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short fingers, curly hair, hopeful eyes

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September 1st finds Harrison Black stepping out of the Floo, dress robes pressed meticulously and hair curled to into soft waves. He’s dragging an old trunk behind him—it used to be Sirius’, he was told—and holding an empty owl’s cage, Hedwig having chosen to fly to Hogwarts instead of being stuck in a train for eight hours.

He walks forward to where his Dad is standing, leaning casually against one of the pillars with his hands shoved into his robe pockets. He’s grinning and winking at everyone who so much as glances at his direction, and he’s doing it so naturally that no one could possibly tell he was purposefully avoiding the spot where, two decades earlier, a boy with grey eyes had befriended a boy with blond hair.

Sirius straightens when Harry comes closer, pulling out a wand to clean the soot off of him. He takes the trunk out of his hand, too, even though Harry is eleven and thus more than capable of carrying it himself, especially since his Papa had already cast a lightweight charm on it. Then, because he is his Dada, he drags his knuckles across Harry’s hair, messing up the curls.

“Dada!” He whines, reaching up to smooth down his hair, “Papa spent an hour doing those!”

Sirius smirks down at him, “as I’ve said many times before, H, your Papa’s too—”

“Siri, darling, if you wish to sleep in the bed tonight, do not finish that sentence.”

Harry turns around, and somehow, even though Harry’s physically closer, Sirius reaches Remus first. His hands come up to cradle Papa’s cheeks, strokes them one, two times, cries “Moony!” as if they haven’t seen other in two centuries instead of the two minutes it’s actually been, and brings their faces together to press a searing kiss against his lips.

More than a few Wixens gasp at the display.

Harry, fortunately or not, is already accustomed to his parent’s theatrics; he does nothing but sigh dramatically and stare pointedly at the clock.

He does wish that Loki was here, if only so he’ll have someone to trade faux-disgusted looks with. The Wixens around him are wearing faces Loki himself have adopted on similar occasions, but Harry knows their revulsion is actually genuine. Out of the corner of his eyes, he can see Madam Augusta Longbottom forcefully shoving her grandson onto the train.

It’s for this reason that Harry decides to wait a bit longer than normal before breaking them apart. Instead, he takes the time to survey the station. There’s a large family of flaming redheads standing by the wall that leads to Muggle King’s Cross. They’re the Weasleys, Harry recalls. Molly Weasley, the family matriarch, is married to Arthur, and they have six sons and had one daughter. Ginerva, while attending Hogwarts two years ago, went missing.

Her disappearance also brought into light the death of another girl the year before, previously ignored due to her Muggleborn status. But Ginerva, for all her family’s leaning towards the Light, had been a pureblood. As such, it had caused a huge uproar in the Wixen community, with parents pulling their children out by the dozens. Only Headmistress McGonagall’s tenacity had kept the school open.

The news had even spread across the Channel and the Continent to Italy. Upon hearing about the tragedy, Loki immediately began to protest against Harry’s attendance at Hogwarts. Apparently, tradition no longer holds up as an argument when two girls have died at the same school for two consecutive years. It was only thanks to Remus and Sirius’ reminding him of the plan, the one that they’ve been devising for years, that convinced a reluctant Loki to allow Harry to step foot onto the British Isle.

(Of course, this was after Loki deemed it necessary to cast a hundred or so protection spells on Harry. And this was in addition to the thousand more he had already received.)

Harry’s attention is drawn back to his parents when Sirius finally decides he’s finished rubbing his homosexual status in the face of conservative homophobes, and releases Remus with an exaggerated “mwah!” He rocks back on his heels, a mischievous smirk pulling at his lips. He glances over Remus’ shoulder, and winks at the first face he finds. The wizard in question turns away, a sneer curling at his lips.

At least Remus has the grace to pretend to blush. “Siri!” He hisses, pushing Sirius away like he hasn’t had ample opportunities to do so during their five minutes of lip-locking and tongue-tangling and mouth-exploring.

Sirius pouts.

Remus looks at him, looks at Harry, looks at Sirius again, and sighs. He takes Sirius’ hand and threads their fingers together.

Sirius, gross, visibly brightens. He brings their interlocked hands up to his lips and brushes a kiss against Remus’ knuckles, too, all the while gazing deeply into his eyes, because he’s a ridiculous man who seems to believe that Remus will forget their love for one another if he doesn’t receive some sort of affection every few seconds.

“Dada, Papa, please,” Harry interrupts, when it appears that the two of them are very much content to stand there, at the entrance to the Floo, staring into each other’s eyes for the rest of eternity.

Remus jolts, looking like he forgot about the existence of his son which, rude. He peeks at the clock, sucks his teeth, and nods once decisively. He still doesn’t let go of Sirius’ hand, though, even as he uses his free one to grab Harry’s abandoned trunk. “Come along, Harry, Siri,” he gently commands, which only Remus can do, and hurries through the throng of people loitering around the station.

Sirius dutifully trails behind Remus, and he is not in his Animagus form, but Harry can still see the upturned ears and the wagging tail. For his part, Harry heaves a long-suffering sigh, rolls his eyes, and follows them. The entrance to the train is emptier than when Harry first arrived, as it is 10:52 and most responsible parents have already gotten their child aboard the train and stepped back to give the stragglers some space to say goodbye.

And, because they’re so responsible, they wait until after their kid is gone to kiss and have sexual intercourse.

His Dada and Papa, try as they might, are not so responsible. One of Loki’s favorite mistake of Sirius’ to bring up, either furiously or playfully, is when, after Harry skinned his knee for the first time, Sirius poured him a generous amount of Firewhisky to help soothe the pain.

It was a terrifying scene for Remus to walk in on, but after much explanation, it was just heartbreaking. Apparently, that’s what Orion had done after Sirius broke his arm falling down the stairs. Sirius had thought it was normal.

Normal, yeah. If there was one thing Harry had learned during these long, long years in isolation, it was this: his family was anything but normal, and it would never, ever be normal.

And he loves it.

“I love you,” he says out loud.

His Papa smiles at him, “we love you, too. We’ll love you even if you get sorted into Slytherin.”

“Well…”

“Sirius!”

Dada shares a grin with Harry. He kneels down on one knee, so they’re eye-to-eye. “Of course I’ll love you. You’re my son. Nothing could ever stop me from loving you.”

Harry bites his lips, acutely aware of the stares from the other Wixens. Then he thinks, to hell with it, and throws his arms around his Dada’s neck. He drops the bird cage, which falls to the ground with a loud clatter. Sirius is quick to reciprocate, large hands coming up to rub up and down his back. Papa’s one palm settles on his shoulder, and his other fingers brush through his hair.

“I’m so scared,” Harry confesses quietly. Guiltily, because he shouldn’t be thinking about backing out, not now, not four minutes before boarding the train that’ll take him to Hogwarts.

Dada’s grip on his robe tightens, scrunching up the fabric. It’s apparently his turn to be irrational and sentimental, as he whispers, “just say the word, Harry, and you can go to Beaubaxton. Or would you like to go to Salem? I hear America is beautiful this time of the year.”

Remus makes a sound of agreement, and, oh, how tempting it is to nod and say yes and let himself be whisked back to their cottage in Italy, where they will be safe and secure and no Dumbledore or Voldemort or Odin can ever touch them. But no, Harry will not allow the plan to be ruined, all of their efforts to be wasted, because he wants to be selfish.

He wants to be, but he cannot afford to be. He is the Child of the Prophecy, the Boy-Who-Lived, and it’s not bloody fair, but he’s made his peace with it since he was five. He will carry out the plan, even if he has to fight tooth and nail against his parents.

He will, because he is Harrison Black, the Black Heir and an Asgardian Prince.

So, Harry takes in a shuddering breath, allows himself to indulge in the hug for another one, two, five seconds before unwinding his arms and stepping back, deliberately putting space between him and Dada.

He dredges up a smile. “I’ll be fine, Dada, Papa. I love you. I’ll write to you as soon I am able.”

Then, before they could protest, Harry grabs Hedwig’s cage and his trunk, and scrambles into the train. The door slams shut behind him, and the whistle blows, loud and sharp. There’s a moment of stillness before the train begins to move, at first slowly, then accelerating in speed. Soon, they’ve left the station.

Harry gives himself a moment of respite. Not a minute later, he smooths his face into an expression befitting a Noble and Ancient Heir, and sets out to find an empty compartment.

Most, like he expects, are full, and the occupants aren’t too open to sharing, either. Oh, sure, they’re fine with it at first, up until he opens his mouth and introduces himself. No one, not even Dark wixens, likes the Blacks. They think he’s not Dark enough, while the Light children find him too Dark; Muggleborns and Halfbloods are too wary of a Pureblood, and the Purebloods despise his werewolf heritage.

That is, until the eleventh door he knocks on. There’s a polite smile plastered on his face, though he’s fully expecting some sort of rejection, maybe even some insults. The door slides open of its volition, and Harry peeks inside to see three occupants. On the left bench sit two large boys, with small, beady eyes and closely-shaved heads. Another boy, with white-blond hair and grey eyes, is lounging on the bench across from them. He’s twirling a wand in his right hand; Harry presumes he must have used magic to open the door.

“Do you mind if I sit here? Everywhere else is full,” he asks.

The boy—he must be a Malfoy, what with his hair—peers at him, “and who might you be?”

Here goes nothing, he thinks. “My name Harrison Alphard Black, Heir to the Nobel and Most Ancient House of Black. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

The two other boys grunt, displeased, but stop when Malfoy shoots them a look. There’s a moment of silence, during which Harry waits to receive his judgement with some trepidation. He doesn’t care much of what others say, not anymore, but it does get tiring.

Finally, Malfoy moves, swinging his body to plant his feet on the floor. He pushes himself to stand up, and Harry realizes, with some surprise, that the boy towers over him, even though they were born in the same year.

Damn his Asgardian blood.

“I am Draconis Lucius Malfoy,” Malfoy says, “Heir to the Nobel House of Malfoy. My father doesn’t approve of your family, you know,” he adds casually.

Harry tilts his head in mute acknowledgement.

“But my mother is a Black, and when they were younger, she was rather fond of Cousin Sirius,” Malfoy continues, in the same disinterested tone.

“And what about you?” Harry challenges, albeit quietly. “What does their child think of us?”

Malfoys sweeps his eyes over Harry’s body, starting from his curly hair to his green eyes, down his plain, black robes and ending on his polished shoes. His gaze strays to the trunk behind Harry, on which the initials S. O. B. are engraved in gold.

“I think your family is unconventional,” Malfoy replies slowly, eyes flickering back to stare resolutely into Harry’s as he begins his tirade. “I think you lot are cowards for fleeing from Britain. I think Sirius Black is a Bloodtraitor. I think that werewolf father of yours is a monster—he should be put away in Azkaban, or, better yet, killed. I think you’re not a real Black; you’re just a poor, abandoned orphan that they took pity on because you look like their dead godson.”

Behind Malfoy, the other boys begin to snicker, not even bothering to hide their amusement. Harry breaks his eye contact with Malfoy to glare them into silence. It’s very effective. After all, he learned the trick from watching Loki deal with Sirius for a decade.

Once they quiet, Harry looks at Malfoy again. “Thank you for your honesty,” he says drily, turning to leave. “I’ll just see myself out, then.”

Just before his hand touches the door handle, Malfoy’s voice rings out. “But adopted or not, you’re a Black, now. That makes us family.”

When Harry spins around, he sees that Malfoy has got his arm extended forward.

“And, I think, with my help, you can restore the Black name to its past glories.”

Harry knows Sirius would hate this. The man has always spoken ill of Lucius, and Narcissa’s name is mentioned curtly, if at all. Remus rarely mentions the Malfoy name, but Harry is aware that they share the same opinion. Neither of them would approve of his alliance/acquaintance/friendship with the Malfoy Heir.

Unfortunately, he cannot afford to reject this offer. As the previous ten rejections have proved, the Black name no longer holds the influence and power it used to. A connection to the Malfoys will elevate his political status, and appeal him to, at the very least, the Dark families.

Besides, if their ultimate goal is to defeat Voldemort, then what better way to start than gaining the trust of the Malfoys? Lucius was in Voldemort’s Inner Circle; Bellatrix Black, Malfoy’s aunt, was Voldemort’s right hand woman; and Severus Snape, his godfather, was Voldemort’s personal potion master.

If Harry can infiltrate their little group and learn every piece of their secrets, then Voldemort’s demise should be as easy as pumpkin pie.

With that in mind, Harry reaches out and grasps Malfoy’s hand, shaking it twice before letting it drop. “I’m grateful for your assistance, Heir Malfoy.”

Malfoy smirks. “Call me Draco.” He jerks a thumb over his shoulder, gesturing to the other boys. “Those two are Gregory Goyle and Vincent Crabbe.”

Ah, yes, Harry’s heard of them. Goyle and Crabbe’s ancestors had, around the Dark Ages, been tricked into swearing a fealty oath to the Malfoys. Their descendants have been serving the family since.

“Pleased to meet you,” he says, holding out his hand.

Draco scoffs, and pushes his arm down. “First lesson, Cousin: don’t offer a handshake to anyone beneath you. It’ll give them ideas. Makes them think you actually respect them.”

Which implies that Draco doesn’t view him as being inferior. Interesting.

“I see.”

Draco flops down on the bench, but leaves space for Harry, who sits down after stowing away his trunk and Hedwig’s cage.

“So what brings you back to Britain?” Draco asks. “It’s been ten years, after all. Father and Mother had a running bet. He said you lot would never return.”

Harry looks down at his standard, first year student robe, then around the compartment of the train, and at the window, outside of which the fields of Scotland was speeding by. “I thought it was pretty obvious. We are on our way to Hogwarts, right?”

Draco grins. “So you got some wit, after all. I was afraid you really were as spineless as the rumors say, with just how meek you were acting before.”

“Would that be so terrible?” Harry muses. “It seems like you already surround yourself with those kinds of people.” He glances pointedly at the boys sitting across from them.

One of them frowns at him, “watch your mouth, you little—”

“Goyle!” Draco reprimands sharply, “is that any way to treat your betters?”

Oh, Merlin, Harry thinks as Goyle shrinks back into his seat, Sirius will definitely not like this.

 

Eight hours later, the train begins to slow as it reaches Hogwarts. Harry couldn’t be more grateful. He was exhausted. Draco had spent the first half of the ride relentlessly interrogating him about the life he lived outside of Britain during the last decade, and Harry had responded with a mix of lies and half-truths. He hadn’t known lying could be this mentally tiring but, Odin, it was.

(He dreads to think what would’ve happened, what secret he could’ve let slip, if Loki and Sirius and Remus hadn’t spent every waking moment of the past few months preparing for this exact situation. They’ve taken to firing question at him randomly, until he could answer them, according to the script they had written, without hesitation.)

Around the four hour mark, Draco was finally satisfied. At that point, Goyle and Crabbe had nodded off, mouths smeared with the cupcakes they had bought off the trolley and eaten. Left alone, he and Draco decided to play a game of chess. He won the first round, as Draco had underestimated him. The blond had narrowed his eyes, and immediately demanded a rematch. After that, they’ve taken turns winning and losing, evenly matched now that Draco was paying more attention.

And while Harry was unwilling to tell Draco things that even hinted at the truth, Draco had no reservations. The boy talked tirelessly of his own childhood: his parents, the manor he grew up in, the peacocks that pranced around their grounds, the boring social parties he had to attend, that one mad elf who wouldn’t stop defying his father.

Harry had expected him to grow bored, but he found himself growing utterly fascinated by Draco’s stories. Here was a boy, who was born only a month earlier than him, and yet led a totally different life. Harry wouldn’t give up his life for anything in the Nine Realms, of course, but he had wondered what it would’ve been like if he had been raised by a pair of normal parents; if James had been his biological father instead of Loki; if he didn’t have to fear his health every time he stepped foot outside of their cottage.

So they spent the rest of the train ride like this, talking about everything and nothing.

When the train finally pulls into the station, screeching to a halt, Draco stands up and stretches his arms high above his head.

“I swear, the train ride gets longer and longer each year,” he comments.

“Perhaps it’s because you’re getting older and older?” Harry suggests.

“Brat,” Draco says, and Harry is surprised to detect a hint of fondness. It’s only been eight hours. Should he be feeling this comfortable with him?

Well, Harry wouldn’t know. He’s never had to develop a relationship with anyone outside of his parents, and those were given. Dada and Papa strictly limited any contact he had with other people, in fear that he would accidentally blurt out a secret. Loki fully supported their decision, believing that anyone, even the six year old girl who had simply waved at him in the market place, could be a spy from their enemies.

I had been very evil as a child,” he explained, as if his life as an Asgardian Prince could possibly compare to that of a Midgardian Muggle. “One time, when I was eight, I stabbed Thor in the stomach. He still has the scar to prove it.”

Even Sirius had looked stunned.

“R-right,” Remus had said.

So Harry grew up with no friends, which was fine, until they’ve decided he can’t be locked away from society forever. And now, he has no idea if Draco is genuine in his affection, or only pretending to like him.

(He wonders if Draco had any experience. But from what he could see, the other boy didn’t have any friends, either. Aside from Harry, no one else had knocked on the compartment door. And he would hardly call Goyle and Crabbe Draco’s friends. Lackeys, more like.

Is that why he became so attached to Harry, so quickly? Because he, too, didn’t have any friends?)

“Oi,” Draco says, kicking Goyle and Crabbe in the shins. “Wake up, you lazy lot. We’ve arrived.”

The two wake up groggily, rubbing at their eyes with clumsy, round fingers. Harry watches their synchronous movements, and question if these two really aren’t twins.

He gets up as well, shaking his legs to get rid of the numbness. He reaches up, intending to grab his belongings, but stops when Draco shakes his head.

“Leave it,” Draco tell him. “The house elves will get them.”

Harry nods, and follows the three older boys out of the compartment. The four of them join the stream of students heading towards the exit. They part soon after; Harry heads toward the half-giant named Hagrid, while the Slytherins walk to where the carriages were.

“First years, follow me!” Hagrid bellows. “Don’t fall behind, now!”

He leads them to the edge of the Great Lake, where a number of small boats are floating in the water. Harry quickly climbs into one, and is soon joined by three other students.

“I’m Dennis Creevey,” one boy says immediately.

“Pritchard. Graham Pritchard.”

“Eleanor Branstone.”

“Harry.”

The others look at him, curious about his lack of a last name. Harry ignores them, choosing instead to focus on the scene in front of him because, ah, Hogwarts really is as magnificent as Dada and Papa described.

Thankfully, no one falls into the lake, and everyone’s dry as they enter Hogwarts and climb up the stairs, at the top of which a short wizard is waiting for them.

“Professor Flitwick,” Hagrid greets respectfully, before lumbering off to join the feast.

Flitwick clears his throat, and everyone quiets. He launches into an explanation of the houses and the sorting ceremony, gesturing vigorously as he did so. Soon after, he turns to lead them into the Great Hall.

The room is absolutely massive, filled with four, long tables that look as if they could seat hundreds of students. However, a quarter of those seats are empty; no doubt the recent deaths had led many concerned parents to transfer their children to a safer alternative. The rest of the student body don’t appear unaffected, either. There is a somber mood in the hall that not even the bright candles can dispel. Above, lightning flashes across the enchanted ceiling ominously.

The group of first years stops in front of a raised dais, on which a stool and a hat had been placed. Behind sat the professors, with a stern-looking witch occupying the central seat.

Headmistress Minerva McGonagall, the woman whose actions had led to the Dursley’s imprisonment. She meets Harry’s inquisitive gaze, and something—sadness? Nostalgia?—appear in her eyes before she looks away, focusing on the hat. Harry follows her line-of-sight. There’s a tear in the fabric, and suddenly, Harry could see the shape of two eyes and a mouth in the hat.

Then, inexplicably, it begins to sing.

Harry listens to the song, biting his lips hard enough to draw blood. As per tradition, neither Dada nor Papa had said a word about how he was to be sorted. Harry had imagined something along the lines of a written test, maybe, or a duel. Not whatever this is. He thinks he should’ve gotten at least some sort of warning, so he isn’t surprised and filled with the urge to double over in laughter. If not for his excellent self-restraint, he could’ve made a fool out of himself.

The hall breaks out into applause when the hat finishes, and Flitwick takes out a scroll.

“Ackerly, Stewart,” he calls.

A boy steps forward. He climbs the few short steps and sits on the stool. Flitwick drops the hat on his head, but it’s so large that his face ends up being covered, as well.

A few seconds of tense silence passes by, before the hat declares, “Ravenclaw!”

The table to Harry’s left erupts into cheers, as the new addition joins their ranks.

Flitwick waits until they’ve settled to announce the next name. “Baddock, Malcolm.”

“Slytherin!”

“Black, Harrison.”

He steps forward, very much aware of the sudden whispering. No one really knew his family was returning to Britain, after all. Even Flitwick seems surprised, though he’s quick to cover his expression with an encouraging smile. Harry turns to settle on the stool, and the last thing he sees, before the hat blinds him, is the judgmental stare of the entire hall of students.

There’s a moment, during which all Harry can hear is the blood rushing to his ears, before a disembodied voice says, ‘well, hello, Mr. Lokison.’

Harry barely manages not to flinch in shock.

‘No need to be worried, Mr. Lokison,’ the hat continues, speaking into his bloody mind, ‘I’m under oath to never reveal any secrets I glean, no matter how dangerous or extraordinary. My only concern is using that knowledge to place a student into an environment in which they can thrive and flourish. Now, what should I do about you?’

‘Ravenclaw, Ravenclaw,’ Harry chants, recovering from his shock to remember the plan. ‘Ravenclaw. Ravenclaw.’

‘Ravenclaw, eh? Are you sure? You got a great mind, certainly, but you also got a thirst to prove yourself worthy, especially to that grandfather of yours. Slytherin will help you to achieve success, there’s no doubt about that.’

Harry thinks, ‘I don’t care about Odin. I just want to learn things that’ll help me to protect my family.’

The hat hums. ‘That’s very admirable of you, Mr. Lokison. Very well, it’d better be RAVENCLAW!’

Chapter Text

Once Flitwick lifts the hat from his head, Harry walks down the raised dais and towards the Ravenclaw table to join his housemates. He sits between two other first-years and notices, with some annoyance, that they actually flinch. It had been a cause for concern—the Black family’s reputation was ill, to say the least, and even Loki couldn’t predict whether Sirius’ role in the First Wizarding War had completely turned public opinion.

Apparently, it hadn’t.

But if Harry wanted any chance of vanquishing Voldemort, of finding and freeing his siblings, of defeating Odin, he needed the people’s support. He needed his classmates' support, and trust, and it appears that he needs to build those from the ground up.

And that meant projecting a charismatic image—

—as a Ravenclaw, he’ll be dismissed and underestimated as another quiet bookworm, reasonable given his papa’s studious habits, and infinitely preferable to the alternative: being loathed. People are already wary of him, exemplified by the treatments he received on the train. If Harry had been sorted into Slytherin, he would have proven himself to be just another knut a dozen Black, evil and insane. Anything he says will be instantly discredited, even if it’s the truth, just because it came out of his mouth. So, the house of the eagles it is.

But just because he is a Ravenclaw doesn’t mean he has to live up to the stereotype. Plenty of Ravenclaw graduates were and are renowned for more than simply being living encyclopedias. Just look at Millicent Bagnold, the former Minister of Magic, or Gildroy Lockheart, who managed to deceive everyone for a decade, despite the massive plot holes in his written stories, and even finagled himself an Order of Merlin out of the whole ordeal.

Harry, of course, will achieve accomplishments far greater than those. And his first step—

—building powerful alliances—

—he meets Draco’s eyes from across the hall. The Malfoy scion acknowledges Harry’s tie, now blue and bronze, with a barely perceptible tilt of his head before returning to his conversation with—is that the only surviving son of the infamous Black Widow, Blaise Zabini?

Harry feels his lips curl into a slight smirk. Using his familiar connection to appeal to his cousin had proven to be an excellent idea, after all. He had been concerned by the rumors he heard, which portrayed Draco as a spoiled pure-blood who relied only on his daddy. He should’ve realized those gossiping were not Slytherins, and thus knew nothing about the politics of snakes.

In reality, Draco was playing a far more complex game. By flaunting around the Malfoy name, Draco simultaneously reminded everyone of his family’s prestige, and allowed people to underestimate Draco himself. This gave him the opportunity to, well, do exactly what Harry is doing—

—making influential friends—

—aside from him, six other Wixens were also sorted into the Ravenclaw house. Five, like him, are first-years; the sixth, however, is a transfer student who had apparently been studying at Ilvermorny for the last five years.

Interesting.

Thus, when dinner appears on the table, the shock wears off, and he has loaded his plates with all of his favorites, Harry introduces himself to the older boy first. He receives a formal nod in return.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Heir Black. My name is Thomas Gaunt; call me Tom,” he says with—curiously enough—a British accent. More importantly, he has a British, Wixen surname.

Harry is not the only one to notice that little tidbit, however.

“Gaunt?” repeats the girl sitting next to him, spitting out the word like she tastes something foul. Perhaps it is the spinach she is eating. “You wouldn't happen to be related to Morfin Gaunt, would you? I heard he got sent to Azkaban for killing a family of Muggles.”

Tom grimaces. “I am, unfortunately. He was my great-uncle.”

“I thought the Gaunt line died with him.”

“Well there was his sister Merope, wasn’t there?” interjects another boy. His entire face is covered with a smattering of freckles. “Not that you would care to learn about her, Orla. She was a Squib. Didn’t have a speck of magic, that one.”

Orla sniffs, “then how would you know that?”

“I’m well read, unlike somebody at this table.”

“Oh, please.”

“Pleasing the ladies is my life’s mission, darling, you only have to—ouch!”

The boy startles. He leans down, clearly rubbing his shins, which Orla, presumably, just kicked to silence him. He shoots the girl a glare from underneath his lashes, but Orla just sits back, smiling smugly. She flips her blonde hair over her shoulders. “You must excuse Kieran. No amount of soap could ever clean that crude mouth of his. Please, you were saying?”

Tom clears his throat. “You were right, Kieran. Merope Gaunt, my grandmother, was indeed a Squib. However, that didn’t stop Tom Riddle Sr. from, well.”

He makes a gesture with his hands, and it didn’t take long for Orla to understand. “He raped her?”

Tom nods. “The worst part of the matter was, Merope was made to believe that Riddle loved her, and she him. Of course, that was just a lie, and the bastard, upon being told that she had fallen pregnant, immediately abandoned her to fend for herself. Poor, powerless, and heart-broken, she died giving birth to my father. He was raised in an orphanage, ignorant of his heritage.”

“That’s horrible!” Kieran cries out, but leans forward unsubtly, tie precariously close to dipping into his soup. “Then what happened?”

“Well, it turned out he was a true wizard. He came to Hogwarts, and the Sorting Hat was so impressed by his ambition to find his parents that it sorted him into Slytherin. Of course, he didn’t have an easy time there, since everyone, including him, believed him to be a Mudblood.”

Orla raises one, sharply shaped eyebrow. “A Mudblood? With a name like Gaunt?”

“That’s the thing: Merope, the lovesick fool, named him Tom Riddle Jr., after his father. It wasn’t until he was sixteen, when the Riddles were murdered—”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Kieran stops him with a hand, which is holding a fork with the prongs stabbed through something orange. Orla leans away as he begins to wave it in excitement. “So what you’re saying, is that, your maternal great-uncle killed your paternal grandpa and great-grandparents? That is sooo messed up, dude!”

“And the Riddles were Muggles? A Muggle raped a Lady of the Sacred Twenty-Eight?” Orla asks, her expression more subdued.

Tom inclines his head in silent agreement.

“Wow,” Kieran drawls out slowly. “I knew Muggles were vile creatures, but that just takes the cake, doesn’t it?”

Tom’s response, whatever it might have been, is drowned out by another boy’s.

“My parents are Muggles,” bites out Stewart Ackerly, the first to be sorted into Ravenclaw. He sits beside Kieran, and was conversing with a pair of girls a moment ago. Now, though, all three of them are focused on Kieran and his callous insult.

“My dad’s a pediatrician,” he continues, “my mum’s a teacher, and they’re great people,” he says, with a fierce glare, wordlessly challenging Kieran to object.

Kieran stares back just as intensely, “is that so, Ackerly? Tell me, do you know how many Wixens were burned alive when Muggles began to prosecute us in the 10th century?”

“And how many Muggles, exactly, were murdered by you lot during the last Wizarding War?” Stewart shoots back.

“Well—!”

Harry quickly interrupts, hoping to prevent a fight. “I do believe it is unfair to judge a whole based on the action of a few. Surely there are both good and evil Wixens, just as there are both good and evil Muggles.”

Kieran looks appeased. Stewart, however, actually snarls at him. “Shut up, Black! There’s no need to pretend that you, of all people, care about us Mudbloods and Muggles. Do you think that just because we’re new to this world, we don’t know what atrocities your family committed during the war? Probably raped and murdered hundreds of us, didn’t they?”

Harry rears back, stunned. Tom, Orla, and Kieran had all accepted his heritage without a sneer or a snide comment, and so, for a few precious moments, Harry had almost forgotten about the opinions the general population holds about him and his family. The reminder tastes bitter on his tongue, tainting all of the wonderful food he had eaten and the wonderful time he had begun to have. An uncomfortable silence falls upon their section of the table, the quiet deafening amidst the noises emitting from the rest of the hall.  

In the end, it is one of the girls Ackerly had been conversing with who speaks first.

“Stewart,” she says, “that’s rude.”

“Yeah!” chimes in the other. “You went out of line! You should apologize.”

Kieran nods in agreement, and Orla and Tom, while they do nothing to visibly agree with him, do nothing to oppose him. Faced with five reproachful faces, Ackerly has no choice but to do as the girl says. “I, I am sorry, Black.” He says, reluctantly, sounding as if the words were pulled out of him by a poorly casted Summoning Charm.

And while he wishes to do the opposite, maybe declare a blood feud, Harry can only wave a hand, put on a forgiving smile. “No worries. You’re correct, of course. There are more than a few black sheep in my family.”

He purposefully ignores Ackerly’s muttered “only a few?” and focuses on the other girls, who had snorted at his pun. “Hello, loves, I don’t believe I’ve introduced myself yet. My name is Harrison Black. Call me Harry, please.”

The taller of the two shakes his hand first; she was also the first to admonish Ackerly. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Harry. I’m Ichika Leung-Dobbs.”

“Ichika?” Harry repeats. At her smile, he turns to the second girl. “Hi there, I’m Harry.”

She giggles. “Hey, Harry. I’m Natalie Leung-Dobbs. And you three are?”

Kieran, Orla, and Tom take their turn introducing themselves. Harry discovers Kieran is actually a member of the Ancient House of O’Sullivan, third in line to inherit the position of Lord O’Sullivan. Orla, on the other hand, is the direct heiress of the Noble House of Quirke. Which means…

Harry saves that fact for himself. Clearly the two weren’t ready to air out their dirty little secrets in the open, unlike Tom, who seems unnaturally eager to share everything about his heritage to anyone. It’s strange, Harry thinks. If he knew he was the offspring of a rape, he would absolutely refuse to tell anyone about it, much less strangers five years younger than him. Yet Tom appears to have zero hesitation about doing so.

It’s almost as if he wants everyone to know about his heritage, and purposefully chose to sit close to an O’Sullivan and a Quirke to ensure that fact. Why else would he sit with first-years, when he himself is a sixth-year?

Well, if that is his plan, who is Harry to stop him?

“So, you were talking about the Riddle’s murders?” Harry reminds him.

Tom puts down his goblet. “Ah, yes. When the Riddles passed away, the Muggles discovered my father was the next of kin, and contacted him. That was how he came to know his paternal side. He learned of his maternal side likewise, though much later—it was 1991 when goblins sent a letter to him, requesting he go to the bank to deal with the Gaunt estate, after the death of Morfin in Azkaban. He immediately claimed the Gaunt lordship, and named me as his heir.”

Tom ends the story by showing them his right hand, where a ring rests on his index finger. Harry leans closer, and realizes the band is made out of two intertwined snakes, both with black scale and onyx eyes.

“Nice,” he says.

“With a ring and a history like that, I’m surprised you didn’t end up in Slytherin,” Kieran jokes.

“Oh, trust me,” Tom replies dryly, “the Hat did consider it, but apparently I didn’t meet the requirements. My goal to have the largest collection of snake related items couldn’t compensate for my lack of cunning.”

Kieran blinks at him.

He blinks again.

Then he begins to cackle, nearly falling off the bench in the process. Orla grabs his arm just in time.

“Well, I sure am glad to learn that you can tell a proper joke, Tom. Unlike someone else at this table,” she quips.

Kieran pouts. “You wound me, love.”

“What a sensitive little boy you are, then.”

“Not as sensitive as your—”

Harry lets their bickering fade into background noise as he finally takes the time to glance around the hall, hoping to finally find who, exactly, has been making the hair on the back of his neck stand in attention and wariness. It doesn’t take long to discover the culprit. A pale, long-faced man is sitting among the teachers, glaring so intensely at Harry that he’s surprised he hasn’t been set on fire yet.

Tom seemed to have noticed his distraction, for he turns around to follow Harry’s line of sight. When he sees the man, he startles a little, seemingly surprised by the hatred he perceives in his eyes, even at this distance. “It’s only the first day of school, Harry. How did you make an enemy of your teacher already?” he asks mildly.

“Who are you two talking about?” Kieran says around a mouthful of pie, then, “oh, that’s Severus Snape, the Potion’s Master. I also heard he’s a Death Eater.” he whispers dramatically.

“A Death Eater?” Natalie exclaims. “You’re telling me one of my teachers is a Death Eater?”

“What is he doing here? Didn’t all of them get sentenced to Azkaban?” Ichika adds.

Tom coughs, slanting a look at the Slytherin table. Harry has no doubt that he’s looking at Draco Malfoy, in particular. Anyone who’s anyone knows his father had been on trial for bearing the Dark Mark, and then had been acquitted from such charges. Coincidentally, it was immediately after the Minister announced plans to expand the Ministry, thanks to a sizable and anonymous donation.

(Really, Harry is really starting to wonder why he decided to try and forge an alliance with the Malfoy heir. That move was not in the plan at all. Papa and Dada will definitely not approve. What had he been thinking?

Oh, that’s right, it’s because he had been desperate. Everyone he had met on the train before Draco had been so…unwelcoming, to put it mildly.

Now, he wonders, if he had been just a little more patient, would have stumbled upon Kieran and Orla’s cart? Ichikia and Natalie’s? Tom’s? Or someone similarly accepting?

Ah, well, what is done is done.)

“It’s horrible, isn’t it, that Hogwarts would allow certain…undesirable people into this school?” Orla’s eyes slide to Ackerly for just a second, but it was all the confirmation Harry needed to know that she wasn’t just talking about Snape. “Don’t worry, though. I heard he was playing double agent. Was loyal to the good side all along.”

That’s what Remus and Sirius said, too, although they often spoke of the subject, the rare times it came up, with more air quotes and eye rolls. Mostly, they told him the facts they knew to be true about the man: about how he had been infatuated with Lily Evans; about how the Marauders had tormented him relentlessly during the seven years here; about how Remus had almost killed him during a full moon; about how he had received the Death Mark immediately upon graduation; about how the prophecy he overheard ensued the Potters' deaths; about how the threat on Lily’s life had changed his allegiance, but not his beliefs; about how Dumbledore had managed to secure him a teaching position before his trial and sentence to Azkaban; about how McGonagall couldn’t convince a man named Slughorn to come out of retirement, so she reluctantly allowed Snape to be in a castle full of children for fourteen years.

Ackerly splutters, “Don’t worry? He’s a Death Eater! He hates people like me! Look at the way he’s glaring!”

“He’s only glaring at me,” Harry says. He knows it, even without checking, but he does it anyway. Sure enough, Snape is still focused on him, although his eyes has, somehow, narrowed even more. Pliantly, Harry ducks his head and turns his back to him.

“Yeah, what is up that?” Kieran asks, with the subtlety of a troll. “What did you do him?”

“I didn’t do anything,” Harry says defensively, “it’s my parents he has a problem with.”

Even before the words leave his mouth, Harry realizes his mistake. Sure enough, Orla is already wrinkling her nose at the reminder. “You mean, your parent who is a werewolf?”

Ah, there it is. Harry knew he wouldn’t be fortunate enough to meet people who are fine with both of his parents.

Ackerly whispers, “There are werewolves now? What’s next, vampires?”

Harry ignores him. Instead, he directs a thin smile towards Orla. “No.”

“No?”

“No,” Harry reiterates. “Professor Snape doesn’t mind that my papa is a werewolf.” Lie. “But he does hate my dada, who was a bit of a prankster when the two of them attended Hogwarts; Professor Snape was his favorite victim.” Not a lie, not a lie. He just omitted the fact that more often than not, Remus joined Sirius in tormenting ‘Snivellus.’

But he can’t tell them that, not really. It was bad enough that Orla, and now the rest of the first-years, and the rest of the school by tomorrow morning if the gossip wheel is really as fast as Sirius claims it is, knows Remus is a werewolf. If they find out he had bullied, and almost murdered, a fellow student?

Well. Harry can’t even bear to think about the repercussions.

With Sirius, any juvenile activities of his would be swept under the rug because of the blood running through his veins and the gold sitting in his vault; with Remus, if he even sneezes in the wrong direction, he might receive a sentence to Azkaban.

The world doesn’t treat werewolves fairly. Their family had learned that the hard way. Harry, especially, had learned the lesson too young, too harshly. Remus had almost lost his guardianship over Harry on no less than three occasions. He doesn’t want a repeat.

“My dada, of course, is Sirius Black, Lord of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black,” he adds, just in case there is any confusion.

The change in attitude is immediate, and very unmistakable.

“That seems a bit immature, doesn’t it, holding a grudge for fourteen years?” Kieran says, because of course he knows when Sirius Black attended Hogwarts. “I mean, I’m sure your dada didn’t even do anything that bad.”

Harry hides his smile by shoving a piece of pie in his mouth. Kieran’s and Orla’s belief in blood supremacy, if the concept itself wasn’t so terrible, would be hilarious. After all, it makes them so very, very susceptible to his manipulations.

“Then again,” Kieran continues, “what would you expect? His mother was a Mudblood.”

Ackerly growls, a sound Harry rarely heard except on full moons. Sitting across from him, Natalie and Ichika bristle, obviously equally offended, and having no interest in chastising Ackerly this time.

Harry sighs, bracing himself for a scream, a shout, a punch.

(How Orla and Kieran already knew so much about everyone around them astounded Harry. He would be impressed, if he wasn’t so annoyed. Is it completely necessary for them to use their knowledge to constantly insult everyone? And now, because of their throwaway comments, half of the students in their year is ready to fight them.

Harry wouldn’t mind that, except the Leung-Dobbs and Ackerly clearly thought he agreed with the two, just because of his status as the Black heir, and he would rather not be caught in the middle of this squabble.)   

However, before things can escalate, an authoritative voice cuts through the noise of the hall. “May I have everyone’s attention, please?”

Slowly, the clamor dies down as each student turns to focus on the front of the dais, where an aging Headmistress stands. She is a stern-looking woman, with her hair pulled back into a tight bun and her robes immaculately pressed.

“Good evening, students, I am Headmistress McGonagall. I hope you all had a wonderful summer, and are prepared for the new school year. In a few moments, I will send you off to bed. Before that, however, I have a few announcements to make.”

 

Dear Papa and Dada, Harry writes later that night, settled into his new dormitory.

I’m happy to say that you two lost the bet: the hat did not sort me into Gryffindor. Instead, I am a Ravenclaw!

And I know you said that all Ravenclaws are nerds and thus very boring, but I find that decidedly false, even if less than a day has passed. After all, a civil war has already broken out among the first-years. In the course of a night, Kieran O’Sullivan and Orla Quirke has insulted everyone and everything, including their fellow housemates, Ichikia and Natalie Leung-Dobbs, and Stewart Ackerly. I dread to think of what could have happened if dinner lasted longer than it did.

Dada, you were right—although Professor Edgecomb survived the school year, she did not survive the summer. Apparently she hurt herself floo-ing home on the last day of school. As such, we have a new DADA teacher. His name is Alastor Moody, but I have heard more than one person call him ‘Mad-Eye Moody.’ He is said to be an accomplished Auror, though these days he seems to be perpetually drunk. Everyone is terrified of him.

The other teachers seem okay. They didn’t pay much attention to me. Well, except for Snape. He was glaring at me all throughout dinner, and didn’t even try to hide his hatred. I tried to ignore him, but he didn’t appear discouraged. Do you think he’ll do anything horrible during class?

On another note, the troubles we went through to sneak in the Firebolt was completely wasted, because Quidditch is canceled this year. For some inexplicable reasons, Hogwarts is hosting the Triwizard Tournament. If McGonagall is trying to prevent more student deaths, I don’t really think this is the way to go.

Still, Hogwarts really is beautiful. Don’t worry, Dada, I am glad that I am attending it, so don’t even try to kidnap me out of here. I. Am. Fine.

I love you,

Harry

P.s. Please attach my winnings—ten galleons each, if you forgot—with the return mail.

 

The one good thing about being sorted into Ravenclaw, Harry thinks, is that so few people are.

Few people, much less ten and eleven year olds, recognize the benefit of being sorted into Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. Most of them are too bright-eyed, too bushy-tailed to not want to be sorted into Gryffindor, the house of courage, of bravery, of heroes; they’re mostly Muggle-borns, really, who just recently discovered this wonderful world of magic in which they get to belong to. And, for a short time, allow themselves to be idealists, to want to do nothing but good.

On the other side of the spectrum are the pessimists, the cynics, those who no longer “ooooh” and “aaaah” when an impressive feat of magic is being performed, because they grew up in this world and have instead come to realize that the sparkles and lights are simply a poor attempt to hide the foulness underneath. They recognize this because they are the secrets the wizarding world pretends not to notice—kids whose parents are Death Eaters, who used their pure-blood status and wealth to bribe their way out of Azkaban and make Aurors look the other way; kids whose parents aren’t fully human, who are refused work because the Wizengamot refuses to pass laws to protect their rights; kids whose parents are Muggle-borns, who have aged and matured and realized that they will never be elected minister, because even if people publically reject Voldemort and his doctrines, they still secretly believe Muggles to be inferior to pure-bloods. These people are sorted into Slytherin because they don’t want to do something good, they want to do something great.

They want to change the world.

The key word, here, is want. The ability to change the world, even one as small as the Britain’s wizarding world, is no easy task. The only person Harry knows who managed that is, well, Voldemort, and that was only for a short time while the war waged.

But most children are idealists, even those who think they’re realists. The line between Gryffindor and Slytherin is so fine that Harry doesn’t believe it exists. Perhaps it all comes down to the colors one would like to wear on their robes.

(And while the Sorting Hat, in theory, is supposed to sort each student by their characteristics and potentials, it isn’t cruel enough to deny a child its wants.)

Then, there are the true realists, those who are wise beyond their years, who know that change doesn’t result from grand gestures, not really. Instead, winning battles and duels and passing legislations are the results of small, barely noticeable and appreciated acts, of kindness shown to a person beaten down by the world, of learning and sharing knowledge that destroy this misconception and that stereotype and undo its damages.

They’re the ones who are sorted into Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff.

So, the end result is this: the graduating class of 2001 has twenty Gryffindors, seventeen Slytherins, six Ravenclaws, and five Hufflepuffs.

The end result is also this: Harry doesn’t have to share a room with anyone.

Which is fantastic, because it is past midnight when he finishes the letter, and he doesn’t have to be worried about bothering anyone when he puts on his slippers and wraps himself in his Invisibility Cloak to go visit the owlery. No doubt his classmates will wait until a reasonable time—tomorrow, for instance—to send a letter home. But Harry knows Sirius, knows he has separation anxiety. The worst part of it is, he can’t even blame the man for it. Merlin knows how long he would have been stuck in Azkaban, away from Remus and away from Harry, if Loki hadn’t rescued him.

So despite the late hour, Harry finds himself slipping out of his dorm and the common room, walking through the hallways, and climbing up the stairs of the west tower. He’s panting slightly as he emerges, pulling off his Cloak and slinging it over his shoulder. The owlery is a small, circular room. Multiple wooden rods, suspended from the ceiling by thin strings, act as perches for the owls. Most of them are asleep, but a beautiful snowy owl flies down to meet Harry as he walks into the room.

“Hello, Hedwig,” he greets with a smile, holding out his arm for her to roost on. She does so, nipping at his hair affectionately. “I got a letter I want you to deliver. Are you up for it?”

Hedwig puffs up her chest, indignant. Harry chuckles. “Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean to offend. Of course you are, darling.” He ties the letter to her leg. “Please deliver this to either Sirius Black or Remus Lupin, alright girl?”

She hoots in agreement, and takes off. Harry walks over to the balcony, and watches her fly farther and farther away, the white spot in the black night becoming smaller and smaller, until something heavy is dropped on his head and fur is hindering his vision.

A sharp voice reprimands, “What, exactly, do you think you’re doing?”

Harry pushes off the hood of the cloak, annoyed, but can’t stop the grin that overtakes his face as he turns to face the speaker. “Battling a troll, of course. Why other possible reason could I have to come to the owlery?”

Loki raises an eyebrow, unamused. “Not in those clothes.”

Harry looks down at his pajamas, which are decorated with flying golden snitches. They had been red, courtesy his dada, but Harry had charmed them blue in an effort to avoid antagonizing his house mates further, should they ever see him in them.

(Upon further investigation, he’d discovered that all of his clothes, sans his robes, were either red or gold, including his underwear and socks. It had taken him an hour to revert all of them back to their original color.)

“What’s wrong with them?” He asks, even though he knows exactly what Loki’s problem is.

“They’re ridiculously thin, Harry,” Loki says, rolling his eyes, “and terribly unsuited for the cold Scotland weather. Do I have to remind you that you’re no longer in Italy?”

“I don’t feel that cold, actually,” Harry says.

“Oh, dear. It seems that the symptoms of hypothermia has already set in.”

“Ha, ha.”

Nevertheless, Harry tug the fur lined cloak tighter around him, if only to stop Loki from worrying. His father has a protective streak the length of Jormungandr, matched only by that of Sirius. Harry would rather not spend the precious time he has with him arguing. They get little of it as it is.

“I missed you,” he blurts out. Then he takes two steps forward and wraps his arms around Loki’s waist, his head coming to rest on his chest.

He feels Loki settling his hands on his back and burying his face into Harry’s curls. “I missed you too, my darling. I’m sorry I missed your birthday.”

“You were needed during Alfablot, I know. It’s okay.”

It’s not okay. It’s very not okay. Harry knows he’s lucky to have Sirius and Remus as his parents, to be raised, to be cared, and to be loved by them. He knows, he is aware, but he’s only a child, no matter how mature he would like to pretend to be. And sometimes, he wants to throw a tantrum at the injustice of it, that the father he loves, the father who loves him, is unable to visit him on a daily basis and attend his birthday parties, is reduced to, sometimes, one visit per a year, because his grandfather is a terrible, horrible being.

(A being, because how can someone so cruel be a god?)

As if he’s reading Harry’s mind, Loki says, “it’s not okay, Harry, and I’m sorry I can’t make it better.”

Loki doesn’t make any promises, and Harry appreciates that he doesn’t. He doesn’t want to get his hopes up, only to have his dreams come crashing down on his head.

“It’s fine. I’m fine,” Harry says, because what else can he do?

Loki makes a noise, clearly not believing his lie—well, he is the god of lies, in addition to being his father. Harry would be surprised if he could get a lie past him—but he lets the issue go. Instead, he untangles himself from the hug and pulls a box from one of his pocket dimensions. He hands it to Harry, who accepts the gift eagerly. Loki, by virtue of him being a god, gives the best presents.

Inside the carefully wrapped box, cushioned on a bed of silk, is a beautifully crafted dagger about twelve inches long. The blade itself looked silver, though Harry suspected it was made of a finer material accessible only to Asgardians, for it shone unnaturally in the dark night; it is straight and thin, with the tiniest of curve at the end. Intricate patterns are carved into the wooden hilt, which fits perfectly in the palm of Harry’s hands. The whole thing is terribly well balanced.

“Happy belated birthday, my darling,” Loki says softly. “And congratulation on being sorted into Ravenclaw.”

“I,” Harry swallows wetly. “Thank you, Daddy.”

“No need to thank me,” Loki says. “After all, this is the custom of our people.”

“What, to give children dangerous weapons with which they can hurt themselves?”

“Don’t be obstinate, Harry. You know exactly what I’m referring to.”

Harry does. Loki had taken care to educate him on everything Asgardian. “When a member of the royal family turns of age, it is customary to give them a weapon,” he recites dutifully.

Loki gifts him with a smile. “Quite right. And while your grandfather may never recognize you as legitimate prince of Asgard, you are my son. Never doubt my love for you.”

Harry would like to say that he hasn’t, but that would be another lie. Sirius and Remus does their best to dispel his insecurities, but sometimes, in the dead of the night, when he is the only one awake and it’s been weeks and months since he last saw Loki, he wonders if Loki is really, actually ashamed of him, of his half-breed son; if the only reason Loki visits him is out of some sense of obligation, some sense of guilt.

It is nice to have a reminder that Loki does truly care for him.

“Unfortunately, I won’t be able to visit often enough to teach you how to wield it,” Loki says, and Harry is pleased to hear a note of genuine contriteness, and then immediately feels ashamed for being pleased. “However, I have arranged for you to learn from another skilled warrior. The first session will take place in the Forbidden Forest, at eleven o’clock this following Saturday.” He runs a hand through Harry’s hair. “It is of utmost importance that you learn, my darling, and learn well. I know that you are skilled at your magic, but magic cannot save you from everything. It will be wise to have other weapons at your disposal. I believe a dagger would be a sufficient start.”

Harry nods. He, out of everyone, is the most cognizant of the danger his life is in every second. “I understand, Daddy. I’ll practice every day, and I’ll do you proud.”

Loki’s face kind of…spasms, before his eyes soften and Harry is being pulled into another hug. “Oh, my darling. Everything you do makes me proud.”

Chapter Text

He’s wearing argyle socks.

It’s a strange detail to notice, yet that’s exactly what Harry realizes first when his awareness returns to him. Other senses come soon after—he’s sitting in a disgustingly comfortable love chair, legs crossed and dress pants stretched tightly across each thigh. The aforementioned socks are tucked into a pair of shiny oxfords, hiding and peeking out again as he taps his feet to the beat of the music playing from the stereo. As the first song ends and another one begins, he takes a sip from the glass of whiskey held loosely in his hand, tilting his head back to better enjoy the smoothness of the alcohol as it glides down his throat. It warms him from the inside, as the flames from the fireplace warms him from the outside.

Only then does he deem to look at the quivering form of the man prostrated in front of him.

“My Lo—Lord, I beg you,” he’s saying. “Please, have mercy.”

A wet tongue flicks against his sharp cheekbones. “What a pathetic little man,” a snake hisses. She’s draped around his neck, like a heavy, precious piece of jewelry.

He chuckles, more so when the man flinches from the sound. “Play nice, Nagini,” he berates.

“I hardly think you’re one to tell me that.”

He concedes the point, stroking a pale hand against her emerald green scales. The ring on his middle finger glints sharply in the darkness of the room, reflecting the brightness of the flames. “Nevertheless, whatever shall we do with him?”

Nagini begins to slither down his body, landing smoothly on the soft carpeted floor and sliding towards the traitor. “I haven’t eaten in daysss,”

He hardly believes that to be true. Nagini hunts whenever the whim strikes her, and the house elves know better than to leave the grounds empty of prey, lest they themselves be eaten; but if his Nagini, his horcrux, desires the taste of human flesh…

Well, what reasons does he have to stop her?

The orchestra crescendos just as the first scream erupts from the man. Harry tips his head back against the armchair, downs the last of his whiskey, and sighs in contentment.

Fridays have always been his favorite day of the week.

 

Harry bolts up in bed, a hand gripped tightly over his forehead. He can already feel the blood pooling in his palms, and doesn’t waste another second running to the washroom.

The sight in the mirror is an unpleasant one. It shows the image of a boy, barely on the cusp of puberty, with a pale, sweaty face and wide, terrified eyes. When he removes his hand, he sees that his scar is inflamed and throbbing, drops of blooding welling up and trickling down and past his eyebrows and into his left eye.

“Damn it,” he mutters, quickly turning the tab on the sink and trying to clean the mess that is his forehead. A few ‘episkeys’ stop the bleeding, but the scar is still raw and open as if he had received it fourteen seconds ago instead of fourteen years; there’s nothing he can do about that.

Crisis dealt with, Harry finally allows himself to breathe, sinking down until he’s sitting on the bathroom floor, the coldness from the tiles seeping in through his pajama pants. He leans back against the wall and tip his head, trying to get more oxygen into his lungs, but that action just reminds him of what had happened his dream.

…what did happen in that dream?

Even now, his memory of the dream is fading fast—he remembers a man and a snake and nothing more, nothing of true importance, so Harry would like to dismiss it as simply another nightmare except for the fact that nothing has ever caused his scar to bleed like so.

Nothing.

Harry knows his scar, his scar that has never healed, is tied to Voldemort and the Killing Curse and that night, so it would be foolish of him to ignore something that caused the scar to react like this. However, try as he might, he cannot think of anything that would have led to it bleeding and hurting.

He opens his mouth to call for Sirius and Remus—maybe they’ll have an idea—only to realize, at the last second, that they are no longer just a room away. No, they are 2000 kilometers away, in their cottage in Italy, while he’s at Hogwarts in Scotland.

And, for the very first time in his life, he’s irrevocably alone.

Right.

Harry exhales, relaxing his fists that he hasn’t even realized were clenched, and tries to get his pounding heart to slow. Down. He climbs into the bathtub, wretches the handle to the left, and lets himself be drenched in cold water until he feels like he has some semblance of control. Only then does he stand up, takes off his wet clothes, and washes himself with hot water (because who in their right mind enjoys cold showers?).

He’s a remarkably better state of mind when he walks back into the bedroom, having decided to tell Remus and Sirius about this incident and, remembering about the existence of owls, no longer quite so worried that they’re far away.

(It’s not like he’s unused to having parents who live far away.)

A wave of his wand tells him it’s a quarter past seven, too late to go back to sleep, so Harry puts on his school uniforms instead of another set of pajamas. He rummages through his luggage until he finds a tiny tube of concealer that they bought over the summer, which promises to ‘hide any imperfection for 24 hours long.’ Harry personally thought it was more expensive than necessary, but at least it works; now, no one can easily tell that he’s got a scar in the shape of a lightning bolt. His curls, which fall over his forehead, help with that too.

Finally presentable, Harry grabs his bag and leaves, locking the door behind him and then, on a second thought, sets up a ward. It’s nothing complicated, but it should sufficiently discourage any of his fellow first years from trying to cause mischief.

It takes him a few tries to locate the Great Hall again, finally resorting to asking one of the portraits for directions after finding himself in the sixth floor girl’s washroom. Because of the early hour, the room is fairly empty, a sharp contrast to the state it had been in during yesterday’s feast. The few students who are there appear to be barely awake, yet their arms are moving furiously as they try to finish their summer homework at the last minute, narrowly missing knocking down the mugs of coffee placed beside them. Harry sighs, and hopes that he would not be one of them next year.

Tom Gaunt, the sixth year student Harry met yesterday, has also arrived early. He is sitting across the table from another boy, this one wearing a pair of thick framed glasses and has a Prefect’s badge pinned on his meticulously pressed robes. As Harry nears, he hears snatches of their conversation.

“—you’re not afraid it’ll be too dangerous?” The unknown boy is saying.

 “Well,” Tom laughs, almost carelessly. “I’ve always loved a good challenge.” Suddenly, he catches sight of Harry, and waves in greeting. “Good morning, Harry! Come, sit with us.” He invites, patting the space on the bench next to him.

Harry slows down, his gaze sliding to the other boy—he knows Tom doesn’t care, but was a prefect really okay with sitting next to a first year?

Tom notices his hesitation, and turns back towards the boy. “You don’t mind, do you, Raymond?” He frames his words like a question, but it’s obvious from his tone that he expects nothing but complete agreement.

Raymond pushes up his glasses. “Ah, no, of course not.” He pauses, glancing down at his hands for a quick second before looking up again; the tip of his nose is pink. “And, uh, I told you. You can call me Ray.”

“Of course, of course,” Tom says. “Ray, meet Harrison Black; Harry, this is Raymond Zeller. He’s one of the seventh year prefects, and also my mentor for the year.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Black,” Ray says formally, shaking Harry’s hands. His is sticky with jam. “Um, you can also call me Ray.”

“You as well,” Harry replies, wiping his palm on his robes discretely beneath the table. “And feel free to call me Harry. Were you guys talking about the tournament just now?”

“Yes,” Tom confirms as he adds some milk to his tea. “Since I’ll have turned seventeen before October 31st, I thought I’ll give it a shot and put my name in the cup.”

“Hmm,” Harry hums. “Good luck, then.”

“Thank you,” Tom says. Then he grins impishly. “It’ll be fun, I think.”

Ray splutters. “Fun? Fun? Tom, the death tolls—”

Tom waves a hand, cutting off his protests. “I’m sure they’ll have put in extra safety precautions since the last tournament. Or is it that…” here, Tom trails off. He tilts his head down, tucking his chin in, then looks up at Ray from under his long, long lashes. “Or is it that you don’t have confidence in my abilities, Raymond?”

His voice is quivering.

“No, no, no, that’s not it,” Ray denies immediately. He is shaking his head so frantically that he is in danger of knocking his glasses off. “Of course I believe in you—uh, that is, in your abilities. It’s just that, um, I’m just trying to look out for you, you know? It’s my responsibility as a mentor to care about you. Um, your wellbeing.”

“And I appreciate that, Raymond, I really do,” Tom says with a small smile. “But I’m not a first year. I don’t need a babysitter,” he pauses, and when he speaks again, his voice is somehow even softer than before. “I just want a friend. You’ll be my friend, won’t you, Raymond?”

“Of—of course!”

“Then you’ll support my participation in the tournament?” Tom presses.

Harry doesn’t miss the way in which Tom says those words—that the boy absolutely certain that he will be chosen as Hogwart’s champion. He wonders what is it that Tom has which bolsters his confidence so.

“Um, yes, of course I will!” Ray exclaims.

The tips of Tom’s lips curl, showing off his twin dimples. “Thank you, Raymond.”

Impossibly, Ray’s rounds cheeks turn an even darker shade of red.

Merlin.

“Hey, Tom, would you mind passing me the eggs?” Harry interrupts, finally taking pity on poor Ray; the prefect looks as if he’ll self-combust if he continues to stare into Tom’s eyes any longer. Thankfully, he takes advantage of the opportunity Harry created for him, and puts himself together while Tom turns away to reach for the plate down the table. He is wiping the condensation off of his glasses just as Tom turns back.

“Here you go, Harry.”

“Thank you,” Harry says politely, and engages Ray in conversation before Tom can and the whole fiasco starts again. “And what about you, Ray? Will you be putting your name in the Cup?”

“Me?” Ray asks redundantly, as if Harry isn’t looking at him expectantly, waiting for an answer. “Putting my name in? No way—have you seen the statistics? The number of people who have died in past tournaments…Besides,” he adds, pushing his glasses up his nose, “I’ll be far too busy studying for my NEWTs and working on my apprenticeship under Professor Snape. And, um, mentoring Tom.”

“Mentoring?” Harry repeats. It was the third time he’s heard that term this morning. “What is that, exactly?”

Ray visibly brightens. He straightens up his seat, suddenly confident as he is confronted with a question he knows the answer to. “Mentoring refers to the mentorship program, in which upper year students are paired with younger students in order to help them succeed in their first few years at Hogwarts. Usually, a first year mentee will be assigned a fourth year mentor, and they will continue that relationship for the next three years. Then the mentee becomes the mentor in their fourth year, and the seventh year ‘graduates’ from the program, so to speak.” He recites.

“It’s because they’re too busy studying for the NEWTs, and applying for internships, fellowships, and jobs, to mentor anymore.” Tom adds.

Harry frowns. “But wait, Ray, didn’t you say you were a seventh year?”

“Well, yes,” Ray agrees “but it would have been odd for Tom to be mentored by a fourth year, since he’s older than them,” He explains. “So Professor Flitwick asked me as a, um, a favor.”

“Raymond here is ranked first in his grade,” Tom whispers conspiratorially to Harry, though he makes no attempt to be quiet. “He’s the first apprentice Professor Snape has ever agreed to take on. The NEWTs will be a breeze for him. Flitwick knows it, too. That’s why he asked him, instead of anyone else.”

“Tom!” Ray yelps. He rubs the back of his neck, simultaneously flattered and embarrassed by the praise. Especially considering who the speaker was.

“What?” Tom says faux innocently. “It’s true, isn’t it? Raymond, dear, you should be more proud of your amazing accomplishments. Don’t you think so, Harry?”

Not this again, Harry thinks, as Ray ducks his head, though no one could miss the redness of his ears. He tries to steer the two back on topic. “Do you know who my mentor is, Ray?”

“Oh, no,” Ray says with an apologetic smile. “Mentors are usually announced at the first house meeting, which should happen two weeks from now. That gives Professor Flitwick some time to observe you guys and decide which mentor match which mentee the best. I just knew early because Professor Flitwick pulled me aside yesterday to ask me if I was okay with mentoring Tom.” He directs a shy smile at Tom. “I was, of course.” He adds, unnecessarily.

Once you saw him, you just couldn’t wait to introduce yourself to him, could you? Harry thinks slyly.

Fortunately, the owls chose this time to arrive, distracting Harry from having to watch the two boys flirt for the rest of breakfast. Instead, he can focus on the owl that had just taken a perch on his shoulder. “Hello, Hedwig,” he greets, reaching up to stroke her feathers.

Hedwig hoots in response, sticking out her leg for him to take both the letter and the package. Harry does so, furrowing his eyebrows in confusion. Hadn’t he just sent his letter out yesterday? Surely Hedwig isn’t so fast as to be able to fly from Scotland to Italy, then back again, just in one night?

But that does appears to be the case, as the messy scrawl on the front of the letter is unmistakably Sirius’s, and the package contains his winnings from the bet. Still…

How?

Hey Pup! The letter begins.

Congratulations on being sorted into Ravenclaw! It is no Gryffindor, of course, but at least you are not a Slytherin. This way I won’t have to spend the rest of my life pretending to love a snake.

Your Dada is joking, of course.  As we said on the platform, we don’t care which house you’re sorted into. Ravenclaw is a fine house, just as is Gryffindor, and Slytherin, and Hufflepuff.

A civil war? Harry, love, I doubt the situation is that dire. You must have gotten you Dada’s flair for the dramatics.

I don’t know what your Papa is talking about. Don’t listen to him, Pup, listen to me; I know everything about everyone. Here, I’ll prove it to you, starting with your classmates: O’Sullivan and Quirke…their families own ‘Witches’ Weekly’ and ‘the Daily Prophet,’ respectively. As such they have a substantial amount of influence over the British magical population. It would be wise to stay in their good favor, Harry.

…or so Loki would say, right? Merlin, he’s such a hardass.

Siri! You can’t write that!

Yes I can, Moony! I’ll write whatever I want!

I’ll admit I’ve never heard of the name Leung-Dobbs, but I have heard of the Leungs and the Dobbs. Perhaps there was a marriage which ocurred while we were away. The Leungs are an old family who migrated from China to France approximately five centuries ago. Their oldest son was recently in the news for being elected Prime Minister, and their youngest a representative in the Parliament. I’m certain their children exclusively attends Beaubaxton, however.

As for Dobbs, I remember an Amelie Dobbs who was the Head girl when we were first years. She also had a brother, Aaron, who was three years younger than her. Both of them were muggleborns. I’m not quite sure what happened to them after graduation.

I’ve never heard of the name Ackerly, which means he’s definitely a muggleborn.

Or maybe it’s just that you don’t know everyone and everything.

Of course I do!I mean, I told you that Edgecomb wasn’t going to be your DADA teacher, and guess what happened? That right, Moody is your teacher, now. And he’s a horrible, terrible humans being. Totally unfit to be your teacher. Look, I’ll a write a letter right now complaining to Minnie, and he’ll be fired, and Moony can teach you instead, how’s that? Or better yet, how about you just come home and be homeschooled? How do you feel about private tutors?

Ignore him, Harry, you Dada is being stupid, as always. We knew Alastor Moody from during the war—he was also in the Order. He’s firmly on the side of the Light, so I doubt he’s a bad person, per se, but his moral had always been looser than anyone else’s. However, he is more than qualified to be your DADA teacher. Siri just doesn’t like him because he…disapproved of our relationship. Rather vocally.

That’s a very valid reason to hate him!

As for Snape…tread carefully, Pup. I would hope that the years has taught him to look past school age grudges, but he’s always been an unforgivable person—

Ha, get it, because he likes casting the unforgivables? Good one, Moony.

—and he’s always hated us, especially Sirius and James. I cannot predict what he may do in order to get revenge on us.

The Triwizard tournament? You must be kidding. Surely Minerva is aware of the death tolls? Does she want the school to close down? Perhaps it might not be a bad idea to at least write a strongly-worded letter to her, after all.

Stay safe, Harry.

We love you,

Padfoot & Moony

“Is that from your parents, Harry?”

Harry jolts back into the present, snapping his head to his right. He hadn’t even been aware of Ichika and Natalie’s arrival, or them settling down on the bench beside him, too focused on the letter. He could feel an embarrassed flush lighting the tip of his ears red.

“Sorry,” Natalie continues. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Um, yeah,” he lets out an uncharacteristic stutter, off-kilter from being caught off guard. He clears his throat, and tries again. “Yes, yes it is.”

“What did it say?” Natalie asks, curious. “It must be pretty important—you looked worried. Is everything alright?”

“Nat,” Ichika hisses quietly.

Natalie glances at her, and then whips her head back to face Harry, hands raised in a frantic gesture. “Oh, I, uh, I don’t mean to pry. It’s your letter, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. Obviously.”

Harry chuckles, and Natalie, seeing that he wasn’t offended, relaxes marginally. “Nothing of importance, really. Just congratulations on being sorted into Ravenclaw from my parents.”

“They’ll okay with it, then?” Upon seeing Harry’s perplexed expression, Natalie elaborates. “Well, it just seems that the Wizarding world placed a lot of emphasis on tradition, and Orla told us your fathers were both Gryffindors, so…” she gestures to the letter. “I thought it might have contained some bad news.”

Harry shakes his head. “No, nothing of that sort. They’re happy with the placement. What about your parents?” He asks, tucking the letter away in his school bag.

Natalie shrugs. “We haven’t heard back from them yet. I mean, we’ve only sent the letter this morning, so I don’t expect to hear a reply until next Monday, at the least.”

“Do they live far?”

Ichika and Natalie exchange a glance. “Not necessarily—they own an apartment in London. It’s just that our family travels a lot.” Ichika answers.

“Oh?” Harry asks, intrigued. He’s never ever left Italy until now. “What places have you been to?”

“Let’s see…” Natalie murmurs, putting down her fork so she can count on her fingers. “We were in Ireland when our Hogwarts letter came, Switzerland the month before that, and Albania for New Year’s…”

“Sweden,” Ichika interjects helpfully. “Russia. Japan.”

“Luxembourg.” Natalie adds.

“Korea.”

“India.”

“Thailand.”

“Norway.”

“Iceland. Greenland.”

“Hey, that’s not fair!” Natalie protests. “You can’t list off more than one country!”

Ichika raises an eyebrow. “I wasn’t aware there were rules to telling Harry what countries we’ve been to.”

Natalie huffs, and turn her back to Ichika, facing Harry. “We’ve been to a lot.” She surmises. “But we mostly keep in Eurasia. We usually stay at once place for three months or so, since our moms want us to get fully immersed in the culture and the language.

“That’s really awesome,” Harry says, simultaneously impressed and envious. “Like, seriously.” He hesitates, then asks the question, anyway. “Also, did you says moms? Like, plural?”

“Mmhmm.”

“That’s cool, obviously. I just wanted to make sure I heard correctly.” Harry says quickly. “Um, how many languages do you speak then?”

Natalie pulls a face. “Fluently? Probably like, four or five. Our older sisters know more, of course, since they’ve traveled to more places.”

“Older sisters?” Harry repeats.

“Umm-hmm,” Natalie turns around on the bench so she’s facing the Great Hall, her back resting on the dining table. “There’s Zelda, she’s a fifth year in Gryffindor; that’s Alessia, a third year in Slytherin; and that’s Joann, a sixth year in Hufflepuff.” She says, pointing out each person as she goes.

Harry blinks. “So there’s one of you in each house? That’s pretty cool.”

“Yeah,” Ichika agrees. “We also have a younger one at home: Lizzie,” she laughs. “I guess now she’ll be breaking the tie when she comes to Hogwarts,” she leans in closer, dropping her voice to whisper conspiratorially. “Our family a betting pool, and the pot only grows larger with every little thing she does.” She adopts a mocking voice. “‘oh, she chose a green dress? Must be a Slytherin!’”

“‘She wants to read a picture book! Must be a Ravenclaw!’” Natalie continues.

“‘She likes this ruby necklace? Must be a Gryffindor!’”

“‘She likes badgers? Must be a Hufflepuff!’”

“It’s completely ridiculous,” they say in unison, and then grin at each other, fondness clear in their eyes.

And Harry, unexpectedly, is suddenly hit with a wave of jealousy. Because this, what the Leung-Dobbs have, this family with six siblings, is something he’ll never have. Sure, he loves his Papa and his Dada, and Loki, but…

Out of all of his siblings, he has only ever met Hel. Once. When he was a babe, too young to remember anything. He doesn’t even know where the rest of them are. Loki refuses to tell him anything, stating that it might be too dangerous for him to know.

Really, the only things he knows of them is their names, and that’s…

That’s not enough. Harry wants to learn about their favorite colors, their happiest memories, their personalities, their quirks, their faults, everything. Enough that he can confidently participate in a betting pool about them, because he knows them that well.

At this point, he knows more about the people he’s only met yesterday than about his own siblings.

Harry doesn’t want that to be the way things are for the rest of his life.

“Ah, Mr. Black, here you are!”

Harry turns around at the voice of his Head of the House, Professor Filius Flitwick. There’s a stack of parchments in his arms, and he leafs through them until he find the one to give to Harry—it’s his class schedule.

“Thank you, Professor.” Harry says politely.

“No problem, no problem at all!” He says cheerfully. “Ah, and you two are Natalie and Ichika, correct? I must say, girls, I’ve been wanting to have a Leung-Dobbs in my house ever since I met Joann. Your sisters are absolutely wonderful. And now I get two! How wonderful!”

“We’ll do our best to impress then, Professor.” Natalie replies, taking the offered schedules and passing one to Ichika.

“Excellent, excellent,” Flitwick responds. “And you must be Mr. Gaunt, yes? How are you finding Hogwarts so far?”

“It has been wonderful, sir,” Tom replies, his eyes flicker to Ray. “My mentor has been very helpful, of course.”

Flitwick beams. “Good, good. Mr. Zeller is fantastic, isn’t he?” He takes a moment to rifle through the parchments. “Here’s your schedule, Mr. Gaunt, and yours, Mr. Zeller.”

“Much obliged, professor.” Ray says. He glances down, and mutters a curse. “Oh, Merlin, double potions? Sorry, Tom, I’ll have to run. Don’t wanna be late for this class.” He glances at the three first years. “It was nice meeting you all. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, alright?”

“Sure,” Harry nods. “Thank you.”

“See you during lunch, Raymond. I’ll save you a seat.” Tom calls out, and smirks a little as Ray almost trips over his robes.

“Nat, Harry, we should go too.” Ichika says, studying her own schedule. “We have transfiguration first, and that classroom is pretty far away.”

Harry feels a bit surprised that they already aware of that fact, then realizes their older sister must have told them.

“Yeah, let’s,” Natalie agrees, cramming the last of the toast in her mouth. Harry stands up as well, dislodging a dozing Hedwig from his shoulders. She hoots angrily at him, then flies away, presumably back to the owlery. Harry makes a note to visit the tower later to apologize to her. Before her, he didn’t even know owls could hold grudges. Perhaps Hedwig is just special.

After waving goodbye to Tom, the three of them set off from the Great Hall to attend their first class.

They find the classroom easily enough, thanks to the sister’s hand drawn map and Harry’s clear recall. The door is open, so the three slipped inside, and finds the majority of their classmates already there. The Hufflepuffs have claimed the left side of the room, chattering amiably among themselves. Kieran and Orla are sitting on the right, at the very front row.

The newcomers glance at each other, before Harry shrugs and steps forward. He takes the seat behind Orla’s, leaving the chair beside him empty, while the sisters slip into the row behind him.

As soon as he sits down, Kieran turns around in his chair to face him. “Morning, Black.”

“Good morning,” Harry replies, reaching in his bag for his quill, ink, and parchment. “Did you sleep well?”

Kieran waves his question away carelessly. “Well enough, I suppose. Listen, I was wondering—you were talking to Gaunt this morning, right?”

Harry nods, though he wonders why he didn’t see the two of them at the Great Hall if they saw him.

“And you saw him with Raymond Zeller?” Kieran continues.

“Yeah.” Harry confirms. He pauses when he sees Orla and Kieran exchange a glance. “Is something wrong?” He asks.

“No,” Kieran refutes immediately. “I was just…what can you tell me about them?”

Harry cocks his head, thoroughly confused. “Excuse me?”

Before Kieran can clarify, the wooden door of the classroom slams open, the loud sound making half of the class jolt in their seats. Minerva McGonagall bustles in, steps hurried as she walks down the pathway dividing the classroom in half, and towards the front. Strands of hair have escaped from her bun, flying over her face as she moves. A flick of her wand causes words to appear on the blackboard, spelling out “WELCOME TO TRANSFIGURATION” in large, swooping letters.

“Good morning, class!” She says, turning to face the students. “I hope you are enjoying your first day of class so far. For those who have forgotten, my name is Minerva McGonagall, and I am the Headmistress of Hogwarts. Furthermore, I am also the Transfiguration Professor for all grade levels.” Her sharp eyes scan the room carefully. “Hufflepuffs, I’m pleased to see that all of you are present and on time; Ravenclaws, are there not six students in your year?” She asks, staring first at the empty seat besides Harry, then Harry himself.

Harry can only nod.

“Then why do I only see five? Where is Mr. Ackerly?”

“Here!” The door opens, letting in Stewart Ackerly, a half-eaten bagel clutched in his hand. “I’m here, Professor.”

She glances at him, and then away. “Five points from Ravenclaw for your tardiness, Mr. Ackerly. Take a sit,” she demands, rapping her knuckles on the empty desk.

Ackerly looks aghast. “Next to Black?”

Ah. So there is someone who minded his presence. Based on the way yesterday’s feast ended, Harry had assumed that everyone in the house would ignore each other, or maybe do something far worse. He had been surprised earlier at breakfast, when the Leung-Dobbs sisters had sat down and talked with him, even introducing him to their sisters. Perhaps his papa had been right, he had thought then; perhaps he was just being dramatic.

If Ackerly’s reaction was anything to go by, he clearly wasn't.

“Of course,” McGonagall says, raising a thin eyebrow. “Problem, Mr. Ackerly?”

He lowers his head. “No, Professor,” he mumbles as he slides into the chair besides Harry. The other boy held himself gingerly, as if afraid of touching Harry.

After that, the rest of class proceeds smoothly. McGonagall talks them through the class syllabus and expectations, demonstrates her animagus transformation—shifting smoothly into a cat then back again—and gives them their first task: transfiguring a toothpick into a needle.

Easy.

Harry taps the tip of his wand against his toothpick, not bothering to do the appropriate wand movement or speak the spell aloud; yet, in the next moment, the transfiguration has been completed. A silver needle now lies on his desk.

Ackerly looks absolutely gobsmacked.

“How, how did you—?”

“Ah,” McGonagall drifts by their desk, looking down at their work. “Very well done, Mr. Black. Ten points to Ravenclaw for being the first in the class to complete the transfiguration successfully.”

“Thank you, Professor.”

For a second, McGonagall hesitates; but then she continues, “I supposed I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, your father had always excelled in my class.”

For a moment, Harry thinks she is talking about James Potter, before remembering that she doesn’t know. No one, except the four of them, is aware that Harrison Black and Harry Potter are the same exact person.

“He told me he had a fantastic teacher,” Harry replies. Then he straightens and looks at her in the eyes. “He also told me he wanted to apologize to you. For all the trouble he and his friends caused you while he was a student.”

McGonagall looks shocked. Did she never expect Sirius to mature and realize his pranks had been childish? She recovers quickly, however. “That is very nice of him.” She says. “However, I would prefer to hear it from him in person. Tell him to write to me; better yet, my floo is always open to him…and Mr. Lupin.”

“Yes, of course.”

With one last smile, McGonagall departs from their table and returns to encircling around the room, occasionally stopping to advise some struggling first years.

“You know McGonagall?” upon seeing Harry’s confused look, Kieran elaborates, “you two talk like you’re…friends.”

Harry shakes his head. “I’ve never met her until now. My parents knew her, though, from when they were still students here.”

“More than knew, I would wager,” Kieran comments snidely, but a sharp look from Orla quiets him. He turns around to face the front, focusing on his own work as McGonagall stops by his desk.

Harry spends the rest of the period adding intricate designs to his needle, and the other half ignoring Ackerly as he stares intensely into the side of Harry’s head. The muggleborn is obviously struggling with the transfiguration, and clearly wants help, yet refuses to admit it out loud. Unfortunately for him, Harry will not do so unless the other boy asks him first. He has no doubt that, if he just offered his assistance freely, Ackerly will view gesture as patronizing and brush him off, worsening the rift between them.

Alas, Ackerly never did swallow his pride, and so the class ends with him as the only student unable to complete the transfiguration. This failure only serves to antagonize him further, and he storms out of the room in a huff. Harry is half-afraid that he’ll skip the next class.

Surprisingly, he doesn’t, though Charms begins with him sitting in his seat with his arms crossed and his eyebrows drawn up tightly; he is visibly more relaxed by the end of it, however. Harry thinks it must be because Professor Flitwick hadn’t asked them to do magic, but had just discussed the theories and principles behind a spell they would learn soon—information that Ackerly would have read in the textbook and understood.

(No one likes to feel incompetent.)

Unfortunately, things worsen after lunch.

Harry steps into his double potions class with trepidation. He has not forgotten the stories Sirius and Remus had told him about Snape, nor the way the man had glared at him during last night’s dinner. When class begins, it seems like he is right to be anxious—after roll call, Snape suddenly turns on him with a whirl of his cloak. “Black!” he snaps, practically spitting his name. “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

Harry blinks, startled at being put on the spot. Fortunately, the answer comes to him quickly. “That would be the Draught of Living Death.”

Snape’s lips curl into a sneer, apparently dissatisfied with his reply. “That would be the Draught of Living Death, sir. Ten points from Gry—Ravenclaw for your disrespect.”

Harry feels his jaw go slack. Ten points taken off for forgetting a word? He hadn’t expected Snape to treat him fairly, but that is just unbelievable. The man isn’t even trying to hide his disdain.

“Let us try again, shall we? Black, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?”

“I would look in the stomach of a goat. Sir.”

Snape smirks. “Ah, so you can learn. And what, Black, is the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane?”

“None, sir. They’re the same plant, sir.”

“Ten points off for failing to mention that they also go by the name aconite,” Snape immediately says. Harry is already starting to feel vexed—that was not what he had been asked—when Snape continues, “I’m surprised, Black. I thought you, of all people, would be able to answer this question perfectly, considering who your father is…”

Silence descends upon the room.

Harry feels his face burn scarlet, though he could not be sure whether that is from humiliation or rage. The reactions of his fellow classmates are varied. The Hufflepuff exchange confused glances and mumbled among themselves—apparently the infamous rumor mill did not turn as quickly as previous thought, and there are some students who remained ignorant of Remus' werewolverism. For now. Harry has no doubt that would change after this class.

As for the Ravenclaws…Harry is not able to see Kieran and Orla's reactions, for they have sat themselves behind him. However, that snort can not be mistaken for anything but amusement. Ichika and Natalie, on the other hand, seem appalled at Snape's unprofessional behavior; the latter even drops her quill. Even Ackerly, who has made his dislike of Harry clear, appears to be shocked at this blatant show of attack.

“I'm…sorry, sir. I will strive to do better next time,” Harry manages to grit out, the words burning like acid on his tongue.

Snape only grunts.

Harry fears that Snape will continue to torment him, but his fears are unfounded. For the practical portion of the lesson, the first years are paired up and told to brew a potion to cure boils. Admittedly, Harry is no potions prodigy, but he did grow up with Sirius and Remus. They often brewed their own potions at home, at first by necessity—no one sold wolfsbane potions, because no one sold to werewolves—then for pleasure—it was a way that all three of them could spend time together. In addition, Remus loved teaching. As a result, Harry’s skills are, at the very least, decent enough that Snape can’t find anything to take points off for.

Instead, he switches his focus to another student: Stewart Ackerly. As was the case in transfiguration class, Ackerly is at a disadvantage simply by virtue of him being a muggleborn. He’s smart, but there are some things one cannot learn except by experience. Using magic is one of them. Brewing potions is another. It doesn’t help that Snape hadn’t explained anything about the procedures, other than the short instructions written on the board; it also doesn’t help that Snape spends the entire hour looming over his bent back, sharply critiquing everything he and his partner does, including but not limited to the way they weigh the dried nettles and crush the snake fangs.

Really, Harry is rather impressed they managed to brew anything at all.

Unfortunately, it is not the correct potion, so Snape banishes the entire content of their cauldron. “Again,” he demands, just as the bell rings.

Ackerly glares up at him, his eyebrows drawn together tightly again.

“Oh, dear,” Snape drawls, his tone far from sympathetic. “It would appear that you have nothing to hand in. I suppose this means that you will receive a Troll for the day. Dismissed.”

“But, Professor—!” Ackerly tries to protest.

Snape sweeps past him. “Don’t make me repeat myself, Mr. Ackerly.”

“…sorry. Sir.”

In the end, Ravenclaw lost 50 house points.

Kieran is infuriated by this fact, and he doesn’t hesitate to show it. They’ve barely left the classroom before he turns on Ackerly. “This is all your fault!” he shouts, jabbing a finger, white with pressure, against Ackerly’s chest.

That claim is decidedly false, considering the 20 points Harry had lost at the start. But no matter how aggrieved Kieran might be, he knows better than to attack the Heir of House Black. A muggleborn, however, is more than fair game.

Ackerly growls, reaching out to push Kieran away, hard enough that he stumbles and almost falls. “It’s not my fault he’s fucking terrible at teaching! How was I supposed to know I could only crush the fangs with one side of the knife, and not the other?”

“You would’ve known if you’d ever brewed a potion before!”

“Well, I haven’t!”

“Exactly!” Kieran screams, his freckles disappearing into the redness of his face. “Merlin, this is why I hate you mudbloods! You lot come swaggering in here thinking you’re the shit for having magic, when you don’t know a single fucking thing!”

“Fuck you!” Ackerly yells, and pulls out his wand from his robe pocket. “I bet I know more spells than you!”

Kieran bares his teeth in a vicious smile, and flicks his wand out from his arm holster. The two boys point their wands directly at each other. By now, a circle of spectators have formed, jeering and cheering them on. But no one seems interested in interfering with their duel. Not even the Leung-Dobbs sisters, who, last night, had stepped in stop their argument; not even Orla, who is now leaning against the brick wall and picking at her nails with obvious boredom. Harry decides to take his cue from them, and falls back, allowing the crowd to swallow him as one of their own.

It’s not that he supports this, but…it wouldn’t be a bad idea to observe how skilled his peers really are.

“Immobulus!" Kieran casts first, his aim straight and true. Unfortunately, Ackerly ducks, and the spell passing over his head harmless.

Loud booing emit from their audience. “Mudbloods,” Harry hears one mutter in disgust. “Can’t even duel properly.”

“Well now!” Kieran exclaims as Ackerly rises back to his feet. “I didn’t take you to be such a coward.”

“Not a coward, O’Sullivan. I’m just smart,” Ackerly shoots back. They begin to circle one another, their wands never wavering from their targets.

“If you’re truly smart as your say, Ackerly, then you would know better than to duel me. Not to brag, but I’ve won a few dueling tournaments, you know. Stupefy! Petrificus Totalus!”

Ackerly drops again, right into the path of the second spell. His eyes widen in surprise, yet he somehow manages to turn his head quickly enough that it glances by his hair instead of hitting him dead on.

Kieran hisses in frustration, and raises his wand to cast again when a thundering voice interrupts him: “what is going on here?”

As if compelled by magic, the crowd parts to reveal an incensed McGonagall, whose anger only increases as she takes in the sight in front of her. “What is going on here!?” she demands again, “Mr. Ackerly? Mr. O’Sullivan? Would either of you two care to explain your actions?”

“I don’t know, Professor,” Ackerly replies. He is still down on the floor, except he is now curled into a fetal position, his wand nowhere in sight. For all intents and purposes, he appears like nothing more than a victim. “I was just walking out of potions class, when Kieran suddenly started to attack me.”

McGonagall presses her lips into a thin line. “Mr. O’Sullivan, is that true?”

“It's true. I did do it,” Kieran admits easily. “But he deserved it!”

“Really? And what did Mr. Ackerly do to deserve your ire?”

Kieran clearly knows that “he lost us house points” is not a reasonable excuse for hexing someone, because he looks away instead of responding, biting at the inside of his cheeks.

“30 points from Ravenclaw, Mr. O’Sullivan, for attacking a fellow student,” McGongall decides. “You will also be serving detention with me. Meet me in the entrance hall tomorrow night at 7. Do not be late,” she glances around her. “And what do the rest of you have to say for yourselves? All of you should’ve known better than to just stand there while your classmate is being bullied.”

Harry shrinks back, thankful for his short stature, as it allow him to hide from her intense glare.

“Mr. Ackerly, are you alright? Do you require medical assistance?”

Ackerly gives a very convincing cough. “I’m—fine, Professor. Or I will be. Thank you for your help.”

“Of course,” McGonagall replies as she helps him to stand. As he brushes the dirt off of his robe, she looks up. “Well? What are you all still standing around here for? Get to class!”

It is dinner time, but no one is eager to correct her. The crowd scatters off, Harry among them. But before he turns the corner, he happens to glance back, just in time to catch Ackerly shooting Kieran a victorious grin.

He knew this would happen, Harry realizes. Suddenly, Ackerly’s comment about intelligence makes so much more sense. He had thought Ackerly was just bragging, but…he must have seen McGonagall coming, or something.

Harry thinks back to all of Ackerly's blunders today, and wonders if the other boy is also wearing a mask. If so, he has succeeded. Harry has greatly underestimated him, and would have continued to do so, if he hadn't just seen that smile.

Once he understands how to wield his magic, Stewart Ackerly will definitely become a force to be reckoned with. Harry must get on his good side before that happens.

It seems like Hogwarts is more dangerous than he previously imagined.

Well. At least he’s not bored.