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The Master of Death

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Davies muttered profanities as he approached the Northern Tower. He’d been stuck at Azkaban as a prison guard since he’d accidentally set Fudge’s coat on fire six years ago—it had been an accident, but Fudge, the great pillock that he was, had gotten him shuffled off to this hellish island. And now he was holding in his hands perhaps the most disturbing set of orders he’d gotten from the Ministry in his years of service. Written in perhaps the most sickeningly sweet cursive he’d seen in his life; the words were simple and to the point.

Effective immediately, all Death Eater prisoners in Cell Block II / “The Northern Tower” are to be remanded to the immediate control of senior Dept. of Magical Law Enforcement and Dept. of Mysteries authorities for immediate execution.

At the bottom of the order condemning a lot of evil folks to their demise, was the signature of Cornelius Fudge, the still relatively new Minister for Magic, and Dolores Umbridge, his undersecretary. Of course, neither one came in person to collect their prisoners—no, some tosser within the DMLE who could probably to make Davies’ life even worse had come with a couple other senior Aurors, all of them being rather cross at having to spend more than five minutes on this rock.

Davies let out another string of profanities. He wondered if Hel was as bad as Azkaban.

Sirius Black barely said anything anymore. The eleven years had taken their toll, more than certainly. His bones ached, his head always hurt, and he felt a great void in his heart. The last part wasn’t even the fault of the dementors. He blamed himself every day for failing James and Lily the way he had. He idly wondered if their son was okay. He had nightmares every night of the kid wailing in fear as he left him in the care of Hagrid and went to hunt down that blasted son of a bitch.

Just as his thoughts were about to take him to a dark place, his cell opened, and three people, clad in the heavy robes of Azkaban’s high security ward guards, entered the cell and picked him up by his arms.

“You’re gonna die, Black,” one of the guards gloated, grinning. “About bloody time to, you and all the other Death Eater trash that’ve been livin’ on the government’s sickle; Minister’s finally doing something right.”

Sirius frowned. “Trial, I never got a trial,” He murmured aloud.

Davies chuckled. “Of course, you did, you’re here ain’t ya?”

The prisoners were all corralled under the pall of the dementors to one of the various floo bonfires that existed in the northern region of the island.

“Augustus Rockwood, Rabastan Lestrange, Edmund Mulciber, step forward,” one of the guards ordered. The three condemned Death Eaters approached the bonfire, barely aware of their circumstances or their impending doom.

“Augustus Rockwood, for the crimes of which you have been convicted, including but not limited to the selling state secrets to terrorist organizations, and for the crime of treason, the Ministry hereby condemns you to death,” the head guard sneered. “I bet you know where you’re going, don’t you?”

Augustus said nothing, looking stone-faced, barely any expression poking out from behind his unkempt, ratty beard.

“Rabastan Lestrange, for the crimes of which you were convicted, including but not limited to treason against the Ministry, and the torture of Frank and Alice Longbottom, the Ministry hereby condemns you to death.”

Rabastan was also silent, earning a sneer and a snort from the guard.

“Edmund Mulciber, for the crimes of which you have been convicted, including but not limited to treason against the Ministry and murder in the first degree, the Ministry hereby condemns you to death.”

The three men were shoved forward by the guards, and the bonfire lit as the three condemned and two guards disappeared. There were a few minutes of palpable silence before the two guards returned, empty handed.

“Right,” The guard said. “Sirius Black, Bellatrix Lestrange, Anton Dolohov, step forward.”

Sirius swallowed the lump in his throat and stepped forward along with the other two condemned.

“Sirius Black,” The guard looked at him with disdain. “For the crimes of which you have been convicted, including but not limited to treason against the Ministry, murder in the first degree of Peter Pettigrew, egregious and malicious violations of the Statute of Secrecy, murder in the first degree of fourteen Muggle bystanders, and murder in the second degree of James and Lily Potter, the Ministry hereby condemns you to death.”

“Bellatrix Lestrange, for the crimes of which you have been convicted, including but not limited to treason against the Ministry, and the torture of Frank and Alice Longbottom, the Ministry hereby condemns you to death,” the guard then pronounced crisply.

As she stepped forward, there was something palpable in the air that changed. Bellatrix took in a sudden, deep breath, and her face twisted into something awful.

“RABASTAN!” She cried, before lashing out and hitting one of her guards with an open-handed bash to the head. Suddenly, pandemonium erupted as Death Eaters and Aurors clashed with fists, as the Aurors were taken by surprise before they could grab their wands.

Sirius blinked and bolted in the chaos, disappearing into the tall grass, and transforming into his animagus form. The two guards that had seen him run were hot on his tail, but he soon lost them. After waiting a few minutes, Sirius made his way to the nearby shore, and peered out towards the distant, hazy shoreline of England.

The dog let out a snuff and took off into the water.

Davies squirmed under the ministrations of one of the medics on staff at Azkaban and glared at the Captain of the Guard. The Captain looked like he was going to swallow his tongue.

“Well?” Davies asked, folding his arms.

“The Minister has said that he never authorized the execution of the Death Eaters—but he wants the whole affair covered up.”

“And Sirius Black?”

“He simply escaped. Tricked the dementors. Escaped via black magic. Whatever it takes to clear the Ministry and the DMLE of responsibility.”

Davies sighed. “At least we got three of the bastards,”

“There’s always a positive aspect, Davies. Speaking of positive aspects,” the Captain of the Guard said with a smile. “Good news, you’re being transferred.”

“Bloody shit, really?”

“You’re being sent as part of an advisory team to a dragon sanctuary in Cathay, congratulations for getting off this blasted rock. All of us are incredibly happy for you,” He said, clearly being sarcastic about his comrade’s new role.

Minerva sat quietly, reading another copy of the Daily Worker, one of Scotland’s many news publications that circulated by the thousands every day. Muggle news was always very much the same with few variations—England and Scotland’s rivalry and quite terse relationship perpetuated by generations of Prime Ministers and Kings trying to one-up each other in the court of diplomacy.

She didn’t envy Albus in his task as Supreme Mugwump of the ICW, considering the sort of political manoeuvring he often found himself dealing with on a day-to-day basis.

Harry, who had been running in and out of the house all morning, came into the house once more, carrying a bundled up and folded copy of the Daily Prophet. A large brown owl was perched on his arm as he set the newspaper on the counter. Plucking a couple rashers from the tray his mother had set on the counter, he fed them to the owl, who seemed mollified, and took off through the open kitchen window into the sky.

Harry picked the newspaper back up and placed it down on the table in front of his mother. Minerva pulled it out of its brown weather-proofed packaging and felt a pang of nausea at the sight that greeted her on the front page.

Sirius Black Escapes Azkaban!’ emblazoned the front of the Daily Prophet in bold letters—it was the sole story on the front cover of the June 18, 1992 issue; the screaming, restrained criminal thrashing against unseen humans holding him against a wall. It was clearly his mugshot, taken some ten years prior.

“Who’s Sirius Black?” Harry asked, glancing at his mother expectantly.

“A very dark wizard, who served… You-Know-Who,” Minerva said, her lips drawn into a fine, tight line. Harry was quite inquisitive and knew when his parents were keeping specific details from him. It wasn’t hard to figure out the tells once he’d gotten old enough—avoiding eye contact, shuffling like scolded Hogwarts students, and the tell-tale thin lips that his mother got when she was thoroughly displeased with something.

Glancing down at the picture, and then back at his mother, Harry instantly connected the dots.

“It’s… it’s about me, isn’t it?”

“What’s about you?” Rolanda asked as she entered from another room, raising an eyebrow.

Minerva coughed. “Rollie, erm, you’ve not seen today’s paper, I take it.”

“No, why?” Rolanda asked as she came around the table. Her eyes dropped to the Daily Prophet and she went nearly as white as a sheet. “Oh.”

“Rollie, dear…” Minerva said quietly, but Rolanda shook her head. “Oh no you don’t. You’re the Deputy Headmistress. You’ve got years of dealing with children in sensitive situations. I’m just the flying instructor.”

Minerva sighed, even more aggrieved at being pigeon-holed. “Fine,”

Just as she was about to begin her explanation of Sirius Black’s incarceration, she was interrupted by a knock at the front door. Making her way towards it, she opened it to find a familiar presence, and a new presence.

“Sorry to bother ye, Professor,” The tall, heavy-set Scottish man said apologetically. “But Davy and I found this scrappy lil’ thing this mornin’ as we were walkin’ one of the trails. It looks practically starved, but we’ve got nae room to take the sickly thing. We was wonderin’ if you’d be willin’ to take in another creature.”

Minerva knelt to look at the emaciated black dog that Lewis had in his care. She held a hand out and the dog sniffed her hand warily before licking it.

“He seems friendly enough—does he get along with cats?”

“No idea, ma’am,” Lewis admitted, looking apologetic.

As if by cosmic cue, Crookshanks came traipsing down the stairs in search of his master whom he had discovered was no longer sleeping in bed. He stopped at the foot of the stairs and stared at the dog intently before cautiously approaching. After a second of silence, the cat let out a loud ‘mrow’ and rubbed his head against the dog’s leg.

“Blimey,” Lewis said. “That’s one friendly feline.”

“Crookshanks is a sweetheart to things that are sweet,” Harry said as he entered the living room from the kitchen. “Blimey, what happened to that poor pup?”

“Not sure, he could be a stray or a feral, or something like that. No better place for him to recuperate than at Minerva’s house.”

“Right… I suppose we could take him in. Does he have a name?” Minerva asked, raising an eyebrow at Lewis.

“Well, he sniffs a whole bunch. Davy ended up callin’ ‘im Snuffles.”

“Snuffles works,” Minerva said with a shrug. “Harry, would you mind taking Snuffles to the washroom and cleaning him up?”

“Aye, mum,” Harry said, crossing the room and gently taking the leash from Lewis. He turned on heel and guided the dog upstairs to the bathroom.

Harry soon found that Snuffles had a certain method of doing things.

The first—Snuffles only seemed to recognize Harry as his master. He would do whatever it was Harry asked of him without question, but neither Minerva nor Rolanda could get the pooch to obey their commands.

The second—Snuffles hated collars and leashes. The dog had an extremely high intelligence, or some form of self-awareness, and could be left to his own devices. This had the side effect of him, outside of that very first day, chewing his way out of anything that kept him contained. Harry had resorted to letting him have free reign of the facilities, but with a warning that misbehaviour would lead to restrictions. Snuffles seemed okay with that, and rarely, if ever, stood out of line around Harry.

And third—Snuffles was a very lazy dog, often spending his days curled up in Harry’s room or in the living room, sleeping. That seemed to be all Snuffles really wanted to do, was sleep and lay quietly in the sun that was beaming through the window.

However, Harry was more than pleased with the progress his new companion was making. Just like Harry had been when he was adopted, Snuffles was an emaciated thin bony thing—but just like Harry, the slow recovery process of being in a new home did wonders. Harry had meticulously cleaned the dog’s fur, brushed him, dried him and made sure he looked as good as he possibly could, and had gone with his mothers to the nearest city to find proper flea medicine to keep the pests off Snuffles’ back.

Snuffles ultimately became another one of Harry’s confidants, particularly after his freedom of movement and exploration was curtailed following limited sightings of Sirius Black up and down the British Isles, no doubt stirred up by the paralyzing fear of the Dark Lord’s right-hand man.

Harry wasn’t entirely miserable, but he wasn’t happy about it either. Being restricted to fly only in open areas near the house, not being able to wander around town alone, and having to remain in the firm and sometimes stifling company of his mothers—these things grated on him quite a lot.

He was even more gutted when he saw the state of Diagon Alley. He’d travelled down to London with his family to the famed shopping district to acquire supplies for his second year, only to find a night and day difference between the previous year and this one. The street was quiet and subdued, devoid of the warmth and cheer that he expected—people tended to stay in tight-knit groups, speak in whispers, and some of the less important shops had long since shuttered their doors due to the perceptible drop in clientele.

The entire process of getting his supplies was quite the muted affair. He went to Gringotts first to withdraw some galleons, went through the more arduous security queue, and finally got the coinage he required. He got the specific supplies he needed, and then a quick Floo trip to a field in Northern England, and then a subsequent side-along apparition to his house marked an end to their trip.

It bummed him out.

Not long before his twelfth birthday, Harry and his mothers were enjoying a summer day outside, with Harry flying around on his broom with oversight from Rolanda, and Minerva tending to her vegetable garden. She looked up from her work and noticed Professor Dumbledore walking up the long, winding road towards their house.

“Rollie! It’s Albus,” Minerva said, setting down her trowel and pulling her gloves off. “I wonder what’s brought him here,”

She made her way to the gate of the fenced in part of their property, opening it and flagging down Albus. The man picked up the pace, an impressive display of athleticism for a man clear over a century old.

“Good day, Minerva,” Albus said. “Where is Harry? I need him urgently.”

“Harry?” She asked, blinking in surprise. “Why? What’s wrong, Albus?”

Albus breathed in deeply and said in a hushed tone, “I don’t have time to explain it fully. You can come along if you’d like, but I need his help now.”

Rolanda blew her whistle, and within a minute, Harry landed back on solid ground, climbing off his broom. He approached the group, confused.

“What’s going on?”

“Harry, thank Merlin,” Albus said, sagging visibly in relief. “I need your help with something.”

“Me, Professor?”

“Yes. Please, we must return to Hogwarts immediately.”

Harry quickly shed his Quidditch supplies in the living room but didn’t have time to change out of his flying uniform. He, Albus and Minerva (Rolanda had declined to come along, citing she understood the sensitivity to the things they did) made their way to Hogwarts via Floo. When they arrived, the sight of Alastor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody clutching his hand in frustration met them.

A golden ring was on his finger, but the finger around the ring was slowly turning black and wilting. Moody himself was soaked in sweat, looking like he was putting up one hell of a resistance.

“What’s going on, Albus?” Minerva asked, mortified at the sight.

“The ring,” Harry said quietly. “It’s killing him.”

The room fell into a dead silence. Dumbledore coughed once.

“Yes,” He said with a nod. “That’s correct—how could you tell?”

“I can feel the magic that’s powering the curse. It’s… extremely powerful. I’m surprised you can’t feel it,” Harry said. “But what am I supposed to do, Professor? I’m not a cursebreaker. Why not get Bill Weasley or someone from Gringotts?”

Dumbledore sighed and looked his age for a moment. “You are the master of two of the Deathly Hallows, my boy,” He said with finality. “This ring, which once belonged to the Gaunt family, contains the third hallow—the Resurrection Stone.”

Harry frowned. “What is it with magical stones and trying to kill people?” He quipped, earning a dry chuckle from Dumbledore.

“Since you are the master of two of the three Hallows, perhaps the curse will obey you instead. It’s… our only option, really.”

Harry reached into his pocket and drew his wand. He eyed Moody’s hand warily as he approached nervously. The blackness had continued to creep up the fingers and had now engulfed about half of the hand.

As Harry approached, he began to feel something, like a strong version of the hiccups his wand liked to make. An almost unbearable sensation of tingling was passing down his arm towards his wand-hand, and in a bright flash of light, there was a loud bang. Moody went flying into Dumbledore’s bookshelf, sending dozens of dusty tomes crashing to the ground.

Harry caught a glimpse of gold in his vision and snatched whatever it was out of the air. Opening his hand, he looked at the offending ring in his palm. The ring seemed to slowly turn into tarnished brass, or something that was less valuable than gold.

He turned and showed it to Professor Dumbledore.

“The curse is gone, I don’t… feel anything there anymore. My scar doesn’t hurt either.”

He turned the ring over in his hand a couple times, and Dumbledore pulled his wand out and waved it over the ring a few times. “Whatever it is,” Dumbledore said, “It seems to have gone. However, the ring itself seems to be withering away to nothingness.”

Within a minute, there was nothing more than a small collection of grey dust in Harry’s hand. The stone, etched with an unfamiliar symbol, remained nested inside the dust.

“Professor?” Harry asked, offering the stone to Dumbledore, who backed away from him.

“Oh, no, Harry. That stone belongs to the Master of Death.” He said with a pleased tone of voice. “It is yours.”

"Excuse me?" Minerva said, crossing over to look Dumbledore in the face. "What do you mean, Master of Death?"

“Harry has, through some manner or another, mastered all three of the Deathly Hallows. He is, in fact, the Master of Death,” Dumbledore proclaimed with a certainty that made Harry feel very anxious. “He is the rightful owner of the Elder Wand, the sole owner of the Invisibility Cloak, and now the owner of the Stone of Resurrection.”

“He’s a bloody twelve-year-old child, daft old man!” Minerva shouted, slamming her fist on Dumbledore’s desk. “You can’t just give all those things to a child and tell him he’s the fucking Master of Death! Have you any ounce of common sense in those addled brains of yours?”

“Minerva,” Dumbledore said with a frown. “I know you’re concerned, but there’s nothing bad about this. Harry is a boy who has faced his own fair share of peril at such an early age, and it would not do to lie to him about these things.”

He sighed.

“Harry,” He said, turning to face him. “Should you wish, I can have Nicholas fashion the stone into a new ring for you.”

Harry idly looked at the stone now in his hands and gave a quiet nod. “I think I’d like that,” He said, before handing the stone over to Dumbledore, who held it gently in his hands, as if Harry had given him all the wealth in the world.

“I can get it back to you at the start of the term,” Dumbledore said quietly. He then glanced over at Moody, who was starting to get up off the floor.

“Alastor,” He said with a smile. “Glad to see you’re up and moving. Mister Potter seems to have destroyed the curse.”

Moody affixed Harry with a dead-eyed stare before sitting back down at the desk, uncorking a bottle of firewhiskey that Dumbledore had procured, and took a long deep drink.

“I’ll never be able to use the bloody hand again, but I suppose that’s the nature of the business I’m in,” Moody said with a grunt. “Lost a leg and an eye in the first war, now I’ve lost a hand. Good thing I’m no slouch with the other one, eh, Albus?”

“Indeed,” Dumbledore said, pleased. “Harry, I am pleased to tell you that your second year DADA professor will be Auror Moody here.”

“Really?” Harry said, a bit in awe. “Nice to meet you, Professor.”

“Professor! Tcha!” Moody said, grinning. “A hell of an introduction, ain’t it, lad? Nice to meet ya, Potter. A word of advice for you. Always have constant vigilance. Never know when something is gonna try and do you in.”

“I’ve learned that,” Harry murmured, thinking back to Professor Quirrell’s attempt on his life in May.

“Professors,” Harry asked, scratching his head curiously. “Does this mean I won’t be doing special instruction with Professor Snape anymore?”

Dumbledore nodded. “We’re actually moving you into third year Defence Against the Dark Arts. Hopefully the combined crash course that Professor Snape gave you last term can be more than enough. Should Professor Moody feel you’re struggling, we can discuss better solutions.”

Minerva was concerned. She had been working on coordinating the staff in preparation for their arrival on the 30th of August, but she had noticed that letters were disappearing into the void. After receiving no replies from half of the staff, she had gone in person to speak to both Severus and Pomona, both of whom had reported that Minerva’s letter had never shown up.

Her familiar and owl companion had come back injured in a few instances—and now Minerva was increasingly worried that someone, perhaps even Sirius Black, was interfering with their owl post. Snuffles had perked up when she mentioned the name Sirius Black in a conversation with Rolanda but had settled back down not long after.

Harry had also complained that his friends weren’t posting him letters—which seemed quite uncharacteristic of the people Harry was known to associate with. If anything, the Muggleborn girl would’ve sent plenty of letters to him, if not his other friends in Gryffindor and Slytherin.

Minerva had gone and spoken to Albus about the situation, but even he seemed perplexed at the unexplained disappearance of letters. He promised to talk to his contacts within the Ministry to see if there was an embargo or interception notice posted on Harry or anyone else in the household.

She had left Hogwarts on August 29, clouded by concern over whom, or what, was interdicting her family’s communications with the outside world. The anxiety got to the point where her first stop after arriving in Hogsmeade was the Hog’s Head Inn—a place which had the feeling of being more like one of the pubs she had frequented in her youth than an actual inn.

She soon threw herself into her work, reassured that Rolanda would do fine in taking care of herself and their charge. After all, Rolanda was no slouch where skill was concerned, and was just as much a veteran of the war as she was. No need to get too concerned.

That was, at least, until the first of September rolled around. It began, truthfully, as any other day would. Minerva was finishing her last checks and adjustments on the student rolls for the sorting of first years, practicing pronunciations of names, and doing the small bookkeeping aspects necessary to ensure a smooth first evening. Setting her quill down and checking her timepiece, she noted the time was now just after ten-thirty.

She wryly smiled and rubbed her wrist idly, wondering what some of the new children would have in store for them. Particularly among the students who came from non-wixen backgrounds, there was always some fresh view or unique take on what an accepted fact in wixen society was usually just—and Minerva was always thankful for it.

After a few moments of silence, her fireplace suddenly roared to life with a blaze of brilliant emerald green, and Rolanda rushed through, Harry held close, clutching his head.

“Rollie!” Minerva said, jumping out of her chair. “What’s going on? Why is Harry…”

She then noticed the crimson gently dripping out of his palm.

“He’s bleeding!”

“Aye,” Rolanda said, frowning. “Somebody sealed the Hogwarts Express barrier—or blocked Harry from getting on. He ran into the bloody thing head first, split his head wide open. We need to take him to Madam Pomfrey immediately, and we need to talk to Albus. Something is very desperately not right here.”

Minerva very quickly carried her son the distance between her office and the hospital ward. Madam Pomfrey had nearly bust a few veins at the sight of Harry Potter coming into her ward before school had even begun with a massive case of cranial trauma. Albus soon joined in a few minutes later, having stormed his way down from his office. Worry clear on his face as he looked from Harry (whom was in the middle of having his head mended) to Minerva.

“Someone, or something—is trying to sabotage Harry,” Rolanda said, folding her arms. “First, blocking our letters from getting out, and now somehow sealing the barrier between King’s Cross and Platform 9 and Three-Quarters. Harry could have been seriously injured, as if he isn’t already.”

Once healed up, Madam Pomfrey ordered Harry to stay in the hospital wing until the Hogwarts Express arrived, at least so they could make sure the blood replenishing potions were working properly.

Harry began to wonder if he was going crazy. Between his letters never making it to their destinations (either by destruction or interception, his mother had theorized to him and Lala) and now running headfirst into a brick barrier, Harry’s concern for his sanity was turning into a tumultuous upset about someone trying to actively stop him from attending Hogwarts.

After a few excruciating hours in the hospital ward having his blood replenished with potions, Harry finally could head down to the Great Hall. He arrived in a full room of students and made his way to the Slytherin table. Ignoring the many pairs of eyes as he glided across the room, he squeezed himself between Draco and Hermione with a sour expression on his face.

“Bloody hell, where have you been, Potter?” Draco asked, looking incredulous. “And what’s happened to your head?”

“Long story,” Harry muttered to himself. “Something blocked me from boarding the train platform. I ran head first into a brick wall and busted my head open. Spent the afternoon in the hospital ward having my blood replenished.”

“Were you late?” Hermione asked, as if the punctual Slytherin was ever late a day in his life.

“No.” Harry said with a deadpan voice. “I’m always there at least an hour in advance—today we were running slightly late, we got there just after ten-thirty.”

“Strange,” Draco said. “Is someone trying to kill you? It couldn’t be Sirius Black, could it?”

“I doubt it,” Harry said, his voice dropping to a quiet murmur. “If he was really one of Voldemort’s trusted lieutenants, he surely would have been able to buy his way to freedom, right?”

Draco looked uncomfortable at the line of inquiry and gave a stiff nod in response. Harry knew he was treading into territory that wasn’t comfortable and raised himself back up to proper posture.

“But I’m here now, no worse for wear.” Harry said with a chuckle. “Maybe I’ll get another scar to accompany the other one leatherface gave me.”

Harry was pleased at his relatively inconspicuous reunion with his classmates—and was even more pleased that nobody in his house had found it necessary to comment on it. He idly wondered if had anything to do with Draco fingering his wand under the table and giving Daphne Greengrass a severe look from across the table.

Dumbledore’s speech this year was different than last in that he didn’t have any specific warnings about rooms or corridors—but he did give a warm and praising welcome to Professor Moody, who would be joining the staff as DADA professor for the year. Moody had stood up, given a sharp wave with his good hand, and had sat back down with a loud clatter of his wood chair against the stone floor.

“As well,” Dumbledore said, a sharp expression on his face. “We are pleased to announce the resurrection of the Duelling Club, where students will be able to learn and sharpen their reflexes and abilities. The club will be led by Professors Moody and Snape, who have so graciously volunteered their time.”

A murmur of surprise spread through the student body, and Dumbledore quieted the students down with a wave of his hand.

The sorting then went over with minimal fuss or surprises. Unlike his and Hermione’s hatstalls the previous year, the students were sorted with celerity—Colin Creevey, for instance, a hyperactive boy with a wixen camera slung around his neck was sorted into Gryffindor; and a sullen and sneering kid named Harper was sorted into Slytherin, something that made Harry internally groan at another person influenced by their parents bigotry joining the ranks of the snakes.

Luna Lovegood—a strange little blonde whose attire and personality from a great distance seemed to radiate curiosity and uniqueness, made it into the ranks of Ravenclaw. Harry thought she certainly seemed like a nice girl, even if a little odd. He made up his mind to at least try to be friends with her if the chance came up, if for no other reason than she just seemed like an interesting person to talk to.

A few other students passed, and finally, at the very end, came Ginny Weasley—Ron’s baby sister. The girl looked like she hadn’t slept properly in days, no doubt due to whatever anxiety about sorting had been passed on to her from her brothers. Ginny ended up in Gryffindor, as anticipated. Though—Harry was a little concerned at her appearance. He made a mental note to ask Ron if she was coming down with something, maybe dragonpox… or something like that.

The feast then began—plates of roast, potatoes and other hearty foods filled the large tables, and once that was consumed and packed away, sweets of various kinds filled the void left by everyone’s dinner.

Belly full and ready to burst, Harry and his fellow Slytherins trudged their way down to the dungeons. Harry found that, once again, he was assigned to the same room as Blaise, Theo and Draco—which was quite nice. The four of them had warmed up to each other in the prior year despite their vastly separate ways of going about things, but it was a wonderful way to keep the bond going.

Though not all was peaceful in Slytherin—Harry would find out the following morning that Hermione had been bunked with Daphne Greengrass, with Millicent Bulstrode being rotated off into another dorm. Draco had done his best to intervene, extracting a promise from Pansy Parkinson to keep Daphne in line and prevent any instances of bullying Hermione.

While Draco still had some lingering dislike for Muggleborns, he had come to like Hermione and wouldn’t tolerate people making her life miserable.

That was his job.

That morning, Snape descended upon the Slytherin table, handing out schedules with the air of impatience and sour demeanour casting a pall over everyone. Once that had concluded, he swept down into the Potions dungeons, intent on causing misery and anxiety to some poor ickie firsties.

The poor bastards, Harry noted to himself as he watched Professor Snape leave the Great Hall.

His schedule though, as expected, lay more surprises. He was squeezed into third year DADA throughout the week, and his fourth Wednesday period, which his fellow second years had listed for History of Magic with Professor Binns, was now occupied by a "Pri. Lessons" marker, no doubt his weekly sessions with Professor Dumbledore. Harry figured he had a difficult year ahead and faced the consequence of his destiny with the same enthusiasm a condemned man faces the electric chair.

With no excitement or enthusiasm at all.

The first day went, alright, given the circumstances.

Transfiguration with his mother was an interesting class to be certain—even if his wand’s continued rebelliousness kept him from getting perfect marks on practicals, he was still quite adept at the theoretical. But today was merely an overview of the term—they’d be working primarily on a few spells, such as Reparifarge the process of untransfiguring something that had not been completely transfigured; and 'Spongify', a charm that would make something soft, rubbery and bouncy; and some miscellaneous transfiguration techniques such as turning beetles into buttons.

That first class, Harry thought his wand worked remarkably well for a change. He'd managed to turn his beetle into a button... save for the wooden, spindly little legs that kept trying to escape. He took solace in that nobody could perfect the transfiguration, not even Hermione, who got more frustrated with each failed attempt. The class let out with Professor McGonagall assigning just one foot of parchment as homework, due next lesson, focused on that transfiguration, and what could be done to improve the class' chances in the future... really, a simple assignment for Professor McGonagall.

After Transfiguration, Harry’s friends went off to their free period before DADA, and Harry made his way to his DADA class. He found himself in a sea of Hufflepuffs and Slytherins, all of whom seemed perplexed at his presence.

Ultimately, none made their displeasure or pleasure clear, and Harry paid rapt attention to Professor Moody’s first lecture, which primarily dealt with defensive spells, and how they could be expected to work when deployed.

“Through this year,” Moody groused out, looking at his class through a narrowed eye. “You will learn many tactics of Defence Against the Dark Arts. You will learn spells which can incapacitate opinions, as well as deal with the foulest of creatures.”

The lecture itself was quite engaging, as Moody went over the tales of some of his exploits against werewolves and vampires, before segueing into demonstrations of the spells such as Orbis and Ventus.

Following lunch on Wednesday afternoon, Harry climbed the steps to the Headmaster’s office, once again bidding farewell to his friends as they went to History of Magic to catch up on some much-desired sleep, save for Hermione. She seemed always capable of rapt attention in Professor Binns’ class, while everyone else, including Draco, were busy drooling on their desks.

Arriving at the gargoyle whom guarded the Headmaster's office resolutely, Harry stopped short and dug around his pocket.

"Ah," He said, before drawing out a slip of parchment. "Peanut brittle," Harry read aloud, causing the gargoyle to spring out of the way, and the stone staircase to begin winding up to the Headmaster's door. Making his way up, he knocked on the Professor's door.

"Come in, Harry," Dumbledore ordered.

Harry entered the office and deposited his schoolbag in the large plush chair by the fire. The Headmaster was watching him with a placid expression on his face.

"So, Harry," Dumbledore said, his smile not breaking. "I hope you had a very enjoyable summer, save for that little bit of trouble at the end. That said, I have a small something for you, as promised."

Dumbledore reached into his desk and withdrew a small bundle of cloth and set it on the desk. He began to unravel the bundle, and it soon revealed a silver ring. The ring had the Potter insignia and motto (something in French, Harry didn’t know what it meant), and the familiar black stone he’d seen some weeks prior was the setting.

Harry picked the ring up very carefully and looked over it, before glancing at Dumbledore. The Headmaster’s expression was calm as Harry slipped the ring on and flexed his fingers.

“Thank you, sir,” Harry said with a smile.

“My pleasure, my boy,” Dumbledore said with a grin. “Now, tell me—what do you know about The Trace?”

“The Trace? Isn’t that the thing they put on all of us kids, so we don’t do magic outside of Hogwarts?”

“Indeed, it is,” Dumbledore said with a nod. “A charm of such universal magnitude that it is meant to monitor and regulate the use of underage magic by wixenfolk under the age of seventeen. However, as I’m sure you’ve come to notice—students of a sort of pedigree or background tend to have more leniency in this department than others. The Ministry has no way of knowing who specifically cast a spell in a given area unless they audit someone’s wand with the spell Priori Incantatem.”

“So,” Dumbledore said as he leaned back. “What stops a third-year student in an all-wizarding household from using their wand?”

“Their parents, I’d assume,” Harry said. “I don’t use magic at home myself—Mum would kill me if I did.”

“Exactly, Harry!” Dumbledore said, nodding again. “Children who grow up in households in wixen communities, the Ministry can’t tell when The Trace is being violated. But in Muggleborn communities, any magic performed will typically be blamed on the young wix who happens to live in that area.”

“Isn’t that rather unfair? It means someone like Hermione can’t practice what she’s learned over the term at home, but someone like Draco can.”

“And there, my boy, lies the problem,” Dumbledore said with finality. “The system stacks the deck against people like Miss Granger but gives an infinite number of perks to people like Mister Malfoy.”

“But the Statute of Secrecy-” Harry began before stopping. “Well, if a Muggleborn is performing magic in the privacy of their own home…”

“There are still some inherent risks, of course,” Dumbledore said with a nod. “Students performing spells they shouldn’t be, practicing things that are too advanced for them… but if the Ministry truly cared about those particular risks, they’d have a different system which penalized purebloods and half-blood students for transgressing The Trace—the system seems wholly set up to penalize first-generation wix before any other group.”

“That’s… that’s awful,” Harry said.

“I tell you this because I want to dissuade you now of any notion that the wixen world is somehow a better one than the Muggle world. While we may have these wooden sticks, which can perform an endless number of fantastic miracles—we are far behind the world in many ways, and this is where we will begin to think of ways we can work together to improve the situation.”

Harry quietly nodded.

“That said, would you like some tea?” Dumbledore asked, gesturing to the tea that had just appeared on his desk.

“Sure, I’d love a cup,” Harry said with a reserved smile.

Dumbledore’s words and explanation of systemic oppression didn’t sit well with Harry at all, but he had other things to keep his twelve-year-old brain distracted. Quidditch season was fast approaching, and information about the teams this year was coming out. The first shocker was that the Slytherin Quidditch captain had been sacked from the team after getting poor marks in the previous term.

Surprisingly, his replacement was a fourth-year student, named Adrian Pucey, while retaining his position as Chaser. New try-outs were opened, and Harry was quick to sign up for a chance. Though, where competition among second years was granted, Draco was his most immediate rival—and it seemed that he was not at all confident in his abilities.

Rumours were floating around that Draco’s father had generously donated a lot of Nimbus 2001 brooms to the Slytherin team as a means of bribing them to allow Draco to join in his favoured position. Harry knew he’d just have to blow their bloody doors off as so to show that shiny didn’t mean best.

When the day of try-outs finally came, Harry arrived at the pitch with his Firehook in tow. The sight of the antiquated broom earned sniggers and derision from his more arrogant and haughtier Slytherin associates, who were carrying their own more advanced brooms—primarily Nimbus 2000 and 2001s.

A selection of brooms, certainly.

During the trials, Harry’s fine-tuned Firehook made quick work of all the Nimbuses on the field. He wasn’t fond of being Chaser or Beater, but he found immense pleasure in running around as Keeper or Seeker.

Pucey himself was impressed at Harry’s finesse and speed—as were Professors Snape and Dumbledore.

The two Professors were watching the try-outs from a great distance so as not to distract the team and the hopeful candidates. Dumbledore lowered his Omnioculars and handed them to Snape.

“I must say,” Snape said through the Omnioculars. “Potter is quite talented at Quidditch.” His voice was dry but intrigued as he watched the dark-haired boy zip around the field.

“A testament to Rolanda’s craftwork,” Dumbledore said with amusement. “She and Harry must have spent hours tuning that Firehook to keep up with the newer models. I’ve never seen a Firehook go nearly that fast.”

“Never underestimate the classics, Headmaster,” Snape said, the ghost of a smile appearing on his lips.

When Harry finished, he was proud to learn that Slytherin was certainly interested in having him aboard the team as their Seeker—a position that would have otherwise gone to Draco Malfoy had he declined, and had Harry not done such a proper excellent job on his forty-year old broom. Draco had been a little put off at being shunted to Chaser but was in good spirits since his best friend had been the one to upstage him.

However, Draco had promised Harry he’d kick his arse one of these days.

“I look forward to it, you big prat,” Harry said, grinning ear to ear at Draco’s statement.

Harry was on another one of his late night exploratory “wanderings”. He’d taken to them towards the end of first year as a means of dealing with his insomnia and finding quiet time to meditate in peace. Dumbledore had expressed his approval at Harry doing so, though warned him that if he was caught out of bed after curfew, he wouldn’t have any help from Dumbledore with whichever Professor was responsible for punishing him.

Harry, on his part, was nearly religious about keeping his cloak on, or ensuring classroom doors were firmly locked while he was meditating. It was incredibly difficult to get that sort of thing done in the dorm when you had Draco snoring, or people milling about in the commons before lights out.

On this evening, Harry was in the second-floor classroom, trying to meditate. Frequently, he was bothered by the sounds of Filch snarling while patrolling the hallways, inevitably cursing the Weasley twins or Peeves. The third time the man had come back around, Harry’s head began to throb. His eyes opened, and he glared at the dim glow of Filch’s lamp as it passed by.

Hunger… Must feed…

He tensed up and looked around for the source—but the three words were being continuously repeated, echoing off the walls and pipes. The sound of a lantern clattering to the ground and shattering in the hallway attracted his attention. Harry slipped on his cloak and stepped out into the hallway. At the far end of it, Harry saw a shadowy figure slithering away into the darkness.

It was clearly exceptionally large, and in its wake, Harry could see the rigid, unmoving form of Argus Filch stone solid, splayed on the ground. Mrs. Norris was also nearby, completely unmoving.

Harry drew his wand cautiously and approached the scene. Quickly casting tempus, the golden mist that spilled out of his wand confirmed that it was nearly midnight, and as such, nearly nobody would be awake or around this corridor to help Filch. As much as Harry didn’t like him (who did?), he didn’t want to leave the man in clear need of help alone.

The sound of footsteps alerted Harry, who moved to the far side of the corridor. Professor Dumbledore came walking into his field of vision, kneeling at Filch’s side. He looked around before stopping and staring directly at Harry.

“Harry,” Dumbledore said. “What happened? The wards alerted me to something—but—what did you see?”

Harry pulled his cloak off and looked down at Filch and then back up at Dumbledore.

“I didn’t see much of anything, truth told. I was in the classroom down there,” He pointed to the door at the far side of the corridor. “I was meditating, trying to do the exercises you’ve been teaching me—and I heard this hissing voice, and my head was killing me. And then I heard Filch’s lantern hit the ground and shatter, and I came to investigate. I was about to come get you when well, you showed up.”

Dumbledore looked deeply troubled before nodding. He raised his wand and muttered a silent incantation. The tip of his wand flashed the four colours of the Hogwarts houses, and he quickly stowed his wand away.

“Harry, I want you to stay here.”

“Am I going to be in trouble, Professor?”

Dumbledore smiled warily. “No, my child—you may be key in helping us figure out what exactly is going on here.”

Harry grimaced visibly when he saw the first Head of House approaching from down the corridor.

‘It had to be my Mother,’ He thought glumly.

Professor McGonagall, whom was still wearing her tartan dressing gown approached the scene, her wand out and at the ready.

“Professor Dumbledore? What’s going on—” She stopped and noticed her son. “Harry! What in God’s name are you doing out of bed at this hour?!” Her confusion began to slip closer towards that oh so familiar maternal anger that usually ended with groundings or something like it.

“Young Harry was practicing some of the meditation exercises he and I have been discussing in his private lessons,” Dumbledore said, to intervene and save Harry some grief. “He heard something and came to investigate—it is mere fortune he and I ran into each other here.”

"I see," Professor McGonagall said, glaring at Harry intently, though Harry knew he'd dodged an almost certain detention thanks to Professor Dumbledore. The next Professor to arrive was Professor Flitwick, followed by Professor Sprout and Snape.

Harry felt decidedly out of place among the communion of four Heads of House and the Headmaster but looked around at each adult’s face before settling back on Dumbledore. Dumbledore was staring at him with those blasted twinkling eyes before nodding.

“Go ahead, Harry—tell them what you told me.”

Harry launched into his explanation of what he’d seen, and the assembled group seemed quite chilled to the bone by the implications.

“Potter is hearing whispers of something in his hear, and then both Argus and Mrs. Norris are waylaid by something?” Snape questioned. “Very curious.”

“I didn’t do this, Professor… in fact, the shadow I did see looked… almost serpentine.”

A pallid, ashen look was shared among the adults in the ground, and Harry glanced at them expectantly.

“First thing is first—we must take these two to Madam Pomfrey immediately,” Dumbledore commanded.

After levitating the two up to the hospital ward, the matron made her pronunciations -- both Filch, and Mrs. Norris were simply "petrified", a state of condition in which a person is alive, but is stuck in a state of suspension, unable to move or do anything. Professor Sprout promised that once her mandrakes were mature, she would be able to consult with Professor Snape to produce an antidote to restore Argus Filch back to the land of the living. Harry was rather concerned that this was just the first of multiple people who would be affected by whatever had taken out Filch and Mrs. Norris.

Dumbledore had promised to speak to Harry at great length soon about what had happened, but in the meantime, told him to get some much-needed rest. Harry was escorted back to his dorm by Professor Snape, who said nothing to Harry the entire time they returned to the Slytherin dungeons. Harry went to bed, feeling much in the way of uncertainty about what was going on.

Chapter Text

It was somehow great fortune that nobody copped to what had happened to Filch and Mrs. Norris—Dumbledore had made some public platitudes that Argus had ‘fallen ill’ and would be taking time off, with Hagrid assuming interim duties as caretaker of the facilities until such a time that Argus returned to resume his duties. Harry had a particularly upsetting feeling in his gut that the secret would leak out eventually; or that whatever attacked Filch would go after something, or someone else.

The following Thursday, Harry was once again in Dumbledore’s office, accepting tea and biscuits from a short, watery-eyed house elf. Once Harry was situated, the elf bowed and disappeared with a pop. Dumbledore took a bite of a biscuit and a drink of tea before looking at Harry pensively.

“Do you know anything about the Chamber of Secrets, my boy?” Dumbledore asked, looking intently at his young pupil.

“No sir,” Harry said. “Nothing like that’s ever been mentioned in Hogwarts, A History.”

“For good reason—the Chamber is, at least to a degree, a myth. You see, when the school was founded a thousand years ago, roughly… Salazar Slytherin is said to have fashioned a chamber that contained a great beast, whom, when the time came that Heir of Slytherin arrived at the school, would unleash it upon the Muggleborns, slaughtering every last one of them and culling the wixen youth whom, in Slytherin’s view, were unworthy of magic.”

“Is that true, sir?” Harry asked, raising an eyebrow.

“The truth is often written in-between the lines of myth,” Dumbledore admitted. “Slytherin was indeed a bigot, but there is no historical evidence to suggest he believed in the genocide of Muggleborns. Did he believe Hogwarts should only be open to purebloods and half-bloods?”

Dumbledore shrugged.

“Certainly so, that much is documented in the bits of history we still have in our collections from that period—but more the point, the Chamber, in the whole history of Hogwarts, has been opened one time prior to now,” He said, with a deep sigh.

He rose to his feet and glided over to a large silver basin in the corner of the room. “Come over here, Harry. I will show you.”

“Sir?” Harry asked, approaching the basin.

“This is a Pensieve, it allows one to view a memory of their choice from their own past, or another person’s past—should you have the memory. In this case, I have a memory to share with you. The year was 1943, and I was the Head of Gryffindor House—and Transfiguration Professor at Hogwarts, and the wixen and Muggle worlds were being torn apart by a great war. It was during this time, that the Chamber was opened for the first time.”

Dumbledore tapped his wand to his temple and withdrew a long silvery wisp from his head. Placing it into a basin, Dumbledore motioned for Harry to lean his head into the basin. With a sudden rush of wind and displacement overtaking him, Harry found himself hurtling through an empty expanse, before everything squeezed back together. He found himself in Hogwarts again—but it was distinctly different than what his brain was interpreting.

Suddenly, a much younger and dapper-looking Professor Dumbledore swept past them towards a familiar entrance—the Headmaster’s office. He had short dark hair, looked very well-kept and clean, his facial hair trimmed short and tight, and he was wearing a Muggle suit. A far-cry from the peculiar elderly Headmaster he was these days—he seemed positively modern. Harry did quick math in his head and calculated that Dumbledore would have been around 60 years old at the time.

“You’re heading to your office,” Harry noted.

“Not my office, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “At the time, I was simply a Professor—and Deputy Headmaster, much like your mother is now. The Headmaster was Armando Dippett.”

They followed the younger Dumbledore up through the door of the Headmaster’s office. Behind the desk was a face Harry had seen on the mantle above Dumbledore’s desk. A tall, regal looking man with solid white hair was sitting, working at his desk. He was wearing a peculiar kind of eastern fashion Harry recognized from a Muggle book he had read once—the outfit he had on resembled something out of a book on Khitan history.

“Headmaster,” Younger Dumbledore said. “You called for me?”

"Indeed, I did, Albus," Armando said. "Mister Riddle has been to my office to give me some most disturbing news, but one I hope will put an end to this sordid business about a Chamber."

“Oh?” Younger Dumbledore said, curious. “Mister Riddle is known for his resourcefulness in… finding information.”

“Indeed,” Armando said, unaware of Dumbledore’s clear sarcasm. “It seems one of your Gryffindors, Hagrid, I think his name is, was harbouring a dangerous creature in one of the broom closets. An Acromantula, of all things. This certainly seems like a good reason for the unfortunate passing of Miss Warren than some cockamamie story about something which clearly doesn’t exist?”

Younger Dumbledore said nothing, but simply looked perturbed at the Headmaster’s casualness.

Harry idly noted that ‘if looks could kill’, Armando Dippett would have been a smoking pile of robes on the floor. The elderly Headmaster seemed unaware and wholly unfazed, however.

"Unfortunately, the Acromantula escaped before it could be dispatched. I called you here to inform you that Mr. Hagrid will not be returning to Hogwarts, and that the Minister agrees with me that his wand should be broken, and he should no longer be allowed to practice magic. He is a threat to all we hold dear with his dangerous behaviour, and it is by my good graces that he isn't going to Azkaban."

Dumbledore nodded again, looking a little pallid. He furrowed his brows in annoyance.

“Is there anything else, sir?” He said, frowning.

“Yes, see to it that Mister Riddle receives a Special Services to the School award for what he’s done. He is a hero, after all,” Dippett said, waving his hand dismissively.

The memory suddenly faded into a shower of silver sparks, and Harry felt himself flying out of the basin and back into the same office, but in the present day. Dumbledore made his way back to his desk and withdrew a bottle of firewhiskey and poured himself a draught of it.

“I don’t typically do this in front of students, but those memories are not ones I like to remember,” He took a drink of it and blinked a couple times to wash away the memories in a sea of alcohol.

“Something about that doesn’t add up,” Harry said, glancing back to the pensieve. “Who was Miss Warren? She died?”

"Myrtle Warren," Dumbledore nodded. "She still haunts the second-floor girls' bathroom, in fact. She was found dead with no trauma wounds or anything on her. Madam Jewel was only able to confirm that her heart just... stopped. Uncharacteristic of an Acromantula, wouldn't you agree?"

“Then it couldn’t have been Hagrid, then! That’s why you let Hagrid come back and serve as Groundskeeper.”

"Indeed, I did. After Headmaster Dippet's... amicable..." Dumbledore said, his eyes flitting to the side. "...retirement in 1946, I invited the sixteen-year-old Rubeus back to Hogwarts to serve as groundskeeper.”

Harry strongly doubted that Dippett’s retirement was anything remotely close to amicable.

“Who is this Riddle bloke?” Harry asked, glancing at Dumbledore.

“Ah,” Dumbledore tapped his nose. “Now we’re getting into the important aspect. Tom Riddle was an incredibly talented young man. He was a half-blood orphan, raised in a Muggle orphanage by a cruel and domineering caretaker. He came to Hogwarts with sparkling eyes, and was sorted into Slytherin house, and made quick reputation as a cold, calculating sort of person. Upon his graduation, he and his cabal of friends, who seemed to fancy the Dark Arts, took to emulating the successes and brutality of Grindelwald and his followers. They named themselves after the thing Tom Riddle most wanted to defeat-- Death. They became known as the Death Eaters."

“Tom Riddle is… Voldemort?” Harry asked, blinking in disbelief.

“Indeed,” Dumbledore said, nodding. “Armando wouldn’t believe me because he never saw the Chamber of Secrets as anything more than myth—but if you ask me, things just line up to well for, in hindsight, me to believe anything other than Voldemort himself opened the Chamber, and whatever was inside, killed poor Myrtle. Given your recent experience, I suppose it’s a fair assessment to make that it’s a snake of some kind—it’s certainly characteristic of Slytherin. What snake, I wouldn’t know off the top of my head. Perhaps you and your cabal of friends, my boy, could figure that out.”

Harry picked at some of the lint on his chair and sighed.

“Is this going to be a regular thing, sir?”

“This?” Dumbledore asked, with a raised eyebrow.

“Voldemort trying to kill me—or kill people around me, every year. From beyond the bleeding grave.”

“We should hope not, perhaps he’ll take the bloody hint,” Dumbledore said, frowning. “But should he not, it’s best we keep you in the loop on things and help you where we can. As much as I would like to take all the trouble off your back and give you a proper childhood that you deserve—Destiny has elected you, not I, to sort this.”

“Unfortunately,” Harry said glumly.

“Unfortunately.” Dumbledore echoed, solemnly.

“A snake of some kind,” Harry said, thinking. “I can’t imagine it’d be hard to find which snake it is—but what makes a snake obvious to Slytherin—other than the fact our crest is a snake, of course,”

“The reason Slytherin House bears a serpent was because Salazar was known for his fascination with serpents. He was, in fact, a Parselmouth,” Dumbledore said with a nod.

“What’s that?”

"A Parselmouth is a person who can talk to snakes, Harry. In the history of these fair isles, it's a very uncommon trait that tends to only exist in certain individuals. It's more common in places like Bactria and Bharat, where snake communication is a more regular part of daily life for wixen folk. In the history of these Isles' kingdoms, there are only two men known to history who mastered it without inheriting the skill from foreign blood; Salazar Slytherin and Herpo the Foul."

“And the descendants of Slytherin can speak Parseltongue.”

"Indeed, though I have a sneaking suspicion there is a third person on that list of people who mastered it without inheriting it from their forefathers," Dumbledore said, before rising and waving his wand. Casting a silent incantation, one of the teacups on the table turned into a small snake, no longer than six inches long.

Where am I?” the former teacup said, confused.

Harry jumped and looked around for the source.

“What was that?” He asked.

Dumbledore gestured to the snake. “Try communicating with him, my boy.”

Harry leaned in towards the snake and observed it carefully. “Erm, Hello.”

Ah!” The snake seemed shocked. “You speak the language of snakes. Where am I?

You’re at Hogwarts, uh… you were transfigured from a teacup into a snake.” Harry said, shrugging.

That explains why I feel so strange. Please turn me back.

Harry nodded and looked at Dumbledore. “The snake asks you turn him back into a teacup.”

Dumbledore waved his wand, and the snake was gone again. He carefully peered at Harry, before finally speaking. “Even if Tom is the genealogical heir of Slytherin, I have no doubt that you are perhaps the kind of wizard Slytherin intended to be his heir.”

"You're implying I'm the Heir of Slytherin, sir?"

“No,” Dumbledore said with a shake of his head. “As far as I’m aware, James had no blood relation to Salazar—and your mother was Yematai and wouldn’t have any European blood in her veins at all. No, I think Salazar wanted his heir to be what you are. Humble, yet ambitious, can speak Parseltongue, a natural aptitude for magic when partnered with a good wand—I have great belief that you could command whatever it is in that chamber, provided we find it before anything bad happens.”

“We don’t know where it is?” Harry asked.

"Unfortunately, not. After Hagrid's expulsion, the attacks... stopped. I have a feeling it may have had to do with the fact that the school was going to be closed, and Tom shipped back to his orphanage. He wouldn't have taken such things well and sought out a patsy."

“Brilliant,” Harry said, running a hand through his hair. “Well, we at least have two leads to go on—Hagrid and Moaning Myrtle.”

Of course, Harry wanted help in figuring out all this nonsense. Throwing sheer caution to the wind, Harry press-ganged Hermione and Draco into escaping the Slytherin dungeons in the middle of the night to head to one of Harry’s second-floor classroom hideaways.

Only illuminated by lumos, Harry went through and explained the goings-on to his two friends, earning horrified and worried looks from both.

Draco, for his part, looked considerably less worried than Hermione—because he was a pureblood, he’d likely be spared whatever beast was roaming the halls, but even then, he looked mortified at the prospect of Hermione, or someone else, being hurt by whatever it was that was skulking about.

“The question is,” Harry said after he had explained what Dumbledore had told him. “How could Voldemort have gotten into Hogwarts?”

“I might know,” Draco said, a sour look crossing his face. “When Father and I were shopping for school supplies, we took a detour down Knockturn Alley to sell some dark artefacts my father had laying around the house. The rumours coming down within the Ministry say there’s going to be a raid on our house sometime this month or next, and there was a leather-bound book that my father had. He kept it awfully close to himself, almost protectively so, saying it was a special item for someone, and… I can’t be entirely certain what we did afterwards.”

“You think that might be relevant?” Harry asked.

“Could be, most of the nonsense my father has lying around has some darkness to it—when you grow up around dark artefacts, sometimes you can pick up on the pure… evil that lies within. That had a stronger feeling than most of the other dark things at home.

“Do you remember anything about it, Draco?” Harry asked, looking intently at his friend. Draco’s grey eyes looked pensive before he snapped his fingers in recognition.

“Yeah! There was a name on the front, embossed. T.M. Riddle.”

“Bloody hell,” Harry muttered.

Halloween came around once again. Since it was a Saturday, classes were cancelled for the day to allow students to enjoy the festive air around the school, which was made even stronger by the wafting scent of the pumpkin treats being prepared in the school kitchens. For his part, Harry was becoming increasingly consumed by this Chamber of Secrets business.

Fortunately, nobody had been waylaid by the beast (and whomever was helping the disembodied spirit of Voldemort with his dirty deeds) since the Chamber had been opened over a month prior. Harry had been spending much of his free time when he was in Quidditch practice, classes, or private lessons researching into the last time the Chamber had been opened—he was still formulating questions to pitch to Myrtle and Hagrid, but he felt he needed more time.

He was broken from his reverie by a sudden, jolting pain in his head, and looked up, startled. The library was empty, and the sun was already dipping beyond the horizon, bathing the library in a pinkish hue which mixed well with the bright overhead spell-lights. He noticed Madam Pince was finishing up her library closure for the evening. Bidding her a pleasant night, Harry left his book behind and walked out into the corridors.

It had to be getting close to feast time, so Harry began to make his way down through to the entrance hall. As he approached the area, he began to hear the whispering voice again. The voice seemed to be moving in the opposite direction of him, and Harry quickly moved to follow. The part of him that was being increasingly honed and trained by Dumbledore warned him that blindly going into combat with some creature of unknown origin was not a wise move, but Harry dismissed the voice in his head.

He followed the pained hissing up to the second floor, but before he could go much further, the hissing stopped, and Harry heard nothing but the lingering ambience of Hogwarts. But then, he turned the corner and his heart nearly stopped.

In the sloppy, childish handwriting of a student, in what looked to be the dark crimson colour of blood, a warning was smeared on the wall. Beneath it, the petrified body of Hermione Granger lay, unmoving. Harry scrambled in panic to his friend and knelt by her side.

“Tempus!” Harry commanded his wand impatiently, and the familiar golden clock appeared out of the wand tip. Harry had realized it was later than he thought, and his unfinished thoughts were confirmed when the sounds of students coming up the staircase from the Great Hall were becoming audible.

Harry found himself in the centre of a mass spectacle as hundreds of students saw him kneeling at Hermione’s body, with the ominous warning hanging overhead. Professor Dumbledore pushed his way through the students and his eyebrows knit in response to the sight that greeted him. He turned toward the assembled students.

Slipping out of his jovial attitudes, he frowned deeply.

“Prefects take your classmates to your dormitories immediately,” He commanded, to the lingering response of nobody moving at all. “NOW!” He shouted, causing a rush of movements as prefects began to collect various students.

“Harry, you stay here,” Dumbledore ordered firmly, and Harry complied, standing neatly by his friend.

There was some silence as the professors peered in sadness at Hermione. “Professor Sprout, Professor Vectra—would you mind taking Miss Granger up to the Hospital Wing?”

With a nod, Hermione’s petrified body was lifted off the ground and carried away to the hospital, to join Filch and Mrs. Norris. Harry stared quietly at the place his friend had been lying.

“Harry,” Dumbledore said, getting the young boy’s attention. “What happened?”

"I heard the voice again. Whatever it is, it's... starving, or something. Whenever it hunts, it's pained, wanting something substantive... I was coming down from the library after studying the Chamber, and as I got to the Entrance Hall, I heard it hissing and moving up to another floor hunting, I followed him... until I saw this."

Dumbledore nodded. Moody approached the wall with his typical staggering walk and peered at it. He cast his wand over it and nodded. "It's blood, there's not a doubt about that."

“Let’s discuss this in private. It isn’t safe here,” Professor McGonagall suggested, glancing at Harry with concern. “Alastor, may we use your classroom?”

“Of course, Minerva,” Moody nodded. “Constant vigilance is always good.”

Harry and the others made their way into Professor Moody’s classroom, and there was a quiet lull before Dumbledore sighed. “Any ideas, Harry?”

“May I ask why we’re relying on a second year to solve this crisis for us?” Professor Snape interrupted. “We’re not incompetent, and I don’t believe Mister Potter is quite qualified to take on whomever is doing this to the student body.”

Dumbledore nodded, and raised his hand. "Be that as it may, Severus, I tasked young Harry to do some research for me. As much as we may not want to face the facts, Voldemort will, inevitably, come for Harry in some form or another. He has, in fact, already tried it once with Professor Quirrell."

Another uncomfortable silence descended upon the room before Harry cleared his throat awkwardly. Merlin, it was odd being the one in command of a situation.

“Sir, I am… reasonably certain that whoever is doing this is under some form of compulsion. Draco mentioned to me that his father owned a leather-bound journal that had Tom Riddle’s name embossed on it.”

“So, Malfoy then?” Moody said, folding his arms.

“No,” Harry said firmly. “Draco isn’t like that anymore, and he would never intentionally put Hermione into harm’s way.”

Dumbledore stared at him intently, and Harry wasn’t sure what was going through the headmaster’s head.

“We should consult with Hagrid about this,” Dumbledore said suddenly. “But it is late, I think we can put this off one more day. I would rather not have us out so late with something going around harming the students.”

“I agree,” Professor McGonagall said.

Dumbledore gave a nod. “Severus, if you’d mind taking young Harry back to his dorm—we’ll reconvene in the morning in my office and discuss our next steps.”

“Of course, Headmaster,” Professor Snape said before sweeping across the room. Harry fell in line behind his head of house, and the meeting broke up as the professors made their way to put out the fires of panic or concern that was spreading through the student population.

Rumours hung around Harry’s head in the morning which followed—his ability to converse with snakes was still very much a tightly-kept secret, but a lot of students spent their time glaring or pointedly avoiding him. Ron and Neville had given him sympathetic glances as he entered the Great Hall the following morning but had remained with their Gryffindor cohort.

He reasoned that breakfast would be an effective way to get his mind off Hermione and more towards topics of relevance. He felt regret after he’d gotten some stares by Slytherins whom he knew to not have superb amounts of tolerance towards half-bloods and Muggleborns. He pointedly ignored the peppering of questions he received from several students in his own house.

Draco, Pansy, Blaise, Theodore and Daphne took seats around Harry, and helped him in his efforts to pointedly ignore the more bigoted barbs. When someone had called Hermione a ‘mudblood’ and boasted that she and all the other Muggleborns deserved whatever fate awaited them, some of the people Harry had even chalked up to being bigots made their displeasure clear.

That was one of the most interesting parts of Slytherin. While most of the students were purebloods of some much-touted pedigree, many of them had a group loyalty. An attack on one, no matter how minor, was an attack on all.

And the philosophy that it would not do for a snake to consume itself contributed there, somewhere.

Try as he might, Harry became frustrated by the bigoted remarks and snide attitude of his fellow Slytherins and stormed off to go do what he had to do.

“Potter,” someone said as he began to ascend the stairs to make his way to the second-floor lavatory. He turned around to see Pansy staring at him funny. Approaching him, she looked at him carefully.

“Is she going to survive?”

“Professor Dumbledore thinks so,” Harry said, quietly. “I thought you hated her?”

“It’s not like that, Potter,” Pansy said, snorting. “I guess being around her has helped me realize that Mud-,” She grunted. “Muggleborns. They’re not nearly as bad as my parents always went on about. I don’t know if I’ll ever like all Muggleborns, but Granger isn’t bad when she calms down and doesn’t be such a busy-body.”

Pansy shook her head. “I still don’t understand why the two of you are Slytherins. It just seems like this isn’t the place you should be—surely you should’ve been in Gryffindor, your mother is the Head of House.”

“Well,” Harry said with a nod. “I can’t say to Hermione’s reasons, but the Sorting Hat put me in Slytherin because it wanted to encourage my ambitions and maybe help heal Slytherin’s popular image. Most people say that Slytherin is the house of dark wizards, and that all of us are doomed to be bad from the day we’re sorted. I don’t believe that at all.”

“Why don’t you believe it?” Pansy asked, crossing her arms.

“It’s nonsense!” Harry exclaimed, throwing his hands up. “We’re not born good or bad, we become that way by upbringing and beliefs. I believe that most of Slytherin is capable of good, just as much as they can do evil like their parents probably did.”

There was some silence shared between the two before Pansy returned to the Great Hall, leaving Harry to continue his goals for the day.

“Myrtle?” Harry asked as he closed the door to the second-floor girls’ bathroom.

There was a splashing noise, and the spectral image of a girl emerged from one of the toilets.

“What are you doing here? You’re a boy!” She said, scandalized.

“I’m here to ask you some questions, if you don’t mind,” Harry said, quietly.

"Oh? Here to mock poor old Moaning Myrtle?"

"No, no, I'm here to find out why you died, and stop it from killing someone again. A friend of mine, she got petrified."

“Oh,” Myrtle said, looking mortified. “It was just like any other day, I suppose—Oliver Hornby made fun of my glasses, and I came to the bathroom here to cry about it, I guess…” She trailed off before nodding. “And when I was just about done, I heard a boy come in and hissing at something, and when I opened the door to tell him to get out, I… died.”

“You died by making eye contact,” Harry said, nodding. “And you’re certain he was hissing?”

“Yes, it sounded like someone was strangling a snake,” Myrtle said, shivering.

“Where in the room do you think the hissing was coming from?”

Myrtle pointed towards the sinks. “Over there,” she said morosely. Harry did a little more looking around at the sinks, before making his way up to Dumbledore’s office to let the Headmaster know of his findings thus far.

Dumbledore peered up from his papers at the sight of Harry and smiled. “Harry, what brings you here this early?”

“Sir, I may have some information,” Harry said, smiling.

After explaining his findings and his discussions with Myrtle, Dumbledore nodded gravely.

“This does narrow down some of the potential things we’re dealing with. We know it’s serpentine since you can hear it, and Miss Warren’s testimony indicates hissing. Perhaps the entrance to the Chamber lies in that second-floor washroom? Truth be told, Harry, that washroom has been out of service so long, it was out of service when I was a student in these hallowed halls. That would make a lot of sense,”

Dumbledore stroked his beard and nodded. “We’ll discuss this with Rubeus once the meeting starts.”

As if on cue, a house elf appeared with a large tray of sandwiches along with a positively massive tea kettle and set them on the Headmaster’s desk. With a bow, the elf then disappeared.

“Would you like a sandwich and some tea, Harry? Did you eat breakfast?”

“No, not really, everyone’s being nosy about… what happened yesterday.”

Dumbledore nodded understandingly. “Trying times, everyone’s terrified of the unknown. They will come around eventually, but it is always good to be resolute and not allow your emotions to dictate your future. If you should ever expect to wield and master the Elder Wand, you must not give into emotion.”

Harry nodded half-heartedly and took a bite of his sandwich.

Harry’s mother appeared in the doorway, seeming surprised at her son’s presence.

“Harry! I’m surprised you’re here so early,” she said, before taking a seat in one of the plush chairs Dumbledore had available.

“I came to tell the Headmaster about, erm, the problem we’ve got. I talked to Moaning Myrtle and asked her some questions—I think it’s a snake, whatever got Hermione.”

Minerva grimaced, and glanced at Dumbledore. “I was hoping the Chamber wasn’t going to be the problem we were dealing with, Albus.”

“The events of the first time it was unsealed were regrettable, and I feel terrible that I wasn’t able to do more.”

“It cast such a pall over the school,” Minerva recalled. “Even when I was a first year, everyone seemed paralyzed by the fear it would happen again.”

Dumbledore nodded quietly. “I cannot promise anything, but should Harry’s theories be proved correct, we may be able to save ourselves a lot of heartache.”

Professor Snape came in next, glancing at Harry with a raised eyebrow before silently perching in his chair. He accepted a cup of tea and quietly drank, not talking to anybody.

Eventually the four Heads of House arrived and the three that weren’t Severus Snape were making quiet conversation with each other. Finally, there was a knock on the door and Dumbledore waved his hand to open it.

“Professor-I- I know what happened in the past, but,” Hagrid said, stumbling over his words before Dumbledore raised a hand to silence him.

“You aren’t in trouble, Hagrid. I promise you that,” Dumbledore said softly. “We were wondering if we could pick your expertise in magizoology.”

"Well, I'm not no Newt Scamander, but sure I can give it a shot," Hagrid said, his smile returning.

"Do you know of any magical creatures in the serpent family that can cause petrification?"

Hagrid blinked and rubbed his beard thoughtfully. “Well, a few sir. Y’see, serpents are often rated quadruple-X by the Ministry. Hard to get yer hands on ‘em as a result. The only one I can think of off the top of my head that isn’t extremely rare is a basilisk. Mean buggers, they’ll kill ya if you look into their eyes, but if yer lucky enough to catch the sight of ‘em indirectly, you know, mirrors, puddles of water, somethin’ like that, you’re petrified instead.”

“Bloody hell,” Harry murmured.

“Language!” Minerva said crisply, glaring at her son. Harry had the good graces to blush at his mother’s admonishment.

“I remember… both times that I saw people petrified, they had been standing near pools of water from where the pipes were leaking. Filch and Mrs. Norris and then Hermione. It’s likely they saw them through that.”

“The reasons they were petrified don’t matter much—it’s how we deal with it that’s important,” Dumbledore said.

“The mandrakes are still not ready for harvesting—it’ll be some time before I can feel confident in their ability to successfully remedy the three.”

“The snake did say it was hungry. Maybe we could… talk to it?”

“Talk to it?” Snape said incredulously. “I thought you were a Slytherin, Potter.”

Harry scowled briefly before nodding. “Right, it isn’t wise to go charging in there when there’s so many unknowns. But I am a Parselmouth, so…”

Minerva choked on her tea and looked up at Harry, mortified.

Harry sheepishly smiled at his mother. “Professor Dumbledore, uh, deduced that I’m a Parseltongue. I can speak to snakes.”

“That would explain why we arrived at the conclusion it’s a snake—Potter would be able to hear it speaking normally, where as everyone else would hear a hissing noise,” Snape said with a nod. “What an irritatingly useful skill to have at the right time.”

“Indeed,” Flitwick contributed. “Do we know what the effect of a basilisk’s eyes are on a Parseltongue?”

“No,” Snape said. “At least, not in books Hogwarts has. Our society doesn’t breed many Parseltongues, so our investigative efforts into certain powers a Parseltongue has is… limited. I could imagine that a speaker is immune to the effects of a basilisk, but it would be foolish to put him in front of one to find out.”

“Nobody’s suggesting Harry go down there by himself with his wand, Severus. Harry’s wand is rather temperamental, and I don’t trust it to not go haywire in an emergency,” Dumbledore said authoritatively, shaking his head.

“We should begin to think about how we’re going to deal with this, hopefully before someone else is hurt by it,” Flitwick suggested, and there were murmurings of agreement. The meeting broke up soon after, with Harry being told to keep thinking about ways to deal with the basilisk—and to continue practicing his spells and breathing exercises.

But first, the first Slytherin Quidditch match of the year had finally come after months of waiting for practices, try-outs and the first game of the year to be done. Today’s game was against Gryffindor. Harry wasn’t too concerned, given the sort of brooms Slytherin had, but he wanted to win on his own merit, not the merit of Draco’s father. Also: He was a clean player and didn’t believe in Marcus Flint’s aggressive style of play.

Neither did Adrian Pucey, thankfully. The first training of the year had Adrian thoroughly dismantling Flint’s campaign of aggressive tactics in favour of clearly demonstrating superiority on the field. Dirty play was still okay to an extent, but nothing egregiously foul that would give Gryffindor more time to run up the points. The more points they got on the board before Gryffindor did, meant that when Harry got the snitch, there’d be no doubt as to whom would get the Quidditch Cup that year. They had a winning streak to maintain.

Harry had pointedly refused to use the Nimbus 2001 offered to him by the team, and instead opted to retain his Firehook Mark II.

As they went onto the field for the game, the referee for the day’s match was Professor Vectra—as Madam Hooch, Professor McGonagall and Professor Snape were all disqualified for varying, and obvious reasons.

The game took off, and Harry was locked in his battle of wits against the Gryffindor seeker—some bloke he didn’t know very well. His concentration on where the Snitch might be was broken when a black Bludger came flying by his head. He glared at George Weasley, the apparent source.

Adrian Pucey came back around and whacked the Bludger towards Fred Weasley, but the Bludger stopped half way to the Gryffindor beaters, and whipped back around to head towards Harry again. Harry ducked out of the way and was soon led on a wild goose chase around the field to get away from it. He decided that speed wasn’t necessary, but what was necessary was movements that would keep the Bludger from being able to follow on a straight path.

He waved off the Slytherin beater stuck to him and went after the snitch as soon as the golden glimmer caught his attention.

As he got closer to the snitch, he reached out his hand to grab it, and as soon as he got the tiny metal ball in his fingers, the Bludger caught up to him and slammed into his forearm, shattering every bone in it. He tripped off his broom and went rolling along the ground, ending up on his back looking into the sky. The Bludger was hovering above him, and dropped with the force of a cannonball, causing him to duck out of the way as it made an impact crater on the grass.

The Bludger rose again to attack him but exploded into ash, with Professor Dumbledore glaring at the spot the Bludger had been with a sort of anger Harry never wished to see again.

Dumbledore crossed the distance between them and picked Harry up.

“Are you alright?” He asked, looking intently at Harry.

“Aye, Professor,” Harry said with a nod. “But my arm’s busted.”

Dumbledore carried Harry up to the hospital ward, where Madam Pomfrey looked over his arm with a critical urgency.

“Every bone in your arm is shattered. It doesn’t need Skele-Gro, but I’ll have to keep you over night just to make sure it’s mending right.”

Harry was not a very heavy sleeper. He was awoken by someone gently sponging his head to get rid of the sweat coming from the combination of the hospital ward’s almost unnatural warmth, and the fever his body had developed in response to the magic going to work on mending his bones. Whomever was doing it was muttering something to themselves. Harry opened his eyes to see a shrunken-looking house elf murmuring about him and Hogwarts.

“Who are you?” Harry demanded, sitting up.

The house elf squeaked and bowed his head. “Dobby, sir.”

“Why are you here?”

“Dobby has been trying to help Harry Potter—it is not safe at Hogwarts! Dobby tried to keep Harry Potter from boarding the train—but Harry Potter came anyway! Then Dobby made Bludger—”

“You sent the Bludger after me?” Harry said with a snarl, causing Dobby to shrink back in fear.

“Not to kill, sir, only to maim! Enough to make Harry Potter go home!”

“Why on Earth would I want to go home? My family is here. They’re two bloody Professors, Dobby. I’m no safer there than I am here.”

“It is not safe here!” Dobby protested.

“Do you mean the Chamber? We’re going to be getting to the bottom of that very soon—but you’ve gone and put a hold on that until my arm’s grown back in.”

Dobby looked mournful and went to hit himself. Harry grasped his wrist with his free hand.

“I know what house elves do when they get like that. Do not hurt yourself around me, do you understand?”

“Yes, sir, Mister Harry Potter sir,” Dobby said.

“Now go back to your master,” Harry said firmly. “I’m not in any danger, okay?”

Dobby said nothing and apparated away with a pop. Harry sighed and tried to go back to bed, wondering all the while when he’d ever get control of his own life.

It was several more days before Harry could do much else about the Chamber. He could still hear the serpent in the hallways, alternating between cold murderous intent and sad, devastated emptiness and yearning for their hunger to be satiated. Harry idly wondered if whatever was controlling the serpent was making it alternate in temperament like that.

On Sunday, the first meeting of the Duelling Club was scheduled. Harry wasn’t feeling confident about it, as he didn’t really want to duel anybody right now, and simply wanted to finish figuring out the Chamber. Ultimately, he was unable to escape it.

Professor Snape and Moody were crack shot professionals, though. They traded a few (mostly) harmless spells, and there was truly little in the way of animosity or attempting to show-off. Though with the two sides of the duel being an Auror and someone who Harry guessed was probably a Death Eater once upon a time, they were cool, collected, and fought like it was the most natural thing they'd ever done with each other.

Though—Harry guessed that was sort of the point.

When the time came up to split into groups, the first attempt had ended in chaos as some students who didn’t like each other very much had gotten into physical altercations. The two professors had ultimately decided the best method of dealing with the situation was to, instead, walk the students through a possible scenario.

Somehow, Harry had gotten dragged into duelling his Gryffindor friend, Ron. Ron himself looked displeased at having the duel Harry. Harry stood firmly, feeling about as ready as he could, Professor Snape to his back.

Ron cast the first spell, a simple disarming jinx instructed to him by Moody. Harry side-stepped Ron’s slow spell work. As he raised his wand to cast his own incantation, his wand let out a shower of golden sparks, and not quite hiccupped but more backfired like a Muggle car. A black cobra spilled out of his wand and onto the duelling platform. Harry looked mortified as the snake began to charge towards Ron aggressively, baring its fangs.

Stop!” Harry commanded with a sharp voice, aiming his wand at the snake. The snake stopped and turned to face Harry.

Why? He looks positively delicious,” the snake hissed, clear displeasure in his voice at being denied a morsel of meat.

Did I stutter? You shall not hurt him,” Harry commanded. The snake flicked its tongue and began to slither away from Ron. A bolt of magic surged past Harry and hit the black snake dead-on, dissolving it into a shower of golden sparkles. Harry stared at the spot the snake had been, and then glanced up at his friend.

Ron looked mortified and was as pale as a sheet.

Harry quietly approached him and knelt.

“Are you alright, Ron? I knew I shouldn’t have trusted this bloody wand,” He said quietly. “I’d never throw a dangerous snake at you, mate.”

Ron nodded numbly. “Yeah. Yeah… I think I’ll be alright. I know you wouldn’t do that, Harry.”

Harry helped Ron to his feet and dusted off his shoulder. The entire room was dead silent, and Harry scowled. Well, that was a secret gone to the four winds now.

Patting Ron on the shoulder, Harry stepped down from the platform and left the classroom, not caring particularly to ask for permission from either of the Professors.

Harry had wandered off towards the Headmaster’s office, but took his time to walk there, ruminating on his anger and frustration. It was bad enough that people looked at him odd for his scar, but now people were going to treat him like he was evil or something because he was a Parselmouth.

It wasn’t fair, Harry reasoned. The scar was right cool to look at, like a brilliant lightning storm. He liked the scar, and he didn’t want people to make it any more awkward than it had to be. He knew that every time people looked at the bloody thing, it was less looking at it and more at the impossible victory he had somehow taken by conquering Voldemort and all sorts of other dingy, faint hero praise that was so out of the realm of sanity that nothing could be done for the poor tossers who bought into it.

Passing the guard at Dumbledore’s stairwell, Harry climbed the stairs to the Headmaster’s office, and knocked on the door. No response came, and Harry slowly opened it to reveal an empty office.

Dumbledore couldn’t spend all his time coddling him, Harry knew that—he just… needed a safe place to go, he guessed.

Harry sat in one of the plush chairs by the fireplace and decided to just stare into it for a while. A few minutes after he’d sat down, Fawkes joined him by perching on the chair arm.

“Hullo, Fawkes,” Harry said quietly, gently petting the phoenix. “How’re you doing?”

“Is that Harry Potter?” A disembodied voice said. Harry craned his head up to see the Sorting Hat sitting on a mantlepiece, looking down at him. “You’ve been around but I haven’t had proper time to speak to you since your sorting, boy.”

“Oh, bugger, I’m sorry. I just… got all sorts of caught up.”

“I understand, boy, you’re dealing with quite a conundrum,” the hat said, considering his words.

“If you don’t mind me asking, Sorting Hat, did my Parseltongue have anything to do with you sorting me?”

“No, of course not,” the hat said, making a dismissive snort that shook his brim. “I don’t just perform parlor tricks you know—I look deep into the souls of all the students at Hogwarts and decide their true destination. I see more than the student is even capable of understanding about themselves at any given time. No, Potter, I placed you in Slytherin for many reasons, not just because you share a trait with Salazar.”

Harry decided that waiting for the Headmaster wasn’t going to make his mood any better and decided to make his way down to the second-floor bathrooms to further investigate the place that they thought the entrance to the Chamber was.

The sinks, where Myrtle had indicated she saw the snake before her death, looked quite normal for fixtures installed in the 19th century. Ornate and intricately designed, more so than any of the other bathrooms on any other floor. Small differences, Harry noticed—there were serpentine designs on the top of the sink installation, and the faucets decorated with little hatchlings.

Harry raised his eyebrow and had an idle thought.

“What if the entrance is here? Does this sink move?”

Harry first tried to push (and then pull) the sink out and stopped. “Think like a Slytherin, Harry,” He reprimanded himself. “How would I ensure nobody, but my heirs could access a certain area? Make it unplottable, like the rest of Hogwarts… and require you have something that isn’t very- oh bloody hell I’m a moron.”

Harry knit his brows together and focused very hard on a snake. Any kind of snake really and willed himself to speak Parseltongue.

Open,” He hissed, wincing at the throbbing in his scar.

The sink suddenly jerked and began to move, grinding marble against porcelain. It revealed a large gaping maw that lead into a dark chamber below. Marble steps extended into oblivion, and Harry pondered it curiously, before stepping forward. He stepped into the chamber's opening and turned to face the opening.

Close.

The entrance sealed itself once again, leaving Harry in the dark. With a wand movement, he was now only illuminated by his wand tip. Harry noticed some torch sconces on the walls of the staircase and raised another eyebrow.

“Is it that easy?” Harry asked in English before letting out the guttural hiss of “light”. Responding to his command, the torches began to blink on with their brilliant green flame, going down the steps to a decrepit chamber entrance. The skeletons of hundreds of long-dead animals littered the floor, as did molted snake skins and moss. In front of Harry was a very large bronze door, closed tightly with the insignia of Slytherin etched into it.

Harry approached it and placed his hand on the cool metal. “This is sort of the point of no return,” he told himself. “Basilisks are dangerous. Don't look at it in the eye, keep your eyes low, and be prepared to run...

But he had a feeling he could reason with the creature. If not, well, he wouldn't live long enough to really regret it.

Another guttural hiss and the door parted for him, revealing a beautiful chamber full of bronze, marble, obsidian and porcelain. Green torches lined the narrow path between the entrance hall and the foyer of the chamber; Glittering black water ran up before the foyer, and he could see doors leading deeper into the Chamber. Just like outside, skeletons and snakeskins lined much of the chamber.

As Harry stepped forward, his eyes down, he heard it.

"A new pressssence..." a voice hissed as he heard stone moving and something approaching him, coming to a stop not very far from him.

“I mean you no harm,” Harry said quickly, stopping in a panic.

Young hatchling,” the voice said calmly, “I assure you there is no need to panic. And there is no need to look away. You will not be harmed by my eyes.”

All the books I’ve read on basilisks say if you look at the eyes of a basilisk, you’ll die,”

“Unless you are a speaker of Parseltongue—but we are so rare, it is not something you would commonly know.”

“How do I know you’re not lying?” Harry asked, voice rife with suspicion.

The snake laughed. “Trust but verify—a true Slytherin trait. No, snakes are unable to lie. We are truth-speakers.”

Harry took a deep gulp before glancing up, to see two golden eyes staring back at him from merely a few feet away. They were dazzlingly beautiful, and Harry felt relief surge through his body as he realized he wasn’t going to die.

Welcome, Heir of Slytherin.

“I have no blood relation with Salazar Slytherin,” Harry said firmly.

The basilisk appraised him carefully before flitting her tongue at him. “The title Heir of Slytherin does not have to refer to one of Salazar’s blood. Even if you are not of his blood, you certainly carry the sun with you,”

She turned away from him and slithered towards the center of the chamber. “The Heir of Slytherin is a title Salazar granted to someone of the Slytherin House who demonstrated the same traits and qualities of Salazar himself.”

“I’m not pureblooded,” Harry said.

“Irrelevant. Young hatchling, do you know why this chamber exists?

I’ve been told things,” Harry admitted. “None of them seem true,

This chamber exists to provide refuge to those in need—a last place of sanctuary in a time of great strife. One thousand years ago, when Salazar helped build this castle, this island was a place of great strife between dozens of tribes of magi—four people who saw the strife sought to end it by offering wixen a place to learn magic and not fear it or themselves.”

Godric, a fool-hardy Saxon warrior-prince came from the lands to the South; Rowena, a scholarly Roman vestral priestess came from the land of the she-wolf; Helena, a just and fair Greek priestess came from Macedon; and Salazar, a mystic imam, came from the land of the pyramids.

None of them were Pictish or Scottish?

The basilisk hissed in acknowledgement.

All four who had come from foreign lands adopted this as their own, taking names and granting those names to their students—hence the four houses.”

They say you were put here by Slytherin before he left to kill all Muggleborns.”

The basilisk recoiled. “I would NEVER, how barbaric! Salazar raised me for many years from a hatchling and taught me that I was to protect and watch over Hogwarts’ students. Keep them from external threats. I suppose in the last thousand years, this meaning has been lost,”

Harry nodded.

“Was Slytherin a bigot?” He asked quietly.

The basilisk closed her eyes in thought. “Yes. He was paranoid that the non-magic users would come for them and try to destroy the work they had built. He was terrified, but I know that is no excuse for hate.”

What happened to him?”

“He got into a fight with Godric over his desire for isolation of the magical world from the non-magical one, and the other two founders sided with Godric. Slytherin left Britain for the Western World—but where he went, I do not know. He tasked me with my purpose and told me to serve in that capacity until I could serve no more, and I have kept my promise.”

But you haven’t,” Harry said, and the basilisk hissed.

“What do you mean, I haven’t?”

You killed a Muggleborn, 70 years ago—and then you’ve been petrifying people left and right lately.

The basilisk looked at Harry carefully, before realization flooded the serpentine face.

“I… I have failed,” The basilisk said, horrified. “I was under the control of- something dark. Evil.

Tom Riddle—the Dark Lord who claims he’s the Heir of Slytherin, I guess.” Harry said, frowning. “He’s the one who controlled you and killed Myrtle Warren.”

“He is NOT the Heir of Slytherin. The Heir of Slytherin would never kill an innocent being! That is not what Salazar believed in! Salazar often told me stories of his people, and they condemned murder of innocents.”

The basilisk made what Harry could guess as an approximate of a huff and spoke again. “Anybody who claims to be the Heir of Slytherin would know that Salazar’s faith dictated above all that the animals may not be used for malicious purposes. Pathetic.”

The basilisk looked contemplative. “Hatchling, may I make a request of you?

What might that be, basilisk?

I require food to resist the dark one. There is a tunnel pathway here that leads to a forest near the castle. Can you blast the sealed passageway open? I will let you stand on my head to reach it,

Of course,” Harry said, nodding in agreement. The basilisk nudged him up onto its head and began to move through one of the nearby access tunnels. He found the tunnels were quite intricate, but that many rooms lay in corridors that look like they hadn’t been touched in centuries, tucked behind debris.

Right here,” the basilisk said. The tunnel Harry had been brought to was closed off, a wall of debris and stone blocking it. Harry slipped off the basilisk and approached it, before glancing back at the creature.

I don’t know any spells to… well, blow it up.”

You’re still a young hatchling,” the basilisk said with a chuckle. “I understand.”

“How many entrances to this place are there?

Dozens,” the basilisk replied carefully. “But most of them are sealed off to keep me from leaving. The only one left is the entrance you came through, hatchling.”

Harry hummed in thought before nodding carefully. “Do you mind if I bring some one down here?

The basilisk looked at him carefully. “You may invite whomever you choose, hatchling. You may grant and revoke that right at your leisure, as is your right.” The snake said, bowing its head. Harry felt that was awfully strange, having a lethal snake acting so deferential.

Harry nodded. “Then I ask you take me back to the entrance, I will not only bring you a way to unseal the passage to allow you to hunt, but I will bring you something to eat so that you can resist whoever’s putting you under a spell.

The basilisk flitted its tongue in approval.

I do not believe I got your name, young speaker.

“Harry Potter,” Harry replied with a smile.

“Harry,” the basilisk said, fondly. “I will await your return.

Harry was carried back to the entrance of the Chamber and was deposited where he entered. Making his way back up to the girl’s bathroom, Harry climbed out and dusted himself off. He made his way up the flights of stairs towards Dumbledore’s office, and quickly said the password and made his way up to the door.

“Headmaster?” Harry asked as he entered the office. Dumbledore had returned to his office and glanced up at Harry.

“Harry! Goodness. Aren’t you supposed to be in dueling club?”

“Something happened there,” Harry admitted, frowning. “My uh, status as a Parseltongue isn’t a secret anymore. My wand accidentally summoned a cobra and I had to command it to not kill Ron Weasley.”

“Ah, yes, it would be most unfortunate if Mister Weasley were to be killed by a snake,” Dumbledore nodded, as if that was normal. “What brings you here?”

“Well… I need your help.”

“Professor, Hagrid, you can open your eyes now, she says that you should be fine now that she’s closed her inner eyelids.”

Dumbledore opened his eyes and looked down at his charge with an exasperated look. Harry sheepishly grinned back as he strode through the grand foyer of the Chamber of Secrets. Hagrid was carrying a large, dead creature over his back, and tossed it into the center of the chamber.

The basilisk saw the offering and greedily devoured it.

“Oh goodness, I haven’t had a proper meal in 900 years…” It said, delighted.

“Hagrid? Headmaster? The basilisk wants to hunt she can keep resisting whomever is responsible for what’s been going on. She says there’s a passage way to the Forbidden Forest, and she’d like to hunt there, but it was sealed off a very long time ago. I don’t know any spells for that.”

“Ah,” Dumbledore said, nodding. “Rubeus, do you have any objections to the basilisk hunting?”

“I’m a little weary—the centaurs might not like it, and then there’s the Acromantula colony.”

“They are getting a little… overpopulated, I’d say,” Dumbledore said with a raised eyebrow.

“They have been attacking some of the others. Perhaps the basilisk will simply… restore the natural order?”

Hagrid considered it and sighed. “Alright, I suppose that’s fine. But if it gets to being a problem, she’ll have to stop.”

“We’ll figure it out. There’s a lot of Forbidden Forest, anyway,” Harry said.

Another brief ride on the back of a basilisk later, the three were deposited at the same place Harry had been merely an hour prior. Looking at the rocks, Dumbledore frowned.

“I would hate to damage the walls here,” he said. “Reducto is probably not going to work.”

Dumbledore began the process of excavating out the passage way, by transfiguring large chunks of the collapsed stone work into smaller bits and banishing them into the void. Eventually, a way to the surface was cleared, but the damage to the Chamber was evident.

“We can probably repair all this,” Harry said. He looked at the basilisk. “Would you like that?

The basilisk flitted her tongue at him. “That would be nice, maybe you can restore Salazar’s chamber to its proper glory.”

The basilisk then slithered up the passage way, presumably exiting the chamber.

“That could come back to bite us in the arse,” Harry observed.

“I’m not sure, but we’ve got more important things to worry about—namely, figuring out what’s possessing the basilisk, and how to stop it.”

“We could watch the chamber, see if anybody comes in or out of it. Maybe Myrtle could keep watch,” Harry suggested.

“That might work, Harry. That just might work,” Dumbledore said with a nod.

“Maybe som’ kind’er charm that triggers whenever someone enters that room,” Hagrid suggested.

“It’s still a functional bathroom, despite being haunted. And young Harry here may come in and out for various reasons. That might be a little too much, Rubeus. Either way, we should probably adjourn to my office, and discuss further steps with the Heads of House.”

As they made their way back to the entrance of the Chamber, Hagrid went back to his cottage, while Dumbledore and Harry went up to the headmaster’s office.

Minerva rubbed her eyes and warily glanced at Harry and Dumbledore. “There’s a basilisk underneath the school, a friendly basilisk.”

Harry nodded. “She’s quite friendly. She told me quite a few things about Salazar Slytherin, I think that a lot of the mythology around it is… sorta not true?”

Severus Snape, on the other hand, was staring into the void, muttering about basilisks and Slytherin. He glanced at the Headmaster. “What do we do?”

“At the moment, the truth of the Chamber and what lies within is a well-kept secret. The only student to be petrified so far is Miss Granger, and I have informed her parents that she simply came down with an illness that causes petrification. No doubt Harry has already roped her and Mister Malfoy in on some of the conversations he’s had, but I am more than certain there is discretion involved.”

Harry nodded. “Hermione’s going to be absolutely livid she’s missed out on any of the school year, but I’m sure she’ll be back to form as soon as she’s healed and back on her feet.”

“Mandrakes won’t be ready until spring, I’m afraid,” Professor Sprout said, looking apologetic. “Miss Granger is going to miss most of the year.”

Dumbledore nodded. “We’ll find ways to make it work out—I won’t let Miss Granger fall behind a grade because of unfortunate consequences that are not her fault.”

A steely look appeared in his eyes and he sighed.

“Our main goal now is to find that diary of Tom’s. Clearly, it is the conduit that is driving the possession of the basilisk. I can’t go around violating our students’ rights to privacy, but I can have the ghosts on the watch for suspicious people skulking about at night—particularly in the second-floor corridors.”

Dumbledore glanced down at Harry. “Which means you’ll have to put your night-time excursions on hold, my lad.”

“That’s not a problem, Professor, not a problem at all,” Harry replied, rubbing his neck.

“Good,” Dumbledore said with a nod. “Any other suggestions on keeping track of who might possess the diary?”

“What are the most common symptoms of a dark spirit possessing someone?” Professor Flitwick asked, looking at Snape.

Snape raised an eyebrow. “They’d look ill, to not put too fine a point on it. Flushed skin, clammy, always tired, maybe even mood swings. They would appear like a dragonpox patient more than they would look like a normal person.”

“Well, in that case, we know the cues we’re looking for. We just have to wait until the person deems it time to show their face again,” Dumbledore said grimly.

Chapter Text

Minerva McGonagall was not a happy woman right now. Six years ago, she had gone to Number Four Privet Drive to save Harry from an upbringing full of peril and struggle—and the intervening years between that summer day and her adoptive son’s first year at Hogwarts had gone well. Dumbledore had insisted Harry stay out of the limelight and had gone to great pains to keep his adoption out of the papers, bypassing much of the normal bureaucracy and abusing his position as leader of the Wizengamot to that effect.

But now, as soon as Harry had started at Hogwarts—the daft old man had deemed it a necessity to have Harry involved in every step of trying to keep the Dark Lord at bay. First it had been letting Harry run around the halls at night unsupervised, then it had been ignoring Harry’s investigative efforts against Professor Quirrell, and then Dumbledore had extraordinarily little to say to her once Harry killed the bloody Professor by accident.

And now basilisks? Dark, enchanted objects?

A bridge too far is a bridge too far, in her opinion. As soon as what Harry had done down in the Chamber of Secrets had been revealed, Minerva was on the brink of hexing Albus into the next century.

“Are you trying to get my son killed, Albus?” Minerva hissed at the Headmaster once Harry had gone off to do whatever it was he was planning to do on a Sunday. “You’re having a twelve-year-old child… well, doing things that should be left to people like us who are more than qualified for the job!”

Albus nodded, removed his half-moon spectacles and rubbed his eyes tiredly.

“Minerva,” He said with a sigh.

“I would love nothing more than for Harry to grow up with a normal childhood, have a normal seven years here, and then do whatever he wishes. There are many reasons why this isn’t exactly the most possible thing to do. Voldemort’s spirit is out there,” Albus said, ignoring Minerva’s clear cringe at Tom Riddle’s chosen epithet.

“and I am resolutely sure that he will stop at nothing to revive himself, and if, or when he does, he will come after Harry, and likely you and Rolanda in the process. I am not just doing this for the benefit of myself, or to foist responsibility unto young Harry. I am trying to make sure he is ready for any problems that come his way,” Albus said, shrugging.

“But you’re being reckless, Albus,” Minerva said.

“There exists a prophecy,” Albus said, sitting up again. “A prophecy given by our very own Professor Trelawney, that goes into detail about how Voldemort and Harry are linked.”

Trelawney?” Minerva said, dumbstruck.

“YOU’RE BASING YOUR DECISIONS ON SOME BLASTED PROPHECY THAT TRELAWNEY MADE?” Minerva screamed at the headmaster, her face slowly turning red. “The woman can barely remember the names of her students, let alone make accurate predictions. She’s told at least five students every year they’re going to meet a grizzly end by the year’s out.”

“Just because Sybil has made some… inaccurate predictions in her life does not mean she is not a Seer. Do you not remember the story of Cassandra?”

Minerva frowned at the Headmaster. “This isn’t fair to Harry, Albus. The boy was only an infant when the Dark Lord died.”

“I know,” Albus said. “If I could keep him from it, I would. But I know better than to lie or cover up the truth to him.”

Albus sighed. “Tom Riddle was a half-blood orphan, sorted into Slytherin, and because he was denied ambitious potential, grew into the tyrant we have had to sort out since the 1960s—I refuse to let Harry Potter go down that path.”

“You don’t seriously believe Harry could become like… the Dark Lord, do you?”

“No,” Albus said, and shook his head.

“Harry is a good child and has a big heart. But my foolish decisions to not take Tom seriously have put us where we are now—regardless of Harry’s intent to or not, he is the current master of the Elder Wand. I have no choice but to open his eyes to his role, and to teach him as best as I can, because some day that wand will return to him—and I want him to make the right choices.” He said, looking haunted.

“The Elder Wand—is almost sentient. It can take advantage of your naivete, your emotions. But I will promise you now, Minerva, I will do everything I can to prevent Harry from coming to undue harm.”

“Alright,” Minerva said, briefly mollified. “But what’s this about letting him wander the halls at night. Don’t you think that’s a mite unfair to other students, granting Harry such auspicious privileges?”

Dumbledore nodded.

“It is a little… unorthodox, I admit,” He admitted. “But consider this, Minerva. The boy possesses an invisibility cloak. If he deemed it fit, he could go anywhere in the castle he wants, and none of us would be able to keep an eye on him—at least if he knows he’s given parameters as to what’s acceptable or not in this case, he won’t go doing stupid things as young men often do—besides, he tends to keep himself to the second floor classrooms anyway.”

Minerva nodded. “But what of Sirius Black?”

“As of this time, Sirius Black has not been sighted anywhere,” Albus said, nodding in understanding. “Should he begin to show up on the radar, perhaps we will be forced to take preventative measures for Harry’s safety—but I promise you, while he is here at Hogwarts, he shall be as safe as possible.”

Albus looked thoughtful for a moment.

“But even Hogwarts is not fool-proof,” He said. “Look at last year—the boy was subject to Unforgivables because we failed and weren’t able to stop Quirrell. He must learn to be able to handle himself in a fight, even against an adult.”

Albus shrugged. “I’m not expecting him to become a duelling master overnight,” He said gently. “But he must know how to hold his own. He’s going to be a talented wizard, he just needs as much training as he can get.”

“Now,” Mad-Eye Moody said, casting a critical eye over his students. “We have discussed several jinxes over the last few weeks. Today’s lesson will revolve around a spell called Riddikulus—the Boggart Repellent Charm. Boggarts are a common shapeshifting non-being that takes the form of your worst fears.”

“As you can see,” He gestured to the room. “I have taken the desks away because we will be doing practical examples today. I want everyone to follow along with my wand movements and my recitation of the incantation.”

He practiced the wand movement and instructed the students on the correct pronunciation and gave a nod in approval once everyone had practiced it once.

“Form a line, then,” He ordered. People quickly fell into line, with Harry being quite close to the front.

The first student up was a Hufflepuff named Oswald MacConnell—a tall, lanky blonde boy, as he stepped up to the wardrobe containing the boggart, Moody unleashed it. The boggart quickly took the form of a man that looked similar, but significantly older. As the man approached, bloody murder in his eyes, Oswald whipped his wand and cast Riddikulus. The man’s three-piece Muggle business suit changed into a one-piece bathing suit that looked far too ridiculous on a man built as strongly as him.

Oswald burst into laughter, causing the illusion of an unknown family member to dissipate.

After a few more people made their runs, Harry stepped up to the front.

“Alright, Potter, ready?” Moody asked, raising an eyebrow.

Harry took a deep breath and nodded.

The door opened, and the ghostly form of the boggart appeared before Harry. It ruminated for a moment before it transformed. Suddenly, Harry was face to face with Professor McGonagall, on her knees, her throat slashed open, the familiar crimson of blood pouring down her throat.

Harry…” the weak voice of his mother came rattling out of the apparition’s throat, smothered by a fresh pool of blood coming from her mouth.

Riddikulus!” Harry screeched.

The scene changed, this time becoming Madam Hooch, in a similar position.

“RIDDIKULUS!”

The scene changed once more, this time becoming Hermione Granger, turned completely to stone—their attempts to revive her from her petrification having failed.

RIDDIKULUS!”

The boggart then turned into a tall, almost menacing version of Harry. He had thick facial hair, wide shoulders, and muscles. Harry felt a twisting annoyance in his chest at the sight of a mature, confident, older version of himself, and cast the spell one last time, this time successfully banishing the Boggart.

“Took a few tries, but you did alright, Potter,” Moody said with a nod. “Could’ve been much worse—I expected your worst fear to be the Dark Lord.”

“I’m not afraid of Voldemort,” Harry murmured, earning shudders from his classmates.

“You’re either incredibly confident, or incredibly daft. It remains to be seen which one is true,” Moody said, matter-of-factly. “Now, next student!”

...

“Harry Potter!” Madam Pomfrey said, smiling knowingly at the young man as he entered the hospital wing.

“Hello, Madam Pomfrey. May I see Hermione?”

“Of course, lad. Of course. Have you been eating enough?”

“Yes,” Harry said, smiling.

“Good lad,” She said with a nod, before returning to doing what she was doing. Harry walked down the aisle of beds, passing Filch and Mrs. Norris’ section, and arriving at Hermione’s bed. His friend was strewn on top of the white sheets, staring unblinking at the stone ceiling.

“Hermione,” Harry greeted, sitting down next to her in the wooden chair.

“I miss you,” He said, speaking quietly. “I still have Draco, of course, but with you missing it doesn’t feel the same. But, uh, things have been going well in all the classes. Professor Flitwick covered the Engorgement Charm the other day, and Potions has been going well enough. There was some issue I had in Defence Against the Dark Arts, and I… I just want to tell you I hope you’ll be okay, and I hope you can still hear me. I don’t have very much else to say, though.”

Harry idly gazed at his friend’s unmoving form. He hadn’t quite understood how much Hermione had meant to him. The spirit of Voldemort was so deeply dedicated to destroying people he saw as inferior, and it made Harry’s ears burn with annoyance. How could ambition be turned into something so dark and awful?

“I promise—I will make Tom Riddle suffer for what he has done,” Harry said, frowning. It was the first time he had genuinely given himself the capacity to express that kind of emotion. His mothers had always raised him to believe in the good in people. Like, not all Slytherins were evil, that much was clear!

But even good people were capable of evil. His mind flitted to the escaped convict Sirius Black. A friend of his parents—so it was said… the right-hand man of Riddle, betraying his friends for nothing.

And there were certainly examples in Muggle history of good people who made poor decisions—and then people who were simply pure, distilled evil.

Harry didn’t like the feeling of hate bubbling in his stomach, but he could genuinely not feel anything else for Tom Riddle. Except maybe pity, but that was about all he could muster.

“Let me go, you prats!” Harry protested as Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom carried him down towards the greenhouses.

“No—we’re going to make you spend some time not worrying about whatever it is you’re worrying about,” Neville said simply.

“That and you’re terrifying the absolute hell out of everyone,” Ron said, grinning.

“I am?” Harry asked, eyebrow raised.

“Yeah, mate. Fred and George described it to me as ‘McGonagall, but with a decidedly Snape quality about it’—so Neville and I decided you need to take a break for a bit. Neville suggested going down to the greenhouses.”

“Professor Sprout, erm, I’ve been helping her with some of the other plants she’s been needing help with. I know you like Herbology, so maybe it’ll take your mind off everything.”

“Everyone’s been telling me that, but it isn’t like I can just turn off worrying about things,” Harry said, frowning.

Arriving at the greenhouse, Harry blinked to see Professor Snape and Professor Sprout having a conversation. Both turned to see the trio standing in the doorway.

“Ah, Potter,” Snape greeted with a wry smile.

“Did you put these two up to it?” Harry asked, glaring at his head of house.

“Of course not,” Snape said, the wry smile not disappearing from his face. “Either way, I advise you, as your Head of House, to take five minutes to not worry about things that are incredibly beyond your control, Potter, and to spend some time with your friends. But if that isn’t enough motivation for you—if you draft an essay for me on the ingredients you will be harvesting with Professor Sprout, I will grant you, Weasley and Longbottom extra credit.”

Ron and Neville looked stunned as Snape swept by them.

“Good day, gentlemen.”

Professor Sprout, on the other hand, looked positively happy. “Always good to have some help. Now, gentlemen, take your positions, grab your gloves, and I’ll give you a run down on what we’ll be harvesting today.”

The three took their positions, and Professor Sprout smiled. “You’ll see I’ve set out some unharvested ginger, and some knotgrass. I’ll walk you through harvesting the specific parts of it that are useful in potions. I promise it won’t take awfully long, and then we can all enjoy a nice cup of tea and some biscuits.”

She led Harry, Ron and Neville through the process of harvesting the ginger root.

“You know, beyond just the potions application, I’ve always found that ginger root goes well when mixed with Butterbeer. When you three lads can go to Hogsmeade, I’d certainly ask Rosmerta at the Three Broomsticks about it.”

There were murmurings of agreement.

“There’s a ton of things that are good out there,” Harry commented idly. “I love butterbeer, but Mum really does try to keep our drinks diverse.”

“Like what?” Neville asked.

“Mostly Muggle things,” Harry said. “There’s one drink that’s incredibly popular in Muggle Scotland—it’s called Irn Bru? I can’t really describe how it tastes—it’s one of those things you’ve got to try for yourself. A friend of mine back in Wulver’s Hollow, he’s a half-blood like I am, once said it tastes like liquid bubble gum. Me personally, it tastes like someone blew up a fruit in my mouth. Tart, sweet, and really out there.”

“Sounds interesting,” Ron said.

Harry nodded quietly. “Aye, I like it. Mum won’t let me drink it that often, it really isn’t great for you. I spent a lot of my childhood on nutrition potions and things like that, so Mum’s always been careful about making sure I eat enough, and I eat right.”

“Merlin, it’s weird to hear you talking about Professor McGonagall like that. I know she’s your mother and all, but it’s just strange,” Neville commented.

Harry laughed. “It’s a little weird at times—since I’ve started at Hogwarts, over the summer I feel like I’ve got to raise my bloody hand to ask her to pass something at supper. But she’s always willing to help me with assignments, even over the summer holiday; but the downside I guess… she expects a lot from me?” He said, thinking about it.

“I wouldn’t trade her or Lala for the world, though,” Harry said with a smile.

“How’d she take you being in Slytherin?” Ron asked. “Merlin knows how my brothers would’ve reacted to that.”

“She’s proud of me regardless. She told me it was even better that I wasn’t a Gryffindor—it made her job easier.” Harry said, grinning. “Slytherin suits me fine, honestly. The people there aren’t that bad. A few of them have some funny views on Muggleborns and the like, but there are some decent people.”

“Like Hermione,” Neville said.

“Precisely,” Harry said, his smile faltering some. The sudden mention of Hermione Granger cast a black pall over the room, and Professor Sprout, who had been passively listening to the young boys conversing, quickly placed a tray of tea, biscuits and cookies on a nearby table.

“Come, lads, take a break,” she instructed. “The mandrakes are still not ready for harvesting yet, but I expect they’ll be ready sometime in the spring.”

“She might miss all the health classes, but Madam Pomfrey’ll take care of her once she’s awake,” Professor Sprout observed, nodding.

“… Health classes?” Harry asked.

“Oh, right, Professor Dumbledore hasn’t announced those yet,” the Herbology professor said with a blink. “Second years, uh, commonly, have these classes in the spring term. They’re just quick primers on what you can expect once puberty sets in. You know, growing taller, hair in certain places. Things like that—and a lot of information about everyday life improvements. Though, the young ladies get more of those charms taught to them than the boys do.”

The three boys looked mortified at the prospect.

“That’s not for months and months yet, relax, boys,” the Professor admonished, smiling knowingly. “Besides, who knows, before long you may find yourself pining for someone, and you won’t know how to deal with those feelings-”

“La la la la, can’t hear you!” Ron said, putting fingers in his ears.

After an amusing afternoon preparing potion ingredients, the three students returned to the Castle to work on the extra credit essay that Snape had given them, before the second meeting of duelling club—well, Harry and Neville certainly did. Ron had a bad habit of putting things off to the last second, and Harry would learn later that Neville had to practically threaten Ron with hexes to get him to start on the essay.

When the second duelling club meeting started, Harry felt serious discomfort at being here again. This time, he was partnered up with a Hufflepuff boy he didn’t know. The fellow second-year looked deadly serious in preparing to duel Harry.

As soon as Professor Moody had indicated to begin, the two young men took to the craft like fish to water.

‘Petrificus Totalus!’ the Hufflepuff shouted.

‘Protego!’ Harry said, before a shield popped up. The hex slammed into it and it briefly wavered, before Harry cancelled it.

Fumos!” He then called out, causing the platform to become shrouded in smoke. Keeping his eyes carefully trained on his opponent, Harry then delivered ‘Expelliarmus!’ which disarmed his opponent.

Moody waved his wand and silently banished the smokescreen and gave an appreciative nod.

“I think next time, Potter, you’ll be going up against at least a third or fourth year,” He said, crossing over, patting Harry on the shoulder. “You may step down.”

Harry joined the crowd, and Draco gave an appreciative nod.

“Good work, Harry,” the blond said, looking up at the two latest students brought to the platform. “When’d you learn that spell?”

“What? Protego? Dumbledore brought it up in one of our lessons—I’ve been, erm, practicing it during my night meditation sessions. I always practice the stuff he teaches me.”

“Merlin, Harry, you’ll be teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts before you even graduate,” Ron said. “Protego isn’t exactly the easiest charm to learn.”

“Well, I’ve never actually tried it in a real situation beyond just now. I’m sure anyone like Snape or Moody could shatter it into a million pieces without breaking a sweat.”

“Don’t undersell yourself,” Ron said, clapping Harry on the shoulder. “You’re a better wizard than you think.”

“It’s not that,” Harry said, exasperated. “I don’t enjoy standing out, mate. It’s bloody awful. Everyone looks at you like you’re weird. I’m already self-conscious enough about my body and the like—the last thing I want is people staring at me like I’m at a zoo.”

It was finally early December when things came to a head. Harry had begun to focus his time and efforts more on the classes and private lessons and putting the Chamber of Secrets firmly in the back of his mind. He still frequently checked on the basilisk, but even she had nothing to report, as Harry had been the only person to visit her since she was put under an unforgivable during Halloween.

“Potter,” Snape had said as he descended from the staff table one night at dinner. “Come with me,”

Harry rose and followed Snape. As he exited the Great Hall, he found himself standing with Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall.

“Someone’s just entered the Chamber, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “One of the proximity charms we placed has been triggered.”

“So, then, what’s the plan? I’m not going down there without a plan. I have no idea who it is that we’re going to be dealing with anyway.”

“You won’t be going down there alone—but none of us are able to talk to, or fight, the basilisk. We’ll be there in case things go wrong,” Professor McGonagall said, clearly displeased at the idea. “I would prefer another method, but there’s really no choice, Harry… at least until we know the basilisk isn’t going to try to kill us.”

Harry nodded.

“We do know it’s a student—the proximity charm indicated the person in question is rather small—but be warned, Harry. Tom Riddle, even as a sixteen-year-old, was quite a gifted mage. Remember your spells.”

“Aye, Professor.”

They made their way quickly up to the second-floor, and Harry quickly ordered the Chamber to open to him. They descended into the entrance hall, where Dumbledore and McGonagall stood at the ready.

Open!

The door slid open, and Harry stepped into the chamber proper, his wand held aloft. In the centre of the chamber, a brown-haired young man was standing, holding the wand he recognized as belonging to …

Ah.

Ginny Weasley was lying on the floor, pale, unmoving.

Well, Ron was going to be livid, wasn’t he? Harry was quite livid himself. He’d already failed to keep Hermione from being hurt—and now this greasy git of a Dark Lord’s ghost was going to hurt an eleven-year-old child? What a remorseless pillock.

“Harry Potter,” the boy said, turning to face Harry. “Quite a pleasure to see you.”

“If only I could say the same, Riddle,” Harry said.

Both boys twitched before casting spells at each other. An Expelliarmus aimed at Harry, and a Protego to block it. The Expelliarmus dug deep into Harry’s shield, but he didn’t lose control. Despite being quite a powerful force, Tom Riddle was still, after all, just a mere spirit—even if he had taken a corporeal form.

“Hmm, pity. Killing you will be bittersweet for me. Here before me stands a Slytherin, capable of such remarkable things, full of the power to shape the world—and you choose to throw it all away to defend… what, I don’t know. Blood traitors? Mudbloods?”

“Have you ever bothered to look into what Slytherin stood for, you daft wallaper?” Harry asked. “It’d surprise you, if you had brains between your ears.”

“Hmpf,” Riddle said. “Such insolence. Maybe there’s some Gryffindor in you after all—of course, that can be expected, considering your mother—she’s the head of Gryffindor, is she not?”

Riddle turned away from Harry, and spread his arms, wide.

Speak to me, Slytherin, the greatest of the Hogwarts four!”

Harry snickered, and Riddle gave him a serious, and down-right murderous look.

“Come on, mate—seriously?” Harry asked, still snickering. “That’s such a pompous thing to say. Not everything’s that complex, you numpty.”

“Shut up,” Riddle said, glaring at him. The terrifying eldritch abomination that was the Dark Lord’s spectral image, in that moment, looked certainly to be the sixteen-year-old Prefect he had been back in the day. The stone façade gave way to the spilling form of the basilisk.

Heed my words, great basilisk of Slytherin! Attack the invader!

The basilisk opened her golden eyes, and immediately moved to attack the spectral form of Tom Riddle, who ducked out the way.

“Wha?” Riddle said, startled. “Imperio!

The splash of red against the basilisk’s scales did nothing to deter her, the large snake shaking off the attempt with a loud, angry hiss.

“Tom,” Harry said, crossing the room. “You seem to have made a serious mistake. You aren’t the Heir of Slytherin.”

“Of course, I am! I am Slytherin’s blood!”

“There’s more to it than just blood relations, moron,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “Slytherin was a strange bloke, to tell you the truth. Sure, he prattled on and on about blood purity. A common thing, given the distrust between wixen and Muggles, but the bloke sure was pious. You’re not the bloody Heir of Slytherin. I am!”

Tom blinked in surprise, before his face twisted up in anger.

“You half-breed… twat!” Tom spit. He raised Ginny’s wand.

Avada-

“Expelliarmus!” Harry said before Tom could finish his incantation, and Ginny’s wand flew out of Tom’s hand. It clattered on the floor and rolled off somewhere out of sight. A now wandless, nearly solid form of Tom Riddle looked panicked as he backed away from the basilisk. Harry picked up the diary in his hand.

Here you go,” He said, before tossing it into the basilisk’s mouth. In an instant, a hissing, screaming noise filled the chamber, and Tom Riddle dissolved into nothingness, leaving the room filled with the acrid smell of sulfur and… if Harry could put a word on it, death.

“Bloody wanker,” Harry said, shaking his head, staring at the place Tom had been standing. “If only getting rid of the rest of his sorry arse was that easy.”

He moved and knelt at Ginny’s side. He turned to the basilisk. “It would be best if you weren’t here.”

The basilisk blinked. “As you wish.

Wait,” Harry called to it. “I never got your name.

I have many names, child. Salazar gifted me a name and taught me the translation of it into the proper tongue. Fatimah al-Zahra—he said he named me after someone of immense importance to his faith, who lived many centuries ago.”

“Fatimah,” Harry said her name in English, nodding. “Thank you.

Thank you for getting rid of the darkness,” She replied, blinking once more. “The false Heir has fled, and the true Heir is victorious. Salazar would be pleased. I look forward to seeing you again, young one.

The basilisk then departed, returning through the portico to where it had once been. The stone façade closed once more, leaving the chamber devoid of people.

“Mum, Dumbledore? You can come in now, Fatimah’s gone.”

Professor McGonagall, nearly as pale as Ginny quickly entered the room, followed by Dumbledore. Harry marvelled at how quickly his mother crossed the room and knelt by Ginny’s side.

“She’s alive,” Minerva observed, noticing the girl was breathing, if not erratically. “She needs to be taken to the Hospital Wing.”

“Indeed,” Albus noted. “We must go at once.”

The three quickly adjourned from the Chamber, stopping only for Harry to close the entrance behind them. Once in the hospital ward, Ginny was quickly placed in a bed and checked over with at least a dozen diagnostic spells. She would survive, Madam Pomfrey assured them of that—but it was a remarkably close thing.

As Ginny slept, the Hospital Ward quickly became packed with redheads, some of whom Harry recognized from when Ron was in the hospital wing, along with a few others.

Molly Weasley was beside herself.

“First you save Ronald from a troll, and now you save Ginny from possession—oh, Harry, how can we ever thank you for the kindness you’ve done for our family?” She asked, smothering Harry in a hug.

“It’s really unnecessary to thank me, Mrs. Weasley,” Harry protested. “It’s really the right thing to do under any circumstance. The world wouldn’t be the same if either Ron or Ginny weren’t in it—so don’t feel like you owe me anything, really.”

After some more thankful words from the rest of the Weasley brood (including the ones who weren’t at Hogwarts anymore—Charlie, the bloke they’d arranged the dragon problem with last year; and Bill, a cursebreaker for Gringotts!), Harry found himself being dragged by his arm into Madam Pomfrey’s office by his mother.

As soon as the door had shut behind them, Harry’s mother unceremoniously dropped into the matron’s chair, and sagged visibly, with Harry noting she looked far more listless that way than he’d ever seen her in his life.

“Harry James Potter… are you trying to give me a heart attack?” She asked. She sighed and folded her hands in her lap. “I suppose it really is too much for me to wish you be kept out of this nonsense—this torrid affair with the Dark Lord that keeps popping up, year after year.”

She reached up and smoothed out one of his stray wild hairs. “You’re so young, I wish I could keep you from it. But destiny, and one stubborn headmaster, keeps putting you right in the middle of it all. I suppose that was something Rollie and I knew when we took you from those detestable Dursleys.”

Harry didn’t say anything, and simply watched his mother’s blue eyes gently roam his face, before he decided to push forward and wrap her in a hug. He didn’t quite understand it all—he was still, after all, barely on the cusp of being a teenager; but he understood what she meant. She didn’t want this—destiny, Tom Riddle, any of it—too fall upon him.

And he didn’t blame her—he certainly didn’t want it either, but a sense of duty had formed to him, that if he was going to be involved one way or another, he may as well do his best to keep ahead of the problems as they came up, rather than reacting to them in urn.

He ruminated on it all in those moments of silence, and truthfully, came to no conclusion. A twelve-year-old could not answer every question. The fact of the matter was that Harry was still so unsure about what it was to be himself. He’d grown up a normal boy, but he had to reconcile the life of “Harry Potter, Son of Minerva and Rolanda” with “Harry Potter, Destined Saviour of All British Wixen” and, now, with recent events in mind— “Harry Potter, the Master of Death”.

But not even one of those things answered the most important question: Who was Harry Potter, the Person?

And that lack of a concrete answer made Harry wonder.

Once Harry and his mother had finished their personal moment, they returned to the population of people waiting for the young girl to wake up. There was some concern of Tom Riddle’s spirit “lingering in her”, and so multiple people were present just in case she needed to be sedated until the worst had passed.

But, the girl woke up fine—looked and sounded like she’d been run over with a lorry and could barely move other than to mime for a glass of water. Madam Pomfrey was quick on the case, and Harry had to admire the healer’s celerity.

To that end, Harry, along with everyone who wasn’t a Weasley, was sent out of the Hospital Wing. Dumbledore gently placed his arm around Harry and guided him towards his office.

“Harry, you’re going to be asked some questions about the goings on at the school over the last few months. I would strongly urge you to keep some facts close to your chest—politicians, you can’t trust them.”

“I know what you mean, sir,” Harry said. He’d seen it on the telly enough times. Muggle Prime Ministers and members of parliament dodging questions and saying things they didn’t quite mean. Harry didn’t understand it, it went way over his head, but it made him feel a little nauseous at times.

They ascended the steps to the Headmaster’s office to debrief about the situation. Harry felt the severity of the situation set in when he noticed some of the other individuals in the room.

A tall, dark-skinned African man with a severe, thin-lipped expression on his face; a young woman with an almost garish shade of purple in her hair whom exuded confidence, Professor Moody, and a man in the suit whom Harry barely recognized as the Minister for Magic—all of them were standing around each other, whispering in hushed tones.

“I am pleased to say that Miss Weasley will make a full recovery and is now free of whatever dark charms were on her,” Professor Dumbledore pronounced as they entered the room.

“Oh, wonderful!” The Minister said with a sort of smile one could associate with politicians.

“Indeed, and we have Mister Potter largely to thank for the efforts in helping Miss Weasley,” Dumbledore said, sounding pleased as he took his seat behind the Headmaster’s desk.

“That’s just the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from young Mister Potter,” The Minister said, before turning to address Harry. “Mister Potter, very pleased to meet you—I’m Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Minister,” Harry said, politely, shaking the older man’s hand.

Dumbledore and Fudge continued their conversation for a little while longer, with Harry being occasionally questioned about something specific. Harry omitted certain details about things like basilisks. The question of Harry speaking Parseltongue came up, and Harry didn’t deny the fact he could.

It was an uncomfortable question, but so many people had already seen him demonstrate this talent—denying it simply wasn’t an option. Though, regardless, the Minister seemed to not care much about it, and continued his conversation with the Headmaster.

Harry found himself now in the company of the youngest Auror.

"Wotcher, Harry," The woman greeted him. "I'm Tonks. Technically, I'm not an Auror yet like Shacklebolt and Moody, but I'm in the middle of training."

"Tonks," Harry said, smiling. "Nice to meet you."

"Aren't these sorts of meetings dreadful?" She offered, rolling her eyes. Her hair suddenly changed colours, going from the rich shade of purple to a dark cherry red. Harry gawked at it for a moment in shock.

"How'd you do that?" Harry asked.

"Oh, I'm a Metamorphmagus!" Tonks said, grinning. "There's only a few of us, we're able to change our appearance at will, without the need of a Polyjuice Potion or spell like the rest of the wixen do. For instance,"

Harry watched as Tonks suddenly sprouted a duck's bill, and she honked at Harry, causing the young boy to start laughing. They quieted down after a glare from Moody and the tall, severe man in the corner, and Tonks seemed pleased that she got Harry to laugh.

"How do you become a Metamorphmagus?" Harry asked.

"Well, you don't become one, actually. You're born that way." She explained, shrugging. "There's an event you experience as a child, called... well, there's no specific documented name. It's an event where your metamorphmagus powers first manifest, and your body sort of... awakens itself. There's so little documentation on what it means to be one, that we... have no real idea about the specifics. For most Metamorphmagi, it happens extremely young, like within the first few years of life."

"Huh," Harry said. "Interesting. I'm sorry, I'm not trying to treat you like you're some sort of specimen, it's just one of those things that's really interesting to learn about."

"I can only imagine the kind of reactions you get whenever someone sees that scar of yours," Tonks said, gesturing to the familiar scar on Harry's forehead.

"Most people have learned to not say anything, and I don't mind it, really."

"That's a certainly good attitude to have about it," Tonks said, warmly. Her eyes cast to Professor Dumbledore and she let out a thoughtful hum.

"A knut for your thoughts?" Harry asked.

"Well, I was just thinking about how Dumbledore can find the energy, with all sorts of things he must have to do as leader of the ICW. I mean, there's whatever nonsense is going on at Hogwarts, then the dragon sanctuaries in Dacia and Tyrasia, relations with the Goblins in the Hebrides..."

"He probably delegates," Harry suggested.

"More than likely," Tonks said, shrugging. “Still. Incredibly interesting stuff,” She said.

After everything was said and done, Harry was once again given a "Special Services to the School" award, and an airy, most likely false promise to have his name put into consideration for an Order of Merlin, Second Class.

Not that Harry particularly cared about either award. He was more eager to get back to his life and get through the school year with minimal disruptions and annoyance in the form of things trying to kill him or his friends. Draco would go on and on about the necessity of appearing in the realm of pureblood politics and the benefits of twisting that to his means to an end, but Harry couldn’t genuinely say he cared one iota about such nonsense.

The following day at breakfast, Harry found out from Ron that Ginny was, for some reason, now capable of speaking Parseltongue—and she’d been taken to St. Mungo’s for observation and being unfortunately poked and prodded by orderlies and nurses until after Yule.

“Ah—well, when she comes back, I can help her with coming to terms with being able to speak it. It’s… got some dark connotations but I still think it’s not a dark power.”

Ron gave a grave nod. “Either way,” He said. “She’s out of commission until after the holidays.”

Once Harry had packed away breakfast, he made his way to his day’s classes—it was a welcome reprieve from the encroaching feelings of melancholy that came with the arrival of winter. Harry always loved winter, certainly—he’d grown up in the hills of the Highlands and was no strange to the white flurries and slush that pelted the castle, and the ice that gathered on the windowsills and frosted up the glass panes.

But despite that, this time around the weight of all the work they had done in just three months was… well, draining, not to put too fine a point on it.

As the weeks and days before the Winter Holiday slowly disappeared, Harry’s weekly sessions with Professor Dumbledore took on a decidedly personal and private note, as he began to elaborate some on his relationship and experiences with the infamous Gellert Grindelwald, the young Tom Riddle, and his siblings and parents.

Ariana Dumbledore was quite a troubled topic. It was clear to Harry that the Headmaster was still putting himself down on the events that had gone on in the place that both had called home—Dumbledore for a time before he left his family behind, and Harry until the night Voldemort had killed his parents.

In the times he got away to do meditation and practice spell-work with his wand, he also picked up taking the time to study his newly acquired Resurrection Stone. One night in the bleak throes of the winter, just days before the start of the holidays, Harry decided he wanted a little more intense privacy than his second-floor classroom could afford.

Descending into the Chamber of Secrets once again, Harry briefly noticed that the ambient temperature was much higher than the rest of Hogwarts, and shed not just his invisibility cloak, but his overcoat. Harry sighed to himself and sat on one of the marble platforms in the chamber.

A certain ‘tug’ in his heart kept bringing his attention back to the stone. His magic felt… like it was vibrating, almost. Shaking, like a bottle of cola that had been shaken up too much and was preparing to pop the top. He gently rubbed his thumb on the stone, which was glistening from its position as the setting for the silver ring.

A small jolt went up his arm, causing the young wizard to yelp and reel backwards, landing on his arse. He felt a distinct pall of discomfort fall over him and noticed that the Chamber was awash in a haunting green glow.

Glancing up, he came face to face with two people whom he… had never thought he’d see in his life.

…Mum? Dad?

Tears welled up as Harry took in the sight of his parents. Sure, they weren’t alive and, in the flesh—they were merely imprints of their spirits that had been summoned forth from wherever spirits went after death, but they were there. Harry could tell they weren’t just a flash-frozen echo. They were real.

Their hugs certainly felt real too.

“Oh, Harry…” Lily murmured. “My sweet, sweet Harry…” She cried as she held him tightly. “How… how did we get here? Where are we?”

“Well… it’s a long story,” Harry said, rubbing his neck.

Harry then began to explain the story of his life up to this point. First, his going to the Dursleys (Lily had looked like she wanted to go haunt Dumbledore), his subsequent adoption by McGonagall (James had started guffawing about it), his subsequent sorting into Slytherin and his tutoring by Snape (James’ guffawing had turned into rasping coughing and looking mortified at the very idea…)

“But, uh, there’s complications, as you can tell,” Harry said.

“What sort of complications?” James said, raising an eyebrow.

“I’m the… Master of Death, actually,” Harry said. “Your invisibility cloak, Dad… and then the Resurrection Stone and Elder Wand.”

“That… was something we never considered,” Lily admitted, rubbing her temples. “We sort of knew that we may end up leaving you an orphan, what with the war, and the line of business we were in… but we never anticipated all that has gone on—Sirius in Azkaban, our son mastering the Deathly Hallows at twelve?

“But Sirius escaped,” Harry said. “They say he’s at-large, and Dumbledore tells me the Ministry’s been thinking of putting Dementors at Hogwarts.”

“Sirius escaped Azkaban… the mad lad!” James preened, grinning ear to ear. “No prison exists that can keep the Marauders confined!”

Lily batted her husband’s arm and ordered him to behave.

Harry blinked, and realization dawned on him.

“You said… that Sirius is my godfather, and that he’s an animagi.”

“All of us were, except for Remus,” James said, nodding. “And your mother, of course.”

“… and that his animagi is, very specifically, a large black dog.”

“Yes.”

“Bloody hell, I think my dog is Sirius Black.” Harry said. “Just before the term… we adopted a shaggy dog that one of the locals had found. I just thought he was an incredibly bright animal, now I know he’s my bleeding godfather watching over me.”

“Anyway,” Harry said, shaking his head. “About where we are… this is the Chamber of Secrets, home of the Hogwarts basilisk.”

“… did you say basilisk?” Lily wheezed out.

“Aye,” Harry said with a nod. “It’s real late so she’s sleeping now, but Fatimah was tasked by Salazar to keep watch over the students and protect the school. I’m… sort of the Heir of Slytherin. She tells me it’s not a blood title, but an earned one—‘cause as far as I know, neither of you have Slytherin heritage.”

“I certainly don’t,” James said, folding his arms. “I think I would’ve burst into flames if I’d had that blood in my veins.”

“James, behave,” Lily warned. “Your son is a Slytherin, after all.”

James sighed and acquiesced to his wife’s wishes.

“No, as far as both of us are aware, you don’t have any Slytherin blood.”

“Just as we thought,” Harry said, cheerfully. “No matter—I don’t think I’d want to live if I was that closely related to Tom Riddle.”

“Who’s Tom Riddle?” James asked.

“Ah, right, you… didn’t learn that. Tom Riddle is… Voldemort’s birth name.”

Tom Riddle? He’s a half-blood?” James said in shock. “Bloody hell, the slimy little bastard did nothing but gloat at his pure-blood status.”

Harry’s conversation with his parents had continued for a bit longer, with Harry asking a few questions about his parents and their lives—one of the critical quandaries he had for his mother was how she coped with being so different than everyone else.

She smiled knowingly and told him that it was a good thing, to be different. She admitted that sometimes it could be hard, but if he found the right sort of friends to encourage him to be the best person he could, she had no reason to believe he wouldn’t make it out okay.

Harry felt he’d gotten some form of closure as the ethereal forms of his parents dissipated, leaving the Chamber feeling just a bit colder than it had in their presence.

Before Harry could leave, the stone let out an uncomfortable jolt again, and he found himself being joined this time by a dark-haired girl, who looked just a bit beyond Hogwarts age.

Merope Gaunt was, in fact, her name—and she was Tom Riddle’s mother. She had spoken to Harry at length for the better part of an hour; she had expressed regret that she was never able to do right by her son, but her regret didn’t extend to the negative relationship she had with Tom Riddle, Sr.—and the way she spoke of Muggles, Muggleborns and half-bloods didn’t sit well with Harry at all.

It was clear that the bigotry and lack of love in the younger Riddle’s life was far deeper and more complex than he thought.

Harry idly wondered if he should ask Dumbledore a bit about why people become so bigoted and nasty towards others for no good reason. Ultimately, he grew tired of Merope’s cyclical, rambling logic and had learned a new skill with his ring in the same time—he could banish loose souls from the plane of existence and return them to their rightful location. In Merope’s case, wherever souls went in the afterlife.

The ring gave one last good jolt, and Harry came face to face with a new person, and one he’d heard a few stories about.

Ariana Dumbledore was… well, only a couple years older than Harry, and that made Harry feel quite nauseous and sad—Dumbledore hadn’t quite told him that she was merely a child when she’d died.

The conversation was brief enough, but Harry had gotten the impression that Ariana had enough misfortune put upon her for multiple reasons, and that she had been caught in the middle of personality conflicts between her brothers Aberforth and Albus—and the appeal of Gellert Grindelwald’s dream of a New World Order that had ensnared an ambitious and embittered Albus.

Ariana said she didn’t blame Albus—she didn’t blame anyone. Enough time had passed, she noted, that she just wished everyone could move on with their lives. It was just bad luck and misfortune.

And with that bit of information in her mind, she had returned to the beyond. Harry sat a while thinking—and he couldn’t really say that Professor Dumbledore didn’t blame anybody, whether that be himself, his brother, or maybe even Grindelwald, for the changed trajectory of his life with his sister’s collapsing health and subsequent death.

For the young Harry, it was an immense lesson on how life can be set on different paths very easily.

Too tired to move, and certainly feeling the strain of exhaustion tugging at every fibre of his body, Harry soon curled up on the floor of the Chamber, wrapped in his overcoat and part of his invisibility cloak—with no thoughts on his mind, if only due to the sheer exhaustion preventing such things from happening.

The next morning, Harry awoke with a headache unlike any other he’d ever had. He felt like his entire body was dehydrated. His muscles were all cramping together, and even the dim light of the Chamber might’ve been liquid fire straight into his eye sockets.

Managing to pick himself up off the marble floor, he dragged himself painfully up the flights of stairs to the hospital wing.

Madam Pomfrey met him as he entered the room, and he didn’t even have to open his mouth before she waved her wand over him and dragged him over to a chair.

“I don’t know how you did it, Harry, but you’re suffering from critical magical exhaustion. I’m surprised you were even able to walk yourself up here.”

“Critical magical exhaustion?”

The matron looked at him seriously before digging around her potions cabinet. “It’s hard to explain, truth told—magic works in such mysterious ways. But sometimes, wix can overexert themselves and their magic, and cause critical exhaustion—where their magic begins to sap energy from the rest of their body to compensate for overworking.”

"Sounds awful... feels awful."

"Well, it is," she said, before handing him a blue potion. "This will help manage your cramps. Go to the Great Hall, have breakfast, and then go back to bed, young man. I will send ahead notes to all your teachers letting them know you're ill."

“Yes ma’am,” Harry murmured before slogging off to the Great Hall for food. His usual portion of food (a modest one, certainly) was doubled today as Harry felt like he could eat an entire horse and then some, and still ask for seconds. After somehow managing to down at least a dozen eggs, several sausages and enough beans and tea to drown the entire Highlands, Harry went to his dormitory and fell asleep quickly.

When he awoke again, he felt much better. Sitting up in bed, he rubbed his eyes and shook off the last bits of pain in his head and looked around. A glass of water had been placed at his bedside, along with a small scroll. Deciding to ignore that for a moment, he opted instead to take a hot shower. It certainly perked him up and got the limberness back in his limbs. Unravelling the scroll, he read it carefully before tucking it into his pocket, downing the glass of water in one swig, and making his way to where he was supposed to be.

That place was, of course, the Headmaster's office. Giving the password to the statue in front of it, Harry made his way up the stairs and found himself once more in the presence of Dumbledore.

"Harry, you certainly seem to have a knack for getting yourself into dangerous situations. Madam Pomfrey tells me you came to see her for critical exhaustion?"

"I must've over done it with the Stone last night," Harry said. "I... spoke to some people. I don't think I really want to do that again, but it was insightful."

"Oh?" Dumbledore said with a raised eyebrow.

Harry looked at him intently for a moment before looking away. "I really wouldn't feel comfortable sharing most of it with anybody, but I did speak to someone important... she says she forgives you," He finished quietly.

"What?"

"Ariana-- your sister. She... she came to me from the stone. Not from it, but I guess it called her. She... you didn't tell me she was only fourteen when she died," Harry said, glaring at the Headmaster, who wilted some. "But we spoke. About you. About... Grindelwald, about what it all meant, and the suffering she endured. She said she just wanted to move onto the next plane of existence, so I helped her do that. She says she forgives you, as long as you forgive yourself."

"Yes, well, please try to not nearly kill yourself with magic next time, Harry. That will be all," Dumbledore said, turning away from his protege and falling silent. Harry intently watched the Headmaster for a moment before bowing his head and leaving the room.

As the room fell silent, a small sniffle could be heard, followed by Fawkes letting out a sad trill.

Chapter Text

The arrival of the Yule holiday was a much-desired reprieve for everyone. Harry and his mothers had made their way to Wulver’s Hollow, hoping to put to one side the nonsense of the first half of the term in preparation for the New Year, and hopefully, a more peaceful end to the school year than last year. Harry was wary about being around Snuffles, however.

The idea that his dog might be (and probably was) the man accused of murdering his parents was concerning. He knew the truth—the spectral remains of his biological parents had assured him there was absolutely no way Sirius was guilty of selling them out, but he was still wholly uncertain what ten years in Azkaban had done to the man’s sanity.

Harry couldn’t trust his adoptive parents to understand wholly—they hadn’t spoken to the literal apparitions of his biological parents; they didn’t know what happened the night at Godric’s Hollow, other than that he had survived an attack from Voldemort with nothing more than a scar and the mastery of a wand he’d never owned.

He reasoned to himself that he’d work things out in time and was in no rush—it was the holidays, after all.

Things on that front got rolling just before Yule. One quiet afternoon, Harry, Minerva and Snuffles went for a walk along the forest trail behind their home. Usually the trail was quite safe-- the sloped hills weren't severely inclined, and the river the trail crossed through was usually safe to traverse, the winter season meant that the ice was thick enough to cross by foot.

They had walked the long trail to its natural conclusion on a cliff-face overlooking the rough North Sea, and then after sitting there for a little while enjoying the natural spectacle, made their way to return home. As they crossed over the iced-over river the second time, the sound of cracking ice made them stop.

"Harry, don't move," Minerva said quietly, before looking around. The crackling sound of ice was never a good thing, a critical sign of impending doom for something or someone. Minerva reached to grab Harry's hand, but as soon as she began to slowly move to take her charge in her hand, the ice beneath Harry gave way, plunging the young man into the rushing river underneath the ice.

There was a sudden flurry of activity as Minerva and Snuffles took off to rescue Harry from the ice. Beneath the water, Harry, thrashing and losing the battle against the onset of hypothermic shock, managed to grip hold of some rocks with his numbing hands. Minerva quickly pulled her wand out and cast a spell, blasting the sheet of ice off the river layer, exposing the area of the creek that contained Harry.

Before Minerva could charge into save her son, Snuffles bounded into the creek and began to transform. Minerva’s words died in her throat as she watched Harry’s loyal canine transform into a man she had hoped she’d never see again.

Sirius Black collected Harry in his arms and carried him back to the shore of the river. Cradling her son in his arms, he stared at his former professor with an intense look and spoke quietly.

“Save it for now, Professor. We need to get Harry to safety.”

Minerva's fearful look soon turned to one of determined maternity, and she nodded once. Raising her wand, Sirius, Harry and Minerva disappeared with a snap. They then rematerialized on the edge of the fence line, with Minerva pushing past the unlocked gate with Sirius behind her. They made their way into the back door of the cottage, and quickly moved to get Harry out of his wet winter clothes.

“Get some blankets, Sirius,” Minerva said with a gesture to the nearby linen closet as she laid Harry down by the fireplace. Waving her wand, she lit a roaring fire and prodded it a bit with a poker to make sure it wouldn’t just go out again.

Sirius returned, and Minerva swaddled the young man in blankets, effectively cocooning him.

"He seems to be alright," Sirius said quietly, watching the young man's shallow breathing closely. He looked back at Minerva and noticed her wand aimed at him. He quietly raised his arms and backed away from Harry.

"Professor, look, I know what you must be thinking-"

"I don't know, Black, what am I thinking? That a mass murderer has been hiding as my son's dog? And not just any mass murderer, but the murderer of James and Lily Potter along with twelve innocent Muggles?"

Sirius scowled. "I didn't do anything of the sort," He protested, folding his arms. "It was all Peter."

"Peter Pettigrew? The young lad who spent his entire life either being afraid of his own shadow, or living in the shadow of your comrades?"

"Do you recall there ever being a trial? They never went through the bothersome process of questioning me, nearly tried to have me executed, and the story they concocted, a blasting curse? How would a blasting curse used to kill Pettigrew leave only a finger? You'd think it'd be a bit bloodier than that!"

Minerva stared at him quietly, before lowering her wand some. “You’re an Animagus. Were… the others?”

“Mostly,” Sirius admitted. “James was a stag, I was a black dog, and Peter…”

“… a rat,” Minerva finished for him, tapping her wand to her cheek in thought. “A rat which would be missing a toe, if I’m not wrong.”

Sirius nodded, and Minerva rubbed her temples. “Bloody hell.”

“And I didn’t escape for any particular reason other than the Ministry was going to push me through the bloody Veil of Death. They just up and had all of us line up one morning, carried us out to one of the bonfires on the island, and told us we were all condemned to death for our crimes. They executed Rookwood, Rabastan Lestrange, and Mulciber—they were getting ready to execute me, Bella and Dolohov, but Bella went nuts after her husband died and nearly ripped a chunk of one of the guards’ face off with her teeth. I escaped in the pandemonium.”

Minerva sat down in her favourite chair with a befuddled look on her face. "If you're right, this could really throw a wrench in everything the Ministry has done since the early 80s."

"And it'd serve the wankers right! They locked me up without a trial and scapegoated me for Harry's fate!"

"We need to tell Dumbledore," Minerva murmured. "Severus will have to come along, with Veritaserum."

"Snivellus," Sirius said with a sour expression on his face. "Right wanker..."

"Now, now, Sirius. Surely after ten years you can let go of a schoolboy feud?" Minerva asked, raising an eyebrow.

"It was a bit more than a feud, Professor... this was... something else."

Minerva watched him carefully before nodding. She glanced at the fireplace. “I suppose instant floo communication is out of the question—I suppose I’ll have to do something different. Since Hogwarts isn’t far, and this doesn’t seem to be… a pressing problem, I’m sure an owl can muster a quick trip.”

Sirius sat quietly in the den while Minerva ran to her study to compose a quick letter to Dumbledore. After a few minutes, Minerva returned. She gave Sirius a once over look and turned her lips up in disapproval.

“Sirius, go upstairs and bathe. I’m sure you’d like a hot bath after years of getting flea baths,” She said dryly.

“Like you wouldn’t believe, Professor.”

“Minerva will do,” She said. “You’re not my student anymore. I will remedy your rags once you’re done.” She said idly, glancing at his tattered prison uniform which was still damp from his wading through the frozen water, and the collection of snow that had since melted.

Sirius disappeared upstairs, and Minerva took up the watch sitting quietly in the den. She summoned a bottle of firewhiskey and took a deep swig of it before the sound of knocking on the door alerted her. Opening the door, she found Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape, their hands drifting towards their wands.

Dumbledore’s steeled look vanished and he gave his Deputy a serene smile.

“Good day, Minerva. I got your letter and came with celerity. Is Harry alright?”

“His breathing’s gotten better now that he’s been warming up. Once he’s awake, I’ll feed him something hot like broth, or soup or something.”

Albus nodded, and he and Severus crossed the threshold and shed their coats, the door closing behind them.

“Ah, where is Sirius?” Albus asked, glancing around.

“Upstairs, taking a warm bath. He waded into the river to save Harry, and well… he hasn’t got a wand, so I’m not particularly worried about him escaping. He wouldn’t get far before succumbing to exposure.”

Albus gave a quiet nod and sat down on the nearby loveseat. Severus dug out a small paper package from his pocket and handed it to Minerva.

“In this package contains two doses of Veritaserum, and one of Frostfall—the Frostfall should help Mister Potter recover from this episode.”

Minerva nodded. “Thank you, Severus.”

“Where’s Rolanda, Minerva?” Albus asked.

“Visiting her mother for the day,” Minerva muttered, pouring herself another shot of firewhiskey.

Once he’d gotten himself looking more presentable, Sirius sat down in one of the living room chairs, glaring at Severus who seemed to be quite pleased at having such a vast amount of power over his former childhood enemy. Accepting the Veritaserum willingly, Sirius downed the entire vial in one shot, shivering at the taste. His eyes soon glazed over, taking on a distant, almost haunted look.

“What is your name?” Severus asked, his voice drawling.

“Sirius Orion Black.”

“Place of birth?” Albus asked.

“Durovernum, England.”

Albus nodded and looked at Minerva.

“The Veritaserum seems to be working as intended… but still, let’s begin by asking a question we already know the answer to, just in case,” He said, before turning back to Sirius.

“Sirius, have you been posing as Harry Potter’s dog?”

“Yes,”

“Why?”

“To protect him.”

“From whom?”

“Peter Pettigrew.”

“Peter Pettigrew? He’s dead, you killed him,” Severus said, glaring at Sirius.

“I did not kill Peter Pettigrew—he escaped before I could kill him.”

“Why did you try to kill him?” Albus asked, raising an eyebrow.

“He betrayed James and Lily.”

“You were not the Secret-Keeper?” Albus asked, clearly alarmed.

“No. When we were preparing to put them under the Fidelius, Remus and I decided to switch the Secret-Keeper to Peter. I was too obvious of a target.”

Severus looked at Sirius and then back at Albus. “I would caution you, Headmaster. Any Auror worth a damn would be skilled in Occlumency. He would have a resistance to Veritaserum and may be telling us falsehoods.”

"It correlates with what Harry told me before the holiday," Albus said quietly.

"Harry told you?" Minerva asked, raising her eyebrow in disbelief.

"Harry, in the process of becoming Master of Death, informed me that he communed with the spirits of his parents who protested Sirius' innocence."

"And we're supposed to believe that?" Severus said, unamused.

"No," Minerva said. "But, we do have something else to go on."

She stood up and approached Sirius, carefully observing the man.

“Sirius, are you an Animagus?”

“Yes.”

“Was James Potter an Animagus? If so, what form does he take?”

“Yes, and he was a stag.”

“Was Peter Pettigrew an Animagus? If so, what form does he take?”

“Yes, and he was a rat.”

Minerva glanced at Albus. "One of the duties I tend to at Hogwarts is approving or denying familiars that fall outside of the standard three permitted types of pets. There was exactly one time in the last... ten years or so, that I got a request to permit someone to bring a rat. Percy Weasley brought me said rat, and I noted one... particular feature of the creature that Mr. Weasley was unable to explain."

"Minerva?"

"The rat was missing a toe."

"Just like... the finger at the scene of the murder," Albus murmured, glancing at Severus.

Severus sighed. "It does seem very coincidental, Headmaster. Are we supposed to just trust that Black is wholly truthful with us?"

“It seems to be far too many coincidences to be anything other than the truth, Severus,” Albus said gently, before nodding. “I am inclined to believe Mister Black for the moment. Until the events of that tragic night, there was truly little to suggest Sirius was a dark wizard. In fact, if he were a dark wizard, I doubt he would have gone out of his way to save Harry—potentially exposing himself to frostbite, gangrene, and other maladies in the process.”

Albus nodded, as if accepting his own logic.

“And he’s had plenty of opportunities to abscond with Harry,” Minerva admitted. “Even in the brief time he was here before Harry left for Hogwarts.”

A few hours of intense interrogation later, Severus and Albus had exhausted their lines of inquiry at last, and Albus let out an annoyed sigh and took a seat next to Minerva.

“The largest miscarriage of justice in generations,” Albus said quietly. “A man falsely sent to prison and subjected to ten years of psychological torture,”

“Not to mention the Ministry trying to execute me,” Sirius commented, earning stiff looks from Albus and Severus.

“… They did what?” Albus said, fire in his eyes.

“Tried to execute me and the rest of the Death Eater block. Apparently Minister Fudge and his Undersecretary, some bint named Dolores Umbridge, signed off on death warrants for all of us—they got Rookwood, Rabastan Lestrange and Mulcair. I escaped after Bella took a chunk out of one of our guards.”

Severus glanced at Harry, who was awake now, and weakly eating soup and some toast. He kept his desired words to himself for now.

Minerva rubbed her eyes. “Is he staying here, Albus?”

“It is the safest place for him right now,” Albus said with a nod. “If that’s alright with you, Minerva.”

Minerva scratched the back of her neck and shrugged. "I suppose, we've got enough room here for him, and he's been living here for ages anyway. He’ll have to wear a glamour or be Snuffles when he’s not inside, the last thing we want is for a neighbour or someone in town to come by and find out that a wanted man is living here."

“We’ll think of something, this is quite a large property, could just be someone tending to the animals while you’re at Hogwarts. You said you had one of the locals doing it.”

“Aye,” Minerva said, tapping her finger to her chin. “Rollie and I have been considering planting some things and growing both food and potion supplies, but we’ve been reluctant to commit to it. I think Sirius will make that a much easier decision to make.”

Albus smiled.

“Wonderful,” He said, beaming. “Things will work out, I’m sure of it.”

The following morning, Sirius finally awoke and stretched the painful tension out of his muscles. Sitting up in the chair, he peered around the dim living room and let out a quiet sigh.

“You’re awake,” Minerva said, causing Sirius to nearly snap his neck as he craned to looked at her. Descending the stairs, she took a seat in a nearby couch and looked at him carefully.

“It is difficult to trust you, Sirius,” She said, shaking her head. “I know you mean no harm, but I genuinely cannot leave a single thing to chance with Harry. He and Rolanda are two of the most important things that have come into my life. I’m sure you understand the sentiment.”

Sirius nodded in agreement.

“That being said,” She said, conjuring two mugs of tea from the kitchen. “You were one of my favourite Gryffindors.”

“Minerva, you old softy,” Sirius said quietly. “Thanks.”

The older Transfiguration professor grinned mischievously—clearly all those years of tormenting her had rubbed off, Sirius noted, feeling suddenly like he was a fish in front of a shark.

“Of course, you won’t mind helping out around here, I assume?”

“What do you mean?” Sirius asked, feeling increasingly unnerved by the Scotswoman’s uncharacteristic grin.

“Well, Rolanda and I have been thinking about growing crops and potion supplies on our land for some time, but we haven’t really had the labour to do it. Since you’re here, and you’re still quite a young, strapping man, you wouldn’t mind lending a hand with that?”

Sirius blinked, and started laughing with his familiar barking laugh.

“You’ve got me pinned, Minerva. Sure, why not. It’ll be a refreshing change from rotting in a prison cell or smelling like wet dog for weeks at a time.”

“Good, but today we’re going to go and get a few things. Albus insists that you need a proper wand. He told us not to go out of our way to be super fancy, though. I wonder what the old man is up to.”

After raising Harry from the depths of slumber, the trio were lounging about downstairs when the fireplace roared to life and Dumbledore stepped through—dressed very much unlike his usual Hogwarts attire.

Instead of his hair everywhere, and long, flowing silk robes, he was now wearing a dark purple vest, white dress shirt, and a tie that seemed to have the depth and radiance of the cosmos. His hair was pinned back, and he very much looked like a “hip and trendy” Muggle biker—or something like it.

“Albus,” Minerva said, blinking rapidly and rubbing her eyes. “What’s with the sudden change in fashion?”

“Where we’re going, I don’t need to present myself in a Merlin-esque way,” the Headmaster said with an amused tone of voice.

He cast his eyes down to Harry. “I’m sure Harry will have a splendid time,” He said with mirth in his voice.

“Where exactly are we going, Headmaster?” Sirius asked, raising an eyebrow.

Albus smiled and drew a simple scroll from his vest pocket. “Take hold, everyone, you too Harry.”

Harry approached the scroll carefully before grasping onto it with Sirius and his mother. Albus cleared his throat and said something in a language Harry didn’t understand, and he felt a sudden hook behind his belly, somewhere around the navel—and the world began to spin around him.

The world stopped spinning after a few moments, and Harry rubbed his head and looked around. The building they were in was a vastly different one than the cottage. The architecture was white marble, and the lighting wasn’t too different than the Slytherin commons—balls of silver light bathing the whole room, leaving nearly nothing hidden to shadows.

Albus waved his wand over the assembled group, and suddenly Harry began to understand some of the conversations flying around him.

“I’ve just cast a translation charm, it’ll let you understand any language I do. It’ll wear off in about a day,” Albus said with a smile. “But that’s long enough for us to do our business here.”

All travellers—welcome to Pella International Portkey Hub. Foreign visitors, please proceed to Customs.

“Pella? We’re in Macedonia?” Minerva asked, surprised.

“One of the wandmakers here owes me a favour,” Albus said with a smile. “Also, nobody can dispute the sheer quality of Macedonian wands. I would’ve called in a favour from one of my good friends in Langobardia, but I figured, in recompense for all his suffering—Sirius deserved something… of higher quality.”

After a quick pass through customs in which Albus played the “President of the ICW” card to get express clearance through Customs, the three finally hit the streets of Pella with maps in hand. As they walked, Albus began to talk.

“Have any of you visited Pella before?”

There was a murmuring of ‘no’, and Albus nodded.

“I’ve been here a few times in my youth—the pride of Macedonian history, the ancient capital that served as the seat of many Kings and Emperors. Of course, Alexander the Great moved the capital from here to Babylon, but the viceroyalties and subsequent independent states have always called Pella their capital. The city has obviously changed through the centuries, but you can still see a lot of the old touches here.”

A brief ride on Pella’s underground later, the three emerged from a tucked away stop in a smaller, cosier neighbourhood in the Eastern part of the city. The shopfronts that lined the street were primarily dealing in wixen wares, which reminded Harry much of Diagon Alley, but perhaps even older.

“This is the Magos Agora—the largest magical market in Macedon, our wandmaker should be just up ahead,”

Damokles’ Rhabdoi was written on the sign, making Harry further marvel at the fact that the Headmaster had given him the brief ability to read something written in a completely foreign language. The building wasn’t as old as Harry expected it to be in such an ancient capital, but he wagered not everyone seemed to be as ancient and wizened as Ollivander was.

Entering the building, a magical chime sounded out across the small shop, and a grey-haired Greek with a long beard appeared at the counter, grinning.

“Greetings! How can I be-” He began, before he stopped what he was doing and adjusted his glasses in shock. “Dear me, Albus Dumbledore in the flesh.”

“Indeed, it is, Damokles—how is my old friend doing?”

“Doing fine. Just fine,” He said, the grin returning to his face. He glanced down at Harry. “Is this the young Harry Potter you told me about? The bearer of the Elder Wand?”

Albus nodded quietly. “Yes, but he is not the reason we’re here today, Damokles. My friend here,” He gestured to Sirius. “Lost his wand over a decade ago, and I promised him I’d acquire for him a new one. I thought of no man I trust more with wands than you.”

“You’re always such a charmer, Albus,” The Greek man said, laughing. “Of course, I can help this gentleman get fitted for a new wand. Tell me, lad, what’s your dominant arm?”

Sirius raised his right arm. “Right,”

“Got it. Let’s see what we can do for you, my boy,” Damokles said, tapping a finger to his face as he glanced at the wall of wands behind him. “Ah, let’s try this one,”

He pulled it from the slot in the wall and flipped it open. He then extended it towards Sirius, who took it in his hand.

“Foreign imported wood—larch, with a dragon heartstring, 23 centimetres long.”

Sirius waved it once or twice and the wandmaker tutted. “No, this won’t work,”

He took the wand back from Sirius and began plodding around looking for a new one, before producing a second wand.

“Try this one instead. 25 centimetres, made of domestic laurel wood, with Thunderbird tail feather.”

Sirius waved the wand once, and a shower of blue and white sparks rained from it, earning a nod of approval from the wandmaker. “An excellent match, I’d say.”

“Thunderbird tail feather?”

“Frankly, more common in the countries of Atlantis than here, but not wholly rare either,” the wandmaker said critically, nodding his head.

Sirius nodded, and glanced at his new wand, and then back at Albus who was smiling broadly.

“To be honest, they’re quite difficult to master, it requires a certain… way of thinking to really take advantage of them, but I imagine you’ll do just fine, Mister Black.”

“I agree wholly,” Albus said.

After arranging this as a fulfilment of the favour he had promised Albus, the three left the shop and explored the rest of the Agora. A few shops caught each person’s eye, and Albus talked at great length about some of the vibrant temples and cultural hotspots in Macedonia.

The return to the portkey office was a quick journey on the same underground. However, as they approached, they found the area cordoned off by a group of men in purple robes.

“Phulaxoi,” Albus said. “They’re the Macedonian equivalent to Aurors.”

Approaching the cordoned off area, Albus quickly flagged down the obvious leader of the squad of phulaxoi—the man’s robe was the same rich purple as the others but had silver trimmings. Albus quietly conversed with the man before returning to the small party of people.

“It seems there was an incident at Customs. All portkeys in and out of Pella have been suspended until tomorrow afternoon. The commander was apologetic and recommended some local places to stay until then.”

“Can’t we just apparate home?” Harry asked.

“Unfortunately, not,” Albus said. “International apparition is possible, young Harry, but the risk of splinching rapidly increases the farther you go from your origin point. Even myself, I could probably safely apparate us as far as Roma, but beyond that, the risk of one of us being seriously injured is high. Besides—there’s still plenty to do in Pella.”

“I should really send a missive to Rollie—let her know we’re not in the country,” Minerva said, scratching her chin.

“That’s probably for the best,” Albus said with a nod. “There’s a polybikos nearby that might be of some help.”

The polybikos, Harry found out, was the Macedonian equivalent of a post office.

He’d seen the muggle post offices a few times, and he’d seen what owleries were like back in Britain, but the polybikos was a far different sort of affair. Instead of relying on actual owls to do courier service from one end of a country to another, they used much larger bronze birds in waves carrying a whole number of things.

“Welcome, how may I be of assistance?” The stern-faced clerk asked.

“I’d like to send a letter to my wife back in Britain,” Minerva said. “How would I go about doing that?”

The woman’s stern face broke a bit and she gave a quaint smile. “It’s pretty easy. Just over there, you can compose your message. Bring it back to me with an address and we’ll dispatch it for you.”

“What would the cost be?”

“Typically, a simple letter carries the simple fee of one tetradrachm.”

A single tetradrachm, bearing the face of the current Basileus of Macedon dropped onto the table from Albus’ pocket. The man smiled serenely, and the clerk gave a nod.

“As I said, just head over there and fill out your letter, and then come back and we’ll dispatch it, here,” A ticket appeared from seemingly nowhere, the woman stamped it, and handed it to Minerva.

The trio made their way over to one of the stations and Minerva quickly composed a letter to Rolanda, informing her of their overnight stay in Pella, and that she’d be back as soon as was humanly possible. She also included a brief message to give her love to her parents.

Once they made the circuit back to the clerk, the clerk nodded and began to quickly work away at preparing the message for sending.

“Your name, please?”

“Minerva McGonagall,”

“Ah, Minerva! A wonderful name, even if a bit… Latin.”

“My parents always admired the goddess’ wisdom, even if they were Christians.”

The clerk nodded.

“Name of the recipient and address?”

Minerva relayed the name and address to the clerk, who gave a satisfied nod and placed a slip of paper in the mouth of one of the docked bronze birds. The bird seemed to become animated and live, ruffling its bronze feathers in annoyance at being awake. It looked at the clerk who offered it the letter. Taking the letter in its talons, it took off through one of the portholes in the wall.

“Thank you, Mrs. McGonagall. We appreciate your business.”

“Thank you,” Minerva said with a nod. The trio once again spilled out into the streets of Pella. Minerva peered at Albus and said. “What now?”

“Now, Minerva, we enjoy the remainder of our day. I will make the necessary arrangements at a nearby hotel while the three of you enjoy your afternoon. There is much to see in this very ancient city. Shall we meet up in the central plaza around 5?”

Minerva nodded. “I believe that will be acceptable, Albus.”

“Wonderful!”

Albus then began to walk away from the group. Peering around, Minerva looked at Sirius who shrugged.

“Why don’t we go see the Alexandrine Temple? I’ve heard it’s one of the largest Hellenic temples in the world. Probably second to the Temple of Hephaestion in Ecbatana.”

“Where’s Ecbatna?” Harry asked, confused.

“Ecbatana, Harry,” Sirius said with a smile, “is a major city in Persea.”

“Harry probably doesn’t know a whole awful lot about world history. You know, Harry—Sirius is quite well versed in Hellenic history. Albus has the benefit of having visited this place several times, but I think our Mister Black knows his way around the topic.” Minerva said with a mischievous smile on her face.

“Indeed, I may not know Pella very well, but I do know the history of this country quite well. You see, Harry… you can really trace the modern history of Macedonia to the reign of a man named Alexander. In the year we know as 336 BC, he ascended to the throne of Macedon after the death of his father, Philip II. Thus, began a great reign that certainly changed the face of Earth…”

The Alexandrine Temple was remarkably busy, it turned out. The large courtyard outside of the temple was bustling with people, with the sounds of food being prepared, a large bonfire, and a whole assortment of things that certainly looked interesting.

Sirius scratched his head, before stopping a passing Macedonian woman to gather more information about what was going on.

“Excuse me, ma’am. You see, the three of us, we’re uh, not local. What’s going on?”

The woman blinked. “Ah, foreigners, I take it. Today’s the winter solstice, and the festival to the king of the sea, Poseidon. It’s something that happens every year.”

“Why?”

“An ancient custom we’ve followed for our entire history, to give safe passage and divine overwatch for sailors and merchants as they make their way to other countries. It’s sort of turned into something else over the years and becomes a great festival of affirmation of love and passion.”

“Is it… public?”

“Oh, yes! It’s tons of fun. Everyone feasts, there’s a tribute to Poseidon at the big bonfire. It’s still religious to some degree, but it hasn’t carried significant religious overtones in years. I think at this point, it’s more for public enjoyment than faith.”

“Thanks,” Sirius said, and the woman beamed at him.

“No problem,” She replied, before carrying on with her day.

The trio made their way across the street to the festival grounds. A man was talking in fervent and rapid Macedonian to a man wearing a reflection vest, pointing at numerous points near the doors to the Alexandrine Temple, and then back to a sound stage. After the man in the reflective vest left, he shook his head and turned around. He stopped.

“Professor McGonagall?”

Minerva blinked. “Septimius Michaels! Good lord, how long has it been?”

“You handed me my certification, so… 24 years, or something like that. Either way, what brings you all the way out here?”

“Well, we were buying a wand for someone, and Albus had a favour to call in here in Macedonia,” Minerva explained. “Also, Albus is quite serious about getting Harry out to see the world,”

Septimius’ eyes dropped to Harry and he grinned. “Oh my, is this really Harry Potter? Goodness, quite a strapping young man.”

Harry smiled quietly, and Sirius glanced around.

“You’re responsible for all this?” He asked.

“Well, aye, I am the Mayor of Pella, after all, good man,” Septimius grinned ear to ear. “Master of ceremonies for the grand Harvest Festival. Are you three staying for the festivities?”

“The Portkey office is closed temporarily, so yes, we’re going to be here until tomorrow,” Sirius said, shrugging. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Septimius.”

“Likewise, good sir,” Septimius said with a chortle. “Well, either way, enjoy yourselves, the three of you. There’s plenty of food and fun to be had, and a spectacular light show tonight once the sun sets.”

After spending the morning and early afternoon exploring the festival grounds, the trio were preparing to leave before they spotted Albus emerging from the underground.

“Albus! We were just leaving to head to the central plaza,” Minerva said, and Albus gave a shrug.

“I forgot today was the Solstice and that everyone would be here enjoying the festivities. Merlin, I haven’t been to one of these festivals in years,” Albus said with a grin.

Once the sun began to set, the festival began in earnest. Men and women in white and orange robes lit the massive bonfire and made sacrificial offerings to Poseidon and Alexandros Megas in exchange for the watchful care of their sailors, and for the fertility of the fields and people.

Once the sun had vanished beyond the horizon, the sky began to light up with fireworks—a variety of colours, nearly every shade Harry knew of exploded with various patterns and fancy designs. Harry’s attention on the fireworks broke when he noticed people pairing off. A festival to fertility was perhaps the perfect place for romantic entanglements.

“We should probably leave, I think we’re a little out of our element,” Sirius commented, glancing at two young men snogging each other at a nearby stall.

“Indeed,” Albus commented.

As they made their way to the hotel Albus had arranged for them to sleep in for the evening, Harry idly contemplated romance and love, perhaps as a side effect of being around such massive releases of pheromones, or such public displays of affection between people who seemed to genuinely enjoy carnal pleasures.

He had noticed girls before, and they’d occupied his thoughts a little more often lately than he would have liked… but he also noted that boys occupied his thoughts just as much. Particularly in quiet times he spent with Neville in the greenhouse.

The boy’s confidence had really come up, and with it, Harry’s attentions.

Was that unusual? Was it common? He wasn’t quite sure. All Harry knew for certain was that he’d woken up more than one time feeling awfully strange but had been too mortified to ask anybody about it.

He glanced at his mother for a moment, and came to the determination it wasn’t unusual, but probably not the norm either. His mothers loved each other very much, as did Dumbledore and his old flame-turned-foe. Was there a word for what Harry felt?

As he fell asleep, he resolved to ask as soon as possible—he craved answers. More than that, the directness of the Macedonians, and the festival had given him inspiration to maybe act on some of these feelings.

The following morning, the group were seated around a quiet breakfast table. Everyone was seemingly minding their own business, Albus poking through a copy of the Daily Prophet, Sirius drinking a cup of coffee with his eyes closed, Minerva reading a light novel and occasionally taking forkfuls of egg. Harry decided that now, surrounded by three adults he… mostly trusted all the same, it would be the best time to approach his line of questioning.

“Erm,” Harry said, setting his fork down. “Mum, you know how… you like girls? And… Headmaster, you know how you liked your friend?”

The three adults blinked, stopped what they were doing, and all looked at Harry.

“Well… is it… weird to like both?” Harry asked.

“No, not at all,” Sirius said, smiling. “I’d wager you’re still a little young to be getting into all that sort of nonsense, there’s plenty of time for that when you’re older—but no, being bisexual, that’s what it’s called, by the way, isn’t a terrible thing. It can be quite the opposite, truth told.”

“I once had a male paramour before I met our Lala,” Minerva said with a nod of agreement. “His name was Dougal McGregor, he was a local Muggle, the son of a farmer back in Caithness… we met not long after I finished at Hogwarts, and I had returned home in anticipation of taking a job at the Ministry the following year… goodness, that was… 40 years ago?”

She shook her head.

“I loved him very much, but my own mother’s sacrifices when she married my father came to mind, and I found myself unwilling to forsake and abandon the world that I had come to love to be a housewife. I dedicated myself to a job at the Ministry and later, my job at Hogwarts. I met Rolanda there, and the relationship that followed has been some of the best times of my life.”

“I remember catching you both snogging in a closet when I tried to bag Mary Snow,” Sirius said with a smirk on his face. “I didn’t get any detentions from her for all of fifth year because of that.” He said, winking conspiratorially at Harry.

Minerva glared at Sirius and brandished her fork at him silently. “I should’ve put you in a kennel, young man.” She said.

Sirius raised his hands in surrender, and Albus chuckled.

“I quite agree with these sorts of sentiments,” He said after taking a drink of his tea. “My relationship with… well, certain men, were not the only times I fell in love. Of course, in my youth, relationships were far more complicated than what any of your generations have dealt with.”

“Either way,” Albus continued. “I have had many paramours in my century and change on this Earth, of both male and female persuasion. And, truthfully, there’s no shame in that.”

“Should I ever be exonerated, perhaps you’ll get to meet my love of my life,” Sirius said. “If he ever takes me back, that is. I’ve had some girlfriends in my time. I find men… or rather, one man more than enough for me, but I am certainly as bisexual as the day is long.”

“Huh,” Harry said. “Are all wixen bisexual?”

“No,” Minerva said. “To be honest, we usually give third- and fourth-year students some run down on what romantic and sexual interaction looks like in the wixen world, ultimately to keep them from doing something stupid like shagging and getting pregnant at 15; but I can give you a very boiled down version. Ultimately, Harry, it just depends. Some prefer the company of same sexes, opposite sex, or even have interests that mean searching for relations within the family or beyond it. It just really depends on the person.”

Minerva counted on her fingers, “For instance, your parents chose a monogamous relationship—they were quite dedicated to each other in the end. Some of their fellow students ended up in a bigamous relationship, open relationships, all sorts of things.”

“Generally speaking—you needn’t worry about it. There might be some grumblings from traditional thinkers about not creating more children for the good of the wixen population, but there are orphans out there who have no parents at all,” Minerva said. “And some of them turn out to be wonderful additions to a family in need of a child to care for, wouldn’t you agree?”

Harry beamed at his mother.

Of course, this was an effective way to resolve some of his lingering questions about the conflicting feelings he was having towards two of his friends, but something still felt… off, and he wasn’t quite sure what.

He shrugged to himself and decided to deal with it later.

The group returned to Britain unharmed. Albus had made plans to avoid overt Ministry attentions, first by routing the portkey through Rome and then Antverp, before making the side-along apparition jump from there to the Scottish Highlands. Overall, just shy of fifteen minutes between their departure from Pella to their arrival at the front door of the McGonagall-Hooch cottage.

Rolanda had been waiting, idly reading through a new book, when she noticed the four people entering the house.

Albus had quickly excused himself to return to Hogwarts to ensure Fatimah was properly fed and that everything hadn’t burnt down while he was away and left it up to Minerva to explain to Rolanda the entirety of what had transpired over the last few days.

After fussing over Harry for a few minutes out of sheer concern, Rolanda stared at Sirius intently.

“Madam Hooch, I-… erm, well,” Sirius said, unable to find his confidence or voice under the sharp, eagle-eyed glare of the flying instructor.

“You saved my son, and for that I am grateful. But do not assume I won’t have my eyes on you, Black. I hope you’re ready to do some work around here.”

“You’re taking me in and shielding me from the authorities… I’ll do whatever it is you want,” Sirius said, an uncertain smile on his face.

Rolanda nodded approvingly, before motioning for him to follow.

“Since I don’t teach any classes other than flying during the first part of the term, I have quite a bit of downtime in between Quidditch matches. I’ve been drawing up some plans on how we can make the most out of the land we own here…”

After a fascinating Yule in which Harry received more than he could’ve hoped for from his friends and family, the time to return to Hogwarts seemed finally at hand, and with it, Harry had a short agenda of the things he wanted to get done.

The first thing he wanted to conquer—he wanted to make sure Ginny wasn’t still having problems, and if necessary, reassure her that Parseltongue wasn’t the worst thing in the world to have. It was quite a cool skill to gain with minimal effort.

The second thing—he was more determined than ever to sort out what he was feeling and put things into boxes and categories he could deal with. Organization of life matters was a godsend, he reasoned. Always good to have.

And third—he wanted to finish the term out without another trip to the hospital wing, and without missing out on anything of importance—this meant no murderous professors, no destinies to fulfil right away, nothing of the sort. If he could get through one year at Hogwarts without having to be the centre of some national crisis, he’d be a happy person.

To that end, he felt he’d need to have a brief conversation with one of the Weasley family.

After settling into his compartment for the return journey, Harry patiently waited for the familiar sight of the redheaded family. About an hour before the train was set to depart, the familiar gaggle of redheads appeared onto the platform, and began to sort and board the train. As Ron passed by, Harry whipped the door open and yanked the redhead into the carriage compartment.

“Ron! Just the bloke I was looking for,” Harry said. “I wanted to talk to you.”

“What about, Harry?” Ron asked, plopping down onto the bench seat across from Harry.

“Well, I wanted to know how your sister was faring.”

“The healers say she’s good to go back to Hogwarts, but she’s still dealing with some of the effects of that diary. She’s not coming back right away, she’s got a few more days at St. Mungo’s before they’re letting her return, they said the return festivities might be too much for her.”

“Well,” Harry said with a sigh. “When she does get back, I’d be happy to talk to her about being a Parseltongue. It’s not a terrible, dark thing unless you make it that way. Who knows, maybe she’ll come to like being able to communicate with snakes.”

Ron looked uneasy at the idea but nodded. “I’ll let her know, I suppose. It’s really up to her,”

“Of course, of course.”

Just then, the door opened, and Neville poked his head in.

“There you are, I was wondering what compartment you lot were in,” he said with a relieved sigh. “Mind if I…?”

“Of course, Neville, you know you’re always a pleasure to be around,” Harry said, smiling.

For a split fraction of a second, Harry swore that he saw Neville blush some, and he quickly came into the compartment and sat down, taking a seat next to Ron.

“I guess we’re just waiting for Draco—if he’s not off being a right dobber.”

“Merlin, I keep forgetting you’re Scottish,” Ron said. “My Dad has to deal with a Scottish bloke in his department and I swear, the man doesn’t speak English.”

“Mum made sure I spoke the language of savages before I came to Hogwarts, but that doesn’t mean I’m a complete numpty at my own tongue.” Harry looked thoughtful for a moment before smiling.

“Tha a' bàta-falbhain agam loma-làn easgannan.”

Neville and Ron looked at each other and then at Harry.

“My hovercraft is full of eels,” Harry said, warranting further confused looks.

“And you call yourselves English. Purebloods! I swear! Well, that settles it, I know what I’m getting you two bastards for your birthdays. I can’t believe you’ve never heard of Monty Python.”

The two exchanged confused looks before shrugging.

The very first thing Harry did upon his arrival back at Hogwarts was visit Hermione. He had a little bit of time before the New Year Feast and felt awful that his friend would miss it. The chaos around the basilisk and Tom Riddle and Ginny were all such awful matters, and Harry would’ve vastly preferred having her around to help with the problem.

Madam Pomfrey made her usual fretting check over Harry to make sure he was eating right, before escorting him to his inanimate friend.

“Professor Sprout mentioned she was very close to harvest,” Madam Pomfrey said with a quiet nod towards Hermione. “She’s likely to be woken up soon.”

“That’s good,” Harry said morosely. He crushed the annoying feelings bubbling up in his chest, almost wishing he was part-Vulcan, so he could push the emotions down and come back to them in a time where it was more salient.

“I’m confused, Hermione,” Harry admitted quietly, scratching his head. “I talked to Mum, and Dumbledore, and Sirius about it… and they say it’s not bad to feel this way, but I really like you, and I really like Neville. How can I… y’know, deal with that? I see fifth and sixth years snogging when the Professors and stuff aren’t looking, and I dunno how to deal with the feelings I have.”

Harry shook his head.

“Ugh. Well, Yule was interesting,” Harry said to his inanimate companion. “Lots of interesting things happened, but I’ll tell you once you’re awake.”

He made his way to the return feast and largely ran on autopilot through the festivities and navigating the social currents before returning to the Slytherin dorm and quickly falling asleep without much of a second thought about the goings-on.

The weeks after returning from the Yule holiday melted by, leading up to yet another holiday. The holiday of ‘Love Day’, which existed in so many cultures as a time to, as obviously named, express love and affection, had never been Harry’s favourite day. He had gotten a surprisingly high number of valentines the previous year, most of which were laced with incredibly forbidden love potions from varying girls and boys who sought out the status symbol of being associated with “The Boy-Who-Lived”.

This year wasn’t massively different. Girls (and some boys!) fawned over his athleticism, his long hair, and his mischievous smile when he wasn’t worried out of his wits by the goings-on of the time.

This time, Neville was his absolute saviour.

The young man had asked Harry if he wanted to hide out in one of the greenhouses, and Harry had sprung at the opportunity. The greenhouse in question was in fact one of the private ones, usually out-of-bounds to students.

“Professor Sprout gave you the password to this place?” Harry asked as they entered the quiet greenhouse.

“Yeah,” Neville said, grinning. “She really likes me, and she says I do splendid work in Herbology. It’s also super safe here, this is where she just keeps Muggle plants—sort of her hobby when she’s not dealing with poisonous wix plants.”

Harry and Neville spent some time doing some replanting and tending to the various Muggle plants that lined the greenhouses’ shelves. After two hours of that, Neville pulled his gloves off and began to rummage through his pocket.

“Harry, I sorta had my own reasons for dragging you down here today,” Neville admitted, blushing a bit. “I wanted to give you this,”

Harry’s heart skipped as he noticed Neville pulling out a paper heart from his pocket. Harry gently took it from his friends’ hand and opened it.

The writing was nervous, sloppy and clearly had a lot of thought behind it. Harry looked at Neville, who was grinning sheepishly.

“I never asked you if you were into blokes, but… I figured that I’m sorta used to awkwardness and-”

Harry cut off Neville by kissing him on the lips, like he’d seen in some graphic novels as a kid, and seen his mothers do from time to time. Pulling back, Harry looked off into the distance for a minute.

“That was nice,” Harry said quietly. “I could give it a whirl, what do you think?”

“It could work—we can get away here on the weekends if you want,” Neville offered, smiling.

“I’d like that,” Harry murmured. He made a note to himself that had to ask his mothers about what someone did in a romantic relationship. Merlin—how confusing. He really did like Neville—and he did think he was kind of cute… Harry reasoned he’d just let things roll for awhile and see how it went.

He returned to the castle later that day for tea with his mothers, as he did every so often. Minerva, Rolanda and Harry sat quietly in the Deputy Headmistress’ office, enjoying cups of varying types of tea.

“Did you get any well-wishes from anyone?” Rolanda asked, glancing over at her son.

Harry nodded. “I did! Um,” He blushed some, looking away from his mothers. “I got one from Neville Longbottom—you know, the Gryffindor bloke I’ve been partnering with in Herbology and Potions. He and I… kissed in one of the greenhouses after we worked on some Muggle plants.”

“Goodness gracious! You had your first kiss?” Minerva exclaimed, blinking. “Oh, that’s just wonderful, Harry! Neville is such a sweet boy, if a little nervous in temperament. It’s so nice to see young, innocent romance.”

“I’m still a little confused,” Harry said, furrowing his brow. “What do couples do, exactly?”

“At your age?” Rolanda said, glancing at Minerva. “Not much—you’re certainly too young to go about like some of these jumped up hormone machines you call fellow students. I can’t begin to tell you how many young boys and girls I find in my broom sheds trying to swallow each other’s tongues.”

Minerva cleared her throat.

“At such an early age, Harry—I would say just be inquisitive,” She said, sipping her tea.

Harry nodded, before scratching his head. “I mean, I liked kissing him, but, I dunno,” He said.

“I’m sure many young girls and some boys will be jealous, you are quite the athlete, my son,” Minerva said, smirking. Harry blushed at the insinuation and looked distressed.

“Muummm!” Harry whined.

Harry’s relationship with Neville wasn’t the most romantic thing ever, they were children after all. They would abscond down to the greenhouses on the weekends; they’d work on plants for Professor Sprout, hold hands and talk about whatever they fancied—Harry found great amusement in talking to Neville about some Muggle things the pureblood boy had never interacted with before.

Shortly after Love Day, Harry honoured the agreement he’d made with Ron—and with the help of Minerva, began to meet up with Ginny during free periods to help her come to terms with her abilities as a Parseltongue. As it was, Harry needed help with starting to clean some of the debris out of the Chamber.

Ginny was, understandably so, immensely recalcitrant to re-enter the Chamber of Secrets, but Harry insisted on it—saying that Fatimah wanted to apologize for her transgressions, if nothing else.

And so, it was, in late February, that Ginevra Weasley met Fatimah, the Basilisk of Hogwarts. The basilisk’s beautiful golden eyes peered carefully at the small redhead before the basilisk opened her mouth and spoke.

Hatchling. I am so sorry that you suffered at the hands of the False Heir. If I could do something to make it up to you, I would.

Ginny reluctantly extended her hand towards the basilisk’s face, and gently placed her hand between the two eyes. The serpentine creature closed its eyes and Harry almost swore he could see it smile.

I forgive you,” Ginny said, before looking startled.

“Most Parseltongues,” Harry began. “once we’ve learned the skill, it sorta… automatically switches between languages, at least when you’re thinking about snakes or addressing one.”

Ginny took in a deep breath as Fatimah slithered away to her alcove, leaving the two humans alone in the chamber.

“This is Salazar Slytherin’s Chamber, Ginny,” Harry said, gesturing. “Built about a thousand years ago to house Fatimah, it is the safest place in Hogwarts, I’d wager. And I, for reasons that still elude me, am the Heir of Slytherin.”

“I thought the Heir of Slytherin had to be a pureblood, like Tom told me?”

“Tom was mistaken,” Harry said, matter-of-factly. “I trust the word of the basilisk over him any day. Fatimah told me some interesting facts about Slytherin—maybe you can ask her sometime. Anyway—you need not fear your skill.”

Harry rubbed his eyes, before smiling.

“Anyway, Ginny, would you like to help me clean up some of this Chamber? Hasn’t had a proper good cleaning in a few centuries, I’d wager.”

Ginny smiled at Harry and nodded. “I’d like to, Harry.”

Harry and Ginny promised to meet up for at least a couple hours a week to just keep the Parseltongue flowing—and to normalize the concept. Harry got some concerned expressions from other members of the Weasley family but was quite obstinate about his viewpoint.

“Parseltongue is not dark,” he said to Ron one day before Potions was set to begin. “Just because some jumped up nutjob uses it to instil fear and terror in a group of people does not mean it is a bad trait.”

“It’s still right shady, though,” Ron said. “She wasn’t a Parseltongue before! What if she’s got some dark magic stuck to her?”

“I doubt any soul that gets exposed to dark magic comes out the same,” Harry reasoned. “I’m sure mine didn’t when Tom tried to off me as a baby.”

“What if someone decides to bully her over it?” Ron asked, looking concerned.

“Then it’s your duty as a Gryffindor and her older brother to beat the snot out of whatever daft reprobate decided to go after a wee ickie firstie, particularly one with a gaggle of brothers—and then tell my Mum and she’ll put the fear of God in the poor bastards.”

Ron blinked. “Oh yeah, I keep forgetting Professor McGonagall’s your Mum, blimey, that must be weird.”

“She was my Mum long before she was my Transfiguration Professor, Weasley,” Harry said, grinning ear to ear. “I can put up with it, I think.”

Chapter Text

March brought the gradual melting of the snow, and the first signs of life as the world awoke from the seasonal slumber. For Hogwarts, it typically meant the beginning of drilling and studying for end-of-term exams, among other housekeeping items as students prepared for the conclusion of classes by the end of spring.

For the second-year class, much to the chagrin of a good majority of them—it also marked the start of a mortifying series of lectures over the weekends. In each common room, a notice appeared for second year students, earning some guffawing and needling from the older years, all of whom remembered their time in second-year health class.

Students would report to one of two classrooms every Sunday for four weeks—the boys would be taught by an experienced male healer from St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, and the girls would get their courses directly from Madam Pomfrey.

Harry’s first thoughts about the class was a mixture of being absolutely mortified, and being a little worried about poor Hermione missing out on the lot of studies. Harry had no doubts that the young witch would take to learning about the topics discussed with as much gusto as she did every other class she took.

When the first class finally began that Sunday, Harry awoke with a lump in his stomach. He wasn’t quite sure what was making him feel so nauseous and uncomfortable about the whole thing, but he resolutely carried himself to breakfast and ate methodically, even though his appetite was sparse, if he even had one at all.

After finishing, Harry made his way up the stairs to the classroom where the boys’ lesson would take place. As all the second year young men filed into one of the unused classrooms, the healer, a man in his middle age, looked around the room.

“Good morning, gentlemen,” the healer said. “Hogwarts has asked me here today to give you a four-lecture lesson on what it means for you to become men. Most of you are either twelve or thirteen years old, and you will soon begin to notice changes to your body and mind that are part of your journey to adulthood.”

“In this course,” He continued. “We will be discussing bodily hygiene, some normal urges you may begin to experience, and the sorts of changes you can expect in your body. We will not be discussing procreation, as that’s a subject for the fourth year health classes. Are there any specific questions about the itinerary before we begin?”

There was no response, and the healer nodded, before tapping his wand to the chalkboard, which filled with a diagram of a young man, around their age.

“When a young man reaches the age of puberty, several changes will begin to take place...”

The next hour of Harry’s life was perhaps the most awkward he’d ever dealt with—and he’d faced down a murderous teacher first year, and a basilisk just a few months prior.

Body odour was one thing—but… all the other things?

Harry hoped everyone else felt as awkward as he did. He was sure everything would be fine, but talking about it and putting it in such sanitary terms were kinda gross to him. Harry wasn’t even the only person in second year who was revolted by the idea—Draco was just as grossed out about the idea of having hair all over his body.

Perhaps the only useful and not wholly odd thing Harry found out of the set were a pamphlet of incantations discussing how he could basically apply charms to keep physical hygiene to an acceptable state. The idea of balding, or growing hair anywhere but his head still revolted him to no end.

Fingering his black locks of hair idly in annoyance, Harry noted that it was finally getting long again. Mum usually insisted he trim it back every June, but since a nigh year had passed, it was wild and hanging down and tickling his ears, making him smile some.

Maybe if he asked nice enough, she’d let him keep growing it out.

It’s often said that second-year romances never work out—and that rang just as true for Harry and Neville as it did for anyone else; but it wasn’t a dramatic end, or one stemming from childhood envy or jealousy.

They had spent countless Saturdays during the first months of the year in the greenhouse together, enjoying each other’s company, but the two had begun to realize there was greater context to their relationship, beyond just that of a young crush. Their relationship finally ended amicably in April, the two admitting they were really just very good friends, and that nothing could change that. Harry had admitted that he still wasn’t sure if he liked blokes or girls or a mix of both.

Neville had accepted his reasons, and admitted that he had no idea how he was supposed to be in a relationship, and the two had continued spending time together, happy and content to be in each other’s company—boyfriends or not; and it took a degree of potential stress and concern off their backs.

It was finally May before Harry was summoned to the Hospital Wing by the Headmaster. Anybody at Hogwarts that day would have witnessed Harry sprinting through the corridors like the Dark Lord was chasing after him.

Some of the faculty who spotted him hadn’t made the effort to castigate him for running through the halls—it was sort of an open secret that Harry was incredibly protective of Hermione, and had been pestering about when the Mandrakes would be ready.

He was nearly out of breath before he arrived at the Hospital Wing and nearly ploughed right into his mother.

Minerva smiled at her son as she hugged him. “Just in time, Harry. We’re about to give the draught to Miss Granger. Come with me,” She said, guiding her son over to Hermione’s bedside. Professor Dumbledore, Professor Snape, Professor Sprout, Madam Pomfrey and his mother were all standing by, the first and last person trying to not get in the way while the other three worked at preparing the last things to give the draught to Hermione.

The next few minutes were excruciating. Snape administered the draught, but said that it would take a few minutes to kick in and she’d wake up. Harry anxiously waited, pacing around in concern for his friend. The sound of shuddering and Hermione’s muscles beginning to settle down from their stuck positions attracted everyone’s attention.

Madam Pomfrey was already on the case, waving her wand over his friend’s unconscious form.

“My goodness, she is most certainly not going anywhere. It’s going to be right up to the end of the term to get her back into a semblance of normal. I doubt she’s going to wake up yet, her body is extremely weak. Severus, would you mind helping me get some supplies from my cabinet?”

Hermione opened her eyes and looked around. The hospital wing was dark, and there was the distant sound of frogs and critters chittering beyond the window, down by the Black Lake. Letting out a guttural noise, she attempted to get her faculties back.

She then noticed someone was sitting with her. Glancing over, she spied the small form of Harry Potter, slumped over in a chair, his silvery invisibility cloak pooled up in his lap. She smiled weakly at her friend, but found no energy to speak, or do anything other than just look around before the sleep pooled behind her eyes again, taking her once more into the depths.

The next time she woke, the sun was just beginning to bathe the hospital wing in a brilliant golden glow. Hermione let out another grunt as she tried to move in her bed, and managed to get some headway to sit up. Madam Pomfrey clearly heard her, as Hermione heard someone approaching her bed from the other side of the curtain.

“You’re awake!” Madam Pomfrey chimed, smiling. She then glanced over at Harry and raised an eyebrow.

“He was quite worried about you, you know,” she said knowingly. “Here,”

She waved her wand and a glass of water appeared in front of Hermione. The girl gently reached out and took it in her hands and downed it. The refreshing water may not have been the best quality (given the way transfiguration worked) but boy, Hermione didn’t care. It was like golden nectar.

Madam Pomfrey went off to arrange breakfast with the elves (and most certainly her potion cabinet, Hermione reasoned), leaving her alone with her friend. She looked over at Harry again.

“Harry?” She asked. The boy didn’t stir, continuing to quietly sleep in the chair.

“Harry!” She croaked, and the boy finally stirred, his head snapping up almost immediately.

“Hermione?” He said, his voice heavy with emotion. She saw tears forming in his eyes as he rushed forward and wrapped her in a hug.

“I was so afraid… that you weren’t going to come back,” He sniffled into her school robes that she’d been wearing now for the better part of a year. “I’m so sorry.”

Hermione patted her friend on the back. “Shh, it’s okay, Harry,” She said soothingly.

“It’s so bloody good to see you awake again,” Harry said, smiling. “I’ve been driving myself spare with worry. I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t around, Hermione.”

Hermione giggled and Harry laughed.

Harry was eventually sent off to go have breakfast by the concerned matron, who threatened him with more nutrition potions if she found out he wasn’t eating properly. Harry scurried off under the young matron’s threat, leaving Hermione alone with the school healer.

“He really does care about me, doesn’t he?” Hermione asked, blinking in surprise.

“You’d be surprised,” Madam Pomfrey said. “He’s been in here nearly every weekend since you were petrified, Miss Granger. Now, once you’ve got that potion in your system, I can tell you a little more about what’s gone on, and Professor Snape will be in soon to talk to you about what the plan is going forward this summer.”

“She’s awake,” Harry said between a mouthful of eggs to Draco, who blinked.

“Hermione’s awake?” Draco asked, and Harry nodded.

“Snape gave her the draught yesterday, and she woke up this morning… I kinda slept in the hospital wing,” Harry admitted.

“I can tell, your hair is a mess, you prat,” Draco observed. “Do you ever brush your hair or do you enjoy looking like a vagrant?”

“Shut your gob, Draco,” Harry mumbled into his food. “Not everyone likes putting litres of Sleekeazy in their hair to make it as flat as yours.”

Draco snorted. “You realize your grandfather invented the bloody stuff, right?”

Harry blinked in surprise. “No, I didn’t,” He admitted. “Still, I don’t think it’ll do much for me.”

Draco looked at Harry’s hair intently before shrugging. “I could try to do something with it, if you’d like.”

“You’re not going to shear any of it off, right? I’ll wallop you if you do,” Harry warned, and Draco snorted.

“No, you git, I’m not going to cut all your hair off. Maybe trim some of the split ends and make it look some kind of manageable as can be with your mane, but certainly nothing radical.”

Harry shrugged. “Do it tomorrow,” He said, before finishing his breakfast. “But for the moment I’m going back to the dorms to shower.”

Hermione’s eye was twitching involuntarily. Madam Pomfrey had dropped a bombshell that was a very unwelcome one. Hermione had missed seven months of classes and lessons. Exams were going to be cancelled, which was some consolation, but she was still the sole student almost a full year behind everyone else in second year.

“How am I supposed to practice and catch up if I can’t practice magic over summer?” She asked Madam Pomfrey, pouting all the while. The matron shrugged her shoulders, before thinking.

“Well, we could consult the Headmaster. I’m sure he’ll come up with some idea.”

Dumbledore, in fact, had been thinking on a good answer to this question for some time—hence why the aforementioned Headmaster was now sitting in the office of his Deputy, drinking tea with her while she mulled over his question.

“Provided her parents are okay with it,” Minerva said, sniffing airily, “I don’t see any reason to say no. She and Harry do get along quite well. There is just one small fly in the ointment, of course, Albus...”

“Sirius Black,” Dumbledore said, nodding. “Miss Granger is a rational young lady, I am sure it can be explained quite aptly, given the revelations we now know.”

“Of course,” Minerva said, before clearing her throat. “But surely they’ll want to see some of their daughter?”

“She can return home for a couple weeks. I’m more than certain her parents will understand. If need be, one of us can accompany here there to explain the situation.”

“I suppose so,” Minerva said, frowning. “It’s really the best solution we’ve got, I wager.”

After finishing his tea, Albus made his way up to the Hospital Wing to see his young student. As he entered, the young matron approached him.

“Ah, Headmaster—I was just going to call you up here. Miss Granger has some concerns about playing catch up with her fellow second-years.”

“Strange coincidence, I was just coming up here to speak to her about it,” Albus said, smiling serenely. He crossed the room and sat at Hermione’s bedside.

“How are you feeling, Miss Granger?”

“I’m doing alright, Professor,” Hermione admitted. “Incredibly sore and still feeling like a lorry ran me over, but getting better.”

“If that’s the worst of the problems, then we’re very fortunate. Now, Miss Granger, I understand that Madam Pomfrey has told you about how long you’ve been petrified,” Albus said, looking at the young girl intently.

“Yes, sir, and I was… wondering how I’m going to keep up with all the other students if I can’t practice magic over the summer—they’ve had all year to study, and I’m at least seven months behind.”

“I’ve given that some thought,” Albus said, nodding. “Do you mind me asking—what’s your opinion of our young Harry?”

“Harry? Oh, he’s a delight,” Hermione said, smiling. “He’s very nice to me, always has been.”

“Wonderful,” Albus said, smiling. “How would you feel about spending most of the summer with him? He could help you with most of the material from second year, particularly Defence Against the Dark Arts.”

Hermione blinked. “Spend the summer with Harry… and Professor McGonagall? And Madam Hooch?”

“Oh yes, and one other guest,” Albus said with a smile. “In a lovely Scottish cottage with hills and sheep and horses, and all sorts of wonderful creatures. You’d spend a couple weeks with your parents at the start of the summer, and then join Harry and his family up north. I thought I’d at least see if you were interested before I spoke to your parents.”

Hermione thought about it before nodding. “I’d love it.”

“Wonderful,” Albus said. “Have a good rest of your day, Miss Granger. I hope you feel better.”

To the unsuspecting sort, perhaps a Vernon Dursley-ish sort, the Granger family of Hampstead, London were quite the normal family. Wendell Granger was a tall, lanky fellow of his early forties, a thinning crop of reddish-brown hair on his head, and he was an oral surgeon—quite a normal sort of man, quiet and unassuming beyond his taste for some affluent things, as could be afforded by two adults of their profession.

On a rainy afternoon, Wendell was in the kitchen preparing a pot of tea for himself when the doorbell chimed through the house. Blinking in surprise—who would come calling in the middle of the day? Wendell approached the door and opened it, revealing four people standing at his front door, eclipsed by an assortment of umbrellas.

A good minute or so later, Wendell was sitting in the den with this assortment of people—wixen. Hermione’s folk—and was wondering all the while why they’d come down to London from Scotland of all places. Glancing up, he blinked in recollection.

“Ah, you’re… Hermione’s friend—Harry, right? We met last year on the platform?” Wendell inquired, glancing at the young man.

Harry nodded. “Yes, sir—Harry Potter. I’m sure you know my Mum,”

“Deputy Headmistress… McGonagall, right? You came and told us about magic,” He said.

“That’s correct,” Minerva said, nodding. She then gestured to the older man of the two remaining. “This is Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts,” She then gestured to the dark-haired man who seemed to be brooding in his couch. “And this is Severus Snape, Head of Slytherin House—your daughter’s house at Hogwarts.”

“Well, if all of you are here, then something must’ve happened,” Wendell said, plainly, eyes narrowing on Minerva.

“Yes,” Minerva said, nodding. “There was an incident and your daughter was… petrified.”

“What do you mean, petrified?” Wendell asked, raising an eyebrow. “What exactly does that entail?”

“It means she came into indirect eye contact with a creature of some kind, rest assured, we have made sure no such incidents will happen again.”

“When did this happen? Why wasn’t I informed?” Wendell said, anger clouding his face.

“Halloween,” Albus said, simply. “And I did not inform you or your wife because there was nothing you could do, plainly put.”

“You put off telling us about our injured daughter for seven months? What sort of institution are you running here, Dumbledore? I should complain to your authorities about the sort of irresponsible-”

“You’re a Muggle,” Snape said, running a finger on the rim of his cup. “They wouldn’t care,”

“Such a ringing endorsement,” Wendell said acidly. “I should withdraw her—I’m sure there are other schools that care more about student safety than your death trap of a school. Safety my left bollock,”

“Doctor Granger,” Harry said. “I promise—I won’t let Hermione get injured. This was just an accident. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was only one of three people to be affected by it.”

Granger glared at the young man. “You won’t let her get injured? Young man, you’re merely twelve years old. How do you propose to keep my daughter safe when these adults cannot?”

“Ahem,” Minerva cleared her throat. “I understand you are upset, Dr. Granger, with your daughter’s condition—but please do keep in mind that I do not appreciate you raising your voice to my son. Particularly since he risked his life to keep your daughter safe from harm already.”

Dr. Granger had the grace to look a little ashamed. “My apologies.”

“As I was saying,” Harry repeated. “Hogwarts is safe, sir. There’s nothing there that will hurt her—and even if there was, I wouldn’t allow it.”

Dr. Granger rubbed his eyes. “Putting aside the bravado from the twelve-year-old… what do you three adults propose be done here?”

“Well,” Albus said. “You and your wife are welcome to come to Hogwarts to see her. She is awake again, and is recovering quite well. If you still wish to withdraw her, I can’t stop you—but I can advise you that it isn’t the best idea ever.”

“Indeed, your daughter has been part of quite an effort to turn prejudices against Muggleborns and Muggles on their head—and the results are quite pleasing.”

“You say she was petrified and was basically out like a light. What about her schooling? She’s seven months behind,”

“I’ve already come up with an idea, but clearly, I need your blessing-- Hermione, as a student of Hogwarts, cannot perform magic outside of school. This is the law as the Ministry has set forward,”

“Right, we got that letter last year,” Wendell said. “That sort of makes study sessions difficult, doesn’t it?”

“Muggle households may be affected by the Trace—but magical ones, by and large, are far less obvious,” Minerva continued where Dumbledore left off, adjusting her glasses and staring at the Granger patriarch critically. “I would like to invite your daughter to stay with my son, myself and my wife at our home. She’ll be able to study there and catch up to her peers without fear of the Ministry coming down on her for improper use of magic—and she will be properly supervised by myself or the missus.”

Wendell blinked. “I suppose that… might work—her mother and I would be awfully sore if we couldn’t see her.”

“We wouldn’t pick her up right away—I was thinking perhaps a couple weeks after the start of the summer holiday.”

Wendell grimaced—he could see the point being made.

“Alright,” He conceded. “On the condition I get to see my daughter immediately.”

“We’ll get a portkey for you and your wife as soon as we can,” Minerva said, nodding. “I understand exactly how you feel, Dr. Granger—our children are our lives,”

Dr. Granger glanced at Harry, and then back at Minerva, and nodded in understanding.

Hermione was laying in the hospital ward bed, reading one of the light novels she had brought with her in her trunk for the downtime. She certainly wanted to spend as much time as she could trying to cram to keep up with the rest of the second years, but Madam Pomfrey had made it quite clear she wouldn’t tolerate her trying to work when she was supposed to be resting—as it was, the matron wasn’t exactly keen on her reading at all, but capitulated on this one thing because she knew how much of a bookworm Hermione was.

Her parents had stopped by—and had been quite cross about the whole situation, and had attempted to suggest the idea of withdrawing her from Hogwarts and trying to enrol her in one of the other schools on the continent—an idea that she expressly rejected, or at the very least did not want to go through with.

Hermione couldn’t say she wasn’t cross too, but Hogwarts wasn’t as bad as her parents were implying. Yes, there had been a murderous teacher the prior year who trafficked in dark arts—and there had been a deadly creature roaming the halls this year, but she still liked attending Hogwarts. She’d looked into the other schools on the continent at one point during First Year—Beauxbatons reminded her of the snotty rich kids back home in Hampstead to a great degree, and other schools like Durmstrang and Gothik Institut gave her the creeps with the rumours about their… more unsavoury ways of doing things.

Ultimately, her father had mentioned he’d spoken to Professor McGonagall—and the idea that had been agreed on of spending close to an entire summer in the Scottish Highlands with her best friend and two Hogwarts teachers wasn’t exactly a bad summer in her mind. She’d get to learn and practice all the magic she lost, and would have her best friend by her side helping the entire time.

If anything, Hermione welcomed it. She loved her parents very much, but going back to Hampstead every summer and spending most of it as a social outcast unable to do anything with magic was quite a frustrating situation to be in. She yearned to learn more about magic, not ignore it!

Just as quickly as May had come—it went, and with it, the hope for anybody under OWL or NEWT levels to take their exams. Dumbledore had specifically decided that examinations for the lower years was wholly unnecessary, assured that the combined staff grading on over-the-year assignments and essays would be more than sufficient.

Hermione’s name was, graciously, omitted from the list of students once the term list was posted in late June; but she was certainly proud to see her friends basking in the glow of success. Draco, Harry and Neville were in the top 10 students, with Neville’s Herbology score clearly blowing everyone else out of the water—with Harry trailing behind him, no doubt a result of some of the more… scurrious rumours she’d heard floating about.

Hermione’s feelings about those rumours was… a complicated issue, she determined. She and Harry weren’t… interested in each other like that, and Harry was free to do as he pleased, but Hermione certainly felt some sort of… way about it—but as soon as she’d felt those lingering annoyed tendrils of jealousy, they’d left once she’d found out the two had remained merely friends, rather than in a romantic entanglement.

She had thought about asking Harry about it but had dismissed such a notion thoroughly—it truly wasn’t her business.

But that didn’t mean she had to like it.

The End-of-Term Feast was quite a jubilant one, with Slytherin winning both the Quidditch Cup and House Cup—no doubt both thanks to Harry’s heroism and natural talent. But even his humble, oblivious personality didn’t stop the other three houses from staring daggers at the Boy-Who-Lived.

That evening, as Harry, Hermione and Draco were leaving the Entrance Hall to the carriages that would take them down to the station at Hogsmeade, Harry and Hermione were stopped by Professor McGonagall.

“You go ahead, Draco, save us some seats would you?” Harry asked, and his blonde friend gave a quiet nod before dashing ahead to keep the pack from trampling him.

“What’s up, Mum?” Harry asked, blinking at his mother.

“I know we’ve got a large itinerary for the summer—but I was wondering if you two would be… interested in a small adjustment to the plans.”

“What sort of adjustment?” Harry asked.

“I received an invitation yesterday to chair a conference on Transfiguration at a summit of wix in Edo.”

“Edo?”

“It’s a city in Yamato,” Minerva said quietly. “And Lala has been asked to coach a friendly between two Yematai teams in their Quidditch League. Apparently, she came highly recommended by the ICWQC—so, we’re going to be in Yamato for awhile.”

“How long?”

“Late August, really—I’ve already spoken to the Grangers about it, and they’re certainly okay with the idea. Your father, Hermione, is a little cross at the last minute adjustments, but I promised him that I’d keep an eye on you—and the good news is that Yamato’s laws on underage magic are far less restrictive, so this makes your study sessions much easier to deal with.”

She breathed in and glared at her two charges. “And I should hope I can trust the two of you to behave yourselves and act responsibly.”

“Yes, Mum,” Harry said.

“Good,” Minerva nodded. “Now, run along before the carriages leave—I’ll meet you at King’s Cross, Harry.”

Minerva then left in another direction, and Harry and Hermione rushed to get to the carriages before they departed.

Yamato?” Draco said, before whistling. “I’ve never been—I’ve heard it’s a beautiful country.”

“I went there the summer before first year,” Harry said. “We visited Kyoto—the capital city. I think Mum and Lala were a little worried about my wand problem, and wanted to connect me to my birth mother’s culture—it’ll be fun to go back, even if it’s to Edo.”

Harry looked at Hermione. “Anything about Edo in your books, Hermione?”

Hermione looked up from an atlas she’d dug out of her trunk. She blushed and closed the book. “Edo is a city in Eastern Honshu, it’s one of the largest cities in Yamato—but it’s dwarfed by the Kyoto-Osaka corridor. There’s not a whole lot there of historical note. It briefly served as a military capital during the 18th century, but beyond that… not much of note. It’s just a prefectural capital.”

“Huh,” Harry said, tapping a finger to his chin. “Well, either way—remarkably fascinating.”

“I’m not sure how my summer will fare,” Draco said idly, picking at some lint on his robes. “Mother will probably go off cavorting to Toletania while Father simmers in his own misery.”

“Christ,” Harry murmured. “You gonna be okay, Dray?”

“Dray?” Draco echoed, raising an eyebrow. “Are you giving out lame nicknames, now?”

“I dunno, maybe,” Harry said idly, leaning back in his seat.

Draco snorted, and shook his head. “No, I’ll be alright, Father never does anything untoward. I’ll just grit my teeth and bear him being a colossal pain in the arse until September.”

A long train ride back to London later, Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters was once again packed with students and parents alike, as they prepared to return to their abodes for the summer. Minerva was waiting, Rolanda and Snuffles standing by, looking expectantly for Harry.

It took the young man only a few minutes to find his mother in the crowd—mostly because all the students were trying to give her a wide berth, afraid she was going to give them detention or homework over the summer.

Only a few feet away were Wendell and Monica Granger, who were making small talk with Minerva.

Harry and Hermione made their way over, and some pleasantries were exchanged, as could be expected—with the pledge to meet again in a couple weeks time, at the start of July.

“Harry, when’d you get a dog?” Hermione asked, crouching down to pet Snuffles, who snuffed happily.

“Oh, just before the term started,” Harry said, smiling. “He’s a very good boy, right?”

“Very well-behaved, mostly,” Minerva said, smiling.

The two families waited for most of the students and their families to clear off the platform, before going their separate ways. As Hermione and her parents made their way back to the Muggle platform, the young witch looked behind her at the retreating form of Harry, blushed some, and smiled.

She was looking forward to the summer.

Chapter Text

The tension in the Malfoy family was thick in the air as the stiff trio returned to Malfoy Manor. As they arrived back in their parlour and discarded their outer robes, Narcissa smoothed out her attire and looked at her son fondly.

"Draco," She crooned. "How we have missed you. We didn't get much time over Yule to discuss the school year-- how did it go?" She guided her son over to the couch, sitting gracefully and snapping her fingers-- at which time Dobby and another elf arrived, placed refreshments down, and disappeared. She then brought a cup of tea up to her charmingly ruby lips waiting for her son to respond.

"It was... eventful," Draco said, his eyes steeled. "The most interesting thing out of it is that Harry Potter is the Heir of Slytherin."

It took every ounce of her years of pureblood etiquette trainings and the fact she wouldn't be caught dead doing it for Narcissa Malfoy to not choke and spray tea all over the sitting room. Managing to painfully swallow a mouthful of earl grey, she glanced at her husband who was just as shell-shocked.

"That... doesn't seem possible?" She offered. "The Potters have no relation to the bloodline of Slytherin."

"There's more to the story," Draco said, glancing at his father coldly. "Someone gave the youngest Weasley a cursed object-- one containing the soul of... well, the Dark Lord. A diary of his, in fact."

Narcissa blinked and narrowed her eyes at Lucius. The blonde man began to sweat some.

"She was possessed--and Harry... faced down a wraith version of the Dark Lord. He won," Draco said innocently, sipping his tea quietly. "The basilisk beneath the school--in the Chamber of Secrets, confirmed him to be the Heir of Slytherin."

Narcissa closed her eyes and nodded. "Draco, darling... why don't you go unpack your trunk while your father and I have a brief conversation."

Draco clearly read between the lines and paled some, before bowing his head like the dutiful pureblood son he was, and left the room with haste, leaving Narcissa alone with her husband. Lucius was now sweating quite a lot, looking immensely nervous at his very calm and collected wife. Narcissa placed the cup of tea on the small silver tray and opened her eyes once more to look at her husband.

"Of all the idiotic things you could have done, Lucius. Of all the irresponsible things you could have done."

"It was a mistake," Lucius said, shaking his head. "I never intended to give that diary to a child."

"Then how on Earth did it end up in her school supplies?" She said, her well-kept eyebrows scrunching up in annoyance. "Did it just... accidentally land there?"

"You do remember the Ministry raid we were forced to endure late last year?" Lucius said, looking frustrated. "I had to do something. Most of our dark artefacts are already stashed away in the family vault--and the large things I foisted off on Borgin, but the diary was a special case. You know I was entrusted to keep that diary close by when... you know."

"Clearly you didn't do what he asked," Narcissa observed, eyebrow shooting up. "It's rather fortunate he isn't skulking about, otherwise I imagine he'd be quite cross."

"You're right," Lucius murmured, shaking his head. "I put all that behind me... after everything. After Draco. That's no life for my son and heir."

"Then act like it, Lucius. We have spent far too long repairing the disrepute that the Malfoy and Black families have carried since the fall of the Dark Lord and the arrest of Cousin Sirius. To lose it all now because of him would be the ultimate failure on our part," Narcissa said, wrinkling her nose in disgust. She'd never particularly liked Lord Voldemort. He was a charismatic and enchanting man in his time, but she was far from impressed.

"Anyway," Narcissa pointed out. "If Harry Potter is the Heir of Slytherin..."

A smile crossed Lucius' face. "Then I think the battle lines will be very different next time our Lord returns."

"He is not my Lord," Narcissa said with an admonishing look. "I will not bend the knee to him again."

Lucius grimaced and bowed his head in deference. He knew better than to argue with Narcissa on this matter-- it had been the centre of many debates after the Dark Lord fell and he was exonerated from his crimes. He had gotten supremely lucky, and he now had a son to care for and look after.

"Perhaps we should try to work ourselves into Mister Potter's good graces," Narcissa murmured, looking pensive. "He and Draco seem to be quite good friends."

"He seems to spend much time learning from the Headmaster and his adoptive mother," Lucius noted.

"Perhaps I may extend an offer of hospitality," Narcissa noted gently. "He is kin, after all. James' grandmother was a Black. I have fond memories of my Great-Aunt before her untimely passing."

"I have grave doubts Potter will want to learn anything associated with the Dark, my love. He may like Draco, but I have no doubts he will be wary around us, particularly I."

"I intend to do nothing of the sort, Lucius," Narcissa snorted. "No, the boy should keep his innocence as long as he may. But it wouldn't hurt to offer my services in something, like Charms practicals."

Lucius nodded appreciatively, rubbing his chin appreciatively. He left the room, citing some Ministry business or Hogwarts business that needed his attentions. Narcissa sat quietly in the sitting room by herself, and pinched her nose. She sometimes idly wondered if Sirius and Andy had the right of it. She had sided with Bella and the Death Eaters in the first war, and had married Lucius as a means of creating ties that bind. But she was no longer a twenty-something, she was a mother-- and she had to do what was right by her son.

Even if that meant ending what had been a long and... relatively prosperous relationship, never mind the years of clawing back from the near-brink in an attempt to salvage her married name.

But she was rather stuck, wasn't she? The sane sister had been cast out of the family for marrying a mudblood, the cousin had been cast out of the family for running away to the Potters, and Bella?

Oh, Merlin. Bellatrix.

A sickening feeling crept over Narcissa when she thought of the terrible things that her eldest sister had done. She'd tortured two pureblood wix and driven them to insanity, and then left their infant son orphaned. The idea of something like that happening to Draco when he was an infant made her feel revulsion in the deepest part of her soul.

'No,' Narcissa thought, pursing her lips in disapproval. She was a Black, and before the disaster that was her generation had come to pass, they had been renowned for their deft ability to navigate turbulent seas. Grandfather Pollux had been quite adept at the concept before his recent passing, and had always favoured teaching Narcissa about what it meant to be a master of intrigue.

Bringing her thoughts back to her immediate family-- the Malfoys, she gave consideration to what was before her. She and Lucius hadn't been intimate in any form for well over a decade at this point. Once Draco had been sired, and the war was over, there was very little to keep them bound to one another. He had his moments of carousing at brothels and parlours-- and she took her usual trips to Toletania and Lusitania, enjoying the Iberian sun and the local colour.

But they'd kept the illusion up, as it had worked to an amicable state of affairs.

She frowned. But nothing lasted forever-- she knew that. With cousin Sirius on the loose, Harry Potter's proclamation as Heir of Slytherin, and this most recent... event, the winds of change were blowing.

Things should certainly get interesting.

...

Sirius met them as they arrived at the edges of the McGonagall-Hooch property. Due to Harry's living there most months of the year, and its generally remote location relative to the rest of Wulver's Hollow, the property was under a small notice-me-not charm, merely to distract people who tried to view it.

"Sirius!" Harry exclaimed, grinning and giving his godfather a hug. He'd only known the man for a combined total of a couple months, but he'd been his loyal pet for longer than that--and so Harry had a very deep-seated trust.

"Harry," Sirius said, smiling. "Good to see you again. How was school?"

"Exciting," Harry intoned with a slight hint of sarcasm. "How much do you know?"

"Not enough-- there were some things you chatted my ear off about when I was just your dog," He said, shrugging. "But I don't know any of the story-- but given the propensity of Minerva to stop by to check in on me with clear stress in her eyes, you've been doing your mother wrong, I take it."

"Well," Harry said, chewing on the inside of his mouth. "Shall I tell you the story, then?"

The story had been relayed over tea and biscuits, with Harry talking about everything that had come to pass in the previous year-- the Chamber, the 'Heir of Slytherin' nonsense, the Hallows, as well as Harry's conversation with his birth parents. Sirius' happy demeanour had been replaced with a pallid ashen one as Harry finished his tale.

"Merlin. I... Merlin, Harry," Sirius muttered, rubbing his head in annoyance. "You're telling me that you're the Heir of Slytherin-- the basilisk underneath the school is friendly, you defeated Voldemort's... ghost fragment? And... he's a half-blood."

"In a nut shell, yeah," Harry said, shrugging.

"Bloody hell," Sirius murmured, earning a sharp look from Minerva. He grinned sheepishly. "Sorry, Minerva."

"Putting this year's... events aside for one moment," Minerva said, sniffing airily. "Rollie and I have been called away to Yamato for two events back to back, which will mean we'll be away most of the summer. You can come along if you'd like, Sirius. But you'll have to be Snuffles the whole time."

Sirius scratched his neck. "Honestly I'm okay with kicking around here. Maybe I'll join for Harry's birthday? There's plenty of work to be done around here."

Minerva nodded carefully. "We'll be returning briefly on the first of August so Harry and Hermione can submit their elective choices, and so I can discuss with the Headmaster about our replacement for Moody. We've narrowed it down to a handful of candidates."

"Ah, the old goat didn't want to stay?" Sirius asked, raising an eyebrow.

"No, he wanted to enjoy his retirement from the DMLE and said teaching isn't really his thing. I don't blame him. The students did like him though, compared to the last few we've had in our employ," Minerva said, shrugging.

"Well, I'm sure whomever you get will be a worthy successor," Sirius said. He ruffled Harry's hair, and left the room. Harry stretched and lazed back on the loveseat he'd been sitting.

"I hope third year is less dramatic than this one," Harry said, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

"I'm sure it will, darling," Rolanda said, with a smile.

Harry wasn't quite sure about that, though.

...

The first two weeks Harry spent in Edo were spent mostly getting settled in for their brief stay. They'd been provided a comfortable flat in Shinjuku, overlooking the neon-bathed nightlife. Harry was obviously far too young for all of that, so most of their free days were spent in other parts of the city looking at some of the things there-- parks, museums and shrines that dotted the city landscape. But the first two weeks had flown by as fast as a snitch, and now Harry was sitting in the Chiyoda portkey office, practically vibrating at the prospect of his friend joining them.

Harry spotted Hermione and Minerva standing in line at customs, quickly making their way through the whole process before coming over towards Rolanda and Harry.

"Hermione!" Harry yelped, bouncing over to his friend and wrapping her up in a hug. "It's good to see you!"

Hermione smiled and returned the hug. The two youngsters spent the return trip to the hotel conversing animatedly about their two weeks since the end of term. Harry told her about some of the museums they'd visited, and the view from the hotel room and how amazing it was.

In the days to follow, once Hermione had settled into the time change and the like, Harry was preparing to start his tutoring sessions. Combing through the notes he'd taken over the year, along with some helpful notes given to him by his mother, Professor Snape and no-longer-Professor Moody, Harry felt resolutely confident he could... probably get Hermione through second year theory before the end of summer.

Their first DADA tutoring session was an interesting one. Harry decided that instead of focusing on purely offensive spells, he would teach Hermione something harmless-- Vermilious Duo, or just a shower of red sparks that would distract and confuse one's opponent. Minerva was watching their lesson intently from her chair on the far end of the flat, having transfigured all the furniture into the corner to prevent it from getting in the way.

"So, very simple-- you just have to follow the wand movement, think about the intent, and then cast it," Harry said. He performed the wand movement very slowly to show Hermione. "Got it?"

"Yeah," Hermione said, eyebrows narrowing in concentration.

"Good, then follow after me," Harry said. He quickly performed the wand movements and spoke.

"Vermilious Duo!" His wand tip lit up red and a shower of sparks blew out of it, spraying all over the room. They lingered for a moment before disappearing.

Harry looked at Hermione and backed away to give her space to practice.

"Vermilious Duo!" She repeated, but nothing happened.

"Not to sound like you and Weasley back in first year, but you're pronouncing it wrong," Harry said. "ver-MILL-ee-us DOO-oh. It's not a problem, Mum and I have had issues with incantations before due to our brogue. Just try it again, aye?"

Hermione ran the pronunciation over her mouth a few times, before nodding. She cast the spell once more, a billowing wave of red sparks showering from her wand.

"Excellent! Excellent!" Harry said, grinning ear to ear. "Who knows, you may have all the DADA practicals tucked away in your arsenal by the end of the summer."

"Quite," Minerva said, smiling. "Harry, why don't you take her through Rictumsempra? That's innocent enough."

Harry nodded, before having Hermione across from him.

"This is the Tickling Charm. Professor Snape showed me this back in first year, honestly it's right useful in some applications."

"Rictumsempra!" Harry cast, and a silver light burst from his wand. Hermione doubled over and sunk to her knees, letting out a squealing laughter. After a few seconds, it ended, and Hermione got to her feet.

"You've got a cute laugh, Hermione," Harry said. It took him a hot second to realize what he'd said, and he blushed deeply as Hermione eyed him dangerously, a blush of her own creeping across her face.

"Alright, Potter, let's see how you do," Hermione said haughtily, before copying his movements. "Rictumsempra!" She cast.

Harry also fell over, seized by laughter. Hermione grinned at him as he climbed back to his feet.

"Well, if my laugh is cute, yours is cuter, Potter. How about that?" Hermione said, sticking out her tongue.

"He's always had an adorable laugh, Miss Granger," Minerva said idly, before sipping her tea. "You should've seen him when Rollie finally convinced me to let him onto a broom. As soon as he took to the sky, he was laughing so much... music to my ears,"

Harry blushed. "Mum," He protested.

Minerva gave him a knowing smile, before Harry shook his head and looked at Hermione again.

"Okay. One last thing. This is kinda something I've been working on with Professor Dumbledore-- I used it during the duelling club meetings back at school, but I want to see if you can get it quick enough. This is the Shield Charm. The incantation for it is Protego. I'll demonstrate it for you."

Minerva raised an eyebrow. "A fifth-year spell, Harry? I didn't think Albus was teaching you things that advanced."

"Not all advanced spells, some of the stuff we cover is revision of lower-year material, but he did want me to know how to block hexes and spells that are cast at me."

Minerva nodded, and Harry stood across from Hermione.

"Okay, cast the Tickling Charm again."

Hermione raised her wand. "Rictumsempra!"

"Protego!" Harry said at the same time.

Hermione's tickling spell slammed into the shield, but the shield didn't break. Harry then cancelled it.

"Go ahead and try to block one of my spells with that, I promise I won't throw anything too hard at you," Harry said with a smile. "Ready?"

Hermione braced herself, wand at the ready.

"Expelliarmus!" Harry said, a scarlet jet of light rocketing from his wand.

"Protego!" Hermione said, but it was to no avail, as her wand went spinning out of her possession. Minerva plucked it out of the air, and tossed it back to Hermione.

"Not bad for a first attempt, I saw your shield trying to form. It's okay, I didn't get it on the first try either. It is a fifth-year spell after all," Harry said. "Let's keep practicing."

Harry and Hermione went back and forth practicing shielding and disarming-- Hermione wasn't able to disarm Harry, unfortunately, but Harry soon was unable to disarm Hermione, as she was able to raise a proper Protego without issue within a dozen attempts.

Harry cast a Finite Incantatem and smiled, approaching her. "Excellent, Hermione. I may not have anything to tutor you in come August." He said.

Hermione grinned and hugged him tightly.

Harry glanced at his mother. "What do you think, Mum?"

"I agree completely, Harry," Minerva said. "Now, some lunch and then we'll start on practicing Transfiguration."

...

"Minister, don't you think this is a slight over-reaction?" Albus asked, looking intently at the Minister for Magic. "It's been nearly a year since Sirius Black escaped from Azkaban, and we had no need for Dementors last year."

"I understand, Albus-- but I've had strong words from people on the Wizengamot and the Board of Governors. They strongly feel that placing some Dementors at Hogwarts would assuage their fears that Sirius Black may attempt to accost their children at Hogsmeade and on the grounds. Your runic protections are admirable, but we must face reality. Particularly after he was sighted in Caithness."

"This will inexorably impact the students' academic environment, Minister."

"Albus, I understand. But you must come to understand it from my perspective. The politics matter." Minister Fudge said, shaking his head. "I am certain nothing will happen of concern-- and I will let you act as you see fit to keep them from threatening the term's stability and integrity."

Albus nodded stiffly. "I understand, Minister. I'll see to it. Thank you."

He rose, shook hands with the Minister, and immediately left. A quick floo jump back to his office at Hogwarts later, he transfigured his attire into something a little more inconspicuous, and flooed once more--this time to a small pub near Leicester. Albus made his way through the village before arriving at a small shack near a quiet creek.

He knocked on the door, and the owner answered.

"Professor Dumbledore?" The man asked, blinking. "What brings you here?"

"Remus," Albus said fondly. "I was hoping to speak to you about something. May I come in?"

"Sure," Remus Lupin said, vacating the door to allow Albus through. "Would you like a cup of tea, Professor?"

"Oh, yes please," Albus said warmly, before sitting in one of the threadbare armchairs in Remus' sitting room. Remus soon returned with two cups of tea, and took his seat in the other armchair.

"You said you wanted to speak to me about something?"

"How would you like to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts?"

"Me? Teach DADA? At Hogwarts?" Remus said, blinking. "Sir, you are aware that if it ever got out..."

"Please," Albus raised his hand. "Let me worry about that, would you? I will ensure Severus has you amply supplied with Wolfsbane, should you take this position. The reason I ask is that we are expecting to play host to Dementors this year, despite my objections. You are the only member of the Order that I can remember being able to cast a corporeal Patronus, other than myself and Lily. That, and, the only other applicant is Gilderoy Lockhart."

"That phony?" Remus asked. "Are you really that strapped for capable Defence teachers that you're coming to a werewolf?"

"You're more than capable, my lad. And there are other things that... play into my decision. You'd be teaching James' and Lily's son, for one."

"Harry," Remus breathed. "Gods, he is Hogwarts age, isn't he? Has it been that long?"

"He's going into his third year. He's actually going to be taking fourth year DADA classes--Minerva is quite proud of him and all he's accomplished as a student."

"Minerva? Professor McGonagall adopted him? I thought you sent him off to his Muggle relatives after Sirius... you know," Remus said, frowning deeply. Albus couldn't tell if he was put off at Albus or himself for the fact he was so far removed from the loop.

"You have quite a lot to catch up on, my friend. There is even more of the story to tell. I promise to tell you all of it. Why don't you come to Hogwarts so we can discuss this matter further?"

"I... alright," Remus said, capitulating, before leading Albus towards his fireplace.

...

"Well," Minerva said, rubbing her eyes. "If you feel he's a good choice, Albus."

"I do, Minerva," Albus said quietly. "He's a talented young man, and fits the skills we need for both Harry's sake, and the school's sake."

"Are we bringing him into... you know. They did all go to school together," Minerva asked.

"We'll give him some time, let him come to terms with his new position, get ready for the term, and then we'll bring him into the conversation. Have Harry and Hermione decided their electives for the term?"

"Hermione is insistent on wanting to take... everything, and Harry seems very firmly committed to Runes, and is debating Arithmancy or Care of Magical Creatures-- particularly since Hagrid will be taking over the class this year. I'm trying to talk Hermione down from it, and to focus on two or three really good classes, rather than trying to overextend herself. I'm not even sure the scheduling will allow for all those classes at once."

"I'm not going to give a thirteen-year-old a time-turner, if that's what's being implied here," Albus said, shaking his head. "I understand she wants to spread her academic wings and fly, but she should be careful to avoid burn-out. She still has to make up ground in her core classes."

"Exactly my thought, I'll have to speak to Severus about it--but I have no doubt he'll agree with our point of view."

"Are you certain we can't convince Minister Fudge this is an unnecessary intrusion?" Minerva asked, frowning deeply. "Some of these children are orphans... Harry is an orphan. I can only imagine the reaction they'll all have if they come anywhere near a Dementor."

"I intend to limit their access to Hogwarts directly. Defending the perimeter, perhaps... but they will not permitted on the grounds beyond that," Albus said, his face darkening.

Minerva nodded, before looking pensively out the window overlooking Edo Bay.

"What problems do you anticipate this year, Albus? We're zero for two."

"No, you're correct-- we've had terrible luck thus far," Albus said, frowning. "We'll just have to stay vigilant, and do our best to ensure the safety of the student body."

...

Harry recieved a brief crash course in some of the common basic etiquette in Japanese society one day-- entirely because an old acquaintance of his mother had invited them to dinner at her home. Apparently, his mother had told him, she and this woman, Keiko Takashi, had partnered on writing some mastery theorems during the early 1980s after they had attended an International Transfiguration Conference and met during a panel on a topic they were mutually interested in.

She had been quick to want to catch up with her old friend, of course.

After discarding their shoes in the genkan, her mother's friend had quickly given them a rundown of commonly expected things to do, merely for their benefit-- to avoid any faux pas, so to speak.

"It is a pleasure to meet all of you. Welcome," Keiko's husband greeted, bowing respectfully to his guests. "It is quite a pleasure to meet you four lovely ladies,"

Harry blinked in surprise, taken back.

"Harry is actually a boy, Hirosuke," His wife admonished him.

"Oh, goodness! I am so sorry, please excuse my mistake," Hirosuke said, bowing his head in deference.

"It's alright, no harm done," Harry said, uncertainly.

The night of supper had gone over quite well despite that, with Harry finding he quite enjoyed quite a few things on the menu, even if he couldn't bring himself to eat much of it due to the butterflies in his stomach.

He idly wondered if he could get the house elves to make him tonkatsu back at Hogwarts.

On their way back to their flat, Hermione noticed Harry's lack of conversation and nudged him. "Are you alright, Harry? You're not upset about what happened with her husband, are you?"

"I don't think upset is really the way to describe it?" Harry offered quietly from behind his parents. "I'm not sure what I'm feeling at the moment. Hermione, do I look... sorta feminine?"

Hermione's eyes cast over him briefly before she shrugged. "I've found that wixen robes are rather unisex in design. There are some differences, but you know, they're so very minor. I'd say it's probably your hair," She said, gently running her hands through his now shoulder-length hair. "From an immediate perspective, I could see someone mistaking you for a tomboy, but don't you dare cut your hair off, Harry Potter. I like your hair."

Harry stuck out his tongue at Hermione. "Brat," He said fondly.

"Dork!" She retorted with a smile.

Chapter Text

That night, Hermione lay awake in bed, something nagging at her--something in the convention of her best friend.

Harry had been awfully reserved and looked troubled when they'd left their conversation behind tonight. As Hermione stared up at the ceiling texture, she idly wondered if Harry being a girl or not would have made a grand difference in their relationship-- her mind wandered back to their meeting on the Hogwarts Express. In the place of the shy, Scottish boy-- a girl took his place. She wasn't much different, her emerald eyes still shined with excitement-- same as his did, anticipation of what was to come.

They would've been dorm-mates. Certainly would have spared her the emotional grief of dealing with some of her fellow Slytherins before their social group had formed and created a protective bubble around her. They would've spent their time at Hogwarts even closer than they already were.

Hermione had no doubt in her heart that everything would've been almost the same. They would have been passionate, and caring and capable either way. She didn't think it made that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.

It certainly wouldn't have interfered with her feelings, she thought carefully. She'd known for a very long time that homosexuality was a thing that existed-- both woven in popular culture and in the fabric of history. Alexander the Great and his life-long companion, Hephaestion; Sappho the ancient poet and her stature as the minor deity of sapphic love-- both coming to mind as just examples of the whole concept's firm entrenchment in the passage of time. Muggles had their hang-ups about it, she knew that much. The telly often used it as a joke, but when she'd arrived in the wizarding world-- it was just a thing that was done, because of course magic could solve the problems that came with it!

And Hermione knew that she was beginning to feel things towards Harry. He was her best friend, that much was true. But every time they parted, she felt this... strange yearning. He was funny, he was clever, he was kind... she liked him.

And she had very little doubt that she wouldn't like her too, if that had, or ever would be the case.

...

Harry was having much the same internal monologue from across the room. He lay awake, his eyebrows knit together in frustration at the weight he felt sitting on his chest. It wasn't the mistake that was bothering him. It was the fact he didn't mind it that was bothering him. He should mind it, right? He was a boy, after all. Wasn't he? Boys didn't... feel that way, that something was wrong about something so fundamental. Trickling, old, dusty memories from the farthest reaches of his mind flashed by-- too fast to count, too much of a blur to catch. He still didn't have a great grasp of his life at Number Four Privet Drive.

Harry blew out a loud breath and sat up in his bed, before casting his blankets aside and padding over to the window overlooking Edo. The pink and blue lights from the street below were casting a soft illumination through the room beyond the diffusing curtains. He didn't even want to begin sorting the entire deep, unquantified mess that was everything else about him. He didn't need to be questioning this when he was already confused about what he liked.

Neville was cute; Harry certainly had no objections to kissing him and maybe eventually snogging like he saw some of the upper years doing in the corridors-- but he also felt the same way about Hermione! Her smile, her laugh, the way she blushed, the way she blew little strands of her beautiful curls out of her eyes.

Harry felt like he should ask Sirius or his mothers about it-- but how on Earth would he go about that?

"Fate must hate me or something," Harry said to himself, scowling at the Edo skyline. "How the hell am I going to figure out all this nonsense?"

There were genuinely days he felt far older than he actually was.

He shook his head, drew the curtains shut again, and returned to bed, feeling unsettled.

...

Harry cheered as the Edo Quidditch Club sped by on their brooms, doing their performance lap before the start of the match. As a sort of early birthday gift, Harry was seated in very good seats to watch the league friendly between Kyushu and Edo's Quidditch teams. Rolanda was referring the match, her usual "stern flying instructor" face never leaving as the teams landed for the opening of the match.

Last night was still fresh in his mind-- and it was still fresh in Hermione's as the game got underway. But unlike Harry, whose concerns were washed away in a sea of excitement to watch professional Quidditch again, Hermione barely cared about the sport-- so she spent a lot of time watching Harry. He didn't betray the feelings she'd overheard the night prior. She had to admire his ability to keep a tight poker face, something he no doubt learned from his mothers.

Eventually she let herself tear her gaze away from him and watched the match. The two offensive lines were keeping close pace with one another--if one team scored with a Quaffle, the other would score within a matter of minutes. After about an hour had passed, the two teams were in a breakneck tie, 160-160. Harry nudged her carefully and pointed to a corner of the stadium.

"Snitch's there," Harry said grinning. "Edo's Seeker is starting to catch on."

"How could you have possibly known where it was? Are you really that good at spotting it?" Hermione asked, squinting at the far distance of the stadium, where she did see a brief glimmer of gold. "Wow," She murmured.

"Told ya!" Harry said, his grin not fading. "How come you don't like Quidditch, Hermione?"

"I'm terrified of heights, Harry," She said, frowning. "As it is, flying in an aeroplane causes me to hyperventilate--I can only imagine flying around in the sky on a broom at breakneck speeds, doing feints and dives like you and these lunatics. But I suppose, beyond that, Quidditch is pretty engaging, when there's something interesting going on."

"This game has been a slugfest, hasn't it?" Harry asked, glancing back at the field, where the Edo Seeker had taken off from a near stop, shooting to the corner Harry had pointed out. "Here we go,"

And within a few moments a buzzer filled the stadium, marking the end of the match. Ultimately, Edo had won, 310 to 160.

"It's too bad, though," Harry said, smirking. "Imagine some of the people in Slytherin's faces if you'd gotten into Quidditch. First Muggleborn Chaser on the Slytherin team. First Muggleborn captain, really."

"Captain? Me? Why not you?"

"I wouldn't want to be Captain, I'm content to just play for fun-- it's why I'm even into the sport at all, really. It's liberating to soar through the sky like that, the wind rushing past your head."

He looked at her. "You know, I'm pretty sure my Mum wanted me to play Quidditch for Gryffindor anyway. I'm almost certain Snape holds it over her head whenever we beat Gryffindor that I had a hand in that."

Hermione snickered. "You're so bad, Harry," She admonished, smiling fondly. "Watching you play is quite exciting, though," She said nonchalantly. "Your years of training at a near-professional level shows."

"Thank you," Harry said, blushing at the praise.

"But no," She said, shaking her head. "Quidditch isn't my thing."

"I know, I was just teasing you," Harry said, smiling. "Besides, even if you were involved in Quidditch, you'd be better as a manager or a coach-- you're too smart to be flying around throwing balls at goals."

"You're plenty intelligent, Harry, don't devalue yourself because you like a physical sport!" Hermione admonished him.

"Okay, okay," Harry raised his hands in surrender. "You're right."

...

Before Hermione knew it, the days before Harry's birthday were whittling down. They attended a couple more Quidditch matches with Rolanda acting as the referee, but she was also quite pleased that they spent quite a bit of their time studying and practicing theoretical and practical spells and other things to get her up to snuff before the start of third year. Of course, her studying was broken up in a few places by Professor McGonagall insisting on the two of them taking some time to enjoy touristy bits of Yamato, saying it wouldn't do to be cooped up in their flat all day long.

The morning of Harry's birthday, Hermione was awoken by someone gently shaking her. She opened her eyes to see Professor McGonagall peering at her.

"Professor?" She said groggily, rubbing her eyes. "What time is it?"

"Early," Minerva said with a small smile. "I need to borrow you for a few minutes, to tell you something very important."

Hermione, barely conscious at this point, followed her Professor into the living room, where she noticed a dark-haired, roguish looking man sitting on the couch. It took her sleep-fogged brain a few seconds before her eyes widened in recognition.

"Sirius Black!" She exclaimed, and Minerva gently shushed her.

"Yes," Minerva said, nodding. "Sirius Black. Now, just take a seat and we'll have a conversation about it. I didn't want to just drop him attending Harry's birthday party today without forewarning you."

The conversation went on for a little while, with Harry's mother explaining the circumstances that lead to Sirius Black's staying with their family at their cottage, and that it was a secret due to his technically still being a convicted fugitive. Hermione felt rather shell-shocked, but understood completely. Rolanda made breakfast for everyone while Minerva attempted to rouse Harry from his dead sleep.

Harry was rather infamous among Slytherins for his odd sleeping habits. There were entire nights where he'd be up and down every other hour, and then some nights he'd sleep like the dead and not even Voldemort could rouse him from bed.

Eventually, Minerva returned to the sitting room with a bleary Harry in tow. His hair was utterly askew, a pile of messy waves all over the place, and he was trying to shove his glasses onto his nose, and managed to get them on before blinking in surprise.

"Sirius!" He said, grinning ear to ear.

"Happy birthday, kiddo," Sirius said, accepting a hug from his godson. "I can't believe you're 13 already, jeez. You're making me feel so old, kiddo."

"Sirius, you're not even 35 yet," Minerva sniffed airily. "Please do calm yourself."

Sirius let out a barking laugh and smirked playfully at the Transfiguration professor from his seated position.

Hermione felt a little guilty at having not gotten Harry a present for his birthday-- she usually thought about it well in advance, but this year, she hadn't had nearly enough time to give it the proper consideration it so rightfully deserved.

Although, Hermione's thoughts drifted back to some days ago, and throughout the day, her gears were turning-- thinking about the best thing to give Harry for his birthday.

Sirius left during the mid-day, claiming that the twelve-hour time difference was a serious problem, and that he'd have to go home-- he did give Harry a big hug and promised to see him again, before apparating away to the predestined portkey office where he'd make his return trip to England. Harry was still very eager to enjoy the rest of his birthday, and they did have quite a fun afternoon-- Chiyoda was the site of a large park that had once played a central part to a military installation, though in the intervening centuries, the park had become a place full of wildlife and the like.

They'd even gone to one of Shinjuku's wixen shopping districts, looking through displays at the crazy and wild things they couldn't get back home-- ranging from exotic candies, joke items that Harry felt the Weasley twins would enjoy, and a whole plethora of books. Of course, their being in Japanese made long-term purchasing prospects quite grim, much to Hermione's chagrin.

That evening, once dinner had been done, and Minerva and Rolanda both stepped into the kitchen to take care of the dishes, Harry and Hermione sat alone in the sitting room.

"This was probably one of my best birthdays ever-- except maybe the day I got my Hogwarts letter. That was an amazing birthday," Harry said, an incredibly pleased look on his face. "Did you have fun?"

"Oh, of course I did. Chiyoda Gardens was beautiful; I've never seen so many flowers in my life. Maybe we should talk to Professor Sprout about building something like that on the grounds for the students. I'm sure she and Neville would be over the moon to start such a large horticultural collection."

"Sucker bet," Harry said, chuckling. "He's mad for plants."

Hermione smiled. "Harry, I know I didn't get you anything-"

"No worries, Hermione, this year's been kinda rough on you, I wouldn't have expected you to shell out to buy me anything." Harry said, smiling at her.

Hermione stared at him for a moment before determination crossed her face.

She reached up, grabbed his face and pulled it in, giving him a perfectly chaste kiss that lasted a good few seconds before she let go and pulled away. The look of shock on his face was worth it, Hermione thought, with a satisfied smile crossing her face.

"Hermione, I..." Harry said, still blinking in shock. He shook his head and leaned in and kissed her. They kissed clumsily as could be expected from people their age, before someone clearing their throat interrupted their silent exchange.

Minerva was staring at them with a raised eyebrow, and a coy smirk on her face. "What have we here?" She asked, tossing the dish rag she was carrying over her shoulder.

"Um," Hermione squeaked, blushing at having been caught unawares.

"I promise, Mum, this is the first time we've... you know, kissed."

Minerva smiled warmly and sat down in a nearby loveseat. "I'm not upset at you two. You weren't doing anything wrong, really. Who initiated it?"

"I did, ma'am," Hermione said, blushing deeper. "I... didn't get Harry a birthday gift, and I... well, I've been thinking about him quite a bit since the end of the term. I really like him and... wanted to show it, I think."

Minerva gave an appreciative nod, before looking at the two critically. "I should hope I don't have to tell you both the expectations of conducting yourselves appropriately."

"No, Mum, of course not," Harry said, blushing. "We wouldn't- I wouldn't,"

"Good," Minerva said, before standing up and leaving the room without a word.

"Merlin, that was awkward," Harry said, running a hand through his hair. He looked at Hermione, and blushed.

"Harry," Hermione said firmly. "I was being honest-- I really do like you. I heard that you and... Neville were a thing for a little while last term, but I didn't want to really pry."

"Neville and I were just kinda curious about what it was like to be in a relationship. We kissed a little, spent time together in the greenhouses, and... I don't know, we sorta realized we were happier as friends than boyfriends. That... and I really like you too, and I was thinking so much about you, in the hospital ward, not moving... it was just a lot of weight to carry around, sorta. It's fine, he and I are still good friends and the like."

Hermione brightened some and kissed Harry again. "I'm glad this isn't going to cause any serious problems. I can handle rumours, but I'd hate to be the reason you stopped being friends with someone. I'd be mortified!"

Harry waved his hand dismissively. "I wouldn't worry about it too much."

"But other than a kiss and a girlfriend," Hermione said with a smile. "I had another thing I've been thinking of getting you for your birthday, but it'll be closer to my birthday before I can get it to you, would that be okay?"

"Sure, Hermione," Harry said fondly. "This'll take some getting used to, I guess."

"Definitely," Hermione said with a nod. "We'll take it one step at a time, together. Maybe we can even ask some of the older students for advice."

"Maybe," Harry said, before shrugging. "I think we're smart enough to figure it out for ourselves, mostly. I'd rather not go out of my way to emulate some of the tossers in the corridors. I once saw two Gryffindors on the sixth floor mauling each other in a public corridor. Can you believe that sort of thing? Like there's no chance someone can just wander upon them while they're in the middle of having a shag."

"Surely you've not caught anybody shagging at Hogwarts? At least not in public?" Hermione asked in disbelief.

"Okay, well, they weren't naked if that's what you're wondering--but they were certainly trying their damnedest."

...

The following day marked their return to England-- they had planned on staying longer, but everyone was beginning to feel homesick, and the final match Rolanda was intended to referee had been cancelled due to internal league politics that went over everyone's heads. So in the early morning of August 1st, the four arrived back in England, and Harry and Hermione found their term lists waiting for them back at the cottage. Harry glanced at it and rubbed his nose while looking over the sheaf of papers.

The first was a letter with the Ministry's letterhead, addressing a "matter of grave importance", as the Minister put it within its contents.

"Due to security concerns, Dementors will be stationed at Hogwarts as part of a Ministry effort to apprehend Sirius Black?" Harry asked, glancing at his mother, who grimaced.

"It seems someone pretending to Sirius was sighted in Caithness-- and the Ministry has reacted by putting the Azkaban guards at all the entrances to Hogwarts. Quite a troublesome business."

Harry discarded the Ministry's letter with a flip of his hand and grinned at the next sheet.

"Hogsmeade? Wicked. Mum, are you gonna sign it?"

Minerva smiled and plucked the paper from her son's hands. "Already ahead of you on that one, son. Both you and Hermione've already got your permission forms signed and stored at Hogwarts. There shouldn't be any concern there."

"Brilliant," Harry crooned. "I've missed Hogsmeade."

"Oh, that's right--you've not been there since you started Hogwarts," Rolanda said as she sat down in one of the chairs. "You'll have to show your girlfriend around, then."

Sirius poked his head through the doorway of the kitchen. "Excuse me, but did I just hear that my godson has a girlfriend?"

"Aye," Minerva said with a grin. "I caught him and Hermione kissing yesterday night,"

"Mum!" Harry protested, blushing. "Not everyone needs to be told that! Are you gonna put it in the Prophet?"

Minerva simply gave her son a mischievous smirk, before Harry turned his attentions to the next paper in the stack, which contained information about required materials for classes.

"We've also got to choose our electives, don't we?" Harry said, glancing at the sheet with a frown.

"Yes, Albus has suggested you take only two electives this year, as he intends to fit your private lessons into one of the empty periods for electives-- I'd suggest Runes and Care of Magical Creatures, you seemed most interested in those two,"

Hermione was staring at the paper, biting her lip. She glanced at Minerva who shook her head. "Miss Granger, Professor Snape is not going to let you take all the available electives. You were out of commission for months, you should really go easy on yourself."

"Then I guess I could take Runes and Magical Creatures like Harry--both of those electives are fascinating. You'd never catch me dead in Divination though-- such a wooly subject," Hermione said, her face turning sour at the thought.

"Yes, Divination is one of Hogwarts' more... suspect courses, though of course I'd never disparage a fellow colleague like Sibyll."

"Of course not," Rolanda said, snickering. "You're a rock of discipline, Minnie."

Minerva nodded. "Are you sure that's what you two want to take?"

"Yeah," Harry said with a nod. "Both are fascinating."

"I agree," Hermione said, glancing at her boyfriend. "We'll do that."

"Alright," Minerva said with a nod. "Let me just write this down and I'll process it the next time I get to my office at Hogwarts," She stood up and made her way to her home office, leaving the room silent.

"There's still a whole month before the term starts-- we've got to go to Diagon Alley and get our textbooks and we've got to finish our tutoring sessions! There is absolutely not enough time!" Hermione complained, dropping into a chair dramatically and pouting.

"We'll make it work, Hermione, I promise," Harry said, smiling.

...

Harry and Hermione spent the remaining two weeks of their summer together at his family home-- enjoying the scenery of the Scottish Highlands, walking the forest trails together, clumsily snogging on some of the scenic overlooks that he'd spent hours reading by as a child, and also purchasing their school supplies at a slightly less depressing Diagon Alley. At one point during the span of time, Harry even took her to the place he'd nearly drowned some months prior.

"Over the Yuletide, I was walking on one of the trails here with Sirius and Mum, and we came to this river here," Harry gestured to the rushing river that flowed down to an unknown destination. "It was frozen over on the top layer, and it's usually safe to cross during winter, but when we did, the ice was kind of brittle and weak, and I fell in. Sirius saved my life by pulling me out of the water and getting me home safely. That's how I know at least, that I can trust him."

"Oh, Harry," Hermione said, wrapping him in a hug. "I'm glad you survived that!"

"I was fine once I warmed up," Harry said sheepishly. "It was just an accident, though."

"Still," She sternly told him. "I'm glad."

Harry kissed her on the cheek and smiled. "Yeah, if I'd died, you wouldn't have a boyfriend to hug and kiss you, would ya?"

"You're such a dork, Potter," Hermione said, looping her arms around him and moving in for another brief snog. She was pleased they were getting better at it, it made life so much easier.

A few days before the start of the term, Hermione finally had to return home. She missed her parents, but she also was in that stage of her relationship with Harry that she didn't really want to leave him-- and he certainly didn't want her to go either. They stood quietly at the door of Harry's house, and Harry kissed her gently and smiled.

"I'll see you on the train, Hermione," He said fondly, hugging her tightly.

"Yes, you will. And I'll tell you all about how the couple weeks went, I anticipate my Mum will badger me about the vacation. Should I tell them we're dating?" Hermione asked, eyes gleaming with a rare sort of mischief.

"I'd rather your parents not come after me with blunt objects. They were quite cross after the whole basilisk thing," Harry muttered. "But I suppose they were more put out at Mum, Dumbledore and Snape than me-- your Dad was just kind of in disbelief about me saying I'd defend you-- as if I wouldn't when the time came."

"I have no doubts in my mind," Hermione said, grinning. "Now, I've got to go. Your mum's starting to get impatient."

They separated, and Harry watched as her and Minerva disappeared down the trail from their front door, before an echoing crack, the sound of someone apparating away, reverberated off the hillsides. His smile faded.

The next two weeks without her were going to be hell, weren't they?

...

Once Hermione had gotten home, her parents had immediately started in about her vacation-- and she had been quick to assuage them of the concerns that it had been anything other than a perfect experience. Once her father had seemed mollified and made his way off to do whatever fathers typically did in their spare time, her mother had fixed her with a knowing stare.

"You and Harry, right?" Monica said with a smirk.

"How'd you know?!" Hermione asked in disbelief.

"Boys can be sort of oblivious about it, but you're positively radiating affection. Like you've just gotten your first kiss and thoroughly enjoyed it. Your father either genuinely didn't clue into that, or he just doesn't want to know and is ignoring it. Either way, I won't be the one telling him about your new boyfriend."

Hermione sputtered before glowering at her mother. "If you must know, yes, Harry and I have kissed a fair bit over the last few weeks. We kissed for the first time on his birthday, and agreed we wanted to try dating each other-- we're not doing anything inappropriate, Mum. Nothing like some of the older students at Hogwarts, anyway."

Her mother snorted. "Ah, to be a teenager again. I trust you and Harry are smart enough to be responsible, but we should still have a conversation about all that sort of thing. Tell you what, go upstairs and unpack, and we'll have a chat after dinner. I'll keep your father out of our hair by telling him it's a feminine conversation. He'll bolt like an Olympic runner, I tell you that much."

Hermione turned to leave before stopping. "Mum, I had a question for you. Would you mind taking me into town tomorrow to the shops?"

Monica blinked. "Erm, sure thing, dear. That can be arranged."

"Wonderful," Hermione said, grinning and dashing upstairs with her bags in tow.

Chapter Text

Harry huffed as he loaded his trunk and Crookshanks' carrier onto the racking of his usual compartment. Someone had already perched up in it, resting on the window, lightly snoring. Harry paid him very little mind– he had other things to think about.

Dropping into the seat across from the other person in the compartment impatiently, he idly picked at his fingernails in anticipation of her.

He’d been waiting for the first of September with such gleeful anticipation that he’d almost forgotten to enjoy the last two weeks of summer. After all, he and Hermione would be reunited again, so he was more than chuffed at finally getting back to Hogwarts, as it would mean having his girlfriend back.

Not even the bloody miserable torrential rain could keep him from feeling quite chipper and excited about the prospect. Eventually, the door clattered open, and a slightly damp Hermione Granger stood in the doorway. She loaded her trunk up into the rack space, and sat down next to her boyfriend, leaning onto him and smiling happily.

“The last two weeks without you have been absolute murder,” Harry said, grinning. “Who’d have thought once we started snogging, I’d miss it so much?”

“Keep your hormones in check, Potter,” Hermione said dryly, smirking at her boyfriend and rolling her eyes. “I got you your birthday gift, by the way. Had to go to Muggle London to get it, though. Wasn’t too troublesome of a process– Mum helped me pick it out.”

“Oh? Any chance I could find out what it is?”

“You’ll just have to wait,” Hermione said knowingly, looking quite self-satisfied. She glanced at the third person in the room.

“Who’s he?” She asked, before squinting up at the bag on the rack above him. “R.J. Lupin,” She murmured. “He must be the new Defence professor, I take it?”

“Lupin,” Harry said faintly. “That name sounds familiar. I’m just not sure where,”

Hermione shrugged. “Speaking of Defence, did you get a chance to look over the textbooks for the term?”

“Of course, I did,” Harry, sounding scandalized, as if he’d ever not do some studying– but only for a moment. “I really liked the material in the fourth-year DADA textbook. A lot of it seems to be written about hex prevention.”

The door to the compartment opened, and Draco stood in the doorway, looking about as collected as he usually was– though he was certainly a shade or two darker than his usual ghost-white skin tone.

“Draco!” Harry said, grinning at his friend. “Good to see you, mate. How was your summer? You look like you got some sun.”

“Interesting, actually,” Draco said, massaging the bridge of his nose. “My mother brought me along with her to Toletania, which she almost never does. I think the whole Heir of Slytherin thing last year has her rethinking some of her priorities. The last time she and Father were in the same room, she was glaring at him like she was trying to set his clothes on fire with wandless magic.”

Harry snorted. “What’d you do if your Mum was busy… y’know,” He finished lamely, not wanting to vocalize what his mother was probably up to at the Malfoy beach-side estate.

“I spent a lot of time loitering about the hotel and beach– but I also did some light reading,” Draco said, a pleased look on his face as he dropped into the seat next to Lupin. Draco glanced at the man and blinked.

“Is this our new Defence professor?” Draco asked, and Harry gave a quiet nod. “Strange he’s commuting on the Express– Professors usually don’t do that,”

“That did strike me as rather odd,” Harry murmured. The train jerked as it began to leave the station, and picked up speed as it chugged off on its path to Hogwarts.

Draco glanced at the fact his two friends were cuddling and raised an eyebrow. “You two seem awfully close?”

“That’s because we are, Draco,” Hermione said with finality, giving him a mischievous smile. “Harry and I… are somewhat of an item now,”

Draco snorted. “There’s been a standing bet since Potter broke up with Longbottom on how long it’d take for you two to get together. You should’ve seen him while you were petrified, he was like a lost puppy. It took Professor Snape, Longbottom and I to drag him out of his funk and keep him from spending every free moment of his year staring at you in the Hospital Wing.”

“Aw, Harry!” Hermione said, kissing her boyfriend on the cheek.

“That reminds me, I’m going to have to go collect ten galleons from Blaise,” Draco said, snapping his fingers. “He bet me that you two wouldn’t hook up before the start of the term. I bet on Harry’s birthday.”

“You know us so well, Draco,” Harry said dryly. “Got it in one.”

Draco seemed thoroughly pleased, before the train suddenly stopped with a loud CLUNK.

Harry blinked in surprise. “What? No way we’re already there,” He leaned to look out the window. A shiver went down his back as he felt a perceptible drop in the ambient temperature in the train.

“What the blistering hell is going on,”

His heart dropped into his stomach and he gaped at Draco. “They wouldn’t put Dementors on the train, would they?”

Draco blinked in realization and paled. “My father told me there were going to be Dementors… but he didn’t say they’d be on the bloody train!”

“Indeed,” The male voice in the corner said, as Professor Lupin flung his coat off himself, looking quite displeased at having been awoken by a Dementor.

“Just wanted to catch some shut-eye, but now I see why Dumbledore asked me to be on the train with you students,” He said, shaking his head. “I suppose sleep isn’t in the cards. Stay seated, and don’t make any sudden movements.”

The door to the compartment clicked open, and a long, eldritch hand reached around and pulled the door away. A Dementor stood in the doorway, floating ominously over the group. Harry winced as his scar began to burn, and aching pains shot through his head. The cold was so strong now as the Dementor grew closer, an almost impossible layer of frost forming on the leather seats with every inch the eldritch abomination moved forward.

Suddenly, an incredibly painful jolt shot through his arm, and the ring that carried the Resurrection Stone glowed bright, illuminating the entire room in a golden aura. The Dementor shrieked and dissolved in a shower of pure-black dust, and Harry fell out. The last thing he heard as he lost consciousness, was a woman screaming.

And then he was awake again, Professor Lupin staring at him carefully, fear etched into the DADA professor’s eyes.

“Are you alright, Harry?” Remus asked, his voice thick with concern. He pulled a small chocolate bar out of his pocket. “Here, eat this. It’ll make you feel better.”

“Bloody Dementors,” Harry murmured, rubbing his scar as he chewed a bit of chocolate. “What happened? Did anybody else pass out?”

“Neither of us did,” Draco said, gesturing to himself and Hermione, before swallowing a lump in his throat. “But… do you remember what happened just before you passed out?”

Harry blinked and realization flooded back to him, and he glanced down at the ring. “Bloody hell, what.”

“Whatever you did, it destroyed the Dementor,” Remus said, a smirk crossing his face. “That’s quite impressive, I’d say.”

“I knew that I could… sort of banish spirits that were lingering about, but… I didn’t quite realize I could destroy a Dementor with this thing. I’ll have to tell Professor Dumbledore about it,” Harry murmured with a grimace.

“Did anybody hear a woman screaming?” Harry asked, frowning. “When I passed out… just before I blacked out, I heard a woman screaming.”

Remus paled perceptibly at that, before sagging down into the seat he was in before the Dementor had arrived. “When Dumbledore had asked me to take this job, I didn’t anticipate… such an opening.”

Harry smiled weakly and Remus patted him on the shoulder. “Not to worry, Harry. You’ve got quite a power against the Dementors, but come see me after the start of the term, I might have something for you.”

He stood back up and looked at the three students. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a talk with the conductor,”

Once the Professor had departed, Harry let out a heavy sigh. “All this for bloody Sirius Black.”

He looked at Draco, and grinned. “Want to know a secret, Draco?” He asked.

Draco blinked and looked at both Hermione and Harry. “What’d you two learn and not tell me?”

“Well, it all starts last Yule…”

Minerva McGonagall was in the middle of a tirade of swears in Scottish Gaelic while Albus Dumbledore and Remus Lupin looked on in amusement. Remus, for his part, had never seen his former Transfiguration professor in such a state. Having a child and a daredevil wife really did loosen her up, he thought.

“Whose bright idea was it to put bloody Dementors on the bloody train?” She snarled at the Headmaster.

Dumbledore sighed. “The Ministry insisted upon it–since the platform is so public, just in case Sirius snuck aboard.”

“Of course they insisted upon it, and now my son has been hurt,” Minerva said, her voice a low growl. “How many years is Harry going to have to suffer through this before he has just a normal year, Albus? First year it was a professor possessed by the wraith of the Dark Lord; Second year it was a bloody basilisk and a cursed diary, and this year it’s bloody Dementors, Peter Pettigrew and Sirius Black. What’s next?”

“Minerva,” Remus said calmly. “I understand you’re worried, but Harry is fine. He was up and moving, perhaps even a little tired, when we arrived at the station. If he has any issues, I’m sure he’ll speak to someone about it.”

Minerva took a deep breath and nodded. “I’m sorry, Remus. It’s… just been a rough few years. Harry never had any of these problems when he was just a little kid running around the halls here. Now he’s an actual student and he’s dealing with life or death situations constantly– it’s taxing on him. And me and Rolanda, frankly, as his mothers.”

Remus gave her a sympathetic look.

“The students will be arriving soon,” Albus said, glancing at the clock on the wall. “We should make our way to our positions.”

Within fifteen minutes, everything was back to seemingly normal, with the numberless upper-year students filling the rows of their House tables. Dumbledore spied a slightly pale and gaiting Harry Potter being escorted by Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger up the aisle between the Slytherin and Gryffindor tables. Harry gave him a worried look, and Dumbledore nodded slightly– an indicator to drop by later for a chat.

Once all the upper-years were seated, and the usual din of conversation had bubbled up as old friends and new friends comingled, Dumbledore waved his hands, and the doors opened once more, this time with Minerva striding through the chamber, a line of small first years behind her.

The sorting went well, Dumbledore thought. An equal balance of the lot. Astoria Greengrass joined her sister in Slytherin, not at all unexpected given their family’s pureblood stature– even if they themselves weren’t very Dark; and an eager young lass named Romilda Vane who was sorted into Gryffindor.

Once the sorting was complete and Minerva had taken her seat next to him, he rose and tapped his fork against his goblet.

“Students,” He began. “Welcome once again to another wonderful year of learning at Hogwarts. I have just a few brief start-of-term announcements, before you find yourselves in a world of sumptuous feasting. The first, our Care of Magical Creatures professor, Silvanus Kettleburn, has decided to retire, hoping to spend his remaining years with his remaining limbs. Due to this, I ask you to give a warm welcome to our newest Professor for Care of Magical Creatures, Professor Rubeus Hagrid,” He gestured to the large half-giant sitting at the table, who rose sheepishly, causing the table to rattle and move, before plopping down into his chair, blushing.

Dumbledore smiled at the assembled students before adjusting his glasses.

“As well, Professor Alastor Moody, our Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, has also retired, for much the same reason as Professor Kettleburn, in fact. As such, this year, Defence Against the Dark Arts will be taught by Professor Remus J. Lupin,”

Lupin rose and gave a wave to the students before sitting down.

“And of course, as you may have already noticed– the Ministry for Magic has deemed it a security necessity that Hogwarts play host to the Dementors this school year. I must caution all of you that this is a serious and delicate matter. Dementors are hardly fooled by tricks or disguises, and that it is not in their nature to be very forgiving. I warn all of you now, give them no reason to harm you. I look to the Prefects, as well as our Head Boy and Head Girl, to ensure that no student runs into problems with our guests.”

The following morning, Harry found himself being dogged by a plethora of rumours, both about his passing out on the train, and his relationship with Hermione. The latter weren’t too snide and derogatory, but the former certainly were– with plenty of people looking to razz him for it.

“Hey, Potter,” Someone called him and he turned to see some Gryffindor fourth-year he didn’t know. “Are you going to be able to handle Defence this year? Can’t even handle Dementors, what if we deal with something worse? What’re you going to do– pass out again? Cry for your Mummy to save you?”

As if by some cosmic cue, the boy was yanked out of his seat by his ear.

“He needs not to call his Mum, Mister Crewe,” Minerva hissed. “You will mind your own business and not bully other students, or it will be a detention, and I might add you will be setting a record, as not even the Weasley twins have gotten a detention at breakfast on the first day of the term.”

There was a gasp from the Gryffindor table, and Fred and George Weasley stood up, looking quite cross.

“Can you hear the disrespect?” Fred said, looking offended.

“Someone dares challenge our record!” George scoffed.

“You wound us, Professor,” they said together.

Minerva sniffed, before letting the fourth-year go, him sinking back into his chair. “I’ll have you know, Messrs Weasley, that you are not even close to holding the record. The record-holder on earliest detention is, in fact, held by Lily Evans.”

Harry blinked. “Wait, really?” He asked, turning to look at Minerva.

She nodded. “Third day of class, her sixth year. Something about someone using an offensive epithet to refer to her, so she broke a boy’s nose in the middle of the Potions classroom.”

Harry grinned ear to ear, and Fred and George’s offended looks fell on Harry.

“Well, I never,” Fred muttered, sinking into his chair.

“We’re clearly going to have to up our game, dear brother,” Fred said.

“Oh, Merciful Christ, please don’t,” Minerva said, rubbing her forehead as she continued handing out schedules to her Gryffindors.

Moments later, Snape descended from the staff table and started handing out schedules to the Slytherin students. Once the card landed in his hands, Harry appraised his schedule and compared it to that of his two friends. Their schedules didn’t completely align, with Harry’s slightly different class load being their offset. But he was quite chuffed to know they’d have all their other classes together, including Astronomy, Runes and CMC.

Speaking of their classes– the first class of the day for Harry was, in fact, DADA with the 4th year Slytherin and Gryffindor students. Once Harry had breakfast, he made his way up to the DADA classroom, and slipped into a seat next to a fellow Slytherin, some girl he’d met before but they had next to nothing in common other than they were both quite studious. The boy that had tried to mock him this morning slipped in next to one of his Gryffindor friends, and Harry paid them no mind.

Remus’ first DADA class was fascinating, certainly. It was a double lesson, and Harry came to find very quickly that he very much liked Remus Lupin. The man was passionate and eloquent, going over the day’s lesson without missing a beat, and certainly making it an attractive prospect. He wasn’t as terse as Professor Moody often was, but he wasn’t overly loquacious either.

After two hours of DADA, and getting a brief homework assignment on Red Caps as part of revising from last year’s content, Harry shoved off to his next class of the morning– Herbology.

He was one of the first students to arrive to the third-year greenhouse, and Professor Sprout’s smile warmed and grew as she saw him approaching.

“Mister Potter! How good to see you again, I hope I can expect you at the first meeting of the Herbology Club this Saturday,” She said fondly.

“I was thinking about that,” Harry said, dropping his bag near his workstation. “That reminds me, I was in Yamato over the summer, and Hermione and I went walking through these magnificent botanical gardens in Chiyoda. I was wondering if he we could do something like that here.”

“It certainly warrants a discussion,” Professor Sprout said, clearly looking like she’d give it some thought. Eventually, more students began to pour in, and the first Herbology lesson of the year began. Today’s Herbology course was simply going over some of the details from last year, and discussing what we’d be doing this term– Neville certainly seemed pleased at the idea, positively bouncing with energy at the idea of being able to get his hands dirty with plants again.

After eating lunch with Hermione and Draco in the Great Hall, the day was rounded out with a Double Potions lesson with Gryffindor and Slytherin. As they entered the classroom, they noticed there was a slightly different configuration to the classroom– there were now three seats per cauldron, rather than two.

Harry, Hermione and Neville squeezed into one table together, looking around expectantly. Draco had a slightly sour face on as he ended up with Seamus Finnegan and Ron Weasley as partners, as Seamus had a rather infamous reputation among Gryffindors and Slytherins for his penchant for pyrotechnics. Harry grimaced at the idea of Draco having to hawk over their potions through the year, keeping Ron and Seamus from bodging things up too much. But he had a reasonable feeling that Draco would most likely berate the two boys into submission on potioneering.

As it was, Neville had gotten so much better at Potions now that he had Harry as a confidence booster– and with Hermione in tow, there was little doubt they’d be the best in class.

Snape had raised an eyebrow at their grouping but said nothing as he launched into his start of year spiel, before telling them to begin the first lesson of the year, brewing something from the previous year to ensure their skills hadn’t been utterly trashed by a summer of care-free frolicking.

The next day’s lessons had gone over well enough too, with Charms opening the fore, followed by Herbology. As Harry’s friends went off to their free period of study in the library, Harry climbed the staircases up to the Headmaster’s office as instructed on his schedule.

“Harry,” Dumbledore greeted warmly as Harry entered the room. “I trust your summer was satisfactory.”

“Oh certainly so, Professor,” Harry said, fondly. “Hermione and I are somewhat of an item now, if you’ve noticed.”

“I did indeed, it’s quite the talk of the school,” Dumbledore said, chuckling lightly. “I should like to talk to you about what happened on the Hogwarts Express, my boy.”

Harry nodded. “Well, those blasted Dementors came on the train and decided to come into the compartment I was sharing with Professor Lupin, Hermione and Draco,” He said, looking out over the grounds. “It got close and I started to feel like my fingers were going to fall off, and then the ring lit up and blasted the thing to nothingness, and I passed out. That’s the whole event in a nutshell, anyway. Just before I passed out, I heard a woman screaming.”

Dumbledore nodded sagely and shook his head. “I suppose we haven’t given much consideration to how the Resurrection Stone reacts around such an avatar of death and misery. So, it’s good to know that your ring can eradicate them. I doubt it’d be very useful against multiple Dementors, but it’s something.” Dumbledore said with a shrug.

“Probably not,” Harry murmured. “Is there a way to keep Dementors away?”

“The best way is to cast a Patronus,” Dumbledore said with a smile, before waving his wand. “Expecto patronum,

A silvery phoenix emerged from the tip of his wand and lingered around before dissolving into silver mist.

“Oh, wow,” Harry marvelled at it before looking back at Professor Dumbledore. “Am I going to learn that?”

“I’ll have Professor Lupin set up some lessons with you on Saturday afternoons, if that’s alright. Not too long, I promise, I know you’ve got friends you’d like to see since you don’t seem the often outside of school.”

There was a moment of silence before Dumbledore nodded and waved his wand. A couple of textbooks floated off his bookshelf and into Harry’s hands. “I think you’re just about the right age to begin learning Occlumency and Legilimency. All of the breathing exercises and meditation I’ve been having you do will give you a good base for entering the right state to begin building your natural resistance and offensive capacity. I won’t be hammering your mind with assaults, but I want you to read over these books so we can begin as soon as possible.”

“I honestly cannot wait to learn more about Runes,” Harry said, grinning ear to ear as they descended the stone steps to Hagrid’s cottage, where Care of Magical Creatures would take place. “I mean, most of our spells are in Latin! I’m curious to see how Norse and Geatish things influenced our magic. Professor Babbling definitely made it sound right fascinating.”

Hermione and Draco nodded in agreement as they saw Hagrid emerge from his hut, a grey-haired woman in his presence. The woman looked certainly pleased, conversing animatedly with Hagrid.

“You lot are here early,” Hagrid said with a smile. “I know it’s our first day ’n all, but I’ve got to handle some issues in the Forbidden Forest, and I asked a friend of mine at the International Magizoology Association to help out,”

“Guilty as charged,” she said, grinning widely.

“This is Elizabeth Williamson, I asked the IMA for a woman to take over today’s classes, she’s an old friend of mine.”

“I’ve been happily retired in Exeter, but my husband got a bit tired of me complaining about being cooped up all day and told me to go find something to do. When the IMA started talking about Rubeus’ request, I jumped at the chance.”

“Liz, I’d like ya to meet Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Draco Malfoy. These three are probably the brightest ones at Hogwarts.”

“Harry Potter? It’s quite a pleasure to meet you. Albus told me about last term. I must say, you’re quite a daring lad, aren’t you?”

“I try to not be, ma’am.” Harry said, blushing.

Liz gave a loud laugh and clapped Harry on the shoulder. “Buck up, lad. I’ll tell you, you’ve got a bright career in magizoology if you so desired. That sort of mind-set is exactly the kind of thing we look for in apprentices.”

“It’s something I’ve given thought to,” Harry said. “That’s why I’m taking this class.”

“Good lad,” Liz said, nodding. “Now, I suppose we’re just waiting for the rest of your classmates before we can begin.”

Once more people had shown up, and eventually everyone was buzzing with excitement as they trekked along the small forest trail towards the clearing and pens that were erected for some of the creatures. In the middle of the clearing was an honest to goodness unicorn. The singular horn jutting from the equine’s forehead gleamed as the sun poured through the treeline, a faint fringe of rainbow lingering after it as it trotted around the pen.

“As a special treat, Professor Hagrid thought that you would like a small lesson on unicorns,” Liz said confidently, as the girls all unanimously let out gasps of awe. She waved her wand and everyone’s books flipped open to the section on unicorns.

“Unicorns are quite an interesting species of equine. They’re not too far removed in terms of bodily design and skeletal structure of muggle horses, but they have their own unique properties as one could expect of magical creatures. They are, by and large, wholly distrusting of men, and our example today is no exception to the rule, so I would advise all the young men to keep their distance.”

She gestured to the crowd. “Young ladies, if you’d like to line up and approach the unicorn, you may do so.”

Harry hung back by the rocky outcropping and watched as the girls formed a long line to pet the unicorn, before his mind began to wander. He looked down at his book and thumbed through it idly. He’d read parts of the textbook, but hadn’t enough time to read the entire thing back to front. The entry for unicorns did mention they were one of the wand cores that were often used, and so Harry flipped to find thestrals, since they were… sort of in the same genus.

Harry was trying to… not feel any sort of emotions about it. He already knew that unicorns preferred girls– he most certainly did not want to pet the unicorn. That’d be silly. Stupid, even. Utter nonsense.

Harry’s thought process was interrupted by a presence just out of his field of vision. He assumed it was Draco, or Hermione, now that she was done petting the unicorn. Harry glanced up and saw Hermione staring at him from across the clearing, as was everyone else. He turned his head slightly to see the unicorn standing a mere inches from him, looking at him intently.

“Um, hello,” Harry said, nervously. The unicorn gently walked forward and nudged him with its nose. Harry looked at Elizabeth, who was wide-eyed and clearly alarmed. Her eyes darted to the unicorn, before she gave a small nod to Harry, before pulling her wand out of the bun in her hair.

Harry gently reached out his hand, and the unicorn pushed into the palm of his hand, letting out a pleased whinny. Harry stood up and stroked his hand down the unicorn’s snout and through its mane. He felt utterly confused, as the unicorn nudged him towards the pen area, before clopping ahead of him, and settling down in the clearing.

There was stunned silence as Liz cleared her throat.

“I think that’ll be all for today, kids,” She said. “Mister Potter, would you mind staying behind?”

Harry nodded mutely as the students, disaffected looks on those who hadn’t gotten a chance to pet the unicorn dispersed, leaving only Harry and his friends in the two houses standing there, everyone looking gobsmacked.

“Would anybody mind telling me what the bloody hell just happened,” Harry said, his voice dry. “I thought unicorns didn’t like blokes?”

“They don’t,” Liz said, her lips taut. “Once they’re mature, they almost certainly don’t. Foals sometimes do, but even that’s a particularly woolly thing.”

Harry felt a little dizzy, and rubbed his head. “The rumour mill is going to go absolutely nutty.”

“No bet, mate,” Ron said, before clapping Harry on the shoulder. “But don’t you worry, Neville and I will put anybody who’s got something nasty to say about you in hospital.”

“Don’t get expelled on my account, Ronald,” Harry said, dryly, looking at his Gryffindor friend with an exasperated look. “I’m glad this was our last class of the day, I’d just like to go bludgeon myself to death with a Beater bat.”

Harry skipped dinner–he’d had no appetite after the events of the Care of Magical Creatures class, and had instead opted to lay in his bed, staring up at the ceiling, a frustrated look on his face. Attempts by his dorm-mates to get him to get up had failed, and they’d left him to his own devices. He grumbled, and made his way down to the Common Room, where Hermione was seated in the corner, reading. She looked up as he entered the Common Room and gave him a smile.

“I’m going to go down into the Chamber to brood,” Harry said. “Care to join me?”

Hermione nodded, and stood up. “Give me a quick shake to grab something. Wait here!”

Harry cast a scathing glance at some second years who were staring at him from another one of the corners of the room. They cowered and covered their faces with the books they had been reading before he’d walked in. He patiently waited for Hermione to re-join him– and she did, a small wrapped package in her hands. Since it was before curfew, they made their way up to the second floor girl’s lavatory uncovered, before stepping down into the Chamber of Secrets.

“It’s weird that you’re allowed to go in and out of here at your leisure,” Hermione said with a laugh. “What about the basilisk?”

“Fatimah? She’ll be fine. I’ll just let her know there’s a non-Parseltongue guest and to keep her first set of eyelids closed.”

They arrived at the Chamber doors, and Harry opened them and stepped through the porthole.

Fatimah!” He called out in Parseltongue.

I’ve got a guest with me,” He hissed softly. “She isn’t a speaker,

Understood, Harry,” Fatimah’s voice hissed fondly from somewhere in the echoing interior of the chamber, beyond the simple foyer. Harry then turned around.

“Come on, Hermione.”

Harry escorted his girlfriend through the foyer of the chamber and into one of the side rooms, which Hermione guessed was intended to be a small sitting room or a meeting room, given the arrangement of chairs and a low decorative table. Harry dropped into one of the plush chairs and looked very broody about the day’s events.

“I’ve still got no clue about what that whole affair was about in CMC,” Harry said, frowning and folding his arms petulantly. “And why does everyone have to be such a nosy pillock about it? ’Snot like it’s any of their bloody business,”

Hermione gave him a sympathetic smile, before reaching for the box she’d carried in her hands. “I don’t know if it’ll make you feel better or worse, but I got you a little something in London. Here,” She said, handing it over to him.

Harry unwrapped the plain cardboard box before popping it open, and peering inside. Harry’s face turned bright pink, and he gave Hermione a death-glare, but Hermione knew his threatening look held absolutely no heat.

He upended the box into his lap, and a pink jumper and a floral skirt fell into his lap.

“Before you say anything,” Hermione said, cutting off his protest. “I didn’t get this for any other reason than to tell you that you’ve been acting differently since that night in Yamato. I wanted to let you know that I will accept you no matter what you are. Okay? That’s all this means, Harry.”

Harry looked like he’d just swallowed an entire lemon, before he stood up.

“Step outside, please,” He instructed her, voice calm and placid.

Hermione complied, standing just outside the wooden door, rocking on her heels with concern. She may have been a tad presumptuous, but she’d gone about it without using any names, and had simply been entirely theoretical with her mother. Her mother had liked her idea, and had been more than willing to help her find something that was complimentary.

“Okay, Hermione,” Harry called out from behind the door. Hermione took a deep breath and braced herself as she opened the door again.

A grin split across her face as she took in the sight of Harry. He was standing in the middle of the room, looking sheepishly at her. The pink jumper was a very soft look for him, even if it wasn’t exactly right on the money, she figured that pink was probably not his colour– it wasn’t hers either, really.

“Come here, Harry,” She said, digging a hair-tie out of her jeans pocket. She reached behind her boyfriend’s head and tied a bunch of his messy black locks into a ponytail. It was a little rough, but she thought he looked nice– incredibly cute, even.

“You look cute, Harry,” She said warmly, pulling him into a bearhug.

“I look bloody awkward,” Harry murmured after they’d separated, a weak smile on his face. “Honestly, I look like something on the telly,”

“Stop that,” Hermione warned him, a frown crossing her face. “Don’t say that. it’s not a perfect fit, no,” She said, shrugging. “But you know, you look like a girl who hasn’t hit puberty yet, no shame in that.”

Harry blushed again, looking down.

Hermione wrinkled her nose. “Pink wasn’t the right colour, was it?”

She looked thoughtful before pulling out her wand. “Let me see if I remember the spell that I saw Pansy using the other day,”

She waved her wand and muttered some incantation Harry barely heard, and he noticed the shade of pink on his jumper morph into a shade of tarnished red, and Hermione gave an appreciative nod.

“Much better,” She said, grinning ear to ear.

Harry took a deep breath and carefully sat down on the chair, smoothing out his jumper and his skirt before he took on an anguished, nervous look.

“I’m so bloody confused,” Harry groaned, covering his face with his hands. “Am I a boy, or am I girl? I thought I already knew the answer, but I’m just… I don’t know! First I thought it was just the fact I wasn’t use to having someone think I wasn’t a bloke… and then the unicorn thing, and that was confusing enough as it was… and then this bloody outfit which I positively adore…”

Hermione brightened at the admission, but gave her boyfriend a sympathetic smile.

“Nobody said you had to figure this out on your own, Harry,” She murmured. “Not just me, but Draco, and Ron, and Neville… and then your mothers, Professor Snape, Sirius! I have no doubts everybody would be more than happy to help you find your way with these things.”

“Yeah,” Harry said, brightening a bit. “You’re right! Oh God, my mothers. How am I ever going to tell them.”

“I’ll be there for you,” Hermione said, clutching Harry’s hand. “Professor McGonagall and Madame Hooch both love you. They’ll stand by you one-hundred percent.”

Hermione watched as Harry’s smile broadened, tears forming in the corners of his eyes. “Thank you,” He whispered. He stood up and rubbed his jaw appreciatively. Hermione could tell that he was thinking, he always got that sort of daring look in his face when he was thinking about something.

Harry stepped out into the chamber, Hermione trailing behind him, watching him confidently sail into the middle of the room. He let out a guttural hiss, which reverberated across the room.

Hermione shuddered a bit at the hissing, and then stared in horror as the large basilisk poured out from the wall. She noticed the basilisk had one of its sets of eyelids closed, and she took a breath of relief. The basilisk glanced briefly at her, before hissing at Harry.

Harry smiled and hissed back, slightly twirling around, his skirt billowing around him. The basilisk hissed, and Harry blushed, before tersely hissing back.

He idly scratched his arm before hissing again– Hermione could tell it was a question.

The basilisk hissed, and began to slither towards one of the tunnels leading deeper into the Chamber.

Harry looked at her and gestured for her to come over towards him.

“She says there’s actually a… sort of master bedroom here, original belonging to Salazar, but it’s intended for the Heir of Slytherin. It’s got its own exit, that takes you right to the corridor with the Common Room.”

“A master bedroom? Do you not intend to room with Draco anymore?” Hermione asked, as they followed the large snake down the tunnel.

“Well, it’s worth a look. If I am, you know… I wouldn’t think it very appropriate to sleep in the same room as a bunch of boys, would you?”

Hermione gave Harry an incredulous look as they arrived at a pair of double doors. Hermione marvelled at their quality, before the basilisk hissed at Harry, who then gave a nod, and hissed at the door, and the doors creaked open.

The room wasn’t too far off from the central chamber in terms of design. Black, polished stone floors. Green and silver wall decorations, and illumination provided by magical torches that made the room quite bright and vibrant. The ceiling was a reflection of the surface environment, attuned to the rising and setting of the sun. The furniture in the room certainly looked a couple centuries out of date, but Harry was looking around it with a grin.

He hissed again to the basilisk in the doorway and the basilisk replied in turn.

“The magic in this chamber is strange. It… almost sort of bends around the usual laws of magic. Because it recognizes that I am someone who requires a place to sleep, Fatimah says it’ll provide a bathroom, a sizable closet, and a doorway that leads back to the Slytherin dungeons,” He said, and gestured to the smaller door in the corner of the room. “This is perfect,”

“Do you think they’d let you move in down here?” Hermione asked, raising an eyebrow. “You’d be outside of the Slytherin Common Room, you know.”

“I’ll talk to Professor Dumbledore about it,” Harry smiled. “In the meantime, maybe we can sleep here for the night?”

“Together?” Hermione squeaked, eyes wide.

“Maybe, we don’t have to do anything untoward, you know,” Harry said, raising an eyebrow. “It’s just a question…”

“I mean that’d be okay,” Hermione said with a smile. “So, what’d you and the basilisk talk about?”

“Fatimah?” Harry asked, glancing at the doorway which was now lacking a particular serpent. “She inquired about you– and I told her about you a bit. She says she’s sorry, by the way.”

Hermione blinked and shook her head. “No harm done, I survived,” She said, demurely. “You did a twirl, though.”

“Oh!” Harry said with a laugh. “Yeah, she was kind of curious why I was dressed like this, so I told her, and she was very supportive. I think she’s going to call me Heiress now. Magical creatures are so odd,” Harry grumbled.

“But being called an Heiress does sound nice, doesn’t it? Conjures images of being a majestic royal.” Harry said playfully, winking at Hermione.

“Don’t let it go to your head, Princess Harry,” Hermione warned, nudging Harry playfully.

“I won’t,” Harry said, pouting.

“Good. I’d hate to have to give you a kick in the pants… or skirt, as it would be right now,” She said, letting the pause set in before they both started laughing.

“So, my lady,” Hermione said in a playfully mocking tone, wiggling her eyebrows. “Are you going to kiss me, or must I kiss you?”

“Cheeky brat,” Harry said, before leaning over and kissing Hermione gently.

Chapter Text

When Harry awoke the next morning, he found himself alone again. A small piece of parchment was laying on the mahogany nightstand by the large master bed. Harry slipped his glasses on and opened it.

‘Harry,’ the parchment read in Hermione’s delightful cursive handwriting.

Hermione’s note explained that she had told her dorm mates she would be stepping out for awhile, she didn’t want to be gone too long. Rumours could be so vicious, and Harry totally understood that. She also had scribbled onto the parchment that he looked very cute while he was sleeping.

She’d drawn a little smiley face on the parchment, and Harry grinned. ’I’ll see you at breakfast.’

Harry grabbed his wand off the nightstand and cast a lazy tempus.

“Ergh,” He grumbled out blearily at the golden clock.

It was only about 15 minutes past 6– class didn’t start until 8. Breakfast was definitely being served in the Great Hall, though. Which was nice. Harry climbed out of bed and stretched before padding off to the bathroom to perform his morning ablutions. He caught himself in the mirror and looked himself over.

“Huh,” He said idly, appraising his softly effeminate appearance before slipping off the jumper and the skirt and folding them back up into a bundle.

He glanced behind him to see a standard issue Hogwarts laundry bag hanging from the door.

He raised an eyebrow– he didn’t think the house elves would be servicing these quarters.

Harry slipped the two items into the bag, and showered. Once he was done, he stepped out into the main chamber before noticing that his trunk was sitting at the foot of the bed, and he could see the closet door slightly ajar, all of his Hogwarts school robes tucked inside.

Deciding to ignore the unexplained nonsense, Harry dressed himself in his typical school uniform and quickly and stepped through the door that would lead back to the Slytherin dungeon corridor.

Of course, he blinked when he emerged from a portrait door inside the Slytherin common room, and came face to face with Professor Snape.

“Why is it, whenever there’s strange happenings at this school, it always leads back to you, Potter?” Snape said, mouth curling in amusement. Harry thought he was about to break out into a fit of laughter, the way his usually brooding and borderline-snarling visage was hinting at a smile.

“I was awoken this morning by some Slytherin prefects saying that the Common Room had grown in size, and rearranged itself overnight, with a brand new non-moving portrait of Salazar Slytherin now adorning the farthest wall,” Professor Snape said, gesturing with his head behind Harry.

Harry looked at the portrait he’d emerged from. It was a grandiose sort of painting, the dark, North African features of Salazar Slytherin stared back at him, wearing emerald green robes and holding both a holy book and a wand, with a snake draped around his neck. Symbolic of all the things Slytherin stood for, Harry guessed.

Harry let out a low whistle and turned back to Professor Snape. “Honestly, sir, I’ve got no idea why this happened. I went down into the Chamber yesterday to brood after something happened in Care of Magical Creatures,”

“Ah, yes, that incident… is far from a secret, Potter,” Snape looked uncomfortable and sympathetic. “Continue.”

“And Fatimah, the basilisk, told me about this bedroom that was built for Salazar and the Heir of Slytherin. So, I sorta… slept there last night. She told me the door lead back to the corridor– not to the common room!”

“It seems you activating that bedroom, or, perhaps by extension, some charm within it, has extended the Slytherin common room by several feet,” Snape said through raised eyebrows. “And your belongings have disappeared from your dormitory.”

“Yeah, I woke up to find them in that room,” Harry said, flushing with embarassment. “I didn’t think-”

“No, you most certainly didn’t,” Snape sniffed airily. “Your Gryffindor upbringing shows, Potter,” He drawled out. “But this is, perhaps, the least harmless circumstance for your poor habit of having strange magic occur around you to manifest. I’m sure the Headmaster will want to speak to you later about this, but since your new… residence is within the Common Room boundaries, I am willing to let this issue lie without further comment.”

“I swear I don’t… go out of my way to seek this sort of thing,” Harry said, running a hand through his hair impatiently. “This sort of stuff just keeps happening to me.”

Snape shrugged, before making his way to leave the Slytherin common room.

“I wouldn’t worry about it too much, Potter. Just don’t let it get to your head– pride comes before the fall.”

“Third year is, in the first two weeks, shaping up to be even stranger than second year,” Harry said as he sat down next to Hermione in the Great Hall, pouting. “Did you notice the Common Room has changed?”

“I did,” Hermione said evenly, before rubbing her eyes in an attempt to dislodge the tiredness she embodied. “Magic is so strange sometimes, it completely reorganized an entire room because of some unknown factor.”

Harry glared venomously at some giggling Hufflepuffs who happened to pass nearby, before shaking his head and glaring at the plate which now contained his breakfast. “I’m a laughing stock, aren’t I?”

“I’d just ignore them,” Draco said as he dropped into the seat next to Harry. “I’m sort of offended you moved out of the dorm, Harry,” He teased. “I was so looking forward to seeing you blossom into a beautiful young woman.”

Harry blushed and glared at Draco, and was joined by Hermione who glared at Draco as well. Draco blinked and raised his hands in defense. “Woah, sorry, struck a nerve, haven’t I? I was just teasing you, Harry.”

“It’s not a nerve you’ve struck, Draco. Just… we can discuss it after class today, I’d really just like to put my nose to the grindstone and not talk about it right now,” Harry muttered, sticking a forkful of food into his mouth to emphasize his utter disinterest in any further conversation.

To the untrained eye, the sight of a common, garden variety brown rat scurrying through the grass of Azkaban Island wouldn't have gone amiss. After all, varying types of native flora and fauna lived on the island in pockets, areas where neither Dementor nor human tread frequently. But what one wouldn’t have noticed, and, truthfully, neither did the poor Azkaban guards defending the Northern Tower, was the rat slowly morph into a portly, shaking figure.

Imperio,” The figure murmured under his breath, his unassuming wand aimed at the guard standing firm and true at the doors to the Northern Tower. The guard’s eyes hazed over, and the figure murmured quietly his orders. The guard turned, and unlocked the large wrought-iron gates. The gates creaked open, and the figure ushered the guard to go inside, with the figure slipping behind him, pulling the gate closed behind him.

As they proceeded through the shadowy Death Eater block, the figure noticed two additional guards on the upper level, patrolling the corridor that was now devoid of Dementors (what a genius idea he’d come up with, getting the Ministry to send all the Dementors to Hogwarts!). With a gesture of his wand, the guard pulled his wand out and, at an opportune moment, two wands lit up with the green colour of the Killing Curse, and two guards dropped like puppets whose strings had been cut abruptly.

The figure and the imperioused guard proceeded up the steps and came to a stop before one particular cell.

“Bellatrix, your Master has need of you,” The figure said, his voice quavering slightly over the word ‘Master’, fear and awe rippling through his words.

From the shadows, the gaunt and deranged figure of Bellatrix Lestrange creeped forward. Her eyes narrowed before they widened in recognition. “Pettigrew,” She hissed, her expression turning into one of pure scorn.

Peter sighed. He still wasn’t anywhere near well-liked among the Master’s inner circle, even if he was clearly the favourite.

“I-I’m here to save you, you know,” He said. He turned to face the Guard. “Unlock her cell,”

The guard complied, and the door clattered open.

Avada kedavra,” Peter said, and the imperioused guard unceremoniously dropped to the ground in a heap. Peter retrieved the Auror’s wand from his slack hand and held it out towards Bellatrix.

“Join me, and help bring about the return of the Master.”

Bellatrix’s face curled up into an incredibly gleeful grin, tinted with deranged merriment and bloodlust.

By the time the next shift change occurred, the sight of a complement of dead Aurors, and an other escaped Azkaban inmate were met with horror. The bodies were quickly disposed of where necessary, and the entire affair was once again covered up– this time without informing the DMLE or Ministry. The Captain of the Guard felt, in his honest opinion, it would not due to have the reputation of Azkaban’s guards brought into question and disrespect twice.

And even beyond that– he didn’t want those blasted Dementors back. Let those snot-nosed Hogwarts brats deal with them. Not him. Perhaps if he was lucky, one of the hooded bastards would suck the soul out of that little brat Potter and everyone would be saved a whole lot of trouble.

Toletania was paradise; at least, the southeastern beaches always were. The Malfoy family owned a beach-side estate in Al-Mariyah, overlooking the Mediterranean. She spent as much time as she could here until the seasons turned and she had to return to England to be the good proper wife of a pureblooded lord.

Narcissa brooded as she sat down in the dining room for breakfast.

“Dobby has letters for Mistress,” The watery-eyed house elf said, setting a plate of breakfast and a letter on the table, before disappearing again. Narcissa sipped her cup of earl grey and lazily glanced down at the two letters. One was written in the familiar handwriting of Lucius, but the second…

She blinked in recognition. She’d know that disjointed scrawl anywhere– and she idly wondered how he could possibly know where she was.

She decided to first read the letter from Lucius, a sense of duty prevailing upon her to read her husband’s letter.

The letter was blissfully brief, telling her that Draco had gotten off to Hogwarts without a hitch despite turbulent weather in London, and that her cousin Bellatrix had escaped from prison– but the escape had been covered up by the Ministry.

Narcissa pursed her lips disapprovingly at the idea of Bellatrix walking free. How on Earth had she escaped from Azkaban? She didn’t even want to know the sort of nonsense that was going on with that woman.

Sighing theatrically to herself, she moved onto the next letter. Sirius– it had to be him. His untidy, purely Gryffindor scrawl was unmistakable. Slicing it open, she perused the contents. Sirius was deeply protesting his innocence (which Narcissa had always felt to be true– she’d never known her cousin to be a follower of the Dark Lord, and most certainly never the kind to betray those close to him), and stating that Bellatrix was not only a threat to her but a threat to Draco– if only due to Draco’s close proximity to Harry.

Narcissa took in a sharp breath at the thought. Draco was a liability, wasn’t he? He was Harry Potter’s friend. A close confidant, even. Exposing him to the Dark Lord’s closest lieutenants wouldn’t do in the slightest. But what could she do? Go into hiding with her son, hide away some place that Lucius couldn’t find them– a place where Bellatrix couldn’t find them?

She shook her head and composed a brief reply to Sirius– a demand, not an invitation. To meet her for tea at the Malfoy estate in Al-Mariyah. No tricks, no games– honesty between them. The reply left once more betwixt the talons of her personal owl, before she turned her attention to a new letter she had to compose.

Dearest Andromeda…

“Harry, a topic I wished to have us discuss today was one of inheritance,” Albus said serenly, adjusting his glasses. “How much do you know about the system of nobility?”

“I’ve seen enough of it on the telly,” Harry said, thinking. “I know the King and the Royal Family live at Cadzow Castle, and that there’s a part of the Muggle governments of Scotland and England that gives nobility the right to vote on bills and things like that.”

“Yes,” Albus said with a nod. “Nobility plays a large part in our society as well. Perhaps not in quite the same manner as the Muggle half of our world, but enough. The Wizengamot is often a collection of appointed, hereditary seats granted by Ministries past to loyal followers– and typically a requirement to sit on the Wizengamot is a certain number of hectares of land ownership, a sum of wealth, or great actions worth commendation by the Ministry for Magic.”

“For instance,” Albus said, airily. “I am the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot– I was first appointed to my seat after I defeated Grindelwald in 1945, since I was not a hereditary seat, nor was I a man of great wealth like the Malfoy or Black family; and, I was later appointed Chief Warlock just after Voldemort’s first defeat in 1981. Some families take the fact they’ve held seats on the Wizengamot for a very long time as a symbol of their superiority, and so adopt titles like ‘Most Noble and Ancient’ to display that. Pompous titles, really. Absolutely meaningless.”

“Sirius’ family, then?” Harry asked, blinking.

“Indeed, the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black. Their self-assumed title doesn’t grant them any further privileges in the law by itself, but they assert the fact they’ve existed for a very long time as a symbol of their supposed purity. If a family goes extinct, or has no elligible holders for their seat, it is returned to the floor and the Ministry gets to appoint people to it. Since Sirius was imprisoned, the seat has been held by the Ministry for well over ten years.”

“Sounds like a right easy way to staff the Wizengamot with your supporters if you’re dark.”

“Dark is a subjective term, Harry. Everyone’s capable of darkness– and the definition of what is dark or light shifts from generation to generation. There exists magicks when I was your age that weren’t dark then, and are dark now by definition of the Ministry.” Albus said, looking firmly at the young wix.

“Point taken, Professor,” Harry said with a wince.

“But, more the point– I tell you this because I want to tell you that the system of landed gentry is not immune to the forces of change. There does not exist a subaltern committee of pureblood and halfblood wizards, there are no supreme alliances tying ancient families together in eternal bonds, and things like Lordships and Ladyships have long since become a thing of the past. The only thing that gives these high noble families their stature is their wealth.”

“As I’m sure you’ve noticed when your mother took you to withdraw your school funds each year, you have a trust vault from your parents– 25,000 galleons, to be topped off every year depending on necessity. Your family vault contains much more, but the Potter family has always been wealthier in terms of family trinkets, not raw Galleons– and they have always sought comfortable but not ostentatious lives. Lily and James owned a property in Godric’s Hollow, where they spent the last years of their life with the intent of raising you there, away from the provinical stature of James’ father’s estate.”

“An estate?” Harry asked, blinking.

“Indeed. Fleamont Potter and his wife Dorea Black lived at Potter Manor until their death in the spring of 1980. James, being in hiding from the Dark Lord, was in no condition to make executive decisions, and so the property has been largely abandoned and sealed since– after James and Lily finished Hogwarts and married, they moved to a small cottage in Godric’s Hollow. Your inheritance, my lad, is those two properties, and the contents of the family vault, which I’m sure will tickle your fancies to know more about your birth parents.”

“I guess I won’t have to worry much about what I’m going to do for a living after Hogwarts,” Harry murmured, smiling shyly at the Headmaster, who let out a loud laugh.

“Perhaps not, Harry. You do certainly have enough money to be comfortable with– but I am more than certain that the Sorting Hat put you in Slytherin to encourage your natural ambitions. Trust funds and wealth are easy ways to have the ability to do what you want, but there’s always fulfillment and happiness to be found in a dream– and in companionship.”

Harry pondered on the Headmaster’s wise words, and gave them careful consideration. It’d be very easy to sit back and rest on the laurels he’d gained from an accident– from the wealth his parents and grandparents had accumulated, but something within him felt a stern rebuke over such an idea.

He wanted to succeed, to thrive, to feel proud of himself. Being a trust fund child like some of the Slytherins… it was not at all what he intended to be.

“Now, onto other matters,” Dumbledore said with finality. “I know I have already loaded you up with further study on Occlumency and Legilimency, but there was one other topic I have been considering teaching to you for some time. Apparition.”

Apparition?” Harry asked, bewildered. “I’m not supposed to learn that until I’m 17!”

“Very correct,” Dumbledore said, before sitting down at his desk. “But certainly someone like you, Harry, has good reason for using it. Now, you’ll not be able to use it at Hogwarts, that much is true– the runic wards that have been layered around this castle exist for a very good reason. However, I am more than certain you can learn how to do it efficiently.”

“Why now, though?” Harry asked, his eyebrows raised.

“Precautionary measures, my boy,” Dumbledore said with a grave expression. “As much as I have taught you, and as much as I intend to teach you, and as much as I have assured your mother, the truth of the matter is that I cannot always protect you from harm– both of your years at Hogwarts indicate as much.”

Dumbledore let out a deep sigh. “I would wish for you to have as much as you can in your corner so that in the event you find yourself in a dangerous situation, you can extract yourself, or stand your ground until you can extract yourself from said situation.”

Harry nodded. Having the ability to teleport anywhere would be… useful.

“Of course, given the dangers involved, and the fact we would be doing this… in a manner that the Ministry would perhaps not particularly like, it is advisable that we go about this in a subtle way. I know of a few individuals who may be of use in teaching you how to apparate. I will let you know when we can begin those lessons. In the mean time, enjoy your time with your friends, and study hard.”

“Of course, sir,” Harry said happily, before departing the room.

Narcissa stretched comfortably as she closed the front door. Enrico had been quite attentive to her needs. Having Draco and being married to Lucius ‘I Swear I’m Not A Death Eater’ Malfoy had put quite a harsh lean on her youthful appearance.

She wasn’t even 30 yet and she was already beginning to see the start of the more brutal parts of aging. She idly wondered if she could get away with letting her hair go back to its natural black, all the years of bleaching her hair to appease her husband was starting to take its toll– and she could only imagine what Draco’s roots must look like after years of being magically transfigured to fit her husband’s ideal image of what his son should look like.

Grimacing at the idea of looking shriveled up at 40, she casually strolled through the manor once again, before the sound of a resonant bell echoed throughout. She brightened up and made her way to the Floo foyer. Opening the door, she smirked at the sight of her fugitive cousin.

“Siri,” Narcissa said quietly, entering the room.

“Narcissa,” Sirius said curtly, meeting her half way. The two appraised each other before Sirius spoke. “I got your letter, you said you wished to have a discussion?”

“I did,” Narcissa said with a nod. “I wish to discuss the contents of your letter, as well as your godson. We’ll have some tea to talk it over,” She turned on her heel and glided through the Manor to the tea room, where Dobby quickly served a pot of tea and some scones. Thanking the tiny house-elf for completing his task, she summarily dismissed him with a wave of her hand. She reminded herself that when she left Lucius at some point, she’d have to insist on taking Dobby with her– she had a soft spot for the little runt.

Snapping her attention back to Sirius, she poured him a cup of tea and eyed him carefully as he pulled out an unfamiliar wand and waved it cautiously over the contents.

“You don’t trust me, Siri?” Narcissa said, pouting.

“No offense, cousin, but your husband’s not only a Death Eater, he’s a Ministry official. I’m still on the run, if you remember.”

“Of course, I take no offense at all. My husband is the perfect idiot after all,” Narcissa said with a sigh. “What would you say if I told you I was considering divorcing Lucius?”

“Would that be possible?”

“It would be, Lucius has failed to provide me with a second child agreed upon in the betrothal. I’m sure I could go before the Ministry and have it nullified in a day.”

“But you’d lose Draco,” Sirius said abruptly.

“Yes,” Narcissa said wanly. “There’s some methods to avoid that, I’m more than certain, but I don’t wish for Draco to suffer or go through a turbulent time because his father and I aren’t getting along. I’m just concerned for his safety should Lucius return to the bosom of his Lord.”

“Ah, yes. Him,” Sirius said, sharply glancing at nothing in particular.

“I would like it for Draco to have a safe place to go in the event the Dark Lord sees fit to use our Manor for something,” Narcissa said, sighing. “Would it be at all possible for you to do such a thing?”

“I don’t live by myself,” Sirius said nonchalantly.

“I’m sure you don’t,” Narcissa said with a smile. “But I’m sure the people you currently live with would have no qualms about taking in my son.”

“No, I doubt they’d have any qualm at all,” Sirius replied, thinking carefully. He reasoned that Minerva and Rolanda would be stricken by the plight of Draco having to flee his family’s home to avoid Lord Voldemort… and Harry, well, Harry would be over the moon if his friend came to stay.

“Sirius, I want you to know this now,” Narcissa said cooly, eyes cast distantly out the glass window on the far-side of the room. “I am loyal to Black family, and no other. I will not follow Lord Voldemort, nor will I take his mark. But I may not have a choice in playing the submissive hostess. There are contingencies I am working on, I will fight, if I must.”

“I understand,” Sirius said, closing his eyes.

“That being said,” Narcissa continued. “Harry Potter is a Black. He is part of our family. And he is the Heir of Slytherin.”

“And the Master of Death,” Sirius said idly, before grimacing. Maybe he’d said too much.

Narcissa’s eyebrow was raised into the sky, but she paid him no mind.

“I will help him in undoing the Dark Lord,” Narcissa said, convicting dripping into her voice. “All I want for my son and I is peace and happiness.”

“Glad to see you’ve come around, Cissa,” Sirius said quietly, before he frowned. “Did you speak to Andi?”

“I sent her a letter, asking about refuge should I need to go on the run. I’ve not got a response back yet, but it was only sent yesterday morning. I’m sure I’ll hear from her later today or tomorrow.”

Sirius nodded, seemingly mollified. “I will pass on the message to Harry, I’m sure he’ll be comforted in knowing he’s got cousins and family who’ll stand by him.”

“See to it that you do,” Narcissa said, before rising from her seat. “It was wonderful to see you again, Sirius. Now, you must go. I’ve got a caller coming up the drive.”

“Merlin, how many-”

“As many as it takes for me to be satisfied, cousin. My darling husband does not perform his duties, and so I must find substitutes. Paltry ones, but perhaps I shall find a diamond in the rough and rope them into a romance.”

“You know, there’s a good male brothel in Florentia, and a really good female brothel in Ostia. The Romans are good at the whole pleasure palace thing.”

“I’ve been looking into buying an estate in Rome,” Narcissa said with a smile. “Thank you for that little byte of information, Siri.”

Sirius winked at her and she escorted him back to the Floo foyer. “How did you avoid the Ministry if you used the Floo?” She asked, blinking at the realization that he’d traveled by the heavily-monitored Floo connection.

“I apparated to Yorkshire, then to Norfolk, then to Kales before taking a floo route through France and Visigothia. The melange of people along the way didn’t even twig to me.”

“Ah, quite a long journey. Thank you for making it anyway,” Narcissa said, brushing some dust off his coat.

“For my second favorite cousin, anything!”

Second favorite? Ah, yes, Andromeda. Fair’s fair,” Narcissa said, grinning at her cousin’s mischievous behaviour. “Do visit again, cousin. I’d like to catch up after such a long time apart.”

“Deal,” Sirius said, before he stopped just shy of entering the Floo. He turned around to face Narcissa.

“Why the change of heart, Cissy?” He asked quietly. “You were quick to turn your back on me and Andi when we were ostracized. You have always believed in all the pureblood propaganda. Why the change of heart?”

“Multiple factors,” Narcissa said, sighing and rocking on her feet. “First, it was letters. Draco sending me letter after letter of his first year at Hogwarts. His new friend Harry Potter, who was sorted in Slytherin! And this… Muggleborn girl who was brighter than most of the other students. That Yuletide, when Draco came home, he was beside himself with agony. He’d called her a Mudblood and Harry had stopped speaking to him. I never want to see my son so distraught like that ever again,”

She took a deep breath and sighed.

“The second– this… Heir of Slytherin business. If Harry Potter truly is the Heir of Slytherin, then does blood matter? The boy’s mother was a Muggleborn.”

“Best Potioneer in the world, I’d wager. Don’t tell Snivellus I said that,” Sirius said with a smile. “He’ll come find me and break my jaw.”

Narcissa gave him a knowing smirk before nodding. “It’s just been a long decline since the end of the war that perhaps being pureblooded isn’t all there is to being a wix. I thought blood was strength and purity, but… that isn’t it. The people my husband associates with, the nonsense we put up with for pureblood purity. I’d just as soon do away with it all.”

“Congratulations, Cissy, you’re a blood-traitor,” Sirius said with a snort.

Narcissa’s lip curled ungracefully at the idea.

“Such a word,” She muttered. “But you’re right.”

Sirius embraced her in a hug. “You’re a good woman at heart, Narcissa. There’s just a lot of the family in you, but you’re smart enough to know when your world-view is being challenged in a big way. I’ve got to go now, but you keep your head up– and let me know if there’s any trouble. Dumbledore got me a proper wand now, so I’ll come bash some skulls in if I need to.”

“Noted, Siri,” Narcissa said dryly. “Now please, leave. I would like to meet my paramour without my dorky cousin standing behind me.”

“Gotcha,” Sirius said, before using the Floo and vanishing from the premises.

Narcissa took a deep breath before spinning on her heels once again and stalking towards the front door.

Enrico was good and very thorough in his minstrations, that much was true… but Amalberga was attentive, subtle, gentle. All sorts of adjectives that could only be applied to an wise woman who knew how to take care of her girls. It didn’t hurt that Amalberga was a Veela either, and a former courtesan. That was an added bonus, because Narcissa felt she needed to forget her worries for awhile.

Harry found that the Chamber of Secrets was less a literal chamber full of secrets, and more just an old living quarters. His bedroom was one thing, but Salazar had left behind a library/study, a potions lab, and a training arena. All the facilities had long been stripped bare, or the stuff there was ancient and far beyond repair. Harry cleaned most of the dust and detritus away and set about at the very least ensuring the rooms would be suitable should he (or any future inheritor of this facility) need it. He idly wondered, if he ever had children, if they’d be allowed in here.

What a weird thought.

The basilisk, whom was accompanying Harry through much of the chamber, was pleased at the methodic way Harry was clearing room after room of the stagnant dust. A few rooms contained dark creatures (or otherwise things Harry couldn’t handle on his own); and so Harry marked those with glowing ’X’es on the mahogany doors– indicating they were unsafe for entry.

Once he’d concluded that, he checked his watch. It was nearly dinnertime, and he did promise Draco he’d talk to him about what happened with the unicorn. Sighing to himself, Harry went to shower before making his way out and up to the Great Hall.

Dinner itself was a pleasant enough affair. Enough friendly Slytherins and Gryffindors surrounded him on all sides and made it nigh impossible for snide remarks to be flung his way. After a heavy, filling dinner, he pulled Hermione and Draco back to the Slytherin dorms, and through the porthole of his room. After closing the door behind him, Harry waved to the room.

“Here it is,” He said quietly. “My room,”

“Bloody hell,” Draco said, walking into the center of it. “This is Salazar Slytherin’s chamber, isn’t it? I know you opened it and could go into it, but the idea that I’m here is…”

“Calm down, nerd,” Harry commanded his friend, eyebrow raised. “You’re going to hyperventilate, or drown in your own drool.”

“I think what Draco is trying to say,” Hermione said primly. “Is that this is a very fascinating sort of circumstances, Harry.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice, aye?” Harry said, raising his eyebrow at his girlfriend. “I just wanted to sleep in here to avoid people and now the school’s decided I might as well just stay here.”

“Magic is funny that way?” Draco suggested, before shrugging. “So, what did you want to talk to me about, Harry?”

“Well,” Harry said, thinking about what he wanted to say, before letting out a huff. “It’s complicated. Go into the bathroom,”

“What?”

“Go, Malfoy!” Harry commanded, shooing his friend into the adjoining room. He waved his wand and the door slammed shut. Harry looked at Hermione.

“How good are you at clothing transfiguration?”

Draco paced in Harry Potter’s bloody Slytherin bathroom for far too long, in his opinion. What in the blazing hells could make Harry order him out of the room so abruptly? After five minutes of loitering about, Draco shouted into the other room.

“Potter! Are you going to make me wait all bloody day?”

“No, Draco. Alright, I think we’re ready. You can come out now,”

Draco opened the door, and tripped over his feet, face-planting onto the floor in a spectacularly undignified display.

“Jesus, Draco! Are you alright?” Harry asked, coming to his friend’s aid.

He helped Draco onto his feet, and Draco pulled away and looked over him.

Harry was wearing a short-sleeved blouse, and a pair of shorts that only went down as far as his lower thigh. His hair was pinned up into some kind of messy bun.

“The unicorn- it was right, wasn’t it?” Draco finally said after finding his voice.

“I suppose it may be, I’m not sure yet,” Harry said, chuckling nervously. “Honestly, I’m still in sort of an experimental stage with this. How do I look?”

“Uh,” Draco stammered, speechless. “Cute? I guess is the term I’d use?”

Harry grinned at his friend. “You’re not upset or anything?”

“Harry, why the hell would I be upset? So you’re really a girl. Big deal. It does make the whole ‘moving into a separate bedroom’ thing a little more sensible. I’m sure it’d be incredibly uncomfortable for you to be hanging around the boys’ dorm looking like this,”

“Yeah, maybe a bit,” Harry said, grinning ear to ear. “I’m glad you approve, Draco. You’re one of my best friends.”

Draco returned Harry’s smile and the two hugged.

“But, for now, I’m not a girl,” Harry said finally as he waved his wand and returned his clothes to their previous form, and his hair slipped back to a messy pile of waves and curls it had previously been. “It’s easier this way,”

“I suppose, but the unicorn thing-”

“Superstitious nonsense,” Harry said with a shrug. “At least, that’s what we’ll say. I don’t know who else is going to know about this, maybe my Mums, maybe Professor Snape, maybe Sirius. Until then, silence is appreciated.”

“I won’t say a word, Harry! Though, if you really want some help on… female fashion, or just… you know, being a woman in our society, I could talk to my mother for you?”

“Your mother?” Harry said, blinking. “Oh, if she wants to help, I suppose, I have Hermione but another perspective would be nice.”

“She sort of… implied to me that I should offer her assistance to you however possible,” Draco admitted, laughing nervously. “Is it alright if I tell her about this? She probably has a lot of good ideas up her sleeves. She usually does.”

Harry thought about it and recalled the times he’d met Narcissa on the train platform. She was quite young, probably the same age as his birth mother, maybe a bit younger.

“Sure,” Harry said. “I’ll gladly accept her help.”

Narcissa opened her eyes in annoyance at the orange sun that was filtering through the curtains. She then remembered the previous night and had a full-body blush. She was wrapped in Amalberga’s embrace, the older woman’s hand lazily draped over her hip and resting just below her belly button. The sound of tapping on a window drew Narcissa’s attention and she saw the familiar owl of her son looking at her with severe impatience.

She reluctantly unwrapped herself from her female paramour’s blissful hold, and padded her way to the window, opening it. After she had accepted the letter, the owl landed on a nearby perch, awaiting a response from her, as well as a tasty bribe to make the flight back to Scotland from Toletania.

It was from Draco, of course. She happily sighed and sat in her favorite chair, curling her self up into a seated position and reading it with gusto.

The letter’s contents were quite surprising to Narcissa, but she was quite touched to hear that Draco had suggested looping her in on this delicate issue before the child’s parents, to serve in an advisory role.

It was a symbol of Harry’s trust in Draco, and Draco’s trust in her. She smiled to herself and thought about her response.

The first thing was– Yes, of course! She’d love to offer advice to Harry about the wonderful world of femininity, and invited not just Harry, but his girlfriend to come along with, should she wish to participate in learning some things that came along with getting older.

In all honesty, she was no stranger to Muggle fashion sense, she’d been quite taken by it when Sirius had started showing up in blue jeans to family functions.

But more so than the cosmetic things, she definitely wanted to ensure Harry didn’t get any funny ideas about what it meant to be a woman in the wixen world. She’d been given the wrong-end of the stick on that front, raised from youth to believe in being deferential and quiet before her man.

That was most certainly not the future Narcissa envisioned for any woman in her family. She would ensure Draco’s wife was an independent mind, her granddaughters and great-granddaughters would be the same way. And she would be damned sure that Harry Potter, if Harry was a young woman, would blossom into the sort of wild flower she could expect from the likes of the Head Girl she’d begrudgingly idolized, and the Professor she’d always been drawn to the most.

Nobody would end up like her ever again.

Narcissa gleefully sent the letter off with Draco’s owl, before closing the window again. Feeling a stir of passion in her heart that melted ice, she turned back to Amalberga, who was now awake and watching Narcissa with interest.

“You’re hot when you’re not brooding and moping,” the older woman commented, grinning. “Ready for another round?”

“You know me so well,” Narcissa said with a roll of her eyes, before slipping back into her lover’s embrace. It was a rule of hers that the paramours could stay through the night, but had to leave at first light. Amalberga was the exception to the rule– she could stay as long as she liked, because Narcissa drew catharsis from screaming her throat raw in pleasure.

Narcissa awoke once more sometime in the mid-afternoon, enjoying the post-coital haze that Amalberga always left her very briefly. Acknowledgement of the time of day, and the waning time for her to continue plotting to undo her husband and his snivelling Dark Lord.

Bouncing out of bed with a youthful exuberance she hadn’t felt since the summer before seventh year, Narcissa quickly bathed, dressed and made her way downstairs.

Oh yes! There were plans in place!

What is the best way to get rid of Lucius?’ She considered through a hasty, impromptu lunch. ‘Accidental severing charm? Poison tea?

The Killing Curse works well enough,’ she considered.

But the Ministry’s first decision in a sudden death case is to audit the wands of all the witnesses to the attack. I’d be caught in a blink.

She decided to set that aside, as the chiming sound of a visitor in the Floo foyer made her break into a grin. She made her way to the foyer before opening it to see her elder sister.

Andromeda blinked at her and covered her eyes. “Narcissa– you’re naked.”

“Yes, I suppose I am,” Narcissa said, grin unwavering from her face.

“What did you want, exactly?” Andromeda asked, looking put off at the imposition of having to deal with her wayward sister.

“Your assistance, not to put too fine a point on it. I was just in the middle of lunch, care to join?”

Andromeda raised an eyebrow. “You’re unusually cheerful. Have you been dabbling in mood-altering potions?”

“I feel great, Andi… but no, nothing of the sort,” Narcissa said with a snort, waving her hand dismissively.

“Come on, I’ll have Dobby prepare you one of those Muggle lunches you like so much,” She said, before returning to the dining room and having Dobby (whose eyes nearly fell out of their sockets at the sight of his mistress au naturale) prepare a meal for her sister.

“In all seriousness,” Narcissa said primly. “I’m coming off an encounter with Amalberga.”

“Oh, the Veela woman,” Andromeda said with a nod. “Sounds about right. You’ll be back to your usual self before long.”

“Well, not wholly,” Narcissa said. “You see, I’ve decided to stop being what Lucius wants me to be. Things are most certainly going to change.”

“Oh?” Andromeda said, surprised.

“The Death Eaters are getting more daring, ultimately they seek to revive their Dark Lord and launch a second reign of terror. I’ve decided that neither myself nor my son are going to be involved in that. I put up with Lucius being one of those… things when I was young because I was a foolish teenager who upheld her parents’ teachings. Now I’m a grown woman, and I will not bend the knee.”

Andromeda looked disturbed at the idea and nodded.

“Regardless,” Narcissa said, her eyes narrowed. “I won’t permit Lucius to turn my son into a murderer.”

“I understand wholly,” Andromeda said with a sigh. “If you need a place to stay, Ted and I will have our door open.”

“I appreciate that, Andi,” Narcissa said with a deep sigh of relief. “If Lucius decides to go over to that side of the fence again, I will take you up on that offer. I’m sure Lucius will want to avoid a scandal that will inevitably damage his reputation among his fellow purebloods, and he won’t say anything if Draco and I left.”

“Probably not,” Andromeda said, frowning. “What’s your plan otherwise? Just wait it out?”

“No, nothing of the sort. I’ve offered my services as a tutor or advisor to Harry Potter. A good first step to ingratiate myself to all those people in the light.”

“That is a good first step,” Andromeda said with a nod. “Harry’s a good kid, from what Siri and Minerva have told me. Bright as a lumos maxima and sharper than a goblin blade.”

“He has great potential, that much is certain,” Narcissa said with a wry smile.

“Bloody hell, proto-Germanic was easy,” Harry complained, flipping through his textbook. “Why did they decide to suddenly add in Phoenician?”

“Phoenician wix were well-regarded in the Hellenosphere for their warding abilities. The Phoenician alphabet forms the basis for all the language systems of Europe,” Hermione said matter-of-factly, flipping to a page in an unrelated book and showing it to Harry. “The languages that utilize a system of alphabet that is descendant of the Phoenician alphabet includes, but is not limited to…” She trailed off as she read down a list. “Most of the languages in Europe and the Hellenosphere. Most of the countries in Western Europe use Latin alphabets, and most of the countries east of the Italic peninsula and those within the former boundaries of the Macedonian Empire use Greek or Scythian lettering systems, with some exceptions.”

“Linguistics are so bloody annoying,” Harry murmured, rubbing his forehead. “But immensely fascinating.”

“I agree,” Hermione said. “Most of the textbook for third-year Runes works with proto-Germanic and Phoenician scripting. I did a little research, and found that the Study of Ancient Runes covers a wide breadth of the world. We start with Germanic and Phoenician, then in fourth year we study logography from a couple cultures– I believe there is some choice in which specific culture you wish to study in depth, and that forms the basis of your OWL studies.”

Harry continued to hammer at the essay he was writing on the properties of certain Phoenician runes that Professor Babbling had given them to study– eventually, he decided he’d written enough for one night, and closed his book impatiently, setting it back into his bag. He shifted on the comfortable leather chair, and watched Hermione as she idly worked on her own essay. This, he decided, was a much better use of his time.

A few minutes into his new favourite pass-time, she stopped writing and realized he was looking at her, and she blushed beet-red.

Harry blinked and realized he was probably being rude. “I’m so sorry, Hermione, I just…”

“It’s okay, Harry,” She said with a smile. “It can be a bit dreadful hammering out essays like this, particularly when it’s on something you’re struggling with. Not everyone has a perfectionist streak like I do.”

“That much is true,” Harry said with a nod. “But I just… couldn’t help it.”

“Well,” Hermione said, pulling a handful of her chocolate brown hair around and fixing him with a look. “What are you going to do about it?”

Harry grinned ear to ear.

“Is that a challenge, Miss Granger?”

“I believe it is, Miss Potter,” Hermione retorted.

Harry blushed and glanced around the very-empty Slytherin common room before fixing Hermione with a deadly glare. She giggled and pouted at him.

Harry grinned at her and stood up, and came over to sit on her lap. It was a decidedly unmasculine thing to do, but Harry found he quite enjoyed the position as he wrapped his arms around her neck, weaving his hands through her bushy hair. Hermione raised an eyebrow as Harry dipped his head down and kissed her on the lips. The two quickly descended into a rough snog.

After a few minutes, Harry withdrew and grinned at Hermione’s glazed over eyes.

“That was nice,” She murmured, half to herself.

“That was just the first part,” Harry said with a grin. “Happy birthday, Hermione!”

Hermione blinked rapidly. “Oh, you clever girl. But my birthday isn’t until tomorrow.”

“Right,” Harry conceded. “But it’s the weekend! Your actual gifts will be tomorrow, I just wanted to give you something nice for the day before your birthday.”

The next morning, Hermione woke up later than usual, just after ten in the morning, and groggily made her way to the bathroom. After her morning ablutions, and a quick shower, she went through the arduous process of untangling her hair. She adored her hair, but sometimes it was a right menace to deal with. Hair brushes were useless, and she was only just beginning to learn hairstyling charms with her wand.

She’d found some books in one of the Daily Prophet catalogs that both she and Harry might find fascinating to practice together. She made a mental note to bring it up to him later.

She dressed as neutrally as she could, not knowing what Harry had planned, and made her way downstairs, her wand playing the role of a lynchpin in her hair, keeping it tied up in a great mass on the back of her head.

“Hermione,” Draco said as she entered the Common Room. “Harry asked you to meet him up in the Astronomy Tower.”

She quickly made her way up to the Astronomy Tower, to find Harry standing wearing full wix robes, overlooking the Hogwarts grounds with a smile on his face. He spun around and grinned at her. “Hermione! Come right in,”

He waved his wand, and the doors behind her closed and locked.

“Some privacy,” He explained, before digging through his pocket and taking out a small number of trinkets. Waving his wand again, the trinkets grew in size, revealing a large blanket and a picnic basket.

“I figured we could have a brunch of sorts together,” He said, blushing.

“That’d be delightful, Harry,” She said, before sitting down on the blanket.

Harry unbuttoned his more casual wix robes and cast them aside, revealing he was wearing the pink jumper and skirt combo, before sitting down on the blanket as well and taking out a thermos of tea. Hermione grinned and graciously accepted a cup of it.

“Why are you always so cute, Potter?” She whined. “Not only a birthday picnic, but you’ve got to dress adorably?”

“Slytherins are cunning people, my dear,” Harry said with a raised eyebrow. “Now, I’ve got a gift for you as well,” He set his cup of tea down and reached into the picnic basket and brought up a box that was no more than a few inches tall. “I didn’t do all the work, to be honest. I had to get Professor Flitwick to do most of it.”

She opened it and gasped. It was… a snowglobe of sorts. Rather than be inanimate and full of glitter-snow, it was a small wooden base with a glass dome, and it was a miniature representation of the Chiyoda Gardens, a place they had both enjoyed back in Yamato. She could see that the plants and trees were gently swaying with an unseen breeze, and shimmered whenever light hit it. The inscription on the base was ‘To Hermione– with love from Harry’.

Hermione looked up at her boyfriend, tears forming in her eyes. “It’s beautiful!” She said, her voice wavering, thick with emotion.

“Thanks,” He said, sheepishly.

“I feel bad almost, I only got you a skirt and a jumper! This must’ve taken hours of thought and planning!” She said, holding it gently in her hands.

“Hermione, it’s not a competition. I love this skirt and this jumper. The only problem is that this pink isn’t the best look on me, but I’m sure once we learn some permanent transfiguration, we can turn it into another colour entirely.”

Hermione nodded in agreement, before drinking more of her tea.

The two spent the better part of the late morning and early afternoon together in the Astronomy Tower, resting underneath the late summer sky, talking and laughing. They eventually packed everything up. Harry quickly changed back into his usual attire, and they went for a walk around the grounds.

At the end of the day, they returned to the Slytherin Common Room, and fondly stared at each other as they stood at the entrance to Harry’s portrait.

“I had a wonderful day, Harry,” Hermione said with a smile. “This is the best birthday ever!”

“Thanks, I just… wanted to make sure you were having fun.”

“I had plenty of fun,” She said, nodding in agreement. She kissed him gently on the lips. “I love you, Harry.”

Harry blushed deeply, but his eyes were wide in shock. “I… I love you too, Hermione!”

She turned on heel and went up the stairs to the girls dorm, while Harry ducked into his quarters. Once the door behind him had closed, Harry let out a shout of glee.

“She loves me!” He screamed at nearly the top of his lungs, suddenly floating several feet off the floor.

He let out a startled yelp before landing back on his feet.

“Bloody hell, that was accidental magic. I haven’t done that in years,” He said, laughing to himself, before shaking his head.

“Merlin. She said she loves me,” He marveled as he went to take a bath.

She loves me!” He said dreamily as he closed the door behind him.

Chapter Text

September waned on, and all the accompanying dying throes of summer faded with it as the month of October arrived. The first Hogsmeade weekend of the term was fast approaching, and the school was abuzz with excitement. Harry was monumentally happy at the concept since it meant he could take Hermione and show her around the village.

That Saturday morning, the archetypal weather of the region of the Highlands that Hogwarts was nestled in meant high winds and the distant, threatening presence of storm clouds. After making their way up from the dungeons, they patiently waited in line as Argus Filch checked off each student who was permitted to go to Hogsmeade, before Professor Vectra escorted them to town. It was just as beautiful as Harry remembered.

“What would you like to do first, Hermione?” Harry asked, grinning ear to ear as the crowd of 3rd through 7th years broke off in clusters to go about their business with their friends and romantic partners. “There’s a whole plethora of shops here, it’s one of the largest high streets for wix in Britain. I mean, there’s Diagon Alley, and Knockturn Alley, but something not a lot of folks know about, is there’s also a large wixen high street in Cadzow, but the prices are a bit daft.”

“Why would they be daft?” Hermione asked, eyebrow raised.

“Ministry for Magic wants to encourage all students of Hogwarts to shop at Diagon Alley, says it’s good for the wixen economy since it’s near the largest Gringotts branch in Britain. But honestly, the Ministry owns like, 60% of the land those shops are built on, and they’re a bunch of bloody Englishmen. They’ve never liked Scotland that much, and they try to extract every pound of flesh outta us to line their bloody pockets. The stupid part is that the goblin clans that run Gringotts are based outta the Hebrides!”

“They are? I thought they lived in underground tunnels and caverns?” Hermione asked. “That’s what it says in our history books!”

“Some do– those who work outside of the clanhomes,” Harry said. “The goblin society isn’t too far removed from how the Scots used to do it before the Romans, English, Normans and Geatish showed up. Clan-governed societies and tribes ostensibly unified under one High King.”

“Hmm,” Hermione said. “I’d like to find more books about this sort of thing, is there a good bookstore nearby?”

“Oh, aye, you’ll love it!” Harry said with a grin before taking his girlfriend’s hand.

The bookstore in question, Tomes and Scrolls, was a fair size larger than Flourish and Blotts was, and Hermione was near to salivating at the sight of so many books in one place. Harry quietly walked behind Hermione as she began to fawn over various books, and each time she’d picked up a book and looked smitten by it, only to return it with a wince at looking at the price tag, Harry had stealthily scooped the book up behind her.

While Hermione was busy browsing another section of the store (something along the lines of “romantic novels for the curious witch”), Harry made his way to the front desk. He placed the books quietly on the counter and gestured to where Hermione’s hair could be seen above the racks of books. The cashier gave a knowing, toothy grin, and quickly tapped some keys on his antiquated register.

“Lessee… all together, these five books, that’ll run ya 40 galleons, 14 sickles.”

Harry pulled out the small coin pouch he usually kept in his pockets, and fished out 41 galleons, placing them on the counter. The man quickly swapped out the small pile of gold coins for 3 sickles. The shopkeep then swept the books into a bag and handed them to Harry. “Have a pleasant day, sir.”

“Thank you,” Harry said happily as he went to fetch his girlfriend. Once back out onto the street, Harry forked over the bag to her.

“What’s this, Harry?” She peered into the bag and gasped. “You didn’t!

“Well, you certainly looked like you wanted those books.”

“Harry! One of these books cost twenty galleons! Don’t spend all your money on me!”

“Trust me when I say there’s no way that I can spend all my money in such a short period of time. 40 galleons are a breeze for me– and you can’t tell me you didn’t want those books.”

Hermione blushed. “Of course, I did– I just…” She trailed off and wrapped Harry in a hug. “Thank you.”

“You’re quite welcome, Miss Granger. Now, what else would you like to do? We’ve still got some time to burn?”

“I’d like to go for a walk, and see the Shrieking Shack,” Hermione said with a smile.

“Right,” Harry said, taking her hand gently and interlocking their fingers together. They made their way to a scenic overlook somewhere just beyond a cluster of trees. The Shrieking Shack stood solemnly in the middle of an empty, snow-covered field.

“I read that it’s the most haunted building in all of Europe,” She said, voice wavering, only a bit. “Kind of terrifying, isn’t it?”

“I suppose so,” Harry said, before he felt a sense of… unease sweep over him. His private lessons from Dumbledore had done well to improve his abilities in sensing potential enemies and being aware of his surroundings. He swore there was something just beyond the treeline. Harry gently adjusted his position to put himself between what he was feeling and Hermione.

He heard a twig snap, and spun around on his heels, quickly drawing his wand. “Protego!”

His shield lit up, and he gritted his teeth as a Cruciatus slammed into it, the red light draining away. His arms were now quite full of pain, feeling like the flesh had been flayed off them.

“If you’re going to throw an unforgivable at me, you may as well come face me,” Harry said to whomever was hiding in the trees through gritted teeth.

Suddenly, the figure surged forward, a wave of fire flying at Harry and Hermione from a nondescript wand. Harry’s shield held up just long enough for the fire to have no effect but the expense of magic caused it to buckle soon after. The man tackled Harry onto the ground and brandished a knife. Harry reeled back and kicked the man in the genitals, causing him to howl in pain and fall over. Harry grabbed Hermione and got some distance, before looking back at the man in question.

Despite the Guy Fawkes’ mask he was wearing, he looked remarkably like Sirius Black just after escaping from prison– Harry idly wondered if that wasn’t an intentional act. The man tried to get back to his feet, staggering slightly as he stood up, and Harry let out a snarl.

Stupefy!” Harry roared, the beam of red light slamming into the assailant, sending him sprawling in the snow. Harry grabbed Hermione and began a brisk walk back towards the village.

After arriving back at Hogsmeade, Harry quickly made his way into the Hog’s Head Inn and approached the bar.

“Mr. Dumbledore, I was wondering if I could use your Floo,” Harry said, anxiously. “I need to contact the Headmaster.”

“Of course, Harry,” Aberforth said with a nod, gesturing for him to head over to the fireplace.

“You know him?” Hermione asked with a blink of surprise.

“Mum used to bring me here a lot for lunches. Here and the Three Broomsticks, anyway. I also may have accidentally held a seance with his and Professor Dumbledore’s sister last year.”

“You what?” Hermione asked, dumbfounded.

“I’ll explain later,” Harry said, irritably. Once at the Floo hearth, Harry grabbed a pinch of Floo powder, stepped into the enclosure with Hermione next to him, and gave a nod.

“Headmaster’s Office!” He said, throwing the powder down. A roar of purple fire engulfed them, and Harry cleared his throat.

“Caramel creams.”

The fire turned green, and Hogsmeade vanished.

Harry, a young man with quite a bit of experience travelling via Floo, managed to come out the other side in Dumbledore’s office mostly intact. Hermione, on the other hand, took a bit of a tumble, only being saved from falling onto the ground by Harry grabbing her arm.

“You alright, Hermione?”

“I’m fine,” She said, and went to ask a question but Harry was busy working again.

“Fawkes,” Harry said to the headmaster’s companion. “I need you to find Dumbledore. Tell him that there’s someone in Hogsmeade that just attacked me and Hermione. Everyone’s in danger.”

Fawkes trilled and disappeared in a burst of flames. A few moments later, a sudden voice, carried by what Harry discerned to be a Sonorous charm, carried over a very large radius.

ALL HOGWARTS STUDENTS…” Dumbledore’s voice projected, rattling off the Scottish hills. “…YOU ARE TO RETURN TO THE CASTLE AT ONCE.

THIS IS NOT A DRILL. RETURN AT ONCE. ALL PROFESSORS AND HEADS OF HOUSE, PLEASE ENSURE ALL STUDENTS ARE ACCOUNTED FOR.

His voice faded, and Harry shivered. Within a few moments, the door opened, and Dumbledore arrived, looking alarmed.

“Tell me what happened, Harry,” He said, taking his usual seat behind his desk.

“Well, Professor, Hermione and I were standing by the fence to the path to the Shrieking Shack. A beautiful building, even if it is deadly haunted,” Harry began. “While we were standing there, I felt… something nearby. A wave of unease settled over me, and it was like my entire body was on edge. Suddenly, I heard a twig snapping, and I wheeled around and put up a shield charm and only barely avoided getting the Cruciatus curse to the face.”

He recalled the rest of the encounter and finally reached the end.

“He looked like Sirius Black, but… like he just escaped from prison. Does that make sense?”

“It’s likely whomever attacked you is the same person who was spotted in Caithness just before the start of the term. I don’t believe these incidents aren’t correlated. I’m afraid to tell you this, Harry, but I will have to suspend your Hogsmeade privileges until such a time we are confident you won’t be attacked again,”

“What?!” Harry said. “No! I love going to Hogsmeade!”

“I may very well cancel Hogsmeade weekends for the entire school, if our security is that terrible– I cannot afford to have our students attacked or worse by someone in an attempt to get to you.”

“So, it’s my fault,” Harry said mournfully, looking sour.

“No, of course not. Implying that you are at fault would imply that you’ve done anything wrong. You’re a victim of circumstance, and someone has it out for you because of coincidences. It’s not your fault any of this happened today. I will deliberate with your mother and Professors Flitwick, Snape and Sprout about the best way forward with Hogsmeade weekends, but I think this term, we are dealing with far too much to permit them to continue.”

He glanced at Harry. “I should like for you to see Madam Pomfrey. A close encounter with a Cruciatus curse is a close encounter too many.”

Harry sighed.

“Harry,” Professor Dumbledore said firmly. “You did the right thing, and you were cool under pressure. These are some of the best traits I could have hoped to come out of our lessons together. For your cunning ability to escape a dangerous situation, and for putting yourself between Miss Granger and bodily harm, I award Slytherin one-hundred points.”

Harry’s jaw went slack at the sudden revelation, and he grinned.

“Thank you, Professor.”

Dumbledore smiled knowingly. “Now, we will discuss these matters more later. Go to the Hospital Wing, young man. Furthermore, if you stop by tomorrow morning, we will continue the lessons that will make things much easier for you in the future.”

Harry brightened even more at that, and nodded, before striding out of the room, Hermione in tow.

“What was all that?!” Hermione said, looking bewildered.

“Someone wanted to do me in, or at the very least cause me bodily harm,” Harry said. “I don’t know much more than that. Do you think everyone will be cross with me if I cost them Hogsmeade privileges for the year?”

“I don’t think anybody needs to know you’re the reason why this happened. There might be some questions as to why Slytherin’s point total jumped a hundred points in a day,” She said.

“Yes, I was just about to ask about that,” The cool, serrated voice of Severus Snape said, causing Harry to jump in fright.

“Professor!” Harry said, clutching his chest. “Not cool!”

Snape’s mouth curled into a wry smile. He glanced down at Harry’s arms, which were now bright pink and looked irritated beyond belief.

“What happened?” He said, his smile dropping back to his dour sneer.

“Hermione and I were in Hogsmeade, sightseeing… and someone attacked us from the nearby trees– I held him off and stunned him so we could escape. Professor Dumbledore gave me a hundred points for escaping that situation mostly unharmed.”

“Mostly?”

“The bloke who attacked me fired off a Cruciatus curse. I got my shield up in time, but I think my arms still got affected. They feel like the skin’s been flayed off ’em.”

Snape’s face took on a green tint, and he nodded. “You are heading to the Hospital Wing, I presume?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good,” Snape nodded. “I will speak to the Headmaster about this,”

“He says he’s thinking about revoking privileges for Hogsmeade for everyone until this person’s caught,” Harry said. “People are going to be cross about that.”

“If they care more about their precious Madam Puddifoots than they do about their own safety, then they’re morons,” Snape said simply. “You did the right thing, Potter. Excuse me,” He left, strolling back towards the Headmaster’s office.

When they arrived at the Hospital Wing, Madam Pomfrey looked like she was going to hex Harry into the next century. Once she’d been relayed the story, she was muttering under her breath about how even James Potter wasn’t in her hospital nearly this often, and that she should simply install a plaque on one of the beds and make that Harry’s permanent home-away-from-home.

“You’ll be able to leave this evening,” She said sternly as she helped Harry into one of the beds. “Try to rest a bit, would you please, Harry?”

She eyed Hermione. “You may stay if you keep your voice down, Miss Granger.”

“Thank you, Madam Pomfrey,” Hermione said, bowing her head.

A moment of silence passed, before Harry sighed. “Bloody hell, what a day this has been,”

“I’m just glad you’re alright,” Hermione said, gently taking one of Harry’s bandaged hands in hers. “What exactly is Dumbledore teaching you that will help in the future?”

“He’s teaching me how to Apparate,” Harry said, and it was Hermione’s turn to go slack jawed.

“He’s doing what?! At 13!? That’s… that’s illegal! Not to mention dangerous!”

“He feels I can handle it,” Harry said matter-of-factly. “Only for emergencies, really. I’m not supposed to have a license for it until I’m 17– so we’re just doing it to do it.”

Hermione settled down a bit and nodded. “I wish you didn’t have to do all these things,” She said, gently hugging him. “Seems sort of unfair, doesn’t it?”

“I suppose, but I’m okay with it,” Harry said, shrugging. “I can’t let fear run my life, and I want to make Lord Voldemort pay for the things he’s done.”

“He hurt you,” Harry growled. “He hurt Ron’s sister, He killed my birth parents, he’s tried to snuff me for at least two years running, and probably a third with this most recent incident. I won’t let him win.”

“Unstoppable force meeting an unmovable object,” Hermione observed.

“Yes, in a manner of speaking,” Harry said, sighing. “So, moving on to more pleasant topics. In that stack of books that I picked up for you, why was one of them about beauty charms?”

Hermione blushed. “Not quite beauty charms, those are questionably legal and can have negative side-effects. No, it’s more of a book about using magic in partnership with Muggle methodologies of personal appearance, and it covers more than just beauty, it covers other things too. I figured… maybe you and I could read through it together. It may have something in there you’d be interested in.”

“Oh!” Harry said, brightening considerably. “You’re so considerate.”

“I was going to buy it via owl post and surprise you with it, but then you went ahead and decided to buy it from the bookstore in Hogsmeade and honestly, Harry! Spending that sort of money…”

The door to Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place creaked open, the first time it had been opened by a human hand in eight years. Since the death of Walburga Black in 1985, the house had fallen into a state of disarray. Muggle spiders and magical doxies scattered at the sudden appearance of light in the dark house. Some of the wall fixtures still had lit candles, but the dim flickering flame barely illuminated things.

Sirius Black, had, as a matter of fact, not been in Scotland. He had been traveling in the Muggle sense down to London to investigate the old family home.

As he stepped through the foyer, and closed the door behind him, he shined his Lumos-lit wand through the entry hall, and it came to rest on a wrinkled, old house-elf.

“Kreacher?” Sirius said in disbelief. “You’re still here? Merlin, I thought you’d have died years ago by now.”

The house elf scowled. “Kreacher has never been leaving. But Master is not welcome here!”

“I didn’t come here to argue with you, Kreacher. I came here for a specific purpose,” Sirius said irritably. “Can you do something about the lighting in here?”

Kreacher scowled and snapped his fingers. The entire house seemed to be fully lit now, and Sirius quickly cancelled his lumos. Kreacher eyed him warily before taking in a breath.

“Master Black?”

“What is it, Kreacher?” Sirius said, banishing some cobwebs with his wand.

“Kreacher wishes to show you something,” the old elf said, before lumbering his way into the drawing room. Arriving before a large glass cabinet that has long been used to house dark artefacts the family owned, Kreacher opened it and picked up a golden locket. A large “S” symbol was etched into it, the S taking the form of a serpent. Sirius raised an eyebrow at Kreacher.

“What is this, exactly?”

“Before Master Regulus died,” Kreacher ground out, teeth bared. “Master Regulus volunteered Kreacher for a mission for the Darkest Lord. Darkest Lord took Kreacher to a cave and forced Kreacher to drink poison– to protect this locket. Much later, Master Regulus gave up his life to protect Kreacher in the same cave, and told Kreacher to take the locket back here, and destroy it.”

Sirius was shocked. “Regulus… betrayed Voldemort? I thought he was a fervent Death Eater!”

“Master Regulus was,” Kreacher said, eyes shadowed. “Until Master Regulus saw how Voldemort treated Kreacher.”

Sirius ran a hand through his hair and nodded. “Why did Voldemort want to protect this locket so much?”

“Master Regulus called this a horcrux,” Kreacher said, before shaking his head. “Will Master Sirius help destroy it?”

“Do you know of Harry Potter, Kreacher?”

“Kreacher has heard of him. Mistress Walburga did not have nice things to say about Harry Potter, sir, said Harry Potter’s mother was of mudblood, and Harry Potter’s father… Harry Potter’s father was Master Sirius’ friend! Helped him betray the family!”

“I didn’t betray the family, Kreacher. In fact, that was one of the reasons I came here,” Sirius said with a sniff. “Do you remember Narcissa?”

“Of course, Kreacher remembers Mistress Cissy. Is she coming here?” He said, his eyes lighting up.

“She may need to hide here,” Sirius said firmly. “To escape her husband. Will you start cleaning up this house and prepare it for if she needs it?”

“Master Sirius is destroying evil locket. Kreacher will do this,” Kreacher said with a nod. “Kreacher will also protect remaining family heirlooms, as Kreacher has been doing.”

“Good,” Sirius said, gently accepting the locket from Kreacher. He dropped it into a nearby wooden snuffbox and cast a litany of spells on it with the intent of keeping the darkness from seeping out. He then spun on his heels and disapparated.

He re-appeared at the McGonagall-Hooch Cottage and made his way inside. Setting the box on the table, he waved his wand.

Expecto patronum,” He said, thinking of good memories with Harry, and happier days. It took a few tries, but he managed to cast a semi-corporeal patronus. Enough for government work.

“Take a message to Dumbledore. I have something he needs to see.”

The shaggy Grim bowed deferentially and disappeared in a flash of light. After a few minutes, another patronus appeared, this one a silver phoenix.

“Floo to me directly, Sirius. Password is caramel creams,” Albus Dumbledore's voice flowed out of the phoenix's misty beak. The phoenix then turned into a fine mist, disappearing and leaving Sirius feeling just a little less happy.

Sirius grabbed the box, and did as told, coming out in a skid in the Headmaster’s Office of Hogwarts. Dumbledore, McGonagall, Snape and Remus were seated around a small table, looking concerned.

“Sirius, my boy,” Albus greeted. “What is it you’ve found?”

“A horcrux, Professor,” Sirius said. Albus paled. “I had… considered that Tom would make them, but…”

“I don’t believe it’s the only one,” Sirius said, before taking Slytherin’s locket out of the box.

“Is that Salazar Slytherin’s locket?” Snape said with a raised eyebrow.

“Indeed, it is. My brother stole it from the cave Voldemort hid it in and gave it to Kreacher to destroy. Kreacher hasn’t been able to destroy it.”

“No, he wouldn’t. Only powerful wix are truly capable of destroying it with their inherent magical power. Otherwise, it requires something imbued with magical properties… like Gryffindor’s sword, or a basilisk fang.”

Dumbledore stopped. “A… A basilisk fang. Minerva, Severus… Has Harry ever described to either one of you what happened when he destroyed the wraith of Tom Riddle?”

“If I remember correctly, Harry said that it spewed black ink everywhere and screamed like something was being rendered out of it. Then it disintegrated to ash within the basilisk’s mouth.”

“Just like the Gaunt family ring,” Albus said, thinking. “I wonder.”

Sirius placed the locket back in the box, and Albus closed it.

“We will need to tread carefully. I will do some research before I come up with a theory about what Tom Riddle may have done. But first, we need to discuss what happened today,” Dumbledore said, matter-of-factly.

“What happened?” Sirius asked in surprise.

“Someone impersonating you tried to kill Harry,” Snape said nonchalantly. “First tried to hit him with a Cruciatus curse, and then tried to stab him with a knife– Harry managed to fight whomever it was off.”

“Is this like the bloke in Caithness who got spotted by someone?”

“Probably,” Albus said. “I was discussing with Minerva and Severus about contingencies to prevent such an incident from happening again. The prevailing theory is suspending Hogsmeade visits for the remainder of the year.”

“Seems rather unfair to the students?” Sirius asked, eyebrow raised.

“It may be, but the safety risk to all students, even if we exclusively forbid Harry and his friends from going, is too high. Harry’s penchant for protecting people could come back to be a liability.”

“Harry is going to resent being confined to the castle and his quarters,” Snape said idly. “The boy is very much the unholy offspring of Potter and Lily– and he’s got Minerva’s personality to boot.”

Sirius chuckled, and Minerva shot him a venomous glare, before turning back to Snape.

“What are you saying, Severus? That I’m foolhardy?” Minerva said acidly to the Potions professor.

“You’re the Head of Gryffindor, Minerva– that’s part of the job description,” He said with a snort. “I’m simply saying your son is a very Gryffindor Slytherin, and when he’s upset, he terrifies the students like you often do. I believe I recall overhearing one of the Weasley twins saying it was an unholy union of you and I.”

Minerva’s severe visage broke and she started laughing. “That child is very serious sometimes, yes… that much is true.”

When Hermione and Harry finally returned to the Slytherin common room, they arrived in a room full of hustle and bustle. As soon as Harry stepped through the portico, there was a flood of Slytherins asking him what had happened.

“Why ask me?” Harry complained.

“Because you’re at the epicentre of all the weird shit that happens at this school,” Danielle Terrence, the sixth-year prefect said, folding her arms. “We didn’t have nearly this many disasters and emergencies before you showed up.”

“That’s true,” A fifth year student chimed in with a nod.

“Well, I guess it had to do with me. I can’t go into too much detail for what I hope are obvious reasons, but… somebody attacked me with the intent to either kill or maim me. I fought him off and escaped– Dumbledore gave me a hundred points for doing it.”

“A hundred? Bloody hell, doesn’t that put us in the lead?” A short, wiry Slytherin asked, looking at his friend, who nodded silently.

“I don’t intentionally go after things that are out to kill me, people,” Harry said. “I have a bad habit of finding those things without meaning to.”

“Do you know who it was?” Someone asked, a question that had more depth and hidden meaning to a den full of Slytherins, than to a pride of Gryffindors.

“It wasn’t any of your parents, I don’t think,” Harry answered honestly. “They tried to bear a resemblance to Sirius Black, but it wasn’t Sirius Black.”

There was a lot of sighs of relief from some of the Slytherins whose parents had been Death Eaters once upon a time. Draco himself looked like he was going to vomit but had a happy look on his face as he sunk into one of the leather chairs in relief. Harry felt a twinge of sympathy for his friend.

“Keep your eyes open,” Pansy said, striding from the crowd and coming to stand next to Harry. “Remember–" She hissed, "No matter what our feelings may be about blood, and no matter what our allegiances may be outside of these halls, we stand together while we’re here. An attack on any one of us, is an attack on all of us. I don’t care what you feel about Muggleborns or half-bloods, defend Harry and Hermione as if they were your very own.”

“Bloody right!” A voice said from the back of the room, and there were large murmurings of agreement.

Harry felt heartened at the support from his fellow Slytherins, and begged off, saying he was feeling the onset of exhaustion from overworking his magic, and his arms still hurt like death itself. Once he made it into his bedroom, he laid down, feeling uncertain and quite grumpy about Hogsmeade.

The following morning, Harry’s arms were mostly back to a right state, and he went to breakfast feeling a little subdued. The expression of support the previous night from the members of Slytherin House had been encouraging, but he was still quite annoyed at whomever had ruined his moment with Hermione and gotten Hogsmeade ruined for the year. Plopping down at the Slytherin table next to Pansy, he slathered a piece of toast in butter and bit into it, chewing moodily.

“You alright, Harry?” Pansy asked, glancing at him with a raised eyebrow.

“Just feeling out of sorts about yesterday, Pans,” Harry said, frowning. “Seems like every year I’ve gotta deal with bloody maniacs trying to kill me– I’d just like a regular year at Hogwarts, y’know?”

“Understandable,” She said, nodding. “I was serious last night when I said that. I’ll start hexing Slytherins who don’t fall in line and work towards the common good.”

“That’s quite a public declaration for me, Pansy. Are you going to be in trouble or in hot water over it?”

“My father’s family was only loosely loyal to Lord Voldemort in the last war,” Pansy said haughtily. “But Draco and I spoke about it, and he brought up some very good points about our families.”

“I won’t pry into those details, but I’m glad to hear it.”

“Just… be careful, Harry. Merlin knows that the Dark Lord is a powerful warlock,”

“Mm,” Harry said, nodding. “I know.”

As breakfast continued, Harry was joined by his menagerie of friends. Blaise, Theo, Draco, Daphne, Millie and Hermione. Just behind him, Ron, Neville and a few of their Gryffindor friends sat down. Ron turned around and slapped Harry on the back.

“Harry,” Ron said. “What happened yesterday?”

“A lot of things, Ronald,” Harry replied, dusting crumbs off his shirt. “To put it mildly, Death Eater attacked me with some curses and a knife, I managed to fight him off long enough to escape.”

“Bloody hell,” Ron said, looking mortified. “You’ve got bad luck, haven’t you?”

“If I had bad luck, Ron, I would’ve died in first year.”

“Ah, well, true,” He said lamely. “Well, need any help with anything, just let me know, mate.”

“I will, thank you,” Harry said with a smile, before patting Ron on the arm.

The sound of three resonant dings on a goblet drew everyone’s attention to Dumbledore at the head of the staff table.

“I have a brief announcement to make. Yesterday afternoon, an unknown assailant attempted to accost two members of our student body in Hogsmeade. Due to the security lapse and the difficulty of ensuring that all students are safe from any potential assailants while in Hogsmeade, I regret to announce that Hogsmeade weekends will be suspended until further notice.”

There was a cacophony of grumbling and murmuring from the student body, and Harry noticed quite a few glares from the other three tables directed at him. He flushed and tried to incinerate his breakfast with his eyes by glaring at it.

Suddenly, he felt a sharp pinch on his arse, and he jumped in shock, glaring at Hermione who looked utterly innocent about it.

“Don’t worry about it,” She said to him in a low voice. “Remember what Professor Snape said? If they’re more concerned with Hogsmeade than with their own safety, then they’re idiots. Don’t pay the idiots any mind.”

“Thanks, Hermione,” Harry said with a sigh, before wrapping an arm around her and hugging her close.

Chapter Text

Hermione Granger was, to put it very mildly, worried beyond belief for her datemate. It was to that end that she was seated in Professor McGonagall’s office early Monday morning, drinking tea with Harry’s mother.

“Why, exactly, did you request this meeting, Miss Granger?” Professor McGonagall said with a raised eyebrow.

“It’s about Harry, I’m worried about him,” Hermione admitted, scratching her cheek. “He’s… dealing with quite a lot of things all at once. It can’t be good for him.”

Professor McGonagall closed her eyes and nodded sagely. “Yes, he is… taking quite a bit on the nose. He’s always been like that,” She said, a sly smile crossing her face. “Once he got used to living with us and the idea we weren’t going to take him back to those Muggles who had him first, he was always wanting to do more, quite an ambitious young man,”

She sighed. “I would love nothing more than to keep him from all the inane nonsense that Professor Dumbledore has planned for him, but I cannot. It is entirely due to his lessons with Professor Dumbledore that Harry has been lucky enough to escape certain death multiple times in the last three years. As much as we want him to just be a normal boy, he… he’s not quite a normal boy– even by wixen standards,” She said, looking irritable. “All we can do is support him and stand by him when the time comes.”

“Are you so certain, Professor?” Hermione asked, looking mortified. “That… You-Know-Who will come back?”

“His name is Voldemort, or Tom Riddle, Miss Granger,” Professor McGonagall said acidly. “Don’t give that poor excuse for a wizard any sort of respect by treating his name as forbidden. But as for your question– Yes, I do think it will happen eventually. Given what has happened all three years Harry has been here at Hogwarts… it does not take a Ravenclaw to discern that the other shoe will drop eventually.”

“Right,” Hermione said, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Professor McGonagall took a deep breath. “For now, just be Harry’s friend and companion. Study hard and continue to be the brightest witch of your generation.”

Hermione snorted, and smiled. “I think there might be someone else who takes that moniker,”

“What makes you say that? You’ve got the best marks of everyone, and you’re very inquisitive,” Professor McGonagall said, eyebrow raised. Hermione smiled at her and shook her head.

“Oh, no reason. I try to be humble, is all,” She lied through her teeth. Professor McGonagall seemed to accept that as a valid reasoning, and nodded once more, before taking another drink of tea.

“Most of all, Miss Granger, please practice constant vigilance, like Auror Moody would have you do– if someone is trying to harm Harry, there is no doubt in my mind they will try to do it in the Castle or on the grounds as well. Though we have wands, we are not omniscient.”

“I understand, Professor,” Hermione said with a nod.

Remus observed Harry as he once again failed to produce a proper Patronus. “I’m beginning to think you may not be capable of forming a Patronus, Harry,” He said, descending the stairs from his office. “What memory did you use this time?”

“Hermione telling me she loved me,” Harry said, frowning. “I felt the warmth, but it stopped before it got to my wand.”

“Hmm,” Remus said, glancing down at Harry’s wand, and then his ring. “I have a theory. Something about the fact you’re the true master of the Elder Wand tells me that between that, and the fact you possess the Resurrection Stone, forming a Patronus is going to be next to impossible for you, that is… until you possess the wand you’re supposed to possess,”

“So, I’m screwed then,” Harry said irritably. “All they’ll need to take me out for good is a Dementor.”

“Given how your ring reacted the last time you were within a few feet of a Dementor, I don’t believe you’ll have to worry about such problems. Now, that’ll be all of practice for the day, but please do take a seat, I haven’t had a chance to talk to you personally since the start of the term,” He said, smiling. “How are you doing, Harry?”

“Oh, just fine,” Harry said. “Well, feeling a little stressed out from all the nonsense that’s going on at once. First, whoever is pretending to be Sirius and trying to murder me, dealing with all the advanced topics I’ve taken on, clubs, and now Quidditch practice– I’m feeling a bit knackered sometimes.”

“I don’t blame you,” Remus said, rubbing the back of his head. “Sirius and I haven’t had any time to catch up, what with the term starting, him being a wanted man, and now someone trying to pretend to be him and murder you.”

Remus looked contemplative. “If only I still had the Map, we could keep an eye on you,” He said, thoughtfully.

“The map?” Harry asked, blinking.

“Ah, well, back when I was in Hogwarts, your father, Sirius and I… as well as that rat Peter, worked together on a map called the Marauder’s Map. It was designed to track anybody on the Hogwarts grounds at any given time. We spent the better part of fourth year working on the theory, and then fifth year charming parchment together to make it. Unfortunately, it got confiscated from us during seventh year. I’ve no idea what’s happened to it since.”

“Could it still be in Filch’s office?” Harry suggested, and Remus leaned back against his desk. “It’s possible, but I doubt it.”

“Right, that’s usually the first place people like the Weasley twins go for contraband to grab,” Harry said. “It’s more than likely that the two have the map to use for pranking,”

“A worthy use, and fitting given that’s what we used it for,” Remus said with a nod. “I think I may still have all the notes we prepared. If you can get together a small group of your friends, we could try making another one? I, of course, as a Hogwarts professor, cannot be involved in such a flagrant violation of the spirit of the rules, but if someone should, to say, get a hold of those notes… well, I can’t be held responsible for those who decide to do it on their own,”

“Right,” Harry said, a smirk crossing his face. “I’ll put it on the list of things to mess with. See if Pansy, Draco and Hermione are interested in getting involved.”

“Wise idea,” Remus said with a nod. “Now, Professor Dumbledore has told me you’ve been learning higher year DADA material since your first year at Hogwarts, and that’s why you’re in my fourth year DADA class.”

“That’s right, sir,” Harry said.

“Well, in that case, would you mind showing me a bit of what you can do?” Remus said, smiling, fingers tapping against his wand.

Stupefy!” Remus said, raising his wand to Harry, who quickly countered it with a shield. The DADA classroom was lit up for several minutes with a melange of colours from both Harry and Remus’ wands, before Remus ducked out of the way of Harry’s leg-locking jinx and motioned to stop.

“Excellent work, Harry. For a third-year student doing fourth- and fifth-year material, you’re quite adept. You’re already set to seat your OWL in 4th year, if you keep it up, I’ll see to it you’re taking your NEWT in fifth.”

“That sounds like way too much to deal with,” Harry said with a wheeze. “I appreciate it, sir, but for now…”

“Trying to not rock the boat, I understand. Your mother was much the same way. She breezed through anything old Slughorn had for her, but never bothered to take up his offers to skip whole years of Potions. She still was the youngest person to achieve Potions Mastery in several generations, but she wanted to take her time and not lose friends because she was too far ahead. I think Severus was part of that reason,”

“Oh, right… My mother and Professor Snape were friends,” Harry said with a nod. “I remember her saying that.”

“Excuse me?” Remus said, blinking. “Did you say… you remember her saying that?”

“Yeah, we spoke last year when the Resurrection Stone brought her spirit back to talk to me,” Harry said, grimacing. “It sounds worse than it actually is, I promise.”

“Bloody hell,” Remus murmured. “Your life is strange, Harry.”

“Tell me something I don’t know, Professor,” Harry said, rolling his eyes.

“Lethifolds cannot be harmed in any way other than by a Patronus Charm, just like Dementors, but they’re typically only found in the tropics.” Remus said, not missing a beat.

“What?”

“You asked me to tell you something you did not know, and I know we have yet to cover Lethifolds in DADA.”

“Cheeky,” Harry said, eyeing his Professor. “You must’ve gotten detention a lot.”

“Your dear Mother probably spent almost every weekend she had with us.”

“Lala probably wasn’t very chuffed,” Harry said. “I see why she wanted to maim Sirius when she first saw him after he saved my life.”

“Ah, yes, most likely. Could also be because of the time Sirius caught them both in a broom closet and got us out of detentions for most of fifth year.”

“Oh, right! Forgot about that too. In all fairness I was far too concerned with my romantic feelings for both Neville and Hermione at the time, it completely passed over my head that Sirius had told me that,” Harry said with a snort.

Once they’d run out of conversation pieces, Harry returned to his quarters and flopped over onto the bed. Crookshanks, who was nestled in a little cat bed, trotted over and leapt up onto his bed, and curled up on Harry’s chest, purring softly.

“Hey,” Harry said fondly. “I know I’ve been a bit busy, but I haven’t forgotten you, dear.”

Crookshanks eyed him pensively before making a low “mrow” and curling up again. Harry sat there for a while, deciding that he didn’t quite feel like forcing his cat off so he could go do something else. He laid back in bed and stared at the ceiling for a while. It was nice to relax and not worry about anything for a little bit.

Harry wasn’t sure when he fell asleep, but the sound of someone entering the portrait hole alerted him. Hermione, looking worried, poked her head in and grinned when she saw him. “There you are!” She said.

“Hey,” He said, yawning, gently reaching down to scratch Crookshanks’ ears. “Sorry, dozed a bit.”

“I thought you’d be coming to dinner after your lesson with Professor Lupin, I got worried and came looking for you,” She said. “Not hungry?”

“Nah,” Harry said, shaking his head. “A little wound up.”

“Why don’t we go find a quiet place to snog in?” Hermione suggested, grinning ear to ear. “Oh, seems we’ve already found one,”

“It seems we have indeed,” Harry said with a smirk on his face. “You never tire of snogging, do you?”

“Nope. Do you?”

“Merlin’s beard, no– now I see why people do it all the time,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “Now come on and kiss me!”

“With pleasure,” Hermione said, as she leapt onto Harry’s bed to smooch him.

Hermione was awoken the next morning by Harry screaming. Startling awake, she quickly turned to see Harry bathed in sweat and screaming himself hoarse.

“Harry! Darling, wake up. It’s a nightmare. I’m here with you. It’s me, Hermione,” She said, gently rubbing his chest. “Come on, wake up, dear.”

The screaming eventually stopped, and Harry awoke with a start. “Bloody fuck!”

“What happened?”

“Bad dream… nightmare,” He said, wiping the sweat from his forehead. He muttered more profanities before falling back against his pillow. “Ugh, did we fall asleep last night cuddling?”

“Yeah, it’s a good thing the Slytherins are discreet about it,” Hermione said, shaking her head. “Not that I mind sleeping in the same bed as you, Harry. I loved cuddling.”

“Thanks,” Harry said with a dry laugh. His voice was hoarse, and he let out a racking cough. “I think I hurt my voice screaming like that,”

“You should see Madam Pomfrey then,” Hermione said. “Come on, Harry, it won’t be so bad,”

“Alright, alright,” Harry said, grumbling. “I’m getting up,” He rolled out of bed before landing on his feet again. “She’s not going to be pleased, you know.”

“I know, but better you get your throat looked at before you lose your voice,” Hermione said. “Please?”

“Alright, fine,” Harry said, feeling quite irritable. “I’ll go see Madam Pomfrey. However, first, I’m going to go take a bloody shower because I feel like I just swam through a sea of arse.”

He grumbled his way to the bathroom and closed the door a bit hard, making Hermione wince.

“Maybe I was a little pushy,” She said idly, before getting dressed and making her way back up to the dorms. Pansy had given her a smug smirk when she entered the room but hadn’t said anything as she cleaned up and changed her clothes.

“You and Potter… you know,” Pansy said, with a wiggle of her eyebrows. “yesterday?”

“No, of course not,” Hermione said acidly. “Have you ever known me to be like that, Pansy?”

“Well, no—but I see the way you look at Harry, so…”

“No, he and I snogged a bit and cuddled, and we fell asleep. He woke up with a nightmare this morning and I told him to go to the hospital and see if Madam Pomfrey can help him. He agreed, but he’s being a bit of a ponce about it.”

“He’s probably not in a good mood because of the nightmare. Just give him some space today,” Pansy suggested.

The two descended the stairs from the girl’s dorm, and Draco formed their flank.

“Harry left in a hurry this morning, grumbling about girlfriends. What’d you do, Granger?”

“I didn’t do anything! Harry had a nightmare and I was worried about him! I told him to go to the Hospital Wing and get Madam Pomfrey’s help for his sore throat! He’s acting like I killed his cat or something!”

“He’s had those irritable days sometimes, particularly when his scar was hurting. One night he nearly went off on me because I was snoring.” Draco recalled with a snort.

“So, you’re saying that Potter’s kind of a bitch sometimes,” Pansy said with a grin. “Maybe the unicorn was right, he is a girl.”

Draco and Hermione both tried to not look at Pansy directly, and Pansy’s eyes widened. “No way—is he?

Draco and Hermione waylaid Pansy into an abandoned classroom on the dungeons level, before Hermione irritably locked the door behind them.

“Pansy,” Draco said. “There’s… sort of some truth to that, but it’s kind of complex,”

“Harry isn’t sure if he’s supposed to be a boy or a girl, but he’s been thinking about it. He rather fancies the idea of being a girl, but he’s not sure. Right now, the only people who know are me, Draco, and Draco’s mother. Not even Harry’s own mother knows about it.”

“Draco’s mom knows. She, before anybody else at Hogwarts, knows. How the bloody hell did she find out?”

“Harry gave me permission to tell her,” Draco said with a nod. “And she’s quite pleased at the idea of being able to help Harry with something. She’s coming to visit over the weekend to talk to Harry about it—I guess you can come along if you want,”

“Where are you lot meeting? It’d be kind of suspicious if Harry was seen with your Mum of all people,”

“The Chamber of Secrets,” Hermione said with a nod. “Only place in Hogwarts that is completely safe for Harry at any given time. Totally private too,”

“Oh, bloody hell. I’ve been wanting to see what that was about,” Pansy murmured. “We’ve all heard myths about the Chamber from our parents.”

“It’s quite a beautiful chamber, honestly,” Hermione said. “Harry loves it—and he loves the basilisk too. Her name’s Fatimah.”

Fatimah. Her name’s Fatimah.” Pansy said in disbelief. “Merciful Merlin, next you’ll tell me that Harry is of divine blood.”

“I doubt it, but who knows with Potter,” Draco said with a shrug. “It’s like when he was born, the universe reached down to Earth and said, ‘fuck you in particular, you little green-eyed sprog,’ and lo, behold, Harry Potter was brought unto the Earth to be an absolute walking disaster.”

“Yes, but he’s my walking disaster, thank you very much,” Hermione said with a smile.

“Yes, he’s very cute,” Both Draco and Pansy said simultaneously, before blushing and giving each other a knowing smirk.

“Wow, Pans, fancying Potter, are we?” Draco said, raising an eyebrow.

“I didn’t know you swing that way, Draco. Maybe trying to set you up with Daphne is a mistake, maybe you’d like to go out with Ron Weasley?” Pansy offered, smirking.

“Like I’d ever snog Ron Weasley! That boy is anathema!” Draco proclaimed, looking scandalised.

“I’ve seen you checking out his arse, you pillock. Don’t act so high and mighty, Mister Malfoy!”

“Yeah, and I’ve checked out your arse, Hermione’s arse, Harry’s arse, and Daphne’s arse too!”

“I didn’t know you liked my arse, Draco,” Hermione said teasingly. “Hands off my boyfriend’s arse. I’m going to get him a pair of short-shorts that’s charmed to say, ‘Property of Hermione Granger; Hands Off’.”

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” Draco said, covering his face—Pansy, on the other hand was laughing her arse off.

“Okay, let’s stop making fun of Draco for a few minutes,” Pansy said, shaking her head. “So—Potter’s a girl. What a delightful turn of events,” She said, looking thoughtful.

“Don’t say anything to anybody, Pansy,” Draco said seriously. “The last thing Harry needs is more attention due to this,”

“I won’t tell a soul, Merciful Merlin,” Pansy said, rolling her eyes. “But I’m going to make sure that Harry has some fashion sense if he is a girl. No offense, Granger, but you dress like a middle-aged woman.”

Hermione squawked in offense. “Excuse me! What do you know about Muggle fashions, Miss Pureblood?”

“Just because our family are pureblood and look down on Muggles, doesn’t mean we’re completely ignorant of Muggle innovations,” Pansy said with a roll of her eyes. “Only the most stick-in-the-arse families are like that—or those who live in houses that are so full of charms and runic wards and the like, that makes Muggle electronics malfunction.”

“That’d be us,” Draco said glumly. “Mum told me once that Malfoy Manor didn’t have plumbing until I was an infant—she screamed at Grandfather Abraxas that even the Black family home had running water, and that she would not raise the next Malfoy heir in such squalor. He had running water by the end of the next week.”

Hermione snorted. “The fact we still write on parchments and with quills is outrageous. You lot do realize Muggles have ballpoint pens that you don’t have to manually ink up?”

“Wait, really?” Pansy said in surprise. “I’ll admit I haven’t spent that long out among Muggles…”

“Yeah, it’s called a bloody ballpoint pen—and we have things called pencils too that let you erase your mistakes. No, but you’re not going to side-track me by having me parrot trivia about Muggle things to you. What’s wrong with my fashion sense?!”

“You dress like a rich girl,” Pansy said.

“I’m not bathing in Gringotts gold, but my parents are dental surgeons, we don’t exactly live in poverty,” Hermione said acidly. “As if my accent wasn’t a give-away either,”

“Yes, you do have that…” Draco cleared his throat. “Pureblood enunciation.”

“It’s not a pureblood thing,” Pansy said, rolling her eyes. “If you’d listened to Muggle radio or watched television. Muggles call it ‘Received Pronunciation’, or the ‘EBC System’.”

“So I’ve been told,” Hermione deadpanned. “I grew up in an affluent part of London, so sue me!”

“Could be worse, you could have the same accent as Harry,” Pansy said with a wince. “How I can understand that boy, I’ll never know.”

“Oh, I think Harry’s accent is adorable, even if when he gets frustrated, I feel like I want to hide before he gives me detention,” Hermione wheezed. “But I have been getting better about not using such pretentious vocabulary.”

“Yes, you’re not quite the same girl you were two years ago,” Pansy said with a wince. “I suppose being petrified and then snogging Potter would do that to a girl.”

Hermione glared at Pansy, but she was smiling while she did it.

They eventually made it to breakfast and talked about inconsequential things before Harry entered the Great Hall. He was clearly in a very stormy mood, as Gryffindors and Slytherins reflexively cowered away from him in terror.

He dropped down into a seat next to Hermione and Pansy and flashed a small wooden sign.

Madam Pomfrey says I can’t talk for the rest of the day. Thanks, Hermione.

“She was just looking out for you, Potter,” Pansy said. “Don’t be such a girl about it.”

Harry glared at her. “Don’t talk to me like that.” The wooden sign read.

“Then stop being a moody little brat!” Pansy exclaimed. Harry sniffed airily and pointedly ignored Pansy the remainder of the morning, before making his way through his classes mutely.

Hermione, however, was far from deterred by her boyfriend’s sour mood. Once classes had ended and she didn’t see him in the common room, she found him brooding in his bedroom once again, staring at the ceiling.

“That’s it,” She said, grabbing him by the arm and dragging him out into the common room. She tugged him along to a couch tucked in the corner of the room, and she sat down on the couch primly, before tugging him onto her lap. He blushed and scowled at her.

“Hermione-” He croaked.

“Sh,” She said, gently pressing a finger to his lips. “I know you’re still cross, but Madam Pomfrey told you to not use your voice today. Just relax,” She said as she leaned down and began to kiss him.

They were snogging each other in the corner of the common room for several minutes before breaking apart. Harry eyed her and smiled.

“I love you,” He said, his voice dry and thick.

“Love you too,” Hermione said, nuzzling him. “Always.”

“I’m sorry I’ve been a bit of a prat today,” Harry said, looking forlorn. “It’s just all sorts of things at once. Someone trying to do me in, no Hogsmeade, dealing with a lot of advanced stuff, and then the nightmare.”

“It’s alright, love,” Hermione said gently. “You don’t have to do any of this alone.”

“I know, but I’m just… ugh, frustrated.”

“You have a right to be,” Hermione said, stroking his hair. “Would you like for me to sleep in your quarters tonight?”

“Is that going to cause you problems?” Harry asked, and Hermione shook her head.

“No, Pansy and I talked about it. Honestly, all the Slytherin third years are kinda jealous you and I are so close. We don’t have to do anything we’re not comfortable or ready for.”

“I know, just don’t want any more rumours to swirl around us,” Harry said gently. “The last thing you need is to be branded something you’re not.”

“If anybody in Slytherin does that, I’ll kill them,” Hermione said simply. “And I’ll make it look like a right accident too.”

“You won’t even get the chance,” Harry said. “I’ll cave their skull in with a magically-summoned mallet,” He made the motions of bringing a mallet down onto someone’s head.

The two dissolved into laughter.

“Could you imagine anybody summoning a huge mallet with their magic and then bludgeoning someone? That’s beyond overkill,” Hermione said with a snort. “But I suppose stranger things have happened.”

“Right,” Harry said, grinning, before he went back in for more kisses.

Harry’s first practical lesson in Apparition happened a few days later, on that Friday evening. He’d been studying the materials religiously since Dumbledore had given him the greenlight to begin studying, and now he was standing in the middle of his backyard, with Professor Dumbledore and his mother supervising.

“Harry, what are the three core components of Apparition?”

“Destination, Determination and Deliberation,” Harry said. “I need to have a clear vision in my mind of my destination—be determined to get there without being hasty and rushing but be deliberate in my actions.”

“Good,” Dumbledore said with a nod. “I want you to try Apparating next to me. Visualize it in your mind and try.”

With a loud CRACK that reverberated across the hills, Harry found himself standing next to Dumbledore. The elder Headmaster waved his wand over Harry and nodded. “No splinching. You did good for your first try. Now, Harry…” Dumbledore said with a hum.

Dumbledore suddenly apparated to just beyond the treeline. He raised his wand to his throat, and his voice carried.

Try Apparating to me now.

Harry did it again, and with an even louder CRACK, arrived next to Dumbledore. The old professor looked impressed.

“Marvellous, my boy. Perhaps you should try something harder…” He thought about it before nodding. “I will now apparate to Hogsmeade. Think about Hogsmeade, hold it in your mind, and apparate there in thirty seconds.”

Dumbledore vanished with a pop, and Harry sat there quietly, thinking about Hogsmeade—the snow, the buildings, he envisioned the very centre of Hogsmeade, where the high street met the smaller roads, and he apparated.

Harry suddenly appeared, ankle-deep in snow. He then immediately fell over into Dumbledore’s arm.

“Ah, well, you splinched this time,” Dumbledore said, before working to quickly rectify the situation. Harry’s leg was reattached, no worse for wear, before Dumbledore side-along apparated him back to his home in Wulver’s Hollow.

“Good,” Dumbledore said with a nod. “We were able to do short-distance Apparition, and we had some difficulty with longer distances. With regular practice, you should be quite adept at it in time,”

“Right,” Harry said, brow furrowed. “Can I try jumping to Hogsmeade again?”

“I suppose,” Dumbledore said. He disappeared once again to Hogsmeade.

Harry waited and tried again, successfully landing in the snow with both his legs intact. It was fortunate that the entire village was nearly shuttered completely due to the sudden halt of student visitation permissions. Harry quickly apparated back to Wulver’s Hollow before anybody noticed—these times, he didn’t leave with a loud backfire, but with a much softer noise, closer to a Yuletide cracker, or a bottle of champagne being uncorked.

As soon as he landed in Wulver’s Hollow, his legs gave out and he felt the wave of exhaustion settle over him.

“Bloody hell,” He murmured wearily. “Didn’t realize how much that’d take out of me,”

“It can be exhausting if you’re unaccustomed to it,” Dumbledore said seriously. “And you’re four years younger than you’re usually supposed to be to learn it. We’ll portkey back to Hogwarts, and I’ll see you to your room, Harry.”

After the portkey took them back, Harry was escorted to his quarters where he fell asleep just as soon as he hit his pillow.

Narcissa hadn’t made her full return to England just yet. She’d begun reluctantly preparing to return to Malfoy Manor, but decided to make a side-trip to Scotland to start dealing with this Harry Potter business.

Dressed comfortably, Narcissa walked the path up to the gates of Hogwarts, where she was met by Professor Snape.

“Narcissa,” Severus said coolly. “I was surprised to receive your letter. What brings you here today?”

“Only that I wish to see my son, Severus,” She said with a smile, as they climbed into the thestral-drawn carriage that would facilitate them back to the castle. “And I wished to speak to Harry Potter as well,”

“Ah,” Severus said with a nod. “You’re having second thoughts about your loyalty as well?” He said warily, glancing at her.

Narcissa eyed Severus. “Please, Severus, I’ve known you weren’t a Death Eater loyalist since he killed Lily Potter, don’t insult my intelligence.” She said brusquely. “But yes, I don’t plan on bending the knee again.”

“So, you seek to ingratiate yourself to Potter,” Severus said, raising an eyebrow. “What makes you think he’ll win?”

“He’s a Slytherin—and not just any sort of Slytherin, he’s the Heir of Slytherin. The idea of a half-blood whose parents died standing up to Voldemort being determined by the universe and Fate to be the Heir… that’s a sign that Voldemort should be very afraid.”

“Even then,” She continued. “He’ll win if we help him. Every person who stands resolutely behind him will make the cause to defeat him stronger. I will fight for the future that keeps my son alive, and out of slavery. No doubt Lucius will want Draco to take on the Dark Mark should the Dark Lord return—I will not permit it.”

“I would never have imagined you would,” Severus replied.

The carriage eventually reached the castle itself, and Severus helped Narcissa out. She brightened considerably at the sight of Hogwarts and walked alongside him down to the Slytherin dungeons.

“I missed this place,” She said with a sigh. “I love my son, but I wish I’d have finished.”

“It’s not too late to take your NEWT and get your Charms mastery,” Severus said idly. “You were quite interested in the idea when I was your Potions tutor.”

“Ah, yes, I remember that,” She said, smiling. “Maybe if I’d been in the same year as you and Evans, I would’ve been more like Cousin Sirius and refused to do what my family wanted.”

Severus nodded silently as they arrived at the Slytherin common room. After muttering the password, Severus swept through the door with Narcissa in tow, and came to a stop in the centre of the room.

“It’s changed,” Narcissa noted, before glancing at the large portrait of Salazar Slytherin.

“You can thank Potter for that one,” Severus said, nodding at the portrait. “The boy unlocks the Chamber, decides to move in there, and the Common Room rearranges itself.”

“Strange,” Narcissa observed. “Is that the entrance to the Chamber?”

“One of the three that are currently open,” Severus said with a nod. “But we’ll be using the main entrance,”

Draco descended the stairs. “Mother!”

“Draco!” Narcissa said, hugging her son tightly. “How are you doing?”

“Just fine, no problems so far,” Draco said with a smile. “Pansy’s coming along, if that’s alright?”

“She’s been made aware of Harry’s predicament?” She asked.

Draco nodded, and Narcissa smiled.

“Of course, Draco darling, of course. Come along,”

The group made their way to the second floor, and quietly entered the women’s restroom on that floor. Harry and Hermione were waiting, and Harry smiled at the group.

“Mrs. Malfoy,” Harry said. “Nice to see you again.”

“Please, dear, we’re cousins. Call me Narcissa.”

“We are?”

“Oh, goodness, do you not know?” Narcissa said in shock.

Harry hissed something in Parseltongue and the door to the Chamber slid open, the stairs dimly lit by the torched walls. Snape nodded stiffly at Harry and departed, leaving Harry with the group by himself.

“Follow me,” He said happily, and Narcissa followed him into the Chamber.

“Well, you see—your father’s mother, Dorea, was a Black. She was the sister of my father and Sirius’ mother…”

A brief explanation of the genealogical relationship between Harry, Sirius, Narcissa and Draco later, the small group arrived at the entrance gate to the Chamber of Secrets. Harry hissed again in Parseltongue and the door opened, and he strode through, letting out another stream of hisses.

“I just told Fatimah that there’s a group of people coming in, so she doesn’t accidentally petrify or kill you.”

The Slytherins who had never been in the Chamber marvelled at it with shock.

“It’s… more beautiful than I could have imagined,” Pansy murmured.

“Brilliant,” Draco muttered.

“It’s gorgeous,” Narcissa whispered.

Harry grinned, and Narcissa reached into the pocket of her robes. She pulled out quite a few small objects and set them in the middle of the chamber.

“I didn’t know if we’d have available furniture or materials, so I took the liberty of bringing them with me,” She said, before she transfigured everything into some comfortable chairs, a table, and a large chest.

“So,” She said, sitting down in a plush chair. “Harry might be a young woman,”

Harry blushed and scratched his neck. “I mean… maybe!”

“Well, nothing wrong with that—if anything, you’d become quite a symbol to all young witches everywhere. I mean, you sort of are already?”

“I am?”

“There’s hardly a young witch in our world that doesn’t grow up being read about Harry Potter,” Narcissa said with a nod. “Even among the purebloods who were sympathetic to Voldemort—your story is quite a symbol of love’s true power, and a lot of girls grow up having crushes on you.”

“At least until they grow up and realize he’s a massive nerd,” Hermione chimed in, sticking out her tongue at her boyfriend.

“I’m going to get you for that, Granger,” Harry warned, smiling.

“Oh, good, that’s exactly what I was hoping for,” Hermione said cheekily.

“Children,” Narcissa warned, causing everyone to quiet down. “Now—moving on. Harry, would you mind telling me a bit about why you feel a bit like a girl?”

Harry blushed and rubbed his face irritably. “I don’t know exactly. I can’t just point to a single event and say, ‘This is what made me think about it’. I suppose it’s quite a few things. Being mistaken for a girl in Yamato made me feel weird. I didn’t feel put off or angry about it. I felt… kinda happy?”

Narcissa nodded.

“I don’t know,” Harry repeated. “And then Hermione got me a skirt and jumper for my birthday, and… I really liked wearing it. Like, being pretty was not something I’d really considered, and it was… really nice.”

“And then the unicorn thing happened!” Pansy said, nodding. “The unicorn that Hagrid had brought in for our first class ignores all these girls and goes straight to Harry and is very friendly to him.”

“That’s unusual, certainly,” Narcissa said. “Quite a blunt indication that you may not be wholly a boy. Harry, would you be interested in developing the certain sexual characteristics of a girl?”

“What do you mean?” Harry asked, blushing scarlet.

“You’re a smart boy, come on,” Narcissa chided. She raised an eyebrow at his silly obliviousness.

“Ah, well, I mean… maybe?” Harry said, biting his lip. “But I can’t just… I can’t just do it! I don’t want to have to deal with that at Hogwarts.”

“I get it,” Narcissa said with a nod. “But do keep in mind, Harry, just because you may be a girl, does not mean you have to become a perfect wife for some pureblood lord.”

The thought crossed Harry’s mind and he made a horrified face. “No bloody way!”

“Of course not,” Narcissa said haughtily. “The Muggles have a concept called feminism. It’s the idea that a woman can do everything a man can, and I am a firm believer in it. I am deferential to my husband in public, but in private I challenge his every assumption, and he knows he cannot force me to heel.”

“That’s true,” Draco said with a nod. “After the affair with Ginny Weasley last year, she nearly ripped Father’s head off.”

“And I cannot begin to apologize enough for what my stupid husband got all of you involved in,” Narcissa said mournfully. “Lucius will pay, in time, for his idiocy.”

“Good,” Draco said, crossing his arms. “I love Father dearly, but he’s a ponce.”

“Draco, language,” Narcissa chided, though she was smiling ear-to-ear.

“Anyway, Harry,” Narcissa pivoted back to the blushing raven-haired Slytherin. “I came here to offer you a bit of a pointer on some of the finer points of accompanying femininity, if you’re interested. I won’t be able to come here every week, but I can certainly rely on Pansy and Hermione to give you some guidance on that front.”

“Um,” Harry said, looking down. “I guess so,”

“One of the first lessons—even if you may be a woman, you are not required to be deferential to anyone. You are still Harry Potter, and you’re still the Girl-Who-Lived. Be more assertive.”

Harry peered up at Narcissa and took in a deep breath. “Yes. I would like that. I’m still not sure if I really am a girl or not, but… I’d like to know more.”

“Harry, do you have a house elf?” Narcissa asked.

“No, ma’am, I don’t,” Harry said, shaking his head. “I find the whole concept of house elves sort of deplorable, really. Seems rather close to slavery.”

Narcissa nodded again, looking thoughtful. “You’re not entirely wrong, I suppose. The origin of how we came to bond with house elves has long since been lost to time, and there are large groups of people who can sometimes take advantage of their elves and treat them poorly. I would never treat mine that way—though I cannot say the same for Lucius.”

She sighed. “Regardless, you can’t buy an elf until you’re 17. But there’s a way around that,”

She snapped her fingers and Dobby appeared. “Mistress called Dobby?”

“Dobby, from this day forward, please treat Harry Potter as if she were a member of our household. You will answer to her as if she were also your mistress.”

Dobby’s eyes widened. “Dobby would be honoured to serve Mistress Harry Potter! Thank you, Mistress Cissy!” He shouted, groveling at her feet, before disappearing with a pop.

“This means that, like Draco, you can opt to have your mail and parcels delivered by Dobby rather than by owl post,” Narcissa said idly. “That, and I was looking for a way to get Dobby out of Lucius’ reach should we need to leave him behind.”

“Dobby… he was the house elf that tried to keep from attending Hogwarts last year,” Harry said, realizing why the elf looked familiar. “He tried to kill me!”

“Unfortunate,” Narcissa said. “He may have simply been acting in a manner he felt the best to fulfil his mistress’ prime directives, even if Lucius orders him to never speak of it.”

Harry shook his head carefully, and sighed. “Okay, so I can order parcels and have my mail delivered by Dobby. How do I know he won’t just give it to say, your husband, to be read?”

“Dobby can’t do that,” Narcissa said plainly. “Dobby is bonded to me first and foremost. There are some things Lucius can do, like force him to remain silent if he witnesses something, but he cannot compel Dobby to defy those who hold his bond—and those chosen to be partnered in the bond.”

She shook her head. “The point of extending Dobby’s bond to you is to provide you an anonymous and quiet way to have parcels and other things delivered that you may want to hide from prying eyes. Like… articles of clothing, magazines, journals, books of a certain variety. Allow you to explore your femininity without worry of someone catching you unawares. I’m sure you wouldn’t want a Witch Weekly falling into your lap at breakfast.”

“Bloody hell, no,” Harry said, mortified.

“Precisely! Also, if you should make clandestine orders to certain Muggle boudoirs, or Wixen ones, you’d want to clearly avoid the appearances of impropriety.”

“How would I go about doing Muggle orders? I think most Muggles would be taken back by the sight of a two-foot-tall elf.”

“There’s a mail-order service in Diagon Alley that takes care of that,” Narcissa said simply. “Not a lot of people know about it because it’s quite small, but those who take advantage of it have a whole wealth of opportunities.”

“Huh,” Harry said, dumbfounded.

“Now!” Narcissa said primly. “Let’s look at your fashion choices as both a boy and a girl, and plan accordingly.”

Harry gulped at the predatory smile that crossed Narcissa and Pansy’s face. Hermione gave him a sympathetic look, and Harry almost felt a tinge of concern.

Almost.

Chapter Text

Halloween was not a time Harry particularly enjoyed celebrating—the idea that it was the day his parents had died drove him off of any particular celebrations. That, and he’d never particularly been attached to the holiday, even before he knew the exact day his mother and father had fallen to the wand of the Dark Lord.

His wand, come to think of it. The idea that he was the master of the same wand that killed James and Lily Potter sent shivers down his spine.

Putting that particular grain of utterly disturbing nonsense out of his brain for a hot minute, he also distinctly remembered never being allowed to partake in the sweets of the holiday before he’d been adopted by his mothers. Frankly, the holiday was utterly useless to him, and he’d just as soon never celebrate it.

And it was with that in his mind, he chose to spend the entire day in his quarters, reading some of the materials Dumbledore had given him about advanced topics. He was pleased at how well he was coming around to it, and hoped it’d be of some use later. Maybe he could even try doing side-along apparition before long.

His ruminations were violently interrupted when there was a sound bang on his door. He opened it to see Albus Dumbledore standing before him at his fullest, commanding height.

“Harry, come with me immediately,” He said, looking panicked. Harry, ever the wary, clutched his wand carefully in his hand as he followed Dumbledore to the Great Hall. The entire student body was clustered in the room, as the various professors laid out deep-purple sleeping bags.

“What’s going on?” Harry asked Professor Dumbledore as he was lead over to the cabal of Slytherins.

“Somebody broke into Gryffindor Tower,” Snape said dryly, interrupting Dumbledore before he could respond. “And nearly stabbed George Weasley to death with a dagger.”

Harry frowned. “Why would… somebody break into Gryffindor Tower and try to murder George Weasley?”

“Never you mind, Potter,” Snape said. “You will remain here for the night. I’d suggest you let the adults handle things for once, and spend time with your friends and girlfriend,” He swept by Harry with his usual flair for dramatics, with Dumbledore hot behind him, and Harry sighed.

He decided that Snape was right, and set off searching for Hermione in the sea of Slytherins.

He found her sitting on one of the bedrolls, next to Pansy, who was trying to talk to her.

“Hermione, there’s nothing to be afraid of,” Pansy said, before she looked up to see Harry.

“Potter! Come here and comfort your girlfriend, she’s terrified out of her mind.”

“Hermione? What’s wrong, love?” Harry said, dropping to his knees next to her.

“Someone got inside the castle and… nearly killed a student. The first time was only in Hogsmeade! Now they’re in the castle!” Hermione said, looking worried.

Harry wrapped her in a hug and squeezed her tightly. “I promise, Hermione. I won’t let anything happen to you. Do you understand? I will make sure of that.

“Besides, I think you can handle Peter Pettigrew,” He said with a murmur. “You’re right mean with the hexes when you want to be,”

“Prat,” Hermione said, giving him a wry smile. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’m just worried about you, is all.”

“I’m worried about myself, Hermione,” Harry said soothingly. “We’ll get through it, I promise.”

The subsequent week became a time of recovery for Harry as he came to terms with the lessons he was getting from Hermione and Pansy about the fairer sex—and as he allowed himself to focus on Quidditch, rather than his bubbling anxiety.

On the 7th of November, Harry had pushed everything else out of his mind to focus on today’s game. It was Slytherin versus Gryffindor, and was the opening game of the ’93-’94 Quidditch season at Hogwarts. It was also unfortunate that with the season’s continued tumbling into the autumn, the weather had taken a decisive turn for the worse—as could be expected in the Scottish Highlands.

As the team took to the pitch to prepare for the match, the sleet was relentless, buffeting Harry all over, drenching him to the bone. Sighing irritably, the match began, and he waited for the Golden Snitch to disappear into the terrible icy rain before taking off, with the Gryffindor seeker in hot pursuit.

He barely paid attention to the scoreboard, which was a tit-for-tat exchange between Gryffindor and Slytherin, and he remained singularly focused on the task at hand. The snitch however, seemed to fancy going as high as it could into the stormy clouds, leaving Harry feeling quite annoyed at the whole concept. The Gryffindor seeker barely avoided getting struck by lightning, and Harry buckled down and braced the bone-chilling rain and wind to get to the Snitch.

Just as he soared over the clouds, Harry’s numb fingers got very close to the Snitch, however, a sense of dread pooled in his stomach as he noticed the rain was beginning to crystallize into pure hail.

Suddenly, through the mist, Harry was confronted with an absolute legion of Dementors. As panic (and numbness) began to set in, Harry pulled out his wand and attempted to cast a Patronus.

Hermione loves me. Hermione kissed me before the game. My mothers. Draco. Coming to Hogwarts. Bloody fuck!

“Expecto patronum!” He pleaded, desperation seeping into his voice, with no results coming from his wand. Tucking it back into his pocket as the Dementors began to close in, Harry’s teeth chattered as he looked down at the ring on his finger.

Please. Help me.” He whispered.

The light-headedness of the Hogwarts Express began to set in, before a beautiful golden halo burst forward from his ring, incinerating large portions of the Dementors. Harry, however, lost control of his broom, and felt it slip away.

The last thing Harry remembered as he fell back to Earth, was the sound of a booming voice.

ARRESTO MOMENTUM!

And then he was awake again, a gaggle of people standing around his usual Hospital bed—more so than usual. His mothers, Snape, Dumbledore, Hermione, the entire Slytherin Quidditch team, as well as the Gryffindor team.

Hermione was the first to speak. “How’re you feeling, Harry?” She asked, voice heavy with concern.

“Like I’ve just been run over by a lorry,” Harry replied with a groan.

“Well, you did take a fall from several hundred feet,” Dumbledore said idly, mirth evident in his voice. “Better to feel like you’ve been hit by a lorry than the alternative,”

“What happened?” Harry said, laying his head back. “The Dementors… they’re not supposed to be on the school grounds, why were they… and did I…”

“Well, that won’t be much of a problem anymore, Harry,” Dumbledore said, clearing his throat. “It seems you’ve destroyed them all.”

“I what?” Harry asked, dumbfounded.

“Indeed,” Dumbledore said dryly. “As for your other question, I will defer to those involved.”

“After you took a tumble,” Fred Weasley said. “The game sort of stopped,”

“And after you’d had your graceful return to Earth, and Dumbledore’d taken you to the Hospital Wing, all of us Gryffindors and Slytherins came to a gentleman’s agreement,” George Weasley said with a nod. “We’ll do a rematch once you’re back on your feet. Professor Snape and Professor McGonagall agreed with the idea.”

“Really?” Harry asked, with a raised eyebrow. “Why not just claim the victory?”

“Are you kidding? This is the rival match of the year, everyone wants to see Gryffindor and Slytherin bloody each other. Nah, mate, we’ll do this the right way or no way,” the Gryffindor seeker said, shaking his head. “Besides, it wasn’t a fair game—the poor weather conditions and Dementors and the like… that and I know you were close to getting it, Potter.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Harry said, blinking in surprise.

“Then don’t say anything!” Fred said with a grin. “Besides, we figured this would soften the blow,”

“What blow?” Harry said, frowning.

Rolanda hesitated, before nodding to someone.

Draco stepped forward, a bundle of blankets in his arms.

“Your broom… sort of flew into the Whomping Willow,” Draco said apologetically before unbundling Harry’s broom—or rather, the fragments of it.

“Oh,” Harry said, his voice dropping to a hoarse whisper. “That was a rare broom. An antique too. Me and Lala spent weeks fine-tuning that thing…”

“I’m sorry,” Draco said. “But look at this way, you can start fresh! New ideas, right?”

“I guess, but… you know,”

“Yes, it’s hard losing your first broom,” Rolanda said sagely, nodding. “I still remember mine. Cherry finished 1918 Ice Comet—one of a kind, custom modded with some of the finest runic enhancements allowed by the professional league. Got blown up in the 60s by some Muggle anti-aircraft gun… must’ve flown too close to Nenetsia.”

“Bloody hell,” someone said in shock.

“Anyway,” Rolanda said, waving her hand dismissively. “We’ll find you a suitable replacement, my son. One that’ll blow the doors off Hogwarts.”

There were smatterings of laughter before Madam Pomfrey hustled her way into the circle.

“Okay, now that Mister Potter is back among the living and you’ve shared your news with him, please vacate the premises—unless you are a member of his family, the faculty or unless you’re his romantic partner.”

Hermione blushed. “Must everyone say it like we’re a married couple?”

“Well… you are everyone’s favourite couple,” Fred and George said in unison, smirking with satisfaction as Hermione let out a loud squawk in protest.

“Oh, be quiet, you two!” Hermione reprimanded, glaring at them as they left.

Albus sat on his desk and folded his arms, frowning deep in thought. Severus, Minerva and Remus were looking at him expectantly before he shook his head.

“I can’t make sense of it, any of you,” Albus said. “There is no earthly reason they would have swarmed Harry like that.”

“It does seem rather odd, a hundred Dementors attacking him in the middle of a Quidditch match,” Minerva said. “Could it have been the work of… you know?”

“I have, as of yet, been unable to identify a runic protection scheme that would work best to deal with his animagus form. Most of them also prohibit regular animals, and we would most certainly not want our owl post or student familiars to have issues coming in and out of the castle, and what of the Hogwarts Basilisk?”

Snape face-palmed. “So we’re entirely at the mercy of whenever Pettigrew deems it time to attack Harry again, assuming today’s events were not directly caused by him?”

“I would not categorize it as being at his mercy,” Albus said with a casual roll of his eyes. “No, we do not know his plans as of yet. But we know whom he is targeting. Let’s go back over the last week or two. Halloween, someone unknown broke into Gryffindor Tower and attempted to slash Mr. Weasley with a dagger.”

“Other than him being his brother’s old pet and perhaps having a grudge for some prank he pulled as a kid,” Minerva said airily. “I cannot think of a reason that he may have come after George Weasley.”

“Be that as it may,” Albus said. “We know he has access to the castle. Our new security measures will keep students from being caught in isolated positions.”

“I believe that he may not be acting alone,” Severus said quietly. “As you know, Headmaster, I am still serving in a capacity as a mole for those few Death Eaters who remain. Lucius Malfoy made the most interesting reference the other day about a certain member of Azkaban’s Death Eater family that had re-joined the faithful.”

“Bellatrix Lestrange,” Minerva said, mortified. “Merciful Christ, if that women’s involved, then Harry is in mortal peril.”

Albus nodded, and looked concerned. “Is it possible that she is not directly involved in the goings on at Hogwarts?”

“I don’t know, sir,” Snape said plainly.

“So be it then,” Dumbledore said with a sigh. “We shall simply have to proceed with caution from here on out.”

November grew more frigid, as the weeks turned into December. The second Quidditch match of the year had been Hufflepuff vs. Ravenclaw, with the badgers emerging victorious in a rather one-sided display. Harry hadn’t attended the match, nor was he paying particularly close attention to Quidditch, with the slight melancholy malaise of losing his favourite childhood broom still hanging over his head.

Instead, as the winter crawled by, Harry focused his time on his studies, taking Professor Lupin’s comments about him to heart, deciding to pursue the concept with gusto. Due to the fact he now had “Dobby Mail Order” service courtesy of Narcissa Malfoy, Harry quickly arranged for Dobby to acquire copies of the fifth, sixth and seventh year textbooks for Defence Against the Dark Arts as a primer for continuing his advanced studies.

For fifth-years, they were expected to study Griselda Marchbanks’ Understanding Defence Against the Dark Arts, which elaborated numerous spells that would be quite helpful in the course of one’s studies, and the theorem behind each spell set.

He found that the fifth-year textbook, for the most part, contained content he’d already largely learned with the help of Professor Dumbledore. Stunning spell, shield charm, disarming charm, and other forms of counter spells. He idly wondered if he’d be able to pass an OWL exam now, let alone next year.

The sixth-year book, Advanced Defensive Practices, penned by Rufus Scrimgeour, was not just a sixth-year textbook, but the first study tool of young Aurors. The book’s priority focus was revisions of stunning, shielding and disarming—but growing one’s abilities to resist two of the Unforgivable curses, and learning how to cast non-verbal spells. On the creature side, it covered Dementors and Inferi.

As Harry was flipping through the book, he blinked in surprise. On the page covering the Killing Curse, there was a drawn portrait of himself as a baby, indicating that he was, of course, the sole survivor of the Killing Curse, and that no other historically recorded instance of it being used has anybody survived.

The seventh-year book was primarily a NEWT study guide, emphasizing what one could expect to see on their NEWTs, and doing primary revisions on the key concepts covered in sixth year, with distinct emphasis on ensuring non-verbal spell-casting was at maximum possible efficiency.

As Harry took notes from the stack of books, he smirked to nobody in particular. This might just be doable with a bit of effort. He made a note to talk to Professor Dumbledore and Professor Lupin about it later. He closed the books again and stretched. If he didn’t do something other than study, he was going to go batty.

He knew Hermione would be in the common room studying, and decided to go bother her.

Bellatrix Lestrange was feeling a number of things—and “annoyed” was one of them. Here she was, plodding her way through the annoying forests of Northern Epirus. This was not what she had in mind when that bloody rat sprung her from prison. She had envisioned hunting down that brat Harry Potter, perhaps also her wayward cousin, Sirius.

But no—Peter had filled her in on his plan, and one part of that plan required her to traverse to the Balkans to search for the Master. That was her job because he needed to gather materials and prepare the child for the ceremony.

She tripped over a downed tree limb and swore as she angrily whipped her wand to banish the downed limb. “Blasted thing!” She ground out as she dug around her coat pocket and looked at the note Peter had written her. It was largely information he’d gleamed from the diary of Quirinus Quirrell.

“Hm,” She said aloud as she looked around, before she proceeded through multiple trees towards a clearing.

She checked the paper again.

As I came across a clearing with a single, gnarled tree, a voice spoke to me.

Bellatrix tensed as an ethereal hissing voice came to her.

Bellatrix? You’ve returned to me.

She, through sheer habit, dropped to her knees. “Master, yes, I have returned to you,” She grovelled, tears forming at the edges of her eyes.

“Good,” Voldemort’s ethereal voice said with it’s typical sibilant hiss. “You… and Pettigrew… your loyalty will be noted. Did you bring a vessel?”

Bellatrix opened her bag and withdrew a small box which she immediately enlarged to the usual size.

“Pettigrew says he worked on this body to give you the ability to survive independently, but, My Lord, you will require a potion every few hours to sustain yourself. Pettigrew informed me that you would be aware of the ingredients necessary to brew it, milord.”

“Yes, yes,” Voldemort said impatiently, before his wraith surged towards the homunculus, it springing to life as Voldemort inhabited it.

“Wonderful,” Voldemort said, his newly inhabited lips moving with a wry pleasure. “Your next duty, Bellatrix, is to gather unicorn blood.”

“Yes, milord,” Bellatrix said, before placing Voldemort down inside of his hideaway, and quickly making for the edge of the forest.

“The sooner we capture that brat,” Voldemort said to himself, “the sooner I will no longer be dependent on these infirm idiots to do basic functions…”

“The Undersecretary to the Minister has gotten new legislation pushed through the Wizengamot,” Hermione said idly as she read through the Daily Prophet. “Just in time for the Yuletide recess.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “What’d she shoehorn through?”

“Anti-werewolf laws, specifically forbidding them from taking a rather large number of jobs and limiting their civil rights,” Hermione said with a frown. “That’s not fair! How are they supposed to help their condition?”

“No, it’s not fair, not in the slightest,” Harry said, glancing up at Professor Lupin, who was sitting at his position at the Staff Table, looking ornery and uncomfortable. “She seems like a right tosser.”

“Sucker bet,” Hermione said nonchalantly. “Are you looking forward to Yule this year, Harry?”

“I suppose so,” Harry said with a nod. “I’ve got most of what I’ve always wanted, so I don’t really know what I’d like for Yule. Maybe a kiss from my favourite girl?”

Hermione smirked at him. “You can have that any time, Potter. Come now.”

“I really don’t know, Hermione. Just… surprise me, I guess?”

“You’re no fun,” Hermione said with a pout. She primly eyed her boyfriend before resting a hand on his arm. “Now, how are you feeling?”

“Like I’m going to go crazy waiting with anticipation for this daft bastard to make his move,” Harry said, frowning. “I’ve been distractin’ myself with studying more advanced DADA concepts, but I can only do so much of that before I want to slam my head into a door.”

He hesitated. “Y’know, I’ve actually got this idea? Based on something that my Dad did with Professor Lupin and Sirius,” Harry said, before pulling a slip of parchment out of his bag and placing it in front of Hermione. “Professor Lupin said he’s going to get me the notes they wrote back then.”

Hermione looked over the parchment, her eyebrows shooting up into her bangs before glancing at Harry.

“Really? This is something that already exists?” She asked incredulously.

“Aye, apparently Filch nicked it from my Dad back in the day. Professor Lupin and I think the Weasley twins’ve got it now—I don’t want to take it from ‘em, so I figure why not make my own.”

“It’s woolly, but I think it can be done,” Hermione said with a nod. “We’re going to need more manpower than just you and I, though.”

“Why not Draco and Pansy? They’re our friends, and we’ve already looped them in on the secret,” Harry suggested. “And we keep it in the Slytherin family. Not that I don’t trust Ron or Neville, just… discretion.”

“Right,” Hermione said with a nod. “We can talk about it with them after Herbology?”

“We’ll meet in the Chamber,” Harry said with a nod, before folding his parchment back up and sticking it in his pocket.

Just after eleven o’clock in the morning, four Slytherin students were standing together in the second floor girls lavatory, before Harry opened the passage for them to enter the Chamber of Secrets. Once they arrived in the spacious chamber foyer, Harry guided them towards his personal common space that he’d spent the better part of November setting up with input from Fatimah.

“So, I had an idea,” Harry said. “Before you say anything, take a look at my write-up.”

He placed the parchment down on the coffee table, and the two Slytherins looked it over before glancing at him curiously.

“This is… definitely something,” Pansy said. “Where’d you get this idea?”

“As I told Hermione, apparently my Dad, Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew and Professor Lupin created this sort of thing back when they were kids. The Professor and I think that since it got nicked by Filch, the Weasley twins’ve got it,” Harry quick explained.

“That would explain their remarkable ability to avoid getting caught,” Draco murmured, tapping his finger to his chin.

“Hermione and I don’t think we’re going to be able to do it alone, and since Professor Lupin’s going to give me some notes on their process, I thought maybe we could work on it together over the holidays, and such.”

“Count me in,” Pansy said with a grin. “I’ve been wanting to start working on a Charms mastery anyway, this’ll be great practice.”

“Yeah, I suppose I can try to help out,” Draco said with a nod. “Did they use runes?”

“I think so, at least partially. Some of its charmed parchment, some of its runic anchoring, and some of it is just sheer innovation—but we’ll figure it out, since we’ve got the experience of the four Marauders behind us,” Harry said proudly, grinning. “Besides—who better than a group of four Slytherins to outdo a group of four Gryffindors?”

“Tcha,” Pansy said with a snort. “You don’t get to make remarks about Gryffindors, Potter, it’s unseemly. Your mother’s Head of House.”

Harry rolled his eyes playfully.

“Moving on,” He grumbled. “If we’re going to do this, we need to come up with some sort of good codenames for ourselves.”

“Aurora,” Hermione said suddenly, gesturing to Harry. “Everywhere you go, sometimes it feels like you carry the sun with you. It’s also feminine.”

“I’ll take it.” Harry said with a nod.

“I’ll call myself Athena,” Hermione said with a grin. “Goddess of wisdom.”

“Stroking your ego a bit there, yeah?” Pansy said with a snort. “Fine then. Draco, you’re going to be…” She thought about it carefully before a smile crossed her face. “Amalric.”

“Amalric?” Draco asked. “Who the bloody hell is that?”

“If you ever bothered to study our history any more than what we sleep through in Binns’ class, you’d know that King Amalric was once the crown prince of the Cheruscian Empire during the Middle Ages. He rebelled against his father after his father turned against the wix community in an attempt to appease the Gothi.”

“Okay, who are the Gothi?”

Pansy sighed in annoyance. “They’re the priests of Cheruscia and all the other countries that follow the Germanic pantheon. Just like how the Romans have the vestal priestesses and the Pontifex Maximus-- and the Hellenes have the Protoiereus and the monks.”

“So… Amalric turned against his father to save the wix?”

“Yes, the leader of the Gothi at the time, Theobald, wanted to destroy the largest wix community in Cheruscia; Amalric massed an army of wix and Muggles together and overthrew his father and had Theobald killed.”

“That’s fitting,” Draco said with a snort. “Amalric it is—now I think you’d do well as an Aconite.”

“Aconite, hmm? The poisonous plant, then? You know me so well, Dray-dray.”

“Dray-dray?” Harry said, before letting out a loud laugh.

“Shut up!” Draco said, his ears turning red. “Pansy you swore you wouldn’t call me that!”

“Slipped my mind,” Pansy crooned.

“Okay, so… Aurora, Athena, Amalric and Aconite. Quite an alliterative group we’ve got.”

“I find it amusing,” Harry said with a grin. “Once we get the information we need, we can start working on our map.”

The group slipped out of Harry’s quarters into the Slytherin common room and made their way up from the dungeons to the Great Hall for lunch, and quickly sat to get a bite to eat. Harry was feeling rather confident and happy, which was a nice reversion of the year so far, which had seen him plagued with doubt and melancholy.

As he was eating, Professor Snape descended from his perch at the staff table and approached Harry. He placed a note on the table and continued walking, disappearing out of the Great Hall entirely. Harry glanced down at the note with a raised eyebrow.

“What’s that, Harry?” Pansy asked.

“Dumbledore wants to see me before I head down to the Potions classroom for class. Professor Snape said he’ll excuse my tardiness in the margins,” He said, before blinking and snorting.

“What’s wrong?”

“Professor Snape seems to think that Neville’s been benefiting too much from my skills in Potions, so he’s going to seat me with the best potioneer in the class.”

Everyone glanced at Hermione who blushed. “He doesn’t mean me!”

“Hermione, you’re the best in the class,” Draco said with a raised eyebrow. “Besides, I think Professor Snape gets his jollies from seeing me stuck between two pyromaniac Gryffindors—so it definitely cannot be me.”

After lunch, Harry dashed up to the Headmaster’s office. Dumbledore was patiently waiting for him with a smile.

“Harry, my boy,” Dumbledore said. “Sorry to drag you away from the last day of the term before the holidays, but there is something I wished to give you. We’ve been having some strange incidents of random probes of the runic protections around the grounds, and we believe that there may be cause to believe that Mister Pettigrew is behind it,”

“Bloody hell, when is he going to leave me alone?”

“When he’s six feet under, I’m afraid,” Dumbledore said with a snort. “No matter, I’ve made arrangements for this.”

He held up a small necklace in his hand, the pendant on the end looking like someone took a standard Gringotts galleon and stamped a hole in it.

“This may appear to be a mere galleon, but it is in fact a special galleon. Of course, it is illegal for us to recreate a galleon, so this is a special Hogwarts galleon. It is, in effect, a panic button for you. If you should find yourself in a situation that requires our attention or assistance, we will be there for you.”

“How would I activate it?” Harry said, accepting the necklace from the Headmaster.

“Simply hold the pendant in your hand, and push a bit of magic to it. It will activate immediately.”

“Push magic to it? Like creating runic anchors and stuff like that?”

“Precisely! I should give your Runes Professor a raise,” Dumbledore said fondly. “That is, effectively, all it is. Just activate it when you need it.”

“What will happen?”

“The configuration of the necklace is set to immediately alert me and the four Heads of House, who will convene on your position.”

“Anywhere?”

“Anywhere, as long as you are plottable. If you are at Hogwarts and none of us are, you are responsible for getting out of the perimeter of the Unplottable Charm as quickly as possible. Otherwise, you will be fine.”

“Good to know,” Harry said weakly. “Is this a tracking device, essentially?”

“Yes in the sense that it will alert us to where you are if it is activated, but no in the sense that it is not actively tracking you every moment of the day. The only place it will likely not work without some difficulty is in the Chamber of Secrets, so please take care to practice security when you are in your quarters.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said with a nod.

“Now run along, Severus can’t be kept waiting,” Dumbledore said with a nod as Harry put the necklace on, tucked it underneath his vest and shirt, and slipped out the door towards the Potions dungeon.

As he arrived, he found the classroom quiet and full of students working, with Snape walking up and down the aisles giving scathing critique to anybody who made mistakes.

“Potter,” Snape said idly. “Join Miss Granger.”

Harry brightened and took his seat next to his girlfriend. “Where are we in the brewing process?” He murmured.

“Right here," She said, pointing at one of the steps she'd copied down onto parchment. "I need you to dice these," She said, thrusting some plants at him, "while I trim these other ones down to get the best results...”