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Draco Malfoy stared glumly at his breakfast. Had Hogwarts always been so boring, or had he just never noticed its dullness in the past? Here he was, one month into finishing his education, and he was going mad with the lack of excitement and intrigue. Life after the Dark Lord fiasco was so dull. It was the same schedule every day: get up, eat, learn, write letters, eat, chat, bed.

It was also just a little bit too lonely to sit here in the Great Hall without his closest friends. He knew he was spoiled after six years of Crabbe and Goyle's constant presence, but he keenly felt the absence of their two heavy bodies at his sides.

But Crabbe was dead and Goyle probably would stay in St. Mungo's for the rest of his life. Draco absently stabbed at his pancake, wondering if sugar would cheer his glum mood. Probably not, he thought with a sigh.

Nearby, Zabini and Parkinson were sitting close together, whispering to each other and occasionally looking over at Draco.

Draco sniffed and stabbed his pancake. What was their problem, anyway?

Every time he tried talking to Zabini, he'd blabber something unintelligible and run off to Parkinson. Every time he tried talking to Parkinson, she'd smile coyly and tell him she needed to see Zabini at the moment.

If he were to admit to having feelings, he'd say he was hurt by their behavior. They hadn't been as close as Draco and the goons had been, but he'd thought they were friends. Draco didn't have very many close friends. He wrote weekly to Theo and Daphne, but Beauxbatons was too far for them to be of any real comfort.

But friends didn't ignore one another for a whole bloody month. Draco scowled into his (very delicious) pancakes.

If the two had been shagging on practically every solid surface like Bones and Greengrass, he would've understood, or at least wouldn't have been so annoyed. But they weren't. They were whispering and glancing at him.

Draco was going to find out what they were hiding. It'd been too long since he'd had a distraction from his rather boring school life and mysteries were intriguing.

x

Draco's Plan A was, admittedly, not the most complex of plans.

"Hey, Zabini," he said, plopping down next to Zabini on a Slytherin common room sofa. "You've been avoiding me. Why?"

Zabini noticeably paled. "Of course I haven't, Dr—er, Malfoy. Now, if you'll excuse me..." He quickly stood up and started walking out to the dungeon exit.

"What do you call this, then?" Draco yelled after him.

"Class! Potions!" Zabini yelled.

Draco hurriedly ran after him, but Zabini took a seat on the Gryffindor side of the classroom to get away from him.

x

Plan B was much more subtle. "Greengrass," he growled in a poor imitation of Greyback, but one that easily intimidated a girl two years his junior.

"Yes, Malfoy?" she asked. "Is this about my sister?"

"What?"

"You're getting married, after all. I thought you'd talk to me about it at least, but you just went ahead and proposed without even telling me, her favorite sister." She sniffed. "But Mum and Dad say it's okay, so I guess I should let it go."

Draco forcibly closed his jaw. "You've already talked to your parents about this?"

She nodded.

"And Daphne? She said we're getting married?"

Greengrass nodded again. "Yeah. Well, it was implied, anyway. I think you two are a lovely couple."

"I'm going to kill her," Draco mumbled.

"I don't think you can do that before the wedding," Greengrass said. "I need to go to class. Did you need anything else?"

Draco shook his head. "Not anymore. I have bigger worries." He grabbed a self-inking quill and some parchment, then ran up to the owelry. Jotting down a quick note amounting to 'WTF, Daphne', he sent his owl to France.

x

After a fitful night and a failed Plan C (where was Zabini sleeping if not in the seventh year boys' dormitories, and why hadn't he noticed?), Draco headed to breakfast. This morning, he buttered a piece of bread and waited for the morning owls. If Daphne had even a shred of sense left, she would've owled him immediately.

And sure as an erupting cauldron in the presence of Longbottom, Daphne's familiar pitch-black owl came flying in. He unrolled the scroll that it brought, casting a discrete anti-shoulder-reading charm.

My dearest Draco,

I know you're shocked at the rumors surrounding us, but don't be; they were probably made by jealous idiots. My sister's a little deladdled. Don't listen to her. I'll talk to her about it the next time I see her.

Love,

Daphne

P.S. You should drop the letter right about now.

The letter erupted into a flying bouquet of thornless red roses. Draco launched it into the air in surprise and the bouquet dropped into Zabini's plate.

"Sorry, Zabini, here let me..." Draco reached over to grab the bouquet, but Zabini vanished it with a murderous expression, then strode out of the Great Hall, pulling Pansy along.

Draco gulped and shared a look with Greengrass, who was sitting next to him for some unexplainable reason. "He really doesn't like roses, huh?" he ventured.

Greengrass shook her head.

x

In the end, Draco didn't bother announcing to the whole house that he and Daphne weren't getting married. Most of them probably either didn't know or didn't care, and the only one who did care was insane enough that he didn't bother explaining the real situation to her.

He trusted Daphne to quell the rumors, since they both knew there was no way he'd marry her if the situation got really out of hand.

Instead, he started on Plan D.

"Parkinson!" Draco called, walking a little faster to catch up to her.

She slowed down to meet him and they walked to the dungeons together. Draco purposely dragged his feet to slow their stroll down. "What is it, Malfoy?"

"I thought I'd talk to you. We haven't really talked this year. Have you been busy?" He tried going for an innocent tone, but he felt Parkinson saw straight through him.

"Yes, I have. Now if you'll excuse me..." She started to turn around, so Draco took desperate measures.

"Will you go to Hogsmeade with me this weekend?"

Parkinson looked at him wide-eyed. He knew she would've killed for this opportunity when they were younger, so she had to be hooked. Now, he'd have an entire day to subtly wheedle information about Zabini out of her. It was a brilliant plan, an awesome plan, a—

"Sorry, Malfoy, I have plans."

A failed plan.

Draco gave her a pained grimace. "With Zabini? I guess the two of you are dating?" They slowly continued walking to the dungeons. Draco didn't remind her of whatever she'd felt the need to almost turn around for.

"No, we're friends. I'm dating a guy who's already out of school. He's training to be a healer." She looked at Draco for a moment. "Do you have a girlfriend? Boyfriend?"

Draco shook his head. "Nah. Too much trouble."

"You've never dated at all. Except for that time you took me to the Yule Ball, but you ignored me pretty much the entire time."

He fiddled with his cuffs, swallowing. "I had an arranged marriage contract with a French witch. She goes to Beauxbatons. Her family called the wedding off after the trials." He didn't need to elaborate why. The Malfoy name and influence was in shambles, the head of the family on permanent house arrest, and the heir with the brand of a maniac on his arm. Parkinson rubbed his shoulder consolingly.

"I'm sorry. Blaise and I've been so rude, too."

"Don't worry about it," he murmured, looking at her with watery eyes. It had taken him a few moments and a delicate silent spell to build up the crocodile tears, but he now looked sufficiently distraught. "We didn't really love each other, anyways. I just feel like I've ruined my chances with anyone else. I've never tried having a relationship..."

"Are you interested in girls? Guys?"

Draco twitched. While he'd faked the tears, the story hadn't been the least bit false. After his stunning performance, Parkinson had the right gall to be holding back the reason she'd been avoiding him. "Girls."

"Are you sure?"

"What do you mean, am I sure? I check out girls, therefore I like girls."

"You've never oggled at a guy?" Parkinson asked. Draco thought she sounded too hopeful. Was she secretly a guy? There had been that odd rumor third year, but he'd discarded it as absurd. Could it be true?

"No."

Pansy mumbled something suspiciously curse-like under her breath. "Meet me at eleven at the Three Broomsticks tomorrow?" she asked more audibly.

Draco agreed and let her run off somewhere.

x

While Parkinson had looked suspiciously like a guy in third year, but was now pretty and girlish, Zabini had really grown into his father's manly features, Draco noticed. He had seen enough photos of Zabini Senior (courtesy of his mother, who had been a close friend of his) to know Zabini Junior resembled him very closely, to an odd extreme. Draco pushed those thoughts away; this wasn't the best time to ponder Zabini's heritage.

"Are you meeting Parkinson, too, Zabini?" Draco drawled. Zabini had plopped down on the other side of the booth a few seconds ago without so much as a hello, and hadn't said anything since.

"Yeah. She said she'd meet me here..."

Draco sipped his drink, twirling his wand awkwardly. "So, how are you? I haven't talked to you in a while." Guilt trips were his specialty.

Zabini, at least, had the decency to look ashamed and explain himself, even if Draco noticed his obvious lies. "Homework, classes, apprenticeship papers," Zabini said, shrugging. "How about you?" With a gulp and an odd expression, he continued, "I heard you're getting married. Congratulations."

Draco felt Zabini's words were flat, but didn't comment. It was time for Plan E.

Hook. "Thanks, Zabini. Daphne's wonderful, I'm a lucky man."

Zabini's expression darkened and Draco inwardly grinned. Zabini's avoidance of him had something to do with the outrageous rumors.

Line. "Problem is, I need a best man. Theo's going to be out of the country, my cousins are all unpleasant, and Flint's got Quiddich season. I was hoping you might be interested. I heard from Greengrass you're free this summer. "

Zabini paled and opened his mouth to say something, but Draco interrupted him. "Unless you'll still be avoiding me this summer?" Sinker.

Zabini looked panicked and choking, so Draco decided to push just a little more. He leaned in over the table, bringing his face into Zabini's personal space. "Please, Blaise," he pleaded, liking the way Zabini's eyes widened at Draco's use of his first name. Good. Draco didn't call just anyone by their given name. "Tell me why you've been avoiding me."

The most satisfying moment of the manipulation was the one right before Zabini cracked. Draco could see the realization of futility and resignation in Zabini's eyes, the very slight what-do-I-have-to-lose shrug of his shoulders, the tongue running nervously over his pink lips, the-

"I love you," Zamini said with a grimace that didn't make the confession any less real. "I'm in love with you."

Draco stared at him, wide eyed. "You're what?" Suddenly, he wanted Zabini to shut up and avoid him forever, but once the dam opened, Zabini just wouldn't stop talking.

"I was going to tell you this year. I know we aren't friends, barely acquaintances, really, but I've had it with pining for you in secret. You're just so— so—" He ran his fingers through his hair in what looked like aggravation. "So closed off! You barely noticed me the entire time we've been schoolmates. You had your group of friends, and I just couldn't get in. You grew up with Nott, you knew Daphne for years before Hogwarts, and Crabbe and Goyle were goons, but they were your goons, and your relationship with them was practically symbiotic. I...I wanted you to see me. And then I started to see you in a different light. Salazar, you're beautiful. Handsome, arrogant, annoying, and the most attractive person I've ever met. I just fell in love."

Zabini kept talking, but Draco's mind had long since left the conversation. Stumbling in shock, he made his way out of the Three Broomsticks and to the castle. Merlin, Zabini was in love with him. What the bloody hell was he supposed to do about that? He hadn't come to any answers by the time he'd gotten to his dungeon dormitory, but he had remembered he'd left the Zabini to pay for his butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks. Really, the idiot should've known not to drop such revelations at a pub.

Plopping down on his bed, Draco contemplated whether Zabini was telling the truth. He'd never noticed Zabini perving on him, nor had Zabini ever given him the impression that he was interested in men. Draco sighed, ran a hand through his hair in an attempt to calm himself, then decided to write a letter to his father about this odd situation. Father would know what to do.

x

Just as he'd finished sealing the letter to his father, Parkinson stormed into the boys' dormitory.

"Malfoy!" she yelled. "What did you do to Blaise? Why is he so upset?"

Draco gulped and pushed away the treacherous thought that Parkinson looked really manly when she yelled. "Sorry?" he ventured.

"You should be sorry! Now, tell me what happened," she ordered, giving herself permission to sit down on Draco's bed.

Draco promptly told her everything, leaving out uninteresting parts like how he manipulated Zabini into telling him the truth. Parkinson could easily read between the lines, anyway.

By the time he finished, her bottom lip was overly red from her annoying habbit to bite on it in stressful situations. "So are you two going to date?"

Draco rubbed his head. "What the hell? I barely know the guy and he claims to be in love with me!"

"I notice you're disturbed about his confession, not at the fact that he's a guy with a gay crush on you. You're not very straight, Malfoy." Parkinson was too perceptive.

"I'm not really anything! Merlin, I've kissed one person in my entire life, and that was my then-future wife! My father raised me better than to betray my betrothed."

Parkison looked him over, and Draco felt one centimeter tall and on a watch glass. "I'll get Blaise to see you now. You two need to talk. Hurt him and die," she said with a glare, flouncing off.

"I don't want to see him!" Draco yelled after her. He got no reply.

A few minutes later, Zabini walked into the dormitory. A four-poster bed came into existance next to Draco and Zabini sat on it, looking disturbed and awkward. That made two awkward teenagers, Draco thought.

When it seemed Zabini wasn't going to say anything, Draco kicked his pride and began the obligatory uncomfortable conversation. "Where did you sleep?"

Zabini raised an eyebrow. "You noticed I was missing?"

"Yes," Draco said, hotly. Then, for the sake of honesty, he conceded, "Yesterday. I looked for you."

"You're so self-absorbed," Zabini muttered.

"And you what, love me despite the fact that I'm so self-absorbed?" Draco scoffed. "You want me to believe that?"

"Believe what you will, but I love you. I know you're getting married, but-"

Draco waved his hand. "Hold it. I'm not getting married. Those are just rumors. I was...pulling your chain today."

Zabini stared at him. Draco didn't know what to make of his expression. Was he happy? Angry? Confused? Draco didn't want him to be angry; anger was troublesome, especially in the form of an angry Slytherin. Then, as though he'd come to a decision, Zabini slid off his bed and walked close enough to touch Draco.

"You're a prat," Zabini grumbled, pulling on Draco's shirt to pull him closer. "You don't have to love me to kiss me." His lips were so bloody close now, but Draco couldn't bring himself to pull away. "Give me one chance. Go on some dates with me. I promise they'll be worth your time."

Draco pressed his lips against Zabini's. They were a little wet, like he'd picked up Parkinson's lip biting habit. If that was the case, Zabini had been nervous earlier. Draco felt a little better about his own nervousness and inexperience.

A few moments later, Draco smiled into the kiss. "You're a good kisser, Zabini."

Zabini's lips turned down just a little. "Will you call me Blaise already?"

Draco hummed in agreement and kissed him again. Maybe one day, he'd return Zabini's feelings. But for now, he was content with being loved so selflessly.

Chapter Text

"Pretty, pretty mudblood's snagged herself a pureblood husband, Evans?" LeStrange said, picking up one of Lily's Potions assignments.

"Give it back, LeStrange. It isn't any of your business. And I'm not married," yet, she finished mentally, but it was as good as saying it aloud. All because of James' big mouth, everyone knew she and James were engaged. She wished he'd have kept his silence for a little longer, but it was no use. He was so proud, so happy that Lily had finally given in, that he'd all but shouted it to his entire school.

"Then it's only a matter of time. Engagements can be broken, you poor thing. You could always marry what's-his-name, that mudblood you sit next to in Potions."

"Severus Snape," Lily offered, wondering why she bothered. LeStrange had sat three desks away from Lily and Severus for seven years of Potions, plus the extracurricular Potions classes Durmstrang offered. If she hadn't learned Severus' name by now, she wouldn't ever learn it.

"Detention, LeStrange," a familiar voice said, coming up to Lily's right. "For disrespecting a Prefect. I'll write you a slip later. And give Lily back her Potions paper while you're at it, or you'll have detention with Gregotich."

"Snape," LeStrange sneered, throwing the paper at Lily's face. She walked off in a huff, robes billowing behind her.

"I don't need to stick up for me, Severus." Lily glared at him weakly and packed up her belongings. It was pointless to stay at the library if she wasn't getting any peace and quiet.

Severus shrugged. "She's going to get in a lot of trouble for saying something like that in front of the teachers one day. The Minister's spent decades improving pureblood-muggleborn relations, but some people just won't learn."

They meandered out of the library, slowly walking to Lily's dorm. Curfew wasn't in another hour, and she didn't want to see LeStrange again very soon.

"Do you think they're really working? His policies, I mean. Durmstrang isn't even half pureblood anymore, but there's still so much the teachers can do. Especially with people like LeStrange around."

Severus patted her back and Lily leaned in, comforted by her best friend. "Fifty years ago, Durmstrang wouldn't even let muggleborns in. And now? Remember when we got our Durmstrang letters, even before our Hogwarts ones?"

Lily rolled her eyes and poked him in the shoulder with her books. "Stop saying Hogwarts like it's a dirty word. James says it's not a bad school."

Severus gave her a look, and Lily laughed and conceded to his wordless point.

"Fine, it's a bloody useless school. Did you know, they don't even have mandatory classes after fifth year? You could take one NEWT class and graduate. And they don't even have post-Hogwarts formal education! Not ours is very widespread," she conceded, "but at least the Minister's trying. Not like theirs. I don't understand how they could elect Fudge of all people. They'd be better off with Nicholas Flamel if they could ever track him down."

"Mister 'I was alive before you were even conceived" Flamel? No thanks, one guest lecture was enough. He's worse than Lockheart and I have to share a dorm with that ponce." Severus shuddered. "He's great with memory charms, though. Lockheart, I mean. I heard some Gregotich saying he might be recruited to do the Durmstrang exam charming in a few years."

"Jealous, Severus?"

He scowled. "No. Of course not."

Lily smirked into her books. "Well, of course the great Severus Snape isn't jealous. Why would the youngest person to ever hold the Gregotich Potions Award ever feel jealous of anyone?" She felt accomplished when Severus' pale cheeks reddened just a bit.

"I'm jealous of Potter, sometimes," he said, not looking at her.

Lily couldn't look at him either. "I love him. I love you too, no less and no more. Always," she whispered, mostly to herself. "Just not in that way."

Severus nodded, and the topic was closed. "I'm jealous of how LeStrange's robes billow, too. It's such a grand effect. A bit intimidating, too, if I didn't know her personally. I've tried to do the same billowing thing, but she must get her robes specially tailored to do it."

Lily rolled her eyes. "If we're going to play the jealousy game, I'm jealous of Goyle's Arithmancy prowess. Can you believe she got every question correct on last year's exams? Professor Euclidean told me in the I-didn't-tell-you way. She's going to be the best spell creator of the decade when she finishes schooling, and I'm going to be number two. The one they floo-call when she's unavailable, on some higher-paying job or the like."

"We can't all be perfect, Lily," Snape said as they arrived at Lily's dorms.

She glowered at him. "Thanks. Really, that was heart-warming."

"I tried." He left with a backwards wave, and she shook her head and entered her dorm.

There, she came to the unfortunate realization that she'd left her Spellman's Syllabary at the library, and after dropping all her belongings on her bed, ran out of the dorms and to the library. She didn't pass Severus on the way, which meant he'd dropped by one of the experimental potions rooms on the way to the boys' dorms, and probably wouldn't sleep again until tomorrow night. She reminded herself to grab a Pepper Up potion for him from the hospital wing tomorrow morning, otherwise he'd be a snarling wreck during class. She turned another corner, speed-walking and huffing now, and found herself not at the library entrance.

Lily stopped short, dropping down a bit and gasping for air. Curfew was in twenty minutes and getting lost was not in her plans. She turned back through the door she thought she'd just come through, but she just entered an identical open room.

"School map," she said, waving her wand in a figure eight. The map appeared, holographic and twinkling a bit, like someone had spilled a bottle of glitter over it ages ago and the glitter had never come out. When she'd first gotten the map attached to her wand when she was a first year, she imagined the map as something out of the science fiction shows Tuney used to watch.

"My location," she ordered when the blue location dot didn't show up. The map blinked and wavered, then collapsed back into her wand. "Awesome," she muttered, looking around. The room was in typical Durmstrang fashion: built for giants and covered in shades of gray. It was smaller, maybe by two meters or so, than the dining room, but just as tall and open. There were six doors to her left and six doors to her right, all closed. At the far end of the hall, she saw a large painting, though she couldn't tell of what.

She tried another door, but ended up coming out of another door, closer to the painting.

"I'm stuck and lost and late for curfew!" she yelled as loudly as she could, cupping her hands around her mouth and turning towards one of the exits. She waited for a reply from outside the room, but no one answered her.

No one answered her from outside the room, anyway. "In my time, people would yell into their pillows or at other people, not into hallways, young lady," a voice from behind her said.

She whirled around, but there was no one in the room with her. She wondered if she'd even see someone in the room if they came in, with the way the room was slowly darkening. "Hello?" she called toward the direction of the voice.

"Over here, girl," the voice ordered in a peeved tone, and Lily decided to take her time walking toward the picture frame. As she came closer, the frame somehow grew lighter, until she could see its occupant, though she saw no torchlights nearby. She chalked it up to the oddities of magic and studied the man in the frame for a moment. He seemed to be about forty years old, judging by the wrinkles near his eyes and on his forehead, although Lily wouldn't bet on her estimation being correct. Professor Moehlmann looked about forty, but claimed to be sixty years old. He had dark red hair, the kind that could almost be called brown, dark brown eyes, and a smile that looked very kind, but made her want to back away for some reason.

"Er, I didn't notice you, sir," she began, but he just waved her words away.

"Where is that angry spirit I saw a moment ago? Are you women of today's world always to meek?"

Lily bristled. "I'm not meek! I'm just trying to be polite. Do you know how I can leave this room? I'm a bit lost."

"It's a bit difficult to be polite after you've ruined my nap, isn't it, young lady?" The man had the gall to look both smug and affronted. Lily wanted to punch him, but she didn't want to get covered in paint along with getting lost in a stupid, confusing room.

"You're a portrait! Sleep and eavesdrop is all you do!" She noticed he hadn't answered her question, but didn't ask again. Maybe the portrait didn't know, either? She felt an itch at the corners of her eyes as she stared at the portrait, but somehow she couldn't look away. She tried to scratch the itch, but it wouldn't go away.

"Excuse me for enjoying the afterlife," the man said.

"Afterlife? What... you're a portrait. You're not a ghost or a spirit..." she left off, still staring at him.

"What are they teaching you these days? Oh, don't tell me, girl," he said when she opened her mouth. "I'd not like a heart attack at my old age."

Lily frowned. "Okay, you're a ... sentient portrait. Fine." After a moment, the itching stopped and Lily could look away again. Something told her that it wasn't normal to be unable to control her own body, but she couldn't remember why. "Can you tell me how I can leave this room?"

The man shook his head. "I don't remember. I've been here a very long time, girl." He waved his wand and sat down in the chair that appeared. "Well? Tell me about life outside my portrait. I don't have all day, you know."

"I just want to-" Lily paused and was still for a while until she shook her head, trying to clear it. "Fine. I'm lost anyway, so why not?" She told him about Durmstrang and Bulgarian Minister Riddle and Hogwarts and how there was a war in the muggle world, but she couldn't remember which one. She talked even though she started to feel tired and sleepy, until she started talking in monotone, more than half asleep.

She told him about the Yule Ball Beauxbatons had held last year and her romance with James Potter. She told him about her Durmstrang letter at age ten and how elated she and Severus had been. She told him about how it still bothered her that she couldn't remember the Durmstrang entrance exam and how she thought the teachers would get this odd look in their eyes, like there was something they knew about her and she herself didn't. She told him about how Severus was her very best friend and how she hated LeStrange and loved charms.

She didn't know how long she talked or why she even talked so long, about things the portrait probably didn't care about.

Eventually, she fell asleep, leaning against the portrait, not caring that her hair would be covered in paint the next morning.

While she slept, the man stepped out of his portrait, stretching his body again after a very, very long time.

He turned around, loving the feel of air on his face as he walked. He rubbed the portrait, smiling as waxy paint covered his finger. Inside, the new portrait slept, and would only awaken when the man's progeny entered Durmstrang again.

Smiling, the man rubbed the portrait girl's cheek. "I'm not planning on having any children, my dear sweet girl," he whispered, unwilling to wake her.

The schools welcomed its master once again, and Godric Gryffindor left his prison forever. After all, he had three more portraits to uncover, and then the world would find just how immortal the four founders of Hogwarts really were.

Chapter Text

The First Hogwarts End of Year Feast... According to Salazar Slytherin

"I await to see each and every one of you next year," Rowena said with a smile, the diadem on her head making the image even more beautiful. "Now, if you would all—"

She was interrupted by a boy no more than twelve years of age, who had swung open the doors of the Great Hall and ran through.

"By Merlin, Sir Gryffindor, there's a muggle in the Black Lake!" yelled Toby the page boy, ignoring everyone else and seeing only his mentor. He was a young man of bad breeding and practically muggle, Salazar thought with a sniff. Uncultured, unclean, and unbecoming.

Salazar snorted, audibly and loudly enough for the idiot boy to hear. "Well? Ask the Giant Squid to release it back into the wild. If it doesn't, it's no problem of ours."

"But..." The boy looked visibly distraught, and Salazar made a mental appointment to whip him for his offences. Really, Godric let him be too lax.

Rowena looked towards Salazar. "There's a muggle in the Black Lake? How many times do I have to tell you to fix the problem, Salazar?"

"It's not my fault there's a muggle in the lake! Just because I have superior intellect does not mean I can devise a way to keep all muggles out of Hogwarts! If I had skills like those, I would keep muggles off this entire godforsaken land!" He turned to Godric. "You're the muggle lover, go fish it out!"

Godric stroked his chin, thinking, and Salazar wished that for once he'd quit his useless preaching and let some muggles die.

Then, as if coming to a realization, Godric jumped up, brandishing his sword upwards. Salazar hoped he'd stab someone, but it seemed that just wasn't to be. "It must be the beautiful maiden I'm destined to save and fall in love with! Onwards, comrades!"

The teachers of the school stared at him as he ran out of the Hall.

"Hasn't he caught on to the fact that Lady Cassandra's been orchestrating scenes for him to save her since age nine?" Rowena questioned, cutting her poultry dish. "And that her prophesy's an utter fake?"

"You mean, hasn't Godric caught on to the fact that us poor humans are actually able and willing to lie?" Salazar asked with a huff, sipping his wine.

Rowena grimaced. "Point made."

"Good luck, Godric!" Helga yelled from the far end of the staff table.

After half a bell, Salazar saw Godric stumble back, dejected and bemoaning fate. "Why couldn't it have been a beautiful maiden?" he grumbled, stabbing his now-cold dinner. The staff table's occupants hadn't seen fit to do him the favor of a warming charm if he was going to behave like a love-stricken teenager.

Helga, who had come closer to sample the cook's marvelous fish, slapped Godric on the shoulder, grinning at his wince. "There're other fish in the sea, Godric. Chin up."

"So," Rowena began, smiling craftily, "how's the construction of your room going, Salazar? You know, what you're doing when you're not coming up with wards for the good of Hogwarts for years to come."

Salazar glowered at her, already calling up the wards to make Rowena unable to find her room tonight. Rowena smiled at him in a way that made him wonder if she had taken up warding in her own spare time. Though he suspected her free time was limited to sleeping hours, as she spent the rest of it either teaching or pretending to be an all-powerful Seer. That diadem of hers needed to be destroyed, or at least handed over to Salazar.

"I," Salazar began, lifting his nose at the piece of common trash Godric was now speaking to, "am building the best room in the entire castle. In fact, I have nearly finished it. It will be known to select generations to come as the All-Seeing Room; with only a thought it becomes a room suited for whatever the seeker desires."

"Yeah?" Godric asked, leaning back in his chair. "Are you going to use it for romantic fantasy scenes with your wife? Oh wait, I forgot, she left you."

"Jealous that I can do real magic and you cannot, Godric? Or that a respected woman saw fit to marry me at all, unlike you and your low-class courtesans," Salazar retorted, sneering.

"Feh. I'll create a room twice as grand and powerful as yours, just you watch. In fact, I'll call it the All-Knowing Room. It will be able to accurately show anything at all happening at that very moment." He stared up at the blank ceiling of the Great Hall. "And its ceiling will always show the sky above."

"Preposterous," Salazar grumbled.

Helga gave out a hearty laugh. "He will, and you know it. He'd never broken a promise so far."

Salazar just scowled at Helga and the rest of the table.

The First Hogwarts End of Year Feast... According to Godric Gryffindor

"Well, my boy?" Godric yelled, running to the Black Lake. "How does she look? Is she beautiful? Is she as amazing as the night sky? Does she, perchance, already know of Godric the Great?"

"No one calls you that, sir," Toby muttered, running after his lord. Then louder, he continued, "and it's not a maiden..."

Godric stopped abruptly, barely feeling Toby run into his back. "It's not a maiden? It's... a hag?" he whispered, dejected.

"No, it's just not a she altogether..."

Godric sighed and started walking slowly towards the Black Lake, pulling Toby along. Salazar would never let him live this down, and as Godric couldn't keep a secret even to save his pride, Salazar would no doubt find out this very evening. He ruffled Toby's hair and belatedly unhanded him.

"Why didn't you tell me? I wouldn't have been angry."

Toby turned his head down in shame. "I'm sorry, sir, but you'd already run outside. I know I should have been faster and I'm unworthy to even apologize, but know I never meant to deceive you."

"Chin up. You've been listening to Salazar too often. You should know by now that he looks down on everyone except his children and Helga." Including me, he added mentally. Salazar was his closest friend, but sometimes Godric wondered if Salazar even realized the depth of Godric's feelings for him. Ever since Salazar saved him from the clutches of evil Lord Zyndegar, Godric had thought of Salazar as his own brother. And no matter how many years had went by and will go by, Godric knew he'd always care for Salazar. And, to almost the same extent, Helga and Rowena. They were his family.

As they meandered to the Black Lake, Godric stared at his beautiful familiar. She was all he'd ever wanted in a life companion: beautiful, dangerous, and adventurous. A little too adventurous, he amended, calling out to his beauty.

"Nesta, dear, could you please unhand the muggle?" he asked in his sweetest voice.

One of Nesta's tentacles reached out to slick down Godric's wind-swept hair, but otherwise she looked uninterested in his request. Godric scowled and crossed his arms. Nessie, as he affectionately called her, rubbed his cheek with her tentacle and went back to playing with her muggle.

"Sir? Shouldn't we stop it?"

"Nessie is no it, Toby. Go find Salazar tomorrow and tell him you called my baby an it again. He'll think of a suitable punishment." Although he cared very much for Toby, sometimes even Godric wondered if his charge was a little bit slow.

"Good sir!" Godric yelled, cupping his hands around his mouth. "Are you in need of saving?"

"Are you mad? Kill the beast and get me out ooooof heeeereee!" His screams distorted the last part of his sentence, but Godric felt he understood the gist of it.

Cupping Toby's shoulder, Godric leaned down to teach him a life lesson. "Now, many times in life, you will have to do things you don't want to do. The best outcome occurs when you grit your teeth and just do it. Like now, perhaps this man has a beautiful sister or daughter hiding nearby, waiting for a gallant savior to rescue this man."

When Toby nodded hesitantly, Godric knew Toby didn't completely understand his lesson, but he assured himself that Toby was a little young to understand matters of the heart.

Not that that had ever stopped Godric in his younger years.

Godric disposed of his weapons and overclothes into Toby's waiting arms, then without further ado, waded into the lake.

"Nessie dear, I'm coming in! If you don't unhand it—him—right now, I'll call Helga in, and you know she doesn't like you!"

To his despair, Nessie only tapped his head lovingly and decided to switch from throwing the muggle up and down in the air to dunking him in and out of the water.

He swam leftwards and rightwards, avoiding Nessie's adorable tentacles, until he was almost at the spot where Nessie was dunking the muggle. Then, he breathed in deeply and propelled himself underwater.

Then muggle accidentally kicked Godric's shoulder, and Godric struggled to feel his usual goodwill towards muggles.

As the muggle was gurgling for breath and about to pass out, Godric valiantly got him out of Nessie's two main tentacles and pulled him towards the shore. He patted Nessie in apology and promised himself he'd get her a nice cow to play with tomorrow.

He handed the muggle over to Toby when he reached the shore and cast a few quick drying spells over himself. Then, he cast a few charms on the muggle, who looked like he needed them more.

"Hello, good sir! I am Godric the Great. And you are?"

The man gaped at him, wide eyed. "That was a monster! It tried to eat me and you're not even going to kill it?"

Godric rubbed his temples, deciding not to bother explaining the wonderful creature that was Nessie to this muggle. He'd tried it many times, but so far no one, including his own family, understood how amazing Nessie was. Although, she and Salazar seemed to have reached a truce in the past half-year. Godric had noticed she no longer tried to pick Salazar up whenever they took their walks around the lake, but he had no idea what Salazar's end of the bargain included.

He looked the man over and decided that even if the muggle had any daughters or sisters, they probably had this man's looks as well, and all this effort wasn't worth much on a holiday.

"No, I'm not going to kill her." He turned to Tobias. "Get him out of here. I'm going back to the feast."

After all, Godric had a story to tell Helga.

The First Hogwarts End of Year Feast... According to Toby

Toby sighed, kicking the dirt next to his foot. It wasn't fair that as a lower level apprentice, he wasn't allowed to attend the biggest event of the year, the first leaving feast. For a moment, he'd thought Sir Gryffindor might bring him back to the Great Hall with him, but apparently that wasn't the case. He stared at Sir Gryffindor's retreating form, then looked over at the muggle.

It smelled a little, even after that Merlin-damned squid had dunked it in water a few dozen times. He wondered it Lord Slytherin's opinions were true, that muggles really were descended from smelly monkeys. But then, than would mean that, as a muggleborn, Toby himself was descended from monkeys, and he really didn't want to think about that.

"What am I supposed to do with you?" he asked, mostly to himself, while looking the muggle over.

The last time a muggle had gotten into the Black Lake, he'd had to save it himself, and he'd just brought it to Lord Slytherin. He couldn't do it this time; Lord Slytherin would behead him if Toby interrupted the First Great Feast again.

As of about six months ago, muggles had been getting into the Black Lake weekly, and no one had been able to find the cause. Even Lord Slytherin, who researched for months, had been unable to find the hole in the wards.

Shaking out of his thoughts, Toby realized the muggle was getting ready to run. With a quick spell, the muggle was motionless, and Toby quickly reordered its memories to make the day seem like a dream. He only hoped his memory charm worked, or Lord Slytherin would set him on fire. By accident. Again.

Then he transported the muggle to a loch north of Hogwarts and left him on a deck. That done, he teleported back to Hogwarts and sat on a tree stump near the lake, staring at the lake.

He scowled at Nessie, who waved at him and flicked some water into his eyes. He wasn't jealous, of course, but he hated that stupid Nessie the Giant Squid got more attention from Sir Gryffindor than Toby ever did. If Giant Squids could look smug, he knew Nessie be smug all the time. After all, Sir Gryffindor loved her very much. Toby pouted.

"Hey! Kid!"

Toby got up and turned around. "Yes, m'am?" he asked to the girl running towards him.

"You're Godric's brat, right?" she asked, looking pleadingly at him.

"Yes m'am," he mumbled, trying not to stare. He was really talking to the beautiful Helena Ravenclaw!

"Right, I'd like you to stay here. Hopefully for the next hour, and if anyone comes looking for me, I want you to tell them I went to that muggle village nearby, Hogsmeade or whatever. Can you do that for me?"

Toby lost himself in her smile, but still attempted to pull himself together. "Yes m'am," he crowed, "anything for you."

He knew he'd done something wrong when Lady Helena walked away, grumbling about "stupid, slow apprentices," but he didn't care. He'd really spoken to Lady Helena!

This was the greatest day of his life, even if he hadn't been able to go to the feast.

The First Hogwarts End of Year Feast... According to Helena Ravenclaw

Now that she'd gotten Godric's idiot to corroborate her story, Helena set out for her mother's rooms. All she needed to do was find her mother's diadem, and she'd finally know how to drive all her pesky suitors away. Mother had left her diadem in her tower for once, not wanting to damage it during the rowdy feast, so Helena knew it was her one chance to use it for herself. She'd slipped out of the feast of the decade for this, but she knew it would be worth it.

She looked both ways before tiptoeing through one of Hogwarts' side entrances, hoping everyone who knew her was either at the feast or moping in their rooms about not being allowed to attend the feast.

"Helena! You're becoming more beautiful by the day!" The person she had needed to see least announced, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.

"Sir Gryffindor." She fluidly slid out from his grasp and stepped a half a meter away. "Beautiful day it is outside. I was just, ah, going to my rooms to freshen up for my trip to Hogsmeade."

"Yes, beautiful," he mumbled, stroking his big red beard. "Hogsmeade does have the best mead. I had planned to go there myself soon."

Helena cursed her own attractiveness. "I'm only fifteen, in case you were wondering," she deadpanned. "And your almost-sister's daughter. Practically your niece."

"Fifteen is a wonderful age," Godric said, grinning, but saluted her anyway and went off, probably to bother Salazar. Helena heaved a sigh of relief.

Painstakingly making her way up to her mother's tower, Helena made sure no one would see her this time. She'd pulled out her best spells: invisibility, soundlessness, illusions.

She was just three meters away from the entrance into her mother's tower when she heard voices nearby. She flattened herself to the wall just in case, not daring to turn the corner.

"Your squid is a menace! Just because I have my Cassie doesn't mean you needed to one-up me in the size of our familiars!"

"Nessie is absolutely charming! She wouldn't hurt a fly!"

"Yes, unlike your nuisance of an apprentice! If you don't whip your muggleborn whelp for his impudence, I'll quit the castle! Permanently!"

"If you lived up to your promises as often as you made them, you'd be in France by now!"

If she had been less intent on her mission, Helena would have groaned. Of all the places in the castle, why had Godric and Salazar chosen to argue outside the only entrance to her mother's rooms?

"Maybe I should! Maybe I'll leave and go to France. I'd be back home at any rate. I could visit my sister and my niece, who I've not even seen yet."

"Your place is here, at the castle. You love teaching and you know it. And you hate your sister."

Salazar said something she couldn't make out, but she definitely heard Godric's reply. The whole castle might have heard Godric's reply.

"I'm here, you stubborn oaf of a man!" Then, quieter: "Helga and Rowena, too. We all love and care for you. You'd be stupid to leave."

Unable to resist, Helena peeked out of her alcove and saw Godric and Salazar embrace one another. From her spot, she could only see Godric's face, but she saw it light up in a face-splitting grin when Salazar whispered something in his ear.

"Back to the feast, good friend!" Godric yelled, raising his sword for some reason.

Salazar smacked him over the head. Helena thought that at forty-something, they were both too old to act as teenagers, but it wasn't really her place to say anything. Especially when she was supposed to be hiding.

As their voices quieted to nothing, Helena slipped into her mother's quarters. She passed one of Salazar's annoying students on the way, and wondered why he was holding a scroll and an inked quill, but shook the thought out of her head.

"Ricardium revelio," she whispered to the portrait of a half snoozing, very fat lady, and the portrait swung open.

Helena shook off her spells and ran up the stairs to her mother's bedroom. There, on the dressing table, would be the diadem.

Or it should be, she thought glumly, staring at the note in its place.

My dear daughter,

I've decided to wear my diadem to the Great Feast. Where would Rowena the Wise be without the her Diadem of Knowing?

Love,

Mother

No one calls you that! she wanted to scream to her mother. Sometimes, she truly despised her. When she stepped out of the tower and found bloody Baron Drury outside it, ready to knock on the portrait, she almost screamed in frustration.

"Lady Helena!" he cried, and Helena had to wonder if she'd been cursed with bad luck today.

The First Hogwarts End of Year Feast... According to Baron Drury

Baron Drury almost cried with joy when he saw Lady Helena step out of Lady Ravenclaw's tower. It was his lucky day! When he'd followed her out of the Great Feast, he'd first looked outside near the lake, where she spent many hours writing poetry with Nessie. There, he'd asked Sir Gryffindor's idiot charge, Toby, where the beautiful Lady Helena might be.

"She said she went to Hogsmeade," the boy had answered with an absentminded smile. "Lady Helena spoke to me!"

Baron Drury stepped forward, affronted. "Now, look here, boy, the amazing Lady Helena would never stoop so low as to speak to you!"

"But she did!" the boy cried, jumping off his tree stump. "She did! Then she followed Sir Gryffindor back to Hogwarts!"

Baron Drury raised an eyebrow. "She did, did she?" He left the idiot on his stump and left for the castle. His angel was so smart, trying to avoid her many suitors this way. But no matter, Baron Drury would search every corner of the castle to find her!

Admittedly, Lady Rowena's rooms were the sixteenth place he'd looked, but only because Lady Helena and her mother didn't get on well. But when his angel stepped out of the tower, he knew a benevolent god had smiled on him today.

After greeting her, he graced his beloved with his most pleasing smile, and waited for her to speak.

"Baron Dreary," she said, after a pause, and with a strange look on her face.

"Baron Drury," the Baron corrected. "How are you, my darling Lady Helena? Would you be interested in an escort to the Great Feast?"

Lady Helena nodded, and Baron Drury was once again assured that his beloved loved him back. It wouldn't be proper for her to speak of her love, of course, but he knew that once they'd marry, she would spend hours writing love poetry for him. And him alone, the Baron thought, glowering at the mental image of Lady Helena's various suitors. Many of them were more handsome or richer than he, but he'd win out in the end.

One way or another.

And so he escorted Lady Helena to the Great Feast, smiling all the while.

He didn't think much of the way Lady Rowena smiled knowingly at her daughter, but Lady Helena must have, as she glared at the top of mother's head.

The First Hogwarts End of Year Feast... According to Saer Diggory

Saer, hidden in a convenient alcove, pulled out his trusty quill. As a senior apprentice, he'd been welcome to attend the feast, but his instincts had told him to wait near Lady Rowena's tower instead. He'd waited for a long while, but his patience had been worth it in the end: he finally had inspiration for his ballad!

He'd been writing his songs for ages, hoping that they'd be approved as the official record of the first year of Hogwarts, but just this morning Lady Hufflepuff had deemed them too embellished to be official.

Saef huffed, writing madly. He'd show them! His uncle had a muggle bard visit him occasionally for entertainment, and the bard was always searching for new material. All Saer needed to do was slip him the parchment and a few coins, and the bard would tell Saer's history ballads to the entire country!

Of course, that would mean Saer would have to change the songs a little, cutting out all the magic. Saer stared down at his now finished lyrics. They were beautiful just as they were, and his heart ached at the thought of leaving out some of the best rhymes. Perhaps he could try again, this time with Lady Ravenclaw, to get them officially published? He knew the stories were a little different from reality, but he'd needed them to rhyme. Surely the Founders would see it that way.

"What are you doing here?"

Saer looked up to see Lady Trelawney, one of the two Arithmancy teachers at Hogwarts. "I'm writing my ballads, m'am."

"Ballads? The ones Helga was just telling me about?"

Saer blushed horribly, hoping Lady Hufflepuff hadn't said anything bad about them. His reputation would be ruined! "Yes m'am."

"She said they were very nice, if unsuitable. May I read them sometime? I know a wizarding bard that's interested in new material."

"Really?" Saer exclaimed, jumping up. Lady Trelawney stepped back, and Saer cursed himself for being over-excited, but he really couldn't control his excitement. "That would be wonderful, my lady!" Then his mood darkened a bit as he remembered Lady Hufflepuff's criticism. "But, you should know, I'm still only an amateur poet. My rhymes are only as good as my memory, which fails me at certain times."

He didn't like the way Lady Trelawney smiled at him. "That is quite alright, child. Memory failure happens to the best of us. If I could see your ballads?"

He handed her the scroll of parchment. "They're complete. I just need to publish them."

He watched as she read them, smiling to herself in that odd way.

"Marvelous ballads. I think I shall recommend them to my friend," she announced.

Saer nervously watched her walk away, happy and nervous at the same time. But, he decided to go back to the Great Hall and wash away his nervousness with some good wine. After all, Cassandra Trelawney was a reputable woman, and a rumored Seer. His ballads were safe with her.

The First Hogwarts End of Year Feast... According to Cassandra Trelawney

Cassandra angrily sat down next to Lady Helga, who was on the far side of the staff table. Her former seat had been taken by Lady Helena, who had the gall to usurp her spot next four seats away from Godric. She'd left to check on her son, who she had left in the care of Edith, a too-pretty young girl she cared for very little. She'd chosen the girl in hope that Godric might be attracted to her, then become enchanted with the infant the girl cared for, but alas, it wasn't to be. She'd heard rumors that he was interested in children, but at his age and still unmarried, she felt he'd never have any of his own, whether with her or not.

"Cassandra," Helga said, nodding and turning away.

Cassandra scowled at Lady Helga, at Godric, who sat too far away with a little chit half his age, and at all the teachers that sat between Cassandra and her beloved. Was a seat next to Godric too much to ask for? She was so close yet so far, and all she could do was stare at her beloved and wish he'd take notice of her for once.

Although, if he wasn't close to her in reality, he could always be near her in fiction, she thought opening the scroll of ballads. Near the end, she noticed the lyrics spoke of Salazar and Godric having a fight and making up, becoming closer than ever before.

Well, that just won't do, Cassandra thought, taking out a quill.

Chapter Text

Of all the great wizarding love ballads his mother had sung to him while he was growing up, he loved Elias and Alcyone's the best. Perhaps because their story was more of war than of love, and like all little boys, fighting and valor and knighthood had intrigued him more than flowers and romance and true love. But when his mother tired of verses of long-forgotten war spells and brave galloping horses, she turned to the love verses, and sang with a love of romance that all females around him seemed to have been born with.

The day Elias and Alcyone met, a tree of golden apples grew beside Hogwarts castle to symbolize the purity of their love. Theodore thought, even at age eight, that the golden apple bit was too embellished for a real love story, which at that time involved wand-swords and eagle familiars and short pecks on the cheek, but his mother had liked it, so it stayed. He'd imagined in his naive fantasies that something would happen the day he set his eyes on his soul mate. Perhaps a stroke of accidental magic, or an eclipse, or maybe even a tree of golden apples. Anything to give him a sign.

As he grew up, he stopped waiting for a sign, but he never stopped waiting for his Alcyone.

He waited for her long after his sisters married and his mother died. He waited for her after he got engaged and waited for her after he married. He only stopped waiting after his divorce papers were finalized and he woke up in a cold bed with the icy realization that he'd waited half his life away and the other half of his soul was probably married to another, enjoying another man's love, or just hadn't been born yet. He shuddered at the thoughts.

He became a bit of a playboy after that, but even that ended with the beginning of his job at Hogwarts. He'd put off teaching for a long while; Babbling had offered him the job his seventh year at Hogwarts and told him the position would always be available to him, but he'd never wanted to deal with little kids.

At thirty, he stared at the eleven year olds with half curiosity, half wonder, and told himself he hadn't wanted children anyway.

For a long while, he was content. He dated and visited family on his weekends, taught ungrateful brats on his weekdays, and spent entire summers abroad, spending the outrageous Hogwarts staff salary.

Then, sometime between the complacent haze and the guilt-wrecked years that came after, Lily Luna Potter came to Hogwarts.

Theodore didn't remember the first time he saw Potter's youngest child. Sure, he'd likely seen her in the newspaper and in the halls between classes, and maybe he'd caught a glimpse of her from the staff table. Maybe the memory of that poetic sudden first attraction still existed in the very bottom depths of his mind, waiting for him to release it from its prison. He didn't remember. He didn't care to remember. He rather liked that the first memory he had of her was after she'd hit puberty, though that excused his feelings not at all. He didn't think his mind could've survived being attracted to an eleven year old, so he thanked Elias' lingering ghost for the small favor.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, when he couldn't sleep and couldn't drink, he wondered whether he should add pedophile to his list of faults.

The first time he'd truly noticed her was three months into her first year of Ancient Runes class. He didn't take an active part in his untalented students' lives, and for all her beauty and sweet smiles, Lily was neither very creative nor very smart. Of course, he'd long since given up on finding a student that meets his standards: a student he would choose to replace him. Babbling had taught for forty-seven years before Theodore had come along.

Neither did he take part in his ordinary and somewhat talented students' lives, and he didn't want to. Perhaps that made him a bad teacher. Perhaps that was why a junior teacher had been made Head of Slytherin House when the disaster that was Gleethorn finally left. He didn't care. He was long past identifying himself by his Hogwarts House, and he took no pleasure in the political friendships of young Slytherins.

Three months into class, she had started singing while completing her rudimentary rune work. She sang the song of Elias and Alcyone, and Theodore's mother's voice echoed in his head.

"Should I stop, Professor?" she'd asked when she'd looked up to see him staring at her. She had always been a bit bratty, even at thirteen.

He'd said yes, feeling something akin to regret. He hadn't heard the song in years; he hadn't thought of his mother in almost that long as well.

He never asked how she knew the song; it was the version Darker families knew well, and the Light families' version ended in tragedy. Perhaps Potter had found the song among the Black family's possessions.

That night, he'd hummed the song while showering, dual voices singing in his head; one voice young and strong, the other deeper and weaker. He didn't give in to the urge to take the memory into a Pensieve, but it had been a near thing. He'd only noticed he was doing humming by the third verse, but by then he hadn't cared.

After that day, he'd noticed her, sometimes. He watched her lose the last of her childhood fat, watched her come in with ear piercings on a Tuesday and wondered what little girls got up to in the Gryffindor dormitories, watched her make friends, watched her lose them, watched her during her awkward, pimply, annoying, emotional late teenage phase. She sang under her breath sometimes, always love ballads, and he watched her even more.

He didn't remember when she'd become attractive to him, and not just a hobby to pass the boredom, but she when had first appeared in his dreams, he locked them away and called himself a pedophile, thinking that was the end of it. He was used to his body betraying him at times, and fantasies were just that: fantasies. The second time she starred in his dreams, he took Dreamless Sleep for the next week. After that, he just ignored his dreams.

He noticed when she became attracted to him, sometime in her sixth year. He noticed the blushes, the smiles, the daydreams, the way she'd linger at his desk a little too long. It wasn't the first time a student had crushed on him, and over the years he'd come to recognize the signs. Now that Gleethorn had left, he was the only somewhat young and attractive male teacher Hogwarts had, and for whatever reason, this attracted teenage girls like flies to honey.

She looked all of seventeen years old when she propositioned him, nervous, gulping, and affecting a shade confidence that left a bad taste in his mouth, but it had still taken him a moment to pull away and say no. In that moment, he thought of how it could have gone, had he said yes. The heated kisses, the pretty face in his bed, the unvoiced and unthought of feelings he had for her. And he thought of the other side of the coin: developing stronger feelings for her, watching her leave him for another man, a younger man, having to put up with a teenager's woes when he wanted a wife and children already, and she was just young enough to be his own child.

He sighed into her kiss, wondering if she could taste his guilt and self-hatred, and pushed her face back to her side of his teacher's desk.

"Come back when you're twenty seven," he told her, smiling wryly.

"I'm an adult. I'm not your student anymore." She raised her diploma as though it could wipe away his misgivings, but he just shook his head. If he agreed, he'd never forgive himself, nor would he ever feel truly comfortable in their relationship.

It was gravity that pulled him towards her, but he was a wizard. He could resist gravity.

Chapter Text

James Potter had never felt more embarrassed, more ashamed, or more wronged, than when he walked in on his (straight! he's straight I tell you!) son having sex with a man. Not when he'd walked in on his own parents having sex, not when he failed a semester of Charms, and not even when his parents had all but magically disowned him for proposing to a muggleborn. It felt like the universe had conspired against him to make his life miserable, starting two minutes ago.

His day had started out normally. He'd woken up, kissed his amazing and beautiful wife, kissed his petulant and scowling son, and went to work. He worked a bit before deciding he was pants at detailed paperwork and shoved it onto his partner's desk. Perhaps this had propelled his karma state from neutral to 'needs a malevolent god to wreck his life', but James had no way of telling. He then, in utter, mortifying ignorance, decided to visit his son's flat for lunch. Harry had slept over the night before after a late dinner since Lily had insisted he not floo while tipsy, but James felt like seeing him again. Neither he nor Lily saw much of Harry now that he'd gone into curse breaking, so James felt justified in wanting to spend more time with his only son.

In hindsight, Harry's bedroom must have had one-way silencing wards. Also in hindsight, the moment he realized Harry must still be sleeping (a quick spell had indicated he was in the bedroom) had been the best moment for James to turn back. But, with all sorts of prank ideas running through his head, James had carefully opened his son's bedroom door, then promptly wished he hadn't.

It was like watching the Wronski feint performed by an amateur player: you knew you were going to see the player crash, possibly breaking his neck, but you can't bring yourself to look away or even stop him.

Harry was— was fucking a man. In the behind. A redhead that looked suspiciously like one of Arthur's sons, but James couldn't tell which one. Of course he couldn't see his face, James thought, knowing he was panicking but finding himself unable to stop. The man's face was buried in Harry's pillow, and James now knew the image of another man's arse more vividly than he'd ever admit.

And Lily, his dear sweet ignorant Lily had bought that pillowcase as a housewarming present, the one that man was fisting and moaning into.

"I want to hear you," Harry groaned out, and James realized he'd been standing in place for too long.

James swallowed, trying not to breathe in the heavy scent of sex and sweat and heat, and realized he had no idea what to say, how to interrupt them, but he couldn't just stand here anymore because that was his son, his son and a man.

He left the room, closed the door, and floo'd home, still shocked and angry and disgusted and feeling so many emotions at once that he just attributed the feeling to complete chaos.

Remus was sitting James' sofa, reading some book about old magics which James deemed completely unimportant in his current state. Not that he'd think much differently in his regular state, but the shell-shocked had much more leeway for rudeness. "Remus," he snapped, "your book is getting dust on the sofa."

Somehow, he stumbled into the kitchen, grabbed four vials of calming draught, and started pouring them down his throat.

"James, what happened?" Remus asked, sitting down across the table from him. It seemed he'd ignored James' comment. James glared at the world. "Should I floo-call Lily?"

"No." James finished off the fourth vial, waiting for the calmness to seep into his veins. "No— I— I—" He couldn't say it.

Remus nodded. "Do you want something stronger?"

"No. I need to go back. Later."

"Is this about a case? Do you want to talk about it or do you want me to shut up?"

James knew Remus wouldn't be upset if he said he wanted silence, but he needed to talk about it and Remus was the most level-headed man he knew. "I walked in on Harry."

"Right," Remus affirmed. "Naked? Having sex?"

"The second."

"What happened? You wouldn't be freaking out this much if it wasn't something major."

James stared at Remus, trying to make him see without James having to tell him. "With a man," he choked out.

Remus' face showed a more neutral shock, but enough so that James could tell he hadn't known. Who could have known? James told him the entire story from start to finish, and by the end, his potion started working enough to allow him to speak in complete sentences.

"I didn't interrupt them. They didn't even realize I was there. I messed up Harry's fireplace a bit, but that could've been a routine floo check or an accidental visitor. I could ignore it." He looked pleadingly at Remus. "I could think of it as a really bad dream and ignore it for the rest of my life."

Remus shook his head and patted James on the shoulder for comfort. "If Harry's really gay, you won't be able to ignore it, James."

James sighed. "I never imagined this would happen. Where did I go wrong?" He looked to Remus for answers, but for once, Remus didn't have them. "It's just that. . . Lily wasn't joking when she called Harry my little clone. He's so much like me, and I usually love that! He looks like me, he plays Quidditch like me, he acts like me a lot, he . . ." James ran his hand through his hair, then stared at his hand. "He runs his hand through his hair like me when he's stressed. He's masculine. I'm masculine. I'm the pinnacle of masculinity, in fact! He's practically me but he's gay and I'm not."

"James, go talk to him. This isn't the time for your own sexual identity crisis. Floo to his flat, loudly yell, 'Harry, Dad's here,' give him some time to get ready, then sit down and talk to him about this. And don't use your Auror voice. He's not a criminal and you love him, whatever his sexual preferences are." Remus stared at him appraisingly. "Right?"

"Right. He's not doing anything illegal and I love him. A lot." James accepted a cup of tea from Remus and noticed it was laced with another dose of calming draught. "He dated a redhead a few years ago. A female redhead!"

Remus sighed and directed James to his own floo. "And now he's dating—ah, having sex with, at least—a male redhead. You still have that in common."

James glowered at him a little, but stepped through the floo. When he arrived at Harry's flat again, he yelled, "Harry James Potter! Your father's here to see you! You better not be doing anything wrong and immoral!"

Chapter Text

"James! You're needed in waiting room number three!"

James groaned and turned around to see Robins waving a scroll and speedwalking toward him. "I'm going on my lunch break. Can't it wait?"

"No sir, it's Lucius Malfoy, sir. I need to contact either Auror Shaklebolt or you, and since you're right here..." Robins trailed off, handing James a piece of parchment.

James agreed to the job, but whined to the closest cute little secretary about his lack of a lunch break for a few minutes longer than polite.

When James slouched into waiting room number three, also known as the interrogation room for when purebloods didn't or couldn't get themselves out of trouble, his pockets were a scribbled Floo code heavier and his mood was a great deal lighter. The waiting rooms weren't bad, to say the least. There was a comfortable sofa and two chairs. The room was even accented in pale greens and silvers; Slytherins would feel at home.

Malfoy had taken one of the chairs and looked more unperturbed than any criminal had a right to.

"Right," James said, plopping down on the second plushy chair (better than the one in his office, actually) and opening the sealed parchment. "You are here on... one count of muggle harassment?" If he wasn't mistaken, it was Malfoy's first time in a waiting room.

"False charges," Malfoy smoothly corrected, still acting completely undisturbed. James got ready for another long day.

"Of course. Can you tell me about what happened? Would you like a lawman?"

"No. I have full confidence the charges will be cleared. You see, this morning the muggle repelling wards on my country cottage failed. I was thankfully there for the weekend with a friend of mine, so I replaced the wards in a matter of hours. But in the meantime, a muggle got into the lake on my property."

James blinked. "Then what? That can't be all."

"Very astute," Malfoy murmured, leaning onto the right side of his chair, closer to James. James edged away. "When I re-energized the wards, they petrified any and all muggles on my property. As the muggle was in my lake, it drowned, and I was charged with muggle harassment."

"Muggle harassment? That's what they charged you with?" James rubbed his temples. "Why are you here, Malfoy? You could've easily dismissed the charges... unless the muggle was a child?"

"An man of about fifty. I believe the muggles think of that age as elderly."

"So it's—excuse me, he's—not a child, elderly, and it was an accident. I repeat, why are you here?"

"Perhaps I wanted to get in touch with a former classmate."

"I hope you don't mean me, as I was in my first year when you were in your seventh."

Malfoy nodded and his expression morphed into something between a smirk and a smile. "A schoolmate, then."

James jumped off his chair. "I'm great, you're great, you can go. If you don't get the charges dismissed by Monday, I'll need to come to your country house to talk to the other witnesses check out the lake and the body."

He didn't need to get involved in Malfoy's convoluted political games.

x

After work, James Floo'd to his London flat, grabbed a beer, and read the newspaper for two hours. It was difficult adjusting to the fact that Harry would be at Hogwarts for the next nine months, James privately admitted. Sure, he'd see the kid during Christmas holidays, which Harry would spend with him, and over the summer, but it wasn't the same as being able to drop by whenever he wanted. He sent letters almost daily to Hogwarts, but that didn't change the fact that he wasn't a major part of his son's life anymore. Harry was growing up. Had his own parents felt this way when James had started Hogwarts? Of course, his own parents had never divorced (even though he'd sometimes thought they needed to), so maybe that made the difference. They had each other to keep company. Perhaps he needed to get a wife.

Or on the other hand, no, he didn't. After the wreck of his first marriage, he didn't need another wife to complicate his life. Instead, he decided to Floo to Sirius' place and start a bachelor's drinking club with him.

x

"Bills, paperwork, insurance, nonsense, more nonsense," James muttered, shuffling through the papers that had collected on his desk over his month-long Auror case.

"Here, you need to follow up on the Malfoy case." Robins dropped a thin file onto James' desk.

James opened it and read, Auror visit scheduled for Monday at ten. Requested Auror: James Potter. As it was neither Head Auror's handwriting nor James' (they were the only two people authorized to authorize Auror cases), he could only assume Lucius bloody Malfoy wrote the request himself.

"Bloody hell." James groaned. "What does he want with me?"

"Dunno," Robins answered. "But have you heard he's divorced his wife? Rumor has it he's left her because he's interested in someone else. Any idea who it might be?"

"Who the hell cares? I just wish he'd get over himself and stop giving me busywork."

James shuffled around his paperwork for the next two hours, coming up with a mental list the size of Britain of reasons why Malfoy should get himself checked into St. Mungo's instead of bothering honest hard-working Aurors.

x

"Country cottage my arse," James huffed to no one in particular. As a Senior Auror, he had no partner to whine to, but even if he had, this sham of a case wouldn't have needed another pair of hands. Pity, because he would have liked complaining to someone about certain too-rich bastards who called the huge building in the distance a cottage.

Malfoy's estate was located in the country, but it was better described as a manor house than a modest country cottage. James had apparated outside the wards, then decided to screw politeness and apparated again to the main house. There was a square mile of land between the edge of the wards and the manor...for the purpose of breeding albino peacocks, James surmised, seeing a few walking around. It was a pointless and gaudy display of wealth, that's what it was.

After knocking on the door, James was unpleasantly surprised to see Malfoy himself open it. "Do you greet all your guests personally?" Strictly speaking, it wasn't done unless the visitor was a personal friend of the residing pureblood. A house elf could do the job more efficiently.

"Only the more favored ones," Malfoy drawled.

James scowled, but ignored the comment in favor of getting the case over more quickly. "Where's the body, the lake, and where can I find the other witness?"

Malfoy waved him inside. "Are you always this rude to us honest, law abiding citizens?"

James snorted with laughter. Malfoys, law abiding citizens? Nargles would appear first. "Only to the more unfavorable ones."

As Malfoy led him through the house and to the lake outside the property, James considered telling Malfoy his shoes were dirty from all the mud built up outside the wards, but decided not to bother. Malfoy's pristine carpets needed a bit of mud on them.

Soon, they were at the lake. It was rather large, James thought, but it fit the property well. "So, this is it? Where's the body?"

"There it is." Malfoy pointed to a body-shamed lump covered by a light green sheet. James lifted the sheet and prodded at the body with his wand, letting a few spells give him the information he needed. It-he-was a muggle man of about fifty years old. He'd drowned. There was most likely no foul play, as he was sure Malfoy would have done something much more creative than drowning a muggle had he wanted to torture one.

James sighed softly, crouching down and staring at the body. Had Lily been here in his place, she would have kicked and screamed until a real investigation was conducted. She would have brought this man's body to the muggle authorities, made sure his body was returned to his family, then would have arranged to pay for his funeral, as it was the 'least she could do.'

"Right, that's done with. Return the body to...someone," he ordered halfheartedly, knowing that Malfoy could burn the body as soon as James' back was turned and the courts wouldn't give a care. Neither would James, much to his own displeasure. But he was tired of hating himself for not being Lily's perfect husband, so he just followed a silent Malfoy to one of the Manor's sitting rooms. Maybe Malfoy had more tact than James had given him credit for.

Lounging on a sofa in a flower-covered sitting room was Snape, who looked as greasy and unwashed as ever.

"Of course your friend had to be Snape," James said, forcefully grabbing the man's hand and shaking it. "It's been a while, Snape. Heard you're a professor now. Didn't think they let you lot out of school during the year." He plopped down on Malfoy's offered sofa.

Snape sniffed, looking at James as though he was seeing something incredibly distasteful. James wondered if he could get away with turning Snivellus' hair pink again. Probably not, as he was in polite company.

"Potter. You need my statement?" Snape gave a lengthy monologue and James pretended to listen while writing down every third or fourth word.

"That's it. Well, I'm sure this is quite enough to get your charges dropped, Mr. Malfoy," James said, quitting at subtly hinting that Malfoy could and should quit the farce and bribe his way out. He'd probably lined the Minister's pockets with enough gold that Fudge was already willing to help his old political buddy out.

Malfoy smirked. "Actually, Auror Potter, I wanted to speak with you about some dark artifacts I came across."

"Where, in your dungeons? Next to the torture devices and the screaming muggles?"

"Hmm, maybe to the right of our poison collection." Malfoy gave Snape a long stare, to which Snape huffed and waved his hands in exasperation.

"Fine! I give up. But on your own head be it, Lucius, when you're faced with rejection for once in your life." Snape left the room in a huff, slamming the door behind him.

After a strained, silent moment, James coughed awkwardly. "You were admitting to having a poison collection?" he prodded. Every self-respecting pureblood family had a poison collection, usually kept near the wines in cellars, but he'd be damned if anyone would speak of it.

"A joke," Malfoy murmured, staring at him until James began to feel hot and uncomfortable.

"Okay." James gave up the ghost of politeness and stomped out of the room, yelling, "We're finished!" to the probably scowling man behind him.

As expected, the front doors wouldn't open for him until Malfoy came along himself and opened them for James.

"Potter," Malfoy began, and James turned around and waited for another stupid request, but instead he found Malfoy's lips pressed against his own. This close, James could smell Malfoy's cologne and a sweet-smelling tea Malfoy must have had earlier. But as soon as the kiss even registered in his mind, Malfoy had already pulled away. James' lips felt a bit too cold, and he hated that he felt that way after a only a millisecond of a kiss.

"What the hell, Malfoy?"

"Perhaps you could call me Lucius," Malfoy offered, shutting the door in James' face. "I'll see you at the court hearing."

James stared at the door, gobsmacked. "What the hell? Why aren't you getting the charges dropped, you arsehole?"

This time, James walked the mile to the edge of the wards, all the while grumbling about stupid men who had more money than sense.

And who had very soft lips.

Chapter Text

Luna stared up at her necklace, which hung from the doorway leading to the Great Hall. A fleeting feeling of anger rushed through her head (she was a war hero she was a survivor she was amazing according to Harry so then why was she Loony Luna again today), but it was gone as fast as it came, and Luna kept staring at her necklace.

"Y'know, the longer you stare at it doesn't mean it'll come down sooner," someone behind her said.

"I know. I tried calling the wackspurts to retrieve it, but they're on a lunch break." She turned around. The boy behind her had two eyes, which she found boring, and one hand, which she found interesting. Not that she'd say so, of course; Daddy reminded her not to pry into other people's business. After all, she didn't want people asking her why she was still so thin.

"You could levitate it down."

"Yes." She looked from the boy to the necklace. "But it does look nice up there. I want to leave it hanging, but it was my mother's necklace, and she wouldn't have wanted me to leave it to gather dust and eventually be thrown into the doom room."

"Doom room?" he asked, walking forward to stand beside her. They were blocking the way to the Hall, she noticed, but it didn't matter, as everyone was already inside.

"The doom room," she said, nodding. From inside the Hall, people stared at them. Luna smiled to the pointers, because they were eating (barely able to eat enough her wrists were too too thin the wackspurts didn't help her when she wanted needed lacked food) while she was calling wackspurts to help her.

Luna shivered as someone opened the door behind her and entered from outside, the cold winter air making her wish for fire. The air must've woken the boy from his daydream—he'd been staring at the necklace, too, Luna thought with approval. It was enchanting.

"This is idiocy," the boy proclaimed. Lifting his wand, he said, "Wingardium leviosa!" And the necklace floated down. He held it out to her. "Here. I guess it's yours?" Suddenly, he sounded unsure, and Luna thought about asking how old he was, even though whatever age he would've given her, it was still too young to be missing a hand.

She wondered which hand was his wand hand. She wondered if he too, couldn't eat, and wanted to distract himself from going into the Great Hall. She wondered if his missing hand used to be freckled, too.

"It's yours," she decided, and finally entered the Great Hall. She heard him yelling something behind her, but she didn't turn around.

Her necklace didn't help her any longer (be strong sweetheart be brave be lovely be kind), but then, she didn't need it to remind herself her mother would always love her.

Maybe it would help the boy.

Chapter Text

Every year, Neville spends New Year's Eve with his parents. He pushes their beds together, close enough that their bodies almost touch, then links their fingers together. He thinks they would have wanted to spend New Year's Eve together, but he doesn't know for sure. Maybe he's just pushing his own opinions onto them. He doesn't know them at all, not really, but he loves them all the same. Maybe one day, he thinks, we'll all spend New Year's Eve together and conscious. But today, he sits next to their beds, stares at their linked hands, and imagines a perfect New Year's Eve.

x

Pansy didn't know what to expect when Neville asked her to spend New Year's Eve with him and his parents. Of course, she knew the uncomfortable truth about Neville's parents, but… To see them there, drugged and unresponsive, was practically unbearable.

"Neville," she whispered, reluctant to break the silence of the room. "It's 12:01. Let's go to Draco's party, shall we?"

She helped him up, kissed his cheek, and led him out of the room. She didn't intend to let him come back more often than once per month. It was too depressing, and Neville didn't need to fall into depression over his barely alive parents.

x

"Damn it, Astoria, they should be here by now," Draco grumbled, crossing his arms. "What're they doing that has them missing my party? Pansy promised she'd be on time."

Astoria stifled a laugh. "You're acting like a baby. Pansy's with Longbottom, right? Maybe they got lost in a closet somewhere."

"Eww," he groaned, glaring at his girlfriend. "I refuse to believe they're dating. Pansy's just going through some kind of belated Gryffindor phase. It'll pass."

Astoria raised an eyebrow. "They've been dating for a year, Draco. I think they're serious."

"We've been dating for a year," Draco said, caressing her cheek. "You think we're serious?"

Astoria smiled. "We're serious. In fact, we're so serious that we should seriously celebrate the start of the century alone…" Astoria pulled an unresisting Draco upstairs.

x

Lucius sighed, watching his son be pulled upstairs by his girlfriend. "Love," he said, turning to his wife, "when is Draco going to marry? If they're having sexual relations and get along well enough, they should marry already. Have you talked to Draco about the Malfoy engagement process?"

Narcissa curled closer into him on the loveseat. "You should be doing that, Lucius. What's been keeping you away from home so often? I've barely seen you the last week."

Lucius coughed, looking away. "Nothing, love."

"Have you been cheating on me?" Narcissa asked, smiling.

"Never," he promised. "I never have and never will. I love you too much for that. It's just a new… business agreement."

x

"Molly, I think George is doing something illegal," Arthur announced while helping Molly with the dishes. They had just finished their family dinner and he and Molly were finally alone.

Molly frowned. "What do you mean?"

"He's somehow arranged a business agreement with Lucius Malfoy. I don't know what they're doing, but with Malfoy involved, it can't be good. I only know because Rosgood at the Auror office alerted me of their deal."

Molly sighed. "I'll talk to him. He's been out of sorts for a long while, but he can't just break the law."

"But before that…" Arthur kissed her. "Happy New Year's, Mollywobbles."

x

"George! George Weasley!" Blaise called, coming to a sudden stop.

George felt for his wand in his pocket. "What are you doing here? Who are you? Why are you in my parents' backyard?"

"You smoke?" Blaise asked. "Uh, wait, never mind. I have some documents for you from Mr. Malfoy. And I'm Blaise Zabini. I was in your younger brother's year."

George nodded, accepting the documents, shrinking them, and sliding them in his pocket. "Anything else you wanted?" he asked when Blaise didn't leave.

"Er, yeah," Blaise muttered, then gathered his courage and pecked George on the lips. "That." He Apparated away.

x

"Oi, George! Was that Zabini? Kissing you? Bloody hell!" Ron yelled from behind one of the Weasley's large bushes.

Hermione groaned. "Ron, you're an idiot. A nosy idiot. You shouldn't have seen that at all, so what happened is none of your business. George is a big boy. He can kiss or be kissed by whomever he wants."

"But Zabini's a Slytherin! I have to go warn George about what a slimy bastard he is!"

"Ron." Hermione slid her hands over his hips. "You're a little busy," she whispered, kissing him.

"Mmmm, I'm a little busy," Ron happily agreed, kissing back.

x

"Ginny have you seen—" Mrs. Weasley paused, belatedly noticing her daughter caught up in kissing her fiancé on the couch. "Have you seen George?"

"No, Mum," Ginny answered.

"No, Mrs. Weasley," Harry agreed. "Maybe he's outside?"

Ginny let out a loud sigh when her mother left. "Awkward," she muttered, distancing herself from Harry. The mood was definitely ruined. "Want to go for a broom ride?" she offered instead.

Harry nodded. "Cool. Last one to the broom shed gets the Comet!"

Harry ended up riding the Comet while Ginny got his Firebolt, but he didn't mind. Especially not when the Comet broke mid-ride and he was forced to ride with Ginny.

x

"I can't believe you're doing paperwork on New Year's," Oliver said, entering Percy's old bedroom. "It's what, one in the morning? The only thing lamer would be falling asleep."

"Actually, I planned on going to bed now," Percy argued. "Getting enough sleep is vital to my career. I already conceded to staying up until twelve, any longer is useless. What's the difference between going to bed at 12:30 and whenever you go to bed on New Year's?"

"You're going to miss out on the champagne."

"I dislike champagne."

"You're going to miss out on the Quidditch game."

"I dislike Quidditch."

"You're going to miss out on my love confession to you."

"I dislike—what?"

Then Oliver kissed him and Percy forgot all about going to sleep.

x

"My parents will love you," Charlie assured his girlfriend.

Lavender scowled at him. "We're four hours late to the party and technically uninvited, since you turned down their invitation."

"I told them I might not be able to come, depending on how the international floo network is working. That's not the same thing as gate-crashing a party."

Charlie tried to pull her into the house, but Lavender wouldn't move. "Is that your brother, Percy, I think? With the international Quidditch star Oliver Wood? Merlin that's hot."

This time, she dragged him inside. "Come on! I want a closer view!"

Charlie laughed and followed after her.

x

"Katie?" Seamus called, looking for her in the crowded Weasley house. "Hey, have you seen Katie Bell?" he asked Lavender, who had a strangely excited expression on her face.

"No, sorry," she said, pulling some guy upstairs.

Seamus sighed. He'd come to Ron's party with Katie, but it looked like she'd left without him. He'd looked outside, inside, upstairs, downstairs, in the kitchen, in the living room, in the dining room—

He picked up a small piece of paper.

Seamus! Sorry I left, Ginny's supposed to give this to you. Anyway, my sister needs me for some kind of emergency. Owl me, we should go on a real date sometime! Katie

Seamus grinned and called Ron's owl over. He had a date to arrange.

Chapter Text

"Padma, Professor McGonagall would like to see you," a voice from behind Padma said.

She turned around and saw it was Cho. "Now? It's so late. I don't know what's happening outside, but I'm ready for bed."

"Just go, it's urgent. She's in her office."

Padma looked down at her sleeping robe. "Like this? I should change."

Cho's eyebrow twitched as it usually did when she was very annoyed. "Go, Padma."

Padma walked out of the Ravenclaw tower, feeling self-conscious in her pink sleeping robes, and hurried to McGonagall's office, wondering what the deputy headmistress could want with her. Padma wasn't a Gryffindor or a troublemaker, and there was something seriously wrong in the castle. The people in the paintings were missing, a whole wall had been turned to rubble, and McGonagall's door had claw marks.

She knocked on McGonagall's door and waited for an "enter" before coming in. McGonagall was behind her desk, as usual, but her robes were torn and her hair was out of its usual neat bun.

"Sit down, please," McGonagall said. Padma noticed the outlined stress and worry lines on her face and sat down without a word. McGonagall looked exhausted.

McGonagall stood up and walked around her desk, giving Padma a too-soft look in the process. "Sixteen years ago, a girl appeared out of nowhere in my office. Her name was Padma, she told me, and she told us that our current Order headquarters would be attacked in two weeks, and we needed to move out."

Somehow, the news that she herself was a time traveler wasn't as thrilling as reading the Bertha Mugwurt, Time Traveler Extraordinaire series or some of the more humorous Merlin biographies.

"But... I'm a Ravenclaw! Ravenclaws aren't supposed to be adventurous!" She paused, collecting her thoughts. "When did I leave? Can I go with someone?" Why me? she wanted to ask.

McGonagall took an odd device from a chest in the corner of the room. It was a strange green orb with a small dial. "Now. I'm sorry, Padma, but as far as I know, no one came with you. And I saw you arrive. Don't worry, you'll be there for less than a day." She fingered the device for a moment. "This is a time turner Filius and I have been working on in our free time. It's not ready yet... It wasn't supposed to be used for a long while. Albus has a better one, but I can't-" She looked up, and Padma caught a wild look in her eyes for just a moment before McGonagall collected herself.

McGonagall handed her the time turner and a piece of paper. "Turn the dial to the left twenty-seven times, then shake it until you start moving. Close your eyes after that. The time vortex isn't pretty when you go through years. Tell my younger self about the headquarters and hand her this message. Whatever you do, don't cause a time paradox. One that lasts for sixteen years could mean every magical being in Britain might be sucked of magic to set time right. To get back, do the same, except turn it to the left."

"Yes, m'am. But why-"

"You need to go." McGonagall turned to leave, and Padma found herself feeling inexplicably put out. Of course the deputy headmistress had other duties, but... "I'm sorry, Miss Patil," McGonagall said.

Padma turned towards the door, but McGonagall had already left. Sorry for what? she wondered.

She did as McGonagall instructed and soon fell through something that told her she had no business being near it, but guided her anyways, and the next time she opened her eyes, she was in a familiar office.

"Fenwick, I don't have time for this. You're being paranoid. There is nothing-" She stopped, seeing Padma standing in the corner. "How did you get in?"

"Hello, professor. Um. Sir." She nodded at the unknown man. "I'm a time traveler and I'm supposed to tell you that you need to switch headquarters. Like, now."

McGonagall looked her over. Padma blushed, feeling out of place in her sleeping robes. Sure, they were very conservative, but she felt uncomfortable all the same.

"What's the oath to join the Order?" the stranger asked.

"I don't know. I'm not really sure what the Order is, actually. I'm not a member." She knew how it sounded, and it wasn't good. "Here!" She thrust McGonagall's note to her. "You gave me this. Before sending me here, I mean."

McGonagall read the paper over and rubbed her temples. "Did you read this?"

"No, m'am."

McGonagall sighed, and Padma had the feeling it was a sigh of relief. "Alright. My name is Minerva McGonagall. This is Benjamin-"

"Benjy," the man interrupted. "Do call me Benjy."

"Fenwick," McGonagall finished.

"I'm Padma P-"

"Don't tell me your last name, please. I'd rather not know any more than I should. Fenwick, you've got another crusader for your cause. Go get her dressed. We'll meet tonight at our current headquarters."

The man, Benjy, rolled his eyes and opened the door. "Minerva, this is just more proof. We need to move!"

McGonagall shook her head. "Out with you. Alastor could get some pointers from you in paranoia." She nodded to Padma. "Whatever you're here to do, please do it without causing a paradox."

Padma followed him out the door. They walked in an uncomfortable silence for a while.

"Where are the students?" Padma asked.

"Hmm? Students? It's August."

"Oh. What year is it?"

"1981."

"Oh." She noticed Benjy's hand hadn't left his wand holster.

"Would you like my wand? I mean, to prove I'm not a..." Had Death Eaters been called Death Eaters in this time? She didn't know. Why hadn't Binns been banished and a more reliable history teacher been brought in? Her parents lived in Austria for the most part and hadn't been involved in the war, nor known the intimate details. She knew how You-Know-Who died (everyone did, really), but she had been more interested in stories of Merlin and Morgana that the facts of the last war.

"No, it's fine." Benjy didn't look more at ease, but his hand did leave his holster. She wondered if it was because of her offer or because he knew she'd noticed. "So, how'd you get into the time travelling business?" Benjy asked.

Padma smiled. "I've always pretended to be Bertha Mugworth, travelling to sixth century Japan, and decided to do it for real one time."

Benjy grinned. "I think I might like you, Miss Padma. Or, pardon me, Mrs.?"

"Just Padma, thanks. I'm nowhere near married."

Benjy coughed and stuck his hands in his robe pockets, looking away. "Right, Padma. Let's get you cleaned up. I have a younger sister, Margaret, who's the new Quiddich instructor. I'm sure she'll have something for you."

x

The old Order headquarters were in Hogsmeade, Padma learned, at a sweets shop one of the members owned. The back room was just large enough for twenty people to crowd around Padma, who stood in the center of the room along with Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Benjy. Mildly put, the other members protested against having her there.

"She could be a spy!"

"She wasn't even part of the Order!"

"Where would we even move to?"

"Quiet, all," a both familiar and unfamiliar voice ordered. She had heard Professor Dumbledore giving the welcoming speech every year, of course, but never had he taken such a sharp, commanding tone. For the first time, she realized her Headmaster was more than a former transfigurations teacher. It hadn't quite connected before now, but this was the man who had led the fight against You-Know-Who in the first war.

However, he looked the same as ever with a long beard and bright blue robes with embroidered yellow birds. "Miss Padma, what exactly is your message?"

"You need to change headquarters. You-Know-Who is supposed to attack in one week," she said, looking only at him.

"And why were you in particular sent?"

"Professor McGonagall remembered meeting me here. And, I don't really know much about the war, and I don't know almost anyone here, so I'm unlikely to spill anything accidentally."

"The note she gave me was written in my handwriting and was something only I would know," McGonagall offered.

"Pardon me, Minerva, but are you positive it's from you?" Dumbledore asked.

McGonagall showed him the note, angled so that Padma couldn't see, but Padma noticed a sparkle enter Dumbledore's eyes and the seriousness fade.

"My dear Minerva, is that why-"

"Albus, I'm warning you..."

Someone coughed. "Excuse me. Can we continue to the meeting, now?"

Dumbledore nodded. "Yes, yes. Benjy, if you could escort Miss Padma to our wonderful garden? The cherry trees are bountiful this time of year."

A woman snorted. "If she'd really from the future, she can sit in without a problem."

"I think I'll go," Padma said. "I like cherries." She didn't need to hear this. She didn't want to have to worry about events long past, and worry more about the future.

Benjy opened the door for her and she exited, stopping for a moment to let him lead, then following Benjy out a door to the back of the house.

The garden was somewhat pretty, she thought, looking around. It wasn't well-kept or large, only consisting of two rows of three trees each, and a small two-person bench. She sat down, picking a cherry from a low-hanging limb.

Benjy sat next to her. "So, what's the future like? Don't tell me anything specific. Just..."

"Moustaches have fallen out of style," she said, pointedly staring at Benjy's moustache. She rubbed the cherry over her new robes and popped it in her mouth.

He laughed and ran a finger over the hairs. "But it's a sign of manliness!"

"No. It's awful. I mean... I'm sorry. I'm being insulting."

"It's fine. Besides, you're from what, a few years in the future?"

Padma started to say something, she wasn't sure what, but Benjy raised a finger in front of her lips.

"No, don't tell me. Look, we'll make it a lunch date, and I'll shave my 'stache especially for the occasion."

"But why? I mean, I'm not..."

"Not?"

"I'm not very interesting. Or very attractive. If it's the time travelling thing, then you should know it's really just this one time. I think this is the most exciting day of my life, to be honest. The last one was going to a ball with the Boy-Who-Lived's best friend, and that turned out to be a horror."

"I think I'm pretty normal, too. It's not like I fight dragons for a living."

"But you're in the Order! Fighting You-Know-Who, doing... heroic stuff." She blushed, mentally ordering herself to find out what the Order really did before she next saw Benjy.

"I'm an okay dueler, but that's about it. I promise, I'm not a superhero. But if you're interested..." He took her hands in his and stared in her eyes, and Padma felt adored and incredibly attractive in that moment. And she was attractive, she told herself, no matter how Ron acted or what Justin said. She was attractive. No one just seemed to notice. Sometimes, she herself didn't.

But sitting in the soft evening light on a white bench with this guy, she felt beautiful. With this man, she corrected herself. A good man, a not too ugly or too attractive man. Age is just a number, she decided, thinking about her future. If he was in the Order now, he'd be there in the future. She just had to find him.

Suddenly, her time turner started burning and Padma jumped up and gasped, pulling her robes away from her skin.

"I need to go, I think."

Benjy nodded and held out his hand. "I'll see you at one o'clock, for lunch."

Padma smiled and shook his hand. "It's a date. Make sure they move the headquarters, okay? And tell your sister I'm sorry for stealing her robes."

She noticed the time turner had started cool and started twisting the dial, only half hearing Benjy agree.

She felt the falling feeling, half apparition half portkey, and closed her eyes, thinking of Benjy. They would go to the Three Broomsticks, she decided, so that she could replace her memories of her date with Justin with newer, nicer ones.

When she opened her eyes, she realized she was in a small jewelry shop instead of a garden.

"Would you like something, dear?" the woman behind the counter asked.

She turned and ran out without answering, needing to get to the castle. She ran through Hogsmeade and to Hogwarts faster than she'd thought was possible for a bookworm who had little exercise.

"Excuse me!" she called to the first person she saw, Ginny Weasley. "Where can I find Professor McGonagall?"

"Padma? Why are you outside? Never mind, I think she went up to Dumbledore's office. Well, her office, now, I guess."

"What?"

"Professor Dumbledore died. Didn't you hear? Padma? Hey, Padma!"

Padma was already rushing to the school, past a crowd of people, through the front doors, through the corridors, up to the Headmaster's office. She ran faster and faster, because a horrible thought had entered her mind and wouldn't let go. She needed McGonagall to tell her Benjy wasn't-

The gargoyles leapt aside and she speedwalked up the steps, chest heaving and unable to run any longer.

She needed to know he wasn't-

I'm sorry, McGonagall had said.

"Professor McGonagall! I'm back. They switched headquarters. It's all okay."

McGonagall turned around, that too-soft expression in her eyes again, and suddenly, Padma knew, even if she didn't want to and-

"He was alive five minutes ago, Professor. He was-"

"I'm sorry, Miss Patil."

Padma slumped down in one of the chairs. She gulped down her tears and looked down, unable to look at McGonagall. "How? I want to know."

McGonagall handed her a cup of tea and a rolled up parchment. "He's about seven inches down."

Hands shaking, Padma opened the parchment.

Fenwick, Benjamin. Dead Aug. 28th, 1981. Died failed DE ambush at the former HQ. They knew we were waiting for them. Found head and right arm in Pollinwart's Field, near Godric's Hollow. Buried in Godric's Graveyard. Signed Alastor Moody.

He would have preferred Benjy, she thought to herself. Padma gave back the papers and drank the rest of the tea. She and McGonagall didn't speak. There was nothing to say.

She wasn't ever time traveling again.

The calming potion in her tea soon took effect and she felt a little more ready to face the outside world. Padma walked out of the Headmistress' office with her head high, if a little unsteadily.

First, she'd visit Benjy's grave. She had her apparition license, after all, and no one would notice her missing in the chaos.

Then, she'd stop crying, because it was unbecoming, and if one person could find her attractive, then another definitely could. There were more men in the world. She'd just have to find the right man, that's all.

A man like Benjy.

Chapter Text

Uncle Percy was everyone's least favorite uncle for a reason, Victoire thought miserably, knocking on the Den's front door. He was boring to talk to, hard to get along with, and gave the worst gifts ever. She couldn't believe Dad when he said Uncle Percy had actually mellowed out over the years.

She heard some voices behind the door (always in a soft, relaxed tone—how could Molly and Lucy stand it here?) and the door opened to reveal Uncle Percy and his branch of the Weasley family: Uncle Percy, Aunt Audrey, Molly, Lucy, and their weird muggle neighbor, Tom.

"Victoire! Look at you, beautiful as ever!" Aunt Audrey complimented, bringing Victoire into the house and into a hug. "We haven't seen you all summer!"

Victoire smiled painfully, trying in vain to keep Aunt Audrey's newest necklace from digging into her skin. When they were younger, she and Teddy had played the 'avoid Aunt Audrey's hugs or her clunky necklace will eat you' game, but today the red blotch on her neck, courtesy of the necklace, didn't seem as humorous.

"Hi Aunt, Uncle..." She looked around, but it seemed Molly, Lucy and Tom had vanished somewhere. "How are you?"

"Good, good," Uncle Percy replied. "Come on in. You'll be staying in the blue guest room. I trust you know where it is?"

"Yeah," she agreed, nodding awkwardly and pulling her bags in behind her. She trudged up the stairs to her room for the next week (why oh why hadn't she agreed to go on vacation with Mum, Dad, Dom and Lou?), set her bags down, and flopped on the bed. Of course, she had known Mum would send her to Uncle Percy's for the week (Mum's newest attempt at patching up Dad and Uncle Percy's relationship, doomed to fail), but it didn't really sink in for her until now.

Uncle Percy's house was like a shrine: too clean, too quiet, and with lingering smells of smoke from Aunt Audrey's current obsession of the week, alternative magics.

On the bright side, she had three hours to go until she left the Den for the rest of the day. On the shadowy side, she had only three hours left until her date. She headed downstairs to the kitchen to take her mind off her nerves.

Sitting down at the kitchen table, she noticed Uncle Percy was in the kitchen, making tea. Victoire coughed. Uncle Percy jumped.

"Victoire! I was just going to come get you," he announced, handing her a cup of tea and a sugar bowl, and sitting down next to her. She thanked him and they drank in silence for a while. Victoire let him keep the head start on the conversation Mum had likely put him up to.

Then Uncle Percy made an odd half coughing, half strangled noise and sat up straighter than Victoire would have thought possible. He looked a little lost, as though his thoughts were scattered, probably because he hadn't counted on giving this speech so early. But overall, he looked determined and resolute. Victoire prepared for the inevitable.

"Now, I heard you have a date tonight," Uncle Percy began. When Victoire only raised an eyebrow (she was listening to him out of politeness, but there was no way she'd participate in this uncomfortable conversation), Uncle Percy continued, becoming more collected until he no longer looked worried, "and as a concerned member of the Weasley family, I feel it is my duty to warn you about the dangers of young dating, in the manner of an adult to a, well, younger adult. Now, teenage dating can lead to unwelcome situations such as..."

By minute two, Victoire's eyes had glazed over.

By minute three, she considered using either deafening charm on herself or a silencing charm on Uncle Percy.

By minute four, she was wondering if Uncle Percy had ever dated. He and Aunt Audrey must have gone from friends or acquaintances straight to marriage if this speech was how he really thought of dating.

By minute five, Uncle Percy must have noticed Victoire's attention had been banished elsewhere because he stopped talking and returned to drinking his now cold tea.

Victoire gulped down the rest of her drink, practically threw it in the sink, and speed-walked to the kitchen's exit.

"Wait!"

She paused, cringing, and turned around.

Uncle Percy looked as awkward and uncomfortable as she felt. "I just... I know we're not very close because of the, ah, altercations between your father and me, but just... stay safe and have fun, okay? The floo's open twenty four hours and your Aunt Audrey and I are always here for you. Really, we're both off the next two weeks, so we're constantly here for you."

"Thanks, Uncle Percy," she muttered, leaving the kitchen.

On her way up to the blue guest room, she decided that maybe Uncle Percy could be promoted to her second to least favorite uncle. After all, Uncle Charlie had been absent last Christmas, and his dragon-scented birthday cards left a lot to be desired.

Chapter Text

Dear Mum,

Hogwarts is alright. The classes are kind of boring and can you believe we aren't allowed to use fire spells? Proff McGonagall says we might burn other stuff by accident, and wouldn't let me do them even when I promised to use a containing spell! But I can still practice the fire dragon spell at home over Christmas... right?

Potions was pretty cool, I can see why it was your favorite class! Professor Snape was kind of intimidating, but he was really nice to me afterwards. I even got five points for setting my cauldron up correctly!

How are you? How's Pinky? Is he still alive?

P.S. The owl Dad got me is kind of lazy, so I don't know when this'll get to you. Could you ask the pet shop what's wrong with it? It doesn't eat owl food, doesn't like to fly around, and never visits me in the tower.

Love, hugs,

Harry

x

Dear Dad,

Hogwarts is cool! I'm having a lot of fun pranking the Slytherins. (Don't tell Mum.) Ron and I are in the most awesome House in the world: Gryffindor!

And Transfiguration sucks. I don't know why you liked it. We're doing boring stuff, not like the spells Mum does at home...

Love and hugs,

Harry

x

Dear Harry,

I'm glad you like Hogwarts! My first week of school I was very homesick, so I hope it isn't the same for you. Either way, I promise to send letters at least twice a week. I'm doing well; Remus has been visiting a lot, but it just isn't the same without you here. The house is actually clean and silent for once, but I'm too worried about you to appreciate it. Are you okay at Hogwarts? Are you making new friends? You're not being bullied, are you?

Potions is your favorite class? Well, I'm glad Professor Snape is fairer than Professor Slughorn, at least. What do you like about it? Do you like your Professor? How is he, by the way?

Pinky hasn't died yet, so don't get your hopes up for a new pet.

Study hard!

Love,

Mum

P.S. I owled James to take care of your owl problems.

x

Dear Mum,

I lost my Potions book! Can you order me a new one? Professor Snape gave me one from the books cupboard (it's written all over by some guy who calls himself the Half Blood Prince, weird, huh?), but I'd rather have a new one.

Sorry?

Harry

x

Dear Professor Snape,

Thank you for giving my son an extra Potions book. I promise he will have a new one next class.

Sincerely,

Lily Potter

x

Dear Ms. Potter,

It was no problem. I have an entire cupboard of books for this reason.

It pleases me that your son has such an interest in Potions. Perhaps your son would like to pursue a Mastery in the field? It is never too early to begin working towards one. In fact, I believe you yourself have a Mastery in Potions.

Sincerely,

Severus Snape

x

Dear Professor Snape,

I do in fact have a Mastery in Potions, but I'm trying not to influence my son's decisions for his future. That is the job of his teachers, I believe. In fact, I had no idea he might have talent in Potions. He's always preferred Transfiguration, as far as I can tell.

I hope you do not let our past prevent you from teaching my son. Harry thinks well of you.

Sincerely,

Lily Potter

x

Dear Lily Potter,

I would never let the actions of a student's parent prevent me from teaching the student fairly. Harry is a good student and takes after you in many ways.

You are not at fault in any way for the collapse of our friendship. I have long since regretted my actions. I was young and stupid, but that is no excuse. I sincerely apologize, Lily Potter.

Severus Snape

x

Dear Dad,

Now that Mum and Professor Snape are friends, should I get him a Christmas gift? What do old men like for Christmas?

Love,

Harry

x

Dearest Lily,

YOU'RE FRIENDS WITH SNIVELLUS AGAIN? He's a DEATH EATER!

Much love,

James

P.S. He doesn't shower and doesn't brush his teeth and doesn't use deodorant and doesn't wash his hair. Do you really want to be his friend?

x

James,

Severus provides me with intelligent conversation about a subject I love: Potions. And as of five years ago, my private life is none of your business.

Lily

x

Snivellus the Death Eater Bastard,

Get your grubby paws away from my wife!

James Potter, Head Auror

x

Mr. Potter,

I was unaware you remarried, Mr Potter. Should I offer you congratulations?

Professor Severus Snape, Esteemed Potions Master at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

x

Dear Professor Snape,

Here's a card from Mum and me.

Happy Christmas!

Harry James Potter

x

Severus,

You shouldn't have gotten me such an expensive Christmas present! Honestly, I would return all these ingredients if I thought you would accept them. Except maybe the basilisk skin. Where did you get in such fine condition? Fresh, too?

Lily

x

Lily,

A potioneer never reveals his sources. But if you're interested, we could meet at Hogsmeade one weekend to discuss Potions. It's been too long since I've had someone so interested and experienced in Potions to speak with.

Severus

x

Dear Dad,

Professor Snape is awesome! Mum's inviting him over for dinner next week when I'll be at Ron's. I don't know why you want me to tell you whenever they make plans to meet, but Mum'll be really angry when she finds out. Can I stop now?

Love, kinda

Harry

x

Dearest Lily,

I haven't seen you in so long! I've been too busy with Auror stuff. What do you say to dinner next week? Say, Wednesday?

Love,

James

x

James,

We saw each other two days ago at Frank and Alice's party. But if you want to meet up, let's have lunch together on Thursday.

Lily

x

Remus,

Tell James he's smothering me in attention again.

Lily

x

Remus,

Lily's leaving me again! For Snivellus! Help me get her back!

James

x

Lily, James,

I'm taking a vacation to the Americas to keep from getting caught up in your ex-marital problems again.

Remus

x

Lily,

Would you like to reschedule our dinner meeting? I'm not sure why you didn't appear, but perhaps you could send me an owl next time?

Severus

x

Severus,

I'm so sorry! I had some issues that I needed to take care of. Would you like to have dinner this Friday instead?

Lily

x

Sirius,

Lily's kind of angry at me. I still can't feel my legs. Maybe I shouldn't have visited her before her date with Snivellus...

James

x

Lily,

I look forward to seeing you this Friday. Being without you is like being afflicted with the Cruciatus Curse. I've missed you very much.

Severus

x

Severus,

Are you reusing James' bad pickup lines on me?

Lily

x

James,

I went to visit Lily on Friday. MY POOR EYES. Snivellus dressed up and brought flowers.

Sirius

x

James,

If you don't stop sending Sirius to spy on me, I'll send in a restraining order against you.

Lily

x

Lily,

I sincerely apologize. I have no idea what came over me.

Severus

x

Dear Mum,

Finals went fine, I think. Professor Snape's extra study sessions helped a lot. I don't know why some people don't like him; he's awesome! Are you guys going to get married? That's what Dad says.

And I might have gotten a few detentions for accidentally lighting the Gryffindor common room on fire. No big deal.

Now that Pinkie's finally dead, can I have a new pet? A cool one? A Kneazle?

Love,

Harry

x

Dear Harry,

Maybe. We'll see. Are you alright with my relationship with Severus? I'll talk to you about it when you get home. I promise I'll still love you very much even if I do remarry. I'll be waiting for you as King's Cross Station, but without your father this time.

How many detentions is a few? Don't worry about having to tell me, I'll just owl Professor McGonagall.

With love,

Lily

x

Head Auror,

I would like to formally enact a magically binding restraining order against one James Potter. I have had enough of his stalking.

Sincerely,

Lily Evans

P.S. In case my letter somehow gets lost, I have sent a copy to Auror Frank Longbottom.

Chapter Text

At fourteen years old, Lucius was well acquainted with boredom, not that anyone would have believed him had he said so at any point in his life. As the Malfoy heir, he had everything: money, fame, family, intelligence, and most importantly, cunning. Unfortunately, his Slytherin mother also had cunning, and she had magically bound him to the ballroom until eight o'clock on the night of her birthday ball. She'd professed wanting to see his smiling face on her thirty-fifth birthday, but she'd only laughed and pinched his cheek when he told her he'd smiled at her thirty-fifth birthday three years ago.

Lucius would have been alright with the ball had his mother also not invited his year, the year below, and the year above of Slytherin girls. He hated when his mother was obvious; for one, it was Gryffindor-ish and he practically had an allergy to Gryffindors, and also if Lucius actually noticed his mother's manipulations, it meant she must have used the particular manipulation previously. And Lucius had truly thought Miranda Black and her parents had visited their summer house last year because their fathers needed to finalize a business agreement.

Lucius scowled as he noticed someone walking towards him out of the corner of his eye. If it was another girl looking for a dance partner, he'd—well, he couldn't refuse, but he'd accidentally-on-purpose arrange for someone to step on her dress robes! But it wasn't a girl, thankfully. It was one of his Black cousins, though he'd be damned if he could remember his name.

"Hello," the kid said, giving over his hand to Lucius. He was young, maybe ten at best, and still hadn't mastered the art of a good handshake, Lucius noted.

They let ago. "Hello. My name is Lucius." He'd found it best to give kids his first name only; after watching his youngest first cousin get his last name wrong thrice, he decided that pre-Hogwarts brains just weren't developed enough to grasp the concept of having two names.

"Yeah. I mean, yes. Lucius Malfoy, right? My dad told me to come say hello."

A real Slytherin, this one.

"I'm Sirius Black," the kid continued. "Wat'cha doing all the way over here for?"

Lucius shrugged, then checked to make sure he was still mostly hidden by the magical Dragon's Blood trees his mother had imported from Socotra Magical Greenhouses. "I don't want to dance."

"Oh." The kid sat down on the floor with his back to the wall, and Lucius refrained from ordering the kid back up. Sirius' dirty dress robes would be his mother's problem, not Lucius'. "Why not? Girls are pretty." The phrase sounded parroted, as if Sirius wasn't quite sure if he believed it or not.

"I don't want to marry straight out of Hogwarts like my parents are hoping. I've told them a million times, but they keep saying I'll soon fall in love and immediately start raising the pureblood population." Lucius eyed the ground, then sat down next to the kid. "I don't think they'd even be bothered if I knock up a girl while at school as long as she'd somewhat handsome and pureblooded."

Sirius stared at him wide-eyed. "You mean I have to get married when I go to Hogwarts? To a girl?"

Lucius considered being honest for once in his life, then weighed the amount of fun he'd have being honest and the amount of fun he'd have being dishonest, and the two just didn't compare. Lucius put an arm around the kid's shoulders. "Little cousin, I'm not supposed to tell you this, but has anyone told you what you really have to do to get sorted?"

He felt more than saw the kid shake his head. "No," the kid answered.

"There's a big, scary giant that takes you to Hogwarts on these itty-bitty decrepit boats. Then, he leads you into a huge room called the Great Hall. There you'll see a hat. The hat will tell you who your One True Love is and then tells you your House based on how beautiful she is. Well, and your blood status and intelligence," he amended in case Lady Black got a hold of the kid's story. She'd like that part.

Sirius' mouth dropped open. "Really? So who's your One True Love?"

"Um." Lucius picked off all the girls in his year as too annoying, too unattractive, too dark-haired, and too boring. "The hat couldn't tell me. She hasn't been born yet, maybe. But she's French," Lucius decided with a nod, because he loved French accents.

"Lucius? Is that you? I've been searching for you all night. Will you dance with me?" a voice from behind the tree called out. Lucius stood up, waved the kid goodbye, and amused himself with thoughts of his mother being charmed into a troll.

x

One year later, Sirius Black still hadn't matured into a girl-loving boy, mostly because of the awful muggle girl next door who wouldn't leave his baby brother alone. She somehow stalked him whenever he stepped outside their London house. If she were a witch, Sirius would've thought she was using a Point Me charm.

Now that he was going to Hogwarts, he wouldn't be able to protect Regulus from his stalker, Sirius thought glumly, looking out the window of his and James' train compartment. They'd snagged an almost empty one in the very back; the other occupant was a sleeping boy who looked close to them in age, but probably wasn't a first year. Sirius couldn't imagine sleeping on the train ride to the most awesome place in the world, Hogwarts.

Thinking of girls reminded Sirius of what Lucius Malfoy had told him, ages ago. What Lucius had originally told him had been lost to the layers of a preteen boy's memory, but Sirius distinctly remembered him saying something about and marriage and a hat.

"Psstt, James," he whispered, hoping not to wake up the weird boy in the corner of their train compartment.

"Yeah?" James asked, leaning in.

"I know what we have to do to get sorted!"

"Seriously? Dad wouldn't tell me. Said it was a secret. Go on, tell me."

"We have to decide who we want to marry." At James' disbelieving look, Sirius nodded frantically. "It's true! Lucius Malfoy told me, and he's older than us. I think he's a sixth year."

"Nah. We can't really decide now, right? Girls are. . . I dunno. Do you know any girls?"

"Remember my cousin Bella?" Sirius asked wryly, trying not to remember.

James paled and stuffed a chocolate frog in his mouth.

"That's the only girl I really know. Mum likes her a lot and has her come over every week to teach her stuff. She won't teach me anything," Sirius grumbled.

"Do you really want to know whatever your Mum's teaching Bella?"

The sleeping boy shifted and they looked over at him, but he didn't seem to have awoken.

"Probably not. Anyway, he said we'll be led to the castle on boats by a giant, so make sure you aren't crushed by it."

James crossed his arms and leaned back. "No way. I'm not believing that. Your cousin has to be lying."

"Oh yeah?" Sirius jeered, jumping on his best friend and wrestling him to the floor of the compartment.

It was then that the boy in the corner woke up, but by that time all the two boys cared about was winning the impromptu wrestling match.

x

James gulped. "That's a giant," he whispered, staring at the man leading them over to a lake. "And there's the boats..." He looked over at his best friend. "Malfoy's right," he said with dawning horror.

"Right," Sirius answered, unable to really gloat. They stared at the surrounding girls. "She's kind of pretty." He pointed at a tall brown-haired girl. "Maybe I can choose her as my future wife?"

James would never admit it, but he wanted his mom. Sirius went over to the girl he'd pointed out, asking for her name, and James thought it might've been Marlene. But he was allowed some inattention; this was the biggest moment of his life! He need to pick out the perfect girl to be his future wife.

He got into a boat with Sirius, Sirius' girl, and some other girl, and stared hard at the other boats. It was getting dark and he couldn't see the faces in the other boats very clearly. How was he supposed to find his wife now? What if he couldn't find one and the hat made him marry a girl like Bellatrix Black?

"What're you looking at?" the girl beside him asked, and James turned to face her.

"I'm looking for a girl," he answered, feeling awkward.

The girl blinked. "Who?"

"I don't know."

The girl scratched her head. "Well, I'm a girl."

James stared at her and slowly smiled. She was pretty and red-haired like his mum. "Yeah, you're definitely a girl. What's your name?"

"Lily Evans."

James held out his hand. "I'm James Potter. We're going to get married."

One hard hit with a book (that'd come out of nowhere; what did she need a book on a boat for, anyway?) and one sorting later, James decided that Slytherins were evil. Seeing a scowling Sirius next to him, James thought he also agreed.

Chapter Text

The first time he saw Human Rat in his beautiful Mistress' bed, he forgave and forgot the incident. After all, everyone makes mistakes, even his lovely Hermy. After Human Rat and Hermy had a human clawing match, Human Rat stormed out and Crookshanks snuggled up to his Hermy again.

Hermione picked him up and settled him in her lap. "Oh Crookshanks, don't worry, you'll always be my first love. Ron's in second place, okay? Far, far, in second place if he keeps talking to Lavender like that," she murmured into Crookshanks' fur.

x

Crookshanks had known from the day Hermy saved him from those pesky humans that she loved him. And why wouldn't she? Crookshanks was the perfect cat, if he said so himself. He was intelligent, fabulous, long-lived, and cute. He was also a very forgiving cat, but only to a point.

"Ow! Hermione your cat's clawed me again!" the Human Rat yelled.

Crookshaks hissed at him once more and snuggled into his spot on Hermy's bed. Foolish girl, didn't she know that humans weren't supposed to associate with rats?

x

The Human Rat was persistent, though. He kept coming over and getting clawed until Crookshanks couldn't remember which belongings in the house were Hermy's originally, and until it was unusual for the Human Rat not to have claw marks on his arms.

The Human Rat talked to Crookshanks only once.

"Hey, er, Crookshanks."

Crookshanks hissed, showing the idiot human his very sharp teeth.

"Hermione says we need to talk. So," he finally began picking up steam, "I don't really know what I'm doing, but... Hermione's parents aren't getting along well with Hermione and Dad'll kill me if I don't do this, so... Crookshanks Granger, I formally ask for the hand of Hermione Granger. In marriage. I'm in love with Hermione. And you don't really like me, that's okay, but I'm going to marry her, so leave me alone."

Crookshanks looked him over, flopping his large, bushy tail to the side, and bobbed his head. Then he pounced. A few minutes later, Ron went to St. Mungo's with a bad case of cat attack. When he got back, Crookshanks purred and rubbed against his legs, welcoming him into his house.

If the Human Rat was going to marry Crookshanks', then at least Crookshanks knew the perfect way to induce nightmares in sleeping, spot-stealing Human Rats.

Chapter Text

The wind was harsh and biting, nipping at her ears and uncovered throat, and Minerva cursed her reluctance to go back for her winter outerwear. But by the time the cold really seeped in, she was already half way to Pomona's personal greenhouse and the trek back to the castle felt too far. The snow was cold and knee-high, somehow getting into her snow-spelled, knee-high winter boots, but she didn't stop to cast additional water repelling charms. She trudged on to Pomona's personal greenhouse instead. Of course, officially it was the seventh year NEWT greenhouse, but as students rarely pursued a NEWT in Herbology, Pomona was free to use it to suit her needs. And now that she taught only NEWT Herbology, Pomona had a lot of free time. Minerva didn't feel jealous, per se, but she did have a jab of professional envy towards Pomona when the Board of Governors once again denied her requests for a larger Transfiguration classroom.

Minerva knocked on the door out of habit, and entered the greenhouse without waiting for a reply. There, on a small table next to a magical fireplace, was already a second cup of tea ready for her. Pomona had likely heard her coming. She picked it up, sat on the bench and stared at the fire for a long while, waiting for her friend.

After a while, she heard Pomona come into the side room to the greenhouse and shifted to make more room for her on the bench. Pomona took the other teacup and they stared at the flickering flames. For a blink of an eye, Minerva saw Albus' smiling face in the flames, twinkling his eyes and laughing his bellowing laugh. Then it vanished into nothing.

"James Potter stayed for Christmas break. The whole team stayed, something about needing even more time to practice," she began, leaning on Pomona's shoulder and taking comfort in being near her best friend. It was late today, past eleven maybe, much later than she usually came for their weekly fireside chats. "Asked me about one of my first Transfiguration essays, the one about dragon's wings. He's a good student, unlike some knuckleheads I could name," she said with a snort, thinking of an idiot first year's dabbles into human transfiguration. "Straight O's in Transfiguration, E's and O's in everything else."

Sitting this close, she could feel Pomona nod against her.

"An O in Herbology, too," Pomona confirmed.

Minerva sipped her tea, finding another small bit of comfort in the strong tea. "He's a better student than Harry and James," she whispered, wringing her hands. "Did you know, he sits in the third row, the desk to the very right? It's a nice desk, I suppose. Easily forgettable." After a short pause, she continued, "Harry sat there. James, too."

A forgettable desk. An unforgettable name.

As she watched the flames, she could almost see a student, pureblood, delirious with happiness to finally be at Hogwarts, shining with pure talent at Transfiguration, sitting with his four instant friends in the third row.

She could almost see a student, half-blood, delirious with happiness to be at Hogwarts, shining with more enthusiasm than talent, sitting with a tall redhead in the third row.

"He looks so much like Harry. So much like James. And his name is James. Another James Potter." She gulped down her tea to prevent tears. "What right did he have to name him James?" she pleaded into the fire. "What right did he have to give that name to the next look-alike of James Potter? Will I watch him too, watch him rise to greatness, and be cut down by someone unworthy to say his name?"

The fire had no answers, and neither did Pomona.

"I don't want another James Potter," she whispered. "It's been four decades and it's still too soon."

What right did Harry have, to name his first son James Potter, then release him into Hogwarts to break the hearts of everyone who had truly known James Potter? The people who had known him as the bright, happy, (arrogant), cute, (annoying), (always distracted) student that James had been? The enthusiastic father, the affable conversationalist, the adorable smarmy first year...

Minerva did not want another James Potter. She had a soft spot for those four, James, Sirius, Remus, Peter. It ripped apart something inside her when each of them died. Must she also watch James II die an early, premature death? Must she watch and love and care for another boy who'd drive the memories of James farther and farther, until when she saw that messy-haired silhouette, she'd no longer recall whose it was? James', Harry's, or James' again?

Harry had named his first son in honor of his father, because he missed and loved him, and Minerva could understand that. But hadn't he thought of others, people who truly knew James Potter? Would it make him feel better to watch her while as bleed she bled and cried for the James Potter of her memory?

It was so painful, to call one look-alike after the other "Mr. Potter," and sometimes forget, just for a moment, which one she meant. She was getting much too old, Minerva told herself, to be teaching. Much too old and much too mawkish, and Pomona would agree with her. Maybe she, Pomona, and Horace might take a vacation after this year. A short break from teaching sounded wonderful.

By the time she finished her cup of tea, a new day had begun.

"There went Christmas," Pomona said, gently pushing Minerva off.

"Yes," she said, then shook her head, shaking off her somber mood. It would do her no good to sit and mope. She had a Boxing Day brunch date with Horace, after all, and she needed to build up her mental tolerance for potions gibberish and crystallized pineapple.

Chapter Text

If she wanted to, Lavender might tell you she's the most amazing child in the world. She doesn't, of course—Mummy says it's bragging—but she could. She tells herself that when she can't sleep, or feels dumb, or wants to talk to Mummy and can't.

Tonight, she puts on her favorite nightrobe, light pink with silver thread, one that Mummy gave her two years ago, and heads for the kitchen. She passes Daddy's office, where a name plate reads Reid Brown. The door's locked, but she can hear him inside, so she knows she has to be very quiet. Daddy probably won't hear her (he's never caught her so far) but she knows that if he does catch her, she'll be in more trouble than Silver got into for failing Divination. (Lavender's already decided to pass Divination when she gets to Hogwarts, so that for once she can finally stick her tongue out at Silver and say she's smarter than him.)

She grabs the cookie jar from the kitchen counter, which she can just barely reach, then slowly opens the door just past the kitchen. It doesn't creak (she put soap on the hinges yesterday, but she'll have to do it again later) and she carefully tiptoes up the stairs, staying to the part where each stair meets the wall. There are ten steps, and she counts every one of them as she walks up. She skips the sixth one just because she's six years old.

There's another door at the very top, and Lavender doesn't need to try to be quiet anymore, so she opens it quickly and hops inside. The attic is full of forgotten treasures (and some not forgotten, just forsaken), but there's dust everywhere, so she has to be careful to not let her robes touch the floor or the furniture.

At the very back of the attic, behind a big cabinet, there's a chair that she dragged to the attic a few weeks ago. Daddy hasn't noticed yet; Daddy doesn't notice much anymore. She made a straw doll with Mrs. Atkins, and Daddy couldn't tell the difference last night at dinner. She tries not to feel sad, because Mummy says it's normal and Daddy's still adjusting, but she cried in her room after that, just a little. Silver would call her a crybaby.

Lavender plops down on the chair and waves at Mum. "What's better than the most amazing?" she asks. She's been wondering all day, and she can't ask Daddy or Silver.

Mummy smiles down at her, and Lavender thinks that her mother is so beautiful, she must have been even better than the most amazing child in the world when she was younger, as young as Lavender was now. Lavender tells her that, of course.

"Nothing, of course." Mummy's eyes are a little watery, or maybe it's a trick of the light, a reflection of the last rays of sunlight hitting the waxy paint. It's getting dark, and Lavender can barely see Mummy with the waning light from the small window.

"How was your day, sweetheart?" Mummy asks.

Lavender talks for ages, it feels like, about her day. How she likes Mrs. Atkins—but not as much as she likes Mummy, of course—and how she and Mrs. Atkins made dolls, and how Daddy works too much, and how Scarlett is still in France. She doesn't tell Mummy that Scarlett says she won't some back, because Mummy will be sad. Instead, she tells her how it's been raining too much this summer and how she wants a bow like Margaret's. Mummy listens while she talks, but soon Lavender can't think of what else she can tell Mummy. She goes off topic and tells Mummy she has a beautiful name. It's written in cursive on the plate, Amber Brown, with funny numbers after it that Lavender doesn't want to make sense of. By the end, she's finished eating all the cookies in the jar.

Soon, Mummy tells her to go to bed, and Lavender gets up reluctantly.

"It's not night yet," Lavender argues, and Mummy gives her the look, the one that tells her she knows Lavender's lying and she'll be angry if Lavender doesn't stop. Lavender's missed the look.

"You have your nightclothes on, and it's dark," Mummy says. "Get to bed, sweetheart."

Lavender pouts, but she says her goodbyes and goodnights. She can always come see Mummy again tomorrow.

Chapter Text

There was no one next to him when Draco awoke, and at first, he didn't remember why that was a bad thing. He'd never liked sleeping next to people—he was inevitably kicked during the night, he couldn't say goodnight to save his life, and mornings were always awkward. Of course, that was before he was engaged to the woman he loved. His arm reached over to the right to check again, but his bedmate's body hadn't appeared since he'd last checked. Pity, because after his surgery, he missed warmth more than he missed his ability to move easily. The other half of the bed was cold and lacked Luna's indent, but he could smell the lingering smell of the bouquet of flowers he'd given her. She'd taken it with her on their anniversary date, and she refused to put it down even to kiss him. Luna was like that, he thought fondly.

Draco sluggishly maneuvered out of bed, still a bit dazed and sleepy, and patted down the nightstand for his wand while he rubbed sleep out of his eyes with his other hand. He froze when his hand encountered the far edge of the nightstand without first encountering his wand. Slowly, he turned his head toward the nightstand. His wand was missing. He didn't check the floor; his wand had been spelled onto the table.

Draco ran. He forsook his nightrobes for a pair of light trousers, hating the indignity and swallowing it all the same.

Draco ran. He ran out of his family's French summer home, not stopping to check the wards in case Luna really was at home. He knew she wasn't, and he knew he was already too late. Luna was an early riser, and she'd somehow fooled the wards that should've woken Draco.

Draco ran. He cursed his Anti-Apparition cuffs, put on him by meddling Healers after his appendicitis operation had gone sour. They didn't care that he had a girlfriend like Luna, that he needed to be able to Apparate no matter how much damage it might do to his body. Draco and Luna both suffered a stay at St. Mungo's—he because of appendicitis surgery, she because he couldn't take care of her and her friends couldn't watch her carefully enough.

Draco ran until he was almost at the bridge across town, huffing and wishing he'd exercised more. He ran until he saw Luna, beautiful Luna, balancing on the railings of the bridge. He was still too far; she was much too close.

"Luna!" he called, and she turned around to wave. Her robes were pearl white, her hair was flying across her face, and she was smiling straight at him. Draco thought she was the most beautiful now than he'd ever seen her. And the most terrifying.

"Luna!" he called again, knowing she couldn't hear him from so far away, but she smiled in his direction anyway. He ran.

"I love you," he whispered, but he didn't delude himself into believing she didn't know.

For a moment after she jumped, she levitated in the air, as though gravity itself hesitated to pull her down—or maybe it was her precious nargles, come alive from her imagination for one precious moment—and Draco's heart skipped a beat in hope that she'd stay up. But Luna was too old for accidental magic, and she had no desire to float in the air.

As she fell through the air, Luna didn't scream. Draco did.

Chapter Text

Bill and Fleur's summer cottage stood alone on a cliff overlooking the sea, its walls embedded with shells and whitewashed. It was a lonely and beautiful place, their summer cottage. Fleur was glad they didn't live by the seaside permanently, even though she loved the smell and sound of the sea. Too many memories of the second war rested inside the cottage, like a dark cloud that never vanished, like a Dark Mark in the air. Even as Fleur sat on the edge of the cliff, bathing in the sounds of the constant ebb and flow of the sea, she saw the dead and the scarred when she closed her eyes. Beautiful as it was, Fleur would sell the cottage in a heartbeat.

"I would zell zis cottage in a 'eartbeat, Bill, if your mozzer were not so pigheaded!" she said to her husband, hearing his footsteps on the rocks.

Bill sat down next to her left, wrapping an arm around Fleur's shoulders. Fleur settled into Bill, and realized she hadn't noticed the cold before she had Bill's warm side to compare it to. "Fleur, Mum's a bit...sentimental about this house. It belonged to her sister, who died in the war, and she would take us kids here when we were children." Then quieter and with a bit of sarcasm, he muttered, "Besides, we can't sell off a wedding gift."

"Zis wedding gift was worth less zan ze cost of repairs for eet," Fleur grumbled, but smiled at Bill to show she wasn't truly angry. "You came 'ere as a child?"

Bill shrugged and started sifting through the sand near his hand, a gesture Fleur noted as nervousness. "Not exactly," Bill began, his voice a little scratchy, and Fleur rubbed his throat with her free hand. "I was eleven when a kid named Harry Potter vanquished You-Know-Who. My childhood was filled with a lot of hiding from Death Eaters, since they knew Mum and Dad were in the Order. It was a time of fear, especially for a child. I didn't even go to Diagon Alley until I was eleven; it wasn't safe."

"Zis cottage?" Fleur asked.

"I only visited it after the war, after Mum's sister died. They didn't get along—Aunt Maple was neutral in the war, staunchly so. Wouldn't get near Order members if it killed her. Even the children of Order members."

Fleur nodded, taking his hand in hers in what she hoped was a comforting gesture. She couldn't emphasize with her husband; Fleur couldn't remember the first war, and even if she did, she wouldn't have bad memories. The war never reached France. And when the war started again, she joined by choice, not by circumstance.

"Zis place makes us, what eez ze word, melancholy? Let's go 'ome, Bill." Fleur slipped out of Bills embrace and stood up. She made a show of trying to pull Bill up by his hand, though she couldn't bring him up without the aid of a featherlight charm or Bill's help, and pecked him on the lips when he gave in.

Hand in hand, they walked back to Shell Cottage for their belongings.

"I should think our child won't visit zis place," Fleur decided, nose a little higher in the air, lips twitching in amusement, waiting for Bill to catch on.

"Probably n—child?" he exclaimed, smiling widely and staring down at her stomach. "You're serious?"

Fleur laughed, tugging him into the cottage for the last time. She hadn't planned to tell Bill the news at this dreary place, but the time was as good as any time. "Let's celebrate at 'ome, Bill. Perhaps your mozzer will be zo happy about grandchildren, she won't notice us selling ze cottage!"

Chapter Text

"I can't do this," Ernie announced two hallways away from the most important job interview of his life. His hands were shaking with nervousness and excess energy, and he could swear he had an unsightly patch of sweat forming on his brow. He turned to Justin for reassurance, but Justin looked like he didn't care one way or the other.

"You'll be fine," Justin replied, his eyes and slightly long nose not leaving his book. "You'll wow the idiot, get the job, move in with me, and we'll get that television you wanted."

Ernie stopped walking (they were now one hallway away from the interview of doom) and grabbed the book out of Justin's hands. "I'm preparing myself for the most important day of my life and you're—" he glanced at the book's cover, "—reading a horticulture guide?"

"Open to the second page," Justin said, radiating smugness.

Ernie complied and let out a soft groan. "The Goodwizard's Guide to Wholesome but Misrepresented Business Dealings with Muggles?" He flipped to the table of contents, hoping the book wasn't what he thought it was. "The economy, you, and inflation spells? Legal spells for ease of business? How to change someone's mind in five easy spells? Justin, this is illegal." Ernie knew Justin was planning to work in the muggle world, but he'd assumed his boyfriend would at least be law-abiding about it.

"What do you care about muggle economics?" Justin asked, relieving Ernie of the book.

"It's the principle of the thing."

"It's the principle of the thing that I love you."

Ernie rolled his eyes, but smiled happily at his boyfriend. "You're incorrigible. And immoral."

Justin grabbed Ernie's hand and all but dragged him towards his interview room. "Good luck," he murmured against Ernie's lips, and pecked him quickly before leaving for his own job. Ernie wasn't sure what Justin (and Justin's father, for that matter) did for a living, only that he made more money than Ernie comfortably spent in a year. And had questionable business tactics.

Ernie knocked on the office door, puffing his cheeks and breathing deeply to calm himself. This was the most important interview of his life; he couldn't have an anxiety attack today. But even as he ate another calming candy, he began to feel a little lightheaded with stress.

The door opened—too slowly, was that a bad sign?—and an unusually glum Arthur Weasley appeared on the other side. "Hello?" he asked, looking a little confused. "Are you lost?"

"No!" Ernie cried, then cursed himself for sounding like an over-excited teenager. Twenty was too old for a squeaky voice. "No, I mean, I heard from my dad that you're looking for an assistant. I was going to owl you my resume, but my owl couldn't find you, and my dad's been sick and couldn't hand it in, and I wanted to make sure no one got the job before me!"

Mr. Weasley blinked. "Come in, Mr...?"

"Macmillan. Ernie Macmillan," Ernie said, giving up on trying to keep himself from rolling on his heels. Mr. Weasley had probably already noticed his nervousness.

"You're Michael's boy! I hadn't realized you were interested in a job here." Mr. Weasley gestured to a chair opposite his desk and Ernie sat down, glancing at the desk next to Mr. Weasley's. If all went well, that desk would be his. "Could you tell me about your credentials?"

"Yes sir!" He handed Mr. Weasley the resume, which Mr. Weasley took, but didn't look over. "I graduated from Hogwarts with five NEWTS, two of them Exceeding Expectations, the rest Acceptable. I got a NEWT in Muggle Studies, actually."

"Really? You're truly interested in muggle artifacts?" Mr. Wealey asked, now more bemused than surprised. Ernie hoped it wasn't because of his poor scores.

"Very much, sir. I've been asking my dad to get a vellytision for ages. I want to know more about muggles, and your department is my first choice!"

After another ten minutes of questions, Ernie was free to leave. He left the office with a huge grin, deciding to send a Ministry-loaned owl to Justin that very moment to tell him the news. He was so happy he could levitate!

"I assume your interview went well?"

Ernie turned toward the left and saw his boyfriend leaning against the wall. "Justin? You waited for me? And it was great! He told me to come in for work tomorrow at nine. Can you believe it? I'm so happy I could—"

"Kiss me?" Justin finished, wiggling his eyebrows.

"Yeah, that." Ernie pulled Justin in for a kiss, delighting in the chance to rumple Justin's muggle suit and discretely banish Justin's book.

Chapter Text

It was a normal day in the lower levels of Gringotts, and seventeen year old Bill Weasley was having a successful day. He hadn't accidentally insulted a goblin, ruined the only copy of a document, or mucked up a shield charm against one of the goblins' spelling dummies. All in all, it was a good day. That's how Bill knew, even before the call, that something was going to go wrong.

He wasn't a superstitious guy by nature, but working with the goblins had gotten him used to thinking pessimistically. Slipgoop, his current overseeing goblin, thought it progress. Bill thought it the downside of a (hopefully, eventually) lucrative spell-breaking internship. For now, though, he was a secretary with a fancy internship title.

The fellytone next to him beeped twice and Bill picked it up.

"Hello?"

"Er, hello?" Bill replied, motioning to a goblin that he got a call. The goblin quickly walked toward him, then stared down his nose at Bill, just waiting for him to make a mistake. Bill scowled, just a bit. "Welcome to Gringotts emergency fellytone service. My name is Bill, what can I do for you?"

"What's Gringotts?"

Bill gulped. The one time he thought he'd finally show the goblins he was worthy of at least an occasional good morning, this call comes to him. He was cursed. "Could you hand the fellytone to your Mum or Dad, please?"

"I don't have a Mum and Dad. Aunt Petunia says they died in an automobile crash."

"Alright." Bill put the call on speaker. "Can you tell your Aunt to floo the bank when she gets back? Your line isn't on the list of registered lines, so we'd like to speak to her."

"M'kay. But she doesn't have your number."

The goblin's expression changed, maybe to a form of mild curiosity. Bill had been working for Gringotts for two months and he still couldn't decipher their expressions. "How did you call if you didn't have a Gringotts code?"

"I didn't call. You called me. I just wanted to talk to someone on the phone, and then I heard something on the other end, and you talked back!"

'Accidental magic?' he mouthed to Slipgoop. The goblin nodded, calling over another goblin and speaking to him in Goblingook. Bill had long since decided to refer to all goblins as he in his head, as he could tell the bloody difference between male and female goblins. The two conversed, and Slipgoop motioned for him to keep talking to the child.

"Talk to it until the magic fades. We'll time how long the connection lasts." The goblin left, muttering, "This shouldn't be possible."

Bill agreed; the magic phone lines had been constructed for the use of muggleborn or muggle-sympathetic witches and wizards, and each line was keyed to a single person. For someone, especially a child, to break into the goblins' wards was incredible. Impossible, too, he'd thought.

The child was silent on the other end, so Bill cleared his throat. "Are you still there?"

"Yes." The Bill heard the boy shuffle with something.

"Um. I'd like you to stay on the phone. My... coworkers are looking for the solution to this problem. Don't worry, though, everything's fine."

"I won't get in trouble for using the telephone without permission?"

"Of course not." He paused, thinking of something to say, and Slipgoop motioned angrily for him to continue. "Do you play football?" Muggle children played football, or so he'd gathered from his muggleborn roommates.

"No. I think I'll go, sir. My aunt and uncle are going to come back soon and I have stuff to do."

"No! Wait, look, I— think you should keep talking. You called because you were bored, right? I'm an interesting guy. I have, uh, mad voice imitation skills." He prayed that his reputation wouldn't die before it began, but it seemed he had no other choice.

"Can you do duck sounds?"

Bill looked pleadingly at Slipgoop, who just raised an eyebrow and motioned for him to continue. He sighed. Farewell, dignity. "Quack, quack, quack."

"Wow! Can you teach me?"

And so, for the next two hours, Bill taught a talentless little boy how to make quacking noises. Goblins would occasionally come in, tell him they might pay him extra for this, and grumble about the mysterious boy. He didn't show up on their magical line scans and they couldn't find him using his magical signature. It was like the boy just didn't exist.

Bill told himself it was all for his job, but to be honest, he enjoyed himself, too. The kid was hopeless but enthusiastic, and by the time they'd started on mooing, he'd lost his earlier hesitancy.

"Mooo!" the boy called out, giggling by the middle. "I'm a cow!"

"That you are," Bill replied, amusement coloring his expression. He could almost see the boy grinning. Then, he heard outside noises through the line.

"I have to go. Bye, mister!"

Bill heard the fellytone beep and put down his line as well. The goblin next to him shook his head. "Two and a half hours of connection. That's not accidental magic." He looked Bill up and down. "Look for some muggle raised cousins in your family tree. Maybe it was a family connection that allowed him to contact you in particular."

Bill shook his head. "I don't have any muggle raised cousins. I have an aunt who married a muggle, but she had no children. The family tree would have shown them."

Slipgoop made a copy of the recording, then handed one to Bill. "He's your magical match, then."

"What?"

"His magic. It matches yours, of course. It sometimes happens naturally between family members, but since you're ruled that out, he must be your match." The goblin snorted. "Your soul mate, as you wizards call it."

Bill would've fainted dead away if he didn't have almost three hours' worth of paperwork to catch up on.

x

Bill stood near at the outskirts of the Platform 9 and 3/4 crowd, feeling like a complete creep as he looked for someone who might know or might be his soul mate. He had nothing to go on, other than the four year old memory of a child's voice. The boy had an English accent, he knew, so there was a good chance he would go to Hogwarts, and Bill was here hoping that some benevolent god might give Bill a sign of his soul mate. Anything would do, even a—

Something hard crashed into Bill's right side, a luggage cart or something of that size, and Bill moaned, clenching his teeth and grabbing his right arm to stop the bleeding until he could gather his wits.

"I'm sorry! Really, really sorry!" some kid's voice squeaked.

Bill forced a grin and opened his eyes again. With a quick spell, his wound was cleaned and temporarily bandaged. "No problem," Bill assured. A kid this young wouldn't know how ineffective charms were with wounds, anyway. He felt good for the moment, but the wound might reopen at any time until he got some proper potions. "Are you getting on the train?"

The kid nodded, his black hair flopping into and out of his eyes. He looked adorable, so young and innocent and excited, staring at the train with wonder. "Yes sir." The kid's voice also sounded a bit familiar, like he was someone Bill might have known as a child, but otherwise his voice was unrecognizable.

Bill wondered if he himself had ever looked that young. Maybe. At twenty-one, he definitely wasn't an innocent child anymore. He watched absently as the kid got onto the train, already forgotten his quest for his soul mate, and jumped onto the train when he noticed the kid having trouble with his trunk.

"Need some help?" he asked the kid, already picking the trunk up and dragging it onto the train. The kid picked up his owl's cage.

"Thanks. And sorry, again." He looked up at Bill, blushing the way only an awkward preteen boy could.

Bill led him to an empty compartment and hoisted the trunk up on the upper compartment. "Get a prefect to help you later, or an older student. And for Merlin's sake, don't accept help if anyone offers to do it only for pay or favors."

The kid scowled. Bill thought it was more cute than threatening. "I'm a first year, not stupid."

Bill smiled and restrained the urge to ruffle the kid's hair. "Be good and get into Gryffindor, alright?" And he left the boy in the compartment with an easy wave. He thought the boy waved back, but wasn't sure.

x

"I'm completely happy with my hair, Mum," Bill said for what felt like the fortieth time as he walked into the Burrow's kitchen.

Mrs. Weasley pursed her lips. "I wasn't planning on saying anything at the moment."

Bill kissed her cheek and took a plate from the drying rack. "I'm a Seer."

"Oh, you boys will be the death of me." Mrs. Weasley swatted Bill with her towel. "Go eat some toast and eggs. They're still warm."

As he sat down at the kitchen table, Bill belatedly noticed the kitchen's other occupant. "Hello, I'm Bill," he said, stretching out his hand.

"I'm Harry," the boy replied.

Bill immediately connected the dots. "Ron's friend, right? He's written about you. Good to finally meet you." Well, most of the dots, since the kid also had a small chance of being a new friend of Fred and George's, and he knew the ruckus of last night was caused in part by the twins. But with the way his mother was clucking over Harry and asking him if he wanted more food, he'd get a more unbiased opinion from Dad about what the twins did while out with the Ford Angelina last night.

Harry looked down and moved his eggs around on his plate. "We also met on the train two years ago," he said, shyly glancing up.

"We did. You've grown." Bill glanced over Harry. The kid was still scrawny and boyish, but something in the lines of his face had changed. He'd lost or gained a bit of fat here and there, put on a bit of muscle from Quiddich if Ron's letters were to be believed. "And hopefully gotten less clumsy?"

Harry's cheeks pinked. "Yeah, that too."

"So, Harry, could you tell me about what Ron's been up to in school? He sends letters once a blue moon," Bill said with a joking wink.

As Harry talked, Bill decided that he had done something wrong while at Hogwarts, since his years there weren't nearly as exciting as Ron, Hermione, and Harry's.

x

Dear Harry Potter,

I'm not sure if you remember our conversation, but you said you were still interested in basilisks when we talked over the summer. I thought you might like this book; it's an ancient Egyptian story of a basilisk. It is obviously dramatized (the basilisk has some very human feelings), but I enjoyed it when I read it.

Sincerely,

Bill Weasley

x

Dear Bill Weasley,

I remember our conversation. Thanks for sending me the book. I was really curious when you described the story to me. You're right, it's dramatized-the basilisk I met definitely wouldn't fall in love with a princess-but I liked it a lot. I'm returning your copy, but I'm definitely buying one for myself at Flourish and Blotts.

Yours,

Harry Potter

x

Bill stepped outside onto the Burrow's porch, rubbing his temples and wishing that for just one day, Christmas Eve, his fiancée and his mother would just get along. He could still hear them bickering inside over Celestia Warbeck and her ripped heart, but he didn't have his winter boots and couldn't walk father away from the house. He couldn't go back inside, either, since he knew one of the two women would follow him and ask him to take sides.

He heard the door open and close behind him and cringed, waiting for whichever woman it was to say her part.

"It's just me," said a familiar voice, and Harry sat down next to him on the porch step. "I just came out to see if you're okay. I could go..."

"It's fine," Bill assured, half honestly. He didn't mind Harry, liked him well enough, even, but he was in a bad mood tonight and he didn't want to take it out on him. "I'm just having women troubles."

They watched the snow for a little while, Bill thinking about his engagement, Harry thinking about who knows what.

"Are you still going to marry Fleur?" Harry asked, not looking at Bill.

Bill wanted to say yes definitively, but couldn't. He loved Fleur; she was beautiful and sweet, and made him feel like the luckiest man on earth whenever he saw her. But sometimes he still thought of—"I have a soul mate," Bill blurted out, knowing he'd probably regret it. He hadn't told anyone except his father after he'd failed to find his soul mate.

"Yeah, Fleur," Harry said, glumly.

"No, I don't mean Fleur." He could tell Harry was shocked—soul mates were rare, even with witches and wizards, who had better chances of finding them than muggles. "I talked to him once by accident. It was nine years ago, now."

Bill's eyes followed Harry's adam's apple as he swallowed before saying, "Him?"

"Yes. We only talked for a few hours. I didn't even realize he was my soul mate at the time. I worked at the Diagon Alley Gringotts branch at that time, and he called the Gringotts emergency fellytone service by accident. Didn't even know the number." Bill made a fellytone shape in the sand, thinking about the boy. He'd lost hope of finding him years ago—no magic was precise enough to find someone by their magical signature—but he still thought about what could've been from time to time. Less often now that he had Fleur, but more often than he'd admit.

"What would you do..." Harry trailed off, and odd expression on his face. "What would you do if you found him?"

Bill shrugged. "I don't know. Get to know him?" He looked toward Harry again, who still had the oddest expression. Something between surprise and happiness and sadness.

"But wouldn't it break you and Fleur up?"

"Soul mates are something special. We'd make it work, somehow."

Harry's hands clenched the steps until Bill could see then turn white. "I learned how to imitate animals from a friend I made on the phone while my relatives were out," Harry whispered, staring at Bill.

Bill said nothing for a moment, very much in shock. "Cow noises?"

"Ducks first," Harry replied.

Bill took Harry's hand and pulled him up. "Well then," he said, thinking about his future. "We should tell Mum and Fleur they have nothing to fight over anymore."

The way Harry smiled happily made Bill so happy he hadn't gone through with an earlier wedding.

Chapter Text

There were some things a woman should never have to trouble herself with, Angelina thought, glaring at the lime green stains that just wouldn't wash out of her kitchen floor. She'd tried three separate cleaning charms, Slick's Magical Stain Remover, and even some dubious paste her husband had once brought home. Works like magic, he'd said. It only made the green spots that covered the floor turn more lime green than puke green.

"George Weasley!" she hollered, casting a sonorus charm for extra effect. "What did you do to the floor?"

The man in question tiptoed down the stairs in hopes to get away before she caught him. Two pairs of curious little eyes peeked around the kitchen corner.

"I can see you," Angelina said to George, an angry tick developing in her brow. She put her hands on her waist and glared. "What, exactly, is this?"

George laughed nervously. "It looks like there're green spots on the floor. Possibly. I've been reading up on a bit of philosophy, and read that perhaps what we see isn't really what we see and—"

"And I'm imagining things?" Angelina drawled. She was very much not amused. "I'm a lunatic. Of course, that explains everything. Just drop me off at St. Mungo's and be done with me already!" She grabbed the stain remover and emptied the bottle on the floor. Had the stains been normal, they and the stain remover would have vanished instantly. "Well? What is this?"

George finally entered the kitchen and wiped the stain remover off the floor. "I might have brought a product home while you were at work." He raised his arms up as if to combat her glare. "But I cleaned everything else! It just wouldn't get out of the floor. Sorry, Angie."

Angelina rubbed her temples and slumped down into a chair. She and George had a rule: he wouldn't bring home store products, she wouldn't try to kill him for the messes he made.

"You planning to kill me now?" George asked. He sat down in the chair next to hers. "I'd like a warning in that case. Gives me time to tell you how beautiful you are."

"Shut up." Angelina stood up, belatedly noticing their two children listening in. She and George fought at the worst possible times, it seemed. "I'm going to go grocery shopping. Don't wait up."

George nodded and let her go. Neither acknowledged that no respectable food supply store would be open at nine in the evening.

x

Angelina did, in fact, go to Diagon Alley. Not to a food supply store—that was moot point, as it closed at six o'clock—but she did stroll the long street, wandering inattentively and thinking. Most of the time, she was so happy in her marriage to George. He was a good man.

"A good man," she repeated out loud, as if saying it might make their marriage work.

George was kind and attentive, loved their children, had a good job, wasn't a workaholic—everything she'd always wanted in a man. And she was happy with it all. So damn happy. So happy she was wandering Diagon Alley at night instead of sleeping beside her husband.

She noticed an open store and walked inside, finding it was an antiques store.

"Is there anything special you'd like to see, dear?" an old woman behind a desk asked.

Angelina shook her head and the old woman went back to her book.

The store was nice, she supposed, for an antiques store. She didn't know the first thing about antiques, and the items here looked a bit old and worn and sad. Sometimes, that was exactly how she felt. Angelina sat down on a plush-looking sofa, glancing at the elderly woman to make sure she wasn't breaking a store rule. The woman said nothing, so Angelina made herself comfortable.

"You!" yelled a man's voice.

Turning her head, Angelina saw an elderly man pointing his finger towards her and walking quickly towards her. "Excuse me?" she asked, confused.

"How would you like to see your deepest darkest desires? Are you facing an important, life-changing decision? No? Then you will soon!" He plopped down on the sofa next to her. "I have here—"

"Fletcher stop harassing my customers!" the old woman yelled. The man, Fletcher, threw a rude gesture in her direction.

"She's not harassed!" he yelled back. Fletcher turned towards Angelina again. "As I was saying, I have here the biggest shard of the Mirror of Desire there is. Got it from Dumbledore myself, I did. Well, close enough to that."

"The mirror of what?" Angelina asked, curious despite her shock at the elderly man's gall.

"Mirror of Desire! Had a different name once, but that didn't sell. Someone was angry enough to break it, he was." He stared at her until Angelina began to feel uncomfortable. "I might," he stressed the might, "sell it to you for forty-five galleons. Great price, used to be higher, but you're a nice-looking girl. Need a mirror? A special mirror?"

"No, but thank you." Angelina began to get up, but the man held out a shard of glass about as big as her hand. She was frightened for a moment until she realized this was the mirror he was trying to sell her.

"A look?" the man asked. "Just for a little bit. A minute. Call it a promotional deal." He urged the mirror into her hand. Angelina took it and looked into the mirror.

At first, she only saw a white haze and was prepared to give the man the mirror back, but then, slowly, shapes started appearing.

"Enchantment's faded a bit," Fletcher said, but his voice felt far away. "Still works well."

Angelina saw herself in the mirror. She looked beautiful and dressed up and very young. Angelina didn't have to guess when the event was. It was the Yule Ball, so many years ago. There she was, dancing with her date. Her wonderful, amazing date. Angelina ran her thumb over the glass, but the redhead didn't feel her touch. He didn't turn from the Angelina in the glass, staring at her with love-filled eyes. Or at least that was what she assumed his eyes were filled with. Then, he turned to look at her, not the Angelina in the past, and she knew for sure which emotion Fred's eyes were filled with.

Her wedding ring felt too heavy on her finger and the mirror—Fred was turning away now, back to the Angelina in the past—made her want to throw up.

"You like it?" Fletcher asked.

She handed it back to him and left the shop without another word. She heard him behind her, yelling something, but by now she didn't care. She needed to get home. She needed to get back to George and fall in love with him again, because she knew that image would destroy her one day. Honesty, desire, truth... they were overrated, anyway.

Chapter Text

There were only three people in the world that Fred and George Weasley were scared of: Mrs. Weasley, Professor Snape, and Oliver Wood. Mrs. Weasley, or Most Evil Mum as they called her behind her back, they were terrified of because she had the inclination and authority to shut down their fledgling joke shop. Snape, because he was a bastard and out to get them. Oliver Wood, because he would happily beat them with his broomstick if he caught them joking around during Quidditch season. And for Oliver Wood, every season was Quidditch season.

Unfortunately for the poor, unsuspecting students of Hogwarts, all three of these people were not in attendance on Valentine's Day during Fred and George's sixth year. And as everyone knows, Valentine's Day is the best day for mass pranking.

o

"Pssst, George," Fred whispered, throwing a wad of paper at the back of his brother's head. George, who sat in the desk directly in front of George, turned around. They both warily eyed Professor McGonagall, but she didn't look up from grading papers.

"What?" George mouthed.

Fred held up the rose an itty-bitty little Hufflepuff girl had given him this morning. He thought it was very cute that the pureblood freshies always got muggle holidays wrong. "Valentine's Day is tomorrow."

Judging by the way George furrowed his eyebrows, he didn't see the pranking potential in the holiday. Or he was bummed because he didn't have a girlfriend. Fred shook his head and made plans to convert George to the beauty of Valentine's Day.

"Attention," McGonagall announced with a cough. The class immediately looked to her. "Professor Snape and I will be out tomorrow for special, teaching-related Hogwarts purposes. You will have a free period during Potions and Transfiguration tomorrow. Please use your time wisely. You will work on human to animal transfiguration research and present well-written essays the next day I am here. Am I clear?"

"Yes, ma'am," the class mumbled.

"Professor?" Fred asked. The gears in his mind were turning. "You made it very clear that you and Snape—"

"Professor Snape, Mr. Weasley, one point from Gryffindor."

"He and you will be out for school related activities. I was just wondering, are you also going to be celebrating Valentine's Day wherever you're going? With each other? Alone?" he finished, with an eyebrow wiggle and wide grin. While he didn't like the images that popped into his head, the look McGonagall got on her face was worth it. He had bet that one day, McGonagall would get angry enough at him that she'd transform into a cat and claw his face.

"Five points from Gryffindor. That was very inappropriate, Mr. Weasley, and you will receive a detention with Mr. Filch if you ever imply something about a teacher's love life again. This class is finished."

o

"You are an idiot, Fred Weasley," the beautiful, attractive, and unfortunately not Fred's girlfriend anymore, Angelina Johnson announced, glaring at the boy in question. "Of all things, why did you have to call McGonagall's love life into question? Not to mention the mental images that gave me, it's just—"

"Oi!" Lee Jordan jumped into Fred's frame of vision. He and Fred high-fived, and Lee slipped something into George's robe pocket with a secretive wink. "What's all this I hear about McGonagall and Snape?"

"Don't start," George said. "How the hell'd you hear that, anyway? We just got out of class."

"The walls have ears," Lee said with a wink. He leaned into Fred's side, and George picked up a conversation with Angelina and easily steered her away from Fred and Lee, leaving them free to talk. "I got you forty-eight grams," Lee said, deliberately relaxing his walk and trying to seem like he was talking about nothing important.

Fred laughed without any humor. "You're joking. I need at least sixty."

"Where'm I going to get sixty? I barely got this much. Pay me more and you'll get sixty."

Fred rubbed his temples to ease his aggravation. He and Lee were two of a kind. They both wanted to earn money and get as much of it as they could, and even though they were great friends, their side businesses (Lee ran a very controlled Acromantula breeding farm) made them bash heads every so often. "Fine, thanks man," he said, clapping Lee on the shoulder, and they were friends once again. Lee ran off to make Valentine's Day plans for his girlfriend, and Fred ran up to the Gryffindor sixth year boys' dormitory.

George was already there, laying stretched out on Fred's bed and throwing a plastic Snitch up and down. "Hola," he said with a lazy wave. Without breaking his throws, he took the covered bottle of Acromantula venom out of his pocket. "This doesn't feel like sixty grams." He began throwing the bottle in pace with the Snitch. It made Fred dizzy, but he didn't bother telling George to be careful. George knew, and it wasn't like he was a novice juggler.

"It's not. It's forty-five grams."

George immediately sat up and the juggled items fell neatly into his open hands. Fred let out a breath of relief as George handed him the bottle. "What do you mean he didn't give us sixty grams? Did he at least give the money back?"

"Nope," Fred said, ending the word with a pop and flicking his fingers like fireworks. "Boom went our plans."

George groaned and flopped back down. He covered his face with the pillow.

Fred lay down on the bed next to George. "But, I have something better, Gred. I have a plan that will make us the kings of Hogwarts for a day."

George threw the pillow off his face and turned towards Fred, an intense, mischievous look already on his face. It was the look that all teachers dreaded; it was the look that said the Weasley twins have a huge prank planned.

Or will be planned, as it is, and the Weasley twins labored long into the night to create the best Valentine's Day prank Hogwarts has seen since the Great Valentine's Debacle of 1603.

o

Five o'clock the next morning found a tired and bleary-eyed Fred Weasley one turn away from the fruit painting that led to the Hogwarts kitchens. There, Fred checked both ways for lost little Hufflepuffs and patrolling teachers before running to the painting, speed-tickling the pair, and quickly jumping into the hole behind the painting. Once inside, he relaxed. He and George were always weary of teachers seeing them skulking near the painting, because the teachers always took their actions as shady and trouble-making. Not that it wasn't true ninety-nine percent of the time, but it was the principle of the matter that annoyed him. He and George didn't spend all their time pranking or deviously planning. Just most of it.

Shaking his head and emptying his thoughts lest he really did get caught this time, Fred called one of the house elves over to him.

"What can Izzy do for Mister Fred?" the elf asked.

Fred cringed just a little. If the professors ever asked the house elves who had been in the kitchens this morning, the elves would only be too happy to reveal the twins' plan. They even knew Fred's name, now.

Well, sacrifices must be made, he decided. "Izzy, I'd like you to do me a little favor." He took out a vial from his pocket and tapped it once, enlarging it to the size the little house elf's head. "Can you mix this with the pumpkin juice this morning?" He crossed his fingers for an affirmative answer.

"Izzy can't hurt students, Mister Fred," it—she?—said in a determined tone.

Fred raised his hands in surrender. "No, no, it won't hurt anyone. Just a little Valentine's Day fun, okay?" he pleaded.

Izzy gave him a hard look, but slowly nodded her head.

"I love you," Fred cried and patted her head. "I'll even give you socks next Christmas— Hey, where are you...?"

But the house elf had already run away in terror of getting socks. Fred shrugged and carried on with a grin. Phase one of the plan, arguably the most important phase, was complete.

o

Ten minutes later Fred joined his brother in their dormitory and fell asleep with the feeling of accomplishment. What felt like another ten minutes later, but was really two hours later, he was awoken by Lee. The sixth year Gryffindors made their way down to the Great Hall. Fred and George joked easily with their friends, acting as innocent as could be. Appearing innocent was phase two of their plan, after all. By the time they got to their destination, the Great Hall was full of breakfasting students.

Fred and George exchanged a look before sitting down. As they had expected, everyone's drink of choice was still pumpkin juice. That meant almost everyone would be affected by their potion. Thanks to the wonders of extracurricular Potions books, they had even found a way to make the potion slow-acting enough to begin activating ten minutes after it was consumed.

A short while later, the first student began acting oddly. "Pansy, Fred Weasley is soooo handsome, don't you think?" she said with a loud giggle. Then she paused. "Wait, what did I just— Oh Merlin I think he's looking at me! Hi! Hi George!" she shrieked across the Great Hall.

George smirked and waved back at the Slytherin girl, but he leaned into Fred with a concerned expression. "It's not supposed to work this fast. What if—"

"She was probably just here early. Relax," Fred said, but he also nervously eyed the girl.

As more and more people drank more and more pumpkin juice, the entire student population of Hogwarts was affected by the twins' potion.

"They're just dreamy," a seventh year boy said, staring over at the Gryffindor table from the Ravenclaw table. "I've been in love with them for months..."

The girl next to him gasped. "How could you? They're mine!" And she stuffed the nearest plate of food into his face.

"Are you talking about the Weasley twins?" Cho Chang asked, taking out a mirror and indiscreetly applying more lip gloss. "I had them first, just so you know."

"What? Yeah, right!" yelled the girl, and threw a plate of toast at Cho.

In turn, the students began throwing food at the girl, and the first food fight at the Ravenclaw table in Hogwarts history broke out.

"Actually, you can all have us! We're not picky!" yelled George.

Fred got up onto the Gryffindor table. Now they could reap the benefits of phases one and two. "You all love us!" he shouted, and a wide applause broke out. "And as your beloved rulers, George and I order you to change your hair red! Today is Weasley Day!"

Harry Potter, ever the leader, also stood up. "I will complete my destiny! I will make you fall in love with me! CHARGE!" he yelled, running down the length of the very long Gryffindor table to the Weasley twins. The rest of the student body took his example and charged towards the twins as well.

"Mummy dearest," George muttered, seeing the waves of students running after them. "Run, dear brother! Or there will be nothing left of us!"

And so the kings of Hogwarts abdicated their posts under the watching eyes and very amused smirks of the Hogwarts staff table.

o

"All men for themselves!" cried Fred as he rounded a corner while George took the other route.

"Yes, CHARGE!" yelled Harry Potter.

"For house elf rights!" yelled Hermione Granger.

"What?" Fred wondered, but decided not to bother. "Godric save me," he said instead. He ran up the stairs and, seeing that he had evaded the crowd running after him, he jumped into a convenient broom closet. After a quick locking spell, he dropped down to the floor and wiped the sweat from his brow with his sleeve.

Their plan, for whatever reason, had failed. The potion must have been too powerful, because the love potion he and George had made was supposed to be very mild, but still forced the taker to be susceptible to the wishes of the makers, namely Fred and George. The takers weren't supposed to revolt against their kings!

Suddenly, the door opened to an exuberant Angelina. "Found you!" she sang, jumping on Fred.

"Ahhh, not like this!" He tried to gently shift her off of him, but Angelina wouldn't budge. "You're going to kill me tomorrow."

She hummed in response and leaned down to kiss him, but before he could gather the willpower to throw her off, someone else pulled her off for him.

"There you are!" said George. "I've been looking for you. Come on, I've found a good hiding place!"

The mob, unfortunately, had caught up with them by this time, and Fred and George ran with the charging devils on their heels until they finally lost them on the third floor. Quietly, Fred and George slunk into Moaning Myrtle's bathroom and hid in the right-hand corner to the side of the door. If someone walked in, they could always stun them and run again. They sat down against the wall and breathed deeply to calm their hearts.

"That, that was a disaster," George huffed. "Total disaster."

"Agreed," Fred said. "And you know what's worse?"

"We didn't have dates?" George offered.

"No. Damn the image, but Snape and McGonagall with their non-date probably had a better Valentine's Day than us."

Chapter Text

Charlie Weasley wakes up both too late and too early—five o'clock on New Year's Day morning—and doesn't bother trying to fall back asleep. The Burrow is quiet for once. There is no running, no shouting, no Celestia Warbeck's greatest hits playing on a magically amplified gramophone. George sleeps beside him, and his soft snores don't bother Charlie at all. They only magnify the quiet shroud around the rest of the house. For a while, he lays in his bed and soaks in the quiet. It's beautiful and unnatural and reminds him of home. At twenty seven years old, he's far outgrown the Burrow. He likes it there well enough, but his home, his true and chosen home, is a small little house in Romania. In the back of his mind, he calls it the Lair.

Eventually he gets up, throws on some casual clothes—reminds himself not to scoff at the lack of protection charms and the thin fabric,—and walks downstairs. Charlie silently thanks luck and magic for his absent mother.

"Who's taken my shoes?" runs through his head when he checks the shoe cabinet, so he takes his father's shoes instead. Arthur's shoes are wet from last night's rain, but they're soft and worn and Charlie glibly considers not returning them. He knows he will, but the thoughts ride him outside and onto the little dirt road that connects the houses in Ottery St. Catchpole.

Maybe if he steals his father's shoes, his mother won't expect him to return home. Maybe she won't ask him to move back to Britain, won't introduce him to this or that nice girl George went to school with, won't ask him for wives and children and a house with white picket fences far away from huge fire-breathing beasts. Or maybe he's still drunk off the beer Bill brought last night—or had that been this morning?

Eventually he gets closer and closer to the only other person on the road, a young woman in a pale yellow robe carrying a bucket of fireworks. He opens his mouth to say good morning, but she doesn't wait for his greeting.

"Chocolate heals nargle bites," she says and hands him a chocolate square from her pocket.

Charlie takes it. Their hands brush. Hers are so warm against his cold ones, and he thinks she must have just left her house. He wants to hold her hand, but thinks it wouldn't be wise to ask.

If she wants to speak in non sequitor, he might as well join in. "Your robes match your hair," he says and she blinks at him. Her eyes are too wide, too blue. He thinks of fresh deep forest air and the scales of a baby Hebridean Black. She stares at him for a while, until he thinks that perhaps he took her comment the wrong way, and he feels uncomfortable enough to eat a stranger's chocolate. And his mother had spent so long teaching him not to accept candy from strangers.

"You still have nargles in your hair," she says.

"Okay," he says. He's not sure what to say to her, really, and perhaps his mother is right: he gets too little normal human contact on the reserve. He hasn't met someone new in ages, but he feels like this is an odd beginning of an acquaintanceship. He looks away from her eyes and down at his hands. (Looked at in the right way, under the right light, the three deep horizontal wrinkles in Charlie's thumb resemble the skin on a dragon's neck. The hand's been burned and healed so many times, by sunburn and dragonburn, that his skin is just a little too red to be normal.) There are worse things than being obsessed with dragon, he decides.

Charlie starts walking back to the Burrow and can't say he's pleased when the woman follows him back. "You have a burn on your arm," she says, calm and airy and as though that was perfectly natural, don't you think?

"Got caught by a dragon," Charlie says.

"Tell me about it."

And so he does. He tells her the story with a with a happy smile. It should have been terrible—dragon burns don't heal easily, even with magic—but it was his favorite dragon that got him, and she apologized afterwards in her own dragon way. Charlie had photos of his flight on dragonback. Then the woman wants to hear more, and he obliges, and something tells him this is the beginning of a beautiful freindship. Maybe one day, he'll even find out what nargles are and how he should protect his hair from them.

Chapter Text

It was three in the morning and Percy Weasley planned to stay awake forever. Who needed sleep? Lazy people, that's who. He had downed four vials of Pepper Up potion, eight Sleep Not doses, two Sleep-Be-Gone tablets, and one Tiredness Repellent capsule in order to get his work done on time, and it was working well for him. He saw no reason to ever go back to sleep; between paperwork and organizing and new spell legalization and law revision and orphanage donations, he had too much to do to ever fall asleep.

On the other hand, he felt so tired and his bed was so inviting... Although, a sneaky part of his mind piped in, if he got one look at Fleur Delacour—Weasley, Fleur Weasley, and not your Weasley, the other voice argued—he'd be reenergized immediately.

Percy stopped writing. "No," he sternly told himself, then looked upstairs to check if anyone heard him. They would probably think he was going mad, talking to himself. Percy rather thought he'd gone mad a long time ago, when he'd fallen in love with Fleur. He hadn't been able to help himself, really. He'd gone to the school on business for Barty Crouch and left with a missing heart. She was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen, even if the only thing she said to him was, "Do you want somezing?" without looking up from her DADA book. Percy had just stood dumbly in front of her, squeaked out a, "No!" and ran away. Fitting, that she hadn't spared him a first glance, let alone a second one, and fallen for his brother instead.

Percy cast a diagnostic spell over his head. He must be incredibly tired to allow himself to think about Fleur.

"Mental functions have slowed two-point-three percent since you have last cast this spell," a monotone male voice reported. Percy wondered why the voice was male. Was magic male, then? Was the spell creator sexist?

Percy stood up, knocking over his chair in the process. It made a lot of noise. Percy couldn't remember why he wasn't supposed to make a lot of noise, but that didn't concern him very much. All he needed was a strong cup of tea and some of those sugar candies and he would be good to go. He'd be able to forget about Fleur once and for all. He only thought about her when he couldn't control his thoughts, anyway. He might even be able to finish editing Shaklebolt's speech by five o'clock.

"Percy, dear? Are you still awake?"

Percy turned towards the staircase with an inward groan. Of course, that's why he wasn't supposed to make any noise. "Sorry, Mum. Did I wake you?"

"No, no. I just couldn't sleep." She motioned to the counter. "Do you want some tea?"

"Sure Mum." He fiddled awkwardly with his papers while her back was turned. It felt uncomfortable to sit here, not thinking about Fred at all, while his mother's eyes were obviously puffy and red. She'd been crying over him, and Percy, like the horrible brother he was, had completely forgotten. He felt like an utter git.

She handed him a cup of tea and sat down next to him. "Two sugars, just how you like it." An uncomfortable pause. "You do still like it that way?"

"Of course," not, "Mum. Haven't changed a bit. See, I'm still the overachieving, stuck up, family-loving prat I always was. Just took a while for me to remember the last part."

She smiled, her eyes watery again. Percy looked away. He didn't know how to comfort her. Sticking his head in the mud worked for him (as everyone had reminded him) but his Mum needed to brood and cry some more. Shamefully, Percy hoped she wouldn't do it on his shoulder.

"Do you have a girlfriend?" Molly asked, sniffing and looking hopefully at Percy. Percy wished he could tell her a happy dating story to cheer her up, but he'd be lying. He'd be lying...

"Yes, Mum," he said. For once in his life, Percy would lie. His mother didn't need to hear about his one-sided love affair with Fleur Weasley. "Her name's Audrey and she works in the legal department with Hermione and Leanne. She's the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. I asked her out one day a few days ago and she said yes..."

And as he told his mother the story, he decided it was a nice story. A nice, sweet story he could one day tell his children.

The next day, Percy asked out Audrey. She said yes, and Percy realized that even though he couldn't get over Fleur, Fleur wasn't the only woman in the world. He didn't know how to quit loving her, but maybe a little more time was all he needed. Audrey was nice and pretty and actually interested in him. He could still fall in love with Audrey, and one day, his heart would be only hers. She'd just have to wait a little longer.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, October 1, 2025

Daily Prophet

Wizarding Hero Murdered at Age 45!

At around two o'clock this morning, our beloved Second Wizarding War hero Harry James Potter (for a brief history, see pages 3-5) was found dead by killing curse at the Three Broomsticks pub and inn in Hogsmeade. Madam Carola Rosmerta awoke to her pub's alarm charms going off. "I thought it was just Hogwarts kids messing around," she said in our interview. "So I went downstairs, and there he was. Not breathing, covered in mud. I just saw him alive the day before. I still can't believe it." Neither can we, here at the Daily Prophet. Head Auror Potter's death is a loss for the entire wizarding world, but especially for his family. His wife, sons, daughter, and godson, will surely miss him.

o

Teddy,

Mum decided to hold the funeral this Saturday. It would be great if you could solve Dad's murder by then, since you're an Auror and have a job to do and haven't done it yet.

James

o

James,

You really need to train your owl better, it almost clawed my eye out. I understand your eagerness to catch the killer but I'm not allowed to officially work on the case, too personal they said. Harry was my godfather, you should remember. I can try to get some of the information, though. I will be there on Saturday to help set up for his funeral.

Teddy

P.S. Do you happen to know why your dad was in Hogsmeade? Just because I'm not officially on the case doesn't mean I can't find out what's happening.

o

Teddy,

Then get on the case! What if they can't find the killer and Dad's case gets left to gather dust while they find— I don't know, who murdered Gilderoy Lockhart or something! He died a while back, right? Grandma was upset about it. Said he was popular years ago.

But I guess it's fine if you really don't want to be on the case.

I don't think I'd want to see Dad's body, either.

James

P.S. Mum says hi and asks about Victoire.

P.P.S. Merlin is the fastest owl the store had. You're just jealous of his speed. He wouldn't hurt a fly.

o

James,

Believe me, I've tried to get onto that case but they still won't let me on. I really want to help find Harry's killer but those stupid idiots keep saying that I'd just get too emotionally involved to do anything productive. I say that would just drive me more but still no luck. I guess I'll just have to do a side investigation. Would you be interested in helping me investigate from London? Then I can look at evidence from here and you can investigate over there. Unless you think you can't do it which I also get, too. Too emotionally involved and everything. I'm not going to let this turn into another Lockhart case. See you Saturday.

Teddy

P.S. Doesn't your mother know Victoire broke off our engagement? She didn't seem upset about it, but I couldn't blame her; I proposed in a heat of the moment situation. I never truly loved her, I think.

P.P.S. He wouldn't hurt a fly? More like he could kill a dragon. I now have scratches all over my face thanks to him. I suggest getting claw cutters or something.

o

Teddy,

Right, I'm on the London side, you'll do Hogsmeade? I got Dad's planner from Louis—did you know he's a trainee Auror? I thought Uncle Bill was joking about that—and it says Dad went to London to work on the Roberts case, and that he'd be there all day. But Madam Rosmerta says she definitely saw him in Hogsmeade at eleven. His planner doesn't say why he'd be there. It's too early for lunch, and Dad hasn't been to Hogsmeade in ages. He says anything sold there is cheaper in Diagon Alley anyway. What do you think?

Who are the official suspects? Do the Aurors even have suspects? The news doesn't say anything.

James

P.S. I don't want to see the crime scene photos.

P.P.S. Mum says you and Victoire broke up because of Victoire's new boyfriend. Sorry, man.

P.P.P.S. Don't forget to wear black.

o

James,

I can do Hogsmeade. I do live kind of close at the moment so I can scope out the area some more. How long are you in London for? I know it's your off season but I don't know when your practices start up again. Could we talk after the funeral?

You'd be surprised at the amount of people that train to become Aurors. Louis is one of the better ones, a lot of them are still squeamish at some of the more violent crime scenes. I don't blame you for not wanting to see the photos. They are quite bloody, don't want you fainting like you did when Al cut his finger open.

There aren't any official suspects yet, there hasn't been enough time to process the evidence. I promise to tell you if there is anything new.

I have some ideas on why he was there for the Roberts case, Roberts being a famous singer and a highly suspected drug dealer. He must have found some link and went undercover, and maybe something went wrong.

Anyway, I'll talk to you tomorrow when I get there.

Teddy

P.S. She started dating that guy soon after we broke up. She wasn't dating him when we were engaged. I actually like that guy though, he has a cute face. Did you know they are going to get engaged soon? John told me the other night. So when you see Victoire don't tell her.

o

Teddy,

I checked London—Tom says Dad didn't show up for the meeting with Roberts' manager. He also said that Roberts' manager only shows up for his appointments half the time. Maybe Dad thought the manager wouldn't show up, so he didn't either? But that doesn't make sense; what idiot would forget about his appointment with the Ministry's Head Auror?

I talked with Tom for a bit, but he didn't know anything else. I tried to get Roberts' current address (Tom knows just about everything), but it was a bust. I think the only way I would've been able to wrangle his address is if I had a notice from the Aurors. It's all a bit suspicious, so maybe he really is a drug dealer.

Maybe Roberts killed him? But why? I mean, whoever killed Dad had to have been insane, and Roberts is crazy (the permanent makeup), but he's not insane. He sang after a few of our games with the Weird Brothers. He's not a bad guy despite the drugs.

Maybe I'm biased, but who would want to kill Dad? For publicity? For the fame? For revenge? He has a hippogriff's load of enemies, and he's gotten some death threats before (don't tell Mum I know; they tried to keep us kids ignorant about it), but there haven't been any serious attacks before now.

Remember when we played Aurors and Death Eaters when we were younger? This feels kind of like that. I just wish it hadn't been because of Dad. I hope he's watching from the afterlife. He always did believe in it, you know. He's probably calling us idiots for not figuring it out by now.

We should meet up, catch up. I can't believe I didn't even know you and Victoire broke up.

And it's not anything bad towards Louis, but he's, you know... He used to wear nail polish. Purple nail polish, sometimes. He said Vic and Dom made him do it, but that doesn't change the fact that he wore it for years. But anyway, he's not a bad guy. I think it's just the blond hair and the only slightly more masculine version of Aunt Fleur's face that makes me always think he's gay.

I didn't faint. I got a head injury during Quidditch practice a few hours before that made me really tired, and I fell over because I was tired. Al's cut had nothing to do with it.

James

P.S. Cute face? Cute face? As in, the man had a cute face?

P.P.S. I'll see Victoire at the funeral. You'll be there to catch my idiotic comments.

o

James,

I guess the reality of his death has finally set in, seeing him at the funeral lying in that coffin. I half expected him to come up behind me, telling me how it is okay, that he is with my parents, and his parents, now. I don't really know who to turn to now, either; your dad was always my sounding board.

Well besides the fact that it was a funeral, I suppose it was nice to see you. You really have grown a lot, although I'm guessing plenty of people have told you that. I like the way you cut your hair shorter, I think it suits you more. Also—I didn't get a chance to ask, but who was that woman you were with?

So back to the actual case. As I told you before, I was out looking for information on Robert's manager. His name is Bucky Wallace and as it turns out, there is evidence of him leaving the country the day Harry died, although he left before Harry's time of death, making him an unlikely suspect.

As for information on Roberts himself, there was nothing. His entire record was wiped clean, including his address, at HQ. It may take some digging around, but I'm sure there must be some sort of extra copies somewhere…

I also recently found out that some old Death Eaters had been released from Azkaban. They were released about three months ago, and maybe they wanted revenge on Harry because he defeated ol' Voldie. Not sure for sure but I'll look into what those guys were doing.

And one more thing! I think Louis is gay, as well. I was talking to him a bit and he kept talking about this one guy, Ethan Wellington—do you know him?—saying how awesome he is, how cute his eyes are, how his clothing is going to be next season's best line, all I was thinking is how this validated your reasoning. But then again, there was that thing that happened with Teresa Overhood. So maybe he's bi?

Well I guess that's it. I guess you could try and talk to more people in London… I'll look into getting more info on Roberts and the Death Eaters. Maybe you find something on one of them?

Teddy

P.S. I don't believe you, I think you are afraid of blood. Well maybe not afraid, but you get nauseous and sick. There are a few more instances I can name to prove my point so don't try to denying it.

P.P.S. You saw how cute John's face was! I even caught you staring at it a few times… now that I think about it you sorta look like him. Not that that is a bad thing though… I guess it may be a good thing. Or not.

o

Teddy,

I want to catch the bastards that killed Dad. Then I want to get drunk and stay drunk for a week. Join me? I know you don't drink much, but I think you can make an exception this one time.

I talked to Louis at the wedding. He said the Aurors were also investigating the Death Eaters. They think Rodolphus Lestrange in particular is acting oddly. He's too happy for someone whose life is ruined, they say, but I think that's stupid. The man's finally out of Azkaban for the second time, and this time it's legally, too. I'd be happy were I in his shoes. But other than that, I haven't found any leads. I would've made a bad Auror, I guess. Dad still tried to get me to join the program. He said it would build character. I always told him I'd rather play Quidditch and build muscles. I miss him, Teddy. And if you need a sounding board, I'm free for the next month.

The woman with me was Cynthia Trelawney, and I really hope you weren't implying anything by mentioning her. I had enough of that before and after the funeral. Mum was all for it at first ("Such a pretty friend you have, James!") and then went kind of cold after she said her name. Something about batty old professors? I think one of Cynthia's relatives taught at Hogwarts a long time ago, but I didn't know she taught Mum. And that's not even counting the rest of our relatives (and a bunch of random people that showed up) that fawned over her. She's beautiful, but we'd make an awful couple. She only visits the UK ever half year and I would never move to America for her. I've actually been in a bit of a relationship rut these past few months, don't know why. Maybe it's the pollen? I have allergies, you know. It makes a lot of sense that I might pass out because of a combination of pollen, Quidditch injuries, and the smell of blood.

She made me cut my hair, as you've noticed. Thanks, by the way. She says long hair makes me look like Uncle Hagrid. I say she's jealous of my masculine perfection. I noticed your hair was black during the funeral. It looked good, and not just because it reminded me of Dad's. It just didn't blend in with the sea of red hair in family seats. In a good way, I mean. I sound awkward. I don't know what's wrong with me today. Maybe I caught Louis' sexuality. He was certainly waving it about. I sound like a jerk, but I talked to him for twenty minutes. He wouldn't shut up about that guy, and I couldn't shut him up because I didn't want to make a scene at Dad's funeral. He even commented about you, too, a bit. That's what got me thinking about your hair.

John is attractive. From a stranger's point of view, I'd say Victoire is much more attractive than he. She could do better.

You also have a pretty face. I remember teasing you about it when we were younger, girly boy. Just saying.

James

o

James,

I might take you up on that offer, this is really draining me right now. And I really need to talk to you anyway. About something important, maybe. Well I guess it isn't important, actually it's really stupid, forget I actually wrote any of this anyway

I am positive that Lestrange is our man though. I've been on desk duty and I was filing some petty cases when I came across one from a few days ago that piped an interest in me. I glanced through it and it was graffiti on the Three Broomstick's back wall saying, "Revenge has been taken at last. I will follow until the world ends" with a Dark Mark and the initials RL. I tried taking to one of the people on the actual case but they have no clue where Lestrange might be—he didn't check in with his parole wizard last week. I do have other people that don't work for the ministry that I can contact to find his whereabouts so I can kill him. That is what I'm going to do, just kill him. But maybe I'll let you do the honors, but be warned that we'd have to run off into a different country together.

Well anyway, I'm glad you're not with that Cynthia person. But Trelawney, that sounds familiar but I'm not exactly sure who she is. I think she might've been a professor my first year, I think in Divinations. I would understand why your mum wouldn't like Cynthia... I vaguely recall her telling Harry something about Trelawney's horrible prophecy's never coming true. But that was a while ago. So I'm guessing Ginny still has a grudge against her and passes that down to Cynthia. I did see all those people surrounding you two. I had an overwhelming urge to save you from the people fawning over you two, seeing how miserable you were, but I had to keep myself entertained somehow, right? So instead I timed how long it would take for you to snap at one of the people. It took you 5 minutes and 28 seconds. And you've finally admitted you don't like blood. But why just the smell? You always were a weird child. I think you got weirder with age though.

Louis commented about me? Now that isn't good at all. Him even thinking about me is going to sink into my brain as well. I've been thinking about very odd things lately. Maybe it's just a side effect of being exhausted and depressed at the same time. Like right now, I have no idea what I'm writing, if it sounds good in my head it's going down in paper.

If anyone is a feminine guy, it's you. I mean, remember that time over the summer when you died your hair pink? And then you tried to blame it on me, which didn't really work. So don't go calling me a girly boy. You're also the one who is starting to sound like Louis. But wait, maybe that's me. I don't know anymore. It's way too late already, and I've been up since around 5ish digging around for more stuff. I don't even know if I'm making sense anymore. I'll let you know if there's any more information on Lestrange. I want to kill someone right now.

Teddy

o

Teddy,

Are you feeling okay? You sounded very tired in your letter. I'm actually a bit worried. I know we haven't always been the closest of friends (a six-year age difference is hard to overcome), but we're friends now, and if you've found something worrying, I'd like to know. Or if you're just sick and need a break from finding the killer. We're not really on the case (especially you, since you're the actual Auror) and we can stop working for a day. Dad wouldn't have wanted us to kill ourselves while trying to catch his killer.

And I'll have you know I was trying out the muggle hair dyes Uncle George was thinking about selling. I didn't want Mum knowing I'd been with Uncle George while I was supposed to be working at Hufflepuff's Books, and you were right there, so it was pretty convenient to pin it on you. Except for the part where you had to be an honest, upright, idiotic guy and not notice my "go with it" hints. Idiot.

Actually, you're being an idiot even now. As much as I hate to say it, we can't kill him. We're going to bring him in, watch his trial, see him get Kissed, and make fucking sure that the rest of the Death Eaters that were released on good behavior get thrown back into Azkaban. Or get Kissed along with him. I'm not picky. Do you really want his murder on your hands? I want him dead, but I want him dead legally. We'll be hardly better than he is if we kill him out of revenge.

I can't believe you're saying we'll have to run away together. Who are we, the Baron and Helena? You have a job to keep, I have lazing about at Mum's house to do. I'll check up on you tomorrow at nine, okay? Your letter sounded dumb and risky. If he was able to kill Dad, he'll be able to kill you, too. Don't do anything stupid, for everyone's sake. I don't want to bury my—friend, I guess—the same week I buried my father. You're important to me. Not to mention, funerals are expensive and I don't have a galleon tree.

James

o

James finished pulling his shirt over his head and looked over to the clock on his nightstand. 8:55. He began pacing as he waited until the clock hit nine, already starting to worry about Teddy, as he never responded to his letter the night before. And the one before that really made James worry; Teddy seemed to be going crazy trying to find Dad's killer, if he found him there is no telling what he might do to him.

Finally the clock turned to 9:00 and James apparated to where his Mum said Teddy's apartment was. It was a small apartment building in a town right outside Hogsmeade. James cautiously walked up to the front of the building and stepped inside. The front lobby was one that wouldn't seem out of place in an old hotel.

James looked around, trying to find a directory of some sort to find out Teddy's apartment number. He looked everywhere but found nothing.

"Excuse me, do you need any help?" a woman at the receptionist desk asked. James blinked in confusion; he hadn't noticed anyone else in the room.

"Uhhh…no, maybe, yes, maybe. Do you know if Teddy Lupin lives here by any chance? I'm his—his cousin." James said, hoping Teddy didn't use a fake name in the Muggle world.

"Yes dear, he's on the second floor, room 221." The woman responded with a smile, then gestured towards the stairs. James ran up them, hoping, once again, that Teddy wasn't in any trouble. He walked out into the hallway and quickly found room 221. Knocking, he waited patiently for Teddy to open the door. After waiting for a few minutes James started to panic; why wasn't Teddy opening the door? He knocked again, only this time louder. Still no response. James unlocked Teddy's door with a spell and walked in.

He frantically looked around, but there was no sign of Teddy at all. James came into the kitchen area, desperately trying to find something that would tell him where Teddy went, or even if he was still alive. Then his eyes settled on a half folded piece of paper on his table.

James,

By now you probably tore apart my apartment looking for a clue as to where I am. I really don't think it matters though, either I'll end up dead by the end of this, or will be a fugitive on the run. But what you need to know is I have a lead on the whereabouts of Lestrange. I'm going to leave before you'd get here. I know you would talk me out of killing him which is something I can't let you do. Waiting until you got here would also mean another thing; I would have to say goodbye to you. And I wouldn't be able to do that in person. I mean, I feel more than just friendly or brotherly feelings towards you. The feelings have always been there, I think, and they intensified when we got to know each other more. At the funeral, all I wanted to do was hold you close and never let go. I can't tell you this in person, and but I hope you don't come after me. I am ready to kill this bastard and I wouldn't be able to deal with heartbreak as well. Look after yourself,

Teddy

"Of all the idiotic—" James looked around Teddy's kitchen for anything resembling a clue to where the fool ran off to. The only things he found were a pile of dirty dishes and some old Hogwarts textbooks. He didn't throw away the Divinations textbook, but promised himself he'd come back for it later and put it in its rightful place: the trashcan. Because he was going to find Teddy. Alive. Any other option was inconceivable.

James sat down in the chair Teddy must have sat in while he wrote the letter, and thought hard. Where would Lestrange go? He couldn't return to his family—the Greengrasses, who'd pushed for his release, wouldn't have anything to do with him now that he'd committed murder again. His wife and brother were long dead. The other former inmates were accounted for. He had no properties, no holdings, no gold. He had nowhere to run. Where did a man like that hide?

James looked at the ceiling in exasperation, then slowly lowered his eyes. Of course, he thought, staring at the picture on Teddy's wall. It was of Teddy and Dominique in Gryffindor red and gold on the Quidditch pitch. And behind them was the Forbidden Forest.

o

After apparating to the edge of Hogsmeade village, James briefly considered calling in the Aurors. But they were probably all out looking for Lestrange, and as far as he could tell, they were nowhere near the Forest. By the time he would find one, Teddy might be dead, or worse. Teddy didn't sound like he was joking about killing Lestrange. He sounded seriously homicidal. James wouldn't call for backup only to have them haul Teddy into prison. Lestrange was a murderer, but if Teddy were truly unhinged, he'd be killing in cold blood, and that wasn't excusable. Not to mention, Teddy was a half-blood werewolf's son and the Greengrasses were an old, wealthy wizarding family. Teddy wouldn't get jail time, but his Auror career would be ruined, especially with a Veritaserum trial.

James took a deep breath and entered the Forest. "Lumos," he whispered, then, with the picture from Teddy's kitchen in his hand and his wand resting atop it, he said, "Point me Teddy Lupin." The wand twirled once, then pointed ahead and slightly to the left. James started running with his makeshift compass as a guide. He was still in shape from Quidditch season, but after a while, he started to get tired and Teddy was still nowhere in sight.

Suddenly, he began to hear voices ahead of him. He saw a break in the trees a few meters ahead, but caution crept in and he paused.

"Will you kill me, little boy?" a low, raspy voice asked. Lestrange. James crept closer and pressed his back to a tree. James twisted his head a little closer to hear Teddy's reply, but didn't get any closer. For all he knew, Lestrange was closer to James than Teddy was, and Lestrange wasn't known for his unwillingness to kill innocents.

"I am. I'm going to kill you," Teddy answered, and James breathed a sigh of relief to have Teddy's continued existence confirmed. Then he realized just what Teddy had said and forgot about caution.

"Teddy?" he called, inching his way into the clearing. The clearing was about five meters wide, barely large enough for the battle which must have taken place. Teddy and Lestrange were on opposite sides of the clearing. Both were mildly wounded and covered in mud. Lestrange was wandless. Good. Unfortunately, it Teddy that James had to worry about now. "Hey, Teddy."

Teddy glanced at James, but his eyes quickly turned back to Lestrange. "Ready to do the deed, James?"

"Not exactly." James walked even closer to Teddy, until he was close enough to stretch out his arm and grab Teddy's wand. But that might cause a small moment of distraction in both of them, possibly allowing Lestrange time to get to his own wand—where was it?—and James couldn't disarm Teddy at the same time as keeping his wand on Lestrange. He'd fought rarely before, and it had never been serious. Just a few schoolyard duels with tripping and hiccup jinxes. "Remember what I said in my letter?"

"He killed your father, James." Teddy's voice was hoarse. Harry had been Teddy's father as much as James'.

James shoved the emotions away and pointed his wand on Lestrange. "I know. Which is why he's going to be Kissed, and we'll watch and cheer and make faces at the Greengrasses. You, on the other hand, are going to relax and give me your wand."

"I need to—"

"And I want to get some sleep and get you to a therapist, but we can't all get what we want." Teddy still looked a bit murderous, so James allowed himself to think about the other part of Teddy's unsent letter. "And a date, too. But something tells me I can get that if I ask. And I can't if you're in prison."

It seemed James had finally broken through to Teddy, because Teddy was now sporting a look more shocked than murderous. "This is a horrible time for propositioning someone, James," Teddy said, shakingly complying with James' demands.

"Moron, you started it with that letter of yours." James pointed two wands at Lestrange. "Let's go. Carry on out, Lestrange."

Chapter Text

Late in bed one evening, Molly turned to Arthur and said, "Arthur, I think our boys are up to something."

Arthur hummed and turned the page in his automobile manual. It wasn't exactly the one he needed for his Ford Angelina, but he thought it might do. He needed to tweak the engine just a little bit—

A jab to his side helped him remember his priorities.

Arthur pried his eyes away from the manual and looked at his wife in apology. "Which ones?"

"The twins. Arthur, this is important."

"Yes, Mollywobbles, tell me about it."

And so she did. The next day, Arthur knocked on the twins' door two hours after dinner and walked inside without a care for the lock. "Spot check!" he announced cheerfully. The boys, who were sitting on the floor between their two beds, glared at him. Arthur noticed they were covered in ink and surrounded by papers. He sat down onto one of the beds and glanced at the quills surrounding the two. "Well?"

His children shared a look, then nodded, then smiled at him. "It's a voice to paper quill!" one said, and the other said, "We modeled it on broomsticks." They went on about their new device, and Arthur nodded proudly even though a similar thing had already been invented. He also tried to feel angry, because they had no doubt used his or Molly's wand, but it was no use.

The way they stared at him, like they made perfect sense when Arthur wouldn't have even realized such a simple charm could go that far, filled Arthur's heart with joy. He hadn't realized it, but he'd passed on a bit of his inventor's mind to his children. Only they weren't interested in muggle devices—pity, that, but it couldn't be helped—but prank devices. He knew the twins would drive him and Molly up walls and into gardens with their little quill, but he also knew that hopeful, pleading look in their faces. He once looked at his own father in the same way, but his ideas had been turned away. He started inventing, tinkering, again after his marriage, but it wasn't the same. His decision, an equipoise between logic and feelings, might change his children's future.

He could do as his father did, crush their little hopes and ideas, better them as upstanding members of society. They might even use their ideas for more wholesome things.

Or perhaps he was thinking too highly of himself. Besides, the choice had already been made in his heart. Arthur sat down on the floor with them and asked, "How does it work?" They talked late into the night.

Four years later, with a clutter of prank items that made it impossible to tidy the twins' room, and with an extra toilet seat, courtesy of some Hogwarts bathroom, Arthur didn't regret his decision one bit.

Chapter Text

Molly had just finished washing the dishes after lunch when she noticed George lying on the ground in the middle of the garden, one leg over the other, hands behind his head. He was slacking off on his chores once again. This time, he wasn't weeding the garden like he should be. With an annoyed huff, Molly exited the kitchen and walked outside into the garden.

"Avoiding work, are we?" she asked, hitting him on the head with a towel. The surprised look on his face almost made her laugh, but seeing him on the ground just made her annoyed again.

"But Mum!" he yelled, covering his face. "It's summer! Can't I take a break?"

Molly put her hands on her hips in the renowned Weasley matriarch pose. "Would you like to talk about your horrible OWL scores instead?"

The younger redhead scowled, but nodded reluctantly. Molly sat on the ground after accio'ing herself a mat. "What do you expect to do after Hogwarts with two OWLs to your name? Do you think any employer would hire you? Honestly, you'll end up jobless and living on your father's money."

He flipped over on his stomach. "But Fred and I want to start a joke shop! Come on, Mum, didn't you have dreams when you were younger?"

Molly smiled and thought of herself at fifteen or sixteen years old. "I wanted to marry your father." Fred and George didn't even have marriage prospects, let alone future careers. Where had she and Arthur gone wrong in their parenting? Had it been something they'd done? But Fred and George had been raised as Bill, Charlie, and Percy had, and those three had stable careers.

"But other than that?"

"I suppose I wanted to be a singer. But that was very long ago. A pipe dream, you could call it." She had grown up with Celestia Warbeck on the wizarding radio, and even now, she could imagine her voice and band of instruments behind it, the loud music filling her head. Molly had wanted to be the number one singing sensation at one point in her life, to be even better than Celestia Warbeck.

She sighed and shook her head. She was happy with her life, much happier than she would have been had she become a singer. Why couldn't the twins understand that there was no chance their joke shop would prosper? Sometimes, when she thought about her two layabout children, she grew paralyzed thinking of their chances in the world outside the Burrow. They were so young and stupid and amazing (like all her children), and she wanted to see them lead happy, successful lives. Except, it seemed that Fred and George just couldn't be happy and successful at the same time.

She shook her head. "Up and with your chores, George."

After a token protest, George complied, but Molly stayed outside and thought about children and joke shops and happiness. What did she know? Perhaps Fred and George might still achieve both happiness and success.

Chapter Text

Peter wasn't supposed to take Muggle Studies. He didn't tell anyone that, of course, because then he would have had to tell them about why he's still taking it if he didn't choose it. He doesn't want to do that. It's a dumb reason, really.

McGonagall made an error on his schedule—she signed him up for Muggle Studies instead of Care of Magical Creatures. Peter's grandmother almost stormed Hogwarts to demand a schedule change, so Peter had told her that he'd take care of it himself to save face. He didn't. He was so scared of telling McGonagall; she was scary and strict and she'd look at him under her nose and ask him why didn't you speak up sooner? It's been two months, Mr. Pettigrew.

And he likes Muggle Studies. He didn't at first. Didn't expect to, either. He didn't know the first thing about muggles, other than that they all smelled and couldn't use magic. Professor Ortor had disproved Peter's first notion by handing out a packet titled Common Pureblood Falsehoods About Muggles, and the second by introducing him to muggle technology, which was like magic except not, as far as Peter could understand.

Professor Ortor was a quiet man, thin, old, looked like a breeze might blow him to the ground, and he had an easygoing way about him. He made Peter feel both dumb for believing the falsehoods and proud of realizing his mistake. He gave praise equally and often, too.

The class had only five students: Peter, Marlene, Helena, and two other boys (from Slytherin, so he refused to learn their names in principle). The other boys kept to themselves and didn't talk much. To be honest, neither did Peter. He couldn't talk to girls or Slytherins, so he sat in a corner desk and learned to use bizarre muggle devices. The ballpoint pen, for one. It was a bit lonely, but Peter didn't mind, because it was also quiet, and nice, and charming (with big open windows and a no magic policy), and he liked the peace he got in Muggle Studies. Stupid, because he enjoyed hanging out with his friends—but that wasn't peaceful. It was better than Charms and Potions, having friends, that is, but Peter didn't have any peace with them. But here, in the little classroom with muggle oddities, Peter found the peace and quiet he needed to stay sane at Hogwarts.

And although he would never admit it aloud, he liked not having to really try or struggle in a class for once. He liked the lack of pressure. Professor Ortor only tested them orally about once a month, and didn't even have a final exam. More importantly, he didn't give homework. With a class like this, Peter even found a few things he liked about muggles, though he'd never tell his grandmother that.

Muggle Studies wasn't interesting. It wasn't fascinating like Charms or dangerous like Potions, and Peter quite honestly didn't care about a race of people he'd never met before and probably never would. Besides, even if they didn't smell, there must be something else wrong with them, otherwise his grandmother wouldn't hate them so much.

So anyone asked him, he'd say Potions was his favorite subject.

But if he were to admit the truth, it was really Muggle Studies.

Chapter Text

On a beautiful spring morning sometime long ago, Xenophilius Lovegood had only one person on his mind: Irene Macmillan, soon to be (with a little luck) Irene Lovegood.

"Beautiful Irene!" Xeno called across the Great Hall with outstretched arms, almost falling out of his seat at the Ravenclaw table. The students nearby glared at him; it was seven o'clock on a Saturday morning and coffee was banned from Hogwarts for health-related reasons. Xeno paid them no mind. "Your knight in knople-cleaned armor is free to go to Hogsmeade with you, my lady!"

Irene, in all her feminine beauty and grace, yelled, "Bugger off, Lovegood!"

Xeno puffed his cheeks and attempted a cute pout. He heard it did wonders on the ladies. "Are you sure? We can go to Madam—"

He was cut off by something hard slamming down on his head. "Ouch," he muttered, turning to his best mate. "What was that for?"

Patrick put the book away, piled up sausage and eggs on his plate, then casually said, "That's not how you win a girl over."

"Like you've had more luck than I," Xeno muttered, staring at his unknowing, uninterested one true love.

Patrick grinned and proudly took a note out of his pocket. "I have, actually. Cynthia's agreed to go out with me."

"What did you do?"

"I wrote her a love letter..."

That evening, after finishing his homework and extracurricular research, Xeno sat down at one of the desks in his Ravenclaw dormitory with a blank sheet of parchment in front of him.

"Right," he cried, raising his quill in the air. "I can do this. For true love!"

Three hours later, Xeno was the last student awake in his dormitory and probably all of the Ravenclaw dormitories, and covered from fingertip to elbow in purple ink. Who knew writing love letters was so hard?

Dear Mrs. Lovegood seemed a bit formal, and Irene might mistake it for presumptuousness.

Dear Irene seemed a bit casual.

Dear Irene Macmillan seemed like he barely knew her at all, and only knew her by face.

Dear Miss Macmillan only reminded him that she wasn't his wife yet.

Dear My One True Love was a bit fanatic, according to Patrick. Xeno thought it described his affections perfectly, but perhaps Patrick was right.

Choosing her first name, he then tried,

Dear Irene,

I love you so much…

But Irene had scorned him when he said the same thing in person, so he decided not to reiterate it in a letter.

I love you like the knople loves the nargle…

Except Irene wouldn't understand, yet.

You're the most beautiful girl I've ever met.

But that sounded like he loved her only for her beauty.

"Oh, love," Xeno said with a sigh. "Why must you elude me so?"

He worked on his letter deep into the night, until his candle finally gave out and he fell asleep in the early morning.

He was awoken by Patrick's yell of, "Oi, loverboy!" and regular morning shuffling of the boys.

"What?" Xeno asked, yawning and stretching. He slipped the letter into his robes and checked the time. "Oh no, I'm late!"

"Hey, aren't you going to—" Patrick's voice faded as Xeno ran excitedly to the Great Hall.

On the way, he was greeted with a beautiful sight: Irene, stunning as always, was walking to the Great Hall without her friends. Xeno decided it was his lucky day. "Irene!" he called, rushing up to her and taking the letter out. "I have this for you."

"Oh, not again…" She looked up from her book and looked him over. "Are you okay? You looked more frazzled than usual." She took the letter from his outstretched hand.

"No, I just worked on this all night. It's perfect."

She sighed and opened it, quickly reading over it. Then, she looked up from the letter and glared. Xeno knew it from careful study as a very weak glare. "Your hands are covered in ink, along with your robes, your hair, and this letter. I can barely make out the words," she huffed. "You look more pitiful than usual, Lovegood."

There went his chance, Xeno thought. Would he ever get the girl of his dreams?

"But I might as well go out with you—"

"Really?"

"Once. Because you made all this effort and, well... I'm not promising more dates, or forever, of Merlin forbid, marriage."

"Yes!" Xeno cried.

"Are you listening to me?"

"You'll fall to the power of true love," he said with an assured nod, kissed her hand, and ran into the Great Hall to tell Patrick he was his willing slave for life.

Chapter Text

With magic, anything is possible. Victoire can have doll-like curls one day, waves the next, straight the following. Victoire can lose her hair one day, and have shin-length hair the next. So she does.

She cuts her hair when Dominique is old enough to realize what fun pulling hair is. It's short and she hates it and Fred makes fun of her.

She adds waves in her hair when she visits Shell Cottage in the summer, and she won't let the salt leave her hair for weeks after she leaves.

Her hair is shoulder-length after she overhears Teddy saying he doesn't like girls with long her.

She cuts it in a short bob cut when she hears stories of Alice Longbottom, most amazing female Auror in history.

She makes it long, butt-length when her mother tells her she's too pretty to be an Auror, and Teddy off-handedly agrees.

She dies it red when she visits her grandmother's house sometimes, because Molly always compliments it. She wonders if Molly knows she's a natural blonde. Molly hasn't been right in a long while.

Red hair looks good on her, so she keeps it her seventh year at Hogwarts. Teddy doesn't say anything. She realizes she likes him when he's quiet, and wonders what that says about her. She dates him anyway.

She dies her hair blue after Hogwarts, to show the world her appearance won't be restricted by Hogwarts' silly rules anymore, and reverts to blonde the very next day. She wonders when she grew up, when she realized rebelling is boring, when she got back together with Teddy again.

Her hair is shorter when Teddy proposes, and she grows it long the natural way the months before their wedding. They want a spring wedding.

She wakes up in the spring and realizes she hasn't changed her hair in months. When did she stop? She adds highlights—blue, like the waters at Shell Cottage—and breaks off her engagement. When did she fall out of love?

She dies it red when she goes home, and ignores her sister's hopeful look. Dominique can have him, if she wants.

Victoire's pretty with red hair, she realizes. But she's pretty with everything, and Molly isn't there to compliment her anymore.

She sits in front of the mirror and makes herself ugly. First, the pretty blue highlights go. She makes herself a brunette. She looks like Roxanne. She turns it blonde, white-blonde, and makes it short, shorter than it's ever been. She looks like Louis. She dies it brown again, and hates the way she looks. It's perfect.

Teddy visits her just once, and sees her new hair. "You love your hair. Why do you love it and not me?"

She cries on Louis's shoulder that night.

"I'm incapable of love," she tells him, like it's a truth, like it's a lie.

"Then why are you crying?" he asks, and she cries even more. She doesn't know. She doesn't know anything, it seems.

She lengthens her hair for a week, ten centimeters a day, after she finds out Teddy is dating Dominique. Then she comes to Louis's flat, kicks out his boyfriend for the night—he's blond and she wonders if Louis looks for mirrors, too—and sleeps in Louis's bed, like they did when they were little. Louis's arm is strong and comforting when it rests around her waist.

She wakes up with blonde hair. It's the first time it's ever changed without her permission. She looks like Louis's twin. She keeps it. She keeps Louis, too, creating another bedroom in his flat. It's lopsided, and the bed keeps shifting like it knows it's on uneven flooring, but Victoire doesn't care.

She fills out her Auror application at the Ministry, and sees a wall of pictures. Are they there to dissuade the weak, this row of dead Aurors? On a whim, she finds Alice Longbottom.

She doesn't look like her, Victoire silently admits. Her childhood fancy has evaporated by now. But that's okay, because one day, Victoire will be on that wall, and Alice Longbottom will be the second best Auror to ever live.

Chapter Text

As Luna distracted Harry's well-wishers with a cry of, "Oooh, look, a Blibbering Humdinger!" Harry waded through the confused crowds without interference, his eyes searching for the two people he wanted to see most: Ron and Hermione. He saw everyone—Neville, Ginny, Mrs. Weasley, the Malfoys—except for his two best friends, and belatedly he realized that Ron and Hermione must have left for a quiet corner of the school. Their kiss flashed in his mind, and Harry blushed as he thought about what they could be doing now.

He passed knots of fervent families and threaded himself against the walls to avoid detection. Finally, he left the Great Hall and found himself in the small first-year waiting room he had last entered seven years ago. Harry took the Cloak off and sat on one of the benches against the wall, ones he had been too nervous to rest on in his first year. Dumbledore's words flashed in his mind, always keep your Cloak with you at Hogwarts, and Harry silently told the image of Dumbledore, it's all okay now. The battle was over, and Harry could put down the Cloak and rest in one of the most peaceful places in the world.

As Harry walked up to the Gryffindor Tower, he had the sudden urge to see the Half-Blood Prince's textbook one more time. Severus Snape—and Harry's still blood rushed from residual anger and hate when he thought his name—had been a complicated man. Harry hated him, and yet wasn't allowed to hate him; for all his faults, Snape had been loyal to the end. Without his efforts, Voldemort may have killed Harry long ago. Harry felt a begrudging gratitude towards him, combined with ever-present animosity. He didn't know what he would do with the book—burn it? Thank it in place of its owner?—but he needed to see its cramped, girlish handwriting, to see that Severus Snape had been a man (a man in love with Harry's mother) once instead of a Merlin-damned martyr.

Harry took a turn from the Tower path and headed to the seventh floor, dragging the ash on the floor with him. The rational part of his mind told him the room must have burned down by now, and as Harry jogged closer to the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy, who was still trying and failing to teach trolls ballet, his pessimistic theory was evidenced by the fact the door to the Room hadn't vanished when all its inhabitants left. Harry's heart fell. Crabbe's Fiendfyre room must have been completely broken with room.

Just in case, he grabbed the broomstick he'd left by the door and pushed the door open. The flames still flared, but they were no worse than when he had left. No, they were exactly the same. How was that possible? Harry didn't have the time to wonder. He jumped on the broom and flew past what had once been an enormous stuffed troll, took a left at the notorious Vanishing Cabinet, and flew all the way to the back of the room, where flames had yet to reach. The acid-burned cabinet was already half-open, as if waiting for him. He reached inside to grab the book, thanking fate that it was only marred by some blown-in ashes. Harry didn't have time to yell before the cabinet sucked him into itself and sent him careening through time and space.

2

Down the rabbit hole Harry's body went, and although Harry wasn't conscious of a moment of it, his body would remember its bruising adventure for another month.

Had Harry been in his right mind when he woke up, he may have found it ironic that he had beaten the greatest dark lord of all time, only to fall prey to a seemingly innocent Vanishing Cabinet. However, Harry woke up with a blinding headache and a sense of overwhelming wrongness. The bed he was in was too hard to be his Gryffindor Tower canopy bed, and the sheets were too rough to be the ones lovingly cleaned by house-elves. He opened his eyes to the wooden walls of a Leaky Cauldron guest room, familiar after his stay in the Leaky Cauldron the summer before his third year. Holding only the bare necessities (a mirror, dresser, bed, chair, and table), the rooms were all similarly plain. Harry got up off the bed and dressed himself in the robes on the chair, then headed downstairs.

"Thought you'd never wake up, boy!" announced Tom the barman from behind the counter, waving Harry to a bowl of porridge on one of the tables. "Eat up, I set a warming charm for you."

"Thanks," Harry muttered, digging in. "How did I get here?"

Tom paused in the cleaning of his glasses. "You don't remember?"

Harry frowned and picked at his food. "I was at school, in the Room of—er, in a room, and I fell through a cabinet?"

Tom laughed. "Of all things to get into, a Vanishing Cabinet? Well, I'll just firecall Headmaster Dippet, shall I?"

"Excuse me?"

"Armando Dippet? Hogwarts Headmaster? You're English, are you not?"

"Y-yes. Armando Dippet is Headmaster?

Tom nodded. "Yes, though he's too old by far to still hold the position. It's almost time for him to retire. He deserves a vacation after looking after the brats for so long. Do you want the paper? It has the recent Quidditch game scores."

Harry took the paper and almost dropped it when he saw the date: 6 October 1944. "Is this today's?"

"'Course it is. You've knocked your head a bit hard, should I take you to St. Mungo's?"

"No, no." Upon further notice, Harry realized Tom's family must have a tradition of naming their sons Tom, because although this Tom looked eerily similar in face and age to the Tom Harry knew, he was the Tom from later in the twentieth century. "Can you tell me where you found me?"

"Just outside, up the shop's back alley, on the wizarding side of course."

"Thanks."

3

After going outside and carefully observing Tom's back alley, Harry decided he was cursed to live in interesting times. There was nothing special about the alley. Nothing that hinted it had ever been used for anything other than a handy apparation point. Nothing that could tell him how to get back to his own time.

"Accidentus undous!" he tried, absently waving his wand. "Timeus reversus!"

Nothing happened. Harry was stuck in the year 1944.

4

At the very bottom of his pockets, Harry found two Knuts, which he then exchanged for a hour-long refilling ice-cream cone at Florean Fortescue's ice-cream parlor. The parlor looked like it had in Harry's third year when he had sat on its too-high stools (that had changed now) doing summer homework.

For the first time in his life, he could sit in the middle of Diagon Alley without being gawked at like a circus display. Forty years later and one day ago, Harry was the most important person in the world. He was nobody now, in a way he hadn't been in years, and he wasn't sure if he liked it better this way. He had no money (Knuts were useless), no friends, and no home. And worst of all, he couldn't get back to his own time. He had a deep mistrust of the Ministry, so he couldn't ask them for help. He knew no one in this time period except Tom, who had taken him in out of kindness and pity, and Voldemort, who was somewhere between the ages of ten and thirty.

What should he do? He could live as Horace Slughorn did, move around from Muggle house to Muggle house while its inhabitants were on vacation. Or as Sirius had: live in a cave and on rats. Neither lifestyle suited him.

He wanted to yell, to scream, to go to Dumbledore and ask for help, to find the Burrow and hide in Ron's future room. He was tired of the never-ending war. For once, he thought that Voldemort was dead forever, and now Harry was—

In a perfect position to change the future, Harry realized. Sure, Hermione had said that time travel was dangerous, and that time travelers had a high chance of going mad, but it wasn't like Harry was likely to run into his younger self. Not in the 1940s. All he had to do was destroy Voldemort's horcruxes (he couldn't have too many at this time) and find... find something to do for the next fifty years.

Once his ice-cream cone finished refilling, he tipped his head to Fortescue (who was alive) and imagined the graveyard Voldemort had portkeyed him to in his fourth year. He brushed away the momentaneous fear and focused on the scene, not the people. With a twist, he apparated away.

5

The graveyard wasn't as frightening in broad daylight, Harry reflected. It was a small, quiet place, clearly meant for grieving families to relax. Harry couldn't sympathize—he'd never be able to, not here, where Cedric died—but he could appreciate its quiet beauty and the smell of nearby fresh flowers. He had last been here fifty years later, when the town had dried up and the people moved out, and the cemetery had gone to ruin. Now, the graves were well taken care of.

He stopped at the grave of the first Tom Riddle, but didn't stay. He had a job to do.

The narrow, woody path to the Gaunt shack was noticeably less used, and Harry stumbled over a few above-ground tree roots before he arrived.

The shack had a chimney. Smoke rose from it. Harry stopped outside the house.

"That's bloody not possible," he muttered. Morfin was imprisoned, the Riddles were dead, Voldemort wouldn't set foot in the place... Was the smoke caused by some unlucky Muggle squatters? They had no idea what dangers lay under the floorboards.

He rammed on the door. "Hello? Anyone in there?"

The door opened with a screech and the ugly face of Morfin Gaunt emerged from inside. "You want something?"

"I was looking for Merope Gaunt," Harry improvised.

"She's dead."

"I see. You're Morfin? I thought you were in prison?"

"Dumbledore got me out, good man he is."

Harry remembered Dumbledore saying how he found Morfin innocent of the murders. He left Little Whinding without the horcrux. Voldemort hadn't left it in the shack yet.

By that point, it was getting dark again, so Harry apparated to Diagon Alley, visited Tom's pub, looked at him with a mournful expression, and slept in one of the spare rooms. Perhaps he didn't need to be the Boy Who Lived to get favors.

6

Of the five places Harry applied to for work, only one Diagon Alley shop called him back for an interview: Borgin and Burkes. One of their employees had recently disappeared, and Mr. Burke needed to quickly fill the spot. Luckily for Harry, this was also the current workplace of Tom Marvolo Riddle.

Mr. Burke had a large, beefy face and a moustache Uncle Vernon would have been envious of, Harry thought with distaste. It looked like Mr. Burke also shared dislike of Harry with Uncle Vernon, since he seemed distrustful of everything Harry said.

"Do you have any records of former employment?"

"No sir."

"Dou you have a criminal record? In England or anywhere else?"

"No sir."

Mr. Burke puffed his breath. "Fine. I have a position open. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at seven on the dot. Part time. We'll see about more later. No promises, either."

"Yes sir."

"Now," he said, leading Harry out of the office, "this is your new coworker, Tom Riddle. Tom, this is Harry Potter."

Tom Riddle looked familiar, but not familiar enough. He didn't look like Voldemort, but he didn't look like his diary self, either. He was a little taller, a little more mature, hair less slicked back. Harry inwardly groaned. Riddle had already made his first horcrux, maybe even the next few. He was out of luck.

"Any relation to the Potter family?"

"Nope, Muggleborn."

Riddle's expression showed thinly veiled disgust. Unfortunately for Harry's employment and spying opportunities, so did Mr. Burke's. He must have assumed Harry was pureblooded. Thankfully, Burke soon shook off his prejudice.

"As I was saying, your shifts coincide, so you should become great friends by the time Tom leaves for his trip," Mr. Burke announced. "Well, I'll leave you two boys to it." He turned around to leave.

"Mr. Burke, if I could please have a word with you?" Riddle called to his back. Mr. Burke waved his hand to call Riddle over without turning around. For a moment, Harry was sure Riddle would do something to the store owner (hex him, tell him off, announce he was beneath him), but the moment soon passed and Riddle molded his face into what Harry assumed was his 'I want something from you' expression. Riddle quickly walked off and Harry was left alone behind the counter.

Borgin and Burkes circa 1940 looked the same as it had around 1990. Harry didn't know whether it was because of a strict adherence to pureblood custom (change was evil, therefore muggle pens and notebooks were banned even though they were easier to use) or laziness and ineptitude. From what Harry had gathered in the interview, Burke left most business decisions to his accountant, Barny, and the shopkeeping to employees. Burke occasionally came over to haggle over object prices, Harry surmised, but didn't seem to really do much. Borgin was on an extended vacation.

Curious and a little worried about what Riddle was saying, Harry put his ear to Burke's office door.

"Mr. Burke, in my interview, I asked to work my shifts alone. I've been having family issues with my father, you see—" Harry choked at Riddle's skill at lying. "And I'd feel awful if poor Mr. Potter had to deal with me in a gloomy mood all throughout his shifts. Is there any way we could work this issue out? Maybe Mr. Potter and I could work different shifts? I'm sure he and Mr. Stezzle would get along better than he and I," Riddle argued. Harry wondered if he was giving Mr. Burke the same innocent doe eyes Slughorn had fallen for.

"Tom there really isn't anything I can do. You've been having trouble finishing your organizing in time for the next shift, and I've had complaints that customers sometimes couldn't find you. I'm sure you and Harry will get along just fine. Off you go."

"Could one of the other shopkeeps not take his hours?"

"Tom my boy, you were Head Boy at Hogwarts! You should take this as a good opportunity to get to know a peer. Even if he is a Muggleborn."

Sensing the conversation was over, Harry quickly ran over to the counter. He stooped down, ostensibly looking at the items below the counter that had yet to be priced.

The door to Burke's office slammed open.

Riddle slowly walked over to him. Harry decided to try extra hard not to anger him, as his pleasant expression was missing. "I head something by the door," Riddle said.

"Did you, Riddle? Strange objects you sell here." Harry stared him straight in the eyes. They looked a lot alike, he decided. Light eyes, dark hair, not wimpy but not extremely square jaws, thick eyebrows. Of course, Riddle made his appearance look good as well, while Harry didn't remember the last time he'd brushed his hair.

Riddle's face smoothed. Harry wondered if his ability to hide his feelings was a talent or a skill. "You know, we've gotten off on the wrong foot, Potter. If we're going to work together, we should do it on good terms."

Harry nodded. "Yes, yes. Good terms." What did good terms mean to a crazy person? As long as Harry didn't anger Riddle, Riddle wouldn't try to murder him again (and for the first time). He didn't think he and Riddle could work together even if Harry only needed the secrets of Riddle's horcrux locations.

7

The next day, Harry awoke early, ate a quick breakfast with Tom and his wife, and headed to Knockturn Alley. His body protested horribly to the effort—he had spent half the night researching time travel at Flourish and Blotts—but he knew he needed the fresh air to wake himself up. Riddle arrived before him and flipped the sign to open.

"So...what should I do?" Harry asked.

Riddle handed him a dark, damp rag. Harry wondered if any dirt would actually show up on it as he cleaned. "Clean."

"What am I supposed to clean? Floors, windows, objects?" He refused to feel like an idiot with his question, because the entire shop was a little off. Maybe it was the low lighting, or maybe shops were normally dirty at the end of the week, but Borgin and Burkes was on the grimy side.

"Objects."

Harry noticed Riddle didn't tell him to be careful, even though he noticed the objects lacked the later Do Not Touch signs. Maybe too many people had unthinkingly touched the objects, whether they were shoppers or unknowledgeable shopkeeps.

He picked up a seemingly innocent green orb. "Can't these things be cleaned with magic?"

Riddle just about glared him to death, but didn't seem as daunting as he had when Harry saw him in second year. Maybe that was because he was older, or maybe because he had defeated him once already. He could do it again, Harry was reasonably sure.

"Muggleborn here," Harry added, to be helpful.

"Most magical objects are impervious to magic. And if they aren't, they're just as likely to absorb your spell along with attacking you to get the rest of your magic as they are to fling your spell back at you."

Harry blinked. "You're very knowledgeable about these things, Riddle." In hindsight, of course he was: Riddle had wanted to be the DADA teacher at one point not very long ago.

Riddle snorted and ignored him for the rest of their four-hour shift.

8

The next day, Harry brought Riddle cookies courtesy of Tom's wife. After picking at the cookies, which turned out to be dry, Riddle didn't seem any more eager to divulge the hidings spots of his horcruxes, and Harry didn't feel any less disgust at playing nice with his parents' murderer.

In the next four hours, he was turned green, shrunken, and almost defenestrated through the shop's window. Later, Mr. Burke came in and told Harry it wasn't required for him to clean the shop's merchandise, as some of it was very nasty, and that he should go help Riddle over at the counter.

Riddle smirked and Harry seethed.

The day after that, Harry didn't bring cookies and Riddle still smirked. Harry was quickly finding that a handsome smirk was Riddle's default expression.

9

"My uncle wrote that you visited him," Riddle began, absently turning the pages of his book. "He said you were looking for my mother."

"Oh," Harry said. "I found a book that belonged to a Merope Gaunt. Thought I might return it."

Harry wasn't a Slytherin, but neither was he a wet behind the ears first year—he knew there was something wrong with Riddle starting to talk to him all of a sudden, and looking at him with that calculating expression. And it wasn't just Harry's overly developed paranoia of scheming Slytherins talking.

Later, the realization hit Harry like a pile of bricks: Morfin Gaunt was still imprisoned, and the horcrux was in the shack. Riddle was sane enough to guard it with his junior Death Eaters, this time.

Riddle treated him differently from then on, like Harry was a subject to be watched, to be studied. Somehow, his stare didn't bother Harry. That was the first sign of trouble.

10

Riddle and Harry's partnership was slow in success, mostly because they had little common. They had different interests:

"Do you like magical objects? Borgin and Burkes has a reputation for having the best and rarest magical objects in Knockturn Alley."

"Dark artifacts, you mean."

"All kinds of magical objects. Dark objects are illegal, as you know. Are you interested in dark artifacts?"

"Only from a theoretical standpoint. I really needed to get a job to prove to prove to my friends that I wasn't being a lazy waste on the government. And I couldn't do Quidditch all day, so here I am."

And different friends:

"My lord Riddle there was this man and he—" the boy stopped, looking wide-eyed at Harry.

"Get out, Philpott. I'll contact you later."

The boy left in a hurry, a terrified expression on his face.

"Did he just call you my lord?" Harry asked with a snort. Riddle was barely twenty; had the megalomania started so young?

And different levels of education:

"That letter, it was addressed to Voldemort. Flight from death, right?"

"You're very good with languages, to recognize it so easily."

"Nah, my friend was just a really big extracurricular Latin nerd, so I picked it up from her."

"It's actually French."

But eventually, they came to a tentative truce.

11

But eventually, they settled into a friendship. Riddle still hadn't divulged his horcrux locations, but Harry made do with what he had.

"Good morning, Riddle!" Harry called into the empty shop. He heard a crash from somewhere beyond his line of sight, but ignored it and settled into his spot behind the counter. Riddle's book lay in sight, and Harry began reading from act two of The Tragedy of Hamlet, Wandmaker of Denmark. Funny, how Harry had started reading more here than at Hogwarts. Riddle was so scholarly that Harry wanted to catch up to him.

"Bloody Hand of Glory," Riddle muttered. "Why didn't you reply to my owl?"

"I couldn't, I don't have an owl, remember? Yours flew away."

"Get one."

Harry remembered Hedwig, white against the dark night sky, falling to her death. "I had an owl, once, named Hedwig."

"Queen Hedwig," Riddle said putting down his book and looking at Harry with a speculative expression. "That's the first time you've talked about your past."

Harry looked away and folded his hands. "Tom, can you tell me about Queen Hedwig?"

"The goblin queen in the early sixth century," Riddle began, climbing up on the counter to sit. Harry's eyes were drawn to his legs—Riddle wasn't wearing robes for once—and wondered if it was a gesture calculated to seduce. Tom Riddle was good at seduction.

Harry Potter was easily seduced. His eyes traveled down Riddle's legs as they swung, up and down, up and down. When he looked up again, Riddle was smirking.

Later that day, Harry bought another snowy owl, and named him Lochlainn after Hedwig's king.

12

Harry knew he was getting too close to Riddle, but who could he go to? There was Dumbledore—not yet great Supreme Mugwump, Minister favorite, destroyer of evil. Had he even defeated Grindelwald yet? Harry didn't know. He wasn't sure if he wanted to see Dumbledore. He could meet with him (a redhaired, young Dumbledore, he imagined) but to announce he was a time traveler... What would Dumbledore do? Harry had no comfortable pincushion of being Dumbledore's favorite, now. How would he explain why he waited before going to Dumbledore? Harry didn't know the reason himself.

And most worryingly, he wasn't sure he wanted to leave Riddle. He knew he was in trouble. Riddle was handsome and dangerous, and Harry was attracted to danger like Luna's Blibbering Humdingers were to students.

13

"Tom, I want you to visit Hepzibah Smith again, for that goblin-made armor…" Burke called from behind his office door. "Be sweet with her!"

"Yes sir," Riddle said.

Something tickled in Harry's mind—five hundred Galleons, he feels it is more than fair, roses, smiles, the locket and the cup. Harry's blood went cold. This was the day. He turned to Riddle, who was sitting so innocently and reading his favorite book. Somewhere along the line, it had also become Harry's favorite book.

"If you kill her, I'll stop you," Harry promised, staring darkly at Riddle. He had gotten caught in Riddle's web, a juicy fly, invited to dinner by a fellow fly in disguise, but he could maneuver in the web. Just one spell, and…

Riddle didn't try to deny anything, but he looked a bit confused. He didn't know, not yet. "I hope you're not trying to reform me," he said instead. Suddenly, he was too close to Harry. Close enough to touch him. Close enough to kill him. Harry said nothing, and Riddle continued, "because if Albus Dumbledore himself has failed—"

"Are you admitting you're in need of reform?" Harry would be the first to say Tom Riddle needed reforming in every possible way and they both knew it.

"Sometimes," Riddle answered.

Something inside Harry warmed. Maybe he really was changing the future if he could get Riddle to understand he was wrong. Maybe, just maybe, he could change Voldemort.

14

Riddle came back late that night, and came into Harry's permanent bedroom at the Leaky Cauldron. Tom and his wife had all but adopted Harry as their own. They weren't the Weasleys, but Harry was beginning to love them as well.

Harry looked up from his book when he heard the noise.

"I didn't kill her," Riddle announced, and Harry broke into a wide smile. He got up from the desk and walked over to Riddle.

"I knew it, Tom," he said, still very relieved.

Riddle's expression fluttered for a moment, and Harry thought he was reacting to his muggle name, but then Riddle stepped closer, leaned down, and pressed his lips to Harry's. It was a calm, calculated gesture, so different from Harry and Ginny's first kiss, but it fit Riddle and Harry's relationship.

Riddle was a tad taller than him, and Harry was forcibly reminded of his kiss with Cho, who had been taller than him before his growth spurt. This close, he felt Salazar Slytherin's locket in Riddle's pocket. He traced it with one hand, the other behind him, keeping him upright against the desk. If he moved his fingers just a bit, they would touch Snape's textbook. The book had become a comfort for him, and so far removed from his former life, his anger at the dead man who wrote in it had dissipated. It was the closest thing Harry had to a reminder of his home, but even that was a misnomer. Slowly, 1940s Diagon Alley had become home for him.

The locket and the textbook: two eras in Harry's life. And now, he was beginning another.

"I'm leaving to Peru," Riddle said, leaning back from the kiss. Harry nodded and thought of the twins' Peruvian darkness powder, and wondered for what it was originally used for in Peru. Riddle had all he wanted from England. "Will you come with me?"

Harry didn't know if Riddle was capable of love. Certainly he wasn't capable of all-encompassing, brave-hearted Gryffindor love. But if Harry went with Riddle, he could temper him. He could teach him love, teach him how to enjoy love. Maybe, Riddle would be calmed enough for Dumbledore to accept him as the next Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. But that wasn't important, not anymore. All Harry wanted was Tom Riddle, as stupid and simple and complicated as that was. For once, he was enjoying his life. To hell with the future. The present was clear, and Harry was happy.

"Yes."

Chapter Text

After the final battle, there was time for anything and everything, it felt. The wizarding world was finally free of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Neville had the whole world at his fingertips. He even had fangirls—and what a grand thought that was. Girls being interested in him was still a novelty, and the looks in their eyes made him blush. He even had to go to the Black Lake to escape them. But sometimes, he wondered if they would be interested in him without his hero status. He doubted it.

"I'm a hero now," Neville mumbled, kicking a rock into the Black Lake. "It's a good thing. Gran is so happy. Her son, the hero. Her grandson, the hero. She's actually proud of me now."

"You were always a hero," Luna replied, her eyes far away. Neville wished he weren't pleased; people said that when they didn't want to tell the truth, or to pad his low self-esteem. Luna said it like a fact, like it was the simple truth, like she completely and utterly believed it.

She sat next to him, so close that Neville could hold her hand if he wanted to. He really wanted to.

"You were," Luna repeated.

Neville blushed and closed his eyes, savoring the moment. Luna thought he was worthy, even a hero. She could lean over and kiss him if she wanted to. He wanted her to. They would kiss and he would tell her how much he loved her, how much he'd missed her and worried about her during his hellish seventh year. He would tell her how beautiful she was. Luna would blush and smile at him, the smile she sometimes gave to the sky on a clear day. The smile that said all was good in the world. They would date and do those things couple did: hold hands, have romantic picnics, visit Madam Paddifoot's Tea Shop. They would share their first kiss in the midst of the beautiful Venomous Vernacutors in Herbology Greenhouse Five and spend hours searching for nargles in the Forbidden Forest. Neville would brave the forest, face his fears, just for Luna. He would do anything for her. Then he would propose at his grandmother's house after they finished Hogwarts, and they would marry in the summer, when Luna said nargels were the most active. They would name their children after their parents and grandparents: Frank, after Neville's father, and Lorcan, after Luna's grandfather. They would grow old together for the next century and never part. It was a beautiful dream.

"I'm not enough of a hero for you, though," he said quietly, breaking out of his fantasy of a life with Luna. She didn't want him—not the hero he was now, nor the boy he had been when they first met.

"I don't need a hero. I'm sorry Neville," she said. Her voice was light, airy. She didn't sound sorry at all. It was Loony's voice, that tone she used in situations too uncomfortable for her to be herself. He hated himself for putting her in this situation. She hadn't been this uncomfortable with him in a long while, maybe since the first few weeks of their friendship. He hated her for putting him in this situation—for being so lovely, so wonderful, that he had no choice but to fall in love with her.

Draco Malfoy sat down on the other side of the lake with a book and they stared at him, unable to look at each other. Neville wondered if she would have a wonderful life—his wonderful life—with Draco or Justin or Harry. He wondered what he was missing. Was there something crucial that he missed, something no one would tell him, something off-putting about him that everyone noticed but no one voiced?

He wished she weren't honest, but that was like wishing the professors would cancel final exams. Luna never lied. He wished she did. He would have taken anything. Of course, she probably knew that, too.

Chapter Text

Neville wasn't sure when he fell in love with Harry. He had always been aware of his, his entire life it seemed, what with his grandmother saying things like, "Oh, why couldn't you have been more like Harry Potter," even before Neville started Hogwarts. At that time, he had been an apparent squib and Harry had been the idol of all little children. Neville was ashamed to admit he secretly hated him until he got to know him. What kind of toddler defeated a dark wizard? He gave children everywhere (especially Neville) a high bar to reach, and Neville knew he'd never reach it, even if he stood on his tiptoes.

Then he met Harry, and he wasn't the fabled hero of his childhood. He was only a bit taller than Neville, for one, and much thinner. Neville had always been self-conscious of his weight, but he'd never tried to diet. With great food at school and a culinary wonder of a grandmother at home (her pastries were the best in England!), he never culled his appetite to better his looks. As he stared in the mirror, already a sixth year and no more attractive or less fat, he wished he had, even if dieting was for girls.

Harry was smart, funny, and he'd saved Neville's Rememberball from Malfoy, even bringing it to Neville while he was in the hospital wing with a "Get better soon!" and a smile. He was the only person who ever visited him in the hospital wing that year, and maybe that's when Neville started falling in love. Or was it later? When Harry saved the school from Quirrell later that year, Neville hadn't even cared. He had spent an entire night unable to sleep, scared out of his mind and helpless in the Gryffindor Common Room, unable to move. The full-body bind didn't wear off, and an early-rising Prefect had set him free. Neville spent hours hating Harry, Hermione, and Ron that night, but he spent longer hating himself for being so week.

And then news about Harry's accomplishment spread throughout the school, and Neville visited Harry in the hospital, still so very angry. Harry had said, "I'm sorry, but we had to. I'm glad someone got you free," and smiled, and Neville couldn't be angry. Gran said he was a true Gryffindor that way—he could never be angry for long. Neville thought it was a Hufflepuff trait, but Gran seemed so happy that he lived up to his house in at least one thing, that Neville didn't outwardly correct her. He didn't yell at Harry, either—just let himself be calmed by that smile and forgave.

Forgiving was a Hufflepuff trait, too, but four years later, Neville wished the entire wizarding world were Hufflepuffs, just so Harry could have some peace from the glares and whispers. Neville told Harry he believed in him, and for a moment he thought Harry might smile at him again, and thank him—and maybe— maybe, he'd kiss him, too.

But Harry brushed it off, and soon forgot. Dean and Seamus told him they thought he was a bit crazy, but a good guy all the same. For the first time in a long while, Neville made new friends. Dean and Seamus had always seemed to different for him to get to know, but they were funny and nice, and accepted him into their little sport-obsessed group.

And slowly, Neville stopped wishing for Harry to notice him. He locked his feelings into a little box and threw them into the very bottom of his heart. He pretended Harry was just another guy, just another wizard Neville barely knew.

And when Harry kissed Ginny in the middle of the Gryffindor Common Room the next year, Neville pretended to feel no pain, just in case Harry looked his way when he opened his eyes. Harry didn't look.

Chapter Text

Oh Merlin, you think, and you almost yell, "Come back!" to Harry, but you know he can't and won't. He needs to save your sister and you need to stay with Lockhart and dig a tunnel through the rocks for Harry and (a living, please let her be living, you're twelve and she's eleven, neither of you are allowed to die) Ginny. You start on the smaller rocks, digging your fingers into the wall until you feel the stings of sharp rock cuts, and you tell yourself you can't stop. You have to be brave. Brave, like Harry, like Dumbledore, like Rael, the Chudley Cannons' Keeper. Your hands aren't shaking and they aren't bleeding and you aren't going to run away. (You can't, anyway, and you won't lower yourself to screaming for help.) (You're afraid no one will hear you.) Then you turn around to recruit Lockhart in your digging (he must be able to do something, even with that head of his) and see he's on the ground, motionless, blood in his hair.

You're still not panicking. You're as strong as Harry.

"Lockhart!" you yell, grabbing his left side and pushing him up against the wall. "Wake up!"

He doesn't wake up. You pull at his floppy not-golden-anymore hair (Hermione, what would you think of him now? what would you think of me?) until you feel the wound. The bloodied rock next to Lockhart must have caused it, but that doesn't tell you what to do. You've never wanted your mother next to you more, but you're a big boy, you tell yourself, and you can do this. After all, you're still not panicking. You're calm.

You strip off your robes and your shirt, then wrap your shirt around Lockhart's head. It should help stop the blood, and your Mum would understand why you ruined one of your few shirts. Lockhart's stirring now, so you shake him again and he finally opens his eyes. He looks around wildly.

"Why aren't you working?" you ask, just a bit too loudly, and he jolts. You want to apologize and let him rest, but you can't, because you're so terrified he won't wake up again and you'll have to sit here waiting for Harry and Ginny with a corpse.

"What—" he begins, but you cut him off by pulling him up as gently as you can. He's not a small man, but you're tall for your age, and you help him stay on his feet until he can support himself. "I'm not sure—"

"You're a tunnel digger, and you're behind on your work. If you don't dig, bad things will happen," you say. He looks like he wants to argue, but then he goes to the wall of rocks and starts pulling out a big one. You sigh with relief; you hate lying, but you need him to work, for his sake and yours. You need to see him alive and have hope that if an idiot like Lockhart can live, then so can Ginny.

When Harry comes back, you and Lockhart are still digging, even though the hole is a sizable gap, because you both need something to do to keep yourselves from falling over, and you let loose a strangled laugh of relief when you see her stupid face. It's the best moment of your life, and you and Lockhart share a grin (Lockhart doesn't exactly understand, but that's fine, it's all fine). The world feels bright again, even in this damp, dark, dungeon-like place. And to be honest, you're proud of yourself. Harry might have saved your sister—and oh Merlin, you're so happy you could hug them both—but you also saved a person, too. And maybe he didn't need to be saved, didn't want to be saved, didn't deserve to be saved, but you're bloody proud of it.

Chapter Text

1

Louis knew he needed to tell his family the truth, and that he needed to do it soon. He was sick of the lies, the excuses, the boring dates. He finally decided to reveal the secret to his direct family during one of their Saturday dinners (his parents could deal with the extended family). Except he ended up putting it off: first there was Christmas, and he couldn't tell them at Christmas because it was a time for celebration, then there was New Year's, and it was bad luck to reveal secrets at the end of the year (and he was a bit drunk by the time he remembered his decision, but sober enough to know he needed a clear head), then there was Dominique's birthday, and he couldn't ruin her big day, then there was an empty block of time waiting for him to ruin his parents' dreams. That was a horrible phrase, he thought, but it was probably true.

On the second Saturday following Dominique's birthday, Louis brought his mother a bouquet of assorted flowers to soften the blow. They looked beautiful in the middle of the dining room table and took the double duty of blocking Louis' view of his father. When they finished eating, he decided to take the higher path and moved the flowers to a stool in the corner. He couldn't chicken out, not for this.

Louis cleared his throat. Everyone—Maman, Papa, Victoire, Dominique—looked at him, and he tried not to feel like the world was crushing down on him. He refused to be dramatic about this.

"I have something to tell you..." he began, thinking that coming out of the closet was such a cliché.

2

Louis should have been born a girl, and maybe that was what caused his sexuality problems in the first place. He was an eighth Veela, and his blood was diluted just enough for him to have been born male, but it still shouldn't have been possible for him to have a y chromosome instead of a double x. He had a speck of the infamous Veela allure, not uncontrollable and wild like a true Veela's, but subtle enough to charm a person if Louis was in a bind.

He was told that when he was a child, all his French relatives checked for themselves that he was a boy. Twice. And their speculation didn't stop there; he was male, but his relatives never stopped gossiping about his prettyness and how he'll soon grow into his feminine wiles.

He was almost thirty now, and his relatives have long since stopped waiting for him to announce that he was female inside, or some other such rubbish. He wasn't angry, not anymore. He also hasn't seen any of them in three years.

3

"It's hard for me to say this—" his hands were shaking under the table and Merlin if his voice shook he would hand in his gym card "—but I'm not interested in women." He looked at his mother, who, bless her, didn't look very shocked. "It would be great if you could stop pushing me to date the daughters of your friends." Or my female cousins, he thought with a gulp.

And awkward silence didn't form. Louis almost regretted it.

"Pay up," Victoire said with a grin, stretching her hand to Dominique. Dominique scowled, searched her robe pockets, and dropped a Sickle into Victoire's hand.

Dominique glared at Louis and looked longingly at her wine glass. Louis hoped she didn't mean to throw it at him. "Why couldn't you have been straight?" She sighed and threw a Sickle to him, too. "Probability says you would've likely been straight."

There was never a good time to discover one's sisters bet on one's sexuality. Louis palmed his forehead. "I'm just not, damn your probability." Then a thought came and he looked at Victoire, horrified. "When did you make this bet?"

"When you were ten." She was smug. Louis wondered if his parents would forgive him if he cursed her, but his mother gave a short shake of her head.

"Is this why you tried to make me play with dolls?"

Victoire just smirked.

"Right, fine, now that dinner's over, I'm just going to—"

"Sit down, Louis," his father ordered, and Louis complied, not looking at him. He waited for Bill to say something, but his mother spoke instead.

"I have been worried since you are very pretty that 'ou like ze boys, oui."

"It doesn't work like that, Maman."

Fleur waved his retort away. "Eeet ez well, Louis. I could not find a good French homme for the girls…" She gave them each a glare. Dominique lifted up a brow, Victoire looked away. "But I will find you a nice French husband, Louis."

"What? No, Maman! I'm not gay!"

This time, an awkward silence did form.

"What are you trying to tell us?" Bill asked. His voice was gentle.

4

Even if he wanted to blame his problems with women on his relatives, he couldn't blame his sexuality on them. He couldn't blame anyone, to be honest. For a long time, he hadn't even realized he had sexuality problems in the first place. Louis hadn't realized there was something wrong with him until his seventh year at Hogwarts when he realized dating wasn't supposed to be boring.

"And the he did that thing with his tongue, you know— Merlin, it was amazing. Mate, are you listening?" Jacob Hornby, Louis' best friend, asked. He was laying on Louis' bed while Louis was at his desk, working on an essay, and he poked Louis with his wand. "I'm talking about the greatest moment of my life here."

"Getting a blowjob from Nickelson was the best moment of your life?" Louis asked, snorting.

Hornby sat up. "Yes, it was. What about you and Candice?"

Louis shrugged. "It was pretty awkward."

"Sorry, mate. Did she use teeth?"

"No, it wasn't that." He waited, but Hornby didn't take the bait. Louis wasn't sure if he wanted him to. "Was it fun?"

"Course it was."

"Did you enjoy it?"

"Yeah. What's brought this on?"

Louis picked at his feather quill. "I think I'm going to break up with her. I'm not— I'm not interested in girls."

Hornby patted his back. "Welcome to the dark side, my friend."

Except, Louis later realized he wasn't interested in guys, either. He wasn't interested in sex, or in kissing, or in romantic gestures. He was happy with his job and his friends. He wasn't interested in finding a husband or wife.

5

"... I mean, I'm just not...interested. In anyone. Okay? And I'm not going to be. That's why I'd very much appreciate if you stopped setting me up with Victoire and Dominique's entire social circle."

Victoire blew a ring of smoke into Louis's face. "That's fine. I always knew you were weird."

"I'm going to murder you later," he muttered.

Fleur swished her glass of wine. "Louis, you have ze sexual problem? Your grandmozzer—not Molly—might have a cure for zat."

"No, Maman, I don't need a cure. I just need you to accept this."

"Are you all right, Louis?" Bill asked.

"Yeah, Dad. I'm fine."

"Then we'll just have to get used to it," Dominique chimed in.

6

Bill and Fleur Weasley were not going to have any grandchildren. At twenty-six, Louis was the baby of the family, even though he was an esteemed Healer at St. Gerome's. He was also asexual and not interested in children.

Victoire was thirty-four and twice divorced, no children. He would say "no children, yet," but she would make a horrible mother and she knew it. She had enough problems of her own to deal with kids.

Dominique was twenty-nine and married to her job. She worked with Charlie, and loved her dragonets too much to have children of her own.

Louis was so damn glad his parents accepted them.

7

Later, his father pulled Louis aside.

"This isn't because of your uncle," he confirmed grimly. His lips were set in a line.

"No." It was the truth. Not the whole truth—Uncle Charlie's example made him decide he didn't want his parents knowingly oblivious until the bitter end—but enough to calm his father's fears. Were Uncle Charlie to have influenced Louis's sexual preference in a greater way, Bill would be heartbroken.

Bill clasped Louis' shoulder and nodded. "I still care for you."

"As much as you care for the Harpies' chances this season? Because they're going to get slaughtered!" Louis joked.

"They're going to win the World Cup, you mean," Bill said, and they both laughed and headed back to the kitchen. Louis finally breathed a sigh of relief. Everything was fine.

Chapter Text

Albus had always thought Gellert had a face meant for pouting. As a child, he'd pout whenever he didn't get his way-which, to be honest, was quite often. Gellert had a knack for asking his parents for things they couldn't give him: a real broomstick at age three, a castle when he was seven, permanent red hair when he was nine. Albus loved it. He loved the way his top lip would pinch in at the same time as Gellert's bottom lip turned down, and the vertical crease under his nose would become so very noticeable. When he'd become a teenager, he'd wanted to lick that crease, and perhaps lick other places as well.

His serious face was half-pout. His angry face was half-pout, too. Gellert went from a pouty little kid to a sullen teenager to an angry adult.

Albus just loved him all the more.

Chapter Text

Two men stood outside the Burrow. They were dressed in black, with their hands on their wands, and with grim, resigned expressions.

"Ready?" one asked the other.

"Only if you are," he replied.

Slowly, the first man pulled his wand arm out of his robes pocket and stuck it out into the air between the two men. The second man, who stood to the first's right, reluctantly dropped his wand back into his pocket, and grasped the first man's hand. He held the man's hand for a long moment, rubbing his thumb against the first man's knuckles, then let go. Their hands dropped once again and Harry Potter knocked on the Burrow's door.

x

"Harry! Lovely to see you!" Mrs. Weasley announced, opening the door and pulling Harry into a long hug. "We don't see you at all these days." After a long moment, she turned to Harry's companion. "Hello Mr. Wood."

"Please." Oliver coughed. "Call me Oliver. Everyone does." Even though the last time they had met, when he introduced himself as the manager for the team Harry flew on, Mr. Wood had been entirely appropriate.

"Yes, I suppose they do," Mrs. Weasley agreed, giving him a certain look that Oliver hadn't gotten from a mother figure since the age of three. He was over six foot tall, but he could almost feel the baby talk coming back. "Well, come in, both of you."

She led them to an offshoot corner of the kitchen, a place Percy might have called a dining room, where Mr. Weasley, Luna Lovegood, and Ginny Weasley already sat. Harry tried not to feel slighted when he noticed Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had already started eating, even though he and Oliver were only five minutes late. They had spent too long packing up Quidditch equipment at the Diagon Alley official Quidditch pitch, mostly because Harry was dawdling and Oliver was reluctant to go. He didn't want Harry's feelings to be hurt once again. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had taken their new relationship badly enough the first time.

Luna and Ginny's plates were empty, but with the way they were trading glances from opposite corners of the table, Harry felt that their plates were empty for a reason other than compassion.

"Now, Oliver, why don't you sit down in that empty space next to Luna?" Mrs. Weasley said, pushing Oliver towards the other side of the table. "Harry, you can—" Harry sat down in the empty chair that was set just a little too closely to Ginny's, "—oh good, you've already sat down."

Ginny turned to him, blushing and angry. "I'm so sorry. I didn't realize they were going to be like this. I thought— When they finally invited us to dinner, that maybe they'd—"

Harry patted her shoulder. "It's okay," he said, even though they both knew it wasn't. "How are you? The Harpies?"

Ginny smiled widely, but even then it was strained. "We're playing better than ever; you'll have to watch your back, Mr. Puddlemere United. We might just win regionals while you and Oliver are distracted," she teased, throwing Oliver a wink.

x

"Luna," Oliver said with resignation, nodding at Harry's friend.

"Oliver. There's a nargle pooping on your head, did you know?"

Mrs. Weasley smiled encouragingly in his and Luna's interaction.

Oliver inwardly groaned and resigned himself to an evening of putting up with Loony Lovegood. The things he did for his boyfriend...

x

Soon, dinner was almost over, and Harry prepared himself for the attack. He noticed Ginny steeling herself too, and squeezed her hand in encouragement. Mrs. Weasley, who sat to Ginny's right, crowed in delight.

"There you two, don't you remember what a wonderful couple you were?"

Mr. Weasley nodded in agreement. "Harry, Ginny, I understand you've had relationship problems—"

"My relationship with Oliver is going swell, sir—"

"—but I beg you to remember the feelings you still have for one another. Ever since you dropped out of the Auror program and started playing Quidditch, and since you followed him in, Ginny, you two have been acting unlike yourselves."

"Mum, I'm dating Luna. Harry's dating Oliver. We broke up ages ago."

"Please believe me, I have no feelings towards for your daughter."

"It's all the fault of Quidditch! Ever since you've started playing that game, you've gone— You've gone—" Molly paused, unable to say the word.

"Gay?" Ginny supplied.

"Not to mention, your relationship with Oliver, Harry, is unethical. He's your boss for Merlin's sake."

"I can't believe you!" Ginny cried. "Why can't you just accept our feelings?"

"Ginny," Mrs. Weasley said consolingly, "your feelings are wrong. You're confused because of all this Quidditch business."

Ginny looked down, trying to fight off her tears. "If that's the way you feel, I'm leaving."

"Where are you going to go?" Molly asked.

"Ginny, just stay so we can work this out," Arthur pleaded.

"I'm going to stay with Luna for a while."

"You can't—"

"Yes, I can. Let's go, Luna." The two left the Burrow while the Weasley parents turned to Harry and Oliver.

"I think we should go," Harry murmured, pulling Oliver with him. "Thank you for dinner."

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley watched them go, wishing they knew when their children had become strangers.

Chapter Text

Victoire slept fitfully the night before her last date with Teddy, kept awake by the sound of the lyre floating through the thin walls from the room on the other side of the wall. Infused with magic, no silencing charm could keep it out, but the music wasn't unpleasant so much as inharmonious: one minute, Lucy would play a pleasantly soothing melody, the next a melody more suited to the drums than the harp-like instrument. Every time Victoire was lulled into a daze, she was jarred awake within minutes. And every time Victoire told herself she would stop listening and fall asleep, Lucy would play such a pretty chord and Victoire couldn't help listening closer. Eventually Victoire could take it no longer and forced herself to leave her warm bed and knock on Lucy's door.

She didn't wait for an answer before coming inside—Lucy had a habit of leaving the natural world behind when playing—and murmured, "Lucy." Her voice came out in a whisper, the last syllable distorted in a yawn.

Like Victoire had expected, Lucy sat in a wooden chair along the far wall, her brown hair hanging over her lyre as she scribbled madly on a piece of parchment on her desk. Every other second, she pulled a few strings and recorded her observations.

"Lucy," Victoire said more loudly, and waved her hand in front of Lucy's eyes. She knew better than to touch Lucy when she was wrangling with tentative magic.

Lucy looked up and grinned, her eyes wide and sleepless. "I found how to connect the magic strands to accelerate my skin growth!" she exclaimed, and waved a finger in front of Victoire's face. Victoire noticed a few flakes of skin hanging loose. "Permanently, not that shoddy Sleat's Skin Solution stuff! Well, actually, I may have broken their secret formula, but no matter, they don't have a patent. Do you know what this means? I'm finally getting somewhere! If I could just tailor this to others' skin, not my own, St. Mungo's would stop having to pay millions of Galleons a year for Sleat's! I could finish my Healing apprenticeship two years early and quit visiting patients! They might even give me my own office. I could finally break through the barrier between musical magic and wand magic!"

Victoire pulled the lyre out of Lucy's hands, untangling a few strands of brown hair that had gotten stuck in the instrument. "Sweetheart, do you know what time it is?"

"Time for medicine?" Lucy looked so hopeful, stretching her hand to take back the lyre, but Victoire shook her head and put it on Lucy's dresser.

"Time for bed. Past time, actually. You've been keeping me up." She said it gently, to keep her words from stinging, but Lucy could tell Victoire was stressed and tired.

Lucy let herself be pulled off the uncomfortable wooden chair (uncomfortable on purpose, to keep herself from overworking) and into her bed. Victoire checked her over for ink splashes while Lucy's mind ran back to her research (maybe she could use a different instrument? She had chosen the lyre to connect to the collective Wizarding past, but maybe a violin would do better?), then emptied Lucy's bed of medical textbooks. "Come on," she encouraged, pulling Lucy under the covers with her. Lucy looked a bit gaunt—she'd obviously not eaten anything healthy in the days following her breakthrough—and her eyes had deep bruises under them. Her skin was a pasty shade of pale, far from her usual good complexion.

Once in bed, Victoire tangled her legs with Lucy's to prevent her from getting up again to work. "I need sleep, and so do you. Tomorrow's a big day. You're going to work after skipping the last few days—bet you didn't think I noticed, you sneak—and I'm breaking up with Teddy."

Lucy snorted quietly, but tucked her head under Victoire's and scooted closer. "No you're not."

"Course I am," Victoire slurred, already falling back asleep. Lucy pinched her arm after a minute to check and Victoire didn't even flinch.

"You always say that," Lucy whispered. "And then he'll do a stupid hair trick or change his nose or look five years old for a minute and you'll call him an idiot and remember why you love him."

Victoire's hand moved over Lucy's mouth in her last gesture before sleep, one of her fingers falling on Lucy's lips, then her arm fell down again. Lucy took Victoire's hand into hers. "He's going to propose tomorrow. Well, later today, really. And you're going to say yes because he's sweet and you like him, never mind that he acts like he's still thirteen." Victoire said nothing back, and Lucy sighed. "You shouldn't be allowed make mistakes like that, but you're going to, anyway, because you're Victoire Weasley and he's Teddy Lupin, and you're made for each other according to half the world, and you're just going through a three year long rough patch."

She pulled on each of Victoire's fingers until she reached her empty ring finger. She felt like a chocolate frog was inside her throat, scrambling to get out, and she pushed back a sob and let go of Victoire's hand.

"I'm on the half that doesn't want you to be meant for him," she confessed. "You're my best friend, my favorite cousin, my secret crush. Except crush is such a weak word, and I barely want to let it describe you—you're too amazing to be someone's crush. Not that you know. You're a bit oblivious.

"I'm not a Metamorphmagus. I'm not a stupid idiot, or a guy, or cuddly and lovable. But you could still love me, you know. If you wanted to. I wouldn't be against it." Victoire said nothing, of course, and Lucy finally closed her eyes and let herself enjoy the night. Victoire's body was warm against her side, and if she pushed her imagination a little, she could pretend they were lovers instead of platonic best friends.

When Lucy woke up, her arm immediately went to the spot next to her, feeling the cold sheets and empty space. Victoire was gone, back to her ice cream shop, and in about twelve hours, back to Teddy. The blanket she kept for Victoire on these nights (as they were both guilty blanket hogs) was stretched over Lucy's body, and Lucy smiled at Victoire's caring. If she leaned her head in, she might still catch a whiff of Victoire's perfume, but Lucy convinced herself not to. She refused to pine over Victoire that way, and besides, she was probably already late for work.

Work, yes.

Lucy lay stretched out on her bed for another half hour before lazily throwing on her work robes and Flooing to St. Mungo's. As expected, Madam Fink, the Healer apprentice supervisor, had no patience for her arrival time. "My office now, Weasley!"

Lucy sat in one of the armchairs—which were far more comfortable than the ones in the apprentice lounge, even though Fink constantly went on about limited budget spending—while Madam Fink paced the room.

"You are a detriment to our Healing program. The weak link. A menace to our patients!"

Lucy nodded. "The poor patients."

"The poor patients! Who depend on you to do your job and help them through their dark days, and you— You disrespect them, and every one of our Healers, by coming in three hours late!"

Lucy nodded again. "Three and a half, even."

"Three and a half! You may think you're some sort of magical genius with your swishy-wishy musical healing—something that hasn't been proved and likely never will, why you're wasting the department's time I don't know—" Lucy's hands tightened into fists, but she didn't argue "—but while you still answer to me, you will come in on time for every one of your shifts. Do you understand me, Apprentice Weasley?"

Lucy kept her head bowed with apparent shame. "I understand. It won't happen again."

"Good." Madam Fink finally stopped pacing and sat down behind her desk. "You may go. Apprentice Fred Weasley is doing your rounds today, and you may check on Ticathy Timmons in Potions and Plant Poisoning now."

Lucy kept her head bowed until she left Madam Fink's office, when she finally let herself drop the guilty facade. She wanted to be a medical magic researcher one day, not a Healer, but she couldn't become a researcher until she finished six years of medical training and proved her worth in spell creation. She was two years off from finishing her training, but with a little luck, she hoped Researcher Martin would accept her application early. He already had a soft spot for her, and she knew she could prove that musical magic did exist.

Sometimes she wished she were more like Victoire, who had her life figured out already. Straight after finishing Hogwarts, Victoire had bought the old Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor building, which had been partially converted into a shoe shop, a pet store, and a residential home, all by different owners, in the years following the Second Wizarding War. People said the building was unlucky, and haunted by the angry Fortescue to boot. But with a little help from Uncle George and the very real, very nice ghost of Florean Fortescue, Victoire had made it an ice-cream parlor again.

Victoire also didn't have to deal with irritating hospital patients, unlike Fred Weasley, who was currently arguing with Patient Ticathy Timmons in room 3 of St. Mungo's Triple-P ward.

"You don't actually have a case of Dragon Blood Poisoning, madam," he said, shaking the chart in her direction. "You may have ingested the blood by accident, but it was too little to damage your intestines. If you could please excuse me—" He paused when he noticed Lucy swing her head into the room. "—and look, the future youngest Healer in over a century is coming by! She can confirm everything I say!" Mumbling under his breath, he also added, "And you can finally shut up."

Lucy scowled at him, but accepted the chart to glance over it. "You're fine. You'll live. Now please empty the room for someone who actually needs care." She left the room, leaving Fred to deal with Patient Timmons' spluttering, and instead headed to the ninth floor break room. It was near the second coma ward, a ward reserved for people with a limited number of visitors, and had the convenience of being little visited by full-time Healers, as the coma patients rarely needed full-time Healer attention. Why the administration put a break room that floor, she had no idea, but she loved it.

Fred joined her only a few minutes later, grabbing an energy potion from the corner cupboard like his life depended on it and dropping down on a plushy couch. He downed it noisily, finishing with a burp and a, "How's life been treating you?"

Lucy shrugged. "I'm showing my research to Martin today. It's as finished as it'd going to get with me wasting so much time at the hospital."

"Are you sure? Is it good enough to impress him?" Fred offered her a milder energy potion, but Lucy shook her head. She'd gotten adequate sleep (Victoire's warm, unfortunately clothed body flashed in her mind) and didn't want to be hyped up for her presentation.

"I'm sick of this." She threw her arms out in emphasis. "All of this. I've been here for four years working my arse off at a job I hate, with the same stupid patients bugging me every damn day. I want to know once and for all if he'll take me on as his trainee. If he won't, I'll quit. I hate this. I love medical research, but I'm not Healer material. I want to be able to tinker with spells to my heart's content, not listen to whiny patients."

"But your great bedside manner will be wasted on your spells," Fred joked. He didn't look at all cowed by her glare, but being her friend for almost two decades decade had probably gotten him acclimatized. "Or maybe you'll spend it on Vivacious Victoire instead. How's it going on that front for you?"

"What do you think?" Lucy drawled. "She's getting engaged today."

"Maybe you'd attract her better with an improved bedside manner. You know: go to her room in the middle of the night, give her a nudge, tell her you can't sleep, cuddle up beside her, snog her while a recording spell is active in the background so I don't miss a single moment of it..."

"Fuck off, Fred," she grumbled, and he moved closer to her and put an arm around her shoulders.

"Sorry, sorry. But you could do something at least. Win her over, seduce her, anything. That or move on already." He kneaded her shoulders while Lucy considered all the reasons his advice wouldn't work.

"For one, she's straight. Two, did you hear that part about how she's dating Teddy?"

Fred shook his head. "You mean Teddy's dating her. Everyone knows he's mad about her, and she's fond enough of him to let their relationship stretch for a year, then break up with him. Then she dates some guy, Teddy woos her with a big romantic gesture, and they have another go at it. She's a—"

"I will happily kick you where it hurts if you insult my best friend."

Fred put his hands up in apology, and Lucy thought about his advice for a moment.

"I could buy her flowers," Lucy thought aloud.

"To congratulate her on her engagement?" His disbelief was audible.

"Yeah. It's the friendly thing to do."

When she got home at eight after a hard day of avoiding work (and the nerve-wracking event of giving Martin her research, which wasn't quite a part of her soul but felt like it), the apartment was empty. She checked Victoire's room just in case and lingered for a moment, knowing it might be one of the last times she'd be in it. Teddy had wanted Victoire to move in with him for a while, and now that they were engaged, she might finally agree. No more would Lucy have her best friend and love only a shout away.

She picked up a bouquet and Apparated to Diagon Alley, taking care not to let anyone bump into her and ruin the flowers. They were a bouquet of spring daffodils, Victoire's favorite kind of flower. Unable to keep the thought from her head, Lucy wondered what kind of bouquet Victoire would have at her wedding. It was like an exercise in torture, thinking of Victoire and Teddy bound together for the rest of their lives, buying a house close to the Burrow, having children, making love.

Lucy pushed those thoughts away. It was Saturday, and unless Victoire went back to Teddy's for engagement sex, she would have gone back to Florean's to clean up. Maybe Lucy would catch her there, and give her the flowers, and Victoire's breath would catch, and she'd realize she loved Lucy. Or maybe Lucy would win the Daily Prophet's lottery without even entering.

Inside, Victoire sat behind the counter eating a triple-scoop raspberry ice-cream cone. Lucy sat down on one of the stools and waited for Victoire to look up. When she did, Lucy smiled and handed her the bouquet. "These are for you."

Victoire raised an eyebrow and put the flowers beside her. "You knew about tonight and didn't tell me?"

Lucy didn't meet Victoire's eyes. "Teddy had everything planned out." Their entire extended family knew about it, if she were honest.

"So it wasn't just some impromptu proposal." Victoire stared at her hand for a moment, then shook her head. "It doesn't matter."

"Congratulations?" Lucy said, awkwardly patting Victoire's hand. Noticing Victoire didn't have a ring, she wondered if Teddy was stupid enough to propose without one. He'd been planning the day for weeks; surely he couldn't have forgotten the most important part?

"I said no," Victoire admitted. "What's wrong with me? We've been dating for seven years, if off and on, and I said no. We could've made it work."

"You were going to break up with him this morning," Lucy prodded.

"I don't have much choice in it anymore... What am I doing with my life? Look at me... I'm twenty-four, I'm single, an owner of an ice-cream parlor... I'm an old hag with an ice-cream belly."

Lucy's heart broke to see Victoire so sad. "You're not an old hag, you're beautiful."

"Thanks, Lucy. I guess Teddy and I weren't as in love as we thought we were. I guess I'm a bit relieved, to be honest. Things haven't been working out for a long while."

Lucy couldn't tell if Victoire was being honest or convincing herself she was being honest, but it didn't matter. She'd take whatever made Victoire feel better. So she took the flowers from Victoire, made a show of turning around, and put them in her hands again. "Congratulations, Victoire. I'm happy for you."

"You're a bitch." But she was amused and smiling, and Lucy's heart melted.

Victoire was so beautiful, and Lucy was so close, and Victoire was finally unattached, and Lucy had flowers, and so Lucy balled up her courage and reached for her dream, pressing her lips against Victoire's. This close, Victoire smelled like sugar and raspberries and a tad like her favorite lipstick, which she must have wiped off after her disaster of a date.

In the next millisecond, Lucy realized what an idiot she was, kissing Victoire on the day she broke up with her long-term boyfriend, and pulled back.

"Lucy what—" Victoire began, but Lucy didn't let her finish, unable to hear what came next.

"I have to go!" Lucy squeaked out, and Apparated to Fred's place without another word. The last thing she saw was Victoire's shocked expression, and the sight stayed burned in her mind. Fred let her stay over at his house (also his parents', because Fred was a proper apprentice who spent almost all his time at St. Mungo's and would never be able to manage regular meals on his own) without hesitation, seeing her red-rimmed eyes. He gave her a tall glass of firewhiskey and a hug. Uncle George and Aunt Angelina only waggled their eyebrows at her a little, not commenting on how she slept in Fred's room and not in a guest bedroom.

("We're cousins," a younger Lucy had said, citing a perfectly good reason to have a sleepover in Fred's room.

"That's never meant much to wizards," Uncle George had said with a shake of his head and a smile to uncomfortable to be real.

She only realized what he meant when she reached puberty, when her childish crush on her cousin Victoire bloomed into sexual love.)

"It didn't go that badly," Fred said while they lay on his bed, Lucy having finished a second bottle of firewhiskey.

"She's never going to talk to me again. She's going to throw my things out of our apartment. She's going to be traumatized for life and will never be friends with a woman again. It was the worst moment of—"

Fred covered her face with a pillow. An abnormally fluffy one, because Fred was such a picky sleeper. It reminded Lucy of last night, when she fell asleep to the sound of Victoire's breathing, and she felt tears welling up behind her eyes.

"It was the best kiss of my life," she said, and threw the pillow at Fred. It threw far by a half-meter.

Fred snorted and made a face. "Even better than our drunken moment of heaven in seventh year?"

"I thought you promised never to mention that," Lucy whined, cringing at the memory of the kiss. In Lucy and Fred's seventh year, their house had pulled the party of the century after they won the Quidditch Cup, and Lucy and Fred had gotten fabulously, stumblingly drunk. Drunk enough that for a moment, they'd forgotten Lucy was Victoire-sexual and Fred just wasn't interested, and mashed their mouths together in a sloppy parody of a kiss. Fred chipped Lucy's tooth, and Lucy tripped and pushed Fred into a classmate's pot of Devil's Snare. Madam Pomfrey had given them a lecture that burned their ears red and made them forget about romance for the remainder of the year.

Still in bed, Lucy and Fred laughed over stupid kisses and Lucy fell asleep with a lighter heart.

The next morning, Fred woke Lucy up at six by pushing her off his bed. "Rise and shine, little songbird!" he called, laughing at her angry expression. "Don't tell me you've forgotten? You have to bug Martin about your research! He's probably read your paper by now."

Lucy gaped at him and quickly ran her fingers through her hair in an effort to make it neat. "Yes!" She jumped off the floor, pulled on her robes, and vanished before Fred could get another word in.

"He only gets to work by nine," he said to the empty room. Then he shrugged, grinned deviously, and jumped into his family's fireplace with a cry of, "Victoire and Lucy's place!"

But in fact, Researcher Martin was in his office early that day, having never left the office last night. Lucy saw this as a model quality in a boss, but knew Victoire would have other ideas.

Victoire. Wonderful, incredible, Victoire.

Of all Lucy's mistakes, she regretted this one the most.

She cleared her throat. "Researcher Martin? Excuse me..."

The elderly wizard woke up with a jerk. "Lucy! You're here?" He looked toward the window. "Oh, is it morning already?"

Lucy covered her snicker with a nod. "Yes, sir."

He nodded and waved her over to a chair, which she had to empty of a lyre and two violins to sit down. Martin took the time to summon a plate of breakfast through St. Mungo's piping system and dug in.

Lucy sat awkwardly, waiting for him to say something. She didn't know what she'd do if he refused her a research apprenticeship—she couldn't deal with another disappointment so soon after losing her best friend.

Still, Martin said nothing. It was like he'd forgotten she was even there. Lucy cleared her throat again, this time louder to reach him over his chewing.

He peered at her from under his glasses. "What are you still doing here? Off you go, you have a free day. Come to my office tomorrow after nine so Martha can get you fitted for Researcher Apprentice robes, and we'll find out why you're ending up with too many cells."

"You mean you're offering me a job?"

"Yes, yes. You have a magical talent I can't imagine wasting. Now, chop chop!"

Lucy left the room with a wide smile and practically ran to the first floor Floo system. She paused just before throwing the green powder in the fireplace, realizing Victoire probably wouldn't care about her life anymore. Still, she threw it in, yelled, "Victoire and Lucy Weasley's!" and jumped in, hoping she was making the right decision.

Besides, it was only around seven, and Victoire usually got up at half past. Lucy could get enough clean clothes for a week and sneak out without her even knowing.

When Lucy stepped out of the fireplace, she came face to face with Fred, who had been just about to leave.

"Hey, funny coincidence, both of us being here..." He trailed off when Lucy's fingers twitched toward her wand, moving past her quickly and jumping into the fireplace with a running leap.

Lucy turned toward Victoire, who was sitting on the couch. They stared awkwardly at each other until Victoire patted the spot next to her and Lucy sat down.

"Whatever he told you, please ignore it," Lucy pleaded, cringing at what Fred must have said. She couldn't even look Victoire in the face. "He's an idiot."

Victoire chuckled a little. It was the most beautiful thing Lucy had heard all day. Maybe she was forgiven for the kiss? Maybe Victoire had already forgotten it? Maybe she had just written it off as a weird thing Lucy did?

"Did you know your best male friend has fantasies about us? He told me he wanted to be the first person to see us make out and have graphic lesbian sex. I almost hexed his bits off for it," Victoire said.

Lucy put her head in her hands. "I'm so sorry. He should be muffled and leashed. Speaking of that, I'll just go…"

Victoire continued speaking like Lucy hadn't said anything, but put her hand on Lucy's knee to keep her from getting up. "And then I told him that those things were between me and you, Lucy, only."

Lucy dared a look at Victoire's expression, but couldn't tell what she was thinking. "So—"

"He also told me that I should either date you or tell you to move on, because pining after me like this is unhealthy for you."

Lucy felt her heart rate spike. Fred was a dead man walking. "I'm sorry."

Victoire shook her head. "Don't, Lucy. I just need to know how you feel about me."

"I care about you." But that wasn't right, not exactly. If Victoire wanted her to be honest, Lucy needed to tell her the whole truth. "I love you. Romantically, that is. I'm in love with you." And when she said that, her other secrets seemed miniscule, so she let them out, too. "I'm not into guys. I tried dating one in Hogwarts but it was so boring. I liked you back then, too. I wasn't in love with you, even though I think I thought I was. I didn't know you well enough, since you were three years ahead of me. But then I got to know you, and I more or less grew up, and I couldn't help falling for you. You're amazing and kind and beautiful." She could go on, listing everything she loved about Victoire, but she was scared her feelings would turn Victoire away.

"I've dated other girls since then," Lucy continued, "I thought that if I met the right one, I'd overcome my feelings for you. But it never happened. I haven't told anyone but Fred."

"Not your parents?" Victoire asked, breaking her silence.

Lucy shook her head. "I'm not as close to mine as you are to yours. You know how Dad is. He lives in a rulebook and can't deal with anyone who goes against it. I've never been able to talk to him, and Mum's always been too busy with her Unspeakable work. And everyone else… I thought I'd tell them when I met the right girl. But I didn't. I'm not good at dating at all. I'm a workaholic, I put my research above everyone, I don't like to be bothered after work, I'm grouchy, and I can't shut up when I know I should.

"I've ruined everything, haven't I? I didn't tell you about how I felt because I didn't want you to treat me differently, but that's happened anyway. I don't know what to do." Lucy felt too close to crying.

Victoire took Lucy's hands in hers and waited until Lucy looked at her again. "Maybe you should let me catch up."

For a moment, Lucy didn't understand what Victoire meant. Then realization hit her, and she could barely believe her ears. Hope welled up inside her heart and she prayed she hadn't misunderstood Victoire. "But—"

"Look, I've been with Teddy for a long time. Even when I dated other guys, it was still expected I'd come back to him. We were in love six years ago, before it slowly fizzled out. I can barely remember what it feels to be passionately in love with someone, but I know how I feel about you. I love you. You're my best friend. I can barely remember when I haven't loved my adorable tag-along cousin. And whatever you think, I am attracted to girls. So kiss me, Lucy. And let me catch up."

And this time, Lucy pressed her lips against Victoire's expecting ones, curved into a smile instead of a shape of surprise, ready to see where love took them.

Chapter Text

Narcissa doesn't remember the first time she saw Hermione Granger, though she must have seen her sometime, and wisps of fogy memory in the Pensieve of her mind remind her of a blurry image of a girl—Muggle parents, unattractive, unimportant. She must have seen her ten years ago, when Draco still stood a head shorter than her and slept tucked beside his stuffed dragon every night. That day at Station 9¾, they'd been loitering, chatting, hugging and kissing, a degree and a glance away from the Grangers. Waiting until the last minute, until they were forced to part with her son. Lucius took the cooler approach, but it pained him, too. She remembered the Parkinsons' daughter and Zella's child—Zabini, was it now? She assumed Hermione had been there, looking every one of her eleven years.

The first time she meets Hermione, in a formal exchange of names, Narcissa is forty-three and Hermione is twenty. Draco has brought home another girl, she thinks, and the blushing little thing across from her does nothing to prove her wrong. She thinks Hermione is too plain for a daughter-in-law, too uncultured, too fierce.

"A pleasure to meet you," Narcissa says to her, and compliments her robes. The girl is at that age where blushes are still attractive, and it is no different with her, no matter the overly large mob of hair on her head. Narcissa smiles, and wonders absently if Draco makes her blush as much as he should.

"Good to meet you too." Her voice is too brisk, and she directs Draco to his own room with a wave. Draco and Narcissa share a silent moment, and Narcissa kisses the top of his head.

"If you're sure," Narcissa says.

"Granger?" He jerks, an unflattering expression on his face. "Merlin, no."

Narcissa is amused, and Draco heads upstairs, glancing down once and rolling his eyes to make a point. A fine line, Narcissa thinks, and invites the girl to breakfast the next morning when she sees her trying to leave. When she finds out the girl stayed the night, she despairs in Draco ever finding a proper woman, but when they talk, Narcissa finds her sweet enough, like white chocolate and soft petals, like a softly gurgling stream.

Oddly, Narcissa likes the companionship, and Hermione must too, because she relaxes at some point, and eats with less fervor. If she tries, she could almost pass for a mannered woman, Narcissa muses.

They share breakfast and small talk and a single blushing compliment.

Hermione says, "I think you're the most beautiful person I've ever seen."

Narcissa can't help but tease her. "Of course."

"No, really, you are."

Maybe Hermione thinks Narcissa doesn't believe her, but she does. She was very beautiful, once, and she knows she still is, if more faded and lined. Hermione must have never complimented a woman, because she does it with the perpetual embarrassment that young women must all grow out of one day. Or perhaps, she's never complimented the right woman.

The comment pleases Narcissa, and when Hermione is gone and Draco comes downstairs, she only raises her eyebrow. She can see the girl's innocent appeal, now.

Draco just snorts. "She slept in a guest bed after we stayed up too late working on the Fortescue case."

Narcissa takes his words for truth. She's a little disappointed, at what she can't tell. Later, she thinks she might have wanted Draco to feel the same indulgent amusement as she herself felt for Hermione.

The case finishes weeks later, but by then they've shared lunch and dinner, too, and Hermione visits when Draco is gone, and they talk and laugh and flirt. Narcissa finds her heart afloat again, a single marble in a Gobstone ring.

When the girl kisses her, it comes as little surprise; Hermione is slightly young and slightly foolish, despite her intelligence, and Narcissa remembers the havoc a single seductive smile can wreak. She doesn't mind this havoc, so Narcissa kisses back, as is polite, and runs her fingers over Hermione's cheek. She touches soft, pale, pretty skin only a woman would have. Narcissa wants to brush a flower against that skin, to put it in her hair and have her wear it. She'd look as sweet on the outside as on the inside. It would be a lily, the same color as Narcissa's hair.

Hermione is the first to pull back, with a choked cry. "Oh god, you have a husband—I just— I'm so sorry!"

Narcissa soothes her fears, but the girl leaves looking guilty. Narcissa considers telling Lucius. He might be amused with the story, the tale of a young Muggle-born with a crush on a pureblood lady. It feels sour on her tongue, and Narcissa knows it's not the truth. Not the full truth, not the only truth.

"I've broken up with Ron," Hermione says later, looking at Narcissa with those brown eyes she'd let herself fall into, if she could.

"Are you interested in my son?" Narcissa asks. It's the only reason she can think of, that Hermione would tell her something so important, so soon. Except maybe—

"No. I'm... I'm interested in you."

Narcissa smiles and pulls Hermione closer and wonders if she could pull back time far enough that no one would get hurt, that she wouldn't have to leave Hermione brokenhearted. Hermione isn't truly interested in her—she's much too young to know love. She's interested in women and interested in beauty, and Narcissa has both in spades. But Narcissa remembers the pain of first loves, and she still wants to shield Hermione from the world.

The second time, it is Narcissa who kisses Hermione, and it is Narcissa who tells Lucius later that night. He laughs. He's hardly so insecure to think she might leave him for a woman. A man, perhaps, one forceful enough to convince her to leave.

But later that week, he says, "I think we should divorce," and sounds like he means it. She grows still for a moment, then relaxes.

"Is it that pretty young thing you're seeing on the side?" Narcissa's smile is more a smirk, but Lucius doesn't laugh.

"I'm always going to be a former Death Eater, no matter what I do. You're the woman who saved Harry Potter. You could do better than me."

Lucius has been very charitable lately, and Narcissa is amused it's spread into their marriage.

She declines his offer without a second thought, and he accepts it without surprise. What would she do it she were unmarried? She's a beautiful wife and a caring mother, but she isn't interested in any more children, and her beauty will fade in another few decades. She could remarry, but to whom? Besides, her heart's been caught by a too-young bushy-haired girl, who is as likely to break her heart as keep it.

Maybe she will write a romance novel, a guide to the dating world for young women. Rule one: never fall in love. It gets stale, old, withered. But that hope, that this time she'll fall in love forever, never fades, and she dreams of brown hair instead of blond.

The next time Lucius proposes divorce, it is not in jest.

"How much younger than me is she?" Narcissa asks. She hasn't seen Lucius in those robes in seven years. They bring out his eyes so well.

"How much younger is yours?"

Narcissa thinks of Hermione, who visits every day, and smiles.

Their divorce is an easy thing: Narcissa leaves with everything she came with and more. Her part of the Black fortune, a part of the Malfoy vault for her troubles, the antiques she put on display in their manor. She retires to the country, to a Black house gone unvisited for decades upon decades, one untouched by either war.

She kisses him one last time, soft and loveless, and pulls away before Lucius can. He's uncomfortable, nervous, and she leaves with the knowledge that he will be happy with his new wife. She sees Draco on the way to the Floo. He hugs her and whispers, "Granger loves you," in her ear. And the hard line of his mouth tells her just what he thinks of Lucius' new woman by comparison. Narcissa doesn't smile, but it's a close thing.

She leaves the Malfoy Manor, and knows that by now, her house-elves have cleaned the Black home and filled it with everything she needs, including a Hermione Granger sitting in her study.

Love is a Muggle-born idea, Narcissa's mother always said. Narcissa thinks she's right.

Chapter Text

Late into the night, the snow fell and fell. But warmth rose inside Hogwarts castle with every log thrown in a fireplace, every warming charm cast, every hit of a boot against marble floors. Every brush of skin in fast-paced dance, a human echo of the resonating rhythm of kettle drums and lyras, beckoned sweat, heating the room to a more than comfortable temperature.

The event was a joyous Carmentalia celebration, one that brought together parents and students and teachers alike in early January to honor Carmenta, the most famous Seer of ancient times, and her disciples, the Camenae, witches of divination and prophecy. Some said that modern day Seers descended from the Camenae, and some, in whisper, said that Rowena Ravenclaw was descended from the Great One herself.

But now, everyone danced, welcoming the future and the opportunities that lay ahead, the crops that would prosper in the coming spring and the knowledge they would receive from Hogwarts. Avid dancing filled the Great Hall. In the hands of adults, mead passed palms as quickly as firewhiskey, and blood warmed cheeks and spirits.

Behind the teacher's table played a group of traveling musicians, having come north from the magical communities of the Arabian peninsula to Hogwarts to play at Hogwarts' own Carmentalia celebration. They played to the enjoyment of the parents and teachers while a bard entertained the youth in a neighboring room, telling stories of magical carpets and jinns who granted every wish.

"Even the powers of a Seer?" a young apprentice asked, looking longingly at the steady wooden door that led to the Great Hall. Muted sounds of music and laughter, heard even through thick walls of stone, beckoned him to join in the celebration, but his teachers had drawn an age line to enter, and he was two years too young.

"Of course," the bard answered. "A jinn can give you anything, except maybe love. Love is one thing we all have to strive for on our own."

The apprentice leaned closer, and cautiously looked both ways in case someone was listening in. It would do no good to get caught gossiping about one of the founders of Hogwarts, someone who had the power to expel him from the school, but still he asked, "Did Lady Ravenclaw get her powers from a jinn?"

The bard stroked his long beard and wondered. "Likely not, but anything is possible," he answered. "There live no jinn here, and she has likely never visited the Far East, but her ancestors may have... Seers are common as fireflies, but true Seers... They are far more prized. Has she perhaps divulged to you a prophesy?"

Thinking back on his encounters with Lady Ravenclaw, the apprentice shook his head. "She has not. Why would she tell anything to a lowly apprentice such as I? But maybe one day, when I finish my schooling, I can ask her what she Sees ahead of me."

"Perhaps you will not want to know," the bard said, then conceded to telling the group of youngsters another story, one of Aladdin and his lamp, and of his jinn.

In the far corner of the room, a man of middling age snorted, but said nothing lest he offend the bard and be forced to watch the children himself. He let himself out of the room, going through the Great Hall to the highest tower, where he knew he would find the spoken of Seer. She faced away from him, staring out the open window into the snowy expanse of Hogwarts grounds.

"I heard you received your powers from a jinn," he began, closing the door behind him but walking no closer to the lady. "I wonder, then, does this holiday inspire your Sight?"

The woman, Rowena, didn't turn. Instead she looked up to the heavens, letting snowflakes fall and melt on her face. "I See what I have always Seen, Godric," she said simply, speaking of an old argument between them.

Instead of a horse's length between them, it felt like the entire Black Lake had come between them, and Godric grit his teeth in annoyance. Rowena was on the other shore, alone in her delusions. "Paranoid woman," he said, "will you quit your hysteria?

His voice was angry, but Rowena didn't flinch, and calmly spoke, "I will never. There is something wrong with our school, Godric. There is an evil presence inside it. I wonder, is it you?"

His hands clenched, nails digging into his skin. "You will go so far as accuse me of—"

"I will." Her voice was sharp, as cutting as the winds that blew inside the open tower window. "I know it's there because I See. I See it attack, I See it kill our precious students, and I See a monster more fiendish than itself control it." She lost her voice for a moment, overtaken by visions of a boy hardly older than an apprentice, dark-haired and mad, a thirst for power inside him deeper than any well. "I have searched the castle for months and found nothing, but I will search for years if I must."

"You would better spend your time educating the youth than frequenting your fantasies. Salazar's castle is safe. Do you not love me? Do you not remember my vow to protect you, and our shared vows to protect Hogwarts? There will be no deaths at Hogwarts."

"I love you, husband." She turned away from the cold and took his hand in hers. "But I will not abide by your guidance on this. Speak with Salazar, and our issue will end. He confides in you in everything. I believe he may confide in you in this."

"I will. A husband and wife are not meant to fight. Come, dance with me."

Godric led Rowena to the Great Hall again, and they danced alongside their peers in the comfort that warmth provided. Twelve fireplaces and countless warming charms heated the Great Hall, until the cold outside was forgotten by all except for one. Despite Godric's assurances, Rowena Ravenclaw felt the cold deep in her heart, and each snowflake that fell outside carried the wide, terrified eyes of a student staring at death itself.

Down below, the Basilisk slept.

Chapter Text

Most days, Ron loved being an Auror. It was a job of balances: cases and paperwork, action and boredom, stakeouts and chases. Good days counteracted the bad, and no matter how bad it got, he always felt he was making a difference in the world. Had anyone asked Ron Weasley if he loved being an Auror, he would have replied with a resolute "Yes!" But there was no real need to ask him, since his enjoyment was noticeable almost every day at the Ministry offices.

By age twenty-six, Ronald Weasley had worked in the Auror Department for eight years, having climbed up the ranks from Trainee to Senior Auror. For someone who had followed his best friend into a career field looking for glory and adventure, he had settled into a relaxed enjoyment by his sixth year as an Auror. He was no longer the bright-eyed young man with a grudge against the world, but he related to the child he'd been easily enough.

Ron flipped the lock on his door with an easy wave of his wand, and took out his pocket-sized PortaFloo (Our mini-fireplaces will connect you to the Floo network instantly! Only Floo calls can be made, not actual transportation. See our warranty information and safety precautions below) and called up Hermione. The time was around one-thirty, so she must have already returned from brunch with Percy's wife, Audrey.

"Well?" he asked with a grin when Hermione finally answered his call.

She huffed and he knew she was rolling her eyes. "Honestly, Ron. This bet of yours is sexist, idiotic and—"

"You were there when we made it. Come on, is she? I'll renew the housekeeping charms from now 'til forever if you tell me."

Given that renewing the housekeeping charms took up an hour every Sunday, Hermione quickly said, "Audrey isn't pregnant yet."

Ron cast a Muffling Charm around his chair so that he didn't distract Harry in his office next door and loudly pronounced, "We did it! Haha, Percy's the loser."

"How old are you again?" Hermione asked, but her voice was amused.

"Percy's the last one to have kids!"

The bet itself was over a decade old, made just before Harry and Ginny's wedding, when all of Arthur and Molly's children were under the same roof again for a few days. Bored of cleaning and wedding preparations, the boys (plus Ginny and a reluctant Hermione) had bet on which of them would have children last.

Charlie was, arguably, the first of them to have children, if one counted his dragonets. He surely acted like they were his own children. The rest of them were just waiting for the perfect someone or the perfect moment.

Now, over half a decade after they made the bet, Bill had two children (petit little blonde monsters, as Ron called them). Harry and Ginny had Teddy and James and a little bun in the oven that Ron was trying to convince him not to name after Snape. George had Fred. Fred was disqualified from the bet (even though his rather loud and overly opinionated portrait had lots of ideas for how he could still continue). Ron's Hermione was one month pregnant. And best of all, Percy's wife was not yet pregnant. Ron had even asked Hermione to check with her just in case they were hiding a pregnancy.

Percy was the official loser, and now owed one favor to each of his brothers. Ron had a ton of ideas for what his favor would be, starting with doing his housekeeping charms.

"Really, Ron?"

"I love you, Hermione, but we did it! Team Weasley-Granger got pregnant faster than him!"

Even from behind his Muffling Charm, he heard the Head Auror's assistant's whiny voice ("Isn't Weasley a bit overqualified for this?"), so he said his goodbyes to Hermione, disabled the charm, slid the PortaFloo into his pocket, and unlocked the door. He wasn't breaking any rules, per se, by making a personal call while working overtime, especially since it was his day off, but it was still frowned upon.

His assignment, which the Head Auror gave to him with cheerful grin (Ron bet the Head Auror didn't have a spouse he could and should be home with right now) and a written piece, made him frown. Nick was right for once: Ron was too overqualified for this assignment. The restriction that the Auror assigned could not have previously time-traveled limited a few of the rookies, but there were still several who could do it. Roberts didn't have to call a Senior Auror out of his home for this.

Which meant one thing: Politics. Bugger it all.

Ron slid the paper inside his robes and headed off to the Auror Department's Floo section. He made a brief stop, dropping in on a tired Harry, who told him with no exaggeration that criminals should have red bows to identify them.

"Been working too hard, mate?" Ron asked, though the circles around Harry's sleepless eyes spoke for themselves. He left Harry's office and soon stepped out of the Floo network at the Hogsmeade Auror liaison office, from where he walked to Hogwarts.

The cool September air felt refreshing and helped him think. Hogwarts had called in the Aurors. Rare, but not unheard of. Hogwarts needed an Auror who hadn't time-traveled to retrieve an object. The Aurors sent Ron Weasley, who was overqualified. What else did he know? Harry was busy. Roberts hadn't looked stressed. Easy job. Headmistress McGonagall liked Ron well enough after trying to keep him, Harry, and Hermione in line for six years. But McGonagall probably had a good relationship with her other graduates, though not as good of one as she had with them. Why was Ron in particular sent? A family connection?

He was glad to walk inside Hogwarts with no problems, given the overpowered security charms that Hogwarts had taken on after the war, and traveled to the Headmistress' office without seeing any students in the hallways. The gargoyles guarding the Headmistress' office sprung out of his way before he was forced to guess passwords.

"Headmistress McGonagall," Ron said, stretching out his hand.

She took it. "Minerva, please, Mr. Weasley. I think you're quite old enough to call me by my first name," she said with a not-quite-smile and a wave to the seat in front of her desk. Behind Ron, Dumbledore's portrait gave an obviously faked cough, and Minerva offered a bowl of sweets to Ron with a certain look toward the portrait. "Would you like a lemon drop?"

"Thanks, I'll have one. And you might as well call me Ron."

They exchanged polite small talk for a while, until finally they reached the reason the Headmistress had called the Aurors in for.

"We've had a theft," Minerva began, sounding troubled. "The Department of Mysteries sent a prototype of their latest time-travel project to Filius, as he's a Charms Master and one of the charms on the device was causing the device to work improperly. It was stolen from his office last week. We believe it was the newest Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Aurelian Audeley, who stole it, as there were too many enchantments for a student to have gotten to it. Also, Filius had mentioned his project at the staff table a few times, in listening distance of Aurelian." She went on to describe how they hadn't thought it was really him, at first, because Audeley was sweet, good with kids, loved cats, etcetera, but they had gotten suspicious when he handed in his resignation so early.

Ron bit back the urge to say, "Last week? And you're only calling us in now?" Audeley could have been halfway across the globe by now, an imposter in his place.

Hogwarts had always dealt with its own problems, seeing itself separate from the bureaucratic British Ministry. Like with the problem of the Basilisk in the dungeons and the skeletons in its professor's closets, Hogwarts protected its secrets. With a Ministry-trained Auror's hindsight, Ron adamantly believed that Dumbledore should've gotten the Aurors involved in many of the school's problems. Though, back then, the Auror department had been too loyal to Fudge and filled with incompetents and corrupts.

"What is the device supposed to do, Minerva?" he asked instead, testing out the name. She had told him to call her Minerva a few times before, but Ron had always gotten away with not referring to her by anything. It had always felt too weird. The name felt awkward on his tongue, but he thought he might get used to it if given enough practice. "And what would it do if he were to activate it now?"

"It is supposed to take someone farther back in time than a Time-Turner, though the traveler is pulled back after an hour of being in the past. But with the defective charms, it may permanently send the traveler to the past or cause some sort of paradox."

"A longer Time-Turner? Do we really need them?" Ron asked, shaking his head. He understood the curiosity of going to the past, but what good was it to spend thousands of Galleons on the development of a device that was next to useless? The future was many times more important than the past. "I'll talk to him."

"Thank you, Ron."

Ron then went on to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, enjoying being in Hogwarts again. He hadn't been here since the spring of the Final Battle, when he had stayed behind to clean up. After that, he rarely thought of Hogwarts, since thinking of it made him remember all who had died there. But in bright sunlight and with a few more years behind him, Ron enjoyed the visit.

Though, it was interesting that Flitwick had received something from the Department of Mysteries. Usually, they kept to themselves, but the Aurors had a five to two odds bet that Flitwick was an Unspeakable on his weekends. Unspeakables were notoriously close-mouthed about who they worked with, and what they worked on, and kept no written records of their employees. Even codenames were changed twice a month. It was very possible Flitwick was one, though Hermione always called him a conspiracy theorist when he mentioned it.

He waited outside the DADA room for the session to finish and the class to leave. There was no point to ruining a possibly innocent man's reputation by storming into the room, wand out and yelling he was under arrest.

Audeley had a reputation for being a skilled dueler. Ron must have been sent because of that. He was the only Senior Auror available today (the rest were in some backwater country dealing with a new dark wizard cult, or were Harry, who was overworked enough on his current case), and the rookies were too green to take on someone like Audeley. Audeley was also loosely related to the Minister, so it had to be someone who could arrest him quietly.

He ignored the students' curious stares as they exited the classroom, and waved to the few first years he recognized as his friends' children before stepping into the room.

The man Ron presumed was Audeley sat at the far end of the room, behind a large wooden desk on a podium raised about twenty centimeters from the floor. A large window rested behind the desk, but it likely wouldn't open unless spelled to break. Ron cast a charm to enforce it just in case Audeley tried to make a run for it. He kept his wand at his side in case he needed it. When he was about a meter from the desk, Ron cleared his throat to alert the professor.

Audeley glanced up from his papers, and quickly stood up to shake Ron's hand, the pretentious beret he wore almost falling off his head. "Hello, what can I do for you?"

"My name is Auror Weasley, and my department has reason to believe that you—"

Before Ron could finish, Audeley raised his wand at Ron and a streak of purple flames shot at him. He dodged behind a row of desks. Dolohov's Curse, he recognized. Audeley wasn't starting out small. Ron shot a Confundus Charm at him while strengthening the automatic Shielding Charm on his robes. It wouldn't stop an Unforgivable Curse, but Audeley didn't seem like the type to use them so soon in battle, not when they would summon every other teacher in the castle to the room.

He jumped up and towards his opponent, yelling out, "Expeliarmus!" before Audeley finished another incantation. Ron's voiced spell reacting more powerfully than a silent one, working before Audeley finished another spell. Audeley's wand flew to Ron's side of the room, a few feet away from where he stood.

His wand pointed on Audeley, Ron said, "Hands up, and don't you dare move. Where's Flitwick's Time-Turner?"

Audeley dropped his eyes toward his right pocket, and Ron told him to take it out, still moving closer with his wand pointed at Audeley's head. He stopped with his wand a few centimeters from Audeley's nose while Audeley was in the process of taking out the box.

"Now!" Audeley suddenly yelled, and Ron felt sharp teeth dig into his left calf. He kicked the animal away, but that moment of distraction was all Audeley needed to make a grab for Ron's wand. He failed, but they both flew down to the floor, Audeley on top of Ron. Ron overturned them to the left, away from the desk and off of the incline, and the added drop caused Audeley to lose his breath. Ron thought he heard something crack, but he couldn't be sure.

Ron finally pinned Audeley with his wand under his throat. He jabbed at Audeley's side, feeling for the box, but didn't find it. "Right. As I was saying, I'm looking for the box. Don't bother trying to deny you have it, since trying to fight me makes it pretty obvious you're guilty. Where is it?"

Audeley gulped audibly, breathing in a mouthful of air to calm himself. He looked about to deny it all, but Audeley looked too similar to Draco Malfoy for Ron to give him the benefit of the doubt.

"I'll tell you everything just don't—Expelliarmus!"

"Fuck," Ron cursed as the spell pushed him backward into a bookshelf, a few books and nicknacks falling down. No one told him Audeley could do wandless magic, let alone something as complex as a strong wandless Disarming Charm. But Audeley wasn't fit, nor a sports player, and his reflexes were too slow to catch Ron's wand, which fell at his feet. Ron was about to grab it back, but Audeley picked it up first, and pointed it at the beret he'd grabbed from his head.

Slowly, the beret transformed more into a box-like shape with every Latin word Audeley murmured, the string of words going above Ron's head in meaning. All he knew was that he had to get that box before Audeley activated it and time-traveled away. He used Audeley's distraction to grab his hand, the one with Ron's wand, and point it upwards. He had his other hand on the box when it suddenly started to burn, a wave of fire spreading from his fingers, still curled around the box, up to his head. Audeley dropped it, but Ron couldn't when he tried—the pain kept his fingers from moving. He felt stuck and panicked.

As he lost consciousness in front of a screaming, angry DADA professor, Ron's last thought was that he should've chanced Audeley's reputation and stormed in when the children were in class.

His next thought, when he awoke with a groan, a sore shoulder, and a yet-to-fade heat in his body, was that Hermione was going to kill him for getting hurt on the job again. He felt grass and dirt under his body, and he wondered absently if Audeley pushed him out the window. But he wasn't in enough pain for that, even if he did feel pretty miserable.

He didn't have to open his eyes to imagine Hermione. She would be all, "Ronald Weasley, you are an idiot of unknown proportions. What were you thinking, wrestling for a dangerous device with a dangerous criminal? God help me, if you were—"

He loved her when she was angry. Beautiful, frizzy hair, hands akimbo, saying,

"—a drunkard because Mum says drunkards are bad and—"

Ron sat up suddenly, because he knew the general pitch of most of the people in his life, and that wasn't one of them. Nearby strangers had the bad habit of being accomplices to the crime in cases of kidnapping. But looking around, he realized he hadn't been kidnapped. He wasn't on Hogwarts grounds or near Hogsmeade, but he also didn't feel any anti-Apparition wards. Not that Ron felt steady enough to Apparate yet, but he was glad it was an option.

Had Audeley panicked and dragged him off somewhere? He was going to have a serious talk with Professor McGonagall about her staff choices for the DADA post. The curse on the title had faded when You-Know-Who died, but the professors who took the job were almost as bad as they'd been when Ron had been in school.

He was in a shaded, tree-filled area, though farther down the path in front of him he saw the outline of a large building and heard loud children's voices. It was a school, possibly one of the pre-Hogwarts schools that had appeared in the last decade following magical Britain's educational reforms. The size of it looked like Madam Mallory's School for Young Magicians, but the children's laughter made it impossible for the school to be right. Madam Mallowy was a harsh headmistress, and such loudness was expressly forbidden.

The young girl, whose voice had woken him out of his daydream (he should check for a concussion, actually), stood about a meter away. She was still talking a mile a minute.

"—but you could be a lost teacher like in the book I read a few weeks ago called—"

She sounded a bit like Hermione, Ron thought with an inward smile. The girl wore a yellow sundress and carried a book, and didn't look at all threatening, which was good because Ron couldn't find his wand. Eventually, she stopped talking and waited for him to say something.

Ron ran a hand over his face (he still had eyebrows, good) and gave the kid his friendliest smile. "Could you tell me where I am?"

The girl narrowed her eyes and clutched her book tighter, a child's defense mechanism. "Billingshurst Primary School. Are you lost?"

"Kind of. Where exactly is that?"

"Billingshurst."

"That's in England." It didn't come out much like a statement. He got to his feet, brushing spots of dirt off his robes as he got up.

"Yes." Now the girl looked more curious than nervous. "You're lost. You're not old enough to have memory problems yet."

Ron frowned. "That's a bit rude. How old are you, anyway?"

"I'm six years and eleven months old. It's the first day of school."

Too young to help him, Ron decided, and not a witch (or a Muggle-born, if she was one), so her parents couldn't help him, either.

"What are you doing out here? Shouldn't you be playing with the other kids?"

"Books are more interesting," she said.

"Go play with the other kids," he said in an effort to make her leave. He needed to search the area for signs of Audeley. "Make friends, stuff like that." What did little kids do, anyway, other than cry and whine for candy? "You can't read a book every hour of your life." Well, Hermione could, but she was a whole other story. Besides, she had Ron and Harry to pull her away from her texts when they felt she needed some air.

"Yes I can," she replied in the staunch voice only a misguided child could pull off.

Well, if she was going to go that route... "I bet you can't make friends."

"I can do that, too!"

"Prove it to me, then. Make a friend. I promise, you'll have fun," Ron cajoled.

Her lip wobbled that little bit, so Ron walked over to lead her back to the school. Noticing her name tag, he added, "So your name's... Hermione!"

Now that he looked closer, she did resemble the eleven-year-old Hermione who Ron barely remembered. Her hair was flatter, but that might have been because of her haircut, or some sort of straightening product. Her front teeth were a bit large, and seemed larger than ever because the rest of her was so small. She probably got teased for them, too.

Ron gulped, and felt something appear in his right robe pocket. He didn't have to check to know it was the box he'd worked so hard to get away from Audeley. Had he really time-traveled? Was he really seeing a younger Hermione Granger?

"Bloody hell," he muttered quietly so that the kid wouldn't hear.

Hermione nodded while Ron searched her face for signs that she was really his future wife. "Yep, that's my name. What's yours?"

He considered giving her a fake name, but "Ron" slipped out before he could stop himself. Cursing himself for possibly creating a paradox, he led her back to the school and watched her look back at him once, then walk over to another little girl sitting on a bench. Ron smiled. He was watching Hermione make her first friend, and it felt like the sweetest thing in the world.

He took the cube out of his robe pocket, studying the ridges and turning it over a few times. He didn't know how it worked, so he really hoped it would automatically take him back. There didn't seem to be any controls or buttons on the thing. Hopefully, it would know how to safely take him back to his own time, even though he was chuffed to see an adorable younger Hermione.

He blinked, and opened his eyes to a room filled with bookshelves after bookshelves of books, and a couch at the very end of the room, where the younger Hermione sat, reading.

Ron sat down beside her, wondering how much time had passed. "Hello, Hermione."

She looked up from her book and gasped, eyes wide and blinking. "It's you! You're the man from the woods! I told Rose you were real!"

"Rose?" he asked. Hermione had put it at the top of their girl baby names list, but Ron hadn't thought the name had significance. It was a nice name. Sweet, short.

"My friend. You said I should make friends, so I did, but when she looked at the woods, she didn't see you. I didn't see you, too. Where did you go?"

"Just...away." Lying to children was always hard, especially when they looked as small and gullible as the mini Hermione.

"You couldn't have gone far, since you're still wearing a dress." That must have made sense in the logic of children, Ron thought. "Or Roman clothing," Hermione continued excitedly. "We're doing Roman stuff at school. Rose and me are painting Rome, but she's a better artist."

"Yeah? What's she like?" he asked.

Apparently, Rosalyn Lewis was amazing. She could draw amazingly, eat biscuits quicker than anyone, and always wore pink. Ron felt odd, hearing everything she said about this girl. Hermione had never told him about her. Was she ashamed of having a Muggle friend? Ron would have loved to meet her, magical or not. Maybe she and Rose had just grown apart. But that name, at the very top of their list, made him wonder.

"Maybe I'll see her next time I see you," Ron said.

"Maybe." She paused for a bit, staring at him. "You look at me strangely."

"What?" Ron said loudly. "No! I'm just dropping by, it's nothing—"

"Shhh!" someone in the library called.

Ron quieted, but continued pleading that Hermione not think he was a pervert. Was she worried that he was some kind of child-snatcher? He hadn't mentally scarred his future wife, had he? If this was even real. McGonagall had said the device needed fixing. This could all be a product of a concussion, or something.

Hermione giggled. "It's not that. You know me, somehow. More than I know you, if that works. When we first met, you didn't mispronounce my name."

Ron didn't know what to say. "I could've—"

"You didn't comment on it, either. You said it easily, and you were surprised, but it wasn't about my odd name."

Ron couldn't decide what to say. Hermione was smart, even as a child. He felt even more amazed, that she'd chosen him over any other guy who could've been interested in her. Even better, they were going to have itty-bitty Hermiones when Hermione gave birth in a few months. He couldn't wait.

Then he felt a small tug, and vanished before he could say goodbye again to Hermione. He appeared in another wooded area, this time, but with the outline of a house nearby.

He didn't see Hermione, so he called her name, and grew worried when no one answered. Hermione was the common element in his travels—where was she now? Did something happen?

"Hermione?" he called again, and heard a noise from a nearby tree. He walked closer, quickening his pace when he realized it was crying that he heard.

Hermione looked about the same, so it couldn't have been long since he last saw her. Less than a year, probably, but she looked so miserable, curled up against a tree, sitting on a patch of grass, crying. Ron hated it when women cried. He didn't know what to do, but he crouched down next to her and stretched his hand toward her shoulder, stopping himself halfway. He didn't know if this Hermione would welcome his comfort, no matter how much he wanted to give it. "Hermione?" he asked. "Are you okay?"

She lifted her head, glaring at him with red-rimmed eyes. "I hate you! You're horrible and I hate you!"

"I'm sorry," Ron automatically said, then patted her shoulder anyway. It shouldn't hurt, knowing a child who barely knew him hated him, but it did. This was Hermione, no matter her age. "What happened?"

"Rose..." she whispered brokenly, crouching into a smaller ball. "Rose... why... I just hate you so much! You made me make friends! I'm never making a friend again! Rose... Rose died and you made me be friends with her!"

Ron wrapped his arms around the girl, and she cried into his shoulder, telling him Muggle words for sickness and cancer that didn't mean anything to him. He wasn't familiar with Muggle diseases, but he knew heartbreak well enough, so he whispered words of comfort until she stopped her hysterical crying. He told her of how she'll make friends one day, and they'll be the best friends she'll ever have, and they will stay with her forever and ever, and never just die on her.

He closed his eyes, thinking of his own Hermione. Did she know he was missing, yet?

When he stopped talking, which by that point had just been a murmured string of "It's okay, it's okay," he noticed she had fallen asleep. He carried her to the nearest house, the one he would visit years into the future when Hermione introduced him to her parents, and lifted her onto a hammock in clear view of the back windows. Her parents would find her soon, but he couldn't afford for them to see him.

Ron stepped back into the woods, took out the box, and whispered, "I want to go home," hoping it would understand. His vision began turning white, and he stared at the little Hermione until she disappeared, wishing his own younger self could care for her as much as he wanted to at the moment.

When he opened his eyes to white, again, he worried he'd gotten stuck somewhere in time, until he turned away from the blank St. Mungo's ceiling to an adult Hermione's sleeping form. Thank Merlin, he thought, and gently poked her awake.

"Ron?" she asked sleepily, then jumped up to wrap her arms around him. "Ron, you idiot! I'm so glad you're okay. You've been in a coma for four days."

Ron hugged her back, still thinking of the small girl he comforted just minutes ago. "Do you remember a man you knew when you were six?" he asked Hermione. "The one you met at school?"

Hermione's eyebrow furrowed. "What does that have to do with—" She stopped, as if remembering something. "His name was Ron. Was he really you?"

"Yeah. Do you remember..."

"Rose," Hermione finished with a sad smile. "My first friend. I was going to tell you, but it was so long ago. I barely remember her. Just the feeling of friendship, then loss. I didn't even remember you until just now."

"If we have a girl, I think Rose might be a good name," Ron said.

"Yes," Hermione agreed. "I think it would be. I'm glad you're back, Ron."

Chapter Text

If one walks about ten meters down Knockturn Alley, turns right on Wrong Street, walks a few meters to the third building on the right, and goes up to the third floor, one will reach apartment number 21. Of course, no one just walks down Knockturn Alley during wartime. Nor does one skip down Knockturn Alley, or sing Christmas songs while doing so, or knock on Death Eater Severus Snape's door. That would be the height of lunacy. But there are certain young women who are lunatic enough to try, and lucky enough to get away with it.

It is the fifth of December when Severus meets such a woman. The date isn't as important as the day of the week, which is Tuesday. It is on Tuesdays that Nott comes to report to Severus on his undercover work, which Severus will then inform the Dark Lord of on Thursday.

He opens the door to the length the chain will give and sees the expected young woman around his age. She's pretty enough to look at, but not beautiful enough to be noticeable: exactly Nott's type. By the lack of confusion on her dreamy face, he assumes she is Nott in Polyjuice. Nott likes to dress up in beautiful women to give Snape some sort of good reputation. Mostly, it makes the neighbors think he calls on prostitutes.

Just staring at a dead Muggle girl's face, because she must be dead for him to use her so conspicuously, makes him want to cringe. He refrains and instead says, "Password?"

After a long moment, she says, "You don't have a Christmas wreath," with obvious confusion, her voice high but soft. She glances at the back of his door again as though she is waiting for it to appear.

"Shut up and give me the password," he replies. "Otherwise I won't let you in."

All she does is shrug. "I have four weeks. I think your door is lonely."

He closes the door, takes the chain off, and opens it fully. He doesn't know if he's going to curse her or let her in, but by that time there is no sight of her. For the next hour, he works on his potions and convinces himself he imagined her, or that the potion fumes finally got to his head. Just in case, he opens the kitchen window and breathes cold winter air.

He closes his eyes, thinks of something other than red eyes and red hair, and opens them again to catch a purple-robed figure entering his apartment complex with a giant wreath. It's twice the size of her head and looks like it would fit better on that half-giant Hagrid's door than his own.

There isn't anything to do but open his front door and wait for her, leaning against the frame. She's puffing when she appears, a splatter of red in her cheeks despite the unbearable cold outside.

Severus thinks she's mad, or Muggle-born. Both are fatal on this side of Diagon Alley. "The Feather-Light Charm didn't occur to you?"

"Christmas is already magical enough." She takes out her wand, and doesn't seem to notice when his own wand whips out and points at her head before hers is fully out. She doesn't pay him or his wand any mind, and instead says, "Haereatis!" while pointing at the wreath. Severus hasn't seen that sort of naiveté in years. It makes every part of him bristle and want to curse her, to teach her that there are bad people in the world she seems to only partly inhabit.

The wreath doesn't stick to the door even when she tries the charm again, but Severus doesn't take pity on her and tell her it will never work. By signing the flat contract and forking over an additional fifty galleons per month for the special clause, Severus gained the right to be the only person to be able to use magic on the things in his flat. That would include the door.

Eventually, the woman gives up, muttering, "Nargles must have gotten to it first."

"You're not Nott," Severus states. They're still outside his flat, in an uncomfortably unsecure area, but he's not inviting her inside unless she proves herself not hostile or gives him the reason why she's here in the first place.

"Not Nott." Her lips quirk. "I'm Luna. I need you to help me with a potion."

He's tired of closing the door on her face, and he also doesn't want her to decide he needs a Christmas tree as well as a wreath, so he just says, "No." The gesture for her to leave doesn't seem to inspire movement. A pity.

"I can't leave if you don't help me," she says sternly, as if to a reluctant child.

Severus bristles at the slight, can't help mentally going through the darker curses in his magical repertoire. The Dark Lord has gotten him used to unleashing his baser impulses, but he reins them in. He can't curse a possibly pureblooded witch in the middle of broad daylight. Instead he asks, "What're you going to do, camp out in the hallway? Go home."

She stands her ground. "I need you to help me first." She steps forward. "Can I come in? It's quite cold out here."

He sighs, rubs his forehead, and against his better judgment lets her in. The wreath she brings inside with her is made out of pine needles and holly leaves and smells like winter. It's sprinkled with cranberries and acorns, and, oddly enough, also with raspberries.

"Sit." He points to the couch. She's obedient enough to move towards it, which he's thankful for. He's enough on the edge that any extra movement on her part could result in him cursing her half-way to Hogwarts. In pieces. He hates having people in his flat.

His living room holds one sofa and a rickety wooden chair. The flat itself is small, with only one bedroom, which he has converted into a laboratory, a bathroom, and an open area that functions as a kitchen and living room. He hates the flat almost as much as he hates his father for not drinking himself to death yet and leaving the house to him.

It makes some sort of odd sense that the woman, Luna, takes the chair. He's learning to expect her to do the opposite of what any sane person would do. Which means that in theory, he should be safe with her in his flat. But he's not that trusting. He leaves his wand in his lap and sits down across from her.

"What kind of potion is it, and why do you expect me to make it?" Severus asks. He expects it to be a dangerous, illegal, or just plain uncommon potion. Not an impossible one.

"I'd like you to finish someone's work on the cure for the hydric plague." She doesn't stop at his scoff, nor at his expression of disbelief. "It's half-finished and the witch who began these notes studied the virus for over twenty years. She was on the verge of a breakthrough when she died. I have a few samples of the disease—" He's about to throw her out, or Banish her somewhere, because one doesn't just bring samples of an extremely deadly virus into another person's home, when she takes out about five magically sealed medical bags. They are safe enough for him to relax, and he is even more assured when she hands them to him without any threats. She continues, "—and I just need you to find out how to make the potion work."

The woman is mad, plain and simple. Severus wonders if she's aware of the utter impossibility of the task. "Would you like Santa to bring you a diamond necklace as well? There's no cure for hydric plague, and there never will be."

"I wouldn't mind a raspberry necklace that doesn't crush the berries but still makes them edible. I tried, a few years ago, and they kept staining my shirt or being eaten by nargles. Raspberries are nargles' favorite food, after all." Her hand reaches into her pocket, and Severus twitches for his wand until he remembers her own is behind her ear. She's the worst kind of idiot for having it there. He knows a dozen curses that could activate her wand with the tip in his sight. He would never let a wand that near his head, not even his own.

Luna takes out a packet of notes and hands it to him. The handwriting is familiar, and he tries to place it while he reads over the notes. The analysis of the disease is the work of a solid Healer, and the potions expertise is remarkable. There are only a few people in the world who could have written this.

"Why is the Healer who wrote this not finishing it?" he asks while reading the list of ingredients. They're all out of his price range, but he assumes she knows she has to pay for them.

"She died last month," Luna replied. "It was very sad, but expected."

"From the disease?"

"Yes." She doesn't give any more information. Severus doesn't need it. That's all anyone without a death wish needs to know to tell her no. He thinks this is why she went to him. Maybe she's heard how reckless he is with his potions, his game of taking a poison before creating an antidote.

He's read enough books to know the effects of hydric plague. It's a curious disease, one of the few that started out as a dark curse until it mutated just enough to spread on its own. One of the nastiest diseases he can think of. The Dark Lord would use it on the Order if he could, but there hasn't been a case of it in decades. Severus wonders if she's aware of what she's given him. One look in her eyes says yes, she is, but before he can ask who she works with—or for—there is a knock on his door.

Severus points her at the bathroom door. "Hide and don't make a sound, or I'll let him kill you." He doesn't check to make sure she followed his instructions before he opens the door to reveal another young woman, this one with Nott's usual sneer of disgust.

"How can you live in such a hovel?" he asks, and pushes Severus aside to enter the flat as he says the password. Today, Nott is a brunette with a nice backside, but Severus is too focused on the minute shuffling coming from his laboratory. Luna either got the two doors confused or had a death wish, apparently.

He listens to Nott's report with his usual apathy, filtering out Nott's whining of how he hates being a girl, even though he gets information much faster that way. Not even the chance to kill Muggles every week cheers him up. Thankfully, he's too dull to notice Severus' preoccupation, and if he does, he probably assumes Severus just wants to go back to his lab. Which he does, desperately. Who knows what that woman could be doing to his precious potions. One wrong breath of air near something and she would have him and the entire building dead.

Nott tells him only one good bit of information: There was a spike of energy near Hogwarts that morning, almost large enough to be noticed by the Muggles. The entire Ministry is abuzz about it, though it's been kept quiet from the public. It's not their lord's work, that's certain, and from what he's eavesdropped as a temp in the Auror Department, it's not the Order's, either. As quickly as Severus thinks that the woman in his lab has something to do with it, he discounts the idea. There's not enough evidence for that kind of wild speculation. Still, it's a hunch that he'll ask her about.

The most interesting part is what he hasn't said. He hasn't mentioned anything concerning a hydric plague attack, nor has he ever in the past. Luna had to have gotten the samples from somewhere, and they must be recent if she still has hope that a Potions Master can help her.

After the usual moaning about Severus' lack of hospitality, Nott leaves through the fireplace for his house, to rest for a day and visit his sons. Severus wonders for a moment how he explains his appearance to his wife each week, or how he explains away why he's gone for most of the week, but it isn't any of his business.

"I pointed to the other door," he says to Luna after inspecting his laboratory for damage. There was one empty table that morning, but now it's covered in potions supplies, medical bags, and a stack of parchment. "What am I being paid for this?" is the only question on his mind. He's decided to do the job, not that she would have given him a choice about turning it down.

"Glory and eternal gratitude," she says as though that is enough to live on. "And fifteen galleons per hour."

That is enough to convince him. She slides into the background as he casts a charm on the notes to read themselves aloud and starts cleaning and sterilizing the ingredients and his workplace.

"The deadline is?"

"Four weeks from three this morning."

Considering that she's given him an almost impossible task, Severus doesn't ask why the time is important, or what she had to do with the magical spike. He's half a day behind already. Not to mention, he's worried enough about the fact that he doesn't have approval from his lord to work on this, but something holds him back from getting permission. Maybe it's sympathy toward the woman, or the moral inability to unleash something that could devastate magical Britain.

That day, she stays until evening, and he has to physically nudge her to get her to leave his flat.

"You'll do it, though, won't you?" she asks worriedly. He nods, and she is airy and happy again. "Don't let the wackspurts distract you!"

She leaves without another glance, and Severus can't help watching her disappear around the corner. She's an odd customer, but she's nice enough, and doesn't poke her nose into his work.

The next day, he wakes up at six and goes to St. Mungo's. The young witch at the main desk directs him to Apprentice Healer Ringhorn, with whom he went to Hogwarts with. She was two years above him in Slytherin House, and properly appreciates the mark on his arm.

Her face goes white when he asks her what she knows of the hydric plague.

"I'm going to Japan next week to study it. They've had an outbreak there, but it's very hush-hush," she answers. "You can't use it. Please don't use it. It would kill everyone."

He takes a sheet of her handwriting and compares it to the writing on Luna's notes. It is the same, yet the one on the notes is smoother, more practiced. He mulls the mystery over at night when he can't sleep and forgets Lily for a while. It is easy to forget Lily when he works, so he works on the Dark Lord's poisons and Luna's cure almost day and night, only stopping to sleep a little and eat a morsel.

Several times, he notices Luna open her mouth to tell him to rest and eat, but she doesn't. He wonders who she's going to lose if he doesn't find the cure. All the samples are from one person, he's noticed. The sad look he sometimes catches as she watches him work confirms it.

Three days into the project, she must start getting bored, because starts knitting while he works.

"You're a hundred years too young for that, and not a complete hag," Severus tells her. "Go play some Quidditch or something. You're what, twenty? Don't you have a job?"

She shrugs. "Not really. Not right now. Gramps would give me a job if I asked, but I don't want to. I want to finish this scarf."

"Why is it so colorful?" he asks eventually, almost unable to look at the mess of yarns at her feet lest they somehow cause him to abandon his all-black wardrobe.

She shows him all the balls of yarn she has: black and yellow, silver and green, red and gold, blue and bronze. She's making a scarf with all the Hogwarts House colors. And she's going to get lynched for it, or worse.

"You're a right idiot," he tells her. He hopes it will stick for once, but it's like she has selective hearing. She's probably too busy listening to nargles and wackspurts instead of to actual people.

"My friend, he went to Durmstrang, and sometimes feels lonely in Britain. I think it'll help him," she explains.

Severus goes back to his potions. Luna rarely mentions her friends, and he doesn't want to think of her having normal friendships, relationships, when she's not at his flat. He wonders what she thinks of him, the lonely potioneer with greasy hair and yellow teeth, whose only visitor comes once a week wearing a different face each time.

He decides to take the fact that she knows of his skill as a sign that she was a Slytherin or a Ravenclaw at Hogwarts, a few years above him, and he just hadn't noticed her. Because otherwise, he might be helping a Gryffindor or Hufflepuff, and therefore indirectly helping the fight against the most powerful wizard in the world, one who would break his mind with pleasure if he got an inkling of something suspicious.

The Dark Lord assumes he's working hard on his poisons, and Severus doesn't correct him. He doesn't know why he's concealing the information. If the Dark Lord finds out and kills Luna for taking up his time, it wouldn't be Severus' fault. He wouldn't even care. He blames his secrecy on delayed teenage rebellion and dismisses the idea that he likes her company.

Seventeen days into the project, he collapses onto his couch and tells her, "It's not going to work. Find another potioneer. A better one." He hates admitting it, but it's true. He's not skilled enough for this. He doubts anyone is skilled enough to find the cure to an incurable disease.

"You'll do it," she assures him calmly from his chair, which she has since transfigured into a more stable one.

"Do you ever listen when someone is talking? I'm saying I can't do it. Wizards have battled the hydric plague for centuries, why would you ever think I could cure it?" His incompetence chaffs his pride, but he won't lead her on. "Your stupidity has probably spread to me. I give up," he spits at her. "Take your notes and your mystery and leave."

She looks up from her knitting, her eyes bug-like in their width, taunting him with the fact that he hasn't figured out who she is yet. "I can't leave yet. You haven't found a cure." She's a broken record that he just can't throw away.

"There are no cases of hydric plague inside Britain," he says, watching her eyes widen. Had she really not expected him to figure it out? "There is an outbreak in Japan, but it's contained and has some of the best Healers in the world trying to heal the survivors. They don't need me."

"No, but there's someone else who needs you." She leans in earnestly, looks into his eyes. "There is an outbreak in Britain. It just hasn't happened yet."

He doesn't speak for a moment, then two. "You're from the future." Just saying something like that makes him feel like a fool.

"I am," she confirms. She doesn't seem to be lying, as far as Severus can tell. He's not a great Legilimens, not yet, but he can tell when most people are.

"If you're from the future, you know who I am," he says slowly. Her face doesn't change. "What I am. Why would you ever think I won't hand you over to the Dark Lord, who will then fry your mind to get information on the future?

"Because it will rip a hole in time and cause everyone who's seen this version of me to go mad." This doesn't seem to bother her, but hardly anything does. "And because I trust you. I didn't trust you, once. I was blind. But the nargles pulled my attention away from the you behind the white mask, and you're not a bad person, once you take it off. You should do it more often."

She's never seen him in a Death Eater mask, he knows that much for sure. But maybe she's seen the future version of him in one.

Once, when he asked her why she loved Christmastime so much, she told him she spent time in a dungeon once during the holidays. "It was very boring," she'd told him without mentioning any names or details, but her tone was strained enough for him to know she didn't mean the Slytherin dungeons. Now, he suddenly hopes to God and to Merlin that it wasn't him who held her there. He can't bring himself to ask.

"Fine," he says, deciding to go along. "Say I believe you. Say you're a time traveler. Why are you here now? I'm bloody nineteen years old."

"Because this is your peak. You're creating potions, making discoveries. It's beautiful. You're at the turning point of your Potions career."

"I'm making poisons, it's not exactly difficult," he spat.

"I'm making a scarf." She held it up as if to show him something he hadn't seen twenty times by now.

"My peak? This isn't my peak, you dumb blonde. A wizard's peak is in his fifties, maybe sixties."

This time, Luna says nothing. She waits for him to understand, and he does. He doesn't want to, Merlin knows how much he doesn't believe it. Potion Masters can peak early if they suffer a personal tragedy. Their creativity stunts, their love for their craft dies. But Severus doesn't care enough about anyone (Lily doesn't care about him anymore, so he sure as hell doesn't care about her) for that to happen.

"Am I going to die? Is that why I peak so early? Tell me, woman!" he yells, but Luna tells him nothing. Her face is a wall of blankness, and he can imagine she's had enough Occlumency practice to shield her mind from him.

On second thought, Severus doesn't want to know. He doesn't want to see his death coming, to quake with fear as the date approaches. He grabs a bottle of amaretto from a shelf. It's not the exact type he and Lily snuck from his father's stores, just once for a taste, but it's familiar enough for comfort, so he evens out his half-filled mug of tea with it. He hears it's still Lily's favorite liquor. Would Lily care if he were to drop dead? He doesn't think so.

He hates Luna for a moment, because she has told him another thing that he'll have to keep secret from his lord, created another path to his death. It's suicide, not telling the Dark Lord what he's doing. It's either his death or her death. He's startled at how much he wants to keep her safe from harm.

"Pumpkin juice is much better for you," Luna says.

"Fuck off." He snarls the words out of habit, but he's not angry anymore. "If I'm going to die, I might as well get a good drink in before I do."

"Everyone dies."

"Not without getting drunk at least once," he says, and hands the bottle to her. She looks it over curiously, reads the label, sloshes the liquid from side to side. Severus summons a mug, because he doesn't have anything fancier, and some ice, and she takes a few sips.

Between the two of them, they drink until their conversation is almost forgotten, and sing Christmas carols until they pass out on the couch. Severus wakes up with a headache, which goes away after a Pepper-Up Potion, and a good mood that he just can't shake. Luna doesn't even need the potion; apparently, she wakes up perky and happy every morning, despite drinking almost as much as Severus did. Severus makes sure to sneer at her for it, but his sneers come out awkward and unthreatening.

They spend Christmas in that happy haze, and exchange odd yarn figures that Luna teaches him to make as presents. Severus doesn't have any knuts to spare for gifts, and Luna's money is only for the potion, so they make do with what they have. It's enough. Not only that—it's the best Christmas Severus has had in years.

Between wanting to set fire on his research materials and hoping Nott doesn't notice that a second person's been visiting his flat often, Severus thinks his current work might be his masterpiece as a potioneer. It's difficult and grating on his patience at the best of times, but every time he takes a small step forward, he feels like he's on top of a cloud, held up by nargles and utter happiness. He wants to shout to the world, "Look, a Slytherin can do good!" He wants to show it all to James Potter, rub it in his face that he's doing better than he is. Most of all, he wants to show it to Lily, to prove that he isn't evil after all.

But he won't, because this research, this cure, won't be needed for many years.

At the same time, he loses his love for making poisons, his appreciation for the fine art of traceless killing. He's still devoted to the Dark Lord's cause, but he stops taking pleasure in his tasks.

The Dark Lord notices.

"Severusss," he says, interrupting Severus' monologue about his newest potion, "You're hiding something from me."

The Dark Lord walks around him, like an animal stalking its prey, his cloak sliding behind him with a slithering sound. Severus' knees are shaking despite the fact that he should be able control them. His body is the one thing he should be able to control. But he can't, because he's so damn scared of death, and even more scared of what will happen to his—his friend, because he has to admit, if only to himself, that he cares about her. His robes cover his tremors, but that doesn't matter when he drops to his knees to beg forgiveness.

He tells his lord a beautiful story about a potioneer in love with a pureblood friend who visits him sometimes, and assures him that it's only infatuation. Severus loves the Dark Lord's cause far more than a stupid woman.

"More than your preciousss Lily?" the Dark Lord asks. Severus wishes desperately that he'd hidden Lily in the depths of his mind when the Dark Lord searched through it on the day of his marking, but there were too many memories of her to hide. It's usually enough for the Dark Lord that he has no contact with her, but not today.

His face touches the floor, so no one sees his expression. "Of course not, my lord."

Later, Dolohov tells him, "The broad is pregnant. Potter's been going on and on about it at work. Man, am I sick of it. Can't stand those always happy types."

The meeting ends an hour later, very late into the night, but Severus Apparates one block over and walks the rest of the way home. The cold wind cures his shakes but does nothing for his misery.

Luna is home when he comes back, and she's starting the Ravenclaw colors on the scarf. He's glad she hasn't started the Gryffindor portion; he doesn't think he could take seeing red and gold tonight.

"How was your meeting?" she asks, as though he was at a civilized office meeting instead of a revolutionary group's.

Severus is about to take out the firewhiskey when she hands him two balls of thread and two Conjured sticks. "These should fit your hand size," she tells him. "This is how you begin a scarf."

Her hands are warm on his own, on which he hadn't worn gloves while walking home. They quickly warm up while she shows him how to knit a scarf and brings his hands through the motions. She sits next to him on the couch. He can't remember the last time someone he cared about was this close to him. Not since Lily. Maybe not since his mother.

"Potter's wife is pregnant," he tells her, missing a stitch as he does. She pokes his hand to make him realize it, but says nothing as she knits beside him. He should be working on his potions, but he's too keyed up for it. Besides, there's something inexplicably relaxing about this. "I was hoping he would never reproduce. There should be a law preventing someone like him from passing on his genes."

There should be something that prevents him from caring for people, too, because he's sick of loving Lily. He'll never stop, he knows that much, but it's hard to love someone deeply when she doesn't even want to see his face. When she's pregnant with another man's child. It shatters a small hope he still had, that maybe if she didn't have children with Potter, she could still one day leave him. It was a nice fantasy.

Finally, he asks the last question that has been bothering him. "Why go through all this trouble to save one person? There's not much of a chance I'll be able to do it by the time you go back to wherever you came from." Neverland, maybe. "My friend's grandfather died from it. If all the money in the Black vaults couldn't save Arcturus, why are you still so hopeful that your friend can be saved? Who are you trying to save?"

This time, it's Luna who has to pause, lest she ruins her stitching. "There was an assisted outbreak of it in Diagon Alley a few months ago. My friend was one of the first Aurors on the scene. They didn't know what it was at first. By the time they figured out they couldn't contain it with curse-containment charms, it had already spread to his entire team. I want to save him because he's amazing. Because he helped so many people. Because I don't want to live in a world that doesn't have him. He's not a saint, or a born martyr, but that makes his goodness so much more amazing. He helped me, a long time ago. Showed me a world where I wasn't odd or friendless. I want to help him like he helped me."

Severus can't help but return to his work the next day. There's something beautiful about Luna's face when she speaks about the people she cares about. Even though he's envious, he can't help being infected by her willingness to help this person. He's going soft, but that'll end in less than a week when she leaves. He doesn't think about that.

Two days before his deadline, he has one packet of the diseased cells and one dose of a modified potion. It would have to be taken over a series of years, but it would theoretically flush the hydric plague out of a person's body. He's confident in the potion, but he hesitates when he's about to dump it into the bag. He has one chance to prove himself.

The potion works perfectly, and he turns to Luna with a triumphant grin. It feels odd on his face, this feeling of elation, but for once he doesn't care.

He holds a stack of parchment out to her. On it are the ingredients, procedure, and dose information to cure the formerly incurable hydric plague. "Your research, madam."

She looks up from her green and silver tie she's making, and gingerly takes the papers. Then there's a flurry of movement and two arms around Severus' neck, holding him tightly against her.

"Thank you," she whispers in his ear. "The sky loses many stars. But you've helped keep one shining."

He doesn't think she's talking about her friend.

She releases him, and her eyes are wet when he looks into them. He turns his head away, unable to look at her.

She takes his hand instead, and presses it to her cheek. "You'll see me again."

He hears what she isn't saying quite clearly: He will see her again, but she'll never see him.

The potion is finished, but she stays with him until she absolutely has to leave. Before she does, she wraps the Slytherin-colored scarf around his neck and tucks the ends into his robes.

"It'll keep you warm. And I spelled charms into it to keep wackspurts away. They shouldn't bother you now."

He can't find words to say what he feels, so he says, "Thank you," and hopes she understands.

Then she's gone, and there's another magical spike near Hogwarts. Severus goes back to working on poisons and kneeling for the Dark Lord. Nothing and everything has changed.

There is no Christmas wreath on the door of Severus' apartment, because wreaths attract too much attention on a street for poor dark wizards and other such unsavory people. Nor is there a stocking over the fireplace or a lit and ornamented tree in the living room. But on the small balcony, there is a bowl of raspberries, left for the nargles and eaten by the birds. Because if there is one thing the owner of this flat wants to believe, it is that there are imaginary creatures who will watch over the well-beings of reckless young women who knock on Death Eaters' doors. Severus thinks that if he were ever to name such beings, he would call them nargles.

Chapter Text

Diary,

My father bought you for me ten years ago, and gave you to me the day before I left for Hogwarts for the first time. He said I might need a place to write down my thoughts if I ever felt overwhelmed at school. Writing was a very calming activity, he said. I didn't want to take you. I'm not much of a writer or a reader, and I was far worse back then. I was rude and petty and was as likely to throw you in the dirt as stuff you in the bottom of my trunk. I was a troublesome child.

You stayed in the bottom of that trunk for seven years. I remembered you, the gift from my distant yet caring father, but never held you or opened you. I preferred Quidditch over literature, swimming in the Black Lake over writing essays. The only time I consented to stay inside was when Professor Flitwick's musical group met. I wasn't the best singer, but I had talent, and Flitwick remarked on how he wished the Wizarding world had a bigger musical scene.

It was Molly who my father understood, the child who he really connected with. He taught her how to write with a fountain pen (they were all the rage with purebloods a few years ago) and then with a traditional quill. At the same time, I rode on the toy broom he reluctantly bought me, and played six-player Quidditch with Louis and the rest of the boys.

I don't regret that time, but I wish now that I stayed behind some days, let him teach me like he wanted to. He wanted to give his girls the attention he rarely had as a child, but his methods could never reach my personality. It was a face-off between him and me, a book against a broom, but he could never bring himself to rein me in. I think he knew I would have bent and broken if he tried to mold my personality.

We rarely got along, except on the quiet days when it rained outside and my friends were busy, when I grabbed a miniature gramophone and settled next to him on the comfiest couch in our home's library. He would put his arm around me and I would curl into his side like a cat, and I would feel so at peace, listening to music next to him. I still do, when I think of his smile and his laughter.

He had his faults. I won't dismiss them. He was emotionally distant sometimes, unable to grasp why I needed him sometimes and wanted him gone other times. He tried to think of Molly and me as little adults so that he could relate to us better, and when that didn't work, he would treat us like children. And children, they were foreign creatures to him, despite having us late in his life, when almost all his brothers already had children.

He had virtues and vices. He was remarkably human, ordinary, a bit boring. Ever since I was young, I'd been disappointed that he wasn't more outgoing or heroic.

Molly was his favored child, but I know he loved me too, even after I flat-out refused to get a stable career in the ministry. He would have gotten a job for me easily, but I didn't want that. I was jobless for a year after Hogwarts, living with a friend and off of his money. We never fought more than we fought that year.

I hated him back then, hated him for everything he represented: stability, conformity, the boredom of middle-aged life.

So I left. I left him and Mom and Molly and disappeared off the face of the earth. I took you, diary, along with the tracking charm attached to you, and spent a month in Muggle London learning to play piano and getting fabulously drunk in bars where no one recognized the Weasley hair. I played football by day and learned music by night.

Dad found me one day in a tiny apartment, drunk out of my mind, crying about the scratch on the side of my piano that its old owners left. It wasn't my best day, and it didn't get better because he had no idea how to comfort a sobbing woman. He wasn't a tactile person. I don't remember who hugged whom, but we hugged for the first time in years and he told me he loved me, that he would always love me, no matter what stupid things I did. That it was okay to just come home already.

I would like to say we renewed our relationship and became close when I came home with him. That didn't happen. We did talk more often, though, and he was the first person I told that I wanted to play the piano professionally in the Muggle world. He didn't approve. He also came to my first performance, bought a stiff drink, and was the first one to clap. That went a long way in showing me he cared. He died only two years later.

I don't have much time. The funeral begins at noon. I don't have any time anymore, not with my father. Nor with you, diary.

A few days ago, I took you out of the back of my closet in my childhood room, blew the dust off of you, and opened you for the first time. Despite everything, I was hopeful Dad may have written something inside, something that would give me peace of mind.

Your cover and pages were blank. Dad was never a sentimental person.

I could promise to write in you every day, my dear diary, and honor my father's memory by doing so. I could, but I won't, because in the end my father accepted that I would never share his love of books and writing. I have a reason to hate books now, anyway. But I will compose a song for him, and when I meet him again one day, I'll play it for him.

It's noon, and I have to go to the funeral. I've missed the morning preparations already. I'll take you with me, though, and slip you into the pocket of his robes, so that a part of me can be there with him.

Goodbye, my diary.

Lucy Weasley

Chapter Text

Dad, before you say anything, you should really know this is all Teddy's fault. I think that if you're going to be angry at anyone, you should be angry at him. He gave me the idea. Inadvertently, anyway. Really, don't look at me like that! I'm coming out to you properly, so you should at least try to listen with an open mind. Please.

Now, where was I? It all began a few months ago when I heard Helvia Hollingberry, Roxanne's girlfriend at the time, say…

.

"I can't believe I ever wanted to date you. You're the most bloody insane person I've ever met, let alone dated. I never want to see you again!" Helvia yelled, stomping down the stairs from the seventh year Hufflepuff girls' dormitory, her head turned backwards so that she could yell some more. All Lily could see of her head was her braided brown hair, swinging from side to side. When Helvia finally turned toward the common room, Lily saw the shock in her blue eyes firsthand. There was a group of at least five angry Hufflepuffs, wands out, glaring at her.

"What the hell was that?" asked Cole Jordan, Roxanne's best friend.

"I don't have to explain myself to you. Any of you," she snarled, glaring at the group. "I'm out of here. We're through."

Cole was about to go after her, but Lily pulled on his sleeve to stop him and ordered, "Go to Roxy. She's more important right now."

Lily watched Cole run upstairs while the group of would-be avengers dissolved, waiting for Roxanne to come downstairs. It was difficult to sit there and just wait, but Lily knew her presence wouldn't be as welcome as Cole's. He would comfort her in his stupid, Cole-ish way, and then Roxanne would come down and Lily would say hello and they would all go to dinner.

She was convinced Cole would help her through the break-up, so she returned to her book and waited. The words swam past her eyes as she wondered why exactly Helvia and Roxanne had broken up. They had been dating for months now, and Lily thought they were pretty serious. Roxanne sure talked about her a lot.

Lily couldn't stand Helvia, but she was admittedly biased.

The clock's hands turned from one in the afternoon to six in the evening, but Roxanne still hadn't come downstairs. Slowly all the Hufflepuffs shuffled off to dinner, but the two Lily wanted to see were absent. Worst of all, Lily couldn't go upstairs to check up on them, as the Hufflepuff stairs wouldn't let a non-Hufflepuff up them.

Biting her lip, Lily decided to resort to desperate measures.

"Anyone still here?" she called. No one answered.

She took her wallet out of her robes, a beautiful snakeskin one her dad got her for her birthday, and took out the pair of Extendable Ears any good Slytherin kept for situations like these. Then, after looking around a second time, she whispered, "Wingardium leviosa!" and pointed her wand at one ear. The other she held in her hand. When the rubbery string between the ears tightened, she whispered, "Extendium!" and put the ear in her hand against her ear.

She immediately wished she hadn't. On the other side of the door, only feet away from the other ear, Roxanne was crying. Not the few tears Lily had seen here and there, the tears she sometimes let out after failing an essay or walking into an invisible door. These were the real tears, the horribly loud ones, where she half-wheezed and choked and spluttered. Lily's heart clenched. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Roxanne, the most composed of her female cousins, was breaking down.

And Lily couldn't do anything to help. She stuffed the Extendable Ears in her pocket and slipped out of the Hufflepuff common room. Walking to the Great Hall, she thought about all the revenge schemes she could plan out for Helvia. To be honest, she didn't want to go to dinner, but she needed to go to see what people were saying about the breakup and control the gossip as best as she could.

"You're late, Potter!" Aurelia Parkinson called, moving aside and patting the seat next to her. A plate automatically appeared, so Lily sat down and prepared to be interrogated. "I bet you have a story."

"I could just be running late," Lily argued, piling up food on her plate.

"But you haven't been running, and I heard that those two lovebirds broke up. Dish."

Lily wrinkled her freckled nose. "Don't be such a gossip monger. I was there. Helvia called Roxanne some horrible things."

"So it was her fault?"

"Of course."

Dad taught her never to lie, but omitting the truth wasn't lying, per se. Besides, one could never be honest in Slytherin House. It was either adapt or be thrown into a pit of poisonous snakes.

That would be a good idea for revenge, Lily decided. Her father would never have to know.

.

I was speaking metaphorically, of course. And a want for revenge is a Slytherin thing. It's practically genetic. I've never actually taken vengeance on anyone, Daddy.

.

Lily waited for Roxanne to go back to being her smiling and cheerful self, but she never did. She stopped going to the library because Helvia was always there, she stopped seeing her friends, and she stopped coming to most of the meals. She also stopped her daily ritual with Lily, where Lily would meet her before dinner and they would walk to the Great Hall together, talking about everything and nothing. Roxanne always had a good excuse, but everything amounted to "I don't want to see Helvia" or "I'm depressed" in Lily's head.

She was most worried about the last one.

Lily tried comparatively normal ways of cheering Roxanne up, first. She asked her to come to Hogsmeade with her, something Roxanne usually enjoyed doing. They would usually visit Honeyduke's and Uncle George's shop, and then go to Madam Puddifoot's for a laugh. Roxanne refused.

"I'm sorry, Lily, I just have so much homework," she said, not meeting Lily's eyes. And then she vanished up the Hufflepuff stairs again. Lily was beginning to hate those stairs.

She tried telling jokes and passing along funny gossip, which seemed to make Roxanne feel better for a little while, until she saw Helvia again. Lily was beginning to hate Helvia more than anyone on earth.

Cupcakes, books, and secrets didn't do the trick. Neither did perverted comics or cheerful cards.

By the end of the third week after the breakup, Lily was pulling her hair in worry while sitting in a booth at the Three Broomsticks, waiting for Teddy. He was late, as usual.

"Lilypad!" Teddy cried, giving her a one-armed hug and sliding into the booth across from her. "How's it going?"

"Terrible," she answered honestly.

Teddy then sat up straight and listened to her entire story. There was a reason he was her favorite brother, and it had a lot to do with his listening skills. He never treated her like a child, never tried to tell her to stop growing up so fast. He might have been a Gryffindor, but Lily adored him unconditionally.

"Did you ever find out why they broke up?" Teddy asked.

"No. Roxanne won't say anything and Helvia's moved on. But the consensus around school is that it's Helvia's fault," she answered.

The corners of Teddy's eyes crinkled that little bit. "Is it?"

"Yes, it is," Lily agreed. "What should I do about Roxanne? I'm worried about her."

"You need to raise her self-confidence."

"But how?"

"Cheer her up. Cheerlead her accomplishments. Compliment her. Things like that."

Of course, Teddy wasn't the best advice giver. He wasn't even vaguely good at it, but he did make Lily feel like she was on the right track and gave her an idea for cheering up Roxanne.

Lily vaguely remembered a Hogwarts-aged Teddy going through a "cheer people up and at the same time get laid" phase, which she discerned from some applications of Extendable Ears involved telling just about every girl at Hogwarts, "You're looking beautiful today." It didn't get Teddy laid, but it did raise his likeability with the female population.

But Lily couldn't compliment Roxanne in person like Teddy could. It might raise some eyebrows or rumors. They were both interested in women, so overt compliments just weren't done, never mind that they were friends and cousins and that Roxanne would never be interested in Lily anyway.

From there, the anonymous note idea was hatched.

The first note Lily sent to Roxanne was simple, even though she spent hours writing it. The message needed to be sweet and kind, but also not creepy or stalker-sounding. After coming up with the perfect one, she wrote it on a piece of Aurelia's plain white parchment with one of Roxanne's own pens.

She didn't touch the paper and disguised her handwriting manually, without any special spells. Her father was an Auror, after all. She put it in the official Hogwarts mail pouch in the Owlery, where the caretaker would attach it to an owl when he became available.

.

Don't look at me like that. It was for a good cause. What? You can't stop bringing your work home with you! I've learned so much from it! Er, I meant, well... Let's get back to the story.

.

She slept fitfully, feeling both anxious and hopeful, and finally went upstairs to the Great Hall around six in the morning. As she was the first student there (Sandthorn didn't count, as he practically lived in the Great Hall), the house-elves made her breakfast favorite foods appear on the Slytherin table. She reminded herself to go to the kitchens and thank them sometime. Aunt Hermione would lecture her if she didn't, and Lily didn't think she could survive another house-elf's rights spiel.

Roxanne arrived about an hour later, when Lily was on her third glass of pumpkin juice, and an owl perching outside the Great Hall immediately flew toward her. Lily looked away, unable to watch Roxanne read her letter. It was too embarrassing. Then Roxanne waved her over and Lily immediately regretted her decision not to look at Roxanne's face as she read it. She would have known what she thought of the letter.

"Good morning, Roxy," she said with a hopefully innocent smile. "Did you sleep well?"

Roxanne shook her head. "Never mind that. Read this."

Lily took the letter in her hands and glanced down at it, pretending to read the note. Mostly she was just fighting to control her blush. Thankfully, her red hair camouflaged the red tips of her ears.

Dear Roxanne,

I'm not sure how to say this, and I'm probably going to do it badly anyway, but I just wanted you to know that I love your smile. It lights up my day like it's Christmas, and I feel bubbly and happy whenever I see it more than once in a day. It's beautiful.

Sincerely,

Paddy

When she wrote it last night, it had seemed perfectly innocent. A friendly way to cheer a friend up. But in the harsher light of day, it read like a love letter. It didn't announce love, but it made it seem like the writer was in love with Roxanne. Lily wasn't, even though the letter held only the truth.

"Oh," she said. She gave it back to Roxanne. "What do you think?"

Roxanne had a thoughtful expression. "I think Helvia never said anything like that." With that, the topic was closed, and Lily thought the letter hadn't helped at all. Then Roxanne stood up, stretched, and gave a small smile for everyone in the Great Hall to see.

"Let's go paint our nails, Lily. We haven't done that in a while."

Lily smiled, even when she ended up with yellow and black fingernails. She had her Roxanne back, after all.

Roxanne admired her green and silver ones and said, leaning back on one of the Hufflepuff common room's fluffy armchairs, "I've been a bad friend these past few weeks. I'm sorry."

Lily quickly shook her head. "Don't think that! It's all Helvia's fault, anyway."

But the way Roxanne looked down guiltily and bit her lip told another story, one Lily was determined to uncover. If only she could find out why Roxanne was so sad, she could fix her. Or try to, anyway.

.

I tell you some things, Dad. I don't purposely keep secrets from you. I just can't always tell you everything because I'm still figuring out my life and my feelings. Or rather, I was back then. I'm sure of what and who I want now. I always was. I just didn't realize it at first.

.

Lily tapped her fingers against the desk in her dormitory, trying to come up with ideas for why Helvia had broken up with Roxanne.

According to the combined information of Lily's friends and discreet acquaintances, Helvia Hollingberry was seventeen years old, a Gryffindor, bisexual, and a mostly-EE student. Her parents had minor positions within the Ministry's Department of Child Services. Besides being a terrible girlfriend, she also had some anger management and jealousy issues. She ensnared Roxanne in her clutches in the late spring of last year when they were both sixth years. They saw each other often over the summer and sat on the Hogwarts Express together.

Then their relationship got fishy. Lily hadn't noticed anything at the time, but they began getting in more arguments, according to Aurelia. Small things at first: a sharp word in the hallway, a canceled Hogsmeade date. Then they began arguing even more until, all of a sudden, they stopped. Aurelia thought they either made up or entered into the silent fighting phase. Lily wasn't sure. She couldn't believe she never noticed these things. She always thought Roxanne and Helvia had the perfect relationship. How could she have been so blind?

Then they broke up in early January, right after winter holidays, and Roxanne spent the rest of the month moping. Lily sent the letter in early February, and Roxanne was happy for a few days, until the teachers began putting up Valentine's Day decorations.

Over the next few days, she watched both Helvia and Roxanne, deciding on a plan of action. The easiest way to get information would be to confront Helvia. She couldn't go to Roxanne directly or to any of Roxanne's closer friends because they would tell Roxanne. But a confrontation with Helvia chaffed against every Slytherin instinct she had. Lily didn't like confrontations at all. She was the quiet, nice, cute little snake. Just because she had poisonous fangs didn't mean she wanted to use them.

Helvia would slip the story to someone someday. Lily just had to keep her ears open.

.

"She says your cousin slept around on her," Aurelia said that morning as they walked to Potions together.

Lily clenched her fingers into angry knots, but kept her face free of expression. "She did, did she?"

"Hmm. Should I expect an announcement to her funeral?" Aurelia asked. Then she smirked. "Or to your wedding?"

"Shut up, Parkinson," Lily muttered. She wasn't interested in Roxanne in that way. She was just trying to protect her favorite cousin, who she had always considered one of the nicest, prettiest people she knew. She couldn't let Helvia crush all that with her stupid rumors. A confrontation was in order.

Then she saw Roxanne in the hallway, her head down, almost running toward the Hufflepuff common room. Helvia wasn't worth it. Potions wasn't worth it, either.

"Tell Slughorn I'm sick," she told Aurelia and rushed after Roxanne. "Take notes for me!"

When she finally caught up to her, she put a hand on Roxanne's shoulder. "Are you okay?"

Roxanne looked terrible. The rumors must have started the previous night while Lily was busy writing her next secret letter to Roxanne. It was supposed to be delivered that morning, but Roxanne had missed breakfast as well. Her eyes were red and had that wild look Pepper-Up Potion always caused and her hands were shaking inside her pockets. Even the way she answered, "I'm fine," was shaky and unbelievable.

"Come on," Lily said, taking Roxanne's hand in hers, hoping she could somehow transmit comfort through touch. Seeing Roxanne like this was worse than just about anything. She pulled her along to the Hufflepuff common room, which was thankfully empty. The two underclassmen there were easily cowed out of the room by her glare. "Sit," she ordered. "I'll be right back."

Lily came back in under two minutes with hot chocolate and hard white chocolate, Roxanne's favorite comfort foods, according to Cole. "Not as good as Grandma's, but they're still good," she said, putting them in Roxanne's hands. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not really," Roxanne replied before summoning a blanket from upstairs. "I just… I wish I never dated her at all."

"We learn from our mistakes," Lily said, going for encouraging, but it came out flat.

"Tell me something I don't know," Roxanne said, snorting.

She took Roxanne literally in an attempt to take her mind off Helvia. "Parkinson, my roommate, can't stand snakes. She's terribly guilty about it, because as a Slytherin she should adore them. I think they're kind of cute."

Roxanne nodded, drinking the hot chocolate. "I've never asked, but are you and Aurelia Parkinson really that close?"

"She's my best friend," Lily answered.

"Then why do you call her by her last name?"

Thinking for a moment, Lily said, "It's… a form of respect, I guess. By calling her by her last name, I'm saying I respect where she comes from, her roots. I'm saying that I respect and accept her family and her history. I wouldn't call her by her first name unless we were family or there was someone else with the same last name nearby."

"Oh." Roxanne wrapped her blanket around herself, and said in an odd sort of tone, "You don't call me by my last name."

Lily smiled. "Could you imagine me calling all of the cousins Weasley? In the middle of a family gathering? Scorpius is bad enough with his attempts to distance himself from us by using last names. It's a bit funny. You're family… and you're one of my close friends."

But even as she said it, Lily knew it the complete truth. Roxanne was her cousin and her friend, but she also had a beautiful smile and a stunning personality. She was a year older, and Lily looked up to her. She was also drop dead gorgeous, all long legs and long hair and a runner's body. Lily had to look away from her at that moment, because if she kept looking, she would stare. When did that happen? When did she start wanting to never have to take her eyes off Roxanne? Why was she even trying to figure out Roxanne and Helvia's relationship?

All she had to do was tell Cole and he would jinx Helvia, no questions asked. He was Roxanne's best friend, the pseudo-cousin that Roxanne had lived next to all her life. He could do all this better than Lily.

Then why did she want to be Roxanne's closest person, the one she went to before anyone else?

Lily closed her eyes. She didn't like where this was going. She didn't like it at all. It had to stop right now.

"Are you okay?" Roxanne asked, her soft voice music to Lily's ears.

The door banged before she could answer and Cole walked in, calling for Roxanne. "Hey, I have a letter for you since you missed breakfast." He handed it to Roxanne, who quickly tore the envelope and read through it. She didn't hand it to Lily this time as she and Cole read through it.

As he finished reading it, Cole whistled softly. "Damn, someone's in love with you."

"Stop," Lily wanted to yell. She wanted to tell him, "Don't say that. It's not true. It can't be true." She wanted to order him to shut up, to stop his stupidly perceptive comments.

"Do you really think so?" Roxanne asked.

Lily dared a look at her face. She looked so hopeful, so sweet.

Lily was screwed.

"Maybe," Cole said. "Probably something more like attraction, though. Want to go look for him or her?"

They invited her to come with them, but Lily shook her head. She had to get away from Roxanne, to think about her feelings. When they left, she grabbed Roxanne's blanket and settled under it, contemplating love.

Was this what love felt like? It was awful. She didn't understand how people could look for this feeling their whole lives. She couldn't even begin to discern why they would even want it.

It hurt, this feeling. It caused her emotions to go from one extreme to another. It caused her to become irrational. It caused her to put Roxanne's happiness over her reputation. If it ever became public, that she wrote her cousin love notes, it would be the biggest scandal since Dominique became a Goyle.

This love made her stupid and selfless. It made her think that if she had to do it over again, even if it ever got out, she would do it in a heartbeat, just for that expression of pure happiness on Roxanne's face when she got a letter.

But along with happiness, Roxanne had an expression of curiosity when she read the letter. She needed to circumvent Roxanne's curiosity somehow so that no trail led back to Lily.

After classes, she met up with Roxanne and Cole at the Hufflepuff dinner table and asked, "What if the anonymous writer is a guy?"

"Hmmm," Cole said. "Tell me more."

She sat down and stole Roxanne's cup of pumpkin juice. "Well, I mean, everyone knows Roxanne isn't interested in men. So what if he thought that the only way to make her fall in love with him was to send her love letters?"

"But I'm not going to fall in love through these letters," Roxanne said with a frown. "They're sweet, and it makes me unbelievably happy that—" She blushed. "—someone feels like this for me, but I can't fall in love with someone I don't know."

A part of Lily wanted to say, "Challenge accepted!" Another part wanted to insist that these were letters of friendship, not romance. Another just wanted Roxanne to be more open with her love, to fall in love with the writer. Lily ignored all these thoughts and excused herself to the Owlery. She had a letter to write, and this one would be a purely platonic one.

That night, she snuck out of Hogwarts through the tunnel under the Whomping Willow. Technically, she wasn't supposed to know about it, but when her father regaled his kids with highly edited stories of his childhood, she knew there had to be a grain of truth to them. So she spent an entire month her first year finding how to crawl under the Whomping Willow. There was a knot she could poke with a stick, but she also nourished it with special fertilizer for years until the tree became used to her presence.

She patted the trunk and ran until she reached the open night air. Reaching the Hog's Head, she threw her winter hood up and bowed her head, making sure her identity would be safe. Teddy was already there, thankfully not late this time. He had probably been worried by her letter.

.

Of course you shouldn't be worried about the rules I've been breaking, Dad. I'm a good girl at heart.

.

"I have a problem," she said as she sat down next to him, needing his arms around her shoulders and the friendly contact.

"What is it, Lilypad?" Teddy ordered them drinks and handed her the non-alcoholic one.

She frowned at him, but drank it anyway. She wanted something alcoholic to give her courage to tell him, but she knew she'd spill too much that way. Quickly, before she lost her nerve, she said, "I'm in love with someone I shouldn't be."

"Ah." Teddy nodded. "I know."

Shocked, Lily spluttered, "How do you know? I didn't know until yesterday."

"I'm all-knowing," he answered smugly. He became serious after Lily jabbed him in the side. "Tell me, who is your favorite cousin?"

"Roxanne."

"Why, though? Compare that to how often you see her and how close you two are."

Teddy should have been in Ravenclaw, she thought morosely. He was right. Her feelings didn't make sense if they were looked at in a platonic light. Their families didn't live nearby. They mostly interacted at family gatherings or at Uncle George's shops or at Grandma and Grandpa's. She and Roxanne weren't the closest when they were growing up. The year age difference felt like eons back then.

Then Roxanne went to Hogwarts and they grew even farther apart, until Lily went to Hogwarts too. Roxanne was the first person after her immediate family to accept her placement in Slytherin, and shadowed Lily her entire first year to make sure she wasn't bullied.

Lily never told her she wasn't successful because she liked the way Roxanne cared for her. Besides, Lily eventually made friends in her House. Then it wasn't Roxanne who shadowed Lily, it was Lily who chased after her. She went to the Hufflepuff common room often enough for the Hufflepuffs to accept her as one of their own, and walked to dinner with Roxanne every day. She invited her to Hogsmeade once a month, and spent the entire day talking to Roxanne.

But all that wasn't enough for her to feel so protective of her, so possessive of her time. It wasn't enough for her to start hating Helvia as soon as she started dating Roxanne. Lily didn't even remember why she started hating her. All she wanted was Helvia gone at the time.

"I can't believe I never noticed," she said.

"We're most blind to our own feelings," Teddy said gruffly, squeezing her tighter.

.

Two letters turned into three, then into six. Lily didn't know why she wrote them anymore, because Roxanne was over Helvia completely. Somehow, the letters just had a therapeutic effect on her. She liked being able to write down what she felt. Of course, that didn't explain why she sent them. She could write to Roxanne in a journal, or burn the messages after writing. Maybe it was the soft expression on Roxanne's face when she read them, or the way she smiled for an entire day after she got one. She just looked so beautiful that Lily couldn't help but write more, and fall in love even more as well.

The next time she saw Helvia alone, it was already late March. Helvia had probably stopped caring about Roxanne completely, Lily decided, and wouldn't mind sharing why they broke up. She sat down at her library table and brightly said, "Hello!"

"Potter," Helvia acknowledged warily. "What can I do for you?"

That didn't make sense. She shouldn't be wary of Lily, not so early in the conversation. Lily never even bothered to take revenge on her, though she heard Cole gave her a horrible case of rotting toenails. She smiled wider and tried to be as friendly as she could. "I just wanted to ask you something, about, well, how you and Roxanne broke up. I don't mean to invade your privacy at all! I was just there in the common room when you two had your fight, and I've been meaning to ask if you were okay. I know we aren't close, but I thought I should still check."

"Can the bullshit, Potter," Helvia replied, going back to her homework.

That was very not good. "I'm sorry?" Lily asked.

"You want to know why we broke up. So ask it. I dare you."

Curse her inability to keep her nose out of Roxanne's life. "Why did you two break up?"

Helvia smirked, and it wasn't a Slytherin smirk. It was wicked, and what she said next was even worse.

"It was because of you."

Lily couldn't breathe. "What do you mean?"

"Find that out on your own," she said, getting up to leave the library and taking her things with her.

"Please tell me!" Lily called after her, but Helvia didn't take pity on her.

All she got was a loud, "Shhhh!" from one of the other tables.

Her feet took her to the Hufflepuff common room without her knowledge, and she barely realized she asked for Roxanne until one of the underclassmen brought her down. Could she have really destroyed Roxanne's relationship? She felt terrible for the fact that while she felt mostly sad and guilty, there was a part of her that didn't care how Helvia and Roxanne broke up, and was just happy that they had.

"Lily? What happened?" Roxanne asked when she noticed Lily come into the room.

"I was talking to Helvia. She said you broke up because of me," Lily said, her voice shaking a little. Apparently, talking to Helvia also destroyed her control of what she should and shouldn't say.

"Oh, Lily," Roxanne said, pulling her into a hug. "Don't listen to her."

Lily stiffened. "You didn't say I had nothing to do with it." She pulled away and waited, but Roxanne said nothing. Lily didn't even care that they were making a scene. "How?"

Roxanne rubbed her temples and practically collapsed onto the nearest couch. "You really don't want to know, okay? You didn't ruin our relationship. It was Helvia who did. It wasn't your fault."

Lily sat down across from Roxanne and waited for a more detailed explanation, rubbing her hands together with nervousness.

Roxanne continued, "I guess it was because we're friends, you and me. It didn't matter so much last year and during the summer because we got together after finals and we were always alone on dates during the summer. But then school started again and… Helvia was jealous of our friendship. We're both into girls and we get along much better than she and I ever did. She thought there was something going on. It wasn't so bad at first, but she kept getting jealous over every little thing, until the day when I just finally told her that she should break up with me so that I could date you instead if that's what she wanted." Seeming to realize what she said, she quickly amended, "I didn't mean it. I was just tired of it all."

Roxanne sounded honest, but there was one thing that Lily didn't understand. "If you were fighting so much, then why were you so upset over the breakup?"

"It wasn't exactly about that. Helvia just made me face something I didn't want to think about."

Oh. That was interesting. "About me?"

"Kind of, yeah," Roxanne admitted. Lily really hoped she was talking about what Lily wanted her to be talking about, because otherwise she was going to make a fool of herself.

"I love you, Roxanne," Lily said.

"I know?" she asked, a little confused, but mostly sad. The same sadness Lily felt when she realized she loved someone who could, not only never love her back, but loved her in a familial way. It was like a big bolt of lightning struck, charring everything but one truth: Roxanne didn't feel just a familial love toward Lily.

Roxanne smiled at Lily, but even a child would have thought it was false. "So we're good?"

"Not yet," Lily said. It was time to be a Gryffindor because Roxanne wouldn't accept anything less. She had to put herself on the line and make Roxanne see that their love could happen. "I tried to cheer you up when you became depressed, do you remember? But I couldn't find the perfect way. So I thought that maybe I could… I could send you letters of friendship that could make you feel better. So I did."

"You're Paddy. But why would you—I thought it was a guy. You told me it was a guy."

"It wasn't a guy. But Cole was right. It was someone who's in love with you," she choked out, watching Roxanne's expression. "Everything I wrote was true."

"Really, Lily? Because I love you too. Though I think you figured that out, you Slytherin." Roxanne was grinning by the end, and the only thing Lily could do was kiss her, because she looked too amazing not to be kissed. For the first time in her life, she lost herself in a haze of happy emotions, kissing someone she loved completely. It didn't matter that Roxanne was a girl or her cousin. She was so happy that nothing else mattered except Roxanne's hand in her hair and her lips against hers.

.

Sorry, you didn't need to hear that part. Let's just say we kissed. Very platonically, but in a romantic, innocent way. No tongue at all. Okay?

.

From that moment on, Lily was an unofficial Hufflepuff and their relationship was an open secret in the Hufflepuff House. It was also the happiest few months of her life, even if she couldn't talk about that happiness with any non-Hufflepuff except Teddy. She didn't even tell James and Albus since they would tell her parents.

It was like she saw everything with new eyes. Potions wasn't just that boring class before lunch; it was the class right before she saw Roxanne. Yellow and black didn't look gaudy together; they looked absolutely adorable, especially when Roxanne wore them on her tie.

Their relationship was rocky through the weeks right before Roxanne's NEWTs, but they got through them. The only problem was what to do over the summer.

"I could visit you," Roxanne suggested. "Or you could visit me."

"Wouldn't our parents think it's weird that we're suddenly seeing each other so often?" Lily asked.

"We can say we strengthened our friendship over the year."

"You're absolutely brilliant. C'mere." Lily smiled and pulled Roxanne into an empty compartment on the Hogwarts Express, locking the door behind them.

.

We played cards. From two feet away from each other.

.

They succeeded keeping their relationship secret until the middle of August, when they got careless out of the realization that they wouldn't see each other again until winter holidays. Lily invited Roxanne over and they cuddled together on her bed, thinking of the upcoming year.

"I heard most long-distance relationships fail in the first few months. So all we have to do is get through that, and we'll be fine," Lily said, not feeling fine at all.

"We'll make it work," Roxanne assured. "We love each other, so we have to make it work."

Lily smiled like she always did when Roxanne said she loved her. Love was a wonderful thing when it was reciprocated. She leant in for a kiss, and Roxanne gave it to her, sighing softly. They tried to reassure themselves through the kiss that all would be fine. That they would somehow be together forever.

It was at that moment that Lily's dad walked in, wanting to ask her if she needed to go to Diagon Alley before school started.

"Bloody hell, Lily!" he bellowed in surprise, dropping what he was carrying out of shock.

.

But I guess you already know that part. Don't be angry, Dad. With me or with her. I'm in love with her. The full,100 percent, want-to-be-with-you-forever kind of love that you and Mum have. I'll understand if you don't want to see me for a while, or think it's gross, or can't look at me anymore, or—

Oh. You still love me? That's good. I was never really worried anyway, honestly.

 

Chapter Text

"I," Harry announced, holding a bottle of firewhiskey up, "have a son." He swayed a little from side to side, finding it hard to sit on a stool and hold his liquor up at the same time.

Beside him, his best friend Ron was having the same problem, except he was trying to talk and drink at the same time.

"I shnow—" Ron took a big gulp of firewhiskey, deciding it was a better formula to talk after drinking. Then he blinked rapidly, as if remembering something important. "Wait… you have two sons!"

Harry nodded, wrapping an arm around Ron's shoulders to keep himself upright. "It's 'cause I'm the essence of fertility!"

Ron clapped him on the back. "You're a Weasley, mate, 'ts natural. But geddoff that other guy, 'cause he's looking at us funny."

Harry looked to his right, where his arm had somehow ended up around the guy sitting on the bar next to him. "Sorry. Minny—Ginny, I meant—says Imma grabby drunk." He patted the guy's leg in apology. The stranger promptly left.

Harry looked at the empty spot next to him. "Ron, that guy, he just disappeared!" he said, loudly whispering the last word. "It's like magic!"

"M'arry, we're in a magic bar," Ron explained. "See, there's Hannah. She has a funny name. Spelled backwards."

Harry nodded sagely. "Or is it spelled forwards?"

They thought about it for a long moment, until they couldn't quite remember what the barmaid's name was.

"Names are weird," Ron decided. "Like you-know-who's."

"Tom's not a weird name… Isn't the barman's name Tom? But the barman isn't a man… Is she still named Tom?"

"No, she's Hannah, from school. I think. Don't remember her. I meant your kid's. 'xcept 'Mione told me to stop talking about it, so I'm ining-directly talking 'bout it."

"About what?"

"I dunno."

"Talking… about Albus! 'Cause we were looking for a godfather, and Neville and Dean and you and George already have godkids! What am I going to dooo? Ginny'll kill me if I don't find one."

"A godfather," Ron confirmed. "But... isn't Snape his god— god— ... other father? You don't need to find one 'cause he already has one!"

"Yeah," Harry agreed, nodding eagerly. "Snape can be his—" he hiccupped "—godfather."

"Tom!" Ron yelled. "We need more drinks! Our mate Snape's a godfather!"

"I think it's time for me to Floo your wives," Hannah said, glaring at the both of them. "Otherwise I might just throw you out for calling me a man."

They both apologized, but the man-lady wouldn't let them stay, and soon Harry was at home and falling in bed next to Ginny. The time between his last drink and his pillow was blank in his memory, and his decision was a hazy memory.

Unfortunately, the next morning, it was clear as day that his drunken ramblings had some effect.

"Snape?" Harry gasped as he stumbled downstairs in search of a hangover cure. The man sitting at the breakfast table was a see-through replica of Severus Snape, down to the overly large nose and many-buttoned robes. "You're a ghost?"

Snape seemed to scowl even deeper at that. "Not by choice, Potter. Do you have any idea of what you did last night? Because of your inane drivel, I was forced to be your bloody son's godfather!"

"Don't care, find a way to go back to heaven or wherever," Harry retorted, downing a hangover potion and slumping into the chair across from Snape. "And keep your voice down. Albus is still sleeping."

Snape snorted. "You named your son Albus?"

"What's wrong with the name? All I hear from Ron about it is, how could you name your son after both Dumbledore and that git? I swear, Albus Severus Potter is a fine name!"

Snape was speechless for a few moments before saying, "You named your son after me. How very sweet, Potter. Do you expect me to thank you, or should I just—"

"I have an excellent idea: let's change the subject instead! And you can tell me how to get you out of my house!"

"And your opinion means what to me, exactly? Do you understand me when I say I am stuck here for the next seventeen worthless years of your son's life?"

"Then why don't you just leave? Spend two decades in Jamaica, or something?"

"And deny you the repercussions of your imbecilic actions, Potter? Never."

Harry was about to throw something at the git, just for the pleasure of seeing it fly through his body, when Ginny came downstairs holding the subject of the conversation. She stopped at the end of the stairwell.

"Professor Snape…" she began, trying to wrap her mind around the image of the man in her kitchen.

"Well, let me see the child," Snape ordered, sighing.

Ginny looked at him warily before carrying Albus closer to Snape.

"Hmmm," Snape said thoughtfully. "I suppose he isn't a terrible child. Little Severus will become a Potions Master just like Uncle Severus, won't he…" Snape cooed, patting the air above Albus Severus' head.

Harry just slammed his head on the kitchen table in misery, muttering, "Kill me now…"

Chapter Text

They've never learned to deal with death, the Weasley kids, the sons and daughter of Molly and Arthur. Charlie's too grown to call himself a kid, and Bill's that and already married, but the rest of them, they're kids. They shouldn't have to deal with this, Charlie thinks as he stares at Fred's gray headstone. Ginny is crying silently in a conjured chair, Percy is with Mum and Dad, Ron is leaning against his girlfriend, and George, George who's not a twin anymore, is kneeling, sobbing, tearing at the grass next to the grave. Charlie can't protect them from this. He's their older brother and he should, but he can't, and the failure almost breaks him.

But then he shares a look with Bill, a nod, an understanding between older brothers, and he picks himself up again. There's work to do, Charlie, he tells himself. Concentrate on that. In the corner of his eye, he sees Bill join Ginny, comfort her in a way her boyfriend can't. In a family of seven, you can't help but have favorites. The twins, the twin, George, has always been his.

He drops next to George like a stone, like his heart when he learned of Fred's death, like a stupid brother who isn't much of a brother at all, and takes George's hands in his. They're too pale next to his tanned ones, too skinny and dirty. He picks strands of grass from underneath George's nails. George doesn't react. Charlie doesn't think George even realizes he's there.

That's fine. Good, actually, because he doesn't know if George becomes a brawler in his grief. The twins have always been a more like him in everything, so he thinks George'll turn catatonic, not aggressive, now. He's never wanted to find out, but he does. He's right.

Eventually, George lets him pick him up, drag him along to a good Apparition point. Charlie looks back for a moment, wanting to see if anyone else needs side-alonging, but everyone is lost to their grief.

The jolt of Apparition doesn't jar George out of his state. He's not even crying anymore. Just staring down. Charlie wonders what he's seeing, if he's seeing anything at all. If he himself should be like George; is he heartless for not breaking down? For crying quietly, almost soundlessly? People deal with grief differently, the book on grief he bought said, and Charlie comforts himself with the phrase like a mantra as he drags George upstairs. He stops next to the twins' former room for a second, then takes George to the room Charlie shares with Bill instead.

"C'mon," he tells George as he pulls George's shirt up. He'll sleep better without it. "Raise your arms."

George stares back at him for a long moment, then does as Charlie asks. Charlie lets out a breath of relief. Slowly, they get George out of his layers of clothes. Charlie could do a spell, make it faster, but it's better that George moves a little himself. Maybe. He's doing what feels right, what his friends did for him when he lost a clutch of dragonets. The analogy is bad, because nothing could be compared to this. Charlie doesn't think about that. He tries not to think about anything, especially not Fred.

Soon George is under the covers and dead to the world again, and Charlie's on the neighboring bed. He doesn't think he'll sleep, but his body knows what he needs better than his mind, and it shuts down a few hours later.

When he wakes up again, George is gone.

Charlie doesn't panic, but it's a near thing.

George is fine, Charlie tells himself. Just because Fred is gone doesn't mean George will go with him. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. It's all going to be just fine.

"Charlie?" The door's opened, and Ginny's looking in. By the paleness of her face and the shadows under her eyes, she must have slept less than he has. Is he being too uncaring? No, the aching wound in his chest accounts for something. He's just always been able to sleep well. Would Fred have wanted him to lose more sleep because of his death?

"Charlie?" she asks again, more worriedly this time.

"I'm fine, Gin," he says, standing up and wrapping an arm around her. She's grown since he last saw her. Not in height, but in something else. She's more womanly now. He thinks, Fred isn't going to grow anymore, won't laugh and poke at Charlie for being shorter than his younger brother, won't ask him to tell him dragon stories.

Charlie's not fine at all, but then, none of them are. They'll be fine one day, the books on grief say, and he has to trust that because otherwise he'll never be able to get out of bed again.

It's fine, fine, fine, even after Mum asks if won't he check on "Fr—oh, my poor—on George's shop".

She asks him in particular because he's the most put-together of the family. On the outside, at least.

Sensible, reliable Charlie. That's him. He's always been practical Charlie, the one who'll deal with your problems without a fuss. Though, lifespan-wise, his job isn't practical, but that's one thing he won't give up for his mother's watery eyes.

She sends him off with a pot pie and a salad and an apple tart, because he's still a growing boy in her eyes. That, and the night of the funeral she cooked more food than the entire Weasley family would be able to eat in a week.

He leaves George in Ginny's capable hands and tries not to worry about him for the next few hours.

The shop isn't glaringly orange anymore, and a censoring charm has been applied to the words on the windowpane. The merchandise is covered by black cloth. It's almost as though the shop died along with Fred.

Charlie breathes deeply, once, twice, three times. There. That's better. He can almost be calm about this now. All he does is go inside and make sure that no one's broken in, and no one has. He strengthens the protective charms on the store, removes the censoring charm. After a moment, he removes the blinding, sparkling words as well. There's no need to remind everyone of U-no-poo this soon after the battle. Maybe once day, people will be able to joke about his name again, but for now it's too raw. Everything's too raw.

He goes back, checks on George, and his heart stops racing. George is fine. He isn't dying. He's not like Fred. Breathe.

They talk a little. Mainly, Charlie talks about dragons, because that's all he can talk about without starting to think about the red-haired elephant in the room, every room in the Burrow, and George nods at the right places.

"If you like them so much, just go back to Romania already," George says at the end. It's cutting. It's petty. It's some emotion, finally, from George. Charlie doesn't let the words hurt. There are worse things than words.

"One day, yeah," he says instead.

Two days later, Dad goes back to work. The gloomy atmosphere at the Burrow is getting to him. Charlie can't blame him. He wants to go, too, but he knows if he goes now he'll drown in his own grief and won't come back for months. His family needs him here.

Two weeks later, Ron leaves with his girlfriend for Australia. Charlie doesn't know why, and to be honest, he doesn't care enough to ask. He's going stir-crazy inside the Burrow, and the fact that people are leaving while he's staying makes him want to break down the walls.

He can leave. He really can.

But then Mum looks at him with watery eyes, or Dad gets home with his back stooped and his hands shaking, or George starts crying in the middle of the night when he thinks Charlie's asleep. The last one more than anything makes him stay. George still hasn't done anything at all with his shop, so Charlie decides to be useful and checks with the goblins about it. There aren't any complications. Charlie closes George's account for the time being.

He talks to George every day, each day a little more. Sometimes, George even talks back. And when he's not with George, he's with Mum, or with Dad. There's grief on every side of him and he's drowning, but he's not allowed to sink just yet. George needs him.

The time comes when Mum is able to get through meals without tearing up every time she sees the empty space where Fred's chair used to be. Charlie feels both happy and sick to his stomach. Are they slowly forgetting Fred? Should they mourn him even more? Should they lament every second, every minute, every hour? Fred deserves a mourning period of forever, but Charlie's so, so tired of grief.

Fred's chair is now in Fred and George's old room. Charlie doesn't think anyone's opened it yet except for Dad. Maybe no one ever will. Charlie can't decide if he wants the room to be demolished or kept as a shrine. It's not his decision to make, anyway. He's going to leave soon.

A month later, his boss floo-calls him again.

"You're a good man," his boss tells him, "But to every dragon's bone, there is a hippogriff's feather."

Charlie takes it as a phrase of comfort that got lost in translation, because his boss' next words are, "You have a week to decide if you're coming back or staying on the isles, because dragons wait for no wizard."

He's been expecting that for a while, and he tells his boss he'll see him soon. Still, it's not his boss who jars him into action. As always, it's his mother.

She's been getting better, more active, crying less. And that's good, really good, but the fact that she's using his love life to distract herself isn't.

Mum's looking at him with that look, the one that caused him so much trouble after school. She says, "Your older brother's married now, Charlie. Don't you think it's time for you to find a nice girl, too?"

That's all she needs to say to get him to run to the continent, same as he had a decade ago. He's never regretted it, but sometimes, he wonders what it would be like to continue this conversation instead of brushing it off once again. To tell his mother that she shouldn't be trying so hard to get him married, because he's not the marrying type. Not to women, not to men. Maybe one day, he'll tell her. But right now, it's too soon. She doesn't need his personal issues on top of Fred's death.

And as he tells her, "Maybe not now. I'm kind of busy at the reserve, too busy for romance, that's me," he knows he never will tell her. Some things are just too personal to share even with your Mum. But it's fine, it's all fine.

He packs his bag that same day. Somehow, all his belongings have meandered around the Burrow, and it feels like he's leaving home for the first time again.

Charlie doesn't feel bad about leaving his mother, doesn't let himself feel bad. She's in his father's capable if shaky hands, and she has Bill only a floo-call away. Ginny, too, though she's busy with the reconstruction of Hogwarts. And Percy, who's all but moved back to the Burrow.

But he's most worried about George, because he's like a dragonet now. Quick to anger, moody, lashing out at everyone. Charlie can deal with it. Mum can't.

Maybe that's why he asks, "Ever seen a baby dragon?" He knows George hasn't.

George looks up from staring at the fire. Charlie can still see the flames in his eyes, eyes that are unfocused from staring for so long.

"No," George replies, and returns to staring at the fire. He's too close, but Charlie can't tell him to move because George will just get closer.

Charlie wonders if he should just leave it there, just leave George there. He half wants to. He's tired of dealing with George's grief. He could just leave George to the rest of his family to deal with. Except, he remembers Fred and George's identical grins as they made a special dragon-themed firework go off in the Burrow's back yard. They designed it just for him.

Sighing, he continues, "You could if you came back to Romania with me."

That gets George's attention.

"It's not much, but I have a cottage there. You could come with me to work sometimes, or just… do stuff…" He can't say 'heal', because that's too much like admitting George has a problem healing. The air in Romania might help him. The lack of everything Fred might too.

George doesn't say anything, just stares back at the fire. Eventually, he must get sick of Charlie staring at him, because he growls, "Fuck off."

Charlie thinks he should get some sort of reward for this.

But he does, in fact, fuck off. He goes to the garden where Mum is and tells her he's taking her son away for a little while. She acts like it's forever, and cries some more.

Charlie's really sick of tears, both his family's and his own. He's sick of everything now. Romania will do him a lot of good, too.

"You can't just leave, Charlie. You could stay here. Get a job, a wife, a family."

A real job, is what she isn't saying.

"I need to go back, Mum. And George, if he'll come with me, needs a break from here." That's not the most diplomatic way of saying it. It's still true. "He'll come back," he assures her. "He has his shop here. And you're all here. He'll be back soon. And as for me, I'll come by for Christmas. I'll even stay the full two weeks."

He isn't sure if he can deal with them all even in half a year, but he'll try. His family's so loving and caring that he feels pressed under the strain of their love.

In the end, she lets him leave, knowing she could never make him stay in the first place. Dad claps him on the back and says, "If you need to, go."

Mum says, "We'll always be here for you, sweetheart."

It's how he knows he has the best family in the world, even if it's missing one person.

.

The portkey takes them to the town square of a small town called Vama. It's a Romanian Wizarding village; it has to be, considering it's the closest town to the biggest dragon reserve in the world. A few miles north, there's a huge, invisible barrier that keeps dragons in and Muggles out. But for now, they need to walk two miles to get to Charlie's house. He could Apparate them, but he needs to run some errands, and it's the first time George has been outside in weeks.

"Cozy," George says, looking around.

Charlie shrugs. "It doesn't need to be any bigger."

The town is nothing like London, and Main Street is a beggar's corner compared to Diagon Alley. But it has a certain old-world charm Charlie likes, one that George can't appreciate yet.

Charlie feels like a father might as he drags a reluctant George along with him to the baker's, the bookstore, the general store, and the dragonologist's shop. In his heavily accented Romanian, he introduces George to everyone. George plays the part of a sane man and manages to be half-convincing.

Soon they're nearing Charlie's small cottage, the last house on the street and the closest to the reserve, and Charlie breathes a sigh of relief. It's home like the Burrow isn't anymore, and he's relieved to see it standing after his unexpected leave of absence.

Inside, it has two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a sitting room.

"Where's the bathroom?" George asks when Charlie finishes the tour.

Charlie points out the back door. Past that, there's an outhouse. It's on his list of things he'd like to do, to get an indoor bathroom installed, but for now he has to Apparate to the outhouse each day. He'll probably get it done in another decade, once he pays off his loans on the house. With the loans, there's only a pittance left over each month from his paycheck for more than the bare necessities, but the house is his and his alone, which is all that matters.

As they eat dinner that day, George makes some conversation. Charlie would be happy if it weren't on such an awkward subject.

"Fred and—well." George scowls. "Fuck it. Fred and I always thought you were hiding a girlfriend here."

"No," Charlie says.

A glimmer of the old George comes back as he wheedles, "A boyfriend?"

Charlie's almost sad to say, "No."

George sleeps off the portkey lag while Charlie goes to work. He's welcomed back with open arms, and remembers why he loves it here so much. He spends a week working from before the sun comes up to after it sets, trying to drown himself in work. He almost doesn't notice that George doesn't get up from bed except to sometimes eat. But apart from gentle shoves, Charlie can't do much except limit his hours on the job.

Now that he can't drown himself in work, Charlie tries the same with alcohol. It burns as it goes down his throat, but it's no more than the pain already there. For a few hours a night, he can forget about George's grief and focus on his own.

He couldn't drink at his parents' house, because despite everything he is a child to them, but here he's free to drink until the tavern closes, and for a while after that because the owners' daughter is sweet on him. George tells him through glares and grunts that he doesn't approve, then comes with him the next day to down almost as much. Charlie's tired of trying to be a good influence and doesn't stop him.

Unlike him, George isn't a somber drunk. He's energetic, agitated, and more than a little angry. Spiteful, hurtful, in pain.

"Where were you?" George half-yells one day. The question has been building inside him for weeks, Charlie knows. "Where were you when Fred fucking died? Why couldn't you have bloody done something? Stop trying to fix me when you're just as useless yourself."

George has a good sneer. Charlie has an even better grip as he drags George out of the tavern and into the cool night air.

"I was working," he answers. He can't look at George.

"You didn't do anything at all in the war. Why do you even think you can—"

"Because I'm your brother and I love you," he says before George can say something he'll find too hard to forgive. Fred, he remembers, was never as good with cutting words as George. The twins used to even each other out, and now it's lopsided. George is flailing.

"I helped smuggle Muggle-borns out of Britain," he tells George for the first time. "Housed a few myself, and got more jobs at the various reserves. Paper-pushing, mostly, because they were former Ministry workers."

George is shocked, hurt. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Didn't see a point. The war is over." Even if George's personal war is not. But as for the final battle, "I was with my dragons, on my shift, and by the time the alert came it was too late. The battle was almost over, Fred was dead. I still came as soon as I could. Do you really think it's not going to haunt me for the rest of my life? That I'm not going to feel guilty for being here while Fred isn't? I could hate myself for it. But that wouldn't change anything."

They walk in silence for a moment as Charlie thinks back on what he's said. He's not good with words, not as smart of some of his brothers, but he hopes to Merlin that he's finally reached George.

"I don't blame you," George says almost twenty minutes later.

Charlie lets out a breath. "Then don't blame yourself, either. No one blames you for not saving him. Get up and live the life you would've wanted for Fred. Because I know he would've wanted even better for you."

And then they walk through the front door, and George collapses on the couch, and he's sobbing, and Charlie pats him on the back. It's all going to be fine, he thinks. It has to be.

Slowly, things even out. They don't get drunk anymore, but they do drink. George starts a casual friendship with a guy at the bar, and starts going out more.

Now that George willingly goes outside, if only to the tavern, Charlie gives him tasks to do during the day. Around the house, then around the village. Small things, like checking in on his elderly neighbors and pulling weeds.

George uncovers Charlie's old cauldron and cleans it, makes it usable again. Charlie comes home to an experimental potion that's ruined his carpet and grins so hard it hurts. For a while after that, he and George talk about Fred more than they make potions. It's okay, though. It's better than okay, because it feels good to remember Fred as a grinning teenager and not as a corpse.

George does go back to potion-making, and sketches some plans for future projects. They're small things for now, but Charlie imagines them being mass-produced in a few years. There's no end to his pride in his little sibling.

He does eventually take George to the reserve, and shows him the dragons and dragonets. If George notices that Charlie's taken to treating him the same way he treats his dragonets, he doesn't comment on it.

They come back smelling like dragon dung, but the tavern owner's used to things like that, and Charlie watches George awkwardly flirt with the girl of the man who owns the tavern. Fred had always been better with the ladies, Charlie remembers.

The girl used to hold hope that one day Charlie would see her over his beer, but with the way she's smiling at George, that's changed. It bruises Charlie's ego a bit, but that's fine because George finally starts putting effort into his appearance when they go out. Charlie tells her George is available when she asks, and arranges a date for them.

For his date, George cuts his nails and his hair, and irons his robes.

He even keeps his hygiene up when their relationship falls apart two weeks later. No one's upset or surprised, and George goes on to date two more girls.

Together, he and Charlie learn a good repertoire of Russian insults from the girls, and Charlie shows George the finer points of pool.

Three months after they left Britain, George isn't completely healed. But he's far along the road to it, and he can deal with his grief alone now. And on the bad days, the Burrow will be close by. The future looks like a good place now. They've survived the lowest point, and they're going to be just fine.

George smiles back at him as he holds onto the portkey back to Britain, and, yeah, Charlie thinks, he's done a damn fine job being a good brother.

Chapter Text

"You haven't changed at all since the war," Granger said just a few minutes earlier, barely looking at him. Not out of shyness, but out of indifference and spite. He hates that—hates that she can ignore him like he's still a schoolboy, like the war hasn't changed him as much as it changed her.

Draco had answered cuttingly and walked away, but later he can't help think, what if he hasn't? What if he hasn't changed at all, hasn't grown stronger from experience? What if he's still the same young kid, who'll make the same bad decisions?

He wants to get along with Granger for once. They've apprenticed under the same senior lawyer and even though they're going to go into different fields (criminal law for him and magical creature law for her) later on, they're stuck with each other eight hours a day.

But more than proving Granger wrong, he wants to prove to himself that he's changed. He thinks he has, but what if he's been deluding himself all along? He's good at self-delusion, at pretending everything's fine when it's really not.

It takes him a minute to realize what he could do and three hours to work up his courage to do it. The first time he used an Unforgivable haunts his nightmares sometimes, and he's never been able to make reparations for it. But eventually, he Apparates to Hogsmeade, right outside the joke shop. He almost Disapparates once he sees the sign for the Three Broomsticks, but he forces himself to go inside.

When he finally enters, it's three o'clock in the afternoon and the pub's almost empty. He'd thought the lack of people might help his courage, but apparently that isn't to be. He's nervous. Less than he'd been the last time he was here, but nervous all the same. This time, the nervousness is overwhelmed by guilt and he slowly walks to the counter. Once again he reminds himself that he's doing the right thing.

He should've done this ages ago. That doesn't make it any easier.

"One moment!" Madam Rosmerta sings. She's turned away, wiping a glass. Draco doesn't speak until she puts it down, lest she drops and breaks it. He doesn't want to do even more damage to her. Finally, she turns around and sees him. Her expression changes abruptly; gone is the kind smile and flirty attitude.

"I'm not here for a drink," Draco says. "I—"

"Then you should get out." Her tone is cold, not welcoming like the one to all the other Hogwarts graduates. Of course, none of the others used an Unforgivable Curse on her. Draco's still grateful that the Wizengamot declared his acts during the war as under duress.

"I want to apologize," he says.

"Accepted. Now get out."

Draco wants to leave so much. Instead, he takes a deep breath and clenches his fists. "I was wrong. I was so wrong to harm you. It was despicable and cruel of me." Breathe, he tells himself. "I've made many mistakes over my short life—as you have no Dark Mark, we can assume I've been more of an idiot that you—" maybe it's his imagination, but maybe her shoulders really do ease "but I made them. I've made so many of them, and now I'm trying to make amends. I can't do much for you—you're popular, successful, attractive—you wouldn't want me or my money here anyway, but I... I'm sorry. I really am."

She turns around, finally. There's still no smile, but maybe the beginning of one in the tiniest curl of her lips.

"A butterbeer," she says, handing him one. "You'll pay for it. And you'll come here whenever you're in Hogsmeade. I won't give customers to the Hog's Head just because they were stupid teenagers. I'd be out of customers if that were the case." She winks at him, and looks almost surprised at her good humor. But it's been a few years now, and they can both let go of the past.

"I'll get a butterbeer for your girlfriend, too," Madam Rosmerta tells him a moment later.

When Draco turns around and sees Granger sitting down beside him, an approving half-smile on her lips, he doesn't bother correcting Madam Rosmerta. For the first time in his life, he thinks he wouldn't mind dating Granger if she ever gives him a sign. He wouldn't mind at all, because she makes him want to be a better person.

Chapter Text

Unnoticed

"Excuse me, can I have a jar of newt's eyes?"

Perenelle nodded and started scooping them out of her bucket. "Sure thing, kiddo. That's twelve galleons. Making wizard's film?"

The kid gaped. "How'd you know?"

"Lucky guess," Perenelle said with a smile. Had she been so cute when she was little? She doubted it. "Here you go! Good luck with her pictures."

"Thanks, m'am." The camera around his neck swung sideways as he took the newt's eyes from her. "I'm hoping to find really famous people to shoot. And since I'm going to Hogwarts in two years, I'll get to shoot the Harry Potter, can you believe it? I need so much practice 'till then!"

She laughed and waved him off. A moment later, her husband's arms wrapped around her.

"That was interesting."

"Mmmm," she agreed. "No one would look for the famous Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel in a potions supply store, would they? I think this is our best idea yet. I hate reporters."

 

Amicable Endings

"Pansy?" Draco said as he finished the last of his forms.

"Yes, dear?" she replied, looking up from her nail file. In the time that Draco finished his paperwork, she had already polished, dried, and filed her nails. Really, Draco was a bit of a slowpoke. They filled out and signed similar forms for the divorce, but Draco had to go through each and every one of them very carefully. These pedantries of Draco's were attractive in the bedroom, but not in the rest their relationship. It was a good thing they realized only a year into their marriage that things weren't working out, before children complicated the picture.

"Let's never get remarried. I couldn't handle all this—" he waved his hand at the large stacks of paperwork "—again."

"We didn't really have to do all this, but you insisted on separating every part of our lives. We could have just co-owned the villa and the Manor and Snuggles," she replied as she stood up and stretched her back. "I don't think I'll ever be able to write again."

"Next time I marry, I'm just going to have to kill her if things don't work out. I swear Pansy, I never want to go through this torture again."

Pansy smirked. "Don't worry Draco, I'll help you with your future wife just like you'll help me with the next rich fool who marries me."

"Ouch, my dear."

"Don't pout. You know I love you."

"And I you. I just wish things had worked out."

"You'll find the one. I heard Astoria Greengrass holds an interest in being the next Mrs. Malfoy. She even told me off yesterday at Madame Malkins. Dreadful woman. But blonde and pretty and shallow."

"Everything you aren't, my dear," Draco said smoothly, and dodged a hex from Pansy in return. "Any man would be privileged to have you and you know it."

"Flatterer."

"Yes. Now . . . what are your thoughts on divorce sex?"

"It has to be done at most three hours after signing the paperwork, otherwise it counts as regular sex between single people."

"We better get started, love."

 

Cookies

"Excuse me, have you seen my father?"

Molly turned toward the speaker, a young blond boy about the same age as Ron. His facial features looked familiar—she probably knew one of his parents—but the child himself didn't jog her memory. She shook her head. "I'm sorry, I haven't."

The boy huffed and kicked the wall next to his foot. "Ow. Stupid father."

Molly considered telling him to respect his elders, but decided it wasn't any of her business. "Are you lost?" she asked instead. The boy had been wandering around Madam Malkin's shop for the entire ten minutes she had been there, waiting for Arthur and Charlie.

His cheeks puffed adorably and Molly felt the urge to coo.

"No. He went to Gringotts for business and I have to amuse myself here. But I already got new robes and it's been a really, really long time and I want to go home!" By the end, he was red faced in anger and his hands had closed in fists.

Molly noticed Arthur and Charlie waving to her from down the street, near Florean's. She rummaged through her bag and took out a somewhat squashed bag of biscuits. "Here," she said, handing it to him.

The boy took the bag and immediately started eating them.

Molly huffed (a thank-you would have been nice!) and considered staying a little longer, just to make sure the boy got home safely, but the child went back inside Madam Malkin's shop wait. He should be fine there, she decided, and hurried off to her husband and son, forgetting about her encounter with the young Draco Malfoy entirely.

 

Just a Dance

"You know, he's not really all that bad," Ginny said as she awkwardly sat down next to Padma, taking care not to crease her dress robes. She had been about to hunt down Neville and force him onto the dance floor just one time, so she could have one good memory of the Yule Ball, but seeing her brother's date sitting unhappily by the wall made her turn. It wasn't her fault Ron was a jealous prat and an idiot to boot, but she still felt guilty to see that he ditched his date. "I think he's just…" Ginny shrugged, unable to find redeeming words.

The crowd parted a little, uncovering the view of a sulking Ron in the far corner of the Great Hall.

Padma smiled sadly. "I know. I knew it when I agreed to go with him, but I thought he might change his mind. What's so wrong with dancing? It's hardly emasculating if even Viktor Krum does it. I guess it's because I look nothing like Hermione."

Padma did look nothing like Hermione, Ginny could agree. But she was lovely in her own right. Ginny wasn't so caught up in Harry that she didn't notice Padma's quiet beauty. And if Ron wouldn't dance with her, Ginny would in his place.

Ginny stood and held out her hand to Padma, who looked at it with hesitance.

"Come on," Ginny prodded. "There's a good song playing."

And if Ginny got more enjoyment dancing with Padma than proper for a girl helping out a friend, only Padma would have to know.

 

The Date

"Be good," Daphne said sternly as she patted down Draco's robes, looking for stray flecks of dust. There weren't any, as the robes were fairly new, but she wouldn't have found them if there were any as the robes were a dark gray color. They made Draco's eyes look more blue, the robes salesperson had told him.

"Yes, Daphne," Draco replied. Then, in a high-pitched imitation of her voice, he continued, "If you screw up your date with my baby sister I will have you hung up by your underwear from the gaudy statue of Potter in the middle of the ministry. On a Monday during rush hour."

Daphne smacked his arm. "Now, do you remember what she likes?"

"Me, apparently," Draco drawled, earning a scowl from his friend. "Relax, it's just a date. She asked me to dinner after I told her I wasn't busy this week. It wasn't like I could just tell her no."

He didn't want to, if he were honest. Daphne's sister was beautiful, and he would have asked her out himself if she weren't off limits.

"I guess there's nothing I can do," Daphne said with a sigh. She gave him a bouquet of flowers and pushed him to the fireplace.

"You say that like I'm some sort of barbarian."

"You're too honest for her, and she's too smitten with you to brush things off," Daphne replied.

She watched sadly as Draco disappeared into green flames. Her sister really was too good for him, but there wasn't anything Daphne could do.

 

Broke Some Hearts

"What's the worst thing you're every done?" Astoria asked as they walked along the sandy beach, their robes rolled up and shoes behind them. It was the end of their first date, and Draco had thought that maybe, just maybe, he could get through one evening without the past coming up. His past, in particular.

But Astoria's eyes didn't shy away from him, and her hesitance from earlier had vanished. And he'd seen that look of curiosity often enough on Daphne's face that he knew he couldn't just let the question go unanswered.

Draco could tell her. He could so easily ruin her crush on him, that spark of feeling he saw in her eyes, the one that could someday evolve into love. He half wanted to, just because he wasn't sure he wanted to be looked at in that way. He was so used to things not turning out well for him—always second best, in Quidditch and school and friendship—that he didn't want to try and fail in another thing. Because Astoria was a girl he could, should, try harder with, actually date, maybe even marry, if he liked her well enough in the future. Not to mention Daphne would murder him if he hurt her sister.

He could say, "I've AK'ed some Muggles, tortured some Death Eaters, got a buddy killed, tortured a girl, bullied underclassmen, especially Hufflepuffs, Imperio'd a bartender, almost got a schoolgirl killed made plans to kill the Headmaster and was disappointed I failed..."

She would look green and pretend it was fine, that it was all in his past. And then say she was busy when he asked about second date. He wasn't sure he wanted a second date—but he knew he was drifting from woman to woman, and maybe he'd be happier if he had a steady girlfriend.

Astoria was two years younger than Draco. She hadn't been there during his terrifying second year, when monsters lurked in the corners of Draco's imagination, when fear spread through the entire Slytherin house, a common thought of, "What if I'm next? What if it's not just Mud-bloods this time?" She had been too young to care about the Triwizard Tournament except for a bit of sneering at the number two champion. She had transferred to Beauxbatons with Daphne when Voldemort came back, and knew little of the war from her safe haven. Daphne, at least, personally knew the people in their year who'd died or were scarred, but Astoria had transferred as a second year, and didn't keep in touch with the fickle friendships she'd made at Hogwarts. She didn't dream of Crabbe's screams, nor did a pale, snake-like face attack her parents in her nightmares.

She was a blank slate, and that shouldn't have appealed to Draco as much as it did.

And who was he kidding? She was gorgeous. Draco could admit he wanted her, and wanted her to stay.

So he grinned and said, "I tried to Crucio Potter," and she gasped and pretended she didn't know, that it hadn't been a juicy piece of gossip a few years ago. "How about you?"

Astoria rattled on about breaking the hearts of a few Durmstrang boys (Draco didn't mention that he thought feelings were trained out of those guys), all truthful and guileless, and he thought that maybe he needed that. Needed someone who stared at him with hearts in her eyes and knew nothing of the horrors of the war.

 

Watchwoman

Sybill Trelawney knows there is a war outside her stone tower, led by a monster who kills innocents as play. A great and terrible war, one worse than the one she lived through as a teenager. She can feel it coming, can see purple and red streaks of light from the Carrows' curses, can hear screams and yells and sobs. She's shut herself away, but the world will never let her be.

She doesn't want to fight like Minerva asks her to. Minerva, who scorns her craft but wants her to divine the present and the future. With determination but without hope, Minerva asks Sybill to find Voldemort in her crystal ball, to spy on his movements and meetings. She wants Sybill to contribute to the war effort, but doesn't believe she can, barely even wants her to. Sybill knows.

Minerva is angry, scornful, lonely, so Sybill doesn't tell her that one can't just wave a wand and see just anyone in the glass. One can only see their most precious people, the ones one loves most of all in the world, through the glass ball. Minerva doesn't care, doesn't know, and Sybill doesn't tell her.

Sybill pretends not to miss Albus, who was the only one who gladly put up with her eccentricities and her drinking and her sadness. She never had to change for him; he never asked. He never disliked her and her craft, and he never unknowingly asked for miracles. He asked for nothing but her time. Minerva expects her to fail, so Sybill takes out her favorite crystal ball and tells her she sees nothing.

Minerva scoffs and threatens to fire her, and Sybill just watches a beautiful blonde woman curl around her husband in her sleep. Sybill is weak in spirit and belief, because she would let the war go on if Narcissa is on the other side.

Chapter Text

"—End!" a familiar voice finishes as the Floo's flames glow green. From the kitchen nook in Hollowick End, the Pettigrews' home, Peter can see the side of a pale face appear in the flames.

"Hullo. I'm looking for Peter Pettigrew," the voice continues. The female voice. Peter almost drops his wand.

"Peter?" his mother calls. "Honey, there's a woman in the Floo." They're both surprised; women don't call Peter. But Ms. Pettigrew's tone is pleasant, as though it's an everyday occurrence. Even bedridden and frail, his mother is a good liar.

He goes to the living room and kneels down by the fireplace, expecting his boss, or maybe a young neighbour needing help. But the green flames lick bright red hair as Peter's heart pounds at an uneven beat. Peter can tell who it is by the hair alone. It's Lily Evans who looks back at him, uncomfortably glancing from his mother to him, as though his mother might assume something. Peter sighs.

"Mum, this is Lily," he says, gesturing from one woman to the other. "James' fiancée. Lily, my mother, Abigail Pettigrew."

"A pleasure," Lily says with a smile she's never bestowed upon Peter. In his head, Peter labels it her 'polite around parents' smile. It's gentler than the smile she gives to teachers, but maybe that's because she can sense his mother's frailty even through the Floo. She turns to him; all her attention and the strength of her green eyes on him for once. "Peter, I'm sorry if I'm bothering you."

You can bother me anytime, anyplace, for any reason, Peter thinks. As long as it's not something for James.

"It's not a problem. What can I do for you?" Because Lily would never call him unless there's something he can do to help her in some way.

"My sister's coming home from her school in Northampton and I promised my parents I'd drive her home from the train station. They're out of town. But Marlene's just come over and she's sobbing on my couch and I just can't— Peter, it's just one time—"

"It's fine, Lily," he says, wishing he could pat her shoulder in consolation. But she's far away in Godric's Hollow, and Floo systems are tricky things. "Should I Apparate her?"

Lily's pale skin flushes, noticeable even under the green flames. "Would you, please? You might have to convince her, because she's not good with magic."

That's probably why he's rarely heard of Lily's sister, Peter thinks. And probably why Lily wants him to do it instead of one of the others – she's just that bit ashamed of her sister, and she's not sure how they'll take to her. But it's fine to ask him, because she doesn't care about boring, mousy Peter's opinion.

You're starting to sound like Moaning Myrtle, he tells himself.

"Okay, sure. What's the Apparition coordinates?"

It's all worth it for Lily's bright smile.

.

He changes quickly into the under-robe clothes he wore at school. They don't look quite Muggle, but he thinks Lily's sister won't care too much. She'll probably want him to tell her all about his world.

At the bottom of his closet, there's a hatbox firmly closed and warded to his blood. There's a white mask and a school photo inside. He opens it sometimes, stroking the mask's features. It will turn silver once he finally decides to choose the Dark Lord over the three grinning, laughing boys in the photo next to it.

.

If he'd had time to think between the time Lily told him about her sister and the time he went to get her, he would've thought Petunia would look like Lily. Red hair, bright green eyes, lovely heart-shaped face. The kind of beautiful woman you want to see after a hard day's work.

Maybe she'd even be a more approachable Lily, because she'd be awed by something he had and she didn't. Petunia Evans was a Muggle, after all.

He thought he'd recognize her as she got off the train, that her red hair would signal his attention like Lily's often did.

By the time the last person, an elderly man, departed from the carriage, he decides that he's already missed her.

"Petunia Evans?" he calls out. People are talking loudly in the crowded station, too loudly for her to hear him. "Petunia Evans!" he calls again.

"I'm Petunia Evans," he hears a voice say.

When he turns around, time doesn't freeze out of consideration for their meeting. He doesn't feel a tightening in his chest because of her beauty. Petunia Evans is strikingly ordinary, too plain to be compared to Lily. Too plain to be noticed. Like him.

"I'm Peter Pettigrew. Your sister couldn't make it, so I'm here to take you home," he says, shrugging. His hand is halfway out in a handshake, because his mother told him to never kiss a Muggle woman's hand.

Petunia ignores his hand. "What do you mean, she couldn't make it? She promised!" Her voice is too shrill to be attractive, her tone too blunt.

Peter shrugs. "Her friend Marlene is in trouble and she needed to stay with her. I can Apparate you home if..."

He trails off at the dark look she gives him.

"You will not do magic on me," she says, lip curled up. Oddly enough, she looks slightly more attractive when angry. Or maybe Peter's just desperate, just trying to find her appealing in some way.

"I'm supposed to get you home safely," he says. "I promised." Lily would kill him if he let something happen to her sister. Who knew what the Muggles around them could do to her? "Could you just—"

He stops and sighs hopelessly at the look on her face. It says he doesn't have a chance in the world of convincing her. "I saw Mug—people—get into metal transportation boxes. Could we get one of those?"

She sniffs. "It's better than—" she looks around "—your way of travel."

Peter wisely says nothing. It seems she has one thing in common with Lily: her temper. Petunia calls a Muggle transport device—a cab, she calls it—and he wrestles his limbs inside. Whoever said Muggles have some redeemable things has never smelled the inside of this cab, he decides.

Lily wouldn't agree, he thinks. Lily, the one good thing that's come from Muggles.

"You must think you're so chivalrous, taking me home. I'm taken, I'll have you know," Petunia says after a few long minutes of silence, the soft music playing on the radio the only noise.

"I'm not interested in you," Peter says, unable to catch the inflection.

"Why not? It's not like Lily will ever look at you," she tells him much too honestly. She assumes easily, but she's right.

Petunia has that same bite of Lily's, the one that almost made her seem Slytherin. Not that Peter cares about House boundaries, most of the time. When he's with James and Sirius, he regresses back to his prejudiced self, but usually he's pretty open minded. When you're thinking about betraying your best friends for your ancestors, House boundaries are a small issue.

"Aren't you taken? Should you be even saying that?"

"We've been out a few times, but we're on a break at the moment. I think we'll get back together soon, though, once his job at his father's drill firm is stable."

Peter nods and wonders what drills are. They must be important.

"So what about you?" Petunia asks after a while. Peter checks his watch. They've been moving for half an hour. "Do you have a girlfriend?"

On a whim, he says, "Yeah." Even this woman, this Muggle whose looks are barely average, is in a relationship, what does it say about him?

"Is she a—" Petunia glances at the driver "—you-know-what?"

"Yeah, she's a witch." His ideal girlfriend before he met Lily: pure-blooded, pretty, kind.

Petunia chokes as the driver glances back at them.

"Don't say that!" she hisses. "What's wrong with you?"

Peter shrugs. A lot of things. He's a possible future Death Eater, for one. He can't talk to a woman, which is his current problem.

They're back to silence again, and soon they're at a house that looks so ordinary, so proper, that he wants to light a Dark Mark over it. Lily wouldn't approve. Neither would James, for that matter. They've never understood the way he thinks, the way his mother and mother's mother and countless men and women before him have thought. Even if Pettigrews are the lowest of purebloods, they're sky-high compared to Muggles.

Petunia ushers him into her house and pointedly says, "Thank you. Goodbye."

Peter Disapparates without another word. He has a story to tell to his mother, a story about a courteous pureblood and rude Muggle. It will make her laugh.

.

He's skipped work for Lily, so he makes up for it by doing some extra paperwork while his boss occasionally comes in and says, "Good work, Patterson." His job in the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes involves a combination of pushing paperwork, dealing with clients, trying to get his boss to remember his name, and meeting Snape, who drops off potion orders.

James had teased him for weeks about how he worked with the git, Death Greaser Extraordinaire. Except Peter couldn't see it. What would the Death Eaters want with someone like Snape?

A corner of his mind whispers, What would the Death Eaters want with someone like you?

Today, though, as Snape sneers at him, Peter can't feel a thing. He thinks of Lily's Muggle sister and the way she acted, the way she thought she was better than him, as though he was the embarrassing one. The blight on the earth's surface.

.

Days later, when he gets back from work, he finds that someone's left a message for him. He's oddly popular. James and Sirius haven't called him much since they all graduated, and Remus is too busy trying to keep a job to hang out.

"She seemed like a nice girl, the redhead," his mother tells him as he fusses with her blankets. "Your friend is very lucky. Do I know her parents?"

Peter almost says his mother shouldn't use present tense, he nearly says his mother never leaves the house. She doesn't know anyone at all.

"Lily's a Muggle-born," he says instead, and watches his mother's smile fade.

"Well," she says, "she's still very beautiful. Not beautiful enough for my Peter, though."

They share their secret smile, and Peter kisses her forehead before he leaves.

Sometimes, he wonders if his mother really does think he's attractive, or if she just tells him platitudes like James, Sirius Remus and Lily do.

.

The message is Lily's graduation gift for Petunia, which the Muggle had thrown back at her when Lily tried to give it to her.

"Could you tell me what she thinks of it, if she takes it? If you don't mind of course?" Lily asks, sweet and sincere and talking to only him. "I think you got through to her last week."

"It was nothing," Peter says, trying to block out everything he felt from his voice. Anger. Distaste.

Maybe Lily hears too much, because she says, "It wasn't. Thank you. It was nice of you."

And suddenly there's another head next to Lily's, James' black mess of curls, easily resting against Lily's freckled cheek.

"What she's trying to say," James states, "is that Tuney's a real piece of work. But if you're into that…" He wiggles his eyebrows.

"What? Peter? Really?" Lily asks.

Peter feels like he can't breathe, and he splutters incoherently. "N-no," he squeezes out. "Never!" They laugh. Peter can't tell if they believe him, but he needs to do something, anything, to make this better. "Really, I don't. I wouldn't!"

Petunia is everything he doesn't want. Lily is the exact opposite.

"Okay, okay," Lily says, still smiling just a bit. She hands him the present, a box tied with a red and gold bow, and says her last piece of news, "We're telling everyone personally. James and I are having a baby! Can you believe it?"

.

Three hours of shooting spells at dummies later, Peter still can't believe it. He doesn't want to believe it. He wants to stick his head in the ground, in his pillow, in a silver mask, anything to stop it from happening.

He's at a pureblood shooting range, a place introduced to him by Lucius Malfoy, and it's only a matter of time before Malfoy finds him there.

"How has life been treating you, Pettigrew?" he asks, leaning on the counter just a little.

"Fine," Peter snaps back. "How's your leg?"

It's his one moment of scorn before he remembers Malfoy's aim statistics on the scoreboards. Malfoy is expectedly unimpressed. "Better than last week."

He takes his wand from his pocket and lengthens it into a wooden cane. Peter can't help feeling gleeful that Malfoy, the boy-turned-man who'd bullied him in school, now has a limp after the attack from the Prewett brothers. The glee vanishes when he remembers what happened to the brothers afterwards. What Malfoy could do to him.

"Sorry," Peter says.

Malfoy raises an elegant eyebrow, as if to say, Go on. I asked you a question, serf.

He knows why Malfoy's still talking to him, of course. He's grooming him toward his cause, because even though Peter is magically weak, stupid and poor, he's a member of the Order of the Phoenix, and a graduate of a class with many prominent Light purebloods. If Lucius can get to him, Peter can get to them for the Death Eaters.

Peter tells him the whole story, tripping over words and feelings like a first year, feeling both better and worse when he finishes. "I don't like them all the time. I should. They're my best friends, but sometimes, I… I want to hurt them."

Lucius Malfoy nods, serene at Peter's words. He isn't disgusted like James would be. "I won't tell anyone," he promises, patting Peter on the back. "Join me this weekend, and you might find something to cheer you up."

Peter doesn't have a chance. He's drawn to Malfoy's words, the promise of strength and revenge in them. The way Malfoy can promise him the world if Peter puts on the mask and gives his word.

"I'll see if I can make it," Peter answers, just as he usually does. Maybe he'll even go this time.

.

He must be a masochist, because he stops by James' and Lily's place with flowers the next evening.

"You shouldn't have," Lily says, but she takes them with a smile. They're fresh and her favourites, Peter knows.

Remus is already there, looking worse for wear but smiling fondly at the couple. Sirius is in the kitchen, looking for drinks. Peter tries to smile, but it comes out as a grimace instead. Spread out on the two couches in James' living room, they look like the best friends.

Peter feels like an outsider, like an enemy.

"Are you missing my sister already?" Lily teases easily, her head in James' lap.

"The one who said I'd come to her house to, I quote, spread my warts?" James asks, wrinkling his nose.

"A Muggle?" Sirius asks. Remus can't speak for the shock.

"There's nothing wrong with being a Muggle, Sirius. In fact, Peter is being modern and forward-thinking, aren't you?"

It's a catch 22, and Peter agrees with Lily like he always does.

There's nothing wrong with dating a Muggle, Peter tells himself.

Especially for me. Because Peter can't pick up a witch. Isn't that right, Lily?

"We're in dangerous times. Even if I don't really like her, we should still be looking out for the Muggles," James says uncomfortably, and kisses Lily when she smiles at him approvingly. "Who knows who the Death Eaters will target? You're doing a good job, Pete."

"It'll be fine," Sirius says. "It's not like Malfoy knows where she lives. Champagne and a toast, anyone?"

He doesn't notice Peter's internal struggle, the words he longs to say.

You shouldn't be looking for purebloods like Malfoy, Peter almost screams. He wants to. He's choking on the words that he's wanted to say for so long.

You shouldn't be looking for the idiots who are open about their allegiance. You shouldn't be baiting the layabout rich who whine about Mudbloods but go back to their manor homes at the end of the day. You should be looking for the poor ones, the ones whose families used to be grand but have fallen from grace. The ones who have only magic and blood to be proud of.

Not looks, not riches, not cushy jobs. Just an old last name and a book of records stretching centuries.

He's not the only Gryffindor almost-Death Eater. There's one more that he knows of, a bloke who graduated three years above them. Handsome, kind, friendly. Unnoticed by the Order. It's death for Peter if he reveals the other man, who he knows likes to use the Blood Boiling curse and has great taste in champagne.

Better than Sirius' swill.

.

Later, Peter Apparates to Petunia's home with the package in hand. She opens the door, and he says, "Happy graduation." And hands her the present before she can blink.

"She sent you again?" Petunia sniffs. "Come inside."

"That's nice of you."

"I don't want Mrs. Ackley to think I'm a bad host. She knows the Dursleys, you know."

Peter doesn't know, but nods all the same. They stand in the hallway, Petunia being unwilling to let him go any further inside, Peter not knowing what else to do. James would sweet-talk her somehow. Lucius would curse her blind.

What would he do? The Death Eater meeting was tonight. What would Peter do?

All Peter can do is think of Lily. Lily, who's forever James'.

There isn't much room in the entryway, only the length of a wand between them. Petunia is scowling slightly. This close, Peter can see the soft freckles on her cheeks. They are like Lily's. Knowing as he does it that it's stupid, Peter leans in and kisses her. He hasn't kissed anyone since Mary McDougal in seventh year, in a closet on a dare.

Petunia's lips are softer than he expects, and for a moment he thinks she'll stay and let him imagine Lily there. They are the same height.

But all too soon she pushes him away and says, "Get away from me. Now! I can't believe I let you into my house. Even a Muggle like me wouldn't want you," she says, her hands clenching at her sides.

He is tired and weary, and too weak, and the silver mask waits for him at home.

Maybe it's time to give in to the inevitable end.

Chapter Text

1

.

"I'm not jealous," Remus said, determinedly looking away from Sirius. "What do I have to be jealous over? It's fine. I've forgiven you. Go on your date."

He could hear Sirius shuffling around the room, needlessly moving things about. Peter and James were suspiciously absent. They probably hadn't wanted to get caught in the crossfire. Remus closed his eyes and leaned back on the headboard of his four-poster bed. If he pretended, he could almost imagine he was alone in the room instead of stuck with Sirius for the first time since that incident.

"I'm sorry."

Remus winced. Sirius wasn't helping with Remus' fantasy of being alone. "I forgave you. You're an idiot. We all know that."

And he had, in fact, forgiven Sirius. Because Remus was an idiot and Sirius had puppy-dog eyes and their group of four was too good to break up over something like that. Sirius was like a kid. He wanted everything at once, and Remus should have known that.

"I really am," Sirius said from what felt like only a few inches away.

Remus cracked an eye open. Sirius was there, in all his dress robe glory. He was going all out for Marlene after their rough patch last month.

Remus' heart clenched painfully. They were close enough to touch, close enough to kiss, and that look in Sirius' eyes said both too much and not enough.

"Go," Remus said, and Sirius did.

.

2

.

One year later, the war was getting worse, and Marlene and school and dating were a distant memory in Remus' mind.

"I might kill you if you die," he said in the doorframe of Molly and Arthur's kitchen. There rest of the Order was at the table, sharing spells and making plans while Sirius got ready to head out and spy on his family.

Sirius shook his head. "I'd never give Moody the joy. He's probably mentally planning a funeral for me, and I've always been a defiant sort of mutt."

"You're something, alright," Remus said wryly, and Sirius laughed in response. It felt good, talking about things other than battle plans and Death Eaters. He and Sirius hadn't been as close after Hogwarts. None of the Marauders were. James and Lily paired off, Peter's mother died, Remus had trouble getting and accommodating job, and Sirius just lacked direction in life. "Besides, Marlene might kill you if you died."

Sirius ruffled his shaggy hair. "We broke up, actually."

Remus raised an eyebrow.

"I'm serious! We're over," Sirius insisted. "Seriously serious."

Remus didn't smile, didn't react in any way, except to say, "I'll have to do the job of killing you, then."

"You could also kiss me goodbye. For good luck. It'd be totally innocent." Sirius' tone didn't sound innocent in the least.

Remus laughed and shoved past him, letting the comment slide without lingering, and later watched as Sirius left the safe house for another mission.

There wasn't any time in war for kisses, anyway.

.

3

.

"Harry," Sirius said, drunk almost to the point of passing out, "has gotten more than I have in the last decade."

Remus rolled his eyes. "He's a day from sitting his OWLs. I can safely promise you, he's not getting any right now, if he were that sort of kid. Which he isn't."

He lowered his glass on the small table beside them. The half-empty bottle mocked his conscience, but he left it alone. "Do you need help getting to bed?"

Sirius swirled the drink in his glass, considering it. He was silent for so long that Remus thought he might just fall asleep right there, on Grimmauld Place's sitting room couch.

"Do you still love me?"

Remus took the drink of Sirius' hand. "Alright, I'll take you upstairs. I think you've reached your limit."

"Do you remember when we—"

Remus pressed his hand against Sirius' mouth. His lips were warm, soft. Sirius was sloshed enough that he probably wouldn't remember tonight the following morning. If Remus were the type to give in to something that had passed years ago.

"We," Remus said, pausing and thinking of everything he could say and do instead, "are putting you to bed. And that's it."

"We should kiss tomorrow," Sirius mumbled.

.

3 + 1

.

"We're going to get caught," Remus whispered, grinning widely but unable to bring himself to care. They were in a broom closet after curfew, and were the most cliché rule-breakers the professors would find. It didn't matter, because Sirius was with him, was free, and fancied Remus as much as Remus fancied him. "You did break up with Marlene, right?" he asked, just to check.

"Yeah," Sirius said. "Don't worry about her. It's you I want."

Remus smiled, leaned in, and kissed Sirius for the first time.

Chapter Text

"Aaaaand there we have it, boys and girls! A 410 – 370 victory for Gryffindor after an astounding, nail-biting match. You all know who's going to be awarded the House Cup next month!"

Scorpius Malfoy, third year Slytherin and Chaser for his House's Quidditch team, scowled at the announcer as he flew the loop of shame around the pitch. Behind him, the rest of the Slytherin team soared single-file through the darkening skies, while ahead of him the Gryffindor team cheered in victory on their broomsticks and twirled pirouettes in the sky. Arses, the lot of them.

Near the middle of his loop, he passed his best friend Albus in the Slytherin stands, collecting bets and handing out Galleons to the lucky guessers.

Just in front of him, James Potter, Gryffindor Chaser, grinned back at him. "Good game, Malfoy! You didn't do too badly!"

"We would've won if we had a few more goals!" Scorpius yelled back. He slowed down as he reached the Gryffindor stands, giving James' and Albus' little sister a high five. She was a first year, and utterly adorable in her two ties: one red and gold, the other silver and green.

James looped back and around Scorpius, getting high fives from the people in the stands as though they were his due. James was a stupid, arrogant sod, Scorpius told himself. And the only reason Gryffindor won anything was because no one wanted to listen to James whine for weeks after losing.

Scorpius jumped onto the ground near the locker rooms, feeling woozy for the first few moments after a five-hour game.

James bumped shoulders with him in support, taking Scorpius' broomstick along with his own into the broom closet. The house-elves would polish the brooms and put them in their trunks by tomorrow morning.

"You did fly well," James repeated, patting the broomsticks fondly. "You're not a bad Chaser. Not quite Pucey, but..."

Scorpius scowled even harder. "No one's ever quite Pucey."

He'd replaced Aidan Pucey this year, and James was the last person he wanted to compare him with him. Pucey was a god of the Chaser position, and Scorpius was still his runner up. He'd never admit, but he was awed and jealous of James playing against Aidan Pucey his first year. Not that he wouldn't get better by next year and show James exactly what Malfoys could do.

"Wait until next year, when our players get more skill."

James turned around and ruffled his hair with a wide grin. "We'll still totally trounce you."

Scorpius knew that James was mostly friendly with him only because he was his brother's best friend, but it felt good that the older Quidditch player noticed him and gave him pointers. Not a lot, since they were on rival teams, but enough to say he noticed Scorpius' flying.

It was hard not to have a bit in awe of James Potter. Sure, he was an arse half the time and spent too long styling his hair in the morning, but he was one of the best Hogwarts Quidditch players since his father, who'd obviously passed down his skills. Scorpius reckoned that Al would be just as good, if he didn't insist on being more interested in the betting.

It helped to think of that when the Slytherin team had, for the second time this year, been pounded into the dirt by Gryffindor's.

They were close to the locker rooms when someone yelled, "Watch out!"

James, walking backwards, tripped on a lying broom. Scorpius grabbed James' arm to keep him from falling, but James' hand still in his hair caused them to topple over.

Eyes closed, he brought his head up to check the damage, and ended up meeting James' head with his own. Maybe his lips were number from the cold high-altitudes than he'd realized, because he didn't realize what happened at first. It wasn't James' ear or cheek he'd nicked with his lips, but his lips.

And then, eyes snapping open, he brought his face down, hitting his head against the ground again.

"Dammit," he said, allowing James to help him again. When they were both upright, James took back his helping hand as quickly as possible. Scorpius was blushing as red as the Gryffindor House crest, and James' face was oddly blank.

He couldn't quite figure what to do now that they'd both realized what had happened.

"Um," Scorpius began, and couldn't quite finish. "Sorry?"

"It's fine… Good game?" James asked.

Scorpius didn't mention what a total non sequitur that was. "Yeah, great one, terrific. Um." He couldn't help saying, "I guess that didn't happen?" Because despite the fact that it was an accident, it was his first kiss and everything.

James shrugged. "Yea—No. It did. It was just an accident."

Scorpius nodded in agreement, and they proceeded to talk about the Wronski Feint that Scorpius almost did all the way back to Hogwarts. Albus and Lily were waiting for him on the steps, and by then Scorpius almost felt normal.

Until he realized: Oh, Merlin, his first kiss was James Potter. What was he going to tell Albus?

In the end, he never did tell Albus, because the week later all the Slytherin third, fourth, and fifth years played Spin the Wand, and Scorpius was pushed into a closet for three minutes with the Melinda Greengrass. A much better first kiss by far.

.

Two years later, Scorpius' first kiss was almost buried under long snogs from various girls, during which he figured out that despite his unfortunate first kiss, he was totally 100 percent straight.

"So how's your man-crush going?" Albus asked from the other end of the couch.

"It's not a man-crush," Scorpius replied, flipping open Quidditch Weekly and once again rereading the section on Aidan Pucey's Quidditch career. He still appreciated James Potter's talent, but he'd long since decided that Aidan Pucey was a better, more un-accidentally-reachable man-crush.

Albus reached over and pointed to the shirtless picture of Pucey zooming around the page. "C'mon. That is not the least bit gay?" Albus' voice sounded off to his ears, somehow too nervy for the teasing tone.

Scorpius rolled his eyes and flipped the magazine shut. "No, it's not. Because I'm not gay. Why are we even talking about this?"

He almost picked up his Charms book, thinking of actually doing a bit of schoolwork, but Albus' lack of answer made him look back. Albus always had an answer, especially when it came to making fun of someone.

"What, you're not going to say I'm compensating for something by dating all the Slytherin girls?"

Albus didn't answer, and instead looked anywhere else except at Scorpius. Scorpius followed his gaze around their little room. It was an abandoned room they'd found in their first year, a place they came to year after year to get away from the boys in their dorm. Their place at Hogwarts. And suddenly, instead of feeling at home, Albus looked like he wanted to be anywhere else.

"I was going to say…" Albus stopped for a moment, staring at Scorpius with his green eyes. "I'm bringing up gayness because I'm gay. Not in your man-crush way, but in the I want to date blokes way. Actually, kind of want to ask out a bloke for the next Hogsmeade weekend. Pince from Hufflepuff."

"Do you fancy him?"

"Yeah, I guess so. He's free, I'm free, we're not opposed to dating each other."

"Oh." He paused, trying to wrap his mind around Albus and Albus dating other boys. Albus had never been as crazy about girls as him, but he'd still dated Parkinson last year. "What changed? Why didn't you tell me?"

"I don't know. Dammit, you're my best mate, but I'm just…"

Scorpius dropped the Charms book back on the floor and scooted closer to Albus, putting a hand on his shoulder in a not gay way. "We're still best mates. This—" he waved a hand as if to illustrate Albus' sexuality, then put it down when he realized how stupid it looked "—is fine. Really fine."

It was. And even if it wasn't fine, Scorpius would make it fine, because losing his best friend over something like this wasn't imaginable.

"Yeah? Thanks." A pause, then, "Now you just have to owl Pucey and ask him on a double date."

Scorpius snorted and pushed Albus away, and they were back to their easy rapport. He put his hand on the top of the couch and listened to Albus list all the reasons why the crazy double date would work, none of which were about Scorpius being actually straight.

He felt odd, seeing a blush on Albus' face, and actually noticing it was there. He'd never cared what Albus looked like. And then he realized he'd been in this situation before, sitting on a couch close to someone who might be into him. Just because Albus was gay didn't mean he'd be interested in him, but…

Albus was right there, quiet again as Scorpius moved closer a centimeter and Albus moved closer by two. He wasn't pulling away, didn't pull away even when Scorpius was too close to blow it off as an accident. In a flash of clarity, Scorpius wondered if Albus had feelings for him. Was that why he wasn't pulling away? Or was it for the same reason Scorpius finally closed the last centimeter between them: experimentation, wonder, curiosity.

It was okay, kissing a bloke, Scorpius decided after a moment. Albus' lips were thinner than he was used to, and his chin felt odd, but that wasn't bad. He tugged on Albus' green and silver tie, pulling them closer together, and was surprised when he didn't brush breasts.

"Here, like this," Albus murmured, switching their positions. Albus' hair smelled like the fire they'd made in Charms class a few hours ago, and he could almost smell a whiff of Albus' distinctive aftershave that must've caught on his robes that morning. He smelled like a guy. Not that Scorpius had smelled guys before. Nothing like Carrie or Jane. His arms were strong against him, his waist a bit trim.

Albus pulled away not a moment too soon, and Scorpius almost felt offended at the wince on his face. Almost, because he felt like wincing himself.

"Let's not do that again, okay?" Albus said, scooting back to his end of the couch. They were only touching at the legs now, and it felt like too much despite the contact being unavoidable between two tall guys.

Scorpius heaved a sigh of relief. "Thank Merlin. Because I've decided I'm pretty straight. Maybe 99 percent, because that wasn't bad, but not like…"

"You mean, your kiss with my brother didn't turn you gay?" Albus asked slyly.

"You know about that?" Scorpius yelped, recoiling a bit. No one was supposed to know about that. They'd been far enough from the team that no one saw, and it had been getting dark, anyway.

"Sure. You just told me. I only sort of thought so when you and James had that post-Spin the Wand type inability to look at each other."

Scorpius pinched his nose, trying to find a way to get James out of his mind. Especially his lips, which apparently were more chapped than Albus' were. And for a straight guy, Scorpius knew way too much about other guys' lips. Abandoning that train of thought, he said instead, "We're okay, right?"

"Yeah. It's cool. Just as long as you don't make it a full set and snog my sister. You'd actually like it, and I might have to kill you for it."

"No chance of that," Scorpius promised, even if Lily Potter was oddly pretty. He pulled out his Charms book again, feeling that all was once again right in the world. He and Albus were still friends, the sanctity and non-awkwardness of their room was assured, and he was still pretty much straight.

.

All was right until the next morning, when he met Albus' sister for their weekly Ancient Runes tutoring. They found a comfortable corner table near the Ancient Runes section, and Scorpius was about to ask her what she was having trouble in, until Lily began speaking.

"So... You and my brother?" She trailed off, blushing a bit by the end.

"No. No, definitely not. Did he say something?" It was impossible that he'd said something. They had been together for the entire evening, and Albus even woken up for breakfast.

"Nah. I just walked past the abandoned classroom you two still pretend is your secret hideout."

Girls, Scorpius thought, sucked. "It's not our secret spot."

"I distinctly remember Al writing home first year and saying his super awesome best friend and he have found a secret base of operations. He even sketched the sign on the door: Potters and Malfoys only. No James allowed!"

Scorpius dropped his head on the table. "I was a Death Eater in my past life, wasn't I?"

"You were," James' familiar voice appeared, "Bellatrix Lestrange. That's why we're just waiting for you to announce your love of corsets." He dropped down into an empty chair. "What are we talking about?"

"James, what have I done to you in the past week?"

"Snogged my brother, for one. Gotten better at Quidditch too."

Oh, Merlin. Scorpius could already divine his future. By lunchtime that day, the rumor mill would probably paint him as a card-carrying hardcore homosexual who was dating both the Potter men. There wasn't even a way to keep James and Lily quiet, because as quintessential Gryffindors, they weren't able to keep juicy secrets for more than an hour.

Scorpius glared at Lily. "You're all in two different Houses. How the hell is it possible for you all to know already?"

"The same way I know you'll treat Al well, or else." Lily added in her own glare.

"And no cheating on him with Aidan Pucey, capiche?"

"I'm not dating Al!" he yelled, a bit too loudly, earning him a shhh from the librarian and odd looks from students at nearby tables. "Shove off, will you?"

Scorpius rubbed his temples before turning back to Lily. As much as he liked the Potter family, they had a bad habit of being nosey gits.

"You guys really aren't dating?" Lily asked. Case in point.

Scorpius sighed, trying to take in her expression. She didn't look disgusted at seeing them together. That was good.

"No. Cross my heart. We just… tested a hypothesis, and that's it. You believe me, don't you, baby bear?" He wanted someone to believe him, but more than that, he wanted Lily to believe him. Not just because she was the last Potter sibling he hadn't snogged, but because he didn't want her thinking he was gay.

You're an idiot, he told himself.

And he felt like an even bigger, happier idiot when Lily said, "Yeah, I believe you."

.

Two years later, James was still an idiot, Albus was still gay, but Lily had gone from being Albus' little sister to the only person he wanted to date.

So when he saw her sitting alone in a booth at the Three Broomstick's, he slid in across from her. "What are you doing on this lovely day?" he asked her.

Lily shrugged. "Avoiding James and Albus. James came for a visit, and all they want to talk about is how I should keep guys away from me until I'm at least twenty-five. Maybe older, if James had his way."

It wasn't the brightest thing to say, but Scorpius couldn't help saying, "You should. Really, if three people think so, I think it's a pretty great idea. Don't date."

Lily scowled. "What, am I your little sister too? Actually, don't answer that." She picked up her purse and cloak and stood up, leaving the table without him.

"Lily!" Scorpius called after her. He headed out of the Three Broomsticks, catching up to her at a jog. "I don't see you as a sister."

She turned around. "Of course not. You don't see me as anything, let alone…Why do I even bother? You're just a stupid guy, and you're closer to James and Albus anyway."

"Lily… of course you're something. You're…" he walked closer, resting his hands on her shoulders, feeling stupidly nervous in spite of the creeping sense of wonder that told him maybe his feelings weren't as unrequited as he'd thought. "Amazing. You are, you know. I'm not just saying that."

Lily's eyes turned down, and she said, "An amazing friend?"

Scorpius shook his head. "Never just a friend." And then he brought his lips to hers and found the perfect fit.

Chapter Text

Of all the things Ron Weasley stringently told people he wasn't afraid of, his girlfriend's cat didn't make the list. Mostly because he wasn't, of course, afraid of Crookshanks. That would be ridiculous. He was an Auror trainee. At most, he was scared of politicians (that odd species of human that liked word games and paperwork, good Merlin) and dark wizards, not cats about a seventh of his size and even less of his weight.

He and Hermione were settled on Hermione's couch, watching a middle-aged man run around chasing aliens—whatever those were—on a Muggle vellytision. Ron thought Muggles had strange ideas of fun, but he put up with the tradition since Hermione lamented about missing Doctor Who while at Hogwarts. Ron didn't see the appeal. Ron also felt he was going to have nightmares of being chased by big human-like clothes models, directed by a talking Crookshanks.

Crookshanks, who sat right there, staring straight at him like he was a grilled mouse on a fork, as he and Hermione watched were attempting to cuddle in peace.

Hermione curled closer into Ron's side, completely unaware of the tension in the room.

"I think your cat wants to eat me," Ron told her.

She patted his arm in a routine attempt at comfort. "Of course he doesn't want to eat you. He loves you."

Ron glanced back at Crookshanks, whose teeth were now visible. Was that a crimson color flashing in his eyes? He could — no, he couldn't. Hermione would never let him take her cat in to check for possession. Not under the reason of 'your cat freaks me out'.

Which it didn't, of course. It just unnerved him that slightest bit.

"Hermione, how long do half-Kneazles live?" Ron asked instead, uneasily watching Crookshanks prowl closer. Crookshanks' tail kept weaving in the air, reminding him of a snake ready to bite. The purple ribbon tied around its tail only made the cat's façade of innocence creepier.

"Mmmm, about fifty years. Hopefully sixty," she said, holding out her hand for Crookshanks to rub himself against. Crookshanks complied, purring deeply and settling on the carpet under her hand. At Hermione's nudge, Ron did the same, awkwardly patting the cat's head. She smiled at him. "My two favorite men." She kissed his cheek, and Ron thought he might just put up with the cat if it made Hermione happy.

When Hermione's head turned back to the screen, Crookshanks languidly rolled his head over to Ron's hand, sniffed it, and bit his sharp teeth into Ron's skin.

Stifling his swears, Ron stopped the bleeding before Hermione saw, since her attention completely on the Autos, and shared a glare with Crookshanks.

"I think he wants to go for a walk," he said. Hermione hummed in vague agreement. Ron double-checked that her attention was completely on the screen before levitating Crookshanks out the nearest window and dropping him on the soft grass below. With somewhat vindictive grin, he settled back on the couch, wrapping his arms around her and feeling content with the world.

Chapter Text

Daphne Greengrass did not own a mansion, a sad fact Draco Malfoy was only too aware of. The poor (both meanings of the word) dear, lacking a mansion like the one Lucius and Narcissa had given Draco for his 21st birthday, was forced to spend her days in a flat (two bedroom, of all things!) in Diagon Alley.

And for Draco Malfoy, May 2nd passed quickly each year, for a very simple reason: he spent the entire day drunk.

"And Crabbe was my best friend in my whole world," Draco said, taking another gulp of firewhiskey. "He was shu-per and nice and big—"

"Woa, too much info, Draco. I don't want to know about your bedmates."

"Shut up, Greengrass. I was talking about his body." His face furrowed, trying to remember why that statement was off, too. "His whole body," he corrected with a nod. "Not his dick. But maybe it was. Donno. Don't care. Crabbe's dead."

Daphne patted Draco's arm. "He's been dead for four years."

"He died today."

"Technically. So since you say you're not gay, I think what you really need is a girlfriend. A nice one."

"...Crabbe never had a girlfriend," Draco replied, his voice aiming for steady and falling short.

"Ho boy," Daphne said, and they flopped onto the floor together. "I'll regret this sometime, but what do you say about dating my sister?"

She regretted it approximately ten hours later, when Draco asked, "So what about the hot sister you have? I just think that if I had a date, I could get through the day of Crabbe's death better. I know he'd want it for me."

It was so easy to feel sorry for him when he was drunk out of his mind, but he was a jackass when he was sober. "He'd want you to go on a date instead of weeping over his grave?" she asked, feeling doubtful but nevertheless manipulated. At least she could catch his manipulations, she consoled herself, unlike the many women Draco had charmed over the years. He had learned from the best—Narcissa Malfoy, nee Black—and her lessons rarely failed him. Would she be the exception to his rule?

She sighed. Daphne Greengrass had made some difficult decisions in her life: transferring to Beauxbatons, forgiving her mother, accepting a Transfigurations apprenticeship over a Healing one, and allowing Draco Malfoy to date her sister. She said no for a few hours, while Draco continued to ask, looking at her with sweet and guileless gray eyes.

Eventually, she gave set them up for a date. How was she supposed to know they'd actually click?

Chapter Text

Tom is eleven when he first enters the wizarding world, and he is eleven when he realizes he hates it. He hates the air, hates the words, hates the customs and schools and people. It doesn't take him long to start hating the entire world, not just the muggle world. He has a lot of practice, after all. He hates so many things, places, people—and he hates no-one and nothing more than he hates his parents. By definition, he hates himself as well.

But the wizarding world, with all its silly hatreds, provides him an untraceable outlet to rid his life of hatred. How remarkable, that they give such powerful items to children. Tom is a child when it suits him, and he will play the part until he can show the world just how much he hates it.

This world needs something new, a cleansing force. Tom plans to be the cleaning charm for the world, and the world will be his playground in time. But for now, he sits and learns and plots.

Chapter Text

He'd like to tell you he's not gay
Not a pouf
A dandy
Or a queen

He doesn't lift shirts
He doesn't bite pillows
And his arsehole has one purpose
The one it was made for, thank you

(Love
is
blind)

He'd like to tell you he likes women
Exclusively
Totally
The pretty birds they are

He likes their hair
Their hands
The way they kiss and laugh

(Love
is
kind)

He loves women
But
He doesn't hate men

Men are cigarettes and Dark magic
Men are Durmstrang boys and Quidditch guys
Men fight and brood and drink
They aren't meant to be coddled
Or hugged, kissed softly
By other men

(Love
is
strong)

And he knows women aren't glass
But there's something fragile, beautiful
In each of them
Something sweet
Something pure
Something that makes him yearn

(Love
is
beautiful)

Men don't make him yearn
Because he's not gay

Boys don't make him yearn
Because he likes beauty
But not innocence

Not wide eyes
Or shy smiles
Or quick glances
From a boy with red hair

(Love
is
pure)

He sees Hermione in Hugo
Her brown eyes and quick wit
He's attracted to her through him
Or so he tells himself

(Love
knows)

But the boy has no excuse
To lean into him
To touch Viktor's wrist
To smile sweetly
To hope

(Love
is
faithful)

Viktor's not gay
And he doesn't want

Hope
Attraction
Pure idiocy

From a child
Who's just barely an adult

(Love
is
blind)

Who kisses him
Once
Blushing
Burning with embarrassment
The both of them

(Love
is
sweet)

Viktor is not gay
But
Maybe
British men don't count.

Chapter Text

He's a cat and he's lounging and drinking flutes champagne
He's a rat and he'll betray at every game
He's a mat for Miss Malfoy, while gayer
He's a drat of a poker player
He's got his hands on Dotty
He's rich and he's snotty
He's much too naughty
And he's just—
Not fat.
Unfortunately.

Chapter Text

In the aftermath of the Final Battle, Ron doesn't have time to consider his and Hermione's kiss. There's funeral arrangements, and castle clean-up, and mourning to be done before he can even remember the kiss happened.

It's Harry, always Harry, who reminds him, gently. "Hermione's been asking for you," he says.

Ron hums from his perch on the windowsill. They're in Fred and George's old room, cleaning things out. Well, Harry's cleaning. Ron's just trying to keep himself together.

"She doesn't want to pressure you. She just wants you to know she's there for you," Harry adds, taking out what look like a pair of bright orange overalls out of the dresser. Those immediately go into the "throw away" pile.

"Of course she does," Ron says. He takes out one of Fred's old textbooks. He had forgotten his brother liked writing in the margins so much.

There's movement, and Harry sits down next to him. Harry's hand is warm on Ron's knee.

"She's your girlfriend," Harry says, like that's supposed to mean something.

And Ron remembers the kiss. "Do you think…" he begins, forgetting what he was going to say.

"Yeah," Harry says. "Go floo-call her." He nudges Ron out the room. "I'll finish up here."

"Thanks," Ron tells him. Even though that definitely wasn't what he'd wanted.

.

Hermione is warm when she hugs him, soft, friendly. He and Harry aren't the hugging types, and his mother is too grieved to give comfort, so Hermione's the first to hug him in a while.

"I've missed you," she says. Ron agrees because it's true. He's missed her. But the entire time he's there, he wants to go back to the Burrow, where Harry's there, alone.

He doesn't because he remembers Harry's never alone – he has Ginny.

.

It should work, their relationship.

Two members of the golden trio, best friends half their lives. He and Hermione have just started dating. It'll work out soon enough.

Harry and Ginny have a few more months under the belt of their relationship. They're always together, always happy. Ron's jealous, but he's not sure if he's jealous of their relationship, or of the way Harry looks at Ginny even when she's not looking.

Ron and Hermione don't have that.

.

Ron doesn't have that, actually. Hermione does. She looks at him like he's her world, her perfect man. And Ron thought that he would learn – he's a slow learner after all, it will take time – but half a year in he still hasn't learned to see in Hermione what she sees in him.

Harry's the perfect boyfriend for Ginny, Ron knows. So he tries to be like Harry, in this as in all other things. Harry's mate, his friend, his—

He needs to stop.

.

Harry's the perfect boyfriend. It makes Ron ache.

No one ever says Harry and Ginny are a bad couple. No one ever says this because it isn't true. Harry and Ginny are probably the best couple Ron's ever met, other than his parents. They fit in a way Ron doesn't see many people fitting.

Ron isn't jealous, because he isn't. He tells himself this enough times that he's sure it'll eventually stick. He's not jealous of Ginny, he tells himself every time he sees the couple together.

There's never a good time to realize you have feelings for your completely taken best mate. Feelings that go beyond brotherly friendship, into an area Ron doesn't want to think about. No one wants to think about it, wants to know about it. Because if they found out, there's nothing but heartache and misery.

If he found out, the look in Harry's eyes when he looks at Ginny, the way he smiles softly at her, the way he holds her hand – all that wouldn't change.

Ron just wouldn't be there to see it.

.

Ginny makes the bright red Weasley hair seem beautiful, with the way the soft waves fall around her face. Her freckles make her face seem daintier, more feminine. Ron feels like a troll next to her when he compares their looks. He's too tall, too skinny, too everything. There was no competition who's more attractive, who Harry is more likely to fall for.

Who he's already fallen for.

There was never any competition.

.

He's fallen for the wrong best mate, and one day Hermione's going to see it. She's a smart girl. She'll realize it one day. They're eight months in and Ron still hasn't learned, so he tells her it's over between them. When she asks if it's someone else, he doesn't answer, because she can tell enough.

.

Ron knows Harry hadn't told Ginny he loves her, not yet, because she mentioned it after a few too many drinks. She says Harry isn't a demonstrative enough lover, or isn't good at talking about his feelings.

By that point, Ron keeps his tongue between his teeth to keep himself from suggesting she break things off with Harry if she isn't satisfied. He doesn't want to ruin their relationship.

Their friendship, his and Harry's, is fair game, though. They're growing apart and he doesn't know how to stop it. Harry is busy with Auror training – they have different classes, different instructors now – and spends his meager free time with Ginny. And when he and Harry do find time to meet, Ron finds himself growing distant as soon as Harry mentions his sister.

He can't help it. Harry would bring her up in conversation so innocuously ("Yeah, but Ginny's bat-boogey hex is still better than mine!") and Ron would instead hear, "By the way, I'm still in love with your sister and oblivious to your feelings." Ron tries avoiding the topic, but it was no use. Harry is in love and it shows in his every expression.

.

So instead of avoiding the conversation, he begins avoiding Harry and Ginny. Ginny isn't hard to avoid — she rarely comes to George's shop, and her work as a Quidditch player keeps her constantly training or travelling. Harry is harder to avoid, but it's doable.

He tells his friend he has a lot of work, or that he has a headache, or that he's busy studying, until a month goes by and he hasn't seen Harry at all.

He can almost convince himself that he doesn't care that he hadn't seen Harry, if not for the empty feeling in his chest whenever someone mentions him.

In the meantime, Hermione starts dating Theodore Nott, and Ron is so distracted he doesn't make a fuss about her dating a Slytherin. She checks him for fever, then scanns for curses affecting his judgment.

Ron couldn't quite tell her that it is love affecting his judgment.

Love that keeps him from seeing his best friend.

Love that keeps him from ruining Harry and Ginny's relationship, because Harry just beams with happiness when he's with her.

Love that keeps him from taking scissors to Ginny's hair when she announces she's moving in with Harry. Because Harry's flat has one bedroom, and Ginny definitely isn't going to be sleeping on the couch. It is all the more proof of Harry's straightness. Even if he were to break up with Ginny, he wasn't going be interested in another man.

A man who is his best friend, no less.

.

When Harry does notice something's wrong, he's clueless. Thank Merlin for small favors, Ron thinks.

"It's not something I did, is it? Because whatever it is, I'm sorry. And I remember us deciding to stop breaking apart our friendship over stupid things," Harry says.

For once, Ron's mostly honest. "It's not you. I just— Fell in love with someone I shouldn't have, and I'm having trouble dealing with it."

"Who is she?"

"He."

"Should I go punch him?" Harry jokes half-seriously.

"Nah. You'd—" be punching yourself "—make it hard for him to like me if you went around beating him up."

And Harry grins, and pats him on the back, and tells him to look on the bright side.

Ron knows for a fact he's better than this, better than some schmuck in love with someone who's never going to love him back. But Weasleys have never been known to have control over their hearts.

Chapter Text

There was no need to wonder who the child was.

His voice reached Lucius from behind the entrance to Platform Nine and Three Quarters, too far for Lucius to have heard it naturally, but close enough for his blood to realize just who it came from. The words he said were trivial, their tone even less important, but the clear way they echoed in his head despite the distance, the way they curled around his thoughts until they were the only words he could think made it all too clear. Despite their outward insignificance, these were the first words Lucius heard his mate speak.

"Lucius?" Narcissa asked, folding her hand under his elbow. It was a gesture of comfort and a reminder of where they were. She had noticed his uncharacteristic inattention. "Is everything alright?"

No, it isn't, he meant to say before he forced the words back down. His heart beat too quickly, and he tried to calm himself. I have found my mate and it's too late, too late for this, I can't, I don't want—

"I will be back shortly," he told her instead, and nodded to Draco, who took it as his cue to depart for the train. They had already said their good-byes in the privacy of their home.

He crossed the archway to the Muggle part of the train station for the first time in his life and looked around with trepidation, unease growing at the coming meeting. All he wanted to was Apparate away and lock himself in his manor home for the next forty years until his mate was aged and graying and not so damnably young. But he knew that even if he tried, the melody of their bond would keep him from Apparating. The childish voice was a noose around Lucius' neck. One made of silk or rope, Lucius didn't know.

He closed his eyes to the music, let it wash over him, let it smooth away his fears, and opened his eyes to his future. For a moment, he was able to hope that his mate wasn't a first year, the same age as his son. That his voice only sounded young. But both too close and too far away was the voice as it said, "But there has to be a Platform 9 ¾."

His future was a black-haired first year with a snowy owl and Lucius sighed while a part of him crooned and whispered, "Mine."

"Not yet," he told it, and pushed the Siren part of himself deeper inside his mind.

There he was, standing by Platform Nine: Lucius' mate. The person Lucius had waited decades to meet, alternately hoping they both would and would never hear each other's voices. His mate was a boy in Muggle clothes and obviously as different from Lucius as a Crup and Basilisk were. He was talking to uniformed Muggle as Lucius watched from under the archway's specialized Notice-Me-Not Charm. The boy wouldn't notice anyone going either into the wall or out of it unless he already knew how to cross it, or the people crossing were being too loud.

"It's on my ticket," the boy said, plainly nervous, his voice frayed.

The Muggle sneered and said something demeaning that Lucius couldn't catch through the loudness of the station. Soon the Muggle left, thinking the boy's questions and ticket were a joke, and Lucius' mate was left looking around and worrying his lip.

For a moment, Lucius considered ignoring the child. He was uncomfortable enough with the concept of having a child for a mate, not to mention that the child was likely a Muggle-born if he was looking for the platform. But this was his only chance to see his mate until Christmas holidays, or maybe even the next year. Knowing that, he hardly had a choice except to go up to him.

Lucius sighed and cast a spell to ensure he wouldn't be noticed by Muggles when he left the barrier. There was no choice, not for him. Not with the way the boy's voice had so quickly tied them together.

He looked even younger up close, dressed in overlarge Muggle clothing and dragging along a cart taller than himself.

The boy didn't see Lucius' entrance, and startled when Lucius said, "The Statute of Secrecy is in place for a reason, child. I would caution you against showing that ticket to Muggles."

He turned sharply toward Lucius, and his eyes widened as he took in Lucius' robes and stern words. Green eyes, Lucius noted. Had they been on an older face, he would have called them attractive.

"I'm sorry, sir," he said, abashed. "Can you tell me how to get on the platform? Mr. Hagrid brought me here, but he didn't say I had to do magic to get on the platform." Each word echoed in Lucius' ears, captivating his senses. Despite his unhappiness at having such a young mate, Lucius wanted to sing. More than that, he wanted to hear his mate sing, wanted to let the music wash over him. Lucius could almost imagine the boy's voice decade from now.

"And you don't. All you need to do is walk under the third archway between stations nine and ten. Come. I will guide you."

There were too many Muggles around them – smelly, dirty, things not fit for his mate. His mate, who was related to them somehow. But he would consider those implications later, when there was some distance between them.

He rested his hand on the boy's shoulder, and they walked together through the barrier between two worlds. Narcissa didn't come toward them from her spot only meters away, and Lucius inclined his head in thanks. Later, when they were far away from this station, he would explain things to her and ask for her forgiveness. But for now, he was with his mate.

Lucius stayed with him far longer than he should, finding the child an empty compartment and levitating his belongings on the luggage rack above their heads. He was reluctant to leave, even though he knew he must. In the end, he shook the boy's hand and said,
"My name is Lucius. Call my name or send an owl, and I will respond." Both because the mate bond would leave him with little choice, and because something about the child, so young and fragile, just Draco's age, made him yearn to protect him.

"Is this because of my scar?" the boy asked suspiciously. "Because just because I vanquished some evil wizard doesn't mean you should just offer me your help."

Dear Merlin, please—

Lucius' hand brushed the boy's hair from his face, traced the bumps of scar tissue on his forehead. It was in the shape of a lightning bolt and warm to the touch.

"This has nothing to do with your scar," he says, looking into green eyes that once belonged to a Mudblood. Internally, he sighed and told the fates that he was too old to change his entire outlook on the world, to change his long-held beliefs. But he could already feel himself forgiving Lily Evans for her dirty blood because she bore his mate.

He left him there, left his mate on a train to another country, and rejoined his wife at the station. She didn't ask what had held him up and he didn't answer. Instead, they watched the train whistle and pick up speed, their thoughts with the two boys leaving them behind.

Chapter Text

"Messers Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs offer their compliments to Professor Snape and..."

"Go on," Snape ordered.

Harry gulped as the words changed in script: and request that he not use his sensual voice when I can't jump his bones.

Kill me now, he thought.

"...and request that he keep his abnormally large nose out of other people's business," Harry said instead because there were some things one could not just say to their Potions professor.

Later, when he found out who exactly Messers. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs were, he was even more determined to never ever find out which of them had dated Snape in school.

Chapter Text

There were three matryoshka dolls in eleven year old Justin Finch-Flechley's room. Two parent dolls, which looked oddly similar in gender, and one child doll. Sometimes, when he was bored, Justin would open the many layers of the mother doll, and put the child doll inside. Then he would mix up the parts of the mother and father dolls and keep them like that until his mother scolded him. Then he would carefully line the painted pictures up, in a fashion his mother would be proud of if she noticed, and set them back up. The mother doll to the right, the father doll to the left, and the child doll in the center.

The dolls' place was in the top shelf of Justin's bookshelf, in front of a photograph of Justin and his parents. Their positions reflected the Finch-Flechley's family's ones. Justin was very young in the photo, young enough that he didn't remember it being taken, but old enough to remember the way his father's vest tickled his skin.

None of that currently mattered at the moment, of course, because Justin's attention wasn't on the photo or the dolls. Instead it was on the ventilation shaft in the corner of his room. His desk was right next to it, and if he sat in the adult-sized chair upside down and with his feet over the back of the chair, he was in the perfect position to listen to the voices coming through the vent.

He always heard everything in the house, though he couldn't say how or why. The air just brought the voices to him, even when the air conditioning wasn't turned on. Mother didn't know, and Justin wasn't about to tell her. His friends told him that men needed to have some secrets from their mothers, even though Justin was pretty sure his mother was all-knowing. But she would be mad and punish him if she knew, so he never let her know.

It was his and the dolls' little secret.

The voices downstairs were very loud, and if Justin concentrated, he could hear them through the door as well. He couldn't open it, as he was locked inside, but he could press his ear against the crack at the bottom and hear them. The wind would bring the voices to him. He was used to using the vents, though, not that he ever heard anything important until today.

Today was when the bad woman came.

She wore a big black cloak, and smiled at him when he answered the door so that she would fool him into thinking she was nice. Then she began to talk to his mother, and his mother's voice reached the tone she never used except when she was very, very angry. She brought Justin up to his room and told him to stay there and be quiet.

Justin didn't mind being quiet. He didn't even mind staying in his room. He just didn't like the locked door, so he went to the vent and began to listen to spite his mother.

He wished he hadn't. The bad woman told Mother she was a witch, and proved it to her. Mother screamed. Not the surprise birthday party sort of scream, but a real one, one that made Justin try to run downstairs despite the locked door. He didn't get very far.

Mrs. McGonagall, the bad lady in black, told Mother about a school called Hogwarts that Justin would be going to. "It's a good school, the best in Britain," she told Mother.

Mother told her that Justin's school was much better, and that he had a future that she wouldn't let Hogwarts take away. He was going to study Economics and be normal. He wasn't going to go to wand-waving classes at some heathen academy. She was angrier than Justin had ever heard her.

Then Mrs. McGonagall said that Justin didn't have a choice, and his mother became even angrier. She yelled things that Justin had only heard his Uncle say, but Mrs. McGonagall was stern.

Justin made the voices go away and sat on his bed, his arms around his legs and his head resting on his knees. Mrs. McGonagall said he was magical. Justin could believe that. Justin could also believe that he would be much happier going to a normal school instead of Hogwarts, if only because that would make his mother happier.

He took a book from the bookshelf and put in on his lap when he heard footsteps on the stairs and pretended to be diligently reading. The door opened to reveal Mrs. Finch-Flechley, a tall, brunette woman of about forty years of age. She still looked beautiful, but she and the younger woman in the portrait could not compare.

"Come on, Justin," she said, taking his hand and pulling him along. "Tell the witch that you have no interest in that school of hers."

When they got downstairs, Justin repeated his mother's phrase almost word for word, but Mrs. McGonagall would have nothing of it.

"He needs to learn how to properly use his magic. I apologize, but he has to go to Hogwarts." She turned to Justin. "I know you've done magic. Little things that could be explained away. You need to learn to use it properly, otherwise you could expose our world as your magical core grows with age."

"So you'll draft him at age eleven, send him off to your world?" his mother asked angrily.

"Only for seven years," the woman replied. "Just until he learns to control his magic."

"How many students like him come back to this life? To go to college, or get proper careers?"

It looked like Mrs. McGonagall didn't want to answer that question. "Some do," she said at last.

"Some," Mother said. "You take children from their homes, their lives, their futures, and for what? To teach them to make wardrobes into miniature elephants?"

"We teach them life skills as well," Mrs. McGonagall argued.

"For your life. For the life you're stealing him into." Justin's mother was on the verge of tears. He squeezed her hand to tell her he was still there, but it didn't seem to give her any assurance. "The life you're drafting him for, is it even safe? Can you tell me he will be safe?"

"Yes," Mrs. McGonagall said. "The last war ended—"

"There has been a war? When were you going to tell me that?"

"He will be safe. The war ended and Hogwarts is one of the safest places in Britain. I'm sorry, Mrs. Finch-Flechley, but your son will be going to Hogwarts. We have to keep our community secret. It will only be for seven years. He can do whatever he wishes after his schooling."

She left soon after, handing his mother a letter and instructions to reach a place called Diagon Alley. His mother sat down at the dining room table, the letter in her shaking hands, and called Uncle John. Justin went up to his room and started packing.

Chapter Text

(aberrant) adj. abnormal

Socially-conscious busybodies that they were, Vernon and Petunia Dursley frequently listened to the news. It wouldn't do to seem unaware of what was going on in the world, Petunia would tut, smirking at the neighbors who barely knew what a Prime Minister even did. When news of genocide and terrorism reached British suburbia, they covered ickle Dudleykins' ears while Harry listened freely. There was a special place in hell for those people, Uncle Vernon would say. Along with wizards, of course, and those sodomite freaks.

Knowing that there were child soldiers in the world, and child smuggling rings, and homeless children, made Harry somewhat grateful the Dursleys took him in instead of giving him to the milkman. Then they would tell him to clean the bathroom again and Harry wondered if homelessness was really all that bad. He rarely acknowledged the small part of his mind that told him there was something wrong with the way the Dursleys were raising him. That the programs on the telly showed caring aunts and uncles looking after their nieces and nephews, not forcing them to cook and clean like servants.

They didn't lock their nephews in cupboards, either, that small part of him said. Harry refused to consider it. The Dursleys had to have a reason for treating him badly. There was a reason for everything, even if Harry couldn't find it yet. He would know when he was an adult. For now, he had to repent for being freakish and abnormal.

Then Hagrid turned his world upside down, telling him that he was a wizard, that the things he did—changing his teacher's hair color, appearing on the school roof—was perfectly normal. That Harry wasn't going to hell with the terrorists, a nightmare that plagued his sleep constantly after seeing violence on the news. A little part of Harry broke that night, one that might have been his naivety for all he knew. If the Dursleys were wrong for hating him, then there must be evil in the world. Not just crazy people and ruthless killers, but the everyday evil that no one noticed, not even the people being abused. Maybe not even the abusers.

"I'm a normal wizard?" Harry asked, needing to know that he was normal in at least one way. That he would fit in at Hogwarts, that for once he would be treated like a normal boy. That he wouldn't be forgotten or bullied.

"Eh, to tell ye the truth, 'Arry, not exactly," Hagrid replied. He went on to tell Harry about Voldemort and the evil that still plagued the Wizarding world, the rampant racism and class issues. The only thing that Harry realized was that he would never be normal, not while he was the Boy-Who-Lived. But he would aim for a little bit of normalcy anyway, because if the Dursleys' treatment of him was wrong, then he needed to prove he could be normal, that he wasn't completely hopeless and weird.

Chapter Text

(brackish) adj. distasteful

Hogwarts sometimes reminded Harry of Aunt Petunia's Victorian era dramas, where students at boarding schools were brought up to be exactly the same. They walked (eins, zwei, drei! eins, zwei, drei!) in rhythm like robots, faceless and uniform. Hogwarts was a wonderful place, his home away from hell, but Harry didn't think that people noticed he was a real person, not a robot or a hero. People were surprised when he was nervous, because why would he be nervous about anything after defeating You-Know-Who? Flitwick was disappointed that he wasn't better at Charms like his mother, and McGonagall had clearly hoped he might have some of James' talent at Transfiguration. Quirrell could barely talk to him, but praised him (only him, always only him) for his accomplishments during lessons.

Sometimes, Harry wished he were more like James Potter: brave, smart, kind. According to his teachers, his father was always confident. He would have been able to deal with the attention of being the Boy Who Lived. Harry didn't see himself as anyone special. He didn't deserve to be put on a pedestal for something he didn't remember doing.

Other times, he wished he were a real Muggle-born, no matter the stigma about them, so that no one would know his name. People had all these ideas about him, misconceptions and preconceptions, Snape with the worst (he hated yer father, 'Arry) and Neville with the best (Gran told me bedtime stories, his face bright red). They pulled him in different directions, piled rocks on him and made him walk, and the stress that he shouldn't feel, that he was too young to feel, made him weak. Hogwarts was beautiful and majestic, and a million times better than Stonewall High. Harry just wished Hogwarts would love him the way he loved it.

And then he discovered Quidditch.

He would thank Malfoy if he were a little less of an arse for showing him how amazing flying was. There were no rules, no safety nets, no one to look at him with hidden disappointment.

There was just wind in his hair (between your ears, Hermione told him with a smile) and freedom and blue skies overhead. He could almost touch the clouds. His heart pumped and his mind cleared. There was nothing in the world that could beat flying.

And then there was McGonagall and fear of expulsion and preferential treatment, but he didn't care because it allowed him to fly more. To fly on a team of people who loved flying as much as he did, who wouldn't expect him to be amazing because of who his parents were or his defeat of Voldemort.

His first love might have been Hogwarts, but it was Quidditch that stole it and kept him sane. And with Quidditch came Gryffindor Captain Oliver Wood, self-admitted fanatic and amazing captain.

Chapter Text

"Queenie," Astoria murmured, tears in the corners of her eyes, falling down her long dark lashes and onto her cheeks. She wiped the back of her hand across her face, trying, failing, to get rid of every tear, and climbed up onto Daphne's four-poster bed. "I did something wrong."

There was a sinking feeling in Daphne's chest, a small one, a tired stone making its way to the bottom of her stomach. It knew the way quite well, just as Daphne knew the dance she and Astoria would play time and time again. A dance between a darling little sister with a temper and a grudge against the world, Slytherin enough to get away with things but not enough to know not to do something terrible in the first place, and an older sister who's been cleaning up the younger's mistakes for almost two decades, ever since her two year old self decided there could be no one more perfect than the baby her mother and father brought into the world.

(Later, long after Astoria's birth, Daphne met a girl with flaming red hair and freckles everywhere and Quidditch player muscles and a temper as fiery as her sister's but kinder and gentler, one that doesn't destroy but creates. A temper that made Daphne truly think after she called someone a mudblood in Ginny Weasley's presence. A girl who can't stand her not because of the color of her tie but because of her parents' and her sister's and even her own allegiances. A woman so lovely, so perfect, so much the girlfriend of the Man-Who-Killed-The-Dark-Lord.)

"What did you do?" Daphne asked, her voice as cold and heartless as Astoria's ever heard it, because they're both too old for Daphne to keep cleaning up Astoria's mistakes. Astoria flinched, but Daphne could almost convince herself that she didn't care. Daphne was not two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, sixteen. Daphne was eighteen and a former potions apprentice of the late Severus Snape, and her magic's forever stained by the potions they made for the Dark Lord, and she can't look at Draco Malfoy again because of the things they did during the war. Astoria's the child who stayed at the Greengrass manor for the duration of the war, the innocent one, the one who still has a chance of grasping happiness by its wings.

(Ginny Weasley's magic was pure and wonderful. Daphne sometimes couldn't tell if she was jealous or happy that at least some people could avoid the stain of the war.)

(But then she thinks of the twin who died and clutches Astoria and her parents closer to her heart. You don't have to approve of someone to love them so desperately it hurts.)

(Daphne doesn't approve of Harry Potter. Not because of whom he killed, but because of whom he kissed. But she has no say, no say at all, in who Ginny kisses. Potter is light and male and everything Ginny ever wanted.)

Astoria clutched Daphne's hand, her long, pale fingers cold and shaking. "I cursed the Weaslette," she said. "And I'm not sorry. She doesn't even know it was me."

Her voice was firm, a stark contrast to her earlier tears. A contrast to Daphne's heart, which can't quite get back to normal, and that's not allowed. Astoria was too close, too near, she would notice something. If she hasn't already, Daphne thought, and once again wondered if her sister noticed her forbidden thoughts, if the reason Ginny was cursed was because Astoria couldn't find another way to say she disapproved.

"Why are you here?" Daphne asked instead of asking why. She wanted to know, but it didn't quite matter. What mattered was that Astoria was in trouble, and so was Ginny, and Daphne couldn't imagine something worse than that combination. Because no matter how much of an idiot her little sister can be, she was still Daphne's little sister. Daphne's to love and shelter and care for.

(And Ginny was. Ginny was. Ginny was magical like Hogwarts wasn't, because Hogwarts was cold and lonely sometimes, while Ginny was determined to drive the cold away.)

"It's a Greengrass family spell and she isn't waking up," Astoria replied. "I just wanted her to shut up for once. It's disgraceful for her to be so poor, honestly. And it's not like she's even that pretty. Potter can do so much better than her."

"Like you?" Daphne drawled, and dammit, she's spent too much time around Draco. She doesn't even touch on Astoria's opinion of Ginny, because her baby sister must not have any eyes.

Astoria twitched a little. "Ew. No."

But her cheeks were the slightest bit pink, and her eyes were just a bit dark, and her hatred of Ginny made a bit more sense.

What a pair we are, Daphne thought but would never say, both in love with one half of the Golden Couple. Wouldn't mother and father love to see this stupid spectacle?

But the curse… "It needs a Greengrass to be undone, and you don't want to do it. Or can't."

"I can!"

"Of course. Which is why you're here, of course," Daphne answered.

Astoria drew her arms together and glared. "Are you going to help me or not? Because I can ask Mother."

Mother and Father are trying their hardest to make sure our family is implicated in nothing. They're working every day to make sure no one remembers anything – or can't say anything, even if they do remember, Daphne didn't say. They can't help you, you stupid child. Daphne had already done her part. Snape'd had ten apprentices working to complete all the potions the Dark Lord wanted. Six had died in the war along with their master. Four, including Daphne and Draco, agreed to Daphne's oath to never speak of their tasks (duties, honors, crimes, atrocities) again.

"I'll help you," Daphne replied. They both knew she would. "As long as I get your oath that you'll never involve yourself in Potter and Weasley's relationship again."

"Queenie! You can't. You just can't."

Astoria's pleas fell on deaf ears once Daphne steeled her heart. It was surprisingly easy, but then she was only trying to preserve her family's honor.

(And leave Ginny to live her own life, full of fairy tale princes and happiness and a half dozen children and everything Daphne could never give her.)

Once she got Astoria's vow, one that would last until Daphne released her, Potter approached her himself, or Daphne died, she headed to the hospital wing under the shadow of invisibility. She hadn't heard anything about Ginny's curse earlier that day, but she'd seen her at lunch, so Ginny hadn't been cursed for too long. Astoria had probably snuck into the hospital wing just a few hours before. Daphne probably was retracing her steps right now.

It was depressingly easy to breach the hospital wing, but as easy as it was to breach it, it was harsh to see Ginny Weasley's unmoving body on the first bed Daphne saw. She was just lying there, unmoving, so terribly still. Only a few months after the battle, Daphne could easily imagine Ginny as a victim of its too many battles. As someone who'd joined the dead, both dark and light, in the next life.

Sometimes, she wished she had. She gave into the darkness inside her and wished Ginny would have no one, have nothing, if Daphne couldn't have her. Maybe that was the same darkness that caused Astoria to curse someone she'd likely never even talked to.

Daphne knew the countercurse, knew it by heart because she'd studied her family's grimoire until her eyes burned, hoping against hope for a way to make things better for her family. Yourself first (and she'd gotten a position easily overlooked but one where she wouldn't be scorned by the older followers for doing nothing), your family a close second – that was the Slytherin way.

And Ginny, beautiful, lovely Ginny, wasn't a Slytherin. She would understand devotion to family, but would never go down the path of darkness just because it was her family's way. She would never understand why Daphne sided with the Dark Lord and why she would never regret that decision.

Slowly, Daphne leaned down, closer than she had ever been able to get, and kissed the air above Ginny's cheek. Then, still invisible, she ended Astoria's silly spell. She watched Ginny's pretty brown eyes fly open, watched her look around for her friends, watched Madam Pomfrey's ward become alert, and left before the mediwitch could come back.

Astoria would still be pouting on Daphne's bed when Daphne returned, her parents would still be absent, and Daphne would still be in love with Ginny Weasley.

But this way, when Daphne woke up the next morning, she could look forward to seeing Ginny at breakfast, safe and unharmed, happy and cheerful as ever. And that was the best she could hope for.

Chapter Text

"I hate life," James moaned as he pressed his cheek against the cold bathroom floor tiles. "We are never, ever eating there again."

Sirius would've laughed, but the food poisoning made it hard to feel anything other than a vague sense of queasiness. He still raised an eyebrow at James, who'd given up trying to stay upright twenty minutes into their restroom stay.

"I don't know about you, but I feel fine," he said to James.

"Liar," James muttered. "Crap, I wish we could go to Madam Pomfrey. But then she'll ask and give me that look and I won't be able to lie about sneaking out of the castle."

Sirius huffed. "You're secretly a Hufflepuff, aren't you?"

"And you're a Slytherin deep inside," James retorted, then scrunched up his face. "Oh, Merlin, I feel sick."

Sirius gently grasped him by the shoulders and helped him to the toilet once again. It was his job every time he and James went out for a night of fun, as James' stomach was a cruel, deceptive thing. He'd lost count of the many times James had had food poisoning over the years, though most of the time they'd been able to go to the hospital wing for help.

Slowly, James recovered, and leaned against the bathroom wall.

Sirius was glad that he didn't look like death had sunk its claws in him. In an hour or so, James would even regain all his color and look as handsome as ever.

"So glad Lily can't see me now," James muttered.

Sirius gave him his patented glare.

James scowled. "Look, I know you have something against her and all, and are sick of me talking about her all the time, but she's my girlfriend. I can't just not remember her when I'm with you."

James looked so stupidly determined that Sirius reached over, pinched his cheek, and said, "Awww, poor Jamie can't live without his twu wuv."

That brought James back into the arms of the porcelain god, while Sirius leaned back and wondered if James had ever even considered that there were other fish in the Black Lake. Very good looking girls, good looking guys, hell—anyone other than Lily Evans.

It wasn't that Sirius was in love with his mate's girl.

And no matter at what Remus always hinted at, trying to get Sirius to talk, it wasn't that Sirius was in love with James, either. (Or at least that was what he was determined to believe. Because being in love with James would be terrible, and Sirius wasn't interested in a future full of moping around.

But. Lily took up so much of James' time that Sirius thought about trying to steal James away almost daily. Thought about trying to seduce him, trying to prove to him that really, he was so much better than Lily Evans.

"I think I'm better now," James said, breaking through Sirius' futile thoughts. (Since really, Sirius would always go with what James wished. Even if that was Lily.)

But as he helped James into bed, Sirius couldn't help but wonder.

Chapter Text

(badinage) n. light, playful talk.

Harry had never had a proper friend, and when Ron Weasley (not that he knew his name at the time, of course) entered his cabin and asked to sit down, Harry almost froze with anxiety. This was his chance to make a friend, a real one, away from everyone who knew Dudley. Dudley wasn't here, breathing down Harry's shoulder and scaring away all his potential friends. So Harry tried to be friendly and nice, and to his surprise, it worked.

He made his first friend. Hagrid was a friend, too, but he didn't count. He was an adult and already liked him because of Harry's awesome parents, but Ron liked him because he liked Harry, not James and Lily. Not even because he was the Boy-Who-Lived, though Harry had a few worries about that in the beginning. Ron talked to him without looking down on him or making fun of him, and Harry realized there was little he wouldn't do to stay friends with Ron. He liked this odd thing called friendship.

He liked talking to Ron in the common room, sprawled out on the Gryffindor red couches and complaining absently about homework. He liked playing chess with him, even if he always lost. He liked the way Ron got angry on his behalf. No one had ever done that for him before. He was a thief and a troublemaker at home. No one cared about a junior delinquent.

He liked waking up in the mornings and having someone to say hello to, and going to bed and saying goodnight. He liked half-asleep conversations during breakfast that revolved around the perfect way to butter toast. Ron buttered it on both sides and got his fingers sticky and made them both laugh. With Ron came his bustling family who accepted Harry with such unconditional easiness that he couldn't help wishing he had grown up with the Weasleys instead of the Dursleys.

Then Hermione the know-it-all became Hermione the other-best-friend and Harry surrounded himself with another person who cared about him. Hermione was brilliant – not just book smart, but kind and helpful and always there for him and Ron whenever they needed her. She was a girl, but she wasn't gossipy like Lavender or snobbish like Fay, and Harry couldn't help but wonder if his mother had been anything like Hermione.

Here at Hogwarts, with Ron and Hermione on both sides, encouraging teachers in the background, and his parents' pasts all around him, he could almost forget about the Dursleys. He could forget that he ever needed to go back. He could imagine his future in this beautiful castle, forever happy and warm, and never, ever lonely.

Chapter Text

Tom is eleven when he first enters the wizarding world, and he is eleven when he realizes he hates it. He hates the air, hates the words, hates the customs and schools and people. It doesn't take him long to start hating the entire world, not just the muggle world. He has a lot of practice, after all. He hates so many things, places, people--and he hates none and nothing more than he hates his parents. By definition, he hates himself as well.

But the wizarding world, with all its silly hatreds, provides him an untraceable outlet to rid his life of hatred. How remarkable, that they give such powerful items to children. Tom is a child when it suits him, and he will play the part until he can show the world just how innocent he isn't.

This world needs something new, a cleansing force. Tom plans to be the cleaning charm for the world, and the world will be his playground in time. But for now, he sits and hates and plots.

Chapter Text

"Healer Vaisey," you say, tapping your wand against your hand, just waiting for him to anger you enough for you to send a curse at him. "You really are displeasing me."

Vaisey clenches his hands and says nothing.

"As well as displeasing my master," you continue, but all the Healer does is shake his head. You run your wand over your Dark Mark, and you're sure he can feel it on his own. "Our master. You don't want to do that, do you?"

"Please, give me a moment to—"

"To run away? That would be a shame."

He closes his eyes, rests his hands on his desk. The desk of the head healer at St. Mungo's. The desk of a dead man if he doesn't act fast.

"The patients are innocent in this war," he whispered. "They don't deserve – not this. They don't deserve to die like this."

"Dear man," you reply, feeling much too amused. "You don't really think I care, do you?"

You don't tell him that you're here for only one patient. It will be good for him, to wonder what you did in his hospital while he stayed in his office, too scared to alert either side. He won't ever find out that there aren't more Death Eaters outside the hospital, and in his house, waiting for him to leave before you allow it.

You smile at him before you leave the room, and he closes his eyes to it all, pretends not to see. You can almost envision the picture in his imagination: yourself, cackling madly as you make your way through the children's ward, indiscriminately shooting killing curses; your fellow Death Eaters, tearing down the walls; the Dark Lord already in his house, torturing his family insane. It's a pleasant image, but that's not what you're here for.

This late at night, only the most essential staff is here, and none are in the long-term ward. That ward is mainly monitored by spells. If you were the type of person to care, you might almost find it depressing. Blank eyes greet you from all directions, as well as a few addled greetings. None recognize your Death Eater robes, and the person you're here to see isn't even awake. It's a shame.

You sit in her visitor's chair, where her surviving family must have sat for hours at a time.

You're not her family. Nor are you her friend, her colleague, her wife. You're much more important than that.

Crossing your legs doesn't make the chair more comfortable, neither does trying to shift your position.

"A terrible place you have here, Alice," you say.

She doesn't respond.

Fitting, you suppose.

If the time were a decade ago, you'd have climbed in her rickety bed already, begun to kiss her until whatever is left of her wakes up. But Azkaban changed you, and not for the better. Better for Alice, maybe.

For now, Alice sleeps, forty years old and still beautiful.

You should have killed her when you had the chance. It's a beginner mistake, one you never thought you'd make. You spared her life but not her mind that day, just because your lord was dead and you couldn't imagine life without one of them in your life.

If you'd killed her, you wouldn't be here, letting the past rear its ugly head.

"Do you remember what I told you? That I'd kill you if you married him?"

Of course not. Alice doesn't remember anything, these days. She doesn't remember the mistakes of her youth, the way she married a man just to please her parents. She doesn't feel the need to chase after a woman who would destroy her, utterly and carefully, until the only word she could say was "Bella."

Leaning down, you whisper a slow-acting, unstoppable curse into Alice's mouth, taking in the taste of her lips against your own once more. It is the only kiss Alice should have had, the only lips that should've graced hers, the only fingers in her cunt, the only lover in her bed. Instead, Alice turned her heel and ran into the arms of a man who could never make her happy.

But even though you will kill her, will watch her die as your lord takes over the world, you know it is you who lost.

Alice left. Alice won.

You're not the type to forgive her for that.

Chapter Text

When Blaise Zabini was sixteen, he fell in love with the worst person imaginable.

A bloke. A Gryffindor. A mudblood. A reckless idiot.

It wasn't even Potter, who he could've been forgiven for falling in love with, since Potter had a pureblood name and fortune if not blood. Instead, he fell for a no-name lowerclassman with an irritating propensity for taking photos and a nearly obscene hero worship of the golden trio.

.

It all began with good intentions, as these things usually do. Early in his sixth year, when the Dark Lord was still just gathering his forces and the Zabini family was firmly, unquestionably neutral, Blaise began to practically live in the Hogwarts library. He searched every book he could get his hands on for spells to protect his home, himself, and his mother in the upcoming war, since no one with at least half a brain could deny that it was coming, and coming soon. One part of the war had already reached his dorm, as his Slytherin year group had drawn their lines in the sand. One was already a Death Eater, three would join him when they finished school, one was a sympathizer but wouldn't be able to join the misogynistic boys' club, four including Blaise were neutral, and two he thought were covertly aiding the light. Personally, Blaise didn't care either way about his peers' choices, but he couldn't deny that their careful backstabbing was going to drive him to early onset insanity.

It made for a tense atmosphere during their year-wide study sessions in the common room, though they all tried not to talk politics. All except for bloody Draco, who waved his Dark Mark around like one of his peacocks waved their tail feathers. Bloody unsubtle git. Sometimes Blaise wondered how it was like in Gryffindor, where everyone except a select few was going to join the good ol' light.

Speaking of Gryffindors, Blaise thought, looking over his book at the person who'd sat down one table over. Colin Creevey, fifth year Gryffindor and one of the many people in the school who Blaise would happily feed to the Dark Lord's snake, was mirroring Blaise in peering over the top of a book at someone. Creevey, unlike Blaise, was focused intently on the most famous one-third of the unholy trio sitting three tables across from them.

Blaise didn't dislike Creevey because he was a Gryffindor, and he didn't hate him any more than he hated other mudbloods because of their blood. He hated him on the basis that Creevey had absolutely zero tact, and was probably one of the most hopeless people in the school. His crush on Potter was infamous in certain circles, and the Slytherins had a betting pool on who'd be the first to witness Potter's rejection of Creevey sending the kid into tears.

Just as he was about to go back to the historic defenses handbook he'd picked up from the medieval literature section of the library (there was a very, very slight chance the book would have anything good in it, but he'd take it), Creevey stood up with a determined expression on his face. It was one of his few expressions that almost made him look almost attractive, not that Blaise would ever say it aloud. It was also an expression the kid would wear only when about to encounter Potter, so Blaise put his book down and got ready for a good show.

"Hi, Harry!" Creevey exclaimed, ignoring the 'shhh' sound someone nearby made. He moved out the closest chair to Potter's and plopped down. Potter would probably never notice, but one of Creevey's legs was shaking so obviously that Blaise could see it from two meters away.

"Hullo, Colin," Potter replied in a much less enthusiastic tone. "What's up?"

"Nothing much, just doing homework. Um. I was just wondering if you needed any help. You look kind of nervous about something, and—" Creevey stopped for a moment. Blaise imagined he had been about to say exactly how many hours Potter had been in the library in the past few days, or how many books he'd gone through in that time, but thought better of it. Maybe he wasn't as hopeless as he could've been. "I just wanted to say I'm a pretty good researcher."

"Thanks?" Potter ruffled his hair. Blaise wondered if Creevey had noticed it was one of Potter's nervous tics. Practically everyone who paid him any attention knew, and one couldn't avoid paying attention to one of the people who might change the tide of the war later, if the prophesy business was true. "But it's okay. Just homework."

A lie, but probably a white lie. Creevey's smile fell just a little all the same.

"Want to talk about it?"

"Nah." Potter checked one of the many grandfather clocks in the library. "I'd better be going, anyway. It's almost dinnertime. See you around, Colin!"

"See you," Creevey replied, helping Potter gather all his books and papers. He watched Potter walk out of the library, staring until Potter's back left his vision completely. Then his, his head down, his face shadowed, he went back to his seat near Blaise.

The kid wasn't sobbing, so Blaise wouldn't be able to win to win the bet, but he looked upset enough that it was close. But soon enough, Creevey went back to staring at his book and sighing despondently at Potter's empty spot.

Some might feel sympathy for him, but all Blaise could think was how stupid Creevey was to let himself feel so much for someone who obviously wasn't about to return his feelings. Potter probably knew all about Creevey's crush by now, and was just nice enough to ignore it. (Though if Potter really was oblivious to it all, the light's chances for winning the war with such a clueless savior were zilch.)

Turning his attention back to his own issues, Blaise sat back, wishing he had more resources available to him. He didn't need just spells, but information. Information that would be good for blackmail or for getting out of sticky circumstances. But he'd already pumped his friends and allies as much as he could for information on the dark side, and there was no one he could talk to who'd willingly give him correct information about the light. Factual, important information was the difference between life and death in times of war. That was something anyone who'd fought in the first wizarding war could agree on.

For all that the Zabini family had been neutral in wizarding conflicts for centuries, Blaise was still a Slytherin, and no one was stupid enough to trust him. If he were a little more Slytherin, he might try to seduce a pureblooded, socially acceptable Gryffindor in order to get information, but that was too much trouble by far. Blaise wasn't cut out for a long-term scam like that; besides, having to snog a blood traitor would do nothing for his libido. Not to mention, there was too much risk from his own housemates if he announced he was dating one of their enemies.

Glancing at Creevey, who looked like he was finally coming out of his lovestruck haze and into a more studious mood, Blaise had the sudden realization that he didn't have to date someone to get information. There were other forms of love, other ways of faking emotion to get information. Ways that, if he planned things correctly, wouldn't drive him crazy in the long term.

Not even Creevey would believe him if he said he wasn't planning to betray anyone, but if Blaise phrased things the right way, Creevey might think Blaise was completely harmless.

Hoping he didn't look like an utter idiot, Blaise walked over to Creevey's table.

"Hey, Creevey," Blaise said, willingly speaking to a Gryffindor for the first time in his life. He considered staying standing, since it really would be rude of him to sit down when this was their first ever conversation, but Blaise knew he looked a lot more intimidating while standing. He had almost a whole head on Creevy, and looming over him wouldn't help things. So he sat down, conscious of Creevey's total bewilderment. "I have a proposition for you."

"The sexual kind? No," Creevey immediately said. "Go away." Then, as if deciding the conversation was over, he went back to his books.

"Of course not, Creevy," Blaise replied with a small shudder. If Creevey had been a Slytherin, Blaise's pride would've been wounded a bit. But as Creevey was a filthy mudblood, Blaise was just disgusted. Sex with one was almost unmentionable in its repulsiveness. As soon as this conversation was over, Blaise was going to take a long shower. Maybe he'd even use a sanitizing charm on himself for good measure. "Look, I know you're one of Potter's groupies. I just wanted to know if you'd mind telling me a bit more about him."

"I'm not about to betray Harry to a Death Eater—"

"I'm not a Death Eater. Or even dark. I'm neutral. Look. This is embarrassing, but," Blaise glanced down and spelled his cheeks and ears to become slightly red. He'd learned the charm ages ago, since people would do a lot for a cute, abashed young teen. "I like him, okay?"

They were in a secluded section of the library, and most people had already left for dinner. Hopefully, no one he knew would notice him talking to the Gryffindor. Hopefully no one (other than Creevey, of course) would have the bad sense to actually believe him.

Creevey stared back, gobsmacked. "You like him?"

"Yeah. You know the feeling, right?"

Creevey blushed and stuttered out, "N-no."

Blaise almost rolled his eyes. Did Creevey seriously not know how obvious he was? What with trailing after Potter with a camera all day? He stared pleadingly at Creevey, wishing there were a spell to fake sincerity. "Please?"

"How do I know you're serious?" Creevey asked.

Oh, if only Creevey were a little more gullible. Weren't Gryffindors known for thinking the best of people? Why was Creevey so damn suspicious?

"I can't prove anything, but if you want, you can check me for a Dark Mark before you tell me anything."

Creevey still didn't look convinced, replying with, "You could still be a sympathizer."

Blaise should have gone to the female Weasley with his plan. She probably wouldn't have been as suspicious.

But Creevey continued with, "But, fine. I'll believe you. I'm only telling you things like his favorite color. And only because I know how it feels, to… to like someone who won't like you back."

Oh, cue the violins. Blaise wanted to sneer at Creevey's terribly obvious feelings. How did he ever let himself fall in love with someone who'd never give him the time of day? It was obvious Potter had a thing for the female Weasley.

"Thanks. I owe you one."

.

Click!

Blaise pulled his wand out, aiming it at the mudblood, but all Creevey did was take another photo. Trying not to seethe with anger, Blaise conjured chair for himself and sat as far away from Creevey as was socially acceptable for a conversation. Then he scooted back another few centimeters.

"Creevey, I never said anything about letting you take photos of me. If someone sees them, it's going to be hell for both of us."

It had been a long enough day of hoping to Merlin no one had seen his and Creevey's conversation in the library, or heard of their arrangement to meet every Wednesday in an abandoned classroom in the North Tower, near the Divination classroom. Blaise had snuck out of his dorm room, and that hadn't been easy at all. He could only hope that the information Creevey had would be worth it. Worth the secrecy and the embarrassment of having to show his arm to prove he wasn't carrying around a Dark Mark.

Creevey didn't even blink at Blaise's cold tone. "I send these over to my Da to be developed. He's a muggle; he's not going to tell on us." Creevey probably noticed Blaise's reflexive scowl when he said muggle, because he continued with, "You know, Harry's mum was a muggleborn. His grandparents were muggles. So are his only living family."

Blaise made a token attempt at molding his face into a more neutral expression. "So, tell me about more about him and this muggle family of his."

"Well," Creevey began, settling into his chair. "He really likes pancakes for breakfast, but only if there's strawberry jam on the table. If not, he'll eat…"

And on he continued, for four long hours.

At the end of Creevey's lecture on the various insignificant bits of Potter's life, Blaise was both nearly half-asleep from boredom and oddly satisfied. The information Creevey shared wasn't so insignificant as to be useless. In fact, if Blaise ever tried to poison Potter, he was pretty damn sure he'd be able to succeed. The picture Creevey painted of Potter was also detailed enough that Blaise, with a few more sessions with Creevey and some discrete following, might be able to impersonate the bloke for a short time. But the fact that he had to listen to minute details about someone who he didn't care about in the slightest made Blaise want to petrify himself rather than meet with Creevey again.

"So? What did you think?" Creevey asked.

"I think… You're a lot more observant than I am," Blaise replied. It was true, in fact. Creevey probably knew more about Potter than even his best friends, since Granger and Weasley weren't the type to study and memorize their friend's every action. "Also that you're a stalker, but there are worse things to be."

Creevey shrugged. He looked less hurt by Blaise's stalker comment than Blaise would've thought. "I just notice things, that's all. I don't… I don't stalk him. I just have more of a reason to remember things I notice about him than the things I notice about everyone else."

Blaise snorted softly. Of course Creevey wouldn't own up to his stalking habit.

"I know there's something wrong with your mother."

Blaise froze. That wasn't possible.

"There's nothing wrong with my mother. Other than her taste in men. The latest one actually thinks his mustache is attractive."

"Look, at first, I just wanted to find out more about Harry. Then I tried to help him out with whatever I could find out. When I found out Harry's suspicious of Malfoy, I tried to find out everything I could about him and the other Slytherins. So I know there's something up, ever since Malfoy and you had that that conversation about your mothers in the courtyard."

Blaise rubbed his temples, slowly, not caring that Creevey now knew exactly how aggravated he was. No one should know about his mother. Even her own husband was under oath to not reveal anything about her condition. A person with a fortune the size of hers couldn't be seen as weak, especially when Blaise wasn't there to help out.

The conversation between him and Malfoy had been innocuous, but he could see how Creevey could've guessed. Even more evidence was how uptight he'd been acting last week, before he got his mother's delayed letter.

"Who have you told?"

Potter, probably. Would anyone notice if he tried to obliviate them? Probably. Not to mention, he wasn't very good at the spell. Someone would get suspicious fast if Potter and Creevey started walking around more brainless than usual.

"No one. I wouldn't actually tell anyone. It's your business, not anyone else's."

Blaise squinted at Creevey, trying to figure him out. It was useless. "Do continue not telling anyone, thanks."

"I won't. I promise," Creevey replied. "I didn't know it was that much of a secret. Do you want me to swear an oath?"

He did, actually, and they spent the next half hour setting up and swearing the oath. Blaise was surprised Creevey didn't want to add in a clause about not telling anyone about what Blaise learned from Creevey about Potter. It was baffling. Creevey kept switching between suspicious and open and sincere. Blaise knew he'd get a headache from it all soon.

Later, after both he and Creevey had snuck back into their respective dormitories, he wondered at Creevey's talent at noticing things about everyone. Wondered what else Creevey knew about people at school. Wondered what else he'd guessed about Blaise.

Maybe Creevey wasn't an utter idiot after all.

But now, Blaise would've preferred Creevey were the dumb Gryffindor Blaise had assumed he was.

.

On second thought, of course he was an idiot. He was a Gryffindor. Gryffindors were incapable of being anything but idiots. It was in their blood. Two months had gone by since his first meeting with Creevey, and Blaise had found that arguing with Creevey was a lot more amusing than just listening to him in silence.

"You can't be serious. There's nothing even remotely legitimate about Granger's house elf campaign. It's a blight on the proper order of things. Just like she is."

Creevey's face turned amusingly red in his anger. "You can't tell me you really believe that!"

"Of course I do. One, because—"

Needless to say, Blaise didn't finagle much information on Potter that night. When Blaise left for his dorm at close to two in the morning, he wasn't sure if he'd won or lost the argument, but he knew without the shadow of a doubt that Creevey had a hero complex almost as bad as Potter's. The kid owned six SPEW badges, pestered his parents to donate yearly to four charities on his behalf, and wanted a career in law enforcement or healing. If Blaise didn't know he also had a stalking problem, terrible hair, and the worst Astronomy grades of the past decade, he'd have thought Creevey was the second coming of Saint Mungo.

He knew too much about Creevy, almost as much as he knew about Potter, and that hadn't been part of the plan. He wished he could separate his knowledge of the two, make his and Creevey's acquaintanceship a business affair, but the idea was absurdly unappealing.

Slowly, he climbed into his own bed, hoping no one had heard him leave or come in.

"Back from visiting your girlfriend?" Draco drawled quietly from his bed next to Blaise's. Blaise cursed silently.

"What girlfriend?"

"The one you meet every week. Come on, you're going to our old hangout spot. Of course I'd notice."

In fact, he hadn't been going to their old hangout spot. But the spot where he and Creevey met was uncomfortably close to it. They'd have to move, and soon. "Can't get anything by you."

"Course not. Though be careful – I noticed that annoying Gryffindor sniffing around over there a couple times."

"Potter?"

"No. Creevey."

Dammit.

"It's fine. I'm always disillusioned, anyway."

Blaise felt Draco's eyes on him even after they stopped speaking. He had to wonder if this was Draco's way of telling him he knew about his meetings with Creevey. If this was a warning, telling him he had to stop the meetings or else. Instead of asking Draco what he wanted, Blaise turned away, his back to Draco, and tried to fall asleep.

.

Draco gave him shit all the time after that, about his secret Gryffindor girlfriend (Gryffindor, because that was the worst insult Draco could give him without Blaise pulling out his wand). On a good day, Blaise thought it was hilarious how right Draco really was. On a bad one, he wondered if Draco had told the Dark Lord about how one of his roommates was consorting with a muggleborn.

Blaise gave him shit in return, of course. The shit he had on Draco – the haunted look in his eyes, the obscure theory books he left lying around on accident, the way he didn't flaunt being a Death Eater anymore – was smellier than the shit Draco had on Blaise.

They used to be friends of a sort, but these days there were too many secrets and lies for Blaise to feel anywhere near comfortable around Draco. It was probably the same on Draco's end.

Loneliness (on both their ends, Blaise thought, since Creevey had a few friends but no best friend, one he could share everything with) must have been why, when Creevey asked if he wanted to hang out twice a week instead of once, Blaise agreed. It must have been why Blaise told Creevey they might as well start meeting earlier in the day if they were going to stay up so late. It must have been why Blaise conjured soft couches for their new room and made them as permanent as he could make them. Why they warded the room as best they could to keep prying eyes away. Why, when Potter turned down another of Creevey's advances, Blaise went to the kitchens and brought Creevey's favorite foods to their little room.

There had been something brittle about their truce in the first days, a magicless trust between a Slytherin and a Gryffindor, but as one month turned into two, three, four, five, it strengthened into steel.

Blaise learned more than he ever wanted to know about the wizarding world's savior. He learned that Potter liked chocolate frogs, that he hated Snape even more than he let on in class, that he considered Creevey a younger brother of some sort. (Blaise had wanted to remark that it was terribly pureblood of Creevey to like a pseudo-relative, but refrained.) He learned more than enough to be successful in poisoning Potter thrice over.

He also learned enough information, in the things Creevey said and didn't say, that if the Dark Lord came calling, he would have something to give him. Something to prevent his and his mother's unfortunate deaths, since the Dark Lord had no love for neutral parties or idiots.

But of all the things he learned, the one of the things that really stuck with him was that Creevey was likeable, despite his blood status. Despite his blood, his parentage, his lack of knowledge or culture, and his love of Potter, he was a better conversationalist than Blaise had expected.

He wasn't unattractive, either, a fact that Blaise got good at ignoring as their budding friendship lasted over months instead of weeks. He ignored that Creevey's hair turned red-ish in a certain light, that his better qualities held an undeniable charm, that when they would both leave school for the summer, Blaise would actually miss their conversations.

Surely it was a sign of brain damage, but after a certain point, Blaise couldn't care less.

.

Even if Creevey hadn't slipped him a note as they passed each other in the hallway, its contents only a terse meet me, Blaise would have waited half the night in the Divination Tower. He'd heard the big news – Potter and Weasley, the new golden couple – and his first thought had been that their kids would be cursed with unbearable ugliness. The second thought was just Creevey.

Creevey was already in tears when Blaise entered their room, already hideously grief-stricken. Blaise wanted to both hug him and send him away to someone who could deal with his tears better than Blaise. Blaise had won the bet, seen Creevey in tears because of Potter, not that he would ever tell anyone. Unlike the amusement he would have felt a year ago, he only felt an awful sense of sympathy for Creevey and anger at Potter's lack of tact.

"You heard, I guess?" Creevey asked, sitting down next to Blaise. He curled up like a cat in the other corner of the couch, arms around his legs and head resting on his knees.

"I'd have to be deaf and blind not to have heard," Blaise said. The feeling of needing to comfort Creevey was uncomfortable, but he tried. "They could still break up."

He had a feeling he wasn't doing a very good job of it, especially since Creevey only started looking more upset.

"No. They're good for each other. They get along well, and Harry's already friends with her brothers, and her family likes him, and they've liked each other forever and… He wasn't ever going to like me back, anyway," Creevey replied, sniffling.

"Creevey, you can always just find someone new to obsess over. You're not hideous—" He waited for Creevey's usual snort and retort, but nothing came. "—attractive, even, for a Gryffindor. There's a good chance you could get a date if you really wanted one."

"But I don't. All I want is Harry."

Harry doesn't care, Blaise wanted to yell. Harry isn't interested. Harry hasn't talked to you for half the night twice or thrice weekly. Harry doesn't know your favorite dessert or your favorite book. What would you even do if Harry expressed interest in you?

But Blaise was self-aware enough to know that jealousy (and jealousy over Potter – wasn't that just the dumbest thing) never lead anywhere good, so he forcefully squashed those thoughts into the deepest part of his mind. He had a feeling they'd come up again, late at night when Blaise couldn't sleep, but for now he had bigger things to worry about.

"Look… You know liking him isn't healthy for you anymore, right?" Blaise carefully asked.

A slow nod.

"And you know that I'm not saying that because I like him too."

Another nod, this time faster.

"So believe me when I say, from the bottom of my little black Slytherin heart, you have to let go. You're a hell of a lot better than this. Potter isn't worth getting depressed over, no matter how much light magic shines out of his arse."

And then, he sighed, and reached over, wrapping Creevey up in a hug. Creevey hugged back tightly, sobbing and mumbling into Blaise's robes. As he rubbed Creevey's back and held him, Blaise wondered at how little he wanted to let Creevey go.

.

Although Blaise was sure Creevey still had feelings for Potter, Creevey's mood slowly picked up in the weeks following Potter's new romance. He stopped sounding sad whenever Potter's name came up in their conversations, stopped staring into space whenever Blaise had the bad tact to mention dating, and most importantly, stopped altering between ignoring Potter's existence and not being able to take his eyes away from him. As they settled back into their friendship, Creevey's updates on Potter grew less focused, but Blaise could only consider that a good thing.

By late May, not even Blaise could delude himself into thinking he and Creevey met to exchange information on Harry Potter. In their last few meetings, they had barely even mentioned him, and their most abundant topic of conversation was Blaise's reluctance to read Creevey's muggle books and Creevey's exasperation of the matter. Blaise had even taken to complaining about his friends in Slytherin, giving Creevey more information than he meant. Not that he believed Creevey would do anything with that information. He was undoubtedly a Gryffindor inside and out – brave and loyal to the point of idiocy. Blaise could barely remember a time when he'd considered Creevey a mudblood. The word was foreign to him now.

"I'm off to the loo," Creevey said suddenly, breaking from his current rant about the portrayal of women in fantasy novels. "You obviously didn't hear a word I said, anyway."

Blaise casually flipped him the bird. "I was just thinking. Obviously getting to know you was the worst mistake of my year. I've actually gotten out of the habit of saying mudblood. It's awful."

Creevey rolled his eyes. "You don't think you've changed for the better?"

"If I have, it's your fault," Blaise replied. Creevey's resulting smile was all his fault too, he supposed. He couldn't even bring himself to be mad. It was good, having someone he could talk to about things without worrying everything he said might be turned over to the Dark Lord.

But that wasn't it, not really. He liked the way Creevey never tried to hide or fake his emotions, even going so far as to encourage Blaise to show his. He liked that Creevey had a sarcastic sense of humor when Blaise would coax it out. He liked Creevey's boundless enthusiasm about things Blaise couldn't have cared less a few months ago, but now had a reluctant interest in. He liked that Creevey really was good at research, and was happy to practice defensive spells with him.

He liked Creevey. He even sometimes thought Creevey felt the same, though he never knew for sure. Creevey had stopped talking about Potter like he'd hung the sun in the sky, but that didn't mean he'd suddenly fallen in love with Blaise instead.

Shaking irrationally jealous thoughts from his head (because they were just friends, not in the illicit relationship all his Slytherin year mates thought he was having) Blaise opened Creevey's favorite muggle fantasy book, deciding he might as well try reading it. If it was too scarring, he'd just throw it aside. But as he opened the book to the first page, he noticed the back cover of the book was a bit too stiff. Flipping to the last pages, he saw a picture glued to one of the last pages.

It was of Creevey and himself, taken only last month. It was only picture of Creevey's that featured both of them together. Usually, Creevey just snapped pictures of whatever Blaise was doing at the moment. Blaise had gotten used to it, and barely even noticed Creevey's camera anymore. But that day, Creevey had sat next to Blaise and turned the camera around, pointing it at them both. Blaise had scowled into the camera at first. Getting used to the pictures didn't mean he actually liked them. Creevey had poked him in the side, and he'd reluctantly adjusted his face into a smile.

But it was obvious that the picture had been taken a moment too late, or Creevey had taken multiple pictures, because his picture self was turned toward Creevey, saying something silently, while Colin grinned into the camera.

It was a good picture. Better than good. Blaise couldn't even be mad that Creevey carried around a picture that could be discovered – no one would look inside Creevey's muggle book, and he almost always kept it with him.

Blaise bit his lip, thinking quickly, and called himself a sentimental idiot as he duplicated the picture and stuffed the copy into his Potions book.

.

Too soon, their peaceful Hogwarts existence was disrupted by Death Eaters storming Hogwarts. Blaise wasn't harmed; he hadn't even noticed the invasion until it was too late, as Draco had cast a sleeping charm over his roommates. (One day, Blaise would get him back for that, but for now he wondered if Draco was even alive, after taking off with the Death Eaters.) Creevey wasn't harmed either, but Blaise only found that out a day after the attack, when he finally saw Creevey eating in the Great Hall.

Hogwarts was on high alert for the last few days of the year, so he and Creevey only passed notes on occasion. Blaise carried a note in his pocket daily, for the off chance that he and Creevey would pass by one another in a busy or empty hallway.

Dumbledore's death changed the atmosphere of the school. No one could be sure they'd be safe. Especially not too-young mudblood Gryffindors, Blaise thought with something like despair. He returned to his manor and his mother when the term ended, but his thoughts, and maybe even something else, stayed with Creevey.

.

Dear C,

I have no doubt you've heard about the ministry's collapse. If you haven't, it is because you've gone into hiding, a path I greatly approve of. Please do so immediately. Forget about Hogwarts – if the ministry has fallen, Hogwarts is next, and no one with muggle blood is safe. You know this.

Blaise refused to worry about Creevey, even though he hadn't gotten a response to his last few letters. There was nothing good that came out of worrying. He had no idea where Creevey was or what he was doing – Blaise just hoped it wasn't preparing for Hogwarts as an act of silent rebellion.

Absently, he thought that the C in the header might be seen as for Colin instead of for Creevey. First name terms with a Gryffindor – how low he'd fallen. But the idea of being on first name terms with Creevey wasn't as mind-boggling as he'd expected. Creevey wasn't some random Gryffindor. He was nights spend quietly talking about prejudice and traditions and magical instruments; he was days spent passing notes about Potter's odd behaviors; he was mismatched socks and sloppy ties and stupid, happy smiles reserved only for his Gryffindor friends, Potter, and Blaise; he was a mousy-haired kid who was good at Charms and bad at Potions (though all Gryffindors were bad at Potions, really, and without Snape there they couldn't even blame it on him); he was a warm feeling in Blaise's chest, half exasperation, half something else. Blaise was charmed by him, and it wasn't any sort of magical charm. (His mother had him use protections against that sort of thing since age five; he'd know if it were.)

Hands still, a litany of dear Colin and please be alright running through his mind, he finished with,

My best,

B

He sent the letter off immediately, lest he try to change his words another half a hundred times.

.

A shabby, brown-feathered owl-for-rent brought Creevey's response a week later.

Dear B,

I'm sorry, but I can't. I won't go to school – I'm not dumb enough to do that – but there's still so much I can do to help. I've joined L's network. I don't know how often I'll be able to send you mail. The place where I'm at has a lot of repelling charms. I won't say anything more. I'm safe.

I don't think you should go to Hogwarts, either. I don't think, if Hogwarts really will be taken over, your neutrality will be respected.

Yours,

C

.

The daft Gryffindor was smuggling muggleborns out of the country through Lee Jordan's network safe houses, Blaise realized. He fought the impulse to smuggle Creevey into his manor and outfit him with a few dozen protection wards. He also fought the impulse to find Creevey and help him in his foolhardy plans; he was neutral in this war, and he couldn't change that now.

.

Against my better judgment, I care about you. Try not to get yourself killed.

My best, along with a page of spells you should memorize,

B

.

It's not against my better judgment to care about you. (Though I know you never had a crush on Harry.) But you were there when I needed a friend, and you never made fun of me even when I know you thought I was an idiot at times.

(At times? Try all the time, Blaise thought, but his heart wasn't in it.)

That means the world to me.

I'll be fine. Take care.

Yours,

C

(I don't have any borderline dark protection spells for you, but I do have this coin. It's a charmed copy of my own and it's linked to H's DA coin. It'll warm up and show the time next DA meeting. If I'm called to help, you'll know.)

.

I hadn't realized you knew about that. I never did anything with that information.

.

I know. You wouldn't.

.

I'm still fine. I've been approached by some, who've been wondering why I'm not attending school, but I've told them I'm stepping up to take care of my estate due to my mother's upcoming death. It's a good excuse, since it's unfortunately true. She's in the final stage of dragon pox now. It won't be long now.

.

I'm fine too. I'm glad you can be with your mother right now. I've been seeing so many families torn apart, just to keep them safe, but some are taken by the Muggle-Born Registration Commission anyway. They don't come back, afterwards. My own family's as safe as it can be. I'm American on my Dad's side, so everyone's over there now, even my brother, who doesn't understand why I'm still here. I know you think I'm a daft Gryffindor, too, but there are so many people who I can help. I think you'll be proud of me – I've gotten good at the portkey charm, and my apparition's almost soundless now. I'm practically a sneaky Slytherin.

.

Of course I think you're daft. You're also so damn brave. I guess Potter will also be proud of you, too.

.

Oddly enough, that's not as important to me as it used to be.

.

What made you change your mind? Blaise wondered, running his thumb over Creevey's words. The parchment they were written on was rough, cheap, and the other side held an advertisement for hair-coloring potions, but it was still the best thing Blaise had seen all week. Wondering if Creevey had fallen out of love with Potter, and maybe even noticed Blaise's subtle feelings, was better than worrying over his dying mother all day. The only company he'd had in the past month was his mother, her husband, and her personal Healer; before that, he'd only occasionally seen his mother's neutral and dark friends, as well as a scattering of Blaise's own friends.

"Another letter from your beloved?" his mother asked from her bed, breaking into a coughing fit as she finished speaking.

"He's not my beloved. We're not even dating."

"That never stopped me," she croaked, a familiar smirk on her pale lips.

Blaise kissed her brow, suddenly unable to speak. Nothing had ever stopped his mother. Not her family, not her peers, and certainly not something like propriety. Estelle Zabini had led her life exactly the way she wanted, never caring what other people thought. She'd been disowned from the Zabini family twice, brought back into the fold twice as well; she'd been married seven times – once to her fourth cousin, the only one of her marriages approved by her parents, the only one she'd had a child from – and each time had been for love; she'd outlived all of the relatives until she and Blaise were the last two Zabinis left; she'd created her own medical supplies business while her pureblood contemporaries sniffed and relied on their family's money and stocks; she'd gotten a disease everyone had thought had been eradicated two decades ago, and lived three years past the time her Healers had given her.

If Blaise had a life half as full as hers, he'd die a happy man. But that didn't mean he wanted her to die. He barely knew what to do without her watching over him.

"Stop looking so sad, silly boy," Estelle said, patting Blaise's hand.

Blaise swallowed and asked, "Should I call for Maximus?"

Her eighth husband was around somewhere, lurking uncomfortably in a family home that denied him access to most of its rooms. The house had been Blaise's as soon as he'd turned seventeen. Too soon, the house, the family money, the money his mother had earned and been left by her husbands would all belong to him.

"No. Bring me my memory book."

Blaise carefully brought the book to her and let her take it from him. Her hands shook just a little, so he helped her prop it up. His own hands shook as well. He hoped she wouldn't notice.

The first photograph was of her and Don Zabini, her first husband, the only one whose name she took (because they shared the exact same name).

"You look just like him. Same hair, same nose. Same look in your eyes when you're in love." She smiled at Blaise's discomfort. "Have I ever told you about how we met?" she asked, stroking the picture's face. The picture of Blaise's father waved at them both before putting his arms back around Estella and resting his chin on her shoulder.

"Please do, Mother."

.

She died the week after, and Blaise wrote a hundred unsent letters to Creevey, ignoring the fact that he should've been writing them to his best friend instead of someone he'd only known for a year. But at that point, Blaise was too drunk to care. Drunk on firewhiskey, drunk on grief, drunk on the terrible feeling in his chest that might just be love. That night, he distracted himself with counting sheep and hippogriffs and stars, but all he could think of was that he'd never gotten to introduce Creevey to his mother.

They would've hated each other, but it would've been worth it, having his two favorite people in the same room.

.

He studied all he needed to know to manage his mother's business and estate, avoiding Death Eaters and light-siders alike, until the charmed coin Creevey had sent him grew hot. He'd gotten used to carrying it around like a talisman, always keeping it in his robe pocket.

The time on the coin was fifteen minutes into the future.

Knowing Creevey had likely already apparated there, Blaise found his old school robes and apparated as close as he could, hoping to enter under the guise of a lost student. To his surprise, the main entrance was open, and Creevey was waiting for him there. It was the first time they'd seen each other since the end of the school year. Creevey looked well, though he was too skinny and had aged faster than Blaise would have thought. Blaise aged too fast as well, when Creevey pulled him into a closet and told him about the upcoming battle.

"You wouldn't be you if you didn't go, I suppose," Blaise said, closing his eyes to Creevey's determined face.

"Look. I'm not going to die," Colin replied.

"No. You're not."

Slowly, Blaise took off the Slytherin tie he'd worn to sneak into the school and slid off his silver, green-lined gloves. If he wasn't outwardly Slytherin, maybe the other side – his side, now, he supposed – wouldn't try to kill him.

"Since, I, having gone completely insane, have decided to defect. From being neutral. Not dark."

There was something bright in Creevey's eyes, but soon he wiped a hand over his face and it was gone.

"Are you sure?" Creevey asked.

"I reserve the right to hex you if you die," Blaise said instead of answering. Because Merlin, he wasn't sure. He would never be sure. All he knew was that he was betraying generations of his neutral ancestors by choosing a side, all because he couldn't live with himself if Creevey got himself killed for his stupid bleeding heart. Because he was in love with a mudblood Gryffindor. His mother would disown him for it if she were still alive, if he weren't the last Zabini on the planet. (His mother have been so terribly, beautifully angry. Blaise thanked the gods that he hadn't told her who exactly he was in love with before she passed.)

But the least Blaise could do to honor his mother's legacy was to live his life as he wanted – and the first step was to live it with the person he wanted. The only person who had ever been able to change his mind about muggleborns; the only person who could've caused him to fight for Potter's side. The person Blaise had to first keep alive in order to have a life with him.

"I – same to you," Creevey replied.

Blaise grasped Creevey's hand tightly, wishing it would convey everything he felt but couldn't say. He wanted to kiss Creevey, just once before the battle, just have one short moment to remember in case one of them died, but it would distract them both too much. Especially if Creevey pulled back, shocked, exclaiming that he wasn't interested in Blaise like that, and ew, wasn't it gross that a Slytherin had kissed him? (The real-life Creevey would never do that; he was much too kind. But the Creevey in Blaise's head explained with a nasty detachment that he was now in love with Ginny Weasley, because he had a thing for girls and red hair and his love for Harry had just been hero worship after all.)

They left the broom closet hand in hand, releasing one another only when, an hour later, someone aimed a curse straight at Creevey's unprotected back.

.

"He's going to be okay," Madam Pomfrey had told Blaise, mirroring the Healer Blaise had called in as soon as he'd realized that Creevey's wound was too serious for a rudimentary healing charm. Called in, though, was a misleading phrase. Later, Blaise was sure he'd be glad that the Healer was charmed by Blaise's devotion to his friend, instead of angrily filing kidnapping and endangerment charges. "I've placed him into a deep sleep while his body takes in the healing potions. He's going to wake up in a week or less, depending on his progress."

But sitting there in the Great Hall, watching Colin's slack face, Blaise wasn't so sure Creevey was going to be alright. He was so pale and still, so unlike his usual self.

Since the Final Battle ended a day ago, practically the entirety of Hogwarts had been converted into a hospital for the wounded. Healers from St. Mungo's and all over the country had been called in. People who'd been wounded earlier in the war came also to be healed or checked over, as they slowly heard the news. Blaise had seen every Gryffindor in his class running around like headless chickens, trying to make things better for every patient.

Unlike the rest of the students, who'd probably lost or almost lost many people, Blaise was only concerned about one. His friends from Slytherin had all survived, due to luck (Draco), idiocy (Pansy), and neutrality (all the rest). The only newly deceased person he'd known somewhat well was Crabbe, and he hadn't liked the bastard anyway.

"I didn't realize you guys were friends."

Blaise turned around, not letting go of Creevey's hand, and saw Potter standing awkwardly behind him. He could've snorted. Potter was the last person he wanted to see, even if Blaise had reluctantly joined Potter's side of the war.

Instead, he shrugged and conjured a chair for Potter. The man looked dead on his feet. "We are. Did you need something?"

"Thanks," Potter said, dropping into the chair like a puppet with its strings cut. "I've been helping out around here, and the ministry, too. Um. First things first, I guess. Does Colin need any sort of medical attention? I know we don't have enough staff, but that doesn't mean people should go without help."

"It's fine. He doesn't. Madam Pomfrey saw to him earlier, and I have all the potions he has to take hourly," Blaise replied.

"Good. I'm glad you're looking out for him."

Potter wasn't even slightly subtle in wanting information, Blaise thought, exasperated. How anyone liked him was a mystery to Blaise.

"We became friends early last school year, and wrote to each other since school ended," Blaise explained. "I came because of him. I'm hardly a threat, Potter."

"No, I saw you. Fighting for us. That was good, what you did."

"I didn't do it because I'd had a change of heart."

Potter glanced down at Blaise and Colin's joined hands. Blaise could've cursed him.

"A change of heart about my ideals, anyway. This dark and light business is nonsense. Both sides are flawed, anyway."

Potter shook his head, but he was smiling. "If you stick around for the next school year, I'll be happy to debate that with you. But first," he pulled two medallions out of his bag. "Here. Order of Merlin, Third Class, for everyone who fought in the battle. Give his to him when he wakes up, yeah?"

Blaise nodded, put one in his pocket and slipped the second medallion over Creevey's head. All there was left to do was wait for Creevey to wake up.

.

"I have a proposition for you," Blaise announced, coming over to Creevey, who was cleaning debris on the banks of the Black Lake. It was two weeks after the Final Battle and one week since Creevey had woken up from his magical healing coma, healed completely except for a long, ugly scar across his back. There had been funeral arrangements and trials and rebuilding to do, so they had barely gotten the chance to speak.

"Oh you do, do you?" Creevey asked with a mischievous smile, turning around to face Blaise. "Is it the sexual kind?"

Blaise took a breath.

"Only if you want it to be."

For a second, Creevey only looked shocked, and Blaise had to wonder if he'd buggered up their friendship completely. Thank Merlin he hadn't started with some sort of gaudy declaration of love. But then, slowly, Creevey's shock evaporated into a wide, brilliant smile.

Creevey's smile could have lit up the world. "I do."

Not even Potter, Man-Who-Lived-To-Kill-The-Dark-Lord, and, secretly, Man-Who-Got-A-Slytherin-And-A-Gryffindor-Together, could have stopped them from pressing against each other, their lips meeting for the first time. For the first time, but by no means for the last.

Chapter Text

(complement) n. something that fills up or completes.

Few people could find a way to describe Oliver Wood without including Quidditch in that description. Oliver Wood was Quidditch. He lived, breathed, inhaled Quidditch. He'd watched every game recorded and read essays on those that hadn't been. He dreamed of Quidditch maneuvers and wrote down his dreams afterwards, trying to remember every detail.

Harry could never understand that kind of devotion, not in his four years under Oliver's captainship. He loved the game, loved the air, loved his broomstick – but it wasn't the love of his life. There had been a moment in fourth year, when he found out Quidditch was canceled for the year (They canceled Quidditch? Harry knew he was channeling a bit of Oliver, but he couldn't help it. How was he supposed to practice Quidditch if he couldn't officially play? How was Oliver supposed to come see one of his matches?), but he was happy enough without it.

But when he couldn't appreciate Quidditch, he appreciated Oliver. Oliver didn't base his expectations on Harry's fame or his heritage; he fully expected Harry to be amazing on his own merits. (Harry was very fine with that in theory, but not after four hour, back-breaking training sessions.) Even though Oliver had been a young captain when Harry first got on his team, and had a lot to prove because of it, he'd been a brilliant coach. He gave the best advice, both for Quidditch and for life, and Harry couldn't help falling in love with him a bit.

When Hogwarts just got to be too much – when Draco Malfoy wouldn't stop being an arse or Harry was so swamped with homework that he could barely breathe under the strain – Oliver was there with an pat on the back and a, "Come on, stay a bit. We'll do some one on one."

Not many people understood it like Harry did, but Oliver wasn't just the game. He was so much more.

Chapter Text

You're on the tall side for a first year, your dad tells you. "Just like me," he says. Well, duh. You've got a couple inches on Rose already, and she's two years older than you. You're at a height with Albus (though you guys aren't friends. You're too young, he's too old (according to him); it's all very stupid), and you're half a foot from the wonder twins, Lucy and Molls.

"You're going to be the tallest boy in your year!" he says proudly, but you don't feel very proud of that. You may be a friendly giant, but that doesn't mean people will like you much.

Really, that's what you're terrified of – that no one will like you. Because you're friends with your cousins, but they're family. They're obligated to like you. You're scared that everyone else will just see your stupid hair and your inability to stop talking when you get nervous and think, yeah, no.

Someone will say, "Merlin, you're boring," in the worst, most hateful tone of voice, like that shopkeeper who didn't approve of his father.

("You may be famous for the things you did during the war, but you're just a Weasley," she'd told Dad. She was a stranger – someone none of you knew, someone you never met again – but for some reason she cared about your lives.

Dad hadn't replied. He'd just turned Rose and you around and left, telling you that some people just never grew out of their stupidity stage.

Rose replied with, "Like Hugo's never going to grow out of his asking stupid questions stage?"

Rose is kind of mean, sometimes, and you pushed her that time, almost causing her to fall.

Dad wasn't happy with either of you, but he took you to George's and bought you both a sweet anyway.
If Rose is mean, and you are stupid, and Mum is smart, then Dad's the kindest person in the world. That's the order of your world.)

Or maybe you will make a friend, but that friend is going to see Rose, and instantly like her more than you.

What if, what if, what if.

"Ready to go?" Dad asks.

"No," you say. "Can't I stay home for a year?"

Dad shakes his head, smiling a little. "When I was your age, I couldn't wait to go to Hogwarts."

"No one's going to like me. I'm not as cool as Rose."

"Don't be so modest; though I guess modesty isn't quite your problem. You're a great kid. Smart as your mum, bullheaded as me – you're going to have so much fun this year."

"Like you did?"

"Yes. Your mum, Uncle Harry, and I had the best first year."

"And it wasn't bad? Not even a bit?"

"The bad bits were always, always overshadowed by the good. You'll see."

Dad pats you on the back. The train whistles.

"I'll write," you say, reluctantly pulling back.

"Your mum and I will, too."

Slowly, you turn and face your first adventure.

Chapter Text

"Oh, play the violins," Roxanne said at Lucy's pouty expression, putting a dangly earring on one ear, a shorter one on the other. She twirled around, sliding on her stool until she was turned toward Lucy. "Which one looks better?"

Lucy, who was lying on Roxanne's bed, her head hanging off the end, mimed playing a violin. "Neither. They both look awful."

Roxanne rolled her eyes and turned toward the mirror again. "The blue, then."

Lucy's reflection nodded. Roxanne caught herself staring into Lucy's blue eyes once again, and forced herself to concentrate on her makeup.

"It's going to be an awful date," Lucy said angrily. "Absolutely terrible. You'll be better off not even going."

"You know I have to go," Roxanne replied. Her hand slipped as she tried to put on mascara. As she thought about her date, the one with a very nice boy from down the street. A date with someone she didn't love, didn't care for, didn't even like.

Lucy pushed herself off the bed. "Here, I'll do it." She plucked the mascara wand from Roxanne's hand. "I've always been better than you at this."

Roxanne allowed her, staring blankly as her cousin expertly colored her lashes. The boy she would soon see had no idea how to do this. He wouldn't know what her smiles meant, wouldn't know what kinds of restaurants she liked, wouldn't see how much it hurt to even look at him.

She closed her eyes, knowing Lucy would lean down and kiss her. Lucy did.

It's not incest of I can't see it, mother. If I can't see her hair around me, her lips against mine, her eyes centimeters away.

But that wasn't an excuse her mother would accept. This, this thing that had always felt so right to Roxanne and Lucy, was not something their parents would ever accept. And maybe Roxanne was being cowardly, pushing Lucy away, but her mother's appalled expression had been worse. Her words about their depravity had been more cutting than Lucy's angry ones after their breakup.

Roxanne pulled away and rested her head on Lucy's shoulder. "I'm sorry."

"I know," Lucy replied. Her hands were steady as she finished the rest of Roxanne's makeup, and her voice didn't shake as she bid Roxanne goodbye.

Roxanne closed her eyes to the sound of glass breaking as she closed her bedroom door behind her.

There was nothing she could do.

Chapter Text

Cho has never been a reckless person. It makes her a bad – well, not quite bad, but definitely not outstanding – Quidditch player at Hogwarts. It makes her girlfriends shake their heads and call her neurotic, just because she liked having a plan for everything. It makes her a good, if nervous, Healer. She likes lists, and fact-checking, and reading Mediwizard Weekly for all their tips and tricks and knowledge, for just in case she had a patient with a rare disease.

She's not happy when she's assigned an apprentice, even though she's spent the better part of a decade avoiding that particular duty of a Master Healer. She doesn't like teaching, doesn't like waiting for someone to make a mistake. But her apprentice blasts through St. Mungo's like a hippogriff in a wand shop, except as those wands go flying, they fall into the hands of their rightful owners. There is an aura of chaos around Dominique Weasley, something that doesn't belong in St. Mungo's – but at the same time, something that is a perfect contrast to Cho's own nature.

Cho has never been a reckless person. But for Dominique, she thinks she can try. Try to see beauty in chaos, see pleasure in letting go, find perfection in the endless stream of things going wrong.

As she accepts Dominique's hand, just waiting for her to accept, she finds that she's utterly eager to try.

Chapter Text

"Ron, come over here for a second," Harry said as he stared at the Marauder's map.

His best mate came over, still holding the Divination homework he'd been busy doing. "Yeah?"

"I was looking at the Marauder's Map, and look!" Harry pointed to one spot with his left pointer finger and at another with his right. "There are two Mad-Eye-Moodys!"

Ron gaped at the map. "Are you sure it's not some kind of mistake?"

Harry shook his head. "No, the map's always been right." He grimaced. "You know what this means, right?"

They stared at each other in horror and shuddered.

"Moody kept his torn off leg!"

Chapter Text

She tried to be better, after what happened at Hogwarts.

Hogwarts was a wonderful place, somewhere good and forgiving and so unlike the real world. After her love potion had fallen into the wrong hands and caused a boy to almost die, no one had reprimanded her. It was likely that no one had known to do so. The only people involved, and knew the story beyond the sparse details the rumor mill came up with, were Ron Weasley, Harry Potter, and Professor Slughorn. Ron Weasley had just wanted to forget everything, and hadn't looked at her since that day. He hadn't told his parents, who no doubt would've thrown around words of consent and bewitched and illegal. Harry Potter didn't know wizarding law. He was probably used to people trying to drug him, either way. And Slughorn, as a Slytherin, was much more relaxed about pesky little issues like a reversible, harmless love potion.

She had gotten off scot free, though in her nightmares, she was locked in prison for her crime.

(Had Ron Weasley been a moneyed pureblood, one with standing and powerful parents, she'd be in Azkaban. Had he been a Slytherin, she'd be dead. She couldn't make herself forget it all.)

It had all just been a stupid whim. She hadn't been poor, or helpless, or in terrible need of a boyfriend. She couldn't even say she'd been in love with Harry Potter. She found him handsome, famous, and rich, but her feelings didn't stretch past attraction. It had just been a spur of the moment decision, a bit of boredom, a thought of what if. She could've been locked up for a decade had Ron Weasley been harmed.

She was just a stupid girl, and she'd realized it, too. She'd put away her potions kit, made herself stop trying to come up with improvements to already existing love potions, and concentrated on not stepping out of line.

She dated a pretty blonde-haired witch, one so different from herself that it was hard to imagine their relationship working at all. Astoria Greengrass was sweet, and lovely, and too nice for her own good. She made Romilda forget the dark parts of her heart for a while, and that was worth more than Romilda could ever put in words.

Despite knowing it would end badly, knowing she couldn't love someone as purely as Astoria needed to be loved, Romilda fell in love. She loved Astoria like a treasure beyond compare, like a lovely sunset. She tried to protect her, to never let her know just how rotten people could be. She didn't let herself think about how easy it would be to slip something into her drink, to test a few potions she'd found in old dark books.

(At the same time, she dated a boy three years her junior, just because she could. Just because there were some things she couldn't do to Astoria, some things she couldn't do to someone she loved. It was the best of both worlds, really.)

She and Astoria only broke up around graduation. They were going to different places, meeting different people, studying different things. It was logical that they'd split up. It was even a mutual break-up, according to Astoria.

(To Romilda, it was something quite different, but she didn't voice it aloud.)

They entered the real world with buckets of hopes and dreams. Post-war Britain was a happy place, despite the scars the war caused. Astoria, able to lean on her parents' influence and money, flourished at a French magical college.

Romilda found it much harder to survive. Her parents had been supporters of the dark, and had fought on the wrong side of the Final Battle. Both had died, leaving their money to their oldest son, who didn't care much about his youngest sister. Romlida was the youngest of seven, and their parents' money only stretched so far. Work was hard to find, and the only job available for Romilda, an apothecary's assistant, only paid enough to get by.

She yearned for the comfort of Hogwarts, for place to be happy, for an account at Gringotts that held more than just dust.

So instead of keeping her vow of becoming a better person, Romilda made sure she'd never get caught. She created her own array of love potions, became adept at brewing the polyjuice potion, and marveled at the many glamours available to her. She came to Paris armed with a full arsenal of mixtures, and slipped Astoria a drop of a love potion of her own design, just enough to be noticed. Just enough for Astoria to pay attention to her, to think this pretty stranger was someone she needed to get to know.

And months later, when Astoria made her decision a second time, Romilda did things differently.

"Forgive me," Astoria said. "I just… This feels wrong. Like there's something missing."

And Romilda smiled, coated her lips with a balm of her own making, and asked for one last kiss.

Chapter Text

He never touched her when Luna was home.

It was the only rule, the only hesitation, the only thing that kept her from thinking: This time, it will work out.

But Luna, sweet, wonderful Luna, was gone too often for Ginny to fret. Too often to notice anything wrong in her marriage, too long to notice the glances exchanged between her husband and best friend.

She couldn't talk to Luna anymore these days. Luna, who took her in and gave her a home when Harry told her to leave. Luna, who didn't judge like Hermione did when Harry told everyone why their marriage broke apart. Luna, who held her as she cried over Harry and Dean and every man she fell in love with. Luna, who was practically an angel. Luna, who had the perfect life.

And the perfect husband. She'd thought him silly and strange before she came to live the Nargle Nest (Rolf's nickname for their home, much to Luna's dislike), too different from anyone else she knew. Too much like Luna, not enough like Ginny. But she'd come to know his kindness and sweetness, soaking in it until it was both too much and never enough. And even though Ginny knew she was just a replacement, just platinum to Luna's gold, just there to pass the time until Luna came back from one of her business trips, her heart wouldn't listen.

So she met Rolf's eyes and he smiled his big, wide smile, and Ginny kissed him because otherwise she might just fall apart.

Chapter Text

"What about Theodore Nott?" one of the Patil twins asked, giggling and nodding at a boy sitting against a nearby bookshelf. His face was shadowed as he intently read his book, and Daphne knew he probably couldn't hear the conversation nearby. She wished she were far enough that the group of girls nearby wasn't audible to her, but alas the only free table had been near a trio of chatty Gryffindors. This was why she needed to master the muffling charm, she told herself, and tried to concentrate on her Charms textbook. What was that theory of sound, again?

Lavender Brown's loud voice pierced the quiet again. "Maybe a six?"

"Out of ten, really? But he's so… I don't know. But I guess when the standard of male blond beauty is Draco Malfoy, it's hard to measure up," Patil said with a dreamy sigh. "Can't stand the bastard, of course, but my, isn't he perfect?"

"Looks-wise, at least," Brown replied. "But his personality is a whole different story."

Daphne couldn't help but privately agree. Despite the consensus that Draco Malfoy was the most influential and attractive boy in fourth year, Daphne had never been able to find the patience to deal with him. He was a brat, no way around it.

Theo, on the other hand… She held in a slight smile as she thought about her childhood friend. While Theo was similar to Draco at least in the coloring of their hair, their personalities were completely different, in the best possible way. Not to mention, despite what a couple of misguided Gryffindors thought, he was very attractive, at least to her.

Shaking her head at her inability to focus, Daphne decided that studying was a lost cause.

Maybe catching up with an old friend would keep her interest better. And maybe, just maybe, if the Yule Ball were to get brought up…

Theo was the only person she wouldn't mind going with. It was practically her Slytherin duty to give him a nudge.

Chapter Text

When Parvati came into the room, she wasn't surprised to see Padma and Su sitting close together. They must be practicing the sticking charm, she thought, and said hello to her dear sister.

"You're such a bookworm," Parvati said, sliding up to her twin sister. "And hey, Su! What's up?"

Padma sighed deeply, and Parvati tried to hide her glee. Her younger self had lived to put that aggravated trying-not-to-frown expression on Padma's face.

"I've missed you," Parvati added, just to watch Padma twitch. Really, as goody-two-shoes as her sister always tried to be, she was just so easily pissed off.

"You saw me yesterday. When we hung out after dinner."

"Did you need something?" Su broke in, her voice as soft and kind as usual. "And Pad, stop being mean to your sister."

"Nah. I just…" Crap, she did have a reason for tracking down her sister. Now, what was it? "Y'know, in the area."

Padma stared blankly. "We're in an abandoned classroom. The door was closed." Looking a bit worried, she added, "Are you feeling okay?"

"Yeah. I'll just continue on my way to the Great Hall. Don't forget it's dinnertime soon!"

I'm such an idiot, Parvati thought as she left the room. She couldn't believe she'd spent so long tracking her sister down, only to forget what she needed to tell her! Then, thankfully before she was too far away, she remembered that Padma had left her Charms book in the library the other day. Parvati quickly shuffled over to the room.

The door was slightly open, and Parvati decide she might as well be considerate. It wouldn't do to mess up her twin's spell, after all. The looked in, but the only charms the two girls were practicing were lip-locking ones.

She hadn't realized there was something going on between them. But then, Padma was always pretty secretive.

Get it, girl, Parvati thought, grinning widely. And then she left, thinking about all the new ways she could tease her sister now.

Chapter Text

"This story begins deep in the underpaid, overworked bowels of the Ministry, where you will find a department like none other: the Auror Department, where the bravest witches and wizards of our time work to ensure peace and prosperity in the wizarding world. Inside these people's hardened souls and excessive paranoia and obsession with having multiple wands—"

James Potter was unable swallow his snort. "Multiple wands, you say?" He winked exaggeratedly at his cousin.

"Off with your head," Roxanne Weasley muttered. She shuffled her parchment to find the next page. "—and their thick, uncomfortable work robes, you will find hearts of gold. Or gold-plated armor." She trailed off into thought. "You never know what you'll find. Either way, they are the individuals so devoted to law and order, they practically have no lives." This time, it was Louis Weasley who laughed, but Roxanne continued, "Wait, rewind. In this department, you will find courageous, lonely individuals seeking true love and, of course—"

"Woman!" James interrupted, finally unable to reign himself in any longer. "Are you writing a novel or a dating ad?"

"Both. A novel for me, a gay dating advertisement for you. How do you like it?" Roxanne retorted, throwing her novel-writing guide at James's head.

James lit her book on fire in answer, grinning smugly from across the room. He and Louis shared an old, crabby, magically over-expanded to the point of fading out of existence desk, on the left side of the room, while Roxanne occupied a smaller but marginally newer desk on the opposite side.

"I have more copies, dolt. Louis, what did you think?"

Louis scratched his head and stared pensively at the ceiling. The tiles looked like they were about to collapse in on them, and he made a mental note to bring the life-threatening issue up in the next Auror Department meeting. "Did I hear background bathroom humor in there? You know, bowels of the Ministry? Does our Ministry have bowels? Are you comparing us to crap? Metaphorically speaking, what would a bowel movement involve?" He reached out for his coffee mug, wincing as he took it. The pain in his hand caused him to go off-balance and he narrowly missed hitting James with his elbow. "Sorry, man."

James gave him a thumb up sign while Roxanne slumped back in her rolling chair. It hit the wall behind her with a thud. "I hate you both," she said, conjuring the sixth copy of her novel-writing guide. "Seriously. Can't you give me some constructive criticism?"

Louis stretched out an arm. "Fine, give it here."

Just as Roxanne was about to send the stack of loose parchment across the room, the announcement board (which looked oddly similar to a muggle bulletin board, but the pureblood Auror who created the system vehemently denied such a thing) shouted, "Auror Weasley to Head Auror's office!"

Auror Louis Weasley scratched his head and shared an amused and annoyed glance with Auror Roxanne Weasley, and said, "Message to Head Auror: Which Auror Weasley?"

There was a long pause until the message board replied, "Apologies. Auror Louis Weasley, please."

"Must be for animagus uses," James ventured, covertly blowing a few scraps of burnt paper onto the other side of the room and into Roxanne's hair. Louis left with a shrug and an unvoiced reply. There was no way he was being called down because of his animagus form; his fingers were still too bruised for him to be able to properly walk in it, and he was out of commission for at least another two weeks. Maybe longer, if the Healers found irregularities in his newly regrown hand bones during his next appointment.

"Off you go, honey!" Roxanne called after him. Louis threw her a rude gesture.

The Head Auror's office was across the hall and a few paces to the left of their office. The Weasley Team's (as their Auror squad was called) office was actually a small, refurbished break room for the Head Auror back in the day, when Head Aurors led less active lives compared to the current Head Auror. The Weasley Team was strictly forbidden to complain about their room's size.

Louis barely had time to wonder why he had been called in—aside from the fingers, which the Head Auror knew full well about, he hadn't done anything noteworthy in the past few weeks—and soon he was already at the door. He knocked thrice and received a "Come in!"

The Head Auror's room was the size of the Weasley Team's room plus another half a room, and meant for only one person. It was grand, like all such rooms were, although the French Ministry's Head Auror's room was much grander, as Louis had found out when he still worked for the Department of Wizarding Games.

After being gestured, Louis sat down on a plush office chair and waited for the Head Auror to speak.

The Head Auror handed a thick case file to Louis and folded his hands together. "Auror Weasley," he began with a nod, and Louis could practically see him reminding himself once again to use Louis's full name on the announcement boards. "Your team is back on the Petrichorus Thief case." He paused while they both pretended Louis was completely impartial to the decision. When Louis visibly collected himself, the Head Auror continued, "You're the only team that's gotten close to him, and I want results. I also want you to be careful, do you hear me? He's a dangerous criminal, no matter how generally nonviolent he is. I'm telling you that as a boss, an uncle, and a father."

Louis flexed each of his fingers, reminding himself that they were there and they were whole. But this was no time for his woes. "Yes sir."

Uncle Harry—because he was looking at Louis with such an unmistakably caring expression, that he couldn't be mistaken for the Head Auror. Louis's expression told Uncle Harry all he needed to know: that he better than he was two months ago, if not completely healed. After over thirty years as an Auror, Uncle Harry had gained better than average skills at reading people.

"Anything else I can do for you?" Louis asked. There had to be another reason why he alone had been called to the Head's office, and it wasn't to judge Louis's mental state. Uncle Harry had done that last week at dinner, probably while deciding whether to put the Weasley Team back on the Petrichorus Thief case.

Uncle Harry handed Louis a sealed envelope. "I'd also like you to stop by Ridgeback Road, building twelve, apartment 3B. Drop it off in person, if you can."

Louis mentally counted off a list of people who lived there, right down to Teddy Lupin, who hadn't shown up for the last three Saturday dinners. "Teddy Lupin?"

"Yes," Uncle Harry said. Louis suddenly noticed Uncle Harry looked more stressed than usual and older than he had ever seen him. "He stopped sending replies to my letters about a week ago, though the letters never came back. I though he was just busy with his new job. Then the goblins contacted me this morning to say he was fired. He hasn't shown up for work the past week. I don't have the time to see him; I leave for France tonight, and I can't spare the time if he's taking some sort of impromptu vacation."

"Yes sir," Louis said, and the moment of familiarity broke.

"Dismissed, Auror Weasley," the Head Auror said.

Louis nodded and left the office. He was bothered by Teddy's disappearance. Teddy's wasn't always the most reliable of people, but he'd never gone missing for this long. Teddy had also acted oddly the past few months, forgetting meetings and not showing up for family gatherings, but Louis had assumed he'd gotten a new girlfriend or something similar.

He made sure to hide his worry. Uncle Harry obviously didn't want to worry James. Roxanne and James would see through the facade (Aurors weren't selected through luck and nepotism), but he put one up all the same.

"I'll kiss that pout off your cute lips," Roxanne purred, sliding up next to Louis and putting her arms around his shoulders.

"Gah!" he cried, shuddering and jumping away. "The power of magic compels you to leave me alone!"

"The power of pureblood-ism compels me to snog you," she answered with a saucy wink. Roxanne laughed at his disturbed expression and waved him into their office.

"James!" Louis cried. "She's doing it again!" He flopped down into his chair and started making a barrier of paperwork between Roxanne's and his side of the room, using only the Wingardium Leviosa spell as a way of precision practice.

James didn't bother replying, too involved in his book. Judging by the ever-present mess of papers on his side of the desk, he was too busy procrastinating to do any paperwork. Louis also noticed a new stack of paperwork on his own side of the desk that hadn't been there twenty minutes ago. "James Potter," Louis growled, "Why—"

"What's the case?" Roxanne yelled over the barrier of papers. Louis flicked the door closed and swept the papers away with an easy swish. "Show off," Roxanne grumbled. She jumped off her chair and went over to the boys' side of the room, wandlessly pulling her chair along. Louis rolled his eyes at the double standard.

"We're back on the D307:PT, guys," Louis said, shoving the extra paperwork off his desk and spreading out the case file.

Just the case's title forced the group to become serious. "What do we know?" Roxanne asked.

James lined the photos on the announcement board the way they had been two months ago, with a few additions. Louis shoved down the pervading feel of déjà vu and stayed at his desk. His coffee (James's coffee, if he were completely honest) was bitter, but he needed the shock to his system. Roxanne put the papers up with the newest evidence in the center. Louis noticed she didn't put up the photos of the last robbery and settled for a short glare at her coddling.

"So," she said, with another glance at Louis. "The Petrichorus Thief. Back again, aren't you, sweetheart?" She poked the masked face in the photo. "After a two month break, we thought you were gone for good."

"There's been a break-in at the Parkinsons, the elder family home. Twelve thousand galleons worth of crap was stolen—not really that important what—but it's definitely him. He used the Petrichorus Charm on exit, filling up the first floor of the house. The stench is probably killer right now. It only smells nice in small amounts."

"Why does he do it?" Roxanne muttered, her face millimeters away from the shadowy picture. "There has to be a reason."

"Attention, arrogance, idiocy. Take your pick," James replied.

Louis settled into his thinking pose with his legs crossed on his chair, elbows on his desk, and head on his knuckles. "What's different?"

"Nothing." Roxanne examined the papers again. "Absolutely nothing. Same MO, same quick in and out, same vague black-covered shape on the security viewing charms."

Louis came over to the announcement board. "The shape of him is definitely the same. Same guy, most likely not a copycat. That charm's a pain to learn. There hasn't been enough time for anyone to practice it in the time he's been absent." Same height. If Louis were in his spider form right now, he'd be completely certain of it. "Have the younger Parkinsons been interviewed?"

"Yes." Roxanne handed him the interview papers. Louis scanned them; there was nothing to hint that it was an inside job. Not that there had been any evidence of that sort in any of the Petrichorus Thief's six previous jobs.

James whistled over at Louis's right side. "Look here. Solid gold quill set stolen. The Parkinsons are probably having a family weeping session right about now."

And if the Weasley Team had done their job properly two months ago, the Parkinsons would still be using their needlessly extravagant quills. But there was no use in crying over a spilled cauldron, so Louis examined the photos more closely. An elegant doorway with a missing statue, a dining room with missing silverware, a safe missing a few thousand galleons worth of Gringotts coins—all done in under one hour while the gentlewizard and lady of the house were upstairs sleeping. Louis felt a twinge of professional jealousy.

"Well, we're off to see the wizards," Roxanne decided, pulling on her professional Auror's robes over her daywear.

Louis and James stared at her blankly.

"Why do I bother?" she asked, throwing her hands up in the air. "You're like the Three Stooges, you two and Teddy."

"We should have never let Uncle Harry introduce her to muggle culture of all things."

"Then she wouldn't be writing a book," Louis agreed. "Or saying weird things."

After jumping through the Auror Department's apparation point, the Weasley Team appeared in the middle of Ridgeback Road to re-interrogate the number one suspect on their list: Montague Knightley, international wizarding chess champion and a pain in the collective Auror Department's arse.

Louis tapped Roxanne on the shoulder. "I'll be around in a second, okay? I just need to drop something off."

"Personal business on the clock?" Roxanne tisked. "Shame on you."

Louis waved her off and ran up to apartment 3B of building 12, incidentally the closest apartment building. He rapped on the door twice and called Teddy's name, but got no answer.

"Oh, you won't get anything out of him."

Louis turned around to see an elderly witch coming out of apartment 3A. "Excuse me, ma'am? Why not?"

"He hasn't been in for ages," she said, pointing a wrinkled finger at the door. "Three weeks at least. I keep getting his mail, so I've been keeping it for him, but every time I come to give it to him, he isn't home! Must be out gallivanting with his girlfriend like all those other immoral young men out there nowadays."

Blood rushed to Louis's ears. He barely heard or saw the lady leave. "Alohomora," he whispered, bypassing the apartment building's security charms. As an Auror, he was keyed into them, though his presence would be recorded. The door opened with a creak and Louis stepped inside.

The smell hit him with a thunder, and he barely stood standing under the weight of the smell and his own shock. He checked the nearest wall for pictures; Teddy and Uncle Harry's faces smiled down at him. This was Teddy's apartment, but Louis ardently wished it wasn't.

A million possibilities ran through Louis's head: turn back, forget, call out, cry, yell. He could imagine himself doing all of them, especially the less noble ones. Instead he plucked an evidence bag from his pocket and swept a bit of the smell in. Then he halfheartedly searched the apartment, his wand in his pocket, as if welcoming capture. He found a wand with traces of petrichorus spellwork on it, and a black enchanted catsuit in the closet, complete with a black mask. Still, no one stopped him. Louis could only be thankful that he couldn't smell the scent of the newly dead, but that would be no consolation for Harry Potter. Teddy Lupin was missing and his apartment smelled of petrichor, the smell of dust after rain.

Chapter Text

Headmaster Igor Karkaroff had better things to do than roam the halls of Durmstrang Institute at midnight. The school kept strict protocol for students' nighttime wandering – once, punishment, twice, expulsion. No student had been caught outside his dormitory in twenty-one years since Igor himself had been caught by his own Headmaster. These days, he doled out twice the punishment he'd gotten as a student, an occurrence that got him to be named the harshest taskmaster of Durmstrang Institute since the very first headmaster, a man who had founded the school over one thousand years ago. Little was known about this man, not only because time had erased records of his existence. He came to Durmstrang Island under an assumed name, and named the island and later the school after his birthplace, an Irish village.

Karkaroff exited the academy's main hallway and moved up to the second year boys' dormitories, a class that had always given him trouble. They were just too excitable, the little bastards. Finished with one year, they feel like kings—or survivors, as one graduating student had called himself. Igor had given him a rare smile at the title.

Durmstrang was a school for survivors, much unlike the pale-faced, baby-cheeked students of Hogwarts School and Beauxbatons Academy. Why, Hogwarts didn't even teach dueling! And Beauxbatons taught manners like their students' lives would one day depend on them. Durmstrang students either fell in line (literally, as students walked straight lines, sometimes in a march) or were booted out. In his twenty years as Headmaster, Igor had personally expelled three dozen idiots. They had all gone by way of home-schooling or a minor, less reputable school of magic—none dared to appeal to Hogwarts and Beauxbatons. A Durmstrang man had much more pride than that.

Igor made his way to the lowest point of Durmstrang Institute, chuckling quietly to himself. No student dared to be out at this time (and if he did, he better do well to hide himself), and none would certainly go here. It was a room long forgotten by the newest crop of trainees, but it had worked as a secret training room many decades ago. At seventeen, Igor himself had been caught there after hours, practicing spellwork in the dark. He was sent home the very next day. Ironic, that he now walked these same floors as the most powerful man in the school. No matter what, he would always remember his Lord for providing him with the opportunity.

The room was octagonal in shape, an odd design that the historians believed to of religious significance of some sort, lost to history. Musty old training mats covered the floors and the room smelled little better than it looked. But the very far wall was what lured misbehaving students to this very room. A life-sized mural covered the entire far wall, spanning four meters wide and two meters high. It the mural, a man sat inside a library of books and scrolls, occasionally writing something and shaking his head. He picked a book up occasionally for a closer look, only to throw it sideways as if not finding an answer in it.

The man, a redhead, looked too wild to be caught in a library of sorts at first glance, but once one looked for long enough, one saw that he belonged there. It was not a depiction of Durmstrang's library, however; to Durmstrang's shame (they had never been able to rid themselves of the mural, and the wall itself could not be brought down without bringing the sea in and the school down with it), they had a painting of Hogwart's library inside its borders. An act of a patriotic idiot, some presumed.

Others said this man was the founder of Durmstrang, a man by the name of Durmson. Igor only knew that the man, who did more sometimes, never spoke a word. Sometimes fuzzy murmurings could be heard, like the scene was behind a heavy glass, but never words. The man never looked up from his work, either, unlike now.

Igor stopped in place when he noticed the man looking up. Not just up—straight at him. It did not seem like a delusion, but Igor cast a quick wakening charm on himself as a precaution. When the man still stared, Igor had no choice but to speak, "Good evening, resident portrait."

The man stroked his red beard. "A good evening it is, monseiur."

A Frenchman? In an English library? In his castle? Igor huffed with a renewed determination to break down the wall. Rumors of the man, curious questions had no place now. Except— "Iwonder if you might answer me this question. I asked a long time ago—I don't know if you remember. Who are you?"

"A long time ago? Yes, you've grown. I wonder if you might indulge me in something before I speak. Cast a spell to brighten this room. I have not seen my school in centuries."

"With your permission, we could have you moved." Igor did as the man asked, casting a blue fire that lit the room in pale light. The man's eyes lingered on Igor's wand, but he did nothing more than watch with a curious expression.

"Thank you. I would like that, to see the world again. I'll just be a moment."

Igor made a move to speak—could the man move from his wall?—when he noticed something odd happening. The oil strokes seemed to be shifting up and down and protruding outwards. The lines of the man, originally murky and unclear, a clear sign of Romantic painting, deepened and straightened into a photograph-like image. It was remarkable. Igor had never seen anything like it.

Caught up in his interest and the anticipation of finding the answer to his question, Igor didn't notice the first strings of tiredness creeping up on him. Subconsciously he put them onto his recent sleepless nights, plagued by nightmares of the Dark Lord and the war.

While his mind threatened to bring Igor away from the moment, the portrait kept changing until a bulge appeared under the paint. The bulge rose and rose, and along with it came the lines of the painting, wrapping around the bulge.

The first stroke of nervousness rushed into Igor. "What are you doing, portrait?"

"I'd like to speak with you," the man said, and Igor noticed something odd about his voice. It was deepening, hollowing, changing as he spoke and the bulge grew into a humanoid shape.

That was what it was. The man was stepping out of the portrait.

Igor felt a burst of pain in his heart. "What— The light. You didn't need a light." The man had candles in his office while he read. He needed no light. Portraits needed no light to see humans, as they weren't human themselves. They were beings of magic. Igor's fingers trembled as he whipped his wand from his pocket and pointed it at the man who was slowly killing him.

"Stop," he ordered in one last attempt to find this man's secrets. But when his shape became almost human, Igor had no choice. A scholar he was not, and curiosity had no place in his castle. "Avada Kedavra!"

The line of green light hit the man square in the chest, just below his heart, but the man did not collapse. Igor hadn't used the spell in a decade, but he knew he wasn't rusty. This was something else.

The man in the portrait raised his hand toward Igor. The light that illuminated the room flickered once, twice, thrice, and completely went out.

With it, Igor Karkaroff slumped to the ground, his body the shell of the man he was.

The man in the portrait, no longer a painting but a flesh-and-blood man, smiled.

"My name is Salazar Slytherin."

Chapter Text

For a very long time, Ginny convinced herself that she was jealous of Cho's fashion sense. It made sense in a way that nothing else did, because she could never think of a reason why her boyfriend's ex-girlfriend continued to catch her attention. Even when her boyfriend became her ex, and Cho continued to appear on the outskirts of Ginny's life, Ginny's attention never wavered. Her attention only increased when an injury forced her out of professional Quidditch and into the Daily Prophet sports section, only a couple columns and rooms away from Cho's fashion section.

Cho wore the most interesting clothes – pleated robes with the most amazing lines, multicolored robes that would've made Ginny look like a parrot but Cho like a queen, two-piece robes with polka dots the color of her eyes. It should've made her look like Dumbledore, but instead it made her look even prettier than she had been in school. Ginny had never been able to understand fashion, whether because it was her nature or she had grown up too poor to learn, but she knew enough to know Cho was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen.

It didn't help that Cho frequently stopped by her office and bring her out of her admiring thoughts.

"Are you sighing over the heartbreaking lack of readership your column has?" Cho teased, coming into Ginny's office. She sat down in a chair across from Ginny's desk, her light blue robes pooling like water onto the seat. Ginny couldn't help but shiver at how they complimented her form. There was so much to be said for magical cloth of the twenty-first century, she thought once again.

"I'm sighing over how heartbroken you'll be to find out that we got almost a thousand letters last week after the Cannon's winning match," Ginny said, smirking. "We beat out every other column, including the letters over a member of the Wizengamot's resignation."

"I'm sure they were so distracted by the sacrilege that is the Cannons winning that they utterly forgot to review our amazing skin care column," Cho said, smiling.

Ginny shook her head, both at the fact that she could have such an easy relationship with someone she had a messy history with, and the fact their sections' rivalry made her this happy.

"We don't need the Cannons to know how great our reporting is," Ginny replied with an amazingly snooty tone, if she said so herself. Knowing Draco Malfoy did wonders for her ability to mock people, though it hadn't rubbed off on Malfoy's new boyfriend quite as much.

"I'm sure," Cho replied, going for sarcastic but ending up amused. "I'm here on a different matter, though. There's a new restaurant that's opened up a few blocks away. I'd hoped you might join me for dinner there."

"Of course," Ginny said.

"As a date?"

The words made Ginny pause as they sunk into her mind. As a date. She hadn't dated in a long time, not since Harry had left her for a his childhood rival, saying it's not you it's me like that would make things better. Ginny bit her lip and glanced at Cho, then looked away. She thought Cho was lovely, but did that mean she was really attracted to another woman? There was only one way to find out, she supposed. She'd let her last break-up rule her love life for much too long.

"I'd like that," she replied, smiling.

Later, she would meet with Harry to talk about just how adept they both were at denial.

Even later, after a brilliant date, she would draw Cho in for another sweet kiss, and think that there was no other place she'd rather be.

Chapter Text

1

Harry can't quite remember when Draco's faults became objects of beauty to him. When had every weakness of his turned from a fault to something unique? When he last looked at Draco and saw a pointy git instead of a handsome man? When had his cheekbones and chin softened to Harry's eyes?

It had probably happened sometime between the first and five-hundredth time Harry had kissed him, but he wasn't sure.

2

By age sixteen, Harry loved a lot of people: Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Professor McGonagall, Hagrid. Maybe not all to the same extent, or showed his love to all of them, but he'd amassed a number of ties to people since leaving his lonely cupboard. And yet, for all that he was familiar with the emotion, he was still gobsmacked to realize he didn't hate Malfoy anymore.

3

Dudley had a dragon once, a green one that erupted into a loud roar when one pressed the button on its belly. Harry had wanted it with all the wanting of an orphan. His own toys were broken and ripped, but Dudley's dragon was a mid-summer present from Vernon and Petunia. He dreamed of flying the dragon, and playing in the garden with it, and maybe—though he'd never, ever tell his relatives, he dreamed of flying on it. Many years later, he had his own Slytherin dragon, and he never wanted so badly for anything again.

"You're a Gryffindor. You're supposed to have epic romances of legend—"

"Isn't that what this is?"

"—with other idiot Gryffindors that can actually appreciate those epic romances. I want security and warm love."

"And you'll have it," Harry said, never meaning anything more than he did this.

Chapter Text

Cold February air hit Harry Potter on both sides as he stood on the edge of the Black Lake, staring at the expanse of water in front of him. The Black Lake, while neither as beautiful as Hogwarts nor as striking as the mountain range behind it, was a beauty in its own right: fifteen kilometers squared of freshwater, reaching a daunting one hundred meters deep, and brimming with dangerous creatures. Merpeople (last known death by mermaids in 1883), grindylows (poisonous venom), and the giant squid (last attempted student suffocation in 1973), were likely not the worst in its waters, as no one had ever been curious enough to find out what lurked in its depths. (Not to mention, a young girl around Harry's age had once gone swimming in the lake, and never returned to the world of the living. Neither her ghost not her body had ever been found.) Until the Triwizard Tournament, when four champions had been commanded to breach the waters to find something lost to them.

What that object would be, Harry wasn't yet certain, but he hoped desperately that it would be floating on the side of the lake on the day of the second task instead of resting at the bottom of the lake. Or better yet, that the task itself would be canceled in favor of having a broomstick race. First person to catch the Snitch wins the Triwizard Tournament and the previously scheduled Quidditch resumes as planned. But deep down, Harry knew he would be forced to participate in this task, as in the previous one, so he decided to prepare for this one better than the last, since he didn't want to become Merperson food, a fact he knew had happened often in the sixteenth century, the fact courtesy of Hermione. His best friend had been trying to help, he knew, but it didn't comfort him in the slightest.

Bumps had already formed all over his body, even under layers of Muggle clothing and thick winter robes. Deciding he had dawdled enough, Harry sprang into action. He had consulted Hermione last night for the best kind of warming charm he could use. She had been delighted to help him with his task ("Anything to make sure you don't die, Harry!") and he waved his wand over his head, his wrist bent at an uncomfortable angle so that his wand faced directly down, and said, "Envigorm."

Mean to be used on victims of hypothermia, but not high-powered enough to cause him to become overheated, they had decided it was the perfect spell. Harry stripped off his robes and underclothes, standing on the sand and rocks in nothing but his pants. Harry grinned; the charm worked well enough. He'd have to thank Hermione later that day. Ron had tried helping, too, but Harry tried to avoid thinking about Ron. He had forgiven him, but Ron's betrayal hurt him a lot, and he still wasn't over losing his first friend because of a bloody stupid thing Ron should've already known: Harry hated fame.

He was glad that no one was outside so early in the morning, and doubly glad that Colin Creevey, with his camera and never-ending roll of film, was asleep in the Gryffindor Tower. The windows of the third year boys' dormitory faced north, away from the lake and therefore away from Harry's partially naked form.

When he began to feel uncomfortably warm, Harry knew his charm had activated. Still, he carefully waded into the water, unsure that the charm would hold against the freezing February waters. It didn't.

Teeth chattering, hands rubbing his arms, Harry waded one toe into the freezing waters. He pulled out quickly, feeling ten times colder that he had a moment ago. Realizing he was going to get nowhere like this, Harry walked onto the wooden boat dock he'd last been on his first year, counting each of the twenty pillars, ten on each side of the wooden walkway, like a man going to his own hanging. He had last been here his first year, going the opposite way, to the castle. Oddly enough, he'd been more nervous beginning school than jumping into a dangerous lake. He really was a Gryffindor, he thought with an inward grin, so he yelled, "I'm going to win!" across the lake, and took a running jump into the Black Lake.

He jumped up and down a few times to get his blood flowing more quickly, attempted a few half-hearted jumping jacks, and looked backward toward the castle. He thought he saw something moving to his right in the Forbidden Forest for a moment, then shook his head. It was gone by the time he looked back, so Harry assumed it was an animal or just his imagination. He was clearly visible, but it was early enough that he was sure no one would see him. No one except maybe the teachers got up at five on a Saturday, and they shouldn't care that he was practicing for the second task. He stripped to his pants, reluctantly leaving his glasses as well, and, in true Gryffindor fashion, took a running leap into the lake.

Freezing water rammed against his eardrums, prodded his skin in pinpricks of pain. Harry opened his eyes and slammed them shut against the water. It was neither as uncomfortable as Polyjuice Potion, nor as agonizingly painful as the Basilisk's fang piercing his arm, but it was bearable. He waded up to the surface, took a deep breath once he was up there, and then dipped his head down again. The water felt marginally warmer than the air.

It was then that something rammed into Harry's stomach. His mouth opened in shock and pain, his breath leaving his lungs. Desperately, he tried to breathe more air in, but he only breathed water. He covered his mouth to keep himself from gagging. His eyes opened with his mouth, and before him he saw the terrifying image of the giant squid. Long, fat, tentacles stretched out before him, a beam of light, the sun, breaking from behind. Harry tried to yell, and remembered he couldn't, and tried to wade upwards with his too-skinny arms. But something stuck to his foot—a tentacle!—no, a weed, a strong one that refused to let him go. Water, its push, hurt his eyes and he closed them until he swam into a wooden pole—the pool deck—and Harry couldn't think, couldn't breathe, chest burning, all he knew was he needed air. He was going to die, so close to the school—it wasn't even the second task yet—when something grabbed him from behind and pulled him upwards, breaking his leg free of the weeds and taking him up to the surface. He crawled to his hands and knees, coughing out water while his savior hit his back repeatedly to help. Harry fell to his side, boneless, his vision swimming, and felt himself being thrown over someone's back, his stomach resting against the other's back. He heaved, but nothing left his mouth, and finally sound reached his brain through the pounding in his head.

"—what is wrong with bloody idiotic teenagers who should goddamn know better than to jump into the Black Lake in fucking February without a Bubble-Headed Charm and a knife, or even a single watcher to make sure he doesn't drown?" Moody's rough voice seethed with anger and he didn't even bother trying to steady Harry's body, which swung from side to side with his uneven stride. Harry guessed Moody thought it was the least he deserved, and winced, realizing he might be right. It had been stupid of him, not that he was admitting it to Moody any time soon.

"I didn't mean to!" Harry coughed out. "I was trying to learn to swim, and no one told me the weeds and the giant squid were out to get me! It's not like it's called the Forbidden Lake or something. I didn't think it would be that bad!"

"The water isn't black, you stupid kid, so why do you think it's called the Black Lake? Maybe because of the dangerous creatures there? Those dried carnivorous weeds you use in Potions, you never asked where they come from?" Moody slammed open the door to the entrance hall and took the route to the Hospital Wing. Luckily for Harry's back, which ached from the lack of oxygen and the constant bumping (he felt like he was knocking against something hard—did Moody wear armor under his robes?—somehow, Harry didn't doubt it).

Moody knocked on Madam Pomfrey's door once, loudly, and unloaded Harry onto an empty cot.

"Who's there—oh, Mr. Potter," Madam Pomfrey said, her hands akimbo, wand in one hand. Her pale pink nightrobe ruined her angry stance somewhat, but she still looked intimidating enough for Harry to cringe. "Did you perhaps face off against another dragon, or a Basilisk, or a werewolf? For Merlin's sake…" She muttered a detection charm under her breath while Moody told her exactly where he found Harry and in what shape he'd pulled him out of the lake.

"I was hoping I wouldn't see you again this year." She cast a few charms, and Harry immediately felt dryer. "What happened?"

"I got stuck in the Black Lake," Harry said. Voicing it aloud made him realize he had no idea how to do the second task, now.

"Lift up your robe," Moody ordered, and Harry reluctantly did. The place where the vine—seaweed, he'd thought—had grabbed him was bloodied and bruised. Now that Madam Pomfrey had rushed a potion down his throat to raise his body temperature (The potion he took raised his body temperature only at one point, not kept in continuously raised, the Dumbledore is temporarily raising the heat of the lake for the task) and stave off hypothermia, his body noticed his wounded leg and sent a constant stream of pain to his head.

Madam Pomfrey gave him a gauze pad and told him to hold it against his ankle after cleaning his wound with a few quick spells. His skin slowly stitched together, looking better than ever. It fascinated Harry that magic could heal him so thoroughly and quickly, when healing the Muggle way would take ages.

But with all its potions and charms, magic still couldn't bring back the dead—not in any way that mattered to Harry.

When he looked up again after shifting the pad around his leg, Professor Moody was gone. Harry decided to thank him the next time he saw him. Without Moody, he would have drowned for sure.

A few minutes and a stern lecture from Madam Pomfrey later, Harry walked back to the Gryffindor Tower with nary a limp. It was close to noon, and he'd missed breakfast for sure, so Harry decided to take a quick nap and head off to lunch later. Hermione and Ron were probably worried about him.

Chapter Text

There are two house elves to help Marlene through the floo when she stumbles in.

She enters the Malfoy manor much like she last exited it, five months ago: dirtied, tired, and disgraced. But this time, she's not tired after a couple sex-filled days, dirtied with her lover's juices, or sent out in disgrace after a heated argument. The house elves show her to the pink guest suite before they bring her to Narcissa; Marlene doesn't have it in her to be ashamed. Her robes were last washed a month ago, maybe two, she can't remember; her body, a week. There's nothing she'd like more than to collapse onto the kingly bed in the center of the room, but she forces her body to move toward the attached bathroom instead. She can imagine Cissy's sniff of disgust at her dirty state. And right now, she cannot bear Cissy's disgust. Not now. Not when her future depends on her.

She drops her clothes, watches as they vanish before they hit the ground, and steps into the shower. The hot water turns on. It's the best thing she's felt in a month, heaven compared to cleaning charms. Her last shower had been at Sirius' apartment before everything had gone to hell.

Sirius had intercepted her letter to Cissy, one giving the details of a planned Order raid on her workplace. It turned out that the higher-ups in the Order were looking for a traitor, and the secret raid had turned out to be a ploy to see if she'd place her cause over her heart. Sirius had kicked her out over her choice just like her parents had only the year before. It seems all she can do is make the wrong choices.

She steps out of the shower and pulls on the robe that hadn't been there on the counter when she'd stepped in. It crosses her mind that she can go without it. Both she and Narcissa know why she's here. A robe wouldn't help her appeal to Cissy's baser natures. Still, she puts it on, and ties a loose knot instead of her usual one.

When she steps out of the bathroom, she finds the elves have laid out a table for them in front of the bed. A heavy meal lies on it. But Marlene's eyes are on the woman sitting at the table: Narcissa Malfoy. She had been Narcissa Black when they'd met. She'd been Cissy when they'd been two fumbling teenagers in dark closets and closed curtain beds. But it was Narcissa Malfoy before her, the woman who chose tradition over love. The woman who chose Lucius Malfoy over Marlene.

"Please sit," Narcissa says, pointing at the chair across from her.

Marlene does as she is bid. "I'm sorry for coming here unannounced, and in the state I was in."

"It's alright. I didn't see your state. I hope you don't mind the meal. I know mushrooms aren't your favorites." Narcissa's voice is better and worse than Marlene remembered it. She can get lost in it; she already has.

"I'm grateful anyway."

Narcissa nods, taking a bite from her own dish. Marlene arrived late after dinner, so the only thing on Narcissa's plate is a green salad, paired with water. Marlene sips on her red wine and eats Narcissa's food and wishes she could leave.

"Your favorite," Marlene says instead, talking about the wine, her heart in her throat.

Narcissa grimaces and takes a sip from her glass of water. "I can't have any now, of course."

"Of course."

Narcissa has been married five months. Of course.

"You left because you didn't agree with my decision to stay with Lucius. Why are you here now?" Narcissa asks once their empty dishes are apparated away by house elves.

Marlene shrugs. Her robe falls off her shoulder with the movement. "I made a stupid choice. Got kicked out of the Order. I can't go back to my parents. So I wanted to know if you'd take me back."

"You waited a long time to come to me," Narcissa replies.

"I wanted to find my own way first," Marlene answers. It's too honest an answer. Too painful.

"Did you?"

Do you want me to talk about all my failure? Marlene wonders. Because of all people, she knows best how cruel Narcissa can be. "I found my way to you. If you'll let me stay."

Narcissa puts down her glass and stands. With an easy motion, her robes slide off her thin shoulders and onto the floor. In moments, she is lying regally on the bed, legs spread out, her long blonde hair spread out on the sheets. Marlene's blood rushes from her head.

"Convince me and I will," Narcissa says.

Marlene does.

Chapter Text

"I can't keep doing this," Lily said, pulling away from Cho's kiss. It had been a wonderful date; the muggle restaurant's food was superb.

"You only told me you loved me last month," Cho replied, her tone a tad cold.

"I still love you," Lily said. "But I can't keep dating you and keeping it a secret from my parents. I want the whole world to know how much I care for you."

"Your parents' approval isn't the most important thing in the world."

Lily couldn't help but sigh. "It is in mine. And I don't think I can be with someone who won't let me be honest with them." She'd never been so happy with someone, but the person who made her deliriously happy also made her cry so often. It was time for a change, despite the fact that she knew both Cho and herself loved each other.

Lily turned and started walking away, hoping against hope that Cho would call her back. She smiled, wide and brilliant, when she felt a familiar hand touch her shoulder.

Chapter Text

There's a small sparrow that visits Luna's open window each morning. It comes and sings and eats from Luna's hand if she's able to sit completely still. This time, her hand shakes when she lifts it up, moving without her permission. A few months ago, Luna had control of every part of her. A few months ago, before she was kept captive in the dungeons below the Malfoy manor.

The door opens and someone enters.

"Longbottom is downstairs, asking for you," the only other person in the room says. Before the war, Cho Chang would have never deigned to talk to her.

For a moment, all Luna can think of is the terrible days and nights and hours spent in the dungeons.

But Neville is her friend. And Neville would understand either way.

She sighs, sits up, and leaves to visit her prince. And maybe one day, her life will snap back into focus, become a fairytale again.