Chapter 1: Blank Slate
If anything could be said about the events of last year, according to Harry, it was that they had given him perspective. The idea that he’d led his Godfather to his death and that his friends had very nearly joined him, that he was charged to kill Voldemort by a prophecy, and that the same Dark Lord had been in his head, dictating his emotions over the past year... It made everything else seem very small.
And so despite the best efforts of the Dursley’s, Harry was not miserable at the end of week long stay. Nor was he angry, or frustrated, or scared. Instead he just didn’t care.
To be fair to them, Harry didn’t care about a lot of things now.
This year, the Dursleys had finally wised up to the fact that most chores he was assigned wouldn’t get done before he was picked up, and so he’d been left to his own devices. Even Dudley wouldn’t go near him - he’d started on Harry right when vacation began, but had stopped when Harry didn’t react other than to look at him. It had probably helped that he’d taken off his new blindfold to clean, and he’d gotten the full effect of the now paler, slightly distorted look of his left eye. The yellow-green colour of it, mixed with a bit of elongation from the healing, was deemed ‘freaky and creepy’, and Dudley had proceeded to avoid him for the rest of the week.
Now it was approaching evening, and he was waiting in his room like a good boy for whoever they sent to pick him up. He’s not bothered to ask who, considering he was completely disinterested in the answer. It was nice that he’d not have to be here, but going back to the Order would be a constant reminder of his apparent destiny.
Not that he wasn’t thinking about it all the time already.
His chaperon for the evening arrived just after dinner. He was stacking dishes disinterestedly in the sink, watching them sink below the soapy water with splashes and swirls when the doorbell rang. Harry heard the sound of Petunia’s slippers slapping against her feet as she scurried to answer it, knowing full well he was perfectly content to let it buzz all night while staring with glazed eyes into nothing.
“He’s here to pick you up.”
Harry turned. Severus was standing in the frame of the kitchen doorway. Dressed in a pair of robes and dark trousers that made him look like a cleric. It would have been funny in another life. Harry just stared with his good eye and waited. Severus’ brow raised, he was probably surprised at Harry’s lack of greeting or his blank stare.
“Well, we best be going. Do you have your things?”
Harry nodded his head, moving from the kitchen and up the stairs in automatic motions. He pulled on his shoes and coat when he was in his room and gathered his things. He walked down the stairs, balancing his things and watched as Snape transported his trunk before letting Hedwig free and doing away with her cage. He looked to Harry, who blinked and stared up at him impassively, Snape nodded and opened the door. Harry followed him out.
“We will be meeting with an old Professor in order to bring him to Hogwarts, I have been instructed to bring you along.”
Harry made a non-committal noise and nodded his head but said nothing.
“We will be Apparating.”
Harry looked up at Severus when his arm was offered. He looked at the arm then laid his own over it after a pause. He really didn’t feel like being dragged around for one of Dumbledore’s ridiculous missions. He didn’t even feel like going to Grimmauld place. Of being around rooms that were reminders of Sirius. He huffed out a sigh. The world went inside out.
When the reappeared, Harry blandly looked around. Snape jerked his head in a sideways motion before walking off, robes flapping behind him. Harry trailed after him, eyes roving over the houses. The place they had arrived look well-to-do, if boringly middle class. After several houses Snape stopped short and reached into his robes and withdrew his wand. He looked back at Harry with sharp eyes. Harry reached to his side and pulled his wand from its holster, fingers tightly closing around it.
As Harry drew up beside Severus he saw that the house was broken into. The lights were out and the door had been blasted in. It looked like there had been an attack, or a raid. Harry stared, tilting his head slightly. He felt as if some deep part of him should have felt disturbed or scared. But he wasn’t.
Severus strode forward, Harry followed close behind.
The inside of the house was no better.
Cushions were strewn the length of the room, a grandfather clock had been knocked over and cracked, the chandelier was in a shattered heap on the floor, and there was a huge splash of something red and dripping on the wall. All in all, it was a grisly looking scene. Harry wondered vaguely if he should be feeling worried, but it was a distant idea so he let it go.
Next to him, Severus’ eyebrow slowly rose as he surveyed the room. “Hmm. Perhaps this can be a good learning experience for you, Harry. What does this wreckage suggest to you?”
The obvious answer was that he was taken or dead. But the fact that he was being asked this meant there was more here than met the eye. It seemed like an awful lot of bother to figure it out, but it’d be more to try and ignore Severus, and so he went back to scanning.
On second glance, he noticed that the bookshelves on the wall were surprisingly stable, considering the disarray of everything else. One was perhaps slightly knocked, but otherwise they were perfectly intact. And the splash on the wall was slightly off. It was running too wetly to be proper blood, and the color was just a tad too bright. There was the smell of blood hanging in the air, but it had an almost spice to it. Not human, probably.
“It’s faked.” He finally stated, eyeing Severus. The man smirked and gave a sharp nod, before taking a step forward and pushing at one particular overstuffed armchair with the flat of his foot. The chair gave a quiver, before it sighed and changed into a portly looking man with a mustache like a walrus.
Righting himself, the man frowned at Severus. “Really, my boy, using your foot like that? Most rude. I would have hoped to see more respect from an old pupil.”
From the way he blinked slowly, Harry thought Severus was fighting the urge to roll his eyes. “I apologize, Professor. However, I did need to get your attention.”
The man sniffed, but looked slightly less indignant, and a bit more intrigued. “Yes, well, the boy catching on was plenty for that.” He eyed Harry, eyes raking over him for a second, before jumping to his forehead. “Oh!” The man’s eyebrows shot up, and then drew close as he eyed Harry with consideration.
“As I’m sure you’ve already realized, this is Harry Potter. Harry, this is Horace Slughorn, former Professor and Head of Slytherin House.” Severus introduced, just a touch of blandness to his voice.
Slughorn stuck out his hand, and Harry shook it politely, managing to return the beaming, mustached smile with a thin one of his own. If the former Professor noticed the lack of enthusiasm, it didn’t bother him. “Ah, splendid to meet you, Mr. Potter! Very clever deduction, to figure out my plan - I assume you do quite well in my old House.” Suddenly his hand stilled and his eyes narrowed. Removing his hand quickly but mostly politely from Harry, he tilted his head at Severus. “So this is how he planned to draw me in?”
Ah. So Harry was bait then. He also turned to Severus, whose eyes darted to him. Wondering if he should feel irritated or slighted, Harry just blinked. It was Dumbledore’s plan, so it wasn’t really surprising that he was the worm on a hook. And he hoped that it was a harmless task, considering that Severus had given him no warning otherwise. No matter what he should be feeling, Harry was just hollow.
“Yes.” Severus responded bluntly, eyes back on Slughorn. “I have little hope it will work, of course. But I have few chance to meet with collegues these days, and young Harry here has a talent and inclination towards Potions. I thought we might be able to have a drink and discuss the subject for a while, and then I might return to Dumbledore with your regrets.”
Nodding, Slughorn looked pleased. “A fine plan indeed, Severus. I’d be happy to oblige you, if you helped me to clean up.” The current professor nodded, and between them they made quick work of the mess. Slughorn sighed as he tried to transfer the blood from the wall into a bottle. “Oh, dear, and that was my last bottle, too. Dragon Blood is so expensive these days.”
Once everything was back in it’s place, Slughorn poor them each a glass of wine - Harry’s with a quick wink as though giving a 16 year old alcohol was some secret between them - and settled down. Rather than starting up the promised Potions conversation, Severus instead eyed his old professor over his glass. “I am impressed at the level of destruction you managed, given how little warning you must have had. Three minutes, perhaps?”
Puffing up a bit, Slughorn smiled. “Two, actually. Didn’t hear my first charm go off, since I was in the bath. Doing quite well for my age, if I do say so myself.”
“Indeed.” Severus replied, a hint of drawl to his voice. He took a delicate slip, not elaborating, despite how Slughorn’s eyes seemed a bit too intense on him. “These are dangerous times, after all.” He finally concluded.
Slughorn sniffed. “You are correct. I’ve been constantly on the move for well over a year now. No longer than a week or two in one place - it’s made it very difficult to keep up with my contacts, in fact. And the effort involved in setting up every house. All very tiresome. I can’t imagine how you could stand it in a place like Hogwarts - the clear target of You-Know-Who himself! It must be terribly nerve-wracking.”
Dark eyes darted to him again, this time with the same look as in his Potion lessons, and Harry blinked in understanding. Ah. So this was his purpose as bait. To convince Slughorn to return to Hogwarts. Again, it seemed like an awful lot of effort for something he had no interest in doing, but he imagined it wouldn’t be long before he was under Slughorn’s scrutiny anyway, if only for his scar.
“But, Mr. Slughorn,” His tone wouldn’t have fooled any of his friends, but it was innocent enough to have gotten out of trouble for passing notes, and would probably work on this man. “Hogwarts has protections that make it safer than Gringotts, doesn’t it? Not to mention Voldemort is supposed to be afraid of Dumbledore, so it makes sense to stay close to him.”
As expected, Slughorn was now eyeing him with extreme interest. However, his gaze was on the eye patch, instead if of his forehead. “Such a pity what happened to you, Mr. Potter. Especially to eyes of your shade - just like your mothers, of course. I try not to play favourites, but your mother was a rather extraordinary girl.”
Harry froze for a minute, before slowly lowering his glass. There was a flutter of panic in his stomach at the reminder he’d lost half of what he’d inherited from his mother. Did that damage the reason Severus cared for hi-
Focusing on his image of the Slytherin Common Room, Harry threw the emotions and the thought away from him, shoving them away until they were hidden somewhere even he couldn’t see. He was left back with the numb sensation, and he fell into it gratefully.
Managing a smile, Harry shrugged. “Indeed. The results of acting like a Gryffindor, I’m afraid. In fact, this happened when I left Hogwarts - had I stayed, I’d be just fine.” He ducked his eyes away in feigned embarrassment. “Sorry to interrupt like that, but Hogwarts is a place I love dearly. There’s something very nice about having a stable place to call home, where people can contact me easily, all that. And despite it’s reputation, I’ve never felt less than comfortable in the Slytherin Common Room.”
Now Slughorn was nodding slowly, considering, and behind him Harry say Severus shoot him the same look as when he got a difficult potion correct. “I see.” The former professor finally said, voice slow. Then he launched into a conversation with about the latest Potions journals, which Harry was able to maybe half-follow.
This carried on for maybe half an hour, before Severus stood up. “Well, that should be enough time to convince Dumbledore we gave it our best effort. Come along, Harry.” Joining him, Harry made towards the door, before there was the sound of a glass of wine being put down with more force than was necessary.
“Oh, fine. Tell Dumbledore I’ll be there in two weeks.”
Severus sent Slughorn a smile than was at least half smirk, and the portly man huffed at him. “I’d be happy to pass along your message. It will be nice seeing you back at Hogwarts.” Slughorn scowled a bit but didn’t take back his words. “See you in two weeks then.”
“Goodbye, Professor.” Harry waved, and thought under normal circumstances he’d enjoy the way Slughorn’s lips thinned at the words. Then they slipped out the door, leaving the man to his decision.
Once they were safely out of the area, they Apparated into London, into the same park Harry and the Malfoys had arrived in the previous year to make their way to Grimmauld Place. Harry brushed imaginary lint from his clothing and followed after Severus’ swirling, flapping robes. It didn’t take long until they reached the magically concealed headquarters for the Order and Harry watched as Severus swept out an arm and stepped in front of his professor, ascending the steps. He walked inside the house, which was cleaner, smelled homey, like cooking, and was cool and filled with noise.
He swept his eyes to his right and sidestepped the ugly troll leg inspired umbrella stand.
As he walked down the hallway Harry wondered if he would feel any different upon setting eyes on the Malfoys and the Weasleys. He rounded into the kitchen where they were all huddled, playing cards. He watched them. Observed them. They were hunched over, giggling, batting at one another. And he felt nothing. Not even a spark of something.
Molly turned from her station at the counter, making some sort of pies. If the bowl by her elbow was any indication they were mince pies. She smiled widely and swept around the counter with a bright, cheery chirp of “Harry, dear!”. Harry let himself be enfolded into her arms, lightly settled his arms round her sides. She stepped back and took his face in her hands, mushing it in her palms, pinching against his cheeks as she turned his head every which way, looking down her nose at him.
“Peaky, I think, but in good health. I’ll fix you a nice plate of supper.”
She bustled toward the refrigerator before Harry could open his mouth to stop her. Arms slid around his waist and a mouth pressed against his. Draco’s lips were warm and chapped and he tasted like cherries. Harry kissed him back out of automatic reflex, feeling slightly awkward and out of place. Like he should be feeling something he wasn’t.
“Missed you.” Draco finally said when he stepped back, a pale hand threading through Harry’s dark tresses. He peered at Harry’s mismatching eyes, touching lightly at his new, magically enhanced glasses with his fingers. “How’s your vision?”
“S’alight, I guess. Glasses are helping.”
Draco smiled and hauled him toward the island in the middle of the room, sitting him down next to his chair. Everyone was playing some sort of complex Wizarding card game. Harry watched with a strange feigned interest and nodded his head when Molly dropped off a plate in front of him. He wasn’t really hungry, but he ate anyway to keep up appearances, as he had with with Dursleys. When everyone around him was so lively it did well for him to appear just as well. The last thing he wanted was someone asking him how he was.
He watched everyone play with a hollow sort of interest for a few more hours until he quietly told everyone he was going to bed. It earned him a chorus of ‘good nights’, smiles, and a kiss on the forehead from Draco. Harry nodded at him again, watching the way his boyfriend’s head tilted and something flickered on his face. Neither of them said anything and Harry slipped away.
As he climbed the old, rickety stairs he moved past the landing leading toward the room he, Draco and Ron would shared and made his way up one further floor. He walked down the hall toward the room he knew was Sirius’. He pushed the slightly ajar door open with two fingers and watched as it creaked and swung, revealing the room it hid. Remus Lupin was sitting in an old, overstuffed chair across from another, reading quietly. His head lifted and he closed his book.
Harry stepped into the room. It was faded, well worn. Like a pair of loved pajamas, or favourite shoes. Pictures were stuck to the walls, smiling and waving. Posters of muggle movies and motorbikes were tacked on as well. A bookself was crammed in a corner, slightly too large, looking like it had been shoved in as a last minute edition to a very teenage room. Harry deduced it was Professor Lupin’s.
The chairs looked like the ones in the Gryffindor common room. Harry wondered if they were something Professor Lupin had plucked during his stay at Hogwarts. Something to make the Black house more homey. Harry looked at the one across from Lupin, it was vacant, the cushion worn and rutted from being sat in day after day. He felt the oddest urge to run his fingers over the arching seat-back.
“You must miss him.” Professor Lupin assumed, voice soft.
“Mmm.” Was all Harry answered, rooted to his spot on the old floorboards and ornate rug.
“He loved you very much. He left this house and all of it’s possessions to you.”
Harry blinked. “The Order can have it.”
Lupin looked startled. “I’m sure Dumbledore will be pleased.”
Harry’s smile was thin and forced. Instead of answering, he turned and left the room, pulling the door shut behind him. Walking down the stairs back to his usual floor, Harry entered his room. Ananta was already curled up, sleeping under the radiator, which was hissing lightly. Harry changed for bed, glad for the empty room. Climbing into bed, Harry turned off the lights and pulled off his glasses. Ignoring the disorienting feel and vertigo of his now mismatched vision, he shut his eyes and rolled onto his stomach.
After a few long moments Ananta slid under the covers and coiled between his legs, head resting on his knee. Harry heaved out a breath and curled a hand under his pillow before letting himself drift.
His sleep was devoid of dreams.
A few days later, there was a flurry of commotion as the numbers at the Order Headquarters was increased by one. Harry stood awkwardly at the top of the stairs as Severus lead in a nervous looking Blaise. His friend looked around, looking a little lost, before he spotted Harry and gave a nearly frantic wave and a slightly too wide smile.
Harry slowly made his way down the stairs, waving back in a way that felt strangely mechanical, and ended up being enfolded in a startlingly enthusiastic hug. “Harry!” Blaise chirped, and he noted distantly that there was something almost maniac to his name, but dismissed it.
From the corner of his eye, Harry spotted Draco watching with something like morbid fascination, he wondered why as he let Blaise disentangle himself as he chattered nervously about how nice it was to see everyone and how have your summers been? Finally he faded off, and Severus gave them a slightly curious look before slipping out, leaving the three young men alone.
“Not that it’s not lovely to see you,” Draco began, words clipped and slow, like he was choosing them carefully. “But what are you doing here?”
Turning his eyes away, Blaise’s shoulders slumped a bit, and he shrugged. “Mother and I had a row.” Even Harry couldn’t help but be surprised at that. Blaise’s mother tended to spoil him endlessly, and it was unheard of for them to exchange so much as a harsh word. Although, maybe it was just unknown to Harry - Blaise, like many Slytherins, tended to be the private sort, and it wasn’t terribly unlikely that he hadn’t told anyone about an argument with his mother, or maybe only told Pansy. But, judging by his expression, that wasn’t the case.
With a little tilt of his head, Harry blinked at Blaise, focusing on remaining detached, despite the almost fragile look his friend was wearing. After a second, the sensation in his stomach that felt like it free-fall faded away, and he was able to speak. “Over what?”
Flapping a hand in a wide gesture, Blaise shrugged. “Kind of everything. She, uh... after the thing at the Department of Mysteries, she didn’t think we could keep playing the neutral card. So she wanted to go to Italy - my Father’s family is still there, and they’d let us stay there until the war blows over. But I didn’t want to go.”
“Why not?” Harry asked bluntly, ignoring the way Draco flashed wide, startled grey eyes at him. It was a legitimate question, after all. “You didn’t want to go with us to the Ministry, right? So why is it a problem now?”
Blaise made a soft noise like Harry and kicked him in the stomach and looked away for a long moment. Then he slowly raised his head back up, eyes wide and darker, like they were smeared with moisture. “I...” He paused, voice just slightly raspy. Harry continued to stare. “Yeah, I said that. And then you went, and you guys came back and you were at St. Mungo’s and not in the Hospital Wing, and everyone was really quiet and subdued and for a second-” He swallowed hard. “I thought you were dead, Harry. And all I could think about is that I had stayed behind when maybe I could help, and so I’m not going to feel like that again. Not ever.”
Suddenly, Blaise’s back went straight, like a steel rod and been rammed down his spine. “I’m with you every single step from here on out. Because that’s what I was supposed to do, but didn’t. So long as you’ll have me, obviously.” He looked up at Harry like he was waiting to be shoved away, and once again his emotions stirred from the place Harry’d shoved him. And so he stuck out his hand, and Blaise took it firmly, shaking it once, and Harry could have sworn he felt a tingle of magic, but it was gone before he could be sure.
There was a moment of awkward silence, as the emotional charge of the scene faded away, leaving the three boys standing in the middle of the foyer next to an ugly umbrella case. “Right.” Draco cleared his throat, tilting his head up the stairs. “Let’s find you a room where you can put your things.” As he passed, he clapped Blaise on the back, expression neutral but eyes warm, and the other boy gave him a flash of a smile before following behind.
Feeling slightly empty and just a bit lost, but not willing to do anything about it, Harry trudged up the stairs behind them. Now that they had another open room, due to the Twins ‘graduating’ and moving out, Harry and Draco had been separated, with Harry continuing to share with Ron, while Draco got Fred and George’s old room (and constantly complained about the things they had left behind).
For the first time, Harry wondered if maybe what he was doing wasn’t the smartest thing. That maybe he could hurt people by being detached. That maybe pushing away his emotions like this really wasn’t healthy.
But then he remembered how his emotions had screwed him over the past year, how they’d betrayed and hurt him and others, how they had very nearly ruined everything. And he remembered how much he’d hurt when Sirius had fallen through that veil, or when he’d seen his friends injured and panicked and scared, or how he’d been so very scared looking into the masks of Death Eaters.
This was the best option. For everybody.
“So how’s his mood, then?” Blaise asked, dropping onto his bed across from Draco’s raking his eyes over the posters in the room. Most of them seemed to be covering Draco’s choices, but a large, obscenely orange Chudley Cannons poster was affixed over his newly acquired bed. Blaise’s lip curled at it in distaste.
“Hm? Oh, he’s...” Draco’s eyes darted toward the door, as if he was concerned Harry could be lurking outside of it. Draco looked back at Blaise. “He’s different. It’s like something sucked all the energy from him. Like he’s been hollowed out or something. I swear I’m being overly cautious, but at the same time I think I’m right.” Draco hung his head, defeat written on his features. “I think maybe He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named living in his head broke him of something.”
“You didn’t hear? The Dark Lord was performing Legelimency or something with Harry. It’s why Harry’s mood was off so much last year, You-Know-Who was in his head. Influencing his emotions some how. Harry wasn’t feeling like himself because he wasn’t.”
“That’s why Snape was so insistent on the Occlumency lessons.” Blaise hung his head and rubbed at his forehead and over the bridge of his nose. He felt like an arse, an absolute arse. He should have noticed. He should have known. Last year that hadn’t been Harry. They all assumed it was stress of O.W.Ls and Umbridge and the rumors of the return of the Death Eaters, but it had been worse. So much worse. “Is the connection still there?”
Draco gave a shrug, face a mask of emotions. “No idea. He seems better in a way, if hollow. I think it’s like something in him is waiting, sort of? I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to make it worse. I mean, he’s still reeling from Sirius’ death, but so is everyone, Mother is really upset, and so am I. I understand he was the only connection Harry had to his parents that was a relative, but he was also a Black, part of our family. My Aunt killed him.”
Heaving out a sigh, Blaise kicked back on the bed, looking up at the poster. Tension was rife, and he made an attempt to break it. “Who put that there, then?”
“The twins. Permanent sticking charm, too. Tried everything to get it down. They must’ve known I was going to get the room.”
“I thought you and Harry’d be sharing.”
“No such luck. Mrs. Weasley put her rather small foot down. Said it wasn’t allowed.”
Blaise made a choked noise that could have been a laugh if it hadn’t been so dry. “So, who all visits here then? Heard big noise about the Order, all rumor o’course.”
“Aurors pop in and out, some people I don’t really know the name of off hand. Mad Eye comes in, Severus, every now and then Dumbledore stops by. S’pretty boring, actually. We’re not allowed in on meetings, so we just sit around waiting for things to happen.”
“Ah.” Blaise sat back up in bed. “Must be especially dull sharing a house with a bunch of Gryffindors.”
Draco opened his mouth to reply before the sound of footsteps, several pairs, banging down the stairs stopped him. Curious, Draco stood from his bed and made his way to the door, poking his head out. Conversation from the first floor floated up through the stairwell, muffled but sounding important. Draco headed out into the hall, followed quickly by Blaise. Together they headed down to the main floor of the house to find Dumbledore talking to Snape along with Mad Eye Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt. All of the men aside from Dumbledore looked grim and had frowns on their faces.
Dumbledore stopped, seemingly aware of their audience and looked over at Draco and Blaise. Severus’ sharp eyes followed him and the teacher straightened his back. Face moving from concern to neutrality quickly.
Draco turned, startled at the voice behind him. He let his eyes settle on Harry who was watching the concerned party with an impassive face. Draco turned his eyes back to the adults, who were shifting in place, clearly trying to think of an excuse for their sudden, impromptu meeting in the middle of a huddled, dusty hallway.
“Cornelius Fudge was deposed.” Dumbledore replied, voice light, almost airy. “Rufus Scrimegour took over as Minister.”
Harry blinked. “Why?”
Dumbledore opened his mouth before closing it and giving Harry thin smile. “There have been attacks infringing on Muggle territory, but you needn’t worry about it.”
It was clear from his face that Harry didn’t believe Dumbledore’s words. For a moment he looked as though he was going to protest. To break through the stoic mask glued in place. Instead, Harry simply nodded, his mismatched eyes dragging over Dumbledore’s form. He stopped, eyes locked on a blackened and gnarled hand. He tilted his head at it, watching it for a long moment. Dumbledore curled the fingers before tucking his hands into his sleeves in a fluid gesture.
“Why don’t you three run along?” Dumbledore coaxed, nodding his chin in the direction of the kitchen. “If I’m not mistaken Molly has made some lovely shortbread cookies.”
Harry turned on his heel, heading back for the stairs. He paused at the landing, looking backward before heading up the creaking steps without further pause. Draco frowned after him, moving away from Blaise and following, wondering if he should stop Harry. Shake him. Blaise looked at the adults, shifting in discomfort of being alone.
“I am glad you made it here safe, Mr. Zabini, now, off you go.”
Blaise cleared his throat, eyes darting down to where Dumbledore’s disfigured hand lay under the cloak. He wanted to protest and remaining standing in place, but Snape’s strong eyes were boring into his skull. Blaise finally gave a jerky nod and turned before returning to the stairs.
It was a long, pregnant pause before the chatter started again and Blaise could have sworn he heard Harry’s name pass Dumbledore’s lips as he slipped up the stairs.
After what could very well have been the most awkward snack ever (which mainly consisted of Blaise and Draco trying to draw Harry into a conversation, and him staring at the wall behind them, giving pleasant but short answers), Dumbledore entered the kitchen, hand still tucked in his sleeve. Severus followed behind, face blank other than a tightness around his lips.
“Mr. Potter.” Dumbledore greeted, after giving the other two boys nods. “I apologize with the rude dismissal earlier.” He paused, a practiced break for social niceties, so Harry could respond. The Slytherin just blinked at him, face blank, so Dumbledore gave a short, polite nod. “Now, I believe after last year’s unfortunate ending, you wished to be more informed, to help prevent a similar outcome in the future. Because of this, I would like to offer you extra lessons this year, beginning shortly after classes start up, as well as encouraging you to spend your usual time with Professor Snape working on a training regimen..”
Harry meet the Headmaster’s eyes with a bland stare. “No, thank you.”
Looking shocked, at least for him, Dumbledore stared down at him. “I beg you pardon?”
“I said ‘no, thank you.’” Harry repeated, using the precise same tone and inflections, as though he were a wind-up toy.
For a moment Dumbledore continued to stare, before he frowned and collected himself a bit. “Why ever not? These are dangerous times, dear boy. I would think you would want to be as prepared as possible, especially with the increasing Death Eater activity.”
At first Harry was quiet, as though he were hoping Dumbledore would get tired and just leave, before he sighed like he was exhausted. “Because it doesn’t matter.” His words were clipped and slow, and his eye slid away towards the wall. “Last year proved that I can’t even properly hold my own against Death Eaters, nor so much as protect my mind from him. He has decades of practice and learning on me, as well as an advantage in power.” Tilting his head like he was addressing the clock, Harry shrugged. “There is nothing anyone could teach me that could overcome that before he attacks again. So why should I bother to waste my time learning to fight him?”
“So you’re just going to give up?” That was Draco, who planted his hands on the table and stood, staring down at Harry, expression a mixture of frustration and dismay. Harry gave him a look of confusion, like he wasn’t sure what the fuss was about. “So you’re just going to stay still and let him put a wand to your head? Is that it?”
Slowly shaking his head, Harry frowned. “No. When he attacks again, I’ll certainly try to fight back. But it’s going to be useless no matter what I do, so why waste everyone’s time and energy.”
Draco made a noise of furious disbelief, and for a second it looked like he wanted to take his plate and throw it at Harry’s head. Worried, Blaise inched a little closer to Harry to try and defend him from the blonde’s temper. In this strange state, he was slightly afraid that Harry wouldn’t even bother to try and duck the blow.
But instead of attack, Draco gave an aborted little jerk before whirling around and storming out of the room. His angry footsteps could be heard all the way up the stairs, and Harry’s head turned to follow the noise. Blaise could have sworn he saw something like real hurt in the boy’s good eye, before he ducked his gaze back down to the table and the look was gone.
Dumbledore gazed back at Professor Snape, who gave him a neutral look, but the skin around his eyes was tight and anxious. Blaise could relate. What Draco had been saying a little while ago about Harry seeming hollow was far too apt a description for his tastes. Feeling sick, Blaise placed his hand gently over Harry’s arm, not sure if he was trying to comfort himself or his broken friend. The other boy’s expression gave a strange twitch, and his eye darted to look at him, but he didn’t otherwise react, and Blaise felt oddly slighted. But he shoved off the feelings - he’d been a berk last year about something Harry couldn’t help. He wasn’t going to make the same mistakes again.
After an awkward pause, the professors made their goodbyes and slipped out of the room. Professor Snape send a few worried looks back at Harry, and Blaise figured they’d probably be seeing him again soon so that he could check on the boy.
And so the two were left sitting in the unbearably quiet kitchen, the clock on the wall marking out the slow, painful march of time. Blaise stared at the table so he wouldn’t watch Harry, and the other boy continued to gaze off into the middle distances.
After exactly 43 ticks (he’d counted), Blaise looked up. “You want anything to drink?”
“No, thanks.” Harry replied, tone polite and distant.
Blaise sat there, feeling like a useless lump and wondering when it’d all gone to hell.
Just before dinner new house guests arrived. Ron’s eldest brother, Bill, swanned into the house, pulling himself from the floo grate with more dignity than even Narcissa Malfoy herself. He looked nothing like Harry expected. His long Weasely red hair was pulled back, bound in a leather strap, and he had a long dragon fang hanging from a chain in his ear. He looked very much like a punk rocker, in a loose dark shirt and tight trousers with dragon hide boots. His blue eyes were sharp and clear. And if Harry were to acknowledge it, he was very handsome.
Green flared up in the grate and the flames shot out wildly, licking at the air before dying down with a few sparks of green. Fleur Delaceour stepped out, brushing herself off and sweeping her long, silvery hair from over her shoulders in a long, shimmery cascade as she stepped out and patted herself clean. Harry’s hand lashed out and with a yank and a twist he pulled Blaise from the spot he had sprung up back down to the couch.
“Mum?” Bill called, looking around and nodding his head in greeting of the teenagers sprawled out on the couch. Rather Blaise was sprawled, and Harry was being held stiffly against Draco’s rapidly tensing body. “Mum!”
“Oh, Bill, so sorry, I didn’t hear the floo.” Molly came bustling in, her floo brush in hand. She swept him clean, hands touching at his low-care clothes with a soft cluck of her tongue and fingers combing into his hair. “It’s so long, so very long, perhaps you should think about a cut? I have the sheers with me, I’d gladly do it for you.” She touched at the earring, her eyes going to Bill’s face. “Oh honestly.”
“I got it in Egypt!”
“And you should have left it there!”
Hiding his laugh in a cough, Bill turned his head to look behind him, where Fleur was calmly sifting her fingers through her hair. “Mother, this is Fleur Delaceour, my fianceé.”
“Enchanté.” Fleur greeting with all the grace and poise in the world.
Mrs. Weasley eyed her hard. Stared down at the offered hand, then over at Bill. Her mouth parted briefly before she closed it and her lips twisted just slightly. Clearing her throat she looked back at Fleur. “And how did you two meet?”
“I got a job at zee Gringotts to help with my Eengleesh. Beel was most ‘elpful.”
“I see.” She looked sharply at her son. “May I speak with you in the other room?” She patted Bill’s chest and shot a look at Fleur, her smile thin. “Be right back, dear.” Dragging her son out of the room, Mrs. Weasley pulled him into the next room where “William, what on earth are you---” sounded through the door before muffled silence.
Fleur looked around the room, her face a mixture of polite nonchalance and horror. She ran her index finger over the mantle to the fireplace and examined it. Frowning deeply at the dust the action produced she wiped her hands clean and folded them in front of her. She shifted her weight from one leg to the other awkwardly and looked around the room before turning her eyes toward the three boys on the sofa. Blaise now had his nose buried in a book, no doubt trying to look anywhere but at her. Harry was slumped heavily against Draco, in fact Draco’s shoulder was digging rather painfully into the middle of his back. Draco had one arm loosely hooked around Harry’s middle, the other was touching at his hair. He caught Fleur’s hesitant look and returned it with as bright a smile as he could muster, knowing it probably looked very fake.
Before long the door to the opposite room swung open and Bill walked out, rubbing his arm and with a sheepish look on his face. Molly strode out as well, hands tucked into the pockets of her flour spotted apron. Fleur’s brow winged up and she opened her mouth but Bill shook his head, settling his hand on the small of her back before steering her from the room. Fleur took one last look behind herself before walking out of the room with a small amount of fuss.
“Dinner won’t be much longer, boys. Mince pies and potatoes. I’m afraid we ran a little low on stores due to the recent meetings. Tomorrow Tonks and I will fetch some fresh foods. If you have anything for the list it’s tacked on the wall in the kitchen.”
Blaise lowered his book when her footsteps retreated from the room. He waited a long moment before turning to the other two boys in the room. “That was rather odd.”
“Maybe she disapproves.” Draco replied, fingers stroking over Harry’s cheek. “Not everyone is lucky enough to just pick who their heart intends they follow.”
Blaise hummed in the back of his throat and turned his eyes toward Harry. “What do you think.”
Harry’s eyes didn’t waver from the spot where they had fixed themselves on the wall across from the couch. “I think you and Draco should leave the gossip to Pansy.”
“Are you ever going to relax?” Draco murmured, pressing his forehead to Harry’s shoulder.
Harry turned his head, craning his neck as best he could to look at Draco. “Quite hard to do when your shoulder is digging into my back that way. Is there any particular reason you have me splayed like this?”
“I wanted to hold you?” Draco breathed out, voice slightly hedged with questioning, brows drawing together. “You’re my boyfriend, that usually entails a fair bit of cuddling and snogging.”
“But I don’t want to. Sorry, but no thank you.”
Blaise leaned forward, ignoring the look of hurt and shock that crossed Draco’s face. “Harry, you alright? You need anything?”
Harry turned his head opposite, looking toward Blaise. He shook his head with a soft noise, blinking once from behind his new square frames. Blaise opened his mouth to say something but Harry was already pulling himself from the couch, drawing a weak grunt from Draco at the move.
“I think I’ll see if Mrs. Weasley needs help setting the table.”
Draco extended an arm to grab at Harry’s wrist but he was already leaving the room. With a heavy, broken sigh, Draco covered his face and rubbed at his cheeks. He wasn’t about to cry, but it wore hard on him that Harry was so blank. It made doubts start to rise in his mind. He rose up. “I think I’m going to get some air out back.”
“Want some company?”
Draco looked back at Blaise before shaking his head and walking out of the room with his chin held stubbornly high and shoulder thrown back in mock pride. Blaise pulled at a fraying thread on his trousers and officially wished Voldemort dead.
Diagon Ally was different now, Harry decided, eyes slowly tracing over the buildings. Compared to the cheery hustle and bustle of years passed, this place felt dark and paranoid. Well, good. At least they’d have a chance to survive.
He’d also discovered another advantage to this state. Harry wasn’t bothered by the stares anymore. Their gazes begged him to save them, or made it clear he terrified them, or just wanted him to burn, but it all just flowed off of him. It was nice, actually, to not take it to heart. Freeing.
They had already been to Flourish and Blotts and picked up their books. Harry’s was considerably lighter than normal. It only contained the texts required for his courses, with no additional books just to further his own interests. Draco had gaped openly at him when he noticed, but Harry thought it just made sense. He might be dead before he had the chance to read them, so why bother to spend the extra money on it?
Draco had been distinctly unimpressed with that line of logic, and had spent the rest of the visit collecting any book that Harry so much as glanced twice at. When he’d brought the pile to the counter, Mrs. Weasley had given him a scandalized look, but Draco had told her he wanted to buy as much as he could now, in case the Death Eaters gained control of their accounts, and that had cooled him down.
Even worse, Blaise continued to hover around him like a worried mother. He’d asked no less than four times if Harry wanted help carrying his things (he didn’t, and Draco had shot him a nasty glance for asking Harry, when the blonde had nearly three times as many books). Oddly, it was one of the more dangerous reactions to his state Harry had encountered. First of all, it was annoying, and he’d found himself having to push back the urge to snap a couple of times. Worse, it was actually kind of warming. After facing everyone’s slowly fraying temper last year, that sort of unconditional caring chipped away at him.
He’d have to find a way around that, and soon.
Their final stop was Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes. There was a surprisingly sizable crowd inside, considering how somber the rest of the Ally had been, and the twins were in the center of it all, demonstrating products in a way familiar to anyone who had spent longer than an hour in Gryffindor tower. Once they spotted their family, they made their apologizes to the excited crowd and made their way over, teasing their siblings and getting fussed at by their mother.
All in all it was kind of awkward to stand around for, so Harry, Draco and Blaise started to wander a little further into the store. Many of the products were things they could recognize from the past few years at Hogwarts, but either the twins had been very busy over the past few months, or they had quite a few products they never revealed, because there was a surprisingly array of products.
Blaise and Draco proceeded to spend the next several minute describing exactly how they’d like to use a certain product on somehow, and the exact circumstances of the prank. They tried to get Harry involved several times, but after a few noncommittal answers, they seemed to this wasn’t going to work and gave up.
Just as Draco was winding down a story about exactly where in Nott’s body he’d like to stick a particularly nasty looking device, Blaise froze and turned his head towards the door. “I’ll give the arse one thing - he’s got fantastic timing.”
Following his gaze, Harry spotted Nott walking past the door. He probably appeared casual to the random passer-byes, but after five years of living with him, Harry knew when Nott was acting suspicious.
“We should follow him.” Blaise spoke up suddenly, dark eyes narrowed and dangerous. But there was also a spark of something Harry didn’t care to identify there. “Bet he’s up to something, and we could stop him right here.”
Shrugging, Harry shook his head. “Why bother?”
That got him a startled look. “Harry, you know how much he hates you. I bet you anything he’s doing something that could hurt you.” Draco looked like he didn’t know whether to be dryly amused at that jump in logic or convinced for Harry’s sake.
But Harry just turned away. “I don’t really care what Nott does.” It was true. So far as Harry was concerned, Nott might as well have died in the Chamber of Secrets all those years ago. He was an irritation, but without someone like Umbridge to back him up, Harry was fairly certain he wasn’t a threat.
Bliase made a noise of frustration and stared down at his shoes, and Harry looked back over. “Normally we’d be the one’s holding you back.” He murmured, and Harry blinked with understanding. Ah. He’d been appealing to his Gryffindor side, huh? Well, after the fiasco that was the Department of Mysteries, that part of him seemed to have buggered right off, and Harry was just fine with that.
He couldn’t think of anything to say to comfort Blaise, and Draco was now scowling out the open door like it was Nott’s fault Harry was like this, so he just shut up and ran his fingers idly over the cloth of his eyepatch, heart twinging just a bit.
But it was for the better. This way was safer for everyone. Harry just had to keep reminding himself of that.
Chapter 2: Trading Places
NOTE: As of this writing, CAA will be discontinued shortly. We simply don't have the user feedback or the motivation to bother writing. Thank you for your time, and we hope you've enjoyed the show. There are maybe three more chapters left, so enjoy them. Or, don't, I suppose.
Three days later found them packed and bustling through the overcrowded flurry at King’s Cross with far too much guard to be at all subtle. Still, they managed to get on the train without too much of a fuss. Last minute items were shoved into their hands, kisses goodbye were laid, and they were boarded. Not even a minute on the train, Harry was grabbed and hauled into a compartment with a door. Draco and Blaise followed him in quickly. Clanging the door shut behind them, Harry blinked over at the person who had grabbed him, Millicent looked back at him with a blank face. Her hair was in a long braid, wiry curls escaping every so often.
“Nott’s down there. He’s been on about you ever since I spotted him on the platform.”
“Oh.” Was all Harry said, sitting next to her on the bench.
Draco sat across from him, looking out the window. Blaise stood after a moment and there was a squawking noise before the door slid shut again and Pansy was crammed between Draco and Blaise, her plait sheered off, hair back to the old, sleek bob. She beamed at everyone cheerily before it started to droop as she started to take note of the atmosphere.
“How was everyone’s summer?”
No one answered for a long moment, making the atmosphere in the compartment feel even heavier and thicker. She looked down at her lap, then up again, then away, and out the window as the train started to move with a lurch.
“I’m glad to see you’re better, Harry.”
Looking up from the Prophet Harry stared at her for a moment, blinking, before nodding his head. “Thanks.”
Brows furrowing in confusion, Pansy looked at Blaise who rose up his shoulders in a shrug and then looked over at Draco, who was slumped against the window, looking out of it with a dreary expression. With a heavy sigh, Pansy relaxed as best she could against Blaise, smiling when he wrapped his arm around her shoulder and squeezed it.
“Did you get my owls?”
“Yeah. They were really nice, sorry I couldn’t reply.”
“S’ok. I know it was for a good reason, and you’re here now. A few people didn’t show up this year. There’s talk of more students being held at home. And my mom’s being threatened to be laid off.”
Draco looked over at Pansy at that. “Can they do that, just fire her for no good reason.”
Pansy shrugged with a forlorn expression and swept hair out of her face. “I guess. For now it’s just rumor.”
“All everyone does is talk.” Harry muttered into his newspaper, not even bothering to look up. “No one does anything.”
“You did something.” Pansy reminded lightly, voice quiet.
“Load of good it did.”
Pansy opened her mouth but saw Draco shake his head out of the corner of her eye and let her mouth close shut. Breathing through her nose, she worried her lower lip. Trying to think about something to change the subject. “Who d’you think the new Defence teacher is going to be?”
“Dunno really. Someone mentioned the name Slughorn, but I thought he was potions.” Millicent replied, raising her eyes from her book. “Taught my parents.”
“Yeah, taught mine too.” Blaise murmured. “Maybe he’ll be taking younger years while Professor Snape focuses on upper years?”
Millicent made a thoughtful noise before turning her head when the door to their compartment opened. A boy was standing there. He was tall, broad, muscular. And all too charming. Flashing his teeth, he held out two envelopes.
“For Harry Potter and Blaise Zabini.”
With his job done, he strode off down the train and Millicent grumbled and leaned over to pull the door shut. “What the blazes is that about.”
Blaise opened his envelope and skimmed through it. “Something called the Slug Club. Stupidest name if I ever heard one. Apparently we have to go to the end of the train. I guess we’ll be going then.” Standing, swaying a little when they took a turn, Blaise watched Harry tuck the card away and stand. For once he didn’t look like he was hesitating. Patting Harry on the back, the two of them left and Blaise shot a thumbs up through the window before following after Harry.
The two of them made their way quietly to compartment C, where the note had told them to meet. A few times, Blaise opened is mouth to try and talk, but each time he seemed to think better of it and tamper off. Right before they entered, he gave Harry a soft pat on the shoulder, like he feared this was going to be some kind of horrible undertaking. Harry thought that was strange, but he was aware he could have been subjected to something more emotional, like hair petting or something, so he shrugged it off.
Once in, they found themselves greeted enthusiastically by Slughorn, Harry noticeably more so. He managed a bland smile at the large man, who beamed in response, making his huge mustache twitch. He gestured for both of them to take a seat, gesturing to where three empty places awaited, next to a startled and slightly dumbfounded looking Ginny Weasley.
Giving her a slight wave, which she returned with a smile and look of exaggerated confusion, gesturing toward Slughorn. Apparently she didn’t know what was going on here. Harry blinked at her, before giving a shrug. He had an idea, but it really wasn’t the effort.
Slughorn bustled around for a second, making vague noises about waiting for someone, when there came a knock, and Neville stumbled in. His eyes were wide as he blinked at the three of them, clearly not having expected to see them. Harry flashed him the same thin smile he’d used on the Professor-to-be, but it only made Neville seem slightly more worried, which Harry found odd.
“Oh, good, everyone is here!” Slughorn beamed at them all, seating himself down and brushing the wrinkles out of his velvet robes. Some part of Harry’s brain decided to channel Draco and make some rude comments about the material, but he shushed that.
Waving one meaty hand around the room, he smiled at all of them. “Now, let’s make some introductions, shall we? It would seem you four know each other, but no sense leaving everyone else in the cold! Mr. Potter here needs no introductions, obviously. We also have Blaise Zabini, another sixth year Slytherin, Neville Longbottom - Gryffindor of the same, and young Ginny Weasley here, a charming young lass indeed.” Ginny made a face like charming was one of the worst things she’d been called, but Slughorn either didn’t notice or ignored it.
“On this side we have Cormac McLaggen, who is a Gryffindor Seventh year.” McLaggen gave a tiny little wave, aimed deliberately at Neville, who looked awkward but nodded back. He was avoiding looking at the Slytherins. It was slightly odd to be reminded that most students still believed in the silly rivalries between houses. Harry had nearly forgotten, with how well he got along with the majority of the Gryffindor sixth years, especially after SWORD.
Next to Cormac was a skinny Seventh Year by the name of Marcus Belby, who looked exceptionally nervous. With introductions done, Slughorn had a lavish lunch of pheasant brought in and launched into conversation with Belby. The conversation revolved around his uncle, the man who had apparently invented Wolfsbane Potion. Harry eyed him for a minute, professionally curious if the talent was passed down. But the boy seemed too jumpy to so much as hold a stirrer steady, and grudgingly confessed that his father didn’t get on, After that, Slughorn gave him a cool smile and moved on to McLaggen.
So this was how the man collected the powerful. He created an exclusive little club for people with relations or connections to high places. And since Ginny was here, he probably also picked up anyone he noticed had a talent he valued. With Ginny, he’d probably seen her curse someone. The girl had fantastic aim when she was motivated, and would have no qualms using it, even in a place like the Hogwarts Express.
Next to him, he could feel Blaise relax and Neville tense up. No doubt they’d both realized the same thing, even without being introduced to Slughorn before hand. Though they were probably both used to being judged that way already, considering that both were Purebloods and more than a little well off. Neville had a strong dislike for such attention, while Blaise was perhaps comfortable - it was one of those things he would no doubt be good at handling. Ginny, on the other hand, continued to look slightly sulky. Harry didn’t really know her well enough to figure out if she knew and just didn’t like it, or if she remained in the dark.
By now, Slughorn had moved on from a smug looking McLaggan, and was onto interrogating Neville. It was uncomfortable, hearing the Professor go on about the boy’s parents, considering what had happened to them, and Neville’s quiet, awkward answers didn’t really help the feeling. “I’m sure they would have been proud of you. Don’t you think, Mr. Longbottom?” The last was slightly more questioning than it had the right to be, and Neville started to draw back. But he glanced at the Slytherins, and Harry felt a pang at the look in his wide eyes. And so he nudged him slightly with his shoulder, like he used to do during study sessions together when he’d get a Potions question right. Beside him, Blaise’s face stayed mostly composed, but the corner of his mouth tipped up and his brow twitched. From their time in SWORD together, Neville was familiar enough with the boy to know that expression meant ‘give him hell’.
After a quick glance at Ginny, who was now outright glaring at Slughorn, Neville straightened up and looked Slughorn dead in the eye. “Yes, I do think they would be.” The Gryffindor asserted, nothing in his posture or voice showing any doubt.
“I see,” Slughorn replied, and he gave a little nod like he agreed. His own gaze became more considering before he moved on.
The conversation with Blaise was a study in nonchalance. Slughorn clearly didn’t know about the falling-out and separation the Zabinis had come to, and he continued to pry for stories and information. On the other hand, Blaise wasn’t the least bit interested in giving any information on his mother or summer to the man, and they had ended up having a quick conversation that went absolutely nowhere.
By the end of it, rather than be frustrated, Slughorn seemed to be intrigued. Perhaps it wasn’t ever sixth year who could match him.
As it turned out, Ginny had cast a Bat-Boogey Hex that had caught Slughorn’s eye. And then she had somehow ended up mentioning that she knew him, and thus had been dragged into this meeting.
And then it was Harry’s turn.
“Where to begin?” Slughorn exclaimed jovially, eying Harry like he was made of gold. Then he launched into an account of what the Daily Prophet had been saying - that Harry was ‘The Chosen One’.
The knowledge of how close that was to the truth made Harry’s stomach, and he shoved the fear away. His blank face seemed to disturb Slughorn. Did he really expect Harry to start bragging about it or something? But a glance at McLaggan, who looked extremely put out by the focus on Harry, made them think yes.
Halfway through a long speech about oh the rumors and your poor dear parents and that was quiet the deal at the Ministry, wasn’t it?
That time, Harry couldn’t resist a flinch.
Suddenly, Blaise pushed forward a little. His studiously relaxed posture snapped into something defensive, and his eyes went cold. “I’m sure you’re aware of a certain paper’s tendency to exaggerate such claims, Professor.”
Slughorn blinked at him, a little surprised at the sudden change in attitude. On Harry’s other side, Neville nodded in agreement. “He’s right, sir. I was there, and it was nothing like the Prophet said.”
That grabbed the man’s attention, and he whirled back on Neville. “Were you now?” Neville set his jaw and nodded again, not backing down. Slughorn’s mustache twitched, and he nodded. “I see. And what about you, Mr. Zabini? Were you there?” Harry could feel Blaise tense as he shook his head. He probably should have done something to calm the other boy, but he was too busy fighting back the grief and guilt he could feel bubbling up.
Slughorn gave all three of them a considering look, and got two defiant looks and one pair of distant green eyes. Recognizing the subject as a sore one, the man took the dignified road and switched to a different topic - specifically a story involving the Captain of the Hollyhead Harpies.
When they were finally released, the four of them left as quickly as they could without seeming outright rude. Ginny gave her farewells and went off to meet with her friends (and probably girlfriend, if she was still with Abbot), but Neville stayed with them on their way back. “Are you alright, Harry?”
Harry blinked at him, then nodded. “Yeah, sure.” Then he fell silent, paying attention to his shoes rather than his friends. His emotions were still dangerously close, and he didn’t want a chance sympathetic look to break his tenuous hold. He did notice Blaise meeting Neville’s gaze, but didn’t pay attention to it until the other Slythren’s hand came down on his shoulder.
“I’m going to talk to Neville for a bit, alright? I’ll meet back up with you guys before we head out for the carriages.” Harry nodded, and the two of them broke off. He caught sight of them bowing their heads together to talk in speak in low voices before he decided he couldn’t take being curious. So he turned and slipped into the compartment, stealing himself against well meaning stares and a pair of worried grey eyes.
The rest of the ride was quiet, filled with half started conversations that died all too quickly. Before getting to Hogsmeade they changed and Pansy made a few comments on how it seemed as though Harry had finally sprouted up, though in actuality Harry had not grown a centimetre. The walk to the carriages was muddy and wet. The rain seemed otherworldly, pouring down in unending, cold sheets that soaked through their uniforms and left them clumped together as they were pulled along by the Thestrals.
Hogwarts’ entrance hall was filled with sopping, dripping bodies casting drying charms in every direction. As they seated themselves, there was large amounts of chatter filling up the hall and noticeable gapes of missing students every so often. The Hufflepuff table seemed especially sparse. Harry turned his eyes toward the table where the teacher’s sat, watching as Slughorn gestured grandly with his goblet to a bored looking McGonagall. Down the end of the table sat Snape, his dark eyes moving between Dumbledore, Harry, Draco, and Slughorn. Harry noted with a strange sort of feeling, that Hagrid’s seat was empty.
Across from where he sat himself Blaise was looking down the end of the table with dark eyes and a carefully school expression. Harry resisted the strong urge to dart his head in the direction Blaise was looking, but did allow a short, quick peek when taking a sip of water. Nott was down there, huddled amongst the bulk of Crabbe and Goyle, Daphne had her head on his shoulder, fingers stroking over his cheek, no doubt cooing absurd pleasantries in his ear. It was boring. Harry had no idea why such a thing would capture Blaise’s interest and disdain.
After a few long moments the First Years were led inside, a huddled, scared looking mass, heads darting about trying to take everything in. The Hat was on it’s usual stool perch and everyone’s neck craned toward it, curious to see what it would sing. The brim opened wide, but instead of a song, came a long, deep speech about bonding together in dark times. Being united and strong. A front against the darkness. Then it settled to a weakly enthusiastic smattering of applause.
Students went up one by one to be Sorted. This one to Hufflepuff, that one to Gryffindor... Harry’s attention waned even when a rain speckled Hagrid shuffled over to his seat late and mumbling apologies. The great man shot a look in Harry’s direction, but Harry kept his gaze slightly forward, uncovered eye slightly glazed with boredom.
Oh, that’s right. Pansy’s younger brother was being Sorted this year, wasn’t he? Pansy sat up straighter and thumped Blaise on the spine until he sat in a rigid posture. Basil looked different than the mousy, nervous, chatty boy Harry had met four years previous at Christmas. He was taller, Harry would not be surprised if the boy was taller than him, and looked more like Pansy; the same glimmering eyes and upturned nose. He hopped his way up the steps and sat himself on the stool, a wide grin on his face as the Hat was placed on his head.
Silence reigned in the Hall as the Hat decided, Basil’s grip on the edge of the stool slowly getting tighter and tighter. His body practically vibrating. Pansy was no better, her hands gripped tight to Blaise’s shoulder so hard she was no doubt going to leave marks as she softly whispered ‘come on, come on’.
Going on two minutes murmuring started to rise and Millicent leaned against the table, expression smug. “I think we’ve got a Stall.”
Pansy’s eyes were like ice when she whipped her gaze toward Millicent. “You take that back. Every Parkinson has been in Slytherin and Basil isn’t going to be any different. The Hat is probably making sure he’s the best Slytherin there is.”
“Five minutes, Pans. I think we have an official Stall.” Blaise murmured, wincing when Pansy’s hand dug hard into his shoulder. “Ow.”
“Wanking Hat!” Pansy’s eyes went wide and she clapped a hand over her mouth before looking down at the table with a flushed tone when she realized her words had been aloud.
Watching as Basil made his way toward the Ravenclaw table with some interest, Harry quickly went back to bored. The rest of the students were quickly run through and the feast began.
“Neville told me something interesting.” Blaise began, voice low as he took a bite of his chicken. “He said there’s an outposting of Aurors at Hogsmeade.”
Draco’s brows rose slightly and he pushed his peas into his mashed potatoes. “For us?”
“Must be. I just wonder on whose orders.”
They exchanged curious looks and shrugs as plates emptied and refilled. After a long while dessert finally came to the tables and Pansy snatched two lemon tarts with fiendish speed and devoured them just as quickly. Cheeks bulged out and filled with pastry, she grinned and chewed. “W’y do foo --”
“Would you chew and swallow first, Parkinson? Surely you must know all proper girls swallow.” Millicent drawled, licking mousse from her spoon and staring blankly at Pansy when she was shot a scandalized look.
Chewing quickly and swallowing, Pansy took a sip of tea. “Why do you think Dumbledore hasn’t made any announcements yet?”
“Probably building anticipation.” Blaise replied, kissing the tip of her nose. “I seem to have taught you nothing.” He was rewarded with a smack.
“Everyone here has mud-mind.”
Slowly the table cleared and Dumbledore stood at the staff table. “Another wonderful year begun!” Dumbledore’s smile was wide and his hands were spread to settle the last of talking. However, the action only rose more chatter as people caught sight of his blackened hand. Even Harry’s brows furrowed - surely he could have cured it by now. Dumbledore hushed the noise by pulling his sleeve down over his effected arm.
“Must’ve been one nasty old curse.” Harry heard Millicent mutter.
“--from Weasley Wizard Wheezes are heretofore banned. Those wishing to sign up for the Quidditch House Teams may do so by applying through their Head of House.”
Harry had a brief thought of talking to Snape about resigning, but pushed the thought away to be dealt with later.
“Professor Slughorn, a dear colleague has agreed to take up his old position of Potions Master.” Slughorn stood from the table, the light of the candles in the Hall shining brightly off his buttons as he gave a large wave before sitting himself down. “Thank you Horace. Doing so has freed the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts which has been given to Severus Snape.”
A few students clapped, most of them from the Slytherin table, Harry amongst them and Snape simply nodded his chin in their direction in wordless thanks. A few students were murmuring in annoyance, but Harry’s bored gaze tracked toward Nott at the end of the table, who was flying a folded aeroplane napkin in the air above a few younger student’s heads.
“He’s acting odd.” Blaise muttered gently and Harry looked to him, brow raising before realizing Blaise was addressing Nott.
“No more than usual.”
“--are once again at large. There is an air of danger at present, but I will stress to you all that within these walls you are in an unending dome of safety. Over the summer extensive fortifications, newer, stronger, more unique spells and charms have been added, and you need not worry. I will, however, need to impart new rules to accompany us during such a dark time - for students and staff alike. The most important rule is that no one, I stress no one should be out of dormitories after hours. If any suspicious or malicious activities are seen inside or outside the castle they must be reported to a teacher immediately. And lastly, above all, I implore you to look out for one another. To do as the Sorting Hat has asked, and to look after one another’s well being and safety.”
Folding his hands together and offering them all a kind, bright smile, Dumbledore nodded at them. “Now, off to bed. We all must be rested for a new day tomorrow. Goodnight.”
The Hall became a flurry of noise and Harry stood from his seat watching as Millicent and Nott bustled together, both with strained, overly polite, forced expressions, to gather the First Years together and go through Prefect duties. Pansy was elbowing and smacking her way through the sea of people toward the Ravenclaw area with a cool expression that Harry was sure spelled doom for Basil. As he passed the table he heard her squawking voice ‘Hatstall! A Hatstall!? Honestly, Basil!’
The walk to the Common Room was quiet and filled without interruption. From somewhere behind him Harry could hear Draco and Blaise muttering. He was shoved out of the way by a meaty shoulder belong to Goyle and was practically snarled at and shoved into the wall by Crabbe. Ignoring them, Harry entered the Common Room and made his way toward the boy’s sixth floor room. Crabbe and Goyle’s curtains were drawn and no sound came from them. Harry eyed the material for a long moment before sliding on toward his bed, which was gratefully nestled beside a heater and the windows. Draco’s bed was beside his own and Harry realized, with a frown, that Nott’s was across from his.
Ananta was curling and uncurling happily on the bed, basking in the heat from the cast iron, glowing stove sending heat curling into the room. Patting his snake absently, Harry changed for bed. He had just pulled his shirt over his head when Blaise and Draco bustled in. Blaise dropped down on the bed on Draco’s other side, across from what Harry guessed was Crabbe’s bed. Draco climbed onto his own bed and rolled onto his side, looking at Harry. Harry watched him for a long moment, merely blinking into the silence.
“So...” Draco finally said. “Snape for Defence, eh? You excited?”
“I’m sure he’ll be a competent Professor. Unlike last year’s.” Harry replied, voice even.
Draco opened his mouth to reply but he was cut off by Nott’s nasally voice.
“What happened to the eye, Potter?”
Blaise shot off his bed, hands clenched, face hard. “Wank off, Nott.”
“Tetchy, tetchy. Potter getting on his knees for you too, Zabini?”
With a noise not unlike a growl, Draco stood up, getting in Nott’s face. “Care to say that again, Theodore?”
Nott’s smile was cool and collected. He looked past Draco and Blaise toward Harry, who was watching them impassively from the bed. “Better call off your attack dogs, Potter. Wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to them.”
Tipping his head in Nott’s direction, Harry looked to Blaise and then to Draco. He gave a shrug, trying to seem as nonchalant as possible. Slowly, as if fighting it, Draco stepped away. Eyes still hard and fixed on Nott. After a few longer, tense moments, Blaise took a few steps back.
“I’ve got my eyes on you.” Blaise whispered, hands clenched at his sides.
Nott smiled, showing his perfect, white teeth. “Better you than Potter.” Turning on his heel, Nott walked to his bed, paused a moment to look at Harry, who stared back at him with a blank face, before Nott climbed in and drew the curtains shut.
“What the bloody fuck was that?”
Looking toward Blaise, Harry rose his shoulders in a shrug. “He’s not worth it. Big words.”
“Then what the hell is worth it, Harry?”
Startled, Harry looked toward Draco. Opening his mouth to reply, he closed it and his mouth twisted shut, lips pinched together almost painfully. Letting out a breath through his nose, Harry reached up to remove his glasses before sliding off the patch from over his eye. The strange vertigo feeling filled him with dizziness and discomfort before Harry felt his way to the side table to rest his things down. Groping for his covers, half-blind and without depth perception, he managed to tuck himself in after a moment of fumbling, ignoring the quiet question of help from Blaise.
Once he was settled a quick wand wave snapped the curtains shut and another set up a silencing spell. With confused, conflicted emotions, Harry forced himself asleep.
The next morning started off awkward. Pansy was still in a bit of a huff over her brother’s sorting. Yesterday, he had understood she was startled over it, but to still be mad over it the next day seemed strange. But it wasn’t worth it to face her wrath, even when he saw Basil send her a hurt look from his table.
On the other hand, Nott continued to radiate smugness, flanked by an even more vicious than before Crabbe and Goyle. It was easy to understand the change in those two - their fathers had been captures in the Ministry, after all, so they had reason to hate their group. But Nott’s change didn’t seem to have a deeper cause. Judging by the way Blaise continued to watch him like a hippogriff with a dead weasel, he found the behavior deeply suspicious. Harry really couldn’t care, other than it was something he had to keep in mind.
Worst of all, Draco was still plainly furious over last night’s discussion. While he didn’t move away or outwardly reject Harry (which would be stupid right now, given the way Nott and his croonies were keeping an eye on them), he seemed to prefer conversation with nearly anybody else in their group. It should have suited Harry fine, but instead it bothered him. Intellectually, he’d understood that his plan would push away his friends and boyfriend at least a bit, but seeing it in action was another thing entirely. Not to mention it reminded him of last year, which had a sort of sting of its own.
They got their time tables without much fuss, other than a searching look from Severus. Harry just blinked at him, and the man looked disappointed for a brief moment.
That one hurt too.
With his time table, he was handed a badge. It was the Slytherin Captain’s badge, and Harry blinked at it. “As senior most member, you are automatically made Captain, Mr. Potter.” Severus informed him dryly. “Normally this would have arrived with your OWL results, but the Headmaster asked me to wait until you had returned. Please inform me when you decide on a date for tryouts.”
“But I don’t want it.” Harry informed him, staring up at him. Severus’ neutral look was abandoned for a frown, and from the corner of his eye, Harry saw Draco’s head whirl to look at him.
Lips pressed into a thin line, Severus inclined his head. “That is your decision, Mr. Potter, though I urge you to reconsider. If nothing else, Quidditch Captain looks very good on a resume when you leave these halls.”
Harry’s bland look said exactly what he thought about his chances of that happening. Severus’ frowned deepened further still, and he heard Draco let out a little hiss of air. “Very well. In that case, the Captaincy can go to either Mr. Malfoy or Ms. Bulstrode.”
Turning around, Harry held out the badge. Draco just stared at him, eyes crackling with anger. But before he could even open his mouth, a hand shot out and snagged it. “Thanks so much, Potter.” Millicent drawled, pinning the badge to her chest. “Don’t you worry about it. I’ll whip your arses into shape. The cup is as good as ours.”
When no one protested the decision (including Draco, who just continued to stare holes in the side of Harry’s head), Snape nodded and cast one more odd look at Harry before moving on to pass out the rest of his time tables.
“What the bloody hell was that?” Draco hissed.
Harry blinked at him. “I didn’t want the responsibility.” He replied, voice bland. He was honestly surprised by how vehement Draco was about this. Perhaps it was build up from last night.
There was a second where Draco just sputtered at him. “But you love Quidditch!”
With a shrug, Harry reapplied himself to his breakfast. “Doesn’t mean I want to be in charge. Besides, Seekers make for bad Captains. Too far removed from the action.”
This didn’t seem to mollify Draco at all, who continued to look like Harry had slapped him. Finally, Blaise patted him on the shoulder and shook his head, specifically not looking at Nott, and Draco bared his teeth but went back to his breakfast.
The rest of the meal was nearly silent, except for Millicent, who chattered on about some plans she had for the team now that she was in charge, completely unaffected by the heavy atmosphere.
Even as removed as he was, Harry was relieved when it ended, and they could go to class.
Chapter 3: Maelstrom
The air in the Defence Against The Dark Arts classroom was a mixture of relaxed and tense. Anticipation at who was teaching them and what they were learning seemed to override the confusion. Harry sat with Millicent, who still chattered away about ideas every so often while digging things out of her bag. It seemed he had made the right decision with her appointment, her level head would no doubt serve them well.
“Today,” Snape started, stepping into the classroom and flicking his wand at the board, “will begin your year long study into the arts of non-verbal magic. Casting non-verbal spells gives the advantage... why? Yes, Miss. Greengrass?”
“Because your opponent can’t hear your spell and therefore has less time to react.”
“Very good. Another addition to using non-verbal spells is power. The higher the personal emotion, the stronger the spell impact. This leaves out the filter from thought to word on casted spell. This is due to non-verbals relying solely on concentration, focus, determination and thought. Not all spells can be non-verbal, as some require verbal command, but most can translate. Mr. Potter could you provide an example of a spell that requires verbal command?”
Harry stared up at the professor for a long moment, thinking hard. “I believe, Obliviate, sir.”
“I...” Harry’s brow furrowed. “I’m... not sure.”
“Oblivate’s function through verbal to non-verbal is still amongst debate. A better example would have been the ‘pack’ command. As you must order the contents verbally rather than simply wish it and picture it so.”
Nott’s hand shot into the air. There was a long moment before Snape nodded at him.
“Professor, do Unforgivables require verbal command?”
Snape’s brows pinched together for the briefest second before a complete mask came over his face. “No.” Pausing a moment, Snape stared at them all. “Today’s assignment is to attempt to disarm your partner non-verbally. Get to it.”
People moved about, spreading through the room at a good distance before beginning to work. A few students, most notably Daphne, weren’t actually casting non-verbally, but rather whispering as low as they could. Both Crabbe and Goyle looked as though their heads would explode, they were concentrating so hard. Harry did his best, flung himself into his work as hard as he could, picturing Millicent’s wand flying out of her hand and practically screaming ‘expelliarmus’ as loud as he could in his head. Not a twitch.
By the end of the class everyone was panting and tired.
Surveying them once with sharp eyes and a few nods, Snape dismissed them all. Most of them left as quickly as they could. Harry was about to go through the door when a hand pressed to his arm. Turning his head, Harry rose his brows at Snape.
“Excellent suggestion of the Obliviate curse.”
“Thank you, sir. Why are you telling me now?”
Snape opened his mouth, watching as Harry pulled his messenger bag over his head and settled it onto his shoulders. “No reason, Mr. Potter.”
Harry left for Potions without another word.
The Potions classroom was filled with an equal mixture of Gryffindors and Slytherins. Three tables had smoking, steaming potions on them, and Harry drifted into the room close to where Millicent and Hermione were standing and watched with a raised brow as Ron skidded into the room looking confused. He headed over to them, gulping in heaps of air.
“McGonagall - bloody hell - said I needed to take this course.”
“Well, you do want to become an Auror.”
“I couldn’t have gotten in with Snape, I only had an EE!”
“--Now if you could all get our your copies of Advanced Potion Making, scales and potions kits --”
“Professor.” Hermione spoke up, hand in the air.
“Yes my dear girl?”
“My friend, Ronald, he just got assigned and --”
“Ah, yes. Minerva mentioned...” Professor Slughorn bustled over to the store cupboard and thrust a battered copy of Advanced Potion Making at Ron along with a set of scales and assurance he could use stores from the cupboard. Ron nodded, looking very out of place with all the things balanced in his gangly arms.
“I’ve made a few potions for you all to assess. You should all be able to recognize them by look. It’s the key to being a good potioneer by now. We’ll try this one first.”
Harry gazed down at it. It was clear and at a rolling bubble. He instantly recognizeed it as Vertiaserum.
“That’s Vertiaserum, Professor.” Harry heard Hermione answer. “A colourless, odourless, tasteless potion that compels the drinker to speak only the truth.”
“Very good. And this one?”
Millicent’s hand beat Hermione’s into the air and she shot the girl a thin smile when she was pointed at. “Polyuice Potion, sir. I’ve seen pictures in the Ministry Pamphlets.” The sludgy, tar like potion was bubbling thickly in the cauldron and Harry crinkled his nose at it.
“Very good. Excellent, excellent. And this one?” He pointed to the last potion in a shimmering silver cauldron giving off almost shining steam rising up in spirals.
“Amortentia.” Hary gasped out, the word coming from him like he had been punched in the gut. His eyes snapped to Slughorn. “The most powerful love potion in the world.” The steam drifting from it carried a thick, almost heady scent; forest after rain, orchid blossoms and broom polish.
Harry’s eyes drifted toward the blonde who was leaning against the table closest to the Vertiaserum before he looked down again. Now was definitely not the time.
“Indeed. The potion smells different to each person depending on what attracts them. And it is easily the most powerful potion in this room. Pay mind, dear children, to the dangers that truly obsessive love can bring. Because Amortentia does not bring true love, no potion could ever do that, instead it brings infatuation and obsession to the mind.”
“What about that one?” Ron asked, jabbing his finger toward a fourth cauldron which looked like it held liquid gold.
“Oho. Very good eye. Can anyone -- Mr. Zabini?”
“Yes. Yes! Excellent. Fifteen points to each Gryffindor and Slytherin. This is indeed liquid luck - or as it’s more formally called. Felix Felicis. Disastrous if made wrong, impossibly wonderful when made correctly and desperately tricky.”
“Isn’t it supposed to make everything you want come true?” Blaise asked, brows climbing.
“Of a sort, Mr. Zabini. It will make you infinitely lucky. It will make all that you work for succeed. Until the effect wears off. It can be addictive and you must be careful not to overload on a good thing. Balance, you must remember, is the key to life.”
Eyeing Slughorn’s massive belly, Harry wondered how much of his own advice he heeded.
“So. That is your prize.” Slughorn pulled out a small glass phial. “For the student who succeeds in making a decent example of the Draught of Living Death will win this. Enough for about ten to twelve hours. It cannot be used during sports or examinations, but use it on an ordinary day and watch it come alive!” He stole a look at the clock. “Time starts now.”
It was like a bomb had exploded. Everyone scattered and ran for their tables but no one spoke. People were rifling and measuring and chopping away. Harry flipped through the pages of his book with a small amount of calm. Ron was next to him looking peevish.
“I can’t read a thing!”
Gesturing to his book Harry looked over at it, noticing that the book was lined with writing. Ah. The mark of a good potions student. His stomach clenched a moment at the reminder of Severus.
“I’ll trade you.” Harry offered, holding up his brand new copy.
“Really?” Ron snatched for it. “Thanks, mate!”
And with that, Ron was off.
Examining the notes in the margins and over the words. The handwriting was loopy and cramped chicken scratch. And all too familiar. It was Severus’, without a doubt. Staring at the pages for a moment, Harry started to work. The back of his mind flared up on overdrive allowing him to chop without looking, squish and stir and drop while his eyes were fixated on the revised instructions. Something inside of him knew better than to contradict Severus’ mastery.
“Time’s up, stop stirring!”
Harry immediately retracted his stirrer from the cauldron and rested it down, looking around the room. Hermione’s hair had grown by at least five sizes. Nott’s cauldron looked like it was bubbling over. Draco looked sufficiently pleased with his. Harry could see why - it was the pale shade of pink between lilac and pearly it needed to be.
From what Harry could tell, his had gotten the farthest. A small amount of pride burst inside of him. He stood in place, shocked at his reaction and silently sat on his stool, waiting for assessment.
“Merlin’s beard! Severus certainly wasn’t lying, m’boy! You definitely have a knack for potions. Why, just look at it!” Slughorn clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Indeed. Your mother’s son, you are. Lily was a supremely talented potions maker herself.”
Emotion coiled within Harry. Seeping through the crack of pride and bringing a tide he desperately stamped away. He was better without it. No, stupid emotions, why don’t you get it, I’m better without you!
“T-thank you, sir.”
“This Felix Felicis is well earned!”
When Slughorn moved away and his arm retreated, Harry felt like he was floundering without support.
Harry spent dinner silent, staring at his plate like it was written in Russian, and he had until the end of the meal to translate it. His plan was falling apart around his ears, and the knowledge only made him more emotional. Through it all, he barely touched his fork, and then only to push his food around. The constant battle between suppressed emotions and blankness was making him feel slightly ill and giving him a hell of a headache.
There was only so much more of this he could take. Harry needed a new strategy, right now. Maybe he would go down to the library and look up-
Before he could plan farther, a hand slapped him hard on the back, and he nearly face planted in his food. He turned one wide eye back to see Millicent, one hand still out stretched, and the other planted firmly on her hip. “Go get your broom, Potter. You too, Malfoy, Zabini, Nott. We won’t win the cup by sitting on our arses, will we?”
Draco looked down her nose at her, which was impressive considering that he was sitting, and she had two inches on him regardless. “You can go hang, Bulstrode. It’s the first day of classes.”
Sniffing right back at him, Millicent sneered. “And you spent the whole summer with your feet firmly on the ground, didn’t you?” Draco showed his teeth, mostly because he couldn’t deny it. “Thing of it this way - we’ll have a fantastic advantage if we get started on practices now, since we’ll get to do tryouts first. Try to think like a Slytherin, would you?”
A snort came from Blaise, who mostly just looked amused at Millicent. “You’re going to be a right terror, aren’t you?”
Millicent just smirked. Draco glared at Harry, clearly blaming him for this. Lost in his head as he was, Harry barely noticed.
They met up with Pucey farther down the table, and then made their way to the dorms to collect their things before heading to the field.
Clearly enjoying being the one to give the order, Millicent ran them through some normal drills as warm-up. Honestly, once she came down from her power high, Millicent probably wasn’t going to be so bad a Captain. Ruthless, maybe, and not the least bit above cheating, but this was the Slytherin team. At least she wouldn’t be some sort of emotional wreck, like the Gryffindor Captain from a few years back. Wood. That guy had been a fanatic, and Harry was quite glad he’d not been under him. He much preferred Captain Flint’s no-nonsense Drill-Sargent style.
But the second Harry was in the air, he remembered something that made him freeze in horror.
He’d forgotten how much he loved flying.
Just holding the broom made his blood sing a little, and try as he might, he couldn’t fight the feeling. After all, it wasn’t a mental thing. Part of what he loved about flying was the physical thrill of it - the feeling of zipping through the air, the little drop in him stomach as he plummeted towards the ground, the primal thrill of chasing the Snitch.
There was no amount of mental exercises that could make those feelings less wonderful.
And they, like the pride earlier, acted like cracks. Like holes in the dam of his emotions, and Harry didn’t have enough fingers to plug them. The very structural integrity of it all was being torn apart in front of him.
Frankly, Harry was kind of dizzy with it all.
It must have shown, because Blaise shot him a worried look, and Draco kept watching him from the corner of his eyes. Nott shot him a smirk, clearly convinced this was because he was shaking after the summer.
Harry though about pretending to be sick, and heading to the Hospital Wing where he could avoid this until he figured out a way to fix it. But one glance at Millicent proved that wasn’t about to happen. He was stuck in the air as his emotions oozed into him.
He was so, so doomed.
Practice seemed to take forever and no time at all. On one hand, it was fun to be back, zooming across the field and doing laps and just anything that had to do with being on his broom, even if the Snitch never came into play. On the other hand, feeling his emotions slowly overwhelm him was a new brand of torture, and it was leaving him panting.
There was just so much of it. Everything he’d pushed away was looming over him, and if he didn’t get away from this soon, he was going to drown.
Ignoring the way his heart clenched in something like pain when he landed at the end of practice, Harry rushed for the locker room, utterly ignoring any attempts to speak to him. He got dressed in record time, and was about to head out when Draco caught his arm, eyes narrowed in frustration.
“What is with you?” The blonde snapped, grey eyes searching his face.
Harry shook his head frantically.
Frowning, Draco’s hand came up to rest on Harry’s cheek. No, no, that was worse! Was he shaking? He needed to get away, now, but Draco wasn’t letting go and oh Merlin...
Finally, Harry opened his mouth. “I need to quit Quidditch.”
The hand on his arm tightened, and Draco’s eyes flashed with heat. “Quit- Are you barking mad? Why would you do something as daft as that?”
“I can’t...” Harry shook his head. The emotions were turning sour fast, frustrated by how Draco was preventing him from helping them. And the anger just made him feel worse, like a negative circle. “Just leave me alone, Draco.”
Oh, that had been the wrong thing to say. Draco’s lips thinned dangerously, and he glanced at the rest of the team, who were watching with startled eyes. “Would you all please excuse us?”
There was a flurry of motion, and between Millicent and Blaise, the place was empty of everyone else in a few moments.
Turning back, Draco stared at him, startlingly calm. “What the fuck, Harry?” His tone was almost conversational.
Harry bit his lip hard, trying to focus on something other than in his head. “Leave off, Draco. It’s not a big deal.”
“You learned nothing from last year, did you?”
The would-be-question was blunt, almost resigned, and Harry flinched like he’d been hit. Draco’s hand twitched like it wanted to smooth over his cheek, but didn’t actually do anything.
He really was doing it again, wasn’t he? Pushing everyone away. But Harry just didn’t know what else to do. What if it was Voldemort again? What if someone else died because of his impulsive Gryffindor tendencies? He couldn’t take it.
But it wasn’t fair to Draco either, was it? So maybe if he wanted Draco to do what he wanted, to leave him to lick his woulds and figure out what to do from here, then Harry should give him something he wanted.
And so Harry pressed forward, nearly smashing their lips together.
For the briefest of moments, Draco softened. Melted into the kiss. No doubt desperate for touch after Harry had starved him for it for so long. Harry reached for the fastening on Daco’s Quidditch trousers before looking at Draco with a shocked face when he pulled away.
This was what he wanted, right?
“What’re you doing?”
Harry’s brows knitted briefly. “Apologizing.”
Lurching forward again, Harry tried for Draco’s mouth but was dodged. Frustration built up inside of him. What the hell did Draco want with him? He reached for Draco but his hands were batted away. The action, the symbolism of it, stung more than it should have. Harry found himself taking in an uneven breath.
“Why are you doing this?”
Harry wanted to snarl. He wanted to scream. He stomped everything down. “This is what you want? Right? You’re always touching me. Pushing for more. I know you wank off to thoughts of me.”
“Well, yeah but --”
“Then why won’t you let me do this for you?”
“Because this isn’t you!”
“The fuck - of course it’s me! I’m me! Harry Potter. The boy who has to save the soddin’ world from itself. The boy who lies. That’s me, right? Your boyfriend! And I want to make you happy right now. So if you don’t mind --”
“I do mind, thank you very much! I mind a lot. I’m not ready for this. You aren’t ready for this.”
“I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t ready.”
“Just ten minutes ago you were ready to end Quidditch. Just this morning you weren’t eating. That isn’t the Harry I know. That isn’t the Harry I fell in love with. The Harry that I fell in love with would drop everything for flying. Would defend himself against arseholes. That Harry would have cried for Sirius!”
Not that... Not that name.
For a brief moment, Harry’s wall faltered and emotion flooded in and damn did it hurt. Sucking in a sharp breath, he slammed it behind a door and went for Draco again. He could do this. He had to do this. He had to make him shut up. Make him go away. He had to get his bearings again.
Draco’s hands settled on Harry’s cheeks and he ran his thumbs over Harry’s chin. His eyes were wet and wide. “Harry, this isn’t you. Where’s my just Harry?”
Everything in Harry shattered.
Before he could stop himself, Harry was sobbing. His knees gave out and he crumbled to the floor, clinging to Draco like he was his only lifeline. Words were impossible and he just kept crying. Harder than he had in years. Possibly harder than he ever had. Pain and love and guilt and sadness just flowed over him, slamming against him from every side and he clawed at Draco for help, unable to process it.
Arms looped around him, holding him close and Harry pressed his face against Draco’s neck. An apology stammered out of him with a rolling sob; each breath a painful hiccup as he tried to remember how to breathe and how to feel.
“Draco, I’m so sorry, I--”
Draco’s lips pressed to his forehead, his long, dainty fingers sifted through his hair as he cradled Harry’s body against him like he had many times before. Hushing him softly, Draco pressed his cheek to the top of Harry’s head, rocking him silently until he cried himself out.
Chapter 4: After the Storm
It took ages for Harry to finally calm down. The emotional and physical release left him feeling achy and tired, but at least he was there. Slowly, he caught his breath and looked up at Draco. “Hi.”
“Hello there. Welcome back.”
Draco sounded so dry that Harry couldn’t resist rolling his eyes. “Guess I’ve been a bit of a prat recently.”
That earned him a snort. “I’m not sure which part I should be correcting. Do I go with the ‘a bit’ or ‘recently’?”
Smacking at him lightly, Harry sat up and pulled away, rubbing at his tear-stained face. After a second, his hands were replaced by a thinner pair, and Draco smoothed his bangs away, kissing his forehead. “I’m going to have to apologize to everyone.”
There was a sigh, and Draco looked him in the eye. “Perhaps this is a little too soon, but I’m curious. What was going through your head?”
Harry winced, biting at his bottom lip. “I guess I was just worried Voldemort was going to get into my emotions again, so it was kind of a way of preventing that. And everything just hurt, so it seemed easier that way anyway.”
Grey eyes regarded him with something like amusement. “So you ran away?” Draco didn’t need to finish that thought. ‘Like a coward.’ Biting at his bottom lip, Harry slowly nodded. “Would you look at that. We finally made a Slytherin out of you.”
Punching at his shoulder, Harry muffled his relieved chuckles against Draco’s shoulder. “Bite me.”
“Maybe later, dear.”
And so that afternoon, Harry practically slunk into the Common Room, Draco trailing after him. While Draco had been the mostly outwardly frustrated at his emotionless state, he didn’t doubt he’d hurt everybody else with it too. Logically, Harry was pretty sure whatever retribution he would have to face wouldn’t last long, but there was still a part of him that was eleven years old and afraid they’d decide he was too much trouble. Every day at Hogwarts dwindled it a bit, but it was possible some scars just wouldn’t fade.
At first, Blaise and Pansy just shot him interested looks, the former more so, if only because he’d been around for the blow-out with Draco. But Harry could see the second they noticed something different about him. Two sets of wide, dark eyes stared up at him, and Harry swallowed hard. “Hey. So, I need to stop doing stuff that I need to apologize to you lot for.”
And that was all he needed to say before Blaise and Pansy pulled him down between them. There was a kiss to his cheek, and he was dragged sideways across their laps, head resting on Pansy’s thighs. “You had us worried, you berk.” She informed him lightly, hand carding through his hair.
“You’re feeling better, then? No more acting like you’ve been kissed?” Blaise examined his expression, looking like he was searching for any hint of a lie. Harry nodded, and that was apparently good enough for the dark-skinned boy, who settled back with a satisfied look and sent a look that was distinctly congratulatory at Draco. The Malfoy Heir smirked in response, looking utterly smug, and Harry snorted.
Really, he needn’t have worried, even if they were pissed. This was Slytherin - they were going to reward his good behavior now, and then get him back for having to worry later. So the order of the day was to take advantage of as much good will as he could now.
Eyeing the box of Honeyduke’s chocolate, Harry looked up at Pansy. “Can I have a chocolate?”
“Nope. Mine.” The hand in his hair curled into something like claws, nails digging in slightly, and Harry nodded frantically until they calmed.
And after this, Harry was going to have to apologize to Severus and the Headmaster, wasn’t he? Not to mention sign back up for those lessons.
This day just kept getting better and better.
Harry found himself standing outside of Severus’ office a little over an hour later dreading the idea of knocking. Maybe he could leave a note and flee? That seemed entirely sensible. Steeling up his frazzled nerves, he rose a fist and knocked on the door. There was sound of movement within the room before the door swung open. Severus looked down at him a moment, face shocked, before it schooled over into impassivity.
Oh. Oh, Merlin. That really hurt. “I’m so sorry, sir. I just... I was an idiot and thought I was doing the right thing and...”
A waved hand from Severus cut off his rant. “The hallway is no place for this.” Ushering him inside and through the modified classroom back toward the living quarters stationed at front of the class. Sweeping inside, Harry sat himself down and instead of the usual chai tea had a small, highly tempered glass of Fire Whiskey pushed into his hands. Looking down at it a moment, Harry simply pressed the tumbler flat between his palms and rolled it back and forth.
“I assume you did so for good reason.”
“Yes. Or, I thought I was.”
Eyeing him hard for a long moment, Severus merely nodded and sipped his own glass of Fire Whiskey. Harry stared at his glass and sloshed the amber liquid around before taking a small sip. Coughing when he pulled the drink away he balked at Severus’ amused, sly smirk.
“Despite what you may have thought, Mr. Potter, and what I may outwardly portray, emotions are a good thing.”
Harry rolled his eyes, scratching at his cheek. Everyone was taking his apology so well. It was like they all knew, all expected, him to snap out of it any moment and were ready to welcome him back with open arms. It was comforting and disheartening at the same time. Why had he put them all through this for so long based off a silly idea that now the more he thought about it made no sense.
“I have been meaning to ask you, why do you wear the covering in school?”
Harry’s hand moved up to touch at the eye patch on his eye and he heaved out a breath. He hadn’t worn it after a month in Grimmauld Place. It had seemed unnecessary and pointless. “I thought, perhaps, the other students and professors would be unnerved by my new appearance.” That was definitely part of the reason. His damaged eye was pale, almost yellow-green, looking similar to a snake with the way the pupil had elongated due to the cut. However, part of him felt guilty; his eyes were his tie to his mother. Without them he lost part of the crucial connection he had with Severus and the thought hurt too much to bear.
“It seems to me you are impeding your vision and increasing a problem with depth perception for the benefit of other people. Have you learned nothing of being a Slytherin?” Severus chided lightly, voice almost joking in a dry sense. “Allow me.”
For a moment Harry wanted to protest but Severus had already put his drink aside and stood. Carefully removing and setting aside Harry’s glasses, pressing them lightly into his hands, he reached for the string holding the patch to Harry’s face. A soft sigh left Severus and Harry was pretty sure he heard a comment about the ‘retched state of his hair’ as his head was pushed to bow forward. Severus’ fingers did away with the tight knot holding the patch in place and it fell away. Brightness and vertigo set in quickly, flooding his weak eye and making his head spin. Slipping his glasses back on, Harry was pleased when the enchanted lenses compensated for his eyesight problems.
Rubbing under the socket of his eye, Harry blinked rapidly and looked up at Severus, raising his brows in a silent way of asking ‘well?’.
“Much better. Far more imposing. Now you look like a proper Slytherin.”
A weak grin fell over Harry’s lips and he nodded in mute thanks. His hands returned to busying themselves the the glass of Fire Whiskey as he sat, unsure of what to say. For a long moment, Severus seemed to simply enjoy his drink before he stood.
“I am sure you have far more important things to do than sitting around in my quarters, Mr. Potter. Perhaps writing that essay I assigned? Or perhaps getting up to some sort of frivolous activity with Ms. Parkinson? Or perhaps you should see the Headmaster about those lessons you recklessly tossed aside?”
Harry stood, knowing he was dismissed. Setting his drink aside he turned to Severus, mouth open to spout off apologies and thanks.
“Off. Canary Clusters. And I expect you hear next Tuesday an hour early. We have Defensive Magic to go over. Now go.”
With an amused, grateful smile, Harry tipped his head to the side and left the room without another moment to lose. Pausing only briefly at the steps to hear the lock latch into place he moved with a purpose to see the Headmaster.
It was starting to be kind of late when Harry arrived at Dumbledore’s office. After the day he’d had, he was tempted to turn around and save this for tomorrow. But he didn’t think he could get to the dungeons before curfew anyway, and he didn’t fancy wandering the halls without some kind of pass. So it was wiser to go in anyway.
This was going to so very fun.
Muttering the password, he made his way past the stone guard and up the stairs. Raising his hand, Harry made to knock, but was interrupted by the Headmaster’s voice. “Ah, Mr. Potter. Do come in.”
Maybe these lessons would teach him how Dumbledore could do that. Probably not. The man did love his secrets.
Harry opened the door and made his way inside. Dumbledore was seated at his desk, cheeks slightly pursed as he sucked on a lemon drop and blue eyes sharp as he examined his student. Next to him, Fawkes gave a cheerful trill, eyeing him with interest. Maybe phoenixes could sense when someone had just experienced an emotional breakthrough. It would make sense, given what their songs could do. “Hello, sir. Can we talk?”
“Certainly!” The Headmaster gestured at the chair across from his desk, which moved back and twisted like someone had offered it to Harry. Not at all calmed by the seemingly cheerful response, Harry took his seat slowly. Honestly, he wasn’t really a fan of this room. All the strange objects of unknown purpose never sat well from him, and those portraits set off every Slytherin instinct he had. Had every single Headmaster or Headmistress in the history of Hogwarts been someone who snored? And all of them so loud and noisily? Not a chance.
There was a minute of awkward silence, as Dumbledore went back to working on whatever had his attention before Harry arrived, and Harry stalled, not really sure what to say. “If you’ve come just to spend time with me, then I suppose I should order tea.” Blue eyes regarded him over the half-moon glasses, but he made no move to so much as call a House Elf. Yeah, stalling time was up, then.
“That’s not it, sir. I don’t suppose those lessons you offered before would still be on the table.”
Something in the older man’s gaze seemed to warm a bit, and he nodded. “If you wish to take them, I would be more than happy to assist you. Have you changed your opinion on your chances of victory, than?”
Harry shook his head. “Um, no. I still don’t think it’s very likely I’d win.” Everything he’d said before still applied. He was a sixteen-year-old boy, and basically a Muggle-born to boot. While that didn’t mean anything in terms of abilities or talent, it did say something about how prepared he’d been to face the Wizarding World. Tom Riddle, on the other hand, had several decades of learning on him. And that wasn’t even bringing in their respective amounts of power. “But I suppose I’ve decided it’s worth the effort to try. I owe it to myself, and everyone who cares about me.”
Now there was definite sparkle to Dumbledore’s eyes, and he gave Harry a smile that looked much more genuine. So Gryffindor proclamations were the key to the man’s heart. Interesting to know. “Well said, Mr. Potter. In that case, I suppose we should prepare you as best we can. Unfortunately, my schedule is not likely to be very stable in the months to come, so any information about lessons will have to be on short notice.”
Oh. Harry could see where this was going, and he didn’t really like it.
“I’m afraid it’s not quite that simple, sir.” White eyebrows rose, and Dumbledore leaned back in his chair, regarding him. “There is a condition to this.”
The Headmaster gave him a look that was very nearly dry. “You wish to make a condition on the lessons you need to help defend yourself against Voldemort?”
Well, when you put it that way... “Yes.” Harry responded, returning the look. “I want to put a condition on letting you have a greater influence on me, and for me to put myself further under your control.”
Apparently being blunt was another way to get to the man, because a portion of the grandfatherly veneer fell away, giving just a hint of the shrewed Chessmaster underneath. “And what would that be, Mr. Potter?”
Leaning forward, Harry rested his hands on his knees, meeting those blue eyes with his own mismatched ones. He hoped it was as disconcerting for the Headmaster to see as they were in the mirror. “I believe last year you promised that you would keep me more informed about what I’m facing. That’s my condition - you uphold your word. And that includes letting me in on everything that directly affects myself or those close to me. Are we agreed?”
Well. Harry had expected to be shot down, but not like that. “Can I ask why?”
Dumbledore matched his posture, his own arms braced on the desk. “For the very reasons you yourself have listed. Despite what you have faced, Mr. Potter, you are a boy, and a largely untested one. And you are already enough of a target without having up to date information about any and all plans involving yourself or several important members of the Order. In the past, I maybe have kept information from in for the sake of making you happier. Now I’m doing it because it is not wise strategy. Can you accept the difference?”
For a second, Harry just mused on that, before he shook his head. “No.” Something flashed behind Dumbledore’s eyes, and he imagined it was the same as his surprise earlier. Two could play this game. “I understand your point, but I cannot allow you to make decisions for me. This may be your strategy, but it is my life, and our war. So unless we can come to some kind of agreement on this point, I’m afraid I’ll have to withdraw my compliance.”
There was a moment where the Headmaster seemed to contemplate this, before he nodded slowly. “You have a fair point. I will make you a deal, Mr. Potter. If you can defeat me in a duel, then I will tell you everything you wish to know. Until they, you will have to trust me to only tell you what I can.”
He couldn’t help it. Harry gaped at him. “Defeat you?”
Some of the humor seemed to have been restored to the man by his reaction, and Dumbledore smiled at him. “Yes. Unless I’m sure you can hold your own, I cannot trust you with all the information you desire.” He held up the non-damaged hand in a stopping gesture as Harry opened his mouth to protest. “Mr. Potter, you require the information I am offering through these lessons if you wish to survive. I do not have to give you this concession at all. To be honest, you have managed to make me offer far more than I should. This is the point of take it or leave it.”
“I suppose I’ll have to take it, then.” Harry replied, with as much grace as he could manage. It wasn’t much, but it was something. Defeat the Headmaster? How in Merlin’s name was he supposed to do that, exactly? “In the mean time, we’ll have our lessons?”
Nodding, Dumbledore picked up his abandoned quill, but his eyes never left Harry’s. “That sounds like a wonderful plan. I’ll send you a notice when there is time to meet.”
A little stunned, Harry nodded back and stood, recognizing a dismissal when he heard one. “I’ll see you soon then, professor.”
“Indeed, Mr. Potter.”
Feeling almost dizzy on his feet, Harry made to go to the door. “Oh, could I get a note, sir?”
Dumbledore held one up to him with a flourish. Apparently he’d expected that. Harry wasn’t terribly impressed - the man was a Headmaster, after all. “Thanks.”
With that, Harry finally made his way down to the dungeons. He slept well that night.
A week later found Harry studying quietly in the library, eyes glued on a Charms book as he worked on his essay.
Leaping in his spot and causing his quill to spasm all over the parchment Harry turned his eyes toward Ron. Opening his mouth to scream at him, he simply closed his mouth and let it twist and settled for a dry look. Pink crept over Ron’s face, shading in under his freckles. Mumbling something that sounded like an apology he threw himself down in a chair. Neville sat next to him with a wave and Hermione smacked Ron, berating him for ruining Harry’s essay before she turned a polite smile to Harry.
“Can I help you three?”
“Just wanted to pop in.”
Creasing his brows a moment before raising them in confusion at Ron, Harry settled on a muddled expression. Ron clapped a hand on his back.
“We can’t say hello to our favourite Slytherin?”
Before Harry could respond Millicent bustled her way down a row of books. Her cheeks were slightly pink with exertion and she was breathing slightly heavy. “Came as fast - bloody fuck - as I could. What’s wrong?”
“Oh. You needn’t have rushed.” Getting out of her chair, Hermione offered it to Millicent. “I didn’t mean to worry you with the message. Silly me, I had told you at the beginning of the year that I would only use the coin in emergencies. Sorry, Millicent.”
Taking in a shuddering breath, Millicent nodded her head. A sort of odd relief settled through her body, but it was only apparent through the way her shoulders relaxed every so slightly. Less than two minutes later Draco, Pansy and Blaise all piled in, looking like a group of confused turkeys.
“Millicent said something was wrong. Bloody hell, Bulstrode I never knew you could move so fast.” Pansy eyed Millicent warily before draping herself across Harry’s lap without a care. “So, why are we all here?
“That’s what I’d like to know. I was finishing a Charms report. Now I have to do it again.”
Ron made a weak gurgling noise and stared at his shoes. Neville mustered an apologetic smile to Harry on Ron’s behalf before looking at Blaise and greeting him brightly. Blaise responded happily and tugged over a chair to sit next to Neville. Everyone eyed them for a long second before Blaise held up two fingers in the universal ‘fuck off’ symbol and everyone politely pretended there was nothing exciting or intriguing about their friendship.
“Anyway.” Hermione finally started, gathering everyone’s attention. “I asked everyone to come here so we could talk about S.W.O.R.D. I assumed we would be bringing the sessions back this year.”
“Oh.” To be honest, Harry hadn’t thought of it. Now with his on going lessons with Dumbledore, reassessing his friendships and his relationship with Draco, and trying to remain on top of all of his classes the idea of teaching students seemed a little out of the way. Not to mention he had started the group as a rebellion against Umbridge... His left hand twitched a moment in painful reminder and he clenched it in annoyance. “I’ll have to think about it.”
“We just thought with You-Know-Who back and everyone knowing about it now, we could really learn to kick some arse.” Neville explained, voice quiet but brave. Blaise clapped a hand on his back in support and Neville sent him a wan smile. “I mean, Professor S-Snape is loads better than the Pink Beast but you were such a good teacher, Harry. I really learned loads of stuff from you and I know I’m not the only one.”
Pausing in running his fingers through Pansy’s hair, Harry nodded at Neville’s words. He had enjoyed teaching them as well. Still, his point stood. “Like I said, let me think about it. I’ll get back to you guys by the weekend.” Maybe he could talk to Severus about it. He was sure that the professor had an idea that he had been doing some sort of goings on the previous year. Maybe he could suggest lesson plans. Or a new place to practice. Filing the ideas away for later, Harry patted Pansy’s hip and she stood out of the chair, raising her arms above her head like a lazy cat and instead climbed on Blaise.
“I have to finish this essay.” Harry reminded. “Though, if I don’t maybe I’ll have an excuse as to why I can’t go to Slughorn’s bloody club meeting.”
“He’s dreadful, isn’t he?” Hermione asked. “I mean, he’s a bright man. But playing favourites like that.”
Ron snorted. “That’s rich coming from a girl who has an invite.”
Neville rolled his eyes at Ron. “Honestly, they’re nothing special.”
“Yeah, well, I guess you can think that when you aren’t the only one in this group who doesn’t have an invitation to Slug Club.” Ron eyed the others at the table. “I bet you all have invitations too.”
Pansy shook her head. “Just Harry and Blaise. Though we’ll be using them for connections, you’ll see.” Her smile was too sweet to be innocent and she stroked the top of Blaise’s head, ignoring his swatting hands and Ron’s grumble.
“Alright, we’ve bothered Harry long enough.” Spelling something at his paper as she stood, Harry watched in awe as Hermione removed the excess ink from his parchment but not the whole thing. He wouldn’t have to do it all over again. Nodding in his direction she offered a small, toothy smile. “Useful spell with this one around,” she jutted her thumb at Ron as she pulled him out of the chair. “Anyway, see you soon!”
Pansy and Blaise left with Neville. Pansy was hanging off her boyfriend’s arm as Neville and Blaise talked about something or other. And how weird was that? When had they become friends? How? Harry looked over at Draco, who was tiredly reading over the essay Harry had been painstakingly writing.
“What do you think, Professor Malfoy?” Harry asked softly, lightly pulling on Draco’s robes.
Draco slid easily into his lap, the smirk on his lips haughty as he matched their mouths together. When they broke, Draco raked his fingers through Harry’s hair. “Shall I echo your words from last year?” Draco pressed a chaste kiss to Harry’s mouth, so glad to see it curve upward in joy again. “How did you put it? Ah yes... Fifteen points to Slytherin.”
Harry’s laugh was cut off by a kiss.
The rest of the week passed in something like a blur. It was difficult to get out of the habit of shoving everything away. Quite a few times, Harry found himself embarrassed or angry, and tried to retreat from that. But then he’d catch Draco’s eyes, or notice Blaise getting those worried lines between his brows, and he’d realize what he was doing.
There was an advantage to the practice, however. The distance he’d been able to see everything from gave him a new perspective on Nott, just as it had on the Dursley’s over the summer. Everything about their fighting had been so very childish, and Harry really didn’t have the time or the patience to deal with him. He’d never been more than an annoyance in the past, and it seemed like a good time to try and move on. Crabbe and Goyle seemed like more legitimate threats anyway, given that they had justified reasons to want to go after them. But even if they weren’t the smartest snakes in the pit, they had enough sense not to attack him in his bed or something, where they couldn’t avoid suspicion, assuming they could even get to him with Blaise and Draco around.
Honestly, Harry didn’t even really remember why he was fighting Nott in the first time. Sure, he’d always been a annoying little bastard, but it had seemed like his behavior in Second Year had been justified, considering he’d had Voldemort in his head. He was very aware of how that could mess with how someone acted. But after that, he was surprised Nott had decided to go against him - he did owe Harry his life. Then again, Nott was a Slytherin. That debt could very well be the reason he hated him so much. If he could do it all again.... Okay, Harry would do exactly the same thing. He just wasn’t the sort of person who could condemn someone to die because they’d be an arse when they grew up. Maybe that made him a bad Slytherin, but he could accept that title.
What it all came down to was that Harry was continuing his campaign of ignoring Nott’s antics. Now that he was back to normal, Draco seemed to accept it as a legitimate strategy, and not just a way to avoid emotions. On the other hand, Blaise was still absolutely convinced their Year Mate was up to something suspicious. And he could very well be right - it was rare one of them wasn’t breaking the rules in one way or another, really. Harry just didn’t have the patience to deal with Nott, and had mostly dismissed Blaise’s concerns. In all likelihood, it was just part of his continuing efforts to act like the ultimate mother hen.
And so Saturday morning found Harry ignoring both Nott’s quiet taunts and Blaise’s looks of frustration as he made his way out of the dorms to Severus’ office.
After a knock on the door, he heard Severus murmur for him to come in, and slipped past the door. Catching movement from the corner of his eye, Harry’s eyes went wide as he saw a jet of red light streak toward his head. He managed to duck just in time to keep it from hitting him, though he could feel the power of the spell making his hair stand on end as it flew by.
“Bloody hell, Severus!” Eyeing his mentor, who was smirking at him from behind his desk, wand held loosely in hand, Harry made a show of brushing off his robes and scowling. “What was that?”
The smirk didn’t fade in the least. The bastard was enjoying himself, clearly. “You must always remain prepared for attack, if you wish to survive.”
Harry scowled. “Unprovoked attack and silent casting on the very first lesson? Rude.”
That earned him a chuckle and a dry look. “I suppose the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters will be waiting on your signal, then?”
Rolling his eyes, Harry snorted. “You’re having too much fun with this.” Severus just raised an eyebrow at him. “Do you suppose we can arrange a cease-fire for a short while?” The professor started to open his mouth, but he was cut off by Harry raising a finger. “Yes, yes, the Death Eaters won’t stop because I ask nicely, or whatever gruff mentor cliche you were going to say. I have some information from the Headmaster you’ll probably find interesting.”
After a bland look for interrupting him, Severus nodded. “I suppose it should stop surprising me when you do something so casually Slytherin as baiting your request.”
“It really should.” Harry responded, voice elaborately casual, as he sat himself down in the chair across the desk. “So, I told the Headmaster I would take his lessons. Provided that he inform me of all information about myself and those close to me.”
Really, it would have been worth asking just to see Severus go still like that. Smirking, Harry waited calmly for him to regain his composure. Finally, the man blinked at him. “What I just said about being Slytherin? I take it back.”
“Har.” Harry replied dryly. “He denied me, of course. Considering how I’d already outlined my faults to him over the summer, it was to be expected. But I did manage to win a concession from him, even if it wasn’t the sort I was hoping for. He agreed that he would tell me everything I want to know, provided I can defeat him in a duel.” When Severus went still again, Harry tilted his head at him. “Should I have waited for the Earl Grey?”
Severus shook his head. “Perhaps for something stronger.” Rubbing a spidery hand along the bridge of his nose, he send Harry a baleful look. “And I suppose you want my assistance in this fool endeavor.” When he saw Harry start to frown, his own expression hardened. “You admit that much of your problem against The Dark Lord is attributed to the length of time he has had to collect resources and knowledge. But when he was a boy, the Headmaster was already more accomplished than most wizards will ever be. Do you understand my confusion as to why you would agree to this?”
Leaning back a bit in his chair, Harry shrugged. “I know it’s a stretch, but I do have an advantage in this, as opposed to Voldemort.” The name got him a mild glare, which he ignored. “The Headmaster won’t do anything lethal, or even really debilitating, for fear of making me more vulnerable. And he’s at a level where I don’t have that same fear.”
Sighing, Severus closed his eyes for a long moment. “I suppose since we’re already working on defending yourself, spending some time on strategies than would perhaps be an advantage against the Headmaster would not be uncalled for.” His look turned stern, with just a hint of something almost pleased behind it. “But that means I will accept no complaining about whatever methods I choose to teach you.”
“I’ll agree to that, but I reserve the right to snark. Otherwise, what’s the point of coming?” Severus rolled his eyes, which was probably the closest to permission Harry would get. “So, should we get started, then?”
“Indeed.” With that, Severus’ wand was suddenly pointed at his chest, and Harry wasn’t fast enough to avoid being bound by conjured rope. “You have a lot to learn, after all.”
Harry cursed. Severus nodded in agreement.
Chapter 5: Thank you all
Thank you to all of our readers who have stuck with us this far, we appreciate and love you all. We're sorry that this fanfiction was never completed, however, we are welcoming and more than eager to answer questions any of you would like to address concerning the universe. If you could please do not ask us to continue or why we stopped it would be very much appreciated. We'd be happy to answer comment-questions on what would have happened to certain characters and story lines, so please, indulge away.