“Are you sure that you’re ready to see them?”
Harry nods, then jumps when Blaise abruptly grips his wrist hard. “Sorry. I do know that I can talk now. It’s just habit from all the months when I couldn’t.” Or when he knows he could, but no one would understand him and most people would run screaming from a bit of hissing, anyway.
“If you’re not ready to see them, we can leave. Mother would be happy to Apparate us to Hogwarts.”
“I’m ready,” Harry mutters under his breath, scanning the crowd of students spilling onto the platform for Ron and Hermione. Honestly, he loves Blaise, but his overprotectiveness is annoying. The only thing Harry can think of is to ignore it when he can and push back against it when he has to, the same way he does when Hermione goes on about studying too long or Ron won’t talk about anything but how much he hates Malfoy.
The first person he sees and wants to talk to actually isn’t Ron or Hermione. It’s a huge black dog trotting next to the Weasley family as Molly shepherds Ginny in front of her. Sirius’s eyes widen when he sees Harry. Then his ears perk up and he’s dashing towards him.
“Here comes Black,” Blaise mutters, and then raises a smoky screen around them with a single flick of his wrist. Harry has never asked whether Mrs. Zabini removed the Trace on his wand or if Blaise just has some other way of getting past it. It never seemed important.
Other things do.
Sirius skids to a stop in front of them and barely gives Blaise’s wobbling smoke screen a glance to make sure it’s solid before he transforms. Then he reaches out and hugs Harry, hard. Harry pats Sirius’s back awkwardly, but steps away when Sirius tries to pull Harry behind him.
For one thing, his and Blaise’s hands are still joined. It’s not going to work anyway.
“Harry?” Sirius has huge eyes that seem even more canine than the last time Harry saw him. They dart back and forth now between his and Blaise’s hands, and then his lip lifts from his teeth.
“You’re not in dog form right now, Sirius, so stop it unless you want me to knock you on the nose,” Harry says, and he thinks it’s his unimpressed tone that drives the growl away from Sirius’s throat as if it’s never been there.
Sirius stares at him, and his eyes grow wider and wider. “Harry?” he whispers. “You can speak English again? Did—did Dumbledore do something?”
Harry snorts. “When I was in Italy all summer? Of course not. Mrs. Zabini helped me get rid of the curse, and Blaise has been making sure that I have a reason to live.” He smiles at Blaise.
Blaise smiles back, but with the little edge to it that he gets whenever Harry even jokes about dying. Harry hides a sigh. Blaise got upset when Harry didn’t tell him that he fully expected to die in the war, one way or another, and now he gets upset whenever Harry talks about how much he wants to live. There’s no winning with him.
“But—but how? There’s no way that anyone could break the curse, or Albus would have found a way.” Sirius looks distressed enough to nearly run away, but instead he’s breathing heavily, his hands forming into fists at his sides.
“The curse was anchored around the Horcrux in my scar. Mrs. Zabini knows Legilimency, so she undid it—”
“Horcrux? What?” Sirius is so pale that he matches the color of Blaise’s smoke. “I—you were one? You are one? I don’t understand.”
“That seems to be a common occurrence,” Blaise mutters, but Harry digs an elbow into his ribs and makes him shut up. He promised to be silent when Blaise interacts with some of the stupid people in Slytherin. The least Blaise can do is let Harry decide how he wants to handle things with his godfather.
“Voldemort left a piece of his soul in me the night he attacked Mum and Dad,” Harry says softly. He ignores Blaise’s addition of “And you.” “That’s what made it so easy for him to send me dreams and visions, and that’s what he anchored the Parseltongue curse to. It took a lot of effort for Mrs. Zabini to get rid of it, because I had to trust her enough to let her into my mind. And it was painful. But it’s gone now, so the curse went with it.”
Sirius swallows. “I just—there are other Legilimens you could have gone to.”
“Who, Black?” Blaise asks, and this time, he completely ignores Harry’s elbow. “Snape, who tore apart Harry’s mind on Dumbledore’s orders last year? Dumbledore, who had to know about this Horcrux if my mother could see it, but didn’t tell Harry it was there and never made an attempt to help with the curse?”
“Blaise, you said—”
“Yes, but you would phrase it too gently. This way, Black can’t just disregard me because I’m a Slytherin or whatever stupid reason he has.”
“You kidnapped Harry! Of course I was worried!”
“I didn’t kidnap him. I prevented him from spending a summer with people who would have abused him.” Blaise takes a step forwards, and maybe it’s because of spending a summer with him, but Harry honestly forgot he could be this intimidating. Magic seems to billow around him like fire. “One would think that you would care more about that, Black, and less about the crest on my robes.”
Sirius snarls. Harry steps between them before Blaise can tug him backwards again.
“Blaise, stop it. Sirius, stop it.” Harry speaks quietly but firmly. It’s something he learned from Mrs. Zabini, because then they have to shut up to hear him. It works now. “I’m fine, Sirius. I didn’t suffer from being with Blaise and his mum, and I’m in a lot better health than I was when I spent my summers with the Dursleys.”
“I—Harry, kiddo, I know that.” Sirius’s eyes are so earnest. “But you wouldn’t even tell us where you were!”
“Because Dumbledore would have made me go back to the Dursleys.” Harry has no doubt of that, even if he no longer has the Horcrux in him. Dumbledore is absolutely convinced that the Dursleys’ house is the safest place for Harry, and one thing Harry knows is that Dumbledore doesn’t change his mind easily. “And you would have told him where I was.”
“I wanted to just come and visit.”
Blaise snorts loudly. “Are you aware that your eyes dart off to the side when you lie, Black?”
“I said stop it.” Harry holds Blaise’s arm and reaches out to punch Sirius’s shoulder when he opens his mouth to say something that’s probably going to be stupid and obnoxious. “And I meant it. Sirius, are you loyal to me or to Dumbledore?”
His godfather looks absolutely flummoxed about being put on the spot like that. Blaise abruptly relaxes next to him, but Harry is aware that has more to do with being smug about Sirius’s reaction. Harry squeezes his arm, hard.
Blaise gives him a possessive, sidelong look. Harry changes his mind about how effective the squeezing of his arm actually is.
“I’m loyal to you, of course,” Sirius finally whispers. The train is going to leave in just a few minutes, and Harry shifts his weight. Sirius starts speaking faster. “But I would have—Harry, we have to keep you safe! Even if you’ve got rid of the Horcrux now, it’s not like the Death Eaters know that! And Dumbledore is the best shot to keep you safe.”
“Why?” Blaise asks sweetly. “It’s not like he’s been standing guard over Harry himself during the summers.”
“The blood wards around Harry’s house—”
“Would be ineffective without love from his Muggle family, Black. Which he didn’t have.”
Sirius closes his eyes. “If it was that bad, Harry, why did you never tell me about it?” he whispers.
“Oh, yes, blame him,” Blaise says savagely, but this time, he does fall silent at the look Harry gives him. Harry turns back to Sirius.
“I didn’t tell anyone. I kept being told there no alternative, both when I was a kid and the Dursleys kept me instead of tossing me out, and then when I was at Hogwarts and Dumbledore talked about how safe their house was for me. And the Dursleys kept threatening to take me to an orphanage. I didn’t know what they were like. I thought they might be worse. The only person in the wizarding world who wanted me was you, and you were a fugitive on the run and you did what Dumbledore told you.”
Sirius looks almost broken. Harry sighs sadly. He never wanted this. He wants to have a good relationship with Sirius.
But one thing Mrs. Zabini (Harry still can’t call her Hasfa even in his head) is right about. Harry won’t have that until Sirius breaks his habit of relying on Dumbledore to do his thinking for him. Hell, if Harry hadn’t broken that habit for himself, he never would have gone to Florence with Blaise.
“I just can’t agree that the Headmaster is the enemy,” Sirius says, with a shake of his head. “Not compared to You-Know-Who.”
“Then let’s see how he reacts to the revelation that Harry doesn’t have a Horcrux in him anymore,” Blaise says sweetly, and touches Harry’s shoulder. “Harry, the Express is going to be leaving in two minutes.”
Sirius grabs Harry in a hug that makes Harry whoof, and whispers into his ear, “You’ll write to me? About that and—other things?”
Harry hugs him back, and nods against his shoulder. “‘Course. I love you, Sirius.”
“And I love you, too.” Sirius changes back into a dog as Blaise banishes the charm that’s kept them from the view of the train platform, and then Blaise directs Harry right towards the train without pausing for the people who want to gape at them or talk to Harry.
“You know,” Harrys says under his breath as they get onto the train and their trunks follow them, “I like the way you protect me. I love you. But if you haul me around all the time, and try to control my conversations with my friends, we’re going to have problems.”
Blaise pauses for a long moment. Then he nods and directs Harry into a compartment. He faces Harry and swats his hair from his eyes.
“I’m sorry. I keep being afraid that now you’re back with your friends again, you’re going to forget all about me and just go back to being exactly like you were in fourth year before—the curse.”
Harry leans in to kiss Blaise lightly. Blaise keeps his hands at his sides, seeming to take Harry’s complaint about him manhandling Harry around seriously. But his eyes grow brighter, and Harry can see a slight change in the color of his cheeks.
“It’s going to be fine,” Harry says, as steadily as he can. “Different from when we were at your house for the summer, because I can speak again and everyone’s going to go mental about that. But I promise that you’re always going to be important to me, Blaise.”
Blaise lets his eyes slip shut for a second, leaning forwards until he’s the one resting against Harry’s hands. Harry looks at him in wonder. He knows Blaise would never let anyone else see him like that.
“As long as you can promise that,” Blaise whispers. “Stay with me.”
Harry kisses the inside of Blaise’s wrist. “I promise.”
Ron’s voice is high and nervous. Harry glances up with a smile. Blaise tenses next to him on the seat of the compartment, but settles down when Harry nudges him with the side of his leg. Ron and Hermione come in slowly.
Neither of them is carrying their trunks, so they must have found a place of their own. Harry watches as Hermione bites her lip and then sits down across from him. Ron does the same thing a second later. Blaise does nothing except shift and sigh loudly.
“Oh, shut up, Zabini!” Ron explodes, as if he’s been waiting for that. “If you hadn’t kidnapped him all summer—”
“I’m getting tired of people describing it as kidnapping,” Harry interrupts. “I went with Blaise of my own free will. You knew who I was with. I just wouldn’t come back to England, and I wouldn’t send you exact Apparition coordinates. That’s all.”
For a long moment, Ron and Hermione gape at him. Harry smiles at them. “What? Surprised to hear me speaking English?”
“Oh, Harry.” Hermione looks as if she would like to fling herself across the compartment and hug him, but also knows that would be inappropriate. She settles for squeezing his hand, hard. Ron just stares in wonder and shakes his head, although Harry thinks he would do more if they were in private.
“Blaise and his mother undid the curse and gave me back my voice.” Harry raises his chin and leans sideways into Blaise. “So they didn’t hurt me. I’m fine.”
“I knew Zabini wouldn’t hurt you,” Hermione says. Harry is somewhat reassured by the smile she gives Blaise. “But it was hard to calm Sirius down. And Professor Dumbledore said some strange things.”
I bet he did, Harry thinks savagely. He doesn’t hate Dumbledore as much as Blaise and his mum seem to, but he has to admit that the man doesn’t look good when he wouldn’t tell Harry about the Horcrux. “I was fine,” he repeats. “Sirius doesn’t trust Slytherins, you know that. And Professor Dumbledore was useless last year.”
“Mate?” Ron looks utterly startled.
Harry sighs. “I mean he was useless in getting the curse undone. Mrs. Zabini managed. Professor Dumbledore is acting strange because of something I have to talk to him about. And I did talk to Sirius when we were in the train station.”
“He was worried sick about you,” Ron says, with a quick look at Blaise. Blaise only sits silently, looking at them as if they’re interesting but not worth arguing with. “He wouldn’t come out of his room for a week.”
“I’m glad that he’s feeling better now,” Harry says. Sirius must be, if he came to King’s Cross with the Weasleys in the first place. “But he’ll have to get used to the fact that I’m making my own decisions now.”
“Can’t he—I mean, I’ve read in Hogwarts, A History that the Headmaster stands in loco parentis for orphaned students while they’re at Hogwarts,” Hermione says hesitantly.
Harry is grateful that Blaise and Mrs. Zabini had him read so many books this summer, or he wouldn’t know what in loco parentis means. “I have a signed document from my legal guardians saying that Mrs. Zabini is going to watch over me from now on, and if I’m sick or injured or otherwise in trouble, Professor Dumbledore will have to have a discussion with her,” he says coolly.
“You got the Dursleys to sign that?” Ron is actually gasping.
“Yes,” Harry says. “By sending them a letter explaining they could be rid of me forever if they just did it.”
Blaise shifts again. Harry knows Blaise disagreed with that decision, not because he wanted the Dursleys to have custody of Harry, but because he wanted to punish them, not ignore them. But Harry is just glad that it’s behind him. Dudley might still grow up to be a decent person. There’s probably no hope for Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, but this way, Harry doesn’t have to stick around to find out.
“You didn’t want Sirius as your guardian?” Hermione asks that as if she’s afraid of the answer, but she does ask.
“Not when he would have kept me from seeing Blaise, and probably taken me away from Florence and prevented Mrs. Zabini from getting rid of the curse.”
Hermione finally sighs and reaches out to squeeze his hand again. Ron doesn’t look as though he knows what to make of the whole thing. “Well, at least it’s gone. That’s one thing we can feel glad about.”
Harry happily agrees, and then they catch up on how their summers were. Blaise interjects only occasionally. Harry doesn’t worry about that, though. Blaise is simply more conversational when they’re alone.
And other things when they’re alone, too. Harry catches his eye at one point, and Blaise smiles at him in a way that leads Harry’s mind straight to the bedroom.
Harry sighs. It’s going to be difficult as hell being up in Gryffindor Tower while Blaise is down in the dungeons, but luckily, he has an Invisibility Cloak.
“I am beyond glad that you have your voice restored to you, my boy.”
And that’s one of the things that bothers Harry about Dumbledore: the man can be sincere when he tries. Harry is pretty sure he’s sincere now.
It just makes his failure to do something about the Horcrux before this all the more mysterious.
Harry smiles at him. “Thanks, sir. It was actually pretty easy once Mrs. Zabini realized that the curse was anchored to the Horcrux.”
Dumbledore jerks back at that, knocking a delicate silver something to the floor. His face turns the color that most other people’s did when they heard Harry speak for the first time in the Great Hall. Harry watches him, and he won’t deny the poisonous enjoyment stirring to life in his chest.
“What did you say?” Dumbledore whispers.
“I said that it was actually pretty easy once Mrs. Zabini realized that the curse was anchored to the Horcrux.”
Maybe Harry shouldn’t take that much pleasure in being spiteful, but this man would have seen him condemned to death, or worse, because—why? That’s the question Harry accepted the summons to Dumbledore’s office tonight hoping to answer.
Dumbledore closes his eyes and exhales slowly. “Then you must realize why I didn’t tell you about it, or offer to remove the curse.”
“No.” Harry leans forwards. “Because Mrs. Zabini removed the Horcrux. That was partially because the curse defined the shape of it, so it was easier. But she’s not as powerful as you, so you could have seen it and you could have done the same thing. Why didn’t you?”
“Oh, Harry.” Dumbledore’s eyes open slowly. And there’s the sheen of actual tears on them. Harry blinks, not having expected that. “I didn’t tell you because I would have had to admit that the Horcrux existed.”
Harry frowns. Blaise speculated once that that was Dumbledore’s motive, but his take was that Dumbledore didn’t want to face up to the consequences of not telling Harry about it earlier. Harry doesn’t believe that without a confession. “What do you mean? Why didn’t you want to do that?”
Dumbledore gives him an incredulous look. “Because it is a horrifying realization. I wanted you to have as carefree a childhood as possible.”
Harry slaps his hand over his face and sighs, long and slow. Maybe he shouldn’t, maybe it’s disrespectful to a powerful wizard in a way that even Mrs. Zabini warned him not to be, but he can’t help it. “Professor. Sir. Don’t you realize that my childhood stopped being carefree a long time before I came to Hogwarts?”
“I know that you relatives did not take the best care of you,” Dumbledore says. Harry winces a little, and not from the admission. If he tells Blaise those words, he’ll try to include Dumbledore in his vengeance on the Dursleys. “But I did not know how to handle the Horcrux.”
Harry stares at him. “Why not?”
“It is true that I could have got rid of it after Voldemort attached that curse to it.” Dumbledore is speaking with his eyes on the desk, but Harry doesn’t think he’s lying. Rather, he’s too ashamed to look Harry in the face. “But—I feared to cause you pain. For the year before that, when I first began to believe that it was within you, I could think of no solution but for Voldemort to cast the Killing Curse at you. There was the chance that it would have killed the soul-shard in you and not you, yourself.”
Harry feels his breath stop.
So Dumbledore was planning to kill him. That’s not something Harry really believed, not even when Blaise would insist on it in a dark murmur, and Mrs. Zabini would frown and agree.
Harry stares at Dumbledore’s bowed head, and finally breathes again. It’s still hard to make the air go in and out of his lungs the way it’s supposed to.
Even if it was because he couldn’t think of anything else to do and he truly believed it would spare Harry suffering, Harry doesn’t think that he’ll ever be able to trust the Headmaster again.
Harry finally clears his throat, because it’s obvious that Dumbledore won’t talk again on his own. “But when you realized the curse was wrapped around it, why didn’t you try to take it out the way Mrs. Zabini did it?”
“I was afraid that Voldemort might use the connection in your mind to look into my eyes through yours and read my plans there,” Dumbledore whispers. “He must know the connection exists, and what it is, because of how he attached the Parseltongue curse to it. I know many secrets that are not my own only, but the Order of the Phoenix’s as well.”
Harry swallows and looks away. It’s all understandable. It’s not evil. Last year, Harry would have found it so easy to accept.
But months of being told over and over, by both Blaise and his mother, that he deserves to be loved and cherished has affected Harry. He can’t really accept that Dumbledore has placed Harry’s safety behind the safety of people like Snape and Order members Harry had never met.
And he left Harry with the Dursleys. There’s a pain like teeth chewing in Harry’s soul. The space it’s hollowing out is probably going to fill up with distrust and never heal.
Harry turns back, and sees Dumbledore smiling at him wistfully. “I perfectly understand why you might not want to forgive me right now,” he says quietly. “I should have sought some other solution. But may I hope for your forgiveness eventually?”
“Maybe,” Harry says. He’s not sure he can. If nothing else, he would have to keep that forgiveness from Blaise, and Harry just doesn’t want to keep secrets from him.
“That is all I have the right to ask. And may I also hope for your cooperation in the war?”
Harry frowns. “What can I do? I don’t get visions of Voldemort anymore because the Horcrux is gone. I mean, I would fight back if he attacked me or someone I knew or Hogwarts itself, but I don’t know what else I can do.”
Dumbledore picks up his wand and waves it over his right arm, murmuring something under his breath. Harry recoils as an illusion spell wisps away from the skin and reveals black and peeling disaster. It looks as though Dumbledore’s hand has been roasted and is also rotting from the inside at the same time.
“There are other Horcruxes,” Dumbledore says simply. “I destroyed one this summer, but the consequences were—as you see. I doubt I will live long enough to destroy the others. Will you take over that quest for me, and make sure that Voldemort is mortal and can be destroyed at the last? There are reasons why it should be you.”
Harry swallows. “One of the other Horcruxes did that to you? And you think I can do it.”
“Those reasons I mentioned, Harry. I can reveal them to you if you agree that this war is still your war. Otherwise, I must keep them secret because of them touching other people’s secrets, as I mentioned before.”
Harry sighs. Blaise was right about one thing. The revelation that Harry knew about the Horcrux and isn’t one anymore didn’t change much. Dumbledore is still spinning plots and hinting at cryptic knowledge instead of just talking about the things that he wants Harry to know.
“I’ll think about it. But I don’t want to get involved in all these things without talking to Blaise, sir.”
Dumbledore’s face tightens minutely. “It seems this young man has gained a great deal of influence over you in a short amount of time.”
“Yeah, well, when someone actually volunteers to help me, that’s what happens,” Harry says coldly. “And he was the only one who stood by me last year except Ron and Hermione when everyone else hated me for speaking Parseltongue and you assigned Snape to rip my mind apart.”
“Harry, my boy, if you had learned Occlumency, then I would have felt much more comfortable about removing the curse and the Horcrux—”
“Yes, everything is still my fault, isn’t it?” Harry asks. He’s bitter and as sore as though he’s run miles. He wanted to think things would be different and Blaise would be wrong, but he’s not. “When you’re ready to tell me things without me giving life-changing promises, sir, then please let me know.” He turns around and walks out of Dumbledore’s office, leaning heavily on the wall as the moving staircase carries him down.
Blaise is against the wall nearest the gargoyle, and straightens up the second he sees Harry. Harry gives him the kind of half-hearted glare he did Dumbledore. He told Blaise not to wait, but of course he would.
“Are you all right?” Blaise’s voice is low and warm, and he runs one hand down Harry’s arm and over his chest as if testing for his heartbeat.
“I’m fine,” Harry says, and exhales. “I just—he still wants to use me, Blaise. He wants me to make promises without telling me why, and he wants me to destroy the other Horcruxes when he’s already been injured by one, and he says that he didn’t want to look into my mind because he had to keep other people’s secrets safe and he thought Voldemort would see them in his head through me. Why am I always the least important person to him?”
Harry chokes when he realizes that his eyes are burning, and reaches up to wipe at them. The last thing he wants is to cry in front of Blaise, who has borne so much and stood by him so steadily.
Blaise kisses him, though, and keeps on kissing him until Harry relaxes into him with a sigh. Then Blaise murmurs against his lips, “You shouldn’t be alone tonight. Come with me to Slytherin. No one will hear us or notice us once the curtains are pulled on my bed.”
Harry stares at him in surprise. “I have my Cloak—but—my friends will worry—”
“And they know that we’re together. They might worry, but they’ll also guess, and I don’t think they’ll tell.”
“No,” Harry agrees in an exhale, and lets himself agree the rest of the way by pulling his Cloak from his robes. Blaise smiles at him in a way that makes Harry want to give him everything.
Because Blaise gives him everything. Because Blaise, for whatever reason, is in love with him, and Harry doesn’t know what he did to deserve this, but he’s slowly coming around to the idea that he does deserve it.
And he’ll give what Blaise gave him a thousandfold.
No one stops them on the way down to Slytherin, and they make it into Blaise’s bed with no trouble. Then Blaise sets charms on the curtains of the bed that will keep whatever happens inside them silent and prevent anyone from opening them, and turns around to Harry with a brilliant grin.
“Come here,” he says.
Harry drops the Cloak and crosses the distance with a delighted lunge.