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Come Away to the Water

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Near midnight on July 30th, Harry Potter snuck into the Dursleys’ garage with the emergency flashlight Aunt Petunia kept in the large draw by the kitchen sink. He didn’t dare turn the overhead light on; he had been banned from the garage his entire life. Aunt Petunia might send him to dust and scrub the entire rest of the house, or weed the yard, or reorganize the small garden shed, but heaven help him if Uncle Vernon thought he’d gone near the family automobile unsupervised.

The garage was oppressively dark. Harry swept the beam of the flashlight across the floor to make sure there was nothing to trip over, and slowly inched his way over to the tool wall on the far side. Vernon had acquired a vast collection over the years, and Harry was hoping that there might be a bolt-cutter amongst them.

Luck was with him; there were three, at the back of a drawer on the left side of the workbench. Harry carefully stowed the smallest one in the pocket of his oversized jeans, the handle still sticking out a bit. After making his way back, Harry flicked the flashlight off before slipping through the door again. It wouldn’t do to get caught at this stage because someone had gotten up for a glass of water and saw the light.

A loud, forlorn hoot sounded from upstairs, and Harry froze. A grumble came from Petunia and Vernon’s bedroom, but no footsteps. Harry hurried silently up the stairs to his room, and hid the bolt cutters under the mattress before Hedwig could call again.

“Hey girl,” Harry said softly, crouching by the cage. “Just a bit longer.”

He pulled out a pen taken from the same kitchen drawer as the flashlight, and a long, thin piece of paper ripped from the pad Petunia wrote her grocery lists on.

Dear Hermione, Harry wrote, using the moonlight from the window. Please take care of Hedwig for me until we are back at school. She hunts her own food very well, so you don’t need to worry about that, but clean water is important.

Harry examined the letter. It seemed rather short.

If your parents think she needs a cage, they sell them in Diagon Alley, Harry added. But Hedwig and I would be much happier if you didn’t. She seemed fine perching in the tree outside last summer. If you write me a letter to send on September 1st, she can deliver it to Hogwarts and you won’t need to worry about getting her on the train.

Your friend, Harry.

Nodding in satisfaction, Harry folded the piece of paper up and wrote Hermione’s name and address on the back. Slowly, he unlatched the window and slid it open. It creaked halfway up, and Harry froze for a long moment.

Nervously, Harry opened the window the rest of the way. He retrieved the bolt cutters from under the mattress, and knelt in front of the owl cage. The door to the cage was held closed with a heavy padlock that Uncle Vernon had snapped on the moment the Dursleys had returned from King’s Cross Station with Harry at the beginning of the summer.

“Neighbors noticed last year,” Vernon had said, when Harry protested that Hedwig needed to stretch her wings. “Had some daft birder show up in September hoping to spot the damn thing, camped out for a week at the end of the drive before giving up.”

Now Harry eyed the padlock. He’d need to cut it twice to take it off, and it was sure to be loud.

“Better take this now,” he told Hedwig, and slid his hand flat between the tines of the cage, letter to Hermione clutched between two fingers. The snowy owl delicately took the folded paper in her beak. Harry stroked her feathers briefly, then slipped his hand back out. The last step was to wrap a towel around his arm.

Harry took a deep breath. Now or never.

Snap!

“Whuzzat?” Dudley called sleepily from the next bedroom over. Harry quickly made the second cut, and yanked the padlock off. There was a loud thump from Petunia and Vernon’s room. Harry flung the cage door open and stuck his arm in. He winced as Hedwig’s talons pierced through the towel. This would be a lot safer with the leather armguard Hagrid had made him, but that was unfortunately locked in his school trunk in the cupboard under the stairs.

Harry flung his arm through the window to help Hedwig take off just as Uncle Vernon slammed the door open. Hedwig flapped noisily into the air, gaining altitude before gliding away. For a brief moment, he could see her silhouetted against the moon. Then she was safely gone.

Maybe his birthday would be all right after all.

~~~

It had not been all right. It had been, in fact, the worst birthday of Harry’s life, and he was beginning to worry it would be his last. He had been locked in the second bedroom for two weeks now.

Things had been all right, for most of his birthday. Aunt Petunia had irritably applied disinfectant to his arm and wrapped it in gauze, while Uncle Vernon ranted and raved and made threats. Eventually though, Vernon had calmed, talked himself into seeing this as a good thing. With the owl gone, after all, her noisy hoots couldn’t interrupt his dinner party.

And then some strange creature calling himself Dobby had shown up, and everything had gone to hell. Now there were bars on Harry’s window, and his meals were shoved through a cat-door. There as padlock too, even heavier than the one he’d taken off Hedwig’s cage. Said cage was now smashed flat, as Harry had accidentally knocked his chest of drawers over onto it, trying to shove the whole thing over to the window. He’d wanted something sturdy to kneel on while he pounded at the wall around the bars with the butt of Dudley’s old pop gun. There were some satisfying dents in the plaster, but that was it. Even before Vernon had stormed in to take the pop gun away, along with several other old broken toys of Dudley’s that might’ve been useful, Harry could tell it wasn’t working.

By now, Harry thought his best bet might making a break for it the next time Petunia let him out to visit the loo and change the gauze on his arm. It would be difficult, since his wand was in his locked-away trunk, and even if he’d had it, using magic over the summer would get him expelled from Hogwarts. But if he could just think of a way to get to Diagon Alley in London, Harry thought, everything would be all right.

Unfortunately, with no magic, no pocket change, and not even a bicycle, Harry couldn’t imagine a single way to get from Privet Drive to Diagon Alley.

Harry!” Aunt Petunia screeched. Harry jolted up on the bed. It was the middle of the day, it couldn’t possibly be time for another break, could it? Yet there was the sound of the key in the padlock, and second later Petunia had flung the door open. There were two spots of color high on her cheeks.

“Shoes, jacket, now,” she snapped, and Harry rushed to get them on. This was weird. Petunia always made him get his shoes on and off by the door, so he wouldn’t track in dirt. Bewildered, Harry followed Petunia down the stairs, and jerked in shock when they get to the doorway.

Professor Snape was standing just outside, on the welcome mat, wearing his regular black robes, and the sneer every Slytherin tried to emulate in the mirror each morning before brushing their teeth. Strangely, one cheek was bright red. Petunia practically shoved Harry out the door, and was about to slam it shut when Snape slapped a hand against it and drawled “The boy’s things, Tuney.”

Furious, Aunt Petunia whirled away, and returned a moment later with Harry’s school trunk, which Harry hastily took from her before she could drop it.

Without a word, Snape walked off across the Dursleys’ yard, and Harry followed, dragging his trunk.  Snape ducked into the garden shed, and closed the door after Harry.

“Hold onto my arm,” Snape instructed. Harry did so, and the world went black; he felt horribly compressed, as though there simply wasn’t enough room for him to exist, wherever he was. Then the feeling vanished, and he was blinking in the sunlight, standing on cobblestones in a small alley. Harry leaned against the nearest brick wall for balance. Beyond the mouth of the narrow little alley, he could see the familiar shops of Diagon Alley.

“Do, do you know my aunt, sir?” Harry asked, while Snape tapped his wand against the school trunk to lighten it. “Did she slap you? ‘cause your face is still sort of red, sir.” Snape ignored both questions, and proceeded to drag both trunk and Harry to the Leaky Cauldron.

“Ah, Professor Snape!” said Old Tom the bartender, as they entered the pub. “And Mr. Potter, a pleasure to see you again!”

“Er, you too, thanks,” Harry said. He felt a little nervous; when he had first visited the Leaky Cauldron, coming in through the Muggle side of London with Hagrid, he’d been bombarded by everyone there for a handshake. He didn’t quite think he could deal with a repeat. Fortunately, there were only a handful of witches and wizards in today, and none of them seemed to have heard Tom greet them.

Preoccupied with eyeing the wizarding pub’s patrons, Harry missed whatever Snape and Tom were talking about, and was startled when Snape dropped a hand onto his shoulder and pushed him further into the room, leaving his trunk with Tom. They approached a table by the window, where someone appeared to be completely engrossed in a slim book of Robert Burns verse. Snape cleared his throat, and the book was hastily dropped, nearly landing in a mug of butterbeer.

“Firstie?” The reader was Adrian Pucey, an older Slytherin who had taken Harry under her wing the previous school year. She was wearing grey and blue robes, which looked very odd to Harry, used as he was to seeing all the other students in their black school uniform. Her hair was as short as ever, and she looked to have shot up another inch or two in height since summer break had started. There was a bit of drying butterbeer foam on the end of her nose. “Professor Snape?”

“I’m going into second year,” Harry reminded her, as Snape shoved him down into a chair. The Potions master nodded to Adrian, and went back to speak to Tom again.

Adrian waved a hand airily. “Year’s not started yet.” She tapped her chin. “I guess I will have to think of something else to call you.”

“Have you considered just ‘Harry’?”

Adrian grinned at him, but quickly changed to a respectful look as Snape loomed up over their table.

“Miss Pucey,” Snape said. “I have arranged lodgings for Mr. Potter here until the beginning of term. See to it that he arrives at King’s Cross Station on time. And wipe your face.”

“Yes, sir,” Adrian said. She rubbed one sleeve over her face quickly, blinking in surprise at the fleck of butterbeer that came off her nose. Snape pulled out an envelope, handed it to Harry, then turned and walked away with no further words.

“Thank you, professor!” Harry called after him. There was no response, but Harry wasn’t really expecting one. He opened up the envelope; it contained his Second Year Hogwarts letter, and a long list of school supplies.

“Your family got itchy feet too?” Adrian asked curiously.

“Erm, no,” Harry said awkwardly. “The opposite, sort of. They locked up me in my room. I didn’t think they were going to ever let me out, until Professor Snape showed up.”

“Wait, what?”

“If it wasn’t for that damn letter,” Harry started. He could feel the whole unfair story welling up, and would have blurted the entire thing out right there in the middle of the Leaky Cauldron if his stomach had not chosen that moment to rumble loudly.

“Tell me about it after you eat something,” Adrian said, disturbed. She waved over a creaky looking witch and ordered a plate of sandwiches and a mug of plain water. Very shortly, Harry was tearing into a turkey on rye, while Adrian pretended to sip from her empty butterbeer mug, watching him.

“You’re not going to be sick, are you?” she asked, when Harry reached for a second sandwich.

“Erm…I don’t think so?” He set the sandwich down anyway. His elbow clipped the water mug, sending it spilling across the table.

“You’re knackered,” Adrian said bluntly, mopping up the water with the sleeve of her robe. “Go nap. Food’ll still be here later.” She pressed a key into his hand; the creaky witch had brought it with the sandwiches.

Harry stumbled upstairs and puttered down the hallway until he found the room matching the key. His trunk was already set at the foot of a large, soft-looking bed. Harry got his shoes off, and fell asleep on top of the sheets.

Several hours later the evening sun woke Harry, shining through the window directly onto his face. Someone had set the plate of sandwiches on the dresser next to his bed; Harry ate two, and fell back asleep. He woke for real early the next morning, and made his way downstairs to find Hedwig perched smugly on the perch Tom kept at the bar.

“Got in last night,” Tom said cheerily, as Harry scratched gently behind Hedwig’s ears, enormously glad to see her. “Lovely bird. Here.” Tom slid a plate off eggs, bacon, and toast down the counter towards him. “Meals come with the room.”

Hedwig dropped a letter onto the plate, and stole pieces of his bacon while Harry read.

Dear Harry,

Getting your letter with Hedwig was very alarming, especially since you hadn’t responded to anything I sent you over the summer. Honestly, after everything that happened last year, I worried there were some sort of lingering side effects of your fight with Professor Quirrell.  I wrote the school , asking them to check on you. They’ve written back that student’s non-school business is ‘strictly confidential’, but Professor McGonagall wrote on the inside of the envelope that everything was being taken care of. Please let me know if that’s really true.

Your friend, Hermione.

P.S. I did some reading and found something interesting about that thing you showed me this spring.

Harry blinked at the letter. This spring? He racked his brains, trying to remember what he could have…oh! The greenhouse grass snake colony, he’d tried to introduce Hermione but it turned out she couldn’t talk to them. Was that what she meant?

Harry scribbled note back, assuring Hermione that he was fine now and looking forward to seeing her at school. Hedwig, perhaps having been admonished by Hermione as well, was quick to take the return letter and flutter away.

“G’morning, firstie,” Adrian yawned, coming down the stairs as Hedwig vanished out the window. She had on robes in swirling shades of mixed blue today. After Harry and Adrian were both settled down at the table by the window again, vast plates of breakfast foods before them, Adrian asked for Harry to explain what the hell was going on.

“Teachers usually don’t have to escort students to Diagon Alley for supplies after first year,” Adrian said. “And you said your family locked you in your room?”

“It’s…kind of a weird story,” Harry said.

“Start at the beginning then,” Adrian told him. “None of that two-sentence stuff like when you were telling us about fighting You-Know-Who, either.”

“Sorry,” Harry said automatically. Adrian waved her hand, urging him to get on with the story. “I…hadn’t gotten any letters all summer, I guess is the beginning. I thought maybe Hermione was having trouble finding the owl post, since she doesn’t have her own, and maybe she didn’t want to send a letter talking about magic through the Muggle mail system.”

“And you didn’t send any to her?” Adrian asked, puzzled.

“My uncle does like…odd things,” Harry said. “And my aunt doesn’t like the neighbors judging her. So they’d locked Hedwig in her cage all July. But I got her out! It just took a bit, before I got a chance at the bolt cutters.”

“Since you couldn’t just charm the lock off,” Adrian said, nodding. “And they locked you up for that?”

“No,” Harry shook his head. “That’s…unrelated.” He paused to shovel down some breakfast. The Leaky Cauldron really did have excellent eggs. “They locked me up because my uncle had a dinner party the next night, so I was supposed to stay out of the way in my room, and I was, but someone calling himself Dobby showed up and told me not to go back to Hogwarts. He said there was a plot, but he couldn’t tell me more? Because he was a house elf, he said? He’d been stopping my letters, so I’d think no one at Hogwarts wanted me, which is rubbish because even if no one did I’d still go back, and when I said that he got very sad and told me Hogwarts was too dangerous and used a Hover charm to drop my aunt’s pudding in the kitchen, and when the letter accusing me of doing underage magic showed up, the owl dropped it one of my uncle’s guests hair and she ran out screaming and he lost the deal he was trying for.”

Adrian winced. “Ah.” She’d started frowning down at the table partway through Harry’s story.

“Anyway,” Harry said. “Hermione sent Hedwig to the school, and Professor Snape showed up yesterday and brought me here.” He rubbed the back of his head. “Dunno what I’m gonna do next summer.”

“Well, I’d invite you to stay with me,” Adrian said, twirling her fork thoughtfully. A bit of egg fell off the tines, back onto her plate. “But our house might try to eat you. Not literally!” she added, at Harry’s look of alarm. “…I think.” She frowned again. “If it really was someone’s house elf, something political must be going on. Listen, you can’t tell anyone about this. Not even Granger.”

“What?” Harry asked. “Why? And what are house elves, anyway? I’ve heard people mention them, but…”

Another patron came down the stairs. “I’ll tell you later,” Adrian promised. Harry sighed, but nodded. He reached for the tiny jug of syrup across the table, and the sleeve of his robe rode up, revealing the gauze bandage. Adrian hissed. “What…?”

“Hedwig needed help getting airborne,” Harry explained with a shrug. “You would too if you hadn’t flown in a month.”

“Well, you’re having Old Tom look at it before going out,” Adrian said. “I think he’s got a medikit under the counter.” This turned out to be true, and after breakfast Harry’s arm was re-washed, coated in a dark green paste that smelled like rose tea, and wrapped in a bright purple bandage.

“Keeps the water out, lets the air in,” Old Tom said, drawing his wand over the ends of the bandage so they fused together. “Don’t take it off for a week. Owl wounds can get right nasty.”

“Thanks,” Harry said. He poked at the bandage experimentally; his arm felt pleasantly numb underneath. “I’d better start working on that summer homework.”

“They didn’t have your books locked up too, did they?” Adrian asked. She made a disgusted noise when Harry just nodded. “I’ll help you with the homework, don’t worry. But you’d better get your supplies for the year today. Gilderoy Lockhart’s doing a signing at Flourish and Blott’s on Thursday. It’ll be a madhouse.”

So instead of digging his books and parchment out of his trunk, Harry pulled out his money-pouch, and made his way through the early-morning Diagon Alley crowd to Gringott’s, Adrian strolling alongside.

“Get twice as much as you think you need,” Adrian told Harry, dropping into a chair in the lobby of the wizarding bank. “You’re allowed a broom this year, after all.” When Harry returned from visiting his vault, Adrian folded up the Daily Prophet she’d been reading, and tucked it into a long pocket in her robe. She pointed him to a counter near the door. “Come on, it’s a good idea to change some of that into Muggle money. Never know when it’ll be handy.”

Quite a few of the shop staff were surprised to see Adrian come in with Harry, as she’d done her own shopping a few days before. “I don’t suppose you’ve changed your mind on our new star chart?” one asked hopefully, while Harry was having a ream of graph paper for Astronomy class rung up.

“It’d be perfect for Cousin Cecily,” Adrian answered. “But sadly, half the guests at her wedding thought the same thing. That self-focusing telescope you mentioned hasn’t come in yet, has it?”

“Sorry, still out.”

“Drat.”

As Flourish & Blott’s had run out of half the booklist, but promised a new batch would be in tomorrow, Harry and Adrian returned to the Leaky Cauldron for lunch, and stayed the rest of the day. The summer homework turned out not to be as dreadful as Harry imagined; most of it was review assignments from his first year textbooks. Adrian gave his answers a look-over when he’d finished half of it, and declared that she couldn’t find any errors.

The next morning saw them return to Flourish & Blott’s at opening, along with a half dozen or so enthusiastic Lockhart fans trying to get books to have ready for the signing on Thursday.

“Terence and me went halvsies on a set,” Adrian commented, as she and Harry waited behind the Lockhart fans to pay for Harry’s books. “I mean, it seems a little ridiculous getting so many when whoever assigned them is gonna be gone next year.”

“What do you mean?” Harry asked. Ahead of them, a witch and wizard who must have both been in their eighties at least were trying to one-up each other with potential signing requests.

“Well, this is my fourth year, and my fourth Defense teacher,” Adrian said. “And it’ll be Gemma’s sixth.” She lowered her voice, glancing around (“I’ll ask him to sign it with hugs,” “Well I’ll ask him to sign it with kisses,” “I can ask him to sign it with hugs and kisses!”) and leaned closer to Harry. “Mother says the job might be cursed. It used to be a prestigious position; there were still duels to decide the teacher back in the eighteen-hundreds. Could be a lot of people with grudges about being passed over.”

“None of the other jobs are cursed, are they?” Harry asked back, just as quietly. Adrian shook her head.

“Good to see you back, Mr. Potter!” the sales clerk said, when they made it to the front of the line. “Would you like these wrapped up, or bagged?”

“A bag would be great, thanks,” Harry said. He’d carried around his cauldron yesterday, but didn’t think he’d need it for just half his booklist. The sales clerk began stacking the books in a simple brown paper sack with Flourish & Blott’s stamped on one side in fancy script. The other side had a stamp of an open, hard-bound book, the ink rippling as the book’s pages turned.

“Is that…Harry Potter?” a middle-aged witch asked, turning back from the door. She was clutching a copy of Year With the Yeti to her chest, though it took Harry a moment to notice, as the cover and her robes were the same shade of fuchsia. Immediately the flock of Lockhart fans flurried back over from the door, making a variety of embarrassing noises at Harry.

“Oh, I’ve always wanted to meet you!”

“My little niece in Hufflepuff says you saved the school last year!”

“Would you sign my copy of Gadding With Gouls? Bernice won’t believe I’ve met you.”

“It’s such an honor, Mr. Potter!”

“You’re not here alone are you, poor dear?”

“Er, no,” Harry said, as Adrian hastily shoved the sack of books into his arms. Several of them who’d started to ask for handshakes pulled back, and the small crowd turned their collective gaze from Harry to the older Slytherin.

“Why,” an elderly wizard whose pointed hat was drooping down over one eye. “It’s that Pucey hooligan!” He gave a disdainful sniff, and turned to speak to whisper loudly to the witch beside him. “The only girl on the Slytherin Quidditch team, my grand-nephew told me.”

“All the Gryffindor Chasers were girls, last year,” Harry said, bewildered. The elderly wizard’s tone reminded him a lot of Aunt Petunia when she was gossiping about the neighbors. “And there’s some on the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw teams.” He glanced at Adrian, but she wasn’t saying anything, just looking at the Lockhart fans with her lips pressed together tight.

“Ah, but they aren’t the only girls on their teams,” a witch near the back piped up.

“Here now, none of that!” the sales clerk said angrily.

“But she’s a Pucey,” the ancient witch who’d been trying to one-up her friend earlier said. “It’s not right for someone from that family to be hanging about the boy who defeated You-Know-Who!”

“And it’s not right for you lot to be harassing one of our most loyal customers!” the clerk snapped back. “If you’re going to keep making a scene, I can ban all of you from the signing on Thursday!”

There was a shocked chorus of “You wouldn’t!” but the crowd all edged back towards the door. The sales clerk sighed heavily once the last one was gone. “Sorry about that.”

“Not your fault,” Adrian said. Her expression was still rather tight, and she was forcing her shoulders to come back down from around her ears. “I should have expected it.”

“No, they should have behaved better,” the clerk said firmly. “I can still ban that lot, if you don’t want to deal with that to get an autograph, come Thursday.”

“We weren’t planning on attending, actually,” Adrian said. She turned towards Harry. “Unless you wanted to meet Lockhart? He has written an awful lot of our booklist this year.”

Harry shook his head. “No, thanks. I’d rather finish up my homework.”

Adrian was unusually quiet for the rest of the day. Harry almost thought about asking her if she was all right, a few times, but decided to leave her be. When the dinner crowd at the Leaky Cauldron came in, Adrian hid behind a copy of the Daily Prophet.

“Do you want to go upstairs and play chess?” Harry asked, after he’d demolished his food.

“…yeah, that’d be good.” They sat in Harry’s room and played until they were both yawning. When Harry asked his bishop to move to a space that it would only have been allowed on were it a rook, and the entire set began yelling at him, they called it a night.

~~~

When Thursday morning finally come, Adrian knocked on Harry’s door before breakfast. He stumbled over in his pajamas, blearily smushing his glasses onto his face.

“I’m going into London proper today,” Adrian said, when Harry cracked open the door. “You want to come with?”

“Sure?”

“Great! Don’t forget to wear Muggle clothes, and bring some change for the bus.”

The baggy jeans and t-shirt Harry had been wearing when Snape took him from Privet Drive had been cleaned his first night there; the Leaky Cauldron had laundry chutes leading to the basement, and an enchantment to send clothes popping back up into whichever room they’d come from. Now Harry pulled the jeans and t-shirt back on, and stared at himself critically in the mirror.

“You look like a rat in a potato sack,” the mirror told him nasally.

“Thanks,” Harry said. The clothes were hand-me-downs from Dudley, the same ones he’d had last year, which meant he didn’t have to roll the trouser legs up quite as much, but they were still obnoxiously loose. He tried tucking the shirt in and tightening his belt, but the effect was rather like a half-deflated balloon being squeezed around the middle. Harry hastily untucked the shirt and let it hang loose instead.

“That looks as terrible as it did Friday,” Adrian said when Harry came down to breakfast. She was wolfing down a plate of eggs at the bar, and now leaned over the counter and waved to Old Tom. “You got any ways to fix this?”

“Oh dear,” Tom said, spotting Harry. “That’s a bit much on you, isn’t it lad? Here, here, turn around, I’ve an idea.”

A few minutes of furious work with scissors and wand later, Harry was wearing a t-shirt that actually fit, and holding a half-dozen handkerchiefs of the spare material. They left the jeans alone, but it didn’t look nearly as ridiculous now when Harry tucked the shirt in.

After breakfast, Harry darted back upstairs for his jacket, not wanting funny looks for walking around London with a large purple bandage. Waving cheerily to Old Tom, Harry and Adrian set out into Muggle London.

“Where are we going?” Harry asked, while Adrian winnowed them through the crowded sidewalk.

“Extra credit for Professor Burbage’s class.”

“Isn’t she the Muggle Studies teacher?”

“Yep,” Adrian said cheerfully. The further from Diagon Alley they got, the more relaxed she seemed to be.  It struck Harry, as they boarded a bus, that even in grey slacks and a cream polo shirt rather than black school robes, Adrian looked more like she did at Hogwarts than she had all week.

Their destination proved to be a cinema. “All I’ve got to do is write up a plot summary to prove I really saw it, and maybe a couple questions,” Adrian said, waving up at the marquee. “Professor Burbage said we’d be learning about the differences between wizarding and Muggle stage theater this term, but if enough of us went and saw a movie this summer we’d have a special discussion on them too.”

They got in line for a late morning matinee of an animated feature. ‘I’ve never actually been to a movie,” Harry said. The Dursley’s had tended to dump him at Mrs. Figg’s when visiting the cinema.

“Really?” Adrian asked, startled. She winced, remembering why he was staying at the Leaky Cauldron, and thought for a moment. “Your birthday was July, wasn’t it? I’ll get your ticket.” Harry tried to protest, but Adrian waved everything he said aside, so Harry finally asked when her birthday was. “I’ll be fifteen on September twenty-ninth.”

Adrian ordered them two small popcorns and ginger-ales at the concessions counter, and Harry quickly slid a few pound coins across the counter before she could. “For your birthday,” Harry told her, “Since the tickets were for mine.” Adrian snorted, and the teenage girl behind the concessions counter giggled at them.

As soon as the previews began, Adrian started scribbled things down in a notebook, using a ballpoint pen instead of a quill. It had “King’s Cross Station” emblazoned on it in shiny gold letters. The scribbling slowed down after the first major plot twist, and by the end of the movie both Adrian and Harry were leaning forward in their seats, all attention affixed to the screen.

They stayed through the credits, Adrian cursing quietly at how illegible most of her notes were as the house lights came up. When they came back out into the lobby, the concessions clerk waved them over.

“You said this was for your birthday, right?” she asked, gesturing for them to hand her their mostly-empty soda cups.

“Yeah, late for him, early for me,” Adrian said. She seemed fascinated by the ice-dispenser, watching with wide eyes as the girl refilled their ginger-ales.

“Then these are on the house,” the concessions clerk said, handing back the cups. Adrian beamed at her, and Harry stuttered out a thanks. “You two enjoy those out in the sunshine today,” she instructed. Taking the advice to heart, and not wanting to go back to Diagon Alley until the book-signing was scheduled to be over, the two Slytherins hunted down a fish and chips stand for lunch. They found one in an open square near the cinema, and settled down on the wide stone lip of a public fountain to dine.

“I didn’t know you were taking Muggle Studies,” Harry said eventually, breaking off a piece of chip to feed to a pigeon.

“It’s not exactly a good idea to do the homework for it in our common room, is it?” Adrian replied. She slurped at the free soda refill, evidently enjoying the novelty of the plastic straw. “You’d think it would be more popular with kids aiming for Ministry positions. Very versatile applications. Couple of branches for Statute of Secrecy enforcement encourage it, especially the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office. Helpful for Aurors doing undercover work as well.”

“But you always said you were gonna play Quidditch professionally, not go into the Ministry,” Harry said, puzzled. “You said you were gonna stay on the broom until you fell off and cracked your skull…”

“And then go into coaching,” Adrian finished. “Yeah. Well…” She rubbed the back of her head sheepishly, leaving a streak of fried fish oil in her hair. “When we were picking electives at the end of second year, I dared Terence to take Divination for a term, so…”

“So he dared you back.”

“Yeah.”

The pigeon Harry had fed was making hopeful trills at him, so Harry gave it more bits of chip. “If it was just for one term, though…”

“It’s my favorite class, all right?” Adrian blurted out. She gestured to the square around them with her soda cup. “I mean, look at all this! Look at this fountain! They had plumbing for a century out here before Hogwarts got around to installing pipes! And look what they’ve done for medicine!” She pointed to Harry’s injured arm. “You and me can take a Blood Replenishing Potion if we’ve lost too much, right? But Muggles, they don’t have that! They share their blood! With strangers! Trans, um, not transfiguration…”

“Transfusions?” Harry supplied.

“Right, that,” Adrian said. Disturbed by Adrian’s flailing, Harry’s pigeon left in a huff. “And they figured out that people’ve got different blood types, so they could do it! I mean, potioneers figured blood types out for some of the potions that use it, but that certainly wasn’t so that they could give their blood away!

“People donate organs, too,” Harry said, grinning. Adrian nearly dropped her fish and chips packet. Harry thought about trying to lure the pigeon back, but it was already trying its luck with a set of tourists across the square. “You still haven’t explained why I can’t tell anyone about Dobby,” Harry said, changing the subject.

Adrian’s amazement at the idea of organ transplants was immediately replaced by wary nervousness. “Not good to talk about it back there. Don’t think anyone here’ll eavesdrop, though.” She rubbed her head again, staring intently at the ground. “Something political’s going on. Don’t want anyone to get wind you were messed with until we figure out what.” Adrian drummed her fingers against the stone of the fountain lip. “House elves are…they’re property, which is awful, and they get passed down through families the same as houses, they’re practically part of the house.”

“Dobby said his family would never set him free,” Harry said. “That means it’s possible though, right?”

“Yeah, if an of-age family member gives them clothes,” Adrian said. “Mind, I think who counts as a ‘family member’ varies a little, and you have to live in the house. And the family’s the important part, if they really have to move residences the house elf comes with. I think some of them have come along when someone gets married, too. Like a dowry.”

“They’re not all…Imperious’d, are they?” Harry asked. “Because Dobby kept hitting himself when he was warning me, and said he’d have to shut his ears in the oven, and there were a couple times when he tried to get something out and his mouth just wouldn’t work.”

Adrian shook her head. “Imperious curse doesn’t work like that, it’s more like puppetry, not obedience. House elves are dealing with an old compulsion of sorts. He must’ve been finding loopholes to talk to you at all.” She drummed her fingers on the stone again. “They’re not exactly common, it’s mostly the richer, really old families that have them. I don’t know as much about them as someone from the Parkinsons or Notts would. It’s been years since my family…” She trailed off, frowning.

It was a good ten minutes before Adrian started talking again. Harry walked their wrappers and empty soda cups to a bin at the edge of the square, shaking out the crumbs for a flock of hopeful pigeons lurking near it.

“I wish I didn’t have to tell you about this,” Adrian muttered under her breath, when Harry set back down next to her.

“If you don’t want to…” Harry began. Adrian shook her head.

“You need to know. It sounds like this Dobby was going against his family’s wishes, and he must really think it matters, to risk that.” Adrian hunched her shoulders. “You know my mother was a Death Eater, right?” she asked.

“No, but I sort of guessed,” Harry said. Death Eater was whispered in the corners of the Slytherin common room even more quietly than Azkaban. They had been the witches and wizards who most directly helped Voldemort in the war. A lot of their anti-Muggle philosophies lingered, but it wasn’t socially advantageous to be associated with them.

Adrian nodded absently, thinking. “My…father wasn’t, but he…I pieced most of this together later, I never really knew what was going on, when I was little. Cousin Stephan showed me some of the court records later, when I kept asking him when Father was coming home. Father thought Mother had the right ideas, but he wasn’t the sort to raise his wand against anyone. Just…kept his head down at the Ministry, and passed information to Mother. Lunchroom gossip. Auror assignments. Sensitive documents. He got people killed.” She snarled the last word, and then slumped down, elbows slipping of her knees so her hands dangled sadly.

“I don’t know if it was before you blew up You-Know-Who, or after,” Adrian went on. “I know it must have been the same week. Father got caught, and arrested, and Mother fled the country. But…before that. During the war, our house had been a meeting place. I never saw anything, they always put me out of the way in the nursery, I mean I was four when it…we had two house elves.”

Harry blinked, so wrapped up in the story that he’d forgotten why she was telling him all this.

“They did what they always do for guests,” Adrian said. “Serve tea, tend the fire, make sure the candles don’t gutter much. They saw everyone who came by. It was family secrets, so they would never tell anyone, and I think Father directly ordered them not to, but…it took me years to understand why she did it. You-Know-Who was gone, the war was ending in a burst of chaos, and Mother must have asked herself, what might happen when I came of age? How many Death Eaters, how many of her friends could they incriminate, if I ever freed them? Or if someone else in the family did? So she killed them both. The day she fled the country, Mother came home and packed a bag and killed them.”

The sound of the fountain was very loud behind them, when Adrian stopped talking.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said after a long moment.

“Me too.” Adrian unslumped abruptly, rubbing a hand over the back of her head so quickly Harry could’ve sworn he saw sparks. “I don’t even remember their names!” she snapped in frustration.

“That’s why I can’t tell anyone, isn’t it?” Harry asked quietly. “Something might happen to Dobby, if someone knows he warned me.”

“He risked a lot, talking to you,” Adrian confirmed. “So we’ll have to be careful, figuring this out. If we’re really lucky, he just misinterpreted something and panicked, and nothing’ll happen.”

“And if we’re not lucky?”

“…I don’t know.”

Chapter Text

The two Slytherins stumbled back into the Leaky Cauldron hours later, after re-writing Adrian’s extra credit notes into legibility. As soon as they waved good-evening to Old Tom and dropped down into chairs at a corner table, Nerissa brought over a late dinner, knees creaking like old stairs as she moved through that evening’s sparse crowd.

“You missed quite a to-do,” Nerissa said, smiling excitedly. “You’d never believe who got in a fight at Lockhart’s signing!”

“We missed a fight?” Adrian asked, perking up as their food was slid into the table. Harry simply reached for his potatoes; the fish and chips felt like a long time ago. “Someone impatient to get an autograph? Didn’t think Gilderoy Lockhart was that popular.”

“No, no, better!” Nerissa said, tucking the serving tray under her arm. “The Devon Weasleys were all in getting their books, and Lucius Malfoy was very rude to their father. Dear Arthur got him one right in the eye.” She had a delighted gleam in her own.

“Good for Mr. Weasley,” Adrian said. “Anyone buy him a drink after?”

“They were too scared of Molly,” Nerissa said, with a rueful shake of her head. She’d tucked her wand into her flyaway bun of hair, and nearly dislodged it. “She was in right temper, said he was setting a bad example for their children. Their youngest is finally going to Hogwarts this year, you know.”

“I’d heard the twins mention that,” Adrian said. She turned towards Harry. “We’re lucky their eldest two already graduated, and the other branches haven’t started yet. I don’t think Hogwarts could handle more than five Weasleys at a time.” She tapped her chin speculatively “Five knuts says the latest is in Gryffindor too.”

Harry snorted. “I’m not making a bet with you, I’m not dumb.”

Adrian grinned.

~~~

September 1st dawned with a light drizzle. Harry and Adrian set out for the Underground with their jackets zipped up, and an Impervious’d cover on Hedwig’s new cage. Adrian had talked Harry into purchasing both items when the snowy owl returned from Hermione’s.

“We’ve got to take the Tube to King’s Cross from here, and she won’t be allowed on loose.”

“I could…send a letter to myself?”

“It’s not fair making her fly all the way to Scotland, when we get to take the Hogwarts Express,” Adrian had said. “At least see if she’ll step into the cage. If she won’t, we can try your way.”

Hedwig had been perfectly fine sleeping on the perch in the cage in the last week before term started, so Harry reluctantly acquiesced. Now he was glad he had, and even gladder for the waterproof cover. Scotland was a long flight, and it would have been very awkward trying to carry her zipped up in his jacket on the Tube.

“We apologize for the delay,” a tinny voice over the intercom announced, pulling Harry from his thoughts. The train was slowing down with a worrisome grinding noise. “Service will resume shortly.” Adrian frown up at the intercom.

“Good thing we left early,” she muttered. Harry pressed his nose against the window glass, but couldn’t see anything in the dark tunnel.

The train started up again in a few minutes, but soon came to another grinding halt. “We apologize for the delay,” said the tinny voice again. Some of the other passengers were grumbling now, were shushed by the people near them, and started up again louder as the delay stretched on.

“Something’s wrong,” Adrian told Harry quietly. “Come on, I see a seat closer to the door. We might have to leg it for the Express.” One elderly passenger cussed them out as they dragged their trunks and Hedwig’s cage over to three thankfully empty seats by the door. A man in a business suit started to tut at them when Adrian put their trunks on the seat instead of the overhead rack for disembarking speed, but ducked behind his newspaper when she shot him a dirty look.

“Thank Igraine,” Adrian huffed, when the train finally moved on. They hurried out the doors at King’s Cross Station, and Adrian piled both their trunks onto one trolley. “You’ve got a good grip on your owl?” she asked, glancing back at Harry. The station clock was ticking ominously towards eleven. Harry nodded, arms wrapped around Hedwig’s cage. “Let’s go!”

They ran through the station, Harry desperately hoping he wouldn’t trip, as he couldn’t see his feet past the owl cage. Adrian had the same focused look she got during close Quidditch matches, weaving the luggage trolley through the crowd, and occasionally snapping for people to get out of the way. Harry didn’t even dare sigh in relief when the barrier between platforms Nine and Ten came into view. They’d barely have time to board the Hogwarts Express –

Bang!

Adrian and the trolley of trunks went crashing over sideways, and Harry barely turned to the side in time so that his shoulder hit the barrier instead of Hedwig’s cage. He fell on his back, gasping, cage still in his arms as Hedwig shrieked in distress. He’d taken the barrier at a run last year, and passed through just fine. It didn’t close up after eleven, did it? But it was only ten fifty-eight. Ten fifty-nine. Oh no.

“Are you two all right?” a station guard in a bright neon vest asked, hurrying over. Her eyes were wide with alarm. Harry sat up, shushing Hedwig, and Adrian pushed herself to her feet with a groan.

“I think so…” Adrian said, gingerly touching her forehead. Her fingers came away bloody, and she hissed. “Must‘ve hit the trolley.”

“We’ve antiseptic at Information,” the guard said, helping Harry up, and getting the trunks back on the trolley. “Where are your parents?”

“Home,” Adrian lied quickly. Harry passed her one of the handkerchiefs Old Tom had transfigured from his shirt, trying to fight down his rising panic. Adrian nodded a thanks and pressed it to her bleeding temple. “We’ve been visiting our grandparents.” She gulped, looking at the clock. “I think we missed our train.”

“We’ll get you on the next one,” the guard said consolingly, and made Adrian sit on the trunks. “Come along, let’s get you cleaned up.” Harry followed nervously as the guard wheeled Adrian over to a large booth with the word INFORMATION posted above it. How were they possibly going to get to Hogwarts now?

“Do you want us to phone your grandparents?” the guard asked, dabbing at Adrian’s forehead with hydrogen peroxide. “We can call your parents once we’ve transferred your tickets.”

“Er, they’re probably not home yet,” Harry said, as Adrian was too busy hissing at the sting of peroxide to answer. “They only just dropped us off.”

“Very irresponsible, not seeing you onboard,” the guard said. She eyed Adrian’s wound critically. “Looks like you’ve given yourself a nasty scrape, but it’s not deep. Blue or green, dear?”

“…green?” Adrian answered, puzzled. The guard smiled and pulled a large square bandaid from the information booth’s first aid kit. It was the same neon green as her uniform vest. Adrian rolled her eyes up, trying to watch as the guard pressed the bandaid to her temple.

“There. Put your hand to that a bit longer, it needs pressure.”

Pucey!” a voice roared out across the station, making Harry jump and Adrian flinch.

“Not him,” she growled under her breath, and the station guard looked up in alarm. Harry swiveled around until he could follow her line of sight. Striding across the station towards them was a man in a long, heavily-patched trenchcoat. He wore a steel-toed boot on one foot, but his other leg was a wooden prosthetic and he carried a knobbly staff, resulting in a distinct tap thump tap, tap thump tap as he walked. Quite a lot of passengers had looked his way when he’d shouted, but turned away in embarrassment at being caught staring. One eye was covered by a leather patch.

“Do you know that man?” the station guard asked, before the newcomer reached them.

“Yes, and we don’t get on,” Adrian said, sliding off the trunks to stand by Harry. The guard nodded and stepped firmly around them.  Before she could say anything though, the man in the trenchcoat slipped a wand from his pocket, touched it to her forehead, muttered a spell too quietly for Harry to hear, and put the wand away.

“Dammit,” Adrian said, and grabbed Harry’s shoulder when he opened his mouth to shout. “Don’t worry, she’s fine.”

The station guard was blinking in a daze. “Yes, thank you for all your help!” the strange wizard said. “We’re all set now.” The guard nodded, still looking a bit befuddled, and walked back down into the information booth to sit down.

“Your mother messing with trains, now, Pucey?” the wizard asked, turning to them. “More impersonal than her usual.”

Adrian scowled, letting go of Harry’s shoulder and pressing a hand to her temple again. “Shouldn’t you know for sure? Thought you lot had bells and whistles rigged up to the house, if she set foot on the Isles.” She hesitated. “…they haven’t gone off, have they?"

“Can’t trust charms to do the work for you!” the wizard barked. “But no. Not a peep.”

“Excuse me, what’s going on?” Harry asked.

“Can’t talk here,” the wizard said. “Come on.” Adrian was still scowling, but lowered her hand back down to push the trolley after the stranger while he stomped off. Trusting her, Harry followed.

“Harry, this is Moody,” Adrian explained as they walked. “He’s an Auror, and I thought he was in Europe chasing after Mother.”

“Never let anyone know your true plans!” Moody said. He looked back over his shoulder at them. “But you shouldn’t have known that much.”

“Your leaks, your problem,” Adrian said. They passed a gift shop with a stack of magnetic, travel-sized chess-and-checkers sets in the window. Harry blinked. So that’s where Adrian had gotten hers! He stopped for a moment to look again; yes, there was a mug of “King’s Cross Station” pens by the register.

“Come on, firstie,” Adrian called after him, and Harry hurried to catch up.

“What did he do to that guard?” Harry asked, hoping his voice was quiet enough to not reach Moody.

“Memory charm,” Adrian said. “Ministry uses them a lot for Statute of Secrecy enforcement.”

“But why? She thought we were just Muggle kids.”

“Moody’s bloody paranoid is why,” Adrian said. She sighed. “And he needed to get us away from her without questions. Probably could have avoided it if I’d just thought to call him ‘grandfather’ or something.”

Their destination proved to be the exit at the far side of the station. Waiting for them at the curb was a red haired man with a worried look, standing next to a teal Ford Anglia.

“Is that Arthur Weasley?” Adrian said to herself. “Huh.”

“Alastor!” Mr. Weasley called, waving. “I got your message. Do you know what’s happened to the barrier? All the Muggle parents had to take the emergency exit out the back.”

“I’m looking into it,” Moody said. He looked around, noting everyone passing by. “Where’s Molly?”

“Apparated home already,” Mr. Weasley said. He smiled at Harry and Adrian. “You must be Harry, it’s nice to meet you. And…?”

“Adrian Pucey,” Adrian said.

“Oh! Fred told me about getting your nose with a Bludger once!” Mr. Weasley beamed. “He said it was worth bragging about because you’re ‘right slippery’.” He suddenly realized this was perhaps not the best thing to bring up upon meeting someone. “Er, sorry…”

But Adrian was beaming back at him. “He thinks I’m hard to hit?” Mr. Weasley nodded. “That’s great! I’m never sure what the Gryffindors think of our matches, Oliver Wood’s so paranoid about spying, I can’t get any of them to talk about games, after.”

“Sorry, but, again, what’s going on?” Harry asked.

“We’re driving you back to Diagon Alley,” Mr. Weasley said, patting the hood of the Ford Anglia. “Alastor’s sent a message to the school, they’ll be sending someone to get you both to Hogsmeade.”

“How’d you get word to the school so quick?” Adrian asked curiously. “It’d be hours for an owl…”

“Secret!” Moody barked.

The car ride back to Diagon Alley was rather awkward. The two adult wizards were up front, Moody clearly uncomfortable in such an enclosed space. Adrian and Harry sat in the back with Hedwig between them, their trunks stowed in the boot of the car. Mr. Weasley and Adrian started to talk about Quidditch matches she’d had against the twins a few times, but were forced back into silence when Mr. Weasley had to concentrate on navigating traffic. Moody had taken his leather eyepatch off once inside the Ford Anglia, revealing a bright blue eye, larger than the other brown one, which spun about like a gyroscope in its socket. Harry kept finding his gaze drawn back to the rearview mirror, watching in fascination as Moody’s eye whizzed around.

Professor Snape was waiting for them in the Leaky Cauldron. There was a rather crumpled metal footstool sitting on the table he stood next to. Thankfully for the sake of Moody’s paranoia, the pub was nearly empty, with only Old Tom and Nerissa watching the proceedings with interest, and an elderly witch drooping over a sherry in the corner.

“Mr. Potter,” Snape said, when the quartet from the car entered.  “This is the second time I have been forced to collect you. See that you do not make it a habit.” Harry bit his tongue to keep from snapping back that neither instance had been his fault.

“Teach your students better, Severus!” Moody said. He jerked a thumb at Adrian. “This one didn’t even ask any personal questions to test my identity.”

“I didn’t need to,” Adrian said, scowling at him. “No one would want to impersonate you, you old–”

“Miss Pucey,” Snape said quietly. “I believe I asked you to get Mr. Potter to the platform on time?”

“Sorry, professor,” Adrian said. Her expression had gone rather odd, trying to both look contritely at their head of house, and keep scowling at the Auror at the same time. “I swear, we caught the Tube early. I’ve never seen it delayed that long.”

“Hm,” was all Snape had to say in reply to this defense.

“You two have a good year,” Mr. Weasley said, patting Harry on the shoulder and heading back out the door. “Need a ride anywhere, Alastor?”

“No, thank you, Arthur,” Moody said, dropping down into a chair and examining the crumpled footstool with his twirling blue eye.

“All right then,” Mr. Weasley said, and left with a cheery wave. Adrian and Harry waved back.

“Supposed to have Ministry permission for these things, Severus,” Moody declared, evidently done examining the footstool. He leaned back in the chair, clearly dedicated to making sure the two lost students and their professor all departed together.

“You will find,” Snape told Moody silkily. “That the Ministry never revoked its blanket permission from two hundred years ago for Hogwarts to establish Portkeys for the transportation of students at start of term.”

“What’s a Portkey?” Harry whispered to Adrian.

“You’ll find out, firstie,” Adrian whispered back.

“I’m going into second year.”

“You said that already. ‘s not the start of term till we’re there.”

“If you two are quite finished?” Snape asked, and Harry and Adrian snapped apart.

“Yes, sir,” Adrian said.

“Then if you would take hold of your trunks, and that owl,” Snape said. With some difficulty, Harry grasped the handle of his trunk in his right hand, and the loop on the top of Hedwig’s cage with his left. “Miss Pucey, if you would take Mr. Potter’s arm.” Adrian nodded, and held onto Harry just below his shoulder. Snape wrapped a hand around Harry’s other arm, and reached for the crumpled stool. “And now…”

The moment Snape’s hand touched the footstool, all three were jerked into a hurricane of color that left Harry gasping. A few seconds later they dropped unceremoniously into the middle of an outdoor train platform. Professor Snape was the first to recover, quickly brushing the dirt off his robes and then standing with a casually superior air. Harry looked into Hedwig’s cage, found that she was annoyed but otherwise fine, and pulled himself up with his trunk. Adrian was kneeling by hers, making an unfortunate urp sort of sound. She waved Harry back when he touched her shoulder.

“Portkey sickness,” Snape declared.

“Will she be okay?” Harry asked.

“Momentarily,” Snape said.

Harry looked around them; the drizzle of London was far behind them, and they stood in warm, early afternoon sunlight. Now that he wasn’t as disoriented, he noticed they were on the Hogsmeade end of the Hogwarts Express rail line. He could see a small, rambly town nearby, and the spires of Hogwarts tallest towers rising up in the distance.

Realizing that there was now a much shorter flight between them and Hogwarts, Harry pulled off the cover of Hedwig’s cage and opened the door. The owl stepped out delicately, nibbled affectionately at Harry’s fingers, and then took off in a rush of feathers for the castle. The quiet owlery must seem very appealing, after all the excitement of the summer.

“All right,” Adrian said weakly, starting to stand up. “I think I’m…nope.” She knelt back down abruptly, covering her mouth.

Nearly fifteen minutes later, they were dragging their trunks up a dirt road to the castle. Harry had hoped Snape might use the lightening charm he’d performed back in Diagon Alley all those weeks ago, but the Potions master seemed to be in a dark mood, and simply snapped at them to hurry up when their trunks caught on rocks and tree roots sticking out of the road. Halfway along, Harry lost his grip on Hedwig’s empty cage and had to go chasing it back down the hill. After he caught back up to them, Adrian, still a bit green, silently lashed the cage to her trunk with the handkerchief he’d given her earlier.

Snape did Scourgify the dirt from their trunks when they reached the entrance hall, so they wouldn’t muddy up the castle. “You are to wait on the steps for the other students,” he told them. “After you have taken your things to the dormitories, and changed into appropriate school attire.” He gave their Muggle clothes a withering look. “The password is ecdysis.

“Are we allowed to use magic now, sir?” Adrian asked.

Once you are in school uniform, yes,” Snape said. He finally tapped his wand to their trunks, muttering that Filch would kill him if they scraped up the floor.

“Thank you, professor!” With that, the two students ran off for the dungeons, lightened trunks hoisted over their heads to avoid the wrath of the school caretaker, Argus Filch.

Adrian whistled when they stepped into the Slytherin common room. The great lamps hanging from the ceiling were dark, the fireplace was empty and cold. The only source of light was the sun, filtered through the lake water and the huge, thick windows that kept it from pouring into the castle. It made the rough stone walls ripple with blue and green.

“Looks like they lit up the dorms for us,” Adrian said, peering down the tunnels that led to the sleeping chambers. Harry could see torches flickering just around the bend. “Meet you back here?” Adrian asked. Harry nodded.

Last year, Harry and the other first year boys had slept in a room at the back of the tunnel. Now he stopped at the second-farthest room, which had 2ND YEARS carved into the stone above the door. It had the same layout as the old room, but like the common room, the fire was out. Harry shivered as he changed into his school robes under the light of a single lamp. He’d known how cold the dungeons could get, wearing a heavy cloak in the hallways during winter, but he’d never been cold in the dorms before. He left his trunk at the end of one bed, deciding to get his spare robes into the wardrobe later, and hurried back out to the common room. Adrian was waiting for him, the neon green bandaid replaced with a clean handkerchief tied around her head.

“Shouldn’t you go to Madam Pomfrey?” Harry asked minutes later, when Adrian walked out the entrance hall to sit on the steps.

“Professor Snape said to wait here, I’m waiting here,” Adrian said. “Besides, she might not even be there yet.” She lay down at the bottom corner of the steps far from the doors, where the sun warmed the broad stones. The black fabric of her school uniform made it look as though someone had spilled a barrel of ink on the steps. “Wake me when the train gets in.”

An hour later, Harry had run out of first-year spells to practice with just his wand, and was lying on the steps as well, trying to ignore the rumbling of his stomach. It had been a lot of hours since breakfast. It almost seemed worth it to ignore Snape’s orders and search out the famed, hidden Hogwarts kitchens, when a familiar voice rang out across the grounds.

“Harry!”

“Hagrid?” Harry called back, sitting up. The school groundskeeper was indeed striding towards him, a delighted smile on his broad face. Further down the steps, Adrian made a noise that sounded a bit like “five more minutes”.

“Harry!” Hagrid said again, as he enveloped Harry in a bristly hug. He let go a moment later, holding on to Harry’s shoulders and looking at him. “Been right worried about yeh! Never answered my letters, and then the Headmaster said yeh were bein’ fetched from those useless relatives of yers. What’re yeh doing here before the train?”

“I wasn’t getting my mail,” Harry said. He glanced at Adrian, who was sitting up blearily. “Aunt Petunia…worries I’ll end up like Mum, if I spend all my time wizarding. She said summer is for ‘normal things’.” It wasn’t really lying to Hagrid, was it, if he just put two unrelated statements next to each other?

“Wizarding is normal for yeh,” Hagrid said. “And what’s wrong with ‘winding up’ like yer mum? She was a great witch.”

“She also wound up dead,” Harry pointed out. “And I did nearly die last year.” Never mind the fact that he hadn’t told any of the Dursleys about fighting Voldemort back in June. Hagrid winced, and Harry immediately felt guilty. He’d forgotten Hagrid still blamed himself for half of what went wrong last year.

Harry’s empty stomach broke the painful silence with a loud rumble, making him and Hagrid both jump. Adrian’s stomach echoed the sentiment, and she glared down at it. “Hush, you.”

Hagrid laughed boomingly, and pulled a pair of heavy scones with blueberries from one of the many pockets covering his massive coat. “What are the two of yeh doing here early?” he asked.

“Thanks,” Adrian said, as Hagrid passed over the scones. “Our train from Diagon Alley got delayed. Professor Snape picked us up.”

“And he forgot students need feeding, eh?” Hagrid said shrewdly. Adrian opened her mouth to defend the professor, but closed it again when she noticed how ravenously Harry was gnawing at his own scone. She frowned slightly.

“I have ter get the boats ready fer the firs’ years,” Hagrid said. He pulled a half-dozen more scones out from a different pocket; these ones had cranberries. “The two of yeh’d best stay here; yeh don’t want ter fall in the lake again.”

Adrian covered her face, mumbling “that was two years ago,” into her hands as Hagrid strode off.

Several hours later, Adrian was asleep again, the scones long depleted. Harry leaned his elbows on the step behind him, watching the sun sink below the trees of the Forbidden Forest. Several other teachers arriving for the term had stopped and spoken to Harry on their way into the castle, though very few were ones he’d had classes with. Professor Vector had shaken Adrian briefly awake and healed the wound on her temple, saying it was very luck she didn’t have a concussion.

When the orb of the sun was fully gone, warm torchlight flooded down the steps from the open doors of the entrance hall. Harry nervously nudged Adrian with his foot. He couldn’t see the end of the path from the Hogsmeade station anymore.

“Are they here?” Adrian asked, sitting up and rubbing at one eye.

“Dunno,” Harry said. “But I can hear something.”

“They’re here, then,” Adrian said, beaming into the darkness down the path. “That sounds like the carriages, only first years take the boats.”

Indeed, very soon a flock of carriages came into view. They seemed to be pulling themselves, and the doors opened on their own near the castle, letting students hop out.

“ADRIAN!” a delighted voice yelled. “Where were you!” Terence Higgs, the Seeker for the Slytherin Quidditch team and Adrian’s fellow fourth-year, flung himself out of a carriage and bolted towards them. Adrian laughed and waved, slinging an arm around Terence’s shoulders when he reached her. “Seriously, Adrian, where’ve you been? Oh, hi Harry.”

“Hello, Terence,” Harry said.

“We had some train troubles,” was all Adrian would say. Students were streaming past them into the castle now, and the two fourth years turned to join them. “You coming?” Adrian asked, looking at Harry.

He shook his head. “I’m waiting for Hermio–”

HARRY!” Hermione Granger shrieked, flinging herself at him. Terence laughed as the second year Gryffindor nearly bowled Harry over. Harry hugged Hermione back, grinning in relief. It had been over two months since he’d seen his best friend.

“You weren’t on the train!” Hermione exclaimed, as Harry let go and tugged her towards the castle, following the other students. “I was really worried, Harry!”

“We got delayed on the Tube,” Harry said. “Sorry I worried you.”

Hermione brushed his apology off, waving a hand rapidly. “I need to tell you what I found about that hissy thing you do,” she said quietly, leaning close to be heard over the crowd of students. “You’re not the only one, but– oh drat.” The crowd was splitting into four streams as they entered the Great Hall. “Don’t tell anyone else about it yet, all right?” Hermione directed, as they were pulled apart.

At the Slytherin table, Harry found himself seated between their house ghost, the Bloody Baron, and sixth year Prefect Gemma Farley. She gave him a calm nod of greeting, and turned her attention to the head table. Remembering that they would have a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher this year, Harry leaned forward to peer past the Bloody Baron. As other students remembered the same thing, a rippling gasp spread through the Great Hall.

Gilderoy Lockhart, looking identical to the picture on the front of all his books, right down to the precise wave of his blonde hair, was smiling out at the students from a seat next to Professor Sinistra. Harry could swear the new professor’s shiny white teeth were actually glinting in the candlelight, like gems.

“Oh, we’re going to learn so much from him!” Tracey Davis exclaimed.

“I doubt that,” Gemma murmured coolly, but Harry was the only one to hear her. Over half of the Slytherins were gossiping about creatures Lockhart was famous for defeating, or helpful charms he’d perfected, or simply gazing at the head table dreamily. A quick glance around the hall showed that the other houses were similarly affected. All the way over at Gryffindor table, Hermione looked absolutely entranced.

The haze of fame was soon broken by the arrival of Professor McGonagall leading the new first year students into the Great Hall, and placing the Sorting Hat ceremoniously upon an ancient stool. To Harry’s surprise, it sung a different song than the year before. Once the Sorting itself began, Harry clapped and cheered with the rest of his house as new Slytherins joined them. Quite a lot of them went wide-eyed at the sight of the Bloody Baron.

“Weasley, Ginny,” did indeed turn out to be another Gryffindor, and Harry ignored Adrian as she hissed “Told you!” from further down the table.

When the speeches were done and the food demolished, all of the newly appointed fifth year prefects started calling their respective first years over, and the older students began pouring out of the hall. A brief attempt to make his way through the mob towards Hermione merely got Harry clipped with stray elbows. Hermione had no better luck; she waved goodnight as the Gryffindors swept up the stairs towards their tower. Harry sighed, and fell in with Pansy and Millicent on the way back to the Slytherin dungeon.

“Ah, Harry!” A hand landed on his shoulder, keeping Harry in place as the mob whirled past. He turned, and was nearly blinded by Professor Lockhart’s dazzling smile. “I just wanted to say how much I’m looking forward to mentoring all the bright young people, such as yourself, here!”

Up ahead, Pansy and Millicent had noticed Harry’s absence and turned around. Pansy was wide-eyed, and Millicent had the intent look she got when something might be worth her time.

“That’s nice,” Harry said, growing a bit uncomfortable with Lockhart still gripping his shoulder.

“The other teachers here told me of your little adventure last year,” Lockhart continued. “Haring off alone to face down a master of the dark arts, no back-up, no way out! I heard that, and I said, Gilderoy, this boy is like you! Daring! Bold! But without your years of experience. He could use a hand, learning the ins and outs of fighting the dark arts.”

“Is that why you took the Defense Against the Dark Arts position?” Pansy asked, eyes shining.

Lockhart laughed. Harry wondered if hexing your new teacher into letting go would still get you in trouble, if classes hadn’t technically started yet.

“No, no, miss…?”

“Parkinson. Pansy Parkinson.”

“Miss Parkinson!” Lockhart winked at her. She swooned against Millicent. “I accepted the position as a personal favor to Albus Dumbledore. Always the best for his students, that’s what Professor Dumbledore wants. He was Headmaster when I was a student here, you know!”

“Yes, it was in your biography,” Pansy said. Millicent snorted, and Pansy elbowed her.

“How good are you with gnomes?” Millicent interjected, before Lockhart could say anything else. The mob had cleared up enough for her to take a few steps closer, and Harry grabbed onto her outstretched hand.

“Ah, gnomes!” Lockhart said. He hardly seemed to notice as Millicent tugged Harry out of his grasp. “Gnomes are tricky sorts, but you’ll find I cover them in detail in my Guide to Common Household Pests. Not part of the curriculum this year, but maybe next year, eh?” He winked again, and pointed at Harry. “Remember, my office is always open!”

“Did you see his hands?” Millicent muttered, when they’d gotten down the stairs into the dungeon tunnels. “He’s never de-gnomed a garden in his life.”

“Just because he’s not all scarred up like you doesn’t mean he hasn’t de-gnomed a garden,” Pansy insisted. “It just means he’s so good they never managed to bite him! You have to be very good at evading bites to fight werewolves and vampires like he does.”

“Mm,” was Millicent’s only reply to this. Harry kneaded his shoulder.

Chapter Text

Gemma was right, Harry thought, during their first Defense Against the Dark Arts class the next morning. Lockhart started things off with an “attention to detail!” test of his books, and all of the questions were about himself, maybe a third happening to include dubiously helpful things from his adventures. Tracey and Theodore both got full marks, and glared at each other behind Lockhart’s back. Lockhart spent the rest of their time going over the answers, awarding house points to students who volunteered extra details from the books.

“I wonder if he offers private tutoring?” Pansy asked Millicent with a sigh, as they went down the hall to Transfiguration. Draco scowled, and Gregory made a gagging noise. “Oh, like either of you have done anything!” Pansy said shrilly.

“Wonder what that tank on the desk was for?” Blaise mused. Harry found out later, when Hermione gushed about Professor Lockhart giving the Gryffindor class some hands-on practice wrangling Cornish Pixies.

“That’s nice,” Harry said dryly. He and Hermione were sitting on the low bridge connecting two of the eastern astronomy towers. It wasn’t a bad place to read when it was sunny out, and unlike the library, they could see anyone else coming before they were close enough to eavesdrop.

“It is nice,” Hermione insisted. Harry snorted in disbelief. “Anyway,” Hermione continued sharply. “I went back through Hogwarts, A History this summer, and you’re a Parslemouth.”

“I’m a what?”

“A Parslemouth,” Hermione repeated. “It just means someone who speaks Parsletongue, which is the language of snakes. The thing is though, so was Salazar Slytherin. He was famous for it. That’s why your house symbol is a serpent.”

“Huh,” Harry said. He wasn’t sure how to feel about that. Salazar Slytherin was one of the four witches and wizards to found Hogwarts; the one with the worst reputation. The few surviving texts said he’d fought with the other founders and left in a snit. The most prolific historical rumor as to why was that Salazar only wanted to teach wizard-born students, like Durmstrang eventually did. That if Salazar had talked the other founders around to his views, Hermione wouldn’t be sitting next to Harry at Hogwarts right now, telling him this.

“There’s a bit more to it,” Hermione went on, when Harry’s contemplative silence stretched too long. “Parselmouth’s are extremely rare. There have only been a few more over the centuries since Slytherin died, and they all went very nasty over the years. People are going to make a lot of assumptions, if they find out about you.”

“Oh.” The silence stretched even longer this time. “That’s…dumb,” Harry said eventually. Hermione blinked at him.

“It’s not dumb, it’s from Hogwarts, A History,” Hermione said, sounding a bit insulted.

“It’s still dumb,” Harry said. “It’s just talking to snakes. They’re not nasty. I bet there’s been loads of Parslemouths, they just didn’t get famous because they didn’t go bad. I mean, who’d bother writing about someone who was nice and got on with the neighbors and just, I dunno, asked the snakes to keep down garden pests or something?”

“That’s fair,” Hermione said grudgingly. “You still might not want to mention it though, because the first thing a lot of people will think of is Whispering Wilbur setting adders on people who insulted his hair, or Tilda the Terrible, who squeezed four different bishops to death in the sixteenth century when she returned from exile in Brazil with a boa constrictor.”

“That’s awful,” Harry said.

“Yes, it–”

“England’s too cold for boas, it must have been miserable.”

Hermione raised her eyebrows at him, looking so much like Professor McGonagall that Harry nearly started laughing. “Sorry,” he said. “I mean, killing four bishops is horrible, but you don’t need a boa to do it.”

“Perhaps she used a Warming Charm,” Hermione said primly. “That’s not the point.”

~~~

Late Thursday afternoon, Harry decided to put off his homework until after dinner (so much already! And only the second day of classes!) and went down to visit the colony of grass snakes that lived in the abandoned greenhouse. He took a quick look around out of habit, made sure no one was watching, and slipped out one of the small auxiliary doors of the castle. A few minutes later, he was wiggling through the bushes around the greenhouse.

People are going to make a lot of assumptions.” Well, there wasn’t anyone else down here. Sadly, it turned out the snakes weren’t either. A quick “Hello?” got a very sleepy “You’re back, that’s nice.” from inside the greenhouse, but no one slithered out to meet him.

There was a shallow slope that led from the greenhouse to the lakeshore here, and about halfway down the grass started getting marshy. It was a good spot to hunt frogs. If Harry stuck to the dry part, he’d be out of the way, and someone might stop to say hello on their way home.

Harry crawled back out of the bushes, stood up, took a few steps into the grass, and promptly tripped, tumbling down the slope until he was able to stop himself just before hitting the muck. He pushed himself up; oh good, it didn’t look like anyone was close enough to have seen that. He wiggled a bit to the left so his stomach wasn’t on a rock anymore, and crossed his arms to rest his face on them. The sun was warming his black school robes pleasantly, the light breeze tousled his hair, and he could hear the last insects of summer buzzing. Harry closed his eyes.

Good afternoon.

Harry lifted his face, and pushed himself up a bit by his elbows. The angle of the shadows in the grass had changed a little. He must have dozed off. A grass snake was weaving towards him, raising its head up over the stalks to look him in the eyes. Harry was just about to say hello back, when a camera shutter went off from a few feet away.

Eep!” said the snake, and promptly fell over sideways, landing belly up.

“I’m sorry!” a squeaky voice said. Harry twisted his head around; a brown-haired boy in Ravenclaw robes was crouched near them in the grass, rapidly lowering a camera. He looked, Harry thought, rather like the mice Hedwig liked to catch; tiny and soft and sort of quivery. “I didn’t mean to startle it! I wanted to meet you and then the light was really good and there was that snake and it looked so cool and I’m sorry! Is it all right?”

“Um…” Harry said eloquently. He leaned down towards the snake, turning his head so the Ravenclaw wouldn’t see his mouth move, and whispered as quietly as he could “It’s just a student, it won’t eat you.”

Promise?

“Yes.”

The snake immediately righted itself and slithered past Harry up the shallow slope, back to the relative safety of the bushes and the greenhouse.

“It was just playing dead,” Harry explained, turning back to the Ravenclaw. He sat up. “…why did you want to meet me?”

“You’re in my books! And everyone was talking about you on the train! I’m Colin, by the way, Colin Creevey. All the other Muggle-born students say you’re aces because you saved the school from You-Know-Who last year, and that he’s supposed to be dead, and I hope he is because he sounds really scary even if Dad says I’m not supposed to wish people were dead, because what if it really happened because odd things happen with me sometimes? Except it’s not odd things it’s magic and the older Ravenclaws said magic won’t work like that, it’s really hard to kill someone with it on purpose let alone accident and I shouldn’t worry, but I guess Dad wouldn’t have known that since he’s a milkman.”

At this point, the tiny first-year drew in a deep breath.

“How were you sure it was me, over here?” Harry asked quickly, taking advantage of the pause.

“Our prefect Penelope said your prefect Gemma said you hide in the bushes over there sometimes so I was going to go look but then I saw you in the grass and I figured it must be you and then you looked up and I could see your scar. It’s really cool!”

“Oh,” Harry said. He’d thought nobody but Hermione knew about him hanging out by the greenhouse.

“Could I get a picture with you?” Colin asked. “I’m sending a roll home once I get more of the castle, I don’t think a letter can do everything here justice, do you? I got a really good one of the forest from Ravenclaw tower, we have to solve a riddle to get in for the night, do you have to do that for your tower too?”

“I’m not allowed to tell you how to get into the Slytherin dungeon,” Harry said cautiously.

“You’re in the dungeons?” Colin gasped. “Like our potions class? But it’s so cold! Does it freeze in-”

“Harry!”

Colin jumped, and Harry stood up, brushing grass off his robes. Hermione was walking over, waving.

“Do you mind if we go over our Transfigurations homework after dinner?” Hermione asked, as she got closer. “There were a couple terms we haven’t learned yet, and I wanted to see if you had better luck with the glossary before I talked to Professor McGonagall-” She cut off as she noticed Colin.

“Hermione, this is Colin Creevey,” Harry said. “Colin, this is my friend Hermione Granger, she was with me last year when-”

You beat Professor Snape’s riddle!” Colin yelped, looking at Hermione with even wider eyes than he’d given Harry. “And you led the Gryffindors into battle and Penelope said it’s a shame you don’t play chess because you’re the brightest in your year and Percy Weasley would teach you if you asked.”

“Thank you?” Hermione said, her face turning quite pink. “That’s, um. Thank you.”

~~~

“Potter!” Marcus Flint shouted, when Harry came back to the Slytherin dungeon just before curfew Friday night. The hulking seventh-year captain of the Quidditch team waved him over to the high-backed chairs by the crackling fire, where Graham Montague and Terence were playing chess. “Pucey says you want to try out for the team.”

“I do,” Harry said, nodding, trying to look confident. It was a little hard, since Marcus was easily the tallest student at Hogwarts, and the second broadest. His two most common expressions were “scowl” and “sneer”,  with “laughing really loud when people got hurt” a close runner-up.

“You got a broom?”

Another nod; thanks to Adrian’s timely reminder, Harry had purchased a second-hand Nimbus 2000 after the rest of his school supplies.

“Great. First practice is tomorrow at eight in the morning. There’s spare robes in the locker room. If you suck we’ll get someone else.”

Terence checkmated Graham and looked up. “You given the other new kid a job yet, captain?”

“No,” Marcus said. He looked down at Terence. “Why?”

“Harry’s built like a Seeker,” Terence said mildly, resetting the chess board while Graham sulked. “And I’ve been wanting to go back to Chaser.”

Marcus thought for a moment. Harry wondered if he should still be standing there, or if he was free to leave. “That leaves Keeper…” Marcus said eventually. He nodded. “Good. Easier to keep Malfoy from getting creamed if he’s stuck in one place. You can show Potter the ropes, Higgs.”

“Thanks, captain,” Terence said, and turned back to Graham, who had grudgingly made the first move of their next match.

Seeing that Marcus was no longer paying attention to him, Harry wandered off to his usual windowsill to study. It was a little hard for the lamplight to get into the deep recess, and the rays of tonight’s half-moon were fighting a thin cloud-cover to get through the lake. Exhausted by the first week of classes, Harry quickly dismissed  the thought of lighting his wand up with Lumos. Maybe he should just go to bed; surely he could get his homework done Sunday, if Quidditch practice went on too long Saturday.

Harry idly traced one of the snake carvings in the windowsill with his wand, listening to the rasp of wood on stone. Was Draco the other new player? He didn’t think there were any other Malfoys in Slytherin right now…well, he’d find out tomorrow.

~~~

It was always hard to tell the weather from down in the Slytherin dungeon, aside from “actively storming” and “not actively storming”, but when Harry got to the Great Hall for breakfast on Saturday, the enchanted roof showed a thin fog already dispersing from the sunrise. Self-conscious about leaning the broom he’d fetched from his trunk against the table, Harry ate quickly and hurried down to the locker rooms, slipping once on the dewy grass.

Shortly after Harry finished changing into the smallest set of spare robes hanging up in the back, five other Slytherin boys trooped in to the locker room. They were laughing about a Ravenclaw first-year that had tripped on the wet lawn, just like Harry, but had gotten a mouthful of grass and soil because he’d protected the camera around his neck instead of his face.

“That’d be Colin,” Harry said, drawing their attention. It was a disconcerting, having the whole group swivel around like that; Lucian Bole and Graham Montague, the Beaters, were looking to rival Marcus Flint for size in a few years, and Draco (so it was him) was already raising a critical eye at the Quidditch robe’s sleeves, which Harry had needed to roll up. Terence waved lazily from the back.

“You know him?” Draco asked.

“We’ve met,” Harry said shortly.

Marcus gave the too-long robes the same critical look Draco had. “Stitch that in place tomorrow,” he ordered, pointing to the sleeves. “You gonna trip in that?” he asked, pointing to the hem. Harry shook his head; he’d already jumped on and off the bench a few times to check. Marcus grunted approval. “They’re yours, then. Here.” He tossed Harry a key. “Broom shed’s by the door.”

There was a small broom shed just outside each locker room, so the teams could keep their brooms separate from the rest of the school’s. Adrian was leaning against the Slytherins’, and waved cheerily to Harry. She already had her Quidditch robes on.

“You can swim, right?” she asked, while Harry fought the lock on the shed’s door.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “Why?”

“No reason.” She grinned when he started swearing at the lock. “You gotta press on the door, before you try turning it. Wood’s warped. Nah, higher. Little to the left. And…you got it.”

The door creaked open, and Harry blinked. There were dozens of old brooms at the back, Cleansweeps and Comets mostly, but right at the front were seven shining new Nimbus 2001’s. He glanced back at the used Nimbus 2000 he’d picked up over the summer. Aside from a few nicks on the handle, the only real difference was the tail bristles; the 2001’s were about an inch longer, and made of thinner straw.

Adrian whistled approvingly. “Where’d these come from?”

“My father believes a good team should have good equipment,” Draco said, strolling out of the locker room. The rest of the team wasn’t far behind, and soon most of them were making the same long whistles Adrian had, and pulling the Nimbus 2001’s out to examine.

“Should I stick with this today, or…?” Harry asked the captain, holding up his Nimbus 2000.

“New one today,” Marcus grunted. “You can alternate. It’s good to have a back-up.”

Harry nodded, and grabbed the last Nimbus 2001, stashing his older broom next to a Cleansweep 5. He carefully locked the shed again, and gave Marcus back the key. Graham and Lucian had hauled an equipment box out of the locker room with them, and balanced their brooms on top. As the Slytherin team made their way onto the field, they saw the Gryffindor team already there, peering up in puzzlement at a small figure leaning over the stand’s railing, furiously taking photos. Harry swore under his breath.

“What’s a Ravenclaw so interested in them for?” Graham asked scornfully.

“He’s never seen a Quidditch team before,” Harry explained.

“Wait, so he’s a Mud-”

“Muggle-born,” Harry cut in, before Graham could finish the word. Up in the stands, the younger Weasley siblings had climbed up next to Colin, probably wanting to see the twins after practice. The shutter’s clicking stopped; Harry grinned at Ron’s alarmed look at the barrage of questions Colin was now throwing at him. “Everything’s interesting to him, I imagine.” Colin’s questions were being met by a series of complicated gestures as Ron, presumably, started explaining how Quidditch actually worked.

“Merlin’s spectacles, he’s smaller than you ever were,” Adrian said, eyeing Colin while they made their way towards the Gryffindors. She tapped her chin. “You know, I thought you were just so short ‘cause you were a firstie, but most of this year’s lot are taller than you. Excepting that shutterbug, I guess.” She grew an evil smile. “You’re pocket-sized.”

“What.”

“A halfpint,” Terence suggested.

“No.”

“Small fry,” Lucian coughed into his hand.

No.”

“Pipsqueak!” Adrian laughed and ruffled his hair.

Any further protests Harry might make were drowned out by the flaming row that had started the moment Oliver Wood and Marcus Flint were in shouting distance. The Slytherin and Gryffindor teams crowded behind their respective captains and eyeballed each other. Dean Thomas from double Potions was the newest Gryffindor player, replacing the lather lackluster Seeker who’d graduated last year. He and Harry exchanged polite nods.

“I tell you, we’ve still got the field reserved for hours!” Wood insisted.

“And I tell you, we’ve got special dispensation,” Marcus sneered, waving a piece of parchment he’d produced when Harry wasn’t paying attention. “New team members, yeah? Maybe you should have used the field in the hours you already had.”

“You’re not the only team with new players,” Wood said, gesturing to Thomas. “And strategy discussions are a vital part of training! Maybe you’d know that if you didn’t rely on cheating so much.”

“What’s he mean by that?” Harry whispered to Adrian. Marcus hadn’t so much as flinched at the accusation, and was now physically shoving the bit of parchment under Wood’s nose.

“Captain likes to win,” Terence answered; Adrian was staring off at the stands again. “Fouls a lot, gets his knickers in a bunch if we don’t take chances. Even if the ref notices and we get a penalty, it still usually works out. You didn’t notice last year?”

“Never saw you and Adrian do all that,” Harry pointed out.

“That’s ‘cause we like to be the best.” Terence shrugged. “And if you cheat, how do you know you’re really the best?”

“Plus there’s usually league recruiters in the stands,” Adrian added absently. She elbowed Terence. “Three knuts says we don’t even get to practice today.”

“I am-” Terence spotted the Weasleys and Colin walking across the field towards them. “Not taking that bet.”

Colin was practically skipping, and only avoided doing another faceplant in the grass because Ron grabbed the back of his robes twice. “This is really exciting!” Colin exclaimed, reaching the teams. “Ginny said you’re rivals and Ron said the teams always train alone, but if you’re both here does that you’re doing a practice match against each other?”

No,” Marcus and Wood said at the same time.

“Then can I get a picture before everyone leaves?” Colin asked, already raising the camera. “Just step a bit closer together-”

“We don’t take orders from pushy little Mudbloods,” Draco sneered.

There was a sharp intake of breath. The Gryffindor team exploded in rage; half of them reaching for their wands, the other half holding their teammates back and shouting. Harry ran his hand down his face; there was no way the field use argument would get worked out now.

Ginny Weasley didn’t bother grabbing her wand; with a shriek of “Don’t you call him that!” she swung a furious fist and caught Draco clean across the jaw, making him stumble back into Terence and Lucian. Harry whistled, and a glance to one side showed that Adrian had an appreciative gleam in her eye.

“Like father like daughter, huh?” Adrian muttered out of the side of her mouth. Harry snorted. Colin was asking the crowd in general what that word had meant, but no one was paying him any attention.

“You’re in trouble for that,” Draco threatened Ginny lowly, shaking off Terence’s supportive hands. Ginny’s older brothers were congregating behind her, giving Draco evil looks. Ron already had his wand out. “Fighting can get you expelled, at Hogwarts.”

“Oh, come on, Draco,” Harry said, fed up. He’d gotten up today expecting to fly, not watch two team captains have a pissing match over the school’s only training ground, and now this. “Do you see any teachers around? No? Then leave it.”

“I will not leave it,” Draco said, turning towards Harry. He pointed angrily at the Gryffindors. “Everyone here witnessed her viciously attack me.”

“No, everyone here watched you come to Quidditch practice and then show such bad reflexes that a first-year who’s not even allowed on any team yet got you right in the face,” Harry said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “No offense,” he added to Ginny.

“None taken,” she said, going a funny shade of red, and with an expression like she didn’t know if she ought to be thanking Harry, or taking a swing at him too.

“We haven’t even started practice yet, and she surprised me!” Draco had gone a little shrill, noticing that the rest of the Slytherin Quidditch team, including their captain, was staying out of the argument.

“She surprised you?” Harry shook his head. “Really? You didn’t see it coming, after what happened the last time you used that word in front of a Gryffindor?”

“What did he call me?” Colin was still asking, and Adrian finally took pity on the confused Ravenclaw.

“It’s a really bad word for someone with Muggle parents,” she told him. “You probably shouldn’t emulate Weasley here when you hear it again, and you are gonna hear it again, firstie, but make a note of who said it and trip ‘em when you get a chance.”

Pucey!” Marcus roared.

“What?” Adrian asked, frowning. “I can’t give Ravenclaws advice, now?”

“Colin, the camera shutter’s kinda distracting,” Harry said, ignoring the arguments breakout out around him. “And we really do need to practice. Why don’t you go…um…talk to the portraits about the differences between paintings and photography?”

“That’s a great idea, Harry, thanks!” Colin said, beaming at him. “I’ll see you later!” Waving, he finally left the pitch. Harry let out a sigh of relief, and turned around. Marcus and Adrian seemed to be rehashing a disagreement they’d had last year. Oliver Wood was trying to get the Slytherin team to give up the field again, and Graham and Lucian were making fun of him for taking so long in the locker rooms “strategizing”. The Weasley twins had hoisted Ginny onto their shoulders and run off, declaring her “Warrior Queen of the Pitch” while Ron chased after them, hollering that “Mum’ll kill us if you drop her!” The rest of the Gryffindor team was trying to decide if it was worth telling Oliver to reschedule for tomorrow, since they all wanted a nap anyway, and Terence was sidling closer to eavesdrop.

Draco, meanwhile, was trying to get someone, anyone, to be offended on his behalf for the punch, but everyone was ignoring him just as soundly as they’d ignored Colin moments before.

Harry looked down at the gleaming Nimbus 2001 in his hand. If he just went for a quick spin, maybe everyone would’ve shut up by the time he got back? And if they hadn’t, well, that was their loss. Harry mounted up and kicked off, spiraling high into the air, leaving the loud voices behind in a rush of wind. He finally came to a stop hundreds of yards up, admiring the sight of Hogwarts catching the morning light.

“You’ve got the right idea, mate,” Thomas said, bringing his own broom up to hover as well. The rest of their teams were just tiny dots on the field below, now. “Look!”

The giant squid was silhouetted just under the surface of the lake, idly swimming around the shallow edges. A few members of the rowing club were lounging on the low dock after stashing their gear in the boathouse; they hastily pulled their feet back out of the water as the squid passed by.

“Cool,” Harry said appreciatively. Thomas grinned at him.

“Reckon we can get in a whole lap above the stands before they notice we’re gone?”

“You’re on, Gryffindor!” They both shot off with a laugh. Thomas proved correct; they made it all the way around the pitch and were cruising towards the middle before Katie Bell started waving at them to come back. Wood had finally given up, and the Gryffindors were heading off to their locker room.

“Wait up!”

Fred and George started sprinting, Ginny still on their shoulders, and promptly tripped. Instinctively, Harry darted down, holding onto the broomstick with his knees. He caught Ginny under the arms before she could eat dirt. “You all right, Weasley?” he asked, letting go.

“I’m fine,” Ginny squeaked, bright red. Past the twins, still detangling their limbs and robes, Ron had gone even redder.

Potter!” Marcus shouted. Harry waved a hasty goodbye to Thomas and the Weasleys, and flew back to his team captain. “You’re with Higgs.”

Terence was hovering a hundred yards or so above the pitch. “Should’ve taken that bet,” Terence said morosely, when Harry got to him. Below, the two Beaters had gotten their bats and single Bludger out of the equipment box, while Marcus and Adrian were showing Draco basic blocks at the goalposts. Terence sighed, then shrugged. “Let’s get you up to speed. First thing you need to know about being a Seeker- wait, you know how the game works, right?”

“Yeah,” Harry said. He’d only been to every single game last year, excepting the final Gryffindor/Ravenclaw match, when he’d been unconscious in the hospital wing.

“Great!” Terence said, grinning. “ ’cause Bole didn’t, back when the captain recruited him. Anyway, the first thing is, you’re gonna be a target for fouling, so you gotta be on the watch for that and for the Snitch. And the Bludgers. Captain thinks being a Seeker means you got time to foul other people, especially if you’re circling up top watching everyone. But he’s wrong. Yeah, it’s easier to get away with it ‘cause you can just claim you say the Snitch, you didn’t mean to dive right between a Chaser and the Quaffle and get ‘em with your elbows. But it’s a bad plan, because the other Seekers aren’t dumb, and if you start cheating, they’ll consider it a free for all.”

“All of them?”

“Well, Hufflepuff might not, Diggory’s still theirs,” Terence conceded. “But Ravenclaw’s unforgiving, and Gryffindor’ll try for it if they think you’re going to. They don’t tend to against the other houses, but we’ve got history.” Terence paused, thinking for a moment. “Last year’s Seeker graduated, and it’s Alicia Spinnet now, that Dean Thomas kid got her Chaser spot. Adrian says Spinnet’s a decent sort as a Chaser so she probably won’t elbow you in the nose out of the blue. We’ll find out in November.”

Terence unfastened a small belt pouch, and pulled out a Snitch. Its tiny wings rasped against his glove. “We’re gonna count out a minute,” he said, releasing the Snitch. It immediately zoomed off. “And then I stay up here and you try to get it back.”

“Even if it’s…doing that?” Harry asked, pointing to the goalposts. The Snitch was fluttering around the bristles of Draco’s broom.

“Mm-hm,” Terence said. “Rest of the team has to get used to not acknowledging it, ‘cause if they do you know the other Seeker’s gonna spot them.” Draco, spotting the tiny golden ball, jerked his broom back in surprise; Marcus bounced the Quaffle off his head. “And you gotta get used to catching it no matter what.”

~~~

Hermione stepped up into the Gryffindor common room, and nearly fell back out, assaulted by a wave of noise. Had the Fat Lady’s portrait not swung shut so quickly, she surely would have. In the middle of the room, Percy Weasley was in a shouting match with the twins, while Ron scowled and Ginny looked absolutely mortified.

“What’s going on?” Hermione asked Neville, who was hiding behind an armchair by the windows.

Could have gotten a detention!

“Y-you didn’t hear at dinner?” Neville asked.

SHE could have? That little snake’s the one who bloody deserves one!

“Obviously not,” Hermione said dryly, and felt guilty when Neville flinched. “I’m sorry, Neville. I was reading while I ate. What is going on? I’ve never seen Percy this red in the face.”

You’re all lucky I’m not writing Mum about this!

“Ginny p-punched Malfoy in the face at Quidditch practice,” Neville said. “He’d called th-that Ravenclaw first-year with the camera a Mu- a Mu- a Mudblood.”

“What’s that?” Hermione asked, puzzled.

“Maybe you SHOULD write Mum about this, she ought to be proud of Ginny! WE are! You should be too!”

Seamus Finnigan leaned over the chair Neville and Hermione were crouched behind. “It’s an insult for someone Muggle-born, right foul too,” Seamus said. “Percy thinks they should have kept their cool and told a teacher, and that the twins are a bad influence on Ginny. Mind, if I heard someone call Dean that, I’d’ve done the same thing.”

In the middle of the room, Percy had stopped shouting. Hermione stood up and looked past Seamus; Percy was kept taking deep gulps of air, as though fighting something inside. Cautiously, Ginny peeked out from behind Fred.

I AM proud of Ginny!” Percy finally yelled. He deflated abruptly, shoulders slumping down. “I’m just worried,” he added in a much quieter voice. Hermione could barely hear him. “You know his dad’s got it out for ours. This is exactly the sort of thing he could make trouble with.”

“I’m sorry, Perce,” Ginny said.

“So you’re saying we should hex him instead?” Fred asked.

“And only when he can’t prove it was us?” George added.

“That is not what I’m saying,” Percy said, but Ron had stopped scowling, a thoughtful, bloodthirsty smile growing on his face, and Ginny looked considerably cheered. “Oh, you’re all hopeless,” Percy muttered, and was mobbed by hugs from all his younger siblings.

Chapter Text

After the egotistical quiz, Lockhart had spent the rest of the week  giving them an overview of the coming year. He slapped a long list of monsters and curses up on the board, detailed which books and chapters to find them in, and gave them their first assignment; read the first half of Gadding With Ghouls by Monday.

“See?” Pansy had hissed at Draco, as they left class. “He does know how to teach. You owe me a Chocolate Frog.”

Then Monday arrived.

“Good morning, class!” Lockhart’s teeth sparkled in the sunlight coming through the window.

“Good morning, Professor Lockhart!” half the students called back. The rest mumbled “G’mrng,” and slumped pessimistically into their seats. Harry propped his elbow up on the desk and dropped his chin into his hand.

“Today we’re really going to get into the difference between ghouls and ghosts.” Lockhart held up the assigned book, and tapped the title. “Harry! Come up and give me a hand, eh?”

Harry blinked. What?

“I always say, there’s no experience like real experience,” Lockhart said, as Harry nervously made his way to the front of the classroom. “Can’t let your Gryffindor mates have all the fun, eh? No more pixies though, we’re moving on from that! Now,” he said, gesturing to Harry, as the rest of the class perked up. “Your classmate Harry here is going to demonstrate some ghoulish behavior for all of you, and I want hands up, spotting how it differentiates from that of ghosts!”

It was like trying to play charades in front of a school of sharks. Lockhart kept correcting him, or suggesting things that Harry had no idea how to do, while the other Slytherins shouted out answers. Tracey, Pansy, and Theodore were in fierce competition, and Blaise chimed in as well because even if Lockhart was an idiot, he was an idiot giving out house points.

Draco spent the entire class with a very smug grin; Harry suspected by the time dinner rolled around, the entirety of Slytherin would have heard about Harry, trying to follow two of Lockhart’s directions at once, accidentally smacking off his own glasses.

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, Harry was not the only one to spend Defense class that week making ghastly moans and pretending to bang on pipes. Lucian had been the poor soul among the fifth-years, one of the first-years put her fingers in her ears and started humming during Draco’s retelling of class during dinner, and Gemma was icy with annoyance on Thursday.

“That was the most useless class I have ever had the displeasure of taking,” Gemma told Peregrine Derrick over lunch. Harry could’ve sworn the pumpkin juice in her goblet froze, so cold was her voice.

“Worse than History with Binns?” Peregrine asked.

“The. Most. Useless.”

~~~

Harry worried that he wouldn’t be able to visit greenhouse colony for a proper chat with Colin Creevey following him, but it turned out to be a moot point. Between classes, homework, and Quidditch practice, he barely had time to see Hagrid, let alone the snakes. When the lighter rains of September turned into torrential downpours in October, Harry gave up on trying until spring.

After the rocky start with the Gryffindor team, Quidditch practice turned out to be a lot of fun, way better than flying class had been last year. They usually spent the first third running position-based drills; Terence trained Harry to Seek properly, while the other two Chasers went up against Draco, and the Beaters aimed Bludgers at each other. The last third was practice matches, where they divided into two half-teams, made of two Chasers, a Beater, and a Keeper each, the Chasers taking turns in the role of Keeper opposite Draco. Harry practiced tracking points during these games, flipping a coin to pick which team he was on, and trying not to catch the Snitch if ‘his’ side was too far behind. At their fourth practice, Marcus declared that anyone on the opposing team could catch the Snitch and end the practice match too, giving Harry four potential ‘Seekers’ to race against.

The middle third was the only part Harry didn’t enjoy; all three Chasers ran formations while the Beaters tried to break them up, and Draco and Harry were tasked with checking over equipment. Being stuck in the locker room with old dented Quaffles, brooms with bent bristles, and gloves in need of stitching wasn’t so bad. Draco Malfoy’s attempts at friendship were, and Harry was probably relieved to the point of rudeness each time Marcus snapped for them to get back on the pitch.

“Why don’t you get on with the Keeper, anyway?” Terence asked, once.  “If he mopes any harder, it’ll affect the game.”

“That’s moping?” Harry asked, jerking his thumb towards the stands. Vincent and Gregory had shown up ten minutes ago, clutching big, steaming mugs of hot chocolate, and now that practice was over, Draco had drifted over on his broom and was showing off for them.

“Well, I guess not,” Terence said. “But he does sometimes. And Adrian’s noticed you don’t talk to him if you don’t have to.”

They still had the pitch for another twenty minutes, and the rest of the team was goofing off. Harry watched idly, trying to word his answer. Marcus and Lucian were playing some sort of loop-de-loop game, each refusing to let go of the Quaffle and orbiting each other around the edge of the stands. Adrian had stolen Graham’s bat, and was laughing as he chased after her.

“He says rude things about Hermione,” Harry said eventually.

“Everyone says rude things about Gryffindors,” Terence pointed out.

Harry sighed, and hung upside down from his broom. The loop-de-loops didn’t look any different from this angle, but Terence’s face certainly did. “It’s not that-” Harry started to say, but was interrupted as Adrian zoomed by, and yelled “Catch!” to Terence.

“Oh bugger,” Terence muttered, but he still went racing off with Graham’s bat instead of giving it back.

“I’m gonna kill both of you!” Graham hollered, rushing past so fast that Harry nearly fell of his broom.

“Too slow, Montague!” Adrian yelled over her shoulder.

~~~

By the time October rolled around, Lockhart had moved on from making students impersonate “dark creatures, most fearsome and vile!” to full out re-enacting scenes from his books. Harry was very sick of playing both hapless victims, and bloodthirsty monsters.

“He always calls on me,” he groaned to Hermione, face mashed against his open Herbology textbook. Cold rain pelted against the library windows.

“You must be doing a good job,” Hermione said. “He’s been picking someone new each day, in our class.”

“Wish he’d just let people just volunteer,” Harry muttered.

“Hi Harry! Hi Hermione!”

“Hello, Colin,” Harry said, not bothering to lift his face up. He heard a chair scrape across the floor as Colin joined their table, barely audible over the sound of the rain. Colin’s ever-present camera clunked down onto the wooden surface.

“You should put that away,” Hermione said firmly. “You don’t want Madam Pince to kick you out again.”

“It doesn’t fit in my bag with all the books,” Colin explained.

“Then take your books out and study them.”

Harry peeled his face out of the Herbology textbook, and frowned down at it. “I’m still only seeing five garden pests that go after mandrakes,” he told Hermione. “How’ve you found a dozen?”

Hermione peered at his worksheet. “You’ve forgotten the other ambulatory plants.”

Oh. Thanks.”

“Professor Sprout won’t let us in the same greenhouse as the mandrakes,” Colin piped up. “She says first-years can’t handle plants that bite back, which Andrew thinks isn’t fair because in Guide to Common Household Pests Lockhart mentioned fighting a Venomous Tentacula in his mum’s garden when he was only ten, but Rebecca says Sprout’s right and Lockhart was exaggerating.”

“I’m sure he wasn’t,” Hermione insisted.

“Lockhart doing theater with you lot, too?” Harry asked curiously.

“Yes!” Colin beamed. “I got to be The Boy Who Cried ‘Werewolf’ When It Was Only A Very Hairy Tourist last week! It was going to be Luna, but she just asked the professor if he ever had problems with Blibbering Humdingers in his hair, and offered to lend him her comb if he did.” He turned to Hermione. “I can’t find Humdingers in my textbook, have you heard of them? Andrew says they’re not real.”

“I…haven’t,” Hermione said cautiously.

Colin turned back to Harry. “Luna asked me to come up and see if I could spot any Blibbering Humdingers, and I didn’t really know what to look for but Lockhart let me stay while Luna went back to her seat, so I got to help!”

“Colin,” Harry said slowly. “You’ve given me a really good idea.”

“I have?” Colin squeaked.

“You have.” Harry grinned at him. “Thanks. And tell your friend Luna thanks too.”

Predictably dragged up to the front during their next Defense Against the Dark Arts class to act as a vampire with a toothache, Harry interrupted Lockhart before he could begin giving stage directions.

“Sir,” Harry said, with as much seriousness as he could muster. “I think this scene would work better if that mediwitch from chapter three was there too.”

“I- pardon?”

“Tracey, can you help?” Harry asked, and Tracey shot out of her seat so fast she tripped on the leg of Gregory’s desk and stumbled into Harry.

“This vampire is exhibiting abnormalities in its dietary targets!” Tracey quoted directly from Voyages with Vampires, and that was that. Harry managed to get Pansy up the next class, and Theodore after that, and soon they were pulling the other students up as well. Blaise helped Tracey depict a set of twins that led Lockhart to a werewolf’s den, Pansy made  Gregory and Vincent hoist her up on their shoulders to voice a territorial giantess, and Millicent handed Theodore her handkerchief from the front row when he played a yeti with a hay fever.

After a few weeks, the only ones who hadn’t been involved were Draco and Daphne. “I don’t get it,” Daphne told Harry quietly, falling behind everyone as they filed out of class one day. “You hate it, but the others seem really happy up there.”

Harry shrugged.

“It’s not just house points either,” Daphne went on. “It’s Blaise who volunteers the most in other classes, not the rest of them. And they didn’t care about Defense like this when Quirrell taught it. What’s so special about Lockhart?”

“Shiny hair?” Harry suggested.

“No, that can’t be it,” Daphne said, mouth twisting up to the side in puzzlement. “Professor Sinistra has amazing hair, and they’re not kicking each other to answer questions in Astronomy.

~~~

Second-year potions class was structured differently than the first-year class had been. Instead of working in pairs, everyone brewed their own potion, though they had to share space at lab tables just large enough for three small cauldrons. Hermione blazed through the first few weeks of class, when Professor Snape had them re-brew the most important potions they’d learned last year, correcting techniques that had gotten rusty over the summer.

Now they’d moved on to new material; substitution theory. Hermione would never admit it to anyone but Harry or another Gryffindor, but she loved it. The books were breaking down the reasons potions had to be brewed so particularly. Why did a Forgetfulness Potion need to be stirred clockwise, while Prompting Salve required counter-clockwise stirring? Why did they both turn into useless slop if you stirred the opposite way, but crystallize into the same weak hallucinogenic candy if you stirred in a figure-eight pattern, despite only sharing three of their five ingredients?

“Just think,” Hermione gushed to Ron, as they sat down to dinner in the Great Hall with the rest of their house. “Right now we’re learning how to make do with limited ingredients, but in the spring we’ll get to change what a potion does!”

“Reckon we can make one that’ll make Snape less of a prick?” Ron asked, passing a jug of pumpkin juice across the table to Neville.

“If we make it to the NEWT class our sixth year,” Hermione said seriously. “But mood-altering potions are always temporary.”

Ron grinned at her. “We’ll just have to save it for test days, then.”

Nearly a week before Halloween, they had their first practical exam of the year. Snape set everyone to brewing a cool-tone shifting dye; any fabric dipped in it would slowly turn from minty green to deep cobalt blue, and back. The catch? Snape only provided four of the usual ingredients, and laid out three possible substitutions for the fifth by each cauldron.

Hermione rolled the sleeves of her robe up and got to brewing. It was obviously the spruce leaves, but…she doubled the amount of rock salt and damped the small fire under her cauldron to a third its usual heat as well. There. It would take longer to brew, but they had the entire class period.

“Hermione,” Neville squeaked, tugging at her elbow.

Sh,” she hissed. Snape was circling Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle’s lab table at the front of the class, but he had ears like a bat when it came to students talking during a test. If only he’d use those ears when Parkinson’s picking on first-years, Hermione thought angrily, and had to hastily add another pinch of spruce leaves when she noticed her potion turning too green.

Hermione!” Neville tugged harder, and there was a strange rattling sound. Hermione looked up at the same time Ron did; several rows ahead, in the middle of the room, Greengrass’s cauldron was dancing in place, clanking against the table and spitting bright-blue liquid into the air.

She must have picked the cornflowers, Hermione thought, just as Ron shoved Neville and her to the floor. Greengrass’s potion exploded, showering the classroom.

“Merlin’s beard it’s like ice!” Ron yelped; the potion that made it past their table landed entirely on him. Davis and Malfoy were shrieking. Bulstrode and  Zabini’s potions exploded a few seconds later from the contamination; they’d been working next to Greengrass.

“Under the table!” Hermione shouted, none too soon; within half a minute, every single cauldron had gone off. When the noise died down, the three Gryffindor’s cautiously got to their feet; aside from the light splatter on Ron’s robes, they were untouched. The same could not be said of their classmates. Hit on nearly all sides from contaminated potions, everyone was shivering, dripping with cold blue dye.

Hold still,” Snape instructed. The students froze in place, Harry with his glasses in hand, Lavender trying to shake out her hair. Snape whispered a spell, slowly twirling his wand in front of him, as though winding a clock. Everyone’s eyes went wide as the dye slid off their skin and was sucked from their robes. Momentarily a large liquid globe hovered in front of the professor, shifting between green and blue. A flick of his wrist sent it splashing into a cauldron, ten times the size of any student’s, that always sat next to his desk.

“I think,” Snape said, looking directly at Greengrass. “We will have a written exam next week.”

The very next day, Harry showed up at the library after dinner with Greengrass at his side. “Hey, Hermione,” he said, pulling out a chair. “Do you mind if Daphne joins us?”

“That’s fine,” Hermione said, as both Slytherin students sat down across from her, and got out their textbooks. “Just…puzzling.”

“Harry says you’re the best,” Greengrass said. She neatly lined her textbook, notes, and inkpot up on the table in front of her, not looking at Hermione. “And I can’t keep getting things wrong like this! Did you see how disappointed Professor Snape was yesterday?” She opened her textbook, and bit her lip. “I’m going to ace next week’s exam. If…if you’ll help?”

“Of course,” Hermione said. If she reached over and flipped the pages of Greengrass’s book until it was back to the start of the second chapter. “Here, you don’t want to leave this introduction until you’re confident in every new term.”

“There’s a glossary at the back,” Harry added.

“All right,” Greengrass said. As she started reading, jotting down a word in her notebook already, Harry shot Hermione a grateful smile.

~~~

“I can’t believe we missed that last year,” Harry told Hermione, catching up to her in the entrance hall after the Halloween feast. “Did you see those pumpkins Hagrid grew? I think I could live in one!”

“I want to know how they keep the paper garlands from catching on the candles,” Hermione mused. “The Freezing Charm fireproofs living things, but I don’t think it works on– don’t you need to get downstairs?”

“There’s time before curfew,” Harry said with a shrug, as they ascended the marble staircase with Hermione’s housemates and the Ravenclaws. “Come on, ‘Mione, we’ve hardly talked all week.”

“Complain to your captain,” Hermione said, sticking her chin in the air and sniffing. Harry snorted, and Hermione dropped the faux-haughty look, giggling. “Do you think Flint’ll stop pushing you all so much, after the match with Gryffindor?”

“I hope so,” Harry said with feeling. “It’s fun, but I think he and Wood are trying to out-do each other in scheduling practice, and it’s killing everyone. I’ve got blisters on my blisters.”

“Not to mention all the rain,” Hermione said.

Harry groaned. “No one told me Quidditch was an aquatic sport!”

Hermione laughed, but cut herself off, frowning, when they turned a corridor on the way to Gryffindor tower. They’d walked faster than everyone else, used to cutting close to curfew, and something was gleaming in the middle of the hall.

“What is that?” Hermione whispered, squinting.

Ruined now, no good,” an angry voice said. “No blood. Can’t sink my teeth in!” Harry whipped his head around, trying to spot who’d spoken. Half of the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws caught up to them, and came to an awkward, stumbling halt as they saw the same thing Hermione had. Harry turned back to look down the corridor; at the other end, more students had spilled out from the stairs.

“Is that…Mrs. Norris?” Harry asked. Hermione nodded, not looking away. Argus Filch’s cat, Mrs. Norris, was tied by her tail to a torch bracket, stiff as a piece of taxidermy. Below was a vast puddle of water. Though Mrs. Norris was unmoving, her shadow rippled in the water as the torch guttered.

Whispers moved like lightening through the crowd, and now the Hufflepuffs and Slytherins were making their way up the stairs too, morbidly curious.

“Wh-wh-what’s th-that b-b-b-b-behind her?” Neville Longbottom asked, shaking so hard he could barely speak.

“Paint,” Adrian said loudly. She’d pushed through the crowd and put a hand on Harry and Hermione’s shoulders. “I hope,” she muttered under her breath, too quiet for anyone else to hear. Harry ignored the increasingly worried murmurs from other students, and took a step forward to read the words written in red on the wall better. Adrian’s hand slipped off.

THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED.
ENEMIESOF THE HEIR, BEWARE.

“What does that mean?” Harry asked, turning back to Adrian.

“Someone’s just being an ass,” Adrian said, almost succeeding at a casual tone. Harry might’ve believed her, but her face had gone deathly pale.

“I’ve read that phrase somewhere,” Hermione said, frowning.

Across the hall, Draco had also pushed forward, and pointed dramatically at Mrs. Norris. “Enemies of the Heir beware!” he shouted, an excited grin stretching his face. In the torchlight, juxtaposed with the frightened faces of students behind him, it was grotesque. “You’ll be next, Mudbloods!”

“Malfoy, you need to shut up,” Adrian said through gritted teeth, but her voice didn’t carry across the hall. Her hand was still gripping Hermione’s shoulder, keeping the now enraged Gryffindor from charging at Draco.

“What’s going on?” Filch’s voice cut across the frantic whispers, and the hall fell silent. The crowd parted before him. “Why aren’t you lot back in your dorms by now?” He cast a malevolent glare over the gathered students, and jerked as though struck when he saw his cat.

“Mrs. Norris?” he called. The audible quaver in his voice made the silent students shiver. His face contorted with pain and rage. Across the hall, Draco prudently melted back into the crowd.

Who did this?!” Filch yelled, rounding on the students nearest him. “Who! Tell me!

“Argus, it was not a student.” Professor Dumbledore and several teachers had followed the path the crowd made for Filch, and Dumbledore quickly wrapped an arm over the shaken castle caretaker’s shoulders. “Minerva, if you would…?”

“Of course, Headmaster,” McGonagall said. She and Professor Flitwick strode to the middle of the hall, while Dumbledore led Filch away. Harry could hear Professor Lockhart offering the use of his office. “Everyone return to your dormitories,” McGonagall told the crowd. Behind her, Flitwick was charming the knot out of Mrs. Filch’s tail. “Now!” barked McGonagall, and the students finally began to move.

“Granger, grab a Weasley,” Adrian told Hermione, letting go of her shoulder finally. “Don’t be alone until you’re in Gryffindor tower, you understand?”

Hermione nodded, and Adrian began herding Harry back downstairs. “Come on, pipsqueak. You heard McGonagall.”

“What’s going on?” Harry asked, craning his neck back, and seeing that Hermione had put a comforting arm around Longbottom, and that Ron Weasley had found them both. “And don’t tell me later, this time, Adrian.”

“I hope it’s a nasty prank,” Adrian said. They had reached the entrance hall again. Gemma and another prefect were standing on either side of the doorway down to the dungeons, counting heads. “But even if it’s just that, someone wants to upset the Muggle-born students, or hurt them. Rumor has it Filch is a squib, must be why they attacked that creepy cat of his. Couldn’t go after a student’s familiar and risk hurting the pet of a pureblood and ruin their precious theme.” She was practically snarling now.

What theme?” Harry snapped, as Adrian hustled him down the stairs.

“Adrian, did you see it?” Terence asked anxiously, waiting for them in the dungeon tunnels. “I couldn’t see anything, is it true? Did someone knock off Mrs. Norris?”

“Maybe,” Adrian said. Harry bit his tongue on a curse at the interruption. “Looked dead, tied up by her tail. Might be alive, cursed or something. You remember that horror story going around our first year?”

“Which one?”

“Chamber of Secrets,” Adrian said. “Lineage,” she snapped at the hidden door to the Slytherin dungeon, before it could even slide shut behind Graham.

“There really was writing, then?” Terence asked, as they stepped into the common room. Everyone had drawn chairs together in clusters, talking about the scene upstairs. In a corner near the fire, Draco was holding forth with a tiny court made of all the other second-years, and half the first-years. Pansy and Tracey had clasped each other’s hands, and looked nervously excited. Millicent was cuddling her cat Snapdragon, and looked murderous.

“Yeah, someone slapped it up with paint on the wall,” Harry told Terence. Adrian seemed a bit lost now they’d finally reached the common room, so Harry climbed into one of the recessed windowsills. “The Chamber of Secrets has been opened,” Harry quoted as the two Chasers climbed up after him. “Enemies of the Heir, beware.” He glowered. “What does that mean. And why’d you tell Hermione not to be alone?”

“Might be safer,” Adrian said. She wrapped her arms around her legs, and glared at her knees.

“Horror story that goes around sometimes,” Terence explained. “Least, it’s a horror story for the other houses. Sort of a mixed bag for us. Ought to have all the lamps dimmed and tell it around the fireplace, for the right mood.” He looked speculatively at the deep windowsill they were in; it was mostly in shadow, as the lamplight had trouble reaching, and there was no moonlight coming through the lake tonight. Terence nodded to himself, and sat cross-legged.

“Centuries ago, when Hogwarts was new,” Terence began, closing his eyes. “Salazar Slytherin studied the ancient schools that had come before, pouring through tome after tome to find the cause of their downfall. Some admitted too many students, and collapsed under the strain. Some admitted too few, and their teachers fell to bickering in their free time, stressed by the lack of tuition funds. Some were too remote, some too accessible. All had admitted students regardless of blood status, and all fell, while the family lines that taught their children themselves flourished. So Slytherin determined Hogwarts ought to only admit those born to wizards, and exclude those born to Muggles.”

“There are older schools than Hogwarts though, with open policies,” Harry interrupted. “And schools that only admitted wizarding-born students, and failed.”

“Well maybe Slytherin didn’t read about those,” Terence said, breaking out of his story-telling cadence, and opening one eye. “Maybe he only looked at the ones in Britain. It’s not supposed to be factual, it’s supposed to be a horror story. Not like there aren’t other rumors about why he left the school.”

“ ‘s propaganda,” Adrian muttered.

“So Slytherin proposed his admittance policy to the other founders,” Terence said, closing his eye again. “But they thought he was too harsh, and- dammit, I’ve lost the rhythm.” He opened both eyes and slumped back against the wall of the windowsill. “You know the story of him storming off, right? That’s the only part that everyone can agree on.”

Harry nodded.

“Right,” Terence said. “Well, some seventh-year sat us all down after the Halloween feast our first year and did this big dramatic story about how Salazar Slytherin built a secret room in the castle, and hid a bloodthirsty monster in it that loves to snack on Muggle-borns, and that someday Slytherin’s heir would show up and let it out.” Terence frowned. “It was one of the Bulstrodes, wasn’t it? Did this amazing gnashy sound for the teeth.”

“Evan Pershore’s big sister told us, actually,” Adrian said. “Malcolm Bulstrode just did sound effects, sneaking around the chairs we were in and making everyone jump.”

“Glad he graduated,” Terence said feelingly.

“So you think someone’s using that story to scare everyone,” Harry said.

“And Muggle-borns might want to stick with people from wizarding families for a bit,” Adrian said. She tapped her fingers against the tip of her shoe, which had gotten dirt on the sill’s cushions. “Problem is, it…might not be just a story.”

Something attacked a bunch of students fifty years ago,” Terence said. “All of them were Muggle-born, and one of them died.”

Chapter Text

Hogwarts buzzed with whispers after Halloween. Who had written on the walls and attacked Mrs. Norris? Were they really the Heir of Slytherin? Did the Chamber even exist, or was someone nasty playing up a legend? If it didn’t exist, if there wasn’t a monster, then what really happened to Mrs. Norris? The older students swore it wasn’t a simple full-body bind; they’d have seen her eyes moving if it were, and besides, Professor Flitwick would have just disenchanted the poor cat.

“She was petrified,” Hannah Abbot quietly told Hermione while they watered a table of Spindle Gourds in Herbology. “Gabriel said we better make sure to be gentle with the mandrakes, because they’ll need them to make a Restorative Draught for her.”

That answered the question of what happened, but not who or how. History books flew off the library shelves, including, to Hermione’s great frustration, ever single copy of Hogwarts, A History. She managed to get Professor Binns talking about the legend during class, but he didn’t add much more information than what Harry had already passed along from his housemates.

“All the other Gryffindors think it must be a Slytherin,” Hermione told Harry one day, when she met him in the entrance hall after his afternoon Quidditch practice. Aside from Pucey, who went back to the dungeons to change out of her Quidditch robes, the rest of Harry’s teammates had already gone into the Great Hall. All around Harry and Hermione students from all houses were pouring past for dinner.

“You don’t?” Harry asked.

“It makes sense with what we know…” Hermione said. She frowned. “But we know so little.”

“Know so little about what?” Ernie MacMillan asked, pausing on his way by.

“The whole Heir of Slytherin thing,” Harry said. Soon they were the middle of a huge gaggle of students swapping rumors. MacMillan thought the Heir must be a direct descendent of Salazar Slytherin. Terry Boot argued that people wrote wills to exclude blood relatives and left things to friends all the time; maybe Slytherin had cared more about sharing ideals.

“Cared less about sharing a bloodline, then about the ideals of…pure bloodlines?” Lisa Turpin shot back sarcastically.

“Whoa!” Pucey’s voice cut above the babble. Hermione realized they’d managed to block off the door to the Great Hall. “They didn’t cancel dinner, did they?” She was still getting her house tie on properly.

“Do they do that?” Boot asked Turpin worriedly.

“Sorry,” Harry said, while the gaggle of students edged to one side of the entrance hall. “We got caught up in a discussion.”

“About…?”

“Of course it’s a Slytherin that did it!” Michael Corner said hotly to Hannah Abbot. “Slytherin made the Chamber of Secrets, why would he leave a way for someone from another house to find it?”

“Ah,” Pucey said, sliding her hands into her pockets. “That.”

“What do you think?” Hermione asked curiously.

“It’s an asshole who wants to scare Muggle-borns,” Pucey said flatly. “Could be from any house.”

“Excuse me,” MacMillan said angrily. “But I assure you the Heir of Slytherin is not from our house!” The other arguments died down around them as everyone else listened in.

“Why?” Pucey asked, tilting her head, eyes flicking towards the yellow and black stripes trimming MacMillan’s robes. “Salazar Slytherin was around a thousand years ago, and history said he had descendants, but nobody’s got his name anymore. We’ve got no idea who’s related to him, or if that’s even got anything to do with all this.”

“Hufflepuffs are just and loyal,” MacMillan said. There was a musical lilt to his words as he quoted the Sorting Hat’s song from their first year. “Even if a descendant of Slytherin was sorted into our house, they would not start terrorizing their fellow students.”

“You-Know-Who had loyal followers,” Pucey said. Her voice was so soft, Hermione found herself leaning closer to hear better. “And my father thought the terror he helped wreak was justice.”

“What does a Slytherin’s idea of justice have to do with this?” MacMillan asked in confusion.

“Wrong parent,” Pucey corrected. “My mother was in Slytherin. Father was in Hufflepuff.”

“…no.” MacMillan looked queasy.

Pucey shrugged, hands still in her pockets, and turned towards Harry. “C’mon tadpole, I’m starving.” She nodded to Hermione. “See you, Granger.”

~~~

Friday was unusually sunny and warm for November, and it seemed the entire school was spread out across the grounds after classes let out, napping in the grass or doing homework in the courtyard by the entrance hall. Harry was sitting between Hermione and Daphne at the bottom left corner of the front steps, going over their potions homework.

“I picked whole salamanders to replace dragon’s blood in the Warming Paste,” Daphne said, pointing to a chart near the back of her Potions textbook. “Because you need mass to make up for loss in potency, right?”

“That would work,” Hermione said, peering around Harry to look at the book. He leaned back against the warm stone step behind them. “You could use a single phoenix feather as well, but most people won’t because they’re so rare. Snape’ll probably put that on next week’s quiz.”

“That’s what I don’t understand,” Daphne admitted, chewing on the end of her quill. “Feather isn’t a blood or fresh tissue.”

“It wouldn’t work in most other potions,” Hermione explained. “But for the Warming Paste, the shared aspect is elemental, not compositional. Phoenixes and dragons are both fire based.”

“Oh!” Daphne said. She took the quill out of her mouth and added that to her notes. “That’s what I got wrong last week, kelpie mane would work to replace merfolk hair when a Veela’s wouldn’t, because kelpies and merfolk are both water based?”

“Exactly,” Hermione said.

“Thanks, Granger,” Daphne said, quickly jotting down more details in her notes.

“Did I hear that right, Daphne?” Draco asked loudly, strolling over with Vincent and Gregory behind him. “Did you just thank Granger for something?” His voice echoed across the courtyard, turning everyone’s heads towards them. Daphne turned pink and started stammering.

“It’s j-just Potions homework, Draco.”

“J-just Potions,” Draco said back mockingly. Vincent, Gregory, and several other students in the courtyard sniggered. Draco bent down, reaching for the textbook. “Didn’t think you’d need help from some prissy Mudbl-”

Harry snapped out his hand and grabbed Draco’s wrist.

“You don’t want to finish that sentence,” Harry said quietly. Next to him, Hermione slowly slid her wand back into her sleeve.

“Why not?” Draco sneered. He tried to tug his arm back, but Harry just tightened his grip. Vincent and Gregory shuffled nervously, wondering if they should help Draco out of the awkward, half-bent position Harry was keeping him in. Marcus Flint would get mad, though, if they hurt the Slytherin Seeker. Taking pity on them, Harry let go.

Draco straightened up, shaking his wrist out. “Why shouldn’t I say it?” Draco asked, still loud, still sneering. “It’s what-” He cut off with a nervous gulp, catching the look on Harry’s face as he stood up.

“Because,” Harry said. “Every time you do, you’re insulting my mum.”

Draco blanched. “I forgot,” he said, in a much quieter voice. He might have said “I’m sorry,” but Harry couldn’t tell, because a dozen students in the courtyard around them burst into noise.

“Lily Potter was Muggle-born?”

“I never knew that!”

“My dad just said her family liked privacy.”

“Your mum was a Muggle-born, Harry?” Colin Creevey’s squeaky, ecstatic voice cut above the crowd. “Heroes of the Dark War didn’t mention that! Oh gosh, oh gosh, she was like me!”

“Yeah, Colin, she was like you,” Harry said, looking past Draco to where Colin and another Ravenclaw first-year had been playing plain old Muggle Go-Fish with a few Hufflepuffs. His quiet, simmering anger with Draco was crumbling away with each admission of ignorance, replaced with something tight and cold in his chest.

“I’d wondered about that,” Lisa Turpin said thoughtfully, from the top of the steps. “I mean, Modern Wizards of Note had a whole page about James Potter’s lineage, but it never mentioned Lily Potter’s, just talked about her time at Hogwarts. She was Head Girl, you know.”

“I’d heard that,” Harry said, distractedly. “Why…why wouldn’t they mention…”

Hogwarts, A History does mention it,” Hermione said, a sharp bite to her words. She’d stood up as well, and behind them, Daphne was hardly breathing, hoping the crowd would forget about her. “I’m very surprised that everyone else is learning that Lily Potter was Muggle-born just now. I would think that some people would know enough to look into multiple sources.” Quite a lot of the Ravenclaws looked away in embarrassment.

“I don’t understand,” Harry said. He looked away from everyone else in the courtyard, turning back toward Hermione helplessly. “I don’t…” His eyes fell on Daphne, trying to slide her books and papers into her bag, still bright pink from Draco’s taunting. Burning with embarrassment, caught getting Potions help from Hermione…

“They were ashamed?” Harry asked. His chest tightened more. He spun back around, and the only person to meet his eyes was Colin, bright and curious and confused.

“Who’s ashamed of what now?” Fred Weasley asked, walking over from the lakeshore with his twin. They were munching on apples pocketed during lunch, and peered around the silent courtyard quizzically. Fred whistled.

“Slytherin’s Monster paralyze this lot too?” George asked, sweeping one arm to encompass everyone.

“Harry’s mum was like me!” Colin told them proudly.

“What? No mate, she was in Gryffindor, like us,” Fred said.

“He doesn’t mean Ravenclaw,” Hermione explained. Daphne was slowly edging past a few older students to get back into the castle. “He means she was Muggle-born.”

“What, that’s all?” George asked. He elbowed Fred, chuckling. “Everybody knows that!”

“Apparently not,” Harry said tightly. “It didn’t warrant mentioning in some books.” An awful, horrible thought rose up, and shoved past his lips. “That’s why everyone made a big deal out of me surviving, and talked how a baby defeated Voldemort.” The courtyard collectively flinched when he said the name. “My mum and dad died, and they couldn’t give credit to just him, that’s too obvious, but they don’t want to admit my mum saved them all, when her family wasn’t good enough for them.” Harry was shaking as he spoke. “She saved them from Voldemort, and they’re ashamed of her.”

One of the flagstones exploded. Harry ran.

~~~

An hour later, Hermione took a deep breath, and knocked on the door of Hagrid’s hut. “Hagrid, have you seen Harry?” she called, waiting for him to open up. “I can’t find him anywhere, I’m getting worried.”

“Aye,” Hagrid said, opening the door just as Hermione was about to knock again. “I am too.” He gestured inside, where Harry was curled up next to Fang by the woodstove. “He won’t tell me what’s wrong,” Hagrid told her quietly, as Hermione stepped inside.

“He got a bit of a shock,” Hermione said. Hagrid nodded, and put the kettle on. There was already an undrunk mug of tea sitting on the floor by Harry. “Fred and George helped me transfigure that stone back together,” Hermione said, kneeling by Harry. He ignored her, face buried in Fang’s ruff. The giant boarhound looked up at her and whined. “One of the shards got Malfoy in the face.”

“It didn’t get his eye, did it?” Harry asked, lifting his head a smidge. “We need him for the game tomorrow.”

Hermione sighed with relief. If he was still thinking about Quidditch, Harry would be all right. “Just the cheek,” Hermione assured him. “He went whining off to Madam Pomfrey with those two minions of his.”

“…did I hurt anyone else?” Harry asked, sitting up. Fang scrambled up onto his haunches, and Harry wrapped an arm around him.

“No,” Hermione said. “Mind, Colin’s upset that he didn’t get a picture of it, and it took me forever to shake him off to go looking for you.”

“What happened, lad?” Hagrid asked. He beckoned for Fang to stand, and Harry was pulled to his feet along with the dog, and promptly nudged into a chair.

“I lost my temper,” Harry said, now refusing to look up from the table. Hagrid sighed, and set a fresh pot of tea steeping for everyone, pouring out Harry’s cold mug. He looked to Hermione for an explanation.

“Malfoy was picking on Greengrass, and it came out that hardly anyone knew Harry’s mum was Muggle-born,” Hermione said. She felt the ember of rage inside her try to flare back up at the thought. “Honestly, it was ridiculous. Half the school should have read Hogwarts, A History by now, trying to learn about the Chamber of Secrets, and I know there’s a whole chapter on the Potters in there.”

“That is ridiculous,” Hagrid said, frowning. “Some o’ their parents went ter school with Lily!” He reached over and patted Harry on the back. “Don’t you mind them, Harry. The people who fought with yer mum and dad know, and you know. That’s the important part.”

~~~

Making up for Friday’s sunshine, Saturday dawned with a torrential downpour. The light in the Slytherin common room rippled from the dancing lake water above them. Harry slumped in a chair by the fireplace, already in his Quidditch robes. Dinner last night had been awkward, people glancing over at him, then quickly looking away, as the scene from the courtyard sped through the gossip mill. It didn’t help that Hermione kept staring at him with concern from over at the Gryffindor table. Or that Draco had sat next to him and passed over any dish Harry seemed interested in, trying to silently apologize.

“Morning, small fry,” Adrian said, dropping into a chair near Harry. She yawned. “You ready for the game?”

“Can’t come soon enough,” Harry said. He ran a hand through his hair. “I just want to get up there and stop thinking about all this.”

Adrian nodded in understanding. “Don’t worry,” she said, waving a hand. “You will.” She scooted up, craning her head and shoulders over the back of the chair, trying to look at the windows. “Merlin. We’ll need swimming goggles to play, if that doesn’t let up.”

Soon the rest of the team wandered in from the sleeping chambers, and they walked together to the Great Hall. After a nervous glance at Harry, Draco had quickly wedged himself between Lucian and Graham. Good. The less he had to think about Draco, the better.

Breakfast was the opposite of dinner; everyone was too excited for the game to care about yesterday. The rest of Slytherin house rallied around the team, urging Marcus to tell stories of past victories, since he’d been captain so long. Terence loaded Harry’s plate with pancakes and very dry eggs, shoving away the plate of sausages someone tried to pass down the table.

“Trust me, no grease,” Terence told him. Harry nodded. Over at the Gryffindor table, the Weasley twins seemed to have a similar philosophy. Hermione noticed Harry looking at them, and waved. Harry waved back.

“Stop making goo-goo eyes at the enemy, Potter,” Graham said, scowling.

“She’s not even on the team,” Harry said, and then the rest caught up with him. “I was not making goo-goo eyes!”

“Uh huh.”

“Maybe we won’t drown after all,” Adrian said, looking up at the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall. The rest of the Slytherins tilted their heads upward as one. The downpour had ceased, leaving heavy, sullen clouds behind.

“Time to go,” Marcus said.

The team strode down to the locker rooms, Harry having to jog a little to keep up with everyone’s longer legs. “Need a lift, pipsqueak?” Adrian asked with a grin.

“I’m faster than you on a broom.”

“Lies!”

Marcus gave a blunt speech in the locker room. “This match sets the bar for our score goals this year. If Gryffindor scores on us, I don’t want the game to end until we’ve twice their numbers. Everyone got that?”

“Got it, captain,” the team chorused.

“You know your jobs,” Marcus said. He gave everyone a good solid glare, and led them out onto the pitch. Harry jumped and clutched his Nimbus 2000 a little tighter as the crowd roared. He looked up, and up. The stands hadn’t felt towering, during practice. All around them the normally black-robed students were screaming with color. Crimson and gold filled nearly three quarters of the stands, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw joining in to root for Gryffindor. The air felt thick with animosity, and the threat of more rain.

“Draco! Harry! Over here!”

Harry and Draco spun around, and saw their housemates behind them, rippling in green and silver like the lake water. At the front of the stands, the other second-year Slytherins were waving to them, Theodore jumping up and down to get their attention.

“Kick some tail!”

Harry laughed, waving back, and Draco leaned his broom against his chest to throw both hands up in the air. The Slytherin students started chanting the team members’ last names, starting with a roar of FLINT FLINT FLINT and working their way down the team by age, ending with POTTER POTTER POTTER!

The stands didn’t look quite so towering anymore.

The Gryffindor team strode from their locker rooms as the last roar from Slytherin died down, making the rest of the stands break out in cheers. The Weasley twins blew kisses at the crowd. Harry squinted; the twins were releasing tiny pink paper hearts with each kiss, which fluttered upwards. Quite a few excited squeals tore through the pitch as the paper hearts reached girls in the stands.

“Shake hands, boys, I want a clean match,” Madam Hooch said, when both teams were in the middle of the field. While Marcus and Oliver Wood tried to squeeze each other’s fingers into pulp, George blew a paper heart towards Adrian. She caught it, dropped it, and ground it into the mud with her heel. George clasped his hands over his chest, and Fred patted his shoulder consolingly, shaking his head. They both had to scramble to get on their brooms when Madam Hooch commanded everyone to mount up.

Harry shot straight up as soon as the whistle blew, out of his Chasers’ way. The Gryffindor Seeker, Alicia Spinnet, had shot up as well. They circled the pitch warily, trying to watch each other and for the Snitch at the same time.

After Slytherin quickly made their first score, Harry feinted, taking advantage of the Quaffle’s absence from the Slytherin side to lap their goalposts. Up above, Spinnet wasn’t fooled, but at least it didn’t look like she’d seen the Snitch either. Harry rose up above the action again.

“Watch it, Potter!” Lucian called, just before Harry cleared the goal zone. Harry ducked, and Lucian smacked a Bludger away.

“Thanks!”

“No problem, just get outta here,” Lucian said. He chased the Bludger, driving it farther from the goal; Marcus had given him the job of guarding their Keeper, while Graham stayed out in the thick of things.

Harry obligingly shot up again, passing close to Spinnet on her circuit.

The Bludger followed him.

Puzzled, Harry took off for the scrum by the Gryffindor goal. He darted between a knot of Chasers, earning a cuss from Katie Bell and Marcus. The Bludger should have veered off, aiming for someone closer, but a quick glance back showed it was still on his tail. Harry took a zig-zag course back across the pitch, not realizing the action with the Quaffle was following him as well. Graham knocked the other Bludger away from Terence; it smacked off the one following Harry, and rebounded back into the fray.

“What’s going on?” Draco called out, as Harry raced past the goalposts again. The downpour of the morning returned, heavy raindrops suddenly plastering everyone’s hair to their scalps, or knocking down the points of their hats.

I don’t know!” Harry yelled, and aimed his broomstick straight up, getting rain in his nose. He heard cheers below him as someone scored, but he couldn’t tell from which side. He didn’t dare pause to look at the scoreboard and risk the Bludger catching up, and he couldn’t read it in motion like this. He couldn’t tell who was ahead. He couldn’t tell if Spinnet was still circling either, or feinting, or going after the Snitch.

Marcus would kill him if he ended the game when their score was too low, but this Bludger might kill him first. Harry spun, scanning the pitch. He dodged to the left, and the Bludger brushed his ear on the way past. He dodged right as the Bludger returned, and took off again.

Fly and scan, Harry told himself. You found it in worse weather than this, hell, you found it when Terence painted a bunch of enchanted rocks yellow and half of them started acting like Bludgers. You can find one damn Snitch in a little rain!

This internal pep talk didn’t make his eyes any keener, but it did distract him from the imminent danger of the Bludger long enough to concentrate. He rolled out of the way when he heard it behind him, and, mercifully, spotted the Snitch, barely a yard off the ground.

“Come on,” Harry told himself, and took off like lightening. He wove between Chasers and Beaters, ignoring their yelps of alarm. Come on, come on- he couldn’t take his hands off the Nimbus, it would add to wind resistance if he did that, he didn’t dare slow down-

Ow.

Harry caught the Snitch in his mouth, wincing as it clacked against his molars. He fell of his broom and coughed the Snitch out, tiny wings bent. He waved it in the air, hollering.

“I got it! I got it!”

Crack!

“…still got it,” Harry whispered, pain shrieking up his arm, as he fell to his knees. The Bludger had finally hit him, and was racing back. Maybe falling down was the best choice. The Bludger whizzed over his head as Harry landed face-first in the mud.

~~~

No!” Hermione yelled, as the Bludger aimed itself back towards Harry’s still form. Why didn’t they teach second-years to Apparate? Hermione thought wildly. She needed to be down there! She pushed her way to the front of the stands, forgetting in her panic that the stairs out were at the back.

Fortunately, the Bludger’s momentum had carried it ten feet away before it could turn around. When it was a yard from the downed Seeker, Adrian Pucey dropped off her broom and landed belly-first on the Bludger. She wrapped her arms around it and started rolling towards the equipment box at the edge of the pitch, swearing at her team’s Beaters the entire time.

Sagging with relief, Hermione made her way to the stairs. Everyone else had the same idea, and soon the whole school was milling about in the mud, Gryffindor and Slytherin Quidditch players alike helping make a clear circle around Harry. By the time Hermione pushed through, Terence Higgs and Marcus Flint had met Pucey halfway with the equipment box and strapped down both Bludgers. Malfoy was descending, Pucey and Harry’s brooms tucked under one arm, retrieved before they could drift off.

“You all right, kid?” Angelina Johnson asked, as Harry rolled onto his back. The rain quickly cleared the mud from his glasses, and he blinked up at them.

“Stand back!” Professor Lockhart said, pushing through the opposite side of the circle from Hermione. Oh good. A teacher. “Stand back, the boy needs space!”

“He needs the hospital wing,” Angelina said, but Lockhart didn’t seem to hear her. Colin had taken advantage of his small size to get through the crowd too, and started taking pictures.

“Not now, Colin,” Harry said muzzily, and a sigh of relief ran through the crowd, hearing him speak finally. “I’m trying to play dead. You’ll give me away.”

“You’re really good at playing dead, Harry!” Colin said.

“We’ll have you up catching Snitches again in a jiffy!” Lockhart declared, pulling out his wand. Was he going to levitate Harry to the hospital wing? That would be good, he probably shouldn’t move much after getting hit like that.

“No you won’t, I’m dead,” Harry said. Lockhart chuckled, and cast a charm on Harry’s arm. When the pink and white smoke cleared, Hermione blanched. Instead of lying in the mud at a stiff, unnatural angle, Harry’s arm lay like a wet noodle.

“Was that a numbing charm?” Harry asked, starting to turn his head. Angelina slapped a hand over his glasses, looking as ill as Hermione felt.

“There!” Lockhart declared, placing his hands on his hips at a jaunty angle. Hermione was suddenly struck by the thought that the pose was defensive, instead of confident. “No broken bones!” He smiled at the crowd, and winked right into Colin’s camera lens. The rest of the Slytherin team had come back, equipment dealt with, and all of their jaws dropped as they saw Harry’s arm.

“Johnson?” Harry asked, trying to wiggle out from Angelina’s hand. “What’s he mean by that?”

“It means the rest is in Madam Pomfrey’s excellent hands!” Lockhart said. “Your teammates can take it from here, Harry! Off you go.”

“Anything else hurt?” Angelina asked, as Higgs and Pucey knelt down too. The furious look Flint gave Lockhart as the teacher strode off was enough to send the rest of the crowd fleeing. Colin and his camera were caught up in the mass of students, and the frantic clicking of the shutter faded away. Hermione took advantage of the chaos to dart over to Harry.

“Just my dignity,” Harry told Angelina. “Will you let go?”

“Just…don’t look at your arm,” Angelina said, lifting her hand. Higgs immediately grabbed Harry’s glasses and hooked them onto the front of his Quidditch robe.

“Bloody idiot took out your bones,” Pucey snarled.

“He’s not an idiot, he was trying to help,” Hermione said. She still couldn’t understand why Lockhart hadn’t just summoned a stretcher, since he told Harry to go to the infirmary anyway. Maybe he’d thought Harry was in too much pain, to make the trip as was?

“Whatever,” Pucey snapped. She and Higgs lifted Harry out of the mud, and got their shoulders under his armpits.

“Oh hey, Hermione,” Harry said, once he was upright. “Did you see that dive? I can’t believe I caught it.” He squinted, trying to make out her expression. “Terence, gimme my glasses back.”

“No way,” Higgs said. “That arm is the grossest thing I’ve ever seen, and I watched Graham trim his toenails once.”

“Wait, you did what?” Montague asked. Higgs pretended not to hear, helping Pucey hustle Harry up to the castle. Hermione started to follow, but Dean put a hand on her shoulder.

“You don’t wanna be around them right now,” Dean said, nodding towards the Slytherin team, as they marched out of the pitch. “Seamus says they can get right nasty, when something threatens their Quidditch chances.”

“But it’s not threatened, Harry’s going to be fine,” Hermione said, turning to look at the Gryffindor team. The pitch was nearly empty now, the last of the games’ audience trickling out. “…isn’t he?”

“Oh, yeah, he will be,” Katie said, with a reassuring smile. “I had to regrow a toe bone my first year– don’t ask –and Madam Pomfrey just gave me some Skele-Gro. Hurts like hell, but the bones come back good as new.”

“He’ll need a distraction, then,” Hermione said, nodding firmly. She needed to do something. This time it was Alicia who stopped her from following the Slytherins.

Trust us, Hermione,” Alicia said, voice apologetic but unwavering. “There’s going to be a blast radius.”

~~~

Harry was woken from his shallow, fitful sleep by excited whispers. The Slytherin Quidditch team was clustered around his infirmary bed, taking furtive glances to make sure Madam Pomfrey wasn’t going to notice and throw them out.

“Is it tomorrow yet?” he asked. The sun was low enough to send rays under the heavy rainclouds, but he wasn’t sure if it was evening or morning.

“Still Saturday,” Terence told him. Evening, then.

“Did we win?” Harry asked. He winced as spike of pain shot up his arm. Madam Pomfrey was right, regrowing bones was awful.

“Yes,” Marcus said. He glared absently out the window. “You missed a few good chances to foul the lions up, but since these idiots,” he turned from the window to glower at Lucian and Graham, who flinched. “Missed a rogue Bludger that Hooch should’ve been told about, we’ll ignore it.”

“We noticed at the end,” Graham pointed out.

Everyone noticed at the end,” Adrian said. She reached over and ruffled Harry’s hair. “Madam Hooch said she’s gonna strip all the enchantments off it, but we might never figure out why it wanted your blood.”

Another stab of pain shot up his arm, and Harry grimaced. “Forget the Bludger, I wish someone had figured out what Lockhart was gonna do. If he tries to make me help in class after this, I’m gonna snap.”

“Oh, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that for a while,” Adrian said, grinning like a shark. The rest of the team snickered.

“…what did you do while I was out of it?” Harry asked.

“Nothing,” Marcus said with a shrug. “Just talked.”

“Talked about taking his bones,” Graham said muttered.

“But it would’ve been too obvious,” Lucian said.

“And not nearly as good getting him where it hurts,” Adrian said. The shark grin, impossibly, grew. “He really is too vain.”

“And too predictable,” Draco said, smirking. “He gets that ‘dazzling smile’ by brushing every morning and night with ‘Derrick Apothecary’s Diamond Supreme’ toothpaste,” Draco said, making air quotes and rolling his eyes. “Same as Pansy, which she will not shut up about,” he added under his breath.

“Which is a very good brand, but not as popular as Derrick Apothecary hoped,” Lucian said, smiling slowly. “Since it’s got a sort of funny reaction to rhubarb…”

“But he was ‘just trying to help’,” Terence said, pitching his voice higher as he quoted Hermione. “So we said, let’s leave him be, and visit our injured teammate in the hospital wing, and we have all missed dinner to keep you company for the past…two hours.”

“That was noble of you,” Harry said dryly. The team snickered again. Before Harry could ask what the ‘funny reaction’ to rhubarb was, Madam Pomfrey stalked out of her office to check on Harry’s arm, and chased the gleeful Slytherins out.

~~~

Harry woke again when the sun was full down, and had a feeling of intense déjà vu when he saw Adrian tilted back in the chair next to the bed, half asleep.

“I thought Madam Pomfrey kicked you all out?” Harry asked. His arm felt jagged inside.

“Sh,” Adrian whispered. She sat up and rubbed one eye. “I’m allowed if you still rest. I promised to hex anyone who, ah, interferes with Pomfrey’s job again.”

“…she let you stay ‘cause you promised to hex a teacher?” Harry whispered back. Adrian nodded, grinning sleepily. Just then the door to the infirmary burst open, and the two Slytherins hastily closed their eyes, Harry trying to smooth down his grimace of pain, Adrian crossing her arms and tilting her chair back again.

What is going on?” Madam Pomfrey hissed, and Harry heard her bustle out of her office towards the door.

“Another patient for you, Poppy,” Professor Snape said smoothly. Someone whimpered, and Harry cracked his eyes open. He could just make out a tall, dark blur that must be Snape, standing calmly just inside the door, and next to him a blur of magenta robes and blonde hair. Lockhart.

“Let me see,” Pomfrey said. The magenta blur shifted, and Harry realized Lockhart must have been holding his hands to his face. “Oh, dear.”

“dey mel’ed,” Lockhart said, and then there was a sort of hiccupy sob.

“There there,” Pomfrey said, patting the distraught professor on the back and leading him towards her office. “Don’t fret, you’ll get them back. But I’m afraid plain Skele-Gro won’t do, I’ll need to modify it so you get the enamel back too.”

“Let me, Poppy,” Snape said. There was an oddly pleased tone to his voice that Harry had never heard before. “I know how busy you are this time of year, and I’ve all the ingredients for Dente-Gro. It should be ready in…a week.”

There was a long, pregnant pause, filled only by Lockhart’s sad whimpers.

“Yes, thank you, Severus,” Madam Pomfrey said finally. “I would appreciate that. Gilderoy, dear, I’ll send word to the kitchens to prepare soft foods for you until it’s ready.”

“ ’ank you,” Lockhart said, and then Snape was escorting him back out. When the door closed, Pomfrey walked back to the bed Harry occupied. Even with his eyes closed again, Harry could feel her staring for a good few minutes, as though lost in thought. Eventually, she turned away again, and Harry heard her footsteps retreat back into her office.

~~~

In the dead hours of the night, Adrian’s arms uncrossed in her sleep; one fell into her lap, and the other swung down to smack Harry on the shoulder, waking him up.

Ow.” Harry turned his head to glare, but his eye was caught by someone small holding, very, very still at the end of his bed. Someone with large eyes and larger ears.

Dobby?”

“Harry Potter remembers Dobby!” the house elf wailed, wringing the ends of the tea towel he wore.

“Of course I remember you, you got me locked up for two weeks,” Harry hissed furiously, taking a furtive glance towards Pomfrey’s office. The light was out, though. She must be in her suite at the far end of the hospital wing. Adrian, on the other hand, was apparently not asleep, as Harry had thought; he could see her eyes open the tiniest fraction, a barely-there gleam in the light of the single candle on the nightstand.

“Dobby is sorry, but Harry Potter must be safe!” Dobby took a few furtive steps closer, stopping next to Harry’s knee. He took a furtive glance at Adrian, whose hand was still lying convincingly limp on Harry’s shoulder. “Harry Potter must not stay.”

“I’m going anywhere, Dobby,” Harry said firmly. “I already told you, Hogwarts is where I belong, plot or no plot.”

“Ah, but sir!” Dobby rocked from side to side, clutching at his ears. “It is not a plot anymore! It is not being plotted! It is happening!

“What do you mean by that?” Harry asked. Dobby shook his head miserably. “It’s not the Bludger, is it, because they’re already dealing with that-”

“The Bludger was supposed to send Harry Potter home!” Dobby wailed. Adrian tensed, but Dobby didn’t notice. “Home, alive and safe!”

“I don’t call a broken arm safe,” Harry said angrily. “Most people don’t, actually.”

“Better a broken arm, than- than-” Dobby leapt back, and started beating his head on the footboard.

“Oh no not that again,” Harry said, and pushed himself up with his good arm. “Dobby, please stop, please, the hospital wing is for fixing injuries, not making them.”

“Dobby is sorry,” Dobby said again, thankfully stepping away from the footboard. He had great dollops of tears running down his face.

If the Bludger had been Dobby, then… “The plot, the thing happening, it’s not what happened to Mrs. Norris, is it? That whole Chamber and Heir thing?”

“Harry Potter is too clever!” Dobby said sorrowfully, which Harry took as a yes. “Too clever, and too brave, and Harry Potter must go home, sir! Hogwarts is not safe!

“Neither is home,” Adrian said lowly. Dobby fell over from shock, and landed on Harry’s ankles. “You want Harry safe, you make Hogwarts safe.”

“Dobby cannot!” Dobby said, shaking his head rapidly. “Dobby isn’t allowed! Dobby mustn’t interfere!”

“That Bludger wasn’t interfering?” Harry asked.

“Our train wasn’t interfering?” Adrian added. Harry blinked. Oh. That made sense, now.

Dobby was still shaking his head, clutching his ears once more, when heavy footsteps echoed up the hallway outside. Dobby gave the door a fearful look, and his weight vanished from Harry’s ankles with a loud crack!

Harry and Adrian hastily resumed their fake sleep. Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall shouldered through the door, talking to each other in hushed tones, and carrying something between them.

“Oh no…” Adrian breathed out, so quietly Harry could hardly hear her. He cracked his eyes open again, just able to make out Dumbledore and McGonagall gently lowering a small, stiff figure onto another bed. “Halfpint…it’s your firstie.”

Chapter Text

Late Sunday morning, Hermione tromped back from the library, feeling very frustrated. Hogwarts, A History had been the only book so far to bother naming the Chamber of Secrets directly. Several others mentioned it obliquely, or alluded to rumors; Slytherin’s Chamber, the Secret Room, the Parting Gift. One book claimed students with a clear Inner Eye could “find the Salazar Slytherin within themselves” but that one had been printed in 1967 with a rather sad looking unicorn drinking from a rainbow on the cover, and Hermione had only skimmed through it for completeness’ sake.

Thus preoccupied with the snippets of rumor in the history books, Hermione didn’t notice the two Slytherins waiting for her outside Gryffindor tower until she walked into Harry.

“Hermione!” Harry grabbed her shoulder as she tried to catch her balance without dropping all the books. “We need to tell you something-”

“I already know!” Hermione said, swatting his hand away. He rocked back, blinking at her. She saw dark bags under his eyes. “Everyone knows about poor Colin, the Ravenclaws said he turned up missing last night, and then someone heard McGonagall telling Flitwick about it at breakfast.”

“And you’re out here alone?” Pucey asked, aghast. Hermione stuck her chin up in the air, clutching the four history books she’d checked out to her chest.

Some of us are trying to find how to stop this!” Hermione said. “Instead of wasting time poisoning teachers who could very well be key to fighting Slytherin’s Monster!”

Pucey rubbed the back of her head and looked away, but Harry just rolled his eyes. “Come on, Hermione, nobody’s poisoned Lockhart.”

“He wasn’t at breakfast,” Hermione told him. “And there is a notice up saying he’s cancelled his class for the rest of the week. And everyone in your house,” Hermione said, giving both of them a good solid glare. “Kept going over to the notice and giggling! Malfoy practically dragged Parkinson and Davis over-”

“Oh no,” Pucey muttered.

“-and pretended to brush his teeth with his wand until Parkinson was actually rolling on the floor, laughing. What did you monsters do to him?”

“That little idiot,” Pucey said under her breath. She shook her head, running a hand over her short hair. “Does he have no idea what subtlety is?”

“Nope,” Harry said. He held up his hands, placating. “Look, Lockhart’s gonna be fine, I was awake when he came into the infirmary, Snape’s making him some Dente-Gro right now. It’s just, you know, gonna take a week.”

“Dente-Gro takes three days to brew,” Hermione said flatly. She narrowed her eyes at him. “You didn’t put rhubarb in his toothpaste, did you?” Harry shrugged. Pucey looked away again. “You did!

“Who’s ‘you’?” Pucey asked delicately, making air quotes with just her index fingers. “Because, you know, Granger, sneaking into the suite of a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and getting something that does not taste like mint undetected into a tube of toothpaste…doesn’t sound like something students could do. Especially not the suite of a Defense teacher that might, as you so astutely put it, be key to fighting Slytherin’s Monster, which just petrified a student last night why are you out here ALONE what is WRONG with Gryffindors!”

Hermione rocked back on her heels now, startled by the sudden outburst at the end of Pucey’s speech. Harry’s eyes had gone rather wide behind his glasses. Pucey jammed her hands into the pockets of her robes, hunching her shoulders and glaring at the floor.

“So, um,” Harry said after a moment of stunned silence. “I was also, um, awake when they brought Colin in? And we thought you ought to know, we heard Professor Dumbledore tell McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey that the Chamber of Secrets is definitely open. And that ‘the question is not who, but how’.” Harry tried to make his voice deeper for that last bit, to imitate Dumbledore, but it just came out sort of awkward, and Hermione winced. “Um. Not really sure what he meant by that.”

“I don’t either,” Hermione said. She looked down at the books in her arms. “These might.”

~~~

Everything was rather chaotic in the weeks after the Gryffindor/Slytherin match, and since the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff teams had booked a lot of field time to prepare for their match an advance, Harry only had homework to take his mind off of things.

Colin’s petrifaction sent currents of fear running through the school. Had he made someone mad? Everyone knew he was a chatty little tag-along. Was it just because he was Muggle-born? What if he’d just gotten in the way? Everyone knew the Slytherin Quidditch team had done something awful to Professor Lockhart. Maybe one of them was the Heir of Slytherin, and Lockhart had been the real target. Oh sure, his mother was a witch, but his father was a Muggle, it said so right there in Magical Me. And no one could deny that de-boning their Seeker had made him an enemy of Slytherin. Overnight, the entire Quidditch team had become the top suspects for being the Heir of Slytherin.

Draco was walking down the halls like a petty tyrant, Vincent and Gregory flanking his every step; he yelled boo! at anyone who didn’t get out of his way, and laughed when they jumped. Lucian and Graham walked with an extra swagger, talking loudly so people would hear them coming and press against the walls to leave a clear path. Marcus didn’t seem to notice because people always avoided him, Terence was ignoring it, and Adrian’s shoulders kept hunching up around her ears. Harry tried to ignore it too, but it was a little difficult since Slytherin had double Herbology with Ravenclaw, Colin’s house. The only Ravenclaw in class who’d still talk to him was Padma Patil.

“I don’t believe you did it,” Patil told him calmly, when they were pruning a rather bristly herb that tried to trap their fingers, like a sea urchin. “I don’t believe you didn’t do it. There isn’t sufficient evidence to firmly support either hypothesis.”

Harry took some comfort from that, because it probably meant if evidence came up against someone else, the rest of Ravenclaw might start talking to him again.

Hermione gave Harry the cold shoulder for a whole week, moving her cauldron to the back of their Potions classroom and getting Ron Weasley and his elbows to take up the rest of the table so Harry couldn’t join her. She mostly forgave him when Lockhart un-cancelled Defense class, greeting everyone with the broadest, cheekiest, shiniest smile possible. But seeing Professor Snape in Potions made her mad about the incident all over again, so the new seating layout remained. It didn’t help that Daphne was avoiding Hermione and Harry, so she worked up near the front with Blaise and Theodore, while Pansy and Tracey took the table behind them and laughed whenever Daphne got something wrong.

Harry somehow wound up at the same table as Neville Longbottom, who quaked with fear if Harry so much as sneezed. Which, unfortunately, was happening a lot around Longbottom. Like many other students, he’d bought a variety of dubious protective amulets from classmates, and between the purple onion and the newt tail stuffed with herbs, Harry’s nose was rather miserable.

“I don’t know why Professor Snape doesn’t make him take that all off,” Harry told Hermione as they streamed out of class. “What if one of those cords breaks, and it falls into his cauldron?”

“He’d just take points from Gryffindor,” Hermione said darkly.

“But if it splashed, like Daphne’s-”

“Like Snape’s ever cared about lab safety!” Hermione snapped. “He’d probably be happy if Neville got hurt.” Harry couldn’t disagree with this, and fell silent.

Lockhart, after the shiny smile, had been bewildered find that he could no longer get any volunteers for his demonstrations among the Slytherins. After Harry claimed a headache prevented him from acting out book scenes, and no one else volunteered, not even Pansy, Lockhart declared that they were going to do dramatic readings now, and promptly flipped to a random chapter in Gadding With Ghouls. If he wasn’t so enthusiastic, Defense might’ve become another naptime class, like History with Professor Binns.

Oddly enough, Professor Binns class wasn’t being held in the same contempt as before. Word got around that Hermione Granger had goaded him into a brief lecture on Salazar Slytherin and all the historical rumors. His droning voice wasn’t any less stupor-inducing, but students were taking turns forcing themselves awake, hoping to catch a new piece of information, or hear a possible segue to get him back on the rumors again.

Harry hoped paying attention to an entire lecture on the family tree of the wizard who’d headed up one of the failed negotiations in the Goblin Wars was worth it; everything else seemed to be a dead end. Hermione hadn’t found anything in the library, Dobby’s admission that the Chamber of Secrets business was the plot he’d tried to warn Harry of was reassuring (only one evil plot to deal with…probably) but not informative, and Adrian had hit a wall in her covert mission to find out who Dobby worked for.

“I’m actually less sure than when I started,” Adrian grumbled, flipping through her notebook. Harry caught a flash of bright green on one page; she’d saved the bandaid from King’s Cross Station. “It’s bad enough there’s at least a couple kids in each house with family that’s got one, but now Terence hears-”

“Hold on,” Harry said. They were talking quietly, holed up in one of the deep windowsills in the Slytherin common room. Harry pushed himself upright from the slump he’d fallen into against the cushions. “Terence hears? You said not to tell anyone about Dobby.”

“I didn’t tell him.” Adrian had her back flat on the sill, and thrown her legs up against the wall. She kicked absently against the stone with her heels. “I asked him, hey, you know who around here’s got house elves? And, can you keep an ear out?” She shrugged, scrunching the cushions under her shoulders. “He didn’t ask why.”

“Why can’t I ask Hermione the same thing, then?” Harry asked.

“ ‘cause she’d actually ask people,” Adrian said. “Terence eavesdrops. Damn cat.” This was apparently a description of Terence, as neither Millicent’s familiar Snapdragon nor any of the other Slytherin student’s cats were nearby. “I’ve just been eavesdropping too, but he’s better at it.”

“She’d probably ask Madam Pince if there’s a directory of who’s got who working for them,” Harry admitted. He blinked. “Wait-”

“There isn’t one,” Adrian said, before Harry could even ask. “I looked. There might be one in the Ministry archives, but that’s a bit harder to get into than the Hogwarts library. Anyway, I, uh, didn’t realize house elf is not an entirely one hundred percent accurate name. Or that they don’t just work for families. Terence heard a prefect mention their uncle whining about the house elves in the Ministry’s cafeteria mixing up arugula and spinach in the salad.”

“Dobby could’ve overheard someone in the Ministry plotting?” Harry asked in dismay.

“Or the Crystal Theater,” Adrian confirmed glumly. “Or in Hogwarts. That’s, um, that’s whose been making our food and replacing the candles, which I feel really dumb for not realizing sooner, so don’t start.”

Harry thumped his head back against the wall. This was the Philosopher’s Stone debacle all over again; there were too many suspects, and the list just kept growing.

~~~

Mid-December brought a welcome change from the hail and icy winds; a heavy snowfall overnight, and calm skies all the next day. Students dove into the snow after their classes, relieved to be outside the castle. Gemma Farley and Penelope Clearwater teamed up with the Hufflepuff prefects to build a chess set of snowman by the lake, though the brief attempt to play a match quickly devolved into a straight up snowball fight. Shrieks of laughter echoed across the grounds, occasionally cut short when snowballs reached their targets.

Eventually, everyone wandered back inside. Harry, Terence, and Adrian were some of the last stragglers from the snowball fight, Adrian determined to get Terence in the face as many times as she could before he left for Christmas break. When they finally came in, there was a crowd around the Great Hall’s door.

“Hey.” Adrian nudged Terence with her elbow. “What’s everyone looking at?” Someone in the crowd stepped to the side, and Harry saw a notice pinned to the door.

“Dunno,” Terence said. The trio veered away from the dungeon entrance, walking quietly over to the crowd. When they were closer, Terence coughed loudly. A fifth-year Hufflepuff turned, saw the green and silver trimming their snow-covered robes, and squeaked.

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake,” Adrian muttered, but she still took advantage of the path that appeared in the crowd to read the notice. Her face lit up, awkwardness forgotten. “It’s a dueling club!”

“Brilliant,” Terence said.

“I thought dueling wasn’t allowed, at Hogwarts?” Harry asked, but Hermione, who’d been in the crowd with Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan, spoke up.

“It’s allowed under supervision,” Hermione said. Her hair was still wet from melting snow. “A few centuries ago, it was actually part of the curriculum for sixth and seventh-years.”

“Yeah,” Adrian said absently, re-reading the notice. “Cousin Stephan always said they shoulda kept it.” She turned towards Hermione. “Who’s running this anyway? ‘cause they oughta get an award, this is gonna be great stress relief for everyone when the bad weather comes back.”

“Thank you, Miss Pucey!” Lockhart said cheerily from behind everyone. The mass of students spun around, quite a few of them giving little gasps of delight. Lockhart strode forward and posed by the notice. Adrian looked like she’d swallowed a handful of the worst Bertie Bott’s flavors. “I’ve decided to give you all some real, hands-on experience fighting the Dark Arts! One never knows when a well-time tickling hex can save your life from a werewolf, or how to cast Lumos! under duress to blind a vampire. Why, I’ve heard that only last year Miss Granger here put Bluebell Flames to good use, escaping Devil’s Snare!”

Hermione beamed in delight at Lockhart, while a pair of nearby Ravenclaws beamed at her in admiration.

“Who’s the other teacher?” Terence asked, once he’d stopped snickering at Adrian’s face. “That’s one of the old rules, right, at least two supervisors?”

“Your esteemed head of house, of course!” Lockhart said, clapping Terence on the back. “When I proposed this little club in the staff room, why, he practically sprang to his feet!”

Harry tried to imagine Snape springing to his feet for anything, and couldn’t. Even the memory of Snape standing hastily after using the Portkey at beginning of term didn’t help.

“What were his words, exactly?” Adrian asked.

“That he looked forward to giving me a challenge!” Lockhart said, and chuckled.

“Brilliant,” Terence said again, this time with a slow smile that Adrian echoed.

~~~

Everyone crowded back into the Great Hall at eight o’clock that evening. The house tables had been moved out of the way, and a stage raised where the head table usually stood. Harry left Adrian and Terence whispering bets to each other about exactly how Snape was going to hex Lockhart, and winnowed through the crowd until he found Hermione near the stage.

“Isn’t this exciting?” Hermione asked, once he reached her. Nearby, Ron Weasley was trying to help Neville Longbottom steel his nerves. “I think the whole school’s here!”

Up on stage, Lockhart called for everyone’s attention, and the students’ chattering died down. Harry nearly choked when Lockhart referred to Snape as his “assistant”, and Hermione gasped when Lockhart said they were going to demonstrate a duel for everyone.

“Snape’s not going to really hurt him, is he?” she asked, not daring to take her eyes from the stage, where Lockhart was giving an exaggerated bow.

“Um…” Harry said, and then Snape roared “Expelliarmus!” and Lockhart was knocked back, wand flying off into the audience. “…yes?”

“An excellent demonstration of the Disarming Charm, thank you Professor Snape!” Lockhart said, getting back up and brushing off his mauve robes. “I could have blocked it, of course, but that’s the next lesson!”

“Yeah, definitely gonna hurt him,” Harry added, seeing the insulted look growing on Snape’s face.

“Honestly,” Hermione said, while the crowd passed Lockhart’s wand back up. “They’re both teachers, he could stand to be a little more professional!”

“We’re going to put you all in pairs, now!” Lockhart declared, before Harry could point out that the Defense teachers had never acted any more professionally than Snape. The students starting bunching up, trying to get paired with friends they trusted, or enemies they wanted to harm. There were a flurry of pleased exclamations and disappointed sighs as the teachers moved through the crowd.

Snape reached Harry and Hermione first. He grew a small, worrisome smile. “I think,” he said. “It is time other students benefitted from your spirit of inter-house cooperation, yes?” Harry and Hermione looked at each other uneasily. “Mr. Potter, your opponent is Mr. Weasley.” Snape pushed Harry towards Ron Weasley, and Neville Longbottom made an alarmed noise.

“Miss Greengrass,” Snape called, and Daphne looked up from her conversation with Pansy. “You’re dueling Miss Granger.” There was a burst of unpleasant sniggering from the other Slytherin second-years as Daphne walked nervously over.

“No funny stuff, Potter,” Weasley said, as everyone got ready to square off. A little ways away, Longbottom was now bowing anxiously to Millicent.

“Right, that’s the twins’ job,” Harry said, and Weasley blinked in surprise.

“Disarm only!” Lockhart called cheerily from the stage. “Now, on the count of three! One…two…”

“Expelliarmus!” Harry and Weasley both yelled the moment Lockhart got to three, though they could barely hear over the sound of students hexing each other before the countdown finished. Harry’s wand attempted to jerk out of his hand, pulling him forward. Weasley was knocked back, his own wand clattering to the floor. The barrage of hexes continued around them, and Lockhart began shrieking for everyone to stop. Millicent had opted out of spells entirely and gotten poor Longbottom in a head-lock.

“You get off him!” Weasley yelled, pushing himself off the floor and barreling towards the pair. Harry scrambled out of his way.

“Millicent, we’re learning disarming!” Harry called out.

“This is disarming,” Millicent said, dropping Longbottom to the floor. Weasley pulled the gasping Gryffindor to his feet.

Finite Incantatem!” Snape shouted, and the level of chaos in the Great Hall fell immediately.

“Clearly everyone needs to learn proper blocking, eh?” Lockhart said, peering around. He took a nervous glance at Snape and cleared his throat. “Let’s have some volunteers. Miss Bulstrode, if you and Mr. Longbottom-”

“Neville’s in no shape to duel, you git!” Weasley yelled. Lockhart pretended not to hear this, but Snape had an odd look, like he was trying very hard not to smile.

“I believe Miss Greengrass has shown exemplary form in her duel with Miss Granger,” Snape said.

“Excellent!” Lockhart beamed, and beckoned the two girls onstage. They hastily handed each other their wands back, having both performed Expelliarmus perfectly. Seeing Daphne’s green and silver marked robes, and Hermione’s red and gold, the crowd grew quiet, anticipation rising palpably. Hermione shot Snape a worried look as she walked onstage, but seemed reassured by Lockhart’s usual dazzling smile.

Harry pushed his way through the crowd, and winced when he realized the rest of his Slytherin yearmates had done the same. Daphne was trying to keep her eyes forward, but they kept glancing down nervously towards the students at the edge of the stage. Pansy crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows. Tracey gave Daphne a quick up-down look, then sighed as though disappointed.

“Better get ready to catch,” Draco told Vincent and Gregory loudly. “Daphne’s gonna chicken out and get knocked offstage.”

“She is not,” Harry said, just as loudly, glaring at Draco. “You heard the teachers, this is about blocking.”

“Sure it is,” Draco shrugged.

Snape leaned down and said something quietly to Daphne. She gulped, but took another glance at the crowd, and then a deep breath. She pushed her shoulders back. At the other end of the stage, Lockhart was making a lot of flourishing gestures that Harry doubted would help Hermione block anything.

“Now!” Lockhart said, stepping back with a clap of his hands. “On three! One, two-”

Serpensortia!” Daphne yelled.

A large black snake exploded from her wand, and the first thing Harry thought was at least it’s not as large as the boa constrictor. The second thing was oh that had to hurt as the snake hit the stage. It reared up angrily, hissing at Hermione.

“It’s not her fault, leave her alone,” Harry whispered hurriedly. The snake didn’t seem to hear him, still eyeing Hermione, who was standing very, very still. Had Harry hissed the words, or spoken in English? He still couldn’t tell. Snape and Lockhart were both saying something, but Harry didn’t hear them, taking a deep breath, about to repeat himself louder-

Bang!

The snake flew through the air, and Harry noticed Lockhart lowering his wand, as he and the entire rest of the crowd turned to watch the angry serpent’s arc through the air. It landed with a loud thump in front a Hufflepuff Harry didn’t know, and rose up even faster than before, poised to strike.

Leave him alone!” Harry bellowed. Could you bellow a hiss? Apparently yes, because the snake turned to look at him in shock, and then dropped docilely to the floor. Harry sighed in relief, and took a step towards it.

Vipera Evanesca!” Snape yelled. The tip of the snake’s tail began to smolder, and a split second later the entire snake vanished in a flash of flame, leaving a long line of ash on the floor of the Great Hall. Harry turned in horror towards Snape.

“Why’d you do that?” Harry croaked, voice hardly more than a whisper. He raised a hand to his throat. Around him, the hall was deathly silent. Even Lockhart was too stunned to say anything. Slowly, the other students were stepping away, leaving a growing ring of emptiness around Harry. “You didn’t need to-”

“It’s you,” Ron Weasley said, from the edge of the empty circle. His glare was hot enough to melt steel. “You’re the Heir of Slytherin.”

“He is not!” Hermione said fiercely, clambering down from the stage to stand next to Harry.

“He just set a snake on Justin!” Weasley yelled, pointing at the line of ash. The silence broken, the crowd swelled with whispers. Adrian’s voice rose from the back, swearing.

“He was probably just telling it to back off,” Hermione said, and Harry nodded rapidly.

“How would you know?” Weasley asked. “It’s not like you speak Parsletongue.”

“Well, no,” Hermione admitted. “But-”

“I believe,” Snape interrupted, dropping a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “That this meeting of the dueling club is finished, for tonight. Wouldn’t you agree, Professor Lockhart?”

“Oh, yes, of course!” Lockhart said with a nervous chuckle. “Everyone off to bed now! Toddle along, toddle along.” He made flapping motions at the students. Everyone seemed to realize at once that they really didn’t want to be near Harry right now, and started rushing out of the Great Hall. Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown actually made a detour to tug Hermione away from Harry, despite her protests, and sweep her up with the rest of Gryffindor.

“This way, Potter,” Snape said quietly, and steered Harry out into the entrance hall. The other Slytherin students flocked around them, asking about the snake and the hissing and if Harry really was the Heir of Slytherin, did he want some help getting rid of the Muggle-borns?

“No!” Harry said loudly, when he realized what they were saying. “I’m not, I don’t!” But the questions simply increased in volume, until Snape shoved Harry into his office, and closed the door behind them.

“Sit.” Snape pointed to the chair in front of his desk. Harry sat. Snape stared at him for a long moment, then went around the desk to take his own chair. “Explain.”

“Explain what?” Harry asked, nerves frayed. “You told Daphne to set a snake on Hermione, and when Lockhart knocked it across the room I kept it from attacking that Hufflepuff! What is there to explain?

“Very few people have the…skill, of commanding serpents,” Snape said, steepling his fingers.

“It’s asking, not commanding,” Harry said irritably. “And I already know it’s rare, Hermione told me.”

“Miss Granger was aware of this?” Snape asked softly.

Harry crossed his arms and slumped back in the chair. “Yeah, inter-house cooperation, like you said, sir.” He briefly considered telling Snape about the grass snake colony in the abandoned greenhouse, but really, that was none of the professor’s business. “Am I in trouble for saving that Hufflepuff?”

“No,” Snape said. “And sit up straight.” Harry did so. “I will escort you back to Slytherin,” Snape said, rising from his chair. “It would not be wise for you to be alone, after this.”

“What?” Harry asked, standing up as well. “Why?”

Snape gave him a disappointed look. “You are the only person who understood your command to that serpent, and you have just been accused, in front of the entire student body, of petrifying Mrs. Norris and Colin Creevey. Do you want to be found alone by angry Ravenclaws? Or by Mr. Filch?”

“…oh.”

Returning to the Slytherin dungeon was unpleasant. Harry’s absence from the dueling mob hadn’t calmed them down, it had only given time for their enthusiasm to grow. The second the stone door slid shut behind him and he walked through the archway, people started shouting questions.

“How’d you find the Chamber, Potter?”

“Is it really a monster?”

“Or did you learn a new spell?”

“Do you have a list? I have a list, take my list-”

“How’d you fool Granger for so long?”

I didn’t fool anyone!” Harry shouted, hands over his ears. In the brief silence around him, he heard someone crying, and, oddly enough, Terence laughing. When the questions grew again, Harry gave up on trying to deny anything, and elbowed his way through the crowd towards the laughter. He passed Hestia Carrow sitting near the fire, stroking Daphne’s hair.

“I just wanted to prove I could!” Daphne sobbed into Hestia’s shoulder. Harry could barely understand her. “I almost killed that Hufflepuff!”

“You should be proud,” Theodore said. He was kneeling next to a low coffee table, rocks and small paint pots spread before him. He held a half-painted stone up to the light, tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth. “Not many people can get a full-grown snake on their first summons!”

“But-”

“And Finch-Fletchley’s a prat,” Theodore added. “He said my protective amulets are a scam, can you believe it?”

“They are a scam, Theo,” Harry pointed out. Theodore waved dismissively, and added a squiggle to the rock. Any further comment from Daphne was drowned out by the students still flocking around Harry.

Finally, he got to the far corner. Adrian and Terence were playing chess, though the common room was so loud that they had to tap each piece and then its destination, instead of giving verbal orders. Half the Quidditch team and what looked like all the fourth and fifth-years were clustered around the two.

“Why didn’t you tell us?”

“C’mon Pucey, how long’ve you known?”

“Did you help Potter find it?”

Adrian kept twitching, and each new jerk of her shoulders or twist of her expression sent Terence into another paroxysm of laughter, putting the chess game on hold until he pulled himself back together.

“You can’t ignore us forever,” Lucian said, as Harry ducked under Marcus’s arm. “C’mon, spill.”

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha- oh, hi Harry,” Terence said, waving.

Adrian looked up from the chess board, and Terence immediately took her rook with his queen. “You’re not in trouble for all that, are you?” she asked. Harry shook his head, and Adrian dropped her shoulders, grinning. “Figured Professor Snape wouldn’t hold a little thing like chatting with snakes against you, pipsqueak. How long’ve you been doing that for, anyway?”

“Over a year,” Harry said. “Snape just asked me the same thing.”

“Ha!” Terence said. Adrian grimaced, rummaged around in her pockets, and dropped a Knut into his open palm. There was a ripple through the crowd as people with similar bets paid up.

“How come you didn’t just petrify Quirrell?” Graham asked Harry.

“Don’t be dumb,” Marcus said, before Harry could even bother rolling his eyes. “Salazar Slytherin wouldn’t leave a secret room a firstie could find.”

“Like leaving a room a second-year can find makes more sense!” Graham threw his hands up in the air.

“Yeah, but what if it was a room a fourth-year could find?” Peregrine Derrick asked, lips curling up in a sly smile. Adrian narrowed her eyes, pointer finger resting on top of a bishop she’d been about to direct. “Pucey gave Potter an alibi for Creevey, right?” Peregrine went on. “Pucey and Potter both show up at school before the train.” Adrian’s lips pressed into a thin line. “Pucey got to that Bludger before anyone else. I mean, how did we miss this?” Peregrine spread his hands, smirking at everyone crowded around them. “A new Dark Lord…and a new minion, from the Pucey line.”

CALL ME A MINION AGAIN AND I’LL RIP THAT STUPID LITTLE MOUSTACHE RIGHT OFF YOUR FUCKING FACE, DERRICK!” Adrian snarled, surging to her feet, knocking the end table over. The chess pieces rolled across the floor, tiny voices yelling “Foul!” Terence stopped laughing. Everyone else took a step back as Adrian shoved her wand up under Peregrine’s chin.

“Uh, captain?” Peregrine gulped, very slowly reaching towards his pocket.

Marcus shrugged. “You quit the team last year, you think I care what she does to you?”

“Unfortunately, I’m obliged to care,” Gemma said coolly, sliding forward out of the crowd. “Adrian, take a walk. Derrick, don’t make accusations you can’t back up. Potter, put your wand down.”

Everyone’s focus snapped back to Harry, temporarily distracted by the fight. “Derrick first,” Harry said, keeping his wand pointed at the fifth-year’s hand.

“Uh, hey, no problem!” Peregrine pulled his hand away from his pocket, laughing nervously. Harry lowered his wand at the same time. He could hear Terence quietly Accio’ing the chess pieces. “So, uh, how did you-”

“What did I just say about saying shit you can’t back up?” Gemma said, tones falling to sub-zero temperatures. She glared around the room. “That goes for all of you, especially outside the dungeons. I said take a walk, Adrian.”

“…fine.” Adrian abruptly dropped her arm. Peregrine sagged with relief and then tried to pretend he hadn’t. Adrian shoved him into Lucian on her way past. Harry slipped away to the dorms in the resulting chaos, and by the time Draco and the other second-year boys realized where he’d gone, was already hiding in bed with the curtains drawn.

Chapter Text

The next day dawned with a blizzard, and news from the prefects that Herbology would be cancelled all week. Professor Sprout was busy fitting the mandrakes with warm, protective clothes to get them through the winter. The blizzard prompting the decision shrieked outside the castle walls, keeping everyone but Hagrid indoors. With no Herbology class, Harry was stuck in the Slytherin common room with his yearmates, most of the older and younger students off at their other classes.

As the barrage of questions and offers of support from the last night had picked right back up the moment Harry rolled out of bed, he decided Professor Snape’s advice was rubbish. Being killed by a vengeful Ravenclaw or vigilante Gryffindor would be infinitely preferable to this.

That’s it,” Harry snapped, after Draco and Pansy dropped yet another name they thought the school could do without. “I’m going to the library until Charms.”

“We’ll come with you!” Tracey said, gesturing for Vincent and Gregory to get up too.

Harry shot her a glare. “I’m going to study. By myself.” Tracey pouted, until Pansy grabbed her arm and whispered that Harry probably wanted them out of the way for the next attack. Harry rolled his eyes, but took advantage of the distraction to break away for the door.

“Hiss at someone for me, will you?” Theodore called, looking up from his rocks. The latest batch was being given color-changing stripes, courtesy of enchanted nail-polish Theodore had gotten off one of the Carrow sisters. “I want to get these all offloaded before Christmas break.”

Unfortunately, whoever the Heir actually was must have decided the blizzard was the perfect time to pick more victims, because Harry found Justin the Hufflepuff and Nearly Headless Nick, one of the Gryffindor ghosts, lying petrified in a dark hallway on his way to the library.

“Oh bloody hell,” Harry said quietly, when he came around the corner and saw them. Peeves the poltergeist sped around the corner from the other end of the hallway few seconds later, while Harry was still frozen in shock. A few seconds after that, everyone in range of Peeve’s exceptionally loud voice was aware of Justin and Nearly Headless Nick’s fate.

Harry backed up towards the wall as people flooded out of their classrooms. Two older Hufflepuffs made to grab him; he dodged automatically, preoccupied by the eerie sight. Who had done this?  Why Justin? Why did Harry keep finding the victims? He hadn’t found Colin, but he and Hermione saw Mrs. Norris first, and now these two…Roger Davies hit Harry with the leg-locker curse, and he barely kept from smacking his face against the floor.

“Detention, Davies!” Professor McGonagall said angrily, striding through the crowd. “And ten points from Ravenclaw, hexing other students is not allowed at Hogwarts!” She quickly cast the counter-curse, and helped Harry to his feet. “Potter, please stay with me for a moment.” Harry nodded, flicking his wrists to get the sting of impact out of his hands. With a speed and efficiency that every prefect envied, McGonagall got Justin carried off to the hospital wing by the same Hufflepuffs who’d tried to grab Harry, and conjured a large fan for Davies to waft Nearly Headless Nick with.

“Please follow me, Potter,” McGonagall said quietly, after the hall emptied of students under her stern eye.  “I would like you to tell the Headmaster what you saw.”

“I just turned the corner and they were there,” Harry said, walking quickly to keep up with McGonagall’s long strides. His mind was still running in circles. “I swear, Professor.”

“It’s all right,” McGonagall said. Harry lapsed into silence. McGonagall led Harry past a gargoyle, up a spiral staircase, and knocked at the door at the top. There was no response, but McGonagall put her hand to the latch and started to open it. She paused. “Potter.”

“Yes professor?”

“If anyone troubles you like that again,” she said. “Come to me.” She finally opened the door. “Please wait inside for the Headmaster.” She turned to go back down the spiraling stairs.

“You’re…you’re not staying?” Harry asked.

“I do have classes to teach,” McGonagall said dryly.

“Er, right.” Harry stepped from the stairwell into Dumbledore’s office, then turned back before McGonagall could close the door behind her. “Professor McGonagall?”

“Yes?”

“Thanks.”

McGonagall nodded, smiling, and then Harry was alone in the peculiar office. It was circular, and full of fascinating strange things that Harry knew Hermione would’ve loved to get her hands on, but Harry’s eye was caught by an ancient, fraying wizard’s cap on one shelf. Was that…?

Harry glanced around, but he was still alone aside from a rather sickly looking bird perched near the desk. It coughed hoarsely when Harry sidled towards the shelf, but didn’t seem alarmed. Harry whipped the cap onto his head.

“Well, hello,” the Sorting Hat said. “This is unusual.”

They say you’re as old as the school, Harry thought quickly, hoping his mind sounded polite. Do you know what’s going on with the Chamber of Secrets?

“Oh dear, is that open again?”

Yes.

“Unfortunately, I’m not quite as old as Hogwarts,” the Hat said regretfully. “And while I was Godric’s Thinking Cap before he asked me to Sort students, I only know as much about the Chamber as he did, and it’s been a long time.”

Thinking Cap? Harry asked.

“A sort of echo chamber,” the Hat explained. “Bounce back what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, so you can get a better look at it. Why do you think I sing? It brings the houses and their traits to the top of everyone’s minds.”

Oh. Harry’s browse furrowed. Godric didn’t know what Salazar did, right? But…what about the Heir? Did you recognize them when they were Sorted?

“I see thoughts and feelings,” the Hat reiterated. “I won’t know someone’s lineage if they don’t know.”

The sickly bird started another coughing fit, much louder this time, and Harry looked up in alarm. Please don’t let the Headmaster’s bird die while I’m alone with it, Harry thought, and to his surprise, the Sorting Hat chuckled.

“Have you never seen a phoenix before? Perhaps most wizards don’t consider extraordinary loyalty to be worth the hassle of taming them, though they are often tempted by the healing tears and strength…”

Hassle?

“Watch closely now, young Slytherin.”

The phoenix burst into flames. Harry jumped back, clutching the brim of the Hat, looking around wildly for anything to douse the fire with. I should’ve gotten Adrian to teach me that water summoning charm-

The far door opened. Harry hastily tore off the Sorting Hat and shoved it back onto the shelf, its laughter echoing in his head. Dumbledore stepped into the office. He looked between Harry and the pile of ashes where his phoenix had been.

“Sir!” Harry gulped, and realized he had no idea what to say.

“Good afternoon, Harry,” Dumbledore said. He sat down behind his desk. “I see you’ve met Fawkes.”

“Does that happen often?” Harry asked weakly, sinking onto plush purple ottoman near the desk. Piping cheeps rose from the ash pile, and Harry leaned forward; the tiny hatchling in the ashes saw him and peeped louder.

“Not too often,” Dumbledore said, which really wasn’t an answer at all. “I’m sorry you had to meet him on a Burning Day, he’s usually quite impressive” The piping cheeps took on a more demanding tone. Dumbledore pulled a small bag of sunflower seeds from his pocket, and started feeding them to Fawkes as he talked. “Professor McGonagall has informed me that you were our first witness to the latest attack.”

“Second,” Harry said automatically. The Headmaster’s brows rose, and Harry went on hurriedly. “I mean, we don’t know if anyone else came by and left, and there was probably whoever did it. I was just the first person to stick around.”

Dumbledore smiled. “I don’t suppose you saw anything unusual in the hallway, before everyone else obscured things?” Harry shook his head. Dumbledore sighed, and then looked at Harry speculatively for a long moment. He steepled his fingers. “Professor Lockhart has informed me that you’re a Parslemouth. He seems quite convinced that you ought to be our top suspect.”

“Sir!”

Dumbledore held up a quelling hand, and Harry sank back down.

“I disagree with his assessment,” Dumbledore said quietly. “A second-year student is not responsible for these attacks.”  Relief flooded through Harry. “I only bring this up to deliver a word of warning; your fellow students are likely to make Professor Lockhart’s assumption as well. Parslemouths have a reputation-”

“For the Dark Arts,” Harry finished glumly. “I know. Tilda the Terrible, Whispering Wilbur…”

“And Voldemort.”

Harry felt as though he had stepped unexpectedly into the deep end of a pool. The light reflecting from Dumbledore’s glasses was far away, and the soft sounds of the fire now roared in his ears, drowning out Fawkes’ cheeping.

“Voldemort talked to snakes too?” Harry’s voice came out very small. He could see the horrible face from the back of Quirrell’s head smile nastily, hear the high voice shrieking “Kill him!” He imagined that cruel face peering through the glass at the zoo’s boa constrictor, and wanted to vomit. “Professor Snape didn’t mention that.”

“I am not surprised,” Dumbledore said. He opened a desk drawer, and handed Harry a Chocolate Frog. Harry nestled the small box in his palm, feeling the candy inside kick. “Discussing the war is uncomfortable for him, and for many of the staff. It was a dark time.” He nodded towards the Chocolate Frog box. “That’s going to do you much more good unwrapped.”

~~~

“It’s this way,” Hermione said, beckoning Pucey to follow her up the East astronomy tower. She fastened the clasp of her cloak as they ascended the spiraling stairs, glad she’d thought to grab it on her way out of Gryffindor tower.

“This is as bad as the dungeons,” Pucey muttered, clutching her own cloak tighter. Most of the Slytherins carried theirs around all winter, traversing the cold below-ground halls every day, instead of just once a week for Potions class like the other houses. “Are you sure he’s up here?”

“Of course,” Hermione said. She wasn’t actually sure, but really, the greenhouses were out of the question right now, he hadn’t been in the library, or apparently down in the Slytherin dungeon, and this tower was the most isolated part of the castle during the day.

They reached the top, and Hermione pushed the trap door open. “Harry?” she called, peering out at the open stone observation platform. The blizzard still buffeting the castle made it hard to see. Was that a small cloaked figure huddled by the crenelation, or just a shadow?

“Granger,” Pucey said, from further down the sturdy ladder. She tugged at Hermione’s cloak. Hermione could hardly hear her over the howl of the wind. “Granger,” Pucey said again, tugging harder. Deciding it really was just a shadow, Hermione ducked back down, letting the trap door fall shut.

“Well, I guess we try that old classroom in the Arithmancy corridor next,” Hermione said, dusting her hands off.

“Or we just stay here,” Pucey said dryly. She jerked her head towards a collection of large telescopes on tripods by the far wall. Harry sat behind the tripods’ legs, wrapped up in his own winter cloak. He held up one hand and smiled weakly when Hermione spotted him.

“Doesn’t even need that trick cloak, does he?” Pucey said with a grin, and elbowed Hermione.

Harry blinked owlishly at them. “It’s down in my trunk, or I would,” he said. Hermione sighed; she couldn’t blame him for wanting to be invisible right now. Harry crooked an arm around one telescope to point at Hermione. “Are you giving away all my hiding spots?”

“She wouldn’t have to if you’d just come back to Slytherin,” Pucey said, before Hermione could answer. “You two are as bad as each other, you know that? Wandering around alone when there’s something petrifying people.”

“You were alone too,” Hermione pointed out irritably.

“Yeah, but I’m not twelve,” Pucey said. Hermione opened her mouth to say she was thirteen now, thank you very much, but Pucey just kept talking. “Half the school’s swearing they saw you petrify the Finch-Fletchley kid with their own eyes, small fry. And there’s a rumor that Dumbledore hustled you off to Azkaban, or trapped you in a crystal mirror in his office.”

“Really?” Harry asked, finally wiggling out from behind the telescopes. “He doesn’t seem to think I did it though, I mean, he said he didn’t think it was me, when McGonagall brought me over, and we heard him say it wasn’t a question of who after Colin got attacked.”

“That’s right…” Hermione said. “A matter of how,” she quoted, turning the phrase over thoughtfully.

“Why’d Professor McGonagall take you to him, then?” Pucey asked curiously.

Harry shrugged. “I think she just wanted me away from everyone else until things calmed down.” He paused, remembering something. “Did either of you know the headmaster has an exploding bird?”

“What?” Hermione asked, but Pucey just burst out laughing.

“It’s a phoenix, halfpint,” she said. “Didn’t Dumbledore explain?”

“He said it was a ‘Burning Day’,” Harry said.

“Did you get to see it as a hatchling, then?” Hermione asked. She’d read about phoenixes, but none of the books had described the burning and rebirth as an explosion. Harry nodded, and Pucey ruffled his hair.

“It’s really been a week for things going up in flames, hasn’t it?” Pucey said. She put a hand on each of their backs, and pushed them towards the stairs. “Come on. The rumors will just get worse if you stay out of sight.”

“They’re going to get worse if I stay in sight, too,” Harry said, but he started down the spiral steps anyway.

~~~

Christmas break could not arrive soon enough, in Harry’s opinion. Adrian pointed out to Marcus that they’d have a hard time beating Ravenclaw come February if their Seeker got bumped off before then, and Marcus told Draco to stick to Harry like glue for the rest of the term, since they had all the same classes. Gregory and Vincent were already sticking closer to Draco than usual, disturbed by the petrifactions even if they did think Harry was doing it, which meant that Harry found himself unable to step outside the Slytherin dungeon without all three of them racing to his side.

Meanwhile, Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom took it upon themselves to dog Hermione’s footsteps, as she would insist on still studying with Harry. The result was all seven second-years crowded awkwardly around a table in the library after class every day. Madam Pince kept banishing Vincent and Gregory to the hallway when they started flicking balls of parchment at each other. Longbottom arrived with a new protective amulet each time, so that he jangled with each step he took and finally got banished as well two days before break.

Harry wouldn’t admit it, but he was actually glad that Weasley insisted on guarding Hermione; Draco seemed to dislike him personally, instead of the generalized prejudice he had for Muggle-borns. So Draco and Weasley spent the study sessions glaring at each other in furious silence, occasionally making threatening gestures when Madam Pince wasn’t near, allowing Harry and Hermione to quietly check their worksheet answers together, and edit each other’s essays.

Finally the mid-winter assignments were all turned in, classes finished, and all but a dozen or so students packed onto the Hogwarts Express. Hermione promised to go over her copy of Hogwarts, A History again with a fine-tooth comb once she was home, along with several other books that hadn’t fit in her trunk back in September.

“Right then,” Adrian said, hands on her hips, when the last carriage vanished down the dark path from Hogwarts to Hogsmeade Station. They left long after dinner, so that the students could sleep on the train and arrive in London a few hours before the sun. “That’s several hundred kids who won’t get petrified for a few weeks.” She tilted head to the side, eyeballing Draco, Vincent, and Gregory, who were still crowded around Harry where they stood on the front steps. “Marcus isn’t making you lot stay, is he? I didn’t think he’d be that zealous.”

Draco rolled his eyes and sighed loudly. “No. Mother wanted me here.”

“And we’re friends,” Vincent added, while Gregory nodded. The five Slytherins turned and trudged up the steps; the Weasley siblings, and the few Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws staying for break, had already gone inside.

“Didn’t your mum send you to Hogwarts because Durmstrang was too far?” Harry asked, puzzled. “Why’d she tell you to stay for break this year?”

“The Ministry raided our house yesterday,” Draco said. He shot a glare towards the far end of the entrance hall, where the Weasleys were ascending the marble staircase. “Father saw it coming, of course.”

“And they don’t want you home if it happens again,” Adrian concluded. “Smart.”

~~~

At breakfast the first day of break, Adrian made a beeline for the Ravenclaw table, where prefect Penelope Clearwater and another Ravenclaw who looked familiar were already sitting with the Weasleys. Harry followed her. It was only after sitting down that he realized Draco, Gregory, and Vincent had gone to the Slytherin table.

What are you doing?” Draco called over in bewilderment.

“It’s break,” Adrian said matter of factly. “Everyone eats together if there’s room.” She took an exaggerated look around the still mostly empty table. “And it looks like there’s room.”

“I’m not eating with Weasleys,” Draco said. Vincent and Gregory nodded on either side of him.

“We don’t want to eat with you,” Ron Weasley said hotly. He shot a glare at Harry, and muttered “Too many snakes here as is.”

Seeing as the serving platters had just now appeared on the table, Harry opted to ignore this comment, and load his plate up with sausages and pancakes. Over at the Slytherin table, a few platters had materialized as well, to Vincent and Gregory’s obvious relief. The Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables remained bare, and when the three Hufflepuffs staying for the break came up to breakfast, they immediately made for the Ravenclaw table.

As the meal wound down, Harry spied George Weasley fidgeting with something under the table. Harry ducked. A large muffin soared past a moment later. It landed on the remains of Adrian’s hash-browns, loudly exploding in a gloppy mess of strawberry jelly. Harry peeked back up; Adrian’s robes and face were coated in red. Next to her, Clearwater was blinking in shock, globs of jelly spattered across her face and in her long curly hair.

George!” Percy snapped, leaping to his feet, but the twins already had two more muffins ready to launch.

Expulsito!” Clearwater cried, pointing her wand at the twins. The muffins burst in their hands, covering them in the same strawberry jelly that Adrian was still wiping from her face. After a moment of stunned silence, the twins grinned, and gave Clearwater approving thumbs-up.

“Not this again,” the other Ravenclaw sighed, mere seconds before a large pancake landed on his head. Harry remembered him now; he’d rescued Adrian’s shoes from the lake last year. “Really,” he said, while the pancake slid down to the bench, leaving a sticky trail of syrup along the sleeve of his robe. “Can’t we just play chess? Or checkers? Cards? Anything?

“Come on Bobby!” called one of the Hufflepuffs, waving another pancake. “Live a little!”

“My name,” the Ravenclaw said, pointing his wand down at his plate, “is Robert.” He made a swirling motion, whispering under his breath, and the crumbs of his breakfast rose into the air. He stood on the bench, keeping up the swirling motion until everyone’s plates were sparkling clean, and a shifting mass of crumbs, syrup, and tiny scraps of egg was hovering above the table.

“Oh boy,” Adrian said under the breath, watching the mass of leftover breakfast. Harry prudently hid under the table again.

“Robert’s too stuffy!” the Hufflepuff yelled, and threw the second pancake. Robert dodged, flicking his wand forward at the same time. The three Hufflepuffs dove out of the way; the mess flew past them to pelt Percy.

WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?” Professor Sprout appeared, fists planted on her hips. The twins hastily hid handfuls of oranges behind their backs. “We’re not having a repeat of ’89, are we?”

There was a sheepish chorus of “No, professor.” In very short order, the food fight’s mess was cleaned up, and Sprout sent them all packing into the snow outside, “To work off that energy! Go on!” Draco snickered as everyone trooped past, and Adrian patted him on top of the head, hand still sticky with jelly.

“Come on, you three!” she said cheerfully, as Draco scrubbed at his hair with horror. “We need all of you to be evenly matched with Gryffindor for a proper snowball fight.”

Vincent and Gregory exchanged a hopeful look, but Draco sneered. “Getting hit with icy slush thrown by inept buffoons is not my idea of a proper anything.”

“Your loss,” Harry said. He tugged Adrian’s elbow, since Sprout was making shoo’ing gestures at them.

On the lawn past the courtyard, the Weasley’s had already constructed an impressive snow fort, complete with curtain wall and a look-out tower that Ginny was precariously perched on. The Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs had teamed up to take them on, but only gotten up a shallow wall, their attempts to add more foiled by the Weasley’s nonstop barrage of snowballs.

“For Huffleclaw!” Robert yelled, popping to his feet and slashing his wand through the air. A cloud of fog roiled up from the snow.

“You mean Ravenpuff,” Clearwater corrected him.

“Would you two just keep building?” a Hufflepuff called.

Percy condensed the fog into a ball of water just as Adrian and Harry got close enough to join in. “Left!” Ginny yelled, and Percy shot the water towards the left edge of Fort Ravenpuff (Huffleclaw?), where two Hufflepuffs were rolling another snow brick atop their wall. It hit the snow, turning it to slush.

“Let’s help the underdogs, yeah?” Adrian said, nudging Harry. Before they could get in range of Fort Huffleclaw (Ravenpuff?) snowballs pelted them from both sides.

“No sponging off the badgers’ work!” Fred yelled.

“Says the side that built their fort with magic,” Robert grumbled, but he still chucked a snowball at the Slytherins. “You missed negotiations, you’re on your own!”

“Right, war council,” Adrian hissed, tugging Harry down into a crouch with her, backs to the forts. Snowballs kept flying at them, but Harry suspected the others would turn back on each other at any moment. “You good at building snow forts?” Harry shook his head. “Me neither. I’m all right at caves, but that’s harder to attack from." She tapped her chin, flinching as a snowball hit the back of her head. “We need to level the playing field. Destroy their forts, make it a free for all.”

There was a crash behind them, and they glanced over their shoulders. Clearwater had levitated a tightly compacted snowball the size of her head through the Weasley’s curtain wall, but George was already fixing it. “Well that’s out,” Adrian muttered.

Harry ducked, letting a snowball fly over his head. He glanced back, and saw Clearwater levitating another huge snowball. “I…think I’ve got an idea.”

A few minutes later, the Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, and Ravenclaws came to the sudden, uneasy conclusion that they had no idea where the Slytherins were. It should’ve been easy to spot them, black robes and winter cloaks in a field of snow, yet they were gone. If anyone had asked Ginny, she could’ve told them that they’d cut down around a shallow hill and were looping back towards the battlefield, but no one asked, and she was curious what they were planning.

“There!” Ron yelled, pointing when Adrian came back in sight first, and lobbing a snowball intended for the Ravenclaws.

“Now!” Harry and Adrian made a gesture with their wands Ginny remembered from Charms, and shouted “Wingardium leviosa!” in tandem. The snow tower…moved.

From the ground, Harry saw Ginny’s eyes go wide, and she threw herself down, hugging the top of her tower.

“Fiends!” Percy roared, but Harry barely heard, concentrating on keeping his arm in synch with Adrian, floating the tower out over the curtain wall. Each of the Weasley brothers had a snowball in hand, ready to throw, but none quite dared while the Slytherins had control of their little sister’s perch.

“Jump for it, Weasley!” Robert yelled, but Ginny remained where she was. Adrian and Harry carefully tilted the tower on its side and dropped it down into the snowbank, making a convenient wall to assault the other students from. Ginny rolled a few feet away, and sat up.

“That. Was. Amazing!”

Adrian laughed, and held out a hand, ignoring the snowballs battering her shoulders. Some of them revealed rocks when they broke. “You wanna join the winners, firstie?”

Ginny grinned, and took her hand.

~~~

Even with Ginny’s help, they did not, in fact, turn out to be the winning side. The fight ended when Clearwater transfigured half of the snow tower into a massive sphere, and the twins sent it rolling down the hill after Adrian; she tripped while fleeing, and had to be tugged out from under the snow-boulder by the Hufflepuffs. Shortly after, everyone realized they’d been out well past lunch, and stumbled back inside for hot chocolate.

The rest of the days until Christmas passed with more quiet pursuits, mostly board and card games in the Great Hall, when the students weren’t simply lounging in their respective common rooms. Draco was finally enticed to socialize with the others by an informal chess tournament on Christmas Eve, and Vincent and Gregory happily found that Robert owned a checkers set.

“I’ve got a favor to ask,” Adrian said quietly to Harry, when everyone was wandering back to their dorms after dinner. A few yards ahead, Vincent and Gregory were carrying Draco on their shoulders, cheering his glorious victory in the last chess match, which broke Ron Weasley’s five-win streak. “You, ah, remember last Christmas?”

“What about it?” Harry asked. A lot of things had happened last Christmas.

“My…morning call?”

“Your…oh. You want me to keep the others in our dorm, until you’re done?” Harry asked. He’d accidentally walked in on the end of Adrian’s yearly talk with her mother, last time.

“Oh, no, I’ve got that covered,” Adrian said, waving one hand. “I actually want you to stick around in your trick cloak. I’m gonna ask her about the Chamber.”

Harry stumbled. Adrian grabbed his elbow. “She wasn’t here last time, was she?”

Igraine’s left ti- toe, no, she’s not that old. I just figure the rumors might’ve been stronger, or more detailed, back in her day. Anyway she usually pops up between four and six in the morning, so I’ll be sleeping out in the common room. Do you mind getting up by four? I want a second set of ears.”

“Sure,” Harry said. It wasn’t like Marcus Flint hadn’t dragged the team out of bed that early before, one time to practice in icy sleet.

Adrian’s “got that covered” turned out to be a weak Sleeping Draught slipped into three bottles of Butterbeer (which she’d stolen from the back of Terence’s wardrobe). It didn’t knock the others out cold after their Christmas Eve toast, but it did make them start yawning, and Adrian chivied them off to bed. “That should wear off in about eight hours,” Adrian said once they were gone, dragging a particularly squashy armchair over to the fireplace. “We can always hit ‘em with an Ennervate if I got the dose wrong.”

Harry slumped out of bed hours later, woken by the insistent chiming of his enchanted water-clock, and shrugged his invisibility cloak on over his pajamas. Adrian was sprawled over the squashy armchair, her head and one arm dangling over the side, snoring. The fire looked perfectly normal. Harry curled up in a much stiffer chair that wouldn’t show an indent from his weight, and made sure the cloak’s hood was still up.

“Merry Christmas, dearest.”

Adrian fell out of her chair. Harry blinked, staring at the fireplace. The flames danced around the isolated head of a very tired looking witch. Harry could see long hair as dark as Adrian’s pinned up under a battered travelling hat.

“Morning, Mother,” Adrian said, scooting over to the hearthstone on her knees. “How’ve you been?”

“Fine,” Mrs. Pucey said. “How’s Cousin Liwei?”

“Fine,” Adrian said, and this started a cascade of questions regarding a great many relatives Harry hadn’t heard Adrian mention before, and a few he had, all answered with the same short “fine.” Soon the topic changed to school, and Harry noticed Adrian only referred to their teachers by title (“The Herbology professor says…”) and not name. Muggle Studies didn’t come up at all.

“I’m having some trouble in Charms lately,” Adrian told her mother glumly. “We’re animating trinkets, like that music box of Cousin Eric’s, and I just can’t get it.”

“Show me what you’re doing,” Mrs. Pucey said. A hand briefly appeared in the fire as she pushed the brim of her travelling hat up to see better. There was a nasty burn up one side of her arm.

“Are you all right?” Adrian asked, aghast.

“Wand out, Adrian,” Mrs. Pucey said firmly, ignoring her daughter’s concern. “Do you have a trinket?”

“Uh, yeah,” Adrian said, digging in her pocket. She held a broomstick no longer than a pencil up to the flames. “I wanted to make this do a little figure eight, for one of my teammates.”

“You’d have more time to perfect your Charms work if you didn’t waste it all on Quidditch.”

Adrian’s shoulders hunched. “It’s not a waste,” she muttered.

“Straighten up. Now, you’re using Choro piccolo, correct? With fini to close the loop?”

Adrian nodded, and set the tiny broom down in front of her knees. “And Wingardium leviosa for the intermediary. The professor says I’ve got all the incantations down.”

“Of course you do,” Mrs. Pucey said proudly. “You’ve always picked language up quickly, as we all learned when Stephan failed to watch his mouth. Now, don’t bother with the incantation just now, go through the wandwork.” The look of fierce concentration Mrs. Pucey wore, as Adrian demonstrated the pieces of the enchantment, was so familiar that Harry found himself looking rapidly between both their faces, trying to spot more similarities. “You’ve bent your elbow too far during the swing. Make your arm into a parentheses, not a V. And slash up on the fini, not down.”

“Everyone else in class slashes down,” Adrian said, repeating the beginning of the spell with her arm curved instead of angular. “And their spells are working.”

“Humor me,” Mrs. Pucey said dryly.

Adrian ran through the enchantment once more, this time including the words.  When she slashed upwards, the tiny broom stayed in the air, drifting in a lazy figure eight. Adrian grinned, and poked it; the broom moved to the side, and continued to loop.

“Thanks,” Adrian said. Her mother flashed a brief, smug smile, and then brought up her disapproval of Quidditch again. Adrian didn’t bother arguing, fidgeting with the enchanted broom instead. She opened her mouth once when Mrs. Pucey mentioned the famous referee who’d vanished in the middle of a match and stayed missing three months, but simply closed it again, frowning.

“Adrian, you’re clearly distracted,” Mrs. Pucey said, interrupting herself mid-sentence while pointing out that mediwitches were required at every professional match, due to the number of times Quidditch players fell and broke bones. Harry rubbed unconsciously at his arm under the invisibility cloak. “Those fools in the Auror department aren’t harassing you again, are they?”

“No…” Adrian pushed the tiny broom behind her, and stared down at the hearthstone. “I…I have something important to ask you.”

“Anything you ask me is important,” Mrs. Pucey said.

“When you were at Hogwarts…” Adrian started. “Were there still rumors about the Chamber of Secrets? Or the Heir of Slytherin?”

“…why are you asking?”

Adrian fidgeted with her wand, mumbling too quietly to be heard.

Adrian.

“Someone wrote on the wall that they’d opened it, and a cat and a ghost and two students have been petrified,” Adrian said in a rush. Her shoulders crept back up around her ears again. “Everyone’s really sure it’s a blood purity thing, but if it is, why attack a ghost? Ghosts don’t have kids. And the cat! Who petrifies a cat? That’s just mean!”

“Intimidation, of course,” Mrs. Pucey said matter-of-factly. She tapped her chin. “That Muggle-lover Dromeda used to tell very good stories about Salazar Slytherin swearing vengeance on the other founders for disrespecting him, before she went soft. They weren’t very consistent, but that’s legends for you.”

“So it was just ghost stories when you were here, too?” Adrian asked, slouching with disappointment.

“I didn’t say that, don’t jump to conclusions,” Mrs. Pucey corrected. Adrian perked up, and unconsciously scooted a few inches closer to the fire. “No, actually, I became quite popular in sixth year because Liwei told me all about the attacks of ’42, and everyone wanted to hear about it. She was in the same year as the boy that got credited with stopping it all, you know.”

“I didn’t know that,” Adrian said. She ran a hand over her hair. “Aunt Liwei doesn’t talk about school, much. How’d the boy stop it?”

“I don’t think he did,” Mrs. Pucey said dismissively. “Liwei thinks whoever the real culprit was, they took advantage of the scapegoat to get pressure off. Now, what happened was a half-dozen or so students had been petrified, along with a toad from the choir, when some blubbering little Ravenclaw too stupid to stick with her flock got killed. They were going to shut down the school, Liwei was very particular about that because all the older students were panicking about not getting their OWLs and NEWTs. And then this Golden Boy, Tom Riddle, came forward and said Rubeus Hagrid had loosed the monster.”

Rubeus Hagrid?” Adrian yelped, thankfully covering up Harry’s gasp of shock.

“Ah, so he’s still groundskeeper, then?” Mrs. Pucey asked shrewdly. Adrian ducked her head, looking way. Mrs. Pucey smirked. “I was as shocked as you, of course, since he was fixture of the school in my day. Raising chickens and helping Professor Kettleburn with the exotics. He was just so obviously not the Heir of Slytherin, I thought Liwei must be pulling my leg. But apparently he had been hiding some hideous giant spider, and Tom Riddle caught him at it. Charming boy, Liwei said, a Slytherin prefect, very tall, very handsome. Everyone knew the spider hadn’t done it, because no one got petrified or killed as it ran for the forest, but it made a good excuse. They kept the school open, everyone still got to take their exams, and there weren’t any more attacks.”

“And that was it?”

“That was it,” Mrs. Pucey confirmed, nodding. “Hagrid was expelled, Riddle got a nice plaque up in the awards room, and everyone tried to forget it had happened.”

Chapter Text

When the last trace of Mrs. Pucey’s face vanished from the flames (“I love you, dearest. Make me proud.”) Adrian swung her arm up and summoned a spout of water. Steam rose from the wet logs, coiling out of the fireplace, as Harry slipped the invisibility cloak off and sat down next to her. Silently, he dug a raspberry tart he’d saved from dinner last night out of his pajama pocket, and pressed it into Adrian’s hand.

“Reckon the Headmaster probably knows all that,” Adrian said, when the tart was nothing but crumbs down the front of her robe.

“Probably,” Harry agreed.

“Reckon it’d just bring up bad memories, if we asked Mr. Hagrid about it.”

“Probably.”

“Reckon that giant spider’s still out there?”

“Definitely.”

Adrian ruffled his hair, leaving a smear of raspberry. “Go wake the Sleeping Beauties, eh? We’ll never hear the end of it if Malfoy misses the feast.”

Harry was unsurprised to see a large pile of presents at the end of Draco’s bed when he returned to the dorm, and nearly as large ones at the ends of Vincent and Gregory’s. Harry sidled past to his own bed, where he found a bottle of color-changing ink from Hermione, a tin of treacle from Hagrid, and a letter from Aunt Petunia.

The locks are gone, the letter began, with no salutations, Your owl will be allowed out and your schoolbooks accessible this summer. Tell that slimy good-for-nothing to stop sending the yelling letters. –Petunia Dursley.

Harry reread the letter twice more, and, to his surprise, started giggling. She had to mean Professor Snape, but what on Earth were yelling letters? He couldn’t imagine Aunt Petunia being swayed simply by something strongly worded.

“What’re you laughing at?”

Harry shoved the letter into his pocket, glancing over; Vincent sat up, blinking sleepily at him. “Nothing,” Harry said. He stashed his cloak and the ink from Hermione in his trunk as the others roused and discovered their presents.

Like last Christmas, all of the staff remaining for break joined the students at the Hufflepuff table for the feast. Draco immediately sat next to Snape, Gregory and Vincent on Draco’s other side, reminding Harry of nothing more than three ducklings trailing after their mother. He swallowed down another fit of giggles, and hastily shoved the letter from Petunia into Snape’ startled hands, before fleeing to the end of the table to sit between Adrian and Professor Sprout.

The rest of break passed even more quietly than the first half, with the exception of New Year’s Eve, when Draco beseeched an out-past-curfew permission slip from Professor Snape, so all the Slytherins could go up to the top of the east Astronomy tower a bit before midnight.

“You have to be outside when the New Year comes,” Draco insisted, shivering in the cold wind atop the tower despite his heavy winter cloak. “It’s traditional.”

The rest of the school returned at the beginning of January considerably less wary than they’d left, and soon only Ron remained as the extra student at Harry and Hermione’s study sessions. In early February, when Hermione told Harry to throw out his History essay and start over with a better thesis, Ron actually pushed a new sheet of parchment across the table with a sympathetic grin.

Harry never did bother re-writing the essay; Marcus kept booking the Quidditch field as frequently as he had in the fall, keen to trounce Ravenclaw in their upcoming match. Harry barely had time to get homework done in the first place; revisions were right out. He didn’t understand how the older students on the team managed, let alone found time to prank Lockhart as well.

“What rhymes with ‘shining enamel’?” he heard Terence mutter, back in the common room after a particularly exhausting training session.

“ ‘Mining for flannel’ ?” Adrian suggested, glancing up from her notebook. They were both sprawled on an assortment of cushions spread in front of the fireplace. The chairs nearby looked suspiciously bare.

“That’s absolute rubbish,” Terence said. “Perfect. Gimme a rhyme for ‘sweet tooth’ .”

“Oh no you don’t, I’m using ‘sweet tooth’ .”

“What are you doing?” Draco asked, before Harry could decide if he really wanted to know. The two Chasers blinked up at them.

“Writing Valentines’ cards for the git,” Terence drawled. Hardly anyone in Slytherin had referred to Lockhart by name since the de-boning incident. “Heard him making plans for some kinda big to-do, so we figure, gotta make sure it’s memorable, right?”

Harry walked into the Great Hall the morning of St. Valentines’ Day, saw the heart-shaped confetti falling from the enchanted ceiling, the heart-shaped garlands strung on the walls, and the very large smile Professor Lockhart was wearing, and walked right back out. He spent the rest of the day in the Slytherin common room, catching up on homework, and considered the detention Professor Snape gave him for skipping all his classes well worth it.

“He actually hired dwarves to deliver Valentines!” Tracey told Harry at lunch the next day. “Got them to put up with these atrocious little cupid outfits, too!”

“Cupid wouldn’t dress like that,” Gemma said quietly from across the table.

“One of them was looking for you, actually,” Tracey went on, ignoring the prefect. “Marcus Flint chased him out of the castle yelling about ‘suspicious buggers’ trying to assassinate the best Seeker the team’s had in years.”

Harry choked on his pumpkin juice. Theodore thumped him on the back. “Captain called me the best Seeker we’ve had in years?” Harry asked, when he finally stopped sputtering. “Really?

“Of course he did,” Tracey said haughtily, offended that Harry would question her word. Considering that earlier in the week Marcus had threatened to drop him off a broom into the Forbidden Forest if he didn’t keep his elbows tucked in, Harry felt his skepticism was justified.

~~~

“Call for a time-out if the Bludgers start acting weird,” Hermione said. She tugged at the collar of Harry’s Quidditch robe, which he’d worn to breakfast. They really ought to consider adding more padding, those gloves and arm guards were demonstrably insufficient. “In fact, if you think any of the equipment is acting oddly-”

“Hermione.”

“Or if the Ravenclaws are.” Perhaps a sturdy helmet, surely they could be made aerodynamic. “Or your teammates, goodness knows you’ve mentioned those hulks you call Beaters going after you-”

“They’re supposed to, ‘Mione, that’s what practice is for.” Harry reached up and pulled her hand away from fretfully smoothing down the fabric over his shoulders. “Madam Hooch came and talked to us, she got a whole new set of Bludgers before that Ravenclaw/Hufflepuff match in November, and they’ve stayed locked in her office since.”

“Yes, but-”

And we’ve been practicing the time-out hand-signal, if it’s too noisy to yell. You don’t need to worry.”

“I’m not worried,” Hermione insisted. Harry snorted. “I’m not! I even practiced the Hover Charm, so I can catch you if you fall off, so I don’t have to worry. And Dean said he’d help.”

Harry laughed. “You’d better get going to the stands, or you won’t get a good spot to catch me from.”

“Potter!” Harry glanced over his shoulder, and made a just-a-minute sort of gesture to Bole and Montague, who both rolled their eyes at him.

“Just promise one thing?” Harry asked, already starting to walk backwards away from her.

“What?” Hermione asked suspiciously.

“Actually watch the rest of the game? ‘cause I mean, Draco slid right off his broom into the mud last week during practice, and I know you don’t want to miss that, if it happens again.”

Caught off guard, Hermione giggled, and Harry grinned before turning to run off after his teammates. He was right about getting a seat, Hermione thought, finally noticing all the other students streaming out of the entrance hall across the grounds. Excited chatter filled the air.

“Think Potter’s gonna get clobbered again?”

“I hope so, I’ve got five knuts riding on it.”

Perhaps ‘excited’ wasn’t the right word. Maybe ‘bloodthirsty’ would be more accurate. Hermione spun around, trying to pinpoint who in the crowd had said that.

“Maybe we’ll get lucky and it’ll break his head.”

“That’d do everyone a favor. My mum says if there’s another attack she’s pulling me out of school.”

“Wish they’d just pull him out of school.”

“Hermione!”

Neville was jumping up and down, waving to get her attention. “Ron’s saving us seats, come on!”

The Ravenclaw team strolled onto the pitch to a deafening roar from the crowd. Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs cheered as loudly as Ravenclaws, and the stands were a sea of blue and bronze. Hermione clapped politely, eyes fixed on the entrance near the Slytherin locker room.

When the green and silver decked team finally appeared, the crowd only grew louder. The Slytherin students screamed themselves hoarse with encouragements and team members’ names, while the rest of the stands tried to drown them out with jeers and boo’s. Hermione pressed her hands over her ears, wincing as she saw Harry shuffle closer to Higgs. To her surprise, instead of hunching up, Pucey seemed to stand taller, shoulders thrown back and chin in the air as the malice from the audience grew.

The game was brutal.

Both teams were playing dirty; Hooch’s whistle went off every few minutes, calling a penalty shot for each new foul. After an hour, the only goals scored without benefit of a free shot were the result of maneuvers by Higgs and Pucey that made Dean Thomas whistle in admiration. Hermione only knew because of Lee Jordan’s commentary; her focus was still on Harry, circling and watching for the Snitch, and, unfortunately, having to dodge a lot of Bludgers directed his way by the Ravenclaw Beaters.

“Hurry it up,” Hermione muttered under her breath, as the game dragged on. Ravenclaw Seeker Cho Chang had already made two attempts for the Snitch, aborted when it would’ve led her into a scrum that contained Marcus Flint and his tendency to kick. Harry didn’t even bother following Chang after the Snitch, instead spiraling higher above the pitch. What was he doing?

“She was probably feinting,” Dean said, when Hermione expressed her bafflement to him. “Or he thinks she was. Ouch.” This last bit was in response to the latest foul, when the Slytherin Beaters sandwiched a Ravenclaw Chaser, making him drop the Quaffle, but also earning Ravenclaw yet another penalty shot. “If this keeps up, it’ll be a game of attrition. Look at Malfoy.”

Hermione, and all the Gryffindors around her and Dean, swiveled their heads to look at the Slytherin Keeper. There was a distinct droop to his figure as everyone else cleared out of the way for Ravenclaw team captain Roger Davies to take his shot. Malfoy managed to block the Quaffle, but not with enough force to knock it out of the scoring area, necessitating a scramble to get it back in his own team’s hands.

Not five minutes after that, Hermione gasped, then slapped her hand over her mouth, glancing around to make sure no one had noticed. Harry wasn’t circling high above everyone else anymore. He was actually below the action, drifting in a slow figure eight out while flying upside down. Each loop took him a little bit closer to the goalposts.

“And that’s another goal for Slytherin!” Lee Jordan yelled into his megaphone. “A beautiful attempt at the Starfish and Stick maneuver by Page fails to block Higgs’ signature curveball, making the score- hold up, where’d Potter go?”

Everyone but Hermione looked up automatically, and then around, before finally directing their attention downwards. A mere twenty feet above the mud, Harry’s latest figure eight brought him within inches of the Slytherin goalpost. The crowd drew in a collective breath as he let go of the broom, dangling from it by his knees, and slowly stretched out his hands.

Harry’s fingers curled around the Snitch. He grinned. A split second later Chang zipped past, pulling up hard to avoid crashing into the ground, and the tension broke. Slytherin students started screaming again, while the rest of the audience groaned in disappointment. Hermione dashed for the stairs once she saw Harry’s feet safely on the ground. By the time she reached the pitch he was buried in hugs and backslaps and hair-ruffles from not only his teammates, but the rest of his house as well.

Pucey waved as Hermione approached, grinning broadly through a bloody nose. “Hell of a game, eh?” She laughed up at the emptying stands, running a hand over her head. “Think we might be a bad influence on the birdbrains. They weren’t like this last year!”

Hermione opened her mouth, intending to pass on the things she’d heard before the match, but then Higgs wiggled his way out of the crowd around Harry and grabbed Pucey’s arm.

“Merlin’s beard, mate, when did that happen?” he asked, frowning at her bloody face.

“Right after that last goal,” Pucey said, still grinning.

“Ugh, hold still,” Higgs said, unbuckling his gloves and untucking the hem of his sleeve from them. He pulled out his wand and held it up to Pucey’s nose. “Episkey.”

Pucey shuddered, wrinkled her nose experimentally, and tugged at it. “That’s loads better! Thanks, Terence.” Hermione mentally filed the spell away to look up later.

“You should still see Pomfrey,” Higgs grumbled, but anything he said after that was drowned out in the growing cheers as more Slytherins poured onto the field.

“Hermione!” Harry waved happily to Hermione from the middle of the green and silver mob. “I told you! I told you it’d be all right!” He was swept away by his jubilant housemates before Hermione could say anything. She made her way back to Gryffindor tower, bloodthirsty comments from their classmates lingering uneasily in the back of her mind.

~~~

In the few weeks leading up to the Gryffindor/Hufflepuff match, all of Hermione’s concern was pushed from her thoughts by the overwhelming number of choices for their elective classes to start next year. The older students were full of advice, some of it more dubious than others. Fred and George fanned out a handful of cards with class titles scrawled on them in front of Ron, telling him to pick three. Unfortunately for Ron, the cards were from an Exploding Snap deck and cost him half his eyebrows.

Hermione eventually circled every class on the list (they were all so interesting!), deciding to ask Professor McGonagall to help her work out a schedule.

“Wait, you’re taking all of them?” Harry asked, when he met Hermione on the second-floor stairs before the match. “Don’t you need sleep?”

“I didn’t want to not take any of them!” Hermione said. “Do you know what you’re taking, yet?”

“Care of Magical Creatures, for sure,” Harry said, as they walked down to the entrance hall together. “Adrian and Terence both like it, and Graham hates it, so that means it’s good. Dunno about the second class yet, Terence said to take Divination if you like creative writing. But not if you’re sensitive to strong smells or don’t like hearing how you’re gonna die every week.”

“What about the other classes?”

“Well, there’s- ugh.” Harry suddenly grimaced, and turned his head this way and that, looking around the hall. “Who is that?”

“Who’s what?” Hermione asked. A few other Gryffindors tromped down the stairs past them, decked out in red for the match; no one wanted to risk shades of gold being mistaken for Hufflepuff yellow.

“Someone complaining about being hungry,” Harry said with a snort. “The Great Hall is right here. It’s the same person I heard on Halloween too, said their food had been ruined.” He kicked at the next step up, scuffing the marble. “Wish I knew who it was,” he muttered. “Annoying.”

The world slowed down around Hermione, the way it did when she was mastering a new Transfiguration. “Harry,” she said. “How do you know it’s the same person? And why do you even remember something you heard on Halloween?”

“Because their voice bugs me,” Harry said with a scowl. “Gives me the stupidest feeling that I need to fix it for them.”

Hermione couldn’t remember hearing anyone complaining on Halloween. And she hadn’t heard anyone now. And she never did hear anything, when Harry was chatting with his friends by the greenhouse…

“I’ve got to get to the library,” Hermione blurted out. She shoved the Go Lions! poster Ron had made for them to cheer with into Harry’s arms. “I’ll meet you in the stands.”

“Wait, Hermione!” Harry called out, startled, but Hermione was racing up the marble steps, the world speeding up again. “Hermione!” She heard a swell of voices behind her as everyone spilled out of the Great Hall, and Harry’s confused cries were drowned out.

How did she miss this? It wasn’t like Salazar Slytherin was subtle about his talent, slapping up a snake on his part of the school crest. And there had been Terry Boot’s comment, about heirs not needing to be descendants, just fitting criteria. He’d though Slytherin wanted an heir who shared ideals, but what if it was really about skills? It couldn’t be Harry though. Was there another Parslemouth at Hogwarts, better at hiding it?

Hermione pounded along the corridor. She threw open the door to the library. Penelope Clearwater, reading near the window, looked up at the bang.

“It’s the King of Serpents, it’s got to be!” Hermione said, making a beeline for a book she knew talked about deadly magical creatures. Of course it was on the top shelf. She strained on her tiptoes, unable to reach the book. “Oh for the love of-!”

“Here,” Clearwater said, reaching past her and pulling the book down. Her hands shook as she flipped through the pages. Hermione forced herself to take deep breaths, staring intently as the pages flicked past.

“There!” Hermione yelped, sticking her finger on the page. “Basilisk, called the King of Serpents. Venomous fangs, and a killing stare…”

“But no one’s been killed,” Clearwater said. “They’re just petrify- wait. Gemma told me, someone died when it got opened fifty years ago.”

“Exactly,” Hermione said. “Several petrifactions, one death. If the stare was indirect…just petrifaction. No good to eat anymore, so it left them.” Clearwater gave her a confused look at that comment, which Hermione ignored. “Justin saw it through Nick, Nick’s already dead, Mrs. Norris was by that puddle, and Colin…”

“Colin must have seen it through his camera,” Clearwater whispered. “He took that thing everywhere, always curious, always wanting to share what he found.” Her voice cracked, and Hermione glanced up when a tear fell onto the page. “Saved his life.”

“Do you have a mirror?” Hermione asked. Clearwater immediately pulled a compact from her robe and flipped it open. “And a quill?” Clearwater pulled out a ballpoint pen instead. Hermione took it with a nod of thanks, and wrote pipes on the page before tearing it from the book.

Clearwater gasped, and slapped a hand over her mouth. “In case…”

“In case it finds us before we find a teacher,” Hermione said. She gulped, feeling the hair on the back of her neck stand up at the thought. “They’ll need to know how it’s getting around. Look, here, it says a rooster’s crow kills it, Hagrid mentioned something killed all the roosters on campus and some of the hens, that must have been the Heir.”

“There’s sure to be some still in Hogsmeade,” Clearwater said. She took a deep, shaky breath, then squared her shoulders. “Everyone’s down at the pitch already, aren’t they?” Hermione nodded. “Good. We just need to get outside, then.”

Hermione and Clearwater looked at the door out of the library. There was an awful lot of school, between them and the entrance hall. The entrance hall where Harry had heard a voice just minutes ago.

“I don’t suppose you know any shortcuts?” Hermione asked, but Clearwater shook her head. “Drat. All right. Let’s go.”

~~~

Harry settled into a seat next to Adrian and Terence, Go Lions! poster fobbed off onto Neville Longbottom as they’d passed in the crowd. “You ready for some math, small fry?” Adrian asked, passing Harry a set of collapsible brass binoculars. “This sucker thinks the badgers’ll have four-fifth’s the lions’ points when Diggory gets the Snitch.”

“They will,” Terence insisted. “Give or take ten points. And I’ll have a whole sickle off you.”

“Diggory’s not getting the Snitch,” Harry said, trying to open up the binoculars. The brass squeaked, but the rings barely budged.

“Terence edits my Charms essay for spelling errors if Spinnet gets the Snitch,” Adrian said. “But the point thing’s regardless, and I’m winning that sickle, ‘cause there’s no way the lions are making more goals than the badgers. Thomas is good, sure, but Johnson and Bell aren’t as tight with him as they were with Spinnet. You could tell in our last match.”

“They’ve trained more, since then, you know,” Terence pointed out. He reached past Adrian, took the binoculars from Harry, opened them with an easy twist, and passed them back. “And Gryffindor’s got the best Keeper at Hogwarts.”

“Don’t let Malfoy hear you say that, he’ll tell his father on you,” Adrian said with a grin.

Terence started to laugh, but cut himself off with a frown. He snatched the binoculars from Harry again, and peered through them down at the Quidditch field. “What in the world?

Professor McGonagall had hurried onto the pitch a moment after the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff teams, and now addressed the crowd through a large bullhorn. “This match has been cancelled.” Oliver Wood tried to argue with her, but the message continued as she ignored him. “All students are to make their way back to their house common rooms, where their head of houses will give them further information. As quickly as you can, please!”

Harry’s stomach made a spirited attempt to tie itself into the sort of knot that keeps ships safely moored, as everyone poured down the stairs and back across the grounds. When they crammed back into the entrance hall, Harry bit his lip, trying to spot Hermione in the crowd, but with everyone pressed so close he couldn’t see anything, and was soon shunted down the stairs to the dungeons. He knew he should have gone with her.

“What’s going on?” Terence asked, brass binoculars still clutched in his hand. “They never cancel Quidditch.”

“There’s probably been another attack,” Adrian muttered. Harry’s stomach twisted further. When they finally got into the Slytherin common room, Adrian had to grab his shoulder and steer him towards a chair to sit on, so he wouldn’t get knocked over by everyone else pressing in, lost in his worry.

“Attention!” Gemma called, standing on one of the tall-backed chairs by the fireplace. “I said attention, you lot!” She snapped her wand towards Marcus Flint, who was still complaining loudly about the cancelled match. “Petrificus totalus!

There were cries of alarm as Marcus locked up and fell over, and one third-year failed to get out of the way in time and was trapped under the Quidditch captain.

“As I was saying,” Gemma said continued into the silence, voice as cool and unruffled as ever. “Professor Snape is here to speak with us all. The floor is yours, sir.” She stepped down from the chair. A friend of the trapped third-year had gotten hold of their arms and was quietly trying to pull them out from under Marcus.

“Thank you, Miss Farley,” Snape said. He stood in front of the fireplace with his hands laced behind his back, casting a long shadow on the floor. “Miss Penelope Clearwater of Ravenclaw and Miss Hermione Granger of Gryffindor were found petrified outside the library by Mr. Filch.”

Harry barely felt Adrian’s hand tighten on his shoulder, or the rough material of the chair drag across his knuckles as his hands clenched. The rest of Snape’s speech was drowned out by the recriminations pounding through his head. He should have followed her. He should have come up with more questions for Adrian to ask her mum, he should have asked the ghosts what they remembered from fifty years ago, he should have solved this, somehow, before now-

“You all right, kid?” Adrian asked quietly, as Snape stalked out of the common room. Harry shook his head silently, and finally looked up. Terence had gone over to undo the full body bind on Marcus.

“I need to,” Harry started. “I mean. We never talked to Hagrid.” He stood up, and Adrian pushed him back down into the chair.

“You didn’t catch a word of what the professor said, did you?” she asked. She sighed when Harry simply shook his head again. “Curfew’s at six, all the extra-curriculars are cancelled, and teachers’ll escort us between classes. Dunno if they’re walking us to meals, too, or relying on sheer numbers.”

“I don’t care,” Harry said. “We never talked to him, and we need to.”

“We didn’t want to bring up bad memories,” Adrian pointed out.

“Probably too late for that,” Harry said. “I’m going to talk to him. You know I can get out of here.”

Adrian rubbed the back of her head roughly, frowning. “I know, I know. You’re not the only one kicking themselves, here. Just…we gotta be smart about this.”

“We?” Harry asked, looking up in surprise. Adrian was staring past him at their housemates. Everyone was already congregating in little groups, talking about the incident and the new rules.

We,” Adrian said firmly. “Are going to dinner and to bed like normal, because they’re probably doing a headcount, and then you’re going to sneak back out in your trick cloak and wait in that corner,” she pointed to the dark recess between the windows and the archway. “And I’ll meet you there, and if you’re not there it better be because you realized this is a terrible idea and have decided to stay in bed like a smart little second-year.”

Harry grinned at her. Adrian shook her head with an exasperated sigh, and ruffled his hair.

~~~

Hiding under the covers of his bed again got Harry through the rest of the afternoon, but unfortunately, he did still have to go to dinner. The moment he stuck his head back out into the common room, most of his yearmates rushed over, Draco in the lead.

“Glad to see you finally started taking my advice, Harry,” Draco said.

Excuse me?” Pansy said sharply from his left.

“Our advice,” Draco corrected smoothly.

Harry stared blankly at the gaggle of second-year Slytherins, brain dredging itself up from the depths of should have solved this should have solved this to work out what they meant. Advice? When had they- did they mean those lists back in December, the people they didn’t want at Hogwarts? Did they still think he was the one doing this, even after-

“Of course you’ll need to be more careful now,” Draco went on. “It’ll be harder with the new curfew, but I’ve- we’ve got some ideas that-”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Harry cut in, voice cracking. His eyes stung.

Draco frowned, glancing at Pansy. She rolled her eyes. “We’re not trying to insult you,” Pansy said, while on her other side from Draco, Tracey was nodding enthusiastically. “We know you’ve been doing really well on your own, we were all just saying how impressed we were. But it never hurts to have some help.”

“Hermione’s all the help I’ve ever needed,” Harry said. Something angry and vindictive inside him flared with hot joy as their jaws dropped.

“You don’t need to keep pretending that,” Draco said, recovering first. “Not in here.”

Oy! You lot want to eat or not?” Graham waved from the edge of the crowd by the archway, the entire house jostling each other to get to the dungeon hallways. “Professor Snape’s escorting everyone, hurry it up!”

Harry dodged around the other second-years and joined the crowd. He spotted Adrian a little ways ahead of them, talking quietly with Gemma. When they were finally out of the common room and into the hallways, she reached back without looking and grabbed Harry’s shoulder.

“Got some good news, small fry,” Adrian said. “Gemma’s one of Professor Sprout’s NEWTs students this year, and she says the mandrakes are gonna be mature before June. So chin up, shoulders back, and don’t let ‘em see you flinch.”

Chapter Text

Dinner passed in a blur (did he eat? He vaguely remembered Terence refilling his plate, so he must’ve) and so did the walk back to the dungeons. Adrian, noticing Harry looking around for exits when the second-years tried to mob him again, loudly sent him off to get his chess set and bring it back to the common room.

“I call winner,” Terence said, when he saw Harry and Adrian setting up their pieces, and that was that. Unable to concentrate on homework anyway, the entire house was soon wrapped up in chess matches, everyone’s boards taking over the end tables and in a few cases, bits of the floor. Whenever Draco or Pansy or the others tried to talk to Harry, they were firmly told to buzz off until their own round. Somehow, by the time everyone was packing up their sets and shambling off to bed, Harry had managed to only play against older students. He mostly lost, which he was used to, though he did win once against Peregrine Derrick because the fifth-year threw the match.

Hours later, hidden under the invisibility cloak, Adrian and Harry slipped out of the castle.

“How do you stand this?” Adrian muttered, when they were past the courtyard, out in the cold night air. She hunched over, trying to make sure the edges of the cloak didn’t expose their ankles. It probably would’ve been fine if she’d stood up straight, considering that Harry and Hermione had smuggled a crated baby dragon under the cloak last year, but Harry didn’t say anything. “This is weird. It’s weird. Useful as hell, but weird.”

They took the cloak off when they reached Hagrid’s cabin, making sure they were out of sight from the castle, and knocked at the door. A loaded crossbow greeted them; Adrian knocked Harry down onto the grass.

“What are yeh doin’ here?” Hagrid exclaimed, hanging his crossbow on a peg by the door before hauling the two of them to their feet. “Get in here! It’s bloody dangerous out there!”

“We’re here to ask awkward questions,” Adrian explained, looking around Hagrid’s home curiously while the Groundskeeper got the door latched and put on the kettle.

“It’s about Slytherin’s Monster,” Harry said. “Sorry.” He tugged Adrian’s arm to get her to sit down with him at the table; her prowling seemed to make Hagrid nervous, as he’d already spilled water while filling the kettle, and scattered tea leaves on the floor. Fang trotting around the cabin, whining anxiously, didn’t seem to be helping either.

“If yer own house don’t know what it is,” Hagrid said, getting a tin of biscuits out of a cupboard. “What makes yeh think I do?”

“Well, you knew about Fluffy last year-” Harry started, just as Adrian said “My Aunt Liwei says -” They jumped when someone banged on the door.

Adrian swore, and hauled Harry out of his chair before he could react, shoving him towards a corner. The both stumbled, but Harry managed to pull the invisibility cloak on as he rolled several yards away into the corner. Adrian, on the other hand, fell flat on her face right by the table. Hagrid looked over at them, crossbow already back in his hand; as they were both out of sight now, he turned to open the door. Adrian scrambled up to her feet and flung herself back into the chair.

“Good evening, Hagri- Miss Pucey?”

Adrian grinned weakly at Professor Dumbledore, who had just stepped over the cabin’s threshold. Crossbow lowered once more, Hagrid rubbed at his temples. Adrian lifted one hand to wave hello. “Evening, Headmaster.”

“There is a curfew, Miss Pucey,” Dumbledore said, moving further into the cabin. Fang nosed familiarly at the Headmaster’s robes, and was rewarded with pat on the head. “You should be in your dormitory.”

“I know, but there was this dare, sir,” Adrian lied quickly. “And, well, Mr. Hagrid caught me in the pumpkin patch, and he said he’d walk me back up to the castle for safety, and…” She frowned. “Why is Minister Fudge with you?”

A nervous looking man in an odd assortment of Muggle and wizard clothes had entered the cabin with Dumbledore. He now took off his bowler hat, lime green of all colors, and dabbed at his brow with pinstriped handkerchief. “Ah, that, er, that isn’t exactly student business, Miss, ah…?”

“Pucey,” Adrian prompted. She leaned back in the chair and crossed her arms.

“I do believe it is student business,” Dumbledore said mildly. “As it concerns the attacks on the student body these past months.”

“You’re not serious,” Adrian said flatly, as Hagrid burst out with “I never!”

“Hagrid has my full confidence,” Dumbledore assured them.

“But not the parent’s confidence,” Fudge said, tucking away the handkerchief. “We’re just, ah, going to take a precaution, as it were. Put some distance between Mr. Hagrid and the school. I mean,” Fudge continued, with a nervous laugh. “We can’t be seen doing nothing!”

“What…what sort o’ distance?” Hagrid asked.

“Distance and a watchful eye,” Fudge said firmly. “If something happens while you’re under ministry supervision, of course, that will be quite proof of your innocence.”

“Ministry supervision?” Hagrid asked. “Yeh don’t mean…not, not Azkaban.”

“You can’t,” Adrian agreed, pushing herself up and glaring at Fudge, knuckles pressed to the tabletop. “You can’t do that to him. Not to anybody. Not without evidence.”

“Under the circumstances,” Fudge said, putting his bowler hat back on. “Old regulations have been found to, ah, be-”

That’s bullshit!” Adrian yelled. Under his cloak, Harry had to bite his hand to keep from laughing at Fudge’s stunned face. Before anyone could say anything else, yet another person pushed the door open from the outside, and stepped through.

The newcomer was a tall man with blonde hair neatly tied back with black ribbon, and it seemed he’d pushed the door open with his silver-knobbed ebony cane, rather than touch it with his hand. Seeing him, Adrian abruptly sat back down, lips pressed tight together.

“What is this?” the man asked silkily, spotting Adrian. “Two attacks in one day, and a student out past even the normal curfew? Oh, dear. It seems the governors made the right decision.”

“Yer not welcome in my house, Malfoy,” Hagrid growled. Fang bared his teeth. Harry took a closer look at the man’s face, and realized that yes, this was the same face he’d seen several times in the Daily Prophet, usually under a caption about proposals for the curriculum, or attempts to ban books from the Hogwarts’ library.

“I have no intention of staying long in this…abode,” Lucius Malfoy said, and the sneer clinched it. This man was definitely Draco’s father.

“And what decision would that be?” Dumbledore asked, drawing Malfoy’s attention.

“Your suspension,” Malfoy said, and drew a long scroll of parchment from under his cloak. He unrolled it with a snap.

No,” croaked Hagrid, as Dumbledore bent to examine the scroll. “Yeh can’t suspend Dumbledore.”

“I agree,” Fudge said, eyes wide with alarm. “Lucius, everyone knows that Dumbledore-”

“Has failed to prevent any attacks?” Malfoy cut in smoothly. “Despite being one of the few staff also present fifty years ago?” He tsk’d. “It’s been a bad business all around, I’m afraid, and the Board of Governors cannot let this continue.”

“Can’t be seen doing nothing,” Adrian said, staring directly at Fudge. “Right, Minister?”

“Oh do stop flinching, Cornelius,” Malfoy said, when Fudge winced. “We’re protecting the school. Have some backbone.”

“Protecting the school’s what Dumbledore does,” Hagrid said furiously. He clearly wanted to say more, but at that moment, Dumbledore held a hand up, stepping back from the scroll.

“All twelve signatures, you really were very thorough,” Dumbledore told Malfoy.

“Thorough at blackmailin’ and bribin’,” Hagrid growled.

“I shall, of course, abide by the governing board’s wishes,” Dumbledore continued. “However, there is one important matter before we leave.” He looked gravely at the three other adults in the cabin.

“And that would be…?” Malfoy drawled.

“Escorting this young lady back to her dormitory,” Dumbledore said. Adrian ducked her head, rubbing at her hair. “Though I suppose if the Minister truly believes Hagrid to be the culprit, he would not like us all to go to the castle together? It is where the most potential victims are, after all.”

“Ah…” Fudge said.

“I should think three grown wizards would be more than enough to stop an attack they saw coming,” Lucius said with another sneer. “We need merely walk her to the steps. I was accosted by no less than three teachers, two prefects, and one ghost when I knocked at the front door, after all.”

“They shoulda hexed yeh right off the grounds,” Hagrid said loudly. He held the door open and gestured them towards it. “Long past time for everyone to get back.”

Lucius swept out the door, and Fudge followed, clutching his bowler hat anxiously. Dumbledore nodded to Adrian, and then shot a perceptive look towards the corner Harry was hiding in. Harry gulped; Dumbledore had given him James’ invisibility cloak last Christmas. Adrian nodded back, and as she stood up, made a come on, then gesture with one hand out of sight of the others. Harry hastily rose to his feet, and walked as silently as he could across the cabin. He poked Adrian in the side through the cloak. She visibly relaxed, and finally made for the door.

“If yer lookin’ fer more dares,” Hagrid said, as Adrian walked past him “Following the spiders should be enough of one.” Once Dumbledore was through as well, Hagrid pulled the door closed behind himself, swallowing hard as Fang began to whine. “Would yeh mind feedin’ Fang while I’m gone?”

“Least I can do,” Adrian said, a bit shakily.

“Thanks,” Hagrid said, and the whole ensemble trudged back up to the castle.

~~~

“It’s him,” Adrian snarled, pacing in front of the fireplace. The Slytherin common room was long since deserted for the night, but Harry kept one ear tuned for the sound of other students while Adrian ranted. “The bastard’s kept his hands out of the shit somehow, but you can smell it on him. He’s the one Dobby overheard. He got the Chamber open, he’s set the Monster loose, and he doesn’t care who it kills as long as it gets rid of Dumbledore.”

“He’d care if it killed Draco,” Harry pointed out quietly. He was perched on the back of a tall chair, where he could see the tunnels leading to the sleeping chambers easily.

“All the stories say it only kills Muggle-borns,” Adrian said, waving one hand dismissively, and then rubbing the back of her head. “Arrogant son of a bitch probably didn’t even think of his kid being in danger. Thinks he’s making the school better, chasing out half the students and clearing the way for a Headmaster that he can control, some spineless sack of jelly like Fudge.”

“He’s failed, then,” Harry said. “McGonagall’s Deputy Headmistress. She’ll be in charge now.”

“Then he’ll get her fired next,” Adrian snapped.

“Maybe we should warn her?” Harry suggested. Adrian went pale. She stopped pacing, and stared at him.

“Are you insane?” she asked, pressing the heels of her palms to her temples. “If he even thinks we suspect him- no, no, absolutely not. Do you even know how he got on the Board of School Governors? He drafted a petition to make Muggle-born students pass an exam before they could enroll at Hogwarts, waited to see which governor opposed it the most, and then poisoned her! She’s still at St. Mungo’s coughing up toads, and no one could ever prove it was him. Word gets out we’re pointing fingers at him for this, he’ll do worse.”

“He just got my best friend turned to stone!” Harry shot back. “How can he do any worse?

“Get you expelled, for starters,” Adrian said. She started pacing again. “So you won’t be here when Granger wakes up. Or send the Quidditch team another set of new brooms, and they’re cursed to chuck you off and break your neck. No. McGonagall either already suspects Malfoy, or she’s not worth her salt.”

“I’m not sitting back and doing nothing,” Harry said angrily.

I didn’t say that!” Adrian snapped. “We need proof, all right? Something solid, or it’ll slide right off him. For Merlin’s sake, the Malfoys were suspected of being Death Eaters during the war, and now they’re dining with the bloody Minister! We keep our eyes open and our mouths shut until the bastard slips up.”

~~~

The heads of each house now escorted their students from the dorms to the Great Hall each morning for breakfast, and back after dinner. The only exception was Gryffindor, led by Professor Vector in McGonagall’s stead. Harry found himself both annoyed by and thankful for the teachers walking them between classes; whenever the Slytherins passed by other houses in the hall, there were flurries of insults and accusations whispered his way. If the hall had only been occupied by students, Harry was sure he’d be dodging hexes.

About a week after Hermione and Clearwater were petrified, the accusations turned to a duel challenge at lunch.

“You’re joking,” Harry said, staring up at the handful of Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs standing across the Slytherin table from him. There were teachers up at the head table, but since students had been taking advantage of meals all week to catch up outside of classes, no one seemed to paying attention to this altercation.

“I’m completely serious,” Ernie MacMillan said, hands on his hips. Behind him, the other Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws nodded. Some muttered the word “serious” again.

“Dueling without supervision isn’t even allowed,” Pansy said snidely from a little ways down the table. “And they cancelled all the clubs, so don’t think you can just get Lockhart to supervise again, you chubby little toad.”

“Since when does Slytherin care about what’s allowed?” Mandy Brocklehurst snipped, while MacMillan turned red.

“Why do you even want to duel me?” Harry asked MacMillan, ignoring the others.

“Because it’ll be hard for you to petrify anyone if you’re stuck in the hospital wing covered in screaming pustules,” MacMillan said. Harry opened his mouth to point out that pustules tended to weep, not scream, and that he knew a countercurse for that by now anyway, but Ron Weasley wandered over from the Gryffindor table just then.

“Potter hasn’t petrified anyone, don’t be a git.”

“You were the first person to accuse him!” Brocklehurst said.

“Yeah, well, that was before I went along on all those bloody study sessions,” Ron said, rubbing his neck sheepishly. “Honestly, you’re not in Gryffindor, you don’t know what Hermione’s like when she’s correcting homework. She called his history thesis a load of rubbish ‘held together with poorly researched string’.”

“She insulted him, so he petrified her-”

“No, no, that was months ago,” Ron said, exasperated. “Trust me, if Potter was the sort to petrify someone annoying, they wouldn’t have stayed friends last year.”

“He still needed her to take down Quirrell back then,” MacMillan said hotly. “Didn’t want another Dark Lord around for competition, but now Granger’s outlived her usefulness-”

“You sound like Draco,” Harry said, jerking his head towards the other end of the table, where the Slytherin in question was going over Transfigurations homework with Vincent and Gregory.

“What?”

“He’ll be happy someone agrees with him,” Harry went on. “Think he’s tired of me telling him he’s full of it. Why don’t you two go make friends, since you’ve got common ground already?”

Ron snorted. MacMillan turned even redder, but whatever he might have said next was stopped by the bell ringing for the start of afternoon classes.

The annoying part of being herded around by teachers was that Harry had no chance to go talk to the grass snakes down by the greenhouses.  Everyone had already asked most of the ghosts and portraits around the castle what they knew of the Chamber, back when Mrs. Norris was first attacked, but soon after Hagrid’s arrest Harry realized he’d been unable to talk to the snakes all winter, thanks to their usual hibernation.

The only other lead would be to follow the spiders, and Adrian nixed that the moment Harry mentioned it. “Saw some of the bigger ones scuttling through the grass, when I was feeding Fang yesterday,” she said. Professor Snape was actually letting her keep her word to Hagrid, sending the two seventh-year prefects to accompany her down to the cabin each morning before breakfast. Apparently he considered dealing with the giant boarhound punishment enough for sneaking out after curfew, and hadn’t assigned her any other detention. “They’re heading for the forest, and I’d bet my Comet that huge one Mother mentioned is still out there.”

“If it was around the first time-”

“Learning from it won’t do you any good if you get eaten.”

“Hagrid wouldn’t send us to get eaten.”

“Not if he thought of it, sure,” Adrian agreed. “But he’s bigger than most things in the forest, he probably hasn’t had to worry about being eaten since he was a student. You, pipsqueak, are definitely snack-sized.”

It would’ve been easy to sneak out in the night again, under the invisibility cloak, but the late spring air wasn’t warm enough at night for the snakes to stick about. The best chance to talk to them was in the middle of the day, but even with the cloak, how could Harry get out unnoticed?

About a week before exams, Harry gave up on the idea of getting out unnoticed, and stashed the invisibility cloak inside a small pouch in his bookbag, deciding to see the grass snakes at lunch. The Slytherin second-years had Defense Against the Dark Arts right beforehand, and if he was lucky Lockhart wouldn’t bother with a headcount upon reaching the Great Hall, and if he was really lucky, the other Slytherins would assume he was off petrifying some poor Muggle-born, and not rat him out. Which meant he’d have however long it took for the other houses to notice and raise a stink, to learn what he could.

“You’re gonna have detention from now until exams are over,” Adrian said, when Harry gave her a heads up that morning. She ruffled his hair. “You could just wait for the mandrakes to mature. McGonagall’s sure to interview everyone, once they’re restored.”

Harry shook his head. “If they got attacked from behind, they won’t have any more idea than the rest of us.”

Sneaking out went surprisingly well; Harry ducked behind a suit of armor when Lockhart turned a corner, and pulled out the cloak. Safely invisible, he ran down a set of back stairs to the first floor, and out one of the side doors. He snuck around the in-use greenhouses, seeing students’ silhouettes in Greenhouse Two, and wiggled on his stomach through the grass between the last one and the lakeshore until he found a snake sunning itself in a bare patch of earth next to a clump of Scottish primroses.

Friend!” the snake exclaimed, when the light breeze shifted, directing Harry’s scent towards it. “You’re hiding! Is there danger?

“Not for you,” Harry assured the snake quickly. He flipped the cloak’s hood up for a moment, letting the snake see his face, then flipped it back down. Hopefully no one had been looking out the castle windows just then. “But there is danger for students. I’m trying to help a friend, and they said to follow the spiders. It looks like they’re going into the Forbidden Forest-”

Don’t go!” the snake hissed in alarm. It rose up and wavered back and forth, like someone having an attack of the vapors. “Don’t go, don’t go!

“It’s all right, I won’t go,” Harry said hastily. “Really, I won’t. Please don’t faint.” The snake settled back down. “You don’t know why they’re all running from the castle, do you?”

The snake rippled from snout to tail tip, as though shrugging, or shuddering. “She hunts.” The wind shifted again, slapping the grass stalks against Harry’s cloak.

She hunts,” another snake said, rising up from a few feet away.

She hunts.” A third snake rose.

She hunts.” All around Harry, dozens of snakes rose from the grass, swaying as they hissed. The colony was larger than Harry had imagined; he’d never seen so many of them come into sight at once. “She hunts…

“Erm,” Harry said, a little nervous. The grass snakes had never acted like this before. “Who does?”

SHE.”

~~~

Harry snuck back into the castle just as afternoon classes were about to start, and discovered that no one had bothered to report his absence. He went through the rest of the day too preoccupied with the snakes’ words to be relieved by that. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d learned something new, but what was it? They already knew a monster was in the castle, they knew it was hunting people, they knew it scared the spiders…what was he missing?

The Slytherin common room that night was much as it had been the rest of the month; crowded, and divided.

The fifth-years, as a unit, had decided to ignore everyone else and study for their OWLs. They dragged most of the little end tables and the few larger ones over to the corner between the archway and the fireplace, and snapped at anyone who came over without a stack of books. Several seventh-years who cared more about NEWTS than the blood status of who attended Hogwarts next year joined them, and Gemma Farley was the sole sixth-year in that corner.

Most of the sixth and seventh-years congregated near the fire, discussing what to do if the Ministry or the Board tried to close the school; if they could convince the Board of School Governors to expel Muggle-borns next year, just as an experiment, and the attacks stopped…well then. Who’d argue with them after that? A handful of younger students who’d been the most vocal about supporting the Heir were drawn into the conversation as well, including half the second-years. Draco Malfoy positively glowed with the attention his father’s school governorship garnered him.

The rest of the second-years, along with most of the first and third-years, sat cross-legged on cushions piled on the floor near the entrances to the sleeping chambers, doing schoolwork on the stone thanks to the older students making off with the tables. Terence and another fourth-year wandered around among them, giving advice on study habits, demonstrating spells, and double-checking their work.

“No point keeping Hogwarts open if everyone fails exams,” Terence said, when Graham tried to tease him for hanging out with all the younger students. “Now hand that quill back over, or it’s going up your nose.”

The Slytherins that weren’t studying or politicking took over the recessed windowsills, trying to ignore how many people were crammed in there with them. Harry curled up in one with his History textbook, and let his mind wander.

She hunts…

~~~

At breakfast the next morning, Professor McGonagall announced that the mandrakes were finally mature. The Restorative Draught would be ready that night, and Potions class was cancelled for the day, to give Professor Snape time to brew. Harry beamed at everyone who glanced his way as McGonagall announced this. Hermione was going to be all right! And everyone else, too.

As soon as McGonagall sat back down, the usual flock of morning owls swooped in. Adrian nearly always got one, since she had a subscription to the Daily Prophet, but today a second followed close after bearing a slim scroll. Adrian got a hopeful look when she saw the design in its wax seal, and burst out laughing once she’d cracked it.

“What is it?” Terence asked, craning his neck over her shoulder. “What’s so funny?”

“They finally tracked down Uncle Alvie!” Adrian said, waving the bit of parchment over her head. “He’s sent my Hogsmeade permission letter!”

“Aren’t you in fourth year?” Lucian asked from across the table, at the same moment Terence said “Good, then you can stop stealing my butterbeers and buy your own.”

“But they taste better stolen,” Adrian said, grinning. Terence shoved her shoulder as she stashed the permission slip in her robes. “Uncle Alvie’s a bit hard to find, and he’s terrible with deadlines that aren’t ship or flying carpet departures,” she explained to Lucian. “Fat lot of good it does now, though, since they cancelled all the Hogsmeade trips until the attacks stop.”

“I blame your Gryffindor,” Terence told Harry. “If she hadn’t gone and gotten petrified, I could make Adrian finally buy half those Chocolate Frogs she owes me.”

“I’ll be sure to tell Hermione that when she wakes up,” Harry said, still beaming.

Adrian ruffled his hair and then stilled, hand heavy on top of his head. Harry shoved her hand off and turned to follow her line of sight. Over at the Gryffindor table, Ginny Weasley had just fled from her seat, leaving Ron looking concerned and Percy nervous in her wake. Adrian frowned.

“What was all that about?”

Chapter Text

All students return to their house dormitories at once.” Everyone in Charms jumped as Professor McGonagall’s voice echoed out of the stone walls, ten minutes before lunch. “All teachers return to the staff room. Immediately, please.”

“No, no,” Harry said, as Millicent grabbed his arm and tugged him out of class. Not another attack, not another one, not now, what was the point when the Restorative Draught was almost ready? “No, no, no-”

The seventh-year prefects met the class in the hall and herded them downstairs, letting Professor Flitwick hurry off to the staff room. They stuck to the main halls, which took them past the corridor near the second-floor stairs, where the message from Halloween still gleamed.

There were more words below it now. Silence spread through the crowd of scared students as they came in sight.

HER SKELETON WILL LIE IN THE CHAMBER FOREVER

“Wh-whose skeleton?” Daphne quaked, and then the prefects hurried them past it, glancing over their shoulders as they got everyone downstairs. When all the Slytherins from the different years were finally in their dungeon, one name started spreading, a first-year Gryffindor who’d missed that morning’s Herbology class with Hufflepuff.

Ginny Weasley.

“But she’s a pure-blood,” Graham insisted, waving his arms at Lucian. “You’ve got bad information!”

“The whole family is blood-traitors,” Lucian said, jabbing Graham in the chest. “And I heard it straight from Diggory.”

“Diggory doesn’t talk to you,” Graham shot back, knocking Lucian’s hand away. “And he’s a fourth-year, not a first, how would he even know?”

“He’s a fourth-year that’s already picked as next year’s prefect,” Lucian said. “And I overheard him comforting the firstie that noticed her missing, on their way to their dormitory. It’s Ginny Weasley, and it’s because her father’s a Muggle-loving blood-traitor!”

“IF EVERYONE DOESN’T SHUT UP RIGHT NOW I WILL DO A MASS FULL BODY BIND AND ROLL EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU ONTO THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS MYSELF.”

“Can she really do that?” Graham whispered to Lucian, as Gemma Farley glared around the room from atop a sturdy table near the fire. One of the seventh-year prefects stood next to her, counting heads to make sure everyone was there.

“Exams are cancelled,” Gemma said. Her eyes narrowed as people started to whisper, and she slid her wand from the sleeve of her robes. Silence resumed. “Professor Snape has informed us that the school is being temporarily closed. The Hogwarts Express is taking everyone home tomorrow. If anyone sets foot outside the dormitories before sunrise, he will personally force-feed that student the Draught of Living Death and let their parents brew the antidote.”

A collective shudder ran through the students; Snape always told the first-years about the coma-inducing potion while giving an overview of what they’d learn in his class, and often mentioned that it was extremely tricky to get right, and the antidotes even more so.

The seventh-year prefect tapped Gemma’s shoulder, and whispered something in her ear. She nodded shortly, and addressed the assembled Slytherins again. “Everyone’s accounted for. I suggest you all start packing; lunch and dinner will be brought here today, and breakfast served on the Express.” She climbed down from the table, and half the students began pouring into the sleeping chambers to pack, the rest staying in the common room to gossip. Harry found himself sitting on the floor next to one of the windows, knees tucked up under his chin, not quite sure how he’d gotten there.

“Hey.”

Harry blinked up at Adrian. Her eyes were bloodshot, and she smeared the edge of her palm against one as she crouched down next to him. “You should eat.” A large collection of baskets had appeared in the common room, spread out across the end tables. Students were quietly pulling sandwiches and pieces of fruit from them, and passing them around.

“Weasley’s dead, isn’t she?” Harry asked, voice coming out in a hoarse croak.

Adrian closed her eyes. “I don’t know,” she whispered, after a long moment. “There was a body, fifty years ago, but this…this makes it worse on her parents, not getting her back, not being able to know, and…” She swallowed hard. “Her, her dad’s the one, in the papers, when there were those raids, it was the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts office doing it, Arthur Weasley’s the head of that. And, and Malfoy hates him, everyone knows it, that fight back in Flourish and Blott’s, it wasn’t weird, for them, they hate each other. But, but I don’t know if he’d- I mean he would, he absolutely would kill a little kid, but he’d also- he’d also- if he thought he could kidnap a Weasley, and use them as leverage-”

“You think she might be alive,” Harry said, lifting his head off his arms.

“It’s a fool’s hope,” Adrian said, voice hollow. She abruptly got off the floor, and vanished into the girls’ half of the dorms.

Later, Harry wouldn’t be able to tell anyone how that afternoon had gone, if he’d eaten, if he’d packed, who had bothered talking to him. It wasn’t until the fire suddenly flared blue that he paid attention to his surroundings. The baskets of food were back, and Gemma was standing in front of the blue flames.

“Storm-tossed one,” she began, and Harry sank back down. She must be doing another poetry recitation, like she had last year. He could see most of the younger students gathered on the floor in front of her.

“She’s trying to keep them calm,” Adrian said. Harry jumped; he hadn’t noticed her come back. He looked down, and realized he hadn’t noticed himself climb into the recessed windowsill closest to the archway either, yet here he was. “One of the firsties almost ran out into the hall, said it’d be better to be stone than go home.”

Perseus!

“No, Gemma, really?” Adrian muttered. Harry raised his eyebrows, and Adrian shook her head. “She’s doing the one about this hero who fights a Gorgon.”

“What’s a Gorgon?” Harry asked.

“These three sisters with snakes for hair,” Adrian said. “Turned anyone who looked in their eyes to stone. I guess it’s topical. And at least Perseus makes it through, so maybe that’ll cheer up the firsties. Dunno if she’s doing the version with a mirrored shield, or a blindfold.” She peered down at Harry’s stunned face. “You never ate lunch, did you? Stay here, I’m getting one of those baskets.”

Adrian vanished off into the crowd around the fire.

“She hunts…” Harry whispered to himself. She hunts, she hunts, not it, that was the clue, that was the important part. As long as he’d been talking to them, the grass snakes had only ever bothered with she and he for each other, for friends and family, never for any other living thing. Toads were it, hawks were it, bugs and fish and owls and foxes were all it.

Slytherin’s Monster was she.

Which meant Slytherin’s Monster was a serpent. A Gorgon sister? Or something else, something related? Snake hair and turning people to stone, that couldn’t be a coincidence, could it? Monsters turned into legends, changed with each telling but if they were close enough . . .

“That’s who I heard in the hall,” Harry said, thinking aloud. “That’s who was hungry.” That’s why Hermione had run off, she hadn’t heard anything when he did, she’d figured it out and gone to the library for confirmation. “I heard her, I can talk to her.” He swung himself out of the windowsill and paused, hand pressed against the snake sculptures that framed the window. He could talk to Slytherin’s Monster. But where was she?

“The Chamber of Secrets.” He frowned. “How do I get there?”

The sculpture moved under his hand. Harry jumped back. A tiny silver snake with emerald chips for eyes unwrapped from around a larger bronze fellow, and glided down the stone wall, hissing as it went towards the archway.

Follow me.”

Harry slipped from the dungeon and chased the silver snake through the hallways, running as fast as he could. It didn’t matter how fast he ran, or if he tripped and had to pull himself back up, the enchanted sculpture never got more than ten feet ahead of him. There were mostly in back corridors, dusty with disuse, and it wasn’t until they passed Lockhart’s open classroom door that Harry realized they were looping back around to the second floor hallway with the dreadful painted messages.

“Halt, villain!” Lockhart’s voice rang out, bombastic and theatrical, and Harry would’ve burst out laughing if he hadn’t been keeping all his breath for running. He would not halt, he had a Weasley to save-

Lockhart grabbed the collar of his robes.

Urk!” Harry’s feet flailed up into the air, arms windmilling. “Let go!”

“Thought you could get away with it, Heir of Slytherin?” Lockhart asked, grabbing Harry’s wrist before he could reach for his wand.

“You don’t understand!” Harry yelled. “I’m-”

“Following a vile serpent down the halls!” Lockhart said. “Off to petrify more helpless students? Well-”

“You let him go right fucking now!”

Lockhart spun around, spinning Harry around as well; Adrian sprinted down the hall towards them.

“Miss Pucey, the situation is under control,” Lockhart said, letting go of Harry’s collar to wave one hand reassuringly, flashing a smile. His other hand was still grinding the bones of Harry’s wrist.

“I said let him go, you smarmy bastard!

Adrian tackled Lockhart, knocking all three of them to the floor. Harry scrambled out of the heap; the silver snake had circled back to wind back and forth in front of him. As soon as Harry got to his feet it shot away again. He pelted off down the corridor, heard two voices yell “Stupefy!”, and a small explosion.

No footsteps followed him.

The snake slipped through a doorway halfway down the second floor corridor. Harry stumbled inside, and came face to face with a very startled ghost; Moaning Myrtle, whom Harry had spoken to briefly in his lonely first few months at Hogwarts, well over a year ago. They were in the bathroom she haunted.

“Um, hi Myrtle,” Harry said. He could see the silver snake coiled around a tap on one of the sinks behind her. “Has, um, anyone come through here today?”

“I don’t know,” Myrtle said, blinking wetly at him. “I was down in the loo by Transfigurations until just now. I don’t spend all my time here, you know.” Her lip wobbled.

“Sorry,” Harry said. “Didn’t mean to assume. Um. I’m just going to…” he edged past her to the sink. When he put his hand on the porcelain, bending down to examine the tap, the silver snake slithered up his wrist and settled around it, clasping its tail in its mouth to form a bracelet. The bare outline of a snake was scratched roughly onto the tap.

Myrtle floating up behind him, peering over his shoulder. “What are you doing?”

“Saving someone,” Harry said. “I hope.” He took a deep breath. His heart was still pounding. He traced the scratchy snake outline with his thumb. “Open up,” he hissed. The sink slid downwards, taking the mirror and part of the brick wall with it, exposing the gaping mouth of an enormous pipe.

“I’ve never seen the plumbing do that,” Myrtle said wonderingly. “And I’ve seen a lot of plumbing. It’s like Diagon Alley, isn’t it? Like the bricks.”

“Yeah,” Harry said, staring down the dark pipe. Somewhere down there was a creature that petrified anyone who made eye contact. Harry quickly undid his house tie, and tied it around his forehead. He could pull it down like a blindfold, like Perseus, when he found Slytherin’s Monster. Another deep breath, and Harry swung himself up into the pipe, ignoring Myrtle’s startled exclamation behind him.

It was a long, slimy slide down to the bottom, through decades of sediment and soap left by the draining tap water. He tried to remember the cleaning spells they’d used after that food fight. It was tergeo, wasn’t it? Or did that only work on porcelain? Maybe the spell Hermione had used to get the pumpkin pasty out of his bag their first year would work on this slime. Finally, the pipe spat him out feet-first into a puddle. Harry stumbled forward, slapping a hand over his eyes.

He was standing on a very hard, slippery surface, with shallow water sullenly splashing against his shoes from the impact he’d made.

“…hello?” Harry called tentatively. Nothing shrieked or roared or hissed in response. Listening very hard, he heard a soft plip of slowly dripping water.

Harry lowered his hand, and held up his wand.

Lumos.”

He was in a stone tunnel, carved even more roughly than the Slytherin common room. Guessing by the long pipe ride, it was deeper than the common room as well. No wonder no one had ever found the Chamber of Secrets; they’d looked in the castle, not under it. He tried to imagine the grass snakes down here, and shuddered. They might burrow into the ground to get through the winter, but they would have preferred the weather to oblige them by staying warm all year. Was there even anything to eat down here?

Ten yards or so down the tunnel, he stepped on a pile of rat bones. Well. That answered that question.

The tunnel curved. Harry peered around the bend, saw large coils of something, and yanked his tie down over his eyes.

“Hello?” he whispered in a hiss. “I’ve come to ask you to stop petrifying people? You said you were hungry, I can help…”

No answer. Cautiously, Harry stepped forward, one hand held out in front of him.

The pile of coils was dry and crisp to the touch. A shed skin. Harry pulled the makeshift blindfold back up to examine it. He really was trying to find a giant snake, it seemed. The boa at the zoo had been eight feet long; this skin was more than twice that. Harry took a deep breath, and kept going down the tunnel.

Another bend brought him to a familiar sight; a carving of two enormous twining snakes. Harry relaxed unconsciously. Chiseled into the stone, with large emerald eyes, they had clearly been made by the same hand that created the carvings and sculptures framing the lake windows in the Slytherin dungeon. He’d always liked sitting in the windowsills, cushioned from rock by mismatched green pillows, watching the sun or moon’s light filter through the water.

Between the carvings was the end of the tunnel, a wall of seemingly solid rock. Harry pressed his hand to it with a frown. There was no sun or moon down here, no lake to shift gently above him. Just the slow drip of water down the stone, and darkness. And beyond this wall, a small Gryffindor girl that belonged in a warm, bright world of red and gold. Not here.

Open.”

The snakes untwined, stone rippling as the wall split apart. Murky green light washed over Harry, and he darkened his wand, stepping forward into a vast chamber. He walked slowly, trying to avoid the puddles, the rat bones, to peer around the enormous stone columns that rose up until vanishing into the dark ceiling. He couldn’t tell where the green light was coming from.

Halfway across the chamber, Harry spotted a statue that rivalled the columns in height; a bearded wizard staring down at the room. In the shadows between its feet was a spray of fiery red. Harry took off running.

“Weasley! Come on Weasley don’t be dead!” Harry skidded to a stop at the statues feet, slipping on the slimy floor and falling to his knees by the small Gryffindor, losing his grip on his wand as he tried not to crash into her. Ginny Weasley was lying on her stomach, thankfully kept out of the muck by the statue’s raised dais. Her robe’s hem was damp from the puddles, and the back was coated in slime from the same pipe ride Harry had taken.

“Come on Weasley,” Harry said, getting an arm under her shoulders and trying to pull her upright. “Your brothers are gonna kill me if I don’t bring you back! You wouldn’t let that happen after our snowball fight, would you?”

Ginny was limp, and cold, but breathing. Harry tried to stand up, and stumbled back down under her leaden weight. He looked around frantically for his wand. If he could levitate her out of here, Madam Pomfrey could fix this . . .

“Lost something?”

A tall, black-haired boy in Slytherin robes had picked up Harry’s wand.

“Who are you?” Harry asked warily. He couldn’t remember seeing this boy around the Slytherin common room, or at their table for meals. The boy smiled lazily.

“Riddle. Tom Riddle.”

That wasn’t possible. This must just be someone who’d heard the same rumors, capitalizing on the name…right? But if not Riddle, who was he? Harry tried to imagine the face framed with other house colors, and couldn’t. And something about the boy’s smile made him uneasy . . .

“Bullshit,” Harry said, hoping he sounded angry instead of scared. He shifted about, putting his back to Ginny and trying to pull her arms over his shoulders. “Riddle attended Hogwarts fifty years ago.” He grunted as he heaved himself and Ginny up.

“Oh, I did,” Riddle said, watching in amusement as Harry staggered off the dais.

“You a ghost, then?” Harry asked, not really believing it. Riddle wasn’t pearly grey, and ghosts didn’t tend to look that…solid, even if his edges were watery. Harry slipped in the large puddle in front of the statue, and nearly dropped Ginny, hastily lowering her back onto the dais before she could crack her head. He saw a small book there now, previously hidden by Ginny’s robe.

“A memory,” Riddle said. “Don’t touch that,” he snapped, when Harry reached curiously for the book. As Riddle accompanied the words with a burst of hot sparks from Harry’s wand, Harry silently withdrew his hand. He stayed crouched between Ginny and Riddle; whoever the boy was, whatever he was, he was dangerous.

“What do you want?” Harry asked desperately. “Trying to frame Hagrid again? Well it already worked, so you can piss off.”

“They blamed the oaf this time as well?” Riddle asked with delight.

“This time for the first time,” Harry said, fear transmuting into anger. “You didn’t fool anyone back then, no one really believed Hagrid’s pet was Slytherin’s Monster. It was just monstrous enough, and no one wanted to think about it anymore. And oh, that Tom,” Harry said, pitching his voice higher and feeling a fierce, vindictive pleasure as Riddle’s face twisted. “Such a clever boy, so charming, and well he did realize Hagrid was hiding something, didn’t he, don’t tell him it was the wrong monster, just give him a plaque and a pat on the back-”

Liar!” Riddle shouted. Harry flinched as the sparks shot farther this time, singing his robes. “Liar,” Riddle said again, lowering the wand. He ran a watery hand over his face, smoothing his features back down into the lazy smile. “They believed me. You said so yourself, Hagrid’s taking the blame again.”

“Because the Minister would rather lock up someone innocent than look useless,” Harry said. He took a quick glance at the book; if he got it before Riddle zapped him, could he bargain for his wand back, and get Ginny out of here? He’d need to distract Riddle. “No one bothers reading that plaque anymore, by the way.”

Riddle shrugged carelessly. “It wasn’t important. What’s important…is that you’re here.”

“…what?”

“You asked what I wanted,” Riddle said, lazy smile growing with satisfaction. “And I wanted to talk to you. It’s been very boring, you know, stuck in a diary, consoling a little girl over her little problems all year.” The look he shot the book, the diary, was possessive and hateful all at once.

“Stuck,” Harry said flatly. “In a diary. I’m sorry, how did you manage that?”

“The details aren’t-”

“Important,” Harry cut in. “Got that.”

Riddle’s face twisted up again. “My diary was meant,” he snapped. “To lead the next Heir of Slytherin to this Chamber, to help them command the basilisk as I did. Not wind up in the hands of some backwater Gryffindor who had nothing of interest to say until she let slip that she’d a crush on a Slytherin, and oh what would Mum think,” Riddle pitched his voice higher than Harry had moments ago. “Even if he DID defeat Voldemort and save the school.” Riddle’s cold laugh echoed through the Chamber.

“You can see why I’d find you interesting, after that,” Riddle said, slamming a foot down on the diary just has Harry reached for it again. He looked less watery now.

“Um, no, actually, I don’t see,” Harry said. He took a glance back at Ginny, and was alarmed to see she was even paler. He glared at Riddle. “What did you do to her?”

“Shared,” Riddle said, with another fluid shrug. “My secrets, my tragic life story, my soul. It’s amazing the company someone will keep, when they’re very lonely and very trusting.”

Harry rose from his crouch, suddenly wanting to not even let Riddle look at Ginny. “You made her come down here,” Harry accused. “You made her write on the walls, didn’t you? Like the Imperious curse.”

“And strangle the roosters,” Riddle said, with a pleased smile. “You are clever, aren’t you? Of course, I had no wand, so I could hardly Imperius her…curse her, though, I could do that.” He twirled the wand idly. “Did that.”

“Well uncurse her,” Harry snarled.

“You think curses are simple things?” Riddle asked. “Like taking off a hat?” He laughed again. “It’s no easy matter to make someone do what you want, without a wand, without a form. She spent months pouring her soul into my diary, while I poured mine back, just enough for Parsletongue to fall from her mouth when calling the basilisk.”

Harry frowned at the unfamiliar word. “What is a basilisk? I saw the skin, but…”

Riddle raised his brows. “You don’t know?” Harry shook his head. Riddle scowled. “But you…how could you…you’re in the Chamber of Secrets and you don’t know what a basilisk is?

Harry shrugged, trying to keep from looking too smug at Riddle’s frustration. “It’s a giant snake, it’s been petrifying people, and it’s hungry.”

“It’s not hungry, it’s got the rats,” Riddle said, frowning.

“But it’s huge,” Harry pointed out. He was sliding his feet very slowly forward as he talked, hoping to get close enough to grab his wand back. “And it can’t eat someone that’s been petrified, which is good for them, and I’m glad. But the basilisk isn’t too happy.”

“It’s not supposed to be happy, it’s supposed to obey me,” Riddle snarled. “Ah ah!” he chided, skipping back out of reach when Harry lunged. “First things first, Harry Potter! It’s about time I properly introduced myself.” He smirked. “It’s only polite after all, seeing how much Ginny told me about you.”

Riddle raised Harry’s wand, and draw shining letters in the air.

TOM MARVOLO RIDDLE

“Your middle name is ridiculous,” Harry deadpanned.

“My middle name is respectable and ancient,” Riddle retorted. “As ancient as the wizarding line it came from. Unlike the first and last I was saddled with, ugly common Muggle rubbish like my worthless father.” He twirled the wand, making the letters rearrange themselves.

I AM LORD VOLDEMORT

Seeing the name shining in the air, Harry felt a phantom pain in his hands, from where he’d pressed them to Quirrell’s face last spring. All the terror coursing through the school this year, and it had been Voldemort? That’s whose work Harry had taken the blame for since December?

“You see now,” Riddle said, but Harry felt like he was listening to him from underwater, a mix of fear and hot rage coiling tighter in his chest that drowned the cruel voice out. “Why I was interested in you.”

“Yeah, ‘cause I kicked your ass,” Harry said. He lunged again, but Riddle kept skipping out of reach, leading Harry away from the dais and laughing that cold laugh.

“You?” Riddle asked, when Harry finally stopped, panting for breath. “I’ll admit, I thought you must have been exceptional; you’re so much like me, how could you not be? Half-blood, orphaned, sorted into Slytherin, and as Ginny told me after that duel, a Parslemouth as well…but you’re a disappointment. Losing your wand because you couldn’t keep your balance?” He held it above his head tauntingly. “Someone must have helped you.”

“Well, yeah,” Harry said, glaring at Riddle. This wasn’t working. He needed another plan. “I’ve got friends you know, didn’t Weasley write that down? I heard you were charming, but wouldn’t someone still be helping you, if you were? But you’re stuck in a book, giving nightmares to a little kid.”

“This isn’t a nightmare,” Riddle snapped. His sneer had turned into a snarl. “It’s a grave. For both of you. Slytherin!” Riddle turned to shout up at the statue, but his words came out as a hiss. “Greatest of the Hogwarts four! Speak to me!” Riddle retreated to the statue’s feet as its mouth opened.

Still yards away, Harry caught a glimpse of heavy coils in the shadows past the statue’s lips, and tugged his house tie back over his eyes. A shallow, vast splash echoed through the Chamber as the basilisk fell.

“Mind the fangs,” Riddle said nastily. “They’re more venomous than a Peruvian Vipertooth.” Harry could hear scales scraping against the wet stone floor. “Kill him,” Riddle hissed.

“No!” Harry yelled. The sound of scales was getting closer. He took a deep, shaky breath. “No,” he said again, and knew it was coming out as a hiss. “Not yet, please, not yet, my friend needs help.”

The basilisk stilled, and every hair on the back of Harry’s neck stood up when she answered.

YET.”

What are you doing?” Riddle hissed. “Kill the boy!

I need to get my friend warm,” Harry went on hurriedly. He felt a rush of air in front of him. “You said you were hungry, earlier. If you help me get her back up, I can show you were we keep the rabbits, and ducks, and I bet there’s bigger things in the forest.

Harry fell silent as something tickled his nose. He looked down instinctively, in the gap where his glasses kept the tie from properly pressing against his eyes. The basilisk’s tongue was flicking in front of his face.

SSSSSALAZAR?

No!” Riddle was furious. The basilisk’s flicking tongue vanished from sight as she turned towards him.

SSSSSAL…AZZZ…AR?

I told you to kill him!

The sound of scales scraping on stone filled the Chamber again. The basilisk circled Harry, sniffing the air. “SSSSSALAZAR?

Kill him!” Riddle screamed.

Harry could feel the basilisk rise up next to him, facing Riddle.

NO.

Vipera Evanesca!

The basilisk seized up, coils tightening around Harry, knocking him backwards onto the great serpent. She was burning hot, frighteningly hot, and there was a horrible popping sound, a thud, a clatter, and then nothing at all but the distant drip of water from the ceiling.

Harry rolled off the body of the basilisk, nauseated by the stench of burning flesh. His blindfold had been knocked askew; it dangled around his neck. He saw fangs lying near the basilisk’s head, fallen out when she hit the ground. There was a scorch mark on the roof of her mouth, and around her nostrils and eye sockets, which now only held steaming jelly.

No divided loyalties,” Riddle snarled, making Harry wrench his eyes from the dead basilisk. “I’ll just kill you myself.” A cruel smile grew from the snarl. “After a few questions, this time.”

Harry grabbed a fang and scrambled to his feet, screaming as the fear and fury knotted in his chest uncoiled. Riddle raised the wand as Harry charged, skipping to the side with a sneer as Harry barreled past. “This again?” Riddle laughed. “No wonder you needed help, you don’t seem to learn. How is it that-”

Harry never heard the end of the question; he’d kept going, falling to his knees next to Ginny. He stabbed the fang into the diary.

Riddle screamed. Harry tightened his grip on the fang and twisted.

Ink spurted out of the diary, pouring over the dais along with Harry’s rage. When the scream ceased, and Harry’s wand fell with the same clatter the fangs had made, all that was left in him was a bone-deep weariness.

After a long, quiet moment, Ginny stirred.

Chapter Text

“Hey, Weasley,” Harry croaked. Ginny pushed herself up with a gasp.

“Harry!” She looked around wildly. “Th-there’s a basilisk, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, you need to get out of here-”

“It’s okay, Ginny,” Harry said. “The basilisk’s dead. So’s Riddle.”

“R-really?” Ginny asked. Harry pointed to the diary, soaked in ink, the fang still stuck through it. “Oh!” She burst into tears. “I’m glad! I’m sorry!”

“It’s okay,” Harry said again, and awkwardly patted her on the back. “I’m glad he’s dead too. Come on. Let’s go home.” He pulled Ginny to her feet. She swayed. “You don’t have your wand, do you?”

“He m-made me leave it up there,” Ginny sobbed.

“I think I can get us out with just mine,” Harry said, retrieving it from the floor. “If we just…” he bent down, wrenched the fang back out, and held up the diary. “Put a Hover Charm on this, and hang on really tight.” The inky hole in the middle sizzled ominously. “Or not…”

“Halfpint?”

“Adrian?” Harry slid the diary into his pocket. Ginny was taking deep breaths, trying to calm down.

“Oh thank Merlin!” Adrian came running across the Chamber and lifted Harry straight off his feet. “Are you all right? Are you hurt? You’re not dead, are you?” Each question was accompanied by a tilt to either side as Adrian looked Harry over.

“I’m fine, I swear,” Harry said, hysterical laughter burbling out. “Really, I’m okay!”

“Good,” Adrian said firmly, and set him back down. She scooped Ginny up next, and the Gryffindor’s hands clenched around Adrian’s arms in surprise. “You’re not dead either, right?” Her voice cracked on the last word.

“No,” Ginny said. Harry was relieved to see her color coming back.

“Excellent work, Miss Pucey!” an overly jovial voice called out. Harry blinked in shock. Professor Lockhart was bent over, examining the dead basilisk that Adrian had run right past.

“What’s he doing here?” Harry asked curiously. He turned to Adrian. “What are you doing here?”

Adrian set Ginny back down, and rubbed the back of her head with one hand; Ginny wouldn’t let go of her other arm. “Weeeeell, I started shouting a lot, when we both woke up from that stunner, about you not being the Heir, and being in danger, and saving Weasley here, and I was running off the way you’d went. Didn’t realize he’d followed me until I popped into Moaning Myrtle’s loo; she was making an awful racket about you going off to your death.”

Yards away, Lockhart was slowly walking around the basilisk, staying well clear of the venomous fangs, quietly talking to himself.

“Started spouting this load of rubbish about how you reminded him of himself,” Adrian went on. “I said we needed to get going, and he said there was no need for haste, that an enemy of the Dark Arts always takes time to plan.” She frowned absently at one of the columns. “Wouldn’t shut up, and he was in between me and the pipe, and I, uh, lost my temper.”

Harry took a closer look at Lockhart; he’d got slime down one side of his robe, rather than the back, and in his hair, and was that some hastily wiped off his face? “You pushed him.”

“I did,” Adrian confirmed. “Changed his tune once we were down here, started going on about ‘duty to the school’.” She shot the Defense teacher a dirty look. “Chickenshit still walked behind me the whole way.” Ginny, who had been keeping Adrian between herself and the rest of the Chamber, took a trembling step forward. “You’re all right,” Adrian reassured her with a grin. “Firsties get special dispensation to hide behind older students, didn’t your prefects tell you?”

“Harry!” Lockhart called out, straightening up from his examination of the basilisk’s scorched maw. “This is an expert shot you took here, right were the magic-repelling hide wouldn’t protect the foul beast. What charm did you use?”

“She’s not a foul beast,” Harry said without thinking. “Riddle was.”

“…pardon?”

“It’s complicated,” Harry said. Ginny looked at him nervously, and Harry reached out to ruffle her hair, pulling back when he realized he’d only get grime in it. “It can wait. Weasley needs the infirmary.”

“Ah, Harry, how little you know of fame!” Lockhart stepped away from the basilisk, waving one hand airily. “Once we’re all back up there, you’ll be flattened with questions. How did you figure the Chamber’s location out? And what the monster was? And defeat it?” His dazzling smile was out of place in the Chamber’s green gloom. “Tell us what happened, eh? I can answer all that for you, while you recover from this ordeal.”

“What the hell’s wrong with you?” Adrian asked angrily. “Nobody’s going to bother these kids in the hospital wing!”

“These kids?” Harry asked.

“You don’t look any better than her,” Adrian said flatly.

“Ah, well,” Lockhart said quietly to himself. “I suppose I can make something up. Expelliarmus!

The spell knocked the three students back into the statue’s legs; Harry and Adrian’s wands shot through the air into Lockhart’s outstretched hand. He brought his own wand back up above his head.

“Sorry, kids,” Lockhart said. His smiled broader now. Adrian hauled herself and Ginny to their feet as Harry rolled to the side. “Can’t come out of this looking like a coward, can I? I’ve got a reputation to maintain!” He brought the wand back down, pointing at the girls. “Obliviate!

Adrian ducked behind a column with Ginny in the nick of time; the spell hit the floor next to it, making the water bubble.

“What are you doing?” Harry yelled, from the shadow next to the dais.

“What I always do, Harry!” Lockhart said, chuckling. “You think my books would have sold if they were just about the interviews I conducted?” He was walking as he talked, and would soon be in range to properly see Harry in the shadows. “It’s a little awkward if someone comes forward to refute things, but fortunately, I am very good at memory charms.”

“No!” A streak of red erupted from the column the girls had taken refuge behind; Ginny pelted across the wet floor and crashed into Lockhart.

“Let go!” Lockhart yelled, trying to shake her off, but she’d wrapped both arms around his, and bit down on the base of his thumb. Lockhart yelped, dropping his wand. Adrian caught Ginny as Lockhart shoved her off.

Stupefy!” Lockhart struck out with one of the captured wands, hitting Adrian square in the back as she tried to spin Ginny out of the way. Adrian fell heavily to the floor, unfortunately taking Ginny down with her.

“Leave them alone!” Harry ran out of the shadows, and was immediately knocked back again by a wordless blast from the wand.

“I am trying to do you all a favor!” Lockhart said, staggering a few steps back. He rubbed at one temple. “Do you really think you could handle the attention this is going to get you?”

“Better than you can!” Ginny shot back, struggling to get out from under Adrian’s unconscious form. “Dumbledore’s gonna know! You can’t fool him!”

“My dear Miss Weasley, I already have,” Lockhart said smugly. “Being a teacher at this school is proof enough of that.”

“You’re wrong!” Ginny got to her feet as Lockhart raised the wand once more. There was a peculiar resonance to her words, as though they were buoyed by music. “You’re wrong!

Obli-

The resonance was music; it swelled in triumph as a huge, eerily beautiful bird swooped down from the ceiling to snatch the wand right out of Lockhart’s upraised hand. Everyone stilled, staring at the bird. Its plumes shimmered crimson, and the long golden tail somehow stayed out of the muck as it alighted on Ginny’s shoulder, dropping the wand into her hands.

“Fawkes?” Harry croaked. The phoenix trilled at him, then mantled his wings as Lockhart made to raise the remaining wand. Lockhart held his hands up consolingly.

“Now, if we’d all calm down…”

Ginny was standing straighter now, shoulders back and chin high. Fawkes settled his head on top of hers, and she took a deep breath before pointing the wand at Lockhart.

Expelliarmus!”Her spell flung Lockhart into the nearest column. Fawkes caught the hurtling wand in his beak, Ginny already kneeling down by Adrian. “Rennervate.”  Harry ran to them.

“Wha’ hit me?” Adrian asked groggily. “…is that a phoenix?” She caught sight of Lockhart staggering back to his feet, and caught the wand Fawkes dropped. “Petrificus totalus, you fucker!” Lockhart silently fell back over. Adrian looked down at the wand in her hand, grinning. “Oh, good. This one’s mine.”

“So this one’s yours,” Ginny said, handing the one she’d gotten to Harry.

“Thanks,” Harry said. It was his wand, familiar and comforting in his hand.

“Which means this one’s his,” Ginny said, picking the third wand up out of a puddle, with a glare at the immobilized Lockhart. She bit her lip, held the wand in both hands, and tried to bend it. “You shouldn’t…” she screwed her eyes shut with effort. “You shouldn’t mess with people’s memories.”

Fawkes began to sing again, the piping music resonating in Harry’s bones. For a brief, eerie moment, in the glow of his feathers, it looked like Ginny’s hair was made of fire.

The wand snapped.

~~~

“Reckon I can summon my broom from down here?” Adrian asked, peering up the long pipe that had brought them all down to the Chamber. Harry and Ginny had picked Lockhart up by his shoulders and feet respectively, and carried him along the passage while Adrian led the way, wand raised, ready to blast anything else lurking below the castle.

“Worth a try,” Harry said, he and Ginny lowering Lockhart down to the floor of the tunnel.

Adrian took a deep breath, and stuck her arm into the pipe, trying to get her wand as high as possible. “Accio- hey! Fawkes!” The phoenix flew from Ginny’s shoulder and circled Adrian, flapping his wings excessively. “Knock it off, please!” Adrian pulled her arm back to cover her face.

“I…think he’s reminding us that he can fly,” Harry said.

“So he wants room to get in there?” Adrian asked, stepping back from the pipe. Fawkes immediately flew back to Ginny’s shoulder, and ruffled all his feathers. “Fawkes, you’re a hero, but the way out is over there.”

“The Sorting Hat mentioned phoenixes were strong,” Harry said. Fawkes trilled, and Ginny tentatively reached up and took a hold of his tail feathers. Fawkes took to the air again, flapping slowly, careful not to tug away from Ginny’s hand.

“Phoenixes are pretty odd…” Adrian said slowly. “Tadpole, firstie, you two hang onto each other.” Harry and Ginny wrapped their left hands around each other’s wrists. “Perfect. Don’t let go until we’re up there, all right?” Adrian bent down and twisted her fingers into Lockhart’s hair, and hauled him up. Harry held out his other hand, and Adrian grabbed his wrist. The moment she did, Fawkes trilled again, and Harry felt warm and light, like a balloon that had been set free on a sunny day. The phoenix carried all of them up through the pipe, even faster than they’d all slid down it before.

Moaning Myrtle was still in the bathroom when they spilled out onto the tiled floor.

“You’re back,” Myrtle said, blinking at them from behind her enormous coke-bottle glasses. “Good. I won’t have to try explaining all this to the Bloody Baron.”

“…thanks?” Harry said. Behind them, the sink slowly rose back from the floor, the wall slid back into place, and soon all evidence of the pipe that remained was the tiny snake etched onto the tap.

“Let’s go tell McGonagall you’re alive,” Adrian said, patting Ginny on the shoulder. She hadn’t bothered letting go of Lockhart’s hair, and now dragged him out into the hall. Fawkes flew ahead of her, and soon Harry and Ginny overtook Adrian as well, not hampered by a frozen Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.

“Do you want a hand?” Harry asked, halfway to McGonagall’s office.

“Nah,” Adrian grunted. “Not much worse than the equipment box, and there’s no Bludgers rattling around inside him to worry about.”

They stopped for a moment at McGonagall’s door, and Fawkes circled back to on Ginny’s shoulder once more. Harry looked to Ginny. She gulped, but nodded. Harry took a deep breath, knocked once, pushed open the door, and stepped inside.

Four adults, gathered around the office’s fireplace, looked up in shock; Mr. Weasley, a woman Harry assumed was Mrs. Weasley, Professor McGonagall, and Professor Dumbledore. Harry let out his held breath.

“Ginny!” Mr. and Mrs. Weasley threw themselves at their daughter, sweeping her into an enormous hug which Fawkes managed to avoid being crushed in without actually leaving Ginny’s shoulder. Behind Dumbledore, McGonagall sagged against the wall, wide-eyed.

“Miss Pucey,” Dumbledore said mildly, when the Weasleys’ exclamations quieted down, and Harry and Adrian had stepped into the room as well. “What has Professor Lockhart done, to offend you so?”

Everyone turned to Adrian, fingers still twisted into Lockhart’s hair, holding him up off the floor.

“You let that poor man go at once!” Mrs. Weasley admonished. Adrian shrugged, and did so. McGonagall swiftly summoned a squashy purple cushion before his head could hit the stone, and gave Adrian an unreadable look. Mrs. Weasley hastily drew her own wand, moving to unbind Lockhart, but Adrian refused to step aside.

“Miss Pucey,” Dumbledore said again. Adrian wrenched her gaze back from the Weasley family. Dumbledore held her eyes for a long moment, until Adrian huffed and looked away.

“Oh, all right,” she muttered, and moved further into the room so Mrs. Weasley could free Lockhart. “He tried to Obliviate all of us,” Adrian added coldly.

 “I never!” Lockhart said with a gasp, as Mrs. Weasley helped him up. McGonagall twitched her wand, and the cushion vanished with a small pop.

“You did,” Harry and Ginny said in unison.

Mrs. Weasley let go of Lockhart and spun back around. “Ginny!”

“Hero worship, eh?” Lockhart said, flashing Mrs. Weasley a smile with too many teeth. He didn’t look quite his usual charming self, with his hair tangled and streaked with grime. “You know how children can be, always going along with what an older student says.”

“I, for one,” Dumbledore said, still in that same mild voice. “Am very interested in what this older student has to say.” He fixed Lockhart with a piercing look. “Though I suppose a simple Priori Incantatem would clear this matter up.”

“Er,” said Lockhart.

“We left his wand down in the Chamber, sir,” Harry said. “In two pieces.”

“Really,” Dumbledore said.

“Shoulda left his teeth down there too,” Adrian muttered, earning a sharp look from Mrs. Weasley, and a half-hidden smile from McGonagall.

“Fawkes helped,” Ginny added, and the phoenix on her shoulder fluttered his tail.

Really,” Dumbledore said, eyes still fixed on Lockhart, who gulped nervously.

“I’ve, ah, I’ve been thinking it’s been, ah, too long since I was in the field.” Lockhart chuckled weakly. “Got to keep sharp, eh?”

“Gilderoy,” Dumbledore said, raising his brows. “Is this a resignation?”

“Yes!” Lockhart yelped. “Need to go, ah, fight the Dark Arts abroad, you know how it is.”

“Yes,” Dumbledore said, stroking his long beard. “I do. Safe travels, Gilderoy.”

The former Defense Against the Dark Arts fled the office.

“Good riddance,” McGonagall murmured. Calm regained, she turned to the three students. “May we please have an explanation of how you are all, well, alive?”

“H-harry saved me,” Ginny said. Now that Lockhart wasn’t there to rage at, she was swaying again. Mr. Weasley wordlessly drew her closer to the fireplace. “I, I made a mistake. I’m sorry. It’s been me all year.”

“It wasn’t really you,” Harry said. He fished the diary out of his pocket, careful to only touch the outer edges. “You got cursed, it wasn’t your fault.” He tossed the diary onto a small table by one of the chairs.

“Perhaps,” McGonagall said after a long moment of silence, during which only Dumbledore stirred, examining the diary. “One of you should start at the beginning.”

Slowly, Ginny told everyone about her school year. Finding the diary in one of her textbooks, writing in it, trusting the advice that Tom Riddle wrote back. McGonagall had to hush Mr. Weasley at this point, when he gave a horrified admonishment for “trusting something when you can’t see where it keeps its brain.” Ginny stroked Fawkes’ wing, and continued.

The room plunged into horrified silence as Ginny told them of finding paint and chicken feathers on her robes, of losing time, of almost telling her brothers that morning.

“A-and then Tom came out of the diary,” Ginny finished in a whisper. “And when I woke up Harry said he was dead.”

Everyone’s attention turned to Harry now. He straightened up, having leaned against Adrian’s side without noticing, while Ginny talked.

“I got down there and tripped, and Riddle took my wand,” Harry said, after thinking for a moment. How he got there wasn’t that important. “He tried to set the basilisk on me, but-”

“A basilisk?” McGonagall shrieked, and clapped a hand over her mouth. Oh. That was right. Ginny had only called the giant serpent Slytherin’s Monster during her story, like the rest of the school did. Dumbledore merely nodded, as though a suspicion had been confirmed. The Weasley parents were clutching Ginny again.

“Why’d you think his tie’s all funny?” Adrian asked, pointing to where Harry’s house tied was still dangling in a loose circle around his neck. “Block out the killing gaze.”

“I thought it was just petrifaction?” Harry said, turning to her in puzzlement. “Like in Gemma’s poem.”

“Basilisks instantly kill whomever makes eye contact with them,” Dumbledore said quietly. “Which must have been poor Myrtle’s fate, all those years ago. Everyone else saw it indirectly.”

“Oh,” Harry said. He figured it was a bit late to panic, but Adrian went rather pale. “Well, I didn’t know what she was yet, I just knew I couldn’t help anyone if I was a statue.”

“You said Riddle tried to set it on you, Harry?” Dumbledore prompted.

“Yeah, I asked her not to kill me,” Harry said, frowning down at his feet. “There was sort of an argument? And when she said no, Riddle killed her.” He gulped. “He used my wand. If I hadn’t dropped it…”

Ginny wiggled out of her parents’ grasp, and squeezed Harry’s hand. He squeezed back gratefully, but didn’t look up. He pointed to the hole in the diary. “Basilisk venom isn’t very good for books.” The hysterical laughter from earlier threatened to come back up. Harry took a deep breath. “And Riddle was actually Voldemort.”

That got a reaction. McGonagall sank wordlessly into the nearest chair, Mrs. Weasley swept Ginny off her feet in a terrified hug, finally sending Fawkes flying off and yanking Ginny’s hand out of Harry’s, and Mr. Weasley went pale under his freckles.

“My Aunt Liwei went to school with You-Know-Who?” Adrian asked in a tight voice. Harry reached up and patted her on the shoulder.

“A great number of students did,” Dumbledore said. “I, myself, taught Tom Riddle fifty years ago, before he returned to the public’s eye with his more…egotistical name.” Dumbledore turned towards Ginny. “You must have shown enormous loyalty to this school, and myself, for Fawkes to aid you. I’m grateful.”

“He showed up when we were fighting that git Lockhart,” Adrian said, while Ginny flushed.

“I think,” Dumbledore said, as Mrs. Weasley let go of Ginny to bristle at Adrian. “It would be a good idea for Miss Weasley to see Madam Pomfrey. Do you still remember the way to the infirmary, Molly, Arthur?”

“Oh, yes, quite well,” Mr. Weasley said.

“Then I would be obliged if you would take your daughter there,” Dumbledore said. He smiled at Ginny. “I am sure Madam Pomfrey would agree with me that you need hot chocolate, and rest. I do believe she’s administering the Restorative Potion as we speak.”

“She is?” Ginny asked, brightening. “Then…then everyone’s going to be all right?”

“Perfectly all right,” Dumbledore assured her, and Ginny let her parents whisk her away. “Minerva…” Dumbledore said, turning to McGonagall. “Would you please send the Weasley boys down to the infirmary? I am sure they will not believe our assurances until seeing their sister in person. Oh, and Minerva,” Dumbledore added, when McGonagall reached the door. “Could you arrange a feast, to celebrate, as well? I shall be a bit busy rescuing, ah, retrieving our groundskeeper from the Ministry.”

McGonagall nodded. “Do hex the Minister for me, Albus.” Adrian snorted, and clapped a startled hand over her mouth; McGonagall’s smile had returned, and she patted Adrian and Harry’s shoulders on her way out the door.

“Now then,” Dumbledore said, when only he and the two exhausted Slytherins remained in McGonagall’s office. “If I recall correctly, the last person who was credited with catching Slytherin’s Monster earned an Award for Special Services to the School.”

“I’d rather have a hot chocolate,” Adrian said, earning a chuckle from the Headmaster.

“And I’d rather bring the basilisk up,” Harry said. The room got very quiet. “It…it wasn’t really her fault, any more than Ginny’s. I mean, maybe a little, since she did want to eat people. Mostly because they were big, not because they were people.” Adrian put a reassuring hand on his back, and Harry realized he was shaking. “But it’s cold, down there, and it’s not…it’s not right, to just leave her. So, if, if we could, please, go back, I guess with some brooms if Fawkes is tired, and bring her up? So she can be in the sunlight?”

Dumbledore laid a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “That is a noble sentiment, Harry,” he said softly. “And I would be honored to help. Tomorrow?” Harry nodded. “In the meantime,” Dumbledore went on. “I am awarding you each two hundred house points.”

“You should give Weasley points, too,” Adrian said. “For defeating Lockhart.”

“Oh, do tell me about that,” Dumbledore said, gesturing for them to sit in the chairs near the fireplace. Adrian told the story happily, with rather less swearing than it had actually contained. Harry had to jump in for the bit where Adrian had been unconscious, but otherwise stayed quiet, occasionally yawning.

“Then Fawkes carried us all up, and we came to see McGonagall,” Adrian concluded shortly. “And I think we’d better get Potter into one of those infirmary beds,” she added, catching Harry in another yawn.

“Of course,” Dumbledore said, rising from his own chair, just as the door burst open. Lucius Malfoy stepped through, Dobby at his heels. His blonde hair was unbound, half still in tangles, he’d not bothered with a travelling cloak over his robes, and Dobby was trying to apply polish to one of his shoes with a rag.

“Flaunting your suspension already, Dumbledore?” Malfoy said, nose in the air.

“Flaunt?” Dumbledore asked. Adrian had gone pale again, eyes darting between Malfoy and Dobby, looking ill. “But it’s been withdrawn, Lucius. The other eleven governors rather panicked when word got out that Arthur Weasley’s daughter had been taken.”

“No backbone,” Malfoy sneered.

“Or perhaps just enough,” Dumbledore said. He didn’t bother sitting back down, and now bent to pick the diary off the end table. “It’s fortunate you’re here, Lucius. I wanted to ask you about this.” He held the diary up. “You see, it seems this unassuming little book has been behind our troubles all year, allowing the original culprit to renew their attacks by means of an unlucky student.”

Dobby, ignored by the grown wizards, was pointing to the diary, and then glancing up at Malfoy. Harry held a finger to his lips, nodding, and Dobby smiled. Drawing his hand back from pointing, Dobby managed to snag the hem of Malfoy’s robes. Malfoy kicked him without even looking.

“A book?” Malfoy asked Dumbledore, voice smooth, like he hadn’t even noticed that he’d just kicked someone. Harry clenched his fists.

“A relic of Voldemort,” Dumbledore corrected, eyes narrowing. “I am very concerned as to how it wound up in Ginny Weasley’s possession. Or rather, she in its.”

“I do not see how you could have anything to ask me about it,” Malfoy said.

“Because you gave it to her,” Harry accused, shooting to his feet. “That fight at Flourish and Blott’s, when Mr. Weasley got you in the eye.”

Malfoy twitched.

“Lots of stuff can happen, in a fight,” Adrian added helpfully. “Like a little book slipping into a bigger one. Did you even care which kid got it?” She stood up as well, now, and shoved her hands into her pockets. “Or did you just want any of them to get caught going after Muggle-borns, and ruin their dad’s career?”

Malfoy looked down his nose at her, though with only half a head’s height difference between them this wasn’t far. “Prove it, Miss Pucey,” he softly.

“Don’t need to,” Adrian said, just as softly. She looked at Dumbledore. “Would you excuse, us, Headmaster?” Dumbledore waved, eyes twinkling behind his glasses, and Adrian strode past Malfoy towards the hall. Harry followed, hoping Adrian wasn’t about to wind up vomiting toads.

“There has been a lot of history repeating itself around here,” Adrian said with false cheer, striding down the hall. “I bet it makes you nostalgic, doesn’t it? For a time when everyone was as scared as this school’s been.”

“And what would you know of such nostalgia?” Malfoy asked, keeping pace. Dobby jogged to keep up, and Harry found himself skipping every few steps.

“Oh, loads,” Adrian said, shrugging one shoulder. “Father was awfully sentimental, after all. You remember the sound that camera of his would make, don’t you?” Malfoy came to a sudden stop in the middle of the hall. Adrian spun on one heel, clicking her tongue mockingly. “Got some good ones of you, playing chess with Mother, pulling out a chair for your wife at our table, torturing that poor-”

“If your father was fool enough to keep such things,” Malfoy said coldly. “The Aurors would have found them long ago.”

“Just like they found the Chamber of Secrets?” Adrian asked.

“What. Do. You. Want.”

“Free the house elf,” Adrian said immediately, jerking her chin towards Dobby.

“…excuse me?” Malfoy said, taken aback.

“Free the house elf,” Adrian repeated firmly. “And don’t go giving any more cursed shit to kids, but I figure you’re not dumb enough to do that again with Dumbledore keeping an eye on you.”

Why the house elf?”

“Because I don’t like history repeating itself,” Adrian said. She tilted her head. “Father wasn’t half bad, for an amateur. Some of those photos would look really good, splashed on the front page of the Daily Prophet.”

“…I’m afraid I don’t have any spare clothes,” Malfoy said, finally. “I would be happy to discuss this with you later-”

“You can have mine,” Harry said, sitting down and tugging one shoe off. He held up a soaked sock; it had been white, hours ago, and was now an unpleasant greenish grey. Adrian took it with a nod of thanks, and handed it swiftly to Malfoy before jamming her hand back into her pocket. Malfoy held it away from himself, pinched between thumb and forefinger.

“Just think,” Adrian said with a shark-like grin. “That’s the same slime You-Know-Who trudged through fifty years ago! And we’d never have found it all if it wasn’t for you.”

Grimacing, Malfoy dropped the horrible sock into Dobby’s outstretched hands. The beleaguered elf pressed it to his cheek with shining eyes. “Dobby is free,” he said wonderingly.

“Unfortunately,” Malfoy said. He pointed the silver handle of his staff at Adrian. “I will come to collect this summer.” Adrian nodded, still grinning, and Malfoy stalked off down the hall. When he vanished from sight around a corner, Adrian abruptly sat down.

“If Terence ever dares me to play chicken with the Hogwarts Express,” she said, continuing to collapse until she was lying on the floor next to Harry. “Remind me to tell him I just did.” She pulled her hands out of her pockets to press them against her temples. They were shaking.

“Harry Potter and his friend have freed Dobby!” Dobby exclaimed.

“You’re welcome,” Adrian said, waving a hand over her head, then letting it drop to the floor. Her knuckles twitched against the stones. “Oh, he’s gonna be so pissed when he figures out I was bluffing.”

“Harry Potter’s friend was bluffing?” Dobby asked.

“Her name’s Adrian,” Harry said. He thought about lying down too, but knew he’d already have trouble standing back up as was.

“I don’t actually have any photographs,” Adrian explained. “Well, the chess one is framed, but the others don’t exist, I was just making some lucky guesses.” She lifted her head up to look at Dobby. “This was the whole plot, right, there’s nothing more you’re gonna try to protect Harry from?”

Dobby nodded rapidly, beaming from ear to ear.

“Fantastic,” Adrian said, head falling again. “Thanks for the clues, by the way. Next time you want to help someone, more of that, less bloodthirsty Bludgers.”

“Dobby is a free elf now, and can give clues freely, Harry Potter’s friend Adrian!” Dobby said. “Thank you!” He vanished as he had in the hospital wing all those months ago, the crack of his exit echoing in the hallway.

~~~

“Miss Granger, can you hear me?”

“Mmm?”

“Good. Wiggle your fingers, dear. Good. Now toes.”

Hermione calmly followed the directions the soothing voice gave, drifting slowly out of a thick fog. The soothing voice was getting louder, firmer, and more voices were coming into focus in the distance. Hermione wiggled her toes again, realized she could feel her socks, but not her shoes. Hadn’t she had her shoes on, before . . . before . . .

A piece of paper crinkled under her wiggling fingers, and Hermione sat bolt upright in the hospital bed. She grabbed the paper and thrust it towards Madam Pomfrey, struggling to get the words out.

“It’s all right, Miss Granger,” Madam Pomfrey said. She reached for a bottle on the table, and traded it for the piece of paper. “Finish this off.” Hermione chugged the bottle, wrinkling her nose at the awful taste but determined to get through it. Her tongue felt looser with every swallow, and when nothing more came out of the bottle she took a deep breath.

“You’ve got to tell the Headmaster, it’s a basilisk!”

“It has been dealt with,” Madam Pomfrey said firmly, and helped Hermione out of the bed. “Now you are going to walk to that wall, and tell me if anything’s stiff.”

“But how did- if no one found my note-”

“Walk, please, Miss Granger.”

Hermione paced to the wall and back, fog lifted. She saw Colin Creevey talking rapidly to Penelope Clearwater halfway across the room, Justin Finch-Fletchley sitting on the bed next to them. At the far end, she saw Ron, Fred, George, and Percy Weasley hugging Ginny. She wore the purple striped pajamas kept for overnight patients, and her hair was wet. “How long have I been out for, please?”

“Just under a month,” Madam Pomfrey said. “How do you feel?”

“Fine.”

“In that case, you should go to the feast with the others,” Madam Pomfrey said, nodding to the gaggle of formerly petrified students. Clearwater caught Hermione’s eye and waved, smiling. Colin spun around and beamed at her, waving so hard Finch-Fletchley had to duck. “You need food more than rest, and Professor McGonagall will be addressing everyone.”

~~~

Harry glanced over at Adrian, wondering if she was going to fall asleep right there on the stone floor of the corridor. “Do you want help up?”

“Maybe,” Adrian said. Her hands had stopped shaking, and she now ran them down her face. “Gimme five more minutes, we’ll see.”

A set of hurried footsteps rang through the corridor. Harry looked over his shoulder. “Um, Adrian…”

“What?” Adrian rolled onto her side, and saw the same ominous sight Harry had; Professor Snape stalking towards them. “Oh boy.”

“Mr. Potter,” the Potions master snapped, when he was close enough to loom. “I believe I told you to not make a habit of needing collecting.”

“…sir?” Harry said.

“The Headmaster saw fit to inform me on his way out of the castle that two of my charges were in the hospital wing, yet I find you on the floor. Get up.”

“Sorry, sir,” Adrian said, scrambling back to her feet as Snape grabbed Harry’s arm and hauled him upright. “Can’t promise it won’t happen again, sir. Did the Headmaster tell you about Lockhart, sir?”

“…yes,” Snape said, eyeing the slime Harry’s robes had left on his hand with distaste. He began walking rapidly towards the infirmary, gesturing for Adrian and Harry to follow. “I trust you realize getting rid of him is the only reason I am not assigning both of you detention from now until graduation?”

“Yes sir, thank you sir,” Adrian said, elbowing Harry when he opened his mouth with a scowl.

Madam Pomfrey sent Adrian and Harry straight into the decontamination showers the moment they walked in, and laid out fresh pajamas and slippers. Snape lurked by the door while Pomfrey asked the two Slytherin about any injuries they might have, assured them the petrified students and the Weasleys were all down at the feast, and muttered uncharitable things about Salazar Slytherin for building such an unhygienic Chamber of Secrets.

Clad in purple-striped pajamas and wonderfully soft slippers, Harry and Adrian followed Snape down to the Great Hall. Harry slumped with relief when he saw that everyone else was in their pajamas too, some with their winter cloaks on top.

“I am pleased to announce,” Professor McGonagall said, as they stepped through the door. “That the cause of the attacks was found to be a cursed object, which has been destroyed this evening by Mr. Harry Potter, of Slytherin house. The school will remain open, though exams are still cancelled.” She paused to let a cheer ring through the hall. “A special two-week-long session will be held this July for students wishing to take their OWLs and NEWTs. Fifth and seventh-year students who do not attend will be allowed to repeat this year.”

McGonagall stepped back from the podium, and chatter instantly arose among the students. Snape stalked off towards the head table, loud, slapping footsteps drawing everyone’s attention to him, and then to Harry and Adrian still standing, a bit dazed, in the doorway.

HARRY!” Hermione ran over from the Gryffindor table and hugged Harry. “You have to tell me everything,” she said, when she let go. “I can’t believe no one found my note! How did you figure out it was a basilisk?”

“Um…”

ADRIAN!

Harry tugged Hermione to the side as Terence nearly bowled Adrian over, flinging his arms around her shoulders and knocking her back a few feet. “Where the hell have you been!” he yelled, still hugging her. She patted his back, laughing. “You nutter, you absolute fucking nutter, we looked up and you were gone, mate, one of the firsties thought the Monster got into the dorm and ate you! The Weasley twins are telling everyone it was a basilisk, those things are lethal-

“Excuse me.”

Terence let go of Adrian and looked over curiously. Ernie MacMillan had walked up to Harry and Hermione, and now took a deep breath.

“I’m sorry,” MacMillan said. “For accusing you. I was wrong. And if there’s anything I can do to make up for it-”

“Let us sit with you?” Harry asked. Adrian left an arm draped across Terence’s shoulder to stop herself from swaying. “I mean, your table’s closest…”

“Sure!” MacMillan beamed, and soon the three Slytherins and Hermione were wedged in between MacMillan and Finch-Fletchley at the Hufflepuff table. Heroes of the day no longer lingering in the doorway, the rest of the student body went back to celebrating the occasion and swapping news. When word got around that Lockhart had resigned, the Ravenclaw table cheered even louder than Slytherin.

The loudest cheer, though, rang through the Great Hall when Dumbledore returned with Hagrid. The groundskeeper swept Harry into an enormous hug, and gave Hermione one as well. He even turned towards Adrian, starting to thank her for looking after Fang, and then burst out laughing.

Despite the loud chatter of the students, Hagrid’s booming laugh, and even the small explosions coming from the Gryffindor table where the Weasley twins were setting off fireworks, Adrian had managed to fall asleep, leaning against Terence’s shoulder.

Chapter Text

The feast lasted all night, and most students slept in late the next day. Shortly after lunch, Harry led Professor Dumbledore and Hagrid to Myrtle’s bathroom, all of them wearing heavy rubber gardening boots provided by Professor Sprout. Hagrid carried a piece of canvas and quite a lot of thick rope. It reminded Harry of the of tall ships he’d seen on television once, cleaning the living room as slowly as possible so he could watch a pirate movie over Dudley’s shoulder.

“It’s, erm, it’s this one,” Harry said, pointing to the sink that led to the Chamber. His wrist felt oddly bare; the silver sculpture, safely hidden under the sleeve of his robes and then the pajamas all last night, had slithered off when he returned to the Slytherin dungeon, and was now twined once more around the larger bronze snake. “I need to, um…” he trailed off, focusing on the tap, and whispered “open up.”

Hagrid clapped him on the back as the sink and wall pulled away. Harry grinned up at him, and stepped aside so the Headmaster could examine the pipe.

“I see what Poppy meant,” Dumbledore said, adjusting his spectacles. “This is most unhygienic.” He drew his wand, and made a twirling motion. The slime slid downwards with a gloop sound, leaving the metal pipe bare in its wake. Hagrid began tying one end each of the four long ropes to the sturdiest of the other sinks.

“I’ll let this down after yeh, so best ta move aside quick,” Hagrid told Harry, while Dumbledore got himself and the canvas into the pipe. Harry nodded, and followed the Headmaster.

“Fascinating,” Dumbledore said, when they reached the Chamber of Secrets itself. He walked with his hands clasped behind his back, occasionally stopping to examine the columns. “These runes, here, are an ancient Norse ward against ghosts and poltergeists, while these higher up are in Gaulish, and prevent the Chamber from being scried. I wouldn’t be surprised if- ah, here!” Dumbledore beamed at the next column, reminding Harry of Hermione when she figured out a puzzle in their homework. “Hogwarts is already Unplottable, but this is a bit different…Lumos.” Dumbledore held his lit wand close the column, examining the markings Harry hadn’t noticed before. “Yes, yes of course. Even Unplottable places can be mapped from within, but these changes keep the Chamber out of architectural plans and written directions. I daresay if an artist came down here and tried to sketch, their charcoal would blow off the paper.”

Harry wondered if directions written in Parsletongue would stick, but Parsletongue didn’t have a written form, as far as he knew.

Dumbledore grew silent as they approached the slain basilisk, fascination with the magic of the Chamber damped by the solemn sight.

“It never ceases to astound me,” Dumbledore said softly. “That anyone would ally themselves with Lord Voldemort, when this is how he repays a dear friend from his school days.” After another long silence, Dumbledore knelt carefully by the basilisk’s head. “Please pardon me Harry, but it would not be wise to bring venom this strong into the school.”

“I understand, Professor,” Harry said. Swiftly, the Headmaster removed the basilisk’s remaining fangs with his wand, then gently levitated her still form onto the unrolled canvas.

Harry picked up one of the fangs. He looked intently at the venomous tip. He remembered how the diary had sizzled. Remembered that vast NO that had sunk down into his bones. He wanted to leave a sign that he had been here, that the basilisk had been here. The snakes might not have a writing system, but Harry did. He knelt and slowly, carefully, etched a single word into the stone floor of the Chamber of Secrets.

 

FRIEND

 

“I think one of the knolls by the lake will do,” Dumbledore said quietly, placing a hand on Harry’s shoulder. Harry nodded, wiping at this eyes. Together, they levitated the canvas-wrapped basilisk through the tunnels to the pipe, where they tied the dangling ropes through the heavy grommets at the canvas’s corners. Dumbledore shot a flash of silver light up the pipe with a whispered spell. The ropes    went taut, and slowly the basilisk’s body rose as Hagrid, far above them, pulled her up into the castle. Fawkes flew down to collect them a few minutes later.

Though left out of the announcement last night, word of the basilisk, and of Harry’s intent to retrieve her, had spread through the school. When Hagrid descended the marble staircase, the great canvas-wrapped form clasped in his sturdy arms, the entirety of Slytherin house was assembled in the entrance hall. Silently they parted to let him pass, and silently they followed across the grounds to the lakeside, a mass of black school robes rippling behind Hagrid like a shadow. When Hagrid gently unrolled the canvas, letting the warm sun shine directly on the basilisk’s bright green scales, several students began weeping.

Harry spent the rest of the afternoon on the knoll. He half-expected the grass snakes to appear, but they were absent, wary of the steady stream of students that came to see the basilisk. Even Neville Longbottom, shaking like a leaf, came by, and to Harry’s surprise, patted him consolingly on the shoulder.

Professors Flitwick and Snape arrived at sunset. They charmed the earth out from under the canvas. Hermione, Adrian, and the Weasley siblings had come with them, and watched with Harry as the dirt and grass was smoothed back down atop the great serpent.

~~~

After the frantic, claustrophobic last month, stuck in the common room after classes, constantly surrounded by students anxiously studying for exams before the next attack, and teachers barely holding everything together, the last week of term passed wonderfully calm and slow. Harry spent all his time outdoors, romping with Fang, walking in slow circles around the castle just because he could, or sitting on the basilisk’s knoll, watching the lake and smelling the wildflowers Professor Sprout had grown there. The rest of the school eschewed the indoors as well, but with all of the grounds to choose from, it was easy to avoid people. No one was giving Harry dirty looks or muttering hexes they’d like to try on him anymore, but it was hard to forget the months of suspicion.

The End of the Year feast was less resplendent than Harry’s first year, quite a lot of supplies used up celebrating already, but it was still more extravagant than ordinary, every-day dinner. They decked the Great Hall out in green and silver thanks to Harry and Adrian’s four hundred points.

Daphne spent most of the feast glancing quickly at the Gryffindor table, and then looking away. When the main courses cleared and dessert appeared, Harry leaned over and asked if she was all right.

“I have something to do,” she blurted out, and tried to get up. She had trouble getting over the bench, and Harry held out his arm for her to grab. “Thanks.” Finally free, she walked briskly around the table, and across the Great Hall, face getting pinker and pinker as she walked. By the time she reached the Gryffindor table, the hall was nearly silent.

“A w-word please, Granger,” Daphne said, though Hermione was already paying her close attention. “I just wanted to say, thank you for all the help with Potions this year. You’re really good at it. And, I’m sorry you got petrified, and if you want to go over my notes, from the classes you missed, j-just say the word.”

Daphne nodded, then bit her lip and rocked a little, as though wondering if she’d forgotten any of what she wanted to say.

“Thank you,” Hermione said, in a clear voice that carried across the stunned Great Hall.

“You’re welcome,” Daphne said, and fled back to the Slytherin table. Harry scooted to one side so she could sit between him and Terence, instead of between him and Pansy like she had been before.

“What,” Pansy said, leaning forward to glare around Harry. “Was that.”

“G-good manners,” Daphne said.

“Good manners?” Pansy gaped. “That was just embarrassing. You don’t need to suck up to-”

“Embarrassing’ll be if you don’t leave me alone and I hex all your hair off,” Daphne cut in, sounding a lot more sure of herself than when she’d spoken to Hermione. She turned to Harry. “Could you pass me the pumpkin juice, please?”

~~~

All the chatter Harry had avoided by roaming the grounds after defeating Riddle caught up to him on the Hogwarts Express; no sooner had he and Hermione found an empty compartment than Colin Creevey popped in. They were treated to all the Ravenclaws’ conflicting theories about what really happened down in the Chamber of Secrets, all the theories they’d heard from the other houses, and, of course, Colin’s very hopeful request to hear about it.

Thankfully Ginny Weasley ducked in to the compartment just then, slightly out of breath, providing a distraction. Harry had already told Hermione what she’d missed during one of his long walks around the castle, and was not keen to revisit the subject.

“D’you mind if I sit there?” Ginny asked, pointing to the space between Hermione and the window. Hermione obligingly scooted over, and Ginny flung herself into the seat, pressing her shoulders against the back and sliding down until Hermione’s outline blocked any view of her from the door.

“Someone chasing you?” Harry asked, sliding the door shut on impulse and dropping back down in his seat next to Colin, across from the girls.

“My brothers,” Ginny said. “Have not let me out of their sight since we-”She cut herself off with a gulp, going a little pale under her freckles, like Mr. Weasley did, and then took a deep breath. She sat up straighter and finally seemed to notice Colin, just as he opened his mouth to ask a question. She beat him to the punch. “You’re in Ravenclaw, right? Why were half of you sulking at the feast?”

“We almost won the house cup!” Colin beamed, not at all sad about the ‘almost’ in his reply. “Professor Snape’s been giving us points since September when Lisa and Terry found a lot of problems in Gadding with Ghouls. Professor Snape heard them talking about it and gave them a house point each!”

“That’s weird,” Ginny said. “Fred and George say he never gives anyone but Slytherin points.”

“That’s what Penelope said too,” Colin said. “And Anthony didn’t believe it so he made sure to talk about ‘lunar continuity errors’ in Wandering with Werewolves with Padma when they were leaving Potions, and Professor Snape gave them points too! Penelope told me people kept doing it all year, and she’s sure they kept doing it even after she was petrified. When Madam Pomfrey let us out of the hospital wing we were ahead of everyone else by a couple dozen points.”

Hermione covered her face with her hands; Harry wondered if she’d noticed the inconsistencies in Lockhart’s books as well and was embarrassed for letting them slide, or if she was embarrassed for not noticing.

“I thought Snape hates Slytherin losing more than he hates Lockhart,” Ginny said, baffled.

“Cho thinks he forgot to compensate for Quidditch being cancelled,” Colin said. “She says we get a lot of house points for answering questions in class, way more than anyone else usually does, and that Slytherin gets most of their points from Professor Snape, and Quidditch. But this year they didn’t get as many Quidditch matches to get points from.”

“So Ravenclaw would’ve won,” Harry said. “If Dumbledore hadn’t given Ginny and Adrian and me all those points for almost dying?”

Colin nodded so enthusiastically he almost fell off the train seat.

The rest of the journey passed noisily; Ginny produced a pack of Exploding Snap from her pocket, and Colin lost half his eyebrows because he was talking about more errors his housemates had found in Lockhart’s books instead of paying attention to the cards. Hermione grew increasingly redder with each detail.

Eventually Adrian stuck her head in to the compartment, back out into the corridor, and shouted “She’s fine, Weasley, calm down!” This was followed by all four of Ginny’s brothers trying to cram through the door at once, only to be chased out (along with Harry and Colin) by Hermione insisting it was time to change into Muggle clothes. Lee Jordan got the twin’s attention from far down the corridor, and Percy followed them away, determined to stop whatever mischief was about to transpire.

Ron and Harry exchanged a brief, awkward look, and then Ron yelled through the door at Ginny that he’d been in a compartment five doors down with Neville Longbottom if she needed anything.

“Tell him I say hi!” Ginny yelled back, and then Hermione slid the door back open to let Harry and Colin change out of their school robes.

After getting changed, Colin pulled a flat-ish cardboard box from his trunk. Ginny and Hermione came back through just as Colin opened it, and gaped at the large, moving, color photographs within.

“Luna helped me do this,” Colin explained. He passed the first few photos around, beaming fit to burst at their exclamations of wonder. “The library book I found just had charms for developing them to move, but it made everything black and white. Luna found a book in the potions section that let me keep the color.”

“Colin, these are…these are really good!” Hermione said, admiring a photo of the Gryffindor Quidditch team strolling out of their locker room, red and gold robes standing out from the pitch’s muddy grass.

Ginny held her fingers an inch above one of the giant squid, wiggling them in time to the squid’s tentacles as it swam along the lake’s edge.

“I thought all your film was burnt up?” Harry asked, turning from a photo of the Great Hall’s enchanted ceiling, clouds lazily drifting overhead, to look curiously at Colin.

“My third roll was,” Colin said, smile sliding off his face. “I lost all my shots of the Halloween Feast and your first match!” He shook himself and perked back up. “But I’d already developed my first two rolls before that, and I made copies after Madam Pomfrey fixed us up.” He balanced the box on his knees with a practiced ease and dug through it, fingertips carefully only touching the edges of the glossy photographs. “This one’s for you!”

“Thanks, Colin,” Harry said, gingerly taking the photograph. “That’s-” He gasped. It was their first meeting, the first picture Colin had ever taken of him. Harry stared down at his own profile, framed by late summer’s dying golden grass and the bright blue sky of September, smiling fondly at the snake come to say hello.

“Do you like it?” Colin asked. Harry found himself unable to answer, hardly able to breath. He remembered this so clearly; the warm sun, the light wind that made the grass sway, the delight that his friends remembered him. He’d only just found out Salazar Slytherin was a Parslemouth too; it hadn’t really meant anything yet. The Chamber wasn’t opened. No one had been petrified. There was no writing on the wall. He hadn’t been hounded for speaking Parsletongue, or followed a silver serpent down into the darkness.

“I’m sorry,” Colin said nervously, hand reaching to take it back. “I didn’t mean-”

Harry shook his head, pulling the photo to his chest. “I like it,” he managed to say.

“May I see?” Hermione asked, voice purposely light. Harry handed it to her, and then stood up on the seat to get back into his trunk. He stuck his arms inside and rummaged around until he found the photo album Hagrid had given him last year. When he sat back down, Colin was smiling again, looking relieved, and Ginny was peering over Hermione’s shoulder.

“It’s so…small,” Ginny said.

Harry flipped through the album, grinning as tiny versions of his parents waved up at him, until he got to the dozen spare pages at the end. Taking the photograph back from Hermione, he carefully set it down on the first empty page. The photo took up nearly the entire paper when turned on its side. Harry looked back up at Colin.

“Thank you.”

~~~

“Wait up, halfpint!”

Harry stepped out of the queue for the barrier leading out of Platform 9 ¾, letting two first years take his place. Hermione, Colin, and Ginny had already passed through into the Muggle side of King’s Cross Station to meet their parents. Harry looked back over his shoulder, and saw Adrian wheeling her trunk over on a trolley.

“Whew! For a minute there I worried I’d missed you,” Adrian said, as they stepped back into the queue together. Hedwig hooted loudly from her cage; Adrian grinned down at her. “Just the owl I wanted to see! Here.” She passed Harry a handful of envelopes. “Already got my name and address on all those, and blank parchment inside. I’m expecting a letter every week, you got it?”

“Terence said you never owl over the summer,” Harry said, stuffing the envelopes into the pocket of his oversized jeans. Adrian was in her Muggle clothes from last summer as well, with a shawl borrowed from Flora tied around her waist to hide where the polo shirt was now too short.

“Well, yeah,” Adrian shrugged, as they shuffled forward slowly. “I don’t have my own, we’re a bit far from the Owl Post Offices, and Aunt Liwei’s is too busy to borrow. But if Hedwig doesn’t mind waiting, I can just send notes back with her, if you write first.” She ruffled Harry’s hair. “Just mind what you send, sometimes the Aurors get over-enthusiastic about what comes in and out of our house.”

“They wouldn’t hurt Hedwig, would they?”

“No, no, just snoop,” Adrian assured him. “Cousin Stephen actually found a Ministry memo in one of his letters once, it was very embarrassing for everyone.”

Adrian pushed her luggage trolley along next to Harry’s after they were past the barrier. Harry started studying the faces in the station, trying to figure out who was picking her up from the train. She snorted when she noticed, and ruffled his hair again. “Don’t strain your neck there, pipsqueak. I’m taking the Tube to Diagon Alley to meet Aunt Liwei.”

Harry spotted Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon waiting near one of the exits; Dudley hadn’t come along this year. Adrian was still walking alongside Harry, and grew a very large, worrisome grin as they got closer.

“Hello!” She stuck out her hand towards them. “You must be Harry’s aunt and uncle. I’m one of his Quidditch teammates.” Vernon looked at her hand as though it was covered in slime, and Petunia stared at her close-cropped hair in horror. “Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that we’re supposed to be keeping in touch over the break, the captain’s very big on team bonding, that sort of thing.” Her hand was still outstretched, and her smile was getting meaner. “We’ll be owling, which I know you must be familiar with, since that’s how everyone gets their acceptance letter-”

“We don’t hold with that sort of nonsense,” Vernon said, or rather tried to say, because Adrian kept right on talking.

“And since I don’t have a telephone, if I don’t see Harry’s bird every week, I’ll just have to show up in person.”

“In…person?” Petunia echoed. Her eyes flicked quickly over the subdued cream polo, the too-short grey slacks, and the dark green oxfords, and then settled on the shawl at Adrian’s waist. It was bright green with foot-long fringe, and had silver threads woven through it that glinted in the station’s lights. Petunia’s entire face pinched.

Vernon was starting to turn an alarming shade of red. “You and your- your- weirdness show up on our doorstep, we’ll have you trespassed!”

“No you won’t,” Adrian said cheerfully. “Because then you’d have me and the police at your door, and your neighbors would come out to see what all the fuss was.” She turned to Harry. “You do have neighbors, right?”

“Yeah,” Harry said, his own grin making Vernon scowl.

“Excellent,” Adrian said. She finally pushed her trolley away, waving as she walked off towards her next train’s platform. “Remember, at least once a week!”