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Gwyrdd Arwar - Book the Third

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Harry Potter was perhaps the most unusual boy that lived on Privet Drive, and perhaps in all of Little Whinging. It wasn't because he was a wizard, and went to a secret school far to the North for other wizards and witches called Hogwarts. It wasn't even how much he enjoyed doing his homework, even loved the assignments from some classes. No, what set Harry apart was how much he hated summer holidays. It was only a week into summer break, and Harry had already started wishing he were on the train back to school, or better yet - that he had never left. He kept a small tally of how many days were left til term began on the corner of his bed, underneath where it was unlikely his Aunt Petunia would ever see it.

Thankfully, unlike last year, this summer he'd been allowed to keep all of his school things with him. Although it was less that he'd been allowed, and more likely that they’d simply forgotten. Tucked away with all of the other horrible information they were forced to know about witches, wizards and magic. Perhaps they had simply blocked out his schoolwork with the rest of it. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had the most vivid imaginations of anyone that Harry had ever met. Although Vernon would be certain to box his ears or Petunia to lock him in his room for a week without meals, likely both, if they ever heard someone suggest such a preposterous thing. They were masterful at imagining that nothing existed outside of what they declared was so. Anything strange that could possibly be related to magic, which they were both well informed was real and their nephew was a wizard, was ignored. As a result, Harry surmised, they had forgotten to take his things from him the moment he returned.

Unfortunately, ignoring him didn't go so far as to give up the chance of free labor. At five o'clock in the morning on the first day of summer holidays Petunia woke up by banging on the door and demanding he help her with breakfast. Of course, Petunia's idea of him helping her consisted of her, dressed in her silk robe with her hair in curlers and fuzzy slippers perched on a chair, sipping tea and reading magazines while snapping at him not to burn the bacon and for the love of god not to overcook the toast again.

Every time his mind wandered from the chores he'd been set to it inevitably wound up thinking about his best friend, Draco, and his father, Lucius. At the end of last term, it turned out that Draco had been possessed by the spirit of the Dark Lord, from a diary that his mum had given to Harry. He couldn't imagine what it felt like, to know that your mother had wanted to kill your best friend, and had nearly killed you. Lucius had fled the country right before school ended, taking Draco across the ocean to America for the summer.

He hadn't heard from them at all, except for their house elf showing up in his bedroom with instructions to help 'Master Harry' however he could, and desperately hoped that they were safe. Dobby couldn't answer any questions, he'd tried to send the house elf back to the Malfoys with a letter, but he'd refused. Apparently he was under orders not to give away their location by any means. It made sense, but it didn't make Harry feel any better.

The twins had both written to him, telling him to send word if he needed help and they would come to the rescue. As bad as things could get at the Dursley's Harry wasn't quite ready for an entire house full of Weasley's. Although Fred and George were counted among his best friends their youngest brother, Ron, hated him. Some bizarre belief that Harry should have been in Gryffindor, and when he was sorted into Slytherin instead, the boy had grown vicious. Accusing him of being an evil wizard. Last year was the worst; nearly everyone in the castle believed he was the Heir of Slytherin and had been sic’ing a monster on students from Muggle families. Ron Weasley was the one spearheading the accusations. No, things would have to get very bad at the Dursleys for Harry to consider taking them up on their offer.

Curled up on his bed exhausted from the house work, waiting for the sun to go down so he could let his pet owl, Hedwig, out to stretch her wings he tried to keep his mind from wandering to the events in the Chamber of Secrets. The sight of Draco; pale, drained of life and nearly dead, had haunted his sleep ever since.

He watched the clock, counting the minutes, and as soon as the sun sank behind the hill he went over to Hedwig's catch and released her. She hopped out, landing on his arm and hooting affectionately. He stroked her soft chest, speaking quietly. He'd determined that this would not be like last year, and been willing to risk expulsion to use magic to let her out this summer. Thankfully, Vernon was tired of the racket she made when he wouldn't let her out of her cage and agreed that Harry could let her out in the evenings, provided he didn't use her to send letters to his "freaky friends".

Dudley had found the idea of Harry with friends hilarious and nearly choked on his sausages as he laughed. It was one of the few times his cousin even paid attention to him. For the most part he was satisfied stuffing his face and sitting brainlessly in front of the television. Harry still remembered fondly the pig's tail Hagrid had given him when he'd come to tell Harry that he was a wizard. He wished he could have been there to see Vernon and Petunia try and explain it to the surgeon without resorting to admitting magic was real. They really did have the most creative imaginations...

Harry opened his window, the snowy white owl launched off his arm into the cool night sky, and thought back to that night. When he'd found out he was a wizard he'd thought his life was going to change. Finally, he'd be free from the Dursley's, and go to a school where there were others like him. He'd only been about half right. The Ministry of Magic, prompted by the school's Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, has insisted he stay at the Dursley's. They turned a deaf ear to the complaints lodged by Harry's Head of House, Severus Snape, about how his aunt and uncle treated him. School was not without its fair share of problems. But, at least he had made friends, even if he wasn't allowed to write them letters. He hoped that he'd hear from them soon.
He stood, watching the small white dot fade into dusk, smiling. "At least one of us is happy," he said, leaving the window ajar as he stepped back, the curtains falling into place. For a moment, out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a large black shape in the middle of the street. Stepping forward again, pulling the drapes aside he peered out into the dusk. The street was empty. "Seeing things, great," he pulled the curtains across the window and crept to his door. The house was quiet, Uncle Vernon had said at dinner he had a big meeting in the morning, perhaps that meant they'd gone to bed early? From the lack of sounds in the house it certainly seemed so.

He was pulled away from the window by the sound of his mattress creaking. Dobby stood on his bed, holding a tray with a silver domed lid. "Good evening, Master Harry," the house elf whispered. It had taken some time, but Harry had finally imparted to Dobby the importance of keeping his existence silent and secret. Dobby was not to Apparate into the room until Harry let Hedwig out for the night.

Harry sat down cross-legged on his bed and took the tray from Dobby. "Thank you, Dobby. Any word from the Malfoys?" He asked every night, although the answer was always the same.

The house elf's large ears dropped and he shook his head. "No, Dobby is sorry." He hovered beside the bed as Harry finished his dinner. "Does Harry be having any letters for Dobby to send?"

"Yes, thank you again Dobby," Harry said after he swallowed the last piece of beef pie. He took a large gulp of pumpkin juice to wash it down and scrambled off the bed. Holding his breath, he lifted the lid of his trunk, hoping the hinges wouldn't creak and give him away. He saw his Nimbus 2000 and sighed, last summer with Malfoy, practicing quidditch every morning had been the most fun he'd had outside of Hogwarts. And now, who knows where his friend was, or if he'd be back at the start of term. Of course he would, the thought followed. He wouldn't let himself consider otherwise. Pushing the broomstick to the side he pulled out his textbooks, several rolls of parchment and his writing set.

Tucked underneath his school robes he pulled out a stack of letters. He'd written to both the twins, Pansy and Blaise and hid them well in case on the very slim chance anyone opened his trunk. He didn't want to get in even more trouble for sending letters.
Dobby took the letters and stowed them in the satchel slung at his hips. "Is there anything else Dobby can be doing for Master Harry before he leaves?" When Harry shook his head Dobby bowed, took the tray and Apparated silently.

Harry patted his full stomach, grateful that he was guaranteed at least one meal every day. Too often Petunia found reasons not to feed him. If she felt he was too wasteful as he prepared their food, or took too long with the yard work, he was denied food and reminded it was out of the goodness of their hearts that they'd taken him in, and how dare he waste their time and money.

He set the ink well on end table with a spare bit of parchment underneath, in case he dripped, and pulled his textbooks onto his lap with his homework scroll unrolled onto another textbook beside him. In some ways, it was strange, how backward the wizarding world seemed. For all their magic they still used candles and torchlight. Ink wells and quills too. But it seemed to fit, oddly. Pens and regular notebooks would have seemed out of place in the ancient castle that was Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Everything about the castle was old, including the Headmaster. The thought of Dumbledore caused his fists to clench. He was certain it was his doing that he was stuck returning to the Dursley’s instead of going to spend his summer with the Malfoys.

And last term he'd fallen right into another of Dumbledore's traps. He'd followed Draco into the Chamber of Secrets and fought the Dark Lord. Just as the Headmaster wanted. But, as Harry replayed it over in his mind he knew that he could have never made another choice. At least the entire thing had proven something to both Dumbledore, and himself he supposed. Despite what a large portion of the wizarding world thought, he was sorted into the right house.

The sword that Dumbledore's own phoenix had delivered to him in the Chamber once belonged to Salazar Slytherin. A fact Dumbledore was rather eager to keep hushed up. For once, to his surprise, he found himself agreeing with the Headmaster. There were enough people in the school, and out he was sure, who thought that he was primed to become the next dark wizard that he didn't need to go solidifying his connection to the founder of his house further.

He cracked open A History of Magic and began to read, stopping between every sentence to listen carefully for any sign that the Dursleys were awake. Not that it was particularly likely that they would come into his room, although with the lights on, it was far more so. He looked sadly at the flashlight that sat on his nightstand. Last year Draco's father, Lucius, had gone into Muggle London and purchased a supply of batteries for him. He'd been able to keep up with his homework a little easier, the small pinpoint of the torch easier to hide than that of the lamp.

So far, Dobby had not been able to procure him more batteries. Initially, Dobby had wanted to threaten Uncle Vernon until he gave Harry everything he wanted. Harry had to physically restrain him from marching down the hall and waking his aunt and uncle to have a word with them. His next thought was to Apparate into a shop and simply take them in the middle of the night. That had led to an interesting discussion about alarms and cameras. Dobby had not quite understood the concept until Harry finally explained they were the Muggle version of wards and in some ways, far more powerful. Sending the eager house elf into a shop with some Muggle money was also out, although he knew the loyal servant would do it. But Harry couldn't bring himself to imagine the trouble that would cause.

But still, he'd managed to get a little more work done every night, once everyone had gone to sleep. He loved reading his textbooks. Another fact that likely set Harry Potter apart from many other students home from school for the holidays. Binns had set them a two-foot essay on why it was foolish for the Muggles to hunt for the Salem witches. And the ineffectualness of burning a witch alive at the stake. He sighed as he read. Most of the so-called witches that had been caught during the witch hunts were Muggles. Usually someone the accuser had a grudge against. It wasn't difficult for him to imagine the sort of people that would burn someone alive for being different. He could easily picture Vernon and Petunia in the stands of the courtrooms, pointing and sentencing witch after witch to death. Futilely, as any witch that was accidentally caught up in the fervor simple cast a few charms and Apparated out of the fire before it could kill them, leaving a pile of clothing to burn.

Harry frowned, wishing the wizard world could say it had risen above such prejudices. But he knew it had not. Last year had more than proven that. He'd heard several of his fellow Slytherins commenting on how much nicer things would be if all of the Muggleborns were removed from the school. Even Draco at times seemed to think that being a Pureblood was the most important thing. But, he’d been working on it, and Harry knew it wasn’t always easy to undo a lifetime’s worth of lessons.

Harry’s birthday came and went quietly. If Vernon and Petunia even remembered that it was the eve of his thirteenth birthday, they certainly made no indication of it. He worked quietly on his homework and kept his eye on the clock. The moment it changed from 11:59 to midnight he stopped. "Happy Birthday to me~" he sang in a whisper. He froze at a loud bang, holding his breath as he listened for the sound of Vernon or Petunia screaming at him. With the second thump he realized it was the window. He'd kept Hedwig in today, because... well if he was honest it was because he didn't want to be alone on his birthday. Putting down his quill he ran to the window, throwing it open quickly before whatever it was woke up his aunt and uncle. A pile of brown ragged feathers was sitting on the windowsill. When he picked it up, a large yellow eye opened and he realized it was an owl! He carried it over to his bed, setting it down carefully. It hooted softly and he tensed, straining for any sounds of the Dursleys.
Thankfully all was quiet as the owl ruffled it's feathers and got to its feet. Well, tried. Clutched in its talons was a large roll, tied with a bit of string. He freed the owl and carried it over to Hedwig's cage. "You've got some company, girl!" He set the owl on the perch, watching until he was satisfied it wasn't going to fall over, and untied the package. A newspaper fell out and he looked at it confused. Until he saw the picture under the large headline.

MINISTRY OF MAGIC EMPLOYEE WINS DRAW

Underneath was a picture of a group of people, standing in front of a pyramid. The picture was in black and white, but as he grinned down at the two tall boys waving furiously at him, he knew that they would all have shockingly red hair. The other people in the photo shifted awkwardly, looking up at him. In the corner of the picture stood Ron, a boy in his year and someone who hated him for no other reason than he'd been sorted into Slytherin. He was scowling up at Harry and holding his arms out to guard a younger girl he supposed was their sister. A rat hopped from one shoulder to the other and Harry snickered. Of course the Weasel would have a rat for a pet.

Waving back to Fred and George, set the picture down and picked up the letter that had been curled inside of the newspaper.

HIYA HARRY!

SORRY WE HAVEN'T WRITTEN IN A BIT. DAD WON A BIG PRIZE FROM THE DAILY PROPHET AND TOOK US ALL TO EGYPT TO VISIT BILL, THAT'S OUR OLDEST BROTHER. HE'S A CURSE BREAKER AND WORKS FOR THE GOBLINS OUT HERE. THE PYRAMIDS ARE WICKED. SOME OF THOSE OLD PHARAOHS WERE CRAZY. MUM WON'T LET GINNY INTO HALF OF THE TOMBS, THEY'RE FULL OF MUMMIES AND CURSES AND STUFF. WE'RE BACK IN ENGLAND NOW, AND MUM SAYS WE'RE GOING TO DIAGON ALLEY NEXT WEEK. OUR LETTERS SHOULD HAVE ARRIVED BY THEN. MAYBE YOU CAN GET THERE TOO AND WE CAN SNEAK AWAY AND CATCH UP?
GRED AND FORGE

PS. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
PPS. YOU DON'T WANT TO EAT THE CANDY YOURSELF, TRUST US.
PPPS. WE BET THAT COUSIN OF YOURS WOULD LOVE IT.
PPPPS. PERCY GOT MADE HEAD BOY THIS YEAR. HE MIGHT ACTUALLY BE MORE OF A PRAT THAN RON.

Harry laughed as he set down the letter and picked up the small box hat they'd stuffed in with the letter. It had a variety of toffees and lollipops that looked delicious. The box was gold with all sorts of hieroglyphs on the outside. He had no idea what they said, no clue as to why they'd warned him not the eat the candy. Still... better safe than sorry. He stretched across his bed and put the on his end table. As he was packing away the rest of his books another owl flew in the window. Followed by a second, and a third.

The last owl had the Hogwarts crest and after he freed the letter from its leg, flew off again into the night.

The other two carried large boxes and seemed relieved to dip their beaks in Hedwig's water and nibble on the treats Harry set out for them. He could only imagine Uncle Vernon's face if he was to come into the room now and see three more owls. He might explode. The thought caused Harry to chuckle as he opened the letters.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY HARRY!
MUM AND DA TOOK ME TO FRANCE FOR THE SUMMER. ITS BEEN ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL, BUT APPARENTLY THEY DON'T LIKE TO SEND OWLS TO OTHER COUNTRIES. THE WITCHES AND WIZARDS HERE ARE STRANGE. COOL, BUT STRANGE. ANYWAY, WE'RE HOME NOW AND PLANNING TO GO TO DIAGON ALLEY SOON. I DOUBT THE MUGGLES YOU’RE STAYING WITH WOULD BE TOO KEEN ON TAKING YOU. WE COULD TAKE YOU, IF YOU NEEDED?
I DON’T KNOW IF THEY’RE LETTING YOU LET HEDWIG OUT, ANARIA WILL WAIT IF YOU WANT TO SEND LETTERS BACK WITH HER, I’LL MAKE SURE THEY GET WHERE THEY’’RE GOING.
HOPE YOU LIKE YOUR GIFT!
LOVE, PANSY

Harry smiled, the chance to send out a few letters was welcome. Leave it to Pansy to think of something like that. He tore off the wrapping paper, curious what the heavy package contained, and found a dark wooden box. The writing embossed on the cover in silver curly font declared it to be a broomstick servicing kit. Inside he found a large jar of Fleetwood’s High-Finish Handle Polish, a beautiful brass compass that would fix to the handle, a set of Tall-Twig tail clippers, gleaming silver against the velvet casing, and a handbook of Do-It-Yourself Broomcare and Maintenance.

The package made him miss school even more. His Nimbus Two Thousand, a brilliant racing broom, had been tucked away in his trunk all summer. While other players on the house Quidditch teams could spend their days practicing their skills, Harry had to live in a world where he pretended those things did not exist. However, the prospect of writing letters to his friends lifted the homesickness for Hogwarts somewhat and he set the kit aside.
There was one final owl, a sleek dark one that had to be from the Malfoys. It perched next to Hedwig, preening itself as Harry pulled the letter from its leg.

HARRY,
SORRY I DIDN’T GET A CHANCE TO SAY GOODBYE AT THE END OF TERM, OR WRITE SOONER. FATHER INSISTED WE KEEP MOVING AROUND THIS SUMMER WHILE HE ‘HANDLED THINGS’. TURNS OUT, HANDLING THINGS MEANS GETTING MOTHER SENT TO AZKAHBAN.

Harry froze, rereading the last sentence. Last year, Draco’s mother, Narcissa Malfoy, had attempted to kill him and bring back the most evil wizard of the century through a diary. Draco had accidently been the one to wind up with the diary, nearly dying in the mysterious Chamber of Secrets that he’d been opening all year. Harry and their Head of House, Professor Snape, had managed to stop the dark magic from claiming him. And Lucius, Draco’s father, had whisked him away immediately. Narcissa had always given Harry a strange feeling and he could only imagine the conflict Draco was experiencing.


WE’RE BACK NOW, BUT WE’RE STAYING IN DIAGON ALLEY BECAUSE FATHER’S INVITED THE AURORS TO SEARCH THE HOUSE. DON’T KNOW WHEN WE’LL BE BACK AT THE MANOR, BUT WHEN YOU COME TO GET YOUR SCHOOL SUPPLIES COME TO THE LEAKY CAULDRON FIRST. WE’LL GO TOGETHER.

FATHER SAYS TO TELL YOU IF THE MUGGLES GIVE YOU ANY TROUBLE COMING TO GET YOUR SUPPLIES TO LET HIM KNOW. WE’LL BE THERE TO GET YOU WHETHER THE MINISTRY LIKES IT OR NOT.
The Ministry of Magic was quickly earning a place on the list of things Harry hated most. Harry wasn’t sure if the events of last year with Narcissa would help, or hurt. The goodwill of turning his own wife over for her crimes, and allowing them to search the manor, would only go so far when most of the wizarding world believed firmly that Lucius was as bad as his wife.
They had both been Death Eaters, under the reign of the Dark Lord, Voldemort. But where Lucius had seen his mistakes his wife clung to them. Harry wasn’t sure he wanted Lucius to risk the anger of the Ministry for him. But all the same, the idea that there was someone who looked out for him gave him a warm feeling right down to his toes.

ALASTAIR WILL WAIT UNTIL YOU ASK THEM, IF WE DON’T HEAR FROM YOU IN THREE DAYS, WE’RE COMING TO GET YOU ANYWAY.
SEE YOU SOON!
DRACO

Harry set the letter aside, holding the wrapped parcel in his lap, and leaned up against the wall, grinning. He had friends, real, true, friends. Swallowing back a few tears he thought about how different this birthday was from last year when Dobby had been confiscating all of his mail.

Still grinning, he unwrapped the package. A silver box held a tiny glass spinning top and a slip of paper.

THIS IS A POCKET SNEAKOSCOPE. IF SOMEONE YOU CAN’T TRUST IS AROUND IT LIGHTS UP AND SPINS AROUND.

He took it out carefully. The object hummed with magic, and he closed his eyes enjoying the sensation. He hadn’t been around magic since school ended and he was surprised how much he’d miss the familiar feeling of power. Carefully, he set the Sneakoscope on his end table where it sat perfectly balanced on the point, surprised a little that it considered Vernon and Petunia trustworthy. Of course, he considered, it wasn’t as though either of them took any measures to hide their disdain for him. No, they could be trusted to do whatever it took to make his life miserable right to his face. There was no sneakiness there.

There were several letters inside the envelope from Hogwarts. A list of school supplies and books which Harry looked over briefly before setting aside, and a letter informing him that term began on September the first with the Hogwarts Express leaving Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at eleven o’clock, and a permission form. His smile faded as he read the letter attached.

With permission from a parent or guardian, third years were permitted on select weekends throughout the year to visit the nearby wizarding town of Hogsmeade Village. There was no way he could convince Vernon or Petunia to sign it. Sighing, he shoved it back in the envelope and tucked it into the drawer. Maybe Mr. Malfoy could sign it for him.

Curling up under his blankets Harry sighed, for once feeling absolutely and completely normal.

Chapter Text

Harry could hardly hear Petunia snapping at him over the sounds of the TV the following morning. Although he did manage to pick up the words “ungrateful” and “lazy”, he’d heard it enough times before to fill in the rest. As he set about frying up a few dozen eggs and a couple pounds of bacon for breakfast, he listened to the news.

“… The public is being warned this morning about an escaped convict. Sirius Black is armed and considered extremely dangerous. Police have set up a special hotline and are urging the public to report any sightings of Black immediately.”
Uncle Vernon snorted, “O’course he’s no good. Look at how filthy he is… look at that hair!” Harry could feel Vernon’s piggy eyes fixated on him and resisted the urge to smooth down his own locks. His mess of black curls had always been a source of irritation to his aunt and uncle. Harry dared a glance at the screen. The gaunt face surrounded by a matted mess of elbow length black hair made Harry feel impeccably groomed. He turned his focus back to the stove as the reporter moved on.

“The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries…”

“Just a moment there missy, you didn’t tell us where that degenerate escaped from!” Uncle Vernon roared.

“He could be coming up the road any minute!” Aunt Petunia shrieked, darting to the window and peeking out.

“Only way to deal with those people is a hanging,” Vernon slammed his meaty fist, clutching a fork, into the table as Harry served him his breakfast. “It’s about time, boy. Marge’s train gets in at ten. Can’t very well pick her up on an empty stomach.”

Harry gulped, nearly dumping Dudley’s plate into his cousin’s lap. “A-aunt Marge… is coming… here?”

Vernon’s sister did not visit often - she couldn’t bear to leave her precious bulldogs for too long, but each visit had brought with it a particularly nasty memory. She’d spent Dudley’s fifth birthday rapping Harry’s shins with her cane to stop him from beating Dudley at the games; another time, she’d shown up on Christmas day with some new-fangled electronic gizmo for her nephew and a half-finished box of dog treats far Harry. Her last visit had been shortly before Harry had gone to Hogwarts for the first time. Ripper, her favorite bulldog, had chased Harry up a tree in the garden and Marge refused to call him off. It was only after Petunia began to fuss that the neighbors might notice, being after midnight, that she’d relented.

“She’ll be here for a week,” Vernon told him between mouthfuls. “And while she’s here, we need to get a few things straight.”

Harry stiffened, there was no way this was good. Dudley turned from the television, egg yolk dripping down his chin as he watched. Nothing on the telly was as good as Uncle Vernon abusing his nephew.

“First off, you will mind your manners,” Uncle Vernon said with a growl.

“Her first,” Harry muttered.

“She doesn’t know what a freak you are, and it’s going to stay that way. You behave yourself,” Vernon continued as if Harry hadn’t spoken.

“Long as she does,” Harry’s jaw hurt from clenching his teeth together.

“And lastly,” he glared at Harry through purplish red slits. "We've told her that you have been sent to St. Brutus' School for the Criminally Insane and Hopeless Cases. " He wagged a thick finger at Harry. "You are to do NOTHING to imply otherwise. Is that understood?"

"Yes," Harry barely managed to get the word out through his gritted teeth.

"Right then!" Vernon smiled, the expression doing nothing to improve the bloated features of his face. "I'm off to the train station. Would you like to come Dudley?"

Dudley ignored his father, turning his attention back to the television now that Vernon was finished with Harry.

"Alright, be back shortly then." He shoveled a few more heaping forkfuls of egg into his mouth and wiped his face off with the corner of the tablecloth. As he left the kitchen Harry felt his stomach slowly uncurl. At least, worse comes to worst, the Malfoys would come pick him up. But he didn't want to get them into any more trouble with the Ministry. He could survive a few days with... her. He shuddered, and then an idea burst into his mind. Scrambling after his Uncle, Harry caught him just as he was leaving.

"I'm not taking you," Uncle Vernon sneered.

"I don't want to go," Harry shot back. "I wanted to ask you something."

"What do you want?" Vernon looked at him as though he were a flea-ridden dog that had shown up in the rain begging for scraps.

"For you to sign my permission slip, for school."

Vernon grinned, a special smile reserved for those moments when he found out that there was something Harry wanted and had the power to keep it from him. "I think not."

"Well, it's only... it's going to be really hard work the next week. Pretending to be from St. What’s-It-Called."

"Saint Brutus' School for Criminally Insane and Hopeless Cases!" Vernon shouted, the vein in his forehead bulging.

"Right, that. You know, it's such a long name to remember. I'm really going to have to work at it. To be convincing, you know. What if I let something slip?"

"I'll beat you within inches of your life!" Vernon raised his fist, his face an alarming shade of purple, as though he meant to start the beatings now.

"That's not going to stop Marge from remembering all the things I could tell her about my classes. I think she'd particularly like Potio~"

"I WILL NOT HAVE YOU MENTION THAT ABNORMALITY IN MY HOUSE!" Vernon screeched, his voice panicked. His fist hung in the air.

"But..." Harry continued hurriedly. "If you sign my permission form, I'll act like a perfect mu- normal person."

Vernon was frozen in place, not moving an inch except the large purple vein in his forehead that throbbed and threatened to explode. Finally, he deflated, wagging a fat finger at Harry. "I'll be watching you, boy. Every moment she's visiting. IF you behave yourself, and I'm satisfied, THEN I'll sign whatever form this is."

He slammed the door shut behind him, leaving the house shaking in his wake. Harry sighed, it was better than he'd hoped. But this was going to be a very long week. He slunk back into the kitchen and cleaned up from breakfast, not eating himself. He wasn't hungry anymore. When he'd scrubbed the kitchen top to bottom, he made his way up the stairs. He was going to have to spend an entire week living like a Muggle if he was going to have any chance of going to Hogsmeade this year. That meant no magic of any sort.

He carefully packed away anything even remotely magical into his trunk. Finally, when the room was cleared of anything that might give him away, he turned to his bird cage. Hedwig was asleep on her perch, nestled in between Anaria and Alastair. He opened the door, stroking her chest softly. He snatched up a bit of paper and a pencil, scribbling a quick note.

PANSY,
CAN'T EXPLAIN, DON'T HAVE MUCH TIME. BUT HEDWIG CAN'T STAY WITH ME UNTIL SCHOOL STARTS. DON'T KNOW IF I'LL MAKE IT TO DIAGON ALLEY TO MEET YOU. HOPE SO. PLEASE TAKE CARE OF HER, AND TELL DRACO SORRY I CAN'T WRITE HIM BACK. TELL HIM NOT TO COME GET ME, I'LL GET IN TROUBLE.
DON'T WORRY
HARRY

He tied the paper to Anaria's leg and one by one picked up the owls, carefully releasing them out the window. Hedwig nipped his finger affectionately, and he cuddled her to his face with a sigh. "I'm sorry, girl, I can't keep you here for a while. But I promise we'll be back at Hogwarts soon. Pansy will take good care of you." Blinking back a few tears as the only thing in the house that didn't hate him flew off into the bright blue sky, he did a final sweep of the bedroom. Finding a few odd bits of parchment, half finished essays for school he was just chucking them into the bin when he heard the front door slam.

"Where's my duddy-kins!" Marge's voice rang through the house, her screeching tones causing Harry to flinch. Knowing he was expected to make an appearance he mussed up his hair a bit extra. Marge loved criticizing him, might as well give her something to start in on, and made his way down the stairs.

Dudley was just pulling away from a crushing hug, his expansive cheek was peppered with lipstick kisses, clutching a brand-new twenty pound note in his hand. Marge swept past Harry to Petunia, who was completely dwarfed by the large woman. "Some tea?" she managed to huff out, extricating herself from her sister-in-law. "Traveling is so hard."

"That it is, you know and with the dogs, some people just don't appreciate how difficult it can be to get away, and then all that rabble on the train." Harry stood still, silently wondering if it was so hard why would she even bother? As they made their way out of the entrance into the kitchen. He was left alone with Marge's large trunks. Alone, hauling the suitcases up the stairs was far more preferable to being forced to serve tea in the kitchen, and so he got to work. Taking extra care to make as little noise as possible. When the last of the luggage had been stowed in the guest bedroom, Harry made his way to the kitchen.

He stood quietly in the door until Ripper, Marge's prized bulldog that she'd brought with her once again, noticed him, leaving the saucer of tea he'd been drinking from and growling low in the back of his throat. Marge turned, speaking around a mouthful of fruit cake. "You're still here then."

"Yes."

Her eyes squinted and for a moment she looked exactly like her brother. "Don't you dare take that tone with me, boy. You're lucky you didn't wind up on my doorstep, you'd been straight to the orphanage. No questions asked." For a moment Harry had a brief flash of sadness that he hadn't been left on her doorstep instead of the Dursley's. An orphanage didn't sound so bad, all things considered. "Ungrateful little brat," she continued. "Where is it that you go to school boy?"

"St. Brutus'," Harry answered.

"A wonderful institution for completely hopeless cases," Vernon supplied helpfully. Glaring at Harry as he cut him off.

She nodded, sipping her tea. "And do they make use of the cane?" Behind her Vernon was nodding furiously, his chins waggling.

"Yes," he answered again. And then, feeling as though he might as well commit to the part, kept going. "I've been beaten loads of times."

She looked away from him with a somewhat satisfied smirk. "Well, that's good then. Although if you can still take such a tone about being beaten… You should write the school, Petunia. I'll do it for you if they want. Tell them you have no objection to them using whatever extreme method of punishment they feel will work."

Harry stood quietly to the side of the kitchen. Knowing Marge would rather he stay where she could keep her beady eyes on him, as opposed to somewhere in the house out from underfoot which was by and large how the Dursleys preferred it. He listened as Marge went on about various punishment methods, speculating about which would be most effective in keeping him in line. He could feel Vernon's gaze on him, just waiting for him to step out of line. Instead he kept his expression blank as he went over a list of potions ingredients in his head, trying to recall their uses and which canceled out the effects of which.

He managed to keep himself neutral under her abuse until after dinner drinks. It was a longer than he'd expected, truthfully. As the family reclined in the kitchen chairs, Vernon handing out glasses of brandy, Harry was tidying up the dishes.

"You know Petunia," Marge was saying, her words slurring a little. "You really shouldn't blame yourself for how he's turned out." Harry had a suspicion that Marge was still on her favorite topic, him. "It all comes down to breeding, just like with dogs. There's only so much you can do. If there's a problem with the bitch, there will be a problem with the pup."

Harry had to bite his lip, clenching the side of the sink. SMASH! He turned around to see bits of glass flying all over the table. He froze, Vernon was rising out of his chair looking furious. "Ahhh, sorry about that, Petunia," Marge said. Harry blinked. "I've got a good strong grip, happens all the time."

Harry whirled around to get the dustpan and broom relieved he wasn't to be blamed. Vernon poured Marge another glass as Harry cleaned up the mess, ignoring Ripper growling at him from Marge's lap.

"As I was saying," she continued.

"Now, Marge, what do you think of that convict on the loose eh?" Vernon coughed nervously, eager to switch the conversation. His eyes darting to Harry anxiously.

Harry finished cleaning up the broken pieces of glass and fled the kitchen. He was halfway up the stairs when he sank onto a step, breathing heavily. He hadn't done accidental magic since his first year at Hogwarts. He still looked back on the incident with the snake enclosure with fondness. But this... if he didn't get himself under control he was going to find himself in more trouble than he knew what to do with. A beating from Vernon would be the least of his worries if he found himself getting another warning from the Ministry of Magic. Or worse. Could they expel him from Hogwarts? Break his wand and forbid him from ever doing magic again?

As he struggled to slow his breathing a horrible thought occurred to him. Did the Ministry of Magic have a sway of stopping a wizard or witch from ever doing magic again? Some sort of curse to suppress their abilities? Or would they simply throw him in Azkaban, the wizarding prison. Shuddering, he realized that however bad things were here, all of those options were worse. He would simply have to learn how to keep his temper.

Chapter Text

Fortunately for Harry, over the next several days Vernon and Petunia seemed to have a vested interest in helping to keep his temper in check. He wasn’t deluded enough to think that it had anything to do with not wanting to see their nephew abused. No, the truth was, they were so desperate to keep up the pretense that their little family was completely normal that they were willing to do anything. Petunia took to sending Harry out of the house on errands in the afternoon; simple tasks like picking up forgotten items from the grocery list for dinner, or to take letters to the Muggle post office. Marge objected to Harry being sent off on his own, but Vernon insisted that St Brutus' had trained the boy enough that he wouldn't dare disobey them.


For Harry, those moments of freedom, especially the trips to the market were unbelievable blessings. Harry managed to arrange, through Dobby, for a small amount of his fortune at Gringott’s to be converted into Muggle currency. There were not many shops on the way to and from the market, and the market itself was not overly well stocked with things a thirteen-year-old boy would enjoy. However, he nearly always treated himself to a soda and some crisps to savor on the walk home. He didn’t dare bring anything too large into the house. A small chocolate, or lolly to enjoy while he worked on his homework was as brave as he could muster.


When the weather was fair, he varied his route home, exploring the neighborhood of Little Whinging. It was liberating, walking at his own pace, enjoying food purchased with his own money, no one rushing him along or snapping at him, or stealing the food for themselves. Petunia had been more and more lax about when he returned home, suggested subtly in private that the more time he was out of the house the better. His slow meanderings of the town gave him lots of time to think. It surprised him how much he might have been glad to live in this cozy corner of England. He’d been surprised to discover this fact, given how much he loathed everything to do with his aunt and uncle’s house.


One afternoon, he wandered into the library. He stood in the center of the building under the large skylight, and turned, taking in the rows upon rows of books with a grin. The Dursley’s didn’t allow him books. The first time he asked he was told he was too stupid to understand them, or increasingly more often that they were an expense he was not worth. It should have occurred to him to ask about a library, but he knew as soon as the thought crossed his mind that they would have found some reason to deny him that as well. Very little gave Vernon Dursley pleasure like the opportunity to refuse his nephew a simple request, especially one that wouldn’t cost him time or money.


“First time here?” A warm voice interrupted his admiration of the library and he turned around to see a tall man with shoulder length light brown hair flecked with grey smiling at him. At Harry’s nod the man continued. “That was my reaction when I first came here too. I’d only ever seen a library this grand at school.”


Harry’s mind flashed to the library at Hogwarts and nodded, “Yes, sir. My school has an amazing library, but I find myself missing it over the holidays.”


“Remus, please,” the man put out his hand. Harry hesitated for a moment, he was not a fan of strangers, even if something about the man seemed familiar. Then he noticed the name tag on the man’s lapel declaring him a volunteer librarian.


“Harry,” he took his hand, shaking it firmly. “What would I have to do in order to take some books home with me?”


For a moment, Harry thought he saw a pinch of sadness when he mentioned home, but the look faded and Remus smiled broadly. “Just over here, I can help you with that.” Remus helped Harry sign up for a library card and suggested a few books for him to take home.


The trips to the library were the highlight of Marge’s visit. Remus was there more days than not, and often had interesting reading suggestions. The two spent many a quiet afternoon discussing the books. Harry even found himself grateful for Vernon’s sister, or more specifically the excuse her presence gave him to escape the house. When he was forced to be in the same room as her, largely at meal times, he took to reciting potions ingredients, or steps for complex Transfiguration in his head. The result was that his expression tended to be rather blank and disinterested. Marge worried loudly whether or not he was quite right in the head. But so long as he kept his head down, focused on his food, she found it more difficult to engage him directly. Settling instead for only the odd comment his direction.


Finally, it was the evening before Marge’s departure. The week had seemed to go tolerably, all things considered. And Harry could hardly wait to have Uncle Vernon sign his permission form, and perhaps figure out how to get to Diagon Alley for his school supplies? As much as they hated the school he went to, he doubted that they would want him to stay home all year. Perhaps he'd use that angle. So long as Vernon held good on his promise to sign the paper. He smiled into his food, not caring that it was less than a quarter of what the dog had received.


"Look at him," Marge sputtered, well into a countless brandy glass. She leaned back in her chair, her face splotchy red as he looked over at him. "Grinning. He's quite mad isn't he?"
Petunia murmured in agreement, eyeing Harry nervously.


"Oh you mustn't blame yourself, Petunia. It happens sometimes. No negative on your family. Bad blood happens sometimes. Like I was saying the other night. If there was something wrong with his mother, well you're not to be blamed. You know what she was like. And then she went and ran off with that Potter fellow."


Harry sucked in a sharp breath, the list of potions ingredients vanishing out of his head. He desperately tried to remember something, anything. But Marge kept going.
"What was it he did for a job then?"


"Nothing," Vernon injected. "He didn't work."


"A drunk too I suppose. Good for nothing wastrel. Well, that's what comes of it then. At least they went and got themselves drunk and all crashed in that car before they could pass it onto anyone else. It's like that with dogs you know. Once they've had one bad litter there's nothing to be done but put them down."


"My parents, were good people." Harry hissed through clenched teeth.


"What's that then boy? A bit more brandy there Vernon. That's a good man, top it up then." She fixed her beady eyes on Harry. "You have something to say?"


"My parents were good people. And you didn’t' know them so you can just shut up about them already" His fists tightened around his cutlery, wishing it was his wand.


"Good people!" she screeched. "Good people don't go getting themselves drunk and-"


"Then I guess you’re not good people!" Harry shouted.


Marge opened her mouth to reply, but instead gasped for air like a fish out of water. Her chest, already large and the shirt stretched nearly to bursting, was expanding at an alarming rate. The fabric pulled and twisted, until one of the buttons of her blouse shot clear across the room.


"What are you doing boy! I demand you stop!" Vernon screamed.


"I'm not doing anything!" Harry snapped at him. It was true, he wasn't doing anything intentionally, but... there was no way this was normal. Glancing around frantically he saw no sign of Dobby and he couldn’t think of any other witch or wizard who might have snuck in. He tried to calm himself down.


Marge continued to expand, the rest of her buttons shooting off her blouse as she began to float out of her chair.


"Marge!" Petunia shrieked, reaching for her with her long boney hands. Petunia's wild grasping did not have the effect she intended. Rather than pulling her sister-in-law back into the chair. She knocked her like an overfilled balloon towards the dining room door, which had been thrown wide earlier when Marge complained how hot it was this summer. Harry watched - partially in horror and the other half in vengeful amusement, as she wedged herself in the doorway.


Vernon barreled after her, shouting loudly. He collided with his sister, sending her out the door into the cool night air with a shrieking pop. Petunia ran out into the back garden, waving her hands frantically and screeching for Vernon to do something. Harry started in horror for a split second before he launched himself out of the chair and up the stairs.


Grateful that he'd already packed his things, he dug his wand out of his trunk, sealed it with a snap of the lock, and lugged it downstairs. He met Vernon on the landing by the door.


"Where do you think you're going, boy!" He huffed, his reddish purple face looking nearly as swollen as his sister. "You fix her right now!"


"I don't think I will," Harry said coldly, holding his wand in front of him. "She deserved what she got. And if you don't let me go, you'll be joining her."


Vernon gaped at him, uncertain what to do with the tall skinny wizard standing in front of him. He kept one eye warily on Harry's wand, all while trying to be threatening. "You will not stay another second in this house until you fix what you did!"


"Good thing I don't plan on staying then!" Harry shoved past his Uncle, ignoring the indignant sputtering and threw open the front door. "See you next summer then! Have a good year!" He called over his shoulder as he took off down the street.
Righteous fury and powerful indignation carried Harry about four blocks before he dropped his trunk and sat on hit, breathing heavily and shaking. What had he done? The Ministry was almost certainly on their way to the house. He'd done magic, accidental, but still magic, in front of his family. And he was certain more than a few neighbors had looked out their window at the screeching to see the woman-turned-balloon float off into the sky. There was no way he was going to get away with this. But where could he go? He could hide? Find the Ministry and plead for mercy? Maybe sneak into Diagon Alley and ask Mr. Malfoy for help.


He realized with a sinking feeling that the entrance to Diagon Ally was too far for him to walk. And he had spent the last of his Muggle money, thinking that Marge’s visit and his freedom would be over. It was unlikely that a cabbie would accept Galleons, and he wouldn’t be surprised if that broke some part of the Statute of Secrecy.


Holding his wand in a trembling hand, he looked around the dark street. Out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw something move. Had the Ministry found him already? Were they coming to arrest him? He could hear his heart pounding in his chest as he peered into the dust at the edges of the light cast by the streetlamps, looking for any sign of movement. He saw it again, to his left, and whirled around, wand held ready. It looked like... a giant dog? He blinked, rubbing his eyes under his glasses trying to get another look. The shape was gone. Nervously, he stood up, moving in a slow circle as he opened his mouth, taking large lungfuls of air, trying not to hyperventilate. The flash of a car's headlamps the next street over lit up the edge of the park and Harry saw the outline of the largest, blackest, shaggiest dog he'd ever seen. With a yelp he stumbled backwards, tripping over his trunk and falling onto his back.


The wind knocked out of him, he wrestled himself to his knees, looking over the edge of the trunk. The park was empty. A trick of the light, he insisted to himself, just his imagination all hyped up from the crazy night and a strangely trimmed shrubbery. As he pulled himself back onto his trunk, his every muscle trembling with nervous anticipation, he heard the beep of a car.


No where on the darkened street could he see any sign of a vehicle, but the beeping grew louder until with a bang, a large, impossibly stacked double decker bus screeched to a halt in front of him. The door flew open and a gangly youth grinned down at him, showing off a mouthful of crooked teeth.

Chapter Text

"Welcome to the Knight Bus! Transportation for the Stranded witch or wizard. Guaranteed to get you were you need to go. I'm your conductor, Stan Shunpike, and you are?"

Harry ogled him, unable to believe his eyes at the strange bus appearing out of nowhere.

"Ermm, you alright there?" Stan leaned forward, pointing a wand at him and looking him over with a concerned expression.

"I'm, f-fine. My name is." He stopped. If he told the man he was Harry Potter ... well... no. "Blaise. Uh, Blaise Zabini.”

"Good to meetcha!” Stan leapt from the door and picked up Harry's trunk easily. He nodded his head towards the door. "Head on in. Regular service is two knuts for anywhere in London. Bit more if you're going farther. And if you want a bed and toiletries that'll be a galleon. Where ya looking to go Blaise?"

Harry scrambled into the bus, looking around at the few passengers scattered throughout the lower floor. "I umm... I mean." Harry was distracted by the front of a news paper bearing the face of the criminal he'd seen on the news the morning Marge arrived. "Is that Sirius Black?" he sputtered. "The Muggle criminal?"

"Muggle criminal?!" Stan looked at him as though he'd grown another head. "What sort of rock you been living under. That there is Sirius Black, that is. Proud supporter of You-Know-Who. Blew up half a street he did, so upset when Harry Potter defeated He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Coooy... wait a minute. You look a little like him. Anyone ever tell you that?"

"S-sirius black? Harry swallowed nervously.

"Nooo. That Harry Potter bloke. I saw his picture last year in the papers. You look like him."

"Oh, yeah," Harry laughed breathlessly. "People tell me that all the time.

"Hmmph," Stan turned to the bus driver. "Off we go then Ern!"

"Of we go!" Shouted the driver. A lump of a man sat hunched behind the wheel peering out at the street through large thick glasses. The bus lurched forward with a BANG and Harry fell down through the aisle. Stan laughed, holding onto the handrail and swaying as they swerved wildly through traffic.

"Best hold on there Blaise!" He grinned as the bus screeched to a halt and a pale looking wizard mumbling about wort's toes and pickled something shuffled off the bus. "This is yours," he pointed to a brass bed right behind the driver. Ignoring his bruised and possibly bleeding knees, Harry hurried into his bed, wrapping his hands around the headboard as Ernie shifted and the bus was off with another loud crack.

"Where you goin’ then?" Stan looked at him, having helped a frazzled looking witch and her twins off at a small town in Wales.

"The Leaky Cauldron, in London."

"Right then! 'Ere we go!"

Harry held on for dear life as the bus stretched itself almost paper thin, and then rushed forwards, coming to a stop in front of the Leaky Cauldron. Diagon Alley was quiet, most of the shops had shutters pulled over the windows. Although Gringott's was still open. He wondered idly who on earth would be doing business this house of the night. Lugging his trunk behind him he opened the door, ignoring the looks.

As he stepped down off the bus he found himself face to face with the Minister of Magic. "There you are Harry!" Harry could hear Stan sputtering as the bus banged off to its next destination. Cornelius Fudge snapped his fingers and a young man came up, relieving Harry of his trunk. "You've had us all in a tizzy young man," The minister beamed down at him with a smile that resembled a well-fed cat, eyeing up its next meal. He shivered as the man wrapped his arm around his shoulders, herding him into the pub.

"I, didn't mean to. You're not going to send me to going to arrest me, are you?"

Before the man could answer he felt something slam into him. A blond haired boy wrapped himself around Harry and squeezed him tightly. "Harry! We just heard!" As Draco pulled back Harry spotted a gaunt looking Lucius Malfoy standing just behind the Minister.

"Of course not Harry," Lucius reassured him with a smile.

"We don't go arresting people for silly little things like that. We're all just glad your safe. In, in, let's not stand out on the street where everyone can see." Fudge guided them inside, past a sleepy looking bartender who had thrown on an apron over his long pale nightshirt. He rubbed his eyes when he saw Harry.

"Found him then di’ja Minister?" He peered at Harry, making him feel rather uncomfortable and uncertain.

"Yes, yes Tom. Maybe a spot of tea, help soothe the nerves all 'round mmm? In the private lounge, if you please." Fudge kept pushing him along, arm still slung firmly around his shoulders. The lounge was a cozy little room. A large fireplace filled one wall, and with a wave of Lucius' wand was home to a small blaze that cast the room in a friendly glow. Most of the walls were filled with bookshelves, and the centre of the room featured several comfortable looking couches and arm chairs, surrounding a dark wood coffee table.

Fudge deposited Harry into one of the arm chairs, and perched on the adjacent couch. Draco wiggled in beside his friend, and Lucius, eschewing the couches, stood by the fire, his back to the room.

"Well Harry, you gave us all a scare then didn't you! Running off like that in the middle of the night! It's not safe you know, especially well... it's not safe," he repeated, taking off his hat and running his hand along the brim before setting it on the table. "Right well. A Magical Reversal team has been sent to your Aunt and Uncle's. You'll be pleased to know that one Marjorie Ann Dursley has been returned to her normal size and her mind Obliviated of the entire event. They're rounding up the Muggles who might have seen something now and setting it all to rights."

"I... thank you?" Harry squirmed in his seat, waiting for it.

"Now, as for your Aunt and Uncle..."

"Did you erase their memories too?" Harry asked, almost breathlessly wishing for it to be true.

"Ahh, yes, well... no. We didn't. They were quite upset you see. But, it's all sorted. They've agreed to let you return next summer. Provided that you stay at Hogwarts for the Easter and Christmas breaks."

"I always do," Harry muttered softly. Fudge didn't seem to hear them. He cleared his throat. "Sir, are you sure I have to go back there next summer? I mean, they clearly don't want me there. And I don’t want to be there.”

"Nonsense Harry, they're your family! Of course they want you."

Harry could see Lucius' back stiffen, but he remained focused on the fire.

"I'm sure they care for you. And, well, it's necessary."

At that, Lucius whirled around. "And why is that Cornelius? Will you finally tell the boy why is it that you stop any attempts to care for him properly at every turn? Why he has to return there year after year, given the way they treat him."

"Now see here Lucius," Fudge bristled. "We've had a chat with them. He has his own room now and everything."

The adults kept bickering back and forth. But Harry didn't hear them. He sunk back into the chair. Draco hugged him tightly.

"I'm glad you're ok, Harry," He said softly.

"I don't understand why everyone was so worried, or why I'm not in trouble."

"I don't know. When they heard you were missing, Fudge came right to our room, pounding on the door and demanding that father open up and release you into the Ministry’s custody." He glanced at the two men who were still talking rather heatedly. "Father in turn was furious that they'd allowed something to happen to you. Said they should have let him pick you up when we got home."

"They don't care though, do they?" Harry said, his voice hollow. "You heard Fudge. They knew about my living in the cupboard. Probably all the other stuff too. But no one cares."

The two men had ceased arguing when the door to the room creaked open. Lucius' face fell when he heard Harry's whispered words in the ensuing silence. His eyes were full of pain as he looked at the boys seated in the large armchair. Fudge cleared his throat awkwardly.

"Well, what's done is done then. You may stay in Diagon Alley until school starts. But you are NOT to go out into Muggle London, not under any circumstances. And you are to return to your room every night before it's dark. Am I understood?"

Harry nodded, hardly believe what he was told. He was going to be allowed to stay here? Surrounded by magic for the rest of the summer? And he was going to be allowed to go back to Hogwarts? "Yes sir, thank you, sir," he said after a moment, realizing the minister likely expected more than shocked nodding.

Fudge stood, collecting his hat as Tom finally set down the tray of tea and a few biscuits. "I don't believe I'll be staying for tea. Harry's to have a room, next to the Malfoy's. And you'll keep an eye on him for me, won't you Tom?" The bartender looked surprised, but nodded. Harry to wondered if the Minister of Magic left everyone looking like that when he left. Once he’d taken his leave and Tom settled the tea service on the table and made his way out, Harry let out the breath he'd been holding. "Mr. Malfoy?"

Lucius arched an eyebrow, looking down at him. "Yes Harry?"

"I don't understand why I'm not in trouble. No punishment, nothing. Instead I get to stay here the rest of the summer!"

Lucius poured himself a cup of tea as he considered how to answer. "There... are things I'm not permitted to tell you Harry." He smiled sympathetically at Harry's frustrated expression. "In this singular case, I do believe the minister has your best interests at heart. Having you here, were we can keep an eye on you, is the best thing right now." After a pause he crossed the room and knelt down in front of the two boys. “I know it’s hard, but I need you to trust me, please.”

He refused to answer much beyond that. Despite being frustrated at the knowledge that the adults were keeping a large secret from him, as Harry stretched out on his bed at the Leaky Cauldron, looking out the window at the moon winking down at him. He could hardly believe his luck.

Staying in Diagon Alley was everything Harry wanted it to be. Having his best friend there was icing on the cake. Lucius let them do as they pleased, so long as they promised to stay together and return before dark. Harry had a feeling several times as they perused the shop that they were being watched. But as long as whoever it was kept out of sight he didn't care. They'd gone to Gringotts to get out some money, Lucius once again insisted on paying for Harry's school things. His reasoning being that even though the Ministry wouldn't allow him official guardianship over him, he was going to act like it anyway. Harry had hugged him gratefully, right in the middle of the bank, and had been shocked when Lucius returned the hug, albeit a little awkwardly.

Without the cold wraith that was Narcissa looming over them, both Draco and Lucius seemed, brighter. Lucius smiled more openly, although he still insisted on proper etiquette when they were out. Overall, they were more like the family that Harry had gotten to know the last summer. He vainly hoped that perhaps the Ministry would see and allow him to live with them permanently. But something told Harry there was more to it than the belief that Lucius wasn't a suitable guardian. Not when you considered the way that his aunt and uncle had treated him over the last thirteen years.

Harry sat in the courtyard of Fortescue’s, sharing a large peanut butter fudge sundae with Draco. A reward for finishing all of their homework a week before term began. He spotted a large family, all sporting shocking red hair, weaving their way through the crowds. It had gotten distinctly busier the closer to the end of August it got, with more and more families coming to outfit their children for the coming school year. He craned his neck and watched them.

Walking smartly alongside his mother, was Percy Weasley. The eldest of the clan that still attended Hogwarts. He wore a bright red fez with his Head Boy badge perched jauntily on it his nose stuck a little further into the air that Harry remembered. "That's going to be a nightmare right there," he gestured with his spoon, ignoring the melting ice cream and Draco turned his head to look.

It only took him a moment to spot it. "Merlin's beard, they made that git Head Boy?"

"Yeah, I forgot, Fred and George owled me on my birthday, told me about it."

Draco turned back to look at Harry. "Oh, you heard from them over the summer then?" There was a strange note to his voice Harry couldn't quite place.

"Just the once, they'd gotten home from a trip to Egypt to visit one of their brothers. Said they were hoping to sneak off when they visited Diagon Alley and catch up." Harry replied somewhat distractedly as he watched his nemesis, the youngest boy of the Weasley family - Ron, clutching a newspaper article, stopping every so often to show it off. A rat rode on his shoulder and Harry shuddered. He couldn't imagine a rodent for a pet. But it suited the weasel he supposed.

"Oh," Draco replied hollowly.

"I know," Harry turned and grinned. "Let's go get my Dad's Invisibility Cloak and kidnap them!"

Whatever had been bothering Draco, the idea of sneaking around under the cloak and causing mischief seemed to knock it out of him. "Brilliant." Draco agreed to keep an eye on what stores they were going into while Harry dashed upstairs to grab his cloak.
Coming down the stairs two at a time, Harry caught sight of a wanted posted for Sirius Black. The crazed look in the man's eyes gave him the chills, and he hoped that whatever securities were around Diagon Alley, they were better than were around the wizarding prison.

Harry and Draco ducked out of the eye line of anyone sitting in the courtyard to a side street near Flourish and Blott's. They threw the cloak over their heads, crouching to make sure that their ankles and feet were covered, and slowly made their way around the corner and into the store. Thankfully, it was not nearly as crowded as it had been the last year. A blowhard named Lockhart had been chosen to be their Defence against the Dark Arts teacher and was holding a press conference when they'd cone into the store with Severus to buy their books for the year. Thankfully, it appeared whoever was going to be their DA teacher this year either wasn’t famous enough to warrant a press conference, or had chosen to hold it on a different day.

A few familiar looking students milled around, looking at books. They narrowly missed crashing into the youngest Weasley. Ginny spun around, looking curiously at the surrounding area, before going back to her browsing. Clapping their hands over their mouths, they tried to suppress giggles at the look on her face. Harry pulled Draco away, resisting the urge to prank Ron as they slipped by him.

The twins were in the back of the store; George was standing guard while Fred tried to levitate a few of the restricted books off the shelves. Harry leaned over, stretching up on his toes. "It's not going to work you know." George jumped, cursing.

They laughed, holding up the edge of the cloak facing away from the rest of the store. "It's us!"

Fred eyed them, his mouth open. "Merlin's beard that is brilliant. Forgot you had that Harry."

"Feel like getting out of here?"

"What about your mom, won't she notice?" Draco glanced back through the invisibility cloak at the crowded store.

"Have you seen how many siblings we have?" Fred asked, laughing as he ducked under the cloak and gave Draco a squeeze in greeting. "She'll never notice. We could probably stay out all night."

"Maybe another time," Draco replied, his pale cheeks blushing as George joined them all under the cloak.

"Save the flirting till we are out of here and have a little bit more space for everyone, mmm?" George grinned at his brother and Draco.

Harry raised his eyebrow, but said nothing. Once they were all settled under the Cloak and checked to make sure that Fred and George had stooped enough so that nothing was visible they made their way slowly out of the store, avoiding the crowds. It was a stroke of luck that they managed to make it, both the twins and Draco seemed to have grown by leaps and bounds over the summer. But still, somehow, the Cloak managed to cover them all.

The street was a little easier, and they managed to make their way into a small coffee shop well out of the way tucked into a corner without anyone noticing them. Harry pushed the cloak off, brushing his hair out as it stuck up everywhere. They secured a table in the back corner and ordered a round of Butterbeer. Harry smiled to himself as he noticed Fred scooting his chair a little closer to Draco's. They sat with their knees just barely touching as they took a sip of the warm drink.

"So, what's new then."

"Dad got mother arrested. She's in Azkaban now. Life sentence for attempted murder and dark wizardry."

Fred replied with a truly impressive spit take. He slammed his mug on the table, choking, as George looked at Draco in horror.

"What?" the asked in unison.

"She was the one, with the journal. Remember? Father managed to prove it, I'm still not sure how exactly he did. And mother's in prison now. Somehow, Father’s managed to keep it out of the papers. We're free." His voice caught on the last words and his face colored, a mix of emotion. Fred reached his hand over and put it onto of Draco's, giving it a light squeeze of reassurance. Draco smiled at him gratefully.

"I blew up my Aunt." Harry added nonchalantly, hiding his grin behind the edge of the mug.

This time it was George who did the spit take. When he had recovered, and Draco and Harry had stopped laughing, they looked at him, waiting for more of an explanation.

"She's horrible. Vernon's sister and just as bad. Worse even maybe, if you can believe it. She was saying some things... about," he paused, taking a deep breath. "About my parents… my mum. I got really mad."

"Merlin, Harry.... are you expelled, Mum told us about a boy who was doing magic during summer holidays, just some harmless tricks on Muggles. They expelled him from school, had to home school. Never let him back in."

"Nope," Harry said. "Fudge found me, said I wasn't in trouble. And that I could stay here the rest of the summer."

The twins looked at him in surprise. "Really?"

"Yeah, I don't think that's normal though. I get the feeling something else is going on. Don't know what though. Draco's dad, knows something, but apparently he's not allowed to tell me."

Draco shifted uncomfortably. "You know I'd tell you, if I knew what it was?"

"I know," Harry smiled at his friend. "I just wish I could figure out what's going on."

"We'll all keep our ears open. Dad works for the Ministry of Magic, Misuse of Muggle Artifacts, but sometimes he overhears stuff, lets it slip. Mum gets so mad when he does. Says that sort of thing isn’t appropriate."

"He's been working overtime though, they all have. Trying to find Black."

“He’s on the Muggle news too, Black is. I thought the wizard world was supposed to be a secret.”

“It is,” George answered. “But sometimes there’s a witch or wizard who’s a danger to Muggles too. Ministry finds some way to leak the story, warn them. Makes it harder to hide too, if everyone’s looking for him.”

They spent the next hour drinking. catching up, and laughing. After a while, Fred and George shared a glance and sat up as one. Fred giving Draco's hand a final squeeze before they stood. "Mum's a bit absent-minded, but someone's bound to notice. We should go."

Harry nodded, throwing a few Galleons on the table to pay for the lunch, waving them off when they insisted on helping. "I got it," he smiled. "Consider it a thank you for being our friends." They seemed to accept that, and the foursome made their way out of the restaurant. Just before they reached the door, Draco and Fred fell back.

"We'll catch up," Fred looked over the top of Draco's head and grinned impishly. Harry snorted, and George gave a little whoop. They went out onto the street and waited.

"Does it bother you?" Harry asked, blushing a little. "That your brother's into blokes?"

"Oh is that what that's about?" George stopped and stared back at Fred and Draco with a shocked expression.

Harry sputtered and began apologizing over and over, his face bright red, while George laughed. "Easy there Harry," he clapped him on the back. "I'm only teasing. I know Fred likes boys. It's not a big deal. I like both, it's what's inside that counts."
Harry recovered, coughing to clear his throat. Well, that's. Good for you both. They're nice together, aren't they?"

"Mhmm. Fred's liked him for a while, but he's been waiting. Had to listen to him whine all summer, not being able to send Errol with a letter and not knowing where Draco was. Ridiculous really."

"Pretty sure Draco feels the same way, although he hasn't said much."

George nodded, "Fred's a bit older. He's giving Draco some time."

The door opened, revealing a rather pleased looking Fred and a flustered looking Draco. Harry opened his mouth to say something, but Draco grabbed him and hauled him down the street to the sound of George whooping and hollering.

Chapter Text

Later that night the two boys sat cross-legged on Harry’s bed in the Leaky Caulron with a pile of Chocolate Frogs and boxes of Bertie Bott's every Flavor Beans filling the space between them.


"So... what happened?"

"When?" asked Draco, the blush creeping across his pale skin belying his confusion.

"C'mon, I thought I was your best friend."

"You are..." Draco cleared his throat, looking embarrassed. "Fred, said that he fancied me, and hoped that maybe this year we could spend some more time together.” The blush covered his face, ears bright red next to his light blond hair. “He said I was cute.”

Harry grinned, his mouth covered in chocolate. "And you said no right?"

Draco threw an empty box at him. "I said yes, you prat. Of course I did."

Harry crowed in pleasure, truly happy for his friend. "So... did you always, I mean..."

"Know that I was gay?"

"Yeah."

"I think so. Didn't really think much about girls, I mean, they're nice. Pansy's going to be a heartbreaker in a year or two, if she's not already. I don't know. It's Fred, I like him. He makes me smile, and feel good. And I trust him. I think that’s the main thing, really."

Harry nodded, feeling his own blush rising up his body around his neck.

"What about you?"

"Me?" Harry's voice cracked and he shifted, wiping off his mouth. "I... don't know. "

"There's someone, isn't there?" Draco smirked, leaning forward to punch him lightly on the shoulder. "You can tell me."

"No," he sputtered. "There isn't anyone. I mean... I can appreciate a good looking person. Some of the guys are... nice to look at." Harry shrugged nervously. "I think, like you said. It doesn't really matter much about the other stuff, if they're a good person, and you can trust them."

Draco nodded. "Yup, exactly."

Just then Lucius popped his head in the door. "Are you going to sleep in here tonight Draco? That's fine, as long as you both get some sleep, we're up early in the morning. The train leaves at eleven!"

The two boys nodded, and began to clear off the bed. Before curling up side by side and dousing the lights. Surprisingly, despite the excitement of finally returning to Hogwarts, sleep came fairly easily for Harry.

"C'mon Potter, we're going to miss the train if you don't hurry up." Draco shook Harry, waking him from a dead sleep.

Harry bolted upright, nearly crashing into Draco. He scrambled out of bed, pulling on his clothes with a curse, and was half way through frantically trying to smooth down his hair when he glanced at the clock. Six o'clock in the morning, they still had several hours before they even needed to be awake, let alone on the train. He threw his brush at him, uttering a curse.

"Language, Potter Ten points from Slytherin!"

"As if you'd ever take points away from your own house," Harry retorted, sinking back down onto the bed.

"No, no, you can't go back to sleep. We didn't pack, remember? We said we were going to do it this morning?" Harry bolted upright for the second time that day, cursing again. "That's quite the mouth on you though."

"What can I say? I learned from the best?" It was true, in part. Draco had a rather colorful vocabulary, and had once suggested that the Gryffindor team do something both creative and horrifying with their broomsticks. He’d spent more time than he cared to admit trying to puzzle out of it was even anatomically possible.

Draco laughed, picking up odds and ends from around the room. It was amazing how much clutter had accumulated in the weeks he’d been staying there. The room felt more like his own bedroom than his one at the Dursley's did. Although the fact that here, in the wizarding world, he didn't have to hide any part of who he was certainly didn't hurt. The two boys moved around in unison, collecting things and either tossing them, or packing them in Harry's trunk. As it was, despite the early start to the morning, they were hurrying out of the Leaky Cauldron, already behind schedule.

Harry glanced at the plates of breakfast being served in the pub, his stomach growling loudly, as Lucius herded them out onto the street. Tom stood just outside of the door, a large toothless grin plastered on his face, as he handed both boys a brown wrapped package. The smell of hot, freshly baked bread wafting up. “Ohh… thank you Tom, thank you.” The innkeeper had seemed a little strange when Harry first arrived, but he was increasingly impressed by the man’s attention to his guests.

Mr. Malfoy had hired a car to take them to King's Cross, and they loaded all the trunks and cages into the boot paying the driver extra on account of Hedwig's indignant screeching. Glancing over his shoulder, Harry watched as a car, two vehicles back, changed lanes exactly the same time as they did. A few minutes later as they turned down a side street, the car followed them. He nudged Draco, whispering quietly. After several more minutes and quite a few turns Draco was forced to admit the car was indeed following them. Lucius sat in the front seat, the cane that housed his wand on his lap and gloved hands folded over it sedately. The boys slipped their wands out of their sleeves, holding them ready as the car pulled up to the train station behind them.

As they unloaded the car onto a trolley, Harry noticed Lucius giving a curt nod to one of the men that had exited the car that had been following them. A large African man with a shaved head. He wore colorful clothes and his outfit was topped with a beaded hat. From one ear hung a large gold hoop. Apparently, Mr. Malfoy seemed to know them. That was enough for Harry and he forced the apprehension out of his mind for now.

They were join going back to Hogwarts! With the incident at the Dursley’s and spending the rest of the summer in Diagon Alley he’d not really stopped to the think until just now that he was going back to school. He practically danced with excitement as they pushed the cart through the crowds towards the brick pillar that was the secret entrance to Platform Nine and Three Quarters. The trick was, to not slow down, and push the cart straight into the barrier with hesitating. Taking a deep breath, he bent over the cart and pushed through the wall. On the other side the platform was just as he remembered.

Parents and students were milling about the platform, sharing a few tearful goodbyes. Harry could hardly blame them he supposed. Last year a giant monster, a Basilisk, had been let loose on the school. It had petrified several students, nearly killing himself, Draco, and the Potions Master. A school for witches and wizards was not exactly the safest place in the world. With that in mind he wondered why exactly Vernon and Petunia were so resistant to him going. Or maybe, that what finally convinced them. It wasn't the threats of the school, or consequences for not allowing their nephew to attend. It was the secret hope that he would find himself the victim of a terrible accident. He snorted, as amused by the idea as he was horrified. He didn’t doubt that it was true.

He spotted the Weasley clan near the front of the train. As they moved past them he could hear Mrs Weasley talking rather animatedly about a love potion she’d made as a young girl. “She’d need one, eh?” Draco nudged him, looking over at the trio. Snickering in response they picked their way through the crowd behind Lucius and stowed the trunks below the Hogwarts Express.

"Thanks, Mr. Malfoy." Harry smiled up at Lucius, giving him a quick hug. "Have a good year!"

Lucius returned the hug warmly. "We'll be seeing you at Christmas, if you like?"

Draco nodded eagerly and Harry grinned, "That'd be brilliant sir, thank you!" He stepped away, giving Father and son a moment to say their goodbyes, and made his way onto the train.

It was already fairly full. He’d nearly been run over by Fred and George’s older brother, Percy, as he rushed over to show his Prefect badge off to his girlfriend, Penelope. “Git,” Harry whispered. Each of the cars he'd looked into had a handful of students. He walked up and down the length of the train twice before settling into a carriage that had only a lanky man, sound asleep in the corner under a ratty trench coat. As he waited for Draco, Pansy and Blaise found him. They both laughed appropriately when he told them the story about his aunt, and agreed it was very odd that instead of being punished he was allowed to stay in the Leaky Cauldron all summer. Neither of them had any idea why. Draco opened the door, slipping in.

"Who's that?" he canted his head towards the man sleeping in the corner.

"Professor RJ Lupin," Blaise said with a shrug. "I'm guessing he's the new Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher."

Pansy blinked at him in surprise, and Harry gasped.

“Blaise, are you sure?”

"His suitcase, look." Blaise pointed to the ratty case leaning up beside the man’s long legs.

“That’s…” Leaning forward, Harry read the embossed lettering on the case himself. “No way!”

The other three looked at him, confused, until he explained about the librarian named Remus Lupin he’d met earlier that summer.

“It can’t be the same one, do you think?” Pansy wrinkled her nose, trying to work it out.

“Pretty strange coincidence if it isn’t though. Harry can you see his face? Is it the same person?” Draco tried to catch a good look at the sleeping man, as if he’d be able to identify him. “Why wouldn’t he just tell you he was a wizard, and a teacher? I mean, he had to know who you were, right?”

After several minutes trying to see the man’s face, Harry gave up. “I don’t know, we’ll have to wait until he wakes up. I’m not about to wake a sleeping teacher.” The others nodded in agreement and settled onto the seats as far from him as possible.
Draco looked out the window, past the sleeping form. "So, new Defense Teacher? What happened to Lockhart?"

"Oooooh!" Pansy practically bounced in her seat. "I forgot, you've been out of the country and Harry doesn't get the Daily Prophet." She preened as she did when she had a particularly good story to tell. "Can I tell them Blaise? I mean I know it was your mum who broke the story... but it's just so good!"

Blaise's mum, was one of the head reporters for the Daily Prophet. She was rather talented in finding the story where no one else could. He was bursting with curiosity, a feeling shared by Draco if the way he perched on his seat was any indication, when Blaise shrugged. "Go ahead."

"Thank you Blaise," she leaned across the seat and kissed him affectionately on the cheek. He eyed her strangely, but settled back against the cushions. "Well, you know how he was going on last year about how he new where the Chamber was and all about the Monster, blah blah blah. Sorry Draco," she glanced at him and he nodded at her. "Anyway, when the teachers sent him to go find the Chamber, obviously he didn't go because unless you're leaving out a big part of the story, he wasn't down there with you."

"He wasn't," Draco and Harry said in unison. "Right," Pansy continued. "So he left the school and no one knew where he went. Blaise' mother spent the summer tracking him down, looking at his books and retracing his steps. Reporter stuff. Some of the things started to not add up. It just all seemed a bit... too much you know?"

Harry nodded, well remembering how their Defense against the Dark Arts teacher last year was perhaps the very definition of "too much".

"Well, she started finding all this stuff, and I don't know exactly how she put it together. She won't tell anyone, said it's her trade secret. Turns out, Lockhart didn't do ANYTHING he said he did. Absolutely nothing. Sometimes he didn't even go to the city."
Draco frowned, "Then how..."

"Lockhart tracked down the witches and wizards who actually did all he things he said he did. Interviewed them, for a magazine or something he said he wrote for."

"Mum got really angry at that part. Takes her job seriously and the idea of someone using it like that," Blaise sighed, motioning for Pansy to continue.

"Anyway, he'd get their stories and then Obliviate them!"

Harry's jaw dropped, "No way."

"Mhmmm," Pansy's eyes gleamed. "So she wrote up her story and published it, then the Ministry got involved. But get this. One of the children of one of the victims got really, really angry. Managed to find Lockhart before the Aurors did. Turned his own spell against him. Lockhart's locked up in St Mungo's, can't remember who is is, what's he's done, nothing."

"Wow," Harry said, leaning back against the seat and letting it all process. "That's... incredible."

"Good job on your mum Blaise. That's amazing."

Nothing seemed to be able to top that, and so the group road the train in silence, watching th countryside slip past as they wove through the valleys and mountains. Nearing the end of the trip, the sun had set and the lights flickered on Harry shivered. Although all the doors and windows in their car were closed a gust of cool air seemed to blow through. The windows began to fog up and then iced over as the lights dimmed and flickered. He shivered, the train screeching to a halt.

Pansy joined him at the window, trying to wipe away the fog, "We can't be there yet, it's too early." She flicked her wand, muttering a charm under her breath and a clock hovered in the air beside her. “Mhmm, too early, did we break down?” She peered out the glass.

"What's..." Harry gasped as the air was sucked out of his lungs. The lights in the car flickered again and went out, the train was bathed in total darkness. As one, they looked towards the door in time to see it slide open, scraping against the frozen rails. A black cloaked figure stooped in the doorway, taller than the ceiling by at least a foot. It raised a hand, pale and glistening in the flickering light, full of scabs and reeking of decay.

He struggled to breathe, sinking to his feet as his mind reeled, over the sound of his raspy breaths there was only screaming until it seemed as though his head would burst from the pressure of it. And then... all was quiet.

Chapter Text

The floor of the train car was hard and unforgiving against his back as he fought his way back to consciousness. He blinked against the harsh lights, squinting to see. "Harry you're alright!" Draco, Pansy, and Blaise were staring down at him, along with the strained face of Remus Lupin. The librarian held a large chunk of chocolate, waving it in front of Harry’s face.

"Eat this," he insisted. "It'll make you feel better, I promise."

Harry took the chocolate warily, struggling to sit up. He noticed that the others were all nibbling on their own pieces and tentatively bit into his. He wasn't sure what he had expected, but the chocolate seemed to melt through his entire body - warming his chilled limbs and wrapping itself around his heart.

"What, was that thing?" he managed after another few bites. The memory of the cloaked figure sending another shiver through him, despite the warmth of the chocolate.

"A Dementor," Lupin spat, looking furious. Satisfied that the children were alright he stood, dusting off his robes and giving them their first good look at him. Long and lank, he moved with a strange ease. His clothes were worn, repaired many times, but carefully. His hair was several shades of brown and ash with a liberal sprinkling of grey and despite his kind expression his face had a hardness to it. Something about him now, dressed in robes and brandishing a wand, gave him an otherworldly appearance that hadn’t been so evident when he’d been working in the library. "Now, I am going to go have a word with the conductor, excuse me."

Harry pulled himself off the floor as the man left, trying to ignore the flood of questions about how the man was here, and a librarian in Little Whinging. If he was a professor at Hogwarts there was plenty of time to ask. For his part, Remus had behaved as though he had never met him before, there had to be a reason. Somehow, Harry found trusting the man despite his deception easy, and he pushed the issue out of his mind. Sitting down on the cushions and finishing his piece of chocolate, letting the warm sweetness linger on his tongue as the feeling came back to his legs. "Are you alright Pansy?" he asked, closing his eyes and trying to keep his breathing steady.

"Yeah, felt weird. Really... weird, but I'm ok."

"You were screaming though," Harry cracked an eye open to look at her, and then sat up straight at the confused look on her face. "You... weren't screaming?"

Pansy sat down next to Harry and shook her head, "No, I wasn't. I mean, I felt awful, cold and like I couldn't hardly move."

"Like you'd never be happy again," Draco added, curled up across from them with his legs pulled against his chest.

"Yeah, but, I didn't scream."
"I heard, someone," Harry insisted, trying to stand. Pansy held him down.

"There wasn't anyone screaming. That Dementor came in, and everything went cold, and dark, then you just kinda, fell over."

"The professor, Lupin? He woke up and had this ball of white light that seemed to kinda push it back. Told it that Sirius Black wasn't hiding up our robes and it needed to leave."

Harry shivered. He could still hear the echos of the scream in the back of his mind, as real as anything.

“You’re okay though, Harry?” Pansy tipped her head, studying him with a concerned expression on her face. When he nodded she leaned forward, whispering loudly. “Was it him? The librarian?”

“Yeah, it was.”

She opened her mouth to reply and jumped as the door to the car slide open, protesting loudly.

"Feeling any better, Harry?" Lupin asked, taking his seat again and stretching his long legs out in front of him.

"Yes, I am. Thank you sir."

Lupin nodded, "We'll be arriving at Hogwarts in ten minutes, the train will not be stopping again." He tipped his head back and closed his eyes again. The four students exchanged glances, not sure what to say with a professor in their midst they changed into their robes and waited for the train to arrive.

Making their way off the crowded train into the carriages, they ran into Weasley, flanked by the girl, Granger, that seemed to follow him around. "Oiy Scarhead!"

Harry glared at him."What do you want?"

"Heard you fainted on the train. Big bad Dementors so scary that the famous boy who lived can't stand up to them? Did you cry?"

"Shut up, Weasley," Draco growled at him.

"Or what Malfoy, going to run to Mummy? Oh that's right, you can't... she's all-" Fred and George appeared on either side of their youngest brother. Wrapping their arms around him and covering his mouth with a large hand.

"Don’t mind him,” Fred said with a grin while stomping on Ron’s foot.

“Little Ronnie needs to learn some manners is all." George forcibly hauled Ron off his feet towards a carriage at the other side of the station.

Harry and Blaise climbed into a carriage with a pair of Ravenclaws who were content with talking rapidly to each other in some language Harry had never heard of. The moment it was full, the carriage pulled away, jostling towards the castle. Suddenly he felt a wave of coldness, his breath turned to fog and he peered out the window. They were just passing through the large, wrought iron gates of the castle, and Harry could see two hooded figures flanking the stone towers on either side. Jerking away from the glass as though his gaze would somehow draw their attention again, he pressed into the back of his seat, breathing slowly and refusing to open his eyes until the carriage shuddered to a halt.

Climbing down the steps he looked up at the familiar outline of the castle against the clear night sky. The lights, twinkling from the windows, gave the castle a warm glow. Harry felt the last tightness of the cold grasp that had gripped his chest since the Dementor’s arrival finally give way.

Blaise smiled at him as they made their way to the Great Hall, "Welcome home Harry."

“Harry, a moment if you-” Lupin’s words were cut short as Professor Snape swept into view. His dark eyes flicked over Lupin’s oft-mended robes and tatty briefcase before turning on his heel and ignoring the man completely.

“This way Mr. Potter, I’d like a word.” He strode away without a second glance, leaving no room for any argument.

Smiling apologetically at Lupin, Harry hurried after his head of house. He followed the billowing robes past the entrance to the Great Hall, where he just barely glimpsed the first years gathering nervously in front of the Sorting Hat, and down to the dungeons. Snape sat down in the chair behind his desk, motioning for Harry to take the seat opposite. “I understand,” he drawled, his voice tight, “That there was an… incident… on the train?”

“Yes, sir. Only I’m quite alright.” He relaxed a little. If Snape was going to yell at him over the incident with Aunt Marge, surely he would have begun with that?

A sharp rap at the door preceded an anxious looking Madam Pomfrey, the school nurse, into the room. “You again, Potter?” She clucked softly, waving her wand over his body. “Found a Basilisk to fight already?”

“The Dementors,” Snape hissed, pulling his lips into a twisted grimace as she glanced over at him.

Madam Pomfrey tsked disapprovingly and continued her examination. “Dementors, surrounding a school. We’ll be seeing more collapse, mark my words. Terrible, terrible creatures. Their effect on the delicate is…”

“I am not delicate!” Harry snapped at her. His eyes flicked to Snape, expecting to see disapproval on the drawn features, but instead the Potions Master only hummed.

She ducked down, pushing her hat back to peer into his eyes. “Perhaps the night in the hospital wing?”

“No.” Harry and Snape declared at the same time. “No, that will not be necessary Poppy,” Snape continued. “Some chocolate and he will be perfectly capable to join the others at the feast.” He was already reaching into a drawer in his desk, pulling out a small paper bag. He handed Harry a large piece.

“I’ve already had some, R-Professor Lupin gave us some on the train.” Harry paled as he nearly called the new professor by his first name. Hurriedly taking the offered chocolate he stuffed it in his mouth, hoping that Snape had not noticed the slip. There was no mistaking the look of loathing on the man’s face. It was no secret he regarded anyone who dared occupy the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher with contempt.

“Ahh!” Madam Pomfrey said brightly. “A Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher who knows his stuff! That will be a refreshing change.” Her words trailed off as she caught sight of Professor Snape’s face. “Yes, well. Do eat the chocolate, and if you feel faint again come see me immediately.” She hurried out of Snape’s office.

Harry’s stomach growled loudly, despite the two helpings of chocolate. The two sat in silence for a moment before Snape stood. “Dinner,” he announced, “But our discussion is not over.” He crossed over to the door and held it open, waiting for Harry. Unable to respond, and unwilling to wait for dinner, he followed the teacher out of the dungeons.

The first years were finished sorting by the time they returned to the Great Hall. Harry gave the new Slytherin first years a friendly smile before he sat down, a few smiled nervously in return. Draco tugged on his sleeve as he slipped into his seat.

“What did he want?” he whispered. Harry quickly told him about Madam Pomfrey before Dumbledore stood, raising his hands and waiting for silence.

Dumbledore was exactly what Harry had always pictured when he dared let his imagination run to wizards, a dangerous pastime in the Dursley household. Tall, with bushy silver hair reaching down nearly to his knees, and a beard to match. His robes were bright, embroidered with silvery threads, and he stood smiling at the podium, his bright blue eyes twinkling over the top of his half-moon glasses. In another life, Harry thought, the sight of this powerful wizard would have inspired feelings of comfort, and safety. That such a wise man was at the helm of the school should have brought safety. But Harry knew, that although he was easily the greatest wizard of their time, he had bent his keen mind to manipulating those around him. Ordering things as he saw fit, all under the guise of the greater good. For a moment, he wondered whether the Headmaster had been a Slytherin.

“Welcome!” Dumbledore called, silencing the last of the quiet chatter. “Welcome to another year at Hogwarts! As you all have seen, the school is being guarded this year by a host of the Dementors from Azkaban. They are here on Ministry of Magic business, and I must strongly caution you not to interfere with their duties. They are located at every entrance to the grounds, and I insist that now that you are here, no one is to leave without permission.” Harry caught sight of a few of the teachers looking less than pleased. “They are not easily fooled. Disguises or tricks have no effect, not even Invisibility Cloaks.” For a brief second Harry could feel the Headmaster’s gaze on him and he squirmed. “It is not the nature of the Dementors to listen to excuses, and no amount of pleading will turn them aside. I cannot make it more clear, do not give them any reason to take notice of you.”

His words hung heavy over the students before he cleared his throat. “Onto happier things! Firstly, Professor Lupin has agreed to fill the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.” A small smattering applause broke out. Harry started to clap loudly, along with the other Slytherins who had been in their compartment. But an icy glare from Professor Snape stilled their hands. “And for our second staffing change, our own Rubeus Hagrid will be taking on the Care of Magical Creatures post, in addition to his duties as Gamekeeper.” The applause was slightly louder for the large man sat at the far end of the staff table. Professor Flitwick was patting him on the back as he tried to hide his grin.

“With that,” Dumbledore held his hands up as the clapping died down. “Let the feast begin!”

The tables filled with food, and Harry and his friends immediately set to eating. The first few courses were a quiet affair, as everyone stuffed themselves happily. But by the time they were finishing the last bites of dessert, conversation flowed freely at all of the tables.

Chapter Text

The next morning at breakfast, Harry glared across the great hall as Ron Weasley was holding court at the Gryffindor table with a dramatic reenactment of Harry fainting. Bold, considering he hadn’t been in attendance. He rolled his eyes and thought it was a shame that Fred and Draco couldn't simply start snogging any time Ron was being a prat, that would certainly teach him a lesson. He sighed, forcing himself to ignore the boy as the schedules were passed out. This was the first year that they got any choice in their classes. He'd had no idea what to pick and had wound up just signing up for whatever classes Pansy signed up for. At first he'd thought to sign up for Draco's classes, but Draco hadn't been able to decide, wanting to pick all of the options. A few of the ones he seemed most keen on sounded absolutely terrifying to Harry. Snape swept through the hall and began to hand out schedules.

“Mr. Potter. My office.” He continued to sweep down the table without giving Harry a chance to ask any questions.

Stuffing food in his mouth, he shrugged off questions from the Slytherins sitting near him as to why their Head of House would want to see him again. His plate cleared, he washed it down with a large gulp of pumpkin juice before heading to Snape’s office.

"I will write you a letter, explaining your tardiness to your professor next class. Who is your teacher?"

"Ummm... Professor Trewlawney, sir?"

"Absolutely not," Severus snapped. His dark eyes flashing in anger as harry sank back into the seat. "While there is a place for prophecies, I assure you that there is nothing of use for you in the class. I am withdrawing you immediately."

"I... but sir."

"There is no reason for you to waste your time with that nonsense. If you are not able to decide on a final elective by the end of the week, I will chose one for you."

"Y-yes sir. Was... there anything else?"

"Why do you hate him so much?" Harry blurted out, clapping his hands over his mouth as the words escaped. He stilled, expecting Snape to throw him out, or take points for his impertinence, or something. Snape raised an eyebrow, looking curiously at Harry.

“Why do you think I hate him?”

Emboldened by the fact that he was not yet thrown from the dungeons, and that Snape seemed to know precisely to whom he was referring, he replied. “It seemed more personal. We all knew you didn’t like Lockhart much but it wasn’t so… direct.”

“Five points to Slytherin. A keen observation Harry.” Snape paused, leaning back in his chair and gathering his thoughts.

"Professor Lupin and I went to school together. He was... a victim of bad company, I suppose. Although he never did much to exercise his powers over his friends. He simply turned a blind eye to the things they did. Helping in ways that would allow him to escape punishment but still be a part of their little group. The things that he excused..." Snape's voice trailed off bitterly. "Professor Lupin is a werewolf, and it is the height of dangerous ignorance to think that one can keep a werewolf tame. "

Harry's hands dropped, along with his jaw. "How can Professor Dumbledore..."

"You may have noticed, Harry, that the Headmaster is in the habit of doing whatever he pleases. I do not believe that Dumbledore has a reason, other than rewarding those he favors. He always did have a soft spot for Lupin and his friends. Keep your distance from him Harry, no matter what you hear about him. He is dangerous, and it would not take much."

Shivering, Harry nodded. A werewolf, as a professor... He wasn't given much time to process as Severus went on.

"To the matters at hand. What happened, when you heard the Dementor?"

Harry explained about the woman screaming, stopping mid sentence when he noticed the horrified expression on Severus' face.

"The Dementor’s power is a vile one. Digging ruthlessly through the mind to extract that which would cause a person to relive their worst, darkest moments. For your classmates, these moments are difficult, and sad. But for you… there are things in your past they cannot even begin to fathom."

"So.. What are we supposed to do?"

"There are ways," Severus said, "Ways to protect yourself against a Dementor. Advanced magic, far beyond what you would normally learn at your level."

"Will you teach me?" Harry asked eagerly.

Severus shook his head. "It is difficult magic, and unless you plan to wander the outskirts of the school you will not encounter one." He looked knowingly over his steepled fingers at Harry.

Harry slumped, already planning to research the subject thoroughly.

"There is... one final thing." Snape leaned forward, his expression a mis of sadness and sober. Harry shifted uneasily in his chair. Whatever his Head of House was about to tell him, he was certain he didn't want to hear it. He glanced around the room, looking anywhere other than at the face which was starring intently at him.

"You have heard of Sirius Black? The escaped prisoner from Azkaban?"

Harry's eyes flicked back to Severus in surprise. This was not at all what he'd expected. "I have, what's that got to do with me?"

Snape folded his hands, Harry noted with a sharp stab of fear that the man's hands were shaking. Under the mask of seriousness was ... fear? "Sirius Black was one of your father's closest friends. They grew up together, in the same year here, at Hogwarts. And, it was Sirius Black who betrayed the location of your parents to the Dark Lord. He alone was their secret keeper."

Harry shrank into his chair. The walls of the room seemed to loom over him, the shelves tipping precariously as he flinched, waiting for the rows and rows of potions ingredients to crash down onto him. His hands dug into the sides of the chair as he shook.

"We believe, that Sirius has escaped from Azkaban in order to find you. He is mad, already so when he was imprisoned and the years with the Dementors have not improved him. Before he escaped he was raving, shouting that he had to find him. Had to finish it."

The words kept coming, but they were a muted buzz, a fly circling around his ears not worth the effort of swatting. Instead, the professor’s previous words circled around his mind. Sirius was his father's friend. Sirius was responsible for their deaths. A rage began to build inside of Harry. A white hot clarity that cut through the haze of confusion and fear. He had defeated the Dark Lord twice, three times if you count when he was a baby. This Sirius Black had no chance. If he wanted a showdown, he was going to get it. Let him slip inside the castle, Harry would be waiting. And when he finally caught sight of the man who was responsible for his parents' murders... he would kill him.

Two hands on his shoulders, shaking him, tore Harry from his thoughts. "Harry, stop!" Severus' voice was sharp, almost angry but with a cold intensity. "You must not. I know what you're planning,"
Harry sputtered, demanding to know how.

"You think it is a leap to imagine that you are picturing all the ways in which you could kill this man? You've bested the Dark Lord. I know you think it no small thing to end this man's life. And I would be lying if I did not say he deserved it, or that I desired to do such a thing myself. But not like that. Your mother," Severus' voice cracked. "Your mother was a beautiful person. She would not want her son to become a murderer." His hands tightened on Harry's shoulder, forcing the teenager to listen to him. "Not even to avenge her death. You want revenge on Sirius? Enjoy your year. Enjoy your friends. Have fun, be incredibly happy. Yes, happy. Live Harry, and be a teenage boy. Leave the darkness and the monsters to us. Let me protect you."

Warmth spread through him at the thought of someone protecting him from the darkness, just as quickly it faded."But I can't just leave the monsters," Harry whispered. "You know, as well as I do. That Dumbledore is going to find some way to put me up against him. Use me to lure Black out of hiding. Something. You know it."

Severus closed his eyes, leaning back against his desk. He folded his arms and looked down at Harry. "Then have your revenge on Dumbledore as well. Promise me, Harry, promise me that you will not go looking for Black. You will let me protect you."

Harry felt as though he would tear in two, each side of the argument warring against the other. It would have been easy to lie to his Head of House. Promise that he would focus on his studies and then turn around and go after Black. The two looked at each other in silence for several moments while Harry wrestled with himself. He appreciated Severus giving him the space, not demanding an answer but allowing him to work through it on his own.

"If I promise, I have a condition," Harry broke the silence.

"And what is that?" Severus’ voice was wary.

"I won't go after Black, I won't go looking for him. But he could find me. You know that. Dumbledore could send the Dementors away at any time, help him get into the castle for all we know. I want to be ready and you're going to help me. I know you can duel. You wouldn’t be alive right now if you couldn’t. I want you to teach me to fight."

Snape’s dark eyes widened with surprise, and then, just for just a moment before he turned to take his place behind his desk again, Harry thought he could see a glimpse of something else. Pride? Pleasure? Something. Snape settled into his chair and nodded. "Very well Harry, I accept your terms. But I have a condition of my own. This stays between us. There are those would who would be very angry if they learned that I told you the truth about Black, and Lupin; the Headmaster only one of several."

"Mr. Malfoy hinted at something over the summer, but said he couldn't tell me more. This is why I didn't get it in trouble, isn't it? They were worried Black was going to get me?"

"We all were Harry. And now you know the seriousness, I hope that you won't be taking off alone."

"I won't sir, I promised."

Snape nodded, pleased. "There are many people who think that I loathe my students, care nothing for their feelings and emotions. And they are, perhaps, right to a degree. However I refuse to coddle anyone under my charge. You are in my House, and therefore my responsibility. I would rather that you heard the truth about Black from me, and know that you could discuss it with me if you have any questions. Do you, have any questions?"

Harry shook his head. "Not right now sir. It's... well. Actually, did you know Black? You went to school with my mum and dad. And," he trailed off, his face coloring. Harry folded his hands in his lap, uncertain how to continue.

"I only knew him at school Harry," Snape's voice was soft. "I did knot know that he was a Death Eater. The Dark Lord had many plans, and he alone knew all the strings that he was pulling. I did not know he would betray your parents. Until they day they died, I thought him a loyal friend to your family. I did not suspect."

"Thank you, sir."

Snape stood, moving towards the door. "I remind you again Harry, what we've talked about here is to stay between us. I will teach you how to fight in lieu of our potions lessons this term, if you are agreeable?"

Harry followed. "Yes sir, that'd be great. Although I'll miss the potions instruction."

Severus chuckled, "You're already the head of the class. This will give you a chance to prove you earned it.”

Harry left the dungeons, uncertain what to do with himself during the suddenly free class. He'd only chosen Divination for a laugh, but Professor Snape was right. He should challenge himself. Not that his life wasn't already challenging? He laughed out loud as he walked through the halls aimlessly, causing a few of the paintings to look at him curiously. He heard them muttering about whether or not he was alright in the head, but ignored them.

With no homework to work on, and his summer assignments finished, Harry decided to go to the library and learn what he could of the Patronus spell. Nothing in his agreement with his Head of House indicated he wasn’t permitted to research it. He smiled at Madam Pince as he entered the large, muffled room.

Can I help you find something?" She returned the smile. Harry and his friends spent a great deal of time in the library, but always kept quiet and cleaned up after themselves. Something he knew had not gone unnoticed by the librarian.

"I was wondering if you had any books on the Patronus spell. The one to fight Dementors with." He took a deep breath, hoping she wouldn't object.

Her eyebrows pinched together in surprise. "That's a bit above your year Mr Potter."

"I know, only I was curious. I had a free class and thought I'd do a bit of studying on my own. Just research you know."

She nodded and waved him towards a row of books in the far back. "You'll find it there, just be careful Mr. Potter. A few of those books cover dark creatures of all sorts. It's not exactly pleasant reading."

"Yes ma'am, thank you." He bowed his head to her in thanks and headed for the section she’d pointed out.

Chapter Text

Wizard libraries were far more interesting than their Muggle counterparts. Not just because of the actual content of the books… plenty of Muggle books talked about Magic, wizards, witches, curses, and spells. Ironically enough, they were fascinated by all manner of the supernatural. What made a wizard library interesting was that the books in them were dangerous. Not in a words and ideas are dangerous sort of way, but in an actual, you could be injured, hexed, or worse way. Draco had told him of a man who’d read a book that had cursed him to never stop reading it. For the rest of his life he had to do everything one handed, out of the corner of his eye while he read the book. Or another that caused anyone who read it to spoke in limericks for the rest of their life. Hogwarts library didn't have any books quite like that, although the Restricted Section had several books that were rather questionable. Harry had long since given up on the idea that Dumbledore was at all concerned about the safety of the students.

Their Care of Magical Creatures textbook was a prime example of that. They'd managed to get belts around their books, although they'd sustained a few injuries while doing so. Each time he had to reach into his trunk for something he was half convinced it would leap out and attack him. No matter how many times he went over it in his head, it would never make sense to him. But it seemed that the Slytherins were the only ones who held such a view, at least out loud.

Harry pulled out several books that looked promising and spent the morning flipping through them, getting an idea of what he was up against with the Dementors. He was so engrossed in his reading that he nearly missed Transfiguration. As he took his seat he noticed that several of the students seemed positively frightened, and there was a general feeling of unease. More than one kept turning in their seats to look at him. A few had tears in their eyes as they turned away, shaking their heads slowly. Professor McGonagall tried to teach, but at least half the class seemed distracted. Finally, she clenched her wand, the chalk dropped to the floor and shattered, but she ignored it as she faced the class.

"Which one of you is it then?" she snapped. Harry looked up at her, confused.

"H-Harry Potter..." A mouse-faced girl with far too many accessories from Gryffindor said, her voice shaking. She looked over at Harry and burst into a hysterical crying fit, flopping onto the shoulder of the Indian girl next to her who patted her shoulder consolingly.

Harry looked at her, confused. He was certain that he'd never spoken with her and he was sure they’d sorted out the whole Heir of Slytherin business last year.

"Miss Brown, do get a hold of yourself." Professor McGonagall looked as though she wanted to strangle, something. "I assume that most of you have just finished your first Divination class of the term?" When the class nodded she stepped to the front of her desk, peering at them with sharp eyes through her spectacles. "Sybil Trelawney has been predicting the death of a student every single year for the past twelve years. I assure you, not one of those students has died."

"But she saw the grim!" Miss Brown screeched. "Looming over him, getting ready to take his soul!" She fell back into her desk dramatically.

"If you cannot calm yourself I will have to ask you to leave my class. Mr. Potter appears to be in perfect health," Professor McGonagall turned to Harry. "You're not about to die on us are you, Mr Potter?"

"No ma'am," he had a hard time holding back the laughter, exceedingly grateful that Snape had prevented him from taking the class.

McGonagall rapped her knuckles on the desk, calling for order, before she flicked her wand and repaired the shattered chalk. Giving one final warning glare at Brown and her companion, she continued to review the different equations they'd learned last term, and highlight what they'd be focusing on in the coming months.

"She really predicted my death?" Harry asked as he piled his plate high at lunch.

"Mhmm," said Pansy. "It was a bit ridiculous to be honest. But entertaining I suppose. She pretended to have this vision of the Grim-"

"What’s a grim?" he asked, interrupting her.

"A large black dog, supposedly an omen of death. Apparently anyone who seems the Grim dies shortly after."

"My grandad saw the Grim," Blaise said quietly. "Day before he died, said it came up to him in the garden. Next morning, he never woke up."

Harry shivered, remembering the figure of a beast he'd seen the night he left the Dursley's. For one idle moment his brain entertained the notion that perhaps there was something to the omen. Just as quickly he remembered Snape’s insistence he not waste his time with the class. Cheered, he dug eagerly into a roll.

"I don't even know why you're taking that class," Draco said, slipping into a seat beside Harry. "It's complete rubbish. You should come take Arithmancy with me, now that is an interesting subject."

Pansy shook her head. "Not a chance. That class is crazy. I'd rather sip tea and get a little light-headed from all the incense that drive myself mad trying to understand that nonsense."

"Fair enough, " he shrugged.

Harry ran back to the dungeons with Draco to get their Care of Magical Creatures book. He’d not wanted to bring it to class today with him. From the looks of it, most of his classmates had the same idea.

Hagrid was waiting outside for them, Fang paced in small circles at his feet. “Alright there?” he called out as they gathered around. “Jus’ follow me, got yeh a treat fer tha lesson. Right? Follow me.” He led them around the side of his cottage towards the trees. Several minutes later he stopped just outside of a makeshift paddock. “Jus’ round here, thas it. E’ryone’s gonna want ta make sure they can see. Now, firs things firs, yeh need ter open yer books—”

“And just how exactly are we supposed to do that?” Draco held his book at arm’s length where it danged from a large strip of dragon’s hide rope.

“Wassat?” said Hagrid.

“How are we meant to open them without them eating us alive?” he drawled. Harry couldn’t help but chuckle, and several of the Slytherins did the same. The Gryffindors, who were also taking the class at that time, scowled darkly, although Harry noted they all held their books at arm’s length.

Hagrid looked around the class. Many, like Draco and Harry, had bound them with belts or ropes. Still others had managed to shove them inside bags so tight they couldn’t open. A few Muggleborns had used large binder clips. He looked disappointed. “No one… hasn’ anyone bin able ter git them open?” As one the class shook their heads. “It’s easy. Yeh’ve just got ter give ‘em a lil stroke.” He snatched the book from the bushy haired Gryffindor Weasley always followed around and tore the Spellotape. The book immediately tried to bite at his finger, but Hagrid ran a thick finger down the spine. It shivered, and then fell open in his hand.

“Oh is that all,” Draco said, sarcastic as he silenced his book. “Should have guessed, really.”

“Thought they’d be a laugh,” Hagrid said, looking downcast as he handed the book back to Granger.

Harry was torn. He knew the large giant had a kind heart, evidenced by his deep love of all living things… vicious or not. But truth be told he agreed with Draco, the books were insane.

While the rest of the class was subduing their books Hagrid slipped off, muttering something about going to get them.

“Oooooooo!” Pansy broke the tension by pointing across the paddock and squealing. “Look!”

They followed her finger to see the strangest creatures Harry had ever imagined. With the body and tail end of a horse; the front legs, wings and head were that of an eagle, including sharp looking steel-colored beaks. Each talon was at least six inches long and razor sharp. Hagrid paced behind them, holding long chains attached to thick collars around their necks.

“Hippogriffs!” he boomed, looking pleased as he waved. “Beeeeeau’iful creatures.”

As Harry watched the creatures preen and shift, looking around at the class with bright orange eyes, he started to see what Hagrid meant. They had their own sort of beauty he supposed.

“Alri’t,” Hagrid called. “Jus’ come on in a bit closer, thas it. Now, firs’ things firs’. Hippogriffs are as proud as they come. Beau’iful, but easy to offend. And yeh don’ never wan’ ter insult one. They’re all about manners, see? So yeh wait for them ter accept you. Now, who wants ter go firs’?”

Harry felt a sharp jab in his back and stumbled forward, trying not to fall over.

 

“Brilliant!” Hagrid boomed, looking so pleased. “Harry well done! See now, how Harry bowed to it?”

He could hear some kind of commotion behind his back, but he was fairly certain that if he looked away from the Hippogriffs one would break out of its restraints and tear him to pieces for the insult. After what felt like an eternity, the grey Hippogriff in front bent its knees and bowed deeply.

“Alrigh’! Now I bet he’ll let yeh pet him. His name’s Buckbeak.”

He swallowed as he approached the large creature, wondering if perhaps this might be the year Trelawney’s prediction just happened to be true. For a second he considered how scared future students would be when they learned she predicted a death, of the Boy Who Lived no less. But he took a deep breath and reached out his hand, stroking Buckbeak gently. The feathers were softer than he expected. The large Hippogriff closed its eyes, lolling its head like a cat enjoying a good scratch.

“Didja want to see if he’ll let yeh ride him?” Hagrid asked, looking excited. Harry had every intention of saying no, until he glanced up and saw Weasley entertaining a small group of Gryffindors with his impersonation of Harry fainting. The word ‘delicate’ floated to his ears, and he could see Blaise forcibly restraining Pansy who had murder in her eyes and her wand clutched in her hand.

“Of course,” Harry said loudly. Weasley froze and Pansy whipped her head around to smile broadly at him. Draco folded his arms, looking proud.

“No Harry… remember the grim!” Brown, the Gryffindor with too many accessories, looked as though she was ready to faint.

Ignoring the murmurs from his class Harry bowed again to Buckbeak before stepping to its side. The large Hippogriff extended its wing, bending low to the ground. Mindful of the feathers he managed to scramble on with some dignity, and settled himself on its back. Without warning the Hippogriff took off. Powerful, twelve-foot wings beating and shifting underneath him nearly unseated him. Careful not to pull on any single feather, he held himself steady as they gained altitude.

It was strange, far more disconcerting than riding his broom, which responded to his commands. Buckbeak flew in a large circle around the paddock, before swooping down and landing with a thud in front of Hagrid. With the exception of Weasley, the class cheered as he slid from the Hippogriff back.

“Well done ‘Arry! Ten points to Slytherin. Now, in little groups yeah? Time ter take turns.” He untethered the Hippogriffs and let them spread out over the paddock. Nervously, the rest of the class clustered in twos and threes around them.

Harry sidled off to the side as Blaise, Pansy and Draco walked up to Buckbeak. One of the Gryffindors kept anxiously shuffling up to a chestnut before running backward. He nudged Draco and they both chuckled, “Oh yeah, Gryffindors are a brave lot,” he smirked.

“Heart of a lion that one,” Draco agreed.

Weasley angrily shoved them aside. “It can’t have been that hard,” he sneered, swatting away Hermione who was trying to hold him back. “Not if Potter could do it.” He swaggered up to Buckbeak, staring it down. “It’s nothing compared to what my brother Charlie has to deal with. He’s a dragon tamer.” Weasley puffed up his chest, as though his brother’s occupation had anything to do with him. “Now dragons, they’re dangerous. Not like these ugly brutes.”

One second Weasley was standing in front of the Hippogriff, the next he was bleeding on the ground. Hagrid leapt at the creature, quickly tying a rope around its neck and tethering it on the far side of the palace. It was hard to separate Weasley’s screams from Browns. Although Harry was fairly certain Weasley was the one screaming that he was going to die.

“Yer not gunna die,” said a worried looking Hagrid as he scooped up the gangly boy. “Someone help me with the gates!”

Hermione ran to open the paddock as Hagrid carried Weasley towards the castle. Harry caught sight of a long bloody gash down Weasley’s arm.

Hagrid hurried on ahead, while the class walked back to the castle behind them. The Gryffindors were hard pressed to blame Weasley’s injury on anyone other than the arrogant prat himself, but that didn’t stop a few from trying. Harry laughed softly under his breath, forget bravery… the Gryffindor motto should be ‘blame anyone but me’.

Chapter Text

All week, the only thing anyone could talk about was the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Students who had already had the class were an odd mix of very tight-lipped about the subject matter, while raving about his hands-on teaching style and practical experience. Harry was torn. He wanted to be excited for an actual teacher for once and to finally learn how to defend himself properly. But the idea of taking classes from a werewolf - he shivered every time he thought about it. All too soon it was time for their first class with Professor Lupin.

But first they had to get through Double Potions with the Gryffindors. Professor Snape had just begun lecturing on the potion they were to make today, a Shrinking Solution, when Weasley slunk into the classroom, looking cowed.

“Fifteen points from Gryffindor,” Snape took the points and continued lecturing, not missing a beat. Harry and Draco snickered quietly under their breath as an angry looking Weasley sat down next to Granger, who looked more than a little put out with him.

As they moved out of their stools to begin work on their potions Harry caught a glimpse of Weasley pleading with Granger. She shook the knife that she’d been carefully shredding her daisy roots with and he held up both hands in surrender before moving to work at a table with Longbottom and Brown.

Draco leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, “She’s furious with him for what happened in Care of Magical Creatures. And for trying to milk it. I heard he’s been hiding out in the hospital wing, until his mum sent a Howler last night threatening to pull him from the school.”

“You know an awful lot about what’s happening with those Gryffindors,” Pansy teased as she began to skin her shrivelfig.

Draco blushed, his ears bright red under his blond hair, and he ducked down, intently focused on his own shrivelfig.

Professor Snape strode between the workbenches, his black eyes looking down at the shoddy handling of ingredients with disdain. Although he did not deign to offer advice, or correction. At least, not until he reached Longbottom’s cauldron. “Orange?” he sneered, pouring the bright liquid back into the cauldron. He swirled around to face the rest of the class, “Can anyone tell me what color the potion is meant to be at this stage? Miss Parkinson?”

“Acid green, sir.”

“Precisely. Five points.” He turned, using his own knife to prod at the pile of ingredients. Longbottom stood shaking, his eyes filling with tears. “Mr. Potter, would you care to wager a guess as to which of the instructions Longbottom has bungled? For another ten points, perhaps?”

It wasn’t fair at all. They had covered this potion last year in their private lessons. Which included in depth discussions and demonstrations on how the potions could be ruined. But Harry’s sense of fairness did not extend so far as to denying his House a chance for more points.

“Two of them, sir.” Harry tried not to look past Snape at Neville, who looked as though he were about to start sobbing. “An excess of leech juice, and I believe at least one extra spleen as well.”

“Precisely, take your points. And Longbottom? Zero for today’s lesson and five points from Gryffindor for failing to follow even the simplest instructions.” With a flick of his wand Snape banished the offending brew. “For the rest of you who are capable of reading, the solution will need to simmer, step away from the cauldrons and clean your workspaces.” He turned and stalked to the front of the classroom, perching on his chair and watching.

Weasley was turning interesting shades of purple and red that Harry had only ever seen previously on Vernon Dursley. Even Granger looked upset, sympathetically patting Longbottom on the shoulder before she tidied up her workspace. Although when Weasley appeared to try and work her up to say something, gesturing violently towards the Potions Master, she shook her head.

After they had completely cleaned up, Snape stopped at each cauldron, sniffing the solution and giving it an experimental stir. “Class dismissed.”

As they left the classroom Harry heard Weasley’s voice, “He’s been spotted, by some Muggles. Not too far from here.”

He shivered, clearly Black was not only evading capture but was also steadily making his way to Hogwarts. The others may think it was a coincidence, his nearness, but Harry knew it was only a matter of time until he made it to the castle.
Pushing it out of his mind, they filed into the classroom and pulled out their textbooks and parchments. Harry had little memory of what the Defense Against the Dark Arts room looked like when Quirrell was teaching. Painful headaches caused by the possession of the man by Voldemort had made his first year of Defense a foggy memory best forgotten. Last year, the room appeared more shrine than classroom. The walls were covered in paintings of Gilderoy Lockhart, the great pretender Dumbledore had hired to teach them. This year, as Harry looked around the room, it looked exactly how he imagined it should. Covered cages and tanks rattled, hinting ominously at what might be hidden underneath. The walls had posters and paintings featuring witches and wizards bravely fighting off monsters.

He was so captivated by all the ephemera littered around the room that he failed to notice when Lupin walked into the classroom. He still hadn’t had a chance to talk with the older man. After his conversation with Snape he wasn’t entirely sure that he wanted to. Still, it was a puzzle that lingered in the back of his mind and poked at him. Sooner or later he’d either have to tell Snape about Lupin being a librarian in Little Whinging, or confront Lupin. He considered that perhaps Dumbledore had sent him to spy on him over the summer. He wouldn’t put it past the scheming older wizard to have several spies in place, even around the castle.

Lost in thought, he jumped when the rest of the class suddenly stood up, putting their quills and parchments away. He scrambled to catch up. As the class broke out in excited murmur, Draco and Pansy repeated what Lupin had said about a practical lesson in another room down the hall. Harry understood their reaction, feeling a thrill of exhilaration himself. For the most part their Defense Against the Dark Arts class had been reading and taking notes. After the disaster that was the Cornish Pixies last year, Lockhart had resorted to dramatic readings of his novels and tests to see how well they'd been paying attention. The idea of practical lessons was exciting and nerve wracking. Texts and quills stowed away, they lined up at the door where Lupin stood waiting and followed him out of the classroom.

A few of the portraits greeted the professor as he led them through the castle towards a largely unused section. As they rounded a corner they spotted Peeves, the resident poltergeist, turned upside down and floating in front of a door. He was busy stuffing something inside of the keyhole and didn’t notice them until Professor Lupin was standing almost beside him. Typically the sight of a teacher was enough to send Peeves floating away. However, upon spotting the tall, ratty looking man, he broke out into song.
“Loony, loopy Lupin~ Loony loopy Lupin.” He twisted around, wiggling his bare toes in Lupin’s face before blowing a wet raspberry.

Harry was stunned to see that their Defense professor was still smiling. He addressed the class, ignoring the poltergeist. “I had not intended to teach you this spell today, but it is rather useful. And I have always been a fan of practical demonstrations. Observe.” Lifting his wand he pointed it at Peeves. “Waddiwasi!”

The gum shot out of the keyhole like a bullet, and lodged itself in Peeve’s left nostril. Sputtering, he spun away down the hall, his curses echoing down the stone corridor.

“Cool, sir!” Draco grinned, Harry could just imagine all the ways his best friend was considering using the spell. Given the look Weasley was giving the pair of them, he imagined he was not the only one.

“Thank you, Mr Malfoy. Now, let us proceed, there’s a great deal more planned for today.”

Harry recognized the room he was leading them to as the unused classroom that he and Draco had used to practice their transfiguration of candles into spiders to get revenge on Weasley. He smiled, recalling the memory with fondness.
Once inside the classroom they took up places around the walls. In the center, next to Lupin, was a large oak cabinet. Every once and a while it rattled fiercely, looking as though it would tip over, and then stilled. "Alright!" he beamed at them. "Can anyone tell me what’s inside this cabinet?"

About a quarter of the class raised their hands. He pointed at Pansy. "My guess is a Boggart, sir."

"And a very good guess it is, Miss..."

"Parkinson sir, Pansy."

"Right, well ten points to Slytherin then. Another question... who knows what a Boggart looks like?"

Granger, who had looked grumpy when Pansy had guessed correctly, answered before anyone had even raised their hand. "No one knows."

"Excellent, take five points for your house."

"And why—" he began.

"Because the boggart can take any shape it wants," Pansy answered quickly, glaring at Granger who had started to speak at the same time. She raised her voice and kept going. "That is, whatever you're afraid of most, that's what it takes the shape of."

"Absolutely correct! Take another five points. A Boggart is a shape-shifter. And because it always takes on a shape dependent on who is looking at it, there's no way to know exactly what it looks like. They're nasty little pests, and while they can't hurt you directly, never underestimate the power of fear. Now! The spell to repel a Boggart is frightfully simple, and complex. It require you to take your fear, and grab a hold of it." He began to pace around the cabinet, gesturing with his wand as he spoke. "You need to think of whatever you're afraid of, and make it humorous. Because the Boggart is afraid of one thing, and one thing only. Laughter. You harness that into a spell. I want you to repeat after me, no wands if you please," he chuckled. "One two three, Riddikulus."
The class repeated after him. He made his way around, having them repeat the incantation over and over while he corrected their intonation and inflection. "It's got to be just right. Spellwork is very precise, and there can be disastrous effects to mixing up your tones. Now, can I have a volunteer to go first?"

Pansy's hand shot up, as did Granger’s. Lupin laughed. "A bit of a rivalry going on here eh? Very well, Miss Parkinson first, then you Miss, uhh."

"Granger," she answered with a smile. "Hermione Granger."

"Right, you two in front of the cabinet, Miss Parkinson first if you please. Have your wand ready. Now... what is it that you're most afraid of?"

"Failing," she answered. A few people in the class laughed and she tossed her hair, glaring at them. "I have an idea of how to make it funny though, sir."

He nodded. "Alright, wand at the ready, here comes the Boggart!" With the last word he threw the door open and a large white thing emerged from the cabinet. It stretched and thinned into a large roll of parchment. Writing sprawled across it, Harry recognized Pansy's hand. And then in bright red ink across the entire thing a large letter T appeared, shimmering as if it was written in blood. Pansy's face paled and she took a deep breath, her wand held up in front of her. "Riddikulus!" she shouted, and pointed her wand at the Boggart.

The paper rolled itself into a cone before exploding with a little fanfare into brightly colored confetti that fluttered down over the class.

As Granger took her place Lupin grinned, "Everyone in line now, no pushing we've plenty of time. Think of what you're afraid of, and then hold the image of what makes it funny firmly in your mind. There we go, very good Miss Granger. “

The Boggart vanished for a moment as the next student took their place. They went down through the line. Some of the fears were positively frightening, like a zombie that loomed over them all, bits of skin rotting away. Others Harry found rather silly, he couldn't help but laugh when Weasley's turn came up and the Boggart shifted into a giant spider. He stood facing it, his wand shaking as he trembled. "R-Ri-ri." He stuttered. Finally he managed to cast the spell, pulling roller skates on each of the spider's legs and laughing weakly when it scrambled to try and stay upright.

After Weasley came Longbottom. As soon as he moved into place, the Boggart rippled and shifted into...Professor Snape? Harry burst out laughing. The Gryffindor's worst fear was the Slytherin Head of House? He knew the Potions Master was not well liked outside of Slytherin, this morning’s class being an excellent example as to why. But still, he laughed.

"Brave lot those Gryffindors, eh?" he leaned over and whispered to Draco. Draco nodded, smirking as they watched the Boggart-Snape ripple once and reappear, dressed in a deep green robe with a feathered collar, a large brimmed hat with a bird perched on the top, and a burgundy handbag. Harry grimaced. If Longbottom was afraid of Snape now, he could only imagine how awful the Potions Master was going to make the boy’s life once he heard about this. He had very little doubt that word would get back to Professor Snape. The entire classroom was in fits of hysterical laughter.

Finally it was his turn. He raised his wand, ready to face the Boggart. It rippled and then suddenly Professor Lupin pushed him aside, standing between him and the Boggart. It shimmered into a white glowing orb and he waved his wand at it. "Riddikulus," the orb deflated like a balloon and he drove it back into the cabinet, closing the door. Ignoring Harry's confused expression he turned to face the class.

"You did wonderful!" He beamed at them, seemingly unconcerned that he stopped Harry and Draco from having their turns. "Five points to everyone who faced the Boggart. And I must ask you not to spoil the surprise for the other classes. There are just a few more, if you please." He walked towards the door, opening it, "Have a wonderful rest of your day. There's no homework for the first class. But a bit of advanced reading never goes amiss... mmm?"

He darted out the door before Harry had a chance to ask him why he'd pushed him out of the way. Heading back to their classroom in order to gather their things he listened to the others discuss their Boggarts and how they managed to repel them and sighed. The professor probably thought he was a fragile, weak little thing after he'd fainted on the train. Thought seeing his worst fear would be too much for him. He glared angrily at the teacher's desk before picking up his bag and leaving the class. Between this, and the fact that Lupin was behaving as though they’d never met before, he was starting to think Snape’s dislike of the man was justified. He resolved to tell his Head of House about Lupin’s summer employment.

The rest of the school was enthralled with the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. His lessons nearly always contained a practical component, something Harry would have enjoyed greatly if he wasn’t so torn about the teacher.

After calming down some, he’d decided against telling Snape about Lupin. A large part of him was still unconvinced that there was anything malevolent about the werewolf, despite his condition. And if there wasn’t anything sinister going on, he would hate to
be responsible for something bad happening to the man.

Another factor in his decision was the particularly foul mood that Snape had been in since their Defense Against the Dark Arts class. He was under no illusion as to the reason. As he predicted, word of Longbottom’s fear, and subsequent solution to it, had spread around the castle. Their next Potions lesson he had been ruthless, reducing Longbottom to tears. And any mention of the Defense teacher meant Snape would find something amiss, deducting ever increasing amounts of house points. Even in their private lessons Snape was difficult. Not at all the patient and thorough teacher he had been last year. Harry would never admit it, but he began to see why some students had such a difficult time with the Potions Master.

Despite the disappointing year so far, Quidditch was starting. No matter what else was going on in the castle, within moments of Harry mounting his broom the rest of the world seemed to fade away. Being Seeker, he could spend a goodly portion of his time lazily circling the pitch on the pretense of looking for the Snitch. In reality he was simply enjoying the distance from all of his problems.

Flint was back again as Captain. It was almost unheard of for someone to fail their final year at Hogwarts and be forced to return, but somehow the burly, thick browed boy had managed. Before practice he had informed him that there was simply no way he was giving up the Cup this year. With last year’s tournament canceled, he’d been given a second chance and there was no chance that one of them was going to screw it up for him. As such, they would be moving to three practices a week.

Despite the worsening weather, practices were several hours long. Drills, tactics, formations, skirmishes… Flint had them working on it all. One morning after a particularly late practice the night before, Harry and Draco barely made it to the Great Hall in time for breakfast.

They had brought their Astronomy homework and spent as much time shoveling food into their mouths as they did making notes on star charts. It took them a moment to register the excited tone of the chatter.

"What's going on?" he asked Blaise, still scribbling on the parchment.

“Hogsmeade weekend,” he said, pointing at the large notice posted near the large doors. A crowd of students gathered around it. “Sign up sheet.”

"Fred asked if I wanted to go to Honeyduke's with him." Draco confessed, a blush creeping up his neck.

"What's Honeydukes?" Harry asked, more out of obligation than actual curiosity. Vernon hadn't signed his form before he left for school. And it was unlikely he could owl his aunt and uncle asking them to please sign it as he'd forgotten, oh and he was very sorry for blowing up Vernon's sister. Except he wasn't sorry. And there was no way that either of them would accept owl post. He considered whether they would accept Mr. Malfoy's signature. Or perhaps even Snape's? Harry dismissed that idea before he’d even finished thinking it. There was no way he was asking his Head of House for any special treatment just now.

"Candy shoppe. But... not like anything you've ever seen. They have everything. I can't decide if I’m more excited for that, or Zonko's Joke Shoppe. Both seem like they'd be a laugh." Draco stopped his montage as he pushed his way through the crowd of students. He looked over at Harry. His face was crestfallen and he waved the quill away when Draco handed it to him.

"You'll have to tell me all about it," Harry said glumly. Scuffing his feet and ignoring the impatient looks of the people behind them waiting for their turn, he shoved his hands into his pockets.

"Well I'm not going to spend all my time with Fred," Draco looked at him as though it was most obvious thing in the world. "We'll have lots of time to hang out and check out the village, I promise."

Harry shook his head, "I can't go. Vernon didn't sign the permission form."

Draco stopped and handed the quill to the next person in line. He hooked his arm through Harry's and tugged him out of the way. "Well, then I'm not going either." He declared as they sat back down at the Slytherin table.

"What?" Pansy and Blaise asked in unison.

"To Hogsmeade. Harry's beast of a relative wouldn't sign the form. He can't go. "

"That doesn't mean you can't go," Harry insisted. "Fred asked you... on a date!" He lowered his voice on the last word. Unsure how public his friends wanted to be with their relationship.

Draco rolled his eyes, shaking his blond head. "Honestly Harry. You're my best friend. You think I'm going to go off and just leave you in the castle alone?"

Harry shrugged, tearing at the corner of his toast. "I wouldn't mind. It looks like loads of fun, you should go. I can do homework or something." He yelped as he felt something connect with the back of his head. Eyes narrowed, he looked at Draco who was sitting perfectly innocently. "What was that for you git?"

"I'm not the git," Draco replied evenly. "You're the one who thinks I'm a total wanker and would leave you. Do you know how insulting that is? Honestly Harry, I thought you had more consideration for my feelings. I'm hurt, truly hurt."

"Stop being so dramatic," Harry rubbed the back of his head. "I don't mind if you go, it's not a big deal."

Pansy and Blaise watched the exchange, laughing quietly. "Sorry mate," Blaise said when it appeared Harry and Draco had called an uneasy truce. "You're a good friend and all. But I've been dying to go to Hogsmeade since we were first years."

"See!" Harry said, pointing at Blaise while he glared at Draco. "That's fine, I don't care. I really don't mind if you want to go. Don't disappoint Fred."

Draco folded his arms, tipping his head up in the air and looking every bit the conceited prat that the Gryffindors thought he was. "I've made up my mind." He said with an air, "Besides, I'll just have to make it up to Fred in other ways."

Pansy giggled, insisting he give her all the details. While Draco fielded inappropriate questions from Pansy, Harry smiled. He really wouldn't have minded if Draco had gone into the village with Fred. He'd expected it, truthfully. But the fact that someone cared enough about his feelings and didn't want him to feel alone and left out... He reached over and wrapped Draco in a tight squeeze. Draco jumped, started, and then patted his arm awkwardly, as both of his arms were pinned.

"Best friends," he said.

"Best friends," Harry answered, trying to ignore the hot feeling behind his eyes threatening to turn him into a sobbing mess in front of his friends.

"Besides," Draco grinned. "Something always goes Horribly Wrong on Halloween. I wanna be here to see it."

As it happened, Hogsmeade visit or not, Draco was not around to see the chaos of Halloween. The feast was uneventful. Pansy and Blaise returned from the Village, their pockets bursting with candies and sweets and all manner of ridiculous trinkets from the joke shop. They stuffed themselves on chocolate and candies before dinner, and then made their way downstairs for the feast. Harry was grateful Draco had stayed with him. They spent most of their day playing Wizard’s Chess, he was slowly winning the trust of the pieces and generally only had to spend a few minutes arguing with them at the start of the match before they would listen and do as they were told.

Draco looked vaguely disappointed when their plates were cleared and nothing of note had happened. "You'd at least figure something... I mean. It's Halloween, and Hogwarts. We had a bit of a tradition going."

Pansy rolled her eyes. "Honestly Draco. I could do without Trolls storming through the castle, or the spirit of Voldemort possessing my friends and having them open secret chambers. I would have thought after last year you'd be alright with a less exciting day."

"I am I guess," he shrugged as they made their way down to the dungeons. "I mean, I'm glad no one's getting hurt or anything. But all we've had to focus on for the past two months is school. It's getting a bit boring, don't you think?"

She rolled her eyes, “Honestly Draco, you’re starting to sound like a Gryffindor.”

“Take. That. BACK!” Draco yelped, his voice strangled.

Instead, Pansy blew him a kiss and waved goodnight. As the boys got ready for bed, Harry found himself agreeing with both sides. He was glad for a break. His first two years at school had been incredibly eventful, and life-threatening. If he had nothing to do this year but play Quidditch and do homework, he didn't think he’d be too disappointed. He didn't say that to Draco though, making neutral noises anytime the boy grumbled loudly.

Chapter Text

Harry was sound asleep when Flint burst into their rooms telling them to follow him to the Common Room at once. “You and your bloody ‘It’s been so boring this year… something always happens on Halloween’,” he drawled in his best impression of Draco after the caretaker had hobbled out. He could have cursed his best friend on the spot. Pulling on their robes over their pajamas, they joined the rest of the Slytherins milling about the room in various states of dress, looking confused. A few of the older students demanded to know what was going on, but before they could answer, the passage opened and Severus Snape appeared in the hall. "Slytherins, follow me. In pairs, I want everyone accounted for."

Something in the tone of his voice told them that questions would not be answered, nor welcome, and that disobedience was likely to result in worse than points taken from their own house. Although Severus taking the drastic step of taking points of Slytherin was nearly unheard of, his demeanor loudly exclaimed now was not the time to test it. Quietly, they hurried through the castle.

All around them Harry could hear the portraits whispering. They were bunched into small groups, a few had disappeared out of their frames entirely. Suddenly it hit him, the familiar feeling from last term. That the entire castle was on edge. It was as if something dark had settled over them, an anxious worry. It grew worse as they entered the Great Hall.

The tables had been pushed aside and the floor was littered with bundles of sleeping bags and pillows. Gryffindor was already there, a few were huddled in the corner, whimpering quietly. They made their way across the Hall to where Fred and George were settled in with a mound of bedrolls. The candles floating up near the enchanted ceiling appeared dimmed somehow, and the sky above the castle was dark. The other houses arrived, adding further confusion to the already somewhat chaotic situation. It was unlikely many people would notice the group of Slytherins sleeping next to a pair of Gryffindors.

Peeves floated through the wall, cackling as he lifted his hands as though conducting. “I found her~” he sang, happily adjusting his bowtie. “Poor thing looked so ashamed!”

Harry didn’t believe he felt sorry for anyone. Still, if he had information. “Who?” he asked, expecting to regret it instantly.

Instead of answering, Peeves turned around, peering at them between his legs and waggled his butt at them before drifting off over the students, cackling and jeering at those who were frightened enough to cry.
He had no idea who the ‘she’ Peeves had been referring to was, but somehow, he knew that Black had made it inside the castle. Not much else would have prompted this kind of reaction from the staff. He gripped his wand tightly, keeping his suspicions to himself, and wishing desperately that he’d had a chance to have at least one or two dueling lessons with Professor Snape. Although, whatever magic had allowed Black to slip past the Dementors on multiple occasions would likely make short work of anything learned in a few beginner lessons.

They unfurled the sleeping bags, sitting with their backs against the wall, huddled in a small little cluster. Dumbledore and the teachers left after ensuring all of the students were present. “Send word with one of the ghosts,” the headmaster had instructed a very puffed up looking Percy Weasley before he closed the doors to the hall, sealing them in.

"Do you have any idea what’s going on?" Draco asked, leaning up against Fred, his hand on his knee. The rest of the student body was far too preoccupied with figuring out what was going on to pay attention to the two boys from opposite houses being affectionate with each other.

George nodded and leaned forward. He whispered, "Sirius Black is in the castle."

Harry's heart stopped. At Severus' order he hadn't told anyone about their conversation, or what the madman was after. "How do you know?" he asked, anxiously, upset that his suspicions had been confirmed.
“The ‘she’ that Peeves was talking about…”

“It was the Fat Lady. Our portrait for getting into the dorms.”

“He attacked her. Mostly everyone was already in bed, or getting ready.”

“She didn’t let him in, obviously. I guess he was furious. Portrait is ripped to shreds. Looks like a wild animal got at it.”

Harry squirmed. As per Snape’s orders he hadn’t told anyone about their conversation at the start of term. He snuck a glance up at the ceiling, trying to see if there was a full moon, but if the moon was out it was obscured by clouds.

“Are you,” he swallowed, “They’re sure it was Black?”

Fred nodded, “A bunch of the other portraits saw him trying to get in. Said he was possessed.”

"What's he doing here? How'd he get past the Dementors?" Pansy chewed the tip of a perfectly manicured nail while she tried to puzzle it out.

"I don't know," George reached out, pulling her hand away from her mouth. Looking at her damaged nail in surprise she mouthed thank you and he nodded before continuing. “No on knows how he managed to get past the Dementors in Azkaban, but whatever he did still works. Apparently.”

Harry shivered, listening with a heavy knot in his stomach. All around them, news of Black's attack seemed to be spreading through the student population. Conversations would break out loudly, only to be shushed by Percy, who stalked the rows of sleeping bags, his chest puffed out, displaying the Head Boy's badge.

"I know why he's here," Harry whispered once Percy had patrolled to the other side of the room. His friends stopped and looked at him. He knew Snape would be furious, but he couldn't keep it in any longer. "I know why Black escaped, why he's in the castle. He..." Harry took a deep breath. It sounded dramatic, a more than a little self-centered. But despite the man’s furious temper as of late, Harry trusted Snape implicitly. Despite his intentions to keep what he knew to himself, he needed to talk to his friends. "He's coming after me."

Harry looked down, not able to meet the faces looking at him in horror. Pansy shifted over and wrapped him in a hug, her chin resting on his shoulder. "It's ok," she shushed. "Tell us what you can, when you can." He smiled gratefully at her. She didn’t move, arms circling him protectively, as he explained.

 

"Snape told me, first day of classes. Black was friends with my father, and a spy for..."

Draco cursed loudly under his breath.

"Yeah,” Harry agreed. “He's the one... that betrayed them to him." He managed to get the words out around clenched teeth. His hands balled into fists in his lap. "He was their Secret Keeper, the only one who knew where they were hiding. Snape thinks... Black's coming to kill me."

"He went to the Gryffindor tower though mate, maybe it's something else," Fred offered.

Harry shook his head, keeping his eyes on his hands in his lap. It was Draco who answered his boyfriend.

"If Sirius was friends with Harry's dad, he probably figured that Harry was in Gryffindor. Like everyone did. It's not like he gets the student lists while he’s locked away."

The others nodded and a silence fell over the group.

"We're not going to let him get to you," Pansy said finally, breaking the awkward silence. The rest of his friends hurried to add their agreement. "Whatever's going on, you're safe. There's no way he's getting in here and through us."

"Another word and it'll be twenty points from Slytherin," Percy barked. They scrambled into their sleeping bags, throwing angry glances at the Head Boy. Harry pulled his blanket up, lying on his back and staring at the ceiling for what seemed like hours. Finally the anxious chatter settled down and the Great Hall was filled with the soft sounds of people sleeping. A door creaked open, and he glanced over to see Dumbledore and the teachers returning. The worried tightness around his chest eased a little as he caught sight of Snape’s billowing robes.

For all the professor was angry and moody right now, Harry still trusted him, still knew that the older man would keep him safe.

"Any sign of him sir?" Percy asked.

"None," Dumbledore replied, coming to stand near Harry. “I would have been very surprised if he intended to linger once he was denied entry into the tower.”

Harry kept his eyes closed and his face neutral. Trying to match his breathing to Blaise's in the hopes that they'd think he was asleep.

"The entire castle has been searched," Snape’s voice carried over. Harry fought back a wave of guilt over telling his friends about Black, reasoning at least that he hadn’t told them about Lupin. It was a small consolation.

"And you have no clues to indicate how he got in?" Dumbledore turned away from Percy, but the eager Head Boy would not be so easily deterred. He hovered around the edges of the conversation, trying to appear important.

"None," Snape's voice was clipped. Harry detected more than a little bit of fury lurking underneath the words as the man fought for control. "Sir, you will recall at the start of term... I brought something to your attention. Someone who might..."

"There is no one in this castle that would aid Sirius Black, Severus. I thought I made myself rather clear on the matter."

"Yes, Headmaster," Severus said, his voice tight.

It took a long time for Harry to fall asleep. He was intensely curious as to who Snape suspected of aiding Black’s entrance to the castle. And yet he dared not risk his life to ask the professor. For starters, it would mean revealing to his Head of House that he had been awake, eavesdropping on their conversation. While Snape had rewarded Harry’s behavior at the beginning of the year, his mood had only grown worse. Harry wasn’t entirely sure where he stood with his mentor anymore.

Harry considered briefly one afternoon as he poured over his potions textbook, that the residents of Hogwarts were becoming experts in carrying on as if nothing had happened. No sign of Black had been found, and no indication as to how he'd managed to get into the castle discovered. The portrait that had been chosen to take the place of the Fat Lady—who was hiding on the second floor and refused to speak with anyone—was apparently a bit of a nightmare. They had to listen to Fred and George complain about the Knight at every turn. He'd taken to challenging the students to duels before allowing them into the Common Room and changed the password so often, and to such ridiculously difficult phrases in foreign languages, that most of the Gryffindors remained inside the Tower once they'd returned at the end of classes.


Theories as to how Black had managed to enter the castle, and escape undetected ran rampant. One of the stranger stories he had heard involved the ability to shape shift into a small tree of some kind. He laughed at the Hufflepuff he’d overheard spreading that nonsense.


Nothing was quite as irritating as the fact that Harry seemed to have acquired a guard. It seemed wherever he walked, even within the castle, teachers found some reason to accompany him. Snape had resumed his vigilance over Quidditch practice. It was a small comfort that despite the man’s ornery disposition as of late, he did not simply insist Harry give up Quidditch. Although Harry suspected that may have had as much to do with his desire for them to win as it did a concern for Harry’s happiness. Whatever the reason, he was grateful. It remained his one source of escape.


The weather was wretched. Wind rattled the windows constantly, competing with the sound of the torrential downpour to keep the students awake at night. Harry absently wondered that it was odd, with all their magic, that they hadn't invented a way to charm windows to remain quiet. For the first time ever, Harry found himself rather pleased that the Slytherin common room was in the basement. Located beneath the Black Lake, its windows looked out into the strange waters of the pond, rather than the grounds. He frowned at his Potions homework; he hated the reminder of his tenuous relationship with its teacher. At least, he thought as he listed all of the antipathies for mandrake root, it wasn’t just him that Snape had an issue with.

Defense Against the Dark Arts was improving. Lupin continued to teach practical lessons, showing them a huge variety of dark creatures. Harry had still yet to find a time to talk with him, to ask him about what he was doing in Little Whinging. But the longer the term went on, the less Harry cared. He was a fun, engaging teacher who seemed to have an excellent sense of humor hidden just under the surface. Despite Snape’s warnings, Harry found himself looking forward to the class.

As he walked into the classroom on Friday, he blinked in surprised to see Professor Flitwick standing on top of the teacher’s desk. He looked around, assuring himself that he didn’t wander into the wrong room by mistake. From the confused murmurs from the rest of his class, he wasn’t the only one not sure what was going on.

“Afternoon!” Flitwick beamed at them. “Professor Lupin was called away this weekend, and asked if I would please supervise his class. I am not nearly the expert on Defense your teacher is, although I have won a few duels in my day. Not against dark creatures, mind you. But still!” He adjusted his hat, “I thought that we could practice a simple shield spell. Step away from the desks, please.”

The class, still a bit confused, hurried to do as he asked. Flitwick was well liked, perhaps not as much as Lupin by the majority of the school, but the promise of a practical lesson despite the change in teachers was enough to ensure they would listen attentively. When they had moved he waved his wand and the desks all shrunk to half a foot tall. With another flick they wobbled and skittered across the floor to stack themselves neatly out of the way. A final flick conjured two large pillows on the floor, twenty paces apart.

“Let’s make it a bit of a game. So long as you successfully cast the charm, successfully protecting yourself against your opponent’s Expelliarmus, you remain in the center of the room. In a circle, please.” He waited while they arranged themselves around the room. “Now, the charm is quite simple, and castable by anyone with any level of magic ability. However the strength of the charm is dependent on a few factors. Might anyone hazard a guess as to what they are?”

Pansy’s hand, brandishing her wand, shot straight up in the air.

“Miss Parkinson?”

“The focus of the witch or wizard casting the spell.”

Flitwick nodded eagerly. “Yes! Precisely. We all know that intent is important with any spell casting. But in cases such as the Protego spell it matters far more than others. What you’re able to deflect is entirely dependent on how focused your will is. Now, where it really gets interesting, is that you are also facing off against the focused intent of your opponent. Mental discipline wins more duels than skill!”

“What about the magical power of the caster?” Granger asked.

Instead of docking points for interrupting him Flitwick grinned. “Yes! Most definitely. Raw talent and capacity certainly affect the strength of the shield. However, a lesser talent with a sharper focus will overcome raw, unfocused talent. Alright!” he clapped. “Wands up! Now, as you incant the spell, many people find it useful to visualize the shield appearing in front of them. Let’s give it a try, shall we? One, two, three…”
“Protego!” Harry held up his wand, imagining a powerful wall of magic in front of him. From the tip of his wand a coil of green smoke emerged. It spiraled in front of him, forming a thick shield in front of him.
All around the classroom, with varying degrees of success, his classmates cast their own Protego charms. Some, like his, matched their house colors. Others were a mix of several colors. Still others were not related to houses at all.

Flitwick hopped off the desk, moving between the students and commenting on their shields. “Well done everyone! For our first defender we will have Mr. Harry Potter.”

Draco, Blaise and Pansy cheered, along with several other Slytherins. Weasley looked angry, his shield was rather flimsy, only a small wisp of red. Harry hurried to one side of the classroom, taking his place in front of the large cushion.

“And for your first opponent…” Before he could finish speaking Ron Weasley had scurried over and stood, feet firmly planted, in front of the other. “Alright then, Mr. Weasley. Now,” Flitwick stood in between them, his sharp eyes sizing each of them up. “You are to cast Expelliarmus or Protego only. Am I clear?” They both nodded their agreement so he hurried off to the side. “One, two, three…”

No sooner had he started to say three, than Weasley brandished his wand in front of him, shouting “Expelliarmus!”

Harry had less than a second to react. Grateful he’d been holding his wand mostly at the ready, he focused on visualizing that solid green shield in front of him. “Protego!” The smoke coalesced milliseconds before Weasley’s disarming spell collided with it. The red burst of magic exploded against the shield and rebounded back, striking Weasley square in the chest and sending him flying in the opposite direction as his wand.

“Bravo, Mr Potter! Should have guessed, being a Seeker and all, that your reaction times would be impressive. Twenty points to Slytherin for an outstanding shield!”

Longbottom awkwardly pulled Weasley off the cushion, while another boy retrieved his wand. Weasley snatched it out of his hand, his face bright red with anger, and stomped to the far end of the classroom where he leaned against the wall, arms folded across his chest, scowling at the class.

The rest of the students fell into a line, each trying to slip their disarming spell past Harry’s shield. It didn’t work. Once or twice Harry felt a slight tug on his wand, but it was easily overcome. By the end of the class, no one had managed to disarm him. Flitwick was practically bursting with excitement. As the last student retrieved their wand, Flitwick took up the position.

“Mr. Potter?” he asked, holding his wand to the side and offering a shallow bow.

Harry returned the gesture and then took up a defensive stance. Flitwick didn’t count down. Instead after a brief pause, he snapped his wand up and threw the spell. Harry’s shield shimmered in front of him, but he felt the force of the professor’s magic pushing through. In vain, he struggled to hold on. For a brief moment he thought he might have done it, but his wand clattered to the floor.

Defeated, he bent down to pick it up. When he straightened, Professor Flitwick was standing in front of him, offering his hand. Harry shook it. “Mr. Potter, that was some of the most impressive defensive spell casting I’ve seen from a student in all the years I’ve been teaching. You should be very pleased with yourself. Fifty points to Slytherin. Class dismissed!”

His housemates gathered around him, clapping him on the back and praising his abilities. He smiled, feeling a bit exhausted from countering so many spells. But it was worth the warm, happy feeling in his chest.

Chapter Text

The feeling carried over to the next morning as he prepared for the first Quidditch match of the season, a small nugget of warmth despite the weather. Mother Nature had taken up the challenge and threw at them the stormiest day yet. The wind had plastered his clothes to his body during the short walk from the castle to the locker room, and he shivered as he pulled on his uniform, not bothering to dry off. He could barely see, his glasses completely fogged, and he wiped them for what felt like the hundredth time when Gemma put a hand on his arm, stopping him.

“One sec there, Harry.” She smiled, he was forever in awe of her cheerful disposition despite the circumstances. Taking out her wand she tapped his glasses. She muttered a quiet charm. “Should be a bit easier now.”

“Oh, thanks!” Putting them back on he blinked at the difference. Without water pooling on the lenses he had a bit of a chance of seeing the Snitch in the downpour. “I’m really going to have to learn that spell one of these days.” He grinned ruefully at her and she chuckled.

Gemma patted him on the shoulder, “Just come find me in the Common Room, as long as I’m not studying for my Newts, I’d be happy to show you.”

They took their places as Madam Hooch strode out onto the field. With a sharp blast of her whistle, they were off. Harry was grateful Flint had been making them practice as often as he had, although he’d never admit it. The winds were howling, pushing them off course and hurling rain into their faces. The Slytherins at least had become somewhat accustomed to the weather. He glanced beside him and saw Weasley struggling to stay balanced on his Cleansweep.

He couldn’t even hear Lee Jordan’s magically amplified voice, keeping him updated on the status of the game. Without knowing the score he wondered if he should just try and catch the Snitch and hope that his teammates had managed to keep Gryffindor from scoring too much. He was fairly certain both sides would be more than happy with a short match. But the Slytherin Common Room would be colder than the Quidditch Pitch if he caught the Snitch too early and cost them the game. Weather was no excuse for throwing away a win.

With no indication where the golden Snitch was, he made a decision. He would circle around to the scoreboard. Still sweeping the pitch every minute, he flew over closer to the grand stand. It was packed, despite the storm. Slytherin was ahead, he breathed a sigh of relief. So long as things didn’t fall to pieces, he could end the game as soon as possible.

Redoubling his efforts, he circled the pitch again. Thunder cracked, he could feel it rumbling in his bones. A sudden flash of lightening startled him and he swerved. Out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw the large black outline of a dog, silhouetted against the bright flash. Harry swerved, remembering Brown’s hysteria after Trelawney had predicted his death heralded in by omens of the Grim. He swore under his breath. It was ridiculous. Even if there was a dog that had wandered onto the grounds, it wasn’t the Grim.

He kept repeating that to himself as he searched for a hint of gold. The weather continued to worsen, something Harry hadn’t thought possible. And the flashes of lightning glinting off any and all metal didn’t help. Finally, as he swept his gaze up he caught sight of it. The Snitch was overhead. Pulling up sharply he chased it into the clouds. Flattening himself against the handle he willed himself to go faster. The wind howled around him, screaming in his ears as it buffeted him off course over and over.

And then there was silence. A heavy, thick blanket fell over him. It was the kind of sudden and complete silence that rang loudly, pushing on him from all sides. He shook his head, trying to clear his ears and ignore the weight of it, but a familiar icy grip wrapped itself around his heart. Harry looked down as he saw a hint of movement below him. He wished he hadn’t.

Instead of the two teams battling it out for the Quaffle, he saw hundreds of Dementors, all looking up at him. Horribly icy shards attacked him as the silence was broken with a woman’s scream.

“Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!”

“Stand aside, you silly girl… stand aside, now…”

“Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead…” The voice pounded inside of his head. The Snitch long gone, he tried to tear his gaze away from the Dementors. He had to find her, the woman screaming. She was in trouble and he had to help.
One of the Dementors floated closer, lifting a rotting scaly hand as if to caress his face. Harry jerked back in revulsion, his hands slipping off his icy broom.

“Not Harry! Please… have mercy… have mercy…” The last thing he remembered was a cold, gut twisting laugh slicing through the woman’s scream.

He felt a soft hand pushing back the hair on his forehead. “I can’t believe he’s not dead.”

“All the rain, he fell into a mudbath instead of the ground.”

“I’ve never been so scared in my life.”

“Try being the one falling,” Harry croaked, opening a single eye to see his friends gathered around him. Pansy was perched on his bed, stroking his hair. “Please… tell me I didn’t cost us the match.”

“You did not,” Snape’s voice was silky, soft, although there was an undercurrent of steel. “I have spoken with the Headmaster, as well as Professor McGonagall. The Weasley boy watched you fall, and proceeded to catch the Snitch instead.”

Quidditch players falling off their brooms was not sufficient reason to call the match. It happened, not often, but often enough to make the game risky. Something else must have… the sound of the woman screaming came back to him. He trembled, his body felt frozen, as if he was once again faced with a horde of Dementors.

Snape cut his sentence off midstream and turned to Draco, Blaise and Pansy. “It is time to leave.” A single lifted eyebrow silenced any protest, and he swept them out of the Hospital Wing with a wave of his hand. When he returned to Harry’s bedside he handed him a large steaming stone mug. The aroma of warm, rich chocolate drifted up to his nose and Harry shivered again. If Snape was offering hot chocolate instead of tea, the Dementors were certainly not a figment of his imagination. He sipped it, feeling the thick liquid warming him better than any potion or brew could have. Any time he stopped and opened his mouth to ask questions, Snape pressed his long fingers to the bottom of the mug, carefully tipping it up to his face.

Finally, the mug was empty. He canted it towards the professor to show that he had drunk it all and set it on the table beside the bed. “Professor?” he asked cautiously. “What happened?” As Harry studied his face he saw new lines around the dark eyes and thin lips. Underneath the quiet and controlled exterior, Snape was seething.

Snape took a deep breath. He could tell by the way the boy hesitantly asked, studying his face for any sign of temper. He recognized the fear, he’d experienced it enough as a young man himself. His anger had gotten the better of him he admitted with a pang of guilt. It was not Harry’s fault that Black had escaped and was after him, nor was it his fault that Lupin was a teacher here, and by all accounts a very capable one. Since the start of term he had distanced himself from Harry, knowing that as soon as the boy learned who Lupin was to him there would be no separating them.

It was a weakness, he could admit, that he was still angry with the way Potter and his cronies had treated him in school. He knew, and could accept, that his choices were his own, no one forced him to have the Dark Mark burned into his skin. But in his darkest moments, he wondered if a different path might have been opened to him.

If he’d been one of the circle, surrounded by friends who would offer up their families to him as James had done for Black. Would he have been so keen to pursue Narcissa and her circle? Would they have satisfied his desire to belong somewhere?
A quiet, mocking voice interrupted his train of thoughts. There was no other way his story could have unfolded. No other path that would have stretched out in front of one like him. Even before Hogwarts, before Lily, he was already who he was.
Forcing down the thoughts and locking them away, he finally allowed himself to meet Potter’s green eyes, guarded and concerned.

“The Dementors attacked the Quidditch match. No one else was injured. It would seem the excited energy proved too much for their self control.”

“So, will they be leaving the school then?” Harry allowed himself a brief moment of hope that the thick blanket of cool hopelessness that settled around the castle might finally be lifted.

Snape’s face flashed with a rare moment of unreserved anger. Thin fingers pinched the bridge of his nose as he calmed himself down. “They will not. Dumbledore has had a word with them, and believes that they are once again under his command.”

“You’re not so sure?”

His ability to sift through the spoken word and seek out the hidden truth was both impressive and disconcerting. However in this case it would not do to lie. Snape nodded. “The Dementors are foul creatures, magic of the most hideous kind. It is a fool who thinks he can harness that evil for anything good. There is one other thing.”

Harry looked up at him, nervously wondering what other horrible news the professor might need to share. “Is it Black?”

Snape shook his head, “No.” He gestured to a bundle of cloth at the end of Harry’s bed. Unwilling to put off the inevitable, he deftly unwrapped it, revealing the shattered remains of his Nimbus 2000. “It was pushed into the Whomping Willow,” he explained gently.

“Oh,” Harry said, his stomach sinking.

Moving quickly Snape wrapped up the bundle again. “When you are feeling better, come to my office and we will discuss how best to procure a new broom for you.” As he moved to take it away, Harry leaned forward and put his hands over the professor’s.
“No, leave it.” His voice cracked a little. “I know it’s just a broom… it’s just…” Harry felt the broken pieces of wood underneath the cloak it was wrapped in. His first broomstick, his escape from the chaos and pressure that was life at Hogwarts as the Boy Who Lived. Was shattered. He tried vainly not to dwell on it. The Grim had heralded a death. It may not have been his physical death, but as he pulled the bundle onto his lap he felt as though a part of him had been broken off all the same.

Snape studied him oddly, and then stood, excusing himself without a word.

Chapter Text

Severus retreated to his rooms, feeling the wards of his private space close around him and strip him of the last shreds of his self-control. He put a hand on the dresser to steady himself and closed his eyes. They shot open again, immediately regretting his decision as he was subject to a vivid flashback of Harry, emerging from the clouds and falling towards the ground. So deeply wrapped up in his self-loathing he’d not even had the presence of mind to pull out his wand and aid the boy. He cursed and stalked deeper into his sanctuary, a spell shot at the hearth calling forth a large fire. He paused in front of the sideboard, pouring himself a tumbler of whiskey. Knocking it back he refilled the glass and picked it up with slightly steadier hands as he made his way to the chair and sank into it.

Watching the flames reflected through the amber liquid he cursed himself again. Lupin’s presence at the school and the threat of Black had regressed him far beyond what he had ever thought possible. He’d felt… possessive. Thin lips pulled into a scowl as he considered it. He had been watching the werewolf watch Harry since the moment he arrived at the school. Despite his warnings, he knew it was only a matter of time before Harry had a heart to heart with the “man”. Lupin had been one of James’ closest friends and Severus knew despite the outward appearance of being well-adjusted; Harry was desperate for anything to do with his parents. Lupin was a far closer connection, to both of them, than Severus was. He took a sip, feeling the alcohol burn down his throat and settle in his stomach, grateful for the way it grounded him.

His pride had almost killed Harry today. Unresolved feelings and emotions, some two decades old, swirled around him as he poured himself another glass. His pride had driven his one real friend out of his life, and set his own on a path… he rolled up the sleeve of his robe, looking down at the Dark Mark. It had faded a little more each year since the Dark Lord had killed the Potters and vanished. It mocked him, branded forever into his pale, sinewy arm as a reminder of every horrible thing he had ever done. He stared at it in disgust, draining the glass. Standing up he threw the glass into the fireplace, enjoying the sound of the crystal shattering on the hard stone.

“Dramatic, even for you Severus,” he chided himself. He drew his long black robes tighter around his tall frame and made his way to the bedroom. “You are better than this,” he sneered at his reflection in the mirror before falling into bed.

Chapter Text

Harry stayed in the hospital the entire weekend. Madam Pomfrey hovered and tsked, fussing over the monitoring charms she had cast. More than once Harry heard the nurse angrily muttering about the Dementors. Thinking about near death experiences reminded Harry of the Grim. Twice now he’d seen the shadow of the large, hulking dog. And twice now he’d nearly died. First the Knight Bus had almost run him over, and now this. As he lay in the bed, turning the memories over in his mind, he realized something about the Grim was familiar. Not in any distinguishable way that he would have thought of before. But something… somewhere long locked away in the back of his mind was the memory of a huge shaggy black dog. A shaking hand went to the scar on his forehead. Had he seen it before Voldemort murdered his parents… and tried to kill him? He pressed himself down into the bed, pulling up the covers. Would he be stalked relentlessly by the Grim until Death finally claimed him?

He’d not mentioned it to anyone, Madam Pomfrey had already thrown around the world “fragile”, the last thing he wanted was for people to start thinking he’d lost his wits. It wasn’t his fault the Dementors affected him so strongly. He doubted anyone in his year, or perhaps even in the school, relived their mother’s death when those icy cold fingers reached for them. He’d put it together, what Snape had so carefully skirted around at the beginning of the year. That woman screaming, the voice he heard, was his mother. Every night when he tried to fall asleep he heard her voice.

He was grateful for the recording of her that Snape had shared with him. It was only laughter, brief and almost too soft to hear, but he shuddered to think if his only memory of his mother’s voice was her pleading desperately with a madman for his life. Offering to trade herself for him. The thought made him sick.

The Quidditch rematch had been scheduled for much later in the year, or so Flint told him when the hulking captain of the team had come to visit. Harry was touched by the older boy’s visit, although he was certain it was mostly to make sure that he wasn’t so terrified of heights or falling that Slytherin would require a new Seeker. For the moment, the game was being called a tie, not hurting or helping either team in the standings. He would have some time to get a new broom, as the next match was between Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw.

The twins, accompanied by Draco and Pansy, had snuck in after Flint left. They commiserated with Harry over the loss of his broom and brought stacks of magazines for him to peruse. George had helpfully dog eared several pages with reviews of the most recent models. They’d offered to dispose of the remains of his Nimbus 2000 for him, but he couldn’t bring himself to part with it yet. It remained in a carefully wrapped bundle on the table beside the bed.

“Maybe Dumbledore will finally start leaving me alone,” Harry said, pushing up off the pillows and moving the magazines to the side. “I’m guessing falling off my broom in the middle of a Quidditch match when faced with dark creatures isn’t exactly the kind of behavior he wants from his savior of the Wizarding World.”

Draco shook his head, “Don’t count on it, mate.”

“He’s been trying to get in to see you,” Pansy continued.

“Rumor is, Snape’s been stopping him.”

“Wish we knew what it was that Snape had on him,” George said wistfully as Fred nodded.

“Good luck with that,” Draco said. “Whatever it is, Snape’s made it his personal mission to keep Dumbledore away from you.”

Harry sighed. He was grateful to his mentor for the protection, but he had been allowing himself a small glimmer of hope that perhaps his time as Dumbledore’s pawn was coming to a close. As he settled back on the pillows after his friends left he knew it was wishful thinking. But still, it had been a lovely break. Before leaving they arranged to meet in the kitchens the following weekend to properly commiserate over Harry’s broom, and give it a proper send off.

Monday morning just before breakfast Madam Pomfrey finally permitted him to leave the Hospital Wing. He hurried to the Great Hall just in time to join his friends at the table. After so much time with his thoughts alone, it was both jarring and nice to return to the slight chaos of the rest of the castle. More calming still was the small smile Professor Snape offered as he took his place at the Head Table. The older man had not been to see him again over the weekend, but Harry was beyond grateful for the man’s interference with the Headmaster and hoped it was a sign of a renewed friendship between them. Although Snape had promised private dueling lessons at the beginning of the year, it had not yet come to pass.

Perhaps, if he was very, very lucky in a way that he most certainly never had been before in his thirteen years, life at Hogwarts would return completely to normal. Although, he thought as he helped himself to a large plate of biscuits and gravy, he didn’t entirely know what normal was for the school. It was of course a school of magic, so the use of the word normal was a bit odd to begin with. After two years of confrontations with Voldemort, the prospect of an ordinary madman, even a crazed wizard, after him was not quite so daunting.

On the other side of the Great Hall, Ron Weasley was once again holding court amongst the Gryffindors with his impersonations of Harry. He flailed dramatically, standing up at one point and holding the back of his hand to his head before fainting into Finnigan’s arms. He continued drawing a crowd until Fred and George got up from the end of the table and sat down on either side of their youngest brother. Trapping him between them in a crushing bear hug, they forcibly lifted him from his seat and dragged him out of the hall. Harry saw Draco blush out of the corner of his eye when Fred winked in their direction.

Weasley chose a spot uncharacteristically close to Draco and Harry as they took their place in Potions class. It immediately became clear why when he continued his earlier impressions of Harry falling from his broom every time Professor Snape turned his back. Draco and Pansy seethed, cussing him out under their breath while the Gryffindor side of the classroom erupted in silent giggles. Harry fought to shut them out, concentrating entirely on his potion. He looked up just in time to see Pansy and Draco chucking a pair of crocodile hearts at Weasley’s face. Just past them, he spotted Snape, watching the scene with his lips pursed. For a fraction of a second, he thought he saw the corners tug into an amused smile, before he turned his back on the scene.

Sputtering, Weasley wiped his face off with the sleeve of his robe, looking aghast at the front of the classroom, where Snape was very deliberately keeping his back to the class, rearranging ingredients in the student’s supply cupboard. As the blustering continued, he called over his shoulder, “Mr Weasley if you are incapable of speaking coherently in my class, I will be forced to assume you are too fragile of mind to continue, and I must ask you to leave. With a failing grade of course.”

Harry would long treasure the memory of Weasley, mouth gaping open like a fish, and a small trail of blood along his jaw. It kept him smiling all the way to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom.

Although he had been away, Professor Lupin looked as though he’d been battling a rare tropical disease. His robes, which were not the best fit to begin with, hung off him as though he were a mere skeleton. Despite his smile, there were dark circles under his eyes and his face seemed all the more pale for it. Suddenly, Harry realized with a start what had happened. He was willing to bet all the house points he would ever earn again that the last Defense class had fallen on the full moon. He imagined that the transformation into werewolf and back to human again was not particularly pleasant.

Lupin waved off questions about where he had been, and seemed pleased that they had enjoyed the class with Flitwick. After letting them chatter on for a few moments he raised his hand for quiet. Stooping under his desk, he pulled up a large glass tank. Inside was a creature that appeared to be made of smoke. Balanced on a single leg, it looked rather frail and unassuming as it hovered, holding aloft a small iron lantern that glowed pleasantly.

“A hinkypunk,” he announced, as they all shifted in their seats to get a good look at it. “Harmless, right? A curious little thing.” He walked around the back of the tank and pointed a calloused finger at the light. “With this lantern here, it lures unsuspecting travelers deep into bogs. It turns them around, as they follow the light, and then —”

Harry covered his ears as the hinkypunk made a horrific noise against the glass. When the hinkypunk once again took its wispy form, he carefully lowered his hands from his ears, ready to put them back at a moment’s notice. Lupin smiled wanly at the class who had all reacted in a similar manner to Harry. “Not quite so harmless,” he continued. “Now, there are a few ways to handle a hinkypunk, should you encounter one. Several texts suggest trapping the creature in a tight space.” His lips pulled to the side and he shook his head. “If you’ll all move to the back of the classroom, I will demonstrate why I believe this approach is foolish.”

There was a scraping of chairs as the students sitting near the front hurriedly gathered there things and stood at the back of the room. When everyone was settled, Lupin cast a few quiet protection spells on himself. Checking again that the children were a safe distance away, he advanced on the tank with his wand brandished in front of him. He tapped his wand to the tank and suddenly the pleasant light of the lantern flared into a fireball. It exploded at the side of the tank and fizzled harmlessly. Keeping one eye on the tank, Lupin turned to face the surprised class.

“Personally, I cannot advise getting too close.” He threw a cloth over the tank and moved it to a cabinet behind his desk, motioning for the class to once again take their seats. “The Lumos Duo charm is particularly effective. Not just against hinkypunks, but ghouls as well.”

Harry was fascinated. He took pages of notes, including diagrams of the wand movements for the charm, and found himself thoroughly enjoying the lesson. He started gathering his things with regret when the bell rang.

“Harry,” Lupin called from where he was perched against the front of the teacher’s desk. “A moment please, I’d like a word.”

Draco looked over at him, mouthing “We’ll wait for you outside” before clearing out of the classroom. He, Pansy, and Blaise were the last to leave. When they were alone, Lupin spoke. “I heard… what happened.” He refused to meet Harry’s curious gaze and instead busied himself rearranging piles of books. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there.”

There was a deep sadness in his voice that Harry didn’t understand. A true, regretful sorrow at his lack of presence at the match. “It’s not your fault, professor. It’s not like you set the Dementors after me.”

“Harry—” Lupin’s voice cracked. His hand went to his face, and several large shudders wracked his thin frame.

“Professor?” Harry kept his distance, uncertain how to respond.

Lupin turned around, his eyes shining with tears. “Forgive me, Harry. I promise you, I am normally quite a bit more reserved. There are… a few things beyond my control just now.” He paused, although Harry could tell there was far more he wanted to say. “I… appreciate your discretion in not outing my Muggle occupation. It was… well it was a foolish risk, but it was one I should have taken years ago. When I heard… how you were… your family…” He struggled for the words, his adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed thickly. Finally, unable to hold them back, the tears pooling in his eyes slid down his rough cheeks. “I should have come for you so much sooner Harry. Found some way, figured something out. I was… destroyed, in my grief. But that is no excuse. We were supposed to…” He stopped at the completely confused expression on Harry’s face. “Harry, would you join me for dinner this evening? You can tell your friends you are perfectly safe with me,” he smiled knowingly. “I would invite them to join us, but…”

Harry nodded, somehow understanding the need for this conversation to be private. “Just a moment, professor.” He turned to walk towards the door and speak with his friends, missing the pained expression on Lupin’s face at his use of the title. After reassuring his friends that everything was alright he sent them on to the Great Hall without him and turned back to follow Lupin towards his rooms.

Unlike Professor Snape’s private study, Lupin’s quarters more closely resembled a small flat. He stepped through the door into a small kitchen area. Pushed against the wall was a chipped wooden table, and two chairs topped with comfy looking cushions next to it. There were few decorations or pictures; instead, nearly every available surface was covered in books. Harry stood awkwardly in the door way, scuffing his trainer against the floor.

“Please, Harry. Come in, sit.” Lupin smiled nervously. He crossed over to a door leading to the small bedroom and shed his robes. Underneath he wore faded brown trousers and a worn looking shirt, buttoned to the neck. He rolled his shirtsleeves up and ran his fingers through his hair before turning around. “I was going to make steak and potatoes for dinner. If that’s alright?”

Harry nodded, not particularly hungry. Instead he settled into the closest chair, swinging his feet and waiting for Lupin to start explaining himself. He’d been patient since the start of term, but now that it appeared he was going to start getting some answers he was keen to start.

Lupin busied himself with pulling out the steaks, already marinating in a shallow glass dish and setting them on the counter. It took all of Harry’s self control not to start demanding answers. Finally, Lupin turned around again. He leaned back, his knuckles white as he gripped the counter.

“Harry…” for the second time that evening his voice broke as he said his name. This time, he pushed himself forcefully off the counter, as though he had to propel himself into motion. He stalked into his bedroom and threw open the lid of a very tatty looking trunk. Digging down to the very bottom he pulled out a thick bundle, wrapped in a worn, knitted fabric. His hands shook as he cradled it to his chest. With a shuddering sigh, he presented it to Harry. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered roughly. “I’m going to be grading papers in the classroom. Just…” he swallowed. “If you want to talk afterwards, that’s where I’ll be. But,” his face fell. Lined with sadness he appeared nearly as old as Dumbledore, the weight of his sorrow pressing on his shoulders. “If you want to just leave, I won’t stop you, and I won’t bother you again.” The words cost him, and he pressed an unsteady hand to the top of the bundle before leaving Harry alone with more questions than he’d had at the beginning.

Harry sat alone in the professor’s rooms, looking down at the knitted bundle. It didn’t take him long to decide to open it. The wrapping was a sweater. Without knowing why, Harry picked it up and pressed it to his face, inhaling the scent. Feeling an odd tug of emotion, he looked down to see a photo album, nearly falling apart with age despite the preservation spells on it. It felt intensely personal, looking through someone else’s photos without them present. But Lupin had obviously known what it contained, clearly wanted him to see it, and had chosen not to be there when he did. Still holding the sweater to his chest, Harry flipped open the cover with a trembling hand.

Looking up at him was… himself? Harry blinked, peering down at the photo. His father, he realized, at about his age. He was sitting with three boys out by the Black Lake, they were laughing and waving up at him. After a moment, he realized one of the boys was Lupin, he had that same shaggy, multicolored hair. He didn’t recognize the other two. A short, pudgy boy with watery eyes, and a tall lanky one with long wavy black hair. Carefully, he turned the page.

They were a little older in this photo and this time James had his arm slung around Lily’s shoulders, whispering something in her ear. She blushed, her green eyes sparkling at whatever it was. Harry’s chest tightened as he watched them, snuggling and flirting while the three boys teased.

There were several more pages, showing his parents, along with Lupin and two other Harry didn’t know. He watched his parents grow up before his eyes, until they began to resemble the faces he’d seen in the Mirror of Erised.

A card fluttered out at him as he flipped to the next page. Shimmering gold ink with red accents announced the upcoming wedding of James Potter to Lily Evans. He held the card gingerly in his hands, reading over the few details and drinking it in. His eyes drifted to the page and he saw them. James dressed in a sharp black tux, Lily absolutely stunning in a white lace dress. She had flowers in her hair. In the photo, James plucked one of them and fastened it to the buttonhole in his suit jacket. The next page showed Lily, flanked by Lupin, the dark haired man, and the pudgy man with watery eyes, all dressed in suits. They leaned in, kissing her cheeks affectionately and grinning broadly at the camera.

Harry let the tears flow freely as he looked at the two photos of the reception. James preparing to smash the cake in Lily’s face, only to have the black haired man sneak up behind him a smear it all over his face instead. He stopped at the photo of Lily and James dancing. They never looked up, instead their gazes locked on each other, so clearly in love. He sniffed. Growing up, he’d tried to imagine his parents, and their life. He’d hoped they were happy; not in the proper, socially acceptable way that Vernon and Petunia maintained, but truly, deeply happy. He ran his finger along the edge of the photograph, a sad smile curling his lips as he hugged the sweater tighter to his chest.

It took him several minutes to turn the page, there were a few more photos of the group of friends celebrating birthdays and goofing around. The next page was warped slightly, the area around the photograph spotted with tear stains. It was a party, a banner hung across the background.

HAPPY ENGAGEMENT!

Drawn in the corners of the banner were paw prints and a large circle. He frowned at them for a moment, before finally focusing on the subjects of the photo. It was Lupin, and the black haired man, wearing matching sweaters. Harry blinked and then pulled the sweater away from his chest, it looked the same.

“Your mum knit us those sweaters, the Muggle way, as a gift.” Lupin’s voice was soft and hesitant from the doorway. He looked worn, the dark circles under his eyes more pronounced as he nervously waited to see what sort of reception he would get. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t wait any longer.”

“You knew my parents. You knew them,” Harry said, not taking his eyes from the page as his parents came in from either side to wrap their arms around the couple, Lily looking obviously pregnant. He tried to keep the accusation out of his voice, but judging from the hurt look in Lupin’s eyes he’d not been overly successful.

Lupin shoved his hands in his pockets, his body slinking down in an attempt to make himself smaller. “I did.”

Harry looked down again at his mum, “Did I know you?”

Sidling up cautiously next to Harry, Lupin put a large hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “You called me Uncle Moony.”

“Moon- oh. So what happened to you… that was, before?”

“You figured it out,” Lupin said, not sounding particularly surprised.

“Snape told me,” Harry said flatly.

Lupin nodded but didn’t comment on it further. “It was before I even came to Hogwarts. I’d tried to keep it from them but… they were persistent, especially Sirius.” his voice caught in his throat.

Harry looked down at the photo, and suddenly it hit him…

“That’s him… that’s Sirius BLACK.” Harry stood up, almost falling over the chair in his haste to stand. “He… YOU!”

“Please, Harry… you have to let me explain,” Lupin pleaded as Harry threw the book and sweater onto the table.

“I don’t have to do anything!” Harry shouted, “Snape was right about you!” He ran from the room, leaving a broken-looking Lupin in his wake.

Chapter Text

Draco returned from dinner to find Harry buried underneath a mountain of blankets. He hopped up on the bed, sitting on Harry’s legs and tugging at the blanket around his face. “So, what did Lupin want?”

Harry sniffed as he let the blanket be pulled down and peered up at his friend through swollen, red eyes. “Harry! What happened?! Did he hurt you?” Draco looked torn between wrapping Harry in a hug and launching himself out of bed to confront the Dark Arts professor.

Shaking his head, Harry sniffed loudly. “He… he knew my parents, when they were younger, grew up with them.” He carefully avoided meeting Draco’s gaze. “He was engaged to Sirius Black.”

“Oh Merlin… Harry… that’s… that bloody horrible. And you can sit up here and mope if you want to, but I think a proper meal down in the kitchens and some cute blokes to look at sounds like a much better idea. You can’t have Fred though, he’s mine. Although, you can admire him, from afar… no touching.”

Harry wiped the tears off his cheeks and pulled himself into a sitting position while Draco rattled on. Never in the two and half years that he had known the other boy had he been more grateful for their friendship. In short order Draco had written a quick note to the twins and popped down to the Common Room to have Pansy deliver it, with instructions to use his owl if they had left the Great Hall already.

The two boys stayed hidden behind the curtains of Harry’s bed, playing chess and Draco rambling on about this and that, while the rest of the castle slowly went to bed. Finally, Draco determined it was safe and the two slipped out of the dorms, Invisibility Cloak in hand, to meet Pansy in the Common Room.

She opened her mouth to ask Harry what was wrong, but Draco shook his head. She wrinkled her nose, but didn’t ask again. Under the Invisibility Cloak they slipped out of the dungeons and down to the kitchen.

Fred and George were just sneaking in when they got there. “That portrait is a bloody nightmare,” George huffed. “He wanted to duel both of us. Sometimes I think he forgets he’s a sodding painting.”

“We had to bribe Peeves to harass him into leaving just so we could sneak out. Hopefully he’ll be too tired when we get back to realize what’s happening.” Fred chuckled, reaching over and pulling Draco to his side.

“Do we even want to know what you had to promise him?” Pansy asked, sinking into a large, overstuffed chair by the fire.

George curled up on a rug in front of her, “Help pranking Filch, so…”

“Just an average weekend then?”

“Pretty much,” Fred agreed.

They all settled in, helping themselves to the tray of Butterbeers one of the house elves brought over. After they’d had a few sips, Draco turned to Harry, lifting his blond brows expectantly. Harry glared at him in return.

“Lupin was engaged to Sirius Black, and they were both best friends with my parents.” It all tumbled out in a rush as if saying it fast enough would make it any less hurtful.

“Bloody hell,” whispered Fred.

“That’s what I said,” Draco smiled briefly at his boyfriend.

“The night we all slept in the Great Hall, when the Fat Lady was attacked. Snape was telling Dumbledore that he thought someone was helping Black get into the castle.”

Pansy looked at Harry in horror, her mug of Butterbeer frozen halfway to her lips. “You can’t honestly think Lupin would be helping him?”

“I think Dumbledore would do almost anything to keep shaping me into the Savior of the Wizarding World that he wants,” Harry said glumly. He slumped back against the couch, pulling his knees up to his chest.

While he curled in on himself, hating every adult that had ever been involved in his life up to this point, the twins shared a look. After several eyebrow raises and head tips to the side they finally spoke in unison.

“We might have a bit of a solution.”

“It’s downright creepy when you two do that,” Draco muttered.

Harry opened one eye and peered at them, waiting for them to explain.

Instead of answering right away, they produced a worn, folded piece of parchment. They placed it on the table, holding out their wands. With just the tips touching it, they chanted, “I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”

Streaks of red ink began to swirl from their wands, spiraling over the paper. The lines crisscrossed and webbed out to every edge. It began to pool in the center until large curly letters spelled out:

Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs
Purveyors of Aids to Magical-Mischief-Makers
are proud to present
THE MARAUDER’S MAP

Fred and George each lifted a corner, spreading the parchment out on the table. The ink stains had pulled together to reveal an intricate map of Hogwarts and the surrounding grounds. Harry was pulled out of his slump, intently curious as he peered at the map. All over the map were tiny dots, each with its own label. The majority were focused around the dormitories, although Draco pointed out two dots belonging to Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan were just outside the entrance to Gryffindor tower, apparently sneaking back in.

“Sneaky little blokes,” George commented, a hint of approval in his voice.

They’d managed to get into the Common Room just in time, as another dot, this one leaving pawprints, revealed Mrs. Norris prowling down the hallway. Professor Dumbledore was pacing his study, while Peeves the Poltergeist appeared to be wreaking havoc in the trophy room.

Harry, Draco and Pansy poured over the map, following a few prefects and teachers as they patrolled the halls. “Hmmmph,” muttered Draco, “You’d think they didn’t trust us to stay in bed or something.”

“How is this going to help us find out about Lupin though?”

“Well,” explained Fred, “It shows everyone in the castle, even visitors.”

“We checked.”

“So if Lupin is letting Black in somehow, he’ll show up on the map.”

“It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing.”

“Especially because of these,” Fred pointed to several passages that lead out of the castle.

“Filch and Dumbledore only know about these four here. And we’re pretty sure we’re the only ones who know about these ones.”

“This one up here,” Fred tapped again near a mirror on the fourth floor, “Is completely blocked in. Last winter something shifted, caved in the whole passage.”

“And over here, this one’s useless. The Whomping Willow is planted right over the entrance. And it doesn’t…”

“It doesn’t really like anyone, or anything, getting near it,” Harry pursed his lips, remembering the splintered remains of his Nimbus.

“Yeah,” George looked over at him sympathetically. “So that one’s out. But this one here…”

“It pops out in Honeydukes cellar. We reckon, if Black managed to give the Dementors in Azkaban the slip, sneaking through whatever security they’ve got should be a breeze.”

“Especially if he had someone else on this side, making sure the room was empty.”

“It’s brilliant,” Harry grinned. “Who were they…” He stopped mid sentence, green eyes growing wide. “Fred… George, what were the names on the map again?”

“Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs,” George sighed reverently. “We owe them so much.”

“Lupin… Lupin he told me… I used to know him. I called him Uncle Moony.”

“Y’don’t think… you don’t think it’s the same Moony?”

“What’s with the name Moony?”

Everyone had questions, meanwhile Harry sank back into the chair. Listening to them debate about why that particular nickname, and the odds anyone else would have used it. And the magic required to make the map. After a while, they noticed he had withdrawn and stopped talking, four pairs of eyes all looking worriedly at him.

“I’m just going to ask him,” he informed them. “This is ridiculous. Dumbledore hires a man who I thought was a Muggle librarian. Who turns out to be one of my parent’s closest friends. The same year that another of their closest friends manages to escape from a super secure wizarding prison. Where he was locked away after betraying my parents and blowing up a street with a bunch of Muggles. None of this makes sense, and I’m tired of trying to sort it all out. I’m just going to ask him. And if I don’t like his answer…. Well, I’ll figure something out.”

In Harry’s mind he already knew what he would do. One carefully worded letter to Lucius Malfoy about Lupin’s condition as a werewolf and he imagined that the Malfoy patriarch could raise up enough of a fuss to have the man sacked. He wasn’t sure why he felt it was important to still keep the man’s secret. Just that it felt right to do so.

He assured them he would be fine, and would confront Lupin as soon as possible. They finished their Butterbeers in relative silence before dispersing back to their respective Common Rooms.

Saying he would confront a teacher who was at one time romantically involved with the man who betrayed his parents and caused their deaths and actually doing so were two entirely different beasts.

Harry found himself avoiding nearly everyone. He kept himself focused solely on his school work, staying in the corner of the library working on his homework until the last possible second. Draco spent most of his time with the twins, learning every last secret of the map and debating over whether or not there were any more secret passages or hidden rooms to discover. After trying several times to enlist Draco’s help in pulling Harry out of his funk, Pansy gave up and simply settled for being near him.

She never brought up Lupin, or Black, in fact she hardly spoke at all unless it was to seek his advice on some homework, most often Potions. Instead, she made sure that one of the house elves delivered a small tray of tea and sandwiches to them at lunch, and something warm for dinner.

One evening, while they were packing up their books to head back to the dungeons, Harry suddenly cursed loudly. “Merlin’s beard I’m thick!”

Pansy looked at him, concerned. “Harry are you…”

“He thought I was in Gryffindor!” Tossing his books from his bag back onto the table, he dug around until he pulled out the shimmering folds of the Invisibility Cloak. He grabbed Pansy by the shoulders and whirled her to face him, his green eyes bright with excitement. “Gryffindor, Pansy!” Hurriedly throwing the cloak over him, he left all of his things on the table and bolted out of the library.

It was after curfew by the time he made his way through the castle, avoiding Mr Filch and Mrs Norris as they prowled the corridors, eager to catch a student who was out of bed by even a minute. Leaving the cloak on, he banged loudly against the door. His knuckles scraped raw but he hardly noticed as he bounced with excitement.

After an insufferably long wait, the door creaked open, revealing Lupin, dressed in flannel pants and the sweater that had been wrapped around the album. New creases lined what should have been a young face, several day’s worth of growth covered his chin. The look of general curiosity quickly changed to concern as he looked into a seemingly empty hallway.

Harry threw off the cloak and pushed his way past the man into the room. “He thought I was in Gryffindor,” he said by way of explanation. “He attacked the Fat Lady, because he thought that I would be in Gryffindor.”

Lupin closed the door, turning to look at Harry, his face still marked with concern. “Harry… what?”

“Black, when he came looking for me. I know he’s looking for me. He came to Hogwarts, and he went to Gryffindor Tower. Except you would know I was in Slytherin.” Harry was pacing rapidly in front of the hearth, twisting his Invisibility Cloak in his hands.

“Of course I know you’re in Slytherin I… oh.” Lupin stopped. “Yes, of course you would.” He crossed over to Harry and took hold of his shoulders with his large, calloused hands. Forcing him to stand still he earnestly met his gaze. “Harry, I know that you have no reason to believe me. I know you have every reason not to. I was completely deceived by Black. I would have sooner died myself than let anything happen to your family. They were everything to me, they saved me… and I couldn’t… Harry I couldn’t…”

He crushed Harry against him in a tight squeeze. Harry hesitated for only a moment before dropped the cloak and returning the hug. Several minutes later Lupin pulled back and smiled sadly down at him. “You look so much like them,” he whispered hoarsely. “When you walked into the library, you couldn’t have been anyone else.” Standing up, he herded Harry towards the sofa and fixed them both some tea.

While it was steeping he retrieved the photo album from his bedroom and sat down on the couch next to him. “I never dared hope I would be able to show this to you,” he said softly. “But I couldn’t bring myself to leave it behind. Here…” He flipped open the album, hurriedly skipping past the photo of the engagement party, to a photo of Lily and James cradling a small bundle.

The next several pages showed Harry’s first year. From a squirmy infant, to a young baby playing with a chew toy that looked suspiciously like a Snitch. The last page of the book fell open, tea long forgotten, to reveal Harry’s birthday party. He was in a high chair, a hat perched on his head that shimmered and shot off fireworks at random intervals. In front of him was a cake in the shape of a lion, proudly boasting a Gryffindor scarf. He stared at it, eyes only flicking away to look at the other photo, where he was zooming a few inches above the ground around a large backyard on a small broomstick. In the photo he was squealing with laughter, James was behind him with Black and Lupin on either side. But he kept flicking back to the lion, a strange lump in his throat.

“Your mother would have been so proud of you, no matter what house you were in. Your father…” Lupin chuckled softly, looking down at the photo with shining eyes. “I won’t lie, it might have shocked him just a little. But he’d have come around.” Tentatively, Lupin slung an arm around Harry, pulling him into a side hug. “They loved you fiercely. You were so wanted… so loved. I am so sorry for everything that has happened, so… so sorry Harry.”

“Uncle Moony?” Harry’s face flushed, hoping it was alright for him to use the endearment. He’d only ever begrudgingly called the Dursleys Aunt and Uncle, and never out of earshot. But he desperately wanted the connection to the family he once had… the family he should have had.

Lupin froze and Harry tried to open his mouth to apologize for overstepping. Before he could get the words out, Lupin started laughing. A strange, barking laughter that started in his belly and brought tears to his eyes. “I never,” he gasped, pulling himself together. “I never thought I would hear you say that again. Yes, Harry?”

“Who are Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs?”

The question sobered Lupin up quickly. “It’s… it’s what we called ourselves, when we were at Hogwarts. James, Black, Peter Pettigrew, and myself.”

“What happened to Peter, where is he?” A thrill went through Harry at the possibility of discovering another uncle, another connection to his parents.

“He… he was murdered. By Black. After your parents were killed Black ran to the Muggle world to hide. Peter found him, tried to capture him all by himself. And instead, Black blew up the entire street.”
The clock chimed midnight and they both jumped at the sudden sound. “Harry,” Lupin said quietly.

“I know, Uncle Moony, I have to get back to the dungeons. Not supposed to be out of bed.” Harry stood, scooping up the cloak from where it was tossed unceremoniously onto the floor, and made for the door.
“Your father would be thrilled to see you using that cloak.”

“We can talk again?” Harry asked, only his head visible.

“Of course, Harry, of course. Although it may have to wait a little while… I am due to… be unwell.”

Harry nodded. “I can’t wait!” He grinned broadly at Lupin before pulling the cloak completely over his head and disappearing.

“I see nothing,” said Lupin with a chuckle as he opened the door and let Harry out.

Three days later was the full moon. He was curious who would be taking over the class today, whether it would be Flitwick again, or one of the other teachers. Although he never expected to see Professor Snape seated in Lupin’s chair. His pale face tight, thin lips pressed firmly together as he steepled his hands in front of his face. After a moment of awkward silence, the rest of the class burst in, talking loudly as they took their seats.

“Silence,” Professor Snape barked, flicking his wand to slam the shutters closed. “Professor Lupin finds himself… incapable, of teaching at this present time. I will be overseeing your class.”

“What’s wrong with him?” Weasley asked.

“Not your concern,” Snape spoke, his voice low and silky. Harry knew that tone, if Weasley wasn’t careful he could lose his house’s chance at the Cup in a single class. “Fifteen points for speaking out of turn.”

“Now, your professor has neglected to leave any sort of notes or outline. A despicable lack of organization.”

“Sir,” Harry ventured carefully. He wasn’t sure what had gotten under Snape’s skin, but clearly something had. “We’ve covered Boggarts, kappas, grindylows and Red Caps. We were just about to start…” His throat closed, preventing him from speaking further. Snape’s dark eyes flashed with anger as he stopped in front of Harry’s desk.

“Five points from Slytherin.”

Never in the history of Hogwarts had an entire class frozen so quickly. The silence was deafening as Snape drew himself up to his full height, long black hair framing his pale face as he crossed his arms over his chest, long sleeves billowing around him.

“If you speak out of turn again it will be fifty.”

Harry’s eyes filled with tears. He was so sure that things were on their way to being better with Snape. The man had protected him from Dumbledore when he was in the hospital. Now… the professor was furious and lashing out. He could sense the shock from his classmates. He nodded, his throat still thick. No one spoke; they hardly moved as Snape strode back up to the teacher’s desk.

He conjured a large white sheet. “Page three-hundred and ninety-four.” With a flick of his wand, a highly stylized drawing of a werewolf appeared on the screen. “What is the difference between a werewolf and a true wolf?” he asked.

Harry couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The rest of the class, still in shock, didn’t move an inch. “No one?” he sneered. “Has your education with Professor Lupin been so lacking that you have lost the ability to speak in this classroom? I’m sure the Headmaster will be interested to learn just how sorely lacking your teaching has been this year.”

He seethed with anger. Lupin was an excellent teacher, and with their newfound connection, Harry found himself gripping the edge of the desk to keep himself from exploding. For Snape to bring Dumbledore into it… a man Harry knew he loathed. It didn’t work for long. “We haven’t gotten there yet, sir.”

Snape whirled around, it felt as though he wrapped the light around himself, smothering it in his cloak as he fixed his black eyes on Harry, his body shaking with rage. “Fifty points from Slytherin.”
Harry clenched his jaw, feeling the muscles tense from the effort not to give Snape a piece of his mind.

After waiting to see if Harry would respond, Snape turned again to the drawing of a werewolf. “It is a shame to see such potential in this class, wasting away because of substandard teaching.”

“Professor Lupin is the best teacher we’ve ever had!” Harry shouted.

“Oh Harry no…” he heard Pansy, echoed by Draco, moan under their breaths.

“Detention, Mr. Potter.” Snape threw the words at him, his voice silky smooth as he towered over Harry. “If you speak again in my class I will have you removed from the Quidditch team.”

Harry lurched back as though he’d been shot, landing heavily in his chair. Snape stared at him for another minute, as though daring him to say something. He defiantly held his gaze, although he managed to resist the urge to shout some more. Before he turned back to his lecturing, a regretful look crossed his features.

No one spoke for the rest of the class. Snape lectured on werewolves, stalking around the classroom and snatching up rolls of parchment from previous lectures. He sneered, using every opportunity to discuss how he would have marked it differently, to a higher standard.

When the bell rang they remained in their seats, terrified to move until Snape gave them leave. “Three feet of parchment, due Monday morning, on how to identify and kill werewolves. Detailed, not the shoddy level of work that you have been accustomed to in this class. Dismissed.”

 

Chapter Text

Snape didn’t say a word to Harry during his detention. When Harry knocked on the door to the classroom the Potions Master waved a slender hand towards a large stack of dirty cauldrons before returning to his book and his tea.

Harry set to work, rolling up the sleeves of his robe and tucking his tie safely out of the way before he began to scrub. Cleaning was an easy detention for him, even cauldrons with all manner of bizarre and disgusting ingredients baked onto them. He’d had plenty of practice at the Dursleys. Working in silence, he scrubbed each one until he was certain the only time it had been cleaner was perhaps the day it had been made. He blatantly ignored the clock, and his stomach growling for food, refusing to give Snape the satisfaction. Yet another skill he had honed in his years at the Dursleys.

Underneath his anger, there was a deeper feeling still. An emotion he was loathe to spend much time considering. But, as he felt the cool distance emanating from his Head of House, he was forced to give it real estate in his largely unoccupied thoughts.

He was disappointed and hurt in ways he hadn’t realized was possible. Snape was someone he’d come to rely on, to trust, and he’d thought their respect went both ways. Somehow, that had been broken. He was hurt to discover just how fragile that relationship had been. And Harry was at a loss as to how to repair it.

He also, if he was being entirely honest, was far too stubborn to make the first move. Especially, he told himself as he angrily scrubbed a pewter cauldron, as he had done absolutely nothing wrong. Just barely, he refrained from cursing under his breath.

Finally all the cauldrons were clean and stacked neatly according to size and material. He stood in front of Snape’s desk, defiantly refusing to speak. Snape, clearly aware of him, continued to read his book. Still, Harry kept his lips pressed firmly together. At last, he put a finger in the book, closing it gently, and looked up. His eyes flicked to the cauldrons, keen to find a fault. Finding none, he nodded curtly, glanced pointedly to the door, and resumed his reading.

Turning on his heel, Harry stalked out of the room. He’d missed dinner completely, a fact that he was certain Snape was well aware of. For a moment he considered going to bed hungry out of spite, but then he shook his head. That was ridiculous and the only person it hurt was him. He changed direction and headed for the kitchens.

Loading up a plate with a few sandwiches and a slice of pie for dessert, Harry quickly made his way to the dungeon, hoping he wouldn’t run into anyone. Although he had never heard Dumbledore say that the kitchens were off limits to students, the mere fact that the entrance was so well concealed led him to believe that it wasn’t exactly encouraged.

He’d considered staying in the kitchens to eat. But given the time it was likely to already be quite close to curfew by the time he made it to the Common Room. Considering he’d already lost their house a great deal of points today he didn’t fancy getting caught out of bed.

Crawling through the passage into the Common Room, he breathed a sigh of relief. He’d made it. Draco and Blaise were sitting on chairs in front of the fire. Pansy was pacing anxiously, her eyes flicking from her watch to the door. When she spotted him she sighed, sinking onto the armrest of Blaise’s chair.

He tried to ignore the looks from a few of the other students as he made his way over to his friends. Between the plate of food and the loss of points, he didn’t imagine he was a particularly popular person this evening. Still, they gamely chatted amongst themselves, including Harry when they could, forming a buffer between the Boy Who Moped and the rest of the house.

Saturday morning, McGonagall made the rounds of the tables in the Great Hall, making a list of everyone that was going to Hogsmeade. Draco was in the middle of insisting that Harry make use of the One-Eyed Witch passageway from the Marauder’s Map, when one of the school owls landed abruptly in front of Harry.

Harry carefully untied the small note on its leg and offered it some eggs and sausage. It nibbled a bit of both before taking off again. He didn’t recognize the handwriting, but opened it up.

DEAR HARRY,
I AM AWARE THAT CURRENTLY YOU ARE NOT PERMITTED INTO HOGSMEADE WITH THE REST OF YOUR CLASSMATES. IT IS A SMALL CONSOLATION, BUT PERHAPS YOU WOULD CONSENT TO SPEND THE DAY WITH ME INSTEAD?
YOURS,
UNCLE MOONY

Harry immediately looked up at the Head Table. He’d been deliberately avoiding looking anywhere that Professor Snape might be. Lupin was seated at the far end of the table from the Potions Master. Looking worn, the lines on his face pronounced. But despite the dark circles, his eyes sparkled as he watched Harry read the letter.

Harry gave him a thumbs up and nodded. As he looked back down to his food, he caught sight of Professor Snape looking murderous. His appetite gone, he pushed his plate away. He’d not done anything wrong. Professor Lupin was not just one of his teachers, he was a close family friend. Still, there was no mistaking the betrayal in his eyes.

Ignoring the gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach, he turned to Draco. “You go ahead to Hogsmeade, it’s alright. I promise.” He dropped his voice slightly. “Uncle Moony wants to spend the day together.”

“As long as you’re sure I’m not leaving you alone,” Draco insisted.

“I promise, go. Be disgustingly cute with Fred. Have fun, and tell me all about it tonight?”

“Fine,” Draco hugged him before he stood up and hurried over to the Gryffindor table to tell Fred.

An hour later, Harry was knocking on Professor Lupin’s door. Lupin opened it with a smile. “Harry! I was thinking perhaps we might go for a walk? I know it’s a bit snowy, but we’ll bundle up, mm?” He produced two cloaks, one of which was Harry’s. “I hope you don’t mind, I took the liberty of asking one of the house elves to fetch yours for me.”

“Not at all, Uncle Moony.” The words felt strange on his tongue. The mere novelty of having an uncle he liked and respected would take time to wear off. There were still so many questions he had, but it would seem he was being given the opportunity to sate his curiosity, at least in part.

The grounds were covered in snow. A thick blanket had fallen overnight, giving everything a freshly frosted look. The trees lining the grounds were covered in a thin sheet of glass, giving them a crystalline appearance. They walked along in companionable silence for some time, skirting the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Finally, Lupin spoke.

“I cannot even begin to imagine all the questions that you have for me, but here, away from any prying eyes or over eager ears, I shall attempt to answer them to the best of my ability.”

Harry smiled gratefully. “I’ll be honest. I don’t quite know where to start. There is… there was one thing I’d been wanting to ask you about for a while, actually.” Lupin nodded, listening curiously. “At the beginning of term. Your first lesson, it was a brilliant one by the way, you stopped me from facing the Boggart. After the train, did you really think I was so fragile?”

“Oh… oh Harry no. That was never my intent. It occurred to me that your worst fear would be Lord Voldemort. And I was uncertain how your classmates would react to the spectre of him looming over them.”

Harry laughed sadly. “No… I actually didn’t even think about him. My first thought was the Dementor, from the train.”

Lupin put a hand on Harry’s shoulder, squeezing gently. “You show a wisdom beyond your years, Harry.” He continued when Harry looked at him, confused. “The thing you truly fear, is fear itself. Did you really think I believed you incapable of facing the Boggart?”

“What else was I supposed to think? Just when it was my turn, you quickly jumped in front of me and ended the lesson!”

He sighed, squeezing Harry’s shoulder again. “I am sorry. That was not at all my intention.”

“About the dementors…”

“Hmm?”

“The way you faced it, on the train. That’s the Patronus charm, right?” Lupin nodded. “I know it’s really advanced magic. And not something that people in my year would normally learn. But I would really, really like to learn how to defend myself against them.”

He stopped, searching Harry’s face with a keen expression. “It’s difficult, very difficult. There are many full grown wizards and witches who have never been able to cast it. Although, thankfully, nearly all of them will never have to.”

“I understand, it’s just… after the Quidditch match…”

“I understand. Promise that you will not be too distraught if you discover it is beyond your capabilities at the moment, and I will teach you the basics.”

“I promise, thank you. Really… I couldn’t take fainting in front of the whole school again.”

As they walked, Lupin explained that in some respects the Patronus charm worked similar to Riddikulus. It worked by turning the creature’s magic against it to a degree. With a Boggart who feeds on fear, the counter spell works by employing a complete lack of fear - laughter. Whereas the Dementor reaches the deepest darkest parts of the soul. Whatever horrific memories are locked away, the Dementor seeks to peel away the layers, exposing them, raw. And feeding on the pain it causes.

“So, to face a Dementor, the charm harnesses the power of your memories. Except the focus is on the happiest memory you can think of. Not, say, the memory of a favorite breakfast… but a truly, exquisitely blissful memory. It is that memory which powers the Patronus, a manifestation of your happiness, to repel the Dementor.

“The stronger, more completely you can hold that memory in your mind, the more powerful your Patronus. Keep in mind, while you are attempting to grasp onto the positive memories that the Dementor’s power is seeking to unleash the negative.”

Harry nodded, absorbing the information. It was similar to what he had read, but Lupin’s explanation, including the example of the Riddikulus spell, made it all the more clear. “You really are the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher we’ve ever had.”

Lupin burst out laughing, that strange, bark-like sound. “From what I’ve heard of your first two years, it would not be difficult to achieve.”

Draco didn’t make it back to the Common Room until nearly curfew. His face was flushed and his silver eyes sparkled. He dumped an entire sack of candy and sweets onto Harry’s lap before throwing himself onto the couch next to him.

“Mate, we’ve got to figure out how to get you to Hogsmeade. It’s absolutely brilliant. Picture Diagon Alley, but without all the grownups. I mean, there aren’t as many shops, but who cares… everywhere there is… well it’s brilliant!

Harry picked up a bag of black Pepper Imps, fiddling with the wrapping. “Where all did you go?”

“Three Broomsticks mostly.” His ears turned a fascinating shade of pink that crept across his neck. “Fred wanted to take me out for a proper lunch date.”

“They’re such an adorable couple,” Pansy curled up beside Harry, helping herself to his pile of sweets before throwing her legs over both their laps. “Zonko’s Joke Shop is still my favorite. I’m surprised Fred didn’t try and have them serve you lunch there. It seems like the sort of place they’d be completely at home.

“Yeah, but if we’d spent the whole day in Zonko’s then we wouldn’t have seen the ogre in the Three Broomsticks.”

They chatted along on either side of him. About new kinds of fudge, and samples if Pansy hadn’t accidentally eaten it. And all of the different owls at the post office, including some strange large birds, in case there was a letter that had to go off continent. He appreciated their attempts to include him, even though he found himself getting lost as they referred to things he’d never heard of and they’d forgotten to explain. He drifted asleep, sandwiched in between them, feeling like it might not be so difficult to find happy memories to repel a Dementor.

Chapter Text

Harry sent Hedwig off with his orders, instructing her to meet him at the Malfoy’s that evening instead of returning to Hogwarts. She ruffled her feathers, cooing happily at the thought. He suspected she enjoyed the large sprawling manor nearly as much as he did. He threw the last of his things into the trunk, and then went down to see Lupin with a slip of parchment in his hand.

He knocked on the door, letting himself into the room at the muffled “welcome” from the other side.

“All ready to take the train, Harry?”

“Nearly, there was just one more thing.” He held out the parchment and waited til the older man read it.

Lupin looked at the unfamiliar seal, carefully prying it open. The lines on his face slowly eased into shock, then wonder as he read. Looking up at Harry with bright eyes, he smiled. The transformation was incredible. He’d smiled before, a happy grin that never quite took over his features, but this smile was pure joy.

“I hope,” Harry grinned, already suspecting the answer, “I hope you’ll be free to accept, and join us on Christmas as well?”

“You’re certain,” he looked down at the script again before answering. “You’re certain that the Malfoys won’t mind?”

“Not at all. It was Draco who suggested it. Mr Malfoy owled me last night to extend the invitation.”

“That’s very kind of them. I remember them being rather reserved, private people.”

“His mum… Narcissa. She was. And they all kind of had to be, carry on the family name and traditions and all that. But she’s… well she’s in Azkaban for nearly killing Draco. And I think they’re a little bit different now. In a good way. More like… more like how they wanted to be I think. Anyway, the Ministry finally finished going through the Manor and let them back into the house. So they’re throwing a party for Christmas Eve, and then they have a room, so you can be with us for Christmas morning.” Harry practically bounced with excitement.

Lupin reached for a slip of parchment and a quill. “I will send him a note immediately, but yes, Harry. I would love to join you. Thank you, for including me.”

He hummed happily all the way to the carriages, making plans with Pansy and Blaise to Floo over to the Manor before the party started on Christmas Eve.

Christmas at the Malfoy’s this year was nothing like the two previous. It was still extravagant; Harry didn’t think it was possible for anything the Malfoys did to be less than over the top. It was in their nature, but rather than being arrogant, or condescending, there was a warmth to the festivities this year. The house elves all wore silver garments, embroidered with the family crest, and several had decorated theirs with sprigs of holly or mistletoe.

The piano in the main hall had been enchanted to play Christmas carols, and every evening at dusk a small flight of faeries circled the room, lending their voices to the music. Even the candles had a warmer glow, instead of casting eerie shadows in the rooms, and the Manor felt brighter, lighter.

Draco confided to Harry that the Ministry had confiscated an astonishingly large amount of Dark objects. They’d not just been confined to Narcissa’s private study and the dungeons below as previously thought, but had been woven throughout the house. Several paintings, ornamental suits of armor, and odds and ends had been removed. He’d not expressly noticed their depressing presence before, but now, free of them, the difference was palpable.

They spent lazy afternoons playing wizard’s chess, sipping warm butterbeer, and poring over Quidditch magazines. Lucius had provided a stack of magazines and reviews for Harry to look over, promising to order him a new broom before they returned to school.

All of a sudden it was Christmas Eve. Lucius had invited an entirely different group of people than those who had attended their last fete, Harry’s birthday, the previous year. Several of their school friends and family were still there, although, Harry noticed, there were quite a few absent as well. He was spared any further dwelling on the darker nature of his house with the arrival of Lupin through the Floo in the salon.

“Welcome, Uncle Moony!”

The older man wrapped Harry in a tight hug, adding one final crushing squeeze before he pulled away. “Probably best if we stick with ‘Uncle Lupin’ for now, Harry. Safer.”

“Right, sorry,” his smile faltered for a moment before he stooped to pick up Lupin’s well worn suitcase. “C’mon, I’ll show you where your room is.” They settled him in in the room next to Harry’s before making their way back down to the festivities.

Lupin was slightly anxious as he made his way over to the host to thank him for the invitation. Lucius, likewise, seemed somewhat reserved. Although, to both men’s credit they persevered and eventually were chatting easily.

It was well after midnight when the last guests Flooed away. Exhausted, Harry fell into bed, looking forward to the next day.

It snowed overnight, blanketing the manor and grounds and giving the entire estate a feeling of otherness. A stunningly high tree had been erected in the main lounge, and the windows, which Narcissa had always insisted remain covered with heavy drapes, let through the soft clear light of the Christmas sunrise.

On the table between the couches was a light tea, scones, and croissants, as well as a large kettle that steamed happily. Lucius was already seated near the windows, sipping his tea and looking outside with a strange expression on his face.

Suddenly, Harry realized how difficult this must be for him. He knew the man held little affection for Narcissa, but she was his wife, and Draco’s mother. While part of him must have been enjoying the freedom to live his life as he wished, without her casting a shadow on every part, there was also likely a part of him that struggled to accept this was how his life had turned out. Overcome with pity, Harry ignored the presents in favor of crossing the room and giving Lucius a hug. Startled out of his daydreams, Lucius jumped before lifting a hand to pat Harry’s arm.

“Thank you, sir. For… well for everything.”

Harry thought he saw the hint of a tear in Lucius’ eye before he smiled softly and replied. “You’re very welcome Harry.”

Draco had hung back at the entrance with Remus, giving his friend and father a moment, but as they pulled apart he bounded into the room. “Happy Christmas!”

“Indeed,” said Lucius, gesturing to the overstuffed stockings hung from the mantle.

The two boys happily tore into them while the adults had a light breakfast.

Before long the floor of the room was covered in discarded boxes and wrapping paper. Harry and Draco had a pile of presents each, while Lucius and Remus had a few thoughtful gifts.

“Just one left,” Draco called from under the tree. Pulling out a long, thin package. “It’s for Harry!”

Not seeing a card, Harry tore into it, revealing the gleaming handle of a Firebolt. He’d been drooling over pictures, and reading reviews, and had nearly settled on it. Although the cost of the newest Quidditch broomstick was daunting, even for him.

“Oh… wow. Thank you, Mr Malfoy.”

“It wasn’t from me, Harry.”

Harry’s gaze flicked to his uncle, who shook his head.

“A rather generous gift for someone who neglected to leave a card,” Remus mused.

“Unless they did not wish to be known. Don’t touch it!” Lucius snapped, just as Harry was about to pull it out. “Forgive me,” he said in answer to the crestfallen look on Harry’s face. “I know you do not wish to hear this, but there are… any number of enchantments, hexes and curses that can be woven onto an object. Some triggered at mere touch, still others, at a specific moment…”

They backed away from the broomstick cautiously. Lucius summoned Dobby, who cracked into the room wearing several pairs of antlers, a few with jinglebells attached.

“Master Malfoy be wanting Dobby, sir?”

“You oversaw the set up of the tree and gifts last night, is that correct?”

“Yessir!” Dobby’s eyes widened and his ears drooped, “Is… Is it not to the Master’s satisfaction? Dobby is sorry, Dobby will pun

“No, you will not. Even if you had done something wrong, that was my wife, that is not me. Do you understand?”

Dobby had almost crawled inside of the fireplace, and stopped, just shy of the hearth. “Yes sir, thank you sir. Master is always being most kind. What is it that Master be needing from Dobby?”

“Do you remember this gift here? No, don’t touch it.” Dobby turned and walked over, bending down to examine the wrappings.

“Yes sir, Dobby remembers. Dobby be talking to some of the house elves at Hogwarts, and a few of Harry Potter’s gifts had arrived there, sir. Dobby arranged for them to be brought here, was that… should Dobby not have been doing that?”

Lucius shook his head. “No, no, that was wonderful thinking on your part Dobby. Thank you for being so organized. That is all, thank you.”

The house elf beamed, bowing low, and vanished without a sound. Lucius and Remus studied the package, pursing their lips. They talked quietly, occasionally looking as though they were about to cast a spell, and then changing their minds.

“It was from Hogwarts,” Remus finally said.

Lucius nodded, “I am personally loathe to inform the headmaster, or invite him into my home.” Remus quirked a brow at this but made no comment. “Perhaps…”

Remus wrinkled his nose but nodded. “Mmm, I think so too.”

Lucius crossed to the mantle and took the lid off an elaborately carved silver box. Taking a pinch of Floo Powder, he dropped it into the fire. “Severus Snape’s quarters at Hogwarts.” The flames blazed bright green, before settling back down. “Severus?” he called when the fire had finished spurting.

Severus was curled up in front of his fire, a soft green throw across his lap, with a book in one hand, a cup of tea with a generous splash of whiskey in the other. The sudden activity in his fireplace startled him, as he was not the sort of person who generally received Happy Christmas Floo calls. At the sound of Lucius’ voice calling him, a cold hand closed around his heart.

He’d heard of their plans to have Harry spend the Christmas at Malfoy Manor. He’d even overseen some of the protective wards himself. It was dangerous, with Black on the loose, to let the boy roam freely, he knew that Lucius would not allow the boys to wander out of the house. More concerning was the presence of the werewolf, although they were still a week removed from the full moon.

Lupin, although not one of his direct tormentors, had oft stood by and let Black and Potter harass him, doing nothing to intervene, a crime nearly as egregious in his mind. He knew Harry would find out about Lupin’s connection to his parents eventually. Had suspected for some time, confirmed, when he heard Harry talking excitedly about ‘Uncle Moony’ on his way to Defense Class.

Anger, at offenses long past, had gotten the better of him, and he’d struck into Harry ruthlessly in class. The knowledge at how childish his behavior only fueled the rage. He’d intended to send the boy a note over the holidays, requesting a meeting once they’d returned to school. Now, the thought that something had happened, that his last interaction with Harry had been so confrontational clawed at his throat, threatening to close off his airway entirely.

“Lucius, what happened?” It took a considerable amount of effort to speak. “Is Har…”

“He’s fine, everyone’s fine.” Lucius cut him off, reassuring him.

Severus pinched the bridge of his nose with long, slender fingers. He closed his eyes, forcing himself to fill his lungs. Lucius was still talking.

“There is… a matter we need to consult with you on. We, would prefer not to bother other parties which may be concerned.” Lucius’ tone was clipped, careful. They’d suspected more than once that Dumbledore monitored any and all communication in and out of Hogwarts, whatever the method.

“Ahh, of course. I shall be through promptly.” Severus set his tea down, realizing that a shaking hand had spilled a great deal of it over his trousers. He cursed under his breath and hurried into his bedchamber to change.

Harry and Draco sat on the loveseat near the window, trying to distract themselves while waiting. For Harry, the wait was agonizing. Not because of the Firebolt, although that was certainly a part of it. No, he was not looking forward to seeing his Head of House. Sitting in the back, head down during Potions, and tucking himself away at the far back of the table in the Great Hall, he’d managed to avoid the man since shouting at him and his subsequent detention. Now, he was going to be in the same room as the cause of his difficulties.

At first glance, Lupin appeared to be at ease, although closer inspection would reveal he was also somewhat apprehensive at facing his former classmate.

Finally, the floo flared again, and Severus Snape stepped gracefully out of the fire. Dressed in tailored grey slacks and a black shirt, untucked, with his hair pulled back, he had his wand out as he entered the room.

“Thank you, Severus. We, did not wish to involve the Headmaster, but as the item was sent here from Hogwarts, we believed it prudent…”

“To involve a head of House instead. What has happened?”

“A gift, for Harry, with no note or identifying markings. It was sent to Hogwarts originally, as Lucius said. But one of his house elves had Harry’s gifts redirected here.”

Severus turned his dark eyes to Remus as he spoke, several emotions flashing across his face. His gaze flicked just once across the room to Harry before he spoke again. “And you think it came from…”

“Black, yes.” Remus faced him, daring him to say something.

To his credit, Severus remained silent. Turning instead to examine the package. He prodded at the wrappings, muttering under his breath. After a moment he stood and sighed, straightening invisible creases from his trousers. “I am unable to detect anything.”

Harry and Draco gave a whoop from the couch and rushed towards the broom. He held them back with a single hand. “However,” he continued. “I cannot definitively say that it is free from tampering. I am sorry, Harry.” His tone was kinder, softer than it had been all term except for perhaps the first week of class.

“Would either of you have a contact, or two, that we could ask to look over the broom. Discretely of course, and beyond reproach?”

Remus shook his head. “I am afraid I do not have many connections at all, and none that I would trust with this.”

Severus looked thoughtful. “There is a place that I could take it, although they would not be available at this hour on Christmas Day. I will take it there first thing in the morning.”

“You’re taking me with you.” Harry stepped in front of Severus, his green eyes bright with defiance, daring the older man to deny him.

“Harry, I’m not sure that’s the safest…” Remus began.

“Where we are going is likely one of the safest places in the entire world. Harry, if you wish to accompany me, you may.”

Harry looked stunned, as though he hadn’t expected his demand to be agreed to. At least not so quickly and without any conditions.

“I’m coming too,” Draco insisted.

But Severus shook his head. “While Spindleshaft Lane is arguably one of the safest places in the world, there is still the matter of travel. While I can guarantee Harry’s safety, I cannot do so for the pair of you. And,” he raised a hand as Draco prepared to counter. “I believe a party any larger than two would be unnecessary, and difficult to manage, given the… unique nature of the Lane.”

Remus nodded in understanding while Draco looked murderous. He sulked off. Harry was tempted to chase after him, but instead, Severus asked quietly if he could have a word. With a final glance at the hall his friend had stormed down, Harry followed the Potions Master to a small study.

Despite his agreement to bring him along tomorrow, Harry was still apprehensive around the man. He took up a position at the far side of the room, next to a large bookcase. He folded his arms across his chest, his face sullen and closed off.

Harry’s stance bothered Severus more than he was willing to admit. He’d never wanted the boy to hate him, and he feared their confrontation in Potions had done irreparable damage. After a long, awkward pause, it was Severus who spoke first.

“I’m sorry, Harry.”

Harry’s posture relaxed ever so slightly, but he refrained from replying.

“I am a bitter, difficult old man,” Severus admitted, seeing a spark of humor in Harry’s expression he nodded. The words were surprisingly easy to say. “My behavior was inexcusable, and so I shall not attempt to offer explanation or justification. Only a repeated apology, and an assurance that I shall not repeat my actions.”

“I don’t like fighting with you.” Harry spoke finally, his words just above a whisper.

“Nor I you.” He paused for a long time. “I must be honest, Lupin’s condition is still cause for concern to me. Although he has shown himself to be a very considerate godfather. I cannot imagine it was easy for him to request my…”

His words finally registered with Harry, who looked at Severus in surprised. “Godfather?”

“Ah… yes. He did not tell you, I am sorry Harry. It… was not my place. If you agree not to leave, and to listen, I will explain some of it to you.”

Harry considered for a moment. He was still not entirely sure that Snape was trustworthy, and yet his desire for answers eventually won out. “I’ll listen. I can’t promise I’m going to like it, but I’ll listen.”

Severus nodded. “That is fair.” He took a deep breath, uncertain how the other would respond to the information. “When you were born, your parents named both Lupin and Black godparents.” Harry paled, but he continued. “After Black’s betrayal, and murder of Peter Pettigrew and a dozen Muggles, he was sent to Azkaban and stripped of all of his rights. By rights… Remus Lupin should have taken custody of you. As far as I am aware, Dumbledore had that section of your will declared invalid. Lupin is not, strictly speaking, human.”

“But they knew that!” Harry exploded angrily. “Dad knew, I am betting Mum did too. They wanted me to go to him anyways! How dare he? How dare he steal my family from me. I hate him! Hate him!”

Severus could feel the wild magic growing, centered around Harry. It was rare, but it did happen. Especially when particularly angry, as he had every right to be. He wished that Draco, or Lupin, or even perhaps Lucius was there and could comfort him. But by the time he retrieved someone, it would likely be too late, and Harry would have brought the room down on him, if not the wing of the manor.

He wrapped his arms around Harry, pinning his arms to his side, and holding him tight. Murmuring soft words of comfort into the curly black hair, he held tight. Eventually the sensations of magic across his skin ceased, but Harry still held on tightly. When he finally did let go, he blushed brightly, embarrassed, and stepped back.

“Sorry,” he sniffed, taking off his glasses to clear the smudges. When he had composed himself again he sat down on the settee and took a deep breath. “How can we fight it?”

Severus remained standing in front of him, hands clasped behind his back. “As you are no doubt aware, Dumbledore has taken a heavy interesting in your… ‘well being’.” At that Harry scoffed, but Severus continued. “It is possible, now that Lupin has resurfaced, that something may be done.”

“We’re going to catch Black. All of us. And when we do, I’m going to make that manipulative old bastard give me my freedom.”

Dark eyes flashed with pride, and he hummed his approval. “A bold plan, and it is difficult to argue at the fairness of it. However… do not mistake how much Dumbledore has invested in shaping you to be what he needs. He has arranged his board just so, and you are the key to his plans.”

“Capturing Black has to be good for something. If I can’t resist walking through his plans, then at the very least I’m going to get something for my trouble.”

“I will lend whatever assistance I can. I will not be coy, it will bring me no small measure of satisfaction to see him brought to justice once again.” Severus’ voice had a dark undertone that sent a shiver through Harry.

They were interrupted by a quiet knock at the door. “Master Malfoy be asking Dobby to tell the Masters that food is ready.”

The rest of day passed quietly. Lucius stored the broomstick in one of their vaults, carefully warded. Severus accepted their invitation to spend the night, as he and Harry would be leaving after breakfast the next morning.

Chapter Text

After a quiet and somewhat tense breakfast, Snape had the Firebolt brought from the vaults, still carefully wrapped and warded. Both Harry and Draco looked at it longingly but Snape kept it well out of reach as he waited for Harry to take his leave from a sullen-looking Draco. Snape offered his free arm to Harry and led him to the Apparition point in the courtyard. With a loud crack, he side-alonged Harry to Diagon Alley.

“This way, Harry.” Severus pulled him gently along towards one of the side lanes that branched off from the main road. There were not many people milling about this early in the morning the day after Christmas, but the pair kept their hoods pulled up, shadowing their faces as they moved through the streets. Without a word, Snape continued to lead him down this alley and that back lane, until Harry had completely given up trying to recall their path.

Harry had never realized there was so much more to Diagon Alley. He knew it had a few offshoots, most notably Knockturn Alley, but he’d always assumed most of the side roads were dead ends. So lost in his meandering thoughts, Harry nearly missed the push of magic until it was completely around him. Not oppressive, just There. As he focused on it he realized that the magic had a sentience to it. It brushed up against his magic and he looked over at Snape, concerned. Slightly more at ease, he let the strange magic wash over him as they wove deeper into the maze.

As it enveloped him he felt a sense of calm and safety. The feeling nearly brought tears to his eyes, but the emotion was replaced with amazement as he realized where they now stood. It was equal parts the same and opposite from Diagon Alley. His first impression of Diagon Alley had been that it was the most magical place in the entire world. The shops, customers, every aspect of it was so far removed from the Muggle world. Spindleshaft Lane was all that, and more. There was an authenticity to the magic and its inhabitants that Diagon Alley lacked, although he couldn’t put his finger on what precisely it was that gave it that feel. The Lane boasted a host of shops, from a patisserie that made Harry’s stomach growl although he’d finished a hearty breakfast not thirty minutes before to a tea shoppe that featured large, overstuffed chairs spilling out of the front onto the cobblestone street and teapots that filled themselves and bookshelves that stretched impossibly high.

Everywhere he looked he saw something that pulled his attention or was begging to be explored, in particular a large flower shoppe that was surrounded with beautiful blossoms that were growing despite the season. In fact, Harry realized as he followed Snape in removing his heavy outer cloak, the entire area was unseasonably warm. Witches and wizards, and a couple creatures Harry couldn’t identify, all dressed for summer, loitered about a large open square lit by small multicolored flames in jars that floated between large birch trees. In the far corner a tiny witch with bright pink hair played the violin, dancing and twirling as she did so.

Harry stopped, transfixed. “What. IS. This?” he stammered, unable to hold it in any longer.

Severus smiled, and Harry momentarily forgot he had asked anything. It was the most genuine smile he’d ever seen from the strict Potions Master. The older man was relaxed, seeming years younger, the spirit of the place working its magic. “After we drop off your Firebolt we can get a cup of tea and I will tell you about the magic that is Spindleshaft Lane.”

Harry’s gaze dropped to the wrapped broom, an unpleasant reminder of the true purpose of their visit to this wondrous place. He felt a bit of a knot in the pit of his stomach. “Whatever they’re going to do… it’s not going to… to hurt it, is it?”

“Without knowing the true nature of the spells and enchantments on the broom, if in fact there are any, it is difficult to know.” He paused at the pained look on Harry’s face and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “We will ask Aren to inform us of every step, and hopefully that is not a decision that we will have to make.”

Harry nodded, not entirely appeased by the answer, but knowing it was the best that could be offered at this time. They continued, passing a stationary store with a beautiful display of leather-bound journals and extravagant quills. At the end of the row was an eclectic looking store with a fascinating display of oddities in the front window. On the door hung a large sign:

TODAY I AM: they

Harry looked at it, confused, and felt Severus turn to face him. “Please, endeavor not to embarrass me Harry.” His voice was low. “Aren is genderfluid, meaning that they do not specifically identify as male or female all the time. Some days they may identify as one, or the other, both, or none.” He gestured to the sign, “Today Aren is ‘they’. I am not sure what their appearance will be.” With that, he pushed the door open, sending a soft chime through the shop.

The shop was cheerfully lit with red, green, and white holiday lights hovering just below the ceiling. The floor was a mix of counters and displays. Everywhere Harry looked was something different. There were brooms and cauldrons, a pair of knitting needles that were furiously knitting a long scarf, several clocks with more dials, hands, and symbols than he’d ever seen in his life, and more he couldn’t begin to recognize or guess their purpose. At the far end from the door was a massive wall of boxes, stacked in a manner so as to deny every known law of physics. In front of it stood a figure, back to the door, with their wand raised, carefully levitating a large box onto a shelf. As Harry and Severus stepped inside, they waved their free hand, but continued to concentrate as the box slowly slid into place. Once it was settled into place, they turned, a bright smile on their face.

Harry wasn’t sure what he had expected the owner of the shop to look like. He understood Severus’ explanation, he thought. Truthfully he’d not given much, really any, thought to gender before. He knew Pansy liked to paint her nails, and on particularly slow evenings with little homework (or far too much) she would grab him, Draco, or Blaise and paint their nails. Mostly toes, although he’d spied Blaise sporting colorful, manicured nails more than once. Aren had long, painted fingernails as well. A deep blue, with white snowflakes on them that seemed to dance and shift. Curly silver hair fell in waves to their shoulders, and a beard that would have rivaled Dumbledore’s was neatly groomed and nearly touched the floor. Navy close-fitted robes revealed a straight build and stopped short of a pair of spiky silver heels. “Happy Holidays, Severus!” Aren said, leaning forward to kiss Severus on the cheek and smile warmly at the pair of them.

“You too, Aren,” Severus replied. “This is Harry Potter.”

Harry took the outstretched hand and shook it, smiling back at the infectious grin. “Nice to meet you.”

“The pleasure’s mine,” they said. Looking back to Severus they arched a thin eyebrow, “But I don’t think this is a social call.”

Severus nodded and laid the wrapped broomstick carefully on the nearest clear counter. “I am afraid not. Harry has been sent and anonymous gift for Christmas and… well…”

Aren’s face was immediately interested and they circled around to eye the package curiously, letting a hand hover over the wrappings they nodded, “Of course, of course. Wise, having it looked over. Could you release your wards?”

Drawing his wand from his sleeve, Severus waved it once. Harry had braced himself, expecting it to trigger something, but other than a light brush of the man’s magic there was nothing.

Wand in one hand, Aren moved the wrapping aside, revealing the gleaming handle of the Firebolt.

“A rather expensive gift to send anonymously,” they commented, pulling out a pair of glasses from under the counter. To each side of the frames were multiple colored lenses that could be lifted and lowered in any combination. Perching them on their nose, they pulled the green and orange lenses down, peering at the broom.

“Before you do anything… drastic, please owl “Mr. Potter, Care of: the Malfoys”. As always, your discretion is appreciated.”

“Of course,” Aren huffed, not taking their eyes from the broomstick as they switched the lenses to blue and purple, pulling on their beard as they worked. “Insulted you even mentioned it.”

Severus chuckled, “I’m afraid Harry’s safety is worth far more to me than a small insult. However, what would you say to a bottle of the lily-rose oil you are so fond of, in addition to your usual fee?”

“For that, you could stand here and insult me all day.”

“Another time, perhaps,” Severus said dryly, making his way towards the door. Aren waved them off, engrossed in their work.

Once they had settled themselves into a pair of overstuffed chairs outside of Iris’ Tea Story, underneath a bower of the store’s namesake, Severus began to explain.

“Spindleshaft Lane is not protected by spells, per se. At least not any that a witch or wizard would be capable of casting. It began as a sort of haven for some of the wizarding world’s more eclectic elements, tucked off to the side from Diagon Alley. I theorize that over time, the area began to take on some of the magic of its inhabitants. Fed by their acceptance and tolerance of all kinds, the fierce desire to protect themselves, and their way of life, it developed a sentience of sorts, pulling itself outside of the world, much the same way I believe as Avalon did, once upon a time.”

Harry listened, his tea forgotten, as Severus continued.

“You cannot find it on any map, and you cannot find it until it finds you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You felt it, when we were walking here. The subtle touch of magic. If the Lane accepts you, the alleyway that you are in will lead you here. If it does not, then you will wander around some before finding yourself back in Diagon Alley. The Lane knows who needs it, who will cherish what it has to offer, and keep it safe. Those who would seek to disrupt the safe haven here will never be able to find it.”

“I don’t suppose there’s an apartment for rent?” Harry said, only partially kidding. The magic of the place was intoxicating. The freedom and safety… He could not understand why Severus could live anywhere else, knowing this place existed.

Severus laughed, Spindleshaft’s magic slowly easing some of the tension out of his face and making him look years younger. “It is tempting, I know. Many times I have considered taking up a flat here and never leaving. There are many who do, like Aren. But… I cannot. Not just yet. Although the dream of retiring here, opening an Apothecary shop, and never seeing Albus Dumbledore again...” he waved his hand airily as he trailed off.

Harry burst out laughing, earning a few glances from some of the other patrons. But they merely smiled, and a few nodded when he looked over at them, embarrassed. He picked up his tea, surprised to find it still at perfect temperature, and took a sip.

“What are you waiting for?”

Instead of answering right away, Severus sipped on his own tea. “I could not allow Albus Dumbledore to continue down his path unimpeded. As one intimately familiar with the art of manipulation, I began to see his maneuverings early on. I could not stand by and see him tie you up with strings and make you dance.”

Harry could easily see Dumbledore in the role of Puppet Master. Hiding behind the scenery, tugging this string and that to tell the story he wanted. It was an image that suited the Headmaster far better than the Chess Master that he pretended to be. A warm feeling settled in his chest, that Severus had sacrificed a quiet life in exchange for protecting him. “Thank you.” The words felt inadequate, were inadequate, to convey just what Harry wanted to say. However they were the only words that came to mind.

“You’re welcome, Harry.”

They finished their tea in silence, each one lost in thought. Eventually, Severus stood. “If you wish, we can explore the Lane a little further… unless you wish to return to Malfoy Manor. I am certain Draco is eager for your return.”

“I’d like to stay a bit longer, sir. If that’s alright. It’s…” Words failed Harry once again as he tried to express the sense of weariness that had lifted upon arriving.

Thankfully, once again, Severus understood. “Of course. I shall allow you to lead the way.”

Harry wandered from shop to shop, picking up a few gifts even though Christmas had just passed. It wasn’t often, truly never, that he got a chance to wander and shop freely. He reveled in the atmosphere, the mix of people all working and living together. This was what the Wizarding world was supposed to be like.

Chapter Text

Other than the excitement surrounding the broom, the holidays at Malfoy Manor were relatively quiet. Both Severus and Remus accepted Lucius’ offer to stay and it seemed as though the time away from the site of their youthful conflict had a healing effect on their relationship. They were unlikely to ever become fast friends, but when Remus left the Manor early to return to Hogwarts before the full moon Severus had pulled him aside for a hushed conversation. Severus handed the other man a vial which Remus took, a look of wonder and gratefulness on his face. Curious as he was, Harry was quite sure his own relationship with the Potions Master had not healed enough to allow him to pry.

After the quiet company of Malfoy Manor, the return to Hogwarts was a bit jarring. Harry found his mind often returning to the peace and sanctuary of Spindleshaft Lane. They hadn’t been back, but Aren had sent several owls to Harry, detailing their work on the broom. The letters were shown to Remus, Lucius and Severus, who all refused Harry’s urging to respond with a request to rush the work. Draco had at least recovered from his upset at not being included in the trip to Spindleshaft Lane, which was initially made slightly worse upon Harry’s return and rapt description of the wonders of the area.

At every meal Harry waited anxiously for Lupin’s appearance at the Head Table, determined to secure a date for the promised lessons on the Patronus Charm. Finally, on Thursday, he took his place, looking tired and worn, although markedly more relaxed than Harry had ever seen him following the full moon. Shortly after he sat down, Hedwig appeared with a soft hoot. He rubbed her head gently, feeding her some of his toast as he untied the letter and felt bad that he’d not given her much to do. His friends all had their own owls and kept them busy with letters home. He stifled a giggle at the thought of sending Vernon and Petunia a letter about his day, and having it delivered by owl no less. As entertaining as their reactions to such a thing might be there was no way he’d put Hedwig in that kind of danger. Merlin only knew what Vernon would do. The thought sobered him up quickly, the giggle dying in his throat. Curious as to who would be using his owl, he unrolled the letter. It was from Lupin; he looked up to see a questioning smile on the man’s face as he watched his godson. Harry skimmed the note, it proposed a first lesson that evening, after dinner. He looked up again and flashed Lupin a grin, nodding his head eagerly. Excited as he was by the prospect of finally learning the Patronus Charm and spending more time with his godfather Harry missed the dark eyes that had watched the interaction intently.

Severus carefully kept his face neutral as he saw Lupin watching the boy, ignoring the twist of displeasure as Harry seemed so pleased by whatever it was they had arranged. It did not require Legilimency to see that they’d arranged a meeting, and a cold twist of jealousy wrapped itself firmly around him. He was fiercely protective of anything he deemed his and the events of this year made it clear to him that along the way he’d begun to think of Harry in those terms. Over Christmas he and the wolf had come to a bit of an unspoken truce. He’d finally offered him his altered version of the Wolfsbane Potion. Dumbledore had insisted that he provide the potion for Lupin, but Severus had stubbornly made the basic version. Over the years he had fiddled with and tweaked the formula so as to ease the physical pain of the transition. It was far more complex to brew than the already intense method required for the potion, and he was certain only a handful of Potions Masters in the world would even consider attempting it.

Severus knew he had a choice. Harry was going to spend time with his godfather. Although he had expressly warned him not to, after Lucius invited the man to spend Christmas with them at the Manor there was little he could do. It had been an uncomfortable conversation between himself and Lucius when Severus had discovered this. Truthfully, he did not particularly trust the wolf. Logic would dictate that Black had help getting into the castle, and who better to help him than his fiancé? But he was far better poised to keep an eye on the situation from within, however uncomfortable he might be.

Oblivious to the Potions Master, Harry gave Hedwig a final pat and a promise to visit her later and find something for her to do before sending her on her way. With the eager anticipation of his lesson that evening, the rest of the day seemed to drag on. He shoveled down his dinner, gulping the glass of pumpkin juice before waving off his friends and hurrying to the classroom they’d had their first Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson.

Lupin was leaning against one of the desks when he arrived, arms crossed over his chest, wearing the plaid scarf that Lucius and Draco had given him for Christmas. He looked relaxed, almost happy. He greeted Harry with a smile, and then stood, pushing back his long sleeves. “Ready to get to work?”

Harry nodded eagerly, “Can’t wait, Uncle Moony.”

Lupin smiled, clearly pleased. “First, the spell itself. You remember what I told you before. The spell is complex, far more complex than anyone would expect you to know at this age, at any age, really. Most grown witches and wizards cannot conjure a Patronus, at least not a fully corporeal one.”

“Corporeal?”

“The Patronus charm conjures a shield, a projection of the positive memory for the Dementor to feed on. In rare cases, for a particularly powerful caster, the hope and happiness, the desire to survive, coalesce to form a creature. A being made of pure light that overwhelms the Dementor, fending them off.”

“What’s yours?” The question slipped out before Harry could stop himself. He blushed, ducking his head. “You don’t… it’s personal. I’m sorry.”

Lupin reached out a hand and squeezed his shoulder gently. “I’d have been surprised if you didn’t ask. As you already know my secret, there’s no harm in showing you. Besides, a practical demonstration would likely be helpful.” He moved to the center of the room, which Harry belatedly noticed had been cleared of desks. Pulling his wand from the belt holster, Lupin took a moment to center himself. With Harry there, looking so much like James, knowing his secret and accepting him anyways, it was not difficult for him to think of a happy memory. “Expecto Patronum!” A burst of silver-white light shot from the tip of his wand as it had on the train. But instead of hanging like a mist, it swirled and twisted until it took the shape of a large wolf. The shoulder of the beast nearly matched Harry’s, and he unconsciously edged back as it paced in a circle around the room, its eyes surprisingly intelligent. Finding no Dementors, it came to sit beside Lupin.

“Wow,” Harry said, unable to think of a better word.

Lupin smiled fondly at his Patronus, then flicked his wand, dismissing it. The huge wolf faded into a swirl of white mist and then was gone. “Now, have you been thinking of a memory?”
Harry nodded. He’d been mulling over his life since he first came to Hogwarts. He automatically dismissed the years he’d thought he was a Muggle, living with the Dursleys. Finally, he’d decided on the memory of the first time he’d ridden a broom, and had spent a bit of time over the last week working to solidify the memory in his mind. The sensation of being so high in the air, the wind rushing past him, the exhilaration and freedom… the unbridled magic of it all.

“The incantation itself is simple, but channeling the power of the memory into the spell is not so easy. Repeat after me, Expecto patronum.”

Harry repeated the phrase, Lupin correcting the intonation and inflection. Finally, he pulled out his wand. Closing his eyes, he pulled the memory to the forefront of his thoughts. When he could feel the wind rushing over his skin, he cast the spell. “Expecto patronum!” He felt the familiar tingle of magic across his skin, pulling something from inside of him and down through the wand where a slip of light burst from the tip.

“Well done!” Lupin exclaimed, clapping him on the back. “Very impressive!”

They spent the next hour practicing the spell with varied degrees of success. By the end of the evening Harry was exhausted. Lupin handed him a large chunk of chocolate and motioned for him to sit down. “Tiring, I know. This kind of magic… it takes a lot out of the caster.”

Harry nodded, the chocolate already making him feel better.

“Technically, the chocolate is supposed to work to restore some of the warmth after Dementors. But I’ve found it to be restorative after too much magical exertion as well.”

“So, what’s next?” Harry asked. “Obviously casting the spell here in, away from danger… it’s not the same.” He felt a chill, shivering as he continued. “I’m going to have to face a real Dementor eventually.”

Lupin crossed his legs, fingers drumming a rhythm on his knee. “Eventually, perhaps. But not for a good long while if I have anything to say about it. I have found another Boggart. Scoured the castle, and now he’s trapped in a chest in my office. When you’re ready, you can practice on him.”

“Maybe next week,” Harry said.

Nodding, Lupin stood. “I believe it is time for you to return to your Common Room. Well done tonight, Harry.”

Harry couldn’t decide what pleased him more. The Patronus lessons, or his restored relationship with his head of house. Friday morning a dark falcon perched on his shoulder as he sat down to breakfast. It dropped an envelope into his hand and flew off without waiting for a treat. Inside was a slip of parchment, offering to finally begin his dueling lessons with Professor Snape on Sundays, after breakfast. He looked up to the head table to see Severus watching him through a curtain of long black hair, the falcon now perched on his shoulder. Much as he had done with Lupin, Harry nodded his agreement. Severus smiled briefly in acknowledgment and returned to his breakfast.

It would be a bit of a juggle. Keeping up with his classes, thrice weekly Quidditch practices, and now two extra lessons per week. But he wasn’t going to give up any of them, even though each time he attended practice it was with a painful reminder of the shattered remains of his Nimbus 2000. And of his Firebolt, locked away in Spindleshaft Lane with Aren experimenting on it. The school brooms he was forced to use were… adequate, at best. They did fly, and mostly in a straight line, although they were neither as fast or responsive as his Nimbus had been.

When Flint had heard that Harry got a Firebolt for Christmas the dour-faced captain looked positively elated. The familiar grimace had returned quickly when he heard the situation. Harry had to beg him not to pester Snape about it, knowing such annoyances would only strain his newly repaired relationship with his Head of House. Snape was even more invested in winning the Quidditch Cup than Flint was, and Harry knew that if there was any possible way that he would get his broom back, Snape would see it done.

Chapter Text

When Harry arrived at his first dueling lesson Snape was clad in the same outfit he’d worn for the dueling demonstration last year. With his long black hair pulled back and tied at the nape of his neck, his face looked younger. The sharp lines of his cheekbones were aristocratic rather than gaunt. Perfectly tailored dark leather trousers and a tight vest revealed a trim figure that was always concealed under several layers of billowing robes. Without the additional layers of fabric, the smoothness of the man’s movements were amplified as he walked into the room. Idly, Harry thought it was a rather good thing that he did not dress this way for teaching as the overall effect was rather distracting. The thought took him by surprise and he blushed, ducking his head and pulling at the sweater he wore, hoping that the older man hadn’t noticed.
Snape arched an eyebrow at Harry’s obviously flustered expression, but mercifully did not comment. Once he’d managed to pull himself together Snape handed over a cloth wrapped package. “For you.”

“I… thank you. I mean, I didn’t…”

The Potions Master shook his head, “A gift loses meaning if it is given with the expectation of receiving one in return.” He gestured for Harry to open it.

Harry tugged at the silver ribbon that wound around the black linen fabric, revealing a beautiful dark green journal that hummed with magic. Embossed into the rich leather were a pair of snakes, the head of each eating the tail of the other. Placed on top was a silvery quill.
“The journal has been enchanted for you alone. Only your voice will unlock the spell, once keyed, allowing the book to open. The spell is Aitheantas, and speaking it in parseltongue to the snakes will bind the book to you. It is also the spell used to unlock the book.” Severus waited, indicating with a wave that Harry should do so.

Reverently, Harry pulled the book completely free of the wrappings. The snakes shivered at his touch, and two pairs of pale yellow, unblinking eyes looked up at him. “Hello,” he hissed in greeting, and felt the magic surrounding the book swirl slightly. “Aitheantas.” He hissed the spell at them and they came alive. Thrumming with magic, they released their tails and slithered in tandem towards the spine of the book. He felt them finally come to a rest and the book seemed to unlock.

“When you are finished with the book, speak the words seala fein and the snakes will take up their original position, sealing the book. The quill is self-inking, making it rather useful in a number of situations, I have found.”

Harry stroked the spine of the book, feeling the magical warmth of the two snakes under his fingertips. “Th-thank you, Professor Snape… I... I… they’re beautiful.”

Snape smiled, straightening his vest and nodding in acknowledgment. “You are welcome. I had thought perhaps that you could use the journal for our lessons, as dueling is equal parts art and science. However you are free to use the journal however you wish.”

“That’s perfect, sir. Thank you.”

“After each round you will take notes about which spells were used and their effect. Reviewing duels at a later date can be quite revealing. Both for your own tendencies, and that of your opponent. The more detailed you are about the duel, the more useful the information will be. You may set it on the table there for now.”

For the first time, Harry looked around the room. Unlike nearly every other room at Hogwarts, the walls were completely bare. Not a single painting or poster donned the walls. Heavy curtains were drawn across the windows along one wall, and the room was lit by several candles, floating near the tall ceiling like those in the Great Hall. It was devoid of furniture as well, another oddity for a Hogwarts classroom, except for a small table with two chairs, pushed up against the far wall. As Harry moved to set the book and quill down, Snape warded the door carefully, and once Harry stepped back from the table, he warded that as well.

“Now,” Snape began to stalk around the room, wand in hand, his pace even and measured. “Professor Flitwick has told me of your prowess with the Protego shield when faced with the Expelliarmus spell.” He twirled his wand and Harry gripped his tighter, unconsciously dropping his stance into a crouch, preparing for an attack. Instead, Snape continued to circle. “But just how it deflects other spells can vary, and you will have to feel for yourself how your shield will react. Locomotor Mortis!” He’d flicked his wand and had cast the spell almost before Harry had realized the curse was coming.

“Protego!” Harry shouted, getting the shield up just in time to deflect the incoming curse and send it flying towards the wards around the table.

Snape chuckled lowly, but sent another hex careening into Harry’s shield, knocking him off balance. Unable to do anything else, Harry found himself constantly on the defensive as Snape didn’t quit. Hex after hex struck the shields until finally the Tarantellegra charm pushed its way through the shield, shattering it as Harry began to dance around the room.

“Bollocks!”

“Language, Potter.”

Harry humphed as he tap danced past a smirking Snape. “A little help, professor?”

“Finite Incantatum,” Snape pointed his wand at Harry and he came to a halt. He lifted the wards surrounding the table and motioned for Harry to sit.

Walking across the room Harry could still feel his legs twitching just a little, wanting to keep dancing. Snape tapped the table, summoning a tea service and proceeded to pour while Harry whispered a quiet hello to the snakes before turning the journal over to the first page and beginning to write. He dated the entry, listed his opponent, and began to record as many details as he could about the duel.

Snape crossed his legs, leaning back in his chair a little, and sipped his tea as Harry wrote. “Remember to note any and all impressions of how the spell felt hitting the shield. How much energy you felt they took, for example. Knowing which ones are costly in terms of your magical reserves can give you an indication of how long you can afford to allow a duel to continue on.”
Harry nodded, going back and adding a few further details. His tea was cool by the time he finished writing and spoke the spell to seal the journal, but a tap of Snape’s wand had it heated again and he took it gratefully. “Sir?” he asked.

“Hmm?” Snape looked at him over the lip of his own tea cup, fingers wrapped around the china.

“Where did you learn all… this?”

Snape uncrossed and recrossed his long legs, running a hand over the fitted leather as he readjusted his position in his chair. “There is a long tradition of magical dueling in the Wizarding world. Particularly amongst pureblood families and those of a certain status. Or anyone who wishes to aspire to those circles.” A subtle note in his voice on the last sentence led Harry to believe he belonged to the latter group. “It is an organization similar, I believe, to fencing in the Muggle world. There are tournaments and competitions, quite a bit of pomp and ceremony. It is not, I think, quite as popular now as it once was, although there are still active participants. In my younger days I enjoyed the pursuit. The art as much as the skill. There is a finesse to dueling, the engagement of the mind, which is something I require in a hobby.”

“Do you still duel? I’d love to watch.”

He did not answer immediately. He sighed, hands going to the tie holding back his hair and he pulled it loose. Shaking it free, he ran his long fingers through the locks and sighed again. “No, I do not.” Snape closed his eyes, the silky voice was hollow as he continued. “After the war was over, anyone who possessed the Dark Mark was forbidden from participating.”

“That’s ridiculous! You were a spy! How can they not let you compete because of that?”

The only sound in the room was the soft clink of the tea cup as Snape set it down, a slender finger tracing around the edge as though he drew comfort from the simple tactile sensation. “I was not always a spy, Harry.” The words hung heavy in the air, wrapping Harry in their darkness as Snape continued. “There was a time, in my youth, when the promises of the Dark Lord entranced me. When I sought the power that he offered his followers at the expense of everything else in my life.” He took a ragged breath. “I very willingly traded my soul in service of the Dark Lord. At the time, it seemed a more than fair bargain to have everything I had ever wanted.”

“What happened?” Harry asked quietly.

“I learned the truth of an ancient Muggle curse. ‘May you find what you are looking for.’” He lapsed into a bitter silence, heavy with regret and the hindsight afforded to those who manage to survive the choices of their youth.

When Harry could bear the thick silence no longer, he asked, “It was my mother, wasn’t it?”
“And you…” Snape stopped, his dark eyes flashing with anger as his tongue seemed stuck to the roof of his mouth. He glowered for a moment, before exploding with a curse that made Harry blush. “The Headmaster has forbidden me to speak of it,” he spat. Then, taking a hold of himself, he sighed. “Forgive me, Harry. I should not have spoken so incautiously.”

Harry’s hands tightened into fists and he clenched his jaw. Would the manipulations of the Headmaster never end? How much of his life was being hidden, twisted, used as a tool to form him into the weapon Dumbledore desired. Snape leaned across the table, strong hands pulling on Harry’s fingers to loosen them, and he held Harry’s hands lightly in his own, dark eyes meeting green ones earnestly. “Do not let your anger at his manipulations consume you.” He squeezed Harry’s hands, “It is so easily done. And it is a dark and lonely path.”

Later, in the safety and privacy of his rooms, Severus Snape would explode at the guile of the Headmaster to lay a geas on him without his knowledge, let alone his consent. But, for now, he helped Harry pull back from the anger. They sat in companionable silence, broken by the occasional light snippets of conversation, as the day trudged on.

The first Quidditch match of the year was a miserable affair. Harry pulled his cloak tighter around him as they trudged back to the castle across the damp, cold ground. He was quiet as Blaise, Draco and Pansy relived their favorite plays. Watching the two teams play had reminded him of his Nimbus 2000, shattered into splinters and stashed in a linen bag at the bottom of his trunk. And also of his Firebolt, gleaming and perfect, being examined and poured over by Aren. It was a small consolation that Gryffindor had managed to beat Ravenclaw, albeit narrowly. He’d quietly cheered on the Weasley twins, enjoying the opportunity to see them in action where their skill wasn’t pitted against his team. Slytherin had excellent Beaters, but the synergy between Fred and George was unrivaled.

His Patronus lessons were not everything he had hoped for. Lupin had made it abundantly clear, repeatedly, that the charm was difficult; far and above anything he’d ever be expected to know in the regular course of his schooling. His early success in casting the charm had given him hope that perhaps he’d be able to manage to learn it after all. This week, Lupin had opened the chest and had him face the Boggart-Dementor. The now familiar sense of dread had settled over him instantly, wrapping its icy fingers around his chest. The sound Lily screaming, pleading with Voldemort to spare his life had ripped through his mind, shattering him. It had been a complete disaster. He’d completely forgotten the charm, or why they were there, and had wound up sprawled on the floor. Lupin had given him a large chunk of chocolate and canceled the rest of the lesson. Even now, the frosty grip clung to him.

As he pulled off his wet cloak and hung it for the house elves to clean he tried to push the thoughts out of his mind. Instead, he started thinking about the map. He desperately wanted to ask Lupin if he was the same Moony as on the map. However, despite their relationship, he was fairly sure that as a teacher the man would be obligated to take the map from him. It wasn’t exactly the sort of thing students should have access to, at least from the perspective of the faculty. So far he’d been unable to think of how to ask without revealing too much. And he didn’t want to ask the others for advice. They seemed to have forgotten Lupin’s connection to the name Moony, and he was in no hurry to remind them.

Flint cornered him in the common room, glaring down at him and asking what the latest news was on the Firebolt, and if he’d managed to talk to Professor Snape about it. Harry shook his head, ignoring the taller boy’s scowl. “I don’t fancy pestering Snape any more than is strictly necessary, do you?”

He grunted. Although Professor Snape’s mood had improved since Christmas, it was still uneasy ground. “If you don’t hear back soon, might have to look at getting another.” Flint poked him with a large, meaty finger. “Don’t matter how good of a flyer you are, the school brooms are shit.”

Reluctantly, Harry nodded in agreement. It was something he’d already considered. Facing Chang and the Ravenclaw team on a school broom was simply not an option. Now that the Firebolt had been so tantalizingly dangled in front of him it was difficult to consider getting anything else. He toyed with the idea of delving into his vaults at Gringott’s and getting himself another Firebolt. He wasn’t sure exactly how much money was in there, but surely there was enough. Realistically, he knew that the newest model of Nimbus broom was a solid choice. He resolved to ask Snape about it at the turn of the month, and order the Nimbus if the answer was still to wait and see. A few practices to test out whatever new broom before he used it in a match were essential, especially with so much riding on it.

The wavering acceptance that he may never be able to fly on the Firebolt soured his stomach and stole away his desire for dinner. Lying in the large four poster bed with the covers pulled all the way over his head he wondered how difficult it was to get transferred to one of the other Wizarding Schools out there. Perhaps in America… as far away as he could get. Somewhere so far that they’d never heard of the Boy Who Lived. Somewhere the Dementors wouldn’t encircle the grounds, attacking him during Quidditch games. Or where his best friend’s mom hadn’t tried to kill him and nearly killed her son instead. Somewhere quieter.

He started to wonder how different his life would have been if he’d been sorted into the other houses, mostly Gryffindor. He wasn’t a terrible student, but he was fairly sure he didn’t have the passion for learning that the Ravenclaws had. And Hufflepuff, while he was sure was friendly enough, didn’t really seem to be somewhere he could fit in. His parents had both been Gryffindors, it wasn’t such a leap to think he’d have been sorted there. Not for the first time, he was grateful that he had asked for Slytherin. His housemates valued his contribution to the House Cup via his abilities as a Seeker to be sure. And most had a grudging respect for his talent at Potions, although more than a few credited that only to his extra lessons with Snape. But, as a whole, the students in his House had their own ambitions, their own self-worth, and in the case of most of the sixth and seventh years - their own clear plans to carve out positions of power for themselves in their future careers. No one hung around to capitalize off his notoriety. He was completely certain that his friends were his friends because they loved and supported him, no other reason. The thought cheered him as he drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Harry rubbed his hands on the front of his trousers, waiting outside the classroom where they had their dueling lessons. Today was the day, he’d decided. If Snape couldn’t tell him that his broom was ready, he was going to go straight to the Owlry after the lesson and order the newest Nimbus. He had the order form and the Gringotts note already filled out and folded neatly into his back pocket. January was nearly over, and he’d heard nothing that would indicate the Firebolt was going to be released any time soon. Anti-dementor lessons were a disaster, and it was only the fact that he was still excelling in his regular classes that kept him from a complete slump. He raised his hand to knock, but the door swung open, startling him.

Snape’s lean frame filled the door. His dark eyes looked Harry up and down and he nodded. “This way, Mr. Potter.” Snape brushed past him and Harry hurried along, not daring to ask where they were going. After a few turns, Harry recognized the way back to the dungeons. His suspicions were confirmed when Snape stopped in front of his office door and tapped his wand to remove the wards. He opened the door and indicated that Harry was to go first. Once they were inside Snape re-warded the door and crossed to the second door that led to his personal rooms. He stepped into the bedroom and returned holding two cloaks. Handing Harry one he said, “It will be far too long, but I believe we can fix that.”

The cloak smelled like herbs and smoke as Harry pulled it on. As predicted, it pooled around his feet, comically too long for his short frame. Severus flicked his wand, murmuring a spell too quiet for Harry to hear, and the cloak began to pull itself up until it barely grazed the ground. Before Harry could ask where they were going, Snape walked back over to the fire and plucked a tin of Floo Powder off the mantle. Taking a handful himself, he passed it to Harry. “Diagon Alley,” he informed him. Harry nodded, putting his glasses into his pocket before he took a pinch and cast it into the flames. Of all the methods of Wizard travel that Harry had experienced, the Floo Network was far and away his least favorite. The sensation left him sick to his stomach as the exits flew by. And it did not seem to matter how cautious he was, he inevitably wound up covered head to toe in soot.

He was trying to dust off the borrowed cloak when Professor Snape stepped out of the fireplace. Harry happily noted that he too was covered in soot. Snape waved his wand and the dust seemed to float off their clothes, sucked up in a swirl that disappeared into the tip of the wand. Leading Harry out of the pub onto the rainy streets of Diagon Alley, Snape murmured a quiet, “Stay close.”

“Sir?” Harry finally asked, assuming that he had been more than patient enough with the mysterious trip away from Hogwarts and no explanation. “Where are we going?”

“I had assumed that you would wish to retrieve your broom yourself.”

Harry had practically skipped down the street towards the small alleyway that would take them to Spindleshaft Lane. The maze of back streets took less time than it had at Christmas. This time Harry felt the magic envelop them both, tugging them along towards the cobblestone square. As they stepped out of the rain and into the Lane Harry breathed a sigh of relief. He realized with a twinge of sadness that the feeling of safety he felt here was once the security and peace he’d felt at Hogwarts. What Hogwarts should have been. But rather than dwelling, he pushed the thought aside with the simple, grateful acknowledgment that at least he had somewhere that felt safe.

Eager to get his Firebolt, he pushed past Snape, towards Aren’s shop at the far end of the square. Remembering, just before he blew through the door, to check the sign, he noted that the pronoun for Aren today was he. The bells above the door chimed as he stepped inside, and Aren popped his head out from under some contraption Harry had never seen before. He was stretched out on the floor, his head and hands working on a strange machine, wearing leather trousers, similar to the ones Snape wore for their dueling lessons, and a roughspun grey tunic. When he emerged, Harry note that the impressive beard was gone, replaced instead with a light dusting of grey stubble. His ash blond hair was pulled back into a low ponytail and he smiled warmly.

“Just a mo- Lemme get it!” he said by way of greeting. He returned, carrying the gleaming Firebolt in both hands. “Thought for a while there might be a Hurling Hex on it, that’s what took so long. But I can’t see as there’s anything particularly wrong with it.” He ran his hand along the handle. “Took it out for a little spin myself, just to make sure. Although…” Aren pursed his lips thoughtfully, “There’s always a chance they’ve keyed it specifically for Harry, so I wouldn’t have been able to detect it. So I’d say… have someone handy when he takes it up the first time. On a broom of their own if you can manage, just to be safe.”

“Not at Hogwarts,” Harry pleaded with Snape. Although he had no idea where else they could go. “If there is something wrong and I get thrown from it, or hexed… I don’t fancy seeing Weasley’s impression of that for the next month.”

“You bad-mouthing me to your customers?” came a voice from the back of the shop. It was followed by a broad shouldered man that bore a striking resemblance to the Weasley twins. “Ahhh, Severus.” He inclined his head in greeting, although his manner was markedly more reserved than he had been a moment before.

“Not at all,” Aren replied. “That was young Harry here,” he winked at Harry in an effort to relieve some of the tension that had begun building. “Charlie, this is Harry Potter.”

Charlie stuck out his hand and smiled at Harry. “Heard a lot about you from my brothers.”
Harry blinked in surprise. Charlie was dressed in the same manner as Aren, leather trousers and a roughspun tunic, although his was blue. He flushed, ducking his head a bit, but took the warm hand and shook it. “Good things, I hope?” he teased.

Charlie laughed, his eyes lighting up. “Depends on who you ask. Ahh… you’re the owner of the Firebolt then? Aren’s been so tight-lipped about it.”

“My fault, Charlie, I asked Aren to be discrete. I did not mean for it to come between you.”

“Not at all, Severus,” Aren interjected, waving him off. “I completely understand, and don’t let him lead you on. He’s only just arrived from Romania yesterday, and he leaves again tomorrow.”

“Life of a dragon tamer!” Charlie shrugged. “But I’m fairly sure that Harry here would like us to move on to testing the Firebolt. Hmm?” He winked at Harry who flushed again.

“Stop teasing him Charlie, it’s not nice.” Aren elbowed his boyfriend and then wrapped a hand around Charlie’s arm, pulling him towards the back of the store. “There’s a Quidditch pitch out back. We got a few extra brooms, this way you’ve got a few extra eyes and hands to monitor.”

Snape rolled his eye at the pair of them and then shrugged out of his cloak. “The pitch is heated,” he noted as they followed the couple. “If you should fall, it will be considerably easier to catch you without all of the extra fabric fluttering about.”

As he followed the three men through the back of the store Harry tried to resist the urge to dawdle. More bookshelves and cases were stacked into the room than seemed physically possible and the faint hum of magic surrounding them suggested that perhaps this was indeed the case and not a trick of the eye. Every available surface was covered with…. Something. Any other day he would have gawked and explored. Today, however, Aren held his Firebolt and as soon as he got out of the store and onto the pitch he was going to be allowed to ride it.
He stepped out into the yard. It was large and grassy; four large pillars marked the corners, each covered in elaborate runes. A blue-green flame flickered on the top of each, no doubt the reason for the unseasonable warmth and the luscious green grass that stretched out in front of them. Charlie and Aren stood to the left in front of a small wooden cabinet. Aren was holding the Firebolt while Charlie pulled a few more brooms, Nimbus 2001s Harry noted. Harry shifted eagerly from one foot to the other, anxious to finally fly the Firebolt.

“How long’s it been since you played Sev?” Aren asked as Snape took the broom from Charlie.

“Too long,” he admitted with a sigh, running his hand over the handle.

“You played Quidditch?” Harry’s attention was torn from the Firebolt by this tidbit of information he was relatively certain no one at Hogwarts was privy to.

Aren put a hand on Snape’s shoulder and threw Harry a conspiratorial grin. “Sev here was a Seeker, and a damned good one.”

Harry returned the grin. “Don’t suppose you have a Snitch, Aren? To make this test a bit more fun?”

“Not today, Mr. Potter,” said Snape in his most authoritative tone. “Our goal is to determine whether or not the broom is safe for you to fly, I would not want to be distracted by showing you how it’s done.”

Charlie and Aren burst out laughing and Harry resisted the urge to stick out his tongue at the professor and instead eagerly asked, “Can I ride it now?”

Snape mounted his broom and then nodded. The three men were watching carefully with wands ready as Harry finally touched the Firebolt for the first time.

It was every bit he imagined and more. He could feel the handle humming, ready to respond to the lightest touch and he wondered idly if it could read his mind. Forgetting all about safety, he kicked off from the ground, spiraling higher and higher on the small pitch, reveling in the way it banked and dove. He flew headlong towards the blue flame atop one of the pillars, turning sharply at the last second and heading straight for the ground. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Snape shooting towards him but pulled out of the dive and slowed neatly to a stop in front of Charlie.

“It’s bloody brilliant.” His hair was tossed, cheeks flushed with excitement as he hovered a few inches above the ground. “Gryffindor isn’t going to know what hit them.”

As they prepared to leave Charlie looked over at Snape who nodded, then pulled Harry aside for a moment.

“Did I do something wrong?” Harry asked, his voice shaking just a little.

“No, no, not at all!” Charlie put a warm hand on his shoulder and smiled. “I just wanted to talk with you before you went back to Hogwarts.” Harry nodded, waiting for him to continue. “I would appreciate your discretion, about Aren. My family…” he sighed deeply, shoving his hands in his pockets. “They are more like Ron, than Forge and Gred,” he chuckled dryly although the sound died in his throat. “Well… Bill not as much, but he Apparated to Romania the minute he got his NEWTs and almost never comes back.”

Harry looked up at the older man and nodded. “I don’t know how much Forge and Gred,” he giggled a little. “Have told you about me. But you do not have to explain unaccepting families to me. I won’t say anything.”

Charlie nodded. “They hinted, but they kept your confidence.” He smiled at Harry, and then over Harry’s shoulder to where Aren and Snape were waiting. “You have people who care about you.”

The return of his Firebolt lent Harry an air of confidence that carried him through the week to Thursday evening as he walked into the practice room and found Lupin waiting. “Harry, come in. I heard you finally got your broomstick back.” Lupin’s amber eyes twinkled. “I hope you are not too upset with us for having it looked at.”

Harry shook his head. “No, not really.” In truth his friends, Draco at the head, had come up with some rather creative curses to use on both Lupin and Snape should the broom not have been returned in time for the match. “I know people are just looking out for me. It’s nice.” Hogwarts itself may have no longer carried that feeling of safety, due entirely to the Headmaster, but the people he had met here, the family he had surrounded himself with, Harry knew they cared for him. Seeing Snape and Lupin work to overcome their childhood differences over Christmas to work on his broom together, and knowing how hard Mr. Malfoy was continuing to fight for custody of him gave him a warm, happy feeling inside.

As Lupin moved to stand next to the cabinet, Harry sunk into that feeling. It wasn’t exactly a memory, not a tangible moment in time to focus on. But whenever he thought about how—despite Fate’s seemingly persistent attempts to the contrary—he had a family that loved him, the warmth that blossomed inside of him made him feel as though it could hold even the Dementor’s frozen fingers at bay. The Boggart-Dementor burst out, the large black form looming over him and wrapping him in the depressing icy grasp he’s become all too familiar with. His mum’s voice echoed around in the back of his mind, screaming and pleading. This time, instead of reaching for her, becoming entangled in the horrors of Lily’s last moments, he kept his mind on the feeling of safety in those who surrounded him now.

Breathing in to cast the charm, he felt the powerful tingle of magic along his arms. “EXPECTO PATRONUM!” he shouted. An explosion of white light erupted from the tip of his wand. The force of the spell stunned him and he staggered back a little, just catching sight of the shield pushing the Boggart-Dementor back into the cabinet. He sank to his knees, exhausted. He was quite certain that he had never harnessed that much magical power before. Lupin was beside him in an instant, having secured the Boggart back in the cabinet.

“Well done, Harry! Well done!” He pressed a large piece of chocolate into Harry’s shaking hand, wrapping his arms around him in a tight squeeze.

“I did it!” Harry gasped around a mouthful of chocolate. “Finally!”

Lupin hook his head, “Not finally. You were brilliant.” He paused, “May I ask, what memory did you focus on?”

Harry sucked on the chocolate, letting the warmth suffuse through him as he considered how to answer. “It wasn’t… well it wasn’t a memory exactly. I didn’t even know if it was going to work. It was just this weekend. Knowing that even,” he hesitated. “Even though my mum and dad are dead… I’m not alone. There are loads of people who care about me. ME. Not the Boy Who Lived. Not some great hero that Dumbledore is trying to make me. But actually me. Just Harry Potter.”

Lupin’s eyes filled with tears as he wrapped his long arms around Harry and pulled him in for a tight hug. “Not alone Harry,” he whispered hoarsely. “Not alone for another minute. Not as long as I’m alive.”

Chapter Text

Harry tried, and mostly failed, to eat a quick breakfast the morning of the Quidditch match. He’d dug the wand holder from his trunk and had it strapped snugly around his forearm. He wasn’t at all certain he could hold off the Dementors if they swarmed the field again, in fact he was fairly certain he couldn’t. But it at least gave him a bit of a chance. There was a large commotion over at the Gryffindor end of the Great Hall. Weasley was shouting at Granger, who was toe to toe with him;, her brown skin seemed to crackle with anger, and her hair almost appeared ready to begin shooting off sparks. He watched as McGonagall stood up at the Head Table, moving as though to sort it out herself. But Weasley stormed off, followed by two boys whose names Harry didn’t know. Shrugging his shoulders, he forced himself to eat the last mouthful of scrambled eggs and washed it down with a gulp of pumpkin juice before heading to the locker room.

It was foggy, although the sky suggested that the day would be clear once it had burned off some. Still, the pervasive feeling of cold mist hung about the grounds as it had ever since the Dementors had taken up residence around the school. Perhaps it was a flight of fancy, but it seemed to Harry as though everything seemed just a little flat. The colors of the once vibrant Forbidden Forest seemed, to his eye, to hint at more of shades of grey than vivid green. He hunched his shoulders, pulling his cloak more firmly around him. Halfway to the locker room he paused, the hairs standing up on the back of his neck with a tickling feeling as though he were being watched. Pulling out his wand, he turned around, searching the shrubs and trees.

Off in the distance he thought he saw a gleam that looked like a pair of eyes. Mentally he began to run through the list of spells he’d learned in the dueling lessons with Professor Snape, grateful that despite the workload of classes and Quidditch he’d been diligent in reviewing them. Ready to cast a shield or disarming spell at the first sign of movement, he slowly walked towards the spot where he’d seen the eyes. Suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

Harry shouted, nearly jumping out of his skin. Out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw a large black shape disappear into the Forbidden Forest. “Expel—” he whirled around, ready to disarm whoever had snuck up on him.

“Bloody hell, Harry. Everything alright?” Draco took in his friend—eyes wide and pupils dilated and skin pale with his wand drawn. He pulled his own wand, silver eyes searching the spot where Harry had been looking.

Embarrassed, Harry slipped his wand back into the holder on his forearm, rubbing the back of his neck. “Yeah, yeah I just thought I saw… nothing. Just a bit jumpy I guess.”

Draco patted his shoulder reassuringly, directing them back towards the locker room. “So, you thought you’d just wander into the Forbidden Forest to deal with it? Just you and your wand? Merlin’s beard, Harry. You sure you’re not a Gryffindor?”

Harry shoved his friend playfully. “Hey, that’s crossing a line!”

“They’re not all bad!” Draco protested. “I’m dating one, aren’t I?”

“Still. You reckon we would have been friends, if I was in Gryffindor?”

Draco shook his head, a mischievous grin plastered on his face. “Not bloody likely. You’d have taken up with the Weasel. And we’d hate each other. Even though you’d be wishing the whole time you could be friends with me.” He turned his aristocratic nose up in the air with a sniff, putting on airs. “Perhaps when we were older, I would deign to befriend you.”

The thought sent a stab through Harry’s heart and he stopped, wrapping his arms around his friend and hugging him tightly. “Don’t even joke about that.”

Draco returned the hug. “So, back to equally troubling topics,” he said as they continued down the path. “You… you got that problem all sorted then?”

Harry nodded, not trusting his voice not to betray his emotions or uncertainty at his mastery of the Patronus Charm. Even after he changed into his kit, the anxiety swirled around him. He forced himself to think instead about Snape and Remus, and the owl he’d received last night from Mr. Malfoy, promising to be in the stands, keeping watch over him. The increasingly familiar feeling of family warmed his heart and he finally smiled. So long as he could hold onto that feeling he would have no trouble conjuring a Patronus.

The rest of the team began to straggle in over the next half hour, a few stopping by to check on Harry and reverently pet the Firebolt for luck. Finally, Flint stood up, ready to lead them out into the pitch. “Don’t bollocks this up!”

Draco snorted as he followed Harry and the rest of the team out the door. “Such an inspiring captain!” A few of their teammates giggled. “Really, I get chills!” Harry laughed as they lined up on the grass across from the Ravenclaw team.

Harry took his place opposite their Seeker, Cho Chang. She was a year ahead of Harry, and the only girl on the team. He nodded at her, smiling politely. When she saw him looking at her she waved, twirling her long black hair around her finger. Harry furrowed his brow and frowned, tipping his head to the side in confusion. Chang seemed mildly offended and taken aback, but Harry had no further opportunity to figure out why as Madam Hooch blew the whistle just then. Its sharp blast signaling the start of the match.

Chang’s strange behavior forgotten, Harry kicked off, noting with a surge of pride that the Firebolt flew noticeably higher and faster than anyone else on either team. He was already halfway around his first loop of the pitch when Cho cleared the teams.

"They're off, and the big excitement this match is the Firebolt that Harry Potter is flying for Slytherin. According to Which Broomstick, the Firebolt's going to be the broom of choice for the national teams at this year's World Championship—"

"Jordan, would you mind telling us what's going on in the match?" interrupted Professor McGonagall's voice.

"Right you are, Professor—just giving a bit of background information --the Firebolt, incidentally, has a built-in auto-brake and—"

"Jordan!"

“Alright, alright! Slytherin has possession, Marcus Flint, their captain, is heading for the first goal of the match.”

Harry chuckled, he was thoroughly enjoying Lee’s commentary, although he knew he couldn’t really afford the distraction. Especially not with Chang as his opposing Seeker. Although her broom was not nearly comparable to the Firebolt, she used every legal and nearly legal trick in the book, cutting across his path repeatedly and forcing him to pay more attention to her and where she was than his search for the Snitch.

“And that’s enough of that,” Harry muttered under his breath as he narrowly avoided colliding with Chang, by narrowly avoiding running into Draco. He leaned forward, showing off the Firebolt’s acceleration for the first time as he left Chang on the other side of the field. He could see her rushing to catch him but took advantage of a few peaceful moments to search, uninterrupted, for the Snitch. He was rewarded almost immediately. There, hovering on the ground below him, was the Snitch. He grinned, he loved dives and the Firebolt handled them beautifully. Pitching straight down through the match he flew towards the Snitch.

He stretched out his hand and could feel the fluttering of the golden wings as he pulled the Firebolt level. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a Bludger coming at him out of nowhere. Yanking the handle to the side, he felt his jersey rustle as the Bludger blew past. By the time he’d regained control of the broom, the Snitch was gone.

"Slytherin leads by eighty points to zero, and look at that Firebolt go! Potter's really putting it through its paces now, see it turn—Chang's Comet is just no match for it, the Firebolt's precision-balance is really noticeable in these long—"

"JORDAN! ARE YOU BEING PAID TO ADVERTISE FIREBOLTS? GET ON WITH THE COMMENTARY!"

Slytherin and Ravenclaw traded goals back and forth, neither team being able to take a significant lead as the match grew more and more furious. It was entirely up to the Seekers and it seemed as though Chang had decided her strategy was to interfere with Harry at every turn as opposed to actually catching the Snitch herself. Any time he caught sight of the glinting golden ball she nearly knocked him off his broom. He was growing increasingly frustrated with her and the narrow misses. Draco flew by once, stopping briefly to suggest that Harry return the favor.

He shook his head. He wasn’t going to resort to her tactics, or cheating, however borderline. That wasn’t the kind of Seeker he wanted to be. Instead, he decided it was time to use the Firebolt’s superior handling. He threw himself into a dive again, looking to any who were watching as though he had spotted the Snitch. Sure enough, Chang was right on his tail. Pulling out of the dive at a speed she couldn’t hope to match on her Comet Two Sixty, he chuckled as she shot past, struggling to change direction. He again took advantage of the brief moment of peace to search for the Snitch, and once again was rewarded when he saw it fluttering near the stands at the far side of the pitch.

Leaning forward, Harry flattened himself against the broom. Briefly he was aware of Chang doing the same. But she was much closer to the ground than he, and subsequently much further from the Snitch. Everything else was muffled, distant, as he focused on the tiny golden sphere. He stretched himself out impossibly far, his fingers grasping for that second of contact. And then he was slowing to a stop, the Snitch struggling in his hand as Madam Hooch blew her whistle, signaling the end of the match.

As a sea of green converged on him he was aware of a commotion happening across the field, but ignored it in favor of the party that was happening on the pitch. Cheering and hollering, the Slytherins escorted their team off the field with the promise of a large party in the Dungeons as soon as they’d showered.

“Bloody brilliant,” Draco punched Harry on the shoulder as they sat curled up on the couch in the corner of the dungeon with the party in full swing around them. “Chang couldn’t match the Firebolt, not even close. Not that you’re not a damn good flyer. But that broom, mate.”

“Shoulda seen it. Chang chucked her broom as soon as she landed. Started crying and yelling,” said Pansy. She and Blaise were curled up on the other couch. Blaise had his hands in her lap and she was painting them a shimmery green. Harry studied them over the mug of Butterbeer, his mind wandering to Aren as he watched Blaise. He thought he noticed dark eyeliner, accenting his large brown eyes. He wore his hair long, as was the fashion with wizards Harry had noticed. But there was something more delicate in the styling of the long black curls. Harry had no idea how to approach his friend about it, or even if it was appropriate. He wondered if he could owl Aren and ask.

“Pretty sure Madam Hooch took a bunch of points for that. Bad sportsmanship and all that,” said Blaise, cutting across Harry’s line of thinking.

“Either way, that’s them out. And the Hufflepuffs don’t stand a chance against Gryffindor.”
Draco said, “It’s going to be us versus Gryffindor in the finals. Can’t wait!”

Harry agreed loudly, a cheer going up around the dungeon. He’d been waiting nearly all school year for a chance to face them again. He couldn’t wait to see the look on Weasley’s face.

 

Chapter Text

A scowling Professor Snape descended on the Dungeons well past one o’clock in the morning and sent them scurrying to their dorms with the threat of taking points from his own house if they were seen out of bed again. Harry’s eyes barely made it until his head hit the pillow. He fell sound asleep, dreaming of his Firebolt.

He was shaken awake by a drawn looking Snape. Bleary-eyed, he sat up, rubbing at his face. “Professor?” he mumbled as his hand felt around the side table looking for his glasses. When the room came into focus he saw Blaise, Draco, and Nott all awake already, perched on the edges of their beds looking uneasy. A firm hand squeezing his shoulder drew his attention back to the man standing in front of him.

“I am telling you this because I want you to understand how important it is to listen. You will not tell the rest of your House. If rumors are heard, you are not to confirm them. Do you understand?” After Harry nodded his agreement, the Potions Master looked at the other three boys who nodded quickly. “Black was in the castle again.” His fingers tightened around Harry’s shoulder as Harry startled. “He was in the Gryffindor dormitories with a knife. One of the boys woke up, and he fled. The castle is being searched and there are guards outside of the Common Room. You must not leave. Stay with the others, keep your wands with you.” He gave Harry’s shoulder one final squeeze before turning and walking out, robes billowing behind him.

Harry’s stomach threatened to empty and he shrunk underneath the covers, wishing he knew how to Apparate and could be anywhere else on the planet but there. The movement was punctuated with a thunk as something solid fell off the bed and hit the floor. Rolling onto his side he looked to see what it was and spied the emerald green eyes of the snakes that graced the cover of his dueling journal. He wasn’t sure how the gift from Snape had gotten onto his bed but it gave him a great deal of comfort as he scooped it up and held it against his chest. “C’mon,” he whispered to them in parseltongue. “We should go join the others.”

The Common Room was only half cleared from the party, it looked as though they’d interrupted the house elves part way through the work. Small groups of students clustered around the room, talking quietly. There was still a celebratory air, although it was now mingled with confusion and a hint of fear. As Harry made his way through the room he heard snippets of conversation. Understandably, most were speculating why they’d all been woken up and confined to the Common Room. He heard the name ‘Black’ floating around, but any time someone tried to ask him what Snape had told him he just shook his head and shrugged.

Pansy was shooing some first years away from a small cluster of chairs shoved haphazardly against one of the windows that looked out into the Black Lake. It was too dark now to see much of anything in the murky depths, but Harry sank into the chair closest the window and looked out, imagining the swaying kelp and seaweed. He knew Pansy was desperate to ask what Snape had told them, but she had curled up with Blaise on the couch and was whispering quietly. Harry knew they were talking about Black because Pansy kept her eyes fixed on him as her face grew pale. The others settled in around him, talking softly but not pushing him to join in. He appreciated the space.

He spoke the Parseltongue command and felt the snakes slither towards the spine. The book fell open on his lap and he began to review. There wasn’t anything more productive that he could do right now, and he knew without a shadow of a doubt it was only a matter of time before Black realized his error and came into the Slytherin dungeons looking for him. Pansy summoned a wizarding chess board as she and Blaise teamed up against Draco.

It was a long and sleepless night, but just before dawn Professor Snape appeared in the Common Room to announce that the castle was now secure and they could proceed to the Great Hall for breakfast. After a flurry of questions he confirmed that Black had indeed been spotted but that they were quite certain he was no longer within the walls of Hogwarts.

The castle was a jarring flurry of activity. Filch stalked the halls, nailing thick boards across anything that looked as though it might be an opening, even those too small for ants. Groups of hulking security trolls, armed with large clubs, patrolled through the corridors. As Harry sat down to breakfast, he pondered how difficult the armed patrols and heightened security was going to make getting to their evening meetup of the Marauders, as they’d come to call themselves, in the kitchens. One of the school owls dropped a note in his plate, from Fred and George, confirming that they wanted to talk that night, and he was determined to slip out, no matter what.

Harry carried his books to the library, fully intending to work on the homework which had begun to pile up to alarming amounts, but instead, he put his head down on a stack and closed his eyes. He hadn’t missed that one of the patrols of trolls was following him everywhere. Tailing him as soon as he’d left the Common Room that morning and going with him everywhere, one even following him into the loo. But instead of finding them intrusive, their presence was somewhat reassuring. No matter what tricks Black had up his sleeve, getting past those trolls would be a significant feat. As they stood and compared the size of their clubs with grunts and good-natured shoves, Harry let himself relax his guard slightly and fell into a deep sleep. He would have missed dinner entirely if it hadn’t been for Draco shaking him awake.

Harry, Draco, and Pansy sat up talking quietly in a corner of the Common Room as everyone retired for the evening. Most were calling it an early night after the sleeplessness and excitement of the night before. Once the last group of seventh years had slunk off to bed, Harry pulled out the Invisibility Cloak. Making their way to the kitchens was far more perilous than it had been before, and they had several close calls with roaming patrols of teachers and trolls. He realized with a pang that it was likely not realistic to keep up these nighttime meetings with the Twins as long as the castle was on such heightened alert. But they successfully ducked every obstacle and made it to the fruit painting without incident. Triple checking the corridor, he reached out a hand to tickle the pear and reveal the door.

The first thing Harry noticed as he shucked off the cloak was the addition of a bushy afro of black hair peeked above a chair between Fred and George in front of the fire. It was Pansy who recognized her first and quickly drew her wand.

“What the bloody hell is Granger-”

“Easy… easy,” George quickly slipped out of his chair and held his hands up in a placating gesture. “There’s a story there. So put your wand away, pull up a seat, and listen. We’ve not gone daft, I promise you.”

Pansy looked skeptical, but Draco hauled her over to a chair and Fred shoved a mug of butterbeer into her hands.

“’Mione here is one of us,” said George, smiling at the Gryffindor girl fondly.

“You remember, she helped us sneak out last year,” Fred added.

“That’s when we started to suspect-”

“She might have seen through our dear brother’s ridiculous attempt at flirting.”

“And really was as bright as they say.”

At this Hermione squeaked. A bright blush colored her dark skin and she hid her face behind her hands.

“But what really clinched it…” George slung his arm over her shoulder and planted a smooch on her very red cheek.

“Was the brilliant Petrificus Totalus she cast on our dear brother,”

“And his friends.”

As it happened, Ron Weasley, along with two other boys in their year, Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas, thought it would be fun to dress as Dementors during yesterday’s match. They waited until almost everyone had departed for the Quidditch Pitch and donned long, flowy black robes. Hermione had intercepted them and managed to petrify all three before reporting the attempted sabotage to Professor McGonagall.

“McGonagall was furious. She took a hundred points each. But then she gave me three hundred points because I managed to hex all three of them. As if they could stop me,” Hermione said with a sniff, looking rather pleased with herself.

“Yeah, but they’re in detention for forever though. Every Saturday night from now until the end of school. And maybe next year too,” George said.

“I heard she’s thinking of throwing Ron off the team. Said it was unsportsmanlike and she didn’t want to win that way,” Fred said.

“Bloody Gryffindors,” Draco muttered under his breath.

“You’d have done it, wouldn’t you?” Fred teases his boyfriend, tickling him affectionately.

“Might’ve done.”

“Oh be honest Draco, if Harry was in another house, especially Gryffindor, you’d have done the exact same thing.”

Draco crossed his arms across his chest and humphed at Pansy.

“Okay, that’s all well and good. Brilliant job, Hermione,” Harry interjected, smiling a little at the witch. “But what is this about Black being spotted in your dormitories last night?”

The three Gryffindors frowned, but it was Hermione that spoke. “One of the boys in our year, well… he’s rather forgetful. And Sir Cadogan really does come up with the most ridiculously complicated passwords. And he changes them all the time. So the boy talked Cadogan into giving him the list of passwords for the whole week.”

“Oh he didn’t…” Draco muttered.

“He did. He lost the list. It seems Black found it and used it to get into the Tower.”

The three Slytherins looked at her, dumbfounded.

“He was punished, of course,” she sniffed, looking a little offended at the scorn in their expressions. “The passwords really are dreadfully complex. It’s no wonder…”

“It’s no wonder Black didn’t finish Ronnikins off and save everyone the headache,” George smirked.

“He’d probably be bragging a lot more about how he faced Black and lived if he weren’t in so much trouble.” Fred sighed, shaking his head. “There are pranks, and then there are Pranks.”

“As an extra bonus, his detention means that he won’t be able to go to Hogsmeade. So if you wanted to sneak out, I don’t reckon anyone else would tell.”

“Speaking of that…” Harry shifted uncomfortably. “I… noticed that Flich hasn’t boarded over the One-Eyed Witch passageway. No guards stationed there either. I reckon that they don’t know about it.”

“You can’t think he got in that way!” Draco insisted. “Not before you’ve had a chance to use it!”

Hermione bristled, “Harry wouldn’t sneak out of school. Not without permission. And certainly not while Black’s on the loose!”

“Mione, luv, you’re a bright little witch,” George ruffled her hair, ignoring the glare. “Nothing’s going to happen to Harry. He has… ways.” He waggled his eyebrows while waving his fingers.

“What my brother means to say, is that if Black’s able to get into the castle at will… Hogsmeade isn’t any more risky. And as for the permission part… well you’re here after curfew, aren’t you.”

Hermione crossed her arms and wrinkled her nose at him. “You two are impossible.”

“But you love us anyway!” they chimed in unison.

She huffed, but didn’t say anything. Pansy broke the awkward silence by asking her about the Petrificus Totalus spell she had used, and soon the pair of them were off in the corner of the kitchen, wands out, practicing motions and discussing the effect of different accents on spellcasting.

George snickered as he watched them. “You know, I’m starting to think it might not have been the best idea to introduce those two…”

“Okay,” Harry pressed, “But about the passageway.”

“Think about it,” Fred said. “Sneaky as Black is, Honeydukes isn’t a big shop. Someone would have seen him.”

“He broke out of Azkaban! He’s gotten into Hogwarts. I don’t think a candy shoppe in a little wizarding village has better security than either of those places.”

None of the boys could argue that point and Harry sighed, wondering just how worth it a trip to Hogsmeade was.

“At least it doesn’t seem like he’s going to hurt anyone else. Not as long as he’s still coming after me. He’s had the chance to hurt a lot of people already, but he hasn’t.”

“After you?” Hermione broke in. She and Pansy had finished their practice and were just returning to the sitting area.

“Yeaaaaah.” Harry rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. He explained what had happened the night his parents died, and the role Black had played in it. As he finished laying out their suspicions that Black was now after Harry to finish the job her face crumpled.

“Harry, that’s horrible.” Her dark brown eyes filled with tears and she sniffled as she processed it.

Harry found himself liking her, despite her earlier association with Weasley. That could be forgiven in light of the image he was now able to conjure of the Weasel, petrified, and serving detention for the rest of the year. Despite that, he couldn’t see her in Slytherin, like the twins. She had too many feelings about broken rules. From his few interactions with her in classes he’d pegged her for the legalistic Ravenclaw type. Still, he trusted Fred and George, and if they thought her adherence to the law wouldn’t send her running to McGonagall and wanted to bring her into the Marauders… that was more than good enough for him.

Harry shrugged, “You kind of get used to it after a while.”

The look on Hermione’s face suggested that it was very unlikely that she would, in fact, get used to such a thing. And even that Harry was perhaps a little daft for implying such a thing. But she took a sip of her Butterbeer quietly as they continued to talk.

“One final order of business for the night then?” Fred threw back the last dregs of his mug and stood up.

“Right then, Harry… if you’ll stand?” George stood up and joined his twin.

Confused, Harry set his mug down on the table and stood up.

The worn piece of parchment George pulled out of his pocket looked suspiciously like the Marauder’s Map and rolled it into a cylinder so he could hold it like a wand. He tapped Harry’s shoulders, grinning at how baffled the other boy appeared. “We dub thee…”

“Keeper of the sacred map,” Fred intoned.

George handed over the map and gave a little bow.

Harry looked more confused than before, “What… you… I mean it’s yours, it’s the secret of your infamy!”

“It’s a wrench giving it to you,” George agreed.

“Believe us, but… “

“We decided it was better off,”

“In your hands than ours.”

“Figured it wouldn’t be long before,”

“Black figures out you’re a filthy snake,” Fred smirked.

“He’ll come for you,” George added a little more solemnly.

“This way… you can have a bit of an early warning.”

“Just, promise us you’ll also use it to be a little naughty, alright?”

Harry looked down at the map, running his fingers along the worn parchment reverently. “I promise.”

Chapter Text

It was two days later that the person who’d misplaced the list of Gryffindor passwords was revealed. A smart looking owl dropped a bright red envelope in front of a pudgy boy who had taken to following Weasley around. He picked up the envelope as though it were live ammunition and ran from the hall. Harry watched, curious at what could have caused such a reaction. He did not have to wait long. A half second before escaping, the envelope in the boy’s hands exploded and the booming voice of an elderly woman filled the Great Hall. Apparently the boy, who Harry discovered was named Neville Longbottom, lived with his grandmother. Her voice, raised far above normal volume—Harry hoped—proceeded to tell him in detail the “disgrace his actions had brought upon the entire family. And didn’t he know they had a reputation to uphold?” It finished by informing him that if he could not handle the responsibility she would fetch him home immediately.

Harry couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for Neville. The Twins and Hermione had complained about the ridiculous passwords Sir Cadogan insisted on using, and changing. But at the same time, how daft would someone have to be to write the passwords on a piece of parchment and then lose it when there was a madman clearly trying to get into the castle? The Marauders were right though, Harry thought glumly as the excitement the Howler had caused began to die down. It was only a matter of time before Black figured out that his intended victim had been sorted into Slytherin, not Gryffindor. He took the map with him everywhere, surreptitiously scanning the names to see if Black had once again slipped past the castle defenses. Although it had yet to reveal Black’s location, it was coming in very handy for avoiding Mrs. Norris and Filch.

Somehow the ornery caretaker always found something to harass them about, even when they were clearly doing nothing wrong. Pansy reckoned that it all balanced out in the end, given the vast number of things he hadn’t caught them doing. For his part, Harry was more inclined to think Filch was just a cantankerous old man who hated everyone. Each time he ran afoul of the gnarled caretaker he was more and more certain that was the case.
Once again, the residents of Hogwarts Castle showed their resiliency in the face of turmoil. Eventually, the hypervigilance calmed down. Classes returned to normal, although the patrols still wandered the halls, and the passageways remained boarded up. Harry found he was able to lose himself in his classes and Quidditch lessons, although the dueling and anti-Dementor lessons were the highlight of each week. Lupin had so many stories of his parents when they were at school, although they mainly featured James, and he seemed more than happy to share them with an eager Harry. They continued to work on the Patronus charm, their lessons more often than not resulting in them settling down for a cuppa and discussing Harry’s classes and other things. The subject of Black was carefully avoided, and Harry could tell this was not an easy subject for the man. Instead, the stories centered around himself, James, and a third member of their group, a boy called Peter Pettigrew. In addition to the stories, Lupin had an abundance of photos, far more than what he had assembled in the little album.

Harry revelled in this newfound connection to his past, to his family. Despite their hostile relationship, and the fact that Petunia never once mentioned her sister except to despair at the way her life had ended, her presence in Harry’s life was a constant reminder that his mother had lived. Growing up he’d watched Petunia whenever he thought she wouldn’t notice. Earnestly studying her face for any family resemblance, any hint of connection. His father was a less tangible memory; he knew nothing of his other relatives, assuming he had some on his father’s side. Professor Snape certainly was not inclined to share stories about the man. Other than the Cloak, which the mysterious note claimed had belonged to James, he had nothing until this year.

Hearing the stories of their pranks, seeing them alive and happy and loving each other… it gave Harry a piece of himself he hadn’t been able to put words to. After one dueling lesson in mid-March he’d said as much to Professor Snape. The man had bristled, withdrawing a little behind a curtain of dark hair that he’d freed from the tie which had bound it during the practice. Harry could sense the brimming anger and took his leave quickly. For the rest of the week he could sense that his Head of House was deliberately maintaining more of a distance. It bothered him, more than he had expected. He’d known that James was a sore subject for the man. Their relationship had not been a friendly one, but Harry hadn’t thought it was quite so bad as all that.

When Harry arrived for his anti-Dementor lesson the following Thursday, Lupin looked tired. Far more drawn and worn than Harry had ever seen him. He leaned heavily against the cabinet that housed the Boggart they practiced on and passed a weary hand over his face. “I’m not sure I’m up to teaching today, Harry.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” Harry said hurriedly. “I can leave and just let you rest.”

Lupin shook his head, “I wouldn’t begrudge the company, if you aren’t keen to be rid of me. Perhaps we could just have tea in my office?”

Harry nodded and followed him towards the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Tea had already been laid out for them in the office that joined the classroom, and Harry marveled at the efficiency of the house elves. Lupin sank into one of the arm chairs with a groan and Harry hurriedly fixed his tea. Once he’d offered it to his grateful uncle, he fixed himself a cup and sat in the chair opposite and finally gave words to the question that had been nagging him all week.

“Why does Professor Snape hate my dad SO much? I mean, I know it’s not about my mum. Not in that way. Not enough to make him as angry as he still is. So, what is it?”

Lupin sighed deeply, wrapping his long fingers around the cup and looked at Harry with soft, sympathetic amber eyes. “No,” he said softly. “It wasn’t your mum. Although I do know the way that relationship ended was difficult for both of them. Lily watched the decisions Severus made, the company he began to keep, and I know it worried her greatly. She never stopped believing the best in him.” He paused, his voice thick with emotion. “Lily… she could see the best in anyone. It was my very favorite thing about her.”

Harry smiled. He desperately wished he could have known his mother, spoken to her, learned from her. He’d often wondered if she would have been bothered that he was in Slytherin. He knew James wouldn’t have approved. But to hear Lupin talk about her, he didn’t think so. She would have been able to see, as he did, the good in his House, in his friends, despite the reputation.

Lupin took a moment to compose himself before continuing. “No, Severus’ hatred of your father had nothing to do with your mum. Despite what many might have thought. They were… opposites. Diametrically opposed in nearly every way. James was outgoing, reckless, loud… he had very little regard for following the rules so long as it was fun in the end. A trait I do hope you possess only in small, well-limited amounts.” They both chuckled wryly. “Severus then was much like the Severus I had the pleasure of working with over the holidays. Quiet, not from lack of intelligence but rather lacking a need to fill the air with words. Meticulous in words as well as action. And a stickler for the rules, particularly the ones that made sense. He was dark, the consummate Slytherin, while James was the poster boy of Gryffindor. Jame and… and Black, teased him.” Lupin stopped, furrowing his brow and shaking his head. He sighed deeply with regret. “No… they bullied him. Mercilessly. Every opportunity they could. The teachers, gods forgive me even myself… we wrote it off as typical boyish pranks. The way Gryffindors were expected to treat Slytherins. But it was worse than that. There was a dark sinister thread to their actions. A specific bent where James and Black would torment Severus any which way they could. I don’t even think they hated him.” He held up his hand against Harry’s protest. “No… they thought he was beneath them.”

Harry squirmed uncomfortably. This was the man he had missed his entire life? The man who looked so much like him, that he had longed to be more like. Perhaps Snape was right to dislike James as much as he did?

“You know of my condition?” Lupin asked. When Harry nodded he continued. “When I was at school, the potions and other options I have now were not available to me. I am still not entirely certain why Dumbledore allowed me to come and study. From what I know, I have been the only werecreature to ever study at Hogwarts, or any other magical school for that matter. You have heard of the Shrieking Shack? The tales of the haunted house on the edge of Hogsmeade are prolific. It is said that it is inhabited by angry spirits who shake the house to its very core. There are no angry spirits. Only a caged werewolf. Each month, for the three days of the full moon, I would spend my transformation there. Severus, he… well he was working out my secret. He noticed my absence every full moon, he wanted to know where I was going. He’d begun to suspect. Black and James thought it would be funny, one full moon, to tell Severus the secret of the passage into the Shrieking Shack.”

Lupin stopped his tale, refilling his tea and moving to stand in front of the fire, his back to Harry. From where Harry sat he could see the way the older man’s shoulders slumped, as if the weight of the story was too much for them. “We should have known then, the madness in Black’s mind. It was his idea to begin with. But, as with all the rest of his misdeeds, it was chalked up to boyish rambunctiousness. Had Severus succeeded in making his way fully down the tunnel, he would have faced a rabid werewolf. He would have died, and I would have been responsible.”

“Not you!” Harry interjected. “Black! It wouldn’t have been your fault.”

Lupin spoke into the fire. “Under the absolute letter of the law, perhaps. Although I certainly would have been tried and convicted by the Ministry of Magic. And I would have had to live with that knowledge every day, regardless of the outcome of the trial. And yet, as clearly evidenced, I did not kill him. James had second thoughts. He rushed to the Shrieking Shack and managed to pull Severus away, but not before he had seen what I was. Dumbledore, of course, flatly refused to expel anyone. James and Black were not punished as no one was hurt.”

“Indeed,” said a silky cold voice from behind them both. Harry’s stomach sank as he realized it belonged to Professor Snape. The tall, pale Potions Master stood in the doorway of the office, holding a smoking goblet. His expression was furious, black eyes flashing angrily, and yet his tone was utterly controlled. “As you see, Harry, a connection with your father is not something that I would encourage, or even tolerate in my students. If you are so keen to follow in his footsteps I will have the Headmaster reassign you to Gryffindor, where he and all his ilk belong. Your potion, Remus.” A touch of anger slipped into his voice at the last, and he strode over to Lupin’s desk where he set the goblet down. Without another word, he whirled on his heel and strode out, robes billowing behind him.

Chapter Text

Harry’s relationship with Snape seemed to be at an end. Lupin assured Harry he was still receiving the wolfsbane potion, and that it had most definitely not been poisoned in retaliation, despite Harry’s objection. The morning after Snape overheard their conversation Harry received a curt note informing him that all future dueling lessons had been canceled. He wasn’t surprised, but there was a part of him that stubbornly held onto hope that if he could just explain… It seemed as though he was not to be given the opportunity. The Potions Master flatly ignored him in class, even when he was one of the few students to raise his hand in answer to a question; it was as though he didn’t exist. He’d tried hanging behind in class, but Snape simply disappeared into his office the moment the soft chimes indicated the end of the lesson. Harry was not brave enough to knock, although he had a feeling that the man would simply continue to ignore him.

In truth, he found it hard to blame the man. As someone who had experienced multiple attempts on his life he was well aware of the effect they had. And he knew he would be upset if he walked in on his friends discussing private details of his life. Still, he was angry with Snape. He thought his friendship with the man had more strength than this. But he felt sorry for him too. Life with the Dursleys gave Harry a clear picture of what it was like to be constantly bullied, tormented, and looked down on. He could only imagine his reaction if Dudley had first tried to kill him and then swooped in to save his life at the last minute.

That they had tried to kill Severus, Harry was entirely certain. Lupin and the teachers at the time may have written the entire thing off as a prank gone a little too far, a foolish lark by boys who needed to test their limits. But Harry had done the reading on werewolves. He’d read about their victims, and the mindless beast that assumed control when the full moon got a hold of them. If Snape had made it all the way through the tunnel to the Shrieking Shack he would be dead. And, Harry had to admit, given the fact that his dad had eventually gotten cold feet and rescued him, he figured James had known that too. Black he could understand. Black was a madman. Was it any wonder he’d shown signs even then? But James… his father. The man everyone told him he looked so much like, wanted him to be so much like. It was a wonder Snape didn’t have him removed from Slytherin that first year. Time may heal many wounds, many things… but an attempt on one’s own life was something that stuck. Especially when the person responsible continued in every way to make your life a living hell.

Harry was disgusted with his father, and with Lupin. With all of them. He wished he could talk to Snape, explain that he understood, even a little bit, the way that persistent torment changed every bit of you. The way it ate at your soul. But Snape knew what he’d experienced. Had helped him through the panic attacks and talked to him. Besides, what could the son of the man responsible possibly do except continue to dig up old hurts?
Once again, life at school fell into a depressing rhythm. He kept his head down in his classes, did the homework, and went to Quidditch practice. Madam Hooch had taken over supervising. At the first practice after the incident she’d met him on the pitch and told him that Professor Snape had found himself unavoidably detained and she would be overseeing practice for the remainder of the season. That practice he’d only caught the Snitch once. Flint had him sent to the Hospital Wing, insisting that Madam Pomfrey check him out completely. And, Flint threatened, if she couldn’t find anything wrong he damned well better perform better the next session or they’d be getting a new Seeker for the final game, Firebolt or not.

Sleep was elusive. Worries and stress about Black, Lupin, his father, and Snape… the threats on his life, this poor performance and Quidditch practices, they swirled around in his head, chasing any thought of rest away. So far, Snape had not yet made good on his threat to reassign Harry into Gryffindor, but he wasn’t entirely convinced the man had forgotten either. Nothing he could find seemed to say whether or not it was allowed, and the Marauders all assured him that it was very unlikely. Hermione had made it her personal mission to scour the library, looking for any mention of a punishment that involved changing Houses. But Harry knew that if anyone could make it happen, it would be Snape.

Harry took to sitting up at night, curtains drawn tightly around his bed as he studied the Marauder’s Map by faint wandlight. There was a surprising amount of nocturnal activity in the castle. Filch appeared to be immune to sleep, roaming the castles at all hours hoping to catch a student out of bed. Dumbledore too always seemed to be pacing his office. Probably thinking of more ways to pull the strings on my life, Harry thought glumly as he watched the little footprints.

Night after night he let his fingers trace their way through the drawn castle, learning every inch of it. He entertained himself with dreams of finally seeing Black’s dot appear and rushing out to confront him. He’d capture the man responsible for the death of his mother and see to it that justice was done. After he’d managed to get in a few good hexes, of course. The thought cheered him as he slogged through a dreary spring.

Late one night, just as he was about to fold up the map and attempt to sleep, he spotted a new dot emerging from Gryffindor Tower. Dormitories were difficult. Names on top of names as students were all gathered in one spot, and the map was only so big. But there, leaving the jumble of tags, was a small set of footprints labeled “Peter Pettigrew”. Harry blinked, rubbing his eyes and wondering just how long a person could function on little sleep until they started hallucinating. But it was still there, slipping down the hall. Clutching the map in hand and making as little noise as possible, he sprung out of bed and raced out of the Common Room into the halls.

The Gryffindor Tower was a good distance from the Dungeons, but as Harry quickly surveyed the map he saw that Filch was circling the Ravenclaw Tower, while Mrs. Norris was out on the grounds, near the Dark Forest. All the teachers were in their rooms, the path was clear. He bolted through the halls, ignoring the portraits that called grumpily after him to slow down and extinguish his wand light. Harry reached the Tower in record time. Panting for breath, he looked down at the map to see that Pettigrew’s name had made its way out to the Great Hall. Muttering the spell to wipe the map, he hurriedly crammed it into the waistband of his pajama bottoms and hurried after him.

Bursting into the Great Hall, wand ready to hex anything that moved, he spun around, looking for signs of Pettigrew. Frustrated, he pulled out the map again and activated it. Pettigrew’s dot hadn’t moved. It was still there, in the corridor, right where he’d just raced passed. Confused, Harry kept the map in one hand, slowly moving his set of footprints towards the ones marked Pettigrew. Tensed, he readied himself for anything as he stepped back into the corridor.

Anything, except Professor Snape rounding the corner, his expression furious. Harry barely had time to mutter the spell, wiping the map clean, before it was snatched out of his hands.

“What is this?” The silky smooth voice was just as icy as it had been the last time Snape spoke to him.

“It’s just… a spare bit of parchment.” The excuse sounded hollow, even to him.

“Indeed,” a black eyebrow raised incredulously as Snape ran his wand over the map. “And you thought you’d just take it out for a stroll, after curfew? Reveal yourself,” he demanded, tapping his wand against the parchment.

Harry was horrified as the familiar ink scrawl spread across the page. But as he watched, instead of the usual pattern, the ink pooled in the center of the parchment. He caught a glimpse of it before Snape crushed the map in his hand. Messers Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs have no intention of revealing themselves to Severus Snape. And would like to add that he should keep his abnormally large nose out of other people’s business.
“What. Is. this?” Snape hissed furiously.

Harry was saved having to come up with an answer by the timely arrival of Professor Lupin. The man looked haggard, worn, and none too pleased to see Snape or Harry in the halls.
“I’ve just caught Mr. Potter here with a dark object. Wandering the halls well after curfew. Grounds for expulsion I should think.”

Snape’s words punched Harry in the stomach, but Lupin coughed quietly, interrupting the other man’s tirade.

“Certainly, possession of a dark object is a grievous offense. Expulsion would not be out of the question.” Lupin’s words sucker punched Harry right next to Snape’s and he gaped at his uncle, not quite believing what he heard. “However, it is my experience that a good number of witches and wizards, even smart and rational ones such as yourself, are perhaps sometimes too quick to jump to conclusions of Dark Magic. So often it is in fact something much more innocuous.” Without waiting for Snape’s response, Lupin neatly plucked the parchment from his grasp and eyed it over.

Now was the moment. If Harry’s long ignored suspicions were right, Lupin new exactly what the map was. And he wasn’t at all sure how he was going to explain his way out of this one.

Lupin laughed, “Dark Magic, Severus? No, I think not. I believe I saw something to this effect in Zonko’s. A bit of a joke, insulting anyone who tries to make use of it.” Snape reached to take it back, but Lupin deftly folded up the map and tucked it into his coat. “But,” he seemed to reconsider. “One can never be too sure. As Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, I assume responsibility for the object. I’ll just take Harry here and ask him a few questions about it. Good night, Severus.” His tone and actions left no room for argument and for the first time Harry caught just the slightest glimpse of the wolf that was so carefully chained within the man. He had never seen someone handle Snape so succinctly. He was still marveling over it when they reached Lupin’s office. If he had not been so distracted, admiring the man’s skill at manipulating the Potions Master, he may have tuned into the anger that had been quietly building as they walked through the halls.

“Harry. James. POTTER! Do you have a death wish?!” Lupin exploded, his eyes flashing amber as he slammed his fist down on the desk and jolted Harry out of his thoughts. “Have you no respect for the time, energy and magic that has been expended in order to keep you safe? To protect you?”

Harry sputtered, “Sir, it’s just a…”

“I know perfectly well what it is, Harry. As I imagine you are well aware. And knowing WHAT it is, and WHO was involved in its creation, did it not ever occur to you that this parchment is a map to you? To your every location. Anywhere you could go while at school. And whether or not you are alone?”

He paled. In all their discussions on how best to use the map, it had never occurred to any of them that as one of the original creators of the map, Sirius Black would know exactly how to use it. Of course, Harry thought guiltily, he’d never really pressed the point of Moony being one of the makers.

Seeing that he had gotten his point across, Lupin’s tone softened slightly. “Harry, we can keep you safe from a great many things. But you cannot expect us to also keep you safe from yourself. I know that it is asking a great deal of you, for you to think beyond your years. But the situation demands it, I’m afraid.”

Understanding, Harry nodded slowly.

“You will understand then, that I will be confiscating the map? No, I will not be turning it over to Dumbledore. The man is already far too aware of the goings on in this castle. I will not blithely hand him yet another tool to manipulate us all.”

Harry slumped in relief. As he turned to go, he stopped in the doorway, his voice tentative, “Uncle Moony?” Lupin looked up. “I’m not sure exactly—well, at al—how you lot made it. Or maybe the charms are fading. But I don’t think the map is working so well right now. Earlier tonight, I couldn’t sleep, which was why I was out of the Dungeons. I was looking at the map, and I saw someone coming out of Gryffindor Tower who couldn’t possibly be. I mean, unless the castle has a ghost or something we don’t know about. I mean it’s really…”

“Who did you see, Harry?” Lupin interrupted gently.

“Peter Pettigrew?”

“That. That is not possible…” he whispered hoarsely. His eyes roamed the map, looking for any sign of his old school friend’s name amongst the students. “The magic must be fading,” he finally agreed, sadly.

Chapter Text

Exams and the end of term seemed so impossibly far away, and yet to hear the teachers talk of it, they were just around the corner. The influence of the Dementors, still circling the school grounds, had permeated every part of the castle. Draco was nearly as foul as he had been last year while still possessed with the spirit of the student Tom Riddle and Pansy was at her wit’s end, matched only by Hermione. The pair of them gave Harry a heart attack every time he saw them together, surrounded by books and highlighted lists. Only once, George had attempted to remind them that third year exams weren’t nearly on the same level as OWLs or NEWTs, and that it wasn’t that important. They’d turned their wands on him, and although he never admitted what they had done, the way he walked for the next week was distinctly uncomfortable and disturbing.

Spring holidays were anything but the relaxing vacation Harry had been looking forward to. Most of the students third-year and up had stayed behind at the castle to study. Never in his life had Harry imagined having so much homework, and so much else to do besides. Flint had them on the pitch practicing nearly every night, preparing for the Quidditch finals which would take place the weekend after break. When they weren’t practicing, Flint was accosting them in the halls, drilling them on tactics, positioning, and making sure they were staying on top of everything else. So much came down to Harry. With Gryffindor only in the lead by two-hundred points, most of the match fell on his shoulders as the Seeker. The one hundred fifty points from the Snitch meant that the timing of its capture was vital.

Weasley was even more foul than Draco. He was furious that Hermione had taken to spending so much time in the company of his brothers and the Marauders, and he blamed her—loudly—every chance he could get for the disappearance of his rat, Scabbers. He and his fellow Gryffindors had taken to making the Slytherin Quidditch team miserable as payment. Small fights would break out whenever the two groups met, sending students from both sides to the Hospital Wing. Everywhere Harry went, Weasley was there flanked by Finnigan and Thomas. They did not seem overly put off after the incident with the Dementor costumes, and if anything seemed even more determined to get back at Harry. Somehow, Weasley seemed to believe that it was Harry’s fault he got in so much trouble over the “harmless prank”.

Harry’s main concern was not for his own safety, but that of his Firebolt. He kept it under lock and key in his trunk every moment it wasn’t in his direct possession, protected by all the wards Hermione and Pansy had been able to find in the library. And yet he was still often late for class, sprinting to the Dungeons to make sure it was safe.

One afternoon, two Gryffindor third year girls had burst into tears when Harry walked into the classroom, and Professor McGonagall had demanded to know the cause. Harry really rather wished she hadn’t. It seemed as though Professor Trelawney had made yet another prediction. The Grimm was stalking him closer than ever, moving closer every moment to his prey. According to the two girls, Brown and Patil, his end was certainly nigh. They took to speaking to him in soft, convalescent tones, wiping misty eyes whenever they saw him, and offering sympathetic pats on his arms as they sniffled about how young he was. Pansy and Draco thought it was hilarious, often imitating the girls. Harry wanted to pitch them all into the Black Lake.

Finally, it was the night before the match, and Harry had the worst sleep he could remember. Between dreams of Ron Weasley riding a giant rat coming after him as he desperately grabbed after the Snitch, and Snape looming over him, informing him that he was to be transferred to Gryffindor immediately, he was almost relieved to wake up inside of the dreary, cold Dungeons. He and Draco dressed quickly, hurrying down to the Great Hall in the hopes of snagging a spot of breakfast before the majority of the school descended on them. Harry scarfed down a piece of toast and a few slips of bacon before making his excuses and making for the locker room.

It was far too early, but there were powerful wards placed on the locker room preventing anyone but members of the current House team from entering. It was as close to complete privacy as he had ever had, and he enjoyed every moment of it. Mist still clung to the grounds as he made his way across the lawn. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a flash of movement, but when he turned he saw a large orange cat, peering at him from the edge of the forest. It was Crookshanks, Hermione’s cat and yet another thorn in the side of her and Weasley’s failed friendship. The arrogant red head continually accused her cat of murdering his beloved pet rat, Scabbers.

He pulled out a strip of bacon he’d wrapped in a napkin for later and held it out to the cat. “Hey Crookshanks, I’ve got a treat for you.” The eyes that looked back at him were startlingly intelligent, and he had the feeling the cat understood what he was saying. “I don’t know if you ate that damned rat or not, but I heard you liked to terrorize it, and anything that gets Weasley’s knickers in a twist is good enough for me.” Harry could have sworn the cat smiled at him, and he crouched down in front of it, hand feeding it pieces of bacon while he scritched behind its ears. Crookshanks purred loudly, slowly walking his body under Harry’s hand. Cats weren’t so bad; he’d always assumed he was more of a dog person, but this cat was nearly the size of a small dog, and there was a familiar sort of comfort that came from gently stroking its fur, feeling the vibrations of its purr. It was calming in a way that so few things this year had been. He fed him the rest of the bacon, laughing softly as the large orange fluffball growled just slightly at the sight of the empty, grease-stained napkin. “Sorry, mate. That’s the last of it.” Crookshanks wrinkled his nose and then wound himself around Harry’s legs.

Sounds from up towards the castle signaled that the Quidditch teams were starting to make their way down to the pitch. “Time to go,” he told the cat. “Thanks.” He straightened, starting back in the direction of the locker room. He could still feel the vibrations of the large cat’s purrs as he dressed for the match. It warmed him, pushing out the cold, shivering feeling that had wound around his heart. Suddenly Flint stood, announcing it was time to take to the pitch. As Harry stepped out onto the field he blinked several times; the sun had broken out from the clouds and it was considerably brighter than it had been. At least, he thought, it would impair the Gryffindor Seeker just as much as him.

The stands were packed. Three quarters of the audience was bedecked in gold and scarlet, waving flags and shouting “Go, Go, Gryffindor!” As the Gryffindor team emerged from the locker room, their fans cheered and screamed loudly. But nearest the Slytherin entrance, the crowd was a sea of green and silver. Professor Snape sat in the front row with a tight smile on his face and Harry’s stomach did a strange flip flop when he saw the man. Madam Hooch strode out onto the grass, taking in both teams with her strange yellow eyes. He managed to tear his gaze from his professor and tightened his grip on the Firebolt as Flint and Wood shook hands. From the looks of it, Harry was a bit surprised that neither of them pulled back with a broken hand.

“Three… two… one!” The sharp blast of the whistle was almost inaudible over the shouts of the crowd as both teams pushed off into the clear sky.

Harry circled the pitch tightly. The cool morning air still had a bite, and the winds were quickly pushing aside his worries about Grims, teachers, and ghosts that shouldn’t be there. Unfortunately, the one worry he couldn’t shake was Ron Weasley, who was doing his best to keep up with the Firebolt as Harry searched the stands for the Snitch. Harry could have upped his speed and left the git behind, but the increased speed would make it harder to spot the small golden ball.

Gryffindor managed to get early possession. “Alicia Spinner of Gryffindor has the Quaffle, she’s headed straight for the Slytherin goals and it looks goo—” Lee’s commentary buzzed faintly in Harry’s ears. He picked up enough to know that Warrington had intercepted her only to be nearly decapitated by George. The match below grew steadily more rough.
Neither team pulled any punches—sometimes quite literally—as they fought over the Quaffle. Harry was barely managing to dodge Bludgers coming from both teams. As he pulled out of a sharp turn he spotted a flash of gold near the Slytherin hoops. Chancing a look away he glanced at the scoreboard. Not yet, it was close, but catching the Snitch now still meant Gryffindor would win the Cup. Struck with inspiration, Harry grinned.

Leaning low over his Firebolt he shot off in the opposite direction of the Snitch. On his face he plastered a look of what he hoped resembled fierce determination, and kept an ear out for Lee’s commentary to see if his feint was successful.

“Potter’s seen the Snitch! Racing across the pitch with Weasley hot on his tail...”

With effort, Harry tore his focus from the commentary. Informative as it was, the Gryffindor announcer had a tendency to be both biased and entertaining. He’d found himself distracted more than once during matches his first year and had learned to tune the older boy out when it suited him. Luckily, Harry managed to see a rush of scarlet on his left side as Fred barreled towards him. A quick peek to his right revealed George also closing in. “Sorry, mates,” Harry whispered under his breath as he held his course until the last possible second. Yanking the handle of the Firebolt he shot upwards, leaving the twins to collide midair with a loud crunch. He could hear them cursing rather creatively; it sounded as though Fred had been taking lessons from Draco.

And Fred wasn’t the only one. Lee Jordan swore so loudly into the megaphone that Professor McGonagall reached over and tried to wrench it from his grasp. Somehow, Lee managed to hang on. “Sorry! Sorry, won’t happen again! After Harry Potter nearly killed the Gryffindor beaters, Slytherin is in the lead.”

Harry didn’t care about the rest. His distraction had worked and the Snitch had disappeared. Ron tried to tail him as best his could, his old broom no match for Harry’s Firebolt. But Harry let him stay close for now in an attempt to lull him into thinking he had the chance. They circled the pitch as the game below grew more and more intense. Lee, loudly and often, accused Slytherin of cheating as they slowly increased their lead. Finally, Flint scored, pushing Slytherin over fifty points ahead of Gryffindor. He could sense Weasley stiffening behind him. They both knew that Harry would be searching for real. Harry’s plan had worked yet again. The effort of keeping up with the Firebolt, and Harry’s superior flying, was starting to take its toll on the other Seeker.

This time, as Harry did a tight lap of the pitch, Weasley struggled to keep up. Frustrated, he began to resort to other tactics—edging up beside Harry and knocking him off course, or abruptly pulling in front of him and trying to draw a penalty. Fred and George joined in every available moment and Harry soon found himself in a sea of scarlet and gold jerseys.

“Harry! Get off it!” Flint shouted at him as he struggled to get clear of the twins. There, on the other side of the pitch, was Weasley in a steep dive, an exhilarated look on his face. A glance at the ground confirmed Harry’s worst fear. The Snitch hovered a mere three feet off the ground almost directly below the Gryffindor Seeker.

Now he was going to show them what he and the Firebolt could do. Flattening himself against the handle he shot out from the Beaters. “Go, go, GO!” he yelled at the Firebolt. Weasley was so far ahead, but he was gaining. Somewhere in his mind he registered that everyone in the stands was on their feet—shouting, screaming and stomping as the two Seekers fought to end the game. The cacophony faded away, his entire being focused on the Snitch as he pulled even distance with Ron. Squeezing his thighs, Harry let go of the broom with both hands and practically launched himself at the small fluttering golden sphere.
“YES!” His fingers closed around the cold metal ball a half second before Weasley. Pulling out of the dive, the captured Snitch was raised aloft. Harry had only a brief moment to take in the crowd going wild before the Slytherin team tackled him. They’d won the Cup.

As the Slytherin team continued to pound him on the back, the rest of the Slytherins flooded from the stands onto the field, dancing and waving their scarves in the air. Harry lifted his eyes above the throng of green and silver and caught sight of Severus Snape watching the celebration from his seat. For a brief moment, Harry fancied he saw a smug grin on the older man’s usually dour face, and a flash of pride in his dark eyes as he tipped his head in acknowledgment of Harry’s win. Then Harry was lost again in the mass of celebrating students, and when he looked up again, the Potions Master was gone.

Chapter Text

Harry and Draco finally managed to extricate themselves from the party in the Slytherin Common Room and were wearily making their way to the stairs when Pansy appeared in front of them. Her perfectly straight black hair was a tangled mess of twigs and leaves. Her pale face sported several bright red lashes, and the shoulder of her shirt was torn, stained with blood.

“Help. Now.” Ice cold fingers wrapped around each of their wrists and she dragged them through the sleepy Common Room and into the hall.

“Pansy, what happened? Pansy, stop.” Draco tried to wrest his arm free from her grasp, but in her frantic state the young witch was surprisingly strong. Instead of answering, she hissed and kept pulling them through the castle until they reached the large doors.

When last bits of light from the sunset hit her face, Harry saw the dirt was streaked with tears and his heart stopped in his chest. “Pansy, please,” his voice cracked, certain she was about to lead them to a body, Black’s latest victim. Something in his voice finally cut through to Pansy and she stopped.

Shaking violently, she wrapped both of her arms around her torn shirt and tried to speak. “Ron…” she managed.

Harry froze in the middle of rubbing Pansy’s arms with his hands, trying to warm the girl. Images flooded, unbidden, into Harry’s mind of Gryffindors - upset over the loss and picking a fight with his best friend. Just as quickly, he dismissed them. Weasley might be a complete and utter prat but he knew enough of the Weasley matriarch to know that if he was the attacker, Azkaban would be the least of his worries. Was Weasley the victim? His heart broke as he looked at his friend, thinking about how he would tell Fred and George. He closed his eyes, willing his brain not to rush ahead of the situation. “Pansy,” he tried again softly. “We need some more words.”

“Hermione, she… and then… that rat. And the tree…” her voice rose to an almost inaudible octave on the last words and Harry looked around, hoping no one was patrolling the grounds.

“Pansy, look at me.” Draco’s voice was controlled, every ounce of his drawl calm as he pulled Pansy’s face up to look at his. With his free hand he gently smoothed her frizzed hair out of her face, stroking it softly and making shushing noises. “Take a breath, with me.” He inhaled deeply, waiting for Pansy to copy him, then exhaled. “Please, tell us what happened.”

With a shaking, shredded hand, she pushed her tangled hair out of her face and took a deep breath. “Hermione saw that rat.” She breathed again. “The one that Weasel was going on about. So, we tried to catch it. Catching a rodent is…” she growled. “It ran out towards the Whomping Willow. Hermione ran after it.” Her eyes were wide with fear as she stared at them, but telling her story seemed to have calmed her down some. “It attacked her! Branches everywhere. She almost got it, the rat. Then…” her gaze landed on Harry and she gripped his arm, her voice earnest. “It was the Grim. Look, Harry, I know you think that it’s all rubbish. I do too. But I can’t explain it. The biggest, shaggiest, dog, wolf thing you’ve ever seen came flying out of nowhere. It tackled her, all fangs and growls, then it started dragging her towards the tree.” Her voice cracked, “I tried to get to them, but the tree wasn’t having any of it. Got one good hit in and knocked me well clear. I need help, we have to save her!”

“I don’t think it’s ridiculous,” Harry whispered after a long moment of silence following Pansy’s story. “I’ve been seeing the Grim all year.”

Another stunned silence followed as both Pansy and Draco turned to face him. “You didn’t…”

“Of course I didn’t. I’m tired of every bloody school year being about what’s trying to kill me now! Black was enough for one year. But it doesn’t matter now. If the Grim has Hermione, we’re going to have to get her back.”

“How though?” Draco said. He looked across the grounds to the now quiet Whomping Willow.

“We’ll get Snape.” Harry said suddenly. The other two nodded and they tore back to the castle, running down to the dungeons.

“Professor!” Harry yelled, pounding on the door to the Potions classroom. “We need help.”
The door creaked open to reveal Professor Snape. He had changed out of his teaching robes and was dressed in a loose black tunic and trousers. His hair was pulled back neatly at the nape of his neck, save for two strands that hung on either side of his face, framing his furious expression. “Just what do you think you’re doing,” he hissed.

“The Grim took Hermione into the Whomping Willow,” Harry said quickly, tugging on his arm and pulling him down the hall. He was past caring about the history between Snape and his father, about any of the fights or misunderstandings, and he desperately hoped that the older man would be as well. He was relieved beyond words when Snape let himself be pulled from the classroom, but the tall man stopped cold when he saw Pansy.

“The tree,” she explained hurriedly. “Please, Professor, we need your help.”
A strange look flitted across Snape’s gaunt, pale features, but it was gone before Harry could even begin to guess what it meant. Snape’s wand was out, and he was rapidly casting a series of wards on them. When he finished, he turned on his heel and made his way back out of the dungeons. Harry hurried to keep pace with the long-legged Potions Master and Snape looked down at him as they hurried along the halls. “I suppose it wouldn’t do much good to tell you three to return to the Common Room?”

“Not a chance!” It was Draco who answered, calling out from behind them.

As he pushed the large doors of the castle open, Snape sighed heavily, his dark eyes on Harry. “Your father wouldn’t have listened either.” His voice was resigned. “Stay behind me.”
Harry winced a little at that. He was well aware of what the man thought of his father, and did not welcome the association. They crossed the grounds in silence, all four with their wands raised, ready for anything. Harry was rapidly reviewing everything Snape had taught him about dueling and wishing he’d told his friends more. Then, they were standing before the Whomping Willow. Although it didn’t seem to move as they approached, there was a palpable alertness to the old tree. Snape cast his eyes about for a long branch on the ground, there were several - no doubt the result of the altercation earlier - and flicked his wand at it. Carefully, he levitated it towards the trunk. As the branch poked the bark, the tree gave a massive shiver, and then was still.

“It’s safe,” Snape said. “Rather, safe-er.” Wand still out, he led the way past the branches. Harry, Draco and Pansy followed warily, their eyes on the tree overhead. As they approached the tree, Harry noticed a cleft in the gnarled trunk. “The passage is here,” Snape explained. “No wandlight, keep your hand on the side of the passage. I’ll let you know if there are any obstacles.” He disappeared into the darkness, and after a moment’s hesitation, they followed.

The passage was damp. It descended quickly and Harry could smell the earth all around them as they made their way through the dark. Twice, Snape called out quietly to let them know of a large root that had broken through the floor. Otherwise, they remained silent, their hands dragging along the wet earth. It was a far longer journey than he imagined. Surely the Shrieking Shack was not that far away. And then finally, his eyes noted a lightening of the passage. They were nearly at the entrance.

Snape stepped through the door, his wand raised. “What… is the meaning of this?” He drawled, his voice low and deadly. As he moved into the room, Harry took in the scene.
Whatever he had expected to find when he reached the Shrieking Shack, Hermione Granger sitting comfortably on the floor beside a large black dog was not it. Across from her, Lupin was scrambling to his feet as Snape closed in on him with his wand. Harry was about to speak when he felt a wave of powerful magic. The large black dog beside Hermione transformed into none other than Sirius Black. Angrily, Harry pulled out his wand and brandished it at the fugitive, but his words were for Lupin. “I trusted you!” Harry hissed, trying to keep his eyes on Black, while shouting at his uncle. “And they trusted you, and you killed them!” This time he spoke to Black who shrank away from his words as though he had been burned.

“I warned you,” said Snape coldly, his wand still trained on Lupin. “Incarcerous,” he said, and thick ropes snaked from the tip of his wand and wound around the lanky professor.

“Incarcerous,” Harry copied, binding Black at the same time Hermione cried out,
“It’s not like that!”

“Not like what?” Snape said in a cruel, mocking tone. “Not like you luring children out here so you could pass your foul curse onto them? Or perhaps it was as simple as you and your lover, working together to end the one who stopped your master all those years ago.” His wand dug into the other man’s throat, causing Lupin to grimace.

His amber eyes flashed dangerously and he growled low and savage in the back of his throat. But it was Black who spoke up.

“Our master?” he laughed, his voice pitched oddly and sounding not quite sane. “Our master? Snivellus, you seem to have forgotten a few things. Like, which person here is a greasy, slimey, git who crawls around on his knees for a madman.”

“The only madmen here are you, and this beast,” Snape hissed. “You had me fooled,” he admitted to Lupin. “At Christmas, I thought maybe… maybe I had been wrong.” His thin lips twisted into a cruel smile. “Oh but I wanted to be the one to catch Black. Dreamt about it. And I knew, I knew that you would prove, once again, to be the idiotic Gryffindor you always were.”

It was Lupin’s turn to laugh. “Oh Severus, you have it completely wrong. We all had it wrong.”
Harry looked at the other three. Hermione seemed frozen, as though her mind couldn’t comprehend what was happening. Draco and Pansy shot him twin looks of bafflement. For the moment, the adults seemed to have forgotten their presence, and Harry was loathe to alert them to it. But, what could he do? Lupin was his uncle, Snape his mentor, and Black his godfather. Now Lupin was insisting that what they knew to have happened… didn’t? Who was to be believed? Who could he trust? Something, something was at work here and Harry was still missing enough pieces that he could pull it together. But he had to do something.

“The Dementors are already here,” Snape was saying. “Set to guard the castle. I’ve half a mind to march you both out there myself right now. It is said that a Dementor’s Kiss is a horror to behold, but I think for you… after all these years. After what you have done… for you… I will suffer through it.”

Harry could hardly recognize his mentor’s voice. It was colder and crueler than Harry had ever heard it, even when berating hapless Gryffindors who nearly blew up the entire class. There was a twisted menace to it that he would not have thought possible, not even with the current state of their relationship. He blinked back tears as he tried to resolve this angry man who held his uncle at wandpoint with the professor he knew. Dementors… past the tone, Snape’s words began to resolve themselves in his mind. Snape was going to hand Black over to the Dementors. Black killed his parents. Betrayed them, took them from him. He served the Dark Lord in secret, betraying everyone who trusted him. An icy cold grip closed around his heart, and he longed for the power to enact his revenge. He thought of the pictures he had seen of them all together. It fueled his rage, stoking the dark cold fire within him. Black with Lupin, with his parents with…

“Pettigrew,” Harry said softly. The three adults turned to look at him. Snape’s face was a mask of anger, but in Black’s eyes he saw hope and in Lupin’s… pride? Without thinking about what he was about to do, or how he was likely about to destroy his relationship forever with the first adult that had ever shown him an ounce of kindness, Harry shifted his stance, pointed his wand at Snape and shouted, “Stupefy!” He barely managed not to cry as he watched the large black form of his mentor recoil.

Snape flew back and hit the far wall with a thump, slumping down to the ground in a heap.
“Well done, Harry!” Black crowed, “Show that Snivellus. Always sticking his big nose in where it doesn’t belong.”

Harry whirled on the gaunt desperate man, wand raised, and glowered. “That man has been more of a godfather to me than either of you.” Both Black and Lupin shrank back at his words. “So you have exactly one minute to explain before I wake him up and let him do whatever he wants to the pair of you. Something isn’t quite right here, and I don’t have to be a Ravenclaw to put that together. And I’m betting it has to do with Pettigrew, so talk. Now. And tell me what you’ve done.”

“What I’ve done?” Black croaked. “Harry no, never me. You have to believe me.”
“Harry doesn’t have to do anything,” Draco finally stepped into the room from the shadows, his wand raised and pointed at the fugitive. “But I believe you are now down to fifty seconds. Start. Talking.”

“A Malfoy?” Black spat, his expression stunned as he took in the pale, silver-haired boy that had come to stand beside Harry. Gaping, as Pansy, still in her Slytherin uniform came to stand at Harry’s other side. “Wha-?”

“Forty-five seconds,” Pansy said coolly.

It was Lupin who spoke, shrugging out of the ropes that had begun to disappear when Snape was rendered unconscious. “Harry, until tonight I would have marched Black out to the Dementors myself. No, love… I would have,” he responded to the startled yelp from Black, but didn’t take his eyes off his godson. “At least, until you came to me with that impossible map. That foolish, impossible map… You see. The map never lies, it can’t. Not ever. And if Pettigrew was alive… if he was truly in the castle. Well you see, the map never lies.”

“No, no it doesn’t. You see, Harry?” Black picked up the story, his voice cracking with desperation. “It wasn’t me. Your parents, they came to me. Lily and James.” Harry shivered, hearing their names on his lips, but Black continued. “They were worried, you see, you see? They worried, that He Who Must Not Be Named knew that we were friends. Best of friends. Always… they were my friends,” he voice trailed off and he looked so haunted that for a moment, Harry wanted to go to him and wrap him in a hug. “They thought, we thought, it was too obvious. Me as the Secret Keeper. They convinced me, you see. They said… said it would be safer. Better. Safer for everyone if it was him. If Pettigrew was the one. No one at all would suspect him… the little rat.” At those words, he lunged forward, easily breaking through the ropes that held him. Hermione screamed as he dove for her, but he pulled back when he got what he wanted. A large grey rat that had been hiding in her robes. In his other hand he held her wand. With a savage snarl he pointed it at the rat, “Avada Ked-”

“STOP!” Lupin shouted. “Sirius… no! What are you doing?”

“Committing the murder I’ve already been sentenced for of course.”

“You can’t, love. Don’t be that man. Please.” He stepped forward, cautiously, towards Black. Harry, Draco, Pansy and Hermione stood back, watching nervously. “Don’t be that man, love,” Lupin repeated softly.

All at once, Black collapsed. He fell into Lupin’s arms, sobbing. “It wasn’t me, I swear. I couldn’t. I would never. I loved…” The rat fell from his hand and scurried towards a crack in the walls of the dilapidated shack.

“No!” Lupin snarled and lunched with inhuman speed, snatching the rodent by the tail and holding him aloft. “There is a simple spell…” Lupin said, barely keeping his anger under control. “I’m the one who learned it,” he said as the rat squeaked anxiously. “It was because of me. Each month, when I transformed, it was horrible. You cannot imagine the nightmare. The ghosts which haunt this place? They are me. Screaming in agony as the change took me. And when it was done, I was no more than an animal. But James,” his voice cracked and he looked at Harry. “Oh, Harry… you father was the best of men. He would not stand for it. Refused. Together, he and Sirius hatched a plot. They too would transform. Not,” he shook his head quickly, “Into mindless beasts. But into Aninagi. Their creature-selves, with their sentient minds still in control, they would keep me company. We could roam the forests. The large stag, and huge dog, they could keep me in check.”

“My father?” Harry asked, interrupting the tale.

“The stag,” Lupin replied with a sad smile. “Together, they promised, they would keep me safe. How foolish we were. How easy it would have been for something to go fatally wrong. But the gods, it would seem, came out on the side of foolish young men, just this once. Desperate not to be left out, Peter begged for them to teach him. He could never manage something so large as the Grim, or majestic as a stag. No… that loathsome cockroach had a form far more suited to the creature he was. A rat. This rat, to be precise.” He gestured to the squirming rodent. Lupin looked over at his former fiancé. “Together, Sirius?”

Heaving himself off the wall, a trembling Black stepped over beside the werewolf and closed his hand around the wand with him. They muttered a soft spell in unison, and a swirl of light slipped from the wand and wrapped around the rodent. Harry watched in horror as the rat’s body twisted and bent, until it transformed into the shape of a sniveling man who fell to the ground in front of his former friends.

Greasy, with pockmarked skin, and large, yellow bucked teeth, he looked from them to Harry with his beady, watery eyes. Hands clasped nervously in front of him. “Harry?” he pleaded. “I was your parents’ friend. Their friend. You don’t know… you can’t. I couldn’t have stopped. He was so strong. But you forgive me? Don’t you?”

“You see!” Black crowed, cutting him off. “I have already served my time for killing this worthless lump, now let me do it. Harry, you understand. I must have vengeance.”

As it happened, it was exactly the wrong thing to say. Harry could understand the need for revenge. To right the wrongs, to set things right in any way possible. But he knew, deep within himself, that it was a step on a path he did not want to take. A path he did not want anyone he cared about to take. And if Black, the crazed, emaciated man standing before him had not in fact betrayed his parents, then he knew he was someone Harry could care for very much. “You can’t,” Harry finally said. He felt Pansy reach out and squeeze his arm in approval. “They wouldn’t have wanted you to become a murder. Not for them… not for anyone.” At his words Pettigrew crawled across the floor and tried to bury his face in the bottom of Harry’s robes. Both Draco and Pansy quickly kicked him away.

“Don’t you dare touch him,” Pansy snarled.

Meanwhile, Black struggled in Lupin’s arms. The two talking in furious, hushed tones. Finally, Black took a deep and shuddering sigh, and Lupin held him tight. “Sirius, love, listen to me,” he pleaded. “Wormtail isn’t worth it. Let him suffer as you suffered. With him alive, the Ministry will have to believe the truth of it.” Lupin reached up and cupped the side of his former lover’s face. “Sirius, look at me. You know Lily and James wouldn’t have wanted this.” His voice broke, “They wouldn’t have wanted any of this. None of this was supposed to happen. But we can’t… we can’t say there. We can prove your innocence, please. Don’t let them take you away from me again.”

Chapter Text

Pansy sucked in a sharp breath as she watched the two men. Harry looked over at her and saw tears welling up in her eyes. His gaze shifted back to his godfather’s; he felt awkward, intruding on such a private moment as their reunion. But there were many other things to consider. He was, thankfully, saved from the embarrassment of interrupting them himself by Draco, who coughed ever so unsubtly.

“Professor? What should we do with… well… the other professor. And this thing?” Draco kicked a leather boot into Pettigrew’s side.

“Ahhh…” Lupin turned away from Black, not an ounce of shame or a blush on his face. His amber eyes took in the Potions Master, still slumped in the corner, and Pettigrew, trembling on the floor. “I will take the traitor,” he announced, binding Pettigrew with the same spell that Snape had used on him earlier. “If you four would be so kind as to take Severus?” Lupin hauled Pettigrew up and shoved him roughly towards the passageway back to Hogwarts.
Harry turned to Snape, guilt twisting his gut uncomfortably. The man had come, without hesitation, when he needed him tonight. And he’d betrayed that by knocking him unconscious. He rather hoped he would not be present when Snape awoke. And yet, that would only delay the explanation, if he was even granted the opportunity to give it. While he wallowed in regret, Pansy and Hermione had managed to cast Levicorpus on the Professor and were floating him after the Defense teacher. They took great pains not to bump him against anything, as unexplained bruises would only anger him further. Draco sped up and walked with them, leaving Harry alone in the Shack with Black.

“So…” Sirius began.

“Yeah,” Harry answered, finding it difficult to put anything into words. He shoved his hands in his pockets, not really sure what to do with them as they followed the others into the tunnel. Someone, Pansy he guessed, or Hermione, had cast small globes of light every few feet along the passage, illuminating it. Sirius seemed eager to speak, his eyes constantly flicking over to his godson. But Harry’s mind was still reeling from all the new information, the way everything he thought he’d understood had suddenly been flipped upside down. And every once in awhile he caught sight of the prone form of his mentor, being guided along in front of them and his stomach would once again twist uncomfortably. He sighed, finally offering Sirius a wary smile.

“You know, you look…”

“Just like my dad, yeah.” Something about how Sirius said it gave Harry an odd feeling, but he smiled anyway. There was no way of knowing how often he’d heard it, or the complicated feelings he had about his father.

“And Lily’s eyes.”

Harry nodded. Snape had told him, but he’d been surprised to see just how much his bright green eyes mirrored his mother’s in Lupin’s photo album. His feelings about Lily were slightly less complicated. “So, you and my dad were…?”

“Best friends,” Sirius nodded. “Right since we met. The Potters took me in. They were more family to me than, well. Especially once everything started…” Sirius stopped suddenly, looking down at Harry through a tangled mess of black stringy hair that fell almost to his waist. “Sorry ‘bout scaring you. I just...wanted to see you. See if you’d grown up like we always imagined.”

Harry shrugged, “S’alright.” The conversation felt forced, awkward. It was clear the years in Azkaban had taken their toll on more than just Sirius’ body. “So, how’d you manage to sneak in? Fred and George are dying to know.”

Sirius grinned, his dry, cracked lips splitting open. “As a dog of course. The Dementors, everyone, was looking for Sirius Black, not Padfoot. Handy bit of Transfiguration.”

“But doesn’t the Ministry know?” Harry asked “Professor McGonagall said that all Animagi have to be registered with the Ministry of Magic. It’s strictly regulated, so wouldn’t they have known to be on the lookout for a big black dog?” He frowned, “I’m sure they would have mentioned it.”

“Ahh, your head of house is correct, Harry. They’re supposed to be. But… we Gryffindors aren’t exactly for following the rules, eh? What’s life without a little risk, a little fun. Makes it worth living!”

Just then they reached the end of the tunnel and followed the others out onto the grounds. Sirius stretched out his arms, turning his face up to the sky and spinning around. His clothes, torn and tattered, fluttered around him and for a moment he reminded Harry of a scarecrow. Then Harry heard a truly frightening sound.

A deep, low growl came from behind him, and he suddenly took in the bright full moon that was illuminating the scene. “The moon!” he shouted. He spun around in time to see Lupin’s eyes, twice their normal size, and glowing brightly amber. The man’s body trembled as he fought for control.

“Moony, love, your potion? Did you remember?” Sirius hurried to his side but Lupin shook him off.

“No,” Lupin rasped, his teeth lengthening into fangs. “Take them, run!”

Sirius looked back at Harry and his friends, clearly torn about what he should do. But before he could make a decision, their attention was diverted by movement behind them.
Taking advantage of the commotion and the distraction in provided, Pettigrew had managed to transform himself into a rat. The cords that bound him sloughed off as his chubby form jiggled and folded in on itself, until there was a beady eyed rat staring up at them from the pile of ropes. He scampered off, squeaking loudly.

“Get him!” Harry shouted and they all scrambled to catch him. But a noise from behind diverted their attention once again.

Behind them, Lupin stretched up to his full height, no longer a man, but a werewolf, howling at the moon.

“Harry, take the others and RUN!” Sirius growled before he transformed himself into the large black dog. Darting towards the werewolf, he snapped at its hind leg, retreating only a few steps with a ferocious growl. Lupin took the bait and turned his back on the others, chasing Sirius into the forest.

“Get Snape,” Pansy hissed, reaching for the Potion Master’s leg.

“That will not be necessary,” said a cool voice. “My wand.” It was an order, not a question.
Nervously, Harry approached him, grateful that he’d remembered to pick up the thin slip of wood before they left the shack.

“Finite incantatum.” Snape flicked the wand and the Levicorpus spell ended. He sank to the ground, managing, somehow, to get his legs underneath him as he did. “We need to get inside, the beast will not be distracted for long.”

“I’m sorry,” Harry whispered. knowing it was woefully inadequate to cover the events of the evening.

If Snape heard him, he did not give any indication, and Harry knew it would take more than a little bit of work before his relationship with his Head of House could even be considered cordial again. Taking in the four students with a dark, unreadable glare, he pointed a long, pale finger towards the castle. “Go,” he snapped, and Harry shivered.

With the sounds of snarling and howling coming from the Forest behind them, they hurried across the grounds to the safety of the castle. What was going to happen to them? Sirius was innocent, but Harry doubted that they’d be able to convince anyone of that unless they could produce Pettigrew as evidence. The convict’s former lover would not make the best witness, nor would four students, and Professor Snape had been unconscious the entire time. Harry kicked himself, again, for hexing the man. When they got inside the castle, Snape barred the doors behind them and began to usher them, not towards the Headmaster’s office, but down to the dungeons. It wasn’t until they reached his office that he spoke.

At first, his words were not for them. He raised his wand, incanting several spells with his hands raised, turning about the room. The prickle of magic was palpable, and Harry couldn’t shake the feeling of being sealed in. When the warding was complete, he turned his icy glare on them. “Tell me, precisely, why I should not expel each and every one of you right now!” His careful hold on the anger broke on the last two words, and suddenly Harry saw the source.

Snape was afraid. Afraid for them, for him. It was hard to fault him. Harry had taken him out of commission, leaving the students alone with a werewolf on the night of a full moon, and a convicted murderer. His rage was resonating through the room as Snape fixed his smoldering black eyes on Harry.

Draco, Pansy, and Hermione all started to speak at once, tripping over each other in their haste to explain what had happened. But Harry stayed silent, just watching his mentor. Feeling the wall of anger between them.

“Silence!” Snape snapped. They stopped instantly, as though he had cast a spell. “Harry, tell me exactly what happened.”

Harry took a deep breath. It surprised him that he was being given the chance to explain himself, he wasn’t going to mess it up. “Sirius Black is innocent.” He watched Snape’s eyebrows shoot up to his forehead, and the man blinked in surprise but allowed him to continue. “It wasn’t him, it was Peter… Pettigrew. The one they all say Black killed. Only, he’s not dead. And he was the one.” Quickly, and with as much detail, Harry told Snape what they had learned regarding the night and events that had led to the death of his parents. He could see, far below the surface anger, more than a hint of sadness in Snape’s face. With everything tonight being about his father’s friends, he’d nearly forgotten the man had been friends with his mother. Of course these new facts would stir up old wounds. But none of this grief was allowed to express itself. The Potions Master kept a tighter check on his emotions than anyone Harry had ever met in his life.

“And where is the proof? Where is Pettigrew?” Snape demanded.

“Escaped,” Harry replied in a hollow tone. “When Mo- Lupin. Well, when he. Everyone got distracted. He shifted into a rat and took off.”

Snape began to pace in front of his desk. Harry could see his mind working, feel the way the man turned over each piece of the story, sorting and cataloging the evidence. Weighing it against his own knowledge of the events. Finally he turned. “You all saw it, all four of you?” They nodded. “Tell no one. NO ONE. Not even those infernal Twins. Do not speak of it to each other. Nor Lupin, should he return to the school. You will keep silent, do you understand?”

Hermione, Pansy and Draco nodded, agreeing quickly - relieved that it did not seem they were in further trouble. But Harry frowned.

“If we stay silent, then people will still think Black did it.”

Snape strode forward, standing directly in front of Harry and drawing himself up to his full height. It was an imposing sight. “You will not disobey me in this, Harry James Potter. Or you will find your wand snapped and every memory of Hogwarts erased.” Then he bent forward, looking Harry straight in the eye. His voice was much softer when he continued, for Harry’s ears only. “Harry, once you said you trusted me completely. Whatever has happened between us this year,” he paused and took a deep breath and put his hands on Harry’s shoulders, squeezing lightly. “I have no right to ask you this, but can you find it in you to trust me as you once did? Will you do as I ask?”

Harry swallowed thickly and nodded. Snape had been there for him when no one else had. This year had been difficult, but Harry could never forget the way Snape had held him tight and explained what a panic attack was. Or why he was not weak for having one. How he had stood up for him, fought for him. He would trust Snape. Snape’s hands landed on his shoulder, squeezing tight. For a moment it seemed as though he would pull Harry into a hug, but his hands stayed where they were.

“Thank you, Harry.” Snape straightened. “Go back to the dormitories, no one will stop you. Say nothing,” he reminded them.

Snape felt the light prickling sensation on his skin as they passed through the wards. Alone, he crossed wearily to to his bedroom and lit the fire with a flick of his wand before slumping into the chair. There were still several hours until the sun rose and the wolf was himself again. Hours he could spend considering all the ways this year had swung so wildly off course. He was not a man given to regret, to second-guessing himself. His life had allowed only for decisiveness. And yet here, so many years later, he found himself entangled in the chains of his childhood once again. The rivalry between James and himself seemed so petty, and now despite the fact that the other man was long dead, his ghost might have cost him everything, again. No, he sighed as he summoned the bottle of whiskey and a tumbler. He refused to let that be his fate. As much as Dumbledore had tied him to his past and seemed forever willing to keep him there, he desired more. Deserved more from life.

He knew Harry was chafing against the inaction. He was his father’s son, after all. There was more than a little bit of Gryffindor in Harry, and that demanded action. But, at the end of the day, he was a Slytherin. And Snape could only hope that despite his own actions towards the boy this past year that some fragment of trust remained. There were so many layers to this situation, and he needed time to think. Time to formulate a plan. Time he had, thanks to that infernal wolf.

Snape sighed and refilled his glass. The wolf was not what he had expected. He’d heard Lupin’s story. Not from the man, but from Fenrir Greyback, one of the Dark Lord’s most devoted followers. Second only, he thought with a sneer, to Bellatrix Lestrange. He’d fought against Lupin’s appointment at Hogwarts. Not, as most would believe, because he desired the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts professor for himself - although it was certainly true - but because he believed it was a truly idiotic and dangerous idea to have a werewolf teaching classes. While he understood the feeling of having a life chosen for you, and he acknowledged Lupin’s curse was not the man’s own doing… it did not change the outcome. His association with the man throughout the year was testament to the fact that he no longer held the wolf against the man. However it changed very little. Tonight was proof beyond any shadow of a doubt that a werewolf was not suited to being a Hogwarts professor. He knew it would likely come as a surprise, for those who thought they knew the “evil old bat” that haunted the dungeons, that the safety of his students was not a charge he took lightly.

The consequences of a careless decision, a foolish choice, could haunt a person for the rest of their life. A fact Snape knew intimately. And yet, when he snapped at students who paid more attention to gossip than what they threw carelessly into their cauldrons he was deemed harsh, even severe. His strict adherence to the rules, and expectation that others should do the same, had earned him a reputation at Hogwarts. One he did much to build and little to refute.

Yet, the wolf’s position as a teacher was not the material point. No, he thought as he set the glass aside and stood up, the threads of the evening were finally beginning to unravel a key. A piece of a puzzle which perhaps would finally unlock to free him from under the Headmaster’s thumb. Too long had Albus Dumbledore sat at his desk, ordering the ways of those around him this way and that, with no one to oppose him. It was dangerous, giving a man, any man, that much power. A truth Snape knew all too well. And yet when the threat of Voldemort’s grab for power rose, the Wizarding world’s solution had been to prop up a powerful wizard of their own.

And it would seem that was once again to be the solution. Dumbledore was doing everything in his power to groom The Boy Who Lived. There was no denying the boy was powerful, Snape thought ruefully as he pinched the bridge of his nose. The Stunner spell the little chit had used on him was most effective. He pushed open the door to his private ingredient stores and began to brew himself a potion for a headache so that he could plan.

There was no mention of Lupin’s absence at breakfast the next morning. Harry had spent a restless night, tossing and turning while he tried to see a path through the mess. Each time he’d thrown off his covers, determined to duel Snape until the older man agreed to do something about Sirius he could hear the silky voice in his ear, “I have no right to ask you this, but can you find it in you to trust me as you once did? Will you do as I ask?”

“No right to ask,” Harry growled as he snatched up the covers again and rolled to the other side. All the same, he did trust Snape. Harry had precious few reasons to trust adults, but Snape had proven himself. He didn’t think he’d react half so well if some of Dudley’s friends showed up at Hogwarts. But he had hoped that the Defense professor’s disappearance would force things to a head. That he’d get some answers.

But, he remembered as he pushed the eggs and bacon around his plate, Lupin was always absent near the full moon. A fact that Dumbledore had pointedly never called attention to, and was unlikely to now. He huffed, glancing over at Draco and Pansy who, like him, were simply moving their food around, not eating it. Pansy was wearing a scarf around her throat, hiding the scratches, and a long sleeved shirt concealed the gashes down her arms. Looking over their heads he spotted Hermione, sandwiched between a worried looking Fred and George. She kept shaking her head, first at one, then turning to deny the other.

Harry sighed, looking up again at the table and Lupin’s empty chair. Suddenly, Harry threw down his fork and stood up. “I’m an idiot,” he said to no one in particular and left the Great Hall. Grateful they had no classes today, he made his way through the castle to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and threw open the door without knocking.

Whatever he thought he was going to see… Lupin sitting across from Snape, both balancing a cup of tea on a saucer and talking cordially was not it. At once Harry regretted not being quieter. A less obvious approach and he may have been able to hear what the two men were discussing. He had his doubts that they would be particularly forthcoming.

“Ahh, Harry. Come have a cuppa,” Lupin said with a weary smile as though Harry hadn’t just burst into the classroom and interrupted them. The ever-present lines around his eyes had grown deeper, and his skin was pale, but he tapped his wand on the tea tray and a third cup appeared.

Harry took a jolting step forward, the only chair available being right next to Professor Snape and his feelings about the man being conflicted. But Snape looked up at him, hands wrapped around the porcelain cup, and spoke softly. “Please, Harry, sit. I would like you to hear this.” When Harry had settled into the chair, Snape recrossed his legs so that he was angled towards him. “Tell me, what do you make of everything that happened last night?”

It was a question he’d been thinking about all night. And it was surprisingly difficult to answer.

“I think,” he began. “I think Black is innocent. But we have no proof. Pettigrew is gone, and I don’t think we’re going to be able to find him all that easily. The Ministry isn’t likely to take the word of four underage witches and wizards, especially not for their most wanted criminal. And probably not you either, Professor.” Harry looked over at Lupin who nodded.

“They might have believed me,” Snape interjected. “However I was unconscious.”

Harry shrank away from the smooth voice and wished he could disappear into his chair. It was something he and his head of house were going to have to talk about. Although he desperately wished they could do so in private and not in front of Lupin. “It seemed…” he started, only to be cut off by a wave of Snape’s hand.

“It is done, for good or ill. We will discuss it another time. Continue.”

After a long sip of tea in which Harry debated with himself the pros and cons of waiting to discuss his attack on his mentor, Harry asked a question that had been nagging at him. “How does being the Secret Keeper work? I’ve never heard of it.”

Snape leaned back in his chair, resting the cup and saucer on his knee and signaled for Lupin to answer.

“It is much as it sounds. Only the Secret Keeper knows the truth of a location. In this case, only Pettigrew knew where your parents were living. Without hearing it, directly from him, You Know Who could have stood outside the house and not seen it for what it was. Not knowing it even existed.”

“It sounds like a powerful spell.”

Lupin nodded in agreement. “It is. Old magic, some of the oldest. Only a handful of witches or wizards alive today could cast it…” Suddenly Lupin’s eyes flashed amber, his pupils narrowing as he stood and hurled the chair across the room. “That manipulative old bastard!” The force of his throw smashed the chair but he didn’t flinch, instead turning sharply on his heel and stalking out of the classroom.

Harry watched him go, wide-eyed, half afraid his uncle would transform again into a werewolf. Then, it struck him. “Dumbledore knew…”

Snape calmly took a sip of his tea before nodding. “He alone knew that your parents had changed their Secret Keeper from Black to Pettigrew, therefore making it impossible for Black to have been the one who betrayed them. Even if Black did in fact kill Pettigrew - the summary execution of a Death Eater, even one as public and dramatic as the explosion Black was said to have caused, was not a crime. Not when the victims of that Death Eater were as beloved as your parents.”

They sat in silence for a moment, then Snape sighed and set his tea aside. “We should go and see whether or not Lupin has left the Headmaster alive. Personally, I’m rather hoping not.”

The last words were said so quietly that Harry was not entirely sure whether or not he’d heard them correctly. Something about the predatory way Snape stood and strode from the classroom assured Harry that the former Death Eater would not be sad to see Dumbledore fall victim to the werewolf. The thought sent a shiver through him as he followed the black billowing robes down the hallway.

Neither spoke as they climbed the steps to the Headmaster’s office. Snape rapped his knuckles against the outer door but did not wait for an answer.

“Ahh, Severus, do come in.” Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled over the top of his half-moon glasses. He did not look, Harry was disappointed to see, like a man who was cornered. Instead the Headmaster was cloaked in the insufferably smug air of someone who knew exactly what was coming next and was merely lying in wait for it. Most students believed the Headmaster to have been in Gryffindor; it would certainly explain the practically blind soft spot he had for the house. And yet, there was a gleam in the man’s eye that made Harry wonder if he was, in fact, a Slytherin. Harry forced his attention back to the present, it was absolutely unimportant which house Dumbledore had belonged to.

“Lupin here,” Dumbledore continued affably as he waved to the man who stood in front of him, “has just been accusing me of knowingly sending an innocent man to prison.” He was interrupted by a low warning growl from the back of Lupin’s throat. “Remus, Remus,” he said, patronizingly. “Do gather yourself. It would not do for you to have an outburst, not so close to the full moon.”

“The only person who would have known that the switch was made, other than those directly involved, was you. Do you deny it?” Lupin growled.

Dumbledore smoothed his robes as he turned to face them. “I do not. If a switch was made, then certainly I as the one who cast the spell would have known. But… you do not understand the political workings of the time. Someone needed to pay for their deaths. Someone had to answer for the tragedy. Should it have been you, Severus? A Death Eater, desperate to redeem himself? You at least had the good sense to stay hidden. Black blew up a street. A Muggle street! There was nothing to be done.” He had moved, while he spoke, to the door, and held it open, gesturing out. “Now, as you have no proof other than wild accusations, there is much I must see to. It seems I need to hire a new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. It appears my last one has res-”

Lupin moved with inhuman speed, his powerful hand closing around Dumbledore’s throat and slamming the old wizard back into a bookcase, causing several of the tomes to fall to the ground. The portraits shouted in horror, expressing concern over the turn of events. With one hand nearly cutting off the Headmaster’s windpipe, the other held a wand, pressing into the weathered cheek. “Your last Defense Against the Dark Arts professor has quit. And you are very sorry to see him go. However, with the full pardon of his former fiance, it was only understandable that he would want to take his leave in order to rehabilitate the man after his tragic stay in Azkaban. Isn’t that right, Professor Dumbledore.”

Harry’s breath caught in his throat. It was rumored that Dumbledore was the most powerful wizard of the last century, and his ability to do wandless magic was well known. However, Harry had long suspected that the Headmaster’s power was less ability and more manipulation. A clever presentation of the facts, building an aura around him that few bothered to look beyond. He nearly jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder, but he saw Professor Snape gently pushing him back into a corner of the room, putting his own body between Harry and the other men. The edges of Harry’s vision began to darken as he held his breath, waiting to see who would move first.

It was Dumbledore. “That is… what you want?”

“Tonight. In the Daily Prophet. A full front page article on how it has recently come to light that Sirius Black was wrongly accused. The Ministry of Magic deeply regrets their mistake and of course has given him a full pardon.”

“I will need my quill.”

Lupin moved to step back and release the Headmaster.

Several things happened at once. Snape had stepped forward to stop Lupin from freeing Dumbledore, but it was too late. Away from the werewolf the Headmaster moved with surprising speed. A gust of wind sent Lupin stumbling out the door, which swung shut behind him. Caught off-guard, Snape tried to reverse his movement, but Dumbledore’s bolt of red light hit him squarely in the chest, Stunning him. The last thing Harry remembered was seeing Dumbledore’s icy blue eyes watching him coldly from behind the blast of a second Stupefy spell.

Chapter Text

Harry sat in his bedroom at the Dursleys, his glasses on the end table beside him, and sobbed into his knees. He’d woken up to find himself locked in the room. Thick bars covered the window and his trunk was shoved against the wall. There was no sign of Hedwig. The Dursleys refused to speak to him. He’d made himself sick shouting at the top of his lungs for someone to tell him what was going on. When he’d heard the door unlock he’d nearly fainted in relief. But Vernon burst into the room and backhanded him, sending Harry sprawling back into the bed.

Twice a day, morning and night, Vernon unlocked the door. Harry arms were wrenched painfully forward and tied together with small plastic bands. He was marched to the washroom and given precisely sixty seconds to take care of himself before he was forcibly hauled back to his room and thrown through the door. At midday Petunia slid a tray through the slot in the door that had been installed on his return. Bread, sometimes with a pat of butter, and water.

It had been a few weeks, as best he was able to figure. School had to be over now. He had convinced himself that it was school which hampered any efforts to rescue him. Mr. Malfoy knew where he was. Surely he, or Snape, would have come up with a plan by now. Or Lupin and Black, if they were free. They had to be free, he told himself. Free, and coming to save him. But as the weeks wore on his belief in a rescue began to waver, and finally disappeared all together. It seemed the price of Black’s freedom was to be his.