Chapter 1: August
August 3rd, 1998
It starts with a letter.
Harry is rather sick of letters, if he’s being completely honest. Though the war is over, the prophecy fulfilled, he’s been more popular than ever. And after two miserable weeks in Auror training this spring, he really just wants to rest.
Not rest, maybe. He’s staying at Grimmauld Place, and though the Order did its best with the house, it really is still quite a sight for sore eyes. If there’s one thing he learned before ever even going to Hogwarts, it’s how to clean a house, and clean it well.
But that has nothing to do with the letters, not really.
Except that he has to put all the letters somewhere.
He gets some from the Ministry—job offers, probably, but he didn’t die and come back to life to become a fucking politician, did he? Or maybe they want him to come back to Auror training, like Ron does.
The other letters are from, well, everybody else, really. Mrs Weasley has sent a few. Hermione, of course. Ron. Luna and Ginny and Neville and—
Everyone, really. People he knows, people he doesn’t, people he wishes he didn’t. He stashes all of them away in one of the rooms upstairs, but doesn’t open most—any—of them. He knows what they say—we’re worried about you. Will you come for lunch or something, mate? Where have you been? We want to hear how you feel about the war!—and he would really just rather let them sit there, at least until the house is clean.
It’s not just about the dust, though. There are memories here, the past breathed into the walls and the floors and in those rooms Harry doesn’t know just yet how he feels about entering. Walburga Black’s portrait, and Regulus’s room, and the Black family tree, Sirius’s face permanently blasted off of it.
He wonders, sometimes, if he should even be here at all.
But the house is, well, his. With no Blacks left to command it, and as Sirius’s godson, he has control over the wards. Nobody can get in if he doesn’t want them in, and, right now, all he really wants is some peace, quiet, and a lot fewer letters in that upstairs room.
It turns out, though, that it starts with a letter.
He takes it from the owl that offers it to him, but when he goes to throw it dismissively on the table, the owl chirps in protest.
He looks over at it, exasperated. “What do you want me to do? I have treats. Is that what you want?”
If he didn’t know any better, he would think the owl is glaring at him.
“Is someone making you stay here?” He shakes his head. That would be typical of Hermione, really, but he doesn’t know why she would. “You want me to read it that badly?”
When he reaches for the letter again, the owl lets out a pleased trill.
Rolling his eyes, he picks the stupid thing up, turns it over, and—
“Hogwarts, huh?” He looks up at the owl thoughtfully. He can think of very few people at Hogwarts who would want to get in touch with him now. They’re still rebuilding, after the fierce battle, but McGonagall had been the first to assure him that they didn’t need help from him to do that, and he really should rest.
Yes, well. He’s trying to rest, isn’t he?
With another shake of his head, he opens the letter, feeling sort of like he is eleven years old again and finally opening the letter that changed his life.
While the circumstances I write to you in are most unfortunate, I hope this letter reaches you in good health. As you may know, we have been working most diligently to repair what was lost in May. That includes a stable and adept teaching staff.
I understand that this may not be in any way conventional, but I hoped you may be interested in meeting with me to discuss the opportunities available to you. You, along with two of your classmates, were indicated by our current staff to be good candidates for the open or opening positions in the teaching staff at Hogwarts. In your case, the position as the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, under supervision by a previous professor of the subject.
Should you wish to pursue this line of conversation further, please do send a message immediately. While I understand that you have a great many responsibilities, I sincerely hope that this is within your grasps.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Harry reads the letter. And then he reads it again.
And then he thinks about casting an Incendio on it.
And then he reads it again.
He doesn’t need a job, he knows. He has a fortune waiting for him in the Potter vault and the Black vault. In those few months following the end of the war, he was approached by many, many people wishing to write his biography, and, he knows, if he ever needs the money, that would be a way to get it.
There are enough books about him already, though, he remembers thinking bitterly.
Hogwarts, much like Grimmauld Place, is strife with memories. Good and bad. Mostly bad, lately, but that’s just because he’s becoming a recluse—at least, almost assuredly according to Hermione. It’s not like he doesn’t want to see McGonagall, because he does. In fact, he might even want to see some of the other professors he would surely run into there, but, then, he isn’t so sure.
He’s sick of being Harry Potter, saviour of the wizarding world. It’s why he’s here, cleaning, every fucking day of the week. At least here, the only people who talk to him are portraits of Black family members who can sense his “filthy blood” or whatever. Sometimes, it’s even amusing.
But it’s not like tea with a real person, talking about anything that actually matters.
He reads the letter again.
They must be rather desperate, he thinks, to be asking students who haven’t even graduated, technically, to teach at Hogwarts. Apparently, they’re planning to let students retake the year they missed—something Hermione jumped at the chance to do, of course, which is weird, because if he responds to this letter and says yes, sure, why not, he would be teaching Hermione, and she’s older than him.
But, no, not really. “Under supervision,” the letter says. Meaning, they won’t just throw him into it completely unprepared.
And then he realizes—
He’s actually considering this.
He shoots the owl a dirty look, as if it is to blame. Maybe he imagines it, but he thinks it’s making an attempt at an innocent face when it slowly blinks its eyes.
“Wait here,” he mutters, though he knows the owl won’t be going anywhere until it receives a response.
He heads into the next room to find some parchment, a quill, and ink, then takes an owl treat from the bag he leaves there to tempt the peskier owls (though less pesky than this one, he imagines) away from him.
Offering the treat to the owl (who stubbornly remains at the table), he retakes his seat and begins to write.
I think you’re mad.
I don’t know why you’re asking me this when you know I’m going to say no.
I already told you, I’m going to be an Auror.
Thank you for considering me. I would be happy to meet with you. When should I come?
-Harry J. Potter
August 4th, 1998
It is surely a testament to his growing insanity, he thinks. Surely, beyond a doubt, without any consideration otherwise.
McGonagall must know, because she says she wants to meet immediately. The next morning. Harry almost told her no, I have plans, but his plans have been cleaning for a full month now, and he should probably start to admit, at least to himself, that he’s getting bored of it.
So, yes. He Apparates to Hogsmeade the next morning, and it’s terrible.
Every single person he sees wants to talk to him. He smiles, says he has somewhere to be, but it doesn’t matter. They want to know what he’s been doing. They want to know what great thing he’ll accomplish next. They want to crowd him until he gives in, because personal space apparently doesn’t matter when one has a pressing question for Harry Potter.
He misses Grimmauld Place already.
But, eventually, he pushes through, grateful that there are only a few people here. If it were the middle of the day, he knows it would be worse.
And he thinks he gets it, suddenly.
McGonagall must know.
Maybe it’s one of those perks of being Headmaster, he thinks idly. Knowing things. Dumbledore always knew things too.
And then he stops thinking, because he doesn’t want to think about Dumbledore.
Hogwarts is different in the summer. It’s emptier, of course, but not just in terms of how many people are around. It’s almost ghostly, and that has nothing to do with the ghosts that drift through the halls.
It doesn’t look any different, but Harry can see things in places he couldn’t before. Where people fought, where people died.
It’s not there anymore, but he sees it anyway.
Feeling dizzy, he turns away and keeps his gaze forward as he strides towards the gargoyle statue he knows he will find McGonagall by.
True to her word, she is standing there waiting for him.
“Good morning, Potter,” she says briskly, and Harry feels his shoulders relax, just a bit.
Of course he’s not Harry Potter, saviour of the wizarding world to McGonagall. She watched him grow from eleven years old, saw him as the child of two of her favourite students, the godson of another. Whatever he lost in the war, McGonagall lost it all too, and she isn’t going to ask him how he feels about it.
He smiles at her. “Morning, Professor. It looks nice.” He gestures behind him, to the rebuilt structures towards the front of the castle.
She offers him the closest thing to a smile he thinks she ever will, then turns and says to the gargoyle, “Aurum Leonis.”
Such a strange contrast to Dumbledore’s passwords, Harry can’t help thinking as he follows McGonagall up the spiral staircase. Perhaps she, too, doesn’t like to think about him, though.
The office itself looks different. Many of the trinkets Dumbledore kept about are gone, and the decorations are more like Harry remembers McGonagall’s office being, when he was a student. There is another portrait on the wall that wasn’t there before, and Harry starts, blinking.
Beside Dumbledore’s wide smile, Snape’s sneer is almost comical. Neither of the painted men speak, but Harry watches them anyway, enthralled by their presence.
“Sit down,” McGonagall tells him. “Tea?”
Finally, he tears his gaze away from his old professors and takes his seat across from the headmistress, nodding in agreement to the offer.
Once they’re finally settled, tea sat between them, McGonagall says, very quietly, “I understand that your ambition was to become an Auror.”
Harry winces, looking down into his cup with a frown. “Er, yeah, it was.”
“Perhaps it is unfair to ask.” She sounds hesitant, somehow. “It is entirely up to you, of course. The other professors here agreed that—”
“It was not an agreement, Minerva,” snaps Snape from his portrait.
McGonagall’s gaze turns weary. “It is not your choice to make, Severus.”
Harry gets the feeling that this is not the first time they’ve had this particular exchange.
“You want me to teach?” he asks, to be sure. “At Hogwarts?”
She nods. “Not many are keen on a job here,” she admits. “The circumstances are...not ideal. And given the rumours about our cursed Defence position, it’s far from a requited one. However, your marks in the subject were, well—outstanding, frankly, given the trials you endured in your time here. Not to mention, your work with the DA was very fine indeed, if their performance in the battle is anything to go by. If you still wish to pursue a career as an Auror, I won’t stop you. But I hope you know that, should you ever want it, Hogwarts will always have a place for you.”
It warms his chest, but there is a chill that follows so immediately, the effect is all but lost.
“I—I don’t know if I would really be…” He trails off, eyes fixed on his drink.
McGonagall is quiet for a moment. Then, she says, “If I didn’t believe you suitable for the position, Mr Potter, then I wouldn’t have asked.”
But they all thought he was suitable for Auror training too, didn’t they?
“And it may be beneficial,” she adds. “Should you need a person to turn to, Hogwarts will always have one.”
Harry sips his tea because it seems like the best way to avoid responding.
And then he realizes that he can’t avoid it, because McGonagall will just keep waiting until his teacup is empty.
“I don’t need the money,” he finally points out.
“And I’m not coming back for seventh year.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to.”
“That is the very last reason I would consider you for this position.”
In a way, it is exactly the thing he needs to hear. But, then, he already knew, didn’t he, that the professors at Hogwarts don’t see him as Harry Potter, but just—Potter, or Harry, the little eleven-year-old kid who almost died in their school every year because he was stupid and reckless in a way even his father wasn’t.
And the thought sends the chill away again.
“You said in your letter that there were others,” he says. “And we would be—under supervision? You know, Muggles usually go to school for like four years or something before they can do things like this.”
McGonagall’s lips twitch up a bit. “Yes, well, we’re not Muggles, are we? As it is, you would be in an apprenticeship of sorts with a past professor of the subject. There are two other students, from your year, in fact, that were signalled out to be good choices and have responded affirmatively to the request.”
“They already have the job?”
Harry frowns. “But you only sent those letters yesterday.”
McGonagall shakes her head. “Had you opened your mail,” she says, “you would have seen that I sent the first letter many weeks ago.”
Harry opens his mouth, then closes it again, only able to blink stupidly at the woman. Weeks? Well, sure, he has a lot of letters in that upstairs room, but he doesn’t think he would just throw something from Hogwarts away, would he?
Except that he tried to, with this one.
He swallows. “Er, sorry, Professor. I didn’t know. Why did you keep sending them, if you knew I wasn’t responding?”
There’s a twinkle in her eyes, one that really makes her look like she belongs in this room. “I seem to remember a first year student, some years ago, who didn’t open his letter until it was delivered to him by someone who would ensure he received it. You aren’t living with your relatives now, though, are you?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Well, Miss Granger informed me that you might need something of a push.”
Harry’s head is spinning, just a bit. “You talked to Hermione about me?”
“She didn’t have much to say,” McGonagall says. “She said that you seemed to be having a difficult time responding to her letters as well.”
“I’m not having a difficult time,” Harry protests. “I—I’ve been cleaning.”
She arches an eyebrow at him, and he flushes.
“I’ve just been busy,” he amends. “Auror training didn’t work out, so I…”
As he quiets, McGonagall watches him in interest. “Auror training? I wasn’t aware that you had started it.”
Harry sighs, frustrated with himself for bringing it up in the first place. It’s embarrassing, and stupid, and Ron really wishes he would come back but he thinks that’s a bad idea in every capacity, and—
“They gave us an immediate admission,” Harry admits. “If we wanted it. Me and Ron and Hermione, I mean. Ron’s still there, but, well…” He shrugs. “I guess I’ve just had my share of Dark Lord hunting in my life.”
“So, you don’t want to become an Auror?”
“I don’t know.” It feels like he’s a fifth year all over again, suddenly. “I really just said the first thing that came to mind, honestly, Professor. I mean, Voldemort hunted me my whole life. Maybe I’d have to deal with that until I was fifty. I didn’t know.”
“You wanted to be an Auror because you thought you would spend your entire life trying to kill Voldemort?”
“Yeah, I guess.” He glares down at his empty cup. “But now I’m cleaning, see? That’s important too.”
“That’s pathetic, Potter.” It’s Snape’s portrait again, haughty and irritating as ever. “Minerva is offering you a fine chance, and you would refuse it just to sit around and mope?”
“I’m not moping!”
“Now, now,” says Dumbledore gently. “Harry is still young, Severus! Don’t you remember being young?”
Harry doesn’t think he imagines the edge to those words.
Snape huffs, turning away without a word.
“Are they always like this?” Harry asks McGonagall, frustrations cast aside in favour of his curiosity.
McGonagall has that tired look on her face again. “Unfortunately,” she says. “But Professor Snape is right, Harry. You need to do something. Teaching is incredibly fulfilling, you know.”
Harry doesn’t miss the use of his first name, the tone of her voice. She wants him to say yes, but there’s a room full of letters in his house and a thousand speculative news articles about what their saviour is up to now, and—
“You really think it’s a good fit for me?”
He isn’t really one to think about things, is he? A year ago, he probably would’ve jumped right into something like this. He kind of did, didn’t he, when they formed the DA? Not that he had thought himself the best for that position, either, but he had done it, consequences be damned.
But he pauses to think about it now. What it would mean to come back here. Hogwarts is the only place he ever really called home.
And he finds he’s really not thinking about it at all.
Almost absently, he nods. “I can try, Professor.”
“I expect you to do more than try, Potter.” But she is smiling, just a bit. “Now, there is some paperwork to be done to formalize it all, but why don’t we run through what your year would look like?”
He waits, wishing he had not drunk his tea so fast.
“You and your two classmates will be teaching alongside another professor, for the majority of the year. Of course, you may—and I encourage you to—approach other professors about their methods, as you are still only learning. Though your mentor professor will largely be dictating what is on the syllabus, with each term you will be given more and more authority within the classroom. As such, your responsibilities will grow. I trust you can handle that?”
“Er, yes, ma’am.”
“Good. Then, I will expect you here at least one week before September.”
Harry blinks. “That’s it?”
“Aside from the forms.” McGonagall lifts her hands and waves her wand wordlessly, bringing a long scroll of parchment. She sets it eloquently on the desk between them, then flattens it out and turns it towards Harry.
“Just your signature,” she says briskly.
There are words inked out on the long piece of paper, but Harry figures that if they’re really that important, McGonagall will probably tell him what they are. He signs on the line, and the parchment gives a brief glow, gold as the sun.
“Professor,” he says slowly, setting the quill down, “who would be helping me, exactly? Most of the Defence teachers I had…”
McGonagall rolls the parchment up, not meeting his eyes. “I’m aware that it is far from a conventional situation, nor is it necessarily a pleasant one, I’m sure.”
“Minerva believes I should be your personal tutor.” Snape has returned to sneer down at him, in a clear and characteristic flare of dramatics. “Given that your other competent teachers are, of course, dead.”
Harry wonders if it would be worth pointing out that he, too, is technically dead, then decides he’d better not.
“Oh, like how Professor Binns teaches?” Harry asks, glancing at McGonagall.
“I am not a ghost, Potter!”
McGonagall is hiding a smile. “Yes, somewhat. Severus can’t leave Hogwarts, and I do believe this would be a far better use of his time than harassing the rest of the portraits and myself.”
“He doesn’t sound very happy about it,” Harry points out.
“Yes, well, he will adjust.” McGonagall presses her lips together. “If you have any inquiries, Mr Potter, I am always reachable by owl, or I will be here, preparing for the school year. Otherwise, I expect to see you here a week before the term begins. Understood?”
“Then, you may go.”
He wastes no time in doing so, but once he is out of the office, he takes the time to really look around him. This time, he takes his time as he walks through the castle, trying to see in it all the things that made it home, before it was ever a battleground.
Suddenly, cleaning the house really doesn’t seem so important at all.
August 7th, 1998
“Harry! You should have told us!”
Hermione leans forward, elbows braced against the table, a wide smile on her face. It’s the first time she and Ron have been in Grimmauld Place since Harry started “hiding” here (as Hermione put it when she first stepped through the door), and Harry can’t help thinking that they seem out of place here, after all the long weeks of solitude he has put himself through.
“McGonagall said she talked to you,” Harry says carefully.
Ron nods. “She came by the Burrow. Wanted to talk to Mum about something, I think. I guess it’s been kinda hard to organize everything, after how the last school year went.” He shrugs. “She said we could come back, if we wanted, but there’s no point, really, is there?”
Hermione shoots him a dark look. “There is so. You’re missing out on a lot of knowledge by not going back! And we spent six years, really, preparing for our N.E.W.T.s, so why shouldn’t we go back and take them?”
“Because Kingsley said we didn’t have to?” Ron suggests wryly.
Hermione huffs, and, sensing a lecture, Harry puts in, “It doesn’t matter, really, does it? Anyway, McGonagall said that there are three of us. She doesn’t seem that concerned about N.E.W.T.s.”
It must be the wrong tactic, because Hermione glares at him.
“They’re still important,” she stresses. “I mean, I’m sure you would have gotten an Outstanding in Defence anyway, Harry, but there’s a reason we’re supposed to take them, isn’t there? Who else is teaching?”
Harry shrugs. “She didn’t tell me. Someone to replace her, probably, since she’s Headmistress now.”
“Neville,” Ron supplies. “Ginny said so.”
Hermione blinks. “Not Transfiguration, surely?”
“Herbology, I think. Dunno who would be taking McGonagall’s place.”
“Well, either way,” Hermione says, suddenly bright again, “it’s wonderful of her to give you the opportunity. When we saw her, she said she’d been trying to get a hold of you since the beginning of July!”
Harry looks away from her, shame tugging at his stomach. “Er, yeah, she said something like that to me too. I’ve just been getting a lot of mail, you know…”
Ron grimaces. “I’ve had some reporters after me, too, mate. Always want to know what you’re up to.”
“What have you been up to?” Hermione asks. “You ignored our letters, too. We’ve been worried about you, but, well, I know you said….”
When he asked them to come here, he hoped they could avoid this specific conversation. And so far, everything was going really well. If it were just Ron here, Harry gets the feeling that it wouldn’t have come up at all.
But Hermione is here too, and she doesn’t really care if Harry doesn’t want to have this conversation.
Still, he waves a dismissive hand. “Oh, you know…”
“Have you been to visit Teddy?” Hermione presses. “Andromeda asked if you wanted to. He is your godson, after all.”
Harry feels sick, suddenly. “No, I haven’t.”
“You should,” she says. “He’s so cute! She says he’s already showing signs of being a Metamorphmagus, like Tonks. Isn’t it amazing? He can’t control it yet, of course, but Andromeda says Tonks was like that too.”
“You’ve seen him?”
Hermione frowns. “Yeah, of course. Both of us have, a few times. Sometimes Ron’s mum looks after him, if Andromeda has somewhere to be.”
“Oh.” Perhaps, somewhere in that room, there are letters from Andromeda, too. “I guess I just hadn’t really thought about it. I’ll—er, I’ll go see them, before school starts.”
“You should come by the Burrow, too,” Ron says. “Mum’s all worried about you, you know. It’s like she thinks you haven’t had a real meal since the last time she saw you.”
Harry laughs weakly. “Well, not one as good as anything she would make, at least.”
But she might be right, really. Harry tries to remember the last time he ate something much more substantial than toast, but nothing comes to mind.
“Come by this weekend for dinner,” Ron suggests. “Sunday? I can tell Mum you’ll be there. And ‘Mione will be too, of course. Maybe we could ask Andromeda, and she could bring Teddy.”
Harry nods, not trusting his voice. It’s a good thing, he reminds himself. He wants to see his godson. He wants to see Mrs Weasley. He wants to see Ginny.
So why is there this sense of dread, like he doesn’t want any of that at all?
“We should probably be going, then,” Hermione says. “Ron made plans for us tonight.”
From the way she says it, Harry gets the idea that she’s not very pleased with these particular plans. His lips twitch up a bit.
“It’s not that bad,” Ron insists. “It’s supposed to help build teamwork. I thought you were all for that.”
It’s one of those Aurors-in-training things, then, Harry surmises. Where they go out and get drunk in the spirit of teamwork, or something.
“Better you than me,” Harry tells Hermione, trying for sympathetic.
She purses her lips. “Yes, well, you may be the next one invited, so I wouldn’t speak so soon.”
“You’re the girlfriend,” Harry points out. “Not me.”
He stands with them as they head for the fireplace, glad that the tension that was swirling through the kitchen only minutes ago seems to have been at least mostly swept away.
“Sunday, right?” Ron asks, grabbing some of the Floo powder and turning to look at Harry over his shoulder.
“Yeah, of course.”
Satisfied, Ron nods and steps into the fireplace, throwing the powder down and calling, “The Burrow!”
As he disappears in a whirl of green, Hermione turns her back on the fireplace and meets Harry’s gaze with narrowed eyes.
“If something is wrong,” she says, “you can tell us. You know?”
Weariness tugs at his entire body. “Nothing is wrong, Hermione.”
“And you’ll really be there on Sunday?”
Harry frowns. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Her uncertainty doesn’t disappear, but she nods and turns around to follow Ron, saying, “See you on Sunday,” just before she goes.
Harry watches, chest tight and uncomfortable. What is she seeing in him, exactly? Sure, he’s not feeling overly enthused about dinner at the Weasleys’, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to go...does it?
He shakes his head, frustration bubbling within him. He’ll be there, no matter what, so he really should just stop thinking so much.
For now, the best thing he can really do is keep cleaning. There’s a room upstairs filled with letters that desperately need to go.
August 9th, 1998
Harry’s days usually start out the same:
He wakes somewhere between two and five in the morning, the remnants of some horrific dream chasing the edges of his memory, and then he’ll glare at the ceiling until he comes to terms with the fact that he won’t be falling asleep again anytime soon, and he probably wouldn’t really want to, anyway, if that’s what he’s going to be dealing with. And then he’ll get out of bed, go to the kitchen, make some tea, and do his best to forget about the nightmare.
Since he went to Hogwarts last week, they’ve gotten worse, he has to admit. They’re not as bad as the dreams he had, sometimes, when Voldemort was still around and fucking with his head, but they have their own sort of awfulness to them. There are people he knows are already dead. There are people he dreams about being dead, even though he knows they aren’t. Sometimes, he kills them himself, but when he looks down, the hand wielding the wand is not his own, but Voldemort’s.
But thinking about them doesn’t usually get him anywhere. So, he drinks his tea, and he thinks about what else he can clean in this house, and he sets to work.
The upstairs room with the letters has been mostly untouched since he started piling them in here. He sifts through them absently, guilt tugging deep in his gut, and sorts them into two piles.
Eventually, he comes to the end, and he turns to the pile he has put a little under half the letters onto. Pointing his hand at it, he mutters, “Incendio.”
This is something he has done to pass the time, aside from cleaning. While nonverbal spells took some time to master, wandless magic has come a lot more easily. Perhaps, he thinks, he would just rather perform it without a wand, because sometimes his wand feels too heavy in his hand these days, like it has served its purpose as he has and now it doesn’t see much of a point in anything.
He watches idly until the fire dies out, then looks at the other pile. Knowing that it will be a strenuous task, he picks them up and takes them downstairs, depositing them on the kitchen table before going to make himself more tea.
Sometimes, he finds himself wishing he had taken Occlumency more seriously in fifth year. Clearing his mind would be a great skill to have, these days, when there is nothing around anymore to keep his mind away from the general unpleasantness of the war and everything else. It’s probably not that simple, but he can’t help thinking about it anyway. Maybe, he thinks wryly, Snape will teach him when he returns to Hogwarts at the end of the month.
He brings his tea out to the table and sits down with it, then picks up the first letter from the pile. It’s from Ginny.
He continues on like this for many hours. Every time he runs out of tea, he gets up to make more, until it is a mechanical sort of process. He reads letters from Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna, Neville, Mrs Weasley, McGonagall, Hagrid, Mr Weasley, Andromeda, and even, oddly enough, Narcissa Malfoy.
That’s the last one he reads, and he has to read it a few times before it really sinks in.
Dear Mr Potter,
I first would like to thank you for your good word in mine and my son’s trials. I will be the first to say that I would not have expected such a gesture, but I have since heard that it is quite in-character for you, in fact. Under other circumstances, I would not have chosen to write to you, but over the past months, I have thought to reach out to my estranged sister and make an attempt at reconciliation. It has come to my attention that we are both, unfortunately, quite alone. As well, she is taking care of her only grandchild—your godson, I have been informed.
Understand, Mr Potter, that I would not be writing if my sister had not asked. As it is, though, she seems to value your opinion greatly in this matter, and she says that whether or not I may be a part of Teddy Lupin’s life is not a decision for her alone to make. What you did for Draco and I owes enough of a debt, and, thus, I would not expect you to grant me this simply because it might make me happy. However, you are quite young, and Andromeda would need help to raise another child.
I am terribly sorry if this seems uncouth in any way, but I would ask you to at least consider speaking with my sister on this matter. You have no obligation to me, nor my son. Should you allow me this, we would be greatly indebted to you.
Please, consider your options carefully.
Narcissa Black Malfoy
After the battle, the trials had been long and tedious, honestly. Lucius, for his part, had been sent to Azkaban, unable to buy his way out of imprisonment a second time. However, on Harry’s testimony, both Narcissa and Draco Malfoy were cleared of all charges, and were able to take charge of their assets in Lucius’s absence. Really, Harry wouldn’t consider any of that a reason to owe him anything; frankly, they both did their part to make sure he stayed alive to tell the tale, and that in itself owes enough of a debt on his part. He saved Malfoy from that fire, sure, but Malfoy had (maybe) lied for him first. And Narcissa really had lied for him.
Guilt stirs in his stomach, and he wonders just how long this letter has been sitting, untouched. That would be weeks—maybe even months—that Harry has apparently deprived Narcissa of time with her estranged family. …we are both, unfortunately, quite alone.
Harry thinks he gets that.
He sets the letter aside with a sigh, knowing there’s no response he could possibly draft up that would excuse his ignorance of her request. Another quick shuffle through the other letters shows that she sent no others.
Shaking his head, he stands to make more tea.
Being alone gives him a lot of room to think, though, often, thinking is the last thing he wants to do. And what’s there to think about, really? Which room he’ll be cleaning next, mostly.
It’s a strange sort of confinement he has put himself under. At first, he was here with Kreacher, but then he realized that Kreacher was tidying up after him, and that really just wouldn’t do. So, he sent the house elf back to Hogwarts, as he did after Sirius’s death.
Which is also a terrible thing to think about, so he pushes it away.
He makes his tea. Drinks it. Does the dishes.
It’s only noon.
Exhausted, as he usually is by this point in the day, he decides to retire to bed, to try to get at least another hour of restful sleep. Sleeping in the day, he has come to find, usually helps more than sleeping at night.
That was the issue with Auror training, of course. But he doesn’t really like to think about Auror training, either.
He does get some sleep, though it is far from restful, and then he’s dragging himself through the rest of his daily ritual. He washes the clean floors, and dirties some dishes just so he can wash them again, and he returns to his stack of letters on the table before burning those ones, too. Except for Narcissa’s, that is, which he folds up and sticks in his pocket. He’ll talk to Andromeda about it…eventually.
At some point, his drifting is interrupted by a head in his fireplace.
“Harry!” Ron bellows. “Are you coming?!”
Harry peeks around the corner of the wall at his friend, confused, and then closes his eyes and lets out a long exhale.
Right. He made a promise, and now Ron is here to make sure he stays true to it.
“I’m coming through!” Ron says, and, in only a few seconds, he does exactly that, standing before the fireplace and brushing soot off his robes. “Harry?”
Harry steps into sight. “Hey. Er, what time is it?”
Ron consults his watch, but Harry has a feeling he already knows what the time is. “Four. My mum is going mad. You’ll have to come and put her at ease, mate.”
“Right.” Harry’s feet carry him towards Ron, but he feels faint, almost like he is walking to his death. Except that he’s done that before, and it was somehow a lot less anxiety-inducing than this.
Which is stupid, obviously.
But even knowing that, his heart doesn’t stop racing.
If Ron notices, he doesn’t say anything. Instead, he pushes Harry forward and presses some Floo powder into his hand. All he has to do is call, “The Burrow!” and he’s stumbling out of the fireplace, Ron following close behind.
Immediately, people are descending on him.
“Harry!” This is Mrs Weasley, wrapping him in a tight embrace before he can even consider a verbal response. When she pulls away, her face is stern. “You’re too skinny, dear. You really ought to come by more often. We’ll keep you fed.”
He offers her a weak smile, but doesn’t get a chance to say anything before Ginny is standing in front of him, arms crossed over her chest, eyes blazing. “What have you been doing?” she demands. “Would it have killed you to send one letter?”
He winces, but Ron’s hand falls on his shoulder.
“Mind your own business, Ginny,” he says. “Harry’s been busy, that’s all.”
Briefly, Harry wonders if Hermione told Ron to say that, but quickly shoves the thought away as he looks around the room to see who else is here. There’s George, bereft of his other half, and, on his other side, is Andromeda, holding baby Teddy against her hip.
Shrugging Ron’s hand off of him, Harry approaches the woman and his godson, heart constricting in his chest.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, coming to a stop in front of her. “I didn’t…” He stops, hating the feeling that blossoms behind his eyes. “He’s so big now.”
Teddy turns to face him with bright blue eyes. His hair is a vivid yellow that sort of reminds Harry of the Hufflepuff colours. He gurgles something that might be a greeting, and lets Harry ruffle his hair in response.
“Don’t worry,” Andromeda is saying. “It’s been a busy few months for everyone.”
Harry nods, shoving the guilt aside. “I’ll come by more often,” he promises.
Andromeda smiles. “We would like that a lot, Harry.”
He turns around to see Hermione. She’s positively beaming.
“We haven’t told anybody your news,” she says. “We thought we would save that for you.”
All the eyes in the room turn on him again.
He looks around, blinking. “Er…”
“Are you returning to Auror training?” Ginny asks, tilting her head to the side. “They really want you back, don’t they?”
He shakes his head. “No, not that. I, er—Professor McGonagall offered me a job, actually.”
“Oh!” Ginny smiles. “Neville, too. He’ll be happy about that. You guys will see each other all the time!”
“What are you doing for her?” Mrs Weasley asks. “She mentioned that they’ve been quite overrun trying to get everything ready for the school year, poor dear…”
“Er, teaching.” He glances back at Andromeda, who smiles at him. “It’s a—practicum, sort of thing, I guess, at first.”
Ginny nods knowingly. “Neville is working with Professor Sprout. She wants to retire, I think, but wanted him to replace her.”
“Oh, my, you’re doing the same kind of thing?” Mrs Weasley smiles widely. “That’s wonderful, Harry! You can keep an eye on Ginny for us.”
George gives a little snort, surprising Harry. He had been so quiet, uncharacteristically so, that Harry had forgotten he was even there.
“I think Ginny can look out for herself, Mum. It’s ickle Ronniekins you ought to worry about.”
Ron glares at his brother. “I’m an Auror!”
“In training,” George corrects.
Mrs Weasley cuts in with a, “Why don’t we have dinner, then?” before Ron can say the furious words Harry sees bubbling just behind his lips.
They’re all in agreement about this, at least, and they all settle in at the table while Mrs Weasley puts dishes of food before them. Almost exactly as she takes her seat, Mr Weasley comes through the door to enthusiastic greetings, and then all of them tuck into their meal.
The conversation begins on Ron, who has much to say about his week in training, but then it drifts back over to Ginny, who is getting ready to return to Hogwarts, and then, of course, to Harry, who really ought to be doing the same thing.
“I don’t really have to buy any new textbooks, though,” he points out.
“Yeah, but there’s got to be other stuff, right?” Ginny presses. “I mean, remember all the things in Remus’s classroom? And it was always so different every year.”
Harry doesn’t really want to remember all the things in Remus’s classroom.
“Well, I would imagine it’ll be like Snape’s, then.” He looks down at his food, suddenly not interested in much other than moving it around on the plate with his fork. “We’re sharing, aren’t we?”
“Snape?” George laughs. “Oh, that’s tough, mate. They really couldn’t have gotten anyone else?”
“I mean, he’s just a painting,” Harry points out. “What can he do?”
“Still.” Ron grimaces. “Makes Auror training seem like a breeze, honestly.”
“I thought he was a good teacher,” Hermione says, sniffing. “And he won’t let Harry off easy, will he? I mean, maybe he wouldn’t be my first choice, but at least he knows what he’s doing.”
“Well, who would be your first choice?” Ginny asks, lips twitching up.
“McGonagall, of course. Wouldn’t she be yours?”
“Uh, no.” Ginny shudders. “I don’t envy the sorry bugger who would have to learn under her.”
“Ginny,” Mrs Weasley says warningly, but there is a distinct lack of bite in her words, as if she just really can’t be bothered to scold properly anymore.
And maybe, Harry thinks, she can’t be. Because what’s the point, if Fred isn’t the one she’s scolding?
“Sorry, Mum. Really, though. You think that’s the other position, Harry? Transfiguration?”
He nods. “She seemed pretty busy, when I talked to her. I don’t reckon she would want to teach all those classes on top of that.”
“She’s been teaching for a long time,” Mr Weasley puts in. “Might be nice to get a break from it, especially if Hogwarts is as hectic as the Ministry these days.”
“Is it bad?” Harry frowns. “All the trials are over, though, aren’t they?”
“Yes, well…” Mr Weasley sighs. “Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Kingsley can only do so much, but everyone wants things to change. Says it’s too dangerous to leave things like this, as if they’re expecting another war at any moment. I don’t blame them,” he adds. “It’s not easy to transition away from it so soon. But they want things changed that just can’t be changed. It would take years.”
Harry thinks of the letters he burned, from the Ministry and from complete strangers and from less-complete strangers. He hadn’t bothered seeing what was written in them, knowing he wouldn’t like it anyway, but now he can’t help but wonder.
“It will all settle eventually,” Mrs Weasley says soothingly. “But, Harry, you really should come over more before the school year starts. Percy is busy today, but I’m sure he would love to see you. And you’re looking a little peaky, dear, you know…”
The rest of their conversation over dinner is much lighter, mostly focussed on the upcoming school year, something Hermione is happy to talk about until all their plates are cleared and they begin to drift into the other room again.
Exhausted in a way he hasn’t ever really been before, Harry finds himself by Andromeda, holding Teddy in his arms. The letter from Narcissa burns in his pocket.
“Teddy loves you,” Andromeda murmurs as the baby reaches up to tangle his fingers in Harry’s hair, babbling happily. “He’ll get older, though, you know.”
Harry swallows. “I know.”
“It won’t be hard forever,” she says, offering him a sad smile. “I know you’ll be going to Hogwarts soon, but do write when you get the chance.”
He returns her smile as best he can. “I will. Er, your sister wrote to me.”
Andromeda tilts her head, thoughtful. “Did she? We’ve been writing to each other a bit. She says she wants to fix things, but I’m not so sure… Family is always a bit tricky.”
“She said that I should ask you to let her see Teddy.” Harry hesitates, looking his godson over. “She saved my life, you know.”
Andromeda nods slowly. “Yes, I know.”
“If she can help you, you should take the offer.” Harry smiles down at Teddy as the boy pulls on his hair, then gently detangles his hand and pushes it back again. “But you know her better than I do, so…”
“I don’t really know her at all,” Andromeda admits. “I was beyond surprised when she reached out to me, really, but…” She shrugs. “If she’s genuine, I wouldn’t mind having a sister again. We were close, once.” She says this as if it is some great secret. Maybe it is, Harry thinks. “But she and Bellatrix were always closer. I’ll never regret choosing Ted over them.”
“She seemed genuine,” Harry says honestly. “I don’t mind, though. You don’t need my permission for these sorts of things, you know.”
“I know.” Andromeda looks to Teddy, thoughtful. “But I think it’s important that you get a say. They wanted you to.”
Harry’s mouth dries up, and, suddenly, Teddy feels very heavy. Mutely, he offers him back to Andromeda, who takes him back but watches Harry with concern.
“Are you all right?” she asks. “You look like you’re going to be sick.”
“I’m fine,” he tells her quickly. “Er, it’s getting a bit late, is all.”
But he turns away from her before she can say anything more, finding himself in a sudden circle of Weasleys.
“You should have a drink, Harry.” This is Ginny, grinning at him. “You know, to celebrate! We’re happy for you.”
“Oh, no, that’s—”
But George takes his arm and leads him to sit, and then someone shoves a glass of something in his hand, and, really, he should have known better than to think he could just escape the Weasleys, especially not when he has deprived them of his company for so many months.
And, really, he shouldn’t want to leave. This is a good thing, he tells himself for what feels like the thousandth time. These people are his friends, his family, and he’s happy with them.
“What is this?” he asks suspiciously, turning to face George.
“Just Firewhiskey,” he says, hands out and open in front of him. “I swear.”
Harry glances at Ron, then Ginny, both of whom shrug, and lets out a sigh before taking a sip of the drink. To his surprise, it really does just taste like Firewhiskey, and, when nobody begins laughing madly at him, he can only assume his hair and face are still their regular colours.
“Where are your parents?” he asks after a moment, when it’s clear that the three siblings aren’t going to say anything.
“Mum’s in the kitchen,” says Ginny. “And Dad’s over there, with Andromeda, see?”
Indeed, Mr Weasley has taken his place beside the woman, but Harry doesn’t miss her occasional glances towards him, the slight frown that mars her face.
“We thought you might leave,” George says seriously. “But Mum would be devastated. She won’t let you go until she deems you fattened up enough.”
“I’m not that skinny,” Harry protests. “Besides, I have to go eventually, don’t I? I have, er, things to do.”
“Not until September,” Ginny says brightly. “At least stay a few more hours.”
Hermione looks at him from around Ron, smiling. “You owe us nearly three months of time, Harry. And we still expect you to write, you know.”
“Sorry, mate,” says Ron, shrugging. “We have missed you, though, you know.”
Harry blinks, then feels a small smile tugging at his lips. “I’ve missed you too.”
Ron and Hermione grin, then the four of them sit around him, talking animatedly between a few drinks and a lot of laughs.
For the first time in a very long time, Harry doesn’t find himself thinking much at all, and for that, he’s grateful.
August 17, 1998
Narcissa sends her thanks for speaking with me. We met today, over lunch, and I really do believe her intentions are not bad. Did you know her son is also going to be teaching at Hogwarts? I didn’t see him, but Narcissa seems beyond proud of him. She says that it’s thanks to you he’s able to have such an opportunity. From the sounds of things, they’re both quite grateful for what you’ve done for them.
She said that he would like to meet Teddy, sometime. I’m aware that you’ve had your differences in the past, but I think Teddy might appreciate the extra company. She and Draco were going to visit on Wednesday afternoon. Perhaps you would like to come?
Harry sighs, watching Andromeda’s owl warily. Like McGonagall’s, it doesn’t seem intent on going anywhere until it has a letter to return to its owner, but Harry thinks he could probably shoo it away if he really wanted to.
He’s not sure, yet, though, whether he does want to or not.
For now, he goes to fetch some parchment so he can write a response. If nothing else, he does want to see Teddy, and while a few hours spent with Malfoy and his mother doesn’t sound overly pleasant, Harry supposes it’s not such a bad exchange. He’ll have to get used to Malfoy’s company anyway, apparently, if what Andromeda wrote is true.
Little seems to shock him anymore, he finds. A few years ago, the thought of having to work with Malfoy would be enough to set him into a rage, but now… Well, it doesn’t matter, does it? He needs something to do, other than cleaning and burning letters.
That’s great! I’ll be there on Wednesday.
He folds it up and shakes his head, tying it to the owl’s leg before letting the creature out the window again.
It’s only noon, now. He’s been awake since four, and his vision is beginning to swim. He rises on shaky legs and returns to bed, already sure that today will be a wasted one.
August 19, 1998
When he arrives at Andromeda’s house, he’s glad to see that he is not the first to get there.
Andromeda answers the door with a smile, but leads him into the sitting room with quiet haste. When he enters, Narcissa Malfoy rises to greet him.
“Mr Potter,” she says quietly. “Thank you for allowing us to come here.”
Harry shakes his head. “It’s not my choice, Mrs Malfoy.”
Her lips twitch up a bit, but Harry notes that her face looks very tired. Her blue eyes are dull, and her smile doesn’t come anywhere close to meeting them. Though her hair is pinned up elegantly, and she wears robes of gorgeous black silk, Harry gets the feeling that she has put little effort into her appearance today.
He thinks he understands, though it is a grim sort of thing. The lack of sleep surely shows on his face just as clearly as it does on hers.
Behind her sits Malfoy, but he doesn’t look up at them as they talk. Instead, he is focussed on Teddy, who is sat on the floor by his feet, smiling and babbling at the blond.
“It is,” Narcissa says firmly. “Andromeda values your opinion on this, and so I shall do the same. A child’s life is very important, Mr Potter, and those who exist within it will shape that child’s future indefinitely.”
Harry’s breath catches in his throat, and he looks away from her. “Right,” he says softly. “That’s true, Mrs Malfoy.”
“Have some tea, Harry.” Andromeda offers a cup out to him, then gestures to an empty chair across from the couch Malfoy is sitting on.
He nods weakly, sitting and looking down into the tea with an uncomfortable, yet familiar, tug in his stomach.
He didn’t sleep well last night, he reasons. It’s clearly affecting his emotions, or he wouldn’t have connected Narcissa’s words to his own childhood. Or Sirius and Remus, and the parents he never really knew.
It’s ridiculous, sometimes, how quickly his own thoughts turn on him.
“He really is a sweet boy,” Narcissa says quietly, resuming her seat beside her son. Teddy looks over to her with bright eyes, attempting to crawl over Malfoy’s feet to get to her.
Andromeda smiles. “He is. A lot like his mother was, at this age.”
Harry can see it, too. Though he doesn’t have control of his abilities yet, he seems to favour a pink shade in his hair, at least for right now. But he didn’t know Tonks very well, himself. In this case, he supposes Andromeda would know best.
“Such an impressive ability,” Narcissa muses. “It’s strange to think such a thing may have been hiding in our genes.”
“It could have been Ted,” Andromeda says quietly, and Harry sees Narcissa’s shoulders tense.
And then they fall, and she murmurs something along the lines of “Yes, of course.”
Harry keeps his gaze fixed down on his tea until there is no more liquid in the cup to look at. He thinks back to Andromeda’s letter, the part about Malfoy teaching at Hogwarts, but pushes the thought aside quickly. If he has to work with Malfoy, bringing it up now won’t make a difference. Besides, Malfoy is just as quiet as he is, eyes loosely following Teddy as he crawls around between his and his mother’s feet. It almost seems as though he is actively keeping from meeting Harry’s eyes, and Harry almost finds himself grateful for it.
“He seems to like you,” Andromeda is saying. “You’ll have to come more often, now that Harry is going away.”
Not that Harry ever visited before, though neither of them are going to say it.
“Going away?” echoes Narcissa. “Where is he going?”
“Hogwarts,” Harry puts in before Andromeda can say anything, hating being talked about when he’s perfectly capable of answering for himself. “Professor McGonagall offered me a job.”
Harry watches as Malfoy lifts his gaze, just a bit, grey eyes calculating from across the room.
“Oh? Draco as well.” Narcissa’s lips curl up a bit. “It is quite the honour, especially when you are both so young.”
Harry inclines his head slightly. “It is, Mrs Malfoy.”
“Draco has always been very talented with Transfiguration,” Narcissa continues, and, here, boasting about her only son, Harry can see the comfort in this position. It is familiar. Something she enjoys doing. Because she’s proud of him? Or maybe she just likes the attention it puts on her, as the person who raised him.
“Nymphadora was as well,” Andromeda says with a soft smile. “But very well-rounded, overall… You have to be, to become an Auror, don’t you?”
Harry nods. “Five N.E.W.T.s, I think. Exceeds Expectations or Outstanding. That’s what I wanted to do,” he adds, mostly for Andromeda’s benefit. “Lots of talented Aurors in the Order. They made for a good example.”
Andromeda beams. “Yes, that’s true, Harry. Nymphadora loved her job dearly. She would’ve loved to see you go through Auror training.”
Harry looks back down at his empty cup, stomach twisting. Auror training. Stupid Auror training.
“But I’m not doing that,” he says quickly, throat tightening with a desperation to get away from this topic. “Professor McGonagall seemed to think this would be a better fit for me, anyway.”
“She said something similar to Draco,” Narcissa informs him, voice swelled with pride. “I believe it, of course. He really is very talented,” she adds, like it is a secret and she hasn’t said the exact same thing only two minutes ago.
“Mother,” Malfoy says warningly.
“It’s the truth, Draco.” Narcissa sits up straight, sniffing. “You know it is.”
“The truth,” Malfoy says, voice rough, “is that very few people want to hire ex-Death Eaters.” He looks at Harry, who quickly averts his gaze, then gives a short, impatient sigh. “It has very little to do with my talents, Mother.”
“But they signalled you out,” Narcissa insists.
Malfoy says nothing.
Narcissa shoots Andromeda a weary smile. “Cold feet, I suppose. Such a big change isn’t easy.”
Is it a big change? Harry honestly hasn’t thought about it that way, but he supposes it is. A big change from tea at three in the morning after a night full of awful dreams and afternoon naps and cleaning the house to avoid thinking about all the death within it.
And that realization twists his gut fiercely, shooting ice through his veins.
Abruptly, he reaches forward to place his cup on the table, then stands up.
“I should really be going,” he tells Andromeda, trying for apologetic but surely failing. “It was—nice to see you. And Teddy.”
But he can’t look at his godson, or Andromeda.
“Are you sure?” Andromeda’s tone is alarmed. “You haven’t been here very long. I can make—”
“I’m sure,” Harry says firmly. “Thank you. I’ll write.” He glances at Malfoy and Narcissa. “Mrs Malfoy,” he acknowledges.
And then he turns and makes for the door before any of them can say anything more, knowing that it does no good to stay here while his mind is circling through this ridiculous cycle again.
It’s not unfamiliar, by any means. It’s the path of thoughts that ultimately drew him away from Auror training. That drove him to keep cleaning an already-clean house as if it could some absolve him of his own dirtiness.
He Apparates to Grimmauld Place, and makes some tea. Maybe this was a mistake, but it’s surely too late to back out now. Perhaps it will end the same way his two weeks in Auror training did, and once McGonagall sees how mad he is, she’ll send him away. And then he can clean some more, and put more letters in that upstairs room, and stop thinking.
It isn’t a pleasant thought, not really, but it sticks. Two weeks he lasted in Auror training. If he makes it longer at Hogwarts, it will be a miracle.
August 24, 1998
“Your duty is to the students in this school, above all else.” McGonagall’s gaze is severe as it sweeps across those gathered before her. “Given the circumstances, many of these students will be behind in their studies. Others will be struggling where they did not struggle before. It is your job, then, to ensure their success. Do you understand?”
There is a silent agreement throughout the room, and the Headmistress nods tersely.
“Then,” she says. “You may go. Potter, Longbottom, Malfoy—with me, if you please.”
With a wave, she sends the other gathered staff members down the hall, then turns to lead the indicated three towards the gargoyle statue. They come up to her office in complete silence, and remain standing until she has taken her own seat and looks up at them, unimpressed.
Hastening to sit down beside Neville, Harry folds his hands in his lap and looks at the stern professor nervously. He feels a bit like a first year student again, being disciplined for the first time. Or, perhaps, like when he and Ron flew Mr Weasley’s car to Hogwarts, and were threatened with expulsion. Yes, he thinks confidently. It feels just like that.
“You must first acquaint yourselves with the course material you will be teaching,” McGonagall says briskly. “While, typically, one would have to excel at his or her N.E.W.T. to be considered eligible to teach the content of that class, your situations are not the typical one. All of you are here for a reason, understand. If I didn’t believe you capable, I would not have asked you to come here. Understood?”
All of them nod in agreement, though their tension sings through the room loudly in the absence of their voices.
“In the next week, you will be working closely with your mentor professor to prepare for the term,” McGonagall continues. “But should you need me, you will always have access to my office, as any other professor would. Your individual quarters have been assigned near your respective offices. As staff members, you have the ability to give and take points, and to assign detentions and contact parents as you see fit. However,” she says, sweeping a significant look over all of them, “should it come to light that you are in any way abusing this privilege, I will of course intervene.”
“But Professor Snape did that all the time,” Harry points out, shooting a cheeky grin towards the man in question.
Snape scowls back at him from his portrait. “Only for insufferable idiots like you, Potter!”
McGonagall sighs tiredly. “Your interactions with Professor Snape are what you make them, Harry, but it is not my place to interfere with the lessons he imparts to you unless I feel they are entirely out of line.”
“I assure you, Minerva, I will not be the one out of line.” Snape huffs, turning his back to them. Harry wonders if he knows just how much like a twelve-year-old he seems when he does that.
“That being said,” McGonagall says, fixing her gaze on Harry, “no matter either of your personal feelings on the matter, the situation won’t change, so please don’t think to ask me that it might.”
“I understand, ma’am.”
She nods. “Good. Then, why don’t we go for a walk?”
They all agree readily, and she leads them back down the spiral staircase. They first find Neville’s quarters, not too far from Gryffindor tower. And Harry’s, on the second floor, while Malfoy finds his on the ground floor. As McGonagall said they would be, Harry’s and Malfoy’s, at least, are not far from their respective classrooms.
As they walk the halls, McGonagall rehashes to them a few rules. “While you are no longer students,” she says, “you are still expected to adhere to what I say.”
Harry doesn’t think that will be a problem, in all honesty. Apparently, as professors, they’re allowed to do as much nighttime wandering as they wish (and are even expected to, sometimes, if they suspect students are out past curfew), and Harry lets that thought ease his mind, just a bit. Perhaps three in the morning tea is not off the table just yet.
Eventually, they circle back to McGonagall’s office, and she hands each of them a schedule.
“Dedicate it to memory,” she says severely. “You will not be happy when your class is full of unexpected first year students if you do not.”
“And for the next week, you just want us to plan?” Malfoy looks down at his schedule, a small frown tugging at his lips. “Is that really enough time?”
“If you allow me to help you, it certainly is.” McGonagall sits down behind her desk and looks up at the three of them. “And, as a final point, I would like to remind you all that regardless of any personal slights we may have with one another”—Harry doesn’t miss the way her eyes dart between him and Malfoy, here—“you are to maintain a professional and friendly relationship with your peers here. As such, you may call me Minerva, should we be in a situation like this. Do you understand?”
Again, they all agree, and she waves her hand dismissively. “Then, you may go.”
Malfoy and Neville start towards the door immediately, but before Harry can follow them, McGonagall says, “Professor Snape’s portrait will be moved to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom this afternoon.”
Harry turns to look at her, blinking. “And he’ll just stay there?”
“For the remainder of the year, yes. There is another portrait, however, in your office, that he can move between.”
Harry glances up at the portraits lining the wall. “Won’t he get bored, though? Without you and Professor Dumbledore to talk to, I mean.”
McGonagall’s gaze turns dark. “If you feel the need to engage in amiable chitchat with him, be my guest, but he will not return here until you both can prove that he has no reason anymore to remain with you.”
Harry laughs, almost sorry that Snape still has not returned from his brooding to hear the words. “Yes, Professor. Is that all?”
She hesitates a moment, and just when Harry thinks she is about to send him on his way, she says, “I am here not just to answer your work-related questions, you know.”
He frowns. “Sorry?”
“If you need anything,” she clarifies, “I am always available. I may not be your Head of House anymore, but…”
As the meaning of her words sinks in, Harry quickly shakes his head. “No, I’m okay, Professor, really. Thank you, but, er, I really am fine.”
“Of course,” she says quietly. “Then, you may go.”
Harry wastes no time in doing so, a familiar sort of tiredness weighing him down. It’s only just shy of noon, probably, and he knows that he ought to be fixing his sleep habits, if he’s going to make it through even a portion of this school year, but—
Well, he’s tired, dammit, and he only slept four hours last night. There’s always tomorrow, isn’t there? He can fix this tomorrow.
His quarters are already clean, of course, in preparation for his arrival. There’s a small kitchen, a single bedroom, a desk and a settee. Harry spends little time exploring, knowing that that will be a task better left for when he actually needs the distraction, and settles down on the settee to sleep, just until he has to meet McGonagall and Snape.
Tomorrow, he reasons. He can fix it tomorrow.
August 25, 1998
It is two in the morning.
Harry can remember many times, during his time at Hogwarts, that he was up this late. Finishing essays that were due that morning, sneaking about under the Cloak, and, yes, sometimes staring at the ceiling in annoyance because of nightmares. That part didn’t come until after fourth year, though, really, and those dreams were beyond mild compared to what wakes him up these days.
But he’s used to this, at least. And in some capacity, the normalcy of it is a bit appreciated in an unfamiliar environment. He is in Hogwarts, sure, but it’s not exactly the Gryffindor common room, is it?
He makes tea, then sits on the settee as he drinks it and stares at the wall. Focussed on the taste of the liquid, on the way the shadows fall across the room, he firmly pushes the memories trying to resurface from the nightmare away.
When his cup is empty, he rises and goes through the mechanical movements of washing it and putting it away. Then, he turns to explore the parts of his quarters that he didn’t see at first glance. There are books on the bookshelf by the settee, he notes, mostly about Defence Against the Dark Arts, though there are some Potions texts as well, he notes. Harry wonders who they belonged to first, aside from the books that are obviously Snape’s, then quickly decides he would rather not know. Many people had this job before him, after all, and it’s probable that they’ve left things behind over the years.
Looking away from that, he ventures into the bedroom. His belongings have been put here for him, though he really does have very little. His Cloak, clothes, the Marauder’s Map… In the bottom of his trunk, there are some pictures he found in Grimmauld place, of Sirius and Remus and his parents, but there aren’t very many of them at all. And the photo album Hagrid gave him all those years ago, filled with pictures of his parents. But he hasn’t looked at it in quite some time, now. He’s not sure he could stomach it, when he can still recall so clearly the way they looked when he held the Resurrection Stone in his hand, faced with his own death.
And he can’t really stomach the thought of it, either, so he pushes that away too and instead puts his attention solely on his surroundings.
Someone has taken care to furnish this place in a way they think he would like, he realizes. With reds and golds, much like the dorm he slept in for six years. There are no curtains on this bed, and it is bigger than the ones in the dorms, but it still feels the same, in a way.
There’s a wardrobe with a mirror on the inside, but little else.
Across from the bedroom is a small, private washroom. Again, there is not much inside it, and Harry must admit that there is really very little to see here. A quick check of the time informs him that he will still have to wait at least three hours until breakfast will be served, and he sits at the table miserably, debating what to do with this information.
After only about ten minutes, he stands and heads for the door. It’s not a long walk to the Defence classroom, and he can really only hope that Snape will be sleeping soundly within his portrait—or, better yet, will be in the cozier space offered by the portrait McGonagall has put in Harry’s office.
They spent the afternoon yesterday together in the classroom, Snape telling him what and what not to do, running through the syllabi Snape prepared when he was in the position, and only tweaking it slightly despite Harry’s more frequent protests. In fairness, Snape does have more experience with teaching than Harry, but he doesn’t have much more experience teaching this subject.
As per McGonagall’s suggestion, though, he’ll be taking the next week to familiarize himself with the texts they’ll be teaching over the course of the year. They’re the ones Snape set, though, McGonagall says, he can probably choose his own next year if he thinks an adjustment should be made.
Harry doesn’t know if it matters much, though. The seventh year text is still sitting on his desk in his classroom, and he settles down to begin reading again. He knows the content already, for the most part. While he was only a fifth year at the time, he did spend quite a bit of his time learning beyond his level in order to effectively teach even the students with more classroom experience than him.
Still, he flips through it anyway, only half the words really registering as his eyes scan over them.
“What in the world are you doing, Potter?”
Harry gets the feeling that Snape probably isn’t a morning person. Never turning his gaze away from the textbook, he says, “Reading.”
“Clearly.” The sneer is obvious in the painted man’s voice. “But most civilized people would be asleep at this time.”
Harry’s lips twitch up a bit at that. “You’re hardly one to say what civilized people do, surely?”
“You still haven’t answered my question, Potter.”
“Yes, I did.” He flips the page. “It’s too early for breakfast, isn’t it? Oh, wait. You wouldn’t know, would you? Sorry, Professor, I didn’t mean to offend.”
“Trust me, Potter, I am well aware of my limitations. But I, unlike you, do not need sleep to continue existing.”
“But I woke you up?”
Snape pauses. Then, he says, “No, and that is not the point.”
“Well, stop complaining, then.” Harry folds the corner of the page and closes it before finally turning to face the grouchy Potions Master. “I’m doing what you told me to do, for the record.”
“I’m aware,” Snape says, eyes narrowed. “But I never told you to do it at three in the morning.”
“It’s closer to four, now.”
“That is irrelevant.”
“Not really.” Harry stands, pushing the chair at the desk in and stepping out from around it. “And, anyway,” he adds, “I hardly think you need to impose a bedtime on me.”
“I never said anything of the sort,” Snape says, huffing. “You are an insufferable brat, Potter.”
Harry sets about exploring this new space too, searching for all the nooks and crannies he wouldn’t have ever thought to look for as a student. It occurs to him, suddenly, that there are a lot of places an unwanted person could hide in this classroom.
“What are you looking for?” Snape demands.
“Nothing,” Harry says. “Everything. Do you know how well-repaired the wards are on Hogwarts?”
“I’m sure they are beyond acceptable standard. Are you always so paranoid, or is it simply the ungodly hour of the day?”
“I’m not paranoid.” Harry sets his hand against the desk closest to him and glares at Snape. “Maybe I just like to be cautious. Besides, how many times did people tell me Hogwarts was the safest place in the world, only for Voldemort to try and kill me here anyway? At least at home I know I’m the only one who can mess with my wards.”
“You are paranoid, Potter.” Snape shakes his head. “And your paranoia is quite offensive to the Headmistress, mind.”
“You are annoying. I see why McGonagall wanted to get rid of you so badly.”
“I am doing this for your benefit, Potter.”
Harry ignores him, resuming his search of the classroom. Eventually, Snape’s biting words fade out completely, and his watch informs him that breakfast will be starting in fifteen minutes. He leaves Snape on his own and heads for the Great Hall.
To his surprise, he isn’t the first person there. At the middle of the table sits McGonagall, Malfoy on her right side. They’re conversing quietly over what looks to be two goblets of water, but they both quiet and turn to look as Harry enters the Hall.
Briefly, he considers turning and walking away. He really hasn’t slept enough for this, after all.
But his feet carry him up to the table anyway, and he finds himself taking the seat beside Malfoy with a quiet “Good morning” directed at the both of them.
“You never struck me as much of a morning person, Potter,” Malfoy says.
“I’m not, really.”
“You don’t have to be here so early,” McGonagall tells him after a brief pause wherein she considers both him and Malfoy. “Your attendance at mealtimes will be no different from when you were a student.”
Harry nods, not sure if it would be better or worse to outright agree with her assumption.
Thankfully, he is saved from having to decide as food begins to appear on the table. He busies himself with filling his plate, wishing he could at least pretend to have an appetite. As it is, he eats little more than toast, and he slips out of the Hall again before Malfoy or McGonagall can say another word to him.
He returns to the classroom, and while Snape is still annoyed with him, he’s willing to be productive now, at least.
By noon, he feels they have made little progress at all, and his eyes are beginning to droop just a bit. Shaking himself, he focusses on reading more from the seventh year textbook, but it is a hopeless task; within mere minutes, his eyelids are closing, and it is only the snappish shout of “Potter!” that makes him lift his head again.
He hastens to right his glasses, then turns and glares at Snape.
“You are meant to sleep in the night, Potter, not the middle of the day.”
“I wasn’t sleeping,” Harry protests weakly.
“Yes, you were.” Snape looks down at him with disgust. “Perhaps, if you slept at three in the morning, you would not be so tired now.”
Harry sighs, turning to look at his book again. He can’t stop Snape from lecturing him, but that doesn’t mean he has to listen.
“How would you ever expect to teach classes like this?” Snape is saying. “Idiot boy! I won’t wake you up every time you foolishly doze off after staying up too late. Minerva had assured me that you were not the same arrogant brat you were in school, but I fear she—”
Harry looks up, blinking, to see Malfoy standing at the entrance to the classroom. He stands with confidence, but his eyes betray his uncertainty, darting from one side of the classroom to the other, as if looking for threats.
And Snape says Harry is paranoid.
“—Clearly, she intentionally misdirected me, perhaps because she believes that even in my death I should have to suffer at the hands of another miserable Potter boy, as if I have not—”
“Shut up,” Harry says wearily. “Do you need something, Malfoy?”
With hesitant steps, Malfoy enters the room and comes to a halt before Harry’s desk. He sets something between them, and Harry peers over to see what it is.
“It’s from my aunt,” Malfoy says diplomatically. “I thought, perhaps, you might want to see it too.”
It’s a picture of Teddy, waving enthusiastically at the camera and babbling something to his grandmother, most likely. His hair is brilliantly red, his eyes a vivid blue.
Harry’s throat tightens. “Andromeda sent this to you?”
Malfoy eyes him curiously. “I asked her to.”
“It’s something my mother wants. Family. She’s trying to get that back, now.” Malfoy pauses, then pulls the picture away. “My aunt told me you don’t visit often.”
Harry watches the place on the desk where the picture was, at a loss for words.
“But if you asked her,” Malfoy adds, “perhaps she would send you photos, too. He is your godson, after all.”
Harry doesn’t know if the words are supposed to sting, but, then, this is Malfoy. Of course they are. No matter what Andromeda said about him being grateful for what Harry said at his trial, he is still, well, Malfoy.
“I don’t see how any of this is really your business,” Harry finally snaps.
“It’s not, really.” Malfoy narrows his eyes. “I just thought you might like to know that the option is there. While I’m sure Professor Snape is excellent company, maybe you might want pictures of someone you care about around you too.”
“I care about Professor Snape,” Harry mutters sullenly.
“You care about driving me to absolute insanity, you mean,” Snape shoots back, tone sour.
Harry glares at him. “Because I don’t go to sleep at your imposed bedtime?”
“Because you are an idiot, Potter.”
When Harry looks back at Malfoy, he sees the blond’s lips twitching, as if he is trying not to laugh.
“Well, thanks,” he says, trying and failing miserably to sound cold. “But if you want to torment me with something, there are better ways to do than use a baby as leverage.”
“Who said anything about tormenting you?” Malfoy raises an eyebrow at him. “I’m not twelve anymore, Potter. I bring it up because your absence in Teddy’s life makes my aunt unhappy, and my mother desperately needs someone happy in her life now. It has nothing to do with you, I assure you.”
Harry sighs, looking down at his book, unseeing. “It’s still none of your business.”
“And yet you envy me for having something that is well within your reach.” Malfoy shakes his head. “Do try writing to her, at least. See you around, Potter.”
And, with that, he leaves. Harry can only watch where he has walked away, mouth dry.
“You are pathetic, Potter,” comments Snape.
“Yeah,” Harry mutters, shaking himself and moving to find some parchment and a quill and ink in the desk drawers. “I know.”
And, cursing Malfoy, and maybe himself, too, just a bit, Harry writes a letter to Andromeda.
August 30, 1998
“You are falling asleep, Potter.”
Harry scowls. “I am not.”
“I was a teacher long enough to see the signs,” Snape tells him, irritated. “It is one o’clock—”
“—and you are falling asleep at your desk for the fifth day in a row.”
“Maybe you’re just boring me to death,” Harry grumbles.
“Yes, very good, Potter,” he drawls. “Blame others for your own very obvious shortcomings.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me!”
“I could list many things wrong with you, Potter, but it would take more days than we have together.”
“That’s not what I mean,” Harry says impatiently. “I’ll be fine, and, anyway, I think you would miss me if I didn’t come around after three-a.m. tea.”
“I can’t say I ever really find myself looking forward to your company, actually.”
“But who would you complain to?” Harry sighs, leaning his elbows against the desk and rubbing at his eyes. “I won’t pass out in the middle of class, if that’s what you’re worried about. I’ll even start drinking coffee, if that will make you feel better.”
“Maybe you could try sleeping through the night,” Snape suggests.
“Maybe you could try minding your own business,” Harry mutters.
“I see you two are getting along as famously as ever.”
Harry looks up to see McGonagall striding into the room, amusement written all over her face. Yes, of course she would be laughing, Harry thinks. She’s the one who manufactured all of this, after all.
“Good afternoon,” he says as pleasantly as he can. “I don’t suppose you’re about to offer to take Professor Snape back?”
“Not today,” McGonagall says. “I daresay he’s been enjoying your companionship this past week.”
“He is a nuisance, Minerva.”
Harry rolls his eyes. “It’s been interesting, to say the least. Do you want to sit?” Without waiting for her to speak, he picks up his wand and Conjures a chair for her.
She takes the seat and folds her hands in her lap, studying Harry very carefully. “I wanted to see how you were settling. Severus informs me you’re aptly prepared for the term?”
Harry blinks. “He said that?”
She inclines her head. “Yes. We went over the course plans, and I must say I agree. There is no such thing as too much preparation, however.”
“Oh, I know, Professor.” He smiles wryly. “I’ll be ready for the first day, promise.”
“A good place to start,” says Snape loudly, “is with a good night of sleep.”
Harry ignores him. “I think the hardest part is really just trying to figure out what the past professors didn’t teach. Which is a lot,” he adds. “I might be nervous about this if Lockhart hadn’t been one of my earliest examples.”
McGonagall’s lips twitch up at that. “Yes, I would think so. I have the utmost faith in you, though, Harry. I truly do think this is a good fit for you. Honestly, I had been a bit surprised when you said you wanted to be an Auror.” She shakes her head. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Your father was the same, after all.”
“Well, thanks.” Harry tries for a smile, but fears he fails quite miserably.
“You’ll see in time,” she insists. “It is a good fit for you. You wouldn’t have done the things you did in school if it were not.”
Harry looks down. “Er, thanks, Professor, but I really just did what I had to do. I dunno if it really means anything else.”
When Harry glances up at her again, he thinks her eyes are twinkling a bit. Is that something one learns when they become the head of the school? Perhaps Dumbledore taught her. Soon she’ll be offering him lemon drops every time he sees her.
“You’ll see,” she says. “Now, I wanted to remind you that you are, of course, required to attend the feast on Tuesday. Classes will begin the following day, so do be on time for that. Other than that, everything has been addressed or will be when all are in attendance. Do you understand?”
“Good. Then, I will leave you and Severus alone, but good luck. Should you need me, I am always available to you.”
This smile feels a little more genuine. “Thanks, Professor McGonagall.”
“Minerva,” she reminds him. “Have a good afternoon, Harry.”
With that, she rises and turns to go. Harry watches for a moment, then waves his hand to Banish the chair. It’s getting easier to do wandless magic nonverbally, he notes with great pride.
“I’m surprised that is not a talent you wanted to show off to the Headmistress,” Snape drawls. “How long have you been able to do that?”
Harry shrugs. “I started trying it over the summer. Before I had someone to keep me company at three in the morning,” he adds cheekily.
“You are depraved, Potter.”
“You’re one to talk!”
“Perhaps, if you told me why you refuse to sleep, I could prescribe you a potion,” Snape says, not for the first time. “But there is no cure for stubbornness, or I would’ve given it to you seven years ago.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Harry responds, also not for the first time. “Since you’re so worried about me falling asleep, I’ll go for a walk, get some fresh air. Not that you would understand what that feels like.”
“I beg to differ.” Snape sniffs indignantly. “It is a breath of fresh air every time you leave this classroom.”
Then, Harry supposes, it will be a welcome reprieve for both of them.
Standing up, he says, “I’ll be back in an hour.”
“I will be counting down the minutes with dread, I assure you.”
Harry rolls his eyes, but doesn’t bother giving the man a response. One thing, at least, is that nobody is expecting him to be respectful towards Snape. He does have some respect for the man—it would be hard not to, after seeing what he died for—but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to get back for the past six years. Besides, anything aside from biting remarks between the two of them would just be weird, and Harry figures he’s got enough weird in his life already.
He walks out to the grounds, focussing on the feeling of the late summer sun above him, rather than…well, everything else. It’s true that he needs more sleep, but he doesn’t get why Snape seems to think it’s any of his business. Harry is fine. He just has nightmares. But he doesn’t have them if he doesn’t sleep.
So, he’s fine.
But that’s what he said about Auror training, too, his mind supplies unhelpfully.
He wanders around the lake, pushing the thoughts away. It’s quiet, in a way Harry supposes it won’t be in a week. That’s not so bad, though; the quiet leaves more room to think, after all.
As he loops around the lake, he sees someone else walking in his direction, and squints against the harsh glare of the sun to see who it is.
And, of course, before he can even plan his escape, Malfoy calls out to him, “Potter!”
Harry suppresses a groan. He came outside to get away from snotty Slytherin gits, not find himself another one. But, he thinks, Malfoy hasn’t really been so bad since they got here. Aside from their conversation about Andromeda and Teddy, Malfoy hasn’t even really engaged with him much at all. They greet each other at breakfast—though Harry would hesitate to say it is in a friendly manner—because they are always some of the first people there, and then again at dinner, when they inevitably wind up stuck sitting beside each other. Harry doesn’t eat lunch, much to Snape’s chagrin, but he figures they’d probably be sat together at that, too.
He comes to a stop just a few metres away from the blond, loosing a tired sigh. “Malfoy,” he acknowledges.
Now that he is closer, Harry can see that Malfoy is clearly pissed off about something. He’s scowling, and his eyebrows are knitted together tightly.
It occurs to Harry, suddenly, that every other time he has seen Malfoy since his trial, he has looked rather…emotionless.
“McGonagall seems to think that we don’t get along,” Malfoy tells him, irritation laced all through his voice.
Harry blinks. “Er, well, is she wrong?”
“Doesn’t matter.” Malfoy waves a dismissive hand at him. “She said that we need to start, though. Or something like that.”
“Huh?” Harry frowns at him. “Why does it matter? And we’re getting along just fine right now, aren’t we? Are you having me on, Malfoy?”
“No!” Malfoy glares at him. “I’m just saying what she told me. And I wouldn’t be so annoyed with you if you just stayed in one place, for Merlin’s sake. Snape told me you left in a huff and didn’t say where you were going.”
“I did not leave in a huff.” Harry crosses his arms over his chest, considering some choice words for his mentor. “And I did so tell him where I was going, because he seems to think I’m some little kid who needs looking after.”
“Maybe a leash would be helpful for you,” Malfoy grumbles.
“Nothing.” Malfoy shakes his head. “Listen, I don’t care if you don’t like me. But I need this job, and since McGonagall would choose you over me in a heartbeat, all I’m asking for is your word that you won’t fuck this up for me. Do you understand, Potter? She’s saying we need to get along because she’s looking for an excuse to make me leave.”
Harry thinks about that for a moment, then uncrosses his arms and studies Malfoy carefully. “I think you’re being a bit overdramatic.”
“I am not, Potter, and I would thank you not to suggest so again.”
“No, no, you are. McGonagall offered you the job, didn’t she? I don’t think she’s just itching to get rid of you. Now, if you don’t mind, I should probably get back, so my live-in dead man can yell at me some more.”
But as Harry goes to walk past him, Malfoy grips his wrist. Hard.
“Don’t walk away from me,” he says. “I’m completely serious, Potter. You wouldn’t understand. Nobody wants someone who’s Marked to associate with them.”
Harry sighs, glancing back at him. “But she offered you the job.”
“Because Snape told her to!”
Harry only lets that surprise him for a second, and then he says, “She didn’t have to listen to him, though. And, really, Malfoy, I’m associating with you just fine. If it bothered me that much, I would have told them to send you to Azkaban with your father.”
Malfoy’s jaw tightens, but he says nothing.
“And Snape was Marked, too, but he still taught here.”
“He was a spy.”
“And you saved my life.”
Malfoy scowls at him. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’m not. Will you let me go, now? I’m not going to get you sacked, I swear.”
Malfoy’s eyes scan his face for a long moment, and then he drops his grip on Harry. “Call me Draco, then.”
“Just with her,” Malfoy insists. “So she thinks we’re being friendly. It’s professional, Potter, though I’m sure you wouldn’t understand the meaning of that if it bit you on the arse.”
“You’re not making a very good case for yourself,” Harry points out.
Malfoy rolls his eyes. “It’s just a request, Potter. I can’t say you have to do it, and I certainly don’t need to kiss your feet like any other person would.”
Now, it is Harry’s turn to scowl. “Fuck off, Malfoy.”
This time, when he turns around, Malfoy doesn’t reach out for him. He stalks back to the castle, unable to keep the anger off his face. After that interaction, he’s almost looking forward to going back to Snape.
And isn’t that just all kinds of miserable, he thinks, stifling a snort.
He has a feeling that if he makes it through all this, it will be a very, very long year.
Chapter 2: September
[as of 24/10/19 this chapter is unedited]
September 1, 1998
Harry wakes up at three-fifty-two.
He takes tea in his office, and listens to Snape drone on and on about the benefits of good sleep. After that, he cleans, even though it is already clean, thanks to the house-elves. Snape says he is clearly insane, and Harry is almost inclined to agree with him.
There’s a picture on his desk of Teddy that Andromeda sent him yesterday. It’s not the same one as Malfoy’s, but Harry secretly thinks this one is cuter, anyway. Teddy’s hair is pink, like Harry often remembers his mum’s being, and he’s thoroughly focussed on some sort of box-shaped toy.
But, the thing is, Harry can’t look at it for too long, or he starts to feel sick. So he turns the frame down and tries not to feel too bad about it. Amazingly, Snape doesn’t comment on this, though Harry’s sure the man has something to say about it.
So, he cleans. And then he returns to the desk and turns the frame up again, frowning deeply.
“Perhaps you’re acting oddly because you never sleep,” Snape suggests.
“I don’t sleep because I’m acting oddly,” Harry corrects absently. “Remus must be so disappointed in me.”
“You truly are delusional, if you think I want to hear you wax on about Lupin.”
Harry sighs, then turns the frame back down. “I’m just saying. And, anyway, I thought it might be something you would have in common.”
“Being disappointed in you?” Snape snorts. “You never gave me any expectations in the first place, Potter.”
Harry shakes his head, lips twitching up a bit. “I guess that’s true.”
“But,” Snape says, voice lower, “I sincerely doubt any of your father’s friends would be disappointed in you.”
Harry stares ahead of him, then blinks sharply as the door begins to blur. He gives a short laugh, disturbed at himself. “That almost sounds like a compliment, Professor.”
“Yes, well.” Snape sniffs. “As it turns out, I don’t share their opinion. I was merely stating a fact.”
Harry shakes his head. “I need more tea,” he declares.
“You need to sleep.”
“Don’t you have anything better to do than criticize me?” Harry complains. “I’m not going to listen to you.”
“Clearly, as you never have before.”
Harry wraps his hands around his empty cup, then quietly calls for one of the house-elves. In short time, he has a full cup of steaming tea again, and he lets it clear his mind of all those other stupid things it seems determined to make him think about.
Unfortunately, his mind isn’t the only one.
“Do you truly believe Lupin would be unhappy with you?”
Harry shoots the portrait a dirty look. “I dunno, sir, I can’t exactly ask him, can I?”
Snape rolls his eyes. “Obviously. But you shouldn’t need to ask is what I’m saying.”
“Like you never thought my mum wouldn’t have been disappointed in you,” Harry grouches. “I’m ignoring his son, for Merlin’s sake. I’m supposed to be his godfather, and it’s really even worse considering how torn up over the fact that my godfather was only in my life for two years I was. I mean, honestly, Malfoy has probably seen Teddy more times than I have, and he only met him for the first time two weeks ago!”
“You are being melodramatic, Potter.” Snape sounds bored, but, surprisingly, not annoyed. “Of course I thought your mother would be disappointed in me. You seem to forget it was I who sentenced her to death.”
“Shut up,” Harry tells him tiredly. “It’s not like you killed them. Anyway, you weren’t my godfather, so it doesn’t matter, does it? You’re missing the point.”
“I never miss the point, I assure you.”
Harry takes a sip of his tea, figuring there’s really no point in responding to that.
“I suspect your mother would have been disappointed in me for a plethora of other reasons, however,” Snape continues. “I believe, were she still alive, she would have had some rather colourful expressions to say to me regarding our relationship. I was not your godfather, no, but I did have a duty to protect you.”
“Don’t say that,” Harry mutters. “You’ll make me think you care about me.”
“I care about your obnoxious habit of taking the blame for things that are not your fault.” Snape sighs, rubbing at his painted nose. “If only because I sincerely wish it would stop, and I am much less fond of the hours at which you choose to mope over them.”
“I’m not moping. Stop saying that. I’m just drinking my tea.”
“And telling me how poor of a godfather you are,” Snape points out.
Well, that’s true.
“You don’t have to listen,” Harry tells him.
“Oh, yes, because talking to yourself is so much healthier. At least this way there’s someone to tell you when you’re being absolutely idiotic. Which you are,” he adds. “And if these are the sorts of things that keep you up until these ungodly hours, I hope you know how incredibly pathetic that is.”
“It’s not,” Harry says flatly. “And I don’t think it’s pathetic, either, really. I mean—”
“Spare me, Potter.” Snape sneers down at him. “If you’re going to subject me to your awful whining, at least expect me to respond to it.”
Harry is on his feet before he even realizes it, turning and glaring at Snape. “Whining? Are you fucking kidding me? Oh, yes, Professor, I’ve always been such a whiner, absolutely. Spent my entire life raised to kill a madman and all I ever did was whine about how unfair it all is. And don’t you think that’s a little rich, anyway, coming from you? All you’ve done this past week is complain about me! And I don’t even want to be here, because Merlin knows I did so well in fucking Auror training. So can you just shut up already?!”
Snape opens his mouth, then closes it again, almost as if Harry has, somehow, miraculously, stumped him completely.
Breathing hard, Harry sits again and downs the rest of his tea, wishing, not for the first time, that there were more things here he could clean. Before he got his Hogwarts letters, cleaning wasn’t such a bad chore, not really. Not unless he did it wrong, anyway (and he often did, at first, but by the time he was older, it was fine. If he was doing chores for Petunia, he was just slightly less likely to have to deal with Dudley).
The thing about it, though, is that it is an excellent distracter.
Harry didn’t like thinking much as a kid, either. It usually just made him miserable, because he had so very little to not be miserable about until he came to Hogwarts, but, really, he just left one awful reality for another. And now he’s here.
And all he wants to do is clean.
Maybe that’s ironic. He’s not really sure, in all honesty. It might not be the best thing for him, but it keeps him occupied.
He is not occupied right now.
“Why did you accept, then?” Snape finally asks.
Harry looks over his shoulder, exhaustion tugging at his bones. “I don’t know. But I doubt I’ll last the year. Isn’t that something, Professor Snape? I’d be the worst professor this subject has ever seen.”
“Lockhart really was worse,” Snape says pointedly. “And, while I find your defeatist attitude out of character, I will be the first to say I will not let you give this up.”
Harry can’t look at him, suddenly. “Why?”
“If I didn’t think you would be at least passable in this job,” Snape says, “I would never have agreed to help you. As it is, your utter failure to look after yourself is rather worrisome.”
“But you didn’t tell McGonagall.”
“No,” Snape allows. “I did not.”
“Must you question my every decision?” Snape sighs dramatically, but Harry has always gotten the feeling that the man rather enjoys explaining all his motives like this. “I have no intentions of sabotaging your career before it has even begun. As it is, Professor Dumbledore gave me an opportunity when few others would, and when I had nowhere else to turn. I do believe Minerva has done something similar for you, Potter.”
“I could have gone anywhere,” Harry says, and it’s true. Really, all those letters in his upstairs room…at least a third of them had to have been job offers. Everyone wants him, because he’s Harry Potter.
And he thinks he kind of gets what Snape is saying.
He turns around again, slowly, and studies the man in the portrait with deep thought.
“So,” he eventually says, trying for conversational, “you really do have a heart after all?”
Snape scowls. “I am a painting, Potter. What you see is what I have.”
“Ah, no, I can’t see your charming personality.” Harry grins at him. “I just have to put up with it anyway.”
“Then, we understand each other.”
Harry laughs. “I guess so. But…you really do think this is a good job for me? Why do you care? You didn’t even like me.”
“Yes, well, that doesn’t mean you are untalented.” Snape makes a face at this, as if he has swallowed something sour. “I believe it would be a good fit for you because you showed potential in my Defence Against the Dark Arts class. Not because you defeated the Dark Lord. Really, that was probably a fluke, at best. Nobody before you had done it. You’re not that special, really, Potter.”
It should be offensive, maybe. Should make Harry want to yell some more.
But it isn’t. It doesn’t. Not really.
“Thanks,” he says, and he means it.
“If it makes you sleep better at night,” Snape tells him idly.
“Doubtful, unfortunately.” Harry pushes his teacup to the other side of his desk, then checks his watch. It is close enough that he can probably head towards the Great Hall for breakfast. “I’ll be back later, then, and we can go over tomorrow’s lesson plans again?”
“Do take your time, Potter.”
Harry just waves on his way out.
As usual, Malfoy and his mentor are there, but they don’t even look up anymore as Harry enters. Though she told him before that he didn’t need to be here so early, Minerva has not said anything more about Harry’s tendency to be here as soon as the food begins appearing. He’s glad, really; it’s bad enough having Snape snarking at him constantly about his poor sleeping habits.
And he imagines the man would be annoyed by how he eats, too. It is almost a funny thought, really. There is little Harry has ever done that hasn’t annoyed Snape, but now, the professor seems more concerned that he’s taking care of his wellbeing than anything else. It’s likely just because of their shared job, now, but Harry can’t help a small smile at the thought. His entire experience here so far has been, well, weird, but maybe this is one change he’s willing to welcome.
He exchanges few words with the others before leaving and heading back to his classroom, but they don’t seem to mind much. Harry even makes a point to call Malfoy Draco, though it does little more than make the rest of their short conversation awkward. Still, Minerva smiles at him, and he knows that it is something she really does want from him.
The remainder of the day is spent by all of them preparing for the arrival of the students. According to Sprout—Pomona? Harry really isn’t sure what to call the other professors—it’s the last bit of quiet they will have until Christmas, and even this is more complete than that.
“Cherish it while you have it,” she advises them.
Neville agrees with this heartily, though Harry thinks he would respond that way to anything the woman says. Interestingly, all three of them have rather different relationships with their respective professors. Malfoy seems to respect McGonagall, but not idolize her the way Neville does Sprout. Harry, on the other hand…
Well, nobody had been expecting him and Snape to be the best of friends. It’s a lot better than Occlumency lessons in fifth year, though.
Eventually, the hours slip by, and McGonagall informs them that the Welcoming Feast will be beginning soon.
“So be prepared,” she says briskly. “I expect you all to be seated well before any of the students. And be respectful, mind you. The Sorting may be long, but we all sat through yours and we’re still here to tell the story.”
“And a good story it is,” pipes in Flitwick.
He can remember his first day here pretty well, though it feels like it was ages ago, now. He met Malfoy that day, he remembers. And Neville. Both on the Hogwarts Express, before he had even had a chance to really understand where he was going.
How much they have changed since then, though. Malfoy, no longer wearing that confident smirk. Neville, with so much more confidence.
And Harry… Well, he’s not the same either, but he’s not sure he could explain the difference, not really.
But they were separated right away, into these different Houses. Since arriving here this summer, he has heard from Snape many times that it will do him no good to favour Gryffindors over Slytherins. Harry doesn’t think that’s really fair for Snape to say to him, given his treatment of Gryffindor students, but he respectfully said nothing about it. He thinks he understands the sentiment, anyway.
Tom Riddle became Voldemort, yes. But before that, he was just a kid. A kid Sorted into Slytherin, like Malfoy and like Snape. Almost like Harry, even.
No, he doesn’t think he’ll be the type to play favourites. By the time his sixth year had come to an end, he was starting to think that the House system did more bad than good, anyway.
And so, they find themselves in the Great Hall on the first of September yet again, but this time, they are looking out over those four tables, not waiting to be assigned to one.
Harry sits by Neville, who is, of course, with Sprout. Harry can’t bring Snape here, thankfully, or he’d be sitting with his—albeit grouchier—mentor too.
The returning students file in, and while he sees some look up at the staff table with curious eyes, most of them don’t even really seem that fazed by the changes there. He sees Hermione, and Ginny and Luna, but he doesn’t wave to them, knowing that McGonagall will be watching them very closely over the course of this meal.
After all the students have taken their seats, a low buzz of conversation singing throughout the Hall, the door opens to admit the first year students.
It’s strange, Harry thinks, to see someone other than McGonagall—Minerva, he reminds himself, for the umpteenth time—leading the first years into the Great Hall. So short as he is, Flitwick almost blends in with them. Harry has to suppress a laugh at that thought.
The Hall quiets as the Charms professor sets the Sorting Hat on the stool, then listens as it begins to sing. Harry notes, gladly, that the dark tone that characterized the Hat’s song in previous years has faded away again.
And then the Sorting begins.
The first two go to Gryffindor, to loud cheers from most of the Hall.
A girl steps forward, her head held high. She reminds Harry a bit of Malfoy, when they were eleven. Her blue eyes are cool and calculating, some of her blonde hair pinned in twin buns while the rest cascades elegantly down her shoulders. Every one of her movements oozes confidence, and she sits on the stool for only a moment before the Hat declares, “SLYTHERIN!”
And then Harry watches, stomach twisting, as the other tables begin to boo.
He looks down the staff table towards Malfoy, whose face is surprisingly impassive. The other professors, too, make no movement against the students, though their discomfort is obvious.
Grace keeps her head up as she walks towards the Slytherin table—the only one cheering—but Harry sees her shoulders tighten, just a bit.
A surge of electric anger courses through him, and he is on his feet, clapping, before he even realizes he is doing it.
Malfoy sees him first, and joins in the applause. Then, the rest of the staff table. Slowly but surely, the boos die down, and as Grace sits at the Slytherin table, Harry catches her eye and offers her a quick smile, one she just barely returns.
The Sorting goes on.
It is a long process, but Harry notes, fascinated, that each student seems to approach the Hat in a different way. Some are anxious, others hopeful, some, still, look as though they are walking to their execution.
“Roberts, Henry!” has an excitable bounce in his step when he walks up to take his seat. Harry watches with great interest as the hat falls over his eyes, and stays there.
For a very long time.
The entire Hall seems to be holding its breath right alongside Harry when the Hat finally calls out, “SLYTHERIN!”
He smiles to someone still in line, then races for the Slytherin table. Harry notices that he sits beside Grace, and immediately begins chatting her ear off. Though she doesn’t quite seem to share in his enthusiasm, she doesn’t shoo him away.
“They must be twins,” Neville murmurs.
Harry nods. “So she’ll be a Slytherin too, you think?”
But even just as he finishes saying it, the Hat cries, “GRYFFINDOR!”
Harry grins. “Guess not, then.”
Isabelle, like Henry, is beyond friendly as she sits amongst her fellow Gryffindors. Unlike Grace, however, the other Gryffindor first years seem more than happy to talk back to her, and she is quickly smiling and laughing along with them.
After that, the few remaining first years are Sorted in what feels like nearly no time at all, and Flitwick takes the Hat while Minerva stands to make her speech.
“Welcome to another year at Hogwarts!” she says loudly. “Much has changed in the past year, but we are, as always, delighted to see you back to learn more with us. First, I would like to welcome our eighth year students, who will be joining the seventh years in their classes to make up for lost time last year. Given the circumstances, we do not expect returning students to be entirely on track with their course requirements, and would implore each and every one of you to come forward to us when you feel you need the extra support, academically or otherwise.
“Secondly, I would like to welcome a few new additions to our teaching staff. First, apprenticing under Professor Sprout in Herbology, is Professor Longbottom.”
As Neville stands, looking embarrassed, the Hall erupts into great cheers. Amused, Harry sees that Ginny and Hermione—and Luna, too, on the other side—seem to be cheering the loudest of all.
“And Professor Malfoy, who will be teaching Transfiguration alongside myself.”
The applause is more subdued, but Malfoy seems unbothered by it. He stands and sits again, lips never so much as twitching.
“And Professor Potter,” says Minerva, “teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts along with our very own Professor Snape.”
This causes some whispering to break out, but Harry sees Hermione grinning at him, and can’t help but smile back.
There is a short break as Minerva waits for the whispering to die down again, and then she dives into the typical explanation of the rules. Once all has been said, she adds, “And, now, we would welcome you to please eat with us. Welcome back.”
She sits down, and food begins to appear across all the tables. Harry wastes no time in filling his own plate, watching as all the other professors do the same.
“They look so small,” Neville remarks thoughtfully. “Were we that small?”
Harry looks out over the tables, lips twitching. “Yeah, I think we were.” But it isn’t their size he finds most astounding. Rather, there is a light in the eyes of the first years that doesn’t seem to exist within the others. Did they have that sort of unbreakable happiness? Harry thinks they must have, because his first year at Hogwarts was surely the best he ever had.
They talk about their classes, after that. Neville confesses to being nervous about teaching, but, he concedes, excited as well. Harry tells him he feels the same, but he really isn’t feeling much of anything, and, well, isn’t that sort of the problem?
By the time the meal comes to its end, a leaden dread has settled in Harry’s stomach. He said it to Snape, sure, but until now, he hasn’t really gotten it.
He’s here. He’s, supposedly, committed.
And he can’t do it.
He has a feeling that he won’t be sleeping very well tonight.
September 2, 1998
Even with all the students back for the year, there are very few at breakfast first thing in the morning.
Of the students gathered, though, Harry sees that first year Slytherin girl, Grace, sitting with a few of the older Slytherin students. With some humour, he notes that the Slytherin and Ravenclaw tables are far more occupied than the other two.
There are more at the staff table too, he notes as he circles around the Slytherin table to join his peers.
Before he can, though, someone behind him says, “Professor Potter?”
It takes him a moment to grasp the title, and then he turns to face the little blonde girl, her twin buns placed as firmly on the top of her head as before. She’s risen from her seat and looks up at him with something like trepidation in her blue eyes.
“Blishwick,” he says. “Grace, right?”
She nods, holding something against her chest. It must be her schedule, Harry thinks. Then, these other students must be prefects, here to ensure every student receives their schedule. And Slughorn is at the front table too, Harry sees.
“I just, um… I just wanted to say thanks,” she rushes out. “For standing up for me. You didn’t have to.”
Harry softens. “I did,” he tells her. “Slytherin’s not such a bad House, anyway, is it? But don’t tell anybody I said so.” He winks. “I’m supposed to be a model Gryffindor, after all.”
She smiles a bit. “Thank you, sir. I… Well, my whole family have been Slytherins, so I was expecting it, but—I’m not evil, you know?” Her eyes are wide, earnest. “I don’t want to be like that! And I don’t want anybody to think I am, either. So, thank you! Th-that’s all I wanted to say!”
She’s holding her breath, and, now, all her posture suggests to him is anxiety, so very different from the utter confidence she exuded in front of the Hall yesterday.
But there’s not a crowd here. She has nobody to perform for.
“You’re welcome.” He smiles at her. “But, y’know, no matter what anybody else thinks, you’ll always know best who you are.” He drops his voice, adding, “And I’ll know too, of course.”
She giggles, cheeks reddening just a bit. “Thank you, Professor.”
“See you in class,” he tells her cheerfully before heading up towards the staff table and settling into his now-regular seat beside Malfoy.
“Popular as ever, I see,” Malfoy remarks.
“You can catch more flies with honey,” Harry responds mildly, reaching to take some toast. “She’s a nice little girl.”
“Don’t play favourites, Potter.”
Harry gets the odd idea that Malfoy is teasing him, as if they are friends. He isn’t sure if it’s the words or this thought that makes him laugh, but he does.
“It’s not favouritism,” he says. “I don’t know anybody else. She wanted to talk to me, not the other way around.”
“Yes, well, it must be hard to be so famous.”
Harry bites into his toast, knowing better than to bother responding to that.
“But,” Malfoy continues, “if you’re going to choose a favourite student, I do appreciate that you chose a Slytherin.”
Harry rolls his eyes. “That seems to be my life lately. Surrounded by Slytherins.”
“We do make for excellent company.”
“Yeah, you can say that, but you haven’t had to spend almost all hours of the day locked up in a room with Snape.” He shakes his head. “And, anyway, somehow I doubt you’re one to be telling me not to play favourites.”
“Do as I say,” Malfoy tells him, “not as I do.” With a smirk, he rises from his seat and walks away, leaving an empty space between Harry and Minerva.
“I assure you,” Minerva mutters, “he will not be playing favourites.”
Harry conceals a snicker at this. While having Snape for a mentor isn’t really all that great, at least Harry knows that, at the end of the day, he is just a painting. Not that Harry would be any more willing to listen to him were he not, but, still. He is far less frightening than Minerva McGonagall.
He leaves breakfast not long after himself, returning to his classroom to let Snape lecture him one more time before their first class: first year Slytherins and Ravenclaws. While Snape drones on senselessly behind him, Harry reads over the attendance list again. He stops at Blishwick, Grace, thoughtful, and then moves on through the rest of it with practiced ease. Since he got these lists yesterday evening, he has been doing his best to memorize the names on it. It will be easier, he reasons, once he has a face to put to each one.
And it is not long, indeed, that the nervous first years begin to gather at the door. Harry looks back at Snape, frowning, and the man simply says, “They’re scared to come in, Potter.”
Harry considers this for a moment “Scared of you?”
Laughing, Harry gets to his feet and makes for the door. Many wide eyes look up at him, full of shock and admiration and, yes, terror. He gestures towards the inside of the classroom.
“Sit wherever you like,” he tells them, hoping his attempt at kind is working. “But don’t block the door, please.”
Some of them blush, but all of them scurry past him to claim a seat. With that, he makes his way back to the front of the classroom. He flips the frame with the picture of Teddy up, then leans against the front of the desk and surveys the room. Each of those potential hiding places pops out at him, and he reminds himself that, if a Dark wizard were to get into his classroom, they would at least be coming after him, not the eleven-year-olds.
It is much easier to summon a genuine smile after that.
In few minutes, the bell rings and the students quiet, all of them staring at him with nervous expectation.
This is the part he’s not so sure about, himself.
“Er, hi,” he says after a moment. He doesn’t miss Snape’s irritated sigh, but chooses that, for now, he will ignore it. “Welcome to Defence Against the Dark Arts. This is Professor Snape, and I’m Professor Potter. Over the course of the year, we’ll be teaching you a mix of theoretical and practical magic. You’ll learn about some Dark creatures, and how to protect yourself against them. It’s, er, in my opinion, anyway, the most important class you’ll take at Hogwarts. There are things I learned in this class as a student that definitely served me well later on. You can never really be too prepared for something, I mean, and—”
“What Professor Potter is trying to say,” cuts in Snape, “is that he will surely bore you to death every single day with lengthy and unnecessary explanations.”
Harry feels his cheeks begin to sting a bit at that, and muffled laughter spreads throughout the room.
“Let’s start with roll call then,” he says loudly, grabbing the parchment from behind.
Blishwick, Grace is first, and she offers him a small smile as she puts her hand up to indicate she is here.
Then Brown, Lydia, a bespectacled Ravenclaw girl whose enthusiasm reminds Harry a bit of Hermione.
As he continues down the list, he sees that it will be easier, to have faces to put with the names. Each of these children exudes personality, from the Ravenclaw boy reading so far ahead in his textbook he doesn’t hear Harry call his name to the Slytherin girl who is doodling on her table-mate’s parchment with her tongue stuck out in deep concentration.
Harry remembers Roberts, Henry from the feast, and is pleased to note that he has taken one of the front seats, right beside Grace.
As he finishes their attendance, he rolls the parchment back up and sets it behind him once more. Turning to face the class again, he sees a raised hand in the front row.
“Mr Roberts?” he asks.
Henry’s gaze is level and serious behind circular glasses. “Is it true that you killed Lord Voldemort, Professor Potter?”
“Henry!” Grace tugs at his arm, hissing under her breath, but the other students lean forward with interest, as if they don’t all already know.
But, then, Harry supposes they might not. None of them were there, after all.
Still, Harry can only stare dumbly at the boy, blinking. There is a vague roaring in his ears, one he hasn’t heard since Auror training.
“Five points from Slytherin,” Snape snaps from behind him, “for asking ridiculous and asinine questions.”
Henry bows his head. Harry thinks he might be pouting.
He coughs, trying to collect himself again. He won’t freak out in front of twenty-some eleven-year-olds. He will not.
“Right,” he finally manages, “well, the focus of the course this year isn’t too much on, er, Dark wizards, or anything like that. It’s important to know,” he adds, just to be clear, “but you won’t need it to pass this class.”
Brown, Lydia raises her hand.
She straightens up, pushing her glasses up higher on her nose. “But we should learn about it? My parents wouldn’t answer my questions about the war, so—”
“For good reason, I’m sure,” Harry cuts in, stomach twisting painfully. “And I don’t plan on answering your questions about it either, Miss Brown, nor would I encourage you to ask your other professors or any of the older students who may have been involved in it. This is entirely off the point of our lessons, and the next person who says ‘Voldemort’ will be serving detention with me! Do you understand?”
Silence washes over the classroom, and he realizes, suddenly, that he has raised his voice quite a lot. Not to mention, he sounds like—well, he sounds like Snape, threatening detentions over the most minor of things—
“But,” Henry presses, “you really did kill him, didn’t you?”
Harry watches as Grace covers her face with her hands, groaning.
“No,” he says shortly. “He killed himself.”
“Detention, Mr Roberts.” Snape’s glare is almost as potent as it was in real life. “Anybody else who speaks on this topic will be joining him here on Friday evening. Are we quite clear?”
It is enough, apparently.
After that, the rest of the lesson continues much more smoothly, but Harry can’t quite rid himself of the shaky feeling, and those little corners of the classroom only seem more obvious, now, like something could jump out at him at any moment. It takes all his strength to keep the feeling out of his voice, and by the time he dismisses the class, he’s really looking forward to his following free period.
As the other students trickle out, though, Harry sees Grace hold Henry back, whispering something in his ear. He listens carefully, then nods and sets his books on the desk again. With Grace in tow, he approaches Harry.
“I didn’t mean to cause any issues, sir,” he says quietly. “I was only wondering. You’re, you know, you’re kind of like a superhero, aren’t you?”
Harry considers this for a moment, then, figuring he can’t address the real sentiment behind the statement, asks, “Are you Muggleborn?”
Henry shakes his head. “Half-blood, sir. My dad is Muggleborn, though.”
Harry nods. “My mum was Muggleborn too. I know that being targeted like that is hard, and...and it’s normal to have questions, but I can’t answer those for you.”
“Okay.” Henry glances sideways at Grace, whose gaze is stuck firmly on the floor. “Erm, thank you, sir. Do I still have detention?”
Harry’s lips twitch up at that. “Yes,” he says. “You do need to listen the first time you’re told something.”
Henry sighs, but doesn’t complain. Grace grabs his arm and pulls.
“Thank you, Professor Potter,” she says. “We’ll be going now.”
And they do go, hurrying to a jog in order to catch up to their classmates before their next class.
“Avoidance is a terrible coping mechanism,” Snape remarks.
Harry comes around and sinks into his seat at the desk. “I’m not avoiding anything,” he mutters.
“I am willing to keep the topic out of our classes,” Snape says, “but you have problems, Potter, and it is clearly much deeper than your abhorrent sleeping patterns.”
“Why do you care?” Harry scowls at him. “And, anyway, just because you think that doesn’t mean it’s true.”
“I do not care, Potter. I’m merely stating what I see, and that is a pathetic show of un-Gryffindor-ish cowardice.”
Harry doesn’t respond to that, though he’s pretty sure Snape is trying to get a rise out of him. But it just isn’t there. Maybe he is a coward. If he wasn’t, he would still be in Auror training.
After that, Snape doesn’t press the issue anymore, and the rest of the day’s classes pass without issue. Harry passes on dinner, instead opting to return to his quarters and get some well-needed sleep, and then returns to the classroom to prepare for tomorrow’s classes, already thankful that the week will be over in only two more days.
September 4, 1998
“I think you’re doing really well, Harry!”
Harry offers Hermione a small smile, pouring out three cups of tea and pushing two of them towards the two girls sitting across from him.
“Thanks,” he says. “Snape might disagree, though.”
Ginny snickers. “I think he would disagree with everything you said, just because you said it. You’re, er, quite the pair.”
“But you seem to be doing well together,” Hermione insists, spooning some sugar into her cup. “And, I mean, he definitely doesn’t hesitate when it comes to taking points. Sometimes you’ll need to.”
“Yeah.” Harry frowns. “I could do it too, though. He’s just faster than me.”
Hermione and Ginny exchange an indecipherable look.
“I dunno,” Ginny says. “You’re a little soft, aren’t you? I mean, every time I see you in the halls, you’re talking with one kid or another.”
“It’s good if they like me,” Harry protests. “Besides, I don’t talk to them, they talk to me. I don’t want them to think they can’t do that.”
“I think it’s good,” Hermione puts in. “And a lot of them seem to like you just because of your classes, not because, well…”
Because he’s Harry Potter, saviour of the wizarding world.
“I was worried you might be like Snape,” Ginny jokes. “That maybe a week in isolation with him would make you a git, too.”
“There’s still the whole year,” Harry mutters. “But only if we don’t drive each other completely mad first.”
Hermione takes a sip of her tea. “But he’s—okay?”
Harry shrugs. “I guess. I mean, he’s just a painting, isn’t he? I just think Minerva is glad to be rid of him.”
Ginny makes a face. “Minerva,” she repeats. “That is so weird.”
Laughing, Harry nods. “Tell me about it. But she was so persistent. We’re coworkers now, after all.”
“Though she is still your superior,” Hermione points out. “You should be careful, Harry. She’s probably just encouraging you to let your guard down around her so she can see better if you slip up.”
Ginny rolls her eyes. “McGonagall? Seriously, you’re so paranoid. And I thought Ron was bad when he comes home blabbering about stupid Auror training.”
“Well, I’m just saying.”
“Snape says I’m paranoid too.” Harry frowns. “But that’s true, Hermione. Still, she didn’t seem to know about...you know.”
Hermione’s gaze is all sympathy. “It’ll be different,” she tells him. “Besides, you’re doing a lot better now, aren’t you? I know you, er, spent a lot of time alone, but you seem like…”
Tension fills the air suddenly, and Harry can’t quite look at either of them. “Er, yeah,” he says after a moment. “I’m doing loads better. Have you guys been to visit Neville yet?”
Hermione opens her mouth to say something, but Ginny cuts in before she can: “We haven’t yet, no. Do you reckon he’s around? Haven’t been in his class yet, either, but he’s always liked Sprout. I’m sure they’re getting on great.”
Relieved, Harry offers her a smile. “Yeah, I think they are. She seems to like him too.”
But Hermione still looks uncertain. “Harry—”
“I do have a detention I need to supervise this evening too,” he says quickly. “Wouldn’t look very good if I was late for that, I reckon.” He stands, gesturing for them to do the same. “Thanks for coming by, though. If you don’t have too much homework, come again soon, yeah?”
“I’m sorry, Hermione,” he says, though he’s really not. “I don’t want to leave my student waiting. Besides, you should go see Neville before curfew.”
“We should,” Ginny agrees. “Come on, Hermione. We’ll see Harry tomorrow. Right?”
And Harry can see in her eyes—just because she is letting him get away this time doesn’t mean she’ll let him get away next time.
“Right,” he agrees, and it is enough.
Hermione sighs, waving her farewell before letting Ginny lead her out of Harry’s quarters.
Bereft of their company, Harry leans against his table and lets out a long, relieved exhale. Until he sees them again, he’ll consider the inevitable conversation, the “Are you really okay?”s and the “You can talk to us, Harry”s, and he’ll figure out how to deflect them without making things worse.
It is true that he’s doing better since Auror training. He hasn’t had an episode like that, at the very least, though he has a bad feeling that, had Snape not been there to intervene, he may have had one in that very first class. And, sure, he still can’t sleep through the night, and sometimes he wakes up with his throat raw from screaming and sobbing, but he’s fine, isn’t he? He’s functioning, at least. And he doesn’t even spend all his time cleaning anymore, not since he got to Hogwarts. Snape might disagree, but that is progress.
Shaking his head, he sets about clearing the table. He could use magic to do this, but he likes the distraction of doing the dishes manually, and so manually he does them. Until he has nothing left to clean, and then he heads back to his office.
“Good evening, Potter,” Snape says in such a way that Harry really isn’t sure he knows what the term good evening actually means. “How very kind of you to grace me with your presence.”
“You know I love to serve detentions with you,” Harry says cheekily. “You know, I think it was the thing I missed most, when I left Hogwarts. It kept me up at night sometimes, oh how I wish I could be scrubbing cauldrons for Professor Snape right now…”
“I assure you,” Snape says, “I hated every second of detention spent with you.”
“But you must have missed me,” Harry insists. “Thought about me often, surely. Wondered where I was, who would clean your floor if not me…”
“Seeing your cleaning habits now, I sorely regret ever having made you clean anything at all.”
“I’m good at it, though.”
Harry grins. It’s a backhanded one, but a compliment nonetheless.
“You are aware, of course,” Snape continues, “that detentions are up to your discretion? Should you wish to have a student scrub your floors, there is no hardened rule against it.”
Harry thinks back to the detentions he served with Lockhart in his second year. “Oh, yes,” he says, “I’m aware.”
“Good. Then, you should also remember the disciplinary actions necessary in these cases… Should you see it as a recurring problem, parents will of course need to be notified. And,” he adds, “it is most unusual to be assigned detention in one’s very first class. I do believe the circumstances are rather...complicated, but it is best to nip these things in the bud. If I had given you detention on your first day, for example, you may have been much less of a thorn in my side in the following six years.”
He sort of figures that there’s no point in responding to that unless he wants to make Snape, somehow, even grouchier than he already is (Harry has discovered, over the past week or so, that it is possible, for all it should seem not to be). Besides that, he now has a detention to plan, because, well, honestly…though he won’t be telling Snape, he really hasn’t thought about what sort of punishment he’ll be doling out. Certainly, he served detention enough times as a student that he shouldn’t need to ask for any ideas, but there must be some kind of secret to it that only professors are let in on, he thinks, or else it wouldn’t seem like such a daunting task.
Finally, just before a tentative knock comes at the door, Harry decides on what he’s going to do.
“Come in,” he calls, and the door slowly opens up, admitting Henry Roberts.
He seems a lot smaller on his own, Harry thinks. Looking back on it, he hasn’t seen Henry without either his sister Isabelle or Grace by his side since the Sorting. Clearly, their Houses haven’t kept the twins apart.
He’s got messy dark brown hair, even darker brown eyes behind square-framed glasses, and a certain look on his face that briefly reminds Harry of Fred and George, but he shuts that thought down quickly, knowing that George has not looked like that in many, many months.
“Good evening, sir,” Henry says as he comes to a halt before Harry’s desk. He glances up at Snape and repeats the words.
“Sit down,” Harry tells him, and he does. “Er, would you like some tea?”
From behind him, he can practically hear Snape rolling his eyes, but, amazingly, the professor doesn’t say a word.
Henry blinks, eyebrows knitting together in confusion. “I’m sorry?”
“Tea,” Harry says again. “Would you like some?”
Henry just stares at him, though.
“Perhaps he expects you to poison him,” Snape suggests, sounding a touch bored. “Given that he has come here for a detention, and not a tea party.”
“There’s never a bad time for tea,” Harry says lightly. “Besides, if we’re going to be here, we might as well enjoy it, right? But,” he adds, addressing Henry, now, “you will need something to write with and on.”
Henry nods slowly, finally seeming to snap out of his shock. “I’d like some tea, sir, if you’re going to have some.”
Harry grins at him and summons a house elf to bring them some. Once they have settled, with Henry poised to write, Harry says, “I’m not going to torture you, Mr Roberts. I’d just like you to write some lines.”
Though he still looks somewhat fearful, Henry bows his head in understanding. “What should I write, sir?”
“Write ‘I will listen the first time I am told something.’” Very original, Harry thinks, but he really is a bit out of his element, here. “I’ll tell you when to stop.”
At this, Henry relaxes a bit and immediately sets to work.
“You are far too soft with punishments,” Snape advises, using his “all-knowing mentor” voice.
Harry rolls his eyes. “It’s only his first week, and I’m not some sour grouch like you.”
Across the desk, Henry snorts softly, but when Harry glances at him, he’s quick to look down again and resume scribbling on his parchment.
“How was your first week at Hogwarts?” Harry asks, though Snape grumbles something behind him as he does so.
Henry glances up at him, blinking. “Er, it was good, sir, thank you.”
“What about your sister? Isabelle, right?”
“Izzy’s...okay.” He hesitates, his quill stilling. “Professor Potter, can I ask you something?”
“Yeah, of course.” Harry frowns “What is it?”
“Well, Izzy… She’s not—well, she won’t talk about it much, but I don’t think she gets along too well with her housemates.” He says it all in a few breaths, and Harry has to take a moment to separate all the words out.
“Er, well, I think that can be pretty normal.” He thinks of Hermione, who never really did find any close friends amongst her dormmates. Indeed, the entire house had been a little...unkind to her, in the beginning.
Henry shakes his head, though. “I think it might be my fault.”
“What do you—?”
“Miss Roberts is a Gryffindor,” Snape reminds him quietly. “Perhaps it would do you some good to remember how Gryffindors treat those unlike them.”
Harry opens his mouth to protest this, then shuts it again, troubled. It’s true, though he doesn’t want to admit it. Again, he is reminded of Hermione, when they were first years. It seems impossible to think, now, that they had ever not been friends, but in the beginning...well, wasn’t it Ron who sent her from class crying on Halloween all those years ago?
So, he inclines his head in understanding, if not agreement.
“She seemed to get along with them at the feast, though. And in class, when I saw her.”
Henry looks down, dark eyes troubled. “Well, that was before she started spending time with me, sir.”
Harry’s heart sinks in his chest. He recalls the treatment Grace received after being Sorted, the obvious growing hatred for Slytherin. When Harry was first going into Hogwarts, wasn’t it more prestigious, something like a true honour, to be a Slytherin? Now, even in all these short years, Slytherin has grown synonymous with evil.
But it always sort of was, wasn’t it? The house itself had just been backed by rich and politically important Purebloods. Now, though…
“What about you?” Harry asks carefully. “How do your housemates treat you?”
Henry shrugs. “Some of them don’t like Izzy, but others don’t care too much. I mean, I’m not really as outgoing as her, so it’s not a big deal to me. Besides, Grace hangs out with me all the time, so at least I have someone. Izzy doesn’t.”
“She has you, though, doesn’t she?”
“Yeah, but I’m...far away.” He looks up, eyes shining rather wistfully. “I think that if she’d been Sorted first, I could have gone into Gryffindor with her.”
“But the Sorting Hat puts you where you belong, doesn’t it?”
Henry bites his lip. “I think it would’ve let me choose, if I’d wanted to.”
Harry blinks, reminded of his own Sorting. He had chosen, hadn’t he? Sometimes he wondered what might have been different if he hadn’t.
But it doesn’t change what it is now, does it? Not for him or for Henry.
“It’ll get easier,” he promises. “And, you know, if anybody is picking on her or anything, you can say something. Professor McGonagall will make sure it stops.”
At least, he hopes she will, but, well, Snape’s presence behind him makes him pause, just a bit.
“Or come to me,” he adds after a moment. “I’m not a Head of House or anything, but...I’ll do what I can.”
Henry smiles at that. “Thanks, Professor Potter. And, er...if it comes up, don’t tell her I said anything, okay? She doesn’t say anything about it, but I know her pretty well, so…”
Harry nods. “You’re looking out for her. That’s really good. But—ah, we seem to have let the, er, time pass us a bit, haven’t we? Get back to writing, all right?”
He does, and Harry lets him continue on in silence for the next hour or so. Snape says nothing, and Harry pulls out a textbook to flip through to keep himself from saying anything, and, for a time, the only sound is that of Henry’s quill scratching against parchment.
Once an hour or so has passed, Harry sets the book aside and draws Henry’s attention to him again.
“That’s enough,” he says. “You’re free to go. But, er...I don’t want to see you here again anytime soon, okay?”
Henry nods. “Yes, sir. Thank you for the tea, and—everything else, too.” He gathers up his belongings and rises, smiling briefly before turning and escaping without so much as a glance back.
“I think,” Snape says after a moment’s pause, “that, in the future, I shall plan detentions.”
Harry rolls his eyes, but doesn’t disagree. It makes for one less thing on his plate, at least.
September 5, 1998
Harry lingers in the Great Hall during breakfast, eyes glued to the Gryffindor table as students come and go, many of them in small groups of two or three. It is only his intense focus on one Isabelle Roberts that keeps him from noticing the person approaching him until a heavy hand lands on his shoulder and he jumps, fumbling for his wand before realizing that he doesn’t need to.
He turns around, trying for a grin.
“Harry!” Hagrid exclaims, beaming widely. “How’ve yeh been? I was beginning ter worry yeh’d forgotten ‘bout me!”
Guilt swims thickly in Harry’s stomach, but he does his best to keep it off his face. “Of course not,” he says. “It’s just been busy. I was—er, I was going to come visit you today, actually!”
Somehow, Hagrid’s smile widens at this. He claps Harry’s shoulder roughly.
“Great! I’ll be expectin’ yeh, then.”
And with that, he lumbers away to take his seat further down the table, chatting amicably to Sprout.
A soft snort beside him draws Harry’s attention, and he scowls as he sees Malfoy laughing at him.
“You’re an awful liar,” Malfoy informs him. “I’m sure nobody but him would have ever bought that.”
Harry sighs, gaze falling down to his empty plate. “Yeah, well… I wasn’t about to say I really had forgotten about him, was I? And I didn’t,” he adds defensively. “I really have been busy.”
“I never doubted that,” Malfoy says. “Though it is surprising to me that you would let something like that slip your mind. Surely it hasn’t been very long since you’ve been to visit him? I seem to remember you doing so often when we were students.”
Malfoy is silent for a moment, and then he hums thoughtfully and leans in a little closer. “It’s just like Teddy,” he says. “Isn’t it? You know...my mother had worried, for some days, that your silence on the matter was as good as a no.”
Harry jerks back, heart bounding fiercely in his chest. He shoots what he would like to say is a withering glare in Malfoy’s direction, though he knows it is much weaker than that.
“I had a lot of other letters,” he says shortly. “And it really is none of your business, Malfoy, so just leave it, would you?”
Malfoy glances behind him, and Harry sees that Minerva is sending them both a rather disapproving stare.
Coughing, Malfoy leans back. “You’re right,” he agrees. “None of my business. Have a nice meeting with—Hagrid.”
And with that, he is on his feet, gone from the Great Hall before Harry can even comprehend his words.
Shaking his head, Harry turns to look at the Gryffindor table again, but sees that he has clearly missed Isabelle, as she is currently standing and making her way towards the exit of the hall. Unlike many of the others who have left before her, she goes alone, but it is unfortunately not damning enough evidence to prove anything.
He looks disdainfully down at his plate, then picks up his teacup and drains it before rising to return to his office and check in with Snape.
After they have gone over the lesson plans for the following week in much greater detail than Harry really thinks is probably necessary, he excuses himself and heads down towards Hagrid’s hut. While he’s sure Hagrid will have some uncomfortable questions, he knows that it will be nowhere near as bad as Hermione. The thought cheers him, and by the time he gets there, he is able to muster up a genuine smile to greet Hagrid with. It doesn’t last long, though, before Hagrid is pulling him into a bone-crushing embrace.
He sucks in a deep breath as Hagrid releases him, then pastes his smile on again and follows Hagrid inside, accepting the offer of tea but politely declining the cakes, and then Hagrid is talking very fast, almost as if he is expecting Harry to interrupt him:
“I know yeh’ve been busy, Harry, but I’m glad ter see yeh back here. Good woman, Professor McGonagall is, I think Dumbledore would be glad ter see her in charge here.” He takes in a deep breath, and, for a moment, Harry is worried he might begin to sob at the mere mention of Dumbledore, but then he continues on: “And yer all grown up now, Harry, would yeh imagine? Teachin’, at Hogwarts! Professor Snape’s been all right? And Malfoy? Yeh’ll have to come ‘round more, tell me how it’s going.” He chuckles. “Though I don’t ‘spect yeh’ll be getting into too much trouble now, eh? All grown up, yeh are , yeh look jus’ like yer dad.”
Harry opens his mouth, then closes it again, lost. Hagrid’s dark eyes are swimming with pride, and Harry can’t bring himself to keep looking.
“Er, yeah,” he finally manages. “It’s been good so far. Snape’s—well, he’s Snape, and Malfoy’s all right.” To his surprise, it’s not even close to a lie, though he knows that Malfoy is just worried about losing his job. Harry would almost find it comical, if only the blond prat knew that it’ll be Harry who gets kicked out first, after he inevitably has another episode like he did in Auror training.
“How’re Ron and Hermione?” Hagrid presses, and Harry looks up again, relieved.
“Good,” he says. “I’ll tell Hermione to come visit, next time I come by. I’m sure she’d love to see you. You know how she is, though, she’s all—well, we missed a whole year.” Harry shares a conspiratorial grin with Hagrid. “She’s freaking out, according to Ginny, but I reckon everyone else is just as behind as she is. Besides,” he adds, “she’s already leagues ahead of everyone else, I dunno know why she even wanted to come back.”
“Ah, well, I ‘spect she just needs something ter do,” Hagrid says, waving a hand in dismissive acknowledgement. “Yeh’re all so young, no good being all alone with yer thoughts.” He shudders, as if even he doesn’t like being alone with his thoughts. “Even the other professors are actin’ different this year.”
“Dunno how to explain it, Harry, but it’s different, that’s all.”
Harry goes to say something else, but a loud bang from outside the hut has him on his feet, wand drawn. He opens the door and looks around to see, to his surprise, two familiar first year students.
“What are you doing?” Harry asks, lowering his wand and blinking.
Isabelle shares a guilty look with her brother, then steps forward and raises her chin bravely. If he couldn’t see the uncertainty in her brown eyes, he might really think she wasn’t afraid of him.
“It’s Henry’s fault, sir,” she insists. “He’s too clumsy.”
“But what happened?” he pushes.
Now, Henry comes forward too, but he doesn’t meet Harry’s eyes like his sister. “I accidentally knocked her down,” he says quickly. “She stumbled and hit the wall of the hut, that’s all.”
“Yes but— Hagrid, were you expecting, er, any visitors?”
Hagrid peers over Harry’s head at the twins. “Nah, but I ‘spect they’re just explorin’, right? No harm done.”
But Harry’s not so sure, and his frown must show it.
Hagrid chuckles. “Yer turnin’ into Snape, Harry! I’m sure they weren’t up ter nothing. ‘Sides, a bit o’ mischief never hurt nothing, you oughta know that!”
“Why does everyone think I’m becoming Snape?” Harry grumbles. “Either way, I think these two should be getting back to the castle. Not so fast!” he adds as Henry turns to go. “I’ll take you back up. Thanks for the tea, Hagrid.” He turns and smiles gratefully at the half-giant. “I’ll bring Hermione next time too, if she’s not too busy.”
Hagrid grins. “Yer welcome, Harry. Hope ter see you two soon!”
And with that, Harry steps out the door and closes it gently behind him. He takes a moment to pause, then whirls to face the twins.
“What were you two really up to?” he asks. “And don’t try to tell me you weren’t up to anything. Professor Snape will have my head if he finds out I let you get away with something. Especially you, Mr Roberts.” He tries to look as disappointed as possible as he narrows in on the young boy, but suspects he fails rather miserably, given Henry’s unchanged expression. Something he’ll have to ask Snape to help him with, then. “Didn’t I tell you yesterday I didn’t want you to get into any more trouble?”
“You just told me you didn’t want to see me in your office again anytime soon, sir,” Henry says. Truthfully.
Harry sighs. “Well, fine, then. Let’s head back up, and on the way there you can tell me what you’ve been up to. And then I’ll decide whether or not you’ll be in my office again.”
They both nod, and then they are off, one twin on either side of Harry. He slows his stride so they’re able to keep up without exerting themselves, and casts his gaze towards Isabelle.
“Do you know Hagrid?” he asks.
She shakes her head. “I was just following my brother, sir. He saw you—”
“Izzy!” Henry’s eyes are wide with mortification. “I wasn’t—we weren’t spying, sir, I just wondered—”
Harry stares at him dumbly, coming to a sudden halt. He seems to remember a time, when he was a student, that Malfoy had listened in on a conversation they’d been having with Hagrid in that very same (albeit rebuilt) hut.
“What in the world are you so interested in me for?” he finally manages to ask.
Henry flushes. “I just got curious, that’s all. I, er, I was going to ask you something”—he casts a furtive glance in Isabelle’s direction, then looks up to meet Harry’s eyes again—“but then I saw you walking down the grounds and, well, I just wondered, that’s all, I swear, sir.”
“And you thought eavesdropping was a good idea?” he asks, floored.
“We didn’t hear anything, sir.” This is Isabelle, coming around Harry to, he notices, hold her brother’s arm protectively. “We were just trying to look in through the window without being noticed, but then I fell down, and, well…”
For the first time, Harry feels a pang of sympathy for his old teachers. It’s no wonder he was always getting in so much trouble, and he didn’t even get caught most of the time!
“Well, maybe I ought to, but I won’t give you trouble.” He shakes his head. “For future reference, though, if you’re that curious, you could just, you know, ask me about it.”
Both of them stare up at him, unblinking, and he is just about to turn away in discomfort when Isabelle asks, “Are you and Hagrid friends?”
He smiles at her, relieved. “Yeah, we are. He worked here when I was a student, but he wasn’t a teacher until my third year. We met before Hogwarts, though. He took me to Diagon Alley for the first time.”
Isabelle and Henry are looking up at him, amazed.
“When was that?” Henry presses. “You’d never been before?”
“I was raised by Muggles,” Harry reminds him. “I only went for the first time when I was eleven. My aunt and uncle were—well, they weren’t very familiar with magic, so Hagrid took me instead.” He shrugs. “It’s not super abnormal, I don’t think. Anyway, Hagrid’s nice. If you want to get to know him, I’m sure he’d be happy to have you over.”
“What about you?” Isabelle asks.
“What about me what?”
“Are you nice?”
Harry frowns at her. “Er, I don’t know. I guess?”
She nods thoughtfully. “And what about Professor Malfoy?”
“Why do you think I would know that?”
Henry tilts his head quizzically. “You sit beside him at all your meals. And Professor Longbottom, but Izzy heard someone gossiping in the Gryffindor Common Room, saying you guys were friends in school.”
“People gossip about us?”
Isabelle nods fervently. “All the time. I think some people think it’s, er, strange that you’re a teacher, when you’re so young.” She scrunches up her nose at this. “I don’t think you’re too young, though, sir, I don’t find it weird at all!”
Harry can’t help laughing a bit at that. “Thanks, Miss Roberts, but I really am pretty young for this job. Same with, er, Professor Malfoy and Professor Longbottom. As for your other question…Professor Malfoy and I aren’t really friends. We’re the same age, but, er, we don’t, ah, know each other very well.” He coughs. “If you want to know about him, you’ll have to ask him yourself.”
“Grace really likes him,” Henry says. “He’s extra nice to her, too, but he doesn’t want Professor McGonagall to know.”
“And you think he wants me to?”
Henry’s cheeks redden.
Harry laughs. “I won’t tell on you or Miss Blishwick, Mr Roberts, don’t worry. But you’re doing a worse and worse job of convincing me that you aren’t actually trying to get in trouble, you know.”
“Not very Slytherin of you,” Isabelle pipes in, grinning. “I’m much sneakier than my brother, sir. Our parents were so surprised at his Sorting! Not me, though. I know him better than anybody else. He may not seem it, but he’ll be a great Slytherin, I’m sure of it. Especially with Grace around to get him into shape!” She giggles.
Harry considers this for a moment, glancing thoughtfully at Henry and then turning his gaze back to Isabelle. “And what about you?” he asks. “Will you be a great Gryffindor?”
Her face falls at that, but she looks away from him so fast that Harry might’ve missed it if he hadn’t been looking.
“Maybe,” she says. “I don’t know if I’m really very brave, though. Not like you, Professor Potter.”
“I’m not that brave,” Harry tells her hastily. “Lots of those articles and stuff exaggerate things I did. Besides, it’s not all about bravery, is it? There’s, er...chivalry?” But if he’s being completely honest, Harry’s never really quite gotten what chivalry is actually supposed to mean anymore.
“Nerve,” Henry supplies. “Daring. Determination. That’s totally Izzy!”
But Isabelle doesn’t look convinced. “I dunno… It’s only our first week, though. Who knows what will come next?” Now, she is smiling again, as if she was never bothered by her House at all. “If we’re not in trouble, sir, can we go? Henry promised to meet Grace in the library before lunch.”
Harry blinks, then gives a quick nod. “Oh, yeah, of course. Er, see you around, then.”
Both twins smile gratefully at him, and then they are off, engaged in what looks like a sprinting race up to the entrance of the castle.
Harry shakes his head, lips twitching. Though he can’t quite shake the feeling that there is something Isabelle isn’t saying, he re-enters the castle feeling confident that she’ll be all right, at least for now. Still, he’ll keep an eye on her, if only because Henry seemed to want him to.
For the first time, he finds himself at lunch in the Great Hall, too, watching Isabelle carefully as she enters with Henry and Grace. Between the three of them, it’s quite clear that she’s the most outgoing. She’s talking, hands flying as she does, and while Henry looks mildly amused, Grace is watching her seriously, nodding along once in a while.
But then Grace and Henry walk away, towards the Slytherin table, and even from this distance, Harry sees Isabelle lose her spirit a bit. Still, she squares her shoulders and makes for the Gryffindor table, sitting amongst her fellow first years. Though they don’t speak to each other, Harry doesn’t think the distance they suddenly put between themselves and Isabelle is imagined.
His heart sinks. He spent long enough as a student here being shunned for one thing or another to read the signs. He was hardly older than Isabelle is now, too, when his classmates had been convinced he was the Heir of Slytherin. But then, at least he had Ron and Hermione.
“I noticed it in class,” Malfoy remarks.
Harry looks over at him, blinking. “What?”
Malfoy gestures towards the Gryffindor table. “That girl. Roberts. They don’t like her much. Nobody wanted to sit beside her, until McGonagall started getting on their case about it. Still, doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference, does it?”
“When did you notice that?” Harry asks, flabbergasted. He never saw such a thing in his class. No way could Malfoy be more observant than him.
Malfoy frowns. “I don’t know. Wednesday? McGonagall told me that it would smooth over soon. Then she reminded me that kids at that age generally tend towards idiotic rivalries like that.” He scowls. “With emphasis on idiotic, I might add.”
“Well, it’s true, isn’t it?” Harry turns his gaze down to his small portion of food. “You made yourself my rival because I chose to be friends with Ron instead of you.”
Malfoy purses his lips. “It wasn’t that simple,” he disagrees.
Harry laughs. “Wasn’t it? Then, it must’ve been that I went into Gryffindor, right? Even though you thought Slytherin was the best House.”
For a moment, Malfoy is silent. When Harry glances over at him, he has a very funny look on his face, like he can’t quite decide whether he should be angry or not.
Then he says, “Well, when you put it like that, of course it sounds idiotic.”
“See? I told you so.”
“But,” Malfoy continues, stabbing his fork into his food, “you really pissed me off, after that, for completely unrelated reasons. I still can’t believe you were sneaking around the castle with a fucking dragon, and I got in trouble for it!”
“We got in trouble too,” Harry points out.
Malfoy waves a dismissive hand. “McGonagall let you off easy. She didn’t believe me because you were obviously her favourite. Even though I’m sure my Transfiguration marks were better than yours, even then.”
“That’s why you hated me so much?”
“Don’t be stupid, Potter. Of course not. But it was terribly annoying. I’m sure no other student in the history of Hogwarts got away with as much as you did. Unless Snape was involved, anyway. Or Umbridge, whatever happened to her.”
Harry shudders at the thought. Though they’re much paler than they were three years ago, the words written across his hand still stand out rather impressively. No wonder Malfoy had been so pleased with Umbridge’s reign over Hogwarts; her disciplinary actions had been nothing short of torturous, at least where Harry was involved.
“So is that all?” Harry asks after a moment. “Because teachers let me get away with things?”
“No,” Malfoy says shortly. “People liked you more than me, and I thought that was stupid of them.”
“So, you were jealous.”
“No!” Malfoy looks appalled at the mere suggestion of it. “I just thought I deserved it more than you did. You couldn’t even remember the thing you were famous for!”
“Sounds like jealousy to me.”
“Ugh, shut up. As if I would be jealous of you.” Malfoy huffs. “I can’t believe you would even—” But he stops, suddenly, his face shifting into a mask of perfect impassivity. “Well, I’ll keep an eye on her, if you’re really worried about it.”
Harry’s eyebrows furrow in confusion, but as someone moves behind him and sits down on Malfoy’s other side, realization dawns on him. Minerva is looking over them approvingly, and she even smiles a bit when Harry catches her eye.
“Er, right,” he says slowly. “Yeah. Thanks…Draco.”
Malfoy nods sharply, and then he is on his feet and stalking out of the Hall, leaving McGonagall to lean over towards Harry, just a bit.
“I must say, I’m impressed with you two. I have to admit that I never would have imagined you two working collaboratively on anything. Who was it you were discussing? A student?”
Harry swallows. “Uh, yeah. Isabelle Roberts. Her—er, her brother told me he was worried she wasn’t, um, settling well here, and Ma—Draco said that he had thought that same thing.”
Minerva nods thoughtfully. “Yes, he had mentioned something like that. I don’t expect it will be easy for her.”
“But Malfoy said you—”
“I don’t believe worrying about it will do him any good,” Minerva says firmly. “If I had let him interfere, I suspect that he may have let his focus on one student distract from the rest. And I have already said that I won’t let that happen.”
“So, why are you telling me, then?”
“Because I wouldn’t expect that from you, obviously.” She tilts her head slightly. “You are very different people, of course.”
She turns away from him, then, to focus on her meal, but Harry can do nothing but stare dumbly at her, trying and failing to make sense of the words. She had worried that Malfoy would favour a student…a Gryffindor student? And not because of an ability she held in his class, or because of her blood status or any amount of wealth she might have, but because he was concerned for her wellbeing?
He blinks, shaking himself, and finishes his meal in silent contemplation. Well, he knew already that Minerva must see something in Malfoy that he doesn’t—because though Malfoy insists it is only because of Snape that she offered him this job, Harry gets the feeling that Minerva would not have relented unless she thought it was a good idea too—but it is almost disturbing to witness it. What has the world come to, that Minerva McGonagall is sitting here, completely unbothered, telling Harry that Draco Malfoy might actually be a bit of a good person, deep down?
It’s insanity, he finally decides. Hagrid had said that other professors were “acting different,” and, this, clearly is what he meant. Harry figures that, at the end of the day, it’s best not to dwell on what, exactly, all of it means. He has a feeling he wouldn’t like the answer to it, anyway.
September 13, 1998
Nine days he managed to avoid having a full, proper conversation with her.
But if the past eight years have taught Harry anything, it’s that Hermione Granger is resourceful. And when she sets her sights on something, she’ll always find a way to get it.
Unfortunately for him, her most recent conquest has been getting him alone long enough to make him talk, whatever that means. And late in the afternoon today, she finally succeeds.
Snape may call him paranoid, but Harry is proud to say his supposed “paranoia” keeps people from sneaking up on him, at least ninety-nine percent of the time. It is through this hyper-awareness that he has managed to keep Hermione away from him for this long. And a steady avoidance of the area near the library, as well as Gryffindor Tower. Otherwise, he really has been busy. He’s been surprised to note just how many students actually approach their professors for help on their homework. It was something that had honestly never occurred to Harry, not when he had Hermione to tell him when he was getting things wrong.
But this is something Hermione has clearly noticed, because it’s the plan she springs on him this afternoon. A simple request, a question she had about the essay he and Snape had set.
And now she is here, the door firmly locked behind her, glaring down at him. Though her schoolbag is on the floor, there is no essay in sight. He has been, in every way, played.
“Can’t you just let us worry about you?” she’s saying now. “Even Ron is asking in all his letters! We know you’ve been dealing with a lot, and you’ve been doing it alone, and—”
“I’m not dealing with a lot,” Harry says honestly. “And it’s not that I don’t appreciate your concern. It’s just misplaced, that’s all. Shouldn’t you be more worried about the Weasleys? What about Andromeda?”
“I am worried about them,” she insists. “But they’re—well, they’re talking about it! Andromeda’s always talking about Tonks, and the Weasleys—they’re not fine, but at least they have a family to help them through everything.”
Harry feels his blood go cold. “And that’s the problem? That I don’t have a family?”
Hermione stops, her cheeks flushing with red. “Th-that’s not what I mean, Harry. We are your family, but—well—it’s not like you’re always around, are you? We can’t help you if you don’t talk to us.”
Harry can’t bring himself to meet her eyes. “But I don’t need help.”
“After Auror training—”
“I’m doing loads better, Hermione, really.”
“But you should still talk about it.” She bites her lip. “Look, I’ve been—I’ve been reading about it, a bit. Wizards are really behind on—on mental health, and everything, but, well, Muggles have been making all these new sorts of advancements, new research and everything, trying to understand it all and it’s really—it’s really good to know, isn’t it? That—that certain—thoughts and feelings, and everything—well, it’s all normal, and it’s good to…talk about it.”
Harry stares at her.
“It’s healthy,” she rushes on. “And it helps, it really does. I mean—I know it might not seem like it, but I was seeing a—a Mind Healer, you know, before I came here this year, just to…to sort everything out. You know? Maybe—maybe you could…you could do that too? Harry?”
But he can only continue to stare, her words hardly processing at all.
Finally, he blinks, looking up at her again.
“You think I’m mad,” he accuses.
“No, of course not!” Her eyes are wide, shimmering with something that Harry thinks isn’t quite earnestness. “Harry, of course I don’t think you’re going insane. I think you’re just—well, you’ve been through a lot! Nobody’s expecting you to deal with all of it on your own. How could you?”
“But everyone expected me to deal with what happened in the graveyard on my own,” he points out. “And the prophecy? The Horcruxes? Dumbledore seemed pretty confident that I could ‘deal with it on my own.’”
“Yes but—Dumbledore’s not here, is he?”
Harry’s shoulders stiffen. “No,” he says. “He’s not.”
Hermione sighs, deflating a bit. “Look, I…I mean we all knew that it wasn’t easy for you. I mean, the night Cedric died, even, we…well, we knew. And even Dumbledore said, he knew it would be hard for you. We really did—we really were doing the best we could. But you never, well…you never shut yourself away like you did this summer. And we tried to get to you, but…”
It’s true, Harry knows. But he had asked them to leave him alone, and when they had thought it had been long enough, he hadn’t let them into the house. Had fiddled with the wards until he was confident that not even Hermione would be able to force her way through them. At some point, he supposes it’s true that he just sort of…stopped responding to their attempts. He left their letters unread, forced their owls away, ignored their attempts to get through his floor or knock on the door. They had never celebrated his birthday, but they had sent gifts—gifts that Harry didn’t open until much later, after he had cleaned the letters out of the spare room.
But he needed to be alone. Didn’t they understand that? He let them back in when he was ready to, and he certainly hadn’t done so to talk about any of this. It should be fairly obvious, he thinks, why he had needed to be alone. After he and Ginny had permanently called it quits, and then something like three weeks later he had completed ruined his chances of becoming an Auror, there was very little Harry had wanted to do, other than be alone. And it’s not a lie to say he’s doing better since then, because he is, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to start baring his soul to Ron and Hermione. Besides, he’s had nightmares for years. Just because now they’ve started to seep into his waking hours doesn’t mean they’re suddenly impossible for him to cope with.
Whatever Hermione sees on his face must be enough of a response for her. She leans forward, hands planted on the desk. In a very gentle voice, she says, “We’re worried about you. That’s all. We still don’t even know everything that happened that day. I know you told us—about Snape, and the wand, and everything else, but—nobody but you knows what really happened in the Forest when you…”
“I don’t want to take about this,” he says wearily. “I know you’re just looking out for me, and I appreciate it, but you don’t need to look at me like, Hermione. I’m not going to snap. I know I scared you, but—I’m doing better. Honestly.”
She frowns, though. “And if you felt like you weren’t, you’d say something, right? If you needed something, you would say so?”
“Yes,” Harry lies. “Is that enough for you? I don’t want you to worry so much about me that you stop focussing on everything else, you know.”
“I… Yes, I know that.”
“Good. So…are we okay? Can we drop this?”
She stares at him for a very long moment, and he shifts awkwardly under her gaze. Finally, after Harry has almost convinced himself she’s not going to agree, she nods.
“Okay,” she says. “But just for now. I do think talking about it would be good for you.”
He says nothing, but she doesn’t seem to expect him to. Instead, she steps back a bit and picks up her bag.
“I actually was wondering about something else,” she says slowly. “We—that is Ron and me—well, we’ve been talking, and Ron said that Andromeda told his mum that she wouldn’t need so much help with Teddy anymore. Do you…do you know why? Mrs Weasley was rather put-out about it, I think. Andromeda doesn’t visit often—we just, er, asked her over because you were there, and we thought you’d want to see Teddy. Mrs Weasley and Andromeda aren’t exactly friends. I think she mostly asked Mrs Weasley to look after Teddy when she had something else to do because the Weasleys are close to you, honestly. So I just…I was wondering. Ron said we shouldn’t worry you about it, but he also said that his mum is missing having someone to look after, even if it’s just once a week or so…”
Harry blinks. “I think I know,” he says after a brief pause to consider it. “But I doubt it would ease Mrs Weasley’s spirits much, honestly.”
“I think Andromeda asked Mrs Malfoy to look after Teddy for her on those sorts of days,” Harry admits. “Malfoy said his mother is, I dunno, lonely. She and Andromeda were trying to, er, reconcile last I knew.”
Hermione is quiet for a moment, and then she lets out a sigh and nods. “I see. Well, I’ll let Ron know, but—maybe, if it’s not too much trouble…maybe you could owl Andromeda? Just ask her to stop by the Burrow a bit more or something. She wants you to have a say, after all, doesn’t she? I think Mrs Weasley would appreciate it. She doesn’t seem to be doing well without anybody to fuss over. Well, Ron’s there, but he’s a little difficult to coddle, isn’t he?” Her lips twitch at that. “Well, anyway, just think about it. Oh, and I went to visit Hagrid yesterday. He said I should bring you with me next time. Something about you promising to come by again soon? Well, I’ll leave you to it now. See you, Harry!”
And with that, she turns and exits, leaving Harry to separate all of her parting words in silence.
Or, almost silence, anyway.
“I’m surprised you refuse to listen to your friends, as well,” Snape remarks. “Could you get any more pathetic, Potter?”
“Don’t you have something better to be doing than eavesdropping on my conversations?” Harry mutters, shaking his head and reaching for a pile of collected third year essays.
“No,” Snape says shortly. “Read those to me, then.”
And so, Harry does.
All in all, it is a long afternoon.
September 28, 1998
Harry spends the next two weeks or so preoccupied with what Hermione said about Mrs Weasley and Teddy. He thinks he understands why Mrs Weasley wants to see Teddy so badly—she has, after all, already lost one son—but he isn’t sure if he really should be telling Andromeda how to raise her godson. Yes, he would like to see Teddy grow close to the Weasleys, but, then, doesn’t Andromeda want to see him grow close with the Malfoys? Besides, as it stands, the Weasleys have seen Teddy even more times than Harry himself has. Why should it be up to him to decide who gets to spend time with him?
It occurs to him, again and again, that Remus and Tonks really hadn’t considered what sort of godfather he would be. Or maybe they had, and had thought he was far better a person than he really is. Either way, he can’t help thinking that they chose the wrong person. He remembers what Remus said, in the Forest, but it does little to make him feel better about the fact that Teddy is just as orphaned as he, Harry, is—and Harry has essentially done nothing to ensure he doesn’t grow up miserable like Harry did.
Godfather of the year, he is.
A few days ago, he did receive a letter from Ron—far from the first he has gotten since coming here, though this one was the first in which Ron talked about something other than Auror training—repeating Hermione’s request, albeit in less words. And he adds at the end, too, that he thinks Harry oughtn’t worry about it too much, but he is a bit worried about his mum. Harry wonders how long, exactly, he has been thinking about this, and then realizes that this was something Ron was nervous to tell him about.
By Monday afternoon, he still doesn’t have an answer for that.
Finally, he decides that the best he can do is just ask Hermione about it. Once lunch starts, he leaves his classroom and heads towards the stairs to Gryffindor Tower, hoping to catch her along her way to the Great Hall. He only has to wait for a couple minutes, and then she appears with Ginny.
She breaks off from whatever it is she’s saying to Ginny and turns to face him, beaming. Ginny offers him a wave and a smile too, and then he hastens to join them before they all continue walking in the direction of the Hall again.
“Listen,” he says. “What you said before about Teddy—Ron asked me about it too, and I was wondering—”
But he doesn’t manage to get the words out before he is cut short by a disturbance just a few metres ahead of them. Two students—young ones, probably only first or second years—have tripped up another student, and now they are berating her for something, not helping her up off the floor.
Harry barely registers that he is moving until he comes up behind the two students, who are spitting down words like “traitor!” and “evil” and “awful little sneak.” In front of them is a young girl, her face hidden by a sheet of brown hair and her shoulders hunched up, as if in defence against the verbal assault.
They must hear him approaching, though, because they stop, turning to face him with wide eyes. He recognizes them from classes: Heather Anderson and Amber Grant, two first year Gryffindor girls.
“What are you doing?” he demands.
“We weren’t doing anything, sir!” This is Amber, hopping anxiously between her feet. “Roberts just fell, and—”
Harry raises a hand to cut her off (a skill he has mastered thanks to Snape’s example), then turns his gaze to the girl on the floor.
“Miss Roberts?” he asks, as gently as he can. When she doesn’t look up, he tries again with, “Isabelle?”
Slowly, she lifts her head. Her brown eyes are wet as they meet his, but her jaw is set and he can see that she’s making a very active effort not to cry. But he lip is bleeding, likely from the hard fall she took.
“Are you okay?”
She swallows, then nods. “Y-yes, sir.”
He rounds on the other two girls, trying to keep as much of the anger he’s feeling off of his face. “I know she didn’t fall, Miss Grant, so spare me. What I’m not understanding is why you thought it appropriate to trip and harass your Housemate. Can one of you explain that to me?”
“She’s friends with Slytherins!” Heather bursts out. “She doesn’t even pretend she wants to be a Gryffindor, she’s just—just—she’s just plotting and—and conniving with her brother and all her slimy little friends!”
Harry blinks. She stares fiercely at him, as if daring him to challenge her beliefs.
“What does it matter who she’s friends with?” Harry finally asks. “I doubt she would want to be friends with people who think it’s funny to trip her in the halls instead, don’t you think?”
Both girls just shrug, and Heather mutters something Harry doesn’t bother to try to catch under her breath.
He sighs. “Ten points from Gryffindor,” he says. “Each. I’ll be letting Professor McGonagall know about this too. And if this happens again, I won’t be so nice.”
“No buts,” he cuts in. “Now go, before I change my mind.”
Heather opens her mouth to say something, but Amber shakes her head fervently and pushes her Housemate along, in the direction of the Great Hall.
Once they’re gone, Harry lets out a long breath and looks down at Isabelle again. He offers a hand out to her, and she only hesitates for a moment before taking it and letting him help her to her feet.
“Thank you, Professor Potter,” she mutters, eyes on her feet.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
She nods. “Yes, sir. I…I didn’t mean to cause any issues.”
“You’re not the one causing issues,” Harry assures her. He glances behind him, seeing that there is a small crowd dispersing now that the drama has effectively ended. Hermione and Ginny are still standing there, though, exchanging a dark look and a couple of muted words with each other.
She must notice him looking, because Hermione looks up and offers a tentative smile.
“Hermione,” he says, “you’re still a prefect, aren’t you?”
“Would you mind, er, keeping an eye on Miss Roberts? At least until Professor McGonagall hears about this latest.”
“Of course.” She steps forward and looks towards Isabelle. “Isabelle, right? I’m Hermione. And this is Ginny,” she adds as Ginny comes forward too. “Do you want to come get lunch with us? We’re both Gryffindors too. I’m a prefect, and Ginny’s captain of the Quidditch team.”
Isabelle peers up at them, eyes uncharacteristically large and owlish. “Are you sure?”
“Of course,” Ginny says, beaming at her. “We can even tell you some embarrassing stories about Professor Potter, if you want.”
Ginny shoots Harry a sly look. “Definitely. There are loads of them. Then, next time he threatens you with a detention, you have blackmail on him.”
Harry can’t help laughing along with Isabelle at that. “Yeah, well,” he says, “I’ll know who she got them from, and then we’ll see who’s getting threatened with detentions.”
“You can’t scare me with that,” Ginny says, but her smile has faltered a bit.
“Well, anyway, come on, let’s go before lunch is over.” He starts to walk towards the Great Hall, then stops again and pulls out his wand, facing Isabelle again. “Let me fix your lip first, though…”
She lets him do so, and to clean the blood that has dropped down her chin to the front of her robes, then flashes him a grateful smile and begins to walk again, falling into step beside Ginny, who immediately draws her into an animated conversation Harry can only hope is not about him.
Before Harry can follow them, though, a hand on his shoulder stops him.
“You were saying something about Ron,” Hermione reminds him.
“Oh, yeah.” He frowns. “Er, he said the same thing as you—about Teddy? And Mrs Weasley? But…I mean, obviously it’s been bothering him, and I just wondered if you knew why he didn’t want to tell me about it. Should I be, I dunno, worried? Offended? It’s not really just about worrying me…is it?”
Hermione gives him a very strange look, which for a moment makes him feel very self-conscious.
“Isn’t it obvious?” she finally says.
“Isn’t what obvious?”
“Well, he thinks…” She stops, biting her lip. Then, in a much smaller voice, she says, “He thinks you have bigger things to worry about than this. I told him that...you would want to know, since Teddy’s your godson, but...I think he just felt bad when...well…”
Harry thinks back to his last conversation with Hermione. It’s always “we’re worried about you.” Not “I.” “We.”
“He thinks I’m still…”
“No, Harry, that’s not it.” But her words come out too fast, almost as if she has been preparing these words since Harry first started talking. “It’s just, well, we know you’re busy. It’s a new job, after all. And since you can’t exactly control what Andromeda does, he thought it might be a bit too much stress. That’s all.”
But even if Ron has his moments, Harry doesn’t think he’s that thoughtful. Still, he doesn’t want to talk about this, and, for once, Hermione doesn’t seem to want to either.
So he nods. “Okay. Well, thanks for explaining. Let’s just…”
She nods vigorously. “Right, let’s go.”
They have to jog in order to catch up to Ginny, but they manage to do so right as she and Isabelle are entering the Great Hall. Harry bids them all farewell for now, then hurriedly makes his way up to the staff table, relieved to see that Minerva is still here, though Malfoy, perfectly poised as always, is currently deeply in conversation with her.
Figuring that it can probably wait, Harry takes his regular seat beside Malfoy and serves himself some food. This is the fourth or fifth time he has come to lunch in the Great Hall, and though he hadn’t actually been planning on it this time, he thinks that Snape really ought to be proud of him.
By the time Malfoy and Minerva reach a consensus on whatever it is they’re discussing, he is halfway through his plate.
Minerva gets to her feet, though, clearly preparing to leave, and Harry hastens to stand up and catch her attention before she can.
She raises an eyebrow at him. “Is there something you need, Harry?”
He flushes, feeling oddly like a student caught out of bed again. “Er, um, yes, that is, I wondered—could we have a word? About—er, about some students in…in your House?”
She watches him in thinly-veiled amusement. “Certainly,” she says agreeably. “Draco was just telling me about an altercation he had witnessed in the halls earlier today, involving a couple Gryffindor students and a Slytherin. Perhaps there’s some correlation? Why don’t we head to my office and discuss it?”
Harry is definitely not imagining the twinkle in her eyes now. He wonders if Dumbledore tutors her when she’s in her office. There’s no way she would be able to look quite so…knowing otherwise.
Still, he nods his agreement and she leads him and Malfoy out of the Hall. Students’ heads swivel to get a good look at them as they pass by, clearly seeming to sense that something is amiss—as is the creed of all students, Harry thinks. Certainly, anytime he had been in trouble with teachers, half the school had known about it in a mere matter of minutes. Perhaps that had less to do with his fame than he had previously thought.
They walk in silence to the headmistress’s office, and it is only when they are inside and all sitting around Minerva’s desk that Minerva says, “House unity is failing in Hogwarts.”
Harry shares a blank look with Malfoy, who glances at Minerva again and asks, “What does that have to do with us?”
Minerva leans back, surveying them both with scrutiny. “You’ve both taken quite an interest in Isabelle Roberts.”
“Because her Housemates are treating her terribly!” Malfoy declares indignantly. “It would be one thing if she were being attacked by Slytherins, but her own Housemates?”
“You saw someone else attack her?” Harry asks, horrified. Just how many Gryffindors had gone out of their way to make Isabelle unwelcome?
“Yes,” Malfoy says stiffly. “She was with her brother. He tried to stand up to them for her, but he didn’t want to break any rules by getting into a fight.” He shakes his head. “They were second years, against two first years!”
Harry bites his tongue to keep from reminding Malfoy of all the times he had picked on students younger than him.
“I watched you walk in with her,” Minerva says to Harry. “And Granger and Weasley. I’m assuming something happened?”
Harry nods, then quickly relays the story of the fight before lunch to her. By the end, her lips are so thin Harry can hardly see them.
“I will certainly deal with Grant and Anderson,” she says after a moment. “But, more to the point, I expect that the ill feelings towards Slytherins—and their sympathizers, like young Miss Roberts—are coming forth more strongly than ever, given the events of last year. Most of our students lived through a terrible reign by Death Eaters here, and now they feel they need someone to blame for it.”
“Shouldn’t they be blaming Voldemort?” Harry demands.
She shakes her head. “It’s not so simple, unfortunately. Still, I believe this can be remedied. That is why I asked you here. I believe it would be beneficial to collaborate on House unity, and given that the largest amount of animosity in the castle seems to exist between Slytherin and Gryffindor, I thought that having you two in charge of such a project would help the students.”
Malfoy frowns “In charge of…?”
“Yes,” Minerva agrees. “I am aware that you are busy learning how to teach—as you should be doing, of course—but given that your workloads are significantly smaller, currently, than the other professors’, you will have time to arrange something. I expect there are others who will be more than willing to help you, though Pomona may be less than eager to let you take her shining apprentice from her for long.” She smiles faintly. “Regardless, I think you have both already displayed enough of an interest in the issue that you will be able to work well on it together.”
“Don’t you expect us to fight?” Harry asks, genuinely curious.
“Of course I do,” she says bracingly. “But I also think you are both old enough to know when to put your differences aside for something that matters. You’ve done it already, haven’t you?”
Harry nods slowly. “Okay, then. What, er—what would this House unity project look like?”
“That is entirely up to you. I will do what I can to assist you when you need me to, but that is all. This will be your responsibility, so long as you’re both up to it.”
For a long moment, neither of them say anything, and then Malfoy sighs.
“Fine,” he says. “We can work together. Right, Harry?”
It is probably the first time Malfoy has ever used his given name, he thinks dazedly. But he’s nodding before he can even think twice about it.
“Right,” he agrees. “We’ll do our best.”
“Good.” Minerva nods. “Then, you may go. If you need anything, I will be available.”
They’re both quick to agree, and then they are descending the stairs together in silence. It only lasts until the gargoyle statue is back in its regular place, however, and Malfoy suddenly rounds on Harry with a glare.
“How are we supposed to do something like this?” he demands. “it’s impossible!”
“I don’t think it is,” Harry says. “Besides, we just have to try, don’t we? I think it’s a good thing,” he can’t help adding. “Teamwork and friendship and all that is important.”
Malfoy glares at him. “Honestly, you’re impossible.” Then, under his breath, he says something that might be “Bloody Gryffindors” and turns away, stalking down the hall with purpose.
Harry watches him, amused, and then shakes his head. Though he won’t be telling Malfoy anytime soon, he thinks that this project may be exactly what he needs; it is, after all, something to keep him occupied, even into those early hours of the morning when sleep evades him. Yes, this is a wonderful gift for him, and the thought of it cheers him immensely as he heads towards the Defence classroom.
He has already made it a month here, and, now, he has a good feeling that he’ll be able to last at least a few more.
He might even be looking forward to it.
Chapter 3: October
[unedited as of 14/02/20]
sorry for taking forever to update! unlike harry and co., some student teachers actually do need to go to school before we're allowed to teach impressionable children. unfortunately the semester's midterms are starting about now and will continue up until finals, as it is, so i'm not sure how quick i'll be updating but i will try my best! i have no plans to abandon this fic, i can promise you that. also gonna add! i commissioned my wonderful friend to draw the first year trio, so check it out! aren't they just the cutest? <3
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
October 3, 1998
“I don’t feel like you’re contributing very much, Potter.”
Harry sighs, leaning back in his seat. Across the desk is Malfoy, though he doesn’t look annoyed. Rather, he is watching Harry rather thoughtfully, kind of like the way Hermione sometimes does when she thinks there’s something Harry isn’t telling her—which, lately, seem to be the majority of her looks towards him.
“I just don’t have many ideas,” Harry admits. “I thought we were really—well, when we formed the DA, we were all pretty unified then, except…”
“The Slytherins,” Malfoy finishes, lips twisting. “But that was all political, wasn’t it?”
Harry blinks. “Er, I don’t know. Was it?”
Behind him, he hears Snape let out a long-suffering sigh. “If you want him to understand something, Draco, you will need to explain it in painstaking detail first.”
“That’s not true,” Harry protests, even while Malfoy’s lips twitch in amusement.
“Yes, well…either way, it was politics. I’m sure most of us would have appreciated the practical practice for our exams, but it’s not as if we wanted to join a group that we had purposefully been excluded from, is it? Besides, Umbridge was nice to us, and it’s not like we wanted anybody to believe you about the Dark Lord, either.”
“Say his name,” Harry says absently. “He’s dead.”
Now, Malfoy’s smile is rather sardonic. “Old habits die hard, I suppose. And people that are dead can still hurt you. Can’t they?”
Harry looks away from him, scowling. “That’s not the point,” he says. “We’re talking about house unity.”
“A club would be a good place to start,” Snape puts in, to Harry’s immense relief. “Perhaps you recall Lockhart’s little dueling club? Nobody had seemed too bothered by house identities then.”
“Yeah, until I made them all think I was Slytherin’s Heir,” Harry mutters. “Still, that’s a good idea. But I dunno about dueling…it’s a little violent, isn’t it? For a bunch of kids who are already violent, I mean.”
“Well,” Malfoy says, “if you had let me finish, I would have had an excellent suggestion for you.”
Harry turns to face him again, frowning. “Okay, then. What is it?”
“Study groups?” Harry shudders. “Now you just sound like Hermione.”
Malfoy rolls his eyes. “Yes, well, it’s something all the students have in common. I was thinking of it before McGonagall set this insane project on us, anyway. I do recall I wasn’t learning much here last year, but the state of some of these students’ education is abysmal. And professors can only do so much, after all. If we could somehow arrange for tutoring sessions between students in different years—and we could help too, although we don’t exactly have any experience with the N.E.W.T. exams—then it may help the students who feel as though they’re a year behind in their education.”
Harry stares at him.
“What?” he asks, defensive. “I thought it was a good idea.”
“It is,” Harry says, blinking. “That’s why I’m so surprised.”
Now, it is Malfoy’s turn to scowl. “As if you were going to come up with anything. You looked like you were about to fall asleep!”
“It is one o’clock on a Saturday afternoon,” Snape muses. “Normally, he would be sleeping.”
Malfoy raises an eyebrow and looks between Harry, who is glaring at the Potions master, and Snape.
“I hadn’t realized afternoon naps were such a terrible offence,” he finally says, to Harry’s surprise. “I did wonder why you’re so rarely around for lunch, though.”
There is a pregnant pause, and then—
“You don’t eat lunch?” Snape demands. “Is the only thing of sustenance you consume tea?”
“No,” Harry says sullenly. “I eat breakfast and dinner.”
“Barely,” Malfoy informs Snape. Then, to Harry: “I was under the impression you were on some sort of strange diet, where you were only allowed to eat toast and vegetables.”
He grins, then, as Snape stares in disbelief.
“I had hoped,” Snape says angrily, “that you at least were trying to take care of yourself in some areas, but clearly, I was sorely mistaken. I cannot believe that Minerva would force me to deal with you. Must I impose a dining schedule on you as well? Not that you’ll listen to me, as you’ve certainly never listened to anybody in your life, you terrible, ungrateful—”
Malfoy is doubled over in laughter, and when, after a brief moment, he raises his head to look at Harry, Harry is almost shocked at the look in his eyes—so different than he has seen them in years, surely, open and full of mirth, shining silver instead of dull grey.
“—If you only put as much effort into looking after yourself as you do into driving me to madness!” Rant thoroughly finished for now, Snape huffs indignantly and turns away, brooding. He does that often, Harry has discovered, but he supposes that he’s earned the right to be a bit childish now and then, all things considered.
But Harry couldn’t really care less about Snape right now.
“You’ve always managed to rile him up like nobody else,” Malfoy is saying. “I had thought it was funny before, when you were actually doing things to piss him off, but this—”
“Why did you notice?” Harry blurts out, barely even hearing anything he has been saying.
Malfoy falters, closing his mouth tightly and blinking. “Notice what?”
“What I eat. That I don’t show up to lunch. All of it. Any of it. Why?”
“Well, it’s fairly obvious, isn’t it?” Malfoy leans back slightly, looking at him in that thoughtful way again. “Anybody would be able to see that you’re not eating or sleeping. Have you looked in a mirror recently?”
“Besides,” Malfoy continues, “I’m not completely stupid. It hasn’t been easy for me, either.”
“At Andromeda’s,” Harry remembers. “I thought you seemed—you were acting strange.”
“I didn’t want to see you. I didn’t even want to look at you. But then you left, like you had suddenly gotten news of something terrible, and I started to think that maybe you hadn’t had it as well as I was thinking you did. Well, not completely,” Malfoy amends. “I really was angry with you in the beginning here. But it doesn’t take a genius to put the pieces together, Potter. News articles about you, about how you enrolled in Auror training and dropped out two weeks later, that nobody had seen you in months and none of your friends were available for comment, and then you show up here, and once a few weeks had passed—and I started hearing some rumours about how harsh you were on the first day of classes—I figured being angry at you wasn’t going to do any good, since you were clearly punishing yourself enough for the both of us.”
Harry swallows thickly. “But you were angry with me. What you said about McGonagall…”
“Is true,” Malfoy says firmly. “She really would rather see me go than you. So if she wants us to work together, then we’ll have to work together. But,” he adds, “it doesn’t mean we’re friends. It doesn’t mean I like you. All I’m saying is that it’s obvious you’re not doing any better than I am, and that’s enough.”
Harry considers everything Malfoy has just said. For whatever reason, the fact that it is Malfoy saying it seems to make it much easier than when Hermione brings it up, or Ginny or Ron. Perhaps because, unlike them, he seems to think that it’s okay for Harry to be—well, like he is. Mad, or at least on the way there.
Finally, he asks, “You blamed me for it?”
“I really didn’t want—”
“I don’t want an apology.” Malfoy rolls his eyes. “I still blame you, for the record. But I need this job, so we’ll get along. So. Study groups?”
The change of topic is so abrupt Harry almost doesn’t register it. Then, after a minute or so to process, he nods.
“We just need a way to make it inter-house,” Malfoy muses. “And make them see us getting along, since that’s what McGonagall keeps going on about.”
They both ponder this for a while, but neither can come up with anything. Snape, still sulking in his portrait, is no help either.
Before either of them can get a word in, though, there is a knock at the door.
“Students come to your office on Saturdays?” Malfoy asks, amused.
“Yeah, sometimes.” Harry stands, shrugging. “Is that not normal?”
“Merlin, no. Honestly, I don’t see many students at all. According to McGonagall, most of them would rather take a failing grade than admit to their teacher they don’t understand something.”
Hand hovering at the door, Harry pauses. “What? But I have students here all the time asking about homework!”
He must look especially scandalized, because Malfoy laughs. “Well, because you’re Harry Potter, probably. I imagine they just want an excuse to talk to you, gain your favour or whatever. You’re the most influential person in this school.”
Harry gapes at him.
Another knock makes him jump, though, and then he turns and pulls the door open, faced with two familiar first years.
Grace and Henry stand close together, the former clutching some parchment close to her chest. Henry looks past Harry and spots Malfoy, then nudges Grace.
“Are we interrupting something, sir?” she asks uncertainly. “I just...we had a question about your essay.”
“Nothing important,” he assures her. “Come in, then. What’s your question?”
As they hurry past him, Harry shuts the door and then turns around to see that Malfoy has already Conjured a couple more chairs for the kids, and doesn’t seem to plan on leaving anytime soon.
Harry resumes his seat and looks at them expectantly.
Grace sets her essay on the desk and then nervously smooths it out. “I don’t know if I really understand the theory behind this spell, sir.”
Harry peers down to see what she’s written, and then offers her a quick smile and launches into an explanation, while she listens raptly, nodding occasionally, and then pulls back the parchment and begins to scribble down what he’s saying.
“Is that all?”
Grace nods, opening her mouth, but Henry says, “There was something else, sir.”
Grace turns to him, frowning. “I still don’t know if it’s a good idea for me to be involved in this. You heard what she said, Henry.”
But Henry is shaking his head. “I don’t care,” he says, and, now, he sounds angry. “This is just what she’s like, always trying to do everything on her own.” He turns to Harry with blazing brown eyes. “Izzy’s having an awful time, Professor, and she said that some of the older students are standing up for her, but they’re busy and they can’t always be close, just like us!” He gestures to Grace and then himself before leaning forward slightly, jaw set determinedly. “She won’t let me write our parents, either, but she’s always so down, I’ve never seen her like this, not even when she accidentally killed her goldfish!”
He says it so earnestly, so righteously, that Harry has to bite his tongue to keep from laughing.
Malfoy doesn’t seem to have the same modicum of control, however.
“Killed her goldfish?” he wheezes. “How in the world did she manage that?”
Clearly, whatever happened was not overly traumatic for Henry, either, because his mask of seriousness falls away and he chuckles too. “It was a magic trick,” he explains. “Or, it was supposed to be. Got a hold of Mum’s wand, even though we weren’t allowed. Said she was going to Transfigure it into something cooler, but, well, she sort of just—broke the fishbowl. Mum and Dad weren’t home, and neither of us knew what to do, so by the time they got back it was too late. I reckon that’s why Dad said we couldn’t have pets until next year.”
Harry and Malfoy both laugh at his, and Harry gets the feeling that, like him, Malfoy can perfectly imagine Isabelle doing that.
Grace, though, looks shocked.
“That’s awful!” she bursts out. “Henry, what about Sparkles?!”
“He’ll be fine,” Henry assures her. “I’m pretty sure she learned her lesson. Besides, she’s actually learning how to do magic now. Then she was just pretending to know.”
Grace is still eyeing him with distrust, though, so Harry asks, “Who’s Sparkles?”
“My cat,” says Grace primly. “He’s only little. He’s still growing, you see?”
Henry shakes his head. “He’s evil, sir. He’s always stealing quills and things, thinking they’re toys.”
“He’s not!” Grace crosses her arms over her chest and glares at Henry. “Besides, I saw you on the settee yesterday, he was lying on your lap and you didn’t even try to move him!”
Henry’s cheeks turn pink. “Well—I thought you’d be mad if I did.”
Grace rolls her eyes and huffs, sticking her nose up in a way that reminds Harry a bit of Malfoy, though when she does it it’s a lot less obnoxious.
“Well, that aside,” he says. “I know you’re worried about your sister, but I don’t really know what I can do about it, Henry. I mean...I’m keeping an eye on her, but…”
“Can’t you just talk to her, sir?” Behind his square-framed glasses, his eyes are wide. “She really likes you. She’s just...you know, sad. Maybe a bit homesick, too, but she won’t listen to me. I’m just her overprotective brother, and I think she’s worried that if she confided in Grace, then Grace would think it’s her fault when it’s not.”
Grace nods in agreement, clearly past whatever Isabelle said that was making her hesitate. “It’s like she feels bad for us when she’s the one being bullied.”
“But her bullies aren’t very nice to you, either,” Malfoy points out.
“But the other Slytherins look out for us, sir. Izzy’s a Gryffindor, so...they don’t care what happens to her. And only a few of the Gryffindors will say anything. Most of them just ignore it or encourage it. She woke up this morning and she said some of her stuff was missing from her trunk, and others had just been totally destroyed.” She shakes her head. “We kept telling her to tell someone, but…”
“She’s scared it’ll make things worse,” Henry finishes. “If Gryffindor loses points, they blame her. If people get detentions for messing with her, they want revenge because they think she tattled. It’s not fair.”
“No,” Harry agrees. “It’s not fair at all.”
Malfoy’s face is completely serious now. “You’re saying that someone damaged and stole her belongings and she hasn’t told anyone?”
Henry nods miserably. “She didn’t want us to tell, either.”
“She said she would stop talking to us.” Grace looks down, lips tugging into a despondent frown. “The way she said it, I don’t doubt she meant it. Well, she might start talking to Henry again, but…”
“We will have to inform Professor McGonagall,” Malfoy tells them.
“We know, sir.”
“But nobody needs to know who told us,” Harry adds. “I’m sure there are plenty of Gryffindors who’d be willing to lie for you if it really came down to that, but I doubt Isabelle is really going to stop being your friend over this. She’s just upset, right? My best friend used to stop talking to me sometimes too when I’d made him angry.” No point in mentioning what the specific occasions were, or just how long Ron would stay away from him. “It’ll blow over, you’ll see. But for now, you should get back to her and keep her company, wherever she is. Sometimes just having someone around can help loads when you’re feeling sad.”
Grace looks up at him thoughtfully, and, once again, Harry is reminded of Malfoy. No wonder she’s his favourite, he muses. They’re clearly cut from a similar cloth.
“Thank you,” Henry says, scrambling to his feet. “C’mon, Grace, let’s go find Izzy.”
Grace pulls her gaze away from Harry with what seems to be some effort, then nods and follows him out.
As the door closes, Malfoy says, “I’ve no idea how we’re ever going to unify that.”
But Harry just grins at him, mind already moving faster than it has in a very long time. “Actually, I think I have an idea…”
October 5, 1998
“Miss Roberts, would you stay back?”
Isabelle, halfway through stuffing a disturbingly tattered textbook into her bag, pauses. She looks up uncertainly at Harry, and he notes with disappointment that her eyes are quite dull.
“Yes, sir,” she mutters, resuming her task and then pulling her bag up and approaching his desk, while her classmates chatter amongst themselves and draw out from the classroom.
With a flick of his wand, Harry closes the door behind the last of them, then faces Isabelle with what he hopes is a serious face.
“Some troubling stories have reached my ears,” he tells her quietly. “Your friends are worried about you.”
Isabelle looks down at her feet, her long brown hair covering her face completely. “It’s okay, sir. Professor McGonagall helped me ward my things, so nobody will be stealing from me or anything again.”
“Your textbook looks like it’s been damaged,” he remarks.
Her head shoots up, and then she flushes scarlet and ducks it down again. “It’s fine, sir.”
“Let me see it,” he insists, and so she lowers her bag to the ground and fishes to retrieve her Defence text, which she lays out on the desk between them.
“Reparo,” Harry says, and they watch as it binds itself together again. Grimly, he pushes it back towards her. “That spell is in one of your textbooks for this year. It wouldn’t hurt to look through some of them and find some spells that will help you out. I know that it isn’t really right, but it might help. And...you know, you don’t have to deal with it all on your own, right? It’s okay to, er, ask for help. When you need it.”
“I’m okay,” she mutters. “I just...I wish they would leave Henry out of it.”
Harry stares at her.
After a moment, she lifts her head just enough to meet his eyes. “I was bullied in primary school too,” she admits. “But it never bugged me much, and Henry never knew about it, so when I came home at the end of the day, I could just forget about it. Nobody ever picked on Henry or anything. I’m just...well, I’m loud, and sometimes I guess I can be annoying.”
“That’s not true,” Harry says automatically, though he knows he can’t exactly prove it.
Still, she offers him a small smile. “I know. My family loves me a lot. They always reminded me that I had lots of good qualities, too, even if I don’t get along with everyone. This is just...it’s different, because I know they’re right. I’m not much of a Gryffindor. I can’t even stand up to them, not even when they’re telling me my brother is evil.”
“That doesn’t mean you aren’t brave,” Harry tells her firmly. “Or any of the rest of it. Sometimes it’s hard to stand up for yourself. You can’t always expect to be able to do it.”
“Really,” Harry says. “How can you stand up to three people at once? Or defend yourself when you’re sleeping in a room you’ve been promised is safe? And—anyway, that’s not the point, is it? It’s not like they’re being brave. You’re much better than anyone who’s picking on you, believe me.”
Isabelle blinks. “You mean that, sir?”
“Of course. I’ve known my fair share of school bullies, and trust me—they’re not worth it. We’ll do everything we can to keep you safe, but just...don’t let them get to you, okay? Talk to your brother, Grace, me, another professor, it doesn’t matter. Just don’t let it eat you up. That’s what they want, and I know I would much rather see you happy.”
For a moment, she says nothing, but then a slow smile spreads across her face. “Thanks, Professor. I should probably be going, but...I’ll think about that and—and I’ll try. Thank you.”
At that, she grabs her book from the desk and whirls around, jogging out of the room to catch up with her classmates before their next class.
“Perhaps you should have gone into motivational speaking,” Snape says snidely.
Harry rolls his eyes. “And miss out on all this time I get to spend with you? Never.”
Snape just lets out a derisive snort at that, and the rest of the day carries on much the same as every other one.
Until dinner ends, that is.
Minerva had been surprised at their alacrity when on Saturday he and Malfoy had proposed a plan to get started on this whole “house unity” madness. Harry hadn’t considered it until Malfoy had noted that it was unusual that he saw so many students at his office door throughout the week, but Malfoy had to agree that it seemed likely that most people who came knocking didn’t really have questions. Rather, they just wanted to see Harry Potter—who had mysteriously dropped out of contact with the press until he had shown up at Hogwarts on the first day of September along with hundreds of shocked students.
Harry himself isn’t really happy about the thought, but it makes sense. And with such an obvious answer right in front of them, there was really no reason not to jump on it.
So, the next day the notice boards in the common rooms had been adorned with a paper about a Defence Against the Dark Arts study group—run by Harry, for students of all ages.
While they had no way of ensuring that it wouldn’t spread around, Malfoy had seemed pretty insistent that each house would assume only they were being given this privilege. They would tell themselves that maybe next Monday Harry would be tutoring the Gryffindors, but obviously he had wanted the Ravenclaws first, because they are, of course, the most academically inclined house…
Harry had been less confident that it wouldn’t spread around, but it seemed that most people who would have told their friends in other houses simply didn’t have the time to, or decided it wasn’t important enough to mention. Otherwise, they were all silent, trying to keep this opportunity only for themselves.
Immediately after dinner, Malfoy followed Harry to the Defence classroom, where they sat waiting for the first few students to show up. Neither of them spoke, perhaps nervous that this wasn’t going to work, but it wasn’t long before their anxieties were put to rest.
Now, though, countless numbers of students have filed into his classroom, and he realizes a bit belatedly that there really isn’t enough room here for students from every house in every year.
But there’s nothing to it, he decides, straightening up and surveying the room. Easily half the student body has turned up, but if he doesn’t say something soon, they’ll grow more annoyed than they already are with the fact that there are so many people here.
“Attention, please!” he calls, waving a hand up and hoping that it will be enough. Though some whispers continue to circulate the room, the majority do fall silent, and he smiles gratefully before continuing.
“Though there are a few more of you than expected, I’m really pleased with the turnout here tonight. As there are a lot of us, though, I think we would best benefit from groups. Not with your friends,” he adds, as people begin to move closer to their own housemates. “Professor Malfoy has offered to, er, help out, so we’ll be splitting you up. This way, older students can help out younger students, and we’ll be around to help too. Okay? Good. Then, let’s get started…”
They spend the next fifteen minutes or so prying people away from their friend groups and trying to balance out ages and houses without making it blatantly obvious that they’re trying not to let housemates work too closely with one another. Somehow, they manage successfully, and the hundred or so students that have gathered in and outside of Harry’s classroom are separated into smaller groups of about ten, then marched to the Great Hall, where they mercifully find the four long tables empty and at their disposable. Delegating where each group sits, they finally manage to bring some semblance of order to the group at large, and Harry lets out a sigh of relief.
“They won’t come back,” Malfoy mutters. “Look, they’re already frustrated.”
Harry follows his gaze to a group just a bit to the left of them, led by a sixth year Hufflepuff girl and Terry Boot. She’s doing her best to console the younger students, but one young Slytherin isn’t cooperating, by the looks of things, and a fifth year Gryffindor student, scowling, suddenly snatches his books up and marches out of the Hall, muttering something about “a bloody waste of time.”
It’s not only that group, either. Others are glaring at their group-mates or simply collecting their things and moving to other groups, where they fall into kinder conversations with their friends.
Harry watches all this unfold, trying not to let his disappointment show, but finds his attention pulled away as someone tugs gently at his sleeve.
He turns around. It’s Luna.
She smiles serenely at him. “This was a wonderful idea, Harry,” she says. “Our group had some questions for you, I believe.”
He lets her drag him over to the group, and then they are bombarding him about different questions on the various essays he had set today and last week. Though it takes a moment to gather himself, he soon finds himself in his element, confidently going over each particular inquiry to a very enthusiastic group.
Once he has satisfied them, he sees that another group is calling him over, and so he spends the rest of his time drifting between groups, either helping them work out the theory or correcting their spellcasting. It feels almost like being in the DA again, he thinks, but this feels somehow so much more comfortable, perhaps because there is no looming threat of Voldemort encouraging them to learn, and this time he really is confident that he’s supposed to be playing the teacher.
Eventually, curfew for the younger students draws nearer and he dismisses them all with what he hopes is a charming smile.
“We’ll do this again next week,” he says. “It’ll be easier now that we all know what to expect.”
Most of the students still in the Hall seem agreeable, and so they make their way out without much protest, though Harry notices that they don’t stick with their assigned groups longer than necessary.
Well, it can’t be helped, he thinks. Maybe next time it will be better, though he isn’t feeling too hopeful at the moment.
Eventually, only a few people linger in the Hall, and Malfoy sighs in frustration.
“Impossible task,” he mutters. “I knew this wouldn’t work.”
Hermione and Ginny, who are chatting quietly between the books they haven’t yet put away, must hear him, because they fall quiet and look up.
“It worked better than you think,” Ginny speaks up, glancing between Harry and Malfoy. “I think for a lot of us older students, the shock of seeing you two treat each other civilly when McGonagall wasn’t around was impressive enough.”
“Most of the students who left early on were Gryffindors and Slytherins,” Harry can’t help pointing out. “They were kinda the ones we’re trying to get to.”
“They’ll come around,” Hermione insists. “Besides, this really was a good idea, everything else aside. Can you imagine if we had had older students willing to tutor us?” She shakes her head, positively beaming. “It’s brilliant! I really could’ve used that before our O.W.L.s.”
Harry rolls his eyes, but Malfoy has turned to look at her in surprise.
“Really?” he asks. “You think it was a good idea?”
Hermione nods. “I do. The kids in our group seemed to be picking things up a lot faster, at least. And this is just one subject. Imagine if we could get them to work on the rest of them like this!”
Astonishingly, Malfoy smiles.
“Thanks, Granger,” he says. “I quite agree.”
Ginny looks between the two of them in consternation, then meets Harry’s eyes rather hopelessly.
But Harry can’t help feeling a bit relieved, seeing Hermione and Malfoy smiling at each other.
“Well, if you two start to collaborate, I don’t think we’ll have anything to worry about,” he says lightly.
They both look to him, Hermione in amusement and Malfoy in exasperation.
“Did you forget this is our project, Potter? Don’t go shrugging off your responsibilities now.”
“I can help, though,” Hermione pipes in, pulling up her bag and stepping towards them. “Leave some of the Gryffindors to us. I’m sure the rest of mine and Ginny’s years will be willing to come by, too. A lot of them said they weren’t coming because they didn’t need the help.”
Dean, Seamus, and Parvati, amongst others from other houses, have all returned to Hogwarts this year, too, though Harry has no idea what happened to some of the other students who were supposed to graduate with him. He hasn’t thought about it much, if he’s being completely honest. After all, if they sent him letters, it’s not like he read them.
“Let’s try again next Monday,” Hermione suggests. This has always been her area of expertise, bossing people around. And thank Merlin for that, too. “It might take some time, but it really is a good idea. The, er, novelty of it might wear off rather quickly, though.”
“Then, Potter will just have to draw more attention to himself,” Malfoy says primly. “That’s how you stayed so famous during school, isn’t it? Fake Heir of Slytherin, Triwizard Champion, the Chosen One.”
Harry rolls his eyes. “I’d rather not, thanks. Why don’t you try doing something spectacular for once?”
“I do spectacular things all the time,” Malfoy retorts. “The only difference is that you just do spectacularly stupid things.”
Harry honestly can’t argue with that, so he settles on a scowl.
Malfoy seems unbothered, though. “Well, either way, if you’re sure you can make this work, I won’t back out just yet. Not that I’d have a choice, anyway…” He shakes his head, looking disgusted. “I’m going. Thanks for the help, Granger.”
And with that, he turns and stalks out of the Hall, leaving Harry and the girls to stare after him.
“He’s moody,” Ginny remarks.
Harry snorts. “That’s one way to put it, yeah.”
“He kind of reminds me of you,” she adds thoughtfully. “Moody. You’re quite the pair.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Harry demands indignantly. “I am not moody.”
Hermione and Ginny are both suspiciously silent after that.
“People are surprised to see you two working together, though,” Hermione puts in after a moment. “I mean, I know you said McGonagall told you to, but…”
“It seems like you actually get on, at least a bit,” Ginny finishes for her. “Even once everyone left, you guys didn’t just go back to hating each other.”
“I don’t hate him,” Harry mutters. “He’s just a prat.”
“Well, that’s still better than we expected.” She shrugs. “I’m not really very fond him myself, but we sort of figured that McGonagall must think he’s deserving of something, at least. And he wasn’t so bad last year, but…” She stops, suddenly looking frowning. “Well, never mind. Anyway, come on, I’m exhausted, and if you let Snape make you assign us such a long essay again, I’ll kill you and burn up his portrait.”
On that note, she stalks towards the doors and leaves Harry and Hermione to trail after her. Harry turns Ginny’s words over in his head a few times, but he doesn’t miss the thoughtful looks Hermione sends his way as they go, either. He just hopes that whatever strange theory she’s coming up with about him now is less awkward than the last.
October 10, 1998
It’s the first Hogsmeade trip of the year.
At Minerva’s encouragement, Harry finds himself walking down towards the village with, of all people, Malfoy and Neville. Neville keeps sending Malfoy these odd looks somewhere between nervous and annoyed, and Harry is doing his very best to ignore the uncomfortable feeling that, sooner or later, they’re actually all going to have to talk to each other. Civilly.
Well, Harry thinks he might be able to accomplish this normally, but today he’s feeling a little more on-edge than usual. Which, according to Snape, is quite the feat, considering how paranoid he is normally. It’s not that, though, really; more, he just hasn’t been getting enough sleep, and it’s really starting to catch up to him. He gets the feeling that if he were any more exhausted, he wouldn’t even be able to stand on his own two feet.
So, with this in mind, he leads his two classmates—colleagues—to The Three Broomsticks, half hoping that they’ll find a group of seventh or eighth years they could blend in with rather than socializing with each other.
They’re not so lucky, unfortunately, but Harry really wasn’t expecting them to be. Honestly. He thinks the only time he was ever lucky was when he had a potion to make it so.
There are students here, though. Just none that they could comfortably have a conversation with, any more than they could have one with each other. Not when Malfoy keeps looking at Neville with thinly veiled disgust, looking so very much like the schoolyard bully Harry remembers from their years as students.
They order some food and drink, and then they are left to stare at each other, all of them surely hating Minerva a very equal amount right now.
Finally, Malfoy says, tone bored, “How are you enjoying your classes, Longbottom?”
Harry blinks, but just shrugs when Neville sends him a confused look.
“Er, they’re not bad, thanks.” He coughs. “And…and you?”
“Well,” Malfoy says airily. “Any standout students?”
At this, Neville’s eyes light up and, like he has already forgotten his audience, he launches into a spirited discussion of a fifth year girl named Elizabeth in Ravenclaw who really just gets plants, and, most spectacularly of all, Malfoy nods along at all the right times, as if he’s actually listening.
“But they’re all good in their own ways, you know?” Neville adds. “Some of them just don’t know it yet.”
“Like you,” Malfoy says.
Harry opens his mouth furiously, but Neville just nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Pomona said the same thing.”
After that, Neville and Malfoy talk, well, kindly with one another, throughout the entire meal, and Harry sits, gobsmacked, until Malfoy idly tells him to close his mouth before he starts to catch flies.
Maybe he’s having hallucinations from lack of sleep, but by the time they leave the pub, Harry gets the distinct feeling that Malfoy and Neville are friends now, and he’s really never felt so confused in his life. Neither of them pay him much mind, both equally invested in discussing certain students, some of whom they both have signalled out as having impressive abilities in their respective fields. Harry catches some names he recognizes as both really good and really poor Defence students, but finds himself at a loss as to how he could possibly contribute to this conversation when they’re already both so engrossed in it.
They spend the rest of the day wandering around the village, occasionally heeding pleas from students to come sort out one conflict or another—or to “check out this wicked thing I got at Zonkos, Professor Potter!”—but never once does Harry get the impression that Malfoy and Neville are growing sick of each other. Rather, they only seem to get along better as the hours slip by, and Harry has to readjust his previous thoughts regarding this afternoon. He would almost rather they were arguing or giving each other the silent treatment, because this is just weird.
He still has not been getting enough sleep for this, though.
His salvation comes in the form of Hermione, thankfully.
“Harry!” She’s beaming as she approaches, not seeming to notice that Malfoy and Neville are even there at all. “I’ve been looking all over for you. Ron wants to meet us in…” She pauses, casting a quick Tempus, then nods sharply. “Ten minutes! Come on, we haven’t all been together since August, it’ll be good for you.”
And then he’s being, mercifully, dragged away from Malfoy and Neville and their strange new brotherhood, and being shoved back towards The Three Broomsticks.
She makes him sit as far away from everyone else as they can get, then immediately starts talking to him about her classes. After a brief moment of alarm, Harry realizes that she’s nervous about this, and he really can’t tell if it’s about him or if it’s about Ron or if it’s something else entirely.
He gets his answer soon enough, though.
Ron arrives looking rather disgruntled, but he quickly shakes it off, brightening, when he sees Harry and Hermione. Hermione for her part begins fussing over him, like she’s suddenly channeling Molly Weasley’s spirit, and Ron good-naturedly waves her back, glancing at Harry in mock annoyance.
For a brief, stunned moment, Harry wonders when his best friends started acting so…so married.
“So,” Hermione finally says, once they’ve all sat down again and gotten their greetings out of the way, “will you tell us about Teddy now?”
Harry stares blankly at her, then at Ron.
Ron shifts uncomfortably, looking away from him. “Er, right. Well, it’s kind of…Mum’s not too happy about it, says that Malfoy’s mum is a bad influence for him, seems almost like she wants to, I dunno, take Andromeda to trial over it or something, so that hasn’t, er, really been working out. But I think that Andromeda’ll come around eventually. I mean…”
Harry thinks about that for a second, and then, oddly, finds a surge of defensive anger coursing through him for Narcissa Bloody Malfoy.
“She’s not a bad influence,” he says, trying to put a stopper on the worst of the strange rage that has suddenly overwhelmed him. Sleep deprivation. Definitely sleep deprivation.
“She saved my life,” Harry insists. “And if she’ll love Teddy half as much as she loves Malfoy, then I don’t really see what the problem is.”
Ron looks at him as if he’s grown two heads.
Hermione shifts in her seat, not meeting either of their eyes. “I…I know where you’re coming from, Harry,” she starts. “But, well, don’t you think…isn’t there a reason Andromeda never wanted to talk to her before now? And she just lost her daughter and—and her husband, didn’t she? So maybe she’s a little…”
“I don’t think I really follow.” Harry leans forward, trying to steady himself by resting his elbows against the table. “What do Tonks and her dad have to do with it? Sure, they might have had reservations about Mrs Malfoy too, but it’s not like she’s going to do anything. Malfoy said she just wanted, I dunno, a family again, since her own husband is rotting away in Azkaban. Besides, she betrayed Voldemort in the end, didn’t she? She can’t be that bad.”
“Mum was hoping you’d take her side,” Ron says quietly. “I think, anyway.”
“But I was the one Mrs Malfoy asked about being allowed to see Teddy,” Harry points out, trying very hard not to say something unpleasant about Mrs Weasley, who he really does love dearly. “Andromeda knows that, I’m sure she could tell your mum. And, anyway, I know your mum is…well, she wants someone to take care of, but, well, Teddy isn’t…”
“Hers,” Ron finishes, frowning.
Well, Harry had more been thinking something like that Teddy isn’t just some thing to be passed around, he’s a bloody baby, but he has a feeling that Ron and Hermione might not totally understand that, so he just shrugs.
“Maybe there’s a way to make it work,” Hermione says in a high, strained voice. “Maybe your mum and Mrs Malfoy could…could…take turns? Or something?”
Ron shakes his head. “Mum’s pretty, er, insistent that she doesn’t think Teddy should be anywhere near Mrs Malfoy. And I don’t really want to try to test her on it, either. You know how she gets.”
“Maybe it’s for the best, then,” Harry says, before he can even begin to think about the words.
“Harry!” Hermione looks appalled, and Ron’s cheeks have turned a funny shade of pink.
Harry swallows back a bitter taste and shakes his head. “I just mean that it’s not fair to use Teddy like that. If Mrs Malfoy wants to help raise him, then she should. If she were trying to fill some gap in her—”
“That’s not what my mum is doing,” Ron interrupts. “She just wants to help, and wants him to have good influences. Maybe she wouldn’t be so worried if you actually visited him sometimes!”
Harry’s jaw tightens at that. “Don’t. You have no idea—”
“I think I have a pretty good idea, actually,” Ron says heatedly. “I don’t care if you want to defend Malfoy’s mum or whatever else, but don’t act like you’re any better than my mum, just because she’s dealing with it in a different—”
“Shut up,” Harry snaps. That roaring is back in his ears, and his heart has begun to pound about twice as fast as it probably should be doing. Not enough sleep. Definitely not enough sleep. “I don’t want to talk about this. Look, I’m sorry your mum isn’t seeing Teddy as much anymore, but I can’t make Andromeda do anything. And as you’ve so kindly pointed out, I don’t see Teddy very much, so it really shouldn’t be up to me anyway! If you want to argue with someone, argue with Andromeda. I hardly think I deserve a say in any of it.”
With that, he pushes himself up from the table and leaves his friends behind, even as Hermione calls after him, sounding shocked.
Once he’s outside, the cool air seems to do wonders for helping him breathe out the rest of his anger. This isn’t a fight he wants to get involved in, especially not when he already knows how pants he is at being a godfather. He doesn’t want to fight with Ron, by any means, but it’s not like he can just swoop in and save the day for everyone all the time.
His thoughts come to a halt as he hears someone approaching from his left, though, and, unthinking, he draws his wand.
Harry lets out a shaky breath, lowering his wand, looking at Malfoy unseeingly.
“You look like shite,” Malfoy informs him.
“Shut up,” Harry mutters. “I’ve just been defending your mum, for your information.”
“Oh?” Malfoy raises an eyebrow at that. “I’m sure she would be pleased to hear that. But.” He pauses delicately, here, and then straightens up a bit. “But we can go now, if we like. Longbottom already went back about twenty minutes ago.”
Harry sighs, relaxing his shoulders with a great effort. “And you waited for me? That’s sweet, Malfoy.”
Malfoy snorts. “As if, Potter. Actually, I was doing a bit of early Christmas shopping. You can never start too soon, you know.”
“Right.” Harry, who has, historically, done just about everything at the last minute possible, really does not know. “So, you’re heading back?”
“That’s right. And you’re coming with me, seeing as you look like you’re about to vomit. What in the world did Granger and Weasley do to you?”
“Who said it was them?” Harry shoots back weakly as they begin to walk back towards the castle.
“Well, unless you had someone else to meet with, then who else could it be? And I’m interested to know what in the world made you feel the need to defend my mother. She may seem fragile, but she can fight her own fights, you know.”
“It’s about Teddy,” Harry admits. “Mrs Weasley doesn’t think Andromeda is, I dunno, in her right mind, I guess. Can’t say I’m surprised, with how everyone treated me after—” He stops, throat closing up around the words. After a moment, he coughs and says, “Well, anyway, she just thinks Andromeda shouldn’t trust your mum. I think that’s bollocks. She seemed sincere enough to me.”
“She is sincere,” Malfoy says, but he sounds distant. “Whatever people might think of my father and me, my mother is a good person. She wouldn’t use a child as leverage or whatever in the world it is the Weasleys think.”
“I know,” Harry mutters.
“Well, I suppose you’re expecting me to thank you,” Malfoy says after a moment. “And I’m almost tempted to. But I don’t think I will.”
“I wasn’t expecting you to, anyway,” he informs Malfoy. “I think your mum is fine. I have no reason not to defend her.”
Harry shakes his head. “I was an orphan too, you know. I’d’ve loved to have an aunt so willing to go out of her way to see me.” Now that he thinks about it, the parallels between his life and Teddy’s really are quite striking. Of course, he’s not locked up in Azkaban or anything, but as far as other similarities go…
“But you grew up with your aunt, didn’t you?” Malfoy sounds genuinely curious, and Harry tries not to let himself tense up at the question.
“Yes,” he says shortly. “We didn’t have much in common.”
“Because she’s a Muggle.”
Harry nods, grateful for the easy out.
Malfoy just hums in acknowledgement, and thankfully doesn’t ask anything else.
By now, they’ve come back to the steps of the castle, and Malfoy hesitates just before the entrance, eyeing Harry the way Snape sometimes does, like he’s a particularly distasteful potions ingredient.
“Thank you,” Malfoy finally says, and then turns and walks away.
Slytherins, Harry reflects, are the worst.
October 12, 1998
On Sunday, Hermione came to Harry and offered him tentative apologies from both Ron and herself, which he decided he really had no reason not to accept, though for some reason he didn’t really do so as gratefully as he would have expected. Still, it was enough, and she spent the rest of the morning helping him plan out Monday’s study group before Harry was to meet with Malfoy about it after lunch.
But come Monday, he really hasn’t been able to get the conversation—or that strange one with Malfoy right after—out of his head. Snape tells him that he’s being ridiculous, and that ruminating won’t help anything, but when he points out that Snape himself held a grudge for nearly thirty years, the Potions Master apparently has nothing else to say on the topic, which is just as well.
Besides, Harry doesn’t think he’s ruminating. He’s just thinking. Trying to figure out what the hell any of it means.
A year ago, the thought of defending a Malfoy against the Weasleys would never have occurred to him, especially knowing just how deeply the Malfoys loathed his surrogate family. But now, he can’t help being a bit bitter with Mrs Weasley. Maybe it isn’t fair of him, but he can’t stop thinking of Dumbledore, making all these choices about where he should go and how he should live without even considering anything other than what he thought was right, Sirius and Remus and anyone else who might have had a reason to disagree be damned.
But there’s no reason for Teddy to be jerked around like that. He has a loving family, in Andromeda, and, sure, Harry doesn’t know much about Narcissa, but Malfoy seems to like Teddy, and he’s never given any indication that his mother doesn’t. Not that they talk about Teddy often, but Harry knows that Andromeda has sent Malfoy more pictures. And, sometimes, Malfoy will show him, but Harry still can’t quite figure out his motive for that. Still, it doesn’t matter. The point is that the Malfoys, however questionable they may be in other aspects, clearly care about Teddy, and Harry doesn’t really get how that could possibly be a bad thing.
Their study groups meet in the Great Hall this time, and Harry and Malfoy sit a little away from the groups, letting students approach them when necessary but not interfering themselves, as per Hermione’s suggestion. Many of the students who left last time have not returned today, but fewer people make to escape from their groups, so Harry will take it as a tentative win for now.
Malfoy, though, seems to think he and Harry have an awful lot to talk about.
“You’re still angry at Granger and Weasley, aren’t you?” he remarks now. “I can’t help wondering just what about this argument has caused such a rift between you all.”
“Well, keep wondering, then,” Harry says tiredly, not even willing to object to Malfoy’s “rift” comment. Maybe there is a rift between them. Harry has a feeling that not talking to anybody for three months might have that effect, though certainly his loved ones are too nice to say so.
Malfoy, apparently, is not.
“It has to be something more than one argument,” he ploughs on. “Granger looks at you sometimes like you’re someone’s kicked dog, did you realize?”
Harry ignores him.
“I can almost see why, too. You always look as though you’re one moment from falling asleep.” Malfoy pauses, as if to consider this. “Until you’re pointing your wand at me in the streets of Hogsmeade, that is. Then you look like a madman.”
“I’m pretty sure you think I’m mad already,” Harry can’t help pointing out.
“That’s true,” Malfoy concedes. “But I’ve thought that for years. Your little sidekicks, however—”
But he’s cut off by a call of, “Professor Malfoy!”
They both look to see Grace leading the Roberts twins, shoulders back and head held high. Isabelle, for her part, is skipping happily behind her friend, while Henry watches her with a small smile, as if prepared to catch her if she trips. Grace is clearly their impromptu leader, but Harry gets the feeling that she isn’t really aware of it. If nothing else, she’ll wear leadership well someday, but, then, he thinks uncomfortably, they all said that about him, too.
“Hullo, Grace.” Malfoy’s voice and gaze are—well, soft is the only way Harry can think to explain it. He knows he’s staring, but he can’t help it.
“I had a question about the homework,” Grace says, sitting down between them while Isabelle and Henry hover at her shoulders. “I can cast the spells, but I don’t really get the theory.”
Malfoy smiles at her, and, again, Harry is struck by the sudden lack of lifelessness in his eyes. He honestly had never picture Malfoy as the type of person to like children, and yet, here he was, gently leading Grace to an understanding, not berating her for not knowing already, as he would surely be doing were Harry in Grace’s place.
“Sir?” This is Henry, who seems to have noticed Harry’s stunned expression.
Harry makes an effort to school his features, then nods in that cool acknowledging way he has been trying (and failing) to copy from Snape. “Yes, Mr Roberts?”
“Are you and Professor Malfoy friends yet, sir?.”
Malfoy stops talking, rather suddenly.
“Yes?” Harry tries, getting the distinct feeling that this is one of those no-right-answer sort of situations.
“As if,” Malfoy mutters, then resumes his explanation.
A grin that could have given the Weasley twins a run for their money spreads across Henry’s face.
“Why does the Headmistress want you to be friends so bad?” he asks.
Harry blinks. “Where did you hear that?”
“It’s obvious,” Isabelle pipes in. “I think the only one who knows you’re acting differently around Professor McGonagall is, well, Professor McGonagall, and even then....”
Clearly finished helping Grace, Malfoy sighs. “Yes, well, Professor Potter wouldn’t be a professor if he was a talented actor, would he?”
Isabelle giggles. “I guess not, sir. You know, I always expected the Boy Who Lived to be a lot cooler. Not that you aren’t cool, Professor,” she adds hastily. “But you’re a little, erm…”
“Awkward,” Grace supplies.
Isabelle nods empathetically.
“That doesn’t mean I’m not cool,” Harry points out, hurt. “I’m really good at Quidditch. That makes me cool, doesn’t it?”
“Maybe,” Isabelle allows. “But we’ve never seen you play, so we wouldn’t know that.”
“He has a fragile ego,” Malfoy says dryly. “Go easy on him.”
“You’re one to talk,” Harry shoots back hotly. “And you never won a Quidditch match against me, so what does that say about your—your coolness?”
Malfoy rolls his eyes, but before he can say anything, Henry is asking, “You played Quidditch against each other? You know, I’ve heard some older students saying that you guys were, like, rivals. Was that why?”
Harry opens his mouth, then closes it again, stumped.
“Sort of,” Malfoy says. “But we’re not rivals anymore, as you can see.”
“But you bicker a lot,” Grace says.
“Yes,” Malfoy allows.
“Like an old married couple,” Isabelle reflects thoughtfully.
Harry finds he has nothing to say to that, feeling rather horrified by the very idea of it, and is surprised to see Malfoy’s cheeks turn a light shade of pink.
“We’ve just known each other a long time,” Harry says quickly. “We were in the same year at Hogwarts, after all.”
“That is a long time,” Isabelle agrees. “I hope by the time I’m as old as you, I’m more organized than you are.”
“I’m not that old,” Harry protests, then pauses. “Or disorganized!”
Malfoy snickers, clearly over whatever had come over him at Isabelle’s earlier comment. “Young, I can agree with, but the closest to organized you’d get is organized chaos. Maybe.”
“Now you just sound like Snape,” Harry grumbles.
“Professor Snape,” Malfoy tells him with a smirk.
If there weren’t three eleven-year-olds watching, Harry would hit him. Or hex him. Or both.
“But if you’re not friends, why do you spend so much time together?” Henry wonders. “Because of the Headmistress?”
“You’re too observant of us,” Malfoy informs him. “If you spent less attention to how we spend our time, maybe you could actually hand in a good Transfigurations essay for once.”
Harry stares at him, appalled.
But Henry just laughs at the comment. “Maybe,” he agrees. “But I get bored, writing everything all out like that. I’m not good with words like Grace is.”
“You could be,” Grace tells him, with the air of someone who has said so a thousand or more times already. “I don’t know what happened to all your Slytherin ambition, Henry.”
“I’m ambitious,” he says easily. “Just about other things.”
Harry does not like the thoughtful look he shoots in his and Malfoy’s direction.
“Get back to work,” Malfoy tells the three of them. “I’ll be expecting the best essay you’ve ever written in your life on Wednesday, Roberts.”
Henry rolls his eyes. “Yes, sir,” and then the three of them disappear back to wherever they came from.
Harry can’t help the curious gaze he rests on Malfoy. “You really like those kids, don’t you?”
“I do not,” Malfoy denies haughtily. “Not like you do, at least.”
“I like them,” Harry agrees. “But they’re always following me around and stuff. Henry and Isabelle more so than Grace, but…”
“Well, either way.” Malfoy shrugs. “Henry will be an impressive Transfiguration student, but he doesn’t really apply himself. All his work seems to be done at the last minute, and once he has a spell down, he doesn’t seem to think he needs to practice it anymore. I’ve never met such a lazy child in my life.”
Harry hums thoughtfully. “I don’t think he’s lazy. Just not interested in school, I reckon. I mean, I wasn’t really, either, after my first few years here.”
Malfoy rolls his eyes. “Yes, but Henry Roberts doesn’t have a Dark Lord out for his blood, does he? He distracted me enough as a student, I can hardly imagine how distracting he was for you.”
He says it all as if it is the simplest thing in the world, but Harry can’t help staring. Malfoy sounds...well, understanding might be the only word for it. But even a week ago, Malfoy was telling him that he blamed Harry for his own suffering, wasn’t he?
Harry narrows his eyes, thinking hard. No, this is not the first time he’s gotten the impression that even Malfoy doesn’t really know what Malfoy thinks and feels. The quiet, distant figure at Andromeda’s house doesn’t mix with the angry, paranoid one from that last week of August. This Malfoy, good with kids—albeit not incredibly good with them, as far as Harry is concerned, given his sarcastic interaction with Henry—and understanding doesn’t mix with the one telling Harry that he had been angry with him, but wasn’t anymore because Harry was—what was it? Punishing himself enough for the both of them?
The Malfoy who walked back with him from Hogsmeade after spending the day, apparently quite happily, with Neville Longbottom, and thanked him for defending his mother.
Who brought him a picture of Teddy, because he knew Harry didn’t have any, or at least wasn’t going to ask for his own.
Who noticed that Harry doesn’t eat much or sleep much but didn’t seem to think it was wrong, that he was made of spun glass and couldn’t be treated the same as he ever was, just as he noticed Isabelle Roberts—and advocated for her. Even though she’s a Gryffindor. Even though nobody else would have held it against him if he had said nothing at all.
Harry wants to get it, but he can’t. Malfoy has an image he wants to project, that much is certain, but what’s projected and what’s real and what’s some failed attempt at reconciling both is far from apparently clear. And as much as Harry would like to say he gets Malfoy, he’s not so sure, anymore, that he does. This is not the spoilt eleven-year-old that offered him some pathetic mimicry of friendship on the Hogwarts Express. This is not the fifteen-year-old boy who was confident that he could and should let himself be branded a Death Eater.
During seventh year, Harry has no idea what Malfoy did. Of course, he saw him at Malfoy Manor, where he had been avoidant and uncertain, and then again in the Room of Requirement. Desperate. Terrified.
But it has been many months since then. While it’s only really been a summer, Harry gets the feeling that after those first weeks after the battle, when Malfoy had been preparing to stand trial and then did, there has probably been a lot to think about. There certainly has been for Harry, at least.
He stood in defence of Malfoy and his mother, and got them cleared of all charges, though the same can’t be said for Lucius Malfoy, who was instead sentenced to a lifetime in Azkaban along with the other convicted Death Eaters. After Malfoy’s trial, Harry returned his wand, and then they went their separate ways with next to no words exchanged. No “thank you,” no suggestion of a desire for continued conversation. It was just an order of business on Harry’s long list at the time, and, presumably, something Malfoy had already agonized over enough.
“Have I grown a second head?” Malfoy asks, and Harry thinks that his tone is somewhere between amusement and exasperation.
Harry shakes his head. “Sorry. I was just thinking.”
“Shocker, that. I didn’t know you had it in you, Potter.”
Before Harry gets the chance to retort, someone else is approaching them, and the comment dies somewhere between his throat and his lips.
They don’t spend much more time talking to each other after that, but Harry suspects that Malfoy has already given him more than enough to think about, anyway.
October 18, 1998
Dear Mr Potter,
My son passed a most fascinating message to me last week. I suspect that he was only guessing in regards to specific details, but I should like to pass my gratitude to you nonetheless. The time I have been able to spend with my sister and Teddy has been irreplaceable these past couple months. Andromeda has most kindly given me house room, as the Manor holds some challenging memories for all of us.
It is not my place to extend invitations in my sister’s home, but in this case I am already certain Andromeda will be agreeable. Would you like to spend Christmas Eve with us this year? I understand that you may have your own traditions, or other responsibilities, but, if not Teddy and Andromeda, then I would certainly be pleased by your presence here for the holiday. Draco will be coming from Hogwarts for the day as well, though he has been rather difficult to persuade on the matter.
I await your response most eagerly.
Narcissa Black Malfoy
“This is just weird,” Harry mutters, eyeing Narcissa’s owl suspiciously. The owl hoots shrilly, as though in agreement.
“Talking to owls, are we?” Malfoy raises an eyebrow at him. “I should think the table full of other people would be far better at holding a conversation.”
“Maybe I appreciate that the owl can’t really talk back,” Harry says, then turns to the owl again. “No response.”
It hoots indignantly, but takes its cue to leave.
“That’s my mother’s owl,” Malfoy says after a moment. “I had no idea you were in correspondence.”
“We’re not.” Harry frowns down at the letter, which he knows he’ll have to respond to eventually. Just not now, when he would rather be focussed on breakfast. For once.
“She seems rather fond of you,” Malfoy informs him. “Merlin knows why, but she does.”
“She seems different.”
Malfoy blinks. “Well, yes. She’s been rather off since Father left, but I hardly imagine she’s the only one.”
Harry ignores the significant look he gets at that. As if Malfoy is one to talk.
“She invited me over for Christmas Eve. Why were you—er, ‘difficult to persuade’?”
“Is that what she’s saying about me?” He sounds nearly as exasperated as he does when Harry says things he thinks are ridiculous (which is a rather frequent occurrence), and Harry feels a sudden sense of solidarity with Narcissa. “She’s been at me about it since I accepted my position here, but I had honestly rather hoped to spend the holidays here. Certainly not at the Manor.”
“But she’s not even living there anymore, is she?”
Malfoy shakes his head. “No, she’s not. We compromised. One day, and not at the Manor. She’s still trying to get me to stay for Christmas Day, too, but I won’t be.”
Harry glances down at Narcissa’s letter, thoughtful. “And why is that?”
“I suppose I just don’t really feel like celebrating this year.” Malfoy sneers, but it is a pathetic imitation of the look he always wore when they were schoolboys.
“Me either,” Harry says honestly. “But it’s still pretty early.”
“Not for my mother,” Malfoy informs him, tone dark. “She’s obsessive about the holidays, and it would appear she’s only getting worse. Be careful. She’ll have you hanging decorations until your fingers fall off.”
Harry laughs. “It can’t be that bad. Besides, I’m sure it’s better than my aunt and uncle were growing up. Christmas decorations were more a matter of competition with the neighbours. Muggle suburbia,” he adds, grinning. “It’s horrifying.”
Malfoy rolls his eyes. “Certainly. If someone had told me when we were children that that was the sort of area you lived in, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Harry folds up the letter from Narcissa carefully, not meeting Malfoy’s eyes as he does so. “I think that may have been the idea,” he finally says.
“Not just a matter of chance, then?” Malfoy doesn’t seem to believe him. “I was under the impression you were placed with your last living relatives.”
Harry makes a face at his breakfast. “Well, that’s true too, but, looking back on it, I doubt it was that simple. Anyway, Christmas has never been that enjoyable, not ‘til I came to Hogwarts. And last year we didn’t even know it was Christmas. I can’t really say it’s my favourite holiday, either.”
“Well, of course not.” Suddenly, Malfoy has a sly look on his face. “Did you know that in some circles of wizards, after the first fall of the Dark Lord, they began to celebrate Harry Potter day?”
Harry opens his mouth, then closes it again, mildly horrified. “You must be joking.”
“I’m completely serious. Unfortunately, the tradition seems to have been lost somewhere along the way… Ah, well, there are better days to celebrate, surely.”
Harry shudders. “No kidding,” he mutters. “I don’t like Halloween much as it is.”
“Are there any holidays you like?” Malfoy demands.
“Not especially.” Harry frowns. “There’s not really anything special about them, is there? They’re just days.”
“Just days.” Malfoy shakes his head. “Well, then maybe it’s good thing my mother wants you around for Christmas. We have all sorts of wonderful holiday traditions. Normally, I rather enjoy the season, myself.” Briefly, he looks troubled, but then his face is impassive once again, no sign of emotion at all. “My mother will positively spoil you, Potter. She adores you.”
“I really don’t see why,” Harry says.
Malfoy eyes him curiously. “You protected us when you didn’t have to. It’s a Slytherin thing. You pledge loyalty to us, and we’ll do the same for you. As long as it’s in our interests, of course. Being the loving aunt to Harry Potter’s godson is certainly in Mother’s interests.”
“What about you, then?”
“Me?” Malfoy raises an eyebrow at him. “Well, I don’t really care much. I suppose you helped us, but I don’t trust as easily as my mother. Not anymore. Consider us acquaintances, if you will. I don’t hate you. It doesn’t mean I like you.”
With that, he pushes his plate forward slightly and rises, turning to stalk away without giving Harry a chance to even internalize his words. He had told Ginny, of course, that he doesn’t really hate Malfoy anymore—really, he came to think, sometime while they were hunting Horcruxes, that wasting his energy on hating Malfoy was pointless. Malfoy, he thought, was a coward. Much like his father.
But Harry isn’t so sure, anymore. He would have never even thought about Malfoy again if he hadn’t had to see him first through Andromeda and secondly at Hogwarts again, but now…
Well, he knows the war changed him, at least. He thinks it may have started when Snape died, this realization—Sirius told him, years and years ago, that the world wasn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. He took that to mean that people didn’t need to be Death Eaters to be bad people, but finding out the truth about Snape had rather put things into a different perspective. Perhaps Snape hadn’t been a good person, but he had been good enough, even though he had, at some point, been quite a willing Death Eater.
From Malfoy’s hearing after the final battle, Harry knows that Malfoy hadn’t been a willing Death Eater. Not really. Oh, he had wanted to be one, had wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he hadn’t wanted the Mark. Not when he got it. Not the way he got it.
He’s jolted out of his thoughts as someone takes Malfoy’s spot beside him and says, “Morning, Harry.”
Glancing over, he shoots Neville a small, shaken smile. “Hi, Neville. How’re you?”
“All right,” he says, and begins to fill his plate. “You look tired. Lots of work?”
“Yeah, I guess.” It is true that Harry has to do more work than Neville and Malfoy, considering all Snape can do is boss him around and lecture students for him occasionally. “Hey, Neville?”
“You, er, you seem to be getting along pretty well with Malfoy these days. I was wondering…”
Neville pauses, considering him. Sometimes, Harry is shocked by how much Neville has grown since their first year, but—the war changed him too, after all. It changed them all.
“I dunno if he’s changed completely,” Neville says carefully, “but he seems sincere enough. I don’t know everything that happened in Slytherin last year, but it wasn’t great for them, either. It’s not my place to tell any of that,” he adds when Harry opens his mouth to interject. “I mean, I wouldn’t tell him what you went through, even if I did know. But I think it changed him in some ways, at least.”
“But we’re friends,” Harry wheedles. “You’ve known me for ages, Neville—”
Neville chuckles. “Sorry, Harry, but I can’t. I really don’t know a lot anyway. If it’s really bothering you, you can’t lose anything from asking him. Far as I can tell, he’s making a real effort to get along with everyone.”
Harry sighs, but nods in defeat. He can’t deny that Malfoy doesn’t seem to have made any enemies here—even the older students seem willing to leave well enough alone. Harry suspects that some are simply afraid of McGonagall, who does seem to keep a very close eye on Malfoy indeed, but fear of teachers never stopped students from attacking other students, and the three of them aren’t really teachers yet, anyway, for all the lower forms might be more accustomed to calling them “Professor.”
“A lot of the students like him too,” Neville adds after a moment. “Dunno what he does, but he must be a good teacher. Any time I see him, he’s, er, well, pleasant, I suppose. I don’t really think it’s worth holding everything against him, anyway. McGonagall likes him, and, anyway, none of us want to stir up trouble here. I mean, I’d like to stay here, I reckon, and they need people to teach Defence and Transfiguration, now that McGonagall has all her Headmistress responsibilities too.” He looks rather thoughtful, suddenly. “But I s’pose I don’t really see Malfoy much, myself. You guys are the ones with the project together.”
“You could help us with that,” Harry points out, not for the first time. “I’d appreciate it, at least.”
Neville shakes his head, though. “Pomona’s got me helping her with some research. Started it a couple years ago, actually, but last year a lot of the samples were destroyed, so we had to start again.”
“I had no idea you got on so well,” Harry admits. “I guess I never really, er, considered that people might have relationships with their teachers outside of classes like that. I mean, Remus helped me learn how to cast a Patronus, but that was a bit different, I reckon.”
“Yeah.” Neville seems to hesitate a moment, and then he says, “Er, I think—Malfoy, I mean…there’s a reason McGonagall asked him to come here. I dunno what sort of relationship they have, but I don’t think she’d’ve asked if it was only because he was good at Transfiguration. There are loads of people who are, I’m sure.”
“He said Snape told her to,” Harry remembers.
Neville looks doubtful. “I don’t think Snape ever managed to tell her to do anything, Harry. Never mind that he’s only a painting now, anyway. Er, anyway, I don’t know much about all of that. If you want to know, you’d have to ask Malfoy.”
“We don’t really get on that well, though.”
“It’s just you,” Neville says. “He’s only, er… I don’t know how to explain it. He’s different around you, I think. Seems like he’s not really sure how to interact with you anymore. Can’t blame him,” he adds thoughtfully. “I wasn’t sure what to expect from him, myself. But we never had quite the same, erm…”
“Yeah.” Harry sighs. “Well, all right, then. Thanks, anyway. And, er, good luck with your research, whatever it is.”
Neville grins. “Thanks, Harry. It’s interesting, you know, we can manage to breed different families of plants together and create something entirely different, we just can’t figure out what some of it means…”
And though it is dreadfully boring, Harry listens to Neville talk, smiling and nodding as if he understands. Really, his mind is on Malfoy—his odd behaviour, his manner with those first year kids, everything Neville has just told him…or rather, not told him. By the time he is sequestered in his office with Snape bossing him around again, he has gone over it surely about a hundred times.
Finally, he sets the assignments they’ve been marking aside and asks Snape, “Why did McGonagall hire Malfoy?”
Snape looks down at him, unimpressed as ever. “Why would you presume to think I know what goes on in that woman’s head?”
“Yeah, but she—er, consulted you,” Harry presses. “Didn’t she?”
Snape is quiet for a moment, considering. And then he says, “She asked my opinion, yes. But, as with you, the choice was ultimately hers. I am just a painting, Potter. I fail to see why you think I hold the secrets of the universe.”
“I don’t think that,” Harry denies. “I just think you know more than you’re saying, so—”
“But it is not my place to tell even if I did,” he interrupts. “Draco is not my student any longer. You, however, are. I have no need to understand why Draco is here or how he is doing. I am here for your benefit, and you may have noticed that I do quite a lot for you, Potter, considering. You’re barely even functional.”
“I am so!”
“Every third day or so, perhaps.” Snape looks away from him suddenly, almost appearing as though he is pouting. “I’m not saying this to make you feel inadequate, Potter. You seem to make yourself feel that well enough on your own. But I was in your place once, and there was nobody there to remind me that while I was focussing on the dead, the living were still continuing all around me. I do not wish to see you become like me.”
Torn between feeling oddly touched and more than a little uncomfortable, Harry asks, “What, a greasy git?”
Snape turns and scowls at him. “I’m sure students would find something far more fitting to describe you, but that is what I’m trying to say, yes.”
“Oh.” Harry glances away from him. “Er, well, thanks.”
“Don’t thank me,” Snape grumbles. “I have nothing better to do, that’s all.”
Harry decides that this conversation is better left behind them. He returns to the stack of papers and begins detailing to Snape everything written by a third year named Bethany Moss.
Only much, much later, when he sees Malfoy at dinner, does Harry realize that Snape never did answer his question. Catching him staring, Malfoy asks what the problem is, but Harry can only shake his head, suddenly unable to form the words.
Both Neville and Snape turned him down, he thinks that evening as he prepares to retire for bed. Both of them seemed to think that if he wants to know anything about Malfoy, he ought to ask Malfoy himself. But, then, what does he want to know? It doesn’t seem fair, to demand information when he himself has hardly been forthcoming. Malfoy has speculations about him, clearly, but Harry’s hardly about to going baring his soul to him, and he certainly doesn’t want Malfoy to do that to him.
It preys on his mind well after he has fallen asleep, twisting his dreams into vague, uncomfortable shapes he cannot recognize anymore.
October 27, 1998
Four days from Halloween, Harry finds himself once again in Snape’s company at two in the morning. He doesn’t know how he wound up here, not exactly, doesn’t know what’s wrong with him, but he is so very tired.
Tired in a way he has not been since just after the Battle of Hogwarts, knowing there is so much to do but wishing that anybody else could do it. It has been consuming him for some days now, pushing all concerns about Malfoy and their project and whatever else from his mind.
When he tells this to Snape, though, the man sneers at him and says, “This is not a war, Potter. It is school. You will mess up. You will not die when you do. Stop being so dramatic.”
Harry looks into his tea, feeling haggard. “I’m not. I just…” He stops, inhaling sharply. “I saw people die here. I—I just think—I—”
“Drink your tea,” Snape tells him.
Harry drinks his tea.
“Now, breathe, Potter. You are exhausted, and it will do you no good to put extra strain on your body by having a panic attack. Nor am I equipped to deal with it.”
“I—I’m not going to have—”
Harry stops, swallowing thickly, and does as he says. Whether seconds, or minutes, or hours go by, Harry doesn’t know. But eventually his breaths level out again, and his heart stops stuttering quite so fiercely. For the first time in a large handful of days, he can hear the silence again, instead of everything buried underneath it.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” he finally manages to say.
“I have a theory,” says Snape. “But I don’t imagine you’ll like it.”
He sighs, running a finger around the rim of his cup. “Well, let’s hear it anyway. Won’t know if I like it or not if you don’t say what it is.”
Before Snape can say anything, though, someone knocks on the door.
A quick glance at his watch tells him it is still very, very early. He pushes down the sudden flare of renewed panic in his chest and grabs his wand from the desk.
“Most murderers don’t knock first,” Snape offers, rather unhelpfully.
Harry glares at him. “And no murderer should be able to get through my locking charms, either, so you never know.”
“Don’t hex any innocents,” is all Snape tells him as he makes his way for the door.
Opening it, wand held out before him, he finds that he is holding it above someone’s head, rather than just below it.
He blinks, looking down to see—
“Mr Roberts?” Harry frowns. “It’s well past curfew. What are you doing here?”
Henry shifts from foot to foot nervously. “Professor Potter,” he says. “I—er, I just wasn’t sure where else to go, and I didn’t see anyone in the corridors and everyone else must be sleeping, s-so—”
“What is it?” Harry presses, dread knotting in his stomach.
“Grace,” Henry says quickly. “I woke up and she was in the common room, s-so I went to talk to her, but—” He stops, inhaling deeply and shaking his head. “I wasn’t sure what to do.”
“Is she hurt?”
His brown eyes shine desperately. “I don’t know, sir.”
“Where is she?”
Henry gestures back what Harry can only assume is the way he came. Glancing back at Snape only briefly, Harry nods and follows Henry that way, careful to close and lock the door behind him again.
Henry leads him down and down and down, to the dungeons, all the way to the Slytherin common room. Henry whispers the password, as if he doesn’t want Harry to hear it, and then ushers him inside.
He doesn’t see anything at first, and then he catches a glimmer of gold over the sofa.
He approaches, while Henry stands back anxiously.
For a moment, Harry thinks she isn’t going to respond.
And then she looks up, blue eyes bloodshot and a little cloudy, and asks, “Professor Potter? What are you doing here?”
Harry glances back at Henry, then sits carefully down beside Grace. “Henry said he was worried about you,” he tells her quietly. “What’s wrong?”
Even as he says it, he watches her shoulders hunch up.
“Nothing’s wrong,” she snaps. “I just can’t sleep. Henry’s obviously just—”
“Henry,” Harry speaks up, “why don’t you go back to bed? You’re not in trouble,” he adds. “I’ll look after Grace, but you need to look after yourself.”
“Yessir,” Henry croaks. With one last concerned look at Grace, he scurries away to his dorm.
Once he is gone, Harry faces Grace again. “Henry seemed to think something was wrong when he came down here and found you tonight. I don’t see why he would lie about that.”
Grace looks down at her hands, shoulders hunched in tightly. “I don’t know,” she confesses. “I didn’t know he came down here. I—I couldn’t sleep, so I just wanted some space…”
Harry really thinks he gets that.
“Do you have trouble sleeping a lot?”
“I guess… I just, um, I have bad dreams, sometimes. That’s all.”
Sympathy tugs deep at Harry’s heart.
“Oh, Grace.” He reaches forward and puts a gentle hand over her shoulder. “You should have said something. Why don’t you come with me? I’ll make you some tea and we can talk about it if you want. Unless you want to go back to bed, but—”
She looks up with wide eyes. “Are you sure, sir?”
“Of course.” He offers her a small smile. “Okay?”
She rises on shaky legs, letting him lead her out of the room. They walk in silence back towards Harry’s office, and he waves his hand in front of the door to expel the locking charm keeping it shut. He gives her a reassuring smile, then steps inside.
“You are so terribly disruptive, Potter,” Snape grouches. “I had just started to fall asleep and you come slamming doors and banging things about. Have you no tact?”
He hears Grace stifle a giggle behind him and can’t help but laugh with her.
“Come on, sir, I was just finding you some acceptable company.” He waves Grace forward. “Come sit.”
He waves his hand to Conjure a more comfortable chair for her, and she watches in awe as she sits in it.
“You can do wandless magic?” she asks, leaning forward excitedly. “That’s so cool, sir!”
“If you like show-offs,” Snape grumbles.
“I practiced a lot,” Harry tells her, then casts a warming charm over the already-prepared tea and Conjures a second cup. “Do you take milk? Sugar?”
“Just milk, please, sir.”
He readies the cup for her, then pushes it across the desk. Taking his own cup again, he takes a contemplative sip of it.
“So,” he says after a moment, “do you want to talk about it?”
She looks away, her eyes losing their shine again. “I don’t know,” she mutters. “I guess I’m just kind of being a baby.”
“Do not sound so put-out, Miss Blishwick.” Snape is surveying them both with critical black eyes. “Professor Potter is quite the coward himself.”
Harry laughs. “Oh, yes, take it from Professor Snape, Grace. He’s the bravest man I ever knew.”
She smiles a bit at that, but it is gone as quickly as it comes. “It’s stupid, really, that’s all.”
Harry considers this for a moment. Then, he says, “Why don’t we exchange a secret for a secret, then? You tell me something, and I’ll tell you something.”
She narrows her eyes at him. “Something like how you do wandless magic, or something about the war?”
In for a knut, in for a sickle.
“Whatever you want,” he tells her.
Slowly, she nods. “Okay. But can’t you go first?”
He takes a sip of his tea to hide his smile. Slytherins, he thinks.
“Fine,” he says. “What do you want to know?”
“Why you already had things for tea set out,” she says decisively.
“It’s, er, a ritual.” He frowns down at his hands. “Three-a.m. tea.”
“I answered the question!” Harry protests. “It’s only one for one!”
Grace huffs, but seems to acknowledge that she has been out-Slytherin’ed. “Okay. What do you want to know?”
“What are your bad dreams about?”
She purses her lips. “Home.”
Harry pauses. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a cupboard under the stairs, a sign scribbled out in a child’s messy scrawl declaring it Harry’s room, niggles at his thoughts.
And then he shuts it down, because three-a.m. tea is not for thinking about that.
“Do you get homesick?”
“One for one, Professor Potter.”
He inclines his head, accepting. They are his own terms, after all.
Considering him, Grace takes a long drink from her teacup. Then: “Why don’t you let people talk about the war in your class?”
“That’s a loaded question,” he remarks.
“And that’s not an acceptable answer.”
That, he can concede to. “It upsets me. Totally selfish, on my end.”
She nods. “Okay. I don’t really get homesick, no. I don’t miss it. I wish I didn’t, anyway. Can you tell me why you do three-a.m. tea?”
Harry turns her words over in his head a few times, searching for something in them he already knows he won’t find.
Finally, he says, “Because I have bad dreams too. And I like tea.”
For now, he’ll ignore the rule right along with her. “That’s right. And even though it’s hard, it’s important to talk about them. Nobody can help you if they don’t know what’s wrong.”
He doesn’t say anything, but Harry’s sure that Snape is having quite the I-told-you-so moment right now. Harry never said, though, that talking wouldn’t help someone like Grace. She’s eleven. He’s damn near twenty. Big difference, if he does say so himself.
Grace’s fingers tighten around her cup. “I don’t really think anybody can help me, Professor Potter.”
Harry shakes his head. “As long as you accept it, help will be there for you. I can’t change your life, but I can listen. That’s what three-a.m. tea is for,” he adds conspiratorially. “A burden shared is a burden halved. Or something like that, anyway.”
“I asked two questions,” she says quietly. “You get two now.”
“Does Henry know you have bad dreams?”
Grace looks away from him. It is as good as a verbal answer, anyway.
“Why didn’t you tell him?”
“He would feel bad for me,” she says immediately. “I know he and Izzy always mean well, but…”
Nodding, Harry reaches to refill her cup. She doesn’t protest, and absently works to mix in the milk once he hands it back to her.
“What are your bad dreams about?” she asks.
Harry tells himself he was expecting this, and tries to level out his voice: “The war, usually. What are yours about? Specifically, I mean. More than one word.”
She stirs her tea for a very long time. Finally, voice meek, she asks, “Do we get passes?”
“For now,” he relents after a moment of careful contemplation. Pushing her will do no good. It is only October. He wonders if she’ll go home for Christmas or not.
“You said usually. What else do you dream about?”
Harry smiles wryly. “I’ll have to use my pass on that one, sorry.”
She nods, as if she was expecting this.
A quick glance at his watch tells Harry it is just past three o’clock. There are classes tomorrow, he knows, and Grace will be beyond tired if she doesn’t get some sleep soon.
“Last one,” he tells her, and she nods again. “What happened tonight?”
There is a very long pause as Grace looks into her cup, unseeing.
And then: “I don’t really know, sir. I woke up and went down to the common room, because I thought I would sleep better there, but I didn’t. I was dreaming something...it felt so real. Maybe Henry saw me then. I don’t know. But I was totally awake by the time you came.”
“Perhaps you were not really asleep,” Snape suggests. “Sometimes, our minds control our bodies when you are not in a position to control it yourself.”
Grace frowns. “Like...sleepwalking?”
“Somewhat. Perhaps a more appropriate comparison would be your fight-or-flight response.”
“Because you get scared,” Harry clarifies, picking up on what Snape is trying to say after a brief pause. “And when you’re scared of something, you lose rational thought. Sometimes, you’ll just act out in your fear, and you won’t think about it at all.”
“It is what makes flashbacks so severe,” Snape offers. “You lose the objective and react to a threat that is no longer there. Or,” he adds, “you simply become paranoid and put seven different locking charms on your door.”
Harry rolls his eyes. “He’s exaggerating,” he tells Grace. “But everything else is true. It takes time, but you don’t have to figure it all out on your own. You can always come talk to me, you know? And I know you like Professor Malfoy. He would be there for you too. Though,” he adds, “I’m much cooler than him, so if you’d rather come to me, I won’t tell him why.”
Grace smiles a bit at that. “Thank you, sir,” she says softly. “I’m sorry I…”
Harry reaches forward and places a hand on the desk in front of her. “Don’t apologize. I was already up anyway. Do you want to go back to bed?”
Harry watches carefully, not moving his hand away.
Finally, she looks up and fully meets his eyes. “No.”
“No.” Her shoulders hunch up a bit. “I’m tired, but…”
And she looks tired, Harry thinks. This whole time, she has looked about ready to fall asleep again. But he can see it so clearly, like a reflection: she’s tired, but she doesn’t want to sleep. Doesn’t want to subject herself to nightmares. Perhaps, doesn’t want to subject her dormmates to them.
“My quarters,” he says slowly. “I can Transfigure the settee into a bed. And write you a pass to excuse you from your classes tomorrow, if you think that would help.”
She blinks up at him. “Sorry?”
“It’s up to you,” he’s quick to add. “But I’m the only other person who goes in there, and I’m not going to be going back to sleep myself. I’m sure Madam Pomfrey would be the first to agree that you shouldn’t attend classes if you’re sick.”
There is a pause as she thinks this over. Then, she smiles. “You really mean that, sir? I mean, I’m not really sick.”
“But you do need rest.” He gets to his feet, gesturing for her to do the same. As she does, he waves his hand to Banish the chair she has been sitting on.
He looks over at her, suddenly very aware of just how small she is. Only eleven, he remembers, but when he was eleven, surely he wasn’t so tiny?
“You don’t have to do this, you know.” She looks down at her feet, shifting her weight between them anxiously. “Nobody ever cared before.”
She doesn’t sound sad about it, not really. It’s as though she’s just stating a fact, answering one question or another that Harry has asked her in class. And yet his heart sinks low in his chest, and, again, he sees himself in her, eleven years old, finding home at Hogwarts because he hadn’t had anything even close to it those ten years before.
He crouches down in front of her and tries for a reassuring smile. “But I’m talking about now, Gracie. I’m here, and I care. Henry and Izzy care. Professor Malfoy cares. You should hear the way he talks about you,” he adds, grinning. When her eyes remains uncertain, his lips fall again. “We can’t change what’s already happened, but we can help you now. And we want to, so you don’t have to feel bad about it. Okay?”
There is a long pause as the words swim between them, a potential lifeline out to Grace if she just chooses to—
She smiles. “Okay,” she agrees. “Thank you, Professor Potter. I kind of like three-a.m. tea.”
“We won’t be making it a habit,” he warns.
As she opens her mouth to respond, her voice is overtaken by a yawn.
“Let’s get you to bed,” Harry suggests, leading her back towards the door. “I’ll make sure you get a pass from your classes tomorrow.”
She nods, and he takes her from the office towards his quarters. When he speaks the password—Quidditch—to the door, Grace gives a little snort.
“That’s not a very secure password,” she says.
“Ah, but, see, it’s so predictable, it is.” He winks at her. “Come this way, then.”
The door closes behind them, and Harry leads her to the settee. He draws his wand and waves it towards the furniture, watching it change shape until it is a bed at least a bit like the ones Harry remembers from his dorm in Gryffindor Tower.
“Okay?” he asks.
“Yeah.” She climbs onto the bed and shoots him a shy smile. “Thank you again, sir. You’re sure…?”
“I’m sure,” he says firmly. “I’ll be right down that hall if you need me.”
She nods and settles down into her bed. Harry makes his way into the kitchen to give her some space, wondering, for the first time tonight, what in the world has gotten into him.
He does not get any more sleep, though Grace nods off within only minutes. He watches her for a bit, trying to piece their conversation together in his head. Home, she said. I don’t miss it. I wish I didn’t, anyway.
What’s that supposed to mean?
But there is a part of him that’s already sure, a part of him that feels he needs to protect her, because Merlin knows nobody else is going to. Hundreds of letters addressed to The Cupboard Under the Stairs spring to mind, a cupboard in a house he was routinely sent back to every single year—because it was safer.
Does Grace have an excuse like that? Harry doubts it. If whatever is going on for her back home is bad enough to cause nightmares, Harry doesn’t know that it would even be worth going back if she did.
As the early hours of the day bleed into the less-early early ones, Harry rises and leaves his quarters, checking quickly to ensure Grace is still asleep. She is, soundly, on her side with her knees tucked into her chest and her hands under her cheek. Again, he is shocked by how small she is, but shakes the thought away quickly and makes for the door.
Though breakfast will be starting, he turns towards the Hospital Wing first. He may be just a bit out of his element, in all honesty, but, if nothing else, he does need to make sure Grace has a viable excuse for being absent from her classes today.
The Hospital Wing is surprisingly empty, and Harry can’t help but keeping a hand by his wand as he walks across it to get to Madam Promfrey’s office. Sure, Snape may say he’s paranoid, but he thinks he’s safe.
Instinctively, the hand on his wand comes up as he whirls around, and—
He is pointing his wand directly at the Hogwarts matron.
Heat rushes to his cheeks and he drops it again, feeling much like a first year student caught out of bed again. “I— Sorry, Madam. You startled me.”
But she just smiles. “Yes, apparently so. Did you need something?”
Harry glances towards the entrance nervously, then quickly jumps into an explanation of what happened this morning. “I didn’t really know what to do,” he finishes. “I mean, I know you’re here for—injuries, but it’s different, isn’t it? She slept fine in my quarters, but…”
“You did the right thing,” Madam Pomfrey assures him. “I fear that she would not have slept well here, either. Perhaps, she simply needed a safe place to let her guard down.”
Harry nods slowly. “But what do I do now?”
“Yes, well…” She purses her lips. “I can vouch for her illness today, but do not expect me to do so again in the future. Should something be wrong with Miss Blishwick, I will, of course, expect her to come here. And a bit of Dreamless Sleep would not be amiss, either, Mr Potter.”
The word falls from his mouth before he can stop it: “No.”
She raises an eyebrow at him. “No?”
He stops, embarrassment climbing through his system, then lets out a shaky breath and, in a lower tone, says, “I’m sorry. I just don’t know that it’s a good idea with, er, more chronic nightmares. I think she would probably benefit more from talking about it.”
Madam Pomfrey softens. “Yes, that’s true, Mr Potter. I’ll send a note along to her professors.”
“Thank you,” Harry says. “I’ll leave you be, then, Madam.”
As he turns to leave, though, she says, “Mr Potter.”
He glances back at her.
“Should you have reason to believe she is being mistreated, please do at least give me your word that you will bring her to me. It would not be the first time abuse has been missed at Hogwarts,” she adds darkly.
Throat tight, Harry nods again. “Yes, Madam, I will. Thank you.”
This time, he leaves before she gets the chance to say anything else, but he doesn’t quite make it back to his quarters.
Hovering just before the door to his office, Harry spots two familiar brown heads of hair. Isabelle has a tight grip on Henry’s arm, and Henry is shaking his head, trying to tell her something she clearly isn’t getting.
Isabelle sees Harry first.
“Professor Potter!” She drops her hold on Henry and sprints down the hall towards Harry. Once she is in front of him, she looks up with wide, earnestly brown eyes. “Is Gracie okay? Henry said she wasn’t doing well, and you were looking after her, but she’s always at breakfast so early and—”
“She’s fine, Miss Roberts.” Harry smiles at her. “But she’s still not feeling well, so she’s going to rest for the rest of the day, okay? I was just speaking with Madam Pomfrey.”
Henry peeks up at him from behind his sister. “She’s in the hospital wing?”
Harry hesitates, then slowly shakes his head. “It was late. I didn’t want to worry Madam Pomfrey when it wasn’t urgent. She’s sleeping in my quarters right now, but—you understand, don’t you? She needs rest, and—whatever is going on clearly isn’t easy for her. So don’t push her, okay?”
“Of course we won’t!” Isabelle straightens up, bright determination written all over her face. “She’s our best friend! You’ll tell her we hope she’s okay, won’t you?”
“I will,” he promises. “But you’ll see her again before tomorrow, I’m sure. I did want to ask, though… What exactly happened, Henry? Grace told me she couldn’t remember seeing you before you came to find me.”
Henry glances nervously at his sister. “Well, I’m not really sure, sir. I think she must have thought I was someone else. I came to talk to her, and it was like she was...scared of me, I guess. I’ve never seen her look so scared before. She didn’t say anything, but she was shaking and I thought she might be about to cry. She’s okay, though? Was she sick?”
Slowly, Harry nods. “She’s fine. Have you two had breakfast yet?”
Sheepish, Henry shakes his head.
“We checked for Gracie in the Great Hall,” Isabelle pipes up. “When we couldn’t find her, we came to find you, since you weren’t there either…”
“Go eat now,” Harry encourages. “We’ll continue this conversation later, okay? There are some things I’d like to ask you two, but I want to speak to Grace first.”
Isabelle nods heartily, grabbing her brother’s arm, but Henry looks hesitant.
“There was one thing she said,” he says quietly. “Something about her mum, I think… Maybe she was asking for her? She doesn’t talk about her family much…”
Dread settles deep in Harry’s stomach. “Right,” he says, feeling faint. “We’ll talk about it more later, okay? Go have something to eat.”
This time, he agrees and lets Isabelle lead him away, but Harry can’t shake those words from his head. Home, Grace said. I don’t miss it.
With a heavy sigh, he makes his way back towards his quarters. As he steps into the front room, he sees Grace sitting up in the bed he Transfigured for her.
“Professor?” Her voice is small. Timid.
“It’s just me,” Harry says, trying for soothing. He steps in front of her and offers a small smile. “How did you sleep?”
She looks down at her hands, cheeks flushed red. “Well, thank you, sir.”
Just for a moment, Harry tries to put himself in her shoes. She’s all confidence normally, impassive even at the best of times, but...she’s also only eleven, and she’s been having nightmares for Merlin knows how long.
“Are you hungry?” he asks. “You can eat here, if you want.”
She glances up at him, blue eyes glassy. “Why?”
Carefully, he sits down beside her and shoots her an inquisitive look. “Why what?”
“All of it.” She clutches the bedsheets in her hand firmly. Her jaw, too, is clenched. “Why are you doing this? I’m not...I’m not a little kid, you know. I’ve always looked out for myself before. So why…?”
He hopes she can’t see the pain that flashes in his eyes. Still, he knows that dropping her gaze now would do more damage, so he holds it as steadily as he can.
“You are just a kid,” he tells her. “And as your teacher, I have a duty to keep you safe.” Where your parents can’t—or don’t, he chooses not to add. “Even if that wasn’t the case...I think you deserve the help, just because you’re you. You know? You’re a nice kid, Grace. I don’t really think anybody should have to deal with nightmares. Not if they didn’t do anything to deserve them.”
“But maybe I did do something to deserve them,” she says, so quiet Harry almost misses it.
He shakes his head. “You’re just a kid,” he repeats. “I had bad dreams sometimes when I was your age, too. Do you think I could have done anything by that age to have deserved them?”
“You don’t deserve them,” Harry says firmly. “Maybe nobody does, anyway. And, besides, it just—just shows remorse, really, doesn’t it? I mean, Voldemort never had bad dreams, even though he did bad things.”
Her eyes fill with wonder at this, but she only nods.
“Breakfast, then?” Harry asks after a moment.
“Y-yeah, okay. Thank you, sir.”
She offers him a small smile as he gestures for her to stand, then he leads her into the kitchen and calls for a house elf to bring them something to eat. Though he is the only person living here, the room was already furnished with a table and four chairs around it, likely to accommodate for visitors—in the form of Hermione or Ginny or Luna, Harry would think, but if he starts to let himself wonder, again, whether or not he has really done the right thing with Grace, he’ll surely go mad with it. Instead, he thinks of Madam Pomfrey’s words and lets them sooth him as he takes the seat across from Grace and pushes some food towards her.
“I have classes to get to,” he says, “but you’re more than welcome to stay here through the day. Er, you can read some of the books on the bookshelf and whatnot, but you might not understand them all. Most of them are Professor Snape’s,” he adds. “He kept all his Potions texts, I guess, from when he was the Potions Master here, so, er, they’re not all about Defence. But Professor Slughorn seems quite taken with you, doesn’t he? Maybe you would enjoy those too, then.”
Grace takes a thoughtful bite of toast. “I do like Potions,” she agrees after a moment. “Professor Snape taught Potions before?”
Harry nods. “When I was a student here. For most of the time, anyway… He started teaching Defence in my sixth year, and then, well, last year…”
“He was Headmaster, right?”
“Right,” Harry says. “There was no Defence class last year, since the Death Eaters had control of Hogwarts and the Ministry. They got rid of it, changed it to Dark Arts, instead. I don’t really know all the details of that, though. I wasn’t here.”
Grace frowns. “My parents… Well, they weren’t Death Eaters, but they weren’t really—against them either, you know? They thought that they should have left things as they were, I think… I’m glad they didn’t,” she hurries to add. “I don’t want to learn Dark Arts. They’re evil!”
“You don’t have to,” Harry assures her. “Would your parents, er… Would they try to teach you themselves?”
As her gaze drops down to her plate, Harry watches her shoulders hunch in slightly.
“I don’t know,” she whispers. “Probably. They...they’re very...versed in them, sir. Especially Mother.”
Harry thinks back to what Henry said earlier—something about her mum—and tries to push back the fear that threatens to make itself quite apparent to Grace.
“What’s your mother like?” he tries instead, and then is immediately aware that it is the wrong thing to ask.
Grace folds in on herself even more, looking much, much younger than eleven, suddenly, and shakes her head.
“We don’t really get along,” she admits softly. “But she…does her best. Father, too. They just want to make sure I succeed.”
And it’s not a lie, Harry thinks, though it very well could be—he’s not exactly the best at telling fictions from realities, is he? At least, Snape would be the first to say so, especially after their failed Occlumency lessons in fifth year. But, still, there is something about her delivery, about the way she won’t meet his eyes, that makes him pause.
“I didn’t get along with my family, either,” he offers, hoping it will be enough.
“It’s just complicated,” she mutters, returning to her meal.
Suddenly rather lost, Harry lets the conversation fall away at that, and they finish their breakfast in silence thereafter. Once their dishes are cleared, he checks his watch to see that he will still have time to go over his lesson plan once more before class actually starts if he leaves now.
“I have to go,” he says into the tense quiet, and Grace glances up at him from behind a curtain of blonde hair. It is the first time, he realizes, aside from very early this morning, that he has ever seen her without her signature buns.
“Okay,” she says. “Thank you again, Professor. Really. It…means a lot.”
He smiles. “Anytime, Grace. Someone told me, once, that…should you ever need a person to turn to, Hogwarts will always have one. This place was home for me. It still is. I hope it can feel like that for you, too.”
Now, she fully meets his eyes, and he gets the feeling that she is trying to get some sort of read on him. Whether she finds it or not, though, she eventually looks away, the ghost of a smile playing at her lips.
“Thank you,” she says again, and, this time, Harry leaves her to head to his classroom.
He spends the remainder of the day rather preoccupied with thoughts of Grace—once or twice Snape calls him out on it, but his lack of rancour tells Harry that he’s concerned, too. He can’t manage to get away to see if she’s still in his quarters at lunch, with yesterday’s marking to catch up on, but after his final class of the day he hurries back only to find that at some point in the day, she has gone.
He heads to the Great Hall after that, keeping one eye on the Slytherin table throughout the entirety of the meal. A few times, Malfoy attempts to say something to him, but he is so distracted that he can barely even hear what the other man is saying, let alone respond to it. He never does Grace show up at dinner, though. Or Henry, for that matter. He hasn’t been watching the Gryffindor table so closely, but he has a sneaking suspicion that Isabelle has probably been absent all this time as well.
He finds himself caught in the thought, again, that he has gotten himself into something he doesn’t know how to deal with. He’s hardly an adult himself, and he’s already supposed to be looking out for children like Grace? It wasn’t so long ago that he was that kid. Compared to now, any issues he had at age eleven seem rather trivial, but he doesn’t think the comparison should apply to Grace, not if Pomfrey’s grim omen turns out to be true.
Abuse, she said. It’s a terribly ugly word, one of those ones that his aunt used to turn her nose up at. If Harry strains his memory, he can remember rumours of one of his classmates in primary school, who one day just suddenly stopped showing up. Others had whispered, then, that she’d been “taken away.” After the day she stopped coming, Harry sometimes noticed their teacher looking at him oddly, as if it were somehow his fault she had been forced out of the class. Things like that often were his fault, though, at least as far as his other teachers and his aunt and uncle were concerned. But Aunt Petunia had said something about it, something Harry had rather quite forgotten about until hearing Pomfrey’s declaration:
“They seemed like such good people,” she told Vernon, who tended to simply grunt in response while she talked at him. “Good sorts. I’d have let our Dudders get close to them…” She shuddered. “What sort of people do that to their own child?”
Of course, being expected to keep his head down and not ask questions, and certainly not eavesdrop, Harry never did find out what “that” was, but the buzzword amongst teachers for the following weeks had been that one. Abuse.
He thinks that Sirius had grown up in a house like that, though he had never seemed very keen on discussing it. But, then, he’s not sure that Sirius would have used that word, himself. They just didn’t like him, that’s what he always said. Because he rejected their values, because he had had the audacity to be Sorted into Gryffindor.
And Harry gets that, of course he does, not being liked by one’s own family. But as he thinks over what he’s heard from Grace today and he isn’t sure, exactly, if that is the case with her. Much like Sirius, she seems ideologically opposed to her parents, but…
She does her best.
As he makes to leave the Great Hall, he stops by Slughorn, hesitant.
“Harry!” He’s positively beaming. “Good to see you, my boy. I’ve heard wonderful things about your work so far, just wonderful, I always knew Minerva must share my eye for talent.”
“Er, thanks,” Harry says awkwardly. “I wanted to—er, ask about one of your students. In your house. A Slytherin, I mean.”
This seems to interest Slughorn far more than boasting about Harry’s many talents, thankfully. “Of course, Harry, of course. What is it?”
Glancing down the table, he sees Malfoy engaged deeply in conversation with Minerva, many of the other professors similarly occupied. A few catch him looking, but seem to write it off just as soon, clearly finding nothing odd about his approaching Slughorn.
“Blishwick,” he finally says, looking down at the Potions professor again. “Grace? First year, you know, the one with the little blonde buns—”
“Oh, yes, of course. Sweet girl, sweet girl. I taught her parents, you know. She’s got her father’s knack for Potions, I’ll tell you that.”
Harry pauses, thinking fast. Her parents…
But he thinks that whatever she has told him she did so utterly in confidence. He told Madam Pomfrey, sure, but only because he needed to. Does Slughorn need to know this? It’s not as if Harry can prove anything is wrong. It’s just a feeling, and, all things considered, he tends to have a lot of bad feelings these days that are merely fabrications.
“She had a difficult day today,” he finally settles on saying. “Sick, last night. She came to me, couldn’t find anyone else, so I, er, helped her out, got her to the hospital wing. But she’s not here, now, and neither are her friends, so I thought maybe…?”
Slughorn nods. “Of course, my boy, of course. I saw she was ill, terrible thing, that. Flu season, eh? I’ll check on her tonight, Harry, don’t you worry a thing. Brilliant girl, that one is, she’ll be quite the brewer someday.”
“Right,” Harry says. “Thank you, sir—er, Horace,” he corrects, and Slughorn smiles widely at him.
“Not a problem, Harry, not a problem at all. A very good evening to you, then, you’ll need to get all the sleep you can between now and Halloween.” He chuckles. “Quite the festivities! You don’t realize how energized the students are until you’re a teacher, I say.”
Harry blinks. Halloween. He hasn’t been thinking about it, but it’s true. It’s only three days away, now.
But where he might have felt some level of excitement a few years ago, the thought fills him with dread now, and he stares at Slughorn just a moment too long before catching himself and stepping back.
“Right,” he says again. “I’ll, er…I’ll try to be prepared, then.” And mustering up a faint smile, he turns to make his way out of the Hall, heart beating very fast. Halloween, he thinks, Halloween, what is it about Halloween…
His parents died on Halloween, he knows. This never bothered him much before, though—he hadn’t even known this fact until he was eleven, and the Hogwarts feasts always seemed far more important than that, anyway. Thinking that, he finds himself overtaken by a deep sense of guilt, unshakeable in its strength. All at once, that consuming feeling returns, beginning in his chest and spreading outward, upward. He barely even sees where he’s going as he winds through the corridors, seeking his office.
By the time he gets there, he manages to mostly put aside the thoughts, at least enough that he thinks Snape probably won’t notice. But as he enters, Snape seems to having something else on his mind, saying, “I think we should talk about Grace.”
Grace, he notes. Not Blishwick, or Miss Blishwick. Grace.
Barely even registering it, Harry shakes his head.
“It is important, Potter,” Snape insists. “You must speak with me about this.”
“What’s there to say?” he manages. “We don’t know anything. So she had a difficult night. We all have those sometimes.” He scowls, suddenly feeling rather irritable. “And what am I supposed to do about it anyway? I’m eighteen years old, sir, unless you forgot! I never even graduated. I don’t know what I’m doing here, I’ve no idea what she was thinking, sending me those stupid fucking letters, as if I don’t have enough to deal with. How do you expect me to deal with this too?!”
“Close the door,” Snape says mildly. Harry glares at him, but does it. “Listen to me, Potter. I am not suggesting you take any action regarding this. I rather meant that you must speak to me because you already have, as you put it, ‘enough to deal with.’”
Harry opens his mouth to speak, then stops, blinking. “What?”
“It is not about her. I need you to tell me what you’re thinking about this, lest you begin to, ah, lose your grips. Particularly right now, I don’t believe you’re equipped to deal with a potential child abuse case.”
“You think she’s abused?” Harry asks, sinking down into his seat and looking wearily up at the painted man.
“Potentially.” Snape presses his lips together, looking troubled. “Merely not missing her home isn’t much to go off of, but I believe there are other indicators.”
“Her body language, for one. She may simply be naturally defensive, but she holds herself rather tensely. A bit like you,” he adds, though his tone is mild enough that Harry knows it’s not meant to be an insult. “She was quite measured with you as well, not willing to say much. Perhaps you recall her being rather open when talking about her friendship with Miss Roberts? She was worried about losing the friendship, for no apparent reason. I’m not saying,” he says, a bit louder, when Harry opens his mouth to respond, “that any of this means anything. Merely pointing out a pattern, so may observe it yourself.”
Harry frowns, thinking about it. “But what is it a pattern of, exactly? I mean, you compared her to me, but it’s not like I was abused.”
“You did go through a war, however.”
“Yeah, but…I dunno, that has to be different too.”
Snape sighs. “It is, but trauma presents differently and for all varieties of things. Whether or not her home life is cause for alarm, it still warrants watching. I’m sure you can agree, at least, that repetitive nightmares are not a good sign.”
Harry flushes, looking away from him, but can’t disagree.
“As it is,” Snape continues, “I don’t believe it is necessarily within your emotional range to handle such a thing, should it come to be the case. I hope it does not, but we can’t eliminate the possibility. However, she has chosen to trust you. Not her Head of House. Not the Headmistress. You. And turning her away will not help. She’s eleven.”
Harry nods, not really sure where he’s going with this.
“So if you will not speak to me about everything else,” Snape says, “I must insist you speak to me about this. How you feel about the situation, about her, about all of it.”
“How will that help anything, though?” Harry taps his fingers impatiently against his desk, still not even glancing at Snape.
“You need to be able to focus on teaching,” Snape says firmly. “Your own traumas are enough to be going on with even without the added stress of a little girl’s.”
Traumas. Harry scoffs.
“Well, fine, then.” He huffs. “I’m rather confused by it all, and worried, and she wasn’t at any meals today so how do I know she’s even all right? I’ve no idea if I did the right thing, I don’t know if I’m even the right person for her to trust, if she’ll even trust me at all, and I don’t see I can understand what her home life is like when I grew up in a bloody cupboard!”
He stops, jaw snapping shut painfully. He must be tired, admitting things like that to Snape of all people.
But Snape hasn’t really been judgemental, has he. He truly has been helpful to Harry, even when Harry has been, by his own admission, quite difficult.
Suddenly, he remembers something from last night Snape never got around to saying.
“Sir,” he starts, but when he finally looks at the man, there is something in his expression that makes Harry stop.
And then it is gone, just as soon as it was there. Appearing rather tired, now, Snape asks, “What, Potter?”
Harry shakes his head, pushing aside his concerns. “You never told me, er, your theory.”
“Oh, that.” He blows a strand of his oil-painted hair away from his face. “I had merely meant to remind you that it is nearly Halloween. Anniversaries can often make things worse. I know,” he says, “that you would rather not admit to there being anything wrong, but perhaps it is worth considering.”
“Halloween doesn’t bother me,” Harry says, but after the feeling he got in the Great Hall, it almost feels like a lie.
“You think it doesn’t,” Snape says, like it is a correction. “Perhaps something has changed.”
Harry frowns at that, unable to think of what it could possibly be, then shakes his head. “It makes no sense,” he mutters.
“A large number of things about you make little sense, Potter,” Snape drawls. “I suggest you turn in early tonight. But rest assured, we will be talking about your conversation with Miss Blishwick again soon.”
He can’t argue with the man, so he leaves behind their unfinished work and returns to his rooms, mind spinning with all sorts of unrelated, messy thoughts. All he can think as he finally drifts off to sleep is that the last time he felt like this was during that last week of Auror training.
p.s. sorry for leaving so many open threads here! i'll try to have the next chapter up soon to tie a few of them off <3