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Under The Surface

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Strangeness was not allowed here, at number 4 Privet Drive. Harry had come to understand this early, however, he found that strangeness seemed to follow him everywhere, and his Aunt and Uncle blamed him. When things flew from the shelves, when toys changed color, or when an object changed shapes, he found himself facing the shrill, cruel screeching of his Aunt and her knife-like words that never seemed to fail to cut deep, or the fist (or, if it was especially bad, the belt) of his Uncle.

The worse of the two was difficult to decide. His aunt always seemed to know what to say to get to him. From his worthlessness, to his scrawny figure, to his parents who never wanted him, the boy was stripped from top to bottom and picked apart. He’d stand there clutching his oversized trousers, head low as his thick, unruly hair covered his teary eyes. If she caught him crying, it’d just get worse.

“Don’t you get to crying, boy,” she’d snap at him. “What’ve you got to cry for? We should’ve left you in the streets the second we saw you. You’ve been nothing but trouble. You should be grateful we’ve given you a roof over your head. It’s more than you deserve”

Then she’d go on to describe the way his parents talked about him; how they knew from the moment he was born that he’d amount to nothing. She’d lament about how she knew any child of her sister’s would be a troublesome, unruly one, but she didn’t think any child could match the awfulness of Harry. She’d state that his parents had likely died to escape from him, which would always be the point he started crying if he hadn’t begun already.

His uncle, on the other hand, wasn’t as eloquent in expressing how pathetic Harry was, but wasn’t silent either. He’d grab the boy, normally by the tangled mat of hair on his head, and hit him relentlessly. In the face, in the gut in the chest. Wherever he could reach, getting out the frustrations of the day. Or, he’d remove his belt, fold it over itself, and repeatedly whip the boy on the back and on his legs, raising welts and cuts upon his skin.

No plea stopped his rage until it was spent, so Harry would spend the time curling in on himself and blocking out the torrent of mismatched words that were directed at him, calling him worthless, good-for-nothing, horrible, disgusting, and anything else that was passing through the man’s mind.

When either had finished, he’d be sent back to his tiny cupboard under the stairs where he’d nurse his wounds, mental or physical, and wait.

He wouldn’t be spoken to or acknowledged while there in the cupboard. He had no way to pass the time, no way to know when it was or when he’d be let out. Frequently, if he had done something especially damning, he would be left there for what he could only assume was days without being let out. Having soiled himself several times, and both greatly starving and dehydrated, he’d cry against the door, hardly able to raise his voice enough to ask for just a bit of water. They’d be merciful eventually, allowing him to wash up for ten minutes where he’d spend most of it drinking the water from the sink, then he’d jump into the cold shower (freaks like him couldn’t use the hot water, and he wouldn’t have time to allow it to heat up anyway), clothes and all, and wash until his aunt banged on the door and demand he come out before he wasted all the water.

If he was quick in cleaning out the foul-smelling cupboard, he’d be given some food before being tossed into his next chore.

And so it went for years. He hardly spoke, communicating in quick nods and bowed heads. He couldn’t argue with any task given to him. Should he have already done a chore he was ordered to do, he would do it again. Once, he had voiced that he had completed his chores given to him, which had landed him a burned forearm, too many welts to count, and three days in the cupboard with no light and no communication. He never argued with anything his aunt or uncle asked of him again.

As for his cousin, everything the troublesome boy did was blamed on him. Every broken plate was Harry’s fault, every mood swing and temper tantrum. No, even with his deeds in front of his parents gaze, he could do no wrong, and when the boy could walk, he began terrorizing Harry, purposely doing things to get the boy in trouble, getting his friend’s to join him in chasing Harry down the street, into the woods, into any hiding spot he could find. And if Harry was caught by his cousin that grew larger and larger every day, he’d be beaten and tossed around like he weighed nothing, thrown to the ground and stopped on, trying to remain motionless so his cousin would get bored and leave.

But there were moments of peace. Time where his relatives left on vacations he wasn’t invited to. Time where he could sit in the back by the garden and be alright. Time to himself. He lived only for these moments of peace.

He went for years like this, hopping from one peaceful moment to the next. Often, these moments were few and far in between, but it was all he could look forward to. And he survived for eight years before his poor luck got the better of him.

He had been shopping with his aunt, which was a rare treat unto itself. He hardly got the chance to leave the house, so he was under strict orders to behave himself. His aunt had needed his help in the many groceries she was buying, which would be used in making a dinner for the social she had planned that night.

Harry knew the social would mean his relatives would be on high alert. He would likely be providing the food, yet never seen by any of the guests. No, he’d be shut away in his cupboard long before the guests would be filing into the home, complimenting his aunt on her wonderful cooking skills. Still, this provided him a chance to venture outside the confines of the Dursley home, so he took it gratefully.

This also meant that his aunt couldn’t be as openly horrible. He knew he’d be berated harshly later with every foul thing she had on her mind to say, but for a time he could enjoy, though he’d be beaten for thinking so, her unwilling silence to his clear wrongdoings.

He wandered the aisles, searching for each ingredient she barked his way, squinting his eyes at the labels. He attempted to be quick, but flinched when he put the wrong ingredient into the cart.

“I said low-fat, boy!” She hissed at him, keeping her voice down begrudgingly. “Are you deaf?”

He quickly bowed his head and removed the offending object, squinting closer to the cans to find the correct ingredient. His hands were already shaking, and he recalled he hadn’t eaten since the morning before. If he could be good, he’d be able to eat, but the labels only got harder to read as his shaking worsened, and her impatience grew.

“Hurry up, boy!” She snapped, a little too loudly, and suddenly his hand slipped, causing the can he had been holding to fall. Without thinking, afraid to make noise, he tensed, and the can abruptly stopped its descent.

His breathing stilled. He didn’t need to look up to know his aunt was staring at him with hardly contained fury, face red and hands shaking.

Strangeness was not allowed…

The can dropped.

She marched quickly to him, grabbing him by the upper arm. Her thin frame was misleading; the woman’s iron grip was strong enough to bruise, but he kept his pain hidden.

“What have we told you, freak?” She said lowly, eyes darting around to nearby customers. None seemed to be taking notice, but her precious reputation was in danger should one of them have seen.

Harry couldn’t breathe.

“You’ll be hearing from Vernon when we get back,” she threatened quietly, and Harry could hear his heart in his ears, feel it pulsing up his neck and down to his toes, but he bit his lip to keep his impending whimper down. He should’ve known better… He deserved it…

Harry attempted to disrupt his aunt as little as possible for the rest of the trip. He wouldn’t be seeing the outside world for a long time, he knew. He wondered at if he could sneak away an apple, but then again, if anyone found out, whether his aunt or someone else, he’d be lucky to be fed before the next week.

The moment he got home, his aunt went to his uncle sharing the news of the great atrocity he had committed, heavily exaggerating the details.

“That freak! You should’ve seen what he did. In public! We were surrounded by dozens of other people! It’s a miracle none of them saw! I’m certain he was trying to get their attention, the ungrateful brat. Wanted to ruin my perfect night with his freakishness.”

If he had the voice to, and a much wilder attitude, he might have attempted to correct the unfair telling of the event. But he had neither the attitude, nor the voice to correct his aunt. The mere suggestion that he should would send him into a fit of panic, just thinking of the beatings that would follow such ungratefulness.

His uncle, red in the face, made good on the threat his aunt had given him. Punched in the face, chest, and stomach, he was held up and against the wall by his hair alone, even as he attempted to curl in on himself, while his aunt tore into him verbally, recounting the ways he was a worthless, ungrateful, stupid freak. He briefly heard his cousin’s laugh from a few feet away before his head was slammed into the wall and the world was sent sideways, his hearing overcome by a distinct ringing sound.

He became acutely aware that he was still being beaten. His uncles belt was off and his shirt was above his head. The leather smacked down harshly on his still-healing back, opening old wounds and creating new ones over his bony spine. Harry’s breathing came out in strangled spurts, hardly there to register what was going on anymore.

Eventually, he must’ve passed out, as the next moment found him lying on the cool ground in his dark cupboard. Voices from outside swam into his senses, and he supposed he must’ve been out for a while, as it seemed like the party was already ending.

He quietly assessed himself, checking what was broken. His wrist was tender, where he’d fallen on it most likely, but he could bend it. His ribs, however, had at least a few cracked or broken among their numbers.

Had it not been for the dizziness in his head, he might’ve been concerned about said dizziness. His head felt like it was split open, and he was disoriented and faint, so he lay there, staring blindly up at the ceiling, the darkness making it all the more impossible to reorient himself, as he couldn’t tell if he had lost consciousness again or not, until he woke up somewhere else.

The truth was that he had lost consciousness again. Petunia and Vernon had sent their son to bed and sat down for an evening tea when the door was knocked on. Cursing the guest already for the rudeness of their visit at such an hour, Vernon stood to answer the door, his wife staying behind, but listening all to intently, as she was so used to doing.

The person behind the door was actually two people, a man and woman. The woman, Olivia Shaw, a stocky middle-aged woman that definitely stood less than five feet, had rimless glasses and an all-to-calm expression, as though she could witness a massacre and not be fazed in the slightest. The man, Basil Truscott, on the other hand, was tall and muscular, holding an extremely bored countenance, casually looking Vernon up and down. He was there for extra protection for Olivia (though should a fight break out, he doubted Ms. Shaw would need any help), and seemed to be almost begging something to go wrong to rid himself of his intense boredom.

“Good evening,” the woman said evenly, her voice having the fakest sort of sincerity that the Dursleys knew well. “I hope you are well.” Vernon grunted a nearly amused snort at her comment.

“Good evening…” he mocked sarcastically. “What the bloody hell do you want at this hour?”

“Ah yes, I didn’t mean to interrupt your night,” she said, though clearly having no true remorse behind her words, “I was simply wondering about the young wizard you have living here.”

The words were said with such simplicity, that it took Vernon a while to realize just what had been said. He sputtered a moment, attempting to gather himself, then his face turned an ugly shade of purple.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he snapped defensively at the unfazed woman. “Don’t come back here.” And with that, he attempted to slam the door in their face. The man, however, slapped his hand on the door quickly, easily reaching over the woman and stopping the door on its way to be shut, still seeming as unexcited as ever.

“I believe you do know what I’m talking about,” the woman said, as behind Vernon, Petunia stepped in to see what was happening. “I saw today he displayed magic at the grocer. I simply came to offer you my help.”

“We don’t want help from any of your kind,” Petunia snapped, stepping closer and glaring at the woman, even as Vernon continued to attempt to push the door closed, but Basil’s hand remained unrelenting.

“Oh I believe my offer of the utmost interest to you. You see, I’d like to take him off your hands.”

Vernon stopped abruptly, staring at the woman, and Petunia seemed taken aback at first, but her expression quickly changed to suspicion.

“Why?” She asked evenly, her eyes narrowed curiously, attempting to hide her interest at the idea of dumping the boy off with anyone else.

“We have a great interest in young witches and wizards such as the boy you have here,” the woman stated, casually adjusting her glasses. “We will house him elsewhere, and you needn’t hear from him ever again. All we ask is that you forget we were ever here.”

The Dursleys mulled this over between them, glancing to one another. Such an opportunity was nearly too good to be true, and was also quite a rare one. Both knew that they didn’t want to pass it up.

“That’s it?” Vernon asked.

“That’s it,” Olivia responded.

“And we’ll never hear from him again?” Petunia asked, knowing the implications of such a statement, but not caring in the slightest.

“Not at all, the boy is as good as gone from your lives.”

That was the sentence that sealed it. Vernon all but threw the cupboard door open, grabbed the unconscious boy, and threw him into the arms of Basil, who slung him over his shoulder and casually sauntering over to the edge of the property, disappearing once he hit the sidewalk, taking the boy with him.

“Thank you so much for your cooperation,” Olivia said, a smile on her lips that never reached her eyes. “It’s been a pleasure. Have a nice evening.”

And then she was gone.

Chapter Text

When Harry awoke, he wasn’t in his cupboard. If he was, he would be alone. No, as he swam to the surface, he rather quickly became aware of other bodies pressed up next to him. He heard the constant, soft groans and sobs from those around him. He smelled the foul odor of human waste and sweat and absolute fear.

He sat up abruptly, ignoring the way his head spun, attempting to see into the darkness, but his eyes refused to focus more than allowing him to see small shapes all around him. Dozens of people, likely children by their size, pressed against each other, huddled into the dark space they all inhabited. He could see a crack under a door that allowed the tiniest bit of light into the room, but he saw nothing else.

Harry attempted to stand, and lost his balance, falling down again, landing on another kid. The kid, a girl it seemed, cried out and shoved herself away from him. He attempted to mutter an apology, but his voice was tight and his throat dry. He must’ve been out for a long time.

Unable to stand, he carefully crawled his way to the door, attempting to ignore the stabbing pain in his chest, softly pushing past the other kids, and none stopped him. They simply flinched away from his touch and moving out of his path. He attempted to ignore what he was getting on his hands and knees, knowing the floor of the room was most certainly covered in all manner disgusting things; sweat, waste, perhaps blood. It was hard to discern one smell from another.

As he reached the door, he lowered himself down, not bothering with the handle, and pressed his face to the crack at the bottom. He was greeted with fresh air as opposed to the suffocating, humid air of the room he was in, and warm light that nearly blinded him.

As his eye focused, he saw a hallway. Every few moments, a pair of feet would walk by, and the children he shared this room with all tensed, before relaxing as the owner of the feet moved on.

Harry felt his stomach lurch. Where was he? How did he get here? Was he dreaming? No, he had never had a dream this vivid before. But then… why was he here? His head was spinning, and he was breathing fast, his nose and fingers tingling more with each intake of air.

And then a pair of feet stopped at the door, and the room held their breath, all the children still and silent for once.

And the door opened, bathing the room with flickering light.

Harry was immediately left alone as all the other children shoved themselves to the wall.

He froze, feeling incredibly exposed.

His eyes trailed upward to the owner of the feet. It was a man, very tall and very well built. Had Harry been conscious, he would’ve recognized the man as Basil Truscott, who had carried him to this place. But he didn’t recognize the man, nor the dull, unexcited look in his eyes. He could, however, see that the man had his name sewed to the breast of his coat which gave away his identity.

Harry turned back to get a peek at the room and who he had shared it with. The floor was as disgusting as he had imagined, and yes, blood was among the many things smeared into the floor. He didn't spend more time than that focusing on the floor, however.

The children, who all seemed to be close to Harry’s age (a few ranging into young teens it would seem, and two as young as perhaps four), were pressed to the walls, their whines and wails telling Harry to be afraid of this man he was crouched at the feet of. They were all frail and smeared with blood and sweat and human waste that they so clearly lived in, their hair, if they had any, plastered to their faces. All of them wore the same clothes that Harry now realized he was wearing; a simple, loose shirt and pants like one might expect a medical patient to wear. It seemed the draw string around his waist hinted that the clothes were supposed to fit just about anyone, so on himself and all the children it nearly drowned them. All of them had some digits on the back of their hands, the thing Harry seemed to be missing that made him fit with the group.

What struck him was the oddities of some of these children. A few had strangely colored skin. Not simply an unhealthy color, but an unnatural color. One was blue, and one an ugly color somewhere between yellow, orange, and green. One of the children had many patches of strange colors. A few of them had unnatural eye colors, and at least one was obviously blind, his unseeing eyes stained a golden color. All around, on at least a third of the children, there were unexplainable features.

Harry had no more time to register what he was seeing when he was abruptly grabbed by the arm and shoved down the hall, hissing lowly as his ribs were disturbed once again, but allowing no other sound to cross his lips.

The clean air that he was greeted with was startling, especially since they had hardly left the room. He was sure he should’ve still been able to smell the stench from much farther away, but it was as if it didn’t exist. In fact, he couldn’t hear the noise from that room, or any of the other identical rooms down the hallway, even though he became aware that each one must have held others in the same situation as him. Each one was identical, other than a different letter on the door.

Down the hall that curved sharply (these rooms must've been arranged in a single, circular hallway), and to another, longer hallway that was straight, he was hardly able to react to all the things he was seeing. Many people, wearing white coats that had names sewed on them like Basil's, passed him, and none seemed shocked at his frail and unkempt appearance. In this new hallway, there were less restrictive doors, doors that weren't meant to imprison people. Some were closed, however, some were left open, allowing Harry to briefly see into a few as they passed.

Not all the rooms he saw had people in them, but each had a table in the center, and the ones that were inhabited had someone dressed like Harry on them, being held down most frequently. Some were being forced to drink a strange liquid. Some were writhing on the tables or staying strangely still. And some of the things Harry saw were far too unnatural for him to fathom. Bright lights coming from odd sticks that the white-coat wearing people pointed. People changing shapes, size, crying out in pain. Their screaming, the sounds never leaving each room despite the opened door, was clear from many of the faces of the people on the tables, most of which looked Harry’s age or even younger.

Harry briefly remembered the image of a torture chamber he had seen in one of Dudley's movies that the boy watched when his parents were away.

His heartbeat quickened, pounding through his ears.

And then he was shoved into one of those rooms, another of the white-coat people (scientists of some sort, though the coats were not quite lab coats) standing in the corner. A younger man, much smaller and shorter than the one Harry had been dragged in by, was startled by their entry. A shaky hand readjusted his square glasses.

“Don’t look like you’re gonna wet yourself, it’s just an evaluation,” Basil said with an unamused sneer.

“An evaluation…” the man muttered. “Right.”

Neither Harry, nor the frightened man moved, and Basil quickly got impatient. He abruptly shoved Harry forward into the man’s arms, and both Harry and the man were pushed back into the wooden table. Harry got a brief look at his name (Tobias Hopkins), before he was shoved backwards again by the unsettled man.

“Bloody hell, it’s just a kid!” Basil snapped. “Just get him clean and get on with it!”

Tobias stuttered a moment, then pulled out one of those sticks Harry had seen in the other room and pointed it shakily at the boy. With a muttered word, Harry suddenly found himself completely clean. He stared down at his hands in shock, seeing them spotless where a few minutes ago they were caked with waste and sweat and blood. The foul smell from his body was gone, and his matted hair was no longer covered with dirt and grime. He was truly clean for the first time in many years.

Before he could properly react, he was lifted into the air by an unknown force and sat upon the table, his hands holding tightly to his shirt, feeling his heart pounding through the fabric.

He felt the tingle of something else as Tobias continued to mutter a few more words that didn’t seem to be English, and he immediately recognized this strangeness. It was the same strangeness that made him spend many nights alone in his cupboard. These people had it too…

So caught up in his thoughts, he didn’t notice Tobias approach him and the man gently grabbed his chin. Harry flinched back harshly.

“H-hey, I won’t hurt you,” Tobias said softly, though Basil still heard him.

“Yet,” the man snorted with a humorless smirk, causing Tobias to swallow thickly and pale rather considerably.

Carefully, Tobias turned Harry’s face from one side to another, and Harry became aware that behind him there was a paper floating and a feather quickly scribbling onto it, following Tobias’s soft muttering to himself. Every few moments, he’d wave the stick he had and whisper something else, the feather quickening its scribbles behind him whenever he did.

“Malnourished, underweight, with a few cracked ribs,” Tobias stated.

“Very interesting, we’ve never seen that before,” Basil said, voice dripping with sarcasm.

Tobias’s mouth pressed in a thin line at the comment, but he continued. “Some scarring on his back and legs, as well as a scar on his face, here.” He pushed the boy’s hair up, and then froze. Harry was wrong when he thought the man had been pale already; now he was completely white. His mouth opened to say something, but his voice suddenly failed him, so he instead choked out a few unintelligible syllables.

“What are you gasping about?” Basil snapped, stepping up closer, clearly unamused.

“P-P-Pot-otter…” Tobias sputtered. “H-Harry Po-Potter…”

There was a pause, Tobias still gaping at Harry's forehead, Harry feeling incredibly lost in the whole situation, and Basil staring at Tobias.

“What?” Basil said slowly, coming forward to stand in front of the boy, shoving Tobias out of the way so he could see. All at once, his bored expression changed, a shudder-inducing grin spreading over his face. He chuckled darkly. “Well this is interesting…”

“W-we have Harry P-Potter…” Tobias stated, seeming to be on the verge of panic. “Why do we have Harry Potter?”

“Oh this is gonna be great,” Basil said to himself, his grin growing more and more with whatever thoughts were going through his mind.

Both men seemed to be in their own worlds, one of terror, and one of sadistic possibilities. Both staring intently at Harry, who was starting to miss the Dursley home.

“How did he get here?” Tobias suddenly demanded.

“Normal pickup,” Basil responded, not looking at Tobias. “Kid in a muggle home, muggles are ashamed of them, we take the kid.” He tilted Harry’s head to get a better look at his scar. Harry was too lost and dizzy to resist. “Do you think he could survive the killing curse twice?”

“I hope I’m not here to find out. We’ve gone too far...”

Basil’s expression suddenly dropped to irritation, and he whirled back on Tobias, startling the man into stumbling backwards with how quickly the larger one approached.

“Would you like to repeat that?” Basil said darkly.

“Uh… I-I… uh…” Tobias’s throat seemed to abruptly dry up.

“I should report you,” he snapped. “You should be killed for talking like that." By this point, he was in the shorter man’s face, their noses inches away from one another’s. Tobias didn't seem to be breathing, and Basil held the moment, his dark eyes boring into the trembling man. Then he smiled, but it was far from warming. It held a threat behind it. "But I’m in an especially good mood, so you’ll be on watch indefinitely. Keep your nose clean and maybe we can overlook your slip of the tongue.”

“Y… yeah…” Tobias stepped further back from Basil, attempting to gather himself. “Th…. Thank you… I wasn’t… wasn’t thinking.”

“No, you weren’t.” Basil sniffed haughtily, his smile gone. “Get out of here. I’ll take care of things from here. Let Ms. Shaw know I want to speak with her about this… interesting development.”

“Y-yes… Thank you again…” Tobias quickly grabbed the paper and feather that had dropped on the ground, sparing Harry a last glance, then ran out of the room.

Basil’s sadistic smile was back as he sauntered back over to the table, pressing both hands to its surface as he was suddenly leaning over Harry, the boy leaning back, his breathing coming out in harsh, panicked spurts, but he still kept his silence, trying to think through the fuzzy pounding in his head.

“Oh you are an incredibly unlucky kid,” Basil all but purred. “I’m going to have… quite a bit of fun with you… But not yet.” He grabbed his stick and Harry’s hand abruptly, the boy letting out a startled yelp as he pressed the tip to the back of Harry’s hand, a three digit number and a letter appearing there; 322-F.

Harry caught sight of a tattoo under the man’s sleeve.

A few minutes later, Harry was shoved back into the room again, Basil giving one last smirk that sent a shiver through all the children against the wall.

And then the room was covered in darkness once more.

Harry crouched on the floor, his knees to his chest, and cried for the first time that day, his sobs joining the dozens of other children, just as frightened and lost as he was.


 

Severus Snape could frequently determine the kind of day it was going to be from the first hour after he awoke. The children had all been in school for a few months already, and most days were dull and uneventful. A few times, there might be the need for detentions, but his excitement was limited to a few botched potions, leading to some interesting results, and all manner of arguments of any and every topic the students could find to quarrel over.

So, when his Sunday morning consisted of spilling his coffee and misplacing his iron potion stirrer, which ultimately led to the ruination of a potion he had been working on since the Tuesday before, he was certain it was going to be a headache-inducing day, even before he got the call from the headmaster to meet him in his office.

Within minutes, he was there, already certain whatever Dumbledore was going to have him do was going to be a huge inconvenience, just by the way the man’s eyes twinkled as they bore into him.

“Severus, my friend, how have you been,” the headmaster greeted, already trying Severus’s patience.

“I’ve been well, as usual, but I’m sure you didn’t interrupt my weekend to exchange pleasantries,” the potions master said, attempting to keep his sneer at bay. Dumbledore didn’t seem at all deterred by his coldness, which was ultimately expected of the man whose dark wardrobe aptly mirrored his countenance.

“Ah yes, right to the point I see,” he said, the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes becoming more prominent with his amusement at Severus’s increasing irritation with his further delay. His right hand's fingers tapped softly on the opposite hand's knuckles. “I’m sure you’re aware that Harry Potter is eight this year.”

Severus stiffened, eyebrows furrowing. “Yes,” he said slowly. “The boy won’t be coming to Hogwarts for another three years, so why bring him up now?” If he was hiding the irritation in his voice, he was doing a poor job at it.

“Well, Arabella Figg has been watching over him since we left the boy with his relatives, and she mentioned a few months ago that the boy hadn’t been around in a few weeks. I reassured her that he may just be away, perhaps on a vacation of sorts.” Snape sneered at the comment, which the headmaster either didn’t notice, or deliberately ignored. “She brought to my attention more recently that she still hasn’t seen him and is concerned.”

“And you want me to check on the brat,” the professor sighed.

“I’m glad you understand,” Albus pressed his fingers together in front of his mouth. “I am certain there is no issue, however to set Arabella’s mind at ease, I'd like you to check. Just look through the home, and tell me what you find.”

“You want me to break into the house as opposed to simply asking if Potter is there?” Snape asked with a scoff, seeming to force the name from his mouth, his nose flaring a bit as he said it, as though the name itself created an unpleasant sensation.

“I feel that would be best,” the headmaster said, nodding, his fingers tapping against one another again. “If there’s nothing to worry about, then there’s no reason to disrupt the boy’s home. We haven’t had contact with them since leaving him there, and there’s no reason to break that prematurely.”

“I’ll just be checking to see if the boy’s been there?” Snape asked, leaning back in his chair. He didn’t want to do the job, but if he had to go, he’d rather not see the brat at all. He was already dreading having the boy in his class in three years.

“That’s all I ask. Arabella has gathered that they’ll be leaving in two weeks to see some relatives. It won’t take long, simply go in, look around, and let me know if anything is amiss.”

Severus looked hard at the man, his expression one of unhidden annoyance, contrasting strongly with the older man’s pleasant, calm smile. They both knew the professor wasn’t going to refuse, couldn’t refuse, and eventually the man in black sighed.

“Very well.” He stood, making his way to the exit, not stopping when the headmaster spoke up again.

“Thank you very much, Severus,” Dumbledore said, as though the man might’ve said no to anything he asked. “I hope you have a pleasant day.” But his companion was already out of the office by this point, having just enough tact to not slam the door.

Despite the man’s wishes, Snape knew this wasn’t going to be a pleasant day, and he hated to think that it wasn't even noon yet.


 

He was left in the dark room with the others for at least a week. He knew because they would come twice a day with a large bucket of some kind of gruel. It wasn’t always the same; he could taste beans a few times, and some kind of meat on other times. But it was all blended into a watery, unappealing room temperature mixture. And he ate it hungrily with the rest of them, pushing and shoving to get his hands in the bucket, only to be shoved away after a while by an unknown force when the scientist supervising them decided he had eaten enough and was to leave the other children some. They were, for the most part, fair, making certain that even the smallest of the group had gotten something. However, if they didn’t join the others in their starved attack on the food, didn’t show interest in eating at all, they wouldn’t be given anything, and would continue to be denied food, regardless of if they wanted to eat later, until they were clawing and crazed and desperate with hunger.

That happened frequently. Harry soon learned that he wasn’t the only new one, and the others were easy to pick out. They were healthier, cried more, and would be defiant. Harry, however, already knew how to act here. Food was a scarce resource at the Dursley’s, and being given such a luxury was more than enough to have him crawling on the floor, suffocated by the bodies around him, and still clawing his way towards the bucket of bland mush.

Harry kept track of these feeding times. It kept him sane for a while. He could tell how long it had been since he arrived. He didn’t think he was waiting for anything, he wasn’t hoping someone might rescue him, but knowing how long he had been there was the only way to keep himself together.

Harry didn’t speak with the other children, but he often listened to them. Many didn’t speak English, but those that did found each other. Harry listened as they talked of things he was far removed from; families, homes, happiness. He would lay on the ground, used to the constant state of dirtiness, and listen to them weepily talk of their old lives. Most, he heard, had run away from home and been caught on the streets. A few of them had been already living on the streets when they were picked up, but all had someone waiting for them, somewhere out of this dark place. Harry felt disconnected from them all, and never spoke up.

Twice a week they would clean out the room. The children would all be pressed against the wall, and the scientists would point their sticks (wands, he heard a child say once. How they knew the term, he wasn’t certain) and say some words, and the room would miraculously be cleaned. It didn’t erase the stench from the children’s bodies, and soon enough, the room would be as filthy as before, but it was something.

What changed everything was the first experiment. He had seen children grabbed and taken to somewhere else; the number on their hand called with the wave of the scientist’s wand, their bodies pushed forwards to the adult’s feet, and then pulled through the door into the flickering lights. None of them came back in the week Harry was there, but he heard reassurance from the other children, the ones who had been there longer, that they might be back. Might.

And then the man came back; Basil Truscott. Harry’s heartbeat accelerated as he saw the man who had never before come to pick one of the children up, never even come for the feedings or the cleanings, despite that there were many different people who were given this task it seemed (including Tobias, on a few occasions, though he seemed disconnected. Harry had been too preoccupied to notice much more than that).

The moment Harry saw Basil, he knew this man was here for him, and Harry was going to experience the horrors that made the other children scream and cry each night.

Chapter Text

Harry’s head had cleared a fair bit in the past week. He no longer felt dizzy simply from standing, and his thoughts were at least fairly coherent. He attempted to put some of that to use while he walked down the hallway, but found himself still incredibly lost.

The halls were busy, people bustling here and there with their own businesses to attend to. He supposed that an escape would have to happen when it was late at night, but then, he had seen countless children try and fail at opening the door. Plus, the strangeness that surrounded these people and this facility caused Harry to believe that simply getting the door unlocked would not solve everything.

As he was pushed into the room, (experiment room 104, as the words on the door described) he kept his head down and eyes aware. That was what always kept him alive; crouching low and keeping his wits about him. Opportunities were rare and fast going in his experience, and if he were to save himself some amount of pain, he needed to be ready for it.

There were more scientists here than before. One of them was Tobias, but another was a strange woman that looked at him oddly. Harry couldn’t describe it, but something about this woman was intensely off setting. While all the others were already scribbling things down on their scrolls, or waving their wands, she stood in the corner, an almost pleasant smile on her face if it didn’t seem so absent from the situation, watching him with a strange curiosity.

Harry suddenly found himself cleaned however, immediately taking his eyes off the woman to turn to Tobias, who was looking more worried than ever, his face pale. He seemed like he was going to pass out any moment, or at least like he might throw up. Still, he attempted a smile, really a grimace, and lifted Harry onto the table, waving his wand and looking Harry over, but completely avoiding looking Harry in the eye. Every few moments, his mind seemed to wander and his face would look grim, before he’d return to his diagnostics.

He turned to the others, and nodded quickly, before taking out a thin vial of a strangely colored liquid. It had a cool grey hue to it, looking thick like honey.

“H-Harry,” he whispers softly, getting a bit closer, “I’ll try and make this as painless as possible, I promise.” From this close, Harry could see the man’s hair was unkempt, and he looked like he hadn’t been sleeping well. “Please, just drink this.” He uncorked the bottle and tipped it towards Harry’s mouth.

Abruptly, Harry pulled back, his eyebrows knitting together. He didn’t like the look of any of this, and while he wasn’t sure what defiance was going to do, something told him to not drink it.

“P-please, Harry,” Tobias said quickly, voice rising with fear. “Please, if you don’t take this from me, I can’t-“ But suddenly he was shoved out of the way and Basil stepped in his place, smoothly taking the vial from his hands.

“Hasn’t anyone told you that secrets don’t make friends, Toby?” Basil said, though his words were harsher than they implied on their own. “If the boy’s being difficult, you give it over to me, understand?” Tobias quickly stepped back, adjusting his glasses and nodding, head down. He couldn’t look at Harry.

And suddenly, Harry was being grabbed by the head, his mouth pried open. He jerked back, punching at the force keeping him there, but the eight year old had no strength compared to the sturdy, tall adult he was against.

He screamed in panic and frustration, but the potion was suddenly poured down his throat and his mouth clamped shut to mask the gurgling noises the boy was now creating. With a hand holding his head by his hair, he was pinned down to the table forcefully as he coughed and choked into the unrelenting hand keeping his nose and mouth covered.

He couldn’t breathe. He felt his body fight against the thick liquid that tasted like chalk and oil, his hands grasping onto the much larger ones keeping him down as he convulsed and kicked on the table, his face turning red and tears streaming down his eyes. Dear god, he felt like he was drowning. Like he was dying. His lungs screamed out for air and he was met with a burning sensation as part of the potion slipped down the wrong tube.

He thrashed, clawing now at Basil’s hands and arms, but still, the man didn’t flinch, staring down with sadistic amusement at the boy who was at his mercy. In the corner, Tobias clutched his scrolls and quills to his chest, willing the noises to stop. God damn, why couldn’t it just stop?!

And then Harry swallowed.

All at once, Basil let him go and Harry coughed and sputtered onto the table, nearly falling off it as he struggled to clear his lungs of all foreign substances and instead fill it with sweet, sweet air.

And with every intake of breath, Harry found his mind growing foggier and foggier. His coughs slowed, as did the rest of the world. He could still feel the things around him, but it was as if everything were delayed. Like it took himself many seconds too long to understand when the scientists scribbled down notes on their scrolls, or when Basil grabbed his arms and positioned them on the edge of the table, Harry leaning forward slightly.

His body felt much too heavy, and his awareness dipped. Everything seemed sideways, but he wasn’t losing consciousness. It was like he couldn’t properly react to the rest of the world. Basil’s voice was much too distorted for Harry to understand as he looked to the others and spoke. Someone said something back, and he suddenly had his arm draped over Harry’s inner elbows.

He had his other hand over Harry’s wrists.

Harry realized his forearms were halfway off the table.

Basil brought his weight and strength crashing down on the bones.

They snapped.

That reality stood in the air for a very long time, though he supposed it wasn’t long to the others. Just Harry, looking at what used to be his properly aligned forearms stupidly.

The pain hit first, and after that, Harry wasn’t completely sure what else happened.

He screamed, a lot, but his voice made no sound to them. No, someone had silenced him, so his crying and screaming of bloody murder wouldn’t disrupt the scientists talking. And they talked for quite a while, pondering over two vials of potions as the boy lay on the table, shaking violently and just staring at his arms, God they weren’t supposed to bend like that, the tears pouring down his face.

Eventually, they reached a conclusion, as they took one vial and a wand, trailing it down Harry’s left arm, leaving a thin red cut which Harry could hardly feel over the deafening pain he was in. The first vial was poured into the cut, almost immediately absorbing into the wound while the other was rubbed into his right arm, the pain suddenly flaring up even more intensely, Harry’s vision tilting abruptly, but by the time it registered to him, his groggy, heavy flinch back was late.

The pain in his left arm quickly started to dissipate, while his right arm’s just got increasingly more intense. And he realized that, the more he watched it, the more it seemed to shatter, again and again, splitting under the skin. Harry’s breathing was ragged and a ringing sound was filling his ears as his consciousness waned and then fell altogether.

He wasn’t certain how long he was out, but when he woke, the pain in his right arm had turned into a constant, awful ache that flared in intensity with each heartbeat.

That was the first thing he noticed. The second, was that he was laying on something cool and metallic, and when he opened his eyes, he saw he lay in a metal cage of some sort, perhaps only three or four feet tall, and not as many feet wide, his knees pulled up closer to himself in order to fit.

The last thing he noticed was that his left hand, which was pressed against the metal floor next to his ugly, swollen, yellow-green right arm, didn’t feel the metal below him. In fact, just looking at the forearm, he could tell it was still broken, but he didn’t feel it. Didn’t feel anything in it.

For hours, he lay like that, not daring to move his body. His left arm seemed capable of movement for lack of pain, but just looking at it made him feel sick. As for his right arm… he didn’t want to think about what had happened, though he could feel it. Feel the bone that had become broken and shattered in a million ways, its splintered shards likely digging into the muscles and flesh of his forearm. He felt a fever coming on, sweat trailing down his face, mixing with the tears.

Every hour or so, someone would walk up to his cage, poke either arm for his response, write something down, and move on. The first, and only person to speak to him was Tobias, though he seemed more hesitant to look directly at Harry than before.

“How do your arms feel?” Tobias asked softly, eyes on Harry’s forearms, mostly the right one. He had a scroll out, and his feather-pen (what to call it, Harry was unsure) was poised over the yellowish paper, hand shaking.

Harry didn’t respond, but he had enough left in him to almost glare at the man from between the long bangs of his messy, sweaty, raven hair. His expression easily raised the question of what this man thought he was feeling with the look of his arms. Should Harry have given this look to the Dursley’s, he would’ve been beaten into the ground, but these people clearly didn’t care how much he groveled and begged. Harry was here no matter if he glared and defied, or submitted and broke like his arms.

Tobias sighed softly. “I’m sorry Harry,” he said, then quickly spoke up as Harry’s gaze became sharper. “I know, it doesn’t seem it.” He lowered his voice as though he might be overheard, which wasn’t far from the truth. “If you can just answer my question, I won’t have to touch you or hurt you. I promise.”

Harry just stared harshly at him, eyebrows knitted together. This man was the smallest threat to Harry, and while he knew he should be grateful for the ally, the small bit of defiance was all he clung to. A little sign that he had some say in what happened to him, even here.

Tobias sighed again, running his hand through his hair. With the feather-pen in his hand, he got some ink on his forehead, but he missed Harry’s small smirk.

“L-look, can you just nod or shake your head for a question? Does your right arm hurt?” He asked. Harry’s glare was back, and he pressed his lips together tightly. “Yes, of course it does…” He scribbled down a quick note on the scroll. “Moving along… Your left arm?”

Harry thought about if he should answer the question. He didn’t want to, of course, however he knew he might damage the numb arm further by bothering it for his answer. Subtly, harry shook his head.

“No? Really?” Harry’s green eyes just got harsher. Tobias quickly wrote down the answer on the page. “Huh… that’s… odd. Unexpected I suppose. Not good, but that might mean we created some kind of numbing potion that can be administered externally. Fascinating…”

He was suddenly enraptured by the writing on the page, briefly forgetting Harry, until he caught the boy’s confused and questioning gaze.

“Ah… I’m sorry, I get a bit…” He shook his head. “If nothing else, this part is what I always wanted to do. Not- God, no of course not- the experimenting on people… but I always wanted to make breakthroughs. Come up with potions and spells that could, perhaps, help people. Further our knowledge of the world as we know it.”

Harry’s confused gaze didn’t seem to change, and he shook his head again.

“I’m sorry, you’re probably rather confused…” Something like sadness and pity passed over the man’s gaze, but he adjusted his glasses and straightened up, the look replaced with a fair bit of determination. “I can’t explain now, but I’ll try and visit you when I can. I doubt I’ll help much, but… I hope I can offer some mild amount of shelter and comfort. I’ll keep an eye out… maybe I can keep Basil’s interests away from you for a bit…”

With that thought, he quickly rushed from the room, taking his feather-pen and papers with him, leaving Harry alone in his cage.

He slowly relaxed his tense body and expression, seeming more tired than before. He hated the Dursley’s, certainly, but they gave him a tiny cot to sleep on. They only punched and kicked and yelled at him. Their attacks on him were fueled by anger that faded eventually. These people… these people ran on something else entirely. Something inexhaustible.

Harry looked around the room at his surroundings for the first time. There were a few other people in other cages, though most of the cages around him were empty, stacked on top of one another. They were mostly holding children, but there was one older woman, looking like she was forty or fifty. She was blind, another failed eye experiment it seemed, but she was clutching at her mouth, saliva, blood, and foam dripping from between her fingers as she groaned in agony.

The other children were near the same state Harry and the woman were in. One boy was missing a leg, but it didn’t seem new. His current injury consisted of his ears bleeding, and from the look on his face, it was safe to guess he had lost his hearing. Another girl was curled into a ball, her eyes wide open and blood-shot. She looked like she hadn’t gotten any sleep for days, and she twitched at every slight sound. In fact, Harry would find, she no longer slept. They used a potion to keep her constantly awake, and within days of this encounter, she would die, her body taken away and disposed of, leaving no trace that she ever existed.

And then, in the corner, Harry saw lone cage. It took a long while for Harry to realize what the mass in it was, and when he did, he found himself convulsing with dry heaves, what little was in his stomach exiting his body.

It must’ve once been human, but it was now simply a mass of flesh and organs. Harry could see no indication of a bone structure, but he could see where a mouth might’ve once been, where its eyes were, at awkward angles, drooping over what could only be its unprotected brain. Its organs could be seen under its skin, the heart beating under the blanket of flesh. This creature had no bones to speak of, but was very much alive, and every once in a while, a scientist would come by, poke it a few times to see its muscles twitch in response, and write something down before moving on.

Harry pulled himself tighter in on himself, letting out a soft wail as his right arm twitched in protest, and cried, his face pressing into the metal floor, unable to move his arms to wipe the tears from his face.


Snape’s face was painted with disgust as he looked at the incredibly quaint house in the quaint neighborhood that he was instructed to visit. It had been two weeks, and as he had been informed, the house seemed abandoned.

“I’m sure the boy is safe,” he remembered Dumbledore saying before setting him off to the home. “Likely enjoying his time home, as boys do. I’m sure he’s being well taken care of.”

Well taken care of certainly seemed right…

The sun had set hours ago, and the man in black easily blended in with the surrounding darkness. The house irritated Severus to no end, with its little chain fence around its perfectly kept lawn and its quaint atmosphere about its windowsills and brick face and chimney. It was the picture-perfect home. Exactly the kind of place Potter’s brat would be comfortably kept in.

His wand tapped lightly on the doorknob and he stepped smoothly into the home, taking a glance around the entryway, casting lumos to get a better look.

The downstairs was as quaint and charming as the front of the home, and he was quick to note a few signs that someone had been there relatively recently, mostly seeing that the food (what had been left in there, likely emptied before the trip) wasn’t spoiled, and the dishes set to dry were still a slight bit damp. Chances were, they had left that day.

However, he was here to find signs of the Potter brat, so he moved his search upstairs, passing the little cupboard, giving no glance to the simple door.

There were four rooms in this second floor hallway. The first he came upon was the master bedroom, which he simply glanced into before moving along. The second, was the bathroom, which he passed in half the time as the master bedroom.

The third he came to was what stopped his search. The room, from top to bottom, was filled with… things. Toys littered every corner, as well as tons of old candy wrappers, clothes, and drink cans. There was a giant black tv with games and consoles lined on shelves along the wall, and many more scattered across the floor. While Snape was unfamiliar with the technology, he was struck with the obvious signs of excess. Dear God, the kid wasn’t simply fine, he was being spoiled. The amount of stuff, random objects of interest everywhere across the room, spelled to Snape that the child in this room would be given anything they asked for.

His expression hardened once more, and he shut the door, leaving with his answer, not bothering with the fourth door. There was no doubt with the lack of dust, and with how the soda and wrappers had yet to spoil, that the boy had been there. He had his answer, and he wasn’t going to be sent on a pointless mission like this again.

His contempt merely grew as he left the home, eyebrows knitted together. He hated having his time wasted, and to have it wasted on such a child that seemed to have no true knowledge of the hardships in life, who was clearly doted on and given no true accountability for his actions… and to have that child be the son of James Potter? His anger flared.

Well taken care of indeed…


Months passed Harry by, or what must’ve been months. He spent several days in the examination room, the room with the cages, before they waved their wands over his broken bones and gave him a potion. He was certain they had removed the bones in his forearm entirely with their wands, but with the potion, he regrew them again by the next day. He noted that the feeling in his left arm was almost entirely gone, and Tobias softly informed him that they had probably done something to his nervous system. He found he could still move his left arm, but it was slower than his right, and was almost completely numb.

When fully healed, he was back in the holding cell, as a few of the scientists had dubbed it. He was left there with the others once again, this time for two weeks, before being dragged out into another experiment.

Again and again this went on. They put a substance in his hair that burned his scalp and turned it red, but when it was washed, his hair became white and brittle, falling out instead (though his normal hair was starting to grow back in the next few weeks). They burned both of his feet and treated both of them. His right healed instantly, the other mutated and grew into a mass up his calf that was spreading further. He heard them talk about amputating it, but when they treated it with the same substance they treated his right foot, it healed as well, leaving a large burn up his left leg. They seemed pleased.

He lost a tooth to one experiment, and was certain the scar on his leg wasn’t going away. In fact, there were many scars now, burns and cuts for various experiments, most clearly far too meticulous to be accidents. The worst were on his legs and back, but he had a few on his fingertips, and some discoloration on his neck from where they tried what could only have been some kind of makeup foundation, like what his aunt wore, but instead made his skin feel intensely cold until it burned.

He became incredibly familiar with that dumbing potion that they used on him. Each time, for every experiment, they made him drink it. They forced it down his throat many more times, and he quickly learned that it was easier to simply take it himself. He felt numb to the world under the effects, unable to properly react to anything they did to him. He was sluggish and his thoughts were slow, and he couldn't understand anyone when they spoke. He hated that potion and what it did to him. It was like he became as pliable and vulnerable as a rag doll.

The examination room was the most peaceful place. He was normally still struggling with the after effects of the experiments, and he saw many others in pain, suffering through their own experiments (some of which seemed like bettered versions of the ones Harry previously went through), and Harry saw the mass in the corner there every time, making him feel sick to his stomach, however, it was clean here. He was fed every day, and he was allowed to heal. Though Harry would never tell the man, he also was comforted by Tobias’s frequent visits.

Tobias, or Toby as he introduced himself to Harry as though the boy couldn’t read the name written on his jacket as clear as day, talked quite a bit, and Harry never said a word to him in the months they interacted.

Toby didn’t seem to mind, speaking of his life and his job freely. Harry learned that the man had gotten this job to help people, but when he learned what was really happening, he found himself trapped and forced to work at the risk of his life and wellbeing. Harry learned of some of the other workers, mainly of Basil Truscott, who Toby regarded as an insane, sadistic, sociopath, and Olivia Shaw, the woman who ran the facility. Toby knew very little of the woman, other than that he had only been around her on a handful of occasions, and that she gave him the creeps.

Months passed with these talks. Harry found himself looking forward to seeing the man, and while he didn’t know it, Toby looked forward to his visits as well. Toby hardly slept anymore, not that his sleep had been any decent before. He found himself working harder on the potions he was assigned to create, attempting to make them as perfect as possible, with the fewest mistakes. Mistakes meant the next experiment could be painful or even deadly. However, his dreams were filled with children's screaming, and he found himself downing cup after cup of coffee, attempting to keep his mind sharp enough to save a few people some misery. A nagging thought was getting to him, though, that if he were to manage to tell someone about the facility... That they might be saved... However, the guards when he walked in and the watchful eye of Basil, who seemed to hound him at every corner, kept him at bay.

So, Toby shared his life with the silent boy, and when he ran out of stories to tell, he told him of the wizarding world for the first time, feeling a twinge of sadness that this eight year old, almost nine now, was denied this part of his life. How much bad luck can one person possibly have?

He told the boy the truth about his parents and their deaths, told him of what a famous name his was and why. Told him a bit about He Who Must Not Be Named and the Death Eaters. However, with such dark things, he quickly turned to lighter subjects. The boy had enough darkness in his life.

“Then there’s Hogwarts, school of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the school your parents went to,” Toby said, leaning against the cage the boy was in. Harry had a particularly nasty wound on his right shoulder that they were trying to get infected. From the looks of it, it was working, and Toby knew that when it was at its peak they’d move him back to the experimentation room and attempt a new potion to cure it. Toby didn’t want to tell the boy that it was a potion of his own invention, and that he was praying it worked, however it was his third attempt at it and he wasn’t certain his new recipe made much of a difference. To distract himself and the boy, he kept talking. “There are four houses in the school, Ravenclaw, Slytherin, Gryffindor, and Hufflepuff. I was in Ravenclaw, which is supposed to be filled with intelligent people. Don't know how intelligent the people in there were, I'm pretty sure we all survived on no sleep and most skipped meals during exams...”

He shook his head and turned back to look at Harry over his shoulder briefly. The boy, leaning against the bars of his cage, seemed curious, even though the sign of fever was in his sweaty face and pale complexion. Toby quickly continued.

“There’s Hufflepuff, the house with all the nicest kids in it. People think they’re pushovers, but I dunno. I’ve seen them tear some upperclassmen apart when they were bullying a younger kid.” He didn’t mention that younger kid had been him, but he smiled fondly at the memory of the Gryffindor's getting a word from an angry Hufflepuff. “There’s Gryffindor, which has all the bravest kids in it. They can get a little foolhardy sometimes… I went to a Gryffindor common room party once and I nearly lost my eyebrows. They had smuggled fireworks into the tower! And set them off inside!”

Harry was smiling a bit now, and Toby took that as a small success. This kid hardly ever smiled, and to get him to do so once encouraged the man.

“And then there’s Slytherin’s. They get a really harsh reputation, but my closest friend was a Slytherin.” He let himself briefly wonder what had ever happened to his friend after school. He hardly talked to anyone anymore… He scratched the back of his head awkwardly, continuing. “Anyway, they’re the clever, ambitious ones. Everyone talks about them like they’re all evil, but they can be some of the most loyal of them all. Yes, they can be brutally honest and a bit stuck-up, but I think they just want to bring out the best in their friends… Eh… I don’t know…”

Harry was painfully curious about the world Toby was describing, and a single question burned in his mind, which Toby had overlooked when speaking. Without thinking, he spoke up for the first time in the months he had been there.

“W-which h-h-house were my p-pa-parents in?” He asked, startling himself with his own stutter. He had stuttered a bit before, especially under stress, but it had never been this severe. Never like this. It felt… different. Like his voice and mind had disconnected and failed him altogether. By the look on Toby’s face, the stutter had taken him off guard as well.

“Ah… they were both Gryffindor’s…” He stated, but clearly his mind had become preoccupied with what he had heard from the boy. “Harry…” he began, hesitant, though Harry already knew what was troubling him, the same thing troubling the boy as well, “how long have you had that stutter?”

Harry was silent a moment, thinking it over, and attempting to speak again, his voice still refusing to cooperate with him. “I’ve a-a-always had a bi-bit of a-a-a stu-st-st-stut-“ he swallowed thickly, his eyes wide at the inability to say the word that seemed simple in his head. “N-n-n-never like th-thi-this.”

Toby turned around fully, looking carefully at the boy, his face awash with concern. “You had some kind of head trauma before coming here didn’t you?” He asked. Harry’s brows knitted together.

“Yes, ju-just bef-before…” he stated, his disjointed words bothering him more with each sentence. “M-m-my Uncle…”

Toby stared at him rather seriously, but his mind was racing. For months he had just been sitting here talking to this kid like that fixed anything. This boy who gave his parents to save the wizarding world as he knew it, who clearly grew up in a home that denied him every happiness, and now lived in this hell… And Toby acted like his getting caught was worth not trying to save this child.

He briefly thought of what would happen to him if he WAS caught, but he pushed that thought away. Harry and dozens of other people, children even younger, were going through a hell Toby had never had to endure. A hell that Toby contributed to. What was he doing feeling scared for his own wellbeing?!

He suddenly leaned in closer, his voice lowering considerably. “I’m going to do what I can, I promise…” He said quickly. “Please, stay safe. I hope I see you again.”

Leaving Harry in a confused, startled state, Toby rushed from the examination room, a newfound determination burning at his chest. He needed to hurry before someone found out.

Down the hallway towards the offices, he walked a little too quickly with his reports in his arms. As he walked, he passed by Ms. Shaw, her sudden appearance startling him into looking her in the eyes briefly. He quickly looked away and continued on. He didn’t slow to see that she had stopped in the hallway abruptly, or how she changed her path through the facility.

While Harry couldn’t be certain what the man was planning, he had an idea of what was going on, and he sent his silent hope that he’d be safe, pulling his knees to his chest and resting his forehead on them.

Hours later, long after the facility closed, the door opened, and the lanterns on the wall were lit. Harry looked up, and his heart began to pound fiercely. At the door, leaning against the frame, was Basil, his expression one of irritation.

And standing in front of Harry’s cage was Ms. Shaw. She had an ever-pleasant smile on her face, but her pale blue eyes lacked the warmth her smile implied. He stared at them, and she stared back casually.

He became aware of a pounding sensation in his head, like a migraine was rather abruptly coming on, before she broke their stare and turned to Basil.

“Find him,” she said, as though asking him to tea, but the familiar, sadistic smirk over Basil’s face sent shivers down Harry’s spine. Without another word or glance his way, both left, leaving Harry shivering with fever and fear. Something told him Toby wouldn't be okay.


Early the next day, Toby was walking quickly down the streets of London, unable to stop the racing in his chest. If he got to the Ministry of Magic, he felt confident he would be safe. There would be too many people there to be attacked, right? And then he could find someone who might listen to him. Tell them what was going on. Tell them he was willing to help them take the facility down.

Still, the pounding in his chest wouldn't slow, and he debated turning around, but he was certain his absence was going to be taken as a sign of suspicion. He was supposed to be at his office twenty minutes ago, and lateness was as sure a sign as any that someone was going to speak. He, like many of the other lower-ranking, less trustworthy workers, lived in the facility, but slipping out through through the window, dodging the guards, and walking for miles through the woods that kept the place hidden (until he passed the anti-apparition barrier, where he apparated away) was a small feat compared to the crimes he had committed in that building. He looked a mess, his hair tangled with dirt and his clothes torn to shreds from the travel there, already lacking weeks of proper sleep, but he cared very little for this.

He was already under watch, and it was likely they were already out searching for him, but that's why he got a head start. It would take them a while to get themselves organized and sent after him, he was sure. That's why, when he was abruptly dragged into an alley way, mere blocks from the red telephone booth that could take him to safety, he was caught off guard, staring face-to-face with Basil, grinning sadistically.

"Oops, someone got out of their cage," he teased playfully, his wand pressed to Toby's throat, who was frozen to the spot. He was so close, so close. He just needed a few more blocks. "I thought we talked about this. Looks like you took my kindness for granted."

"Basil..." He said quickly, attempting to look for an out.

"Oh no no no no, hush," Basil said, his voice dripping with amusement as he pressed his wand to Toby's lips to silence him. "No you're going to be coming with me, and we'll fix this."

He palmed his wand in his sleeve, carefully poising it, mind racing. I just need a spell, any spell! Damn it, I was awful at dueling.... His eyes were glued onto Basil's, ears filled with the sound of the blood rushing through his veins. Just do something!

His hand shot up, grabbing Basil's wrist and pushing his arm upward so the wand was no longer pointed at his face, taking the man off guard. His other hand shot out and jabbed his wand quickly into the man's throat. Toby himself was surprised when the wand actually punctured the skin there, digging in a few inches, blood gushing to the surface.

"You fucking bastard," Basil snapped, shoving Toby away and stumbling back with his hand on his neck to stop the bleeding, face now lit with fury. His hand shot up to return a spell, but Toby was ready, ducking out of the way and shooting his own right back.

Basil was quick to put up a barrier, eyes narrowed at the blood streaming down his arm and into his shirt. He couldn't fail... He couldn't!


Bill Weasley had been quite lucky this week. He had been accepted to work for Gringotts Wizarding Bank in Egypt as a curse-breaker, had found a book on runes that he had been eyeing for half off the normal selling price, and had scored a hot date on his way to visit his dad at his work to tell him the good news about his job on his mother's insistence.

It was only natural, however, that this luck would run out quickly. He was walking down the streets, heading home with his hands in his pockets, thinking of his date that night, when he abruptly stopped. Down the alley, hidden by the buildings, he heard the sound of voices arguing, and then the distinct sound of spells being cast.

Changing directions, he slipped easily into the alley, keeping close to the wall in order to stay as hidden as possible. The lights from the various spells were dancing along the walls, and as he leaned around the corner, he saw two men, wands blazing, in the middle of a duel.

One was already bleeding from his neck and looked like his leg was blown out as well, crouched low to the ground behind his barriers but not relenting in his barrage, even as he looked faint from his loss of blood. The other, seeming to resemble what one might expect a craze lunatic to look like, was standing tall, though he also had a fair few injuries. His chipped glasses stood firm on his face, and he was gaining ground with every few minute. And with one well-aimed spell, the barrier fell.

"For everything you've done..." The man with the torn clothes and filthy hair said, his voice wavering a bit. "I'm going to kill you."

He raised his wand high, and Bill stepped forward quickly, wand at the ready.

"Flipendo!" He said quickly, and the man with his wand raised was suddenly knocked backward, looking as though he had just been punched in the gut as he slammed into the wall harshly.

"Stupefy," the other man said, and the man against the wall dropped from where he was attempting to recover from having the wind knocked out of him, falling unconscious immediately, wand dropping from his hand. Bill looked over to him, then turned to the one bleeding on the floor.

The red-head dropped down, kneeling in front of Basil. "Are you alri-"

"Stupefy," Basil said again rather suddenly, taking Bill off guard. His expression was one of alarm, hand attempting to shoot to his wand, but he was already falling unconscious before he made it. Basil stood slowly, looking at the two of them in irritation. He would have to take Toby back for proper punishment, and he knew he should likely simply kill this other one. However, something about his naive trust of Basil made him want to squash the man's spirit. He felt a sadistic hunger rumble under the surface as he smirked lightly, but winced at his leg and wound on his neck. He'd have to get treatment first though...

Dragging Toby closer, he took a hold of both of them and apparated away.

Bill would miss his date that night.

Chapter Text

Weeks went by. Harry didn’t hear from Toby again. No visits, no rumors, and nothing changed. No one showed up to rescue them, no one fixed everything.

Nothing had changed, except that Harry was alone, and it was his fault.

If Harry hadn’t opened his mouth, hadn’t spoken up out of curiosity, Toby would’ve never left. Harry had been satisfied with listening to the man. Now he felt guilt eating away at his guts until he felt empty and cold.

With each new experiment, with every day he lay writhing on that damn table, or curled in the corner of his cage, crying in pain, he felt as though he must deserve it. He had attempted to hold on to that bit of happiness in his life. To make it better. He wanted to talk to Toby as much as Toby wanted to talk to him. And he had ruined that.

Harry’s nightmares worsened. He dreamt of pain, he dreamt of being picked apart and dissected, and then he dreamt of Toby being on that table while someone told him “this is your fault”. He heard someone scream. An almost familiar woman was on that table. She was the one screaming. This is your fault.

And that was when he met the red-haired man for the first time.

Harry jerked awake from his fitful sleep as the door to the examination room slammed open. Unlike normal, Harry was immediately put in the examination room. This had happened a few times before, where they instead had to prepare him for an experiment before throwing him into it. This time, they were making him drink an incredibly sour potion that made his face feel hot. Quickly, he realized it was somehow making him sick. Harry wasn’t sure what he had been given, but it made him dizzy, made his throat swell, and made him feel incredibly cold, especially with no blankets in the unforgiving metal cage. Harry was shivering endlessly.

He saw someone being dragged in, which would’ve been nothing new, if it weren’t for the fact that the man was laughing, and that it was Basil who was dragging him, the only scientist who hardly ever visited the examination room.

This man, his hair a deep red color, long and flowing, draping over his shoulders, was laughing lowly. Harry recognized the dazed look on his face; he was still coming out from the effects of the numbing potion, but Harry had never seen anyone laugh here who wasn’t the most sadistic of scientists, which limited it to Basil and, to a lesser degree, some others. In fact, for once, Basil seemed to have a sour look on his face, using his wand to unlock the cage next to Harry and shoving the red-haired man in, before slamming it shut. This man still laughed, a lazy, sleepy kind of laugh. His lip was busted and bleeding, and it looked like his feet had both been crushed, the bones broken, and by the unconscious tears at the corner of this man’s eyes, it hurt worse than it looked. Still, this man was laughing.

“Shut up!” Basil snapped, punching the cage. When the ginger didn’t relent, he reached in and grabbed onto the crushed feet. That got him to give a sharp cry of pain, but when it passed, he was chuckling lowly again.

Basil’s grip tightened, and the laughs became more clearly forced, coming out in gasps of pain. After a moment, Basil seemed satisfied with the intense agony starting to take over the man’s features.

“I will break you,” Basil snapped, letting the man go.

“D’you say that to all the test subjects?” The ginger said between pained gasps, smirking through it. “Or just the cute ones?”

Basil’s sour look was back and he hit the cage again, storming out of the room with the ginger’s chuckles following him.

When the door slammed, the chuckles died down to soft, pained groans and heavy breathing. Harry, staring in awe at this confusing man, saw that his right foot looked stiff and almost frozen, while his left was clearly unchanged by whatever potion they had used to try and fix the breaking they caused. Harry looked up to the man’s face, seeing the grimace there, attempting to pull himself into a position that didn’t cause him great pain. That’s when they locked eyes, and Harry froze.

“Hey, neighbor,” the man said, cracking a smile, which fell back to his grimace when he put too much pressure on his foot again. “Is he always that dramatic, or am I special?”

Harry didn’t respond, just staring at him. He hardly ever saw anyone actually smile in this place. Never a test subject, for certain, and especially not one in as much pain as he must’ve been in. Harry’s shivering increased and he pulled his knees closer to his chest.

“You’re rather quiet, aren’t you?” He said, looking at Harry closely. He seemed troubled by something, and he muttered under his breath, “Quite a lot of kids here…”, however, the words never reached Harry, and when he saw Harry’s confused face, he smiled softly again. “I don’t bite, under the wrong circumstances of course.” Harry’s eyebrow raised, still confused. “My name’s Bill. Bill Weasley.”

Harry still just stared at him. He was tempted to respond, but why? Last time he spoke, the one person who had treated him nicely got hurt for it. Now someone else was treating him with kindness. Was this some kind of sick test?

“Alright, you don’t want to talk, I understand,” Bill said, leaning back and looking up at the roof of his cage, a few inches above his head. “Don’t want to talk to the crazy guy. You can say it, I won’t cry.” Despite this, Bill gave a melodramatic sniffle, his bottom lip sticking out.

“L-liar,” Harry said softly, the subtlest of smiles on his lips. When Bill glanced over to him, the smile was gone as Harry took a sharp intake of breath, inducing a long fit of coughs that were difficult to die down. The sudden look had Harry’s heart pounding instinctually, making him fear for the man’s reaction to his soft joke.  

“The child can speak,” he said when the boy’s coughs had died down. He smiled softly, keeping his face warm. The kid’s startled reaction to his sudden look spoke volumes of what this child was used to. He made a note to keep his actions and reactions under control. No need to add more anxiety to his daily life.

Harry bowed his head down a bit, mumbling to himself something, not liking his own impulsiveness. The urge to just talk to someone, have a conversation, was just so damn strong.

“What was that?” Bill asked. When the boy shook his head, he sighed. “Hey, you can talk to me you know. I really won’t hurt you.”

“I sh-shouldn’t ta-talk to you,” Harry mumbled, his voice hardly a whisper. “Y-you’ll get hurt. A-a-and anyw-way, I ca-can’t talk we-well either.” Harry’s voice had taken on a sour tone, however Bill wasn’t deterred, scooting slowly closer to Harry’s cage. Harry eyed him warily, but didn’t flinch back yet.

“But you have a voice and are using it, that’s something,” he said, shrugging. Harry shrugged in return. “There’s no way I could get hurt just by having a conversation with you. And even if I could, I want to take that risk. I’d really like to talk to you.”

Harry looked up at him in surprise. No one had ever said such a thing to him. No one ever talked to him so kindly either. Toby’s talks with the boy had all seemed to be out of pity and self-loathing, out of the feeling that he couldn’t do anything else. To make himself feel better about his own inaction. Bill seemed to honestly want to talk to the boy.

“Now are you going to tell me your name?” He asked gently.

Harry gave the smallest smirk a human could, raising an eyebrow. Something about the childish playfulness made Bill smirk back. He hadn’t been here for more than two weeks and he’d seen the worst horrors he might ever come across. Having this kid hold onto a little bit of childishness was something, even if it was wary. Bill knew if he demanded, the boy would likely spill everything immediately. So he didn’t push further, giving the boy his little secret.

“Oh, okay, fine, don’t tell me,” Bill said in mock hurt, being sure to play up the dramatics of the act so the boy wouldn’t misconstrue his pretense. “Though I’ll have you know that I'm going to call you neighbor until you tell me your real name.”

For some reason, neighbor was perfect.

Then the door opened. Harry found himself instinctually shoving himself into the wall of his cage, his breathing ragged and sending him into another fit of coughs. Bill frowned deeply at this, but didn’t say anything, looking up to the scientists that had entered. A few went around to the other cages. One went up to the cage in the corner that Harry couldn’t get himself to look at. They poked at the mass of flesh in the cage, and a low noise like a wheeze and a groan, perhaps even a sob, came from that direction. Bill tried to figure what was in there as Harry tried to block it out, but he was distracted when two scientists approached his neighbor’s cage.

“322-F,” the first scientist said, reading off a piece of parchment, addressing her colleague who was clearly new here as he seemed confused and nervous. “Giving illness potions to be administered three times daily.”

“Why couldn’t we just use a spell and get him sick?” The newbie offered, making his senior roll her eyes. His voice became steadily quieter at her annoyed look. “Y’know, it could make it all go a lot faster I suppose if you just…”

“The experiment calls for a natural-born illness,” she snapped, clearly tired of many questions like these. “Magical illnesses are a different kind. This potion inhibits the subject’s immune system and introduces the virus. Any more questions?” The last part was a threat, rather than an offer, and her colleague was quick enough to understand that, as he quickly shook his head. “Good. Now…”

She pulled a tiny vial that had been attached to the rolled up parchment. She stepped closer to the cage, speaking while she reached out to the boy.

“Get over here,” she snapped at the boy, motioning to Harry. As the boy slowly inched his way forward, she spoke to her subordinate. “322-F is listed as a type B subject. Pretty commonplace in young subjects, and more so in subjects that have been here for a long while. Class B subjects are almost always compliant, with bouts of fear and panic which makes them sometimes unruly. Overall relatively easy assignments if you’re not, y’know, overly violent like some people...” She rolled her eyes pointedly, and Bill could guess the person she was talking about.

Harry allowed her to pour the drink into his mouth, and while he flinched back when she moved her hand to pull away, he swallowed, giving a soft shudder at the taste. She continued talking as she put the vial away and wrote some things down, waving her wand and watching Harry closely, which made the boy squirm uncomfortably, his cough not any better. Bill noted that the spells were mostly diagnostic spells.

“If you see a type V on an assignment, take it. They will do literally anything you ask, so they’re never trouble. They’re the ones that have been here the longest. Type O’s have a rowdy streak, but are on their way to becoming type B’s. R’s are the ones to avoid.” Her eyes trailed over to Bill, then back to the boy. “Violent, unruly, aggressive. They make your job hell. Normally the new ones and the older ones. A pain in the neck, really...”

After finishing, she rolled the parchment up again, turning her attention to her colleague.

“We’ll be beginning the experiment tomorrow morning, so don’t be late,” she said, moving her way to the door. Bill listened a bit more to their conversations as they left, but nothing they said after was of much interest. Still, he noted them for future reference. He might get some good information if he listened to them.

His attention, however, was immediately caught by the boy in the cage next to him. He seemed worse than when they came in, his face pale and his hair plastered to his sweaty face. Mucus dripped from his nose and he was shaking badly.

“Hey, neighbor…” he said softly, and the boy looked up at him through bleary eyes. “C’mere…”

The boy seemed wary again, but slowly crept closer to where their separate cages touched. Bill carefully removed his shirt and reached it through the bars, cleaning the boy’s face and nose as best he could, before using the shirt to try and warm the boy, then wrapping his arms around him and providing him with as much warmth and comfort as Bill could provide.

Harry was hesitant and suspicious at first, flinching back at the contact, but the feeling was so incredibly nice that the boy melted into it, giving a choked sob that he disguised quickly as a cough, leaning into the bars until they left an indentation on his cheek, quickly falling into a light rest once again.

Bill noticed the sob, but didn’t need to tell the boy, allowing him to fall asleep against his arms. He would never say it, but he was terrified, and the pain in his feet was excruciating. However, if he could save this boy a bit of misery and perhaps bring some light into his eyes, Bill would take anything and everything this hell could dish out.

 


 

Severus had been truly trying to enjoy his winter vacation, allowing himself to skip out on some work and read a book for his own pleasure, or brew some rare tea leaves he had been saving. This was always the time of year when he was allowed a much needed break, and this year was an especially trying one. The Weasley twins had joined his class this year and had proven to be exceptionally disruptive headaches. They were some of the most obnoxious, troublesome children he’d ever dealt with, the kind that reminded him of the marauders from his childhood. Just the thought made him sick, and he thought in irritation that the Potter brat would be joining them in two years.

He had put his investigation last year from his mind. He had seen the brat’s perfect home and perfect life and thought no more of it. Dumbledore seemed more than satisfied to take his account and happily wrote off to Arabella that the boy was in good hands. Severus didn’t ask to know any more of the situation, didn’t want to know in fact. And Dumbledore seemed as obliging to not bring it up again.

Putting these thoughts from his mind and turning his attention back to preparing the class plan for the upcoming semester and enjoying a fresh cup of tea, he was startled from his work at the sudden knock at his office door.

“Severus Snape!” An irate female voice spoke from behind the wood.

Setting his papers down slowly, he stood and made his way to the door, answering it and looking down at a furious, impatient Molly Weasley.

He had some contact with the woman before, mostly during the wizarding war in which he had seen her mourning the loss of her brothers. However, their relationship was not the one to warrant her to visit him suddenly, and her disheveled appearance made him certain she wasn’t here on a lighthearted endeavor either.

“Where is Albus Dumbledore?” She demanded him before he could so much as greet her. His frown deepened and his eyebrow raised.

“I can’t be certain,” he said slowly, taking her appearance in more carefully. She looked as though she hadn’t slept well for months. All the same, the glint in her eyes hinted that he wouldn’t want to anger her further. “I believe he is in his office, however he is not one to tell me any time he has other business.”

“Get me into his office,” she said sharply, turning on her heel and walking down the hall. Snape easily followed, his eyebrow still raised curiously.

“What is the business you have with him?” He asked carefully, not arguing with her demands. He didn’t need another headache before the fall semester began, and his tea and quiet week had put him into a rarely obliging mood.

“Bill is still missing and the man’s been ignoring all my letters,” she said quickly, clearly not interested in the details.

“I hadn’t known he was missing,” Severus offered, surprised at the declaration. William Weasley had been one of his students, and while he didn’t especially care for the boy (not that he especially cared for any student, much less a Gryffindor), he appreciated students who worked hard at their studies.

Molly stopped abruptly at his admission, Snape halting just quickly enough to not run into the shorter woman. She turned to him, eyebrows furrowed.

“Bill has been missing since June,” she said, trying to keep her voice still. “I had sent a letter to Albus then to let him know of the situation. He said then that he would try what he could to help, yet he hasn’t told you? Has he told anyone?”

“It’s unlikely if I hadn’t heard that he would tell many others,” the potions master said, finding Albus’s behavior incredibly odd. “However… the man is a mystery, he may have informed someone else and deemed informing me unnecessary.”

His rare attempt at comfort was ignored by the woman who looked about ready to strangle the headmaster, and Severus briefly wondered if letting her in would be wise. Even he could tell that his attempt was weak; Severus was one of the closest to the headmaster, and there were few times that Severus was passed over when it came to information. The two continued down the hallway, reaching the gargoyle that guarded the stairs to the headmaster’s office, and Molly quickly motioned to him to speak to the statue. Giving a sigh, he stepped forward.

“Christmas socks,” he said, earning an odd look from the witch behind him, but when the gargoyle stepped aside and the stairs rose, she said nothing of it.

The professor had hardly any time to get through the doorway of the headmasters office when the woman he was accompanied by was storming in abruptly, taking the headmaster clearly off guard as he quickly pushed some papers he had been reading to the side of his desk, shifting the papers there and not quite so subtly burying it under the mess. Molly didn’t notice in her rage, but Severus did, taking it as one of the many secrets the man kept.

“Albus Dumbledore!” The witch said, accosting the elder wizard. “Would you mind explaining to me why you have gone months without giving me a helpful response to all the dozens of letters I’ve sent?! Why you have been blatantly avoiding all forms of contact from either my husband or myself?!”

The headmaster seemed taken aback, giving an almost accusing glance to Severus, as though wondering why the man had let her in, before his grandfatherly smile was on his face, attempting to calm the rage of Molly Weasley, a feat not even the great wizard Dumbledore was capable of.

“You’ll have to forgive me,” he said carefully, clearly calculating his response carefully, “I had been under the impression that the ministry had been notified and that the investigation had begun.”

“Oh yes, that was in August,” she said, rather bitterly. “And then in November, my husband found that the trail had gone cold and that they had all but given up on the search. Said they couldn’t find anything more, and that if any new evidence came up they would continue searching. Said they were wasting too many resources and too much time on a case that might never be solved. That my son is a waste of resources and time!” She was emotional now, tears in her eyes, but no one in the room would be foolish enough to think that they came from weakness. This woman would murder anyone who dared to threaten her children, and if she viewed either of them as a threat to saving her boy, she wouldn’t back down, even from one of the strongest wizards of all time.

Dumbledore’s face immediately took on one of gentle sympathy, though Severus could tell there was something on his mind still. “I am very sorry for that,” he said, quickly speaking up before the woman could raise her voice at him again. “I will, of course, help in any way I can. I will exhaust the resources available to me and we will find your son.”

Molly looked taken aback by this. She had clearly come expecting a fight of some kind. She had expected to find resistance here, and the fact that Albus had been so… obliging, had taken her off guard. Her eyebrows furrowed again, however.

“If you were willing to help, you should’ve replied to me sooner instead of wasting precious time,” she snapped, but was quick to continue. “I’ll be keeping in touch, and I expect you to respond to me. I won’t hesitate to travel here again, should you fail to reply.”

“Yes, of course,” Albus said, nodding softly. “As you can see, I receive quite a lot of mail daily.” He motioned to the piles on his desk, but Molly wasn’t impressed with the excuse. “However, I will make certain to reply to any letter you send with the utmost urgency.”

“I hope that you do,” Molly said, turning to make her way to the door, but stopping by Severus, speaking lowly to him. "I will be in contact with you as well." And then she was gone, leaving the potions master rather confused at her insistence of addressing him, a simple acquaintance. Severus knew the elder wizard was going to want to speak to him, so he didn't follow the witch out.

“Severus,” Albus started, a somewhat weary expression on his face now, dropping the pleasing attitude and returning to his desk, tapping his fingers against its surface. Severus walked forward, closer to the desk. He saw a few letters that the headmaster had begun, but before he noticed much more, the man moved a few more papers to cover them, carefully reorganizing the pile as he spoke. “I would like you to do everything you can to find William Weasley. Report back to me weekly on what you have found. I will send you a detailed list of what I know and of what Arthur and Molly have discovered.”

“Yes, of course,” he said, feeling a bit of curiosity at the way the headmaster seemed to be going from ignoring the issue, to actively helping the Weasleys. Still, the man wasn’t one to be questioned, and Severus wasn’t one to ask, so the potions master chalked it up to repaying old friends.

As the professor left, Albus’s smile dropped and his face took on an expression of concentration. He slowly grabbed the letter he had been writing and incinerated it with a wave of his wand. He’d have to change his approach from here. He could no longer be compliant or patient.

 


 

For months, Bill was Harry’s only happiness in this place. Harry found himself burned, frozen, broken, drugged, but Bill always seemed to make things the tiniest bit better.

On the best of days, they’d play games. Bill taught Harry a game in which they’d name items from a category in turns, but each person had to name something that started with the last letter of the previous item. Harry taught Bill how to play I-Spy, and while that one was short lived (with only so many items to name in that room they shared), Bill was certainly the master within a few rounds, though he pretended Harry’s picks were hard to guess, eventually guessing outrageous items that weren’t even the color or size Harry had hinted.

Sometimes, the two would talk about the scientists, coming up with outrageous backstories for them all. Bill had decided the newbie was an international spy who come to Britain to seek out an old prophecy which had been stolen. After successfully finding it and sending it back to his agency, he had found his deeds unrecognized as the one who he sent the prophecy to reveled it and took the credit for the adventure. Bitter about the world he fell from the agency he once coveted, and began his life here.

Harry decided the woman who had trained the spy was an ex-horse jockey. She was widespread as one of the greatest of all time, but it was later found that she would poison the other horses to make them sick, giving her a great advantage over them. Her reputation in ruins and the authorities after her, she went into hiding. She now spends her time at the facility, hoping to develop a way to change her identity and explode back on the horse jockey scene.

Bill convinced Harry that Basil had some kind of mommy issues, though the origins of which were debatable. Bill thought that his mom once packed a ham sandwich instead of a turkey sandwich for lunch, leading him to holding a grudge against the woman until he found his way to the facility one way or another, and takes his frustrations at his sandwich-filled nightmares out on the subjects. Harry believed strongly that Basil had wanted a roast beef sandwich.

On the worst of days, there was very little talking or chuckling. Mostly, when the pain was too much to bear for Harry, he’d curl against the corner and cry while Bill would hold his hand or rub his back. Sometimes, Harry was too sick or too disoriented from whatever they had done that he’d be hardly able to respond when Bill spoke to him, speaking soothing words about life and about the world.

On the rare days when the pain was almost too much for Bill to handle, he’d still crack a smile, even when he lay bleeding against the floor of his cage, trying to just focus on Harry or his breathing or both. Harry would hold his hand and sit silently, trying to give him whatever comfort the boy could, attempting to return the favor Bill repeatedly gave him.

Bill didn’t tell Harry that he had become the favorite of Basil’s. Didn’t tell Harry how he’d found himself under the man’s thumb more than a few times, pinned to the table as the man personally took control of the experiment. How the man reveled in dragging his pain out as long as possible. How he’d fight the man, be beaten, be drugged, and beaten again. He’d have his nails ripped out, have his fingers snapped, have his nose shattered, and have his skin pulled off in pieces.

He also didn’t tell Harry how he fought to keep it that way. How often Basil gloated about the pain he put others under, the pain he put his neighbor in, and how Bill fought to make certain he got the worst of it. He might see, weeks later, that the boy had scars that matched his, but he knew he had gotten the earliest trial that burned or rotted or froze irregularly. He knew that every time he laughed, every time he spat in the man’s face, every time he kicked and screamed and bit, that Basil hungered to hurt him as badly as he could. That he’d put him in the worst tests just to watch him scream. That Basil was dying for the day Bill broke.

The day Bill was labelled a type O patient, however, was the first time Bill thought he might lose the war against the sadistic wizard.

He kicked and screamed as usual, getting Basil in the gut as he tried to force the dulling potion into his mouth. Still, Basil’s smile was unrelenting, even in the face of Bill’s teeth-gritting defiance. Their battle ended as usual; with Basil pinning the man with his own body against the table, and plugging his nose and mouth until, after choking and fighting, he swallowed.

Bill found himself breathing heavily on the table, his continued struggles ineffective and weak, as they spoke around him. He saw Basil say something, but the man’s voice seemed as though it was coming through water. Like it were muffled and far away.

The scientists turned him onto his stomach and he lay there stupidly, his eyes slowly trailing over those around him, as though he might be able to challenge them if they approached, but he couldn’t see what they were doing as someone held his shoulders to the table, pinning him there. He felt someone pull his right pant leg upward, the loose fabric reaching over his thigh. He thought of how it tickled when someone brushed the back of his knee, and he chuckled lowly, thinking it might piss Basil off.

He felt something metal and sharp just above where his knee was.

He stopped laughing.

They began cutting.

The thing about this realization was that even after it registered in his brain, which was delayed to begin with, it wasn’t quite hitting him yet. Oh certainly, when the pain began he was screaming, but the realization that they were taking his leg, that he was losing a body part, it didn’t feel real, like it had to be a dream or a joke. That also might’ve been due to the sudden rush of adrenaline as they passed through the tendons and he felt his body shake uncontrollably and his stomach empty itself of its contents onto the floor off the side of the table. His hearing went out to a buzzing sound, and even as he screamed his throat raw, the sound didn’t reach him. He twisted his body madly, and four more hands came to pin him down for the rest of the process. The saliva and sweat and tears seeping down his face didn’t register to himself. The only thing he felt was white, hot, blinding pain.

They hit the bone and began sawing, and he thought he might’ve passed out, but a hand at his mouth and a liquid poured down his throat brought him back to painful reality. He could hear the sound of his bone being cut into and cracked and broken, feel every single detail in a new, extreme clarity, and he realized that even with his body convulsing uncontrollably, with himself losing control of his breathing and crying and screaming, with what was happening to him suddenly crashing down on himself, he could no longer escape into the bliss of unconsciousness. He was going to feel all of it, Basil made sure of that.

And as they ripped off the last piece attaching the leg to the rest of himself, and he saw Basil smiling uncontrollably (the thought “like a madman” would’ve been a good description if it weren’t incredibly true), and as they worked to stop the rush of blood that was coating the table and the floor and all the scientists, cauterizing the wound and wrapping up the stump that was now there, Bill realized what this was.

This wasn’t an experiment. They had nothing to test with this. The removal of his leg created no prerequisite to some limb growing test, or a test of a new prosthetic like he might’ve assumed. No, this was for him alone. This was for the purpose to hurt him, and as Basil grabbed him by his long hair and dragged him off the table and down the hall, his one remaining leg kicking against the tiled floor while his hands grasped at the hand holding his head, he realized it had fulfilled its purpose quite well.

He didn’t look at the boy as he was pulled into the examination room and thrown into his usual cage. Didn’t look at Basil as the man laughed at him. He just kept his head down, fingers shaking as they hugged himself, his eyes staring down at where his leg had once been.

“Nothing to say?” Basil asked with a laugh, hitting the cage, getting the ginger inside to flinch. He gave another quick chuckle, then dropped his voice and leaned in. “I said I could break you…”

He gave another hit to the cage, laughing again all the way out the door.

Harry didn’t try to speak, just stared at his friend quietly. He wanted to reach out and hold his hand, or take the pain away somehow, but he knew there was nothing to be done to fix this, so he waited for some kind of sign that might tell him how to help. The places on his back where he had his skin cut off and attempted to heal felt like nothing in the face of his friend’s need.

There was silence for a long while, but then Bill spoke up.

“Hey neighbor?” Bill said, his voice raw from the screaming.

“Yes?” Harry asked when Bill didn’t immediately continue.

“I’m sorry…” he mumbled, choking a bit on his own sob. He had his back to Harry, so Harry couldn’t see his face, but that did little to mask the fact that his façade was in pieces.

“Y-you don’t n-n-need to be,” Harry said firmly, as though he’d accept no opposition. He reached in his arm as far as he could, his cheek pressed against the bar, his wound aching in protest. His fingers brushed against the man’s shoulder lightly, and after a moment, Bill raised a hand and took the one the boy offered. Slowly, he rolled himself over and held the boy’s hand with both of his own, hiding his face against the tiny fingers that were unflinching. He was supposed to be the strong one here, yet he was relying on this little kid. He sobbed softly again. Pathetic.

Hours passed. Harry was fed, but Bill couldn’t bring himself to eat. Harry knew he’d be denied until he begged for it, but Bill didn’t care. He doubted he could stomach the stuff anyway. They passed through the night together, and Harry fell asleep, still holding Bill’s hands. Bill, however, just stared at the nightmare around him, afraid of what he might see when he closed his eyes now.

Harry only let go of the man the next day when he was removed, but he gave Bill one final look, and Bill mustered up a weak little smile, though the only he could produce.

Bill found that the loneliness got to him quickly. He balled his hands into fists and curled himself into a ball, trying to ignore the sensation in his missing leg as he stared at the wall through the bars of his cage.

He saw the scientists come and go, but none approached him. He knew as well as Harry that they’d make him beg before he’d be fed again, and he was sure he would, but now he was too tired, dozing in and out of fitful nightmares for the rest of the day, trying to salvage something of his dignity for when he faced the boy again, but the tears wouldn’t stop streaming down his face.

The following night, he had almost entered a disturbed sleep, when he heard voices down the hall. He didn’t open his eyes or lift his head, but he heard them clearly.

The first, he recognized as that woman Harry and himself had decided was once a jockey. The second was unmistakably Basil, and the unconscious shudder that Bill felt made his stomach turn at how the man had gotten to him.

“Isn’t that blood magic?” The woman hissed, trying to keep her voice low in the likely abandoned hallway.

“Perhaps,” Basil said, “but if it works, we can perfect it into something useable.”

“And if it doesn’t work we lose a perfectly good subject,” she snapped in return. “You know we’re running low as it is. Aurors have been on our tail for a while, and that subject you dragged in last year hasn’t made them any easier to deal with.”

“Hmmm, perhaps we could use him then,” Basil purred curiously, sadistic pleasure slipping into his voice.

“With the stunt you made us do yesterday, he still has to recover first,” she mumbled. “It’s possible though.”

He hummed in acceptance of the thought. “I wish Shaw wasn’t on my back,” Basil said bitterly. “I’d love to use the little hero in this one…”

“322-F is off limits to experiments of this caliber,” she reminded him cautiously. “You’d be risking your head for that one.”

322-F, Bill recognized, was his neighbor’s number, but before he could ponder on why he called the boy hero, they continued.

“But, if she doesn’t know before we begin…” He said slowly, his scheme beginning.

“I feel as though I shouldn’t be a part of this conversation.”

“I could simply skirt around the topic of who the subject will be until it's over, then she'll see why...”

“You’re going to get killed thinking like that.”

“Oh please, Ms. Shaw loves me.”

“I don’t think she loves anyone.”

Bill had heard enough. With every sentence Basil got closer to deciding to hurt his friend, and he couldn’t allow that. He gave a choked laugh that came out strangled with his still-recovering vocal chords.

The pair’s conversation stopped at the sound, before Basil was suddenly storming into the room and straight up to Bill’s cage. Quite predictable, Bill thought, amused.

“And what are you laughing at?” Basil snapped, close to the bars of the cage. Bill managed to sit up slowly, ignoring the pain in his severed leg.

“I just thought of something funny,” Bill said, a weak, but smug smile on his face. “Is there a problem?”

Basil snorted at the comment. “How’s the leg?” He said simply, and Bill’s smile faltered, but he recovered quickly.

“Perfectly fine,” he said between his gritted teeth. “Never been better, actually. I feel about two stones lighter.”

He thought two of his younger brothers might be proud of that one, hoping it worked enough to piss Basil off.

It did, in fact, but only for a moment. Then the man looked closer at Bill’s face. Bill still looked as though he had been crying, and clearly hadn’t gotten decent rest since the day before. His smile was forced, and his face was tense just to keep it there. Basil slowly smiled his own cruel smile, and Bill’s fake one fell immediately.

“Oh I see,” he purred. “You just want to keep your little friend safe, don’t you?”

Bill’s heartbeat pounded in his chest and up his neck, but he didn’t respond.

“That makes things quite easy.” He turned to his colleague, who was leaning against the door with a bored expression. “We’ll be doing the experiment on 322-F.”

“What?” She snapped, her eyebrows furrowed. “He’s off-limits. Just use that one.”

“Yes, please!” Bill said, panic rising quickly as he found himself grabbing at Basil through the bars. “Do whatever you want to me, I don’t care. Don’t touch that kid!”

Basil whipped around quickly, a mad smile on his face.

“No, you’ve made up my mind,” he said, before turning back to his colleague. “I’ll take care of Ms. Shaw, you get everything else ready.”

With that, he stormed from the room, and for the second time in as many days, Bill screamed his throat raw.

 


 

Harry didn’t know how, but he was certain something was wrong.

He went for weeks without getting picked up out of the holding cell, despite the few still remaining all being dragged away one by one. Harry found himself alone for most of the time, though a few times there were other children huddled in there with him. He didn’t speak very frequently to them, but for the first time, he would scoot his way towards them, being patient when they flinched, and sat with them in silence. Still, they’d all be taken eventually, and he’d be alone once more with the sensation that something bad was going to happen.

When he was finally dragged out of the isolating darkness, he was further convinced there was something amiss when they sat him on the table and just talked to one another for many minutes. There were brushes and opened books floating in the air as they looked him up and down, opening scrolls and studying parchments with simple diagrams scribbled on them.

Basil was standing in the corner, offering little help, just looking hungrily at Harry. He was interrupted, however, when a different scientist came in and whispered something to him. His face immediately fell to one of extreme irritation, and he left swiftly.

The experiment began without a dulling potion, strangely enough. It began with the removal of the young boy’s clothes, making him feel more nervous and exposed than before. Someone ordered him to lay down on his back, and he did, hands shaking a bit as they surrounded him. Something in him, deep in the back of his mind, said he should fight, but he had long since learned to ignore that urge, even when it made him feel sick.

They began drawing on him strange markings that meant nothing to him. Lines and squares and circles traced down his arms, to his fingertips, on his face, down his chest, down his legs and to the tips of his toes. They rolled him on his stomach, and continued their marking of his scarred flesh until no clear patch remained.

Returned to his back, he watched them draw out a triangle on his chest, in the middle of his sternum and below his collar bone. From there, someone placed something round and cold, looking disturbingly like a small heart. Harry’s own pounded, more so than usual, and two of the scientists began speaking in a language Harry couldn’t understand.

Harry’s eyes rolled back into his head and his body began tingling as his mouth foamed. Convulsions began quickly, and he felt the thing on his chest sink into his body as though he were made of water. The pain he expected wasn’t there yet, but he became aware of a sensation in his chest.

A quick beating sensation, like a heart that wasn’t his own was there.

 


 

Basil sat uncomfortably in Ms. Shaw’s office. The woman wasn’t one to have very many personal touches to her spaces, though she did have quite a few books on occlumency and ligilimency on the shelves, with scrolls lining her desk and organized into compartments behind it. She was incredibly meticulous in the layout of her office space, which seemed controlled with greys and browns, and no one would find photographs of pets or family members there. Only what was necessary, and nothing more.

His fingers were tapping on his knee, and he was attempting to keep his gaze away from the woman’s eyes, trying to seem enraptured in the titles of her books. He had gotten her to sign off on the experiment by pushing the importance of the results, the potential breakthrough that might be gained, and brushing over the topic of who the subject for the first test might be, stating it could be a subject that had been there for a while, and who had already been used to its potential.

The woman had, at the time, been distracted by the contents of a letter she had received. Now, however, she had her full attention on Basil, and he was quickly becoming nervous.

“Mr. Truscott,” she started, and he glanced her way, before glancing back to the books. Her pleasant smile didn’t waver, but her tone changed a bit. “I had an assignment for you, however you seem distracted.”

“Yes, yes,” he mumbled, “I was just a bit… upset that you interrupted me during the new experiment.”

“Of course,” she said, resting her elbows on the desk, “that new experiment you were so enthusiastic about. I suppose you were able to find everything you needed to begin the first test?”

“Yes,” he said, still distracted, “the setup was fine.” She stared closely at him, and he attempted not to act as nervous as he was. He just needed to play this out and get back to the testing room…

“I see you want to return to the experiment and watch what happens,” she said, calculatingly, her foot tapping on the floor. “I haven’t seen you this excited to go to the testing room since you asked permission to cut off the Weasley boy’s leg. Perhaps he’s the one on the table again?”

“No,” Basil said quickly, trying to pass it off nonchalantly. Ms. Shaw wasn’t impressed, leaning forward a bit more, her smile everlasting.

“Then who is on the table, Mr. Truscott?”

He didn’t look at her, and didn’t respond. If she knew now… He had wanted to wait until the experiment was complete. Then she’d understand… if she found out too soon…

Her voice abruptly dropped an octave now. “Look. At. Me.”

Startled, his eyes locked onto hers for a moment, and in an instant she was up and gone from the room. He rushed after her, attempting to stop her with quick words and excuses.

Rounding on him, her smile was gone. “Crucio.” She said, and the man fell, writhing in agony. She watched him with the calmest of expressions, as he tugged at his hair, a choked sound emitting from his throat, attempting to get away from the violent torrent of complete pain attacking him from the inside out.

After a moment, she released him, turning on her heel and continuing down the hallway, leaving him choking and gasping on the floor. “You will be dealt with soon. I have other matters to deal with now.”

 


 

Harry became aware that something was under his skin, like it was trying to melt with his bones. He groaned as he felt a creaking sensation in his joints, like he were being slowly stretched and shrunk. It was uncomfortable, and disturbing as he felt his ribs shifting and expanding, but it was bearable.

And then there was the sensation of what was in his chest. He almost felt comforted, like there was an extra warmth in his body. Something nestling there between his lungs, the warmth spreading out down his arms, over his skin, spreading to his toes. He felt as though he were being stretched and hugged and warmed and examined from the inside out. It was the most peaceful experiment he had been a subject of.

And then the door slammed opened.

And rather abruptly, the comfort became pain as the spell was interrupted. Harry felt as though his bones were being twisted and ripped apart, and then taped back together in the wrong way. He felt his toes being stretched, felt his hair falling out, felt something ripping into his back, and the entire time, he felt as though there was something beneath his skin, ripping him apart in its attempt to get out.

Harry screamed, and the world fell away to agony.

Chapter Text

Harry’s consciousness bled away. He wasn’t certain if he had died and been sent to hell, passed out and was dreaming, or if the intense pain simply blocked out everything.

He felt as though his teeth were loose in his face, his jaw cracking and stretching in an unnatural fashion. His scalp burned as his hair must’ve been falling out in clumps. His fingernails and toenails felt as though they were being pulled out simultaneously, while at the same time, they felt as though they were being stabbed with a sharp knife. His feet and lower legs were broken and stretched, before being twisted back upon themselves in ways they shouldn’t have.

Something was moving beneath his skin. He felt it push into his chest, expanding his ribcage painfully, before shooting down to his feet which were abruptly jerked around again, his toes being forcibly spread out with his broken bones within what had been his feet. And then it shoved into his back and he felt something grinding against his spine and shoulder blades, taking root and expanding until it pierced the skin, hot blood trailing down his back while new appendages emerged. Something was wrong with them, however. The bones in them, like two extra arms, weren’t connected properly, and each tiny movement from them elicited a shock of pain up his spine that left him reeling.

He dove further into this, his skin boiling as though it might start melting off him any moment. His extra appendages twisted beyond his control, attempting to create a proper form which resulted in a larger mess, the blood pooling around him as he became acutely aware, with his gasped breaths, that the smell of his own blood was becoming overwhelming. His feet had twisted themselves into a strange shape, his toes nearly ripped apart, and his lower legs spun into a spiral shape that steadily stretched out again, attempting to become something else…

He must’ve been screaming, but no familiar sound came from his voice, as he found his throat suddenly burning, like hot tea had been poured down it and was choking him. The noise that came out from his throat was not his own, and the ringing in his ears and in his head made it impossible to decipher just what noise he was hearing.

Harry was losing himself. This thing inside him was taking over. It was fighting and it was winning easily. He was shrinking, his nose and jaw had broken and become something else. His hair must’ve mostly fallen out but the burning in his scalp didn’t end. His feet and new appendages were beyond salvation, and Harry only wished they would stop moving, as each movement ignited a new agony in the boy.

Harry thought he must be dying. His breathing was becoming ragged as the burning spread to his heart, to his lungs, to his stomach. His heartbeat became irregular, and a few times stuttered, making a cold rush spread through his burning body. His breaths became strangled, as the air he pulled into his lungs felt like not enough, as though his lungs were suddenly failing at what they were doing.

His pain was going numb then, his skin going cold and his head feeling fuzzy. He lost feeling in his fingers and his lips, and it slowly crept across his body. He was certain he was dying at that point, and didn’t protest to the feeling. The coolness of his skin, and the numbness from the pain was welcome, and he peacefully began to slip away.

In a flash of orange, he fell into a dreamless sleep, truly unaware of what was happening anymore.


 

Bill had never felt more lost. He prided himself upon being the cool, relaxed older brother that people could depend upon and look up to. Here, he had wanted to be a comfort and protector for that little kid who couldn’t be more than ten. He had wanted to salvage something of that boy, and perhaps keep himself together too.

Now, he was alone, and they were doing unthinkable things to that child.

It was his fault. If he had said something different, or perhaps not spoken at all, they might’ve chosen Bill instead. He had just served to solidify the boy’s fate, and that fact was destroying Bill.

After a week, Bill begged for food on his hands and knees, his face blank and his head bowed. He stopped fighting when the scientists, or whatever they called themselves, did their sick experiments. Then they’d drag him to the examination room, where he’d silently sit in his cage and continue to drown himself in his thoughts.

He’d frequently look up when someone opened the door, but his friend was never brought in, and as time passed, what little hope he had dwindled. Now he couldn’t stop his mind as it filled with what might have happened to his neighbor.

He thought of gruesome ways to die, ways to be destroyed from the inside out. He thought of all the potions that might’ve done it, what spells they could’ve performed. There was seeming no end to the terrible, painful ways one person could kill another, and when he finally realized what was in the cage in the corner, the pile of living flesh and organs but no bones, death wasn’t the only terrible possibility.

He curled in on himself, tugging at his hair and staring at the horror in the cage, his mind pulling upward in a tsunami of thoughts that were crashing into him and dragging him deeper and deeper into his mind.

Within a few days, he was labelled a type B patient, but Bill was too far gone now to notice or care. He didn’t care about anything they did anymore.


 

Harry awoke to find himself, oddly enough, in a bed. Harry attempted to think of the last time he found himself in one, and could only think back to the one time when, while making Dudley’s bed, he had foolishly fallen asleep. A shudder passed through his body as he remembered what had followed, so he pushed the thoughts from his mind to assess the situation that found him in this bed.

He first thought that, perhaps, he had died and was in heaven, or something of the sort. However, when the pain hit him, sending his mind reeling, he thought that must’ve been far from the truth.

A choked gasp escaped him when his mind registered the pain, hitting him like a brick wall. His feet were excruciating, and every spasm that the squished muscles gave sent a shock of agony through him. His fingernails must’ve been pulled out at some point, and each one ached endlessly. His scalp was burning as though someone had poured acid on it.

Then he registered a pain from something he did not have before. The two appendages he thought he might’ve dreamed about were sprouting from his back in an awkward fashion that mustn’t have been correct for what they had attempted to form.

Taking a deep breath, Harry sat up slowly, his head spinning from the pain that washed over himself when he irritated his broken body. He noticed quickly that the movement in itself was difficult, and briefly wondered how long he had been laying there. However, he pushed the thought away to focus on finding out what was on his back, and perhaps seeing the rest of him.

Stretching his strange new appendages sent more shocks of pain up his spine, but as he pulled them forward to see them, turning his head, he shuddered. They seemed to be some kind of attempt at wings, but it was made out of his own human skin, stretched painfully over bones and muscles that didn’t look formed correctly. Welts covered his skin, and from those welts were patches of black feathers. It looked like some strange God’s attempt at making a set of wings with the right parts and failing anatomically, the product being painful to move and impossible to function correctly.

The wings were about as long as Harry’s arms, and he noticed that they were jointed similarly, though any movement he got out of them were stiff and he could tell the joints and tendons were connected incorrectly, while the muscles must’ve been in the wrong place.

Carefully pulling his blanket off, he looked down at his feet. They had, as he felt, been broken and twisted around, the broken bones being reconstructed into what Harry was now realizing resembled a pitiful attempt at bird feet. More welts and feathers lined his ankles, and when he reached up a shaky hand to his scalp, he found many more feathers there, sprouting between what was left of his hair, which was falling out in clumps.

Harry shuddered and stared down at himself. He was clean, and covered by the same pants, though not shirt, he had worn for the last two years, but now his own body felt foreign to himself. Something was still there within him, beating next to his own heart, and he could feel what it felt. He could feel terror and confusion that wasn’t his own, sending goosebumps down his arm and making him sweat. His entire body ached, and every few moments, his new appendage would twitch or shift without his permission, or his toes would flex slightly.

Be still, he thought to himself as an especially harsh jerk from his right foot made his blood run cold. Amazingly, the twitches slowed and his brows furrowed.

Before he could think more on this, the door opened and a scientist came in. As usual, the scientist, this one an older gentleman with greying hair, didn’t speak to him. He just waved his wand, saying strange words in a language Harry didn’t know, examining him up and down. This, however, felt different. While it was clear he was examining Harry’s new form, he also said a few spells that made Harry’s pain dissipate. He grabbed onto Harry’s leg and pulled it rather carefully, and when Harry cried out in pain, he stopped and let the boy go, writing something down.

This man must’ve been some kind of nurse or doctor. Harry had visited the clinic in his school enough times to recognize that calculating look while he worked to heal and mend what he could of the boy. The potion he had Harry drink left the boy feeling rather sleepy, but it wasn’t the dulling spell. No it made Harry’s body feel warm, and the rest of the discomfort faded away. He lay back down, staring up at this man who continued about his work.

He opened his mouth to say something, wondering in his stupor how long he had been sleeping before he awoke, but the sound that came out wasn’t his own. It was a strangled croak that Harry realized reminded him of a bird’s caw. His heartbeat quickened as this man looked at his face for the first time, and his look said all Harry needed to know as he fell into a sleep once again.

Freak.


 

Snape had found the facility.

He didn't necessarily know that's what it was yet, but the strange building hidden in a huge forest where no person ever came, hidden where one large hill ended and another began, almost impossible to find if one wasn’t looking, was a rather suspicious place to begin with.

He had been searching for months. The leads Dumbledore had given him were scarce to say the least. They knew about the time the eldest Weasley son had disappeared, and had one sighting of him leaving the Ministry of Magic, but beyond that the trail went dry. He had argued with the Headmaster that it was a waste of his time, but the man insisted he give the case a fair shot for Molly’s sake. Severus wanted to tell the man that he had no reason to want to do favors for the Weasley’s, but he begrudgingly left it.

Molly Weasley kept to her promise and sent owls to him weekly. Severus had been sympathetic to her plight at first, but her frequent letters made him understand why the headmaster might’ve started ignoring them. She insisted he send her reports on his progress, while sending him pages and pages of potential leads that all amounted to nothing. She was also searching as well, but had found as much as Severus had, which amounted to very little. If he failed to send her reports, she would attempt to search with him, but he found he rather preferred to aimlessly wander without constant theories about where her son might’ve gone, the possibilities being endless. So he would send her short lists of all he did, which would sometimes amount to “I walked down the streets of London for the ninth time. Nothing changed.”

Months passed, and he spent his weekends wandering around the Ministry of Magic, or in the various streets the Weasley boy might’ve come down on his way home. It was boring, repetitive, and endless. There was nothing to be found, no one who knew where the man had gone. He asked muggles on the street, but London was a tourist town. Anyone that might’ve seen him was likely long gone, and again, he couldn’t be certain which street he had been at. He could’ve gone to Diagon Alley, he could’ve gone somewhere else.

Severus was tiredly combing the alley again, winding through the streets away from one of the many entrances and exits of the Ministry of Magic, when he found it. Not far from the main road, blocked off by the surrounding buildings, there was a few drops of blood that looked to be months old. It meant very little, the blood could’ve come from anywhere, but it was the closest thing he found to a lead, so he tiredly cast a spell, searching for any leftover magic residue.

It seemed that there had been a duel there almost a year ago. The magic was severely faded, but the concentration of spells was strong enough to leave its evidence on its walls. At first, Severus thought none of them matched Bill’s magic signature, and he was about to chalk it up to a spat between two unrelated wizards, but then he found one tiny sliver of magic that wasn’t the same as the many spells cast. It was the one he was looking for.

He began to search for some other sign to where they might’ve gone, and found an apparation spell had also been cast. If it weren’t for the fact that it had been used to carry at least three people, it would’ve faded long before he had gotten there. He followed where the trail led, taking note of which alley he had gone into, and found himself in the middle of the forest.

He sighed, as he knew he was going to be out here for quite a while, but it was the first real lead he had gotten since starting the investigation. So, he cast a spell so he’d know where this spot was, and began walking North.

It took hours. He would walk for miles in one direction, and when that turned up with nothing, he apparated back and tried another direction. It wasn’t an exact science, but it was all he had. Every twenty feet or so, he would cast another magic sensing spell in case they had apparated away again, but it turned up with nothing.

The sun was setting, and he was beginning to wonder if perhaps he should return to the castle to get a bigger search party when he felt him pass through an anti-apparation barrier. He was so startled by this change, that he stopped for a moment, then quickened his pace. That was definitely something to be suspicious about.

And he found it after another long trek through the forest, almost going close enough that the handful of guards could’ve spotted him.

Rushing back and then apparating away, he immediately went to the headmaster to inform him of what he had found. The man was unable to stop his immediate look of surprise that Severus had actually managed to find something, but he was quick to follow it with a look of relief.

A plan was made; they would gather a team and would be going into the facility in a month. This annoyance in Severus's life could be finally over.


 

Harry was there for what must’ve been days or weeks. He was in and out of consciousness, and every time he awoke, someone would eventually come in and send him back down again. They seemed to be trying to fix him, but his state never changed. He was still twisted into this shape, and the thought it might be permanent made him shudder.

No one spoke to him, and he found he couldn’t speak to them either. His vocal chords weren’t right, and every word he attempted to speak came out in a strangled caw that wasn’t his own. He soon gave up in his attempts.

He felt helpless. His voice had failed him, and he could hardly move his body. His muscles were tense, and while he could sit up, standing would be impossible. He couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, and to those that came in, he was little more than an object to be fixed. He wasn’t even fully human anymore. He truly was a freak…

One night, likely after everyone had left, he awoke early. He supposed he’d be laying there alone until someone came in the morning to give him another sleeping potion, but the door opened and he looked up to see who had entered. He certainly didn’t expect to see Ms. Shaw, whose encounters with him he could count on one hand despite him being there for two years.

His heartbeat quickened as she pulled up a seat next to his bed and crossed her legs, folding her hands neatly over her knee. She wasn’t quick to speak, simply staring the boy in the face evenly. She was the only one that seemed to be looking at him as though he were a person, and while her oddly calm expression unnerved him, it was strangely relieving.

“You were not meant to be in that experiment,” she said, shattering the silence with her smooth voice, making the boy nearly flinch with the suddenness of her explanation. “Mr. Truscott is being punished accordingly. However, in order for you to properly recover, you need to understand what’s been done to you.”

Harry’s eyes never left her face, and in response, her eyes never left his. They were locked in a staring match, her face unreadable, and his own full of lost confusion. He opened his mouth to speak, but she was continuing before he could make a sound.

“It was a blood spell, a rather old one at that. Imperfect, though potentially rather useful at interrogations, imprisonment, or disposing of a person with no evidence.” The way she spoke about those horrible things was as though it were a simple part of life, like telling the boy that he had to wait to cross the road until the light changed. “It was meant to transform one person into an animal indefinitely. There are a few spells that are similar, however the effects are not permanent, and not nearly as intensive. This one was made to transform a person’s soul and mind as well as their outer form. We had also planned on creating a reversal spell in later tests, but this one was… incomplete, and now seems out of our control.”

Harry’s eyebrows furrowed, but his heart was beating faster. He let out a strangled noise like he was trying to ask something. She seemed easily to know what he wanted, and he wondered if perhaps Wizards could read minds?

“Yes, the effects are permanent.” Harry felt like crying there, his throat swelling up and his hands grabbing to the sheets, head bowed. “However, there is something you can do to make things… easier.” Harry looked up again, his eyes glistening as he fought against the tears, failing miserably at his attempts. “In order for the spell to work, one must use the heart of the desired animal. It is essentially transfiguring a body into an animal, and hiding a person’s mind behind that of the animal they have now become. You, however, are between human and animal, and have both parts. I theorize that if you should attempt to compromise with this animal you share your soul with, you can manage to salvage something of your humanity.”

Harry’s cawing became more enraged. She had done this to him, and expected him to compromise! His bones creaked at the sudden rejection of such a thought, and he fought back mercilessly. His heartbeat became erratic again, and he clutched his chest. She didn’t seem surprised.

“Remember, Harry,” she said, startling him with the use of his real name, which he hadn’t heard in a year, “you are in the middle of an incomplete transformation. You were being turned into a raven. Her name was Avice, and you were to live out the rest of your days within her body, yet you did not make it that far. Your body is broken in its attempts to form itself into both a human and a raven, and your rejection has made this form unstable. The more you fight, the more dangerous your form becomes. You had nearly died, but a stasis spell kept you from completely collapsing in on yourself. From how you looked before, it will be a long and painful way to die. Think carefully before you lash out at my words.”

With that, she stood, leaving the boy alone with no further explanation. Harry’s instincts told him to fight, and he wanted to, but the shock of pain at his sudden anger towards himself sobered him. He lay back in the bed and stared up at the ceiling, thinking on what she said.

She said the raven had been named Avice. He closed his eyes and thought silently to himself. Avice? There was no response verbally, but the shifting in his bones halted. Uh, hi, I’m Harry. This was stupid. Avice was a bird, and probably didn’t speak. Still, he had nothing to lose. You’ve put me in… a lot of pain, but it looks like we’re stuck together. So I want to try and make this work a bit better. He felt something in him that was not himself, Avice he supposed, slowly relax, and the pain that subsided made the boy sigh slowly. This might be okay.

Pulling off his blanket, he looked down at his mangled feet. Compromise… right… perhaps we can make something of these that is useable and not so… painful? There was a pause, and then slowly his feet shifted. There was discomfort, but the pain was nothing compared to what it had been, and they untwisted themselves slowly. Harry found himself carefully flexing his toes and aiding with the process. It was like he were molding his feet slowly with someone else’s invisible hand. Avice had an idea of what his feet should look like, and he had to come to some kind of middle ground. Slowly, his bones changed, stretching and thinning out until his feet resembled something like that of a birds, though they were no longer a gruesome mash of broken bones, but a properly put together replica. He flexed them, stretching out the sharp talons and thin toes. It had his skin, but there were only four toes now, and his nails were long and sharp. Up his leg on his ankle and calves, patches of feathers grew.

Carefully, he worked in fixing his body, which was no longer fully his own. His muscles relaxed, and things fit into their places correctly once more. His throat no longer felt incorrect or swollen, and when he tried, his voice worked properly once more, or as properly as it had previously.

He stood, no longer unable to move his body, nearly crying at how freeing it felt. His new feet were wobbly, and he collapsed in his first attempt, but he slowly began to get the hang of them. Looking around, he saw this small room had two doors, and he opened the first. It was a bathroom, and he looked in the mirror at his face.

It struck him quickly that this was the first time he had seen himself in years, and he almost didn’t recognize himself.

He was older now, perhaps about ten? He was incredibly pale, paler than he had been before, and he realized he hadn’t seen the sun since he got here either. He was thin, and his hair was patchy, mixing his own hair with odd feathers poking out here and there. Taking a breath, he worked to change that.

The best compromise he could come to was soft, tiny, black feathers that outlined the back of his ear and the base of his neck. It wasn’t perfect, especially with how his hair had partially fallen out, but it could be covered rather easily.

Sighing, he now turned his attention to these wings on his back. He turned to get a better look, and winced at the mangled mess he had attached to his back.

Avice, I didn’t exactly… have wings before this, he thought, unsure of if that meant anything to the raven, but this is… we need to make something that works here.

Regardless of if Avice understood English, she seemed to understand what Harry wanted, and slowly, Harry stretched his new appendages, untwisting their forms and piecing his bones and muscles back into place. More feathers grew here than on his head and on his ankles until the black feathers covered his wings. They were much smaller now than before, perhaps a little more than half the length of his arms, and they felt… right, somehow. He stretched them out, feeling the way his feathers moved over each other, testing the flexibility of his new joints. He could move, he could walk, and for the first time in a while, it didn’t hurt.

Before he could celebrate, he heard the sound of voices coming down the hallway, and he almost stopped breathing. He heard their footsteps clearly, waiting to see what they would do. When they passed his door, he sighed, but didn’t relax yet. They were waking up, so if he wanted to do something before they realized he was no longer bedridden, he would have to do it now.

Testing the door, he was surprised to find it unlocked. Perhaps someone had forgotten to lock it? Pushing it open slowly, and silently closing it, he glanced down the hallway that branched in both directions, uncertain of where to go from here. He needed to find Bill and leave as soon as he could… taking a guess, he went left, trying to keep his steps light, which he found rather quickly was much easier with the way his new feet were formed. His bones were thinner and his steps were quieter.

He kept his breathing soft, listening closely to what was going on down the hall. He could hear a few voices, but the scientists were just starting their day. They wouldn’t yet be visiting the test subjects.

Turning a corner, Harry immediately recognized it from being dragged or carried down it many times to the examination room. Picking up the pace, he opened the door and slipped in, sweeping his eyes over the room, keeping low to the ground.

In the cages, there were only a handful of subjects still left. Their numbers had dwindled greatly over the years Harry had been there, and he thought with a shudder that none of them had left the facility. It was likely dozens or even hundreds of people, mostly children, that had died here.

The sound of a low groan pulled him from his gruesome thoughts, and he returned to his mission.

Bill wasn’t here, there was only two others, staring at him through the bars with wide eyes, and the creature in the corner.

Harry’s heart pounded as he approached the cage for the first time, never having seen it from so close. It’s body truly did lack a skeletal structure of any kind, but from here, Harry could see where its arms and legs and head might be, where its muscles twitched under the surface, and where its organs worked to keep it alive.

Its eyes stared at him through the bars, and he realized it was trying to tell him something. Its lips parted and a low gurgling noise emitted from its throat. This thing had been here for years, and Harry knew immediately what it was asking of him.

Looking at the lock on the cage, he realized it had no way of being opened without the means of magic. Footsteps were now approaching from down the hall, and his heart was beating faster now.

“I c-can’t,” Harry croaked out, starting to step back.

“Pl….ea…se….” Came a gasped noise from its throat. Harry stopped, staring at the thing before him that had once been a person. Likely once been a child. The footsteps were louder now. No time to think, no time to question.

He reached in his leg, stretching out his talons to the body before him, and its body shifted towards his sharp claws. Harry pressed himself closer into the bars, trying his best to reach it. He could see it through its skin, beating pitifully and endlessly. The thing keeping this person here.

His talons poised over the heart. The door opened.

No time to think.

He stabbed his sharp talons into the heart.

And then he ran, one foot dripping with blood as he dove for the door that the scientist was blocking.

He was startled by the appearance of the boy, but did manage to reach out and attempt to grab him, taking him by the wing and lifting the boy up.

In a panic, he kicked out, his talons slicing into the man’s face and causing him to drop the boy to protect his eyes. Harry wasted no time in running down the hall, alerting a few more of his presence. He knew his muscles were still weak from how long he had been asleep for, and he knew he wouldn’t hold out for long, but still he ran, bolting down another hallway.

Startled by voices suddenly in front of him, he changed his course abruptly into the first door he found and found himself running up a flight of stairs in a simple stairwell. Each landing he glanced into the hall, but they were becoming filled with people going about their business, and he could hear those below him gaining on him. He kept ascending, heart pounding, legs ready to give out, when he reached the top, the door opening to a single hallway and one room at the end.

He ran forward into the room, finding a rather impersonalized office. The sight of Ms. Shaw, sitting in a small chair by a bookshelf, sipping from a cup of tea and reading a letter startled him, but she gave him a pleasant smile that for once didn’t unsettle him.

“It seems you’ve figured it out,” she said simply. He opened his mouth to speak, but she raised a hand. “Bill Weasley will be fine. You need to go before they run through that door.”

The voices were getting louder now, and Harry stared at her in puzzled terror. She motioned to the window behind the desk, and he turned to it, the first window he had seen in this place. Something pulled him toward it and he opened it, looking down at the ground below. He had run up many flights of stairs, and he hadn’t been at the bottom floor it seemed.

The door at the end of the hall burst open.

No time to think.

He jumped.

And as he began to fall, something within him took over. He felt Avice pushing herself outward, and Harry found himself shifting midair abruptly, trusting her to know what she was doing as he lost more of his human form to her.

His wings extended, much larger than they had previously been.

Harry flew.


 

Olivia Shaw stood by the window, her tea in her hands, watching the silhouette of the boy disappear, eclipsing the morning sun. Her workers were quickly filling her office, but all stopped before running into her, none passing her desk.

They all breathed heavily, wands at the ready, watching for her reaction, which she was slow to give.

Then, she turned to them with a smile. “It seems our employment here has ended,” she said calmly. “I suggest you all gather your things and leave quickly.”

They stared at her, puzzled expressions on their faces, trying to register what she had said. She finished off her tea, then set the cup down on her desk.

“As I said, you’d all best be leaving unless you plan on spending the rest of your lives in Azkaban.”

That got them moving, everyone rushing out of the office to get their things, clearing quickly. They all knew the day they’d be discovered would come, and they were not going to wait around to be caught.

Letting out a sigh, Shaw grabbed her wand and with a quick flick of her wrist, the anti-apparation charm she had placed on the area was gone.

And with that, she walked down the stairs, taking her time as she would never descend these stairs again.


 

Bill had been back in the holding cell, but could see more footsteps than usual, people passing by frantically. He was leaning down to get a better look when the door abruptly opened and he found himself looking at a woman he had only seen in passing; the owner of the facility Ms. Shaw.

“Come here, please,” she said suddenly without giving Bill much time to react.

He stared at her dumbly, the only one in the room for her to talk to. Should he listen? Did he have much of a choice? If she had simply wanted to drag him to an experiment, she could’ve just called his number forward, and he had never seen her speak to one of the subjects.

Slowly, using the wall as a crutch, he got himself to his one leg and hopped his way forward, looking at the woman with suspicion.

When she took his arm, he flinched back, but was suddenly pulled and squeezed through the familiar sensation of being apparated.

He fell immediately when they arrived in a simple office, but she took no notice, stepping forward to a desk and sitting down. He had believed that apparating was impossible here, but it seemed that wasn’t so now. He looked up, about to apparate away, when she spoke.

“If you’re planning in disapparating, go ahead,” she said simply, looking almost sadly at her empty tea cup. “It won’t necessarily help at this point though; your rescue will be coming soon. I had simply hoped to speak to you first.”

Bill stared at the woman from where he was crouched on the ground, expecting this to be some kind of ploy, but he could see nothing to be gained from this. If he truly could apparate away, then he could do it at any time…

Slowly, he pulled himself up again, sitting himself across from her and staring at her closely, waiting for any sign that indicated he should run.

“Thank you,” she said pleasantly, folding her hands on her desk. “I simply wanted to tell you that your friend has made it out of here and is whole, more or less. He even went looking for you before making his escape, but I informed him that you would be rescued soon.”

Relief washed over Bill, and he felt like he could cry, but he needed to ask her first. “Why are you telling me this?” He said, attempting to keep his voice steady.

“I know the boy will need you,” she said, as though the statement were simple. “Having you destroy yourself with guilt before you meet him again will only serve to weaken what help you can give him.”

“But why?” Bill said, balling his hands into fists, trying to keep the emotion out of his voice. He had been in this hell for a year and he was suddenly being told he was going to be free and that his friend was okay? The sudden change was almost as devastating as coming here in the first place. “Why are you telling me this? What help can I give him? Why do you care?” She chuckled softly, and stood, walking to her bookshelf and beginning to gather what was there.

“I have a great interest in this boy’s future,” she said, stacking the books easily in her arms. “And you do as well, though you don’t know it.” Returning to the desk, she placed the books down and leaned against it’s surface. “Terrible things happened here, but terrible things need to happen in order for great good to follow. I simply played my part in molding the future. Now, I must be gone before your saviors arrive.”

Gathering her books again, she gave a quick sweep of her office, then turned away from Bill, but turned back once more, a rather serious look on her face now.

“One more thought. Be skeptical of the people you choose to trust. Appearances can be deceiving.”

Laughing softly at some joke she had made that Bill couldn’t understand, she disapparated, leaving the man alone in the office as the building slowly cleared of inhabitants.

Hours later, the facility was stormed by many people who were shocked to find it virtually abandoned except for the handful of subjects leftover, and one dead body locked in a cage.

They began searching, one in particular more frantic than the others, the mother tearing through floor after floor until she reached the top and saw him.

Her boy, sitting alone in the office.

And he turned to her and attempted to stand but failed to, his hands shaking as he knelt on his single leg, staring at the woman who had raised him, who he had longed to hold him for the past year without the thought that such a thing would be childish.

And she did, she held him close to her, crying and sobbing and telling him soft words.

“I’m here, I’m here, you’re okay now.”

And he cried too.

It was going to be okay.

Chapter Text

Harry had never felt so free before. Never, not once in his life, had he felt so incredibly, unstoppably free, reveling in the rushing sensation as he realized he could go anywhere he wanted and no one could stop him.

His wings arched and he caught an air current, propelling him upward. His bare feet tickled the tops of trees as he swooped down, toes trailing along the evergreens as he parachuted downward, gliding along their forms, seeing his shadow mirror him on the green, before pumping his wings, moving higher and higher, his dark, matted hair whipping around his pale face, his arms pressed to his sides, his legs pulled up toward his body.

Up into a cloudy morning, the flying became easier as he glided, feeling Avice naturally maneuver him into the wind as though she had always felt so free, as though she had never been afraid of heights. And surprisingly, Harry trusted her and wasn’t scared of the dizzying heights either, even as the trees became like tiny blades of grass far below his feet and his face peeked over the clouds.

Filling his lungs with the cold air that stung his face and chest and toes while the sun shined into his eyes, he let out a loud exclamation, somewhere between a laugh and a shout and a cry, the last of which became quickly true as the tears streamed from his face, perhaps partly from the cold but certainly mostly from the rush of it all.

His body tilted and he turned himself sideways, the tips of his wings softly cutting into the clouds below him, and he turned his face from the wash of clouds below him to the sky above, sending a dizzying sensation through his body while he stared up into a vast ocean of blue with soft specks of thin clouds still hovering higher than he was.

He tilted further and folded his wings, falling backwards into the clouds, the mist coating his body in moisture while he laughed and cried and fell before easily turning again and saving himself, making a large arc upward, emerging back above the clouds and going higher still, his ears popping, rising until he could see the earth curve in the distance.

He let out a slow breath, closing his eyes and gliding once more, feeling the icy air cutting deep but feeling at peace. He pulled his arms into his chest and felt what lay below it. Next to his own heart, another tiny one beat quicker than his, showing a sign of life other than his own. He wasn’t alone here.

Reaching his arms outward, he brushed the tips of his fingers along his feathered apendages, pressing his arms into the warmth of his own wings, feeling the muscles almost naturally make tiny adjustments and corrections, keeping himself gliding on course with the simplest of ease.

And suddenly, his right arm melted into his right wing, and he felt himself abruptly snap from his peaceful state. He pulled his arms inward, but the motion brought with it his right wing, sending him hurtling downward at an alarming rate.

He could hear blood rushing past his ears as he attempted to correct himself, but he was losing control, and the panic at the sudden restraint of his arm was making it difficult to focus.

He kicked his feet wildly, attempting to use his wings or his arms or anything in his power to correct the wild motion as he hurtled toward the Earth at ever increasing speeds, the earth and sky switching places again and again until he thought he might be sick.

Below the clouds now, he felt soft rain beating against his body and saw below him the ground was coming up to meet him.

Within him, Avice was attempting to take control again, but as she did, his arm melted further into his wing and he panicked more, trying to pull away. Something inside him told him to calm down, a warmth spreading in his chest, and as the wind whistled past his ears and tears streamed freely from his face, he attempted to listen and do as Avice asked.

He straightened his legs out and with a quick turn of his body, unfurled both wings into the wind. The sudden motion made his body jerk upward, a pain shooting through his wings as he glided haphazardly to the ground at the edge of a forest, stumbling and then falling into the grass, keeping his left arm above himself while his right arm and right wing became completely connected, and he felt his left wing starting to attach itself to his shoulder.

His skull changed shape, shifting slowly, and Harry kicked out in a wild panic, terrified as he lost more and more of himself to the force within him.

He heard a scream somewhere that startled him enough to slow this transformation. Looking above him, he saw a young woman staring at him in horror. His stomach flipped as he saw the fear and disgust in her face, dropping what was in her hands and running towards a house a short ways away.

Breathing slowly, he pulled his left arm into himself, attempting to preserve what he could of his normal body while he slowly got up and assessed the situation. His skull had elongated and he could see the long beak that had formed where his nose and mouth had been. He could feel feathers spreading over his torso and down his legs, and his right wing hugged close to his body where his right arm had once been, his left arm connected down to the elbow now but having slowed since the startling noise of the woman who had screamed in fear.

He truly looked like a freak, he was sure, skin and dark feathers scattered over his body, down his legs, around his face, not quite animal, and certainly not human.

Assessing his surroundings to see where he had landed, he saw he was near a house and had stumbled his way out of the forest and near their yard. Clothes lines were draped over the landscape, and it seemed the woman had come to remove the clothes when the morning shower began. On the ground lay a basket of clothes, and without thinking, he dove on it, shuffling through what was there. He needed a way to hide his freakish form once he got it under control again.

Finding a large sweater and a pair of green mittens, he took off back into the forest, clutching the soaked clothes and diving through the trees before she might come out again, perhaps with something to defend herself against what she must believe was a monster.

And Harry continued to run, even though he doubted she might follow him into the woods so far, reaching into the heart of the forest, startling the creatures that rested there, until he couldn’t run anymore and he collapsed against the side of a tree, sitting down slowly and looking at his body again.

Avice hadn’t made any more progress in overtaking his form, and he hadn’t made any progress in stopping her either. He began to realize quickly that while he might never appear as his true self again, neither would she.

This body wasn’t his alone anymore.


The Truscott Experiments. That’s what it was called anyway, the entire event becoming a quick sensation throughout the wizarding world, the pictures taken of the facility looking like something out of a horror story. What truly made the events alarming to the wizarding public, however, was that the potions being tested in the facility were for two major medical and cosmetic potion companies. Almost everyone could attest to having used their products before. 

Basil Truscott had been the only scientist left in the building, arrested on sight. He was simply wandering through the place when they found him, muttering to himself and thrashing wildly when they grabbed him. He was insane, and the examination revealed that it was a result of extreme torture through the cruciatus curse.

Six more scientists were found attempting to flee the country, and they all agreed he had been the second in command for the entire facility. Despite there being claims from both the living subjects and the scientists they had captured that there was one more who had been in charge of the entire place, Truscott, an ex-death eater and disturbed, sadistic man by all accounts, quickly became the face for the events, and his crazed, murderous gaze was what was plastered on all newspapers for months.

Olivia Shaw was never found and, from what they could find, didn’t even exist. Certainly, her magic signature could be detected all over the building, but it matched none of the magical signatures on record, and even when they followed the trail she had left in her escape, it came up dry. It was as though the woman had vanished into thin air.

Sixteen subjects were found in the facility, including Bill, but within four months, four of them had commit suicide, leaving only twelve remaining. Through their accounts, as well as the leftover records, they discovered that over two hundred subjects had been taken to that place and killed through the various experiments. These people, most of them under twenty, had mostly consisted of homeless wizards and witches, muggle-borns that had been rejected by their families, and foreigners that had come for one reason or another.

Molly Weasley often invited them over for dinner, or just to spend time with them. Seven of them moved away to where they were from or to live with newly adopted families, but the remaining five that lived more locally often came over. They would play games, eat dinner, or just talk with one another in the Burrow or in the yard outside. The children were all much more serious than they should’ve been, and none seemed to speak very much to anyone else, but to Bill and one another, they spoke frequently.

Sometimes, when it was just them, they would talk softly of what they were going through. All the nightmares, the panic attacks, the leftover pain from old experiments, looking at the scars and the markings, the numbers that were on their hands. Bill might’ve thought it was cliché before, but talking helped. He didn’t feel alone in what had happened and what was still happening to him.

He asked a few times about the boy who had been next to him, but only two remembered him, and only one had a vague description of a figure with what looked to be feathers on its body with something like wings formed on its back, coming into the examination room, killing the thing in the corner, and then running out. The little girl admitted, though, that she had been under a hallucination potion at the time and a boy covered in feathers wasn't the oddest thing she had seen. Bill smiled and thanked her for the information. He hoped her account was wrong, but wouldn’t know until he saw the boy again, which he hoped he would. The thought that searching for him was next to impossible without a name or a clue of where he might've gone was more than frustrating.

They all agreed quickly that muggle things were the most comforting. Wands and potions all induced an air of caution and suspicion in them, some of them getting anxiety or panicked at the sight of a potion bottle. Arthur was more than excited to hear when a few of the children, who grew up in muggle houses, were interested in going to the cinema, and he happily chaperoned many trips to the muggle world to see movies, to go to museums, to arcades, or to simply walk in the park. The odd bunch often stuck out like a sore thumb, but none of them cared. They were happy to get away from all things magical for a while.

The trials seemed to drag on, and were incredibly trying. Bill and the others had to give frequent accounts of what happened, had to give up their memories which were dissected and invaded, and had to look at the people who put them into that hell.

The day of Basil’s trial was the worst one. Bill, standing in that courtroom as he revealed exact details of what happened that day he lost his leg, staring at the face of Basil who was grinning, but looked utterly confused by where he was, often shouting nonsensical things.

That night, Bill retreated to his room, created a sound barrier on the door, and then screamed his lungs out, throwing books against the wall, destroying old figurines and decorations, punching the wall until his hand bled, before grabbing his blanket off his bed and falling in the corner, wrapping himself in its warmth.

Only a short while after his outburst, his mother came in and sat with him, her arms around him, not saying a word. She cleaned up the mess he had made, fixing what she could, removing the rest, and just patiently sat with him until he had calmed, and then until he fell asleep against her.

That’s how it always was. Whenever he lost it, she would be right there for him to pick up the pieces. He would always be grateful for that.

His whole family, in fact, were a safety net around him. His mother was the only one he allowed to see him at his worst, but they were all there for him.

His father got him a prosthetic leg with the latest muggle technology (as it turns out, muggles knew how to make the best replacement limbs) and his own magical adjustments, such as the ability to attach it without the need of straps of any kind. He needed a cane to walk around with it, and he’d always walk with a limp, but it was better than he might’ve hoped.

A few months after, he was sitting outside the Burrow, enjoying the fall weather, when his brothers and sister approached him from behind, Charlie at the front with something long wrapped up and hidden behind his back. Bill gave a small smirk at their approach of him, like they were excited to give him something, but trying to play that excitement down. Some things never changed…

“Yes? Can I help you?” He asked teasingly, leaning back on his elbows with an eyebrow raised, his smile only growing as he watched their excitement build.

“Go on!” Fred said, nudging Charlie.

“Give it to him!” George chimed in. Rolling his eyes and clearing his throat, Charlie stepped forward.

“I know your birthday isn’t for another two weeks,” he started, looking for the proper words to use. Charlie had always been the worst at interacting with people, preferring animals to humans. “But I- we- were working on this and, well, we wanted to give it to you now, and so we’re giving it to you now.”

“Most of us anyway,” George said.

“Percy here wanted to wait for your birthday,” Fred added, wrapping his arm around the brother in question.

“That’s when you’re supposed to give gifts! Now what will we do for his actual birthday?” Percy snapped, clearly continuing a debate hours in the making.

“We already have our gift,” Fred laughed.

“You’re on your own for that one.” George said, leaning against Percy’s other side. Percy groaned and rubbed his face beneath his glasses as his brothers laughed.

“Oh, fine, fine, just give him the bloody gift!” Percy sighed, resigned.

“Ohhh, language brother,” George joked.

“Shut up…” Percy mumbled.

“Anyway!” Charlie said quickly, silencing another discussion from occurring. “We all helped in making this and… Uh… here.”

He awkwardly held out the carefully wrapped present to Bill, who had rather been enjoying his brother’s banter. Slowly, using his cane for balance, he pulled himself up and took the present. Glancing up at his family who were eagerly awaiting his response, he smiled and opened the gift.

Beneath the wrapping paper (wrapped with such precision he immediately knew Percy had wrapped it) was a long, beautiful, iridescent cane. The top was formed into what seemed to be a mountain, and on that mountain sat a carved, white dragon, which had its long wings pointed upward, and its head tipped low, as though it might be about to take flight, its long neck and wings making a perfect handle. Bill could only stare at it, too struck with awe for words.

“It’s an Antipodean Opaleye,” Charlie said when Bill didn’t immediately react. “The dragon, I mean. I carved it.”

“As though that wasn’t obvious,” Percy said, stepping closer to Bill, taking out his wand and tapping on the dragon four times. It suddenly sprung to life, giving a tiny roar that might’ve been impressive if it were louder, and deeper, and not so cute. It bounded down the cane, then back up again, its pearly body shimmering in the light. It roared again, a tiny trail of flames coming from its mouth. “I enchanted it to do that. The others thought it would be cool and insisted on it.”

“And it’s pretty cute, isn’t it?” George joked, slipping next to Bill, Fred on the other side. George pat the dragon’s head with his index finger, pulling back when it snapped at him.

“Mind if I borrow your wand?” Fred asked, but was already pickpocketing his brother of his wand before Bill could so much as nod, passing it to George as he slipped his finger down from the rock formation at the top, avoiding the nips from the hissing dragon that was crouched low, watching his hand suspiciously. A few more inches down, his thumb pressed into the cane and out popped a small compartment.

“Keeps your wand safe and secure,” George said, slipping Bill’s wand in.

“And lets you use the cane for a bit of magic as well,” Fred said, closing the compartment and slipping the cane into Bill’s hand. George stepped back with his arms out as though saying “hit me!” Bill raised an eyebrow at his brothers, before taking the cane by the handle and raising it up.

“Cantis,” he said, a bolt of silver light hitting George in the chest, his brother suddenly burst into song, the first song on his head being Luck Be a Lady it seemed. Fred laughed, but George seemed to be enjoying the jinx, quickly turning to serenading his brothers and sister. George didn’t know all the words, but he filled in the words with mumbles and random things that rhymed but made no sense in the song.

“Such a beautiful voice,” Fred said, pretending to wipe a tear from his eye.

“I painted the cane!” Ron suddenly said, bursting to show off his contribution to his brother.

“Well I got the wood for it and helped carve it!” Ginny added, not wanting to be left out.

“You didn’t get the wood, dad did, you just went with him,” Ron protested, and she stuck her tongue out at him.

“We needed to get Willow to match your wand,” Percy explained over his sibling’s bickering. “Ollivander ordered it for us to help out. Also told us if it would work. It’s still always better to use your wand directly, but in a pinch it’ll work fine.”

George was still singing, now to a rather amused Charlie, though his song and the jinx had ended, now just singing for the fun of it. Fred was happily joining in with a backup chorus. Ron and Ginny were engaged in a battle of who could make the most mocking face at the other, and Percy was attempting to pretend he was related to none of the chaos happening next to him.

For the first time in a long time, Bill laughed, immediately silencing the banter happening around him as they looked at him, startled. Sure, he had smiled or chuckled since coming home, but it was always a mostly forced attempt at normalcy. This was the first true, heartfelt laugh he had given, and it made his siblings smile in return.

“It’s fantastic,” Bill said, admiring the work put into the sturdy cane, “though you simply had to slip a dragon into the gift, didn’t you Charlie?”

Charlie’s heavily freckled face was split with a huge grin. “Of course,” He said with a short laugh, “it was the only thing I could carve.”

Bill laughed a bit more, until his brother clapped him on his shoulder, and suddenly he wasn’t there anymore. Suddenly someone else was grabbing his shoulder, holding him down, pushing him down, while other forms surrounded him, getting closer and closer. His missing leg tingled.

He dropped the cane, Ron quickly picking it up, all his siblings smiles gone as they watched their brother, who looked as though he had been struck, eyes unfocused.

“Hey, Bill?” Charlie asked, his hands up, looking the most worried. “I’m sorry, I didn’t…. are you okay?” He tried to reach a hand forward slowly, but the simple act made his brother flinch back abruptly, stumbling and falling.

“Woah! What’s-“ Arthur Weasley said, catching his eldest son and balancing him. He had come out to see how the present had been received, a smile on his face, but once he saw Bill’s clouded expression, his smile dropped. Bill was starting to hyperventilate, one hand clinging to his father’s shoulder while his other hand held his head, eyes closed tight, trying to will the visions away. “Bill, hey it’s me. It’s your father. It’s okay, you’re safe here.”

“I know!” Bill snapped, harsher than he intended, his teeth grit. “I know... I was fine a second ago, I just… I’m sorry, give me a moment…” Bill began to push past his father to the door, stumbling without his cane.

“Your mother’s in the kitchen,” his dad offered, and he didn’t look back. He knew they all would have lost, helpless expressions on their faces. No one knew how to make everything alright again. Bill certainly didn’t know, but stumbling into the kitchen and collapsing into his mother’s arms, breathing in her scent and grounding himself to where he was certainly helped. This wasn't the first time he found himself fleeing to his mother's arms, heart pounding, stomach reeling, trying his best not to cry with fear or frustration.

He wondered once more about how his neighbor was, and thought with a sinking feeling that the boy likely was alone. Bill truly hated feeling helpless.


Harry’s life became compromise. He learned a lot about what he was and wasn’t capable of in his shared body. He learned that, no matter what he did, his feet were always shaped the same, the feathers were always there, and his wings wouldn’t go away. They could become smaller, but the smallest they would get was about a foot long.

He learned to appear normal in any way he could. He found an old pair of shoes a few sizes too large which made it possible to disguise his feet if he stuffed the shoes with gloves and wedged his thin toes in. His hair grew quickly and when they fell over his ears and down his neck, they hid the black feathers quite nicely. He wore mittens to cover the numbers on his hand and became a rather avid fan of collecting old gloves that people discarded. They smelled, and often had holes in them, but a quick scrub in a lake or pond he might come across would make it decent enough. He had gloves of all shapes and sizes, as well as several mismatched ones that he thought looked nice together. Some were mittens, some were wool gloves, but his collection was rather colorful now.

Add an oversized sweater to mask the wings, and he could pass as your average homeless boy. His appearance and stutter made it rather easy to scrounge up enough to buy a quick meal before he’d make off for the nearest forest. He never ventured too far from the shade of the woods.

He kept his ever-growing glove collection, along with his shoes and whatever money he might have left, in his large sweater as he travelled. A few quick knots and it made for a nice bag during his flights, or simply to hide it from raccoons and squirrels when he slept.

Avice, however, seemed to demand a great deal of his time. Like him, she seemed to be trapped in their shared body as well, and time to stretch her legs was always needed. Normally, after Harry had gotten them something to eat, he’d descend deep into the forest where he hoped no one would find them, gather his clothes and hide them somewhere difficult to reach, and allow her to take control.

She, much like him, couldn’t fully transform their body as she wished. His eyes and torso always seemed the same, though covered in feathers it seemed, and the boy's size was much bigger than an average raven's, but that didn’t stop her from flitting around the forest, pecking at everything and starting fights with nearby birds. Harry tried not to think of the things she had them eat, attempting to retreat into his own mind while she did with their body as she pleased.

If he left her to her own devices, she would be much more complacent during the day when he wanted to head back into town and talk to people, or travel to a different city.

As for what Harry was looking for, he couldn’t be certain. He originally hoped to find a nice town with good conditions to plant roots in. A large enough forest, but a place to come in and interact with humans once in a while, or get a meal that wasn’t roadkill, mice, or anything else Avice could get into.

He had actually found a place that was ideal, and stayed for several months, but both his and Avice’s presence became known for the wrong reasons. Rumors about a huge raven began circling around after a month, a raven that seemed to carry weirdly humanoid features, and the boy also seemed suspicious after a while; sleeping in the forest, wearing gloves constantly, seeming to have come from nowhere at all. When he was nearly hauled off to an orphanage, he took off from that town, never returning.

From there, his goal simply became to survive from one day to the next and enjoy what little he could. He would listen to tourists speaking of places they wanted to go nearby, and he’d go, either early in the morning or late at night when no one was there to bother him. He saw beautiful sights over the UK, aimlessly wandering here and there. He met many strange people, heard many interesting stories, and saw breathtaking sights he couldn’t begin to describe.

He was actually rather content for quite a while. Something new was always waiting in the town over, and there was no end to the interesting things he’d find. The people could be rather nice at times, and once a stranger bought him a bright, sky-blue pair of mittens with little clouds on their design, as well as a large meal. He only wore the gloves a few times, too nice to ruin, but he treasured them greatly.

There were, however, terrible days. Days where he ran into some unkind people, normally other young kids around his age, and frequently he’d leave the encounter with no money and several bruises or, once, a missing tooth. Days when adults would run him off their doorsteps or give him looks and said things that terrified the boy enough to leave the town, whether he got food or not. Once, a person's frightening promises nearly came true, but the man had been drunk, and Harry had been quick. He never stayed in a town after dark from then on. There were days when he didn’t have any money for food and had to be satisfied with whatever Avice found in her adventures through the woods, no matter how Harry wanted to vomit when he thought of what was in his stomach.

As far as Harry knew, this was how he lived now, and it was the best point in his life until that moment. He was free to go where he pleased, and while pain and hunger were both still present in his life, it didn’t come from overhanging people who looked to hurt him, it came from the luck of where he was or how he had handled a situation, and it wasn’t a consistent being to be fearful of. It wasn't a punishment or a cruel experiment, it was simply... life.

Harry had completely lost track of the passage of time. He knew it was warmer, and likely summer, but how long it had been, even how old he was, were things he didn’t care too much to know. His birthday was inconsequential to him, and while he could guess more tourists would be out and about during the summer, the time of year held no bearing on where he was going to go, other than perhaps the thought that he might travel to the beach and swim in the ocean for the first time.

So the timing of the appearance of the strange cardinal didn’t strike him as suspicious until much later.

The cardinal in question, a male it seemed by its bright feathers, was acting unlike any bird Harry had seen in the wild before. Avice had been roaming free when the bird floated down to a branch, only a few feet away from him, and then sat there, staring intently at him.

Avice took no notice of this at first, but Harry did, and as time passed and the cardinal didn’t move from his spot, Avice became suspicious as well.

Hopping over to the branch, giving a few strange caws and curious pecks, the cardinal didn’t move more than to hop away, then hop back to his previous spot.

Avice was becoming unnerved by this odd behavior, as Harry sensed her uneasiness. Slipping his way back into control, the feathers melting off his body, the beak returning to his normal face, he looked closer at the cardinal.

“A-are you ok-okay?” Harry asked, giving it a soft poke with his finger. Harry had learned a while ago that he could speak with birds, certainly a side effect of being merged with Avice, though they didn't have the most interesting things to say most of the time. At his voice, the cardinal looked directly at him, then took off, floating away into the forest.

Harry thought that might be the end of it, brushing off the behavior as nothing more than a strange mystery he would never get the answer for, when the bird swooped back.

"Well then? Hurry up!" It chirped at him, before swooping away again.

Interest piqued, Harry tilted his head, looking at where the bird had gone. Locating his things in a tree a short ways away, he hopped after the cardinal, before taking off, awkwardly maneuvering through the trees. Avice was much better at this than he, and the cardinal, with its small size, had both of them beat. Still, any time he lost him, the cardinal would stop and wait for him, far more intelligent than he had ever seen from his previous encounters with those red birds.

As he flew, he watched as the bird bobbed and weaved easily through the branches, before suddenly diving upward in a gap in the trees. Harry followed quickly, keeping his things clutched tightly to his chest, attempting to keep up with the tiny bird.

"H-hey! W-w-wait up!" He called out to the bird. Looking around, thinking he might’ve lost him, he saw a flash of red to his right, and took off after it. Now able to keep pace as they floated above the treetops, Harry determinedly followed the small figure, even as the bird flew on, over hills and rivers, for hours, the sun creeping over the sky and starting to dip over the horizon. Harry needed to know where this tiny bird was headed, and despite asking a dozen times, the bird never responded.

The only time he stopped was when it took off into town. Floating down to the edge, the bird came back and perched itself on a nearby tree, looking at him impatiently, clearly exhausted but determined to take him somewhere.

“I c-can’t go in th-there l-l-like this,” he explained, untying the sweater and taking out his things. “J-just give m-m-me a m-moment.”

After a short, impatient sigh, it did, not moving an inch as his wings shrank again and he put his sweater on, glancing at the tattoo on the back of his hand before putting mittens on as well. Stuffing the remaining mittens and a small bit of money into his shoes, before his feet followed, he started walking into town, trying to appear as casual as he could.

Something about this town was unsettlingly familiar, but he couldn’t think of if he had visited it since leaving the facility. He was certain he hadn’t ventured this far south before… unless…

Rounding the street corner in his trailing of the bird, he came to a halt. Privet Drive.

His heartbeat pounded, feet rooted to the ground. He didn’t want to be here again. He had just won his freedom, but now he was here…

“Wh-why did y-you bring m-m-me here?” He asked the bird, but when he looked up at where he had last seen him, the bird was gone. Turning his gaze back to staring at number four, his hands began shaking.

The sun had set by now, and the lights were on down the street. It was quiet, but the house was lit up inside. He could see shadows moving inside. Did they know where he had been? Did they care? Likely not. If he were to believe what he heard in that place, they had willingly given him over to strangers.

He felt sick and pulled his arms into himself. He wanted to leave, to walk away and forget this place existed, but something kept him from leaving. Slowly, silently, he inched forward until he stood in front of the house, but he didn’t dare go inside or approach the yard, hoping he might see what it looked like without him. By what time it was, they were likely finishing dinner… Harry’s stomach groaned at the thought of a fresh cooked meal.

Just leave, he thought to himself. You don’t need this. They don’t want you, they gave you up, remember? Don’t let them keep hurting you.

But despite his better judgement, Harry crouched himself down, using the trashcan at the end of the street as cover, and watched as the shadows moved, silhouettes in the curtains, the loneliness of these past months washing over him.

Even long after the lights were off and he was shrouded in darkness, he wondered what it might be like if he weren’t a freak. If they had loved him.

He was beginning to doze off into a fitful sleep, when an alarmingly loud sound woke him up. He dove down, hiding behind the trash as Avice began to panic, his wings pressing against his sweater in their sudden attempt to grow and extend, his face morphing once more.

The sound was like a motorcycle, getting closer and closer, but he saw no headlights down the street. No the headlights came from the sky as a dark form came down, screeching to a halt in the road. Crouching lower, using his dark hair and the growing feathers around his face to mask himself, while a man, or what looked like a man despite his inhuman size, got off the bike and walked towards the door of number four, knocking on the door loudly.

Hand on his chest, Harry breathed deeply, trying to slow his and Avice’s heart. Calm down, calm down, he chanted mentally as the man knocked again. His hands were as big as serving trays. The door suddenly came off its hinges with his last knock, and the man stepped inside, picked up the door, and put it back in its frame. Tears pricking at the corners of his eyes, he closed them tightly and breathed as deeply and slowly as he could. He needed to calm down. He heard shouting inside and the urgency increased. He needed to help them, dear God he needed to get in there, but he couldn’t do it looking like he did.

Slowly, taking one deep breath and holding it, the feathers melted away into skin again, and his nose returned to its rightful shape as his wings calmed down and shrank once more.

Thank you, Avice, he thought, before darting towards the door and opening it, pushing it inward and breaking it off its hinges again.

In the living room, he found them, Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, their son hidden behind them, having an animated discussion with a man who was too large to be real, yet was standing in the home with a not-too pleased countenance.

“I told you, he’s not here!” Vernon snapped, sweat beading on his purple face.

“What do yeh mean he’s not here!” The large man boomed. “Where else would he be!”

“I don’t know! It’s been-“ He cut himself off as, past the giant, he caught sight of the small form in the doorway. His jaw went slack and his red face quickly turned pale, as though he had just seen a ghost. He hadn’t seen the boy in three years, and Harry hadn’t seen him either. The sight of the terrible man had frozen the boy to the spot, throat drying as the memories flooded back. Harry was a fool… “There he is! Look, he’s come back!”

Petunia turned to him, looking suddenly like she might faint, but Harry’s attention was immediately arrested by the large man suddenly approaching him, his face almost completely covered by a beard. Avice was panicking again, and he silently begged her to calm down.

“Harry!” The man said, all the aggression gone from his voice, taking Harry by surprise. Few people ever talked to him with such kindness, and he had never heard a person say his name with such excitement. “Where were yeh? I was gettin’ worried!”

“I-I-I,” Harry choked out, attempting to get his voice to cooperate. How was he supposed to explain the last three years in one sentence? “I w-was… out?” Good job, Harry. He struggled to keep down a small squeak of surprise when the man crouched down suddenly, still taller than the boy as he leaned on his knee, looking at him intensely.

“You look like yer father,” he said, taking Harry by surprise, the giant’s eyes crinkled in a smile. “But yeh got yer mother’s eyes.” He looked up and down at him, the smile getting lost then. “Yer pretty small for yer age, though…”

The man abruptly turned to the fireplace and picked up the umbrella he was holding. Harry saw, as he crouched down, that he waved the umbrella in his hands and the fire came alive with a few whispered words from the man. From his pockets, he produced various items, such as a kettle, a package of sausages, a poker, and some chipped mugs.

The Dursley’s were still in their corner, too terrified to move, Dudley slightly hidden behind Petunia’s thin arms. Harry, however, moved closer as the man worked.

“Y-you’re a wi-wizard,” Harry stated dumbly. The man, however, smiled at the title.

“That I am,” he said. “Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys at Hogwarts. Yeh can jus’ call me Hagrid, everyone does.”

“Okay, H-Hagrid,” Harry said, staring at him for a long while, startled when the man pulled the sausages off the poker and handed them to him. His gloved hands shook as he stared at them for a long while, but didn’t dare eat them. Hagrid stared at him curiously.

“Those are fer you, yeh know,” he said, and Harry gave a quick “thank you” before eating them all, ignoring the burning of his mouth for the flavor of something cooked. Hagrid gave a quick glance back to the Dursley’s, his gaze accusing. “Gulpin’ gargoyles, when’s the las’ time yeh’ve had a proper meal?”

Harry didn’t respond, finishing off the sausages before wiping his mittens on his sweater, unable to look at the man. His stomach twisted as he thought of what Avice had eaten before they ran into the cardinal, and Harry nearly lost the sausages again. Thankfully, the man suddenly remembered something that distracted him from the question.

“Oh! Tha’ reminds me!” Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a slightly squished box and handed it to the boy. “A very happy birthday to yeh. I mighta sat on it at some point, but it’ll taste alright.”

Within the box was a chocolate cake with green icing on top that said “Happy Birthday Harry!” Harry hadn’t remembered it was his birthday, and the event was never something that necessarily mattered, certainly not to the boy himself. The thought that he was getting a cake from a complete stranger baffled him beyond words.

“Thank y-y-you…” he managed to croak out after a long while. “B-but… wh-why are y-you here?”

“To pick you up, o’course!” He bellowed, laughing at the boy and clasping him on the shoulder. Harry flinched violently and pulled from his grasp, nearly dropping the cake. Hagrid, taking note of this, immediately softened his voice. “We’ll be goin’ shopping t’morrow, an’ then the first o’ September, yeh’ll be headin’ to Hogwarts! Which reminds me…”

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a live, rather ruffled-looking owl, and a roll of parchment, beginning to scribble on it. Harry was looking at the owl though, which quickly began to clean its feathers.

Finally! Fresh air!” He heard it say, huffing. “Really… I’m not some simple trinket to be tossed about…

Hagrid, who couldn’t hear any of this, gave the bird the letter he had written, walked to the back door, and tossed it outside. Before he shut the door, Harry could hear more muttered profanities that he alone could understand. Then, Hagrid returned.

“Now, yeh best be gettin off to bed! We have a lot ta do t’morrow!”

Harry nodded slowly, turning to walk out of the room, when he stopped. Bed… he didn’t have a bed. Or a room. He didn’t live here anymore. Turning to the Dursley’s, his aunt and uncle muttering between them, but glaring at the boy as though he had brought this man here (a statement that seemed not far from the truth).

“I-I don’t….” he started, but stopped. If he admitted that he hadn’t been here for three years, the large man would demand to know where he had been. He couldn’t relay all the things that had been done to him, and if Hagrid knew what a freak he really was… Harry was certain that kind smile would disappear. No, he needed to keep this secret. “C-can I st-stay he-here?” The question took Hagrid by surprise, but his face immediately brightened up.

“O’course you can!” He said happily, taking off his thick black coat and putting it on the boy’s shoulders, guiding him towards the armchair. Harry glanced back nervously to Vernon, who looked positively livid at the idea of the boy sleeping on his chair, but Petunia stopped him from speaking out. They had to keep Harry’s secret too, Harry realized, or they’d be facing Hagrid’s wrath. Keeping quiet was a better option than potentially revealing that they had handed the boy to strangers that sought to harm him. Too angry to stay without speaking, they hurried from the room, his aunt’s face taut with concentration, and his uncle’s face purple with anger. “You can kip under this. Don’ mind if it wriggles a bit, I think I still got a couple o’ dormice in one o’ the pockets.”

Within minutes, Harry was curled up under the huge jacket, huddled in the chair and staring at the large man as Hagrid brewed himself a cup of tea. The man’s protective presence was more than comforting, and Harry felt safer than he ever had.

“Hagrid?” He asked, and the man hummed a bit in question. “Th-thank y-you for com-coming…”

The man laughed softly. “O’course, Harry! Someone needed to come pick yeh up! There’s no need tah thank me.” But when he looked over, the boy was already asleep. Hagrid didn’t know it, but Harry had never slept so soundly before.

Chapter Text

Harry found the Dursleys missing from the home when he left with Hagrid the next morning. He didn’t mind; the mere sight of the two sent him back to the days of dark cupboards and loneliness. At least the holding cell normally had company in it. He’d still take Vernon over Basil any day, but the past year had worked him up a sense of independence. Being back under the Dursley household made him sick to his stomach, and he was beginning to wonder about if he could simply leave to the nearest forest for the next month instead of actually going back.

His thoughts of escape, however, were abruptly interrupted by their arrival at the Leaky Cauldron, and Harry’s nerves immediately shot to the roof as people scrambled to speak with him, grabbing his hands into forced handshakes, getting rather close to him.

Hagrid, sensing his terror at being abruptly accosted by so many people, Harry’s mind going back to being surrounded by scientists staring at him like an object, brushed most of the people away, shouting at them to give the boy some space. The majority of them noticed the boy’s pale, slightly panicked expression and backed off, which rather quickly quelled the similarities between these people and the scientists.

Still, he was now faced with the uneasy realization that these people expected great things from him. They expected him to be smart, talented, something amazing… but the boy couldn’t get out a single sentence without stammering, plus he hadn’t been in school in three years, and his mind returned to his freakish oddities… He kept a quiet, slightly terrified grimace on his face the whole time, a horribly failed attempt at a smile, while his mind kept repeating to himself, you’re not good enough for their praise, you’re not anything special, you’re a freak even here.

It wasn’t until Professor Quirrell approached him that the thoughts began to quiet. The Professor, a rather terrified sort, had a stutter similar to Harry’s, and Hagrid spoke volumes of the man anyway.

“Wh-what sort of m-m-magic do y-you te-teach, Prof-professor Qui-Q-Quirrell?” Harry struggled out, stumbling rather harshly over the man’s name. The professor gave Harry an odd sort of look, for a moment seeming to lose his terrified expression for an unreadable one, and Harry feared he had offended the man. Did he think Harry was making fun of his stutter? Should he say he didn’t mean to offend, and that they shared the same problem with the spoken word? He was just figuring out how to shorten that into a quicker sentence when Quirrell continued on as though there was nothing amiss with the way Harry spoke, and the boy gave an inaudible sigh of relief.

Harry spent most of the afternoon in relatively stunned, or terrified silence, giving little nods to Hagrid’s constant, excited discussions with the boy. Gringotts was fascinating, all the shops were either horrifying or fantastical in their own rights, and his uneasiness only grew with each place they passed through. Everyone here were wizards and witches, which by default made him uncomfortable, but they all also insisted on using their wands for just about everything. Taking things off shelves, moving something over, refilling a drink, pulling up a chair, everything seemed to involve some amount of magical wand-waving, and any time someone turned their wand in his direction, he would flinch back and his heart would feel like it stopped.

That didn’t even begin to describe how terrifying any potions made him, and potions were everywhere. Many stores carried some kind of potion in their shelves, whether for healing stomach aches or minor fevers, cosmetic purposes like clearing skin and changing hair color, or for practical jokes, which made Harry the most nervous about going to Hogwarts. He’d be surrounded by other people, children, maybe some of them like Dudley. Harry knew if Dudley could, he’d use practical joke potions all the time, and Harry’s heart pounded as he stared at labels describing all the sorts of unpleasantness that these potions would create. He would need to watch his food and drink at all times.

Still, his mind focused on one mission he needed to fulfill when he got the chance to, and when Hagrid became rather distracted as they shopped for proper shoes (rather than the hole-ridden, disgusting shoes Harry had), discussing with the clerk about shoes in his size and being taken to a section with their largest shoes, Harry slipped off quietly and quickly to the next shop over.

It was a cosmetic’s shop, and his stomach churned as he walked through many aisles of various potions, some looking disturbingly familiar while he passed. He attempted to distract himself from the overwhelming thoughts, but by the time he found what he was looking for, he was pale and sweaty, hands shaking while he grabbed the bottle.

It was a small concealer bottle, promising to cover up any blemishes or marks and match the skin tone perfectly. His hands were shaking as he set it down on the counter, awkwardly trying to wipe the sweat off his hands without taking his mittens off and grabbing a few sickles to pay for it.

“Woah, hey, are you sure you want this brand?” The man behind the counter asked, startling Harry from his distracted stupor.

“Uh….. wh-what?” He asked stupidly. He hadn’t even noticed there were other brands, let alone a problem with one of them. The man gave him a sympathetic smile.

“You a muggle-born, kid?” He asked, leaning on the counter and resting his chin on his knuckles.

“Um…” He blinked, trying to organize his wizard vocabulary. “I-I grew up wi-with m-m-muggles…” He offered softly, shrugging.

“That explains it,” he said with a soft sigh. “Kid, don’t get anything from this company. If it weren’t for the fact that my boss wants to sell the remaining supply we have in inventory, I wouldn’t even sell it to you. But you should know that this company was found out to be using human experimentation to test its products.”

Harry’s face paled considerably, though the man likely thought it was for a different reason. “Oh…” He squeaked out, suddenly unable to breathe.

“Terrible, I know,” he sighed again. “They couldn’t even save most of the people that were taken there, only, like, fifteen kids made it out. And it was going on for years without them noticing too! Took a Ministry worker’s son getting kidnapped by those people for them to realize there was a serious problem. Who cares if a few homeless kids, or muggle-borns go missing, but an official’s son is apparently a big enough deal for an investigation. Hell, I heard it took Albus Dumbledore’s help to even solve the case. Just goes to show you…”

He stopped, noticing the struck look on Harry’s face, who was attempting to sort through the emotions battling within him. Only fifteen made it out? Was Bill one of them? Harry wanted to hope, but fifteen was a small percent when he compared it to the amount of people he had seen. Shaw had told him Bill was okay, but he knew he couldn’t trust what she said, even as her actions conflicted him even more.

“Hey, kid,” the man said softly, “I know it’s bad, but they’ve been shut down, and they’re still finding more and more people that were a part of those experiments. I just figured you should be informed before you go buying something. Plus, Siren’s Call products aren’t even that great for the price they charge. I’d go with Poison Apple; cheaper, work just as well, and have a rather nice line of perfumes.”

Harry gave the man a weak smile and moved back to the shelves. This man was doing his best to be helpful, and Harry appreciated that. He especially appreciated being stopped before he bought something created by… those people. The irony was almost enough to counteract the horror at the thought.

Before leaving, he asked about if he might be able to buy more while at school, and was given information on how he could get them delivered via owl. He quickly bid the man farewell and returned to find a rather frantic Hagrid, searching the shoe store for the boy.

“Blimey, Harry! Where’d yeh go?” He said after finally calming down from fretting over the small boy.

“W-well,” he said quickly, stunned by the concern Hagrid felt for him, “I fi-finished sho-shopping, and y-you w-were busy, so I w-w-wandered around a b-bit…”

Hagrid sighed softly and gave Harry a quick hug before letting him go, confusing and startling the boy further. “I can’t be mad at yeh,” he said, scratching the back of his head. “Jus’ let me know where yer goin’ next time. Too many dangerous wizards and witches out there.”

Harry gave the large man a small smile, and though it was slightly bitter at Hagrid’s reasoning for concern, it was the first smile Hagrid had seen from the boy and he took it as a small victory.

“The only thing left to do is get yeh a wand!” Hagrid said, guiding Harry out of the shop with their many things in tow, looking down at his list. “Oh, and I need to get yeh a birthday present!”

“Y-you don’t h-h-have to-“

“I know I don’t have to,” Hagrid interjected quickly, giving the boy a soft smile. Harry awkwardly responded with his own attempt at a smile, feeling fondness for this man grow with every minute he spent with him. Hagrid settled on getting Harry an owl, and twenty minutes later, Harry was leaving Eeylops Owl Emporium with a beautiful snowy owl, which was fast asleep in her cage.

Harry learned a few things in that place; magical owls were much more intelligent than regular owls. Regular owls were actually rather dim, and were terrible at conversation. Those, however, all had something interesting to say to him, and looking back on all his encounters with owls in the wild, he realized he must have spoken to owls owned by witches and wizards on several occasions, thinking on a few interesting conversations with the birds.

Harry had fallen for the beautiful snowy owl, who had a rather calm, dependable way of speaking. When Harry saw her, he stopped and stared.

You know it’s not polite to stare,” she scolded gently.

“S-sorry…” he muttered, lowering his head a bit, but spoke up again. “Y-you’re very be-beautiful.”

Thank you,” she said with a surprising amount of confidence. After a pause, she ruffled her feathers a bit. “Now are you going to buy me or are you going to simply keep staring?” Harry blinked, startled.

“I… uh... wo-would you w-want to come wi-with m-m-me?” He asked awkwardly. She seemed to regard him curiously.

I don’t believe I have much choice in the matter,” she answered, then continued after another pause. “However, I don’t mind the thought.

Harry smiled softly at her, and within a few minutes, she was coming with him, fast asleep with her head tucked under her wing.

To Ollivander’s they went, Hagrid speaking rather highly of the man himself, but Harry was hesitant. Harry wanted to share Hagrid’s enthusiasm, but wands themselves caused his heartrate to increase. Getting one for himself was not something he looked forward to, so as the man introduced himself, talking highly of Harry’s parents and then discussing the man, Voldemort, who killed them, dread was steadily building in him.

He stared down at the first wand the man brought to him, looking at the handle and attempting to keep his queasiness at bay. Ollivander, however, was suddenly studying him with incredible interest, making Harry’s uneasiness grow.

“You’ve been wronged by a wand before, haven’t you?” Ollivander said, his eyes knowing.

“Wh-what are y-y-you talking ab-about?” Harry asked, swallowing thickly. “E-everyo-one knows I ha-have…”

“I’m not talking about you-know-who,” he said grimly. “What happened to you?”

Harry looked like a deer in headlights, his heart fit to pound out of his chest. In an effort to stop this line of questioning, Harry grabbed the wand.

It became easier from there, and with every wand thrust at him, his heartbeat slowed until he found the one. Leaving the shop, Harry attempted not to meet the man’s piercing gaze. If he could help it, he would never be back here again.

Hagrid bought him dinner, which Harry readily ate, and with a smile and a promise to send him a letter if he had any trouble with the Dursley’s, as well as an agreement to meet for tea when he got to Hogwarts, he was left again on their doorstep.

Alone with all his things, his owl awake in her cage, watching him closely, he turned to the door but didn’t open it.

What are you waiting for?” She asked him curiously.

“I…” Harry started, attempting to find the words. “I don’t w-want to go i-in th-there…” He turned to her, feeling much more confident now. “W-we-we’re going somewhe-where el-else.”

He turned, taking his things and beginning down the driveway, but before he could go more than a step, the door opened and he was grabbed by the collar, dropping his things and his owl on the pavement, pulled back into that god forsaken house, hearing his owl call to him, worry filling her voice before the door slammed shut.

“Welcome home, boy,” Vernon hissed in his face, slamming him into the wall roughly, pinning him there with his forearm against the boy’s throat. “Did you tell him?!”

“I-I di-di-didn-“ Harry attempted to get out, unable to form his words properly, cut off by a punch to the face.

“Don’t lie to me!” He screeched, pulling him back and slamming him into the wall again, jarring the boy into seeing stars. “DID YOU TELL HIM?!”

“N-n-no!” Harry choked out, grasping at the man’s arm, tears in his eyes from the shock. “I d-didn’t te-tell him any-an-anything!”

Vernon held him there for a moment longer, studying his face closely, before letting the boy go. Harry leaned back against the wall, trying to catch his breath again, but before he properly could, he was cut off by a punch to the gut, knocking the wind out of him. Gasping for air, he slid down to the floor, and was attacked with a torrents of kicks to the face and chest, curling in on himself as memories of this treatment flooded back.

“Remember this, boy?” Vernon said with another well-aimed kick. “Do you remember me? Better keep your mouth shut or you’re dead, you hear me?!”

Harry couldn’t breathe, couldn’t form coherent thoughts. Every few moments, his head would be kicked or he’d be slammed back into the wall, jarring his thoughts and creating a ringing in his ears. Avice was terrified, hell, he was terrified, and he could hardly notice as his form shifted in his panic. Vernon didn’t either, until he grabbed the boy by his hair and lifted him up to get a better aim at his face, but when he saw the features, the feathers slowly creeping around his hairline and towards his face, the way his nose and mouth shifted, he dropped the boy as though he had burned the man.

“What the bloody hell…?” He said, looking at the boy in horror as he pulled back into the wall, using his arms to cover himself. Then he sneered in disgust. “You really are a freak.” He grabbed the boy by his hair and pulled him to the stairs, shoving him into the cupboard and locking it. A short while later, he shoved in the rest of Harry’s things, being not too gentle with his owl as he left the cage on its side, and slammed closed the door.

The cupboard was as Harry remembered it, with the same cot and dirty old blanket and pillow, though the cobwebs and dust was much worse, and he began coughing and hacking almost immediately. He was also much bigger than before, and with his trunk and owl shoved in as well, he had to pull his legs up just to fit.

Harry hugged himself tight, gently opening the cage, and then sat himself in the corner, attempting to gather himself back together again. Avice hadn’t been free until the day before, and Harry could feel her getting restless, refusing to let his form go. His fingers trembled against his arms and he pressed his forehead to his knees. His uncle had confirmed it; he was a freak. He couldn’t keep himself together here, let alone at school. They’d all know… He couldn’t stop the tears that forced their way from him, wracking sobs through his body.

He felt something brush against his leg, and he looked up abruptly to see his owl watching him in concern, eyes shining in the tiny bit of light that streamed into the cupboard.

Are you alright?” She asked, tilting her head to the side. He quickly wiped some of the tears away, ducking his head down again.

“M’f-fine…” He muttered, but he convinced himself as much as he convinced her. He sighed. “Don’t w-worry about m-m-me. Are y-you okay?”

He wasn’t exactly gentle with me, no,” she granted. “However, he didn’t beat me into the ground either.

“S’okay…” He mumbled softly. “I’ve b-been through wo-worse…” That didn’t change the concern on her face, however, and he smiled a bit at her. “R-really… I’m o-okay. I j-just… I w-w-want to rest a b-bit.”

She wasn’t convinced, but she granted him the rest, as he awkwardly curled up around his things, his owl nestled within his awkward limbs. Sleep didn’t come fast, but when it did, it was shallow and filled with disturbing images, a mix of the Dursley home and the facility, and a high-pitched laughing voice that he couldn’t place the owner of.

The weeks passed slowly. Vernon seemed to truly be attempting to ignore the boy as he never mentioned the boy and never let him out, even as Harry’s cousin and, after a long time, his aunt questioned him about it. He was attempting to forget Harry was even there, and refused to respond to any questions about what they’d be doing with him. As far as the man was concerned, Harry didn’t exist.

His aunt was, however, kind enough to feed him every day or so. He got food and water regularly, but his aunt never spared so much as a glance his way while she threw in bread or cheese or ham.

Harry occupied himself with the books he had in his trunk, leaning against the door and getting as much light onto the pages from the little vent at the top. He named his owl Hedwig from one of the books, and softly discussed with her about the wizarding world.

She was as restless as he was in the cupboard. He had never been left in there for so long, and it was unbearable for the both of them, as well as Avice. On several occasions, she’d forcibly take full control over their body, screeching and clawing at the door, hissing when someone slammed on it and ordered silence. Harry would be completely useless during these times, unable to gain control of himself for hours while she threw her fit. Hedwig would crouch low into her corner, attempting to speak to her, but she was frequently inconsolable. For the first time, however, Harry actually heard Avice speak to someone.

I need to get out,” She hissed low. “I need to find a way out.”

I wish we could,” Hedwig said, eyeing Avice cautiously the first time they spoke. “However, we seem to be trapped here for the time being, so I suggest you relax.

I can’t!” She snapped, rounding on Hedwig, who jerked back further into the corner. “You don’t know what it’s like! You don’t understand… It’s a nightmare living like this. I can’t control my own body for hours, maybe days, and now I’m trapped even when I can move on my own free will?!” She threw herself into the door, which in turn received a harsh bang from Harry’s aunt and a shout to be quiet.

If you don’t enjoy being beaten, then you should quiet down,” Hedwig said darkly, and Harry mentally thanked her for trying to silence Avice.

You don’t understand…” Avice muttered, lowering herself down and pushing into the opposing corner to Hedwig.

I know I don’t, you said so previously,” the owl responded, attempting to calm the sarcasm threatening to overtake her tone. “However, that boy you share a body with is someone I’m becoming fond of, so it is in his and my interest that we come to an agreement.

Harry felt strangely warm at Hedwig’s admittance to being fond of Harry, though he doubted she might say so to him under any other circumstances. Avice was tense, wings pressed close to her body, eyes narrowed, but she wasn’t stopping Hedwig from continuing.

That boy will be going to a human school soon,” Hedwig explained slowly, attempting to negotiate for Harry who had been unsuccessful in communicating with Avice with words. He had been convinced for a while that she couldn’t fully use any language, even though other birds seemed to understand him when he spoke to them. “While he’s there, he’ll need to… appear human without interruption for long periods of time. Without abruptly transforming whenever he’s startled or frightened.” Avice snorted at the thought.

He clearly can’t protect us,” she argued harshly. “He’s the one that got us in here. He’s rather incompetent on his own.”

Right, I understand that.” Harry felt offended at her not defending him, but was unable to speak his own case at that moment. “But I’ll do my best to keep an eye on him. And when I can’t, I can promise he’ll be greatly protected in classes and around teachers, even if it seems frightening at times. You’ll have to trust that it will be okay for the both of you.

And if I refuse?” Avice snapped back.

If you are exposed, there are a great many things that could happen that you will be unable to prevent. People may try and harm you, and while I know you seem not to care very much for the boy’s personal mental health, having yourself suddenly exposed as… different is not going to do any favors for him, and I’m certain that state of mind will not be good for you either.

Avice considered her options closely, still eyeing Hedwig with suspicion and mistrust. After a long moment, she spoke up again. “When will I be allowed my freedom?

You and Harry will work out something when the time comes. Perhaps on the weekends and almost complete full reign during breaks. I can’t negotiate his time for him.

She seemed incredibly reluctant, thinking of outright refusing, but finally she huffed a quick “Very well.

The conversation ended there, for the most part. Avice was rather upset, and refused to talk to Hedwig from then on.

And time passed this way. Harry gave Avice her time willingly, and while she could do very little, she took the chance happily. She still outright refused communication with the boy, but Hedwig had made incredible progress with her, and Harry couldn’t thank his owl enough.

Finally, the first of September came, and Harry was surprised when the door opened and his uncle stood there, a deep frown on his face.

“Do you remember what I said?” He snapped, fist poised to hit Harry again, but Harry needed no reminders.

“D-don’t tell an-anyone,” he said with a nod, certainly not planning on it.

“Good. Get going.”

With that, Harry cleaned out the cupboard thoroughly, returned Hedwig to her cage, took the first shower he'd had in years, grabbed his things, and followed his uncle to the car.

He was quickly dumped off at the train station, Vernon rather happy to rid himself of the freak for the year, and Harry had to awkwardly wheel his things around, searching for the platform nine and three-quarters. He, at one point, attempted to ask a security guard, but as he attempted to explain his dilemma, giving as few details as possible, the man's face steadily became confused and annoyed, and harry stopped asking.

He was rather close to giving up when he ran into the oddly familiar-looking family of red-heads, the mother immediately taking a shine to him and helping him eagerly.

As he sat down in the first compartment he found that was empty, he thought back to his friend, and once again fretted over the fate of Bill, tapping his fingers against his knees and staring out at the platform as families waved goodbye to one another.

He was startled when one of the red-headed boys from before opened the compartment and asked to sit down. Harry nodded, but didn’t speak, keeping his eyes on the window, hugging Hedwig’s cage in his lap, taking up as little space as possible.

“I’m Ron,” the boy said awkwardly when the silence dragged on far too long. “Ron Weasley.” Harry’s head snapped up to look at the boy when he heard the name.

“I-is yo-your brother n-n-named Bill?” He blurted out suddenly, startling Ron, who gave him a confused look.

“Yeah?” He said, rather annoyed that this was the first thing out of Harry’s mouth. “Why?” Harry ducked his head awkwardly, embarrassed at how fast he jumped to speaking.

“S-s-sorry…” he mumbled. “I… m-m-met him bef-before. He helped m-me o-out. N-n-never got th-the ch-cha-chance to th-thank him. I w-was wo-w-wondering if he's o-okay...”

“Oh,” Ron said shortly, still annoyed that the conversation had immediately steered to his brother. “Yeah, he's fine, though you can just send him an owl, you know. If you have the name, you can get letters to them.”

Harry stared at Ron, then looked at Hedwig almost accusingly.

“Y-you didn’t t-t-tell m-me that!” He hissed low to her.

You never asked,” She shot back at him smoothly. He huffed, then looked up at Ron, who was staring at him awkwardly. Right. Birds didn’t talk to most people.

“I’m H-Harry… Harry P-Potter,” He offered in an attempt to smooth over the awkwardness, which itself was a mistake.

This began a whole series of questions and excitement from the boy opposite him, and Harry could hardly respond to his badgering. He didn’t want to be special. He didn’t want people to expect something of him, yet his name always created this response, and he was scared he might be sick until a girl with wild, curly hair showed up and started asking about a toad.

Harry must’ve looked pleadingly at her, as she joined them in their compartment rather quickly, sitting next to Harry but talking with Ron instead, who was rather annoyed at her intrusion. Harry, however, was more than grateful, as he sighed and leaned into the window, watching the fields pass, happy she didn’t insist he participate in the conversation, aside from giving her name to the boy; Hermione Granger.

The ride was uneventful, aside from a brief visit from a boy named Draco Malfoy who addressed Harry harshly, asking questions with little introduction, but when Harry responded with broken, stuttered words and a stunned, nervous expression, Draco was rather quickly pushed out by Hermione.

He heard curses from Ron about Slytherin, stating how awful they were, how every bad wizard came out of that house, but Harry was hesitant, remembering his first friend Toby and how he had softly defended the Slytherins. They truly couldn’t all be evil, as Ron claimed.

Hermione was by his side the entire ride, and Harry could almost cry with the relief she gave. He had yet to speak a word to her (though she had gotten his name from a rather excited Ron, who seemed eager to share that he had become friends with Harry Potter, even as they had hardly held a conversation), yet she was prepared to protect him from interactions as long as he didn’t want to converse.

She, however, was very excited to speak with Ron, sharing how she had already read through their text books, had practiced a few spells, and was hoping to do well in Hogwarts. Despite being from a wizard family, Ron was speechless in the face of her knowledge and capability, which steadily made his dislike for the girl increase.

Hermione stuck by his side even after they left the train, keeping close to him as the first years shuffled towards the lake. Ron, finding Hermione annoying and Harry weird, ran off to find someone else to talk to as soon as they exited the train, chatting rather excitedly with a boy named Seamus Finnigan. Harry did his best to avoid Hagrid’s curious gaze while he boarded the boat. Harry was thinner and paler than he had been when he last saw Hagrid, and the man didn’t need to have any reason to bother the Dursley’s and give Harry trouble when summer came.

"What house do you think you'll be sorted into?" Hermione said to Harry, hoping that without Ron the boy might open up a bit.

"D-don't know..." he said, shrugging. He didn't regard himself exceptional in any category, whether it be bravery, loyalty, cunning, or intelligence. "W-what abo-bout you?" He was hopeful to push the conversation away from himself.

"I'm not sure," she said, eager to oblige the change in topic. "I heard Gryffindor is full of really noble people. And Ravenclaws are supposed to be wicked smart. Hufflepuffs sound nice but I don't think I'd fit in well there. I just hope it's not Slytherin."

"W-why not?" Harry challenged abruptly, startling the girl. "Wh-what've Sl-Slytherin's d-done that's s-so bad?" She stared at him in surprise.

"Well..." she said, scratching her chin. "Slytherin was founded on the idea that pureblood wizards are the best. I can't imagine how horrible the kinds of people in that house would be. And I don't think I'd fit in there..."

Harry seemed to have briefly forgot she was a muggle-born, and decided to let the conversation go, even though he believed she was wrong in judging the entire house based on the founder's centuries-old ideology. As far as Harry had read, muggle-borns and half-bloods in Slytherin were, in modern day, as common as they were in any other house.

"I b-bet y-you'll be in R-Rave-Ravenclaw..." he said, steering the conversation away. He didn't want to lose someone that was so kind to him over a simple dispute, and she seemed to agree, as she began talking again of the possibilities, careful to avoid the topic of Slytherin and either of their opinions of the house.

Most of the ride to the castle passed in a fantastical blur, Harry attempting to get a good view of the castle as they got close, and then at the great hall when they entered and the sorting ceremony began.

Hermione, still next to him, intertwined her arm with his, startling him with the suddenness of the contact. He was about to ask that she let him go, but when he glanced over, he saw that her face had fallen a bit and he decided not to argue with the unexpected contact. She was attempting to stay confident, but terror was clear on her face, as it was with many of the others around him.

Harry hadn’t considered this to be the most frightening part of the evening like most of the other first years seemed to. He just wanted to get to where he’d be staying and sort through a plan with Avice on how he might be able to keep his secret, but as Hermione went up, leaving him alone for the first time since she met him, he felt nervousness build up. Would his house like him? Would he fit in? He couldn’t be certain he fit in with any of them, and he suddenly was afraid of the rejection he might face from his peers if he wasn’t good enough.

He tried to keep his face neutral as he went up, but his hands were shaking, and he clung to his knees as the hat was placed on his head, trying to tune out the whispers of those around him.

"Hmmm... interesting..." Said a voice in his ear. "You've got quite the mind here. Perhaps you'd fit in Gryffindor, I see a fair bit of courage."

Harry couldn't stop the snort that came from him, and supposed he might look strange to the hall of people watching him.

I'm not courageous. I'm afraid of just about everything. He argued, and the hat tutted its tongue at him.

"Courage is not about being fearless," the hat scolded, confusing the boy. "However, I feel you might fit better in..."

The hat took in a deep breath.

“SLYTHERIN!” It shouted, and the hall fell silent.

Harry was still. He hadn't hated the thought of being in Slytherin, but the silence was terrifying. The hat was lifted off his head and he looked down at the stunned faces of the other children. Next to him, Professor McGonagall was holding the hat, seeming equally as startled by the result. The headmaster's face almost looked irritated, but when his eyes met Harry's, they softened, and he stood, clapping for the boy.

Slytherin erupted into cheers then, whooping excitedly. Most of the Hufflepuff's clapped politely, as well as a few Ravenclaws. Gryffindor was almost completely silent.

Harry glanced at the other professors. Hagrid was clearly surprised, but supportive, as was most of the other teachers. The only one who seemed truly upset, and who refused to clap, was one dressed all in black with straight, dark hair, staring at Harry with unhidden loathing for the boy.

Getting on shaky legs, Harry made his way down to the Slytherin table, trying to get his thoughts back in order while around him people congratulated him, and he was sat down around some other excited first years, chatting enthusiastically.

"Harry Potter's a Slytherin!" He heard from the people around him. "Who would've guessed!"

"Maybe people will admit we're not evil," another voice spoke up.

"They'll find another excuse," someone chimed in. "They always do."

Harry glanced around at the people surrounding him, clad in emerald, all with rather excited looks while they congratulated Harry repeatedly, the only ones truly happy to have him there, and Harry realized quickly that he was happy to be there too.

Chapter Text

Harry could hardly eat during dinner. It wasn’t simply because he had never been around so much food before, nor had he been given permission to eat so much food. It wasn’t even simply because he was sitting a few seats away from a ghost, splattered with silver blood. No, his mind was reeling with what he had to do, already creating a list of things to accomplish.

He needed to test out the concealer potion he had gotten. He had avoided using it at the Dursley home for fear of wasting it, but now he needed to see if it could cover the tattoo on the back of his hand. He doubted he might be able to get away with wearing gloves every day for the next seven years. If his teachers didn’t stop him from doing so, someone would get curious or suspicious.

He also itched to write to Bill. The excitement of communicating to the only person he fully believed was his friend and knew was alive was almost equal to the terror he felt thinking of what he should tell him. They had been away from one another for over a year, and the last time he saw the red-head, he had just lost his leg. Should he tell Bill what happened to him? Should he disclose anything about where he had gone to after leaving? He didn’t want Bill to worry over him, and the terror as he thought of what Bill might think of his freakishness if he knew made his heart pound. But how could he explain away his disappearance from the facility?

Then there was the topic of his living quarters. He hoped that he might get his own private space, but just looking at the long Slytherin table, he couldn’t think of how that might be possible, even in the giant castle. He’d have to figure out how to hide his secret from whoever he’d be living with, as well as find a way to allow Avice her own freedom in order to keep his own.

He was so completely wrapped in his overwhelming thoughts that he didn’t notice when two girls sat themselves next to him on his left side until one of them had her face right up to his and he flinched back at the sudden intrusion on his personal space.

“Harry Potter!” The girl, a small girl with rather short, curly copper hair, said, inches away from his face. “Can I see it?” She was already reaching for his head and he pulled back rather far, bumping into the person behind him.

“Watch it,” the boy to his right said, a boy with closely shaven hair and a bored look on his face, reading some book over his dinner, hardly glancing up at Harry. Before he could squeak out an apology, the first girl was trying to get at his forehead again, but was quickly pulled back by a firm hand on her shoulder.

“You’re going to give him a heart-attack if you keep doing that,” the second girl said, a girl with soft-looking, dirty-blonde hair pulled back out of her face by a green hair band. She had the kind of diplomatic attitude that must’ve been instilled in her from a young age.

“Oh hush, I just want to see the scar!” The first girl said, her curiosity creating an almost hungry look on her face. She was certainly the complete opposite of her friend.

“Yeah, that’s a perfectly normal request for a person you don’t even know,” the boy to Harry’s right said, voice dripping with sarcasm, lightly tapping his thumb to his tongue and flipping the page. “No “hi, I’m Tracey Davis, nice to meet you”, just “oh my gosh, let me touch your face and see your scars”. You sound like a perfectly civil person to me.”

“Shut up, Blaise!” The girl, Tracey it seemed, said, leaning in front of Harry to aim a stuck out tongue at the boy, who had yet to physically acknowledge any of them.

By now, Tracey’s companion had gotten tired of her childishness, standing and pushing her friend over rather easily, despite her protests, and sitting herself in her place to Harry’s left.

“Please excuse my friend,” the girl said pleasantly. “I’m Daphne Greengrass, and she’s Tracey Davis, as our oh-so-kind housemate Blaise Zabini told you.”

“Always happy to help,” Blaise said to Harry’s right, somehow managing to split his attention between the words of his rather thick book, and the banter going on to the left of him.

“Good, good, we all know each other,” Tracey said impatiently, squeezing up rather close to Daphne, who was making an impenetrable wall between the excited girl and Harry. “Now can I see the scar?”

“Would you be so kind as to indulge her request?” Blaise said to Harry’s right, glancing up for the first time, showing the slightest hint of his own interest. “She’s quite the child, and she might throw a fit if you refuse.”

By now, the others around the table were leaning in, all hoping he might show them the scar on his forehead. Feeling abruptly pushed into the spotlight, Harry felt his throat dry, but slowly lifted a hand to push aside his bangs.

Now, the nearby Slytherin’s were all leaning over the long table, eyes wide, pushing at one another to get a peek at his oddly shaped scar. Tracey herself was now over Daphne’s shoulder to get a closer look, and Blaise leaned forward a few inches to see, gave a rather neutral hum, and then returned to his book.

Face pale, Harry let his hair drop and shrank in his seat, trying to avoid the gazes of those around him, who sighed or audibly whined that he had restricted their view once more.

“Oh come on, we only get a little peek?” Tracey said, but was rather quickly elbowed by her friend.

“I sh-showed y-y-you it, isn’t th-that en-enough?” Harry stuttered out, feeling rather annoyed, but shrank again at Tracey’s surprised look.

“Woah, the boy-who-lived sounds like Quirrell!” She said with a short laugh. “Does your scar make you stutter like that? Is that a side effect of the killing curse? Oh, or is that from, like, the suppressed memories. Do you remember it? I mean you were, what, one?”

“Oh my god, Tracey,” Daphne said, rather appalled at her friend, and even Blaise was staring at her incredulously, book forgotten.

“I live with Slytherins, and those were perhaps some of the rudest, most inconsiderate questions I’ve ever heard.” Blaise said, and Tracey at least had the sense to recoil at both of their shock.

“What?” She said defensively, now feeling rather awkward and self-conscious at her thoughtless questions. “I just want to know! You’re all wondering the same things!”

“Just because you can speak, doesn’t mean you should,” Blaise said, going back to his book with the shake of his head. Daphne mirrored Blaise’s head shake with one of her own and an exasperated sigh.

Tracey fell silent, clearly embarrassed and upset, having not meant harm by her questions. While thoughtless and inconsiderate, she hadn’t been unkind, and Harry felt second-hand awkwardness at being the subject of her upset feelings.

“I h-had a c-con-concussion,” Harry said after the silence dragged out too long. Tracey perked up immediately, like a deflated balloon suddenly filled with life once more.

“Really?” She said, much too excited for the dreariness of the topic. “Didn’t you get treated? There’s spells for concussions you know.”

“I g-grew up wi-with m-m-muggles,” Harry said with a shrug, avoiding the topic that it wasn’t exactly an accident, and his relatives wouldn’t have wasted money on treating him anyway.

“You grew up without magic, then?” Daphne asked, curious, but also happy to move away from the personal topics that her friend was so insensitive to, embarrassing her friend and embarrassing her as well.

“M-m-more or l-less…” Harry muttered with another shrug. “M-mu-muggles don’t r-really n-n-need m-magic.”

“I mean, they don’t have it, so of course they have to live without it,” Blaise said. Harry noticed he was acting rather bored with the conversation, but his continued participation was incredibly contradicting to that attitude.

“How’d you get a concussion then? What happened?” Tracey asked, again in her friend Daphne’s personal space in order to get close to Harry.

Harry slowly opened his mouth, trying to think of an explanation for his injury while his mind went to his uncle and how he had been slammed against the wall. Again, and again, without mercy. His voice failed him briefly, and his face paled considerably, but before he could flounder much more, one of the upper-classmen stood up and began addressing the first year Slytherin’s, and Harry was spared the awkward conversation.

The prefect, Gemma Farley, gave them a quick introduction of herself and the Slytherin house, proudly congratulating them on being sorted into “the best house, naturally”. She explained that their head of house was Severus Snape, the potions master, and the man himself, who had approached as smoothly as if he had glided over there, gave a quick, rather emotionless greeting. His eyes skimmed the crowd of first years, but lingered on Harry, frustration and loathing flashing over his expression before he moved on again. Harry felt incredibly cold.

He parted from them then, and Gemma led the crowd out of the great hall. Harry saw Hermione in the crowd of Gryffindor’s that were heading up to the towers while Harry was led down to the dungeons. He caught her eye briefly, waving softly, but she pointedly turned her head away, making the cold feeling in his chest grow.

Down the stairs they went, and when they reached the bottom of the stairs, they entered the sloping halls of the dungeon, where the temperature dropped the deeper they went. Hugging himself, Harry listened to Gemma talk proudly of his new house’s history, trying to stop the shivers along with the rest of his housemates who were becoming uncomfortably close-knit the colder it got, and Harry found himself squeezed between several other bodies, trying to keep his breathing under control.

The hall opened up into a large space, the walls curving upwards into a circular ceiling, and Gemma stopped them there. On the opposite side the archway they came through, was simply a wall, framed with a stone arch.

“Are we all here?” Gemma called. “I don’t want to have to do this twice.” When it seemed they were, she turned to the closed-off archway, and spoke again. “Silver Tongue.” And the stone wall melted away, revealing behind it the Slytherin common room.

Harry, along with the others, stared around with wide-eyed curiosity at the place they’d be housed for the next seven years. The large fireplace somehow easily warmed the large space, and chandeliers from the high ceiling cast shadows along the stone walls and the pillars, engraved with snakes or other strange designs, standing at least two or three stories high. There were magnificent arched windows, peeking into what must’ve been the lake, bathing the dark room with a blueish green hue. All around there were black couches and armchairs, as well as a few chess tables and desks. Green orbs floated lightly around the ceiling, making the entire place seem mysterious and oddly comforting. Some older Slytherin’s were already there, chatting about their summers, playing chess, or reading their books, but the lighting and atmosphere had everyone keeping their voices down.

While Harry was sure from an outsider it might seem eerie and unsettling, the dim lighting and gentle voices, as well as the way fish and a few unnatural creatures swam by the windows lazily, made it all seem peaceful and comforting.

“All right!” Gemma said, once again addressing the bustling crowd of first years behind her. “This is the Slytherin common room. The password changes weekly, so Saturday we put the new password on the fireplace, and I expect you all to have seen it by the time it changes on Monday. We might have celebrations here in the common room on occasion, but for the most part, I expect you all to keep the noise to a minimum. We’re not a bunch of rampaging Gryffindor, and we have this space for studying and relaxation. If you want to have rowdy get-togethers, take it outside, or take it to your dorm. Which brings me to my next topic…”

From her robes, she produced a cloth bag, filled with something metal, as it sounded like it might be a bag of coins when she shifted it. Reaching in, she pulled out a handful of rings shaped like snakes, each a deep, forest green color.

“You will all be sharing your rooms with one or two other Slytherins.” Dread was filling Harry now, heartbeat quickening. “I will have no excuses on this. If you have a legitimate reason for not being able to room with a specific person, you can take it up with me afterwards. Not liking your roommate is not a legitimate reason. You will all approach me in an orderly fashion and take a ring. They adjust to fit anyone, so don’t worry about sizes. Make sure everyone gets one.” And with that, the first years surged forward, seeming to ignore Gemma’s insistence on order as they grabbed at the bag of rings. Harry hung to the back, one of the last to take a ring, beaten only by Blaise, who it seemed couldn’t care less.

“Everyone have one?” Gemma asked, and when none voiced any issues, she nodded. “Good. These rings are what will connect you to your roommate or roommates. Not only will they now be used to locate your randomly assigned partners, but you will keep them on you during the school day. They can be transformed into any jewelry you’d like.” She took off her own, a bracelet around her wrist. “If any of you need help, hold the snake between both hands, like so,” she demonstrated with her bracelet between her palms, horizontally parallel to each other, “and whisper your request to the snake.” She leaned down and whispered into her palms something none of the first years could hear. “It will warm up, and the partner or partners to your snake will relay your message. The matching snakes can be used to then find your roommate, wherever they need help.”

Slowly, the first years became aware of the sound of footsteps approaching from one of the hallways leading off from the back wall lined with windows into the lake. Rounding the left corner, a curvy girl with dark hair tied up into a ponytail came running, a snake earring in her hands which she was looking closely at it, eyebrows knitted in concern. The closer she got, the brighter the emerald shade got, until she looked up and stopped short of ramming into Gemma.

“Gem!” She said, sweating, an arm on the prefect’s shoulder for balance. “Are you okay?! Are you hurt? Did something happen?” She then noticed the crowd of first years, confusion, and then frustration dawning on her face while Gemma just smiled almost evilly. “Did you use me as a demonstration? Again?!”

“I might’ve,” she said slyly. “But I always appreciate your enthusiasm in finding me, Vienna.” She then turned to the crowd of students staring at the duo. “Slytherins watch out for their own. We already have the whole school against us, and if I see any of you fighting, you’ll have to answer to me, or Professor Snape. You’ll look out for your roommates, and if any of you need help, whether for personal or academic issues, you should be able to look to them for help, as well as aid if they ask for it themselves.”

She brought her bracelet to Vienna’s earring, still in her hands. When they tapped, they glowed a bright emerald, before returning to their deep green color.

“Your rings have all already chosen who you’ll be sharing a room with,” Gemma explained. “They will grow brighter until they contact their partners. If you have more than one, they will continue to glow even after finding your roommate. When you have your partners, you will go claim your rooms where your ring will act then as your key. Each door displays the name of the Slytherins that live there. If they are blank, the room is unclaimed and you may claim it with three knocks on the wood with the ring. Boys are on the right hall, girls are on the left. Good luck, and do keep it down.”

She left them there with that, the children immediately rushing to find their partners. Many people crowded around Harry, who was dumbfounded by all the information and the surge of people. Many boys, and a few girls though they had no chance of being paired with him, pushed their rings towards him, however his ring didn’t react to a single one. Even Blaise curiously brought his own ring over, but when it didn’t change as he approached, he shrugged and sauntered off in the other direction.

Left alone almost as fast as he was surrounded, he stared down at his green ring, glowing a dull emerald color that hadn’t changed at all. Sighing, he figured he’d have to move sometime, but as he stood there, the color got brighter, and brighter. Someone was getting closer. Startled by the sudden increase in brightness, he stepped backwards, as though running from whoever it was, ironically ramming into the one he was paired with.

“Bloody hell, watch it!” A familiar, annoyed voice said, and Harry turned around to see Draco Malfoy glaring at him, a brightly glowing ring in his hand.

“S-s-sorry…” Harry muttered stupidly, staring at Draco, possibly among the worst of people he might’ve been roomed with. Draco’s eyes narrowed at Harry’s dumbfounded gaze, but then he noticed they both had rather brightly glowing rings on them.

“Huh,” he said curiously, tapping his ring to Harry’s. Both of their rings returned to the deep green it had been previously, and Harry felt a small bit of relief at the thought that he wouldn’t have to room with two people. “I wanted Blaise, but I guess being roommates with Harry Potter is pretty interesting. Let’s hurry up and get our room before the others get them all.”

He quickly grabbed Harry’s arm, pulling the boy towards the boy’s dormitory without waiting for a reply. Harry himself was too dumbstruck to form one in any case, trying to both take in the sights and formulate a plan.

The boy’s dorm opened up into many long, branching hallways that wound deeper beneath the lake, yet always managed to circle back to the entrance, no matter how far away from it he must’ve gotten. The first group of rooms down any of the halls were, of course, taken, but when they went in further, they began to find a handfull of unclaimed rooms. Harry glanced to Draco, who seemed to be concentrating on the names neighboring the few unclaimed rooms they passed, mumbling to himself about who he wanted to be close to and any markers to point him to his room.

Eventually, he settled on one room near a hall that curved sharply back to the front, nodding to himself and knocking three times on the door with his ring. The names Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy engraved themselves on the door in silver lettering, before the knob twisted and the door swung open.

It was the biggest bedroom Harry had ever been in, bigger than his Aunt and Uncles, as well as Dudley’s room, however Draco sniffed, unimpressed. It was wider than it was long, the back of the room being closer than both sides of it, and the entrance had a few steps down into the space they shared. Both sides were identical, with a full sized, dark wood four poster bed against the far walls, and a trunk with their things placed by their given beds as though they were meant to choose this room. Two desks were next to their beds, and a few small shelves to call their own.

What struck Harry was the ceiling. More of the green light orbs floated around, but the ceiling was opened into a perfect view of the lake, some kind of force field being the only thing keeping the remarkably deep lake from flooding their room and the dungeons themselves. The lake itself seemed to give off a phosphorescent sort of glow, bathing everything in its green light.

While Harry stared into the lake, dumbstruck once more, Draco walked to the door at the back wall and opened it, looking into the rather simple bathroom, illuminated by torches and soft light, having a shower and a toilet but little else.

“My room back home is bigger,” Draco said, incredibly irritated with his housing. “And has a tub.”

“I’ve n-n-never had a r-room…” Harry muttered, mostly to himself, but at Draco’s suddenly curious look, he shut up and moved towards his bed, looking into his trunk of things.

Nothing was personal aside from his glove collection. Everything else was clothes that Hagrid insisted he buy (his wardrobe had certainly been lacking), and his school supplies. Taking out his school books, he began lining them on his shelf (his shelf!), attempting to ignore Draco’s prying gaze.

Finished with that, he moved to set up his parchment, quills, and ink on the desk, glancing over to Draco, wanting to ask a question but a bit frightened of the boy.

Draco was in the middle of filling his shelves with personal effects, as well as putting up posters on his wall of some sports team Harry didn’t recognize, and several extra rather regal-looking pillows on his bed. He caught Harry’s gaze, and Harry recoiled back, figuring he should ask his question rather than be seen as a creep.

“Uh…” Harry started, clearing his throat, now catching the boy’s full attention. “W-w-where did th-they p-put our owls?”

“Probably the owlery,” Draco said with a shrug, returning to his placing a great many books on his shelf, definitely more than what Harry had brought for his curriculum.

“W-will w-we get th-the cha-ch-chance to s-send l-letters s-soon?” He asked, sitting on his bed now.

"Probably not tonight,” Draco huffed, quickly becoming annoyed with the questions. “They show up in the mornings so you can send out a letter then, you should know that.”

“W-well I d-didn’t…” he muttered spitefully, but moved to ignore the boy then. He grabbed one of his books and lay on his bed, beginning to read while Draco finished putting his things away. After a while, he spoke up again. 

"So what's your Quidditch team?" He asked Harry, who furrowed his brow a bit.

"D-don't have o-one..." he muttered, not knowing what Quidditch was, and certainly not knowing his favorite team.

"Who doesn't have a favorite Quidditch team?" He asked incredulously. "What, did you grow up with muggles or something?"

"Y-yes," Harry said flatly, making the boy recoil in embarrassment.

"Oh," he said curtly, clearly disgusted by the idea. "I feel sorry for you, then." He seemed anything but sorry, of course, but Harry didn't give more than a neutral hum in response, keeping his eyes on the book, attempting to channel the cool, neutral attitude of Blaise so Draco might drop the conversation, or at least move it away from Harry's childhood housing. Draco, however, wasn’t through with their conversation, approaching him and leaning on Harry’s bed.

“So what’s your deal?” He asked much too forcefully for Harry’s liking. Harry stared up at him from where he lay on his bed, Draco's abrupt approach quickly arresting his attention from his book, a startled, but confused look on his face. “I mean, you hardly speak, and you have this attitude like you think you’re too good for me.”

“I d-don’t th-thi-think I’m too g-good for an-anyone…” Harry said honestly. He didn’t want trouble with his roommate, and he never intended to offend, but he didn't want to lead Draco into more prying questions about his past. That didn’t change the fact that he didn’t think highly of himself, and was scared of others viewing him as a freak.

“Yeah, sure,” Draco snorted, clearly not believing it. “I know you’re trying to pull this innocent hero thing. Just because you’re the boy-who-lived, you think you’re better than me, is that it?”

“N-no!” Harry said defensively, eyebrows furrowed.

“Then what’s with this stupid chip on your shoulder?” Draco was closer now, and he looked angry. Harry didn’t like the stance he had. Like he was ready to hit Harry. It was the same way his uncle stood when he was especially irritated, but the source of Draco’s anger was confusing to Harry. Why did he care so much about what Harry thought of him? Putting his book aside, Harry shifted to a sitting position, scooting away from the boy, feeling trapped between the wall and Draco, which just added to his rising anxiety.

Harry opened his mouth to speak, but his voice failed him. Draco was leaning over him, and Harry was starting to feel Avice beneath his skin, getting restless and fearful.

“Nothing to say?” Draco sneered, getting even closer. Harry felt the wings on his back shift, and feathers sprouting along his hairline.

Harry gaped at the boy for a moment, before suddenly shoving past him and diving into the bathroom, closing and locking it.

“Hey!” Draco called from the outside, but Harry ignored him now, hugging himself in the corner of the room, trying to calm himself down. “What, are you just going to hide in there?!”

Yes, he most certainly was. Harry stayed in there even while Draco pounded on the door, demanding he come out, even when Draco returned to setting up his side of the room, attempting to ignore Harry now, and even when the boy finally went to sleep, having given up on talking to his roommate.

Harry’s form was in flux once more, Avice demanding time from him, but he kept shaking his head, trying to get her to be still.

Avice, please stop! He thought, and the shifting slowed to a halt, the only signal that she was listening. Look, I… I know you don’t like me. However, I’m going to be here for a while, and so are you. Hedwig was right, we need to keep this a secret. If someone found out… I… I don’t know how I could handle that…I’m willing to work with you just… please…

There was a long pause where Harry held his breath, hoping he might’ve gotten through to the raven. For the first time, he heard a voice return his thoughts.

You’re right, I don’t like you, Avice responded, and Harry felt far too happy having her talk to him to feel upset with her response. However, fighting you simply makes things harder, so yes, I will hear what you have to say. That doesn’t mean I’ll go along with it.

Thank you… Harry thought with relief. Perhaps… I could give you the weekends? Do whatever you’d like then, so long as I’m back in time to be in bed?

Not good enough, came the curt reply. I can’t sit back the entire week waiting for two days while you prance around your school with your freedom.

Some nights then? He offered, feeling desperate. I need to get some sleep during the week, but perhaps I can give you three nights?

There came no reply, and he supposed she must be pondering his offer.

I’ll give you the breaks too. Christmas break and spring break are completely yours to do whatever you want. I won’t come out at all unless something happens. And I’ll see if I can get you time during summer break too. Just so long as you keep from taking over during the school day.

If that’s the best I’ll get… Avice said, and Harry felt relief that he had found a compromise with the stubborn raven. But I want your summer break as well. Not locked in a cupboard either, I want freedom to go where I want then.

I’ll try and make it happen, Harry said. He’d have to somehow make a deal with his uncle, but that was months away. He was just happy he might be free to attend school without fear of being seen as a freak. Thank you, Avice…

There was no response, but Harry was satisfied. Slowly sneaking out of the bathroom, he glanced at Draco, asleep in his bed. Rummaging through Harry's things, he found the bottle of concealer and sat on his bed, opening it up. Taking off his glove, he looked with disdain at the tattoo on the back of his hand, praying it would work.

Pouring a few drops of the dull orange liquid on his hand, he rubbed it in as the instructions that came with the bottle described. He held his breath, watching the liquid getting absorbed into his hand, and slowly, the tattoo disappeared completely, as though it had never been there. He blinked, then rubbed against his hand to see if he might accidentally remove it during the day. It didn’t reveal itself again, and Harry could almost cry with relief. For the next 24 hours, it would be completely invisible.

He had one more task before he could rest, however, and sitting at his desk he got to work in writing his letter to Bill. He must’ve written twenty versions of the letter, looking over each one before trashing all of them and starting again. It needed to be perfect, he couldn’t send anything less to his friend, so once again he began to write.

Hey neighbor,

It’s been a long time since I’ve spoken to you. I’m currently at Hogwarts, and I met your younger brother Ron, who let me know you’re alright. I wanted to hear from you myself, however. The last time I saw you wasn’t under the most pleasant circumstances.

I hope you’re doing well. I’m sorry for not writing you sooner. I didn’t know I could, and things have been complicated, for lack of a better word. No one knows I was in the experiments, and I’d like to keep it that way. I don’t want to be special, or someone to treat differently, but I’ve already been getting a lot of that.

Since I suppose I never told you, my name’s Harry Potter, which I’ve come to realize makes others change how they treat me. I really hope that doesn’t change anything in how you view me, but I’ll admit that I’m scared it will. You’re my only real friend at the moment, though that’s me hoping you view me as a friend in return.

I'm sure you have a lot of questions to ask me, but I don't want to lie to you, so I'll say there's things I'm not ready to tell you, so I hope you'll be understanding if I say I can't respond.

In any case, please write me back when you can. I’d like to know what you’ve been doing since the facility, I’m sure your life is much more interesting than mine. Again, I hope you’re well.

Your neighbor,

Harry Potter

He couldn’t say he was exactly happy with it, but it must’ve been late, and he was eager to hear from his friend. He knew if he kept writing, his sentences would stop being coherent, so he tucked it into his clothes for tomorrow and decided it would do.

Throwing off his shoes but keeping his socks on (while the shape was certainly odd under them, it was easier to hide the feet when he had on socks), he hopped into bed, wiggling under the covers, a wide smile on his face for the first time in a long while.

He stared up at the ceiling, into the lake, watching creatures swim past slowly, and for the first time feeling completely happy and confident in what was to come. He had survived a great deal, and was not ready to give up yet. Slowly, his eyes drifted shut and he fell peacefully asleep.

Much too soon, he found himself being roughly shaken, and without thinking he screamed, pulling away from the force.

“Bloody hell, shut up!” Draco snapped, recoiling back at the panicked sound. “You’re going to be late for breakfast. That’s all I wanted to tell you.”

His screaming stopped, and he looked around, the memories of the ceremony and finding his room the night before flooding back to him. He could tell he had been awoken from a nightmare, but the contents of it were washing away as his breathing slowed. He remembered dark halls and cupboard doors, but little else. The door to their room opened and Blaise poked his head in, a toothbrush in his mouth.

"It's only been one night," Blaise said, somehow managing to avoid dropping toothpaste on their floor, "and you're already trying to kill each other."

"Oh shut up, Blaise," Draco said lightly, arms crossed. "I was just waking him up. He's the one that overreacted."

"Yeah? Well keep it down. I'd like to brush my teeth in peace, thank you very much." With that, Blaise closed the door, leaving them alone again.

“I’ll m-m-meet you th-there…” Harry muttered, wanting privacy to change his clothes, though was prepared to duck into the bathroom if Draco wasn’t willing to give it. Thankfully, however, Draco was more than willing to oblige leaving the boy, and with no more discussion, left him there.

Harry changed quickly, happy to be wearing a robe as it made his wings completely unnoticeable under the clothes, then rushed up the castle to the dining hall, where he found himself again seated between Tracey, Daphne, and Blaise. Draco was sitting a fair ways away, pretending Harry didn’t exist.

After sending the letter off with Hedwig, Harry mostly listened to the conversation of the girls around him, interrupted by a short quip from Blaise from time to time.

Tracey and Daphne had been miraculously paired together with a third roommate, Pansy Parkinson, who seemed alright if a bit stuck-up.

They had also learned how to change their rings, Tracey turning it into a necklace, and Daphne turning it into a hair clip that she put on her headband. Harry, however, decided to leave it a ring, happily placing it on his right middle finger, feeling oddly proud of its symbol. He had never had a team of some kind to belong to, and supposed it was similar to the pride people felt over their favorite sports team. He was a part of something.

The confidence, however, immediately waned as the classes began. His teachers seemed especially insistent that Harry speak, which in itself was an issue, as the boy could hardly string together a sentence, let alone project loud enough for the teachers to hear him (”Speak up!” was quickly becoming one of Harry’s least favorite statements).

What made it worse was spells, an issue Harry hadn’t considered until then, and it made him wonder how he might possibly get through the year.

Professor Flitwick had been especially excited for Harry to be in his class, which made the class incredibly dreadful. He wanted them to practice pronunciation, and when Harry stayed silent during the exercise, he asked him to speak in front of the class.

Harry tried, honestly he did, but his words came out as a stuttered mess. The professor lightly scolded him, asking him to try again, and he did, feeling his throat tighten as he attempted to ignore the chuckles from the class, one such person laughing at his failed attempt being Draco. It came out worse the second time, now in a hoarse whisper.

The professor was about to ask Harry to speak once more, when Hermione suddenly spoke up, asking a question about the curriculum for the class. Distracted by the question, he took a point from Gryffindor for speaking out of turn, before answering her question. After class, Harry caught up to Hermione.

“Th-thanks…” he muttered softly, not looking her in the eye. He was terrified she disliked him still, as she hadn’t spoken to him or looked at him since the sorting ceremony, but he needed to thank her for saving him from further embarrassment.

“You looked like you were going to pass out if he asked you again,” she said with a soft sigh, but her gaze was warm. “You really should speak to your professors about your stutter.”

“I d-don’t know wh-what I’m go-going t-to do!” Harry blurted out, unable to stop himself from confessing when she seemed to have forgiven him for the house he was sorted in to. “H-how c-c-can I cast s-s-spells wh-when I can h-h-hardly s-say them?”

“I’m sure there’s a way,” she said confidently. “Professor Quirrell has a stutter and he seems to do perfectly fine. He does nonverbal spells, perhaps you can learn those!”

“N-n-nonverbal?” Harry asked, looking at her curiously.

“Doing a spell nonverbally is much harder,” she said, the gears turning in her mind, “and we only start learning those in our sixth year, however perhaps we can begin the curriculum now. I’d love to start practicing nonverbal spells.” She glanced up at him, a slightly red tint to her cheeks. “That is, of course, if you want to learn them with me. This is for your benefit, after all.”

“Of c-course…” Harry said, relief on his face. “I’d r-rather l-l-learn them w-wi-with some-someone th-than alone.”

“Alright!” She said, happy he had agreed. “We’ll come up with a study schedule sometime! For now, though, you need to talk to your professors about anything else you can do. You can’t be the first kid who’s come through Hogwarts with a speech disorder.”

And he wasn’t, by what his professors kept telling him. Professor Flitwick was incredibly apologetic, and ready to aid Harry in any way, suggesting that he might benefit from practicing the spells repeatedly until they came out more smoothly. Professor McGonagall agreed, and offered to sit with him weekly to go over pronunciation and verbal exercises. Professor Quirrell gave him another odd look, but all seemed to know how to help Harry. The fact that he wasn’t the first student to struggle with speech disorders was a great comfort, and their willingness to help him was even more so.

The only professor who seemed unwilling to help was Professor Snape, who simply gave a curt “how unfortunate” when Harry spoke to him before the beginning of class. Harry quickly learned that Potions was going to be the class to dread.

The issues began with the name. Harry could hardly be around potions without suddenly breaking into a sweat and having trouble breathing. Being in a class surrounded by bubbling cauldrons and the dreaded potions bottles was enough to make his hands shake and his blood run cold.

The professor himself, however, made it worse, and Harry couldn’t stop the feeling that the man was intentionally bullying him as he began the class.

“Potter!” The man said suddenly, making Harry’s heart skip a beat. “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood.”

He opened his mouth, struggling to remember. He had read those two somewhere in his books before, and he was wracking his brain. Alive Death, or something of the sort. That sounded familiar, but his voice was failing him completely. The man’s eyes were boring into the boy, and his fingers were shaking violently now, his breathing coming in short gasps. He attempted to speak, but he couldn’t get out more than a few short, stuttered sounds. He had never had so much trouble speaking before, like the ability to do so had been lost somewhere in his panicked mind.

“Seems fame isn’t everything,” the potions master sighed in mock disappointment. “Let’s try again, shall we?”

Next to him, Hermione looked appalled as the professor continued, again and again, each time making the boy choke worse than the last until Harry felt on the verge of tears. Finally, he showed mercy, turning his attention away, and Harry recoiled into himself, hugging his stomach, feeling almost sick as he pressed his forehead into the table. He flinched when Hermione touched him gently, but relaxed a bit as she rubbed circles into his back.

“Are you alright?” She asked softly.

“I f-fe-f-feel l-l-like I’m g-go-going t-t-t-to b-be s-s-s-sick…” He muttered honestly, voice wavering worse than it had been before the class started.

“Professor, I think Harry needs to go to the infirmary!” Hermione said aloud, standing up, making Harry stare up at her in shock.

“Talking out of turn, Granger,” Professor Snape said, not looking to her as he wrote on the blackboard. “Five points from Gryffindor. Sit down.”

“But-“ she began to argue, however Harry quickly grabbed her arm and pulled her back down, shaking his head.

“N-not w-w-worth i-it….” He muttered, not wanting her to lose more points, noting the glare that her housemates were giving her.

She seemed upset, but Harry refused to let her get in trouble once again for his sake. Still, she held his hand through the rest of the class, and afterwards walked him to the dungeons, mothering him the entire way. She repeatedly insisted he go see the nurse, but he adamantly refused. He just wanted to be alone, and when she left him, he rushed to his dorm room and threw himself under the covers, trying to get himself together again.


 

The Weasley house was incredibly quiet without his siblings there, which was both a good and bad thing.

His sister was still at home, as well as his mother, but both were adamant about giving him his space, which he appreciated, however his brothers gave him the sense of normalcy. Like he wasn’t something fragile. Hell, it had been over a year hadn’t it?

He supposed he was partly to blame for the coddling, however. He still had nightmares every few nights, and he had yet to return to work. He knew he should, Gringotts was prepared to take him once more, but the idea of being around potions and spells, away from his mother and home, made him sick. It made him feel he was weak, but damn it if he wouldn’t take his time with this.

He was in his room, reading his old rune book, once again pondering about if he was ready to return to work, when there was a soft knock on his door.

“Bill?” His mother called gently, opening the door and peeking in. He sat up a bit straighter, putting the book down, but didn’t move to grab his prosthetic leg yet. “Dear, there’s a letter here for you.”

“Gringotts?” He asked. He had been getting an awful lot of letters from them. It seemed they wanted him to return to work for them. He guessed they might be short-staffed, and they already knew he was qualified for the job.

“It doesn’t say,” she looked down at the informal letter in her hands. “I don’t think so.”

She moved closer and handed it to him. He scooted a bit closer, opening it. It certainly wasn’t a professional letter.

Then he read the first two words, “Hey neighbor”, and felt his heartbeat quicken and his throat swell. Damn was he quick to tear up, but damn was this something to tear up over. His friend, his neighbor, was alive!

He spent the next ten minutes worrying his mother, and then the next several hours reading and re-reading the letter again and again.

His neighbor was alive!

Chapter Text

The school year became a series of highs and lows for Harry, with very little middle ground.

Daphne, Tracey, and Blaise were rather nice to him in their own ways.

Blaise, Harry discovered, was actually a great fan of adventure books, though he put his own covers over them to keep it secret. Harry had caught him opening a parcel he’d gotten in the mail for the next book in his series. When Harry voiced interest in reading some of them, Blaise had actually given him a list of the best ones he’d read. Harry couldn't be sure, as Blaise was an incredibly neutral person, but he seemed to somewhat look favorably on Harry after that. 

Tracey was an excitable person, and hopped from one topic to another rather quickly. Harry had trouble keeping up with her, but then again, she often held up his part of the conversation for him. While she always seemed to strike up a conversation at the wrong moment, while he was trying to concentrate on work or keeping himself together, Daphne was there to pull her away from him.

Daphne was a violinist, which she seemed both proud about, and a bit resentful of. When he asked why she seemed conflicted, she confided that she had been made to learn by her pureblood parents, as it was a rather proper talent, and she only played a handful of the same older, classical music that got dull after the hundredth time of playing. She did enjoy the instrument, however, and was incredibly good. If the common room was mostly empty, she sometimes sat and played.

They helped him during classes at times, and he supposed they were his friends, but none of them were as kind to him as Hermione.

Hermione stuck by him more than he could’ve ever asked. She deflected Professor Snape’s ridicules as best as she could, and they studied together whenever there was a free moment, working on learning the basic fundamentals of nonverbal spells. Harry knew she was being bullied by her association with him; none of the Gryffindor’s seemed to like her, especially Ron, who seemed to grow crueler by the day. He attempted to suggest she distance her association with him, that she might be better off leaving or keeping their friendship more secretive, but she would have none of it.

“What kind of Gryffindor would I be if I backed down from a little ridicule?” She said, however Harry couldn’t fully believe her false confidence. Still, he was beginning to understand what the sorting hat meant by courage.

Aside from Snape, Harry’s professors became incredibly helpful since he let them know of his stammer. None asked him to speak in front of the class, and they would discuss the lesson with him afterwards, noting certain challenges he might face with the spells and their pronunciation. These notes he would take to McGonagall on Friday evenings, where they would go through exercises, and repeat spells again and again.

It wasn’t perfect, Harry still stumbled over words, especially longer incantations (Wingardium Leviosa was quickly becoming his least favorite spell), and frustration was something he was quickly becoming used to.

“I c-can’t do it!” Harry said in a fit of rage, knuckles white. Lumos, two syllables, and he couldn’t do it! He had said it without a stutter a few times, but when he did, his pronunciation was off, or his wand movement was off, or he wasn’t concentrating enough. It was the easiest of spells, but it felt next to impossible

“Yes you most certainly can,” Professor McGonagall said firmly from where she sat on the other side of her desk.

“N-no, I c-can’t,” he hissed, staring down at his wand, doubt filling his gaze. “M-m-maybe I w-wasn’t m-meant to-“

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence, Mr. Potter,” she said, leaning forward, a firm, steady look in her eyes. “You are the son of Lily and James Potter, two talented, powerful people. You will struggle more than your peers, but don’t you dare say you weren’t meant to be here.”

Harry didn’t look up at her, staring at his wand. He didn’t fully believe her, and certainly didn’t believe in himself, but he knew he had to be stubborn, even if he truly wasn’t meant for greatness like everyone said. He had nothing to lose other than time, even if it was futile. Magic was the only thing he had. Without magic, he never would’ve met Hermione, or spoken to Bill again, or gone to Hogwarts. He would be with the Dursley’s, and that thought sent a shiver down his back and made him feel all the more desperate. C’mon, c’mon, c’mon… he mentally chanted, his eyes closed.

Lumos,” He said with a wave of his wand. He didn’t open his eyes immediately, for fear of what he might see, but when he did open his eyes, the tip of his wand was alight. His chest warmed, and it must’ve shown on his face, for the professor gave an approving nod.

“Congratulations Mr. Potter, you have just cast your first official spell.”

That day while he was packing up his things, preparing to leave her office to mentally prepare to give his weekend to Avice, he stopped and looked up at her. McGonagall was putting papers away, ready to retire for the night, but his sudden stillness made her take notice.

“Wh-why are y-y-you d-doing this?” He asked, breaking the silence between them.

“What do you mean?” She asked, but certainly knew the answer.

“W-why are y-you helping m-m-me?” He looked down at his bag, fiddling with it to avoid looking at her. “Y-you don’t ha-have to. I’m s-sure t-th-there’s pl-plenty of m-more im-important things to d-do. Is it f-for m-m-my parents?” His face took on a sour look at the thought that she was motivated by something like familial obligation. He hadn’t known his parents, had no reason to feel sorry for anything other than lost potential at a better life. He couldn’t accept that as her reasoning for helping him.

She stood up from her desk, and while he didn’t look up at her, he tensed when she approached him. Perhaps he had spoken out of line, perhaps he had gone too far with his questions. It had been stupid to ask in the first place.

She reached a hand towards him, and he flinched violently, expecting a hit, but getting a soft hand on his shoulder instead.

“Mr. Potter,” she said, but he didn’t immediately respond. “Look at me.”

Her voice was neutral, and he couldn’t tell if it held danger or not. He was scared to, but it wasn’t a request, so he looked up, surprised to see soft kindness and concern there.

“You are my student,” she said, eyes searching his face. “And you are a boy who’s been given too many hardships at such a young age. Helping you reach your potential isn’t a waste of time. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing.”

Harry stared at her for a long time. She was open, kind but firm. She was ready to accept and love him no matter what. Right there, he almost spilled everything to her, but he snapped his mouth shut and nodded, pulling away from her and taking his bag over his shoulder, jaw set firmly.

“Are you alright?” She asked, confusion on her face. He didn’t respond, just nodding his head and avoiding her gaze while he moved to the door.

She studied him, his behavior getting all the more concerning with every moment she spent with him.

“Be sure to practice your pronunciation,” she said after him. “We begin practical transfiguration in a week.”

He nodded again, not looking back, rushing from the room.

McGonagall sat back down at her desk, but stared at the door the boy left from rather than getting back to her paperwork. The boy had a determined sort of air whenever they began, but she was realizing it wasn’t from self-confidence like she originally thought. It seemed more like magic was the only thing he had, and he was desperate to keep it. The flinch had surprised her, like he expected her to harm him. She had seen that look on many abused children before the boy, one such student being Sirius Black, but she hadn’t expected it to have been present on the golden child himself.

Why he suddenly shut down when she spoke to him, she couldn’t do more than speculate, but the headmaster was going to hear about all this nonetheless.

In truth, Harry had kept his mouth shut because he knew he might break down if he spoke. He was already teary-eyed before he made it to his dorm, being sure to avoid the main corridors in favor of the back stair cases and halls, rushing to his room as quickly as he could and throwing himself into the bathroom, ignoring the confused look Draco gave him from where the boy sat at his desk, working on homework.

All was silent for a moment, before there was a knock on the door.

“G-go away,” Harry hissed. He heard a frustrated huff from outside the door.

“Excuse me then,” he snapped in return, going to his desk again.

This wasn’t the first time Harry had rushed to their room in a fit of emotions and locked himself in the bathroom. His first few attempts at contact with the boy had been met with the same response he got now. With every time his roommate isolated himself, his attempts at approaching him grew less until they faded altogether and Harry’s actions were lumped in with the many mysteries surrounding the dark-haired boy.

Draco was one of the most difficult people for Harry to be around, second only to the potions professor. Every day, Harry feared he might be discovered by his housemate. Harry was sure to always the first to get up now, cleaning his bed and clothes of any feathers he had shed in the night, rushing to bathe and dress before Draco was up.

Nightmares were frequent, and Harry had woken Draco more than once with screams, much to the blonde boy’s annoyance. He often dreamed of the facility, or waking up on Privet Drive, or some combination of the two. Sometimes the person he had killed, the subject with no bones in that cage, made an appearance, but more often it was Basil who trailed through his dreams, his crazed smile tormenting him, and his uncle and aunt sometimes joined him. Dreams with all three were always the worst, and normally followed the days he had potions.

Severus Snape was the most difficult part about living in Hogwarts. Every time Harry passed the man, he had a sour look on his face, as though Harry were quite possibly the worst student he had ever had to teach. Harry didn’t know what he had done to gain the man’s scorn. As far as he knew, he spent most of the class period attempting to act normal in spite of his constant terror at being around the potions and the man’s radiating hatred.

Hermione frequently held his hand through the class period, often giving him her notes later as she knew he had trouble focusing in that room. Every day he seemed to find one way to get to the boy, whether it was asking a question and cutting him short when he struggled to form the words to answer it, asking him to do frustrating tasks, or blaming him for the smallest of mistakes, sometimes mistakes he hadn’t made. It reminded him too much of the Dursley’s, and his dreams were often a terrible mix of magic and his relatives those nights when he rested.

Outside the class period, Harry and Snape never shared a word with one another, and Harry took to taking a different hall when he saw the professor coming. This was perfectly fine for Severus, as he was happy to pretend Harry didn’t exist. He even avoided giving the boy detention with him for the most part, and when he did he'd have him do a simple, repetitive task, such as cleaning out cauldrons, which allowed him to leave him to it without much interaction.  The Headmaster was much too keen on asking about the boy, doting on his whereabouts like a proud grandfather, which just added to the frustration.

Harry made good on his promise to Avice, and she got his Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights, as well as his weekends, just allowing him to get back to his dorm in time to go to bed. She often wandered the Forbidden Forest which, in her form at least, wasn’t as dangerous as it was made out to be. She flew by many strange creatures, but few took much notice of her. Oddly enough, with the animal side in control, it was as if Harry were harmless as anything else.

Harry had resigned himself to his own world during these times. He felt restless, and understood her frustration at his restrictions. It was suffocating and frightening to have something else in control of your body. Certainly not something one can easily get used to.

It was a Tuesday night where he sat in the back of their shared mind, deep in thought. He was mentally reciting potion ingredients to prepare for the next chapter that was going to be started soon, hoping to give the professor less reason to ridicule him, when a rustling in the forest and a light approaching made him take notice. The animals of the forest were scattering at the sound of loud footsteps, and Avice, who had been chatting with a crow before it flew off from the disturbance, was tense. She immediately flew up higher in the tree she perched on, but didn’t yet leave, instead looking down to see what had the audacity to disturb her conversation.

Out of the underbrush, tromping through the forest, came the giant Hagrid, holding a lantern in one hand and a scroll in the other. He squinted at the scroll, moving his lantern close to it, before lifting the lantern higher to illuminate the area around him. He let out a soft noise of triumph, locating a patch of red and purple plants at the base of the tree Harry and Avice perched on.

“Blimey, couldn’t make it any harder teh find, could yeh!” He said aloud to no one in particular.

Remind me, what is that? Avice thought to Harry not-too-pleasantly. This was only the second time she had ever addressed him, taking the boy by surprise once more.

That person, he thought back, correcting her terminology, is Hagrid, my friend. He works at the school. And he’s nice. He thought fondly of many visits to the man’s home for tea.

Well I’m going to give that Hagrid a piece of my mind, came the response, and before Harry could begin to form coherent thoughts to stop her, she was dropping down to the forest grounds.

She landed in front of the man, just as he was beginning to gather up the leaves of the plants, successfully startling him. Her legs were extended, giving her some extra height (though it was nothing on the man in front of her), and she extended her wings, giving a sort of growling caw at the man.

He stared at her in surprise, taking in her rather odd appearance. She was over twice, maybe three times the size of a regular raven, standing only a few inches short of five feet, and while her wings, legs, and face were almost the exact same as a raven’s, the torso was distinctly human shaped, as well as the eyes and a few tendrils of hair that were overwhelmed by the dark feathers.

“What in the name of-“ Hagrid began, but she hopped up, her large wings giving her an extra few feet while her talons sliced the air in front of him in warning. The gust of wind and the sharp claws reaching for him gave the man enough notice to step back a bit.

She cawed again, her voice raspy and harsh. It was a simple warning meant for a creature that wouldn’t understand her anyway, Harry noticed. Birds tended to speak differently to humans and other creatures than to one another.

“Woah, woah, hush now, you’re alrigh’,” Hagrid said, hands up to show he meant no harm. Avice wasn’t having any of it, giving another harsh caw and hopping up, slicing at him again, this time grazing his arm that he raised to block the attack. It did little but leave a cut along his sleeve, but he got the message clearly. “I’m sorry, I must’ah disturbed yeh… I didn’ mean nothin’ by it. I was jus’ lookin’ for that plant for some ingredients back at Hogwarts. It was rude o’ me. Yer quite a beautiful creature though. Can’t say I’ve ever seen anythin’ quite like yeh.”

To Harry’s surprise, she calmed down considerably. She still kept her height, ruffling her feathers, but she was listening to him, staring at him curiously.

So birds like to be called beautiful, hm? Harry mentally teased, and while Avice didn’t dignify his comment with a response, he could easily sense her annoyance.

“Where’d yeh come from?” Hagrid asked, stepping cautiously closer. She slightly extended her wings in warning, giving him a cautious caw. He stopped, but then took another step closer. “You look kinda like a raven, but yer bigger than any raven I’ve ever seen. And you look a little…. Human…” She cawed indignantly at the comment, and he chuckled softly while Harry mentally rolled his eyes at her upset. “I guess yeh don’ like that idea, huh. Tha’s okay. I don’ care what yeh are. You look perfect to me.”

Harry couldn’t be sure, but he thought he felt a sort of tightening in his second heart from Avice. Like she felt happy at the comment.

“Well, don’ let me keep you,” Hagrid said abruptly, turning his attention back at the forest. “I’ll be searchin’ this forest for quite a while, tryin’ to gather everythin’ up before tomorrow. I’ll try n’ keep outta yer way.”

With that, he turned to go find a different patch of plants that wasn’t under a tree guarded by a large raven-like creature. Avice, however, watched after him curiously, then glanced at the plants. Continuing to surprise Harry, she grabbed a talon-full of the red-purple leaves and glided easily after the man, cawing after him to get his attention. When he stopped and turned, she dropped the plants at his feet and bounded back, giving another soft noise.

Surprised as well, but nonetheless pleased, Hagrid knelt down to pick up the plants.

“Well thank yeh very much!” He said happily, putting them into a bag around his belt. When he stood, he looked at her curiously. “You wouldn’ want to keep ‘ol Hagrid company while he goes searching for more ingredients, would yeh?” She gave another indignant caw, and he chuckled. “Thought not. Well, you have a pleasant evenin’.”

He turned and continued walking. Avice followed.

On it went with Avice following him as he searched the forest, though certain to hop away any time he reached to pet her. She responded to any indication that she liked his presence with a noise of denial, but still she stuck by him, watching his actions curiously, sometimes even helping him dig up especially frustrating plants, or avoid dangerous creatures. Harry had never seen her show kindness to anyone, yet here she was, voluntarily aiding a stranger. Perhaps Hagrid truly had a way with animals that couldn’t be matched.

When the first light of dawn began peeking over the horizon, Harry gave her a soft warning that she should get back.

“It’s been wonderful seein’ you,” Hagrid said with a yawn, “however, I mus’ be gettin’ home. Maybe I’ll see you again?” She gave a soft caw of confirmation, staring firmly at the man as though it were a promise. With that, she raised her wings and took off, bursting through the trees and making her way back to the castle when she was out of view of the man, who was shouting his farewells even after she was gone.

She did see him again, often bumping into the man on his treks through the forest, before moving on to meeting him at the edge, and even going straight to his hut in annoyance when he failed to meet her there in a timely manner. She didn’t care for Fang, but seemed incredibly content to sit with the huge man while he spoke to her. Once, while he was walking through the forest on another mission from the Headmaster, she swooped down and landed on his shoulder, where she perched for the remainder of the evening, flicking her tail feathers in response to his question of if she might be growing fond of him.

Her friendship with Hagrid was certainly confusing to Harry. Of all the people, he thought she must find Hagrid annoying, but she seemed happy to be with him, and Harry supposed that there was no harm if Hagrid didn’t recognize them, though he was cautious enough to keep a lookout for any signs he might be catching on while they were together.

The true highlight of Harry’s days were Bill’s letters. He had been terrified when it took a week for the man to get back to him, wondering if perhaps he had been wrong about their relationship, or perhaps if Ron had lied about Bill being alive, but the letter came at breakfast an early Tuesday, and Harry had to excuse himself to his room to hide the tears of relief and joy that he couldn’t keep at bay.

They talked frequently of many things. Harry talked about his teachers and Bill reminisced about his experiences, warning Harry about tricky subjects and confirming that Snape has always been bitter and upset as he was then.

Bill, as Harry expected, asked a lot of questions. Harry kept his explanation of the last year rather vague, stating that after escaping, he wandered the countryside before finding his way back to his relative’s home, focusing more on what he saw while he traveled than any concrete details about how or why he did so. The rest of the story was relatively the same, but he purposely avoided telling Bill how he had escaped.

To Harry’s relief, he seemed perfectly content with that answer, but his questions were almost all about Harry’s well-being. He kept asking about nightmares and issues interacting with magic and potions. Harry, however, brushed all concerns aside with vague remarks, and eventually began ignoring the questions that Bill slipped into his letters.

He wasn’t happy with that, Harry knew, and he was sure Bill would peg him down with questions once he had the boy cornered, which is why he avoided accepting any invitation to see him until Christmas break approached, and it couldn’t be brushed aside any longer.

Dear Neighbor,

Congratulations on successfully making it this far ignoring my invites. You are quite determined to refuse me. I must say, I’ve never been very close with a Slytherin before you, however I suppose this is the famously shrewd attitude you all are known for.

Still, my friend, you have severely misjudged me, for I am a Gryffindor, and Gryffindor’s are headstrong and don’t know when to quit. You can’t hide from me during Christmas break, and since you told me you aren’t staying at Hogwarts, I’ll be seeing you at the train station. Don’t make any plans that evening, I’m taking you on an adventure.

Your stubborn neighbor,

Bill

PS: What ice cream do you like? Asking for a friend.

Harry couldn’t stop the smile as he sat in the Hogwarts Express with Hermione, re-reading the letter again. His response had been short and simple;

To my most frustrating neighbor:

You’re right, Gryffindor’s don’t know when to quit.

I’ll see you on the platform.

Your favorite neighbor,

Harry

PS: Tell your friend to surprise me

There were many things Bill didn’t need to know, and Harry didn’t want to tell him. He didn’t need to know about the Dursley’s, or Avice, or how horrifying his classes could be. He didn’t need to know about how tired he always was, or about the nights he would wake up screaming, in a cold sweat, or just crying softly. Bill had been to hell and back with Harry, he didn’t need more reason to worry about him. Harry didn’t want to be the cause of that.

Besides, while the urge to spill his secrets was tugging at him any time another letter came to him, the truth was that the bit of relief wouldn’t compare to the horrible things that would follow. Bill would think he was a freak, and even if he didn’t, he would have to tell someone. He’d want to save Harry because that’s how Bill is. Harry needed control for once in his life, and his secret was how he kept control. If it got out to anyone at all, it could easily get to the people that loom over him, and he couldn’t begin to think of what they might do to try and “help” him.

He was alive. He had many many happy times, and that was more than he ever had before. He had people that he called friend, and who he honestly hoped called him friend in return. If anyone decided he needed fixing, all of that could go away, and his mind drifted to dark hallways and examination tables. He hugged himself tightly to try and push away the cold feeling threatening to overtake him. He shouldn’t have thought of that, as now the images were trying to lock themselves to the forefront of his mind.

“What’s your plan for Christmas?” Hermione asked him suddenly, jarring him from his thoughts. He blinked at her in confusion, trying to push away the sight of iron bars and locked doors.

”Huh…?” He whispered softly, his voice a bit strangled and dry.

“I was wondering what you were doing this holiday,” she elaborated, giving him a gentle smile, but not missing the lost gaze he had. It wasn’t uncommon, but it was still concerning to say the least. He always would get this far-off look, like he was stuck in troubled or even frightening thoughts, and if she pulled him back, she would be faced with a look like he had just come up from cold water. Still, Harry had many secrets, and she was certainly able to realize that he had as many close friends as she did, which is to say they had very few. From the way he acted, she was certain he might cut her away from himself, even at the risk of his own loneliness, to keep his secrets.

“I d-didn’t have m-m-much of a p-plan…” he muttered with a shrug. Though certainly grateful for the distraction, his plan was to just find a wide open forest and let Avice loose.

“Well, if you ever want to visit…” She started, and Harry gave a small smile at her. He knew what she was doing, and he appreciated it.

“Th-thank you,” he said honestly, looking her firmly in the eyes to convey his appreciation, which seemed to somewhat satisfy her concern. “If I ha-have t-t-time, I’ll v-visit.”

It wasn’t exactly a no, but she knew he meant it to be in the nicest way. He wouldn’t let her in yet, and he might not for many years, but she could see him convey his appreciation as best he could.

The rest of the ride passed in relative silence, aside from a few short conversations here and there, Harry was happy for her company. She never demanded he speak, and never acted like he were something delicate either. It was incredibly comfortable and easy to talk to her.

His nervousness, however, was increasing the closer they got to the station. He hadn’t seen Bill in such a long time now, closing in on two years. Bill was the only person that knew where he had been instead of the Dursley’s. Bill was truly his closest friend, the person who knew the most about him and who had seen him at his worst. He was terrified of messing up and losing that.

The train came to a stop, but he didn’t immediately stand up. Gathering her things, Hermione looked at him with a confused, but gentle gaze.

“Are you alright?” She asked him.

“Y-yeah…” he muttered softly, giving her a small smile. “I’ll… I’ll b-be a m-mo-moment. I j-just…” He couldn’t find the proper words, but she didn’t push him for an explanation.

“Of course,” she said when his pause hung in the air. “I have to go meet my mom, she’ll be waiting for me.” She briefly wondered if anyone was waiting for Harry, and her heart ached a bit, but her suddenly pitying look was read easily and met with a cold challenge. She smiled a bit more at that, knowing Harry would hate the thought of her pitying him. “If I don’t see you, I hope you have a great Christmas.”

She gave him a brief, firm hug that he, oddly enough, didn’t completely jerk away from. His instinctive pull from contact, especially something a restrictive as a hug, was lesser, and she took it as a small victory.

With that, he was alone in the compartment, staring out at the window as people ran to find their families. He caught sight of Ron, rushing to greet a sea of ginger siblings, and despite his fears, he searched the crowd of them for a sign of Bill.

He wasn’t there. Doubt filled Harry’s mind. Could he trust that Bill still cared about him after all this time? Had he gotten his hopes up for nothing?

The doubt took over the nervousness, and he was able to begin moving his way out of the train where the Weasley family had left. The crowds were beginning to thin, and he carted his trunk and owl onto the platform, glancing around nervously.

Part of him hoped Bill hadn’t come. That he could go on with his wishful thinking and never have to face the reality of his friend because reality was never as perfect as it was on paper.

Part of him prayed Bill had come.

There was a tap on his shoulder, and he didn’t yet turn around. He was scared of what he might find.

“Hey, neighbor,” a heart-wrenchingly familiar voice said, shaking with emotion.

Harry turned around.

And there he was, his closest friend, alive with two cups of ice cream in his hands, but his hands were shaking. His face was one of dumbstruck awe, looking Harry up and down while Harry did the same.

“Hey, n-ne-neighbor…” Harry whispered back.

There was a silence between them, as they stared at one another, trying to figure out if the other was truly there, truly alive.

Harry was the first to move, to his own surprise. He pulled Bill into a tight hug, and Bill returned it. They just held onto one another like they were desperate to make sure they didn’t lose the other again.

It went on for what must’ve been an odd amount of time to those around them, but Harry had never felt the amount of relief and happiness he did at that moment, and never seen it mirrored back with perfect clarity. To have someone care for him as much as he did them, without doubting if it was a lie or not, felt remarkably relieving.

Pulling back, Bill awkwardly wiped his eyes on his sleeve, not looking Harry in the eye as he gave a smile.

“I didn’t know what flavor you liked, but you should eat it before it melts,” Bill said, handing Harry one of the ice cream cups.

It was green with dark chunks of… chocolate? Harry had never eaten ice cream before. Not at the Dursley’s, or the facility, or after. He had never deemed ice cream an appropriate use for his limited money. Some of the desserts during dinner at Hogwarts included ice cream, but Harry never touched the desserts to begin with, normally not having the appetite to at the end of his meal, and having a great deal of suspicion to the strange treats he’d never eaten before made him write them off as something to try someday, perhaps, but certainly nonessential. He almost asked what exactly it was, but he knew ice cream was rather commonplace for kids to eat, and Bill definitely didn’t need any more suspicion about what Harry's world looked like.

He didn’t know where he’d go if he were to leave the Dursley’s. Bill might take him, but he could never ask the man to do that for him. Harry didn’t know about Bill’s situation, if he was well off, and even so, he couldn’t take anything more from someone who had already given him so much. He couldn’t go to an orphanage, definitely not as he was, but if officials found out about his situation at the Dursley’s, that was likely the first place he’d go.

“Harry?” Bill said, pulling the boy from his thoughts. “It’s melting.”

“Oh,” Harry said, looking down at the half-melted substance in the cup. Ice cream. It melts. To get Bill to stop staring at him with searching concern, he took a cautious bite.

He had never tasted anything so good. It was sweet, and minty, and gosh was chocolate amazing! He didn’t quite know what happened after that, just that he scarfed the whole thing down somewhere under a minute, and then that his head started hurting.

“Hey, hey, take it easy,” Bill said, noticing the pained look on his face, but giving a short laugh. “Don’t eat so fast! You’ll give yourself a brain freeze.”

“S-sorry…” he muttered, a hand on his forehead. “Old h-ha-habits.”

Bill gave him a knowing, sad smile, and rubbed his back gently. It passed, and Harry gave a soft sigh of relief. Still, the treat was worth the pain.

“Th-that w-w-was good,” he said, incredibly grateful. Damn, he hadn’t thought to get Bill something. “Do y-yo-you w-want any-anything? I c-can buy?”

Bill immediately knew his reasoning, seeing the look of concern on Harry’s face.

“You don’t owe me anything, ice cream is cheap,” Bill said, before finishing off his own ice cream, which was mostly soup by then. He took Harry’s cup and tossed it in the nearest trash can. “Besides, I’m the one inviting you out, so I’m paying.”

Taking a rather beautiful pearly-white cane from where it was propped up nearby, he began walking, motioning for Harry to follow.

Harry took in his gait, the way he limped on his missing leg, the right leg. He frowned deeply, feeling a spark of anger at the man who had taken that from his friend, but with that thought came all the memories associated with that man.

“I may only have one leg, but you don’t need to walk that slowly,” Bill said to Harry, who couldn’t help the smile that passed over his lips. Bill was doing alright. He was working to move on. Harry knew the man wasn’t fully healed, he might never completely be the same as before the facility, but he was improving.

Harry hurried to catch up to him, matching his pace and talking peacefully with him.

They talked for hours. Bill led him out of the station and down to a park nearby. They sat and talked there, and then moved on to a burger place not too far along the road, where they continued to talk, just about general things without much aim or direction in topic.

“Y-you know a l-l-lot ab-about m-m-muggle things,” Harry commented when Bill paid for dinner, only after Harry had protested about ten times.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time in the muggle world,” Bill said with a smile, but there was a bitter edge, and Harry knew why immediately.

“No m-ma-magic,” Harry said, and Bill shrugged, but then nodded.

“I grew up around magic all my life. I have a lot of positive experiences with magic, so you’d think I’d be okay, but… I just can’t help but feel suspicious any time someone has a wand out. Then there’s potions…”

Harry gave a visible shudder that didn’t go unnoticed by the ginger in front of him. He sighed a bit and leaned forward over the table.

“What happened in there was horrible,” he said slowly, and Harry didn’t meet his gaze. “It was a living hell there, and not a lot of people made it out. The ones of us that did… some of them commit suicide.”

“I’m f-fine,” Harry said abruptly, still not looking at him. It was a lie, both of them knew it, but he had to say something.

“No you’re not,” he said, leaning on his elbows now, “but you also aren’t the type to ask for help very easily. I just want you to know… there’s nothing you could tell me that would make me care about you any less.”

Harry could think of a number of things that could make that statement a lie, but he didn’t voice them, just staring down at his mostly empty plate. Bill rubbed his neck at Harry’s silence.

“I get it, I’m being incredibly cliché right now, and you don’t want to hear this, but I needed to say it. You’re one of the most important people in my life, I can’t think of what I would do if something happened to you.”

Harry met his gaze evenly, looking for the lie.

It wasn’t there.

Their talk returned to softer topics such as school and work. Harry told Bill about his fondness of mittens and his growing collection, Bill told Harry that he missed eating chocolate frogs, which he hadn’t eaten since going to Hogwarts. It was all completely, perfectly ordinary topics.

Harry didn’t want to leave, and they wandered the town for a few hours after dark, but Avice was becoming impatient, frustratingly enough.

He bid him farewell at the train station, watching him go to a more secluded place and disapparate, before Harry left the station for the nearest forest, a bittersweet feeling in his chest.

Harry slipped away, and Avice took his place once more.

As the days passed, Harry felt suffocated beneath her control. The few times he got mail, she allowed him to take over and read or respond to it, but for the most part she gave him no time.

She traveled a lot, leaving their things behind, but assuring Harry she knew the way back to that forest when he voiced concern, and she truly did, circling back to the forest closest to Kings Cross station every once in a while.

As Christmas approached, Harry worked up the courage to ask her for one day to shop for presents, and Christmas day itself to visit Bill, who was already sending him letter after letter insisting he come spend the day at the very least. While she wasn’t happy with it, she gave it to him begrudgingly, only for the fact that he would be spending more consecutive days giving up control than she had.

Finding his way to Diagon Alley, Harry brought Hedwig with him, keeping her on his shoulder rather than in a cage. After getting the galleons he thought he might need from his vault, he began searching the streets that were more crowded for Christmas than they were for the school year. He muttered softly to Hedwig, asking for advice every once in a while.

He didn’t want to leave anyone out, being sure to map out who he was sending presents to before he began searching.

For Blaise, he got the first book in a series of adventure books that came highly recommended to him by the shopkeeper.

He got both Tracey and Daphne bottles of Poison Apple perfumes (neglecting to mention that he used that company’s products for himself as well). He also got Tracey silver earrings that went well with the necklace she had, and for Daphne, he strayed out of Diagon Alley to a muggle music store, finding a few violin music sheet books that might interest her; gypsy jazz, swing, even one on folk music. He couldn't say he knew much about music, but the titles seemed interesting to say the least.

For Hermione, he scoured the bookstore for four of some of the most interesting books he could find. He found two on foreign magical practices in Asia and Africa respectively, one on Merlin’s history and studies, and the last one on lost magical arts. He also got her two quills that would never need to be dipped in ink, while jokingly calling them “pens” in his letter.

Bill received a rather thick book of ancient runes, a box of chocolate frogs, and tickets for the train, a written on map of the United Kingdom, and a note from Harry;

While traveling, I got to see a ton of sights along the countryside.

You don’t need magic to experience the world. If it all gets overwhelming, I recommend a trip to any of these locations. They are all well worth the time, and completely magic-free.

~Your Neighbor

Uncertain of if it would be alright to send presents to his faculty, he settled on sending Professor McGonagall a quill that changed colors at different times of the day, and giving Hagrid a newer tea set, noting the broken, old set he kept using, making sure it wasn’t an excessively fragile set. He found a set that had quite a few magical creatures painted on the sides, dragons, trolls, griffins, fairies, and any number of other things, and asked if they could transfigure it to be twice as big, which they happily did.

Draco Malfoy was the most difficult one to figure out.

He had been cold to his roommate, and his roommate had returned the attitude. He knew they weren’t friends, but still they had to tolerate one another for the next seven years. He doubted Draco was getting him a present, but it felt wrong to completely ignore him.

Searching the stores, he settled on a charmed, crystal chess set that periodically changed colors depending on the players mood, which changed the tactics of the game. He had seen Draco play a few times, but other than that, he couldn’t be certain what the boy would like.

The stores had promised they’d get the presents to their recipients on time for Christmas, and Harry left it at that, grateful he wouldn’t have to repeatedly send out Hedwig with one package after another.

After he was done, Harry sat deep in the forest once more, Avice happily enjoying her time in control while Harry fretted over the presents, trying to make certain he hadn’t forgotten anyone. He was a bit terrified, hoping none of them hated his presents. He had never given presents to anyone, and never received them either. The thought that they would be rejected made him horrified, and he was scared of receiving gifts from someone he hadn’t given one to.

As Christmas approached, Harry learned that Hedwig and Avice had impeccable senses of direction. Bill had given Harry an address, which was relayed to Hedwig, who informed Avice of the direction and area it was in terms that Harry couldn’t begin to understand. It was in words Harry felt he should know, but the meaning was lost to him.

She made her way over there, as promised, taking her time enjoying the countryside, or talking to other corvids like herself, but on Christmas morning, as the sun was rising over the snowy hills, Harry found himself approaching the Burrow, bundled up with mittens and sweaters.

Knocking on the door, briefly afraid he was much too early, the door swung open before he could finish knocking and there stood Bill, rather happy to see him.

“Harry!” He greeted, a gentle hand on his shoulder, and Harry smiled slightly in return. “Merry Christmas.”

“M-m-merry Ch-Chri-Christmas, Bill,” he said softly, the term seeming new and foreign, but also holding excitement. He’d never celebrated Christmas before, aside from cooking for the Dursley’s and then getting out of the way while they celebrated. “I h-hope I’m n-n-not t-too early.”

“Of course not, I’ve been up for a little bit,” he admitted. Harry noticed the bags under his eyes, and knew immediately what he meant by that. “Percy’s up, and so is my mum. I was getting ready to have some tea, if I can tempt you.”

Harry nodded and followed Bill into the home, taking in all the details he could. It was a cramped sort of place, with things shoved into every space, but it felt warm and inviting and extremely like a home.

The morning was spent rather quietly. Percy was inclined to keep to himself, for the most part, reading the news with the expression of a teenager trying extremely hard to mature as fast as possible. Mrs. Weasley had already been informed that Harry was going to join them, and was more than a little ecstatic to see him, greeting him with a hug and a pat on the shoulder, stating how happy she was to see that he was doing well, seeing as the last time she had seen him he was a pale, slightly stunned boy on the platform trying to find the train. Now, not much had changed exactly, but he did seem a fair bit more confident, and having Bill invite a friend over was something that hadn’t happened since he’d come home, so she was willing to overlook the strangeness that he was friends with a boy who by all accounts should’ve been invited over by Ron.

As the Weasley family began to awaken, the house steadily came to life. It was like the sound of a train traveling out of the station; slow, but then picking up momentum.

Arthur was the first to come down, greeting their guest with excitement and sitting at the table to talk curiously with him. Fred and George were next, rather immediately increasing the noise level, and once they were up, Ron and Ginny followed quickly, unable to sleep with all the ruckus. Charlie arrived at around ten or eleven, receiving a royal welcome from his family, and Harry had a Christmas breakfast with the Weasley’s.

He was relatively quiet through most of it, responding to questions and being polite, but for the most part happy to watch the family interact with one another. Bill would frequently turn to him and talk or fill in on certain stories that were brought up between the siblings, which seemed to be enough stories to fill a book, or even several books.

Ron seemed to be intent on burning a hole through Harry’s head with his glare, pouting through most of breakfast, but when Bill began to catch on, the eldest brother wasn’t going to stand for it. He began poking fun at Ron’s grumpy attitude, stating how Christmas wasn’t the time to be inhospitable, but the message was clear; leave my friend alone. Ron began pretending Harry wasn’t there after that.

The presents were next, and Harry was shocked to see his own presents had been delivered there. How anyone had found he was going to be visiting Bill for Christmas, he didn’t know, but what stunned him even more than the fact that his presents had been delivered here was that he had presents.

Blaise sent him one of his personal favorite books, one that was certainly well-used and worn. Daphne and Tracey had teamed up to get him a Quidditch World Cup book as they, mostly Tracey, had been among the many students at Hogwarts who had been shocked to hear he didn’t know anything about Quidditch, or the World Cup.

Hermione sent him a book titled Great Witches and Wizards Through the Ages, and there were several sticky notes throughout the pages pointing out the historical figures that had speech issues, which was, surprisingly, a fair amount. Having issues with speech seemed to become much more noticeable when pronunciation was such a big factor. She added an extra note that Professor McGonagall had been the one to help her research.

Bill got him three pairs of mittens; one that changed colors with the weather, one that shimmered like silver, as though it were made of the metal, and another that felt much too soft to be real. He also got him a book on the best places to travel to, having gotten the hint that Harry had thought fondly of his travels through their letters with one another, a journal that made its contents invisible to anyone who wasn’t the owner, and a box of chocolate frogs, which made Harry actually laugh when he opened it, as Bill only a few minutes after opened his own box of chocolate frogs from Harry.

Mrs. Weasley added to his pile a Slytherin green jumper, stating she wasn’t certain what he liked, but that she hoped he was happy with it. He couldn’t stop thanking her for the rest of the evening, putting it on over his own sweater almost immediately, not caring if it made him look strange. She had made something for him.

The day was winding down after a loud dinner with the Weasley’s, where the twins nearly made the pudding into an explosive. Bill kept asking Harry if he could spend the night there, but Harry kept smiling and politely refusing. He wanted to, he’d take a bed over a tree deep in the forest while it snowed any day, but he had promised Avice her time, and he had cut into it enough. Besides, it was the best Christmas he’d ever had.

On his way out, he caught Ron’s eye once more while saying his goodbyes. Ron was staring darkly at him, a threat on his face, but the reasoning or the contents of it was lost to Harry.

Still, bundled in several layers, carrying his presents into the night, he turned his attention to convincing Avice to letting him make a fire somewhere, fond memories of his first Christmas held in his mind while he turned his attention to the wilds and survival.

Chapter Text

Classes resumed after the break with a feeling of warm newness that faded into soft security. He was returning to the familiar schedule rather easily, and the routine was comforting to say the least. He knew when he was going to be seeing Hermione for study sessions, he knew what nights were Avice’s and what days he’d have energy to do very much more than attend classes, and he knew when his sessions were with McGonagall.

That is, he thought things were back to the old routine, until his Potions class on Friday morning, only a week after returning to the castle from break, when the professor instructed him to stay after the class had gone.

This had never happened before. The man wanted to see as little of Harry as Harry wanted to see of him. He wasn’t prepared for this change, and it took him incredibly off guard, his anxiety mounting higher and higher as the last students filed out, Hermione squeezing his shoulder on her way out in what should’ve been a comforting way, but just sent him more on edge. He could hardly squeak out an agreement to meet her in the library afterwards, eyes glued on the man dressed in black who was staring at Harry with the utmost hatred.

Silence fell on the room. Harry didn’t move any closer, happy to keep the distance between them, but the man wasn’t giving him any sort of comfort. He stood, and Harry tensed in his seat, gripping his bag on his lap.

Severus was certain to draw out the conversation because he knew, he saw clearly on the boy’s face, that the boy was terrified. Every step the man took closer, echoing through the silence of the dungeon, made the boy flinch subtly.

Finally, he stopped, towering over the desk and sneering down at him as though he were beneath his regard.

“I’ve been informed you’ve been seeing Professor McGonagall about your speech impediment,” the man said slowly, and Harry searched his face for any hint at his intentions. Snape easily saw the guarded look in the boy’s eyes as he tried to assess the situation.

“Y-yes, s-s-sir…” Harry said slowly, keeping his voice as neutral as possible, playing his hand with the utmost care. Snape could recognize it there, the Slytherin in the boy, the careful analysis of anything and everything, looking for danger and opportunity. Cautious and calculating, although certainly very nervous. It infuriated Severus to think he had similarities to Potter’s child.

“You won’t be attending those sessions with her anymore,” he said coldly, and Harry stared at him, stunned.

“B-b-bu-but-“ Harry stuttered out, though was quickly cut off.

“You will be having sessions with me from now on.” Harry was in complete shock now, his jaw slightly slack, trying to understand what was happening. “It would be more appropriate if your head of house attends to these matters. I expect to see you in my office no later than seven. Do not be late.”

With that, he turned and walked back to his desk. He seemed annoyed by this change, like he didn’t want to have sessions with Harry either, and like he was prepared to make the sessions miserable for the boy because of it.

Harry had many things he wanted to say to the man in front of him. Many thoughts crossing his mind, and he desperately wanted to object to this sudden change, but he just stared at the dark form returning to his seat with an air that all conversation was over, and he could voice none of them.

He left the room without a word.

“I don’t understand why he would insist on having lessons with you,” Hermione said, leaning over her book and staring at her friend.

“He l-l-looked u-upset ab-bout it,” Harry said, still shocked from the entire encounter, having not even pulled out his books yet.

“It doesn’t make sense…” Hermione shook her head, wracking her brain for the reasoning behind the potions master’s actions.

Maybe McGonagall really was tired of working with me, Harry thought, but kept the self-depreciating thoughts from Hermione. She didn’t need to hear what was going on in his mind, and he knew she would defend him against his own words. Still, the thoughts passed over his face, and he could see her displeasure at what she saw in his expression.

“It’s not you, Harry,” she said, leaning over the table and giving his hand a gentle squeeze. He smiled a bit at her attempt, but removed his hand and instead turned his attention to getting out his text book in hopes to get the conversation away from himself. She huffed in annoyance, knowing her words had been brushed off, but complied, turning to her own text.

“I w-was ha-having trouble w-with chapter f-fourteen,” he said, leaning in close to the book to squint at the words.

“What part?” She asked him, looking at him curiously. He glanced up at her from where he crouched over the text, nose almost pressing to the page.

“A-a-all of it?” He asked with a sheepish smile. She gave a small laugh and nodded, giving a smile in return.

“Okay, we’ll just start from the beginning and go through,” she said, flipping to the beginning of the chapter. “Just stop me when you’re confused, alright?”

Harry nodded, eyes focused in on the page a few inches from his face, listening to her as she read the text, interjecting her own input every few sentences. Harry read, trying to focus on the words a short distance from his face, eyebrows furrowed, but a frown was steadily taking over his expression. With a sigh, she stopped.

“Harry, you are in desperate need of glasses,” she said, arms crossed over her chest. His frown deepened considerably to a more sour look. This wasn’t the first time this topic had been raised.

“I’m f-f-fine,” he said defensively, but also knew that he couldn’t ever read his text without having his face a few inches from the page, and reading the board in class was an impossible task. He rolled his eyes at her returned frown, knowing the point had been debated to no end. “Wh-where w-would I e-e-even get g-glasses f-from?”

“If you’re looking for an ocular specialist, I would suggest Dr. Athena Rhodes,” a voice behind them said, making Harry visibly jump before whipping around. Percy stood behind him, in an almost regal sort of stance, like he truly was doing his best to appear authoritative, but it was just a bit too much.

“P-Percy…” Harry said, trying to calm himself once more, a constant battle it seemed. He hadn’t spoken very much to the Weasley, not even during Christmas, but he had been generally nice and cordial. Overall he couldn’t be certain what terms they were on, and while he was sure he could say more than simply the other boy’s name, what to add was lost on him.

“Excuse the interruption,” he said in his rather formal way, seeming not to mind Harry’s internal conflict. “However, I felt I needed to warn you that my brothers are planning to bombard you with fireworks and confetti poppers once you leave the library.”

Harry stared at him, the declaration rather unexpected, mouth slightly open as he looked for the words to respond with. His eyebrows furrowed a bit, looking confused.

“Uh…. Wh-why are y-you telling m-m-me this?” He asked. He probably seemed ungrateful, but this behavior was puzzling.

“Because they’re standing outside being obnoxious,” Percy said with a slight shrug. “And I know spoiling the “surprise” for you would be frustrating for them.” There was something else on his mind, clearly, but before he could speak again, there was a shout from across the library.

“Percy, no!” George shouted, rushing over. Behind him was Fred, both with their arms full of fireworks and some kind of tubes decorated with colorful stripes and stars.

“It was a surprise!” Fred chimed in, both looking equally offended as they approached.

“I know,” Percy said flatly, no humor on his face but Harry got the sense that foiling their plan entertained him greatly.

“What are you doing?!” Came a high-pitched shriek, as behind them, seeming to come from nowhere, came the vulture-like witch Madam Pince, eyes trained on the Weasley twins and the many loud, messy explosives in their arms. “Out! All of you, out!

“All of us?” Percy said incredulously. “They’re the ones bringing explosives into the library.”

“Yes, all of you!” She snapped, already shooing them towards the door, Harry and Hermione awkwardly grabbing their books as they were pushed with the small group. “I don’t need any of you causing a disturbance. OUT!”

Within a few moments, the five of them stood outside the large library doors. Fred and George were snickering at Percy’s disgruntled face, hating how he had been lumped in with two of his brothers.

“Sorry, Harry, Hermione,” George said to the first years, pointedly only apologizing to them.

“Yeah, didn’t mean to get you kicked out,” Fred chimed in.

“Just wanted to give you a proper welcome into the family.”

Somehow managing to avoid dropping the entire pile of poppers and fireworks in his hands, Fred set off one of the poppers, the confetti spraying into the hallway, making a whizzing noise as it floated up to the ceiling, crackling into the air. George gave a soft “Hooray!” with a single jazz hand, both grinning at him.

“The f-fa-family?” Harry asked, perplexed.

“Of course!” George exclaimed, and would’ve thrown his arm around Harry if he weren’t trying to precariously balance the things in his arms.

“You’re an honorary Weasley!”

“Even have the jumper to prove it.”

“Mom doesn’t make those for just anyone.”

“Only if you’re family.”

Harry stared at them dumbly. “Huh…?”

“Yeah! Welcome to the Weasley family!” Now George really did throw his arm around Harry, most of the items dropping to the ground, a few poppers going off and one firework shooting down the hall, followed by the alarmed screams from students around the corner.

Harry stared between the two of them, waiting for them to laugh and say they were joking, but neither of them did. Turning instead to Percy, he searched the third brother’s face, looking for his thoughts. He trusted Percy to be more serious about something like this, so he was waiting for his opinion. The older brother clearly saw this in Harry’s searching gaze, coughing awkwardly and straightening his posture, looking for the right words to say.

“I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as to say you’re a new member of the family but…” Percy was thinking over his words carefully. “I can’t say I know why, but you seem close with Bill, and my mother did go out of her way to make you one of the jumpers she always makes for our family.” He frowned a bit at this, distaste clear on his face, but moved on. “It wouldn’t be a stretch to say you’re already someone she regards as family, and were you to want to return for another holiday, she would accept you with open arms.” He stopped in his train of thought, before sighing a bit with a shrug. “Consider yourself, at the very least, a good friend of the Weasley’s. You’d always have a home with us if you needed it.”

Harry was stunned. He’d never heard Percy joke around before, but the concept that they would so easily accept him, that they might want to spend time with him or call him family….

“Harry?” Hermione said next to him, holding his hand now. She had kept quiet, letting them talk, not being certain of what they were discussing, but now she spoke up, for what reason Harry couldn’t be certain until he felt the wetness on his face.

Percy seemed surprised, and the twins for once didn’t look to be on the verge of laughing, instead rather concerned at the appearance of tears.

“S-s-sorry….” Harry muttered, ducking his head down, bangs covering his face while he used his free hand to wipe at the tears. “I’m… h-ha-happy…. I th-th-think.”

“Percy’s right you know…” George said, leaning down to catch Harry’s eye. “If you need a home or something, you can come to us anytime.”

Harry didn’t miss the message in his words, and it made his heart pound. He was getting too close. George was much smarter than he let on, and the fact that he was immediately suspecting something made Harry pull back from him, wiggling away from the arm around his shoulder.

“N-n-no, I’m…” He searched for the words, then gave a small smile, hoping it might reassure him. “I’m g-gr-grateful. I d-didn’t exp-expect y-you all to b-be s-s-so n-nice.”

“Hey, you’re friends with Bill,” Fred said with a small laugh, though George still had a calculating, concerned look on his face, studying Harry’s actions carefully. “We have to be nice.”

“Bill’s been through… a lot…” Percy added with a rather sad expression, mirrored by his brothers. “The only people he’s interacted with in a long time are his family, and the other ones that were… there.” Harry had to stop a short laugh from escaping at Percy’s unknowingly ironic statement. “Even then, I don’t think he opens up to anyone. It’s not healthy.”

“You can say that again…” George muttered, and Harry got the sense that Bill blocked everyone out like Harry did. He smiled a bit bitterly at that, almost wanting to call Bill out on his hypocritical attitude. Then again, if he did and Bill opened up more, he’d expect Harry to do the same, so he decided it’d be best not to mention it.

He wanted to talk more about Bill, hoping to learn how his neighbor really had been doing in the last two years, but he was already emotional, and George at least was rather suspicious of how happy his life truly was. It was like they were blindly walking through a mine field and if they stepped in the wrong place, Harry might unconsciously spill a secret he couldn’t have anyone know. He’d have to be patient and careful when discussing Bill. His emotions were frustratingly turbulent on the subjects closely surrounding his friend, and if he reacted strangely to something they said, they might get too suspicious. Percy might not do too much, but he couldn’t know how the twins might react to their suspicions. He knew they wouldn’t accept a simple “I’m fine” if they started investigating.

“Th-thank y-you,” Harry said sincerely, tightening his grip on Hermione’s hand, who squeezed his hand back in return. “I d-didn’t kn-know Bill h-had s-s-such an am-amazing f-fa-family.” Percy seemed rather happy at the praise, while both the twins overreacted in their comical way, giggling like school girls while they waved their hands, saying “oh you” and “stop it, you’re makin’ me blush”. “W-we n-n-need to go f-find a n-new pl-place to st-s-study but… I r-really ap-appreciate it.”

They bid the Weasley’s farewell, and Hermione and Harry moved on down the hallway. It was a dreary, sleepy sort of day, dark clouds outside with a soft rainfall misting the landscape. They walked along with their things, discussing where they might go to. The great hall was full, and since it was raining, finding a nice shady spot outside was out of the question. For the most part, they wandered through the castle, before Harry looked up as a thought passed through his mind.

“H-how about th-the S-Sl-Slytherin co-common r-room?” He offered, and she gave him a startled look.

“What?!” She exclaimed, shocked. “That’s… against the rules, isn’t it?” She was wracking her brain, thinking through all she had read. It must be a rule, however she couldn’t remember reading it anywhere.

“I-is it?” He asked, an eyebrow raised. “I d-don’t re-remember th-that rule.”

“But the common rooms are all guarded,” she protested. “There has to be some reason they’d put passwords and protections in place.” Harry shrugged at her comment, eyebrows furrowed. It wasn’t explicitly stated, so he was inclined to do it anyway, but as they wandered, he caught sight of a trailing green-lined robe down the hallway.

“W-w-we could a-ask,” he said, hurrying forwards and calling to the girl who was making her way to the great hall with her friend. “G-Gemma!”

The prefect slowed her pace, turning to see who had called her, giving Harry, and especially Hermione, a curious look. Vienna stood next to her, a much more pleasant expression on her face, smiling at the two of them.

“Yes?” Gemma asked as Harry and Hermione caught up to them. “Can I help you?”

“I-is it ag-against the r-ru-rules to h-have st-s-students f-from other h-houses in our co-common r-r-room?” He asked, startling Hermione with his forwardness.

“Huh?” She said, momentarily stunned by the question, before she considered it. “Well…” She clearly wanted to say no, but she was struggling to come up with a reason to. There really was no such rule, but the idea of having a Gryffindor in her common room didn’t sit well with her.

“Not that I know of,” Vienna offered helpfully, earning a glare from her friend, to which she replied with a confused “what?”

“No, I don’t think there is…” Gemma sighed, rubbing her forehead in annoyance. She just wanted to get something to eat and get back to studying for her exams, was that too much to ask for?

“S-so He-Hermione cou-could come th-there to st-s-study?” Harry asked, a small triumphant smile on his face. Gemma was frowning deeply now, resembling Snape, and crossed her arms, sighing again at the small first year boy.

“Fine, fine, but if you get loud I’m going to kick the both of you out myself,” she grumbled, then turned her harsh gaze to Hermione. “And I better not see you sneaking in there without him. You’re being invited by a Slytherin, that doesn’t make it your place to tromp around as you please. It’s our home you’re being invited into, so treat it as such; don’t go barging in uninvited, don’t make a mess, and keep it down.” She massaged her temples with a few more grumbles about ridiculous requests and potions tests, before rubbing her face and sighing. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be getting back to fighting sleep and the urge to hurl myself off the astronomy tower.” With that, she turned and hurried down the hall, but Vienna lingered a moment, a bright smile on her face.

“Don’t mind her,” Vienna said, “I think it’s fantastic that you two are getting along. It’s really sweet! She’s just cranky because she’s hungry and tired. You two have fun, and good luck!”

With a wink that confused the two first years, she trotted off after her friend, and Harry turned a rather smug grin to Hermione.

“Oh don’t look so pleased with yourself,” she said, pushing him lightly, but was smiling rather happily. Months ago she would never have imagined seeing the timid, flighty boy smile at her like that. She even got a small laugh out of him, before he gave a “c’mon!” and took her hand, pulling her down the hallway.

The rules, they found rather quickly, weren’t the problem. It was the people that were most difficult to deal with. As they neared the Slytherin common room, passing the others who shared Harry’s house, the odd looks became more frequent, and as they entered, the tension reached its peak.

Not too many were inclined to look up at everyone entering the common room, but those that did immediately stopped their discussions, which quickly caught the attention of those more preoccupied.

They stared, some glaring, some looking confused. The distaste was clear on many of the faces, all directed at Hermione, and by extension, Harry. Harry took her hand more firmly at this and walked his way over to an empty sofa. Hermione, on the other hand, was just trying to keep herself as small as possible while simultaneously being caught by the grand beauty of the Slytherin common room.

A few nearby closed their books and moved away pointedly. Some continued to glare, but Harry glared right back, challenging anyone to question his friend and her right to be there.

Not too far away sat Blaise, Tracey, and Daphne. The three of them seemed to have been studying as well when Harry and Hermione showed up, halting everyone’s progress.

Tracey said something to Daphne and Blaise. Daphne nodded softly, but Blaise’s normally neutral face was now darkening into a deep frown. Tracey said something else, but was cut off by Blaise slamming shut his book and standing. Both girls were startled by this action, even more so as he made his way over to where Harry and Hermione sat.

For the first time since entering, Harry’s determination wavered. For Hermione, he was willing to take any amount of ridicule. Had this been for himself, he would’ve wilted quickly, but his friend was allowed to be here. Blaise, however, Harry thought fondly of, and had been getting close to. Being rejected by him would be difficult, and he braced himself for it.

But the rejection never came. He expected Blaise to say some harsh words, to write him off coldly, to demand he leave, but he never did any of those things. Instead, he sat himself down in the arm chair next to them, leaned back, and opened his book again.

Tracey was frowning now from across the common room, standing and making her way over as well, Daphne trailing awkwardly behind.

“Harry,” she said when she was close enough, something like concern on her face, “she’s a Gryffindor. And a… you know…” She glanced at Hermione, then back to Harry.

“D-do I kn-know?” Harry challenged coolly.

“Yeah, you should at least,” Tracey said, shifting from foot to foot. “She’s a… you know, a…”

“Mudblood,” Blaise said from his seat, looking over the top of his book. Harry and Hermione stared at him, Hermione shrinking back a few inches and Harry feeling his blood begin to boil. “That’s what you wanted to say, right?” There was a challenge in his words.

“Well, yeah, kind of!” Tracey said, exasperated. “You’re one to get all defensive. I’ve heard what you say about mudbloods and blood-traitors.”

“Oh yes, I have my opinions about people, you’re right,” Blaise said, crossing his legs casually. “However…” He glanced over to Harry, and he briefly saw something like uncertainty on Blaise’s face before his expression was unreadable once more. “I am… adaptable. Harry is allowed to associate with whomever he wishes. The least I can do is not harass his other friends.”

Harry couldn’t help but feel a twinge of excitement at the term “other friends”, perhaps a slight slip that meant Blaise viewed himself as one of Harry’s friends, along with Hermione. Tracey, on the other hand, seemed to be grasping for some kind of argument, some articulation of her intense feeling that Hermione shouldn’t be there.

“But… but she’s.. she’s a-“

“I said that word once to prove a point,” Blaise said, his voice suddenly dangerous, and Harry realized he’d never seen Blaise even remotely angry. Annoyed, a bit frustrated, but never angry. Even the slight flash across his gaze was startling, and Harry hoped he’d never see it at full force. “I’m willing to overlook your issue with prioritizing your prejudices over your friends, but if you say that word again I’m not going to react lightly.”

“But!” Tracey said, still floundering. “But you… You use that word all the time! Yesterday, in fact!”

“Yeah, and today I’m not,” Blaise shrugged. “Yesterday Harry didn’t bring a muggle-born into the Slytherin common room.”

“Since when do you change your opinion to please others?” Daphne said, participating in the conversation for the first time. Her gaze was cold and guarded, but Harry could tell with the way her eyes shifted over the group around her that she was having some kind of internal battle. He had known through overhearing conversation that family blood was important to many of the students in Slytherin, but he hadn’t considered it would cause such conflict just being associated with someone not of “pure-blood”. Certainly not with the people he considered friends, and the idea that they were judging Hermione on her parentage alone made his hands shake with frustration and anger.

“S-since wh-when do y-yo-you care m-more about s-so-someone’s fa-family th-than y-your fr-friends?” Harry hissed, glaring at Daphne and Tracey in turn. “I l-l-like sp-s-spending time wi-with y-you both. I en-enjoy talking w-with you. I don’t do it b-be-because of y-your f-family. If s-st-status is the only r-re-reason y-you associate w-wi-with m-me, then p-please l-le-leave.” His voice was wavering now. He didn’t want them to leave. Growing up, he never had friends, and losing them now would be heartbreaking, but having friends only for his status as the boy-who-lived would be worse.

Daphne’s eyes rested on him now. They were a light blue, like ice, and matched her countenance. She was rigid, her stance dignified and face guarded. She was in this stance for a long moment, and Harry feared she might say something in return, knowing how harsh she could be when she wanted to. Then, she sat down on the couch across from him.

Tracey opened her mouth to say something more, seeming like she still wanted to argue, but then stopped herself for once. She glanced around at her friends, a frown on her face, then looked at Hermione, shrunk down in the cushion next to Harry. Finally, she huffed and sat next to Daphne, opening her book.

“Fine, fine, I have a test in twenty minutes I need to study for anyway,” she said with a grumble. “I have yet to change a mouse’s color, let alone turn it into a snuffbox.”

“Oh!” Hermione said, piping up for the first time since stepping into the Slytherin common room. “I know how to do that one!”

The Slytherin’s all turned to her, and she shrank back again, but Harry’s hand was on hers, giving her fingers a small squeeze.

“I, uh… I could help you, if you’d like,” she said, getting only a fraction of her confidence back. Tracey looked her up and down, a sour look on her face.

“She’s g-great at tra-tr-transfiguration,” Harry defended quickly. “She’s r-read the wh-whole b-book alr-already.”

“A few times over, actually,” she muttered sheepishly. Tracey glanced from Harry to Hermione again, then gave a short sigh.

“If it increases my chances of not completely failing this test, then I’ll try anything,” she said.

They studied together, a strange sort of atmosphere taking hold. Harry’s Slytherin friends weren’t exactly welcoming, and he could tell any time she added her thoughts into the conversation, there was a moment’s hesitation. It started out as disgust and annoyance, before transforming into something else. It was like they were fighting against something they had been told all their lives, and Harry didn’t doubt that was at least partially the case. Still, he refused to allow her the moments of hesitation and worry, pushing past their odd stares and forcing the conversation if he had to. He knew he might be damaging his relationship with them, but Hermione wasn’t going to be disrespected while he was there.

Tracey eventually left with Daphne for her Transfiguration class. Blaise, however, stayed. Harry didn’t know why exactly, but he supposed he never knew why Blaise did anything. Why he chose to spend time with people that he often seemed annoyed by, why he’d defend Harry and Hermione despite the opinions he clearly still had, and why he stayed now when he had a free period to do anything he wanted.

He wasn’t studying with them either, just reading his book absently as he often did. They were working on performing nonverbal spells, trying to perfect the technique to cast Lumos silently. Harry knew Blaise would have no real interest in that subject, and for the most part he didn’t, but every few minutes he would pipe up with some bitter joke or even helpful tips laced with sarcasm.

Harry was beginning to understand that he truly held an interest in what his friends were doing and enjoyed their company, but purposely played it down. Why he’d rather pretend to be apathetic over showing his support openly, Harry couldn’t be certain. Blaise didn’t seem to care very much for the opinions of others, but as Harry thought about it, he realized that might be another part of his indifferent persona.

He was thinking on these things when Hermione suddenly waved her hand in his face. He jerked away from the sudden intrusion, heartrate increasing for a moment, but he rather quickly calmed down. She must’ve been trying to get his attention for a short while from the look on her face.

“Harry, it’s six forty-five,” she said, and he stared at her stupidly, a confused expression on his face. “You have a meeting with Professor Snape at seven.”

“Oh.” His heart sank. He didn’t want to go, desperate to do anything else besides sit alone with the dreaded professor and attempt to cast spells. Being late, however, might mean worse, despite that at the moment Harry couldn’t think what that would possibly be.

Walking out of the common room with Hermione, she gave him a soft wish for good luck, and a quick hug. She offered to meet up with him afterwards, but Harry refused, stating that it would be close to curfew anyway. In truth, he didn’t know how terrible it might be, and he didn’t want Hermione to see the worst of him.

Standing alone in the hallway, just in front of the dark dungeon door leading to the man’s office, he attempted to prepare. Perhaps it would be alright, perhaps the man would show a bit of mercy.

Perhaps not.

He knew from the moment he opened the door that it would be terrible. The potions classroom had potions scattered on shelves around the room, but this office somehow multiplied their numbers despite its smaller space. Wall to wall, there were potions, and if it wasn’t potions it was jars of all kinds of unpleasantness from reptile legs to floating eyeballs. Several cauldrons sat on a larger shelf behind the desk, all of different materials. One was set on a side table, filled with a thick liquid, while strange beakers and tubes sat next to it, ready for use.

The potion in the cauldron, however, was only simmering, a large hourglass beside it very slowly draining from top to bottom, likely being the timer for the substance. No, the man Harry dreaded seeing was behind the desk at the back of the room, scribbling on what looked to be student essays, marking the pages completely before pushing them into the pile of other heavily-criticized assignments.

“You’re late,” he said without looking up, and Harry blinked at him, then looked up at the clock sitting proudly behind the Slytherin head’s desk. He was exactly on time.

“N-no I’m n-n-not…” he said softly. The man sneered down at the paper, making a rather harsh mark over an entire paragraph.

“Late, and now arguing with your head of house,” he said dangerously, and Harry’s heartrate picked up.

“I-I’m s-s-sorry, s-si-sir…” Harry stuttered out without thinking. His stomach churned at the familiarity of the sentence and the way it was uttered, the associating memories making him afraid the potion’s master might follow his uncle in preferred punishment. To his relief, the man simply grunted in annoyance and continued writing. Harry let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding, causing the man to frown more deeply.

“Be silent,” he snapped at the slight disturbance. He gave no other warning, but Harry needed none, holding tightly to the edges of his robes as he stood as still as he could. He didn’t dare sit, didn’t dare ask to. He kept his breathing as quiet as he could, and stared at the front of the man’s desk, trying to pretend he wasn’t there.

He was once again struck by memories, and while he tried to push them away, they came more forcefully. Cupboard doors, spider webs, being as silent as possible, pretending he wasn’t there. People were over, and he had to be quiet, but the cuts on his back were stinging terribly and he was certain there was a spider playing on his foot. If he moved to kick it off, the cot would creak, but it was driving him insane. He had two hands over his mouth, staring at the light surrounding the cupboard door, making a silent chant of “quiet, quiet, quiet”. He wasn’t here, he didn’t exist, he had to be quiet. If he wasn’t quiet, the world might know a freak lived there, and his aunt and uncle couldn’t have that. He allowed himself one choked, breathy sob that was nearly inaudible, and then bit down on his hand to keep the rest in. Be quiet.

“Potter.” The sound of his last name jolted him out of his thoughts, and he was disturbed all over again by the appearance of so many potions around him. He was distracted by their presence for much too long, as the man in black stood up, drawing all of the boy’s attention now as he stalked closer. “I have decided to help you, but it appears you are ungrateful, even as I take time out of my schedule to tutor you.”

Harry wanted to say he’d rather have sessions with McGonagall, that Snape didn’t have to have sessions with him at all, that he’d likely be better practicing on his own than with this man, but he voiced none of these thoughts.

“N-n-no s-sir…” He said quietly. “I’m n-n-not un-u-ungr-grateful.” He could hardly get out a single sentence now, his words shaking and broken.

“Then act like it,” Severus snapped, looming over the first year, glaring down at him with unrestrained loathing. From another perspective, it was an atrocious scene, but Severus didn’t see the small boy with a stutter, he saw the boy’s father in every feature but one, and that one was staring at his shoes, hidden by his bangs. He returned to his desk, sitting but not offering the boy a seat, and the boy wouldn’t ask for one. “Let’s begin.”

The session went more horribly than Harry could’ve predicted. Everything he did was incorrect, stabbed and picked at. He was ungrateful, worthless. He would amount to nothing as he was. This man was like a reminder of everything Harry had waiting for him during the summer, and the flood of memories made his stammer worse and nearly made his knees buckle. Hours passed, repeating spells again and again without getting them right once. Severus got up once to stir the pot and add a few more ingredients to the potion after the hourglass emptied, before turning it over again and continuing to simmer the contents. Harry never sat down in the three hours they worked, pulling his robes in closer to himself and staring at the floor or his feet or the bottom of the professor’s desk. He couldn’t look at the walls, or his breathing would become strangled, and he’d feel faint for a few moments. It was too much, his turmoil reflecting in the broken words.

“Win-w-wi-winga-w…” Harry couldn’t say it. His words no longer cooperated with him. He thought he might’ve calmed down over the time standing there, but it just got worse instead of better. His voice was coming out strangled, as though choked from his throat, and his fingers were white and trembling as they grasped against the fabric of his robes.

“Stop,” Severus snapped, annoyance clear on his face as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. “You’re completely hopeless. I doubt you’ll ever be able to cast any decent spells. We’ve wasted enough time, get out of my office.”

Harry was quick to turn to the door, stiffly but hurriedly making his way out. He didn’t need to be told twice.

“I will expect you here next week, at the same time,” the professor said, and Harry stopped with the door halfway open.

“Y-y-yo-you w-wa-want to s-s-see m-me n-ne-next w-we-week?” He asked, dumbfounded. He had just said he was hopeless! What was the point then?

“I certainly hate hearing you attempt to speak coherently,” Snape agreed with the sentiment that it was pointless, grabbing the next essay on his pile, “however, you will be having sessions with me every week. This is nonnegotiable for either of us. Now go.”

Numbly, he made his way out the door and down the hall. He wasn’t sure when he began to run, but by the time he was in the common room he was sprinting. In his room and then in the bathroom, he locked the door before collapsing in the corner, trying to keep his wracking sobs down. His heart was pounding through his ears and his breathing was erratic. He was going to go through this every week.

Draco had been on his bed reading when his roommate rushed in and locked himself in the bathroom. This wasn’t an unusual scene, and a while ago he had resigned himself to leaving his classmate to it, but now he stood up, making his way to the door for the first time in a long while.

He knocked, expecting a harsh response, but Harry couldn’t even muster that. He could hear the sobs that were normally well hidden, meaning something must’ve happened to seriously unhinge him.

“Harry?” He called, no response, just more sobs. He was terrible at this. “Look, I don’t know why you keep having these breakdowns but…” Yeah, he couldn’t do this. “Just open the door. We can talk or… something…”

“N-no.” Harry said from the other side, desperation in his voice, but Draco was caught on the words themselves. He frowned deeply at the denial, frustration flaring up. It probably wasn’t the time for anger, but Harry’s dismissive attitude towards him was always infuriating.

“I’m not going away until you do,” he snapped in return. “You always act like this, like you’re so lonely and sad, but then whenever I try and help you, you act like that’s such a terrible thing.”

“I d-do-don’t w-w-wan-want y-your he-help,” Harry said harshly, hoping the dismissal would make Draco give up on him and leave. Instead, it served to further fuel the boy’s anger.

“Why not?” He hissed back, pounding on the door. “Why do you keep hiding yourself away every time I try and talk to you?!” He tried the doorknob now. “I’ve never done anything to you! I know you’re friends with Blaise and the others, so why am I the one you don’t like?” He had his wand out now. “I was actually trying to be nice to you, but you seem to think I’m not good enough.” A quick unlocking spell and the door gave a soft click. “Just what are you hiding that’s so-”

He flung the door open.

Harry was crouched low in the corner, the soft green light of the room easily illuminating him. He was attempting to push his way backwards into the wall, but that couldn’t hide it. Them. The wings on his back.

They were large, impossible to hide as they were, pushing up his shirt even as he attempted to force the shirt back down over them. Dark feathers crept down the side of his face, down his cheekbone and just below his eyes. His shoes had long since been abandoned as his black talons scraped along the stone floor.

Draco took this all in, then he did again, waiting for his mind to make sense of what he was seeing. He was normally quick witted, always having a cool remark for any situation, a trait he liked to brag about from his father, but he had no response for this.

And Harry just stared back at him from where he was pressing himself into the wall, the tears still fresh on his face but the flow had stopped in his shock. His heart must’ve stopped beating as well, he must’ve stopped breathing, it was all much too quiet. He waited for the moment when he’d wake up from this nightmare and realize it had all been in his mind. That the worst thing that could’ve happened hadn’t actually happened.

He wasn’t waking up.

Chapter Text

Harry grabbed his shoes and shoved past Draco, who gave no resistance. He caught a closer glimpse of the wings as they brushed past him behind Harry, staring at them dumbly. They were real, he could see it, the way they sprouted from his back and how they shifted with his weight while Harry threw his robes over his shoulders and ran from the room.

They were real. But it didn’t make sense.

Magic made nonsensical things make sense, but the pieces Draco had simply weren’t fitting together. Harry had lived with muggles for years, so how did that happen? Was he always like that? Was he born that way, or did something happen before he came to Hogwarts?

The questions burned in Draco’s mind, but as he struggled to untangle the mass of confusion, he felt one tiny piece of satisfaction.

This explained a lot.

Harry, meanwhile, was a mess of panicked thoughts and emotions. He kept close to the walls, avoiding as many people as he could, keeping his dark robes close to his body, but the fear boiling over was making it difficult to focus on stealth. Everything felt like it was falling apart. His legs were weak, his thoughts sporadic. He struggled to keep himself focused on just going up the less used stairwells.

Finding himself on a much higher floor than he intended, he changed course, rushing down the hall and keeping his head down. It was getting late, and the curfew was drawing near, so he ran into few people, but those he did rush past gave him odd looks with his hooded shape. He just hoped he had been thorough in keeping himself covered.

Finding the familiar, small spiral staircase and throwing open the door on top, he was at least grateful to see the astronomy tower deserted. That small bit of relief, however, wasn’t enough to calm himself as Avice gained more control of their shared body, Harry in too much of a state to stop her.

Gritting his teeth, he pulled the robe and the shirt from his body, kicking his shoes off once more and gave in to her will.

Scooping up the clothes, she wasted no time in throwing herself into the air from the tower, gliding easily through the cool spring night, but she wasn’t remotely as calm as the air seemed. The lack of separation between her mind and the boy’s meant she felt nearly as panicked as he did, though it was much more irrational from her side. This bleeding sense of fear and horror had no name, so she flew to the first place she could think of.

Throwing the clothes haphazardly in the nearest tree, she nearly collapsed at the doorstep of Hagrid’s hut, wasting no time in digging her talons into the wooden door, her voice coming out in a strangled caw.

It wasn’t long before the large man opened the door, smiling at first to greet his feathered friend, but the smile dropped when he saw the panic written all over her.

Her feathers were ruffled, and she crouched low, head constantly searching for a danger she couldn’t name. This intense fear, gut-wrenching and controlling her better judgement, was new to her. She didn’t think Hagrid could help, but she knew she had to do something in hopes of alleviating this suffocating terror.

Hagrid immediately dropped to his knee, his hands outstretched but she flinched back from them, so he made no further attempt at contact. He hushed her softly, keeping his voice gentle and warm.

“Hey there, yer safe here,” he said, glancing around, trying to find the source of what had frightened her so badly. In all the time he’d been around this raven creature, he’d never seen her like this. He’d seen her startle a few times, but her attitude always seemed to have some level of confidence. Now she was twitching with nerves, her head constantly moving despite that she seemed uncertain of where the danger was. “Do yeh wanna come inside? I could get yeh water or somethin’.”

She stood, unsure, outside the hut. On one hand, she trusted Hagrid and enjoyed his company. On the other, she didn’t know if being restrained within the hut’s walls was the best decision at that moment.

Eventually, she stepped back, not wanting to leave the freedom, but not leaving Hagrid yet. He scratched his beard, trying to discern the source of her fear, before nodding.

“Alrigh’,” he said, stepping outside and sitting on the porch with the large creature. “I don’ know what got yeh so spooked, but if yeh’d be wantin’ my company, I’ll gladly give it.”

He didn’t know how he might help, if he could help, but she had come to him to try and ease her panic, so he’d offer what he could. It wasn’t enough to calm what was burning under the surface, where Harry felt as though he were collapsing with the pure fear and destruction his mind was creating, but it was enough to tide her through the night, even when Hagrid dozed in his chair and Fang moved himself to sleeping next to his master.

Harry didn’t return for the weekend.

Draco thought about going to someone, but how could he possibly explain something like this? Who could he tell anyway? And what would happen to Harry if he did?

He wasn’t especially surprised when Harry didn’t return the next day, but that raised a whole host of new issues.

A few well-placed pillows, and a quick excuse that Harry wasn’t feeling well was good enough for the prefects. Blaise was a bit harder to convince.

“Didn’t want to go to the nurse,” Draco said with a shrug, trying to subtly block the door from Blaise’s path in hopes he wouldn’t be inclined to open it. “It was a bit bizarre of him, I suppose. Must be a muggle thing. He’s asleep though, probably best not to wake him.”

Blaise gave him a piercing sort of gaze. Dangerous, but unreadable. What he had on his mind was a mystery to Draco, but if Blaise didn’t believe him, he didn’t say so as he sniffed subtly and walked down the hall to his room again.

Draco didn’t leave his room that weekend for more than a quick meal. By Sunday, he felt paranoid. He was invested in this lie now, going so far as to bring meals back to his room, “for Harry”. He’d told everyone who asked that Harry was sick, and if anyone went to “check on him”, he’d be caught as a liar. Then he’d have to explain about Harry’s whereabouts and why he was covering for him, both answers he didn’t know.

So caught up in his thoughts, he nearly jumped out of his skin when a hand grabbed his arm gently.

“You’re Harry’s roommate right?” A voice said, and he whipped around to see Hermione. Mudblood, Gryffindor. Before he had fully registered her words, a sneer was on his face and his dignified posture was back. He’d seen her with Harry plenty of times (who hadn’t? That was all some Slytherins seemed to talk about), so he knew they were friends, but that didn’t mean he had to like or tolerate her.

“What’s it to you?” He spat, pulling his arm roughly from her grip. She looked startled, then irritated, arms crossing over her chest.

“I haven’t seen him, that’s all,” she snapped back. “He had a meeting with Professor Snape on Friday and I didn’t get to speak with him afterwards. I was worried about him.” That would explain the emotional meltdown Friday night…

“Excuse me if I don’t keep track of him every second of the day,” Draco hissed. “In case you hadn’t noticed, he tends to run off during the weekends.”

“Blaise said you told him he was sick in his room.”

Damn it, Blaise.

“You certainly get around to all the Slytherin boys.” Her face turned red, but if it was from anger or embarrassment, he couldn’t be sure. “Yeah, he’s probably in our room. Mystery solved. Leave me alone.” With that, he began to walk away, ignoring her as she called out to him, brushing off her helpful suggestions to relay to Harry as though they meant nothing to him.

When he got back and Harry still hadn’t returned, he was beginning to fear for what might happen if Harry didn’t come back at all.

Perhaps his barging in had caused him to run off for good. Maybe he’d gone to the forbidden forest and something had gotten to him. Maybe he should’ve gone to a teacher from the beginning instead of hoping he’d come back and not expecting the probability that he never would.

He was already coming up with a plan to go to Professor Snape by the next morning, trying to think of how to describe what he saw and what happened, when he saw Harry in the Great Hall, sitting with Blaise, Tracey, and Daphne like nothing happened. He looked incredibly tired and disheveled, which made Draco’s excuse that he had been sick work in his favor. His nonchalant appearance, however, almost made Draco regret lying for him.

Tracey was chatting his ear off, but he didn’t seem to be listening. He was staring at Draco. His expression was dark, like he was resigned to whatever Draco had planned with his secret. The fact that Draco knew… whatever it was he now knew about Harry seemed to be devastating in itself. When their eyes locked, Harry’s gaze fell to the table, and that’s where it stayed for the remainder of the meal.

From where he sat, Harry knew Draco had continued staring at him, could feel his eyes boring into him. He didn’t look up, hardly acknowledged his friends. He hadn’t slept more than an hour at a time that weekend, terrified of what Draco could do with the information he had.

He hadn’t heard any strange rumors, though flat-out telling people about Harry’s secret would make Draco look ridiculous without proof, and he doubted Draco would do something like that without thinking. To his surprise, he wasn’t approached about his absences at curfew, and had his friends asking him if he felt better. It seemed like Draco had covered for him, but why Draco did that, he wasn’t sure.

He had theories though. Draco might be preparing to use this as some kind of blackmail. Harry actually almost hoped that was the only thing, that Draco wouldn’t take it to anyone if Harry did what he asked. He could deal with unfair treatment, being at someone’s beck and call, taking someone’s abuse for the sake of keeping what Draco knew between them. But he didn’t know Draco, so as classes began he immediately avoided him.

If there was one thing he knew how to do, it was avoid someone. Over the school year, he had learned plenty of secret halls and passages that led him to where he wanted to go without running into people, but beyond that he had learned in his travels how to move through a crowd unseen, and with the Dursley’s, he had become an expert at being invisible.

He made certain to get to all his classes just before it began so as not to give Draco time to corner him. Then, he was the first to leave, and before Draco could catch up with him, he had slipped off into some narrow hallway or back stairwell and was gone.

In fact, it worked through that first Monday, for the most part. After classes ended, he studied in the common room with Hermione again (falling asleep on the sofa after about fifteen minutes), and snuck out after curfew. The prefect Nathan Grayes, who had woken him up from where he slept and told him to go to bed, was more than happy to accept a quick “okay, let me grab my books” and left him to it, not thinking he’d leave instead of going to his room.

The next day didn’t go so smoothly.

Draco was getting impatient with Harry. He could see it there when Harry ducked into the crowd leaving the great hall, narrowly avoiding Draco as the blond boy strode quickly towards him.

He knew he couldn’t avoid Draco forever, that he’d eventually catch up to him, but putting that confrontation off was all he could think about, hoping that maybe with the extra time he might come up with a possible way to fix the situation. It wasn’t working, he still had no clue what to do, but that was the excuse he gave himself.

Charms was almost over, the last class of the day before he could find Hermione and stick with her so Draco couldn’t get him alone. There was about ten minutes left in class when Professor Flitwick suddenly called for his students to pair up. It was a last-minute exercise where the students were to practice and critique one another on their wand movements.

Before Harry could move to find absolutely anyone that might be available to pair up with him, Draco was there sitting next to him, an irritated but determined look on his face.

“Excellent, Draco,” the professor said before Harry could move to find a different partner, making his way over to them with a large smile on his face, seeming ecstatic that Draco had moved so quickly to sit with Harry. “I love seeing young witches and wizards stepping up to help their classmates.”

“Gr-great…” Harry muttered under his breath, but his face was pale as he turned to Draco, unable to concentrate on even pretending to do the exercise. Draco hadn’t come over to practice, he knew that much.

“I need to talk to you,” Draco said quietly, his wand out. Harry knew it was so they looked like they were working, but it was making his anxiety mount higher and higher. “You can’t keep avoiding me.”

“I c-co-could,” Harry said quietly. “I c-can s-st-stay out of y-your w-w-way. Y-you don’t n-n-need to e-even know I’m h-here.” Draco gave him a curious look, an eyebrow raised.

“That’s not what I want,” he said, keeping his voice low, and Harry tensed. What did he want then? The list of possibilities was endless. “I just want to talk. I have… questions.” Harry could feel his heart pounding now.

“I d-do-don’t ha-have an-answers. I d-don’t kn-know e-ev-everything e-either. Pl-please ju-just… fo-forget wh-what y-yo-you s-saw.” Draco snorted, and Harry flinched.

“I doubt that’ll happen. Especially after you just disappeared like that. I stuck my neck out for you to make sure no one knew you were gone. The least you can do is give me an explanation.”

“I c-ca-can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I j-ju-just c-ca-can’t.”

“Can you at least tell me why?” Draco was close now, their voices low, but Harry was having difficulty breathing.

“Pl-ple-please j-just l-le-leave m-me alo-alone…”

“You can’t just keep running off. Someone’ll find out eventually, and what am I supposed to tell them?”

“N-no-nothing.”

“I’ll have to say something, I’ve been lying for you all weekend. So why can’t you just tell me-“ Harry stood up abruptly, catching the professors attention with the quickness of his actions.

“S-si-sir I ha-h-have to g-go to th-the n-nu-nurse…” He choked out, a hand grabbing at his shirt, feeling his heart, almost worried it was fit to burst. His pale face and tired, disheveled appearance certainly helped his case.

“O-of course!” The professor said, startled. Whether it was because the boy was close at hand, because he had already finished with the exercise, or because of the bright red hair, he turned to Ron. “Mr. Weasley, could you please escort Mr. Potter to the nurse?”

Ron’s eyes locked with Harry, his bored expression turning sour but he stood up anyway and nodded, moving towards the door with Harry hesitating next to Draco. Slowly, he made his way out of the room after the taller boy, trying to keep himself together.

They walked through the empty halls. It was silent for a long while, but then Ron spoke.

“You don’t actually need to go to the nurse, do you.” It wasn’t a question.

“N-no…” he admitted softly, and Ron gave a huff of annoyance.

“Of course not.” Harry followed him, noting that they weren’t going towards the nurse at all. “You have to be so bloody special all the time. Can’t stay out of the spotlight for one second can you.”

“Th-that’s n-not-“

Ron turned around quickly, startling Harry with the suddenness of the action, stalking closer to him. Harry should’ve been paying more attention, this hall was much more secluded than the rest, narrow and running behind several classrooms. Not many students walked down this hall, and they had at least a few minutes before class ended anyway. No one would be around to help him.

“Why are you friends with him?” Ron snapped, a few inches from Harry’s face. Harry blinked, then furrowed his brows.

“Wh-who?” He asked slowly, attempting to keep his voice steady and neutral. Ron scowled, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Bill. When did you two meet? I don’t remember seeing you anywhere before now, but he acts like you’re his best friend. When did that happen?” Harry’s face paled considerably, but he attempted to brush off the question.

“N-no-none of y-your bu-busin-.”

Ron shoved him backwards, and he slammed into the wall roughly, managing to avoid hitting his head but briefly having the wind knocked out of him.

“I know you’re lying! I was the one that was nice to you on the train, but you won’t give me the time of day! Then I find out that you’re supposedly good friends with my oldest brother, who doesn’t even go to Hogwarts anymore, and now you’ve got my whole family in this ridiculous trance? I’m supposed to believe that? How do you know him?” Ron was much too close for comfort, and Harry leaned back against the wall, looking for an opportunity to run.

“I t-to-told y-you be-before; w-we m-met y-years ago a-and he h-he-helped m-m-me out. I d-di-didn’t h-hear fr-f-from him u-until I s-se-sent him a l-le-letter wh-whe-when s-school b-began.”

“You must think I’m really stupid if you think I’d believe that.” Class was ending, Harry could hear the footsteps. If someone just happened to walk down this hall he’d be safe, but Ron knew this too, and wasn’t about to wait around for someone to find them. He grabbed Harry by the collar firmly, a deep scowl on his face, but what froze Harry’s blood was that he now had his wand out, pointing it at Harry. “I know something weird’s going on. You don’t just happen to be friends with Bill, there’s no reason you should even know him.”

“W-we….” Harry was grasping for an excuse, his eyes pinned to Ron’s wand that was inches from his face. “I-I…” His voice was failing him. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t move.

“You must think you’re really special,” Ron hissed. “You’ve got my family talking about you like you’re the best thing that’s come into our home, but I know you’re hiding something. You’d better tell me or-“

Flipendo!” A shout from the end of the hall and a flash of light sent Ron and Harry both flying across the floor. Ron’s shoulder hit the ground hard as he landed and he gave a sharp cry, the momentum sending him rolling five feet further. Harry was slammed back into the wall again, this time not saving his head from slamming into it before he toppled to the ground, the hall now seeming to be spinning.

“Damn it,” came a low curse from above Harry, and he felt a hand on his shoulder. Glancing up, he saw Ron attempting to recover, and then he saw Draco, kneeling over him with his wand out, an irritated look on his face, though the irritation was directed at the ginger.

“What the bloody hell, Malfoy?” Ron snapped, recovering his wand and standing up. From how he stood, it was clear his shoulder was injured.

“I should ask you that,” Malfoy snapped back, standing up, his wand pointing at the ginger, who was pointing his in return.

They were still for a moment, daring each other to make the first move, when suddenly Ron got a strange look on his face and lowered his wand. Harry could see Draco’s eyebrow raise, not trusting this change.

Expelliarmus!” Draco’s wand flew from his hand and he turned to face the offender, his expression immediately dropping from an angry scowl to a guarded frown at the sight of Professor McGonagall, the witch striding quickly down the hall. “What on earth are you all doing?!”

“Malfoy used a jinx on me,” Ron said immediately, shooting Draco a smug sort of look as McGonagall turned her attention to the Slytherin in question, and Draco glared right back while he helped Harry to his feet.

The witch stared hard at Draco, seeming to be asking for a response, but he gave no denial of what was, on the surface, a true statement. That didn’t mean he was going to look ashamed about it. She gave a frustrated huff.

“All three of you, to the nurse,” she snapped, giving them no time to protest or even think to while she pushed them forwards.

Madam Pomfrey was quick with Ron as McGonagall sent word to Snape. His shoulder, dislocated, was immediately set in place once more, and he was wrapped in a sling, given a strange potion, and sent to the nearby empty bed.

Harry was much more difficult. His head was pounding, but when she approached, he stepped backwards.

“I’m f-fe-feeling f-fine, th-tha-thanks,” he muttered, half hiding behind Professor McGonagall, who was a very poor shield as she moved out of the way. Madam Pomfrey huffed and crossed her arms.

“I heard a rumor that you’ve been avoiding me, Mr. Potter,” she said, and he gave a slight grimace. He wanted to smile and laugh at her small joke, but his heart was pounding, and when she took out her wand and pointed it at him, he subtly flinched back. “I’m just doing a diagnosis.”

It was quick, he felt nothing but a slight tingling in his nose, and he prayed she’d let him go. It was Avice’s night for one, but mostly he knew the nurse would make him drink some kind of potion, which likely would not go over well.

“Mild bruising on the back of the head…” she muttered, looking at Harry. He felt uncomfortable, the look reminding him too much of the look the scientists had given him when they did similar diagnoses. She looked like she was debating with herself, a frown etched onto her aged face, before she sighed. “Very well, Mr. Potter, I’ll give you a potion for that headache, and then you can leave.”

“First we must discuss the matter of punishment,” a droning voice said, Professor Snape stalking over, a distasteful look already directed at Harry, taking a stance next to the Gryffindor house head, who crossed her arms sternly.

“Care to explain?” She asked, staring firmly at the three.

“Ron was threatening Harry,” Draco said quickly before Ron could butt in first.

“Draco hit me with a knock-back jinx!” Ron was quick to bring up again, sitting up in the bed.

“Because you had a wand pointed at my roommate.” Draco was glaring at him.

“We were just talking.”

“Is that what you call it? Seemed rather savage to me.”

“You’re one to talk, Malfoy.”

Enough!” McGonagall rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Mr. Potter, do you have anything to add?”

Harry opened his mouth to speak, closed it, then opened it again.

“R-Ron… w-was p-pointing his w-wand at me whe-when Dr-Draco used the kn-knock-b-back sp-s-spell,” he said honestly.

“And this spell hit you as well?” She asked, putting the scene together. Harry nodded.

“I didn’t mean to hit you, Harry,” Draco said, and Harry glanced at him, confused by why he would need to defend himself on that. Draco had probably saved him some amount of unpleasantness, why was he worried about if Harry knew it was an accident or not?

“Regardless, proper punishment must be given,” Snape spoke up, glaring at Harry, already holding him accountable for disrupting his day. “Three weeks detention for all three of you sounds appropriate.”

“Mr. Weasley and Mr. Malfoy, perhaps,” McGonagall agreed, looking startled at her colleague, “however, Harry seems to be an innocent bystander on both accounts.”

“Despite this, he did nothing to stop or aid in the situation itself,” Severus sneered. “He very well might have instigated the entire thing.”

“Neither account brought up anything of the sort,” the elder witch said, appalled by his behavior. Her eyes narrowed and her voice dropped as something in her mind clicked. “It seems to me more like you want an excuse to punish the boy.”

“I’m just being certain no guilty party gets away without punishment,” Professor Snape said, but there was an edge to his voice as he glared at Minerva.

“Goodness, can’t we discuss this civilly?” A gentle voice came from behind the two house heads, making them both turn. The headmaster approached as though coming from nowhere, immediately halting all further argument.

“We have things under control,” Snape said, an annoyed look on his face at the old man’s interference.

“If your bickering was any indication, I’d say not,” Dumbledore responded, a kind look on his face nonetheless. “Though I would agree, perhaps detention for the three of them would be best.” He raised a hand to stop McGonagall from protesting, which she seemed about to. “I mean to say, the three of them serving detention together might give them the chance to work out whatever problems have arisen. Wouldn’t you agree?”

She wanted to object, but thinking it over, it was sound logic. She sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose beneath her glasses. “Very well…” She muttered, then stared hard at her brooding colleague. “They will be serving detention with me for the next three weeks.” She turned to the two Slytherins, inching towards the door, and the one grumpy Weasley in his bed, looking incredibly put-off that his plan failed, he had detention, and had to heal a dislocated shoulder. Harry knew this would come back to him again. “You three, I expect to see you every day after dinner at seven in my office. Harry, you’re exempt from Fridays for your speech lessons, but I expect you there every other day.” She rubbed the bridge of her nose again, and muttered something along the lines of “heaven knows lessons with Severus must be punishment enough”.

“Wonderful, it seems we’ve reached an agreement!” Dumbledore said, a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face. “Now, we shouldn’t keep you any longer. I’m certain Severus has many things he’d rather like to be doing.”

It was a joke, but it was true. The potions master gave a haughty sniff and stalked out, wasting no more time there. Harry and Draco were once again moving towards the door. Harry wanted to leave before the nurse remembered she was going to give him a potion, and Draco was following Harry, not willing to let him out of his sight.

“Harry, my boy,” the headmaster turned to the first year, who froze, “would you grant me a stroll through the castle? I won’t take up much of your time, I just wanted to speak with you.”

Harry wanted to say no, he didn’t know this man and didn’t know what to expect, but he couldn’t refuse. He nodded.

“You’d better come back to the dorm right after though,” Draco muttered, intending for only Harry to hear, but the headmaster caught it and gave a chuckle.

“Don’t worry, Draco, your housemate will see you there,” Dumbledore said with another kind smile. Draco didn’t fully believe his statement, but he looked firmly at Harry, his expression promising to track him down if he kept avoiding him after this.

They stepped outside, Draco going off towards the dungeons, and Harry awkwardly following the headmaster as he wandered the halls. He didn’t immediately speak, and Harry didn’t want to break the silence anyway. The headmaster was, to Harry, a stranger, and he waited patiently to see what he wanted.

“Are you enjoying your classes?” The elderly wizard asked, and Harry glanced over, trying to decipher his expression. He had a calm, warm, accepting sort of smile on his face. He weighed his response carefully, and opted to be truthful.

“Y-yes,” he said, but that didn’t feel like enough. “Th-they’re d-di-diffic-cult s-sometimes th-though…” The headmaster chuckled softly.

“Yes, I remember the same,” he said, his hands clasped behind his back as they strolled, going past the courtyard, past the towers, in no particular direction. “I imagine though your stammer is making things a bit more difficult. Minerva tells me you’ve been practicing learning nonverbal spells in order to combat this?”

“W-we haven’t b-been s-successful y-yet,” Harry said with a shrug. “H-Her-Hermione’s been helping m-m-me.”

“Nonverbal spells require much more patience and practice,” the headmaster said, nodding. “Especially considering you’ve cast very few spells previously. Starting at learning spells nonverbally is not for the faint of heart. Your determination is admirable.”

Harry ducked his head down, heart pounding. What was this? What motive did this man have? He had to have some motive for being so nice to him. Adults didn’t just walk with him and compliment him unless there was a reason for it, but for the life of him Harry couldn’t figure it out.

“Did you have a pleasant holiday?” He asked, moving on despite Harry’s fear, seeming not to mind how Harry fretted over the source of his kindness. Harry took much longer to answer, trying to decipher what the man had to gain from his response.

“It… w-was the best Chr-Christmas I e-ever had…” he said softly, glancing up at the headmaster, trying to see what he thought about Harry’s honest answer.

“That’s wonderful,” he said, his smile widening. “I hope you got everything you wanted.” Harry wanted to say he didn’t want anything for Christmas, that he had been so happy to get something from his friends, he hadn’t cared what it was they gave him, but the conversation was uncomfortably focused on Harry.

“D-did you, s-sir?” Harry asked, raising his chin a bit more to see his the much taller wizard’s face better, before he elaborated his question a bit more. “Get what y-you w-wa-wanted, I m-mean?” Dumbledore seemed genuinely surprised for a moment, and then incredibly pleased by the question.

“I must admit, I didn’t,” he said truthfully. “I didn’t get a single pair of socks this year. Everyone always insists on getting me books. One can never have too many socks.”

Harry was staring at him now, so caught up by the strangeness of this entire conversation that he didn’t realize they were back at the dungeons, just in front of the wall leading to the Slytherin common room.

“Well, here I must leave you,” the headmaster said, turning to him briefly. “Thank you very much for this pleasant conversation.”

With that, he turned away, and Harry numbly turned to the wall, ready to say the password, but it all didn’t make sense. What had the man wanted from him? What was that conversation about? He turned around to ask, but the man was already gone.

He debated briefly on if he wanted to face Draco at all. He wanted to run and hide again, but if he intended on continuing to attend classes, he couldn’t avoid Draco forever. So, taking a deep breath and building up what courage he had, he went to their room.

Draco looked up when he entered. He wanted to hide the relief in his face with a neutral look, but he failed to.

“You came back,” he said, releasing a breath he didn’t know he had been holding.

Harry shrugged. He didn’t know what to say, or how to react. Slowly, he moved to his bed and sat down on it, not looking up at Draco. Draco wanted to talk, and he resigned to what he wanted to say or do. Despite wanting to immediately spill the questions burning in his mind, he saw this and thought his approach over once more. He reached under his bed and pulled a box out from under it.

“Do you want to play chess?”

Harry blinked, slowly looking up at Draco. It was the chess set he’d gotten him for Christmas but… Draco wanted to play chess with him? He stared at him, then raised an eyebrow.

“I d-don’t kn-know ho-how,” he admitted. Draco gave him a surprised look.

“What, you’ve never played?” He said incredulously. Harry shook his head, and he gave a short laugh, but stopped his sarcastic remark when he saw Harry begin to shut down again. Right, be nice Draco. He gave what was supposed to be a kind smile, but came out more as an awkward grimace. “Eh… I can show you if you’d like?”

Harry looked at the face he was making, seeing the strain at making something of a kind look. Cautiously, he made his way over to Draco’s bed where the boy began setting up the chess game. He stood hesitantly, then sat across from him.

Draco explained the rules to him and Harry listened intently. It didn’t fully make sense, but he thought he picked a nice-looking set at least. They looked like they were cut from actual crystals, roughly carved into their appropriate shape. Draco’s side was a milky white at the bottom, fading into a translucent, shimmering color at the top, while Harry’s pieces on the other side were a dark black at the bottom, and equally translucent at the top.

Then Draco made the first move, and suddenly the colors weren’t stagnant anymore. In the translucent part of the crystal pieces, there was a flurry of colors. On Draco’s side, it was dominated by orange with a few spots of green and teal and red, sparking and fading, swimming through the pieces like ink in water, except it was as though it were alive, moving from one side of the line to the other. They weren’t exceptionally saturated, all a small bit dulled, though some would spark brightly and then fade, likely showing the intensity of each emotion.

Harry’s side was much brighter and more turbulent. Like a fireworks show, the colors came and went, coming one after the other, overlapping and overtaking each other. Purple, blue, green, blue, green, orange, green, purple, blue, green. As he saw this, a few sparks of teal awoke, which were overcome by the green and the blue again.

“Wh-what do the colo-colors m-mean?” He asked, glancing up at Draco. Back in the box, he pulled out a silver card with shimmering letters that changed colors at different angles. This was his answer.

It was simple, giving a short list of colors and descriptions, prefaced by a note that read “the colors and combinations thereof, as well as the subject of these emotions, may mean a great deal of things, but that would be quite a lot to read, and be rather difficult to fit on a single card”.

Red: Anger, frustration, impatience

Orange: excitement, determination

Yellow: Happiness, joy, amusement

Green: fear, anxiety, uncertainty

Teal: surprise, awe, curiosity

Blue: sadness, loneliness, regret

Purple: Disgust, hatred

Pink: love, pining, appreciation

Grey: boredom

“Oh.” More green, a few shots of teal, purple, green again. Mostly green.

“It’s your move,” Draco said, interrupting his thoughts. His voice was neutral, and his emotions were largely muted sparks of oranges.

They played. Harry was terrible, as he expected, but Draco did his best to never show his frustration (though the pieces certainly did at times). He kept forgetting what the pieces could do, asking question after question until Draco easily put him in check mate.

They played again. Draco didn’t ask him anything for a long time, not until they had played well into the evening and Harry had become more comfortable with the pieces. His colors even began turning from purples and greens, to oranges and something almost like yellow, though incredibly subdued and drowned by the other colors. Red, however, was steadily becoming a common spark from Draco’s side.

“Are they real?” Draco blurted out, startling Harry into knocking over a few pieces of his own, which were becoming clouded by green and purple once more, meshing into a dark, disgusting color. Draco’s pieces were turning blue, but also teal and orange. Harry cleared his throat.

“W-would y-you b-believe me if I told y-you n-no?” He asked. A spark of yellow amusement from Draco.

“No,” he admitted, a small smirk on his face, but it dropped as soon as it came. “It’s just… you hide them really well. It’s like they’re not there. I keep thinking I dreamt about them or… something of the sort.”

“I w-wish…” Blue, green, purple, purple, purple.

“Yeah…” Draco fell silent awkwardly for a moment. Orange, teal, and red were becoming common colors for his side. Finally, he sighed. “Can I… see them?”

Harry wanted to say no. He’d never voluntarily revealed his… abnormalities. But Draco knew, had seen. There was no reason to keep this hidden to him.

Slowly, he pulled his shirt over his head, keeping his arms in it and hugging his knees to his chest, ready to put the shirt back on as soon as he could. His wings, much smaller than Draco had last seen them, stretched out. Each was only about a foot or two now, giving him a good glimpse of them before pulling back and nestling against his shoulder blades again.

There was nothing but green and, especially, purple on his side.

Meanwhile, Draco’s side was covered in suddenly bright teals and oranges, but neither noticed these changes in color as Draco moved the board aside and scooted himself closer to see.

“Wow,” he said, unable to keep down his awe as he leaned to the side, hoping to get a better look. Taking a deep breath, Harry turned a bit more so Draco had a better view, stretching them out again, embarrassment now covering his face. He hated being looked at like some kind of specimen. It made him sick and his heartrate was picking up. “Can I touch them?”

“S-s-su-sure,” Harry said, though he didn’t know why he said yes. Draco gently touched the inside of the wings, and they flinched back slightly. No one besides himself had ever touched his wings before, and as Draco slowly threaded his fingers through the feathers, Harry couldn’t be sure what he thought of it. It was somewhere between unnerving and almost comforting.

Draco’s curiosity was eating at him, a million questions on his mind. He watched them move, fingers trailing to the base of them, but that’s when he noticed for the first time the state Harry’s skin was in. The wings made it rather difficult to focus on anything else, but as his gaze trailed from their tips to the where they connected to the rest of him, he found something much more shocking and concerning that made him pull his hand away.

Scars were so intensely common over his skin, specifically focused on his back. Slightly raised, jagged scars, some shallow, some deep, a few years old, crisscrossed over his spine. There were dozens, over and over again, but those weren’t the only ones. There were other scars too, precise scars, straight cuts down his ribs, over his shoulders. Scars that looked a few years newer than the erratic ones, meticulously made. Clinically made. Over his hip, up his side and ending below his ribs was a strange scar, looking like the skin had become deformed, bunching in odd places, uneven and lumpy.

Before he could discover much more, Harry turned back around, scooting subtly away from him. Movement caught Draco’s eyes and he saw that the chess set was still lighting up, the only two colors overtaking Harry’s side being green and purple. Fear, anxiety, hatred, disgust. Hatred and disgust at himself, most likely.

“Wh-what a-are y-yo-you s-staring at?” He asked, hugging his arms tightly. His knuckles were white and Draco got the sense that he might bruise himself. He was absolutely terrified of what Draco might say or think when it came to his wings, and Draco’s startled, sickened look wasn’t comforting.

“Nothing, I just…” The scars were a couple years old at least, and there was a lot Harry was already terrified about, so he decided not to mention it, instead talking about the wings. Draco gave a small, weak half-smile. “I think they’re really interesting.” Dumb response, not a good descriptor word, try again. “I mean… they’re beautiful.”

Harry stared at him, his face turning red at the response, but he felt warm. No one had said such a word when talking about him. He’d never thought of his freakishness as anything but that, however Draco seemed fascinated and awestruck.

It is rather nice to be called beautiful, yes, Harry thought to himself, and while he wasn’t sure if it was from Avice or himself, he felt a spark of amusement.

“I must ask, though, they were bigger when I last saw them,” Draco commented. “And you had feathers on your face, and your… legs…”

“Th-they’re st-still there,” Harry said, pulling his feet up and slipping off his shoes, stretching out the long talons, before pulling back his hair to show him the small patches of feathers above either ear. “It’s hard to de-describe, b-but I c-can m-ma-make them bigger or s-smaller. M-most of th-the t-ti-time, at l-least…”

Extending his wings out, they began to stretch further with a rustling sound as the feathers smoothly stretched over one another. They were longer, the feathers larger, until the wings were at least five feet each, maybe more. The feathers around his face dipped down further, spreading along his cheek bone once more, down the back of his neck, creating a line that traced his spine down to where his wings sprouted from his back.

The much larger wings stretched out, able to touch each wall, before they nestled down into his shoulders once more, the tips of the feathers pressing into the bed. Harry stared at Draco, watching for his reaction. Draco’s eyes widened, blinking at the dark shape in awe. They were majestic, to say the least.

“Can you fly?” He asked, questions burning again. Harry nodded softly. “Is that the biggest they get?” Harry nodded again. “Does it hurt?” Harry shrugged.

“S-so-sometimes…” He muttered. “N-not now… If I g-get p-pa-panicked or s-sc-scared, I can l-lo-lose control and th-they c-can stretch out on the-their o-own. Th-that hur-hurts.”

“And that’s why you lock yourself in the bathroom,” Draco said, understanding as he put it together.

“I c-can’t al-always c-co-control it…” Harry nodded. “It’s l-li-like… M-my body isn’t m-my own… It s-st-starts to ch-change and I c-ca-can’t s-stop it…”

“Huh…” Draco hummed, nodding. He’d never heard of anything like this. Whatever this was, it was very old. He’d have to ask his father more, as he got the feeling Harry didn’t know very much anyway. He did have one question though… “Is that why you avoided me?”

Harry raised his eyebrow, finding the question a bit strange compared to the others. He nodded, and then it clicked. Draco had been worried Harry disliked him. He had all that time thought Harry had been cold and secluded from him for no reason. Harry had associated with others, but he’d brushed Draco off. This discovery, to Draco, meant Harry didn’t hate him, and suddenly Harry found himself laughing.

“What?” He asked, offended by this response. “What’s so funny?”

“Th-this wh-whole time, y-you were w-worried about if I h-hated y-yo-you or n-not,” Harry said, his laughter calming down and a small smile on his face.

“Of course not,” Draco said, but the red tint of his cheeks betrayed him.

“I th-thought y-you wo-would be dis-disgusted by me. Th-that you w-w-would th-think I’m a… a fr-freak or s-something…” Harry’s smile was bitter now, and he turned his gaze on the sheet covering Draco’s bed, picking at a loose seam.

Draco stared at him and opened his mouth to say something, but then stopped and stood up, grabbing from his desk a small but familiar-looking emerald green snake brooch.

“I wear this on the inside of my robe above my wand pocket every day. Slytherins look after each other, right? That’s all…” He gave a shrug, trying to play the act off. Harry got the sense that it was the same sort of thing Blaise did, and was touched, looking at Draco once more. They locked eyes before Draco huffed, annoyed by the awkwardness of the situation. “Are we going to finish our match yet?”

Returning to the chess game, Harry began to put his shirt back over his wings, but after a pause, he left it off, never having freely shown them to anyone, nor been comfortable enough to allow them to be unconstrained.

Golden yellow danced over the pieces.

Chapter Text

Slowly, very slowly, Bill was coming to. His consciousness would dip and then become sharper, steadily increasing in awareness with each pull towards reality. Like waves washing over him, in and out, until he became aware of voices arguing, a male and a female.

The light flickering from torches bled through his eyelids, and he opened them slowly, struggling to bring the world into clarity. The stunning spell must’ve been especially potent to have him feeling so disoriented.

Stunning spell.

A rush of adrenaline crashed over him at that revelation and everything snapped into focus at once. He was laying on a table in a small room, while two people nearby argued. One was a woman, small in size with a hand on her hip, looking incredibly irritated at the much taller man. This man was the one Bill recognized, the one that had been losing the duel in that alley. The one he'd chosen to help. The one Bill would come to dread. Basil Truscott.

“Are you insane?” The woman snapped, then pinched the bridge of her nose at her own statement. “No, never mind, don’t answer that question. I know you are.”

“We’re low on adult subjects,” the man said, looking annoyed. His neck was wrapped up, and he favored one leg.

“There’s a reason we’re very particular about who we bring in,” she snapped. “You can’t just pick anyone off the street who meets your sadistic fantasy."

“One outlier will not destroy our entire operation,” Basil retorted. “Besides, he’s already here. We might as well make use of him.” As he spoke, he moved to the table. Making a split-second decision, Bill closed his eyes, attempting to keep his breathing slow and quiet, hoping not to give away that he had woken a few moments ago.

“You...” She balled her hands into fists, teeth grit, looking like she was ready to strangle him. “Our entire operation rests on the utmost secrecy. Everyone’s lives are at risk when you make insane moves like this. More specifically my life.”

“I’ll take that into consideration next time.” Voice dripping with sarcasm, he rolled his eyes. Basil leaned over the table, but Bill could see through his eyelashes that he was still looking at the woman. He might not get another chance.

He shot up, fist connecting with the man’s jaw and sending him stumbling backwards. Wasting no time, he ducked down off the table and made for the door, knocking his shoulder into the woman to keep her from pulling a wand on him. If he could just get out the door he might be able to make it to safety, wherever that might be.

Petrificus totalus!”

Much faster than Bill anticipated, Basil was on his feet. The spell hit Bill square in the back and he fell mid-run, slamming into the floor, his muscles taut and unmoving despite his commands.

Taking his time, Basil sauntered over, ignoring his disgruntled colleague while he stood over the body lying stiff on the floor. With the toe of his shoe, he kicked Bill over to his back as though he were a thing far beneath his regard.

“Well well well, it seems you’re up,” he said, a cruel sort of grin pinned to his face. With a wave of his wand, Bill was levitated back onto the table, his muscles straining and twitching against the curse. Basil chuckled, trailing a finger down Bill’s cheek, sending a shiver down the ginger’s spine.

Bill kept his gaze firm, trying to keep his fear from showing, but he couldn’t help the slight tremble with the man’s sadistic smirk bearing down on him. He was confused, wandless, and completely helpless. He didn’t know where he was or what these people had planned with him. The only thing he was certain of was that he made a huge mistake in helping this man.

“I love that expression,” Basil said, pacing around the table, “angry, defiant. Fearful, but alive and ready to fight. I don’t see that enough anymore.” His colleague rolled her eyes from where she stood by the door, leaning against the wall and glaring daggers at the madman she had to work with. He glanced back at her, a smirk on his face, and when she saw the look in his eyes she huffed in annoyance, knowing what that face meant.

He turned back to Bill. Reaching beneath the table, he grabbed something that Bill couldn’t see and pressed it into Bill’s petrified hand. His magic flowed into his palm, warming the familiar wood that he immediately recognized as his wand, greeting his skin like a friend.

“Show me how much you want to live.”

The full-body bind was lifted.

Without wasting any time, Bill’s arm whipped up, a flash of light shooting towards that smug face, but Basil was already prepared, knocking it aside and stepping back without returning fire while Bill sat up, his eyes locked firmly onto the heartless monster before him. Basil was toying with him, he knew that much. Basil felt he had no chance of escape, so he’d have to be clever to get out of this in one piece.

“I should’ve let that man kill you,” Bill said, wand at the ready. Basil laughed and shot a spell his way, testing his reflexes. Bill was quick with deflecting the spell, and it ricocheted into the wall behind him with a crash.

“Yes, you should have,” Basil agreed, a dark smirk on his face.

He shot another curse at Bill that was deflected into the floor, cracking the stone and sending up a cloud of dust. With their view blocked, they both simultaneously shot through it, hoping to catch the other off guard. The bright lights of concentrated magic collided, sending a shock wave back through the room, cracking potion bottles and sending various liquids of all consistencies and colors spilling off the counters and shelves.

“What happened to him?” Bill asked, his jaw set firmly while he sidestepped another hex that whizzed past his ear, whipping his hair up and around his shoulder.

“He’s likely lost his mind at this point,” Basil said with another sadistic laugh, keeping the spells coming, goading Bill to return some of the attacks. “Hopefully he hasn’t found a way to kill himself yet, he has at least a week to go before he’ll be allowed to die.”

He shot another spell at Bill, who ducked swiftly out of the way. It slammed into a shelf of potions which exploded in a shower of glass and liquid, reflecting the torchlight on their descent to the stone floor. Bill moved away from the substances as they dripped down the wall, knowing to keep himself away from touching anything covered by unknown potions, circling around the table and keeping his eyes on Basil’s every move.

“He was the lucky one to test a new potion we call Ego Disperdam. It gives the subject the overwhelming need to off themselves, which is rather hilarious when not given the right tools to do so.”

That got Bill to shoot back, his eyes blazing with fury, hand shaking with inconsolable rage. Basil’s laughing only got louder with his anger.

“Have you ever seen a man chew his own hand off?” Basil easily skirted around the room while Bill’s spells became more violent, more erratic. “He almost succeeded in bleeding out, we had to tie him down before we could cauterize the wound.”

With a scream of frustration, Bill felt energy pulse down his arm and through his wand, fueled by his emotions. A bright light slammed into Basil, and while he raised a shield, he was sent stumbling back several steps.

“He was winning!” Bill hissed, eyes blazing. “He was going to kill you!”

“Oh, but he didn’t. You had to come along and save the day.”

Something in Bill deflated at that, but he had no time to regret, returning to his defensive stance, keeping Basil’s spells at bay. He wouldn’t last long like this. He wasn’t perfect at defensive spells, and each hit to his shields made them weaker and weaker.

Changing course, he shot a hex at the woman by the door, hoping to catch her off guard and perhaps give him another shot at escaping. To his dismay though, she had already been ready, having her own defensive spells up, narrowing her eyes at his attempt.

“Dragging her into this?” Basil asked, laughing at the annoyed look on his colleague's face. “That’s rather rude isn’t it, I thought we were having a good time with just the two of us.”

“Of course we are, I’m having a wonderful time.” There was no humor in his voice despite his words. Rather his eyes and tone were filled with his need to make Basil pay. With the man temporarily splitting his attention between his partner and Bill, he shot down towards his weak leg, the one that had recently been injured.

As he hoped, the shielding spell didn't extend down that far, and the curse blew the wound wide open again, sending his leg back from under him. He lost his balance quickly, the smug look gone from his face as he fell to his one knee, blood soaking his pant leg again. He cursed loudly, his wand hand having dropped to support himself.

Bill had no time to waste. Arm raised above his head, he prepared to end the duel then and there when his wand was shot from his hand.

Turning around, he saw the witch who had remained impartial up to this point pointing her wand at him.

Incarcerous.”

Ropes conjured, binding Bill’s arms and legs, gagging him, and he toppled to the floor once more. She huffed, as though the act of having to cast a spell in this situation was annoying, turning to Basil without a hint of concern for her colleague that was back to nursing his bleeding leg once more.

“You’ve lost two duels in two days,” she said with an almost amused snort. “And one of the people you lost to was Toby. I thought you were better than this.”

“Shut up,” Basil hissed, slowly getting up again, limping to where Bill lay and glaring down at him, the blood leaking from his leg leaving a trail as he walked. He didn’t speak, but as he looked at Bill’s helpless figure, the anger seemed to fade from him into satisfaction. “You’re going to be fun to break.”

With a quick flick of his wand, Bill’s own wand, discarded a few feet away, flew into Basil’s empty hand.

Basil regarded it briefly, then took it between his hands and snapped it in two.

Bill couldn’t stop the muffled cry, screaming into the gag, eyes wide. His wand had been his most valuable tool and treasured possession for years. He’d had it all throughout school, a weapon and something akin to a friend. He still remembered the day when he was ten years old, walking into Ollivanders with his parents, uncertain and nervous. The way it felt when his wand chose him, the warmth and security of something that fit him so perfectly.

And the pieces slipped from Basil’s hands, clattering to the floor by his face as though they meant nothing.

Something within Bill splintered with it.

Bill woke with a slight jolt, sweat still fresh on his forehead, heart still pounding.

It was dark, and his room was cool, his blanket kicked off onto the floor sometime in the night. Outside, the crescent moon was beginning its descent, but he knew he’d be getting no more sleep that night.

Casting lumos, he sat up, not wanting to sit in the dark for too long. His room had a window, but when the moon wasn’t there, waking up from a memory could be a horrifying experience, especially if he kicked his wand off the side table in the night and had to scrounge around on the floor for it.

He’d woken up worse before, and supposed he should be grateful that the dream had been relatively tame. That didn’t mean he wasn’t shaken, but that sensation wasn’t new to him.

Rubbing his face, he stood, lighting the lantern by his desk and sitting at it. He was uncertain of why he’d brought himself there, but it was the first thing he'd thought of. He debated on going to his mother, knowing she’d be willing to sit up with him and drive some of the loneliness away. Waking by himself was one thing, but waiting for the morning with only his thoughts to keep him company could be destructive, especially on the darkest nights.

He pushed the idea out of his mind, however. He knew she’d be more than willing to stay with him, but he’d become too reliant on her presence. It’d been almost two years, and some day he’d have to pick up where he left off before... everything.

He glanced at the letter from Gringotts he had sitting on his desk, left there to push himself to reply. To remind himself he’d need to pick himself up again. Harry was at Hogwarts, moving on with his life, somehow acting as though nothing had ever happened to them. He was surrounded by magical things, witches and wizards, without crumbling.

Bill felt a stab of jealousy for a moment, but it soon passed. He knew that thought was a lie. He’d seen it, the guarded presence, the walls around his friend. Harry was a good actor, but he wasn’t invincible. There was a lot he kept from everyone, even Bill.

Grabbing a piece of parchment and dipping his quill, he began another letter to his friend, thoughts of mailing Gringotts pushed to the wayside. He’d have to begin his life again some day, but it didn’t have to be that day.

He’d much rather write his neighbor anyway.


The chess games went deep into the night until neither boy could keep their head up, especially Harry, who hadn’t slept properly since the Thursday before. Despite it being Avice’s night, she didn’t protest to his going to bed instead, much to Harry’s surprise. What was even more surprising was how well he slept.

Harry didn’t realize how much he’d slept in until he felt a tap on his side that jerked him to awareness with a gasp.

Since the first day when Draco had woken him up for breakfast, Harry had made it a point to wake up before the boy, so the shock of being nudged awake had him sitting up immediately, as though his roommate had thrown cold water on his face.

Then he realized he was still shirtless and sockless, and his wings were awkwardly stretched across his bed, feathers shed during the night scattered along his covers and off onto the floor.

It took him much too long to remember that Draco knew about them, and the fact that they were out in the open wasn't cause to panic. It was alright.

Wasn’t that a strange thought.

Draco, combing through his hair, stared down at the feathers and the wings, shaking his head.

“How you managed to keep this a secret as long as you did will always be a mystery,” he said, satisfied that Harry was awake and returning to his bed, tossing his rather expensive-looking comb onto the side table. The reason why someone would spend money on an expensive comb was lost on Harry.

“I al-always g-got up e-ear-early,” Harry said, rubbing his face and standing up, stretching his wings out as he stretched his arms and back. It felt better than he could have thought possible to stretch in the morning without fear of being caught.

Then there was a knock on the door.

Giving a glance to Draco, Harry dove into the bathroom without wasting anymore time. When safely hidden, Draco answered the door.

On the other side stood Blaise, book under his arm, seeming to be on his way to breakfast when he stopped by. The two stared at each other, faces neutral.

“Is Harry here?” Blaise asked, giving nothing away with his expression or voice.

“Yeah,” came Draco’s curt reply, giving no more information. It was a cold exchange, and it properly matched their cold expressions. When Draco added no more to the conversation, Blaise’s eyes narrowed dangerously, sizing Draco up for a moment, then giving an annoyed huff.

“Then tell him to meet me at breakfast, and to hurry up.” He let enough annoyance bleed through his voice, measured out carefully. Blaise wanted the boy in front of him to know he was annoyed. Draco wouldn’t have heard the tone if he didn’t.

“He’ll be down there when he’s ready.” Draco sneered. His annoyance was far more obvious. Where Blaise had carefully deduced how much he wanted Draco to know about his feelings, Draco was much more turbulent, and the annoyance he showed was unrestrained and unconcealed. He might’ve been able to pull off a cold annoyance if he cared to, but he certainly wasn’t as good as Blaise (or his own father for that matter) when it came to slipping on masks of indifference.

The dark-skinned Slytherin in his doorway stared at him for a moment, before turning his gaze to the room itself.

“Why are there feathers on Harry’s bed?” Blaise asked. This threw the blonde boy off and it showed in his expression.

“That’s my bed,” he said, just a fraction of a second too quickly for it to be trustworthy.

“No it’s not,” Blaise responded smoothly. “The book I gave him is on the side table next to the bed, and Harry doesn’t know enough about Quidditch to have World Cup posters.”

Draco pressed his lips together in a straight line, eyebrows furrowed in annoyance.

“A pillow broke last night, we haven’t cleaned up all the feathers.”

“Hogwarts uses goose feather pillows, not crow feathers.”

“They’re raven feathers, actually.” Draco had been corrected by Harry enough times the night before. “I brought my own pillow from home.” For the first time since seeing him, Blaise let out an amused snort, the slightest of smirks on his face.

“You mean to tell me you have such particular tastes that you brought your own pillow from home?”

Draco gave no response to this, his lips pursed in annoyance at the line of questions, tapping his finger on the door frame with impatience. Blaise gave another amused snort and then let it slide.

“Why are the feathers only on Harry’s bed if it’s your pillow?” Blaise raised an eyebrow, curious to see what response Draco might come up with. Draco glanced back at the room, looking for some kind of excuse for the odd sight, but found none. Turning back to Blaise, his expression was full of frustration.

“Don’t you have something else to do rather than pester me with unwarranted questions?”

“No, actually.” The amusement was back on Blaise’s face.

“Well find something else to do then. Harry will be down to breakfast whenever he wants.” With a finality in his voice, he closed the door in Blaise’s face, none-too-gently.

Casting a few locking and soundproofing spells on the door that he’d learned from his father, he sighed and turned to the bathroom.

“You can come out now,” he called. “He’s gone.”

Slowly, the bathroom door opened and Harry peeked his head out. He gave Draco a small smile.

“Th-thanks for c-cov-covering for m-me,” he said slipping out and going to his clothes drawer. Draco waved a hand as though to brush the thanks off, moving to the bathroom to take a shower.

Despite his indifference, Harry knew Draco had done that for him. He’d done a lot for him, actually, coming up with lies to cover for his strange behavior, even when he could’ve left him to fend for himself. Harry appreciated it more than he could say, and certainly knew Draco would accept none of the thanks even if he could put it into words, so he settled with a soft smile and got dressed for breakfast, waiting for Draco to finish showering so they might walk together.

Despite the change in their relationship and the walk to breakfast, beyond that Draco didn’t spend much time with him. Harry sat with Blaise, Tracey, and Daphne like normal, and walked with Hermione for their first class, while Draco made no attempt to spend time with him.

Harry got the sense it wasn’t because of him, but rather it was because of the company he kept. It seemed Draco didn’t exactly get along with Blaise, and Harry suspected Draco was among the Slytherin’s that concerned themselves with so-called “blood purity”, or that he at least wouldn’t spend time with a Gryffindor.
Still, Draco was kinder to him, partnering up with him in the classes they didn’t share with Hermione, and blocking him from Ron’s glare that he often shot across the room at them with a sharp, cold glare of his own.

Ron’s anger at Harry was palpable, making Harry nervous, but whenever Ron got an especially sour look on his face, Draco's glare would sharpen, his expression stating that even if Harry allowed himself to be walked over, Draco would stand for none of it.

By the end of the day, Harry was surprised at his own calmness while he and Draco walked together to their detention with McGonagall. He expected to dread being in close proximity with Ron, but the Gryffindor head and Draco both being there put his mind somewhat at ease.

As they got to work organizing papers and cleaning out old projects, Ron didn’t dare try anything with the two of them there, aside from the occasional muttered insult or knocked over stack of papers that left Harry to clean up after him.

As the hours passed, the silence even became something of a calming sensation. Harry was used to doing work, and it was almost a relief to be set on a task without a looming presence of hunger or violence. Draco, on the other hand, was certainly new to the feeling, and Harry could see his annoyance mount higher with each hour that passed. He was impatient, to say the least, and didn’t like chores, so by the time McGonagall finally released them to return to their rooms, he was fidgety and in a foul mood.

“Mr. Potter,” she called as they gathered their things, startling the boy out of his peaceful state, “would you mind staying for a few more minutes? I’d just like to speak with you.”

Harry nodded, sitting back down. Draco gave a supportive glance his way and walked out after Ron. The two gave cold, dagger-like glares to one another, before turning going their separate ways down the halls.

The Transfiguration professor didn’t immediately speak, leaning against her desk and adjusting her glasses, before peering at him with a searching gaze. Harry squirmed uncomfortably under her scrutiny.

“How have your lessons with Professor Snape been?” She began, something like uncertainty in her voice. Harry hesitated, unsure if he should tell the truth or not. He settled on a half-truth.

“D-difficu-cult,” he choked out. She nodded in return, tapping her fingers on her desk in thought. She looked like she wanted to say more on the subject, like something was on her mind, but she stopped herself and instead picked up a book from her desk and walked over to Harry.

He tensed, glancing from the book to the professor, his gaze wary. He’d been beaten with many things before, and books were among the list. Perhaps she was disappointed in him and his obvious lack of progress?

This change in demeanor didn’t go unnoticed, and she was certain to soften her expression considerably, slowing her movements down. Something was troubling her, he could see it, but she still said nothing on what passed through her mind. Instead, she set the book down on the desk in front of him.

It was a book on nonverbal casting.

“Ms. Granger tells me you’ve been having trouble with nonverbal spells,” she explained. “It will take quite a bit of practice, but I highly recommend learning from this book. It gives the best guidelines for casting and speaks about spell theory extensively. I personally found it incredibly useful.”

“Th-thank y-you,” he said softly, picking the book up gingerly. His throat had dried up, and he searched for more words to properly express his gratitude, but his voice failed him. All he could do was hug the book closer and give her a somewhat weak smile.

She didn’t mind his lack of response, and dismissed him after that. She had seen that look of fear in far too many students, but she had to have faith in Albus Dumbledore. He had assured her that there was no need to worry, that Harry was in safe hands.

She attempted to push aside the warning signs. Perhaps he had been greatly bullied during his muggle school years, that sort of treatment might lead to the wariness and hesitance she saw. An abusive teacher or nanny was also likely. A cruel, more distant relative or neighbor perhaps. Anything to push the blame off the people Dumbledore, and by extension McGonagall, had trusted to care for the boy.

Yes, she had to trust in the headmaster. If he couldn’t be trusted, who in the world could?

Harry made his way back to his dorm. He was eager to bring the book to Hermione, but it was late, and he’d need to sneak out after curfew for Avice. She miraculously let one day slide, but another was unlikely.

Slipping into his room, Draco was already there, laying on his bed with a book in his hands, but the book was forgotten when Harry entered.

He opened his mouth to give some sort of greeting, but how to address his roommate was confusing. He wasn’t even certain he could call Harry his friend. Sure, he knew Harry’s secret and they’d come to some kind of agreement, but that wasn’t grounds to immediately be listed as friends.

“I ha-have to g-go ou-out,” Harry said when the silence dragged on for too long, setting his new possession down on his side table, making a mental note to take it with him and show Hermione the next morning.

“Are the wings why you always sneak out?” Draco asked, startling Harry with the bluntness of his question.

“Y-yeah...” he muttered, giving an awkward smile, not sure if he should laugh or not. “Th-they... uh... ge-get res-restless.”

He wasn’t sure if he explained the sensation properly. He had no reason to hide that the wings and part of his body ultimately were connected to another being entirely, one with its own mind and will, but he had no reason to tell Draco either.

If he wanted further explanation, Draco didn’t seek it out, giving a slow nod, the kind of nod someone gives when they want to pretend they understand, but clearly don’t. Harry gave an airy snort at his expression. Draco certainly struck Harry as the kind of person who didn’t like to come off as ignorant, and he found the behavior amusing, if not endearing. Draco scowled at the reaction, knowing his true understanding had been seen through.

“You have a package,” he said, changing the subject as quickly as he could. Still amused, Harry looked at where Draco was now pointing, seeing a neatly wrapped gift sitting, waiting on his bed.

Harry picked it up curiously, turning it over, somewhat wary of the parcel that had seemingly come from nowhere.

“Wh-when did th-this g-get he-here?” He asked, looking up at Draco for an answer, but the blonde only shrugged.

Turning back to the package, he looked it over carefully, before hesitantly opening it.

Slipping from his fingers as if it were made of sand came a silvery cloak, crumpling onto the floor like a puddle of water.

The invisibility cloak.

There was no explanation given, just a simple note telling him to “use it well”.

Needless to say, Draco was jealous, but all Harry could think was that it made sneaking out of the castle so much easier.

And it truly did.

Harry took to sneaking to the astronomy tower more often then, leaving his clothes in a pile under the cloak where no one but he could find them before he returned at dawn. He preferred leaving from the astronomy tower anyway, it was much less guarded than the doors leading to the school grounds, and if he were caught he could claim he had been getting some fresh air. No one would think he were leaving the castle completely, at the very least.

Getting caught, however, was something that he didn’t come close to doing for a long while. He had even worked himself into a strange feeling of security, walking freely through the halls on his way to the astronomy tower when he rounded the corner and very nearly rammed right into the dungeon bat himself; Professor Snape.

He narrowly avoided hitting him, but dodging out of the way required him to stumble backwards, and the man stopped in his tracks. His footsteps had echoed around the hallway, and Harry held his breath while the dark-clad man stood there, listening for more, holding his breath for the damning sound of a student out of bed.

Then he began to step forwards, and Harry stepped backwards, matching him step for step, letting his house head’s footsteps mask his own.

And then he stopped, and Harry took another step.

He saw the man’s face morph into something like satisfaction, now stepping forwards rather quickly, giving Harry little time to dive out of the way and press himself into the wall. The echo had, thankfully, made it impossible to pinpoint his location, but that didn’t mean Professor Snape wouldn’t find him if they ran into each other.

Trying to subtly sneak down the hall, he kept a hand on the wall and his footsteps light, he was hoping if he slipped off he might make it out before the professor realized he had gone in the wrong direction (as amusing as that might’ve been).

Nearly about to turn around, he was startled when the support the wall gave him fell away and he found himself stumbling into an empty classroom. The stumble had alerted the professor from down the hall, and he quickly ducked the rest of the way in, shutting the door as quietly as he could and hiding in the corner (not that hiding would make him any more or less invisible, of course).

A few moments later, the door opened and the potions master peeked his head in, glancing around, scrutinizing every corner. Seeing nothing amiss, he sniffed in annoyance and closed the door once more, his footsteps retreating further down the hall.

Harry gave it a few more seconds for good measure, waiting to be sure the man wouldn't come back, which gave him just enough time to notice the mirror in the corner collecting dust.

In the dim light, it had been difficult to notice, but the slight moonlight streaming in through the window reflected on the mirror just enough to catch his eye as he crouched in the corner.

It took him two tries to cast lumos, a feat he wouldn’t admit to anyone he was proud of, and slowly he approached it, unsure of what exactly drew him to the strange mirror.

His first reaction upon seeing himself and the crowd of people was to jerk backwards, not expecting to be in the presence of anyone else let alone able to see himself despite the cloak. It took him much too long to calm the pounding in his chest, but when it was finally under control again (more or less), he found himself inching towards the mirror once more.

There they were, a crowd of people that were not truly there, and the longer he stared, the more he recognized himself in them. His eyes, his nose, his hair, his face. And at the front stood two people that could only be his mother and father.

He pulled the cloak off, finding it to be suffocating while he stood there and stared at them, stared at himself, stared at the image of himself with them.

His hand shook as he reached forwards and touched the mirror softly. His mother was crying, happy to see him. His father smiled proudly. Someone nodded in approval at him.

A second hand joined his first, and he collapsed to his knees, drinking in their features, memorizing it. He wasn’t sure he was blinking, or breathing, or if his heart was still beating. He wasn’t sure he cared either. He felt frozen to the spot, his eyes locked on them, their happy faces, their joy at seeing him, the love in their eyes.

His heart ached, the tears streamed freely from his eyes, and he never pulled his eyes from their faces. All he cared for was them.

He wondered if they were warm, if his mother would've held him, if his father would've tucked him in at night. He wondered if they would kiss his forehead. He wondered if they would've missed him when he was gone.

Avice, despite all her frustration at him, couldn’t get him to move from that spot, and there he stayed for the remainder of the night.

What finally roused him from the state he was in was the sound of footsteps in the hall, early risers making their way to the library or the kitchen for a pre-breakfast snack. Teachers running errands, visiting one another, or just enjoying their time before the day began.

Nobody opened the door, but the sound of footsteps outside a dark room, the sight of shadows briefly blocking out the light streaming in from the hall outside, was just unsettling enough to pull him to reality.

They hadn’t moved from where they stood. His family had stayed with him through the night, happy to share time with him. The thought of leaving was heart-wrenching, but he would be in trouble if they found him out of bed.

Pulling himself to his feet, stepped back from them.

“I’ll b-be ba-back,” he whispered, pulling the invisibility cloak back on. He took a few more moments to watch the mirror, then pulled his gaze from them and slipped out, reluctantly returning to the outside world.

As promised, he returned the next day, and then the next, and the next. He took to slipping out nightly, and when that wasn’t enough, he slipped in during his free period, between classes, skipping entire meals.

Needless to say, his friends noticed quickly. He hardly slept or ate, the mirror consuming him. He looked haunted at times, certain he had seen their faces in his reflection on the window pane or in his goblet. Avice was furious with him and her irritation crawled over his skin, bleeding into his own attitude.

“You look like death,” Tracey had said blatantly during dinner. It was the first one he’d gone to in a few days, but the lack of food was making him dizzy, so he’d slipped off for one evening. For once, neither of their friends commented on her brashness; she was incredibly correct on her assessment.

“Y-yeah?” Harry snapped at her, goading her to continue. Challenging her to anger him further.

To his surprise, she didn’t speak, just furrowing her brow in concern before glancing to Blaise and Daphne in turn for support. Daphne averted her eyes, while Blaise just shrugged. They seemed to be holding a silent conversation with one another, and Harry was fed up with it, finishing his drink and standing, his plate half touched.

“F-fine, if y-you’re g-go-going to act l-like th-this, I’ll t-take m-my meal else-elsewhere.” With that, Harry grabbed his plate, stood, and was gone before anyone could have stopped him.

Only one tried, but his response was so confused and delayed, he had no chance of succeeding. Blaise stayed there where he had stood up to follow Harry, seeming uncertain and frustrated with his own actions alongside his friend's, his emotions flashing briefly across his face before he pulled himself into a look of cool indifference and stalked off out of the Great Hall to find a place alone, leaving his dinner unfinished.

The mirror and its contents consumed Harry’s thoughts. Classes were spent tapping his fingers on the desk, impatiently waiting for the moment he could to run to the room once more. Draco and Hermione both attempted to pull him from his state, almost hypnotically staring at the desk while he counted down the time, but hardly anything could bring him back. The only thing that almost brought him to clarity was Professor Snape’s anger at him when he failed to respond to his name four times. That terror kept him grounded for the rest of the class, but when he left, he was already distracted once more.

Friday evening, before a nerve-wracking lesson that left his mind almost clear, a late-night owl came down, delivering post sent past breakfast. Harry almost didn’t notice, just like he hadn’t noticed that Blaise didn’t come for dinner, and Tracey and Daphne were avoiding him, but the parcel fell from his lap as he stood to leave for Snape’s office. Had he not been fretting about his lessons, he wouldn’t have stopped to pick it up.

Dear neighbor,


A little birdie informed me that you’re in need of corrective lenses, and since you seem inclined to keep wandering around without proper eye care, I’ve taken it upon myself to chaperone you to our ocular specialist, Doctor Rhodes. Gonna pick you up around noon, so no sleeping in tomorrow! I’ve already cleared it up with the school, we just have to be back before six, so I’ll buy dinner. My treat!

Your ever excited neighbor,

Bill

Under normal circumstances, Harry would’ve been ecstatic about getting to spend time with Bill. Even then, something in his heart twitched with a missing sensation, but all he could think was that it would be taking up time he could’ve been spending with the mirror.

That was the basis of the irritated attitude he carried with him when Bill picked him up, only increased from the sensation of being apparated to their destination; a charming, winding cobblestone street. It was a muggle street, hidden within the back streets of a much larger town, but there was certainly a hint of magic to the storefronts and patrons. If one knew the secret languages that took the form of special cuckoo clocks that you tapped four times, or off-color stones that required stepping on, the magic was revealed.

Stepping out of the alley quickly, Harry didn’t notice the tenseness of Bill’s shoulders that slowly relaxed when they left the alley behind, or the way he kept his arm around Harry’s until they were far away.

In fact, most of the afternoon passed in a blur. Through the shop windows, the slight glances at a mirror, the puddles from a recent rainfall, he saw familiar faces that he longed to return to. He found himself itching at his arm as he waited for the lenses to be fitted into the frames he’d chosen in his stupor, a circular pair that was discounted. The doctor gave him a polite smile that wasn't returned and handed him the glasses, magically corrected to be perfect for his eyes that were rather poor at their job.

He didn’t even put them on when he got them, stuffing them into his pocket and leaving the store, ready to return to the castle when he was directed down the street to a cafe for lunch.

Another distraction.

Bill stared at the boy sitting across from him. Harry had a sour look on his face, focusing far too much into the reflection of his knife for it to be normal. He turned his butter knife slowly, as though looking for something within it’s reflection, stopping every few moments before his frown would deepen and he’d continue his examination of it. It was clear he hadn’t even noticed when the food was set in front of him.

Bill had wanted to do dinner with Harry, preferably after spending the day around this muggle town where they might be free from magical things for a while, but he hadn't gotten a word out of the boy since he'd picked him up.

“Harry,” he said with a slight cough. When Harry didn’t look up, he tried again, and again.

He was waving a hand in front of the boy’s face when he finally snapped to attention, the fear clear on his face. Invading his personal space wasn’t something he had wanted to resort to, but Harry was unreachable in the place he had delved to.

“Something’s wrong,” he said, arms crossed over his chest. Harry looked like he was about to turn his attention back to the knife, but Bill was fast, putting a hand over Harry’s. “Stop.”

His voice was alarmingly authoritative, and reluctantly Harry lowered the butter knife, his eyes narrowing at Bill’s actions. Bill had his attention, now was the time to use it.

“I’m... concerned...” he began when Harry’s silence dragged on. “For a number of reasons, actually. Like the fact that you haven’t gotten your eyes checked before, even though Doctor Rhodes said you had some of the worst eyesight she’s run into?”

Harry didn’t respond. His mind was a jumbled mess. He couldn’t think straight, and his emotions were reduced to annoyance that Bill was prying so hard. His hand tightened on the butter knife, his thumb trailing along its metal side. Had it been a sharp knife, the image would’ve been much more frightening.

Bill stared at Harry, gauging his reaction, before sighing and rubbing his face.

“Percy also told me about Ron.” Harry tensed. “Said he got in trouble for threatening you? I had hoped you might bring it up, but... If he’s bullying you, I want you to tell me.”

Harry continued to stare right at Bill, his irritation only growing, his jaw set firmly and his lips partially pulled up in what was almost a sneer, if it didn’t seem so out of place on the kid that normally was so cautious and reserved.

“Harry, I know there’s something going on with you,” Bill finally said, leaning over the table a bit further. “You’ve been in this irritated daze all day. You haven’t been responding to my letters in at least a week. If there’s something going on you can talk to me. If Ron’s doing something or if...” He stopped, then sighed again and lowered his head a bit, trying to appear as open and sincere as possible. “If there’s something going on at home-“

The screeching sound as Harry’s chair was thrown backwards, its feet scraping on the floor, was enough to send Bill pulling back in alarm, his blood pounding through his veins, adrenaline kicking in to preparation to fight or run. Harry was on his feet, hands grasping against the side of the table as though attempting to keep himself together. For a moment, he looked lost, and then his face hardened and the sneer was on his face, full-force this time.

“I w-want to go b-ba-back,” he said, voice low. “N-now.”

When Bill opened his mouth to speak, Harry turned and walked to the door, plate untouched. For some reason, the pounding in Bill’s chest didn’t subside.

Slowly, he followed the boy, quietly paying for the uneaten food and escorting him back.

He wanted to speak, tried to a few times, but each time he attempted to find the words to say, Harry was looking away from him, his gaze fixated into the window of some store, or into the water collected into the cracks in the cobblestone.

So he said nothing, and left with a quiet farewell that wasn’t returned.

Harry didn’t even look at him.

That fact was one Bill toiled over for days. Maybe Harry needed space, maybe he wanted to be alone, and Bill gave him some time before he delved into a frenzy of written letters to Harry.

It started with two a day, one in the morning, and one late at night when he couldn’t get sleep, but when his letters came back unopened, they became more frequent, more panicked. He couldn’t lose his neighbor, his closest friend. The only person he talked to that understood. The others, they couldn’t connect to him, but Harry had been his reason for getting through that damn place. The only reason he didn’t lose his mind. Harry had given him the strength to wake up in the morning if only to prove that it could be done.

Please talk to me

That was how he ended every letter for a while, and eventually, that was all he sent.

Dear neighbor,

Please talk to me

Until one day, he didn’t send any more.

One day it just didn’t feel worth it anymore.

Chapter Text

It was getting late, a fact that Draco was becoming painfully more aware of every second. He knew Harry had been chaperoned to Diagon Alley earlier that day, Harry had at least told him that much (the first time Harry had spoken to him properly in about a week), and he saw him wandering away from the Great Hall later that night, but hadn’t seen him since.

Draco had been working on a Transfiguration essay, expecting Harry to come stumbling in for the curfew before heading out after the prefects had retired, but when he set it aside, his roommate still wasn’t back.

He had his chin resting in his hand, the fingers tapping on his desk the only outward sign that he was nervous. Nathan Grayes would probably pop his head in to make sure they were both there any minute, and if Harry wasn’t in bed…

He knew the prefect, a boy who worked for the title simply so he could benefit from it, would accept it if he ran the shower or threw some pillows under Harry’s blankets. The fact that Draco knew had him more than a little perturbed however. He had covered for Harry too many times, and now he didn’t know if he should keep doing it.

Before, he had been certain that he needed to talk to Harry before deciding if he was going to tell on him for running off. If he was being honest, he had also been incredibly curious about Harry, and getting Harry to tell him more would likely not have happened if Draco had gotten him into trouble.

Now, however, Harry was worrying him. Harry had been in and out of focus. His effort in classes had gone from exemplary, to minimal, to nonexistent in a week and a half. If Draco didn’t know any better, he’d say Harry was under some kind of curse with how dazed and out of it he’d seemed.

Giving a frustrated sigh, he stood up. This was getting out of hand.

Pushing out the door, he nearly knocked over Nathan as he checked on the Slytherin first years to be sure they were actually in bed.

“Hey!” He called, irritation clear in his voice. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“To see my godfather,” was all Draco said, waving a hand while he disappeared down the winding halls.

As he expected, he wasn’t followed. He sneered in annoyance at such an incompetent prefect being put in charge of his year. It had worked in his favor, certainly, but that didn’t change the fact that he was supposed to follow the orders of a kid who didn’t try and stop an eleven year old from walking out of the dorms at curfew. He rolled his eyes, then turned his mind to the task at hand.

 

Severus had been grading papers deep into the night. The students had been especially apathetic the Wednesday before, so he had assigned a three foot essay to be due by that Friday, on top of the five foot essay due the same day. Now he was paying for his demands by having to actually read and grade them all. The temptation to simply fail the entire stack and call it a night was strong, but he pushed past it.

Still, being interrupted was, for once, not completely unwelcome, and with a short “enter”, he set his quill down and looked up at who had come to see him so late.

The sight of his godson caused his cold demeanor to melt some, but it didn’t drop completely. Draco was still out after curfew.

“I’m sure you’re aware of the time,” the professor began, fingers intertwined together as he surveyed the Slytherin first year.

“Of course,” Draco said, but didn’t immediately give explanation. For the first time this year, Draco was showing hesitancy and uncertainty, two behaviors rather strange on Lucius Malfoy’s son.

Severus let the awkward silence drag on for a few more moments, before sighing. The boy had something to say, and he needed incentive to actually say it.

“I hope you don’t think that being my godson will exempt you from the rules of our house,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “If you have nothing important to say, I’m afraid you’re still out after curfew...”

“I have something to say!” The boy spoke up quickly, his eyes narrowing as he pushed for the right words. “Harry… is missing.”

That got the professor’s attention. His eyebrows furrowed at this statement, but he otherwise didn’t move as he thought through his actions carefully. The Potter brat was missing, that was one thing, but the puzzle was why Draco had hesitated so much in telling him, the only thing giving him pause from going to the headmaster immediately. In fact, why had the boy felt it necessary to tell Severus himself, when he could’ve let the prefect handle the situation?

“Is there something else you wanted to tell me?” He asked, dark eyes boring deep into the blonde boy. As expected, he hit the target precisely, and the first year fidgeted at being read so easily.

“He’s been acting strange,” Draco began, trying to decide what to reveal. “Not showing up to meals, disappearing late at night, slacking off in his studies...”

“The boy does have an attraction to the dramatics,” the potions master muttered. Surprisingly, Draco didn’t find his jab funny, his expression becoming all the more troubled. Severus sighed again. “I’m certain we will find him, if you’re concerned.”

Draco shifted on his feet once more, then shook his head a bit at his own thoughts.

“I don’t know what’s going on, but…” He was hiding something, Severus could see it plainly. “If he… if you learn about…” Draco huffed and crossed his arms, face clouded with frustration. “If you learn a secret about Harry, something a bit insane, then… you have to promise you won’t use it against him.”

Severus’s face was unreadable, only making the Slytherin in front of him more uncomfortable. The boy was still poor at hiding his emotions, though that could be considered a good thing to some people.

“What exactly would this secret entail?” He asked, giving nothing away.

“If you find it, you’d know,” Draco said with certainty.

The Slytherin house head stared at his godson emotionlessly for a long while more. He knew Draco and Harry were roommates, but he had expected friction between the two. Now it seemed that they had become close, despite his perceptions of the Potter brat. The tension in his shoulders dropped, and he rubbed his face.

“I didn’t expect you of all people to be swayed by a pity story and celebrity status,” he said. Draco’s frown deepened. Clearly he wouldn’t change his stance on the subject. Severus shook his head at the absurdity of it all. “I can’t very well make a promise about something I’m not informed on,” he raised a hand before the boy could protest, “however, if this secret comes to light, I’ll make an… attempt to approach the situation openly.”

With that being his only guarantee, he stood, making his way to his fireplace.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must inform the headmaster about this,” he said, about to grab the floo powder but was stopped by a knock on the door.

Without waiting for the confirmation to enter, Nathan Grayes opened it.

“Sir, Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter are-” He cut off, startled to see Draco there, looking smug as ever.

“I’m aware, Mr. Grayes,” his gaze and voice were hard, causing the prefect to shrink back. “We’ll talk tomorrow when I call for you. For now, I hope escorting Mr. Malfoy back to the dorms isn’t beyond your capabilities.”

The teen gave a short nod, not daring to say another word as Draco followed him out, giving Severus a last, almost pleading look as the door closed behind him.

Severus gave a rather undignified huff in frustration. No one, aside from a select few, knew where his hatred of the Potter boy came from, but he was troubled by the idea that Draco thought so lowly of his ability to reason on a situation. He wasn’t completely heartless, and if the boy ever actually needed help he’d have given it, if for no other reason than to fulfill his promise of protecting him. He wouldn’t leave him to suffer or go out of his way to truly harm him. Right?

That question posed to himself caused his shoulders to tense. Part of him fought against his self-preservation. He had been cruel, even by his own standards, but that thought was quickly extinguished by his natural desire to be in the right. To justify his own actions no matter how terrible. And yes, call him unfair, call him evil. The boy would never understand all Severus had lost and suffered. The boy would never understand what it meant to see those eyes on that face.

If a few harsh words and unfair judgements to ease his anger made him a terrible person, then so be it. Severus Snape had never fooled himself into thinking he was a good person anyway.

 

The conversation about the missing boy-who-lived was surprisingly uneventful. Severus had expected the headmaster to at least be startled by the news, but the man seemed almost sadly understanding. Like he had expected Harry to run off at some point, though was disappointed that he actually had.

The team of faculty sent to search through the castle led Snape to wonder if they would’ve had the same reaction to any other student. It was a stupid thought, he knew, because of course they wouldn’t make half the staff stay up for just any student. Draco’s concerns be damned, he was going to be annoyed by this situation and at the boy that had made him stay up an extra few hours just to look for him.

The cold frustration could almost be felt from down the hall as the man in black scoured the castle in search of the brat. It had been hours since they’d started their search. Hagrid and Sprout had been sent off to the forbidden forest, while Snape, McGonagall, Flitwick, and Binns searched the castle.

Severus had taken to slamming open every door he came upon, while treading lightly down the hall. He hadn’t found too many students out of bed late, but the four groups he’d interrupted had been plenty worth the trouble just seeing the fear on their face as the dreaded dungeon bat came barging in. Points were taken, detentions given, and children were sent to their respective houses, but still there was no Potter.

The later it got, the fewer students he ran into in his search. It must’ve been far past midnight by then, and the boredom was creeping in. He wondered if he might’ve gone down the same hall twice, and he took to counting the doors to keep off the tiredness.

While searching, he found, at least, that the halls all had an odd number of doors down them. After the sixteenth hall, it had become a curiosity to him, something he might turn his attention to in order to keep his mind occupied. He wondered if this was done on purpose, or if the castle itself had done this.

He kept counting.

SLAM. Ten. SLAM. Eleven. SLAM. Twelve.

Twelve? That wasn’t right. Could those halls previously have been a mistake, as unlikely as that was? Or was it so late that he wasn’t even counting properly.

Turning back to survey the hall, he counted again. If he was more rested, he might’ve thought it absurd that he was counting doors to keep himself busy.

But no, there were twelve doors when he counted again. An even number. He almost turned to leave, but it had caught his attention just so that he wanted to know the answer to this question. Sixteen halls in a row all with odd numbers of doors, and this one had twelve? One might consider him mad for finding this so fascinating but he couldn’t help but feel he was missing something.

He sighed, and allowed himself to count for a third time. Really, he thought to himself, it was inconsequential if there were twelve doors, or eleven for that matter, or-

Thirteen? Now there were thirteen doors, and as he stared, the missing thirteenth door was obvious, between the sixth and seventh door down that hall. It was right there, as though it had been there the entire time but he hadn’t noticed it.

It was a disillusionment charm of some kind, he realized, meant to keep a person from not noticing the door if they weren’t looking for it. That was certainly strange for a random door down a random hallway, and he wondered how often he walked right past it without noticing it.

Stepping closer, he placed a hand on its surface, sensing the magic that kept it hidden. This was placed there recently, weaved with dark intentions and inhuman power. The spell was getting stronger, slowly but noticeably enough, and he realized he might’ve never seen it if he’d waited another hour.

Like all the other doors, he slammed it open to see just what was on the other side.

And of course, as he should’ve expected, there was the brat-who-lived.

He didn’t react to the door slamming opened, not flinching or turning to see. He sat there on his knees, his hands resting limply at his side, his head turned upwards as he stared at a large mirror. A mirror that the potions master immediately recognized.

His blood ran cold. He’d been caught by this mirror before. It had shown him beautiful images of a woman he knew well, and he’d stayed there captivated for many hours. Albus had warned him of the effects, but it took moving the mirror to a place he couldn’t find to shake him of its spell.

And now, standing there, he realized how true that sentiment was. A dark magic he’d never sensed before that night spilled from its surface, wrapping slowly around the boy in a spinning circle of energy, and as it spun he could feel the warmer, human magic from Harry being pulled into it.

Stepping closer he crouched down to survey the state he was in. Harry was pale, and certainly looked like he hadn’t eaten or slept properly in over a week. His painfully green eyes stared blankly up at the mirror, his mouth slightly slack.

He gave no indication that he even knew Snape was there, and the man cursed.

“Potter,” he said, shaking his shoulder when the boy didn’t react. He gave no resistance, his eyes glued to the mirror. Severus sneered and pulled out his wand, preparing to levitate him out of the room.

With that single motion, he had Harry’s full attention. The boy’s gaze snapped to him, the fear in those familiar eyes paralyzing him enough for the boy to stumble to his feet and stagger backwards.

“N-n-n-” Harry choked out, his voice strained. He wavered and his eyes rolled back as he briefly lost consciousness, his legs giving out on him.

Severus grabbed him before he hit the ground, holding him by the upper arms as Harry’s head tipped back limply. His eyes fluttered while he tried to get everything back into clarity. As he started to gather what was around him, he struggled to pull his head up to look at the potions master, expression filled with the kind of fear the professor had seen most often in victims of death eater attacks. Like Snape might harm him at any moment.

He brushed the parallel aside to focus on the task at hand. The boy was fatigued, and if he’d read the spell correctly, his magical core had probably been drained considerably from long exposure to the mirror. He needed to get him out of that room and to the infirmary as quickly as he could.

With one hand still steadying the boy, he raised his wand to try the spell once more, but Harry’s pull back was so violent he needed to grab him with both hands again to keep him from falling over.

His expression soured at the predicament he was in, wanting to hurl insults at the first year for the inconvenience of this all, for making the situation even more difficult, but with how disoriented the boy was, he doubted he would even register them. It would be a waste of his time.

So, excusing his actions as a decision to avoid the boy fighting him and weakening himself further, he lifted him with ease and strode swiftly from the room, making a note to ask the headmaster what the crazy old man had been thinking when he left such a dangerous artifact in an abandoned classroom.

The conversation with Poppy was short and stiff. It was past four in the morning now, and the woman had only just been awoken. It wasn’t the first time she'd been interrupted for a student in need, and Severus marveled briefly about her sense of duty. She never wavered in her examination of the boy, who had returned to a catatonic state when Severus picked him up rather than levitating him. He had already sent word that the others need not continue searching, and was musing over his future argument with the headmaster.

The mediwitch was as upset as he felt over the carelessness of Albus’s actions, and while he wouldn’t verbally agree with her, she could see the slight furrow in his brows and knew all she needed.

With a short thanks from her, she waved her wand and made herself cup of green tea with a spritz of lemon as she turned to the task at hand, one that would certainly keep her from finishing her nights rest.

Satisfied, the man turned to leave, but hardly made it a few steps when the boy let out a bone-chilling scream.

If he were being quite honest with himself, it had been so sudden, breaking the quiet in the infirmary with its high-pitched sound, that he’d actually jumped (not that anyone had seen or would ever know).

Turning back, the nurse stood over the boy, looking utterly confused by the reaction, a potion bottle in hand. She was attempting, with her free hand, to gently calm the young wizard, but the soft touch on his shoulder only served to send him into a greater fit of hysteria, pulling away and very nearly falling out of the bed.

Severus was there in time to catch him and hold him back, pushing him firmly down onto the mattress. Harry grabbed at his forearms but didn’t have the strength to push him off, so instead he screamed out again, his voice coming out strangled and the professor immediately recognized the panic in his features.

He was shaking badly, and his eyes were glued to the nurse, more specifically the potion she had in her hand. Snape turned to look, but immediately recognized it as simply a sleeping potion. There was nothing threatening about it or how she was holding it, but Harry seemed terrified nonetheless. He turned an irritated look to the boy.

“Calm down,” he snapped, annoyed that the brat would continue making this difficult, “it’s to make you sleep, it won’t hurt you.”

Unconsoled, the boy jerked his head away while the nurse made another attempt to give him the potion. She looked concerned, but shook her head.

“I’m sorry, Harry,” she said, much more gently than Severus. “You need rest while I assess the damage to your magical core.”

Nothing was reaching the boy, and he pushed against the potion master’s chest in an attempt to be freed from his hold, as though his fatigued, first year strength could even phase him.

Poppy looked at her colleague, and he knew she was asking for his help. He sighed, cursing the time and the brat and the mirror and the headmaster, before he grabbed Harry’s jaw and pulled his mouth opened.

Harry’s panicking before was nothing compared to his thrashing now. He screamed louder, digging his nails into the Slytherin house head’s forearm with one hand, while his other hand grabbed at his robe, pulling and pushing him, nonverbally begging him to let go. Severus tried to push this reaction aside as simply a product of his being removed from the mirror, but he couldn’t fully smother the knowledge that he should really still be unresponsive. The mirror had been draining him, and while irritability or anger at being moved might’ve been expected at a less severe exposure, the only thing that might trigger any reaction now was an instinctual, deep-rooted terror.

Giving the man no more time to turn over these thoughts, she poured the potion into the boy’s mouth and Severus forced it shut, covering it with his hand.

Something in Harry seemed to collapse, and his arms dropped before he’d even swallowed the potion. He closed his eyes, and for a moment, Snape thought he had gone back to being unresponsive, but then he gave a soft sob, muffled by the professor's palm, and swallowed down the potion.

He pulled back as though he had been burned, quickly covering his unnerved expression by turning away and striding to the door.

“If that is all, I’ll be salvaging what sleep I can get,” he said, voice more stable than he felt. Something tonight had deeply disturbed him, and that fact was frustrating him. He didn’t hear the nurse’s farewell as he left, finding his feet taking him to the headmaster’s office before he had even consciously decided to pay the man a visit.

He wasn’t especially surprised to find the man still awake. He was standing at his window, only a few candles still lit, but turned with a warm smile to greet his friend as he entered the room.

“I had hoped you might come speak with me before retiring for the night,” the headmaster said, his friendly countenance not wavering in the face of the tired, disgruntled man before him that fixed him with a glare as cold as Albus’s smile was warm.

“Of course,” Snape said sarcastically, “I’ve been up for this long, what’s another inconvenience?”

Missing or entirely ignoring the true bitterness within the statement, the headmaster’s smile became wider. “Wonderful!” He strode to his desk quickly, motioning for the man to take a seat, which he didn’t. “How is the boy doing?”

At the mention of Harry, his sneer was back with a vengeance.

“The brat had stumbled upon the Mirror of Erised,” he growled, and Albus’s expression took on one of surprise. “He was catatonic when I approached, and it seemed that the mirror itself had been attempting to hide the location of the classroom it was in. The boy’s with Poppy now.”

The elder wizard’s face was troubled, and he leaned back in his chair, looking away to the window in thought.

“I see…” He said, as though he were coming to an understanding of something Snape didn’t know. A few emotions passed over the man’s face (concern, curiosity, and perhaps satisfaction?) before he came back to himself and returned his gaze to his friend, the twinkle back in his eye. “I am glad you found him. From the sound of it, it would’ve been dangerous if he’d stayed there any longer.”

Severus sneered again and waved his hand as though to brush aside the unspoken statement that the potions master had done something good.

That could’ve been the end of the conversation, and he did yearn for rest, but something held him there for a moment too long. Albus’s smile dropped in brightness as he picked up on this, reading the younger wizard like an open book.

“Something else is troubling you?” It was a question, but might as well have been a statement as he looked curiously at Severus over his half-moon glasses, and the man sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, uncomfortable under the scrutiny.

“There were a few things about his behavior that made very little sense,” he said honestly, letting his cold demeanor drop a few inches. “It seemed to me like the brat should’ve been completely unresponsive with how fatigued he was and how drained his core had been, but when I pulled out my wand he panicked, and he did again when Poppy attempted to give him a potion.”

The headmaster studied him even closer, his face unreadable. He didn’t interrupt him even as he paused to look for the correct explanation, and Snape took it as a sign to continue on.

“This is magic-centered fear,” he concluded carefully. “I’ve often seen this in victims of death eater attacks.”

The professor stopped, uncertain of where he was going with this topic. He looked up at the man’s searching blue eyes, waiting for him to say something first.

Albus didn’t immediately, giving a few seconds of thought before he straightened up in his chair, hands folded carefully before him.

“I must admit I don’t know what has generated this response,” he said, nodding gently to acknowledge the concerns that were before him. “I assure you that he has been watched and protected. Lingering death eaters searching for their revenge would have been noticed around the house if they had discovered the location, which is unlikely. He is also protected there by blood wards, so had they looked to harm him, it would've been impossible to do so as long as he was being housed there by his mother's sister. ”

Severus nodded, but a frown was still etched into his features. The headmaster noted this, and gave a gentle sigh.

“I know this wasn’t quite an answer, however I can assure you that the boy is safe,” he said, before fixing him with a gentle, accepting look. “You do trust me, don’t you, Severus?”

The headmaster's gaze was so open and kind, as though he might be saddened if Severus didn’t but would never be angry or upset at him, that the potions master immediately knew he did.

“Of course,” he grumbled out, shaking his head at the absurdity of this situation. If Albus Dumbledore said that all was fine, it must be. The boy had most likely just been upset at being pulled from the mirror. The brat had probably been mesmerized by the image of himself being pampered by his many admirers.

“I’m glad,” he said, a smile on his face, before an amused sort of twinkle took over his gaze. “I’m also glad to see you taking an interest in the boy’s well being. Are you warming up to him?”

Severus scoffed, shaking his head at Albus’s statement. “I won’t dignify that with an answer,” he said, before turning and striding towards the door. “This entire ordeal has wasted too much of my time as it is. Don’t bother me with any other ridiculous issues.”

Without responding to the wish that he sleep well, he left the office in a flurry of black robes. This was the second time in one night he was silently accused of being inclined to ignore a student in need, and he felt quite upset by this. Truly, if a child was in danger and needed adult interference, he would step in. Even a child as insufferable and attention-hungry as Harry Potter.

Of course, Harry Potter was not a student in need, the headmaster had assured him of this. So, pushing all concern to the side, he could return to his previously cold and cruel attitude towards the boy.

With his thoughts put to rest, he returned to his room.

The brat certainly had a knack for wasting his time.


Blaise had been avoiding Tracey and Daphne for a week now. Harry he didn’t need to avoid, his classmate was taking care of that himself.

He wasn’t completely certain what compelled him to cut them off so suddenly, he told himself he didn’t want to be around them anyway. It was a lie, but he repeated it over and over again to himself, waiting for it to feel true.

Instead, he’d taken to grabbing his meals from the kitchen or going to the Great Hall early, before sneaking off somewhere secluded to eat and heading back to the library when he'd finished.

The library. He’d taken to hiding there recently.

Not that he was hiding. Hiding implied there was something to hide from. He was just seeking solitude. At the very back of the library, behind rows of books, with a sizeable distance between him and anyone else.

Solitude. Wonderful, wonderful Solitude.

He’d originally hoped to take time to read his books. His favorite author, P. K. Acker, had released a new trilogy, and while he wasn’t a fan of historical fiction outright, he’d read all of Acker’s other books already, and hadn’t disliked any of them.

Still, even as he skimmed the pages, he found himself drifting each time he sat down to read. At first he blamed the quality of the book, but when he picked up one he’d read previously and loved, he faced the same problem.

With a stack of books in front of him, Blaise sat and stared at them, fingers tapping on the table in annoyance. He thought he’d wanted peace and quiet, to be alone for a while, but something still wasn’t right, and he didn’t know how to make himself feel better.

So, he turned his interests to people watching. At first, it had been a desperate attempt to stave off the boredom as he sat in the quiet library, waiting for the urge to do something, but it turned into a hobby of sorts.

He’d bring homework, maybe smuggle a snack, and watch the people that came in and out of the library.

He’d watch Madam Pince stalk through the library, hunting for any student poorly treating the books (and sometimes catching them). He often saw the Gryffindor prefect, Percy, sneak in alone to study, and once he got to see a rather amusing event as he hid from two of his brothers, the infamous pranksters Fred and George. A Gryffindor boy who he recognized as Neville, the boy that could make the simplest potion a disaster, would sometimes hide between the shelves from various bullies (some Slytherin, many Gryffindor), picking up books on botany and reading from them as he kept his head low until they became bored and ran off.

Then there was the third year Hufflepuff, a boy with dark hair and a bad habit of chewing on his lip. When he came in, Blaise didn’t pay too much attention to him. He just seemed to be tutoring a first year Hufflepuff, a tall girl with deep red hair, and after an hour, she thanked him and left for her next class.

But the older Hufflepuff boy stayed. At first, it seemed he was reading his text book for some assignment of his own, but after a while, Blaise realized he had been on the same page, reading the same passage over and over, and every few moments his eyes would leave the page and look over at something Blaise couldn’t see from where he sat.

Blaise rested his chin against his palm as he watched, rather amused by the third year’s poor attempt at keeping his glances secret, before he gathered his things and stood. The Hufflepuff boy was hopeless.

Setting his books down on the table next to the older student, Blaise sat down without announcement, looking in the direction of where the boy had been looking.

“Ah, hello,” the Hufflepuff said awkwardly, giving a strained smile in an attempt to be friendly, but he hadn’t expected anyone to approach him like this, much less a stranger.

“Blaise Zabini,” Blaise said, holding out a hand to the older boy without turning to look at him. Instead, he stared at a group of Ravenclaws who seemed to be discussing a book and having some sort of disagreement.

“Cedric Diggory,” he responded to the introduction, taking the outstretched hand as though it were second nature to do so. He awkwardly chewed on his lip, trying to decide how to ask what this boy wanted without being rude.

“Which one is it?” Blaise asked, retracting his hand and resting his chin in its palm once more.

“Excuse me…?” Cedric said awkwardly, still trying to figure out what this strange Slytherin boy was doing.

“The girl you’re staring at. Is it that one?” He pointed at a girl with dark hair who seemed to be enthusiastic about the book they were discussing, but Cedric was quick, grabbing Blaise’s hand and shoving it back down on the table.

“Don’t point at her!” He said, face turning red as his lip-chewing worsened. Realizing what he was doing, he immediately let go of Blaise’s hand with a soft apology, attempting to regain his composure. “I… don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Come off it, it’s written all over your face.” Blaise turned now to look at him fully, his eyebrow raised, the only break from his neutral expression. Cedric’s brows furrowed, before he sighed and pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes.

“Fine, yes,” he admitted, shaking his head.

“I’ve never seen this courting tactic before. Staring at her from across the room and waiting for a miracle to occur.” Blaise scratched his chin, as though honestly considering the thought.

Cedric spluttered for a few moments, mouth slightly agape at the statement, but his face and ears were still quite red. “I-what? I can’t simply go up and speak with her.”

“Oh? Are you being held down by a curse of some sort?” Blaise looked him up and down.

“No, but-” He huffed, shaking his head, regaining his composure once more. “She is already with someone.”

“Ah.” Blaise’s neutral expression actually seemed to soften a bit. “So you’re content with staring at her from across the library, like a completely normal person. I see.”

Cedric opened his mouth to respond, then closed it, frowning at the first year Slytherin. “Why do you care so much?”

Blaise’s expression grew hard, and he looked away from Cedric now, fingers tapping on the table. “I don’t, I’m just bored.”

Cedric stared at him, an eyebrow raised, trying to decipher the odd boy that had put himself next to him for no discernible reason. “If you say so…”

They sat for a moment, Blaise staring blankly at the nearest bookshelf, still looking irritated by something, and Cedric awkwardly trying to decide what to do next.

“Did you, uh, want something else?” Cedric finally asked, scratching the back of his head. Blaise looked up, seeming surprised by the question and the fact that he was still sitting there when he didn’t know why.

Blaise attempted to come up with a clever response. A short, sarcastic statement or joke, but his mind went blank. Why was he still sitting here?

Cedric was staring at him with his bright grey eyes, sizing up his neutral expression and the lack of immediate response, before he nodded to himself and turned his attention to his textbook once more, asking no more questions.

Blaise didn’t know why, but he felt oddly comforted by this, sitting next to a boy he hardly knew while he hid from anyone he did.

He grabbed the book he had been trying to read, and gave it a try once more.

As he expected, Acker was still his favorite author.


Harry had been in and out of consciousness since Madam Pomfrey had given him a sleeping draught on the first night. He was still hardly responsive up until she’d attempt to give him a potion, so she took to slipping them into his drinks when she could. He never spoke to her, even if she asked him questions, but would always look at her if she used her wand on him for a diagnostic.

Draco, Tracey, Daphne, and Hermione had all visited him, but they’d all been ushered out after seeing he was somewhat alright, if still unconscious and underweight.

Days passed him by, and while no change seemed to be coming externally, the nurse assured anyone who asked that his core was getting stronger every minute.

Harry hardly remembered his few waking moments. They passed in a blur, where he’d mostly stare blankly at the ceiling, until someone gently pulled him to a sitting position and had him eat a meager meal and drink a glass of water or juice.

Then he’d be overwhelmed by the need to rest, and go under once more.

They all seemed to be timed perfectly, and later he’d realize that the nurse had been giving him precise doses that would keep him asleep for a specific amount of time. The thought of being secretly given potions was disturbing, but he understood the reasoning at the very least.

It allowed for her to be there to treat him at the exact time he’d wake up, and it worked perfectly up until that strange voice woke him up from his dead sleep. He wasn’t sure if it was real or if he’d imagined it, and didn’t even know what it’d said, but he found himself jerking awake anyway.

Something didn’t feel right, and he sat up, feeling drowsy and fatigued, but nonetheless needing to get up.

“Harry?” A voice asked, and Harry was startled to find Draco sitting next to him. By the moonlight outside and how quiet the infirmary was, it must’ve been late, but Draco sat with him, book in hand.

“Wh-what’re y-y-you doing h-here?” Harry asked, rubbing his eyes as he tried to shake off the feeling of exhaustion that weighed on him.

Draco blinked and frowned at the question, not quite wanting to answer. “You should be asleep,” was his response.

Harry shook his head, pulling the covers off and stepping gingerly out of bed. Finding his feet barefoot and exposed, he felt a sudden cold chill creep up his spine at what it meant. “Di-did sh-she-”

“They use magic to change you out of your clothes, so there’s a chance she didn’t see anything,” Draco offered, already knowing what Harry was asking.

Harry wasn’t comforted, the frown still on his face, as his mind filled with thoughts of the nurse knowing. Draco was one thing, perhaps an odd exception, but the nurse would have to go to the headmaster, surely. Would he be allowed to stay if she did? Would he have to stay with the Dursley’s if he was kicked out?

“-arry? Hey!” Draco gently shook Harry’s shoulder, and the boy startled, his heart pounding as he focused on Draco’s face, inches from his own. “If she knows, I’ll help you. I’m sure it’ll all be fine, okay? So just breathe…”

It was difficult, he hadn’t realized his breathing was coming out strangled and gasped, but he grabbed Draco’s hand without thinking and managed to slow it down to a more reasonable level.

If Draco didn’t want Harry to hold his hand, he didn’t say so, and Harry was grateful he allowed it as he calmed.

“Th-thank y-you…” he whispered, pulling his hand back, trying not to let his thoughts go back to dark places.

“You should try and get back to sleep.” Draco said, already concerned for his friend’s outburst. He hadn’t been awake for a minute and was already in a panic.

Harry almost complied, but another dark chill down his spine had him shaking his head. Something wasn’t right, and he stepped away from the bed.

“So-somethi-thing’s wr-wrong,” he said, looking around the room.

“What do you mean?” Draco set his book on the side table and stood, looking at his friend in confusion. Harry searched for the right words, and found none.

“Whe-where’s the hea-headmaster?” He asked, turning to Draco. He wasn’t sure why, but it felt important.

“He’s away, last I heard,” Draco said, raising an eyebrow at the question. “Why?”

“I d-don’t kn-know…” Harry stared at the ground, trying to understand why he was so unnerved. “I th-think… W-we need to g-go…”

“Uh, where?” Draco asked, but Harry was already pulling on his shoes from beside the bed and walking towards the door. Draco followed, unsure what else to do.

The halls were quiet, and Draco found himself rather surprised by how stealthily Harry navigated them. He supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised, Harry had snuck out as many nights as he’d actually slept in their room, but it was still odd seeing him so easily avoid the teachers that patrolled the halls.

Draco trailed behind him, copying Harry’s actions as they went through the castle. Harry seemed just as confused at Draco was by where they were going, but stopped in front of a door on the third floor.

“What are you doing?” Draco whispered to Harry, who was just staring at the door.

“S-some-something’s be-behind this d-door,” he said softly, eyebrows furrowed. How he knew, and why it was so important was still lost on him, and he was struggling to figure it out when he jumped at the sound of footsteps already close behind them.

The two Slytherin’s whipped around, already too late to hide, but were shocked to find it wasn’t a teacher that had found them, but Hermione Granger, her wide, confused eyes mirroring the two boys.

“What are you doing here?” Draco hissed quietly, a sneer already on his face.

“I should ask you the same question,” she snapped back, voice equally hushed. Harry, on the other hand, was staring in shock at Hermione, who he’d never known to do anything against the rules. Not unless there was a good reason for it...

“So-something is be-behind thi-this door,” Harry stated, putting the pieces together. Hermione looked to him, and her gaze softened.

“I’m glad you’re doing better, Harry,” she said, and Harry gave a small smile, warmth spreading through his chest. He’d expected everyone to write him off after everything he’d said and the way he’d acted towards them. At the very least, it seemed Draco and Hermione were determined to stick by him… She blinked, looking him up and down, noting the clothes and now fixing him with a disapproving look, the kind of look a mother might give. “You should be back in the medical ward.”

“S-something fe-felt off,” he said, turning back to the door. Hermione stepped forwards and looked at the door.

“I don’t know how you know, but I’ve been noticing a lot of strange things…” She admitted softly. “They’re clearly hiding something in here, something very important, and when I heard Dumbledore was going to be leaving on urgent business, I approached Professor McGonagall, saying that I thought someone might use this chance to try and take whatever it is. She assured me that nothing was wrong but…”

“Gryffindor foolishness dictates that you need to take action,” Draco sneered, rolling his eyes, earning him a glare from the bushy-haired girl.

“I’m con-concerned too,” Harry agreed, ignoring Draco’s jab at his friend. She looked at him, recognizing his statement that he wanted to help her.

“You really should get back in bed,” she said, noting that he still seemed a bit drowsy. He gave a small smile at her.

“No-now that I kn-know y-yo-you’re going, I’ll ha-have to fo-follow,” he said, and she sighed, shaking her head but relenting. In truth, having someone else there would help her greatly. She turned to Draco, her expression being all he needed to know she was asking if he was coming too. He rolled his eyes.

“Of course I’m not going to leave you and him alone,” he said. “ Someone needs to be there to keep you two from getting yourselves killed.”

Her almost teasing smile was all she needed to respond with, and he rolled his eyes again.

“Together then,” she said with a nod.

And the three of them stepped through the door.

Chapter Text

“Honestly, if Harry says not to look, I won’t.”

“Extra precaution, Granger.”

“What I’d like to know is why you get to look.”

“Obviously he likes me more.”

Hermione stood staring at Draco, only a few inches away from the blonde boy, her arms over her chest while Draco smirked back at her. The two stood at the entrance to a large chamber filled with bird-like keys, flitting about the ceiling, Hermione’s back to the scene inside.

And inside was Harry, talons digging into the rafters as he crouched low, trying to catch a glimpse of the key again.

Hermione had truly been poor at flying on the broomsticks, and Harry, while a touch better, was certainly more skilled without a broom at all. Draco had been the best of the three of them, but even he struggled to get the key on his own.

A few subtle glances at Harry that he attempted to ignore, and Draco finally landed and cleared his throat, spouting some nonsense that Harry really was a better flyer, but he had stage fright or something of the sort.

“Can’t fly in front of a crowd, you know,” he said to Hermione as Harry stared at him from over her shoulder, completely appalled by what he was suggesting.

So, with a promise he’d make sure the Gryffindor didn’t peek, they stepped just out of the room and Draco cast a one-way sound charm so Hermione wouldn’t hear any suspicious flapping noises.

Things had been going about as smoothly as they could. Draco and Harry had been unprepared for the three-headed dog behind the door, but Hermione had been ready with a penny whistle to put it to sleep, and the three dropped down to the next room.

Harry and Draco were first, and didn’t realize until it was too late that they were being engulfed in a tangle of vines. Hermione had been quick to pull herself out, but Harry had completely lost his composure, and his panic was making it difficult to focus.

“We need some light and warmth,” she said, racking her brain, the wand in her hand shaking badly.

“Hurry up, Granger!” Draco snapped, arms pinned to his side, keeping him immobile while the vines crept up to his neck. Harry was pulled down further, mouth and body covered by this point, the only sign he was still there being a few fingers and locks of hair poking up from the vines.

“Fire, but there’s no wood…” She shook her head, trying to focus herself, but in truth she was terrified.

“Have you gone mad?!” Draco screamed. “Merlin’s beard, use your wand, you stupid-!” Whatever else he intended to say was cut off at the tightening around his throat, but the icy glare sent her way was enough to convey that if she let him suffocate, she would be haunted for the rest of her life.

“Right! Right,” she shook herself once more, straightening as she raised her wand and cast the spell.

As the vines retreated, Draco immediately grabbed onto Harry’s arm, holding him in a death grip while he pulled the gasping and choking boy to the stone floor that the vines didn’t reach. There, the two collapsed, Draco’s hand going up to his neck, still struggling to breathe as he attempted to rub away the sensation, while Harry supported himself on his elbows, choking and gasping for another reason, staring wide-eyed down at the stone beneath them.

“Bloody hell, Granger...” Draco hissed, sitting up on his knees, a hand on Harry’s shoulder as though the action were second nature.

“Sorry! I’m sorry,” she said, shifting from foot to foot, uncertain. Part of her wanted to help Harry, part of her was still berating herself for how long it had taken. Brightest witch of her age… what a joke!

“I-it’s ok-okay,” Harry choked out, allowing Draco to help him to his feet. He had felt fatigued before, now he felt as though he could rest for centuries. “W-we w-wo-wouldn’t be h-h-here if it w-weren’t for y-you… thank y-you.”

Hermione didn’t feel completely consoled, but she smiled at his attempt and put a steadying hand on his shoulder, disguised as a symbol of comfort, while Harry took the first steps down the hall.

The hall was long enough that Hermione, as should’ve been expected, had time to inform them on all of the theories she had for what was hidden at the end of these trials. What she believed most strongly was that it hid Nicolas Flamel’s Philosopher’s Stone. She knew that Dumbledore had a connection to him, and the security measures set to keep the artifact hidden was incredibly elaborate for just anything.

“Th-the va-vault,” Harry suddenly said, everything clicking together. The small package Hagrid had grabbed while they had been there was one thing, but he should’ve paid more attention to Hagrid’s conversations with himself (for the most part) as Avice spent time with him. If he had, he would’ve made the connection sooner. Hagrid frequently would fret over the fact that the vault had been broken into, that he hoped Dumbledore knew what he was doing, that the timing didn’t sit right with him.

It had seemed like mostly nonsense at the time, conversation for the sake of conversation, peppered in the middle of unimportant matters. Now it looked to be the most obvious thing.

Draco and Hermione stared at Harry in confusion, and it took him a few moments too long to realize it. By the time he did, they were already at the room with the key, and his odd outburst was all but forgotten in the face of the new task.

That led him to this specific predicament, and Harry found himself more than a little bit irritated at Draco, but also at Avice and himself.

Avice, unsurprisingly enough, was being as unhelpful as she could, and while he had managed to get them up there, she was now making it incredibly hard to use his wings, let alone navigate to the key itself.

C’mon, I need to do this, he silently implored. Please just help me.

There came no response, and for a moment the tension in his wings that kept them from folding out properly was relaxed. Perhaps she had listened to him for once?

Taking off, they stretched out, pumping to raise them higher, then all at once they locked up again, and he was sent tumbling to the ground, wincing as he fell into his side as he attempted to soothe the landing.

“You okay Harry?” Draco called, wincing at the sight of his friend hitting the stone floor. Hermione instinctually went to turn and look, but Draco was quick, grabbing her by the face and holding her head firmly towards him. Cheeks squished forwards, she glared at him like a disgruntled chipmunk.

Harry, in response to the inquiry, gave a thumbs up as he groaned and pulled himself to his feet, assessing the scrapes on his arm and knee, trying to stretch out his wings again. Avice was continuing to tighten their shared muscles to make everything incredibly difficult.

“I thought you said could do this?” Draco called, raising an eyebrow. He had been impressed when Harry first took off, but that feeling had waned considerably.

Harry shot him a sour look, before turning his back on him to attempt to get his wings to cooperate with him. Draco snorted, and turned back to the still grumpy witch before him, letting go of her face finally, smirking while she rubbed the soreness from her cheeks.

Please, Avice, Harry begged. I know that I was terrible to you, I know I don’t deserve your help now.

And? Came the female voice he’d heard very rarely before.

And I’ll do whatever I can to make it up to you. Harry thought back. I’ll give you as many nights as I can. I’ll give you as much of the summer as I can get out of the Dursley’s. Anything.

A pause, and Harry worried she had refused his offer.

I will do this for you. She responded. But we will discuss the arrangements for this summer.

Deal .

With that, she took over, the wings stretching out gracefully as she leapt into the air, grabbing hold of the rafter once more while she peered at the flock of keys. Easily, she pinpointed the large silver key with the broken wing and dove forwards, twisting herself expertly while she sliced her way through the others towards her target.

They all scattered, but as she approached the one she desired, wings tilted upwards, creating a seeming impassable force, and the key was forced to continue towards the wall with the handful that were stuck with it.

The entire encounter was over in a matter of seconds, the sharp talons wrapped tightly around the silver body as she dropped to the floor, allowing Harry to melt back and shove the key into the lock.

Draco waited for Harry to put his shirt and shoes back on before dropping the sound charm and walking over.

“I hope you realize I now have so many more questions,” he said, voice low so Hermione wouldn’t hear as she approached.

Harry gave him a tired and sheepish smile without replying, turning instead to the door to avoid Hermione’s questioning gaze that seemed to be trying to strip the two of them of their secrets.

“Ready?” He asked to no one in particular. Hermione and Draco nodded, to which Harry returned one of his own.

To say they hadn’t expected to be greeted by a giant chess board on the other side would be an understatement.

Hermione was quick to realize what they needed to do, and once she stated it, it seemed obvious.

“We need to play in the game,” she said, looking at the pieces.

“That’s all?” Draco asked, snorting as though the concept was simple. Harry, meanwhile, felt uneasy.

“I’m s-s-still n-not gr-great at chess,” Harry said, looking at Hermione. She shrugged.

“I’ve never really had anyone to play with,” she admitted. “I’m an only child.”

“M-me too,” Harry said. Dudley certainly didn’t count, and the closest thing to a brother he’d ever had was Bill. That line of thinking, however, he immediately halted as the memories associated with Bill were becoming increasingly upsetting, and he could hardly think on anything good without developing a deep sense of self-loathing to follow.

“So we all don’t have any siblings,” Draco said, shaking his head at the other two, “but that’s no excuse. If we survive this, the two of you had best work on getting some culture in your lives.”

He turned to the pieces, looking them over thoughtfully.

“Harry, you take the bishop. Granger to the castle, and I’ll take the knight position.” His instructions were quickly followed by the chess pieces moving themselves out of the way while the three took their places.

The game began. Draco instructed the pieces, and Harry immediately saw that he was playing in such a way that was much different than when he played against Harry. He was more cautious and calculating, seeing moves far ahead that Harry wouldn’t have thought of. He could see Hermione standing with uncertainty all over her face, trying to keep track of what Draco was doing and thinking.

The game was closely matched, their side missing a few more pieces, when the queen suddenly moved forward and Draco cursed loudly, cursing a few times in fact.

“Wh-what?” Harry asked, looking for the issue, but then saw it. The queen was one move away from Hermione, and with how violently the pieces were being knocked down and tossed to the side…

“I could move,” Hermione offered, but from her position, she wasn't far off from being in danger of another piece as well.

Draco’s brow was furrowed as he looked over the board carefully, not saying a word. Hermione was looking more and more frantic, while Harry tried to calm down. He had to trust that Draco would make the right decision.

“Fine,” he said to himself, seeming irritated by something. “Harry, we’re two moves from winning. After this, go for the king.”

Harry opened his mouth to question what he was doing, when Draco suddenly moved only a few squares from the queen. From that position, should the queen go for Hermione, he’d be able to get the queen in return.

That wasn’t the plan though. The other side knew this easily, could see where the knight was standing, and chose a different tactic.

“W-w-wait!” Harry called out as the queen turned to Draco. The blonde boy stuck his chin up proudly as the towering statue slid over to him. He didn’t look at Harry as he called out to him, or look to see Hermione’s stunned face. He stared the queen down as she raised her great staff and then brought it down upon him.

With a terrifying sound, Draco’s body collapsed to the floor. Harry found himself trembling, and didn’t realize how much he had been screaming for the Slytherin boy until he felt the rawness in his throat and heard Hermione raise her own to call over the sound.

“Harry!” She screamed, terrified determination in her face. Still, neither had moved from their square. “You need to finish the match.”

Harry looked back to Draco’s body that was being dragged from the board. He was bleeding, and blood smeared over the black and white pieces.

He thought, for a moment, that his legs might give out on him, but he somehow managed to move himself to stand in front of the giant king piece, looking up at it with a terrified expression, nowhere near how dignified Draco had been

“Ch-checkma-mate,” He said in a soft whisper.

The king nodded its head, and the white pieces all stepped off the board, standing out of the way.

Harry wasted no time in running to Draco’s side, turning him over. A sizeable gash on his head was bleeding, and Harry couldn’t stop the fear wracking his body, but he knew Draco was breathing. Hermione was next to him, still shaken as she tried to help assess the damage.

“He’s al-alive,” Harry said quietly. The blood was clotting, which was good. He could only hope that the internal damage wouldn’t be permanent.

“We… we have to go on, Harry,” she said quietly. He didn’t move immediately, but then he slowly nodded. Quietly, he stood up. He wanted to do something, to help him, but he knew they had limited time, and that moving Draco might make everything worse.

“W-we’ll be ba-back,” he said softly, mostly to himself, before striding quickly to the door, Hermione following after him.

The next room held a troll that had already been knocked unconscious, and they both silently thanked that fact.

Then there was the room with the potions. Just stepping into that room put Harry on edge, the flames that erupted in front of both doors not helping any, and he stood behind Hermione as she read the paper with the hints on it.

To leave that room he’d have to drink one of those potions.

When she turned to him with a grin after having solved it, the two bottles they’d need in her hands, she was met with a slightly nauseous grimace from Harry.

“Oh! Harry, are you-” she didn’t have time to ask, he was already sinking to the floor.

“S-s-so-sorry,” he murmured, having to put a hand on the floor to keep himself steady as he tried to stop the spinning. She crouched next to him, her smile gone.

“This one will let you go through the flames and get back to Malfoy,” she offered, holding out the bottle. The other in her hand was small, scarcely holding enough for one sip. “I’ll go ahead, you go find help. Get Madam Pomfrey for him and yourself.”

“Wh-wh-what abo-about y-y-you?” He choked out, looking up at her. She gave him a small smile.

“I’ll do my best.” She pushed the bigger vial towards him. He flinched back slightly, eyes trained on the liquid. Hermione took his reaction for a different reason. “I’m certain it’s safe.”

“I t-tr-trust y-you,” he said softly, never doubting that she knew what she was doing. She was capable and smart. She had him beat in just about every category. She had so much there to offer the world…

Faster than she could react to, he grabbed hold of the other vial, and before she could say a word he had downed it’s contents.

“What-” was all she got out before Harry surged to his feet. He regret the decision immediately as he staggered a few steps forwards, grasping the table to steady himself and rocking the rest of the vials on it. “Harry?”

“G-get Dra-Draco out of th-the-there,” he said on his way to the further door. “T-te-tell the-them D-Dumbledo-dore needs t-to come b-b-back.”

She strode forwards quickly, grabbing him by the shoulder, shock still on her face.

“What are you doing , Harry?!” She implored, somewhere between hysterics and anger. If someone was in there, Harry stood no chance as he was. He was weak, still partially under the effects of the sleeping potion, he could cast barely any spells, his core was still partially drained. Still, he turned a shaky smile to Hermione.

“M-m-my best,” he said, then stepped through the flames.

 

Of all the people behind the flames that Harry might’ve expected, Professor Quirrell was the last on that list.

“Y-you?” He asked softly. The man wore a smooth smile.

“Me,” he said calmly.

Before Harry could react, he had conjured ropes that bound him tightly, before turning his attention to the Mirror of Erised that sat behind him. Just looking at the mirror made Harry sick, but the man was his priority now, and he managed to pry his eyes away from its surface that seemed to call to him.

“I heard you were caught this mirror’s spell,” the professor said as he looked it up and down, speaking perfectly and casually. “I knew they were going to move it, but I’m surprised they moved it here. I wonder if there was something here previously…”

All Harry could think was that he needed to stall him while Hermione got help.

“In D-Di-Diagon Alley, y-you w-were the-there for the s-s-stone in the v-va-vault,” he said, putting the pieces together.

“Clever boy,” he hummed, before turning to look at Harry. “I must say I’m surprised that stammer is real. Either that or you have a desire to continue the act even now, which is doubtful at the very least. I must say I find it both underwhelming and annoying. I had expected someone far more… impressive.”

His chest tightened, and he opened his mouth to say something, anything, but the man waved his wand and he found his voice silenced as he turned to ignore him and instead focus his attention on the mirror.

“I don’t understand, is it in the mirror?” He grumbled, speaking to himself. “How does it work? Help me master!”

To Harry’s horror, a voice answered back.

“The boy... Use the boy…”

“Yes, Potter, Come here.”

The bindings were removed, but Harry stepped backwards. Sighing as though the action were an inconvenience to him, Quirrell raised his wand once more and Harry found himself thrust forwards, stumbling several feet but being caught by the upper arm before he could fall. He stumbled, pulling away from the man, but he had a bruising grip on him as he was shoved in front of the mirror.

Terror gripped at his heart. He needed to get the stone first. Quirrell couldn’t get a hold of it, and with this thought pounding through his head, he stared at the surface in terror.

He saw himself, just himself for a moment. It was almost a relief, but then the mirror Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out a ruby red stone, winked at him, and put it back.

Harry felt a weight in his pocket.

“What do you see?” Quirrell demanded, lifting the silencing charm on him. Harry hesitated.

“I s-se-see… m-my family,” he said quietly, eyes glued to his image, not reacting to the weight in his pocket. Quirrell grumbled something and shoved him aside.

“He lies…” Came that chilling voice, and Quirrell’s eyes were on him again.

“What did you really see?” He called, taking a step forwards as Harry stepped back.

“Let me speak to him… face-to-face…."

“Master, you are not strong enough!”

“I have strength enough… for this…”

Harry felt as though he had gone numb, as though he were rooted to the spot. Quirrell reached up and undid his turban. Then he turned around.

There, on the back of the man’s head, was another face. Horrible and disgusting, something less than human. Harry wasn’t completely sure how he knew, but he was certain that face belonged to Voldemort, or whatever was left of him.

The second face spoke, but Harry could hardly hear. His eyes were glued onto those red eyes, his breathing coming out in long gasps, hands numb. The weight of his exhaustion was bearing down on him, and his knees shook, but he refused to fall. Not here.

“Now… why don’t you give me that stone in your pocket?”

With those words, Harry felt as though a spell were lifted, and he was able to step back. The voice merely laughed at this.

“You desire to keep me… from the stone?” He asked as though it were a joke. “Tell me… what have they... ever done for you…” Harry didn’t need to ask who “they” were. “Did they stop you... from being turned into.. a monstrosity .”

“I’m n-n-not…” The words died on his lips. He scratched at the spot where his numbers had been. Had the situation been different, he might’ve noticed how odd it was that after being in the medical ward for so long, it was still concealed.

“Do not fool yourself.... We both know the truth… Better save your own life and join me… or you’ll meet the same end as your parents… They died begging me for mercy…”

With that statement, Harry was jarred to alertness. He was the one that set everything in motion. He was the one that destroyed his chance of having a loving home with loving parents. His terrible life began with Voldemort, and with his poor luck, that’s probably where it would end too.

“Liar!” Harry shouted, making a sprint for the door.

“SEIZE HIM!” Quirrell was upon him much too easily. Had Harry not been so exhausted, he was certain that he would’ve been faster, but his resistance was minimal at best when his wrist was grabbed.

A stabbing pain seared through his forehead, and he pulled back instinctively. To his surprise, Quirrell released him, and the pain subsided. Looking at the man through watery eyes, he saw that his hand was blistering, while Harry felt no pain on his skin, even as he looked at his wrist.

“Seize him! SEIZE HIM!” Quirrell lunged at him and knocked him back, pinning him to the ground with his hands around his neck.

The searing pain was back, sending his mind reeling and pulling a scream from his throat. Quirrell once again released him, and as the pain dissipated, he found he hadn’t been the only one screaming.

“Master I cannot hold him! My hands-”

“Then kill him, fool, and be done!” Screeched Voldemort.

Before he had the chance to grab his wand, Harry sat up and grabbed his face.

The man screamed and Harry’s vision tunneled, but he grabbed hold of him, refusing to let go. The ringing was filling his ears, and his senses waned.

At some point, he was thrown back and he fell into the stone floor. He heard a screeching voice fade into nothing, and he felt warm arms around him for a fleeting moment.

Then he felt nothing.


 

Something gold swam in front of his vision. At first, it was a small annoyance, but as it reflected the sunlight into his face, he found himself shying away from it, squeezing his eyes shut to drown it out. His head was pounding, but try as he might he couldn’t wrap himself in the warmth of unconsciousness once again. His body was awake, even if his mind didn’t want to be.

“Harry, my boy,” came a gentle, kind voice, and Harry found himself begrudgingly opening his eyes, squinting at the headmaster. “Good afternoon.”

Harry grunted something, pulling himself up a few inches and rubbing his tired eyes, before pressing his fingers to his temples.

And with that pressure, it all seemed to come flooding back. He sat up straight, terrified eyes boring straight into the headmaster’s pleasant blue ones.

“S-sir! The s-st-stone! Qu-Quirrell-” He exclaimed, but the man gently raised a hand and Harry silenced himself.

“Calm yourself, dear boy, you are a little behind the times,” Dumbledore said. “Quirrell does not have the stone.”

Harry’s brow furrowed as he attempted to focus on the world through the fogginess in his head. He stayed silent as Dumbledore patiently explained what happened when he fell unconscious. He asked a few questions, and the man supplied even fewer answers. Then, Harry fell quiet, leaning back in his bed.

“I must ask,” the headmaster said after a long, drawn-out silence. “Miss Granger was quite upset when we spoke to her. She said you ran off into the last room without help, and from what I understand you were already quite weak.”

He didn’t actually ask a question, but the inquiry was there within his words. Harry didn’t look at him.

“I j-ju-just.... I co-couldn’t l-let her go in th-there…” Harry searched for the right words to explain himself, but he found himself struggling. “If… if an-anyone sh-should’ve b-be-been risking th-their life, it sh-should’ve be-been me.”

Dumbledore’s expression softened, and he let out a gentle sigh.

“My boy, that was rather noble of you,” he said, patting Harry’s knee through the blanket. “Though never feel as though you are without aid. I’m certain your friends would always be there to help you when you need it.”

Harry gave him a small smile, meeting his twinkling blue eyes briefly, before dropping his gaze down again. He felt warm, and he’d seen something like pride in the man’s eyes. He wasn’t certain why, but he felt a strong desire get the man to look at him that way again, so much so that he missed the fact that he never actually told Harry he shouldn’t put himself into danger for others.

“Now, I’m afraid I must be going before Madam Pomfrey chases me out for disturbing her patient.” The headmaster patted Harry’s knee once more, and with a brief farewell, he turned and made his leave.

The infirmary was incredibly quiet. The light streamed in through the windows, becoming soft through the curtains that separated each bed, and Harry found himself enjoying the peace, leaning back and closing his eyes, taking a breath and stretching his arms and legs as he sank deeper under the covers.

Then, as he stretched his fingers, he felt something against his palm, something rough that scratched at his skin.

He stared down at his right hand, wrapped firmly around the middle in a bandage. He hadn’t thought much of it at first; he had been in a lot of pain and cutting his hand wasn’t unlikely during that final struggle with his professor. Now, however, as his mind came into focus and the almost paranoid thoughts began pulling themselves forth, he didn’t miss the fact that it was strange his right hand was bandaged when he felt no pain in it.

Or that no one had noticed the tattoo when he’d been in the infirmary for so long.

He was sitting up once more, his breathing ragged and strangled as he stared at his hand. It had become his routine to apply the concealer just before bed, or in the morning if he’d forgotten. Despite how good he was at being certain to do it, strenuous nights (normally nights following his speech “lesson” with Professor Snape) would sometimes lead to him retiring earlier than normal. However, the dark blue letters standing out boldly on his pale hand were obvious enough to scare him into reapplying it immediately. Being in the infirmary, he hadn’t had a chance to.

Slowly, almost frightened of what he’d see, he unraveled the bandage.

There it was. 322-F printed boldly onto the back of his hand. No amount of scratching and rubbing had removed it since he’d gotten it, even as he’d done his best to hide it.

However, what drew his attention was the small slip of paper that fell from his palm onto his bed as the bandage came untied. Reaching with his right hand and noting that there was no real injury that the bandage had supposedly been covering up, he picked up the note.

I’m afraid I used the last of my own concealing potion, so bandages will have to do this time.

No one else saw, only I know and whoever else you’ve decided to share it with. It will be up to you where you spread this information.

- Poppy Pomfrey

 

Harry sat there, somewhere between terrified and relieved. She knew, but she said she wouldn’t tell anyone. His hands were shaking slightly, and he felt his eyes welling up with tears.

He jumped when a hand gently took the bandages from his grip, looking up to see the form of the mediwitch herself. She didn’t look at him, instead just taking his hand and wrapping it up expertly, keeping the tattoo hidden from view. She said nothing as she worked, being sure that it wasn’t too tight, but wouldn’t slip off accidentally.

Then, she straightened herself up and looked up at him with the saddest eyes he’d seen in a long time. She looked much older than before, as though she’d aged somehow since he’d last seen her, but gave him a small smile.

“If you ever need anything, I’m available at any hour,” she said gently. “No need to give me a reason, if you say your sick I can get you a bed or just a cup of tea if that’s all you need.”

Despite that Harry had heard the nurse was stern and fierce, she seemed almost weakened by something. Weakened in the sort of way someone might when given terrible news, and as she looked at him, Harry got the sense that she wanted to help but couldn’t.

“Tha-thank y-y-you,” he said in a hushed tone, unsure of how to voice the thoughts in his mind. He wondered why she was doing this rather than telling someone, but he feared if he questioned her reasoning, she might change her mind. So instead he smiled at her and closed his hand around the bandages.

With everything said that she needed to say, she stood up and returned to the few other patients, leaving Harry alone with his thoughts.

He leaned his head back and stared at the wrapped hand, and then the note. She was going to keep his secret, but he needed to know how much she actually knew. Did she see his legs? His wings? His scars?

He almost sat up to ask her outright, but as he went to do so, the door opened and Hermione walked in, followed closely by Draco. The second their eyes met, Hermione was rushing to his side.

“Harry!” She exclaimed, looking him up and down as she approached. A flash of relief over her expression as she saw he was fine, then it immediately dropped to anger, and Harry shrunk back. “What in the world did you think you were doing?!”

“I-I-I-I-” He really had no response for her, and feigned an innocent smile, only earning him a smack on the arm. He gave a small flinch back, scooting away from her. “S-s-sorry…”

“I swear if you ever do something as stupid and reckless as that ever again, I’m going to strangle you,” she said, rubbing her forehead, but Harry’s flinch and the way he seemed to shrink even further at her threat seemed to ground her. “I’m glad you’re doing alright…”

Harry just nodded awkwardly, not trusting his voice or Hermione’s lapse in anger as his gaze shifted over to the blonde boy shifting awkwardly behind the Gryffindor.

“Are y-yo-you d-doing okay?” He asked, looking him up and down for any sign of injury.

“Of course,” he said, stepping up next to the young witch. “You couldn’t get rid of me that easily.”

Hermione snorted, but there was a noticeable change in their demeanor as they voluntarily stood next to one another, something they hadn’t done previously.

“I’ve b-been out of cl-class f-fo-for a wh-while…” Harry began, shelving that information for later while he turned the conversation away from such dark topics as what had happened. He didn't think he could explain himself again.

“I thought you’d never ask.” Hermione began fiddling with her bag and Draco rolled his eyes in exasperation, taking a step away from her as she started pulling out rolls of parchment, dumping a pile onto Harry’s bed. It was clear from Draco’s cringe at the sight that Hermione had done the same to him when he had been stuck in the infirmary. “Well I started to make you some copies of my notes when you were in here the first time, but since you had to get yourself back in here for longer,” she shot him an accusatory glare and he raised his hands innocently, “I figured we should go through the notes together since you’ll be so far behind.”

“Merlin’s beard, Granger, he just woke up!” Draco exclaimed, shaking his head at the girl. She merely raised her eyebrow at him.

“Well he’s already lost a lot of time, so it’d be best if we begin soon-"

“Absolutely not.” Madam Pomfrey chose then to make herself heard, startling the trio of first years. “My patient needs rest, not to be badgered by anyone who comes waltzing through here.”

She seemed to be back to herself, though when she looked at Harry, her gaze softened to a point that made him uncomfortable. Kindness was one thing, but pity didn’t sit right with him.

“M-maybe to-tomorrow?” Harry offered Hermione, though was still looking at the nurse, as he was asking her permission.

She looked at him closely, her eyes narrowed while she summed him up, before sighing and shaking her head.

“For no more than an hour,” she said firmly, “and if you’ve not eaten all of your breakfast and lunch, I will change my mind on this.” Harry wondered how she knew about how little he ate. Was she told, or did she see it in his thin frame? Still, Harry nodded at her compromise, glancing back at Hermione as something clicked in his mind.

“Oh! I al-a-almost f-forgot, P-Professor M-McG-Gonagall g-gave m-me a book on n-nonver-verbal c-casting. I th-think it’s in m-my r-room…” It felt like so long ago now that he’d gotten that book.

“I can bring it in next time I come by,” Draco offered nonchalantly.

“Could I read through it first?” Hermione asked, excitement on her face. “I promise it won’t take long. I just think that since we won’t have time to look it over tomorrow, I could get a head start on looking it over?”

Draco looked at Harry, who nodded at the thought. Hermione was good at note taking; the pile on his lap was evidence of that. Draco shrugged.

“I’ll give it to you at dinner then,” he said to Hermione. Harry gave a small smile at Draco, and Draco immediately responded with a half-hearted glare. It was undeniable that their relationship had softened, at least the tiniest bit.

With that, they finally allowed themselves to be shooed out by the mediwitch, and Harry was left to the task of rearranging the many pages of notes left him.

Strangely enough, he felt better than he had in a while.


 

Blaise had, despite how it puzzled Cedric, continued to sit next to him day after day. He found him often already sitting at the table that the Hufflepuff preferred, waiting for him to get there.

On days that Cedric was tutoring Susan Bones (a young Hufflepuff girl that found transfigurations more than a little difficult), he’d inform Blaise that they’d be working for about an hour, and the boy would give a sort of haughty sniff, as though the information were irrelevant to him.

Then he’d sit a few chairs away, reading or idly watching the library and all its various inhabitants, as he waited for them to finish.

Sometimes they’d talk about inconsequential things. Books or class, people that they knew, teachers that they liked or disliked. Blaise was actually very rarely the first to start a conversation, and rarely one to stop it as it began. Despite having been the one to approach Cedric, he seemed like he would sit there for hours in his presence without saying a word if the older boy didn’t say something first. At the same time, he never seemed irritated when Cedric would get the urge to speak, and while he never said more than what was necessary, the third year found himself enjoying their talks.

Still, it had been at least a week since this strange relationship had begun, and he couldn’t help the burning question in his mind. Blaise, he’d observed, didn’t talk to many other people, and with how often he was in the library, Cedric had to wonder if he spent time with anyone in his own house.

“What are you hiding from?” Cedric asked out of the blue one day, his drift in thought keeping him from properly focusing on his potions homework. Blaise didn’t look up from his book, but the tightening of his hand on the pages didn’t go unnoticed.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said smoothly, regaining himself and flipping the page.

“Oh come off it,” Cedric said in a voice remarkably like Blaise’s own stoic one, and the boy in question gave the slightest hint of a smile. “Why should you spend so much time with me? Do you not get along with the others in your house?”

Blaise didn’t respond immediately. His eyes were glued to the page, and if it weren’t for the fact that they weren’t moving from the same spot, it might seem like he had chosen to completely ignore Cedric.

“Why should I spend time with them?” He asked. “There’s not much that can be gained from talking to any of them.”

“And what’s there to gain from talking to me?” Cedric retorted, rather surprised that conversations and interactions would be reduced to what was to be gained or lost.

“Maybe I want you to tutor me in transfigurations,” he said easily. Cedric gave a small laugh, and the flash of amusement over Blaise’s eyes was as close to a laugh at his own joke as he would give.

“From what I know of you, you would’ve asked me outright,” he responded with a small shake of his head, putting his quill down and leaning back to more properly survey the younger wizard. After a long silence that Blaise certainly wasn’t going to fill, Cedric stretched out his arms and back, finding the chairs to be much too uncomfortable. “Is that really all you’re concerned about when you talk to people? What you can get out of it?”

“And why shouldn’t I be?” He asked. There was a tone in his voice hinting that the conversation was going in a touchy direction, and to what sent Blaise there in the first place.

“Because there’s a bit more to it than what can be gained or lost?” Cedric gave an awkward laugh. Really, it seemed obvious to him, but the way Blaise looked at him spoke volumes of how he really viewed the world.

“If there’s nothing to be gained, then why should someone do anything?” He asked rather seriously. Cedric actually felt unsettled by how cold his dark brown eyes were.

“Maybe the gain isn’t always physical?” He offered, shaking away the feeling. “If you feel happy being around someone, isn’t that a positive?”

Blaise considered this for a moment, before coming to some conclusion and turning back to his book. What conclusion he came to, Cedric couldn’t be sure, but he sank down into his chair.

“Sheesh, did you think this way about all your friends growing up?” He asked, still unnerved by the seriousness in how Blaise viewed relationships.

“I didn’t have friends growing up.” It was said with so little emotion, Cedric almost thought it was a joke.

“You have to be kidding, you didn’t talk to anyone ?” Just what kind of childhood did he have with no friends?

“I talked to people. My mother threw parties and other families showed up. If they were the right sort, I associated with them. I wasn’t friends with them though, no.”

Cedric stared at him, wondering how he could stand to say such a thing without feeling anything. He pushed his hair back in exasperation, letting out a breath while he tried to figure him out. It certainly made his actions make a lot make sense, but it was still insane to think someone could stand to grow up with the world seeming so… cold.

Still, there was something in Blaise that had sent him there to the library. Something that had made him avoid the issue.

“So why the change then? Why the associating with someone who, by your standards, doesn’t have much to give.”

Cedric saw the rigidness of Blaise’s shoulders. The way his eyes froze on the page. Little signs that he began to see, telling him that he had his full attention. Blaise’s eyes left the page, and he looked around the library. It was getting closer to dinner, and there were very few in there, certainly none that were paying attention to the two students sitting towards the back. Stiffly, he closed the book and put it down, eyes focused straight ahead.

“I don’t… know…” There it was, the tiniest crack in this whole facade, a spark that told Cedric this person was actually a human and that he could be proud he’d brought it out. He didn’t expect Blaise to keep going, but to his surprise he did. “I had someone that I spent a decent amount of time with this year. He was someone I could benefit greatly from getting close to, and I thought I was in a good position. However, he began acting... irrationally. He wasn’t taking care of himself, was emotional, and at one point yelled at me and a few others I spent time with.”

His words hung in the air, but Cedric sighed as one might to someone who was foolishly missing the very obvious.

“You’re worried about him,” he said, a smile on his face. Blaise let out a slow breath, and with it, his expressionless face actually moved, closing his eyes as his brow furrowed.

“I don’t understand why .” He shook his head and a hand reached up to rub at his forehead while also serving as a block for anyone who might accidentally see he could generate expressions. “He’s being idiotic, he’s acting like a fool. I have no reason to want to help him.”

“But you do, because you consider him a friend.” Cedric leaned on his elbow, and Blaise let out a bitter chuckle, a sound Cedric didn’t think he’d ever hear from him. “You care about him.”

“Is caring about someone supposed to make me so angry at them?” Blaise looked up at him, and his eyes were so incredibly confused at what he was feeling, that Cedric wondered once more how he’d managed this far.

“Yes, sometimes. And it can make you sad, and happy, and any other assortment of emotions. Friends make you feel things, but unfortunately for you, they’re incredibly addictive.”

Now Blaise actually laughed, ducking his head down behind his hand again as he did to hide the lapse in emotion. It was a real, genuinely amused laugh, and he shook his head at his own ridiculousness.

“I’m afraid you’re in danger then.” He looked back up at Cedric, his forehead resting against his knuckles. “I might some day consider you a friend.”

“You’re too late, I’ve already listed you as one.” Cedric laughed in return.

“Really? It’s a bit early for that, isn’t it?”

“You’ve been sitting next to me for hours in the library all week, what else am I supposed to call you?” Blaise pondered this for a moment.

“Unwilling acquaintances?”

“Unwilling acquaintances it is then.” And he stood, stretching his back out once more. “These chairs really aren’t comfortable at all.”

“No they’re not.” Blaise gathered his things and stood up, already building back up his emotional wall, but to Cedric, he seemed somehow much happier. “Dinner should be starting soon.”

“That explains why I feel like I’m starving.” To outline his statement, his stomach growled, and he sighed.

“Well I’ll be heading that way anyway.”

“Should I walk ten feet behind you so people won’t get the crazy idea that we’re friends?”

“Well I wouldn’t want them to get the wrong impression…” Blaise pretended that he was thinking it over, before he shook his head. “I guess we’ll just have to risk it.”

And like that, the two unwilling acquaintances left the library, looking and talking remarkably like they might actually be friends.

Chapter Text

His oddly-shaped raven feet never properly fit into the normal foot-shaped socks, but there were enough kids in the infirmary that he wouldn’t want to risk them catching him barefoot. It was late enough that they should be asleep, but of all people to foolishly believe that they actually would be, Harry wasn’t one of them.

So his footsteps were light as he made his way to the back of the room. There hadn’t been another visitor for him since Draco and Hermione left, and he hadn’t shared any words with the nurse since their brief encounter, so he’d been left to be eaten alive by the questions, and now he had to know.

He hesitated for a moment by the door to her office and living quarters, before steeling himself up and knocking gently.

The woman wasted no time in opening the door, and despite the late hour, she was clearly still wide awake (giving credence to his previous thought that late nights didn’t always mean sleep for everyone). She clearly had been expecting him, so with no question, she motioned him inside and began brewing tea.

He found himself uncertain and almost terrified, standing by the closed door and busying himself with taking in the room. It seemed to double as an office and a living room, with a comfy-looking sitting area and a fireplace, only a short distance from her desk and many many shelves and drawers. Behind Harry was a large cabinet with glass doors peeking into many different, large-sized potion bottles, some more full than others. Next to it was a simple note-board, and on it were several strips of parchment with scribbled-down writing. While Harry couldn’t read what it said from the distance he stood from it (and his poor eyesight didn’t help), he could at least deduce it was likely related to the potions and what she’d need more of.

Pulled from his assessments by a cup of tea, gently placed into his hands, the witch walked to the sitting area, milk and sugar already placed on the coffee table, and waited for him to decide where he would go.

Harry didn’t miss her glance at his feet as he stepped closer to the table, not sitting just yet. She sipped her tea quietly, but her eyes were locked onto him. She kept her posture and gaze opened, however it was clear she was waiting for him to begin.

“Wha-w-what do y-you kn-know?” He asked finally. He stood behind one of the armchairs that made up the sitting area, a subtle action that told her she didn’t fully have his trust and that he was prepared to run if he needed to.

“I know what the numbers are from,” she said, setting her tea down slowly. “And I saw the wings, and your legs. And I know of the scars as well… That is all.”

Harry’s eyes flitted over her face, listening for the lie, the withheld information. He knew there must’ve been more to this situation, but in regards to his oddities, she must’ve been honest. There wasn’t much more to tell than what she had, and so he slowly took a seat in the armchair, only a few inches from the edge of the cushion. He brought the tea to his mouth and sniffed it subtly without drinking. He didn’t want his suspicions to be obvious, but she was staring right at him, so he might as well have yelled that he didn’t trust her to keep his tea untampered with.

“I haven’t put any potion in your drink,” she said, her expression looking like she was caught between finding his actions amusing, and incredibly sad. “Though I must say, knowing what I do now, your actions before make sense.”

“Wh-when?” He asked, taking a small sip of the tea and gauging its taste for anything odd.

“When Severus found you at the mirror,” she clarified, and Harry grimaced.

“I d-do-don’t re-r-remember m-much.” He dropped his gaze and took a longer sip of his tea, allowing himself to relax into the subtle flavors.

“You wouldn’t let us give you potions without being held down.” His grimace deepened, and she sighed softly. “I must say, you gave me quite a bit of trouble that first day.”

“I’m s-s-sorry…” His head was ducked far down, his tea held in his lap now, but Madam Pomfrey merely shook her head.

“You have no reason to be.” Harry slowly glanced up, and she met his gaze evenly. “I only wish there was more I could do.”

“Y-you co-c-couldn’t have d-done any-anything.” He shook his head. “A-and th-there’s nothing to d-d-do n-now.”

“Perhaps I wish I could find you justice…” she mused gently.

“S-some of th-them we-were arrested. Th-the r-rest are fugiti-tives.” Harry shrugged, rubbing his thumb against the warm side of the teacup.

She was still looking closely at him, making him squirm. Something in her gaze told him she disagreed, and he half expected her to say so, but she didn’t. He was getting uncomfortable under her unwavering gaze, and so he stood, leaving his tea unfinished on the table.

“Th-thank y-y-you. For e-everyth-thing,” he muttered, turning towards the door.

“If you ever need anything, my door is opened,” she said, not responding to his thanks, and Harry got the feeling she thought she didn’t deserve it, but when he glanced back she was putting away the teacups, so he left with nothing more said between them.

The infirmary was still silent while he returned to his bed, closing the door quietly and taking soft footsteps. Each occupied bed was still, no late-night readers or restless sleepers. With spring at full-force, the infirmary was more occupied than it normally was, some kind of flu sweeping over the students, but something about the atmosphere of the medical ward made students naturally fall quiet, even in large numbers.

Musing this over as he reached his bed, he began to pull up the covers and get in, but as he slipped in, he saw two figures crouched low on the other side just before they popped up in sync, hands up and shaking in four jazz hands that didn’t stop the rush of adrenaline that Harry felt, nearly sending him off the bed in his jerk away from the sudden company.

“Surprise!” Two voices whispered in unison as Harry grasped the edge of the bed with one hand to keep his balance, trying to slow the panicked beating of his heart with the other as he registered the two red-haired twins in the dim light of the infirmary.

“W-w-w-what?” He choked out, feeling the blood rushing through his body, attempting to rationalize what was going on through the pounding in his ears.

“Heard you were still in the infirmary,” George said, hopping onto the edge of Harry’s bed.

“So we decided to pay you a visit,” Fred chimed in, somehow managing to ruffle the first year’s hair before he jerked back away from his grasp.

Harry stared back and forth between the two, his panicked gaze falling to a quizzical one as he struggled to figure out what they were here for. They could’ve come during the day if they really wanted to visit him, so why did they choose to come now?

Seeing his confusion, Fred sighed and leaned back against the side table and looked at George with a raised eyebrow.

“Looks like he’s waiting for a better explanation, brother of mine,” he said, though there was something odd in his voice. While Fred seemed light and humorous, George was looking at Harry with a gaze that was a bit more serious, though holding a mask of amusement.

“Seems so,” he said, before leaning back and swinging his legs widely like a young kid might. “We were just wondering how things were going with Bill.”

He shot a look at Harry, and immediately the younger wizard knew that they weren’t just here to ask about Bill, but about what had happened. They must’ve known something or they wouldn’t be there, but still he found his wavering voice spouting a lie.

“I-it’s f-fi-f-fine.” Fred shook his head and tutted softly.

“Looks like he’s gonna make things difficult,” Fred said, and Harry’s eyebrows furrowed.

“Looks like he is.” George was looking straight at Harry while Harry fidgeted under the scrutiny, before his gaze softened to the normal look, as though he were ready to crack a joke at any moment, even if his eyes didn’t fully reflect that. “You know, you did get him to open up for once.”

“Not to us, of course.” Fred had his arms crossed as he added to the conversation subtly, but it was clear that George was the one running this meeting.

“But Charlie’s a bad liar, and it’s pretty easy to get information out of him.” George stopped swinging his legs. “Seems you hurt him pretty badly.”

“And, you know, he is our brother.”

Harry found his heart rate increasing again, and he scooted back so he could see both siblings clearly while his palms became sweaty. Were they going to hurt him? Get back at him for their brother? He couldn’t say he wouldn’t deserve it, but the fear was difficult to swallow down.

“I want to know why.” George’s face was serious, and it certainly didn’t suit his character. He wasn’t exactly threatening at that moment, but Harry very clearly saw the difference between the two twins as Fred lazily watched on.

“Th-there w-wa-was no re-reason.” Harry’s voice was low, and he twisted the sheets in his hands nervously.

“Well, there was at least one.” Fred snorted. “Of course we know about the mirror thing, it’s pretty easy to find out information like that when you’re us.”

“But even after all that, you never responded to his letters.” George had him pinned with his gaze.

“H-h-he…” Harry choked on his words and his mouth felt dry, so he swallowed before continuing carefully. “H-he’s be-better of w-without m-me.”

“Well that’s a cliche statement if I’ve ever heard it.” Fred was laughing behind him now, and George’s serious gaze broke to his more natural one as he laughed too.

“Makes you sound like the tragic hero of a sappy drama.” George’s laughing was dying down quickly, but his joke got his brother laughing harder. As he calmed, George’s eyes met Harry’s again, and his serious, almost accusing gaze was gone. Now he just seemed to think Harry was incredibly daft, or at least missing something obvious. “So? Why’d you cut him off like that?”

Harry opened his mouth to respond, before closing it tight. He didn’t know how to answer that. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t seen the letters sitting around. He knew he could’ve explained everything and gone back to being friends with Bill, but something gnawed at him. This feeling like he didn’t deserve all the kindness from Bill. Even more so was the fear that Bill would find out more about his life and what he was, what he’d been turned into .

When his question went unanswered, George stood up and stepped closer, his arms crossed now, and this time, Harry really did feel threatened by him.

“Here’s a better question; how’d you get that stutter?” His voice was even, but the question shocked through Harry.

“I-I ha..h-had a-”

“Concussion?” Fred looked sidelong at him, giving a short laugh at the response. “Yeah, we know that part.”

“What I want to know is how ?” George was leaning down towards Harry. He was looking straight into his eyes, and something about that froze him. He attempted to search for a believable lie, but all he could think was that George could see right through anything he’d say. He felt trapped, and so he did the first thing that came to his mind.

“Th-that’s n-n-none of y-your bus-b-business,” Harry said, his face dropped into a scowl, perfected after months of watching the other Slytherins in his dorm. They stared at one another for a long moment, almost as if waiting for the other to break, before George let out a long sigh and hung his head, his animated countenance back as though it had never been gone.

“I didn’t think the boy-who-lived would actually be playing the tragic hero role,” he said, shaking his head at Harry’s puzzled expression.

“It seems he is,” Fred nodded sagely, his knuckle rested upon his chin. “This has all the tellings of a bad plot point; a lack of communication, the sad protagonist who thinks they’re not good enough…”

Harry looked between the two, waiting for some kind of explanation as they seemed to be communicating something he wasn’t quite grasping. Seeing this, George shook his head again.

“Do everyone a favor; be selfish once in a while.” When Harry opened his mouth to protest, he was met with a flick on the nose, causing him to recoil back and giving twins the chance to keep going.

“You probably think you’re ‘saving’ him by avoiding him.”

“Or you’ve got some big secret you’re convinced he can’t know.” Harry grasped the sheets at that statement, but other than a look from George, they didn’t continue on that subject.

“But nobody wants to be lonely, and if someone wants to spend time with you and you want to spend time with them, don’t make it into a problem.”

“Trust us; if someone wants to avoid you, they’ll make it obvious.”

“So suck up your pride and apologize already!”

Harry looked down at his bed sheets, twisting them in his hands, and was grateful for their silence as the thought over what they were saying.

“W… w-what if h-he d-do-doesn’t r-respond?” He asked quietly, looking up at the two of them slowly. George shrugged at his question.

“No clue,” he said, before clasping him on the shoulder. Harry pulled away from the touch, and an odd look passed over George’s face for a moment, before he continued as though it hadn’t happened. “But you should try anyway.”

“After all, it’s not like we’ll make your life hell if you don’t.” Fred laughed, but Harry wasn’t sure if it was a joke or not.

Harry looked at his hands, and this time didn’t break the silence first, turning everything over in his head.

“We really couldn’t make you do anything if you didn’t want to,” George said, his voice more gentle than it had been. “But take it from us; you two were good for each other. Better than you probably realize.”

“So you should get over yourselves and kiss and make up already!”

Harry sighed gently, moving his left hand up to play with the bandage covering his right.

“I’ll th-think ab-about it,” he said. With his head tilted down, he missed the way George stared at the bandage, and then the silent conversation going on between the brothers, as George looked at his brother with an expression that said he had a thought that he needed to tell his brother, but couldn’t in front of Harry. Fred raised an eyebrow, curious about what the thought was, but nodded at him.

“Well then, good luck!” Fred said, grabbing his brother by the shoulder, and the pair bowed to him deeply. As they left, Harry could hear their low conversation, but couldn’t make out just what was being said.

After a few moments of listening to see if anyone had been woken up by their visit and mulling over what they’d said, he slowly reached over to the bedside table and grabbed his wand. Casting lumos quietly, he shuffled through the drawer and found what he hoped to find; loose parchment, a few extra quills, and ink.

That, of course, was the easy part, as he pulled out a sheet and stared at it, his mind going blank.

What should he say?

He couldn’t even get past the introduction. Would it be okay to still call Bill neighbor? Would Bill read it as distance if he didn’t?

Dear neighbor,

I’m sorry.

He stopped, the quill hovering over the page. What was there to say? Should he explain what happened and hope Bill would forgive him?

There was a mirror I was being cursed by, and it made me angry when you started asking those questions.

With the way he wrote it, it felt like he was pushing all the blame onto something else like it wasn’t at all his fault, and he scribbled out that sentence quickly.

It probably doesn’t make much of a difference after so long, but I’m recovering in the infirmary now.

Now it felt like he was guilt-tripping Bill, so he scribbled out that sentence too. He pulled at his hair, hating how his words were coming out, which brought him back to square one.

Dear neighbor,

I’m sorry.

He could almost hear George and Fred telling him it sounded more than a little melodramatic, and with a short, bitter laugh at his own internal dialogue, he crumpled the letter and threw it into his bag, rolling over and fighting for sleep instead.

 

The next few days passed slowly. He found that, with the nurse limiting the amount of people he could see, there wasn’t much to do. He attempted, at first, to catch up on his studies, but he’d been out for over a week now, and was lost on most of it. Hermione helped greatly, but with only an hour to study, they had to cram everything in closely.

Her notes helped somewhat, but he had trouble reading her handwriting. It wasn’t necessarily that it was illegible, but with the tight script as opposed to the expertly printed books was harder to read, and squinting at it just made his head hurt. He didn’t tell Hermione this, but something told him she was suspicious when he refused to read her notes in front of him and was about to comment when Draco walked in.

Draco had been in and out of their study sessions. He didn’t have the same free periods as Hermione did (separating the Gryffindors from the Slytherins in terms of free time was probably on purpose), but he came when they lined up. This day, however, he had a look of utter confusion on his face when he walked over, fixing Harry with a quizzical gaze, causing Harry to raise his eyebrow in question.

As an answer, he held out a pair of glasses Harry only vaguely recognized.

“You got these weeks ago, yet I haven’t seen you wear them once,” he said, almost accusingly, and Harry picked them up gingerly.

“You did get glasses!” Hermione piped up, leaning forward. “Why didn’t you tell me? Or, well, Draco. He could’ve gotten them to you sooner!”

“I f-f-forgot I ha-had the-them,” he said slowly, thumbing the wire of the circular glasses. Had he been of sound mind, he might’ve picked a more flattering pair, but it was done now.

“Have you even tried them on?” Hermione asked, perplexed. Harry glanced up with a small smile.

“No?” It wasn’t a question, and Hermione shook her head at him.

“Well for goodness sake, try them on!” She scooted forward, a bit of eagerness on her face.

Harry hesitated for a moment, opening them and examining the way the thick lenses bent the world, before he slipped them on.

He couldn’t stop the sharp intake of breath as everything came into focus. He leaned back, as though pushed by some force, his wide green eyes taking in the world. He’d never seen such detail before, the way the light through the windows refracted against the dust in the air, the interwoven fabric of his blanket and the bandage on his hand, the sharpness of the lettering in his books. He didn’t realize he was hardly breathing until he found himself gasping to catch up.

God everything, everything looked as if he’d never truly seen it before.

“Are you okay, Harry?” Draco asked when he’d just been gaping at the world. Harry turned to him and leaned forward without an answer. He could see the details of his face, the light blonde of his eyelashes, the complexity of his grey eyes and the many strands that made them so (there was so much more to eyes that Harry had never seen before!)

It took him much too long to realize he was very close, right into Draco’s face while the boy subtly leaned back, the eyes that Harry was so intently staring at flicking from Harry to Hermione’s amused face. With his face flushed red, he leaned back into his bed.

“S-s-sorry,” he whispered, still in awe at the beauty of the world and how he’d been missing it for eleven years. “D-does ev-e-everything always l-look l-li-like this?”

“Yeah, it does,” Hermione said, unable to stop herself from laughing. Even Draco couldn’t help a snort at the statement. “I’m glad you finally get to see it. And now you might do better in your studies!”

“Of course, it all goes back to school,” Draco murmured sarcastically, but Hermione was ignoring him as she shuffled through her bag for something.

“Which reminds me; since you can properly see now…” From her bag, she pulled out the nonverbal casting book from McGonagall and excitedly handed it to Harry. Taking it, he looked up at Hermione in confusion.

“I th-thought y-yo-you w-were going to r-read it f-first?” He asked. It had only been a few days...

“I’ve already read it through and taken plenty of notes, so I figured you could get started reading it before summer.”

He was going to say something about how fast she could read, how impressive it was that she was already done, but he froze before he could, the words becoming a small choked noise.

Summer.

Harry had completely forgotten about that.

“Wh-wh-what?” He asked. Something in his face must’ve worried her, as her smile was gone and she looked concerned.

“Well I thought…” She scrunched up her face in confusion, trying to figure out the issue with what she said.

“Wh-when does su-s-summer s-start?” His eyes were wide and his face was pale as he turned over the thoughts in his mind.

“It’s only a few weeks away.” She fixed him with a concerned look.

“Are you okay?” Draco asked, looking Harry up and down.

“I’m f-f-f-fine,” He said unconvincingly, dropping his head low as he tried to get himself under control. As he did so, Madam Pomfrey appeared, interrupting their meeting.

“All right you two,” she said, arms crossed as she bore down on Draco and Hermione threateningly. The image of a mother bear was a strong contender to her immovable image. “I don’t need you bothering Mr. Potter anymore. He’ll be back in classes tomorrow, so you can see him then. For now; out.”

“But-” Hermione opened her mouth to protest.

“Out!”

The two were shooed away and a few moments later, a cup of tea was placed into Harry’s hands. He didn’t give himself time to rationalize that it was probably laced with either a calming draught, or a sleeping potion, as he drank the whole thing.

The nurse asked no questions. He would’ve thanked her if she had stayed long enough to, but she left him be, keeping her distance but being ever watchful from across the infirmary where she worked, casting frequent glances to Harry in case he needed her.

Pulling his blanket up and hugging it to his chest, he lay back on the bed and stared at the ceiling.

Summer.

 

To say Severus Snape was angry would’ve been an understatement.

Students dove out of his way as he stormed through the halls, robes billowing out behind him. If he was much younger, he might appear like an immature child, stomping his feet and throwing a fit, but with his scowl in place and his eyes blazing, he looked positively monstrous.

Curfew was closing in and students were heading to their dorms. If they weren’t, a cold look from him was enough to change their minds as he stalked through the castle, searching for an outlet to his rage.

He had been given news that the brat-who-lived was finally returning to classes, and that he would be giving him work and assignments to catch him up.

That, however, wasn’t what had him angry. No, what had him slamming open doors, almost outright daring students to be breaking the rules, was the god-forsaken speech lessons.

He’d hated when Dumbledore insisted that he take over the lessons McGonagall had been more than happy to do. He’d thought it was a waste of his time and found himself being proven right week after week. Whether it was the brat’s own incompetence, or the possibility that his speech impediment would never be remedied, it didn’t change the fact that hours of his time were being dedicated to nothing . Even detentions had the benefit of getting his cauldrons cleaned and his shelves organized.

So, with the semester coming to an end, he had informed Dumbledore that Potter was a lost cause, and that continuing the speech lessons in the next year would be pointless.

What had he said in response?

“I’m sorry you think so, but I believe you should continue to tutor him. Who knows, there may be something in these lessons after all?”

No discussion permitted beyond that.

It was as infuriatingly pointless and painful as banging his head against a wall repeatedly, without the benefit of being rendered unconsciousness when it went on for too long. Wrapped in these thoughts, when the Gryffindor house head stepped in front of him to stop his one-man stampede, he almost debated shoving past her. Almost.

Begrudgingly, he came to a halt, glaring down at the much older woman, but his dark gaze was met with her steel walled expression.

“Severus Snape,” she said curtly. He didn’t grace her with a response. She had eyes, she could see how irritated he was, and he didn’t take her for a fool. With a nod at his attitude and response, or lack thereof, she turned and walked towards her office. “Let’s have tea.”

“Excuse me?” He glowered at her, not moving so much as a muscle to follow.

“I’m certain your ears are still working, Severus.” She looked back sidelong at him. “I said; let’s have tea.” The first time she said it, it wasn’t inviting, this time it was almost a threat.

“I have better things to do than entertain you this evening, Minerva,” he hissed, turning to stalk away.

“Mr. Snape.” He stopped when she addressed him in a way that he only heard her do when she was acting more like his teacher and less like his colleague, which he realized, with a very annoyed expression, was exactly what she was doing. “I’m afraid that wasn’t a request. You’re going to have tea with me, before I have to give you detention.”

He looked back at her, his face incredulous. That was such a ridiculous notion, but all he could think for the moment was; She can’t do that, can she?

The answer was almost certainly no, but she’d gotten him to turn back to her, so she’d achieved her goal.

“And why, exactly, do you insist on having tea with me?” He asked, his sneer on full-force.

“Well, for one, to get you to stop tromping around the halls like an angry toddler,” she said, smirking slightly as his eye twitched. “But I would like to talk to you about something, if that’s what you’re so concerned about.”

“This can’t wait?” He grunted.

“Of course it could, but I’d rather talk now.”

Their staring match had students avoiding the hall they stood in at all costs. Several began to walk down it before turning on heel and walking the other way when they saw the Slytherin and Gryffindor house heads going at it in a cold battle of wills.

“Very well.” Came Severus’s stiff reply, not exactly happy that he had been the one to bend, and within a few minutes, she had him sat in her much-too-red office with a cup of tea in his hands as he glowered at her continuously.

She idly sipped at her own tea, content to make the disgruntled man in front of her wait. However, as she began to prepare her thoughts for what she wanted to say, her demeanor changed. She appeared a bit more gentle and uncertain than she had previously, and that got the man to take notice, even if his outward expression didn’t change.

“Would you like to explain your anger?” She asked after the long, drawn-out silence. Having expected some kind of statement about why she needed to meet with him, he found the mundane question irksome.

“I fail to see how this is relevant,” he grunted, but she just raised her eyebrow in response, clearly finding his answer to the question important. With a huff, he took a sip of his own tea and leaned back a bit, reeling in his frustration to explain it a bit better. “Since you are clearly going to be a pest about it, I had a… discussion ,” the word was strained and his grip on the cup tightened as he said it, “with the headmaster.”

“About Mr. Potter’s speech lessons?” She asked, and he furrowed his brows at her. So that was what she wanted to talk about.

“Yes…” He said slowly, the new calculating look counteracting his irritated one quite a bit. “He informed me that despite how futile it is, I’ll be continuing to waste hours of my time to the brat next year.”

She was staring at him closely, a look of confusion and contemplative concern on her face.

“Why did he insist you take over the speech lessons?” She asked, partially to herself. Whether or not she intended a response, the man huffed and shrugged.

“He said that it was more appropriate for Potter’s own head of house to deal with such things,” he answered with a sarcastic snort at the idea.

“He told me the same thing.” The look on the Gryffindor’s face mirrored the Slytherin’s own; neither fully liked the answer they had been given. “Have you made any progress?”

“Of course not. For one, Potter hardly makes an effort. For another, the question of whether or not his speech impediment can be remedied by simple practice is questionable at best.”

“Have you done much research?” As she expected, the man’s face hardened, and she sighed, still troubled by his clear lack of interest in the task he had been given. Still, if she couldn’t help the boy directly, she would do her best to help him indirectly. “Perhaps you should give it a try.”

“I’m already wasting my time listening to the brat stutter for hours on end, I rather detest the idea of spending more time on the boy.” His sneer was back.

“Of course, your time is incredibly valuable.” The sarcasm dripping from her words was certainly unappreciated by the glowering man in front of her. “However, if you don’t want this to continue on longer than it has to, perhaps putting in effort to teach and instruct would help.”

He knew what she was getting at. That he wasn’t actually doing his job properly, and the insult left him more than a little perturbed. Still, despite how right he wanted to be, even he could see that he was giving no effort to the lessons. He firmly believed Harry was giving no effort either, but that just made the situation all the more pointless.

“The summer is coming soon,” she offered when he gave no immediate response. She hadn’t necessarily expected the proud man to verbally admit his mistake, and knew insisting he do, whether outright or subtly, would just close him off quickly. “I’d suggest giving research into the topic a try. If you need assistance, I-” He was already sneering again, and she gave a small chuckle. “Right.”

With all said that she needed to say, she stood and with a flick of her wand, the tea was removed from the table. Severus followed suit as he stood as well, his annoyed face back despite that she had cooled his rage considerably.

“If that’s all, I’ll take my leave now,” he said, not responding to her farewell on his way out the door.

McGonagall supposed that the conversation had been a success, but still felt troubled. As she expected, Severus’s hatred for Harry was deep-rooted and, in a word, unfair. She’d seen how Harry acted just being around her, and worried for what he was like around someone like Snape. She only hoped she had been somewhat successful in her mission to help.

 

Harry tried not to acknowledge the stares he was getting as he entered the great hall for dinner that Friday evening. He was still a bit early, but there were already plenty of students waiting for the meal to officially begin.

Finding his way to where Draco had waved him over, he sat next to him, awkwardly fidgeting with his glasses, taking in the people around him (he’d yet to get used to wearing them and how clear they made the world that had originally been filled with blurry figures and colors). Tracey and Daphne weren’t there just yet, and he thought for a moment that Blaise wasn’t there either, until he caught a glimpse of green in the sea of yellow across the great hall.

There, at the Hufflepuff table, sat the dark-skinned first year, idly chatting with an older Hufflepuff boy Harry didn’t recognize. On the rare occasion, Harry had seen a few from other houses mingling before and after meals (Hermione had been over plenty of times for one) but seeing Blaise, of all people, voluntarily sitting next to a Hufflepuff was a surprising sight.

At first glance, they looked like they would never get along. The older Hufflepuff was gently laughing along with some other Hufflepuff friends of his, speaking with a smile on his face, while Blaise sat with his normal, unemotive look. His additions to the conversation were rare and often short.

Looking closer, however, Harry could see just how relaxed Blaise looked. Flashes of amusement were frequent over his face, and when the older boy would turn to talk to him, Blaise gave him his full attention, even once breaking out into a few short barks of laughter, getting caught off-guard from something that had been said, before he covered his face with his hand and reeled himself in.

When the food appeared on the table, however, the boy looked genuinely disappointed. It was, of course, a requirement that during meals, students sit with their own houses, and with a farewell to his friend, he stood.

That was when his eyes met Harry’s, and he stopped. They had been in class together that day, but Blaise hadn’t expected Harry to be staring at him like that, and still was uncertain about how to deal with the situation he was in.

Cedric noted Blaise’s hesitation, and followed his eyes to where Harry Potter was trying to pretend he wasn’t staring back. It didn’t take him long to put the pieces together, and he gave Blaise a small nudge with his elbow, snapping him out of it. When Blaise looked back down to him, he gave him a small, encouraging smile, which Blaise didn’t return but seemed appreciative of.

With that, he walked back over to the Slytherin table, finding Tracey and Daphne. None of them sat very close to Harry, but it was clear in the way all three of them awkwardly glanced at each other that they were wondering the same thing; after what had happened, where did their relationship with Harry stand?

Harry, oblivious to the silent conversations going on between the other Slytherins, turned to Draco when Blaise moved away from the table, starting to fill his plate.

“Has B-B-Blaise al-a-always been sp-spending t-time at the H-Hu-Hufflep-puff t-table?” He asked over his meal. Draco, who hadn’t noticed any of what Harry did, shrugged idly.

“It’s a recent thing,” he said, taking a sip of his pumpkin juice. “No one knows what’s up with him. He acted really shady after you got weird with the mirror fiasco.” Harry winced, but Draco trudged forward. “A few weeks later he seems to be normal again, except he’s spending all his time with Cedric Diggory. It’s odd, but he won’t give anyone a straight answer.”

Harry didn’t ask anymore questions, mulling over the things he was learning. As the meal drew to a close, he sensed someone behind him, and his shoulders tensed.

“Mr. Potter,” a cold, chilling voice said, making Harry shivver not-so-subtly. Slowly, he turned around and looked up at the looming figure of Professor Snape.

“Y-y-ye-yes, s-s-sir?” He asked, his words struggling to form coherently, just making the man glower at him.

“I trust this time off has not made you forget,” he said, as though the time Harry had been in the infirmary by choice. “I expect you in my office at seven as usual.”

Harry’s mouth was dry, but he nodded slowly, watching the man turn and leave. It wouldn’t be long before he’d be expected there, and his appetite was gone.

Draco had a frustrated look on his face as his godfather left. He could be cold and irritable, but growing up Draco hadn’t ever known him to be outright mean. Now he had to question just where his anger came from, and was thinking over these things when Harry stood, looking a bit sick.

“Are you okay?” He asked, and Harry’s face twisted into a grimace as he shook his head.

“I sh-sho-should g-get this ov-over w-wi-with,” he said, taking a shaky breath and stepping away from the table.

“We can play chess later?” He offered hesitantly, and Harry’s grimace softened to a weak smile as he nodded. That was all the response he seemed able to muster, before he walked off to meet his professor.

As he entered the dreaded office, he was struck with the normal discomfort, which made him miss the change in the professor’s face from the usual glare. How he was being evaluated carefully. He saw the way he inched to his normal spot, gripping at his robes and avoiding looking at the potion-lined walls, as well as not looking the professor in the eye, a behavior that he’d learned a long time ago.

What did get his attention, however, was when the man actually motioned for him to take a seat. He stared at the chair in front of the desk, then at the hand that had motioned him to sit, as though trying to interpret the symbol. He didn’t sit though, his face screwed into a confused expression, just annoying the potion master.

“If you enjoy standing, by all means, stand,” he snapped, and the boy took a subtle step back at the outburst, still not sitting down. He sighed, rubbing his forehead and reeling himself in. If the brat wouldn’t sit, he wouldn’t argue the point. “I spoke with the headmaster.”

Harry looked up now, a flash of hope in his eyes that didn’t last long.

“We are to continue this through next year,” he said, and the boy looked rightly crushed at the news, dropping his head to hide his expression. Severus regarded him for a long moment, before sighing and steepling his hands on his desk. “During the summer, I will be putting in extra effort to researching the topic of your speech impairment. In doing so, I’ll need some amount of information about the cause.”

Harry was back to staring at him, looking like a deer in headlights while he just gaped wordlessly at him, already trying to formulate a proper lie.

“I ha-had a c-c-c-con-concussion,” he stammered out, recalling the conversation with the twins previously.

“I’m aware,” the professor said bluntly, and Harry took another small step backwards. “I’ll need to know some more details than that. Where the impact was. The treatment that was given. When the stuttering began afterwards.”

“I-I-I-I d-do-don’t-” He shook his head, feeling the pounding through his shirt, trying to rationalize the situation. There were some things he might be able to say about what happened without revealing the full situation. “Th-the ba-back of the h-he-head. I d-don’t kn-know how l-long a-after th-that I be-b-began s-stu-stuttering.”

The answers weren’t very helpful, but he wrote them down anyway.

“You didn’t answer my question about treatment,” he said, a warning in his voice not to try his patience any further.

Harry opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again, before just shaking his head. Snape stared at him incredulously, waiting for some amount of answer.

“What? You can’t tell me?” He asked, annoyed. Harry shook his head again and he rubbed his forehead. “It’s not as if treatment types are confidential, Potter. You must’ve had some kind of treatment for something like-” Harry’s face had paled considerably, and it clicked with him. He straightened his posture to regard the young boy in front of him, his expression unreadable. “You did have treatment for your concussion, correct?”

His words were tight, and Harry took a third step back, which was all the answer he needed.

He wasn’t an expert on brain injuries, but he felt certain that an injury that caused permanent damage would’ve had to be extreme. At the very least, there would’ve been a great deal of symptoms aside from the stammering. The kind that wouldn’t be easy to brush away as anything but serious.

His mind returned to the thought he’d had when he found the boy in front of the mirror. That his fear of Snape was magic-centered. Now he had to wonder if something had happened before he’d come to Hogwarts. He looked at him closely, for the first time putting away his preconceptions of how he acted, now seeing very plainly the self-preserving fear he was displaying, the way he didn’t make eye-contact with Snape and the way he shied away from looking at the shelves around his room.

Dumbledore had assured him that while harry was in his relatives home, he’d be safe, but was there much to say about when the boy was away from the home? He couldn’t be certain how the protective magic worked, but if it was like the Fidelius Charm, Harry would only be safe inside the house.

His mind immediately went to his… old colleagues , and he wondered if he might be able to get some information from them… Wrapped in these thoughts, he didn’t notice how the boy was twisting the edge of his robe in his hands for a long while.

“You…” he thought about asking him outright, but he doubted he’d actually get a clear answer from him. Besides, he didn’t need the boy to know he was concerned in any way if there was nothing to be concerned about. With a huff of annoyance, he waved his hand. “You can go. There’s no need to continue lessons for the rest of the semester. I will, however, expect you to put in your own effort regarding this subject during the break.”

Harry nodded frantically, turning and wasting no time as he left the room without a word, despite the fact that he didn’t know how he would put in his own effort into the topic of his speech lessons while he was at the Dursleys.

That… had been weird, to say the least. Snape was still cold, of course, but he’d actually begun to put effort into the lessons they were having. It didn’t fully ease Harry- if anything it made him more confused and uncertain about the professor’s motives- but he wasn’t leaving with the normal nauseous feeling he had after most of their sessions. He could probably attribute that mostly to the fact that the “lesson” had just been a simple discussion.

Passing quickly through the common room, he didn’t pay any attention to who was there as he made his way to his dorm, wanting to distract himself with a chess match against Draco, when he was tapped on the shoulder.

Whipping around defensively, he came face-to-face with Blaise, who actually looked rather uncertain as he stood there.

“B-Blaise,” Harry said breathlessly, trying to calm himself enough to hold a conversation. He didn’t know what to expect from the other boy; Harry had been downright rude to him last they spoke, but he’d been the same to Draco and Hermione and both seemed to have forgiven him…

“I wanted to ask…” He said, mulling over his thoughts, eyes going from Harry to the wall behind him, then back again, his arms crossed over his chest. The silence dragged on to an awkward length, and Harry almost wanted to ask if he was okay, when he shook his head and exhaled a sigh through his nose. “I’d like to have correspondence with you during the summer.”

Harry blinked at him, before a small smile crept over his face, realizing that Blaise was asking that they stay in touch.

“Of c-co-course,” he said, though uncertain of the situation he’d be in regarding summer. His smile dropped at that thought, and he fixed Blaise with an uncertain look of his own. “I m-might… I m-mi-might not be a-able t-to get b-back t-to y-you, b-but I a-appr-preciate it.”

Blaise thought this over a moment, before nodding slowly, turning to leave. He stopped on his way, looking back at Harry with the most unguarded look Harry had ever seen him give. If Harry didn’t know any better, he’d say he looked kind and sincere.

“I’m glad you’re alright,” he said honestly, continuing on his way to his own dorm before Harry could say a word in response.

Harry had a strange smile on his face when he entered his dorm, looking like he was both happy and in emotional pain, which wasn’t especially far from the truth.

“Hey,” Draco greeted, an eyebrow raised at the expression. He was more used to Harry being panicked and emotional than in any way happy, but the face wasn’t especially comforting. “Did you want to play chess?” They’d already agreed to play, but his change in emotion made him double-check.

“I…” Harry stopped, then nodded. “In a m-m-minute. I h-have t-to w-wr-write s-something.”

Draco nodded, but still watched him as he walked to his desk and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper from his bag, looking it over, before throwing it away and grabbing a new paper, starting to write what was clearly a letter.

“Who’s that for?” He inquired curiously, and Harry gave an awkward smile.

“A fr-friend, I h-hope.” The cryptic message was met with an amused snort, and a lack of follow-up questions, which Harry appreciated.

Dear neighbor,

I’m sorry for what I said and did.

I’m sorry for ignoring you for so long.

I should’ve sent you a letter to explain sooner. You deserve better than this, but I can’t help but worry you might never respond. After everything that’s happened to you, you certainly deserve to be happy, and if that means removing me from your life or having me in it, you should get to choose.

So if you never respond, for my own sake I need to tell you at the very least that you gave me hope more than once when I didn’t have anything. So thank you. I wish I could express that better, but I’m afraid I’ll get emotional if I continue on, so I’ll keep this brief just in case.

 

Your neighbor,

Harry.

 

He folded it carefully and addressed it, setting it to the side of his desk, but staring at it for a long while in thought. It wasn’t exactly what he wanted to say, but he worried if he continued on it would become melodramatic, or at least come off like he was guilt-tripping Bill.

“Harry?” Draco asked, snapping him out of his stupor. He already had the chess set out and was staring at him quizzically. “Ready?”

“Y-yeah,” he responded, standing up and walking over to the other side of the room to join him.

Be selfish once in a while.

The statement buzzed through his mind as he thought over the meaning. Perhaps that’s what he needed going forwards, and as the short time passed before he’d be shipped back to the Dursley’s, he found himself filled with a sense of terrified determination, already setting out a plan of action.

He would not go back to being the terrified boy in the cupboard under the stairs.

Chapter Text

Their compartment was almost filled for the first time, and while Harry would normally find a strong sense of claustrophobia and panic rising at being so close to others in a tight space, he oddly found himself with a feeling of comfort washing over him.

Hermione was pressed in close on his right while he sat by the window across from Draco. Next to Draco were Daphne and Tracey, and on Hermione’s other side sat Blaise and Cedric. The group was odd, to say the least, and Draco’s awkward, guarded look while he pushed himself into the corner away from the two girls made Harry remember he’d never actually interacted with them before, at least as far as he could remember. He had, of course, chosen to sit far away from Blaise, who seemed happy to oblige him.

Cedric was a temporary companion; he’d only stopped by to return a book to Blaise, but had sat himself down for a while to discuss Quidditch with Hermione when she asked him about what it was like to be a chaser for the Hufflepuff team. Hermione had read all about Quidditch already of course, and was quick to throw “fun facts” at the third year, who took them easily and returned some of his own with a grin. He mentioned though that he was hoping to become a seeker next year, but didn’t think he would until their current one graduated.

The conversation continued from there, but Harry started mentally ticking off his list. He was happy for the company, and was comforted by the thought that most of the people there wanted to be his friend, but every few moments, his mind would drift off to what waited for him when he got off the train, and the frequent jolts of fear and uncertainty led him to press his shoulder into Hermione a little more. She didn’t necessarily mind, but every time he did, she’d send a curious and concerned glance his way.

What made him feel a bit better was going down the list of his plans. Feeling like he might have an effect on what happened during the summer made him feel a bit more comforted, but a wavering sensation of uncertainty stirred in his gut.

There was also the question of if Bill would be at the station. Since sending out his letter weeks ago, he had yet to receive a response, and the nervousness was eating at him. He wanted to start sending more, to ask the twins or Percy if they’d heard anything, but he knew it’d be hypocritical of him to expect Bill to respond in a timely manner when he hadn’t. Then there was, of course, the possibility that Bill had taken the option in part of his letter and chosen to move on with his life without him. The idea that Bill might never speak to him again was soul-crushing, but he forced himself not to take back what he’d said; he need to make sure Bill had that choice, no matter how devastating it would be.

He turned his mind back to the plans, his arm squished against Hermione’s, which must’ve made it difficult for her not to bump into Blaise in return. He already had several laid out in front of him, beginning with “leave the station and hide for the summer” and ending with “survive.” He hoped beyond hope that one of his other plans would be good enough to keep him from the last one, the worst case scenario. He couldn’t, couldn’t , return to who he had been. He had been through so much since he’d been that young boy in the cupboard, and the weeks he’d spent back in there before coming to Hogwarts was more than he ever wanted again. He was someone new now. He had changed, for better or for worse. He couldn’t go back to being treated like nothing.

“Harry?” Hermione’s voice jolted him out of his thoughts, and he jerked his head up. He didn’t realize he had been holding her hand in a vice-like grip, and immediately he released her fingers, avoiding the gaze of those in the compartment that were staring at him. He didn’t see the silent conversation between her and Draco, or the way Blaise stared at him with a piercing gaze, as though he could strip away his secrets one by one, or how Daphne and Tracey fidgeted while the silence dragged on.

It took Cedric standing and thanking them for their time to crack the ice, and like that, the compartment seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, returning to the conversations it had previously housed until the station could be seen in the distance and the first years began grabbing their things, talking of summer and plans to visit one another. Harry, as usual, stayed seated, content to be the last off the train.

“Any plans for the summer?” Hermione asked, sitting while the train came to a stop. Harry shook his head absently, though realized that, ironically, he did, not that plans on how to deal with his relatives necessarily counted in the way she meant it. “Well, if you’re free, you can always visit.”

Harry smiled softly at her. “I-if I c-ca-can,” he said.

“We should also do something,” Draco chimed in, standing with his luggage already. “Maybe if you’re not doing much for your birthday…”

“I d-don’t-” He stopped short of saying something that might be considered weird or concerning when it was regarded as normal to celebrate one’s birthday, instead busying himself with the hem of his robe. “I-if m-my rel-relatives don’t have o-other pl-p-plans…”

They seemed to miss the real meaning of his words, which he was grateful for, and with a soft farewell, they left him alone, already getting the hint that he was intentionally the last student off the train.

As he began to fully gather his things, he couldn’t help but look out the window for Bill. The Weasley family were easy to pick out as they greeted their sons, but he only counted five siblings. Bill was nowhere in sight.

Even as he hopped off the train and glanced around at the thinning crowds, he was nowhere in sight. Harry swallowed down a lump in his throat, fist clenched tightly around his bag while he slowly walked out of the station. He remembered a tap on his shoulder and a friendly greeting. His first taste of ice cream. He looked up at the sky to help push away the sadness, and took a deep breath while he turned down the path, making his way towards the nearest wooded area in hopes of successfully fulfilling plan A; leave the station and hide for the summer.

He was only a few steps down the road when an hand grabbed him by the arm and turned him around quickly. From the roughness of it, he didn’t even briefly think it was Bill.

“Where do you think you’re going, boy?” His uncle growled lowly to him. Harry almost responded, but clamped his mouth shut quickly. Uncle Vernon didn’t want an answer anyway, as he was pulled towards the waiting car, the grip on his upper arm tight enough that escape was impossible.

Plan A was already a failure.

He was shoved into the hot car and only just managed to get his whole self in before the door was slammed in his face. He was separated from his things as they, Hedwig included, were unceremoniously thrown into the trunk. Sitting in the back, he knew she was only right behind the seat, but he didn’t dare speak to her, keeping his head down but his eyes focused on the figure in the front seat through his bangs.

He kept his breathing even, squeezing himself close to the door and playing with his sleeves every few minutes. He could feel the wood of his wand pressed up against his forearm while his mind worked on plans B and C.

From how his Uncle was acting, plan B wasn’t likely to go through, so that left plan C as his main hope. Anything after plan C was his least desirables; plans to just try and survive until he could get his things or run off somehow. Plans to steal food and try to avoid abuse.

“I c-ca-can l-leave,” Harry spoke up before he had time to think about what he was doing. His uncle didn’t take his eyes off the road, but Harry could see the sudden tenseness of his shoulders, the way his hands gripped the steering wheel like he might be imagining it was his nephew’s throat. Harry swallowed, trying to ignore what felt like a stone in his stomach, his palms sweating and fingers shaking, but he’d already begun to speak so there was no turning back now. “I w-wo-won’t b-bother you. Y-yo-you can fo-f-forget I ex-exist.”

There was a long silence. Spoken aloud, it felt like it might be good enough, but his uncle’s voice was drawn taut when he spoke.

“No.” He said, and Harry’s mouth went dry. “As much as I would love to never see you again, we’re required to keep you.” From the sound of his voice, it was clear that whatever, or whoever, was forcing him to house Harry had earned his easily-given hatred, and he’d make Harry suffer for the inconvenience. Harry dropped his head further so that his unruly hair blocked his face, keeping his grimace to himself. Who on Earth wanted him to stay here?

They were pulling into the driveway of that godforsaken place before he could think much more. All at once, his mind became overwhelmed with memories and thoughts. Smells, sounds, all with a constant stream of pain overtaking them. He grasped his sleeve tightly, feeling the wood of his wand, warm against the skin of his arm.

“Get out here, boy,” came the impatient growl of his uncle. They were outside still, the man wouldn’t dare raise his voice higher than that, but Harry could see in his face that he was just waiting for the moment they stepped through that doorway. Waiting for that moment he could become the monster Harry knew him to be.

Harry was waiting too.

He stayed silent as he stepped out, going to pull his things from his trunk, but he only got the cage out when he was shoved back.

“Do you think I’m stupid?” Vernon snapped with a glare and a sneer. “You’re not going anywhere near this until we get to ship you off again.”

Pulling out his trunk as though it were filled with the most disgusting of things, things that may be either dangerous or disturbing or both, he stared at the boy, watching him closely and waiting for him to enter the house first.

Harry thought briefly about running, taking off then and there, but all of his things were in his uncle’s hands, and while he felt confident he could outrun him as his well-rested, well-fed self, someone knew he hadn’t been with them and had convinced Vernon (through threats or bribery, Harry wasn’t sure) that they needed to keep him. Harry felt confident, at least, that someone would be contacted (whether it be them informing this other individual, or said individual coming to check if they were holding true to the agreement), and he would be hunted down. With his poor magic knowledge, and the fact that he’d certainly want to go back to Hogwarts in the fall, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to completely avoid this person.

He cupped his right hand around his sleeve to keep his wand from falling out, as well as to comfort himself while he gripped the cage tightly to him chest and stepped forwards, doing an awkward side-step in order to be sure he wasn’t fully turning his back to his uncle.

The house was silent as he stepped in, and he wondered if his aunt had taken Dudley somewhere else when he heard the door close and he fully turned to face the man. He subconsciously turned the cage slightly away from his uncle into his left arm to protect Hedwig, as well as keeping his right arm (and wand) free. His green eyes were steady as he looked at him, not in any way reflecting the real fear he was feeling. He hoped he created an imposing figure, or one at least to show he was serious, maybe even changed from that frightened boy his uncle had abused over three years ago.

“Now, boy ,” his uncle began, leaving his things shoved to the side of the hall as he turned his attention to his charge. He took slow, deliberate steps towards him, his footfalls harsh and terrifying. Harry almost recoiled, but forced himself to stay rooted; this was a battle of will and intimidation, it wouldn’t do to show fear. “You listen here, and you listen well. My wife and my son will be home tonight, and you had best learn the rules before then. If I catch you out of line, so help me I’ll-”

He cut off as he was jabbed in the rather large stomach. Harry wasn’t sure when he’d drawn his wand or when he’d shoved it into the man’s gut, and was briefly as stunned by the action as his uncle was. He quickly dropped his surprised gaze to one of remarkable seriousness, wondering if Blaise would be proud of how well he drew up his mask over his terrified interior.

“No,” he said, his voice more even than he had expected. “We’re w-working u-un-under m-my ru-rules.” His uncle’s purple face looked terrifying, but something in his eyes told Harry he had the upper hand, and he stepped back to a more comfortable distance, keeping his wand trained on the man. “I’ll b-be ta-taking the s-spare b-be-bedr-room. I’ll e-eat f-from the k-ki-kitchen as I p-please. I’ll c-come and g-go as I pl-p-please. I-I’ll do n-no m-m-more ho-housewo-work than cl-clean up aft-after m-myself.” His lips drew up in a sneer, and he couldn’t help but realize that in deciding the most menacing look to give, he’d immediately gone to the one so commonly employed by the potions master that terrified him. “And y-you w-won’t l-lay a ha-h-hand on m-me.”

His words hung in the air. Harry couldn’t help but curse his stutter, not for the first time, for how weak it made his otherwise strong sentences sound. He only hoped his posture and statements would keep the man from calling his bluff.

“How dare you?” He hissed, hands shaking. “HOW DARE YOU?” He took a step forward, his thundering voice and footsteps cracking Harry’s facade while he approached, hand outstretched. Terror shocked through Harry, up his spine, down to his toes, and through his arm. With it, came a few fiery sparks of magic, shooting forwards from his wand. Vernon jerked backwards from them before they could touch him, and they left scorch marks on the carpet below, leaving the tiniest black spots on the entryway rug, almost unnoticeable.

The man stared at the carpet in horror, and Harry stared at him. Vernon had gone from purple to pale, and Harry knew this was his moment to take charge before his uncle thought to attempt to call his bluff a second time.

Harry walked past him quickly, trying not to show fear at being so near him, and the man in turn stepped away from him, both terror and anger on his face, twisting his features into a strange expression. Attaching the cage to the trunk again, Harry grabbed hold of it and pulled it towards the stairs, his wand grasped so tightly in his hand that his knuckles were white.

“I w-w-will be in m-my r-room,” he said, his wand still held before him like a weapon. “I w-wi-will s-stay out of y-your w-way, a-and y-y-you w-will s-stay out of m-m-mine. Y-you’ll p-p-pretend I d-don’t exi-exist, and I’ll r-re-return th-the f-fa-favor. U-u-unders-stand?”

Uncle Vernon was staring at him still, not making a move towards him, not making a noise to confirm or reject the statement.

“Unders-stand?” Harry repeated, taking a step towards him, and the man stepped back in fear. He looked positively murderous, but he silently nodded. Harry began to turn to go up the stairs with his things, but stopped on the first few steps, turning back to his Uncle who hadn’t taken his eyes off him since he’d grabbed his trunk. “Wh-who t-told y-you that y-y-you n-needed to keep m-me?” The question had been tugging at him, and his Uncle’s anger only grew at the question, though for once not completely at him.

“One of you freaks ,” he spat the word, as though it left a foul taste in his mouth. “Dressed in black with the greasiest hair I’d ever seen. Doesn’t surprise me that you lot haven’t heard of a shower .”

He was studying Harry, looking for how he’d react to the insult, and Harry gave him a scowl to show he wasn’t happy with the response as he turned away. That must’ve been Snape, the description fit him perfectly, but that made more questions than it answered.Without another word Harry lugged his things up the stairs and into the guest room. His room.

He closed the door, taking a moment to examine if there was a lock (there wasn’t), before turning around and looking at the room.

The room wasn’t as much a guest room as it was just a spare room. All of Dudley’s extra things had been shoved in there, as well as his old bed, a twin which he’d decided was much too small for him rather early. His mind was already deciding that the first thing he should do was shove all of Dudley’s things out into the hall for his relatives to sort through separately, but his legs had other plans, giving out on him and sending him into the wall and sliding slowly to the floor.

That went remarkably well ,” the gentle voice of Hedwig said, and he gave a choked chuckle, somewhere between tears and laughter.

“That w-w-was te-terrify-fying,” he said quietly, clutching his shirt. His bangs blocked his face as he reached over and unlocked Hedwig’s cage. She wasted no time in flying out, giving a few circles around the room before landing on Harry’s shoulder, affectionately nibbling on the feathers behind his ears, which elicited a few more chuckles from the pre-teen.

You’re really staying here? ” She inquired, her calm voice soothing his turbulent emotions.

“I th-think I ha-have to,” he said. “S-Snape’s thr-threatening th-them, or b-bribing th-them, and if I di-d-disappear, h-he’ll pr-probably be s-sent af-after m-m-me.” Harry took a look around the room, a wash of euphoria coming over him, and he gave another few chuckles, despite that his face was wet. “B-besides, d-d-did y-you s-see how s-scared he w-was? He w-won’t come n-n-near us!”

I hope for your sake you’re right, ” she said gently, before preening the feathers behind his ears again, changing the subject from such an unhappy topic. “ You should learn to take care of these, since you have them .”

“Y-you kn-know I d-didn’t ask f-for the-them,” Harry said, scratching at the feathers behind his other ear. They could get a bit itchy, and Avice had never taught him how to take care of his new… features (not that she’d taught him anything, or spoken much to him. He could still count the number of times she’d said anything to him on one hand).

Perhaps a lesson is in order ,” Hedwig offered. Harry thought about the shower in the bathroom across the hall, thinking of how often he’d be allowed to use it, when he remembered; he could use it whenever he wanted. Taking his wand much more confidently in his hand, he walked the few steps to the bathroom, feeling his happiness soar. Vernon was nowhere to be seen. No one would tell him what to do, and no one would hurt him.

In the shower he received a lesson on wings, feathers, talons, and how to care for them. He ran the water for as long as he wanted, and he used the soaps as he pleased.

Plan C was a surprising success.

 

 

Dudley and his Aunt returned that evening, as he had been told, and Harry heard a long conversation in the living room. Loud yelling from his uncle, the shrill screech of his aunt, a few whines from Dudley... Harry didn’t need to sneak downstairs in order to glean what they were talking about.

He had moved most of the things from the bedroom into the hallway. All of Dudley’s toys and expensive gadgets that filled the shelves and the side tables and the closet. He considered it a kindness of his own, having found the swell of power he’d never had going to his head. What stopped him in his tracks before he did anything truly atrocious was the feeling that he could become in action like them. He doubted he would ever actually find the will to injure any of them, whether it was due to residual fear or kindness, but the small sense of glee that he felt, imagining how they feared him like he’d feared them, sent sickness rolling through his stomach.

Dumbledore had praised him for his selflessness. He had shown kindness and expected nothing in return. Harry’s mind went to the gentle eyes, looking proudly at him. He would certainly think poorly of him if he could see what he was doing. What he thought to do, how he wanted to terrorize his relatives with threats, using a thing they truly seemed to fear against them.

There was no need for that. He would stay out of their way as he could, while doing no harm to himself in the act. He wouldn’t talk to them or interact with them so long as it was possible, and his only real warning would be how he’d wield his wand every moment he’d left his room, a very clear reminder that he wouldn’t be threatened or harmed or demeaned.

Deciding he’d rather like to give them fewer reasons to hate him, he chose to buy his own soaps within the first week. At first, he’d gotten himself muggle soaps, but Hedwig had fretted over the irritation his feathered skin displayed, and finally talked him into going to Eeylops Owl Emporium for the owl soaps they sold there.

He’d been told that one bottle of a honey-like, silvery potion would be good for up to a month for one owl, but considering one of his wings was easily twice the size of Hedwig, he bought an embarrassing number of their potions.

The moment he got home, he transferred the potions from their glass bottles to simple plastic water bottles that he felt more comfortable using on himself, and if he were being honest, he felt much better after he began properly taking care of his raven features. He hadn’t realized just how irritated his skin had been when he wasn’t really taking care of it, and shed much fewer feathers because of it. Hedwig even noted that they sat flatter and were much shinier.

He also bought his own groceries weekly. For everything that didn’t need to be kept cool, he created a “pantry” within his closet, and the rest was hidden at the back of the Dursley’s fridge with a simple note that said “Harry’s.” That was easily enough to keep them far away from his food.

For the most part, his aunt and uncle got it. He could feel glares on his back every time he walked to the kitchen for food or water. Could feel the hatred from them every step up and down those stairs. He would ignore them as best he could, get what he needed, and leave.

Dudley was the one who couldn’t be silenced. Many days he approached Harry as he cooked himself something simple, taking over the kitchen after his relatives had already eaten.

“Come back from that freak school have you?” He asked. Harry didn’t look at him. His aunt and uncle must be in the other room or they wouldn’t allow Dudley to speak to him like this.

There was a long silence, only overlayed by the sizzling of the chicken in the pan. The pan wasn’t his, though he debated getting his own. He had his own spices, his own food, but hadn’t bought himself cooking utensils and instead took to washing them thoroughly and setting them back where he found them after they were used, normally to be re-washed by his aunt a few minutes later.

“You gone deaf or something?” He asked, getting closer to Harry. He didn’t touch him though. Years ago he’d probably have shoved him or punched him for not replying, but Harry had his wand (as well as the spatula) in his hand, and that kept him from doing much more than provoking him.

“N-no,” Harry said flatly, adding cream and more seasoning to the pan, making it rather clear that he wasn’t paying much attention to Dudley, which very clearly upset his cousin.

“Why do you talk like that?” He asked, his voice whiny and grating, his nose flared up.

“I th-think it’s f-f-fun.” The sarcasm was practically dripping off his voice. He turned it down to a simmer and put a top over the pan as he put down the spatula and turned more fully towards Dudley. His wand was at his side, prepared but not an immediate threat to him. Yet. “Y-your m-m-mom and d-dad wou-wouldn’t like y-you talking to m-m-me.” The way he separated himself from his aunt and uncle by referring to them as “Dudley’s parents” was unconscious, and he wouldn’t realize it until he thought over his actions later.

“No,” Dudley said, his glare getting worse at the mention of his parents having a say in what he did.

“B-but they cl-clearly w-won’t s-s-stop you, so wh-what do y-yo-you wa-want?” Harry crossed his arms and leaned idly against the stove.

Harry didn’t realize how confusing this all was for Dudley, not that Harry would’ve cared much if he did. Harry had always been the terrified freak in the cupboard, a tiny servant that did whatever he wanted. His parents hated him, so he hated him, but now they feared him as well, so Dudley feared him. And still hated him, of course. But the freak wasn’t scared, or didn’t seem that way to Dudley. He had power, and Dudley didn’t like that one bit.

There was, of course, the three year gap, and something must’ve changed then. He had previously been happy with the idea that his parents would tell him everything he wanted to know, but when his cousin was there one day and gone another, he had received no answers. He wasn’t concerned by any stretch of the imagination, but he didn’t like it when people kept secrets from him when he actually wanted answers (as rarely as that was). Then the freak returns for a few weeks and is sent off again? And they have more freaks coming to their home, telling them that they have to keep him? Threatening them?

It was all very confusing, and Dudley didn’t like confusing. Confusing, frustrating, frightening things that can’t be shoved away with a quick “hush, Dudley, we’ll handle this”. Confusing things that forced change into his very small world.

And Harry sat at the center of the confusion, with an annoying stutter and an equally annoying attitude. He wanted to wipe that look off his face. He wanted him to go back to being the servant boy in the cupboard, or to at least go back where he came from and stop making his house such a strange place to be. This Harry was new, and he couldn’t figure out how to revert him back.

Dudley! ” Came a shrill hiss, and his mom was there, pulling him away forcibly from his cousin, fixing Harry with an icy but wary glare. “You! Get away from my son!”

Harry’s emerald eyes were remarkably cold as they looked at his aunt, boring into her. He didn’t immediately move, making it clear that she would not rush him or unnerve him, before he silently pulled the chicken from the burner and began serving himself a meal for one. Petunia was watching him with hawk-like precision, before grabbing her too-large son and pulling him towards the living room. Dudley gave moderate resistance, whining as he was pulled away.

“D-Dudley,” Harry said, catching their attention on their way out the door while he washed the pan he’d used. “If y-you wa-w-want to kn-know wh-why I talk l-l-like th-this, l-look up th-the w-w-word c-con-concussion, and a-ask h-how that m-m-might’ve h-ha-happened.”

“Don’t you dare talk to my son!” Aunt Petunia snapped, pushing the large boy behind her as though her small frame might act as a shield.

“I w-was just an-answering a qu-qu-question,” Harry said casually, but he gave no other response while he grabbed his plate and left the room.

For once, Dudley actually got a very stern talking to, telling him to “never talk to that freak ever again” and to “stay as far away from him as possible”.

Dudley hated being told what to do.

For Harry, Dudley’s continued interactions with him became more of an annoyance than anything. He assumed correctly that it was due to a mix of defiance and curiosity, but he still found being watched so closely to be unnerving.

Avice’s schedule became sporadic, and Harry had to guess that it was payback for the fiasco that was the last few months of school. She’d suddenly demand time, and he’d give it to her without question. She gave no warning to these moments, and he relented to her attitude if only for the knowledge that her inconveniencing him was a reflection of how he’d inconvenienced her. She’d take off for days or weeks before giving him back control over their shared body, doing whatever she liked, flying to the places she wanted to visit, hunting as she liked and eating as she liked.

It was suffocating living like that for so long. Being out of control of his body, not speaking or moving, in the mind of an animal doing as the animal wanted with no say in the matter. He didn’t know when he’d get control again, or if she’d ever relent without a fight.

The first time, and of course the longest time, was the worst. He attempted to console himself with the thought that he’d deserved it, but he’d nearly cried when he saw she was coming back to the house (he never thought the sight of it would bring him any amount of joy). Swooping to the window in the cover of night, he was happy to find that they had left it unlocked, but it was clear as she pulled it opened and slipped inside that they had searched through his room rather thoroughly. They didn’t take anything, thankfully, and of course they didn’t find his wand.

He’d convinced Avice to bring his wand and hide it somewhere, not trusting that the Dursley’s wouldn’t grab it, and she dropped it unceremoniously to the floor before relenting control to him.

His legs gave out almost immediately, and he dropped, looking at his hands as they separated from his wings, just happy to see his digits again after so long.

He needed a shower. Badly.

His legs were shaky as he stood on them, trying to remember how to properly function once again. It was strange, almost like learning how to walk a second time, and aside from grabbing his pants, towel, and toiletries, he didn’t care to fully dress himself.

He could assume that his aunt and cousin didn’t know the extent of his oddities, as his uncle probably would’ve never told them, but he also didn’t completely care if they knew. He didn’t go out of his way to show them, but he was so mentally drained he couldn’t find it in him to care if either saw him in all his freakishness.

That’s why he hardly reacted when he saw Dudley in the hall, fixing him with a very shocked look, having never seen anything quite as abnormal as him. Harry only glanced his way, before stumbling into the bathroom door, his hair a mess, covered in dirt and sweat.

He opened his mouth to give some sarcastic remark to Dudley’s flabbergasted expression, but his throat was dry, so he only got out a weak croak before he opened the bathroom door and fell in.

Bracing himself on the edge of the tub and changing his plan from shower to bath, he turned on the faucet, running the water over his hands to test it before giving in and splashing his face with it, rubbing aggressively at the grime on his skin.

He didn’t expect Dudley to follow him and was startled when he leaned into the wall as he waited for the tub to fill and saw his large cousin in the doorway.

“I’m n-n-not-“ he began, before his voice broke into a fit of coughs, and he had to take a moment to clear his throat before continuing. “I’m n-not a bl-b-bloody z-zoo a-an-anim-mal.”

“You look like one,” he said with a strange expression. It seemed like he was trying to go for a sneer of some kind, but it fell short, still greatly distracted by the odd thing in front of him.

“I’m s-s-s-sure y-you have a m-mi-million qu-questions s-so ask b-before I t-te-tell y-you to l-l-leave,” he said, not bothering to get up from the floor. He had the good sense to bring his wand at least, but it sat on the tiles a few inches away, and he didn’t move to pick it up.

“Where did you go? Back to your freak friends?” Dudley asked, taking Harry’s mostly unguarded posture as a gate to insert a few insults. Harry gave a small grunt, maybe a sarcastic laugh or just a noise to acknowledge the attempt at getting under his skin.

“N-n-no, I d-didn’t,” he said shortly, dipping his fingers into the tub to test the water temperature before adjusting it slightly.

“Oh that’s right, you don’t have any friends,” he said with a short laugh as Harry’s lack of any real response signalled to him that he could keep going. “Even with those people.”

Now Harry looked at him for a long moment, before picking up his wand and resting his forearm on his knee casually. Dudley, despite how oblivious he could be, got the message and stepped back, but didn’t fully relent.

“It’s true!” He said defensively. “Haven’t seen a single letter from them!”

“Th-they s-s-send post by o-owl,” Harry informed, but the truth was; he had no letters to show for the friends he’d supposedly gotten during the year. Blaise, Draco, Hermione, Tracey, Daphne… nothing from any of them.

Nothing from Bill either. While he’d written to all of his other friends once since the break had started, he had to force himself not to send a letter to Bill. He wanted to, desperately, but he didn’t, and wouldn’t. Bill would have to approach him, if he ever would.

Shaking his head of such thoughts, he turned off the faucet and stood, his legs feeling much less shaky than they had before.

“T-t-times up,” he said curtly. “C-close the d-d-door on y-your w-way out.”

Dudley’s flared his nostrils at the demand, but Harry only needed to take a threatening step towards him to get him running, shutting the door quickly in his wake.

Harry let the tension drop from his shoulders, taking a moment to lock the door before stripping again and sinking into the warm tub, grumbling some curses under the water that came out as bubbles around his nose.

He didn’t like that Dudley was right; no one had sent him letters yet. Not even when he’d sent his own first, asking how their summers were. It had been silent.

He found himself fretting over their interactions, wondering at what point he’d misinterpreted it all. He hadn’t ever really had friends before meeting Bill, and then in Hogwarts he’d gotten his first group of friends, but he felt sure that not all of them would’ve stuck around him if they didn’t want to, right?

Then again, he was apparently a very famous person in the Wizarding World. People had fallen over themselves just to meet him. It wouldn’t be too farfetched to think many would tolerate him if only to say they were friends with the “Great Harry Potter”.

Groaning, he sat up angrily, the water splashing around him while he grabbed his shampoo and began scrubbing at his scalp until he worried he might pull his hair out. He scrubbed at his skin with a washcloth, and then stretched his wings forward beneath his arms to run the potion between his feathers.

At this moment, he slowed and then stopped, his right wing twisted over his knee while he rubbed the slightly warm potion onto the skin and then down the long midnight-black feathers.

He wasn’t an animal, he was a freak. Hardly a person at all, really. Even among people that shared some of his oddities, he wasn’t normal. He paraded around like he was, but it was all fake. All of it was fake.

Why won’t Bill reply to me?

The sudden intrusive thought took him off guard. It had clearly been waiting for his self-deprecating thoughts to become unguarded enough to make itself known, and the rush of emotion that followed it sent him reeling. He fell back into the bath with a short, frustrated cry, and the splash of his back hitting the surface sent some of the water onto the floor.

A learned response immediately sent a shock of terror through him, and he was struck by how long it had been since he’d actually needed that response. He had been eight when the Dursleys had last held that power fully over him. It was nearly four years ago now, but his instinctual response was still to immediately fear violence in response to water on the bathroom floor.

He closed his eyes and rubbed at his face. He was being too reflective tonight, when all he really wanted was to get cleaned and go to sleep. He needed to distract himself somehow...

Taking a deep breath, he held it, and quietly recounted each syllable of the spells he’d learned last year.

Win-gar-di-um Le-vi-o-sa

A-lo-ho-mo-ra

Lu-mos

Nox

He quietly laughed at how the last one with it’s single syllable broke through the flow of the others, and he sat up, continuing the list while he finished his bath.

He could almost hear the intrusive thoughts knocking on the door to his mind, but tonight he would bar entry as long as he could.


 

Severus glared down at the pages of the book he was reading, his quill poised over a piece of parchment harshly scribbled upon.

Heaven forbid he try and enjoy his vacation a fraction before Minerva sends a small library his way regarding speech impediments, along with a rather smug note that said “ To help with your research

Oh, of course she knew that he hadn’t started yet. She had waited three weeks into the vacation to send him the books because she knew he wouldn’t start it early, and probably would continue to ignore it well into the break. Her timing was perfect in how it’d gotten him feeling insulted at the idea that he would’ve never done the research at all, and restless enough that he would actually start doing it to fight of the indignation.

Really, Minerva had a Slytherin side that few realized or appreciated.

Still, now he was doing a task he really didn’t want to do, and that meant his mood was foul. He was still going to do it to the best of his ability of course, but he would be unhappy the entire time. He already had many pages of notes regarding potions, spells, theories, and tests, but nothing was expressly conclusive without the person in question to fill in the answers.

That, of course, led to the mystery that was Harry Potter. He had assumed that the concussion had come from some incident while he was growing up. Perhaps a game that went too far, or an accident of some sort. Harry had, however, told him that it hadn’t been treated, which made very little sense on its own.

He had seen his house and felt confident the brat was cared for all too well. However, he displayed signs similar to those in the aftermath of a death eater attack. Fear of wands and fear of potions were very common when one is tortured for information or punishment or sadistic pleasure. Severus himself had brewed far too many things with disgusting purposes to claim he didn’t know what such fear looked like.

But that was something that happened over at least weeks of death eater “treatment”. Harry would’ve had to be missing for some amount of time, and it was unlikely his relatives would miss such a thing.

It wasn’t impossible though. His eyes were off the page now, staring ahead as he thought through the possibilities. Should they have left for any amount of time, they could’ve been attacked, maybe during a vacation. The muggles could’ve easily had their memories wiped, but that raised another question; why leave any of them alive?

He shook his head free of those thoughts. He was so far off his original focus, especially when he didn’t even know for certain the circumstances. He had completely been pulled from his research, however, and he took the moment to stand and stretch out his back, his spine giving a few audible pops.

He glanced at the filled paper and flipped back through dozens of filled pages before it. Quick notes on practices that showed up as most effective. Potions to be brewed before the beginning of the term, taken in different doses over time. If he was right about Potter having magic-centered fear (and really, he probably was from how the child had acted), it would be a difficult process. He might have to talk to Madam Pomfrey and see how she’d managed it…

He grimaced at the prospect. He didn’t mind speaking with the nurse, necessarily, but he was going to find every point in this unpleasant, no matter if it was justified or not.

Walking instead to the fireplace, he took out a handful of floo powder and threw it in on a whim.

“Malfoy Manor,” he said clearly into the green flames. They flickered subtly before returning to their orange state, and he sat himself in his sitting area idly, summoning a cup of tea with his wand.

He wasn’t waiting for long, as he’d expected. The flames roared a bright emerald, and a familiar voice came through.

“Severus,” Lucius said. The man finished his sip before setting the half-full tea on his coffee table and standing to walk closer to the fireplace.

“Lucius,” he greeted in return, not unkindly. “Could I interrupt your evening for a short while?”

It wasn’t necessarily unusual for him to call his old colleague over from time to time. However, Severus wasn’t the most social of people by any stretch of the imagination, and only ever invited Lucius over if he had something on his mind that he needed to speak about.

“Of course,” came the curt reply, as the man would never fool himself into thinking his old friend would ask him over for simple company. “I will be over in a moment.”

That gave Severus enough time to set out more tea before the eldest Malfoy stepped through the flames into his fireplace, certainly overdressed for the occasion (though it was also likely he had simply come from dinner, as the Malfoys treated such an event as an excuse to use some of their best clothes, whether they had guests or not)

“Good evening, Severus,” Lucius greeted properly, now that he wasn’t speaking to the other man through the floo network. His eyes swept through Severus’s personal study, taking note of the books on the desk and the pages of notes, already getting an idea of the nature of this visit. “Having some difficulty?”

His jeweled hand waved idly towards the piles of research on his desk, and Severus responded by handing him a cup of tea and a light scowl.

“Hardly any pleasantries tonight, I see,” he grumbled, stepping back to the sitting area and motioning him to sit first, waiting for the elder wizard to do so before he followed suit across from him.

“It must be especially frustrating if you’re already stalling,” Lucius said casually, leaning back in his chair and sipping at the tea given him, but fixing his friend with a searching look. He knew him too well, and the scowl became deeper.

“Harry Potter has finished his first year at Hogwarts,” Severus began bitterly, gauging his reaction carefully.

“I’m aware,” Lucius nodded. “My son is in the same year as him, and is quite the talkative sort about such things, as you know.” The potion master let out a light snort at that.

“Quite.” He finished his tea and began pouring himself another cup. “The brat has a speech impediment.”

“I’m aware of that as well.” Lucius raised an eyebrow, looking amused. “And you are the one tasked with helping the boy?”

“Unfortunately.” He gestured vaguely to the pile of books on his desk. “Minerva sent me… assistance.”

“I can see that.” Lucius looked Severus up and down curiously. “What I’m still trying to figure out is why you called me here?”

Severus pressed his lips into a thin line, very clearly being called out for how he was avoiding the topic, but then the topic was a difficult one. Slowly leaning back in his chair, the professor carefully thought over where he should go with it.

“I asked what his treatment was for the concussion that caused his stammering problem,” he began. “He didn’t expressly tell me so, but he might as well have told me he didn’t receive any treatment at all.”

The amusement was gone from Lucius’s face, replaced with a calculating sort of look. He didn’t realize just how closely he was being scrutinized at that moment, Severus looking at him to try and gauge if he’d known this previously.

“Did you ask what happened to give him the concussion in the first place?” Lucius asked, mind working over the issue in his mind.

“I didn’t, but that wasn’t the only thing that… confused me about Potter’s situation.” He set his tea down, giving up on reaching the bottom now. “Just after the Christmas break, he stumbled on a mirror that Albus had been moving. He was enchanted by it, and I was the one to find him in a nearly catatonic state. However, when I went to move him, he displayed very magic-centered fear…” His eyes were pinned on Lucius, who now looked troubled by what he was hearing. “I couldn’t use a wand on him, and Poppy couldn’t give him potions, without him panicking.” It clicked with Lucius what the meeting was about before he even asked. “It reminded me of victims of death eater attacks.”

“You think that I-” Lucius was so aghast that Severus had to cut in quickly.

“No, not you, of course not.” Severus shook his head at the thought that he would even accuse his friend of such a thing. Even if he harbored some kind of animosity towards the boy-who-lived (which Severus doubted. By the end, their “lord” had become something fearsome to even them), Lucius wasn’t one to get his own hands dirty. “I was wondering if you’d heard… anything. Albus seems convinced that while at his relatives home he’d be safe, however, I have to wonder if anything happened whenever he was away from that house.”

“No, I haven’t heard anything.” Lucius shook his head, setting his own tea next to Severus’s. “I have hardly been in contact with anyone from the… old days. Aside from you of course.” His gaze darkened considerably. “The only one who I’d say might risk losing his freedom for something like that was thrown in Azkaban for human experimentation two years ago.”

Basil Truscott. Yes, he would be unsettled enough to attack the boy-who-lived without much of a plan. The only uncertainty was that he was also the kind to kill him and anyone associated with him afterwards, so it didn’t fully make sense. Unless Harry was in the Truscott experiments of course, which made even less sense.

“I’m finding that this situation makes less sense now than it did before I spoke to you.” Severus shook his head, standing up.

“I’m glad I could be of assistance,” came the sarcastic reply, and Severus gave an amused snort while Lucius followed him to the fireplace. “Whether or not the reasoning for his response makes sense, I’d suggest treating him under the assumption that he was the victim of a death eater attack.”

“That’s a poor plan, I detest the boy and I’m sure he feels the same.” Severus’s grimace was almost comical, and Lucius couldn’t stop the small quirk at the corner of his lips.

“That’s unfortunate. You’re a very likeable man, Severus.” The sarcasm was very unappreciated, and the scowling worsened. “At the very least, don’t make it worse.”

“I’ll do my best,” came the noncommittal reply.

“Thank you for the tea.” Lucius gave a slight bow to his friend, before grabbing the floo powder and throwing it into the fire with a quick declaration of “Malfoy Manor.”

“Thank you for joining me.” Severus nodded in turn, seeing the elder wizard off, before returning to his seat at the desk, staring at the papers awaiting him.

There was a great deal that didn’t make sense here, but it was undeniable there was something in the boy’s past that was still affecting him today. That just meant, of course, that each time he outwardly hated the brat, he’d find it more difficult to justify his actions, and that inconvenience was added to the list of things he’d be mad about, whether or not he felt it was truly fair.

“Don’t make it worse.”

It wouldn’t be easy for him, but he’d have to try and see that promise through, if only to prove he was a decent human. And for Lily. Always for Lily.

Severus finally gave in and broke out the stronger drinks.

Chapter Text

July 31st. Happy Birthday, Harry.

Of course, no one had sent him that statement, or any statement at all in fact. School had ended a while ago and still, nothing.

Dudley had been the only one to notice it was his birthday, even before Harry did, and had been quick to remind him he seemed to have a remarkable lack of birthday presents. Harry hadn’t even found it in himself to give some vague threat, and instead got himself his lunch and left for his room again.

“Just stay in there and pretend you don’t exist” had been his uncle’s request. It was almost a demand, but the waver in his voice as he peeked into the room he hadn’t entered since the summer started was what made the demand into a request. Had Harry made a great show of anger at his statement and proceeded to tromp over his perfectly planned evening, Vernon would’ve huffed and puffed and done nothing more.

His perfectly planned evening was, of course, a simple dinner party. Something about selling drills for his business. Harry had no interest in it, nor did he have interest in sabotaging it. Had he been of a more sick mind, he might’ve delighted at the opportunity to get sweet revenge on his former tormentors, but with how his day was looking to be, really he’d be happy to pretend he didn’t exist, or even spend an evening wishing it were true.

His uncle didn’t need to know about all of that, though, so he just gave a dull nod, grabbing a nearby book and pretending to read it. A silence fell upon the room, and after a few moments more, the door finally closed, leaving him alone again.

He didn’t necessarily fancy the idea of spending an evening feeling sorry for himself, but there wasn’t much left to do. His thoughts went to Draco, who had offered, or at least seemed to have offered, spending his birthday with him. Harry had even been hoping that the offer held true, but with nothing from anyone, all thoughts of experiencing the kind of birthdays other kids enjoyed went out the window.

He should’ve expected as much. Spending his birthday alone or catering to the Dursleys was common. He couldn’t even be certain which day was actually his birthday most years, especially at the facility, but with a little bit of hope he felt the sting as it was taken away.

He was wrong on at least one account though. He apparently wasn’t meant to spend his birthday alone.

He went to the restroom before the guests arrived so as to avoid any unnecessary anger towards him for making noise walking across the hall, and he had expected to, perhaps, spend the rest of the night reading, but he was sent reeling back when he found his bed occupied.

Dobby.

Of all the guests he expected to have on his birthday, a house elf was not one. Especially not one so loud. He tried to keep the tiny thing quiet, but he seemed inconsolable for most of their interactions. He found it, at most, annoying, but he could hear the falter in the voices downstairs each time Dobby began wailing again. A cold, untouched part of himself seemed to fill with glee at the thought of their perfect night being ruined, and such a thought made him further his efforts to hush the elf.

The praising of Harry made him feel sick. He hated the thought that this was really how some people thought of him. The boy-who-lived, a hero. Really, there wasn’t much to his feats of supposed bravery. One encounter had been an act of self-preserving panic, the other he had been a baby. He did nothing in either of these situations, and the grovelling made it worse.

And then, he was trying to convince Harry not to go back to hogwarts. As if he ever would’ve chosen not to, even with such an insistent elf.

“It’s th-the o-only pl-place I’ve g-g-got- w-well I th-think I’ve go-got f-fr-friends,” Harry said.

“Friends who won’t even write to Harry Potter?” Dobby said slyly. Harry’s eyes snapped to him, boring deep into the elf, and at once Dobby knew he had made a mistake.

“H-how do y-y-you know?” He said, and the elf stepped back. Dobby opened his mouth, but Harry was advancing on him, the elf stepping back another few feet. “Y-y-you’ve b-been s-s-stopping my l-letters!”

Dobby was fast, though, out of his hands in an instant with a thick stack of letters in his grasp. Harry could make out Hermione’s neat scripture and a letter sealed with a much-too-fancy “M” that could only be from Draco. He couldn’t what the other letters were from, and when he went to grab at them, Dobby was out of his reach again.

“Harry Potter will have them, sir, if he gives Dobby his word that he will not return to Hogwarts. Ah, sir, this is a danger you must not face! Say you won’t go back, sir!”

“G-g-give m-me my l-letters!” Harry snapped, diving forwards and missing again.

“Then Harry Potter leaves Dobby no choice.”

He was gone, down the stairs, and Harry followed quickly, avoiding what was happening in the living room and following Dobby into the kitchen, where he had his aunt’s immaculate pudding floating in the air. Harry froze.

“Harry Potter must say he’s not going back to school.” He said with a finality.

“D-D-Dobby…” Harry said quietly, his eyes glued on the pudding. “Y-y-you d-don’t under-understand.”

“Say it, sir.”

“I c-c-c-can’t-”

“Then Dobby must do it, sir, for Harry Potter’s own good.”

The pudding fell with an awful crash. There was the sound of shouts from the living room, and there was his uncle.

Harry didn’t have his wand. Terror was rising in him, he felt like he might be sick with fear, but the guests were still here. He wouldn’t do anything with them around. He could escape quickly.

Vernon almost seemed like he would pull it off too. He’d brushed Harry’s appearance off as their disturbed nephew who dislikes strangers, and Harry almost stole upstairs, when the owl came in to deliver the letter.

The lady screamed, and Vernon and Petunia were apologizing profusely to her husband by the door while Harry darted into the living room and scooped the letter up from where it lay face down. He briefly glanced at the front of it, just enough time to see it was from the Ministry of Magic. He didn’t have to think hard about it to know it wasn’t good news, certainly not news he wanted the Dursley’s to hear.

Harry ran straight for the stairs as the man made his way closer to the door while he ranted at his aunt and uncle, a clear sign he intended to leave very soon, so Harry’s window to escape was closing. He took the steps two at a time and opened his door, when he heard Dudley’s voice.

“He’s got the letter!” He squealed just before Harry slammed the door shut. “He took it!”

He could hardly hear the voices over the pounding of his heart. He clutched the letter close to his chest while he leaned against the door, listening for footsteps approaching.

As he heard nothing immediate, he quickly retrieved his wand from his nightstand and ripped open the letter, scanning it quickly. They thought the levitation spell Dobby had used had been his own. He could hardly register the relief that they wouldn’t be expelling him as he heard the much too familiar sound of his uncle coming up the stairs.

“What was that letter, boy, ” Came the growling voice of his uncle. Grabbing his desk chair, he jammed it beneath the handle of the door and stepped back. This letter was proof he couldn’t use magic, and he needed to dispose of it quickly.

Grabbing hold of the edges, he attempted to tear it, but it might as well have been made of thick leather; no matter how hard he scratched and tore at it, the surface stayed unscathed.

“Open up!” Came his uncle’s terrifying demand as he pounded on his door. “What are you hiding?!”

Running to the window, he threw it open and tossed the letter outside. As though pulled by a magnet, it came back, flying over Harry’s shoulder and sliding on the wooden floor. The door was being pushed upon, making a creaking sound from the weight pressing against its other side.

“What did that letter say?!” He was nearly screaming.

“I-it w-w-w-was fr-from a f-friend,” Harry said quickly, diving onto the letter and then scratching at the floor. A loose board was all he needed, someplace to hide this…

“He doesn’t have friends!” Came Dudley’s taunt, and his mother must’ve immediately begun pulling him away as a series of whines followed him. The chair groaned under the pressure, and Harry felt certain it wouldn’t hold for long.

He nearly pulled his nails off as he found the one that bent against his fingers, ripping it off quickly and stuffing the offending letter below it. Slamming it down and hoping it looked as it always had, he ran to his trunk and shuffled through it.

Open . This . Door .” Harry flinched, his instincts screaming at him. That voice was the same one that sent terror down his spine every time, and panic was making it difficult to focus, but he found it. A letter shoved at the bottom of the trunk some time ago, opened and then replaced in the broken envelope.

He pulled the chair back and sent it skidding towards its place by his desk before stepping back while the door was slammed opened.

The letter was gone from his hand before he could say a word. He kept his wand between himself and one of the many who plagued his nightmares, but with adrenaline coursing through him, making his legs shake with absolute terror, he couldn’t make himself more threatening.

His uncle scanned through the words, and then sneered, throwing it down on the floor, remarkably close to the slightly crooked floor board.

“You think this was funny ?” He screamed, advancing on him. Harry’s wand thrust forward was the only thing that got him to stop his advance. “Do you enjoy this, freak ?”

Harry couldn’t help it, he flinched back at the hated word, but shook his head, unable to form a better answer than that.

“We let you stay here, we’ve fed and raised you,” he hissed. Harry could hardly hear whatever else he began to say over the rushing of blood through his ears.

“Y-you’d g-g-give m-me up ag-again, if y-you could!” He snapped, taking a step forwards. “Y-y-you l-let th-them take m-me! Y-yo-you w-wanted them t-to!”

Vernon opened his mouth to give some scathing remark, but Harry was advancing quickly now, and he was sent stumbling back, something terrifying in the wizard’s eyes keeping him from giving much more than a squeak of surprise at how boldly Harry was acting when a few moments ago he was near cowering.

“Y-you d-d-don’t re-realize what they’ve d-d-done to m-me. Y-you hav-haven’t s-seen the th-things I’ve s-s-seen. Y-y-you don’t kn-know wha-what n-nightm-mare I’ve lived.” He could feel the emotions threatening to wash him away, but he couldn’t break down in front of Vernon like this. “G-get out of m-m-my r-room.”

He looked positively livid at the demand, but his eyes were glued onto Harry’s wand, his lips curled in a defiant sneer that just served to magnify his frightened undertones.

“Out!” Harry’s words were firm and left no room for debate, and the man was gone faster than Harry had seen him move before, slamming the door in his wake.

The tension slowly dropped from his shoulders and he slid down to the floor with it, a few uncontrollable hiccups racking through his body. He wasn’t certain what emotion was causing this, whether it was terror or anguish or anger. He rubbed quickly at his eyes, shaking his head at how irrational he was being. He should feel relief that he had managed to keep his uncle from finding the real letter, or happiness now that he knew his letters had been blocked by Dobby and that his friends really had tried contacting him.

Which meant Bill might’ve tried responding to him too.

That thought sent him to his feet again. He couldn’t wait around anymore, he needed to know if Bill had replied to him or not. It had been one thing when he had believed Bill was ignoring him, that he’d brushed him off. Now there was a possibility he had sent him a letter back, and he needed to be certain.

Shuffling through his things, he pulled out his old sweater and began filling it with clothes and his soaps, removing his shirt and stuffing it in with everything else.  For paranoia’s sake, he grabbed a few cans of food in case things went terribly, and he tied the bottom quickly as he had become used to doing nearly two years ago.

On his final sweep of the room, he adjusted the board covering the letter so it looked as all the others did, and he stepped back to double-check that it seemed the same as it had been. If he couldn’t destroy it and he couldn’t take it from the house, he’d have to hide it. Taking a deep breath, he opened the window. Hedwig flew from her cage and landed on his shoulder, preening the feathers behind his ears. He leaned out, feeling the hot summer breeze hit his skin, and listened for any sign of life.

All was still, not a soul in sight. Clutching his things close to his chest, he stretched out his wings to their full length, braced himself on the windowsill, and jumped out, catching quickly and rising high into the air.

The air was cooler the higher he flew, Hedwig flying a few feet below him. He wasn’t completely certain how, but something in him seemed to remember the exact direction he was going, remembering just where the Weasley home was. Like an arrow pointing him in the right direction.

The trip was long, taking several hours of flying, and the sky was already turning grey by the time he saw the tall house over the trees. He felt exhausted, wondering if he should just find a place to sleep rather than barging in so early, but he had come so far that the anticipation was killing him.

Dropping into the trees before the clearing began, he hopped down the branches and quickly pulled on his shirt, mentally wondering if he should buy a spare sweater and create holes for his wings when he did long flights on his own. He didn’t have as many feathers as Avice did when she was in control, and it was incredibly cold, especially without a shirt on.

Hedwig gently nipped at his ears and bit him farewell, as she planned on going out hunting. He told her to be careful and gave her a quick scratch on the back of the head before she took off again, seeming to not be affected by their long flight.

Properly dressed, he shifted his shirt a bit awkwardly, thinking that it might be weird he was wearing a jacket over his simple t-shirt when it was the middle of summer, but without the jacket his wings became a strange outline upon his back through the loose fabric. He would take the heat and looking strange for wearing a jacket over looking truly strange in a different sense entirely.

With his shoes on, he started walking towards the house, one which looked like it shouldn’t be able to stand at all. Slowly, his nervousness began to mount. If Bill hadn’t replied to him, what would he think about him showing up so suddenly? Would he be upset? If he did send him a letter back, would he be mad that Harry hadn’t replied once again?

He stopped in front of the door, hand halfway up to knock, but these thoughts kept him immobile. Bill probably wouldn’t want to see him. After all, why should he? From his perspective, Harry was either coming to see him after promising to stay out of his way, or coming back after ignoring him again .

Still, he had to know if Bill had tried to respond.

He knocked on the door.

He only realized how early it was after he did, the sun hadn’t even come up yet, and was left with about thirty seconds of anxious fear before the door swung open. Percy stood on the other side, looking like he had only recently gotten up, but had been up long enough that Harry was fairly sure he hadn’t woken him.

“Harry?” He said with a rather confused expression. It was clear whatever the twins had heard regarding Harry’s relationship with Bill had trickled down to him as well, and he looked uncertain about how that left their relationship.

“Hi,” he said quietly, shuffling at the door. “I-is… d-d-did B-Bill…”

“Bill’s not here,” he said flatly, but then gave a small sigh. “He’ll be home later.” He glanced back into the house, then shrugged, partially to himself. “You’re welcome to come in until he gets here.”

He stepped aside, and Harry slowly walked in. Percy eyed his jacket somewhat suspiciously, but said nothing about it when Harry still didn’t take it off, sticking his hands in his pockets awkwardly while he stood around the house, uncertain of what to do. He felt the exhaustion from having yet to sleep and flying all night, and supposed his hair was probably a mess. He doubted that he looked in any way put together, but Percy didn’t say a word about it.

“If you want to sit, you’re more than welcome to,” he said, motioning to the sofa in the living room. “I’m afraid I’m not going to be much company. Mum or dad will be up soon I’m sure, but it’s just me up for now.” He nodded to the many books stacked sideways on a bookshelf, and many more stacked next to it. “Feel free to read while you’re waiting. I’ll be upstairs if you need anything. Third floor, second to last door on the right. Just knock first, please.”

Harry gave an awkward nod, and Percy stood there for one more moment, before giving another nod in return and walking up the stairs, leaving Harry alone in the still-sleeping house.

He listened for a few more moments, hearing the creak of someone walking, likely Percy, upstairs. No one else appeared to be up yet, and he didn’t blame them. Slowly he stepped over to the bookshelf and browsed through the options. He could hardly focus on the titles, even with his glasses on, and eventually just grabbed one at random and sat himself on the couch.

Percy was right, Mrs. Weasley was awake and downstairs only a few minutes later, and found Harry fast asleep on her couch, clutching an unopened book to his chest.

She asked no questions and said nothing as she grabbed a spare wool blanket kept in one of the linen closets and tossed it over the boy, removing the hardcover book from his hands and placing it on the coffee table next to him. She was quick to hush everyone that came downstairs that morning, and for once the Weasley home was quiet for long after the twins had gotten up.

And Harry slept. Not peacefully, but he slept. For the most part, the living room was left to Harry. Every once in a while, Molly Weasley would poke her head in to be sure Harry was still sleeping, or someone would come in to grab something and leave, but with how vehemently Harry was being guarded, no one wanted to risk waking him up.

Likely due to a combination of the situation with Bill and how close he had gotten to his uncle’s wrath, he slept restlessly. His nightmares were filled with dark spaces and an overwhelming sense of terror and dread. He felt like he was in danger, felt like someone was behind him, ready to attack him, but it was too dark to see anything. He turned, this way and that, searching for the threat, and frequently thought someone was about to harm him, but despite his violent pull away from where he thought the hit was coming from, it never appeared.

Constant fear, never waning, was all he could feel in this nightmare, and in the waking world he was twitching and giving small noises of protest or tiny cries for help that only formed themselves as whines and whimpers.

This seemed to go on forever, and in only one instance at the same time, when he felt something actually touch him. He shot back into the couch, giving a loud cry of alarm and kicking his legs which quickly became tangled in the blanket. This only served to magnify his fear and he pushed himself off the couch, falling over the back of it and onto the floor with a loud crash.

“Hey. Hey!” Came a voice which stopped Harry in his panicked retreat, bringing him back to reality. “Relax, it’s just me.”

“B-B-Bill?” Harry choked out, slowly pulling himself up to look over the couch at where Bill stood.

And there he was. Bill stood next to the couch still, a look of sadness on his features before he schooled them to a more neutral expression.

“What are you doing here?” He said it with such a tired, sad tone, the way someone might when they find some pitiful person continuing to hurt themselves in pitiful ways. The kind of tone used when someone has given up on another. Harry shrank back slightly at the tone, unconsciously using the couch as protection. He didn’t want to answer that question when Bill was speaking to him that way.

Bill looked at him for a long time, waiting for a response. When it was clear Harry would give none, he gave a long sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose, shifting his weight on his cane.

“Harry,” his voice was more firm, but still sounded spent, and Harry sank further behind the couch, pressing his forehead to the back of it so only the top of his head and his fingers could be seen. “You can’t…” He was searching for the right words to say, but found none and gave another, more frustrated sigh. “If you’re not here for any reason, then you should just-”

“Harry!” The sudden appearance of other voices took them both off guard. Perhaps because of the tenseness between the two, neither had considered that another might join the conversation, but he, or they, did.

“You’re awake!” A second voice chimed in, and Harry lifted his head up to see just who had come to interrupt them.

As if he didn’t know.

Fred and George stood in the doorway, smiles ever present as usual (well, unless they were threatening him about their brother, but they didn’t seem inclined to do that now). The two of them simultaneously walked over to the couch and sat down, consciously or accidentally creating another barrier between Harry and Bill.

“Mum wanted to know if you were hungry,” Fred said.

“We already had lunch, but she saved some for you,” George added.

“I’m n-n-not,” Harry began, but his stomach growled before he could give any protest to the contrary.

“Thought so.” They said simultaneously. They each grabbed a hand and pulled him without time to say otherwise, making crawl over the back of the couch again and towards the door to the kitchen.

“Afternoon, Bill,” said Fred on his way past, giving a wink.

“Glad to have you home again!” George added with a grin.

Harry said nothing, keeping his eyes averted until they got into the kitchen, but even from the corner of his eye he could see Bill’s confused face, could almost feel his frustration, but he didn’t follow them into the kitchen.

Mrs. Weasley was there already, and as the twins said, she had saved him food. Really, if Harry had been told they hadn’t had lunch yet, he would’ve believed them with the amount of food she had left over when she was done giving him a sizeable portion. Soup in a bowl as big as Hagrid’s hand filled with beef and carrots and potatoes that melted against his spoon, bread, still perfectly fresh, breaking apart with a crackle of resistance on the outside but warm and soft in the center, and a tall glass of pumpkin juice, sweeter than he’d had at Hogwarts.

Before he could even begin to contemplate how he could possibly eat such a huge amount of food, the twins began talking, full to bursting with questions.

“How has your summer been so far, Harry?” George asked with a glint in his eye.

“F-f-fine,” he said, bringing a spoonful to his mouth to excuse himself from elaborating on the details.

“Careful, dear, it’s hot!” Mrs. Weasley said too late, as he winced back. He wouldn’t have been deterred years ago, hot food was rare growing up and if it burned him so be it. It would be taken away if he stopped to let it cool, but now he gave a sheepish smile and put the spoon down to allow it time to settle while he ate the buttery bread instead.

They were watching his actions carefully, very carefully, and George’s eyes lingered on his right hand more than Fred, but his skin appeared normal, unblemished.

“How did you get here? You fly?” Fred asked. He meant it as a joke, Harry supposed, or maybe he thought Harry might’ve flown on a broom, but it still shook him briefly while he tried to figure out how they could possibly know. Fred eyed some of the bred next to the bowl, and Harry quickly shared some of it in hopes of getting him off such a question, which he took, broke in half, and shoved into his mouth one piece while handing the other to his twin.

“I, uh, w-wa-walked,” he said awkwardly. They looked about ready to ask him about how that was possible when he corrected quickly. “F-fr-from the t-train st-station.”

There was a train that went here, right? Most wizards apparated everywhere, but there had to be a muggle system of transportation that led to the town nearby. Right?

“That’s quite a distance,” Mrs. Weasley said, waving her wand and refilling the pumpkin juice. “You made the trip on your own?”

Their three expectant eyes were boring into him, and he realized he was being interrogated. He gulped and shrugged awkwardly.

“Y-y-yes?” He asked, though already feeling stupid for admitting such a thing.

Mrs. Weasley gave a small exhale through her nose, but said nothing more as she turned to finish cleaning up the kitchen. If they could, Harry felt that Fred and George would’ve been taking actual notes, but the mental ones must’ve been extensive.

“What about your relatives?”

Harry didn’t pay attention to which twin said it, that was the question he wasn’t going to answer. Hot soup be damned, he took a spoon full and ate it, ignoring how it singed his tongue and made it impossible to enjoy the flavors of the stew Mrs. Weasley had prepared.

They watched him closely, and he supposed he must’ve looked strange, eating so ravenously, but he stopped with the soup only partway finished and stood.

“Th-th-thank y-you fo-for your c-co-company,” he said quickly, turning to walk to the door.

“Wait!” They called in unison.

“It’ll be late before you get to the train station,” Fred said quickly, coming up to flank Harry on one side.

“Stay the night, please,” George added from the other side.

For once, they looked uncertain, even a bit desperate, and Harry wondered just what they thought would happen if he left.

He hesitated. They were definitely trying to get some answer out of him, and Bill probably wouldn’t be happy, but he hadn’t necessarily gotten his answer about Bill yet, and they seemed desperate… It wasn’t as if he had something waiting for him when he got back to the Dursley’s.

Quietly, he nodded, and the two grinned wide once more, taking him by each hand and giving him a grand tour of the place.

He thought, hoped at least, that their investigation would be stopped by his threat to leave, but it had been slowed at most.

If it wasn’t in the searching gazes, it was in subtle “tests” they were doing. He had been somewhat uncertain of exactly what they were searching for previously, but now it was obvious; they were looking for just what had happened to him in his past.

Once, they clapped him on the shoulder a little too roughly and both seemed much too apprehensive of how he flinched away violently, without so much as a conscious thought to do so. When walking through the mess that was the twin’s room (an organized mess, George explained proudly), he tripped over a small-sized cauldron and Fred grabbed him quickly by the upper arm in a much too tight grasp to keep him from falling. The sudden shot of adrenaline sent him whipping around on him, eyes wide and fearful as he grabbed Fred’s hand that held him, digging his nails in like claws.

The immediate removal of the restraint was what led him to calm down slowly, and as the animalistic fright left his mind, he realized he had just shown them some kind of confirmation, which left him more than a bit uncomfortable.

Dinner was an awkward affair with Ron glaring at him and Bill absent while the twins, Mrs. Weasley, and, to an extent, Percy seemed to be watching him carefully. He figured they were probably watching to see how he dealt with food in front of him. Earlier, he hadn’t eaten for several hours so hunger was to be expected, but now would show just what kind of habits he had developed.  

He knew he had a tendency to eat quickly and urgently. Even after becoming used to Hogwarts feasts where there was so much food there was almost certainly no threat of having his meal stolen or confiscated, he couldn’t help how he ate swiftly, cleaning everything off his plate. Had the twins or Percy been in Slytherin or had they been paying this much attention to him when he was there during Christmas, he had no doubt they would’ve already had their answer, but now there were frequent glances his way, like he was the subject of some conversation which had gone on when he wasn’t in the room. It made him squirm awkwardly in his seat.

He did his best to eat slowly, slower than he’d done previously, but he still found he finished first. He only hoped it had been subtle enough they couldn’t definitively decide anything about him or his past.

“How was your birthday, Harry?” Mrs. Weasley asked. Harry wasn’t sure, but he had a feeling Fred and George told her to ask that question. Maybe it was in an attempt to keep them from seeming like they were constantly quizzing him, but it didn’t fully work when they both seem invested in the answer.

“F-f-fine,” he muttered quickly. Of course, that wasn’t nearly good enough for them, but he tried anyway.

“Did you do anything?” Fred asked curiously.

“Blow something up?” George joked, but he seemed to be just lightening the weight of the questions.

“N-no,” he shrank back in his chair under their scrutiny. The twins glanced at each other and there was a strange glint to Mrs. Weasley’s gaze which made Harry quickly continue talking. “I j-just w-wa-wanted a qu-quiet b-birthday.”

The tension dropped a small amount, but he could tell the excuse only mildly worked. The reason they didn’t continue to ask him about how he spent his birthday, or any birthday before this one, was because with his answer they would come off a bit too forceful.

Harry kept to himself for the rest of the meal as he waited for the others to finish, and the conversation, thankfully, drifted away from him.

When someone else had excused themselves first to prove it could be done, he quietly excused himself and slipped back into the living room. In his haste, he had left his things and the thought was getting him nervous, but thankfully his makeshift bag was still there, sitting next to the sofa where he’d left it. He began to reach for it when another hand grabbed it first.

“You’ll be staying in our room tonight!” Fred said with Harry’s things in his hands. Before Harry had time to go forward to retrieve them from the ginger’s grasp, George was next to him, an arm around his shoulders.

“We have two beds but we don’t mind sharing one so you’ll have one to yourself!” George said proudly. Harry knew they could see how uncomfortable he was, they had been overly observant all night after all, but they were set on testing the waters of his problems, like being stuck in a pitch dark room, feeling around blindly for what might be in there. Or having a test subject in a cage, to be poked and prodded to see how much pain they’re in.

He sunk a few inches down, not liking how low George’s arm was on his shoulders. Hugs weren’t something Harry had to worry about, everyone he knew seemed to understand how he disliked contact and had never asked. Quick slaps on the back were very rare and terrifying, but if they hit his wings they often just assumed that was his back, the motion was too quick to be able to discern one from the other. This, however, was dangerously close, and a fear, like flashing warning signs, sent adrenaline through his brain.

“Th-th-th-thank y-y-you,” he said quietly, stepping to the side to get away from George. He released him, thankfully, which left the issue of Fred holding his things, which he didn’t release.

“C’mon, we’ll help you get set up!” He said, before darting off with his things hugged in his arms, a much-too mischievous glint in his eyes.

“W-w-w-wa-wai-” Harry couldn’t get the word out, and decided to run instead of trying to finish his thought, sprinting up the stairs after Fred. George’s laughter followed him up the stairs while he darted around the winding halls to the next staircase, nearly running into Ron as he passed, who had already been shoved aside by Fred. He couldn’t think to stop and apologize, he couldn’t even think of what he had in his bag that made him so scared, just that the twins had something of his and he was sure they were going to look through it for more evidence on whatever they wanted to find about him.

What did get him to take pause was when he passed by Bill while the ginger was on his way to one of the rooms. He was looking towards the door that Fred had run into and slammed in his wake, a small, amused smile on his lips, but then he turned and caught a glimpse of Harry, and the smile was gone.

That fact made it feel like the air was being crushed from his lungs. Harry stopped, George nearly slamming into him, and stared at Bill, struck by the realization that their relationship was different. That Bill looked at him with such a guarded, blank face now.

He swallowed, almost wanting to say something, but then he remembered that Fred was in his room with Harry’s things.

“F-Fr-Fre-Fred, pl-ple-please-” he called out, skirting around Bill and hoping he wouldn’t take his urgency negatively.

Opening the door, he saw Fred had already unravelled his sweater, his things dumped on and being looked through on one of the two beds. Harry gave a small noise, running to take stock of what he had brought again. Cans of food, clothes, and plastic bottles with potions in them (labelled vaguely enough that they probably wouldn’t be able to figure out what it was without being familiar with the potions themselves) next to his toiletries. His wand, the nonverbal casting book, and one of his pairs of mittens which were, in hot weather, a good luck charm more than anything.

“Is this food?” Fred asked, picking up one of the cans and reading the label.

“I…” Harry awkwardly shuffled over. “I-in case c-co-coming here d-didn’t w-wo-work out…”

“What?” George asked curiously, coming up next to him. Harry shrugged.

“Planning on staying in the woods?” Fred looked at him curiously, trying to discern what that might mean. Harry shrugged again.

“Muggle soaps!” George exclaimed when his eyes locked on the plastic bottle, grabbing at his conditioner and trying to open it. “Dad would love this.”

“It’s ch-cheap,” Harry said awkwardly, beginning to subtly grab his things and put them back together. Not for the first time, he thanked his situation with the Dursleys. His clothes would’ve been so much worse and he’d never had soaps of his own before… Should he have actually managed to get out somehow, he doubted he could’ve possibly managed to hide anything at all. They would’ve known everything from his first meal.

“Potions?” Fred picked up one of the bottles, looking it over curiously.

“I d-di-didn’t w-want the gl-glass bre-breaking,” he excused quickly, tying his sweater again, and putting things in them before they could be grabbed at.

“You know you can buy unbreakable potion bottles, right?” George asked, handing over the conditioner when he failed to figure out the top. Harry gave another shrug, his things put together again, and stepped back. They seemed to favor the bed Fred had sat on when he went over his things, so he inched to the other one.

He stood there next to it quietly, and they looked after him with expectant expressions, like they were waiting to see what he’d decide to do. He wouldn’t put it past them to have a plan for each thing he might choose to do, and that thought made his stomach churn uncomfortably.

“I w-w-was, uh…” he glanced around. He had only roomed with Draco before, and Draco hadn’t necessarily waited for him to decide to do something first. “J-ju-just g-going to change a-and r-re-read or…. s-s-something.”

“No problem, Harry!” George said, hopping up and going to his closet, pulling two sets of pajamas out.

“You want it quiet, we can do quiet!” Fred stated loudly, catching the pair thrown him and setting about changing into his clothes. After an awkward pause, Harry realized they were looking at him curiously, waiting for him to change into his sleeping clothes too.

“Ah, I-I’ll... “ Harry shifted to the door slowly. “I c-can go ch-cha-change in th-the-”

“Nonsense!” Fred said, now in a brightly colored mismatched pajama set, violet and light yellow.

“We can leave you to get changed!” George stated, wearing the set in reversed colors. His statement clearly took Fred off-guard slightly, but the twin verbally stated nothing of the sort.

“Absolutely.” He agreed, standing and walking to the door after his brother. “Hope you won’t miss us too much.”

He winked on his way out, and the door closed slowly. Harry listened quietly, holding his breath. He heard nothing, but he didn’t trust that. The twins wouldn’t let him go, just like that. They had something else planned.

Time passed slowly, without him moving, but he could wait out anything. Sure enough, as it became much too long, he heard a small shift, and then a pair of feet finally retreating from the door.

Letting out a soft breath, he began to change. His pajamas weren’t anything fancy, a light, off-white set with thin blue lines in a checkerboard pattern. It wasn’t as though Harry knew a thing on fashion, or cared much either, but they were made of some soft fabric that he liked, and the top was a size too big, making it loose enough that if he kept his wings tucked tightly against his shoulders they wouldn’t be especially noticeable.

He had changed into the pair of pants, slipping on some socks and reaching for the top, when he heard it; footsteps coming towards the room quickly. He wouldn’t be able to get the shirt on, so in a terrified moment, he ripped the blanket from the bed and pulled it over his shoulders as the room was barged into by the persistent and loud twins.

“Ya done yet, Harry?” George asked loudly.

“Aw c’mon, we gave you ten minutes!” Fred sighed upon seeing that he wasn’t, in fact, done changing, not acknowledging how they had waited on the other side for at least eight of those ten minutes. There was a pause, and then Fred sat up. “You know you can put your shirt on, we won’t stop you.”

Harry shook his head, stepping back until he hit the wall.

Fred opened his mouth to speak again, the expression of someone about to start teasing another, but George looked like he had a sudden thought.

“This isn’t going to work,” he said before Fred could speak. He turned to look at his brother, and they seemed to be having a conversation told between expressions Harry couldn’t discern the exact meaning of.

After a moment, Fred shrugged and sat back, waiting to see what George would do.

“We know you’re hiding something,” he said bluntly to Harry, turning to him. “You’ve obviously been through… something , and you’re afraid to tell us for some reason.” He stepped closer, and Harry pressed his back into the wall. “I know you don’t know us very well, but what we’re worried about is that something very serious is going on that you aren’t telling anyone .”

“Y-y-y-yo-you d-d-don’t un-u-und-unders-” Harry’s tongue felt numb and he couldn’t think coherently. They couldn’t know his secrets. They were kind, they had good intentions, but if they did something they could ruin everything.

“We probably don’t,” George said with a nod. “We have a lot of theories about what it is you have tucked away, but even with the two of us we can’t be completely sure. Remember how I said you should be selfish once in a while? Well that also means you need to open up to people, even if you’re worried they’ll be bothered by it.”

Harry wished it were that simple, that he was only worried that they would be disgusted by him, but it was that and much more. He wanted to tell them that they couldn’t know, that he couldn’t let them know, but his voice wasn’t working anymore, and George had him backed into the corner. If Harry moved away, George could grab the blanket and he’d see everything. He’d understand everything. What would they do with that knowledge? Could he actually trust them to keep his secrets? He hardly even knew them, and they had gone to such lengths already to figure out about the past he had been trying to keep hidden from them. He wouldn’t put it past them to do something else if they thought it was good for him, even without his permission.

“That’s enough,” a firm voice cut in, and George stopped, turning around with a dramatic pout. Bill stood in the doorway, leaning against his cane. “You’ve lost your Harry privileges, leave him alone.”

“Aw, Bill,” George said in a whining tone. All at once, that serious side was gone again, and Harry hoped he wouldn’t ever have to see it again. He didn’t have a joke to crack at him, though, and Harry got the sense that there was some kind of subtle brother-communication going on between the two of them. Harry wouldn’t know, exactly, but they seemed to understand each other, and again, Harry got the sense he was the subject of many conversations that had happened when he wasn’t there.

“No, he’s staying in my room, you’ve had your chance.” He waved subtly to Harry and pushed off his cane so his weight was more even, clearly a sign that he was about to walk down the hall.

Harry didn’t even ask if he could keep the blanket; he was going to so long as he was shirtless, and with one hand he grabbed the rest of his things, quickly going out of the room, avoiding the two of them as much as he could.

“Harry,” came George’s call, and Harry paused to turn. Now a safer distance away, he tried to calm how unnerved he was with how much they had almost seen. “We’re not trying to hurt you or anything. But there’s something-”

“Or someone,” interjected Fred from where he lay on the bed, his legs extended to the ceiling.

“That makes you scared to go home for the holidays.” Harry took a deep breath, and tried to gather his scattered thoughts.

“I w-w-wish y-you un-u-underst-stood why I c-ca-can’t t-tell any-anyone,” he said quietly. “B-but I’m afr-afraid y-you w-won’t.”

“Fair enough.” Fred shrugged. “But then you should tell Bill. Sure, we might think you’re wrong, but he probably wouldn’t do something without your permission unless you were being really dumb.”

“I told you, Harry privileges are revoked!” Bill called from down the hall, and both of the twins booed him, which earned a boo in return. Harry tried to smile at them, really, but couldn’t give much more than a grimace as he wrapped himself tightly in the blanket and walked down the hall after Bill.

The door was left opened, and Harry quietly stepped in, standing close to the wall with his things held in his arms under the blanket that kept him covered. Bill gave him a curious glanced, before stepping past him to close the door. When Harry still kept his blanket over himself, he let out a small sigh and shook his head.

“Sorry about them,” he muttered, limping over to a dresser and shuffling through the top drawer. “They’re concerned about you. You don’t tell anyone anything, so they think it’s their job to find out what’s wrong.” He shrugged again, pulling out a spare blanket and taking one of the extra pillows off his bed. “Feel free to take the bed, I’ll be on the couch.”

“W-w-w-wait!” He exclaimed. Bill stopped, let out a short breath through his nose, and turned around to face him. His expression was back to being hard and guarded, but as Harry looked, he saw Bill was straining. He was tense. “Wh-why did y-y-you do th-that?” Bill thought over the question silently for a few moments, before shrugging, his face still painfully inexpressive.

“Their hearts are in the right place, but they were giving you too hard a time.” He leaned against his cane casually.

“B-b-but…” Harry searched for the right words to express himself. “Y-you d-don’t… I th-thought w-w-we w-weren’t…”

“Friends?” Bill asked him. Something in his voice seemed drawn taut now. “I’m not sure about that. I suppose it’s up to you at this point.”

Harry clenched and unclenched his fists, before giving in and looking at Bill fully. He needed to know.

“D-did y-y-you resp-respond to my l-letter? At th-the end of th-th-the se-s-semester?” That certainly took Bill of guard, and he blinked owlishly at Harry, the guarded expression gone.

“Of course I did.” His voice was just above a whisper. “I responded four times, but you never sent anything back.” He paused, staring at Harry as something dawned on him. “You never got them…”

“It s-s-sounds l-like a s-stupid ex-excuse now,” Harry muttered with a shrug. “B-but I g-g-guess all m-my l-letters w-were interc-cepted.”

Bill slowly leaned against the wall, letting out a long exhale, his face dropping to one of pain and exasperation.

“I spent all this time worrying about how I’d ruined everything,” he said, pushing his long red hair out of his face, “and you weren’t getting my letters at all.” His face suddenly dropped to a dangerous expression, and he turned to Harry, who flinched back from the anger in his look. “Who was intercepting your letters?”

Harry stepped back from him, and Bill didn’t make another move towards him, but still looked murderous.

“A h-h-house e-elf,” Harry said, his hands up slightly. “N-n-named D-Dobby. S-s-said he wa-was tr-trying to k-keep m-me from w-w-wanting to g-go back to H-Hogw-warts.”

Bill looked at him very closely, his eyes flitting over his face, trying to decide if Harry was telling the truth or not. He seemed to be somewhat satisfied from what he saw, though, and let his anger drop.

“Now I’m definitely not taking the bed,” he shook his head, moving to create a sort of nest on the floor.

“N-n-no, I c-can sl-s-sleep on the f-fl-floor,” Harry said, stepping towards him. “I’m p-pr-pretty s-sure I’m m-m-more used t-to it.” Bill stared at him, shocked.

“I don’t know if I should be incredibly upset by that dark statement, or impressed by your cheek.” One thing they hadn’t addressed before was that Harry had already been there when Bill had arrived, already used to the routine and covered in scars. He wasn’t going to object to the suddenly personal admission though, and picked up the pillows again. “Fine, if this is how it’s going to be we’ll share the bed, if you don’t mind it.”

“I d-do-don’t,” Harry said quietly, a small smile on his face. Bill returned one of his own, before it dropped to a more contemplative expression.

“Things are okay at your home, right?” He asked, hesitation coating his voice. “You don’t need to tell me, I’m just worried that you aren’t doing well.”

Harry’s smile dropped too, and he stood, shifting the blanket against his shoulders, thinking over what he wanted to say.

“Thi-things are b-be-better than th-they’ve ever b-b-been,” he admitted. Bill looked pointedly at the blanket that he kept over his shoulders. “Th-this is f-f-for so-something el-else.”

“Something you can’t tell me?” Bill asked carefully.

“I d-d-don’t know…” Harry shifted from foot to foot. He waited for Bill to keep pushing on what the blanket was covering, but he didn’t.

“Well I’m glad things are better, though I don’t know if that makes them anywhere near good.” Bill sat on his bed, setting the cane against the wall. “I was pretty worried from when I bought you ice cream that first time. You looked like you had never had it before.”

“I ha-hadn’t,” Harry admitted, and Bill looked remarkably sad at that statement. “I en-enjoyed it th-th-though. A l-lot. Esp-specially the ch-cho-chocolate.”

“You hadn’t had chocolate before either?!” He exclaimed, appalled. Harry shook his head quietly. “Please tell me you’ve enjoyed chocolate since then though, right? I got you chocolate frogs for Christmas!”

“I’ve h-ha-had s-s-some!” Harry said quickly. “Pl-p-plenty!”

“Good.” Bill seemed to relax slightly at Harry’s reassurance. “You need to tell me what type’s your favorite so I can buy you some.”

“T-type?” Harry looked confused, and Bill was back to looking shaken. He stared at Harry, a flabbergasted expression on his face, before standing up and stumbling quickly across the room, not even grabbing his cane as he ripped open one of the drawers of his dresser and stumbled to Harry. The pre-teen was quick to help steady Bill over to the bed, one hand clutching the blanket, the other hand on Bill’s upper arm to keep him from falling over while they reached the mattress and sat down.

He held a bag, and he quickly pushed it into Harry’s hand when it was removed from his shoulder.

“This is my favorite chocolate,” he said firmly and very seriously, as though he were sharing a precious gift he’d given to no one before. “Hard chocolate with creamy chocolate in the center, a layer of caramel, another layer of chocolate, coated in crushed up nuts. I also need to take you to find which chocolate you like best, white, milk, or dark, but this is what I have on hand right now. You’re welcome.”

Harry gave a small laugh, before opening the bag. Inside were golf-ball sized chocolates with a jagged surface, likely the crushed up nuts coating he was told about. He took one out, looked at it skeptically, and then took a bite.

He wasn’t expecting the gooey center, and didn’t think that hard or soft chocolate would make a difference, but something about it was amazing. The caramel, the nutty flavor, and the sweetness. He knew nothing about chocolates, but even he could tell this was higher end chocolate than the frogs Harry had been eating.

“O-o-oh m-my god,” He stated, trying to savor the flavor but finishing the whole chocolate much too quickly. “Th-th-that’s r-really g-g-good.”

He moved to hand the bag back to Bill, but Bill quickly pushed it back to him.

“Keep it,” he said with a smile. “You have many years of chocolate-eating to make up for. I can buy more.”

With the bag of Bill’s favorite chocolates in hand, he felt warm. Bill wholeheartedly cared for him. Bill worried for him and went out of his way for him. He felt emotions rising to the surface, and quickly dropped his chin to his chest in hopes of hiding it. Bill, however, saw immediately.

“Hey, you okay?” He asked, a hand hovering hesitantly over his shoulder, before he instead took Harry’s hand, squeezing it gently. “I know, they’re pretty good, but they’re not that good.”

Harry stared at Bill’s hand. He knew what it was like. How terrifying everything could be. He’d been in part of that hell for a year. When being grabbed from a cage or a room, being forced down and given substances that will probably harm or render them helpless, no one ever grabbed at their hands. It was really one of the only forms of contact that didn’t start out frightening.

Why was he scared of Bill in the first place?

His released his grip on the blanket, and it slipped off his shoulders. He felt Bill tense at what he was seeing, but he didn’t give any other sign that he was surprised besides that and a soft “oh” uttered under his breath.

“M-m-my re-relatives aren’t k-k-kind,” Harry said quietly, his head down still, “b-but if s-so-someone else w-w-were to take m-me, I c-c-couldn’t k-keep this s-s-secret. I d-do-don’t w-want to be th-the f-fr-freak anym-more, b-but they d-d-did this to m-m-me.” His voice cracked and he tightened his grip on Bill’s hand, who squeezed it back in support. “I’m n-n-not ev-even h-human anym-m-more. I d-d-don’t know wh-what I am. I c-ca-can’t con-control m-my body s-s-sometimes, I c-ca-can’t ev-even sp-speak a s-s-single s-sentence w-wi-without stu-stut-st-” His voice broke, and he hunched down, his face completely masked by his hair, trying to keep his hiccuping at bay. Bill didn’t let go of his hand, and took his other one as well, keeping a firm grasp while Harry pulled himself back in and continued his tirade.

“If I c-c-control m-my se-secrets, I ha-have a li-l-little b-bit of s-say in m-my l-l-life.” He was taking deep breaths, trying to calm himself down and explain rationally to Bill, hoping he might understand.

“You can live with me,” Bill said firmly, leaning forward. “I can go back to work, and you can stay with me. I could be your guardian.” Harry grimaced, the thought was much too sweet, and he shook his head.

“Y-y-you’d n-n-need pr-proof I c-can’t s-st-stay there. I h-h-have pl-plenty of pr-proof, of c-c-course,” he turned slightly and motioned to the scars covering his back, shifting his wing away to show them. They weren’t new, Bill had seen them too many times before, but he still winced, “b-b-but to s-sa-sacrifice that s-secret, I’d sa-sacrifice the oth-other. At b-be-best, I b-become the fr-freak wh-who l-l-lived. At w-w-worst…” He goes back to being a science experiment. He didn’t need to say it, the far-off look was enough to get the message across, especially to Bill.

It was frustratingly true. Not everyone Harry might tell would be guaranteed to understand. Harry had debated for many hours on it, but he knew he couldn’t trust anyone else he knew with his secrets. Hermione was kind and understanding, but she would probably go to a teacher about anything she learned, and while Harry didn’t have reason to fear most of the teachers, he had poor experiences with adults when given control over him. Blaise was the only one Harry felt was least likely to take his secrets where he didn’t want them, but Harry wasn’t sure enough about that to even think he’d be comfortable if Blaise were to find out somehow. Tracey and Daphne were out completely, he wasn’t even certain they’d stick with him if they knew. Draco had been a lucky situation, he wasn’t inclined to go telling on him when his curiosity was on the line, and he either wasn’t sure about, or didn’t know about Harry’s home life, so there was no threat to tell anyone about it anyway.

“I’m sorry,” Bill said quietly, startling Harry slightly. “I’m sorry I made you feel you couldn’t come to me sooner. I’m sorry this happened to you. I just…” Harry could feel how his hands were shaking, wanting to ball into fists but unable to do so when holding his hands. “I wish I could do something.”

“N-n-no one kn-knows this m-m-much abo-about m-me,” Harry replied. “That h-h-helps m-m-make m-me feel l-l-less…”

“Isolated?” Bill didn’t seem completely satisfied, but Harry nodded. He let out a long breath. “I can’t say I don’t understand. When I thought you hated me, I was terrified. You’re the only one I talked to regularly who knows what it was like. Losing that…” He shook himself slightly, then stood up suddenly. “I’ll keep your secret, but only if you promise to tell me if your home life gets worse. I would hurt someone for you if I had to. You’re my neighbor, after all.”

It was said with complete seriousness, and Harry couldn’t help himself, he quickly got up and hugged Bill, a tight, short hug that he hardly had time to return with how the hug had knocked him off balance, but he smiled brightly at him when it was done.

“You know, I do have to thank you,” he said. Harry gave him a curious look, so he continued. “With everything that happened, I felt angry, sad, alone, but I also realized that I needed to have some reliance on myself too. I started working again, not as many hours as I used to but… I feel like I have something again.”

Harry didn’t know if he should say “you’re welcome” or “I’m sorry”, so he settled with a pained grimace. Bill gave a small, somewhat humorless laugh at the awkward look, and shook his head. It was getting too depressing, and he didn’t want to continue thinking about all those things when he wanted to just be happy Harry was his friend again.

“I’m getting a glass of water, if you want anything?” He grabbed his cane from the wall, turning back to Harry, who shook his head, looking like he was also on the same string of thoughts about being happy they were friends again, despite his puffy, red eyes. “Alright, I’ll be back.”

Stepping out into the hallway, he closed the door slowly, and took two steps towards the stairs when the next door over creaked open and two heads poked out. He wasn’t exactly surprised.

“You two need to learn that you can’t learn about everyone’s problems,” he said, putting on his disappointed dad face, which was easily counteracted by the persistent smile.

“Things go well?” Fred asked teasingly, his smile a clear sign that they had.

“Yes, they did.” He said, purposely avoiding the details and going down the hall.

“Wait, wait, wait!” George popped out fully now. “If we’re not allowed to know, then you have to tell us things are okay. He told you whatever it is, right?” Bill paused, then slowly turned around.

“He did.” Bill leaned against the wall again, thinking over everything he’d just seen. Odd colors, deformities, unnatural body parts, and a whole host of other oddities came out of that place. He supposed he should’ve expected that the experiment he’d last heard Harry going into hadn’t been nothing. “It’s certainly a hell of a secret…”

They glanced at one another, the curiosity surrounding the two nearly palpable, but the warning glare Bill sent their way sent them back a few steps.

“I agree with him though, I wouldn’t trust you two with it.”

“What!” Exclaimed Fred in dramatic surprise.

“Absolutely not, we’re completely trustworthy!” George chimed in with equal theatrics.

“I don’t think you’d go telling everyone about it, but I do think you have the… unfortunate habit of forcibly wanting the best situation for others, even if they see risks you don’t.” They pouted, and he gave a short laugh at their expressions. “And anyway, the jokes you would make about it would be enough to make anyone regret telling you anything.”

“Oh you’re just making us want to find out even more.” Fred said mischievously.

“Now we know we’re missing out on great joke material.” George agreed. Bill shook his head, but then fixed them with the most serious expression he could muster when his spirits were high.

“I do mean it though, don’t go trying to dig up things he’s burying. If he tells you, he tells you and that’ll be that, but if he never does, know that’s his choice.”

They thought it over with a glance to one another, before saluting to him.

“Aye-aye, captain,” they said in unison, and Bill saluted back before turning to walk down the stairs.

“I just have two things,” George spoke up again, and Bill let out a groan before turning back, an eyebrow raised. “He was there, in the facility with you, right?” Bill didn’t react very much, just a sort of surprised twitch of his eyebrows, but also looked impressed that George had deduced as much.

“Yes,” he said slowly, glancing back to his room. “But you shouldn’t tell him you know until he reveals he wants you to know. But yes, that’s… where we met.” George nodded, and Fred looked disgruntled as he passed over a gallion to his brother’s outstretched hand.

“The other thing was, uh…” He looked much less happy about this one, concerned even. “Were there any marks on him? Something recent, that doesn’t look like an accident?”

Bill had a sad, knowing smile on his face. “I know what you mean, I was looking for that exact sign. No, I didn’t see anything fresh. Definitely not in the last month or so. I’ll let you know if we need to hurt someone though.”

The pair grinned and gave another salute.

“Always at the ready, sir!” They said in unison again, and he nodded sagely.

“At ease, soldiers,” he said, and turned to finally complete his mission to get himself a glass of water, cursing, not for the first time, how many stairs his house had.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Harry found himself awaken feeling lighter than he had all summer, even when the Dursley’s only gave him cold glares and harsh whispers as opposed to their usual treatment. Hedwig commented lightly that he looked well, and he gave her a huge smile and a nod while Bill looked at him quizzically.

Which, of course, led to an awkward explanation about the fact that he could speak with birds, a weird trait that Bill was enamoured by. He insisted he talk to the two resident owls of the house, Errol, who Harry had met a handful of times when Bill would send him letters without responding to Harry’s own using Hedwig, and Hermes, Percy’s owl from their parents.

Getting the chance to talk to Errol wasn’t difficult, being the family owl it was rather expected that Bill might need him. The poor thing just wanted to sleep though, and Harry quietly greeted him, which the old owl returned groggily.

Harry translated for the bird while Bill spoke briefly with him, talking enthusiastically about if he remembered when he tried to get Errol to fly him to the roof (he did remember. It didn’t work, of course, but the memory was there for the old bird) and other events from when he was younger. This only lasted a few minutes before the bird mumbled something like “tell him to wake me if he has something to send” and promptly fell asleep.

Hermes was a fair bit more difficult. For one, Percy had taken to hiding himself up in his room at all times aside from meals, and Hermes was frequently sent off with letters from or for Percy. They did, finally, get their chance to sneak the owl out just before dinner ended however, tip toeing back to Bill’s room before Percy returned to see his missing bird.

As Harry talked with the rather haughty screech owl, they heard loud yelling from down the hall as Percy pounded on the twin’s door, demanding to know what they had done with his owl.

Hermes glared between the two, but didn’t purposefully alert his owner to his location yet. After all, a wizard who could understand them was a rare instance indeed, and he showed mild interest to the boy.

That was about it though. He asked Harry a few questions, and answered none of the ones Bill asked (mostly about what Percy was up to and if he had any secrets to spill about him). After he was satisfied, he simply stated that if they didn’t return him to his master’s bedroom, he would call to him. That immediately ruined the fun, and the two slipped the owl back into Percy’s room again, returning with Percy none the wiser.

One of the many things Harry did in those first few days at the Weasley’s was write to everyone he thought may have written to him. It was rather nerve-wracking, as he found himself gripped with uncertainty on who may have sent him letters, and who hadn’t. Spending the first few months of term believing no one cared enough to talk to him left him with a skewed view of who may have sent him a letter and who hadn’t.

With Bill’s support, however, he found himself penning a handful of letters to those he knew might have, and those he hoped had at least. The letters were similar, and held a general explanation with specific wording that implied he didn’t expect any of them had sent him anything, but with the reassurance that if they had, he hadn’t ignored them.

He sent it to Hermione, Draco, Blaise, Tracey, and Daphne, hoping that none would take offense. To his surprise, he quickly heard back from all of them, each stating that they had, in fact, sent him many letters, and that they were relieved to hear he was fine. Blaise even stated that he would inform Cedric that he was alright, as the third year (near fourth year) had sent him a birthday card and was then informed by Blaise that Harry hadn’t responded to anything from anyone.

Actually, Draco, Hermione, and Daphne all also stated that they talked to one another about if anyone had heard anything from him, and he felt oddly touched by the gesture, as well as strange at the thought he was a topic of conversation outside his own interactions with them. It wasn’t as though such a thought was unknown to him, of course others thought about him when he wasn’t there (for better or worse), but thinking that his friends would actively seek one another out when he failed to respond was an amount of effort he felt weird accepting.

The situation with Bill was the greatest it could possibly be. Bill kept his secret aggressively, keeping others from finding out more and pushing back if anyone got too curious (which it seemed, surprisingly, his mother and Ron who were the worst contenders in this field. The twins had immediately dropped all attempts at finding Harry’s secrets). He didn’t question Harry when he suddenly insisted he needed to leave, and he didn’t say a word about how Harry’s form was oddly fluid until he returned and was free to answer questions when they had time alone to talk.

Ron had become worse since the first day. Harry supposed that Ron, with the rest of them, knew about Harry’s situation with Bill. Now that they were friends again though, he started openly dropping harsh comments.

Comments that were a little too close to home. He openly questioned why Harry was still there rather than with his relatives each time Harry walked past him towards the kitchen for breakfast, though the suggestion likely came from suspicion about his motives and less for why he would have a reason to prefer the Weasleys to his home. He was quick to point out whenever the family began reminiscing about some event that happened years ago how Harry never talked about any stories he had with Bill, and that, of course, always inevitably led to the question Harry couldn’t answer.

“So how did you two meet?” Ron was glaring at Harry across the dinner table. It wasn’t the first time he’d asked, but each time the question had been avoided by either Bill masterfully pretending to answer the question with half-truths and white lies, or Fred and George interrupting all discussion. It looked like the three of them were already preparing their interceptions, but Harry was sick of the question.

“W-w-we’ve already t-told y-y-you,” he countered quickly before anyone else could interrupt.

“No you haven’t.” Ron’s glare sharpened, and Harry returned it with a cold one of his own. Ron gripped his fork like it might be a weapon, like Harry was a threat of some kind.

“Yes, we have,” Bill said firmly. His gaze wasn’t as harsh as either of theirs, but it held a clear warning. “As much as we want to answer it, at least. Harry’s my friend, it doesn’t matter how we met. You had better drop it .”

The room was filled with a tense atmosphere. Bill, Fred, and George were all with Harry, while Mr. and Mrs. Weasley along with Percy seemed to be as curious as Ron where the friendship began, but certainly not for the same reasons. However, none of them were going to go against Bill’s wishes for something like curiosity after everything he’d gone through. They’d accept that their meeting happened some years ago during a dark part of Harry’s life that he didn’t enjoy revisiting. It was believable enough for everyone.

Except Ron who, during the tension, angrily stood and exited the room. From there, the twins expertly returned life to the table, and the lingering question dropped from their minds.

“Don’t let him bother you,” Bill said quietly to Harry. “I think his heart’s in the right place, but his head certainly isn’t. He’s going to continue to look for any reason not to trust you.”

“I d-d-don’t g-get wh-why ,” Harry hissed. He hadn’t done anything. Ron had just created some kind of vendetta within his own head.

“Well I have a few ideas…” Bill shrugged sheepishly. “Part of it might’ve been my fault too… For one, before, uh… before, I was pretty aggressively anti-Slytherin.” Harry shot him a look and Bill laughed awkwardly. “I was younger, and my priorities were a bit different, I guess. It wasn’t like I went around openly hating people, but I had pretty much categorized each house, and I didn’t get to know any Slytherin enough to believe they were anything but cold and suspicious. Plus I also had Snape as my teacher, so that didn’t help my image any. Not to mention Gryffindor’s tend to have a rivalry against you all anyway… I got in my own head sometimes.”

He couldn’t say he blamed Bill for that image of Slytherins. Cold and suspicious was the front that most put out towards other houses.

“Th-that c-can’t be it .” Unless that was enough for Ron, and Bill shrugged again.

“It’s probably that, on top of anything else he finds against you. I heard him complain before that he tried being friends with you on the train and you wouldn’t give him the time of day afterwards.” It was Bill’s turn to shoot Harry a look, who grimaced.

“He’s an… o-ov-overwhe-whelming p-person.”

Bill laughed at that statement, drawing the attention of his family and effectively stopping their side-conversation. Harry didn’t mind, though he still found Ron’s suspicion confusing. Quietly, he excused himself to take a shower before he rested for the night, hoping Avice wouldn’t decide, immediately after bathing, that she wanted to take off again.

Mentally thinking this over, he didn’t stop when he passed by Ron, having become used to the halls filled with people.

“I don’t trust you,” Ron hissed, finally catching Harry’s attention. Harry stopped, letting out a long sigh and putting on a face of indifference as he turned to face Ron. “I don’t know what you’re here for, why you’re going after Bill, but I know you’re not as good a person as he thinks you are.”

“And wh-what m-makes y-y-you think th-that?” Harry kept on a bored expression, his arms crossed over his chest.

“For one, you’re friends with Draco Malfoy ,” he said, his voice thick with accusation.

“A-and?” Harry’s gaze hardened at the statement.

“Don’t act stupid, you know who he is. You know who his father is. He’s nothing but a pompous death-eater in the making.”

Harry took a step forward, and Ron stepped up to meet him. It didn’t go over his head that Ron likely had him beat in strength and almost certainly had him beat in magic. Threatening him like he did his uncle wasn’t going to work, but he couldn’t stand still while his friend was talked about like that.

But then they heard footsteps coming up the stairs, and Ron walked past Harry, hitting his shoulder with his own as he passed, leaving Harry alone by the bathroom while Percy came up the stairs and fixed him with a curious look at him standing there by himself in the middle of the hallway.

Harry refused to let Ron get to him. He was friends with Bill and his family seemed to like him well enough, if only for the fact that he was friends with Bill. He wasn’t scared that Ron would ruin Bill’s view of him somehow; he had shown Bill the most frightening secret he carried and Bill accepted him as he was. Still, he felt his blood boil at the thought that Ron would hate him for no true reason, at least not one he could fix. It reminded him of his relatives, that hate that he would never be able to remedy. He felt somehow responsible for Ron’s view of him, and the failure to keep him from hating him left Harry frustrated.

That didn’t mean he was going to beg Ron to like him. He had given up getting affection from the Dursleys long ago, so expecting someone to change their opinion of him based on how he acted wasn’t something he expected from anyone who hated him like they did. No matter if he did everything perfectly or was rebellious, they would all find flaws to loathe.

Professor Snape was another in that category, but that thought led to the reminder that in a few weeks, when classes began, he would return to the speech lessons.

A shudder ran through his body at the thought, and he turned towards the bathroom, only to find that someone had gone in during his time standing in the hall. He let out a long sigh and shook his head, deciding against taking a shower now. Maybe if he gave Avice a few more nights she would show a bit of kindness when the term began.


 

The most difficult part was when he needed to return to Privet Drive. He didn’t want to, he would never want to voluntarily go anywhere near that house, but all of his things were still there, and he needed to be certain that the letter was still hidden. He had joined the family already to go get the next years books, and had run into Draco while walking through Diagon Alley. Ron shot daggers at his back while he stopped to speak with him, and Draco’s father seemed incredibly distant in their brief interaction, but it felt nice to see another friendly face during the summer.

Bill walked him to the “train station” (really just a secluded spot in the woods) alone, just as the sun was beginning to set for Harry’s late night flight back to the Dursley’s. Bill was fretting heavily over him, gifting him an old Christmas jacket he never wore and cutting holes for Harry’s wings so he could use it while he was flying. He cast a warming spell over him that would wear off in twelve hours, and made certain for the fourth time that Harry would see him at the train station the following day or he would be at Privet Drive with a wand and threats.

Harry knew that most of his friends likely took the house elf story with great skepticism, and Bill, while inclined to believe Harry, was also inclined to worry over him. Harry didn’t doubt that Bill would break down the Dursley’s door to be certain Harry was okay.

With several farewells, four hugs, and one ruffle of Harry’s unruly black mop of hair, Bill finally let him go, and Harry grinned at him before taking off, leaving Bill shaking his head in wonder.

The flight seemed shorter this time, maybe due to the warmth he felt with the spell and the sweater, or the lack of fear at what lay at the end of his journey. Still, with the greying horizon, he landed on the windowsill and quietly slipped in, once again glad they didn’t bother to lock the window to make his return slightly more frustrating.

Already, the guarded sensation of being in this house fell over him, and he had his wand in his hand while he slowly stepped towards the floorboard that kept the letter safe. Peeking inside, he found the letter as it had been, untouched, and relief flooded over him.

With such relief, came exhaustion, but he attempted to shake himself awake. He would need to be leaving in several hours for the train station to make good on his promise to Bill. Attempting to find something to keep himself busy, he grabbed the nonverbal spellcasting book once more, having already read it but going through with notes added between the pages on spare paper.

Sitting at his desk, he had a quill at the ready to add thoughts for anything he found especially important, but his attempt was in vain. He hardly wrote anything before his head was nodding, and with the thought that it might be funny to watch Bill break into the house to find him, he allowed exhaustion to overtake him.

The sound of a door being opened was all that was needed to rip him from his troubled sleep. He was upright in seconds, a wand in his hand pointed at the blurry figure at the doorway.

For a frightening moment, it was Vernon and he was that tiny boy who was terrified of him, but as he squinted, he realized that this figure was a fair bit shorter than Vernon, and that he was frozen at the end of his wand, unmoving.

“D-Du-Dudley,” Harry said slowly, reaching for his glasses that had fallen off at some point and shoving them on his face, pulling the figure into crisp clarity, an effect his glasses had that he would never fail to marvel at. He rubbed his sore neck, noting that taking naps sitting up was a poor idea.

“You’re back,” Dudley seemed almost disappointed, and Harry’s eyes narrowed.

“If I f-f-find an-anything m-m-missing from m-my t-tr-trunk…” He said, voice dripping with an unspoken warning, and he stood, slightly disoriented from being pulled from his rest so suddenly. The sun was far along its path in the sky, but he felt like he’d hardly slept at all. As he went to his trunk, he noted that Dudley seemed disgusted.

“I didn’t take anything from your trunk ,” he muttered, and as Harry moved past his bed, he saw that his stash of food in the closet was almost completely gone.

“M-m-my f-food.” Harry stated, slightly dumbstruck, his wand dropping about a foot from its defensive position, before it returned with a vengeance and Harry took a few threatening steps towards Dudley. “I p-paid f-f-for th-that.”

It wasn’t as though the money was the issue, Harry had plenty and when he found he could exchange the currency from wizard to muggle, he was set. What angered him was the thought behind it. That, despite the fear, Dudley still saw Harry as less than him. That he still had claim to Harry’s things now, just as he had years ago when he would take anything Harry showed interest in, even old toys Dudley had already discarded once.

“You weren’t here!” Dudley defended, taking several steps back at Harry’s advance. “You were gone for weeks! It was gonna go to waste. How was I supposed to know you were coming back?”

“B-b-because I a-always h-have to!” Harry exclaimed, giving a frustrated huff and turning back to the food that was left, taking stock of what little remained. Mostly just packaged foods that Dudley didn’t care for. “D-d-do y-you think I’d b-be an-anywhere n-near here if I c-cou-could st-stay s-s-somewh-where else?”

“You certainly spend enough time anywhere else,” Dudley grumbled, likely just trying to get Harry’s mind off catching him red-handed. Harry glared at him, catching the attempt at distraction, but relented slightly.

“If I c-co-could s-spend all m-my t-t-time elsewh-where, I w-w-would,” Harry muttered. “An-anywh-where is b-better than h-here.”

“It’s not so bad since you’ve got that,” Dudley said bitterly, pointing at the wand that had lowered again, but was still held firmly in Harry’s hand. Harry looked at him, dumbstruck at all the things Dudley must believe.

“Y-y-your fa-father r-ruined my l-life.” His voice was rather quiet, before it slowly rose while he began taking steps towards Dudley. “Y-y-you don’t kn-know wh-what I’ve b-been thr-through be-because he g-g-gave m-me up as s-s-soon as he had the op-o-opportunity.”

Dudley opened his mouth as though he were about to say something else, but Harry couldn’t stand any more of this conversation. Turning his back to him, he began gathering the few things he unpacked from his trunk and returning them to their place.

“I’m l-le-leaving t-today,” he said, his voice already back to being low and cold, folding a few of the clothes he had and putting them inside with some books he’d pulled out to use for his summer homework. “Y-y-you w-won’t see m-me for another y-y-year.” He snorted. “W-w-won’t be l-l-long enou-enough.”

“Good,” Dudley sneered at him, arms crossed. “Already seen enough of you as it is.”

Harry rolled his eyes at the weak statement and then waved a hand idly, as though dismissing him. A few minutes later, the door closed as Dudley finally left.

Allowing the tension to slip from his shoulders, Harry stepped back and took stock of the room. He decided to take the rest of his food with him, if only for the principle of Dudley not getting to it. He checked the letter one last time, before letting it be and finally headed for the stairs.

He told Vernon he was going back to the train station and would need a ride. It wasn’t a demand exactly, but it was certainly a statement that suggested no opposition. If his uncle was surprised to see him back again, he didn’t show it, and was happy to huff and puff at the great inconvenience of it all before going to the car while Harry grabbed his things, certainly not about to help Harry with his luggage.

Harry wouldn’t have asked for it, and taking his trunk and the cage with Hedwig tucked inside, he made for the front door.

No one was there to see him off. No harsh comments to give or glares to send on his way. Harry amused himself briefly with the thought that it was one of the few times he had used the front door as an exit as opposed to his window, and then he left, putting his trunk into the back of his uncle’s car, and taking Hedwig in the back seat with himself, staying quiet the entire way there.

Harry tuned out any harsh comments his uncle made to him every few miles, and then again as he grabbed his things from the trunk, not letting himself dwell on them for a second. He could say whatever he wanted, Harry didn’t care. He was two steps closer to seeing his friends again and returning to a place where he felt halfway normal. Draco, Bill, Hermione, Blaise, Tracey, Daphne; he would see them all in this train station and that thought led him to hurry his efforts in getting his trunk out and getting away from his uncle while he was in the middle of some sentence, likely about how Harry was a freak and how he’d teach him a real lesson if he could.

It didn’t matter. Vernon couldn’t hurt him while he was at school.

Walking confidently through the station, he saw the barrier and parked himself opposite it, watching those who came by and walked through, one at a time to be subtle. Despite his rest, he was earlier than he expected, likely due to his eagerness to leave the house after he had been awoken by Dudley’s intrusion. Still, he got to see many go through and studied the way the passing muggles seemed to not look directly at the wall. Every once in a while, a new first year would be especially excited, and as they disappeared some glanced around curiously to find what had happened to the squealing and chattering, but no muggle seemed able to focus too long on the absence.

His gaze caught a few familiar faces. He didn’t see Hermione, but supposed that she would be earlier than even him. Draco stopped to chat with him briefly, and he got to see his parents once again, but it appeared that the platform was a place to catch up with other parents, and the uncomfortable sensation of being around muggles for longer than necessary was clearly grating on the Malfoy family, so Harry told Draco to find a compartment and that he would catch up after he caught up with Bill. He was waved at by Tracey and Daphne (most aggressively by Tracey) while they passed through, and with a series of hand gestures and expressions over the thickening crowds as trains emptied and filled around them, he conveyed that Draco and Hermione were probably already in a compartment.

Harry knew it may be a while before the Weasley bunch managed to get everyone ready to go at once so he settled down to wait quite a while. While his gaze flitted over the groups of wizards and witches that were trying to keep their entrance subtle, he caught sight of another familiar face. Blaise was walking down the station, talking with Cedric while next to them walked what must’ve been their parents. Cedric’s mom and dad stood close to the Hufflepuff boy while his father talked excitedly with a woman Harry guessed must be Blaise’s mother. She was a strikingly beautiful woman, even at such an informal place as a train station. Her skin was beautiful and pristine, her makeup subtle but accentuating her elegant features, her hair done up in careful braids that fell just so down her back. Despite that it was clear she was ageing, she held a beauty and grace Harry hadn’t seen before.

Despite this immediate impression, however, he also saw how bored she looked. She had her eyes looking away from the man, with her arm crossed over her side and her elbow propped against it, allowing her fingertips to lightly graze her lips in an overly contemplative look. Her stature imitated interest, but her face gave away her intense impatience, as though this man were wasting her time. Every motion bled sarcasm, and Cedric’s father remained oblivious, possibly willfully.

“Bl-Blaise!” Harry called over. He stepped forward to meet their path as it crossed his own position by the barrier, but as he approached, he caught the sudden tenseness of Blaise’s shoulders. Upon closer reflection, it appeared that he had already been more tense than normal, but as he turned and looked at Harry, a look of fear passed over his face, something Harry recognized much too late as he was already only a few feet away.

Within a moment, though, that fear was gone, schooled into a much-too-cold face.

“What?” He said flatly, and the harshness sent Harry reeling momentarily. He didn’t get time to respond, though, as Blaise’s mother turned her attention to him, a perfectly arching eyebrow raised while she stepped over to stand closer to her son, oblivious to, or not caring about, the fact that she left the conversation hanging with Cedric’s father.

“And who’s this, Blaise?” She asked with a smooth, sultry sort of voice, a hand on Blaise’s tense shoulder while the pair came to a stop. Harry found himself caught between introducing himself and running.

“Sebastian Daley,” Blaise said after a momentary glance to his forehead, seeing that Harry’s bangs, grown out a fair amount, covered his scar.

“Really?” She sounded for a moment like she was about to call Blaise’s bluff, looking at Harry closely. Her eyes took in his features, trying to place his face to one she looked like may know. After a long moment, she let out a long sigh. “Daley... “ She was back to looking bored and disappointed, turning back to Blaise briefly.

“I’ll be going now,” she muttered, and with that as her farewell to her son, she left them alone without a glance back or walking all the way to the train.

Cedric was in the middle of an animated discussion with his parents, content to keep their attention while Blaise and Harry dealt with whatever had just happened, so Harry turned a worried look to Blaise. The tension had slipped from his shoulders, and when he looked back to Harry, he seemed much less cold, though still rather upset at something Harry must’ve done.

“M-m-may I ask wh-what tha-that w-was abo-bout?” Harry asked softly.

“No, you may not,” came a somewhat tired response. “I’ll see you on the train.”

With a farewell only slightly warmer than his mother’s, he turned and walked to the wall with his things, waiting for Cedric, who said a quick hello to Harry with a few short pleasantries, and followed with his parents, who would likely stay by his side much longer than Blaise’s mother had stayed by his.

“Merlin, Harry,” came a teasing voice from next to him, “you have some intense friends.” Harry turned with a grin, meeting Bill’s friendly gaze, all thoughts of what had happened gone from his mind.

“Bl-Blaise?” Harry joked. “He’s al-alwa-ways like th-that. Tr-Tracey and Herm-mi-mione aren’t th-though.”

“Oh no,” Bill put a hand to his heart, as though he had been wounded. “You have a lot of friends, how will I ever compete?”

“Y-y-you-” Harry stopped, the realization of what he had said hitting him. He did have more friends than he’d ever had before, and that warmth spread through him. His smile widened. “Y-y-you’re more l-like fa-family.” That word felt strange to him, but the concept was oddly fitting for Bill when he considered what that word meant to others.

“Do you mean like a brother or like a dad .” He gave an exaggerated grimace at the second word, like the thought sent pain through him.

“Br-brother.” Harry smirked at him.

“Do you realize how many brothers I have?”

“D-d-do you rea-realize how m-ma-many I ha-have?”

“Fair enough.” He ruffled Harry’s dark hair, making it slightly more messy and Harry gave a laugh and pulled from his grasp to keep his hair somewhat maintained (who was he kidding, maintained was not a word one could use on him or his hair). “I hope you know this comes with a large range of bird jokes. I can’t be held responsible for my actions on that front.”

And the two laughed loudly until passersby gave them curious looks and hurried all the more away from them. It took the realization that the train would be leaving soon that got them to finally calm.

“No more magic mirrors?” Bill asked as Harry finally gathered his things and moved towards the barrier.

“Of c-co-course n-not,” Harry said, giving Bill a quick hug.

“I’ll have you know, I have spies in the castle.” Bill stated. “I will come get you myself next time!”

“Someone said spies?” Came two voices in unison as Fred and George appeared back through the barrier.

“Are you coming?” George asked Harry.

“Or are you going to miss the train?” Fred added, looking almost accusingly at Bill. “Trying to keep him here for the year I see. Good plan brother, keeping him distracted.”

“Where are you two-” a third voice cut in, and another ginger head showed from the barrier. Ron stepped through, a look of confusion melting into a look of frustration as he locked eyes with Harry. “Oh.”

“Looks like Ron’s skipping this year too,” Fred laughed.

“Welcome to the club!” George ruffled his brother’s hair, who pushed him away with one hand and fixed his hair with the other, a pout on his face that he likely thought was more menacing than it was.

“You all need to get on the train before it leaves,” Bill said, waving his hands as though to shoo them back through the wall. “Hurry up!”

The twins mimicked Bill in his ushering of them, but obeyed as they walked backwards towards the wall with Ron not needing to be told twice and Harry following.

And all four of them hit the brick wall as though it really were made of simple brick.

Ron hit it face-first and Harry’s trolley hit him from behind, the sudden stop causing Harry to ram into the trolley as well, losing his breath from the stab in the gut while the twins had their backs resting on the wall, staring straight ahead, a look of mild surprise on their faces. Silence fell over the group of wizards, a moment where they attempted to understand just what had happened.

“Well,” George said, blinking a few times.

“That’s new,” Fred added, turning to press his palm more firmly on the very solid wall as Ron shoved Harry’s things and Harry off of him. Bill stopped the trolley’s momentum with a quick hand on his way to the barrier, keeping Harry from hitting the wall opposite the one between platforms nine and ten.

“That might be an issue.” Bill was next to his brothers, also pressing a hand to the wall as though they may have been faking it. He gave it a few shoves, putting his weight against it and then moving his hand along its surface. It didn’t give way, and as they stood there, people began staring at them, mothers pushing their children in the other direction and security guards whispering to one another, seconds from approaching the odd group. “We need to get out of here before people start asking questions…”

“Th-the tra-train…” Harry muttered as he followed the Weasley’s away from the platform, at a complete loss for what to do now.

“Don’t worry, you’re getting to school one way or another,” Bill said with a strong air of determination, walking faster than any of them despite missing a leg and having to limp his way through the station on his iridescent cane.

“You know we do have another mode of transportation,” Fred said mischievously, a slowly spreading smile on his face, trotting slightly to catch up with Bill.

“One that flies!” George chimed in, flanking him from the other side, and Bill turned to him, a very serious look on his face.

“Mum would kill us.” His voice and expression was dark, like the concept of what they were suggesting was abhorrent, even causing the twins to falter briefly, before he was breaking out into a grin. “Let’s do it.”

Before Harry could react to what was happening, the three had already come up with a rather insane scheme where Bill would stay behind to deal with the insanity of what would surely come with their parents, while the twins pulled Harry and Ron into the Ford Anglia and turned on the car, the two second years put into the back seat, neither quite happy about the setup.

At first, Harry was wondering if it was possible to even drive to Hogwarts, but then the car took off, and it seemed his question would be replaced with a better one; what on Earth were they thinking?

He voiced his question, but received only a chorus of shushes from the twins taking the front two seats, and resigned himself to sit back for the ride.

It started out pleasant enough, even with Ron making a show of sitting as far into the door as he could to get away from Harry. Rather quickly, though, whatever magic made the thing invisible failed, and they were forced to take to the clouds, dipping down every half hour or so to be certain the train was still in sight.

Harry wanted badly to roll down the window and stick his head out, but with how they stuck to the clouds, they’d likely end up soaked. Still, flying was one of the only things he could say he had gained from his life with Avice. He had flown a bit on a broom for the flying class, but it didn’t compare. That didn’t stop the immediate urge to feel the air on his face from being so high up again.

The ride quickly became uncomfortable, however. The twins had stashed taffy in the glove compartment that they passed around, but that just made them thirsty. With the windows rolled up, the four were sweating quickly into their journey, sticking to the seats and fanning themselves as best they could.

It was also difficult to ignore the groaning sound that came from the engine, getting louder and louder the longer they flew.

Harry had partially expected to crash, and was grateful, at least, that the twins managed to narrowly avoid hitting anything aside from a tree. With a sound as loud as the Ford Anglia was making and the eventual shaking, it was unlikely the car would land safely, especially with his luck.

He didn’t expect to immediately be attacked by the tree they hit though. Nor did he expect to be ejected from his seat with his things close after once they got away from the vengeful willow. It appeared, however, that they were safe for the most part, aside from Ron snapping his wand in two, leaving the twins to half-tease, half-comfort their younger brother.

It had appeared that way, all the way up until Severus Snape found them. Harry found himself wishing he were being attacked by the tree rather than standing in that uncomfortable office he hadn’t been separated from for long enough.

The twins eyed him apprehensively when they stepped inside, and within seconds, were flanking him on both sides, perfectly placed to block his sight of the worst potions. There were too many scattered around the room, of course, but it was appreciated, if not suspicious. Harry’s thoughts were faster than he could stop them in wondering if Bill had said something to them, but he was quick to silent that intrusive vision. The twins were smart and Bill wasn’t one to share information like that. Not without permission at least.

All thoughts were interrupted by the scolding. Harry had seen Professor Snape annoyed and perturbed, had been at the receiving end of both of these emotions more than any other he might give, but pure anger was, surprisingly, rather rare, especially directed at students. He came with a natural air that frightened without the need to so much as twitch an eyebrow. His show of frustration came in careful measure with cutting remarks and icy glares.

This was anger Harry knew well. The kind that made people feel violent, to feel the need to lash out externally. With how he grabbed the newspaper in his hands, wrinkling the edges under his tense fingers, Harry knew he was resisting the urge to crumple it completely, and the bubbling rage from the already frightening man made Harry subconsciously step back from him, hardly able to feel grateful when the twins moved in unison to stand slightly in front of him as though they might be a pair of shields.

Still, this was a complicated situation. Harry was Slytherin, which would normally leave his head of house with the decision of punishment, but the Weasleys were all Gryffindor’s, and Professor McGonagall needed to be called in as well. While certain differences may be permitted with multi-house discipline, it would be unfair for Harry to be expelled (like the potions master was threatening, sending waves of dizziness at the thought of what would happen to him if he was expelled and never allowed to use magic) while the Gryffindor’s get off with lesser punishment for the same crime.

So, McGonagall joined them after his scolding, and while her anger was more about disappointment than dislike, it also felt painful to be on the receiving end in a different way. The twins were quick to take the blame for the entire issue, but that didn’t pull Ron or Harry out of trouble by any means, especially with the potions master glaring at Harry as he tried to slip further behind Fred and George.

The anger from the professors at the students standing in the office office quickly turned to one another as the topic of punishment came in. The four of them stood awkwardly while the adults bickered back and forth, going through short, cold quips abound what would be appropriate. Snape was firm on his belief that expulsion for the four of them was the only option. McGonagall’s proposed weeks of detention was much kinder to them, and she also refused to back down on her stance.

It took the headmaster coming in to break up the debate, siding, thankfully, with the Deputy Headmistress. He reasoned that there were three Gryffindor’s and only one Slytherin, putting the decision of punishment mostly on the Gryffindor head of house’s shoulders. In addition, two of the Gryffindor’s present insisted fully that they were mostly responsible, and since the twins were older than both Harry and Ron, the blame was more strongly on them in any case.

It was finally decided that the four would serve two months of detention, evenly with McGonagall and Snape, and the twins an extra month with their Hogsmeade privileges revoked until after winter holiday. The twins seemed more upset by the detentions than not being allowed to visit Hogsmeade on the weekends, but Harry didn’t ask why that might be.

With a plate of food conjured in the office, they were told to eat quickly and then promptly sent to their respective dormitories. Fred and George squeezed both of Harry’s shoulders on their way past, giving him two thumbs up while they followed their glowering brother towards the Gryffindor dorms, leaving Harry to descend down to the dungeons alone.

When the rest of Slytherin’s finally arrived, Harry was immediately bombarded by questions, mostly by Tracey with Draco in second place for most questions asked. It seemed that the rumor had spread quickly, and before Harry could even think of how it is anyone knew they had flown to Hogwarts in a car, he was explaining what had happened quietly, and then a bit louder when Tracey had dragged him, Daphne, Blaise, and Draco to a more secluded spot in the common room to discuss what Harry had said.

None of them could figure out why the barrier would have closed suddenly. The best idea they came up with was that it was closed after the train left and someone had closed it early.

By the end, though, they gave their condolences for the detentions, and turned the topics away from Harry. Daphne, Draco, and Tracey talked excitedly of the fact that Quidditch tryouts would be coming soon, and that they all could try out for the team. Blaise seemed uninterested, but did chime in with a few sarcastic comments here and there while Harry sat back, content to listen to the conversation.

Draco made a joke about how Harry would be great on the Quidditch team, and Harry laughed more than he probably should’ve. He brushed it off as a self-deprecating humor (which part of it was), stating that he would be horrible on a broom. The two laughed lightly between them at their shared joke, and a short while later, left to their dorm room to unpack.

There was a strange, comfortable silence that fell over the two as they went through their things, both tired from the pleasantries and conversation expected of them on the first day back to Hogwarts. Neither asked the other to speak, and that silent understanding made them both feel at ease.

Harry finished unpacking long before Draco had, having put his parchment, quills, and ink on the desk with his required books for the year on the shelf, and after a quick shower, he flopped onto his bed without bothering to put his shirt back on, revelling in the strange feeling he got with his wings exposed. He didn’t notice how Draco studied him closely for bruising or other injury, and with a long sigh that could only be created from pure contentment, Harry dozed off.

The sound of Draco shuffling around kept him from falling too deeply asleep for a while, and every few minutes, or perhaps every hour or so, Draco would shift on his bed, or turn a few pages, or cough softly, and Harry would be lightly brought back to awareness for a moment.

It was a oddly nice to share a room with someone he trusted. Harry hadn’t really shared a room with someone he hadn’t (though the only time he could say he “shared a room” with someone else was at the facility, and that brought up a whole host of complex feelings), but having another in the room while he slept had normally been a bad thing. That meant he hadn’t gotten up in time to start his chores or had fallen asleep while making his cousin’s bed. That meant they would be dragging someone away and that someone may have been him this time.

However, each time he found himself pulled awake by the noise of someone else around while he lightly dozed, the calm that washed over him knowing it was someone who wouldn’t hurt him came as a welcome sensation.

Draco’s presence was comforting as he finished setting out his things and wrote something down, maybe a letter to his parents, before climbing into bed and reading.

At some point, he turned out the lights, as when Harry was awoken again, he found it was much darker in their room, the only light coming from the handfull dim green orbs that floated lazily over their heads. This time, it was a voice that woke him up.

“Harry?” It was Draco, very quiet and hushed, like he wanted to ask Harry a question but was simultaneously scared he’d actually wake him up.

After a pause, Harry became aware enough to realize he should respond, and gave a breathy hum.

“Your relatives aren’t the reason you didn’t get any letters, right?” He asked bluntly. It took Harry several moments to understand the question, and a few more to form an answer. He shifted slightly from where he lay at an uncomfortable angle, his muscles stiff, before letting out a sigh. He knew it was his fault Draco didn’t trust him, there was a lot he hadn’t told him and now he had to face the issue of telling the truth when the truth wasn’t quite as believable.

“N-n-no, the-they’re not,” He muttered, too tired to go into the details with Draco. There was a pause, and then Draco gave a small laugh.

“You probably wouldn’t tell me if they were, anyway,” he muttered, slightly bitter. Harry gave a slight wince at the statement.

“I pro-promise th-they didn’t,” Harry said firmly, hoping that it would sound convincing enough.

“Sure.” Draco’s voice was flat, and Harry wasn’t sure if he was actually believed or not. There was a drawn-out silence, where Harry expected Draco to ask more questions, but after a moment he heard Draco shift as he rolled onto his side to get more comfortable. “Good night…”

“Good n-n-night,” Harry responded, and a while later, he could hear the deep breathing from the other boy, telling him he had fallen asleep.

He couldn’t help but focus on that sound as he closed his eyes and drifted off again, revelling in the knowledge that he was sleeping in the same room as someone who worried for him.

Now wasn’t that an odd thought.

Chapter Text

The next morning at breakfast, the twins and Ron were treated to a howler each. The twins got the longest one, though Harry couldn’t help but feel neither of them viewed it in a poor light and rather basked in the attention it got them, high-fiving at a few points where Mrs. Weasley outlined their misdeeds. Ron sank deep into his chair as his howler dug into him, much lighter than the twins howler had. It was over in less than a minute, but his face was red as his hair while the twins were laughing it off easily.

Then Harry got one.

He blinked down at the red envelope, and all at once, every Slytherin around him leaned away from it, wincing harshly. He had known that they would send out letters to their families, informing them of what had happened, but he knew the Dursleys, if they read the letter at all, wouldn’t do anything. They also had no real way of sending him a single letter unless they got an owl of their own (unlikely), or used the owl that sent them the first letter (equally unlikely).

“You have to open it,” Tracey informed him, scooting further down the bench until she had her shoulder pressed up against a perturbed Blaise while the red envelope began smoking. “It’ll explode if you don’t.”

With a hand that was most certainly not shaking, Harry carefully reached across the table at the offending letter and broke the seal on it. All at once, it exploded in a loud, familiar voice.

“MUM MADE ME SEND YOU THIS!” Shouted the letter in Bill’s voice, and Harry couldn’t stop his smile. “SAID I NEEDED TO TELL YOU OFF FOR YOUR BEHAVIOR AND WHATNOT. SO HERE GOES!” The letter very loudly cleared its throat and, with a voice soaked in sarcasm, continued. “I’M VERY DISAPPOINTED IN YOU! YOU SHOULD FEEL BAD FOR WHAT YOU DID! NEVER DO ANYTHING LIKE THAT AGAIN! GOOD ENOUGH, MUM?”

With that question, Harry heard a second voice speak, sounding like it may have been across the room, getting closer as it spoke in Mrs. Weasley’s voice, certainly unhappy.

“BILL YOU KNOW THAT’S NOT HOW I MEANT FOR YOU TO DO IT, TELL HARRY THAT HE SHOULD KNOW BETTER!”

“LOOKS LIKE IT’S TOO LATE NOW! ANYWAY, HARRY, GOOD LUCK AT SCHOOL, TELL THE TWINS THAT THEY DID FANTASTICALLY, TELL RON NOT TO TAKE MUM’S HOWLER SO HARSHLY, BYE!”

His final statement was undercut by the sound of his mother’s scolding of him and it ended by turning into ash on the table. From across the hall, he could see Ron was still sulking and now glaring at Harry, clearly not about to take Bill’s final statement to heart and rather mope that Harry’s howler wasn’t as bad as theirs. The twins, meanwhile, were laughing and giving Harry two thumbs up each while they doubled over the table in their hysteria.

Harry gave an awkward smile and sunk down in his seat, unsure if he should feel happy for how little he was really scolded or embarrassed by the attention.

“Trust me, it could’ve been much worse,” Blaise said, pushing Tracey off him when the letter didn’t, in fact, explode.

“I kn-know, I hear-heard,” Harry muttered with a small laugh, and quickly the tension dropped from his shoulders, the Great Hall returning to its loud and bustling state while he finished his breakfast, content with the feeling of being home again, even if it started out a bit rocky.

 

Classes were greatly welcomed as he returned to his comfortable routine. He couldn’t say he was happy to have Gilderoy Lockhart as his Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, and Professor Snape was just as cold and cruel as before, if not more so after the incident with the flying car, but studying magic never ceased to be fantastical.

It was, however, nerve wracking to find that his second year expected a more practical use of magic. He had gotten by with somewhat decent grades the previous year when his teachers expected a theoretical understanding of how magic was done, alongside a handful of beginner spells. It was very rare that the actual practice of the spells worked for Harry, but he made up for his failure in performing magic by putting his effort into the written assignments and exams.

That had only been for a foundation on magic use, it seemed, and Harry found himself pulled aside by both Professor Flitwick and Professor Sprout to inform him that his grade would hinge on his ability to cast the spells that their curriculum required of him. Professor McGonagall didn’t speak to him, but by the way she looked his way, he knew she had already spoken to the other professors and was aware he had already been informed of the change in pace from second year onward.

Harry was planning on approaching Hermione about it when she beat him to it by bringing up the fact that they would need to practice nonverbal casting much more. She was already prepared with stacks of notes from what she’d read in the previous year with the book they’d shared, and what she’d managed to dig up during the break.

Next thing he knew, he was spending every free moment studying with her. Their meals were all short to get in an extra ten or twenty minutes in. They would stay out just up to curfew, reading and discussing or practicing as much as they could. Professor Flitwick and Professor McGonagall gave extra explanations on theory and form to Harry while the class worked on pronunciations, and both teachers pulled the two aside on several occasions to inquire about their progress.

Which was, unfortunately, lacking greatly.

Hermione had, after their second or third week, managed to cast a nonverbal lumos, and from there had managed to cast three more spells. Harry on the other hand had nothing to show for their hours of work.

He had cast a handful of spells when he managed to get the words right (this being only possible for short spells) but all his attempts at nonverbal casting failed miserably. Not so much as a twitch from a light breeze would move the feathers he would swish and flick at.

Into October, there was still nothing, and Harry found himself feeling rather hopeless. He kept his jaw tight and his stance rigid when the conversation was brought up, but in his dorm, he would lock himself away to re-read the book from Professor McGonagall again, one he’d read at least eight times over.

As they worked through the weeks, Harry found himself allowing Avice to take her nights more often. Despite the exhaustion that came without sleeping more than she would (which wasn’t much, as she was determined to get what she could from her free time), the lack of control allowed for a sort of numbness to take over. As though his time were being taken away from him and he couldn’t be held responsible for his failure in nonverbal casting. That if Avice took over, he didn’t have to face the repeated disappointment.

None of his professors were happy with his light dozing in their classrooms though. Especially Snape.

Their lessons had begun in the first week of class, and that, easily, was what Harry dreaded most. To his surprise, it wasn’t as horrible as he expected, which is to say, he no longer felt physically ill after each one.

Snape had moved their sessions from his office, to an empty classroom. This immediately lowered Harry’s panic, though why he chose to change locations, the Professor didn’t say.

Harry was to sit on one of the chairs while they worked, exhibiting constantly perfect posture or risk a disapproving glare and, if he didn’t correct his posture, a hand on his shoulder and very nearly on his back to force the correction. It was “very nearly” because Harry had jumped out of the chair the first time he reached to push his spine into the correct position, receiving a short scolding. Harry made sure that his posture was perfect after that close call.

Their lessons changed in tactics as well. To Harry’s surprise, Snape began first with a handful of muggle-created exercises. Breathing exercises, verbal exercises, even one that required singing (which, Harry was shocked to find, he could do without stuttering. Other than humming once in a rare while, Harry had hardly sung enough to realize it wasn’t affected).

Then, however, he attempted to introduce potions and spells.

His immediate bias was clear; Severus Snape prefered potions over any other method. The amount he had researched and was preparing would’ve made Harry wonder why he didn’t start with them, if Harry hadn’t been horrified by the thought of drinking anything he created.

Logically, he knew anything he drank in the medical ward was likely made by the school’s resident potions master, but he did his best to leave that thought out when he drank his potion-laced tea, along with the thought that his tea was laced with potion.

The insistence that he should outright and openly drink potions the man had made, potions which he commented he had never made before and was uncertain of the side effects, led him back to feeling nauseous. The first potion put into his hand, he dropped in horror and was gone from the room before he could think how angry the professor would be after. From then on, he refused any suggestion that he would likely not get better with muggle therapy alone; his stuttering came from a physical injury and was unlikely to get better with practice.

Severus Snape was, in a word, infuriated. Their lessons went from a nuisance to a battle, and Harry wasn’t going to be swayed. It was a silent one for the most part, but he had already wasted four potions in his attempts to talk the brat into drinking them, whether they were lost by expiring, or being broken when they were handed to the second year and quickly dropped.

The boy gave no explanation when asked, but his stance was firm on his no-potion rule for their treatment. Even the few available spells, ones that Severus wrote down as unlikely attempts, the boy flinched from, but accepted with a tense countenance.

Potions were still refused.

Potter was doing everything he could to refuse them. Verbally and sometimes physically avoiding them, leaving the only option to be forcing him to drink them. Frustratingly enough, Severus wouldn’t do that. Even if he wanted to, he knew he wouldn’t do that. Whatever source this fear came from, it wasn’t going to be fixed by being held down and made to drink. Severus Snape already knew that the experience of being forced to take a potion against one’s will was a frightening one, even without an unexplained fear of it.

Which led them back to the ineffective muggle lessons. Harry found them to be better than what they had been doing the previous year, but other than being less stressful and frightening, leading to a much smoother delivery than the jittery broken attempts they’d had previously, there was no real improvement when he left. He spoke like he did anywhere else now. Marginally less horribly, but still with a stammer every other word.

It was a headache to the professor. He had expected the problems to arise with the trial and error process, not that getting him to drink them at all would be troublesome. He should’ve expected it when he’d seen how the brat had reacted to the treatment from Madam Pomfrey, but he hadn’t expected such a negative reaction to continue past the dazed state he’d been in.

So, when the boy began drifting off in his class, any shred of sympathy he might’ve had was gone instantly while he stared at that hated face, eyes closed while his head began to dip and then was pulled upwards in a constant, rocking battle against sleep.

“Potter,” he said, towering over the boy in question, who jerked awake, looking dazed and frightened for a moment before, it seemed, he became aware of his surroundings. Severus glared at his guilty face for a moment, before turning to Hermione, who was sitting next to him as Harry’s partner for the class. “Strange. Each time the two of you insist on partnering with one another in my class, it always appears to be Granger who casts the completion spells.”

Hermione’s mouth opened like she was ready to say something, but her voice caught in her throat as she faced the issue of stating that her friend couldn’t actually cast the spells or not speaking up on his behalf. She seemed, for once, to be speechless.

His piercing gaze returned to Harry, who was shrinking in his seat. A single raised eyebrow was the only indication that he expected Harry to cast the spell on their nearly-complete potion. Harry swallowed quietly and sat up, taking his wand out and pointing it at the cauldron that simmered lightly. He pressed his lips in a thin line, his brows furrowed as he focused on it.

He could say the spell a hundred times in his head. He knew the pronunciation perfectly. He had read it and written it and read it again plenty of times. Under his breath, he mouthed each syllable, fast and slow, tapping his left index finger on the table and practicing the wand movement with his hand. Every part of him believed it should be easy to say the spell, even with the attention from his classmates and the impatient potions master.

But when he spoke, it came out as a broken mess, and unsurprisingly failed.

“How disappointing,” the professor said in a dull voice, speaking as though he didn’t expect Harry to ever succeed, before moving on in his path around the classroom. Harry sank in his chair once again. Hermione attempted to reassure him, but the professor had all but said Harry may never be able to use his magical abilities. If he weren’t feeling low from the exhaustion, failing despite all his efforts was like a punch in the gut. It didn’t help that he would be meeting with that same professor later for his speech lessons.

With that, the remaining shred of joy from the beginning of the semester was lost and he instead was left with the fear of never getting through all seven years at Hogwarts.

He did his best to show support for Draco, who talked enthusiastically about being the new Quidditch Seeker (and he attempted to ignore a few mutters from the other second years about how Draco’s father had bought the team new brooms, which all but guaranteed Draco would be picked).

But when dinner ended, he found himself numbly leaving to get to his lessons with Snape, followed, of course, by his detention with the same person. He couldn’t stop the grimace that made it’s home on his face at the thought.

He could tell his head of house was getting frustrated with their lessons. It wasn’t as though such a thing were new, but he seemed exceptionally irate each time Harry came in and sat down, and Harry knew it was because he had refused to try taking potions.

Even the thought sent his stomach to tie itself into knots. When faced with the idea that one of them may fix his stuttering problem, he still couldn’t convince himself to try any of them. It wasn’t only that he didn’t trust Professor Snape, but the effect was in question, and not knowing completely what a potion would do to him when he drank it just made the entire action more horrifying.

So he ignored the single potion sitting on one of the desks in the unused classroom and pointedly faced his chair away from the offending object before he sat. He could almost feel the irritation that was directed towards him, and he turned his thoughts to the breathing exercises he’d been practicing instead.

He was allowed to breathe in silence for quite a while before he heard the precise footsteps as the professor moved to stand in front of him. To Harry’s surprise, Snape didn’t have the potion in his hand which was, typically, the way their lessons would proceed; he would repeatedly try and insist Harry drink it, mostly by throwing insults his way to either goad him into taking it out of defiance or get out some of his own frustration, and Harry would either ignore the request or firmly say he wouldn’t, even in the face of his rising anger.

Instead, he stood in front of him, several feet away, his arms crossed over his chest as he regarded Harry coldly. Harry looked up at him while continuing to focus his breathing, the exercise centered on building the muscles in his diaphragm.

“It seems apparent you won’t pass this year,” his professor said bluntly, and for a moment, Harry’s breathing hitched before he managed to reel himself in, his jaw set a bit tighter. “So long as you fail to grasp the basic fundamentals of nonverbal casting, or you refuse any attempt on my part to fix that speech impediment you seem inclined to keep.”

“I w-w-won’t take an-any po-potions,” Harry responded, his gaze hard.

“Then you need to learn to cast spells nonverbally or accept that you’re a failure.” His voice was cold, and Harry’s attempts at keeping with the breathing exercises was lost.

“I’ve b-be-been trying ,” he hissed, his hands balled into fists.

“Clearly not enough.”

“I ha-have!” Harry took a moment, breathing slowly to keep his anger at bay. “Her-Hermione an-and I have b-been s-s-studying ev-every da-day. I d-d-don’t kno-know wha-what I’m m-missing.”

“Nonverbal casting is fundamentally different from regular spellwork,” the professor snapped in a matter-of-fact tone, as though Harry hadn’t read that statement dozens of times over. “Casting requires focus on-”

“Em-emotion and int-intent, I know, I’ve re-read tha-that.”

“Don’t interrupt me, Potter.” Professor Snape’s voice was sharp and harsh, and Harry found himself pulling back subtly, a response that made his own frustration rise. “Nonverbal casting requires an understanding of the spells that verbal casting doesn’t. An understanding of the spells etymology, a full understanding of the effects, as well as, yes, the emotion and intent. If you had thought ahead, you would have put effort into this before my class.”

“I hav-have ,” Harry insisted, sounding more desperate to convince him.

“Clearly, you have not.” His retort came with a finality. Harry sat in frustrated silence and the professor matched his with a silence of his own.

“I d-d-don’t know wha-what I’m m-missing,” Harry said after the silence had dragged on for much too long. His voice was softer, and his head tilted downward. “Her-Hermione’s fi-figured it out, b-b-but I ca-can’t do it.”

“Then it seems you’ll either have to try taking a potion to fix that stutter, or accept you’ll never be able to do it.” His voice was harsh, and his eyes cold. Harry looked, for a moment, like he wanted to argue, but the professor turned away and walked the door of the empty classroom. “Since you’re going to continue to waste your own time, I’d rather you not waste mine. We’ll begin your detention now. You know where the cauldrons are. I’ll be in my office when you’re finished.”

With that, he left Harry alone.

He found himself brooding over the task, steeping in his anger. On the surface, it felt like it was directed at his professor, but the reality was he was frustrated with himself and how he’d failed to succeed. The longer he worked over it and the cauldrons, the more upset he got, and when he was finally finished, his spirits were at rock bottom.

Trudging his way to his dorm, he flopped unceremoniously onto his bed face-down, feeling too angry to sleep, but too angry to do anything either. The air felt as though Draco was about to speak a few minutes later, but the door was knocked upon and opened briefly while the prefects made their final sweep before going to bed themselves. When they were alone, there was only a brief silence.

“Was it that bad?” Draco asked from his spot by his bed. He had his Nimbus 2001 and was most certainly not admiring about it. That is to say, of course he was admiring it and getting excited over the prospect of being Slytherin’s seeker, but outside this room no one would know such a thing.

In answer to his question, Harry groaned, his face in the mattress still. Draco sat back and regarded him with a sigh. He knew his godfather could be a horrible person to those he disliked. He was even harsh to those he was neutral towards, but somehow Harry had become someone he disliked before they’d even met. Considering his bias against Gryffindor’s, it may have made mild sense if Harry had been in that house, but Harry was in Professor Snape’s own house, so this treatment had to come from some other preconceived notion he’d been given.

“You have your invisibility cloak, right?” Draco asked, an idea springing to his mind. Turning his head to look over his shoulder, Harry regarded him suspiciously, before reaching under his bed and pulling out the cloak in question, folded carefully and hidden as best as it could be. “Let’s go flying!”

“Huh?” Harry was sitting up now, curious, but his mood was still low.

“I want to fly, I’ve hardly gotten a chance to use my new broom.” Draco was on his feet, going through his trunk and pulling out a warm cloak. “And you seem like you need air.”

Harry swung his legs onto the side of his bed, watching Draco getting ready. He knew he’d probably enjoy it, but finding the will to get up and go was difficult. After a long moment where Draco put his flying boots on, he turned to watch Harry, arms crossed.

“I can’t just sneak out, I need your cloak, so either come with me or let me borrow it.” He had an eyebrow raised and Harry pursed his lips, thinking it over. Finally, with a defeated sigh, he stood up and grabbed the sweater that Bill gave him from the bottom of his trunk.

“All r-r-right, y-you win.”

He tried to ignore the smug look on Draco’s face before he threw the cloak over their heads and crept towards the door with Draco behind him.

“You’re the one that sneaks out all the time, so you lead the way.” Draco put one hand on Harry’s shoulder, his other holding his broom while Harry led. To his own surprise, he didn’t find Draco’s touch on his shoulder nearly as upsetting as he normally would. It was still uncomfortable, but not unbearably so.

Listening to the sounds in the hall of the last few students being ushered to their rooms, he slowly opened the door and slipped out, taking the much too familiar path through the castle. As usual, he headed to the astronomy tower immediately, knowing Draco could fly off with him as well.

It was a quiet night through the castle, and they didn’t have any trouble making it to the ladder leading to their destination. Once certain that the coast was clear and no teacher was planning to make the trip up there, they quickly ascended to the open tower and Harry pulled the somewhat stifling cloak off before leaning against the rail to remove his shoes while Draco stretched his arms in the night air.

“You do that much to easily,” he commented, but wasn’t complaining about it necessarily. Instead, he kept glancing at the door.

“N-n-not ma-many check up he-here,” Harry said as he untied his left shoe and dropped it onto the ground. “M-maybe once e-ev-every two ho-hours.”

“Don’t expect people to go for late night flights?” Draco asked with a smirk and Harry smirked back, before he quickly changed shirts, threw his things under his cloak next to the largest telescope, and hopped up onto the rail, his talons taking firm hold of the metal bar.

Draco swung his leg over his broom and Harry turned to make sure he was ready. Draco nodded and kicked off, rising and then shooting off over Harry’s shoulder, out to the sky, becoming a dark shape against the speckled starfield.

Stretching his wings, he threw himself forwards, and caught immediately in an updraft. He felt the cool air press beneath his feathers, and his own dark form followed the one of his friend.

Draco couldn’t help but laugh as they flew out past the castle grounds and over the forest. He didn’t even stop when he saw the amused look on Harry’s face while he flew easily next to him, pumping his wings, and then gliding softly against the breeze.

“I can’t get tired of this!” Draco called against the wind, and Harry gave an understanding smile of his own.

“F-follow m-m-me,” he called back, and then pumped his wings harder, rising quickly to the sky opening out above them.

Every few moments, he thought Harry must be about to stop, but he didn’t. He kept climbing higher and higher with Draco tilted upwards after him, arcing towards the clouds and then cutting right through them, the vapors soaking through their clothes and sticking to their hair until both had their locks stuck to their faces in damp tendrils

Harry kept going, refusing to stop until they broke above the clouds where trees were miles below the dark grey masses they’d come through and the sky curved upon the horizon. They found themselves surrounded more by sky than earth, and Draco couldn’t keep himself from gaping upwards at the universe. He felt the adrenaline-filled, wonder and anticipation of one floating above a chasm with no knowledge of where the bottom may be.

Leaning back, Draco’s fingers grazed along the handle of his broom loosely, keeping him steady but allowing him to get a proper view of the world above him. His head tilted until all that was left in his sight was the endless heavens above him.

For once in a very long time, he felt remarkably small.

It took his broom, shaking in protest, to draw his attention away. He must’ve flown even higher than he’d intended with how his body had turned it upwards in his dumbfounded gazing in the same direction. He felt something brush against him as Harry’s moved past him and his hand grabbed the end of his broom to steady it while they descended slowly, ears popping from the change in pressure. Up so high, Harry hardly needed to use his wings at all for more than a handful of adjustments, easily gliding through the air as though it were second nature to him.

“My broom isn’t meant to go up this high,” Draco commented, and Harry laughed a bit.

“Y-y-you can’t s-say it wa-wa-wasn’t worth it.”

Draco didn’t speak, but his uncharacteristically dumb grin gave him away. There was something about flying that made him, for lack of a better term, giddy, and he’d never been allowed to go up so high before. Even minutes later, they had hardly made progress down to Earth again, but he had control over his broom once more, so Harry released him and flew further off beside him.

For a moment, he appeared to be still enjoying himself, but a negative thought must’ve hit him as his serene expression crumpled into an aggravated one.

“Are you going to tell me what happened tonight?” Draco asked, feigning causality while Harry drifted beside him. Harry didn’t respond immediately, but knew he’d returned to low spirits despite that their trip out there was meant to counteract that.

“If I ca-can’t c-c-cast any s-sp-spells, I c-can’t stay he-here,” he said, not needed to fill in the rest of the situation. Draco already had overheard from Hermione a while ago that Harry hadn’t cast any nonverbal spells, and from the sounds of it, things hadn’t improved.

“And I’m guessing that my godfather didn’t make things any better?” The blonde boy questioned, and Harry pressed his lips together in a tight line, which was all the needed response to Draco’s question. “He can be like that. I’m sure he intended some kind of help, but he’s rather poor at that.”

“I’m not s-s-sure if pa-part of th-that is tr-true.” Harry’s voice was low, and over the wind it was hard to hear.

“As far as I’m concerned, all you can do now is keep trying.” Draco kicked his feet out and he dropped, his weight pulling him down quickly before he caught himself, twenty feet below Harry now, who twisted his wings in and dove to catch up.

Harry curved around him, making an arc upwards and then floating down again. Draco expected he might resume his place next to him, gliding gently, but to his surprise, he instead perched himself on the handle of his broomstick, and Draco had to pull back in surprise so Harry had room.

The broom dipped briefly before Draco adjusted his stance to accommodate the second person. It didn’t seem especially happy about the new weight with how it slowed its descent and became difficult to move, but it didn’t seem at risk of falling either.

With his talons clutching it tightly, Harry’s wings folded against his back and he crouched down, hugging his knees and resting his chin against his arm. He looked like he wanted to speak, but instead he pursed his lips and huffed.

“If you have no other choices, then trying is all you can do,” Draco said when the silence got to be too much, speaking as though it were obvious.

“Th-that puts m-m-me wh-where I’m alre-ready at,” Harry muttered, sending Draco a sidelong glare, one that was gentle but still perturbed.

“What do you want me to say? That everything will be fine if you just believe in yourself?” Draco laughed softly, and Harry gave a small, half hearted smile. “You should have a bit more faith in me.”

“If th-things d-d-don’t work out h-h-here, I d-don’t know wh-wh-what I’ll do.” Harry turned his head so his cheek pressed against his knees and he was looking at Draco more fully.

“Trust me, there’s always something else you can do. You’re not a squib, and they wouldn’t expel you for not being able to cast a handful of spells. If things look really bad, I can talk to my parents about what other options you have. You’re not the first kid to go through school with a stuttering problem.”

Harry gave a non committal hum, looking away from Draco again and thinking everything over. After a moment of quiet contemplation, he sighed and stood up.

“I g-g-guess y-you’re right,” he said, before hopping off Draco’s broom again. He fell, allowing himself to fall for quite aways before finally pulling himself out of his sharp dive, heading back in the direction of the castle.

He didn’t actually say it was a race, but he didn’t slow down either, using the momentum gravity gave him to skim above the treetops at a speed he couldn’t reach on his own. He glanced back to see if Draco was following him, just in time to watch the blonde blur shoot past him, sending him reeling for a moment from the force he had brought behind him.

Draco didn’t go far, and slowed at the edge of the trees to a hover as he waited for Harry to catch up. It was clear his Nimbus 2001 had Harry beat on his own, and that knowledge was clear on Harry’s face when he finally caught up, giving Draco a squinty-eyed glare.

“F-f-fair enough, y-you’re fast,” he said. “N-n-next time w-w-we need to s-s-see who’s th-the be-better fly-flyer though.”

“Oh, you’re going to challenge the Slytherin seeker to a flying competition?” Draco laughed. “I’d like to see you try.”

And Harry laughed too, before reaching a leg out and shoving him to the side, knocking the both of them off balance briefly, adding to their amusement.

 

The next day, Harry caught Hermione before breakfast, a new determination in his eyes which startled and excited the Gryffindor. The two ate quickly and were off before half the students got there, already holed up in the library with stacks of books surrounding them.

Harry had nothing to gain from letting his fears get the better of him. Draco was right, even if his thoughts weren’t the most uplifting; Harry couldn’t do anything other than give it his all. If he still failed, it most certainly wouldn’t be from lack of trying.

So he gave his best effort. He practiced at every spare second; while brushing his teeth, while walking to class, as Lockhart read from his own books rather than teach, and every night before going to bed. He allowed Avice only a few days during the week and the weekends, as they previously agreed on, and while she wasn’t happy to lose her extra free time, she didn’t necessarily argue.

Keeping the fear at bay was certainly difficult, especially as the days passed with no improvement, but he kept trying. Draco frequently stopped into the library with the two during their sessions to help study, and at several points, Blaise smuggled them a handful of fruit from the kitchen, subtly set on the bench next to him while he read for Harry to pick up and pass to Hermione next to him before taking quick bites when Madam Pince wasn’t looking. Tracey and Daphne, who had taken to learning defence against the dark arts in their spare time with how poorly their classes were going with Lockhart as their professor, helped Harry with practicing stances and wand movement in the courtyard when Harry’s free period didn’t match up to Hermione’s.

Without his friends as a support system, he would’ve likely given up a long time ago, and he felt, for once, like he may be okay if things didn’t work out. No matter what he ended up doing, they would be there to help him.

That was one of many strange realizations that Harry seemed to be having about the people around him. They would accept him even if he failed. They may share in his sadness or disappointment, but they wouldn’t think he was worthless. They wouldn’t leave him. They had very little to gain from staying with him, and they still would stay.

Four years ago, the thought that someone may unconditionally love him would’ve been a completely foreign idea. On top of that, there were quite a few that seemed to have such a love for him. Eight year old Harry would’ve probably never believed such a thing.

“Congratulations, Potter,” Came a cold voice from above him, jarring him out of his thoughts. The sarcasm was almost palpable, and even without seeing the dark form of Severus Snape looming over him, he would’ve recognized his voice anywhere. “You may manage to stumble your way to barely passable.”

And he walked away as Harry sat there blinking in confusion. To his surprise, that was almost a compliment, which explained why his voice was lowered a few notches. Harry furrowed his brow, trying to understand what had happened when he was nudged by Hermione.

“Harry,” she said, trying to keep her excited voice down. “Look!”

And there, in his cauldron, was a finished hair-raising potion, the assigned potion for the class period, bubbling green as it should’ve. He stared at it for a long time, trying to figure out when Hermione had finished his potion for him when he realized he had been practicing the motions idly while the last few classmates finished their attempts.

“Wh-what?” He asked quietly, turning to Hermione with a confused expression, which she returned with an amused one. After a moment of contemplation, he pointed at her inquisitively and she shook her head. He looked almost upset, like she may have been playing a joke on him and he was scared to fall for it before he hesitantly pointed at himself and she nodded excitedly. “ Wha-what?

The forceful clearing of the potion master’s throat silenced him as he instructed everyone to bottle and bring up their potions before leaving. While they did so, Harry kept pointing to himself again and looking back to Hermione for confirmation, which she emphatically gave. And then, as they walked out, he continued to ask again and again; “I d-d-did tha-that?”

Harry was in such a shocked state that Hermione had to tell the others that Harry had cast his first successful nonverbal spell, and Harry was dragged along by the others (mostly Tracey with Daphne, Blaise, Draco, and Hermione trailing along after) to celebrate by sneaking off with a tray of treacle tart from the kitchens and hiding out on the Hogwarts grounds at a spot that was a safe distance from the whomping willow.

It was as Harry stared dumbly down at the sizeable slice cut for him that he realized he may not fail after all, and very nearly began to cry instead of eat the delicious treat.

“Congratulations!” Tracey said when it seemed that Harry had come back to his senses and was grinning widely between bites.

“Now you just have to replicate it,” Blaise chimed in, his tart already finished and forgotten while he lay on the grass, arms folded behind his head.

“I d-d-don’t eve-even know wha-what I did,” Harry admitted sheepishly.

“We know you can do it though, now we just need to make sure you can keep doing it.” Hermione smiled at him encouragingly, and Harry smiled back.

“As a bonus, nonverbal spells will give you an advantage in duelling,” Daphne added, and Harry couldn’t help but laugh.

“I d-d-don’t int-intend to du-duel.”

“Maybe you can duel against Draco!” Tracey said, as though Harry hadn’t just stated he had no intention to do such a thing. “Someone should make him shut up about how good he thinks he is.”

“I don’t think I’m good, I am good,” Draco huffed haughty. “No one has the guts enough to challenge me.”

“No one has the guts enough to put Lucius Malfoy’s son in his place is more like it,” Blaise snorted, and was quick to deflect a few blades of grass thrown his way by a disgruntled Malfoy with no other appropriate weapon to throw.

“If I c-c-can m-m-master a f-few more sp-spells, I m-may try,” Harry allowed, “th-though y-y-you’ll w-win.”

“Harry Potter, using humility as an excuse to avoid a challenge,” Draco feigned shock.

“Y-you have a he-head st-s-start!” Harry countered.

“Are you scared, Potter?”

“Y-you wish.” It was Harry’s turn to throw grass at Draco, and the group of friends laughed until the sun began to dip over the horizon and they realized treacle tart wasn’t enough to keep them satiated all night, so they returned to get a genuine meal, taking the laughter with them.

As the five Slytherin’s of their group walked towards their table, Harry slowed his stride until he stood, rather than sitting with the rest of them, next to the bench.

“I’ll be b-b-back,” he said as they turned to see why he wasn’t joining them. “I have s-s-so-something to do.”

They gave him varying degrees of puzzled looks, but none demanded he sit, and with a quick smile he turned and walked confidently towards the front of the great hall while everyone was still getting ready for the evening meal.

Before he could be stifled by fear, he walked straight up to Professor Snape, who sat with a cup of tea and the Daily Prophet while he waited for the meal to begin, though allowed his gaze to bore straight into the second year who dared to interrupt his time alone, more or less. His gaze held an expression that dared him to waste his time.

“I’ll tr-try a p-p-potion,” Harry said confidently. “S-s-so lo-long as M-Madam P-Po-Pomfrey is pre-present.”

The Slytherin head of house slowly put down his tea and newspaper, before steepling his hands together and regarding Harry coldly.

“And why do you believe the nurse would have time enough to waste comforting a child who’s too scared to take a simple potion?” Came his icy reply.

“Because I would love to,” she responded as she moved from her place across the head table where she’d been watching them closely to stand behind her colleague. “Though I may have to ask that it take place in my office so I am close enough to the infirmary should I be needed. Otherwise I am free any night.”

Harry couldn’t stop the slightly smug smile directed towards Professor Snape, who was now glowering rather angrily at the second year. After a moment dedicated to glaring at him as though he should’ve already turned to ash several minutes ago, he finally spoke again.

“Very well.” Snape’s words were precise and crisp, showing his frustration easily. “We will have our normal lesson in the infirmary before your detention.”

Harry’s smile didn’t waver at the word detention, and with a nod and a grateful look to the nurse, he returned to his table, sitting next to his friends with their thinly veiled curiosity as he began to eat.

“What was that about?” Draco hissed next to him, keeping his voice low in case Harry wanted to keep their conversation private.

“I’m tr-trying to ch-ch-channel m-my inner Gr-G-Gryffind-dor,” he whispered back, and as he spoke, it became very obvious that his smile was only covering for his abject horror at what he’d just promised to do.

“Don’t,” Draco said bluntly. “It doesn’t suit you.”

Harry gave a small laugh that sounded almost hysteric, before trying to focus his mind on his meal rather than the task that lay before him.

Still, he was borderline manic, and in the next few days he managed to cast several other nonverbal spells in Potions as well as arresto momentum in Charms, which elicited an almost giddy response from Professor Flitwick who gave him fifteen points for Slytherin. Riding this high was the only thing that got him into the infirmary Friday night, twenty minutes early in hopes of speaking to Madam Pomfrey and combat his nerves a bit more before the moment of truth.

What put a wrench in his plan and started the decline of his spirits was that Severus Snape was already there in her office when he knocked on the door and was called in.

“Seems you chose today to be punctual,” said his head of house, arms crossed while he stood opposite the nurse at her desk. On the desk sat the potion, a light teal color and fizzing like a carbonated drink. Immediately, Harry wanted to turn and walk right out again, which must’ve registered to Madam Pomfrey as she walked around the desk and to a small kitchenette, waving her wand subtly and starting to boil some water.

“I was just going to tell Professor Snape that you may feel better with tea,” she said casually, pulling the necessary ingredients from her cupboard. “I must say, I can’t blame your nervousness.”

Her statement was framed as a jab at the professor in question, who took it as such with his disdainful sneer, but between the other two in the room, the meaning was clear; I understand why you’re afraid.

“Since you’re here, we may as well begin,” Snape grunted, walking to the desk and picking up the potion to bring to where Madam Pomfrey was setting out a cup of tea for Harry by her small sitting area.  

Harry wanted to return to the calm, confident ruse he’d previously felt, but the bravery had seeped out of him. Now, he found his legs to be like lead, and a cold chill ran down his spine.

His eyes were glued to the potion on the table. He didn’t know what this would do to him. He didn’t know if this would be the last potion he may ever take, or if it would leave him with horrible side effects; burning skin, the sensation of constantly drowning, terrifying hallucinations being among the lighter of possibilities. He didn’t realize how his breathing became ragged and his legs wobbled, but the other two adults certainly did.

Snape looked like he was about to scold the second year, to throw some insult at him, to question his worth and capabilities in a few scathing remarks centered around his fear of what seemed to be a simple task and possibly get an explanation for such a fear, but the nurse was quick to uncork the potion and pour its contents into a tall glass, followed quickly by a good amount of tea.

With the potion bottle empty, she slipped it into her cabinet and closed it so it was out of sight. Within a few moments, Harry seemed to be coming to senses again, and Severus was sending curious glances to the matron who clearly seemed to know something about the puzzling phobia the brat was inflicted with.

“Would you like milk and sugar?” She asked Harry, who was blinking owlishly at her, before nodding awkwardly. Snape was back to glowering, knowing that most potions were strongest when uncovered by sweets and tea (though after being completed with a spell, most wouldn’t come undone by being mixed with a drink, making them a morbidly useful tool), but he said nothing, watching as the woman single handedly got the boy closer to taking a potion than he’d managed in the weeks they’d been working.

Sitting down numbly, Harry watched her put the milk and the sugar into the liquid that was quite oddly colored and still bubbling. He tried to ignore the shaking in his hands by clenching them into fists against his lap.

“I’ll be here in case something happens,” she said softly while she stirred the drink. “I have plenty of reversal spells at the ready. I’ve dealt with plenty of poorly made potions in my time, and I can say, at least, this one was not poorly made.”

Snape gave a haughty huff at the compliment, which was a reversal from the previous statement she’d made, but otherwise didn’t comment, leaving Harry to stare at the cup.

Taking in deep breaths, he counted to ten, then counted backwards from ten, and counted to ten again. On his third time back and forth, he made it to six before a sudden thought of “just drink it” passed through his mind and he clung to the momentary urge, grabbing the cup and chugging it before he had time to stop himself again.

All was silent, the two adults watching him closely while he waited as well, somewhere between elated and panicked.

It wasn’t immediate. He thought, maybe, it hadn’t worked at all, that he’d taken a dud, or that it had somehow gotten mixed up with something like a soda.

Neither adult moved yet, so he stayed stationary, while a distinct buzzing sound took over his hearing. The look on his face must’ve shown that he was feeling something, because Madam Pomfrey started speaking, but the voice came out as a garbled mess to Harry, and then he couldn’t hear it over the sound in his ears.

Fear gripped at him again, and he tried to stand, but her hands were on his shoulders to keep him from moving too quickly. That was all he needed to be set off, and in a moment he was up off the couch, moving away from her as fast as he could.

Within seconds, his fingers were numb, and while he stepped away, his legs gave out. He remembered being caught by one of them, but the world tipped sideways and he fell down, down, down to unconsciousness.

His voice was sore, and he must’ve been screaming, but all he heard was ringing.

Chapter Text

Severus had been the one to grab him mid-fall, as the fear he felt of the nurse sent Harry in the direction of the potion master. Before he had time to react much more than grabbing him, Poppy had pulled Harry from his grip and was setting him out on the couch, a sort of protective air about the way she hovered over him. She cast a few quick diagnostics spells, before pushing his bangs out of his face and checking his pupils.

The professor stood to the side to let her work, taking on a neutral look while internally he worked through what must’ve happened. The potion was centered around healing brain trauma. It was a general potion, though perhaps one meant for more recent injuries (as all of them seemed to be, potions for distant previous injuries that were never treated were uncommon, especially for brain injuries). He had expected to sweep the issue under the rug with someone else’s potion, one that would fix the issue without much effort on his part aside from research and creating the potion itself (already a fair bit more effort than he even wanted to put in)

If this was his reaction to a relatively minor potion, it was clear he would be much worse with any of the others he had planned to try.

His mind was already working on the problem before he had time to be irritated about having it at all, and a part of him enjoyed any challenge brought is way when it came to potions, but when he remembered why he had the challenge and who brought it on, he was sure to feel disgruntled towards the situation.

“I’m sure you haven’t done this on purpose but if you have an explanation, I would appreciate it,” the nurse said, snapping him from his thoughts. It was a statement tinged in sarcasm and a hint of a threat. He knew she was protective of all the students, but he wondered briefly why she was especially so with the boy-who-lived. She wasn’t the type to show favoritism for fame.

“I may have misjudged the extent of this potion’s usefulness,” he admitted. To anyone else, he would’ve gave a scathing remark about the boy’s ability to handle such a potion, but the mediwitch would require the most understanding of the situation to provide help. He could handle the stab through his pride for this. “Which means I have misjudged the extent of many potions usefulness. And this will be more difficult than I expected.”

She sighed softly and turned more fully to him, her arms crossed. She wasn’t looking necessarily angry, but she was waiting for a more detailed description.

“I chose this potion believing it to be a more moderate version of some others I had researched; more extensive head injury healing potions. The largest issues with all of them, however, is that they are meant for recent injuries.” He paused, and she gave a few nods, her mind working through the effects as he already had. “Unfortunately, it seems that all the work I’ve done to research possible solutions to this has been pointless and I’ll instead have to make a potion more specific to this issue.”

She stared at him for a long moment and even briefly opened her mouth to say something, but her mouth shut slowly before she gave an exhale and a shake of her head. He couldn’t help but wonder what she had been about to say, but there was a low groan from the boy laying on the couch that caught their attention.

Harry rolled over, curling slightly while his blank, sleeping expression turned to one of pain and his hands moved up to cover his eyes, wincing against the brightness of the lamps set around the office. With the flick of her wand, Pomfrey dimmed the lights several notches and the tenseness in Potter’s face relaxed slightly.

“Harry, can you hear me?” The nurse asked, keeping her voice soft so as not to disturb his clear headache. Still, he winced again and groaned a second time, rubbing his face against the fabric of the sofa before slowly opening one eye to squint at her. She gave a small nod, before looking a bit closer at his expression, searching for his responsiveness. “How are you feeling?”

As Harry stared back at her, slightly dazed, a look of confusion crossed over his features and his brows furrowed in concentration. He didn’t respond to her question with more than a stare in return, as though she were speaking a foreign language. All at once, the two adults began realizing what the potion may have done.

“Harry, can you understand me?” She said, keeping her voice calm but clear. Now Harry looked troubled, and then distressed. He was on his feet in a second, but kept a hand on the sofa, as though he needed to grab something to stay grounded.

“C-c-ca-c-c-cn-c-” A series of stuttered sounds escaped from his mouth, before he cut them off with a choked sound of shock, moving from the couch and giving himself space between the adults that seemed more frightening now than they had a moment ago.

“That’s unexpected,” Professor Snape said flatly, as though the entire event were little more than an inconvenience. The nurse shot him a look, waiting for him to finish the thought on this new discovery. “I can only surmise that being as this injury has since healed, albeit poorly, the potion undid some of the healing in an attempt to… fix it. To react so extremely is unusual, however...”

“Do you think it will fix his speech impediment?” She asked, and he gave a halfhearted shrug while the second year stood by the wall, eyes flitting between the two, his distress only increasing as he tried to understand what was being said. He knew he should, but his hearing was going in and out from a ringing sound to taking their words and turning them into a mix of noises that his brain couldn’t quite process.

“It’s doubtful that any of them may do so successfully,” he said, either not noticing or not caring about the way the student stared at him in fear while trying to decipher his words. “What’s more likely is that the effects will wear off before it will be able to fully heal the damage, and he’ll return to how he was or stay this way.”

It was clear to Harry that whatever he’d just said had troubled the nurse, and he could hardly keep his breathing under control. He didn’t like not understanding what they were saying. He hated it. They could be saying anything and he would’ve been oblivious to it. They could’ve been planning anything.

Madam Pomfrey turned back to him, a hand out as though he were a frightened animal that needed to be calmed (In many ways, that description was likely accurate). She said something, her voice soothing and soft, but he only caught small sounds among the blurred noises and high pitched ringing. The potions master spoke, a very bored, unimpressed look on his face. The matron whipped around on him and responded, perhaps a little too harshly, and within a few moments, the man dressed in black robes was very nearly shoved out.

With him gone and the room silenced with a quick flick of her wand (another thing that did anything but calm Harry’s nerves) she put the wand away and turned her attention on the boy hyperventilating in the corner.

Harry was having a breakdown. He crouched against the wall, a hand on his chest while his mind was flooded with thoughts. Trained responses from two years of experiments left his mind buzzing. He was caught with the horrifying sensation that he was ready to be attacked at any moment, that they would grab him and pull him to that table, that table , and he would be helpless. Anything could happen to him. It was in his body, in his veins. This could be the last one, the one that kills him. This could be the one that leaves him forever destroyed, the one that melts his bones and leaves him a mass of muscle and skin and organs, the one that does worse. Now all he could hear was ringing, and a tingling sensation was back in his hands and toes while black spots appeared in his vision.

“Harry,” she said softly, keeping low to stay near eye-level, “this isn’t a test or an experiment of some kind. No one is looking to hurt you. I promise.”

He didn’t understand a word she was saying, but the calm posture caught his attention from the invasive, all-consuming thoughts. He looked up at her, but kept his distance, pressing his back against the wall.

“You’ll be okay,” she encouraged softly, taking a few short steps forward. When he tensed, she stopped, and slowly held out her hand in a gesture that said she wanted him to take it. Every part of him flinched away from the outstretched hand, but then, a small piece wanted him to take that hand. Part of him needed contact and security from someone who didn’t want to hurt him. He reached out slowly, and she inched slightly closer until he could grasp her fingertips in his own. She didn’t grab back, just allowed the warmth of her worn, slightly calloused fingers to provide comfort to him.

She breathed slowly and exaggeratedly, so that if he couldn’t hear it, he could see it, and without thinking he tried to match her. The tingling stopped, and a few moments later, he could hear the sound of his own breathing, along with the sound of his rushing heartbeat. His thoughts slowed considerably, and with the decrease in panic, exhaustion set in. Not exactly a kind of tiredness, but rather a full-body weakness that hit him in the gut and sent him to crumple forwards and gather himself again.

“You’ll—  better— you—  to— rest— ” The words came through the haze of noise, and he looked up at her.

“R-r-r-re-r-r-r-rs-” He attempted, before grimacing. If his voice and its ability to convey his thoughts had failed him previously, now he was desperate to have even that. Still, she seemed to realize what he was trying to say.

“Can—  understand— ?” Was all he got, and he gave an awkward, small smile that his heart wasn’t in and put up a small space between his index and thumb as though to say “a little bit”. Still, she nodded, and gently held his hand back for the first time while she softly pulled him to his feet. He was wobbly at first, but with some assistance, she helped him to the door and to one of the spare beds, closest to her office.

Snape had, begrudgingly, been waiting, and as the nurse helped Harry to the edge of the bed, they spoke, with Harry catching very short bits that hardly made sense to him.

“He’s already improving, so it’s likely the effects will wear off,” she said as she shuffled through the available potions on the back shelf, not too far from where Harry was. She made a mental note to be certain the curtains were drawn on this side especially.

“As I said before, I’ll likely have to create a concoction of my own to combat Potter’s speech issues,” he said, arms crossed and speaking as though the boy weren’t there at all, not that he was catching what he was saying anyway. “More than anything, I wish the headmaster would let this go, but if he continues to insist on these “lessons”, I will have them be a mildly productive endeavor. It’s getting the brat to try another one that I already foresee as being difficult.”

A kind of anger flashed in the nurse’s eyes when he spoke, but he couldn’t figure what had triggered such a response before her expression was neutral again. With the wave of her wand, the office door opened and the sound of a kettle being filled with water and put on a stove could be heard as she organized the potions she’d gathered on a separate table, several feet from where Harry was, who was watching the two, especially Snape, rather warily.

“It will be difficult,” she admitted, her lips pressed into a thin line as she worked to decide what may be needed. “Very much so.” Again, the potions master got the feeling she knew more than she said but kept it to herself. She turned to him with a more fierce expression than he’d expected. “However, I’ll help in any way I can. Which is to say, you’ll need me to help.”

He sniffed haughtily, a sneer creeping onto his expression, before shaking his head. It was all so ridiculous, if only the boy-who-lived wouldn’t be so stubborn in his fear or at least find a way to combat such a phobia. The nurse knew something, but that hadn’t helped matters it seemed.

“Make note of all the side-effects you see,” he said dismissively while a cup of tea came to her and she began mixing in a few minor doses of potions and several helpings of sugar. “If you can convince him not to blow this out of proportion any further, it will be a miracle.”

With that as his farewell, he turned on his heel and stalked out of the infirmary, robes billowing after him.

With the shake of her head, she picked up the cup and moved to Harry. He was staring at it, knowing what it contained and not having the willpower to pretend it didn’t. Then, she gently took his free hand in her own and held the cup patiently in her other, not rushing or insisting, just patiently waiting for him to work up the courage.

It didn’t happen immediately, not with the chaos that had happened and especially not after all the courage it had taken to get there in the first place. He was spread thin, and all he really wanted was to hide somewhere and collect himself. However, a rational part of him knew that his best chance for getting better was to take what the nurse asked him to take.

So, with a shaking hand, he took the cup, counted to three, and downed it quickly. She gently took it away and set it to the side while he leaned back in the bed, staring at the ceiling.

“Can—  understand— ?” It was slow to process to him, but he did nod softly. He had, though not perfectly, understood her. “You will—  okay. Your speech— improve— don’t know— will take—” Harry’s brows furrowed as he focused on untangling the broken sentences and then nodded slowly. “Get—  rest— see— the morning.”

That, he understood a bit better, and with another nod, he sank down under the covers. He imagined that there must’ve been some kind of sleeping potion mixed in with the tea, or else it was unlikely he would’ve been able to doze off as quickly as he was, and within only a few moments, he was asleep, his rest undisturbed by dreams, either good or bad.

 

The frustration and curiosity were a strange mix for Severus, and didn’t sit well with him. Failing at properly using a potion was something that endlessly upset him, though the root cause was likely more complex than “I’m the potions master and should never make mistakes”. Still, however, he couldn’t stop the underlying buzz of being faced with a challenge. It had been a while since he’d had a reason to create something new.

So he found his mind going a bit lighter on the brat at the center of this mess; meaning instead of cursing every bit of his involvement, selfishness, and arrogance, he was only cursing most of it.

Of course he wasn’t going to be happy about it. He was going to very openly show his upset the entire way through the process of making a new potion, especially when Potter inevitably went back to his refusal of all potions.

Which led the potions master to the thought of what exactly the nurse knew. She knew something by how she treated the boy with such carefulness. She was unsurprised at each paranoid action or panicked response. Perhaps he should ask her…

Then again, at what point did he become curious of the various phobias the boy-who-lived found himself cursed with. He was already a walking tragedy, perfect fodder for lengthy articles filled with pity and inspiration. What was another unfortunate affliction?

He waved off, almost literally, the voices of reason telling him the stories didn’t match up. It wasn’t a simple phobia, it was instinctive fear of potions and, to a lesser degree, magic as a whole. He’d already concluded such during the summer, but the sight of the brat’s face was enough to send Severus back to being willfully angry at him. The thought of articles being created about the “poor orphan boy-who-lived”, the thought of books being written and interviews being done, the idea of his face being plastered everywhere as a symbol of encouragement and heroism made him sick.

Grumbling his way into his office, he set about putting his paperwork in order to be certain that nothing required his immediate attention before he would retire for the night. With all that had happened, he was set on relaxing when he noticed something on his desk that he most certainly hadn’t placed there.

An envelope, simple in look and sealed plainly with no writing at all on its surface, sat in the center of his desk. He often opened the letters he got quickly, and he most certainly didn’t remember this one. He also hadn’t gotten any visitors that day, and the only ones with access to his office were the caretaker, Argus Filch, and the headmaster, Albus Dumbledore.

A nondescript letter was likely Dumbledore’s doing, though he couldn’t help but feel that there would be a bit more to it. So of course, the first thing Severus did was cast several detection spells on it.

He found little to nothing. There was a hint of something magical within it, but it was small at best, likely a mildly magical object rather than a spell, and it clearly had no ill effects. Carefully picking it up, the letter continued to fail to explode or doing some other unwelcome thing, even as he turned it over a few times, feeling the edges for something that wasn’t supposed to be there (which was redundant; the letter itself wasn’t supposed to be there)

He felt something that wasn’t paper, something a bit soft that gave way under his fingers and it gave off a mild smell, like foliage, that smelled intensely familiar.

Accepting finally that it may not be an object meant to physically harm, he slipped a finger under the edge of the envelope and tore it open, carefully sliding the folded letter out. With it, came three separate bundles of Dandelion root, Flitterbloom, and Knotgrass.

Taking a moment to examine the curious objects, he turned his attention to the letter, written in stiff script he hardly recognized.

That potion won’t work, though I assume I didn’t tell you in time. It won’t work for a few reasons you probably figured out and one you probably haven’t.

Whatever you create will need one important adjustment; you’ll need to make two versions, one made regularly, and one with Dandelion root, Flitterbloom, and Knotgrass mixed in as an early step. Give him half doses of both and it might work then.

Though if the potion itself isn’t made correctly, that’s your fault.

It ended there with no signature and no further explanation. Snape wrinkled his nose in distaste as he stared at it. What advice was that, and what could possibly be the purpose of such a demand? He couldn’t even ask that question, as he had no clue how he might contact the person who had left this note in the first place.

Throwing it in the top drawer his desk, he returned to organizing his papers, though he couldn’t help how his mind wandered to the odd letter.

If it was Dumbledore, he was doing a poor job of convincing him to follow his instructions. Then again, that was how the man functioned. He often liked to leave more than a bit of room for confusion. Why give any explanations when one could be enigmatic?

Yes, this was very much like the headmaster, and he found his irritation growing, like a troublesome friend was creating another joke or prank. Most requests the headmaster gave him weren’t completely nonsensical, but this one was beyond baffling.

Of course, there was the fact that such a tactic would likely have strange effects, but the potions master immediately recognized those ingredients. A combination of Dandelion root, Flitterbloom, and Knotgrass into an otherwise normal potion was a typical method to make most medical potions safe for animal use.

Why he was being told to do such a thing for the boy-who-lived was beyond him, certainly too much to ponder on for that night, so setting the ingredients aside to decide on later, he finished putting his papers away and turned out the lights before making his way to his chambers, content to forget about frustrating topics like Harry Potter for the night.

Harry was only slightly better the next day. He could mostly understand the nurse when she spoke, which he was grateful for, but his own speech was still a wreck, and he felt a dull ache throughout his head that increased the more he listened to the mediwitch and the more he attempted to speak himself.

With the lack of speech, he became a bit reclusive, sitting on the infirmary bed with his knees to his chest, staring at a few books Madam Pomfrey had gotten him in case he felt like reading. She was insisting he stay for another day to be certain nothing else bad would happen.

Reading seemed to be unaffected by whatever had been done to him, and the nurse seemed unsurprised by that fact. Understanding language, she explained, was controlled by a different part of the brain from understanding speech, which was also separate from the part that controlled the action of speaking (the area he clearly had the biggest issues with even before the potion).

It reminds me of how humans used to sound to me , came an unexpected voice in his brain. Harry lifted his head up as Avice spoke to him for the first time in quite a while.

Used to? He thought back curiously.

Yes used to, the mental voice sounded irritated. Just like you used to not be able to understand birds, I used to not be able to understand humans. Then they took my heart and soul and stuck me with you and I was given that useless skill.

Is that why I wasn’t able to understand them after I took that potion?

How am I supposed to know? She definitely sounded irritated now. I don’t know anything about what you all do.

I can say the feeling is pretty mutual . Harry paused for a moment, feeling a bit better at the thought that his bad reaction wasn’t coming from a messed up potion, but rather one that his strange biology hadn’t worked with. I must say, though, you don’t seem to think that skill is useless when you spend time with Hagrid. I’d almost say you’re rather fond of him.

With that, she was back to giving him silence, and he internally chuckled at that. Despite how she refused to talk to him (for the most part at least), nothing she did was secret from him just as nothing he did was secret from her. So of course he’d seen how often she’d followed Hagrid through the woods or gone to him in his hut for nothing more than company and a bit of food if he had something that interested her. It almost reminded Harry of a cat; how she consistently seemed to like being around Hagrid but would also constantly deny it for nothing more than posterity. It was amusing to say the least, to think that Hagrid’s love of animals had somehow given him the ability to befriend an irritable raven such as Avice.

The mention of his name was something that pulled him out of his thoughts. Madam Pomfrey had left his curtain closed in case he felt the need to “stretch out”, as it were, without fear of someone seeing him. People came in and out periodically, so the noise of quiet conversation wasn’t new, but the sound of his name being put into the mix had his attention.

“Yes, he’s here though I’m not sure—  ready for visitors,” he heard her say to the person who’d spoken of him.

“Is he okay?” Asked a voice which Harry recognized belonged to Draco.

“He’s in—  infirmary isn’t he?” Chimed in a second voice sarcastically. That one was quite obviously Blaise.

The nurse hadn’t gotten out more than one more word when Harry reached over and knocked loudly on the headboard of his bed. The message was very obviously received by how she stopped and sighed softly.

“It seems he’s fine with—  but you two can’t— excitement or stay too long.” She allowed with a warning in her voice before leading them over to Harry’s bed, making her footsteps slightly louder than normal should Harry need to hide anything, a gesture he didn’t need but was thankful for.

“Seems you already know—  have two visitors,” she said, peeking around the curtain for an extra bit of caution. Seeing he was sitting up, the books untouched, ready to have something to distract him from the general boredom the infirmary brought, she shook her head and stepped aside to allow the two to see him.

The immediate scrutiny had him shrinking back at first. Even Blaise couldn’t help but look him over carefully for the damage that had put him there in the first place. Neither were finding anything off, except that Harry wasn’t greeting either and instead was left staring at them with an awkward expression, and both furrowed their brows.

“Would you—  me to explain the details,” the matron asked, putting up one finger, “or—  the essentials?” She put up two.

Harry thought for a moment over what he’d rather them know, before sighing and putting up one finger. She gave him a moment to change his mind, then nodded.

“You likely know—   has been working with Professor Snape—  speech impediment.” The two Slytherin’s nodded curiously. “Well, recently—   decided to attempt a potion that he believed may— improvement. We’ve— that it’s had quite the opposite effect, and—  worsened. It’s likely he’ll recover, but— ”

Harry tuned out the rest of the explanation for how his head ached, instead leaning back against the pillows to wait for her to finish. He caught Draco’s eye, however, as she spoke, looking at him curiously, and Harry raised his eyebrow in return. Glancing at Blaise to be sure he was focused elsewhere (which he was as he asked the nurse a question) he lifted a hand and pointed over his shoulder at his back with a questioning gaze. Harry gave a thin almost-smile at the question of what may have caused the issue with the potion in the first place, and that was all the response Draco needed to whether or not Harry’s wings and other odd features probably had anything to do with it.

“You have awful luck,” Blaise said to Harry, his voice flat as always, but Harry couldn’t stop the short laugh at such a painfully true statement, and Draco joined in if only for how right Blaise was without realizing it fully.

Madam Pomfrey didn’t find it funny at all, not that Harry necessarily expected her too. Instead, she seemed rather saddened or upset by the comment, but whatever she thought of it, she kept to herself to instead leave and return with a spare bit of parchment, a quill, and some ink before allowing the three to talk alone for a few minutes.

“You scared me—  didn’t come back. I—  godfather had poisoned you,” Draco said with a small laugh.

So did I, Harry wrote with a small laugh of his own. It felt oddly good to laugh about it, and oddly sickening. Bill laughed a lot for the first several months they were there before he lost his leg. He made jokes like that all the time, mostly about himself. With that thought, his smile was gone.

“It’s a—  can do nonverbal—  now,” Blaise added with a hint of a smile, and Harry snorted with a nod. It wasn’t necessarily coincidental timing; he’d felt especially confident after getting a few spells down, which had led him to stupidly run headfirst into accepting potions from his head of house. That was unlikely to happen again anytime soon.

The three chatted idly for a few more minutes, but his headache was worsening, and as it did, his understanding of what they said got worse until he was only catching every other word. After the fourth “what did you say?” written on the parchment, he finally shook his head and admitted defeat begrudgingly.

Before the nurse pushed them out, Draco took the quill and wrote down a “ You’ll be out in time for the Halloween feast? ” Harry pointedly looked at Madam Pomfrey after reading the question. With Halloween a week away, it was in her hands. She glanced at the note, then at the imploring second years, before lifting her eyes towards the ceiling like she were asking for some kind of divine assistance with these troublesome boys, and nodding, taking the quill to add her own note.

Yes, but you’re coming back early if it’s too much.

Harry sighed, but nodded in acceptance, and within a few more minutes, he was left alone again. It didn’t last, the mediwitch had, of course, noticed his clear discomfort with the growing migraine and handed him a cup of tea which he drank the second it got into his hands, preferring the “drink immediately” method to the “stare at it while anxiety builds” method.

Leaning back, he let out a breath while the pain ebbed away. Despite how little he trusted potions, he couldn’t deny that they had their uses.

 

He was allowed to leave the next day after being asked by every person that visited Harry, which amounted to four of his housemates (Draco, Blaise, Tracey, and Daphne) and Hermione, with the condition that he only go to classes and that he be back for meals and to stay the night. It was, in many ways, rather surprising that he was being let out so quickly, but none were about to argue.

Hermione was more than a bit happy to help with taking notes and relaying anything the teachers said that he missed, and when he didn’t have class with Hermione, Draco did his best to fill her place.

It wasn’t bad at first, he caught nearly every word in Herbology (which was his first class of the day), and even Defence Against the Dark Arts wasn’t bad (though the class was mostly useless with Lockhart giving a quiz on his own book).

However, as time went on and he attempted to listen more and more, he understood less and less. Professor Flitwick was, thankfully, rather forgiving after telling Harry several times to change his stance while casting before Draco saved Harry by quickly writing down the instructions and giving the professor a short “long story, should’ve explained earlier”.

Hermione was just as enthusiastic as ever to continue practicing nonverbal spells, and Harry couldn’t help but wonder if she understood the irony of her enthusiasm or if it were a complete accident. It seemed she had a new book every day to share with him on spell theory, wand motions, and proper casting techniques for young witches and wizards. Then, the next day she would ask if he’d finished it yet and what he’d thought (even with all the free time he had in the infirmary, he couldn’t read fast enough to get through any of them, much to Hermione’s disappointment)

His speech comprehension was doing worlds better by the end of the week, and with the Halloween feast looming over them, the matron finally allowed that Harry could leave the infirmary for a bit of time with his friends outside classes and the short times she allowed them to visit.

He still couldn’t get out more than stammered noises, but his friends were content to work around his difficulties with passing notes to one another, which the teachers allowed when the students were sent to pair or group assignments.

With their classes over and a few hours before the feast, Hermione swept him up in her excitement, having just finished a book she thought he would enjoy, missing his attempts at informing her that he’d still not finished the last five books she’d given him.

While walking through the halls, she shuffled through her overstuffed bag for the book, before huffing in frustration.

“I must’ve left it by my bed,” she said, chewing on the bottom of her lip. “Would you—  a detour?”

Harry gave a sarcastic shrug, knowing full well he had little choice in the matter (though if he truly had an issue with following Hermione, he doubted that she would force him).

They’d gone to the Gryffindor common room several times since Gemma had decided it was acceptable for a Gryffindor to come to the Slytherin common room, provided they had a Slytherin with them. With that decision made by the Slytherins , the Gryffindors most certainly weren’t going to be the ones to be inhospitable, and Percy had only done a single double-take when Hermione had first brought him there before saying nothing.

It was an obvious fact, though, that the Slytherin common room was much quieter, and much better suited for studying. Not to mention that their friend group was made of five Slytherins and a single Gryffindor, which definitely didn’t give Hermione any favors (and the more Harry interacted with her, the more he wondered about how many friends she really had in her own house. He didn’t see her talk to very many regularly).

He didn’t quite catch the password as he was pulled through the portrait hole, not that he’d ever need it anyway since it changed weekly. She was still in the middle of explaining the latest book she’d ordered, describing how it was a very useful etymology book on the history of spells and was the first in a long series organized from beginner level to advanced.

Still talking, she sat him down on one of the couches and gave him a quick “wait here” before excitedly running up the stairs, leaving Harry feeling very awkward, a single spot of green surrounded by quite a bit of red.

He couldn’t help but feel he was being watched a bit more intently than the other times he’d been there, and before he could mark it down as him rarely being left alone in the common room, a small but clearly too excited boy shuffled up to him, holding a much too big muggle camera.

“I'm... I'm Colin Creevey,” He introduced awkwardly, fiddling with the camera in his hands. He seemed to be working up the courage to speak, and when he did, he didn’t immediately stop. “D’you think... would it be all right if... can I have a picture? To prove I met you. I already was told about all—  stuff, about you-know-who and... well my family’s normal, er, muggle, right? I didn’t know all that weird stuff I— do was magic till I got the letter from Hogwarts. It’s all amazing here! And all the stories I’ve heard about what-”

“Bloody hell, could you be more oblivious, Colin?” Came a harsh voice. Ron stepped up to the side of the couch, arms crossed as he glared daggers at Harry. “Harry Potter spends all his time—  pureblood, muggle-hating Slytherins. He practically lives and breathes it. Probably use Hermione ‘cause she just loves taking notes and—  what she knows. Makes classes a bit easier having a muggle-born do all  the hard work, doesn’t it?”

Harry was struck by everything Ron had just said. Even though he’d gotten almost all of it, he still found himself processing it before he could manage to get angry. Said so boldly, he almost couldn’t believe it was real, but when it hit him that it was, he felt a shot of furious adrenaline course through him, and he imagined his face had gone a few shades redder. He had opened his mouth to speak when he remembered the current issue he was having and his jaw snapped shut, most certainly not improving his mood any.

“Got nothing to say?” Ron looked smug, which only made it worse. “You know it’s true. I bet I know—  call Hermione behind her back. Go on, tell Colin what it is.”

He wanted to say it wasn’t true. He wanted to say that the people he was friends with weren’t like that and neither was he, or at least his friends weren’t like that with Hermione. Out of the corner of his eye, a shock of red hair disappeared out the door, but he hardly had time before Ron was leaning closer to him, making him immediately on edge on top of his rage.

“I know what the Malfoy’s are like,” he snapped. “I know that you wouldn’t—  friends with Draco if you didn’t believe what they— ; about muggle borns, and about families like mine, so just say it .”

Harry was very near to some kind of breakdown, though whether it would result in tackling Ron to the ground or having a panic attack in the middle of the Gryffindor common room, he wasn’t certain. Still, despite his shaking hands and red cheeks, his expression was, remarkably, schooled into a very neutral look, even if anyone who wasn’t completely blind could tell he was furious by the short breaths through his nose and the way his jaw was set like he was grinding his teeth and trying hard not to snarl.

He was fit to explode when there was a real explosion at the common room entrance.

Well, it very nearly sounded like a real explosion, but in actuality it was a salamander with some kind of firework tied to it being shot through the room and making everyone duck for cover.

“Sorry,” said George, who seemed not at all sorry.

“Our bad,” added Fred, who seemed equally as remorseful.

Both were giving Ron some surprisingly harsh looks, and Ron returned it with an angry glare of his own before storming off to the boys dormitory, most certainly not about to fight them for the hundredth time on the same topic.

This left the twins to turn back to Harry, alone for a moment as Colin ran off to get pictures of the salamander.

“Someone was left alone with the lions,” Fred said, tutting softly.

“We must find the handler—  this snake,” George shook his head sadly. Harry managed a weak smile, before he caught, out of the corner of his eye, a glimpse of Ginny hovering awkwardly behind the two.

He’d seen her plenty of times at their house, of course, but his interactions with her had been minimal, especially with Bill and the twins taking up most of his time outside of meals.

When she caught him looking curiously at her, she gave a small squeak and stumbled off, knocking over a small table in her wake, sending a handful of books tumbling off it, but in her rush she didn’t stop to pick it up and instead ran up the stairs towards the girls dormitory, past Hermione who was already talking excitedly about the book in her hands, only giving a small “Hello, Ginny” on her way past without notice for the girl’s flustered state.

“And there she is!” George said, giving a wide, dramatic gesture to her, as though to give her a grand entrance, while she paused, a step from the bottom, blinking curiously at the two by the couch she’d left Harry at.

“Hello...” She stared at them before her brows furrowed. “Did—  miss something?”

“You—  alone in the den,” Fred was back to tutting and shaking his head now.

“— can take care of himse-” She stopped, and her face turned red as she caught sight of Harry’s somewhat shrunken look, and the realization hit her of the fact that Harry was left alone and, for all intents purpose, mute and even possibly a bit deaf. She covered her mouth in surprise while the regret showed on her face. “Oh no! What—  I was gone?”

“Ron decided— a twat,” Fred sighed, shaking his head.

“Ginny grabbed us— saw what happened,” George explained, and both Harry and Hermione glanced at the girls stairs where the first year had run up in her hurry.

“I’m sorry for leaving you by—,” Hermione apologized sheepishly, a guilty look on her face. “I forgot about…”

She stopped, and glanced at the twins curious faces. It was no secret that something was up with Harry, but he didn’t necessarily have many friends that were quick to spread his information around, especially not something like this.

So Harry sighed and waved a hand as though allowing that she could tell them She explained what had happened quickly and that Harry was still having trouble speaking, explaining that he could hardly get out a single word, and while understanding speech was better, there were times that he missed large portions of a sentence and was left confused.

Despite their smiling faces, the twins quite obviously seemed a bit more vengeful for Harry’s sake with this new revelation, and with a nod to one another and a farewell to Hermione and Harry, they marched up the stairs together after Ron.

With the two second years still by the couch, Harry was quick to wave of Hermione’s apologies, which had distracted her from the task of explaining the book they’d come there to get. With her still apologising, they began towards the portrait in hopes to get a bit of quiet before the feast, when they were interrupted by a small voice from behind them.

“I didn’t know… I mean, you seemed to— fine!” Colin Creevey had stopped taking pictures of the salamander and had likely, at some point while Hermione was explaining to the twins the situation Harry was in, come back. Harry grimaced and Hermione looked confused.

“I doubt— upset at you,” Hermione said, before glancing at Harry, who shook his head to confirm that, no, he wasn’t upset at Colin. “Just… perhaps— spend a bit more time paying attention to people.”

He nodded, but still looked rather subdued at having not realized something was wrong by Harry’s silence. Harry very nearly turned and left, but he knew he’d feel guilty if he did.

Glancing to Hermione, he mimed someone taking a picture, and she very quickly seemed to understand.

“Colin, would you— to take a picture of you and Harry?” She offered the first year, and all at once his face lit up.

“Yes!” He said without hesitation, pushing the camera into Hermione’s hands and running up to Harry’s side, grabbing him by the arm, a gesture that Harry tried very hard to not pull away from.

He thought he did a rather good job of giving a small smile to the camera while Colin’s wide grin split his face and he almost hopped up and down, hardly able to stay still long enough for Hermione to take the picture in between Colin’s excited explanation about pictures that could move if you developed them in the right potion.

The flash of the camera sent a shock of pain through Harry’s head and down his spinal cord. In reality, that was likely what set off a horrendous night as Hermione’s words were much more difficult to understand as she handed the camera off to Colin while Harry rubbed at his eyes and pressed against his temples, willing the bright spot to go away.

While they left the common room, Harry tried to return to a stable place. He focused intensely on what Hermione was saying, willing himself to understand her words, but they weren’t registering to him the same way. Crowds of students would walk by and he would barely understand anything they said. Hermione would turn and ask him something and he would hardly manage to decipher it.

Through the halls they walked and then out to the courtyard, finding a place to themselves where they could sit and study.  

She didn’t miss his discomfort, and she most certainly didn’t miss how little he was responding, even to direct questions. He seemed lost when she looked at him, like the question of “did you like the book?” was a difficult one. Finally, she stopped talking and closed the one in her lap.

“Are you able to understand me?” She asked, and Harry just stared at her through squinted eyes. Even with the sun setting, he seemed to be intensely bothered by the light, and she shook her head, pulling out a roll of parchment and one of many quills to write notes with him.

Maybe you should skip the feast and go back to the infirmary, She wrote, and Harry pouted at the message as he picked up his own quill.

It’s the first time I’m being allowed out of the infirmary for more than class time, he scribbled quickly. I’m not going back because my head hurts.

You won’t have much fun, she pointed out, and he shook his head.

I won’t have much fun sitting in bed while everyone else goes to the feast either.

Hermione rolled her eyes, but he did at least mildly have a point with that, even if one entailed pain that the other didn’t. A voice called to them, and Harry picked his head up when he recognized it as Draco’s, but what he was saying, despite how much Harry wanted to understand, sounded like little more than noise, mixed in with a disjointed word here or there.

Draco says hello, and that the feast is starting soon , Hermione wrote while Harry gave her a grateful smile and a small wave to Draco. He guessed from the context, motions, and the smallest amount of words he could understand that Hermione explained Harry was having an especially bad day with understanding and with headaches.

Tell him he can keep tabs on me if you’re so concerned, Harry wrote and rolled his eyes, which Hermione, albeit somewhat reluctantly, relayed to Draco.

Draco stepped up a bit closer. Harry and Hermione were on a concrete bench with the parchment between them as they wrote back and forth, and, kidnapping one of Hermione’s many quills, Draco leaned down and added his own note.

I don’t remember signing up to be your caretaker, Potter, He wrote, a sarcastic look all that was needed to take the edge off his written statement.

Someone has to watch over me, mother doesn’t want me unsupervised, Harry replied, and the laugh that Draco gave needed no translation to be understood. Neither did Hermione’s disgruntled, but mildly amused expression.

Fine, fine, make me to be the ruiner-of-fun , Hermione wrote on their slowly filling parchment. But don’t overwhelm yourself for the sake of needing to be part of something. There will be plenty more Halloween feasts to go to. So don’t let him be stupid about this, Draco.

That’s going to be difficult.

Harry gave an offended gasp, and Hermione did her best to stifle her laugh, but none of them could properly keep a straight face as they gathered their things together and head to the great hall.

The high spirits didn’t last, unfortunately. Despite Harry’s determination to see the feast through, there was so much going on around him that within the first fifteen minutes the ringing in his ears was back and he couldn’t understand more than the stray word.

Minus the ringing, this is exactly what you lot sound like, came Avice’s voice, cutting through the noise. Harry’s lips pressed into a thin line, but he briefly noted how strange it was to hear her voice twice in the same week.

The bird calls in the morning, those still make sense to you? He asked, a hand clutching the bench beneath him while he attempted to focus on either Avice or the dancing skeletons; anything over the pain in his head.

They make sense to you too, don’t they? She replied, her voice dull.

Unfortunately. It had been a stupid question. It seemed, at least, that what he could hear or see or smell, she experienced in the same way and vice versa. The sound of morning birds wasn’t the same to him anymore, and sadly the inability to understand humans hadn’t interfered with his ability to understand feathered creatures.. He was used to sleeping in the dungeons where he wouldn’t have his rest interrupted early in the morning by arguments shouted from one tree to another over territory, among other things. The infirmary carried with it quite a few songbirds that didn’t sound so nice when they could be understood.

Draco had long since caught on to Harry’s mounting discomfort, and kept sending him glances, waiting for the moment he would finally get to drag Harry out of there. While Harry wouldn’t admit it, he was waiting for the exact same moment, and as the skeletons finished their dance and the crowd cheered, Draco put a firm hand on his shoulder and nodded towards the door.

Harry gave no protest and allowed himself to be led out before more festivities began. He’d nearly made it to the end and was sorely disappointed, but still welcomed the way the sounds became muffled with the door shut and pressed himself against the stone wall while the tension drained from his shoulders.

He must’ve looked a wreck. He could feel the sweat dripping down his face and his breathing was ragged and pained. Every harsh heartbeat send a pulse of agony up his neck and reverberating through his head, and as the door opened again, letting out the sound of yelling and cheering, he groaned and pressed his hot forehead to the cold stone wall.

He recognized Hermione’s voice as she spoke to Draco, so he gave no attempt to turn around. He just wanted to escape into the cold stone and away from the searing pain.

They spoke, voices quieted and as unintelligible to him as a foreign language.

Stupid Snape, stupid potion, stupid uncle, stupid brain… Harry thought to himself. Could Avice have rolled her eyes externally, it was likely she would’ve.

Rip… tear… kill...

That wasn’t Avice.

Harry went rigid. In a world where he currently could only understand his own internal dialogue and that of the other creature which inhabited his body, hearing words that he understood made the quiet voice sound like a blaring horn.

“... soo hungry… for so long…

He pushed away from the wall, straining his ears to hear it, the voice. He caught the attention of his two friends that had been bickering about something (whether or not to make Harry go back to the infirmary, though Harry wouldn’t know about that), and they both asked him something. He waved his hand frantically at them, as though imploring them to be silent, and followed the sound.

It was moving, going upwards, and Harry hastily followed it.

Kill… time to killl…”

Do you know what that is? Harry asked Avice as he walked quickly down the corridor, taking the corner too sharply and stumbling into the wall as his headache increased, but he could hear whispers continuing further through the castle. Do you have some other language you know that you’re not telling me?

It’s not something I’ve ever been able to understand, she responded, and for once she seemed as worried and serious as he felt. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not my language, and it’s certainly not human…

Human isn’t a language, maybe it was the torture in his head or irritation or fear, but Harry found that the clarification was important as he marched up the stairs, fighting against the blinding pain. It’s English you understand. I don’t know every human language.

You have more than one language? Well that inefficient. He couldn’t help but feel she was humoring him a bit, allowing him to go off on something meaningless for the sake of his need to distract himself from all but the task of walking up the stairs.

Yes it is, he allowed as he got to the top, and paused, listening closely. He could hear footsteps from below as his friends followed him up, calling words to him that meant nothing while he held his breath and listened. From the floor directly above him, he heard it again.

“I smell blood… I SMELL BLOOD!”

He sprinted to the staircase, stumbling at first and then grabbing the rail with a shaking hand and very nearly dragging himself up it. His nerves were going haywire for more than the agony that made his stomach lurch, and Avice was with him for once.

Keeping a hand on the wall to steady himself, he made it to the center of the hallway, and then leaned back, propping himself up against the stone, standing in a puddle of water while he looked at the words he’d come all the way there to find.

THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED.

ENEMIES OF THE HEIR, BEWARE.

And hanging underneath that, attached to a torch by her tail and stiff as a board, was the caretaker’s cat, Mrs. Norris.

Am I right in saying this is a strange occurrence for humans? Avice asked, breaking through the silence of the hall that seemed abandoned by everyone, including the voice that had occupied it only moments before.

Yes, he allowed as his friends came to a stunned halt, and Harry quietly inched over to Draco and allowed himself to be supported, not able to muster the sense to pull away and act like he could stand on his own as the hall began filling with students on their way from the feast. Yes it is indeed strange.

Chapter Text

Harry, Draco, and Hermione were very quickly ushered away into Lockhart’s office, something Harry managed to gather from the many posters of and books by the man. The professor in question, as well as McGonagall, Snape, Dumbledore, and an emotional Filch that was mourning his beloved cat led the trio in.

Harry did very little during this time, accepting support from Draco while Hermione walked along with them, both glancing curiously at Harry periodically but kept quiet as he curled in on himself when they were sat at one of the plush couches Lockhart had scattered across his office, bringing his knees up to shield himself from the light.

The adults were discussing the stiff body of Mrs. Norris, Lockhart chiming in every few moments with unhelpful suggestions on how she may have died while the Headmaster quietly waved his wand over her body and Filch wailed in the corner.

When Dumbledore explained that the cat was not, in fact, dead but instead petrified, a silence fell over Lockhart and Filch for two very different reasons, before Lockhart immediately retraced his steps and nodded sagely, stating that he suspected as such.

This was followed by a much louder discussion as Filch threw accusations at the three students sitting quietly away from their discussion, Draco and Hermione flanking Harry on either side as he gave a sharp inhale and leaned further into his knees with the increase in volume.

Seeing his discomfort, Hermione reached an hand up like she were about to rub Harry’s back, but Draco was quick, wrapping an arm around Harry to block her path.

Hermione didn’t have time to verbally question Draco’s actions as they were both being bombarded by questions. Rather, the three of them were, but Harry was in no state to respond even if he could understand anything they said.

“Harry wasn’t feeling well at the feast,” Hermione said to the demands for explanation. “Draco and I were arguing on whether we should take him to the infirmary when he… eh…” She seemed to realize how strange or suspicious it may sound considering what had happened, and she began chewing on her lip. “Well, he wandered upstairs…”

“Do you know why Mr. Potter may have gone to that hallway?” The headmaster asked patiently while Filch demanded punishment, nervously stroking Mrs. Norris’s fur all the while.

“No,” Hermione said softly. Draco, meanwhile, kept tight-lipped, receiving curious glances from his godfather while he looked straight ahead. “But he had only gotten there just before us. He wouldn’t have had time to do anything anyway!”

“She’s lying!” Filch declared. “I know they did it!”

“If I may,” Snape interjected, giving his godson another curious look, and then looking at Harry’s crumpled form with disdain, “this interrogation may need to be delayed, as I’m assuming Potter has no idea what’s being said in his current state.”

The staff looked at the boy, as though seeing him for the first time, and the Headmaster nodded in understanding.

“It may,” he said with a sigh. “I will speak to Mr. Potter when he’s feeling better, however I currently don’t see any reason for punishment.” This statement was met with outrage from Filch. “For now, I trust you two will be able to escort him to the infirmary?”

The second years nodded, and Draco nudged Harry gently, helping him to his feet and out the door.

No one spoke on the way there. No one had much to say, and Harry most certainly was appreciative of the silence. He leaned mostly against Draco, who never voiced any objections, while his free hand pressed against his eyes, blocking out the dull light of the torches through the halls. His head felt like it was splitting open and he just wanted to rest. He didn’t care to think through what he’d seen or what that meant to be found there. He was in too much pain.

Madam Pomfrey didn’t seem in any way surprised when they brought him back in such a state, and already had a cup of tea ready for him, which he took without protest, hoping that one of the various things mixed in would take away the pain.

He let out an audible sigh as a cool numbness spread through his body, and the light hurt several degrees less. He wanted to thank the matron, but all that he managed was a choked and broken series of noises and he hung his head in defeat while he was led to the bed he was becoming too familiar with and sat down.

She left him there for a moment, and he heard the nurse say something to Hermione and Draco, supposing they were being told to go to bed or something of the sort, but he didn’t hear anything else as he fell into the sheets and promptly gave into the potion that was begging him to rest, shoes still on his feet.

 

At one point, the nurse must’ve removed his shoes and changed his clothes into the typical hospital pyjamas, as when he woke up the outfit he was wearing the night before was folded neatly in the chair next to him and he was tucked in more comfortably.

After another day of being left alone for the most part, aside from the occasional visit from Madam Pomfrey, he was worlds better, and on the following day, he could completely understand the headmaster when he spoke to him about what had happened.

That didn’t mean he was going to answer any of their questions. He gave vague responses to anyone who asked why he had gone to that hallway, refusing to go further into detail than “I heard something”. After he had been asked for the fourth time, he wrote it down on a piece of parchment and would point to it anytime it was brought up.

The first time he went in depth about what he really heard was to Bill when the twins barged into the infirmary to inform him that their older brother had sent them to figure out why Harry hadn’t been writing him.

He thought, at first, that he might just write a quick, vague explanation, but the weight of what had happened sat on his mind, and once he started writing more and more, he couldn’t stop.

So he allowed that of everyone he knew, Bill was most likely to understand when he described what happened and how it worried him. He knew the voice couldn’t have been a person, and Avice had already told him it wasn’t any kind of bird. He also knew that Hermione and Draco couldn’t hear it by how they asked him repeatedly what had led him to that exact hallway.

That meant that there was something else strange about him. Whether he was insane or had some other odd ability he didn’t know about, he wasn’t completely sure, and he found himself reiterating this conflict within himself to Bill several times through the much-too-long letter he spent the afternoon writing.

The next day, with his stutter finally showing signs of improvement and his word comprehension only having a hiccup every hour or so, Bill sent back a letter filled with support and reassurance.

Hey neighbor,

I’m glad to hear from you, even if it sounds like things aren’t great. I’m really impressed by your resolve, though. I don’t know if I could take a potion like that. I know things didn’t turn out great, but you should be proud you’ve made it through this. I don’t know where I’d be if I were in your place.

I’m not sure what you heard in that hall, but I believe you’re not crazy. You don’t seem crazy enough to start hearing voices, and it sounds like you heard something connected to that message about the Chamber of Secrets. I wish I could give you some reassurance about what it might’ve been, but I’ve got no clue.

I’m not working very much yet, so I’ve got some free time. I’ll research a bit and see what I can find. It’ll give me something to do outside of de-gnoming the garden and avoiding my mum and dad. It’s weird being the only kid in the house. I was two when Charlie was born, so I don’t remember this house being so quiet.

I’m sorry I can’t be of more help, but let me know if you need anything or find anything. Keep your eyes open about what may be going on and keep me updated.

Your favorite neighbor and brother,

Bill

Not for the first time he felt grateful for reconciling the relationship he had with Bill. He didn’t receive this kind of comfort anywhere else. Despite what Draco knew, he kept him at arm's length with everything else, and while he appreciated all the nurse had done for him, he couldn’t help but think she always pitied him. She was good at hiding it, and never spoke to him in a condescending way, but any time he flinched or hesitated when she gave him a potion, he could see the sad look in her eyes.

Bill, for the worst reasons, didn’t do any of that. He understood what it was like, and he made Harry feel halfway normal because of it. Still, he couldn’t help but wonder at the small glimpses of Bill’s life and how he coped. Bill took his role as older brother very seriously, even to Harry, and refused to let weakness show for favor of supporting his younger “siblings”, so to speak. He didn’t like letting other people worry about him.

Still, Harry appreciated the comfort and clung to the letter as he was sent back to his dorm, the matron unable to excuse his absence any longer when he could sometimes get out a complete word that was mildly coherent, and he appreciated the supportive half-smile from Draco as he left dinner and made his way to meet Professor Snape for the first time since the last disaster.

Lost in thought as he focused on working up the courage not to run away, he didn’t realize until it was too late that he was walking towards Lockhart.

“Harry Potter!” He said excitedly, waving at him as Harry came to a halt. He thought briefly of walking in the other direction, but they were in the exact hall he needed to be, only a few doors down from the classroom that Professor Snape had them meet at. “Was just stopping by to speak with Severus about potion brewing techniques. Heard he did a number on you with the last one he made.”

He shook his head as though the man had made a foolish mistake and needed guidance. Harry almost wanted to laugh at the thought of Snape’s face as he was told by Lockhart how to do his job, but then he remembered that he was going to be working with the professor and having him already in a bad mood was likely not going to do any favors for him.

“Y-y-ye-y-yeah,” Harry muttered quietly as he tried to inch around the professor and towards the classroom, but that seemed to spur him into wrapping an arm tightly around his shoulders, only working to increase Harry’s nervousness.

“That’s another thing I wanted to talk to you about!” He said, giving his shoulder a squeeze and leaning down slightly, as though he were trying to appear more personable to the young wizard. “This… stuttering thing. It’s not a good look.”

Harry looked at him, dumbfounded, trying to wrap his mind around what this man was telling him. “H-h-huh…?” He choked out quietly.

“I get it, it gives off this kind of sympathetic, tragic vibe.” He waved a hand in the air as though the entire thing were frivolous. “But the thing about stammers is they get really annoying. How are you supposed to give interviews when the interviewer’s tired of listening to you?”

Harry’s jaw was slightly slack as he looked at this blonde-headed, grinning man with nothing less than complete shock.

“I know, I know, but you needed to hear this from someone who’s been at this for years,” he patted Harry’s shoulder too hard and released him. “You should rethink your approach.” With a wink, he turned and walked confidently down the hall with no understanding or care for the battle of frustration he’d left Harry with.

Harry managed to, rather slowly, open the door to the classroom and slip his way in with his face purged of all expression.

“You’re late.” Came the short, clipped voice from the potions master. For a moment, Harry’s anger bled through, his upper lip twitching on its way to a snarl, but then he was back to a very tensely restrained countenance, his eyes blazing with fury but the muscles in his face forcibly kept neutral.

“S-s-so-sorry s-si-sir,” he said, voice also short, hardly above a whisper as he struggled to keep his anger from finding some kind of outlet he couldn’t keep it restrained by, which immediately became difficult when the professor raised a questioning eyebrow, waiting for a proper explanation for his lateness. “I w-wa-wa-w-was sto-s-st-stop-ped by L-L-Lo-L-Lock-L-”

Professor Lockhart,” Snape interjected, though the title of ‘professor’ was stated with at least a mild amount of sarcasm. Once again, Harry’s attempt at a calm facade cracked and he stared at Snape with venom, though perhaps not quite aimed at him.

“Y-y-ye-y-yeah,” he said, voice even quieter. A moment of silence followed, and Harry attempted to put all his frustration back behind a stoic face, but, like water within a cracking bowl, it was leaking worse with every moment and he couldn’t help himself. “Ac-acc-cording t-to him, m-m-my st-stut-stutter is an-ann-noying.”

Severus, as he listened rather impatiently to this, had to cut himself off from agreeing with the pompous disgrace of a teacher. The thought of insulting the brat was, for a moment, more powerful than any kind of moral understanding of the insult itself and he only just managed to stop the verbal support for the statement. The fact that he would think to agree with such a thing was something that momentarily disturbed him. He certainly had many things he could pick out about the boy in front of him; laziness, hard-headedness, selfishness, arrogance, but his speech impediment wasn’t one he could control and was, even to the professor, much too low a target. Before he finished pondering this, the boy was continuing, an almost hysterical laugh escaping, a laugh of one so angry they could barely process it all.

“As i-i-if I w-wa-wan-w-want t-t-to ta-talk l-li-like th-th-thi-this,” he said, pacing back and forth across the classroom, rubbing his face in anger as he did, an incredulous smile on his face that clashed with the blazing fury in his emerald eyes and the way his hands shook while they pulled from his face to grasping at his sides like he might be unconsciously grabbing at something or someone. “I kn-kno-know it-it’s frust-fr-f-frustra-trating t-t-to l-li-lis-l-listen t-to m-m-m-me. I-I-I ca-c-ca-can har-hardl-... ba-b-bare-ba-b-”

He stopped, not looking at the professor, and balled his hand into a fist, hitting his thigh several times in a steady rhythm, not quite hard enough to leave a bruise. Turned to the wall, he went through a collapse of emotions, playing across his face one after the other, twisting his features to a disgustingly raw expression, a folding and crumbling show of pain.

Then his left hand very tightly grasped his right, digging his nails into the back and leaving tiny white indents on the bare skin there. He kept his breathing forcibly slow, and a few seconds later, he turned back towards the professor, his face schooled back to one that held no emotion, only thinly covering the turbulence beneath.

“S-so-s-sorry,” he said, his voice quiet again.

Severus very nearly said he was forgiven on the basis of Lockhart being especially infuriating. He had already been sent letters from Flitwick, McGonagall, and Sprout about possible potions and techniques that may prove effective, as though he hadn’t already found all of them and found reasons all of them wouldn’t work. Those, of course, were from colleagues he at least respected. To then have Gilderoy Lockhart waste his time because this single mistake had lost him such a high amount of credibility that each of the staff must inform him how to do his job was just another blow to his pride and patience.

Then he remembered that Potter was partially the cause of the situation that led Lockhart to impart his “knowledge” in the first place, and he kept the statement that the boy could be furious at an infuriating person all he wanted to himself.

“If you’re quite finished,” he droned, and Harry nodded quickly, “it appears we need to have a discussion about this… situation.” He seemed more than a bit displeased by the fact that this was a discussion they may need to have at all. “It appears that your situation is… unique enough that the only solution would be a completely new potion.”

He didn’t miss the way Harry’s face paled several shades and his breathing hitched, becoming short and uneven, but he also didn’t acknowledge it.

“Considering I’m still required to do this,” his sneer worsened, “and I’m not going to further waste my time with ineffective methods, there needs to be a solution to your unexplainable fears.”

Through the fog of anxiety and leftover anger, Harry realized that Snape was doing his best to avoid actually asking the question of what Harry would need in order to assist with his fear of all things potions. His motivation was certainly more selfish than about actually helping Harry, in fact if the issue didn’t hinder him in any way he likely would’ve been inclined to do anything but help, but it was still a gesture Harry hadn’t expected when all he had planned to do was stumble his way through any further attempts with panic attacks and nightmares.

He slowly allowed himself to think over what might actually help him, but really he hadn’t thought about it before. Snape, thankfully, didn’t rush him to a conclusion with more than with a raised eyebrow and a slightly more impatient look.

“I d-do-don’t kn-kno-kn-know…” he said quietly, shifting from foot to foot. “I-I’m n-n-no-not s-sure, b-b-bu-but… if y-yo-y-you ca-c-can… t-te-tell m-m-me wha-wh-what y-you are d-d-do-doing an-a-and wh-wh-why, I-I-I m-mi-m-might b-b-be mo-more at e-ea-e-ease…”

Severus made certain he didn’t acknowledge the fact that Harry had minutely surprised him with his response. He had expected arguments and demands, statements that he didn’t want to try at all or that he would need to be hounded by the nurse through the entire process. Deciding that not only would he try again, but that he would choose knowledge as his comfort was at least the smallest bit admirable.

Sitting back, he thought over the possible actions he could take, keeping his expression neutral.

“When I create a new potion, I keep notes on my process,” he began. “If I make a copy of these notes, will that keep your unexplainable phobia at bay?”

“M-ma-mayb-be.” Harry couldn’t stop the bitter smile at the statement that his ‘phobia’ was unfounded. “I h-ho-hope s-s-so.”

And like that, the surprise Severus had felt was gone, replaced with irritation and a hint of curiosity at such an empty smile.

“Typically,” his voice was back to being sharp and Harry’s smile was gone in an instant, “a fear is best remedied by combatting its source.”

Harry’s face was forcibly neutral now, which the professor began to note was a learned response to keep turbulent emotions hidden. It irked him to think it was likely something the boy had learned from Draco and the other Slytherin’s in his house. He spent enough time with Blaise to pick it up at least, even if the Zabini boy was another that was far down the list of students Severus expected to befriend the boy-who-lived. The only possible solution he could come to was that it was on the demands of his mother.

“Th-th-the-there’s n-no s-so-source,” Harry said, voice short and measured, even as his hands flexed and unflexed to keep himself distracted.

The potions master minutely squinted his eyes at the boy in front of him. He hadn’t necessarily expected an answer, but something about the shortness of his response led him to believe it was hiding quite a lot. His mind went back to the question he’d raised to Lucius during the summer; had something happened before he came to Hogwarts that slipped past Dumbledore?

There was one way to find out, he supposed. He hadn’t brought up his concerns about the brat with the headmaster since the year before during the mirror fiasco, and he wasn’t prepared to show any amount of care towards the boy without good reason to. A memory might be enough, and a small pry at his mind when he was likely thinking of the source he was trying to hide wouldn’t take much.

He locked eyes with the second year, ignoring the thoughts of the person associated with those green eyes, and passed swiftly through the barrier into his mind.

All at once, Harry felt a feeling much too familiar. Like a buzzing in his head, then a pounding, and his mind went back to the last time he’d felt this sensation. To the facility and the first person that was kind to him there and that the last time he’d felt this, he’d lost that person.

In an instant, he broke eye contact with the professor, unconsciously pushing away this sensation, leaving Severus sitting back slightly, blinking away the sudden wash of disorientation.

He hadn’t gotten much of anything. A face, someone looking at him that Severus didn’t recognize, feeling sick and feverish, which likely contributed to the blurry memory. Then, like an iron door had been closed, he was shoved out.

The boy had, whether he knew it or not, occluded him. This left more questions than answers. Was that a doctor’s office of some kind? He’d been sick, so it may have been. Why would that be associated with the fear of potions and magic? Had it been a place like St. Mungos? Had he been subject to mistreatment at the hands of some healer? How had he occluded him? Typically, people who could occlude needed to be aware they were having their memories searched through, which posed the question of if he’d been subject to a legilimens before, and if so, who?

“S-s-so-sorry, s-s-sir,” Harry whispered, though rather uncertain of why he was apologizing. The buzzing, pounding sensation was subsiding, but something he’d done seemed to have disrupted the professor.

Severus blinked at him dumbly, before getting a better sense of himself and scowling at the apology. He wasn’t confident Potter knew what he’d attempted, but he wasn’t certain he could try again very quickly. He had no more answers than when he began, and wasn’t about to admit he had tried to pry into his brain. Even though his spell had been very weak, he felt both offended that he’d been occluded, and offended he was receiving an apology for it.

“I’ll begin my research this weekend,” he said, continuing on as though nothing more had happened. “I’ll give you what I have on Monday and weekly from there. You should consider yourself lucky; many others would pay to have copies of my notes. I expect you to actually read them.”

Harry nodded softly and, getting the sense that their session was over, began gathering his things to leave. After a moment, he paused, glancing back to his house head that had returned to his work as though Harry weren’t there at all.

“Am I-I-I al-a-allow-w-wed t-to a-ask que-qu-questio-tions?” He asked. The professor scowled down at his work, being the only immediate acknowledge to the question.

“If they are not a waste of my time, and not something that you should know,” he allowed, giving an unspoken message that if Harry was to ask a question already covered in their curriculum, he would face the dungeon bat’s wrath.

This made the next question all the more difficult to ask when Harry wasn’t certain if it was or not with how he’d found himself avoiding potions work.

“C-ca-can p-po-potions n-no-n-not mea-m-meant for an-anim-m-mals w-wo-work f-for anima-mals?” He struggled out. Now, he had the professor’s attention, as he looked up from his work, regarding the boy curiously who was avoiding his gaze, either for fear he might try legilimens again or that he might see to the heart of such an odd question. Or both, now that Severus thought of it.

“Potions not meant for animal consumption will typically have unexpected results when given to animals,” he said flatly, judging the boy’s response to his statement. He wasn’t necessarily disappointed, but he had several more questions to add to his growing pile when his breathing hitched and his hands flexed nervously. “There is a method of adding ingredients to a potion that makes it safe for animals,” he added, looking at him with a piercing gaze.

“C-c-cou-could y-yo-you try th-tha-that?” Harry asked shakily. “M-m-may-maybe it’ll he-h-help?”

Severus kept the knowledge that it likely wouldn’t to himself. This was the second time he was being told to do something like this, and while he wanted to know why , he was inclined to give it a try.

He didn’t verbally agree, of course, but with a dismissive wave of his hand and a non committal grumble, the boy seemed to believe that the answer was likely yes and was relieved by that knowledge.

He didn’t linger any longer, and was gone quickly and silently.

The professor didn’t get much farther in his work as his mind wandered, and with a sigh, he leaned back. Puzzling no longer began to describe the brat. Headache was more acceptable, and he glanced over to the drawer he’d thrown the ingredients given to him with no explanation. He wanted to demand an answer, but the reality was that if he wanted any at all, he should likely go along with what was being asked of him, even if it seemed absurd.

Pinching the bridge of his nose, he set back to work in a foul mood, only slightly less severe than when Lockhart was in his office a short while ago.

 

With Harry’s state improving each day, he was beginning to appreciate the times when his speech was as good (or bad) as it was before he tried that potion. They were few and far in between moments, but it was increasing in frequency with each day.

He did his best to avoid Lockhart from then on, turning on his heel and striding the other way any time he came towards him. The man didn’t mention his stammer again, but Harry didn’t want the reminder.

He knew what Lockhart said was absurd and rude. He couldn’t control the way he spoke. But still, he couldn’t help but feel an urge to be quiet any time the man’s name was mentioned. Of course it was exhausting to listen to him. No one else had said much of it, but it took a while to say what he wanted to say and there were plenty of times that excitement or anger got in his way and any message he’d hoped to convey was left on the wayside.

He didn’t bring this up with anyone. The only one who knew what Lockhart had said to him aside from himself was Snape, even if such a thing were odd. He didn’t have a reason to confide in anyone, but Draco and Hermione picked up on how quiet he got around Lockhart and pressed him lightly a handful of times. It resulted in no answers, but he was happy to know they worried about him.

Then there was the Chamber of Secrets. No one really brought it up with him, but he could hear the whispers. He could see the way people glanced at him in the halls. His Slytherin friends tried to tell him that they were all getting the same treatment; everyone knew the Chamber was related to the heir of Slytherin so of course the Slytherin house as a whole were getting colder shoulders than usual. That didn’t help any though.

Draco was surprisingly tight-lipped about the whole situation. Despite that he said he didn’t know who the heir was, and he didn’t seem to be lying about that either, he was at least slightly unsettled by something on his mind, and seemed to be getting more letters than usual with the same much-too-fancy Malfoy seal on the front.

Things became worse when Colin Creevey was the next victim. He had, as soon as Harry was out of the infirmary, begun to hound him at any moment he could. Harry didn’t mind so much, but some of his friends certainly did. Blaise took to wandering off pointedly the second Colin would come running up. Draco, if he didn’t leave as well, would spend his time snapping sarcastic or even outright rude remarks towards the first year. Daphne was the only one who kept herself more outwardly restrained with very cold smiles and half hearted laughs that trailed off into impatient hums. Tracey didn’t give him any attention at all, and would outright ignore anything he said to her.

Still, Harry was shaken when he heard the news. His friends had the good sense to say nothing about their opinions of it, but with their obvious dislike of the Gryffindor boy and the suspicion half of Hogwarts already had towards Harry, finding Colin to be the next one attacked only turned more eyes toward the boy-who-lived.

Ron didn’t help any. He very loudly would declare how Colin, the poor muggle-born boy, had found himself starstruck by Harry Potter and didn’t see the danger he was in. Everyone knew that Harry was annoyed by him. Sending the Slytherin monster on Colin was a way to get rid of the nuisance.

Despite the twins best efforts, their classmates believed Ron. Harry didn’t think he was especially liked to begin with, and being Slytherin did him little favors in any of this, but now he was receiving glares and sometimes hisses from down the halls. Students keeping their eyes glued on him as he walked to class as though he were about to attack someone at any moment.

For the most part, he stopped leaving the Slytherin common room. Hermione didn’t mind coming by, but it was clear his new status as “Heir of Slytherin” was making her own house life worse. She seemed exhausted and worn down each day she stopped by.

That, of course, wasn’t going to stop her from getting excited when he told her that he was going to be getting a copy of Professor Snape’s notes every Monday. She caught him squinting down nervously at the pages he’d been unceremoniously delivered with a grumble and a glare, trying to understand the professors train of thought. He sheepishly explained that the Potions master was going to be creating a completely new potion and that he’d been allowed the notes in order to feel more comfortable with the second attempt. Draco commented that it was an uncharacteristically kind move from his godfather, one he was likely going to be upset about for a while, and then Draco proceeded to write his father about the situation knowing his father would find enjoyment out of bringing up the professor’s good deeds.

Hermione on the other hand was elated, going on about how well-known Snape was in the potion brewing community and that when he stated others would pay to read copies of his notes, he wasn’t kidding.

It became part of their study sessions of the week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, taking the place of the extreme focus they’d put on nonverbal spells now that Harry began to understand and replicate spells more easily. Harry would be handed a new set of notes during breakfast Monday morning, and without fail Hermione would be next to him the second the meal was over, her nose stuck to the pages eagerly, drinking in the information.

The statement that he might be more comfortable if he knew what the potion entailed was one he’d chosen on a whim, but really it was turning out to be true. With the notes to explain what Snape was doing, alongside Hermione’s translations of what certain things meant, he was surprisingly feeling better about the entire thing. He still blanched at the thought of taking anything, but he felt slightly more settled with knowledge of what it was first.

With the notes often came a list of books the professor had been studying at the time. He frequently referenced back to them, and once they also came with a permission slip to reach into the restricted section of the library, along with a cold remark that he’d be surprised if Harry understood a single word in it, let alone got the book at all. Almost immediately Harry ran off to grab it just to go against the professor’s notion about him, ignoring the huddled group of Hufflepuffs whispering about him in the corner while he ran up to Madam Pince with the slip.

He was right that it was difficult reading, but with Hermione’s help, things started to make more sense. Not only did he find he understood more terms, he understood more in class as well. His failures became less about misunderstanding the instructions, and more about small mistakes like miscounting the number of stirs required, or not being able to maintain the right temperature while the potion simmered. He even once stopped Draco just in time from adding the crushed mixture of dried nettles and puffer-fish eyes to their potion before it had been mixed into a medium-fine powder.

That mistake had gotten Draco brooding gloomily for the rest of the day, though he did admit later that he had been wrong and he was going to have to take care not to let Harry get better marks for the day than him next time.

That was the first open admittance of their unspoken competition. It hadn’t started quickly, but rather as Harry learned more and more nonverbal spells, he found he did better in classes than he ever had before. Draco already competed with Hermione for best grades, but Harry was very slowly nudging into their territory.

He still couldn’t hold a candle to Hermione’s book knowledge, but his spellwork was becoming something impressive, even to the teachers. The requirements of casting nonverbally meant he’d already fully studied through the spells of the next week by the time classes began, and was typically the first to cast successfully.

When Draco realized that, he began showing a bit more interest in Harry and Hermione’s study sessions, and began stopping by on the weekends as well as Tuesdays and Thursdays to see what they were up to. Harry couldn’t help but laugh later when Hermione likened it to “scoping out the competition”, even if Draco would’ve haughtily denied such a thing.

He wasn’t unfriendly about it though. Just a bit too prideful. He didn’t like to accept any assistance Harry attempted to give, and more than once his face became red with frustration as an especially tricky spell left him with nothing as Harry already had completed it and gotten full marks from the day. Harry would then often be paired with his roommate to assist him, and would be left leaning against the desk, asking if he could help every few failed attempts or so (to which he would be given a very loud and frustrated “No!”)

Their group of friends couldn’t help but notice, and all took subtle joy in egging them on (egging Draco on really. Harry’s own shortcomings in comparison to his classmates were nothing new, and he would only put in a bit of extra effort in a weak spot if his friends insisted it would be funny to watch Draco get upset about it). They would pretend to keep tally of the so called “score”, stating Harry was pulling quite far ahead, and it became something of a sport to them to see how absurd the numbers could go while also keeping consistent. Harry was certain they had to be communicating somehow as if anyone asked Tracey, Daphne, Blaise, or sometimes even Hermione “what’s the score?” they would all have an answer that was identical.

Harry had been worried at first that the challenge was creating a rift of some kind between himself and Draco, and had even thought of letting his performance slip so he wouldn’t be upset at him, but Draco had immediately approached him after the first class he got lower marks than usual and told him to knock it off because “the competition will do both of us good”.

He didn’t quite understand why Draco would want something that seemed to upset him, but he made certain Harry knew he wanted it to continue, so they did.

That meant that both of them had already been told about the duelling club by their housemates, who were excited to have the two face off against one another, before they even saw the notice board. Harry really had no choice in the matter, everyone in their group of friends had begun to take bets on if Harry or Draco would win. Even Hermione asked him if he was ready for the duelling club rather than asking if he was going at all, which both irked him and amused him.

“Where do you think you’re sneaking off to?” Tracey called from across the common room as Harry tried to slip through and escape down deeper underground to his dorm room. Dinner had just ended and everyone had regrouped there, which, he had hoped, would make it easier to run away before the dueling club began, but he had evidently been wrong.

“We’ve been waiting to see you two duel, you’re not getting out of this so easily,” Daphne added, waving him over. Giving a sheepish, defeated smile, he wandered over much too slowly, as though he might delay the inevitable.

“I’m n-no-not an-any g-good,” he tried. “I kn-kno-know he’ll w-win.”

“Good for you, it’ll be over quicker,” Blaise joked, before flanking him on the side and motioning for him to go first out the door so they could follow and be certain that he wasn’t going to escape.

“It’s okay, I’ll go easy on you, Potter,” Draco said with a smirk as he followed out the door.

“I’m j-j-just sa-saying it w-wo-won’t be m-mu-much f-fun,” Harry shrugged, but he resigned himself to his fate as they all filed into the Great Hall that had been set with a large platform in place of the tables.

There was loud murmuring from the many students of all years gathered there, and Harry hovered towards the back with his friends.

“I wonder who’s running it anyway?” Tracey asked.

“I heard Professor Flitwick’s a great duelist,” Daphne added helpfully. “Maybe it’s-”

She cut off when Gilderoy Lockhart stepped onto the platform, a shining grin on his face while he gestured widely to the audience, Professor Snape trailing behind him. As he spoke, Harry’s stomach sank, regretting that he didn’t insist on staying in that night.

The man talked excitedly about himself, and then somewhat less excitedly about the fact that Severus Snape had agreed to assist him, and Harry got the sense that the Potions master behind him had only agreed for the chance to take Gilderoy Lockhart down in a duel. This became ever more evident when they faced one another and he bowed with only the slight jerk of his head, eyes murderous.

“As you can see, we are holding our wands in the accepted combative position,” Lockhart told the silent crowd. “On the count of three, we will cast our first spell. Neither of us will be aiming to kill, of course.”

That was somewhat doubtful.

“One- two- three-”

Immediately Snape cried: “ Expelliarmus!” throwing his wand forward, and a flash of scarlet light hit Lockhart in the chest. The blonde man flew backwards off the platform and hit the wall, sliding down it in a heap.

Several of the Slytherins around Harry cheered, and Harry couldn’t help but give a small laugh that he smothered quickly to avoid any glares, almost in time with Blaise. He caught eyes with his house mate, both with a hand over their mouth, and neither could quite stifle their chuckles for a few seconds more before Blaise pulled his hand down his chin and with two more twitches at the corner of his lips he was restrained again, even if his eyes betrayed his further amusement.

“Well there you have it!” Lockhart said, getting up unsteadily and tottering back to the platform. “A Disarming Charm- as you can see I’ve lost my wand- ah, thank you Miss Brown- yes, an excellent idea to show them that, Professor Snape, but if you don’t mind me saying so, it was very obvious what you were about to do. If I had wanted to stop you it would have only been too easy- however, I felt it would be instructive to let them see…”

The glare that he was once again receiving seemed to have doubled in aggression, and Lockhart coughed awkwardly before changing quickly to pairing everyone together for their individual duels.

Snape came by the group of Slytherin’s first, and when Draco and their friends pointed between him and Harry, he gave one irritated look to the dark-haired boy and waved a dismissive hand as though to say they could do what they wanted.

As Harry and Draco faced off, Harry saw from the corner of his eye that Tracey had been paired with, of all people, Blaise, while Daphne was looking coldly at a Ravenclaw boy, becoming frighteningly icy as she stood in a perfect dueling position. Across the room, Hermione was nervously smiling at another Slytherin, Millicent Bulstrode, a girl Harry hardly knew for more than being brutish and rude.

“Getting a bit distracted, aren’t we?” Draco asked with a smirk. “Looking for an exit perhaps?”

“Oh y-y-yes cer-c-certainly,” Harry said sarcastically.

“Face your partners!” Called Lockhart from his place on the platform. “And bow!”

Draco gave a very dramatic bow, smirking the whole while. Harry, rolling his eyes, gave a short, simple one in return.

“Wands at the ready!” Shouted Lockhart. “When I count to three, cast your charms to Disarm your opponents- only to disarm them- we don’t want any accidents- one… two… three-”

Harry was in position immediately, waving his wand over his head and then thrusting it forward like a fencing sword, casting a silent Rictusempra.

A jet of silver light hit Draco in the stomach and he doubled over, wheezing.

Harry lowered his wand as Draco sank to his knees; Harry had hit him with a Tickling Charm and he could hardly move for the laughter. He figured it wouldn’t quite be sporting if he continued to cast while his opponent was struggling to catch his breath, when, gasping, Draco pointed his wand to Harry’s knees, grimaced, and, by hesitating, gave way to another wave of hysteria.

“Stop! Stop!” Screamed Lockhart, but Snape took charge.

Finite Incantatem! ” He shouted, and Draco stopped laughing. Harry looked around, momentarily frightened he had been the one to cause the duelling club to halt, but he saw instead the aftermath of whatever disaster Ron’s broken wand had caused, and Hermione in a headlock by Millicent Bulstrode, both their wands lying forgotten on the ground. Harry quickly rushed forward and pushed Millicent off, quite a difficult feat considering she was bigger than him.

As he pulled Hermione into the crowd and away from the brutish girl, Lockhart decided, evidently on his own, that it may be best to demonstrate blocking charms instead.

“Yes, let’s have a volunteer pair, ah-” He looked through the crowd and caught sight of the first moving thing he could see, which so happened to be Harry who was still on his way to getting Hermione on the other side of the room. “Harry Potter! Yes, you and your partner can demonstrate.”

Harry tried not to audibly groan as Hermione patted his shoulder reassuringly and Harry slowly made his way up to the platform, Draco meeting him there.

“Now Harry,” Lockhart said when the two were in position, “when Draco points his wand at you, you do this.”

He then gave a series of complicated wand movements, followed by dropping his wand altogether, which earned a smirk from Snape.

Draco raised his eyebrows at Harry, smirking mischievously at him.

“Ready?” Draco asked.

“Al-always,” Harry shot back.

“Three- two- one- go!” Lockhart shouted.

Draco was quicker than Harry this time, waving his wand and yelling, “Serpensortia!

The end of his wand exploded, and Harry watched as a large black snake shot out of the end of it. From behind Draco, Harry saw a minutely impressed and also weary expression flicker across Snape, as though he thought he should’ve expected that spell.

“Don’t move, Potter,” Snape said lazily, stepping forward. “I’ll get rid of it.”

“Allow me!” Lockhart interjected, and with a flourish of his wand and a loud bang, the snake flew ten feet into the air and fell on the floor with a smack. Enraged now, it slithered furiously towards the first person it saw, Justin Finch-Fletchly, and raised itself, fangs poised to strike.

In a panic, Harry rushed forward. He didn’t quite remember deciding to do it, but he did the only thing he could thing to do and yelled stupidly at the snake; “Don’t! Leave him alone!”

Harry would’ve been surprised by how the snake backed off suddenly, turning at him curiously, but what had stunned him was that his voice had come out seamlessly. There was no stammer to be had when he spoke, and he thought that it may have been the reason everyone was staring at him. When he turned back to Justin, the boy was glaring furiously at him.

“What do you think you’re playing at?” He snapped angrily, and before Harry could say another word he stormed out of the hall.

Snape stepped forward and quickly vanished the snake, looking at Harry with a shrewd and calculating gaze. Before he could ask any more questions, Draco had him by the arm and was very quickly pulling him out of the Great Hall.

They didn’t speak all the way through the castle until they reached the Slytherin common room and he was shoved quickly into a chair, the room all but deserted with most of their housemates either at the club or getting ready for bed.

“You’re a parselmouth,” he stated dumbly, looking him over incredulously. “A parselmouth.

“H-h-huh?” Harry choked out. It appeared his stutter was back, though if it were from the confusion of it all he couldn’t be sure.

“You can talk to snakes,” he paused, and then squinted at Harry’s expression. “And you also didn’t know it.”

“I-” He began, then paused and looked down, deep in thought.

Avice can you do that? He thought at her.

I already said I don’t have any other languages, as you would say, ‘up my sleeves’ , She snapped back. If either of us has another animal they can speak to it’s you.

Are you sure? His mind was whirring. Are you sure it’s not you?

She didn’t give him another response, and Harry was only jerked back to reality by Draco snapping his fingers in his face.

“Harry!” He snapped. “Are you there?”

“Y-ye-yeah,” he said quietly. “I c-ca-can talk to sn-sna-snakes…” He looked like he was somewhere between crying or laughing or both when the door slammed open.

“Parselmouth!” Tracey exclaimed loudly, as though the whole school needed to hear. “A parselmouth! Are you kidding me?”

“You have some awful luck,” Blaise said with the shake of his head as he plopped himself down in the chair across from Harry.

“I hate to say it, but he’s right,” Draco sighed, crossing his arms. “It’s rare. Salazar Slytherin was a parselmouth and if some people didn’t think you were the heir before, it’s almost certain the whole school will think so by tomorrow.”

N-n-nooo ,” Harry groaned into his hands, shaking his head. Tracey sagely patted his head with a soft ‘there, there’ as he wallowed in how this situation got worse with each day.

“So aside from Harry possibly being the one opening the Chamber of Secrets, do we want to talk about how Tracey completely destroyed Blaise in that duel?” Daphne chimed in, receiving a groan from Harry, and a groan from Blaise.

“I’m n-n-not!” Harry muttered defensively, refusing to raise his head.

“I was not destroyed ,” Blaise added, equally as defensive. “I didn’t expect her to be so quick .”

“Engorgio is very useful,” Tracey said proudly. “Especially when applied to the wand hand of the opponent.”

“I see that now.”

Harry meanwhile wouldn’t have his spirits raised even by the image he’d missed of Blaise with an enlarged hand, attempting to grasp at his wand. Draco nudged him and motioned towards the boys dorm, and the two took off with a quick farewell and a few lighthearted supportive calls from their friends to Harry.

When in their dorm, Harry collapsed on the bed face-down, while Draco crossed his arms and shook his head.

“P-p-parselm-mouth…” Harry groaned into the sheets. “Wh-why me?”

“Because you’re the boy-who-lived and bad luck is your number one fan,” Draco joked, and Harry rolled over onto his back to throw his pillow at the other boy, who quickly ducked out of the way. “I don’t know why these kind of things happen to you! Why are you asking me?”

“B-be-because you’re avail-available,” he muttered, slapping his hands on the bed with a not-satisfying-enough sound.

“Fair enough.” Draco sat on the edge of his bed, leaning back and swinging his feet. “There’s not much you can do at this point but brace for impact.”

“M-may-maybe they’ll und-u-understan-stand if I t-tell them I c-ca-called the sn-snake off?” He asked.

“No one knows what you said,” Draco pointed out, failing in comforting his friend. “You might convince a few people, but for all anyone knows, you could’ve been urging the snake on.” Harry groaned again and took his remaining pillow to slam over his face.

After a long silence between the two, Harry spoke up through the pillow.

“At le-least I b-b-beat y-you.”

Draco scoffed loudly, and threw Harry’s pillow back at him.

“I’ll have you know I was inches away from using the Dancing Jinx on you,” he said haughtily.

“Oh r-re-really?” Harry peeked from over his pillow, eyes glinting mischievously. “Wh-why didn’t y-yo-you th-then?” Draco huffed grumpily, arms crossed over his chest.

“For your information, I was going to but then I realized you might accidentally kick off your shoes or something, Mr. Bird-Feet.”

It was just the right amount of offended and embarrassed that Harry realized it was true. Harry’s mischievous glint subsided, and was replaced with something like gratefulness, which the blonde boy glared away from. A quiet moment passed between them, sending their messages back and forth without need for words.

“Mr. B-B-Bird-F-Feet?” Harry asked with a snicker after the silence became too much.

“It was the best I could come up with,” Draco snapped, but there was no edge to his voice as he stood to gather his toiletries to shower and wash up before bed.

“W-w-well it’s tr-true, b-but I th-thought you could d-d-do be-better,” Harry said, kicking off his shoes and socks before stretching out his feet which did indeed resemble a bird’s.

“Shut up, Potter ,” he falsely threatened, wielding his toothbrush as though it may be a weapon if used right. Harry held up two hands innocently, and Draco pursed his lips, backing up into the bathroom with his eyes squinting at Harry before he closed the door.

Harry laughed softly as he lay back on his bed, but his smile quickly dropped. He was a parselmouth. Where had that come from, and what did that mean for him? Could he somehow actually be the heir of Slytherin, and was he unknowingly hurting his classmates?

When Draco came out again, he pretended to be asleep, and within a few short minutes, Draco was resting in his bed, leaving Harry to ponder through everything alone for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

A few days after the incident at the duelling club, Justin Finch-Fletchley was found petrified in a stairwell. Several of the other Slytherins were now taking to shooting Harry pitying glances as they came in and out of the common room, and it wasn’t in small part because now Harry could hardly stand to leave with how hostile everyone was outside that room.

He had been confronted more than once by angry students from all years, and now had a pack of about five classmates that would follow him from between classes, as though making certain he wasn’t up to anything.

He had gotten beyond angry or upset by the situation and was now more tired. He didn’t react by much when he was shouted at in the halls, he didn’t acknowledge the handful of students that kept tabs on him at all times. He just went to his classes and went back to the common room.

What he was grateful for at least was that only a few of the Slytherin’s believed the rest of the school about him. That may have been because few of them believed he was capable of anything like what was happening, but at least he had housemates around roll their eyes when someone shouted warnings down the hall as he came by.

Hermione was the one Harry was most worried for. The twins were the only ones that seemed to verbally support Harry and, by extension, Hermione as far as the Gryffindor house went. Everyone who wasn’t indifferent to the entire situation either pitied Hermione as one who was ignorant, or viewed her as some kind of accomplice to what they believed Harry was doing. She never discussed what happened when she was around her housemates rather than the Slytherin friends she’d made, but it was clear from how she was shunned in class that things weren’t going well.

He tried to bring it up a handful of times and was received with tense dismissal. She refused any suggestion that she spend less time with him. She refused suggestion that she go to a teacher about it. She refused everything he tried, so he had put himself into an uneasy acceptance of their situation while waiting for an opportunity to change it.

Because of that, he wasn’t necessarily surprised when one day she didn’t show up at their regular study time. He was worried, of course, but it hadn’t taken him off guard.

He sat on one of the black couches, tapping his foot nervously as he watched the door. Anytime someone would walk in, he sat up slightly before slumping back when they weren’t wearing red. Ten minutes passed, then twenty, and by half an hour he was on his feet. He needed to be certain nothing had happened because of him.

So he left the safety of the common room and ascended upwards from the dungeons. As the frequency of Slytherins waned, he found himself the subject of glares and hisses. People turned around entirely to walk the other direction or bumped into his shoulder purposely. He tried his best to ignore them, scanning the crowds for Hermione or just a friendly face.

There were very few, and Harry was beginning to lose hope when he caught sight of two redheads making their way down the hall.

“H-h-hey!” He called, pushing forward. “Ge-George! Fre-Fred!”

The two stopped and turned in sync, waiting for him to catch up.

“You got it backwards you know,” Fred said, an ever-present smile on both of their faces. “Fred comes first.”

“Ouch,” George feigned being shot in the heart and Harry couldn’t help the slight smile before it dropped as he focused on what he meant to ask them.

“Ha-have y-y-you seen Herm-H-Hermione?” He asked. Both of their smiles dimmed and they glanced at one another.

“Kinda,” George said, scratching his neck awkwardly.

“You, uh... “ Fred crossed his arms in thought. “She’s probably in the girls bathroom right now. With Moaning Myrtle?”

“Wh-who?”

“She’s a ghost.”

“Named Myrtle.”

“Who cries and moans a lot.”

“In the girls bathroom. Down that hall and to the left.”

Both pointed simultaneously in that direction and Harry gave them a quick “thanks”, to which they responded with a shorter “good luck”.

He heard the sound of what must’ve been Moaning Myrtle before he even got to the door. The sound alone was easily enough to keep the hallway deserted, but as he got closer, he heard another voice, crying much softer, trying to mask it’s sadness while Myrtle’s wails were loud and asking for attention. Drowning all thoughts that this was a girl’s bathroom and he wasn’t supposed to go in there, he pushed the door opened and slipped inside, quietly inching towards the only occupied stall.

Hesitating for a moment, hoping he wasn’t wrong in thinking it was Hermione in there, he softly knocked on the door. The crying quieted, and for a moment Harry thought whoever it was behind the door was going to pretend not to be there, but then she spoke up.

“Who is it?” The voice definitely belonged to Hermione, but it was quiet and strained. Harry gave a small sigh.

“H-Harry,” he said. She didn’t respond again immediately, aside from a few sniffs.

“Sorry I didn’t meet up with you on time…” She muttered through the stall door.

“That’s f-f-fine,” Harry said instantly, shaking his head at the fact that she was apologizing for not meeting up with him when she was in such a state. “Are y-y-you ok-o-okay?”

She gave a soft laugh. “I should be,” she said weakly. “I really should be.”

“N-not re-really,” Harry leaned back against the sink opposite her stall. “I d-d-don’t know wh-wh-what it’s like f-f-for y-you in Gr-Gryffind-dor, b-but if it’s an-anyth-thing l-l-like how I’m tr-t-treated y-you’re ju-justified in be-b-being upset.”

“It’s all ridiculous though. You take it like it’s nothing to you…”

“The Sl-S-Slytherins are n-n-nicer to m-m-me,” he sighed. “I’m n-n-not su-s-surrounded b-by n-n-negat-tivity. Y-y-you are.”

Hermione fell silent as she tried to think of a way to deny it, but it was true. Harry may get the worst of the ridicule, but that ended, for the most part, when he was in the Slytherin common room. He had housemates that were friends with him and supported him when he was there. Hermione only seemed to have the twins to defend her when she couldn’t be around her Slytherin friends, and being older they had none of the same classes or free periods as Hermione.

“I just thought I’d be used to it by now,” she muttered. “I’ve never been very well liked. This is just a harsher version of how it’s always been. If anyone should be effected it’s you.”

“M-m-me?” Harry gave a small laugh. “I’ve b-ba-barely ever had fr-fri-friends bef-before.”

“Really?” Hermione sounded like she couldn’t imagine it. “But you’re Harry Potter.”

“I d-d-didn’t kn-know that until I w-w-was ei-eight.” There was a pause, and Hermione couldn’t stifle a small laugh.

“You didn’t know you were Harry Potter until you were eight?” She asked, and Harry gave a small laugh in return as he realized what he’d said, as well as the fact that Hermione was spending too much time with the twins.

“Y-y-you know wha-wh-what I m-mean, I d-didn’t know I w-w-was the Ha-Harry P-Potter. Th-th-that it m-meant some-s-something to p-people. ”

“Fair enough…” She said with another small laugh that faded quickly. Another silence fell between the two of them.

“Is th-th-there a re-reason y-yo-you’re s-still in th-th-there?” Harry finally asked. He worried for a moment that he hadn’t spoken loudly enough or that something had happened, but finally he heard the sound of the stall door unlocking, though not opening yet.

“You have to promise not to laugh,” she said softly.

“Of c-c-course n-not!” Harry said with conviction. She took a deep breath, then slowly opened the door.

Standing there nervously, Hermione shifted from foot to foot as Harry’s eyes were immediately drawn to her hair. Of course, it was naturally unruly, similarly to Harry’s own hair in that respect, but this was something else entirely. Her strands had all become like stone, knotted and clumped together, brittle in places, and becoming a mass that was three times larger than usual.

Harry felt bad for thinking at first that he’d seen worse. He supposed that the kinds of prank potion that had created this result wasn’t the same sort that burned scalps and made hair fall out in bloody clumps, but then this meant someone held such malice towards Hermione that they had seen fit to hurt her in this way, and that in itself was enough to make Harry’s blood boil.

“That’s a better response than everyone else,” Hermione said sheepishly when Harry studied her hair, a neutral look on his face. “I’m sure you’re thinking it’s a dumb thing to get upset over…”

“N-n-no!” Harry defended quickly. “I’m j-j-just… th-thinking.”

He stepped closer and she stayed silent, if awkwardly so, as he examined the sticky tendrils. Upon closer inspection, it didn’t seem to have really damaged her hair, but rather made a hardened mud-like coat over it. Still difficult to remove, but it meant her hair wasn’t a lost cause.

“I ha-h-have an id-idea.”

He stepped back and walked to the door, peeking out. It was empty, but he could hear the sound of voices not too far away. He wouldn’t be able to get Hermione there unnoticed.

Tapping his thumb against the green snake ring he’d worn for quite some time, he thought over what to do when he looked down at the forest green symbol on his hand. He’d forgotten about it entirely, having fit perfectly onto his finger for months without incident.

Slipping it off, he turned away from the door, trying to remember how it worked again since it’d been over a year. Hermione walked fully out of the stall to regard him curiously as he placed his hands parallel to one another horizontally and spoke into them.

“H-h-hey Dr-Draco, c-c-can you hear m-m-me?” He asked, and the snake glowed a dull green.

“What was that?” Hermione asked as she examined the ring curiously. Before Harry could speak back, the ring glowed brightly for a moment as it returned with a familiar voice.

“Of course I can,” Draco responded. “What’s wrong?” Hermione’s eyes grew wide with surprise and, of course, fascination as she grew even closer to look at it.

“I n-n-need y-you to gr-grab a pla-plastic b-b-bottle from the bat-bathroom f-f-for me,” Harry spoke back into the ring when the dimly glowing green returned after Draco’s message finished. “A cl-clear b-b-bottle wi-with a ‘W’ on it in bl-black.”

This pause was longer this time, about a minute or two passing before it returned with another message.

“Am I supposed to come find you with it now?” Draco asked.

“Pl-please,” Harry responded sheepishly.

“That’s amazing!” Hermione exclaimed. Harry held out the ring to her and she eagerly took it, turning it over in her hands. “When did you get this?”

“B-Beginning of o-o-our fi-first sem-s-semester,” Harry said sheepishly. “A-all the Sl-S-Slytherins got o-one.” She looked at him incredulously, mouth slightly opened.

We never got anything like this,” She said, something like jealousy her voice. As the light got brighter, she turned to it. “What’s it doing now?”

“It g-g-gets bri-brighter as the o-o-other one ge-gets c-c-closer,” Harry explained. “D-Draco has one th-tha-that’s c-c-c-connected to m-mine.”

“Amazing!”

The two watched it, both with varying degrees of fascination, as it got brighter. They both began noticing that it got brighter fastest when Draco was coming up a flight of stairs, and Harry realized he likely should’ve told him where they were.

He was about to, but it was already rather bright, glowing intensely in time with a pair of footsteps outside the bathroom door. Then the footsteps subsided, and the light dimmed once more.

This happened two more times before Harry finally opened the door and poked his head out to stop his third pass.

“You really are in there,” Draco said, exasperation lacing his voice. In his hand, he held a glowing pin in the shape of a snake, which he tapped to Harry’s ring, returning both to their forest green color, and pinned it once more to the inside of his robes. “What in Merlin’s name are you doing?!”

“D-d-did you br-bring it?” Harry asked, and Draco begrudgingly handed it over, which led Harry to immediately disappear into the bathroom again.

He wasn’t necessarily surprised when Draco followed him in, nor was he surprised when he stopped in stunned silence at the look of Hermione and the state her hair was in.

“What happened to you?” This was said with a fair bit of disdain and disgust, something that was returned with a glare.

“What do you think,” she snapped back evenly. He didn’t need to think long, and gave a rather neutral sniff as he arrived to the correct conclusion.

“You think this’ll work?” Draco asked Harry this time as Harry examined the mostly full bottle and walked over to one of the sinks, making sure they were functional.

“I h-h-hope so,” he said, turning back to Hermione. “I d-d-don’t know if it w-w-will… It’s a p-potion f-f-for birds, m-m-mostly owls. G-g-good for th-their f-f-feathers at l-least. M-m-makes them really s-sl-s-slick s-so I th-thought it m-m-might he-help… Y-you d-d-don’t have to d-do it. I’m n-not ma-m-making y-you if yo-you don’t w-w-want to tr-try.”

She thought it over for a moment, fingering one of the stiff tendrils that was falling into her face, looking at it with a deep frown on her face.

“Other than going to Madam Pomfrey, which requires going through the castle, this is the best attempt I suppose,” she admitted.

“I c-c-can get y-you to the n-n-nurse wi-without y-you being se-s-seen,” Harry said firmly. “O-only ag-a-agree if y-y-you w-want to try.” Hermione laughed softly, even in the face of Harry’s dead serious look.

“It’s like you’re trying to talk me out of it,” she said, shaking her head. “No, it makes sense and it may work.The nurse can be the backup plan. This potion doesn’t have any strange effects on humans right?”

“D-don’t think s-s-so.” Harry shrugged. He doubted it, as it was intended for a human to use on their owl so getting it on their skin and hair was likely, but Harry couldn’t be certain when he only had his own experience to reference, which was an unusual one indeed.

“Then lets try,” she nodded firmly.

Taking a deep breath, Harry nodded, and Hermione leaned over the sink while Harry poured the substance carefully over her hair and Draco stood watch by the door. It didn’t do much at first, just sat over the stiff locks like oil, before slowly the chunks broke apart and slipped off the strands. It took time as Harry and Hermione learning to both carefully rub the slick potion into the strands slowly until they took through the stiff gunk and it began falling off. A few times, Harry worried he wouldn’t have enough potion, and he very nearly didn’t when he emptied the bottle over the unfinished task, but with the rest that was already on the free strands, they managed to, in just under an hour, pull the last of it off.

They fell to the floor in curly casts that resembled Hermione’s hair, some cracking and breaking in two, left next to the empty water bottle, resembling crumbling concrete around Hermione and Harry’s feet. Draco cast a quick cleaning spell and within seconds, it was gone from the floor to who-knows-where.

As Harry washed his hands that were coated with more of that potion than he’d used before, Hermione rinsed her hair and rung it out carefully over the drain. It was as oily as Professor Snape’s hair now, holding a strange sheen to it and falling in messy tendrils, but it was nothing like what it had been before, and with a quick ribbon from her bag, she had pulled it back in a ponytail that made it look halfway acceptable.

“S-s-sorry…” Harry muttered, regret all over his face as he examined her wet and matted hair.

“Hush,” she snapped at him before he could continue apologizing for what he’d done, “this is worlds better. At least no one else will ever have to see that, not even the nurse. Thank you.”

Harry grimaced at the gratitude and said nothing more as he stretched his arms, rubbing circles into his muscles that were sore from holding their position for so long. From the way Hermione rubbed her neck, Harry supposed leaning over a sink was worse.

“Does Hedwig like that stuff?” Hermione asked curiously as she picked up the bottle and handed it to Harry. He blinked at her for a moment, then realized what she was asking him.

“O-oh!” He stuttered out, a slight blush on his cheeks as Draco snickered from behind Hermione. “Y-y-yeah…”

“I should buy you a replacement. She may be upset that I used all of hers…” As she spoke, she began gathering her things from the bathroom stall, missing how Harry shifted uncomfortably and Draco tried not to laugh any louder.

“N-n-no it’s f-fine, th-they’re cheap,” he insisted quickly, glaring at Draco to try and silence him. The truth was, he had at least six more bottles, and Draco had most certainly seen that before. There was, of course, also the fact that the potion wasn’t for Hedwig at all, but rather for himself…

“If it is, then let me get one for you” She retorted as she moved towards the exit, both Slytherin second years trailing behind her as she poked her head out to be sure no one would see two boys coming out of the girls bathroom. “Christmas break is coming up, consider it a present.”

“That’s right!” Draco said as the trio left the bathroom and the relentless wailing behind, walked down the hall. “I wanted to ask, do you have plans Christmas Eve?”

“N-n-not really,” Harry muttered. The truth was, he had promised Bill another visit on Christmas, but the day before and every other day on the break was supposed to be Avice’s. He could already feel her irritation bubbling close to his own emotions, and he tried to convey his apology to her in return for the impending invitation.

“Father’s hosting a dinner party,” he said, hands in his pockets casually. “I asked if you could come and he said yes, so the invitation is open.”

“Ah... I d-do-don’t ha-have anyth-thing n-n-nice to w-wear…”

“That’s fine, I can take you to get some dress robes. I need to get new ones anyway.”

That was day number two taken from Avice in one conversation, and she very nearly seemed to growl beneath the surface as he quietly promised he’d give her an extra couple nights during school before then to make up for it.

“If y-y-you’re gon-gonna give me n-no cho-choice…”

“Of course not!” Draco laughed, and Harry cracked a small smile.

“By the way, I found a book that may be what you’re looking for,” Hermione interjected as they walked through the corridors towards the dungeons, the three of them stuck in their own conversation, none allowing the students around them to get under their skin or distract them. Digging through her bag, Hermione pulled out a book and handed it to Harry; a book entitled “Magical Gifts”. “I wasn’t certain it would have much on Parselmouths, but it had a surprisingly extensive chapter on it. More so than any of the books on Salazar Slytherin, oddly enough. I couldn’t find anything that only studies Parselmouths however…”

“Th-that’s f-fine,” Harry said, thumbing through it, trying to find the chapter she was referring to.

“It’s just after the Metamorphmagus chapter,” she instructed over his shoulder, and he found it as they walked into the Slytherin common room, beginning with an ink sketched image of a snake.

“So what are you trying to do, exactly,” Draco asked as they took their regular spot, pulling out his own homework to work on while the two did their studying.

“I w-w-want to get b-b-better at sp-speaking it,” Harry said, flipping the page.

“Really?” Hermione quickly tried to smother her surprise and only partially succeeded. “Why would you want to do that?”

“It ma-m-may b-be usef-ful…” Harry explained distractedly.

“I suppose…” Hermione muttered skeptically. “I just think it may look suspicious.”

“P-p-possibly,” Harry said with a sigh. “I’m n-not going to l-l-let that s-stop me, th-though.”

“All right then...” She sighed and leaned back into the dark couch, pulling out an incredibly thick book from her bag to begin thumbing through.

Listening to Harry hiss to himself for hours at a time became a rather normal thing for their meetings. If they had nothing in particular that needed to be studied and if their work was completed, he would screw his face up into a comically focused one, and practice.

It was odd at first. The words didn’t come easy, but if he were looking at a snake, or at least a picture of one from a book, he could typically manage to start speaking Parseltongue, and from there would be able to keep speaking it.

What became a problem, oddly enough, was that it was sometimes difficult to stop. He could tell when he was or wasn’t speaking Parseltongue by whether or not he was stuttering, but other than that, his words sounded normal to himself. The feeling of speaking one or the other was difficult to discern.

Some days, after returning to his dorm, he’d ask Draco a short question without thinking, and Draco would stare curiously at him before finally telling him he was still speaking Parseltongue.

This happened several times, before Draco decided to start trying to figure what it was he was saying. This he decided on his own without telling Harry until one day Harry spoke to him and, feeling rather smug, Draco replied.

Can I borrow your notes? ” Harry asked as he glared down at his transfigurations book, tapping the end of his quill against his nose.

“No you can’t borrow another inkwell,” Draco said casually, though a small, proud smile twitched on his face. “Not until you replace the last four.”

Harry stared at him for a moment. “ What are you- ” He cut off, then shook his head. “ That’s not- I’m n-n-not... the-there it is… Th-that’s not wha-w-what I s-said.”

It was Draco’s turn to stare dumbly at Harry, before his brows furrowed in frustration, offset slightly by the light tint to his cheeks. “But that sounded exactly like it did when you’ve ask for an inkwell.”

“W-w-well I d-didn’t ask th-that.” Harry couldn’t stop the amused smile on his face that only irked and embarrassed the blonde boy further.

“You’re lying,” Draco said defiantly.

“I asked f-f-for y-your n-n-notes.”

“You’re lying!”

Harry sighed and closed his eyes for a moment, focusing on creating an image of a snake in his mind. “C-c-can… C-... Can I borrow your notes.”

“Are you sure you’re not asking about the inkwell?”

Yes. ” Harry was sure to nod as well so his message was clear.

“What’s the inkwell question sound like?”

Can I borrow an inkwell?

“And the notes?”

Harry laughed but complied. “Can I borrow your notes?

Draco stared at him, brows furrowed in concentration as he tried to differentiate one phrase from the other. “Just say notes.”

Notes.

“Now inkwell.”

Inkwell.

Draco made an odd hissing noise that sounded nothing like words to Harry, but, he realized, was Draco attempting to imitate him.

Are you trying to say notes or inkwell?

“Did you ask about the inkwell again?”

I said are- I said- I s-s-said, f-f-for Me-Merlin’s sake, a-are you tryin-trying to sa-say n-n-notes or inkw-w-well?”

“Inkwell. I think.”

“Tr-try again, I d-d-didn’t un-underst-s-stand you.” Harry closed his book and stood, stretching above his head as he made his way to the other boy’s bed and flopped onto it. “Inkwell.

“Inkwell?” Draco asked to confirm, and Harry nodded.

Inkwell.”

This led to an evening of hissing back and forth until Harry was certain that anyone who had walked by their door believed they were crazy or really had opened the Chamber of Secrets. It was all worth it, at least, as by the end of an hour and a half, Draco had managed to understand something like four words that he couldn’t quite replicate properly, but could pick out within a sentence. Harry had also earned many minutes of laughter, which he appreciated greatly.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully speak it,” Draco sighed as he flopped back on his bed. “It probably requires a special gene of some kind. Some kind of magic to create those sounds.”

I don’t know what you’re talking about. ” Harry said smoothly, and Draco rolled his eyes.

“Maybe special isn’t the right word. How about weird or freakish?”

Harry’s smile was gone in an instant and a chill ran down his spine. To cover the sudden struck look on his face, he sat up and moved back to his bed, trying to use the motion to walk off the unsettling wave washing over him.

“What?” Draco asked, sitting up. “Did I say something wrong?”

“N-n-no,” Harry shook his head, turning a strained smile to his friend. “I j-j-just… don’t l-like be-being c-ca-called that.”

Draco opened his mouth to ask why, or for a bit of clarification, but Harry began changing into his night clothes, and he got a reminder of a few reasons why that may be the case. It was hard to ignore when he had two extra, rather unnatural appendages on his back.

Harry hesitated as he thought of putting on a shirt. He typically slept without one as shirts left his wings cramping or caught halfway out from the bottom or the top, tangled and uncomfortable, however he suddenly felt the urge to cover them up.

“I don’t think you’re weird like that,” Draco said as he saw this debate cross over his roommates face. “Maybe a bit odd… but not in a bad way. In a… unique way.”

Harry sighed and didn’t respond. It didn’t necessarily make him feel better. Of course he was odd, or weird, or a freak . There was no one and nothing like him. He didn’t fit in with muggles, and now he didn’t fit in with wizards. He had a stammer, he was a wizard, he was Harry Potter, he was a Parselmouth, he was hardly human. His dreams of being anything but “odd” had died long ago, but there were times when he remembered such a dream were impossible and he felt an ache for that loss.

“Sorry…” Draco muttered when he received no response. He really was awful at comforting him, but Harry gave him another small, weak smile and put the shirt he was thinking of putting on back within his trunk and lay down on the bed.

“It’s n-n-not your f-fault,” Harry replied, before, with a wave of his wand, the candlelight on his side of the room went out. “Goodnight.

Draco hissed back, and Harry chuckled at the failed attempt into his pillow before slipping off into a troubled sleep, leaving Draco to do the same.

 

Christmas break approached much too quickly for Harry’s liking. He was excited for Christmas, certainly, and had even suffered an extra couple nights of little sleep to keep Avice from throwing a fit over all the days she was losing to him, but he would still much rather be taking classes in the castle than biding his time for weeks at the back of the mind of a wild animal, something Avice didn’t take kindly to being mentally called.

His understanding of Parseltongue got better, and he could pretty quickly switch between one or the other if he focused enough before hand. He also started to pick up on slight differences in how it felt to speak one or the other. It was difficult to describe, but he felt almost colder when he spoke Parseltongue.

Nevertheless, he did get entertainment once or twice by hissing at Ron when he got to be difficult to handle. When he would talk loudly about him to a group of other students before class began, or when he’d shout “Watch out! The Heir of Slytherin is coming!” when Harry would come down the hall. He didn’t make a habit of it, though it was tempting to, but the few moments he allowed himself to indulge in the temptation he rather enjoyed the way Ron blanched and shut up. He would quickly go back to his taunting and insulting with a newfound vengeance after, but it was worth it.

So he tried to occupy himself with switching back and forth from Parseltongue to English on the train ride back to Kings Cross, ignoring the bubbling excitement from Avice at getting to enjoy the winter break.

“Don’t forget,” Draco said, interrupting Harry’s focus as he leaned over the gap between them in their compartment while the others chatted or, in the case of Hermione and Blaise, read, “We’re going to get dress robes next week. If your late, I expect a written apology.”

Yes, yes… ” Harry hissed, rolling his eyes. Draco pursed his lips as he squinted his eyes suspiciously at his friend.

“You said yes, didn’t you?” He asked cautiously.

Yes. ” Harry responded with a grin, only causing Draco’s squint to worsen. “Y-y-you w-were cor-correct.”

“How can he be expected to understand if you speak Parseltongue?” Hermione interjected.

“There are words in there,” Draco said, his brows furrowed in concentration. “It all sounds the same at first, but if you listen closely there’s actually a lot to it.”

Plus I enjoy speaking like this ,” Harry added.

“What?” Hermione asked, now trying to listen into what was being said and pick out the differences Draco was mentioning.

“I got ‘enjoy’ so I’m guessing he likes to hear himself speak without stuttering,” Draco translated.

Yes .”

“I’m pretty sure that was yes.”

“You don’t stutter when you speak Parseltongue?” Now Hermione seemed quite curious.

“D-d-does it s-sound li-like I s-s-st-stutter?” Harry tried to imagine what that might sound like with Parseltongue, but it was difficult when all he had was what others told him it sounded like, and the poor imitations from Draco.

“No, but I’m not sure if I would know…” Hermione looked contemplative, and then a bit troubled. “Should you be worried about that?”

“Sh-should I? It m-m-may ju-just be a di-d-different p-part of my br-b-brain, l-l-like sing-singing.”

“I don’t know…” Draco looked at him curiously, as though he were about to ask something, then shook his head. “If it doesn’t hurt you or anything I suppose it’s fine…”

The conversation ended there. Hermione looked like she wanted to continue arguing that Harry should be cautious, but he must’ve looked at least a bit upset by that because she kept quiet up until they reached the platform.

After gathering their things, Hermione and the others left, giving Harry their farewells and hopes that he enjoy his break. Draco, however, hung back for a bit, looking once again like he wanted to say something, before finally deciding he should say it instead of hesitating.

“You can speak to birds, right?” He asked.

“Y-y-yeah…” Harry hadn’t actually told him so, but he’d muttered to Hedwig enough times at dinner, he supposed Draco picked up on that.

“Do you stutter when talking to them?”

Harry paused, then nodded. Yes, he did. Or at least, he sounded like he stuttered to himself. Draco grimaced slightly.

“I don’t know if that needs to be something to worry about, but be cautious at least…”

“Of c-c-course.” Harry gave him an encouraging smile, but even he could admit there was something unusual. Still, if it didn’t hurt him, there was no reason not to use it, but what it meant about him was something else entirely.

The two walked out to the emptying platform and as Harry caught sight of the Malfoy’s, he gave Draco a short farewell and took off, not wanting to think too much about it. If he did, he’d find himself sitting restless for the next few days, and would rather get himself into a simple, static state where time passed more quickly. He supposed this must be what Avice did when Harry had control.

It worked, for the most part. He spent his time as a passive bystander to all they did. He almost felt as though he were sleeping, waking up periodically during times of stress or upset. While it didn’t make the experience itself any less unpleasant, it made it feel much shorter.

Avice, for the most part, seemed to wander and travel. At first, Harry thought there was no methods to what she did, but he discovered that she was an adventurer of sorts. She spoke to the local birds, being rather pleasant if somewhat distant to all of them, and none seemed to question her odd features. If she heard of anything interesting, she would investigate, often finding nothing of note more than an odd cave with old human camps, or train tracks cutting through a forest that had become overgrown. These she found disappointing, though Harry found the sight of abandoned campfires and overgrown tracks to be both eerie and beautiful in an odd way. What she was interested by was finding curious objects with varying degrees of human-world value. From shimmering pebbles to rusted coins, Harry could easily feel a spur of excitement when they caught sight of something that she felt was interesting. .

Between the forests, she would find a hoard of odd things. Broken watches, a green gem Harry couldn’t place the exact name of, a marble, a piece of bent metal that likely was attached to some machine at some point. While she disliked humans, she seemed interested in a select few of the things they left behind, and once she had gathered her stash, she would rifle through them, muttering to herself, and allow herself to keep only a few on her trip back to what Harry began to realize was her “home”, in a way.

It most certainly wasn’t a coincidence that it wasn’t far off from Hogwarts, more specifically being rather close to Hagrid, even if she would’ve claimed it was should Harry have asked. Still, when she returned during the winter break, the first place she would often go was Hagrid’s hut. She defended herself, before Harry mentioned it, by stating it was cold outside and she’d rather sit by a fire, but that didn’t mean she needed to drop off some of her less-enjoyed though not undervalued items to him when she returned. It was almost like she wanted to show him where she’d been.

Despite how she enjoyed her time to explore as she pleased, she allowed that it was fair he get his time