dinner companion, this isn't who he really wants to speak to at the moment.

It's even worse when Snape finishes his meal in record time, which isn't hard when he doesn't talk to anyone. The man rises to his feet like a dark cloud and strides over to the side exit. Snape pointedly doesn't look at anyone as he goes by. Prewett doesn't droop, but it seems a near thing.

Next to him, Harry hears a snicker.

"Mummy and daddy are still fighting, I see," George comments and digs an elbow into Harry's side.

Fred snorts across from them. "Which one's the daddy again?"

That earns him a round of laughter from just about everyone but Harry. He's too busy gazing at the head table and the pained look on Prewett's face.

-O.o.O-

The next few weeks are just as bad. Snape's temper is a fearsome thing, but it slowly lowers to a roiling simmer. In its place is a frostiness that burns just as much, however. A cold aloofness that makes Harry move guiltily in his seat for reasons he can't even fully comprehend.

He does catch Snape looking at him several times during meals and in the Potions classroom. A surprise because he's previously ignored Harry, but his gaze always immediately shifts away as soon as Harry notices. He isn't sure what to think of that, much less the very peculiar cast to Snape's face or the bizarre expression he sometimes wears that's at odds with his overall mood. Assessing. Pensive even.

Prewett, in turn, says nothing on the whole matter. Definitely not to Harry. He suspects not to anyone else. It's hard to know though because he seems to have an unusual number of visitors recently. Harry's seen both McGonagall and Flitwick leaving his office, and he's spied Sprout coming down the corridor several times after study hall's ended. Remus even drops by to have tea with the man while Harry's visiting. That doesn't even cover one memorable occasional where Harry sees him ambushed by Sinistra, Babbling, and Vector.

The only ones Harry doesn't glimpse are the headmaster and Snape.

Regardless, if anything, the solidarity of the staff only seems to wear on Prewett. He looks tired, Harry decides. Even more so than when Slytherin's monster was lurking about.

Madam Pomfrey appears to agree with this assessment. Harry and Neville get an accidental earful one evening when they aren't quick enough to pack their bags.

"I'm fine, Poppy," Prewett says after a lecture about proper sleep habits and regular mealtimes. Only, he sounds resigned and very weary.

She gives him a look of utter disbelief. "You look worse than Hestia does, and she's still recovering from being possessed. In fact, even after battling a basilisk, you didn't seem half as exhausted."

Prewett looks at her before giving a sigh. He waves them goodbye just out of Pomfrey's line of sight, and they sensibly use that as an excuse to escape.

December dawns cold both inside and outside the castle. Hufflepuff beats Ravenclaw in a Quidditch match that only half the school attends due to blistering winds, a foot of snow, and fears that the Dementors will once more swarm. The mood of the school as a whole is at an all-time low, and Harry largely blames the haunting black cloaks that are visible just beyond the border of the grounds.

Neville's still bravely attending Divination, but Harry supposes it's only because Trelawney has started to lose interest. Though to be honest, if anyone's showing annoyance at the woman now, it's Hermione. The girl just can't seem to stand Trelawney's manner or perhaps the overall wooliness of the subject, and Ron's mentioned that Hermione has actually had the nerve to criticize the class within earshot of several teachers and already had one long discussion about the matter with McGonagall.

Harry wonders if it might not be Neville to drop, after all. Especially since Harry knows that she's yet to miss a lesson with him in Arithmancy, Runes, or Creatures. But half of those are held at the same time as Divination or Muggle Studies, and the Patil twins both swear that she's yet to miss either of those.

He isn't sure what to make of that twist yet, but Harry knows he'll figure it out soon. He just needs more pieces to solve the mystery.

The others are just as confused when he mentions it to them, though Luna seems like she couldn't truly care less. Sirius is equally perplexed, but he does vaguely recall Harry's mother somehow managing to attend more classes than seemingly possible before she'd dropped Creatures half-way through their fourth year. Remus is noncommittal about the matter, but that's possibly due to the fact that he's elbows deep in second-year essays about the Disarming charm.

Harry continues to ponder the matter in between his own studies, but an answer remains elusive. For now.

-O.o.O-

Winter break comes as a relief. Nearly everybody leaves; Harry's one of only seven students who remain. Sirius' house is still in the process of being warded by the goblins, even months later, so Harry has little choice. His godfather's paranoia about Pettigrew is definitely showing, but Harry can't blame him with everything that's happened or with Pettigrew's questionable appearance on Halloween.

The days leading up to Yule are spent largely with Remus and Sirius, who seems to be in the castle more often than not. Harry cons both of them into a snowball fight against the remainder of Gryffindor, which is basically Harry and the Weasleys.

On Yule day, breakfast and lunch are spent in Remus' quarters after he opens what has to be a small mountain of presents, including another Weasley sweater, more books than he knows what to do with, an embarrassingly lavish amount of chocolate frogs, and a brand new Firebolt. Harry gushes so much over it that Sirius actually blushes and stutters for nearly ten minutes, while Remus laughs in the background.

Both adults wave off dinner, however. Remus is recovering from the full moon still, and Sirius obviously doesn't want to leave him completely alone. Harry's more than happy enough to go to the Great Hall though. Most of the staff are gone, but Prewett's there, already sitting at the table next to McGonagall and a very nervous looking Hufflepuff first-year. Harry sits across from them, between Percy and the lone Slytherin. The meal passes in reasonable spirits despite Trelawney's interruption midway through. Snape, squashed in between Hagrid and Dumbledore, doesn't once look Prewett's direction. A difficult thing when there are only twelve other people for him to choose from.

Afterwards, Harry accepts Prewett's offer for cocoa before bed, and while the conversation is kept light, Harry has to agree with Pomfrey's assertion that the man seems unbelievably tired. He can't help but shift uncomfortably in his usual chair as he recalls that fateful conversation he'd overheard. He may not be a genius like Hermione, but Harry'd bet half the gold in his vault that Snape is still fuming about whatever that was.

It's not his fault, Harry knows. He's not even technically involved. But he feels responsible somehow. As if listening to their private conversation has made it all the worse.

"Professor," Harry begins by setting down his mug. "Is everything… okay? I mean with you and Snape."

Prewett, who's been unusually quiet all night, looks at him for a second before offering a sheepish shrug.

"Between us? Oh, yes. Sev- Professor Snape and I merely had a difference of opinion. That's all."

He says it with a small smile, but it doesn't reach his eyes. Instead, they are dull, no sparkle or gleam like usual, and Prewett himself seems a bit out of sorts. Hair not completely smooth like normal and robes far more wrinkled. Despite the holiday cheer, he's clearly troubled.

Lost, Harry realizes. Like he doesn't quite know what to do without Snape there to snip at him. Harry's actually seen him turning at mealtimes, as if to say something to a person who no longer sits next to him.

Harry watches for a few heartbeats. Hesitating, wondering if he should dare ask. Not that he doesn't already know part of it anyway.

"Did something… happen?" At the blank look he receives, Harry quickly adds, "Well… I mean, you're such good friends I thought. Now, you seem to be having a row."

Prewett blinks at him. Once and then again. As if it hasn't occurred to him that people would notice he and Snape are more than just colleagues. It's rather strange actually, now that Harry considers it. Pretty much the whole school knows that they're friends. It's obvious.

Some of the students had actually been uncharitable enough to say that Prewett's probably Snape's only friend. But thinking it over, watching Prewett now, Harry suspects that maybe the reverse is also true. The man doesn't have much correspondence after all, and he never seems to leave over the breaks. Harry hasn't heard him talk much about his family or even really anyone else. Typically just the staff and the students. Occasionally someone he knew while receiving his mastery or traveling the world.

Something twists and coils in Harry's belly at that realization. At the thought that Prewett, who has been nothing but good to him since the beginning, has no one outside the school. Has no friends or family to turn to in times of need. Nobody but the staff and students to spend holidays with.

It's Yule, after all. And he's at the school still and spending the evening with a pupil.

Prewett is quiet for a long moment. So long that Harry doesn't think he'll actually answer, but finally, he sighs.

It's a mark of how worn he must be that he doesn't even try to deflect Harry.

"I…" He exhales loudly. "Everyone's entitled to secrets, Harry. To things they keep to themselves. But sometimes." He pauses, eyes staring past Harry to something unseen. "Sometimes, a secret eats at you. Sometimes, you have to tell the truth, and well… He took it about as well as I expected."

He's quiet then. Both of them are. Since truly, what else can Harry say to that? There's no real comfort offer. Only condolences. That Prewett seems to have lost something by telling the truth, and isn't that a horrible fate? To be better served by a lie?

Harry swallows, but his cocoa is strangely bitter.

"For what it's worth," he offers gently, "I'm sorry."

Prewett gives him a very peculiar look. Part-resignation, part-regret, part something he doesn't think he'll ever be able to name.

"So am I, Harry," he murmurs after a time. "So am I."

-O.o.O-

Classes start back soon enough.

Despite the horrid cold outside, the mood within is a bit cheerier after the holiday, but that probably won't last for long with the Dementors still swooping about. Harry's taken to visiting Prewett even more than usual, nipping in during his breaks between class, but he isn't in his office when Harry stops by after Runes. A glance at the Marauder's Map isn't actually helpful either since there are people in the Muggle Studies room, but it should've just let out for them, too.

Li. Zabini. Peverell. Bulstrode. Turpin. Goldstein.

No Prewett.

"This is so helpful," Harry mutters to himself with a twinge of annoyance.

Since really, what good's a map that shows everybody if it can't actually find who he's looking for?

Rolling his eyes at himself, he picks up again a few minutes later. But an idea occurs to him as he changes tactics, thinking back to a mystery that's been pulling at his brain all year.

It isn't hard to find her, not when Harry knows she stayed back to speak with Babbling. The thing that catches his attention though is something that should be absolutely, completely and totally, impossible.

Hermione's name is on the map twice.

It's there in the Runes classroom. But there it is again, hanging about the north tower. Exactly where Ron has mentioned Divination's held.

Harry stares at her name. From one version of it to the other.

How's this possible?

It shouldn't be possible. Not even with magic. Right?

Magic can't duplicate people. Can't make real copies of them. Not enough for them to attend two separate classes and actually participate.

Besides, someone disguised should still be listed under their real name. That's what the twins had told him, and even Harry's cloak isn't enough to fool the map.

It doesn't make any sense. None at all.

Days later doesn't see things becoming clearer. Not when Harry sneaks several more peaks at odd times and notices that Hermione alternates between being present once, twice, and even – on a very weird Thursday – three times.

Harry debates with himself about the matter. Hermione will never tell him, and he hasn't actually revealed the map to her or Ron yet. Neville knows because he'd eagerly looked it over with Harry when he'd first gotten it. Luna has hinted that she's aware, even if she hasn't seen it. Neither will likely be much help though.

He knows that could easily go to Sirius or even Remus. He's already put together that the map he has in his possession is undoubtedly the same one they've mentioned in their stories, but he hesitates on the idea. Remus might've been a rule-breaker in school, but he isn't now, and there's too much a chance that he'll confiscate it. With the best of intentions surely, but Harry will still lose something so very useful.

But there are other adults in the castle. One in particular who'll turn a blind eye as long as Harry keeps knowledge of the map to himself and doesn't use it for anything too nefarious.

Prewett is just as intrigued by the prospect as Harry thought he'd be. He studies the map intently when Harry shows it to him, and with a very sly grin, he readily agrees that he'll forget Harry told him about it. But the grin turns even wickeder when Harry brings up Hermione.

"You know," Harry accuses as soon as he sees that look.

Prewett gives a nonchalant shrug, but there's a tiredness to the motion. A pinched edge to his features despite his amusement.

"Of course, I know," he says, and it manages not to be smug. "All the teachers do, but we're not supposed to tell you. Or any student really."

He seems all too happy to be in on the secret, truth be told. Harry sends him a look that earns him a laugh.

"I'm not supposed to tell you, but the rules never said that you can't figure out for yourself."

"Or that you can't tell me I'm right," Harry guesses suddenly.

"Now, you're thinking." Prewett's smile widens. "An important thing to know about rules, Harry, is that some are meant to be broken, but there's more than one way to catch a Crup, so to speak. It's possible to follow a law exactly and yet still manage to completely work around it. The trick is figuring out how, and there's always a way. Even if you can't think of it immediately."

He pats Harry on the shoulder then and strides off towards his office. Harry watches him go with a look of utter concentration on his face. Thinking. Contemplating. Wondering.

There's a trick to it. He knows there is. But how exactly is a person supposed to be in two places at once?

-O.o.O-

February brings him his unexpected answer. It isn't all too hard to figure out once Harry's turned the right direction. It's actually harder to keep away from Hermione in the library to have enough time to look things up on his own, and he actually has to recruit Neville and Ron to run interference. They're curious about the mystery, too. Neville more so than Ron, but the redhead's willing enough to cause chaos and catch Hermione's attention. All he has to do is plop himself on a sofa in Gryffindor, wait and few minutes, and subsequently pet a purring Crookshanks.

Hermione's too busy trying keep herself from scowling to notice Harry sneak off. Luna stays to watch if only for the novelty of being in Gryffindor common room, loudly wondering how long it'll take Percy to notice she's there.

The information Harry finds has to be accurate because it's the only thing that makes any sense at all. The only thing that explains how Hermione can attend each of her classes, not to mention why she can show up on the map in multiple locations.

Harry shakes his head, however, when he closes the book on temporal magic. While happy he's solved the mystery, he's also torn between disbelief and disdain that the Ministry would actually approve of something like this for no other reason than to allow a schoolgirl to attend extra classes. The logistics of keeping undiscovered alone were rife with folly, not to mention how easy it'd be to abuse were anyone else to discover what Hermione had in her possession. Of course, that doesn't even cover the strain of so much work or of living extra hours. She's only thirteen to boot. There's no way they have any clue what this might actually do to her magic, much less her mind.

Harry's still shaking his head in disgust by the evening, and he's only half-listening as Ron and Seamus tell him all about their weekend plans to visit the Shrieking Shack. Why they'd want to visit an abandoned house supposedly full of wailing ghosts when they have plenty of sensible spirits within Hogwarts, Harry will never know.

Nor will he ever tell them that the previous sounds heard coming from were of a more earthly and wolfish variety.

As far as Harry's aware, only he and Neville know about Remus. Though he suspects Luna's figured it out since she witnessed the man's Boggart turn to a full moon during a lesson back in November. It's debatable if Hermione has or not by this point since she's under a strain from her courses, but she'll probably work it out soon enough. It's also a fair bet that some of the older or cleverer students will as well.

So probably a good thing that Remus only signed on for one year so far. Even if Harry knows Dumbledore has hinted that he's more than willing to keep Remus on for longer. It's undoubtedly because of his stellar teaching, though the fact that anyone would be willing to take the position is probably a relief, too. According to Sirius, they haven't had someone stay longer than a year since before his time, and all of his Defense teachers seemed to either have something horrible or unexpected happen at the end of the year.

The Weasley twins still swear the position is cursed. Harry thinks he might even believe them.

-O.o.O-

There's an increasing tension in castle as March arrives. As much as there was last year when a monster was attacking everyone in sight. Not even the upcoming Quidditch match – Ravenclaw and Gryffindor – or the appearance of the sun outside does anything to lift spirits.

The Dementors are still there, Fudge's still an idiot, and Harry honestly wonders if he'll ever have a normal school-year.

Not likely, he thinks as his eyes track over the head table the night before the Quidditch match. The whole faculty is there, but the seating is all wrong – just as it's been for months. Remus shouldn't be on Prewett's other side, no matter how well Harry thinks of the man. It's just wrong. Snape shouldn't be over on the far side of the table either, face blank and eyes narrowed.

Harry sighs and eats his own meal in silence.

Yet again, he feels Snape's gaze on him, but when Harry glances over, he's looking away. Glaring at his own cup like it's personally offended him. Snape doesn't even stay for the entire meal. What's the point when all he does is eat and not talk to a single person?

He's up and heading towards the door before most everyone is even halfway finished, but surprisingly enough, McGonagall is up from her seat only seconds later. Harry feels a jolt is his stomach when he sees her following, and a quick glance in Prewett's directions shows that the man's watching as well. However, that's also the moment a hawk glides down from the rafters and lands directly in front of Prewett, dislodging Errol from his spot delivering a letter. The hawk doesn't seem to notice or even care as it imperiously sticks out a leg. Prewett, thoroughly distracted, is now frowning at the bird.

That's all the opportunity Harry needs; he's already up himself and casually making his own way to the exit. It isn't hard to seem nonchalant, and no one's even paying him much attention. The only person who looks up is Luna, but she merely graces him with a smile and turns back to her conversation with the Patil sisters. Hermione doesn't glance up from her Arithmancy book, and Ron certainly doesn't move from his food. Neville isn't there; otherwise, he probably would've noticed.

As it is, Harry makes it out the door and goes to the side corridor he knows holds the staff exit. Sure enough, Snape and McGonagall are just around the far corner. Harry sneaks over easily, his dad's cloak – which he's taken to carrying with him since last year – and a quick quieting spell completely hide him from view.

"Really, Severus," McGonagall is saying as Harry sidles up to peak around at them. "This has gone on long enough. Such childish behavior is unbecoming."

From his position, Harry has a clear view of Snape's face, but the gleam in those black eyes doesn't tell him anything.

"I don't see how this is any of your business," the man replies, and his tone is edged with frost.

McGonagall doesn't seem the slightest bit intimidated as she lifts her chin. She doesn't take the bait offered though and neatly sidesteps the issue.

"I can't imagine you disagreeing to this degree," she continues on blithely, but her voice is oddly gentle. "Quite frankly, no matter how much you act like your usual self, he seems to always take it in stride."

Snape doesn't twitch, but Harry can see a flicker of something. A shift in Snape's posture that isn't quite tensing. McGonagall sees it, too. Harry can tell by the way her head tilts up further.

"What could he possibly have said to you?" she questions, but her eyes belie that.

A guess is there, deep in her gaze. A suspicion for something that tickles at the back of Harry's mind.

He sees Snape still completely and his hands turn to fists at his side. His eyes are cold black pits that suck in all light and give none back.

"That is no concern of yours, Minerva."

His voice is terrible as he says it. Harsh and harder than Harry's ever heard from him. Sharp like a blade and twice as deadly.

A chill shoots down Harry's spine, but McGonagall simply lifts a brow. She's as unimpressed as she is by one of the Weasley twins' excuses and not nearly as secretly amused.

"The well-being of this school and her staff are very much my concern," she counters with very straight shoulders. "Much more that of my colleagues… my friends."

For all that she's more than a head shorter, McGonagall suddenly seems twice his size. Her face is set, and her gaze is hard behind her glasses. She looks very much like a lioness then, one circling and sniffing the air, searching for the threat to her cubs.

"Severus," McGonagall says, and while her manner is calm, her words are nothing less than an order. "You two need to settle this… Whatever the cause."

Snape's eyes are little more than slits as he glares at her, and if he'd less control, Harry's certain that McGonagall's hat would spontaneously combust. As it is, Snape takes a very deep breath, hands still tight at his sides, and turns away. His robes billow out behind him like batwings as he strides away from her.

It's all Harry can do to move out of his way, and it's only by Quidditch-trained reflexes that he jerks back in the nick of time. Snape doesn't even pause in his gait and all but storms off towards the dungeons. Harry wisely doesn't follow. It's probably for the best that McGonagall doesn't either.

Instead, she merely lets out a sigh.

For all that McGonagall's face was firm earlier, it's slack now. Her eyes are lowered, looking after Snape with something very much like concern.

Harry can't help but echo the sentiment.

-O.o.O-

Gryffindor wins easily enough. The game lasts for an hour only because the Snitch decides to be elusive, but Gryffindor is already up by a hundred points when Harry finally spots it. He beats the Ravenclaw Seeker, a frowning if pretty girl named Cho, to it with half a minute to spare.

Classes are still going well enough. Hagrid seems to recover some of his nerve, and they spend several interesting lessons on magical pets, including Crups and Kneazles. Harry is doing well in Arithmancy, actually the top of the class. Both he and Neville have really taken to Runes also, especially when Babbling starts to incorporate actual use with circles and spells.

Ron is coasting by, and despite their worries to the contrary, is doing fine in Divination. Likely due to his propensity to make up horrendously terrible and lethal predictions that Trelawney just eats up.

No one really knows how Luna's doing half the time. Her essays are typically on topic but filled with such obscure references that the professors actually have to look them up. Flitwick, Harry knows, takes this as something of a personal challenge. McGonagall just rolls her eyes, while Sprout seems put out, and Snape rewards her full points for excellent spelling, grammar, and syntax. Remus just seems to like her use of bullet points.

Hermione though seems to be fumbling a bit with her studies, sleeping through Runes and Creatures one morning before subsequently forgetting to attend Charms. At least those three professors are the most forgiving. Harry doubts Babbling even noticed Hermione was gone. Flitwick does assign Hermione an extra assignment on the Cheering Charm, but Hagrid, seeing how close to tears Hermione is, lets the matter slide entirely.

Harry suspects it's a consequence of her excessive class load, and from what Lavender tells him before Astronomy one night, Hermione's always the last to bed in their dorm and the first up in the morning. Harry's also noticed her missing lunch several times a week, and the house-elves in the kitchens tell him that she's not been sneaking down there for meals. He very nearly goes to McGonagall then and there but manages to talk himself out of it, for the sake of their friendship if nothing else. Of course, a few whispered words to the house-elves help matters considerably, and Harry doubts Hermione will know what hit her.

Patronus lessons with Prewett, which actually start after Yule, progress slowly but surely. Harry's managed to produce a vague white mist that doesn't even ward off the Boggart they're using in place of a real Dementor. The effects are almost like the real thing, however, and Harry has found himself on the floor more than a few times with a very worried Prewett helping him up and force-feeding him chocolate.

Harry keeps at it, determination to conquer this now as related to pride as it is survival. Remus and Sirius merely shake their heads at him but don't ask him to stop, and his godfather has actually taken to slipping him extra chocolate whenever they see each other.

It's Saturday, and Harry's just waiting for Prewett to finish up a detention with two Slytherin sixth-years and very surly Hufflepuff seventh-year. Harry just occupies himself by playing with Levi as she bobs in the water and brushes up against the glass before heading to the surface where she teasingly flicks her tongue at Harry's fingers.

Harry laughs at the sensation, but the sound abruptly dies when he senses more than sees someone enter Prewett's office. It isn't Prewett himself; Harry can always tell when it's him. His stomach is squirming when he turns to glance over his shoulder.

Professor Snape merely arches an imperious eyebrow.

Harry feels his heart stutter in his chest, but he thankfully remembers that he hasn't said anything to Levi for at least several minutes. There's nothing for Snape to have overheard. Thank Merlin and Morgana both.

Elsewise, Harry would be in a very sticky situation right about now.

Regardless of that, Harry flicks an eye to Levi before carefully drawing his hand away. She makes an unhappy sound but has already noticed Snape standing there and mercifully remains otherwise silent as she sinks back into the water.

Harry's saved from having to say anything meaningful beyond the usual greetings by Prewett's timely arrival. Harry does see the man nearly start when he notices that Harry isn't alone, however.

"Severus?" Prewett murmurs, and his face cycles from surprise to resignation to odd blankness.

Snape inclines his head, attention completely taken from Harry and the serpent to Prewett. It stays there.

"I do believe we are overdue a discussion," Snape comments. His manner is strangely easy. Not angry or biting as it has been the last several months, and his eyes glitter as they study Prewett for a moment.

Prewett opens his mouth before promptly closing it. He lets out a long sigh before giving a nod.

"I suppose we are."

Harry, already sensing that his Patronus lesson just isn't going to happen, takes that as his cue. He smartly sees himself out. They barely even notice when he closes the door behind him.

-O.o.O-

Things are looking up after that. Ron and Seamus both nearly have heart attacks when they go to the Great Hall Monday morning to see Prewett and Snape seated next to each other. The looks of utter shock are echoed on several faces, not the least of which are those of the professors. Flitwick beams the entire meal, and Harry swears that he sees Remus and Vector exchanging money with Sinistra, while Sprout and Babbling high-five. McGonagall momentarily looks like the cat that ate the canary before she can school her face into its more appropriate severity, while Hagrid is oddly red-cheeked behind his beard. Dumbledore simply gives everyone a twinkle-eyed look and hums to himself.

Harry catches Prewett's eye on his way to Creatures class, giving a smile and earning a wink in return. There's a bounce in Prewett's step when Harry sees him next, and he breathes easier knowing that at least his professor's life is going better now.

The school is abuzz for days, especially since Snape seems back to his usual, if sniping self. Harry even earns five points in Potions for a perfect Confusing Concoction, something Hermione has never even managed. A fact Ron points out with a heated whisper and askance glance over his shoulder. Hermione just sniffs at that and announces that they'll miss History if they don't hurry up. Neville and Harry just shrug at each other, and the matter is dropped.

Only, Hermione never makes it to History class, and when Harry sees her next, she's hastily stuffing her Muggle Studies book into her bag. It naturally chooses that moment to burst at the seams and dump all of her things onto the floor. There are tears in her eyes as Harry helps her repair everything, and she's sniffling as Neville quietly takes her bag and fixes it with his wand.

They steer her back to the kitchens in place of going to the Great Hall and then immediately back to the dorms. Harry's just about to say something, but Luna beats him to the punch, taking Hermione by the hand and up to her room before the boys can follow.

He isn't sure what Luna says to her, but the very next day, Hermione walks out of Divination halfway through and goes immediately to McGonagall. Then, she's down to four electives, but Luna promises that she'll have the older girl out of Muggle Studies by the end of the year. If she doesn't, Harry will have to talk to Prewett himself about everything, though he largely suspects the man has already noticed.

Harry keeps this to himself currently if only because Hermione's already looking better with one fewer class. He knows it isn't a solution though and bides his times until Hermione realizes that, too.

-O.o.O-

Spring break comes and goes without a hitch. Slytherin very narrowly beats Ravenclaw in Quidditch, but Oliver assures them all this is a good thing. There are only two matches left, and the last of the year is Gryffindor versus Hufflepuff. Oliver once again tries to increase practices to five days a weak, but the twins show their opinion on that matter by cursing his hair and Quidditch robes a very lovely shade of Hufflepuff yellow. Oliver wisely takes that into consideration and drops practice back to its normal timeslot.

Sirius announces that his house is finally ready for habitation with the strongest wards legally available in Britain. It goes without saying there are likely some very illegal ones also on it, but Harry doesn't say anything on the matter. He just sets about choosing colors for his room and picking out furniture from catalogs. Sirius frowns at little at his choices having so much green in them, but he dodges the elbow Remus tries to lodge in his side.

Patronus lessons with Prewett continue, and Harry's actually making quite a bit of progress. He no longer passes out whenever the Boggart turns into a Dementor and the mist is much brighter now. A definite form finally emerges from Harry's wand in late April. It's something with a solid body that's gradually increasing in size. The charm breaks before it can completely take shape though.

Harry's torn between excitement that he's gotten this far and irritation that it ended so soon.

"You're doing excellent, Harry," Prewett compliments with a chuckle. "Much better than any other third-year would, I'd say. Most adults can't even cast this as well as you."

Harry doesn't squirm under the praise, but it's a near thing. Largely due to him focusing on dueling steps in his head as Prewett studies him.

Then, the spell is broken as the man grins and looks away.

"It's not really that big of a deal," Harry manages after a moment. "I mean, you can do it. I know Remus and Sirius can, too."

"We're also all adults, Harry," Prewett reminds him gently. "Fully trained. It'd be a bit embarrassing if a teenager could manage a spell that we couldn't."

Harry snorts at that. Wondering how many his friends already know that someone – like say Fudge – would never be able to perform. He's willing to bet it's a lot.

"Of course," Prewett continues, not privy to his thoughts, "Defense is something of a specialty for all three of us. Obviously, Professor Lupin teaches it, and Sirius Black was an Auror, as you know."

"And of course you." Harry makes a vague motion. "Defeater of basilisks and Voldemort specters."

His teacher gives him a look at that, but there's no heat to it.

"What made you choose to study Defense?" Harry asks then, honestly curious. "Were you parents good at it, too? Aurors like Sirius was?"

There's a flicker of something on his professor's face, but it's only there for a second.

"I… well, I never really knew my father," Prewett admits with a nearly sheepish tone.

Harry blinks. He hadn't really expected that answer. Though he supposes with what little he knows of Prewett that it makes a strange sort of sense.

"Why don't you ask Mrs. Weasley?" he wonders aloud and tilts his head when studies him. "I mean, her family's the Prewetts, right? Surely, she'd know. Or could point you the right direction?"

His professor is very still for a second before he gives a one-shouldered shrug.

"Prewett… was not my father's name, Harry," he responds very softly, and there's something to his voice. An edge that's gone as soon as Harry even realizes it.

Harry isn't sure what to make of that at all. Definitely not as Prewett turns away from him. His professor steps off to the side, eyes gazing towards Levi's tank as she taps at the glass and stares back at him. Harry watches as she turns her head this way and that, as if sensing the mood and trying to figure out why they're both upset. The expression on her face becomes something of a serpentine pout then, and it'd be comical if Harry weren't so hesitant to laugh.

"Do you have your father's map on you perchance?" Prewett questions suddenly, unexpectedly.

Harry starts a bit at the sudden change of topic but lets it go. It's better to not bring the previous one back up anyway.

"It's in my bag," he admits. "I take it with me everywhere."

"Ah, a good habit I'd think," Prewett allows and flashes him a quick smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes. "But do you mind if I were to borrow it for a while?"

"Borrow it?" Harry repeats.

Prewett turns to him completely. "Yes, I'd like to study it. See if I can make a copy. I promise to return it in a week or so. Two at the outmost if you'd allow it." He tips his head and lifts his eyebrows. "Given what's happened the last several years, I feel that it's the wiser choice to leave it with you. For your own safety if nothing else."

Harry opens his mouth before promptly closing it. He doesn't think Prewett is lying to him about giving it back, but it's a bit peculiar, especially since Prewett's already let him keep it before. Besides, it's not like he needs an excuse to confiscate that thing. It's just that Harry doesn't really have much of his parents, even with Sirius giving him various odds and ends that he has stashed away. Letting someone borrow the map is very personal. It's like loaning out the photo album he has of his parents.

But if there's anyone he trusts with it, Harry supposes Prewett would be it.

"I… Sure," Harry finally decides and pulls it free from his bag.

Prewett takes it easily from him but holds it as delicately as it deserves. "I do appreciate this, Harry. I promise I'll give it back soon."

"I know you will."

Harry grins at him. Prewett smiles back, and it warms his entire face.

"Keep it between us, right, Harry?" Prewett questions then, and his tone is a bit wicked. "Not just for your sake but mine, too."

"I won't tell Professor Snape," Harry hazards a guess.

"Definitely not him," Prewett agrees and turns back to the lesson with a chuckle.

Harry lets him, too caught up in thinking about maps and his Patronus to focus on anything else. It's only hours later that Harry realizes Prewett never spoke of his mother.

-O.o.O-

Prewett returns the map exactly two weeks on the dot, and then, it's May.

Hermione may be the first to start studying for finals, but she's soon joined by others. Even Fred and George are seen with open books in their laps and their heads bent over notes. Harry belatedly remembers that this is their OWL year, and the twins need at least a few passing marks unless they want their mother to murder them in their sleep.

Or even worse, make them repeat the exam.

The professors, thinking that there's only a little time left, pile on the homework, even as the days turn warm and beautiful. Harry perhaps spends a tad too much time looking out the window longingly as Luna hums Christmas songs from the seat next to him.

Slytherin plays Hufflepuff but loses by a good margin, and three weeks later, Hufflepuff and Gryffindor have the final match of the year. Their Seeker is a friendly bloke named Cedric, who shakes Harry's hand with a grin before the game starts. He's no match for Harry in terms of speed or maneuverability once in the air. If the weather were different, if the light breeze were blowing harder, or if it were stormy conditions, the match might've gone differently. But as it is, and with Harry on his new Firebolt, he reaches the Snitch easily.

The party that night in Gryffindor is ridiculous, mostly egged on by the Weasley twins who appear with a case of butterbeer halfway through. Fred gives Harry a wink when he notices the other smuggled packages they bring, but he shakes his head when the redhead tries to hand over a bottle. Sirius would undoubtedly forgive him, but he'd earn a lecture from Remus for even thinking about accepting if either of them knew. As such, Harry quickly drifts away from the noisy corner where the older members of the Quidditch team have all congregated, and he's thoroughly unsympathetic the next day when both twins and Oliver are red-eyed and hungover.

Exams loom ever closer, and Harry more often than not finds Hermione all but buried in books inside the library. It's a testament to how tired she still has to be that she doesn't even fight him as he frog-marches her back to the dorm. Ron promptly goes to retrieve Crookshanks when he sees them, and he deposits the cat in her lap. Hermione just gives them a blurry look, and when Harry glances up from his Transfiguration essay half an hour later, she's fast asleep on the sofa.

Their first final is History, and somehow, they all managed to stay awake if only barely. Harry nearly falls for a tricky rune pattern on Babbling's exam but catches on at the last minute. Herbology, Creatures, and Charms are all held on the same day, but Harry thinks he did well enough, and Transfiguration isn't nearly as difficult as he'd thought it would be. Potions is surprisingly relaxed too, and Harry brews his three draughts with time to spare. Arithmancy and Defense are a breeze, despite the obstacle course that Remus cooks up. Hermione has more trouble, however, nearly in tears after she beats her Boggart.

Divination and Muggle Studies finals are the last ones, but Harry isn't in either of those courses and relaxes in the common room, idly chatting with Katie and Angelina. Around an hour later and after the girls have left, Neville flops down next to him. He has the absolute most peculiar expression on his face, and his hands are shaking slightly when Harry turns to him. What Neville tells him is a complete and utter surprise. Harry isn't sure what to think. For what he knows, it could simply be evidence of Trelawney's theatrics. Perhaps her way of having one final hurrah before the school year ends. On the other hand, Neville could've possibly – maybe, if he squints – just heard a true prophecy. One that sounds like it's about the Dark Lord.

The whole situation makes Harry incredibly nervous, and he convinces Neville to come with him to Prewett's office. The man isn't there when they arrive, and Harry belatedly remembers that he's probably still in testing. By now, Neville's worked himself up enough that he's too impatient to wait. They hurry down the hallway, thinking instead to go find Remus or possibly Sirius if he's in. But they're surprised to see Hermione turning the corner just ahead of them.

Harry snags her wrist and hurries her into an empty classroom to fill her in. She's rather skeptical of the whole matter, but a single glance at Neville's wide eyes shuts her up about it. Harry decides then that they really need to stop messing around and simply tell someone, but he can't be sure who's in class or not currently. He does have something that can help him though, and Harry quickly pulls out the map. Hermione gives him a very pointed look as he shows it to her, especially since she hadn't known about the map until now. But Harry's hardly the only one keeping secrets this year, and that quiets her down.

The three of them scan the map, searching for anyone they can go to. Remus is in his classroom with several students, who all seem to be sixth-years, and Harry thinks it might be his NEWT Defense class. Snape is far away in the dungeons, occupying a room Harry has never been to before that might even be his quarters.

Harry blinks then, and his eyes momentarily scan an upper corner of the map. It's more accidental than deliberate, but years later he'll be thankful for it. A puzzled expression flits over his face as he sees three names there, and the first two catch his attention.

Ron and Luna? But what are they doing? Where are they going?

He vaguely remembers Luna mentioning that she'd wanted to go visit the thestrals, and Ron had gone with her since he'd wanted to speak to Hagrid anyway about possibly getting a new pet. It takes Harry a moment since he's never actually been in that tunnel before, but he belatedly realizes that the twins had pointed it out to him months before as a way off the grounds. He's never used though since the entrance is beneath the Whomping Willow and can't think of a reason Ron or Luna would either.

Nevertheless, it's the third name of the lot, the one practically on top of them that catches his attention and makes his blood go cold. It twists in his mind and freezes his heart in place.

Peter Pettigrew.

-O.o.O-

There's no time. No one to run to. No one they can tell quickly enough. Ron and Luna need them now; Pettigrew could do anything to them. They might not even know he's there. It might even be too late already.

Harry can barely think. Even dueling stances in his head can't quiet his racing heart or the pounding in his ears. He casts his Patronus automatically. It's the first spell he thinks of to use as a messenger. He doesn't even both looking at it, merely bending down and hurriedly whispering for it to fetch Prewett and send him to the grounds. Hermione gapes, mouth actually open, as the silvery shape races off for the Muggle Studies corridor. However, Neville grabs her wrist and jerks her along behind them as Harry leads them to a short-cut to the first floor.

The map is still open in his hands as they all but burst into a deserted courtyard on the west side of the castle. Harry stumbles but is caught by Neville as they run across the grounds to the tree. He knows the trick of it only because Sirius has mentioned it in passing, and the Whomping Willow freezes just in time for them to practically dive into the tunnel entrance. He already knows that it's empty. Ron and Luna have disappeared from the map, and Harry can only hope that means they've gone off the edge and not something more unfortunate. Pettigrew's gone too though, so Harry still has hope as they hurry down the tunnel before abruptly entering what seems to be a ramshackle house.

Harry knows where they are though, and when he hears creaking on the floor above them, he knows they aren't alone. He has his cloak, carries it with him everywhere just in case. They're too big for all three of them to fit beneath it, but two of them still can. Harry throws it over both Neville and Hermione. A quick Silencing spell that Luna taught him is cast on all three of them. Then, they're creeping up the stairs and heading for the master bedroom, the only room on the floor with the door shut.

The next few minutes are a tangled twist of actions. Harry blasts open the door and immediately rolls forward. Pettigrew flings a spell at him that's tinted in blue light, and he's moving to send more. However, Hermione chooses that second to rip off the cloak, now to the left of Pettigrew, and Neville throws out three hexes in a row. When Pettigrew's attention flickers to them, Luna jumps up and throws her bag into his back, and he stumbles. Meanwhile, Ron dives forward to trip him. Pettigrew goes down hard and lands on Ron's right leg. There's a loud crack, and Ron immediately goes white and then green. Before Pettigrew can even recover though, Harry's ready. Remus taught him this spell, and there's utter satisfaction in Harry's heart as he hits Pettigrew square in the face with a red Stunner.

The scene Prewett comes upon all of a minute later must look like the remnants of an epic battle.

Pettigrew's stunned on the floor, Ron with a broken leg next to him. Hermione's clutching at Neville with a death grip, white-knuckled and shaking. Luna just heaves in breaths before she throws herself at Harry and starts sobbing.

Prewett is understandably surprised.

He still manages to sort them all out quickly enough. Ron's leg is splinted and numbed, but he refuses the stretcher that Prewett offers. Luna has several cuts on her face that Harry is just noticing, and another few on her arms, but Prewett heals those as well. She's still crying though, and even soft words aren't enough to completely calm her. Hermione all but elbows their professor out of the way and rubs a hand along Luna's back, which seems to have the intended effect.

Prewett turns to Pettigrew next. Harry doesn't know what spells he casts on the man, but he knows Pettigrew won't be waking up, much less escaping anytime soon. Prewett's even nice enough to let Harry have the honor of carrying their prisoner, who's been transfigured into a toy rat.

That settled, they head down the stairs with Prewett out front. They meet Remus on the first floor, and Prewett nearly gets cursed before he jerks back. Remus offers him a sheepish smile at that, apologizing even as he explains that he'd seen Prewett racing across the grounds from his office window and had followed.

The walk down the tunnel is short, and Prewett freezes the tree long enough for all of them to climb out, though Ron has to be supported by Neville. The grounds are surprisingly dark, though the castle is lit up nearby. It's after sunset now, and Harry's startled by how much time has past. It seems like only minutes, but he can actually see stars overhead. He's just lifting up his head to look at them when he feels it.

The air suddenly goes cold, and when Harry exhales, his breath mists. The stars have disappeared overhead, but there's still a faint halo of light from the moonrise. Even that's weak though, blotted out as dark shapes start to fill the air around them. Harry shudders, and his heart beats harshly, violently in his chest.

Dementors…

But why were they here? Were they here for Pettigrew? How had they known?

Prewett's face is pale as he glances over his shoulder, and the students all move forward to huddle closer to each other and to him.

Harry can see the Dementors circling around. Thinks he even feels the snap of a cloak against his back. Hermione lets out a muffled sound to his left and suddenly jumps forward. Luna stumbles in next to her, shivering like mad. Neville jerks Ron up and into the center of the circle, but Harry can see they're both sweating even in the faint moonlight.

Remus behind Prewett and to the right has suddenly gone rigid. He doesn't even move when Harry calls out to him.

Prewett doesn't see it though. He's too busy with the Dementors, wand tip glowing white as he calls out his Patronus. His fox is nearly blinding as it erupts forward, and Harry hears a high-pitched shriek that cuts through to his very core. A Dementor that's directly in front of them jerks back as the fox charges forward, and there's another bone-chilling scream. Black cloaks scatter like leaves in the wind, and the chill swiftly recedes.

Harry barely notices any of it, however. He's now staring at Remus in absolute horror. Eyes transfixed as the man hunches forward until his palms are flat on the ground. His back is arched more than should be possible for a human, and there's a pair of canine ears forming on the top of his head.

The full moon now shines brightly above them as the last of the Dementors disperse and a white fox gives chase.

Prewett whirls around in just enough time to hear a fearsome howl.

Remus, in full werewolf glory, takes a step forward and scents the air. Prewett's wand is firmly in his hand, and while his shocked green eyes don't once look away, Harry knows that he's very much aware of the five students separated from him by a fully grown werewolf. Most especially when a canine head lowers and golden irises fix on Prewett. In the moonlight, Harry can see wolfish teeth gleaming, mouth open as he prepares to attack.

Then, completely out of nowhere, a silvery form crashes into Remus. The werewolf gives a pained yip as he's knocked into the air, rolling head over feet before sliding away even further. The silver… thing doesn't give up though, diving down at the werewolf's face even as a jet of orange light shoots out of Prewett's wand. A band of heavy chains hits the werewolf in the chest, immediately knotting around him, and then three more spells from two different locations join the fray.

Harry can't even begin to name all the curses that hit Remus in the next several seconds, but they're more than enough to put him down for the count after another wounded yip.

Silence then. Only interrupted by Luna once more sobbing, Ron panting, and Snape's timely arrival. The silver form that attacked Remus only seconds earlier flits through the air to circle Snape several times. It's a bird of some sort. A crow or maybe a raven. Harry's can't truly tell; he isn't an expert in ornithology.

Prewett seems more surprised by its shape than he does Snape's arrival.

"Severus?" he whispers. "But I thought… But isn't that…"

Snape gives an elegant shrug. "I admit that I was expecting something…" He pauses before letting out a breath. "Bigger," he decides after a moment.

Prewett's eyes are very wide, but he manages to collect himself well. He glances for a few heartbeats at Remus in werewolf form, completely knocked out and now in rows of chains. His gaze flickers to the glowing white bird as it wings around one final time and dissipates. Then, he turns to Snape, who's already looking over the gathered students.

Ron tries to fight off Snape's attention, but it doesn't even faze the man.

"Why are you even here?" Ron asks blankly, attention going to Prewett. "Unless you came looking for him."

Snape glares. "Of course, I came, Mr. Weasley."

There's something to his tone, an edge that Harry has never heard before, not even while he and Prewett were feuding. Ron goes white and takes a staggering step back. Only to turn green again when he steps on his bad leg.

Snape rolls his eyes and moves in closer to Ron, already shoving a potion bottle at him. "Don't injure yourself further, Mr. Weasley. I hardly saved the lot of you from a werewolf just so you could do yourself in only minutes later."

But as harsh as his voice is, his hands are remarkably gentle as he moves Ron to a conjured stretcher. Harry manages to shake himself into sense and goes to help. They sort him out quickly enough, and Harry feels Snape looking him over as well. However, the man gives a nod of satisfaction before looking to Luna, but Prewett has already drawn both her and Hermione to him.

"How did you know where we were?" Neville questions when the Potions master turns to him instead.

Snape gives him a little but wicked laugh and a very devious smirk.

"A little birdy told me that I should come to the grounds immediately."

There's something to the way he says it. Or perhaps it's the way his gaze flickers to one person in particular.

Hermione's eyes widen to comical levels.

"Oh," she exclaims then. "Oh!"

Snape inclines his head and looks around at everyone. The smirk has yet to leave his lips.

"Come along," Snape instructs then, lifting Ron's stretcher. "The Hospital Wing is our destination. I dare say you will meet us there."

His eyes flick to Harry, Neville, and Hermione, who have already separated off at Hermione's urging. Prewett follows his gaze and gives a sigh. Then, he draws Luna in even closer to him, even as he levitates Remus with his wand.

"We will, sir," Hermione promises before the other two can get a word in otherwise.

Neville opens his mouth to argue, especially since they're effectively being left behind. That only earns him an elbow to the side, however. The expression on his face afterwards is nearly painful.

"I'll explain in a minute," Hermione promises as she pulls something free from around her neck. "But we have to go back first."

Harry spies the device in her hands as it glints in the faint light.

"I knew it!" he hisses at her right before she throws a long chain around all three of them.

Then, they're flying back.

-O.o.O-

From this side of things, it's only a little less exciting. They're back in time far enough that Hermione can drag them to the castle before anyone sees them. Neville tries to get them to wait near the tree to ambush Pettigrew there, but Harry manages to talk him out of it. They already know things will work out, and he doesn't dare change anything lest they all end up soulless or werewolves.

Besides, Harry already knows exactly where he didn't see their names last time, so he takes them to a room in the dungeons furthest from where they were looking earlier. It's there that Neville gets the full explanation, and Hermione looks a bit put out that Harry has already solved the mystery.

They have to wait around for a while to ensure that both Prewett and Remus have enough time to leave the castle, but a quick look at the map shows one and then the other coming downstairs. Another glance, and Harry sees Snape in the same room he's been in all afternoon. Thinking it over, Harry knows he shouldn't run into anyone if they go ahead, so he pockets the map and hurries the other two along with him.

It doesn't take them long, and the portrait outside offers an assessing gaze. The man is very stately appearing with dark hair greying at his temples and a regal manner, but he's surprisingly willing to fetch Snape when they ask.

The teacher merely looks at them before ushering them in with a single motion and narrowed eyes. Inside, Harry's stunned to see the room is actually very well-stocked Potions lab, and looking around, he realizes that must be the private one that Snape uses for his research and personal brewing. A fact that's only confirmed when he looks over to the only active cauldron, which is situated near a long table and a smoking goblet. Harry recognizes the potion in the cauldron and the goblet both only because he's seen Remus drinking it so many times before.

Wolfsbane. Well, that certainly explains why Remus transforms. He never gets the last dose.

A very abridged version of the story tumbles out of them in quick order, but they manage to hit the highlights. Pettigrew. Kidnappings. Dementors. A werewolf.

Snape stares at them afterwards.

Hermione lifts up her Time Turner though, and that's all the hint he needs.

"Where?"

It's a demand. Starkly cold but also breathless.

"N-near the Whomping Willow," Neville stutters initially but gets ahold of himself. "There'll be Dementors, but Professor Prewett drives them off."

"His back is to Remus then; he doesn't see him transform," Harry adds very quickly.

He can tell there are many things Snape wishes to say then, but the man holds his tongue admirably. Instead, he centers himself before whirling for the door.

"Hospital Wing!" Snape calls over his shoulder, but he's already rushing away.

They exchange a glance, and then, Neville lets out a very loud breath. Hermione makes a sound before putting her head in one hand. Harry shifts from foot to foot, itching to follow after, but he already knows Snape will make it.

Harry pats his pocket then and suddenly has a better idea than the Hospital Wing, though they'll get there eventually. Before that, they have someone else to see. Harry hasn't visited with McGonagall in a while, after all.

-O.o.O-

True to form, Pettigrew is handed back to the Aurors, taken to the Ministry, and then subsequently vanishes. Again.

If Harry hadn't seen his Animagus form for himself, he'd be convinced Pettigrew's really one of Luna's snorkacks and fully capable of turning invisible at will. Of course, if it weren't so absolutely pathetic, Harry'd tear his hair out from sheer frustration. As things are and from what Sirius tells him the next afternoon, Amelia Bones is fully on the warpath. She's apparently already gotten into a screaming match with her Head Auror, fired four others, arrested two secretaries and a copy witch before suspending a full dozen more from the Ministry for six months.

They won't find Pettigrew though; Harry knows he's long gone now. Out of the country if he's at all intelligent, which is still a debatable thing.

The Dementors leave. Or more like, Dumbledore throws them out on their nonexistent asses and gives Fudge a pointed dressing down when he dares question why.

Pettigrew's recapture is huge news in both the castle and the papers, and Sirius has to start threatening to hex the owls to keep reporters from sending Harry requests for interviews. Whispers follow him everywhere, but those are soon enough turned to a different matter as it overtakes the school gossip. Every student knows within hours, and Harry is honestly a bit miffed that he had to hear it from a fourth-year Slytherin and her sixth-year Ravenclaw brother. Remus is in his office packing when Harry arrives to confront him. The man's resignation should come as a shock, but ultimately, it doesn't. As Remus says, he was careless. He forgot his potion. He forgot the one thing that he'd promised to do to keep his everyone safe, and it almost cost five students and another professor their lives.

Sirius, who's been at the school during the whole aftermath, argues with him about it. But in the end, Remus' decision is final.

That doesn't mean Harry has to like it, and he admits – if only to himself – that he's still moping days later in Prewett's office as he has tea with both him and Snape. Prewett seems saddened by the matter, but the Potions master is a different matter.

"He nearly ate you," Snape is quick to remind them as he stirs sugar into his cup.

"Ah, but you came to our rescue." Prewett gives a winning grin that earns him rolled eyes. "Not to mention that Pettigrew was again recaptured."

The no thanks to the Ministry goes unsaid.

Snape makes a noncommittal sound as he sips his tea, and Prewett shoots Harry a wink as he offers an oatmeal biscuit. Harry accepts it gratefully.

"Still," Prewett continues on blithely, "it was very good of you to not say anything, Severus. About Remus being a werewolf."

"As if I would dare between you and the headmaster." The Potions professor shakes his head and lets out a pained sigh. "I should've taken out an ad in the Prophet," he grumbles. "Want your children eaten? Your staff mauled? Hire Remus Lupin."

It's terrible, truly horrible, but Harry can't contain his snort.

Neither can Prewett.

Thankfully, they're all distracted since a hawk chooses that very moment to tap on the window of Prewett's office. The man doesn't start at the sound, which probably means he's already expected it, but he does make a face at its appearance. He opens the window with a put upon expression and flick of his wand, and the bird haughtily swoops in and sticks out a leg. Prewett scans through the letter it brought, and while he doesn't throw it down, the parchment does land on the table rather forcefully. Snape, watching the whole thing, narrows his eyes.

"Flamel again?" he practically sighs as he glowers at the suddenly uneasy appearing hawk.

It shifts guiltily on its feet, as if feeling the scorch of that look.

Prewett just nods, too busy rubbing his forehead with one hand.

"Flamel… As in Nicholas Flamel?" Harry can't contain his shock. "He's still alive?"

Prewett looks at him. He seems honestly quite puzzled.

"Why wouldn't he be?"

Harry gapes for a moment before offering a shake of his head. Recovering a few seconds later, he glances at the letter on the table, turning it with his index finger to get a better look.

"It's written in French," he comments.

Harry only vaguely remembers what his Muggle primary school had tried to cram in their heads. It's disappointingly little, not nearly enough to figure out what the letter says. Just letting him make out a scant few words.

"How astute of you, Mr. Potter," Snape returns, but there's no bite to it.

Harry ignores him and turns back to Prewett, "You speak French."

The man offers him a smile. "A beautiful girl named Gabrielle taught me years ago."

His voice is almost wicked but somehow also wistful. Snape gives him a very strange look.

Harry leaves not long after that since he still has to pack his trunk for the ride home, and the rest of the day flies by.

Gryffindor wins both the House and Quidditch cups the next night, much to the delight of a tearful Oliver. Harry manages the top spots in Potions and Defense; he also ties for first in Arithmancy. Hermione also does very well but finally admits it's all too much and that she's already talked to Prewett about dropping Muggle Studies. Harry and the others prudently remain silent on the matter but offer their wordless support.

The train ride back to London is far more pleasant than the one to school months before. They play cards, and Luna soundly trounces them all at Go Fish. Hermione doesn't actually read for once, merely settling in to pet Crookshanks who's wedged between she and Ron. Seamus stops by to trade frog cards halfway through the trip, but he's pulled away by Dean around an hour later. The twins peek in as well, but they wander off again when Lee Jordan comes to tell them about an Exploding Snap tournament in one of the Hufflepuff compartments.

Harry is just starting to feel his stomach growl when the train pulls into the station. Sirius meets him on the platform within seconds, grinning like a maniac as he runs up to them, proverbial tail wagging. Madam Longbottom, standing nearby, is much more sedate as she walks over.

Pleasantries are exchanged in short order as Hermione's parents and Mrs. Weasley swoop in for their respective children. Luna squishes Harry and Neville into a hug before skipping off when she spots her father. Sirius lets out a barking laugh as he slings an arm around Harry's shoulder, offers the Longbottoms a good-bye, and apparates them both away.

A squeezing whirl of magic later, they're standing on the front walk of a house Harry's never seen but has heard about for nearly a year. It's three-stories, and the bottom floor looks to be a brownish grey stone. He can see ivy crawling up one corner as he steps onto the front walk, and there's an immediate buzz in his brain from the wards. The grass needs to be trimmed, and flowers grow all over the place, but it looks exactly like somewhere Harry could stay.

Sirius shifts on his feet almost nervously, but Harry just offers him a smile and walks forward.