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Harry Potter and the Power of the Coven

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It had been two years since the Dark Lord’s return and corresponding with Mole had not gotten easier. In fact, if pressed, Ariadne would admit that reading his letter was in her top ten least favorite tasks. Even so, she pulled out a roll of parchment and smoothed it over her desk. Mole’s letter sat judgmentally at her elbow as she stared down at the blank page.

Ariadne blew her fringe out of her eyes and sighed. Resigning herself to the task at hand, she dipped her quill into its inkwell. She watched as the silky liquid filled the pen and considered the incomplete bits of information that Mole had included in his last letter. Usually, he was meticulous about offering her as much detail as possible.

This last letter, however, was full of ominous warnings and whispers of Death Eaters without any real substance. She tapped the quill against the edge of the inkwell to clear it.

Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.

Glancing over her shoulder at the sound, Ariadne was greeted by a pair of beady black eyes staring at her from the window ledge. She dropped the pen back in the well and went to relieve the owl of its burden. She scratched its head absently and fed it a treat from the bowl on the windowsill, as she flipped over the envelope.

Mistress Ariadne Aureus
The Master Bedroom
9 Summer Street
Salem, MA 01970
USA

It was written in brilliant green ink. She groaned out loud. “As if this day could get any worse. Bloody Dumbledore.” She slit the envelope open with one long nail and slipped the letter out. More green ink:

Dear Ariadne,

I would like, once again, to extend to you and your sisters an offer of employment. For some time now, I have thought it necessary to implement certain measures at this school in order to keep the students and faculty safe and to prepare the community for the war with Voldemort. The art of Coven Magic has long since been lost to our small island and I believe that its revival will be of great assistance to our young Harry in his fight against Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Your many other talents and abilities, and those of your sisters, would also serve both the school and its students well. I beg you and your sisters to join me for a short time in order to discuss the terms of your employment. I thank you for your time.

 

Warmest regards,

Albus Dumbledore

Headmaster Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock,
Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards
)

P.S. I am rather fond of Watermelon Sherbet

 

Ariadne sighed again. Another offer of employment. “Haven’t you done enough to us already, you old goat?” she muttered, glaring down at the letter. But the reference to Harry Potter had hit home, just as Dumbledore had intended. Setting her jaw, she shooed the owl away, shut the window, and turned on one booted heel to make her way downstairs.

It was earlier enough in the day that the others were still in the kitchen, in various stages of breakfasting. Olympia, Ariadne’s right hand, sat at the center island with a steaming mug of tea, reading a stack of handwritten notecards. Like Ariadne, she was already fully dressed for the day, including her robes. She waved vaguely when Ariadne appeared in the doorway, without actually looking up from her notes.

Aurelia, their resident potion’s expert, was dressed, but still wearing slippers. She stood, staring absently out the window at the old willow that dominated their front yard and buttering her toast. She didn’t seem to hear Ariadne’s approach, lost as she was in thoughts of the brews bubbling away upstairs in her laboratory.

Sitting at the antique table at the far end of the kitchen, Ekantika and Isoko were both still in their sleepwear and talking softly as they shared a newspaper. The diamond stud in Ekantika’s nose flashed in the light as she laughed and pointed to some ridiculous photograph in the paper. Isoko leaned over to see, her silky black hair falling in a curtain over her shoulder.

“Good morning, Angels!” Ariadne stopped in the doorway to survey the group.

“Good morning, Charlie.” They chorused back, all turning to her.

“We got another job offer from Dumbledore this morning, ladies.” She moved forward around the island and snagged the toast from Aurelia’s hands, ignoring the other woman’s squawk of protest. “Only this time, he might have a point.”

Olympia furrowed her brow, watching Ariadne’s body language, the tense line of her shoulders. Ekantika snorted. “Like hell. That old goat’s been after us for years. What makes now any different?”

Ariadne shook her head and chewed her toast thoughtfully. Swallowing, she said, “Harry Potter.”

Olympia’s expression cleared. “You think we should hear him out, don’t you?” Ariadne smiled at Olympia’s perceptiveness and nodded. “Because of Harry Potter?”

“That and because of the uneasy letters I’ve been getting from the network. Mole’s latest is…disturbing. I’m wondering if Dumbledore’s right to want us to teach the Potter boy how to defend himself.”

Isoko frowned. “And there’s no one in England who is qualified to do that?” Ariadne gave her a pointed look and she relented. “Alright, fair. I suppose we are the best suited.”

Aurelia snagged the letter from where it peaked out of Ariadne’s pocket and read it aloud. “Yeah,” She finished. “I agree with Ari. We should go.”

Olympia nodded and glanced at the table. Ariadne took the letter back and tucked it away. “Anyone drastically opposed to the idea? We don’t have to take the job, remember. We’d just be going to listen to his pitch.”

Isoko shrugged. Ekantika rolled her eyes. “I’m alright with going if we can fly. We haven’t had a good, long-distance broom ride in ages.”

“Works for me. Sound good?” There were a round of nods and mumbled yeses. “Let’s go back then. Looks like we’ve got an ocean to cross.”

Olympia didn’t move as the others filed out. Ariadne crossed to the island and leaned on her elbows against the marble countertop. “What’s on your mind, friend?”

Olympia shook out her brown curls and sighed. “You’re tense. I can see it in your shoulders.”

Ariadne snorted. “I’m always tense.”

“This is worse than usual. What’s wrong? What are you not telling us?”

Ariadne exhaled and dropped her head to rest on her arms. The position stretched her back out, but made her shoulders ache. She ignored it. I’m too old for this kind of stress. “Nothing specific. I just…I have a terrible feeling about the way the situation in England is going. I suspect…I fear that it’s going to tip into all out warfare soon.”

Olympia shook her head. “It was always going to come to that. You know this. Are you worried that we’re going to get reactivated?”

Ariadne nodded, her forehead pressed against her arms. “If we get reactivated, it’s going to be worse than last time. The goddamn bastard just won’t stay dead and I think that’s what’s worrying me the most.”

Ariadne raised her head and met Olympia’s gaze, her grey eyes stormy. Olympia pulled her in for a quick, reassuring hug. “We’ll take care of it. It’s what we’ve always done. It’s what we’ll always do. Let’s go pack.”

Ariadne smiled, feeling some of the tension release. Olympia always knew exactly what to say.

They went upstairs.

Chapter Text

By the time the Coven landed in Hogsmeade, they were soaked to the skin and regretting taking their brooms. Most of the flight had been lovely, skimming over the ocean and occasionally dipping down to have a bit of a chat with the merfolk. As always, though, when they hit land again, they flew into a rainstorm. Saying a brief thank you to the Goddess, the five ducked into the Hogs' Head just as lightning split the sky.

The pub was nearly deserted at this time of day and especially in this weather. “Hello, Aberforth.” Aurelia waved at the old bartender as she shook out her sodden cloak. “Long time, no see.”

Aberforth stared at them for a moment, before his face broke into a wide grin. “Why, bless my bones! If it isn’t the Summer Coven. I haven’t seen you young ladies in years. Is my brother trying to hire you again? Get you to join that old bird-club of his?”

They chuckled. Ariadne smiled. "Right in one, Abe. Can we use your private fireplace to pay the old man a visit? I know you’ve got a direct line and I can’t stand the thought of walking all the way up to the castle in this weather. It’s raining so hard that the merfolk are going to be walking down Main Street soon.”

Aberforth snorted, waving them toward the stairs. The Coven cast quick drying charms on themselves and disappeared up the stairs. The room over the bar that housed the floo was cozy and warm. A thick carpet covered the hardwood floor and two squashy armchairs angled toward the fireplace. There was a cat asleep in one of the chairs.

Aurelia grinned as she took it all in. She’d always loved this room and Aberforth was one of her favorite Hogmeadeans.

The floo powder was sitting on the mantel in a small clay pot. Ekantika snagged it and passed it around. She threw her handful of powder into the flames and called out, “Headmaster’s Office, Hogwarts.”

The flames flared and she stepped into them, confident that the rest would follow. Ariadne was the last to go through and replaced the pot on the mantel. The cat watched with lazy interest as she too disappeared into the fireplace, before it stretched and turned over.

By the time Ariadne stepped out of the floo, brushing soot off her shoulders, the Headmaster had already conjured extra chairs. “Dumbledore, you really should clean your chimney. It’s disgraceful. I’m glad I’m wearing black, otherwise’s I’d be all over grey with soot.”

The headmaster twinkled at her over his glasses. “Charming as always, Ariadne. Welcome, ladies. Makes yourselves at home. Thank you for coming so promptly.”

“Well, you mentioned Harry Potter and Death Eaters in the same line, Albus. We couldn’t exactly refuse.” The headmaster acknowledged this with a tilt of his head and a smile. “And I’ve been…disquieted about some of the reports coming out of the Isles.”

“Indeed. We are on the brink of all out war. There have already been skirmishes. A student died in the Department of Mystery at the end of last school year.” He shook his head, sadness etched in the lines of his face. “Most tragic. I could not, in good conscience, let the ministry appoint another Defense teacher. Dolores Umbridge was…not merely incompetent, she was actively a danger to the student body. I am in desperate need of a good Defense teacher above all else. But, as I said, I believe that your Coven magic would be invaluable to the school and to British Wizarding culture at large. But to Harry Potter, most especially, and his friends. The girl that died was a dear friend of his and she was at the Ministry with him, trying to prevent Voldemort from acquiring a valuable piece of information and to save Harry’s godfather.”

Ariadne narrowed her eyes, flipping through her mental file of all the possible information the Dark Lord could have been after. “Did he get what he was looking for?”

Dumbledore shook his head. “No. It was destroyed. But, fortunately for Harry, I am in possession of that information. A prophecy, given to me by Sybil Trelawney. One of her only genuine prophecies.”

A chill swept down Ariadne’s back. She hated prophecies. She hated divination of any sort. Most of it was complete nonsense, made up to suit the diviner’s whims or wants, and the rest… No, she didn’t like them at all. “So you know it. Is it relevant?”

Dumbledore nodded, glancing around at them all. “It is. It is part of the reason I asked you all here today. Harry Potter is the only one who can kill Voldemort. According to the prophecy it is kill him or be killed by him.”

The women gaped at him. Olympia’s hand flew to her mouth. “That’s…that’s unthinkable. Potter is only a child.”

The headmaster offered them a pained smile. “Harry will turn sixteen this summer. and yet there is no mistaking the prophecy. Voldemort knows part of it. Severus reported to him many years ago, but only in part.”

“Why only in part?” Isoko asked, leaning forward in her chair. Her eyes were narrowed and her foot tapped lightly against the rug. Something felt important about it. There was something here that Isoko wasn’t getting.

“You are aware, of course, that Severus Snape was a spy?”

Ariadne rolled her eyes. “Albus, remember who you’re talking to.”

He smiled. “Yes, well. I suppose you were not aware that he was always a spy. He joined Voldemort and took the mark at my request.”

A stunned silence followed this pronouncement. Isoko leaned forward and glared at the headmaster. “I believe you owe us an explanation, Albus. How have you never told us this? Why were we never informed? Ariadne, you didn’t know—”

The High Priestess shook her head. “I was not aware of that, no.”

Dumbledore pressed his lips into a line. “It is a story that I have not told anyone. There are parts of it that even Severus does not know.”

Ariadne raised an eyebrow and waited. When nothing more was forthcoming, she pointed out, “We will not accept your offer of employment with a full explanation. You do not keep secrets from us, Headmaster. We are the secret you keep. Anything less is unacceptable.”

She watched him and saw her words sink in. The enormous phoenix trilled from its perch behind the desk and Dumbledore sighed.

“I will tell you, but I will have your silence on the matter.” The Coven nodded. "In the middle of the first War with Voldemort, a young Muggleborn girl arrived at Hogwarts.

Lily Evans was one of the most accepting, welcoming people that you could ever hope to meet. On the train, she befriended a lonely boy, who would later be sorted into Slytherin and she—”

“Headmaster, not to be rude, but Aurelia’s aunt went to Hogwarts with Lily and James Potter and Severus Snape. We know the story.” Ekantika was frowning, irritation clear in her voice.

The headmaster leaned back in his chair. “No, you do not. You know the story that was fabricated to keep Severus’ cover. You know what was put about. You don’t know the truth.”

Ekantika pursed her lips, clearly annoyed, but nodded for him to continue.

“Lily protected Severus, standing up to those who would have treated him poorly, regardless of the house they were in. Severus adored Lily. I have never seen such devotion before or since and it breaks my heart to have been in part responsible for its destruction.” He paused and exhaled softly, breathing passed an old hurt. “If you know the story, then you know that James Potter, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin were the best of friends and Gryffindors all. The Potters have always been in Gryffindor and in fact are direct descendants of Godric’s line. The Blacks have all been Slytherins, except Sirius. Because of this, the two friends hated anything associated with Slytherin. They taunted Severus at any and every opportunity. Lily, being loyal and protective as she was, intervened on behalf of Severus, but this only made the boys hate Severus more. They believed he was 'corrupting their fellow Gryffindor' with his very existence. Remus Lupin, with Lily, worked to counteract the hatred and rivalry on both sides, without much success. At least until they had reached their 6th year, Lily and Remus succeeded and the anger and hatred of each other had dissipated. By that time, both Severus and James had fallen deeply in love with Lily. It was for love of her that they put aside their differences and formed an tenuous friendship, just to see her smile. Though, Sirius never quite relinquished his hatred.”

Fawkes had hopped from his perch to the desk and sat down. Dumbledore reached out to stroke the shinning red feathers absently.

“James did all he could to convince Lily to choose him, but she had given her heart to Severus the moment she’d laid eyes on him. They dated briefly, before hiding their relationship from all but the closest of friends. It was too dangerous for Severus to be seen openly dating a Muggleborn. Things were… coming to a head here and the lines had already been drawn. Severus, who would have risked his own life to stand with Lily, had already taken the mark and could not.” He paused again. “What I have told you so far is known only to a select few. Those involved.”

They all nodded. Olympia rolled her eyes. “We understand the need for secrecy better than most anyone, Headmaster, as I’m sure you remember. Please continue.”

“Severus came to me at the beginning of his seventh year. He knew a spy in the Death Eater camp was needed if the Light had any hope of success and he was by then the most accomplished Occlumens I had ever met. He approached me about taking the mark and I foolishly allowed it. I am sure Lily attempted to dissuade him from it. She came to me just a few days after I’d spoke to Severus about it and…well, let’s say my office and my ears were the worse for wear when she was done. But she was as dedicated to the Light as Severus was and reluctantly agreed that it was necessary. The couple then went to James Potter and asked his assistance. They needed both a cover for their relationship and a plausible excuse for Severus’ sudden interest in joining the Death Eaters.

“The story was put out that James and Lily were dating. Even the Marauders were kept in the dark. Sirius was never told at all. Remus was told the barest minimum and pressed into helping them. Peter…well, Peter was never told important secrets anyway. Why he was chosen as their Secret Keeper…” Dumbledore shook his head. “Two weeks before graduation, Lily found out she was pregnant with Severus' child. She came to me and told me that she was going to keep it from Severus, until it was safe. She was afraid that if he knew, he would not be able to hide that knowledge from Voldemort. If Voldemort became aware, he would know that Severus was a spy and Severus would be killed. She could not risk that happening.”

Ariadne tilted her head, eyes narrowed. That did not sound like the most rational plan, but she’d heard worse from seventeen year olds. The unsettling part was that Albus had apparently allowed Lily to implement it. But then again, the headmaster did not have the best tract record when it came to things involving the Dark Lord.

The headmaster continued, “She went to James for help. He agreed to marry her and raise the child as his own, telling no one of the child's paternity. Because James and Severus had similar coloring with their jet-black hair and pale skin, Lily believed correctly that she could pass the child off as a Potter. Having no cause to think that Lily would lie to him about something so important, Severus believed her when she told him the baby was James’. His old hatred was rekindled. His beloved had betrayed him, had lied to him. And yet, his love for her never wavered. When he overheard the prophecy, he was choked with terror that it pointed to Lily and her son. An emotional response that strong meant that he could not keep it from Voldemort, so he offered what he believed to be the most harmless part of the prophecy. Yet, it was in direct response to the part of the prophecy he received that Voldemort attacked the Potters.”

Olympia shook her head and waved Dumbledore to a stop. “Headmaster, before you proceed, perhaps you could tell us the prophecy itself? That would make this whole thing significantly less confusing.”

Dumbledore twinkled over his glasses at them, satisfaction coloring his voice. “Certainly.”

He conjured a small projection of Sybil Trelawney slumped into a chair. Her voice was husky and unlike her. “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…and the Dark Lord will mark him as equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies.

Ariadne exhaled, letting the words sink in. “So, the power the Dark Lord knows not…you believe it’s Coven Magic?”

He shook his head, reaching out to stroke a hand down Fawkes’ back again. “No. I believe it is love. But love is often the basis for Coven Magic, is it not?”

Ariadne rolled her eyes and sat back, waiting.

There were a few beats of silence while Olympia looked torn, before she couldn’t help but answer. “Yes and no…It isn’t necessary, but it can strengthen any spellwork. A Coven can’t hate one another, but love is…just a bonus.”

Ariadne shared an indulgent smile with Aurelia, before turning back to the headmaster. “Is that the whole of it?”

Dumbledore blinked and smiled, nodding. But Ariadne caught the flash of tension that spilled across and vanished from his features in the space of a heartbeat. He was lying. There was more, but she couldn’t possibly fathom what it was. What they’d heard was bad enough.

She glanced round at her sisters, meeting their eyes one by one. She looked back at Dumbledore, considering. They’d find out what he was keeping back eventually. “We will agree to a one-year contract to teach here, but only if you tell Severus Snape the truth. He deserves to know. They both deserve to know. And more importantly, secrets that big have a way of getting out at the most dangerous time for all involved.”

Dumbledore stilled, before settling back into his chair again. “Yes. I can see the wisdom in that. You have a deal, ladies. I will tell him in the morning.” The headmaster stood. “We shall also discuss the terms of your employment in the morning. You must be exhausted. It is not exactly a stress-free flight across the Atlantic, even with long-distance broom speeds. For now, allow me to show you to your new rooms.”

Ariadne stood and stretched out her hand. “Shall we shake on it? A good old American way to seal the deal.”

Dumbledore chuckled and shook her hand obligingly. “Indeed. Americans are a curious lot, aren’t they?” He tilted his head, smiling at her.

The smile that stretch across Ariadne’s face at that was shark-ish, all teeth and a promise of pain. “It’s to show that you aren’t armed. That you come in peace.”

Chapter Text

Dumbledore lead them out his office door. “I have set you up in one of the disused towers. It usually acts as overflow when we have an unusually large class of Gryffindors, but our enrollment is down marginally across houses, so I don’t foresee that posing a problem. You each have a suite and there are training rooms, a potion’s lab, and a dance studio set up for you. There is also an international floo, with a temporary license. Now that I know you are staying, I will apply for a permanent one.”

They trailed after him, while he spoke: down corridors, up staircases, through doorways, and along more hallways. Finally, the headmaster stopped in front of a large painting of what appeared to be an empty rock. Dumbledore clicked his tongue. A white tiger slunk into the frame and prowled its way to lounge across the rock. It turned bright jade eyes on them and waited.

The coven all looked at one another. Why had they stopped here?

“This is the entrance to your rooms. The students have portraits guarding their common rooms, but the teachers have non-verbal paintings. In place of giving a password, simply key into the wards anyone you wish to allow free access.” He drew his wand and chanted a short incantation, before tapping the frame twice. “I’ve opened the wards for you.”

Ariadne stepped forward first and tapped the picture frame once. Once they’d all done the same, Dumbledore tapped the frame again, twice. “Excellent. Your quarters are behind this frame. I will have the house elves bring you breakfast in the morning and then one of them can show you to my office. We can discuss contracts and then I can give you a tour of the grounds.”

Ariadne inclined her head. “Good night, Headmaster.”

“Good night, Mistresses. I wish you lovely dreams.”

They watched as he strode off, down the corridor again. “So…” Ariadne said, turning back to the picture.

The five women stood and stared at the cat. The cat stared back. For a moment, none of them moved, then the painting swung open to reveal a large stone archway. The Coven glanced at one another. Ariadne led the way inside.

The room inside was warm and welcoming. A fire roared in the enormous fireplace, casting flickering light across the couches and table that clustered around it. On the other side of the room stood a large dining table with seating for ten. Everything was done in shades of lavender, from the upholstery to the rugs tossed across the stone floor. Thick tapestries, depicting coven magic, covered the walls. On the far side of the room, two archways led to staircases. There was a small sign above each archway. The one on the left read ‘Living’ and the one of the right ‘Training’.

They stood for a long moment, simply taking in the space. Finally, Ekantika broke the silence. “I vote we go find our rooms and crash for the night.” She looked exhausted, her normally cinnamon skin gone ashy with fatigue.

Aurelia and Isoko both nodded, both also looking ready to drop. Ariadne nodded. The group trooped silently up the left staircase.

 

Five landings broke the staircase into pieces, a door on each one. They crowded onto the first landing, exhaustion forgotten in the excitement of discovering their new quarters.

Olympia opened the first door. Inside was a study, heavy wood desk tuck under a window on the far side. There were empty bookcases on either side of the desk. Aurelia stepped through first, noticing that there were also empty bookcases on either side of the door to the landing. To the left was another fireplace. Ariadne glanced at the fire crackling merrily away and then to the empty bookcases on either side. Someone did not plan this well, she thought idly, thank god for magic or the whole castle would have burned down by now.

Across from the fireplace was another door. Aurelia opened this one to find a bedroom beyond. The room had two levels. The doorway they stood in opened into a sitting area with two armchairs and a settee, all in a pale lavender that matched the drapes. These, like the ones in the main room downstairs, were clustered around yet another fireplace. Behind the settee, there was a single step that was the width of the room. On the upper level loomed a giant four-poster, a wardrobe, and a door that presumably led to a bathroom. The carpeting and the bedlinen were a rich, royal purple, as was the canopy over the bed.

They all turned to Aurelia the minute they noticed the decor. She was the only one of the group who liked decorating in purple. Sure enough, she was grinning from ear-to-ear and staring enviously at the bed. “We’ll leave you to it then?” She nodded absently and the other filed back out through the study.

As it turned out, four of the five rooms were identical, but for color scheme. Ekantika claimed the buttercup yellow room on the second landing and Isoko the pink one on the third. Olympia popped into the room on the fourth landing, noting the beautiful blues and aquas of the decor, before returning to the landing.

Ariadne raised an eyebrow at her. She shrugged. “I’m curious.”

This satisfied the High Priestess and so they trudged up the last flight of stairs. Beyond the final study, the two women found not a bedroom, but a set of stairs. The door at the top opened into a semi-circular room with the same split-level layout as the other bedrooms. The step up to the sleeping area bore a small black picket fence.

Three floor-to-ceiling windows dappled the room in opal moonlight, which cast eery shadows. The armchairs and settee at first appeared to be coated in blood. The hangings and canopy on the ebony bed were the same. The whole effect was extremely unsettling until, after a beat or two of panic, they realized that what looked like blood was actually just the crimson color of the velvet upholstery and a trick of the full moon.

Olympia shuddered at the gothic feel of the space, which wasn’t helped, she noted, by the wrought iron chandelier hanging from the ceiling.

Ariadne took two jerky steps into the room and stopped. She stood there, breathing quietly. Olympia watched her, unease making her skin crawl. Darkness was not always good for her High Priestess.

“It’s so lovely.”

Olympia smiled, relieved. “Good night, Ari. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Ariadne hummed a little and turned to do a slow circuit of the room, running her hands lightly over the furniture. “Lovely dreams, Ari. And may flights of angels wing thee to thy rest.”

Olympia snorted and shut the door behind her as she left.

 

The next morning dawned earlier than any of the Coven would have preferred, but at least breakfast had already been laid out on the dining table when they stumbled downstairs. There was a large, steaming carafe of strong coffee sitting on the sideboard, for which they all gratefully lined up.

Once caffeinated and therefore ready to face the day, Aurelia broke the silence. “So, do we go inspect the other hallway or do we go see Dumbledore?”

Ariadne shook her head. “Let’s get the contracts nailed down before we go exploring.”

Ekantika nodded. “I’d like that to no longer be hanging over our heads.”

No one objected, although Aurelia did look vaguely disappointed. The trip back to the Headmaster’s office was a lot of trial-and-error and a lot of asking paintings for directions. They finally managed it, after only half a dozen wrong turns and one wrong staircase.

They gave the Guardian Statue the password, “Watermelon Sherbet,” and trooped up the stairs.

Dumbledore had set up a large circular table, sometime since yesterday and it was covered in paperwork. He looked up from his seat at the table and smiled. “Ah, Mistresses. Thank you for joining me. Please sit. I’ve hand copies of your contracts drawn up. I hope you’ll find them to your satisfaction.” The group gathered round the table and passed papers back and forth until everyone had their own. “It’s all in the contract, of course, but I’d like you all to be available to answer questions on Coven Magic for a set time each week. I would also have all of you together teach a seminar or two on Coven Magic. Obviously, the size of the class would determine the number of sections.”

Ariadne nodded absently. Like the rest of the women, she was only listening to him with one ear as she read through the contract. She was being given the Defense Against the Dark Arts job. Which made sense, she supposed, given how much exposure to the Dark Arts she had and how honed her fighting skills were. She would apparently also be teaching a joint elective with Olympia on dueling practices. She’d been expecting worse, although now that she thought about it, she wasn’t sure she had any other skills that actually translated to the classroom. Espionage wasn’t really a Hogwarts-type class.

Once she was finished reading through hers, she leaned over to skim Olympia’s. She’d be teaching Ancient Runes. Isoko, who was standing on her other side, would be teaching History of Magic. She was surprised. Binns the Ghost Professor was notorious even across the pond. It was about time they swapped him out for someone living.

“I have chosen classes in order to utilize your particular skillset. If there were additional classes you believe would be beneficial to the student body, please let me know and we can work something out. As of now, you each have a core class and an elective. Ekantika, please leave instructions with the house elves on how you’d like the studio for your magical dance class set up. Isoko, I’m assuming you’d prefer to teach archery outside. Talk to Hagrid about it. Aurelia, I’ve got Professor Sprout coming to give you a tour of the castle. While she does, please speak to her about the best location for your Herbal Properties class. She’ll also be able to supply your materials.”

Isoko tilted her head. “Does Sprout already teach Herbology?”

Dumbledore nodded. “She does. But Herbology is about the care of and harvesting of plants. Potions teaches the use of plants and the preparation, but neither class teaches the inherent properties.” Isoko nodded. Made sense. “Olympia, Ariadne, I have taken the liberty of setting you up in a room with a traditional dueling circle and a stocked weapons cabinet, similar to the one in your quarters.”

Olympia shrugged. “We haven’t had a chance to look yet, but I’m sure it’s fine.”

Ariadne gave her answer in the form of a signature. She grabbed one of the quills out of the communal ink well in the middle of the table and signed the contract with a flourish. Spelling it dry, she handed it over to the Headmaster.

“Excellent. You ladies have my gratitude, once again.”

Ariadne snorted. They’d had his gratitude before, for all the good it did them. “Have you upheld your end of the bargain, then?”

Dumbledore sighed heavily and opened his mouth, but never got the chance to answer. The door to his office opened and a tall, thin man with austere black robes appeared in it.

Ariadne’s mouth went dry as a punch of lust hit her hard enough to steal her breath. He was pale and hawkish with a proud slash of a mouth. His hair was long and black and seemed to be threatening to fall forward to cover his face at any moment. There was power in his frame, the kind you only acquire in a warzone. She wasn’t sure she’d ever seen a man she wanted more.

“You must be Severus Snape.” Isoko said, almost accusing.

The man raised an eyebrow, looking around at them all. “Indeed, I am. It would seem you have the advantage on me though, as I do not recognize…” He paused when his gaze finally fell on Ariadne. His eyes narrowed. “Mistress Aureus.”

His voice was a silky baritone, with a hint of sibilance to it. Ariadne thought she might actually go weak at the knees. She counted it as a win when her response came out normal, though she had no idea how he knew who she was. “Yes and yet, we have not met before. I’d have remembered.” She offered him a tentative smile.”

His lip curled in the ghost of a smile. “No, we have not. I have seen you speak at conferences before and I follow your work quite avidly. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

Dumbledore stood. “Severus, let me introduce you to our newest faculty members: the Summer Coven.” He introduce them each in turn, giving their full titles and new jobs. he said Ariadne for last. “And it seems you already know High Priestess Ariadne Aureus, Mistress Dueler and Mistress of the Dark Arts. She will be taking over where…Well, thinking about it, the recent history of the Defense position is a little complicated.”

“An understatement, Albus.” Severus snorted, but offered his hand to each woman in turn. “It is an honor to meet such pioneering women. I have heard much about the Summer Coven.”

A shiver of tension curled up Ariadne’s spine. “I’m sure you have, Master Snape. Not all of it good, I would bet.” He frowned and opened his mouth, but before he could respond, Ariadne shook her head. “We know who you are. And we know exactly what’s said about us among…your old crowd. There’s no need to pretend.”

Severus’ eyes went immediately to the headmaster. “Severus, they were of course informed of your position from the beginning as a safety measure.”

“So it’s true then…What the rumors whisper.” He looked back at Ariadne. “You are assassins.”

Ariadne smiled at him. He fought a flinch. “We are. Among other things.”

“Ladies, would you please excuse us? I’m afraid it’s time that I upheld my end of the agreement.”

Ariadne nodded. “We’ll be in our quarters. Send someone for us when you are finished.”

Dumbledore nodded and they left him to his fate.

Chapter Text

Three people were waiting at the foot of the Headmaster’s stairs when they reached the bottom. The severe-looking woman in tartan robes could only have been Minerva McGonagall. Ariadne and Olympia recognized Filius Flitwick from their dueling circles. That only left the cheerful woman in a patchwork hat that was smeared with dirt, making her Pomona Sprout.

“Filius, it’s lovely to see you again. You’ve been conspicuously absent from the dueling circuit recently.” Olympia smiled at him.

He chortled. “Yes, yes. Too much to do here, wouldn’t you know it. What with the fight against You-Know-Who gearing up again.” He beamed around at them. “But you, of all people, know that. I imagine that’d why you’re here.”

Ariadne nodded. “The old goat finely presented a convincing argument. It only took a Dark Lord, but he finally managed to talk us into accepting positions here.” Minerva frowned fiercely at them over her glasses. Ariadne grinned back. “Don’t worry, Minerva. The Headmaster and we go way back. What’s a little gentle teasing among friends?”

The woman’s eyebrows rose, clearly taken aback. “Do I know you?”

Isoko shook her head. “No, but you’ve likely heard of us. The Summer Coven at your service.”

Minerva’s mouth dropped opened. “Indeed. And you are our newest faculty members, I take it?” They nodded. “Well, I’m to take our new addition to the Transfiguration staff around on a tour.”

Ekantika stepped forward and offered her hand. Minerva examined her for a moment, before shaking it firmly. “You’ll be taking over my first, second, and third year classes, which will allow me the time to take over some of Albus’ duties. Since You-Know-Who’s return, the stress and workload on the headmaster has been enormous. I am pleased to now be able to take some of that from him.”

Ekantika nodded. “I’m happy to help and I look forward to the challenge of teaching.”

There was a moment of silence as they all looked around at one another. Aurelia finally turned to Pomona. “You must be Pomona Sprout. I’m Aurelia. I’m going to be taking over the first through third year potions classes, but I’m also the one who will be teaching Herbal Properties. The Headmaster told me that you’d be willing to discuss that with me?”

The dumpy little witch nodded, smiling. “Of course. I’d be delighted. Shall we walk and talk? I’d be happy to give you the tour of the castle now.”

Aurelia grinned. “Thank you!” She waved to the others and let herself be led away.

Minerva turned back to Ekantika. “Shall we?” They too moved off.

Filius grinned up at them. “I know Ariadne and Olympia, which must make you Isoko. You’ll be relieving Old Binns of his post?” Isoko nodded. “Good, good. It’s about time. Come. I’m to give you a tour.”

Ariadne and Olympia made to follow them, but Filius waved them away. “You ladies are to wait here, I’m sorry to say. Someone else will be giving you a tour.”

They looked at each other, confused, as Filius and Isoko departed. The hallway quieted as the sound of footsteps faded.

“Well…what do we do now?” Olympia asked, looking around.

“Get lost trying to get back to the Tower or loiter here awkwardly until someone comes along?”

Olympia laughed. “Those do seem to be our only options.”

Ariadne grinned back and shrugged, but her response was prevented by the echoing sound of footsteps. The two turned to see a painfully pale blonde man dressed in all black and emerald velvet and holding a snake-headed cane coming down the hallway toward them. Ariadne blinked. What was he doing at Hogwarts? She glanced at Olympia, who shook her head, looking just as perplexed as Ariadne felt.

He glanced up and caught sight of them, eyes narrowing. “And who might you lovely ladies be?” His mouth curled into a smirk.

“New additions to the faculty. And pray, tell me, why is Lucius Malfoy at Hogwarts?”

Something like suspicion flickered across his gaze. “I admit to also being a new addition to the faculty. The board of trustees finally demanded a course be added to match Muggle Studies. I am the new Professor of Wizarding Culture.”

Olympia stared at him. “I’m not sure I understand why they would allow a Death Eater to teach children about Wizarding Culture, but I never claimed to understand politics anyway so…”

Lucius’ face and posture closed off. “Should you be making such unfounded accusations so soon after you were hired, Miss…”

“Olympia Ourania. And it’s Mistress, actually. I think you’ll find that any accusations that I make are always completely founded.”

He frowned. “Ourania? Are you…” He paused a moment, eyes narrowing again. “Are you a member of the Summer Coven?”

Olympia smiled. “Got it in one.” She indicated Ariadne. “And this is my High Priestess.”

“Ariadne Aureus, at your service. Or rather not, as the case may be.”

Lucius’ expression sharpened, as though suddenly on edge. Ariadne imagined that he was remembering all the rumors about them from the first war. She smiled, toothy and dangerous.

Lucius opened his mouth to make some response to the obvious threat when the Headmaster’s Gargoyle moved aside and Severus Snape appeared at the bottom of the stairs. He looked pale and tense, but otherwise gave no sign of having his entire life upended. He nodded briefly to Lucius and turned to the two women. “I have been instructed to offer you a tour of the castle. It would be my pleasure to help you get settled in any way I can.”

Ariadne swallowed the innuendo that sprang to her lips, reminding herself that he was likely in no mood for that line of inquiry.

Apparently, Lucius Malfoy couldn’t resist such a temptation. “I’m sure you would, Severus.” He murmured, a leering smile curling his lips. “They are, after all, very lovely.”

Severus’ already tense frame stiffened.

“We are also standing right here. Kindly don’t talk over our heads.” Olympia said, voice tight and smile thin.

Ariadne merely ignored him, eyes on the Potion’s Master. “We would appreciate the tour very much, Severus. This castle is enormous.”

Severus offered her a tight smile. “I imagine for someone unaccustomed to such large properties, Hogwarts would be intimidating to say the least. Time and the portraits are the best ways to learn Hogwarts. Will you be staying all year?”

“No, actually.” Olympia answered, shaking her head. “The Headmaster set up private transportation for us, to allow us to return home when we need. We will be dividing whatever time we have between the castle and Salem. Isoko will still be teaching at the Salem Institute part-time, just the single class, and Ekantika is working collaboratively with the Spell Development Team there.” Olympia answered.

"Won't that be very taxing on you? So much travel?" Lucius interjected, his eyebrow raising in question.

Ariadne could not control the loosening of her posture as her body prepared for combat. Her nostrils flared and she gritted her teeth. “I’m sure we’ll manage.”

“Really?” Lucius pushed, not seeing or not caring about the danger signs. “You will presumably be teaching a full course load each and I can’t imagine you’d leave your Coven practices behind, but constant international travel too? However will you manage it all?”

Ariadne flexed her shoulders. “Mr. Malfoy,” She said, pointedly not using his title. “American women are quite a bit more resilient than you seem to think we are. We are perfectly capable of doing as much if not more then men do and certainly more than you’ve ever done. Stop patronizing me. It’s sexist and rude and it’s growing tiresome.”

"Do you have a problem with me, Mistress Aureus?”

“As a matter of fact, I do. You will find the problem that I have with you if you roll up your left sleeve. My sisters and I have worked to keep your…associates confined to your current level of…infestation. I have a problem with the slippery manner in which you evaded arrest the last go round and the arrogance that you are displaying this time. It upsets my sensibilities. Your attitude does not help.” Ariadne leaned back on her left foot, which freed her wand arm from its too close proximity to Olympia, and finally posed a clear threat.

Lucius narrowed his eyes, shifting into a defensive combat position in response. “I don’t think you understand who it is you are speaking to in such a manner.”

Ariadne laughed, high and bitter. “I could say the same to you. I know exactly to whom I am speaking. You are nothing, Lucius Malfoy. You are a piece of Death Eater filth who grovels at the feet of a Half-blood monster bent on the destruction of our world. You claim to value Wizard Culture and Wizard Tradition? Lies. Clearly, all lies. The Dark Lord has no love of Wizarding Culture. He loves only power and he will take it any way he can get it. That includes using and discarding purebloods. It amuses him to watch you writhe in pain. It satisfies him to watch you die for him because you have what he does not: blood rights. And you were stupid enough to pledge yourself to him. The Dark Lord will fall and you along with him. It’s the path you’ve chosen, but you condemn Draco and Narcissa as well. After all, there is a cell in Azkaban awaiting any who followed the Dark Lord and a Dementor who would love to welcome you home to it. I suggest that, unless absolutely necessary, you simply stop interacting with my sisters and me or the next word you speak to us will be your last.”

Magic was crackling off the tips of her fingers and a magical wind caught at her hair and robes. Olympia laid a hand on Ariadne’s shoulder, ready if she was needed.

Lucius had both hands on his cane now and his face was a frosty sneer. “Don’t make idle promises you won’t be able to keep.”

Ariadne narrowed her eyes and bared her teeth at him. She raised one fisted hand into the space between them.

For a moment, Lucius thought she might punch him.

Instead, she opened her fist and a swirl of black flame guttered up from it. The fire in her palm crackled and leapt, looking for a target. There was a sharp intake of breath to her left, which she ignored. She was focused only on Lucius.

"Care to try me?" Ariadne snarled. She took a small step forward, careful not to dislodge Olympia’s hand.

Lucius stumbled back, nearly falling, before turning and fleeing back the way he’d come.

There was a moment of silence as they listened for the fading echo of Lucius’ retreat. “Well…that went about as poorly as it could have.”

Olympia’s hand fell from her shoulder as Ariadne turned to look at the others. Severus was staring at her. “How…How did you do that?”

Ariadne’s mouth smiled, but her eyes went flat. "There is a reason Dumbledore introduces me as a Mistress of the Dark Arts.”

“No, you misunderstand me. I…I have never seen that done wandlessly and wordlessly, nor ever so much at once.”

“Ah.” Ariadne nodded. “Some of the power that fed the spell was lent to me by my sister. Otherwise I would not have been able to produce so much. Alone, I can only manage enough, wandlessly and non-verbally, to sit on the tip of my finger.”

The two stared at each other for a long moment. Olympia rolled her eyes at the heated look. There was admiration and respect in his dark eyes. The air between them seemed to crackle with tension. Finally Olympia cleared her throat, which jolted them out of whatever moment they were having. “Lead on, Master Snape.”

He turned to Olympia. “No need for such formalities. We are colleagues.”

She smiled at him, genuine and warm. “Severus, then. And you must call us by our first names as well. All of us.”

He nodded to her. “Shall we begin, then?”

Chapter Text

Interlude: Three Moments In Time

One.

Harry Potter stretched gingerly on his bed at Number 4, Privet Drive in Little Whinging. He tested out the strength of his limbs, before deciding to risk it. He was tired, his bones ached, and he could feel a headache beginning to build at the base of his skull, but the gnawing hunger in his belly made the risk worth it. He glanced in the mirror, trying to gauge whether or not his appearance would anger Uncle Vernon, but giving it up as a bad job.

Everything about him angered Uncle Vernon.

He managed to make it down the stairs and into the kitchen without making a sound. He even managed to get a chicken leg and a hunk of cheese out of the fridge. He exhaled in silent relief when the fridge door shut without a creak, but as he made his way back across the kitchen, his trainer squeaked on the over-shined floor.

There was a beat of silence where Harry prayed harder than he’d ever prayed in his life to whoever was listening, but…

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING OUT OF YOUR ROOM, BOY? GET IN HERE THIS INSTANT.” His uncle bellowed from the living room.

Clearly, no one and nothing was listening.

He exhaled the breath he’d been holding, took a giant bite off the chicken, and dropped the whole lot into the garbage before going into the other room. He swallowed the chicken without chewing it, just to have something to fill his belly.

His uncle was levering his corpulent body out of the armchair when Harry stepped hesitantly into the room. “Yes, Uncle?”

Vernon narrowed his piggish eyes at him and snarled, “What do you think you’re doing polluting the rest of the house with your freakishness?”

Harry immediately dropped his eyes to the floor. “I-I…I’m sorry, Uncle. I didn’t mean…I just…It won’t happen again. I’m sorry.”

“You're damn right, it won't!" Vernon surged forward to loom over a cringing Harry. "I won’t have your freakishness all over my house. Upstairs, now! I’m locking you in that room. And you better be glad I’m not throwing you into your cupboard and boarding up the door! Get up stairs right now!”

"But, Uncle, you can’t—“

Vernon swelled with anger, his face going puce with rage. “How dare you tell me what to do!?! How dare you—“

The crack of Vernon’s meaty fist connecting with Harry’s cheekbone was loud in the quiet room. Harry hadn’t seen the blow coming and so he’d been unable to duck away. He could feel the bone splinter. His face exploded with pain, leaving him woozy and disoriented.
The fist flashed out again, striking Harry in the stomach this time. Harry doubled over and lost his balance. He dropped to the floor and cradled his head, in an attempt to protect it from further damage.

Vernon kicked him one more time. “Filthy freak.”

Harry swallowed a whimper. He could feel blood dripping down his abdomen, where the repeated blows had broken the skin. His back was on fire from the last, aimed at his kidneys, and his face was swelling so rapidly that he couldn’t see it happening. In moments, he would lose vision in that eye. He needed to get back to his room. Open doors and open spaces were an invitation to be hit again.

He tried to pulled himself into a sitting position, but his head swam and his vision greyed. Instead, he lurched to his hands and knees. Crawling to a nearby chair, he managed, very slowly, to pull himself into something that resembled a standing position. Curled in on himself to protect his body, Harry stumbled haltingly to the staircase. He dragged himself up the stairs, gritting his teeth against the pain and moving as fast as he could manage.

He was almost defeated by the handle of his bedroom door. When he finally managed to get it open, he took a stumbled step into the room as the darkness crept over him. Unconsciousness tugged at him, but he knew he needed to get the door closed. An open door was an invitation for Dudley to come have a go.

Once the door was firmly shut, Harry’s strength gave out and the floor rushed up to meet him. Blood dripped onto the hardwoods beneath him and his whole body felt like a wound into which someone had ground salt.

It took only a moment after that for unconsciousness to take him.

 

Two.

Meanwhile, Hermione Granger had abandoned her books, a rare enough sight before she’d come home from fifth year. She lay on her bed, staring at her soft butter-yellow walls and trying to stop crying. She was draped in her school robes, using them for a blanket, and she was twisting a scarlet Weasley jumper over and over between her fingers. If she’d been paying any attention, she might have been afraid that it fall apart under her hands.

For the first time in her life, she couldn’t get her thoughts in order. Her mind wouldn’t obey her and she hated it. She couldn’t stop thinking about Ginny, writhing under Bellatrix’s wand, falling through the veil, vanishing. She couldn’t stop thinking about Ron and all the rest of the Weasleys, how badly they would be dealing, how much it must hurt. She couldn’t stop thinking about Harry, how devastated he would be.

Her thoughts circled and turned in on themselves. She tried to push them away, burying her face in her pillow, but they just came spiraling back. Finally, thoughts about the Department of Mysteries still whispering in the back of her mind, Hermione fell into a fitful sleep.

She was walking down that corridor in the basement of the Ministry again, Luna to her left and Ginny to her right. She could feel Neville at her back and she could see Harry and Ron in front of her, outlined by the light from the opened door. An icy wind was rushing down the corridor toward them, but no. That wasn’t right.

The wind was Bellatrix and she was cackling. She had Ginny by the throat. Luna was gone. So was Ron. Neville was crawling across the floor, pulling himself with his arm because his legs had vanished. She couldn’t tell if it was spell-damaged or physical injury. She opened her mouth to shout, to warn Harry who was still walking toward the door, but a hand clamped down over it, digging into her flesh.

She couldn’t see who was behind her. She thrashed and fought as hard as she could, but she was pushed forward, almost gliding over the ground, until she reached the doorway. Inside the room, Voldemort and Harry were dueling. A rainbow of spells arched back and forth between them, until a jet of green blasted through it and hit Harry in the chest. She tries to scream, but the hand across her mouth didn’t budge. She twisted and writhed, but couldn’t break free. Harry was falling, falling, falling, or was that her?

In the midst of the freefall, she managed to twist around and look at her attacker.

Harry grinned down at her, his green eyes eerie in the blue light. She wondered who Voldemort had killed. Laughing, he opened his mouth wide, wider, wider until he swallowed her whole and everything went dark.

Except…no…It hadn’t. She could see images in the darkness: a graveyard filled with cloaked figures in white masks, a muggle manor house where three figures were slumped dead at a dining table, a locket, an orphanage, a cupboard filled with spiders and a cot, and on and on, until the visions too go dark.

There was Ron, hovering in the darkness. She could see the fiery red of his hair. She tried to reach out to him, but he turned around. His face was all in shadows and he was beginning to stretch, to blend into the darkness, the texture of which was changing. He stretched and stretched, up and down and outwards. He was going to take up the whole space. All of space. He was a planet looming above her and she a tiny speck.

With a pop like apparation, the Ron-Thing snapped back to human size. It was Harry’s uncle, his face puce and his jowls trembling with rage. She’d never seen a human so angry before. She’d never seen a muggle so angry. Harry was standing before him, cowering. She’d cower too.

Harry’s uncle hit him. And Again. And Again. She couldn’t hear anything, but maybe she’d covered her ears. She thought she was crying, but it wasn’t disrupting her view of the abuse. Harry fell. His uncle hit him again and then disappeared. She watched as Harry dragged himself to his feet and lurked his way up the stairs.

She shadowed him up the stairs, but when they reached the top, his cousin was waiting, there at the end of the hallway. He smiled, a sick, distorted thing, and charged. Hermione screamed.

The door of her bedroom burst open, snapping her back into wakefulness. When she opened her eyes, her mother was there, reaching for her. “Sweetheart, are you alright? What’s wrong?”

Hermione shook her head, pushing down the uneasy feeling that settled behind her breastbone. She muttered something about nightmares and offered her mother a weak smile. Her mum nodded, still looking concerned.

“I’m alright, Mum. I promise.” Her voice, at least, sounded normal.

Finally, her mother left. The finality in the click of the closing door made her shudder.

That was no ordinary dream. She had a sudden urge to apologize to Harry for all the times she didn’t understand when he told her about his visions. She swallowed against rising nausea. She couldn’t push away the idea that that’s what it had been: a vision. Usually, she thought divination was all stuff and nonsense, but after walking through the Hall of Prophecy, it wasn’t so easy to dismiss anymore.

Either way, it was a risk she couldn’t take. She climbed out of bed and went over to her desk. She’d write to the Headmaster and tell him about her dream. That way, he could check on Harry and make sure it wasn’t true.

She sat down and wrote it all out, trying to present it as dispassionately as possible, while also being passionate enough that he’d know she was in earnest. She tied it off on her new eagle owl’s leg and opened the window to let Hensibal out on her way.

She watched the owl grow smaller with distance for a moment, praying to God or Merlin or whoever that she was wrong, that the dream meant nothing, and that the dark foreboding feeling in her gut was paranoia.

 

Three.

Meanwhile, Ron Weasley laid on his sister’s bed and stared at her ceiling, ignoring the tears that leaked from his eyes. He was surrounded by sea-foam, the only color that Ginny said complimented her hair. There were horses and unicorns and griffons everywhere he looked. It all reminded him of Ginny, so he didn’t look. Just lay there, staring upwards and thinking about how his recklessness and Harry’s arrogance and Ginny’s devotion had all led to her death.

She was only 14, much too young to die. She’d barely lived. She was his mother’s baby girl. She was his favorite sibling. She was gone and she was never coming back.

He wished he’d never gone to the Department of Mysteries. He wished that Harry had died in the Triward Tournament. He wished that he’d never entered Harry’s compartment on the Hogwarts express back in first year. He wished he could take it all back. Trade his own life for his sister’s. He would have, if he could. Ginny would be here now and his mother would smile again. It would be enough. No one cared about him. He was the youngest of six brothers. He was nothing, except Harry Potter’s friend. And look where that had gotten him.

Ginny had had so much life, so much potential, in her. She could have been anything, done anything in her life. But she’d been robbed of the opportunity. Now she was dead.

Harry had been the one to ask for her help. He’d been the reason she’d gone in the first place. He couldn’t erase the damage his friendship with Harry had already caused, but he could stop it from hurting anyone else in the family. Harry didn’t need him anyway. What good was he? He wasn’t the smartest or the bravest or the cleverest. He wasn’t even the most loyal. Harry probably wouldn’t even notice if Ron stopped talking to him.

He rolled onto his side, facing the wall now, and buried his face in the pillows. It was a moment’s decision, but he made it with a conviction he had never felt before. He wouldn’t put anyone else in danger. He wouldn’t be Harry Potter’s friend anymore.

Chapter Text

Severus’ tour of the castle was thorough and confusing as hell. Ariadne was certain that she’d be spending their first week there completely lost. Not that she could do anything about it.

Severus had shown them where all the various subjects and students lived: The Astronomy Tower, the Charms Corridor, Gryffindor Tower, etc. More importantly, to her anyway, he showed them the staffroom and the kitchens. They stopped there last and begged food off the house elves.

An excitable elf named Dobby brought them sandwiches, staring with huge eyes all the while. Ariadne thanked him politely and those huge eyes filled with tears. “Ariadne Aureus, Mistress, is thanking Dobby. Ariadne Aureus, Mistress, is a great witch.”

With an awkward smile and another thank you, they hurried out. Ariadne elbowed Olympia in the ribs when she snorted. “Hey! Do great witches elbow their boon companions?”

At that, it was Ariadne’s turn to snort. “You need to read fewer romance novels and less fanfiction. Boon Companion.”

Severus’ lip curled halfway to a smile, but it never reached his eyes. Ariadne watched him from the corner of hers as they made their way back to the Headmaster’s office. “I wanted to thank you…We wanted to thank you for showing us the castle.” Ariadne offered, tentatively.

He nodded, but said nothing.

“Are you alright, Severus?”

He tensed further. “I am perfectly fine, thank you.”

She exhaled gustily and exchanged a look with Olympia. “Because if you weren’t, that would perfectly normal, considering the shock you received this morning.”

Severus stopped walking and turned a scowl on her. Ariadne met his gaze steadily, patiently waiting for him to say something. “You know…About Harry Potter.” She nodded. “I think you know much more than you ought.”

They both shrugged at him.

“Of course we do.” Olympia said. “We are the Summer Coven. Information is what we do. Well, that and assassinations.”

Severus looked at her sharply. “You are…very casual about it.”

Ariadne crossed her arms over her chest. “Yes. It’s who we are. It is who we were created to be.”

He frowned, clearly considering a question. They waited. Finally, he simply shook his head and started back down the corridor. Exchanging another look, they followed.

When they arrived back at Dumbledore’s office, Aurelia, Ekantika, and Isoko were waiting for them. The rest of the professors were nowhere in sight. “Have you been waiting long?” Olympia asked, moving to lean against the wall next to Ekantika.

Aurelia waved the question away, clearly not concerned. “Dumbledore wants to see us again.” Ariadne raised an eyebrow at that. “Don’t ask me. We’ve got no idea what he wants. All I want is to go back to the tower and see the training rooms.”

Isoko laughed. “You don’t want to see the training rooms. You want to rearrange the private lab he set up for you.”

Aurelia grinned, unrepentant. “Same thing, really.”

Ignoring this exchange, Severus swept passed them all and gave the gargoyle the password. They followed him up the steps, feeling a bit like a gaggle of ducklings.

 

His office door was open, when they reached the top of the stairs, and Dumbledore was already occupied. “Weasleys.” Severus sneered under his breath, clearly restraining an eye roll, when he saw the four redheaded men clustered around the headmaster’s desk. Ariadne suppressed a snort and his lip curled again as he glanced at her from the corner of his eye.

The older two redheads seemed to be deep in conversation with the headmaster, while the younger two, a set of twins, watched.

“—best if Norbert and Mittendorf were sent for as soon as possible in order for them to get used to their surroundings without any danger to anyone within the castle. Unsettled dragons are…Not something we need to be dealing with right now.” The shortest of the redheads pointed out. “If I sent for them today, I could have them here in three or four days at the most, Professor, which would give us plenty of time to get them settled before the rest of the faculty show up, never mind the students.”

Dumbledore nodded, looking thoughtful.

“Yes. Yes I think that would work nicely. Please send for them immediately. I would like to get them settled as soon as possible. The safer those who reside in the castle the better it will be for all. We house here the future and hope of the Wizarding World within these walls.”

One of the twins coughed and muttered, "Future and hope, by which he means Harry.“

The other continued, “And of course, we wouldn’t want anything to happen to Harry before—“

"He can save our arses!” They finished in unison.

Aurelia snorted at the interchange and promptly slapped a hand over her mouth, looking embarrassed when the five men around the desk turned to look at her.

“Ah, Ladies. Excellent.” Dumbledore climbed to his feet and swept his arms wide in a welcoming gesture. “I’d like to introduce you to a small part of the Weasley clan. Aurelia, I believe your aunt was a first year with Molly Prewett and Arthur Weasley for a very short until they graduated.”

Aurelia shrugged at the headmaster. “She might have mentioned them. She really only ever talked about the Marauders, Lily Evans, and Severus.”

“Of course.” Dumbledore said with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. “This is William Weasley. He’s here to help strengthen our wards as much as possible and stress test them. He is usually a curse-breaker at Gringotts.”

The tall one on the left smiled at them and inclined his head. His long, ginger hair was tied back and a fang of some kind hung from his ear, giving him a dangerous edge, but his grin was wide and genuine. “Call me Bill, if you don’t mind. William is so…” He waved his hand in a vague gesture of disgust.

Isoko eyed him like a fine dessert. Ariadne smothered a smile.

“This is Charlie Weasley. He will be on campus all this year. We’ve added dragons to the school’s protection repertoire. Charlie is a dragon handler at a preserve in Romania. He’ll also be helping Hagrid with his Care of Magical Creatures classes.”

This brother was shorter and stockier. Thick muscles corded his shoulders and arms, highlighted by the snug fit of his t-shirt that was easily visible under his open robes. In contrast, his features were sharper than those of the other three, finer and more aquiline. He grinned and nodded at them. “Lovely to meet you, ladies.”

“And these gentlemen, who should know better than to think that I wouldn’t protect everyone in my care to the best of my abilities and resources, are Fred and George Weasley. Unsurprisingly, they own a joke shop in Diagon Alley.”

“And we’re opening one in Hogsmeade soon as well.” One of the twins interjected.

“They will be training and leading the D.A.’s Bomb Squad, which will be newly implemented this year. The D.A. is a Defense Against the Dark Arts club that formed clandestinely last year, under the extremely subpar, Ministry appointed Defense teacher that Ariadne will be replacing. I was hoping that several of you young ladies will be interested in participating in some way with the D.A.”

Ekantika raised an eyebrow and threw a look sideways at Isoko. Isoko rolled her eyes.

The twins were taller and thinner than their elder brothers with the same ginger hair. Their matching smiles were wide and mischievous, but there was an undercurrent of intelligence and a sharpness in their eyes.

Ariadne made a mental note to keep an eye on them, in case they could be of any use.

“Boys, this is the Summer Coven.”

Bill’s jaw dropped. Charlie shifted onto his back foot. The twins seemed to have no idea what that meant, but eyed their brother warily.

“They’ll be joining our faculty for the start of the new school year.”

Charlie cut a sideways glance at the headmaster, before his eyes snapped back to them. “Is that entirely wise, Professor? There are…rumors I’ve heard, in some of the seedier fringes of Wizarding Europe…”

Ariadne’s mouth curled into an teeth-baring smile and Charlie flinched. “Believe me, Mr. Weasley. All the rumors are true.”

Bill reached over and smacked his brother on the back of the head.

“Ow! Whatcha do that for?”

“Shut up, Charlie. Don’t be an idiot. The Summer Coven is the most distinguished Coven in the world and they don’t need you spreading rumors. Their High Priestess is the finest dueler I’ve ever seen.”

Ariadne’s expression lost its edge and she grinned. “Thanks!”

Bill’s gaze snapped back to her. “You’re Ariadne Aureus?”

She nodded. “It’s nice to meet you, Bill.” She held out her hand to him.

His eyes were wide and his smile a little dazed when he took the proffered hand. “I saw you duel once. Only from a distance. It was…”

Isoko shifted at her back. Ariadne could imagine the expression being directed at her. She grinned and straightened, pulling her hand from his. “Thanks. I do tend to be a little showy. Just ask Olympia.”

Before Bill or Olympia could respond though, Dumbledore stepped in, easily, and introduced them all individually, along with the subjects they’d be teaching. Charlie subsided, but didn’t relax the tension in his shoulders and his hand flexed where it hung loosely at his side.

“Excellent. I’m glad you could all be introduced properly ahead of the dragons’ arrival. I have—“

A sharp tapping on the windowpane cut the Headmaster off mid-sentence. An eagle owl hovered outside, looking annoyed that it was taking so long for someone to let him in. The twin who was closest went to the window to unhook the latch. It swung wide and the bird entered with an irritated hoot. It dropped a scroll into Dumbledore's lap, looked scornfully around, and exited the same way it had come. Ariadne watched it go in bemusement.

Owl-post was unusual in the States, so old-fashioned and slow, though she still corresponded with one or two die-hard traditionalists who still did. Even so, every American home that Ariadne had ever been in had a dispatch box. You simply placed the addressed envelope or package inside it and shut the lid. It would immediately appear in the receiver’s own box. Much more efficient.

A poorly behaved or grouchy owl was nigh-on unheard of. She shook her head and turned to see Dumbledore unfold the newly delivered letter.

As they all watched, he read the letter swiftly, his face growing more and more troubled. “Hermione Granger claims to have had a prophetic dream. She says that Harry Potter lays dying on his bedroom floor, having been beaten bloody by his relatives. She begs me to remove him from the premises at once or she fears he will die.”

Severus scowled and shook his head. “Ms. Granger, while an insufferable know-it-all, is not the kind of person to make such claims lightly, nor is she one to jump at shadows.” Only one well acquainted with the Potion’s Master could pick out the strain in his tone and the tightness around his eyes. Fear was no stranger to him and it settled now, deep in his bones.

The Weasleys seemed frozen, expressions twisted in horror. The twins, especially, were sickly pale, eyes wide in their faces.

Olympia and Aurelia shared a look, while Isoko and Ekantika wore matching frowns. Ariadne’s face was blank, though she did lean forward, shoulders tense. “Albus, surely you have some monitor on the boy? He’s your greatest asset in this war. You can’t have been so foolish as that.”

Dumbledore looked pained. “I…Harry and I had a short discussion about the Prophecy before he left school last term and he didn’t take what I told him very well. Ginevra Weasley, I am most sorry to say, had only just been killed hours before. His rage was nearly incandescent and his usual wild magic destroyed everything…almost everything that was attuned to him in the room and a great deal besides. I lost all of the monitors on him and the Blood Magic at Privet Drive.”

Severus’ scowl deepened. “Usual wild magic? I’ve never seen Potter preform wild magic.”

The twins turned to stare at him, confusion helping their color return, though the horror in their eyes didn’t recede.

“Well then, my dear boy, you’ve never seen Harry truly angry.” Dumbledore smiled sadly and started to shake his head, but froze. “The lifestone should still be intact.”

He opened his desk drawer and pulled out a small stone that was pulsing a dull red. His inhaled sharply and looked up. “She’s right.” His eyes met Severus’ and there was urgency in his voice. “Go get him. Now.”

“I’ll go with you. You might be able to use a second set of eyes.” Ariadne blurted without thinking. The rest of the Coven turned to stare at her.

Too late though, because Severus nodded once and moved toward the floo.

She joined him, drawing her wand and shedding her robes at the same time. Her clothes, a long dress with a fitted bodice, was muggle enough to pass. Without asking permission, she tapped her wand on Severus’ shoulder, just as he reached for the floo powder sitting on the mantel. His black robes melted into a crisp black dress shirt and slacks. Good enough.

He handed her the jar, threw the powder in, and called, “Hog’s Head.”

She threw her own handful of powder into the fire and glanced back at Dumbledore, who was standing now. Worry aged him. “Do what you must. If you revel yourselves to the muggles, do not fear the consequences. I will take care of it. Bring him back. Alive, whatever it takes.”

She nodded sharply and disappeared into the flames. Once Ariadne and Severus had gone, the Headmaster took a breath and turned back to the group. His eyes, having lost their twinkle, were hard and flat. “Ekantika, could you please go fetch Hermione Granger and bring her here? You can get her apparation coordinates from the records.” He waved vaguely at an enormous tome sitting on a podium in the far corner of the room. “Explain to her who you are and why you are here. I am sure she has already heard of you, so it should be simple. Take this with you in case she demands proof.”

He bent quickly over the desk and wrote a short note on the back of her letter. Ekantika came forward to take the note from him and then beelined for the record book.

“Fred, George, please alert Madam Pomfrey of Harry's impending arrival. Tell her to be prepared for serious injury.” The twins nodded and left the room immediately.

“Aurelia, Olympia, go down to Severus' potion's lab and collect anything you can think of that Harry might need: blood replenishers, nutrition potions, whatever seems likely. The hospital wing does not remain stocked during the summer holidays. Err on the side of caution. It can always be put back.”

Aurelia and Olympia looked at each other and gulped at the prospect of finding Severus’ private potion’s stores in the maze of the dungeons, but turned to leave anyway. Between the two of them, they’d manage it.

"Charlie, please contact your reserve and have the dragons sent here as soon as possible. Then go to Headquarters and call an Order meeting. Tell them all it is urgently important. Make sure Kingsley Shacklebolt is there. They need to be informed as to what happened. They also need to be warned about the Summer Coven. Floo Professor McGonagall and have her meet you there.” The man nodded and left.

"Bill, you should get to work on the reinforcements of the castle's protection immediately. I fear we shall need them much sooner then I anticipated." Dumbledore sighed and pointed Bill to a door in the office's left wall. He disappeared through it as the old man turned to the twins.

When the office was clear, the headmaster slumped in his seat and stared sightlessly at the desk. “How could I have let it go this far?”

Fawkes trilled in the corner. Dumbledore sighed.

Chapter Text

Privet Drive was deserted when they appeared, but a concert in a nearby park was loud enough to cover their pop. Despite the noise, the street was eerily still. Ariadne was strongly reminded of a muggle horror movie. All the houses on the street were identical, except for the color they’d been painted.

They popped in at the corner. They’d been in the room at the Hogshead for barely a moment, just long enough to tumble out of the floo and apparate away, Ariadne clinging to Severus’ arm for the Side-Along. The strangeness of the street distracted her from the queasy feeling Side-Along Apparation always gave her.

She hadn’t let go of him yet, her fingers digging sharply into his elbow. Something was crawling up and down her spine, but she couldn’t tell if it was foreboding or dread.

There was an owl, snowy white and as still as the street around it, sitting on the roof of a house halfway down the block. It was the only sign that a wizard lived in the area and it made Ariadne’s scalp prickle.

“Hedwig.” Severus muttered, almost to himself, before setting off down the street toward Number 4.

His hackles were up, not knowing what they would find. Granger’s prediction could be right or it could be a Death Eater trap they’d be walking into. If it were a trap, he wasn’t sure he could talk his way out of it, especially if one of the Old Guard were here.

Below the apprehension he allowed himself to acknowledged was an undercurrent of fear, which he was viciously suppressing. To lose Harry Potter would…devastate the Light. He was, quite literally, the only hope they had right now. On a more personal and more selfish note, he’d only just been told that Potter was his son…He’d only just been given that small piece of Lily back. To lose it so soon would be unimaginably painful. He needed to explain himself to Potter. He needed to speak with the boy at least.

Underpinning all of it was a seething, boiling anger. At Dumbledore for keeping secrets that weren’t his. At the Dark Lord for putting him in this position. At muggles. At Potter’s relatives particularly. Straightening his spine and exhaling, Severus pushed his anger aside.

Ariadne’s jaw was tight and her teeth gritted when they arrived at the front door. She raised a fist and rapped sharply against the wood. Thundering footfalls followed. Ariadne exchanged a look with Severus, but neither commented.

The man who answered the door was a heart attack waiting to happen. His face was flushed and perspiration beaded on his forehead. His breath came in little puffs, as though he couldn’t quite get his lungs to expand fully. This must be Harry’s uncle, Vernon. He looked, Ariadne thought, a bit like a walrus stuffed into a suit. Although, she amended, that’s probably an insult to walruses.

Vernon stared at them through narrowed eyes. His lip curled into a sneer, disappearing under his horrible mustache. He leaned back on his heel and the floorboards beneath him groaned at being forced to hold his weight. “Whatever it is you’re selling, we’re not interested.”

Severus snarled at the man, who flinched back. His voice, when he spoke was dripping in scorn. "We are most certainly not selling anything, Dursley. We’re here for Harry Potter. Where is he?”

Going an even more alarming shade of red, Vernon spluttered, "I have no idea who you are talking about! Now, get off my property!”

He reached out one meaty hand to her to push her away. He likely assumed her to be the weaker target because she was a woman. She caught his wrist in a punishing grip and bared her teeth in her most predatory smile.

Vernon shuddered and tried to stifle a whimper.

“Mr. Dursley, you don’t know me.” She said, still smiling. Her tone was bland and her voice mild, almost pleasant. “But if you did, you’d realize that laying a hand on me would be a very, very bad idea. Now. You’re going to take us immediately to Harry Potter so we can take him far away from here and you’re going to swear to me on your life that you’ll never lay violent hands on anyone ever again. Or I’m going to start by snapping your wrist and see where my fancy takes me.”

Vernon made a sort of high-pitched gurgling noise that reminded Ariadne of a garbage disposal.

She tightened her grip when he didn’t offer any discernible answer. “Choose.”

Vernon’s terrified gaze went from her to Severus to the bit of his hallway he could see out of the corner of his eyes and back to Severus again. The Potion’s Master looked down his nose at him. “Ariadne is trained in…Let us call it advanced interrogation techniques.” He offered, his voice now silky smooth.

Harry’s uncle went a chalky grey color at that and finally gurgled, “Upstairs.”

Severus slipped passed both of them and took the stairs two at a time. Ariadne shoved her way passed Vernon, slamming his considerable weight into the wall. It trembled at the impact.

By the time she made it upstairs as well, one of the doors was already open. What she saw beyond the doorjamb made her nearly incandescent with rage. She wanted to go back downstairs and grind that worthless muggle to paste for doing this to his own nephew. She wanted to sink her fist into the Headmaster’s face for misusing a child, yet again. She wanted to scream at the world at large for being such a cruel place.

Severus knelt on the floor, crouching over the unconscious body of what could only be Harry Potter. His hair was sticky with blood and pushed back from his forehead, putting the lightening bolt scar of display. The boy was sickly white, as though he’d been drained dry. Blood pooled on the floorboards beneath his head. His face was mottled with bruises and one eye was swollen shut. He was curled in on himself, protecting his blood-stained middle from more blows.

He looked so young, so small and fragile, that Ariadne was afraid the slightest touch would shatter him.

Severus had pushed up the back of the boy’s shirt to check his ribs. The utter blankness of his expression told her that something was very, very wrong. She stepped into the room and dropped to her knees next to the teen, leaning over him to see what Severus saw. Blood was pooled under the skin at the small of the boy’s back and over his ribs. The flesh was pulled tight over his bones, making it clear that the muggles had been starving him.

Severus swallowed loudly and took a breath, but his voice when it came was cold and clipped. "It appears that he is suffering from acute renal failure due in part to blood loss and in part to blunt force trauma. Likely from the blow that cracked several of his ribs.”

He cast a diagnostic spell and Harry’s injuries laid themselves out in the air above his body. Looking it over, Ariadne winced. If they didn’t do something drastic in the next few moments, the boy would die.

They didn’t have time for her to have a moral dilemma over the lengths it would take to save him. There wasn’t another option. “Severus, can you heal the cuts?”

Severus looked up with a frown, but nodded. “Why do it here? Should we not take him to the hospital wing at Hogwarts?”

She shook her head and pushed up her sleeves. “We don’t have that kind of time. I can think of only one option to save the boy’s life. What I’m going to do is outlawed by the United Magical Nations. I could be put in Azkaban for the rest of my life if anyone finds out about it, but I can guarantee that Harry will survive.”

“What?” Severus’ voice was harsh and strained. He stared down at the boy on the floor.

“I’m going to cast the Valetudo Vinculum.” Severus inhaled sharply, eyes snapping up to meet hers. He’d clearly heard of it. She met his gaze without flinching. “He has too much kidney damage for me to take alone. I’ll need to give it to two other people. Will you take some?”

Severus nodded and looked back down at Harry, at his too thin frame and his too short stature. “Give the rest of it to that filthy muggle retch downstairs. He can feel a little of what he has done.”

She nodded, satisfied. As Severus got to work healing Harry’s cuts, Ariadne drew her wand and scorgified away the blood and filth. Any kind of bodily fluids outside the body could make the curse go haywire. Finally, taking a deep breath to center herself, she incanted.

The effect was immediate. Pain flared all down her spine. Her vision blurred from the pain in her head. She felt as though someone had hit her a couple dozen times with a baseball bat. She gasped, but gritted her teeth, trying to fight her way through it. After a moment, when she could catch her breath again, she opened her eyes. She didn’t remember shutting them.

Severus was watching her, alarm written across his face. His hand was hovering between them like he’d reached out to her, but had been afraid to touch her. She offered him a weak smile. “This is going to hurt. Be prepared.” She wheezed.

He nodded. She incanted again.

She didn’t wait this time, knowing that Severus would fight through it and be ready to leave as soon as needed. Instead, she merely incanted a final time, giving the lion’s share of damage to Vernon Dursely.

A scream echoed up the stairs to them. Ariadne smiled and summoned the nearest cordless phone. She punched in 999 and waited. "Hello, yes, please send an ambulance as soon as possible to Number 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging…No…Yes…Vernon Dursley is experiencing acute renal failure, most likely with complications due to morbid obesity…No, there is nothing I can do for him…No…Immediately please to 4 Privet Drive…No, I do not need you to stay on the phone with me…No. Thank you, goodbye.” She tossed the phone away, not caring where it landed. She’d done her duty to that sorry excuse for a muggle. She re-holstered her wand and turned back to Harry. ”Severus, I need you to get his things. We need to take him back to the castle immediately.”

Severus stood swiftly and went to do as she’d asked. In the meantime, she pulled a small vial out of her pocket and forced its contents, a blood replenisher, down Harry’s throat. There was a hollow feeling rising in her chest and tears pressing on her eyes, but she pushed both away. She didn’t have the time or excess energy to waste on what were surely side effects of the curse.

Instead she focused on the immediate problem. She couldn’t apparate Harry away. It would be too dangerous. He was still in a fragile state. Which also meant she couldn’t portkey him out. She was wondering, a little hysterically, whether they should try the Knight Bus, when she remembered Dumbledore’s phoenix.

“Fawkes! We need you! For Dumbledore, Fawkes, and for Harry! Harry needs you!”

She held her breath, waiting and praying to the Goddess that it would work. Just as Severus entered the room, there was a small flash of golden light. Fawkes appeared hovering above Harry’s prone form. Gesturing for Severus to return to Harry's side, she instructed, "Put one hand under him, gently and take my wrist in your other hand.”

Severus had grown tenser in the time it had taken him to retrieve Harry’s things from wherever they’d been stored. She wondered how he’d found them, but the thought was there and gone in a heartbeat. He moved around to Harry’s other side and knelt, doing as she’d asked. She met his gaze again and he offered her a thin tight-lipped smile.

An answering anger was rising up in her, matching what she saw in Severus’ eyes. The feeling seemed to feed on the hollowness, filling it up. She wanted to go downstairs and dig her fingers into Vernon Dursley’s sternum until she reached his ribs and then she wanted to keep digging. She wanted to take him to pieces and laugh while he bled. She—

She had no more time to contemplate revenge. Fawkes whisked them away to the Hogwarts.

Chapter Text

The Headmaster, Aurelia, Olympia, and the twins were waiting in the hospital wing with Poppy Pomfrey, on edge. Olympia was pacing anxiously from one end of the room to the other, while Aurelia and the twins watched. They’d been there barely half an hour when there was a bright flash and Fawkes appeared, hovering over the prone form of Harry Potter. Ariadne and Severus crouched on either side of him

Harry was deathly pale, even with the blood replenisher that Ariadne had given him. Ariadne’s face was streaked with blood. There was some in her hair too, standing out harsh against the pale blond. Her eyes, wide and darkened to navy, were wild, skittering around the room without settling anywhere. She was curled possessively over Harry’s prone body, where he’d appeared on the floor.

Severus, on Harry’s other side, didn’t look much better. He too was streaked with blood and wild-eyed. The curve of his back where he leaned over Harry was rigid and tense.

The twins took an involuntary step back, backing into the wall. Aurelia jerked forward, as if she wanted to go to them, but Olympia caught her arm. She shook her head, her curls bouncing. “Don’t touch them. They’re dangerous. Can’t you see the powerful magic that’s all over them?”

Aurelia gritted her teeth and nodded. She glanced to the Headmaster. “What’s wrong with them?”

Ariadne, hearing the voice, spun and snarled, “Don’t you touch him. Don’t you ever touch them.” Her own voice was sandpapery and fierce. She crouched lower, shielding Harry with her body and placing herself between the Headmaster and Severus.

Dumbledore frowned, taking a hesitant step forward. “Ariadne, we must be allowed to examine you all. Something is clearly very wrong.”

Ariadne spun on him, the simmering rage bubbling to the surface. “This is your fault! All of it. This is your fault! Don’t you dare talk to me. Don’t you dare touch Harry. Get out, get out, get OUT!” She was shrieking by the end, practically vibrating with anger. Magic was spilling out of her, crackling along her skin and sparking off her finger tips. It floated through her hair, pulling at it like a brisk wind. “OUT! OUT! OUT!” As she screamed, Severus shifted restlessly. The same magic that was manifesting around Ariadne began to spark along his skin as well.

Dumbledore nodded, backing away slowly, his hands raised in surrender.

This time Poppy stepped forward, clearing her throat. Both Severus and Ariadne turned to her, losing track of the Headmaster. With their focus firmly elsewhere, he was able to stun them and levitate all three up onto the hospital beds.

Poppy stepped forward immediately, casting diagnostic spells over all three. “Oh…This is…They have identical injuries at varying levels of severity.”

The headmaster made his way over to the beds to examine the diagnostics. Olympia moved to follow, but Aurelia grabbed her arm. “Do you know Poppy?”

Olympia glanced at the woman. “Not before today.”

Aurelia shook her head, chewing her lips. “And she’s worked here for decades now, yeah?”

Olympia nodded, thinking she might be seeing where this was going. She glanced at Poppy again. Should they trust her?

“I’m going to get Hopestill. Ariadne would want her here.”

Olympia nodded. “I’ll stay here and keep an eye on things. But hurry. Tell her we’ll keep her on retainer as long as she needs.”

Aurelia nodded and left. Olympia went to plant herself next to Ariadne, considering. Hopestill Corey was their family healer. She’d treated the entire Coven at various points. They’d been going to her for years now. Since they’d formed in fact. She knew every medical thing there was to know about them and she wouldn’t be surprised at the blackness of Ariadne’s aura, should they need to make it visible.

She would also be another set of eyes on the Headmaster and anyone coming into or out of the hospital wing.

In the meantime, Olympia needed to redirect and play for time. “Headmaster, why doesn’t Poppy focus on Harry first, since he was the one who almost died? We can put Ariadne and Severus both into a stasis, to give her more time.”

Dumbledore’s eyes flicked to her, narrowed a bit, but he nodded. “That could be an excellent solution. We’ll need to scan them first, to make sure the stasis won’t trigger something. They’ve been affected by some sort of Dark magic, but I can’t quite tell what.”

Olympia eyed Araidne’s stunned form. She could think of maybe a dozen spells that would have made Ariadne possessive, bordering on feral, like that. She held out her hand as near to her High Priestess as she could without actual contact. She could feel the magic hovering around her. “She cast the spell on herself.” She muttered, absently, testing the feel of it. “It’s Dark, but…there’s something wrong with it…No, right. There’s something positive about it that shouldn’t be there. I don’t understand what the magic is doing.”

Dumbledore was frowning when she looked up at him. “She must have done something to save Harry’s life. That would be the spell fighting against itself. A Dark spell used for an unforeseen Light purpose. It happens. The positive intent behind the spell might make the magic slightly unbalanced. That could be why it’s manifesting. But why Dark magic? Given any choice, why would she cast Darkly?”

Olympia scowled at him, pulling her hand away. Dumbledore had always been a bit of a sanctimonious bastard, but she couldn’t let such an obvious bait go. “Maybe she wasn’t given a choice, Albus. Maybe the only way to save his life was to cast Darkly. We aren’t always given a choice.”

Dumbledore glanced at her sharply before turning back to Ariadne and Severus. He eased them out of the stunning and into a stasis spell, without letting either of them wake. “Poppy, how is Harry?”

Poppy looked up at him, scowling. “Malnourished, beaten, and abused. Headmaster.” She bit out. “Worse than I’ve ever seen him. I warned you to take him away from those relatives of his and now look what they’ve done.”

Olympia filed the tone, the outright hostility, away for later.

Dumbledore sagged, his shoulders drooping and his face folding in on itself. He looked every bit his age and more. “As always, Poppy, you gave excellent advice and I neglected to follow it. I will regret that for the rest of my life.”

The mediwitch sniffed and turned back to her patient. Dumbledore sighed. “Olympia, if you would be so kind as to watch over them? I’ll return to my office. Ekantika should be returning with Ms. Granger soon. Do you know where Isoko has gone?”

Olympia watched him through narrowed eyes. “She went with Charlie to help with the Order Meeting. She didn’t trust him not to bias them with his distaste.”

Dumbledore blinked at that, clearly taken aback. “I see. Well, send her up when she returns. I would like to know how the meeting went.”

 

Hermione was already waiting in the Headmaster’s office, seated in front of the giant desk. Her leg was bouncing anxiously. Ekantika was pacing along the windows.

The headmaster swept in and went immediately to the desk to check the Life Stone that was tied to Harry. It was no longer pulsing red. Instead it was glowing a strong orange.

Dumbledore exhaled, simply staring at it for a moment. He finally placed it on the corner of his desk and turned to the others. “Orange indicates that, while he is still in danger, his life is no longer under direct threat.”

Hermione let out a soft cry and pressed a fist over her mouth, her eyes filling with tears.

“His health is a very precarious thing at the moment,” Dumbledore continued when she’d regained her composure. His expression was grave, making the lines on his face look deeply etched. Hermione wasn’t sure she’d ever seen him look so old. Not even when he’d announced Ginny’s death to the school at the end of the previous year.

“We must now have both faith and patience.” He went on. “Ms. Granger, you are the only reason that he is alive at this moment. It is thanks to your quick wits and cool logic that we were able to retrieve Harry in time. You have done a heroic thing. And you will have my gratitude until my last breath.” He gave a very tired smile. "Now, Ms. Granger, I know you wish to visit Harry. I am sure you know to stay out of Madam Pomfrey's way and not to approach the other two patients that she is tending.”

She nodded, clearly struggling to stay silent. Her worry for Harry overrode her natural curiosity. She exited the office quickly and went straight to the infirmary, where she planted herself at Harry’s beside and resolved not to leave it until he’d awoken.

Ekantika stayed behind, eyeing the Headmaster. He had taken his seat at the desk, but there was a new heaviness to his shoulders and weariness in his face. “What happened?”

“Ariadne and Severus saved Harry. But at great personal risk. They are both in stasis in the hospital wing, awaiting treatment from Poppy. They did not have time or the…focus to explain before they were put under. All we know, as of yet, is that Ariadne cast some kind of Dark Curse that affected all three of them. They have matching injuries and they all reek of Dark Magic.”

Ekantika frowned, not appreciating the tone in his voice. He’d always been overly preoccupied with the Lightness or Darkness of shellwork without bothering to work out whether there were Light applications for Dark Spells. His blinders in regards to magic had often made him a liability to them in the first war and that was something Ekantika could not forgive. “Do you have any idea what spell it was?”

Dumbledore shook his head. “Only that Ariadne cast it on herself.”

The woman nodded, still frowning, and ran a hand through her hair, pushing the thick black locks away from her face. She wanted to demand answers. She wanted to demand a lot of thing, most of which she knew she’d never receive, but answers could wait. “I would like to go see my High Priestess, if you don’t have any more errands.” The words were almost flat, with just a touch of snideness. She stared at him, expressionless, and waited.

Dumbledore sighed, but waved her away. When the office was empty, he put his head in his hands, leaning on the desk as though he no longer had the strength to hold himself upright. He felt a thousand years old. “Fawkes…Will Harry ever forgive me for allowing this to happen? Will I ever forgive myself? When did this all get so out of my control?”

Fawkes trilled sadly and fell silent. Which, Dumbledore thought, was answer enough.

Chapter Text

When Hermione arrived in the hospital wing after leaving the Headmaster’s office, She found Madam Pomfrey tending to Harry and some unknown witch tending to an equally unknown woman in one of the beds. A third was sitting at the unconscious woman’s bedside, watching her closely.

Professor Snape was laying immobile in the next bed over, also unconscious. She’d never seen him without his teaching robes before. The trousers and shirt made him much more approachable, she thought, realizing why he wore all black all the time. Shaking the unimportant thoughts from her head, she made her way over to Harry.

“How is he, Madam Pomfrey?” Her voice wobbled as she fought not to cry again.

The Mediwitch favored her with an indulgent smile. “Good afternoon, Miss Granger. He is recovering nicely. He should be completely healed by this evening. No bones to regrow this time.”

Hermione smiled at the memory and pulled up a chair. “Who are they, if it’s not too much to ask?” Hermione indicated the three women further down the ward.

Poppy scowled down the ward. “That Woman is an American Mediwitch, Hopestill Corey. Apparently the Summer Coven will only be tended to by their own private healer.”

Hermione could hear the annoyance and offense in her tone and glanced back down the ward. The Mediwitch was small and portly, wearing a set of old-fashioned robes. Her hair was steel gray and wrapped up in a severe bun. She looked even more no-nonsense than Madam Pomfrey.

Hermione glanced at the woman in the bed again. “So then, that’s a member of the Summer Coven?”

Pomfrey nodded. “Indeed. The High Priestess herself, Ariadne Aureus, and soon to be your new Defense professor. The one by her bedside is Olympia Ourania, the new Ancient Runes professor. The whole Coven is going to be teaching here in the fall.” She cast a diagnostic spell over Harry and smiled at the results. “Now, Harry’s going to need rest and I need to see to my other patients. You are welcome to stay, but only if you do not disturb the other patients. Harry should wake up in the next few hours.”

Hermione nodded and sank into the seat next to Harry’s bed. As she waited for him to awaken, she took the opportunity to examine her two new professors and kept a close watch on who visited the High Priestess. Ariadne seemed to be of average build, though it was difficult to tell while the woman was laying down. Her blond hair fell easy to her waist and her features were fine and sharp. Hermione frowned a little, considering her. Individually, her various aspects should be memorable. High cheekbones and full lips and a long, thin nose. She should be beautiful.

She wasn’t. She was almost plain. Someone you might mark for a moment as she passes, but not a face that you remember. Hermione wondered if it was a cultivated plainness or if that was merely how she looked.

The woman at her bedside, Olympia, had softer features: an oval face, rounded little nose, and large eyes. Her hair fell in soft, brown curls that fell to her shoulders. She looked, Hermione thought, like the kinder of the two.

There were three other women who cycled in and out, while Hermione waited for Harry to wake. The tall, Indian woman with thick black hair and a nose ring who had come to fetch her came by several times. She’d said her name was Ekantika. An Asian woman with long, thin hands that never seemed to stop moving and a full smirking mouth stopped by to have a hushed conversation with Olympia before disappearing again. Most often, however, was the woman with the potion-stained fingers. Her face was drawn into a worried frown every time she stopped by, but she was no less pretty for it. Her auburn hair was twisted up into a clip on her head and there seemed to be butterflies riding in it.

Hermione wondered what each of them would be teaching and why Dumbledore had felt the need to bring a Coven into Hogwarts. Her ruminations were interrupted by the arrival of the Weasley Twins, who looked a little more somber than she was used to seeing them.

“How is he?” Fred asked, keeping his voice low and glancing down the ward.
Hermione shrugged. “Madam Pomfrey said he’d be fine. He should be waking up soon, but I haven’t seen a change really.”

George nodded. “We were in the office when your letter came. Scared the ever-living magic out of us.”

She chuckled. “Sorry.”

They shrugged back at her. “Glad he’s alive.”

The mirth washed away and a sharp stab of grief caught her. “I’m sorry about Ginny. She was…too young. I don’t want to think about what school is going to be like without her. I can’t imagine what you and your family are going through. If any of you need anything, let me know.”

George nodded. Fred said, “It’s…hard. Harder than I would have every thought, but it happened. There’s nothing we can do about it. Ginny wouldn’t want us all to stop fighting. We can’t let them win or else what was it all for? So we’ll do our part for the war effort and so will the rest of the family. Except Ron and Percy. Percy has always been an arse and this didn’t help matters, but now Ron is acting like a martyr, like his decision to stop being friends with Harry is some sort of heroic sacrifice on his part to keep the family safe. He’s been going rounds with Mum about it for the past week.”

Hermione frowned. “He’s decided to stop being friend with Harry? What is that going to do?”

They both shook their heads. “No idea. He’s mental, that one.” They said in unison and then smiled at one another.

It lightened the atmosphere a little and made her smile. They left soon after, but not before checking on the High Priestess. The woman with the butterflies had returned by then and they spoke with her for a moment, before leaving. Hermione made a mental note to ask them about her and the rest of the Coven, when they returned.

 

The light was elongating across the ward when Severus finally managed to push himself to consciousness. He blinked up at the ceiling for a moment, mind blank, before memories slammed into him. He bolted up and out of bed, stumbling down the ward to the bed at which Hermione Granger was keeping vigil.

The Gryffindor straightened and stared at him with wide eyes. “Professor Snape! Are you alright? Should you be out of bed?”

He waved her off and dropped heavily into the chair that she vacated for him. “How is he? Did Poppy say?”

She shrugged, looking vaguely worried. “He’s supposed to be waking up soon, but he hasn’t even stirred yet. She said he’d be fine when he woke.”

“Perhaps you should fetch Madam Pomfrey and have her check him again.” Granger nodded and went off to find the Mediwitch.

He looked down at the teen in the bed. His son. This boy, who he had hated, was his son. He had let the traces of James that he had seen in the boy’s face blind him. He’d let Lily’s strong presence in both features and personality hurt him. Now, he would likely pay for it for the rest of his life. He had irreparably damaged any relationship he might have had with his own son through his own foolishness.

He wanted to rage, at Dumbledore for keeping secrets, at Lily for not trusting him enough, at Voldemort for creating the situation in the first place, at the whole world for all its cruelty and pain. He wasn’t sure how many more blows he could bear.

He took a breath and exhaled slowly. He could apologize to the boy. He would apologize. And hope against all sense that Harry Potter might have a large enough heart to forgive even him.

There was a soft groan down the ward, followed by the bustling of the other Mediwitch. Severus looked over.

Ariadne groaned again before lurking into a sitting position. She looked around wildly. “Where is he? Is he alive?” The Mediwitch tried to hush her and prompted a fierce scowl. “Don’t, Hopestill. Just don’t. Tell me.”

“He is alive.” Severus cut in, not moving from his place at Harry’s side. “He is alive, but I fear something else is wrong. Miss Granger has gone to fetch Poppy.”

Ariadne brushed the healer away, staggering out of bed and down to Harry’s bedside. Severus stood, feeling steadier than he had when he’d first woken, and relinquished his seat to her. She sank into it gratefully and looked down into Harry’s face. It was tense, even in unconsciousness and she wondered if he was in pain.

Ariadne shook her head. “Oly?”

Olympia was at her side in an instant. “What’s wrong?”

Ariadne offered the woman a rueful smile and she relaxed. “I’m fine. I just…could you go fetch the Headmaster? I’d like to speak with him.”

Olympia nodded, frowning. “I will. Just…please listen to Hopestill. You know she’s got your best interests at heart.”

Ariadne snorted. “Of course she does. We pay her enough for that.” She muttered under her breath. Severus swallowed an answering snort, not certain he was meant to have heard. “No, I know.” She continued more loudly. “I didn’t mean to ignore your instruction, Goody Corey.”

Severus frowned at the odd form of address. The woman in question simply smiled good-naturedly. “I have been treating you for some time, Ariadne. I am accustomed to you by now.” Her brown eyes twinkled, in a way so unlike the Headmaster that Severus could not help but think of him.

Ariadne flushed lightly. Olympia laughed and waved, when Ariadne shot her a nasty look. She breezed out, still chuckling, to go bring back the Headmaster. Hopestill approached them, glancing down at Harry’s prone form. She opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by Hermione’s and Poppy’s return.

The Mediwitch was carrying what looked like a pain potion, which she unceremoniously shoved at him when she reached the bed. “Take this, Severus.”

He grit his teeth against a protest, knowing he would not win, and took the potion. He felt better instantly and sighed. Poppy watched him knowingly, but looked back at the teen on the bed when he met her eyes. She frowned. “He shouldn’t still be unconscious. There isn’t anything wrong with him anymore.”

She ran another diagnostic spell on him, not losing her frown.

“What is wrong?” Severus’ voice was still scratchy, but no less sharp.

“He’s running a high fever now, but there is no obvious cause. He has no infection, nor any remaining internal injuries.” Poppy’s frown deepened.

“Could that have had something to do with the spell I cast? Some residual side effect?”

Before Poppy could even attempt to formulate an answer, Harry whimpered. All eyes snapped to him immediately. He shifted restlessly, occasionally making a soft sound of distress, and his forehead broke out in a cold sweat.

Severus reached out brush Harry’s thick, black hair out of his eyes in a gesture that shocked Hermione. She watched with a kind of horrified confusion as a look of such immense hurt crossed the Potions Master’s face that she could barely comprehend it. He laid his wrist lightly across Harry's brow, testing his temperature, but jerked back with a hiss. “His fever is dangerously high.”

Poppy pulled a bottle from her apron pocket. “Hold his jaw open, Severus.” She instructed as she uncorked the bottle. “This fever reducer should at least help until we can discover what is wrong with him.”

She poured it down Harry’s throat, massaging gently to help prompt him to swallow it. The group waited a moment, but the dark flush on his cheeks didn’t fade. Poppy shook her head. “There are so few illness that fail to respond to that potion. Mistress Aureus, if your magic reserves are back to normal, would you mind manifesting his aura for me?”

Ariadne pulled her hand immediately and cast. A cascade of bright gold appeared above Harry, curtains of it shot through with white and royal blue. Hermione gasped, eyes wide, and fought the urge to reach out and touch it. As they all watched, the aura bubbled with bursts of green, orange, red, pink, silver, purple, grey, and even black. Explosions of color rainbowed across it, sending showers of sparks over Harry’s bedspread and down into the floor.

Severus shook his head, staring at the display, and said, near awe, “I have never seen anything like this.”

The ward door opening with a bang drew their attention away from Harry’s unsettled aura. Dumbledore strode through it and stopped the moment he caught sight of the display above Harry’s bed. “Oh sweet Merlin. Harry, my dear boy, what have you been hiding from us?” He murmured, staring at the aura.

“What is the meaning of this, Albus?” Severus demanded. “I can think of only one reason his magic would be in such flux, but not at his age. What is this?”

Dumbledore approached the bed slowly. “I have not made any kind of intensive study of the subject, so I have no idea if it is possible that this is, in fact, Harry’s Venefici Sopor. He should not have been able to perform anything more complex than first year magic without having undergone it, but when has our Harry ever done anything so mundane as that?”

“Professor…”Hermione trailed off, biting her lip. Dumbledore nodded, gesturing for her to continue. “Professor, I’m certain I’ve read something about Godric Gryffindor being able to perform advanced magic before he completed his Venefici Sopor. I’d have to go to the library to check.”

The Headmaster smiled at her. “Please do, Miss Granger. In the meantime—”

Ariadne cut in. “I’ll have Isoko look up records. The Ministry takes that data and archives it, back hundred of years. At least, I’d imagine they do. MACUSA does.”

Olympia nodded. “I can ask Aurelia to look through her books and see if she can come up with any other explanation for it.”

Dumbledore eyed them both. “It might help to know exactly what spell it was that you cast, Ariadne.”

Ariadne met his gaze. Her expression was flat and unapologetic. “Valetudo Vinculum.”

Dumbledore inhaled sharply. “That is…”

Ariadne narrowed her eyes, glaring at him. “Necessary. It was necessary to save his life. If you’d like to turn me over to the Aurors, be my guest, but I will not apologize for doing what was necessary. Your Chosen One is alive now because of it.” She paused, eyes flicking to Poppy and Hermione, standing next to one another on the other side of Harry’s bed. “And remember who it was who trained me to be what I am, Albus.”

Her tone was heavy with a significance that no one but Olympia understood. Severus watched the exchange through narrowed eyes. There was more to the Headmaster’s relationship with the Coven than met the eye. Especially given how subdued her comment had made the Headmaster.

Chapter Text

Dumbledore met Ariadne’s fierce stare, but his jaw went tight. “Is there any way to reverse the spell now that he is healed?”

The room seemed to hold its collective breath. Ariadne shook her head. “Not that I know of. Severus, Harry and I will be bound together until one of us dies, at which point the bond might dissipate. Probably.”

Severus narrowed his eyes, watching her. She was meeting Dumbledore’s gaze with an unyielding one of her own, but there was something in the lines of her body that told Severus she was nervous. He frowned. Was it his reaction to that news that was making her uneasy? She’d warned him before she’d cast the curse. He knew the consequences of it, or at least, he knew enough about it that he wasn’t surprised to hear about the bond.

Besides which, what was done was done. There was nothing they could do about it now. Harry was alive. That was the only thing that mattered to Severus.

The Headmaster sighed. “I suppose we shall see the consequences of this as time passes. I cannot say I am happy with your methods, but at the moment, I cannot fault your results.”

Poppy cleared her throat. “If these two,” she indicated Severus and Ariadne, “aren’t experiencing any side effects, than I think we can safely rule out the Curse as being any sort of cause. Otherwise, especially with something like the Valetudo Vinculum, all three should have matching symptoms.”

Harry’s aura chose that moment to ripple ominously and send a rainbow of sparks across the floor. They all turned back to look at it, worry keeping them silent for a moment. Finally Hermione tore her eyes away from Harry’s bubbling aura. “Excuse me, everyone. I’m going to go to the library. I think the sooner I can find the information about Gryffindor’s VS, the better.”

“Miss Granger,” Severus said. She turned to look at him. “There is something that might be…pertinent to your search. Something that I trust will stay within these four walls and not be shared with any of your…little gang.”

He looked severe and uncomfortable that Hermione merely nodded and stayed silent.

He looked at her for a moment, as if waiting for her to argue. When she didn’t, he nodded and looked back at Harry. “Mr. Potter—“

“Severus,” Dumbledore interrupted him, disapproval obvious on his face. “I believe Harry himself has a right to know before anyone else is told.”

Severus froze for a beat, before turning blazing eyes on the Headmaster. "As you did not see fit to inform even me for 15 years and then only upon the issuance of an ultimatum, I do not see how you have any right to tell me whom I should and should not inform, Headmaster." His voice was ice, bitter and cold.

Dumbledore blinked, exhaled, and then finally nodded in defeat. “As you will."

“And I do. I have every intention of telling him myself once he is well. I trust that, until such a time, Miss Granger will keep her mouth shut about it.”

Hermione nodded, wide-eyed. "Sir, whatever it is, I won't tell Harry. But can I say, sir, that Harry does not respond well to things being kept from him.”

Severus drew in a sharp breath through his nose. "Neither do I, Miss Granger.” He paused, taking a breath. “Harry Potter is my son.”

She blinked at him, expression still expectant for a moment, before it sunk in that there would be nothing else forthcoming. The statement made no sense and yet somehow made all the sense in the world. The story they’d been given about the progression of the relationship between James and Lily Potter had been full of holes, of inconsistencies, and of missing pieces, but they had all just ignored it. Hermione herself had simply assumed that the holes in the narrative were the result of the unreliable nature of memory. That Snape would be Harry’s father explained so much, filled in so many missing pieces. And of course, generated more questions. She nodded finally. “I see. Yes, that makes sense. I’m sorry that you only just found out, Professor. That must have been horrible.”

She shot Dumbledore a pointed look and missed the shock that flashed across Severus’ face. “You believe me?”

Hermione turned back to him, frowning. “Of course, I do. It’s only logical. And lying about it would serve no purpose that I can see. Harry will be…pleased to have a family member, a parent. Hang on…does that make him Harry James Snape, then?”

Severus stilled, staring at her. Ariadne snorted. “Doesn’t exactly have a ring to it, does it?”

Hermione smiled at her. “It really doesn’t.” She paused, thinking for a moment. “I wonder if there is an easier way to tell if Harry is undergoing his VS…Madam Pomfrey, isn’t it true that a parent can sooth a child’s aura with physical contact during the fever?”

Poppy’s eyes widened, but she nodded. Severus immediately moved closer to the bed and took Harry’s hand. The molten gold that was still visible above Harry’s bed calmed. The bursts of color slowed and the showers of sparks nearly disappeared completely. “Well…that answers that, then.” Poppy said, voice weak.

Hermione nodded. “I’m going to go to the library anyway and see if I can dig up anything on a situation like this.”

The others nodded and she slipped out. Walking through the halls of Hogwarts without the student body was eerie. Her footsteps echoed loudly against the stones. The library was even worse. Madam Pince was nowhere to be seen, which was disconcerting enough, but the warmth and comfort that filled the library during the year had all drained away. The rooms were cold and dank, with the musty smell of old books almost overpowering.

She tried to shake it all off, making a beeline for the local history section. There were dozens of books on each of the founders, but there were so little mention of their formative years that working her way through them should be simple enough.

She pulled a stack, dragged it over to one of the study-tables, and settled in for the long haul.

 

Meanwhile, Severus had retaken the chair from Ariadne, so that he could continue to hold Harry’s hand. The boy’s aura was mellowing, though still unstable, and his fever remained dangerously high. There was nothing they could do about the fever. When a witch or wizard came of age, each underwent an illness, a fever to burn away the final restraints that nature had placed on their magic. When they awoke from the fever, the witch or wizard would have full control of their magic and then be able to perform high level magic. A child whose Venefici Sopor was delayed would have to be held back from passing into second year.

The idea that Harry had passed not only to second year, but managed to cast spells at a fifth year level without having undergone his fever was mind-boggling.

"He must have tremendous power to be able to cast a fully corporeal Patronus without having undergone his Venefici Sopor.” Poppy murmured, watching Harry as he shifted restlessly.

Dumbledore’s eyes went wide. “Remus. I should tell Remus what has happened and the Weasleys. Poppy, please keep me informed if there is any change.”

Poppy nodded and the Headmaster swept from the room. She cast several monitoring spells over Harry and followed him out.

With only the two Coven members as witnesses, Severus let his body slump over the bed. He pressed his forehead to Harry’s hand and said a silent prayer to the Goddess for the boy’s life.

Olympia glanced over at Ariadne, worry in her eyes, and raised an eyebrow. Ariadne shrugged helplessly, not knowing what to say or do. Someone needed to point out the danger that Harry was in, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Severus was shouldering a large enough burden and she couldn’t bear to add to it.

Olympia sighed softly and said, “Severus, I…I don’t want to alarm you or seem pessimistic, but it is still likely that he will…that Harry will not survive his fever, given how delayed it was.”

Severus flinched almost imperceptibly. “I am aware.”

She nodded, chest aching with sympathy for the man. Ariadne shuffled closer and reached for Olympia’s hand. There were tears in her eyes. Olympia gave the hand in her grasp a squeeze and said a silent prayer to the Goddess: Harry Potter couldn’t die. He simply couldn’t.

Chapter Text

Severus had barely moved from his spot by Harry’s side, in the day or so that Harry had been in the infirmary so far. Ariadne had hardly left the ward herself, so she could attest to that. So it came as no surprise that he was still there the next day when the infirmary doors banged open and an irate werewolf stalked in.

“What is going on here? Albus just fed me a ridiculous story. What’s wrong with Harry?” His voice was rough and his eyes narrowed. He stopped at the foot of Harry’s bed, looking torn between anger and concern.

“Likely, exactly as the Headmaster said, Lupin. Harry is undergoing his Venefici Sopor. He has had the fever since yesterday and it shows no signs of abating.”

“Yesterday!?!” Remus’ eyes widened and he stared down at Harry. “But a normal VS only lasts between 10 and 15 hours!”

Severus nodded and Ariadne raised an eyebrow. “Yes. And?”

Remus staggered to one of the empty beds and sank onto it. “Dear Merlin. He’s already at 24 hours. He cast a corporeal Patronus without having his magic released.” The man looked dazed. “Why are you holding his wrist, Severus?”

The question was asked with a kind of indifference of tone that suggested to Ariadne that Remus either didn’t care or hadn’t even realized he wanted to know. Severus stiffened. “The Headmaster did not explain?”

Remus shook his head, still watching Harry with wide eyes.

Severus sighed. “I have not had the chance to share this with the boy yet, but he is my son, Lupin.”

Remus blinked, waited a moment, blinked again. “Huh.” He seemed to be trying to assimilate the information. Finally, as Severus watched him warily, Remus nodded. “Alright. Fine.” He paused a moment, then frowned. “Sirius is not going to take this well, when he gets back, you know.”

Ariadne watched their interaction with interest. Severus scowled. “And where is the mutt? I am shocked that I have yet to be forced into his company already.”

Remus shook his head, face softening. “He’s out East somewhere. The Himalayas, I think? Doing some research for Dumbledore. He’s been completely off grid for the past three weeks. No communication in or out. He should be returning next week though. We’ll hear from him when he passes through Charlie Weasley’s dragon reserve.”

Severus narrowed his eyes, clearly trying to remember something. “What would he want in the Himalayas?”

Remus held up his hand helplessly. “I’ve no idea. Very hush-hush. You’ll have to ask Dumbledore.” He looked back at Harry for a moment. “Take good care of him, Severus. He means a great deal to a lot of people, myself included. I pray to the Goddess that he makes it through this and soon.”

Severus sneered, but nodded. Dismissing Remus from his attention, Severus turned back to Harry. His fever hadn’t spiked again, but it was still holding strong. Severus could feel the boy’s aura buffeting him, the magic still exploding from it occasionally. He wondered when it would settle. His own VS had lasted just over 25 hours. Dumbledore’s, he knew, had lasted over a day and a half, clocking in at 39 hours. Harry was already at 27 hours and didn’t look like he was going to break from it anytime soon. There had been, in fact, no change at all that Severus could discern. He should be able to feel Harry’s aura beginning to calm in the last hours or two before the fever broke, but that definitely hadn’t happened yet.

Pushing back from the bed some time later, Severus looked up to find Remus gone and Ariadne dozing lightly on the bed next to Harry’s. He cleared his throat and she jolted upright, wand ready. He raised his eyebrows at her. “I’m going to go shower and change my clothes. Alert me immediately if there is any kind of change.” He paused, thinking. “Your holding his hand might help keep his aura in check while I’m gone.”

Ariadne frowned and dragged herself from the bed. “I’m not his mother, Severus. His aura could attack me.”

Severus snorted, letting go of the boy and taking a step back. “I didn’t say you were, but you are his family now, thanks to your curse. Perhaps the magic of the Valetudo Vinculum would be enough.” They could feel Harry’s increased restlessness and the instability of his aura almost as soon as Severus released his hand.

She shrugged, willing to try. Taking Severus’ chair, she hesitantly reached out and laid her hand against Harry’s arm. The result was much slower than it had been with Severus, but Harry quieted somewhat. She smiled up at the Potions Master, who met her gaze with chill blankness. He nodded and turned on his heel to sweep out of the room.

The coldness in his expression left a tight knot in her stomach. Was he angry with the results of the curse? She was intruding on his life, his memories, and his new family in a way she’d never intended. She’d known what the original purpose of the spell had been and what it would do to them, to an extent, but she hadn’t realized that it would go quite this far.

She glanced down at Harry. He was flushed with fever and his face was tight with pain, whether from his aura or the side effects of the VS, she wasn’t sure. His body was shifting, the longer the fever lasted, as though it was forcing some of the growth that his malnourished childhood hadn’t allowed. He would likely never be a tall man, but he wasn’t going to be quite so childlike when the fever burned out.

Reaching out a tentative hand, Ariadne brushed Harry’s hair back from his forehead, running her fingers through his hair. He settled back into the pillows, just a fraction, and she smiled. Affection surged through her and she couldn’t sort out whether it was genuine or a result of the curse. From what she knew about the boy and his upbringing, she wasn’t sure it mattered. If he let her, when he awoke, she would care for him and protect him as much as she was able.

It seemed that he hadn’t had that much in his life. Even those who claimed to love him had failed him. Look at Dumbledore. He had sent the boy back to those muggles time and time again, knowing how they treated the child. She couldn’t be sure who else knew about his abuse, so she placed the blame solidly on the Headmaster’s shoulders. She could always spread it around later, if she found there was a reason.

She pushed away the steadily growing rage that accompanied that thought. Now was neither the time nor the place. She was here for Harry, right now, not her own selfish desire for confrontation. Sighing, she shook her head, trying to dislodge those kinds of thoughts.

She ran her hand through Harry’s hair again and let herself sink in a meditative state. She was certain they had a very long way to go indeed. Her own Venefici Sopor had last 39 and 1/2 hours, a scant half hour longer than the Headmaster. If Harry was to equal the Dark Lord, or indeed, have some power that the Dark Lord knew not…Well, Ariadne was certain they’d be here for a while yet.

 

Ariadne wasn’t sure how much time had passed when the infirmary door opened again, breaking her from her trance-like state. She jerked and glanced sharply over her shoulder, but it was only Harry’s friend. She knew the girl’s last name was Granger, but couldn’t for the life of her remember her first name.

“Oh!” The girl said, looking abashed. “I’m sorry. I thought Professor Snape would be in here.”

Ariadne gestured the girl in and waved her to the empty bed on Harry’s other side. “He’s gone to shower and change. Hopefully eat something too. He could use a hot meal. Did you need to speak to him, Ms. Granger?”

The girl shook her head. “You can call me Hermione, you know. Term won’t start for months yet.”

Ariadne smiled. “Alright, Hermione. You may call me Ariadne, at least until classes begin.”

Hermione nodded, smiling faintly, until her gaze fell back to Harry. “Salazar Slytherin, according to legend, had a Venefici Sopor that last 67 hours.”

Ariadne flinched. “Jesus.” She looked down at the teen, still flushed with fever. “Jesus, Harry’s better not be that long.”

Hermione nodded. “And Godric Gryffindor’s VS was delayed by several years. He was sixteen when he finally underwent it. Supposedly he’d spent much of his childhood doing manual labor, which was quite strenuous. He was…not exactly valued by his family, since he was the second to youngest child. He had four brothers and nine sisters.”

Ariadne nodded, considering. “How long did his VS last?”

Hermione shook her head, looking annoyed. “I don’t know. There are no records of it. I couldn’t find a single book that even hinted.”

Ariadne glanced up at her and, seeing the annoyance, had to suppress a smirk. Hermione reminded her of Olympia. They were both quite dedicated to their studies and likely to feel betrayed when they couldn’t find a book to answer their questions. But Ariadne conceded, from what she’d seen of the girl, they were also both loyal to a fault and cared deeply about people.

“Well,” she finally said when she noticed Hermione waiting for some response. “I supposed we’ll simply have to wait and hope that Harry’s is not as long as Slytherin’s.”

Hermione nodded and settled back onto the bed, pulling a book from the bag that she’d dropped to the floor next to the bed when she’d sat down. Ariadne leaned forward a hair to see if she could read the title, but gave up when the only word she could read was ‘Venefici.’ That told her enough, she figured.

The two lapsed into silence. They were still sitting peacefully, watching over Harry, when the door opened again about ten minutes later. It was Severus this time, back in his black robes, hair still damp. Ariadne ran a quick eye over him and pushed down the swell of desire.

“Any change?” He asked, approaching the bed.

She shook her head, vacating the seat for him. “Nothing. I’m beginning to fear that this will last days.”

She glanced over at Hermione as Severus sat, gesturing her to speak. Severus glanced over at her, black eyes flat, waiting. The Gryffindor girl swallowed and repeated what she’d told Ariadne. Severus’ face tightened, but he nodded. “We must simply hope that he survives this, no matter how long it lasts. Our only consolation is that there have been no new spikes in the fever.”

There was silence for a moment, before Hermione took a deep breath and cleared her throat. “Professor?”

Severus glanced up at her again, raising an eyebrow. “Ms. Granger.”

She bit her lip for a moment. “Professor, I know you said you’re planning to tell Harry the truth, but…”

“But what, Ms. Granger? But, out of everyone the boy knows, I am near the bottom of the list for the role of parent? But, he will not welcome it? But, he hates me? I know all this.” Severus’ voice was cold, nearly vicious, but seemed to Hermione to be turned inward rather than directed at her.

She shook her head. “No, sir. You might not have been his first choice of parent, but knowing that he has one at all will mean so much to him. No, I was going to say that…Sir, Harry’s…um…he’s been neglected and abused his whole life, I think, and he has emotional scars from it. I just wanted to…warn you, I guess, to maybe be gentle if you can.” She looked down at Harry and her eyes stung. “I failed him before, sir. We all did. We knew that his home life was bad, but I didn’t imagine it was this bad. I just…you’ve treated him poorly the whole while he was at school and I…I’m afraid of what the truth will do to his…self-esteem, I guess.”

Severus flinched, horror flashing across his face, before it went blank. “I see.”

Hermione shook her head, looking up at him. There were tears in her eyes, but they did not fall. “No, I’m not sure you do. Sir, you have the ability now to build him up or tear him to pieces. Please…please be careful with it.”

Severus gritted his teeth, his throat tight. He had done so many things in his life that he regretted. He would not add this to the list. “I give you my vow as a wizard, Ms. Granger, that I will be as careful and gentle as I am able with him from this day onwards. I will not be responsible for destroying any part of him. I have given neither of you reason to trust that that is true, but I vow it.”

Hermione smiled, small but genuine. “Thank you.” Her voice was soft, almost a whisper. She swallowed through the tears that still threatened and stood. “Please let me know if his condition changes?”

Ariadne smiled at the girl. “I’ll send someone for you, if there’s a change.”

Hermione nodded and left the room, unable to witness Harry’s distress any longer.

 

At the 48 hours mark, Severus resigned himself to a second sleepless night and took one of his enhanced Pepper-Up Potions. It was a recipe he saved for extreme emergencies, because of its addictiveness, but he figured if this didn’t qualify, then what did? It gave him hours of silence in which to remember each and every horrible thing he’d ever said to Harry. They seemed to play in a loop before his eyes, no matter how he tried to banish the memories. The stress and his own fear were hampering his usual Occulmency trained ability to compartmentalize. He did not appreciate the effect.

Which meant that, around two o’clock in the morning on the second night, Severus was wide awake. He’d laid his head against Harry’s hand, resting his face on the bedspread. He was focused on Harry’s breathing, counting, when something changed.

“Ariadne!”

The woman, sleeping in the bed next to Harry’s, was up and armed within a breath. Panting slightly, she scanned the room. “What’s wrong? What happened?”

Severus shook his head. “I don’t know. Something changed.”

 

And indeed, something had. Harry was barely aware of his own name, boiling in blackness as he had been for so long now. He felt as though his whole world might burn away or that he himself might merely melt into the blackness and disappear. He had spent his whole existence, he thought, fighting to stay whole in the face of this fire. It was so hard and he was so very tired.

He was a breath away from simply letting that happen, when between one moment and the next, the fire burned out. A wash of cool darkness enveloped him and he sighed into sleep.

 

Before their eyes, Harry’s body relaxed and his head lolled sideways. Ariadne holstered her wand and moved up next to the bed, laying a wrist against Harry’s forehead. “The fever is gone. His VS finally ended.”

Severus, still loosely holding the boy’s wrist, felt for his pulse. “He must be sleeping then. His heartbeat is strong and steady. Oh thank the Goddess.” He sagged against the bed, nearly felled by such an overwhelming sense of relief.

Ariadne smiled, and reached across Harry to rest a hand on Severus’ bowed head. She ran her hand through his hair, marveling at how silky it felt, before pulling back. “How many hours is that, then?”

Severus, suppressing a shudder at the caress, straightened again. “We arrived here around 8pm two nights ago.”

Ariadne did some quick math. “So…about 55 hours? Jesus Christ.”

Severus’ eyebrows knit at the expletive, but he didn’t responds to it. “It’s much longer than the Headmaster, but not so long as Slytherin’s. How, then, do we calculate his power? He was able to do high level defensive magic already.”

“Poppy will have to use the same spell that that Hopestill uses on me. I’d guess she probably already uses it on the Headmaster. It’s an adaptation of the Measurement Spell that you’d use to gauge the magic levels of an average witch or wizard. The measurement scale has been altered to accommodate a significantly increased magical ability.” She yawned, her jaw popping. “Come to bed, Severus. It’s much too late to be discussing anything and Harry is well again.”

Severus snorted at her phrasing and waved her off. “I’m going to retrieve Poppy. She can check him over. After, yes. I will take the antidote to my Pepper-Up and sleep. Goodnight, Ariadne.”

Laying back down, she smiled sleepily and nodded. “G’night, Sev.”

He watched her for a moment before turning away to go wake Poppy.

Chapter Text

The full Coven, the Headmaster, Severus, Remus, Hermione, and Poppy, upon finding out that Harry had passed well out of his Venefici Sopor and into healing sleep, claimed spots around the hospital wing. They were determined to wait there until Harry awoke.

It was nearly lunchtime before their patience was rewarded. Hermione had just gotten up from her perch at the foot of Harry’s bed to stretch her legs, when there was a quiet groan from the other end of the bed. She bolted forward and reached out for Harry’s hand, but froze, unsure if she should touch him. She glanced at Professor Snape, who nodded even as he released his own grip on Harry’s hand.

She smiled at the man and slipped her fingers loosely around Harry’s wrist. Harry groaned again and his hand flexed against the bedclothes. “It’s so bright.” He murmured, nearly inaudible, his eyes squeezing more tightly shut. Rolling over toward Hermione, he curled in on himself, moaning softly.

“Harry?” Hermione kept her voice soft, but stared down at him worriedly. He hadn’t even opened his eyes and now he seemed to be intent on minimizing the space he occupied, even though the action clearly caused him pain.

He flinched and tried to reached up to cover his head, only to find one hand held tightly in someone else’s. His eyes snapped open and scrambled frantically back against the headboard, yanking his hand away.

“Harry! Harry, it’s me. It’s Hermione. You’re alright.”

Harry was shaking his head, gaze skittering wildly around the room, fear clearly visible in his eyes. He was muttering, “No, no, no, no, no. Not again. Not again. I hate this. God, I hate it so much.” His eyes finally landed on Ariadne, standing beside his bed, and he froze. “I’m not clever enough to hallucinate a person I’ve never seen before.”

Ariadne smiled gently at him. “You’re not hallucinating, Mr. Potter. You’re at Hogwarts. You’re safe.”

Harry stared at her for a moment before looking to Hermione for confirmation. Hermione nodded, smiling through misty eyes. “She and Professor Snape got you from the Dursleys. You don’t haven’t to go back. You’re safe here.”

Harry’s whole body relaxed, with a racking shudder, and he slumped down into the bed again with a groan. “I remember Uncle Vernon’s punishment, but nothing after that.” He rubbed unconsciously at his belly. Severus shot the Headmaster a pointed glare. “But it’s…” Harry stretched out a little, testing. “It’s my joints that hurt.”

"Indeed, Mr. Potter.” Severus said softly, expression slipping back to neutral. “I imagine your bones and joints will ache for some time to come. You have been extremely ill for the past few days. We are pleased that you are alive.”

Harry turned to him with wide eyes. “You’re pleased, sir? You?”

Severus tensed. He’d deserved that, he supposed. “I am pleased you survived your ordeal and I take great pleasure in informing you that your…uncle…is gravely ill and might die. If he is lucky.”

Harry’s face looked caught between a frown and a smile. “Uncle Vernon’s ill? What’s wrong with him?”

Ariadne chuckled, causing Harry to turn to her. “Exactly what he’d done to you is what’s wrong with him. Only kidney damage is much worse when your kidneys are already overtaxed. I hope he dies in agony, the worthless filth that he is.”

The Headmaster cleared his throat, looking sternly around. “Now, let’s not get carried away. The boy’s just woken up.”

Severus scowled. “Headmaster, my getting carried away here would have resulted in three muggle corpses and a very sticky legal situation. I imagine Ariadne feels the same. This?” He gestures vaguely between them. “This is merely relaying information.”

Harry seemed to be fighting a laugh. He shot Hermione an amazed grin, before getting his expression under control. Harry had hated the Dursleys since the moment Hagrid had crashed through the door of that hut on the rock. He would shed no tears over his uncle’s death and he would feel no guilt in it, no matter how much or how little he was to blame for it. There was enough guilt to go around. He certainly had enough of it, swirling in his gut, whenever he thought of Ginny or Cedric. Uncle Vernon was hardly better than the Death Eaters, if you asked Harry, and so he deserved what he got.

Hermione was thinking similar things, but much more viciously. She’d been an unwilling witness to the beating he’d given Harry and for that alone she hated him. On top of it, she remember distinctly the story that Harry and Ron had told her of Harry’s rescue from the Durselys in the Ford Anglia and every mention Harry ever made of his cupboard. The memories haunted her now as moments when she could have said or done something different, something that would have prevented Harry from nearly dying at his Uncle’s hands. She was fiercely proud of Ariadne, a woman she very barely knew, and Professor Snape, who she’d always disliked. They’d served justice in the most poetic way Hermione could imagine to a man whose eyes she’d like to dig out of his head.

She pushed it all away for now, focusing on Harry, who was alive and vibrantly before her now. She smiled at him and squeezed his wrist a little. He turned his hand in hers and wrapped his own fingers around her wrist, smiling back.

Dumbledore sighed, shaking his head, and dismissed the issue of Severus and Ariadne’s bloodthirstiness. He turned his attention to Harry. “Harry, I’m sorry about your uncle’s illness, but needs must.”

Harry glanced at him incredulously. “Sir, my uncle could be actively dying in a fire and I’m not sure I’d so much as cast an aguamenti for him. Besides. We’ve got more important things to deal with than my muggle uncle’s health crisis, haven’t we, sir?”

Severus snorted at Harry’s comment. “Too right, Mr. Potter.”

Dumbledore frowned down at the teen, ignoring Severus’ comment. When had this callousness arisen in Harry? Was it confined to his relatives, for their ill treatment of him, or was it more serious? Dumbledore, for the first time since he’d place Harry with the Dursleys so many years ago, worried about the effect they had on him. He blinked and considered that perhaps he should be more worried about the boy’s emotional state than he wanted to be. They could accomplish very little if Harry fell to pieces just now. He resolved to speak with one of the Coven about it or perhaps their Healer, who was still lingering somewhere in the castle.

“Speaking of health crises, what was wrong with me, Professor? You said I was ill?” Harry’s voice sounded empty now, which caused Hermione to step closer and cling more tightly to Harry’s hand.

“Nothing to be concerned about, Mr. Potter. You were merely undergoing a much delayed magical…puberty of a sort. In the summer after their first year, every magical child experiences an illness, a magical fever that burns away the last fetters on their power. It releases the child’s full core power and purifies that magic, almost like a crucible, concentrating it. Without this rite, it is nearly impossible to perform any high level magic. Casting anything learned in second year is nearly unheard of and anything beyond that should be nearly impossible.”

Harry frowned in confusion. “I’ve never heard of this before, Professor.”

Severus nodded. “It is not something that is often discussed in company. Muggleborns receive a letter about it to take home to their parents, explaining the whole ordeal. However, you are not a muggleborn, merely muggle raised, and somehow managed to slip through the cracks. The illness is called Venefici Sopor, or the Sorcerer’s Sleep. You should have experienced it several years ago, but you did not. The…treatment you received at the hands of your so called family delayed it. It is your Venefici Sopor that you’ve been experiencing these last few days.”

Harry chewed his lip for a moment, thinking. “How long does it usually last?”

Ariadne picked up that questions. “It usually lasted between 10 and 15 hours, Mr. Potter. Though the longest on record, the Venefici Sopor of Salazar Slytherin, lasted 67 hours.”

Harry blinked at that, assimilating. “And you said mine lasted three days?”

Ariadne shrugged. “54 hours, to be exact.”

Hermione stepped in, cutting of whatever Harry’s response would have been. “And yours wasn’t the latest, either. Godric Gryffindor’s was delayed until he was sixteen.”

Harry offered her a weak smile. “So at least there’s that. Headmaster…how long was your VS?”

“Mine lasted 39 hours, Harry.”

Harry nodded, taking that in. “And do you know long Voldemort’s was?”

Olympia nodded, wondering why no one had thought to ask it before. The group seemed to hold its collective breath, waiting for Dumbledore’s answer. The old man shook his head. “No, Harry. I’m sorry, but I don’t. Tom Riddle was a very private boy and he grew into an even more private young man.”

Olympia frowned at that. Surely the man had some idea of the Dark Lord’s power levels? She wondered if there was some way to find out. Isoko would definitely have to look into getting her hands on the Ministry records, if there were any.

Harry shrugged and slumped further into the bed with a soft whimper. “I feel like I’ve been put on the rack.”

There was a low chuckle from the crowd. Ekantika and Aurelia shifted, turning to look at the source. Harry’s eyes lit up at the sight of Remus standing there laughing. “Moony!”

“Glad to see you awake, Harry.” Remus said fondly, stepping up to the bed. “And you have been on the rack. The VS, while burning away the last barrier between your conscious mind and your magic, also erased some of the effects of the abuse you suffered. You grew a good few inches in the past couple days and you’ve filled out properly, cub.”

Harry scowled. “Professor Snape said it’s going to ache for a while?”

Remus nodded. “I’d guess at least a week or so, but it’s not from an injury, so Poppy should be able to give you some pain-relieving potions that will help.”

Harry nodded and let his head fall back, staring up at the ceiling. His mind was churning, as he tried to process all the implications of his Venefici Sopor, but none of the thoughts would settle. Finally, he said, “Padfoot is still…away, then?”

Dumbledore fielded this one before anyone else could jump in. “Yes, Harry. For the moment. But as soon as he checks in tomorrow, he’ll find orders to return immediately. Something which I’m sure both you and Remus will appreciate.”

Harry took a peak at Remus, who was beaming at the idea of his partner returning early from the secret mission he’d been sent on.

“Was he successful?”

The Headmaster was silent for a moment, before nodding. “To a degree. Harry, when you are back on your feet, I will explain to you what Sirius was doing and what came of it. I have…recently concluded that you were in fact correct in your criticism of me. I do not share information with you and your ignorance puts people, yourself first and foremost, in danger. I will shortly take steps to remedy that, but first you must recover from your fever.”

Poppy chose that moment to step forward and shoo them all out. “The child must rest!”

Harry scowled at her and Hermione giggled. He looked over at her and offered a tentative smile. She reached down and hugged him tightly. “I’m so glad you’re alright, Harry. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had and I couldn’t bear to lose you.” She murmured in his ear.

He hugged her back, just as tightly. “You too, Hermione. I’ve never meet anyone like you before and I don’t think I ever will. Thank you for being my friend.”

She pulled away and met his eyes. “Always.”

Chapter Text

Leaving Harry and Hermione in the hospital wing and finally trooping back to their own quarters was an immeasurable relief that night. Showers and restful sleep in their own new beds did wonders for the women, especially Ariadne who had the added stress of the Curse. Both its casting and its effects were draining.

She slept the next morning until the sunlight pouring in through her giant windows penetrated her bed curtains. She rolled over and tried to burrow more deeply into the pillows, but her door opened with a bang and Olympia called out her name. Groaning, she pulled back the bed hangings and sat up. “What?” She muttered, groggy.

“The Coven wants a meeting downstairs. You’ve got twenty minutes to get dressed.” The woman was practically glowing, her mouth stretched in a wide smile.

Ariadne eyed her with some trepidation. “Aren’t I High Priestess here? Shouldn’t I call meetings? What is this about?”

She climbed out of bed and stumbled over to her wardrobe, her limbs stiff with so much sleep.

Olympia watched this from the perch she’d claimed on the arm of one of the chairs. “Membership. We have the opportunity here to have, even temporarily, a full coven.”

Ariadne froze for a moment, thinking she’d misheard. “Are you joking? Please tell me you’re joking.”

Olympia shrugged, impassive as she watched Ariadne swap her t-shirt and sweats for a dress and set of everyday robes.

“You trust anyone here enough to let them join the Coven? To ask them to join?”

Olympia snorted. “Of course not, you utter goose. But we could wait it out, see who to trust, and ask them to join us for a single rite or even a blessing. Dumbledore and Severus would both do anything to keep Harry safe. We could use a full Coven to add additional wards or protections to the castle.”

Ariadne blinked and tilted her head, thinking. It wasn’t a bad idea. If they weren’t asking others to join the coven, merely assist on a rite or two, the trustworthiness of whoever stood in them wouldn’t be an issue. They could take advantage themselves. There were several rites that they’d always intended to cast if they’d ever managed to scrap together another eight members.

Severus would be an obvious choice. Perhaps Minerva or Poppy would be willing to join. Either woman would have the requisite magical power. Hopestill Corey, their own healer, was powerful enough to make asking her worthwhile and she’d been intrigued by their Coven practices since they’d known her.

The twins too would be a good choice. They were moderately above average in terms of power and they seemed impressed enough with Aurelia that it wouldn’t be too hard to convince them. However, being twins, they shared a single magical core and, with regards to Coven Magic, were considered a unit.

Dumbledore, on the other hand, was at the bottom of the list. Given the Headmaster’s power levels and his ruthlessness in pursuit of his goals, she didn’t trust him not to attempt to hijack the rite in some way, to insert himself into their bond, or to take their shared power to use for some ‘greater good’. She wasn’t certain any of those were possible outcomes, but Dumbledore had a more extensive knowledge of magic than anyone she’d ever met. If anyone could figure that out, it would be him. After all, he’d been the one to introduce her to Coven Magic in the first place.

Shaking the thoughts away, she shoved her socked feet into her boots and straightened. Olympia was grinning at her knowingly. “Oh shut up.”

The woman widened her eyes innocently, suppressing a laugh. “I didn’t say anything.”

Ariadne rolled her eyes and led the way out of her room, making her bed with a flick of her wand as she went. “You didn’t have to. You were thinking it very loudly.”

Olympia’s lilting laugh followed her all the way down the stairs.

 

 

Their conversation had wound through several topics since the Coven Meeting had commenced. They’d eaten breakfast around their new dining table and been thoroughly impressed by the fare that the house elves had created, now that they have the mental bandwidth to appreciate it. Now they’d staked out spots across their new common room area. Enlarging the Coven, temporarily everyone hastily added, had been only the first on a long line of topics. A list which culminated in their own shared past. “I just think Severus deserves to know.” Ariadne pointed out, pacing in front of the fireplace.

Aurelia shrugged from her spot draped across one of the armchairs. “It’s your story to tell. If you don’t want to share that part of your life with him, right now, or ever actually, that’s your right.” Her foot, hook over the chair arm, bounced with each word.

Olympia jumped in with, “But don’t you think Severus has the right to know? She’s been spending time with his son. She’s going to be spending more time with him once he’s well.” She met Ariadne’s gaze, looking up at the woman from the end of the couch. “Not that I think there is anything wrong with you, but I think you need to be honest about your past. You’re going to be teaching his son. If it were me, I’d want to know.”

Aurelia shook her head, shooting Olympia an annoyed looked. “It’s not like it’s going to change anything. He can’t forbid her from seeing Harry, from teaching Harry. We’re going to be teaching come Fall and on top of that Dumbledore wants us to train the boy in Coven Magic. So what good would it do?”

“Plenty of good. And he could—“

“Stop!” Ariadne’s voice cracked sharply through the room. Both froze and turned to her with wide eyes. “I see where both of you are coming from. You’re both right.”

Aurelia scowled. “I’m sensing a but. I’d also like to point out that he already knows what we did in the last war. What good will telling him the rest of it do?”

Ariadne flexed her hand, looking down at the way her fingers moved and weighing the possible outcomes of both choices. She could tell Severus the things she’d done, confess to it and get it out of the way, or she could stay silent. The other four watched her in silence, waiting. When she finally spoke, it was slow, as if she were still piecing things together. “If I tell him about what the Coven did…Both stories involve killing. I can wait to tell him about what happened at The College until later. If and when anything more intimate happens between us. For now, giving him more details about what we did…what we do would serve the same purpose.”

Olympia frowned. “With the added benefit of your lack of shame about the issue.” She said, pointedly.

Ariadne flinched. “There is that.”

The closed off expression on Ariadne’s face made regret bubble up in Olympia’s stomach. Her throat tight with it, she stood and went to the High Priestess, taking her hand. “I’m sorry, Ari. That was completely uncalled for.”

Ariadne offered her a thin smile. “No, it’s fine. You’re not wrong, after all.”

Olympia pulled her into a brief hug, for which Ariadne was grateful. It had been a very long summer already and they’d hardly been at Hogwarts a week. Just long enough to avert a disaster and finally move their things over.

Hopestill hadn’t even gone back to Salem yet. She was still staying in the guest bedroom that Dumbledore had asked the castle to create on their staircase. They’d set up a small office in the training wing for her too. With the way things had been going, she’d likely need it. You never knew what was going to happen and with their renewed, even increased, proximity to the war, they all had no doubt that she would be needed. Ariadne had actually thrown around the idea that she keep the woman on retainer here for the duration of the year, but she’d hadn’t yet proposed it. She’d catch the Mediwitch before she returned home. They had several things to discuss now.

 

 

It took four days before Harry was strong enough to leave the hospital wing. Over the course of those days, Harry and Hermione both were officially introduced to the whole Coven. Hermione was shocked to find out that they’d all be teaching come the fall. She couldn’t remember Hogwarts ever getting such a massive increase in staff all in one go.

He also spent a large portion of that time sleeping, trying to get his strength up. Professor Snape stopped by several times to check on him. The Potions Master asked stiffly how his recovery was progressing and wished him good health, before leaving. Harry would watch him go each time, feeling bewildered and uneasy.

When he wasn’t sleeping or entertaining confusing visitors, he was talking to Hermione. He’d been such a poor friend to her over the past year and he wanted to make it up to her.

When he thought about it, he realized he’d been a poor friend all around. He promised himself he’d make it up to each of his friends in turn. Thinking of his friends led to thinking of the Department of Mysteries and of Ginny’s death. The memory always caused his chest to constrict tightly, making it difficult to breathe. Missing her was a hole inside him that he thought would probably never fill. She’d been so vibrant, to fierce and full of life, and the thought that he’d never see her again, never hear her laugh, never tease her, never get the chance to know her or to kiss her was a hard aching knot that settled between his lungs.

He’d think of Ginny at random times over those four days and he knew that his expression would close down. He couldn’t help it. Hermione would reach out, when that happened, and squeeze his hand, but she never brought it up.

Worse than the grief, worse than the pain of Ginny’s loss, was the guilt. Because it had been his fault. She was gone because he was stupid and careless and wouldn’t do as he was told. It sometimes made him wonder why Uncle Vernon hadn’t simply killed him. It wasn’t like he didn’t deserve it.

Finally at the end of the fourth day, Harry brought it up to Hermione. She was sitting at the end of his bed and they were playing Exploding Snap. The silence was, all of a sudden, simply too much. He looked up from the game abruptly, ignoring his turn, and said, “Hermione, I…I don’t want you to misunderstand me. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had and I am glad that you’re here, but…why are you here?”

Hermione smiled softly at him, as she’d been doing since he awoke, and reached out to squeeze his hand again. “Harry, I care about you. A lot. You’re my best friend. You’re my first friend in this world of ours. You were in danger and then you were ill. Where else would I be?”

He shook his head and tugged his hand from hers to run it through his hair. “Away from here, from me. Far away, where it’s safe. Far away so I can’t get you killed too? Hermione, being near me is dangerous. Everyone I care about dies eventually. Just look what happened to G-Ginny.” He stuttered out her name, voice breaking, but he forced back the tears that threatened. What right had he to cry for her when he killed her?

Hermione was frowning at him when he looked up at her. “That’s just silly. Harry…I’m not going anywhere. You are not responsible for Ginny’s death.” She paused to swallow back her own tears. “Voldemort is. He’s the one who got her killed. Bellatrix is. She’s the one who killed Ginny. You can’t keep blaming yourself for things that aren’t your fault. You’ll drown in the guilt if you don’t. Harry, I’m not going anywhere and if you try to force it, you won’t like the consequences. I’m in this for the long haul. I care about you too much to go anywhere. Where you are in this war is where I’ll be. Helping you, protecting you, supporting you. I…I’m afraid you’re going to need all three.”

Harry’s throat worked as he swallowed and she reached out again. This time, she pulled him into a hug and let him cry himself out onto her shoulder. She stroked a hand through his hair and hummed a lullaby her mother used to sing to her when she was little.

Eventually, Harry fell asleep like that, draped across the bed in the wrong direction with his arms wrapped around her waist. She smiled down at him, her heart swelling painfully at the sight of him. He was so precious and so very damaged. She thought she could spend her whole life cocooned around him, shielding him from the world, if he’d let her.

 

 

By the time Poppy let him out of the hospital wing, Harry’s aches and pains had faded and he was thoroughly enjoying eating full meals again. She had had him on a liquid diet for the first day after his fever broke and soft foods for a couple days after that, trying to get his stomach used to regular meals again. She also set him a regiment of nutrition potions and supplements to try to reverse some of the damage the starvation had done to him.

He felt better than he had in years, possibly ever. He was itching to test his limits and try to expend some of the magic that felt like it was brimming inside him. Snape had given him permission to leave the castle itself this morning, but only if he promised to be back for lunch. After the noon meal, there was a meeting planned in the Headmaster’s office.

Snape had also requested a private meeting with Harry immediately after the one in the Headmaster’s office, which left Harry reeling. The Potions Master was being…not kind, but even-tempered with him, nearly polite. Or at least, as polite as Snape was every likely to get. Harry couldn’t figure out what changed, though he suspected that Hermione knew. She’d been reversed around Snape in a way that she hadn’t since before that Quidditch match in first year where Quirrell cursed his broom.

Harry shook off the thoughts. He peaked out the door of the hospital wing and saw no one in the hallway. Slipping out, he tried to walk as stealthily as possible down the hall, only to find Hermione waiting for him at the other end. She raised her eyebrows at him “And where, pray tell, do you think you’re going?”

Harry grinned sheepishly. “Out to the lake? Snape said I could?”

“Is that a question or a statement?” She looked like she was trying quash a smile and not quite managing it.

His grin widened. “A statement. Want to come with me? I want to try some magic. See what I can do now.”

She fell into step at his side. “How are you going to do that? How will you know the difference?”

Harry shrugged. “I’m not sure. I was just planning on casting some low level spells and seeing if I could gauge how much more magic I have now.”

They ran into Ariadne and Olympia when they reached the Entrance Hall. Both of whom narrowed their eyes at Harry. “I’m just going out to test my magic and get some fresh air for a bit. I promised Snape I’d be back by lunch.”

The two women exchanged a look. “We’ll accompany you. Maybe we can help.”

Harry shrugged and the quartet trooped out to the lake. Hermione claimed a spot under a tree and dropped her ever-present book bag. She conjured a blanket and sat down. Ariadne came to join her. “I think I’ll let Olympia field this round. She’s a much…gentler instructor than I am.”

Hermione shot her a worried look before turning back to watch the others. Ariadne laughed.

Further afield so as not to disturb the giant squid, Harry and Olympia discussed exactly how he might go about testing his magic.

“But can’t I just cast something and see what happens?” Harry asked, tone mild.

Olympia rolled her eyes. “You could, but even the most harmless spells could be dangerous if you over power them. You don’t want to burnout your wand or hurt anyone.”

Harry frowned, considering. “I suppose that makes sense. If I cast a Lumos, say, and it’s so extra powerful, it blinds me or something?”

Olympia nodded. Looking around, she finally noticed a rock about the size of a baseball near the shore. “How about you levitate that rock?”

Harry shook his head. “What if it goes rocketing off and hits something?”

It was Olympia’s turn to frown. “You can’t control your Levitation Spells?”

Harry shrugged. “Magic has always been…um…a bit like using one of those old muggle clothes dryers. The one where you wring out the water? Magic is like that. Like I had to press really hard to make it work.”

Olympia blinked. “Ah. The barriers. Well, it won’t feel like that now. What’s the most difficult spell you know?”

Harry smiled grimly. “The Cruciatus Curse.”

Olympia shook her head, frowning at him. He was being purposefully obtuse and she hated that in a student. “No, I mean that you can cast. That you have successfully cast.”

Harry shook his head and repeated, “The Cruciatus Curse.”

She stared at him. He took a deep breath. “Are you familiar with the name Bellatrix Lestrange?” Olympia nodded. “I guess she’d be famous even in America then. Well, during the fiasco at the Department of Mysteries last month…Bellatrix killed a friend of mine.”

Olympia nodded again. “Ginevra Weasley.”

Harry offered her a thin smile. “Ginny. I chased her down and we…I won’t call it dueling because it wasn’t. I was distraught and angry beyond anything I’ve ever felt. I wanted to kill her. I wanted her to feel the pain I was feeling…She told me that I couldn’t do it…She was wrong. It only lasted a moment, but I cast it successfully.” He was whispering by the end, caught between satisfaction that he’d hurt Bellatrix and shame.

Olympia inhaled sharply at his words. “Well…I don’t think that one is a good one to try, anyway. Imagine how awful it would be to be hit with a super-powered Crucio.”

Harry flinched and then looked up sharply, eyes bright. “Imagine how excellent it would be to catch Voldemort with a super-powered Crucio.”

Shaking her head and putting her hands on her hips, Olympia glared at him. “Stop right there, Mr. Potter. There will be no interaction with the Dark Lord until you are properly trained. Do you hear me?”

Harry blinked at the abrupt change in her, but nodded in defeat.

“Try a Patronus. I know you can cast one, right?” Harry nodded again, reluctantly. Olympia smiled. “Excellent. What could go wrong with a Patronus?”

Harry sighed and muttered, “Famous last words.” But he drew his wand anyway. Concentrating on the memory of Hermione saying ‘where you are in this war is where I’ll be’, Harry cast the spell.

Chapter Text

The stag that erupted from Harry’s wand was not only corporeal, it was solid to the touch. The beast turned from where it had landed and trotted back to Harry and Olympia, who stood staring in shocked amazement at it. It nuzzled Harry, who instinctively reached up to pet the creature. It was soft and warm under Harry’s fingers, like a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter day or a cushion by the fire at night. Harry released the breath he’d been holding in, a sound caught between awe and delight. His skin where he touched the creature tingled. He’d felt as though he were touching a rainbow.

“Ariadne…Come here. Now.” Olympia called in a strangled voice. She stood staring at it, eyes wide and slightly panicked.

There was a rustle of noise from under the tree, but neither Harry nor Olympia turned to look. In a beat, Ariadne and Hermione joined them.

“Harry, why did you conjure a buck?” Hermione frowned at it, before glancing at Harry.

Harry shook his head, not wanting to tear his attention from the Patronus.

“That’s his Patronus.” Olympia gestured at the animal.

The stag tossed its head, sending down a shower of particles that looked almost like fairy dust. They glittered as they caught the light, but vanished before they hit the ground.

Hermione’s hands flew up to her mouth, trying to stifle a shocked noise. Ariadne watch the beast, a blank look on her face. She reached out and touched it, noting as Harry had, the profound sense of joy that seemed to emanate from it. She stroked along its neck, enjoying the soft downy feel of its fur. Or hair…Did deer have fur? She dismissed the thought, feeling a little ridiculous. “Have you ever done this before, Harry? Conjured a solid Patronus?”

Harry shook his head. “No. I cast a Patronus that chased away a whole swarm of dementors, but never a solid one.”

Ariadne blinked, trying to assimilate that. Harry said it so casually, but it was such an extraordinary thing. She could not understand him, the odd combination of easy power and humility so pronounced that it bordered on self-loathing. Considering it, she had a momentary surge of hatred toward the boy’s relatives. Pushing it aside and focusing back on Harry, she nodded. “Alright, so let’s assume that this,” she gestured to the buck “is a result of your VS. Now we need to understand exactly what the scope of your power is.”

She paused, thinking. Had Harry created a new species or would it simply disappear in time? How much magic had it taken to conjure? Was Harry tired? Did he even notice the depletion?

If not…Dear Merlin.

She needed to speak with the Headmaster about this as soon as possible. “If you would, hold off on using your magic at least until dinner this evening. Any magic at all. After dinner, meet me in the Headmaster’s office. We should have devised a way to test your magic by then.”

Harry nodded, looking sadly down at his wand. He’d only just gotten it back and now he couldn’t use it again. At least there was still magic all around him. If he needed something, he figured he could always ask Hermione or one of the teachers. He sighed. He knew it wasn’t a big deal, only a few hours, but that didn’t help any.

He watched a little forlornly as Ariadne and Olympia headed back up to the school for a moment, before the stag nuzzled at his shoulder again and distracted him. He smiled at it, feeling the joy that the creature seemed to be pushing at him. He pushed the question of magic away. He’d be able to use it soon.

“Hermione,” he said, petting the stag. “Should we name him? Or is he going to disappear?"

Hermione shrugged helplessly, still staring at the Patronus. “I have no idea. I’ve never heard of a Patronus you could pet before.”

Glancing at Harry as if for permission, she reached out to the stag. Harry grinned encouragingly at her. The stag tossed its head and moved to nuzzle her palm. Her lips parted and her eyes glazed. “Mmm. It feels lovely.”

Harry grinned harder. He herded the two over to the tree that Ariadne and Hermione had claimed earlier. To his delight, the stag laid down beside them when they sat.

Watching the stag rest its head against the ground and drift off into a nap made Harry think about third year, about Ron laid up in the hospital wing and he and Hermione going off together on an adventure. He wondered how Ron was fairing.

“Have you heard from Ron?” Harry asked, laying down himself. The leaves shadowed each other, making a beautiful kaleidoscope above him.

Hermione glance sharply over at him. Fred’s words echoed in her head: Ron’s decision to stop being friends with Harry. He deserved to know, but…Harry looked so peaceful. He seemed content to be where he was for the first time in so very long. She didn’t want to disturb him. “No, Harry. I haven’t gotten any letters from Ron yet. The twins stopped by when you were unconscious. They were actually there when Ariadne and Professor Snape brought you back.”

Harry frowned. “Maybe they didn’t want to see me. I mean, after what happened…”

Hermione huffed. “Nonsense. They were very worried about you, but you know how the shop’s been. And they mentioned that they were planning a second location in Hogsmeade, so they’ll be ridiculously busy.”

Harry relaxed again, looking back up at the leaves. Hermione watched him for a moment, trying to hide a soft smile, but eventually gave it up as a bad job. She rummaged through her bag for a book.

“Read to me?” Harry murmured, sounding drowsy. “I like the sound of your voice.”

Hermione’s heart skipped a beat at that, but she ignored it. “Sure. I’ve got a book on Brua, the Caribbean healing magic. It should be fascinating.”

Harry hummed a little in agreement and closed his eyes. She did smile down at him then and flipped back to the beginning of the book, ignoring the bookmark that was about two thirds of the way through.

 

 

Harry and Hermione did manage to return to the castle by lunch. Harry’s growling stomach had interrupted Hermione’s quiet reading. She’d grinned, pleased that he was willing to go seek out food in response to it, instead of ignoring it. Harry had ducked his head, embarrassed by the noise. They’d trooped back up to see what the house elves had put together.

When they entered the Great Hall, the student tables were missing. The only place to sit was the Head Table, just like at Christmas. Ariadne and Dumbledore were deep in conversation. Olympia seemed to be in a state of perpetual eye-rolling at them and Severus scowled his way through the meal. Awkwardly, the two teens sat down, murmuring apologies for being late.

“Ah! Harry, my boy. We were just discussing you.” Dumbledore said, twinkling at them both. “We should test your magic this evening, but given what Ariadne has told me, you’ll need some extra help this summer, learning to control the power you now have at your disposal.”

Harry’s heart sank. “Extra lessons, sir?” There went his first carefree summer.

Dumbledore nodded, still smiling benevolently. “Indeed. The Coven are extremely talented witches. You would do well to take them up on their generous offer of training.”

Hermione straightened in her chair, ears perking up. Harry sighed, nodding. “Alright, Professor. If you think so.”

Ariadne rolled her eyes pointedly behind the Headmaster’s back, causing Severus to smirk. Harry’s lips twitched, but he managed to bite back his laughter. “Harry, we each have a specialty that I’m sure you could benefit from. Some of it will be in direct response to your increase in magical strength. I’m going to help you harness your power and show you how to moderate its flow. Because you have so much more power available to you, spells are going to behave differently for you. I’ll help you deal with that. It can sometimes be very disconcerting…” She paused and considered him for a moment. Harry straightened up a little. “You’re going to need a new wand. Normally, the wand that chooses you when you start school is adequate to your needs even after your VS, but yours will likely no longer be. If you continue casting with it, it will eventually burn out. Aurelia can help you with that. She apprenticed with Rebecca Greensmith, the famous American wand-crafter, and can teach you how to create your own wand. Each wand is engraved with runes by its maker, so Olympia can get you caught up to the level you’ll need to be at in Ancient Runes to accomplish that.”

Hermione was practically vibrating next to him. He stifled the grin that wanted to escaped, but did perk up a little. All of that sounded really interesting, which was more than Harry could have said about his homework. Not that his regular schoolwork wasn’t interesting enough, it just…didn’t seem all that important given Voldemort and everything.

Ariadne smiled at them both, enjoying their enthusiasm. “Also, your increased power means that you can no longer allow bursts of wild magic. The Headmaster was telling me about the time you blew up your aunt—“

“She’s not my aunt.” Harry interrupted sharply.

Ariadne stopped. “I’m sorry?”

Harry shook his head, face going blank. “She’s not my aunt. Marge is Uncle Vernon’s sister, but I’m not actually related to her by blood. She’s bloody awful and she’d hated me since the moment she laid eyes on me. She’s not my aunt.”

“Ah.” Ariadne nodded, shooting Severus a pointed look. “Well…you did blow her up though, and wild magic like that is no longer an option. You have too much power at your disposal and it would be too easy for you to kill someone. Ekantika is well versed in Magical Motion and Meditation. She can help you learn how to keep control of that and of your temper.”

Harry nodded, glancing at Ekantika with interest. He’d never heard of Magical Motion before. It sounded…well, if he’s being honest, it sounded a bit dirty. Or maybe like some sort of artsy interpretive dance, like the instillation he’d seen at a gallery in London when he was seven. Aunt Petunia had brought him along when she went shopping with Dudley so he could carry the bags. Dudley had wanted fish and chips from one of the venders. While they were waiting in line, Harry sat at one of the tables looking around. Four women in white leotards with peacock feathers in their hair were performing some kind of repetitive dance in the display window of the gallery. He’d watched them until Aunt Petunia had come to drag him back to the car.

He wondered if that’s what Magical Motion meant. Either way, he thought, if it will get the accidental magic under control, I’m all in. He looked back at Ariadne, who was watching him with a smile.

“You’re going to need other training too. Combat training, stealth, poisons, those kinds of things. We’ll do that as well. Isoko has kindly offered to do some research for you and teach you about any and all Dark Lords who’ve already been defeated. Grindelwald and Herpo the Foul and whoever else she can dig up. History was never quite my best subject.”

By this point, Hermione looked like she was about to shoot out of her seat in excitement. “Ariadne,” She interrupted, breathless and eager. “Can I sit in on some of Harry’s classes?”

Ariadne grinned at her, before glancing at the Headmaster. “Albus?”

Dumbledore nodded benevolently, smiling at both Hermione and Harry. “Of course, Miss Granger. You are welcome to join any lesson you wish, as long as the instructor agrees.”

Hermione shivered. “Thank you!”

Harry laughed, watching her. “I hope they all say yes, Hermione. You’re the best study partner probably ever to go to Hogwarts.”

She flushed and elbowed him, making him laugh harder. With that, their conversation was derailed and meandered away from extra lessons. The two teens teased each other, both laughing and blushing through the meal. The Coven tried to draw the two into their own conversations as much as possible.

As the meal wound down, Ariadne became aware of the rigidness of Severus’ whole frame and just how quiet he’d gone. Sighing, she slipped a hand under the table to rest on his knee. She squeezed lightly and glanced at him sideways. During a particularly raucous interchange between Harry and Aurelia that had pulled in everyone else’s attention, the thread of which Ariadne didn’t catch, she leaned closer to him and murmured, “Relax, Severus. Take a breath. Things will be fine.”

Severus shook his head, but did, in fact, exhale gustily. “I dislike uncertainty and I dislike emotional discord. I cannot stop thinking about how much deeper this all cuts than the thought that Lily had merely slept with James.”

Ariadne frowned, turning to him fully. “What do you mean?”

Severus’ mouth went tight for a moment, before he consciously relaxed. “I mean…because I could tell myself it was merely lust. They slept together and decided that raising the child together was the only option. But this…this is worse. The child was mine, but she trusted me so little that she lied to me every moment we were together for well over a month. And then continued lying to me every moment of the rest of her life. She thought so little of me…”

He leaned forward, sending a cascade of hair over his face, hiding the wound that he couldn’t push away. He felt raw, like all his skin had been peeled back from his bones, leaving him on display for anyone who might look. He bit back on a tiny flicker of relief that Lucius wasn’t sitting at the table. The Coven, at least, didn’t report back to the Dark Lord, though they were likely more adept at reading others than Lucius. They’d have to be, to do what they did during the war.

He inhaled and held the breath, trying to push all of it away. He was at the dinner table with over a dozen others, not in the privacy of his quarters, for Merlin’s sake. But something about Ariadne drew him in, demanded his trust and his honesty no matter how inappropriate the setting. He wondered if it was the Curse that was forcing this connection or if it was merely encouraging a connection that had already formed. The thought gave him the momentary detachment he needed to get himself under control again.

Ariadne watched him, a knot of pain and sadness twisting in her chest. “Severus…I’ve never met Lily, but from what I’ve heard about her, that’s simply not true. I think…I can see why she did it. I don’t agree with it and I think it was a shit thing for her to do, but I see why. It wasn’t that she thought poorly of you. The exact opposite, really. She loved you so much that she was willing to give up her own happiness and that right of her son to know his father in order to keep you safe. If that’s not love? I don’t know what is.”

Severus looked up at her, softening a little. “But to take away my choice…”

Ariadne inclined her head, acknowledging it. “Sometimes we do shit things to protect the ones we love. And sometimes we are so blinded by both love and fear that we can’t see that what we are doing is horrible.”

He offered her a minute curl of his lip, black eyes wide and luminous as they met hers. “Thank you. I appreciate hearing that.”

The look in his eyes set her heart to racing. Her breath caught, but she managed a return smile. She squeezed his knee one last time and withdrew her hand.

She’d been in the castle less than a week, but it hardly mattered. She felt like she’d known Severus Snape for a thousand years and that she could spend the next thousand getting to know him. He was pulling emotions out of her that she hadn’t felt in years and had thought she’d never feel again.

It was exhilarating. She’d never been more terrified.