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Don't you know, Darling? Promises were made to be Broken.

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A small part of him must have known it was inevitable. Maybe that was why, when a memory of his time with the Dursleys came up during Harry’s Occlumency lessons with Snape, he simply stared back at the man. Defiance in his eyes after the spell got canceled. He stood straight and felt his face go blank in the way Slytherins used their so-called 'Pureblood Mask.'

He stood with his arms at his sides, the picture of blank nonchalance.

Spine straight, shoulders back. Maintain eye-contact.

It was unclear why today was the time when the unpleasant memories that Snape seemed drawn to were the ones of his home life. Harry was almost surprised that it had taken this long. Surely a place that made somewhere as dangerous as Hogwarts seem like his only home would have been on the top of the list? Or maybe it was Snape’s preconceptions about Harry’s home life that had kept him away. Doubting that anything there would be unpleasant enough to traumatize Harry a second time just by viewing it.

Whatever the case, it hadn’t stopped the rush of images this time. Every scolding, beating, and punishment being swept before his eyes until all he could do was stand there, breathe evenly, and pretend he was fine.

It was almost funny the way he could only seem to close off his emotions when it was related to something that he didn’t want to talk about, or even acknowledge. 

As he stood there, Snape eyed him, still standing with his wand raised, looking almost as if he expected some form of retaliation. Which was honestly fair, considering Harry’s reactions to Legilimency in the past.

After what seemed like five minutes, but was likely only 30 seconds, Snape cautiously lowered his wand, not taking his eyes off of Harry. His abnormally good posture. His blank face.

Snape inhaled and opened his mouth as if to speak, but then let the breath go on a frown.

Harry still did not move. 

After another moment, Snape flicked his wand toward the corner of the room, and a tea-service with two cups appeared, busying themselves with the making of tea.

Harry blinked, surprised, still showing no outward emotion.

Once the teacups had finished, Snape plucked both of them out of the air. He held one out to Harry. He didn’t take the cup, didn’t move at all, except to raise an eyebrow. 

Snape sighed and finally spoke.

“No, it’s not poisoned.” He sounded tired and uncharacteristically unsarcastic. “I understand that those are not the type of memories that one wishes to discuss under any circumstance, and so I am offering tea.”

Harry shifted, his whole body seeming to thaw from its stationary state. He reached out a cold hand and carefully took the cup before cradling it in both of his hands close to his chest. He gazed into the amber liquid as if it held all of the answers he needed.

Snape took a sip of his tea, still carefully watching Harry. It was only after several minutes, once Harry had sipped his tea, that Snape spoke again. 

“She wasn’t always like that.”

Harry’s head snapped up at the soft, nostalgic tone coming from the bitter potions master.

“When we were eleven, I remember Petunia being fascinated by magic. She desperately wanted to be a part of the world that her younger sister had been welcomed into.”

Harry felt both of his eyebrows go up. Snape was talking about his aunt as if he knew her. More than that, as if he had been friends with his mother .

“I heard she even owled Dumbledore to ask him if she could come to Hogwarts too.” There was a sad sort of smile on his face, and all Harry could think is that it didn’t look as out of place as it should.

“He, of course, told her no, that it wasn’t possible, and that was that for a while.”

Snape’s expression suddenly darkened, and Harry had the odd experience of having that infamous scowl being directed at a cabinet instead of his person.

“Over time, she became bitter. It didn’t help that Lily–” he seemed to run out of breath for a moment, and Harry realized that the Professor was feeling grief about Harry’s mum of all people."Lily was brilliant. People remember her now as your mother, as Lily Potter. But when we were in school, Lily Evans was talked about the same way many refer to your friend Miss Granger.” Snape took a sip of his tea, and his lips twitched in amusement, eyes lost in some old memory. 

“I remember the first time Dumbledore called Granger the ‘Brightest Witch of her Age,’ Flitwick practically killed him on the spot. The reason being, that was what everyone called Lily during her time in school.”

Harry swayed a little on his feet, shocked to be hearing so much about the parent that no one seemed to mention apart from the eyes he was told they shared.

Snape caught the slight movement, and a flick of his wand later, there was an armchair directly behind Harry. Unwilling to continue to unpack everything that was currently happening, Harry gratefully collapsed back into it and took another sip of tea.

Snape continued his tale. “I think their parents may have compared the two girls. Whatever the case, by our fourth? Third? I believe it was our Third Year the sisters were barely on speaking terms with one another.”

He gave a one-sided shrug. “It was essentially ex-communication after that.” He finally looked back at Harry.

“All this to say, your aunt has been bitter about magic for a while. I have no idea who in their right mind would not only put you in that house to begin with, but also make you continue to live there once you were a part of this world.”

Harry blinked.

Snape looked at the ground. “I also recognize that I have seen your father in your place and have not given you the opportunity to prove who you truly are to me.” He looked up, and onyx met emerald. “I also realize that this is a lot to take in.”

Harry nodded. 

Snape frowned. “Who did decide where you live?”

Well, that was an easy question to answer. “Dumbledore.” Harry finally managed to speak. 

Snape’s expression darkened. “And I assume he has some reason you must stay there?” There was a dangerous edge to his voice. 

Harry shrugged. “He says my mother created some kind of protection when she died for me. He also kept repeating something about blood wards around the house, and it’s not like they would be anywhere else they are my only living relatives.”

Snape suddenly became very calm. “Would you have a problem with me leaving for a couple of minutes? I find myself with the sudden urge to light a colleague on fire.”

“If you’re already lighting people on fire, could you add Umbrage to the list?” The words are out of his mouth before he could think better of it. To his surprise, Snape merely chuckled and agreed. 

“Well, something is bound to happen that parents catch wind of that will get rid of her.” Harry added thoughtfully, “and if not, well, I’m honestly starting to believe in the so-called curse on the position.”

Snape frowned. “What do you mean ‘catch wind of’?”

Harry opened his mouth to say something about his detention but found he couldn't talk about it. Damn secrecy spell. He frowned and tried again.

< She made me write with a quill that used my own blood as ink. > Harry blinked at his sudden ability to talk about the incident. 

“As you suddenly switched languages, I’m assuming there’s some sort of secrecy spell on you.” Snape seemed bothered, and Harry wasn’t sure if it was because of the secrecy spell or his accidental switch to Parseltongue. 

< Fuck. >

“Is there a way you could demonstrate or show me what it is you’re talking about?”

Harry wordlessly raised his right hand, the back facing Snape.

“That is… “ he trailed off as he studied the raised and red words on the back of Harry's hand.

When he spoke again, he was using the same deadly calm tone as when he mentioned setting the Headmaster alight. “Did she make you use a blood quill?”

Harry’s brow furrowed. “What’s a blood quill?”

“A highly illegal Dark Artifact which uses the writer’s blood as ink.”

“Ah. Then yes. Wait, illegal?”

“Very.”

“Wait, if it’s that Dark, how did it get past the wards? Like I get that Dark Creatures end up in here regularly, but surely they would at least have alerted Dumbledore.”

“While I have concerns about your confidence in the regularity of Dark creatures ending up in the castle, my main question is how you know that much about wards. It does not seem like something you would seek knowledge about, and I know there are no classes about them at your year level.”

“Hermione,” Harry explained. “She was talking about the Hogwarts wards earlier today. She was saying that for most wizarding homes, the wards are keyed to the head of the family. Or in the case of a couple living alone, sometimes both of them. At Hogwarts, the wards were created by the Founders, and they managed to alter them in a way where they will automatically key themselves to the current Headmaster or Headmistress.”

“I must confess that I am unsurprised she knows that.”

“She’s read Hogwarts, A History more times than I’ve nearly died at Hogwarts.”

“That is… a concerning comparison.”

“Fred and George created a self-updating sheet that they put up in the Common Room with a permanent sticking charm.”

“That is very... Gryffindor of them.”

Harry snorted, “you say that like those two didn’t almost end up in Slytherin.”

A look of what could only be described as fear crossed Snape’s face before it quickly vanished. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

A sharp grin suddenly appeared on the Gryffindor’s face. “They aren’t the only Gryffindors who the Hat said would do well in your house. None of them would ever admit it, of course, but that doesn’t mean the Hat forgot.”

“You make the Sorting Hat sound like the boogeyman.”

“I mean… “ Harry had several memories of the Hat flash through his mind. “As someone who immediately argued with the Hat, I think I have reason to fear it.”

His eyes suddenly open very wide. “Oh my god, what if all the students got re-Sorted every year. Like the Seventh Years would get to the feast first, get Sorted, and then sit, and then the Sixth Years, and so on.”

His face filled with horror, and his voice dropped to a whisper. “What if one year you argued with the Hat, and the next year it purposefully separated you from all of your friends?

Snape interrupted before Harry's eyes could get any more glazed with horror than they already were.

“While an intriguing concept, I do not believe you have anything of that sort to fear right now.”

Snape seemed almost amused at the concept. “However, if he got wind of it, I would not put it past Dumbledore to institute that idea.”

“Never mention this ever again, got it.”

Harry visibly hesitated before saying his next words. “When you were speaking earlier…" he paused.

“Did you know my mum?” He hated how vulnerable he sounded. 

“She was my best friend for years.”

“I… what?” Harry's head snapped up to look at the dour Professor, only to quickly look back down.

“Unfortunately, I made a couple of terrible decisions, and she fully cut me off when we were in the Fifth Year.”

“… do I want to ask?” Harry looked up cautiously from his teacup, still clutched a little too tightly in his hands. 

Snape sighed. “I was, and remain, a fool. I said something I deeply regret. I called her the M-word. And when she did what any sane person in that position would do, and cut me off, I just went Darker.”

He looked Harry in the eye. “I got the Mark. Now I’m stuck with it. I’m a spy for two men who see themselves as the players and the rest of us as chess pieces. I still blame myself for Lily’s death.”

His lips flattened into a thin line.

“It truly was my fault.”

Another deep sigh. Another flick of his wand to summon an armchair.

“Dumbledore does not want you knowing this because he believes your ignorance will protect you. Personally, I lean towards the more Ravenclaw belief that knowledge is power.”

He sat down. 

Harry sat up straighter and tucked one of his legs onto the cushion of his armchair, hands relaxing to cup his tea instead of strangling it. It was rare that an adult was this transparent with him.

“None of this is fair, and part of me hopes it won’t come to pass, but…"

Snape refilled his teacup and drank half of it before continuing.

“There’s a prophecy about you and the Dark Lord. Trelawney gave it in Dumbledore’s presence. I overheard part of it. It says that one of you must die by the hand of the other. The Dark Lord assumed it was about you because it said 'the one to defeat him,'" he used one hand to sketch air-quotes, something that Harry realized he had never seen a wizard do in casual conversation before.

"Would be born at the end of July. It could easily have been Mr. Longbottom. That was when I opened my eyes, to be frank. Yes, I was bitter that she cut me off, but I wasn’t about to do nothing when someone told me they were going to kill my best friend.”

Silence pervaded the room. 

After a minute, Harry broke it.

“Do prophecies always come true?” His voice was almost a whisper. 

“Very rarely, that I know of.”

There was a comforting note to his tone. Harry wasn't sure if he was willing to be comforted by it yet.

“Many prophecies are self-fulfilling. Part of this one says that he will mark someone as his equal, so if he had chosen to, say, throw you out of the window, the way most people would attempt to kill a baby,” Harry snorted, “instead of giving you that scar, he probably wouldn’t have kick-started the thing in the first place.”

“That’s probably the only reason Trelawney still has her job.”

“I find myself unwilling to argue that point.” Snape eyed him before continuing.

“I have a question for you now.” 

Harry tensed. 

“What was your comment about dark creatures in the school about?”

Harry relaxed and answered easily, ticking the years off on his fingers.

“First Year, that Cerberus that Hagrid thought was a good idea to name Fluffy, also a dragon named Norbert. Well, Norberta now. Second Year, the basilisk that was petrifying people,” he wrinkled his nose. “But technically Salazar Slytherin put that in here so I’m not sure that counts.”

He continued, “Third Year, Lupin brought in a lot of creatures for practical lessons and he's a werewolf, but I’m pretty sure all of that was approved by Dumbledore. Fourth Year was the tournament, and Professor Moody was actually Barty Crouch Jr., but there was so much going on then that who even knows what else was happening. This year," he paused to think for a second. "Well I haven’t encountered any dark creatures yet, but I’ve learned to not get optimistic about these things.”

“A dragon named Norbert. That is now Norberta.”

Harry grinned. “Malfoy was actually right about the whole dragon thing. Hagrid hatched it in his hut, and we had to convince him keeping a dragon in a wooden building was a bad idea. When Malfoy caught us, we had just handed the dragon off to a couple of Charlie’s friends who were on their way to the dragon reserve he works at. Charlie Weasley, Ron’s brother.” He added after a second, realizing that the clarification was needed. 

“And that was when you got detention and saw the Dark Lord drinking unicorn blood.”

“Well, when you put it like that..."

“How else would you put it?”

“Oh, I’m not saying it didn’t happen, it very much happened, and it was very much horrible, but I guess I didn’t realize how… action-packed my school days have been.” 

“Indeed. What has Dumbledore said about the blood wards around your relatives' house?”

Harry blinked at the sudden change in subject and the fact that, like Harry, Snape had said relatives and not family .

“That they are a result of my mother trying to protect me before she was murdered. That they keep me hidden from Voldemort. That's about it.”

“Has he, or anyone else, ever told you about the various types of wards and protections?”

“No, but that honestly isn’t a shock at this point.”

“That isn’t a good thing.”

It was unclear if Snape was referring to Harry’s ignorance or his lack of surprise about it.

“There are many types of wards, and blood wards are only truly effective if there is a strong emotional bond among those under its protection.”

“So you’re saying that Dumbledore has been unnecessarily forcing me to go back to that house every summer, even though every year I ask him if I can stay with literally anyone else.”

Snape blinked. “That is correct.”

Harry sighed. “How many types of wards are there, roughly?”

“Hundreds.”

“Great." He sighed, "you know this is where I ask Hermione to help me.”

He flopped back in the armchair, tilting his head back and closing his eyes. 

Snape's voice was hesitant when he next spoke as if afraid to give false hope.

“There is also a possibility… a low one, that your mother was the one to give you that scar. Not the Dark Lord.”

Harry blinked and sat back up. 

“People say it’s in the shape of a lightning bolt,” he continued, running a finger around the rim of his teacup and looking into the fire.

“However, it is also the same as sōwilō , the sun rune, for victory, guidance, and more relevantly, protection.”

“You think there’s a possibility that my mother used an ancient rune to protect me and that’s why the Killing Curse backfired?”

Harry was in shock. He was going to have to ask Hermione everything she knew about this rune as soon as possible. 

“It’s small, but knowing Lily, I would not discount the possibility.”

“Can you… “

Snape raised an eyebrow. Harry didn’t see it, however, because he was staring intently into his tea. 

“What was she like?” When he spoke, his voice was soft and quiet, as if afraid something would break if he articulated otherwise. 

“Brave, kind, brilliant, and way too stubborn for anyone to tell her what to do. Some said too stubborn for her own good. She was fierce, loyal, and not afraid to be herself. She held herself and those around her to seemingly ridiculous standards. However, she also knew what people’s capabilities and limits were and would adjust accordingly. She always wore her hair in a high ponytail, and her hands were always ink-stained. She hit James Potter over the head with a book of charms that was, and I quote, ‘bigger than his ego,’ the first time he asked her out in the Second Year.”

His eyes got wistful. “People were talking about it for months. I’m pretty sure that moment is why there is now technology that lets you turn memories into photographs.”

Harry’s brain whirred with all of the new information about his parents. “She hit him with a book?”

“Oh yes, he asked her out pretty much once a month for years until he figured out how to not be a stalker and let her do her own thing. They regularly got into arguments that would lose Gryffindor almost as many points as the various trouble your father and his friends did. It wasn’t until halfway through our Sixth Year that they went on their first date.”

“No one ever told me,” Harry mumbled. 

Snape frowned at that. He casts a quick Tempus , before replying.

“Our lesson is officially at an end.”

He summoned a scrap of parchment and a quill from his nearby desk. The quill started writing a list while he continued to speak. “I am giving you this list of books on Occlumency, Legilimency, and Wards to browse in your free time. Underlined books are the most important. If necessary, give Granger the list, and have her summarize their content for you.”

He paused. “I will try and do something about Umbrage, but I’m not sure I can. Unfortunately, the fastest way to improve your living situation is to acquit Black and that will take…" he trailed off.

Harry just sighed. “Yeah, I know.”

“I will do what I can.”

Snape got a half-smile in return.

“Thank you.”

~•~

As he walked back to Gryffindor Tower, Harry read over the list that Snape had given him. There were only three books underlined on said list, one from each subject. When he looked at the bottom of the parchment, he saw a note. 

This paper is charmed so that once you cross off the titles that you have read, it will self-update and pick either new books on the list or give you different underlined options."

“Huh.” Harry walked directly into the bottom step of the stairs leading out of the dungeons, making a scuffing thump that echoed off the walls.

“Fun times,” he muttered sarcastically. He heard a snort from down a side corridor and immediately started up the steps lest the unknown (probably Slytherin) student realized whom they were laughing in response to. He got halfway up the stairs before his scarf slipped off and somehow managed to fall most of the way back down the stairs.

“Really?” he muttered. He turned around, all ready to retrieve the offending garment when the Probably Slytherin Student came around the corner. Not only was the student Definitely Slytherin, but it was none other than Draco Malfoy. Harry groaned as Malfoy caught sight of him.

Before Malfoy had a chance to say anything rude, and therefore tempt Harry into hexing him, he cut him off.

“Look, I’m just trying to get back to Gryffindor Tower and pass out, but my scarf hates me, so if we could avoid the whole argument thing, that would be fantastic.”

“Why are you even in the dungeons to begin with?” Malfoy challenged.

“Oh, for- I had detention with Snape. He gave me a reading list,” here Harry waved the parchment in the air. “And now I wish to pass out before anything else goes wrong. Otherwise, I may just walk right up to Voldemort and tell him to finish what he attempted to start. Twice.” He felt his eyes flicker with something undefinable on the last word.

Malfoy’s eyebrows rose, but he didn’t say anything else, so Harry picked up his traitorous scarf, turned around, and continued on his merry way. 

~•~

Once he finally got back to Gryffindor Tower – thankfully without any more interruptions – Harry immediately went to the nearest couch and face-planted along its length. The parchment still clutched tightly in his left hand, right arm folded under his body.

He let out a deep sigh, muffled by the couch, and heard some unknown younger-year say “go get Ron and Hermione,” before the sound of quick footsteps scampered off. That’s reasonable.

Harry realized that very soon, panic that he had opted to ignore in favor of numbness and confusion was going to set in. He hoped Ron and Hermione would show up before then.

Just as he was worried his friends wouldn’t show up on time, he heard a “Harry? Are you alright?” from somewhere to his left. Hermione. Thank Merlin . He let out another groan in response, no longer having the energy to lift himself into a sitting position.

“You alright mate?”

Harry shrugged. He heard Hermione put up a Muffliato .

“Did something happen with Snape?”

He almost started laughing at the worried tone she used. ‘Did something happen’ indeed

He let out another groan, and rolled onto his back, left arm now squished uncomfortably against the rear of the couch.

“I mean something always happens with Snape, technically.” He said to the ceiling. 

Hermione let out an irritated huff. “You know what I meant.”

“Yeah,” he sighed. “I do. And no, not exactly. He acknowledged that he has been treating me as if I was my father, and he gave me tea. So, yes, something happened. Oh!"

He held up the parchment that was being crinkled in his left fist.

“He also gave me a reading list, mentioned setting two members of the faculty on fire, and told me more about my mum than I’ve ever heard from anyone else.”

Silence greeted his tired but energetic little speech.

“You sure that was him, mate?”

Ah, Ron. Always one to remind one of reality.

Harry snorted. “Yeah, it was him. I mentioned The List,” here he gestured to the parchment that Fred and George had tacked up on the wall, “and his response was ‘how… Gryffindor of them.’” Harry imitated the Professor with startling accuracy. 

Hermione, who had been trying to process and analyze everything that Harry had said during this time, interrupted amid Ron’s laughter.

“I’m guessing whatever prompted this change has something to do with your parents?”

Harry’s face made a complicated expression.

“Well…" he hedged. “Something like that.”He stayed lying on his back, but Hermione could see the tension in his body had pressed him further into the couch. She frowned. There was only one thing that made Harry tense up like this around her and Ron, and it was–

Oh no .

“He saw your summers.” It wasn’t a question.

Harry’s flattened lips and averted gaze, however, were more than enough of an answer. 

“What?” Ron somehow hadn’t caught on. He was a brilliant chess master. However, when it came to people and their emotions, he could be almost impressively ignorant.

Hermione forged ahead, knowing that Harry was, in his own way, giving her permission to continue asking yes or no questions. It was up to her to read the answers from his body language. This was, after all, the way he had opened up to her about the Dursleys, to begin with.

They didn’t talk to Ron about it, but at the end of First Year, she had found him on the verge of a panic attack at the prospect of going back. Since then, they had talked about ways to make it easier for him but had yet to find any real solutions. It was why they were so close— something that Ron sometimes seemed to be jealous of.

“Did he see anything specific?”

A slump. That meant he was ready to talk. Sure enough, he lolled his head toward her, and anguished eyes met her own. “He saw everything, ‘Mione. All of it. It was like a speedrun of all the greatest hits of my childhood, and then some. The only thing missing was the snake incident. There was only the consequence part and the letters.”

“Oh, Harry.” She dropped down to her knees and pulled him into a hug, holding him tighter than necessary. They both knew it was because she wished she could have protected him from that particular horror.

His arms slowly came around her, and that was when she felt him shaking.

She pulled away, and without looking up, said “Ron, can you get a calming draught from Madam Pomfrey? Tell her I said it’s a Code Scorpion. She’ll understand what I mean,” hands still resting on Harry’s shoulders. 

“But-"

“Ron. Now.”

He huffed out a “fine,” and left the Common Room to the sound of Harry muttering “it’s more of a Code Lobster, ‘Mione, I’m fine, really.”

After Ron left, Hermione got a soft “thank you.”

Hermione knew Harry wasn’t comfortable talking about his home life with Ron. He only felt comfortable talking about it with her because of the bullying she had also endured at the Muggle school that she had gone to. Both of them had dealt with racism before Hogwarts. It was part of the reason why both of them were so bothered by the obsession over blood status, even if only Hermione was actively harassed about it.

Although Harry’s blood was Indian and Hermione’s African, they both knew a similar impact of Britain’s colonization of what they viewed as 'lesser' countries.

Not only was Ron white, but he also had grown up in a large and loving family. Neither of them was used to having many friends, so they had an odd solidarity that many people, especially those from wizard families, didn’t understand.

She sat with him on the couch now, curled up against her side, one hand running through his hair. She was pleased to have introduced the concept of conditioner to him back in Second Year, as it was deceptively soft now but still messy as ever. 

“Do you want to speak, or for me to ask questions?” She murmured once she felt him relax a fraction and nuzzle into her warmth. He got cold easily, so he was always a little cuddly after having been in the dungeons. 

“I don’t know where to start,” he admitted softly. 

“How about we start by either moving closer to the fire or getting you a sweater?”

He grinned. It was the type of comment he responded to with “yes, mum” around Ron, but with just them, it was okay for him to acknowledge how much it meant for someone to care about him like that.

“Just cast a warming charm ‘Mione.”

She rolled her eyes but did as requested. 

“He knew my mum.” Hermione was almost surprised that Harry was capable of sounding that vulnerable. “They were best friends, ‘Mione, and no one ever told me .”

She waited for him to continue, pained by the rawness in his voice. 

“Apparently, when he first asked her out, she hit my dad over the head with a book.”

There was a smile in his voice. She knew that it was because these little tales, these snapshots in time, are what was most important to Harry. Not the grand things. The everyday stuff.

Hermione chuckled. “So that’s where you get your stubbornness from," she teased. 

“Apparently it is!” He was genuinely animated, and it had warmed her heart.

“He said that she was known for being stubborn. He also offered to light Dumbledore on fire for not properly educating me about Wards.”

“Did you tell him I know a good spell for that?”

Harry snorted and shoved her shoulder. “No, smartass, otherwise he would have figured out who lit him on fire First Year. He said that blood wards are only effective when those protected by them have a strong emotional bond.”

“Can you tell him I’ll help him set Dumbledore on fire?”

“Sure. Umbrage is also on the list, by request. Also,” he held up his hand, the raised red marks still slightly raw.

“Apparently, the thing she made me use is called a Blood Quill. It’s illegal and Dark.”

Hermione had pulled out a piece of parchment by now and was taking notes, a habit she often took up to figure out what to research next. These notes, however, were more of a to-do list. 

“Also, wards bring me to the reading list.” He held out his hand, and she massaged the cold fingers open to take the list.

“It’s titles on Occlumency, Legilimency, and wards. Underlined most important. Read bottom note.” His speech was getting clipped, with shorter sentences, and she knew that he was running out of steam.

She read the note on the bottom, then added a point to her list about looking into the charm mentioned. Under that, she put another note to schedule a meeting with Professor Snape for herself. There were things about Harry that few people knew, and she wanted to make sure Snape didn’t endanger her friend in any way. Harry’s secrets were few, but they were important to him.

Speaking of , she made a note to look into libel laws. Another, about lawyers. 

“Do you want to hold onto this list, or do you want me to keep it for you?” She kept her voice soft, knowing his exhaustion was only amplified by loud speech and noises. 

She felt him shrug against her, eyes closed and all but asleep on her shoulder.

“I’ll keep it for now, and then I’ll ask you again tomorrow, okay?”

She waited until he let out a sleepy “mm-hmm,” before continuing.

“I think Ron will be back soon, and then I’m making sure you get to bed.”

Few people would recognize the last part as a threat even fully awake. Harry was one of the even fewer, who recognized it in his current state, half asleep. He let out a grumpy sound in response and shoved his face further into her shoulder to fight off consciousness, glasses all but cracking under the pressure.

Hermione gave an affectionate roll of her eyes before abruptly standing up, causing him to fall face-first into the couch. He whined into the couch cushions before blearily glaring up at her, his glasses falling off of his face.

“I stand by the theory of your animagus form being a black kitten.”

“I resent that,” he grumbled. 

“McGonagall might try to adopt you.”

“I will hate crime you,” Harry responded to Hermione, just as Ron appeared, walking back into the bubble of her Muffliato .

He raised his eyebrows. “Should I be worried?”

“Nah,” Hermione said. “I just told him that his animagus form is probably a tiny black kitten. Also, that a certain cat animagus that we know might try to adopt him.”

Ron looked like he very much did not want to even begin unpacking that, and instead reached out his hand and gave Harry the box he was holding.

“Pomphrey gave this to me with the instructions that it’s keyed to your magical signature so only you can open it, to visit her tomorrow at some point, and also that I tell you to ‘not downplay hardships or validity.’” He quoted in a poor imitation of the matron's voice.

“Thanks,” Harry clutched the box like it was a lifeline. 

“Okay,” Hermione made a shooing motion with her hands.

“Up you get, you need rest.”

Harry didn’t argue and let her herd him up to bed without complaint. 

Ron had felt a certain amount of jealousy about Harry and Hermione’s relationship. Looking at them now, however, he realized that they reminded him of the way his mother would fuss over him and his siblings.

He wasn’t completely clueless. Hermione hadn’t been all that surprised at the beginning of their Second Year when he told her about the bars on Harry’s windows.

In all honesty, she had been angrier than anything else. But she hadn’t treated Harry any differently, even when the twins had been kinder to Harry and, hell, even Ron himself had tiptoed around the subject. Watching her herd him up to their dorm, force him to brush his teeth even through all of the sleepy grumbling, and change into pajamas, made Rom realize that Harry needed someone like that. He needed someone to take care of him in all the mundane ways that Hermione did to both of them. Ron himself saw it as nagging, but for Harry? It was proof that someone cared. He watched Harry pull out a Dreamless Sleep potion from the box and down it immediately before handing said box and his glasses to Hermione. It made Ron realize that he needed to be there for him too. There were things that Harry only felt comfortable talking to Hermione about, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t be supportive in his own way. 

~•~

Ron’s thoughtful expression had made Hermione slightly nervous. As she gently set the box and Harry’s glasses on his bedside table, she heard a soft, “I hadn’t even noticed.”

She turned around cautiously. “Noticed what?”

She kept her voice low, even though she knew the potion would keep Harry under for as long as he needed to sleep. She was glad tomorrow was Saturday. He needed the rest. 

“How much he needs it.” Ron was frowning. “How much you’re there for him. And how much he needs that. For there to be someone to look after him.”

He looked up at her, and there was anguish in his eyes. “I haven’t been doing nearly enough.”

Hermione smiled and sat down on the edge of Ron’s bed, hands propped on either side to balance her. “It’s not a surprise that you never noticed.”

He seemed a little affronted, so she continued, counting off on her fingers to make a point, feet pushing into the carpet to take the weight that her hands had held.

“Both of us didn’t know magic was real, we went to a Muggle school, we both experienced bullying and racism at said schools. We both have had fears of not being good enough to stay in this world that provided us with friends, and neither of us really had friends growing up until Hogwarts.” She paused, and when she looked at Ron, he felt as though she was looking into his soul. This time when she counted off on her fingers, it hurt even more somehow, even though it really shouldn’t.

“You grew up in a large family. You have supportive siblings and plenty of role models. You’ve never known a world without magic. Never even had to contemplate it. Even if you had grown up in a place where racism was relevant to you, you’re the second whitest person I know. You’ve never been told that the circumstances of your birth are going to dictate your life or your career. Harry and I both have that on two counts, maybe even three. You’ve never had to question these things because no one has ever told you about them or shown them to you before.”

She punctuated her words with a shrug. “And honestly, the saying that only privileged people can afford to not care about politics is true. You don’t have to care about it because the government won’t try to imprison or kill you just for being. Which, for you, is a good thing. But for the rest of us, we don’t always feel safe talking about it with people who aren’t affected by it. Even though Harry and I know we can trust you,” another shrug.

“There’s always that fear.” She gave him a sad smile, and all Ron can do is stand there because he had no idea, and she was still saying that it wasn’t his fault, but all he could think was that he should’ve known and that he should have done something .

She seemed to clock his reaction and gave a tired sigh. “I’ll talk to you about the important points tomorrow, but it’s late now and we need sleep. Just know that if you were being actively problematic about anything, you would not still be around. You’re honestly shockingly supportive for your profile.”

And with that, she was gone. Leaving behind only a reminder of her presence in the form of Harry’s folded uniform and Ron’s books being piled carefully in a neat stack on his desk without his notice.



Chapter Text

Why did you tell him to tell her Scorpion, ‘Mione? She’s never gonna let me leave, and it was more of a Lobster, you know that.”

Harry hadn’t stopped complaining the entire time they were walking from breakfast in the Great Hall to the Hospital Wing. While glad that he was well-rested, Hermione was getting a little sick of this theme.

Ron had heard one sentence about crustaceans and immediately decided to go back up to the Tower after staying for a more lengthy and lavish breakfast.

Now, Hermione was walking down corridors with a Harry so frustrated that he hadn’t even noticed Malfoy sneering at them, which was honestly impressive. It had resulted in the surreal moment of Malfoy and Hermione sharing a moment of surprised eye-contact as if to say, "are you seeing this too?" Before they both realized who the other person was and went back to walking down the hallway.

Meanwhile, Harry was saying that just because he appreciated having Dreamless Sleep the previous night, it wasn’t worth having Pomfrey summon him to the Hospital Wing. By the time they reached said Hospital Wing, Hermione was seriously considering doing something to Harry that would likely result in him being kept there. 

~•~

After much complaining and insisting that he was fine, Harry was finally left with a Saturday free of imminent responsibility.

After getting Harry to check out the three underlined books on his reading list, Hermione had disappeared into the labyrinthine shelves to find the rest of the books on the list. Ron was catching up on homework in the Common Room. Harry grabbed the books, his Defense Against the Dark Arts textbook from Third Year, a pencil case, and a couple of notebooks that he had purchased recently out of his trunk and put them in his bag. Harry then headed outside to sit by the lake.

When he got out into the grounds, Harry took a moment and closed his eyes, chin tilting up a few degrees to feel the breeze. A small smile relaxed across his face, shoulders lowering to an untroubled posture, spine straightening in a subtle stretch.

He blinked open his eyes and walked to a tree with bows reaching in a protective arc, shading an area around the base from the sun.

It was here that he sat, robe off and under him like a picnic blanket, back leaning into the trunk, legs stretched out and crossed in front of him. His head was bowed over a book, and his right hand periodically scribbled notes in the notebook laid open beside him.

It was here that Draco Malfoy ran across him, walking to the Quidditch Pitch.

It was almost funny to Draco that for the second time in one day, Potter was so absorbed in what he was doing that he didn’t even clock Draco's presence. If he hadn’t wanted him to know he was there, he supposed, he might’ve been more entertained by the fact.

After realizing walking toward him was doing absolutely zilch, Draco stopped four feet away and spoke. “I was unaware you studied.”

Not the most creative thing, but he was too interested in his experiment for much more. 

Potter flinched violently, head snapping up toward Draco, glasses falling onto his book, and dropping the thing he had been using to write ( what is that, anyway? ).

“Jesus fuck, Malfoy.” His eyes were wild as he picked up his glasses to resettle them on his face. “Make some sound before speaking, would you?”

Draco merely raised an eyebrow before pointedly looking at the crisp fallen leaves that he had walked through to get that close.

“Oh.” Potter seemed to take a minute to process, for he frowned before speaking.

“Anyway, this isn’t for a class.” He looked down at the book spread open across his lap. “It’s extracurricular. For… various reasons.”

He got a glint in his eye that Draco had never seen before. “This one is to help me sue someone.” He tilted his head to the side and looked up from the book in the general direction of the lake. “Or I guess to get them arrested, depending.”

His eyes suddenly got big, and he scrambled for writing utensils, muttering the whole time. Draco didn’t catch much other than “Gringotts,” “Bill,” “goblins,” and “wards.”

“Why are you trying to sue someone?” He couldn’t mask his bewildered tone. 

“Many reasons,” Potter seemed to have forgotten whom he was talking to, so absorbed he was in writing what looked like a list on a weird sheaf of lined parchment. “I mean, first of all, the complete and utter lack of libel laws. Honestly, it’s shocking Hermione only just now decided to get me a lawyer and have them look into that. There’s also the poor handling of apparently everything in the justice system. I’ve met a legally dead man, and instead of being the victim everyone says he is, crap.” Potter wiped some excess ink from his finger onto the corner of the page. “He tried to kill me. I mean, it technically wasn’t the first time he did that. I’ve met a criminal who never got a trial; had he received one he would have been proven innocent. Well,” he looked up over the lake, an amused smile on his face.

“Innocent of that particular crime. I’ve heard tell that he used to steal street signs.” He looked back up at Draco. “But that’s a little milder than murder, so,” he shrugged.

“That’s three court cases. You aren’t going to find all that in one book.”

Draco was reeling. Since when did Potter know or care about legal cases?  

“Oh, no. This is for a different case. This book is about types of wards. I think it’s only about protective wards, but” he made a face that conveyed how overwhelming it was.

“Anyway, it’s still only three cases, ‘cause the asshole who tried to kill me is the person the one sentenced without a trial is supposed to have killed.”

He wrinkled his nose, “also the explanation involves illegal activity, so I’m not sure how that will work out. And that isn’t even counting the negligence case, which is the same person as the ward case and sort of overlaps, and then there’s the mostly unrelated Dark Artifact case that was enabled by the negligence case. Then related to the ward case is a case that I need to ask Gringotts about, so I need to talk to their top curse breaker because he’s cool, and I’m pretty sure he can help me with the goblins. And that case is related to both the murder case and the negligence case. They’re all related to a child abuse case as well. So overall,” Potter made direct eye contact with Draco, and he was more solemn than he had ever seen him before.

“I have a lot of non-school studying that I’m doing. And that’s just a quarter of what I set out to do.”

“There’s more?” Draco asked incredulously.

Potter held up each book in turn, saying the subject in a tired voice.

“Occlumency. Legilimency, obviously related. Defense. Unrelated but easiest. And as I mentioned," he tilted up the book on his lap before letting it fall again. “Wards.”

“Why are you studying Occlumency?”

“Oh, I wonder why the most hunted fifteen-year-old wants to keep out people who want to read his mind. It’s almost as if he nearly got into a fistfight with the current maniac calling themselves a dark lord three times, not counting when he was a baby.” His tone was positively dripping with sarcasm. 

Draco had to admit he had a point. “Well, if the Wards are for a court case, which honestly doesn’t seem like something you would be involved in, what’s Defense for?”

All he got was a laugh in response. 

“You said it was extracurricular,” Draco prompted. 

“Oh, it is. But then again, any practical work would have to be. I had to go back to our Third Year textbook to find anything of use. It’s dense, which makes me understand why Remus mostly did practical lessons with lectures mixed in, but there are some useful spells in here.” He had a sudden burst of frustration. “But I still can’t find Hermione’s fire spell! It's not in any Charms books I've read either! I’m starting to think she came up with it herself, which I wouldn’t put past her, but by November in First Year? Really?”

He refocused. “Anyway, Theory is important to learn, but it only really means anything if taught in conjunction with practical work.”

Another head tilt. “You can understand the theory behind a Patronus Charm, but it won’t help you at all if you’ve never tried to cast one and you’re surrounded by Dementors.”

"Granger has her own fire spell?"

It was, in all honesty, not the thing to be focusing on. 

“I mean, we all have a signature. For Hermione, it’s the blue fire. For me, it’s probably my corporeal Patronus or the fact that I'm good at defense. For Ron, it’s a little more abstract. He’s a brilliant chess master. He’s beaten everyone in Gryffindor who went against him. It makes him a great strategist. Sometimes it means he doesn’t recognize people’s emotions, but his strategy is honestly more watertight than that of Dumbledore.”

Draco was a little afraid to ask the question, but he couldn't deny that he was curious. “Do I have a recognizable signature?”

Potter smiled, head rolling along the tree bark so that their eyes met. “I don’t know you well enough to say. Maybe you have a certain spell you’re excellent at. Maybe it’s a hobby that rivals everything else. For example, Neville is a Herbology God. For Ginny, Ron’s sister, it’s her Bat-Bogey Hex. I would say you can detect what someone’s insecurities are and hit them where it hurts, but you’re kind of a racist prick, and I think it has more to do with that than anything else.”

Before Draco had time to react, Potter's smile had stretched into a grin, and he said, "I'm just kidding, you're good at Potions. That counts as a signature."

"Very funny, Potter." He said stiffly. He should've known that a normal conversation with the prat was too much to hope for.

He snorted. "What, can't take a joke Malfoy? Or is it the fact that I'm right that bothers you? I know you had nothing to do with the Second year nonsense, but your father certainly did."

Potter's green eyes seemed to change to an even deeper emerald than typical, and there was a seriousness in his face that made Draco unwilling to doubt him. He shifted from foot to foot in the fallen leaves and swallowed. "What do you mean Potter?"

A sad smile. "I guess he never told you about the diary. It had Voldemort's-" Draco felt himself flinch. "-soul in it."

Potter wrinkled his nose. "Well, at least part of it. Or a memory of it. It's kind of gross to think about. That's how he possessed Ginny."

A flash of a grin. "People say that's why she's so terrifying."

He shook his head, an amused curve to his lips.

"Anyway, Hermione will kill me if I don't make any progress. I gotta finish a couple more chapters of this, then I can start on the fun bit." He frowned. "I also need to ask Ron about Bill."

The last sentence was said in a very distracted manner. Draco blinked, trying to piece everything Potter had told him together.

And then it clicked, and he took a sharp breath in.

"You want to exonerate Sirius Black." He was well aware he was staring beyond the tree, at the castle wall, but it was like fitting the last puzzle piece and seeing the complete image for the first time. He was riveted.

"What, I-"

"The dead man is Peter Pettigrew. He must have been the actual traitor to your family. That makes so much more sense. Blacks don't turn on who they see as their family, and I doubt the death of his brother would convince him to work for the Dark Lord. That must also be how you got the Firebolt in Third Year. He never got a trial, so the goblins still see him as head of the family. Only Sirius can access the family gold. If he could get in and out undetected, he would be safe in the neutral ground of the bank."

"Would you believe me if I denied everything you just said?"

"No."

"Okay, cool, if he didn't already try to kill me once, I'd ask if your dad is a lawyer and if he could help."

Draco furrowed his brow.

"It's cuz I tricked him into freeing your House Elf. He tried to curse me."

Draco's eyebrows shot up and his mouth formed an "oh," in realization.

"Yeah, Dobby."

Draco frowned. "You do realize your life is rather insane, correct?"

Potter snorted. "Yeah, figured that out myself, thanks." He paused and narrowed his eyes. "You know, the only person I've ever seen figure something out that fast is Hermione."

His face lit up suddenly. "Wait, hold that thought. You take Ancient Runes, right? What can you tell me about the sun rune? I forgot to ask her, and she's somewhere very deep in the library and is probably working her way through the entire reading list Snape gave me yesterday, and I don't want to die."

"Since when do you care about runes?" Draco was having trouble keeping up with the conversation. Derailing the conversation probably wasn't going to help much, but he would do what he could to slow it down while he processed.

What he wasn't expecting was Potter to get very uncomfortable with the questioning and immediately shut down. He could almost see his face shutter and lock down to hide any and all emotion.

It was the opposite reaction Draco was used to getting in response to his barbs and insults.

"Do you know the answer?"

Draco gave him a deadpan look, and in a matching voice, recited, "sowelo, also known as the sun rune, is connected to the lightning bolt, summer, and the concept of a flash of inspiration. It is feminine, like the sun in Norse mythology. It symbolizes life-giving warmth, understanding, education, resistance to death and disintegration, light winning over darkness, confidence, victory and success, energy, strength, and destruction, among other things. Another important point in reference to sowelo is enlightenment and success through individual will."

His gaze lifted to Potter's forehead, eyes running along the shape of the Rune. The reaction made more sense now. That scar didn't have a pretty history. It made him wonder again what his Uncle Severus had given Potter as a reading list. Last night had given him no answers, and Potter was now asking Draco of all people an academic question.

He was startled out of his musings by a disbelieving laugh from Potter.

"I guess it does sound like her."

He was grinning out over the lake, face lit up brighter than when he would catch the Snitch. He laughed again, "oh my god, he was wrong! The bastard could be wrong! Power of love, my arse!"

He turned his blinding grin to Draco, and for a second, he couldn't breathe, couldn't think, from the intensity.

"Thank you." The words were heartfelt, and his eyes were glowing the same color as the fire in the Slytherin Common Room.

Draco arched an eyebrow. This would normally be where he would say something scathing about the Golden Boy thanking anyone, but it didn't feel right.

This year, Draco had wished to hide in the shadows, but it hadn't been an option. With his family in the thick of it, he knew more than most that Harry Potter was no liar. That didn't mean he knew anything of substance, however. If anything, it felt like Second Year all over again, knowing something was happening, but his father not trusting him enough to tell him more than that.

When he was twelve, Draco had believed his father when he said he didn't know anything else or that it was for the best if Draco didn't know anything. Now, however, Draco was older. He was watching from the shadows. 

He had seen Diggory's body, heard the agonized cries.

He had seen his father slip away shortly before.

He had seen his mother prepare with masks, false smiles, and early dismissals from the dinner table.

Most of all, he had seen his godfather, his Uncle Severus, withdraw farther than he had ever seen before.

Most people wouldn't have seen a thing, but Draco had grown up with Severus treating him more like a son than his own father did. He snapped more quickly, his blank mask was present more often, and Draco couldn't remember the last time he had seen the man at all three meals in the Great Hall.

Then again, the last time Potter had consistently had all three meals in the Great Hall was the first part of Third Year. Not that Draco would ever admit to knowing that.

The point being, Fifth Year was different.

He went along with Umbridge to keep out of suspicion and to appease his father. Every day he wrote letters to his mother about which students had new scars on their hands and what they said. Every night he left a list of names on Madam Pomfrey's desk. He never signed the note; he didn't want recognition. It would only paint a target on his back.

So he did his best to step back while also not ruining his reputation. And also trying to help people.

Maybe that was why it didn't feel right to insult Potter when he looked happier than he had in at least two years. Their rivalry had admittedly started because Draco hadn't been mature enough to accept rejection, but it had always excited him the most when they were head-to-head on the Quidditch Pitch.

Draco cocked his head to the right in thought.

He had been going there anyway…

"You're welcome," he finally replied, drinking in the smile that was aimed at him for the first time. "Want to play a Seeker's game?"

The words were out before he could think better of them.

Potter blinked in surprise before looking down at his study materials spread around him. He bit his lip, brow wrinkling in thought.

He looked back up at Draco to reply. "Tell you what, if you're still flying by the time I finish what I set out to do, sure."

Draco arched a brow, smirking. "And if you're still studying when midnight rolls around?"

Potter snorted. "Well, we'll have to do it another time then." He returned the smirk, and it looked warmer on his face than it ever could on Draco's. "I can't let you tell people I backed down from a challenge, now can I?"

Draco felt his lips curve into a genuine smile, and he nodded before turning and walking the rest of the way to the Pitch.

Chapter Text

Hermione walked down the stairs to the dungeons, bag unheavy, a copy of each book on the list inside.

She hadn't lied to Harry, but she wasn't reading them all in the library today as he thought. Part of her felt bad, but at the same time, she couldn't help the assumptions others had about her behavior.

Besides , she reasoned, it was better that Harry didn't know about what she was doing until later.

Unfortunately, it was still something that needed to be done.

She took a deep breath and knocked on the door to Professor Snape's office.

 

~•~

 

Severus Snape was feeling regret.

It wasn’t an unusual emotion for him to feel, but the reason he was feeling regret was different from what it had been for the past decade, and so he was staring into his fireplace. He had tried to let go of and erase as many of his school-age memories as possible. It seemed better that way.

Now, however, he was having another layer of regret, because all of them were flooding back.

Lily was going to kill him as soon as he died. He knew that with certainty. He would accept it. He hadn’t done anything to honor her memory, he hadn’t even tried. And now her son was being manipulated by Albus Dumbledore and was stuck in what was obviously an abusive household. He felt himself shudder, remembering the memories he had skimmed through the night before, and took a swig of his hot tea. It didn’t erase the cold feeling inside of him.

He stood up and walked to a cabinet. He had to do something to honor his best friend. No one else had bothered, and he had to start somewhere. He flicked his wand once, vanishing the dust in his office silently. Another flick had all of the papers in the room stacked in a pile on his desk. The pile was a little tall for his liking, but he would sort it later. A swish and every jar with animal specimens were lined neatly against one wall. A tap against an armchair and the fabric changed from whatever indiscernible dark color it had been, to a vibrant green with gold thread detailing.

Books formed stacks against a different wall, one trying to bite him as it flew past. Maybe he should read some of those more often.

He paused, recognizing a certain stack of textbooks in their own pile, with worn covers. They were the Potions textbooks he had used in his schooling days. He sent that pile to a spot next to his sturdy oak desk.

The stone floor was… gross, to say the least. It hadn’t been cleaned since before the office was assigned to him, he was sure. He flicked his wand, and a piece of parchment tacked itself to the wall. A quill started writing a list.

 

  • Clean the floor
  • Go over old Potions notes
  • Write a paper or a textbook
  • Revise lesson plans
  • Redecorate

 

If he wanted to clean the floor, he would have to remove all of the furniture first. He was raised as a Muggle. He knew the best thing would be to scrub the floor with soap and water. Who knew what Potions ingredients were on the floor. Using magic to clean the floor could result in an explosion, at the worst. He pursed his lips, before adding to the list

 

  • Withdraw some money
  • Buy new clothes (not black)

 

As long as Sirius Black never saw the last item on the list, he could start to improve his life. And hopefully, he could improve Harry’s as well.

Snape took off his outer robe and slung it over the back of his chair. The chair might stay. He was somewhat attached to the horrible thing. He rolled up his sleeves to the elbow, not looking at his left arm. He didn’t want to see the black lines etched there, or the rough circle of scar tissue around it.

He pulled his hair up and out of his face, using a band of magic to secure it the way he had seen Lily do it hundreds of times before.

After Summoning a bucket of water, a rag, and a scrub brush, he turned his attention to the fireplace.

A quick Lumos Maxima lit up the entire room, allowing him to snuff the fire before vanishing the ashes and kneeling down to scrub the bricks.

Manual labor was like Potions. Mindless work that required just enough concentration to keep the bad thoughts and memories away. It would be a better coping mechanism if he ever talked about the things he tried to escape, he was well aware, but he could only tell Minerva so much, and he didn’t trust anyone else with the things he talked to her about. He didn’t want to ruin her image of Albus, as much as he resented the man.

Grey water pooled in the cement between the bricks of the fireplace. The stiff bristles of the brush had turned from natural brown to a dark mud color. He poured more water over the bricks, washing away what he could. A few bricks turned from brown to an indistinct red. Excess water ran across the floor. He could tell this was going to take a while, but it was Saturday and he had eaten breakfast and left the Great Hall before he saw more than ten students. It was doubtful that he would be interrupted.

As he worked, Severus thought about Lily.

The fact that they grew up in the same neighborhood wasn’t the only reason they had been friends once they went to Hogwarts.

She had a stubbornness and tenacity that rivaled that of Professor McGonagall. She was the only person who had a chance at rivaling him in Potions, and if it hadn’t been for her he never would’ve invented Wolfsbane. Granted, it was due to a sarcastic remark she made about him inventing a Potion to keep werewolves from hurting him if he was so scared, but it was what gave him a place in this world, so he would take it.

They had challenged each other intellectually, and not just in classes. Both of them made a habit of researching the things they were interested in, which resulted in many hours spent in the library, each of them explaining what they had learned to the other.

That challenge had kept him going through most of his time as a student.

Dumbledore thought he was in love with Lily. The idea was honestly laughable. He loved her, yes, but that was because she was his best friend. Of course he loved her. The reason he hated the attention that James gave her, was that she had told him it made her uncomfortable. He also didn’t want her to do anything stupid.

A memory of Sirius Black saying “I’m stupid, do me!” and Remus Lupin immediately walking out of the room in the middle of class.

By the time they dated, Severus could see how happy James made her, and was happy for her.

The jealousy he had felt was based on the belief that James would replace Severus as Lily’s best friend. By the time he realized that wasn’t the case, he wasn’t on speaking terms with her anymore.

“I’m done! You can’t keep treating the people that care about you like this! All you do nowadays is spit back into the faces of those who care whenever they try to help! You were my best friend. I feel like I don’t even know you anymore. Don’t talk to me until you learn how to treat other people with respect.”

He funneled dirty water into a second bucket. He poured more clean water across the floor, seeing light grey flagstones for the first time. He hadn’t seen them during the whole time this office belonged to Slughorn.

It was a shame, the stones were a pale grey, and quite beautiful. They were flat, square, and had a regal quality to them.

He sat back on his heels to survey his work.

The fireplace was now visible as exposed brickwork. There was a swath of flagstones visible in the middle of the room, stretching from where the fireplace was. However, the two armchairs, the stacks of books, his desk, his chair, and the many many preserved specimens were preventing him from cleaning the entirety of the floor.

He also should probably clean the bookshelves before putting anything back on them.

His desk was a solid oak thing, but everything else could potentially be levitated as he cleaned the floor underneath it.

He frowned. Cleaning the bookshelves now would mean he could put some stuff on them, lowering the weight load of the levitation charm.

As he was pondering this decision, there was a knock on the door.

 

~•~

 

The door to Professor Snape’s office took longer to open than normal, Hermione noticed. Usually, it would open within a couple of seconds of anyone knocking, but she had been standing there for at least thirty seconds after knocking, and it still wasn’t opening.

She knew someone was in the office since there was the sound of a piece of furniture being dragged across the stone, but decidedly no movement on the door front.

She knocked again.

 

~•~

 

When Severus heard the knock on the door, he felt mild panic run through him. He cast a quick Tempus, and black letters spelled out the time in his handwriting. It was midafternoon, lunch would be starting soon. He hadn’t noticed the day slipping away while he scrubbed the stones of his office floor.

He banished the bucket of water, the rag, and the scrub brush to a corner of the room. He then grabbed the edge of his desk, bracing his body before dragging it across the floor to a spot on the clean stones before the fireplace.

The desk would also have to be cleaned, he decided, but he had taken care of it over the years so it wasn’t nearly as bad as the rest of the furniture.

He heard a second knock on the door.

Right. He had a visitor.

He moved his chair next to his desk with a flick of his wand, before turning and quickly opening the door to reveal an uncertain yet determined Hermione Granger.

Right. I was expecting this.

He gestured with an arm for her to enter the room, before turning on his heel to pick up the nearest stack of books and put them on his desk.

 

~•~

 

To say that Hermione was surprised by what she saw when Professor Snape opened the door to his office would be an understatement.

She didn’t think she had ever seen him without his teaching robes on before, and here he was in black slacks, a black button-down, and his sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Not only that, his hair was… in a ponytail?

It had never really occurred to her that his hair was shoulder-length until now.

She felt herself looking at his left forearm as she walked into the room, the door closing behind her. Right below the elbow, there was gauze wrapped around his arm. It showed no signs of blood, but she wasn’t expecting it to. As she studied it, the Professor picked up a tall stack of books from the floor and dropped them on his desk, which was on the other side of the room from where it normally stood. His right hand came up and absently scratched at the skin around the gauze seemingly without his notice.

The bookshelves that lined the walls were all empty, and their normal possessions were in piles and rows around the room, seemingly in categories. She could see the red bricks of the fireplace, no longer black from soot and God-knows-what else.

Snape turned around and leaned almost casually against the desk, one long leg crossing over the other, reminding her of a spider, or a marionette. He folded his arms and studied her face for a second before speaking.

“I presume you’re here to talk about Mr. Potter. However, before you ask any questions I would like to remind you that I will not divulge what I have seen in his Occlumency practice with anyone, friend, or foe.”

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. She felt a cross between a smirk and a smile stretch across her lips. “Well, my first question was to implore you to respect his privacy, so I’d say we’re off to a relatively good start.” She let her eyes visibly skim over the piles of books and jars, and added, in a tone that suggested that it was an afterthought, “I do hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

Out of all possible responses, Hermione was not expecting the bitter professor to snort and roll his eyes in response. He unfolded his arms and legs, and stood up fully, turning to the new pile of books on his desk. It struck her again how thin and spindly he was, when not hidden beneath layers of flowing fabric that was manipulated as he moved to appear more ominous, she was sure.

“As long as we can have our discussion while I go through these books, it’ll be fine.” He frowned. “Has the Dewey Decimal System been updated, or is that a permanent code?”

Hermione blinked. “I don’t think it can change.” She blinked again, “wizards know about the Dewey Decimal System? Why isn’t the Library organized that way? It would be so much easier for students to find relevant books that way instead of searching around hoping that they can find the right section!”

“Switching over would mean that the lovely Madame Pince would have to admit that a certain aggressive redhead that she saw as a menace to the Library was right, and she’ll never do that because of the violence she technically perpetrated within its sacred walls.” He looked up, and Hermione was surprised to see humor and sadness in the usually cold and cruel eyes.

“That certain redhead would be Lily Jacqueline Evans. She probably gave Potter and Black brain damage.”

“You knew her.” One thing Hermione had learned in her time at Hogwarts was how to prompt people to talk. Some people needed many questions. Others needed silence more than anything else. It was hard for her to watch from the shadows. After all, there was no way to prove yourself capable if no one even saw you. But she had started to manage it in Third Year when she had the Time-Turner.

Looking back, it was irresponsible for anyone to have given that to her, and she had her suspicions that Dumbledore had planned Sirius Black’s escape using the device months in advance. That being said, it had helped her in the long run.

She had also seen the way Professor Lupin was able to get people to talk, in that quiet way of his. If anyone asked, she would probably deny it, but emulating him was something she felt herself doing often.

“Lily Evans was my best friend until we were fifteen,” there was a seriousness that Hermione had never seen in her antagonistic Professor, even when giving lectures about the most dangerous of Potions.

“I realize that your friend is desperate to hear anything he possibly can about his family, but for years I have buried my memories of her. I was not about to dredge them up for someone I had been convinced to see in the way I saw Mr. Potter.”

Hermione raised a challenging eyebrow. She knew when to step back and feign obedience, but she also knew when to call people out and to push.

“And how was it you saw him?”

“The way Dumbledore wanted me to.”

Hermione smiled. It seemed the Professor was going to be helpful after all.

 

~•~

 

“The way Dumbledore wanted me to.”

Severus recognized the potential violence in Hermione Granger’s smile. He knew she was smart, and she had to be somewhat ruthless to survive along with someone with luck as terrible as Harry Potter’s, but this was the first time he saw a craving for blood in her.

When he started on this path of helping the Potter boy, of helping Lily’s son, of helping Harry, he knew he would have to deal with the boy’s friends. He didn’t expect that he would want to stand behind them. He hadn’t seen a sword being raised behind someone’s eyes since Lily was alive. Harry may be her actual son, but her fire lived on in Hermione Granger as if she were her kin.

“Good.” Her verbal reply was simple, but the way her shoulders settled more firmly square, and the slight but stubborn lift of her chin spoke volumes. He had known she wouldn’t trust him, but it was comforting to see that Harry Potter had allies that would back him and keep him safe personally and emotionally, not just physically.

She continued, “I haven’t read through all of the books on the list yet, but by next week I will be finished with them and have questions about them. In the meantime, I can help you with your library if you teach me the charm on the reading list you gave him, and tell me what you know about the legal system.”

Potter’s words from the day before came back to him: “They aren’t the only Gryffindors who the Hat said would do well in your house. None of them would ever admit it, of course, but that doesn’t mean the Hat forgot.”

Time to test how strong House loyalty is, he mused.

“That is a very Slytherin way to go about seeking information.”

“Slytherins are often flattered when others deal in information the same way that they do. It makes them feel like they’ve had a positive influence.”

“Coming to that conclusion and using it to your advantage is also very Slytherin.”

“Using logic to manipulate others isn’t a purely Slytherin trait. You might be surprised by what the Ravenclaws get up to. If there was a gossip rag like the Daily Prophet within Hogwarts, the authors would be a mix of both Slytherin and Ravenclaw students, with the sports segment most likely written by a Gryffindor or Slytherin and announcements about events as well as yearbook type duties performed by the Hufflepuffs. The stereotyped traits of the Houses are shared by everyone, what House you end up in has more to do with your values than your characteristics.

“Look at Neville, for example. He is afraid of heights and confrontation, but he believes that he needs to stand up for what is right no matter what. It’s his belief in justice and the pursuit of justice no matter how afraid one is that makes him a Gryffindor. Fred and George belong in either Slytherin or Ravenclaw, speaking practically, but their need for a family more than anything else puts them in Gryffindor. Harry would be an excellent fit in Slytherin, but he is also the bravest person I know and has now lost his sense of self-preservation. Ron could fit in with Ravenclaw or Slytherin with his skill in chess; he’s beaten the whole of Gryffindor Tower so many times that only Harry will play against him anymore, which gives him a gift for strategy that makes Dumbledore look average. I had the option to go to Ravenclaw or Gryffindor. I chose Gryffindor because bravery and stubbornness have seen me through more than pure knowledge with nothing to back it up ever could.”

Severus was honestly surprised that she had spent this much time thinking about the House system. He knew he shouldn’t be surprised, especially after Potter’s words about the Sorting Hat the night before, but he couldn’t help it.

The rivalry between Slytherin and Gryffindor had been around since before he was born. To have two students in one year questioning the system itself while the rivalry was bordering on war was destabilizing, to say the least. That wasn’t to say it wasn’t inspiring, it just wasn’t what he was expecting on any level.

He supposed the most shocking part was the fact that both of them were known as the poster children of Gryffindor. It seemed he hadn’t seen all of their secrets just yet.

He knew how important secrets were to those in the public eye. They valued secrets more than most, even considering the impending war.

“That’s an admirable point of view. I find it surprising considering the current climate. Especially since your House is one of two embroiled in a centuries-old conflict.” Severus wondered when he had decided honesty was the path he was going to take. 

Granger’s eyebrows shot up. Right. No one is used to compliments from me. He could almost see Lily laughing at him from the afterlife. He had gotten himself into this situation. He might be able to get himself out of it.

“I may seem firmly on a single side of the conflict, but that has more to do with politics than anything else.” He let the fingers of his right hand run across the gauze covering the horrid brand on his arm. Granger’s eyes tracked the movement more subtly than he expected they would. “Few people know much about me because that is what keeps me safe. However, since I believe we will be working together, I find it relevant to be more open, starting with this fact.”

He whirled back to his desk, and grabbed one of his old textbooks, speaking as he opened it.

“Potter may have mentioned that I told him that his mother and I were best friends once upon a time. This is true. The reason we first became friends is that we were neighbors.” He turned, and showed her the inside cover of a Transfiguration book from his Third Year, notes about the link between chemistry and the subject in both his and Lily’s handwriting alongside the clear printing of ‘Property of the Half-Blood Prince.’ The nickname wasn’t his finest moment, but it was based on fact.

“My mother was Eileen Prince. I thought the nickname was quite clever when I was a child.” He could practically see Granger putting a puzzle together in the air with her eyes, putting everything together as she studied the page.

When she asked her first question, it was not the one he expected. What he expected was interrogation about why he would ever become a Death Eater. Why he treated Gryffindors the way he did. Why he wasn’t a better teacher. Why he never published any of his theories.

That wasn’t what he got. The why questions he could stomach. He could put some of them down to naïvete, after all.

What he got hurt so much more, simply because of how damn selfless it was.

“Do you have anything else, that isn’t yours, obviously, that has her writing in it? Harry never got anything from her. Only stuff from his father.” Her gaze was calculating, as if knowing that the question would hurt, and that just made it worse, didn’t it, because he had given her so many reasons to want him to hurt.

He took a deep breath.

“I might.” He disliked that there was a tinge of sadness in his voice. “I will have to check as I go through everything.”

She just nodded as if everything was normal. Simply moved on, easy as that.

“I always wondered why wizards never used atomic theory to make magic easier. It’s what makes Transfiguration so easy for me. If you think about it as altering the number of protons and electrons in the sample, it’s so much easier to turn a match into a needle.”

She was changing the subject to make this wildly odd conversation less awkward. Lily was right. Wonders never did cease.

“I have several notebooks combining chemistry and other Muggle sciences with Potions, Lily was the one who focused on Transfiguration and Charms. She was going to publish her findings, but then the war broke out.”

“Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith, Sev. That’s just how life is.”

“I could try to find the copies she sent to me and pass them on to you and Potter. It would be a shame if no one ever got them published.”

She smiled for the first time in his presence. I really need to become a better professor.  

“That’s a wonderful idea. It also reminds me,” she pulled a sheaf of paper from her bag, and flipped through the pages, finally settling on a list. “Let’s start with this one. Are there libel laws in the wizarding world that everyone just ignores and pretends don't exist, or is that legislation I need to figure out how to get passed by manipulating politicians?”

“They exist, but to a lesser degree than in the Muggle world. No one bothered to go back and update them because everyone forgot they exist.”

She nodded, and pulled a pen out of her bag, and added a note to what he could now tell was a list.

“I would appreciate you teaching me the charm you used on Harry’s reading list, but as I have other questions, it would probably be best if you just directed me to a book I could find it in.”

He nodded and moved to the corner of the room where he had stashed the bucket and cloth.

“Do you know the best way to get a trustworthy lawyer, or does that not exist?”

“Doesn’t exist, but Lucius Malfoy is surprisingly law-abiding if you get over his blatant racism.”

He moved to the bookshelves and began cleaning each shelf of the dust, grime, and spilled substances of decades.

He heard a light laugh from behind him. “I mean that would be pretty funny. Have one of Voldemort’s staunchest supporters be the legal face of Harry Potter.”

Fucking Gryffindors.

“I do see the irony, however, it’s the safety aspect that concerns me.”

“I know Gringotts exists as separate from the wizarding world since it is a part of the Goblin Nation, but would it be possible to get a goblin to be legal representation?”

Fucking Gryffindors.

“Goblins only get involved if they feel as though they have been personally wronged.”

He could almost hear her grin in her next words. “So if someone stole from the goblin nation they would get involved.”

“Obviously.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t they see the Founder’s Artifacts as belonging to their nation?”

He didn’t like where this was going. “Yes, they do.” Not that there was a need for him to confirm that. Anyone who paid attention knew that.

“Well, I doubt they would feel great about the fact that Harry pulled the sword of Godric Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat when he was twelve and it was taken from him before he could return it.”

Severus turned and looked at her. She looked triumphant. “Go on.”

“Well if we want to do anything against one Albus Dumbledore, it would be wise to have powerful allies.”

“You want to sue Dumbledore.”

“You’re getting the idea now.”

“That’s fair.”

“Do you think it would work?”

“Only for that piece of the case I assume you’re building against him.”

She gave a decisive nod, turning back her paper. Severus turned back to his shelves.

“Um,” she sounded guilty. This can’t be good. “Do you remember during my first year here, when Harry nearly died during that Quidditch match?”

He exhaled. “Yes.”

“Thank you for saving him. It took me a while to figure out that Quirrell was the one who was cursing him, and you were saying the countercurse. I, um, I’m the one who lit you on fire.”

I do not get paid enough. “I’ve never seen blue fire like that before.”

“That’s because I came up with the spell.”

Severus slowly turned around. Hermione Granger was studying the grain of his desk, somehow looking supremely guilty and utterly unrepentant at the same time. “You were eleven.”

“Yup.”

“That’s unheard of.”

“So I’ve been told.”

“You’re worse than Lily when it comes to achieving in a way that breaks rules, and I don’t know whether to be impressed or annoyed since it is my responsibility to keep students from breaking rules in the first place.”

Her head shot up. He should have expected that reaction.

He put out a flat hand. “I do not condone you breaking the rules, but if you are going to do it, at least have the decency to not get caught.”

“It’s a good thing that most of what we’ve done no one knows about then.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“If it was in the second year can we still get in trouble for it?”

“I’ll humor you and not take points.”

“I brewed Polyjuice Potion in the girl’s bathroom.”

“Successfully?” I need a raise. I need a raise. I need a raise. I need a rai-

“Yes.”

“I need a raise.”

“Not to be that person, but I feel like your teaching methods leave little room for the deservedness of a raise.”

“You’re lucky I’m feeling kind.”

“Oh, I know.” Granger pulled a textbook out of her bag. An undetectable extension charm. What else has this girl achieved that no one knows about?

Severus turned back to cleaning the bookshelf.

“Harry always cleans things without magic.” He had not expected that after everything he had seen in the boy’s memories. “He says it feels cleaner that way. I think he does it because when he’s here it’s optional.”

There wasn’t anything he could say to that. The scars across his back were testimony enough, even though he had never let them speak.

“How does the bond between wizards and House Elves work?”

“It’s symbiotic. The Elves gain magic from the wizard or family that they are bonded to. It prevents them from getting sick and speeds healing when they are injured.”

“Is that why they fear being unbound?”

“Yes. It’s also why some stay in abusive bonds. There are also the same factors as people in abusive relationships.”

The scratch of her pen was the only other sound separate from his scrubbing of the shelves.

“Why don’t wizards use pens?”

“Aesthetic and stubbornness, probably,” he both felt and heard his scorn seeping through in his voice.

“So if they discovered fancy fountain pens they might convert?”

“Maybe, as long as you passed it off as super high class.”

“I really hate wizarding society sometimes.”

“Most people do, my generation couldn’t do anything about it because we all died or were locked up.”

“So you’re saying everyone collectively gave up and left it for the children.”

“The previous generation did it to us, too. I never said it was a good thing.”

“That’s why everyone hates change, probably.”

“Because no one tried to achieve it?”

“Yes. No one is accustomed to it anymore.”

“I can see that.”

He heard her ruffling through pages.

“I just don’t see why you never published your own textbooks. Do you know how revolutionary it would be to have magic combined with Muggle science? That would cause so many breakthroughs, especially in the medical field.”

“If we published this in conjunction with each other, we could change the way everything is taught! We could change magic itself!”

“You know I want to, Lily. Who would publish it, though?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Sev. We could self-publish if it comes to that, but we have the best grades in the school. It would be embarrassing for them not to.”

“You could change the world with this. You could change magic itself . No one has even attempted it before.”

“I haven’t looked at any of it since she died.”

He could feel the silence.

“That makes sense. Would she want you to publish it?”

“Yes.”

“Then do it. Change the world.”

“A Death Eater publishing Muggle science.”

“Then wait until we change the world first. Stand by us. Help us, and we’ll help you. Harry would want to publish his mother’s work. Wait until that happens. Then publish yours.”

“I thought you said the Weasley boy was the one who had a gift for strategy.”

“He is. I’m the one with the sturdy grasp of common sense.”

He turned. She was right. This fifteen-year-old girl was smarter than he was, and she was right.

He held out his right hand.

“It’s a deal.”

Chapter Text

Harry came to the Great Hall late that evening, with his bag and several notebooks slung under his arms. Supper had already started, but he seemed to be in a chipper mood despite not having dropped his belongings in Gryffindor Tower.

He dropped down next to Hermione, who had had a scheming aura around her since lunch, and winked across the Hall at someone.

Ron raised an eyebrow in question, but Harry simply rolled his eyes and filled his plate.

He decided not to check who he had winked at. It was better he didn’t know.

The sound of Harry dropping his bag and several notebooks made Hermione jump, taking her eyes off of the crystal pattern of a juice pitcher for the first time since she had sat down, not even looking away when she took a bite of her supper.

I guess they both are having one of their days .

It happened sometimes. It showed up differently in Harry than it did Hermione, but whenever they had an idea they really liked, it seemed to grip them, making it so they couldn't focus on anything else. Hermione had legitimately missed classes before because of it, not that she would ever admit it, even on pain of death.

He had seen it before with Bill, too. Before he got his Gringotts job, he had struggled to find work that was accommodating enough to his innovations.

The Goblins liked innovation. Most wizards did not.

One of the twins was like that too. He wasn’t sure if it was Fred or George, but Ron was pretty sure it was only one of them. He would get so invested in their newest creation that sometimes he would forget to eat.

Charlie had always been somewhat obsessive; there was always a topic he knew everything about. It hadn’t always been dragons, when he joined the Quidditch team it had been the sport and its history, particularly the previous Seekers. Ron suspected that commonality was part of what made Harry an excellent Seeker as well– they were both able to find and focus in on the Snitch in a way others couldn’t.

He had also seen it in Percy, in his obsessive nature when it came to moving up in the world. It was the same hyperfocus as Charlie, but since it was about a career in the Ministry he didn’t think anyone else had really noticed. It’s what made him realize the hypocrisy of the Ministry in the first place.

Harry would forget who he was talking to when he got excited about an idea, and wouldn’t even notice until his eyes focused back on the reality in which he was speaking, instead of the one where his thoughts were. Ron had caught him talking to Crookshanks many times, and even Trevor, Neville’s toad, twice.

His eyes would light up, and he would grin wider than Ron had ever seen when Harry was on the ground, and not up in the stratosphere. Sometimes Ron wished he could see what Harry was seeing in those moments, but most of the time he was just happy to see his friend elated and passionate about something. Just being around it warmed his heart and made him smile.

Hermione was more similar to Bill and Percy, in that many people didn’t notice until they knew her really well. It had taken Ron a while to realize that her insistence in answering prompts in class was part of it. She got twitchy when no one got the correct answer, yes, because she felt the answer was obvious, but also because she always got twitchy when she knew she could fix something and no one let her.

He first realized it when Harry was in the Hospital Wing. She couldn’t focus on any of her homework, simply sitting in the Library staring unseeing at an open textbook, her quill tapping out a fast rhythm against the side of the table.

It had been the first time she had gotten kicked out of the Library.

He was pretty sure that sometimes she walked all the way to the Library to do homework not because she wanted to get out of Gryffindor Tower necessarily, but because she needed to walk, to move.

She came along on their explorations of the castle to keep them out of trouble, yes, but also because sometimes she got up in the middle of the night to stare into the fire in the Common Room, unable to sleep. True, he only knew that because he wanted to sneak down to the kitchens to get hot cocoa in the middle of the night, but he never saw her there after they went exploring.

He had a feeling Harry wasn’t the only one with insomnia.

So he looked out for them. He asked Hermione if she would like to study by the Black Lake when she had been in the Library for hours, he listened to Harry’s excited ramblings and grabbed his papers off the floor when he swiped them off the desk in his frenzy to find something else, and he loudly said he was hungry when he noticed they were too focused on the task at hand to notice that a mealtime was almost past.

Sure, some people thought he was odd and lazy, and sometimes he got them kicked out of the Library for their own good, meaning Madam Pince wasn’t all that fond of him, but it worked for the most part. He couldn’t keep them out of mortal peril, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t be brave for them in his own way.

He still felt weird that he hadn’t noticed that Harry needed people to express that they were looking out for him, but maybe he could change the way he did things.

After all, if they knew he had to keep track of their stuff maybe they would stop chastising him for losing his own belongings.

~•~

Potter hadn’t finished his research by the time Draco had finished flying for the day. Not that he would ever admit it, but he had felt slightly disappointed when his feet had touched back down, grass still stretching as emptily as it had before, sun dying the sky a soft orange.

He had slipped into the Great Hall and to his seat with a record low of conversations, which was a win, and passed his gaze over the Gryffindor table.

Granger was just sitting down across from Weasley, and Potter was nowhere to be seen.

He thought back to that morning, and the moment they had shared as Potter was lamenting about… crustaceans? He still wasn’t clear on that particular argument, and he wasn’t altogether sure he even wanted to be.

She didn’t have her customary books surrounding her, but she was just as focused as normal, staring intently at the side of a juice pitcher with a slight frown as if it held the answers to the universe.

Draco took a moment to look at Weasley, finding himself curious about their dynamic. Right as his attention shifted, Weasley nudged Granger and said something. She still seemed focused, but nodded and filled her plate, going back to staring at the crystal pitcher while mechanically taking bites of her supper.

To his surprise, instead of trying to engage her, or distract Granger from her musings, Weasley just shook his head and laughed before turning to speak to Longbottom.

As Draco filled his own plate, he thought about the past two days.

The interactions he had had with both Granger and Potter were different from before. He doubted he would have anything close to a positive interaction with Weasley, which was honestly warranted if he were being truthful.

But Granger was canny, and he doubted it would take long before she cornered him to ask about Harry.

Potter, not Harry. Fuck .

He grimaced, and looked back up, taking his first bite as Potter himself practically bounced into the Great Hall.

He was carrying his bag and several bound books, which was a first, and as he dropped into a seat next to Granger he looked across the room and-

He fucking winked at me???

Draco felt his eyes widen and looked directly down at his supper, a flush crawling into his cheeks.

What the fresh hell is he playing at?

First, he had tiredly pleaded with Draco to let him go back to Gryffindor and pass out last night, then they had a genuinely pleasant conversation midday today, and now he winks at him during supper ???

Fucking Gryffindors .

No, he was not smiling. It did not warm his heart. If it did, it was because he hated the fucker. He was going to eat some apple pie, go back to the Slytherin Common Room, do his homework, and then go to bed early so he wouldn’t have to deal with this anymore.

Yup, he was going to pass out, and wake up early the next day so he could have a fresh start.

~•~

Ron somehow managed to divert his friends to a quiet corner of the library away from everyone else. He did not know how. His friends were worse than Crookshanks. He had no clue how that was possible, but they were decidedly more difficult to maneuver than that fucking bastard of a cat.

As soon as they got settled, Harry got a determined look on his face and started searching for something in the maze of shelves, while Hermione started writing notes in a notebook.

Seeing journals with lines in them had been very odd for Ron when Harry and Hermione had first brought them to Hogwarts, but by now he was used to them. He had to admit he felt a sense of relief knowing that they were Muggle after what had happened in Second Year.

That didn’t mean he liked pens, though. Those were fucking weird.

It was odd for Harry to seek out books, but it wasn’t as if he had never done it before; he just usually did it when no one else was around, not even Ron and Hermione. He only knew Harry did it because of the stack of books next to his bed.

Not on his bedside table, might he add. No, on the floor next to Harry’s bed there was a tower of books. His friends were fucking menaces.

Ron himself started on his homework for the day, flopping open a textbook to do the assigned reading.

He already knew his friends both were mulling things over from the day, so it didn’t surprise him all that much that they had seemingly switched behaviors for the night.

~•~

Draco did not, in fact, pass out early. He ended up in the Library, resentfully searching for a book on Transfiguration. He was walking the aisles to blow off steam, wandering the maze to relax enough to open the book he now had in his hands.

He turned a corner, a table practically buried in books and papers coming into view just as one of its occupants looked up. It was Granger.

As soon as she saw him, her eyes took on a determined light that reminded Draco of when she had punched him in Third Year.

She stuck the papers she had been writing on in a book and closed it, getting up and making a beeline for him, never breaking eye contact.

Weasley, who was also at the table, only looked up long enough to see her stand up, before catching a paper that was drifting to the floor and going back to his textbook.

For his part, Draco turned and kept walking, not directly away from the table, but in a path that would avoid Weasley’s line of sight. He didn't need two of the Golden Trio after him at the same time.

“Malfoy, I have a question for you.”

Granger’s words hit him right after the privacy spell did. Either she didn’t want anyone overhearing, or she didn’t want to get kicked out of the Library.

He decided it was probably both.

“Oh?” Draco let her fall into step beside him.

“I’ve heard rumor that your father is a surprisingly by-the-book politician, would you say that’s true?”

He stopped in his tracks. No way they didn’t talk to each other about this .

“Are you about to suggest my father, Lucius Malfoy, be a legal representative for Harry Potter? Because I find it odd that this is the second time someone has introduced that concept to me today.”

His response seemed to catch her off guard, and she wrinkled her brow, eyes flickering over the pattern of the carpet. “Harry asked you about that today?”

“He joked about it.” Draco replied cautiously, “I thought this would be some sort of bizarre prank seeing as you both brought it up.”

She snorted. “Nah, he’s still pissed he had to deal with Pomfrey this morning, and we didn’t have the chance to catch up after that.”

“He didn’t seem injured to me,” Draco mused. He shook his head, “that’s not the point, what did he mean when he said you were looking into libel issues for the first time?”

Granger surprised him with a wry smile. “I see he forgot he was talking to Draco Malfoy today. He does that sometimes.” She grew serious. “Something changed yesterday, and we have answers we didn’t have before. Having a legal presence suddenly became a lot more important than it was two days ago. I was thrown into this world with little introduction, and while I don't trust your father in the slightest I know that if he follows laws to the letter to find loopholes it means he is talented in upholding the law no matter what it entails. He may want me dead simply for existing, but that does not mean I cannot turn him into an ally.”

“You remind me of my mother.” Why do I not say smart things?

She blinked and raised an eyebrow in question.

“She’s a Black, when they have a family, they would kill to protect that family. Usually, that family is blood, but with Sirius Black, his family was his friends. That’s what made me realize that Potter was planning to exonerate him. It didn’t make sense for him to be a traitor, and when Potter mentioned that a dead man tried to kill him and it wasn’t the first time, it made sense that the real traitor was Pettigrew.” He shrugged, “my mother would make an alliance with any Muggle on the street if it meant keeping my father and me alive, not that she would ever tell him. Also, you’re the only person who has punched me in the face.”

He figured honesty couldn’t hurt at this point, didn’t Gryffindors value that stuff?

“You figured all that out about Sirius just from the vague things that Harry said?” She was definitely sizing him up.

“Yes.”

He did not like the glint in her eyes one bit. “Then maybe you can figure out what happened to Rita Skeeter.”

“From that look, I would assume you killed her, but that would leave a body.” Encouraged by her nod, he continued. “So that would suggest kidnapping or blackmail instead. Since I haven’t seen anything authored by her since the end of the last school year, I’m assuming you kidnapped her.”

“You’re good. It’s a good thing you never got all that much information about what we got up to over the years. I can’t imagine what you would have started if you knew that Harry and Ron got into the Slytherin Common Room when it happened.”

“What!?”

That had totally been a test.

She grinned. “Second Year wasn’t all bad.”

Draco had no idea what to say. Granger grabbed a book off the shelf. They kept walking.

Finally, he let out a strained sigh and asked, “how did they manage it?”

“Polyjuice.”

He wrinkled his nose, “where did you manage to steal that from?”

“I made it.”

He turned, standing in the middle of an aisle, taking in her eyebrow raised in challenge. He decided not to meet that particular challenge. Instead, he might be able to get useful information now. Granger seemed friendly, almost talkative.

“Potter said that I had no clue what was going on in Second Year. He was right. He also mentioned that there was a journal that was possessed by You-Know-Who.” Draco swallowed. Did he really want the answer? “Is that true?”

Granger’s expression sobered. “In simple terms, yes. Writing in the journal fed him, especially sharing secrets. I never wrote in it, but I know Harry did. The ink gave him substance, and he leached magic off of the people who wrote in it, the more of your secrets were shared, the more control he had. That’s how he got Ginny. It was her first year, and she was lonely.”

Despite her smirk, Granger’s eyes were deeply haunted. “A journal that talks back can be a great comfort to an eleven-year-old girl. She fed it so much he started to possess her. He forced her to kill Hagrid’s roosters and write those messages on the walls using their blood. He eventually got strong enough to use her body to open the Chamber of Secrets and let the basilisk free to wreak havoc over the school. Apparently his Fifth Year self was hot,” Draco looked at her incredulously, to see her holding back laughter.

“How is that related at all ?”

She shrugged, amusement filling her eyes. “He was in Fifth Year when he created the journal, so when he physically manifested that's what he looked like. Apparently he was very attractive.”

Draco snorted. “That is the most unimportant part of the story, but somehow it makes me want to find him in a yearbook.”

Granger laughed and gestured to him to follow her.

He trailed behind her as she walked to a seldom-used section of the library, seeming to know the pathways between the shelves by heart. She continued, “basically, Harry had to fight him and the basilisk with a passed out Ginny Weasley in the mix. The tale about the Sorting Hat and Dumbledore’s phoenix is true, which is surprising considering the long-standing argument Harry apparently has with the Hat.” She rolled her eyes, which just made Draco more curious than before.

“Anyway,” she went on. “At first Harry and Ginny didn’t realize it was You-Know-Who, ‘cause he only went by his actual name.” They had reached a series of filing cabinets, and Granger deftly moved along them and yanked on a drawer, which made a metal groan before opening. It seemed very heavy. “The point is, he showed how his original name is an anagram for ‘I am Lord Voldemort,’ which is honestly just embarrassing.”

She pulled out a yearbook and flipped through it before pointing to a figure with the name ‘Tom Marvolo Riddle’ in a basic font.

He was attractive, Draco was annoyed to see.

“The worst part is that he genuinely is attractive, isn’t it?”

He nodded without thinking, frowning down at the blue-eyed bastard.

“The best part is that Harry refused to call him anything but ‘Tom’ or ‘Mr. Riddle’ when he saw him last year.”

Draco took a deep breath. This was the moment he could show the brains of the Golden Trio that he was not what he pretended to be. He looked into her eyes and told her the entire truth for the first time.

“Well, at least he doesn’t live with the bastard.” He swallowed hard.

The fire he had seen before flickered in her eyes again. “It truly is unfortunate that he aged so poorly, isn’t it?”

All he could do was nod. She believed him. She could help him . She fucking believed him .

“What do you say you lend us a helping hand?”

He held out his hand to shake: four years later, and to someone completely different. “I’d be honored.”

She smirked and shook on it.

“Come on, I have something to tell everyone, then.”

~•~

Hermione guided Malfoy back to the table she was sharing with Harry and Ron. She could tell it had taken him a lot to admit the maniac was in his house.

It went back to the code she had with Harry and Pomfrey, one that was in place to measure how bad Harry’s anxiety got.

They used crustaceans because it made no one want to get involved. Nonsensical codes drove most curious onlookers away. Crab was the lowest level, then came Lobster, and the worst was Scorpion.

She could tell that Malfoy was currently a solid Lobster, and as much of a prick as he had been, Snape had been worse and she wasn’t about to leave him to a panic attack alone.

Harry was back at the table, with a stack of books that looked almost as tall as he was. Ron was going back and forth between writing what looked like an essay and eyeing the stack to make sure nothing fell.

“Gentlemen, I have a proposal.” The trick of including people in a Muffliato in an instant was something she was getting rather good at.

Harry raised his eyebrows but took a few of his books off of the fourth chair to make room for Malfoy to sit down. Ron just looked tired.

“Hermione, I adore you, but please give me at least a crumb of context, and please tell me he won’t make as much of a mess as the both of you do. I had to restart this essay because my other one was buried.”

Harry’s eyes widened in panic. “Wait, fuck, there’s an essay?” The immediate scrambling would have been more amusing without the context.

“I swear to god Harry,” she sighed and gestured for Malfoy to take the extra seat as she sat down at the table.

“To be fair, I was doing extracurricular homework.”
“Wanting to sue someone comes after school, even I know that mate.”

“Shut up Ron.” Harry shoved half of the contents of the table on the floor as Malfoy cautiously sat down.

“Is this normal?” Malfoy sounded genuinely concerned, and Hermione snorted.

“Yes. They always do this. Hermione, please move your notes out of the fucking Transfiguration textbook, you’re gonna lose them. Also, Harry, if you knock one more thing off of the table I will put Neville’s toad in your bed.”

Harry froze like a guilty cat and immediately began organizing papers and books into neat piles.

Ron let his head fall on the table and spoke into the wood grain. “I do not fucking care why you’re here Malfoy. My only request is you at least have a semblance of organization and don’t drop shit on the floor. I no longer know where anything I own is because of these fuckers. I love them but if one more thing happens I may start committing violence and I am telling you this because you are the likely first candidate to feel my wrath.”

Hermione took her notes out of the Transfiguration textbook.

“Thank you.” Ron’s voice was still strained.

There was near silence as Harry finished organizing the mess he had created out of their workspace.

Once he finally sat back, Ron sat back up and raised an eyebrow at Hermione.

“The bitch lives in his house.”

Harry snorted. “Wow, I had no clue.”

Ron smacked him with his essay.

“Okay, okay,” he raised his hands in surrender. “In all seriousness that sucks, but I’m not exactly sure how to fix that, ‘Moine.”

Malfoy frowned. “Why would you need to fix that?”

“‘Cause it sucks,” Harry repeated as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Ron held up a hand before anyone else could reply. “Yes, it sucks, that’s obvious, but I’m guessing that’s not the full reason he’s here. I’ll get back to that, but first: both of you clearly had some conversation today that made you hyper-focused on whatever you’ve been thinking about otherwise you would have been talking during supper. I’m pretty sure it’s related because the only other reason why you would bring Malfoy over is if you thought he could help with whatever the fuck is going on. Personally, I would be having this conversation in a place where not just anyone could walk over, but moving locations would also attract attention if we didn't all know where we were going from the beginning.”

“You really are the strategy one.” Everyone turned to Malfoy, and he shrugged. “It’s interesting seeing it in action. You make good points.”

“We could harass Snape and use his office,” Hermione proposed. “I may or may not have made an agreement with him today.”

“Of course you did,” Harry sighed. He shook his head, but he was smiling. “Okay,” he took charge. “Malfoy, people won’t think twice about you going to Snape’s office so you’re fine no matter what. Ron is the most out of place there, so you take the cloak. Hermione, you are the best student that I know of so you asking him academic questions isn’t surprising. I can get down there without being spotted so I’m fine.”

“I’ll go first,” Hermione offered.

Harry nodded. “Malfoy should show up second, and then Ron and I will show up at the same time.”

Malfoy watched, blinking, as the trio started packing up their stuff and getting ready to move locations.

“Do you lot do this often?”

“Usually we’re breaking rules, not going to a professor’s office.” Was Harry’s deadpan response, earning a light laugh from Hermione and a snort from Ron.



Chapter Text

When Hermione Granger showed up at his office door a second time that day, Severus knew something was up. He had cleaned his entire office and replaced the armchairs by this time. Unfortunately for him, Draco Malfoy showed up next, followed shortly thereafter by Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley. It looked like he might also need a sofa.

He resigned himself to a long day.

His desk still looked aged, but it no longer had odd stains on it. It was also at least five shades lighter than it had been, but he was trying hard not to think about it. The way Weasley was looking at the desk, he assumed he was having the same thoughts.

Granger had helped him sort his bookshelves earlier, so their organization didn’t attract her attention. Instead, she was studying the now-visible brick of the fireplace.

Potter was the one eyeing the titles, while Draco was looking at the shelves filled with specimens.

Severus sighed and dropped down into one of three armchairs in the office.

“I assume you four have something to share either with me or each other.”

It was almost amusing the way all four students jumped and snapped away from their distractions.

“I see you redecorated.” Potter’s sass never failed, did it?

“I see you picked up a book.” Severus eyed the stack of five books in his arms.

“Hm?” Potter looked down. “Oh! I forgot I was carrying these.”

“Please tell me you checked those out.” Weasley sounded like an overburdened parent, which was definitely new.

Potter shrugged, “probably.”

“How the fuck have the three of you survived this long?” Draco sounded incredulous, but also concerned, something that Severus had not expected.

“Language.”

“There’s a maniac living in my house, Uncle Sev. I think we’ve gone past that point by now.” He was scared. That was fair.

“At least he’s not living in your brain,” Potter jumped in, then immediately looked like he regretted it.

“What.” Severus’s voice was low and deadly. Granger just sighed, and Weasley took the second armchair, leaning back and closing his eyes.

Potter shrugged, looking mildly put out that his friends weren’t doing anything. “That’s why Dumbledore wanted you to give me Occlumency lessons, so I could keep him out. I get nightmares where I see through his eyes.”

“It gets real bad.” Weasley’s voice was grave, and he didn’t lift his head or open his eyes as he spoke, neck flopped back over the top of his chair. “Sometimes we can’t wake him. When we can, he wakes up screaming more often than not, and we have to remind him that he’s safe and that he isn’t, well, Him .”

Potter kicked the flagstones with a toe, looking down at the ground. He muttered something inaudible.

“What was that?” Severus knew his voice came out harsher than necessary, but he was reeling. Dumbledore had merely told him that Potter needed to keep out enemies, a problem Severus was all too acquainted with. He hadn’t expected this .

“I said I can handle it.” Potter’s voice was also harsh.

“That’s what I said when the maniac moved into my house, Potter. I’m not exactly handling the idea of going home for Christmas all that well now, however.” Draco’s voice was laced with something close to desperation.
“At least he never goes after you, just your father.” Potter snapped, then grimaced. “That wasn’t the best thing to say, was it?”

“It really wasn’t,” Granger supplied helpfully.

Weasley finally sat up and opened his eyes, bracing his arms on his knees. He looked directly into Severus’s eyes, and there was a flint there that matched Granger’s fire.

He spoke to Granger, not Severus, but didn’t break eye contact. “Do you have the chess set?”

~•~

Harry always loved watching Ron configure chess pieces. He didn’t just do it to play or to get better at the game, contrary to popular belief. He used them to map out scenarios in his head, and to visualize plans.

Snape and Malfoy seemed quite perplexed at his request, but Harry perked up, knowing it was going to be interesting, and sat on the floor in front of the empty chair, giving Hermione the invitation to sit down in it.

Before doing so, however, she pulled a box out of her bag and placed it on the coffee table in between his and Ron’s chairs, and the one Snape was using.

Ron immediately went to work. It was a Muggle chess set, which always suited his purposes more. The pieces in Wizard’s chess usually got uppity whenever someone did anything other than chess with them, and Ron had had many shouting matches with pieces over the years.

He fiddled with the pieces, frowning.

There was an elaborate dance on the board as he grouped the colors together, before moving two black pieces to the white side. A knight and a bishop. He moved the white king to separate it from the other white pieces, and replaced one of the white pawns with a second queen. On one side of the new queen stood the two black pieces, on the other stood two white pieces, a bishop and a rook.

A smirk tugged at the side of Ron’s mouth as his vision took shape, the four wixen in the room transfixed by his reorganization.

The other white queen moved in between the new one and the king, halfway between old and new. A white knight and bishop in front of the new queen, side by side.

He then moved to the other side of the board, putting the black king in the back, and taking all the black pieces that weren’t pawns off of the board. He then took a white pawn and moved it in place in the semicircle of black ones in front of the black king.

Ron’s last move was to take all of the remaining white pawns off the board, and rearrange the remaining white pieces in and around the new queen and old king.

It was only then that he looked up, satisfied with his work.

“Care to take a guess?” The question was leveled at Hermione, as it always was, but Harry noticed Malfoy leaning in, brows furrowed.

“You want to replace Dumbledore with Harry at the head of the light.” Malfoy pointed at the black pieces on one side of the new queen. “Those represent Severus and me,” he moved his finger to the white pieces on the other side. “Those are you and Granger. The pawn you turned into a queen is obviously Potter, and the king off to the side is Dumbledore. The spread of the pieces suggests that you are unsure how well people will take the change, and only those two,” he gestured to the white knight and bishop in their protective stance in front of the Harry Queen, “are a guarantee. Whoever they are, they’re here for Potter, not for ideals. They care about him first, and may have some personal vendetta against the Dark Lord as well.”

“Fucking hell, Malfoy, why didn’t we get you on board sooner?”

“Chess skill was outweighed by blatant racism.” Harry’s dry comment was met with some laughter, but he was too focused on Malfoy’s easy breakdown of Ron’s chess tableau to notice.

“Sirius and Remus,” he said, interrupting what someone else was saying to point at the two white figurines out front. “That’s who those are. And this pawn,” he pointed to the white pawn on the dark side of the board. “Is Peter Pettigrew.” He looked up at Ron. “None of them started as pawns, you know. He made them become pawns. I bet in his prime Lucius Malfoy would have been a queen piece if not for our favorite Tom.”

“Who is Tom?” Snape was studying the board with a furrowed brow.

“Tom Marvolo Riddle. It’s a fun anagram.” Harry gestured with his wand, eyes unfocused as he recalled that fateful night in Second Year, the letters spilling out of his wand a second time, but this time the hand of the correct owner was guiding it. The flick to rearrange them was too easy, and as soon as everyone had seen the letters shift to “I AM LORD VOLDEMORT” he ended the spell and placed his wand firmly on the ground, the wood making a click against the stone.

He felt Hermione gently press one hand onto the top of his shoulder. He leaned back into the base of the armchair, and felt her hands move to play with his hair, a comforting gesture he was all too unused to. He leaned into it as he laced his fingers together, pulling his knees to his chest.

~•~

“Is that why you lot keep joking about my father becoming Potter’s lawyer? ‘Cause he would be a powerful ally or whatever?” Malfoy seemed to be thoroughly baffled, which Hermione couldn’t really blame him for if she was being honest.

She separated part of Harry’s hair and started braiding it, so small no one would notice. It kept her hands busy which made it easier to think. It also reminded Harry that he was Harry, and grounded him.

“I believe it also has to do with who they wish to sue if I’m not incorrect.” Professor Snape raised an eyebrow at her and Harry.

“Yup!” She could hear his grin, and couldn’t hide a smirk herself.

Ron looked back at his chessboard configuration and immediately groaned. “Merlin why. Why are my friends this way.”

“C’mon, you love us,” Harry teased.

“That’s the worst part about it.” Came the flat reply, causing both Harry and Hermione to laugh.

Malfoy frowned, looking back at the board. “Who do you want to sue, the Dark Lord?”

“If that’s who I was suing I wouldn’t choose a Death Eater to be my legal representation.” Hermione gently tugged Harry’s hair for his sarcastic response.

Malfoy’s eyes flitted over the board again, and Hermione heard a mutter of “not Pettigrew,” before he looked to the light side of the board. Now you’re getting it .

His eyes suddenly widened. Yup, your father is perfect for this, isn’t he?

“You want to sue Dumbledore?

She could tell that there were matching grins on her and Harry’s faces by the way the Professor was looking at them, but she didn’t care.

Harry’s response of “d’you think he’d be on board?” only added to the exasperated look, but it made Ron laugh, so it was at least a little worth it.



Chapter Text

Granger looked like a cat that had a mouse’s tail caught underneath its paw. It made Draco suddenly remember what she had said before: that the whole purpose of relocating was so that she could tell them all something.

It was still hard for him to process that the Golden Trio, known Gryffindors and Dumbledore supporters, wanted to sue the man. What had Potter been talking about earlier to do with legal cases? Negligence and child abuse? That was some heavy stuff.

He was interrupted from his thoughts by Weasley, who overall had seemed… tired. Draco hadn’t expected the maturity that he had seen this evening, but he couldn’t say he disliked it.

“‘Mione, you had an idea you wanted to share?”

He supposed he was going to have to get used to their nicknames for each other if he was going to follow through with this. Draco leaned forward from where he was sitting next to the coffee table and picked up one of the white pawns, turning it in his fingers. It was odd holding a piece that didn’t move, but Severus had a Muggle set that they used sometimes so it wasn’t completely foreign to him.

“Remember last year when I, ah, solved our little reporter problem?”

Potter snorted. “Yeah, you mean when I realized I should complete my homework on time so you didn’t do that to me?”

Granger smacked his shoulder, and he laughed.

“I appreciate we don’t have to deal with that anymore, but I don’t see how that’s relevant.” Weasley really was the voice of reason among them.

“I’m sorry, what did you do?” Severus seemed concerned.

“Oh, don’t worry, only light kidnapping and blackmail.” How Potter managed to say the things that he did the way that he did was beyond Draco.

“Blackmail? Damn, I only guessed kidnapping.”

Uncle Sev covered his face with his hands. “That is so fucking illegal.”

The four of them blinked, disoriented by the swearing.

“To be fair, what she was doing was a blatant disregard for privacy on both a moral and legal standpoint.”

“Exactly! Which is why what I did was perfectly justified.”

“The two of you would be dead without me.”

“Hey! I am a joy to be around.”

“Harry my brothers literally have a self-updating list that tallies all of your near-death experiences spelled to the Common Room wall.”

“While true, that is still rude to bring up.”

“Is that what Gryffindor is like?” He didn’t want to admit how curious he truly was.

Potter shrugged, “I don’t have the most normal experience. Overall it’s very cozy, with an emphasis on comfortable furniture rather than elegance. The Common Room kinda feels like a reading nook, but at the same time people set off fireworks indoors so it also has the chaos factor balancing it out.”

“If you keep being eloquent people are gonna realize that you read.”

“Shut up ‘Mione, I’m still right about Hamlet.”

“Keep digging that hole, it’s almost your height.”

“You know wh- ”

“Stop!” Severus sighed when the four students flinched and dragged his hands down his face.

“Granger, just tell us your idea. This day has been long enough already.”

“Does that mean we get away with the blatant war crime?” Granger yanked on Potter’s hair, and he yelped and shut up.

“I was thinking that we get her to write articles for us rather than about us.” She smirked and raised an eyebrow. “I bet she would love to do a tell-all exposé on one Tom Riddle and his life and later career choices.”

Draco felt his eyes light up- he couldn’t help it. “Oh that’s fantastic,” he sobered for a second. “But who would publish that? The Daily Prophet is obviously in the Ministry’s pocket, and Witch Weekly would only focus on the obvious appearance change between his Hogwarts years and now.”

Granger looked like she was waiting for this question. “The Quibbler.”

Potter immediately sat up straight, roaring fire filling his eyes. “If anything happens to Luna- ”

“I’ll talk to her about it. We can make sure they're careful and have the proper protection.”

Potter pursed his lips, but sat back, still somewhat tense.

“Mate you can blow something up later, chill for now,” Weasley rolled his eyes. “Anyway, it’s a good plan because few people give them credit so if anything it’s the only publication that would be safe to publish the life story of You-Know-Who without his permission.”

“He grew up in an orphanage.” Potter had a complicated expression on his face. “He was killing fellow students by age fifteen.” He looked up, and Draco felt the emerald fire burning into his soul. “ We are fifteen. That’s like if one of us decided that younger students didn’t have the right to live.”

Draco felt his eyes turn to ice, a deadness that only appeared when he was truly angry. “They would have to go through me first.”

He pulled his latest list of names from his pocket and smacked the slip of parchment onto the coffee table, upsetting a black rook. He knew how he looked. A statue of quartz, eyes burning into a scrap covered in names, sharp angular edges not keeping it from curling a little.

“Everyone I noticed to have detention with the latest danger to the students.” He swallowed, jaw clenching so tight he could feel the pressure in his teeth. “That’s just the latest one.”

Potter wordlessly set his right hand flat on the coffee table, red words dark against his sunset skin.

Draco’s eyes flashed with an indescribable threat, and he took a steadying breath. “Two weeks ago.”

Potter raised an eyebrow, looking up from his hand. “My first detention. You’ve been keeping track of everyone with- ” his speech devolved into hissing, and Draco blinked.

“What?”

Potter wrinkled his nose, “this keeps happening, I can’t talk about it in English and that’s my only other language.”

“I’m just glad you don’t sleep talk in Parstle. That would be a literal nightmare.”

“Ron I swear to- ”

“It could work.” The four of them looked back up at Sev. “As long as you reach an agreement with Skeeter that makes it so she doesn’t want to come forward about you kidnapping and blackmailing her, your plan could work.” He was looking past all of them, eyes unfocused in the direction of his newly-cleaned bookshelves. Draco was going to have to ask him about that later. “She might also be willing to help you in researching Dumbledore for your case. She is an investigative reporter, no matter how awful of a person she seems to be.” He blinked, coming back to the room they all sat in, fire still crackling in the hearth behind Granger’s seat.

“Don’t do anything rash, and plan everything before you talk to her. It’s imperative that you get her interested in the project, and that you keep tabs on her even if you set her free on the world to research.”

Weasley snorted. “With all due respect, Professor, telling Hermione to plan everything out is either redundant or like talking to a wall depending on her ideas going into it. She either makes a color-coded schedule or lights everything on fire. There’s a reason my best spell in Charms is aguamenti , and it has nothing to do with waking up thirsty in the middle of the night.”

Draco looked over at Granger, who was blushing with a resigned look on her face and was braiding a small section of Potter’s hair. Huh, I never pegged Weasley as the least chaotic one .

“You didn’t have to call her out like that Ron.” Potter’s grin livened his words quite a bit.

“I still urge you to heed my warning, but I will also add the advice to learn as many fire protection spells as you can, and I would like to express my gratitude that we live in a castle made of stone.”

Potter looked Severus in the face with serious round eyes. “That has not stopped her. You have no idea.”

“Mate, you help her. You are the definition of a Hermione enabler.”

“I simply do not get in her way.”

“To be fair, I doubt I would get in her way either. I know what it’s like when you do.” Draco rubbed his cheek for dramatic effect.

Severus snorted, “okay, alright, off to bed with you four.” He grew more serious. “I am relieved that you seem to have formed some kind of truce, although I must also warn against you being public with this peace for all of your safety. Wait until you change the world before going against everything the world believes of you. It will not be easy, and it will not be fun. You all have experience with that, and I believe you have learned that lesson, but it always bears repeating.”

He turned to Draco, “I believe you should wait until Skeeter’s article is published before contacting your father about this potential legal case. It may affect him negatively, but it may also get him to change his mind about a few things.”

He shifted his focus to Potter next. “Share what you will about the case, I understand you have your secrets and people you wish to protect.” A look of understanding passed between them. “Speak about it to those you trust, and carry on how you were with those who you do not. Making more allies is important, but so is your safety. I believe your friends have your safety as a top priority, so heed the advice that they give you.”

Severus turned to Granger. “I believe I know where those papers we spoke about are located, however, I will not be able to get my hands on them until after next weekend.” Lastly, he faced Weasley across the coffee table. “I believe I underestimated your influence on these two.”

Weasley snorted, and smirked back at him, raising an eyebrow.

“Make sure they finish their homework but don’t lose your own in the process.”

Weasley gave him a mock salute with overly serious eyes. “I’ll tell my brothers they should try in your class.”

Potter clapped a hand over his mouth attempting to stifle a laugh, and Granger bit her lip, eyebrows shooting up.

“If only it were that easy,” was Severus’s deadpan response, causing the three of them to break down laughing. Draco found himself smiling, surrounded by people who truly loved one another, and stuck together not to honor an alliance, but because they sincerely cared for each other.

~•~

Ron stretched as the four of them left Snape’s office, arms reaching towards each side of the stone hallway.

Harry noticed Malfoy frowning to himself in thought as the three of them walked in the direction of the Slytherin Common Room, the only actual Slytherin trailing behind in thought.

He slowed his pace slightly, shrugging at Ron’s raised eyebrow and glance between them.

It took a few corridors for Malfoy to speak, and more than one redirection to a scenic route that he clearly didn’t process.

“How did you get down here without anyone noticing?”

“You think your family is the only one with heirlooms?”

Hermione snorted, and Harry could practically feel Ron rolling his eyes.

“To be fair, Harry, one of those is only second generation. The other could be older than your family line and I wouldn’t blink at this rate.”

“Hmm, maybe I should ask Moony about it. I need to send him and Padfoot letters anyway.”

“I dunno, ‘Mione. The Potter line is very old.”

“Weasley is correct. The Potter’s are said to be descended from the Peverells, much like the Gaunt family.”

The trio stopped and turned to stare at Malfoy.

“What? I was forced to learn about every single pureblood family line starting at age five. Even Weasley probably knows about the Sacred 28, even if he wasn’t forced to learn the names of all twenty-eight families going back several hundred years.”

“Who are the Peverells?” Harry felt frozen to the spot, at the precipice of information he hadn’t known existed. The world almost seemed to tilt to the right, and he shifted his weight in that direction, eyes locked on grey ones. Grey that he had never truly paid attention to before. Grey in the way that Sirius’s eyes were grey. Grey that held answers.

Malfoy’s eyebrows raised in surprise, “have you never heard the Tale of the Three Brothers?”

Hermione stepped forward in his periphery, always a shark seeking information in the depths of an ocean that did not want to give it.

“Is it a folk tale?”

“No, no,” Ron cut in. “It’s a children's story. It’s said the three brothers in the story were the Peverell brothers, and their lineage went on after. Some people believe it actually happened, but most people just see it as a storybook.”

“A storybook?” Harry heard himself repeating Ron’s words, feeling like he was underwater.

“Yeah, it’s quite popular, but I guess neither of you would have read it. The library probably has a copy.” He frowned, “although since meeting you I have to say I might believe the story a little bit more.” Ron looked up at Malfoy, gauging the boy before addressing him. “He has enough ghosts to greet Death as an old friend.”

The words didn’t make sense at all, but Malfoy’s eyebrows shot up. “Older than his family line indeed.” He smirked, “I guess I won’t have to worry about you lot missing curfew then.”

“Not unless you turn us in!” Was Hermione’s overly cheerful response.

~•~

Draco had a hard time falling asleep that night.

At some point he got up, giving up on sleep to write a letter to his mother. He kept it short. All he said was that he needed to prove a point, and could she please send his old copy of The Tale of Three Brothers by owl? He doubted the library had a copy, and he needed to settle a matter with a friend.

He fell asleep shortly later, dreams filled with tales of the fae and chess pieces and emerald fire. The fae did not forgive, but maybe the emerald lake he dove into in his dream world would.



Chapter Text

Sunday passed uneventfully. The next morning at breakfast, Harry noticed Malfoy receive a thin rectangular package from his owl. He didn’t look at it, merely nodded and slipped it into his bag. Harry found himself wishing it was still the weekend, and not for his usual reasons for disliking Mondays. He shook his head at himself and turned back to his breakfast.

~•~

Draco didn’t need to check his mother’s letter to know what the package she had sent him contained. He nodded at his owl and slipped it into his bag, glancing up and across at the Gryffindor table on reflex more than anything else. He just missed meeting Potter’s eyes as he turned away, shook himself, and looked back at his breakfast. He really should do something about the weird feeling of disappointment the timing gave him.

He should also do something about Pansy, he realized as she sat down next to him. He didn’t know how much he should tell her. She was one of his closest friends, but she was also a notorious gossip. He felt bad questioning her ability to keep a secret, but the truth was that she cared about Draco– she didn’t give a fuck about the surprisingly kind Gryffindors.

Maybe he should ask the Gryffindorks themselves about it. Not his best pun, but if Harry Potter wasn’t a dork he didn’t know who was. Really, who else could make a shit-eating grin endearing? That was a talent that had nothing to do with being the Chosen One. Probably. Draco didn’t know how being the Chosen One worked, but he didn’t think that was part of it.

He smiled at Pansy in thanks as she passed him an apple, and bit into it so he wouldn’t have to talk. He didn’t know if any sound would come out if he spoke, and he wasn’t about to test it in the Great Hall. After he finished his apple and was more out of his thoughts, his voice would probably come back. That’s how it usually went. For now, she nodded at him in understanding and ate next to him in companionable silence, knowing that speech wasn’t always necessary to communicate how much you cared about someone.

He bumped her shoulder with his own, and she smiled.

Today was going to be okay. It might even be good.

~•~

Not for the first time, Hermione wished the weekend was longer. She couldn’t exactly go searching for a children’s book in the library if she was in the middle of class. Well, she could, but that would mean she couldn’t prove the two points she had been making since she first stepped foot in Hogwarts.

They were simple, really. Just to prove that muggleborns and women could be just as successful as pureblood men, if not more so. They weren’t even new points to her. Growing up, she always needed to prove that as a black girl she was capable of doing just as well as her peers. She had learned early on that that meant never missing class. So she didn’t get sick. Ever. Now she knew that her magic boosted her immune system on the part of her stubbornness, but she hadn't even thought that it was odd until she had the chance to put the pieces together. She just assumed that she was healthy.

Now, she fidgeted in her seat and did her best to concentrate on the first lecture of the day. The only relief she got was in noticing Ron taking notes more studiously than normal. I guess he does a lot more for us than I realized .

~•~

Fred and George had a mission. They had a couple of questions about the mission, but it came from their little brother, so they would complete it first and ask questions later. It was a simple mission, but it was not one they ever expected from ickle Ronniekins, so it piqued their interest.

The mission was this: Gred and Forge were to participate and actively try in Potions class. That was it.

It was almost a relief, Potions were always important when creating quality products. The more they learned about the subject, the better quality their merchandise would be.

The distrustful and out-of-his-depth looks from Snape made it doubly worth it.

They shared a grin.

~•~

He was drowning. He had been for years. It wasn’t new, this drowning, and neither was the green. The ever-present murky green of the water he could not leave.

He had been afraid, at first. Getting dragged down into the depths. Losing the only one who was by his side. Not the only one who loved him, but it was a close thing.

He hoped someone he loved was still alive.

He hoped there was anyone left who loved him.

Did they miss him?

Did anyone know?

How could they know, he told the one person who did that he couldn’t tell anyone, unless. Unless. Unless.

Unless what?

He had been there so long. He felt himself drifting away.

This calm drowning lulled him to peace. Not a welcome peace, he wished he could fight it. He wished he wanted to fight it.

He wished he wanted to fight at all.

Unless they were to be trusted. Unless he knew that they were on his side, that they shared the same beliefs. Unless they could help and were willing.

Was it still in this world?

He hoped not, but he knew it probably was.

That was why he was more there , more existent than he had been in ages. Things had changed. The water was still murky green, the others were still here, and he was still drowning. But something had changed. The first time things had changed had been right after he started to drown. It had been a good change.

This change was not a good one.

He wished he had enough energy to want to see his brother again.

~•~

Pansy knew something was up with Draco. It was the thoughtful look on his face as he studied the Gryffindor table when she joined him at the table. Even now, in class, he seemed to be puzzling something out.

He had also been unable to speak in the morning, but that was a somewhat regular occurrence. She remembered that he had said it felt as though his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth as if he couldn't open it. He could, to sneeze and yawn and eat, but not to speak. He had tried a couple of times, and all that happened was air being forced out of his lungs, no voice box or shaping of sounds behind it.

Other people took it as a frustrated sigh, which wasn’t inaccurate going by his expression whenever it happened. Draco had forced himself to speak a couple of times, to articulate the words in a stilted manner, but it just made it worse in the long run. He would get anxious for the rest of the day, and whenever someone asked him something he would be twitchy and irritable. She tried to help, but on those days he did best if left alone.

He had gotten better about giving himself time when it happened, but she still worried.

Pansy would give him time, she decided. If he wanted to talk he would, and she would be there for him whatever happened. That’s how it had always been, after all.

Them against the world, doing what they had to do to make their parents happy just enough to get away with being kids in the garden, running among the maze of flowers.

If only the rest of the world were as kind as the walls of roses and daffodils.



Chapter Text

Sirius paced.

It was all he did these days. What else was he to do? He had no interest in cleaning up the house that was legally his. He still doubted it really was legally his. The house had never been his home. It had only ever been a nightmare personified. Worse than nightmares, because until he got out of Azkaban he had never had nightmares that came close to what his life had been like in this building.

It really was more of a building than a house.

He wondered if Remus would visit.

He wondered how Remus was doing.

He wondered how Harry was doing.

Sirius paced.

He hoped Harry was doing okay. He would write to him, but he had yet to get a reply to his last letter.

His godson was probably fine, Sirius reminded himself. He was in school. Sirius knew firsthand how distracting Hogwarts could be.

He stopped his pacing in front of a door. A plain door in a plain hallway.

Except the door wasn’t plain. It had a metal nameplate on it.

That wasn’t what made it special. It was just what alerted outsiders to its importance.

It was a special door that he never wanted to open and cross the threshold of again.

It was one of two doors that did not belong to the portrait at the bottom of the stairs.

The first door belonged to him.

This door belonged to his brother.

Sirius paced.

~•~

Severus was baffled. When Ronald had said he would tell his brothers to try in his class the night before, he had assumed he was having him on. It turns out that was very much not the case, and it also turned out the Weasley twins were brilliant when they set their minds to something. As he graded their work for the day, he came to the sinking realization that they were several levels above their peers.

Normally when this happened he would take the students aside and ask if they wanted an opportunity to do higher-level work in an extra class. Most of these students, however, showed prowess before their Seventh Year.

He supposed he could make an exception for them.

He wrote two letters, one for each of them. He would send them tomorrow before breakfast so they would arrive with the rest of the post.

Included in the letters was an offer to assist in possible career directions, although he doubted they would take it. He knew they already had a business, the most he could do was direct them in the direction of the proper paperwork to get certified for such a thing on a legal front.

~•~

Remus Lupin’s apartment felt empty. Don’t get him wrong, it always felt empty, but today was different.

It was only a few days after the full moon and the flat didn’t just feel empty, it felt lonely . He missed Sirius. He missed him in a way that he had not missed him since innocent summers of forests and flowers, since winters of jovial chatter by the Gryffindor hearth.

That pain had been interlaced with betrayal for so, so long.

Once Sirius was back, Remus had been so overwhelmed he didn’t get the chance to miss him. His thoughts were too full of relief, not only upon finding out that the man was out of Azkaban, free from his own personal hell; but also because he was innocent. Finding out that Sirius was not the murderer that people had accused him of being eased the guilt he had carried over still caring for the man. Guilt that had been eating at him for over a decade. Fourteen years later, and he could finally breathe easy, no longer was there a constant weight in his chest. The stone that had been sitting there had finally eroded, leaving only the sadness of having believed Sirius could ever be capable of such a thing.

When they were kids, he and Sirius had been drawn to one another, recognizing the sleeplessness and fear the other carried. There were many nights where they would share a bed, sleeping next to one another to remind them that the world could be kind and that there were people to help with the nightmares.

Both of them had scars, Remus’s were just more visible. Standing side by side, only his stood out. After all, Sirius had scars in places specifically so they wouldn’t be seen. Remus’s wolf was never that kind or subtle.

He smiled to himself, wrapping cold sweater-enveloped hands around his mug of hot chocolate. He remembered the times when neither of them could sleep, and so they would stay awake talking, cut off from the rest of the world by the canopy of Remus’s bed. He remembered the times that Sirius would come up with silly names for Remus’s wolf, like Bartholomew , or Helga , or Ralph Fedoruk Waterman III .

He remembered the time Sirius stole a stop sign while a car was paused right in front of it. Sirius always stole street signs when they were in the Muggle parts of cities.

He remembered them planning to live in a cottage in the woods, far from everyone else yet close enough to the nearest shop for it to not be too much of a hassle. That was a plan they continued into the daylight hours, spending most of their free time in Seventh Year fantasizing about running away from the war they might as well already be drafted in. Lily always had a warm smile whenever she heard them talking about it, with a sadness in the depths of her eyes. She was always the most realistic out of all five of them.

He hoped that someday they could have the life they dreamed of during honey sunsets and golden afternoons.



Chapter Text

Harry sat down at the breakfast table with a pen and notebook. It was early, breakfast wouldn’t be served for another thirty minutes, but that wasn’t why he was there. He had letters to write, and he didn’t want to do it in the crowded Common Room.

Dear Moony, he wrote, and stopped. Where to begin? How much to say? He knew that Sirius resented Dumbledore, but he didn’t know how Remus felt about the man. Telling Sirius about Dumbledore made sense, but telling Remus about Draco Malfoy and how he was probably on their side made sense.

He frowned, eyes fogging over somewhere on the Ravenclaw bench. He didn’t want to leave anything out, and he didn’t want to lie, but he also knew the two men would handle different things better.

That’s it!

He would tell each of them a little bit and also tell them to talk to one another. God knows they needed to anyway, Harry didn’t know why they edged around one another when they each clearly would drop dead to make the other one’s dreams come true.

He could mask it as not wanting to put too much information in one place, even though he was going to use a school owl and a spell that altered the reader's perception of the words if they weren’t the intended recipient. Sirius had taught it to him in one of the few quiet moments at Grimmauld Place.

He set to work, oblivious to the castle’s inhabitants waking for the day as the sun slowly lit up the towers in a rich golden glow.

~•~

Gred and Forge got up early, as they were sometimes wont to do when it had been some time since they last caused mischief. As they walked into the Great Hall, they made eye contact, agreeing in an instant on what to do about their chosen younger brother.

The kid might not realize it, but they had decided to adopt Harry the instant they saw how he was living at his relative's house.

Harry was sitting by himself at the Gryffindor table and looked to have just finished writing the second of two letters, casting a spell over both before folding them and sealing them in individual envelopes.

Perfect timing .

They dropped down in seats on either side of him simultaneously, grinning in a way that Hermione said was a “Cheshire Cat,” whatever that meant.

He jumped, notebook going flying in his surprise, letting out a yelp before attempting to glare at both of them at once.

“Really?”

“Our dearest Harry,”

“Please rest assured,”

“That frightening you was-”
They spoke in unison on the word “never,”

“Our intention.”

“Yeah, yeah, just like you never intend to swap classes so you can both get the knowledge but take half the courses.”

The twins made eye contact over his head. Even Lee Jordan hadn’t noticed that until they told him. They turned back to Harry, and he put up a hand to stop them.

“No, I will not be telling you how I know that. No, it has nothing to do with the map.” He grinned, “you’ll just have to wonder how I know that Fred is on my left and George is on my right.”

Just as he said that the later crowd of students came rushing in and breakfast was served. Harry grabbed a bagel with cream cheese and jumped up. “It was nice seeing you, but I have letters to send.” He waved them in one hand as he used the other to hold the bagel as he bit into it, disappearing easily into the crowd.

“Much to think about.”

“Oh, yes. Wonder who will get those letters?”

“Snuffles will probably get one of them.”

“I can’t imagine who else he would write to.”

As they pondered, two owls came down in front of them, each holding a letter. They were identical, as most things the twins received were.

George was the first to open his, Fred merely turning it over in his hands in curiosity.

“Well, well, brother. It seems we have been offered an opportunity. Who knew following our young brother’s whims would pay off so soon?”

Fred raised an eyebrow and finally opened the letter, reading through their Professor’s missive quickly.

“What say you, brother?”

George was thoughtful, a scheming look on his face. “Following this would give us more credibility. Popularity and money can only go so far. Having credentials such as a Mastery…” He trailed off.

“Well, it would leave the competition in the dust.” Fred grinned, and George matched it a second later.

George was always more concerned about the long game, while Fred lived more in the moment.

In this particular moment, however, they both turned their smiles to one Professor Snape, who already looked like he regretted every single one of his life’s decisions.

To someone who actually knew him, however, (unlike the twins) it was a different sort of regret than the kind he usually carried. The twins didn’t notice it, but that didn’t mean no one else did.

At the end of the Staff Table, Albus Percival Wolfric Brian Dumbledore wondered why, for the first time in decades, Severus Tobias Snape looked like he had some semblance of hope.

~•~

Draco Malfoy had a dilemma, and he wasn’t handling it well. The reason he wasn’t handling it well was that he already knew the solution to his problem. He just really really didn’t like it. Despised it, even.

The problem was that the answer to his dilemma was to talk to Hermione Granger, and he did not want to talk to Hermione Granger. He could admit to himself that it was because she scared him, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t ignore that particular fact.

He would have to talk to her about trusting Pansy Parkinson, a girl who had bullied her throughout her schooling. Hell, Pansy had been worse to her than Draco had in some regards, without the excuse of a terrible father figure to smooth things over long enough to establish a truce.

Draco frowned, and tapped the point of his quill against his desk in an erratic rhythm, his hand moving on its own as he continued trying to find any other answer to his puzzle.

None came, because he had already solved the puzzle, and that was how puzzles worked.

He sighed and tried to focus on the lecture he was attending. Well, attending physically. He grimaced and glanced at Pansy, who was not only sitting next to him but was also taking diligent notes.

It didn’t help that he had seen Harry-

It didn’t help that he had seen Potter rushing to the owlery with a bagel in one hand and two envelopes in the other as he was walking to the Great Hall this morning. He wondered who the letters were for.

He wondered if it had to do with the mysterious “Moony” and “Padfoot” that he had mentioned needing to write to four nights ago as the four of them walked to their respective Common Rooms. Was one of them Sirius? If so, what was with the nickname? Was it code, or just a nickname that Harry used?

Damnit, he did it again. A nickname that Potter used .

Draco sighed again and hoped these mental slip-ups wouldn’t become verbal. Of course, if he didn’t have a repeat of yesterday morning. He felt his eyes go dark as he remembered.

It hadn’t been too bad, all things considered. It lasted a shorter time than normal, but when it happened once, it meant he needed to be aware that it might happen again.

The tapping of his quill against the desk sped up before his hand twitched and he dropped it on his notes, pressing his flat palm against the wood to stop. Just, stop everything. He fixed his posture and took a deep breath. Draco then peeled his left hand back up from the desk and meticulously stretched it, focusing on his hand to ground himself.

The ache of his tendons and muscles helped, and he picked the quill back up, taking notes for the rest of the class. He had missed most of it, but Pansy would offer notes later.

She would do so while looking at him in a way implying she knew something was up, but he would get to that later. For now, he had a plan. A plan he disliked, but he knew it was necessary.



Chapter Text

Neville could sense change. He was pretty sure the outcome of the change would be good, by the signs he was seeing, but it still made him uneasy.

The first change was Professor Snape being kinder in classes. That was what tipped him off that change was happening in the first place, and got him to pay attention.

Snape was never kind in class. Yet he had been patient lately, not judging students on anything but their understanding of the material. He had frowned at the way Neville had been cutting up his valerian root, and instead of snarking at him, had quietly told him that if he wanted a better outcome he should slice it thin instead of just hacking it into chunks.

For the first time since his first class, Neville’s cauldron hadn’t blown up, and it was due all to him. Hermione was distracted that day, puzzling something out internally.

It pained him to admit it, but when he was trying Snape was a genuinely good teacher, on par with Professor McGonagall.

That hadn’t been the only sign that things were changing, however. The Weasley twins were holding themselves with pride, which usually signaled a particularly dramatic prank had been set, a trap for students and teachers alike.

Yet Neville wasn’t in Gryffindor for five years only to not notice their moods. It was necessary for avoiding pranks, after all.

The pride they held was a different sort of pride. It was pride of achievement, and not in the hopes that Umbridge would set foot in it. It was similar to when they had finally figured out how to make their Canary Creams work. It was academic- or business-related, and based on the way they kept glancing at the aforementioned improved Professor, he had a hunch that they had gotten an offer for a Mastery.

He had seen other students hold themselves in the same way; after all, the notoriously hard-to-please Professor was also the youngest Potions Master in history . Being singled out by him as good at the subject meant a lot.

Of course, any sort of recognition meant something. Professor Sprout often let him in the Greenhouses to work with the plants at his own leisure, teaching him about plants that were above their year level.

The third change almost made Neville feel like Harry. The reason being, it was about Malfoy. Yet it was different from what Harry said because instead of feeling like he was up to something, Neville could see him working in the shadows to help people. He noticed the way Malfoy would frown when he saw students holding their hands awkwardly, and he saw the stiffness he held himself with whenever Umbridge was around.

What’s more, one night when he was leaving the Hospital Wing after a run-in with a particularly enthusiastic Devil’s Snare, he saw Malfoy drop a slip of paper onto Madam Pomfrey’s desk. Well, the desk that was in the outer part of the infirmary. When he glanced at it, all Neville saw were names, all from different Houses.

It hadn’t made sense to him until he had seen those same people with bandages on their dominant hands the next day. They had served the same detention that Harry had. Malfoy was telling Pomfrey which students were injured, but with no way to trace it back to him.

If he hadn’t been such a prick, Neville would find it admirable. Now, however, he just saw it as a guilty conscience.

He knew that wasn’t particularly fair, but he was a Gryffindor, not a Hufflepuff, and so he could afford to be judgemental. Merlin knew he had a right to be.

For now, he would keep observing, and try to find out why Harry not only was doing his own research but also why he looked like he had genuine hope for the first time since the beginning of Third Year.

~•~

Remus didn’t expect to get mail while working; which is why, when his colleague at the small coffee shop he worked the cash register in handed him an envelope, he assumed it was business-related, and moved to place it on their manager’s desk.

That was when he saw the handwriting.

He froze in the doorway between the floor of the shop and the office.

Harry .

He immediately turned and asked his coworker “was this in the mail slot?”

“Yup,” his colleague was an older man, probably in his fifties, and was as Muggle as the rest of the town Remus lived in. “Dunno why no one just came in to hand it to us, odd.”

“Yeah,” Remus looked back down at the letter, then up and around the empty shop. The lunch rush had ended and he estimated that there were about one and a half hours before it became crowded again.

“Could I, um,” Remus swallowed. “It’s from a family member.”

Dennis (his colleague) looked back up at him in surprise. Remus didn’t share much, but Dennis knew enough about him to know this wasn’t a frequent occurrence.

“It’s, well,” he took a shaky breath in, and let it out forcefully. “I don’t know if you heard about it in this part of the country, but a close friend of mine was-” he swallowed hard. “In 1981 he and his wife were killed by a serial killer. My best friend was accused of assisting, but he was a target too so that was just stupid.” Remus ran a hand through his hair, ears pricked for the sound of the shop door opening as a cue to stop talking. “Their son survived. He’s my best friend’s godson.”

Remus let out a shaky laugh, and finally braved looking at Dennis. “I’m sorry, you really didn’t need to hear my sob story. I’m just shocked that he wrote to me.” He let his sad crooked smile show.

Dennis didn’t say anything at first, just studied Remus with a slight frown. Remus shifted, feeling like he had stepped over some boundary.

“Why don’t you sit yourself down and look at that letter.” He gestured to what he knew was Remus’s favorite table, pushed up against a plush window seat that let the sun in. There were bookshelves on either side.

It reminded him of the Hogwarts Library.

Remus nodded mechanically, and his feet carried him to the table, sitting down and placing the letter reverently down in front of him.

Part of him was afraid to break the seal.

Remus didn’t know how long he had been sitting there, but suddenly Dennis placed a mug of hot chocolate on the table in front of him, as well as a letter opener.

He took the chair opposite Remus and sipped his own beverage, some sort of tea that Remus could never remember the name of.

“You’ve been through a lot, kid.”

His understatement made Remus snort, and he took a sip of the chocolatey offering before him. He closed his eyes as it warmed him, calming his pounding heart.

“I mean, I knew you had been through something,” here it would come, the comment about his scars. “Only survivors are that careful to do everything with as little noise as possible.”

Remus’s eyes flew open. Dennis raised an eyebrow.

“You- but, my scars?” He sounded like a child again, which was how he felt in this particular moment. It reminded him of the kindness from Madam Pomfrey which had surprised him so in his first year.

“Everyone has scars, not all of them are as visible as yours, granted, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.”

Remus smiled, “that’s what Sirius used to say all the time.”

“One of your friends?”

Remus nodded, “the one who survived.”

Dennis raised an eyebrow, “then why don’t I see him here coming to bother you whenever your shift ends?” He feigned looking around the shop, which drew the ghost of a smile from the ex-Professor. It vanished quickly.

“Life sucks.” He didn’t mean to be so blunt about it, but Dennis laughed.

“You miss him, don’t you?”

Remus quirked a smile, “every single moment. I just can’t visit him if I’m working. The flat doesn’t pay itself, after all, and I doubt I could live with him.” His face dropped, and he looked into his cocoa. “It took a toll on him. He was wrongly imprisoned for twelve years . His case hasn’t even gone through court again yet, so he could be taken back any time for murders committed by someone else. I wish I could protect him, but I can barely come to work some days because of my chronic illness.” He sighed, “it’s not like I could ask Harry- his godson.” He clarified, “to step in. He’s barely a teenager, and I don’t want him to have to get involved with this.”

Dennis studied him for a moment, stirring his tea rhythmically, the sound of the spoon against the pottery oddly calming.

“I get the feeling you don’t talk about this often.”

Remus smiled sheepishly, “I didn’t mean to dump it all on you, I just don’t really know anyone who wasn’t involved in some way.”

Dennis gave him a gentle smile in return. “It’s alright, my sister has been through things she’s never shared with me. Sometimes it’s easier to tell strangers the truth than the people you love the most. Speaking of,” he tapped the letter with a finger. “It’s better to open it and get it out of the way than letting it gather dust.” He gave him a serious look, “and don’t worry about being productive today, I’ll still put in a good word. You deserve a break considering all of this.”

Remus watched helplessly as his colleague picked up his finished tea and walked back into the kitchen. He looked down at the letter.

He took a deep breath and sliced it open, using a bit of magic instead of the letter opener. He didn’t want this envelope to have any ragged edges.

He took a deep breath and began to read.

 

Dear Moony,

I hope you’re doing well. Hogwarts is, well, Hogwarts. Other than Umbridge, things aren’t bad. That doesn’t mean things are the same, but about that later.

I miss you and Padfoot a lot, I wish I could visit you both over Christmas Break, but I understand if that isn’t possible.

Hermione says I’m wrong about my Hamlet theory, so the next time I see you I’d love to see if everyone is wrong or it’s just ‘Mione (I’m right about it, people are just cowards).

Don’t worry about people running across this letter, by the way. Padfoot taught me a charm that makes it look like I’m just sending you pleasantries and an invitation to lunch (I think, you know what he’s like).

Dumbledore decided that Snape is going to teach me Occlumency. Yeah, Snape.

It didn’t go great at first, but then

 

Here there were some scribbled-out words that Remus couldn’t make out.

 

The point is, we reached a truce and now he’s a genuinely decent teacher and Neville brewed a successful potion all by himself.

That’s the short version, at least. The longer version is that he and my mum were apparently good friends until Fifth Year (which I would like some more information from you about– I’m not sure I totally trust him, and you know how Padfoot can get) and so knew her sister.

The sister who is my Aunt Petunia, who I live with. Yeah, that didn’t go over well.

Basically, there was a very awkward conversation that ended in the usual theme of “no one decided to educate me on this subject because they forget Muggleborns exist,” and now I have homework that includes researching Occlumency, Legilimency, and Wards.

I would complain, but it’s actually really interesting (yes, I’m also doing my normal school work, don’t worry. Ron said he would take away my books if I didn’t).

In other news, Draco Malfoy turns out to not follow the ideals he says he does.

This one is actually more complicated.

I think I told you about Umbridge and her weird club? Well, he’s been using his position in it to help other students who she has been targeting. But like, subtly. I don’t think anyone actually knows except now us three and Snape (I had a strange weekend). I hadn’t thought about it before, but his position as the “Slytherin Prince” isn’t very guaranteed. He has a part to play, the same way we do. We’re just lucky enough to agree with the parts that we were given.

I didn’t mention it to anyone else because, well, Gryffindor, but I wonder how many Slytherins also fit into that category? Or just Death Eaters in general?

I would prefer if you kept that part of this letter to yourself, for obvious reasons. Even Neville would give me a weird look for that, I’m sure.

Also, he confirmed something I already knew from this annoying connection to Everyone’s Favorite Madman.

Draco Malfoy has an uninvited house guest, and he wants to get rid of him.

It would surprise me more if I didn’t get a live feed of the shit (sorry) Ol’ Voldy gets up to in his free time. I think I would prefer the Dursleys' to the current state of Malfoy Manor any day.

Hermione was actually the one who got Malfoy to talk to us. I think he’ll be a good ally, but I doubt we’ll ever really be friends.

Hermione also had a fantastic idea that honestly involves illegal activity, which I know you disapprove of, I’m sorry Moony (to be fair Hermione was the one doing illegal things).

Basically we might be able to publish an exposé on Snakeface (I keep using nicknames because I don’t know if the charm I used is powerful enough to block me spelling out the git’s name. Maybe I should look into that), and his life. He has a name, a real one, not the one he made up. If you ever get curious or want to help, search for one Tom Marvolo Riddle. He made an anagram of it and that’s his current “name.” I can tell you how the letters rearrange in person.

Sirius never got a trial.

I thought he had, so I looked it up. He never got one.

Dumbledore was the head of whatever the Wizard Supreme Court is called (I can’t spell it, and don’t care to learn), and he didn’t even try .

 

Try ” was underlined aggressively at least three times, the page dented from force.

 

So we’re trying. I don’t know what will happen when, but I’ll be damned if Sirius doesn’t become a free man. That I promise you.

Speaking of Sirius, I sent him a similar letter. His has different information than yours, so you will need to compare. Compilation of information and all that.

Basically, you need to tell him about Snape and Malfoy because his reaction will not be the same as yours. He also has information I didn’t give you.

As soon as I know the first Hogsmead weekend I’ll send you the date, hopefully, I can see at least one of you then (I’m sending it to you because you think before you act. Please keep him safe for both our sakes).

I miss you Moony. Not just because you’re the best DADA Professor we’ve had.

Love,

Harry

 

Remus took a deep shuddering breath and wiped his eyes. He grabbed the rest of his hot cocoa and downed it, pulling his knees up to his chest as he reread the last two sentences and the sign-off.

“Everything okay with the kid?”

Remus nodded, tearing up as he let his face break into a grin. “I’m so proud of him.”



Chapter Text

As the grades in all of his classes across the years started to improve, Severus was forced to acknowledge that he could have been a better teacher this entire time. Lily was laughing at him from the afterlife, he was sure.

Damnit.

On the bright side, it made people hate Umbridge a lot more than before. He even heard some students questioning why Binns was still allowed to teach since he was the most boring ghost on the planet. Gryffindor as they were, they had a point.

Maybe he should look into exorcism. Perhaps it wasn’t just a Muggle concept. Although Binns wasn’t malevolent, so if it did exist it might not work anyway. He made a mental note to hint about it around Granger. If the History Professor disappeared, he disappeared. Not his problem.

Maybe they would hire Black to take over the position. That would certainly be entertaining, as much as he disliked the man.

Now, he stood outside the infirmary, unsure how to tell Madam Pomfrey about the “detentions” that the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher was performing.

He took a deep breath and pushed open the door.

~•~

As Draco passed the Hospital Wing, he saw Professor Snape push his way through the door, a frown on his face.

Before he had time to react, however, someone grabbed his arm and pulled him… through the wall?

He blinked in the odd corridor he found himself in and saw three pairs of eyes looking at him.

“What the fuck.”

Potter grinned, “feel lucky we chose this place instead of the statue.”

Granger, the one who had yanked him into the secret corridor, let go of Draco’s arm to hit Potter upside the head, which made him laugh quietly.

“How did you know this was here?” Draco ran his hand over the rough stone walls, made of older bricks than much of the rest of the castle.

“I have a legacy that includes more than just my family name, or my place as the godson of the last person with the name of Black.” There was a mischievous fire in Potter’s eyes that belied his serious tone.

“Just tell him your dad was like my brothers. Merlin, Harry.”

“You exist just to ruin the fun, huh.”

“Yup.”

“I finished my Transfiguration homework, you can’t keep doing this to me.”

“I can and I will.”

“This is discrimination.”

“Harry, you aren’t going to change his mind.”

“I can try.”

Draco coughed to get their attention. “Um, why exactly did you invite me here?”

“Have you read Hamlet? The Shakespeare play.”

“Harry-”

“It’s a good question!”

Weasley sighed “this is the first break we’ve had all week so it was their first chance to interrogate you about the Three Brothers story.”

“Also, ‘Mione told us she told you about the Polyjuice in Second Year and I thought if I showed you a secret passage you might be slightly less mad about it.”

Draco pulled his old copy of the storybook from his bag. He had kept it there since his mother had sent it to him, not wanting to keep it in his dorm. He dropped his bag on the floor and ripped the nondescript brown paper off, revealing the book and a note that fluttered toward the floor.

Potter’s eyes widened, and he immediately reached to catch the note before it hit the ground. Draco tensed, all ready to have to fight to get it back when Potter simply handed it back to him.

He took the note and read it, handing Granger the book as he did.

 

My darling Draco,

I know you well enough to know this book is not about a disagreement. Our wretched house guest has not changed one bit, however, so I understand your wording.

I can only hope this means you have found an out– if not for the both of us, then at least for yourself. I love your father, but he has dug his own grave. He can change or he can lie in it. That part is up to him.

Another thing: my cousin is innocent. He would never bring about the death of James or Lily. They were his family to a degree I never could be. I always knew Lily better, as did Severus, but even I know that there was nothing that could separate Sirius and James.

Take your own path, little dragon. I’ll be by your side no matter what you choose, even if I am unable to safely leave your father’s side.

 

I love you,

Mum

 

Draco felt frozen. He clutched the paper in his hand and felt himself leaning into the wall, her elegant cursive unfocusing as his eyes stopped cooperating.

“Malfoy?”

“Malfoy, are you okay?”

“Is it bad news?”

He felt a hand on his arm and he started, coming back to the present. Draco looked up to see Potter looking at him with a concerned expression. Times have changed. This used to be nothing more than a dream.

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

Draco swallowed and handed him the note. “A liaison with whoever is on the side of the Light, apparently.”

Weasley crowded next to Potter as he read the note, Granger already halfway through Draco’s book already.

Draco sunk to the floor, sliding against the wall, clothes catching on the uneven stone as he did so.

He could be free.

“It’s a shame I sent out my letters yesterday, I could have asked Remus about this.”

Granger looked up, almost at the end of the book. “Didn’t Sirius give you that mirror?”

“Hermione, you’re a fucking genius,” Potter immediately started rifling through his bag. Granger, for her part, had already gone back to reading.

“Mirror?” Draco asked faintly.

“Mmm-hmm,” Weasley took pity on him. “It’s a two-way mirror. Sirius gave it to Harry before school started in case there was anything urgent. They usually send letters though, I don’t really know why.”

Potter couldn’t exactly clarify, however, because he was pulling all manner of things from his school bag. It definitely had an undetectable extension charm on it. There was no way that many books would fit in it otherwise. At one point he pulled out a hardcover book that fit neatly into his hand. Potter looked at it for a second before handing it to Draco upside down. He rotated it, looking at the title curiously. It read The Yale Shakespeare . Intrigued, he opened it to the title page. It was different from the gold letters embossed on the cover. It read The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark , and gave off an old book smell. He breathed in deeply, his shoulders relaxing a bit at the familiarity. As he flipped through the introductory pages, he gathered that it was a play of some kind.

He was just starting to read the first page when a voice startled him.

“Hey Prongslet, everything okay?”

“Yeah, have you talked to Remus yet?”

“Mmm-hmm, he’s actually here now.” There was a muffled yell of “hey Remus! The kid wants to talk!” and Draco noticed a small smile on Harry’s face.

A new voice came from the mirror shard in Potter’s hand. “Hey pup, your letter came as I was at work and I had to have the most awkward conversation of my life because of it, so thanks. Also, I’m proud of you.”

Potter made a strangled noise and blushed.

Weasley snorted and leaned over so he could see into the mirror. “You broke him, Professor. He called so he could share some news, and you broke him.”

Professor? The new voice was familiar, but Draco couldn’t place it.

Potter batted Weasley away and continued as if nothing happened. “Anyway, remember what I said about using one’s position to help others? Yeah, well, said person lives with everyone’s favorite serial killer, and also had a cousin of yours say that if they have a chance to move out they should take it.”

“Tell him his mum is right.” That was Sirius.

“Wait, are you talking about me?” Draco looked up in confusion.

There was a snort from the mirror. “Of course you’d talk to me while he’s in the room. Go on then, introduce me to my third favorite cousin.”

“Sirius, you hate your blood relatives.”

“Not all of them.”

Potter shrugged, and moved to Draco’s side of the corridor, sliding down the wall to sit next to him. In the mirror he could see Sirius Black, his hair looking silky and pulled back in a bun, a far cry from his wanted posters. Next to him was- “Professor Lupin??”

Said Professor laughed, covering his mouth with his hand. “Hey, kid. You can call me Remus. I’m not your Professor anymore.”

“You’re better than this one,” Draco replied bluntly, then felt uncertain. He didn’t know where he stood with these people. He also hadn’t been the kindest to Lupin when he had taught them.

“You seem to have inherited the curse that goes to the Cool Kids of the Black family, where you need a safe house to stay that’s far away from home. Is that correct?”

Draco blinked for a second, trying to figure out how Sirius had managed to verbally capitalize “Cool Kids,” before nodding silently once he realized what he had said.

“I would offer that you could crash here, but this house is awful and I wish I could burn it down. Remus’s flat is also very small so if you stayed there you would have to sleep on the couch or the floor, but it could work temporarily.”

Potter jumped in, “weren’t you making it at least semi-livable? I mean it wasn’t terrible when I stayed there this summer.” He frowned for a second, “then again, my standards are super low.”

“No shit.” Draco looked up to see a dark look flash across Weasley’s face. He filed it away for later.

“Without me here, Sirius doesn’t do shit. Good news though! Kreacher heard us talking, and apparently, if we interrogate Dumbledore for the truth he’ll be nice to us!”

“Moony, you’re supposed to be the responsible one out of us.”

“That man robbed you of twelve years of your life. Shut the fuck up.”

Potter snorted, “and here I was trying not to swear in my letter to you.”

“Moony?” Draco questioned.

“Oh, Cousin, we have a lot to catch up on.” Sirius got a contemplative look on his face. “Do you think we could meet with you four, Sni-” Lupin elbowed him. “Snape, and your mother somewhere? That way we could all get on the same page. It has been a while since I saw my dear cousin Cissa.”

Granger looked up from the notes she was taking, still flipping through Draco’s book. “We could probably rent a room at the Three Broomsticks and meet there. If it’s a private room our cash can pay for silence.”

“There’s a restaurant my mother and I often go to for lunch together in Hogsmeade. The owner is a friend of hers and so looks away.” Draco shrugged, “even my father doesn’t hear about it. We often reserve a back room for lunch. They’re meant for parties but my mother is Narcissa Black Malfoy, so they don’t argue.”

Sirius smirked at him, “I know the place. We met there a couple of times. Send her a message and let us know the time and date. I can act as Remus’s service dog.”

Remus hit him over the back of the head, but he was smiling. They reminded him of how his parents used to be, back when Draco was little. When one of them moved, so did the other; always aware of how close or far they were from one another.

His parents were only ever formal now.

He smiled at the two and nodded at his cousin’s plan.

Remus’s eyes caught on the book Draco was holding, and he grinned, turning to Harry as much as he could in the small mirror. “Got more people reading it, I see? You’ll have to tell me about your theory during our lunch.”

Potter grinned back, “it can’t hurt to have more opinions. I do hope you’ll agree with me.”

“It was one of your mother’s favorite Shakespeare plays. Her favorite was Julius Caesar , but she also liked Macbeth .”

“I still like Twelfth Night .”

“Of course you do Siri,” Remus rolled his eyes and looked back at them. “Half the play is about how they’re all crossdressing to pretend to be other people and it gets super gay.”

Granger smiled, “that’s a pretty accurate summary.” She sat down on Potter’s other side, opposite Draco. “My old teacher didn’t exactly approve of that version of events though.”

Remus rolled his eyes, “of course they didn’t. Cowards.” He looked at Sirius, and something passed between them the way it only does between those who know each other more than they know themselves.

Sirius nodded and then turned to them. “You can show him the map. If things go wrong, they go wrong, but you obviously trust him this far so you might as well. Draco, I know this might be scary, but just know that your mother loves you and wants what’s best. She was my favorite of her and her siblings, even though Andromeda was the one who was supposedly ‘light.’ Cissa was there for me even when she wasn’t allowed to be, and even if I didn’t owe her ten times over I would want to help her. I understand that your father could go either way, and if we convince him to take the case then we will help him as well, but please realize that if he doesn’t then it’s out of our hands.”

Draco swallowed hard and nodded. He wasn’t close to his father. The man had been working and away from the house for most of his childhood, so Draco had gotten used to life with just his mum and the house elves for company.

Part of him had been bitter when his father only started to get involved in his life when he was nearing his time at Hogwarts. It felt like Lucius was more afraid to lose his only child more than showing actual love for his son. He had overcompensated for it in the early years, wishing that he could feel comfortable talking to his father about anything , let alone every little detail of his Hogwarts life.

So when he squared his shoulders and told Sirius Black he understood, it came from a place of not being able to feel bad about whatever outcome life had for his father. He didn’t miss him, he never had. He was so used to him not being around that he doubted he ever would.

He supposed he cared for the man, but it had more to do with having known him his whole life than any sort of father-figure-related reason. His godfather, Severus, was more of a father figure than his actual father would ever be. He called him Uncle Sev, for Merlin’s sake! That was a far cry from going “hello father,” “yes sir,” “no sir,” and all that other nonsense.

He felt bitter towards the man. There were days when he supposed he might not care if he saw his father’s name in the obituary section of the Prophet. Other times he felt as if his world would turn and start rotating on a different axis if that happened.

As Potter said his goodbyes to his own godfather, Draco opened the book in his hands again and began to read. He could ask Granger his question another time, right?



Chapter Text

Hermione felt odd reading the Tale of the Three Brothers. Adding onto the surreal feeling that her best friend probably had an artifact from Death itself, was the well-loved aspect of the book in her hands. It felt terribly personal to hold a treasured children’s book even when she was on good terms with its owner; the fact that she was on neutral terms at best with Malfoy just accentuated it.

It felt the same way Muggle children’s books did– the ones that meant more to one’s morals than they had any right to. The ones that shaped your view of the world, but you never realized it until it was unearthed from some dusty box years later. It always ended in the sun casting long shadows through the west-facing windows as you felt tears on your cheeks and a hollow feeling in your chest because this dusty book is worth more to you than anything you’ve ever achieved.

It was simple, with a hardback cover and magazine-textured pages for durability. It lacked the fingerprints and dirt stains that usually accompanied children’s books, but it still had the worn corners of the spine and the creased pages.

Even magic couldn’t change that.

The story made the situation more surreal, so Hermione did what she always did when she didn’t know enough: she took notes. The Library might have answers now that she knew the story, ones not available without her newfound context.

She looked up to see Harry trying to fit things back in his bag, Ron looking thoughtful while clearly waiting for them, and Malfoy sitting next to her on the floor a few feet away. He was as focused as she had been, reading Harry’s copy of Hamlet that even Hermione hadn’t been able to borrow. She didn’t feel like unpacking that.

She sidled a little closer and peaked at what page he was on, curious as to where in the story he had gotten. She read the end of Horatio’s line saying “by heaven I charge thee, speak!” before Malfoy started, and looked up at her.

She smiled a little, realizing that she had just read over his shoulder without permission. “Sorry, I was just wondering where you had gotten up to.”

“It’s alright,” he frowned. “I do have a question for you.” He glanced uncertainly at the other two boys in the corridor, both of whom had gotten distracted by a spider; Harry curious and Ron terrified.

Hermione snorted at their antics as Harry gently picked up the spider by a leg and attempted to trap it in an empty jar.

“I, uh,” Malfoy was clearly getting derailed by their antics.

“I try to ignore them if I need to do anything serious.”

He looked at her in surprise, and she held back a laugh, letting the smile show through. “They can be quite distracting, don’t feel bad.”

He smiled uncertainly back, and looked down at the book.

Hermione let him take his time, watching as Harry finally trapped the spider and held it up triumphantly, much to Ron’s horror.

“I know you have your… disagreements,” Malfoy said carefully, chewing on his lip. “But Pansy Parkinson is my best friend. It feels wrong not telling her anything. I know she’s a notorious gossip,” he rushed to say, “but she would never spread anything about me, and since this kind of involves me now I think it would be fine, and I feel bad for not trusting her, but-”

“Malfoy.” Hermione interrupted him, seeing he was on the verge of a spiral.

He shut up.

“She’s your best friend, of course you want to tell her. I tell Harry and Ron pretty much everything.” She smiled as he blinked, looking dumbfounded. “It would be hypocritical of me to persuade you otherwise. That's not to say I don’t have issues with her, hell, I have plenty. But I also have empathy. It would be unfair of us to share amongst ourselves yet limit you to your closest family.”

Malfoy blinked, taking in her words. “I, uhh,” he blinked again. “Thanks.” His voice was somewhat rough, but she just smiled and nodded.

“Are you two done with that spider?”

The two of them looked over like deer caught in headlights, causing both her and Malfoy to laugh.

“I was just capturing it to take it outside!” Harry defended, but he was blushing a little in embarrassment.

“Uh huh,” said Hermione, amused.

“I told him to just get rid of it.”

“Some of us have basic respect for spiders, Ron.”

“Yeah? Well some of us have basic respect for our belongings.”

“A? Unfair. B? I kinda had to get used to spiders from a young age so you can shut up about them ‘having too many legs,’ or whatever.”

“I feel like a spider with fewer legs would be worse.” Malfoy was looking at his legs, which were crossed in front of him, his brow furrowed in disturbed thought.

Ron went pale, “I hate that you’re right. Partially because you’re you, but mostly because I now have that visual and that’s gonna be my nightmares for a week.”

Hermione let herself smile, seeing that Malfoy was becoming, against all odds, one of them.

As if sensing that she was getting slightly sappy, all three boys suddenly started grabbing their bags and getting ready to leave.

“Um, Potter? Can I borrow this or should I try to find a copy in the Library?” Malfoy was not quite making eye contact with Harry and he looked nervous , of all things.

Now that is interesting.

“Oh, you can borrow that for now. Do you like it so far?”

That is very interesting .

“I’m, uh, only on like page two, but yeah! It seems good so far. The language is odd, but I’ve gotten used to weirder what with the things I’ve had to read because of my family.”

Harry smiled, and fiddled with the strap on his bag. He had a slight blush, hidden by his complexion, and looked like he didn’t want the moment to end.

Malfoy, on his part, looked at peace for the first time in years, a soft smile on his face and his shoulders relaxed.

“I’m glad! It’s one of my favorites. It’s also really interesting considering what is acting and what is the truth of the characters, you’ll see.” Harry grinned, “I don’t want to spoil anything.”

Malfoy smiled in response, “of course not.”

Hermione looked across the current conversation at Ron, and they both raised their eyebrows at each other. Ron rolled his eyes, a rueful smile on his face.

Yeah, they really have no idea. That particular Gryffindor betting pool might have payouts this year after all.

Hermione cleared her throat, causing them both to jump. Hermione didn’t react, just offering Malfoy his book back, but she could see Ron shaking with suppressed laughter out of the corner of her eye.

“I wouldn’t want to take this from you.”

“Oh it’s alright. Keep it for as long as you need. Besides, it would be easier for you to explain why you have that in your possession than it would be for me. I grew up with those tales, you didn’t.”

“Are you sure?”

He nodded, “absolutely.”

She shrugged, putting it in her bag for the time being.

“Well,” Malfoy said. “I have a letter to send to my mother.” He turned to Hermione, “are you sure I can tell Pansy a piece of this?”

“She’s your best friend, Malfoy. I trust you to know what you can tell her and what you can’t.”

He nodded before turning and walking back out into the visible hall with no hesitation.

Ron and Hermione made eye contact over Harry’s head. They would certainly be having a conversation about this interaction later.

For now, however, it was time to harass Harry about his new spider friend.

~•~

When Narcissa had seen her son’s request, she knew times were changing. It was the vague manner in which he requested his favorite childhood story that tipped her off. Usually, he would go off on a rant that spanned (at the very least) two pages about how his friend was wrong.

This was different. This had been a note scribbled to help him sleep at night and also guarantee that she would get the package to him by the next school day. It was urgent– for someone he cared about rather than an ally.

So she told him the truth. Not in the letter, letters weren’t for telling the truth, they were for codes. Truth was what hidden notes were for.

So she went about her life in the second manor that had been poisoned with nightmares and dark magic, and waited for a letter in return. She was patient. Much more patient than her husband.

If he noticed a change in her he didn’t show it. Nobody did.

She knew it was for the best, but part of her wished that someone in the twisted halls of this nightmare would question her.

Nobody did.

She held herself like royalty; a crown on her head and a lit match in her hand, ready to burn all of her bridges at once at a moment’s notice for the sake of her son.




Chapter Text

Severus was going through a catalog and hating every second of it. See, it wasn’t a catalog he cared about. If it had been for ordering anything to do with Potions or books, he might hate it less. But this particular catalog had clothing in it.

Some of it was easy– white button-down dress shirts in the same size and style as the black ones, for instance. But some of it wasn’t.

He hadn’t had the chance to care about his fashion sense. Lily had given him advice, but that had been a different person she was advising, in a different age.

He wondered if it was normal that he felt the urge to learn necromancy just for fashion advice. He didn’t think it was.

Eventually, he got versions of his current clothing in more than just black. Some were white, some were grey, and a couple were blue or green. Nothing too dramatic, but it did make him question if he should have gone with purple or orange to avoid house colors once he sent the form off.

He then decided that was silly, no one looked good in orange. Or, at least, very few people did.

Severus sighed, pushing the catalog to the side as he pulled his next pile of papers toward him. This had furniture. More of the same . Refurbishing his office wasn’t necessary, but the Transfigured furniture was old and wouldn’t hold up as well as he would like it to.

He was pleasantly surprised in finding it easy, especially after ordering himself a new wardrobe. He kept the color palette to shades of green, with gold highlights instead of silver. Any wood pieces were a rich walnut; still dark, but now discernable as a type of actual wood and not stained by decades - perhaps even centuries - of misuse.

Furniture and clothing ordered, Severus continued to ignore the pile of essays that needed grading in favor of pulling the schedule that Minerva had sent out towards him. It told him the dates of all of the breaks, exams, and Hogsmeade weekends. The first one was the next weekend, ten days away. He pulled the announcement that went in the Common Room out, placing it to the side so he would remember to put it up later that evening. A quick spell sent the important dates into his calendar– he would look at them more carefully later.

It was only after sorting through the announcements that he pulled the essays toward himself and prepared to edit them.

It was one of the things that he had changed about his classes. He noticed that no one was teaching a class that had students turn in multiple drafts, meaning they never learned how to write well. It made more work for him, but in the long run, it would mean less work in the future since students would actually improve in their writing. His First Years turned in essays three times, since they were the youngest, with most of the other years turning them in twice; the first draft was handed back, they made improvements, and then he graded their second draft as a final for the class.

He had wanted Seventh Years to only have one draft since he figured they should know how to write by now, and it would also be less work for him. He had to switch them to two drafts, however, because they complained too much. He was going to change it to one draft after Christmas Break. If they complained that time, he could pull the “it will be good for your future” card. He did not want to keep editing this many essays.

It hadn’t taken long for him to decide that if an essay was fine as it was, he would talk to the student and let them turn it in as a final. It was a good incentive, made less work for him, and he also gave them three House Points for good academic work.

Today he was grading the Fifth Years. As he read through the essays, he was surprised to find Neville Longbottom’s essay to be the best of them all. He had been the first student to have a true turnaround in performance once Severus, well. Once he started trying to teach.

The assignment had been about the importance of learning not just helpful Potions, but also how to concoct poisons. Most of the students filled the length requirement with talk of recognizing Potions and poisons in case they encountered them, which Longbottom did mention (if anyone hadn’t they would immediately get points docked. It was so unbelievably obvious), but that wasn’t what he focused on. No, Longbottom focused on what Severus had heard he was good at: plants.

He talked about the ingredients of Potions, and how if one knew a plant was used in a poisonous brew, they could understand Potions that they had never heard of before, just by seeing the ingredient list. The kid had essentially written a thesis on the intersection of Herbology and Potions within the maximum requirement for length.

Severus marked the first student from his Slytherin/Gryffindor Fifth Year class to not have to write a second draft. The only issue was a misspelling of the word “necessary,” which took Severus three readings to catch. He nearly didn’t catch it, but he had seen Minerva write it on one of the papers she had sent him and had noticed the difference because of that.

As he completed marking the final essay, ready to organize all of his papers, the fire in his hearth roared up and shifted to a vibrant green. He looked up, not expecting a fire call from anyone.

He certainly did not expect the face of Sirius Black to be looking back at him, an unsure smile on his face.

~•~

Remus stood in the library of the Black Ancestral Home, wondering how he had gotten to this point. Sirius was in the other room in a fire call with Snape. The words barely made sense to him, but here he was, in Sirius’s library, with free reign over the books. He had free reign over the books .

He held back a wild grin, aware that not only was the library probably very cursed but also that he was there to make sure things didn’t go too far south between Sirius and Snape, as they tended to. He stepped carefully amongst the shelves, casting a spell to detect hostile magic over the general area for starters. The sheer amount of feedback he got from the spell was not encouraging, but he had studied the Dark Arts and the defense against them for a reason.

Remus pushed his sleeves up to his elbows, casting rapidly to identify the nearest source of hostile magic. This is what he enjoyed, what he was good at. In another life he would have become a curse breaker; the puzzle-like nature of the job excited him to no end.

He didn’t tell anyone, but he had reached a point where he could admit to himself that the wolf in him assisted in this work. It had taken a long time before he realized that he could actually smell Dark Magic.

Except it wasn’t necessarily, well, Dark .

In the time he spent away from wizarding society, Remus had educated himself on different types of magic. Dark and Light Magic had more to do with the practicality of the spells rather than intent. Light Magic was effortless and drew from the self and one’s environment to cast. It wasn’t that it couldn’t be difficult, Merlin could Light Magic be difficult, but for comparison’s sake, it was relatively effortless to direct the magic. Dark Magic, on the other hand, required equivalent exchange. It could be blood, or plants, or even, in extreme cases, a life. The point being, it cost something. This magic was more permanent, and some of his research hinted that legends of ley lines referenced this ancient connection. If someone put out enough magic, they might even be able to create a ley line, which made Remus wonder about the legend of Morgan le Fay, and how she went mad and became the Mad Sorceress Morgana.

Did it hold truth? Did she go mad after creating something like a ley line?

He continued to ponder questions of the laws of magic and creation as he untangled the hostile magic filling the library, tugging the bumps and pulling loose ends through as he undid the tapestry of bitterness and hate.

Remus didn’t know how long he remained there, working at the web pulled taught and anchored in the room he stood in. It was work that one could drown in and do endlessly until the task was done. All he knew is that when he was halfway through the room, he heard Sirius shout his name.

Remus blinked, coming back to the present. He wove the ends that he had freed together into a simple knot to keep them from tangling once again, the invisible strands obeying him easily at this point, resigned to his ministrations. He breathed deeply and walked from the library to the one comfortable sitting room in the house where Sirius had last been, in his call with Snape.

He felt his magic in and around him, happy to be used. He passed a mirror, and with a start, he realized that his wolf had lent him more magic, tinting his eyes more amber than hazel. He blinked a couple of times, the color dimming but not quite going away, appearing as flecks in his irises rather than changing their color entirely. He supposed that would have to do.

He walked into the sitting room, idly twirling his wand as he used to do with pencils and quills in school. Sirius was sitting on the rug in front of the hearth, still talking with Snape.

“Hey, I heard you call me?”

Sirius jumped, and looked up at him, a smile spreading across his face. “It wouldn’t kill you to make noise when you walk, Moony.”

Remus snorted, dropping down to sit criss-cross beside him. “So I was told a couple of days ago. Need me for anything?”

“Yeah,” Sirius started, “what the fuck is exorcism.”

Remus burst out laughing, “what?”

Snape pinched his nose from his spot in the flames. “I said that the students hate Binns and I offhandedly joked about performing an exorcism on him.”

Remus started laughing even harder, tipping and falling to the side in his mirth. When he had heard Sirius call his name, he had thought that things may have gotten out of hand, but no. Sirius just didn’t understand a Muggle concept.

“Moooony! I called you to help, not laugh at me!”

“Right, right, sorry,” Remus held back his laughter, feeling good in a way he hadn’t for a while. “It’s basically a way, according to the Christian Church, to banish malevolent spirits from this plane of existence. Also possibly demons but that might be a pop culture thing.”

Sirius wrinkled his nose, “how could evil spirits be pop culture?”

Remus made eye contact with Snape. He shook his head slightly, he was not about to explain the allure of horror movies to Sirius Black. The man already lived in a horrific enough house. Snape nodded subtly in return, and Remus felt grateful.

“The point is,” Remus got Sirius’s attention back, “it probably wouldn’t work on Binns because he isn’t malevolent, but you might be able to count his damaging impact on children not learning important history as malevolence. If exorcism even exists, that is. I have to admit that isn’t what I spent time researching. I looked into more, ah, concrete things.”

Sirius was frowning at him, studying his face.

“What did you research?” Snape sounded curious enough.

“The divide between Light and Dark Magic and their practical use versus popular opinion and understanding of them.” Remus shifted, very aware of Sirius’s unwavering stare.

Snape, on the other hand, looked impressed. “I have to admit, that isn’t something I really wanted to learn about, all things considered. My personal studies were similar to Lily’s, the combination of Muggle science with magic.”

Remus grinned, “did you know that from a technical perspective Potions as a whole should be considered a Dark Art?”

Snape opened his mouth, looking disturbed, but was interrupted by Sirius.

“What magic were you doing before you came in here?”

“How could you tell I was doing magic?”

Sirius raised an eyebrow.

Remus gave in. “I was uncursing the library.”

His other eyebrow shot up. “Did it work at all?”

“Yeah? I was halfway done when I heard you shout for me.” Remus wrinkled his brow in confusion as Sirius leaned forward and rested his head against the floor. “Did- did I say something wrong? Did you want to keep the web of hostile magic in there? I can stop unweaving it if you like.”

Sirius made an agonized sound into the floor.

“I could also finish getting rid of it if you like.” Remus felt out of his depth. He looked up at Snape in the fire, only to see his bafflement reflected back at him.

Sirius finally sat up. He turned very slowly to look at Remus. “That magic would not budge. I have been in this hell for months , and that was the one room where none of the curses would shift. I tried everything, it was worse than my mother’s awful portrait. At least I can tell that she’s there, even if I can’t get rid of her. Even Kreacher , who is part of the house at this point, could do nothing about the library. And you’re telling me, that you just undid half of the maze of curses in there, in half an hour ?”

“Uh, yes?”

“Remus John Lupin, if anything happens to you I would burn the world down.”

“I– ” Remus felt himself blushing, eyes wide at the dramatic proclamation. He sat there like that as Sirius went back to speaking to Snape, barely coming back to himself enough to excuse himself and wander to the kitchen.

Mental confusion was always something to be wary of when dealing with curses, and he didn’t want Sirius to have to go through with his promise so soon.

It was as he was sitting at the long table in the kitchen, picking at his grilled cheese, that it hit him.

Oh no. I’m in love with him.

He looked up with panicked eyes to see Kreacher asking him if he would like anything to drink. He shook his head silently. The elf frowned and got him a glass of water anyway.

Remus gulped it down quickly and placed it back on the table.

“Wolfy is panicking.”

Remus snorted at the nickname. “My wolf is actually perfectly calm right now, ironically enough.”

Kreacher tilted his head to the side. “Wolfy is different from Lupin?”

He nodded.

The elf seemed to consider this. “Sometimes yous is Wolfy, and sometimes you is Lupin.”

Another nod. He wasn’t sure if he tried to speak anything other than a scream would come out, and he didn’t want to worry Sirius.

“Lupin had a realization, and Wolfy is fine with it, but it scares Lupin.” Kreacher summarized.

Remus let out a slightly hysterical laugh, releasing some of the pressure in his chest. Kreacher refilled his glass, which had been drained to the halfway mark rather quickly.

“Does Lupin not wish Master Sirius to know?”

“Something like that,” Remus pulled the sleeves of his sweater down over his hands.

“Master Sirius would not resent Lupin for anything. Kreacher has seen how much he cares for yous.”

Remus sighed, “this is different, Kreacher. It’s not a resentment thing.”

He saw the elf’s ears flop in his peripheral vision as he turned his head. “Kreacher thinks Lupin should tell someone, even if Lupin does not tell Master Sirius.”

Remus raised an eyebrow, “are you volunteering?”

Kreacher either ignored his deadpan delivery or didn’t notice it. “Kreacher is not seeing anyone else.”

The ex-Professor sighed, feeling sure that his wolf was laughing at him for his dramatics. “I’m in love with him, Kreacher. That’s not exactly something I can just bring up and pretend everything is still normal afterward.”

The elf’s eyes got very big, and he got quiet.

“Yeah,” he sighed and finished his glass of water, looking dispassionately at his abandoned grilled cheese sandwich.

“Kreacher understands. Kreacher will not tell Master Sirius unless ordered to.”

Remus let a small smile slip through. “Thanks, Kreacher. I think I’m going to go back to removing the curses from the library.” He stood up, picking up his wand and pushing his sleeves back up past his elbows.

“Wolfy was helping with the curses.”

“Huh?”

“Wolfy was helping with the curses,” Kreacher repeated.

“I mean, yes.” Remus was confused. “He always does when I use a substantial amount of magic.”

“Master Sirius could not remove curses. Lupin and Wolfy can.”

“Oh!” Remus realized, “the combined power is what made it possible?”

The elf nodded emphatically. “Master Sirius is all Light Magic, and Kreacher is not powerful enough. Lupin is powerful and Wolfy is Dark.”

The werewolf studied the elf for a second. “You’re smarter than I thought.” With that, he went back up the stairs to complete his self-assigned task.

Chapter Text

When Draco sat down at her table in the library, he clearly had something on his mind. Normally, he would greet Pansy, or at the very least acknowledge her.

Today, however, he sat down, a frown on his face, not looking up from the book that he was reading. It was a small hardcover, roughly four inches across and seven inches tall. The pages seemed yellowed with age, reminding her of the time Narcissa had let them stain a pirate map they had made with tea when they were children. One finger was trailing back and forth across the front cover, which appeared to be cloth of some sort. The mysterious book was blue, somewhat faded in places from the sun, and had faded gold lettering, though she couldn’t quite make it out what with the angle he held it at.

She had never seen the book before, but he seemed fully engrossed in whatever story lay within its pages.

Fully engrossed until, that is, he looked up and seemed to make eye contact with someone behind her. Pansy pretended to be focused on organizing the day’s notes, but looked up when Draco nodded and the person walked over and took a seat at the table.

When Harry Potter walked around her to take a seat at their table.

She turned to Draco and raised an eyebrow, but he was looking at Potter expectantly.

The boy in question smirked, and held up a sizable mirror shard– clearly broken, but still the size of his palm. “I come bearing news.”

Draco raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”

The smirk deeped. “First Hogsmeade weekend is the week after this one. You can check your Common Room tonight for confirmation. I’ve been told that the Professors themselves were told this today.” He turned to Pansy, “Parkinson, I don’t believe we’ve ever had a positive interaction before. Despite this, I would like to ask you to send anyone who might be interested in investigative reporting my way. I have a project I’m interested in, and if anyone knows people’s aspirations it’s you or Lavender, and I honestly prefer talking to you.”

Pansy raised an eyebrow at him, a clear challenge and also to mask her surprise. “Oh? What would be in it for them?”

He grinned, “the story of a lifetime. It would change the way the wizarding world functions from the ground up.” He shrugged, becoming more nonchalant. “But you don’t have to take my word for it.” Here he glanced at Draco, who snorted and rolled his eyes.

“He’s telling the truth, Pans. Although you do need to remember that he’s probably asking you about this because he despises his current option, experienced though they may be.”

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t forget the letter.” Potter stood to leave.

“I won’t,” Draco pulled parchment and his quill out of his bag.

“I don’t know how you all use those,” Potter seemed genuinely against quills.

Pansy frowned, “what else would you use?”

“A pencil. A pen.” He gave her a bleak look. “If I wanted to be fancy I would use a fountain pen. Quills are not useful.”

“A fountain pen?” Her brow wrinkled, “what’s that?”

Potter sat back down, and started rifling through his bag. It seemed to fit a lot more inside of it than there was room for.

“Does your bag have an undetectable extension charm on it?” She hadn’t expected that from her chaotic yearmate. Then again, she really didn’t know much about him.

He shrugged noncommittally, “I don’t know what Hermione has done to this thing, and I’m too scared to ask.”

Draco looked up from the letter he was writing, “that’s understandable. Do you know how far away the other guests are from Hogsmeade?”

“There’s a floo connection.” Potter pulled a small zippered pouch from his bag, a triumphant look on his face. He dropped his bag on the floor and proceeded to rifle through this secondary, smaller bag.

“If you pull a third bag out of there I am going to lose my mind.” It occurred to Pansy that she should not be acting this calm about the sudden change in reactions that Potter and Draco had toward one another, but at the same time Draco was more of a softie than he wanted anyone to know.

If they had found common ground, nothing was going to separate them. It also explained Draco’s closed off behavior these past few days– he had probably wanted to tell her about this new development but hadn’t been sure yet.

Potter laughed at her remark, his head thrown back in mirth, and Pansy saw Draco’s soft smile out of the corner of her eye.

Ah. So that’s why he didn’t want to tell me. She smiled to herself.

“No, no. I just keep all of my writing utensils in here so they don’t get lost. I spent ages trying to find this” he held up the mysterious mirror shard, “earlier. Here:” he pulled out a cylindrical object and presented it to her. She turned it around in her hands, confused, and he sighed and motioned for her to give it back.

“It has a cap, here:” he tugged at a part of the tube-like object, and a piece came off in his hands after a decisive click . Pansy blinked in surprise, expecting it to break, but it seemed it was supposed to come apart. Underneath what she could now see was a protective casing of some sort, was a metal nib much like the ones on the end of some of the higher-end quills. It was different, however, in that it had some sort of inkwell made of a hard clear material integrated into the underside.

Potter tugged a journal out of his bag and tore out an empty page. Pansy was surprised to see it had regular parallel horizontal lines on it. He made a squiggle with the ‘fountain pen’ on the paper, and ink flowed smoothly from the nib– much smoother than any quill she had ever seen. Her eyes lit up, and she reached for it even before he offered it over, immediately testing it out on his paper. She started with lines and swirls before writing her name and various other words. It felt amazing.

“Where did you get this,” it was more of a demand than a question.

Potter held back a grin, “they’re actually quite popular in the Muggle world. Muggles stopped using quills in around the seventeen- or eighteen-hundreds, replacing them first with fountain pens, like the one you’re holding, and then later with other types of pens such as ballpoints and felt tips. Then there’s also pencils, but I’m not sure about the timeline for those. Pretty similar, I would imagine.”

Pansy and Draco stared at him.

Potter leaned his chair back, two legs off the ground and one hand balancing his weight by gripping the table. “The reason my handwriting sucked for so long is I didn’t realize I could just use a fountain pen and none of the Professors would notice. Quills are significantly harder to use, which always confused me and Hermione.” He wrinkled his nose, “while I appreciate the enthusiasm, that particular fountain pen was a gift to me from someone special so I would prefer to get you one that doesn’t hold sentimental value.”

When they still didn’t respond, Potter sighed, and continued “you guys do know that Muggles stepped foot on the moon in 1969, right?”

Pansy and Draco looked at each other. It seemed they had been told a truth that was more omission than fact.

Pansy turned to Potter, frowning. “I have a person for you: me. I’m interested in journalism. I’ll help you write your piece on one condition: you teach us about the Muggle world. We clearly haven’t been taught anything recent or of value.” She put his pen back down and held out her hand to shake.

“Well this feels like First Year all over again,” he grasped her hand firmly, and they shook. “It’s a deal.”




Chapter Text

“Guess who just made a deal with the devil.” Harry dumped his bag on the floor and dropped down on the sofa next to Hermione.

She looked up from her book, seated on a couch in the Gryffindor Common Room. “Oh?”

“Yup.”

“Define devil.”

“Pansy Parkinson. Also, I got the date for Hogsmeade and told Malfoy. Making a deal with her was just a side effect of that. It’s the weekend after this one.”

“What was the deal?” Hermione didn’t exactly lack trust in Harry’s deal-making judgment, but that wasn’t to say it didn’t make her nervous.

“She’s interested in investigative reporting, which helps me, and in return, I teach her about pens and other Muggle… stuff. I only told them about fountain pens and the moon landing so far so I’m not sure what either one of them would be interested in.”

“The moon landing?” Hermione stifled a laugh.

Harry grinned despite himself. “They were just staring at me when I told them Muggles stopped using quills in like the seventeen- or eighteen hundreds, so I asked them if they knew that Muggles had been to the moon in 1969.”

She and Harry looked at each other for a second before bursting out laughing, drawing the attention of several of the other people in the Common Room.

“Just wait until they find out about the Mars landings,” Hermione gasped out between giggles.

“Oh my god, ‘Mione.” Harry leaned forward, his eyes wet from laughing so hard, “we could tell them that James Bond is real. We could tell them that Star Wars is real.”

Dean Thomas chose this exact moment to walk into the Common Room from the dorms. “Did you say something about Star Wars?”

This, of course, sent Harry and Hermione into another bout of hysterics. After they had calmed down, Dean taking the time to walk over to them, Harry nodded. “I was saying that because of the lack of crossover between our worlds, we could probably convince at least a couple Purebloods that Star Wars actually happened.”

Dean’s eyes lit up. “Have you seen Ron lately?”

Harry scrambled to his feet, “no, but I want to witness this once you find him.”

~•~

Hermione didn’t end up seeing them tell Ron that Star Wars was real, but she certainly heard about it. It spread through the castle like most Hogwarts gossip did– unreasonably quickly and getting more absurd as time went on.

By the time she made her way to a secluded table in the labyrinthine shelves of the library, there had been at least one rumor of Merlin being a Jedi and several about how lightsabers evolved into wands. It was up there as one of the strangest things she had heard, but her best friend’s godfather could turn into a dog, so there was a certain level of desensitization. What she was not expecting, was a visitor.

Don’t get her wrong, Hermione didn’t lack friends. Harry and Ron weren’t the only people to visit her in the library, she was close to Ginny as well and often studied with Neville. But she knew all of those people quite well– they were family to her.

No one else sought her out in her corner surrounded by old student documents and yearbooks, dust tangible in the air more intensely than the visible dust motes would warrant. The ground itself seemed to have a layer of dust over the carpet that had gone undisturbed for decades. It was a corner untouched by time, with one shiny table free of dust in the middle. Even just dropping a bag on the table too suddenly could stir up a cloud of dust, sending the girl into a sneezing fit.

That was what alerted her to her visitor. Not the muffled footsteps coming her way, nor the sound of a chair being dragged to her table. No, those were normal for her semi-frequent visitors, so she ignored them. It was the bag getting dropped deliberately onto the table from six inches above the surface, causing Hermione to sneeze twice before looking up, elbow still up in front of her face. Looking up straight into the face of Pansy Parkinson.

Hermione raised an eyebrow, face still resting in the crook of her elbow to both block out dust, and in case of another sneeze.

“What the fuck is a Jedi?”

She couldn’t help it, Hermione burst out laughing. It was partially a result of the odd situation she found herself in, but also the question itself would throw anyone aware of pop culture off guard. Well, Muggle pop culture.

“I’m serious, Granger. I wouldn’t be asking if I wasn’t, this is the first story to enter the rumor-mill of Hogwarts that includes an aspect that I don’t understand.”

“Sorry,” Hermione gasped out, still laughing. “It’s just that with context that is one of the most ridiculous questions that you could have asked me in our first civil interaction.”

Parkinson didn’t look fully mollified, but she sat down and waited for Hermione’s laughter to subside all the same. She dragged her school bag (which she had dropped on the table) towards her, using one hand to tuck her hair behind one ear.

Parkinson’s hair was everything that Hermione’s wasn’t. It was straight and black, cut in a bob just below her jawline; Hermione’s hair, by contrast, was either dirty blond or brown, depending on how much sun she got, and was more ringlet than hair. It had taken her a while to learn that brushing it just damaged her hair, which is why it had just been bushy in her first few years at Hogwarts. Now it was a mess of curls framing her face. Sometimes she braided it, but she often let it frame her face like a cloud.

Today was one of those times, and she pushed some of it out of her face as she took a deep breath, steadying herself after the laughter.

“The rumors aren't true, whatever they’ve distorted to at this point. It’s just a case of Harry and Dean not recognizing Harry’s influence when fucking with Ron, in all honesty.”

Parkinson blinked at the swear, reminding Hermione of her talent in censoring herself in front of Professors. She sometimes forgot that most people at Hogwarts only interacted with her when there was a teacher around, and thus only saw the academic side of her.

“Thanks, but that still didn’t answer my question.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I’m getting there. Basically, Harry mentioned the fact that Purebloods don’t know about the moon landing, and since we both grew up with Muggles that seems absolutely insane to us. It’s like how you all act so shocked when we say we don’t know what Quidditch is, but everyone is excited about space, not just jocks.”

Parkinson smiled a little at that, which encouraged Hermione to continue with renewed vigor.

“From there, we were like ‘oh my god, we could convince someone that James Bond and Star Wars,’ which are popular pieces of fiction media, ‘are real.’” Hermione smiled, “I think you might be able to see where this is going.”

Parkinson nodded cautiously.

“So, as we’re joking about that, and laughing, Dean walks into the Common Room. Since he’s also a Muggleborn, he asks us about how he heard mention of Star Wars, and he and Harry decided to convince Ron that it actually happened.”

“And that resulted in the mess that is now the Hogwarts rumor mill?” She looked disappointed in her fellow students.

Hermione shrugged, “probably. I mean, in Star Wars, a Jedi is like a mix between the knight in shining armor trope and a wizard. They aren’t real, but I understand how the Merlin connection could be made. If someone wrote an essay about it for Muggle Studies they would probably get top marks for the rest of the year.”

“Then it’s a shame I don’t take that class.”

“Oh it sucks, it doesn’t teach anything useful about the Muggle world. It would be more useful as an integrated class highlighting the differences and similarities between the Muggle and magical worlds, but Dumbledore is too much of an arrogant coward to do anything useful with our education system as far as improvements go.”

Parkinson’s eyebrows shot up at that, and Hermione was reminded yet again of her reputation. “I was under the impression that you respected the man.”

“I respect those that respect and protect those important to me. He has gone out of his way to do neither, instead putting his problems on those younger and less experienced than he.”

“You’re talking about Potter, aren’t you?” There was a curiosity in her eyes, lighting her up from within. Far be it from Hermione to deny someone knowledge.

She smiled. “Who else? As much as he may want to mask it as preparing him for the future, the fact of the matter is he’s putting a child at risk. Not only that, but he’s doing so while said child is under the protection of the school he is charged with running. There’s a reason Gryffindor respects Professor McGonagall above everyone else, and while her iron will is a part of it, that isn’t the only aspect of her character that is admirable. She is just and fair, and while sometimes it can be easy to resent someone who doesn’t only take the side of your House, she does it to hold us all responsible and make us better people. If we never faced consequences we would never become better.”

“And who is more biased than Dumbledore,” Parkinson nodded, a soft respect in her eyes, although Hermione was not sure it was solely for McGonagall.

“To be fair, You-Know-Who is probably a bit more biased, but he did go to this school while Dumbledore taught here.” Hermione watched Parkinson as she made the casual claim, noting the fire reigniting in her eyes at the words. The curiosity was there, all Hermione had to do was give fuel to the fire.

“He did? How do you know?” She was leaning forward, up out of her seat. Harry had picked a perfect candidate as a… well. Not as a replacement for Skeeter, but as a collaborator .

She didn’t respond to the girl right away, instead standing up and making her way to a nearby filing cabinet. It was the same one she had opened when speaking to Malfoy, and so it opened even easier than before, sliding open after one sharp yank that flexed her arm and nothing else. The first time she had opened this particular drawer she had had to put most of her body weight behind it. No one even thought about these old files anymore.

She removed the same fifty-year-old yearbook and placed it open on the table, easily flipping through the pages to find his class. She could have probably flipped directly to the page, but the movements of the pages added to the metaphoric spell she was weaving through this moment.

“Everyone always complains about finding him attractive,” she spun the book to face Parkinson where she was seated across from her, and pushed it toward the girl, one finger pinning the book in place right above Tom’s portrait.

Parkinson raised an eyebrow at the picture. “Not exactly my type, but certainly better than I’ve heard he is now.”

Hermione snorted. “No kidding.” She studied Parkinson for a moment, the serious focus on her face and the feathery blinking of her eyelashes. “Harry told me you were the person he found who was interested in investigative reporting.”

It wasn’t a question, but Parkinson answered anyway with a careful nod.

Hermione tapped Tom’s picture. “This is what we want to publish an article on. Not in the Daily Prophet, we aren’t daft, but it will get published. You can use a pseudonym if you want or need to. We’re gonna publish the bastard’s history and see where the pieces lie in the aftermath. Most of us are in this not for a war, but to survive. We aren’t here to stand by the side of the Chosen One. We aren’t here for a prophecy that has destroyed more lives than it has saved. We are here because we are family to one another, and that comes before anything else. Hell, some of us barely have a family that isn’t this little fucked up group of scavengers. I understand if that is not appealing to you, but in case you ever need us, we are here.”

Parkinson blinked furiously and took a shaky deep breath. Hermione gave her time to respond, leaning back and removing her hands from the book, leaving it open on the table.

“Thank you for giving me the option.” She took a deep breath before looking up, dark blue eyes glossy and seeming to look into Hermione’s soul. “Most of us don’t have that kind of option. I hope you’ll extend the offer to the other unfortunate souls of Slytherin House.”

Hermione nodded quietly. Her interactions with Malfoy had given her the impression that many of that House felt backed into a corner.

“I can’t promise the same reception or level of trust, but I can promise that there are people who are willing to help regardless of history. Several of us know what it is like to be forced down a path we don’t agree with, or to be manipulated by someone we look up to. We put safety first.” She let slip a wry smile, “although to be fair, we probably need to get on the task of acquiring more safehouses at this point. We only have two, and one of them is a flat and the other is the worst house I’ve ever stepped foot in. Also, both of them have people living in them already.”

This last line seemed to catch Parkinson off guard. “You have people out of school helping you?”

Hermione snorted, “Parkinson, you have no idea. Tell Malfoy I’m extending an invitation to you for our Hogsmeade get-together. Everyone in our little group will be there, and a dog. You’ll see.”

She blushed. “Thank you, Granger.” She hesitated, “also, please call me Pansy. You sound like my relatives.”

Hermione grinned, “okay, Pansy. Just as long as First Year-you never finds out.”

It was hard to pinpoint the warmth she felt as Pansy tilted her head back in laughter at her joke. Things certainly were changing.