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Harry Potter and the Founders' Box

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Harry Potter was not having a good day.

This could be said of many of the days of Harry Potter’s life, as for most of it, his relatives had seen to it that he was utterly miserable. Since coming to Hogwarts, however, most of Harry’s days had been nice, fantastic, even. There had been the trouble with Quirrell and Voldemort last year, but that had worked out, and he had made friends – real friends! – who had helped him through that. Ron and Hermione were the best people in the world, even if Hermione was bossy and Ron was sure, for some reason, that Harry would get tired of him someday.

He never would. Of that, Harry was completely sure. Ron was his first friend, and he’d almost died for Harry and Hermione. That was the sort of thing he could never forget.

Since returning to Hogwarts as a Second Year, however, very odd things had been happening to Harry. First there had been Dobby the House Elf, who had shown up and told Harry that he shouldn’t go to Hogwarts at all, after stopping letters from Ron and Hermione getting to him all summer and making him feel like he was alone. Then there was the incident at Platform 9 ¾, and the flying car. Harry had thought he would be expelled for that for sure. And Ron’s wand had almost snapped in half, and it had been his brother’s and his uncle’s before that, so Mrs. Weasley was furious with him and wouldn’t replace it.

Harry wondered if Ron would accept it, if Harry gave him the money to buy a new wand at Christmas. Ron was… touchy, about money, in a way Harry didn’t totally understand, but Ron didn’t understand why Harry would take food from the tables and hide it around the dormitory, and he had never said anything about it. But then, now he knew, about the bars and the Dursleys and how little food he’d eaten after Dobby broke the pudding in front of Uncle Vernon’s guests.

Beyond that, though, were the odd occurrences that had begun when Harry started hearing a voice in the walls. No one else seemed to have heard the voice, and Harry had learned his lesson about telling McGonagall about these sorts of things last year. She wouldn’t listen, and he would have to figure things out on his own. That was normal for Harry. Adults never listened to him.

He’d hoped Hogwarts would be different, but it wasn’t. He would just have to figure things out on his own, was all.

Except, well, he almost didn’t want to figure this out. He hadn’t written that message on the wall about the Heir of Slytherin. He was almost sure of it. But people… they had looked at him, all alone in the corridor – stupid, going off alone without Ron and Hermione, who’d been right behind him – with Filch screaming about how Harry had killed Mrs. Norris. And Harry was almost sure he hadn’t written the message, hadn’t opened the Chamber of Secrets, but he was only almost sure. He was hearing voices, if only the one. Who knew what could have happened to him?

What if he was the Heir of Slytherin, and Slytherin made him write that message? Ghosts could possess people, maybe. No one had ever said they couldn’t, and Muggles couldn’t have gotten everything wrong. Wizards used to live with Muggles, according to Hermione. In some places, like the States, there were still wizards who didn’t hide from Muggles. (Hermione had been very excited about this, talking about traditional West African magic and how she was going to find someone who would teach her what her family maybe used to know, before they were taken away, one day.) So maybe Salazar Slytherin was possessing him.

Harry didn’t know anything about his family beyond the fact that his mum’s parents had been named Daphne and Harold, and that they’d died in January and February, respectively, the year he and Dudley were born. He didn’t even know his wizarding grandparents’ names.

That was probably the first step, so today, Harry was in Hogwarts’ Library, and he wasn’t going to leave until he’d found something about the Potters that could prove, at least to him, that he wasn’t descended from Slytherin.

Hermione helped him with the card catalogue, and Harry was soon holding a book that told him all about Fleamont Ismail Potter and Euphemia Abhijit Shinde-Potter. Hermione patted him on the back when he traced his fingers over their names and felt tears welling up in his eyes. There were no pictures that he could look at; he couldn’t see what Euphemia had looked like, which one of them had looked like his father more, like him. There were birth and death dates for both of them, and Harry looked at them for a long time before turning to Hermione.

“Fleamont was a hundred and thirty when he died,” he said. Euphemia had been almost two decades younger, but they’d died in the same year, within days of each other. The fifth and tenth of June, in 1979. “Of… dragonpox?”

He’d known that dragonpox existed, but he’d thought it was like chickenpox. Little kids got it, and they got better. Harry hadn’t even gotten chickenpox, even though Dudley had and had whined for a month that he was itchy, long after the red spots faded.

“Wizards… well, they seem to live about twice as long as Muggles,” Hermione said. “They can have babies for a longer time, too, I suppose.” She indicated the pages spread out in front of them. “Euphemia would have been ninety-two, when she gave birth.”

They both took a moment to be horrified by that idea. Hermione was turning the pages, though, and there was his great-grandfather, another James Potter, and his wife Maryam Nasir Potter. Before long, though, they had reached the last of the Potters – the first ones, Hermione would have said. Magdalena and Louis Potter were their names, and they had only been Harry’s great-great-great grandparents even though they were born in the fifteen hundreds.

As Magdalena’s family name is lost to time, and Louis Potter’s name quite common, we cannot count the Potters as members of the Sacred Twenty-Eight Pureblood families. None know from whom they sprung, whether it be pure or mixed blood.” Hermione scowled at the book, which had never happened for as long as Harry had known her. “Well, that’s just – just – ugh.” She pushed away from the table, but she smiled at Harry. “Well, you know if either of them were descended from a Founder, there wouldn’t have been any hiding it. I’ll go find more books about your grandmother’s family. They sound fascinating.”

Harry took the book and returned it to Madam Pince, who scowled at him over her nose. He flinched, and she sighed.

“Mr. Potter, if you truly believe you were descended from a Founder, there is a box hidden in the Registry Room that will thoroughly disabuse you of the notion,” she said, taking the book and jerking her head in the direction of the room that was not quite attached to the Restricted Section. The door was a little, round one, made of dark wood that almost blended in with the walls around it. “Don’t worry, it won’t be painful if you don’t try to open it after the first warning.”

Harry bit his lip, looking down at his shoes. They were new, bought during the trip to Diagon Alley along with his school robes. His trainers had worn out completely, and he was going to have to find some way to get to a shop to buy new ones. Maybe he could go to Hermione’s during the winter or Easter holiday. They’d all stayed last Easter, but she would understand him needing new clothes, maybe.

“Mr. Potter,” Madam Pince said, this time more gently. He looked up. She was old and severe, but she wasn’t cruel. “If you wish to prove anything, or disprove it, you must test it. Going on not knowing will do you absolutely no good.”

“Were you a Ravenclaw?” Harry asked, and Madam Pince scoffed.

“Never. I was a Slytherin, and proud of it. It wasn’t always what it is today.” She sighed, looking away. “Off with you, whatever you’ve decided to do now. Do not push though, Mr. Potter. That case will hurt you if you do. It was enchanted by Godric Gryffindor himself, and the man had an affinity for fire.”

Harry didn’t ask how she knew this. He looked at the table, where Hermione still hadn’t returned, and swallowed his nerves and went into what he supposed was the Registry Room. The handle groaned when he pulled on it, like no one ever went in here. He supposed people wouldn’t, if this was just where all the names of students were kept. It would be boring even to someone like Hermione.

There weren’t just books on the shelves in this room, was the first thing he noticed, but also scrolls and scrolls of parchment. In place of pride, right in the center of the circular room, was a podium holding a long parchment that was encased in glass that glittered with protective magic when Harry moved closer.

The first few sentences of writing weren’t in any English Harry recognized, but his eyes picked out Hogewáþ, and Anno Domini 980, and he had to swallow back a gasp. That must have been what they called Hogwarts, then, and this – this was a list of the students of the first class that taught there. There were maybe ten or eleven of them, before a blank space and Anno Domini 981.

And there were the teachers, whose names were signed at the top.

Godric fram Giwador

Brighid an Fánaí

Hrodwynn Rabenkralla

Giuliano Rabenkralla

Helga Herleifrsdottir

Salazar Deslizarse

Harry blinked at the names, frowning. Everyone said that the Founders were Godric Gryffindor, Rowena Ravenclaw, Helga Hufflepuff, and Salazar Slytherin. They hadn’t said anything about other people, or that their names were wrong. He read over the unfamiliar names, trying to figure out how in the world Helga Hufflepuff had started being called that name, and where people had gotten ‘Rowena’.

But he wasn’t Hermione. He wasn’t going to go off on a research tangent to figure out why the Founders were called different names when their original names were right here for anyone to see. He turned away from the podium and looked down. Madam Pince had said it was a case or a box, and that it was hidden in the Registry Room. In a room filled with scrolls, books, and cases, he was pretty sure someone could hide whatever they wanted.

The case, when he found it, was tucked away in what could have been a dark corner, if a round room could have dark corners. It was a long rectangle made of thick, dark wood, and the straps wrapping around it weren’t leather but dragonhide. They were nailed down by something silvery, but it wasn’t silver, not like Sickles were. There wasn’t even a lock to keep it closed. It was like it wasn’t important at all – or like the Leaky Cauldron, made to look unimportant from the outside. The only thing that made Harry think it might be the Founders’ case was the Hogwarts crest, branded right in the middle of the lid.

It didn’t do anything when Harry looked at it, which was just his luck.

“How am I supposed to know what pushing is if no one tells me?” he muttered, reaching out his hand and letting it fall onto the wood, half-expecting to get shocked or burned for his trouble. Again, nothing happened, and he sat down on the floor and pulled the case into his lap. It wasn’t even heavy.

It was longer than he was wide, so it was a bit awkward, opening it up, but he managed. There were four scrolls of parchment in the case, and when Harry reached for one he figured out exactly what Madam Pince had meant about Godric Gryffindor and fire. His hand warmed up when it went near one, and relief crashed down on him almost at once. He wasn’t related to whatever Founder had written on that parchment.

Except there were three more.

It wasn’t the last parchment that he tried that he managed to grab hold of, but the third. He swallowed back bile and turned around to make sure the door to the room was still closed behind him.

He unrolled the parchment, and he was unsurprised when, at the top of the parchment, the name Salazar Deslizarse popped out in dark black ink, linked by a dark line to Urraca de la Vega y Montagne Deslizarse. Strangely, there was another name to the left of them that was just as dark, Haizea Deslizarse Otxoa, as well as a grayed-out name to the right that Harry had to squint to read. Alaia Deslizarse. There was an even blurrier word next to her last name that Harry couldn’t read at all.

Haizea had been the eldest, Harry saw. Under her name was a gray Itzal and a black Eder Otxoa, and Harry followed that line first. Maybe it was her, not Salazar Slytherin himself, who was his ancestor.

A few generations after Eder were three black lines, Antioch, Cadmus, and Ignotus Peverell. Sometime between Eder and Antioch the list had started including Hogwarts Houses, which was interesting. The Peverell brothers had all been in Slytherin.

The lines were close enough together that Harry could follow them all down, and his heart leapt when he found Magdalena Peverell Potter (Ravenclaw) and her husband, who must not have gone to Hogwarts and didn’t have a House attached to his name. She’d been descended from Ignotus Peverell. He followed that line down now, glad because he wasn’t the Heir of Slytherin after all, but his heart skipped a beat when he glanced at the names at the end of Antioch’s and Cadmus’s lines.

Severus Prince Snape (Slytherin), read the first of the last set names, even though the birth date was later than the next. Tom Marvolo Riddle/Lord Voldemort (Slytherin), read the next.

Harry was going to be sick. He was related to them. His eyes glazed past Euphemia and Fleamont to his dad, to James Amol Potter (Gryffindor) and down to his own name. He looked up at his mum’s name, Lily Juniper Evans Potter (Gryffindor), and got another sick jolt when he saw the black line above her head. Harold Potter (Non-magical), it read, and up it went, and up, and up, to a man called Bartholomew Andreas Frasier (Squib). He’d lived during the seventeen hundreds, and he hadn’t lived nearly as long as most of the wizards on the list. Harry didn’t even read his parents’ names, following the black line back up to Fernand Deslizarse, then to Fernand’s parents, Salazar and Urraca.

Tears were blurring his vision, and he rolled up the parchment, intending to stuff it away and forget about it. But he couldn’t, not this. It would show all over his face, he was sure of it.

But what could he do? If he was the Heir of Slytherin, he might be dangerous.

And he was related to Voldemort. To Tom Riddle.

To Snape.

Things clicked into place, with sudden, vicious clarity. Snape hated him because of his dad (who had saved his life, which was a weird reason to hate someone, really), but – but they were blood, weren’t they? Sure, there were a lot of names between Ignotus and – he unrolled the scroll – Antioch, and them, but they were both Peverells. Family was important to wizards, wasn’t it? It seemed that way, at least. If Snape knew Harry was the Heir of Slytherin, or might be, he’d have to help him. If it was Voldemort doing this, somehow, then, well, they both had to stop him. That was how family worked. The twins would sit on Percy when he was doing something stupid, and he’d do the same, which happened less often than you’d think, really.

And Voldemort was more than stupid.

Harry put the scroll back in the case and tucked it all under his arm. If anyone had seen him in that moment, they would have seen Lily Evans Potter in the determined set of his green eyes. He, like her, once set on something, could not be torn away from it.

Madam Pince went white when Harry set the case in front of her.

“Am I allowed to take this out of the library?” he asked. She stared at him for a long moment, then nodded, lips pursed so tightly they were white.

“Only those descended from a Founder may do so. If the case or its contents are damaged in any way, however, I will make it my personal mission to bar you from Hogwarts’ Library for the rest of your schoolyears. Do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Harry said. She snapped her fingers, and a parchment appeared on the desk. He figured it was a written agreement to what they’d just said, and he signed it without reading it over.

When he turned to leave the library, Madam Pince cleared her throat. She’d regained some pink in her cheeks, and she was looking at Harry but past him, too.

“Mr. Potter,” she said. Her voice was trembling. “You don’t – can’t – know how much this matters. Please learn, before you do anything with the information.”

He nodded, unnerved by her unwavering stare, and marched out of the library.

Snape was in his office, and he glared at Harry when he entered the room.

“Mr. Potter,” he began, his voice scathing and snapping, but he stopped when Harry put the case on his desk and pointed at it.

Harry didn’t know what he was going to say, so he just opened his mouth and started talking. (This, unfortunately, was entirely inherited from his father.)

“Did you know?” he asked, and suddenly he knew what he wanted more than anything else in the world. He wanted an answer, needed it. “Did you know about – about us being related?”

Snape frowned at him, dark eyes narrow, and pulled the case across the desk.

“How like you, Potter, to make assumptions based on the barest hint of coincidence. To take a magical artifact out of its proper place based on a whim, at that, is utter arrogance I should have expected from you, and yet I am surprised all the same.” He sneered, hand reaching unerringly to the correct scroll. He placed the case to the side, handling it with care, and unrolled it. “Yes, Potter, I was aware that the Peverell line descended from Haizea Slytherin, eldest of her siblings. I did not know that the Potters were descended from that line as well, but that hardly makes—” Snape drew in a breath mid-sentence, staring at the parchment. “Oh.” 

His skin had gone rather green. His hand was actually shaking when he touched the parchment. Harry looked, and his finger was over his mother’s name, tracing the letters there carefully.

Harry couldn’t talk. Snape traced the line up and up and up, and he stopped at Bartholomew Frasier.

“A Squib line,” he murmured. “Adopted out before he could remember his first name.”

Then Snape was looking at the Peverell line, at Voldemort’s name, tapping the name above it.

“Merope Gaunt. Not Merope Gaunt Riddle, as it would be listed had she been legally married.” He seemed to have forgotten that Harry was there, tracing the Gaunts up to Cadmus, the middle Peverell brother. He scoffed. “Were I a Parselmouth, even I would have a greater claim to the title than him.”

“Parselmouth, sir?” Harry asked. Snape’s eyes snapped up to him, and he glared. Harry glared right back. They weren’t in class, after all.

“You cannot possibly be so ignorant to magical talents, Potter, that you do not know the name of those rare individuals who can speak to snakes.”  He scoffed, but Harry had gone tense, and his face felt tight like all the blood was gone from it, and he noticed it. “Potter?”

“That’s not normal?” Harry asked. His voice was very small.

Snape stared at him for a long time, though to Harry time seemed to be dragging on and speeding up all at once. He rolled up the scroll and put it back in its case, then set the case on the ground beside his chair.

When he pulled his wand, Harry flinched. Snape’s sharp eyes caught it, and he seemed to look at Harry for the first time in their lives. Harry wasn’t sure what he saw there, but he swallowed and coughed, looking down at his wand.

“I will not attack you. I, more than many others, know that Parselmouths generally require a snake to be in their presence to demonstrate their gift. Now, I am going to summon a snake. It will not be venomous.”

Harry nodded, heart in his throat. Snape pointed his wand at the desk.

“Serpensortia natrix natrix,” he said, and out of his wand came a dark green snake, with yellow markings right behind its head. Its head jerked from side to side before its eyes met Harry’s.

They stared at each other for a long moment.

Hello,” Harry said, tentative, and the snake moved forward, careful on the new surface. Snape jumped, and Harry looked at him and then at the snake, who had panicked and was trying to find a way down the desk. “I’m sorry about him. He doesn’t mean to scare you. I promise. I think he’s scared too.

The snake flicked out its tongue, tasting the air, and stopped trying to escape

I’ve never met a human who can speak our tongue,” the snake said. “Do you mean to trap me here? I was napping, you know.” The snake sounded cranky, and Harry winced sympathetically. He knew what it was like to be woken abruptly, after all.

No, we’ll send you back. I’ll make sure of it.” He cleared his throat, looking up at Snape, who was white-faced and didn’t seem to be capable of looking away from Harry, when for the past two years he’d avoided looking at Harry at all. “It – it would like to go back, please.” He felt his face heat up when he had to pay attention to speaking English.

Snape waved his wand, and in a moment the snake was gone. He leaned forward, staring at Harry. There was an uncomfortable sort of openness that Harry felt, looking at him, and he had to look away after a few minutes of it. Snape cleared his throat.

“Ghosts cannot possess mortals, Potter.” Snape sneered. “But – Petunia would never have told you these things. Petunia, god da—” Snape’s fists clenched in on themselves, and he breathed in, tense breaths. “You would notice possession, as well, losing chunks of time and energy as well. But…. Yes, Potter, you do have a greater legal claim to the title of Heir of Slytherin than Tom Riddle.”

All the hairs on the back of Harry’s neck stood up at once. Magic, he thought, and Snape suddenly looked panicked, wand raised.

“What does that mean? Is it like the Potter things, like my vault at Gringotts? All the things Voldemort says should be his because he’s the Heir of Slytherin, are they mine, then?” He didn’t even know what the Heir of Slytherin would own, if it even worked like that. He didn’t know how he’d learned that Voldemort – of course it was Voldemort – was the Heir of Slytherin, or claimed to be. All he knew was that he had to ask the questions. Otherwise the tugging on his arms wouldn’t stop there, and he’d be pulled apart.

Snape’s jaw worked furiously, eyes darting around and fingers twitching, hand clenching on his wand. He closed his eyes, went still, and opened his mouth.

Yes,” he said, and then several things happened all at once.

There was a ‘whoosh’ of air that Harry briefly noticed, and all the hair on his body stood to attention. Deep inside him, where he’d never noticed anything before except the heat when he touched Quirrell, something hummed, and he had to close his eyes. He could almost see it, something very green and silver-chased-gold and glowing, and weird little near-black vines encircling it all, growing up and up and up. There was something else, something different about part of the green—

His scar exploded into pain before he could look any closer, and he screamed. Snape made a noise Harry barely heard, and he was dragged away from the desk, and the pain ceased all at once. He opened his mouth, and there were two loud cracks, and two creatures stood between Harry and Snape’s desk. There were more things on the desk now, a pretty golden cup and an odd ring and a necklace that the stranger of the two creatures grabbed and dropped, hissing.

He was a House Elf, Harry thought dizzily, and he was yelling.

“You is stealing the locket, the locket Master Regulus is entrusting to Kreacher to destroy! You is stealing it!”

“Regulus Black has been dead twelve years!” Snape shouted right back, uncharacteristically loud. He had been the one to drag Harry away from the pain. That was… nice of him. “And that locket has not been destroyed. I assure you, it will be far easier to destroy it without shouting.”

The goblin who had appeared with Kreacher sighed, raising what was maybe an eyebrow. Harry couldn’t tell, but he was sure it was annoyed. He was good at reading that sort of emotion.

“It is traditional,” it – she, it seemed – said, “to inform Gringotts Bank when one is making a magical inheritance claim. Especially when one is breaching the wards around Gringotts.” This was apparently a grave offense, though Harry saw that the goblin was as far away from the items on the desk as she could get without intruding in the bubble of Snape’s shield. She and Kreacher could both still feel the foulness of those… things.

Harry rather felt that they’d done Gringotts a favor, all things considered, if some of this stuff was in the bank.

“I assure you, madam, that had the magic not taken hold, quite violently, I would have sent a message to warn the bank and the Goblin Nation. As it is, I would lease a strongbox of oak and iron, banded in dragonhide if at all possible. It’s a bit more… permanent, than a charm, even one of mine.” Snape’s hand clenched on Harry’s shoulder, but not painfully. It was odd, but Harry wasn’t as afraid as he normally would be, having Snape at his back. There was something… different, in the air around them now. Something whispering the same things to both of them, maybe.

The goblin looked between Snape and Harry, raising that same patch of skin that had no hair on it. Her eyes landed squarely on Harry, and once again there was a sense of openness, of regard that Harry couldn’t pull away from. It ended quickly, however, and the goblin looked back up at Snape.

“The boy currently has no magical guardian, Severus Snape. Will you then be acting as his regent?” Her eyes flicked back to Harry.

“That is not my decision to make,” Snape said tightly. His hand squeezed on Harry’s shoulder, and Harry realized what they weren’t saying; it was Harry’s decision, whether or not he made Snape his… regent, like he was some sort of king. “I will use funds from my own vault to lease the strongbox, of—”

“What would it mean, if he were?” Harry asked. The goblin stared him down. “Er, that is, madam. What does being a… a regent, mean?”

The goblin snapped her fingers, and a wooden box appeared on Snape’s desk. It was dark and shining, and there were strips of leather, but not leather, dragonhide, different from the gloves Harry had bought in First Year, thicker and darker and almost, almost looking like scales, around the wood. It was nailed in with silvery metal that didn’t look like any iron Harry had ever seen.

Kreacher the House Elf opened it up and put the items inside, starting with a ragged diary that almost looked familiar. The last thing he touched was the locket, which he stared at for an uncomfortably long time, but he threw that in as well and shut the case, locking it with a twirl of long fingers.

The goblin sighed, and Snape removed the shield. The room seemed cleaner now, and Harry’s scar didn’t hurt at all.

“A regent, Mr. Potter, cares for items an underage wizard would generally be considered unwilling or unable to look after, such as an estate or investments that need monitoring. They take the place of a magical guardian in that respect, and are able to make purchases on behalf of the child in question.” Snape glared at him now, and Harry knew what he would think if Harry decided he wanted Snape to be his regent.

Harry turned to the goblin.

“Do I – do I have an estate or investments?” he asked.

“He is having a magical guardian, though,” Kreacher said, blinking and frowning at all of them. “The blood-traitor Master of the House is being his guardian. The boy is being his heir, recognized and everything.” Kreacher sneered and muttered something Harry couldn’t catch.

Snape had backed away from Harry, and now he stared at Kreacher.

He tried to kill Potter,” he said. There was a question in his voice, though, and his hands reached out to his desk, as if he were bracing himself.

“He did not, the foolish traitor,” Kreacher said, sniffing. “Magic would be saying so, and magic is never lying.”

The goblin coughed, almost a delicate sound. She smirked at all of them, including Snape, who was currently hyperventilating and trying to interrogate Kreacher at the same time, if Harry had to guess. There was a lot of gesturing involved.

Legally, when one is unavailable to fulfill their capacity as magical guardian, they are no longer considered as such. You are the last of the Potter line, and thus own four properties, one of which was seized by the Ministry of Magic on November the second of 1981. Of the other three, two are on British soil, while the other is in Wizarding Mumbai. You own stock in several companies, all of which only require attention from those who have attained magical majority or are legally emancipated.

“The last of the Slytherin line sold almost all of their possessions to avoid poverty. Tom Marvolo Riddle claimed those possessions now in the strongbox, and none other, as his based on his relation to Salazar Slytherin. All of his other possessions he claims in his non-magical father’s name, and are thus outside of your domain as the Slytherin heir.” The goblin smiled, not looking very nice at all.

“In addition, you will inherit the Black family possessions upon the death of Sirius Black, which include two houses and quite a bit of gold, but no stock, as it was returned to the companies of origin when Sirius Black was sentenced to life in Azkaban, despite no trial attainting him and his. Gringotts could present a legal case against these companies, if you wish.”

Harry’s whole body was telling him that that would be a bad idea, so he shook his head, and the goblin frowned, but nodded. She disappeared with a whisper, and Harry turned to find Snape even paler than usual, staring at Harry with horror.

“What?” Harry asked, voice breaking.

Snape shook himself out of whatever had hold of him, frowning down at Harry instead of glaring outright. Harry didn’t know if the man was capable of smiling, but he certainly wasn’t when he was looking at him.

“Mr. Potter, with your permission, I would look into your mind to find the cause of your pain in the presence of those… objects.” Snape handed him a piece of white cloth, and Harry frowned at it. “For the blood.” His voice was almost… gentle.

That was when Harry registered the rapidly cooling trickle of blood coming from his scar. It didn’t hurt as much now, but it was still hot even with the handkerchief between it and his fingers. He wiped it away, and then down his face and nose, and glanced back up at Snape when he was done. Snape nodded, and Harry thought about what he’d just asked to do.

“Tell me why you think you should do it,” he said. Snape sighed, clenching his teeth together. “You hate me. Why should I trust you in my head?”

Because,” Snape hissed, “the pain in your scar matched pain in my left arm and is a mark of Voldemort’s presence. Is that not reason enough for you?”

Harry swallowed back a retort that he’d known that already. He wasn’t sure exactly why, but then it hit him: Snape hadn’t meant the objects. He’d meant Harry. Both he and Kreacher the House Elf were staring at him like he might explode at any moment.

“Yes. Do it, I mean,” Harry said, so fast he wasn’t sure Snape understood him. Snape drew his wand.

“This will likely be unpleasant. Sit down, so that you do not fall down,” Snape said. Harry sat, numbly, in one of the chairs across from Snape’s desk. He looked at Kreacher and indicated that he sit in the other one, though the elf just scoffed and stood by the wall instead. Harry frowned.

Legilimens alium,” Snape whispered, and Harry’s mind went blank.

Then he saw what looked like a flayed baby, screaming and struggling against a cage of golden light, and he felt himself hiss in a breath that would have told Snape to stop, stop, stop it stop it stop hurting it! But all of a sudden Snape was there, with him, and he was talking.

“Lily,” he said, and the gold got brighter, and the baby screamed, long and loud and inhuman. “Lily, that is not Harry. That thing is what tried to kill Harry. You stopped it, didn’t you? You were always – always so much better at defensive spells than I was. You saved him once. Help me save him again.” The gold started to glow like the sun, and the baby screamed, high-pitched and awful, and everything in him recoiled from it.

Harry’s vision went white, then, and when he came to Snape was hovering over him, and his whole body hurt. Snape pressed a potion into his hands, and Harry swallowed it down without really thinking about it, about who was giving it to him. He was shaking so badly he almost missed his mouth entirely. When he swallowed it down, some of the aches went away, and his head felt light and steady at the same time.

“A Calming Draught and a pain-relieving potion in one,” Snape said, not looking at Harry but down at a light pink mark on his arm. Harry frowned at it. Snape didn’t seem to be the type to get a tattoo, especially a pink one. “I’ve found it quite useful after enduring legilimency.” He looked back up, black eyes landing squarely on Harry’s eyes. “I must apologize, Mr. Potter. I did not realize how violently your mother’s magic would react to the knowledge of… that thing that was in your head.”

“You called her Lily,” Harry said. He remembered that. He blinked. “You knew her. You knew both of them, my mum and Aunt Petunia.” He remembered what Snape had said about his mum. Everything fit together in an awful picture, now. “You were her friend. But you hated my dad….” He shook his head.

Snape wasn’t looking at him, now. The words, when they came, seemed to be dragged out of him.

“Your mother… she was the first, best friend I ever made. And I was a fool of a child, and I ruined our friendship, and my later actions led to her death. I tried to stop it, but I could not.” Snape looked up at him, scowling. “Your father was a bully for most of his school career, and his best friend nearly killed me when we were sixteen. Were it not for Kreacher, I would happily leave him to rot in Azkaban, now. But he claims you have been in the presence of an animagus, and not Professor McGonagall. So he will help capture this animagus, and if it proves to be the person I suspect, you will soon have your magical guardian back.”

Harry stared at Snape. There was… a lot, in what he’d said, and Harry would have to think about it later. But a magical guardian had to be like a normal guardian, didn’t it? He’d get to leave the Dursleys for good after this. That thought had a grin spreading across his face, and that was when he realized that his scar had changed, somehow. He touched it and was shocked to find it wasn’t scabbed over and hard like it normally was, not even the little tendrils that went through his eyebrows. It was closed up, completely healed.

His mum’s magic did that. He could still feel it, a little, warm like sunshine deep inside him.

Snape looked at the scar. He stood up and approached the strongbox.

“With your permission, I am going to burn these items so thoroughly that they can never be repaired. Kreacher, did you attempt to use Fiendfyre on the locket?”

“Kreacher is not having a wand, and House Elf magic is not being… like that.” Kreacher was grimacing. He looked at Harry and scowled, but he inclined his head. “I was thinking to open the locket, would be the trick.”

“Absolutely not.” Snape shook his head, opening the strongbox. Harry flinched, but the expected pain didn’t come. Snape grimaced, however, and slammed the box shut.

“I want to be there,” Harry said, and glared when Snape opened his mouth to refuse him. “I won’t give you permission if I’m not there. And Kreacher. You said… you said your last master was the one who wanted you to destroy the locket. You should at least get to see it be destroyed.”

At that point, Kreacher burst into tears and jumped on Harry in a hug that nearly strangled him, before Snape pulled them apart.

“Every day, I thank God and Merlin that you begged that damned Hat not to be put in Slytherin,” he said. Harry’s eyes went wide. “I have good hearing.”

00000

Ginny Weasley searched, shaking, for her diary. By now she had removed every article of clothing she owned from her trunk, staring bereft at the empty bottom of it.

She’d lost it. She’d lost it. Tom would be so angry at her when he found out, and he would find out. He knew everything about her – she’d told him everything, so stupid of her. She should have given the diary to Dad straight away, and then everything would be different. Everything would be better, and Mrs. Norris wouldn’t be petrified, and she wouldn’t have red… paint, on her hands. She wouldn’t be afraid to go to sleep at night.

But Tom had been so charming, so sweet at first. He had been kind.

Ginny Weasley had learned, too soon and too violently, that a few kind words were not a measure of goodness. This was a scar she would carry with her for the rest of her life, and not one she would wear with pride.

She had just decided to start going through Romilda’s things – Romilda Vane was a brat, and she shouldn’t have been Sorted into Gryffindor, Ginny was sure of it – when a wave of lightness washed over her body. She breathed in, then out in a sigh, and looked at the mess she’d made around her. She stood up and gathered her things, folding them carefully and methodically. She breathed in the lingering scents of the Burrow, of home.

Tom was gone. Ginny knew it deep in her bones, and with the assurance of both childhood and magic, she continued on with her day. The scars were still there, would always be there, but she was a child, and children are resilient.

She wasn’t going to be friends with Romilda Vane, not ever. They were too different. But she wouldn’t let Tom’s words against her twist her judgment, not anymore.

Things would be different, now.

00000

Albus Dumbledore stared at the Resurrection Stone, with a jagged crack through the middle of it, and up at the two people presenting it to him. Both were stained with soot, though neither were burned, thankfully. Severus, for once, had chosen the chair to the right, having discerned their meaning many years ago. He felt he should not be punished for this and that Harry Potter should be. Albus didn’t intend to do anything of the sort to either of them.

“It was the only… object, that would not burn, no matter any intervention,” Severus said, glancing at the ring and then away from it. He glared over at Harry. “I told you not to open the locket, you little—”

“It wouldn’t burn until I did!” Harry said, voice squeaking. He glared at Severus. “And you were worried about it. I could tell.”

Albus hid a smile at the looks man and boy were throwing at each other. He had so worried about Severus, who was caustic and impatient at the best of times, with Harry and Neville to teach. Hopefully this would heal him, at least enough for Severus to teach the boys without, well, without terrorizing them. He would need to talk to him about that, about what had just happened.

“Well, what did the… ring do?” The remains of the ring had become a melted, charred blob fused with the Stone. Neither Severus nor Harry knew what this was, what they had so casually placed on his desk. Severus’s eyes kept travelling to it, though, just as Dumbledore’s did.

It was that, the reminder of the magic of the Stone, that made Dumbledore sure of his next steps.

“It… there was a noise,” Harry said, head tilting down. Underneath his messy black hair, even with his father’s complexion, he looked just like Lily had, solving problems during the first war. She had been one of the best defensive strategists of her day. It was no wonder that she had discovered the magic that had protected Harry when all else failed.

It had protected him for so long, been so present, that Albus had almost thought it vanished when Severus and Harry first appeared in his office. It was subdued, now, and Albus had cursed himself for a fool when he realized exactly why it had been so very present for so long.

He had suspected, of course, but hadn’t dared to confirm his suspicions. If he was right…

He had sent young people to their deaths, so many times he could have lost count were it his wish. But they had never been children, not once. They had all graduated from Hogwarts, been adults in act if not necessarily in their majority. He did not know what he would have done, had he been forced to sacrifice Harry the way he would have thought necessary, knowing he was a Horcrux. He did not know, and it terrified him, even now that it didn’t matter.

Severus had performed a minor miracle today, possible only because he had known Lily for so long that her magic recognized and believed his claims.

“It sounded like the world was breaking in two, not the ring,” Harry decided. “And the stone cracked, and Professor Snape’s arm doesn’t look pink anymore, but we weren’t sure that it was really destroyed. So we brought it to you.”

Albus nodded, reaching for the Stone. Both Harry and Severus flinched toward him. He sighed and leaned back. He drew the Elder Wand, placing it on the table next to its sibling. He had held it for so many years that the power was second-nature to him, though it was never as comfortable in his hand as his first wand. He still remembered the shine of that wand, pale even when varnished. Aspen and dragon heartstring, the wand of a revolutionary of no small talent, Ollivander had told him. Albus had gone on to help shape the world, but he still did not know if it had been the right decision. His world had created Voldemort, after all, even if it had also created so many good people.

“The stone in that ring is a powerful magical artifact.” He turned the wand so that the Hallows symbol was visible, unscarred as it was on the handle. “It cannot be destroyed, not by any mortal hand. That it cracked at all is sign enough that this mad scheme worked, and Tom Riddle’s spirit no longer has any tether to the mortal realm. He will fade away, vanquished at last.”

The war was over. Albus watched that idea play out on Severus’s face, disbelief and then wonder filling his eyes.

There was a loud crack interrupting the moment, and Albus blinked at the House Elf holding a struggling rodent in his hands.

“Scabbers?” Harry asked, at the same time Severus said, “Of course,” rising smoothly and drawing his wand. In moments, a very much alive Peter Pettigrew was in Dumbledore’s office, bound to the wall and gagged. Severus approached him, teeth bared.

“I always did wonder about those infuriating names,” he hissed. “Moony is obvious in hindsight. As is Wormtail. Fitting, that the traitor should be a rat.”

Albus realized what had happened almost at once, and he could have collapsed from the shame.

He never had before, though, and he stood up and decided to move forward, as he had so many times before.

He owed a great many apologies to a great number of people, and dwelling on the Stone and his old regrets would not help with that.

00000

When Remus Lupin first saw Peter Pettigrew, alive after eleven years presumed dead, he had to be held back by four people so he wouldn’t kill him then and there. A growl rose in his throat, even with the full moon still days away. Hagrid’s big hand tightened on his shoulder, and Remus looked up to see a vicious, inhuman anger in his eyes.

“I won’t stop you,” he said, voice low, accent as thick and comforting as ever. “But not in front of Harry, you hear me?”

That was when Remus registered the small figure sitting in one of the chairs in Dumbledore’s office, looking at him with piercing green eyes. All the breath left his body at once, and the years slipped away like water. He was eleven years old again, the boy in front of him wearing spectacles and a grin that promised mischief. He blinked and remembered himself, and he saw Harry for who he was, not for who he looked like.

Remus had been present when Harry was born, exhausted from the full moon but insistent on being there for the birth of what they’d all thought was just the first of the Marauders’ children. He had only seen him a few times after that before everything went to hell, but he’d expected Harry would take mostly after James even then. It seemed he had been right, even if his eyes were just as bright a green as Lily’s.

All the fight went out of Remus at once, and he couldn’t bear to even look at Peter, traitorous bastard that he was. He approached Harry, trying to make himself smaller than his height would account for.

“Hello, Harry,” he said, nearly choking on the words. “My name is Remus Lupin. I was… I was friends, with your parents.”

“More importantly, he can identify this… person, for the assembled, more accurately than people who only knew him for seven instead of eleven years.” The voice was dark and vicious, and Remus turned to see Severus Snape, glaring at everyone in the room. He wasn’t even looking at Remus, and Remus wondered if he would. They hadn’t spoken at all, after – after what Sirius did. The first time Sirius tried to kill someone and betrayed a friend, Remus was used to thinking of it.

He would have to stop thinking of it that way, he supposed.

That was when Remus took in the other people in the room for who they were, and he had to hold in a breath. There were Hagrid and Professor McGonagall and Dumbledore and, oddly, Argus Filch. But there was also Amelia Bones, Head of the DMLE; Rufus Scrimgeour, Head Auror; Kingsley Shacklebolt, his second-in-command; and finally, Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic himself. The room was, in fact, quite crowded.

Cornelius Fudge was currently turning an interesting shade of red. Snape had always been good at making people feel wrong-footed, even if they’d never deserved it. And Fudge, Remus thought perhaps a bit too viciously, had deserved everything he got.

Argus Filch’s presence made a bit more sense, now. Their shenanigans had meant they’d become acquainted with him quite well by the time they’d left Hogwarts. Remus had to hide a flinch at that.

“Yes,” he said, looking at Peter once more. He had gone waxy pale, the sort of pallor that Remus was all-too familiar with. Terror was an intimate part of his life, after all. “This is Peter Pettigrew. I would know him anywhere. He was – he was one of my best friends, once.”

He wanted to ask a thousand questions: how could you do this, and when, when did you decide to kill them, and why, why why why WHY, that most of all. His heart was aching, and breaking all over again, and he wanted to scream and cry and break something all at once. He wanted to break Peter, kill him where he stood, rip his throat out with his human teeth and taste his blood.

He did none of those things. Harry was here, Harry James Potter, his best friends’ baby boy, twelve years old and too skinny in a way that neither of his parents had ever been. Oh, Lily and James had been lanky teenagers when they had growth spurts – James had seemed to be all elbows, and Lily had kept growing her hair longer and longer like that would distract from how her knees poked out – but they hadn’t been… like this.

Remus glanced at Snape, who had been that thin, once upon a time. He remembered a flash of gray underclothes and secondhand robes, and he felt ashamed once more. His clothes tended toward gray these days themselves. Too many washes, mending what couldn’t easily be replaced, cheap fabric falling apart more easily than better-quality, expensive robes.

“Thank you, Mr. Lupin,” Madam Bones said, smiling grimly behind her monocle. “With your confirmation, we will take Mr. Pettigrew into custody and free Sirius Black from Azkaban. It will be a short trial, I am certain.”

Fudge said nothing, though he was pale, with terror or something else Remus did not know.

Peter’s bound and gagged form was carted through the Floo by Scrimgeour and Shacklebolt. Fudge followed, after Madam Bones politely but firmly insisted that he precede her. That was Hufflepuff stubbornness at work. They could beat you into the ground, and you would thank them for the experience. (That you would be right to thank them for the experience was rather beside the point, in his opinion.)

He had hoped for Hufflepuff, but the Hat had barely spared the time to scoff at that idea before sending him to Gryffindor. Peter had sat on that stool for a full three minutes, and only then had the Hat sent him to Gryffindor as well. He had argued it into sending him there instead of Hufflepuff, and right now Remus wished that Peter had lost that argument with a fervor he hadn’t felt since learning of his supposed death.

If Peter had learned true loyalty, so many things would be different.

“Mr. Lupin,” Madam Bones began, so carefully Remus wondered if she was afraid he would break. “Your… official status, in regards to Sirius Black, was never changed. The paperwork couldn’t go through without agreement from both of you.”

“Ah,” Remus said. He nodded. “I suppose that makes… sense.” Prisoners in Azkaban weren’t allowed post, after all.

“Normally this would mean he would be released into your care, but eleven years in Azkaban… I would recommend St. Mungo’s, at least for the time being.”

“Sirius will be treated in Hogwarts,” Dumbledore said, when Remus could say nothing. He was still trying to think of himself as married, after so many years where he hadn’t considered it at all. It hadn’t come up often, of course, but when asked, he had always said that he was divorced, and happily so.

This would take quite a bit of adjustment for everyone.

“That is, if Mr. Lupin and Mr. Black consent,” Dumbledore said. Remus nodded, and Madam Bones disappeared through the fire.

There was a long moment of silence, in which only the shuffling feet of professors leaving Dumbledore’s office were the sounds Remus could hear. Then he was alone, with Dumbledore, Harry, and Snape of all people.

Snape’s lip was curled up in disgust. Remus raised a weary eyebrow.

“Your leaving that insufferable fool after his attempt to use you as a murder weapon was the most sensible thing you did during your school career. Marrying him… I have no words to describe the foolishness of that.”

“We thought we could die any day, Professor Snape. Familiar love was… better, than letting old hate rule us, considering,” Remus said, smiling. Snape hadn’t even insulted him. Perhaps he had mellowed, over the years. “God knows enough people paired off during the war and regretted it when it was over for pettier reasons than I had.” He coughed, glancing at Harry. “I never apologized to you, for my… role, in that.”

“Why in the world would you think I expected one from you?” Snape snapped. “You weren’t in control of yourself at the time. I am capable of picking up a book, Lupin.”

“He really tried to kill Sn-Professor Snape?” Harry asked, looking distraught. “My dad’s best friend did that?”

Remus sighed, while Snape’s mouth twisted and Dumbledore looked down at his hands. He knelt so that he was on Harry’s level, disregarding the creaking in his knees. There were some things more important than pain, and this was one of them.

“Sirius Black is… we didn’t have a word for what could happen to him, while we were in school. All we knew was that sometimes, Sirius could be so happy and energetic that he could scare us with it, and then a week later he would miss three periods of Transfiguration in a row – and that was his best, favorite class at Hogwarts. I suspect it was an inherited mental disorder, made greater by his family’s… harsh treatment of him, for daring to be Sorted Gryffindor when their entire family had been Slytherins for generations.

“Now, I won’t excuse his bullying of Snape, or your father’s own actions – or my complicity in them, as a friend who could have stopped much of their actions. In all truth, that had nothing to do with his disorder, and quite a bit to do with, well, teenagers being arseholes to someone because he was a bit different. There were other reasons, but no justifications, for our behavior.”

He sighed, trying not to scare Harry with what he had to say next. Hopefully, hopefully he wouldn’t be scared at all. Hopefully he would be like James and Sirius and Peter and Lily, eventually. There was no guarantee, and that terrified him more than anything.

“As for Sirius trying to kill Professor Snape… that did happen during one of Sirius’s… manic episodes. Professor Snape was convinced, you see, that we were hiding a secret, the four of us, and by this point our actions had become a near-war. Sirius told him that… that if he wished to find out where I would disappear to every month, he just had to do a trick with the Whomping Willow to make it stay still and he would find out. Your father got it out of Sirius, what he had done, and he realized what Sirius had truly done. He ran as fast as he could and was able to save Professor Snape from being killed in a – a werewolf attack. By myself.”

He looked away, expecting Harry to flinch, to call him a monster, and forced the next words out before that happened.

“He claimed, later, that he hadn’t meant to kill him, just scare him. I didn’t believe him. I don’t think any of us did, really. It was… it was an awful thing for him to do. I didn’t speak to him for quite a long time after that. That – that seemed to shock your father into truly stopping with the worst of his behavior, which he’d already been doing a bit beforehand.”

When Remus looked back, there was no disgust in Harry’s eyes. There was some confusion, but nothing that he had expected from someone who had been taught that werewolves were beasts.

“You’re a werewolf?” Harry asked, genuine curiosity in his voice. Then understanding. “You’re Moony.”

“Moony, of the Marauders.” Remus grinned. “Your father, James, was Prongs. Sirius was Padfoot. You – you just met Wormtail. Pettigrew.”

“They were all animagi?” Dumbledore asked, an innocent curiosity to his voice that hadn’t fooled Remus since he’d signed on to the Order of the Phoenix. It seemed to fool Harry, though, at least enough that he looked at Dumbledore and then back at Remus. There was a question in his eyes that he wasn’t going to say aloud.

Remus wondered who, exactly, he needed to kill for that. No child should be afraid to ask questions about their parents.

“Your father could turn into a fine specimen of a stag, with a set of antlers from which his nickname arose. Sirius—” Remus closed his eyes against the memories. Even when he hadn’t been talking with the human Sirius, Padfoot and Moony had remained close. He couldn’t remember much of his transformations, but he did remember that. “He becomes a giant black dog, though we never were able to determine the exact breed. He was always quite proud of that. Of being a mutt instead of a purebred dog.”

“The problem remains. If Pettigrew thinks he will gain a lighter sentence by revealing Lupin’s… condition, or if the Wizengamot asks how he of all people learned how to be an animagi, things could prove quite tense.”

“Why would that be?” Harry asked, looking back at Snape. Snape pinched the bridge of his nose and took three deep breaths. Remus wondered at his restraint.

Because,” he snapped, just barely polite, “werewolves are currently considered magical beasts, not magical beings. They have… very few legal rights, and what rights they do have have been slowly stripped away since Fudge took office. Something that you could have countered when Remus Lupin’s schoolyears were peaceful.”

Albus raised an eyebrow. So did Remus.

“And have you claim otherwise, even anonymously, that I was lying, and have the proof to back those claims?” He shook his head, sadly but with none of the twinkling that normally hid his deeper plots. “It could not have been done. Not then. But Peter Pettigrew will not reveal Remus Lupin’s lycanthropic status, just as you did not reveal it in 1976. I will request Pensieve memory from Sirius Black of the Fidelius Charm, for which he was surely present, as well as whatever scheme he and James Potter concocted regarding Peter Pettigrew and their ruse.” He closed his eyes, head falling down so that he was looking at none of them.

“I should have insisted upon a trial. My own past mistakes blinded me, and for that there is no penance I could perform for you, Mr. Lupin, or for Sirius Black, that would be enough to absolve me in this. I will, however, do as much as I can to prevent further harm coming to you both.”

From Albus Dumbledore, a statement like that carried quite a bit of weight. Remus inclined his head, accepting the headmaster’s decision. His eyes wandered to what he at first assumed was a paperweight on Dumbledore’s desk, until he tilted his head and heard the magic that was calling to him.

It wanted – it wanted to be used. Remus was used to ignoring a stronger call than this, so he did nothing, but his glance made Harry look at the stone fused with gold and then glare at everyone in the room.

“Kreacher!” he yelled. A gnarled old House Elf appeared in the office. Harry tossed the rock to him. “If you can, please put this in something stronger than that lockbox we had it in before. If we can’t destroy it, it shouldn’t be around people.” He frowned. “Do you feel like using it?” he asked.

“No, young master,” Kreacher said, holding the stone away from himself and peering at it. “It is being a temptation for humans to kill them, I am thinking. Not for House Elves.”

“Oh, good.” Harry had barely said the words when Kreacher disappeared with barely a ‘pop’ to mark his Apparition. He flushed when Remus eyed him. “It’s a long story,” he said.

Remus smiled. How many times had he heard the same from James, so long ago? He had lost count sometime in Third Year.

“I have time,” he said, and settled in to hear the hair-raising adventure his godson had gotten into just by visiting the library.

00000

“Speaker,” called the voice, as Harry was heading to Transfiguration three days after apparently killing Voldemort for good. He stopped in his tracks and waved at Ron and Hermione to continue without him. They frowned but did as he said, and he cocked his head, listening. “True Speaker, my Speaker, come to me, please,” the big voice said, and Harry could hear the hissing in it now, where he hadn’t been able to at all before.

He followed the voice mostly on instinct, surprised to find Dumbledore standing in the bathroom where Moaning Myrtle usually lived. He was speaking with Myrtle but broke off when Harry entered the room. He smiled, his eyes twinkling as merrily as they ever had. Harry waited for him to dismiss Myrtle before he approached the taps where the echoes were bouncing.

“You heard her as well, I see,” Dumbledore said. He smiled at Harry’s glance. “I am no native speaker such as yourself, but as with all languages, Parseltongue may be taught if you are persistent enough and not afraid of failure.”

“So you heard her the last two times, sir?” Harry asked. Dumbledore shook his head.

“I was visiting with Sirius Black and happened to be close enough this time to hear her voice. I will also assume that those other two times she spoke, she was not intending to shout to the rest of the castle as she is doing today.” He poked at one of the taps, and Harry looked. There was a snake carved on the side, crude like it had been done with a knife in a hurry. Maybe it had been.

The hole was black and ominous when it opened up, and Harry stared down it for a long moment.

“What do you think, then?” Dumbledore asked. There was a spark of mischief in his eyes, now, and he was grinning. “Do we two Gryffindors craft stairs, or do we jump into the unknown?”

Harry didn’t even have to think before he was jumping down the tunnel. He laughed while he slid down, even when he flew in the air at the end and landed on stone. He rolled with it like he’d fallen off of his broom, and it didn’t even hurt. Soon Dumbledore joined him, though he cast some sort of spell that cushioned his fall. They spent a few minutes adjusting their spectacles, and then they were off down the corridor.

“If you would, please inform the madam basilisk that I am not here to harm her,” Dumbledore said before Harry opened the second set of doors. “She is not the type of creature I expected to encounter when I first realized what she was. She will only listen to you, I believe.”

Harry cleared his throat and imagined that he could see the snake, when really he was just imagining her. She was big, he knew, but he didn’t know much else.

“I will not harm your guest, Speaker, if he does not harm me,” the snake – the basilisk – responded. Dumbledore smiled, and they went through to the room where the basilisk had been living.

It was a huge chamber, tall enough that Harry wondered how far below the castle they were. The basilisk was stretched across the floor, and Harry blinked when he saw that she had actual eyelids that were closed as if she were sleeping. She obviously wasn’t, though, body shifting when they entered.

Her scales were dark green, and she was as big around as Harry, and at least fifty feet long. Something was off, though; wrong, he thought.

“Why are you so skinny?” he asked finally. The basilisk shifted further, curling in on herself.

“My last Speaker never lifted his command. I cannot hunt until you do so. I have slept, but it will not be enough, soon.”

Harry looked at Dumbledore, who was frowning.

“What do you hunt, madam basilisk?” Dumbledore asked, still sounding like himself even when he was hissing. The basilisk’s tongue tasted the air, and Harry thought she would be smiling, if snakes could smile.

“Vermin in the walls, some creatures of the forest. Nothing belonging to a student, nothing that speaks. Only what would harm the school. That was my first Speaker’s first command, the most important.”

Dumbledore nodded at Harry. As soon as she was given permission to hunt the things she would eat before, the basilisk slid out of the room and, presumably, out to the Forbidden Forest.

Dumbledore heaved a great sigh and looked around the room.

“I wonder what he meant by leaving her here,” he murmured. “It has been nearly a thousand years, but she claims she was left to protect the school, not harm its students. I am inclined to believe her, at that.”

“Snakes don’t usually lie,” Harry pointed out. Dumbledore smiled and tilted his head back the way they’d come.

“Someone did, once, and enough people believed it that our world was shaped by the lie. This has happened… too many times in history. But enough of an old man’s rambling. You are quite late for Transfiguration. Why, I believe at this point you would be better served learning of the spell that crafts stairs out of these stones.” He winked at Harry. “I was the Transfiguration teacher here, you know, before I became the headmaster. I ought to know what I’m saying.”

Harry nodded, and wondered why the moment felt more important than the words should have been.

He didn’t concern himself too much. At least for now, all was well.