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Isobel and Morag were the first in their compartment. They sat in silence, their beloved Silverclaws, Gwaihir, a breathing silver cushion on Morag’s lap. Father had told them about the Houses, of course, and Mum said not to worry. They were witches – magical. Surely which House didn’t matter. Father nodded, but it was obvious he wanted them in his House, Ravenclaw, House of the studious, of the wise. Mum had been a Hufflepuff and promised that, wherever they went, things would turn out just as they should.

Mum, though, was an optimist. Isobel was a pragmatist, and Morag a pessimist. Father was just Father.

Gwaihir moved to Isobel’s side just as the door opened and a boy poked his head in.

“Hey!” he said. “I’m Eddie. D’ya mind if I sit in here?” He sounded American - New York, Isobel thought. Like Mum’s television shows.

Morag shook her head and Isobel said, “That’s fine. Are you American, then?”

Eddie smiled, flinging himself into the seat across from them. “My da is,” he replied. “But my dad’s English, though he won’t tell me where from.” He shrugged. “Da always swats him when he refuses. I think he’s from London, though.”

Isobel chuckled, pulling Gwaihir into her arms.

“I’m Morag MacDougal,” Morag finally introduced them. “And she’s Isobel.”

“And who is that gorgeous boy?” Eddie asked, leaning over to get a better look at Gwaihir.

Gwaihir preened, of course. Morag laughed and Isobel held their cat up. He was pliant in her grip, boneless like usual. Anyone would be forgiven for thinking him a normal cat. “Gwaihir,” she said.

“Hello, pretty,” Eddie cooed, but he didn’t reach out to touch the cat. “My dad said Silverclaws were extinct,” he murmured.

Isobel clutched Gwaihir close as Morag sat up straight. “They are,” both said together.

Eddie smiled. “Understood.” He paused, eyes going from each sister to Gwaihir, before down to his hands and then the door. “Secret for secret?” he offered, and whispered something. It didn’t sound English, and both twins gasped as a tiny snake slithered down his right hand. “Dad spelled him miniature,” Eddie said.

“That’s an Amazon Firetongue,” Morag breathed. Isobel nodded, captivated by the serpent as it changed color, vibrant green to an almost blood-red.

“Her name’s Chakra,” Eddie said, and the snake vanished up his sleeve as the door opened again.

“Has anyone seen a toad?” a bushy-haired girl asked. She waited long enough for Eddie’s negative and left.

Isobel and Morag exchanged a long look before Morag said, “You shouldn’t let anyone know you’re a parselmouth. It won’t… they’ll think you’re Dark from the start.”

Eddie laughed. “Dad already explained that. But I can be whatever I want. This year’s just to see, anyway.”

“Just to see what?” Isobel asked, letting go of Gwaihir as he jumped from her lap.

Eddie smiled at the cat, who oozed up onto the seat next to him and sniffed at his sleeve.

“If I want to stay at Hogwarts. I probably won’t, but you never know.” He shrugged again, rubbing at Gwaihir’s ear. “It’ll give Da and Dad time to clean up some unfinished business if I’m hidden away for awhile, but it’ll be my choice at the end. Dad’s already taught me a lot, anyway.”

Morag and Isobel shared another look. This boy was fascinating. Gwaihir climbed up his shoulder, purring, silver claws flashing. Eddie, who knew what Gwaihir was, laughed.

Even Father flinched away from Gwaihir, had ever since Mum brought him home as a kitten. She was muggleborn – she didn’t know. But Father knew, and if they hadn’t already claimed the Silverclaws as their familiar, the strongest show of accidental magic in their lives… but Gwaihir was theirs, and they were his, and this boy was laughing while Gwaihir kneaded those silver claws in his trousers.

“I might go to Salem next year,” Eddie said, running his hand from the back of Gwaihir’s head to the tip of his tail. “Or continue training with Dad. Da also looked into tutors for me.”

Eddie glanced up from Gwaihir and said, “So, I did some research, of course, but I want to know what the two of you think. Which House should I go to?”

Morag said, “Father believes Ravenclaw is the best.”

Eddie raised an eyebrow. “And what do you think?” he asked, lightly bopping Gwaihir between the ears.

Gwaihir didn’t react at all; Isobel wanted to gape. Instead she said, “I’m not sure. Gryffindor is considered brave, Slytherin evil, Ravenclaw wise, and Hufflepuff left over. But Mum was a Hufflepuff, and she says it’s the nicest House.”

“Hmm.” Eddie trailed a finger down Gwaihir’s spine and hissed something.

Chakra, around Eddie’s neck, now, Isobel saw, hissed back. Isobel thought she almost understood – she glanced at Morag and her sister nodded.

“Slytherins are snakes,” Eddie mused, pulling his hand back as Gwaihir stood and leapt from his lap to Morag. “And if Dad’d ever gone to Hogwarts, he’d have probably been one. So I’ll go there.”

Isobel didn’t even bother trying to explain that students didn’t choose their Houses. She figured it wouldn’t matter to Eddie, anyway.

The Sorting always seemed to linger. Severus had noticed it his first year and then the six that followed. It was even longer as a teacher. And the Hat’s song got worse every year.

Minerva led the little brats in and started calling names; by the end, Severus had eleven new serpents and Harry Potter was never called.

Interesting.

Severus glanced at Albus, who actively avoided his gaze.

Very interesting indeed.

.

After the Sorting, the prefects led the first years to the dormitories. Severus took a quicker path and was waiting in the common room as the students entered. The older children spread out, leaving the first years in front of Severus, who waited for them to quiet while wearing his most forbidding expression.

Once they were silent and staring at him, Severus said, “I am Professor Snape, Head of Slytherin House. Our rules are simple.” He paused, studying each of them in turn. “All disagreements are kept in the House. To the rest of Hogwarts, we are united in all things.” Another pause, and he nodded to Draco. He recognized all but one student, the boy between Draco and one of MacDougal’s daughters. “Honor Slytherin in all you do,” Severus finished. “And when you break Hogwarts’ rules, don’t get caught.”

He nodded to the prefects. “First years, follow the prefects to your dorms. You will share with your yearmates until seventh year, when everyone gets a single to themselves.”

As the first years began moving to the doors, separating into boys and girls, Severus called, “The only rule you cannot break is unity. All the rest, I will understand, depending on the circumstances. But if we turn on ourselves, we will have no one.” He gave them a small smile, gesturing them on. “Welcome to Hogwarts.”

At the doors, the unknown – Edmund Colmes – paused to touch MacDougal’s daughter, Isobel, on the shoulder. She nodded, giving him a quick kiss to the cheek, and they both went into their tunnels.

Severus said goodnight to the rest of his serpents and then headed for the Headmaster’s office, to demand the location of Lily’s son.

Draco was at Hogwarts, finally, away from home for the first time. While exhilarated, he was also nervous, so he pulled on his strongest mask and began lording himself over the rest of his yearmates, children he’d known for years – all but a few. He didn’t know two of the girls, Isobel MacDougal and Tracey Davis, or Edmund Colmes. MacDougal and Davis were with Pansy, and she’d know all their secrets soon enough, and he knew of MacDougal’s father and Davis’ mother. But Colmes was a complete unknown.

Draco watched Colmes flop onto the bed furthest from the door and stretch out with a wide yawn, saying, “Wow, it’s been a long day.”

He sounded American. Draco frowned.

“I don’t recognize your surname,” Zabini said, also looking at Colmes while Nott, Crabbe, and Goyle chose other beds.

Colmes grinned. “No reason why you would.” He bounced up and stripped off his robe, revealing muggle trousers and shirt. He pulled a slim box out of the pocket, pressed the top, and held it to his ear.

Nott focused on him, and watched with Draco and Zabini in shock while Colmes carried on a conversation with the box like it was a magic mirror.

“Hey, Da,” Colmes said, lying back on the bed. “Yeah, it’s almost time to sleep. I’m in Slytherin, House of Serpents – I’m sure Dad’ll be thrilled.” He laughed. “It seems interesting so far, and there’s a wicked illusion on the ceiling. Have Dad show it to you – I’m sure he knows about it,” Colmes continued. “Yeah, Chakra’s fine. She made a friend earlier, and I think I have two of my own.” Another laugh. “Tell Dad they’re twins.”

Draco looked at Nott; Nott used to have an unbecoming fascination with muggle devices. “It’s a mobile phone,” Nott said quietly. “But they’re not meant to work at Hogwarts. No muggle technology works here.”

Colmes said, “Night, Da. You, too. Talk to you tomorrow.” He pushed another button and let the box – mobile fall onto the bed. He stretched again and rolled off the bed, kneeling by the trunk. “Trans-Atlantic travel is always exhausting, wouldn’t you say?” he commented to the room in general, rummaging around in his trunk. He pulled out nightclothes, stripped, and redressed before throwing himself back on the bed.

“Night, guys,” he called. Draco glanced at Nott and Zabini, who both shrugged, seemingly as confused as he was. He resolved to write Father in the morning and went to kick Goyle out of the bed he wanted.

Harry Potter was not at Hogwarts. Albus gazed sorrowfully at Fawkes; when all his magicks had failed he’d at last turned to his old friend and begged a boon. But not even Fawkes could find the boy.

None of them had realized that anything was amiss until Harry Potter never owled a reply to his Hogwarts letter. When Minerva, as always in charge of the first years, brought it to Albus’ attention he sent Hagrid to fetch The Boy Who Lived.

But Harry Potter was not at the Dursley’s – in fact, even the Dursleys were not there.

When Hagrid returned bewildered, Albus realized something had gone irrevocably wrong.

A quick search revealed that Vernon Dursley went missing four years earlier, and there was no evidence – anywhere – that Dursley or his wife ever had custody of a child not their son. There was evidence of horrific things, but nothing at all on Harry Potter.

Petunia, Albus learned, had moved to the middle of nowhere with her son after Vernon vanished. She had the strongest, most delicate memory charm on her mind that even Albus had ever seen.

She had no knowledge of Harry Potter.

All the detectors in Albus’ office showed that Harry was alive, but none could locate him. Fawkes, more powerful than even Albus truly understood, returned just as bewildered as Hagrid from every search. And now what should have been Harry Potter’s first year started without him. Albus heaved a great sigh as Fawkes hummed his most soothing song.

“Of course, old friend,” he murmured. “We’ll have to focus on the spare, then.” He sighed again and closed his eyes, listening to Fawkes.

.

In the absence of anything useful to do, Minerva had focused on the incoming first years. She had students to care for – she left the search to Albus.

The muggleborns were escorted to Diagon Alley and then the platform, so that they’d be able to find it again. Minerva finalized lesson plans and packets for the muggleborns on everything necessary to traverse the magical world. All the while, she wondered about Harry Potter.

She had told Albus not to leave the child with those people, and now she wondered how four years could have passed – at least – since Harry vanished. She kept a tight tether on her anger, but she knew Albus knew just how furious she truly was. She’d warned the man about those muggles.

Except… Minerva’s quill stilled. Dursley disappeared four years ago, and Lily’s sister moved away with her own child. But how could any of them be sure that was when Harry vanished, as well? What if something had happened before that? The things that had been found after Dursley’s disappearance – oh, but if Minerva had that muggle in front of her, she could not honestly say she wouldn’t Crucio him.

Albus swore the wards had been erected when Petunia took Harry in, and the wards had not fallen, even after Petunia moved. But how trustworthy was Albus, after such a terrible mistake?

Someone else’s magic – untraceable, and strong – was at work, hiding Harry’s true fate.

But that was for Albus to deal with. Minerva needed to deal with the students. For now, she could do nothing else. And when she could… when she could, she would.

She picked up her quill and returned to her list of first years. Their schedules were due by breakfast, and she’d lost weeks to the search. As she skipped over writing a schedule for Harry Potter, she wiped away a tear.

In the morning, Eddie bounced out of bed. Chakra had spent the night exploring and she curled up in the middle of his sheets while Eddie took a quick shower. After he dressed in his favorite t-shirt and a clean pair of jeans, pulling one of the silly uniform robes over his head, Chakra slithered up his arm to curl around his neck.

Eddie grabbed his booksack, waving all of his school books into it, and headed for the Great Hall, where they were supposed to take all their meals. It was just barely 7am, so there were only a few other kids sprinkled throughout the hall and one teacher at the front table. Morag and Isobel were at the Ravenclaw table, so Eddie went to it.

“Hey,” he said, sitting across from them. “What’s shakin’?”

“Good morning,” Isobel said. “We were just comparing our dormmates.”

Eddie grinned. “The two of you know what a cellphone is, right?”

Morag nodded. “Grandmum has one. We’re not allowed to touch it, though, because our magic makes it short out.”

“I used mine last night,” Eddie said. “In my dorm, to call home.”

He relished their gobsmacked expressions. This was going to be a wonderful term.

.