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Harry Potter and the Mother Who Lived

Chapter Text

PROLOGUE

October 31, 1981

Most wizards and witches would not have done this. Most wizards and witches would simply have thrown a spell and let the sheets, blankets, pillows and even the toys arrange themselves on their own. But Lily Jane Evans Potter wasn't like most witches.

She cautiously positioned each and every component of the cot, making sure everything was in its right place. When it was over, she gave a swing to the wheel above the cot, and the toys attached to it began to circle, hovering over where her son would soon be asleep. There were four toys. One was a Golden Snitch, another was a broom, of James' choice. The other two represented a helicopter and a car. Only the latter was unable to fly.

James had not understood why she insisted on placing Muggles' toys in their son's chamber, but he hadn't opposed it. By now, he knew better than to argue with her over such details. She didn't blame him, though. James was a wizard, born in a grand, ancient, and rich family of wizards. Magic had always been part of his life, and before he met Lily, he never really cared about the world of Muggles. But Lily had grown in a family of Muggles, and had thought for years that she was just that, a Muggle. That was, until the boy who lived close to her home told her she was a witch.

But that boy was long gone. He was dead to her. She chased this thought from her mind. The important was that she didn't want her son to grow exclusively in a magic world. She wanted him to be aware of that other world, the one his mother came from. In such times where hatred towards Muggles was so widespread among wizards, it was more than vital in her eyes. They had to remember the worlds of wizards and Muggles were connected, and that they had to live alongside Muggles, as equals.

She heard the laughs of a child coming from below. A smile came to her lips as she guessed immediately what was going on. She went down the stairs to find her husband in their small sitting room, with their son on his knees, trying to catch the small puffs of colored smoke his father created with his wand. She watched Harry playing with his father for a moment, but she knew she couldn't let them continue.

"Time to sleep."

"Does he look like he wants to sleep?" James asked, continuing his game with their one-year-old son.

"I wasn't asking, neither to him, neither to you."

James seized Harry by the waist, stood up and handed him to his wife. "Be quiet, little boy."

"If he is anything like his father... wish me good luck."

James and Lily shared a knowing smile, the one they always shared when they laughed about the same thing, in this case James' own restlessness and recklessness. He threw his wand down on the sofa and stretched, yawning, as Lily walked away towards the stairs. Her husband didn't like being confined. Lily didn't like it either, but she endured much better than James. For Harry's safety, it was a sacrifice she was willing to make. And at least, it gave them all the time in the world to take care of their son.

As she climbed the stairs, she heard a creak, or so she thought. She hesitated at the top of the stairs, but decided it was probably nothing. Until the unmistakable sound of the door bursting open resonated downstairs. Blood stopped running into her veins as she took a step down, Harry still in her arms.

"Lily, take Harry and go! It's him! Go! Run! I'll hold him off..."

As James shouted to her, a cold, demonic laugh filled the house.

"Avada Kedavra!"

From where she stood, Lily couldn't see the hall, but the green light was reflected by the walls.

"Nooooooooooooo!"

No, how could it be? He was there... Voldemort... James... The Fidelius Charm...

The side of a black cloak appeared at the bottom of the stairs.

Lily ran to Harry's bedroom and placed him in his cot. She reached for her pocket... but her wand wasn't there. She had left it behind, in the kitchen. And between her and the kitchen were the stairs, with Voldemort climbing them in this very moment.

Not thinking, Lily closed the door and locked it. Then she took everything she could find, chairs, boxes, toys, even a coat, and placed them against the door, anything with the smallest chance to hold him off.

She quickly realized it was futile. There was a window in the room. Maybe they could escape this way. She seized Harry, who was laughing, not realizing the situation. Perhaps he thought this was all a game, looking at his mother piling things up against the door.

The door exploded behind her, as she hugged him strong against her, hoping to protect him from the debris. She turned her head and saw him, standing in the doorway, a black cloak covering a white bald face with red eyes, slit pupils and snake nostrils, while he pointed a wand towards her with long fingers like spiders.

She knew what that man was capable of. She and James had fought him three times, and the three times they had escaped. Ever since they left school, they dedicated their lives to fighting Voldemort. He just killed her husband. And he wasn't even after James, or after her. It was Harry that he wanted.

She placed Harry in the cot. He was calm. When she looked into his eyes, he just stared back. He didn't understand what was going on. He didn't understand that the most evil wizard in the world had come to kill him, all because of a stupid prophecy.

Her husband was already dead, down in the hall. Harry was all that she had left. She turned to face the man she had fought for years.

"Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!"

She didn't care if she died in this instant. All that mattered was her son. She knew Voldemort would kill her, but if there was even the slightest chance that she could save Harry this way...

To her surprise, he didn't kill her.

"Stand aside, you silly girl... stand aside now..." he said with his cold voice.

"Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead..." She was the one who fought him. If he wanted to kill someone, let it be her, but not her son.

"This is my last warning..."

"Not Harry! Please... have mercy", she begged. "Have mercy. Not Harry! Not Harry! Please... I'll do anything..."

"Stand aside. Stand aside, girl!"

"Please, don't kill him. Kill me instead, but not him."

He raised his wand in her direction. She knew in that very moment what was coming. She was going to die.

But nothing happened. Nothing. No spell came out. The Killing Curse didn't strike her.

Then a force came out of the wand pointed towards her. Lily's back came against the wall, right where the window was. She hit her head against the side of it, causing a pain like she never experienced in her life. Then her body was moved to her right and she hit another wall, then another, and again another. She was tossed from one side of the room to another like she was a doll. When she finally came down on the floor, she felt every single bone in her body was broken. The pain was unimaginable.

"I only said I wouldn't kill you, not that I wouldn't hurt you so much you would wish you were dead. Crucio!"

She never thought it would hurt so much. She had already experienced the Torture Curse, but never like this, not when her body was already broken. She screamed like she never did before, but all she could think about was Harry.

She held to that thought, to the thought of her little boy. Maybe Voldemort would be so focused on torturing her that he would forget about her son. Three times the Dark Lord threw the Torture Curse at her, and three times she endured with all the strength she could muster, thinking of her boy just next to her.

After the third curse, she laid on the ground, panting, her body totally lifeless, preparing for the next round. But it didn't come. In the silence that followed the chaos, she heard Harry cry. Lily opened her eyes, trying to see through her mangled dark red hair. She witnessed as Voldemort turned his wand towards Harry.

"No."

She was so weak. She tried to scream, but nothing came out. She tried to raise her hand, without success. Everything in her was broken. Her little boy was about to die, and there was nothing she could do about it. She witnessed, powerless, as the words came out.

"Avada Kedavra!"

A great flash of green light engulfed the room, and a strong force threw Lily into the air where she went to collide against the wall one last time, losing all awareness of what happened afterwards.

 


 

When she regained consciousness, she was in a bed. Slowly, she opened her eyes, which made her turn under the strong light coming straight into her eyes. She tried to say something, but it stayed stuck in her mouth. She tried again.

"Harry."

She tried again, a little louder this time.

"Harry."

She heard footsteps. Then a feminine voice spoke. "She's woken up."

She turned her head, to great efforts, and saw a shape she didn't expect to find. "Madam Pomfrey."

"Stay in bed, Lily." She pushed back Lily who was trying to sit. Anyway, she didn't think she had enough strength to do it right now. She felt so empty. She heard a few strong taps next to her. "Wake up, you lazy man."

A man who wore clothes so damaged he looked homeless was sitting next to her, and he was waking up after Madam Pomfrey almost slapped him. As soon as his eyes opened, all his attention was on her.

"Lily. How do you feel?" Remus asked.

"Harry," she whispered again.

"He's fine, Lily. He's only sleeping." He pointed on the other side of her bed. Lily slowly turned her head, and she saw a small form in a cot nearby. She tried to raise her hand towards him, without success. She was too weak.

"We feared the worst," Remus said. "When we arrived at the house, it was about to collapse. We hurried before the Muggles got there."

She looked at him. "James?"

Remus' face took a darker tone. He looked at his shoes. Lily closed her eyes as the tears began to fall. Her husband, the man she loved, was dead. Harry was alive and safe, but his father was gone. They had joined the Order together, had fought Voldemort for the sake of their son, and for the other children they hoped to have if fate allowed it. And now James was gone. So many people had died. She had just hoped she and James would get through all this, be able to raise Harry in a better world.

"He loved you so much, Lily," Remus, his voice contracted by sadness too. "He gave up his life so you and Harry could live."

This didn't make her feel better. Oh, James. She had hated him a long time ago, back when they were at Hogwarts. She only fell in love with him late, in their final year, when he changed. But even before, James had always been ready to die for those he loved. This was the one thing that brought her to him, among all the other boys who wished to date her. How happy he had looked the day she finally accepted to go on a date with him. And now he was gone, victim of his own courage, of the thing that made her fall in love with him.

The door of the infirmary opened. A very old and tall wizard with silvery long hair and beard, half-moon glasses, and a very long and crooked noise walked in. Remus stood up as soon as he realized that Albus Dumbledore was standing in front of them. The principal of Hogwarts was considered the most powerful wizard in the world, and the leader of the Order of the Phoenix, to which Remus and Lily both belonged. He smiled sadly at Lily when he saw her.

"I came as soon as I could. You are a warm sight to an old man's eyes, Lily Evans."

To Dumbledore, Lily had always remained the Evans girl, even long after she married James. She wished she could stand, or at least sit, but she was in a such a poor state, both physically and emotionally, that she could barely remain conscious.

Madam Pomfrey intervened at this moment. "Professor Dumbledore, she needs rest. Her spine was severely damaged, as were most of the bones in her body. She suffered several concussions and head trauma. My remedies will take time to make her heal perfectly."

"I understand, Madam Pomfrey, but if you could give me five minutes. I swear it will not be long. Remus, can you please give us a moment?"

James' friend nodded immediately. He gave one last compassionate look to Lily, then left the infirmary. Madam Pomfrey also left them, walking towards her office, but Albus Dumbledore insisted she went outside the corridor. This conversation was for no one to hear but he and Lily. Reluctantly, Hogwarts' healer left her infirmary, but not without reminding to Dumbledore he only had four minutes and fifty seconds left.

The Hogwarts Headmaster came to sit by her side, a compassionate expression on his face.

"I'm sorry for James, Lily." Hearing his name was painful for her. She looked to the other side, to Harry. He was all she had left.

"I should have been there to protect him. I should have had my wand on me. I should have fought."

"Even if you did, he would have killed you," Dumbledore said on a soothing tone. "And Harry would be an orphan right now."

She cried. "I don't understand. I should be dead. Why? Why spare me and kill James? And try to kill Harry? He is just a baby."

"That... I'm not sure we will ever get an answer to this question. But there are important things to consider now Lily. Voldemort is gone."

She looked back at Dumbledore. "What?"

"It's not very clear for now, but it seems that when he tried to kill Harry, the curse bounced back and hit him instead."

She was confused. "Voldemort... is dead."

Dumbledore looked down. "I'm afraid he's not. We didn't find his body. It was probably destroyed in the explosion. The house was collapsing when we found you. We found his cloak, and his wand. I'm afraid he's still alive, somewhere, but too weak. The Ministry of Magic is already gathering resources and manpower to take down all his disciples."

That brought back her attention. "I've got to get out of here." She proceeded to sit. She had to stand up. For years they had fought, with little progress. So many of them had died fighting Voldemort and his followers. If they had a chance to bring them down, she had to be there. For Harry. For James. But she ended lying on her back again. The pain was horrible.

"You need rest, Lily. Voldemort may not have killed you, but he hurt you in all the other ways he could imagine. Anyway, it's not in the battlefield that you are the most needed right now. There's someone far more important who needs you."

He glanced over Lily's shoulder, and she followed his gaze to the cot, where Harry was still sleeping peacefully. Did her son have any idea of what had happened tonight? He was just into the world, and already he had his father murdered and his mother almost killed in front of his own eyes.

"Things are going to be very different from now on, Lily. Your son is going to be famous very soon. Word is already spreading of what happened tonight. There will not be a single child in our world who will ignore his name. All that before he can walk and talk, and for something he won't even remember. Do you understand, Lily?"

She kept her eyes on her son. He looked so peaceful right now. She envied him.

"I know you just lost James, but we must think about Harry right now. He's the one whose life will be forever changed by tonight's events."

Lily turned her head to look back at Dumbledore. "What should I do?"

Dumbledore cast a gaze at his watch. "I'm afraid our five minutes are exhausted." As if she had read his mind (as if it was possible to read Dumbledore's mind), Madam Pomfrey burst back into the infirmary, seeming ready to kick out the very headmaster of the school. "We'll discuss it later, when you've had time to rest. I guess you will give her some sleeping potion, Madam Pomfrey."

"Yes, I will," she replied on a severe tone. Dumbledore stood up, placing his hand warmly on Lily's shoulder with one last compassionate look, then walked away. It was then that Lily had a very strange question.

"What am I doing at Hogwarts? Why wasn't I brought to St Mungo's."

"I thought you would appreciate some privacy. And you are much safer here at Hogwarts."

This time, Dumbledore truly left, and Lily was stuck with the authoritarian healer of Hogwarts who almost forced her to drink the sleeping potion she had prepared. Soon, Lily drifted back into the darkness for a dreamless sleep. She needed it, but it was only temporary, and when she woke up, her heart was still as broken as before.

She had lost her husband, James, to Voldemort, and now she had to take care of their son alone, to protect him from everything in the world of magic that would threaten to break him. She was the Mother Who Lived.

Chapter Text

HARRY I

1991

Harry woke up with a start.

"Up. Get up. Now." The knocking on the door got him out of his sleep.

He groaned. His aunt Petunia was truly a witch. He seized his glasses and sat in his bed, then... nothing happened. Something was wrong. He wasn't in the cupboard under the stairs...

Harry groaned again, placing his fist against his forehead. What an idiot he was. He had just made a dream. Well, more a nightmare than a dream. He was living with his uncle and aunt Vernon and Petunia Dursley, and with his cousin Dudley, and they forced him to sleep in a cupboard filled with spiders and to wear ragged old clothes of his cousin. And the dream had continued in his mind when he woke up. But it wasn't his aunt who woke him up, and he didn't sleep in a cupboard. He was in his own chamber, in a little apartment of Northampton, and the voice who just took him out of sleep was way kinder and softer than that of his aunt.

Harry looked at the alarm clock on the bedside. He must have forgotten to set it up yesterday. He stood up and put aside the book on which he had fallen asleep last night. It was probably the reason why it was harder to wake up this morning. Still, he quickly dressed and went to the kitchen. A good smell of bacon, eggs and toasts filled the place, all of them were being prepared by a tall woman with dark red hair falling on her shoulders, her back turned to Harry.

"Let me guess." She spoke on a tone meant to be rebuking, but Harry also perceived the small hint of sarcasm and tease in it. "You fell asleep while reading under your blanket. Again."

She knew him too well. "Perhaps you should not have allowed Aunt Petunia tell me how you did it."

He knew her too well too. His mother sighed in false exasperation and looked at him, a hand still on the handle of the stove. Her almond-shaped, bright green eyes bore on him. "Don't try this. Your aunt is already despised by more than enough people. She doesn't need me too. Now, take care of the stove. I'll get the fruits and the juice."

"Yes, Mom."

She left the place to him. This was like this most of the mornings. They would prepare breakfast together, then share it before they left, his mother for work, Harry for school. But today, Harry was on vacation. His last year at elementary school had been about three weeks ago. Ever since, Harry watched his mother leave early in the morning for work every day of the week, and then he would try to occupy his day the best he could. But most of the time, he just waited. He waited for the letter to finally arrive.

"I hope you still slept well, my dear," she asked.

"Well, I made a strange dream. I was living with Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, and they forced me to sleep in their cupboard under the stairs."

"You call this a dream? I'd say it was a nightmare." On that, they agreed.

"And you're telling not to say something bad about Aunt Petunia after that?"

"It's not something bad about her. It's something bad about living with her," she said, a smug smile on her face that Harry instantly returned. "But I defend you from ever repeating this to her."

"You have my word, Mom."

"I don't know if I must feel reassured or worried."

Harry laughed. Such banter was usual between him and his mother, especially at breakfast. It helped to relax the atmosphere before the day began. They ate together, Harry telling his mother what he was planning to do today. He didn't have much planned. He would probably walk alone, like he often did recently, and read some of the books his mother bought for him, but aside from that, it was total free time.

His mother left only after a few minutes, having eaten everything in her plate quickly.

"I may come back a little late tonight. If it happens, you know what to do. The meat is thawing in the fridge, and the vegetables..."

"I know, Mom. You can rely on me."

"I don't know what I would do without you. Have a good day, my little boy."

She opened the door and left the house. Harry heard the sound of her high heels hitting the outside stairs as she went down for a few steps before they vanished. He finished his breakfast slowly, then went to the bathroom to brush his teeth. On the passage, he looked at the bottom of their entrance door, like he always did when he happened by it since school was over.

The apartment he shared with his mother was small, but convenient. The hall was very small, but included a wardrobe that was sufficient to place their shoes, boots, coats, cloaks, hats and everything needed for the outside. They had a living room, which also served as a small dining room, a tiny kitchen, a bathroom with both shower and bath, and two rooms were left, one for Harry and one for his mother. They had windows for every room, except for the bathroom, which made the apartment very enlightened, curtains to draw for the night, and a small balcony that gave them a view on the nearby park. This was no palace, but it was a good place to live. Harry had always liked it. It had everything they needed. But still, Harry was eager to leave this place.

Today was July 15, 1991. Harry looked below the door again, but there was still nothing. His letter for Hogwarts was supposed to arrive during the month of July, before his eleventh birthday. But for now, there was nothing. Harry sighed in impatience and left the house, being careful to bring his keys with him when he walked out. He went down the stairs, crossed the street under the morning sun and entered the park where he would stroll for long portions of the day.

Harry spent a lot of time outside. People in the neighborhood were used to seeing him walk around the park and the streets. At least, they had been ever since school had ended. Harry had been born on July 31, 1980, and as far as he could remember, he and his mother always lived in this little apartment together. He had a comfortable, though somewhat reclusive childhood. His mother didn't see many people. Their main visitors were Harry's godfather, Sirius Black, and another friend of his father, Remus Lupin. He had always liked them, both attentive and always ready to help Harry and his mother. At school, Harry didn't make many friends. His appearance didn't encourage people to spend a lot of time with him. Small and skinny, with a thin face and knobbly knees, along with a pair of round glasses and a strange scar in the shape of a bolt of lightning on his forehead, Harry was easily put aside, sometimes even bullied by more popular students.

Still, Harry considered himself lucky. His mother was his best friend. They did all kinds of activities together, and she made sure Harry never lacked of anything. As long as he had his mother, nothing else mattered to Harry. That is, until he learned the truth, not long after he turned nine.

Something else that made other children of his age stay away from Harry were the strange events that often happened around him. These were minor incidents, nothing much to worry about, until one day, when he was nine-years-old, his mother received an angry letter from the headmaster of the school, telling her Harry had been climbing school buildings. He had explained to his mother that he was being chased by a gang of other students during lunch time, and that when he tried to jump behind the big bins outside the school kitchen doors, he found himself sitting on the chimney. Harry first supposed the wind had caught him during his jump, but his mother, when he told her so, just burst into laughs. Harry had run to his chambers, crying because he believed his mother was making fun of him, like so many other children at school. She had followed him, and after apologizing for laughing at his face, she had told him the truth.

Harry was a wizard. Magic existed, and he could use it. But at his age, his powers manifested themselves without him actually wanting it when he was particularly angry or scared. This was why so many strange things took place all around him. First, Harry didn't want to believe her. He and his mother made jokes whenever they wanted to loosen the atmosphere, but he didn't find it funny this time. Then she took something inside her jacket that Harry first mistook for a tree branch, but looking more closely, it was far too smooth and perfectly round. She had moved what Harry would soon learn was a magic wand and said a word he didn't understand, and a great source of light had appeared at the tip of the wand, illuminating all his chamber. Harry had first believed this was a new toy, or some new kind of flashlight. But then she used it to produce red, green and purple sparks. Harry had no choice but to believe her after she pointed the piece of wood on him and made him levitate over his own bed.

Her mother had spent the whole night telling him every truth she ever hid him. Magic existed, and there was a world of wizards and witches, hidden to Muggles (non-magic people), who lived across the world. Both she and his father were wizards. They had met at Hogwarts, a school were young wizards and witches of eleven to eighteen-years-old studied before they entered the world of wizards.

Harry took a left turn in the park, passing by a playground for children, the same where his mother brought him more times than he could count. He had been so angry with her after she told him the truth that he refused to come there with her the next day. But his mother kept explaining him other things over the days that followed. Both Sirius and Remus were wizards as well. And his father didn't die in a car accident like she always pretended. His parents were part of a secret organization called the Order of the Phoenix, a group of powerful magicians who fought against the servants of dark magic and their master, Lord Voldemort. This Voldemort believed that wizards and witches were superior to Muggles, and that wizards of pure blood, those without Muggles in their family or among their ancestors, were even more superior. He was getting more powerful every day, and he tried to recruit his parents to his cause when they left school. They refused, and they joined the fight against Voldemort later. They soon became targets for him, and they went into hiding, but someone betrayed them and told Voldemort where they lived. His father died trying to protect them. As for his mother, she was gravely injured and barely survived. It was when Voldemort turned his want on Harry and tried to kill him that something no one could have expected happened. When Voldemort tried to kill him, his spell bounced back and struck him instead. Harry had earned his scar on that day, while Voldemort disappeared after that night, and wasn't seen again afterwards.

It took time for Harry to truly understand everything his mother told him. A whole world of magic, with its own ministry, a dark lord who tried to kill him when he was only a baby, and a scar that was the result of a deadly spell he somehow miraculously survived... His mother tried to explain the best she could, but each piece of truth led to more questions from Harry. She finally showed him a heavy book of the sort he never saw before. It was a book on the history of magic. His name was in it, along with his mother's and his father's, summarizing the story his mother told him. Harry had to concede it, magic did exist.

It was hard, first, learning that all this time he was wizard and he didn't know it. Even harder was the fact his mother had lied to him for so long. Why didn't she tell him before? Her mother said she wanted him to have a normal childhood like she did. She herself was born in a family of Muggles. Neither her parents nor her sister were wizards. She was the only one. And apparently, she and Harry were famous, especially Harry. Voldemort had terrorized the world of magic for so long, killed so many people that when he disappeared, Harry's name became a legend. She didn't want him exposed to this as he grew up.

Harry had to concede that his mother was right about one thing: he was famous. After her revelations, she didn't bring him to see any wizard, or to visit any magical place, but she did give him books so he may learn more about this world, and she also showed him a few spells. And in the history books Harry read, he was indeed mentioned quite often, even celebrated as a hero, for something he didn't remember.

Now Harry, as he made a last turn to return home, only wanted one thing: go to Hogwarts. The life he led with his mother hadn't changed much after he learned the truth. With time, he stopped being angry at her, especially after he screamed at her for not telling him all this sooner and she burst into tears. Harry didn't like to see his mother cry.

Still, he wanted to know more about magic and everything related to it. One of the things he was passionate about the most was Quidditch. His mother had given him a book titled Quidditch Through the Ages, telling him this was the most popular sport among wizards, and that his father himself was a champion at it. Harry loved the idea of a sport where you flew on a broom, getting through other players and balls trying to knock you out to score points through rings or catch an almost invisible golden ball. After begging his mother, she brought him somewhere and taught him to fly, something Harry mastered very quickly.

Sadly, he couldn't fly much often. His mother always brought him in an isolated place, far from the town, then threw all kinds of sorts to make sure no one would see him, and Harry couldn't fly too far away, in case he would get through the spells and be noticed by someone.

That was why Harry began to play football, or soccer as the Americans called it. He couldn't fly enough, and it was impossible to play Quidditch with only two people, especially when his mother mostly threw him balls for him to catch. Football wasn't as funny as Quidditch seemed, but it was similar. Harry integrated the school's team and quickly became one of the best players. He was the quickest player in the school, and thanks to his small frame, he was very hard to catch. One of his main talents was to be able to take the ball from the other team no matter the circumstances. With time, as his comrades saw him excel at this sport, the others stopped bullying him. He didn't become popular. He was still the weird boy in town, the one who seemed out of place, but at least they didn't bother him anymore.

Harry climbed the stairs and went back into the apartment. Again, he could only see that the letter had not arrived yet. He went into his room, closing the door, and started to read his books on magic.

The day passed, with him alternating between reading and doing walks, getting bored. He also played on their computer and watched television a little, but it didn't interest him very much. He was glad when his mother came back from work in the evening.

"You spent a good day, my dear."

"Yes. It was fine," he replied as she removed her high heels. His mother might be a witch, but she worked like a normal person, as a secretary for a small company in the region. She once explained to Harry why she still needed to work despite all she could do with her powers, but Harry never truly understood it. There were things she could not make appear out of thin air, like food, something like that.

Harry had already prepared dinner. It was a rule between them that the first to arrive home had to prepare the supper, and the other would help once he was there. They ate delicious pork chops, with potatoes and carrots covered with butter and bread, and Harry could take ice cream for dessert. He was about to leave the table and start washing the dishes when his mother stopped him.

"Wait a minute." With a swift movement, she took her wand. One movement and all the curtains shut together. A few other movements and all lights in the house went on, and the dishes started washing themselves.

Harry watched his mother with surprise. She always told him to be careful to not use his powers in public, and she herself seldom used them, so their neighbors wouldn't notice who they were. They always washed the dishes together, talking about their day and exchanging jokes.

His mother was looking at him with a smug smile. She took something else in her jacket. "I found this on my desk when I arrived at the office this morning."

She put a letter before him. Harry's heart began to pound against his chest. The envelope was made of yellow parchment, with a purple wax seal displaying a coat of arms: a lion, an eagle, a badger and a snake surrounding the letter H. He took the letter. His hand was trembling so much that he could barely read the emerald-green writing on the other side of the thick envelope.

 

Mr H. Potter

26 Elm Street

Northampton

Northamptonshire

 

Harry couldn't believe his eyes. Here it was, finally, after all this time.

"Don't you think you've waited long enough?" His mother's word brought him back to reality. "Open it."

With feverish gestures, he unsealed the envelope. Two pieces of paper fell from it. The first to fall on the table, which he looked closer to, was a list school supplies, from books to robes and cauldrons and a wand. But it was the other one that interested him the most. After the heading indicating the name of the school and the titles of its headmaster, the most important part followed.

 

Dear Mr. Potter,

We are pleased to inform you that you have a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed list of all necessary books and equipment.

Term begins on September 1. We await your owl by no later than July 31.

Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall

Deputy Headmistress

 

When he looked away from the letter, his mother was smiling at him like she never did. "Congratulations, my dear. I'm so proud of you."

She didn't have time to say more, as Harry threw himself in her arms. They celebrated the whole evening. Harry never saw his mother use magic so often like she did that night. When Harry went to bed, he was happy. No nightmares haunted him this night.

Chapter Text

LILY I

 

"What would you say if we went to the zoo today?" she asked, while adding some maple syrup on his pancakes.

"The zoo?"

"Yes. The zoo in the morning, the aquatic park in the afternoon, and cinema for the evening. All activities that you'll soon miss dearly."

"Can't you bring me to Diagon Alley instead?"

"No, Harry. Diagon Alley is for tomorrow. We will spend the entire day looking for your books and everything you need for Hogwarts. Running in the streets to complete our purchases by the end of the day is not a good way to celebrate a birthday. And this is your birthday today."

"Wrong, Mom. My birthday was last Tuesday."

"Yes, but your mother was working on that day, and she cannot take a leave only because her son is eleven. As important as he is." She ruffled his hair. She often did that. "Today is the day we celebrate your eleven years. Now eat everything you want and enjoy one of your last days in the world of Muggles."

The table was filled with pancakes, bacon, sausages, ham, eggs, toasts, fruits, small potatoes and everything you could think of for an anniversary. Every year, Lile did this for her son. Harry also did it for her own birthday. Once, she had surprised him at three o'clock in the morning, already preparing breakfast. This boy really filled her life with joyous moments. She watched him as he devoured his breakfast. It was the only day of the year when he could eat everything and anything he wanted.

And still he remained skinny and slim, as if he was famished. James was slim as well when he arrived at Hogwarts, but not to this point in her memory. Harry did sports, he was well nourished. Perhaps it was her overprotective nature. She sometimes worried too much about her son. All her friends agreed on this. But considering these friends were exclusively people who spent their life getting into, and looking for, trouble, she didn't rely too much on their advice.

At one point, Harry couldn't eat anymore. Lily quickly emptied the table, helped by magic. Lately, she used it more freely, despite the known risk that neighbors or even passers-by could surprise her. But she didn't care, or cared less. They were on August 4, and in less than a month, her son would climb into the Hogwarts Express and head to the school where he would spend the next seven years of his life, like she did so many years ago.

She would miss Harry. He was what kept her going on after James died. For ten years, her main reason to be was her son, and now he would be gone. She already felt that the year to come would be long without him. She wanted to enjoy the time she had left with him the most she could.

He came out of the bathroom, wearing a new T-shirt she bought him. This year, she had mixed magical and non-magical presents. She had bought him some sweets that could only be found in the world of wizards. She knew he brought a few with him in the bathroom to try them, even though he thought she didn't notice. But she wouldn't blame him, not today. This was his day, and she wouldn't ruin it for something so insignificant.

Once they had everything prepared for the day, they left in the car. Their first stop was the zoo of the town. No dragon, no gnomes, no Cornish pixies. Only normal animals like the Muggles knew them. Still, there were more than enough fascinating things to occupy their morning.

In the first section they visited, a huge gorilla occupied the place of honor.

"Is that me, or he has kind of a familiar look with my cousin Dudley?"

"Harry, don't say things like that," she scolded him, before adding "He's far more alike your uncle Vernon."

They both burst into laughs. Lily refrained when it came to her sister, but she could endure some jokes about her brother-in-law and her nephew. She had left a message on Petunia's answering machine a few days ago, hoping she could arrange something of a meeting between all of them before Harry would leave, but her sister had not answered yet. She thought of the possibility to invite them today, but considering how their last family meetings went, she thought it preferable to ensure Harry's birthday would not be filled with drama.

The gorilla was only one of the many animals displayed at the zoo. There were lions, tigers, hyenas, alligators, but also penguins, fishes, medusas, sharks, birds, parrots, and many more. Another highlight was a boa constrictor from Brazil, sleeping when they arrived close to it. Harry was fascinated by this one.

"He's so large. He could probably occupy our whole balcony."

"Let's not exaggerate, Harry. It's a snake, nothing more."

She read the information on that species of snakes. Apparently, it came from Brazil, but this one was bred in the zoo. This snake was carnivorous, and hunted mostly at night, targeting birds and small mammals to strangle them. Dangerous animals were definitely not a monopoly of the magical world.

"Let's see something else," she said, turning her heels to wards some red parrot.

"Wait! Did you hear?"

"Did I hear what?" Harry was staring at the snake, who had opened his eyes.

"Nothing, Mom. Excuse me, I'd like to stay with the snake a little longer."

Lile shrugged. "Okay. I won't be far."

She went to look closely to the parrots. Their colors reminded her of a vase Petunia sent her many years ago. That was a horrible vase, and she no longer had it. Not by her own fault though. Harry had smashed it while flying on the toy broomstick he received when he was one-year-old. That was before...

She shook her head, but she couldn't detach her eyes from the parrot. And her mind kept returning to that horrible vase. Petunia had probably sent it to her because it was ugly. She had no complaints when it was broken but... It was still one of the last presents she ever received from her sister.

The parrot was croaking. As strange as it may sound, she found some melody to this chanting. It wasn't as melodious as those of owls, but still. All animals made their own sounds in their own way, magic or not.

"HEY, LOOK! LOOK WHAT THE SNAKE IS DOING! IT'S INCREDIBLE!"

Lily turned to the commotion she just heard, just in time to see Harry being pushed to the floor by a group of half a dozen boys who ran to the snake.

Then all happened very quickly. The glass containing the boa disappeared, and before Lily could react, the large animal was out. The boys who had just pushed Harry to look at the creature now ran away, screaming, and their panic spread to other people around as they saw the huge snake get out of his cage.

Lily's heart stopped. Harry had remained on the floor while the snake left his tank. Lily grabbed her wand inside her jacket, hoping the boa would get past Harry. But he then turned his head towards her son. Her wand was out.

"You're welcome."

The words Harry said shocked her. She didn't move as the boa continued his route, ignoring both Lily and Harry. She watched the huge creature get out. Only after he had left the room did she realize her wand was still off and she hid it back. She ran to her son.

"Harry, are you alright?"

"Yes, Mom." He stood up with her help and looked at the empty tank.

"Where's the glass?"

"I think it would be better if we left," she said, gripping his arm and forcing him to follow her.

Back in the car, when the doors were closed, she looked straight at him.

"Harry, I saw what happened. You made the glass disappear."

"It was an accident. I didn't do it on purpose," he swore.

« I know. But you must be more careful. I’m not angry, my dear. I’m just… I’m just trying to warn you. It’s dangerous to use magic before Muggles. They could discover who we are. »

« I know. I’m sorry, » Harry replied, exasperated.

She knew it wasn’t totally fair. After all, she made the same kind of mistakes in her childhood. Petunia’s plate had once flew into her face, covering her sister of spaghettis while they bickered during dinner. There was also that time at school when she was only ten, when she kicked a ball so hard at a boy who just mocked her red hair that he fell face first on the asphalt of the playground and needed stitches. She told Harry to get a hold of his emotions, but this was far easier to say than to do, especially at his age.

"Look, I know you didn't want this to happen. Let's forget about this accident. We're going to eat, and then we go to the water park."

The rest of the day went mostly uneventful. The atmosphere got better during lunch when they ate hamburgers and fries. She and Harry had a lot of fun at the aquatic park. They tried many attractions, and Harry spent the end of the afternoon in the wave pool. Lily remained at good distance, watching him from a folding chair with sunglasses. If her wizard friends saw her in this moment, wearing a swimsuit, with sunglasses and covered from head to toe with solar cream... She really looked like a normal woman who just brought her son to a water park, not a witch who survived the most powerful dark mage of the time.

They ate a pizza afterward before they went to cinema. At the end of the day, they were both exhausted. On their way back home, Harry was almost sleeping in the car. Lily had the same wish as he did: go back home and fall asleep. In this very moment, she wanted to postpone their day in Diagon Alley. But she had promised Harry to bring him there tomorrow, and she made him wait long enough to see the magic world.

"So, did you love your day, Harry?"

"Yes," he replied on a tired voice.

"What did you like the most?" she asked as she made a turn to the right.

He didn't answer immediately. "The snake. At the zoo."

Lily allowed a small laugh to leave her lips. "It is true that... It was kind of funny, to see all these people running away from this boa. The worst is that he was inoffensive for humans. In some way, there was more fear than harm done."

"Yeah," Harry replied with a distant voice. He remained silent for some time before he continued. "I think he understood me."

"What? Who?"

"The boa. The snake."

This caught Lily's attention. "What do you mean?"

"I was... talking to him, and he seemed to understand what I said. I heard him say thanks when he quit his tank."

Her son had his eyes closed, so he couldn't see the dumbfounded look on his mother's face. "Are you sure?"

Harry made a sound while nodding from the head.

"Well, I'm glad you enjoyed your day," she said, just as she grew worried.

They arrived at their apartment not long after, and Lily had to shake Harry so he would leave the car. Her son was about to fall asleep.

He fell to his bed without changing his clothes and was lost to sleep immediately. Lily didn't insist that he put his pyjama. After all, they would need to leave early tomorrow morning. She cautiously removed his glasses he fell asleep with and put them slowly next to his alarm clock to not make any sound. Then she tucked his bed, removing the book he had left in last night, making sure he was covered with blankets and his head was on his pillow.

Lily looked at her son, sleeping peacefully. In this instant, he reminded her of how he was sleeping in his cot after the tragedy that killed his father. This was almost ten years ago, and she still saw him as that baby sometimes, unaware of the danger of the world. She kissed him on the front and left the room after casting one last glance to make sure he was sleeping.

Only a few minutes ago, Lily would have given anything for a good night of sleep. But now, she was well awaken, and worry and doubt were beginning to eat at her mind and heart. She prepared a tisane and drank it in silence, slowly. She stirred the content as much as she stirred the conflicting thoughts going through her mind. Did she worry for nothing? But what if that was true?

The tisane didn't bring her any clarity, and it didn't appease her either. She knew only one thing that could. Only one person that could provide her some answers. With a new determination, Lily went to her bedroom and opened a secret compartment in her desk with a spell. She seized the Deluminator inside, a gift Albus Dumbledore gave her many years ago. She quietly opened the door, just enough to slip outside the apartment, then activated the device. One by one, all lights on the street went out. Lily then came back inside, still careful to not make any noise, and grabbed a cloak hidden in another secret compartment in the hall, which she put on her shoulders. She then walked out again, locking the door behind her and casting a few spells around her apartment to make sure no one would enter or try to enter while she was away. And then, still careful to make sure no one saw or heard her, she Apparated.

Far away, on an isolated path of earth linking a castle to a small village, a lone figure appeared out of nowhere with a loud crack. The figure looked up at the tall towers she hadn't seen for years.

From the exterior, Hogwarts had not changed since the last time she came here. Even at night, the castle kept all his charm, his lights providing just enough luminosity for anyone to see its outline. The castle just looked the same as the day she gazed at it for the first time, back when she was a first year and she just discovered the world of wizards. It had been so long now, since the last time she came here. But she needed to talk to someone, and that person was there, she knew it.

"Lumos."

Her wand produced a light that helped to see ahead of her. Determined, she walked forward. It wasn't long before she arrived before the gates of the castle. They were closed, of course. It was the night, and in the middle of summer furthermore. There was no student at school, and most teachers were absent as well. But she knew he was there. Or was he?

Just when she doubted he would be there and before she could signal her presence, a rattle indicated that the gates were unlocked. They opened. It wasn't the first time she witnessed things that would have been unexplainable at Hogwarts. She was used to it, even after years of absence. She resumed her way forward, but she had barely crossed the castle's limits that a voice she would recognize among all came from her left.

"I was hoping you would come, Lily Evans."

She turned to face the man who addressed her. He was sitting on a stone bench nearby but had stood up the moment he spoke. Even in darkness, his silvery hair and glasses glittered under her wand's light. He smiled kindly at her.

"How long has it been since the last time we met? Three years? Maybe four?" he asked.

"You're the one who suggested I should stay away, and I did," she replied, not answering his question.

"Well, in any case, it is a pleasure to see you again."

She smiled in return. "Yes, it's good to be back."

"But..." Albus Dumbledore's smile became strained. "Something's telling me that this is not to see your old teacher that you came. I can sense something is troubling you."

"Yes."

"And I suppose this has something to do with Harry."

Again, Albus Dumbledore gave the impression that he could read you like a book. Lily decided she would go straight to the point.

"I need your help, Professor."

"I'm all ears. But let's walk while we talk. I always take a stroll around the castle in the evening. At least, during summer. I'm far too occupied the rest of the year."

He placed a comforting hand on her back and led her along the path he took. She followed him. They walked side by side for a moment, without saying a word. After a moment, Lily supposed Dumbledore was waiting for her to talk.

"It's about Harry."

"As I suspected. What can I do for your son?"

"I just... I just need your advice. Or your opinion. It was his birthday today."

"I thought he was born a July 31."

"Yes. But we celebrated it today. I was working last Tuesday."

"Ah, I see."

"Well, I brought him to the zoo this morning."

"Ah. It's a good idea. I visited one, a long time ago. These animals are wonders, although I felt a little sorry for the poor beasts being stuck into a cage."

"The thing is... There was an accident. A group of boys pushed Harry while he was looking at a snake, and the glass that kept the animal in his tank just vanished."

"Ah. The powers of the young wizards. Far too many of us cannot control these powers at a young age. Was anyone hurt?"

"No. I don't think the snake was venomous. The guardians of the zoo controlled it quite quickly."

"More fear than harm done then. Did anyone notice it was Harry who made the glass disappear? Or did anyone believe it?"

"No, I don't think so. I took my wand out, but everyone was too occupied to run away to notice me. I didn't have to use it in the end."

"Well, all seem to have gone well, considering everything."

He said nothing more. Lily felt he was waiting for her to tell the real reason why she came. "Harry spoke to the serpent." This caused Albus Dumbledore to stop in his track. "He spoke with the serpent."

The headmaster of Hogwarts looked at her, intrigued. "Are you sure about this?"

"Harry told me. He spent several minutes just looking at the animal. And when the boa escaped, it turned towards Harry, and Harry said you're welcome."

Dumbledore looked just as intrigued, and troubled too. He made a few steps to stand in front of Lily, looking at his boots, a thoughtful expression on his face.

"I don't understand," Lily continued. "No one in James' family used to talk Parseltongue. And I know for a certainty there's no one in mine who could."

"This might have nothing to do with family, Lily."

"Then... I don't understand. How can this be true? How can this happen?"

Dumbledore raised an appeasing hand and looked back at her. "Did you hear Harry speak Parseltongue?"

"No. I was looking at other animals, and many of them were making a lot of noise. I wasn't there when it happened. I left him maybe two minutes with that boa."

Dumbledore nodded. He seemed focused, and away at the same time. "And that boa... When Harry said you're welcome, he was speaking normally? You understood him?"

"Yes." Lily had just realized it. Harry had spoken very normally, in English. No whistling, no spit that was the mark of Parseltongue.

"Well, did Harry tell you what he talked about with the snake?"

"No. He told me when we were going home. He was too tired. He barely said a few words."

Dumbledore nodded again. "Well, then, maybe it was just his imagination, Lily. Maybe the boa looked at him and Harry got the impression he was responding to his voice. Furthermore, if there was a glass between them, I'm not sure if either Harry or the snake would have understood each other, even if they could."

Lily realized how stupid it seemed. She closed her eyes. What planet was she on? She had left her house with her son alone inside, travelled to Hogwarts, bothered the most powerful wizard in the world, and all that because Harry told her he spoke with a snake. She felt so ridiculous right now.

"Professor, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have bothered you with this."

"No, don't apologize, Lily. I understand. He's your son. With the past you both have, and less than a month before he comes to Hogwarts, this is normal for you to be worried about him."

She looked away, then stared back at Dumbledore. "Please promise me that you'll keep an eye on him while he's here, and that nothing will happen to him."

"You don't need to ask, Lily. I was already going to do just that. Harry will be safe here. You have my word."

"Thank you."

"I know this has not been easy. Leaving everything you knew, starting all over again from zero in the world of Muggles, as familiar as you are with it. It must have been hard."

"It was, by moments. But I had Harry. He was the only thing that stopped me from crumbling after..." She didn't finish the sentence, and Dumbledore didn't force her to. "You were right, when you said I had to take him away, bring him as far from our world as I could. When I finally did it, this made Harry's life, and mine, so much better."

After the fateful night when her husband was murdered, Dumbledore advised her to take Harry away from the world of wizards. Her son was going to be famous. He already was back then. He advised her to live among the Muggles, far away from the attention he would get. First, Lily had refused. She was a witch, her husband was a wizard, and Harry was a wizard as well. He would go to Hogwarts one day. She always wanted to remain in contact with the world of Muggles, even after her relationship with Petunia soured. She wanted Harry to be in contact with that world too, but not to the cost of living outside the magical world. So after James' death, she moved to another community of wizards, hoping to take care of her son and let him grow in the world of magic. But it turned out Dumbledore was right.

For two years, Lily tried to raise a son among their people. But everyone soon learned where Harry Potter and his mother lived. Journalists and authors who wanted to write about them, and all sorts of people who just hoped to get a glimpse of Harry, stalked them at all hours of day, every day of the week. Their friends too were stalked, and Lily couldn't go anywhere without people wanting to take a photo of her, or shake her hand, or ask any kind of favor. This was too much to assume. Harry was growing, reaching three years of age, and she couldn't see a way she could provide him with a happy childhood in these circumstances. So she followed the advice Dumbledore gave her years before, and she moved among the Muggles.

After so many years among the wizards, without any diploma or formation, she took the first job she could find. Times were difficult in the beginning. Sirius and Remus helped her, and so did Dumbledore, although they couldn't be as present as they wanted. The person who truly helped was the last she expected: her sister. Learning Lily had moved at Northampton, she came to help her settle. She even helped Lily find the apartment where she lived today, and gave her money in the early times. She did this behind the back of her husband. Vernon Dursley never knew his wife helped her sister. With time, however, as Lily settled and her life got better, Petunia's visits became rare, until they barely saw each other. She once told Lily that she suggested to Vernon that they try to see each other again. Her husband especially despised James, but the fact he was dead didn't seem to make him better disposed towards Lily and her son. With time, they resumed their former relationship, seeing each other maybe once every year and sending gifts and cards for Christmas, Easter and their respective birthdays.

"I know it was a huge sacrifice to make, Lily. It wasn't easy to stay in our world, and it probably wasn't any easier to leave it. Remus and Sirius kept me informed on you and Harry. I was relieved when they told me how happy you were with your son," Dumbledore confided. "And now, he's about to leave," he added.

"Yes. I'm worried, it's true. I don't know what to do."

"You should start thinking about yourself."

"What do you mean?"

"Lily, you spent the last ten years of your life only thinking about your son, taking care of him. It is admirable, but you must also think about yourself. What are you going to do once he will be at Hogwarts? Will you continue to live among the Muggles, always afraid that they might discover your powers? I know you're still using magic. Aren't you afraid that one day someone will inadvertently see you using it, despite all your precautions? And do you really want to keep working as a secretary for that idiot who is your boss?"

She shouldn't be surprised that Dumbledore knew so much about her life. But what he said was true. She had been so focused on raising Harry and giving him the best childhood she could that she almost never thought about what she would do once he would integrate Hogwarts. She admitted so to the headmaster.

"Then you should start to figure out what you are going to do. Without Harry, what will you do with your life?"

She sighed. "I'll have to think about it."

"Yes, you must." Dumbledore looked at his watch. "I'm afraid this stroll has come to an end. I'll accompany you back to the gates."

This didn't take much time. Within a minute, Lily was back outside the precinct of the school.

"Treasure these moments you have with your son, Lily, and make sure Harry enjoys them. He will need them when he'll be here."

"Take care of him when he'll arrive, please."

"You can rely on me. On all of us. All the teachers. We will make sure he has a good life at Hogwarts."

"Thank you. But please, keep Snape far from him."

Dumbledore had a sad expression. "Severus Snape teaches potions. I will not be able to stop him from teaching Harry."

Too bad. "I know. Just... make sure he doesn't harm him."

"Severus has his flaws, but he would never hurt Harry."

"Really? Like when he told Voldemort about this prophecy, and this led his master to become obsessed with killing my son?"

Lily had remained calm for most of the conversation, except for a short episode of small panic when she spoke about his supposed Parseltongue. But now that the subject of Snape was on the table, she wouldn't make any concession.

"Severus didn't know the prophecy concerned Harry..."

"But he knew it concerned a baby, and he knew that by reporting this to his master, he would sentence this baby to die." She approached Dumbledore and looked him straight in the eyes. Despite the old man's height, she stared at him with the all the fury she could muster. "I don't care what you think of him. I don't care if you say he's changed. I don't care if you've given him a second chance. I gave Snape more than enough second chances a long time ago, more than he deserved, and he wasted all of them. He chose to follow Voldemort. He didn't do it out of fear, or because Voldemort threatened the people he loved, not even out of cowardice. He did it for his self-interest, because he believed in what Voldemort was doing, and if he worked for you at some point, it was only because he wanted to have an emergency exit if his master came to be defeated. If Snape even lays a finger on Harry, I will come myself to Hogwarts and deal with him. I will not hesitate to kill him if necessary. You can tell him."

Dumbledore sustained her stare, a regretful look in his eyes. But when he replied, he was calm and his voice didn't betray any outrage. "I will give your message to Severus. I'm sure he will understand it. Don't forget, you've been friends a long time ago."

"It was a long time ago. And the Severus I knew is dead. He's been dead for a very long time. Nox."

The light from her wand extinguished itself, leaving them both in complete darkness. Lily Apparated back to Northampton and got back to her apartment. She reactivated the Deluminator, giving back the lights to their lamps, removed the protection spells she surrounded her apartment with, and brought back her magical objects in their hiding places. She respected Dumbledore, looked up to him, but one thing she would never understand was the trust he put in Snape. She stopped calling him, even thinking of him as Severus a long time ago, and this wasn't about to change. It would never change. She would never forgive him all the horrors he participated to, and especially not the murder of her husband.

She went to see her son. Through the gap of the door, she saw he was still sound asleep. He hadn't even noticed her absence. It was good. She wanted him to make good dreams, not nightmares. She cast one last long look to the son she would soon lose to Hogwarts, and went back to sleep in her own bedroom, now realizing to what extent she was exhausted. She went to bed, hoping to catch just enough sleep so that she wouldn't collapse in Diagon Alley tomorrow.

Chapter Text

HARRY II

 

They had driven for two hours in order to reach their destination. Harry wondered why they didn't just Apparate. He knew his mother could do it. She told him so when he asked her. But when he asked her why they drove in a car to go to Diagon Alley, she said it would be too dangerous to Apparate with him. Harry was too young and unfamiliar with that kind of transportation. It was far harder to Apparate with a passenger, his mother said, and with the things they would buy, it was out of the question to make two Apparitions in a single day, especially since his mother was no longer used to Apparate as she used to.

So they had to take the long way. When his mother parked their car in a small street, she yawned while she activated the hand brake. And she yawned again as they got out of the car.

"Are you alright, Mom?" Harry asked her as he closed the car door on his side.

"Yes. I'm just a little tired from yesterday. I guess your mother is not as young as she used to be."

"You want me to tell you that you're old?" Harry asked playfully.

This earned him a finger blow on the head. He rubbed his skull where his mother did this, both laughing in the process. "Have some respect for your old mom, young man. Now, let's go. The Leaky Cauldron is only five minutes away, but we have no time to lose."

"Says the woman who's too afraid to Apparate."

"We'll talk about this the day you will perform the Apparition yourself. Now, let's walk. As I said, we have no time to spare."

She yawned again as they proceeded on their way. His mother had been like this ever since she woke up. In fact, it was Harry who woke her up this morning. Her alarm didn't succeed at doing so. It had been ringing for minutes and his mother was still sound asleep when he walked into her bedroom. Harry had to shake her for probably a whole minute before she opened her eyes. He prepared coffee for her at breakfast, but even this did little to shake her up. She had been yawning all the way long in the car, and she continued now as they walked along the streets of London. His mother really was exhausted by yesterday.

Harry, on the other, felt fresh as if he had slept the whole day before. He was excited. He had never been to the Leaky Cauldron, or Diagon Alley, or Hogwarts, or Hogsmeade, or the Ministry of Magic. He had never been to any place of the magic world, except one: Godric's Hollow, where he and his mother travelled every year to visit his father's tomb. And even then, they didn't see anything from the world of magic in this village, remaining of the Muggle side. Today would be the first day he would be actually introduced to this world in person.

"There it is," his mother said, looking at a tiny, grubby-looking pub. Harry would never have noticed it had his mother not stopped there. And yet, Harry had seen pictures of it. The Leaky Cauldron looked much better in his books. No one else in the streets seemed to notice the existence of this place. His mother opened its entrance door and they walked in.

Harry wasn't sure what he expected from the interior of the Leaky Cauldron, but certainly not this. The place was small and dark, and it stank of tobacco and other unpleasant odors Harry didn't recognize. His mother produced a big hat from her purse and put it on her head as soon they were in. Harry noticed how she lowered the front edge, as if she wanted to hide her face from the world. They quickly walked through the pub, only the barman seeming to notice her.

"Can I give you something, Mrs?"

"No thanks. We're late for Diagon Alley."

She accelerated her footsteps, seizing Harry by the arm to make sure he followed her pace. Harry found it annoying. They stepped into a small walled courtyard in the back of the bar, with nothing but a couple of dustbins.

"That's the Leaky Cauldron?" Harry asked her once in the courtyard.

"Yes. It doesn't look like much, but many wizards come here. And it is an entrance to Diagon Alley for many who cannot Apparate or use Floo Powder. It's more practical as a way to enter. We don't end up with chimney dust over our clothes or take the risk of Apparating somewhere people wouldn't want us to."

As she spoke, she took a cloak from her purse that she put on her shoulders. Harry was surprised that so much could fit into his mother's purse. She then brought her hair together behind her neck to make a bun, which she attached with a single movement from her wand. Harry never saw his mother attach her hair before. She always kept her black, red hair free, falling on her shoulders. This gave her another appearance. Just as she brought the final touch to her transformation, if you could call it that way, a little man with a purple hat and a dark robe entered the courtyard.

"Lily! What a pleasure to see you after all these years!"

Harry's mother looked at the man, then smiled. "Dedalus. It's good to see you again."

"Oh, how many years have passed?" he continued as he approached them by hopping. "I'm so glad I was here. You went through the pub so quickly, I almost missed you. And this must be Harry."

He looked at Harry, then back at his mother, all excited. When she nodded, it was as if he was about to burst in excitement. He immediately seized Harry's right hand with both of his and started shaking it uncontrollably. "Delighted, Mr Potter, just can't tell you. Diggle's the name, Dedalus Diggle. Surely your mother must have mentioned me. We were very goods friends in the time."

The name was vaguely familiar to Harry. He thought he heard it before, but he couldn't remember if it was his mother who mentioned it. When the man's hat fell off, Harry recognized him. "I've seen you before! In a supermarket. You bowed to me."

"He remembers!" As Harry said he had seen him before, the man cried. He looked at Harry's mother. "Did you hear that, Lily? He remembers me!"

"Of course, he does. My son is a smart boy," his mother intervened, causing Harry's cheeks to redden. "I'm really sorry, Dedalus, but we have a very busy day. We must buy Harry's books and equipment for Hogwarts."

"Oh, of course. I had almost forgotten he had just turned eleven. Wonderful! You will see, Harry. Hogwarts is a marvelous place. You'll have the best teachers in the world..."

"Thank you, Dedalus, but we really have to go."

"Of course, of course. I'm not bothering you any longer. It was so good to see you again, Lily, and you too, Mr Potter. I wish you a very good day. Really, a very good day."

He shook Harry's hand again vigorously. Harry thought he would never stop, but Dedalus finally left after a few other bows and good wishes. When he was gone, Harry looked at his mother, who looked somewhat embarrassed, but also amused.

"Who was that?" he asked.

"Dedalus Diggle," she answered, something Harry already knew. "He was a member of the Order of the Phoenix, like your father and I. He brought some cheer at our reunions," she added with a nervous smile.

"I guess."

"I told you, Harry. You're famous in this world. This... is the kind of things you must expect wherever you'll say your name. That's why you should avoid saying it the most you can. In any case, if someone asks your name, just answer Harry. They may not recognize you."

"Why should I hide who I am?" Harry asked, somewhat annoyed. His mother was fantastic, but she could be overprotective sometimes.

"Because it will make things easier for you. You don't want people running after you or judging you by the fact your name is known by everyone in the world. And telling who you are didn't work very well among Muggles either. Remember when you told your teammates you were a wizard."

Not this again. "It was a mistake."

"Yes, it was. So don't repeat the same mistakes in both worlds."

He hated it when she reminded him this episode. Maybe a few months after his mother told him about his true origins and Harry had begun to play football, he told another boy of the team who he got along well that he was a wizard. The boy immediately reported it to the rest of their comrades, and Harry became the laughingstock of the team. Wizard became his nickname. No one actually believed he was a wizard, of course, and when his mother learned of what he had done, she berated him like she never did before or after. The nickname stuck, and though at first it bothered Harry, with time it became a reference to his skills on the terrain. His coach once said his ability to take the ball from the other team no matter the circumstances was nothing less than magic.

His mother tapped a specific brick on the wall three times. It quivered, moved on itself, and the other bricks started to move too, creating a hole in the center that grew until it formed an archway large enough for four people to walk through it shoulder by shoulder. And on the other side...

"Welcome, Harry, to Diagon Alley," his mother said.

Harry couldn't help but smile at the sight that offered itself to his eyes. Along a cobbled street of grey stones, lines of shops with vivid colors and built in such a way he never imagined buildings like these could hold on their own. There were people in robes, cloaks and hats walking all around, their arms full of huge leather books, bottles filled with liquid he had no idea what they were, cages with owls, cats, rats and toads inside, brooms, cauldrons. Harry had never seen such an animated street, and he had never seen such a place. How could the Leaky Cauldron be so gloomy and Diagon Alley so full of life?

As they progressed through the alley, Harry tried to not miss anything, but it was hard, given how much there was to see. From the people shopping to the objects and products exposed in front of the stores. There was even one with many boys who were about Harry's age glued to the windows, looking at brooms. There was a sign announcing their latest addition to their inventory, the Nimbus Two Thousand. Harry wished first years could own a broom at Hogwarts. Life was unfair sometimes.

"We should get your uniforms first," his mother said, pointing a shop with a sign where you could read Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions. This brought him out of his trance. "I'll have to leave you there alone for a moment. I'll use the time to go at Gringotts to get some money."

"Can't I follow you at Gringotts?" This bank was a very mysterious place and Harry was eager to see it.

"No, Harry. We have too much to do today and a long road ahead of us to return home. It will take some time for Madam Malkin to adjust your robes. I'm sorry, my dear. Perhaps you'll get to see Gringotts next year."

Harry wad disappointed, but he didn't say anything. He wasn't a spoiled child like his cousin Dudley who cried and screamed every time he didn't get what he wanted so that his parents would give it to him. That was one of the things he hated the most with his cousin, and why he was glad they seldom visited his mother's sister.

They entered the shop, where they were met with a squat, smiling woman dressed in mauve.

"Hogwarts, dear?" she asked before Harry or his mother could say anything.

"Yes," his mother replied. She had his list of material with her. "We need three..."

"I know. First year, it's plain from the look of him. I'll take care of everything. Got the lot here. Another young man being fitted up just now, in fact."

"Thank you. Could you please keep an eye on my son for me? I'll be back in an instant."

"Of course, Mrs...?"

"Evans. Lily Evans."

"Of course, Mrs Evans."

His mother turned to him. "I'll be back soon."

As always, she ruffled his hair before she left. It was annoying sometimes, but Harry would lie if he said he hated it.

"Come here, boy," Madam Malkin said, pointing to a stool. Harry stepped on it and she slipped a long robe over his head, beginning to arrange it to his height right away.

"Hello. Hogwarts too?" said the boy next to him. He was on another stool, with another robe. The boy was about Harry's age. He had a pale and pointed face with very blond hair.

"Yes," Harry replied.

"My father is next door buying my books and Mother is up the street looking at wands," the boy said. "I'll probably drag them off to look at racing brooms. I don't see why first-years can't have their own." On that, Harry couldn't agree more. "I think I'll bully Father into getting me one and I'll smuggled it somehow."

Harry wasn't that warm to the idea. Although it was very tempting to have a broom at Hogwarts, he knew his mother would never want him to get in trouble. And he wouldn't want her to get in trouble because of him if she bought him a broom and he somehow found a way to bring it inside Hogwarts. Her mother had been very clear that rules were very strictly enforced in Hogwarts.

"Have you got your own broom?" the boy asked.

"No. My mother allows me to fly on one of my father's old brooms sometimes, but we must be careful to not attract the attention of Muggles when we do."

"Muggles." The blond boy said the word with such disdain that Harry disliked him right away. "Play Quidditch at all?"

"No," he replied, regretful. Playing Quidditch was one of the things he was the most excited about, but he would have to wait his second year before he attempts to join a team. He judged it was better to not say he played football.

"I do. Father says it's a crime if I'm not picked to play for my house, and I must say, I agree. Know what house you'll be in yet?"

"No." But he suspected which house this boy would choose.

"Well, no one really knows until they get here. But I know I'll be in Slytherin." His suspicions were well-founded. "All our family have been. Imagine being in Hufflepuff, I think I'd leave, wouldn't you?"

"I guess there are worst things in life," Harry replied cautiously.

"Maybe." The boy shrugged. "Still, even if I was chosen for Hufflepuff, I'd find a way to Slytherin all the same. If only to avoid Mudbloods."

"OUCH!"

Madam Malkin had accidentally stung Harry with one of her pins. "We don't say those words here, boy," she said, outraged.

"Sorry, madam." Harry didn't miss that the boy wasn't sorry at all. He sent a wink to Harry. "Some people don't like this word. By the way, I'm Draco Malfoy."

Harry opened his mouth in stunning. He knew that name from his reading and his godfather Sirius. The Malfoys were an ancient and rich family of wizards who sided with Voldemort when he was alive. After his death, they claimed they were manipulated and submitted to spells that forced them to serve the man who murdered Harry's father. In this very instant, Harry found it quite unlikely, judging from the way this Draco spoke. He was probably the son of Lucius Malfoy, an important Death Eater and servant of Voldemort, and of Narcissa Black, a cousin of Sirius, who he always hated.

"But what's your surname? Where are your parents?" Malfoy asked.

"My mother is at Gringotts right now."

"And your father?"

"He's dead."

"Of, sorry." The other didn't sound sorry at all. "But they were our kind, weren't they?"

"My father was a wizard, and my mother is a witch, if that's what you mean."

"I really don't think they should let the other sort in, do you? They're just not the same. They've never been brought up to know our ways." Harry felt anger boiling inside of him. His mother had grown up in a family of Muggles. He may not have liked her sister and her family, and maybe Harry didn't have many friends among Muggles, but he had grown among them. And the way he used the term Mudblood... Draco Malfoy continued, unaware of his reactions or ignoring them. "Some of them have never even heard of Hogwarts until they get the letter, imagine. I think they should keep it in the old wizarding families. But you didn't tell me your surname, didn't you?"

"My mother's name is Evans."

Malfoy seemed to dig into his brain, searching if he ever heard that name. Harry doubted it. He retained the family name of his father, but his mother used her maiden name so that people would take less notice. She was the first Evans to be a witch, and probably the last.

"Tells me nothing," Draco said in the end.

"That's you done, my dear," Madam Malkin told Malfoy all of a sudden. Harry felt relieved he didn't need to talk any longer to that boy.

"Well, I'll see you at Hogwarts, I suppose," he said before he left the shop. Harry hoped not, but considering they were both first years, this was unlikely. Given how badly this Draco Malfoy wanted to go into Slytherin, and if all his peers were like him, Harry hoped he wouldn't end up in this house.

It took some time to Madam Malkin to arrange all his robes. When she was done, Harry's mother had not come back yet. When Harry told Madam Malkin that he had no money and his mother was gone to get some, she seemed upset, but she only told him to wait here until his mother was back. Which she was within five minutes. The first thing Madam Malkin did was to ask her to pay.

"It's not going to cost too much?" he was asking his mother later, as they walked in the street, his robes in a bag.

"Don't worry. We have more than enough to pay for your admission fees and your school materials. Now, let's see what we have left to buy."

"Mom, there's a boy I met in Madam Malkin's shop. His name was Draco Malfoy."

This attracted his mother's attention. "The son of Lucius of and Narcissa Malfoy?"

"Yes, I think so."

"And? Anything good he had to say?

"Nothing good. He spent the time boasting about how good he was at everything... and how children from Muggles' families should not be accepted at Hogwarts."

He was afraid of the reaction it might cause to her mother, but she just sighed in exasperation. "Like father, like son. I shouldn't be surprised."

"He... He used the M word."

His mother remained silent for a while. "Tell me you didn't punch him in the face."

"No. But I wish I did."

His mother muffled a laugh. "These are only words. They cannot hurt us. You'd better ignore people like him. Their master is gone, they are powerless today." She deferred her attention back to her list. "So, you need a cauldron in pewter, standard size 2..."

They went on their shopping, stopping at Flourish and Blotts for his books, and in many other shops along the way. His mother had to almost drag him out of several shops. She also bought an animal for Harry, a beautiful snowy owl he named Hedwig. She said it would allow them to write to each other while he was at Hogwarts. She only yawned occasionally now.

"Why don't you have an owl?" he asked her.

"Our owl died the night..." She didn't need to say more. Harry knew it was hard for her to speak of the night his father died. She only talked about it when necessary.

The day was getting at its end and there was only one item left on their list.

"Ah, here's Ollivanders. Time to get you a wand, my dear."

The shop in question was narrow and shabby, with a dusty front. You couldn't see through the windows. Gold letters over read Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 BC.

A bell rang when they entered the dark shop. Lily approached the counter and knocked on it several times.

"I know you're here, Mr Ollivander," she said clearly.

A movable staircase came out from one of the rows behind the counter, with an old man standing on top of it. He had wide, pale eyes that shined in the darkness of the shop. His teeth shined as well when he smiled the moment he laid his eyes on Harry's mother.

"Lily Evans. I was afraid I would never see you again." He climbed down the stairs, then looked at Harry. "And this must Harry Potter."

It was the first time today that someone said his full name. It had a strange effect on Harry. Not because he said his full name, but because of the way he said it, with admiration and wonder. Harry never found anything particular to his name. It was common to his eyes.

"Hello," Harry said awkwardly.

"So, let's get to work, to find you the wand you need." He went behind in the rows, where all sorts of long boxes were piled in a way that defied any sort of organization. "It seems only yesterday, Lily, that you were here yourself, buying your first wand. Ten and a quarter inches long, swishy, made of willow. Nice wand for charm work."

"It was my first and only wand," Harry's mother said. "I still use it today."

"Wonderful. James, on the other hand, chose a mahogany wand. Eleven inches, pliable, a little more power and excellent for transfiguration. Well, I say he chose it, but it is really the wand that chooses the wizard, of course. I regret this wand was not enough to save his life."

Mr Ollivander came back from behind the back of the store with one of those small boxes Harry saw everywhere. He didn't know how he could distinguish them from one another.

"Here we are." He handed the wand to Harry, only to take it away the instant Harry would take it. "But I forgot something. I'm definitely getting older. Which is your wand arm?"

"Well, I'm right-handed," Harry answered, uncertain. He looked to his mother for advice, but she just nodded the head.

"Hold out your arm."

Ollivander first measured Harry from shoulder to finger, then from wrist to elbow, and on both arms. Soon, the tape measured on its own, going as far as to measure the outline of his ears and the width of his feet, not to mention the length of his nails. Ollivander was back far in his shop.

"That will do," Mr Ollivandre finally said.

The tape just fell into a pile on the floor. The wandmaker came back soon with another wand, and this time, when he handed it to Harry, he let him take it.

"Beechwood and unicorn hair, nine and a half inches, flexible. Give it a wave."

Harry had seen his mother use her wand quite often, but even then, he never really took notice about how she handled it. He wasn't sure at all about how to proceed. Under her gaze and that of Mr Ollivander, he waved the wand around, feeling foolish. Mr Ollivander took the wand away from him almost right away.

"No, it's not this one."

He gave another wand to Harry, this one with dragon heartstring, with the same end result. Harry got the impression he had tried dozens, maybe over two hundred wands. His mother used the time Ollivander was at the back of his shop looking for yet another to tell him it was always like that with Ollivander. He looked after the perfect wand for any wizard until he had found it, even if it had to take the whole night. That was why they waited until the end of the day to come here.

Night was slowly falling outside, and Harry wondered how much time yet it would take to find the right wand. He didn't have the slightest idea how Ollivander could determine, after barely a fraction of a second within Harry's hand, that a wand wasn't made for him. There were so many wands piled up on the counter that many were falling on the floor now. Even Harry's mother began to seem bored.

"A tricky customer, you are, Mr Potter. We will find the right wand. It's here, somewhere."

After Ollivander said such, Harry went through another dozen of failed attempts. Then the wandmaker went to take another box. But this time, he hesitated.

"I wonder..." He returned slowly, and this time, when he handed the wand to Harry, he did it very carefully, as if he believed the wand was made of crystal. "Holly. Phoenix feather. Eleven inches. Nice and supple."

Harry expected another failed attempt. The excitement of the day was almost completely gone and replaced by tiredness. He wanted a wand, of course, but... He felt a sudden warmth in his fingers the moment he seized the handle of the wand. He made one movement, and a stream of gold and red sparks came out of it.

"It seems like we finally found the right one. Thank you, Mr Ollivander," his mother said.

But Mr Ollivander didn't look like he heard her. "How curious. How very curious..."

Harry was dumbfounded. He still had the wand in his hand. "Sorry, but what is curious?"

He looked at Harry's mother, then back to Harry, a pale expression on his face. "I remember every wand I've ever sold and to who I sold. And the phoenix whose tail feather is in your wand, gave another feather. Only one other. It is very curious that this wand be destined to you. Her sister... belonged to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."

His mother gasped. Harry was stunned. He looked at the wand in his hand. But despite the feeling of revulsion he felt for a moment, he couldn't throw it away. The feeling disappeared almost instantly.

"I sold this wand myself," Ollivander continued. "Had I known what that wand would do in the world... But if this wand chose you... I think we must expect great things from you."

All of a sudden, Ollivander looked away. Harry looked at his mother who Ollivander was also staring at. Her eyes were throwing daggers.

"I'm sorry," the old man said hastily. He seized the wand and put it back into its box, wrapping it in brown paper. When Ollivander handed it back, Harry hesitated to take it. He looked at his mother, who told him to take it from a head sign. And they left the shop.

Some time later, they were in the car, with everything Harry needed for the beginning of the term, on their way back home. They remained silent for a large part of the journey. Harry wasn't sure what to think of all this himself, and he had no idea what his mother was thinking right now. What did she think of the fact that her son ended up with a wand that was related to the very wand that killed his father?

Harry wasn't able to support this silence any longer. Within less than a month, he would leave for Hogwarts, and he hated it when he and his mother didn't speak.

"What did Mr Ollivander mean, when he expected great things from me?"

"I don't know," his mother replied, her eyes firmly on the road. "I don't know why he said that."

It took some more time for Harry to break the silence again. "Are you angry at me?"

She abruptly turned her head to look at him. "Of course not. Why would I be?" She returned her gaze to the road ahead but continued talking. "It's the wand that chose, Harry. Just like mine chose me many years ago. There was a single chance in a million that it would pick you. I guess it just happened to fall on that chance." She took a deep breath. "Look. Voldemort didn't make this wand. They just have a feather that happens to come from the same bird. This doesn't mean anything."

Somehow, Harry felt she was trying to convince herself as much as she was trying to convince him. After some time, however, they went to speak about more mundane topics, and about the other purchases they made today. Harry had put aside the matter of the wand when they arrived at home. When he got to bed, he needed some time to find sleep, but he did manage to find it. And he didn't make any nightmares.

Chapter Text

LILY II

 

King's Cross had barely changed since the time she took the Hogwarts Express twenty years ago. These were the same rails, the same platforms, the same structure. The only things that had changed over the years, resulting from the evolution and progress of Muggles' technologies and science, were the type of trains in station and the clothing of people. But the station itself had remained the same.

They were on September 1, 1991, and Lily Evans Potter was accompanying her son to the Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, where he would take the Hogwarts Express at eleven o'clock, which would bring him to Hogwarts for his first year there. Sirius had wanted to be there, as Harry's godfather, but she begged him to let her live this moment alone with her son. He didn't argue.

"Nervous? Excited?" she asked him.

"Both," he answered, displaying a huge smile she returned.

The visit at Ollivander's stopped to haunt them weeks ago. Lily had written a letter to Dumbledore, instead of visiting him in person this time, and Remus and Sirius made one last visit home before Harry left. All three of them reassured her, going as far as to say this might not be a bad thing that Harry got this wand. But in the end of the day, the wand chose Harry. It fitted him, and this wand just happened to share a feather from the same bird with another wand. Lily had decided to ignore this, and Harry's concern had faded before hers.

Now she was just enjoying the last moments with her son before a very long time as they made their way along the platforms nine and ten.

"Where is Platform Nine and Three-Quarters?" her son asked.

"We're not far." She was counting the pillars until they would reach the good one. There were only a few left.

"Do you think I'll be taken into Gryffindor?"

"No matter the house you're taken into, I'll be proud of you, Harry."

"I just don't want to go in Slytherin."

This was the main thing that worried him, the only cloud obscuring the horizon. Harry knew enough of their world to be aware that all wizards who were masters of dark magic came from Slytherin, or almost all of them. And since his meeting with the Malfoy boy, he was even more afraid to end in this house. Lily had to reassure him, but the truth was she was worried as well. Between the accident with the boa and Ollivander's wand, a part of her dreaded that her son would end up in this house ever since he shared his own doubts with her. But she had to be strong for him, and to believe that everything would go well in the end.

"Here we are," Lily said.

The barrier was just in front of them, but five people were already there. From the looks of it, they seemed to be a mother with five of her children.

"I'm not Fred, I'm George," said one of them. "Honestly, woman, call yourself our mother? Can't you tell I'm George?"

Lily indeed recognized that the two oldest boys were identical, certainly twins. They had a little brother and a sister. Their mother was a plump and small woman. All of them displayed such fiery red hair that Lily's would have seemed black in comparison.

"Sorry, George, dear," the mother said.

"Only joking. I am Fred."

Lily and Harry looked at each other, barely able to not laugh aloud. In the meantime, the twins had run to the barrier and crossed it. They disappeared behind it, no one around realizing what had just happened. Lily watched the confused look on Harry's face. She had the same reaction the first time she came, which was nothing compared to the reactions Petunia and their parents had.

"Your turn, Ron," the mother told her youngest son. He seemed scared, but he ran to the barrier and got through it. "You come with me now, Ginny."

And the mother and the little girl were gone as well.

"It's our turn," Lily stated as a matter of fact. Harry positioned his trolley in front of the pillar. She felt Harry tense. "Together, now."

"Mom." He made a step back, causing Lily's hand she placed on his back to leave its place. "Can I try... alone?"

His request wasn't without effect on Lily, but she stepped away all the same. "Of course, if you want."

She smiled to him encouragingly. Harry stared at the barrier, breathed deeply, and Lily saw the flash of determination in his face. He ran at full speed towards the wall. And he got through it.

Lily exhaled in relief. She knew he risked nothing here, but with the recent events, this was just encouraging and comforting for her that everything was normal and alright. She approached the barrier as well and crossed it.

Harry was staring in marvel at the red steam engine on the rails of Platform Nine and Three-Quarters as students, parents and staff pushed each other. Lily left him to contemplate this view. He would never look again at the train the same way he did today. After a moment, though she had to place her hand on his shoulder. They were not early, and the train would leave in about fifteen minutes.

On their way to the last carriages of the train, Lily spotted someone she knew. The old woman was speaking to a boy of Harry's age. He was complaining that he lost his toad.

"Augusta." Lily called her. The old woman turned to her. An expression of complete shock, then followed by a warm smile followed.

"Lily. It's been so long." She looked at Harry. "And this must be..."

"My son, Harry. Harry, this is Augusta Longbottom. She is a very old friend."

"Be careful, little girl, when you say very old friend."

"Forgive me, Augusta." Lily looked at Augusta's grandson. "And you must be Nev..."

"I have to find Trevor!"

He jumped into the carriage without saying goodbye. Augusta raised her hands to the sky. "He always loses everything, including this toad he loves so much," the old woman said before returning her attention to Harry. "So, you are Harry Potter?"

"Augusta, be careful!" Lily berated her.

"Sorry, I didn't know it was forbidden to call people by their name. So, this is your first year as well, young man?"

"Yes," he replied. "Happy to meet you."

They shook hands. "Well, your son has more manners than you do, Lily. Now, excuse me, my grandson needs me before he forgets something else. We'll have time to catch up later."

Lily recognized she was right. Time didn't stop. She and Harry resumed their road.

"You knew this old woman?" Harry asked her once they were out of earshot.

"Now you call her old when she's not here?" She ruffled his hair again, which he tried to avoid without success, eliciting another laugh from her son. "Yes, I know her. But I knew her son and his wife even better. They were Aurors, and members of the Order of the Phoenix as well."

"And where are they today?"

"We don't have time for this. This carriage has many compartments free. We'll get your things in there."

"I'll get it inside myself," he said.

And again, Lily ended up looking at her son carrying his heavy trunk inside the train, with difficulty, but he did it. It was as if he tried to distance himself from her. Lily tried to chase this idea from her mind. This was supposed to be a happy day, the first day of her son at Hogwarts. She was supposed to be happy for him, not imagine herself grieving a son she still had.

"First to leave?" a voice asked close to her. Lily turned to find herself next to the plump woman with red hair she saw earlier.

"Yes. The first and only one," she replied.

"If that can reassure you, I cried the day my Bill left on that train. I could barely realize that he had grown so quickly. I had the impression he was still a baby yesterday." This was exactly how Lily felt right now. "But then life went on, and now my sixth son is entering to Hogwarts today."

"You have seven children?" Lily asked, impressed.

"Yes. Bill and Charlie have left school. One is in Egypt, the other one in Romania. Percy is the elder at Hogwarts now, and then there's Fred and George, my twins, and Ronald."

"And this pretty little girl I see next to you?" Lily asked, laying her eyes on the one she knew was called Ginny.

"This is Ginny, the youngest of the family. She will go to Hogwarts next year."

"I want to go this year, mom," the little girl with red hair just as bright as her mother said.

"You'll goo next year, Ginny. Don't be too eager."

"Your name is Ginny?" Lily asked her. That brought the attention of the little girl. Lily knelt to be at her level. "Listen, your years before Hogwarts are just as important as those you will spend there. So enjoy them. Use this time for yourself. I promise, you won't have much time for yourself after you go on that train next year."

Ginny nodded. Looking more closely to her, her hair seemed even more flaming red than Lily first thought. She had freckles and brown eyes, and she was quite pretty. Lily had the strange sensation she would become a beauty as she grew up.

"Mom." Her son's voice took away her attention from the little girl. She stood up as Harry came to recover Hedwig's cage. "I'm ready. It's time."

They stood there, in front of each other, until they couldn't support it anymore and they threw themselves into each other's arms. Harry was so small, and yet he had grown so much over the years. Lily fought to keep her tears at bay.

"Everything's going to be alright. If there's any problem, you write to me. Use Hedwig's to send me letters."

"Yes, Mom." His words were muffled by her robe. She broke the embrace.

"Don't forget to write to me every week."

"I won't. I will not forget, I mean," he then added.

She laughed nervously one last time. She kissed him on the forehead, then ruffled his hair one last time. "Go, now. Enjoy your time at Hogwarts. Make friends there."

He smiled at her one last time and went into the train. She watched him go and looked at the train for long moments until she was taken out of her reverie.

"Everything will be fine. Hogwarts is the best place in the world for young wizards like them."

She turned towards the woman with red hair. "Thank you."

"But where are my manners? My is name is Molly. Molly Weasley."

"Lily Evans."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Lily."

As usual, the use of her maiden name prevented people from establishing a connection between her and the Potter name. If she had used her husband's family name, things might have gone differently, but the events took place long ago, and the name of Evans was seldom mentioned. It was the name of her son who was famous above all else today, and not hers. Lily realized something.

"Your husband is not with you?"

"No. He had too much work. He works at the Ministry of Magic."

"It's sad that he cannot see his sons go to school."

"Well, on the other hand, he saw so many of them leave, it's become quite usual. What about your own husband, Lily? Is he working as well?"

Lily's mood soured again. It didn't take much for her to get emotional right now. "He's dead."

Molly Weasley's mouth became a perfect circle. "Oh, I'm truly sorry."

"It's fine, you couldn't know. I raised... my son alone." She almost said his first name. Had she done so, the woman in front of her might have guessed who she was and who her son was.

"It must have been hard."

"Yes. But he's my reason to live."

Molly sent her a smile to acknowledge she understood. Lily supposed that a woman with seven children could understand that.

"Mom, they're back," the little Ginny said.

Indeed, the children of Molly Weasley, who Lily guessed were, from the eldest to the youngest, Percy, Fred, George, Ronald and Ginny, had come back to say their farewells. Lily looked at her watch. They only had a few minutes left.

She stayed aside from their final conversation. As a mother, she owed another mother some alone time with her children before they left for an entire year. Still, being next to them, she could hardly miss the handkerchief Molly took out, which she finally used to rub the nose of her youngest son. She kissed the elder, who was prefect, on the cheek, then warned her twins to not blow up a toilet. The twins swore they never did that, but that it was an excellent idea. More seriously, the mother asked the twins to watch over their little brother. Lily wished in that instant Harry had a brother, though she may not have been reassured if he had been like those two. But then the conversation took a turn Lily didn't expect.

"Hey, Mom, guess what? Guess who we just met on the train?" one of the twins said.

"Who?" their mother asked.

"Harry Potter."

At her son's name, Lily took a sharp breath. This was it, the moment she dreaded so much. She knew it was inevitable, that people at Hogwarts would know who Harry was. Even if he managed to remain discreet on the train, there was the Sorting, during which each new student was called by his name in front of the whole school before the Sorting Hat chose the House they would belong to. Still, she dreaded this moment. Her son's time away from fame was over.

Another surprise was the first person who reacted to this news.

"Oh, Mom, can I go on the train and see him? Mom, oh please..."

"Ginny!" her mother berated the little girl. "That poor boy isn't something you goggle at in a zoo."

Lily couldn't tell how grateful she was to Molly Weasley in this very instant. However, the next words that were said didn't sooth her.

"Is he really Harry Potter, Fred? How do you know?" Molly asked.

"We asked him. We saw his scar." That damn scar! Harry had taken the habit, on Lily's initiative, to hide his scar behind his hair that fell on his forehead. His hair probably slipped, and they saw his front. "It's really there, like lightning. Do you think he remembers the face of You-Know-Who when he killed him?" Fred asked.

Lily was immediately brought back to that night when Voldemort tried to murder her son. He had done it under her eyes, while she was unable to move, her body broken beyond repair by Muggles' standards. She watched, powerless, as red eyes on a snake's face stared at Harry with a hatred she never witnessed, and a lust to kill that wasn't human, while white hands like spiders pointed the Killing Curse right where Harry now displayed his scar.

These were memories she pushed back. She tried to forget them, to focus on the present and future, on Harry. As she tried to get a hold on herself, the Weasley brothers went on the train as he was about to leave, promising their little sister who just started crying that they would send her lots of owls, and a Hogwarts toilet seat. Lily caught her son who looked through the window of his compartment at her, swinging his hand to tell her goodbye. Lily raised her hand as well while the Hogwarts Express moved forward. Ginny Weasley ran to keep up with the train as long as she could, and Lily watched her son go.

She stayed on the platform, unmoving, for a very long time, long after the train was gone and nowhere to see. And again, it was Molly Weasley who brought her back to the reality.

"Lily."

She realized she was crying. She hid her face. She never cried in public. She wasn't that kind of person. But Molly Weasley handed her a handkerchief, which Lily accepted after the woman insisted.

"I'm sorry. I feel so pathetic," Lily said as she gave back the handkerchief.

"No, not at all. It's normal, perfectly normal. Your son just left. It's normal that you're sad about it."

If only she knew. She wasn't only crying because of Harry. It was about James, about that night that came back to her, about all her uncertainties for the future, about what she would do now without her son, without a reason to go forward.

"I'm bringing Ginny to eat an ice cream cone. Muggles can sometimes prepare very delicious food. You want to come with us?" Molly offered.

"Thank you, but... I think I'll just go back home. I need to be alone."

"Okay. I can follow for a while if you want," she further offered.

"No, please. I need to be alone."

On that, Lily left. She travelled quickly through the magic platform, got through the barrier and went back to her car, not caring if someone saw. She shoved a few people on her way, but never stopped. And once she was inside her car, she burst into tears, and she cried until there were no tears left inside of her.

Chapter Text

HARRY III

 

The train slowed down until it stopped, the engine whistling and spitting out steam. Harry was out with Ron in no time, wearing their new wizard robes. He and Ron had shared the same compartment in the train during the trip and quickly got along, although Ron found it silly when Harry talked to him about the football he played before arriving here. He had also come across two of his brothers, the twins who helped him put his trunk in the luggage nets, and two other first years like them, Neville Longbottom, who he had met very shortly on the platform, and Hermione Granger, who came from a Muggle family like Harry's mother, but it was Ron he remained with. There had also been Draco Malfoy, the boy he met on Diagon Alley, who made an appearance and offered to help Harry determine the right from the wrong sort of wizards at Hogwarts, which Harry harshly declined. When it was obvious to Malfoy they would not be friends, he and his two acolytes, Crabbe and Goyle, tried to steal the food they had previously bought, only for Goyle to be bitten by Scabbers, Ron's rat. All in all, the journey to Hogwarts had been fun, and Harry let Ron talk to him about Quidditch. Harry realized that, despite his thorough reading of the Quidditch Through the Ages, there was still a lot he didn't know.

When he and Ron arrived on the platform, they heard immediately a booming voice.

"Come, on, follow me! Those in first year, follow me! Mind your step! First years, follow me!"

Harry was met with the sight of the tallest, biggest and hugest man he ever saw, a true giant. Though Harry wasn't sure if he was a true giant. He thought a few metres were missing. This one had his face almost completely hidden by long, shaggy, tangled hair and beard, though his eyes were shining under all his mane. He had a lantern in hand and kept shouting for first years to follow him. Harry looked at Ron, questioning.

"It must be Hagrid. My brothers talked to me about him. He's the game warden of the school."

Harry found him funny the way he looked.

"First years, are you all here? Anyone missing? Okay, first years..." All of a sudden, the giant stopped, and Harry had the uncomfortable sensation that he was looking at him. For a moment, the giant said nothing, but then he seemed to shake himself yup. "Very well. Boats are this way. Come on, this way!"

All first years followed Hagrid down a narrow path. As they kept progressing down, the path finally opened and Harry got his first look of Hogwarts. The pictures in the books didn't give it justice. Located on the top of a high mountain, the castle, rendered black by the night, displayed its turrets and towers against the dark sky, its window sparkling. A great black lake separated them from it. Harry wondered for a moment how they would get there.

"No more than four to a boat!" Hagrid boomed.

Of course. He had told them the boats were this way. Harry now noticed them on the shore. He and Ron took their place in the same boat, and Neville and Hermione joined them. When it was certain that everyone was safely inside of these boats, Hagrid boomed again.

"FORWARD!"

No need for oars or rows. The boats advanced on their own on the quiet lake, powered by magic. No sound could be heard as they got closer to Hogwarts, the castle towering them all more and more as they approached it. Harry's mother had told him how it was beautiful, but even her words couldn't give it justice. It was a marvel to look at. They lost sight of it when they got through a curtain of ivy hidden in the cliff. They then progressed through a dark tunnel underneath the castle, until they reached an underground beach of cobbles and rocks. To the general surprise, Neville found his toad in one of the boats when they disembarked. Hagrid then led them through stairs and a huge door on which he knocked.

They were then welcome by a tall woman of a certain age, with black hair tied into a bun and wearing green robes. She took over their responsibility and Hagrid left after wishing a good evening to Professor McGonagall.

Harry's mother had talked to him about this teacher. She was already teaching in Hogwarts back in the day his mother was a student here. His mother seemed to hold her in high esteem. She led them through corridors until they reached another set of heavy doors. From echoes of hundreds of voices Harry could hear from the other side, he guessed the rest of the school must already be there. Professor McGonagall stopped them here before they entered.

"Welcome to Hogwarts," she said. "The start-of-term banquet will begin shortly, but before you take your seats with your comrades, you will be sorted into your houses. The Sorting is a very important ceremony. While you are here, your house will be something like your family within Hogwarts. You will share the same classes, sleep in your house dormitory and spend free time in your house common room."

Harry was eager for that. His mother told him of several places of interests at Hogwarts, and he couldn't wait to visit them.

"The four houses," McGonagall continued, "are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. Each has its own noble history, and each has produced outstanding witches and wizards." Of the latter, Harry had no doubt, but he didn't see how noble the history of House Slytherin was. "While you are at Hogwarts, your triumphs will earn your house points, while any rule-breaking will lose house points. At the end of the year, the house with the most points is awarded the House Cup, a great honor. I hope each of you will be a credit to whichever house becomes yours. The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes. I suggest you all smarten yourselves as much as you can while you are waiting for it will take place in front of the rest of the school. I shall return then."

She left them here. Harry verified his robe to see if any dust or water was on it, but despite what they had gone through, it was perfect.

"We're going to be sorted in front of everybody?" Ron asked, with a hint of panic in his voice. "Fred said they were doing some test on us. But I'm not sure if he was joking or not."

Harry laughed. "He was joking. They just put a hat on our head and it decides which house we belong to."

"What?! I'll kill Fred! He told me we would be wrestling with a troll!" Harry couldn't hold back, but he muffled his laugh very quickly. "It's not funny!" Ron almost cried.

In the meantime, Hermione kept telling other people all the spells she learned for the Sorting, and how they might be useful. Although Harry had found interesting her interests in reading about everything magical, he found that she spent a little too much time speaking of everything she knew, as if she wanted people to know she was the best.

Ghosts then surprised them, causing even Harry to jump. He had never seen a ghost before. Each encouraged them to choose a house over the others. McGonagall then returned and led them inside the Great Hall after they formed a line. Behind the double doors, hundreds of students sat at four long tables, with another at the head and perpendicular to them with the teachers. Harry recognized Albus Dumbledore from some pictures he had seen before, and also Hagrid who led them here. But what attracted the most attention were the thousands of candles floating in the air over the tables, and the ceiling dotted with stars.

"It's bewitched to look like the sky outside. I read about it in Hogwarts: A History," Hermione whispered. Harry had read about it too, but reading and seeing it were again two entirely different things.

They arrived in front of a stool with an old-looking hat on top of it. So this was the Sorting Hat? Harry imagined it... different. At least, not full of patches and stitches and all dusty. But his thoughts were quickly interrupted when the hat began to sing, describing each house. When he was over, everyone in the Great Hall applauded, including Harry. Then when everyone was calmed down, the Professor McGonagall stepped forward with a long roll of parchment.

"When I call your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool to be sorted." She then called the first student. "Abbott, Hannah."

A blond girl Harry didn't see in the train and didn't notice on their way either stepped forward. Harry found her hair much more pleasant to look at than those of Draco Malfoy who was at the other side of their group standing before the hat.

McGonagall put the hat on the girl's head, and they all waited. After a moment, the hat spoke.

"HUFFLEPUFF!"

One of the tables burst into cheers. It went on this way student by student. Susan Bones got into Hufflepuff as well, Terry Boot went to Ravenclaw, just like Mandy Brocklehurst, then Lavender Brown chose Gryffindor. Milicent Bulstrode became the first Slytherin this evening. She was followed by Justin Finch-Fletchley who became a Hufflepuff, then it was Hermione's turn. This choice interested Harry a little more.

"GRYFFINDOR!"

Hermione jumped to the table of Gryffindor House, where Harry noticed Ron's brothers welcoming her. Ron, on his side, looked very displeased to see her at Gryffindor. Neville Longbottom joined the same house, to Harry's surprise in some way. Then it was Malfoy's turn. The hat barely touched his head that it sent him to Slytherin. Harry liked the boy and the house less and less.

It was then he felt a pair of eyes on him. One of the teachers, a man with greasy black hair and a hooked nose, had laid his dark eyes on Harry. The moment their eyes met, a sharp pain went across his scar, which disappeared very quickly though. It happened sometimes, but it never lasted very long.

"Harry, are you alright?" Ron asked him, worrying.

"Yes, I'm fine."

Harry looked away, trying to ignore the gaze of this teacher, though he felt it lingering on him. He focused on the next student being chosen, including several like Nott and Parkinson who joined Slytherin, then two twins who went separate ways, one in Gryffindor, the other one in Ravenclaw. As they progressed through the alphabet, Harry felt butterflies in his stomach as stress built up. And his name was called.

"Potter, Harry."

This caused the whole Great Hall to fall silent. Harry walked to the stool, his stomach upside down, as he tried to ignore the whispers around him.

"Did she say Potter?"

"That's really him?"

"The one who defeated You-Know-Who?"

His mother warned him about this, about how people would react by learning his name. He had his first experiences with Dedalus Diggle and Ollivander on Diagon Alley, then with Ron, his brothers and Hermione on the train, but he wasn't really prepared to all these gazes on him and the whispers behind his back. His legs were shaking as he took place on the stool. He must have been mistaken, but he thought he saw McDonagall address him a smile. It was a good thing the Sorting Hat was so big it dropped over his eyes and hid the Great Hall from his sight. He didn't see hundreds of people staring at him as if he was an attraction for tourists.

Harry didn't know what to expect once he would wear the hat. A small voice he guessed came from the hat could be heard, and he guessed only him could hear the hat speak.

"Difficult. Very difficult. I can see plenty of courage, a good mind, and even talent. There's even some pride, my goodness. A thirst to prove yourself. Very interesting. Where shall I put you?"

Harry's hands tightened around the stool. He wished strongly he would not go to Slytherin. Anywhere but not this house.

"Not Slytherin?" the hat whispered in his ear. "Are you sure? You have many talents. You could be great. I can see it in your mind. And Slytherin would help you on the way to greatness. No doubt about that."

Harry's grip on the stool got even stronger. No, he wouldn't go to Slytherin. Never.

"Well, if you're so sure... GRYFFINDOR!"

Harry was relieved beyond measure. He removed the hat very quickly and almost ran to the Gryffindor table, as far away as possible from Slytherins. While doing so, he probably received the biggest cheering of the evening. The whole table was standing up as he took his place. Ron's brother, Percy, shook his hand, while the twins were singing they got Potter. The cheering lasted so long he almost wanted to disappear, though he was still relieved because he avoided the green house. He wondered now how he could speak with the emblem of that house last month.

The rest of the Sorting went quite smoothly. Ron got selected for Gryffindor and joined him right away. The last student, Blaise Zabini, was sent to Slytherin. The rest of the evening went in a blaze. There was the feast. Food like Harry never saw before just appeared in the plates all over the Great Hall in an instant. After everyone ate more than they could, the Professor Dumbledore warned them that the forest was forbidden to all students, and so was the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side, that no magic was to be performed between classes in the corridors, and he also announced Quidditch trials, which Harry sadly would not be allowed to attend. They then sang the school's song and went to bed.

Harry fell asleep quite quickly once in the dormitories, except for a strange dream where the boa from the zoo told him to go to Slytherin. Harry didn't remember the dream in the morning.

Chapter Text

SEVERUS I

 

Severus Snape wandered through the undergrounds of Hogwarts. He just returned from the Slytherin common room. There was a fight down there between those two idiots Crabbe and Goyle. An apple never fell far from the tree. They were just as stupid as their fathers were. Severus suspected the only reason why the Dark Lord ever recruited them was because they did all his dirty work without question, no matter how dirty it was, and took pleasure in it. No wonder they were spared by the Ministry ten years ago. No one could have believed they actually planned the atrocities they committed, and the claim they were under the Imperius Curse worked like a charm.

Not even their friend, Draco Malfoy, could separate them, and they were only fighting over a croissant. Snape had respect for the Malfoy family. Unlike most former Death Eaters, Lucius Malfoy wasn't a brute only interested in making other people suffer. The man was actually intelligent and cunning, as was shown by how he managed to disentangle himself from the Dark Lord after the war was over, and without a protector like Severus did. The fact he taught Severus so many things during his first years at Hogwarts also placed the man high in his esteem.

Severus was expecting a lot from his son, Draco. If he was anything like his father, he would accomplish great things for the name of the Malfoys. But his inability to break off the fight between his two disciples (because Severus could see Crabbe and Goyle were more followers than friends to Draco) disappointed Snape. The Dark Lord never let his followers fight each other. But then, this Malfoy was still a young boy with a lot to learn, and lots of time to learn it. He deserved a chance, something Severus never got.

As he approached his classroom, he positioned himself behind a statue, in the darkness. No one would notice him here, and he would hear what the students would say as they walked in. He did this for every class at the beginning of the term, especially for first years in order to gauge them before they sat down. They were Friday morning, the first week this school year, and Severus was waiting for one new student in particular to show up. Or not. Given the resemblance with his father that he saw during the Sorting, it wouldn't surprise him if he missed his first Potions class.

Severus had cast a spell into his eyes, which enabled him to see through the matter within a limited range. As a result, despite the fact a statue concealed him, he could see and hear all the students who walked into his classroom through the statue and the walls.

This classroom was shared by Gryffindors and Slytherins, which made for an interesting combination. They were young, only children, and some of them, especially the Gryffindors who came from family of Muggles, might believe they were not enemies yet. Two weeks, a single month at most would convince them of the opposite if they were not fools.

However, and Snape regretted he had to admit it once again this year, Slytherins looked and sounded just as stupid as the Gryffindors who walked by him this morning. Miss Brown and Miss Patil talked about lipsticks that applied on lips on their own, while Miss Parkinson and Miss Greengrass talked about hair perfumes. Mr Thomas spoke about football, a Muggle sport Severus knew from his childhood, while Mr Zabini spoke about a strange magical sport he and his mother saw in Africa during the summer. Miss Granger told everyone she had memorized the whole manual for the class, while Miss Bulstrode boasted how she broke the arm of another student yesterday. The student must not have complained about it to any teacher or Madam Pomfrey, for Severus wasn't called to intervene on this matter. This was a weakness he despised far more than the childish bullying and boasting of Miss Bulstrode. Only Draco Malfoy, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle, behaved adequately, walking into the classroom as a true pure-blood wizard should.

The one Severus was waiting for arrived just before the course was about to begin, almost late. He was with the new Weasley in the castle.

"Do you think McGonagall could give you a favor treatment?" the redhead foolishly asked.

"I doubt it. My mother said she was her best teacher, but that she's also strict and impartial. There's no chance at that," Lily's son answered.

This caused a hit inside Severus. The boy looked so much like James Potter, he momentarily didn't think about the fact he was Lily's son as well, as he just mentioned it.

"By the way, Ron, you know this letter I received this morning? It was from Rebeus Hagrid. You know, the giant who conducted us at Hogwarts? He invited me to his home this afternoon."

"He told you why?"

"No, only that he was very eager to meet me, and he would be waiting."

"What would he want from you? He's the gamekeeper. If he wanted to meet Fred and George, I'd understand. They always go in the forest. But you?"

They walked into the classroom. The rest of their conversation was lost to Snape. Two other students, including Longbottom, came in at the last minute as well. He let some time pass, and when his course was due to begin, he cancelled the spell in his eyes, then violently opened the door and closed it the same way behind him.

"I'll remove ten points to the first student who breaks the silence."

These first years were at least not so stupid that they would speak after he said that. He took the parchment with the names of all students supposed to attend. Anyone who was missing would face dire consequences.

Each one of them was there, proving again they were not as foolish as he might have feared. He just said the name of a student, and the moment he raised his hand, he called the next one. It was only for one very specific name that he took some time.

"Harry Potter." He paused, and once the boy had raised his hand, he continued. "Our new celebrity."

He let the Slytherins laugh at it. It would be better if the boy learned his place quickly and lost any wrong idea that being famous might grant him any privilege.

He finished going through the names, then looked at the small crowd in front of him. The course started.

"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making. As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes. the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses..." He caught the look of Draco Malfoy, who seemed entranced by his speech and looked straight at him. "I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death, if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach."

Lucius Malfoy's son stared in wonder. If there was someone in this class he could do something with, it was this boy. His attention, however, was drawn by a soft sound of quill against paper, which came from none other than Harry Potter.

"Then again," he resumed, "maybe some of you have come to Hogwarts in possession of abilities so formidable that you feel confident enough to not pay attention."

The girl, Miss Granger, who was sitting right next to him, put an elbow in his ribs, which prompted him to stop right away. Then Severus met the eyes. Green and almond-shaped. They were just like hers. But all the rest was James Potter, including his behavior.

"Potter, what would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"

Granger raised her hand in the air so quickly that it was stupid in itself, as if someone threw a ball over her head and she tried to catch it.

"I don't know, sir," Potter answered.

Severus allowed a sneer to come into his face. "Fame clearly isn't everything. Let's try again. Potter, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?"

The girl raised her hand even higher, while Malfoy, Goyle and Crabbe continued to laugh uncontrollably.

"I don't know, sir," the spitting image of James Potter replied again. Severus wasn't surprised at all.

"I guess you didn't open a single book before coming, Potter."

It was at this instant he noticed something in his eyes. The fury. But this did not belong to James Potter.

"What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?" he asked, more to bury the glimmer in those green eyes than anything else.

An expression of surprise went onto his face while Granger stood up, her hand still raised, almost touching the ceiling. But Severus had already begun to turn his heels, knowing he wouldn't know the answer either.

"They're the same thing. A plant. We call that aconite," the boy's voice said to his back.

Everyone was caught by surprise, Severus the first. It was as if his dungeons had gotten even more still and cold than ever. The Slytherins had stopped laughing, and Granger was looking in awe at Potter. She was the first to move, sitting down, a disappointed expression on her face. Severus, on his side, didn't leave the green eyes who stared at him with the same defiance. A stare he knew only too well.

"For your information, to all of you, not just Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. And a bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. Well? Why aren't you all copying that down?"

All students rushed to their quills and ink. All except one, who continued to stare at him with his green eyes. Until, slowly, as if he deliberately wanted to taunt Snape, he went to write what he just said.

The first half of the course went this way. Severus decided to ignore Harry Potter, and the latter obviously decided to focus on his parchment, taking notes as quickly as the other students. When time came to prepare a simple potion to cure boils, he ordered the students in groups of two people. These idiots couldn't even prepare such a basic potion, except Malfoy maybe, who did almost no error. Snape gave his cauldron as an example, in an attempt to make the other students more careful, but it didn't stop one of those idiots in Gryffindor to add the porcupine quills before taking the cauldron out of the fire. This resulted in a melted cauldron and a red liquid spreading across the floor. Students climbed on their stools as they realized the potion was burning their shoes. The idiot who did this, Neville Longbottom, was crying as he received the liquid directly on him.

"Idiot boy! Take him to the hospital wing," he ordered to Finnigan. He then noticed Potter, sitting right next to the place Longbottom occupied. He had been one of the first on his stool.

"You, Potter. Why didn't you tell him not to add the quills? You thought it would make you look even better if he got it wrong? I remove one point from Gryffindor."

This time, Potter didn't stare at him. He looked at his shoes. The boy had understood where his place was this time.

After the class, at lunch time, Severus Snape went to the office of Headmaster Dumbledore. He found it stupid, but Albus Dumbledore had asked every professor to make a report in person about the first lesson of the first years. More specifically, he wanted a report about one student in particular, even though he didn't say it loudly.

"So, Severus," the old man asked him straight away as he entered, still writing while he spoke, "how went the class of Slytherin and Gryffindor this morning?"

"They're just as stupid as every year," he replied.

"You are too hard on them, Severus. Don't tell me you were a master of potions from the very first day you arrived at Hogwarts."

"I was better than any of them." He pushed aside the memories of his first day here. "I will be lucky if one of them makes it to the N.E.W.T. level."

"Well, you have five years to change this, Severus. And what about Harry Potter? How did you find him in your class?"

Severus snorted in derision. "He is mediocre. Just as arrogant as his father, and impertinent." That was a very good summary. He avoided mentioning the glare the boy sent him.

Albus Dumbledore looked at him, a confused expression on his face. "I'm surprised of this, considering he is the son of Lily Evans."

Severus cringed. "He has as much in common with his mother than a basilisk with a niffler."

"The other teachers reported that the boy is modest and respectful. Most of them find him likeable, even after a single class." Severus shouldn't be surprised. His father knew how to be liked by those he wanted. Severus was among the few who knew better and couldn't be fooled by such an act. "You should try to look at him as someone else than the son of James Potter." It was hard to do when he shared the same appearance and behavior as his father. Only the eyes were different. Those green eyes...

Severus chased them with another question, which strangely enough was quite close to the matter at hand.

"How is Lily Evans?"

"As strong, determined and beautiful as ever. And she wanted me to give you a message the last time we spoke."

This time, Severus was surprised. And in a very tiny corner of his mind, a glimmer of hope made its way.

"She said that if you even lay a finger on Harry, she will come to Hogwarts and kill you personally, if necessary."

The hope had disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. For a moment, Severus had been foolish. Maybe he still was. Maybe he would always be foolish, but he couldn't help it. It was part of him, and he felt it would always be part of him.

"She made herself clear," he flatly commented.

"Very clear, Severus. And I don't want you to treat this boy on the basis of his father. He's not guilty of the errors James Potter committed."

No, indeed. He was simply like his father. And Snape would treat him like any people who were like James Potter.

Chapter Text

LILY III

 

She took another mouthful of her salad, slowly ingesting it. She had bought it in the convenience store on the corner of the street when she got back from work. It was bland, tasting plastic, but it was nourishing enough.

The day had been hard at work. Lily had not talked about this to Harry. Maybe she didn't want to admit it to herself, but the company for which she worked wasn't faring well. They had lost one of their most important clients two months ago, and although numbers had never been Lily's force, she understood that the business was short of funds. Her boss couldn't afford to lose any major client, especially as he was currently going through a difficult divorce. He might be forced to liquidate his company. Lily expected to be dismissed at any moment. Several employees had already resigned, and most of them were looking for other employments.

But that wasn't the thing that preoccupied her mind lately. As always, it was Harry she thought about most of the time. She had spent his first week at Hogwarts waiting for his first letter. It had come last Saturday, in the form of Hedwig, the snowy owl she bought for him, waking Lily up in the morning by knocking against the window. She had almost snatched it from the poor animal, then almost ripped the paper when she opened the envelope. Her hands were shaking as she read.

 

Dear Mom,

My first week at Hogwarts has gone very quickly. I was afraid to look like a fool in class because I never practiced before and I just read books, but it seems most students are just as clueless about how to practice magic as I am. So far, I've had on class of each course: Transfiguration, Charms, Defence Against the Dark Arts, History of Magic, Astronomy, Herbology and Potions. We are having our first flying lesson next Thursday.

Most professors are nice, though it can be difficult to not sleep in History of Magic with Professor Binns. I wonder if he was already a ghost when you were at Hogwarts. It can also be hard to not suffocate in Professor Quirrell's classroom, which is filled with garlic to protect him from vampires, but I think he's also afraid of us, his own students. The worst was Professor Snape, in Potions. I don't know why, but he seems to hate me, not to mention that he favours the House of Slytherin at every turn, which no other Head of House does, not even McGonagall.

I should have told you right away, but I was selected into Gryffindor. I already made a good friend, Ronald Weasley (but everyone calls him Ron). We share the same dormitory with three other boys, including Neville who we saw at King's Cross. There's also a girl named Hermione, who I somehow get along, but she always speaks about what she learned in advance or what she knows that others don't, which is a little annoying.

The castle is very strange. I only managed to get to the Great Hall without getting lost today. There are ghosts everywhere and there's even one, Peeves, who spends his time playing tricks to us all day. I would find this all very funny in other circumstances, but when he does it while we're still trying to find our way to the next class, we come to hate him...

The letter went on and went on. Harry also asked if it was true that Rubeus Hagrid, Hogwarts' gamekeeper, was the one to get them out of their house ten years ago at Halloween. He invited Harry to his home close to the forest on Friday afternoon to talk to him. Lily had never told that to Harry, it was true. She didn't like to talk about that night. Furthermore, she wasn't conscious when Hagrid found them and brought them back to Hogwarts. This was probably why she never mentioned his name to Harry.

Lily had answered with a very detailed letter, even longer than the one her son had sent her. She remained awakened until long in the night to finish it and give it to Hedwig. It was probably a good thing that the snowy owl left in the darkness. It would attract less attention from the people in the neighborhood.

In her reply, she had told Harry the whole story about Hagrid getting them out of the ruins, but also how she and his father got to know him at Hogwarts. He was sometimes strange, like many people at Hogwarts, but he had a very good heart, and was truly a good friend. She also asked Harry to not hesitate and tell her if Snape caused too many problems. This man would not turn her son's life into hell.

The letter she had received was still on her dining table. She had read it again a few times since it arrived, even after she sent her reply to Harry. Now they were Thursday, at the end of the afternoon. According to him, Harry had his first flying lesson today. Lily wished she could have been there to see it. From the very moment Harry had straddled a broom, she saw he had a natural talent for it. Surely, he must have enjoyed this day. She only wished she could hear it with his own words, like she did for years.

The apartment felt so empty without him. Of course, there had been times when he angered her by making stupidities, and given his magical powers, they could be quite frustrating, but she would have given anything for him just to reappear the necessary time to start a fire on the table. Her days were empty outside of her work, and she thought ten times every hour about what her son might be doing on the moment.

Remus and Sirius had come to see her in the days following Harry's departure for Hogwarts, trying to reassure her. Remus was particularly understandable. He had seen how alone she felt. But they couldn't replace Harry. There was a huge hole in her life, and she didn't know how to fill it yet. She wasn't even sure she wanted to fill it.

She realized she wasn't hungry anymore. She had only eaten half her salad. She threw it in the garbage without ceremony. Through the window, you could see the park in the light of dusk. Harry used to wander there during his last two months here. He was so eager to leave, and she desperately wanted to enjoy the time left with him the most she could. She hadn't gone into his chamber since he left, not even to clean it. Not knowing what to do of her evening, she decided to take a walk like Harry used to. Its regulars must be wondering where the boy with glasses and a lightning-shaped scar had gone. Lily was heading to the hall when something knocked on her kitchen's window.

The repetitive blows made her jump. Her heart raised in expectation. She wasn't expecting another letter from Harry before the weekend. Her expectations were rapidly crushed when she saw the brown-spotted owl tapping the glass with its nozzle. Lily opened the window and let him in, then closed back the window behind. The letter was kept inside an envelope just like the ones Hogwarts used for the return to class. It used the same green ink. Only this time, although it had the same address, it was Lily's name on it, not Harry's. She opened it and was about to read, but another letter fell to the floor. This one missed the school's official headline. Lily decided to begin with this one.

 

Dear Lily,

I should have written to you sooner, but I'm glad I can do it in these circumstances.

You son didn't lose time for getting into trouble. One of the students got injured during his first flying lesson, and Madam Hooch had to escort him to the infirmary. Your Harry then got the wonderful idea of flying while his teacher was absent, against her clear and direct orders. I caught him in the act.

Although he did it because another student had begun to fly and stole an object that belonged to the injured student, I cannot approve of what he did. Still, I decided to not report him and the other student, for the sake of them both.

I must admit though, that if he hadn't disobeyed orders, I wouldn't have watched him catch a small round object right before it reached the ground. He's really got a natural talent. I asked Oliver Wood, the captain of the Gryffindor team, and he agrees.

Although we usually don't allow first years to play Quidditch, I'm willing to make an exception for your son, but we need your authorization. He would be the Seeker for Gryffindor's Quidditch team. He will also need a broomstick, this goes without saying. If you ever can't afford one, the school can help to pay it in part or in total.

Please reply as quickly as possible. I don't want someone to tell me I should have expelled him before.

Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall

 

Lily was stunned. Harry, on the Quidditch team? And as a Seeker? In his first year?

Even in Lily's time, first years couldn't play Quidditch. She remembered how James still tried to apply for the Gryffindor team the year he arrived and got rebuked. And her Harry would join the team because he disobeyed a teacher?

She read the other letter. This was mostly the same as the first, without the details on the flying lesson, and an official tone and request for Lily's approval. She sat down, trying to recover from everything she just learned. All of this was so unexpected. Of course, Harry was talented. He loved flying for his very early age, when his father still lived. And when he got older, he loved it even more, always asking to bring him somewhere where he could train. Lily couldn't do it as often as he would have liked, but she had done her best all the same.

Still, her Harry, Seeker of the Gryffindor team on his first-year? This was unbelievable. She read both letters again to be certain that she had not dreamed. It was real. It didn't take Lily long to answer her former teacher of Transfiguration. Her positive reply was short, hastily written, and she sent the owl back with it right away.

What excited her the most was that parents were allowed on Hogwarts grounds the days their children would play Quidditch. Only the parents of players could attend those games, and only parents of players who were actually playing on that day. This would allow her to see her son much sooner than she thought.

Lily left her apartment right after giving her reply, but it wasn't to go to the park like she initially planned. Instead, she walked an isolated street and Apparated. She reappeared in a desert back alley in London. She then walked to the Leaky Cauldron from which she entered Diagon Alley.

She wasn't noticed like the last time she came here with her son. At this hour, as night was about to fall, the pub was filled to the brim with customers. As for the Alley, it was just as animated at night as during the day, though with a different style of regulars. Those nightly customers were slowly taking the place of those who made their purchases during the day, but the day itself wasn't over yet, which meant even the boutiques that closed at night would still be open.

Lily had changed her clothes after she arrived in London, benefitting once again of her very special purse. It only looked like a casual purse that all Muggle women used to carry their identity papers and beauty material, but this one was made bigger on the inside by an Extension Charm. So she could change in her witch attire and walked on the Alley directly to the Quality Quidditch Supplies store.

She had seen Harry look for a very long time at that store when they walked by it last month. They didn't stop, for they had too many other purchases to do and nothing on his list was to be found in that store. But today, Harry needed something, and Lily had all the good reasons in the world to go into that store.

Lily herself had never walked into this place before. From both of them, it was James who loved Quidditch. Lily always had a limited interest for the sport, judging him too violent more than once. At the same time, Quidditch had its footprint on many beautiful memories she had. Quidditch games were a moment where all students were brought together in a great celebration. Lily had many fond memories where she watched a game with her friends, even in her very early years at Hogwarts. And of course, after James stopped acting like a spoiled child and they began to date, she spent a wonderful time encouraging him while he played as a Chaser.

The store was filled with brackets holding broomsticks of all sizes and styles, along with Bludgers firmly held by strong chains, Quaffles lying peacefully on shelves and even Golden Snitches, probably the most valuable products in the store. There were also books on the sport along with various items from the most popular teams in the world.

The store was also full of people, despite the hour. There was no season or time of day for this sport, and this applied to its fans as well. Lily started to look at the broomsticks, but she was uncertain which one would best suit Harry. She finally caught the attention of a salesman.

"May I be of help, Mrs?"

"Yes. My son just joined a Quidditch team and I need to buy him a new broomstick."

"You are at the right place, Mrs. We have the best brooms in Great Britain. I suppose your son is not with you?"

"No, he's not. He's at Hogwarts."

"Too bad. If he was here, we could get his height and weight, we could choose the best length and strength for his broom.

She told him his weight and height.

"Oh, your son is quite skinny," he commented.

"He's only eleven-years-old."

The salesman looked quite surprised. "I believed first-years could not fly at Hogwarts."

"Well, they made an exception."

The man looked quite skeptical but didn't press any further. "Due to his frame and age, we must choose a broom that will not only support him today, but also in many years as he grows up. Does he intend to play Quidditch for a long time?"

"I think so."

"Then we need something heavy enough so he may keep control of it today, but also that may support him later. What is his position?"

"Seeker."

The salesman showed quite more surprise. "Really? At this age? Well, due to what you've told me, he has the frame for it, and his age helps in those circumstances. Okay. So we need something that will be as powerful and light as possible. What range of price are you ready to consider?"

Lily thought about it for a moment. "What's the best broom you would have to offer?"

The salesman looked surprised again, but Lily also noticed the excitement in his eyes. He went to the window to show her what was displayed to all people walking in the alley. Some brackets held a sleek and shiny broom with a mahogany handle, a long tail of neat, straight twigs and gold letters near the top where you could read Nimbus Two Thousand.

"This the best model currently available on the market, from the latest shipment we received. Perfect for any position, but most particularly for Chasers and Seekers."

"Very well, I take it."

He gave her the price, which was much higher than she expected. Luckily, they were in the world of magic, not of Muggles. Lily gave them a written authorization to take the money in the vault six hundred and eighty-seven, the vault that was at her name since James died and that contained all their fortune, untouched for almost ten years.

Lily left the store with the broom packed into brown paper. She returned to her apartment very quickly thanks to Apparition and wanted to send the broomstick to Harry right away. She then realized that she had no owl. Hedwig was at Hogwarts, and she sent back Professor McGonagall's owl sooner in the evening. With an excited smile, she hid her purchase inside Harry's now unoccupied bedroom. Toys and books lingered there and there as she had not removed them already. She carefully placed the broom on his bed, thinking what a surprise he would get the next time Hedwig would come back from his home.

Chapter Text

McGONAGALL I

 

Formulas were shouted from one side of the class to the other. Wands split the air. There were a few students, as always, who spoke about something else than the Transfiguration spell they had to practice.

It was Wednesday afternoon and Minerva McGonagall was observing her students trying to change a small piece of wood into parchment, a pretty basic transformation. As usual, her students were struggling to succeed. They approached the end of the class. As a result, she had to be more severe and careful than ever, pushing her students to try again, and again, and again until the last second. As the last course of the day, maintaining their focus was even harder, and the fact they were first-years didn't help either. She had already sent two to the infirmary, Neville Longbottom who mistakenly turned the flesh of his index into wood, and Seamus Finnigan who touched the wood and caused it to explode in his face. Another student had also put the fire to his wood, which she ended quickly without anyone being hurt.

Accidents were a standard at Hogwarts, but sometimes Minerva wondered how Finnigan managed to make everything he touched, or rather everything he touched while trying to cast a spell, explode. As for Longbottom, she failed to understand how the boy, with the two parents he had and the grandmother who raised him, all exceptional wizards Minerva personally knew, failed at everything he attempted.

Not that family mattered much when it came to the mastery of magic. In thirty-five years of teaching, she had seen wizards from pure-blood families become disasters and others turning to be the greatest wizards of their time. The same could be told of half-bloods such as herself and Muggle-borns. The perfect example was Hermione Granger. She was among the few who had already managed today's transfiguration, and the only one who succeeded at every class. That girl earned more points to her house than anyone else, and Minerva was more than happy to give them to Gryffindor. Not that she would have given more or less points if the girl had belonged to Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff or Slytherin, but she was happy it went to her own house.

She told Miss Patil to hold her wand more firmly as she let it slip on the floor after another attempt, warned Mr Thomas to not agitate his like he did, unless he wanted to share Mr Finnigan's fate, admonished Miss Bones for doing more talk than work, encouraged Mr Finch-Fletchley to resume his spellcasting after half the wood turned to paper, and berated Mr Weasley so he continued to work. He was the sixth she had to handle in this generation, just as red haired as all the others, but at least he seemed to be only lazy, not a troublemaker like the twin brothers.

"You still have some work to do, Potter, if you want this to be a whole parchment." She pointed the small corner in the upper right, a square barely one inch by side, that was still made of wood.

"Yes, Professor. I'm trying."

"Keep trying. And harder."

"Yes, Professor."

Well, this boy might the spitting image of his father, at the exception of the eyes, but he behaved much better than James Potter at the same age. Harry Potter's father had been a talented student from the very beginning, and he had known it. It wasn't rare that he put his feet on his desk and feigned to sleep in the middle of the class after he performed the charm, and sometimes before he performed it, just then to show teachers he could do it when they asked him to get to work. This earned him many detention periods from McGonagall, and she knew he was looking forward for these sometimes. In comparison, his son was the image of his mother's calm, focus and goodwill.

Lily Evans had been a very good student from the very beginning as well. McGonagall still recalled her first day in Transfiguration. She had succeeded in changing her match into a needle, but in her excited state, she had hurt herself with the needle she just created when she took it into her hand. McGonagall had been pleasantly surprised, just like with Miss Granger. Although there were good and wonderful wizards among Muggle-borns just as among pure and half-bloods, it was very rare to see a Muggle-born perform so well in his first day of class. Lily Evans and Hermione Granger were exceptions, water drops in the ocean.

She watched Granger, who was about to duplicate her earlier exploit with a second piece of wood, then Potter, who still tried with all the focus in the world to complete his own transfiguration. But it was too late.

The class ended with the bell and Minerva ordered all the students to leave, giving them homework to do on a chapter in their Transfiguration book, and gathering their attempts with a single spell which made the pieces of wood and half-parchment fly over to her desk, the names of each student writing itself on their respective piece in the process.

The class was quickly empty. The children would not linger for long at the end of the day, but one of them took his time and approached her office when everyone was gone.

"Yes, Potter? You had a question about today's lesson?" she asked the boy. He seemed quite shy and hesitant.

"No, Professor McGonagall. But... I have something to ask you."

"Go on."

"Well, I know this is Halloween next week."

"It is. There's a banquet in the Great Hall that evening. I'm sure you and your comrades won't miss it for anything else in the world."

"Well, the thing is... I was wondering if I could leave the castle for this day."

"Potter, the students are not allowed to leave the perimeter of the castle during the year."

"I know, but... This year, at Halloween... it will be ten years since..."

Realization dawned upon McGonagall. How could she have forgotten that? "I'm really sorry, Potter."

"My mother and I... we always visit my father's grave on this day. I just... I would like to accompany her like I do every year."

The boy gave her a pleading look. McGonagall may be strict, but she was also human. "I will talk about this with Professor Dumbledore and see what we can do. I'll come back to you with an answer very quickly."

"Thank you, Professor."

The boy left the class with his bag on the shoulder. Minerva followed him with her eyes until he was out, her gaze fixed on the door frame a long moment after he was gone.

"Lily Evans is lucky to have a son like this," she muttered to herself.

She left her classroom and, after ordering her student's works back to her office with another spell, she headed towards Dumbledore's office in the Headmaster's Tower. After giving the password to the gargoyle keeping the entry, she climbed onto the spiral staircase that moved upwards until she arrived before the oak door, which proved insufficient to mute the loud conversation taking place on the other side. Severus Snape was shouting so loudly that Minerva heard him while the staircase was still bringing her up.

"He is mediocre, arrogant as his father, a determined rule-breaker, delighted to find himself famous, attention-seeking and impertinent..."

"You see what you expect to see, Severus," Dumbledore's voice resonated, even from the other side as McGonagall approached the door. "Other teachers report that the boy is modest, likeable and reasonably talented. Personally, I find him an engaging child."

She knocked as the Professor Dumbledore was finishing his sentence. She made sure she knocked loud enough for both of them to hear.

"Come in," the headmaster's voice said, and Minerva obeyed. "Professor McGonagall."

"Professor Dumbledore. Professor Snape," she saluted both. "I'm sorry if I interrupted your discussion. I heard a student was causing problems. Should I be aware of who that is, just in case?"

"I doubt it would do any good," Severus Snape softly said, in contrast with his previous tone. "It seems all the other teachers in this school have fallen under the charm of the Boy Who Lived."

"Anyway, this discussion was coming to an end." Dumbledore sent a sustained gaze to Severus who walked away without giving any attention to Minerva. "Don't forget to watch over him, Severus," Dumbledore added as his interlocutor loudly closed the door.

"Is there any problem with Potter? Since he is a student of the House of Gryffindor, I should be part of any discussion pertaining to him," she pointed out.

"Not too many problems. I'm just afraid that Severus is allowing his long hatred for the boy's father to influence his opinion on the son."

"Well, physically, he is the very image of James Potter, but he shares much more with Lily Evans than her eyes."

"Something most teachers agree on."

"But not Severus?" she asked, unsurprised about this.

"Not Severus. And the fact Harry Potter is a Gryffindor doesn't make things better. But outside of this incident during the flying lessons, no teacher had anything to complain about, and the complaining teacher in this case chose not to pursue the matter."

The teacher in question was herself. "Considering the circumstances, I thought it would be better to let water fall under the bridge. I wasn't about to expel a student only for trying to recover something another student stole."

"Especially when he can be an excellent Seeker." She returned the amused smile he sent her. "But while we're talking the Head of a House complaining about the student from another house, what is your opinion about Draco Malfoy?"

Minerva didn't expect such a question. She answered as politely and truthfully as she could. "Not to echo the conversation I just surprised, but Malfoy proved to be neither modest, nor likeable, nor an engaging child. But he is reasonably talented. I cannot deny his aptitudes."

"The difference between you and Severus is that you didn't tell me."

"Being mean is not against our regulations, nor is being arrogant. As long as he doesn't attack, hurt or cause any kind of harm or prejudice to another student, I can't reprimand Malfoy, at least not by removing points to his house or holding him in detention."

"What about that Remembrall he stole from another student, and the fact he took flight against Madam Hooch's warning? It did deserve some reprimand."

"Which I would have needed to bring to Severus. I think he rather liked that I just let this first infringement go. Furthermore, the Remembrall was given back to Mr Longbottom in the end. Anyway, judging from his reaction when Potter received a Nimbus Two Thousand, Draco Malfoy has already been punished."

"Let's hope it will be enough. But let's put that aside. I suppose you didn't come here to talk to me about those two students."

"Well, I came to talk about the first. Potter came to me with a request. About the day of Halloween."

"Ah." Dumbledore's face turned sadder. McGonagall deduced that, unlike her, he remembered very well what day that was. "Of course. Ten years since that fateful night. He must want to accompany Lily to Godric's Hollow."

Minerva frowned. "You know about this?"

"Of course, I do, Minerva. You really think I wouldn't watch over Lily and her son after what happened to James? I've followed their movements and their lives over the years. And every year, on October 31, Lily Evans and her son Harry go to Godric's Hollow, to visit James' tomb."

Minerva sighed. "Normally, we don't allow students to leave the school, except for emergencies, but in this case... Although this is not an emergency, perhaps we should think about the mother as much as about the boy."

"I agree. This day is always hard for Lily. And for the tenth anniversary of her husband's death, it will be especially difficult for her if Harry is not with her."

"I agree. But at the same time, can we really allow Potter to miss his classes? He's got courses in Charms and Transfiguration on this day."

"If possible, we should avoid it. Perhaps we could just let him leave for the evening. Even though this is an event to not miss, the Halloween banquet is not compulsory. There's only one obstacle I can see here."

"Which is?" The truth was, she had thought about this possibility of allowing Harry Potter to leave for the evening, but she wanted to confirm with Dumbledore before telling the boy. She wanted to be sure before saying to this begging child whether or not he could go to Godric's Hollow on the day of Halloween.

"I don't believe Lily Evans will want her son to miss Hogwarts' Halloween party. Even if it is to accompany her to her husband's grave."

Minerva had not thought about that. "The best thing would be to send her an owl and ask her right away."

"Maybe. Or better, you go see her yourself and you ask her the question."

She was caught by surprise at the suggestion. "You want me to visit Lily Evans in person just to ask her if she wants her son to come visit her on Halloween?"

"Yes, I do. When was the last time you saw her?"

The last time she saw Lily Evans? McGonagall knew and remembered it very well. It was in the early hours of November 1st, 1981, the day after the horrible tragedy that hit the Potters. Hagrid had brought Lily and her son back from Godric's Hollow on the flying motorcycle he borrowed from Sirius Black. She was there when they were brought to the hospital wing, Lily being carried hastily on an improvised stretcher, her clothes torn apart, her whole body covered with bruises, cuts, lacerations, burns, and most obviously blood and dust. It was a miracle she was still alive. Her baby, in comparison, was unharmed except for the scar on his forehead, as if a shield had been created around him, protecting him from everything, from the crumbling house to the Killing Curse He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named cast. 

"You only saw her while she was unconscious at the infirmary." It was as if Albus Dumbledore was reading her mind. "I think it might be time to reunite with this former student of yours."

Minerva McGonagall had always maintained a professional distance between her and her students. She was their teacher, and although she had her favourites, students she liked more than the others, she made sure she never became friends with them, especially while they were at school. It was inappropriate for a professor to show favoritism towards any one of her pupils, and to ensure it remained that way, she needed to maintain that distance. She was strict and hard as a teacher, but only so her students would put all their efforts in their studies, helping them to become accomplished wizards and witches one day. Lily Evans had been one of those.

Minerva was already deputy headmistress and responsible for the Sorting Ceremony when Lily Evans arrived at Hogwarts. She put the Sorting Hat on her head, and the Hat sent her to Minerva's own house, Gryffindor. She came from a family of Muggles and was the first witch in her line. As soon as her first class, she showed her magical abilities, her talent, her seriousness and her determination. In this time more than today, it was hard and dangerous to be Muggle-born, as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was at the peak of his power. Lily Evans had to endure mockeries and hatred from many students, and not only from Slytherins, her talent and origins both making her a target. Still, she persevered. McGonagall saw her mature to a young woman through the years, becoming a popular student and attaining the rank of Head Girl in her last year at Hogwarts. She joined the ranks of the Order of the Phoenix as soon as she left school, and it wasn't long before she got married to James Potter barely a year after her school years were over. People got married early in that time, as the threat of the Dark Lord made life quite uncertain and they wanted to enjoy it the most while they could. Lily was pregnant the year she got married, and her son was born the year after.

Minerva had appreciated Lily as a colleague in the Order of the Phoenix, which she was a member of as well. She and her husband James were only active in the fight against the Dark Lord for a short period but, living on James' fortune, they dedicated their whole time to this fight and inflicted severe damage to Voldemort and his followers. That must be why he targeted them and their child when Harry was born. When McGonagall saw Lily severely hurt after that night in 1981, a girl who had been her student only three years ago, something broke inside of her. She taught these children for seven years, only for them to be harmed and slaughtered, or for them ending up joining the forces of evil. She almost had a breakdown after this, but Albus helped her get through this and Minerva resumed her work.

Now, an hour after her discussion with the headmaster, she was standing in front of her chimney in her office, with a small pinch of Floo powder. What she was about to do was not very polite, entering into someone else's home without asking for permission first. But well, it was better than Apparition, which might attract unwanted attention. She threw the powder in the fireplace, turning its flames into emerald green, and walked into it.

"26 Elm Street, Northampton," she declared very clearly.

Minerva felt the usual spinning proper to this sort of transportation. She watched the chimneys streaming in front of her, until she reached the one that was her destination. Then she stepped forward.

She landed into a small living room that was definitely furnished in a Muggle style. And standing in the middle of it, Lily Evans stared at the intruder, looking shocked when she realized who it was.

"Professor McGonagall? What are you doing here?"

"Hi, Lily." She continued speaking as she threw spells to dust herself off and the surroundings of her arrival, putting back everything into place by the same occasion. She didn't think Lily would appreciate if she left her living room in ruins. "You surely regard it as rather unorthodox, my pushing into your apartment uninvited. But I needed to speak with you."

"Has something happened to Harry?" she immediately asked. It was the first question a parent was expected to ask when their child's teacher showed up at their home late in the middle of the evening.

"No. Let me reassure you, he is fine."

Her expression shifted from worry to exasperation "Don't tell me he's violated the rules, again?"

Minerva refrained from smiling. "No. In fact, he's quite conscientious and respectful of the rules. No one had to complain about that." No one but Severus Snape, of course. "No, I just wanted to talk with you. The matter which I must address is unrelated to your son's behavior at school."

Lily Evans seemed surprised. "Oh, well. In this case... You may take a seat if you want."

"Thank you."

"I may prepare you something if you'd like. Tea?"

"No," Minerva kindly replied as she took her place at the table. "I will not abuse your hospitality with the way I arrived."

"Okay."

She sat down in front of McGonagall. The teacher took a quickly deeper look at her former student. Years had been kind to Lily Jane Evans Potter, at least in the physical sense of the word. She was only thirty-one years-old, still in the beauty of her age. If she had wanted, she definitely could have remarried after her husband's death and have other children. Of course, she didn't do it. Minerva, as a woman who sacrificed her first love many years ago, could understand why Lily Evans didn't feel the need to remarry. On the emotional side, however, Minerva found that she had lost a great deal of the determination and strong will she displayed as a student and as a member of the Order of the Phoenix. She seemed tired, sad... alone.

"So, why are you here?" Lily asked her.

"Your son has come to me with an unusual request. He's asked me to let him spend the day of Halloween with you."

If Minerva expected any reaction of shock or surprise or even delight on Lily's face, she was disappointed. The woman just looked down with a resigned look. "I should have expected that." She said no more for quite a while. "Are the Halloween celebrations at Hogwarts still famous?"

"Yes, they are," Minerva confirmed.

"I was hoping he wouldn't think about that. I still remember my first Halloween there when I was eleven."

Lily smiled, probably by remembering the fond memories of her childhood that Minerva remembered as well. There had been a food battle in the Great Hall in her first Halloween at Hogwarts, which happened so quickly and developed into a full-scale war across the whole room before the professors could control it. They had managed to take back control of the situation and to punish those who started it, but most students had loved the experience, and Albus Dumbledore himself had found it quite funny. Minerva had to admit their students were quite happy to be covered from head to toe by pumpkins of various tastes.

"You don't want him to come?" Minerva asked Lily.

"I would like him to enjoy his time at Hogwarts. To enjoy Halloween. He didn't have this chance while living with me. We never did anything for that day."

Minerva nodded. "He almost begged me to let him go."

She sent a sustained gaze to Lily, who looked down again at the table. She sighed. "I could just... bring him with me to Godric's Hollow early in the morning, then he could go back to the castle and..."

"I'm sorry, Lily, but he has classes in the morning and the afternoon. We are ready to let him leave the castle in the evening after they are over, but we cannot let him miss a course. He will not be able to be with you on this day if he goes to the banquet."

She was firm on that point. They could make an exception for the evening, but nothing more. Lily seemed lost in her thoughts for a moment.

"Okay," the mother finally said. "I'll pick him up at the end of the day in front of the castle's gates. What is the latest hour he could return?"

"We're giving you until ten o'clock in the evening. He must return to the castle before this hour."

"Okay."

She didn't seem very happy about this. Minerva was concerned about her. She really looked miserable.

"Are you fine, Lily?" she asked, out of concern.

"Yes, I am." She didn't look like it. McGonagall was at a loss. She understood better why Harry begged her to let him spend that day with his mother.

"Lily, there's another reason why I came. I wanted to apologize. I know I haven't kept in touch with you after... that night. I'm sorry about that."

"Don't be. I needed to take my distance with the world of magic. It wouldn't have worked if my former teachers and friends came to visit me all the time."

Minerva had to agree. She didn't stay for long afterwards. Like she said, she didn't want to abuse Lily's time. When she returned to her office, intent on correcting the works her students gave her today, she thought about how the Lily she just saw looked like a shell of the seventh grade student she used to know. The happy woman she used to be, even through the worst days of the last war, seemed gone, replaced by a lone woman living in an empty apartment among the Muggles. Harry Potter's scar was famous. He received it the night the Dark Lord tried to kill him. But Lily Evans was scarred as well on that occasion, and Minerva was afraid the scar, while not visible, went far deeper than her son's.

Chapter Text

HARRY IV

 

When Harry woke up on Halloween's day, he wished he could have been happy or excited. The corridors of Hogwarts were filled with the smell of pumpkin wafting in all imaginable places. Official announcements and rumors about the Halloween banquet in the evening made everyone dream and salivate. They were even told by Professor Flitwick when they walked into the Charms class this morning that he would teach them how to make objects fly.

All this would have thrilled Harry if it wasn't for the fact this was the tenth anniversary of his father's death. Professor McGonagall told him last week, the day after he asked her about it, that he would be allowed to leave after the day's classes. His mother would meet him at the gates, and they would Apparate to Godric's Hollow. He would only be allowed outside the school's grounds for a few hours.

Harry had no memories of his father. It was as if he never knew him. At the same time, he did sometimes wish he had a father, as happy as he was with his mother. But his mother was always so sad on these days that he couldn't help but want to be with her on that occasion. He felt her sadness, and he couldn't be happy knowing how hard this day was for her. As a result, he didn't meet any success while trying to make the feather fly. No matter how he tried to focus on it, his thoughts always returned to his mother, wondering how she felt right now.

They had been arranged in pairs to practice the spell, and Harry found himself with Seamus Finnigan. What had to happen finally happened when Seamus touched the feather on a hundredth attempt. Instead of flying in the air, the feather exploded into his face, to the amusement of everybody in the class. They were provided with another feather and Harry kept failing at making it fly. It had seemed so effortless to his mother, back when he was nine and she made him fly over his bed to prove him that she was a witch.

"Harry, focus on the spell," Hermione rebuffed him. "You've been staring at it for two long minutes without doing anything."

He made an inaudible sound with his mouth just so she may think he heard her. Ron and Hermione had been paired together, and it was hard to tell who between Ron and Hermione was angrier about this. Ron was Harry's best friend since he arrived at Hogwarts. As for Hermione, matters were a little more complicated. The truth was, there were times when Harry liked her. Since arriving, Harry had borrowed a few books in the school's library, eager to learn even more on the world of magic. There were far more to read here than at home, and Hermione helped him when their paths crossed in the library. She even suggested him a few works. She had also complimented him after the class when he succeeded to answer one of Snape's questions, the one about aconite. Truth was, Harry had been lucky on that. He didn't learn it in his potions manual, but in some of the random books he read maybe one year ago, and he just happened to remember it on this day.

There were times he could have considered Hermione as a friend, but ever since he and Ron went to the Trophy Room one night after Malfoy called a duel and she followed them, she wouldn't speak to them, except to blame them for something or another. They were forced to run away from Filch and his cat, Mrs Norris, and had ended up face to face with an enormous three-headed dog. When they finally made it back to their common room, Hermione complained, in her own words, we could have been killed, or worse, expelled. This girl definitely needed to sort out her priorities.

Ron was at the end of his patience and was shouting the formula, Wingardium Leviosa, while swinging his arms all around in large movements. For all that, this did not make his feather fly.

"You're going to put your wand into someone's eyes," Hermione complained, something which Ron almost did an instant ago. "And you're saying it wrong. It's Win-gar-dium Levi-o-sa, with the gar nice and long, and no emphasis on the sa."

"Do it, then, if you're so clever," Ron retorted. Harry was sure he would regret it right away.

Hermione did the wrist movement just like Professor Flitwick taught them, swish and flick, and pronounced the formula perfectly. The feather rose in the air, getting higher until it reached the ceiling, while Professor Flitwick only asked of them to get a few feet in the air.

"Oh, well done!" the small professor, all excited. "Everyone see her. Miss Granger succeeded."

However, Seamus chose this moment to make another attempt, causing another explosion which Harry barely managed to avoid. This time, he couldn't hold back a laugh with the rest of the students.

At the end of the class however, his humor had returned to its usual gloom on this day. Ron was no better, his bad temper erupting as he, Harry, Dean and Seamus walked out of the class, Harry staying a little behind them all.

"No wonder no one can stand her. She's a nightmare. Who would like to be friends with her?" Ron loudly said.

Harry felt a stab in the ribs when someone ran into him from behind. Just as Hermione quickly walked past them all, he saw her face for a brief moment. She was in tears.

"I think she heard you," Harry told Ron, his gaze not leaving the girl who was almost running.

"So? She must have noticed she's got no friends," Ron said.

The Transfiguration class in the afternoon went as usual, McGonagall pushing them to their limits despite the day they were. The professor was quite surprised when she noticed Hermione's absence and asked students where she was. None answered. However, during class, in a rare moment where McGonagall's attention might have failed, Harry heard Parvati Patil tell Lavender Brown that Hermione had shut herself up in the girls' toilets, crying. Ron looked awkward when he heard them, but this didn't last long for McGonagall ordered them to focus on their transfiguration spell again.

At the end of the class, the professor asked Harry to her desk. "Potter, Hagrid will be waiting for you in the entrance hall. He will lead you through the park to the gates. Your mother will be waiting for you there," she said in a whisper. No one but Harry would hear it.

Harry nodded, recovered his things then left the class. Ron was waiting for him outside.

"Are you sure you don't want to attend the banquet? They say there's going to be thousands of real bats flying all around, and Dean heard a vampire would visit us," he told Harry as they started their way to the common room.

"I can't. I've got to go to Godric's Hollow."

"You could at least partake to the beginning," his friend suggested.

"No, or we won't have enough time. I've got to go."

"As you wish. But really, I don't find it nice that your mother forces you to go there at Halloween."

For the first time since he met Ron, Harry wanted to punch him in the face. Instead, he just yelled. "Hey, I asked to go. And it's been ten years since my father died. Did you forget you too?"

"No, no." Ron raised his hands in innocence. "I'm sorry."

This had attracted quite the attention from other students in the corridor who now looked at them. Harry resumed his way with Ron, but they didn't talk until they reached Gryffindor's common room.

Ever since he arrived at Hogwarts, Harry had experienced what his celebrity entailed. People were whispering behind him everywhere he went: in the corridors, in the Great Hall, in the classrooms, in Gryffindor's common room, and even in their dormitory. After two months, the whispers had quieted a bit, but he could still hear them regularly. It was difficult for him to leave the common room without someone telling to a friend who he was while pointing him. But despite this, all everyone was thinking about today was Halloween. No one realized it had been ten years now that Voldemort tried to kill him and that his father died. No one offered condolences, not even the boys with who he shared the dormitory, not even Ron.

He walked into their dormitory and put back into place his school material, not exchanging a word with anyone. Dean and Seamus were talking excitedly about the upcoming banquet, Ron remained silent, and Neville was absent, probably looking for Trevor again. Harry didn't linger and left the dormitory.

Halloween wouldn't be a cheerful day this year either. He watched the common room filled with activity as he went down the stairs. Many people were already hurrying to the banquet. Harry got the distinct impression to belong to another world in this moment. His mother may already be waiting at the gates. He continued his path. When he arrived at the portrait, it opened. Parvati walked in, her expression just as joyful as all others'. As she walked past him, something came up to his mind.

"Parvati, is Hermione still in the toilets?" he asked.

"Yes. My sister Padma, I just saw her, and she was coming back from them. She said Hermione is still crying there."

Halloween would not be a happy time for someone else. Harry resumed to walk. The corridors were filled with pumpkins and students about to go to the banquet. As he progressed, he heard the laughs, the screams of surprise when Peeves surprised a student, and the ghosts talking between themselves. He had donned a heavy cloak for the outside since it would be cold tonight. He envied the other people who would just feast while he was away, but he needed to be there for his mother. He would be the only one tonight to not participate to the banquet.

Well, there was someone else. Harry stopped in his track. Hermione annoyed him quite often, but... He looked at his watch. His mother would be at the gates soon. Well, maybe...

He turned away and crossed the corridors who were already deserted, except for a few lone students who were hurrying to the banquet, afraid they might miss something. He also saw Professor Quirrell on his way. It took some time, but he reached the girls' toilets in the end. He hesitated for some time. Maybe he should just go to the gates. He decided what to do and knocked on the toilets' door.

"Go away! Leave me alone!" No doubt, it was Hermione's voice.

Harry wasn't sure if it was a good idea to insist, but something told him it was the right thing to do. "Hermione, it's me. Harry."

"Go away!"

"Look, I'm sorry for what Ron said." He felt stupid and awkward saying that.

"Leave me alone!"

"Hermione, I just... came to wish you a good evening. I... Can I come in, please? Is there someone else inside?"

"Leave me alone!"

"Look, I just want to see if you're okay before I leave. Can I come in?"

He knew he shouldn't enter the girls' toilets, but it was just to make sure Hermione was fine.

"I'm alone," Hermione finally said, her tone lower.

"Can I come in?" he asked. There was no answer. He waited some time. "Look, I'm coming in. If you don't want me to, just say it." No answer came again. When he had waited sufficiently long, slowly, carefully, and after checking around to make sure no one would see him, Harry went in.

The girls' toilets were not much different from those for the boys, except maybe one item for obvious reasons, but he didn't really pay attention to this, seeing Hermione curled up against the wall, her arms hiding her face.

"Are you alright?" It was a stupid question again, but he was at a loss of words. Probably for the better for both of them, she didn't answer. "Can I sit next to you for a moment?"

He thought she wouldn't answer, but he saw her nod imperceptibly between her arms. So he went to sit against the wall, just like she did.

"Why aren't you at the feast, like everyone else?" she asked in a weak voice.

"I'm going to Godric's Hollow. It's October 31."

He was looking ahead at the other wall, but he thought he heard Hermione's movement to straighten her head a little. "Your father died ten years ago today?"

"Yes." Finally, someone remembered it, even if Harry had to point her in the right direction. Hermione's erudition might be annoying from time to time, but it was also useful and, in this case, comforting. "My mother and I we go there every year on Halloween, to my father's tomb."

He didn't add anything else. The truth was the silence made him feel good.

"I'm sorry, Harry," she said.

"Thank you. You're the first to tell me that, today." She had no idea what it meant for him.

They remained silent for some more time.

"Everyone is saying I'm annoying," Hermione said after a moment.

"Sometimes," Harry acknowledged, after a hesitation. "But there are other times you are brilliant, even funny. And kind, too. You were the only one in the train who was willing to help Neville find his toad."

Even she made a muffled laugh at the memory. The first thing she told him and Ron when they met on the Hogwarts Express was has anyone seen a toad. That was before she told Ron his spell was not very good when he tried to turn his rat yellow.

"It must be hard for you, this day?" she asked.

"Yes, and no," he replied, uncertain. "I don't remember my father. All I have are photos of him and what my mother told me about him. But it's very hard for her, and I want to be with her for that."

"It's very kind of you."

Harry looked at his watch. Talking about his mother reminded him that she was probably waiting for him at the gates by now.

"I've got to go, Hermione. I'm sorry. My mother must be waiting for me."

"Of course, go." He stood up, but Hermione said something before he left. "Harry, you're very kind. You're a good person."

"You too," he replied without thinking. He realized this was what he thought of her. He thought he saw her smile behind her arms as he left.

Getting out of the girls' toilets, he felt strangely better. Talking to Hermione had done him some good. But now, he had to hurry to be with his mother in time. He didn't want to keep her waiting.

He headed in the direction of the gates. He still followed the same corridor when he saw a figure far away, hurrying in the direction opposite to that of the feast. Harry recognized the back and dark cape of Severus Snape, the Potions Master. What was he doing here? Why wasn't he in the Great Hall, like all other Heads of House? Just as he was wondering if maybe he should follow him, curious to find out whatever Snape might be doing, Harry heard low grunts. They were soon followed by the floor shaking under his feet at the rhythm of gigantic footfalls pounding the stone underneath him. And a horrible smell soon reached his nostrils.

Harry soon saw the origin of all this. It was twelve feet tall, with a huge body similar to a boulder with a bald head shaped like a bowling ball. Grey of color, it had short legs upon horny feet. It carried a huge wooden club that scrapped the floor. Harry instantly recognized it from a picture in one of the books he read. It was a troll.

What was it doing here? Trolls were certainly not allowed in Hogwarts, considering the damage they could do, and the theory that Professor Dumbledore might have brought him in for Halloween looked highly improbable to Harry.

The troll was walking along a corridor which was perpendicular to the one Harry followed. The creature followed its path forward without looking at Harry. After it got out of his sight, Harry reacted quickly. He went back from the way he just took and almost smashed the door when he got back into the girls' toilets.

"Hermione, we must leave, now."

She had jumped when he burst into the room. "What's going on?"

"There's a troll outside."

"A troll?" She seemed not to understand, but in an instant her eyes got clear. "A troll? In Hogwarts? Inside the castle?"

"Yes," Harry insisted, annoyed he had to repeat. "And it's in the corridor right next to us. We've got to go, now."

Hermione didn't react quickly enough, so Harry just grabbed her hand and dragged her out of the toilets. Outside, the pestilential odor persisted, and even got stronger. Harry slowed down and put his finger on his lips to tell Hermione to do as few noises as possible. He didn't let go of her hand.

"What's a troll doing here?" Hermione asked, clever enough to whisper it.

"I don't know," Harry replied. "But whatever it is, I don't think he will hug us when we meet."

They arrived at a crossing between two corridors. The smell was sickening. He looked at Hermione and made a movement with his hand, indicating they had to advance. Slowly, they moved forward. But the moment they set foot in the crossing, a huge foot slammed right in front of them, and the troll appeared with it. Whatever hope Harry might have had that the creature missed them, it evaporated when he looked up and saw the bowling ball that was his head staring down at them both.

"RUN!"

This time, Hermione didn't need to be told twice. She ran at the same time as Harry in the opposite direction. He didn't need to hold her hand anymore. Behind them, they heard the troll roaring as the floor was shaking, each new shock being closer to the next than the previous. The troll was running after them.

"How did he get in there?" Hermione asked as they ran.

"I don't know, and for now I don't care."

They arrived at the end of the corridor, diverging between two paths, one on the right and the other on the left.

"This way!" Harry pointed to the left and ran there, followed behind by Hermione, and not far away behind them the troll. However, they met a dead end very soon.

"This way? Really?" Hermione asked, panicked. "There's another corridor right here. Let's take it."

They ran towards it, and... VLAM!

Harry ended up on the floor after his nose came into direct contact with the wall. This wall was painted like it was a corridor, and they ran right into it. Probably a trick by Peeves or Fred and George. He saw that Hermione had experienced the same inconvenience and had fallen to the floor. He stood up, his nose and forehead still hurting, and he got Hermione back on her feet.

"We've got to go. The troll..." he began, but the troll was already here, blocking the only exit to this corridor. They were trapped.

"We are trapped!" Hermione cried.

"I KNOW!" Harry shouted, enraged. The troll was now slowly approaching them, dragging his club behind him. They had some room to step back, which they did, but soon they would meet the end of the corridor and the troll would have no problem smashing them to pieces.

"Okay, Hermione, listen to me," Harry began, trying to sound calm despite his shaking voice. "I'm going to distract him. I'll attract him on the far left of the corridor. You'll go to the right. When there's an opening, you run. You find someone, quickly, and you tell him about the troll. I'll try to hold him off."

"But he's going to kill you, Harry!" She had screamed, and it made the troll even more furious. He approached more quickly.

"ON THE RIGHT, NOW!" He pushed her in the direction he wanted, then used the one spell he learned well from Quirrell. "Flipendo!"

The jinx pushed back the troll. Harry positioned himself the most on the left of the corridor as he could. He didn't leave his eyes from the troll who roared, furious, and brought his club up, about to crush Harry with it.

"Flipendo!" Harry had targeted the club this time, and he succeeded. The club was pushed back just a little, the troll lost some of his balance, but he managed to bring his weapon down all the same. It smashed the floor right in front of Harry, projecting some debris. Harry covered himself with his sleeve, but the troll was already preparing another attack. He made it quicker than Harry expected. When he cast the spell this time, he missed completely, and he had to jump on the side to avoid the club.

Harry was on the floor. He saw a glimpse of Hermione on the other side of the troll. She had managed to get past him. Now Harry just had to find a way to survive. The next attack of the troll came to him before he had time to get up, and he jumped just enough to avoid it again. The troll had gone mad, and he was smashing faster and faster. Just he was about to bring his club on Harry for the fourth time, Harry heard a spell he had just learned today.

"WINGARDIUM LEVIOSA!"

Instead of the club, it was the troll's hand that smashed against the floor, and way short of Harry's position. The troll looked at his empty hand, probably wondering where his club was. The weapon was hovering just over his head, maintained in the air by Hermione's spell. Just as the troll was beginning to lift his head up, she stopped the spell and let the club fall down, which crushed the troll's head with a loud crack. The troll staggered. Harry crawled away as the huge creature was slowly falling towards him. When it did, he avoided its head by an inch as the floor and walls of the corridor trembled one last time.

He looked at the troll, then at Hermione who stood right there, her wand still raised. Harry stood up and looked again at the troll, hearing a hoarse breathing.

"Is it... dead?" Hermione asked.

"I don't think so. I think it's just been knocked out," he replied.

"It's the first time I use magic in real life. I mean, in real life, not just to practice or to learn."

"Well... you did it quite well."

Hermione laughed nervously.

A series of loud footsteps were heard all of a sudden, and Harry feared another troll might be coming. But these were the footsteps of professors, McGonagall, Quirrell and Snape.

"What on earth happened here?" McGonagall asked in disbelief as she looked at the scene and both Harry and Hermione. "Miss Granger, why aren't you in your common room like all the other students? And you, Potter, what are you still doing here?"

Of course. With all this agitation, Harry had forgotten. His mother must be worried sick. How would he explain that to her?

"Professor McGonagall, it's my fault," said Hermione.

"What?" the professor reacted.

"I... I was here the whole afternoon. I was... I just wanted to be alone, so I stayed here, and Harry came to see if I was okay. The troll surprised us. We tried to escape him, but..."

"We got cornered here," Harry completed. "And... we tried to fight him off the best we could."

Minerva McGonagall seemed astonished by what they were telling her. But she recovered her self-control and assurance pretty instantly. "Well, in that case, let me tell you that you both are very lucky. This troll managed to get inside the dungeons, but somehow he moved to superior floors. We had the Great Hall evacuated because of this. Not many first-years could have taken on a full grown mountain troll. I'll inform Professor Dumbledore of this. And... you each win ten points for Gryffindor... only because you were lucky. However, Miss Granger, since you missed one of my classes for no valid reason, I remove ten points from Gryffindor. You should get to the Gryffindor Tower right away. Students are finishing the feast in their houses. Professor Snape, please escort her."

Snape nodded, but Harry could see he wasn't happy. He didn't know if it was because he was obeying orders from McGonagall, or because he had to escort a Gryffindor back to his common room, or because Gryffindor won additional points, or because Harry had survived the troll. Perhaps for all these reasons. There were two things Harry couldn't miss as the Head of House Slytherin pushed Hermione away: the look Hermione sent to him, and the way Snape was limping.

"Professor Quirrell, please take care of this troll. You are our expert, after all," McGonagall told him.

"Y-Yes. Of-of cour-s-se."

McGonagall approached Harry. She had a severe gaze. Harry wondered what she was about to do. "Potter." She raised her wand and Harry thought she would transfigure him into something he would certainly not like. But instead, a warm wind went all across his body, from head to toe. When he looked at himself, he saw that all dust and traces of debris from his adventure were gone. "There's still someone waiting for you at the gates. I suggest we head there as quickly as possible."

Harry nodded and followed suit. McGonagall obviously didn't need a map to find her way through Hogwarts. They arrived quickly at the entrance. When they entered the park, night had fallen. They found Hagrid waiting for them.

"You've taken your time," he said in a rough voice. "What's going on? I heard screams in the Great Hall. Someone told me a troll had entered the castle."

"Hagrid, please. Just escort Potter to the gates. Lily Evans must be waiting impatiently," the professor said.

"Of course. This way, Harry." As soon as McGonagall was a little away, Hagrid asked him what happened. Harry told him what had happened, both in the Great Hall and the dungeons, as far as he knew, and with him, Hermione and the troll.

"Well, that is a story!" He gave a pat on Harry's shoulder which almost made his legs dig into the ground. "You're your father's son, Harry. There is no doubt about it now."

Harry laughed nervously. He was still recovering from his encounter with the troll, and he was a little afraid of how his mother might react to him being so late.

Harry had seen Hagrid for the first time when he led the first-years to Hogwarts after they disembarked from the Hogwarts Express. He also invited Harry to his home on Friday afternoon, during his first week at Hogwarts. Harry had gone out of courtesy, and had also brought his friend Ron, but Hagrid was surprised, and even saddened when Harry told him he didn't know him and never heard his name before arriving to Hogwarts. Hagrid then told him he was the one who got him and his mother out of the ruins of their house in Godric's Hollow, ten years ago. He had known both his parents well while they were at Hogwarts, and had continued to know them afterwards. Rubeus Hagrid was apparently a former member of the Order of the Phoenix as well. Harry had asked his mother about it in his first letter, and she had confirmed everything Hagrid said. Ever since, Hagrid invited Harry from time to time at his house near the forest. Harry had to admit he was kind, and he quite liked the very tall man, but the food he prepared left something to be desired.

They didn't need much time to reach the gates, and like Harry expected, his mother was right there. The gates opened by themselves. When Harry looked upon her face, he saw no anger, no worry, only sadness.

"You're late," she stated plainly.

"I'm sorry, Mom. I can explain you..."

"It doesn't matter. The important is that you're here now." She smiled at him. Then she looked up. "Thank you, Hagrid."

"You're welcome. It's good to see you again, Lily," the gamekeeper replied.

"Let's go now." She passed her arm around Harry's shoulders and brought him against her, walking down the path with him. The gates closed behind them. "Now, explain to me what happened."

Harry told her everything. His mother had no reaction during the whole story. When it was over, she just said: "I don't know how a troll managed to get inside the school. It never happened in my time. I'm glad you're safe though. It's the most important." She paused for a moment. "Who is this Hermione Granger?"

"She's... a friend." Harry had hesitated, but he realized while saying that it was true.

"You never talked about her in your letters."

"I thought I did."

"Not that I remember."

"Well, it's more recent. Her parents are Muggles, just like yours."

She smiled again. "I'm glad you're making friends."

Indeed, he was. Harry never really had any friends in the world of Muggles. Maybe it had to do with the fact he had to hide the fact he was a wizard. Here, despite being famous, he could be himself.

His mother stopped all of a sudden. "We are going to Apparate," she declared.

"I thought it was too dangerous."

"Not very much. And I got used to Apparating again recently. You'll risk nothing. Take my hand and hold it firmly. I must warn you it will not be pleasant."

Harry prepared. He wasn't sure what to expect, but when his mother's hand twisted inside his, everything went black, and he gripped her even more tightly. It was as if he was thrown into a compactor. He could not breathe, his hair was flattened, his rib cage was being crushed, his eyes were pressed into their orbits, his legs crashing into his pelvis, his feet contracting.

Then it was over, and all the pressure was released. Harry breathed huge chunks of air.

"Are you alright?" his mother asked, placing a hand on his shoulder. Harry grabbed the first thing he could and used it to remain standing, still out of air. He thought he would vomit, but perhaps he couldn't because he didn't eat tonight. The smell of the troll was a memory that came back, increasing his nausea, but nothing came out. He didn't know how long he remained there, just gasping for breath, but after a while he straightened up.

'I'm fine,' he said.

"The first time is always harder. You'll get used to it," his mother told him, though in the moment, it was hard to believe her.

She took him by the shoulders again and they walked among the gravestones. They had apparated into the cemetery itself. No one was to be seen around. Harry knew that not far away were the ruins of the house where they used to live. His mother thought there was some kind of magic that stopped anyone from rebuilding on the ground. They might visit it after seeing the tomb, but his mother seldom wanted to go there. It was too hard for her.

They came here so often in the past that they knew the exact way to find the tomb. It wasn't long before they stood in front of it. It was made of white marble, like all the others. Nothing differentiated it or set it apart. The words on the stone were simple, yet very visible.

 

James Potter, born 27 March 1960, died 31 October 1981

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

 

Harry never understood the words. His mother tried to explain them to him once, but he still didn't get the meaning. His father was dead, and he would never come back. This was a certainty, and a known fact.

His mother usually brought a bouquet of flowers with her, but there were already many on the tomb and all around it. Each year, there were flowers left here by unknown strangers. Harry took some solace in knowing that some people, even after ten years, had not forgotten his father. However, this time, he realized his mother had brought nothing. The confusion didn't remain long. She raised her wand and made a circling movement with it. A long, ornamented crown of colorful flowers took shape around the head of the grave.

They remained before the tombstone for a very long time, in silent, just staring at it, his mother refusing to let got of his shoulder. Harry looked at her a few times to make sure she was correct. Tears were rolling out of her eyes, but otherwise she seemed fine.

"I suppose you didn't eat tonight," she said after a while. Harry realized he was indeed very hungry. He shook his head. "Well, then we better find some place for dinner. Come."

She wiped the tears from her face and brought Harry with her towards the village, back to the living.

Chapter Text

GINNY I

 

She woke up early, like every morning. And like every morning, she went down the stairs from her bedroom to the kitchen, on tip-toes, careful not to make any sound that would wake up her parents. The house was empty, which facilitated things as she did not have to hide from her brothers. Not that it was that difficult. None of them suspected what she was doing many days per week.

She headed to the broom shed and picked the Shooting Star that belonged to Ron. From there, she ran to the small paddock her family owned, over a nearby hill, which was surrounded by trees that blocked the view from the village below. Her brothers always played there during summer, and sometimes even during winter.

Ginny was never allowed to play with her brothers. Unknown to them, it had been four years now since she began borrowing their brooms to train in secret, early in the morning at dawn, or late at night, under the cover of darkness. Even her parents didn't know about this. She also spied on her brothers practicing, and sometimes watched them with their approval when they wanted, so she knew mostly what to do.

She mounted her brother's broom and kicked hard against the ground. Ron's broomstick was not the best. Those of Fred and George were much better, being specifically made for Quidditch, but they had brought them when they left for Hogwarts. Still, it was good to fly, no matter the broom. Slowly and surely, Ginny took altitude, the cold wind kindly whipping at her face. She made sure not to accelerate and to only climb while turning in circles. She soon reached the treetops. She maintained the altitude but continued to make circles at the same speed, pulling the brakes a little as she was no longer gaining altitude. She did those turns for quite a while, and then she proceeded to descend, again slowly, and still in circles, until she was back on the ground. She had done it.

Excited, Ginny took flight again. She performed zigzags, then turns that were more and more abrupt, at a speed she kept increasing. She even performed upswings, although not too abrupt. She wasn't there yet, and she didn't want to fall from her broom. She came back home all muddy once. She managed to make her mother believe she had just been playing in the water outside, but it might not work again.

Dawn was beginning to end, and Ginny knew she should get back home before her parents woke up. It was Saturday, and her parents always slept later these days, but they would wake up nonetheless. Ginny brought the broom back to the shed and returned to her bedroom, still in silence.

Ginny had the smallest bedroom in the Burrow. She had asked her mother if she could move to one of her brothers' bedrooms while they were at Hogwarts, but to no avail. They said she had a more than enough large chamber for herself. It was true that Fred and George shared the same room, but not Ron and Percy though. Theirs were a little larger than hers. Still, she managed to make hers quite a nice place. She had a good view on the orchard. Her parents had helped her to paint the walls in pink, and she had hung up a poster of Gwenog Jones, captain of the Holyhead Harpies, her favourite Quidditch player. She hoped she would play Quidditch one day, but her brothers never let her play with them. Ginny doubted it would ever happen.

She heard her mother go to the kitchen to prepare the breakfast, and her father followed not long after. Ginny picked that moment to go down and join them. She put on her nightdress to make it look like she just woke up.

"Hello, Ginny. Did you sleep well?" her father asked.

"Yes, Dad." She sat and her mother gave her some eggs, smashed potatoes and toasts. "Are you sure you can't come to the match?"

"I'm sorry, Ginny. Your father has a lot of work to do. With that new law I'm trying to establish. Can you believe that we need two years..."

"Arthur," her mother berated him. "Stop bothering your daughter with that. Not everyone is so passionate about Muggles as you are."

As always, Ginny was treated like the young child of the family. She knew she was, but she wished she wasn't treated like a child sometimes. She was the little sister to all her brothers, and although she loved them and they all loved her, she wished they treated her like they treated themselves, and she wished her parents did likewise.

Her father now drank a cup of coffee. "While we're talking about the game, do you know that last week, a Muggle woman in the Devonshire started to clean her house with a new broom she just brought, and the broom just flew away like that, punching a big hole through her window?"

The image Ginny formed into her mind about the broom smashing a window and getting lost in the sky while a woman incredulously looked at it flying away made her laugh.

"I hope her memory was erased," her mother said.

"Of course. I was the one to be called on the scene. I also had to erase some memories of her two children and her husband. And a few neighbors as well. We can never be too careful. But just before, I got her to explain me why she cleaned a part of her house with a broom, and the rest with a vacuum cleaner. Do you realize..."

"Arthur, if you continue talking about these toys, you'll be late for work. You said you had to get in early."

Ginny watched her father quickly emptying his plate and his cup of coffee. He kissed her on the forehead, and kissed her mother as well before he left in a hurry.

"The good side that your father is working is that we can both go to the Quidditch match," her mother told her.

That increased Ginny's excitation one more level. Her mother had told her they would go to watch the Quidditch where Fred and George would play today. In the past, they had brought Ron, and she remembered Fred and George taking their turn at following one of their parents to the stadium back when Charlie was captain of the Gryffindor team. Today, it would be Ginny's turn to attend a Quidditch game for the first time. She always found it so unfair that only two people per player's family could attend a game, leaving her always behind in the past. Fred and George were both playing for Gryffindor. Why couldn't they let four people of their family attend? Anyway, today it was her turn. And the fact she would get to see Harry Potter playing Quidditch made it even better.

Harry Potter. Everyone knew his name. Ginny had heard everything about how he defeated He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named growing up. Everyone knew about him. But then Fred and George said they saw him on the Hogwarts Express the day they left. And Ron's first letter said he became friend with him. That made Ginny even more eager to go to Hogwarts. She wondered if she would recognize him when he would fly over the pitch.

She and her mother used Floo powder a little later to get to Hogsmeade, from where they headed towards the castle. It was the first time Ginny got to see the castle, and despite the cold, it was a beautiful day. Hogwarts was even more fantastic than what she expected. She so wished she could go there right away. Ever since the day she said goodbye to all her brothers, she had been wishing that. In previous years, Ron had stayed with her, even though he was quite often annoying, but at least she still had a brother with her at home. Now it was only Ginny and her parents, no one else.

"So Ginny, you remember? You stay close to me. Once we have found our seats, you don't leave yours until the game is over."

"What if a Bludger attacks me?" Ginny asked, worried all of a sudden. George had told her it happened that people in the crowd got severely injured.

"Don't worry. They are made to attack only the players."

"And what if Fred or George feigns to hit me with their bats?"

"They will do no such thing." Ginny believed her mom, but at the same time she was afraid that her mother might be wrong. She hated it when Fred and George tried to scare her.

In front of imposing iron gates, a group of adult people had gathered. There was no one of Ginny's age. Far away, if she tried hard enough, she could see the tops of the towers around the Quidditch pitch. She wished she could see the goalposts. Again, she wished she was already at Hogwarts.

"When are we getting to the stadium?" she asked her mother

"Soon, Ginny. We just have to wait a little."

Ginny didn't want to wait. Since her brothers' departure, the words of a kind woman she met on that day kept coming to her mind. Your years before Hogwarts are just as important as those you will spend there. So enjoy them. Use this time for yourself. But she didn't want to enjoy the year before Hogwarts. She wanted to get to Hogwarts now.

Just as she was thinking this, someone standing apart from the crowd moved. She was a woman with dark red hair, and she was reading something while most of the other people discussed between themselves. Ginny only saw her back before, but now she saw her profile. After a few moments, she recognized her. Ginny pulled at her mother's dress.

"Mom, look," she said, pointing the woman.

"Ginny, it's rude to point."

But her mother looked at the woman Ginny was indicating, and her eyebrows creased. She walked to the woman, Ginny on her tails.

"Lily?"

The woman looked up from the paper she was reading, and after a moment she smiled at Ginny's mother. "Molly, that's it?"

"Yes. It's good to see you again. I wasn't expecting we would meet again here."

"Me neither. Though I should have thought about it. Your twins are playing as Beaters, aren't they?"

"Yes, they are. Do you remember Ginny?"

"Of course, I remember her." She smiled warmly at Ginny, who smiled in return. "How are you, Ginny? Are you happy to be here today?"

"It's the first time I'll see a Quidditch match," she replied instantly.

"Well, I hope you'll see a good one."

"What are you reading?"

"Just a little flyer. It explains the rules of Quidditch and gives a list of the players in both teams today."

"Can I have it?"

"Ginny, we say please, at least," her mother berated her.

"It's fine, Molly. Here, take it," the woman named Lily said as she gave the small flyer to Ginny.

Ginny immediately started reading it. She knew the rules of Quidditch, but she was always happy to hear about them. There were two teams of seven players each, and four balls on the pitch. Three Chasers in both teams tried to control the Quaffle, a big scarlet ball which they tried to throw into one of the three goalposts of the other team. Each time the Quaffle got through a goalpost, the team who threw it made ten points. A Keeper in each team defended the goalposts. There were also two Bludgers, two spheres made of iron moving on their own, trying to knock players off their brooms. There were two Beaters in each team, like her brothers Fred and George, equipped with bats, whose mission was to protect their teammates and send the Bludgers on the other team. Finally, the Golden Snitch spent the entire game running around the pitch, and a Seeker in each team tried to catch it. The first to succeed earned his team one hundred and fifty points, and this put an end to the game.

The names of the members of each team, along with their positions, were indicated on the other side. For Slytherin, there were Adrian Pucey, Graham Montague and their captain Marcus Flint as Chasers, Peregrine Derrick and Lucian Boyle as Beaters, Miles Bletchley as Keeper and Terence Higgs as Seeker. Ginny noticed how they were all men. The Gryffindor team, however, was way more interesting. They were Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet and Katie Bell as Chasers, her brothers Fred and George as Beaters, their captain Oliver Wood as Keeper, and of course Harry Potter as Seeker. The whole flyer was populated with little animated drawings showing simple characters playing Quidditch.

"Welcome to Hogwarts, everybody," someone said. Ginny couldn't see who spoke, but she thought the voice came from the other side of the iron gates. "The game is about to begin. We will escort you to the stadium where we will show you your places."

Ginny heard a metallic noise. That was it. They had opened the gates. Her mother and Mrs Lily, who had continued to speak while Ginny was reading the flyer, interrupted their conversation.

"Well, here we go," Ginny's mother said. "Stay close to me, Ginny. Hold my hand."

Sometimes, she really wished she was treated like an adult, just like her brothers. "Will we visit Hogwarts once the game is over?" she asked, hopeful.

"No, Ginny. We cannot enter the castle. We are only here for the game."

Her hopes were crushed within seconds. She looked with envy at the huge castle as they proceeded to the terrain. She remembered her brothers leaving, and also that boy, Mrs Lily's son, when he left. She remembered how she had held him into her arms, then kissed him on the forehead and ruffled his hair just before he left. Ginny had found it very sad, but she had wished for a moment she had been in this boy's place, and it was her who was leaving for Hogwarts.

They climbed stairs leading to the top of a tower, from where they had a fantastic view of the whole terrain. Ginny's mother kept holding her hand at all times. Only when they sat down did she let it go. Mrs Lily was with them, sitting on her mother's right while Ginny was on her left.

"Lily," Ginny's mother asked the other woman. "You have an older son who's playing for Gryffindor?"

"I have a son who's playing for Gryffindor, yes," Mrs Lily replied.

"Oh, who is that?"

"You'll find out very soon. I think you are going to be surprised."

Ginny barely listened to their discussion. She was taking in the full view of the terrain. In the benches down, people were gathering. She heard the lower benches were for the school's students, while the towers were meant for the school's staff, parents and special guests. They were being filled quite quickly. She looked on the side where Gryffindor students seemed to gather. She tried to make out if Ron and Percy were there, but the benches were too far away for her to distinguish anyone. She watched the terrain, where only a single woman was flying for now. She had short, spiky grey hair. She supposed she was the flying teacher her brothers talked about.

As people joined the stadium, the noises around Ginny grew. She noticed now that Hogwarts houses were separated in the lower benches. Gryffindor and Slytherin were facing each other from the extremities of the pitch, probably each behind their own goalposts. The houses of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff were between, but they harbored scarlet colors. That meant they were on Gryffindor's side for the game. Ginny was happy about it. She also noticed something on the Gryffindor side. A large banner had been brought up. It was red and gold, with a drawing of a lion magically moving on it and the words Potter for President written in big letters which changed colors regularly.

Ginny smiled. She couldn't wait for the game to begin. The stadium was filled to the brim. She couldn't wait to see her brothers play, and she couldn't wait to see Harry Potter, finally. She would be one of the first people to watch him play Quidditch.

"When does it begin, Mom?" she asked.

"Soon, Ginny. Be a little patient."

She didn't want to be patient. She wanted the game to begin now. But she didn't have to wait long anyway.

"Hello, everyone." A voice resonated through the entire terrain. Immediately, everyone in the stadium cheered. "I am Lee Jordan, and welcome to Hogwarts' first Quidditch game of the season. Today, Slytherin versus Gryffindor."

And right at this moment, two lines of people on broomsticks, one in red, one in green, came out from under the benches in the middle of the pitch. They flew very quickly, and most of them reached fifteen metres of altitude within seconds. Ginny couldn't imagine herself doing that. She quickly spotted her brothers, always together even on the terrain. They flew by their tower, and both waved their hand at Ginny and her mother. She waved her hand excitedly at them as well. That was it. The moment had come.

Whoever was commenting the game named all the players from each team. He only mentioned the names and positions of the Slytherin team before going to Gryffindor.

"For Gryffindor, Angelina Johnson, a veteran Chaser from last year who returns today, along with Alicia Spinnet, a reserve from last year, and Katie Bell, the new recruit among Chasers. Oliver Wood, the team's captain, as the Keeper. What a wonderful team he built up this year. My best friends, Fred and George, are back as Beaters. And the new Seeker for Gryffindor this year, the youngest Quidditch player in Hogwarts since a century, riding a Nimbus Two Thousand... You all heard about him... Harry Potter!"

The crowds burst into applauses, and Ginny joined the cheering. No matter that her mother was trying to get her to stay calm, she didn't. She was standing up from her seat to make sure she wouldn't miss anything because another spectator blocked her view. She looked to each of the Gryffindor players, who were still flying all around the pitch, but she couldn't make out which one was Harry Potter. She only knew he was neither the girls, all Chasers, neither her brothers.

She spotted a scarlet figure which was flying very high, making a complete turn of the terrain along the towers right at the level where Ginny stood. When he approached them, he waved his hand in her direction. And Ginny recognized him. He was the boy Mrs Lily said goodbye to on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.

"Good luck, my dear," she heard Mrs Lily shouting to her son.

Ginny didn't understand. Ron had complained during the summer that he wouldn't be able to try for the Quidditch team because first-years were not allowed to play. they couldn't even bring a broomstick with them at Hogwarts. How did Mrs Lily's son... Then she realized something. He had climbed into the same wagon than her brothers, and they returned later saying they had met Harry Potter. The boy she saw on the platform and who she saw flying just there... He was Harry Potter!

She heard her mother saying something next to her, but she didn't understand what it was she was talking about. She had met Harry Potter on that day, when he was leaving for Hogwarts, and she had not recognized him. And here he was, flying like a professional player. And he was her brother's friend.

The commentator said something she didn't understand either. She was only looking at one player, following him from one side of the terrain to another. And now, he made another pass near them. He waved his hand shortly in her direction. Ginny sat back. She was afraid, all of a sudden, that he might have seen her, that he might have recognized her from the platform. He took position in the central circle of the pitch, at a higher altitude compared to his teammates who had gathered at the same position. The Slytherins positioned themselves in a similar fashion as Gryffindor on their own side of the field. Ginny's eyes were glued to what was happening right in front of her.

"Please now welcome the referee for today's game, Madam Hooch," the commentator declared.

The flying teacher Ginny witnessed before the players arrived flew to the central point. She had a huge red ball under her arm, certainly the Quaffle. Two players, one from each team, came close to her and shook hands. She seemed to be telling them something. They then went each their way, the Slytherin captain taking back its place among the Chasers near the center, and the Gryffindor captain flying to his goalposts.

Madam Hooch positioned herself under both teams on the central circle, and threw the Quaffle up.

"The Quaffle is released. Let the game begin!"

The moment Lee Jordan said the words, players from both teams charged the ball in the air. Ginny almost hid her eyes behind her hands, afraid that someone would get hurt, but players just flew past each other, with Gryffindor taking the ball.

"The Quaffle is taken immediately by Johnson. What an excellent Chaser that girl is, and rather attractive too..."

"JORDAN!"

Ginny barely listened to the commentator. She rather looked at the game. The Chaser known as Angeline Joghnson flew through the ranks of the Slytherins, avoiding all those who tried to take the Quaffle out of her hands. Ginny watched in awe as she zigzaged through the terrain. At one point, a Slytherin Chaser sent her off course and she avoided one of the towers by a small margin, going off the terrain. She returned inside the limits quickly. Ginny feared the worst when a Bludger charged the girl's head. She bent over just in time and avoided another enemy Chaser, while two others were after her from behind. She flew straight to the enemy goalposts, free of opposition and threw the Quaffle into the centre ring. The Slytherin Keeper tried to stop it, to no avail. The Quaffle got through and a resounding cling went through the pitch as three quarters of the crowd cheered.

"Angelina Johnson scores! Ten points for Gryffindor!"

Ginny stood up to cheer the Gryffindor team. There wasn't any board showing the game's score. Ginny found it sad, but her attention was quickly brought to something else. Over all the other players, a Gryffindor player was performing a few loops in celebration. Ginny recognized him for being Harry Potter. He was only one year younger than she was, and he was doing stuff with his broomstick she would never dream to do.

"Your son likes to put on a show," Ginny's mother said next to her.

"Maybe he's more like his father than I thought," Mrs Lily said.

Ginny used the opportunity to ask the question that burned on her lips. "Are you really Harry Potter's mother?"

"Ginny!" her mother berated her again. But Mrs Lily slightly nodded her head, then she returned her attention on the game. Ginny did as well, sitting back at her mother's insistence.

Harry Potter was back at flying high over the pitch, doing rounds. Slytherin was now in possession of the Quaffle. Marcus Flint first got it, but made a pass to another Chaser named Pucey. Only half of Ginny's attention was on the Quaffle. The other half was on Gryffindor's Seeker. He remained far away from the game.

"Why doesn't he catch the Golden Snitch right now?" Ginny asked, to no one in particular. It was Mrs Lily though who answered.

"The Snitch is hard to find, Ginny. And even harder to catch. When I was in my fifth year here, a game lasted a whole week-end because no Seeker managed to catch the Snitch."

Would that game last that long? In the meantime, Slytherin had reached the Gryffindor goalposts and a Chaser threw it. Ginny thought he was going to score, but instead the Keeper just made his appearance and bounced the Quaffle back to a Gryffindor Chaser.

"Johnson... she passes to Spinnet... Then back to Johnson... Montague intercepts. Slytherin got the Quaffle... Montague avoids a Bludger... He avoids Bell... A pass to Pucey... Pucey loses it to Spinnet. She just grabbed the Quaffle, and it is back with Gryffindor... She makes a pass to Johnson... But Flint intercepts... He passes it back to Pucey... Wait a moment... Was that the Snitch?"

A rumour went through the crowd. Ginny thought she saw something glistening near the Slytherin Chaser. He let the Quaffle drop, and a Gryffindor Chaser, probably Angelina, took it back and flew towards the Slytherin rings. But Ginny didn't follow her for long as she saw Harry Potter and the Slytherin Seeker rushing towards the glitter. Time seemed to slow, everything else stopped in the stadium. Only a cling that no one cared about indicated that Gryffindor had scored another ten points. In the meantime, the two Seekers were shoulder to shoulder, Ginny stood up again to see everything. Ginny's heart pounded up in hope as she saw Harry Potter get ahead of Terence Higgs. And she saw what a Slytherin Chaser did.

In the last minute, the green player had put himself on Harry Potter's trajectory, and they collided. A cry of stupor and anger went through the crowd as Ginny screamed in terror, her hand over her mouth.

"HARRY!" his mother shouted, but Ginny was too scared herself to give attention to this. She watched as the boy spun. She thought he would fall from his broom, but in the last instant, he straightened up and regained his stability.

"FOUL!"

The shouts came from everywhere in the crowd, including from people next to Ginny in the tower. On her side, Ginny only had eyes for Harry Potter. The other players of Gryffindor came to see him, but they quickly disbanded, and he took flight again, taking altitude over the other players, certainly searching for the Golden Snitch again. Ginny wondered how he could fly as if nothing had happened after this.

The commentator was making bad comments about Slytherin after this foul from their captain, and a professor berated him for not remaining impartial. Alicia Spinnet took the penalty shot and scored, to the renewing delight of the Gryffindor crowd. They now led 30-0.

The game resumed. One of Slytherin's Chaser, she thought it was the one named Montague, took the Quaffle and rushed forward. He avoided two Gryffindor players, then hit the Quaffle with the tail of his broomstick when he reached the middle of the pitch. The ball traveled half the terrain to the goalposts. Ginny looked in awe until it was caught by Oliver Wood who sent it back quickly to his teammates. Katie Bell got it, and passed it along to Spinnet when Pucey happened to be just there to kick the red ball out of her hands. It was useless since Johnson recovered the Quaffle and headed towards Slytherin's goalposts. She avoided a Bludger, then a second one, and sent the Quaffle to Spinnet as Flint rushed on her. Spinnet approached the goalposts and entered the scoring area. She didn't shoot though. Instead, she sent the Quaffle behind her, towards Katie Bell. But the Quaffle was intercepted by Marcus Flint who then...

He threw the red ball on Angelina Johnson with so much force that she got it in the face. She had been rushing fast on Flint, and now she held her face with a hand. The commentator shouted at Flint for that, but no foul was called. Ginny thought she saw blood when Johnson flew close to them.

Slytherin was back with the Quaffle, and this time, everything seemed to turn in their favor. Montague and Flint exchanged the Quaffle several times, avoided Bludgers, and reached the goalposts of Gryffindor, only the two of them against the Keeper. Montague made a pass to his captain, who punched the Quaffle. Oliver Wood couldn't stop it this time. Slytherin had scored their first points.

Ginny raged. Only a quarter of the crowd roared in joy, the rest booing. She looked at Harry. He was still above the action, turning around the terrain. He had to catch the Snitch now. Ginny tried to scan the pitch in search of the small golden globe. Maybe if she saw something she could scream loud enough for him to hear her. But she couldn't see anything. And then Harry dove into the field. There was hope then. He must have spotted something. He avoided a Bludger targeting his head, then made a huge swerve to his left.

Ginny let a small cry when she saw this. She would never have been able to do that. She wasn't even sure how to command a broomstick to do such a move. And then Harry made another swerve to his right this time. How did he do that? He was barely capable to hold onto his broom, from what she could tell. Then his broom shook heavily from right to left, then up and down. Then he made a few loops in series.

"What's going on?" Ginny's mother had asked the question she was asking to herself. What was Harry doing with his broomstick. He was moving so quickly, in movements so abrupt and without coherence, Ginny started to be afraid that he would fall if it continued. And he kept gaining altitude.

Ginny's whole attention was on him as he kept going up. He wasn't far from them now, and she saw how he was squeezing his broom. No, he wasn't doing it on purpose. Something was wrong.

"Lily, what are you doing?"

Ginny looked on the side, and saw Mrs Lily take out her wand and pointing it towards her son, her eyes half-shut. She finally fully opened her eyes after a moment. "Someone is casting a jinx on Harry's broom."

"What?" Both Ginny and her mother shouted at the same time.

But the woman ignored them. She stood up instead and pointed her wand again in her son's direction.

"Lily, wait!" Her mother seized the wand and made it drop. "You can't do that. Not during a Quidditch game."

"I don't care. My son is in danger. His broomstick is being enchanted."

"Wait, he's getting help."

Indeed, other people of the Gryffindor team had gathered around Harry. They finally realized the trouble in which he found himself. Ginny's brothers tried to pull him to their brooms, without success. Each time Fred or George approached him, the broomstick was making another swerve which brought Harry higher, out of reach. He made one so sudden that Harry fell.

Ginny screamed, and for real this time. She was relieved when she saw him still clutching the wood with a single hand. She prayed he wouldn't let go, but the broom kept getting higher. The Chasers were also trying to help him now, but they found no more succees than Fred and George.

"That's enough!" Mrs Lily pointed her wand up and pronounced a formula Ginny didn't understand. She felt a force leaving from close to her. She looked again at Harry, who had managed to get a hold on his broom with his two hands, but the mount kept going up, much higher that the tip of the towers. If he fell...

Ginny was crying now. No, that couldn't be. Harry Potter was about to die.

"It's no good." Mrs Lily dropped her wand. "My counter-spells seem to make it worse."

His altitude kept increasing, and her brothers still couldn't manage to save him. Even the captain Oliver Wood was with them now. The whole team of Gryffindor was flying in a tight pack under Harry. He was holding his broomstick with only one hand again. Ginny hoped they would be able to catch him if he fell. At this height... Would he survive if he fell to the ground?

"Mom, he's going to die?" she asked her mother, crying like she never did. Even despite all the jokes and tricks her brothers made to her since she was born, she had never cried like this. Her mother hugged Ginny very close to her, but she couldn't take her eyes out from the scene that was happening right over her head.

And then, the broom ceased to move in all directions. First slowly, then it only swung a little as if it was on a quiet wave, and finally it stabilized. Her brothers flew up and helped Harry get back on his broom. And then Harry rushed down.

All his teammates and Ginny looked at him. Then she followed the direction he was heading and noticed the Seeker of Slytherin running after something glimmering. He had seen the Golden Snitch. Ginny cried in joy now. Even after what happened, his first instinct was to hunt the Snitch.

"EVERYBODY, BACK TO YOUR POST!"

She heard the Gryffindor's captain very clearly, and waves of red headed back towards the game.

Ginny got free of her mother's hold. She looked at where she thought the Golden Snitch was, catching the glimmer just ahead of the Slytherin Seeker. Harry caught up with him. They were side by side and giving elbows to each other. Higgs pushed Harry so hard once that he fell off the terrain, but recovered the right trajectory very quickly. In the meantime, Lee Jordan was announcing a new score for Gryffindor, but Slytherin now dominated the game 70-40. They had scored several points while the Gryffindors were trying to save their Seeker.

But Ginny was still only looking at the Seekers. They made a descent towards the field, so straight that they were perpendicular to the terrain. Ginny feared the worst. The Slytherin Seeker disengaged, but not Harry. She was biting her fingers now. He was very close to the ground. Too close. He straightened his broomstick just in time, and Ginny sighed in relief. He was flying horizontally to the ground now, and Ginny knew for a certainty now that the Snitch was just ahead of him. She couldn't miss it. Harry stood up, still on his broom, his hand stretched forward. He was approaching the central circle. And all of a sudden, like that, he stumbled.

Ginny squeaked. Was he hurt? His broom tumbled on the ground before it was immobilized. Harry Potter himself made several tumbles on the ground, but he got back up. He had a hand on his mouth, as if he was about to puke. Ginny held back her breathing. And then he threw something into his hands. It was small, but Ginny saw it shining immediately. Harry raised his hand in the air.

"Harry Potter got the Golden Snitch!" the commentator said triumphantly. "Gryffindor: one hundred and ninety points. Slytherin: seventy points. GRYFFINDOR WINS!"

Ginny felt she exploded at the same time as the stadium. She cheered and screamed of joy like she never did before. She was jumping into place. She screamed until she had no voice at all while the Gryffindor team was surrounding their Seeker, then carrying him triumphally on their shoulders around the pitch.

She turned to her mother, who kept applauding like so many other people. And then she looked at Mrs Lily. She thought she would be overjoyed with the end of the match. But she wasn't applauding. She wasn't screaming or shouting. Instead, she was crying. Ginny leaned to better see. She was crying, her face being littered with water, but she was also smiling like Ginny never saw the woman smile before.

Later, she and her mother left the tower and joined her brothers in the park. They were still wearing their Quidditch uniforms, and they were with Ron and two other girls from the team. Since none of them had blood on her face, Ginny thought they were probably Alicia Spinnet and Katie Bell. She was still excited and shaken from the game that just ended. She would never forget that day.

"Hey, here are our biggest fans!" her twin brothers said together. She ran to them. They both hugged her strongly. She hugged Ron last, her mother following suit. Fred and George made the presentations. Ginny was right, it was Alicia and Katie who were with them. They both shook her hand. She was shaking with real Quidditch players.

"You've seen us sending those Bludgers into Flint's face at the end. I thought he was going to have a heart attack," Fred laughed.

"Fred!" Ginny's mother admonished.

"What, Mom? He broke Angelina's nose during the game. With a Quaffle! At least, he wasn't hurt. We only gave him a good scare."

"I wouldn't mind if you had broken his nose too," the girl called Katie said.

"Please, your little brother and sister are here. Think about the example you're giving them," her mother said angrily.

"Well, that's what we do," George said. "We show them the spirit of competition."

"Can I see Harry Potter?" The question had been burning in Ginny's chest since the end of the game. She so wanted to see him, from close, not from far away, and not when she didn't know who he was.

"Oh, he's probably removing his robes in our changing rooms right now," Fred said.

"And preparing to join his girlfriend," added George.

"Oh, shut up, you two?" Ron snapped.

Ginny felt as if someone just dropped a bucket of ice on her head. "His girlfriend?" she asked. She asked it so low that she thought no one heard her, but it seemed her brothers did hear her.

"Oh, yes. This girl, Hermione Granger. All the time he doesn't spend with Ron, he spends with her," Fred declared.

"He's not spending all his time with her," Ron said, exasperated. "And she's not his girlfriend."

Despite her brother Ron's affirmation, Ginny felt a heavy lump take shape in her stomach.

Chapter Text

LILY IV

 

"It's been less than three months that he's been here. Less than three months! And within this time alone, he almost got killed twice, first by a troll at Halloween, and now today! You promised me that he would be safe here!"

In his office at Hogwarts, sitting behind his desk, Albus Dumbledore was looking down, something Lily seldom saw him do. But since she was the one talking him down, she felt even more angry at him. The greatest wizard in the world, and he didn't even dare to look at her in the eyes.

"You promised that you would keep an eye on Harry. Where were you during the match?"

He didn't answer. Lily could barely suffer the silence. Could he at least give her some kind of an explanation why he wasn't there when her son needed help the most? When his life was in danger?

"You are right, Lily," he finally said. "I should have been there. I failed you. I'm sorry."

 This only infuriated her further. "It's not to me that you should be apologizing. It's to Harry. He almost got killed today. If he had fallen from his broomstick, he could have died."

"Lily, please." He had raised his hand. Despite all the fury she had within herself, Lily dared not to speak again. This was Albus Dumbledore, her former professor and the man she took orders from when she served the Order of the Phoenix. "Please let an old man explain himself." He finally dared to look into her eyes, and it was with a gaze that almost make her pity the old man. "I'm afraid I overestimated my powers and underestimated the threats under which Harry would find himself when he would arrive in Hogwarts. It's my fault, and I assume the blame completely. I suppose I thought... that everything would just go well, like you did."

"Like I did? It wasn't only for the form that I asked you to keep an eye on him."

"Yes, I know. But did you ask that because you were afraid that someone else might hurt your son, or because you were afraid that he might get himself into trouble?"

For a moment she didn't know what to answer. "That's not the question."

"No, it's not Lily. But it is related. You didn't expect such events to happen, didn't you?"

Reluctantly and after dodging the answer for moment, she replied. "No. But really, a troll getting inside Hogwarts, that's an accident that can happen. But someone casting a curse on my son's broomstick to make him fall... He could really have died, Professor. Do you have any idea what it was like for me, standing in the crowd and not being able to do anything while my son's life was in danger? I couldn't even counter the curse. My attempts ended making things worse. Do you have any idea what this is?"

"No, I don't," Dumbledore replied after a moment. "I should have been there, it is true. I wanted to be there, in fact. I was excited to see your son fly for the first time, especially after what Minerva told me she had witnessed with her own eyes. I got called on an emergency by the Ministry of Magic at the last minute and I left. I would never have imagined, just like you, that someone would try to kill Harry during a Quidditch match, with hundreds of people there to watch it, even less by cursing his broomstick."

They remained silent for a long time. Lily's fury was subsiding. "Do you have any idea of who could have done this?" she asked him.

"I have no certainty yet."

"But you have suspects. I know you enough to be sure about that, Professor."

"I do, but I will not spread accusations without proofs, Lily."

"You could at least be honest with me and recognize that Voldemort could be behind this."

Dumbledore took his time. "It's not impossible. Whatever happened ten years ago, it destroyed Voldemort. It weakened him heavily. But he's still alive, that I'm sure of."

"Do we have any idea where he might be?"

"No. I questioned many people since his disappearance, investigated several rumors about him and his servants, but I couldn't find a single element showing out of doubt where he could be or what he could be doing. One thing I am sure about, he is not inside the precinct of Hogwarts or anywhere nearby. Someone else cast this curse on Harry's broom and made this troll enter."

"Someone working for him? One of his disciples?"

"Maybe."

"Well, we know of at least one of his disciples who was present."

She looked at Dumbledore straight in the eyes. The headmaster sustained her stare. "Severus has nothing to do with this."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Lily, I have not forgotten what he did while he was loyal to Voldemort, but Severus turned against him in the end."

"Yes, after he was gone."

"No, before. He spied on him, put his life in danger for our cause, Lily. Today, he is no more a Death Eater than I am."

"Maybe not today, since Voldemort is gone, but he was before. And don't tell me he doesn't believe anymore in wizard supremacy. I know he believed in it long before he served Voldemort, and I think even you must know he still believes in it."

"He is no saint. I will not argue the contrary. That doesn't make him the one who cast the spell on Harry. The world is not divided between good people and Death Eaters, Lily."

"Alright. You do not believe Snape did this? As you wish, Professor. Only, I may not be spending my time at Hogwarts, but Harry writes to me all the time. And you know what he says? That Snape hates him. He's always looking for reasons to remove points from Gryffindor and from Harry, and he's also seizing any opportunity to belittle Harry in front of his comrades. He's the only professor at Hogwarts who seems to have a problem with my son."

"Severus has always been favorable to Slytherin, Lily. He's like that, and it's not only about Harry. And he may not like your son, but again, that doesn't make him the person who tried to kill him."

"I get it, but I would suggest you find out who did this, and quickly. And to not assume it wasn't Snape just because you believe in him."

"I assure you, I take this matter very seriously. Only, I cannot let your hatred of Snape blind me to the other possible culprits. We're not even sure the troll and today's accidents are linked. It may be two individuals without any relation who are behind each of the two accidents. We're not even sure if today's events were an attempt on Harry's life. The problem may lie with the broom."

"It didn't. I cast a revelation spell when I saw Harry's broom going crazy. Someone was casting a curse on the broomstick, Professor Dumbledore. I tried to counter it, but it only made things worse."

"Which means whoever cast this curse made sure that common counter spells would not only be ineffective but would also feed the curse."

"Only someone well versed into dark magic could have done it," Lily concluded, resisting the envy to point out that the Potions Master fitted the description.

"Still, we must push aside the possibility of a problem with the broomstick. I'll have Madam Hooch and Professor Flitwick examine it. They'll be able to discard any possibility of wrongdoing from the manufacturer, and maybe even find some trace of the curse it received during the game. This may lead us to the man responsible for all this. And we'll ask questions around. Maybe a student or one of the parents noticed something that might help us find from where the curse was sent and by who."

Lily sighed. It was true, they needed to find out exactly who cursed her son's broomstick. And although she was certain of the accuracy of her revelation spell, she hoped the examination would prove once and for all that the Nimbus she bought to her son wasn't dysfunctional. Or else that meant she was responsible for what happened during that game. But she knew it wasn't that. Someone actually tried to kill Harry, or at least to severely hurt him.

"Are you sure that this accident with the troll and the curse on the broomstick are unrelated?" she asked Dumbledore.

"I cannot discard this possibility, but I have to admit that I find it quite unlikely. However, I highly doubt that the troll's mission was to attack your son, Lily."

"Why is that?"

"Because Harry wasn't supposed to be at Hogwarts when he managed to get inside. It was only by chance that your son fell upon it. I think, however, that whoever made this troll get inside the castle, might have been angry at Harry for neutralizing it and may have tried to take his revenge. What worries me the most is that he could he try again, or target Miss Granger who was there as well, and who actually cast the spell which knocked out the troll."

"I know. Harry told me in details what happened."

"Well, in any case, I'll treat your son's safety more seriously from now on. On that, you have my word. I'm sincere Lily."

She looked into his eyes. Dumbledore always maintained a calm facial expression. His eyes said much about his state of mind and how he felt. She knew he was being sincere.

"Very well. I trust you, Dumbledore, but if something else must happen to my son, I can't guarantee that I will not remove him from Hogwarts. Maybe he will hate me for that. I know he already loves this place. But his safety, his life... They're more important than magic."

"I understand."

"And one more thing. I want Snape to stop making his life miserable here."

Dumbledore seemed exasperated. "Lily..."

"No. I was serious the last time. I talked with other parents, and they confirmed what Harry wrote in his letters to me. Snape is harassing him, denigrating him in front of all his comrades, always looking for opportunities to make Harry's life a hell. I'm done with it. I made myself clear when I came to you in August. I don't care if Snape favours Slytherin. If you let him do it, this is your problem. But my son... It's over. I want him to be a teacher who treats Harry the same way he would treat any other student. Those are my terms. Either you force him to do it, or I take care of that myself. And unless you identify who tried to hurt my son today, I'll consider him a prime suspect. So get him to leave my son alone."

She detached the words of her last sentence to make sure he truly understood what she meant. After a moment, Dumbledore answered. "I'll talk to Severus."

"I don't care. Just make him do it. Now, if you'll excuse me, Professor Dumbledore, I wish to spend some time with my son before I go back home."

Lily left on that. She tried to control her anger as she left Dumbledore's office and went down the spiral staircase. When she arrived at the main floor, Minerva McGonagall was waiting for her.

"Professor."

"Lily." The professor of Transfiguration seemed uncomfortable. "I just wanted to tell you... that I'll do everything I can to find out who did this to Harry today."

Lily nodded. "Thank you for telling me what was happening between Snape and my son the day you visited me. I know it's not easy for you to talk against one of your colleagues."

Professor McGonagall made a spout, obviously not wanting to revisit what she told Lily on that day. They proceeded to walk towards the park through the corridors.

"I've been wishing to protect your son since he arrived, Lily. But there are limits to what I can do against Severus. I cannot stop him from removing points to Gryffindor every time he finds a reason to do so because of Harry's actions, as stupid as those reasons to remove points are."

"I don't care about points. He does the same to all students who do not belong to Slytherin anyway. What I care about is the way he's humiliating and harassing my son."

"I cannot be with him in the Potions classroom. I cannot follow Severus when he wanders the corridors of the school. And I certainly can't stand next to your boy at all times of day, nor can the other teachers. There are limits to what we can do in order to help him. And we cannot remove Snape from his position only because of his behaviour with one student."

"Then too bad that he's only harassing one student. Maybe if he did the same to a couple more, you would take action," Lily retorted acidly.

"Lily, Severus is not violent with Harry. He doesn't mistreat him, and although he is quite hard on your son, this can easily be interpreted as a teacher only trying to push his one particular student to get better and being strict with the enforcement of rules. Severus, no matter his flaws, is excellent as a Potions professor. Even you cannot deny his abilities and skills. He is hard with his students, but so are many other professors here."

"I know what it is to be hard and strict, Professor McGonagall. You were with all of us. But you were strict and hard because you were encouraging us to become better. And you never favored anyone. No matter which house we belonged to, our origins, our year of scholarity, our notes or whether we were boys or girls, you were as hard and strict with everybody. You help all your students to become better, and not only in the classroom, in every day's life as well."

She looked at her former professor. McGonagall was never prone to sentiment, but Lily could see she had touched something there.

"Snape is not," Lily resumed. "As good as he may with potions, he's not using his talents to make his students better. He's pushing them hard because he believes they will never be better than he is, and he wants them to believe it so they never hope to be as good as he is. He discourages them, makes them feel like nothing. He's been like that since he was a student here, and he's still like that today."

They had reached the doors that gave on the park. "Severus Snape is an expert at potion making. We couldn't find someone better when it comes to preparing or teaching potions," McGonagall told her. She would defend her colleagues and her school, no matter what.

"Maybe. Horace Slughorn may not have been as good when it came to knowledge and skills, but he was a far better teacher for his students."

The Transfiguration professor didn't react to this. "Spend some time with your son, Lily. I wish you a good day."

McGonagall left on this. Lily looked at her walking away for a time, but she soon opened the doors and walked outside. The day was cold. She had to put a heavier cloak when she left this morning. As a result, there weren't many students in the courtyard. She nonetheless walked towards the terrain of Quidditch. Harry would certainly be somewhere along that path.

She suddenly regretted to have left the stadium right after the game. he realized this was not the best decision. She went directly to McGonagall, asked her where Dumbledore was and, when her former teacher told her he was in his office, she headed straight towards Hogwarts and lectured the headmaster. She never did that before. It was always Dumbledore who reprimanded people for their mistakes, but this time Lily was fed up. After her son could have been killed and the headmaster was not even there during the match, she demanded some explanations.

She should have waited and stayed behind to make sure Harry was okay. What would he think of her now? Did he see her walk away towards the castle, with no look behind for him, when he just nearly fell from his broomstick and won his first Quidditch game? She was ashamed. She would need to apologize to her son, which would be very difficult to do since she should never have positioned herself in a spot where she owed excuses to Harry.

She finally spotted him under an archway. His back was turned on her, but she would recognize her son from any angle and from any distance. A girl was standing next to him, her back also turned on Lily. She had heavy brown hair and was about the same height as her son. They were discussing with Hagrid, who faced them and Lily herself, but didn't seem to notice her as he was talking to Harry and the girl. His heavy voice was easily heard from afar.

"Now, listen to me, you both. You're meddling in things that don't concern you. It's dangerous. You forget that dog, and you forget what it's guarding, that's between Professor Dumbledore and Nicholas Flamel."

"Nicholas Flamel?" both Harry and the girl said at the same time.

Hagrid looked horribly guilty at once. "I shouldn't have said..."

And then he blanched. He had finally seen Lily. He was stammering, unable to find his words.

"Hagrid, who is Nicholas Flamel?" her son asked. But Rubeus Hagrid was still trying to find his words.

"Er... I... I... Lily..."

All of a sudden, Harry turned when Hagrid said her name. From the puzzled expression he wore an instant ago, Harry's face turned smiling instantly when he saw.

"Mom, you've seen me at the match?"

"Of course, I have." She hugged him strongly. "So, how is my little champion of Quidditch? Are you fine?"

"Yes. My broomstick got a little out of control..." That was an euphemism. "... but I'm fine. I caught the Golden Snitch."

"Yes, I saw you." Lily returned her attention to Hagrid, who didn't seem like he had recovered the usage of words yet. "Hagrid, it's always good to see you."

Somehow, the half-giant recovered some of his capacities. "Yes, very good to see you... Sorry, got to go... A lot of work to do."

And he left without another word, which Lily wasn't sure he would have been able to pronounce. She chased him from her mind and looked at the girl Harry was with. She had light skin and bright brown eyes. Her bushy brown hair was falling over her shoulders both in front and behind her back.

"You didn't introduce me to your friend, Harry?" she told her son.

"Oh, yes. I'm sorry. Mom, this is Hermione. You remember, I wrote to you about her."

"Oh, yes. Of course. The most brilliant student of Hogwarts."

The girl reddened at the compliment. "Well... I mean... I'm trying... to be as good as I can, but..." Hermione was stammering as well.

"Well, that's what my son wrote to me, and I've never known Harry to be a liar."

She reddened even more. "Harry, you really... you didn't..."

"Well, I told her the truth."

Her son had somewhat reddened as well. Lily found the situation a little amusing. She didn't remember seeing her son behaving like that in presence of a girl. Every time Lily implied or questioned Harry on whether there could be something between him and a girl, he just lashed and told her it was ridiculous. Lily never thought there was more, anyway. She did it to tease him, most of the time. Today, it was different.

"Hermione," she began to ask the girl, "would it bother you if I stole my son for a few minutes?"

"No, of course. It was nice meet you, Mrs Potter. Have a good day."

Mrs Potter. She was so used to being called Mrs Evans, the name she used in her everyday life, that it felt like an eternity since someone addressed her this way. She watched Hermione Granger walk away, then looked at her son.

"How are you, Harry? Really? Are you injured?"

"No, I'm fine, Mom. I guess I had more fear than hurt."

She sighed. "I went to see Professor Dumbledore right after the game. I wanted to know how this could have happened. I'm sorry, my dear. I should have gone to see you the moment the game was over."

"No, that's fine, Mom. I'm not hurt, I swear."

"I know, but I was really afraid for you, when your broomstick started to behave erratically. I even wondered if the broom was defective, and I felt it was my fault for buying it for you."

"No, Mom. It's not your fault. It's not the Nimbus. Someone cast a curse on it. It's not your fault."

He was kind, trying to reassure her, but now that her episode of fury with Dumbledore was over and she was with her boy, she was beginning to wonder if there had been any problem with her son's broom that might have caused this.

"The professors are looking for what happened today. Dumbledore himself promised me they would find out who did this. But I must warn you, they're going to examine your Nimbus to make sure nothing is wrong with it. They don't think it was a problem during the manufacturing process, but they want to discard that possibility."

"My broomstick has no problem."

"I know. They just want to confirm it."

"But Mom, I know who cast the spell."

She looked at her son. He wasn't joking. Her heart was pounding in her chest. "You know?"

"Yes. Hermione saw someone in the crowd throwing the curse. She went to him and started a fire on his cloak. I regained control over my broomstick not long after that."

Really? A girl of eleven had succeeded where she failed? Lily would definitely have to thank her. But it wasn't the most important. She stared right into her son's eyes.

"Harry, who did this?" Her heart was pumping blood at a speed it didn't for quite a long time. Her son's eyes were more serious than they had ever been.

"It was Snape."

Chapter Text

SEVERUS II

 

That damned dog! Severus Snape thought those words again and again as he walked to his classroom. The cold there would surely help him feel better, and he couldn't wait to sit behind his desk. He didn't like to revise his students' homeworks, but it had to be done, and at least it would allow him to rest his leg.

Everything had gone wrong today. This match should have been a win for Slytherin, especially with Potter as the Seeker for Gryffindor. How could Higgs not catch the Snitch? He had it, right in front of him, while Potter was being thrown on all sides by his broomstick. Even without it, Higgs should have caught the Snitch. How could he lose against an untalented, mediocre, first-year student? He would need a good conversation with Marcus Flint. Snape may not be a Quidditch fan, he may not give a single glance to the Quidditch Cup every time he entered his office, but he preferred the Cup to belong to Slytherin, the only house in Hogwarts that truly deserved it.

He groaned in pain again. Filch should have made a better bandage. Maybe he really should go to the infirmary, but he didn't want anybody, especially not any student that could be there, to find out how he got hurt. Filch, for all his flaws, and especially considering his situation as a Squib, wouldn't tell anybody, teacher or student.

He walked into his classroom, the familiar smell of potions and boiling mixtures soothing his nerves a little bit. Today, Potter was just lucky. The Slytherin team thought they were certain to win and played poorly as a result. Without that, Gryffindor would never have won. The boy might look like his father, he may be as arrogant as James was, but he had none of his talents, none of his intelligence. Severus would find a way to get him expelled from Hogwarts, sooner or later. This was only a matter of time.

"From Death Eater to Potions Master."

The sound of the voice stopped halfway to his desk. This voice... He hadn't heard it in a very long time. His lips were quivering, his mind rumbling in all directions. Even his heart, normally an example of constant cadence, accelerated his beating. He dared not move. He straightened up, to not allow her to see he was limping. She wouldn't see him weak, not for the first time after all these years. Slowly, he turned to look at the origin of this voice.

"Most of your friends didn't get out so easily. Some are at Azkaban, others have been rejected by their community. Very few managed to buy their freedom, and it was only thanks to their money, like your friend Malfoy, that they became frequentable again. But of all of them, it was the most cowardly who got out the best, teaching potions to the students of Hogwarts for the past ten years."

She was staring at one of the shelves in the back of the classroom, her back turned on him. He could see that her arms were crossed on her breasts. Her dark red hair was falling behind her back. She was as beautiful as in his memories, and fierce too. Even by looking only at her back, without seeing her eyes or her face, he could tell it.

"I know what you did."

She knew? Some part of Snape began to feel hope, and it was that part that replied. "If you're talking about what happened..." But she cut him before he could finish.

"What happened today? You mean, you trying to murder my son." Murder her son? What was she talking about? She turned on her heels and faced him. "It must have been hard, wasn't it? Casting a curse on a broomstick to make a boy of eleven fall to the ground. Or getting a troll inside the gates. What an accomplishment it is."

He snapped back to reality. He had to maintain his cover. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said on an even tone.

She laughed. Not a joyous laugh, but one that meant mockery, derision, sarcasm. "You will never change. You've never been good at lying. Or hiding how you truly felt." She could be surprised. "You're lucky I don't have any proof against you. If I did, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. Dumbledore would have already sent you to Azkaban." Again, she would be surprised.

She had approached while speaking. Only a few feet distanced them. He could smell her perfume. "If you ever try something again on my son, proof or not, I'm coming for you. And Dumbledore will not be able to protect you this time."

She stared at him with her beautiful emerald eyes. But any love, any attachment she might have for him had not appeared in those eyes for many years. They were cold, filled with hatred. They reminded him of the boy's eyes.

"Is that all?" he asked, remaining impassive.

"Yes, that's all. Stay away from my son." She detached every syllable. She turned away and walked away to the dungeons' door. "You didn't even try to deny it," she added as she left.

Once she had left, Snape let his facade fall off. He groaned again at the pain in his leg, on which he had stood for minutes, and sat on the extremity of his desk to rest. But the physical pain was nothing compared to his internal turmoil. Lily believed he was behind all this. She believed he tried to kill her son today, and even that he brought that troll inside Hogwarts on Halloween. Did she have any idea...?

For ten years, he remained far from her. Dumbledore refused to tell him where she lived. Severus could have found it pretty easily, but Dumbledore forbade him to try. Lily needed time, and she needed her attention devoted to her son. Severus followed the orders, like he always did.

And yet, she was there, only a moment ago. Despite the fact she spent this entire time accusing him of all that had befallen her son, Severus was glad he saw her again after all these years. He had been the first to arrive on the scene at Godric's Hollow. He had ignored the lifeless body of James Potter to go upstairs, and found her and her son. She was bloodied, barely alive. Severus had actually believed she was dead, but when he approached and heard her faint breathing, he examined her, and with a few spells, he healed the worst injuries, those that could actually kill her, especially those inside her body that the human eye couldn't see. When Hagrid arrived later, Severus was gone, but he had made sure that Lily would survive the trip to Hogwarts. Without him, this idiot would certainly have killed her the moment he would have placed her in the back on his motorbike. Severus had not seen her afterwards, not even at Hogwarts while she was recovering.

A tear came out of his eyes. He regained control over himself. He couldn't show weakness, not even alone in his classroom. A student could walk in at any moment and see him. Slowly, his leg still hurting, he stood up and headed to the only person who could help him, and the only person to who he could tell the conversation he just had. When he arrived, it was only to discover that he had made the journey unnecessarily.

"Severus. You should have spared yourself the effort, with your leg. I was about to go and see you," Dumbledore said as he walked inside the headmaster's office.

"Well, I'm here. There's no point in talking about what could have been," he retorted.

"Indeed. Please, Severus, sit." Severus did so. "You look like someone who's been battered by Bludgers for the last two hours."

"You know I don't like your Quidditch references. But yes, I could as well have been."

"I guess then that, aside from the two visits she paid to me, Lily Evans also paid you one."

This drew Severus' attention. "She paid you two visits?"

"She did. The first one right after the game was over. She was angry. I promised her son would be safe here, and look at what happened ever since he came to Hogwarts. And then she returned maybe a half hour later to tell me that you were the one who tried to murder Harry today."

"You know very well that's not true," Severus stated angrily.

"I know it. We both know it, Severus, but the others don't. People have seen you heading to the third floor at Halloween. And someone saw you casting spells on Harry's broomstick during the game."

"Someone saw me?"

"Yes, Severus. They couldn't make out the incantations you were using, but they saw you muttering them and staring at Harry while doing so."

"Who?" Severus had a few good ideas of what he could do to the person who suspected him of cursing that crazy broomstick.

"I'm not going to tell you, Severus. The important is that Lily Evans actually believes you tried to kill her son."

No wonder she believed that, but he would have thought that Lily was brilliant enough to guess what he was trying to do. "I was trying to save the boy."

"She doesn't know that, and she has no reason to believe it either. You never gave her any reason. You even refused to let me tell her the whole truth."

"And this must remain this way," Severus warned the headmaster.

"Well, if you really still want me to never reveal the best of you..." Dumbledore threw his arms in the air. "As you wish, Severus. In fact... the fact Lily Evans believes you're guilty may be of service for us."

"How could it be of service?"

"Quirrell is less likely to suspect I know anything thanks to that. You can continue to keep an eye on him, even watch him very closely. He will not feel as in danger if he thinks everybody believes it was you."

"He knows I suspect him. He knows it since the day of Halloween."

"But he doesn't know that I do as well. Let's give the impression you are the only one suspecting him. It may lead him to make mistakes and reveal his plans."

"Why shouldn't we arrest him right away?"

"I want to discover first why he's so interested with the thing we hid on the third floor."

"My guess is that he wants it for himself."

"Maybe. But we know what this stone is capable of, Severus. And who knows for who Quirrell might be working. I want to discover it, and we won't know for sure if we put him down right away. Let him reveal what are his plans. Put pressure on him. Push him to the brink of collapse, if necessary, but let him reveal his intentions by himself."

"As you wish, Dumbledore." He didn't say that with any joy. He would do his duty, nothing more. At least, his distaste for Quirrell would make it easy for Severus to make him feel like a hunted man.

"But... to make you look more guilty and ensure Quirrell doesn't suspect anything about our own suspicions... you will have to change your behavior."

"How is that so?"

"You'll need to change your behavior towards the young Harry."

It was as if the headmaster had thrown a bucket full of icy water straight into his face. "What do you mean, exactly?"

"What I mean, Severus, is that you must stop treating Harry differently from the other students?"

"You mean, stop treating him like the arrogant, impertinent student that he is."

"Severus, we have been over this. You are the only teacher to see this in Harry Potter. This boy is a hard-working student, well-mannered, and he is not less talented than most of his comrades of the same year."

"He is just like his father, but without the talent."

"That is what you want to see. I look at him and I see more of the mother than the father inside. That shouldn't surprise you, since it is Lily Evans who raised him."

Severus chased the idea from his mind. "I am not going to relax discipline on a student because he doesn't like the way I'm teaching. Or because he's too arrogant or susceptible to support my way of teaching."

"Harry is not the problem here, Severus. It is Lily. She truly believes that you did try to kill her son, maybe twice. I can keep her at arm's length, but I need your cooperation. I promised to keep you away from Harry, and to limit your contacts with the boy to within your classroom. We can suppose that Quirrell tried to harm Harry today because it was Harry and Miss Granger who neutralized the troll at Halloween. Which means that both Harry and Miss Granger could be in grave danger. We must stop Quirrell from taking action before a student really dies."

"And so? I don't see the link with the way I handle my students."

"Quirrell must believe that you are afraid. He must feel empowered enough to make a mistake, while you also put pressure on him, without creating suspicions that others are watching him. For that, you must react to Lily's demands. Anyway, I'm afraid that if something ever happens to Harry again, she could really take matters into her own hands and deal with the situation herself... by targeting the one person she believes is behind those accidents."

Severus froze. If Lily truly believed he tried to harm her son, if Quirrell tried again, and Severus ended on the wrong end... He wouldn't be able to defend himself against her. Of course, in a duel, he could measure to Lily, especially today after she spent so many years living among Muggles and not using magic on a regular basis. The problem was, he could never try to hurt Lily. He would let her defeat him, and who knows what she could do once she had control over the situation, thinking he had tried to kill her boy.

"What about telling her the truth?" Severus asked.

"No. As I said, Quirrell must believe that you are the prime suspect. Anyway, I'm not sure Lily would believe the truth, even if it came from me. She still holds you responsible for James' death."

"I tried to save them."

"You tried to save her," Dumbledore corrected, "and it was after you realized she was the target. You wouldn't have come to me if Voldemort's target had been Neville Longbottom and his parents. And I don't believe she would think kindly of you if we revealed you asked the Dark Lord to spare her, but not her husband or her son. Not to mention that you weren't the one to save Harry today. It was the fire on your cloak and the commotion it caused that made Quirrell lose his visual contact and freed Harry's broomstick from the curse."

"Yes, indeed." Snape still didn't know how his cloak caught fire. He had the distinct impression, even certitude that someone started it.

"Now, like I said, you stop treating Harry differently. I'm not asking you to make him your favourite student, that wouldn't serve our goals anyway. But you must give the impression that you're afraid of Lily Evans." Oh, he was afraid of her, but not to the point of stopping disciplining the son of James Potter. "You stop harassing him, you stop diminishing him on purpose before his fellow students, and you stop giving a particular attention to him. I'm not asking you to stop taking points from Gryffindor, you've always done it with all your students. But Harry Potter is now a normal student, without preferential or distinctive treatment. If you really want us to catch Quirrell, and if you really love Lily Evans, you'll do it."

"If you want me to protect him, I will have no choice but to harass him, like you say."

"You know very well what I mean, Severus. Do I have your word? Or must I expect Lily Evans to come back to Hogwarts one day, demanding your head?"

Reluctantly, Snape suppressed his hard feelings about the situation and gave the Headmaster of Hogwarts the answer he was looking for.

"As you wish, Professor Dumbledore."

Chapter Text

LILY V

 

Snow was quietly falling outside. Winter had finally come. According to the weather forecast, all of southern England would be under several feet of snow by tomorrow. The storm was just beginning. Lily was sitting in her armchair, safe in the comfort and warmth of her apartment. She was reading the last letter her son sent while Hedwig pecked some seeds on the table.

 

Dear Mom,

Things are getting quite magic in all senses of the term at Hogwarts. You should see the decorations the teachers are beginning to install. Courses are as hard as ever though. Teachers leave us no time to rest in class. Potions have become especially difficult since the dungeons have been transformed into an icehouse. We have to attend the courses with our winter cloaks to get through. There are rumours that a student had to be treated for frostbite. And of course, Snape is his usual self, always finding pretexts to remove points from Gryffindor. Neville especially finds this class unsufferable. But this is only one course, and ever since the Quidditch game, Snape seems to be targeting all people in Gryffindor, not just me. At least, we suffer him all together.

I'm eager to come back home for Christmas, but I would have something to ask you. My friend Ron is planning to stay at Hogwarts for the holidays because his parents are going to Romania to visit his brother who's working with dragons there. I was wondering if I could invite him home for Christmas. Would you mind?

I have to admit I would have liked to see how Hogwarts looks like at Christmas, but I wouldn't miss Christmas with you for all the gold in the world. I'm eager to see you again.

Harry

 

She finished the letter. Harry had never invited someone home for Christmas. Normally, it was only Lily and her son, and Remus and Sirius who came to spend time with them. She was happy that Harry made friends at Hogwarts, especially when she considered that one of these friends, Hermione, saved him during his first Quidditch game. At the same time, some small part of her wished to keep her son for her and herself alone. It seemed like yesterday when she was changing his diapers, or when she accompanied him to his first day at elementary school. Her son was growing, and he was growing quickly. She had to face it, his world no longer revolved around Lily alone.

She wrote back to him, saying she would be glad to welcome his friend home and that, if his other friend, Hermione, wished to come, she was welcome as well. She also said she was eager to see him and told him she sent a foretaste of the Christmas waiting for him. She gave the letter to Hedwig, along with a bag full of small chocolate balls. She then opened the window to send the owl back to Hogwarts, letting some icy air and snow get inside the apartment. She closed it the moment Hedwig was gone.

Lily had already started preparing for Christmas. This was the biggest holiday in the year for her and Harry. Since Halloween was not really a day to celebrate for them, she worked very hard every year to make Christmas an unforgivable moment. Their freezer was already filled to the brim, as well as the pantry. She had installed some of her decorations and there were others she planned to add. And she was looking for presents for her son and their visitors. Furthermore, she would give a more magical tone to this year's celebrations. She would have to go to Diagon Alley very soon for that. But not today. She was waiting for someone.

Lily looked at her apartment. For eight years, it had been her home. She had known wonderful moments, and others that were sad, but all of them marked her life and turned Harry into the person he had become. But lately, she found little joy in this place. It felt so empty, so dark with the days getting shorter. And since the company for which she worked had closed and Lily lost her job two days ago, it felt even more empty as she had nothing to occupy her days. She didn't tell Harry about her discharge. She didn't want him to worry about her. Anyway, he didn't have to worry much. Lily received an unemployment insurance for now, and she put money aside over the years. She would be good for quite some time. And depending on how today's discussion would end, she may not need anymore money for a very long time.

She verified the content of the freezer. Yes, everything that required to be frozen was there. She would buy the food that only required refrigeration later, to not let it get spoiled before the end of the holidays. She looked through the window outside. Snow continued to fall. A small white blanket now covered the streets and parked cars. For now, there might be only one or two inches of snow on the ground, but it would soon change as snowflakes kept falling down.

Lily went to her son's chamber. If one of his friends came here, she would have to buy another bed, unless she made one appear. She couldn't let Harry's friend sleep in a sleeping bag. After leaving it alone for weeks, Lily had finally made some cleaning in the room, so it wasn't dusty like it used to be following her son's departure. Everything was in order. She had replaced anything that laid on the floor. Everything was at its right place.

She looked at her watch. It wouldn't take long before she arrived. She had spoken about it with Dumbledore, with Sirius, with Remus, even shortly with McGonagall. There was only one person she needed to talk to before she took the decision. While waiting, she decided to take one of her son's books and started reading about the history of great wizards, just to spend time. She was reading about Morgana, a story she heard again and again, when the bell resounded. She left the book on Harry's personal desk and went to open the door.

She wore a raincoat covered with snow. She must not have had her winter coats ready by now. Lily let her come in right away.

"Hello, Tuney," Lily welcomed her sister as she helped her remove her coat.

"Vernon doesn't know I'm here. I must be back home before he returns from work," Petunia said.

"I get it. I can prepare you some tea if you want."

"Yes, please."

Lily went into the kitchen to make preparations while Petunia removed her boots. Her sister then took place at the table in the living room.

"This is a nice place you have," Petunia commented.

"In part thanks to you. You helped me find it, remember?" Lily told her sister with a timid smile.

Petunia made a slight nod. She hadn't smiled since she arrived, but this was nothing new for Lily. It had been years since Tuney sincerely smiled at her. She brought two cups of fuming tea and offered one to her sister.

"Thank you," Petunia said.

"How is Dudley?" Lily asked. If there was one thing Petunia never minded talking about, it was her son. Despite this, her sister didn't turn up any smile as she began talking about him.

"He's at Smeltings Academy. He sleeps in their dormitory during the week, but he comes home for the weekend. I worry if he gets to eat as he pleases there, whether his blankets are comfortable enough, if he's happy where he is. I guess he is. He's always eager to go back there on Sunday night, many of his friends from elementary school have followed him there. He seems quite occupied. Sometimes, I call him in the evening, and he says he doesn't have time to talk to me. He's got so many friends and work he doesn't have the time to call me himself."

Lily could see the sadness behind her sister's voice and on her face. She could relate to that. Personally, she found that Petunia cherished and spoiled her son way too much, fulfilling each and every of his desires, but she remained silent on that. As a mother who also let her son go after taking care of him for years, she could understand how her sister felt alone and worried all the time about him. Especially at Smeltings, considering students were expected to hit themselves with canes whenever teachers were not looking. Her boy could really get into trouble there.

"What about yours, Lily? He went... well, to that school." Like before, Petunia couldn't get herself to say words related to the magic world, especially not Hogwarts since the day Dumbledore refused to let her accompany Lily there.

"Yes. It's been four months now. The apartment feels empty. I've gone to see him twice so far. They don't usually allow for parents to visit their children during the term. They made an exception so we could to Godric's Hollow at Halloween, and to let me... attend to his first game."

She looked at Petunia to make her understand what sport she was talking about. "Quidditch, that's it?" Lily was almost surprised Petunia remembered pronouncing the name correctly. "I heard you both talk about it one day."

Lily didn't have to ask who she talked about. Petunia was spying on her conversations with Snape back then. Back when he was her friend and Lily didn't know yet who he truly was. "Yes. He's quite good at it."

"Good for him." There wasn't any sharpness in her voice or her eyes. She seemed sincere. "So, why did you want to talk with me, and not on the phone?" she finally asked Lily.

Lily had called Tuney a few days ago, in the middle of the day to make sure her husband had no chance to take the call, and told her they needed to speak in person. She then let a moment of silence go, and before she could offer to come to Petunia's house, her sister told her she would come to her apartment today. The sisters may have a complicated relationship, but they remained sisters and were there for each other in the moments that mattered.

Lily averted her sister's gaze. "I'm thinking of leaving. Of going back."

She waited for her sister's reaction. She didn't know what she was expecting or hoping from Petunia, but when it came, her sister only replied on a tired and resigned tone. "I was expecting that to happen one day. Why now?"

"Harry is gone. He is... in this world now. It wouldn't make any sense to bring him here for the holidays and summer vacations. He's made friends there, and he has none here. I lost my job. I feel... there's nothing left tying me here. Unless..."

She looked at her sister, trying to convey what she meant. Tuney remained unmoved. Her face didn't change. The only thing Lily might have noticed that betrayed any single emotion was the pupil of her eyes. Lily knew her sister enough to see through it, and she could see she was affected. But that wasn't what Petunia was trying to show.

"Your son... Harry... He's happy there... at Hogwarts?" Tuney asked. Lily found it a miracle her sister said so many words related to the magical world within a single conversation.

"Yes, he is." Despite the accidents with the trolls, despite the mad broom during Quidditch, despite Snape, he was happy. Lily even wondered if he had a girlfriend there. She supposed he wouldn't want to tell her immediately if that was the case.

Tuney looked at her cup of tea. "Your son is what matters. If he's happy in your world, then you better follow him."

"That's all?" Lily asked, uncertain, looking at anything Petunia could say more, or imply.

"That's all."

Tuney was firm, as always. She had always been firm since the day she became an adult, and even before. When Lily came back to the world of Muggles years ago, it was Tuney who helped her. She stood up to her husband and helped Lily find her first apartment, get her first job, even take care of Harry in the first years. She took her distances later, and Lily suspected it was because Vernon had enough of his wife helping her sister. They continued exchanging letters and gifts for Christmas and their respective birthdays and those of her sons. Lily even visited them a few times, but it never really went well. Harry and Dudley didn't get along at all. During a weekend they stayed at Privet Drive, when they were both six-years-old, Dudley had stolen a present Petunia had carefully prepared for Harry, stolen his food during dinner, pinched him throughout the whole weekend, and even pushed him into the mud one morning. Vernon had not been anymore accommodating, first suggesting that Harry sleeps in the cupboard under the stairs. Petunia dared not to say anything. It was only when Lily insisted for Harry to sleep in the spare room with her that Tuney finally told her husband to let it go and let Lily and Harry sleep in the same room, both in a real bed. After that, they sometimes called each other to take news, but even the phone calls became rare with time.

"Look, Lily. Our paths took different ways the day you went to Hogwarts and I couldn't follow you. Perhaps things could have been different, but I got my life now. I have a husband, I have a son, I have a home, and I love my life. You have yours, and it's definitely not here." Petunia looked around at Lily's apartment, as if to emphasize this was only a transition. "Your life is where your son is."

"And so... here it ends," Lily said fatefully.

"Yes. Here it ends."

They remained like that for a very long time. Lily asked some additional questions to Petunia about her life, about Vernon, about Dudley, and her sister did the same for Lily, but it was obvious Tuney was forcing herself to speak like Lily did, just to prolong their last discussion even a little. At one moment though, Petunia looked at her watch.

"I've got to go. I must be at home when Vernon comes back."

Lily knew it was true. She accompanied Petunia to her small hall and helped her get dressed for the outside weather, where snow had accumulated further. There was probably about one feet of snowflakes on the ground now.

"Lily." Petunia was now fully prepared and ready to go, but she looked at her sister before she opened the door. "I'm really sorry for James. I didn't like him, but... I never wanted that to happen. I wish you could have lived happily together."

Lily looked away, tears threatening to break. "We did... for a time. And it was worth it." Petunia nodded in understanding. "I'm sorry, Tuney."

Petunia knew what she was sorry about. Lily could feel it that she understood in this very moment. The two sisters then began to cry together, Lily much more than her elder sister. They hugged for a very long time.

"You'll always be my little sister, Lily, no matter what happens."

"You'll always be my big sister, Tuney."

They remained like that, locked together, for quite some time, but Petunia Dursley left in the end, without a gaze behind, wiping away the tears from her face before she confronted the storm, leaving her little sister to cry behind, as her last link with the world of Muggles faded away in the snow.

Lily Evans Potter remained on her doorsteps, the door open, the cold air entering her home, tears freezing on her cheeks as she recalled the moment when she called Tuney for the first time after her husband's death.

It had been two days since Halloween, and Lily was still recovering in a private section of Hogwarts' hospital wing, being kept away from prying eyes. She managed to conjure a phone and to protect it from magical waves. She placed a call to Little Whinging and luckily fell on her sister when she answered. Lily told her, her voice breaking apart, that her husband was dead, and begged Tuney to come and see her.

"I need my sister," she had told her, water running down all over her face.

A long moment of silence had followed. Then, like a whisper, Petunia asked "Where are you?"

"At Hogwarts."

Another moment of silence had followed, longer than the first. Then... "Tell me what to do. I'm coming right away."

Petunia had left her house on the spot, without giving any explanation to her husband. Dumbledore had transported her just outside the boundaries of Hogwarts through Apparition and led her to the infirmary where Lily and Petunia were reunited. Lily had cried in her sister's arms for hours, Tuney comforting her for the first time in an eternity.  Petunia had been the family she needed at the time she needed her the most.

And now she was gone. Lily Evans Potter had nothing left tying her to the world of Muggles.

Chapter Text

HERMIONE I

 

"Have you found anything yet?" she asked, closing Great Wizards of the Twentieth Century.

"Nothing," replied Harry, who was still midway through Notable Magical Names of Our Time. "Whoever this Nicolas Flamel is, he must have gone through a lot of trouble to make himself unnoticed."

"Are you sure that your mother knew nothing about him?"

"That's what she wrote to me when I asked her the question." Harry shrugged. "Perhaps he's not a famous wizard like Dumbledore."

"I find it very hard to believe," Hermione stated, seizing Forgotten Wizards of the Twentieth Century. "Whatever this three-headed dog is keeping, it must be important."

"Yes, I agree. Especially if Snape wants it. Do you have any idea about what it could be?"

"I don't know. I've read about so many magical objects that granted special powers or legendary relics worth millions of Galleons in my readings. It could be anything. But if Dumbledore is ready to bring that dog inside the walls of Hogwarts to protect it, I don't believe this is only a matter of gold. There would be Gringotts for that."

Harry nodded in approval. He was back to reading, and Hermione would rather not bother him. She herself didn't like it when she was interrupted while reading.

They were in the library, going over some of the massive books it contained in the hope of finding any information about Nicolas Flamel. Their search had already lasted for almost a month, and they found nothing related to that man. Harry even wondered at some point if they didn't mishear Hagrid when he mentioned that name, or if Hagrid didn't say it correctly. However, Harry also had the vivid impression that the name was familiar. Hermione was of the opinion this was the right name. They just didn't find it yet.

Doing research with Harry was pleasant enough. Hermione was used to working alone, and Harry respected that. They both read in silence, looking for clues about Flamel. It was way less stressful than to watch a game of Quidditch where your friend almost got killed. Hermione was standing next to Ron during the match, and they both were afraid when they saw Harry's broomstick go rogue. Hermione had snatched Hagrid's binoculars at this moment. Harry had presented her to the gamekeeper after Halloween, so he let her do. She had looked through the crowd until she came upon Snape, moving his lips while staring at Harry. She had pushed the binoculars into Ron's hands, not caring for his questions about what was going on and what she saw. She climbed to the tower where Snape was sitting and started a fire on his cloak. Not long after, Harry's broomstick stopped behaving erratically.

After the game, Harry said it was becoming a habit for them to save each other's life. Hermione had not found it as amusing as he did, but she refrained herself from berating him. After all, he was the one who found himself in danger on this day, not her. She warned him though against ever laughing about her life being endangered.

Still, they now had a real reason to find out what Snape wanted. There must have been a reason why he tried to kill Harry during his first game of Quidditch, and that had surely something to do with that thing Fluffy was guarding. She couldn't believe Hagrid called such an animal Fluffy.

Harry grumbled, let himself drop against the back of his chair, and rubbed his eyes. "I think I'll go back to our common room. I doubt I'll find anything about Flamel today. You want to come?" he asked her.

"No. I'll stay here and continue searching for another hour or two."

"Okay. We'll see each other tomorrow morning then."

Hermione nodded, deep into her reading once again. She heard Harry gathering his stuff, until a thunderous voice broke the sacred silence of the library.

"AH, THERE ARE YOU ARE? I've been looking for you everywhere."

"Shhh! Drop your voice, or Madam Pince will hear you," Hermione loudly whispered to Ronald Weasley who just walked in.

"You're with her. Again." He was talking to Harry. "People are going to believe seriously that you two..."

"Ron!" Both Harry and Hermione said his name at the same time, not wanting to hear about this once more.

"I was leaving, anyway," Harry grumbled. "Bye, Hermione."

"Bye, Harry."

She didn't say goodbye to Ron, and he didn't say it to her either. They were both friends with Harry, but Ronald wasn't her friend, and she wasn't his friend either. She heard their footsteps going away. After a moment, it seemed that by a miracle of some sort, Madam Pince didn't hear Ron's outburst. There were times Hermione didn't understand how Harry could be a friend of Ron Weasley. Ron had been mean to her before, but it had escalated after the accident with the troll. Perhaps he was jealous that he was no longer Harry Potter's only friend. That wouldn't surprise her.

Hermione pushed aside a lock of hair that had gotten over her eyes at the same time she pushed aside her thoughts about Ron Weasley and went back to her research. She continued until very late, at the latest hour first-years could remain outside their common room, then went back there. Percy saluted her when she walked close to him, but no one else did really seem to notice her presence. She hated to admit it, but Ron's words that no one wanted her as a friend still stung.

She climbed into the girls' dormitory and found Lavender and Parvati already there. Whatever they were talking about, they stopped the moment Hermione walked in.

"Hi, Hermione," Parvati told her.

"Hi, Parvati."

No welcome came from Lavender, and Hermione offered none. "So, you worked late today?" Parvati continued.

"Yes. I'm taking some advance for after the holidays." Hermione dropped her bag next to her bed and began to change herself. Her two roommates had already changed for the night. They were already in their respective beds.

"You spend a lot of time at the library, don't you?" Lavender asked.

"I do."

"It must be boring to spend so much time alone in the library," Lavender commented.

"I don't find it boring, for myself." Hermione was done changing. She took a book out of her personal things and began to read, like she did every night before she fell asleep. "Now, speak in whispers. I'm trying to read."

Lavender and Parvati did so. Hermione did not hate her roommates, but she wasn't very fond of them either. Parvati and Lavender spent most of their evenings gossiping, giggling, and doing small talk, something Hermione did not enjoy very much. Their gossiping was mostly annoying, and after some time, following several complains from Hermione at the beginning of the term, they gossiped in hushed voices to bother her less when she was reading or sleeping. That didn't prevent Hermione from hearing what they said, but it bothered her less.

Later in the night, like it happened from time to time, the two girls kept gossiping while Hermione tried to get some sleep. They allowed their voices to get higher when they thought Hermione was asleep, which they seemed to think this night as well.

"You think this is true? What Hannah said?" Lavender was asking.

"I don't know. Sometimes, I think she believes anything she hears," Parvati replied, uncertain.

"Still, imagine she's right." Lavender seemed quite excited, like whenever she heard something she thought to be interesting about someone else.

"Look, it seems a little stretched to me."

"But they spend so much time together. You really think that's impossible."

"No, it's not," conceded Parvati, but Hermione didn't know what she was conceding. Her back was turned to her roommates and her curtains were drawn. "I mean, Harry is very kind. I'm not sure how I imagined Harry Potter would be if I ever met him. I didn't even know he would in the same year as us. But he's very kind. Perhaps he's pitying her, in some way. I mean, he seems to be the only friend she got."

"Not just a friend, according to Hannah."

"She heard it from someone who claims he saw them together. I mean, unless that someone comes to use..."

"Still, just imagine a moment what they truly are doing in the library."

Hermione was fuming. Enduring those jokes from Malfoy was already unsufferable.

"I am awake, in case you haven't noticed!"

Her outburst sent both other girls in deep silence. The last thing Hermione remembered before falling asleep was Parvati warning Lavender in a whisper to speak lower the next time.

Hermione woke up earlier the day after. The two other girls were still asleep, and she made sure to not awaken them. She went to the library to continue her research on Flamel before breakfast. She arrived just at the moment Madam Pince was opening the place. Unfortunately, her efforts proved fruitless once again.

She went to the Great Hall to take her breakfast. Harry and Ron were already there. Huge Christmas trees decorated the place, along with garlands at every corner and even some hanging from the ceiling, giving the impression they were floating in the air.

"Hi, Harry."

"Hi, Hermione. We've got Charms this morning. That's going to be fun."

"Yes. It's easy to talk during Flitwick's course," Ron added.

"We're not supposed to talk. We're supposed to train in the spell Professor Flitwick is teaching us," Hermione reminded them.

"Well, a few words exchanged there and there cannot do any harm."

"Not when it takes half an hour to exchange them."

"Are you going to ruin the class before it's even started."

"Ron, Hermione, please. Could we just enjoy our breakfast in peace?" Harry interfered.

He was sitting between them two. Hermione accepted to not push the matter further, and Ron said nothing more either.

"Where were you by the way, Hermione?" Harry asked her.

"I went to the library early this morning," she replied.

"Any luck finding something about Flamel?"

"Not yet. But I'm not abandoning."

"Me neither. Too bad we won't be able to keep searching during the holidays."

"You must have gone a hundred times to this library," Ron said, annoyed. "When are you going to give up on this Flamel?"

"He has something to do with what is hidden on the third floor, Ron," Harry explained.

"Okay, but if Dumbledore told us to not go on that floor, he must have good reasons. Like a three-headed dog, for example. Usually, that's her who's warning us about not getting involved," Ron added while pointing her. "Why don't you support me for once?"

"Because Snape tried to kill Harry. You know it. You were there when that happened," she pointed out.

"Yes, and like always, you saved the day. Anyway, it may not even be related. Perhaps he just tried to kill Harry because he hates him. That's obvious he does."

"Not so obvious anymore. Haven't you noticed? Snape is not after him as often as he once did. After the game, he started removing points from all the students, including you, Ronald."

"Yes, I noticed. I almost regret the day when he was only after Harry. Now he's after all of us."

"Hey, Hedwig." Harry's snowy owl just arrived and perched on his left shoulder, showing its paw with a letter attached to it. "That must be my mother's answer," he said excitedly.

"You'll have to wait to read it," Hermione said while finishing her toast. "Our Charms lesson starts very soon. We must go right away."

She stood up, and Harry imitated her not long after, his owl flying away. "You're coming, Ron?"

But Ron's mouth was full of porridge, and he was clearly not done with it considering the content of his bowl.

"Come on, you'll be late if you finish it," Hermione said.

Ron gulped. "Go. I'll follow you." And he defiantly took another large mouthful of it. Hermione raised her eyes in the air and headed towards the Great Hall's exit. Harry was not far behind. He hesitated before following her, but his common sense must have come over his friendship with Ron. It wasn't worth arriving late in class. He opened his letter while they were on their way to Charms and read it while walking.

"Hey, Hermione. I know you're spending Christmas with your parents, but my mother says you're welcome in case you want to spend Christmas with us."

Hermione smiled at Harry, touched. "Thank you very much, Harry, but I cannot let my parents down. Thank her for offering, though."

"I'll do it. She was just trying to be kind, not to snatch you away from your parents."

"I know. Really, thank her."

"I also invited Ron, since his parents are in Romania this year."

Hermione sighed. "Then in this case, it is far better that I don't come."

"You could try to be a little nicer to him," Harry timidly said.

"Nicer to him? Every time our paths cross, he only has bad things to say about me. He's unlivable. And he's about to spread rumors even more than..."

The person Hermione wanted to compare Ron to walked by them at this moment, flanked by his acolytes Crabbe and Goyle.

"Look at that! Potter and his Muggle girlfriend! Going to the library again to kiss behind books?" The two idiots who accompanied him everywhere laughed, like always.

Raging, Hermione accelerated her pace, clenching her fists as she did so. Luckily, they were inside Flitwick's classroom very quickly.

"I'm going to kill Malfoy," she stated.

"Take a ticket. I'll kill him first," Harry said as they sat next to each other.

"I'll give you a hand... if you let me kill Ron the next time he refers..."

"Alright, Hermione. No need to talk about that ourselves. We already hear it more than enough from the others."

"Yes, you're right."

She placed her books of Charms on the desk in front of her. She didn't know who started this rumor. It had started after the story with the troll, when Hermione began to spend time with Harry. Were people so stupid that they couldn't conceive a boy and girl just being friends?

Ron entered the classroom as Flitwick had already begun for a whole minute.

"Mr Weasley, you're late," he pointed out as Ron took place next to Neville, who was the only one without a partner today, as it sadly often happened. Hermione found people unfair to him. Neville might be clumsy, but he was always trying his best, unlike Ron who was lazy and got fed up when things didn't go the way he wanted.

"Sorry, Professor."

"I have to remove five points from Gryffindor." Hermione raised her eyes in exasperation once more. "Now, let's go back to our lesson."

The Charms class was an excellent opportunity to discuss once the theory was explained and the time came to practice the spell, and many people in the classroom mainly discussed and barely practiced. Hermione was about all the opposite. However, since she became friend with Harry, she took some more freedom.

"The arc you're making is too wide, Harry," she noticed. Harry tried to reduce it. Hermione had already succeeded fifteen minutes ago. "By the way, what are you doing for Christmas in your family?" They were in the last week of school before the holidays.

"Well, my mother and I we receive every year. It's mostly two of my father's old friends. We have a large dinner for Christmas Eve, then another one for Christmas itself. We always watch a good movie, we play board games. Sometimes we go skating in the park in front of our apartment. What about you?"

"Well, we visit my extended family. Uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents. It's a fury, really. We move from one place to another every day. You're not pronouncing the incantation correctly. You have to slow down the pronunciation."

"I'm trying, but I don't seem to get it."

"Look, I'm going to show you."

She performed the spell a few times to show Harry how it was performed, and after a few attempts, he finally succeeded. When the course was over, Harry apologized, but he needed to go see Ron to tell him about Christmas. Hermione let him go. Again, she wondered how Harry managed to be a friend of Ronald Weasley, but he somewhat succeeded.

"Hey, Ron," Harry said as he approached him. "I read my mother's letter. You can come home for Christmas."

"Ah, finally some good news today. Do you imagine what a nightmare it is to have Neville as a partner for Charms?" Ronald complained.

"Well, perhaps you should have listened to Hermione when she said you would be late."

"Oh, no! Not you too!"

Hermione had a satisfied smile as she left Flitwick's classroom. At least, Harry acknowledged it when she was right, instead of complaining.

Chapter Text

RON I

 

The Hogwarts Express produced a shrill whistle as its brakes were activated, accompanied by vapor blows that testified, along with the pressure that sunk Ron within his seat, of their arrival at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. The trip from Hogwarts was awkward, with the atmosphere in their compartment being tense, especially during the first half of the journey. Ron was stuck with Harry in the same compartment as Hermione and Neville. He would gladly have replaced both of them with Dean and Seamus, but both guys were in another compartment with Parvati and Lavender.

Things had become more bearable as the day progressed. Hermione was less of her usual self, not as bossy and trying to show she knew everything all the time. Ron began to understand why Harry could get along with her. Still, if he didn't know his friend better, he would probably believe the rumors that they were dating, with all the time they spent alone together in the library researching Nicholas Flamel. Luckily enough, this wasn't the case.

They all left the train. It was barely less filled than at the beginning of the term. In Gryffindor, only his brothers Fred, George and Percy remained at Hogwarts for Christmas. All the rest went back home for the holidays. Harry and Ron spent a part of the trip imagining what kind of tricks Fred and George would try on Percy while everyone else was gone. Hermione didn't seem to find that so funny, although Ron thought he saw her contain a hypocrite laugh once or twice. Neville spent a part of the trip looking for Trevor, who managed to disappear again, only to be found under one of the benches in their very compartment.

Outside on the platform, snow and cold air welcomed them. All students were wrapped into heavy cloaks, scarfs and tuques, although most of them had changed into casual clothing now that they were outside the school. Ron, Harry and Hermione had to since they would have to go through King's Cross.

"Hey, look, my mother is there," Harry indicated her to both Ron and Hermione. Ron recognized Lily Evans Potter from when he saw her the first time on the platform on September 1. He didn't know who Harry was back then. He also saw her from afar when she came to the Quidditch game between Gryffindor and Slytherin. She was heavily dressed for winter like a Muggle, and she was speaking with an old woman.

"Hey, Grandmother!" Neville walked past them towards an old woman, who was waiting for him with a severe look in her eyes.

"Have you forgotten anything this time?" she asked right away.

Neville reddened right away and started to open his trunk, but his grandmother stopped him. She said they would look at it at home. As for Harry, he walked right away to his mother, who pulled him into an embrace. Ron noticed she wasn't hugging as tightly as his own mother. She then turned her attention to Ron.

"So, you must be Ronald. Your mother talks a lot about you. And so does your sister," she told Ron.

He knew that both his and Harry's mothers knew each other, but he didn't think his mother would have talked so much about him only in two encounters. As for Ginny... well, she was talking all the time. She certainly talked about many other things beside one of her brothers. Ron simply nodded, a little intimidated. He had gotten used to Harry quite quickly after they first met on the Hogwarts Express, but the woman in front of him had also actually fought and survived He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. For days, he wasn't certain about what to expect from that woman when he would meet her in person, and he wasn't sure what to do now either.

"Hi, Hermione. How are you?" she then asked to the girl next to them.

"I'm fine." So she knew Hermione already. "Thanks for inviting me, but..."

"That's alright. I won't try to steal a daughter away from her parents. Well, it's cold, I'm sure you're all eager to get home. So let's go."

Indeed, it was cold outside. Ron followed Harry, his mother leading the march. After they crossed the barrier, they said goodbye to Hermione who went to find her own parents. Ron was wondering how they would travel to Harry's home, when his mother led them to a car in the parking. From the outside, it looked far more spacious than the Ford Anglia his father owned. There had to be a lot of space inside. However, when they put their trunks into the back compartment of the car, Ron soon realized this car was even smaller than his dad's. The trunks barely fitted in the back compartment, and they had to bring Hedwig and Scabbers on the back seats with them, which only left place for two people already. The space was cramped, and Ron didn't understand why they had to put on what they called a safety belt. Harry had to show him how to put it.

"What's the use of it?" Ron asked, bothered by the feeling of the belt on his shoulder and around his waist.

"In case we have an accident," Mrs Evans said. "That kind of things saves lives."

"My father has a car, and there's no such thing."

"I guess his car is also much larger than the exterior lets on."

"I guess," Ron answered hesitantly as the engine was activated. He felt a wind of heat coming to his face.

"Magically modified. Mine is not." The car backed off as they moved out of the parking lot. "I can't take the risk of my neighbors seeing this, or else they could ask questions."

There were Muggles living in the village nearby their home, and yet Ron's family never refrained from using magic. As the journey began, he started talking with Harry. His mother sometimes jumped shortly into the conversation but kept her eyes on the road. After over an hour of travel, Ron began to find the time long.

"Are we there soon?" he asked.

"It' about another hour. We're halfway," Harry's mother replied.

"Halfway? Only?"

"We live in Northampton, Ron. It's about two hours of driving between it and London, and we're in the middle of winter, so it takes more time," Harry explained.

"You don't have a way to travel more quickly?" Ron asked, unbelieving that a woman who survived He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named needed two hours to travel from her home to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters.

"We could, Ronald, but that could raise suspicions," Mrs Evans explained. "We live in a small apartment. If we yell or scream, people can hear us through the walls. Sometimes, I hear the yelping of my dog's neighbor through them. The more I use magic, the more I take a risk to be discovered, with all the problems it could entail."

Ron was surprised. His family never had that kind of problems. But when they finally arrived at Harry's home, he thought he understood better. His home was only one door out of a dozen in line, glued together.

"All your neighbors are Muggles? There's not a single wizard among them?" he asked as they discharged their belongings from the car.

"Not to my knowledge," Harry's mother replied evenly. "Now, let's get inside."

Ron's home might not be great, but it was large. This apartment seemed so small from the outside. When he got inside, however, he was surprised. The place, as small as it was, was cramped with Christmas decorations and trees everywhere like Ron seldom saw it.

"Wow, Mom! You really outdid yourself this year," Harry exclaimed himself. "Are there any left to install?"

"No. This year, my dear, you're celebrating Christmas, not preparing it," his mother said.

"What's that?" Ron had approached something that looked like stuffed toys on stuffed snow. There was a small red circle on the snow, with an inscription reading Touch me that Ron hit. The toys immediately began to waddle, and a loud music came out of them as yellow, red and green lights appeared inside of them.

"Wow! I never saw that kind of magic," Ron said.

Both Harry and his mother laughed. Ron didn't understand why. "It's not magic, Ron. It works with batteries," Harry said. Ron was still at a loss. What were batteries?

"We'll explain you later," Mrs Evans said. "For now, who wants a hot chocolate?"

"I'll help you prepare some," Harry said right away.

"You can prepare one for myself as well," another voice said. Ron thought it came from the living room, and he got his confirmation when a tall man in his thirties, with grey eyes and generous black hair came from it. Harry went to him right away.

"Sirius!"

"Hey, here's my favourite boy!" Harry exchanged with this man a shaking of hands like Ron never witnessed before. It seemed to be something only they knew about. "So, how was Hogwarts? I want to know everything."

"Before Harry starts telling you about his time at Hogwarts, you should welcome his friend," the mother pointed out. The man looked at Ron and walked to him.

"So, you're Harry's new friend." He extended a hand. "Sirius Black. I'm Harry's godfather."

"Ron Weasley," he replied mechanically.

"Weasley. I know that name. I think you and I are related, my boy."

"Maybe we should prepare the hot chocolates, Mom," Harry told his mother in the meantime.

"You're right. Let's get to it," she replied.

Harry went with his mother to what was their kitchen. It was so small when compared to the one at the Burrow. Ron wondered how they could prepare any dinner here. In the meantime, Harry's godfather led him to the living room, where he asked news about Ron's parents, Arthur and Molly. Ron was surprised that this man knew their name. He then explained that his family, the Blacks, had an unhealthy obsession about blood purity, and developed an extensive knowledge of their genealogy. This obsession was so ridicule that they were related to all so-called pure-blood families, including the Weasleys. Ron was surprised by this.

Harry and his mother soon arrived with four fuming cups of chocolate covered with marshmallows. They both had one in each hand. Harry gave one of his to Ron. Ron almost burned his tongue when he drank it, but it was very good and warming.

"Made in the Muggle fashion," Mrs Evans said. "That's what my mother used to tell me when I came home for Christmas."

They all savored their chocolate together. In the meantime, Harry's mother was asking him a lot of questions.

"So, Ronald, your family has gone to Romania, Harry told me?"

"Yes. My brother Charlie is working with dragons there."

"And.. how many brothers do you have? Harry told me once, but I don't remember."

"Five brothers. Bill is in Egypt. He works for Gringotts there. Then there are Percy, and Fred, and George, who remained at Hogwarts for the holidays. And there's Ginny, my little sister. She's gone with my parents to Romania to visit Charlie."

"Yes, I met her. Twice. She's quite enthusiastic when it comes to Quidditch, I can tell you."

"Really?" He had never known Ginny to be a fan of Quidditch.

"Yes. I was sitting next to her and your mother during your match against Slytherin. She may be small, but she made the noise of ten supporters by herself."

"I didn't know," Ron said. "Though I should have guessed. We can never shut her up. She keeps talking all the time."

"Really? She didn't give me that impression when I met her."

"It's because we were leaving for Hogwarts. She cried while the train was going away."

"Oh, yes, that I saw. And your older brother, Percy. The one who is a Prefect, I think. He is well advanced at Hogwarts?"

"Fifth year. He's taking his O.W.L.s this year."

"Do you know what he's planning to do after Hogwarts?"

"Minister of Magic."

Harry laughed next to him, and Ron joined him. Both the mother and the godfather looked amused by this.

Later, Mrs Evans brought them to the park for skating on the ice ring there. Ron had no skates, so Harry's mother made some appear for him. It was the first time Ron saw her use magic since they met.

Harry seemed very familiar with that, but Ron wasn't that used to skating. He needed Mrs Evans' help to hold straight on the ice, which he succeeded after a moment. Harry's godfather remained aside, watching them. He was joined by another man, an old friend of Harry's father, Remus Lupin, meanwhile. When they went back to the apartment late in the evening, Ron was extenuated. Harry and his mother prepared the dinner, which was delicious, even by his mother's standards. Did they exchange recipes when they met?

As the days went by, Ron was familiarized with something quite different to what he was used to for Christmas. Magic was seldom used in Harry's home. Also, Ron was surprised how Harry helped his mother with everything, especially the cooking. Ron's mother sometimes asked them to help prepare dinner, and Ron complied even though he would have liked to do something else. Why cut turnips using your hands when you could throw a spell to the knives so they would do it by themselves? Harry's mother did all the opposite, although sometimes she used a spell or two to speed up things, like washing the dishes. Most surprisingly though, Harry always helped his mother prepare the meals. She didn't even need to ask him. He woke up early each morning to help her with breakfast, and they came home early when they got out so he could assist her with lunch or dinner.

Harry was good at cooking. Ron couldn't deny it. But he didn't spend his whole vacations in a kitchen. He showed Ron the places where he grew up. Ron found some of them ordinary, like his elementary school or the football field where he used to play. Dean had failed at explaining this sport to Ron, and Harry failed too. He didn't understand why they so much loved a sport where you couldn't fly and where players barely got the right to touch each other.

Christmas arrived quickly. Ron enjoyed his time at Harry's home. Despite the absence of magic and how Ron found weird some things he and his mother did, he had a good time. The same could not be said about Scabbers, who seemed particularly miserable and refused to get out of his cage. Ron gave up on cheering him after a few days.

On Christmas Eve, Mrs Evans prepared a huge feast. It was almost as big as those Ron's own mother prepared for Christmas. The food was a little different, but it was very good. Ron filled his stomach without any complaints. He often spoke while his mouth was full of turkey. In the next morning, Harry woke him up, wishing him a very good Christmas. In the living room, the three adults were waiting for them with Christmas hats, and magical fireworks, though they were noiseless. Ron's presents from his mother had arrived, and Harry's mother also gave him some. They had a pleasant morning opening all of them. They went skating again, which Ron enjoyed a little more, watched television (Ron now understood why his father was so fascinated by this thing, although he wondered why Muggles needed such big crates to have people moving when a small photo was more than enough), and played boardgames, although none were magical. There was also Christmas dinner that was just as wonderful as the one they had taken the day before. When Ron went to bed this night, his belly filled while Harry helped his mother putting back into place everything, he was smiling like a big baby, and it didn't take him long before he got asleep like a big baby as well.

Chapter Text

HARRY V

1992

Harry woke up early, like every morning when he was home. Ron was loudly snoring not far from him, in the second bed his mother conjured so his friend wouldn't have to sleep on the couch or the floor. He quietly left his bedroom, leaving Ron to sleep behind, and went to the kitchen like he usually did. Today was the last day of their holidays vacations and he wanted to enjoy it as much as he could. When he arrived in the kitchen, his mother was already there, but she wasn't preparing breakfast like she usually did. Instead, she was reading the newspaper. However, she let it down on the table and looked at him as soon as he walked in.

"I was hoping you would wake up soon," she said quietly.

"I always do." He found his mother strange this morning. She was smiling at him, and at the same time, he knew her well enough to see that something was saddening her.

"Do you mind if we take a walk in the park, before your friend wakes up?"

"No, I don't."

He found her behavior stranger by the second. It wasn't like her to ask him to walk with her outside, in the park, in the middle of winter. Nonetheless, he followed her and wrapped himself up in as many winter clothes as he could.

Outside, snow wasn't falling anymore, and the winds were quiet enough so the snow would remain on the ground instead of being blown into their faces. Roads were cleared by snowplows, so movements were quite easy for this time of the year. However, the day was cold, very cold. It didn't feel like the beginning of January, but rather like the coldest day in February. What retained Harry's attention though was not the weather, but his mother who kept smiling at everything with the same smile filled with regret. She had placed a hand on his shoulder, and they walked forward into the park. She made him sit with her on a bench only half-cleared of snow. Harry's backside froze instantly. His mother was looking ahead of them, towards the children's rides and the sandbox that were covered in white.

"I brought you there the first time when you were three. We had just moved in. You loved the swing so much you cried every time I tried to take you out. I ended up swinging you for two hours until you got asleep. Then I got you back home."

Harry didn't remember this as he was too young. He wondered why his mother was telling him this.

"There." She pointed another spot in the park with her chin. "This is where we had our first snowball fight. You remember that?"

"Yes, I think I do." He wasn't sure that he did, but he and his mother truly threw snowballs at each other, and the farthest Harry could remember it had taken place here.

"And there." She pointed this time the empty white poles that made a goal in summer when nets were installed. "This is where you played your first game of football. You scored the decisive point one minute before the end of the game."

That, Harry remembered. It was one of those memories he could never forget. They were in late May and Harry was only nine-years-old. His mother had bought him an ice cream cone after the game.

"I'm going to miss this park," his mother said all of a sudden. Harry looked at her, confused.

"What do you mean? Why do you say you're going to miss it?"

His mother straightened herself and looked back at him. "I've been thinking... ever since you left for Hogwarts. You remember I told you that we moved into the world of Muggles so you may have a chance at a normal childhood?"

"Yes, I remember."

"Well, your childhood is over." She looked at the park in front of her again. "From now on, you'll be spending ten months out of twelve at Hogwarts. You made friends there, all wizards. And unless I misinterpreted your letters, you love Hogwarts more than you've ever loved any other school you went to, and you love Quidditch more than you ever enjoyed football. Am I wrong?"

After a moment, Harry dared to answer, uncertain of what he should do. "No, you're right. I like it at Hogwarts, and Quidditch..." There were no words to describe what he felt when he played on the pitch.

"I lost my job." The bomb hit Harry with all the force of a real bomb.

"What? When?"

"About three weeks ago. Don't worry. I put money aside in case something like that would happen. I have more than enough until I've arranged everything."

"Arrange what?" Harry asked.

"We're moving." Harry was at a loss of words. "I've been thinking about this through and through, and I think it would be for the best. You're used to the magical world now, and I don't want to impose you a world without magic during your vacations. And I'm missing our world as well."

Harry couldn't believe what he just heard. "You're serious? You want us to move into the wizarding world?"

"Yes. I'm sorry if you're upset..."

"Upset? Why would I be? It's fantastic! Why didn't you tell me before?"

His mother laughed nervously. "I was afraid of your reaction. I know you love Hogwarts and your new friends, but there are so many things that happened in the world of Muggles. I wasn't sure you would really be happy about it. I wanted to let Christmas go and then tell you, to make sure you would spend good holidays."

"What? You should have told me before." Harry realized he was repeating himself, but he was too excited. "It's the best Christmas gift you could give me."

Her mother's smile grew even wider. "I guess I am more attached to this world than you are."

"When do we move?"

"When you'll come back for your summer vacation, it will be somewhere different than here. We'll have moved by then. I'm not sure of the exact place yet. I'm checking more than one."

"Thank you, Mom."

He pulled her into a tight embrace, which she returned warmly. While they were doing this, Harry thought about how their new life would be. He had all kinds of different scenarios running through his mind, when he realized something.

"But Mom, what are you going to do? I mean, where are you going to work?"

She had an embarrassed smile on her lips now. "Well, I'm not sure if you're going to believe me, but..." She told him of the opportunity she just received. First, Harry couldn't believe it.

"That's impossible, Mom. I mean, you are..."

"Don't start saying that your old mother is too old, my dear," she warned him with a wicked smile.

"No, that's not it. Anyway, you're not old, and even if you were, I would never say that." She pinched him on the head as a punishment, which elicited further laugh from both of them. "It's just... You can really do that? After all these years?"

"It seems so. I have an appointment at the Ministry of Magic in three days, and we will confirm if I can start."

"But... How are we... I mean, you're not going to get paid at first. I mean... You're going to be trained. How will we..."

"Don't worry, my dear. In the wizarding world, we don't lack of anything, especially considering what your father left after he died."

"What do you mean?"

His mother took a heavy breathing. "Your father... was rich, Harry. The Potters are a very ancient family of wizards. Their wealth was accumulated over the centuries. When your grandparents died, James inherited everything. We left Hogwarts, and we joined the Order of the Phoenix right away, fighting Voldemort full time. Your father and I never had a job. We lived on his family's fortune and used all our time to serve the Order, for free. After your father's death, his will gave me everything, and I left it in a vault at Gringotts. It slept there over the years, untouched, while we lived among Muggles. The interests accumulated and the fortune is even higher today than what it was when he died. I could decide to not work and live on your father's money if I wanted."

"I didn't know we were rich."

All his life, Harry never lacked anything, but the life he and his mother led was simple. They never had much, and Harry never asked for much either. And now he learned that they were rich. He was stunned.

"All this to say, you don't have to worry. It may take some time before I receive a salary, but it will not be a problem," she resumed.

Was it real? Was this really real? He would not return to Northampton in the summer? He would not live among the Muggles again? He could be a full-time wizard and not hide anymore to the world who he was? Harry was excited.

"That's all I wanted to tell you," his mother concluded. "I'm glad you're taking it so well."

"I think you're brilliant, Mom. I know... I know you think it is insufferable to be famous. There are still people in Hogwarts who whisper behind my back everywhere I go. But after some time, they just disappear, or I don't notice anymore. At the end, I'm just a normal student like everyone else."

"You're not just a normal student. You are my son. For me, you will always be special."

Harry couldn't hold back a smile. They walked back home not much later and had breakfast prepared just in time for when Ron woke up, yawning as if he wanted to take off his jaw. Harry had to refrain himself from breaking the news to his best friend during breakfast, but he did so right after they had filled their stomach again. Ron was excited for him as well, thinking this was fantastic news. They spent the rest of the day playing magical games. His mother often told them to be careful and to make as few noise as possible, unless they wanted to warn the neighbors. She threw a few spells to reduce the chances of it, magically soundproofing the walls and fogging up the windows. They remained inside the whole day, talking about their return to Hogwarts tomorrow.

When the next morning came, Harry's excitement had somewhat mitigated. When he went to the kitchen to help his mother prepare the breakfast like always, he realized it would be the last time he would ever do it in this kitchen. He looked at the counter, the cupboards, the table in the living room where they ate, the couch, even the dishes and the utensils. He wondered if his mother would bring some of these things with her or if they would start everything anew. Now he understood what his mother felt yesterday. It was nostalgia, and Harry was experiencing it just before they left for London. He was attached to this place, no matter how much he was looking forward to live among wizards.

They left early at eight o'clock in the morning. The Hogwarts Express was still leaving at eleven. As he made his preparations, Harry noticed all sorts of little details, all the things he did, all the objects he saw for the last time. When they left the apartment, Ron yawning again and needing to be pushed to go on time, Harry reflected that it may be the last time he saw the apartment where he grew up. He had taken a last look at his chamber before they left. His mother reassured him that she would bring all his stuff with her.

For the last time, he went down the outside stairs. He looked at the park, where he once played football. Although he didn't like it as much as Quidditch, like he truthfully told his mother, he realized he would miss it too. Would there be any chance for him to play football at all during summer? And there was the skating he and his mother did every winter. Where would they go now. As the car left its parking place, Harry took a last look at these places where so much had happened in his life. He felt he already missed them.

During the trip, he sustained the conversation with Ron the best he could, but his mind was partially somewhere else. He wondered if it was the last time he made a trip in this car. Would they even need a car where they were going?

After two hours and a half of travel, they arrived at King's Cross. The Hogwarts Express was waiting for them on the other side of the barrier. They had more than enough time to charge their luggage. Just as Harry came back on the platform to take Hedwig's cage, he heard a keen voice from the other side of it.

"Harry!" He turned to see Hermione approaching with a trolley.

"Hermione!" They hugged. "How was your Christmas?"

"Wonderful! And you?"

"Fantastic! Ron also loved it." He turned to see where Ron was, but he was nowhere to be seen, probably inside the train, placing his luggage.

"Well, I'm already eager to go back. I can't wait for classes to restart." Harry was probably happy to go back to Hogwarts, but he wasn't as eager to go back to studying as Hermione was. "But Harry, you've never met my parents. Come."

Harry was then introduced to Hermione's parents. They seemed to be very nice people, and they also introduced themselves to his mother, and looked very pleased to meet them. Ron never left the train as they discussed.

When the whistles blew off, Harry and Hermione knew it was time to get into the train. Harry helped his friend get her luggage inside. He came back to briefly hug his mother, who kissed him on the front and ruffled his hair like always before he left. Just as the train was moving forward, he opened the window of his compartment and shouted to her.

"Good luck at the Ministry, Mom!"

She waived her hand at him as he was leaving. Harry wasn't sure whether she was crying or not this time. But he would see her soon enough, and in another world.

Chapter Text

LILY VI

 

The Ministry of Magic was a sight to behold for every newcomer who walked into its Atrium. Lily had come to the Ministry of Magic in the past, but it felt like it was in another life. So after she dialed the right number in the red telephone box and it brought her underground, she stood in awe for a moment when she emerged into the Atrium. The floor was made of dark wood, polished so clean that her sister would be jealous and probably ask how they made it shine. Golden stars and other symbols were sprinkled over the blue ceiling. Fireplaces on all walls allowed wizards and witches to come and go as they pleased. The Fountain of Magical Brethren occupied a large central place in the Atrium, displaying a couple of wizard and witch being admired by a centaur, a goblin and a house-elf. Although this statue was proof of the hypocrisy of wizards, no one could deny the art behind it or the impression it left on all visitors.

Lily walked through the crowd, looking for the security desk where she would be registered. She finally found the sign she was looking for and headed towards a wizard wearing blue robes and reading the Daily Prophet. He put down his journal when Lily approached.

"I was told to come here for search and wand registration," she told the man.

"Step over there," he said grumbly.

This man didn't seem to enjoy his job. He used a golden rod to check on her. Lily knew it would detect any undesirable object on her, magical or not.

"Wand," he asked in the same voice.

Lily gave him hers and he placed it on a brass instrument. It vibrated and a sheet of parchment came out of it. He read it.

"Ten and a quarter inches long, unicorn hair core, been in use for twenty years. That's it?"

"Yes," she answered.

He gave her back her wand, but just as she was about to leave, he stopped her. "Wait. Have we met before?"

"No, I don't think so."

"You're sure? Your face looks familiar to me."

"Maybe I have a pretty common face."

She didn't give him the opportunity to think further and left. Lily was unsure about whether people would recognize her as Lily Potter when she would walk into the Ministry, but no one seemed to notice her in the crowd so far, and she preferred to keep it that way.

She didn't want to be late for her interview. It was written in plain sight on the silver badge she pinned on her robe. Lily Evans, Interview. She headed through the golden gates at the end of the hall, then took one of the lifts on the other side. It was filled to the brim by wizards and paper aeroplanes. The lift moved on, stopping at several floors, each housing a different department of the Ministry. Lily waited patiently until she arrived at level two. Then she got out at a place where the floor was very similar to that of the Atrium. The sun and blue sky were visible through windows, despite the fact they were underground. Definitely, magic could do wonders. Lily turned left at a corner, then went through a pair of heavy oak doors.

On the other side of those doors, she was met with an open area filled with cubicles, a man or woman sitting in each of them. It was the Auror Headquarters. Conversations and laughter came from every side, as memo aeroplanes crossed each other's paths in the air. Lily didn't need a lot of time to find her destination. She wandered through the cubicles, ignoring the looks some of the people cast at her and arrived just in front of Rufus Scrimgeour's office. In front of the door, a small man with glasses and an Asian look was writing feverishly on a scroll of parchments on a desk while two other feathers wrote by themselves on other parchments in the air.

"Excuse me, I have a meeting with Mr Scrimgeour," she told me the man.

"Your name?" he asked, not lifting his eyes from his parchment. But at the same time he was asking, and before Lily could provide an answer, a man opened the door of Scrimgeour's office, but it wasn't Scrimgeour.

"Mrs Potter!"

The words of Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic, echoed through the area. In an instant, all conversations died out and complete silence fell. Lily rolled her eyes. So much for trying to get unnoticed.

"Mr Scrimgeour and I were waiting for you. Please, come in."

Lily turned around the desk, trying the best she could to ignore all the eyes staring at her, including that of the man who just asked her name, his eyes now round. The Minister welcomed her all smile, which she found quite annoying. The other person in the closed office was sitting behind his desk, and his attitude was the extreme opposite to Cornelius Fudge's. Rufus Scrimgeour, Head of the Auror Office, looked at her over a file that clearly bore her name.

"You may sit, Mrs Potter," he told her.

"If you don't mind, Mr Scrimgeour, I prefer that people call me by the name I had at my birth, Lily Evans."

"As you wish. I will call you Mrs Evans from now on." He laid the file on the desk, still open. "This interview starts now. The Minister has insisted that he attends this reunion, although I'm not sure how useful it would be," the Head of the Auror Office declared while looking at Cornelius.

"Well," Fudge began, all smiling and relaxed, "this is not every day that someone like Mrs P... Evans applies to follow the training to become an Auror."

This was why Lily had come here. She started the necessary proceedings almost a month ago, quite late to start the training in January, but there was still enough time left for her to be accepted into the program. It was McGonagall who advised her on this path when she visited Lily before Halloween, and Dumbledore supported this idea as well.

"For now, this is just an application," Scrimgeour specified. "This interview will determine once and for all if Mrs Evans will be accepted for training."

He returned his attention to Lily's file on his desk, and for a long moment he said nothing. Cornelius Fudge was still behind, Lily feeling his smile he tried to make reassuring on her back. She waited, uneasy, for Scrimgeour to tell her something. It was him, not the Minister, who would decide if she was accepted in the end.

" Lily Jane Evans Potter," he began. "Born on January 30, 1960, at Cokeworth, in the Midlands. Parents: Harry Joseph Evans and Elizabeth Jane Addleton Evans. Both Muggles. Both dead. Married to James Potter on September 30, 1978. Husband died on October 31, 1981. You have a son, Harry James Potter - as if we need to specify it - born on July 31, 1980. He is currently a first-year student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You have an elder sister, Petunia Jane Evans Dursley, a Muggle, who is also married to a Muggle, Vernon Dursley, who is the owner of a..." Scrimgeour seemed to read very carefully. "... drill-making company called Grunnings. They have a son, your nephew, Dudley Dursley, who was born on June 23, 1980. He is currently studying at an establishment called Smeltings Academy. No known magical powers. Do you confirm that these information are accurate and that, to the best of your knowledge, you have no other relatives?"

"I confirm," she said.

"You attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from September 1971 to June 1978. Ten O.W.L.s and ten N.E.W.T.s. Head Girl during your final year. Then three years of unemployment, during which several reports in the Ministry support that you worked for Albus Dumbledore to fight He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. We have traces of four encounters where you faced the Dark Lord himself and survived. During the fourth, your husband was murdered, you were heavily injured and your son somehow managed to survive a Killing Curse. Following this, you were awarded, along with your husband posthumously, the Order of Merlin First Class, for acts of outstanding bravery and distinction. Then ten years of inactivity follow up to this day, which you mostly spent in the world of Muggles, working as a secretary for a company, and during which you seldom used your magical powers."

"I had no choice," Lily pointed out. "I was living among the Muggles. I had to limit the use of magic if I didn't want them to find out who I was."

"Which is in complete agreement with all the laws of Magic," Fudge added. "Mrs P... Evans had an exemplary behavior while living among the Muggles."

"Perhaps, but this is not the question," Scrimgeour countered. He closed the file and looked straight into Lily's eyes. "Normally, Mrs Evans, we recruit people who have just come out of Hogwarts. We require excellent academic credentials from applicants, but we also expect of them professionalism, determination, and complete dedication to their training."

"And Mrs Evans has all of them, Rufus," Fudge said. Lily was beginning to get annoyed at the Minister defending her all the time. What was he doing here in the first place?

"I can't argue with the grades, though she obtained them almost fifteen years ago. And she would also be our only candidate with a child."

"My son is spending ten out of twelve months of the year in Hogwarts. It will not be an issue," Lily stated.

"Perhaps, but we rarely accept in training people of such an age, Mrs Evans. And considering you spent almost ten years barely using magic..."

"Mr Scrimgeour, do I have to understand that you do not want me to start training to become an Auror?"

"This is not what I said, and this is not what I think. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm looking for reasons to accept you in the training program, Mrs Evans, not to refuse you. So, why should we accept to train you to become an Auror?"

Lily thought about it for a moment. "My experience. You said it yourself, most of your applicants are just fresh out of Hogwarts. They are seventeen or eighteen-years-old. Most of them have no experience of the real world outside. What they know, they learned it in their books. My learning... happened in the field, when I was fighting Death Eaters, Dementors, Inferi, Werewolves, even Voldemort himself." She heard Fudge swallowing behind her. Scrimgeour remained without reaction. "You've been an Auror yourself, before you headed this service, Mr Scrimgeour. I'm sure you would agree with me that the best training to fight dark forces happens in the field."

Scrimgeour seemed to scrutinize her. Lily hoped her answer satisfied him. If it did, he gave no sign of it.

"I agree with you, but your experience is old of ten years," he finally said.

"Come on, Rufus," Fudge said with a nervous laugh. "This is Lily Evans Potter. You realize..."

"I totally realize who she is, Fudge. But I'm not giving her a free pass just because she is the Mother Who Lived." He turned back his attention to Lily. "Do you understand what you are getting into, Mrs Evans? I know that many people believe you are capable of becoming an Auror for the Ministry, judging by the recommendation letters your former teachers and friends - Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall, Horace Slughorn, Alastor Maugrey - sent to us. This is three years of training. Half our applicants don't make it past the first year. One in four make it through the final examinations, and only a fifth of initial applicants become Aurors. We're talking about an intensive training program, both theoretical and practical, with long hours. This is a full-time job, and few people make it through. Are you really ready to dedicate the next three years of your life to this, and then the rest of your life to fighting evil forces?"

He stared straight into her eyes. Lily sustained his gaze and leaned forward so he could see her very well. "I do. Anyway, if I don't succeed, all you'll have to do is kick me out of training."

Scrimgeour stared at her some more time. But finally, he closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, he nodded. "Very well. Lily Jane Evans Potter, you are accepted in the Auror training program starting this January."

Fudge applauded behind. "Good news. I knew we would come to our senses."

"The training starts next week for you, Mrs Evans. You'll have some paperwork to fill. My assistant outside will give you everything you need."

"Thank you, Mr Scrimgeour," she said.

They shook hands. Lily did everything to remain calm during the interview, but the truth was that she was nervous like it almost never happened. Now she felt more excited than ever.

When she turned, Fudge was there, and shook her hand as well. It was hard for her to avoid it, the way he placed himself right between her and the door. "It will be a pleasure to have you working for the Ministry, Mrs Evans."

She found him a little too enthusiastic, but at the same time, she didn't feel like sending him away. She was elated and relieved to have been accepted. She excused herself pretty quickly and left the office. Outside, she had the distinct impression that the Aurors had stopped working while she spoke with Scrimgeour, and that even some of them had approached the door, maybe to hear what was being said, as a few were walking back to their cubicles when she came out. Even the assistant looked like he hurriedly sat back in his chair. She turned around his desk to face him.

"Mr Scrimgeour said you had some forms for me to fill," she asked the Asian man.

"Yes, here it is." He handed a pile of parchments to her, his hands shaking. "You can fill them right there," he added while indicating an empty cubicle right next to him.

All Lily had to do was to sign her name at the bottom of most of those papers. Some were discharges, others were commitments to pay training fees, and there was also an ethical code of conduct in two copies she had to commit to follow. When she was done reading and signing everything, she handed back the parchments to the assistant. He checked them very nervously.

"Everything is in order," he declared. He then seized another small pile of parchments. "You'll find in this plans and schedule of your training, along with a list of what will be necessary, and even suggestions for additional resources that might be useful. Welcome to the Auror's training program, Mrs Potter."

"Evans," she corrected, verifying everything he just gave her. She had the impression to be back to school, something that was strange for a woman who had left it over ten years ago. She could already imagine a thousand ways she and Harry could laugh about it.

"Huh, excuse me, Mrs Evans... But your son, he is at Hogwarts, isn't he?"

"He is," she confirmed. "First year."

He nodded. "I have daughter there as well. Second year. She told us about the Quidditch match where he played as a Seeker. You must be very proud of your son."

"I am." When she thought about that Quidditch match, a mix of pride and worry invaded her as she remembered how her son barely held up to his broomstick.

"They might face each other this year. My daughter is a reserve for the Quidditch team of her own House."

"Oh yeah? Well, maybe we'll meet each other at a game, in this case." She finished verifying that she had everything. "Thank you, Mr..." She realized that she didn't know his name.

"Chang. Gen Chang."

"Thank you, Mr. Chang."

Lily turned on her heels and proceeded through the alleys between the cubicles. She rolled her eyes in exasperation as she felt gazes on her again. She had almost forgotten why she left the world of magic in the first place.

"Mrs Potter." She was called before she left the area. She turned to face the person who just called her. He was a tall black man, well-built, bald, with a few gold earrings. He offered his hand for her to shake it. "Kingsley Shacklebolt."

Lily shook it. "Lily Evans. Have we met before?" His face or the name sounded familiar to her.

"No, Mrs Evans. But I knew your husband. I met him a few times."

James must have mentioned his name a long time ago. "Nice to meet you, Mr Shacklebolt."

"You can call me Kingsley. I wanted to show you something before you left." He stepped aside to let her see the inside of his cubicle. Then he pointed a pile of files on the left of it. "Those are the cases on which I'm working. Look at the top. It's my priority file."

Lily took a closer look. She met a face she would never forget. A face she would hate until the end of her days. She whispered the name. "Peter Pettigrew." Wormtail.

On the photo, he looked like rat. She never realized before how similar he looked as a human to the rat he could become. This man was their Secret Keeper when they hid from Voldemort, and he betrayed them. Then he tried to send Sirius at Azkaban in his place. He almost succeeded. When Lily recovered from the attack and she was told that Sirius had been arrested, she told Dumbledore the truth immediately. They had let everyone believe Sirius was the Secret Keeper, so that the whole attention would be on him, while Wormtail would be the true Keeper and would just have to remain hidden. If only they had chosen Sirius or Dumbledore...

Sirius was lucky Lily survived. Had she not, he would have ended in Azkaban for the rest of his life. Bartemius Crouch sent people to prison without a trial in these days. Wormtail even killed twelve people with a single spell, then disappeared after changing into a rat, leaving Sirius, who had just found him and tried to kill him, to take the blame. As soon as Dumbledore heard the truth from her, he contacted the Ministry of Magic and told them everything. However, there were still the twelve people he supposedly killed, with over fifty eye-witnesses claiming he had killed these people and Peter. It took all Dumbledore's influence to convince the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to even listen to his version of events. After Sirius was allowed to do so, and after the Ministry tested his wand and found out he never cast the spell that killed all these people, he was released, and research began to find Wormtail, just like the other remaining Death Eaters. But over an entire month had passed at this moment, which Sirius had spent in Azkaban, already under the control of Dementors who deserted Voldemort's disciples en masse after their master disappeared. Ten years later, Wormtail was still running, and they had no idea where he might be.

"I just wanted to tell you that this is not a cold case," Kingsley Shacklebolt told her. "He might have disappeared a long time ago, but we are still looking for him. We're going to find this monster."

"Thank you... Kingsley," she said in a low voice.

They nodded to each other, and she walked away, for good this time. She hadn't thought of Wormtail for a very long time. He had vanished, nowhere to be found. Once, when Sirius and Remus had come home, she had heard them talking about him, giving him the most horrible names someone could imagine. He had been their friend since school, since their first year at Hogwarts. Lily didn't know him as well as they did, but she hated him no less than they did. It was his fault that James died ten years ago.

As she went back to the lifts, she thought how she didn't anticipate that becoming an Auror might entail working on Wormtail's case, or at least to hear about it. Some former Death Eaters and other Voldemort's disciples were still free, after all. Wormtail was only one of them. The lift brought her back to the Atrium and Lily left the Ministry of Magic. When she would come back next week, she would be an Auror apprentice.

Chapter Text

SEVERUS III

 

"Is everything ready for tomorrow?" Albus Dumbledore asked him, as he continued to write a letter to Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic. They were in his office, surrounded by his buzzling instruments and portraits of former Hogwarts headmasters.

"It is," Severus confirmed. "Though there is not much to prepare."

"Considering we want to avoid what happened last time, I would say there is much to prepare," the current headmaster stated.

"Quirrell will not risk hurting Potter with you in the crowd. He's neither courageous nor foolish enough to try this."

"And yet, you insisted on being the referee for the match between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff."

Severus Snape had a hard time believing he would actually do it. He never enjoyed Quidditch. He enjoyed that the Quidditch Cup was in his office since 1987, an additional testimony to the superiority of Slytherin over all the other houses. Along with the House Cup his House won over the last six years, they were proofs of Slytherin's dominance in Hogwarts. However, he never liked the sport. He only enjoyed it when Slytherin crushed their opponents, which meant only in February this year, when Ravenclaw was defeated. Tomorrow, two weeks after Slytherin got their first victory in the season, Gryffindor would face Hufflepuff.

Severus still didn't understand how Gryffindor managed to win against Slytherin in November. He put it on the side of luck. Without his intervention and the fire that started, Harry Potter would have been crushed to the ground. And he didn't really catch the Golden Snitch. He swallowed it. He was even surprised Madam Hooch did not call a foul on this one. Lily's son had just been lucky so far. Snape doubted that this would last. Even against Hufflepuff, the weakest team of Hogwarts, he wouldn't be surprised if people finally saw Potter for who he truly was, a famous boy of eleven with no talent, and whose successes so far were owned to damn luck and a glory he never earned.

But that wasn't the most important. They had to make sure that Quirrell would try nothing on Potter during the match. That was why he would referee this game. Lily made very clear that she would hold him accountable if anything befell her son. She protected him with such determination and heart. No wonder the Killing Curse bounced back on the Dark Lord ten years ago. Still, Snape wished she wasn't ready to go to these lengths to protect this boy. He didn't deserve it.

"Better be too cautious than not enough," Severus shortly commented.

"Indeed. I think we both want to avoid the rage of Lily Evans. Especially now that she's started training to become an Auror," Dumbledore said.

Severus was aware of this. He wasn't very surprised, truth be told. Lily had always been a talented and powerful witch, even before she came to Hogwarts and before she even knew she was a witch. She faced the Dark Lord four times and survived each one of those encounters. If Snape had been awarding Auror positions only on experience and merit, Lily would have gotten it without having to go through any training at all. He knew Dumbledore and most of the teachers here at Hogwarts, including McGonagall, Flitwick, Sprout, and even the former Potions Master, Slughorn, petitioned the Ministry to let her enter the program, despite her advanced age in comparison to other trainees. Even the Minister Fudge supported her, probably just because Dumbledore did as well. Snape thought about sending a recommendation letter as well, but he had not been one of her teachers, and he didn't think it would contribute to her acceptation.

"She has nothing to complain about anymore. I treat her son better than he deserves to be."

"If you say so," Dumbledore said. "By the way, I heard there was an accident in Potions today."

"Only Longbottom again. This boy is the total opposite of his parents. Talentless, clumsy, stupid, afraid of his own shadow. At least, he is not arrogant and impertinent like Potter is."

"Here we are again," Dumbledore said, not a hint of exasperation in his voice, but Snape felt that the headmaster felt this way all the same. "Severus Snape, Potions Master, talking about how Harry Potter is supposedly the worst student this school has ever had."

"His father was talented. His mother... is talented as well. But the son... if you want my opinion..."

"I know very well what your opinion is, Severus. And if he was in Slytherin, I might be a little more inclined to listen to you. But he is a Gryffindor. Sometimes I wonder if you would have the same opinion of the boy had the Hat sorted him into your house."

He would. The house made no difference. Harry Potter remained who he was, a boy who received everything in life, none of it he deserved, and thought everything was owed to him as a result. He would never have been chosen to be Gryffindor's Seeker had his family name been different from Potter. He still didn't understand why Dumbledore allowed this when the rules strictly forbade first-years to play Quidditch. This was enough proof though to show that Minerva McGonagall was not as impartial as she claimed to be.

"It doesn't matter, anyway. The other professors are blinded by the fame attached to his name. They will never see him for who he really is."

"I do see him for who he really is, Severus. As I see you for who you really are. The difference between you and Harry Potter is that he is not trying to hide who he is. In a sense, he is more mature than you have ever been. Certainly a side effect from the way Lily Evans raised him."

Severus had enough of this discussion that went nowhere. He stood up. "I think we said everything, Professor. All we have to do now is to ensure Potter doesn't get hurt tomorrow. Though it wouldn't surprise me if he hurt himself."

"Let's hope then that Lily's son has more common sense than his father. But before you leave, Severus, are you sure that it was Quirrell who Hagrid was playing cards with at the Hog's Head?"

"I'm sure. Perhaps the half-giant is not clever enough to realize it, but a cloak cannot totally hide the turban."

"And you think he might have been trying to find a way to get past Fluffy?"

"I don't see another reason why he would keep buying drinks and playing cards with that idiot, always asking questions about the creatures he worked with."

"Let's assume you didn't call Hagrid an idiot. Did he give up any crucial information?"

"None that I could hear. But I had to leave before their conversation was over."

"Well, in this case, let's assume Hagrid didn't give up anything that may have consequences."

"You seem to grant too much credit to the gamekeeper."

"I would trust Hagrid with my life," concluded Dumbledore.

As Snape went down the stairs, he wondered how a powerful wizard like Dumbledore could be so trusting with people who didn't deserve it and yet be one of the wisest wizards of all time. He headed back to the dungeons, where he had to correct homeworks from his N.E.W.T.s students, a task made shorter by their small number. Severus preferred to spend time on the students who truly had a gift for potions rather than on lost causes.

Lily and Severus had both received an O for Outstanding at both their O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. in Potions. James Potter only got an E for Exceeds Expectations at his N.E.W.T.. Severus already knew that James would not get the maximum note, as he had used a spell to check his answers after the exam. That didn't stop Lily from kissing him after they had left the room together. All that because once, a long time ago, Snape called her for who she was. Snape had been insulted, humiliated, mistreated all his life. And yet he endured, he persevered, and he got where he was thanks to this. He deserved, worked for everything that he got. Everything, good and bad, he earned it, unlike James Potter and his son. Even Lily had help to get where she was. Snape never got any help, and he never asked for any. Nothing was ever landed to him on a silver platter. It wasn't fair, life was unfair, but it was like that. And so he corrected his students' homework without pity, picking up every flaw, every mistake in their answers or the reasoning behind them.

The next morning, Snape took his breakfast in the Great Hall. He looked up from his plate when Potter walked in. He was talking to his best friend, the last Weasley addition to Hogwarts, as he feigned to ignore the looks and gazes he received from other students, even months after he was accepted into Hogwarts. Almost all people from the Gryffindor table came to pat him on the shoulder or exchange a few words with him, and Snape could see how he enjoyed the attention he received, even if he barely acknowledged the others. The girl he spent almost all his time with, the know-it-all from Gryffindor House, joined them soon after. He guessed the boy felt more intelligent, and probably more important by spending so much time with the student with the best marks in his year.

Snape had to leave early to prepare for the match. He went to see Madam Hooch, who tried to explain him the main rules of Quidditch as she gave him her whistle, and also to tell him how to do his job.

"You must look everywhere to be able to call fouls when they happen. Having eyes all around the head is not enough when you referee a Quidditch match. Neck strains are the most common injuries among referees. If you ever..."

"I know what to do, Madam Hooch," he cut her short as he seized a broomstick he deemed appropriate. "I'm no longer a first-year you're trying to instruct, but a professor, and your colleague. Let me do your job, today."

She wasn't happy with the words he used, and he didn't care. He had work to do, and he would do it, although he took no pleasure in it.

A crowd had started gathering around the pitch. As he took flight, Snape noticed with satisfaction that Albus Dumbledore had already taken place in one of the towers where Minerva McGonagall was also sitting next to Lee Jordan, the impertinent friend of the Weasley twins who was everything but an impartial commentator. Minerva might try to give the impression she was impartial whenever she interrupted him for inappropriate commenting, but the simple fact she chose him for commenting proved her favoritism towards her own house again.

Quirrell was not there. Perhaps he wouldn't come. Then Snape's work would be much easier. If Quirrell wasn't there, Lily would not have anything to say about him refereeing the game since nothing would happen to her son. Of course, Snape had to be careful all the same. Quirrell could be hiding somewhere, and so he began making rounds of the pitch, looking for any trace of Quirinus Quirrell.

The crowd kept gathering. Hufflepuffs sat behind the scoring area at one of two extremities of the field, while Gryffindors gathered at the other end, Slytherins and Ravenclaws taking their place between them. Quirrell was still nowhere to be seen. Severus allowed himself a grin, thinking of how the fool must be cowardly. Snape made sure during the recent weeks that Quirrell understood he was being watched and followed. Perhaps he was already in the Forbidden Forest where Snape set up their meeting after the match would be over.

While he toured the terrain, Severus kept looking through the crowd, and at one moment, his eyes locked on Lily Evans. Of course, she had come to watch her son play. She was with another woman with fiery red hair, the mother of all Weasleys. Snape wondered how she managed to have so many children and yet have enough food to be so big. She was with a little girl who had hair as red as hers. For a moment, Lily's eyes met his, but they only threw daggers at him. Severus flew away and tried not to look at those green eyes again. He always tried to not notice them when Potter was in his classroom, and most of the time he forgot them since he looked so much like his father, but it was hard to avoid them all the time, especially when the boy decided to defy him and sustained his gaze. It was even harder to suffer the boy when he looked at him with his mother's eyes.

After a moment, Snape received a signal from McGonagall. The time had come.

"Hello, everyone." Lee Jordan's voice was welcomed by roars all around the terrain. "I am Lee Jordan, and welcome to the fourth game of this season's Hogwarts Quidditch Cup. Today, Hufflepuff versus Gryffindor."

Snape had to endure another round of cries and screams from the exalted crowd. All this only for a game of Quidditch. This was ridiculous.

"Welcome the players of Hufflepuff. Malcolm Preece, Heidi Macavoy and Tamsin Applebee as Chasers. Anna Fleet, their captain, as the Keeper. Anthony Rickett and Maxine O'Flaherty as Beaters. And their Seeker, the other Anthony of the team, Anthony King!"

The yellow and black of the crowd cheered while both teams entered the pitch and took flight. Snape barely listened as Jordan announced the Gryffindor team, occupied as he was searching for Quirrell, just in case, and also keeping an eye on Potter who had just waved his hand towards the tower where Lily sat.

"For Gryffindor, Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, and Katie Bell as Chasers. Oliver Wood, captain of the team, as the Keeper. Fred and Gorge Weasley as Beaters, like always. And their Seeker, the youngest Seeker to catch a Golden Snitch over a century at Hogwarts, Harry Potter!"

Gryffindors roared in turn, but Severus wouldn't let them continue this farce. Let begin the match now and be done with it. Snape knew it was customary for the teams' captains to shake hands before the game began, but he didn't see the interest in faking friendship when everyone knew these children were ready to throw themselves at each other's throats only to win a game. He made sure that the Bludgers and the Golden Snitch were ready to be released and took the Quaffle. He didn't even let Jordan introduce him as the referee and threw the Quaffle from the central point. These children didn't seem to realize it for a moment, but their slow brain got them moving quickly all the same. The Quaffle made a slight turn to the side of Hufflepuff, and it was them who got it first.

"The Quaffle has been released. The game has begun!" Lee shouted, realizing it even later than the players.

Snape watched Potter, who was flying high over the other players. He guessed that the boy felt superior to all the others while being over their heads.

"Applebee got the Quaffle... He avoids a Bludger sent by one of the Weasleys... Johnson is after him... Applebee tries to lose her... She makes a pass towards... Did she try to give the Quaffle to one of her Beaters?... Spinnet has the Quaffle now... She passes to Bell... Bell avoids a Bludger from Rickett... Preece and Macavoy are on her... She lets the Quaffle drop... Johnson takes it, but she's followed by Applebee... Johnson is distancing her... She avoids another Bludger... She shoots... She scores!"

The red crowd erupted. These Hufflepuffs were really pitiful. Even someone who wasn't a Quidditch expert like Severus knew very well that Beaters could not carry the Quaffle. Severus noticed then how the Hufflepuff's Chasers, especially the two girls, looked very young. Only the boy looked older than fourteen. Hufflepuff's Keeper, Anna Fleet, sent the Quaffle towards one of her teammates. It was intercepted by Bell who scored in the left goalpost.

Snape sighed. No wonder that Gryffindor was winning with such incompetent players on the other side. They now led 20-0. Right at this moment, a Bludger grazed him. Severus turned his head to the origin of this Bludger. One of the Weasley twins had his bat in the air and looked at him, stupidly smiling.

With a smile to his face, Severus whistled. "You do not attack the referee, Weasley! Penalty to Hufflepuff!"

The gold and red section of the crowd booed, which was no surprise seeing they would allow their team to do anything they wanted. Snape was there to bring them back to the ground, in all senses of the word if necessary.

The Hufflepuff team had enough grey matter to choose Malcolm Preece for the penalty shot. Snape took another look at Potter, who kept flying over the rest of the game. Preece accelerated towards Gryffindor's goalposts. Without Beaters or other Chasers to do the work for him, Oliver Wood was worthless as a Keeper. Preece feinted to his left, then to his right, before loosing the Quaffle to the left where it got through the left ring. Snape grinned as it was now 20-10 for Gryffindor. The gold and red wave was not so proud of their team now, but they took their anger on Snape, of course, who ignored them.

Again, Severus checked on Potter, hovering quietly over the pitch as always. he didn't have much to do for him from high up there, and he didn't seem like doing much either. Gryffindor took back the Quaffle.

"Johnson got the ball... She makes a pass to Spinnet... Back to Johnson... Macavoy intercepts... A Bludger is sent her way... Oh, I think it hit her, she dropped the Quaffle... Spinnet takes it back... She avoids another Bludger... She follows the side of the pitch... Preece and Applebee are after her... She drops her altitude... She's almost on the ground... Preece and Applebee are just over her... Wait, did she just kick the Quaffle?... Yes, it's in Johnson's hands... She has a clear way towards the rings... She ducks a Bludger..."

Severus whistled once again. "Gryffindor touched the ground! Penalty for Hufflepuff!"

The crowd booed him again. They overlooked how that Spinnet girl got so close to the ground while she had the Quaffle. Snape could swear one of her feet touched it. Preece got the penalty once again. The only Chaser in Hufflepuff with some potential, and the only one who happened to be a boy of a certain age, slowly made an arc on his left, accelerating in the meantime, and targeted the center ring. Wood approached him, probably to better cover his angles. But Preece finally shot in the left ring while Wood was moving and scored. 20-20 now.

"Well, Hufflepuff just equalized, all just because of a totally unjustified, undeserved..."

"JODRAN!" McGonagall interrupted the commentator. He had gone too far for her.

"Sorry, Professor. So, Gryffindor takes back the Quaffle... It falls to Spinnet... Wait, George Weasley, or maybe it's Fred, he just smashed a Bludger towards his brother... He hits back... And back..." The commentator couldn't contain the excitement of his partisanship. "The Weasleys are passing a Bludger back and forth between them... Spinnet follows them closely behind... The other players get out of the way... They crossed the pitch. They're right in front of Hufflepuff's goalposts... They send the Bludger... way over the rings... Spinnet scores..."

Severus was barely able to understand what had been going on as the Gryffindor crowd burst. The twins had batted a Bludger between them as if they played tennis, a Muggle sport, and used it as a cover to protect their Chaser, then scared the opposite Keeper by sending the Bludger towards her, but way far over her head. The Keeper had flown away, despite the iron ball flying way too far from her, and Gryffindor scored easily.

While Snape came to his senses and realized something had to be done, huge new cheers came from the crowd. He recognized that kind of reaction. The Golden Snitch had been spotted. He wanted to blow his whistle and call another penalty for Gryffindor, but then he thought better. There was a reason why he chose to referee this match. He turned his broomstick to see where Potter was.

He saw him just in time. The scarlet shape with the green eyes that were impossible to miss... rushing towards him. Snape did a barrel roll to avoid a collision with Potter. He heard the crowd laughing. As he took a hold of his broomstick, he was back to his first year, during his first flying lesson, when his broom went in all directions as he was unable to control it. Everyone had been laughing at him back then. To his greatest horror, even Lily couldn't contain a giggle. She apologized afterwards, and he forgave her a few days later, but the harm was done, and it remained. Snape stilled his broomstick. He was no longer a first-year student. Potter, on the other hand, was, and he just assaulted a professor and referee.

Just as Snape brought the whistle to his mouth to call two penalties for Hufflepuff instead of one, the crowd roared again, and Severus saw the Golden Snitch into Potter's hands.

"Harry Potter caught the Golden Snitch! One hundred and fifty points to Gryffindor! Gryffindor wins, after a game that only lasted four minutes and twenty-seven seconds. Gryffindor: one hundred and eighty points. Hufflepuff: twenty points. GRYFFINDOR WINS!"

The commentator was out of control, and so was the crowd. Severus was of a mind to call the penalties all the same and call the game to continue. He approached the whistle from his mouth, eager to use it and crush all Gryffindor's hopes.

But at the last second, Severus Snape took away his whistle. His job was done. The match was over, and Lily's son was right and well. There would be no point in continuing this. He was already fed up with refereeing this game. Quirrell was away, and Snape didn't want to give him a reason to show up. He flew down and landed quietly on the ground, away from the gathering of fanatics who surrounded Potter and his teammates, and who Lily, and even Albus Dumbledore himself joined soon enough. Severus walked away. He wanted nothing to do with the after-match festivities, if they deserved to be called so. He abandoned his equipment into the referee's changing room and went back to the castle, making his utmost to remain deaf to the outcry coming from the stadium.

Severus went quickly to the dungeons. He put on a cloak that hid his face, then waited in an alcove, out of sight from prying eyes, in the Entrance Hall as students and school staff came back from the terrain. He waited nearly an hour. All these people celebrated on the pitch. Then he knew that Gryffindors would continue the celebrations in their common room. At least Slytherins had enough common sense to return quietly to their own common room. When almost no one was coming in the Entrance Hall, and Severus used a spell to look through the heavy doors, making sure no one else was coming this way, he headed out.

He walked as fast as possible, his hood covering his face, and headed for the Forbidden Forest. He followed the path there. The high trees cut off the light of the sun until almost complete darkness surrounded him. He continued on the path until he arrived at the meeting place. Quirrell was already there, looking anxiously all around him, shaking, muttering incomprehensive things to himself. When he saw Severus walked in his direction, he shook even more uncontrollably.

"Sev-Severus... I-It's..."

"It's good to see that you are punctual, Quirrell. Must I suppose that you were clever enough to not let anyone follow you, or am I overestimating your intelligence?"

"I-I swe-swear. No... No one f-f-followed m-me."

"Very good. You show more hurry in coming here than in trying to take that stone. Had you not hesitated before going to the third floor, it is you who would have been bitten by that dog."

"Sev-Severus... I sw-swear..."

"Don't make a fool out of yourself again, Quirrell. We both know you were the one behind this troll. It is only a matter of time before Dumbledore and the other professors realize it too. You're the expert on trolls after all. You don't have much time left if you want to steal that stone. As soon as the others will understand it, you will be done."

Quirrell stuttered further. He was looking all around him, as if he was afraid a vampire might come and suck his blood right away. "I... I d-don't know why you wanted t-t-to meet here of all p-places, Severus..."

The wind was blowing high as he replied. "Oh, I thought we'd keep this private. Students aren't supposed to know about the Philosopher's Stone, after all."

"No, they m-must n-not. Esp-p-p-pecially not P-P-Potter. He m-m-must abs-s-solutely n-n-not..."

Severus had enough. He grabbed Quirrell by the collar of his robes. He stank of onions, but it didn't matter to Snape. He was boiling with rage internally. "Have you found out how to get past that beast of Hagrid's yet?"

"B-b-but Severus, I..."

"You don't want me as your enemy, Quirrell," he warned him. To think that this man was Professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts.

"I-I don-t know what you..."

"You know perfectly well what I mean. I saw you at the Hog's Head with Hagrid. You barely modified your appearance. Hagrid may not have recognized you, but I did. You really thought I would be fooled by your little bit of hocus pocus? I'm waiting."

"B-but I d-d-don't..."

He released the shaking man. He was disgusted that such a pitiful man was trying to steal the stone. "Very well. We'll have another little chat soon, when you've had time to think things over and decided where your loyalties lie."

Snape turned away and walked back towards Hogwarts, the cloak adjusted to hide his whole face, leaving the quivering Quirrell behind. Hopefully this stupid story of werevolves living in the forest was true and one of them would eat him alive.

Snape stopped. He thought he just heard a cracking sound, like a branch breaking, from the top of the trees. He looked up, but there was nothing to be seen from the thick cover of the forest. He resumed his walk and went back to the castle.

Chapter Text

HERMIONE II

 

She was going through the instructions to prepare the Wiggenweld Potion once more in Magical Drafts and Potions. According to Snape, if they weren't able to memorize the steps to prepare the most basic potions they learned this year, they would fail their Potions exam. For Hermione, it was out of the question to fail any exam in any subject. She couldn't bear the idea of not getting into the second year.

Two people muffled laughs not far from her. She looked over her book and rolled her eyes. Somehow Ron had found something funny inside The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection. And Harry found it hilarious as well judging from his reaction. They were in the library, on a Saturday, studying and completing their homework since the morning, and Hermione's nerves were on edge.

"Can you stop giggling like little girls?" she said between her teeth. "I'm trying to revise."

"We still have six weeks before the exams," Ron said. "We just came back from Easter."

"Harry came back from Easter," Hermione corrected. He was the only to visit his family for the Easter holidays. "I told my parents I couldn't come home. I had too much work to do. And you too as well. I still don't understand how you managed to visit your mother for four days, Harry."

"I found time." Harry was back into One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi. "The truth is, we couldn't do much. My mother was too much occupied between moving from house and studying to become an Auror. You should have seen the pack of books on her desk. A little more and she needed to make holes in the ceiling."

"I thought it would be more fun, training to become an Auror," Ron said.

"It's a very demanding profession, Ronald. They spend their time chasing dark wizards and bringing them to justice. No wonder they need three years of additional study before they begin to work," Hermione said.

"Okay, but I thought training as an Auror would be a little more... physical? Practical?"

"They do have training," Harry replied. "The other day, she made an obstacle course. They had to get though it as quickly as possible without being hit by a single spell."

"Cool!"

"Yes, but before any session, she must put hours in preparation, sometimes tens of hours."

"Boring," Ronald commented. He returned to his class manual of Defence against Dark Arts. He sighed repeatedly, the time between each new sigh growing thinner. Finally, he dropped his heavy book loudly on the table. "I'll never remember this! Anyway, that's useless! How much will we retain after school is over? Will any of this be useful in life?"

"If you don't find it useful, you can leave and let Harry and I work in peace," Hermione retorted.

"I think that's what I'm going to do."

"Ron, you don't have to leave," Harry said.

"Well, she wants me to."

And Ron left. Hermione rolled her eyes again and returned to her book, but she could feel Harry's eyes on her.

"What?" she said after a moment.

"You went a little too hard on him," he commented.

"We are in the middle of a period of exams."

"I know, and he feels the pressure like we do. You realize how much homework the professors have been giving us lately?"

"Of course. I'm doing my homework, unlike him."

"He's doing them. Maybe not as well as you do, and maybe at the last minute, but he does them."

"You do them better than him."

Harry smiled a little. "That's not the question. I mean, we're both on edge. I know you don't get along well, but you don't need to get on each other's nerves either. It won't make your revision better."

What Harry said made sense. Hermione returned her attention to her book, but she couldn't get back the same concentration that she previously had. It seemed that Harry couldn't either. After a few minutes, he sighed as well and closed his book. Then he yawned and stretched.

"We've been doing since eight o'clock?" he asked.

"Seven o'clock," she corrected.

"That's for you. I arrived later. It's two o'clock. What if we went to visit Hagrid? It's been a long time. And I think a pause would do us some good."

Hermione had to concede that she was tired. She rubbed her eyes and laid her book on the table as well. "Okay. Hey, we could ask him about the Philosopher's Stone."

"Yes, you're right. I don't know why we haven't done it yet."

They both left the library and headed in the direction of Hagrid's house. The Philosopher's Stone had been a great subject of discussion for Harry and Hermione ever since they came back from the Christmas holidays. Harry had fallen by chance upon another Chocolate Frog's card of Albus Dumbledore.

Albus Dumbledore, currently Headmaster of Hogwarts. Considered by many the greatest wizard of modern times, Dumbledore is particularly famous for his defeat of the Dark Wizard Grindelwald in 1945, for the discovery of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood, and his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicolas Flamel. Professor Dumbledore enjoys chamber music and ten-pin bowling.

That was where Harry had heard the name of Nicolas Flamel for the first time, on the Hogwarts Express in September. For once, she had wanted to thank Ron for making Harry discover Chocolate Frogs. Hermione then found another reference to Nicolas Flamel in another book she borrowed for light reading.

The ancient study of alchemy is concerned with making the Philosopher's Stone, a legendary substance with astonishing powers. The Stone will transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal.

There have been many reports of the Philosopher's Stone over the centuries, but the only one Stone currently in existence belongs to Mr Nicolas Flamel, the noted alchemist and opera-lover. Mr Flamel, who celebrated his six hundred and sixty-fifth birthday last year, enjoys a quiet life in Devon with his wife, Perenelle (six hunder and fifty-eight).

First, Hermione and Harry were skeptical, and Ronald was more than that. They didn't see why Dumbledore would hide the Philosopher's Stone in Hogwarts. Why not hide it in Gringotts or anywhere else? Why hide it in plain sight of students and professors? Harry and Hermione thought the three-headed dog might be hiding something else, and Ron said he didn't care. He didn't want to go back any close to that animal. But then Harry surprised part of a conversation between Snape and Quirrell after his victory on Hufflepuff. He told her and Ronald right away when he came back to Gryffindor's common house. Ron was upset that he talked about this while there were celebrations in the common room and left them, but Hermione listened to everything Harry had heard. There was no doubt, Fluffy was guarding the Philosopher's Stone.

Hermione had deduced long ago that Fluffy was guarding something, but she didn't expect it would be a Philosopher's Stone. Now it explained why Snape wanted it so badly. There were many people who would be ready to kill for the possibility to make gold in limitless quantity and for eternal life. No wonder Snape let a troll inside the castle at Halloween and tried to kill Harry after he and Hermione ruined his plan by neutralizing the troll. Hermione was afraid that Snape would try something on her now.

Thinking about the Philosopher's Stone was sort of freeing. She thought so much about exams lately. She felt she was about to crack down. Thinking about something else was like taking a huge breath of fresh air. It didn't take them long to arrive in the park then to reach Hagrid's house. Harry knocked on the door right away.

"You think he's going to help us?" she asked.

"I don't know. Let's hope he will."

The gamekeeper opened his door and welcomed them with a warm smile and shining eyes. "Hi you two! Ron is not with you?"

"No." Hermione answered shortly and quickly before Harry could say anything.

"Oh. Well, too bad. Come in. I can prepare you some tea if you want."

"Yes, thank you." Tea was one of the few things Hagrid knew how to prepare and that they could actually either drink or eat. The cups were the size of huge bowls, but it did great good to Hermione as she took a sip.

"So, I hear you're fully into preparations for exams?" he asked.

"Yes," Harry confirmed.

"Glad you still have time to visit your friend."

"Hagrid," Harry began. Hermione noticed how careful he sounded. "We know for the Philosopher's Stone."

Hagrid still had the tea-pot in hands. It fell on the ground and broke in a thousand pieces. Fang came to lick it. Hagrid got a broom very quickly and got rid of the fragments.

"How did you hear about it?" he asked, obviously worried and angry at the same time.

"You told us it was about Nicolas Flamel, Hagrid," Hermione said. "We found out who he is, and the Philosopher's Stone he made. And Harry surprised a conversation between Snape and Quirrell. They spoke about it."

Hagrid groaned. "These two! They should have been more careful! And you shouldn't have been listening," Hagrid added while pointing Harry.

"Hagrid, Snape was threatening Quirrell!" Harry said. "He wanted his help to get past Fluffy."

"That's impossible. The Professor is among those who protect that Stone. He can't be trying to steal it."

"Among those? You mean, there's more than Fluffy protecting the Stone?"

"Of course! Dumbledore wasn't going to take half-measures to protect it. Although I'd say all the other protections are useless. No one ever managed to get past Fluffy," he said proudly. "No one knows how to get past him, except Dumbledore and I."

"But what else is protecting the Stone?"

"I can't tell you. We shouldn't even be talking about it. You shouldn't even be aware of its presence, not even its existence. Anyway, I don't know what protects the Stone beside Fluffy."

"They talk about it in history books and other books in the library, Hagrid," Hermione pointed out.

"Okay, Hagrid," resumed Harry. "Look, you told us that Snape helped protect the Stone. Who else did?"

"I shouldn't tell you."

"Please, Hagrid," Hermione said. "We're not asking what is protecting the Stone. We just want to know who besides Snape Dumbledore entrusted with protecting it."

Hagrid sighed and finally relented. "Alright. I suppose it can't hurt that I tell you. Anyway, you know already so much. Dumbledore borrowed Fluffy from me. He contributed to the protection of the Stone himself, and he got the help of Professors Sprout, Flitwick, McGonagall, Quirrell, and yes, also Snape. You see? The Stone is safe."

If he meant to reassure them, it didn't really work. Hermione looked to Harry. They both thought the same thing. If Snape contributed to put into place defences for the Philosopher's Stone, then it would be easier for him to steal it. All he was missing seemed to be Quirrell's help and a way to get past Fluffy.

"Hagrid, you swear, only you and Dumbledore know how to get past Fluffy? And you would never tell anybody, not even another teacher?" Hermione asked.

"No one but Dumbledore and I," Hagrid confirmed, still proud.

"Well, that's something," Harry muttered.

"I hope you're reassured now. This Stone is in the safest place it can be. No one is going to steal it."

"But why keep it here? Why in Hogwarts? Why not in Gringotts or somewhere else safer?"

"It's true," Hermione added. "We came face to face with Fluffy. An entire corridor is forbidden from access. I'm surprised Fred and George Weasley haven't already tried to get into it." Hagrid seemed to share their concerns on this latter point. "Why keep it here at Hogwarts?"

"Because it's the safest place in the world," Hagrid said. He straightened himself in his chair and looked directly into their eyes. "Look, the Stone was at Gringotts before. It was me who moved it from the bank to the school. And the very same day, someone broke into that vault, not long after I was there."

Hermione was stunned in surprise. "But I thought the vaults of Gringotts were inviolable," Harry said. "I even heard that thieves got stuck into traps, and goblins leave them trapped for years before they get them out."

"Not this time," Hagrid said on a grave tone. "Whoever did this managed to get into this vault and to leave it unscathed, all in the same day, and right after I went there. Whoever tried to steal that stone is a powerful wizard, well versed in the dark arts."

"Powerful enough to jinx a broomstick during a Quidditch match?" Hermione asked.

Hagrid said nothing for a moment. He looked at Harry, a sorry look in his eyes. "Look, Harry. I'm sorry for what happened in November. Perhaps I didn't take it seriously. But I can swear you something, it's that Dumbledore is doing everything he can to find out who did this. And this discussion you surprised between Quirrell and Snape... They must have been quarrelling because they're both looking to apprehend the person who's trying to steal the Stone."

"That's not the impression they gave me, Hagrid," Harry said. He then recounted the whole conversation as he heard it, but it didn't seem to have any effect on Hagrid.

"You didn't hear a part of the conversation, Harry. You just misinterpreted it. Dumbledore would never hire a teacher who could steal."

"He did hire one who favours his own house," Harry commented, not needing to specify who this was.

"Harry, that's enough. Dumbledore trusts Snape, and I trust Dumbledore. And you should trust him too, and stop meddling into things that don't concern you."

In the end, this meeting with Hagrid did provide them with more information about how the Stone was protected and why it was at Hogwarts. But Hagrid was still certain that Snape would never try to steal the Philosopher's Stone. Hermione couldn't believe how stubborn their friend was.

"We should try to help Quirrell," Harry said.

"How?"

"By helping him to stand up to Snape."

"And how?" Hermione asked again.

Harry shrugged after a moment. "I don't know."

Hermione sighed. "Perhaps Hagrid is right. I mean, not about Snape, but about not getting involved with that. Dumbledore is the most powerful wizard in the world. He will never allow the Stone to be stolen."

"He couldn't stop someone from cursing my Nimbus, or from getting a troll inside the castle." Even Hermione had to concede it was true.

"Okay. Maybe we should try to keep an eye on Snape and Quirrell, just in case."

"For Snape, it will not be difficult. I have the impression that he's always following me wherever I go."

"Anyway, Harry, you heard Hagrid. Only he and Dumbledore know how to get past Fluffy, and all the other professors protected it, even Dumbledore himself. Even if Quirrell does end up helping Snape, it will probably not be enough. Not with Dumbledore who's around."

"Maybe," Harry finally conceded.

"We should go back to the library. Exams are still coming."

"I think I'll go back to the common room. I might help Ron to finish his homework."

"If you want to."

Hermione had shrugged. She had accepted that Harry was Ronald's friend and that he would have to divide his time between her and Ron. She just hoped Ron would not transfer his bad habits to Harry.

The following days were filled with homework and study. Seeing him on a regular basis, Hermione could tell that Ronald was late and struggled to make all the homework their teachers gave them. Harry was struggling as well, though not as much. The revision timetables she prepared for him must have helped, for sure. In an attempt to be likeable with Ron, she offered to prepare him one as well, but he flatly refused, which did not make things easier for him. Then, one morning at breakfast during the week, Hedwig, Harry's snowy owl, brought him a letter.

"It's Hagrid. He says he wants to show us something. A big surprise, he says. He's inviting us at the end of the day," he summarized.

"We can't. We have too much work," Hermione said. "We can't spend the evening at Hagrid's house."

"He seems pretty excited. I wonder what this is he wants to show us," Harry said, his expression curious.

"Well, anything to escape my homeworks," Ron said. "Even if it's only for an hour or two. I'm going."

Harry was really intrigued as well. He gave the letter to Hermione so she could read it too. Indeed, Hagrid looked really excited. His scribble was more unreadable than ever, and he insisted several times in a very short message that it was something really worth seeing.

On Harry's insistence, and Ron's too, who she was tired of hearing again and again, she agreed to go during the morning break. They would lose less time this way. Harry accepted the compromise, and Ron begrudgingly accepted to follow them both, probably regretting he wouldn't get more time away from his homework. They ran to Hagrid's hut as soon as the bell resonated at the end of the Herbology class, and knocked at his door the moment they were in front of it.

Hagrid barely opened the door. From his face in the gap, he looked very surprised to see them.

"I wasn't expecting you. Did I tell you to come this morning? I'm sure I was talking about the evening," he said.

Hermione then noticed that all the curtains were drawn, making it impossible to see inside the hut. This, added to the worried expression on Hagrid's face, began to make her feel uneasy. What was this surprise Hagrid wanted to show them so much? She then heard a shriek coming from inside the house, and judging from Harry's and Ron's reactions, they heard it as well.

"Hurry, come inside," Hagrid told them all of a sudden.

He almost dragged them inside and closed the door right away behind them. Hermione barely heard the loud noise of the door closing behind them. She stood still, agape at the sight in front of her. On the table, a small green creature with pointed wings, a long snout with huge nostrils, clawed feet under thin legs and a long tail observed them with its orange eyes. It sneezed. Sparks came out of its snout.

"Isn't he beautiful?" Hagrid said, emotion strangling his voice.

"Hagrid... is this a dragon?" Hermione asked.

"Not any dragon," Ron jumped in. He approached the beast. "It's a Norwegian Ridgebacks." She was surprised that Ron knew the species. She must have looked surprised, for he said something when he looked back at her. "My brother Charlie studies dragons in Romania."

Of course. Now she remembered. Ron hadn't gone home during Christmas holidays because his parents were visiting this brother. She thought he had another one too who had graduated from Hogwarts, but she couldn't recall his name.

"Where did you find him?" Harry asked.

"I won him. From a stranger while playing cards. When he was still in his egg. I hatched it myself," he proudly said. "So, don't you find him beautiful?"

"Hagrid," Hermione began, carefully and afraid, "You know that dragon-breeding was outlawed by the Warlock's Convention of 1709?"

But Hagrid didn't seem to listen to her. He only had eyes for the little dragon.

Later during their lunch in the Great Hall, they were discussing avidly about what they just saw this morning. For once, Ronald seemed on the same opinion as Hermione.

"What is Hagrid going to do? He cannot keep this dragon inside his hut forever. Doesn't he know that Norwegian Ridgebacks grow very quickly?"

"And what if someone finds out he has one?" Harry asked. "You said it's forbidden, against the law. Could Hagrid go to Azkaban if it was discovered?"

Azkaban. Even to Hermione who came from a Muggle family, the name sent chills down her spine. "If they have time to do it," Ron said. "Let's suppose this dragon burns us all before someone denounces him."

"You're not thinking about reporting Hagrid, Ron?" Harry asked angrily.

"Of course not! You're not?" Ron then asked Hermione.

She hesitated. Only for a second. "No, of course! I would never do that!"

Ron didn't seem to believe her, and Harry looked at her strangely. She felt ashamed all of a sudden. She had considered reporting Hagrid to a teacher, but perhaps...

"Maybe we could tell Professor Dumbledore, the Headmaster," she suggested. "He could arrange for Norbert to be moved out..." Norbert was the name Hagrid had given to this baby dragon. But Harry immediately made his opposition known.

"You're mad? Hagrid was expelled during his third year here. He was lucky to become the gamekeeper. If we tell Dumbledore or any professor about it, he will be fired."

"But we cannot let him keep that... beast. I mean, he's living in a wooden house. A wooden house."

"For once, she's right," Ron said. "We should go back this evening and make him understand that he can't keep it."

They did. Well, they tried, but Hagrid wanted to hear nothing about this. Only within a half-day, the dragon seemed to have grown. Harry and Ronald cared less and less about their revisions, and the truth was Hermione didn't care much any longer. They couldn't let Hagrid keep that dragon.

Within a few days, the dragon grew so much that he tripled in size. Hagrid was limping and neglecting his other duties. He was always inside his hut with Norbert. The number of chickens in his courtyard was dropping by the tens, and Fang refused to come inside the house any longer. They tried everything to convince him he had to give up the dragon, but Hagrid refused. He said he was too young, that he would die.

One evening, Ron came back from Hagrid's hut. They were now taking turns in trying to reason Hagrid. Only this night, Ronald seemed particularly angry.

"It bit me!" He almost screamed it. His hand, wrapped in a bloody handkerchief, was a testimony to the fact that this time, he wasn't complaining for nothing. "He refused to talk to me unless I would help him feed that beast. I tell you, that dragon is the most horrible I've ever met, but the way Hagrid goes on about it, you would think it was a little bunny rabbit. He says he bit me only because I frightened him, and then he began singing him a lullaby."

Both Harry and Hermione were exasperated with Hagrid's attachment to this dragon. The day after, Ron's hand had inflated to twice its size, and turned green in the afternoon. They had no choice. They brought him to the infirmary. Harry and Hermione went back to see Hagrid before the curfew, to no avail. Hagrid refused to let go of Norbert, who would soon occupy the whole hut.

Hermione and Harry were alone in common room late this night. Everyone else had gone to sleep. They were desperate. Even Hermione felt sorry for Ron. Even she couldn't deny that it wasn't Ron's fault that he was bitten by the dragon.

"What are we going to do?" Harry asked her. "Hagrid doesn't want to let it go, but he has to. Before Norbert burns him and feasts on him."

"I know, but we tried everything. He won't set it free because he says that he will not survive at his age. He said the books he borrowed at the library said so. I went to read them just to prove him wrong, but it turns out he's right. He will not let Norbert go. Unless... Maybe... If we find someone else who would take Norbert."

Harry nodded. They both remained silent for a long time. "Hermione, you're a genius!"

"What?"

"Charlie. Charlie Weasley. Ron's brother. The one who's in Romania and studies dragon. Perhaps he could take Norbert and take care of him."

Hermione thought about it for a moment. "Yes, that could work. We would need to organize for Charlie to come here and take him without anyone noticing but... Yes, it's possible." She looked at the clock. "We're too far away from curfew. We can't go and see Ron about it now. We'll go to the infirmary tomorrow in the morning and we can use Hedwig to send a letter to Ron's brother."

"Yes. I hope she will be back by then."

"What do you mean, back? Hedwig is not here?"

Harry looked a little embarrassed all of a sudden. "I sent a letter to my mother this morning. It had been too long since I didn't send her one, with the exams and everything."

Hermione sighed. "Well, if she's not back, we'll take another owl in the Owlery. There's no time to lose."

They both went to bed and woke up early to go and visit Ron. He found their idea wonderful and promised to write a letter for Charlie, even if it was with his left hand. Both Harry and Hermione then ran to Hagrid's hut to tell him about their plan.

However, when they knocked at his door, nobody answered. They knocked again, and no answer came either.

"Hagrid, it's us. We found a way so that Norbert would be taken care of," Harry said loudly.

Hermione looked around. By chance, there was no one else on the horizon. Everyone seemed to be in the Great Hall for breakfast. But there didn't seem to be anybody in Hagrid's house. Hermione stuck her ear to the door. No sound came from the inside. Not even Norbert was making any noise. Hermione feared the worst.

"Hagrid," Harry continued, "we're here to help you. You cannot..."

Before Harry could complete his sentence, the door opened. But it wasn't the shaggy figure of Hagrid who welcomed them. It was Professor Dumbledore who stood in the doorframe.

Hermione was stunned. The Headmaster was there, right in front of them. And he certainly heard what Harry had said. She looked at him, and he was just as stunned as she was.

"I see that I'm not the only one taking an interest in that baby dragon," he said with a half-smile.

"Professor..." Hermione began tentatively, unsure of what they should say.

"It's alright, Miss Granger. Come in. The four of us have much to discuss."

Hermione and Harry exchanged looks. What were they going to do? What would Dumbledore do to them? More importantly, what would happen to Hagrid? Reluctantly, they walked in. Hagrid was sitting at the table, his eyes red, the expression of someone who had done something wrong on his face. When he saw Hermione and Harry, he turned to Dumbledore and began to speak on a pleading tone.

"Professor, please, they have nothing to do..."

"Hagrid, please." Hogwarts' Headmaster sat down, then he invited Harry and Hermione to sit, which they both did. Hermione's legs were shaking. "I think it is better if they are here to listen to what I have to say, to all of you."

Hermione was looking around the hut. Before she could ask herself the question, Albus Dumbledore replied to it.

"Norbert is in that box." He pointed a huge wooden box in a corner. Hermione saw that it was about Norbert's size. A breathing sound came from it. "He is sleeping. I used a spell to do it. Young dragons are much less resistant than adults. So we will not be interrupted while we discuss."

The Headmaster said nothing for a moment. He was looking at Hagrid, but Hagrid only looked down at his boots. Hermione felt she would assist to something she absolutely didn't want to see. Dumbledore knew that Hagrid kept a dragon in his hut. Surely he would be fired for this.

"Hagrid, what were you thinking?" Dumbledore said in a soft tone, but with a very clear note of reproach in it. "Keeping a dragon in your house? Feeding him? Raising him?"

"I just... I just thought..." Hagrid tried to articulate.

"That you could own a dragon, like you always wanted. Hagrid, have you considered the danger he could pose to the school and our students?"

"He's not a threat, Professor. Norbert... he's only a baby. He never hurt anybody."

"Really, Hagrid? You were limping when you opened the door, and I noticed the burn marks on your hands and your arms, and also under your beard when I came in. And don't forget about Fang."

The dog had a huge bandage around his tail. Dumbledore didn't say it, but the carnage around the house was only further proof that Norbert was no peaceful pet.

"It was just to laugh. He's sorry about it."

"What about Mr Ronald Weasley who is in the infirmary?"

Hagrid took more time to answer this time. "He's just a baby. He doesn't understand..."

Tears were streaming from Hagrid's eyes, but Dumbledore didn't let him finish. "Hagrid, this is not Norbert's behavior that I am questioning. He is a dragon. I do not expect him to go against his nature. It is your decision that I am questioning. You knew that it is forbidden to own a dragon, and for very good reasons. You knew it was dangerous to bring one here at Hogwarts. And yet you did it. Your first duty as a gamekeeper, like all the other staff in this school, is to ensure the safety of our students. Have you even thought about it when you accepted that egg?"

Hagrid didn't answer this time. He just stayed there, crying. After a moment, Dumbledore put a hand on his shoulder.

"Hagrid, I don't want you to leave. But I need you to take your responsibilities and admit your wrong in this case."

For a moment, they waited. Finally, Hagrid burst uncontrollably. "I'm sorry, Professor. I won this egg while playing cards. I couldn't just leave it somewhere. I had to take care of it."

"A school is not a place for a dragon, Hagrid. You have one of the greatest hearts in the world for magical creatures, but you cannot let that blind you to the danger they can pose to humans. They are not made to live with them. They are a danger for us as much as we are a danger to them. You should have come to me the moment you received that egg. I would have arranged for his transport to Romania right away if you had. That's probably why you didn't tell me. You wanted to keep him."

Hagrid nodded, obviously ashamed.

"Hagrid, you disappoint me," Professor Dumbledore said. "You are not leaving, but the dragon is. I already arranged everything. I contacted Charlie Weasley. Some of his friends will come tonight and bring him with them for Romania. In the meantime, Norbert will remain in that box. Is that understood?"

Hermione was surprised. It was as if Dumbledore had read their minds and put into motion the very plan they were thinking about. Hagrid nodded again.

"And I want to be clear, Hagrid. I cannot let you endanger the students of Hogwarts again for a magical creature, no matter how attached you are to it. We are lucky that only you, Fang and Mr Weasley were injured, and that these injuries were minor. Madam Pomfrey assured me that Mr Weasley would have fully recovered in no time. I hope you realize how lucky you are."

"Yes, Professor," Hagrid said in such a low tone that they barely heard him. Dumbledore nodded slightly as well, then he turned towards Harry and Hermione. "Now, you both. It is my understanding that you played no part in bringing this dragon to Hogwarts, am I correct?"

"Yes, Professor," they both replied in a low tone.

"Good. However, I'm surprised you didn't come to me, or any other professor, to tell us about what was going on."

"Professor, please," Hagrid begged. "I'm the one who brought Norbert here. Harry and Hermione are for nothing in this. They just wanted to help me."

"We were afraid that you might fire Hagrid," Harry said. "We were trying to find a way to get the dragon far away."

"Without anyone noticing, so this way your friend wouldn't get into any trouble," Dumbledore summarized. "I understand that. But if you had come to me first, you would have realized that Hagrid was not in trouble, and your friend Ronald Weasley might not be in the infirmary as we speak. Although, I can understand why you wouldn't have expected me to show such mercy to Hagrid, given how raising a dragon is outlawed."

"Professor, please, don't punish them," Hagrid begged again.

"I will not, Hagrid. If someone deserves to be punished here, it's you. But I think Ronald Weasley is unlikely to want you to be punished. Your punishment will consist in returning to your duties as gamekeeper that you neglected lately, and to part ways with Norbert. As for Harry and Hermione, they get a warning." He looked to the two of them very straight. "Next time something like that happen, you come to see me. I would rather hear things like this directly from my students, rather than having mothers bursting into my office and telling me about all this."

This time, Hermione was too confused to understand what the Headmaster meant. "What are you talking about? Mothers bursting into your office..." Her gaze fell on Harry, who looked quite ashamed all of a sudden. "Harry?" Hermione called him using the tone she wanted reproaching and warning.

He looked at her, still clearly ashamed. "I'm sorry, Hermione. When I wrote her yesterday, I told her about Norbert."

"What? Why did you do this?"

"We didn't know what to do. I thought maybe she could come up with a solution."

What had gone through Harry's mind? Did he truly ask his mother how to get a dragon outside of Hogwarts without anyone noticing?

"And the moment she received your letter, Harry, she came to me," Dumbledore declared. "Which is exactly what you should have done in the first place. She was scared for you, especially after the events of Halloween and your first Quidditch match. She didn't want you to get into anymore trouble. You're lucky to have her."

The Headmaster stood up. He looked to Hagrid. "I want you to resume your duties right now. Say goodbye to Norbert, Hagrid. And think about the fact that he will be much happier in Romania. He's leaving tonight. I expect, no, I order all of you to do as if this incident never happened. Don't talk about this to anybody if you want to avoid trouble with the Ministry of Magic. As for you two, come with me. We need to have another discussion. And I hope you will make sure that Mr Weasley says nothing about this incident neither."

Harry followed Dumbledore, and Hermione followed Harry. They all found themselves outside the hut, away from Hagrid. Hermione kept sending dismayed gazes at Harry. Really, he had been foolish enough to tell the whole story to his own mother?

"Now," Albus Dumbledore started, "it has come to my attention that you've discovered what is being hidden on the third floor." Hermione was shocked as well. And then she guessed how Dumbledore knew about it before he said it. "Your mother showed the whole content of your letter, Harry." But what the Headmaster said next surprised Hermione way more. "I have to admit that you both impress me. Very few students would have discovered what was behind this three-headed dog. You must have searched a long time to discover the truth. Few people would have shown such endurance and determination."

Hermione felt red coming to her cheeks. Being complimented by the Headmaster of the school was a rare deed. But Dumbledore was far from done with them.

"I'm also aware of your suspicions about Professor Snape. So let me put this to rest once and for all. Severus Snape is not trying to steal the Stone, and he did not try to kill Harry during the Quidditch game."

This time, Hermione had to intervene. "Professor, I saw him during the match. He was muttering spells while Harry's broomstick was going mad. He was staring at the broomstick all the time, and the curse was broken only when he broke eye contact with it."

Dumbledore nodded, as if she was just giving a presentation. "You are right on one point, Miss Granger. Professor Snape was indeed casting a spell on Harry's broomstick." Hermione's eyes grew. Dumbledore knew about this from the very beginning, and he did nothing to stop Snape. "But not the kind of spell you thought it was. He was casting a counter-curse, just like your mother did, Harry. He did it the moment he realized someone was jinxing your broom. He was trying to save you."

Both Harry and Hermione were in shock at the declaration. But Harry recovered more quickly than she did. "But my broomstick became normal again after his cloak caught fire."

"Yes, indeed. Both Professor Snape and your mother didn't succeed in breaking the curse. Only this fire succeeded." The professor looked at Hermione from the corner of his eyes. Hermione knew then that he was aware she had done this. "The fire caused a confusion that led the real caster to lose sight of you, Harry. That's why you got out of there."

"But I saw Snape heading to the third floor at Halloween. And he got bitten by Fluffy then."

"Oh, so you know who Fluffy is. You really impress me, my children. However, the reason why Snape went to the third floor was to prevent anyone from getting past the dog. I'm afraid by doing so, he got injured." Harry seemed about to say something else, but Dumbledore raised a hand peacefully to stop him. "Harry, the reason why Professor Snape has been following you is because he's trying to keep an eye on you. Like all the other professors at Hogwarts. Ever since the accident of Halloween, we're keeping a close eye on you and Hermione. Professor Snape may have been a little overzealous, or too obvious, but he's not the only one who's been following you or watching you from afar. And if he decided to referee the match between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff, it was to ensure that nothing would happen this time. It's also why I attended the match."

Harry said nothing for a moment. Hermione neither. All this information rumbled in her mind.

"But..." Harry began, "I surprised a conversation between Snape and Quirrell in the Forbidden Forest. Snape was trying to find out how to get past Fluffy."

"You only heard a part of their discussion, I guess." Hermione could see that Harry couldn't deny it. "Well, they both helped to protect the object that this dog is guarding. You must have heard them discussing if someone might succeed to get past it. That's all."

"But Professor..."

"Harry, please. I swear to you, I can assure you that the Professor Severus Snape did not try to kill you at any moment, and that he's not trying to steal the object we're protecting. Look, I don't do that often, but I apologize to you, Harry. I promised your mother to watch over you when you came to Hogwarts, and we failed at the beginning of the year. It's our fault, and I assume the responsibility of this failure, completely. But please, the object is very well protected, and I would like you to not worry about it anymore. Now, you have exams coming and I'm sure the last thing you need is arriving late in class. Now go."

He said that on a very kind tone, but it was clear this was no request, but an order. Harry and Hermione looked at each other, and decided of a common silent agreement to leave. They were silent for most of the morning in class. Things boiled so much in Hermione's mind that she didn't answer the teachers' questions. At lunch, they went to Ron to tell him about what happened. He complained that he had spent an hour writing a good letter with his left hand, but also felt relieved that Hagrid wouldn't be punished. He wasn't healed yet, so he couldn't come with Harry and Hermione in class in the afternoon. Before they left though, he told them that Malfoy had come to see him.

"He threatened to reveal that Hagrid had a dragon. I was afraid, but I guess now that Dumbledore knows and that Norbert will soon be gone, it doesn't matter."

Indeed, it didn't matter. Hermione could focus more on their courses in the afternoon. Harry still seemed distracted, and she tried to make him focus more. In the evening, Harry joined her in the Great Hall for dinner. He had visited Ron once more. Hermione had not wanted to go with him. She was late in her revisions.

"How is Ronald?" she still asked him.

"Getting better. Madam Pomfrey says he'll be out tomorrow. She doesn't seem happy. She said if we had waited a little longer, Ron might have lost his hand."

That was something Hermione wouldn't wish even for Ronald. "Well, all in all, everything ends good. I mean, Norbert is leaving for Romania, where he will be taken care of. Hagrid is not going to lose his job. Ronald is healing. And we are not expelled. We didn't even get detentions or lose any points."

"I know," Harry said absentmindedly.

"Imagine if we had to organize Norbert's departure ourselves," she continued. "For that, we would need to bring the dragon to one of the highest towers of the castle, then give them to Charlie's men who would attach its box to broomsticks with some magical spells or heavy chains. All that in the middle of the night, with the risk of being caught by Filch or any other professor. And this very night, because we really had no time left. Norbert is way too big now. Waiting would make moving him almost impossible."

Hermione heard loud laughs behind her. She turned to see Slytherins probably sharing some distasteful joke. Draco Malfoy had just joined them.

"I don't really want to talk about that Hermione, if you don't mind," Harry told her so low that it was almost a whisper. She barely heard him herself. Harry really didn't look well.

"Are you alright? You might want to go to the infirmary."

"No, I'm fine," he replied.

"It's not time to get ill, Harry. We have important things to do tonight. We have..." Hermione was about to tell him about their revisions that she had planned. It was important for them to resume now that the story with Norbert and Hagrid was behind them. But Harry didn't let her finish.

"I know!"

She didn't push further. Later in the night, they were both in the common room. Harry was studying next to her, but it was obvious he didn't have his mind on their homework. This caused Hermione to not have her own mind set on them. She finally laid down her book on charms and asked him directly.

"Harry, what's wrong with you?"

He sighed. "I shouldn't have told my mother."

She sighed in return. "Look, Harry. In some way, it was the right thing to do. Because of that, she contacted Dumbledore and he arranged everything. Who knows what would have happened otherwise? Maybe we would all be on detention right now."

In retrospective, Hermione had come to think this was for the better. Even though initially she found Harry stupid for telling Mrs Evans everything, it had come to good results in the end, even if it wasn't the solution they were looking for.

"I guess," he said. "I just... didn't think she would run to Dumbledore on the spot."

Hermione could see that Harry was deeply affected by this. Hermione was close to her parents, but she had quickly realized while befriending him that Harry's relationship with his mother was special. She guessed it was normal, considering she was his only parent still alive, and they both survived He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

The name of Lily Jane Evans Potter was famous. She was mentioned in many history works, often just next to Harry's name. However, it didn't bring the same fame. Harry had been the one to truly defeat the Dark Lord. Lily Potter, although she played a significant role in the battle against him, was mostly known by association. And most people didn't even know her maiden name. Harry said that was why his mother used it today, introducing herself as Lily Evans wherever she went.

Hermione had met her a few times already, when she came to see Harry play Quidditch, and also on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters during the holidays. She spoke with Hermione's parents when she came back to school after Christmas. She seemed like a very kind woman. Hermione didn't forget how she reddened when Mrs Evans told her she was the school's most brilliant student. She was also obviously very close to her son. She could understand how Harry could feel betrayed. He didn't write to her with the intention to have her tell everything to his professor. However, Hermione understood why Mrs Evans did this. After all, she was trying to protect her son.

Harry grumbled. "And it's not only that. You remember what Dumbledore told us, about Snape trying to protect me?"

Of course, she remembered. "Yes. Well, I have to admit, it might make sense. Especially if Dumbledore thinks so. Although I would never have thought this of Snape. I mean, he obviously hates you, Harry. It is as if he had something personal against you."

"I know, but it's not only that. The conversation I heard between him and Quirrell... They really didn't sound like people who were afraid someone else might have found out how to get past Fluffy. Snape was pushing Quirrell to know if he had found a way. He was..."

Harry seemed lost in his thoughts for a moment. Then his mouth opened, and he looked at Hermione. There was a strange glow in his eyes. "Hermione, tell me, the day of the match, Snape was in one of the towers. Did Quirrell happen to be in the same tower?"

Hermione thought about this, trying to remember. She did. "Oh, yes. He was with some other teachers. Snape and Quirrell were there, yes. Why?"

Harry looked away. "The day the troll got inside Hogwarts, it was Quirrell who warned everyone of the troll being in the dungeons. And yet, not long after, he was back on his feet after we neutralized the troll. And McGonagall told him to take care of the troll because he was their expert on trolls."

Quickly, Hermione understood what Harry meant. When she started a fire on Snape's cloak, there was general confusion in the tower where he was. Everyone there who would cast a curse on Harry's broomstick would have lost visual contact.

"You think it was Quirrell who tried to kill you?" Hermione asked.

"And who got this troll inside at Halloween. And Snape would have tried to stop him. That would explain the discussion I heard between them. Snape was not forcing Quirrell to help him. He was trying to dissuade him from stealing the Stone."

"Quirrell? Quirrell?" Hermione repeated the name a few times. "That seems so unlikely. I mean, he's afraid of everything, even his own students. Would he be courageous enough to try to steal the Stone?"

"Maybe he's too afraid of Snape. That's why he may not have tried to steal it again since Halloween. But on the other side... Maybe he and Snape are accomplices. That would also make sense from the conversation I heard. Maybe Quirrell got the troll inside at Halloween to give time to Snape to steal the Stone and they failed. And then Snape tried to kill me at the match."

"Harry, whatever this is, we have to tell Professor Dumbledore."

"You think he's going to believe us?" Hermione realized quite quickly he wouldn't, not after everything that happened today and everything he told them. "If Snape is watching Quirrell and he's only protecting the Stone, then Dumbledore must already know about it. And if Quirrell and Snape work together, then I don't think he's going to believe us if we tell him. He seems certain that Snape is protecting me. To be honest, I don't feel like he's protecting me when he's following me just to find reasons to take points from Gryffindor."

"I understand. I don't trust Snape either. But if we can't tell Dumbledore, what are we going to do?" she asked.

Harry looked at her for a long time before he answered. "I don't know."

Chapter Text

McGONAGALL II

 

Professor Minerva McGonagall was walking towards the Headmaster's Tower. On this Saturday morning, she would usually spend the day correcting her students' homeworks. In this period of preparation for exams, it was even more crucial to dedicate enough time to the correction, but also to the preparation of their homeworks and their courses. She had to ensure that they would be ready for their exams. However, as Head of the Transfiguration department, Head of Gryffindor House and Deputy Headmistress of the school, she had additional duties that sometimes conflicted with her duties as a teacher. She didn't complain about it. She accepted these positions and she fulfilled them the best she could. Still, she sometimes deemed these duties as a loss of time that could be put to better use. Such was the case for the duty she had to fill this morning.

She gave the password to the gargoyle, climbed the staircase, and knocked on the oak door after she ordered the student waiting in front of it to step aside. When Albus Dumbledore told her to come in from the other side, she pushed the door. She wasn't unhappy to meet Albus this morning, but she couldn't say the same about the person already standing in front of his desk. Severus Snape was as welcoming as the little creatures boiling in the flasks of his office.

"Professor McGonagall, thank you for coming," Albus said right away as she walked to his desk and stood next to Snape. "Professor Snape just brought to my attention a matter in which you were involved with one of his students and had some concerns about how it was handled. I hope we can sort this out together."

Why wasn't she surprised? As always, Severus protected the students from his own house. However, she let nothing of that out as she answered Albus. "Of course, Professor Dumbledore. I'm at your disposal."

"Good. So, last night, it is my understanding that you caught Draco Malfoy while he was wandering in the corridors of the school, alone."

"Yes, Professor Dumbledore. And he wasn't the only one. I caught Mr Neville Longbottom doing the same. I have to admit that I didn't expect this from him, but the facts are hard to deny. I removed fifty points from their respective houses and gave them both a detention."

"Mr Longbottom is not the matter here, Headmaster," Snape jumped into the conversation. "It is about Mr Malfoy that I wanted to discuss. This morning, he woke me up very early to tell me a very interesting story about why he was wandering in the corridors at night."

"Ah, are you talking about this rubbish story that our gamekeeper, Rubeus Hagrid, was sheltering a dragon in his hut? And that Mr Potter, Mr Weasley and Miss Granger were trying to help this dragon escape this night by climbing into one of the highest towers of the castle? And giving it to people who would bring the creature somewhere else? He even told me that they would have to attach a huge box to broomsticks to travel with the dragon. Is that what he told you as well?"

"About it," Snape recognized in a very soft voice.

"Well, do we any proof that Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger were indeed trying to smuggle a dragon out of Hogwarts?" the Headmaster asked. Minerva knew Albus well enough to notice that he found the story quite amusing. However, considering the violation of the rules by Malfoy and Longbottom, she couldn't feel as amused as he was.

"I sent Mr Filch to check on the towers," Minerva replied, "and he found nothing. No trace of dragon or of any of the other students Mr Malfoy mentioned."

"In this case, Severus, I'm afraid that Minerva did what she had to do. We cannot let students wander in the school during the middle of the night. You were yourself a very outspoken advocate against this even back when you were a student Severus, remember?"

Severus Snape didn't react, but Minerva knew that he knew what Albus was talking about. Snape was always after James Potter and his friends back when they were students, and he always tried to catch them violating the rules. Sometimes he even succeeded. Reflecting on Malfoy's behavior, perhaps this was why Snape seemed so close of this particular student. However, it changed nothing to the fact that this boy violated the rules and would have to suffer the consequences.

"Professor McGonagall," Albus continued, "you said that Mr Longbottom was also caught wandering in the corridors this night and you gave him the same punishment as Mr Malfoy, is that it?"

"Yes, Professor Dumbledore."

The Headmaster turned to Snape, opened his hands in sign of powerlessness. "Professor Snape, I don't see what I can do. Professor McGonagall caught two students breaking the rules, one from your house, one from her own, and she gave them the same punishment for breaking these rules. I don't see anything wrong with the punishment your student received. He will be in detention, like Mr Longbottom, and that's the end of the story."

"In fact," Severus started, "I was more worried about the story that Mr Malfoy told me. If there is indeed a dragon in Hogwarts, and although it seems unlikely it is not impossible, we should at least listen to what he has to say and verify if there is any truth to his story. He is waiting outside your office right now, Professor Dumbledore. I'm sure you won't mind giving him five minutes of your time."

"As you wish. Make him come in."

Severus turned to the door. It opened the moment he agitated his wand in the air. A young boy with blond hair walked in. McGonagall could tell that he was afraid, but he also displayed an air of superiority, as he always did every time he walked inside her classroom. He stood straight between Minerva and Severus, looking at Professor Dumbledore.

"Professor, I got something to tell you," he said.

"So I heard," Albus said with a voice Minerva was sure he made benevolent on purpose. "I'm listening to you, Draco."

The boy looked to Snape, who encouraged him to speak with a nod. "I saw a dragon in the hut of Hagrid, the gamekeeper, the other day. Potter, Weasley and Granger were with him."

"Just to be clear," Albus interrupted him, "are you talking about Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger, your fellow classmates?"

"Yes, Professor. It was only a baby dragon, but it was a dragon. I can assure you. Weasley is at the infirmary because it bit him. And I heard Granger and Potter discussing about smuggling it out of the school tonight. That's why I was walking in the corridors. I wanted to catch them in the act and bring them to you."

This was about the story Malfoy had told her when she caught him last night. However, he hadn't mentioned the dragon was Hagrid's. Minerva remembered then how Hagrid told her more than once that his greatest dream was to have a dragon. It was strange then that Malfoy would tell about Hagrid having a dragon. Albus had listened to his story and was staring right at him.

"Draco, when did you see the dragon in Hagrid's house?" he asked the Slytherin boy.

"Uh, last week, I think."

"So you've been aware that a dragon was at Hogwarts for over a week. Did you tell any of your professors about it?"

McGonagall watched as all the colors left Draco Malfoy's face. "No, I... I wanted to... I just thought..."

"That you would catch your friends Harry, Ronald and Hermione somehow carrying this dragon or with it, and that they would get into trouble for this? Or you wanted to catch them yourself and do your professors' work by yourself?"

Malfoy recovered some colors at this moment. "I wanted to show you that they knew about it and did nothing."

"Just like you did." Albus had spoken on a very soft tone, but firm as well. And he continued. "Draco, if you indeed saw a dragon in Hagrid's home, you should have told a teacher right away. Dragons are dangerous creatures. Their breeding has been outlawed for centuries. Coming from a great and old family of wizards, I would have expected you to know that, and to take the necessary actions to make sure no one in Hogwarts would get hurt as a result. And the necessary actions in this situation would have been to warn one of your professors right away. And yet, you did nothing."

Draco Malfoy was now stammering without saying any word, shaking, looking at Severus for support. But this time, Severus didn't look eager to defend his favourite student.

"Anyway, Draco, I went to visit Hagrid yesterday. We drank tea together. And I can assure you that there was no dragon to be seen inside while we were enjoying our cup of tea."

"But... that's impossible..." the boy kept stammering.

"Draco, since we have no proof that any dragon was at Hogwarts lately, I'm not going to punish you for something you may have failed to do. And if you're lying, I'm not going to punish you either. You wouldn't be the first student to invent stories in order to avoid detention. However, I do not appreciate it when students try to get other students into trouble, no matter the reasons. I hope you will remember this because the next time it happens, I will not hesitate to remove additional points to your house or to give you additional detention. For this time, you only have a warning and the detention that Professor McGonagall already gave you for wandering without authorization in the corridors at night. I sincerely hope it will not happen again. Professor Snape, you may bring Draco back to Slytherin's common room."

And the discussion was over. Minerva remained with Albus after that. The Headmaster sat heavily in his chair, as if he was tired. "Poor boy. His father filled his mind with ideas of superiority and all he wants is to cause trouble to the others who he thinks are inferior to him when they are not in trouble already," he said.

Indeed, Minerva felt somewhat sorry for the young Draco as well. She compared him to Harry, who grew up with a loving mother who did her best to make him a good and responsible boy. Or to Miss Granger, who may not have been prepared for Hogwarts but was raised by loving parents as well. Or Mr Weasley, a pure-blood wizard who wasn't raised with ideas of blood superiority. Or even Neville Longbottom, who despite being raised by a strict grandmother and being the clumsiest student she had in years, was a good boy nonetheless. He had heard Malfoy talking to his friends about how he would catch Harry, Mr Weasley and Miss Granger while they smuggled a dragon out of the castle, and he was only trying to help his friends. Still, he broke the rules, just as Malfoy, and Minerva couldn't show favoritism, no matter how sorry she felt for the boy and his parents. In some way though, she was proud of Neville. She thought Frank and Alive would have been proud of the boy. Even if he broke the rules, even as clumsy as he was, he was just trying to help his friends. His intentions were pure, to the opposite of Draco's. Minerva just wished he didn't believe Malfoy with his story of dragons. If that was indeed a story.

"Albus, is there something you haven't told us?" Minerva asked him.

"What is it that you think I didn't tell you?" he asked, a surprised expression on his face.

"You said that when you visited Hagrid, there was no dragon to be seen. You didn't say there was no dragon at all. And we both know how Hagrid always wanted a dragon. I don't see how Draco Malfoy could have known about this."

Albus had an amused smile, and Minerva knew right away that she had gotten it right somehow. "Minerva, sometimes it is better to not know everything. Just know that whatever problems there might have been, I took care of them. Our students are safe, so is Hagrid."

She nodded. She didn't wish any hill to Hagrid either. "Is it true that Mr Weasley ended up to the infirmary?"

"According to Madam Pomfrey, Weasley told her he was bitten by a dog. He left the infirmary this morning and she assured me that he will keep no sequels of this injury."

Minerva was a little worried that one of her own students, from her own house, was injured in the story. But if Albus had taken care of it... "Well, I guess that everything ends well."

"Yes. You know, Minerva, sometimes we must... interpret rules in the spirit in which they were instituted or in which they should be applied today, instead of the way they were written. Or else, rules and laws can become the source of injustice, instead of being the way to deal with it. You bent the rules yourself when you allowed the young Harry to join Gryffindor's Quidditch team, remember?"

She allowed a smile to cross her lips. She sat down once Albus had invited her with a movement of his hand. "I never saw so much raw talent and potential in a student. It seemed like a crime to not get him onto the team."

"Indeed. And judging from the results of his first two games, you were more than right to do so."

Yes, indeed. Minerva had been proud the two times Harry Potter caught the Golden Snitch this year, despite the accident with his broomstick in the first game and Snape refereeing the second. She felt that he had a long career ahead of him.

"Albus, just reassure me. There is actually no dragon on the school's grounds?"

"You are lucky, Minerva. I can assure you, there are many things at Hogwarts, but there is no dragon."

Minerva closed her eyes and took a deep breath in relief. "And can you assure me that Mr Potter, Mr Weasley and Miss Granger were not wandering in the school's corridors last night?"

"Mr Weasley was in the infirmary, Minerva. I believe that Madam Pomfrey will be able to confirm this to you."

"And what about Mr Potter and Miss Granger," she asked, a little worried of the answer she would get.

"I cannot talk for them because I wasn't in their dormitory that night, but I can tell you they had no reason to carry a dragon to one of the castle's highest towers."

Minerva supposed she could take this as a confirmation they were indeed not in the corridors. She returned to her work afterwards, glad that this topic was behind her.

Next morning on Sunday, the Professor McGonagall allowed herself a break for the morning before she returned to work in the afternoon. She used this free time wisely. With the help of some Floo powder, she emerged into the living room of another witch.

The place was filled with boxes and packs that were not open, and piles of books and parchments laid everywhere on the table of the living room. This place had obviously not been occupied for a long time.

Someone emerged from another room, a wand pointed at Minerva, but she lowered it the moment she saw her former teacher. "Oh, Professor McGonagall. I had forgotten you were coming," Lily apologized.

"I also get the impression that you forgot to unpack after you moved," Minerva commented while looking around.

"It's very recent. And with my training as an Auror, I don't have much time to unpack boxes." She waved her wand, and the table was freed in an instant, books and parchments flying towards a corner of the living room and another small table.

"How is it going, by the way?"

"To be honest, I feel like I'm back into your classroom in my first year," she said while sitting down. "You can sit."

McGonagall didn't need to be offered twice. "In this case, you must be the best student of their training program."

Lily made a dry laugh. "I'm not so sure."

McGonagall looked at her. She looked definitely tired despite the fact they were on Sunday. Beginning the training program for Aurors while moving certainly didn't leave much time to rest. Minerva had seen far too many students experiencing a breakdown, especially among those who were about to make their O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s. Lily never had this problem. It wasn't for nothing that she was named Head Girl in her last year. However, everyone had limits, sooner or later.

"Do you realize that I am more than ten years older than much of the people I train with?" Lily added.

"It was to be expected. I suppose they look up at you."

"If only it was just that. I'm beginning to get a better idea of what Harry must be experiencing at Hogwarts. People whisper behind my back wherever I go. Not only the other trainees, but also the Aurors and their staff, and other people who I cross when I come to the Ministry of Magic. News of my participation to the Auror training program went around the Ministry in no time."

"It was to be expected. You knew it would happen once you came back in our world," Minerva said, trying to be as kind as she could.

"Of course. I just guess... it would be more normal, after all these years. That dust would have settled."

"It will take a very long time. There is a lot of dust."

Lily nodded. "You want some tea?"

"Of course." Lily waved her hand and tea began to prepare itself. "I see you have no more reluctance at using magic for your daily tasks."

"It's safer here. And with my training, I don't really have time to do it the traditional way." The cups came to rest in front of them. Minerva took a sip of it. Lily then asked the question Minerva expected her to ask among all the others she could have. "How is Harry? We barely spent time together during the Easter holidays. I was buried in my training and the preparations for the move, and he was buried into his homework as well."

"You know how preparations for exams are at Hogwarts."

"Yes, I know. At least, we got a chance to spend some last time in our old apartment." She sighed and looked away. "I'm going to miss this place. I already miss it, when I have time to miss it."

Minerva nodded at this. She understood how Lily felt. She sometimes missed the cottage she shared with her husband in Hogsmeade. The three years she spent with Elphinstone there were the happiest of her life. After his death, Minerva moved back to Hogwarts. She never went back to the cottage, doing everything she could to avoid it when she went to Hogsmeade. Still, she missed the place.

"Sometimes, I worry that Harry will drive me mad instead of all this," Lily said while pointing the new place where she lived around her. "This story with the dragon..."

So, as Minerva thought, there was a dragon at school. Really, what was Hagrid thinking again? "I can reassure you. The Professor Dumbledore took care of everything. Your son has nothing to worry about."

"Good. Sometimes, I feel like he's looking for trouble like his father."

That, Minerva remembered it too well. "So far, I would say the troubles have been looking for him, not the opposite."

"Well, that's not to make me feel safer about him. Do you think he will do well at his exams?"

"He is a conscientious and serious student. I think that as long as he doesn't spend too much time with Mr Weasley and he spends more with Miss Granger, he's not in danger of failing them."

"Mr Weasley? You're talking about Ronald?" Minerva nodded. "I know him. He spent the Christmas holidays here. He gave me the impression to be a good boy, although he doesn't understand half the things the Muggles are using, and he's a little slow to get out of bed in the morning. I know his mother too. I met her on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters and at Quidditch games."

Well, Ronald Weasley was clearly no different at home than he was at school. "He's not as troublesome as are his twin brothers, that I must say," Minerva acknowledged.

"By the way, Minerva..." The said Minerva was surprised. It was rare that Lily Evans would call her by her first name. "Feel free to not answer if you want. I know you don't like prying into the lives of your students. But this Hermione Granger... What can you tell me about her?"

"A very brilliant student. Very serious, first of her class, best results in every subject, always with the right answer to any question. Born from Muggle parents, just like you."

Lily smiled. She knew that from Minerva, unlike many other wizards, it was meant as a compliment. "Did you... Did you notice anything between her and my son?" All of a sudden, Minerva felt very awkward. "I mean, he talks a lot about her in his letters, and they spend a lot of time together. And she's quite pretty..."

"Lily, you know I don't pry in the private lives of my students. They spend a lot of time together, that I can tell you, but I have never seen anything suggesting more than friendship between them." Of course, Minerva didn't see or know everything. The two could be more than friends. "What I can tell you though is that... if they do have some sort of romantic feelings, they never behaved inappropriately about it, neither in the classroom or in the corridors or in the Great Hall. Their behavior is without reproach on that front." She was glad when she was done answering. She never felt comfortable discussing that kind of things.

Lily wiped her forehead with her hand, though she wasn't sweating. "I must be overprotective. He's only eleven. It's just... I think he's growing more quickly than I thought, and I have the impression that I'm missing things with him."

"I'm sure that if Harry ever has a girlfriend one day, you will be the first person he will tell," she tried to reassure Lily.

"Probably. He seems to be telling me everything sometimes. He even told me about the dragon and the Philosopher's Stone." It was good thing that Lily was looking away at this moment, for she didn't notice Minerva's obvious reaction. "I can't believe Dumbledore is keeping this kind of thing in a school. Sometimes, I feel like Harry and even James was more responsible than he is."

They discussed for a little while longer, Minerva trying to hide how surprised she was at the news that Harry Potter had discovered the presence of the Philosopher's Stone inside Hogwarts. Like Lily pointed out herself, Harry Potter didn't seem to be going after troubles, but he didn't seem to be trying hard enough to avoid them either.

Chapter Text

HARRY VI

 

Harry didn't know how he managed to get through the exams of his first year at Hogwarts. Hermione, on the other hand, would say after this period was over that they were finally refreshing. Ron, on the opposite, said he would make nightmares until the beginning of their second year.

Ron and Hermione had gotten closer during the story with Norbert, but after it was over and they focused on preparing the exams, everything came back to normal. Both got on each other's nerves, and Harry's attempts to reconcile them all failed. In the end, he revised with each individually, one after the other. Harry advanced more in his revisions with Hermione, but they were more fun with Ron. When the exams were finally over, he was relieved. However, it didn't mean that his mind was put to ease. The reassurances of Professor Dumbledore left him with more questions than answers. Harry was no longer sure if it was Snape or Quirrell who was trying to steal the Philosopher's Stone, or if they were accomplices, or even if both were trying to steal the stone on their own and they were opponents. There was even another possibility that had come to Harry's mind about a week before the exams began. He was coming back from the library when he heard Quirrell's voice coming from a nearby classroom.

"No. No. Not again, please." Harry had approached the door to better hear him. "All right. All right."

Professor Quirrell had then run out of the classroom, his hands on his turban. He was crying, and pale. He didn't notice Harry as he ran the other way. Harry had then looked into the classroom, only to find it empty. There was a door that was barely opened on the other side, but when Harry looked into it, it was empty as well.

When he had told Ron, he just said that Quirrell was afraid of everyone, and he didn't want to discuss about it when Harry said it could be about the Philosopher's Stone, saying it wasn't their business. Harry then told Hermione who, despite being so busy with preparing her exams, accepted to discuss it.

"There was really no one in the room?" she had asked.

"No one. It was as if he was talking to himself," Harry explained.

"Strange. Perhaps there is a secret passage in that classroom, and whoever Quirrell was talking to left by using it."

"Maybe. But I only heard Quirrell speak. It was as if someone was threatening him. I really have the feeling that he was alone in this classroom though."

"Harry, he must have been talking to someone. Or else, he's mad and he was talking to himself, perhaps imagining that Snape was threatening him once more."

What Hermione said made sense, but Harry couldn't shake the feeling that there had been someone else threatening Quirrell for real. And something was telling him that it wasn't Snape who did the threats this time.

He didn't have much time to think about it though as they had their exams. Even more bothering was the throbbing pain at his forehead, where his scar was. It had happened before, but never at this scale and never so often in such a short period. He had gone to Madam Pomfrey, but the Healer could not find the cause of the pain. She gave him a potion that was supposed to reduce the pain, but it met no success. The pain came back and forth.

Now the exams were over. Most students were wandering through the park aimlessly, enjoying freedom after weeks of torture. Harry and Ron were among those. Hermione had wanted to go through their exam papers, like after every exam, but Harry wasn't feeling like it and he got outside with Ron instead. They laid under a tree near the lake, stretching out in the grass. Ron looked like he was in paradise. Harry wished he could feel the same. His scar kept itching and he rubbed it all the time.

"Finally, it's over," Ron said, yawning in relief. "No need to memorize every article of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy of 1692. I can't even believe I remember the date!"

Harry would have laughed without his damn scar. He rubbed it more vigorously, but it wouldn't go.

"You could look more cheerful, Harry. We've got a whole week before we find out how badly we've done. There's no need to worry yet."

"My scar keeps hurting me. It's happened before, but never as often as this," Harry complained.

"I thought Madam Pomfrey gave you something for this."

"It's not working."

"Go back and see her again. Tell her about it."

"I don't think she'll have a solution. It's been itching ever since I heard this conversation between Quirrell and... whoever it was he spoke with."

Ron grumbled. "Not this again! Come on, Harry. Fluffy is guarding that stone. And Dumbledore said that we shouldn't worry about it. Even Hermione agreed that we should stop meddling with this. For once, I agree with her."

Harry stood up. "I'm going to see her. Maybe she can help me with that problem." He pointed his forehead and proceeded to leave.

"Be careful. She'll try to have you review our questionnaires with her," Ron shouted as Harry walked away.

The itching subsided. It was tempting to go back with Ron and enjoy the sun of late afternoon, but Harry knew it would just come back. He needed to speak to someone, and Hermione was much more receptive to talking about the Stone than Ron was. However, even she was of the opinion that if Dumbledore said the Philosopher's Stone was well protected, they had nothing to worry about. She even told Harry that only Dumbledore and Hagrid knew how to get past Fluffy, and neither of them would ever talk about it.

Harry knew he shouldn't worry. He was almost fed up that people reminded him of this all the time. Even his mother, when she finally replied to his letter where he talked about Norbert and his suspicions on Snape, told him to stay away from anything related to the Philosopher's Stone. However, Harry couldn't help but feel he had to care about it. Whoever it was who wanted to steal the Stone, whether it was Quirrell, Snape or both, or even someone else, had tried to kill him, and let a troll inside the castle who could have killed him and Hermione. Harry didn't trust anybody ready to kill with the power of this stone. His first Quidditch match had almost been the last. The last game of the season, against Ravenclaw, was approaching, but even this and the practices in prevision for this game couldn't get the Stone out of his mind.

As he crossed the park, his eyes fell on Hagrid's hut. He saw him sitting in an armchair outside. He looked like he was squeezing something. Harry knew that Hermione was right. Hagrid would never betray Dumbledore. Even Snape could not get past the three-headed dog at Halloween, and Hagrid would never tell anybody how to get past it. Harry hoped that Hagrid would be as stubborn in keeping this secret as he was stubborn about keeping Norbert. Only Dumbledore could convince him to...

Harry stopped in his track, and he looked at Hagrid again from afar. Hagrid, who always dreamed to have a dragon, and out of nowhere, he met someone and played cards with him, and this someone happened to have a dragon's egg on him. Harry rushed towards the hut. The distance wasn't that far, so he was there in no time. Hagrid smiled at him when Harry stopped in front of him.

"Hello. You finished your exams? Got time for a drink?"

"Hagrid, I've got to ask you something. That stranger from who you got Norbert? What did he look like?"

"I don't know. I never saw his face. He never took his cloak off."

Harry thought this was no good. This person, whether it was Snape, Quirrell or anyone else who might have been working with them, didn't want to show who he was.

"It's not unusual," Hagrid said, probably by seeing Harry's face. "You get a lot of funny folks in the Hog's Head. It's the pub where I played cards that night. He might have been a dragon dealer, after all. No wonder he wanted to hide his face."

"He... He didn't remind you of anybody? He didn't look familiar at all?"

"No. I don't see why he should have been."

"What did you talk about with him?"

"Oh, many things. We spent quite a lot of time playing at the same table. But we talked a lot about my work. I'm the gamekeeper, after all, and he had a dragon on him. He was very interested in what I was doing, the kind of creatures I would take care of. We drank a lot. When he showed me the egg, he wanted to make sure that I would be able to take care of it as well. So I told him about the various creatures I worked with."

"Did you talk about Fluffy?"

"Oh, yeah, of course, we talked about Fluffy. I told him about how I raised him. A dragon certainly didn't seem more difficult for him because it was after we talked about Fluffy that he gave me the egg."

"Did he seem interested in Fluffy?"

"Of course, he was. There aren't many three-headed dogs we can meet in the world, even if we work with magical creatures. But I told him that with beasts, the trick is to know how to calm them down. Fluffy, for example. We just play him a bit of music and he'll go straight to sleep..."

Harry was horrified. "You told him that?"

Hagrid must have looked just as horrified as Harry was. "I shouldn't have told you that! Forget I said it! Hey! Where are you going?"

Harry was already running back to the castle. He had to see Dumbledore. Whoever was trying to steal the Stone, he now knew how to get past Fluffy. He ran like hell, causing many people in the park to stare at him on his way. He had to see Professor Dumbledore. But where was his office? When Harry got inside the castle, he realized he had no idea where his office may be. The castle was almost empty. All students were outside, enjoying the end of exams. How was he going to find Dumbledore?

But then, he thought about when Hagrid told them about the professors who helped protect the Stone. He just had to find one. Harry's choice went to the first name that came to his mind. He ran to the Transfiguration classroom as fast as he could, again meeting nearly no one in the corridors. The castle felt so empty around him. He thought that if someone wanted to get under the trapdoor, now would be a perfect time. He didn't knock at the door when he arrived. He almost broke through it. He was lucky. Professor McGonagall was there. She was writing something at her desk and raised her eyes from it the moment Harry burst into the room, panting, out of breath.

"Mr Potter? What are you doing here? Have you been running away from the Forbidden Forest or what?" she asked, looking at him oddly.

"Professor McGonagall. I'm sorry. I need to speak to the Professor Dumbledore."

She looked at him suspiciously. "The Professor Dumbledore is a very busy man, Potter. If you want to tell him something, you can tell me."

Harry thought about it for a moment. It was to Dumbledore he needed to talk, but after all McGonagall was Head of Gryffindor House, and among the people who helped to protect the stone.

"It's about the Philosopher's Stone," he finally let out.

Her face became very serious all of a sudden. She waved her wand and the door of the classroom shut down. "Really, Potter? You have a gift for getting involved in things that don't concern you." She sounded exasperated.

"Professor, I think someone is trying to steal it."

She sighed. "Look, Potter, I don't know how you managed to discover that the Stone was at Hogwarts, but I can assure you that it is very well protected. No one could possibly steal it."

"But Professor..."

"Potter, please. You already had more than enough trouble this year. I know you never tried to get into these troubles, so please don't start now. If someone tries to steal the Stone, I can promise you that he will fail. You don't have to worry about it. And it is not your place to worry about it." She waved her wand again. The door reopened. "I suggest you go back outside and enjoy the sunshine. Your exams are over."

Harry understood that she wouldn't listen anymore. Her face said so. Reluctantly, he walked out. But before he left the room, she added something.

"Anyway, Mr Potter, even if I wanted to let you see the Headmaster, I couldn't. Dumbledore left ten minutes ago for London."

He turned to her. "What? He's gone?"

"Yes. He received an urgent owl from the Ministry of Magic and flew off for London at once."

Harry wanted to say something, but McGonagall's stare told him she wouldn't hear anything else. So he left. Dumbledore was gone. The castle was almost empty. He hurried to the Gryffindor's common room. He wasn't surprised to find Hermione there, but he was surprised to find Ron as well. He would have thought he was still by the lake. In the meantime, his scar kept itching again.

"Harry, are you alright? You look pale," Ron said.

Apparently, Ron was worried about him and went to the common room to check on him, but only found Hermione. Harry told them everything he just learned, from what Hagrid told the stranger who gave him the dragon's egg to what McGonagall told him.

"You mean that Snape..." Ron began.

".. Or Quirrell, or whoever is trying to steal that stone knows how to get past Fluffy now," Harry summarized. "And since someone tried to steal the Stone at Gringotts during summer and didn't get caught, we can guess he can get through all the other protection spells the professors put into place," Harry completed.

"But you told McGonagall. Surely she will take precautions," Hermione said. "I mean, she is Deputy Headmistress. It's her who is managing Hogwarts when Dumbledore isn't here."

"Perhaps, but I would feel better if Dumbledore himself was there. Don't you find it a big coincidence that he gets called away right at the moment the corridors of the school are empty, and someone finally knows how to get through that dog? Furthermore, McGonagall wasn't very receptive. I didn't even get the chance to tell her that someone knew Fluffy's weakness."

"Well, Harry you must go and tell her then. Right now."

"I don't think she's going to listen to me anyway. And we don't have any proof."

"Well, there doesn't seem to be much you can do it about it," Ron said. "I mean, if the professors put protections into place..."

"Ron, whoever is trying to steal that stone, he tried to kill me. He managed to curse my broomstick, and even Hagrid says only dark magic can do it. If Snape was indeed trying to save me, then both his and my mother's combined efforts failed to cancel the curse. And he managed to get into a vault at Gringotts and to get out unnoticed. This is supposed to be impossible. You really think that some spells cast by the professors are going to stop him? And when this person gets the Stone, what will he do? We already know that he's willing to kill to get it. I don't know about you, but I don't want to see the Philosopher's Stone in the hands of someone like that."

"Harry may not be wrong," Hermione conceded. "And with Dumbledore gone... It's very likely that they will take action tonight. Maybe we could tell Snape? After all, if he's really just trying to protect the Stone..." she started to suggest.

"No, we can't. We cannot trust Snape. Anyway, the way he is, I don't think he would believe us any more than McGonagall did."

"That's an understatement," Ron said. "He would probably remove additional points from Gryffindor only because you made him lose his time. And that is if he wasn't the one trying to kill you at the Quidditch game. And I'm quite sure it was him. You saw him, Hermione, didn't you?"

They looked at each other. They were really out of options. Harry then stood up.

"Where are you going, Harry?" Hermione asked.

"To the third floor. I'll check if McGonagall added new protections. It's the least I can do," he answered as he walked out of the common room.

The corridors were still mostly empty. There were a few students there and there, especially younger ones, closer to Harry's age, who went to bed early and who could not stay in the corridors for too late. Harry quickly arrived at the forbidden corridor. The place around it seemed totally normal, with no one at the horizon. So McGonagall put no one to guard the door leading to Fluffy. Harry approached it, to see if anything had been done to reinforce the protection of the Stone, if only a spell to block the door more efficiently. He was nearing the door when a familiar voice resonated behind him.

"Potter!" Professor McGonagall was there, and she forced Harry to walk back towards her. Reluctantly, Harry did so. "Really? I'll start believing that you're looking after troubles just like your father."

"Professor, I just wanted..." he tried to say, she cut him immediately.

"You really think that you're harder to get through than a pack of enchantments!" The Professor sighed. She seemed to calm down a little. "Look, whatever your intentions were when you came here, this is none of your business. I don't want to see you anywhere near this door again. If you come back, I'll remove points from Gryffindor and place you in detention, if that's what it takes to keep you away from all this. Now come. I'll accompany you back to your common room. And I order you to not leave it until next morning."

Harry didn't have much choice. He followed Professor McGonagall. He didn't even try to tell her about the stranger who had learned things about Fluffy from Hagrid. She would probably not listen to him. She walked in silence next to him until they arrived in front of the portrait of the fat woman. McGonagall gave the password and watched Harry as he walked in. Then the portrait closed behind and Harry was prisoner of Gryffindor's common room. He never thought of this place like a prison, but now he did. Ron and Hermione rushed at him the moment the portrait was closed.

"And?" Hermione asked.

"There's nothing more. McGonagall caught me and brought me back here. She believes their spells are going to be sufficient to protect the Stone," Harry said, trying to speak low enough that no one else in the common room would hear him.

"That was a good try," Ron said. "I guess there's nothing else we can do now."

"Yes, there is." Harry had taken the decision while McGonagall was walking him back to the common room. "I'm going under the trapdoor tonight. I'll try to get to the Stone first."

"You're mad!" Ron said.

"You can't, Harry!" Hermione added. It was strange to see Ron and Hermione agreeing.

"What other choice do I have? I can't have someone who tried to kill me and other people get the Stone. Imagine what he could do if he becomes immortal or can produce as much gold as he wants."

"But Harry... It's too dangerous," Hermione said, horrified.

"More dangerous that letting that person use the Stone? I'm going there tonight. Don't try to stop me."

He went to the dormitory. Neither Ron nor Hermione followed him. There he did one last thing before he went to Fluffy. As he looked to Hedwig taking flight, he realized that maybe it would be the last time he would see his owl. Harry knew the spells protecting the Stone had to be powerful. Dumbledore and the other professors certainly made sure they were after the failed burglary at Gringotts. There wouldn't be much chance for him to get to the Stone. But he would try. Up to now, the person who tried to steal the Stone let a troll enter Hogwarts, cursed Harry's broomstick and gave Hagrid a dragon's egg. All actions that could have dire consequences. They were lucky no one was gravely injured or killed. The next time, once this man got the Stone, they wouldn't be so lucky. He thought of all the people who told him to stay away from this for his own safety. Dumbledore. McGonagall. Ron. Hermione. Even his mother. But he couldn't stay away this time, not with Dumbledore gone and the other professors unwilling to believe him when he said the Stone was in danger.

Once night had fallen and he was sure that everyone was sleeping in the dormitory, Harry slipped out of his bed and went down the stairs in the common room... only to find Ron and Hermione waiting for him.

"Don't try to stop me," Harry warned them.

"We will not," Hermione said. She looked at Ron, then back to Harry. "We thought and talked about this. We're coming with you."

Harry didn't expect this. He looked to Ron, who strangely looked very determined this time. "We're not letting you go alone. You won't hold a single minute if you're alone. With us, at least you got a shot."

He looked at both of them. He felt emotions submerging him. "You don't have to do this."

"We're in this together," said Hermione, just as determined as Ron was.

Finally, Harry agreed. But before they went in the corridors, Harry left the common room the first. He made sure no one was watching, just in case McGonagall had placed a sentinel near Gryffindor's common room to make sure Harry would stay in bed that night. He shouldn't have told her about his suspicions. He would not have attracted as much attention. When he was sure there was no one, he made a sign to Ron and Hermione to follow him. They walked through the corridors, very careful to not make any noise that might alert Filch, Mrs Norris or anyone else. By chance, they met no one. There was no Malfoy this time who warned Filch about students being out during the night.

When they neared the door giving on Fluffy, Harry asked his friends to stop again.

"I'll get close to the door first," he whispered. "If I'm caught, go back to the common room. No need for the three of us to get detention."

They let him go ahead. Harry almost expected McGonagall to appear out of nowhere like earlier today, but she did not. The place really looked empty. He indicated to Ron and Hermione that the way was free. With a Alohomora, they unlocked the door. Before Harry opened the door, he looked at his two best friends in the world.

"Last chance. You know you don't have to follow."

"We do!" they both answered in unison. Had the situation been different, Harry would have laughed to see them so synchronized. He took from his pocket the wooden flute that Hagrid gave him for Christmas.

"Let's go then."

He opened the door. Harry, Ron and Hermione entered the forbidden corridor together, ready to face everything the protection spells would throw at them. They were ready to sacrifice everything to get to the Stone first.

Chapter Text

HERMIONE III

 

That's chess. You've got to make some sacrifices.

The words echoed in Hermione's mind as the white queen slowly moved towards Ron. She stopped one square in front of the knight. For a moment that seemed like eternity, she did nothing. Then she drew her sword and plunged it deep into the horse. Ron screamed and fell on the chessboard. Hermione screamed as well. She never thought she could scream like this. The white queen then pushed both Ron and the horse he had been riding to the side.

All her body, her mind, her heart wanted to move, but it was as if her legs were made of stone. She watched in horror as Ron lied on the ground, unmoving. Was he... dead? She barely noticed Harry was moving, as Ron had ordered him. Only when the white king dropped his crown did she realize the world kept turning while her eyes were locked on Ron.

She jumped at the huge shock of the crown hitting the floor as the other pieces of chess sided away. The door to the next room was right in front of them. But Hermione couldn't bring her legs to move.

"Hermione." She turned to Harry, who was looking just as desperate as she was. "We have to go. We'll come back as soon as we have the Stone."

Yes, she knew it was the priority. Preventing Snape or whoever it was who wanted the Stone from taking it. Even Ron agreed with that. He told them to not linger here after they checkmated the king. Hermione cast one last gaze to Ron, swearing to herself that she would come back as quickly as possible. Then she looked at Harry, they both nodded in understanding and ran towards the door.

She knew that it was dangerous to come here. Ron knew it as well. Harry knew it too. He was ready to go in alone to not risk any other life than his own. But if it was something to believe that they might not all come back alive from this, experiencing it was completely different. Hermione was used to live in books, where only theory mattered. In a classroom, she was the best, but even when she didn't succeed at her first attempt, she could try again. This time was different. One spell mispronounced, a wrong movement of the wand, and they could all die. Worse, they had decisions to take, decisions that didn't involve magic, and they could die as a result of them just as well.

The door gave way to a long passage. Harry tried to say Ron would be fine, but Hermione felt he was trying to convince himself as much as he was trying to convince her. Ron was his friend. He wasn't Hermione's. Wasn't he? She knew that Harry got to be more affected than she was. She thought it was a miracle that they both could go forward while leaving Ron behind and still be able to stand up.

They reached another door and pushed it, only to be met with a nauseous smell. They coughed and tried to protect their mouths and noses with their hands and robes, but the odor was unbearable. It was also vaguely familiar.

"Look!"

Harry just pointed the floor, where a huge troll, larger than the one they faced at Halloween, was lying on its face, blood coming out of his head.

"Quickly, let's leave this place," Hermione said.

"Quirrell is an expert on trolls. That must be the obstacle he put. I wouldn't be surprised if he's the one who killed it."

"That wouldn't surprise me either ," she said between two coughs. "The Devil's Snare must have been placed by Professor Sprout, and the flying keys were certainly Flitwick's work. McGonagall probably installed the chessboard. And Hagrid gave them Fluffy." They pushed the next door and closed it behind them quickly. Hermione breathed deeply in relief. "There is only Snape's spell left now."

"And Dumbledore's," Harry completed.

They both looked ahead of them to see what their next challenge would be, but there was only a table with all sorts of bottles of different shapes on it. It didn't take long though for the room to reveal some of its surprises. Fire appeared and covered the doors, both the one they came from and the one ahead of them, probably the last door before the place where the Philosopher's Stone was being kept. The fire was purple and black, clearly magic in nature. Hermione then spotted something on the table, next to the bottles. A roll of paper.

"Look!" She took it and read it very quickly. She smiled. Luck was on their side for this last obstacle.

"Hermione? What is it?" Harry asked.

"It's not magic. It's logic. A puzzle. Many great wizards have no ounce of logic. They would be stuck here forever."

"And you believe we won't? If we manage to solve this riddle?"

"Of course. Look, there are seven bottles. Three are poisons, two are wine, one will get us safely to the next room and another one will bring us back to the previous room."

"Okay," Harry said, now reading more carefully the roll. "So we just need to guess which bottle contains what and remain away from those with poison."

"Guess?" Hermione asked. She was offended that Harry might think this way. "We're not going to guess, Harry. We're going to discover which bottles to take. Everything we need is on this paper."

"Okay," Harry said, his hands raised in sign of peace. "So, we have seven bottles. If I read correctly, there is poison on the left of each bottle of wine. Those at both ends are different. So they can't be both wine or poison. But if you move onwards, neither is your friend. What does that mean?"

"I'm not sure," Hermione said. "Perhaps the second and sixth bottles are both poisons. But it could also mean that neither are what we need to get to the next door. Then we know that neither the biggest nor the smallest bottle contains poison. Then it says the second and sixth are the same."

"I guess this answers my question," Harry said. "But that doesn't tell us which one will allow us to go forward."

"Give me a minute," Hermione said.

She re-read the enigma a few times. Harry did too. He was trying to solve the puzzle just like her. Sometimes he tried to say something, but Hermione raised her hand to shut him up. She needed all her mind focused on solving this problem.

"I have it," she said after a long moment. "The smallest bottle will bring us to the Stone."

Harry looked at it. "It's very small. And it seems someone already drank it. We may not be the first to be here. Snape or Quirrell must be on the other side."

That was what Hermione feared the most. If she and Harry could have taken the Stone first and brought it back with them, everything could have gone well. But if someone was on the other side on the fire, it was more problematic.

"There's not enough for two people to get through," Hermione realized. She now wished that she didn't think aloud, for Harry spoke immediately.

"I'll take it. Take the bottle that allows you to go back on your steps. Get back and bring Ron back to the castle. The brooms in the flying-key room will get you out of the trapdoor."

"But Harry, you can't face Quirrell or Snape alone," she protested. "And what if both of them are here?"

"Go to the owlery and send a message to Dumbledore. If I fail, he might be able to stop the thief. If we both go and we die, Ron is doomed as well, and Dumbledore might not know about this until it's too late."

Hermione saw that there was no way of talking Harry out of it. He would go. He had already grabbed the right bottle.

She rushed to him and pulled him into a tight embrace, tears threatening to break. "Be careful, Harry."

"Okay, I will be."

"You're a great wizard, you know."

"Not as good as you," he said, as she broke their embrace.

"Everything I learn is in books, Harry. It's knowledge, nothing more. There are far more important things. That's why you're my friend. That's why I'm in Gryffindor and not in Ravenclaw. You're brave. And you're a good friend. Be careful."

He nodded. "You first."

She took the right bottle to come back and drank it. It tasted like icy water. It was definitely not wine. And she didn't think it was poison for she was still alive.

"It's not poison?" Harry asked, worried.

"No. It's like ice."

"Quickly, before it wears off."

"Good luck, Harry."

"GO! NOW!"

She rushed to the door they came from and got through the fire. The flames licked her body, but she felt nothing. She was back in the room with the horrible smell. She opened her eyes just enough to see the troll again. No mistake, she drank the right one. She hoped she made no mistake and Harry got the right bottle as well. She looked back to Snape's challenge, which she couldn't see since the door was closed again. Hermione ran, hoping that Harry would be fine. She was on the chessboard in no time. It was still half in ruins. She rushed to Ron, who still looked unconscious. Unless he was dead.

Hermione felt his pulse. She sighed in relief. His heart was beating. Ron was still alive. She shook him. "Ron. Ron!"

No reaction. She thought about a certain way to reanimate him that was common among Muggles. She had seen her parents perform it sometimes to save lives. But even in her desperate state, Hermione couldn't bring herself to do this. Ron was still alive, after all. She shook him a little more, without results. So she put one of his arms around her shoulders and proceeded to drag him to the exit.

It was very hard. Ronald was taller than she was, and bigger too. He ate way too much during feasts, and not only during feasts. She progressed very slowly. She gave him blows in his ribs, hoping it would wake him up, again without results. She struggled under his weight. He really was a glutton. How many times did she see him eat and she was disgusted?

"Look," she told him as they reached the room of the flying keys. "I know we're not the best of friends. And what you did on that chessboard was stupid. Stupid but courageous. Now I understand why the Hat sent you to Gryffindor. Know this, however, you stupid fool. I'll never forgive myself if you don't survive. I'll think about you and your death for the rest of my days. And I don't want that. I don't want to think about you for the rest of my life. Not in this way. Harry needs us both. So you better wake up and help save your life."

She hit him in the ribs again, to no effect. Hermione was without breath. She tried to take the broomsticks, but she couldn't carry Ronald and two brooms at the same time. So she continued on her way, only with the unmoving body of Ron, almost carrying him on her back. They reached the room with the Devil's Snare. It was there, right in front of them.

"Lumos!" Hermione said.

Her wand, which she barely managed to get out with Ron's weight on her shoulders, illuminated the place, stopping the plant from attacking them. She couldn't see the trapdoor up their heads. It was certainly closed after they got through.

Hermione laid Ron against the wall, staying close to him so that the Devil's Snare wouldn't approach any of them. She was sweating and breathing heavily. There was no way out. She couldn't drag Ronald on a broomstick. She was already not very talented at flying, so flying with a dead weight...

She wished she hadn't thought that. Ron sacrificed himself for them. Just like Harry was ready to sacrifice himself to save her at Halloween and she was ready to do anything to save him at his Quidditch game, Ron had been ready to do the ultimate sacrifice. She cried. What was she going to do? Harry was alone, facing... someone. She had no idea. Maybe he was dead. And Ron? What if she couldn't get him out of here?

She had to focus. She had to find a way out of here. The logical choice would have been to abandon Ron and fly away. This way, one of them would be assured to survive. She might even get help, maybe from Dumbledore himself, to save Ron, and maybe Harry too. But she couldn't bring herself to abandon Ron alone, here, with the Devil's Snare close. She could bring him back to the room of the flying keys, but it would take time. And time was precious right now.

She had made up her decision to return on her steps with Ron and to fly up in order to get help, but before she could proceed with her plan, the trapdoor opened. She heard a melodious sound coming up from the ceiling. Then a small figure fell from it, and a blazing white light appeared at this moment. It filled the room with a blinding brightness. Hermione had to cover her eyes with her arm. Slowly though, she saw the source of light, a wand, and the person handling it closing in on her. Hermione was about to raise her hand to defend herself, just in case. It could be someone who wanted to steal the Stone.

"Hermione?"

She recognized this voice who called her name as the person landed in front of her and the power of the light receded. Hermione could now see the face of the intruder. It was the last person she expected to see in this place tonight.

Chapter Text

HARRY VII

 

Harry went through the flames without feeling the fire. He saw it, but he felt nothing on his skin, not even a subtle warmth. When he emerged on the other side, he was at the top of a long flight of stairs going deep into the undergrounds of the castle. Harry felt his scar itching again. Why was it causing him so much pain? There was something wrong. It couldn't be a coincidence that it started hurting so much when the Stone was about to be stolen.

Harry went down the stairs. First, he saw nothing at the end of them. Some kind of fog concealed what was at the bottom. Slowly though, he began to see something shining at the end. Something that grew. It was a rectangular shape, the base shorter than the height. And he saw the outline of another shape, more human, against the glow. The figure had a very big head. A purple big head.

"It' you!" Harry shouted.

Professor Quirinus Quirrell turned to look at him. "I was wondering if I would meet you here, Potter."

Before Harry could do anything, Quirrell pointed his wand at him. Ropes appeared from nowhere and encircled Harry from ankles to the neck. By trying to get rid of them, Harry stumbled and travelled all the way down the rest of the stairs by rolling, hitting his head a few times until he was immobilized at Quirrell's feet. The pain in his forehead became unbearable.

"I knew you would be a problem the moment I saw you in the Great Hall. The events of Halloween only confirmed my suspicions."

"McGonagall said you were an expert on trolls. It's you who got the troll in," Harry said between his teeth. He wished he could rub his forehead, where his scar was. If only it would help.

"Indeed, Potter. I did."

"And it's you who tried to kill me during the Quidditch match. You cursed my broomstick."

"Correct, again. I would have succeeded without Snape and your mother sending counter-curses, or the fire at Snape's cloak which made me lost visual contact with you. A few more seconds and you would be dead."

"So... Snape was really after you. That's why he was refereeing my second match, and why Dumbledore was there. That's why he was threatening you. I surprised one of your conversations in the Forbidden Forest."

"Very good, Potter. You found all this on your own. I might have underestimated you. I knew you could be a nuisance, but to discover so much about me..."

"I know you're working for someone else." The smirk Quirrell displayed since they began talking disappeared in an instant. For a moment, Harry saw again the frightened teacher who was even afraid of his own students. Was he really afraid of Harry? Maybe he could exploit this. Maybe he could somehow get to his wand in his pocket and rip the ropes somehow. "I thought maybe you were in league with Snape, but I heard you in a classroom one day. You were talking to someone. Your true master."

Quirrell looked at him with big eyes. Harry struggled like hell to get his wand. Quirrell must have realized he was just trying to distract him for his smirk returned and he laughed. It wasn't his usual quivering laugh. This one was cold, sharp.

"You don't know who that is. Or else you would have told Dumbledore. I thought again that I underestimated you for a moment, Potter, but again you just proved that I overestimated you instead. You're too curious for your own good. You're more like an insect trying to sting. A big insect, maybe, a very boring and troublesome insect, but an insect nonetheless."

Quirrell turned on his heels. They had been wrong from the beginning. Snape wasn't involved in all this. He was just trying to stop Quirrell. And now Harry was there, powerless as Quirrell was about to get the Stone. He surely didn't have it yet, or else he would already be gone. Harry hung on to this belief, as he was unable to do anything to stop Quirrell. They had both gone through the spells of every professor. There might only be the spell Professor Dumbledore cast that remained, like Hagrid mentioned it. Harry hoped it would be enough to keep the Stone away from Quirrell.

Quirrell approached the shimmering object Harry had been seeing from afar. It was a mirror. There was a strange inscription over it, written in a language he did not recognize nor understand.

"This mirror is the key to finding the Stone," Quirrell murmured, certainly to himself and not for Harry.

"Dumbledore is going to stop you," Harry told him, trying to distract him again.

"Dumbledore is in London," Quirrell said dismissively. "By the time he comes back, I'll be gone, and far away. He will be powerless to do anything against me and my master."

"Your master... He seemed to be threatening you. And you are afraid of him. Why serve him?"

This caught Quirrell's attention. He turned to Harry. He looked afraid once more. "Sometimes, I find it hard to follow my master's instructions. I met him during my travelling of the world. He is a great wizard. He helped me to see the truth. Back then, I was weak. I still am. I had foolish ideas about good and evil. My master helped me to understand that good and evil don't exist. There is only power, and those too weak to seek it. I tried to serve him the best I could. I failed him, on countless occasions. At Gringotts, at Halloween, during your Quidditch match, and then after. I waited months before having the courage and sufficient will to try to steal the Stone again. And he punished me for that. He does not forgive easily."

"Who is your master?" Harry asked. He could keep Quirrell occupied, but also try to get information out of him. If someone else was involved, even if he couldn't stop Quirrell from getting the Stone, maybe he would survive and could tell what he learned to Dumbledore. Or to anyone else who would want to hear what he had to say.

"A very powerful wizard. The most powerful of all time. And he is with me, always."

Who could that be? His mother once told him that Albus Dumbledore was the most powerful wizard in the world. Harry believed her. And there were so many people who believed it as well. Who could be that master of Quirrell? It couldn't be Dumbledore. Harry gritted his teeth as another wave of pain went through his forehead.

"Now, shut up, Potter." Quirrell returned his attention to the mirror. "This mirror must be the key to finding the Stone. Dumbledore must have done something about that. I can see what my heart desires. The Stone is between my hands, and I give it to my master."

Harry looked at the mirror. Was Quirrell talking to himself again? Was he really seeing something in the mirror? Harry blinked and tried to better see in the glass, but all he could see was himself, wrapped in ropes and lying on the stone floor, and Quirrell, staring in the mirror, a frustrated look upon his face.

Then something strange happened. Harry saw himself getting free of his bonds and standing up. Then his reflection winked at him and pulled a blood-red stone out of his pocket. Harry thought he was hallucinating. But then his reflection placed the blood stone back into his pocket, and Harry felt something fall within his real pocket. He managed to move his right hand just enough to feel something hard and rocky. That was impossible. He had the Stone.

"He has the Stone."

The voice Harry heard sent chills along his spine. It wasn't Quirrell's voice. It was the voice of no one. It was high, cold, sharp, and it seemed like it came from Quirrell, but it wasn't Quirrell's voice. Harry was sure of that. And he felt he heard this voice before, though he couldn't recognize it. Quirrell turned to Harry, a dangerous expression on his face.

"It is in his right pocket," the voice said. So he knew.

Before Harry could think further, before he could try anything, no matter what little he might have been able to do, Quirrell had pointed his wand on him again. Harry felt the control of his body leave him. He was immobilized, unable to move, a prisoner of his own body as Quirrell removed the ropes around him and recovered the Philosopher's Stone from his pocket, a huge and greedy smile on his face, as if he just found a treasure he had been searching for years. This was probably the case. Harry tried desperately to move, without success.

"Give him back the control of his body," the voice said. "I want him to be able to move as he looks at me. Put back the ropes." Quirrell did so. Harry was again capable of struggling, but he was prisoner of ropes now instead of being prisoner of his own body. "Now, let me speak to him face to face."

Quirrell looked worried. "Master, you're not strong enough! We should first drink the Elixir of Life..."

"I have strength enough for this! Let him see me before I get my power back."

Then Quirrell started to unwrap his turban. The pain in Harry's scar increased to unknown levels. He hissed in pain and closed his eyes. When he opened them, the whole turban was almost off. The last trips went down. And Harry saw it. In the reflection of the mirror, he saw what was behind the head of Quirrell. Instead of the back of his head, there was another face. It was worse than anything Harry had ever seen. The face was whiter than snow, and it had red eyes that fixed him. It had no nose. There were only nostrils similar to that of a snake.

"Harry Potter. Finally, we meet again."

The face laughed. And all of a sudden, Harry remembered where he had heard this voice. In his dreams. He had dreamed about a green flash of light since he was a little kid. As far as he could remember, he had made this dream from time to time. And there was this cold, sharp laugh in each one of them.

"Voldemort," he whispered. For the first time in his life, Harry was looking at the man who murdered his father. The man who tried to kill him. The man who his mother barely survived. The man who gave him the scar on his front.

"See what I have become, Harry," Voldemort said. "I am but mere shadow and vapour. I can only have form when I share someone else's body. But it is about to change. With the Elixir of Life, I will be able to create a body of my own. And when I do have my own body, I will finish what I started ten years ago. I will kill you."

Harry was struggling like a demon. He had to get free of his bonds. He had to do something. Quirrell had the Stone in his hand.

"Quirrell, drink!"

Quirinus Quirrell slowly brought the Stone to his mouth. Harry moved in all senses in the hope to get free. He had to stop this. He couldn't let that happen. He couldn't let the man who killed his father come back to life. The searing pain in his forehead would not stop. The Stone was getting dangerously close to Quirrell's mouth.

"Accio Stone!"

Just when the rock was about to touch Quirrell's lips, it flew away in the direction from which Harry had just come. He turned his head and realized with horror that he wasn't wrong about who the voice that just took away the Stone from Quirrell belonged to.

Chapter Text

LILY VII

 

She emptied the tisane in her cup. Lily didn't expect a sleepless night to be necessary for one of her first evaluations at the Auror Office. Well, it wasn't really necessary. Her first test of fighting skills would take place tomorrow in the morning, and the reason why she was still awaken at one o'clock in the morning was because she couldn't manage to sleep.

She had already done a test to prove her knowledge of magical law and jurisprudence. Aurors were expected to know the laws, and especially to respect procedures to arrest criminals. Dealing with a criminal the wrong way could result in his release before he could stand trial. There were also procedures to follow when conducting research in a place or on a person, and to collect evidence that could eventually lead to an arrest. Things were simpler back in the days of the Order. They were losing the war against Voldemort. Procedures and paperwork were the least of their worries. Today was different.

Lily went to the bathroom where she sprayed water on her face. She had dark circles around her eyes. The training took its toll on her. Moving had been difficult in those circumstances. Most of her boxes still remained unpacked, especially those with Harry's name which contained his belongings. The fact that she was trying to accelerate her program didn't help either. Maybe she was too hard on herself. She was thirty-one-years-old. She couldn't expect to be able to work at the same rhythm as when she left Hogwarts, especially not after ten years during which she only practiced magic on a limited scale. Well, that was something she would have to reconsider after her first series of evaluations and exams would be completed.

She wondered how her son was doing. Harry had probably finished his exams by now. He must have spent the evening in the park. Maybe he swam with the giant squid in the lake. Though she doubted it, given he didn't bring a swimsuit with him. That was something she may have to correct next year. Maybe he just laid on the grass in the shadow of a tree with Ronald and Hermione. Maybe it was only with Hermione that he spent his time now that this was all over. She chased the thought of her mind. Harry was only eleven. He wasn't of the age to date a girl yet, and Minerva assured her there was nothing between the two of them in her opinion. Anyway, there was no doubt that her son would be enjoying his time until the end of the year now. The thought that she would see him in a few days for his last game of Quidditch filled her with joy, and the fact that he would come home next week made it even better. Lily went back to bed, hoping she would get some sleep.

She might have gotten some, but it was cut short by some knocking at her door. Putting on a dressing gown, Lily went to look who was knocking at this hour. But no one was knocking at her door. It was knocking at the window. There was no mistake as soon as she looked through the glass. Even in the obscurity, Hedwig's white silhouette was very clear. Lily opened the window and the snowy owl jumped in. Lily closed back the window.

"Hedwig? What are you doing here at this hour?" Lily asked, her voice hoarse from sleep or lack thereof. The owl showed its leg to which a message was attached.

Lily took the roll of paper and put it aside. She would read it tomorrow. She placed some food for her son's owl and proceeded back to her bed. But then Hedwig was on her, flapping her wings, trying to hit her with her beak.

"Hedwig!" Lily tried to get rid of the owl, to no avail. The animal screamed, standing in the way between Lily and her bedroom, pushing her back to the letter she just brought. "Hedwig, stop it!"

The snowy owl stopped, and it landed near the letter, pushing it towards Lily. She didn't want to read it. She needed to rest for tomorrow. But there was something in the owl's gaze. Lily made eye contact with them. Something was telling her that the owl wanted to insist on her to read the letter. As if to emphasize this, Hedwig pushed again the paper towards Lily.

Lily groaned. "Okay, if you want me to."

She took the paper and unrolled it. It was her son's writing inside. Lily wondered why Hedwig brought this to her in the middle of the night.

 

Dear Mom,

I know you told me to stay away from the Philosopher's Stone and other kinds of trouble, but I can't. Dumbledore is gone, and I just discovered that someone managed to discover how to get past Fluffy. Hagrid told the stranger from who he got his dragon's egg that you only needed to play some music in order to get past the dog. They're going to try and steal the Stone tonight. I can feel it.

I'll try to get the Stone before someone steals it. I'm sorry, Mom.

I love you,

Harry

 

Lily was stunned into place for a moment. She read again the letter quickly to be sure of its content. Her breathing accelerated.

"Harry..." she said in a weak voice. Her eyes went on the snowy owl's eyes. In that very moment, Lily got the distinct impression that the bird was saying Help him.

The moment she realized this, Lily dressed hastily for the day. Then she took Floo powder, threw it in her chimney and went through it.

"Hogwarts!" she shouted.

A few moments later, she emerged in a dark small room in the castle. No sooner had she emerged that a flash of light blinded her.

"Who's there?" the surprised voice of Professor McGonagall, who was in her bed, said. " Lily, is that you? What are you doing here, in the middle of night?"

"Professor, I don't have time. I need to find my son," Lily said very quickly.

"Your son? Harry is in his dormitory."

"You're sure? You better read this." She threw the paper at her. Minerva highlighted it with the light coming from her wand. Her eyes narrowed, still looking half-asleep. However, as she read it, her expression changed, becoming one of grave concern. The Head of Gryffindor House didn't look like she was taken out of bed anymore.

"He can't have... Follow me, Lily."

Minerva donned a dressing gown right away and headed through the school's corridors, Lily on her tail. They arrived quickly before the portrait of the Fat Lady. Minerva never lived far from her house's common room. She gave the password, and when the Fat Lady only mumbled in her sleep, McGonagall shouted and almost screamed the word several times until she opened. McGonagall surged inside, still accompanied by Lily. Lily would have reminisced about her own time in this common room so many years ago if it hadn't been for the current situation. They climbed a flight of stairs. Minerva burst the door open, and they rushed in. Minerva immediately removed the curtains from one bed. It was empty. Lily recognized Harry's belonging close to it, including one the books she let him leave with.

"He's not here," Minerva said, looking at Lily, a distress on her face Lily rarely witnessed. In the meantime, three boys were waking up in their beds, complaining.

"What's going on?" one asked.

"Who's there?" another said.

"Grandma?" another one said. Lily looked at the origin of the last voice. She recognized Neville, who she saw at King's Cross at the beginning of the year.

McGonagall tore out the curtains from another bed. "Mr Weasley is not here either. I have a good idea of who else might be missing."

She went back to the stairs. Lily followed her. Once in the girl's dormitory, their fears were confirmed. Hermione Granger was absent as well.

"It's a disaster," McGonagall said as they went back into the common room. Some doors were opening around them now. "Three students are missing, and who knows where they are."

"I think we both know where they are, Minerva. We must go to the third floor."

The professor nodded and told Lily to follow her. They ran to the third floor and found the door unlocked. Lily looked at it.

"Alohomora. Really? That's enough to unlock this door? You couldn't put something stronger on it?" Lily angrily asked the professor.

"Lily, this is not the time. We have three children under that trapdoor on the other side. And you have no idea in what danger they are."

"I think I've got a pretty good one. What is down there? What is protecting the Stone?"

Minerva sighed. "A Devil's Snare. Flying keys that are necessary to open a door. A giant chess boardgame. A troll. And a problem of logic involving potions. And some secret protection that Professor Dumbledore put into place. No one knows what it is. That, plus the three-headed dog behind this door."

"Well." Lily took a decision. "For the dog, it will be easy. Harry told us how to get past it. I'm going in."

"Lily, wait. You can't go in there," Minerva warned her.

"My son is down there, along with two of his friends. You want me to leave them to die?"

"Even the most powerful wizards cannot face the spells behind this door," Minerva warned her. "Only Dumbledore could hope to get past all these."

"And where is he?"

Minerva took some time to answer. "In London."

"Well, you wait him if you want, but I'm not going to stand there while my son is in danger."

Lily opened the door and closed it behind her.

"Colloportus!" The door locked behind her.

Growls came immediately from behind. Lily turned to find herself face to face with a huge dog with three heads, looking angrily at her, drool coming out of three jaws. Lily was afraid, but she knew what she had to do. She was about to make a violin appear when she noticed a harp near the feet of the dog. It made things easier. She cast a spell on it, and it began playing.

Right away, the dog started to calm down. Slowly, he rested against the floor and got asleep, squealing like an innocent pet. Lily threw a deep breath, then opened the trapdoor. She jumped through it, and cast a levitation spell to slow down her falling. Then she produced a powerful light, illuminating the cave in which she found herself. Down under her feet, she saw it. The Devil's Snare. She changed her trajectory. It would be better not to land on the plant. It was a practical trap, she had to admit it. You had to know it was there to not fall into it. Lily spotted what she thought was a door and headed for it.

She then saw two human shapes near the door. One was sitting against the wall, the other had his arms hiding his face. There were only two shapes. Where was the third? Lily hoped Harry wasn't the one lying against the wall.

She landed on the ground next to the Devil's Snare. And she realized the shape who covered her face had very long brown hair.

"Hermione?"

The girl removed her arm. Lily reduced the intensity of the light coming from her wand. No doubt, it was her.

"Mrs Evans. What...? How did you...?"

"We don't have time for this, Hermione," Lily cut short. "Where's my son?"

"He's... he's at the end." She pointed to the door. "I wanted to stay with him and help him, but..." Hermione looked at the shape lying against the wall. Lily recognized him immediately. It was Ronald, Harry's friend who spent the Christmas holidays with them. Lily rushed to the boy to examine him.

"What happened to him?" Lily asked.

"He was... hurt during the chess game."

Lily barely gave attention to Hermione as she felt Ronald's pulse. "He's still breathing." She threw a cast to verify if he had any dangerous injury. There was no internal bleeding, from what she could tell, but she wasn't a Healer. From the marks on his body and his unconsciousness, Lily could tell he needed a Healer.

"We've got to get him out of here," she stated.

"I tried," Hermione said, "but he's too heavy. There are broomsticks in the other room, but I can't make him hold on them."

"Broomsticks, you say?" Lily pointed to the door. "Accio broomsticks!" Nothing happened. A spell had to prevent objects from flying from one room to another. "Wait here. I'm coming back."

"No, wait. You need to grab a flying key there in order to access the room after it. But it's hard. I can help you."

Lily sighed. "Okay. Then help me bring Ronald with us. We cannot let him next to the Devil's Snare."

They moved the unconscious Ronald to the next room. Indeed, hundreds of winged keys were waiting for them, with several broomsticks to help them catch one. "It's the key with blue wings. They're broken because it's been seized twice," Hermione said.

"Okay. Wait a minute." Lily approached one of the broomsticks. She created a stretcher which she attached to the tail and threw another spell so that the stretcher would fly just like the broom. "Help me get Ronald into it."

With Hermione's help, they placed the young boy into the stretcher. Lily then threw another spell that got Ronald attached to the stretcher. He wouldn't fall from it.

"Good, Hermione. Now, I'm not as good on a broomstick as my husband was, but I am not bad either. Can you manage as well?"

"Yes, I can. I helped Harry catch the key when we arrived."

"Good." Lily looked at the keys, searching for the one Hermione described. She spotted it after a moment. It seemed quite damaged indeed. It was struggling to fly. "I see it. We will approach from different sides, okay?"

The two girls hit the ground and got in the air. For Lily, it was a strange sensation. She had not flown on a broomstick for over ten years. However, the instincts came back quickly. They had to. Her son needed her.

Like she told Hermione, they approached the key from two different sides at the same time. Lily made sure they wouldn't collide. When the key tried to evade them, Lily caught it under her broomstick. She thought of all the times James brought her to the Quidditch pitch just to fly with her during their last year at Hogwarts. Sometimes he would throw a few balls under her. She was glad that she finally found a usefulness to it.

They flew down to the floor, Lily keeping a tight hold on the key.

"Thank you, Hermione. Now listen." She looked into the brown eyes of the girl. "I must continue and find Harry. You, in the meantime, you fly up with this broomstick." She pointed the one to which the stretcher with Ronald inside was attached. "There's a harp still playing next to the dog. You should be able to get out easily. I locked the door, but you should be able to unlock it with Alohomora. You bring Ronald to the infirmary, then you find Professor McGonagall and you tell her what happened. You understand?"

"Yes, Mrs Evans."

"Good. Now go. I'll open the door for you." Lily did so by opening the door leading to the Devil's Snare.

"Mrs Evans, we don't know who's trying to steal..."

"I know, but you must go, Hermione. Now. Ronald needs help."

"There's a chessboard after that door, and then a dead troll..."

"I know. Quickly. Go now!"

Hermione carried the broomstick with Ron behind in the other room, then mounted the broomstick and flew away, her face expressing fear. Lily watched her and Ronald get up in the other room, far away from the Devil's Snare and up to the trapdoor. Lily could still make out the sound of the harp's music. When she saw them disappear, she closed the door and headed towards the other one. The silver key was still fighting to get free. Lily put it into the lock and turned it. She opened it and released the key behind her before the door closed.

On the other side, she met a scene of devastation. Giant pieces of chess, pawns, knights, bishops, castles, queens and kings were scattered everywhere, some black, some white, some utterly destroyed and lying on the floor, others still standing tall, intact. Lily crossed the chessboard and got to the other door. She was lucky to not have to play a game. The next door was hiding a dead troll with a horrible smell. She got past it and emerged into another room. As soon as she stepped inside, colored fires appeared on the doors behind and in front of her. A table displayed seven bottles. A problem of logic involving potions. Snape's protection of the Stone, without any doubt.

Lily went to the roll of paper next to the bottles and read it. She rolled her eyes. Snape was already doing that kind of things when he was a child. The problem was quite simple, even if he might think the contrary. Lily never had any issue with resolving them. She only needed half a minute to discover which bottle would allow her to get to the last room.

However, she met another problem. The bottle was empty.

"That can't be. That can't be!"

She couldn't stop there. Her son was on the other side. She tried to extinguish the fire on the door, but nothing worked. Solving the problem of logic seemed like the only way forward. Only she solved it. There was just nothing left of the solution. She looked at the transparent bottle more closely. There, deep at the bottom of it, a single drop remained.

"Let's hope it will be enough," she whispered. She approached the fire with the bottle, getting as close as she could to the flames. She didn't feel any heat, but she knew better than to trust temperature with magic. She removed the cork and put the neck's bottle against her mouth, throwing her head back. It took time, but after way too many seconds, the drop reached her mouth. Lily licked it and swallowed it. She threw the bottle on the floor, where it bounced a few times, and rushed into the flames.

She didn't feel any heat as she travelled the flames. She emerged on large stairs going downward and rushed in this direction. She saw a glint of something at the end of it, then a voice whose words she couldn't make out. The sound of the voice though sent chills along her spine.

"And when I do have my own body, I will finish what I started ten years ago. I will kill you."

Lily stopped in her rush. She had made the first words of the voice. She knew that voice. She knew it far too well. She heard it in her nightmares. She heard it every time she remembered that night she lost her husband. She could now make out two shapes down below. One was on the ground, wriggling. She recognized Harry instantly. The other figure was standing, something in his left hand.

"Quirrell, drink!"

Lily rushed forward. And as the Stone was approaching the lips of the man, she raised her wand.

"Accio Stone!"

The next moment, it was in her own left hand. She broke her run and stopped. The stone was red, and maybe brightening a little, but other than that, it only looked like a pretty rock, nothing more. Her attention turned quickly though to the man she just grabbed it from. He was bald, wearing purple clothes. The mirror showed there was another face behind his head. And she knew that face.

"Voldemort." She whispered the name. It was him, just like ten years ago, that night when he burst into Harry's room to kill him. Lily had stood up to him that night, weaponless. Today, she was armed.

The features of the pale face shrank. "Lily Evans." She walked slowly towards him, towards Harry, her wand in the right hand pointed at the assassin of her husband, holding the Stone firmly into her left hand. "Give me the Stone, or your son dies."

The man he seemed to be sharing the body with pointed his wand on Harry, who was still trying to untie himself from tight ropes on the floor. Lily stopped advancing. She looked at her son. There was no way she could stop any spell that would be thrown at him. Harry was at the feet of Voldemort. Lily was probably twenty feet away from him. Her fingers gripped the Stone in her left hand.

"Mom, don't do it." It was her son who talked to her. "He wants to use the Stone to get a new body."

"SHUT UP, YOU STUPID BOY!" the cold voice said. Then Voldemort returned his attention on Lily. "Your son is far too curious for his own good, Evans. And foolish, just like your husband."

Her grip on her wand got stronger as well. This was the monster who murdered James and tried to kill her son. And here he was again, threatening to kill Harry and taunting her about her husband. Lily would have given everything to kill him on the spot. But he had a wand pointed at Harry.

Lily thought very quickly. She had to save her son. Begging would be useless. It didn't work the last time. If anything, Voldemort would just enjoy it, or remain indifferent, or it might even bother him. Giving him the Stone might seem tempting, but she knew better than anyone how much Voldemort wanted to kill Harry. Whatever promise he might make, he wouldn't hold onto it. She could try to disarm him, but Lily wasn't ready to wager about his power, even in his diminished state. Furthermore, he might attempt something on Harry between the moment she would cast the first spell and the time when it would reach him. No, there was only one language that Voldemort understood. It was the language of strength, when you refused to give in to him.

Slowly, still gripping it with all her force, Lily raised the Stone. Then she pointed her wand at it.

"You touch to my son, and I destroy the Stone."

She was surprised by her voice. It was angry, menacing. Everything she had suffered was going through her mind as she had spoken. The green light that killed James. The way she was knocked all around her son's bedroom. The Killing Curse that was cast on Harry. All this suffering this man had caused to her family came back in a flow, but instead of making Lily cry, instead of making her weak, it made her strong. She stared straight into the eyes of the monster, who looked at her with an indecipherable face. Then he laughed, which made Lily flinch. This laugh was so demoniac that was almost impossible to remain impassible facing it.

"You haven't changed, Lily. Still so brave. Ready to do everything for your family. Do you remember how you begged for mercy that night? Do you remember how you foolishly tried to protect your son with your own body? Did you ever tell your son about what happened that night?"

He was trying to cloud her judgment. She wouldn't take the bait. "Free my son, or I swear to you that I destroy the Stone, and your chance to recover a human body with it."

"You silly girl!" Lily shivered again. He had used the exact same words ten years ago, when he told her to stand aside. "You really think the Stone is the only way for me to get a body? You would only be delaying the inevitable. But destroy it, and it will be the end of your son. Now, give it to me."

The wand of the man was still pointed at Harry. He could throw a Killing Curse at any moment. But Lily couldn't let go of the Stone. Voldemort would just kill her and Harry the moment he got it. Her only chance of preventing this was inside her palm.

"Let Harry go, and I will give you the Stone," she finally let out.

"No, Mom! He's going to kill you!" Harry screamed, desperate.

"Shut up, silly boy! Another word, and your mother will look at you while you scream in pain until you become mad," Voldemort stated.

Lily's hands were shaking, both from fear and anger. She had to save her son.

But there was something wrong. Voldemort never threatened with words. He let his reputation, the knowledge of his power perform the threats. He never warned before he tortured or killed someone. And yet here he was, hesitating. Unless it was the man with who he shared his body who hesitated.

"You," she addressed the man named Quirrell, "why do you think he didn't order you to torture my son already? Is that in your master's habits?"

"Don't listen to her, Quirrell. She will try to mess with your head. But we both know that I make you stronger than you are."

"He cannot hurt Harry. The night he was destroyed, the Killing Curse bounced back on him. Voldemort cannot hurt Harry, and neither can you. He is protected by the sacrifice his father and I made ten years ago. If you try anything, it will just turn against you."

She saw doubt on the face of the man, and fury on Voldemort's. "Master, is it true?" Quirrell asked, all of a sudden looking panicking.

"She is a liar, Quirrell. Remember who you were before we met. Remember what happens to those who disobey me," Voldemort retorted.

"Y-y-yes, Master. But if the boy..."

"Enough!"

"My son!" Lily shouted. "Give me my son or I destroy the Stone!"

"You cannot destroy it! I see it in your mind. You don't know what you are doing. You don't know how to destroy it."

"Do you? Are you willing to take that risk?"

She approached her wand further from the stone. The point was almost touching the rock. Sparks escaped it. She would do it. She may have some doubts about the protection hers and James' love provided to their son, but Voldemort was certainly not stupid enough to take the risk of being destroyed a second time. Plus he was clearly reticent to kill Harry right now. The Stone, however, she could see in his eyes that he wanted it more than anything. He hadn't removed his gaze from Lily and the Stone since she arrived.

Just as she thought so, he looked at her son. "Tell me... Harry... Do you know why I tried to kill you that night... When you were still a baby... Have you ever wondered why I spared your mother on that day... Why she is alive today... Why your father died and she is still breathing..."

"Let him go now! Or I destroy the Stone! I will do it!" she shouted.

"No, you won't... Not before you get your son back... Lily Evans... You would really do anything for Harry... You would even kill for him... Sacrifice everyone else so he may live... Including your own husband..."

"Silence!" She screamed. Tears were rolling on her cheeks. "How dare you?! You killed James! You came into our home! You murdered the man I love! You tried to murder my son! You are nothing but a murderer! An assassin! A coward!"

"I spared you that night... Lily Evans... Because your friend asked me..." Her heart stopped. "Did you ever tell your son... Did you ever tell anyone how you survived that night... What does the world know of Lily Evans... Do they know that she only survived because her friend was a Death Eater?"

Lily had tightened her grip so much around the Stone and her wand that both hurt her now. She looked at Voldemort's face, the man who destroyed her life. Then she looked at Harry, still lying on the floor, who had stopped to struggle. Harry... She remembered when he was born and she would hold him in her arms, still covered in blood and amniotic liquid... She remembered when he received his first broom from his godfather at the age of one and he wouldn't stop flying it around the house... She remembered when he made his first steps... She remembered his first words... She remembered his first day at elementary school... She remembered the first time he brought her an exam with an A+... She remembered when he scratched his legs and arms after falling from his bike, and she cleaned it while holding him tight against her as he cried... She remembered when he came back crying from school after some bully threw him in the mud... She remembered his astonishment when she told him for the first time that he was a wizard... She remembered his first football game... She remembered his tenth birthday when the kitchen was covered with frosting after they made a food battle... She remembered the joy on his face when they went to Diagon Alley... She remembered how proud he looked when he embarked on the Hogwarts Express... She remembered when he flew over the pitch during his first Quidditch game, waving his hand at her... He was her son, her reason to live, her strength...

"Let him go. I will not give you another chance."

Her wand touched the stone, causing crackling. She would do it. She would destroy the Stone. She would destroy it and there was nothing Voldemort would be able to do to stop her it. He was right about one thing. She would do anything for her son.

"Release him, Quirrell. I will wait. I will kill him another time," the Dark Lord finally said.

Quirrell seemed taken aback by his master's orders. With a wave of his wand, the ropes disappeared. Harry stood up right away and ran in her direction.

"Harry, run away! Run away now! Go!"

"But Mom..."

"GO! NOW!"

She looked straight into his eyes. Harry must have understood. Lily and her son understood each other better than any other parent and child. She could see he didn't want to go. He didn't want to leave her alone. He was too much like James. He would never abandon those he loved. But she made him leave. She was his mother, and he would do as she told him to. So he ran away, climbing the stairs like a demon.

"I love you, Mom!" he shouted from behind.

Lily didn't look back. Her eyes were focused on Voldemort and the servant whose body he shared as her heart was breaking at the realization that she might have seen her son for the last time. Voldemort would never let her live. He was going to kill her. He wouldn't repeat the mistake he did ten years ago.

"Give me the Stone now, Lily Evans... I gave my word to Severus, and although he betrayed me, Lord Voldemort keeps his promises... Give me the Stone, and I will let you live."

Yes, he would let her live. He would torture her, like he did that night at Halloween. Maybe he would turn her mad like his disciples did to Frank and Alice. Or he would use her as bait to set a trap for Harry.

"Lord Voldemort?" she asked, sarcastically. "Keeping his word? Never. REDUCTO!"

The screams of the Dark Lord echoed through the room along with her spell. The rock in her left hand was reduced to shards and pieces that cut through her flesh and left a red liquid on it.

"KILL HER! KILL HER, QUIRRELL!"

Voldemort kept screaming the words as Lily and Quirrell proceeded to exchanged spells and curses. He sent a Killing Curse which she dodged, and she tried to disarm him with an Expelliarmus, then to stupefy him, but he dodged both as well. He then raised his wand to the ceiling, and fire erupted all around them, enclosing both Lily, Quirrell and Voldemort into an infernal circle. Lily could not take cover anywhere. She produced oil from her wand and sprinkled Quirrell and the floor around him with it.

"Incendio!"

Fire surged all over the man, but it barely started devouring his skin before it left him and rushed on Lily, a huge trail of fire heading on her.

"Aqua Eructo!"

Lily's wand produced a powerful jet of clear water that fought against the fire she created, the fire that Voldemort turned against her. She then felt an additional heat behind her back and dodged just before it hit her. Streams of fire came from everywhere, targeting her. Lily avoided them, stopped them, extinguished them, staying with her back turned on Voldemort far too long for her taste. Between her efforts, she cast a powerful explosion spell to her opponent, which he deviated towards the ceiling. Lily then cast a spell that allowed her to grab one of the pillars of the room, then brought it down on Voldemort... to no avail. Voldemort stopped the pillar in its course and threw it against Lily who had to almost crouch on the ground to avoid it. It went to break against other pillars behind her.

Quirrell then sent several spells over Lily's head. She realized what he was trying to do, but instead of protecting herself, she cast a series of spells on him. One of those burned him to the left hand, the one he wasn't holding his wand with, but that was all. When Lily brought her attention to the danger above her head, half the ceiling was already falling on her. She reduced to rubble a part of it, jumped aside to avoid another part, made some parts levitate then threw them aside, redirecting them towards her enemy when she could. But the debris hit the floor all around her, creating a cloud of dust that made it difficult to see. And finally, a big piece hit her on the leg. She put a knee to the ground, and tried to repel the rest of the falling ceiling, but she was soon covered with pieces of marble and stone, small and big.

Lily pushed aside the debris. She felt a huge pain in her left leg. She crawled out of the debris, her wand still in her hand. She lost it before she could react. It was in Quirrell's left hand now, and he pointed it along with his own wand at her.

"What a familiar situation," Voldemort's voice whispered. Lily continued to extract herself from the debris. She wouldn't die like this. She wouldn't die lying on the floor, waiting for her demise. She would fight until her death, like James did. For Harry.

"How useless... What a waste... You could have had a place of choice by my side, Lily Evans," the murderer of her husband continued. "You could have accepted my offer when I came to you... You and your husband could both have become so powerful by serving me... Now you will die. You will soon be reunited with your husband... And your son will join you soon..."

The two wands were pointed at her. No, she wouldn't die. She wasn't going to die. The fire to live burned within herself. She wasn't going to die at the hands of this man.

"NOOOOOOOOOO!"

The scream came from behind Lily. From the to top of the pile of debris, a small and skinny figure jumped onto Quirrell's face and pushed him to the ground, eliciting screams of agony, this time from Voldemort's servant. Lily realized that the small figure was her son, Harry, who was holding Quirrell by his face on the floor while he continued to scream.

"MASTER! AAAAAAAAAARGH!"

The screams were deafening, and they came from both Harry and Quirrell. They filled the entire place, an arrangement of human sounds enduring unspeakable pain.

"Harry! Stay away from him!" Lily managed to get up, her left leg still making her suffer. "HARRY!" she pleaded.

Right when she was screaming Harry's name, he let go of Quirrell's head and fell aside, on his back, while Quirrell kept screaming next to him, his back on the floor as well. Lily fell on her knees, and she crept to reach her son. She didn't look at Quirrell. All she cared about right now was her son.

"Harry. Harry," she kept whispering, as he remained unmoving. She finally reached him. He was lying on his back, his eyes closed. She took his face into her hands, reached for his heart, and felt it still beating. He was alive.

She turned to Quirrell next to him, and saw with horror that his whole face was blackened, and that blood spurted from his mouth. It was as if his face had been calcinated in an oven.

A strange cloud of smoke started to gather over Quirrell, and a complaint slowly emerged from it. Then what looked like a vaporing head flew away, screaming. Lily watched it go up the stairs, without a look behind. When she looked at Quirrell once more, he was gone, his blackened face not giving anymore signs of life. She carefully rotated his head. Only his nape was now behind his face. Voldemort was gone.

Lily looked again at her son. His heart was still beating, but he didn't move. He didn't open his eyes. She took him within her arms.

"Harry," she whispered. "Harry, wake up. It's your Mom. Harry, my dear. My little boy." Her voice broke into sobs as she hugged him. He wasn't moving. She could still hear his heart beating, but would he live? She couldn't lose him. She couldn't...

Her eyes wandered to the mirror in front of her. It showed her something that was impossible. She looked behind her, then around the room where they were. There was no one else. There was only her and Harry, and the dead body of Professor Quirinus Quirrell. She looked back to the mirror, then again behind her. Slowly, she stared back at the mirror.

"James," she whispered.

He was standing right behind her, smiling at her. He had aged up a little, but it was him, without any doubt. He crouched to be at the same level as she was. He kept smiling at her, as tears rolled over her cheeks. She thought she would never see him again. And yet here he was.

Other people came behind him. His parents, her parents as well, Tuney... all the people she lost over the years. They were all there. And then there were two little girls that gripped James' sweatshirt. Lily didn't recognize them. But they had her eyes, and her hair. They were lovely. They were the children she and James never had. They were the family they wanted to have once the war would be over. The war had ended, but James was dead, and they couldn't build the family they always wanted.

"Lily." A voice called her. In the mirror, Albus Dumbledore appeared. What was he doing here? "Lily," he repeated. She realized this was real.

She turned her head to look behind her again, and there he was, Albus Dumbledore. It took her some time. She gazed one last time at the mirror, and the image of the perfect family she wished that she had, and returned her attention to Dumbledore, and to Harry, who she had almost forgotten for a moment.

"Professor Dumbledore... Voldemort..."

"I know," he said while walking directly to her. "I saw him flying away while I arrived. How are you? And Harry?"

She looked at her son who she was still holding. "His heart is beating, but..."

"We must bring him to the infirmary. I'll carry him. Are you hurt?"

"My left leg..."

Before she could answer, Dumbledore pointed his wand towards her injured leg. "There. It should hold until we reach the castle. Come."

Albus Dumbledore took Harry from her arms and carried him himself. Lily stood up, realizing her leg felt healed. It was alright. This was over. Dumbledore was here. She recovered her wand next to Quirrell's body, took a short look at his dead body, then gazed one last time at the mirror. James smiled at her while nodding, and so were all the others. They were telling her to go.

"Lily."

Dumbledore's voice reminded her that he was carrying the only family she still had. With regret, Lily turned around and left her husband's reflection behind. She followed Dumbledore out of this place, away from the death and torture inflicted by Lord Voldemort, and back into the light of day.

Chapter Text

CHO I

 

She woke up early. The sun was barely visible on the horizon. Cho Chang stood up from her bed, her naked feet landing comfortably on the warm carpet. Her friend Marietta was still sleeping, and so were all the other girls in the second years' dormitory. Cho slowly walked out of their dormitory, careful to not make any noise while opening and closing the door behind her. She went down the stairs, past the statue of Rowena Ravenclaw, founder of the House to which Cho belonged.

Something covered her right eye, obstructing her vision. She brought her long black hair behind to solve the problem while she looked through one of the many arched windows. She specifically looked through the window that provided a very good view over the Quidditch pitch.

Last year, when Cho woke up for her very first day at Hogwarts, the first thing she looked at was through this window. She dreamed of playing for her House's team one day. Today, this dream would become a reality. In the beginning of the current year, Cho had participated to the selections for Ravenclaw's Quidditch team. She didn't make it into the regular team. She was a good player, but her small frame (she was short even for second years) and limited physical musculature didn't make her the best candidate. Her age and sex didn't help either. All the players in the Ravenclaw team were boys. Most of them were at least in their fifth year at Hogwarts, and they had already played on the team over the past years. Cho only managed to be retained as a reservist. Still, she was retained as the reservist Seeker, an important position. Seekers were often targets in games, and the players who were the most subjected to injuries. So Cho still had a chance of playing by the end of the year, and she got to train with the rest of the team as a result.

The regular Ravenclaw Seeker had been injured during the previous match against Slytherin and never fully recovered. As a result, the captain of the team had approached Cho two weeks ago and confirmed that she would be the Seeker during their last game of the season against Gryffindor. It was the game that would take place today, starting at eleven o'clock.

Cho kept staring at the Quidditch pitch as dawn began to pour some light onto the stadium. She would finally play a real match. She was excited, even ecstatic, but she was stressed as well, nervous. She had attended all five previous games this year, but only as a spectator. This would be her first game of Quidditch as a player, and this happened to also be the last of the season. It would determine Ravenclaw's final ranking for this year. So far, they had won against Hufflepuff, and lost against Slytherin. If they won with a certain margin against Gryffindor, they could hope to reach the second, maybe the first position, which would mean the Quidditch Cup for them. However, this would be no easy task.

The Gryffindor team was without any doubt the best team of Hogwarts this year. Roger Davies, her only friend on the Ravenclaw team, and the youngest player apart from her, told her how Oliver Wood had built the best team of Hogwarts, and Cho had to admit that she admired the team he assembled. Not only Wood was probably the best Keeper of the school, he had twins as Beaters with incredible chemistry, and three talented girls as Chasers, which made Gryffindor the most mixed team in Hogwarts, and probably the youngest as well. Wood was the oldest player, and he was only in his fifth year. No Chaser was older than fourteen. And they had the youngest Seeker to play in Hogwarts since over a century. Only competing against them would be a major challenge.

Cho's main concern was her opponent Seeker for this match, Harry Potter. He was a first-year, but already had two games under his belt where he caught the Golden Snitch, one game where he caught it with his mouth after almost being thrown off his broomstick which had gone mad, and the second where he caught the Snitch in less than five minutes, and with Severus Snape as the referee. Cho, despite being one year older than him, was very nervous. She was not as experienced as he was, and she didn't cause the crowds to applaud her like he did. It was Harry Potter, after all, the Boy Who Lived. And with the events that happened two nights ago, she could easily imagine the Gryffindor team and crowd being more galvanized than ever. All this stressed her very much, but also excited her as well. She would probably face the best Seeker of Hogwarts for her first match. That was quite a challenge, and she was determined to face it. She trained without stopping for the last two weeks, even neglecting her exams, to put all chances on her side. Today, she felt ready.

Her eyes remained locked on the pitch as light progressively grew outside. People would not wake up early on a Saturday. Still, Cho went back to her bedroom to change. She couldn't remain in pyjamas in the common room. She was dressed for the day in no time. She then sat on her bed. Her right leg was trembling due to her nervousness. In five hours, she would be flying over the pitch for the first game in her life.

"Cho?" Marietta's voice came as a whisper from her right. "You're already up?"

"Yes. I couldn't sleep anymore," she replied in whispers as well.

Her best friend rose and came to sit by her side, her long and curly reddish-blond hair falling on both sides on her face in its entangled state. "Hey, it's just a game, Cho. Everything will be alright."

That was easy to say. Marietta was a very good friend, the only one Cho had before her arrival at Hogwarts. When Marietta was sorted into Ravenclaw like her last year, Cho was exhilarated. However, Marietta had a tendency to see things lightly, and to never take anything seriously. But Cho took today's match very seriously. It would be the moment when she could make it into a permanent position on the team. Their Seeker was not only injured for this last game. He was also in his seventh year, so he wouldn't play next year.

"Yes, I guess," Cho conceded.

"You've trained more than enough. You'll see. The Gryffindors will not know what hit them."

Maybe. Cho just hoped they wouldn't know out of surprise, not because her hit was so powerless they couldn't feel it.

"You'll be there for the game?" Cho asked her friend.

"Of course, I will. All the girls will be there. I made sure of it. I would never miss my best friend's first game for all the galleons in the world."

Cho smiled at her. She really was the best friend in the world.

Some time later, after the whole tower had awakened, Cho and Marietta went down to the Great Hall to take their breakfast. The atmosphere was tensed, supercharged. Cho was welcomed by the other members of the team, who were joined by several people at the Ravenclaw table. She sat next to Roger, blushing under the applause.

"Ready for the game, Cho?" he asked.

"As ready as I can be." She was trembling through all the emotions she had.

"Eat something. You don't want to play on an empty stomach. Our captain wouldn't allow it."

"You could release the pressure a little, you know," Marietta commented.

"Before a Quidditch match? Forget about it."

Cho took some boiled eggs. All around them, conversations were animated, passionate. People were only talking about two things: the upcoming match between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor, and the events that took place two nights ago on the third floor, the very corridor that was forbidden to students at the very beginning of the year.

No one knew exactly what had happened there. The strangest rumors were running about it, and a new version of events seemed to appear every hour.

"Apparently Quirrell turned into a werewolf, and Harry Potter turned him into stone with a silver spoon," someone at the Ravenclaw table said.

"Come on. Werewolves are not vulnerable to silver. No, Quirrell just tried to kill him with a silver knife and Potter managed to turn it against him, plunging it into his heart. That's all," another countered.

"Well, I don't think I could have done this in his place."

"Apparently, Professor Quirrell was trying to steal something," someone else was saying behind Cho, at the Hufflepuff table.

"What was it?" a neighbor asked.

"No idea. But Harry Potter managed to stop him, and apparently Quirrell burned every time he tried to touch him."

"Really? Jonathan said he was bleeding every time Potter touched him."

"Who do you think will win today?" she heard another Hufflepuff asked.

"No idea, and I don't care," a girl replied. "Our team lost their three games. No matter the results, it won't change a thing for us."

Cho ate her eggs in silence. The Gryffindors seemed heated up. Why wouldn't they? They were the only undefeated team of the year, and now their Seeker would enter the pitch under applauses for his exploits. Cho tried to take a look at the Gryffindor table, in case she would take a glimpse of him. If Harry Potter was there though, she couldn't see him. Yesterday, everyone said he was going to leave the infirmary this morning to play the game.

When their captain called the players to follow him, Cho emptied what was left of her cup of pumpkin juice and followed him. Marietta wished her good luck, along with the other girls of her dormitory and many other students of Ravenclaw, and even from the neighboring table of Hufflepuff.

Cho went back to their common room to take her Comet Two Sixty. Her father had bought it for her in Diagon Alley this summer. For the first time, she would use it during an actual game, and her parents would be there to watch her play. As she walked through the grounds of Hogwarts, she saw the stadium growing up as she approached it, the noise of the crowds already on place getting louder. In the changing rooms, she put on the team's blue and bronze uniform.

"So, how do you feel just before your first game?" Roger kindly asked her.

"Not sure. I think I have butterflies in my stomach," she replied.

"Normal. The same happened to me. Everything will be fine, Cho."

"It's not you who gets to face Harry Potter at your first Quidditch match," she retorted.

"You'll be okay. He's only a first-year. You're a year older than he is."

"He's got a better broom, already two games worth of experience, including one where he caught the Snitch within less than five minutes, and the other where he got it despite a mad broomstick. And he got it with his mouth." She had just summarized with her voice what she had thought during the morning. "I wouldn't say this game is going to be a cake walk."

"Well, I think the boy is in for the surprise of his life because he's going to face the best Seeker of the school," Roger said, causing Cho to blush.

"You're kind, Roger, but you are a very bad liar."

"Okay team," their captain Trevor Memphis called, leaving his office. "So, I have some good news, especially for you, Cho. Harry Potter is not going to play today." The commotion it caused led all the others to speak between themselves, while it left Cho speechless. Trevor continued. "I just received Gryffindor's alignment. It seems Potter is still at the infirmary. Katie Bell, their youngest Chaser, is going to assume the role of Seeker today."

"I thought he was supposed to get out of the infirmary this morning," Cho said.

"It seems that the people of Gryffindor made everyone believe it. Well, he's not here. That means you have a better chance of catching the Snitch, Cho. Don't miss it."

The rest of the team cheered at the news, and they processed out of the changing rooms, towards the pitch. Cho didn't. In fact, she felt disappointed. She had prepared mentally and physically to face Gryffindor's Seeker. And although she was nervous, she was also excited at the idea of facing Harry Potter in a Quidditch game. It seemed like a very good challenge. Now she would face a substitute. Yes, it meant her chances of catching the Golden Snitch were higher, but that also meant that her team expected her to catch it. Had she faced Harry, she would have still been able to get away with saying this was her first game, and against a Seeker who had proven himself, who was a prodigy by many people's opinion. Now she had to prove that she could catch the Snitch. There would be no excuse for failure against a girl who was the same age as she was, and who was at her first experience as a Seeker too.

"Come on, Cho. It's our turn," Roger told her, getting her out of her reverie. Outside, she heard loud cheers, and the voice of the commentator, Lee Jordan.

"Hello, everyone. I am Lee Jordan, and welcome to the last game of this Quidditch season. Today, Ravenclaw faces Gryffindor."

Cho emerged from the changing rooms into the light, under the applauses and shouts of hundreds of people. Her heart was beating quickly as she mounted her Comet, kicked the ground and flew up.

"For Gryffindor, Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, and Rowan Salisbury as Chasers. Fred and George Weasley as Beaters. Oliver Wood, the team's captain, as the Keeper. And for today, the team's Seeker, Katie Bell. Gryffindor must play without his star Seeker, Harry Potter, who is currently recovering from grave injuries in the infirmary. I'm sure the public will give a round of applause for his recovery."

A part of the public did, but Cho noticed how another part, especially the green section, booed. She never liked the Slytherins, but right now she hated them more than ever. Mocking someone terribly injured and stuck in the infirmary was just plainly heinous and evil, even when he was an adversary on the Quidditch pitch.

"For Ravenclaw, Trevor Memphis, the team's captain, along with Phillip Montgomery and Roger Davies as Chasers. Godfrey Shamus as the Keeper. Duncan Inglebee and Jason Samuels as Beaters. And for her first game as Keeper, Cho Chang."

Cho flew right next to the section of the stadium where the Ravenclaw crowd assembled. They erupted in cries and shouts at this moment. Cho noticed her friend Marietta and waved her hand at her, laughing in the process. It felt so good. The wind was whipping at her face. She felt as light as a feather. She took altitude to reach the levels of the towers, searching for her parents. Even her mother, who spent so much time working at the Department of Mysteries, wrote to say she would be there with her father. But Cho couldn't find them, and soon she had to position herself around the central circle with all the other players.

Trevor shook hands with Oliver Wood while Cho found herself face to face with a girl about the same age as she was, but taller, with brown eyes, fair skin and brown hair brought into a ponytail like Cho did for the games. Cho tentatively smiled at her, and the girl returned it, though it looked as awkward as Cho's. Madam Hooch had already released both Bludgers and the Golden Snitch. Then she threw the Quaffle in the air.

Cho had already witnessed the beginning of a Quidditch game from the crowd, but it was entirely different to watch it from above. The point of view allowed to better see how Roger took the Quaffle and avoided contact with the other players, although it was still a miracle none of them crushed against someone else.

"Roger Davies got the Quaffle... He makes a pass to his captain... Memphis then passes to Montgomery... He dodges a Bludger... He sends it back to Memphis... Memphis shoots... Wood stopped it... The Quaffle goes to Johnson... A Bludger... She avoids it by little... She sends the Quaffle to Spinnet... Who loses the Quaffle to Montgomery... But another Buldger takes it away. The Quaffle is falling to the ground... Salisbury takes it back... But he loses it to Montgomery... Who makes a pass to Davies... Davies is far below the level of goalposts... A pass up to Memphis... And he scores... Wood didn't see it coming. Ten points for Ravenclaw."

"YEAH!" Cho raised her fist in the air as she accelerated to celebrate. Her friends down below were celebrating as well. They had scored first. They could win. Cho, more determined than ever, returned to scrutinizing the terrain in search of the Snitch, which had remained oblivious to her eyes so far. She noticed Katie from the corner of her eyes, searching just like Cho did.

In the meantime, Oliver had thrown the Quaffle to Angelina. The Gryffindor Chaser rushed forward, only to let the Quaffle fall. Alicia recovered it and zigzaged between players and Bludgers before sending the Quaffle to Salisbury. The only male Chaser of the team gave it back to Alicia very quickly though. She avoided two Bludgers and scored, eliciting screams of joy from the other side of the pitch.

"It is Gryffindor's turn to score now. And Shamus gives back the Quaffle to Memphis... Memphis dodges a Bludger... He avoids Spinnet... Then another Bludger, but he's led to the right, against the crowd... Johnson takes the Quaffle from him and sends it to Wood, her Keeper... Wood just kicked the Quaffle... Spinnett gets it... She is at half the terrain and she's rushing to the opposite goalposts... A Bludger misses her... She's got the whole field for herself... She shoots... Oh, Shamus stopped it... He waits with the Quaffle... Then he sends the Quaffle... Johnson intercepted it! She shoots! She scores!"

New wave of applauses from Gryffindor. Cho gritted her teeth. Gryffindor was leading 20-10. They had no chance of winning the Cup if Gryffindor was leading. However, the situation reversed quite quickly. Roger got the Quaffle and, in quite a huge demonstration of feats, he travelled from one side of the terrain to another with the red ball, and scored in the right ring. Then Rowan tried to do the same for Gryffindor and failed miserably, being hit by a Bludger after only advancing a few feet. Roger took back the Quaffle, handed it to Trevor who scored as well. Ravenclaw now led 30-20.

Cho still hadn't managed to get sight of the Snitch. But she saw Katie diving to the ground. Cho boosted her Comet to catch her up, but Katie quickly climbed back. Cho adjusted her trajectory, but it soon became obvious that the Gryffindor Seeker was back to searching the Golden Snitch and was as clueless as Cho as to where it might be. Katie Bell's dive had caused some excitement in the crowd, but if fell down immediately when they understood the Snitch remained unfound. In the meantime, Roger intercepted a pass between two Gryffindor Chasers and scored again, bringing Ravenclaw's advance to twenty points.

It was then that Katie did something Cho would never have expected from another Seeker. She dived again, but only got to the level of the playing field. Oliver had just given the Quaffle to Angelina, and Katie positioned herself right in front of her. Katie, with Angelina behind, flew towards Ravenclaw's goalposts at full speed, and the two Beaters took place behind them, to their left and right. They deviated a Bludger, then a second one, while Katie prevented Trevor from stopping Angelina. They travelled the field in this formation, perfectly synchronized, until they reached the opposite rings. Then Katie turned right just before she would enter the scoring area and Angelina sent the Quaffle right through one of their rings. It was now only 40-30 for Ravenclaw.

Katie received an ovation from the crowd. Cho couldn't believe it. She was always told that Seekers had to remain away from the main game, devoting their full attention to searching the Golden Snitch, but also to not endanger themselves. Seekers were already a target. They didn't have to paint an additional target on their back by joining the action in scoring points with the Quaffle and giving further opportunities for opponents to put them down.

"Shamus gives the Quaffle to Memphis... Memphis to Davies... WHOAH!"

Rowan Salisbury just grabbed Roger's arm, almost dragging him out of his broomstick. Later, Cho would think he didn't do it on purpose, that he tried to grab the Quaffle and mistakenly grabbed Roger instead. But at this moment, she screamed at the boy who just almost knocked her friend to the ground.

"Penalty to Ravenclaw for seizing a part of their Chaser's anatomy!" shouted Madam Hooch.

Roger took the penalty, of course, but he missed the ring. Gryffindor then recovered the Quaffle and proceeded to another attack. They travelled through the pitch, their Chasers exchanging the Quaffle between themselves, avoiding Ravenclaw's Chasers and Bludgers, reaching the middle of the field.

Then Cho saw it. It was the Golden Snitch. It shone in the central circle. Cho plunged towards it. The small golden ball moved quickly. The sun was high in the sky, and although the golden surface of the Snitch reflected his light, it made the grass on the pitch look more yellow and Cho struggled to keep sight of the key to 150 points for her team. She had it. It was her chance.

CLING!

She got distracted when by the sound of another score for Gryffindor. She looked up to see who just did it. It was Angelina. By the time she looked again to where the Golden Snitch was, it had disappeared. Cho stopped, now at a level between the ground and the Chasers above her. That was a huge mistake. Seekers could never remain still.

A Bludger she barely avoided reminded her of this fact, and she proceeded to climb back, but she was cut by Katie. Cho tried climbing again, and this time she was blocked by Alicia. A third attempt was stopped by Fred or George Weasley. Maybe both as the other twin was flying closely. Cho watched powerless as they scored again for Gryffindor, making it 50-40 for their team.

This game was definitely not a traditional one. The regular Seekers for both teams were absent, the Gryffindor's Seeker was helping scoring goals, and Cho had trouble getting higher than a few feet in the air.

"Chang, climb up!" Trevor shouted to her as he flew close.

"I'm trying!" she shouted back.

And then she saw it again. She may never had spotted it if she had not been looking for a way to get high. The Golden Snitch was close to the goalposts of Gryffindor, on the ground level. Cho immediately rushed forward and avoided a Bludger on her way. The Snitch was there. She wouldn't lose it this time. The golden ball moved to her left, then up. Cho's feet were close to the ground. She thought she saw a figure up to her diving. Cho accelerated, using all the power her Comet could provide. The Snitch was there. It was at hand.

And she caught it. She scratched her leg against one of Gryffindor's goalposts for the occasion, but she didn't care. She flew up, the small golden object in her hand. She heard a whistle, and the crowd erupted.

"YEEEEEAAAAAAHHHHHH!"

She screamed until she lost her voice. In no time, the other members of the team were on her, hugging her, tapping her shoulders, congratulating her. Cho cried in joy as they flew down quietly.

She made it! She made it! Once on the ground, her teammates carried her on their shoulders as people with blue banners and blue scarfs left the benches, Marietta at their head. It was the best moment of her life. Her parents joined them. Right at this moment, Cho couldn't imagine a moment when she would happier than today.

After the match, and after she was congratulated again and again by her friends, her teammates and almost everybody in Ravenclaw, or so she thought, and after her parents were gone, she disillusioned rapidly. After looking at the board for the rankings, she realized Ravenclaw had finished in second place, with only ten points behind Slytherin and ten points ahead of Gryffindor. Slytherin won the Quidditch Cup again.

"No luck this year," Roger said by her side. "Still, second place, it's already quite the accomplishment, given our odds before today."

"Yes, but now Slytherins got their sixth consecutive Quidditch Cup," Cho said, raging internally.

"Well, there's not much we can do about it."

Roger could say so, but Cho knew he was wrong. Their team had won this game 190-50. Had Cho waited for her team to lead by ten points before she caught the Snitch, the Cup would have been theirs. Or if Gryffindor had led by thirty additional points when she caught the Snitch, Ravenclaw would still have won the game, but Slytherin would have lost the Cup. She made her catch at the wrong moment.

"Look, Cho, don't look so disappointed. It's your first game and you caught the Golden Snitch. We finished in second place, which is way better than what we expected this year," Roger tried to comfort her.

Cho knew it was stupid from her to be disappointed by seeing Slytherin won the Cup, but she couldn't help but feel responsible about the next year of taunts, mockeries, and blusters everyone in Hogwarts would have to support from Slytherins.

"Why don't you come with me to the common room? There's a big celebration that's going to start," Roger offered. Cho, however, couldn't take her eyes from the board. Her eyes went from the scores for Gryffindor to Ravenclaw's.

"I'll join you there soon. You can go, Roger," she told him.

"Alright. I'll see you there, Cho."

He left her with one final smile. Roger was very kind with her, but she found him a little too sticky sometimes. Well, she wasn't the only girl with who he behaved that way. Roger had a way with girls, and some of Cho's roommates would say from time to time how it wouldn't bother them to faint in his presence only for him to reanimate them through a kiss. As for Cho, she found his behavior more funny than anything else.

She finally left the board of results behind her. Outside the stadium, a group of girls were waiting for her, Marietta at their head, and they exploded in applauses the moment Cho walked out. She couldn't help but smile. Marietta came to hug her right away, more tightly than ever.

"You were fantastic!" her best friend whispered in her ear.

Marietta was giggling, as Cho found her smile back. And then every girl who was present, not only Cho's roommates but also girls of all ages and years, and even two from Hufflepuff came to hug her, congratulating her. Cho didn't recall being so popular.

"Hey, why are you still there?" one of the girls, a fourth-year, asked. "There's a huge party in the common room. Come on."

The girls started to escort her in this direction. However, once they got into the Entrance Hall, Cho stopped them, which was no small feat.

"Wait. There's something I've got to do first," she told everyone.

"What?" Marietta asked.

"Something. I've got to see someone." Half the girls started giggling and the others were exchanging looks that were very explicit on what they thought it was about. Cho ignored them. "Look, go to the common room. I'll join you there."

"Okay." Cho had the impression that half the girls said the word at the same time, exchanging complicit smiles and looking at Cho with a knowledgeable expression as they left.

"Are you alright, Cho?" Marietta asked her.

"Yes, I am. There's just something I need to do first. I'll be in our common room in ten minutes, maximum."

"Fine," Marietta said, looking at Cho with an inquisitive look.

"And I swear to you, Marietta, it's not about a boy."

"I hope so," her friend said, looking worried. "See you soon, Cho."

Marietta left as well. Cho was alone. She felt she could breathe more easily now. She headed immediately towards her destination. Marietta was a very good friend, but she could also be overprotective at times. Especially when it came to boys. Marietta would never let Cho alone with a boy, at least not knowingly. She often told Cho that she trusted people too easily, and boys were the people Marietta had a hard time trusting. Cho found her behavior silly, truth be told. She was only twelve, and definitely not looking for a boyfriend. Though if Marietta knew where Cho was going, she would never have let her friend go alone. And this was exactly what Cho did.

Once she arrived at her destination, Cho saw that the door was opened. She knocked on the wall just outside, bringing the attention of Madam Pomfrey.

"Yes, child?"

"Sorry, Madam. Is Harry still here?"

If Cho was afraid that the Healer might have doubts about why she wanted to see him, she soon realized there was no reason for it. Instead, Madam Pomfrey rolled her eyes. "You're another one of his friends, aren't you? Incredible, how many friends he has. Come. You may stay a few minutes. Put your present next to all the others."

Cho was surprised by the bluntness of Madam Pomfrey. She walked into the infirmary nonetheless, and soon found where Harry Potter was resting. He was in one of the white beds that filled the place. Next to him, a table was encumbered with every kind of sweets someone could imagine, from Chocolate Frogs to Liquorice Wands. She stopped at two feet from his bed and looked at him.

She had seen him during the Sorting, for the Quidditch games, and also once or twice maybe in the corridors, very quickly. It had been two days since he was there now. He didn't look injured. It was as if he was sleeping peacefully. But if there was any truth to all the rumors that circulated in Hogwarts, then he had gone through hell on the third floor. No wonder he was still there and he couldn't participate to the Quidditch game. Cho wondered what would have been the results had she faced him. She saw him play. He was very good. He wouldn't have lost his time helping the Chasers score more points, and judging by the fact Cho had lost sight of the Snitch the first time she saw it, she doubted she would have caught it before him. Had he been present, Gryffindor would probably have won the game and the championship, breaking Slytherin's winning streak.

Cho took a chair nearby and sat into it, right next to Harry. When you looked at him closely, he didn't seem that particular or extraordinary. He looked like a normal child, just like her, and from his current state, he seemed quite vulnerable.

"Hi Harry," Cho started. "My name is Cho. Cho Chang. We haven't met before, but I wish we did." Perhaps this was stupid of her to talk to him. He was asleep, and probably did not hear her and wouldn't remember anything she said when he would wake up. "I am the Seeker for Ravenclaw. We played against your team today, and we won. Because of that, Slytherin won the Quidditch Cup this year." She was almost ashamed to admit it. "I was supposed to face you in this game. I regret I didn't have the chance. I saw you play before, and you are an excellent Seeker. I think your team would have won if you had been there. I'm sorry you couldn't play today. I wish you had."

She stayed there, staring at him. She thought he looked a little different without his glasses. After a moment, she heard someone walking into the infirmary.

"Anything changed, Madam Pomfrey?" a feminine voice asked.

"No, Mrs Evans. We'll tell you as soon as your son wakes up."

Cho looked over her shoulder. A tall woman with fair skin and long, dark red hair and wearing dark robes just walked inside and was now heading in Cho's direction. She didn't seem to notice Cho as she was looking down to the floor. She turned around, standing next to Harry but on the other side of the bed. That's when her eyes went up and she noticed Cho. She had dark circles around her eyes, but they otherwise looked very alive, bright and green as she looked at Cho.

"You're another one Harry's friends?" she asked.

"Yes," Cho answered without thinking. She let the Healer believe she was his friend so she could see him, but now she felt that she was lying to that woman who was obviously Harry Potter's mother.

"What is your name?"

"Cho."

"That's a pretty name. It's kind of you to visit him, Cho. Everyone has been very kind with him," the red-haired woman said, not lifting her eyes from her son. She looked very tired. Cho felt out of place.

"I can leave you two alone if you want," she offered.

"Thank you. I appreciate it."

She addressed another smile to Cho. She left, casting one last glance to the woman who had sit next to Harry.

Cho headed back to Ravenclaw's common room. She had done what she believed to be right. It wasn't fair that Harry did not get the chance to play against her, and it wasn't fair that Gryffindors were deprived of their Seeker. When she provided the right answer to the eagle's riddle, the door opened. On the other side, the party was going on in full swing. She only made a few steps inside that everyone rushed on her. They brought her on their shoulders, and Cho forgot about everything else but their victory. This was one of the most beautiful days of her life, and she partied with all the other Ravenclaws to celebrate her first victory. On this day, she was the most popular girl in Ravenclaw.

Chapter Text

HARRY VIII

 

There was a point of light at the end of the tunnel. The point slowly expanded into a circle. Everything was fuzzy. He brought his hand to his eyes, rubbing them. He didn't have his glasses. He fumbled next to his bed until he found them and put them on his nose.

He was lying in a bed. His eyes fell upon a pile of wizardry sweets. Then he noticed a human shape sleeping in another bed to his left. His mother had her hands crossed on her tummy, her hair falling on the sheets, and she was fully dressed, like for a day of work.

"She's alright, Harry," a voice to his right said at the moment Harry was about to call his mother. Harry turned to the origin of the new voice. It was Albus Dumbledore.

"Professor? The Stone!" Harry moved to get out of bed.

"Calm yourself, dear boy. Quirrell doesn't have the Stone if that's what you're worried about."

"But... He had..." Harry hesitated to say the name.

"Voldemort." Harry was surprised that the headmaster would say his name. "Better call him by his name, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself."

"Voldemort... He was there... He was sharing Quirrell's body..."

"Indeed, he was. It is one of my many failures this year. Probably the worst of them. My failure to see that Voldemort had gotten inside our walls."

"I thought... I thought..." It was difficult for Harry to express his thoughts. He thought that Voldemort might be... dead. He had vanished, disappeared. This is what his mother always told him.

"I suppose you have a lot of questions," Dumbledore said, understanding.

"Where's the Stone?"

"The Stone... was destroyed. We can thank your mother for this."

Harry looked at her. "Is she..."

"She is fine, Harry. She recovered from your encounter with Voldemort much quicker than you did. She then remained at your side the whole time. Madam Pomfrey gave her a soporific so that she would sleep a little. She should be awakened in two hours."

Harry's memories came back piece by piece. He remembered Quirrell taking the Stone from him, and he was about to drink it. Then his mother arrived, took the Stone away, and forced him to leave. He had then heard noises of battle and ran back. He had seen the ceiling crumble on his mother's head, and Quirrell about to finish her. He had not thought and ran straight to him, taking Quirrell's face into his hands and tackling it to the floor. Harry had felt an unbearable pain, worse than anything, but he kept his hands on Quirrell's face. He couldn't think of anything else to stop him from killing her. Perhaps his mother would have enough time to escape if he held long enough. As the face of the professor had burned and turned black, Harry had lost consciousness.

"How long have I been in here?" he asked, looking all around to the infirmary.

"Three days. Your mother will be most relieved you have come round, and so will be Mr Ronald Weasley and Miss Hermione Granger."

"Ron is fine? What about Hermione?"

Dumbledore raised his hand. "They are fine, Harry. They are perfectly fine. Mr Weasley was brought to the infirmary by Professor McGonagall as soon as your two friends got out of the trapdoor. I arrived not long after. It didn't take me long to understand where you had gone. But apparently," he said as he heavily sat in a chair, "my presence wasn't required. Your mother and you made much of the work. Voldemort had already flown away by the time I found you. Both of you were seriously injured though, especially you. So I brought you here."

"What happened? I remember touching Quirrell's face. He was about to kill my mother. I didn't know what else to do."

"What you did was very brave, Harry. You risked your life to save her."

"But... I don't understand. I... I touched his face, and it hurt so much, but he was being hurt as well. It was as if his face was... burning. Really burning."

"It did. Because Quirrell shared his body with Voldemort, and Voldemort cannot touch you, Harry. He cannot hurt you, to be quite simple."

"Why?"

"Because of her," he pointed his mother with his chin. "And because of your father. That night Voldemort tried to kill you, your father gave his life to save you, and your mother was ready to do the same, Harry. They made an ultimate sacrifice because they loved you so much. Lily barely managed to survive that night. This love left a mark." Harry touched his scar. "No, this is not a scar, Harry. It is not a visible sign. It is a love that lives within you and that prevents Voldemort from ever harming you. He cannot touch you as long as you live with that love. This is something he cannot understand... because Voldemort doesn't understand love."

Harry wasn't sure if he understood. "So, when I touched Quirrell, he was being burned... by love?"

"Yes."

Harry tried to assimilate it. He looked at his mother, who had come to save him. He shouldn't have written to her before he went down the trapdoor. He put her life into danger.

"Is she mad at me?" What a stupid question to ask.

"I think she is mostly relieved that you are alive, considering the situation in which you found yourself," Dumbledore replied. "You'll have a lot of things to tell each other when she wakes up."

"So... the Stone... It's really been destroyed?" Harry asked, trying to go back to the matter at hand.

"Yes. Your mother made sure of it."

"But that means Nicolas Flamel and his wife will die?"

Dumbledore seemed a little sad then. "They have enough Elixir to set their affairs in order. Then yes, they will die. To Nicolas and Perenelle, it is like going to bed after a very, very long day. When I told him what happened, he was relieved. Sad, too. The Stone was the great achievement of his life. But living forever can become heavy after some time."

Harry was surprised by what the professor was saying. "How did I get the Stone? I looked into that mirror and saw myself placing it in my pocket. The next moment, it was really inside my pocket."

Dumbledore smiled. "I'm glad you asked. This mirror is very special, Harry. This is the Mirror of Erised. It shows people what they desire the most in this world, their deepest wish. And for you, in that moment, it was to find the Stone. And only someone who wanted to find the Stone - find it, but not to use it - would be able to get it. A very good idea of mine, if you see what I mean."

Harry couldn't help but laugh with the Headmaster of Hogwarts. However, he stopped quickly. "That didn't stop Voldemort from getting the Stone. If it wasn't of..."

Dumbledore looked at his mother. Without her, Harry would have failed. Voldemort would be back. Dumbledore said nothing.

"Sir, if the Stone is destroyed, does that mean that Voldemort is gone, for good this time?" He feared the answer.

"I'm afraid he is still out somewhere. Perhaps looking for another body to share. He left Quirrell to die the moment he had no need of him. He's neither totally alive or totally dead, so he can't be killed. But if people stand against him like you did, maybe he will remain under that form forever."

"There are things he told me. He said... he said no one ever told me why he tried to kill me that night, ten years ago. Why?"

Dumbledore seemed embarrassed. "That... is an answer I cannot provide, Harry. I'm afraid the reasons why Voldemort wanted to kill you are very nebulous. Back then, we indeed received information that he was going after you and your parents, and it seemed like you were his target. But we don't know why he wanted to kill you, specifically."

"So... my father... and my mother... Everything that happened is because of me?" Harry asked, feeling horribly guilty.

"No, Harry. You were not the first person who Voldemort decided to kill. And every time he decided to kill someone, he was ready to do everything to reach that goal, including slaughtering and destroying everything in his way. You are not to blame, Harry. Voldemort is."

That didn't really reassure him.

"Voldemort said that he spared her because a friend of hers asked him to. What did he mean by that?"

Dumbledore sighed. "I'm sorry, Harry. This is really not my answer to provide. Ask your mother after she wakes up, if you want. But be kind and gentle with her. You caused her a lot of worries this year. You shouldn't be too hard on her for events that happened when she was your age."

This confused Harry, but Dumbledore didn't give him the chance to go further.

"I think it is time to leave you to your rest. Enjoy the gifts of your friends. And make sure to be in shape when your mother wakes up."

Harry smiled, but then he realized the pile was way too huge only for his friends to have brought these. "Who brought everything?"

"Your friends," Dumbledore repeated. "Though you may not know some of them. We may call them admirers instead. What happened down in the dungeons between you and Professor Quirrell is a complete secret, so, naturally, the whole school knows. I believe Mr George and Mr Fred Weasley tried to send you a lavatory seat, but Madam Pomfrey felt it might not be hygienic."

On that last joke that caused Harry to laugh, the Headmaster left. Harry then laid on his back, his head on the pillow. He turned his head to his left to look at his mother who was still sleeping peacefully, and he waited for her to wake up. He ate some of the sweets his friends brought him, thinking how funny it would have been if he actually received the lavatory seat. He remembered hearing the Weasley twins telling their little sister, Ginny, that they would send her one before they embarked on the Hogwarts Express. He wondered if they actually did send her one.

He hoped that his mother would wake up soon. On one side, he had many questions to ask her. There were these things Voldemort said. Do you know why I tried to kill you that night... When you were still a baby... Have you ever wondered why I spared your mother on that day... Why she is alive today... Why your father died and she is still breathing... Harry told himself that it was nothing. Voldemort had killed his father. He was just taunting his mother, trying to make her suffer. But there was also a part of him that had questions for her. And there was also what Dumbledore just told him. You shouldn't be too hard on her for events that happened when she was your age. What did it mean? He wanted to know, but at the same time, he looked at his mother, and he thought she must have been worried for him. She was always worried about him, but this time... He had gone through a dog with three heads, a Devil's Snare, giant chess pieces, poisons and even Voldemort himself, all that for a stone. He felt guilty for bringing her in all this, for endangering her life. Would it really be the time to ask her questions?

Ron and Hermione came to visit him later. Hermione looked about to throw herself into her arms. Luckily, she didn't. Harry was afraid that Madam Pomfrey would send them both out if she did.

"We were so worried about you," Hermione said very quickly. "Dumbledore told us you would be fine, but you were out for so long..."

"Well, glad to see you back, Harry," Ron interrupted her. "The whole school is talking about this. I think there are over a hundred different stories. Fred and George must be at the origin of half of them. What really happened?"

"Wait, first, I want to know what happened to you? How did you get out of the dungeons?" Harry asked.

"You should ask Hermione. I was unconscious most of the time."

"Well, we needed help," Hermione started to explain. "I carried Ronald up to the Devil's Snare, but I couldn't keep him on a broom to fly. That's when your mother arrived. Is she okay?" Hermione asked while looking at her.

"Just sleeping. Please continue, Hermione."

"Oh, yes. I helped her grab the right flying key, and then she arranged something for me to fly with Ronald on a stretcher behind. We got through the trapdoor, and then we left the forbidden corridor. We quickly found Professor McGonagall and brought Ron here. Dumbledore arrived not long after. He seemed to already know where you were."

"I only remember arriving at the infirmary," Ron said. "And I left the day after. Just in time, or I might have missed the Quidditch match."

"The Quidditch match?" Then Harry remembered. "What happened against Ravenclaw?"

"We lost," Ron said, obviously unhappy about it. "Really, it was unfair. Wood had to make Katie Bell the Seeker. She's not bad, but she's not you. That girl from Ravenclaw got the Snitch and we lost the championship."

"Do you have a problem with their Seeker being a girl?" Hermione asked, after rolling her eyes.

"No, but she was only a replacement. The girl was only a second-year, and you have no idea how small she was."

"Harry is small," Hermione pointed out. Harry was about to contest this assertion, but Ron spoke before he could.

"Hermione, she was very, very small. We should have won. The team was motivated to win like never. We arrived third, with only twenty points behind Slytherin. Fred and George were angry too, and they were right. And Ginny then spent the day asking to see you and how you were doing. I don't know how many times I had to tell her you were okay, but that she couldn't enter the school."

"What was the worst for you? Losing a Quidditch game or enduring your little sister?"

"Hey, you weren't there at the game. You spent it with Harry and his mother here. We were so close to winning this year, and Slytherins get their sixth Quidditch Cup in a row! If I had been that Seeker, I would have let Katie Bell catch the Snitch."

They continued quarrelling, and Harry couldn't help but find it funny. He got the impression that Ron and Hermione somehow kind of enjoyed it as well, and kept arguing only for the sake of it. His mother stirred at this moment, but Hermione and Ron continued to argue.

"James," she mumbled as she rubbed her eyes and yawned, sitting in her bed. "How many times did I tell you? No wandering with your cloak at night."

Harry didn't know how to react to this, and Hermione and Ron didn't seem to either, as they both stopped arguing and looked at Harry's mother. She looked only half-awaken, but sat on her bed with her feet in Harry's direction, and as soon as she saw him, she rushed to him and pulled him into a tight embrace.

"Harry! I was so afraid for you!"

Harry supported the hug. He looked at Ron and Hermione who waved their hands to tell him goodbye, obviously not wanting to stay there. Harry tried to nod his head to mean he understood and to thank them.

"Please, never make me afraid like this again, my dear."

Harry nodded. His mother might be overprotective, but he loved her, and she loved him. The fact he felt tears falling on the top of his head was proof enough of that. He had questions for her, but in this very moment, he decided to leave them unanswered. After all, didn't Dumbledore tell him to not be too hard on her for events that happened when she was his age? And considering what Harry just did, he guessed he should just let it go.

Chapter Text

LILY VIII

 

"Level Two, Department of Magical Law Enforcement, including the Improper Use of Magic Office, Auror Headquarters and Wizengamot Administration Services."

The cool female voice announced the floor as the doors of the lift opened. Lily walked out. The enchanted windows on the walls showed a huge storm going on outside, which was completely in contrast with today's actual weather, a sunny day without a single cloud on the horizon. Lily wondered if that storm was representative of the meeting she would have in a few minutes.

For probably the hundredth time today, she took the letter she received this morning and read it.

 

Dear Mom,

Dumbledore gave us one hundred and fifty points for what happened in the dungeons. We won the House Cup. You should have seen Draco Malfoy's head.

Eager to get back home. I love you.

Harry

 

She smiled while reading it once more. Slytherin had previously won the House Cup for six consecutive years. No wonder Harry was happy about it. She was as well. She could imagine how Snape was angry when it happened. McGonagall was probably on a little cloud. More important, Harry would be home soon. She looked forward to spending the summer vacations with her son, especially after the first year he got at Hogwarts. She wouldn't let him out of her sight.

The oak doors gave way as she pushed them. She put back the letter into her pocket. On the other side, Aurors were busy working like always. After a few months spent here, the gazes on Lily whenever she walked somewhere and the whispers that accompanied her behind her back had diminished, but there were still some.

On her way to the office of Rufus Scrimgeour, as she walked through the cubicles, she came across Kingsley Shacklebolt, the only Auror who truly welcomed her when she arrived. He looked up as she approached, and bowed his head in salutation. Lily returned it and continued on her path.

She arrived in front of the office. Scrimgeour's assistant was still standing guard there, working.

"Mr Chang. I have an appointment with Mr Scrimgeour," she told him.

Gen Chang looked up to her. "Yes. He will available soon." He then squinted. "I didn't see you during the last weekend."

Lily was caught off guard. What did he mean? "We were supposed to meet?"

"Well, my daughter played her first Quidditch game, and it was against Gryffindor. I didn't see you in the crowd."

Yes, of course. Harry had missed the match because he was still in the infirmary. And of course, Lily didn't attend because she was with her son the whole time. "My son didn't participate to the game."

"A pity. Cho was really excited to face him."

Cho. Why did she have the feeling that she heard this name before? Before she could ponder on this, Scrimgeour's door opened. An Auror with a black beard came out and the Head of the Auror Office saw Lily waiting. He indicated her to come with a simple gesture of his hand.

"Have a good day, Mr Chang," she told the assistant.

"You too, Mrs Evans."

The door closed behind her after she entered the office.

"Please sit, Mrs Evans," Scrimgeour told her. He sat as well and looked at her. "I find myself in quite an unusual position. One of our trainees, you in this very case, missed several days of training, including two crucial tests, for reasons that she didn't care to explain to the Ministry. This is enough reason to expel a trainee from our program."

This is what she feared. However, against all expectations, including her own, Lily didn't feel afraid. The news had no effect on her. On the contrary, she felt... relieved. After Harry recovered from their fight against Voldemort and left the hospital wing of Hogwarts, Lily left the castle as well and returned home. It was then that she was informed that, due to her absence, she missed and failed two tests in her training. She was later summoned by Rufus Scrimgeour himself to discuss the matter. She had been expecting and worrying about this meeting for the past week. She had continued her training in the meantime, on orders from Scrimgeour. She thought it was a good sign, that they still wanted her to finish her training, but maybe she was being too optimistic.

The recent days had been emotionally charged for Lily. She had fought Voldemort, or at least the servant with who he shared his body, and she was gravely injured. Though this was nothing compared to the injuries her son sustained. She thought her heart might stop when Harry rushed on Quirrell, without a wand, without any weapon, only with his hands, and knocked him on the floor. She really thought she would lose him. But she didn't. Harry survived, although not unscathed. She spent three days watching over him in the infirmary, refusing to sleep, even to eat at the beginning. She then spent another whole day with him after he woke up, until he finally left the hospital wing. She missed important parts of her training due to this, but she didn't regret it. If sacrificing her training as an Auror and a potential future career was the price to pay to protect her son's life, and to prevent the assassin of her husband to return, then it was a sacrifice she was willing to make, and to accept.

"However, in normal circumstances, I don't receive this." Scrimgeour dropped something, a piece of paper, certainly a letter, on his desk. "This is an account from Albus Dumbledore of what recently happened in Hogwarts. I'd like to hear your version of the events."

Lily was surprised by the request. She went on explaining what happened nonetheless in the dungeons of Hogwarts and how she ended there. The letter she received from her son. The discovery that he and two of his friends were not in their dormitories during the night. Lily going into the dungeons to find them. Her encounter with Hermione and Ronald. The obstacles she had to get past through. And her duel against Quirinus Quirrell who served as a host to Lord Voldemort's spirit. It was better to tell the truth, as unbelievable as it may seem.

The Head of the Auror Office listened to her attentively, betraying no emotion or reaction. He then asked her how her son ended up in these dungeons in the first place. She then explained how the Philosopher's Stone found itself in that place, and that Harry discovered someone was trying to steal, without giving too many details on his research. When she was done explaining, Rufus Scrimgeour's lips tightened. He stood up like an automaton and went to take something from a filing cabinet. He then dropped the file right in front of Lily on his desk.

"Take a look at it," he ordered.

Lily wasn't sure what this was about. So she opened the file. It was a new training schedule.

"If that story had come from anybody else, I would have thought this was a tale for children. But seeing that Dumbledore himself confirms your story, I think it is true. So we may as well consider that those two tests you missed were useless for you, in light of your accelerated training program."

Indeed, Lily could see it. The schedule contained her new program for the next... two years! Two years, instead of two and a half years. Her training was shortened as a result of some tests and courses being removed from her schedule. She expected to get expelled, and instead she felt that it was like she received a promotion.

"We cannot make you an Auror right away, Mrs Evans, but it is obvious that some of the training we provide to all our trainees would be wasted time for you, and for the Ministry. If you are to become an Auror, I would rather have you take the position earlier."

"Thank you, Mr Scrimgeour." She struggled to keep emotions out of her voice. It didn't take a lot for her to get emotional with recent events.

"I want to be sure," Scrimgeour went on. The man was already serious all the time, but this time there was additional gravity to his behavior. "You really fought the Dark Lord? He's still alive?"

"Yes, he is."

The Head of the Auror Office tightened his lips further, and patted his own fingers while his hands were crossed, not leaving Lily's eyes for an instant. He stood up.

"There aren't many people who would believe it," he then declared. "He tried to use the Philosopher's Stone to get his powers back, I guess?"

"Yes, and he would have succeeded if the Stone had fallen into his hands," Lily said.

"Then we're lucky you were there. I was an Auror during the last war. I never faced the Dark Lord, but I fought his disciples, Death Eaters, werewolves, Inferi, giants... If he is still out there, then he is a real danger."

He said nothing for quite a moment, as if he was lost into his thoughts. "Go back to your training, Mrs Evans. We might need Aurors like you sooner than we thought."

Lily left the office. The meeting went quite differently from what she expected. She looked at her new schedule as she walked out. There was a lecture beginning in ten minutes by an American Auror who would tell them about the strategies employed oversea to track and capture dark wizards. They were still early in the morning, so Lily supposed she had enough time to attend. The Hogwarts Express and Harry would not arrive before the evening.

Lily took place in the back of the seminar room when she arrived. She preferred to stay there as much as possible, attracting less attention in this way. Even in the United States, Voldemort's demise was a known event, and the name of Potter was famous. She would rather not take the risk of having any American Auror recognize her, even through odds were reduced after more than ten years and she didn't have a scar like Harry did. Still, she wouldn't take any chance.

Lily had found a place alone. She started to read the summary of the conference and the short biography of Bertrand King, today's speaker. He was born in Canada but moved to the United States later and became an Auror there. He was responsible for cold cases in America, for example when a dark wizard had disappeared for too long, or a murder wasn't solved after more than three years. Perhaps he worked on the disappearance of Peter Pettigrew, since Ministries of Magic from all countries were collaborating with the one of Great Britain. Not that it helped so far. Kingsley told her they still had no idea where he might be.

A young woman sat abruptly next to her, winded. "So, what is it about today?" she asked Lily, taking parchments, quills and ink out of her bag she had dropped unceremoniously at her feet.

"Don't you read your schedule?" Lily asked. She found it strange that another trainee didn't know the subject of the conference today.

"I woke up late, and I had to rush in. Damn, I forgot that important work I had to give today. I'll have to go back home during lunch time, and rush back here again."

As the young woman was arranging her stuff on the very small table in front of every chair, she knocked over her ink, which spread on all her parchments.

"Argh! Not again," she complained. "It's the second time this week. Excuse me, would you have some parchments to share? I'll give you some back, I promise," she asked Lily.

"I think we should first clean all this. Scourgify." The ink stain disappeared from the desk. Then Lily cast it a second time to remove it from the parchments that were sullied, and a third time to clean the ink that dropped on the floor.

"Thanks," the young woman said, grateful. She could now use the parchments she previously soiled. "I never managed to be good with cleaning spells. Totally unlike my mother. You should see her. She cast a cleaning spell on a cabinet, and it cleans everything inside and outside, visible or invisible, to the most inaccessible corner. When I try, she always points me a small spot where there is still dust, even after my fifth attempt. And don't start me on how she berates me when I can't clean the toilets perfectly."

Lily muffled a little laugh. This young woman was clearly not even twenty, like most of the trainees in the program. She must have gotten out of Hogwarts maybe a year ago. Had it been a year sooner, she might have seen Harry during the Sorting. Looking at her, she thought that the girl might have attracted a lot of attention. Her appearance was quite out of norms. She had her hair short, spiky, and it was dyed in a pink color that reminded Lily of bubble gum. Even her attire seemed out of place. In the Muggle world, some would have said that she was following the punk style. However, at first sight, she gave more the impression of an excited young girl rather than a homeless woman who smoked and cared about nothing around her.

The lecturer arrived at this moment. He talked for hours until lunch break. Lily took notes of everything he said. She was back at her time at Hogwarts, where she noted every word from her professors. She advised Harry to do the same before he embarked on the Hogwarts Express the first time. She wondered, while listening to a detailed account of a wizard's chase that lasted twenty years, if her son applied this advice throughout the year.

At lunch time, her young neighbor rushed back to her home like she said she would. Lily bought herself a sandwich for lunch and ate it alone while reviewing her notes. That was something the Lily who studied at Hogwarts wouldn't have done. She would have taken her lunch with her friends, like Mary. But today's Lily was a solitary woman, a single mother whose best friend was her son, who remained far from the others. While in the world of Muggles, she didn't want to get too close to her colleagues, since she still had a foot in the world of magic. And this habit to avoid company followed her at the Ministry of Magic ever since she began her training.

Lily was eager for the day to be over and to head for King's Cross. She read her son's short letter once more before the young woman came back for the rest of the conference, out of breath again.

"I managed to give my work... just in time." She toppled a few chairs on her way back to the place just next to Lily. "Again! I always make things fall!" she raged, and went to replace the chairs in question, making at least two others fall in the process.

Lily had to admit that she found her clumsiness quite entertaining. Lily had the impression that her hair looked more red than pink now. The lecturer came back, and Lily noticed when looking at her watch that the conference was about to resume. She prepared some more blank parchment to take additional notes.

"Oh, by the way, my name is Tonks," the young woman next to her told her.

"Tonks?" Lily asked.

"Family name. Don't ask me my first name. I refuse to give it."

"Tonks..." she whispered.

The American Auror started talking again, explaining how keeping in touch with Muggles' police forces could prove vital in solving cold cases. Muggles sometimes gathered evidence that could lead wizards on a track to find a runaway assassin, for example. Lily listened only with a single ear, thinking about what her neighbor just told her. Tonks. She knew that name.

The conference lasted another two hours, and ended with a conclusive speech about how solving cold cases was vital to ensure the work of Aurors was complete. Lily had some time ahead of her before the Hogwarts Express would arrive, but she decided she would go to the Platform right away and wait. This was a beautiful day, unlike what the enchanted windows wanted them to think, and she could continue studying while waiting for Harry. Her companion for the conference though, had a lot to say before she left.

"Well, boring hours," she stated flatly. "I hope the speaker will be more entertaining next time."

"Aurors cannot be perfect, Nymphadora," Lily told her.

At the mention of her name, the young woman knocked another chair. "How... How do you know my name?"

"The last time we met, you were only five-years-old, and you had yellow hair back then."

The look of consternation on the young woman's face, and the change of color of her hair from red to violet, was amusing to witness. "Do we know each other?"

"Let's just say that your mother's cousin is the godfather of my son." Nymphadora's expression was even more bewildered than ever. "Say hello to your mother for me. Tell her it comes from Lily. She'll understand."

She left Andromeda's daughter there. She wondered how much time it would take to Nymphadora to realize who Lily was. This conference was the first she participated to that were only accessible for trainees in their second year. So it was no surprise that there were people in the assistance who never met her and didn't know yet who she was. She was surprised though to discover that Andromeda's daughter was training to become an Auror as well. Maybe her training would prove more entertaining than she thought.

Lily left the Ministry by the visitor's entrance this time. King's Cross wasn't very far away, so she walked to her destination. Once inside the railway station, she crossed the barrier and ended on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. The railway line was empty for now. It would probably take another two hours before the train arrived. In the meantime, Lily read something for her training. She waited for a very long time, and only within the thirty minutes before the Hogwarts Express arrived did parents and families of the students began to pour on the platform.

"Mrs Lily!"

Before Lily could look up, she heard running footsteps on the ground and, when she actually looked up, a little girl with fiery red hair was standing in front of her. Like every time Lily had met her, her presence brought a sincere smile upon her face.

"Hi Ginny. I didn't expect to see you so soon. You look radiant today. Did you come here all alone?" Lily asked, knowing very well the answer as Ginny's face turned red.

"No, she didn't." Molly Weasley was not far away. Lily had remained sitting on the bench to speak at Ginny's level, but she stood up to welcome Molly. "It's good to see you, Lily."

"You too, Molly. No husband yet?"

"No, he's still at work." Lily noticed Ronald's mother looked exasperated. "And from what I can see, you are pretty occupied as well," she added while pointing to her books and parchments she left on her seat. Lily stowed them back into her bag with a wand movement.

"Training to become an Auror is not a full-time job. It is an overtime job."

"Yes, it's true," Molly said, seemingly through realization. Lily had told her when they met for the Quidditch match against Hufflepuff that she had started training to become an Auror. "How is it going by the way?"

"Quite well. I even managed to reduce the time I'll need to get through the training. Two and a half years instead of three."

Molly seemed quite surprised. "How did you do it?"

"It seems that fighting and surviving Voldemort earns you some points."

She was talking as much about herself as about Harry when she said that, but it earned her a grimace from Molly, who obviously wasn't used to hear the name, and a small shriek from Ginny. On that, Lily felt guilty as she should have been more cautious.

"Sorry, I shouldn't have said the name," she apologized to both the mother and the little girl, but especially to Ginny.

"I..." Molly then looked at her daughter. "Ginny, stay here for a moment. Don't go anywhere."

Lily noticed that the little girl was quite displeased to stay aside, but she did it all the same. Lily understood her mother afterwards when the subject Molly wanted to discuss was confirmed.

"I didn't want to believe what Ron wrote in his letter, but..." she whispered as they were a little far from Ginny. "Then Professor Dumbledore wrote to me about it as well. They both said you saved Ron's life."

"I found him in the dungeons when I went down there. He was being helped by Hermione Granger. She saved him as well."

"Thank you." She pulled Lily into an embrace.

"I just did what every mother would do."

Molly broke the embrace and sighed. Lily could see that tears were threatening to break. "I'm not sure if I would have been able to. I mean... You-Know-Who... Was it really him?"

"Yes, it was him. Believe me, if someone can recognize this man, it's me."

"I can't believe that... my Ron almost got close to him."

"Your son was lucky. Mine not so much." She didn't say it as a reproach, but Molly confounded herself in excuses.

"I'm sorry. I just... I thought that letters about Fred and George blowing up toilets would be the worst I would have to endure this year, but this? What were they thinking, keeping a Philosopher's Stone in a school?"

On that, Lily shared Molly's exasperation. "Well, there is no Stone anymore, so they should be fine from now on."

Lily wasn't sure if she was trying to convince herself or Molly. For ten years, she and Harry remained far from Voldemort. He had disappeared from the world and their lives after that night when James died. She almost began to think he would never come back. But now, after seeing him, confronting him, she knew deep down that he would come back, sooner or later. Dumbledore said so to her while Harry was still recovering. He also brought up the topic of the prophecy, and the fact that Harry would have to be made aware of it sooner or later. Lily had cut him short there. She wouldn't have Harry know about this. Luckily enough, Dumbledore was of the same opinion for now, since Harry was only eleven, but he warned her that the day would come when he would have to know. Not before I want him to know, she had warned Hogwarts' Headmaster.

"I should get back to Ginny. Please, don't tell her what happened," Molly asked.

"I promise," Lily replied.

The little girl was waiting for them impatiently. "What were you talking about?" she asked immediately.

"Something that doesn't concern you, Ginny," her mother replied.

"I'll be in Hogwarts in September. I'm almost eleven."

"It doesn't matter. These discussions are not for your ears."

"I want to know."

She looked defiantly at her mother, who crossed her arms. Lily guessed it meant clearly she wouldn't tell anything. Ginny then looked at Lily with the same expression, and when Lily kindly shook her head to mean she would tell nothing, the little girl seemed very upset and looked away, saying nothing. This one had some character. Relating on her own experience at this age, Lily decided it was better to let her sulk in her corner for a time. She turned to Molly.

"So, any plans for you and your children this summer? Your son Ronald told me you visited one of his brothers in Romania during the Christmas holidays."

"Yes, we did. In fact, I feel a little guilty about this," Molly added while whispering. "We only brought Ginny with us and almost told the boys to stay at Hogwarts because the trip would have cost too much if we had all gone there. We are not... very rich."

Lily already knew it. Ronald let it escape his lips while he was staying at their home for Christmas. She knew that Arthur Weasley, Molly's husband, worked for the Ministry of Magic, and was heading the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office. According to Ronald when he had talked about his father's job during the holidays, it was the most boring job in the Ministry of Magic and his father only had an assistant under his orders. That probably meant he didn't receive a large remuneration. Add to this that Molly was a stay-at-home mother and they had seven children, including five who still lived at home, and Lily could imagine it was sometimes hard to make ends meet. She herself sometimes struggled in the world of Muggles, being a single mother working full time while taking care of her son, but she never had to make huge sacrifices for Harry. Their lifestyle was simple, they always had more than enough to eat, and never lacked anything that was essential. However, since she went back to live in the world of magic, Lily had found herself in a much more comfortable position. James' fortune, which was hers now, ensured all her needs and Harry's while she could follow her Auror training. Monetarily speaking, they had absolutely nothing to worry about.

She had thought Ronald might be exaggerating when he said how his family was poor and his father's job was boring. She told him back then about how her own job among the Muggles was boring and badly remunerated. It had seemed to lift up his spirits a little, but she was beginning to wonder if there was more truth to what he said.

"Well, for me and Harry, it will be a stay-at-home summer. My training will not stop during his vacations," she said, trying to get the attention somewhere else and showing Molly they would not be the only ones to stay at home.

"So you're going to work the whole summer? No vacation at all?"

"No. Especially not with my accelerated schedule. I'll try to be at home the most I can. I don't want Harry to be alone the whole summer, or else it will get boring very quickly for him."

"Well, if you want, he can come to our home whenever he wants," Molly offered. "Ron already asked me about it, and I would really be happy if his friend could come."

"It's a good idea," Lily said. "We will find a time."

"Wait, Mom." It was Ginny who addressed Molly. The sulking time was over. "Harry Potter is coming home this summer?"

"Maybe," her mother said.

This seemed to excite Ginny very much. Lily was afraid all of a sudden, but she brushed away the concern right away. Ginny was only a child. And being excited about having her son under your roof was to be expected from most of the people.

The platform kept being filled with more parents and families waiting for their children. Lily's own parents had pulled her into a tight embrace when she had come out of the train after her first year, and even Tuney was smiling back then. It was the beauty of these kinds of moments, whether you were leaving for or coming from Hogwarts. You were happy to go to school and sad to leave your parents at the same time, or the opposite. Lily, Molly and Ginny kept talking about the upcoming summer, about Hogwarts since Ginny had a lot of questions about it, and about the children. From Ginny, questions about Harry came up a little too often to Lily's taste.

Finally, the locomotive's whistle was heard, and they felt the ground shaking as the train approached. The locomotive soon rode inside the station, followed by the many wagons behind that carried the hundreds of students coming home for the next two months. Parents pressed each other along the lines in the hopes to see their children through the windows of the compartments. Lily lost sight of Molly and her daughter in the process. When the train stopped, children began pouring out of the wagons immediately, from the first-years who jumped in their parents' arms to the graduates who now behaved like adults.

Lily searched for her son, but it was difficult to see if he was already on the platform with the crowd that had gathered around the train, or to distinguish his voice among all the others. But then she heard someone's voice she could not mistake for any other, either by the words she said or by her tone.

"There he is, Mom, there he is, look! Harry Potter! Look, Mom! I can see..."

"Be quiet, Ginny, and it's rude to point," Lily heard Molly berate her daughter.

Lily continued to look around where she thought the voice came from, and located her son. Harry saw her immediately and walked to her right away.

"Hello, Mom," he told her as she hugged him.

"It's good to see you, my dear." He broke the embrace and turned to the girl behind him.

"You remember Hermione?"

"Of course, I do. We saw each other quite recently, after all. You haven't found your parents yet?"

"They're waiting for me on the other side of the barrier," Hermione answered.

"Well, you have all your things with you? Yes? Then let's go. We must not keep Hermione's parents waiting."

On their way, Lily waved a hand at Molly who was still waiting for her children to come out from the train.

"Hey, see you two over summer yet," Ronald shouted. Both Harry and Hermione said goodbye.

Harry turned to his mother. "Ron invited me to spend some time at his home during the summer," he explained.

"That's alright. I talked with his mother. We'll find a good moment for that," Lily assured.

"Oh, and Hermione could come home some time as well?" he asked.

"Of course, if her parents are okay with that?" Lily asked to the girl.

"If you can guarantee them that your food is not corrosive for teeth, there should be no problem," she said. Lily found it quite funny, and Harry too, though Hermione seemed very serious.

On the other side of the barrier, they met Hermione's parents. After a few words, they went their separate ways, but not before Harry and Hermione promised each other they would call during summer.

"I gave her our phone number while in the train," Harry told his mother afterwards. "It doesn't bother you?"

"Not at all. Only, we have a different phone number now, remember?"

Harry groaned. "No, I forgot about it."

"You have hers?" He nodded on the affirmative. "Then you'll call her and give our new number. In the meantime, let's get home."

"Where is it?" Harry asked as they arrived on the streets.

"Not far away."

"Where's your car?"

Lily smiled. "We don't need a car to get there."

They walked through the streets of London, heading for their new home.

Chapter Text

HERMIONE IV

 

"YEAH!"

A part of the crowd exploded as another goal was scored. Hermione was part of this crowd. The team who just scored retreated back into a defensive position while the keeper retrieved the ball. After waiting a moment, he sent it to another player of his team. The ball kept going from one player to another, getting closer to the net. They were at three-quarters of the terrain when Harry slid and pushed the ball to one of his teammates.

"Yes, Harry! Let's go!" his mother shouted. She was sitting next to Hermione.

They sat on the metallic benches on the side of the field, watching Harry play football. Hermione looked at the scoreboard on the other side of the field. There were only ten minutes and twenty-seven seconds left. Harry's team led 2-0. Judging by the limited numbers of goals within a game, and how close to the end they were, Hermione doubted they would lose today. She took another gulp of her smoothie. The temperature was very high today. They were in the middle of a heat wave. She didn't know how Harry did to play in these conditions. Hermione felt like she was roasting despite her light clothes. Harry's mother was dressed in a similar way. It had almost surprised Hermione to see her like this as the few times she saw Mrs Evans, she either wore pants with a jacket over a top with long sleeves, when she wanted to dress as a Muggle, or dark and long robes when she dressed as a witch.

Hermione herself had never been a huge sports fan. She moderately liked Quidditch, of course, like every wizard and witch, but she wasn't the kind of person who usually sat to watch people play for hours. Her parents though, being dentists, forced her to make sports activities along with ensuring she followed a good diet for health purposes. One of their main concerns when she went to Hogwarts was that the food they served there was balanced. However, if it was to watch a friend play, she quite enjoyed it, like when Harry played Quidditch at Hogwarts.

She watched Harry remove the ball from another player of the opposing team again, and passing it to one of his own teammates.

"Let's go the wizard! Come on! Show us some magic!"

The man who just shouted was Harry's coach. Hermione looked at Mrs Evans. "They know Harry is a wizard?" she whispered to the woman. Luckily enough, the benches were not packed and there was enough distance between them and the other parents and spectators to make sure they wouldn't hear them.

Lily Evans smiled. "He told his friends on his team about two years ago. They didn't believe him, but they started calling him the wizard on the field, to laugh. But Harry is so good at taking control of the ball that they kept using the nickname for this reason. It just stuck."

"Is this not a little dangerous?"

"Muggles don't know that magic exists, Hermione. And Harry's powers never manifested during a game."

Still, Hermione was not sure. She watched Harry's team passing the ball between them and taking a shot that hit the left pole of the net before going out the lines. The opposing team now attacked.

"How did you manage to register Harry on a team? The season starts before we leave school," she asked.

"I have a few tricks up my sleeve," she told Hermione, a smirk displayed on her face. Hermione wondered what she meant exactly. "I couldn't let my son alone in our apartment the whole summer. I'm too busy with my training. It would be stupid if he didn't have summer activities. Too bad there is no stadium for his favourite sport, though."

Hermione had no problem understanding this. In the heart of London, it was impossible for Harry to play Quidditch. How could you fly a broomstick in the most populated city of England?

The game came to an end. Harry's team had won 2-0. The team held a reunion at the end, but Harry didn't linger much afterwards. He ran to his mother and Hermione with his sports bag.

"We won," he said stated.

"We know, Harry. We watched the game, have you forgotten?" Hermione asked.

"Well, you know what victory means?" Mrs Evans asked.

Hermione remembered at this moment what it meant indeed. Harry's mother bought them a large ice cream cone for each. They ate on their way back to the apartment, something Hermione was sure her parents would disapprove.

"So, Hermione? Do you still find the game boring?" Harry asked her on their way, his mother walking not far ahead.

"Well, I wouldn't watch it if you weren't playing," Hermione answered sincerely. "It can be amusing, but I don't have much time for this. My parents are the real football fans. They are supporters of Manchester United. Our living room turns into a stadium every time they play. Do you have a favourite team?"

"Yes, Liverpool. But I'm more of a player than a watcher. And since I learned that I was a wizard, it's more the Quidditch professional games that I follow."

"Just like Ronald. And he speaks loudly, very loudly, about the Chudley Cannons, if you know what I mean."

"What, Ron managed to call you with a phone?" Harry asked, obviously surprised.

"Yes. He didn't try with you?"

"Yes, he did. It's just... well... I wasn't sure..."

Hermione understood what he meant and went on to explain. "Look, I still find Ronald noisy, impertinent sometimes lazy, and he complains way too much about too many things, but he helped us in those dungeons. He's a good friend. I won't take that away from him."

This seemed to reassure Harry, and to make him very happy. It was true. After the events at the end of last year, Hermione had come to consider Ronald Weasley as a friend. She couldn't pretend he wasn't one after he got almost killed by that giant chess queen. She understood now why he and Harry had been good friends. Perhaps there were aspects of his personality that were unsufferable, but in the moments when you really needed him, he was there.

"When you say he is noisy... Do you mean he screamed at you too when he called you?" Harry asked her.

Hermione grumbled and looked in his eyes. "It was as if he believed I wouldn't hear, as if I was on the other side of the world. He screamed at you too the first time?"

"Yes. He never used a phone before, Hermione. Don't be too hard with him."

"Apparently, his father is very knowledgeable about Muggle technology. I thought he would have explained Ron how to use a phone," she continued.

"He probably did, but Ron..."

"Well, he should use his common sense. I didn't know anything about the world of wizards before I received my letter for Hogwarts, and I didn't end up cleaning my dormitory with a flying broomstick."

Harry laughed at this moment. Hermione joined him after a moment. Harry was laughing much more easily than she did. But well, it was good to have a friend who took things more lightly than she did. Hermione had a tendency to take most things in life very seriously, a little like her parents.

Hermione had always been at the top at school, from as far as she could remember, even before she arrived at Hogwarts. As such, she earned a reputation of bookworm long before she embarked on the Hogwarts Express, a reputation that followed her at the school for witchcraft and wizardry. She had very few friends in elementary school, and as a result, she buried herself into books and studies even more. Her parents told her a few times that they were worried she had so few people at school she got along with.

The same pattern happened at Hogwarts. From the very beginning, on the Hogwarts Express, she felt alone. But she was also excited to make her marks and prove to everyone she could be the best witch in the world, despite her origins. Then Neville had come to meet her, asking if she had seen his toad, Trevor. He looked so lost, so sad about losing it, she decided to help him. He was quite different from the boys she was used to, who looked down on her. Neville just asked for her help, kindly, and she helped him the best she could. While she checked the whole train, she fell upon Ronald and Harry. She found Ron displeasing and rude at first sight. Harry was kinder, and she was excited when he told her his name. She began to find him irresponsible and stupid afterwards, especially when he took flight during their first flying lesson against Madam Hooch's orders, but she was also impressed by his skills on a broomstick, and by his willingness to break rules to retrieve Neville's Remembrall, though it was still stupid. She had to admit she was relieved to hear he wouldn't be expelled, and very surprised that McGonagall placed him on Gryffindor's Quidditch team. She was also impressed that he managed to answer one of the three questions Snape asked him at their first Potions class. She even congratulated him afterwards.

But then happened the night when he and Ronald left their common room in the middle of the night for a duel with Malfoy, which was obviously a trap, and could have gotten them in a lot of trouble. This was a pure act of stupidity and recklessness. Though now that she knew Malfoy better, she could understand to a certain degree why they went there. It was only after Halloween that she considered Harry a real friend. Harry was definitely not as knowledgeable and intelligent within a classroom as she was, but he was the only one who came to see her while she shut herself inside the toilets and who insisted to make sure she was alright, and who really tried to lift up her spirits. He was the first in Hogwarts to truly say something kind to her. She was quite touched by this, and after they dealt with the troll that night, he became her best friend. Ronald only became one as well after their adventure into the dungeons months later.

Although she sometimes disagreed with his behavior, she liked that Harry took things more lightly sometimes. Even the fact he could get himself and others into trouble was quite pleasant, since he did it for noble reasons most of the time. Hermione had to concede she sometimes felt thrilled by the idea of breaking rules. But more than anything, Harry was a very good friend, someone she could rely on.

"Here we are," her best friend in question said all of a sudden.

They arrived before an old tower that seemed abandoned, hence its name, the Abandoned Tower. It had broken windows and a gloomy appearance. They turned into an alley right next to it and walked deep into. Unlike many alleys in London, there were no homeless people nor anyone lingering there. They turned left towards a condemned door which they walked through without opening it.

On the other side, they were welcomed by a beautiful entrance hall that was perfectly lit by huge windows. The door outside acted like a barrier, just like at King's Cross, but this one opened to a tower where about twenty families of wizards lived, right next to the Muggles but out of reach for their eyes. This was where Harry lived with his mother since he came back home for his summer vacations. They climbed a few stairs before they arrived before the door that gave on their new apartment.

Hermione had never gone into Harry's old apartment, the one he and his mother occupied when they lived among the Muggles, but according to him, their new home was bigger and better lit. Windows in their apartment were as large as in the entrance hall. They had a vast living room and a modern kitchen with all necessary accessories. There were three rooms, one for Harry, one for his mother and one for guests, which Hermione occupied during the last week. She would leave at the end of the afternoon, when her own mother would come to bring her back home. It was a pity she couldn't invite Harry at her own home, but her parents were bringing her on vacations in Spain for most of the rest of the summer. She wouldn't be able to visit Ronald either because of that. It was a shame. Harry himself told her how excited he was to visit the Burrow.

"It would be better if you took a shower right away, Harry," his mother then told him. Indeed, she was right. Hermione had to agree with her. Her friend went to the bathroom without complaints and closed the door. It wasn't long before they heard water running.

"You want something to drink, Hermione?" Mrs Evans asked her.

"Yes. Orange juice, please."

"Right away." Harry's mother filled two big glasses with orange liquid and brought one to Hermione. "So, what are you planning to do for your last afternoon here?"

"I think I'd like to finish our work for Professor Binns. We're almost through, Harry and I."

"If you want. But you can do something more relaxing if you wish." Harry's mother took a long gulp of orange juice. "After all, you will not see each other before September, which means in over a month."

"I know. That's why I want to finish this work with him before I leave. I'm the only one who takes notes for the entire course. No one else does. Imagine if Harry didn't have my notes for his homework."

Mrs Evans smiled at her. "You're very kind, Hermione."

"He's my friend."

Mrs Evans' smile widened further. She finished her own glass. Hermione still had half of hers to empty. "Well, I need to get back to work me too. But don't hesitate to interrupt me if you need anything."

On that, Mrs Evans left her alone to go into her bedroom that also served as an office, which she closed the door behind her. She had indeed been working a lot of time during Hermione's stay in their home. Hermione knew the training to become an Auror was very demanding, and she admired the dedication of Harry's mother, all the while she continued to take care of her son. Hermione also admired Harry about how he handled the situation. He woke up early every morning to prepare breakfast for her, and he often ended preparing dinner alone. Hermione tried to help him, but it was obvious that Harry was far better at cooking than she was. Cooking wasn't part of the cursus at Hogwarts.

Harry got out of the shower about fifteen minutes later, fresh as a rose, but his hair still untamed and messy as ever. She sometimes wondered if he shuffled it on purpose, but she never witnessed him actually do it. Perhaps he just didn't care about combing it. Hermione didn't mind very much, truth be told. She didn't give much attention to her hair either.

"So, homework in History of Magic?" he asked, as if he already knew the answer. He must have heard the conversation Hermione had with his mother. He didn't look particularly enthusiastic about doing it. This meant Hermione had to push him.

"Yes," she replied in her bossy way.

Harry sighed. "Okay. You lead the way."

They went into Harry's bedroom, where he had his personal desk. Two chairs were already in front of it. Hermione could hear Harry's mother writing something behind her door. They took place and resumed the work they had started yesterday.

Harry and Hermione had chosen very different topics for their respective dissertation. Hermione had chosen the 14th Century Wizarding Economic Bubble, which eventually led to the creation of Gringotts. Hermione was fascinated by the various periods of this economic crisis and its consequences. Harry had chosen quite a different and limited subject in comparison, by focusing on the Gargoyle Strike of 1911. He consulted Hermione's notes, which she had placed between them, quite often. Hermione had already exceeded the number of words Professor Binns had asked from them, and she was only at the middle of her dissertation. Harry was reaching the end of his. He exceeded the professor's request, but not as much as Hermione did.

After an hour spent in writing and searching about their topic, Harry stretched on his chair. Hermione was at a passage on the creation of Gringotts, in the final stretch of her work, but there was a fact she needed to include, and she couldn't find it in her notes.

"Harry, could I borrow your History of Magic by Bathilda Bagshot?" Hermione asked. She had forgotten her own exemplary back at her home.

"Of course. It's in the living room, on the small table."

Hermione stood up and went to find it. The table in question was littered with books though, some open, some closed. Most of them belonged to Harry's mother. Future Aurors did have to read a lot.

Hermione was moving books in order to find the one she was looking for when she fell upon one that was open, with a drawing that attracted her attention. It represented a woman all dressed in black, with the bottom of her robes red, high boots in leather, a long wand in her right hand, and her left hand wearing a device she didn't recognize, but it looked like it contained a blade. But the eyes were what kept Hermione's attention on her face. The picture of this women was looking at her as if she could pierce all the secrets of Hermione's mind. The woman also had some freckles on her face. Her hood was raised and hid most of her head, but Hermione guessed her hair was black. She read the legend below the picture.

Evie Frye. Powerful witch of the Victorian era. Slayer of Jack the Ripper, the Witch Killer. Known to have brought from India fear-causing spells. Order of Merlin, First Class. Member of the Order of the Sacred Garter. Last known witch to be a member of the British Brotherhood of Assassins.

Hermione was intrigued by the text below the picture. She read a few lines on the page at the left. It was talking about a magical artifact called the Shroud of Eden. Hermione had never heard about this. She kept reading for some time, then someone walked behind her.

"Interesting reading?" Mrs Evans asked behind her shoulder. Hermione jumped in surprise.

"Sorry, Mrs Evans. I was... I was looking for the History of Magic and I..."

"Calm down, Hermione," Harry's mother said, almost laughing at the same time. "Curiosity is not a bad thing. But it happens to be the book I needed. I'm sorry to interrupt you."

She seized the book in question and closed it, the drawing of the woman disappearing. Hermione noticed a symbol on the book cover. It looked like an "A" without the horizontal line in the middle, and it had a curve bending downward underneath the letter. She also noticed the title of the book. Assassin Brotherhood. Reality and Myth. Hermione had never heard about this organization.

"What does it talk about?" Hermione asked.

"A secret society that presumably exists since the dawn of time. Muggles and wizards were apparently part of this organization. They dedicated their lives to hunting powerful magical artifacts in order to keep them away from people with bad intentions. Sometimes, I think they should have protected the Philosopher's Stone instead of Dumbledore."

"Why are you reading about them?" Hermione found their name quite strange and wondered why Aurors were to study them.

"They were experts in stealth and camouflage, but also secret assassinations." Now Hermione understood where their name came from. "Some of their tactics and strategies were adopted and adapted for the Aurors to use them when tracking and fighting forces of evil. Pardon me, Hermione. Work is waiting, for both of us, I believe."

Hermione woke up. Mrs Evans was right. She still had a dissertation to conclude. She resumed her search, quickly found the book from Bathilda Bagshot she should have been looking for since the beginning and went back to Harry's bedroom with it. She resumed her work there. Harry was very close to the end of his own dissertation. He was checking the beginning of her notes on the Strike, where the possible causes were detailed. This meant he was either reviewing his introduction or searching for a good way to conclude by reminding the origins of the Strike. Hermione accelerated the rhythm of her writing. Perhaps her own dissertation was too long. Or maybe it was too short. Once, Professor McGonagall told her homework was too long and needed to be more concise.

Hermione was about to conclude her work when Harry put down the final point to his own. "I think I've done it. What about you?" he asked her.

"I'm nearly over," she replied, still focused on her work.

"Okay. I can start reviewing your introduction if you want," he said, beginning the movement to look at the top of her parchment.

"Wait. I have to complete it first," she said, still writing furiously quickly.

"Alright."

Harry stood up and straightened again. Then he went to his bed, took the book he left there and started to read it. Hermione only saw him from the corner of her eyes, focused as she was on her work. Two minutes later, she had completed it. She sighed in relief, but now they had to review it.

"I'm done. Ready for review," she said, seizing Harry's parchment at the same time and starting to read it through it.

Harry remained on his bed reading his other book, which was apparently about the Tutshill Tornados, one of the thirteen professional Quidditch teams in England. He soon laid it back and went to review Hermione's parchment on his side. It was something she and Harry did sometimes, reviewing their respective work after they completed it. Hermione had several suggestions to make for Harry's copy, including adding further details in some instances or removing some in others, but overall this was a good homework. However, when she was done reviewing it, Harry was still halfway through her own. She waited for him to finish, but it was dinner time when he was finally done. Hermione, Harry and his mother dined after they prepared the meal together.

About half an hour later, Hermione's mother had arrived. She left after kissing Harry on the cheek and thanking Mrs Evans for her hospitality. She left through the magical barrier. Her mother could not enter. As a Muggle, the Muggle-Repelling Charm would make her leave if she approached the alley that led to it. Hermione climbed into the left seat at the head of the car, and her mother started driving.

"So, you've spent a good week, Hermione?"

"Yes, Mother."

"Did you brush your teeth on the morning and after every meal?"

Hermione wasn't surprised this was the second question her mother asked her.

Chapter Text

RON I

 

The sound of pipes being hit again and again woke up Ron, like many mornings. The sun was clearly visible, though Ron wished he could sleep longer some days. This day was one of them. He stayed in bed, remaining deaf to the noises the ghoul was making. After what seemed like five minutes to him though, he heard a loud noise, this time not coming from the attic, but from under his chamber's floor.

"Ronald Weasley, wake up! Everyone is already at the table!" his mother berated him from the inferior floor. She probably threw a spell so that a broom on the fourth floor would hit the ceiling under him.

With a groan, Ron got out of bed and went down the staircase until he arrived in the dining room, where indeed everyone was already there, except one.

"Where's Dad?" he asked.

"Already at work," Percy replied before their mother could do it. "You would know if you had woken up earlier."

"Like you, Mr Prefect, who arrived minutes after Dad left? It's not going to look pretty on your curriculum," Fred teased their older brother.

"Maybe we should write to the Minister about this," George added.

"Eat your breakfast, boys," their mother said, serving sausages, eggs and bacon to Ron. "And you too, Ginny."

"Ron, is Harry still coming tomorrow?" his little sister asked.

"Yes, he is," Ron replied, exasperated. It had to be the hundredth time he answered the same question from Ginny. Ever since he told them two weeks ago when Harry would arrive, Ginny had asked him every day, sometimes up to ten times within the same day, if Harry was still coming.

"Ginny, are you going to ask him his autograph?" George asked.

"Because we're planning to ask for his as well. Percy, do you want one too? Why ask for two or three when we can ask for four?" Fred joked.

"Oh, Fred, George, leave that poor boy alone. No autograph. And I don't want any of you asking any question about You-Know-Who while he stays here. And Ginny, you don't point him when he arrives," their mother warned them all.

His mother always talked of Harry as a poor boy. She said it had to be horrible, what he went through as a baby, and also in Hogwarts before the summer vacations. Ron found it annoying in the end, just like Ginny's repetitive questions. He had been knocked out as well in those dungeons. He could have died. As for what happened when he was a baby, it was a very long time ago, and Harry himself told Ron that he remembered nothing of that day. It wasn't that a big deal. After spending so much time with Harry over the last year, Ron had come to realize that he was just a normal kid, just like he was. The only real difference was the scar on his forehead. Ron would like it if everyone could just behave normally about and around his friend.

"We must behave normally with him," Percy said. For a very rare time, Ron agreed with him. "I mean, at Hogwarts, people were pointing him all the time, and whispering behind his back. I stopped it as much as I could, but I couldn't be next to him all the time, and there were so many people talking that..."

"What were they saying about him?" Ginny asked, interrupting the older of her brothers at the table.

"All sorts of things, Ginny. And at the end of the year, let me tell you it was no better. People were still whispering behind his back whenever he went, especially after he made Gryffindor win the House Cup."

In fact, it was Ron, Hermione and Harry who made Gryffindor win the Cup. But he didn't want to risk engaging a debate without end with Percy or facing Fred and George's jokes.

"Yeah, we still don't really know what happened in those dungeons. Ron, is it true you got knocked out while playing chess down there?" George asked.

Ron turned red. So much for trying to avoid mockeries. "They were giant pieces of chess, okay? Did you ever experience what it is like to be hit by a queen?"

"I did," Fred replied. "I tried to get Madam Pomfrey to treat the bruise on my finger, but she refused and kicked me out of the hospital wing. My bottom has never felt the same ever since."

They all laughed, even Ron, at the exception of Percy. Even their mother couldn't contain her short laughs this time.

"Stop that, you two fools. I'm wondering how many teachers kicked you in the back only last year," their mother asked, more seriously.

"Only seven. It was a record year," Fred replied proudly.

"Yes, it was, but were kicked eight times, in fact," George countered.

"Eight? Which did I forget?"

"Madam Hooch. You remember?"

"We didn't receive any kick from her. It was last year."

"You forgot the time she did it with her broom."

"It's not a kick. A kick must be performed with feet."

"I think we can kick someone out of the Quidditch pitch with a broomstick. That makes eight."

"No, we can't count it. Or else we would have to count the time in our first year when Filch did it with his broom. His normal broom. We never counted it."

"Yes, we did."

"No, we didn't."

"YES, we did."

"NO, we didn't."

"Enough you two!" their mother finally said, as Ron and Ginny muffled their laughs while exchanging a look.

"Will you go to the paddock while Harry's here?" Ginny asked Ron.

"I think so. Fred? George?"

"Of course. From what you're telling us, Ron, he doesn't have much opportunity to play Quidditch during summer," Fred replied.

"Be careful to not be spotted by the inhabitants of the village," Percy warned them.

"Can I come? To the paddock?" Ginny asked.

"Well, you can watch, Ginny. You don't need permission for that," Ron told her.

"But I want to fly."

"You didn't have your first flying lesson, little sister," Percy said. "You could hurt yourself."

"No, I wouldn't."

"Children, stop bickering. Finish your plates. And then, the garden needs to be de-gnomed," their mother said. "Fred, George, Ronald, you'll take care of it."

"Can I go with them?" Ginny asked.

"Of course, my dear. Go help your brothers."

Five minutes later, the four of them were in the garden. Ron had caught two gnomes, hanging one with each hand by the ankles, and swung them in circles. Then he cast them far away from the garden, over the edge. They fell like small potatoes in the grass beyond.

"Hey, Ron." It was Ginny who asked him questions while she spun another gnome. "You remember that game Gryffindor played against Ravenclaw?" Of course, Ron remembered. "Why couldn't they delay it? I mean, Harry was at the infirmary, and he was Gryffindor's Seeker. Why didn't they delay the game to let him wake up?"

"Because we can't delay a game because a player is injured," Ron said, gloomy. He hadn't completely digested yet the defeat. They were a blink of an eye away from winning the Quidditch Cup, and they let it slip.

"They could have made an exception. I mean, it was Harry Potter. It should count as something."

"Not for the professors. If only Bell caught the Snitch instead of that substitute Seeker..." Ron raged.

"I don't like this girl. The Ravenclaw Seeker. She should have let Gryffindor catch the Snitch. It's Harry who should have caught it. I'm willing to bet he would have gotten it if he had played, and this girl would not even have seen him catch it."

Ron was annoyed by the fact Ginny was talking about Harry nonstop since summer began, but on this matter, he agreed with her. Both Ginny and Ron had attended that game. Ginny had come with their mother, like the two times before that. She had been really upset when they lost. And she had complained that Harry wasn't playing as Seeker that day. Although it was for different reasons, Ron agreed with her. Harry should have been given the right to play the game. The match should have been delayed, especially since it wasn't Harry's fault that he was unavailable on this day. Whoever that girl who caught the Golden Snitch was, he knew one thing for certain, he wanted Harry to teach her a lesson when they would face each other this year.

"I want to fly with you and Fred and George today," she blurted.

"Ginny, if you get hurt, Mom is going to kill us."

"I won't get hurt."

"Yes, you will. You never mounted a broomstick before today," Ron stated as a matter of fact. Which it was.

"Because you never allow me to," his little sister said after a moment.

"Because Mom and Dad don't allow it."

"It's not fair. You were flying before you went to Hogwarts."

"That's not true. It was only George who brought me on his broom with him and leaned sideways all the time to make me afraid of falling."

"You're a scared boy, Ron," Ginny taunted him, while throwing another gnome out of the garden.

"And you're a silly girl," he retorted, doing the same but sending his own gnome farther.

"I'm silly? Did you look at yourself?"

There was no way of shutting up Ginny. She was his little sister and he loved her, but sometimes she got on his nerves, like Fred and George, and especially Percy could. At least Ron could enjoy his time with Ginny, Fred and George, while there was nothing to enjoy with Percy lecturing them, except when Fred and George would set traps for him.

"I always find them funny," Ginny said while grabbing another gnome. "A little like you, Ron. You look kind of alike."

"Me and those things?" Ron looked at the one he just caught, his head looking like a potato. "I don't think you could do this with me."

Ron turned around himself quickly with the gnome and released it at the right moment. It was the longest distance he reached today.

"Maybe I could try," Ginny taunted him.

"You're welcome. I won't be hurt when you fail."

Both laughed. That was the kind of humor he liked to share with his little sister. After the de-gnoming was over, Ron went back to his bedroom to have some quiet time, and maybe take a nap, but he ended up reading his comic books on The Adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle. He read the seventh issue, one of his favorite, where Martin tried to clean his house with a flying broomstick without realizing it, which resulted, among other things, in several holes in the ceiling and the walls, a broken nose and the house being messier than before. Whenever Martin got problems with his broom, his neighbors, doctors, the police and even his wife asked him how these accidents happened, and the absurd explanations he provided were always accepted as if everything was natural. Ron had a lot of fun and laughs reading about this, even if it was probably the tenth time he read this issue.

In the afternoon, Ron, Fred and George, accompanied by Ginny who tagged along, went to the paddock with their broomsticks. As they took their brooms out of the shed, Fred noticed the door was ajar.

"Ron, you didn't close it good enough yesterday," Fred said.

"No, I did. I locked the door before I went back to home," Ron assured.

"Well, you didn't lock it good enough, it seems, because it is open."

"Has any broom disappeared?" Ginny asked.

"No. They're all here." Fred and George took their Cleansweep Fives, and Ron took his old Shooting Star. Ginny, who got no broomstick, didn't take any, but she followed them, talking about Quidditch with them.

"Do you think you're going to win the Cup this year?" she asked Fred and George.

"We should. If Harry isn't stuck in the infirmary like last year. Wood tried to convince the professors to delay the game, but there was nothing to do. Too bad Katie didn't catch the Snitch. It was a fun game though, I have to admit it."

"You lost," Ron pointed out.

"I know, Ron," George said. "But there's more to Quidditch than winning. It's not that we lost the game that bothers me the most. It's that we lost it with such a difference in the final score that Slytherin won the Cup."

"Ravenclaw could have given you a few more points for that."

"I don't think we would have, if we were in their place. Besides, their regular Seeker was injured, and they took a small second-year girl to replace him. We thought Katie had a very fair chance to catch the Snitch."

"Anyway, this year is going to be different," Fred interjected. "We're going to win the Cup, Wood will finally have his name on it, just like we will, and everybody will be happy."

"Except the Slytherins," George specified. They clapped their free hands.

They finally arrived at the paddock on top of the hill. It was surrounded by trees, so no one would see them. Ron mounted his Shooting Star, and it flew slowly up. Fred's and George's Cleansweeps rose much quicker. Ron had the impression to move at Scabbers' speed. That reminded him that he had to feed his rat when he would go back home.

They threw apples and even small stones at each other for maybe two hours before their mother called them to help her prepare dinner. Their father was about to come back home, and not late for once this week. As a result, they stopped playing before any of them, including Ginny who watched and encouraged them, actually wanted to stop.

Their mother happened to have called them back just in time. They had just finished preparing dinner when their father showed up to the door.

"Evening, Weasleys!" he said as he walked in.

"Evening, Dad!" They all answered.

"Arthur!" their mother said. "I'm so happy you could make it home in time." She helped him remove his traveling cloak.

"You can't imagine how happy I am me too," he said, almost falling on his chair, rubbing his forehead in the process, his eyes half-closed. "Finally, a quiet night." Strange thing to say since the sun was only beginning to fall. "But I'll have to leave tomorrow early again."

"But you're going to miss Harry's arrival, Dad," Ginny said.

That seemed to wake him up. "What? He's coming tomorrow?"

"Of course, Arthur. How could you forget? He's spending two weeks here," their mother said. "We talked about it last night."

"Oh, yes. It's true. I guess there's just so much work I forgot about it. So, when is he supposed to arrive?"

"Tomorrow in the morning."

"Well, I'll try to stay until his arrival, but I don't know if I can. Tons of work at the Ministry. I crossed the path of his mother, Lily Evans, once or twice, but we couldn't talk much. She seems to be as busy as I am."

"Why is she so busy?" Ginny asked.

"She's training to become an Auror, Ginny. She's the talk on everyone's lips right now in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. It's quite uncommon for someone to follow an accelerated training path."

"Did you ask her what face You-Know-Who did when she defeated him at Hogwarts?" Fred and George asked in tandem.

"Enough, you two!" their mother said, placing a plate full of food in front of them.

"As I said, we didn't have a chance to talk for very long," Arthur said. "But now that I think about it... Yes, I saw her yesterday... She said Harry would arrive early tomorrow morning. Maybe I'll have a chance to see him then. But let's talk about what you did today. Or more like what you did the last few days. I almost never saw you," he told his children.

Percy detailed how he worked all day to prepare the next year, despite them being over a month from the start of the school year. Fred and George said how they made other things explode in the chamber they shared. Ron talked about the adventures of Martin Miggs he read. Ginny talked about when she watched three of her brothers playing Quidditch on the hill, and she eventually brought the topic of discussion back to Harry, like she always did. No matter how they tried to redirect the discussion, she always came back to it.

When Ron got into his bedroom that night, he was eager for the next morning. His best friend was coming to stay for the next two weeks, after all. However, he was a little worried about what Harry would think of their house when he would arrive, or about Ginny if she ended up chasing him the whole time of his stay here. Still, Ron had no problem sleeping that night.

He was woken up very early the next morning, and he groaned so that his mother would let him sleep a little longer.

"Ron, come on! You're not going to sleep the whole day!"

It wasn't his mother's voice. Ron opened the eyes to find his best friend standing right in front of him. "Harry! What are you doing here?" Ron asked, while yawning.

Harry laughed. "Your mother told me to wake you up. She told me your bedroom was on the fifth floor, so I just climbed here and opened the door."

"But... what are you doing here? We are in the middle of the night." Ron might have sounded unhappy, but the truth was that he was smiling. He was glad to see his friend, even at this time of day.

"Not really." Harry looked at his watch. "Six o'clock in the morning."

"Six o'clock! You woke me up at six o'clock during summer! Who are you? Hermione Granger?"

The fact Harry was obviously containing his laughs didn't make Ron feel better disposed towards him for a moment. He brought back the covers of his bed over his head.

"Ron, your mother is not going to be happy if we don't go down soon," Harry told him, still barely not laughing.

"Let her be angry. She always is," he said half-jokingly, half-seriously.

"Ron, come on. All our parents are together in your dining room."

"Let them be together. Me, these are my vacations."

"Ron, look, I'm sorry for waking you up. Could you just come and say hello to my mother?"

Ron groaned and removed the cover from his eyes. "Did a single month of vacation suffice to turn you into a male version of Hermione?"

"I'm not like her, Ron."

"Well, right now, you certainly sound a lot like her. Stop or I'll start thinking like everyone else that the two of you are dating."

Despite his complaints, Ron rose and headed outside of his bedroom with his best friend.

"Hermione and I are not dating. You know that. She's just a friend. Would you like it if I asked you if you two were dating?"

"Yuck! Never bring that up again!"

"If you stop you too," Harry said.

"Deal."

They went down the stairs until they arrived in the dining room. Ron indeed found both his parents sitting at their dining table along with Mrs Evans, Harry's mother. His dad seemed especially fascinated and seemed to be asking her about something called an alarm clock.

"So, you're saying that the needles are turning around the clock thanks to batteries," his father said, uncertain.

"Most of the time, but some new models are just plugged into the wall and work with electricity."

"Eckeltricity!" His father was excited by the very word, like always. Ron looked at Harry, who just seemed amused by the situation. His best friend's mother noticed his presence then. She stood up and smiled at him.

"Hi, Ronald. How are you?"

"Fine," he answered, trying not to yawn.

"Keep an eye on Harry while he stays here. I don't want the two of you to get into trouble." Ron nodded. Mrs Evans looked at her watch. "I'm afraid I've got to go."

"I'll follow you," Ron's father said. "I'm getting to work early me too. The trip will be more pleasant at two people."

"I'll see you in two weeks, my dear." Harry's mother kissed him on the front and ruffled his hair before she left. "I wish you a good day, Molly," she added for Ron's mother.

"You're sure you'll be able to prepare dinner without me?" Harry asked his mother before she left. She turned to face her son, a faked expression of outrage on her face.

"I managed without you for an entire year. Do you doubt my culinary talents, young man?"

"I certainly think you will miss me after two days because I won't be there to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner," Harry said with a huge smile while raising successively his thumb, his index and middle finger.

"Be careful, young man, or you might pay a heavy price when I drag you back home," she said with a smirk. "Enjoy your stay."

Mrs Evans left on that last remark. Ron looked at his friend, who was just waving his hand at his mother, smiling. Ron then stared at his own mother, who for once looked just as speechless as Ron was. Ron would never have been allowed to speak this way to his mother. Perhaps Ron ought not to be so surprised. He saw such exchanges between Harry and his mother during the Christmas holidays, but they were rare. He thought his mother tolerated them because it was Christmas. But judging by what just happened, both seemed to kind of enjoy it.

"You must certainly be tired, Harry. If you want, you can go back to sleep for an hour or two. Ron can find some place in his bedroom for you," Ron's mother said. He rarely loved her more than in this instance. He felt like he needed five more hours of sleep.

"Thank you, but I'm not really tired. I wake up at this hour almost every day. I wasn't joking when I said I prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner at home. I can help you if there's something that needs to be done," Harry offered.

Ron couldn't believe what Harry was saying. He was just given the chance to go back to sleep, and instead he wanted to help Ron's mother with domestic tasks.

"That's very sweet of you, dear," Ron's mother said. "Well, chickens need some tending. So come, both of you."

Ron growled internally. Why couldn't Harry say he wanted to get back to bed? As a result, still in pyjama, Ron helped his mother and Harry getting the eggs and cleaning the hen house. It was seven o'clock by the time they were done. When they walked back into the house, Ron felt more awakened, but he was still yawning.

"Okay, Ron. Go back to bed," his mother finally told him. "Rest for a little hour if you want. You can show Harry where he's going to sleep at the same time."

"Thanks, Mom," Ron said.

Harry followed him. "Sorry, Ron," he told him once they were climbing the staircase.

"Never mind. But never do that again. It's summer. We're supposed to rest."

"Okay. I promise."

They arrived in the orange bedroom of Ron. Another bed had been installed the day before in prevision of Harry's arrival. "That's where you'll sleep," Ron told his best friend. "I know it's a bit small, and I'm warning you, the ghoul in the attic is always banging on the pipes..."

"I find it great."

Ron didn't expect that compliment. He felt the blood rushing to his ears.

"The Chudley Cannons?" Harry asked, looking at the posters covering the walls, all representing the seven players of his favourite team.

"Yes," Ron proudly said. "You never told me which was your favourite team."

"I haven't decided yet." Harry sat down on the other bed, the one that was added for him. "Who is Martin Miggs?" he asked while looking at the pile of comic books.

"The most stupid and hilarious Muggle you can find," Ron replied. "You never heard of him?"

"Not really. Well, I think... Yes, I think there were some in our common room last year."

Ron nodded. "You can read them if you want. That will leave me some time to sleep a little."

"Thank you, Ron." Harry took the first issue and opened it. "I wasn't aware there were comic books in the magic world."

"Of course, there are. What did you read before you arrived at Hogwarts?"

"More like Hermione's kind of books. My mother only told me I was a wizard when I was nine. I tried to learn more about our world, but it was through more... heavy reading." They both laughed. It was a reference to Hermione calling those light reading last year.

"So you never read comic books before?" Ron asked, unbelieving that Harry never got the chance to read those.

"Yes, I did, but those that Muggles read. For me, it was about Superman, Flash, Captain America, Hulk, or even Asterix."

"What? Muggles read comic books about asterisks?" Ron didn't understand why they would be interested by stories about stars that appeared in a text. Muggles were indeed very strange.

"Not asterisks, Ron. Asterix. It's about two Gaulish warriors who fight the Romans during Antiquity and who drink a magic potion that give them a superhuman force. They become strong enough to lift entire buildings with their bare hands."

"There's really a potion that can do that?" Ron was suddenly very interested.

"No, Ron. These are just stories. The effect of the potion only lasts ten minutes, but one of the two warriors fell into the cauldron when he was a child, and as a result, the effects of the potion on him are permanent."

Ron tried to imagine it. He imagined that he was strong enough to lift the house single-handedly. How cool that would be! Very interested, Ron began to ask Harry more questions about these comic books. Harry told him the potion was prepared by a druid, who bore the strange name of Panoramic, which interested Ron very much. Druids were very ancient wizards, and Ron could remember the tales about them that his mother taught him as he grew up.

Harry then began telling him about the other comic books he read as a child. Ron was fascinated by Hulk, a man who could change into a huge green beast who destroyed everything in its path and who could not be killed nor stopped by anything. He was less interested in Iron Man, and didn't understand very well how a very rich guy could become a superhero just by building himself a fancy suit. Then there was the Doctor Strange, a powerful wizard who Ron never heard about, and Spider-Man, a boy barely older than they were, capable of climbing buildings and producing spider webs after being stung by a very special spider. Ron, fearful of spiders, was horrified when Harry first told him how he got his powers, but he ended up considering that at least the boy did receive some benefits from being stung and it was probably worth it. There was also a guy dressed in red who could run very fast, an alien with his female cousin who were nearly invincible, along with a group of losers who travelled through time in what Harry called a spaceship, a guy with a glowing yellow hand, and a half-god who could use the power of lightning with a hammer. Ron wondered what impression he would have if he was handling a hammer rather than a wand to throw spells.

Ron, in return, talked to Harry about other comic books in the wizarding world, and they had so much fun that he forgot about his tiredness and was in a very good mood when they went down the stairs, wearing their clothes for the day. They were even the first to arrive at the table.

"So, did you sleep?" his mother asked Ron.

"No. We found another way to have fun," he replied.

"Well, good. Perhaps if Harry stayed all summer, it would be easier to wake you up in the morning."

Percy came down not long after them, still in pyjama. Fred and George followed suit. Ron wondered where Ginny was. She didn't wake up late usually. Well, he wasn't going to delay his breakfast because she was late.

They were halfway through breakfast when she finally came down from her bedroom, running through the stairs. "Mommy, have you seen my jumper?" she asked their mother.

"Yes, it was on the cat."

But then she must have noticed that Harry was present, because her eyes grew wide.

"Hello."

Harry just said this one word to her, and she turned red like a tomato and ran away back to her room quicker than she had arrived.

"What did I do?" Harry asked, uncertain, as if he had done something wrong, while Fred and George were trying hard not to laugh loudly.

"Ginny. My sister. She's been talking about you all summer. It's kind of annoying, really," Ron explained.

"Be careful, Harry. She'll be wanting your autograph," Fred said with a grin.

Their mother stopped them from going further on that road. At the end of their breakfast, she sent them to de-gnome the garden once more, and Harry accompanied them this time, but not Ginny. Ron's best friend got the trick quite quickly with gnomes, and they competed to send them the farther possible.

This time, when they got to the hill to play Quidditch, they were allowed to play much longer, and with Harry's Nimbus Two Thousand, the best broom they had. He allowed Ron, Fred and George to try it in turns, but nonetheless, Harry was found to be the best to catch apples. This wasn't a big surprise, since he was the Seeker among them.

While they played, Ron surprised Ginny hiding behind a tree while looking at them playing. When Harry asked Ron if it was his sister behind this tree, Ron saw her running away more quickly than he could imagine.

It went this way during the whole two weeks Harry spent at the Burrow. Ginny knocked something over every time Harry walked into a room where she already was, or when she walked into a room where Harry already was. She looked through a gap of her door when Ron and Harry climbed to his bedroom, only to shut it right away as soon as she saw them. And when Harry tried to tell her something, she knocked several somethings altogether. Harry finally stopped trying to speak with her.

Ron's father, on the other hand, was the complete opposite with Harry. Every time he had breakfast or dinner with them, he wanted Harry to sit by his side and spent his time asking him about Muggles and everything they did, from their means of transportation such as cars and helicopters to a kind of automatic razor they used to remove their beard. He talked at length about the Ford Anglia they had and that he modified heavily, even adding a function for the car to fly. Harry didn't seem to know what he should say about a flying car.

Ron was very happy that Harry was there, and he loved to spend time with him, even though he had to admit that it created some unwelcome irritating changes. Harry woke up much earlier than Ron did, and he always offered his help to Ron's mother to prepare breakfast. As a result, Ron's mother was saying very often how Harry was obliging, and Ron felt obligated to help them sometimes. Ginny was no longer talking without end about Harry, but she wasn't saying a word anymore, and after a few days, her habit of knocking things began to get boring rather than amusing. Also, his father was giving more attention to Harry during meals than to any other of his children.

Still, the two weeks were pleasant. Harry even went to the village to buy Ron some Hulk comics, which Ron was very grateful for. Ron was sad to see Harry leave on July 30. Since it was the day before his birthday, Ron's mother organized him a little party in the afternoon, with a huge cake for dessert. Even Ginny managed to smile while eating the cake.

"It's too bad your mother isn't there," Ron told him as they were leaving the table, their stomachs full.

"She wants to organize my own birthday party. She's like that. She wants to prepare one for me herself. She's always done it," he explained.

In fact, Lily Evans came to bring her son back home this very evening. She thanked both Ron's parents, and Ron as well, for taking care of Harry, and they left. Just before he left, Harry and Ron agreed to meet in Diagon Alley to buy their school material for next year. Hermione had told them which day she would go there, and they would go to the Alley the same day.

Chapter Text

GINNY II

 

Ginny woke up early on the day they went to Diagon Alley. It wouldn't be the first time she went there, but it would be the first when her parents would actually buy her things. Within less than a month, she would be at Hogwarts. Finally.

Ginny had dreamed of going to Hogwarts since the day her elder brother Bill took the Hogwarts Express for the first time. Through the years, she watched Bill and Charlie leave for the school seven times each before their studies were over. The first then left for Egypt, the second for Romania. She watched Percy go and return five times, Fred and George three times, and Ron only once, last year. Every year, she wanted to go with them. This year, her wishes would become reality.

Despite this, Ginny was very stressed. It wasn't the fact that they would go to Diagon Alley. She had already gone there. It wasn't even the fact that she was finally going to Hogwarts either, at least not mainly because of it. After all, there were still a few weeks left before she would embark on the train for the first time. No, she was stressed because they were supposed to meet Harry Potter on the Alley.

Harry Potter. Ginny was born about two and a half months before You-Know-Who was defeated. she grew up hearing stories about the Boy Who Lived. Then last year, when she accompanied her family to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters and she watched for the first time all her brothers leaving for the school she dreamed of, she met Harry Potter in person. She didn't recognize him. His hair was falling on his forehead and hid his scar. She also met his mother, who she called Mrs Lily, although she didn't know who she was yet either. The woman was very kind with her. She didn't realize that her son was Harry Potter when Fred and George said they saw him on the train. Ginny had begged her mother to let her climb into the train to see him, but she had refused.

It was only over two months later, when Ginny attended the first Quidditch game in her life at Hogwarts, that she discovered that this boy she saw on the platform was indeed Harry Potter, and that Mrs Lily was none other than Lily Evans Potter, the mother of the Boy Who Lived. Ginny watched in horror and even panicked when his broomstick got uncontrollable during the game, afraid that he would die. She cheered him to no end when he caught the Golden Snitch at the end of the game, and again in his second game against Hufflepuff, after only five minutes of play. She was disappointed when he didn't show up for the third match against Ravenclaw and Gryffindor lost that match, being that had he been there, her brothers' team would have won the Quidditch Cup. She had hated the girl who caught the Snitch for Ravenclaw when it should have been Harry. She caught another glimpse of him in June when he disembarked from the Hogwarts Express, pointing him excitedly so that her mother would also see him. But she never said a word to him.

Her first chance to speak with Harry Potter was during the summer, when he came for two weeks at their home. Ginny was excited from the very moment Ron told them his best friend would come. Finally, she would meet him. It would arrive sooner than she thought, as she expected she could finally speak to him when she would go to Hogwarts in September. But she was never able to speak to Harry.

One morning, she went down the stairs from her bedroom, looking for some of her clothes, and she found him sitting at the table with her brothers, eating their breakfast. Ginny didn't expect to find him there. She thought he was arriving later in the morning. When he said hello to her, she found her throat tight, her tongue dry, unable to say a word. She ran away back to her chamber, ashamed.

The next two weeks didn't go any better. Every time she crossed Harry's path, Ginny would find herself jumping in surprise, unable to say a word, barely able to move properly and knocking over quite a few things. She hid behind the trees of the hill to watch him play Quidditch with her brothers, only to run away when she was afraid he did notice her. She opened her door to see him climb the stairs with Ron, hid behind a wall to listen to him, and disappeared the moment she thought he saw her. She even went a far as listening behind Ron's bedroom door when her brother talked with him.

She was almost relieved when he left, as she was afraid of the opinion he might have of her, but she was disappointed too. In all his time at the Burrow, she didn't say a word to Harry. He barely looked at her, spending most of his time with her brothers. If only he had known that Ginny knew how to fly as well, perhaps he would have invited her to play with them, and for once Ginny would have been allowed to play with her brothers.

The time he spent at the Burrow was a disaster for Ginny. She had never felt so shy into her own home. She was afraid of how he might react when he would see her on Diagon Alley today, if he ever noticed her. She didn't think he would, given how she behaved around him the last time.

She went down the stairs, fully dressed for the day. Only Percy was already up yet, dressed for the day like she was, his prefect badge on his robes. Her mother was serving her father.

"Hi, Ginny," Percy told her as she sat down. "You must be excited for today."

She nodded, hoping it would be convincing enough that it would hide her uncertainties everyone could probably see on her face. Her parents were talking in whispers in the kitchen, trying not to be heard by their children, but Ginny could hear them all the same.

"The books are going to cost a fortune," her father said, worry plain in his voice.

"We may be able to find some second-hand copies. If we can pick most of Ginny's things second-hand..." her mother began.

"Do we really have to? She's the last of our baby to go to Hogwarts."

"Arthur, you know we don't have much to spend. Even if we take everything second-hand, we will not have enough left to buy her a present for her admission. We have no choice."

Ginny ate in silence. She shouldn't be disappointed. Her brothers had worn each other's clothes as they grew up and the clothes of one were too small for him but not too big for a younger Weasley. As the only girl in the family though, Ginny had somewhat hoped that she would get new robes, a few if not all of them. But her parents were already talking about how to best reduce their expenses, using her brothers' old school's items. Well, she hoped the second-hand merchandise they would buy would be nice.

Fred and George arrived a few moments later, together as always. Sometimes Ginny had wished she was born with a twin sister. She wouldn't be the only girl in the family aside from her mother then.

"Hey, little sister," Fred said as a good day, sitting down in the meantime.

"Did you sleep well?" George then asked.

"Did you dream of Harry?"

At the last question, she felt her face getting completely red, and looked away. Why did they have to mention him?

"Hey, don't worry, little sister," Fred added. "If you missed him in your dreams, you'll have more than enough time to make up with him on Diagon Alley."

"Fred, George, leave her alone," Percy said as the blood kept rushing to her face and she tried hard for her brothers to not see it.

"What, Percy? We're just trying to cheer her up."

Ron arrived at this moment, still in pyjama. "When are we leaving?" he asked immediately.

"Very soon, Ronald," Percy replied. "I suggest you eat your breakfast quickly and you get dressed right after. We've got a lot of things to buy today and no time to lose."

"We'll still have enough time to see Harry and Hermione, won't we?" Ron asked to their parents. "We organized ourselves so we would see them today."

"Of course, Ron," their mother replied. "We will meet them during our shopping. Your father is very excited to meet Hermione's parents."

"Oh, yes, I am. I have a lot of questions to ask them," he confirmed.

They all knew what kind of questions it would be. Ginny had barely met Hermione, only seeing her once when her brothers came back from Hogwarts last June, but they all knew her parents were Muggles. Ginny wondered how it was to be raised by non-magical parents when you were a witch.

"Well, if Hermione Granger is going to be there, that means you will have competition, little sister," George said.

"How many times have I told you?" Ron's voice boomed. "Harry and Hermione are not dating!"

"Well, you told us yourself that she spent a week at his mother's home in London," Fred countered.

"While she didn't come here for the whole summer," George added.

"Perhaps it's not Ginny who should be jealous. Perhaps it's Ron who is."

"That's nonsense what you're saying," Ron replied, looking disgusted.

"Not at all. It's normal that she prefers to be with Harry. After all, he saved her life at Halloween last year. Everyone was talking about it."

"Are you done with your silly gossips? We have to leave in a few minutes," Percy interrupted them.

"Your brother is right. Get ready. See you in five minutes before the chimney," their mother stated, and no one dared to disagree.

Ginny went back to her bedroom, grabbing what she needed for the day, trying not to think about what her brothers just discussed about. Ron had to be right. Harry was certainly not dating Hermione. Ron always complained about her, even though he said they were friends. Harry was his best friend. Surely he would never be in love with a girl Ron complained so much about. Wouldn't he?

Percy, Fred, George, Ron, Ginny and their parents soon assembled in front of their fireplace. Her father and brothers went first. Then it was Ginny's turn. It wasn't the first time she used Floo powder, but she was apprehensive of ending somewhere far from her brothers. She nonetheless took a great inspiration, threw the powder and walked in.

"Diagon Alley," she said clearly.

Ginny was spinning very fast. She kept her eyes shut as she remained unmoving and tried to be as small as she could. She waited for quite some time. She barely opened her eyes, and finally saw them. She walked forward and emerged from the fireplace, coughing but standing. Fred and George were there to catch her when she arrived.

"Hi, little sister. You found you way to us," George said.

"Not too spinning, this trip?" Fred asked.

Ginny looked around. Their father, Percy and Ron were nowhere to be seen.

"Don't worry, they must be in another shop. But you arrived just in the right place considering this is your first year," Fred said as if he could guess what she was thinking.

"OH! STAY AWAY!"

At the same time, both her brothers seized her by the shoulders. An instant later, their mother emerged as well. If Fred and George had not grabbed her, Ginny would have been struck by her mother's arrival.

"So, the three of you are here. Where are the others?" their mother asked.

"Don't know," George replied.

"But we're going to find them," Fred completed.

They got out of the shop. Ginny realized that it was full of robes. They had barely set foot on the Alley that the rest of their family was running to them.

"Everyone is here, Father," Percy said very pompously. "We can start our shopping."

"Well, Ginny, you're coming with me," her mother told her. "We have a lot of stuff to buy you, and it starts here."

Her mother pointed the store they just walked from. The sign read Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions. Madam Malkin positioned Ginny on a stool. She remained there while the owner discussed with her mother about the available robes in second-hand categories. Since her mother was checking the price and size of every robe, Ginny had to wait quite some time. Next to her, another girl had her robes magically adjusted with pins, needles and tape moving on their own.

"First year you too?" the girl asked.

"Yes," Ginny replied.

"Is it your mother behind?"

"Yes," she answered again, afraid of the impression her mother might giving by negotiating and verifying prices like this.

"She seems nice. She reminds me of my own."

"Oh yeah?" Ginny asked timidly.

The girl next to her nodded. She had very blond hair falling far behind her back, a very pale skin, and her eyes were pale too. Ginny couldn't distinguish their color. She wasn't looking at Ginny, not directly, but seemed rather quite interested by a corner of the wall over Ginny's head.

"Your mother has gone to buy you something?" Ginny asked.

The girl's lips, locked into a dreamy smile, lowered in their corners for a moment, though she didn't lose her dreamy expression. "She's dead."

Ginny felt horrible all of a sudden. "I'm sorry," she mumbled.

"I still got my dad. And it's not as if I'll never see her again."

She kept this same lost expression as she spoke. Ginny was a little afraid by this girl.

"By the way, my name is Luna," the strange girl added.

"Ginny," she said carefully.

"Nice to meet you, Ginny."

But Luna wasn't looking at her. Ginny didn't know who this girl was smiling to, but the smile never left her face for the short time they discussed. A man who had to be his father, who looked even more eccentric than his daughter, came to take back Luna. They left while talking about something called a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. Luna said goodbye to Ginny before she left. Ginny found Luna and his father quite strange, but she had to admit that they really seemed to love each other. It reminded her of Harry and his mother, Mrs Lily.

Ginny looked at herself in the mirror. Madam Malkin had finally put a robe on her shoulders and was busy working on it while her mother looked for other robes that may fit Ginny. What would people think when they would see her wearing this? It was obvious that the robe was old and already used by lots of people before.

The morning was spent buying everything she needed for the day she would go to Hogwarts. Ginny tried to enjoy this time going through the shops of Diagon Alley. Everything was not so bad in the end. Her mother was careful with everything she bought, trying to find the lower price at the better quality. She even bought Ginny a cauldron that looked almost brand new, even if the salesman warned them that it was used by a student for over a year.

Ginny spent a rather time good time all the same. They walked past the Quality Quidditch Supplies store, which displayed the latest model of broomstick, the Nimbus Two Thousand and One, with a small crowd of avid children around it. Ginny wished she could stop to admire it, but she knew they were too busy and that her mother wouldn't let her. And if her brothers ever learned that she got interested by the new broomstick, she knew very well what was going to happen: Percy would lecture her that first-years were not permitted broomsticks and that it was better spending what few money they had on more practical items, Fred and George would taunt her about how maybe one day she would play for the Holyhead Harpies, like the poster in her bedroom might suggest, and Ron would probably say Quidditch wasn't a sport for girls.

Through their wanderings, they finally arrived at Flourish and Blotts. Ginny had heard her parents say that this stop would be the more costly, because of Gilderoy Lockhart's books. And as if that couldn't be more appropriate, the storefront of the bookstore displayed a large banner indicating that Lockhart himself was signing copies of his latest book today.

Ginny's mother got all excited. "Well, if that's not a stroke of luck," she said. Ginny didn't know first if her mother was talking about the signing session or the fact that she just found one of Ginny's books at a very good price. The cover was all scrapped and torn.

"You think we could have our books for Hogwarts signed by him, Mom?" Ginny asked, excited as well. She saw his books lingering everywhere at home so often and the man's reputation as a famous author was enough to make Ginny want to.

"We'll try," she answered, a large smile displayed on her face.

It was hard enough for them to enter the bookstore as a crowd of people was lining even in the Alley to get their copy signed. Inside was even worse with the line stretching all around the store and other customers trying to find and buy their own books. Ginny suspected that her mother was suddenly more interested by taking a look at Gilderoy Lockhart than by buying Ginny's books. The famous wizard and author sat behind a desk, wearing flashy blue robes, and signing one copy of his latest book after another, granting a charming smile to each and every woman who presented their own copy.

It was then that Ginny heard the shrill voice.

"Harry, come on! We can actually meet him! I mean, he's written almost the whole booklist!"

Ginny slowly turned to see a girl with bushy brown hair not far behind. She was accompanied by two adults who looked like her parents... and Harry.

"I don't know, Hermione. I mean, I read Break with a Banshee a few years ago, and I got the feeling while reading it that Lockhart was more interested in depicting himself in a flattering way than by really relating what truly happened."

"But he's such a great wizard, Harry. He cannot really depict himself as if he was doing nothing."

It was then that Harry's eyes happened on Ginny. She felt the blood rushing to her face right away. "Hello Ginny."

She could barely contain a squeal, but she jumped back and accidentally pushed her mother. As Ginny turned away, she saw the whole line of women waiting in front of Lockhart's desk pushing each other as a result of her mother falling on them, until the one right in front of Lockhart ended face first against his desk.

Lockhart looked pleasantly surprised by this. "Well, I'm glad to see how enthusiastic you are, Mrs Lebrown, but we should try to maintain convenient behavior in public, don't you think?"

Gilderoy Lockhart then looked in the direction where the confusion started. Ginny's mother was rearranging her hair and straightening up after almost falling on the floor because of Ginny. But it wasn't her nor Ginny that he was looking at.

"It can't be Harry Potter?"

Within an instant, all heads were turned towards him. Ginny noticed that he just stopped rubbing his forehead and had dropped his hand very quickly. Usually, his scar was hidden by the strands of hair falling on it, but it had become visible an instant, and Lockhart had seen it.

"Harry Potter!"

A man with a large camera, who had been taking photos of Gilderoy Lockhart ever since they arrived, shouted his name, seized Harry by the arm and brought him next to Lockhart. Then he took a photo of them both.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Lockhart said loudly as he held Harry by the shoulders, "What an extraordinary moment this is! The perfect moment for me to make a little announcement I've been sitting on for some time! When young Harry here stepped into Flourish and Blotts today, he only wanted to buy my autobiography, which I shall be happy to present him now, free of charge."

People applauded all around them. Ginny, though, didn't get the impression that Harry was enjoying the attention. She saw him make more than one movement away from Lockhart, and his expression on his face was everything but one of someone happy to be the focus of attention. Plus, there was what she heard him say about Lockhart right before. She looked around and saw Hermione, all smiling and applauding excitedly.

"He had no idea," Lockhart continued, "that he would shortly be getting much, much more than my book, Magical Me. He and his school fellows will, in fact, be getting the real, magical me. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have great pleasure and pride in announcing that, this September, I will be taking up the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!"

So, Gilderoy Lockhart would be her teacher this year? That was why her family had to spend so much to buy his books. Ginny's mother looked ecstatic, and so was Hermione. Ginny seemed to be the only one who was not under Lockhart's charm.

When she looked again at Harry, while the whole library was applauding and cheering as if this was some sort of Quidditch game, Harry was moving away from Lockhart's desk, a huge pile of books in his arms. Lockhart must have given him all his books for free. He walked in her direction, at the far end of the room, and Ginny tried to not make eye contact him.

"He's really kind, Harry, isn't he?" her mother told him. "I can take your books for a moment if you want and have them signed by Lockhart," she then offered.

"No, thanks. Ginny?" She dared not look at him. But then she almost tumbled when a pile of books crashed into the cauldron she was holding into her hands. "They're yours. I'll buy my own."

Ginny was barely understanding what he just did when another voice raised behind them.

"Bet you loved that, didn't you, Potter?"

The boy who just spoke was about their age, and Ginny didn't like him right away. White blond hair cut short, pointy features, pale, and dressed in the finest clothes you could find in Diagon Alley. Plus the way he behaved and he spoke, which displayed arrogance, mockery and jealousy all at the same time.

"Famous Harry Potter! He can't even go into a bookshop without making the front page."

"Leave him alone! He didn't want that!" she shouted at the boy. Whoever he was, she didn't like him, and everything he said was a lie. She stared at him, but he barely acknowledged her, only shooting a short glance at Ginny.

"Well, Potter, you have a new girlfriend? Got tired of Granger already?"

Ginny felt her face turn red. It was a chance that this boy didn't pay attention to her. Luckily enough, Harry didn't take a lot of time to retort.

"They're friends, but I guess you don't understand the idea. You have no friends, after all."

"I have friends. The only difference between us is that I don't need them, unlike you."

"True enough. You have your parents who give you everything you want."

"Indeed." He looked at Ginny as if he was disgusted by her before he stared back at Harry. "I suppose her parents will go hungry for a month to pay for that lot."

"Don't you have anything better to do than bragging about your family's fortune, Malfoy?" Harry retorted as he held Ron away. "It's not as if you earned it."

"I still deserve it more than you deserve your fame, Potter." Malfoy almost spit on the ground. "You are just a baby who had a lucky accident."

Someone then put a hand with a cane on Malfoy's shoulder. "Now, now, Draco. Play nicely." This man had very similar facial features and the same blond hair as the boy, but longer. He smirked when he looked at Harry. "Mr Potter. Lucius Malfoy. We meet at last."

He offered a hand, but Harry didn't shake it.

"It is probably better that you don't shake Harry's hand, Lucius." Lucius Malfoy turned to face the person who just talked to him behind his shoulder. It was Mrs Lily, who just arrived in the bookstore. "The last of your kind who had physical contact with my son didn't live long enough to tell the story," she then added, standing right in front of Mr Malfoy.

"Why am I not surprised? Lily Potter," he said with the same sweet and threatening voice.

"Lily Evans, to be correct. Unlike your wife, I didn't abandon my family name the day I got married."

Mrs Lily circled Malfoy and came to stand next to Harry. Ginny, her mother, Ron and Hermione were all standing next to them.

"A pity your marriage didn't last as long as mine," Mr Malfoy then said just as softly.

Ginny watched Harry's face contorting. That of his mother too. She noticed more their resemblance this way, apart from their eyes. Mrs Lily was holding her son's left shoulder quite strongly.

"Have you bought your books, Harry?" she asked her son.

"Not yet," he answered, his voice obviously angry. It made even Ginny afraid. Harry's books were in her cauldron, the ones he gave to her. Perhaps she should tell Mrs Lily about this.

"Then let's go buy them. Ginny, Hermione, I think you better follow us."

"Miss Granger?" Mr Malfoy looked at Hermione. Whatever movement they had begun, they stopped as Mr Malfoy eyed Harry's and Ron's friend critically. "Draco told me a lot about you... and your parents. Muggles, aren't they?"

"Okay, children, let's go," Mrs Lily said. However, before they could move enough, Lucius Malfoy had grabbed one of Ginny's books in her cauldron. Not the new ones Harry just gave her, but a worn copy of her Transfiguration book her mother took when they arrived in the bookstore.

"Hey, it's mine," she said, but he barely acknowledged her comment, looking more interested in her book.

"Red hair. Second-hand book. A certain arrogance, too," he said as he looked straight into Ginny's eyes this time. She sustained it the best she could. "You must be a Weasley."

"Give back her book, Lucius," Mrs Lily said. "You wouldn't have any use of it anyway."

Lucius Malfoy seemed surprised. "You think I thought about keeping it?" He didn't give back her book to Ginny though. "I'm no petty thief, Evans." He said her name with disdain. "That was more the type of your husband."

Ginny saw Harry try to move, but his mother stopped him. Instead, she approached Lucius Malfoy and stood right in front of him. "Unlike you, my husband wasn't afraid of a man because he had red eyes and the nostrils of a snake. And he didn't lick the boots of a professor just to get into a party."

This seemed to have an impact on Lucius as his features hardened. He stared at Mrs Lily for a time, then he put back abruptly Ginny's book into her cauldron.

"Take your book, girl. It's the best your parents can give you. Draco, we leave. This place stinks."

They watched Mr Malfoy and his son walk away to the outside. Mrs Lily turned and sighed. "I wish it was easier to ignore these people. Harry, your books."

Harry and Mrs Lily disappeared among the shelves of the bookstore. Ginny found herself alone with Hermione and her mother.

"Are you alright?" Hermione asked her.

Ginny nodded. In fact, she was still afraid. She didn't like this Mr Malfoy and his son. She heard both her father and her brothers talk about them more than once, and never did they speak of them with good words.

"Let's go, Ginny," her mother said, tapping her shoulder. "We must find your other books."

Ginny kept thinking about this discussion with the Malfoys as they searched for second-hand copies of her school books. Hermione was back with her parents, who had not witnessed the scene with the Malfoys, while Harry and his mother looked for his own books. She crossed their path in the same alley between two shelves. They were looking for his book of Charms this year. Ginny stared at the shelves, avoiding their gaze, especially Harry's. Her mother was far away, looking in the sections with second-hand merchandise. She had allowed Ginny to wander on the side of fresh copies.

"I don't think that it took so much time to find a book on Charms when I went to Hogwarts," Mrs Lily was saying.

"Perhaps you were just more patient before you got so old," Harry said. "Ouch!"

The comment he made just earned him a blow on the head, but only with the finger. At the same time both Harry and his mother were laughing quietly. "Be respectful of your mother, young man," she warned him in a teasing way.

Ginny didn't understand how they could just joke around only a few minutes after the incident with the Malfoys. And she also didn't understand how Harry could insult his mother and just laugh with her about that. She would never imagine her own mother doing that with her.

"Oh, I think I found it," Mrs Lily finally said, getting a brand new copy of the book from one of the shelves. "It only leaves us with Lockhart's works. It will not be easy to find them with all those women running after his autograph. Ginny, do you need some help? You're looking for something?"

Usually, Ginny liked Mrs Lily very much and she had no problem talking with her. But now that Harry was present, she tried to avoid her gaze just as much as she tried to avoid his.

"Uh, Mom, I'll start looking for Lockhart's books," Harry told her.

"Okay, I'll join in a second," Mrs Lily replied. She returned her attention to Ginny. "Ginny, are you looking for something?"

Shyly, and after making sure that Harry had left the alley, Ginny looked at his mother. "I... I'm looking for the Charms book they asked us to buy."

"Standard Book of Spells? Grade 1? Miranda Goshawk?"

"Yes." She nodded so quickly she believed that her head was shaking. Mrs Lily smiled.

"Harry was asked to take the second tome. The first tome shouldn't be far." Mrs Lily went to the specific shelve she just walked away from, took a book, and came back with it, landing it in Ginny's cauldron as well.

Ginny reddened again, ashamed. "Euh... Mrs Lily... I..." Ginny felt like she was about to cry.

"Ginny, what's going on?" Ginny gulped. "Hey, you're crying." Indeed, tears had begun to fall from her eyes. Mrs Lily knelt so their faces were at the same height. "What's going on, my little girl?"

"I'm sorry... It's just... We don't have enough money." She wiped the water from her eyes.

"Oh. I see." Mrs Lily looked away for a moment. "Look, keep the book. Hide it among the others. You won't have to pay for this one."

"But..." Surely the owner would notice if she tried to sneak a brand new book out of his store.

"Don't worry. I'll make sure this is not a problem. You trust me?" She sent an insistent gaze on Ginny, who felt compelled to nod in agreement. "Good. Now, dry your tears. There's no reason for you to cry. It's a beautiful day. Look outside."

Ginny looked through the window. The day was all sunny. She removed the rest of the tears with her sleeve. It was too much, between the altercation they had with the Malfoys, the fact she wasn't able to speak with Harry or even to look at him, and now being remembered again how her family was poor.

"Look, Ginny," Mrs Lily resumed. "Why don't you think about something positive? Something that makes you happy? You're still excited to go to Hogwarts, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"Then think about it. Think that within less than a month, you will be on the train with your brothers and your friends, going to the school you've always dreamed of going to."

Ginny tried. Hogwarts. Yes, she had always wanted to go there. She always looked with envy to her brothers leaving, year after year. This year, she would be leaving with them. Everything she had would be second-hand, but she would be going with them. That helped her feel better. She was going to Hogwarts. She was going to Hogwarts.

"Okay. Feel any better?" the kind woman asked her. Ginny nodded. "Good. Because I think the rest of your family has just arrived."

Indeed, Mrs Lily was right. Ginny's father and brothers had just walked into the bookstore. As a result, the rest of the afternoon went quite well. The only thing Ginny regretted was that Harry and Mrs Lily had to leave quite early. She heard Harry explaining to Ron and Hermione that his mother had to finish an important work for tomorrow.

"I shouldn't have spent two weeks at the Burrow with you," he said Ron while all their parents were out of earshot. "It took her too much time to cook, she had less time to dedicate to her training. I've really been preparing meals during the whole summer."

"She's working so hard?" Ron asked.

"Ronald, she's training to become an Auror. An Auror!" Hermione pointed out. "They only take the best."

"Hermione's right," Harry said. "Half of the people she started her training with are already gone. And they say that over half of those who are still in it will not make it to the end."

"Well, in this case, it's certainly not a career I'll consider," Ron said.

Ginny listened to them without adding a single word. That allowed her to see Gilderoy Lockhart trying to grab Mrs Lily's attention, probably thinking she was another one of his fans. But she ignored him, and a moment later he found himself stuttering his words, barely unable to make one follow another. Ginny thought she noticed Mrs Lily perform a swift movement towards her wand in her pocket just before it started. When the three families left the bookstore, Harry and his mother left since their shopping was already over. He said goodbye to everyone, saying they would meet again on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. He even said goodbye to Ginny, whose heart stammered against her chest again and whose face she felt had turned once again redder than a tomato. The only time she spoke when Harry was present was when she had told Draco Malfoy to leave him alone.

The rest of their shopping day went smoothly. Ginny was disappointed that Harry was gone soon, but at the same time she felt more relaxed without him around, and she enjoyed the rest of the day better. She saw Ron speak a lot with Hermione. Despite often complaining about her at home, Ginny found that they got along quite well.

They were all back to the Burrow in the evening, tired of this day. After their dinner, Ginny went into her bedroom and put on a pyjama and a nightdress. She went over checking her stuff for school.

She had no mirror in her chamber, so she didn't bother with trying her new robes. They were obviously already used by one or more other people before her. Her protective gloves, with all their scratches, threatened to let holes appear at any moment. The hat was unstitched on the edges. The telescope only seemed to hold by a thread. There were traces of rust at the bottom of her cauldron, which was probably the thing her parents bought that was in the best state. Well, that was except for her wand.

Unlike Ron, Ginny had gotten herself a real new wand. There was no one else in the family to give over their old wand to her. Mr Ollivander had been very kind with her, testing many wands until he found the right one for Ginny. She found the old man quite fascinating. She ended up with a wand made of yew, eleven inches long, flexible, and with a phoenix feather at its core. When the wand chose her, Ollivander said something's telling me that you have a bright future ahead of you, young woman. It was probably the first time someone called her young woman.

It wasn't the only thing that was brand new that Ginny got. All her books from Lockhart were brand new, thanks to Harry who gave her the ones Lockhart offered him as a gift. She smiled and reddened a little at the thought he had given them to her among all other people. And there was also her Charms book from Miranda Goshawk, which Mrs Lily gifted her as well. Ginny's mother didn't notice it among the piles of other books Ginny had when they were about to pay. Ginny suspected that her mother was more interested by Lockhart's books. When they left Flourish and Blotts, Ginny noticed Mrs Lily making a wink at her.

All accounted, half her books were brand new, which was far better than what she expected at the beginning of the day. She piled them in a corner of her room, when one fell on the floor. She took it to put it back in place in the pile, but when she looked at the cover, she realized there wasn't any title on it. On a closer look, she noticed something, written in old golden letters at the bottom of the front page.

TOM MARVOLO RIDDLE

It was strange. She didn't remember her parents buying her something like this, not when they had to be careful about every Knut they spent. The small book looked old. She opened it, and discovered that it was a personal diary, and it was entirely blank. She thought about going to her parents to ask them if they had bought this for her, but she thought better. They were probably too tired by now after such a day. And she didn't think they really bought it. She looked at all her second-hand books, all damaged but quite big. The small diary must have been in one of them. Someone must have forgotten about it and left it behind another book he gave up. She saw that the diary was bought fifty years ago.

She browsed the diary. All pages were indeed blank. Each page corresponded to one day of the year. Ginny shrugged. Perhaps the person who bought it never bothered to write in it. Better not to waste it. In her family, nothing ever went to waste.

Ginny thought about everything that had happened today. It was a beautiful day, and still she had experienced several disappointments as well. She couldn't tell her brothers or her parents. Maybe this diary was a gift from the universe to her, after all.

"Ginny, time to go to bed!" Her mother's voice, coming from the other side of the door, was kind but imperious. Ginny went to her and slid under her covers, hiding the diary below them.

"Yes, Mom. I'm shutting the light in two minutes."

"Have a good night, my little Ginny."

"Good night, Mom."

Ginny slowly came out of bed and sat at her desk. Why not begin to write in that journal right away? She took some ink and her old feather, opened the small diary on today's date and began to write at the top of the page.

My name is Ginny Weasley.

That wasn't really her name, truth be told. Her true name, her complete name at her birth, was Ginevra Molly Weasley, but everyone called her Ginny. She found it prettier and easier to pronounce.

She dipped the quill into the inkwell to continue writing. But when she brought the feather back to the page, what she just wrote had disappeared. Ginny didn't understand first. But then new words appeared on the page, words she never wrote, but written with the very ink she just used.

Hello, Ginny Weasley. My name is Tom Riddle. How did you come by my diary?

Chapter Text

HARRY IX

 

"Stand aside, my dear. I can at least prepare breakfast for your last morning here."

Harry accepted to distance himself from the oven. His mother took over the roasting of bacon and the preparation of pancakes.

"Eager to begin your new year?" she asked as he took place to the table.

"Yes. I must confess that I won't mind having my own dinners prepared for me for the rest of the year," he admitted.

His mother made two plates and put one in front of him. She was smiling. "I don't blame you. You're not a house-elf, after all." She sat as well and they began to eat. The mention of house-elves brought back something to his mind.

"Speaking of house-elves, did you learn anything about the one named Dobby?"

"I'm afraid not," his mother replied. "I noticed the Department of Regulation and Control for Magical Creatures, but they have no knowledge of a house-elf by the name of Dobby. He is not in their registers. Maybe that wasn't his real name. I'd say he must belong to a powerful and rich family of wizards. Many have one or a few domestic elves. It is a symbol of wealth to have an elf in your service. Judging by his behavior as you described it to me, he must not be very well treated by his masters."

Indeed, Harry was quite sure that whoever this Dobby served, they were not kind with him. And Dobby himself said he would have to punish himself for visiting Harry, like he did just for almost saying bad things about the family he worked for. The elf visited Harry while he was home, alone. His mother had been training at the Ministry of Magic the whole day. He came to Harry and warned him about a plot that would make horrible things happen at Hogwarts this year. He begged Harry to not go at Hogwarts. For Harry, though, it was out of the question. The elf must have spent almost an hour begging Harry, while refusing to say what would happen at the school. He must have hit himself against their walls, stuck his hands into doorframes and the oven about a dozen times while he was there. Harry almost felt sorry for how the elf hurt himself just for trying to say something he didn't have the right to say, but this also frustrated Harry as he wanted to know why an elf visited him at the price of so many self-inflicted injuries.

In the end, unable to convince Harry, Dobby had left by Apparition. This elf was very strange, but Harry felt he had really been trying to warn him about something. The only problem was that Dobby never told Harry what he was warning him about.

"Do you have any idea what he might have been talking about, when he said horrible things would happen in Hogwarts this year?" Harry asked his mother.

"No. I really don't know what he could mean. I only hope that he's wrong. You had more than enough problems last year. Now that the Philosopher's Stone is gone, I don't see what could make things worse this year."

She said it while eating the last of her bacon. Harry had to agree that he didn't see what could be worse than facing Voldemort in the dungeons of Hogwarts. Dobby told him that Voldemort was not involved this time. At the same time, he felt that whatever Dobby was trying to warn him about was real, at least in Dobby's eyes.

"And you, Mom? How is your second year in Auror training looking like?"

"Still a lot of theory, but with more emphasis on practice. I'll have to solicit the training rooms more than ever. The last term should involve work in the field, supervised by real Aurors."

"So you'll be going after real dark wizards?"

"I'm not sure. The Office does not have many dark wizards to hunt right now. It will be most likely on minor cases, to familiarize ourselves with procedures and the way Aurors work in the field. The third year will be the real test."

"Are you going to be okay?"

"Yes, I will. But what about you? You know that during this year, you'll have to choose optional subjects for next year. Have you begun to think about what you will choose?"

"Not really. I still have several months to think about it."

"Yes, indeed. Don't hesitate to ask your mother for advice though, when the time to choose comes."

Harry nodded. They continued to talk during their breakfast. Harry then went to prepare his luggage for the Hogwarts Express. He took special care of Hedwig and his Nimbus Two Thousand. One of the things that excited him the most about returning to Hogwarts was Quidditch. Gryffindor had lost the Quidditch Cup last year because Harry was in the infirmary for the final match against Ravenclaw. This year would be different. Harry had no intention of being stuck into the hospital wing of the castle for any game. He was also eager to see Ron and Hermione again. He hadn't seen them since they met on Diagon Alley a few weeks ago.

One of the advantages of the new home in which Harry lived with his mother was its proximity with King's Cross. They could walk to the station and Platform Nine and Three-Quarters instead of taking a car. In fact, her mother had gotten rid of her car, selling it before they moved last year. A car was more trouble than anything in the heart of London where they now lived.

Around ten o'clock, they made their final preparations to go. Half an hour later, they were standing in front of the barrier between platforms nine and ten. Harry rushed to it... and got through without problems. His mother followed. They were early, among the first to arrive, and Harry's mother allowed him to stay on the platform in order to wait for Hermione and Ron. Hermione and her parents arrived only ten minutes later.

"Harry!" They hugged, like every time they met after a long time. Hermione had come to stay at Harry's home for a week at the beginning of the summer vacations, and they also met on Diagon Alley, but it had been weeks since they saw each other now. She and Harry engaged into their own conversation while their parents were talking between them.

"I'm really excited about Defence Against the Dark Arts this year," Hermione told him.

"Really? Because I don't have very happy memories about Quirrell's class." This professor had been in fact the host of Voldemort's spirit this whole year.

"It's going to be different this year, Harry. I devoured Lockhart's books during summer." Harry had to admit he wasn't surprised. Hermione really did like this author, but Harry couldn't say the same. Since the little publicity stunt Lockhart made with him on Diagon Alley, he was quite annoyed by their new teacher, before the new year had even begun.

"Let's hope he's as good at teaching as for signing autographs," Harry commented.

"Harry, he wouldn't be signing so many autographs if he wasn't competent. And Dumbledore would not have chosen him if he wasn't the best candidate."

"I hope so," Harry commented.

They could hope. Only, he didn't share the same interest Mrs Weasley and Hermione gave to Gilderoy Lockhart. He had seen him trying to grab his mother's attention in Flourish and Blotts, only to end up stammering before his whole audience. His mother refused to confirm when he asked, but the little smile she tried to hide was enough confirmation for Harry that she was the one behind this.

The hour of departure was approaching and there was still no sign of the Weasleys. Harry and Hermione decided to find themselves a place in the last wagon of the train. They brought their luggage inside, then returned to the platform to wait for their friends. When only five minutes remained before eleven o'clock, they began to worry.

"Where are they?" Harry asked. "What are they doing?"

"Late, probably. Though I thought Ronald's parents were more punctual than he was. I mean, Percy is their son, after all," Hermione pointed out.

"They're surely going to be there soon."

"Harry, Hermione, you should climb into the train," his mother then told them.

"But Ron has not arrived yet."

"You'll be able to see each other in the train. When he arrives, I'll tell him where you are. Go on the train."

There was nothing to discuss. Hermione went to say goodbye to her parents. Harry was pulled into a tight embrace by his own mother who whispered into his ear.

"Stay away from trouble this year."

"Trouble? When have I been in trouble?" he said, eliciting the reaction he was looking for. His mother broke the embrace just enough to look at him straight in the face, their identic eyes meeting, a severe look on her face. But they ended up both laughing. She kissed him on the forehead and ruffled his hair like always.

"Enjoy your year. I'll see you for Christmas," she told him. She seemed to take his departure better than last year.

Harry and Hermione had barely settled into their compartment that they saw Ron and his family run to the train with very few minutes left. Harry and Hermione rushed to help him, Ginny and their brothers to get on the train before it was too late.

"Just in time," Ron declared as he got onto the train right when it started moving. He was the last of his family to get on.

Harry rushed to the window and waved his hand at his mother. He looked at her as she disappeared and she waved her own hand at him, smiling at him until she was no longer to be seen. He wouldn't see her for months. Her Auror training may not have given Harry as much time to spend with her as the previous summer, but he would miss her all the same.

They carried Ron's luggage towards their compartment, and they found Ginny on their path, standing in the middle of the corridor.

"Ginny, what are you still doing here?"

Harry almost regretted immediately to have asked the question himself. Ginny turned red on the spot, and she could only mumble something about all the other compartments being full.

"Come with us, then," Hermione said. "We are only three inside ours. There's more than enough space for you."

Ginny followed them, her face turned to the floor. Harry tried to help her place her luggage inside the compartment while not talking or looking at her. She might not feel embarrassed this way.

However, Ginny barely said anything after that. Hermione tried to engage the conversation with her but to no avail. She only spoke in whispers, and whenever Harry looked in her direction, she brought up her legs to hide her red face. Harry ended up talking about Quidditch with Ron. He didn't talk only about the season that would soon begin at Hogwarts, but also of the professional League Cup that had the thirteen best teams of England and Ireland competing against each other. Ron talked at length about the Chudley Cannons, his favourite team. Harry had not decided which team he supported, so he talked a little about all of them. Hermione started reading after a certain time, and she was joined by Ginny who also took a book from her things with Hermione's help. Ginny positioned one of her books from Lockhart that Harry had given to her on Diagon Alley in front of her face, hiding it. But Harry got the distinct feeling that she was looking at him over the pages, and that whenever he seemed to look away from Ron, she brought the book up to hide her face again. It made him a little uncomfortable, but he did his best to ignore it. He didn't want to cause more embarrassing scenes with Ron's little sister.

Around half past twelve, the candy trolley came near their compartment. Harry bought several sweets, Ron jumping on them. He tried to ask Ginny, as kindly as he could, if she wanted anything, but all he got for an answer was a little squeal. Luckily for him, Ron told him what she liked the most, and he bought a suite of Cauldron Cakes that he placed right next to her. Hermione took nothing. Her parents were dentists.

For the next two hours, they ate and continued to talk. Ginny hesitated before she took the Cauldron Cakes Harry had bought her, but in the end she did. She seemed to like it. She even smiled to Harry, her mouth surrounded by chocolate, but hid again behind her book as soon as he returned it.

Around two o'clock, Harry decided he wanted to stretch his legs a little. He went into the corridor and walked alongside it. Normally he would stay in the compartment for the whole trip, but he felt that he needed to be away from Ginny, even for only a moment. He thought it would be good for both of them. As if to give him reason, he heard her talking to Hermione only a few minutes after he left as he looked to the scrolling countryside outside the windows.

This was a beautiful day, the perfect day for a game of football, or Quidditch. Harry had enjoyed going back to the sport he practiced while living as a Muggle, but it didn't replace Quidditch. It would never be like it. There was a bump that shook the whole train and Harry grabbed a rod to avoid falling. He kept looking at the landscape, but then noticed something odd. He felt that his body was being pushed a little to the right. As he looked through the window, he slowly got the feeling that the train was slowing down. He looked around. In some compartments, some people were looking outside their windows, while in others they seemed oblivious to what was happening. Harry looked again through the window. There was no doubt, the speed of the train was decreasing. He didn't remember it ever happening in the six times he took the Hogwarts Express last year, not even in winter when it was snowing heavily.

Harry walked towards the head of the wagon. He looked through the porthole of the door separating their wagon from the next... But there was no other wagon. Well, there was one, but it was distancing their own. Harry watched it in horror as he saw the rest of the train increase the distance between them and their lone wagon kept slowing down.

He ran to the nearest compartment where Ron, Hermione and Ginny were and opened the sliding door. "We're detached!"

"What?" Ron asked, his mouth full of Bertie Bott's Beans.

"Our wagon. It's no longer connected to the rest of the train."

Hermione looked up from her book. "Harry, that's impossible. The wagons are kept together by magic. I read it in Hogwarts: A History."

Harry raged inside. Sometimes, Hermione relied way too much on books. "Well, come and look. You'll see that your book is quite wrong. Why do you think we're slowing down?"

Hermione, a skeptical look on her face, stood up. Still, she took a look outside, seeing they were barely advancing. When she looked back towards Harry, confusion was plain on her face. Once outside, she looked through the porthole, and even by this distance, it was clear that the rest of the Hogwarts Express was continuing its route without them.

"That can't be! We're separated from the train!" Hermione almost cried.

Both Ginny and Ron came outside and looked through the porthole. Ron's eyes grew wide as he opened his mouth in disbelief and let some beans fall on the ground. Ginny grew very pale.

A minute later, their wagon was motionless. They opened the door which ordinarily made the connection between two wagons, went down the stairs and set foot on the track. Far away, the Hogwarts Express continued its route without them. It wasn't long before they lost sight of it.

"I don't understand," Hermione whispered.

"What happened?" a voice shouted behind them.

The other students in the wagon had probably realized by now that something was wrong. They left the wagon one by one, looking all around them, wondering where they were and why their wagon was detached from the rest. Soon, they were talking so loudly that it became chaos.

Fred and George arrived. They had embarked on the same wagon as Ron and Ginny. Only Percy wasn't there since he went to the prefect's wagon.

"What's going on?" They seemed as clueless as the others were.

"I don't know. Our wagon just seems to have... detached," Harry said, feeling powerless. They were in the middle of nowhere, somewhere between Hogwarts and King's Cross, immobilized. Harry went to the connection, making its way through the crowd of students. There didn't seem to be anything unusual, aside from the obvious fact that it wasn't attached to another wagon.

"I don't understand," Hermione repeated. "That's impossible."

"Someone managed to release our wagon," Harry stated the obvious.

"Fred, George, don't tell me it's one of your jokes!"

Ron had spoken so loudly that everyone turned towards him, and especially towards Fred and George. Both raised both hands.

"Hey, wow, it's not our fault," they said together. Harry would have laughed had the situation not been so dire.

"Not your fault!" An older student from Slytherin, perhaps in his fifth or sixth year judging by his robes, came to stand in front of them and pointed the twins. "You're always causing trouble. What? You thought it would be funny to trap us on the track?"

People began mumbling, but Fred cut short to this. "Okay, first, if we wanted to leave someone on the track, we would arrange to not be blocked ourselves as well."

"Second, we would only do that to people we hate, like the Slytherins," George added. The boy who accused them turned red. "We wouldn't do that to a wagon full of first-years and with students from various houses. The Slytherins we hate the most are not even there."

"Third, it can't be us, because we can't separate the wagons," Fred concluded.

"Well, I'd say our situation proves the contrary," the Slytherin countered.

"No, you don't get it," George said, separating very well each syllable, as if he was talking to a child. "We can't separate the wagons."

"We tried two years ago," Fred explained. "The last wagon was only filled with Slytherins, so we tried to detach it, but it wouldn't. We tried everything, every spell we knew, every firecracker and explosive we could come up with. We even tried it the Muggle way, with our bare hands. It wouldn't let go. I'm telling you, it can't be us."

"Fred and George are right," Hermione jumped in. "The wagons are enchanted. Magic keep them together. We can no more detach them than we could bend a steel bar only with our hands."

"Then how do you explain this, Miss know-it-all?" the Slytherin guy said, pointing to the wagon.

Hermione had no answer to this.

"Well, no matter what, we're stopped," a Ravenclaw girl said. "Is there a way to make the wagon move until we reach Hogsmeade station?"

"No, it's magic that is too advances," Hermione stated. "Anyway, the wagons are enchanted as well. They cannot be moved by magic, only by the locomotive of the Hogwarts Express."

"If wagons can now be detached, I guess we can make them move," another Ravenclaw. "Come, everybody, let's try!"

Some of the students followed the fifth-year who just talked. Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Fred and George remained where they were.

"They'll never succeed," Hermione stated as a matter of fact.

"Unless they have a year ahead of them to try," Fred said. "It's a wagon's train!"

"So what do we do now?" Ron asked. "I mean, how do we get to Hogwarts if we have no more train?"

"The best thing would be to send an owl to Professor McGonagall," Hermione answered. "Harry, you got Hedwig? She should be able to bring a message to Hogwarts quite quickly."

"Quite quickly?" Ron asked in disbelief. "How fast is an owl when compared to a train?"

"Much quicker than you think, Ronald. They use the high winds to fly more quickly. And unlike the Hogwarts Express, they don't have to turn all the time to circle obstacles of the nature."

"Perhaps, but Hedwig may only arrive at Hogwarts in the evening, with some chance perhaps an hour before the Hogwarts Express," Fred pointed.

"No matter what they try, it will take time for them to reach us," George continued. "We will miss the feast and the Sorting, for sure."

"But wait..." It was Ginny. She spoke for the first time since the wagon stopped. "If I'm not there for the Sorting, how will I get assigned to a house? Will I be forced to leave Hogwarts because no house chose me?"

Harry wasn't sure. He supposed that in these cases, they just needed to place the Sorting Hat on Ginny's head later, in another place than the Great Hall and not in front of all students, and it would choose a house for her. Ginny was panicking and Harry wished he could reassure her, but before he could try, Ron spoke.

"It's out of the question that we miss the feast. It only happens once every year!"

"We have no choice," Hermione said. "We need to wait for someone to come and find us. Perhaps someone on the train realized that the last wagon is missing. They could be here any minute now."

The twins looked at each other. "Willing to wait?" they asked each other in tandem. "That's what I thought."

They ran back to the wagon and climbed in it. Hermione turned to them. "The best thing is to wait. We send Hedwig to Hogwarts, and we wait for help to arrive. Anyway, what other options to we have? Walk along the track until we arrive to school?"

"I think Fred and George found a better way," Ron said.

The twins were indeed coming back, with their luggage and their broomsticks in hand. They attached their luggage to the broomsticks using a spell and mounted them. But they stayed on the ground.

"Who wants to make a trip on broomstick?"

Harry was sure that the four of them were looking at the twins in disbelief, but for various reasons. He also thought that other students were looking at them.

"Of course, why didn't I think about it before?" Ron said, sounding excited.

Harry had to admit that he found that exciting as well. A part of him found the idea of flying all the way to Hogwarts on a broomstick and to land at everyone's view in the park was quite enticing. However, there was another part of him, more rational, that was worried, and it was best voiced by Hermione when she spoke.

"Are you crazy?"

"Yes, we are!" Both twins replied in unison. "That's why it's a very good idea," George added.

"You can't be serious! There are probably a hundred miles, maybe more that separate us from Hogwarts."

"Which is why it's worth the journey," George stated, a huge smile on his lips.

"But you could get lost or be knocked off your broom by a bird or a huge gust of wind."

"We will follow the track, there's no risk for that. And if we can play a Quidditch match for hours without getting knocked off by Bludgers and Slytherins bums, it's not a little wind that's going to knock us off."

Harry had to agree. And there was more. "Uh, Hermione," he started slowly. "They're right. Before the Hogwarts Express entered service, students went to Hogwarts for centuries riding broomsticks and magical creatures. You told me yourself. It's in Hogwarts: A History."

Hermione stood agape at Harry. He thought she didn't appreciate him taking George and Fred's side.

"See, Herm," the twins said together, pointing at Harry as if he was an impartial judge in this matter.

"But... the Hogwarts Express was created because there were too many accidents with former means of transportation. That's why it is still being used today," she said with a desperate voice.

"Perhaps, but as you can see, we no longer have the Hogwarts Express," Ron said. "We just have a wagon, and judging by the efforts those idiots behind are doing, they'll be lucky to not be here at Christmas."

Indeed, the many spells other students had tried on the wagon didn't manage to make it advance by a single inch so far. It was still like a tree in a forest.

"As for me, I'm mounting with George," Ron declared, walking towards the wagon.

"You are?" George asked.

"Yes. I don't have my Shooting Star because I always borrow Harry's Nimbus when I want to fly. That means we have three brooms for six people. You two and Harry will need to take a passenger each."

Ron rushed into the wagon. The five who remained behind looked at each other. Finally, the twins shrugged and smiled. "Why not?" they said together.

"You want to fly to Hogwarts during hours, carrying two people and their luggage on brooms that were made for one person only? That is..." Hermione began.

"Crazy, we know," both Weasleys suggested.

"Ridiculous!" Hermione completed. "You'll get yourself killed!"

"At least, we won't miss the feast." Ron was back with his own things. "George."

"You forgot the magical word, little brother," George said.

Ron sighed. "Please."

George attached Ron's luggage with his own to the same broomstick. "Now, behind me, little brother, and you hang on tight to the broom."

"I know how to fly."

"We'll see."

George kicked the ground vigorously, and the Cleansweep went flying ahead with his two occupants and their luggage, much more quickly than Harry would have expected. He heard both Ron and Scabbers squealing. Harry was divided between laughing and worrying as George purposefully made his broomstick go in one direction and another, taking abrupt turns.

"Well, who wants to climb?" Fred asked.

Hermione didn't seem to know what to do anymore. Ginny, on her side, said nothing. She seemed as divided as Harry was. In the meantime, other students had come out from the wagon with their own broomsticks and were proceeding to attach their luggage and to fly too. Harry saw a student who had to be in his last year bringing with him two first-years. He also saw two other students around fifteen who forgot to attach their luggage and came back hurriedly to take them back. Two other students saw their trunks fall to the ground when they had reached a few meters and were forced to land to recover their belongings that scattered on the ground.

"I think most of the students are already leaving," Harry said, only stating the obvious.

Hermione sighed furiously. "Really? Okay. Okay! I'll come, but on one condition. We send Hedwig with a message explaining what happened and what we are doing. Does that work for anybody?"

No one dared to disapprove her. Harry accompanied Hermione to the wagon, Ginny following them behind. She wrote a letter that was maybe a little too long for Professor McGonagall. Harry attached the message to Hedwig and sent her in the sky as they emerged from the wagon with their trunks and other luggage. Now that he thought about it, it was better that Hedwig wasn't in her cage while he would fly to Hogwarts. She would certainly not have appreciated.

"You took your time," Fred pretended in such a way that it was obvious he wasn't serious. Hermione, however, wasn't in a mood for jokes.

"It's getting mad inside. Everyone is leaving," she lashed.

"See? You would have remained alone in an empty wagon if you had stayed."

"Everyone wouldn't be flying to Hogwarts if you had not gotten out your brooms."

"Someone else would have gotten the idea. We were just bright enough to have it first."

"Okay, Hermione, I need your help," Harry told her. "I don't know the spell to fix things to my broom."

Hermione approached his Nimbus. "Epoximise!" Hedwig's empty cage and his trunk attached themselves to the broom as if they were glued to it.

"Fine. I forgot about that spell."

"You didn't forget about it, Harry. It's your mother who showed it to me last year." His mother taught Hermione a spell? "In the dungeons, after the potions challenge. How do you think I managed to fly Ronald back to the third floor while he was unconscious?" she said, probably because of his questioning expression.

"Oh, I get it. Okay. So now, we just have to fix your stuff and..."

"We're not fixing my stuff to your broom. We're fixing Ginny's stuff. She's coming with you."

Harry was so surprised that he looked to Ginny. He thought that her face just invented a new shade of red.

"Hey, you hear that, Ginny? Your dreams are finally coming true," Fred laughed. Harry guessed Ginny's face probably invented a second new shade of red within a few seconds, but he didn't look to see it if that was the case.

"Hermione," he whispered, to make sure neither Fred nor Ginny would hear him, "you're really sure it's a good idea? Ginny can barely stay in a room where I am."

He didn't want to imagine what Mrs Weasley would do to him if Ginny fell from his Nimbus while he was driving it. Ron and Mr Weasley would probably kill him too, and they would have very good reasons to do so.

"She's not going with Fred. He's like his brother. He's going to do everything just to scare her. I trust you a hundred times more than I will ever trust him," Hermione snapped.

Strangely enough, he didn't feel touched at all by this show of trust. "She never mounted a broom. What will I do if..."

"All the more reasons for her to accompany you. You have a natural talent when it comes to flying. Fred doesn't."

"Hey, I heard you," Fred said, but Hermione ignored him.

"Ginny is coming with you. I've been handling Ronald Weasley for a whole year. I can handle his idiot of a brother."

She said the last sentence very loud and clear. The few students still around laughed as they also took flight. No one was left trying to make the wagon advance. Hermione fixed Ginny's trunk to Harry's that was already fixed to his broomstick, then she did the same with her own trunk but with Fred's broomstick.

Harry turned to Ginny, who hadn't moved this whole time. Hermione had already mounted Fred's broom.

"Okay, Ginny, come." Harry straddled his Nimbus as Fred and Hermione took flight.

"We see who's arriving at Hogwarts first," the Weasley brother said as he got farther.

Ginny hadn't moved. "Ginny, come."

They were the last on site. All the other students seemed to be gone. Harry looked away, hoping Ginny would be less shy. It seemed to work to a certain extent since she approached slowly and clumsily mounted the handle. Harry could feel the shaking of her hands reverberating on his own.

"You've never ridden a broom, Ginny?" He assumed not by her lack of answer. Perhaps the fact he looked over his shoulder when he spoke to her was for something in this. "Okay, listen to me carefully in this case. You must hold the handle..."

"I know how to control a broom."

Harry was almost surprised that she spoke, so much that he turned his entire body while staying on his broom. Ginny looked down. "You do?" he asked after a moment. To his relief, she answered.

"Yes," she stammered in the end. "I... I'm breaking into the broom shed and using my brothers' brooms. I've been doing it for years, early in the morning, or late in the evening, sometimes at night. Please don't tell them."

Harry never heard her say so many words before. At least, not when he was around and when she knew he was there. What surprised him more here was that Ginny was actually looking into his eyes, a begging expression plain on her face. Harry laughed.

"I promise. I won't tell them. So you know everything you must do? Ready?" She nodded. She looked ahead again. "Okay. Then off we go. At three. One... Two... Three..."

He kicked the ground, and his Nimbus began to take altitude. Harry found it slow first. He was used to his Nimbus Two Thousand getting high in the air very quickly, like an arrow. This time however, that was impossible. The additional weights that were Ginny and their luggage slowed it down. Harry had to push in order to reach the altitude he wanted.

He decided to stay at a lower altitude. He looked behind at Ginny, who luckily was staring under her feet, so they didn't make eye contact. She seemed to hold herself good enough for now. Her tight around the handle was firm. He noticed that she wasn't shaking anymore. Or perhaps it was just an impression due to the wind shaking the broom itself that caused him to not feel Ginny's shaking anymore. But looking at her hands, they seemed firm for now.

Harry returned his attention ahead of him. Due to the added weight, he soon found himself continuously raising his broomstick to keep the same altitude. He also needed to provide additional push when he tried to turn. It was as if the broomstick resisted his commands. For someone like Harry who was used to play Quidditch, and who expected a broomstick to be reactive, quick and easy to control, the situation didn't please him much. On the other side, he couldn't have left Ginny behind. And judging how Harry quickly outran several of the other students, he soon conceded that he and Ginny were far better off than the others.

He followed the track that was used by the Hogwarts Express. After a short while, he met with Fred and Hermione. Harry's Nimbus slowly got an advance on the Cleansweep.

"Hey, Fred. I hope you'll better perform when we face Slytherin in November," Harry shot at him.

"Let's hope the Golden Snitch is slow like a snail, or else you will never catch it at this speed," he retorted.

Both laughed. Harry saw Hermione roll her eyes in exasperation. He also heard another laugh, right behind him. It was small, short, but it was a laugh. He smiled, preferring not to look behind, or he might spoil the moment when Ginny laughed in his presence for the first time.

Despite the folly of what they were doing, it was impossible for Harry to not feel exhilarated in this moment. He was heading to Hogwarts on a broomstick with about fifty other students, like they did before the twentieth century. The wind was fresh, the sun was high in the sky. The landscape below and ahead of them was beautiful. As they began their flying journey to Hogwarts and he outran all the other students, including George and Ron, the latter demanding from his older brother that he accelerates, Harry wondered why they built the Hogwarts Express at all.

Harry found out about two hours later. The excitement of the start of the journey was gone. The wind that hit him left his cheeks and hands raw and insensitive. The landscape slowly turned repetitive and without interest. And the sun made his face sweaty. Maybe he had a sunburn. Being in the same position on a broom for so long also made him uncomfortable. It wasn't like playing Quidditch, where you changed direction all the time, avoided other players and Bludgers, and the captain could call a time out for players to get on the ground, if only for a minute. Travelling on a broom was a dull business.

"Ginny, are you alright?"

"Yes."

He asked the same question repeatedly, just to make sure everything was okay. Thankfully, Ginny seemed to be handling herself quite well. Harry thought that she was tired, but she seemed to not want to show it. When he asked her if she wanted to go on the ground just to stretch her legs, she refused, saying that she was fine all the time.

Harry had tried to start a conversation with her, but Ginny's answers always came short, and she never tried to ask him something. She wasn't comfortable about maintaining a conversation with him yet. So Harry focused on the track they were following. And then he saw it.

"Ginny, look to your left. The Hogwarts Express. We've found it."

The red steam engine and the wagons it carried couldn't be mistaken. Harry turned left. He could cut through the landscapes to reduce the distance he would travel when compared to the train. Within half an hour, he had reached its tail.

"Hey, Ginny. I'm going to lower down. I'll try to see why our wagon detached itself."

"Okay," she replied quickly.

"So, ready?"

"Yes."

"Going down."

Harry did it as slowly and progressively as possible. He approached the train as much as he could while not placing himself right behind it, in case it would brake, and not getting too low or they might be hit by tree branches. Giving up some altitude had the benefit of increasing their speed for a moment. However, Harry couldn't see anything from where he flew. They would need for the train to arrive at Hogsmeade first to look at how the last wagon might have gotten separated.

For a moment, Harry considered flying next to the windows of the wagons, to show everyone what he was doing and make them jealous while informing them that they were fine, but the landscape was morphing from empty plains to more dense forests. He would risk getting overthrown, he and Ginny, if he flew too low. He took some more altitude and continued to follow the train, getting closer and closer to the engine. When he outran it, an idea came to his mind.

"Want to be the first student to arrive to Hogwarts this year, Ginny?" he asked her.

She didn't answer. He looked over his shoulder. She finally looked at him a moment and nodded. Harry increased his speed just a little, still following the track, gaining a greater lead on the Hogwarts Express, inch by inch.

As Harry and Ginny slowly gained distance over the Hogwarts Express, the sun also slowly went down. It was beginning to get darker. As a Seeker, Harry had very good eyes, so he hoped he would manage to keep sight of the track for quite a long time. Surely they were not far from Hogsmeade now. He thought he recognized the landscape as the one when they approached the castle.

As if to prove him right, the castle soon became visible on the horizon, the thousand lights of its candles and oil lamps illuminating its facade in the developing obscurity.

"Look, Ginny. It's Hogwarts."

"It's so beautiful." No discomfort in her voice this time. Harry understood. He was agape the first time he looked at Hogwarts as well. He had forgotten almost everything else then. Ginny had almost forgotten for an instant that she was flying with him.

It wasn't long before Harry caught sight of the Hogsmeade station.

"We are there, Ginny. I'm dropping. Hold on."

He could feel her nodding behind his back. Harry couldn't say how glad he was to finally arrive at their destination. He slowly gave up altitude, running in circle around the station. They did it. They arrived before the Hogwarts Express. At the station, he distinguished very clearly the massive figure of Hagrid who was holding a huge lantern. He raised it in Harry's direction, as if it could help him better see in the coming darkness. It was only when Harry was about to land that he recognized him.

"Harry? What are you doing here? Why aren't you on the train?"

Harry didn't answer, preferring to focus on his landing. When there was barely a meter left between his feet and the ground, he warned Ginny.

"Landing, Ginny. Be careful with your legs."

And they landed. Maybe it was too abrupt. The trunks and cage they were carrying hit the ground with a loud sound. Harry let his broomstick fall to the ground and stretched. He put his hand on his back. He didn't remember it being so stiff in the past.

He looked at Ginny, who looked just as exhausted, but straightened up the moment he looked at her.

"Harry! What's the meaning of this? Why aren't you on the Hogwarts Express?" Hagrid asked again.

The giant man had just arrived next to them. "It's a long story, Hagrid."

"Long or not, it better be good. Because when Professor McGonagall..."

"Potter!" The voice of the Transfiguration teacher resonated through the station. She was out of breath and almost running. "So this is true! You really did it!"

She had a piece of paper in her hand. When she stopped in front of Harry, he recognized Hermione's writing.

"So Hedwig made it?" he asked.

"Yes, your owl brought this to me fifteen minutes ago. Is this true what Miss Granger is saying in that letter?"

"Yes, it's true. The wagon, and all of us who decided to fly to arrive here. It's all true."

"Are you out of your mind? You could have lost your way. Do you realize how dark it is?"

"Professor, it's not his fault." Harry was surprised again to hear Ginny. "We didn't know what to do. My brothers suggested that we take our brooms to fly here because we couldn't find a way to get the wagon moving, and everyone started leaving. We were the last to go."

She looked like when she snapped at Draco Malfoy on Diagon Alley. Only this time it was a Hogwarts teacher that she was almost yelling at. Professor McGonagall looked at her, a puzzled expression on her face.

"Who are you, young woman?"

Ginny then returned somewhat to her previous state, very shy. "Ginny. Ginny Weasley."

"Oh. Finally. I was wondering when the only girl among the Weasleys would arrive. Anyway, it doesn't matter. What you did was dangerous and imprudent."

"We followed the track, Professor. We were very careful," Harry said.

"And if you hadn't made it to Hogwarts before the night fell? What if you had gotten lost because you couldn't see the track anymore?"

Harry had to concede he hadn't thought about this. No one had thought about this. Even Hermione didn't raise this potential problem. And now she was, along with all the others, still far away. Harry had distanced them all. The sky was almost completely dark. How would they manage to reach the station?

"Look, Potter, you're going to the Great Hall right away. The Hogwarts Express will be there in about fifteen minutes. Your comrades will join you soon enough. As for you, Miss Weasley, you stay here with Hagrid. You still have to do the crossing of the lake," McGonagall said.

"Wait a minute," Hagrid said all of a sudden. "What is this all about? What's the story about the wagon?"

"I'll explain everything to you, Hagrid," McGonagall said before Harry could place a single word. "As for you, Potter, the Great Hall."

"But Professor... the others... I haven't seen them in a while. It was hours ago since I last saw them."

"He's right," Ginny added. "We flew so much faster than they did. How will they get here? My brothers..."

"Calm down, Miss Weasley," the Transfiguration teacher interrupted her. "Madam Hooch and Professor Flitwick have already gone to find them all. They will make sure they arrive to Hogwarts safely. Now, Potter, the Great Hall. No lingering behind. Let your luggage here, people will take care of them."

Harry saw there was nothing to do or say here. He should feel good that he got out of this without making Gryffindor lose points or getting detention. Though maybe McGonagall was waiting for tomorrow to sever.

"I'll see you at the feast, Hagrid," he said to the gamekeeper. Hagrid waved his hand. He then turned to Ginny. "I'll see you at the Sorting."

She turned red once more. He guessed the time when she almost behaved normally in his presence was already over.

Harry headed for the road that led to Hogwarts. A line of a hundred stagecoaches was waiting. That must be how students who were not first-years travelled from the station to the castle. There were no mounts harnessed to them. Harry climbed into the first one. Maybe the horses would arrive later. But the coach advanced on its own as soon as he closed the door. It carried Harry along a mud path that went up. Harry felt very alone during the whole journey. He was excited when he landed at the station, at least relieved if only for his back, but now he was worried about Ron, Hermione, Fred and George. Would they find their way to Hogwarts in that darkness?

When the carriage stopped, Harry disembarked. He climbed the last steps leading to the castle, walked into the Entrance Hall, which was empty, and headed to the Great Hall. Harry never saw the castle so empty. Well, except when he, Ron and Hermione travelled through its corridors at night. They were lucky to never have been caught by Filch or a professor.

The Great Hall, however, was not empty. There was already someone there, sitting at Gryffindor's table, but he wasn't a student. He was an old man, tall and thin, with a silver beard and hair, and half-moon glasses. He wore a long robe with a purple cloak.

"You made quite the entry this year, Harry," Professor Dumbledore told him, looking over his shoulder. Harry didn't know what to do, but the Headmaster just smiled and stood up. "Do you realize how long it has been since I sat at this table?" He had a questioning look, as if he expected Harry to answer. "It's probably better that we both don't reply."

Harry didn't know what to do, or what to say. He was in the Great Hall, alone with Hogwarts' Headmaster, after he violated the rules of the school by flying to it. Well, did he really violate the rules? After all, this was a case where they were trapped with an unmoving wagon in the middle of nowhere. Surely there were exceptions for this kind of situation. Though he could already hear Hermione arguing against this.

"Why don't you sit, Harry? After all, you come back from a long trip, if I understood well."

Harry's answer surprised himself. "If you don't mind, Professor, I'd rather remain standing." He reached to his back, who still ached.

"Oh, the problem of travelling by broomstick on large distances. Well, you can wait, Harry. Your comrades will only start pouring into the Great Hall in about twenty minutes. Which gives us some time to discuss. I hope you'll forgive an old man for sitting. His legs are no longer as vigorous as your own."

Harry nodded. Dumbledore sat at Gryffindor's table, facing Harry. It was strange for him to have a teacher sitting in front of him while he stood, without a desk between them.

"Why don't you tell me what happened, Harry? On the track, and with your own words."

Harry told Dumbledore everything that happened, how the wagon mysteriously detached from the rest of the train and how they ended up stuck in the middle of nowhere, uncertain of what to do. How everyone ended up taking up their broomsticks and flying towards Hogwarts, two per broom. He told how he and Ginny managed to get there first.

"I guess you're one of the lucky students to own a Nimbus Two Thousand. It's probably the main reason why you and Miss Weasley arrived before all the others," Dumbledore declared at the end of his story. "And you didn't notice anything strange before or after the wagon was separated? Not even before you embarked on the train, or right when you arrived at the Hogsmeade station?"

"No, Professor."

Dumbledore seemed a little concerned. "Well, we must find out how this happened. For now, let's be relieved that you are here and safe. The other professors will make sure that the other students who fell behind reach Hogwarts safely. Though maybe some of them will not arrive before the next morning, if they are mounting broomsticks such as Shooting Stars."

Dumbledore had a small smile, and Harry couldn't stop himself from sharing it for a short time.

"Professor... Are you going to... punish us?" he asked.

He sighed and stood up. "Not tonight, Harry. There are about fifty students involved, and probably from the four houses. I'll discuss about it tomorrow with the Heads of all houses to decide what to do about it. In the meantime, we'll enjoy the feast. Now sit. Your comrades will be here very soon. And I suggest you put some solar cream on your face before you go to bed. It seems the sun burned you a little."

Dumbledore was right on both accounts. Harry felt the sunburns under his fingers when he touched his face. Harry barely sat down, and Dumbledore was back at the large table for professors when the rumors of discussions reached his ears. The first students from the Hogwarts Express must have got into the Entrance Hall. Only a minute later the first ones entered the Great Hall.

"Hey, look! That's him!"

Within moments, Harry was surrounded by students who asked him questions about how he arrived at Hogwarts by flying on a broomstick. They were not only Gryffindors. Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws were just as eager to shake hands and ask him all kind of details on his journey. Even a few Slytherins came to congratulate him. Harry didn't enjoy all the attention he usually got, but for this time at least it was for something he did, not for who he was. The attention he gathered slowly dissipated as other survivors from this flying trip arrived. Each house hailed its own heroes, but Harry still had a few people who came to shake his hand and ask him a few questions there and there.

Finally, Ron and George arrived, obviously exhausted, though George still looked rather excited while Ron looked like Snape.

"I hate it. I never want to do it again," he told Harry as he sat down next to him.

Ron changed his mind a little after some Gryffindors came to congratulate him. It wasn't long before Fred and Hermione joined them. Hermione ignored all people who wanted to address her, but Fred and George were more than happy to share their story with everyone else. Lee Jordan, their friend who somehow happened to be in another wagon when they were separated, perfectly filled his role as a commentator.

The tables of all four Houses were soon filled, and the staff table as well, though judging by the absence of Madam Hooch and Professor Flitwick, they were still helping those who arrived by broomstick. Harry guessed some had not made their way to Hogwarts yet.

"Welcome, everyone," Dumbledore said all of a sudden. He waited for the students to stay silent. "I just have an announcement to make before we start this new year. As most of you are probably already aware of, but I will tell you all the same just in case, some of our students decided to come to Hogwarts this year... by unconventional ways."

Harry felt scanned by the Headmaster's blue eyes behind his half-moon spectacles, and he was sure all the other students who were concerned by this situation felt the same.

"Some of them haven't arrived yet. I just want to reassure you that they will be safe and ready for the first day of school tomorrow morning, though some of them might not arrive before the end of our feast. But we're not going to force you into fasting for this."

"Thank Merlin!" Ron said. "I'm starving."

"But before we fill our stomach, we are going to proceed with the Sorting Ceremony. I ask you to welcome our new students as if they were your brothers and sisters."

"Even Slytherins?" Fred and George asked together. Dumbledore either ignored or didn't hear them.

"Some of the new students might not have arrived yet due to complications on the Hogwarts Express," the Headmaster resumed. "They will be sorted later, before their first class tomorrow morning. For now, let's welcome those who have arrived."

The oak doors of the Great Hall opened. Professor McGonagall walked in with a long line of first-years behind her. Harry's seat was positioned in the central alley they took. He noticed Ginny among the group. Ron waved his hand at her, but she turned scarlet as soon as she saw Harry next to him, and she didn't reply.

"I thought a long journey with Harry would make her less shy," Fred commented.

Ginny didn't look in a much better state than her brothers or Hermione or anyone who came flying. She was always red with sunburns before she reddened even more. Professor McGonagall placed a stool with the Sorting Hat on it. Soon the Hat began to sing the praises of each House, like he did last year.

It was very different for Harry to hear it for the second time. The song was different, but he was no longer as fascinated or worried about the Hat as before. He didn't have to place it on his head, nor to worry about which House it would send him to. He cast a glance at the Slytherin House, thinking it was a good riddance. He was a Gryffindor, and he was proud to be one.

When the Hat was done singing, the whole Hall erupted in applauses. Then Professor McGonagall took a long scroll of parchment and began to call each student by his name to put the Hat on his head.

Like last year, the first student to put the Hat on his head was a girl who got sorted into Hufflepuff. Their table erupted in cheers. Hannah Abbott, the very student who was first sorted last year, welcomed her very warmly and the boy sat next to Hannah. There was a Ravenclaw, then another Hufflepuff, then a Slytherin. Gryffindor seemed to be left behind until a very small boy by the name of Colin Creevey climbed on the stool.

"GRYFFINDOR!"

The first new Gryffindor was welcomed by very loud cheers which Harry joined. He sat next to Percy, who had once again decided to be in the position to welcome all new students as a Prefect.

First-years went one by one to put the Hat. Gryffindor had its fair share of new members, and so did Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. Harry wanted to boo each time someone got sorted into Slytherin, like Fred and George did, but at the same time he felt pity for some of those children. Some were probably not aware of Slytherin's reputation or of how many dark wizards this House produced. A certain Colin Harper joined their ranks, and he was welcomed by Draco Malfoy, the Slytherin Harry unquestionably hated the most among all. There was also a girl with blond hair whose gaze seemed to wander off all the time, Luna Lovegood, who kept staring at the ceiling in such a way that the Sorting Hat slipped to the floor the first time McGonagall put it on her head.

"RAVENCLAW!"

Still with an absent gaze, and in a strange walk, the girl went to her new House. The small crowd of first-years was thinning with each minute, with only two missing to the call, until finally only a single person was left before the stool.

"Weasley, Ginevra."

Professor McGonagall called the last name of the evening. Harry and the Weasleys looked attentively as Ginny shyly approached the stool, and sat uncomfortably on it. Maybe she had back pains from their journey, like Harry did. He was surprised to hear Ginny's real name. A few other students from the flying trip had entered the Great Hall in the meantime, sitting at the table of their respective Houses.

The Hat fell on Ginny's eyes. Harry thought it was a good thing. He felt himself relieved when he could no longer see people all staring at him.

They waited. Harry could feel the tension among the Weasleys. All of them, from Bill to Ron, had been selected into Gryffindor, and Harry knew they hoped that their sister would join them. He hoped she would get into Gryffindor as well. She would have her brothers this way, and furthermore, this would be a good way to end the Sorting, to have a Gryffindor, to the opposite of the previous year whose last student was Blaise Zabini, a Slytherin.

"GRYFFINDOR!"

The Gryffindor seemed to explode, if only because of Harry and the Weasleys. Ginny, red again, out of joy this time, hopped to the Gryffindor table, and was hugged by all her brothers. She then sat to the table... and to find herself right in front of Harry. He wished she sat somewhere else.

Harry watched the stool and Hat being taken away, in the hope that looking somewhere else would make Ginny less uncomfortable. Dumbledore stood up.

"Welcome! Welcome to another year at Hogwarts. And it began in a way that we are certainly not about to forget." The flying students received pats on the shoulders by their comrades as the Headmaster said those words. It was as if Dumbledore himself found it quite funny. "Now, I can announce you that no corridor is forbidden of access this year, and there is no danger of death looming in any of them. I also want to welcome your new teacher of Defence Against the Dark Arts, the Professor Gilderoy Lockhart."

Gilderoy Lockhart received quite the ovation from all the tables, especially from girls. Harry, who Hermione sat just next to, almost got his eardrums pierced by her screams. The ovation lasted far too long to Harry's taste.

Dumbledore reminded them that Hogsmeade was forbidden from access to all students under their third year, and that the Forbidden Forest was forbidden to all students, without exception. He also reminded them of all the forbidden objects inside the castle. When he was done enumerating the interdicts, he pronounced the words everyone was waiting for.

"Now, as our neighbors across the Channel say, Bon appétit!"

"Finally!"

Ron jumped on the chicken wings the moment food appeared in the plates previously empty. Ginny marveled at this sight. Harry remembered his astonishment at his first feast last year. He took some ribs along with fries and vegetables, and a chicken thigh. Hermione took a little less, and Ron took way more, as usual.

"I'm so eager to start the courses," Hermione said. "I wonder when our first class of Defence Against the Dark Arts will take place."

"I hope we will not get it at the very beginning or the very end of the week," Harry said. He could already feel that this course would be no better than last year, when he was given by a man who literally shared his head with Lord Voldemort. Harry preferred not to begin nor end his weeks with someone like Lockhart.

"It is true that students are more focused in the middle of the week," Hermione conceded, having clearly not understood why Harry wished that. "We don't have flying courses this year, so we may have some more time to dedicate to other subjects."

"Hermione, let us savor the food," Ron interrupted. "The term has not begun yet. It starts tomorrow."

"There's nothing wrong in getting prepared."

"She is right," Percy approved. "It is never too soon to prepare our classes. And it is certainly a more productive way to use our time than to fly between London and Hogwarts on broomsticks."

The eldest Weasley at the table had previously lectured Harry, his brothers and Hermione, and probably every other student who journeyed to Hogwarts the same way they did.

"It's not our fault that the wagon detached itself, Percy," Harry said.

"You should have stayed where you were and sent an owl. Help would have been sent your way immediately."

"Like what I said," Hermione pointed out.

"I don't think it was a bad idea." It was Ginny who spoke for the first time since she arrived at the table. "If Harry didn't fly me here, I would have missed the Sorting Ceremony."

She didn't turn red, she didn't stammer, and she didn't knock anything down. But that was because she was looking at Percy. The moment she turned back to her food and noticed Harry was looking at her, she spilled her pumpkin juice on her robe. Percy was kind enough to clean her with a spell, but she looked down at her plate for several minutes afterwards.

The feast was an event that Harry enjoyed quite a lot, like everyone else, but he was so tired from the journey that he was relieved when Dumbledore sent them all to bed. Harry still felt pain in his back. He hoped it would be gone by the morning. Ginny followed the first-years group led by Percy while Harry headed to the Gryffindor Tower with Ron and Hermione.

"I guess we already had our share of adventure this year," Ron said, stretching as they walked. Harry was definitely not alone to feel pain all over his body.

"Let's hope this is the only share we will get," Hermione added.

Harry was shared between the thrill of new adventures like the one they had tonight and the will to stay out of trouble. Despite his back pain, it had been exciting to fly all the way to Hogwarts on his Nimbus Two Thousand. However, when adventures involved facing Voldemort, this was another story. His mother clearly told him to stay out of trouble. And when he thought about what happened last year, when he saw her almost buried under a ceiling of marble, the last thing he wanted was for something like this to happen again. He didn't want his mother to risk her life for him once more. She had already done so when he was a baby, and again ten years later. He wouldn't let her endanger her life for him a third time. That was also why he never asked her what Voldemort meant when he said someone asked him to spare her. These were probably just lies, anyway, just another way to anger and destabilize both Harry and his mother.

When Harry slipped into his bed this night, following a brief party in the common room for those who arrived at Hogwarts on broomsticks tonight, he fell asleep almost immediately. He didn't dream that night. His second year at Hogwarts would begin on the morning, and he slept peacefully, thinking about how this new year would unfold.

Chapter Text

GINNY III

 

Ginny woke up all excited on the Friday of her first week. Today would be her first flying lesson. She dressed up for the day and went to the Great Hall to take her breakfast, alone.

Ginny spent most of her time alone. She didn't make many friends yet since the day she arrived. The girls who shared their dormitory with her were more acquaintances than anything else. She had her brothers, but Fred and George had their own circle of friends, Percy was too busy with his work and his duties as a Prefect, and Ron spent most of his time with Harry and Hermione. So she couldn't spend time with Fred, George and Percy, and she avoided spending some with Ron because Harry was almost always with him.

When she arrived in the Great Hall, she froze at the sight of the three friends together. She sat on the nearest spot she could find at Gryffindor's table, far away from them, and took some toasts and porridge. Despite this, she couldn't stop herself from looking at Harry, Ron and Hermione. Ginny had quickly seen for herself that they were inseparable. They even went to the library to make their homeworks together. There didn't seem to be a lot of moments when Harry was alone. She looked at Hermione who was talking with Harry about something that Ginny couldn't discern among all the other noises in the Great Hall. She wished she could talk to him as easily as she did.

At the staff table, Ginny saw some of her teachers. Professor McGonagall, the Head of Gryffindor House, was there discussing with Professor Flitwick, the Head of Ravenclaw House. Ginny already attended their respective classes this week, Transfiguration on Monday, Charms on Wednesday. She noticed Madam Hooch, the flying teacher with whom she would take her first lesson this afternoon, engaged in a discussion with Professor Sinistra, the Astronomy teacher. There was also Professor Snape, the Potions Master. He ate alone on his side, not talking to anybody. Ginny had one class with him so far, and she hoped the future classes in this subject would go more quickly. This teacher was execrable, and seemed angry after half the school, except the Slytherin students, who he favoured since he was Head of the house. Finally, there was Professor Lockhart, the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, with whom she would have a class this morning. He was by far the most relaxed of the teachers.

Ginny headed to her first course as soon as she finished her breakfast, struggling to carry the ton of books she required. As she left, a burst of laughs came from around the place where Fred and George were sitting. In all this, Ginny felt invisible. No one seemed to notice her. She had been eager to come to Hogwarts, but now most of the excitement had already left to leave the place to another feeling, much less positive. She got lost on her way to her first class, and arrived in Defence Against the Dark Arts late. It was a common course with Ravenclaw, and she ended up sitting next to the strange girl she met on Diagon Alley since there was no other place.

"Hello Ginny," she said. So she remembered her name.

"Hi Luna." She wasn't sure if this was really her name. If it wasn't, the girl didn't show any sign of it. She looked lost in her thoughts once again, looking at the ceiling of the classroom.

Despite being late, Ginny was lucky enough because Professor Lockhart arrived much later. Ginny had already placed her books in a pile on her desk. Those were the books that Harry gave her at Flourish and Blotts. It was at this moment she found the courage, without thinking about what she was doing, to say something in his presence for the first time. But for now, she had a class with Gilderoy Lockhart.

"Welcome, everyone. First-years? Everyone is there? Everyone listens to me? Perfect. Let me introduce myself. Gilderoy Lockhart, Order of Merlin, Third Class, Honorary Member of the Dark Force Defence League and five times winner of Witch Weekly's Most-Charming-Smile Award. You all bought complete sets of my books? Perfect."

Ginny got the distinct impression that Professor Lockhart didn't really care whether his students answered his questions or not. She proved to be wrong an instant later when he gave them a quiz to complete within thirty minutes. He took their answers to his questions very seriously. Each question was about himself, like his favourite color, his favourite animal, or his favourite tale out of all those he told in his books. Ginny had no idea about the answer to over half of them. Luna didn't seem to bother answering at all as she continued to stare at the ceiling while Ginny struggled to answer the questions. The result was a very disappointed teacher. They then spent the entire course reading passages of Break with a Banshee.

Ginny left the class rather disappointed at the end of the morning. This was absolutely not how she imagined a course in Defence Against the Dark Arts. She heard people complaining about how Professor Lockhart left them to fight against Cornish pixies during their first lesson. Harry and Ron were among them. She thought it might at least funny, but Lockhart didn't seem to consider that first-years were ready for that kind of things.

None of her courses were quite what she imagined. Transfiguration involved hours of writing down instructions before they actually tried to perform the spell they were learning. Charms involved a little more practice. Astronomy involved reviewing charts for long times before looking at the skies with a telescope. History of Magic involved hours remaining still while copying the words of a ghost teacher. Herbology meant spending all their time in a hot and damp greenhouse, observing and taking care of plants that even Ginny found strange, despite the fact she grew up in a wizarding family.

Lunch was a quiet business. Ginny then went excitedly to the flying lesson. She had great hopes for this one.

Ginny arrived in advance, much before most of the other students. She didn't want to miss anything about it. She already had a lot of experience with flying, including how she arrived at Hogwarts this year, and she hoped that at least she would performed well in this subject. Gryffindors shared this class with Hufflepuffs. The teacher, Madam Hooch, who was also the referee during Quidditch matches, arrived on the grounds and immediately told them to stand next to a broomstick. Ginny recognized that most of them were Shooting Stars, the same model Ron used at home. They may be a bit newer when compared to Ron's.

"Everyone is in place?" their teacher asked, walking through their ranks and checking all of them quickly. "Now extend your right hand over your broom. And say Up!"

"UP!"

Everyone shouted at the same time. Ginny was almost surprised that her own broomstick jumped into her hand right away. She nearly laughed out of joy. In the meantime, her comrades needed a second, a third, a fourth try to get their broom into their hands. Sometimes ten attempts or more were necessary before the broomstick slowly rose.

"Good, everyone is holding his broomstick," their teacher continued. "Now, mount them." Ginny did so, the movement being natural after all these years. "Show me how you grip your broomstick. I want you to hold it tight."

The teacher then went from one student to another, showing each how to position himself and grip the handle. When Madam Hooch reached Ginny, she hoped that she did everything all right.

"You' got to sit closer to the middle, Miss Weasley." Ginny realized that indeed she sat much closer to the tail. Perhaps it was because of how she flew to Hogwarts at the beginning of the week. Normally, she positioned herself well enough. She advanced. "A little more. Very good. Now your grip." Madam looked closer to her hands. "Good distance between yours hands, but you must grip the handle farther from your body. Let me show you." Madam Hooch seized her fists and brought them a little farther from Ginny's body. "Very good now. Stay in that position."

That position didn't seem natural for Ginny. It felt uncomfortable. She was afraid that her arms would work too much if she stayed like that. But Madam Hooch told her it was the right grip, so she remained in this position. The professor addressed them again when she was done with the last student.

"Now, I'm going to blow my whistle. When I do, you must kick off the ground, hard." Ginny already knew that. She did it so often and saw her brothers do it so many times that it was like a second nature to her. "You will then keep your broom steady, rise a few feet. Then you will lean forward slightly to carefully come back on the ground. Questions?" There were none. "On my whistle then. Three... Two... One..."

Ginny felt a rush of excitement go through her body. She didn't think she waited for the whistle to actually blow before she took flight. She and the broom rose in the air together. Slowly, she climbed and took altitude. She made it.

"Miss Weasley! What are you doing? I said only a few feet!"

Ginny realized she had kept climbing. She was probably seven feet over the ground. She leaned forward and went back to the ground immediately. She landed a little too abruptly to her taste.

"Well, that was a nice first try, although some of you didn't get in the air at all. We're going to try again. And don't climb too high this time. Nothing more than four feet," Madam Hooch said on an imperious voice, obviously addressing Ginny.

Ginny hadn't really noticed the others the first time she flew. The next attempts, she made sure to not climb too high, but it became boring as a result. She knew how to fly. She could do so much more than just hover. She noticed that many of her comrades had not only failed to take flight on their first attempt, but also failed on their second, third, and even fourth attempt. For Ginny, it was just too easy. After a moment, Madam Hooch gave the students leave to hover over the ground, at a maximum altitude of five feet, for as long as they could. Ginny did just that.

She looked at the other students struggling to maintain their broomsticks in the air and at the same altitude, while she managed to do it for periods that could last ten minutes or more. She even surprised the others looking at her with envy or admiration. It was good to be the best in something.

The flying lesson didn't last long though. Friday afternoon was usually a free period for students. They only remained on the school grounds for about an hour. Ginny wished it had lasted longer. She reluctantly gave up her broomstick at the end of the lesson. Madam Hooch at least complimented her before she left.

Ginny now had the whole afternoon free. However, she didn't know what to do of it. She had not made any friends yet, and her brothers were all either working or in class right now. She wasn't sure if they would want to spend time with her for now, anyway. She felt lonely. Far away, she noticed the hut where she knew Rubeus Hagrid, the gamekeeper, was living, at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Ginny listened many times to Fred and George's tales about how they wandered into the Forest, and about how they failed sometimes, stopped by Hagrid himself. But she also remembered Harry and Ron discussing about him during summer. She knew they had the habit to visit Hagrid.

The first time Ginny met Hagrid was at Hogsmeade station. It was obvious he and Harry knew each other very well. She knew he was a very big man, but she didn't realize how big and tall he actually was. He looked like a giant. She was a little afraid of him, truth be told. It had nothing to do with him being scary, not at all. He seemed very kind, and if Harry was his friend, then... It was just his appearance.

Carefully, Ginny walked towards the hut. The door was closed. The windows were too high for her to see inside. Maybe Harry was there right now. Her heart was beating far too quickly. She looked at the high trees where the Forest began. Then her attention was grabbed by huge pumpkins in the garden. These were bigger than all those she had ever seen before. They were the size of boulders. How could pumpkins grow so huge?

She took her eyes off them and tried to look through the windows again. She approached. Maybe she would see something. Then the door opened.

"What are you doing here?" the giant who came out asked her. He didn't sound threatening, but Ginny was a little afraid all the same.

"I'm just... looking around," she answered.

"Looking around?"

"Yes. I'm... I'm looking around. I just arrived." She couldn't say the real reason why she came here. She felt red coming to her ears. She needed to focus the conversation on something else. She turned to the first thing that came to her mind. "You have very big pumpkins."

The giant smiled widely all of a sudden. "Aren't they?" He came to stand next to her and showed her his garden. "They should have more than enough time to grow before the Halloween feast."

These things would grow further. How big would they be in two months? "How did you do?"

The giant seemed hesitant all of a sudden. He even reddened a little. It reminded Ginny of herself. "I've been... giving them a bit of help."

"You've done good work," she said, hoping it would make him less embarrassed.

"Thanks." He looked very happy about her compliment, and Ginny felt a smile coming to her lips. "You are Ron's sister, aren't you? The one who arrived with Harry on a broomstick?"

Ginny wished she didn't redden again. Only mentioning that caused her discomfort. "Yes. My name is Ginny."

"I know."

She then heard a dog yelping, and a giant black dog came out of the hut to lobber against her robe.

"Don't worry. Fang doesn't bite," Hagrid said to reassure her. But she barely heard him.

She stroked the fur of the dog named Fang, and she laughed when he tried to lick her face. Ginny had always liked animals. Dogs were not her favourites, but this one seemed quite playful.

"He seems to like you," Hagrid commented, laughing a little as well as Ginny took the face of the dog into her hands, widely smiling. He looked so happy, so kind. He was a little bit like his master, big but kind. "Hey, if you want Ginny, you can come inside. I'll make you some tea and biscuits."

Ginny accepted. A moment later, she was sitting in a chair the size of a bed, with a cup of tea the size of a bowl. She almost broke her teeth when she tried to eat a biscuit, but the tea was good.

"So, Ginny, you like your time at Hogwarts so far?" Hagrid asked her. Ginny was still patting Fang under the table.

"Yes." It was a half-truth. "We had our first flying lesson this afternoon."

"Ah. Please tell me no one broke a bone this year."

"No," she replied. "Some people fell off their broomstick, but they were always only a few feet from the ground."

"Good. Because last year, Neville broke his wrist. The poor boy. He must have been at least ten feet in the air when he fell."

"Neville Longbottom?" Ginna asked.

"Yes. Harry, Ron and Hermione were there. And then this Draco Malfoy tried to steal something the poor Neville had lost on the ground." Malfoy. He was the Slytherin with blond hair she crossed on Diagon Alley and who accused Harry of enjoying being a celebrity. She hated him. "In some way, it didn't do him any service. He flew up, and Harry went after him. Malfoy tried to get rid of what he stole from Neville and Harry caught it just before it reached the ground. Professor McGonagall saw him. That's how he got his position on Gryffindor's team. In some way, Malfoy did him service."

Ginny had read about it on one of Ron's letters at the time. Though she didn't know it was Professor McGonagall who saw Harry do it. She thought it was another teacher, maybe Madam Hooch, and that she was so impressed by his skills that she decided not to punish him. Ginny struggled to imagine the severe woman who took care of Transfiguration classes reward a student for breaking the rules. Not that she complained about it. She wouldn't have seen Harry playing Quidditch if it wasn't for that.

"No, we didn't have any accident. We didn't fly high enough." She resisted the temptation of telling him she was very good at flying and why. She had heard Ron say one day that Hagrid could never keep a secret. She didn't want him to tell her brother that she was stealing his broomstick to fly on it, or else she would never be able to fly again when at home.

"Good thing. I heard some of your comrades who flew to come to Hogwarts weren't as lucky. Two of them managed to crash into my garden. I still don't understand how they ended up there. The light of the castle show very well they should have gone in the other direction. They crashed directly into one of my pumpkins."

Ginny laughed so hard at the thought that she accidentally spit on her robe some of the tea she just drank. She imagined a student in his seventh year, legs in the air, his head in one of the giant pumpkins.

"Well, I didn't," she said, feeling positively mischievous for once.

"Oh no. I'll never forget when you arrived. I never thought I would see Harry arrive in this way. His father, okay, he liked to impress the gallery. But Harry?" Hagrid laughed. "You were lucky to fly there with him."

Ginny drank again, hoping the huge cup would hide the colors that she knew appeared on her face.

"By the way," Hagrid continued. She hoped he didn't only seem to not notice the red on her face. "If you ever see Harry, tell him to come and visit me soon."

"Okay," Ginny answered very quickly. She would have to talk to Harry for that. She didn't know if she would be able to do it.

About an hour later, Ginny headed back to the castle. Her robe, already second-hand, was now in a more pitiful state due to Fang's drool and the tea she spilled on it. She thought she heard people laughing at her while she journeyed to the Gryffindor common room. She walked with her head high, trying to look as if she didn't care, but in reality she did. She went straight to her dormitory after she gave the password to the Fat Lady and changed her clothes before dinner. The dormitory was empty, luckily. She still had time before dinner. She took her diary, sat on her bed and began to write in it.

"Hello, Tom."

Hello, Ginny. It's been some time since we last spoke.

"It was only last evening."

I guess that as a diary, I don't have a very good notion of time.

"I'm sorry, Tom."

I was just joking, Ginny. It's always a pleasure to speak with you. If we can call that speaking since we are writing.

Ginny smiled. "I got my first flying lesson today."

Wasn't that the one you were the most excited for?

"Yes. It went very well. But they don't let us fly over a few feet. It's far too easy. I was bored very quickly."

I'm sure they will give you greater challenges soon.

"I hope. For now, it's the only course where I think I could really have fun. In the other classes, we must write down instructions for hours before we get to actually practice spells. The Potions Master is cruel with us. And our professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts is more interested in himself than in actually teaching us anything. We spend his classes reading the books he wrote himself."

This man seems to have no problem of self-esteem.

Ginny smiled again at the joke. "You're funny, Tom."

For a diary, this is a huge accomplishment. I think I will not have self-esteem problems for a while.

Ginny laughed again. "I went to visit Hagrid today."

Tom took some more time than usual to answer. Hagrid?

"Yes, he's the gamekeeper here. A very tall man, and big. Very kind too. He invited me to take a cup of tea. You should see the size of the glasses he's using."

Tall and big, I suppose?

"Correct. He's also a friend of Harry."

Harry? Again? In case you didn't notice, I just winked.

Ginny smiled sadly. The diary was the only to who she dared to speak about her feelings. "I went to Hagrid in the hopes that he would be there. It was stupid. What were the odds that he would be there at this hour?"

I really thought that after journeying with him on the same broomstick for over a hundred miles, you wouldn't be so shy around him.

"I hoped me too, but I can't help it." She sighed before she continued to write. "Every time he's there, it's like I'm no longer myself. I cannot do anything correctly. I cannot talk."

You really love him, do you?

"Yes." It felt good to admit it to someone, even if it was just a diary.

Tell me more about him. I'd like to better know the boy my best friend is in love with.

Ginny began to tell him everything she knew about Harry, from what everyone knew on him and how he defeated He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, to the smallest anecdotes and details she witnessed with her own eyes. She needed hours to fill Tom about everything. She was so absorbed in their conversation that she forgot to go in the Great Hall for dinner.

Chapter Text

HARRY X

 

Harry was staring at the diagram without hearing what Wood was saying as arrows of different colors, whose meaning he didn't get, moved across the board. Maybe if Oliver Wood, the captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, didn't wake him up before dawn he could have devoted some basic attention to both the board and his voice, but in his sleepy state, he could hardly try to follow the arrows, even less grab the words Wood was using to describe his new tactics.

The others were no better. Fred was snoring, his head resting on Alicia's left shoulder. Alicia herself struggled to stay awake, her head slowly dropping to her chest before she abruptly straightened it, only to let it fall slowly again. It was a chance her head wasn't nearly as cut as Nearly Headless Nick. Angelina and Katie also had their heads respectively resting on one another. As for George, he was leaning against his Cleansweep, his eyes closed, and Harry wondered when he would fall onto the floor. They were in Gryffindor's changing rooms, under the bleachers of the Quidditch pitch, before the day had even begun, and everyone in this room just wanted one thing, go back to bed and stay in it for another two hours before they would rise up to take their breakfast. Everyone but Oliver Wood, who woke them up, all of them. Harry wondered how he got into the girls' dormitory. The stairs were enchanted so that no boy may try to climb them. He would have to ask the question to Angelina or Alicia or Katie later. Wondering about this was much less arduous for his brain than trying to follow Wood's new tactics. Did their captain really spend the best part of summer reviewing their whole strategies, tactics and training programs?

"This way, we will have a strategy that maximizes our chances of scoring while giving us more than the necessary flexibility to fall back if we lose the Quaffle, hence reducing to the minimum the odds of the opposing team to score against us. And it will also maximize our Beaters' chances of hitting opponents and reduce the odds of their Beaters to hit us. So, is that clear? Any questions?"

How could they have any question when no one listened? George asked another question that Harry would have asked himself if he had been daring enough.

"I do have a question, Oliver. Why couldn't you have told us all this yesterday when we were awake?"

Harry couldn't have agreed more, and the rest of the team, now a little awaken since Wood was done with his explanations, seemed to agree totally. All the team but Wood.

"Now, listen here, you lot," he almost thundered. He seemed to have realized no one wanted to listen to his tactics this morning, when in fact no one could have listened to them, even if they wanted. "We should have won the Quidditch Cup last year. We ended third, only twenty points behind Slytherin. Twenty points! If we had scored one more goal at each one of our games, the Cup would have been Gryffindor's."

"It's not our fault that Harry's broomstick got mad during the first game, Oliver," Alicia countered. "Even you tried to help him when you saw his predicament. And Flint and his goons used the situation to score tons of goals."

"And it's not our fault if Harry was in the hospital wing during the last game, and that Katie was forced to play the Seeker," Fred added.

Harry shifted guiltily. If only he had woken up a day before, he would have played this match and they could have won. He saw Katie shifting uncomfortably on her bench. Harry hoped she didn't feel guilty for not catching the Golden Snitch. It was his job, not hers.

"Well, we must avoid that kind of situation this year," Wood said convincingly. "If Katie, Alicia and Angelina had been our Chasers during that last game, we would have taken a very good advance. Instead, we had Salisbury making fouls all the time. He's not used to playing with us. So we make sure we won't have to call reservists this year. The team chemistry is perfect with you all, and this is what makes us the best team. We cannot afford to lose it. So I forbid any one of you to get injured. And if you do, you play all the same. You must be ready to die to win the Quidditch Cup."

Harry may have liked Quidditch, and it was indeed a violent sport where injuries were common, but to the extent of being ready to die for the team? No player ever died while playing Quidditch. Only a referee was rumored to have died a long time ago, and it wasn't certain whether it had actually happened.

"This year, we train harder than ever before. Let's go and put our new theories into practice!"

Harry felt that this practice would be quite different from the journey that brought him to Hogwarts. Thinking about this, a thought crossed his mind.

"Hey, Oliver, I have a question," he asked, as the rest of the team was going to the pitch.

"Yes, Harry? Is it about the tactics?" his captain asked.

"No. It's about the reservists. Who are they?"

Oliver shrugged. "They're not really worthy to know. I only took the best for the team."

"I get it, but... How are they chosen?"

"Last year," Oliver began while walking Harry to the pitch, "I held tryouts. That's when I selected the team. I kept the names of the best that came after them. Rowan Salisbury was one of them. I wish though we never had to ask him to play. He wasn't from the same mold as Angelina, Alicia and Katie. He didn't know our tactics. And he wasn't used to play with us."

"Okay. And are there going to be tryouts this year?"

Wood seemed insulted. "I think I was very clear just now. Injuries won't be an excuse to miss a match this time."

He spoke as if it was Harry's fault they lost against Ravenclaw. Harry felt somewhat responsible for this, indeed, but it wasn't as if he got injured on purpose. And he would rather lose all the Quidditch games in the world than see Voldemort return or let his mother die.

"I was just wondering if new players could apply to be reservists."

"Well, no. We already have the best team," Wood declared, unflinching. "No need for new recruits or reservists. We play with the team we have."

"Okay," Harry conceded, utterly uncertain about Oliver's philosophy and approach to creating a Quidditch team. "Still one more thing. First-years cannot be reservists?"

Wood scoffed. "No, they can't. They don't even have the right to own a broomstick, or to fly. You were a special case, and no longer in your first year today, anyway."

This had the benefit to be clear. Harry wasn't sure why he asked all these questions. He knew that first-years couldn't enroll into the Quidditch team of their house. Like Wood said, he had been a special case, lucky that Professor McGonagall didn't expel him when she caught him flying against another teacher's orders. Still, he had asked because thinking about their flying journey to Hogwarts had reminded him of something Ginny said before they took flight.

I know how to control a broom. I'm breaking into the broom shed and using my brothers' brooms. I've been doing it for years, early in the morning, or late in the evening, sometimes at night.

He had wondered for a moment if perhaps... But of course, Ginny couldn't have joined the reservists. She was a first-year, and unless McGonagall saw her catching a Remembrall just before it fell to the ground, her broomstick at full speed, Harry didn't see how she could circumvent the rules. Harry felt sorry for her in some way. The few times he saw her this week, she was always alone. It was strange. Harry had been an only son his whole life, with a single mother to raise him alone. He had dreamed of having brothers and sisters more than once. It was so odd for him to see Ginny look so alone when she had six brothers, including four who attended Hogwarts with her.

He entered the pitch. The sun was now out. Dawn was gone. How long had they been in the changing rooms, feigning to listen to Wood's new tactics? Ron and Hermione were on the benches, some toasts with them that Harry looked upon with envy.

"You're not finished yet?" Ron shouted to him.

"We haven't even started," Harry shouted back. "Wood has been teaching us new moves."

The grass cracked under his feet. Harry straddled his Nimbus and kicked hard against the ground. The cold air of the morning was like a breath of fresh air, which it actually was when you thought about it. This was Quidditch, to the opposite of tactics and strategies Wood had been talking about for hours. Harry felt much better, and finally woke up. He reached the center of the field, at the altitude of the towers, then began to circle the pitch.

He reached Katie's level. "Woken up?" he asked her. She looked back with a huge smile.

"Yes. Much better working than Wood's speech."

They both laughed. Katie Bell was the youngest player in Gryffindor's team aside Harry. She was only one year older than he was. "I'll try to do what he said, to not get hurt. This way you won't be forced to be the Seeker against Ravenclaw again this year."

"Yes, please, Harry. No offense to your position, but I very much prefer scoring goals with the Quaffle than looking for the Golden Snitch. Now show me that your Nimbus wasn't exhausted by your journey last week."

Harry was happy to show her that his Nimbus had retained all its power by accelerating to full speed. He then skillfully flew past Angelina and Alicia, right between them.

"Hey, I thought it was women first," Angelina shouted after him. She had woken up as well.

Harry reached Fred and George and was about to perform the same trick he did with Angelina and Alicia to them, but before he began his maneuver, he heard a sound that had sadly become far too familiar recently. Colin Creevey, one of the students who got sorted into Gryffindor last week, was taking series of pictures of Harry from the benches. Harry looked away. Colin had already caused him more than enough problems with Lockhart, who now believed Harry was after fame just like him. Lockhart went as far as to suggest Harry came to Hogwarts on a broomstick only as a publicity stunt. He even went as far as asking Harry where his mother was living so he may visit her. The very thought of what it might suggest made him want to vomit, and to vomit on Lockhart himself.

"Look this way, Harry! This way!" Colin shouted. Harry decided it was better not to look at him. He may think that Harry just didn't hear him anyway.

"Who's that?" Fred asked.

"No idea," Harry lied, as they flew away from Colin.

"Another one of your fans, Harry?" George asked.

"I don't know!" Harry replied in an exasperated tone. He didn't want Fred and George starting to tease him. He should have known better because it was unavoidable.

"Let's hope Ginny doesn't get her hands on one of his photos. Or else she will ask you to sign it, if she ever finds the courage to..."

"Oh, shut up, Fred!"

"It's George."

"Hey!" Katie had just joined them. "Have you seen this? The Slytherins are here."

They followed her gaze, and indeed, seven people in green robes had entered the pitch. They were still on their feet, but it was undoubtedly Flint's team. They watched Wood landing in front of them, and all decided without saying a word that it would be better to stand besides their captain as he faced the Slytherin team. Angelina and Alicia did the same, landing right before them.

"I booked the pitch! I booked it!" Wood was spitting when they arrived.

"Ah, but I've got a specially signed note here from Professor Snape. I, Professor S. Snape, give the Slytherin team permission to practise today on the Quidditch pitch, owing to the need to train their new Seeker," Marcus Flint said arrogantly.

"You've got a new Seeker? Where?"

Harry didn't see any new player from last year. They were all still there. All but Higgs, the Seeker Harry beat to the Golden Snitch. Harry realized there were only six players, all tall and muscled like Flint. The six large players opened the ranks to let the seventh, much smaller, come forward. Harry recognized him on the spot. It was Draco Malfoy.

"Aren't you Lucius Malfoy's son?" Fred asked, disdain plain in his voice.

"It is funny that you mention Draco's father," Flint said. "Let me show you the generous gift he's made to the Slytherin team."

All seven players showed their broomsticks. Harry could see they were brand new, and the gold letters on them showed clearly what they were. Seven Nimbus Two Thousand and Ones.

"Very last model. It only came out last month," Flint pointed out. "I believe it outstrips the old Nimbus Two Thousand series by a considerable amount. As for the old Cleansweeps, they are only good for sweeping the board."

Harry looked at them in bewilderment. So that was how Draco Malfoy got into the Slytherin team. He wouldn't be surprised to learn that Higgs was still a student. Harry had never wondered which year he was. At the same time, he felt a pang of jealousy, accompanied by anger and a feeling of injustice directed towards Malfoy.

"Oh, look. A pitch invasion," Flint said. Ron and Hermione had arrived on the field.

"What's happening? Why aren't you playing? And what is he doing here?" Ron asked Harry, talking about Malfoy.

"I'm the new Slytherin Seeker, Weasley. Everyone's just been admiring the brooms my father has bought our team," Malfoy replied smugly. "Good, aren't they? But perhaps the Gryffindor team will be able to raise some gold and get new brooms, too. You could raffle off those Cleansweep Fives. I expect a museum would bid for them."

The Slytherins exploded in laughter. Ron was speechless, and so was Harry and the rest of the Gryffindor team, but mostly out of anger than anything else. Only Hermione kept a cool head.

"At least no one on the Gryffindor team had to buy their way in," she said with the same smug look Malfoy just gave them. "They got in on pure talent."

Her smugness made Malfoy lose some of his. Harry was proud of Hermione in this moment. He wished he made this reply.

"No one asked your opinion, you filthy little Mudblood," he spat.

Everything happened so quickly. The instant after Malfoy said those words, he was on the ground, holding his face somewhere between his nose and his eyes. Blood came out of it. Harry had just hit him hard with the end of his own Nimbus Two Thousand's handle.

"NEXT TIME YOU CALL HER THAT, MALFOY, I'LL KILL YOU!"

What happened afterwards went even more quickly. Harry didn't know exactly what took place, but he knew that the rest of the Slytherin team, after recovering from the surprise attack Harry made, rushed on him, and the other players of Gryffindor rushed to his help.

Fifteen minutes later, they were all in the hospital wing of the castle, the Slytherins and the Gryffindors in their own separate rows of beds. Professor McGonagall and Professor Snape stood between them, while Madam Pomfrey was tending to their wounds.

"Can you explain how a Quidditch practice ended up in a fist fight?" the Head of House Gryffindor thundered.

Snape was much calmer than his counterpart, but he was looking at Harry with a quiet but satisfied expression. Perhaps he was glad to see Harry with several bruises and a deep cut on the left cheek, but Harry suspected he was looking for an opportunity to punish him further. He may have been even more satisfied had Harry's glasses still been broken. Hermione had repaired them with a spell right before they were brought to the infirmary.

"It's their Seeker's fault. He assaulted Malfoy!" Flint started immediately.

"He called Hermione a Mudblood!" Ron countered angrily despite the fact he was lying down in his own bed. He must have joined the fight later, for Harry didn't remember him getting in.

"Then Wood and his whole team attacked us!" Flint accused them.

"You attacked Harry first! It's rich of you to call us the attackers, considering you guys barely got a few bruises," Wood snarled. "It wasn't you who got your arm broken, Flint!"

Indeed, Wood was right. Aside from Malfoy, whose nose had been bleeding heavily but was now repaired and fresh thanks to Madam Pomfrey, for he was the first student she treated when they arrived, all the members of the Slytherin team had gotten out of this fight mostly unscathed. A bruise there and there, a few bumps, one or two cuts, that was all they had. The Gryffindor team, on the other hand, didn't have the same luck, probably owing to the fact that Wood had chosen his players more on the basis of their talent, while Flint favoured muscles and lack of brains. Aside from Wood's broken arm, Angelina also got a broken arm, and Katie had a broken leg. Alicia had luckily nothing broken, but her face was proof enough that she received more than her share of hits. Fred and George had been forced to remove their shirts to reveal bruises all over their bodies and faces. They looked so blued that Harry could have mistaken them for very little blue people living in mushrooms. They had locked their bats with Derrick and Boyle early in the fight, that Harry could remember, but he guessed that despite their talent, Fred and George couldn't match the brute force of their opponents. To showcase this, the two Slytherin Beaters barely had a mark or two to show as injuries, and Madam Pomfrey had quickly declared them fit to leave and uninjured. Only they didn't, in part because the two professors forced them to stay.

"This is an infirmary here," Madam Pomfrey told McGonagall and Snape. "These children require care. You can scold them later. And have those who are uninjured out of here," she said while looking at the Slytherins. It was some small comfort that Hogwarts' Healer was on their side. She probably didn't like that the Slytherins were the ones who caused the injuries she had to treat now.

"I'm afraid this is not a matter we can put to rest," Snape stated. "There has been violence on the Quidditch pitch. The players of Gryffindor started a fight against the team of my own House after I gave them clear authorization to use the Quidditch pitch to train Mr Malfoy. And right when it happens, Mr Potter assaults Mr Malfoy who got injured near the eyes and nose."

"I think Mr Malfoy is not the only student who got injured in all this, Severus," McGonagall interrupted. "And unlike others, he is already on his feet without a trace of injury. So now, Mr Malfoy, you are the only player in the Slytherin team who got injured. How did this happen?"

Harry saw Malfoy somehow insulted. He felt some contentment at the idea that Malfoy felt ashamed and most importantly ridiculed by the fact only he, among all his teammates, got injured in all this.

"Potter attacked me! He took his broomstick and hit me in the face with the end of it. The pointy end! I could have lost an eye!"

"Lucky you didn't," McGonagall said. She turned towards Harry, her look just as severe as with Malfoy."Mr Potter, did you attack Mr Malfoy?"

"Yes," he replied after a moment, "and I would do it again if I could."

"Well, Potter is not denying it," Snape stated. "I guess it solves the matter. He assaulted another player on the pitch. I think detention and losing points are a good punishment, in addition to being taken off the Gryffindor Quidditch team for the rest of the season."

There was a concert of complaints and shouts coming from Harry's teammates and from Ron too. Harry, on his side, feared the worst. Could Snape really do this? Could he remove him from the Quidditch team for the rest of the year, only after a single week into the year.

"ENOUGH!" McGonagall's voice was powerful and authoritative enough to shut down the concert of shouting. In the meantime, Snape kept looking to Harry with the same satisfied and quiet expression, while Malfoy and the other Slytherins seemed to be in paradise.

"Mr Potter," McGonagall began again. "Why did you assault Malfoy?"

She was looking intensively at Harry, just like Dumbledore, as if she wanted to scrutinize his mind. Harry saw no reason to hide the truth. "He called Hermione a Mudblood to her face."

He saw an imperceptible flare of anger behind McGonagall's eyes, but it was gone within the instant. Harry's friends backed his story, all saying he only attacked Malfoy after he insulted Hermione. They looked just as disgusted and outraged as Harry felt in this moment. Mudblood was the worst insult, the most disgusting foul name anybody could throw at a wizard or witch whose parents were Muggles. Harry knew what the insult meant, and since his own mother came from a Muggle family, when Malfoy called Hermione that way, in his eyes it was as if he had insulted Harry's mother too. That's why he hit him.

McGonagall turned to Snape after the Gryffindor players were done giving their version of the story. "I don't see it as a reason to attack another student," he declared.

"No, it's not," she replied as a matter of fact. She turned to Malfoy though. "Mr Malfoy, do you deny what Mr Potter and his friends are saying?"

"Even if I did, it's only a word," he said, looking highly at Harry.

"A word that is not tolerated here, at Hogwarts," McGonagall retorted. She looked severely at him, then she looked as severely at the other Slytherins and the Gryffindors, especially Harry. "Violence is not tolerated at Hogwarts either. What happened today is unacceptable. Which is why I'm removing fifty points from each house and giving a detention to each one of you."

The Slytherins lost their smug expression right away. Snape lost it too. "Minerva, I don't think..."

"Severus, you'll forgive me, but judging from the injuries that the Gryffindor players suffer from when compared to your students, it is clear thar they used more than the necessary force to defend themselves. As for me, it is likely that everyone in this room may deserve to be suspended for the rest of the year. But it will not happen. I will have a very long conversation with every one of my students, I promise you. Especially Potter. I suggest you have a very good conversation as well with your own students, especially Malfoy."

"To me, it seems that Malfoy is probably the only student here who is, without any doubt, not faulty. He was assaulted first, and then didn't participate in the ensuing brawl."

"He used heinous and insulting language towards another student. He gets a detention, like all the others. I think you will personally agree, Severus, that it is still better than what happened the last time a Slytherin student used this word to insult a girl from House Gryffindor."

Something happened then that Harry never witnessed before. Snape turned so pale that he looked like chalk. His eyes quickly went from McGonagall to Harry. Harry had the impression that Snape was looking at him as if it was the first time he ever saw him. But Snape quickly went back to his usual demeanour, recovering his calm attitude. He then turned to the Slytherins.

"All of you, you come with me. You're not injured. Out of this place."

"But, Professor, are we still getting detention?" Malfoy asked.

"Yes, Malfoy, you are getting detention! Now, out! We will indeed need a very good conversation about what happened today!"

Harry never saw Snape snap like this against a Slytherin, and especially not against Malfoy. No one ever did, for the infirmary was silent for quite a while afterwards. McGonagall then looked to each one of them, one by one, with her severe expression.

"Professor..." Wood started, but she cut him right away.

"No more discussion about today's events, Wood. I'll talk with each one of you later, and I'll inform you of the detention you'll get. In the meantime, let Madam Pomfrey tend to your injuries. You will not help the Gryffindor team with broken bones."

She left on this. Her last declaration seemed to make everyone think twice about arguing with her.

"Well, the Professor McGonagall is not wrong. We will not win the Quidditch Cup if we keep all our bruises and cuts," Wood conceded.

"Says the guy who told us this morning to keep playing even if we were injured. No, did he actually forbid us to get injured?" Angelina asked.

"Well, I don't regret these bruises," Fred declared. "It felt good to give a few slaps to the Slytherins." Not everyone agreed with them, especially those who were the most injured. "And with our new bruises, perhaps for once people will be able to differentiate us."

"You look just the same. You're both covered so much that you look blue now," Ron said.

"He's right, Fred and George. You are like the Twin Smurfs now," Harry declared.

Everyone looked at Harry with a puzzled look. For a time that looked like eternity Everyone but the person in the bed on his right. Katie burst into laughs.

"He's right. You really do look like..." She couldn't control herself, and was holding her tummy, while emitting wailing, probably because of her broken leg.

Harry expected Madam Pomfrey to tell Katie to stay quiet, but he realized she was looking away, a hand on her face. And he heard her laugh as well. He guessed they were the only ones aside from Harry who had some little contact with the Muggle world.

Fred and George were looking at each other. "What are Smurfs?" they asked together.

Harry couldn't stop himself from joining Katie into her uncontrollable laughter. Hermione walked into the infirmary at this moment.

"Harry, really, this was very..."

Whatever she wanted to say, she stopped when looking at Harry and Katie laughing, and looked even more traumatized when she saw that Madam Pomfrey was holding back her laughs as well.

"What's going on here? What do you find so funny about this situation? You could have gotten yourselves in very serious trouble."

She looked at Ron, waiting for an explanation, but Ron shrugged to show his helplessness. This only made Harry laugh even more.

"What's going on?" Hermione asked again, clearly exasperated.

"Sorry... Hermione..." It was Katie who tried to articulate a few words. She was laughing so hard that she was crying now. "It's just... the Twin Smurfs..."

She laughed again. Hermione didn't seem to understand, but then she looked at Fred and George, covered with their bruises from the waist to the top of their head. Then she burst into laughs as well, covering her mouth with her two hands. Fred and George ended up joining the laughter, even though they clearly didn't understand what it was about.

"What are Smurfs?" they asked in unison once more.

This only redoubled the laughing in the room, and soon Alicia, Oliver and Angelina both joined as it became contagious. Only Ron remained there, not understanding, still asking who the Smurfs were.

Chapter Text

LILY IX

 

The two spells met with a deafening power. One was made of flames, consuming everything in its path, while Lily's was made of water, the source of life. Though fire was also considered as the source of life in ancient cultures, where fire warmed and preserved from cold.

This one was hard to extinguish. It was magical fire, one that was produced by a wand in the hands of a powerful witch, and Lily's job was to counter it. She directed all her energies, all her attention to fighting this burning hell that someone unleashed upon her. First a powerful and big ball of fire, it had exploded against Lily's own ball of water. Then the spells had both turned into streams, both trying to dominate and annihilate the other. The strength of these streams varied, which resulted in the point of contact between the two spells going back and forth between the two witches who maintained them, none conceding victory to the other.

Lily focused on maintaining the main stream of water while also creating smaller, secondary streams to weaken the main stream of fire by the side or at the origin. But her opponent tried the same tactic by creating other streams of fire, and these smaller streams ended up fighting each other as well.

Lily had to solicit her whole attention to not let fire dominate her. She had to extinguish this fire, by all means possible. Her opponent had to make sure she was burned, by all means possible as well. This was going nowhere. They couldn't remain there with their respective spells fighting off each other. Lily prepared herself, and she broke the duel. She stopped her water-producing spell and dodged the stream of fire. Then she cast a spell that conjured a heavy cloud of rain over her opponent. And Lily returned to her previous spell.

Aqua Eructo!

She cast the spell without pronouncing the incantation out loud. It gave her an advantage over her opponent, as she didn't know what spell she would cast, and had a shorter time to react. The fire-producing spell had never stopped, but Lily cast her water spell just at the right position to intercept the fire at reasonable distance. She then kept on fighting it, and slowly she began to gain some ground.

The cloud of rain she created weakened the fire spell at the source, while bothering her opponent who lost some of her focus. It was sad to say, but Tonks could be easily distracted, and their instructors said they shouldn't have any qualm about using their comrades' weaknesses, because they shouldn't have any using those of the dark wizards they would hunt. For Lily, who had done just that, fighting dark wizards, for years, it was easy. For Nymphadora, who was out of Hogwarts for only a single year, it was different.

She struggled to fight off Lily's spells. She moved out of the cloud, but Lily had foreseen this eventuality. The cloud followed Tonks as she tried moving out of him. She ended up redirecting part of her fire at it, consuming the cloud and turning it into harmless steam. But this redirection gave way to Lily to push her stream of water further and to weaken Tonk's fire. The point of contact between the fire and the water spells was now only five feet away from Tonk's wand, by Lily's own estimates. She decided now was the time to use her secret tactic, before Tonks found a way to take back the advantage.

Lily let some of her water fall to the floor, in enough quantity to not be vaporized by the fire's heat and to reach Tonks' feet. She pushed her spell a little, provoking a bigger amount of water to go under Tonk's feet. Lily then moved herself very quickly, almost running towards her left while still casting the spell, getting closer to Tonks. Nymphadora reacted by moving as well, backing down. She moved too quickly, and slid on the water.

Her focus lost, Lily's finished what remained of the fire, and Tonks was sprinkled by the equivalent of many buckets of cold water.  Lily stopped her spell after a few seconds, to discover a Tonks who was wet to the bone, and clearly unhappy about the outcome of their duel.

"Next time, I take the water," was the first thing she said.

"Be careful about what you wish for, Tonks," Lily warned her. "I don't think you would enjoy being burned more than being wet."

"At least, I would be warm," Tonks said as she dried up her clothes with her wand. As usual, for anything that involved cleaning, there was place for improvement with Tonks.

"Let me help you." Lily dried Tonks as well, and there was almost no water left after that.

"Thank, Lily. Well, you can tell your son tonight that you humiliated a young woman today."

There was no trace of resentment in Tonks' voice. That was one of things Lily liked with her. She didn't take defeat too seriously. Andromeda's daughter was not the best student among future Aurors who were trained at the Ministry, but she was hard-working, always trying to get better in order to succeed in her evaluations. She was also enthusiastic and of good spirit, ready to laugh after a hard day of work, something Lily could really benefit from. Lily always had a good sense of humor, which she shared with her son as he grew up, but it was hard to use it when Harry was far away. This night, however, she would see him. They were on October 31, 1992, and Harry had obtained an authorization to accompany her to Godric's Hollow once again this year, despite the detention he got during his first week for breaking the nose of another student.

"A young woman who will soon be an Auror," Lily specified. "I'm quite sure he'll like the story."

"If I ever manage to become an Auror," Tonks replied as they headed out of the training room. It was one of the many that Auror apprentices could use to train. This was what Lily and Tonks just did.

"You'll succeed, Tonks," Lily tried to reassure and encourage her at the same time.

"Yeah, yeah. I'll succeed. That's what my mother says all the time. Please, Lily. You're my friend. I don't need a second mother."

"I wasn't trying to be, Tonks. I'm just telling you what I think."

"Thanks. But for now, I think I'll just go and grab myself a Butterbeer. Want to share one?"

"Not tonight, Tonks. You know I have something to do with my son."

"Okay. If you ever need some company after that, you know how to join me, Lily."

"Yes, thank you."

They went separate ways after that. Tonks had some administrative papers to fill before she left. Lily couldn't wait to see Harry. They were late in the afternoon, and she was already afraid to be late. She just had enough time to go home and change before heading to Hogwarts.

She used the Floo Network to get home. It warmed her. She had been sprinkled with some water as well during her practice with Tonks. However, it also dirtied her. She headed for the shower the moment she arrived in her living room. Lily undid her ponytail as she entered the bathroom. She had taken the habit of arranging her hair into one when she had to do practical training, which happened more often as days went by. She always had very long hair, and preferred to keep them free, falling both on her back and in front of each of her shoulders, but it wasn't very practical when the time to fight came. This night, she wouldn't fight. She would just spend some time with her son.

The shower did her some good. She had been occupied for the whole day, training, working, studying. It was probably a good thing. It kept her mind occupied. This day of the year was always very difficult. This morning, like every year before, she had woken up after dreaming about that night her husband died. At least, she had so many things to do today that she was left with few time to think about it. But now that the day was over, her memories came back to haunt her mind. She let the hot water fall on her head, running through her hair that fell in front of her eyes.

James.

She remembered the day she had accepted for the first time to go on a date with him. It was during the first month of their seventh year. They had both been named Head Boy and Head Girl. Lily had been very surprised to discover that James Potter received that title, even though he had changed during his sixth year, becoming more mature. When he asked her to go out with him only one week after they returned to Hogwarts, she finally said yes. Their date went so well. She could see that there was still something left of the immature boy she had met in her first year abord the Hogwarts Express, but she could also tell that he had changed, and that he was making efforts to further change as well. For her. It touched her more than he could imagine.

They had gone on another date the next week-end, then again on the week-end that followed. And on the day of Halloween, in 1977, she and James officially began their relationship, which would lead to their marriage and their son later. This was what made the day of Halloween so difficult for Lily. Not only was it the day she lost her husband, it was also the day when she officially began dating him. For four years, they were together. Lily wished it had lasted longer. She wished James matured sooner, or that she accepted to date him before, even when he still behaved like an idiot. Although she still disapproved of what he did back then, she understood with the years that one of the reasons why he did so was to attract her attention. It was stupid, and he made people suffer for this, but he didn't behave in this way out of pure evil, or hatred. James had always been someone good. He just didn't show it, or people failed to see it, hidden behind his arrogant demeanour.

She remained under the shower for quite some time, ruminating about the past. She shed some tears, which were lost in the torrent of water falling upon her. And then she left the shower, put on a set of clean clothes for the occasion. When she felt ready, she Apparated.

Lily arrived in the outskirts of Hogsmeade. And just like last year, the village was in the middle of huge celebrations for Halloween, visitors from all across the magical world gathered in one of the few places where they could freely celebrate this day. As Lily walked through the streets of the village, she saw vampires and other creatures who usually remained in the dark wandering innocently across the streets. This was their day as much as it was the day for wizards and witches. Skeletons were putting on shows all across the village, with small crowd assembled to look at them. There were even a few ghosts wandering around. Bats flew everywhere, and huge lanterns made of real pumpkins were hovering over the streets and houses everywhere. Lily thought nostalgically about how she enjoyed those visits to Hogsmeade back when she was a student. She and her friends would go to the Three Boomsticks to drink a Butterbeer, or visit Honeydukes to buy as many sweets as they could, or taking a look at the Shrieking Shack and hearing the terrible sounds coming out of it. It would only be after she and James started dating that he would tell her it was in fact Remus who made the noises when he transformed into a werewolf. Learning how he remained a friend of Remus even after learning who he was and even helping him through his hardship had made Lily realize how little she knew about James back then, and her love for him only increased afterwards.

She watched the festivities going on as she travelled through the village. She remembered as well the great feasts that happened in Hogwarts in the evening. She was sad to deprive Harry of that. She almost wished his request this year to accompany her at Godric's Hollow had been refused because of the altercation between him and Malfoy. He had earned a whole week of detention for this, though he wasn't the only one. The whole teams of Slytherin and Gryffindor earned the same punishment, plus losing fifty points for their respective houses. The teams were also prohibited from using the Quidditch pitch to practice during the two weeks that followed. Knowing how James was when he was deprived of the right to play Quidditch, Lily had no difficulty imagining how both teams would feel punished only by this latest sanction.

She wished she could bring Harry to Hogsmeade after they went to Godric's Hollow, at least give him some joy and good time in this day, but the conditions of his leaving Hogwarts for the evening were very clear, and Lily was not to bring him anywhere else than Godric's Hollow. Hogsmeade was forbidden to students under their third year, anyway.

Lily followed the path leading from the village to the castle. She knew that somewhere behind her, she must have left Tonks, who probably was busy drinking Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks, like she said she would. But Lily didn't have the heart for this today. For Halloween, she was afraid that it would always be the same. She would spend the day thinking about James, and that was it.

"Lumos."

Her wand cast a powerful light, strong enough to illuminate the road ahead of her. She kept walking, her thoughts drifting to the memory of a carriage that led her up this road in the very beginning of her seventh year. She had shared this carriage with James and his friends, Remus, Sirius and Peter, along with another one of her own friends, Mary. Little did she know that only a few years later, one of them would turn out to be a traitor. She wasn't dating James yet, but she had come to appreciate him enough to be in the same carriage as he was.

Lily felt a single tear come out of her left eye. She wiped it immediately with the sleeve of her robe. She was nearing the castle's gates, and she could guess how both students and professors were feasting behind those walls, celebrations she was depriving her son of. She wished he had a more normal childhood, without being marked as the Boy Who Lived, the boy whose father died trying to protect him when he was only one-year-old.

She waited at the gates. It was already completely dark. She hoped that her son wouldn't be late because of a troll like last year. This new year was already marked by the detachment of the wagon he was in when the Hogwarts Express travelled to Hogwarts, and Lily considered it was already more than enough for this year. Her son was lucky to have escaped detention back then. Dumbledore and the other professors came to the conclusion that it was useless to blame students for coming to Hogwarts flying on broomsticks given the circumstances, even though a dozen Muggles thought they spotted something looking like flying broomsticks because of their actions. They had all been lucky. Still, she thought it was nothing compared to the troubles of last year so far. A wagon separated from the Hogwarts Express was nothing when compared to fighting a troll, a cursed broomstick, Hagrid raising a dragon in his hut, and confronting Voldemort himself. Their fight still gave her nightmares from time to time.

There was only one good thing that had come out of Harry's encounter with the troll : his friendship with Hermione. Lily had wondered for a moment if there wasn't something more between her son and the girl. But after Hermione spent a week in their home during summer, she had to acknowledge that whatever there was between her son and the girl, it didn't go farther than friendship, for now. Harry was only twelve-years-old, after all. Having a girlfriend was probably not on his list of priorities. Personally, Lily liked Hermione very much. She looked way more serious than Ronald Weasley, and probably had a better influence on her son than his red-headed friend. She could also understand Harry in ways Ronald never could, considering both Harry and Hermione grew up among Muggles for years, and with little contact with the wizarding world before they came to Hogwarts. Hermione seemed like a very good friend to her son, and she hoped it would remain that way.

It seemed a troll invading the corridors of Hogwarts was finally not part of this year's festivities, for Lily soon spotted two silhouettes coming her way from the other side of the gates. One was very tall and big, holding a large lantern over his head. It was impossible to mistake Hagrid for someone else. The smaller person walking next to him was undoubtedly Harry, which was only confirmed when they reached the gates.

"Hello, Lily. It's good to see you here," the voice of the half-giant told her when they neared the school's limits.

"Hi, Hagrid. It's a pleasure to see you," she replied, but she looked at her son all the time. Hagrid opened the gates and Harry came to her. She hugged him, getting on her knees to do that, though she felt this time would soon come to an end. Harry was growing up, after all.

"Don't forget," Hagrid said, "you must be back here by midnight."

"Yes, Hagrid. We'll be back. Happy Halloween."

Hagrid nodded, his eyes communicating what he didn't dare to say, that he was sorry for James. Lily nodded in acknowledgement, thanking him silently, then turned her heels and started walking down the path with Harry.

"So, no troll this year?" she asked, trying to be cheerful.

"No, Mom. I think this Halloween is going to be normal."

"I hope so. Anyway, we won't be there, so there's nothing to worry about if vampires suddenly invade the castle."

"Or if one of Hagrid's giant pumpkins explodes to everyone's face."

That managed to make her laugh a little. Harry had told her in his letters how Hagrid had pumpkins grow to the size of his own hut with an Engorgement Charm.

"Let's hope your friend Seamus doesn't try to turn them from orange to green," she added, which elicited small laughs from them both.

It was then that she heard something on her left. Lily stopped and raised her wand to enlighten the row of trees that stood on this side of the road.

"What is it, Mom?" her son asked.

Lily was certain that she had heard something, and seen something too. A movement, like a shadow moving into the forest.

"I thought I..." Maybe she was getting paranoid around Hogwarts after the events of last year. "Forget about it. It must be my imagination. But I think we are far enough to Apparate. Are you ready?"

Harry gripped her arm, and Lily transferred them within seconds to the cemetery of Godric's Hollow. Rows of tombstones stood ahead of them. They had apparated right at the same place than last year.

"Are you alright, my dear?" Lily asked her son, making sure he was fine after the Apparition.

"Yes, Mom," he said, panting a little.

She conducted him to the place where they went every year. James' grave remained the same throughout the years. There were some flowers already there. Slowly, Lily made another bouquet appear. She designed it as slowly as she could, thinking about James the whole time. It seemed to take eternity, but it resulted in a complex mosaic of flowers of all colours that covered the whole of the tomb, up to where her husband's name was written.

 

James Potter, born 27 March 1960, died 31 October 1981

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

 

She had this written herself after the funerals. They happened over a month after her husband's death, after she recovered enough forces in the hospital wing of Hogwarts, and after Sirius was finally released from Azkaban. She was present, holding Harry in her arms. Sirius and Remus were there too, along with Dumbledore, several Hogwarts teachers including Minerva McGonagall and Horace Slughorn, and most of the members of the Order of the Phoenix who survived through the war. Were also present Milicent Bagnold, the then Minister of Magic, and many representatives of the Ministry, such as Cornelius Fudge, who was then at the head of the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes, Bartemius Crouch, at the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Many people who had known James and Lily during their scholarship or after, friends both old and new, simple acquaintances, and perfect strangers who just wanted to pay their respects came. There were also journalists, of course, taking all photos they could of Lily and her son, and who would hunt them for the two years that would follow until Lily finally decided to go back and live in the world of Muggles.

A lot was said, and little was done. Mostly, James' body was buried. Lily had struggled to stand on her feet for the whole duration of the ceremony. Only the fact that she was holding Harry in her arms kept her from falling apart. After everybody was gone, and the others made sure she had a moment alone in front of her husband's grave, she wrote the sentence below his name. James had given his life for Lily, and for their son. As long as she was alive, and that Harry was alive, she thought that James would live through them, hence the reason why she wrote that down. James had cheated death by saving them. At least, that's what she told herself back then.

Today, sometimes, it was hard to convince herself about that. She had her son, who each passing day looked a little more like his deceased father. The only thing Harry physically shared with her were his eyes, the same green as hers. She was proud of her son, proud of who Harry became, even though he made her worry so much that by times she thought it would kill her someday. But she no longer felt that James had defeated death. He sacrificed himself, and sometimes she wished she was the one who died in his place. Harry reminded her that she had a son who didn't get to know his father, who didn't get the chance to grow with him. James was dead, and nothing would bring him back.

"Mom?"

Her son's voice resonated next to her. She felt his hand sliding into hers. She gripped it as she closed her eyes and let the tears come down. Harry was the only who could offer her some comfort on those days, and she hated herself for dragging him into this. He should be partying with his friends in the Great Hall right now, enjoying the festivities of Halloween, not keeping company to his mother on the worst day of her life. And yet here he was, and she could do nothing but take what solace he could offer her.

She didn't know how long they remained there, but after a moment she felt she had no more tears to shed. She dried and washed them away, and brought her son to the village so they could eat something. Since this was Halloween night, no one looked strangely at a mother walking with her son in the streets, dressed as wizards. They might have found it strange that Harry had no bag or plastic cauldron to collect chocolate bars and candies, but Lily doubted people would pay any real attention to that detail. She and Harry ended up eating hamburgers on a bench of the park, outside.

"So, tell me, how is your Quidditch season looking this year?" she asked her son, trying to think about something else than James.

"I'm not sure. The Slytherins have brand new broomsticks. Lucius Malfoy bought a Nimbus Two Thousand and One to each of their players so Draco could get into the team."

Lucius Malfoy. One of Voldemort's old servants, who managed to not get sent to Azkaban by swearing he was under the Imperius Curse, and certainly by distributing some of his gold to those who then became his friends after his master's fall.

"Don't bother too much about it. If Draco Malfoy needed his father in order to become Seeker, he will not be a match for you when you'll play against him," she said.

"Perhaps." Harry didn't seem convinced by her reasoning. "Only, all the other players have broomsticks that far surpass ours. Fred and George spied on the training of the Slytherins, and they say that they are so fast that they can barely see them move over the pitch."

"The broomstick doesn't make the player, Harry. If your team plays as well as she did the last time, all the odds are on your side."

Harry nodded. He then looked more directly at her. "I'm sorry, Mom. I mean, about what happened during the first week-end. I was just..."

"Trying to defend your friend," she completed. She already knew everything about what happened. McGonagall told her everything, and Harry had also told her how things happened in a letter. While reading it, she wondered for a moment whether it was her son or her late husband who did this. Breaking somebody's nose for calling a girl a Mudblood was more in James' style than Harry's. At the same time, having been the target of that particular insult, she could understand her son's reaction, as much as she disapproved it.

"Look, Harry," she said. "It's in the past. It's been done. You've been punished, all of you, for what you did that day. I just don't expect you to repeat this. The next time, it will not only be detention for you. That kind of violence can get you out of school. And this is just a word, anyway. The best thing to do in those cases is just to try and ignore these people. The only reason why they're using it is only because it makes them feel superior, when in fact they bury themselves deep into the ground by saying it."

"I heard Voldemort was targeting people like you and Hermione during the last war," Harry said.

Lily sighed. "It's true. Words can hurt. But you won't stop Malfoy from using them by punching him in the face every time he utters them. I already told you, I don't want that to happen again."

She was firm but tried to speak in the kindest way she could. And in some way, she did hope that the lesson Malfoy got would make him think twice before calling another student a Mudblood.

"I promise," Harry said. For Lily, it was enough. The accident was already two months old, and it would be useless to dwell on it. Anyway, from what she knew of Hermione, she could handle herself.

The evening went on quite well. She probably should have brought Harry back to Hogwarts sooner, but she cherished the moments she spent with him on that day. It helped her to get through it.

It was past eleven and thirty when they finally Apparated on the track leading from Hogsmeade to the castle. The night had been good. Nothing horrible had happened. Lily felt that finally, this year would be eventless for her son. As eventless as it could be, in any case.

They arrived in front of the gates. Lily expected Hagrid to be there, already waiting. That was what happened last year. Hagrid had been waiting for half an hour until they finally arrived. This time, however, Hagrid was nowhere to be seen, nor was anyone else waiting for them. Lily hit the gates to announce their presence. They waited, but no one came. Lily rang again. After fifteen minutes, no one had come yet.

"What's going on?" Harry asked.

Lily wished she could tell. That wasn't normal. "Someone will come soon."

"You think?"

Her son wasn't an idiot. She should have thought better than believing such a lie would be enough for him. "Maybe they are delayed, or Hagrid is busy with something else."

"Perhaps," Harry conceded.

It was only around midnight, as both Lily and her son began to find the air much too cold, that Hagrid finally came, running.

"Lily! Harry! By the dragon, you're here, and safe."

"We've been waiting for over half an hour," Lily said, not trying to hide the impatience in her voice.

"I'm sorry." Hagrid was panting, and his eyes looked everywhere very quickly. "Harry, you got to come with me, quickly! All the other students are already in their dormitories."

"Hagrid, what's going on?" Harry asked. Lily wanted to ask the same question. Hagrid truly seemed panicked, and she didn't think it was only because he was late.

"Look, your friends in the Gryffindor Tower should be able to explain to you. You must come with me, quickly!"

"Hagrid!" Lily positioned herself between the half-giant and her son. "What is going on?"

Hagrid looked at her. Finally, he gave in. "Something terrible happened during the Halloween feast."

Chapter Text

SEVERUS IV

 

He waited patiently under the cover of the trees. Severus chose just the right spot to remain hidden. His dark robes concealed him perfectly among the vegetation at night. Darkness enveloped him, just like in the dungeons where he gave his lessons. He was used to being silent, and right now he put that talent to great use.

Then a light appeared on the road. Severus squatted to make sure she wouldn't see him. She soon came into sight, and despite the surrounding darkness, her wand produced enough light, even from afar, for Severus to distinguish her face.

Last time he saw her was almost a whole year ago. She had come into his office after her son's first Quidditch match. In fact, she walked in it while he wasn't there, and waited for him. And she threatened that she would get rid of him if ever tried something against her son. It had been the first time in ten years since he saw her. Now here she was, on that path the students used to reach Hogwarts at the beginning of the year.

She was just as beautiful as she always was. Her dark red hair was falling on both her shoulders and her back, and he could even make out her green eyes in the complete darkness that surrounded her. He looked at her walking past him, hidden as he was among the trees alongside the road. His heart was beating frantically. He had wanted to see her after the events of May, when she faced the Dark Lord once more and got out of there alive. Only, she was always with her son. Severus didn't want to see Harry Potter. Her son would just ruin any conversation attempt he would try with her. She stayed by his side for days. And Severus left them alone.

She now waited in front of the school's gates, waiting for her son to arrive. The light reverberated on her red hair. Severus waited with her, not leaving his eyes from her. Then a large shape that was Hagrid and a smaller who was Potter arrived at the gates from the other side, the school grounds, and the gates opened.

"Hello, Lily. It's good to see you here," Hagrid said.

"Hi, Hagrid. It's a pleasure to see you," she replied kindly.

That was the kindness she showed him once, a long time ago, before he committed the irreparable. He had wanted so often to take back the words he said on this day. Maybe things could have been different between them if he hadn't said the word, the same Draco Malfoy used against Granger two months ago. That was why he didn't oppose the collective detention McGonagall imposed. And that's why he berated Malfoy, like he never did before, to be cautious about how, when, and around who he used that kind of words. Maybe this way Malfoy wouldn't make the same mistake he once did, and end up looking at the woman he loved, hugging the spitting image of his worst enemy.

"Don't forget," Hagrid told them. "You must be back here by midnight."

"Yes, Hagrid. We'll be back. Happy Halloween," Lily wished him. A part of Snape envied Hagrid in this very moment, something totally stupid, for being shown kindness by Lily Evans. Another part of him was furious, especially as he watched her walk alongside Potter on the track.

"So, no troll this year?" Lily asked to her son.

"No, Mom. I think this Halloween is going to be normal." the boy looked so much like his father that it made Severus disgusted to hear him calling Lily this way.

"I hope so. Anyway, we won't be there, so there's nothing to worry about if vampires suddenly invade the castle."

"Or if one of Hagrid's giant pumpkins explodes to everyone's face."

Lily laughed at this. Severus couldn't stop himself from smiling at this sight. "Let's hope your friend Seamus doesn't try to turn them from orange to green," she declared. Both laughed now.

Severus made a small movement. A branch creaked under his feet. He froze as Lily turned in his direction and raised her wand, the light it produced pointed on him.

"What is it, Mom?" Potter asked.

Lily, in the meantime, kept scrutinizing the woods, but she didn't move. Severus' heart was beating very quickly. She must not find him. He was well hidden. Perhaps she wouldn't see him.

"I thought I... Forget about it. It must be my imagination. But I think we are far enough to Apparate. Are you ready?"

She said the words, her son came to her side, and they both disappeared in a loud crack. Severus knew where they were going. Lily always had too good of a heart. James Potter didn't deserve the love she bore him. No more than Severus did. He guessed he could consider himself lucky to have been her friend during so many years at Hogwarts and before.

The Potions Master remained there, crouched, unmoving, afraid to some point that Lily Evans might reappear to check once again on the area, but she didn't. He then waited for enough time to pass so that he would be sure that Hagrid would be far away as well. Then he left his hiding place, went to the gates, opened them and began the walk that would bring him back to the castle, closing the gates again behind him with a single movement of his wand.

He crossed no one on his journey back to the castle, which he was glad for. All the children were probably feasting for Halloween in this very moment. Severus would be a little late for this feast, but it didn't matter to him. These frivolities were secondary to him. Power and justice were everything that mattered, and he only enjoyed himself when he helped to bring justice, or when he could gain more power. Justice, in his eyes, happened when someone received exactly what he deserved. And sadly, the world was so unfair that it seldom happened. James Potter was the very example of this. Arrogant, impertinent, lazy, breaking the rules at every opportunity he got, he received top marks in all his exams, was named Head Boy when he wasn't even a Prefect, dated and married Lily Evans, a woman he definitely never deserved, and died in such a way that everyone considered him a hero, when he was everything but one. He just happened to be at the wrong place in the wrong moment, on the Dark Lord's path, and the Dark Lord killed him because he was a nuisance.

He had to give it to James Potter, though, he was talented. No one could deny it. But his son, Harry Potter, only shared his father's flaws. He received fame and celebrity when he never did anything to earn it, and he benefitted from it and used it at every turn, getting a pass when he broke the rules or endangered someone else, like when he confronted that troll at Halloween. Severus wouldn't be surprised that he joined Miss Granger and attracted the troll in their direction only to play the hero part, like his father loved to. Maybe he had an eye on the girl and hoped to get her infatuated towards him. If that was the case, he succeeded. Hermione Granger and Harry Potter spent a lot of time together, and Severus was more than aware of the rumors circulating about them. The girl seemed a little too intellectual for love, but Potter gained her friendship that day, which was already far too much. He guessed that a girl who was content with learning the full content of her books was easy to manipulate in the end of the day. The fact that both her parents were Muggles certainly didn't help.

As he walked through the grounds and towards the Entrance Hall, Severus thought about how Lily stood up from her very first day at Hogwarts. She stood out even before. She was actually able to use magic without a wand, long before she knew what it was, long before she was accepted into Hogwarts. She was the best student from her very first year, but she didn't harbor any feeling of superiority for that. She was kindness itself, always ready to help anyone, even those who didn't deserve it. Severus had sometimes wondered if she really was Muggle-born. He searched at some point to see if perhaps her parents weren't those they claimed to be. But it soon became obvious, and Severus had to concede, after excluding all other possibilities, that Mr and Mrs Evans were indeed Lily's parents, and that none of them had an ounce of magic in their blood, and that none of Lily's relatives were magical. She was Muggle-born through and through.

He cast aside those thoughts as he entered the Great Hall then went to the staff table of the Great Hall. Decorations filled the place. All students were talking excitedly between them, and eating like pigs, even the Slytherins. Malfoy himself enjoyed himself. Severus was sometimes disappointed by his pupil. The fact that he let Potter punch him in the face was inexcusable. The boy should stop relying on others, especially those piles of muscles who followed him everywhere, to protect him.

Severus took place at the staff table next to the idiot Dumbledore chose as Professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts. He would have taken the position any time, but Dumbledore wouldn't allow him to. Instead, they got an imbecile. Even Quirrell was better.

The Halloween feast was a dull event for Severus. He watched the skeletons perform their show, which was probably the less boring part of the evening. This was good magic, although he could think of many other more useful ways to perform it. Severus was eager for the feast to end so he could go back to his dungeons and the correction of copies from his students' homework. Perhaps he would find some good ones in the piles awaiting on his desk.

Dumbledore called an end to the feast, much later than Severus would have liked. However, as the crowds of students were leaving the Great Hall, the Headmaster asked his teachers to stay with him. He had to talk to them in the staff room. Dumbledore often did this when he wanted to talk with them all. So they did head in that direction. Severus remained silent most of the way. His mind was preoccupied that night, ever since he saw Lily. He didn't even want to make others realize how useless they could be. However, they never reached the staff room. Long before they arrived at their destination, a young Hufflepuff student ran to them, out of breath.

"Professor Dumbledore! Professor Dumbledore!"

"Mr Finch-Fletchley," the Headmaster replied kindly. "What can I do for you?" Snape didn't know how Dumbledore could show so much patience towards students who bothered him for trivial reasons. Far harder to understand was how one of the most powerful wizards in the world could ask a twelve-year-old boy how he could be of help to him, when the child owed to be begging for Dumbledore's help instead.

"It's Mrs Norris... Mr Filch's cat..."

Severus rolled his eyes. That stupid boy stopped the whole staff of Hogwarts just because he was afraid of Mr Filch and his cat. Dumbledore didn't seem offended in the least by this impertinence. "I know who Mrs Norris is. What's the problem with her?"

"She's... dead."

This declaration sent a shockwave through the professors. Even Severus was taken aback. Of everything a student might have invented, this was the last thing he expected. Filch's cat dead? The absurdity of this situation and statement was just unimaginable. Even more absurd was this student looking completely upset by this, considering this cat caused them more problems than anything else.

"Where is she?" Dumbledore asked the boy, a new gravity in his voice replacing his soothing tone.

"On the second floor," the Hufflepuff boy replied very quickly.

"Lead us there."

Finch-Flectchley did so. In no time, they were on the second flood. As they approached their destination, Severus noticed a large crowd had gathered around a point of convergence between three corridors. He estimated that at least a hundred students had to be present. They nonetheless had enough brain to give them free passage when they realized their Headmaster along with most of the school's professors had arrived.

The scene that offered itself to them was pitiful. The Squib who acted as caretaker of the school was on his knees, crying. Just above his head, his cat was hanging by the tail to a torch. There was water everywhere on the floor. But what attracted Severus' attention was the shining red writing atop the cat.

 

THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED.

ENEMIES OF THE HEIR, BEWARE.

 

Severus felt the air leaving his lungs. This must be some kind of bad joke, a couple of students who wrote words with red paint on the wall and attached Filch's cat underneath just to laugh and scare everybody. Sadly enough, Severus knew of a few students within Slytherin who were capable of doing such pranks, though that could also have been done by students from another House. That was the kind of bad jokes people like James Potter could have done when they were in Hogwarts. However, Severus failed to see how his son could have done this, considering he was with Lily tonight, outside the school's grounds. He would have to verify if Potter was indeed at Godric's Hollow. Perhaps he did this before he left. After all, the Halloween feast began early and this writing could have been done hours ago.

Still, something was telling Severus that this was no innocent prank. Dumbledore seemed to be of the same opinion as he detached the unmoving cat from the torch.

"Argus, follow me. The professors as well. Everyone else, proceed to your dormitories immediately. I don't want to see anyone in the corridors of the school."

The Headmaster's voice had become authoritative, and no one dared to question him in these moments. Severus watched all the students walking away from the scene, looking for anyone who had an unusual behavior that may betray some involvement or knowledge in what just happened. To his surprise and shame, the only one with a surprising behavior was Draco Malfoy, who seemed excited.

"I can't wait to see the next victim. Hopefully, it will be Granger," he heard his pupil say to his friends, not even trying to whisper. Anyone giving some attention to his surroundings could hear.

"My office is nearest, Headmaster," Lockhart said. "Just upstairs. Please fell free..."

"Thank you, Gilderoy," Dumbledore said, cutting short to the idiot's words.

They went there. Severus ignored the smiling portraits of Lockhart covering all the walls who stared and waved their hands at them. Dumbledore and McGonagall started examining the cat after they laid it on the desk. Severus looked over their shoulders. The eyes of the animal were unmoving, as was the rest of its body, frigid like ice. From there, it was hard to say, but Severus found that Filch was a little presumptuous by shedding so many tears in the corner of the office. After all, it was only a cat, and Severus strongly suspected it wasn't dead.

Lockhart was turning all around, saying he had met cases like this before, and listing how many people he saved from it because he arrived just in time. Severus did his best to ignore him. He never thought he would think so, but he missed Quirrell.

Albus Dumbledore finally straightened up. "She's not dead, Argus," he declared softly. Everyone was silent. Severus guessed what happened to her, but of course the Squib couldn't.

"Not dead? But why is she all... all stiff and frozen?" the caretaker asked.

"She has been Petrified. But how, I cannot say..." the Headmaster trailed off.

"It's them! The students! They did this. Yhey were all over her when I arrived. Let me use the whips and I swear that within minutes they'll tell me the whole story." Filch was burning with rage. Severus found this pathetic. There were far more efficient and faster ways to obtain the truth from students than inflicting physical pain. Severus' long experience demonstrated to him how emotional and mental pain were far more efficient to obtain the answers you were seeking.

"No student could have done this," Dumbledore countered. "It would take very advanced Dark Magic to do this, even to an animal."

"My cat has been Petrified! I want to see some punishment!"

"We will be able to cure her, Argus," Dumbledore replied gently. "Professor Sprout recently managed to procure some Mandrakes. As soon as they have reached their full size, I will have a potion made which will revive Mrs Norris."

"I'll make it," Lockhart declared. "I must have done it a hundred times..."

"Excuse me," Severus interrupted the idiot, "but I believe I am the Potions Master at this school." He had no patience for Lockhart tonight. What irritated him the most was that they had no idea who did this to the cat. And he was worried about the message written in the corridor.

"Severus is the most capable to prepare potions," Dumbledore declared. "Thank you, Gilderoy. In the meantime, I would ask all of you be cautious. You may all go. The Heads of House, stay with me. Hagrid." The headmaster turned to the gamekeeper. The half-giant had said nothing since they arrived in the corridor. He was blank like a sheet. "It is almost midnight. I think there might be two people waiting for you at the gates."

Hagrid seemed to recover his spirits. "I'm going right away, Professor."

And so they were only five, Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall, Filius Flitwick, Pomona Sprout and Severus Snape.

"Albus, you don't really believe..." McGonagall started, but the Headmaster stopped her right away.

"I don't know yet what to believe, Minerva. But I think we must search the place thoroughly. The whole second floor, and the first and third floors right under and over the scene of the assault."

"But Petrification? It didn't happen the last time, didn't it?"

"No. Not on an animal." Severus knew, like all the other Heads of House, that Albus Dumbledore was Head of the Transfiguration department back when the Chamber of Secrets was opened the last time. He was the only one who was present the last and only time it happened. "That doesn't mean this message on the wall is false."

Severus asked right away. "Professor Dumbledore, you don't really believe that the Chamber of Secrets has been reopened after almost fifty years? The heir of Slytherin, whoever he is, is no longer at Hogwarts. And the monster back then attacked Muggle-born students, not animals."

He was careful not to use the word Mudblood. Unlike Malfoy, he wasn't a child, and no longer had this excuse for using such terms in the presence of the wrong people.

"Perhaps, but we need to consider all the possibilities. Pomona, make sure the Mandrakes will be well taken care of. We will need them much sooner than we think."

"Of course, Professor. But I'm afraid they will not be ready before the end of the year, in the end of spring. We cannot accelerate their growth," she explained.

"I'm conscious of this. Just make sure they reach their full size. Severus, in the meantime, make sure that everything is ready to prepare a potion when the time comes."

"Of course, Professor."

He was already planning to do it. He wasn't an incompetent. One of the clocks in the office rang to remind them that it was midnight.

"I'm afraid the night is not over for us. We're going to search the surroundings of the place where Mrs Norris was found. We might find something that will indicate how this happened."

The five of them returned to the place where Mrs Norris was found. Severus felt a chill go down his spine as he looked again at the writing on the wall. Was it really possible? Did someone truly re-opened the Chamber of Secrets? A student had died the last time. Instinctively, Severus thought about Lily. What would have happened had the Chamber of Secrets be opened while they were both studying at Hogwarts? What would he have done? Probably he would have begged her to leave, to stay safe. Lily would have been a prime target for whatever the Chamber was hiding and who commanded it. But knowing her, Severus knew she would have refused. Lily Evans wasn't running away from trouble. She didn't look for it, but she faced it when she was confronted to it.

He thought about Potter, who surely came back from Godric's Hollow by now. The boy was safe, considering he was half-blood. The same couldn't be said about some of comrades. Severus chased this idea from his mind as he started looking for clues. Whoever did this to the cat, it certainly didn't involve the Chamber of Secrets. It was only a scarecrow hiding something else. Or so he hoped.

Chapter Text

GINNY IV

 

"Dear Tom," she started to write into her journal. It had been so long since she wrote in it. She didn't know where to begin. She hesitated, the point of her feather only an inch from the paper. Her words disappeared, and Tom's appeared.

Hi, dear Ginny. I was wondering when you would write again. It's been a few days since I've had some of your news. Are you alright?

Ginny hesitated again. She was breathing heavily. She may be alone in her dormitory, but she was afraid that someone might surprise her writing to Tom. She felt watched all the time lately. New words from Tom appeared in the diary.

You can tell me everything, Ginny. You can trust me.

She read the words as they disappeared. She couldn't tell anyone else. She sighed and began writing.

"A cat was attacked a few nights ago, at Halloween. I don't remember where I was that night. I don't remember being at the feast. I just recall being on my way to the Great Hall, and then I woke up next morning in my bed, and everyone was talking about the cat being attacked. I had red paint all over my front when I woke up."

Tom took some time to reply.

A cat was attacked? Is he dead?

"No. The others say he was Petrified. But I don't understand. Why don't I remember anything from that night?"

Again, Tom didn't reply right away.

Are you still feeling unwell?

"Yes. I feel tired all the time. Percy always tells me how blank I look. He forced me to take a Pepperup Potion for healing colds, but I don't think it worked. He keeps telling me how I don't seem to look fine."

It's probably his way to worry about you. I'm sure Percy is only trying to help you. He's one of your brothers, isn't he? The one you told me was Prefect?

"Yes, that's him."

It may be better to not tell him about your memory loss, then. He might worry too much. It must be arriving at that new school. The stress, the bad weather, all this must be affecting you.

"But I really don't feel well. And this is the first time I don't remember a part of my day."

You said it yourself, Ginny. You are tired. You were probably so much exhausted that you left the Halloween feast early and went back to your bed to rest. It can happen sometimes that we don't remember certain things when we are too tired.

Ginny wasn't totally convinced. Yes, she was tired, but to the point of not remembering how she got into her bed the night of Halloween?

"I'm afraid I'm the one who attacked the cat."

It was like writing a confession. For a long time, Tom didn't answer as the ink disappeared from the page. Then words slowly took shape.

Ginny, do you really think you could have attacked that cat? Are you capable of doing this?

"No, I would never do such a thing," she wrote back.

Then you got your answer. Whoever did this, it's not you. I'm telling you. You are not responsible for what happened that night. Someone else did this, and I am sure that the teachers will find him very soon. You shouldn't worry about that. You're a girl far too kind to do such a thing. Anyway, you don't know how to Petrify someone, am I wrong?

"No, I don't know how to do this."

Then whatever you did that night, you couldn't have Petrified the cat.

Ginny sighed again. Tom was right. She couldn't have done this.

"You're right. Thank you for reassuring me, Tom."

That's what friends are for.

Yes, friends. Tom was the only real friend she had in this school. Nobody wanted to be friends with the new girl wearing second-hand clothing and whose only new books were gifts from people who were richer than her family was.

Have you spoken with Harry since the last time we talked? Well, since the last we wrote, to be more accurate.

Ginny didn't reply immediately. Tom often asked her questions about Harry, questions she was usually more than happy to answer. But today, she wasn't sure if she wanted to talk about him. Harry wasn't at the Halloween feast. She knew because she heard him talk about it with Ron. He had gone to Godric's Hollow. It had been eleven years on that day since his father died and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was defeated. Ginny had wanted to tell him something on that day, but she couldn't muster the courage to speak to him. She found herself envying Hermione once again when she asked him if he was alright that morning. All Ginny had to do was to say a few words, but she remained there, looking at her porridge, mute like a statue.

"No." She didn't write anything else.

I think you should, Ginny. From what you're telling me, he is a very kind boy. You've got nothing to lose by talking to him.

"Nothing but further make a fool of myself."

Are you really afraid of what he might think of you? I think that if he saw you as a fool, he wouldn't have flown a hundred miles on a broomstick with you.

Ginny reddened. The truth was, she enjoyed this journey, despite the fact she dared not to say anything to Harry. She wished she could have.

"Excuse me, Tom. My lessons will begin soon. I got to get out of bed."

Enjoy your day, Ginny.

She closed the diary, got dressed and went to the Great Hall. Despite her conversation with Tom, she felt unsure about what she did the night of Halloween. She really wished she could remember what happened. And this poor cat... Ginny felt sorry for Mrs Norris.

"Hey, Ginny, you're late this morning," her brother Ron said the moment she sat at the table. Ginny swiftly took place, her eyes down when she realized that Harry was sitting next to her brother and was looking at her. She had forgotten to sit down far from them this time.

"Are you alright?" Ron asked her.

She avoided Harry's gaze the best she could. "It's... I'm always thinking about what happened to Mrs Norris."

Ron sighed. "Come on, Ginny. It's not a drama. She's not dead, only Petrified."

"Yes, but..." She didn't finish her sentence. Anyway, Ron didn't let her finish it.

"Look, it's very sad what happened to Filch's cat." She got the distinct impression that Ron didn't believe it from the tone of his voice. "But you hadn't really got to know Mrs Norris. Honestly, we're much better off without her."

Ginny felt her lips quivering. How could he say that? She was only a cat. It was true that she was afraid of Mr Filch. He was scary. But what did his cat do to deserve this? And why couldn't Ginny remember where she was when that happened?

"Stuff like that doesn't often happen at Hogwarts. They'll catch the nutter who did it and have him out of here in no time." Suddenly, Ginny was afraid. What if she was expelled from the school, after spending so many years dreaming of the day she would come here? "I just hope he's got time to Petrify Filch before he's expelled." Ginny spilled her pumpkin juice when he said that. "I'm only joking," Ron said.

But Ginny had had enough. She didn't want to hear anything else from her brother. If she was to topple things, better be because Harry was talking to her. However, he didn't seem to have noticed his best friend's words for his snowy owl landed in front of him, carrying a book.

"Thank you, Hedwig," he said to the owl, letting her drink some of his own juice. He then turned to Hermione, who was reading something next to him. "Hermione, I think I've got what you need." He put the book right in front of her. She looked at it with big eyes, then at him. "How did you...?"

"It's my copy that I left home. I asked my mother to send it to me."

Ginny tried to read the cover, but the writing was reversed, so it was difficult, not to mention that Hermione seized it right away and opened it.

"Thank you, Harry. You're saving my life." If Hermione had not been absorbed in her reading, Ginny got the distinct impression that she would have kissed Harry on the spot, which did nothing to make her feel better. "All the copies of Hogwarts: A History have been taken out of the library. There is a two-week waiting list. And I couldn't bring my own copy from home. I don't have an owl," she said.

"Why do you want it?" Ron asked.

"For the same reason everyone wants it," Hermione replied, as if the answer was evident. "I want to read the legend of the Chambers of Secrets."

"You found something about it?" A boy from Hufflepuff had just stopped behind Harry and Hermione.

"Hi Justin," Harry said. "How are you?"

"Better than Mrs Norris," the boy said. He looked shaken up. "Everyone is talking about it in the Hufflepuff common room. Apparently, it has something to do with a monster chasing Muggle-born wizards. But no one wants to tell me much. Both my parents are Muggles. If you find something..."

"I got it!" Hermione said. Both Harry, Ron and the boy they named Justin looked over her shoulders. "Following the departure of Salazar Slytherin, rumors began to spread that the founder of House Slytherin had built a hidden chamber inside the castle, unknown to the other founders. This chamber was soon known under the name of Chamber of Secrets. Slytherin would have sealed the Chamber before his departure, so that only his own true heir could open it when he would arrive at the school. Only the heir of Slytherin would be able to unseal the Chamber of Secrets, and to unleash its horror to purge the school of all those who were unworthy, according to Slytherin, to study magic."

"What does that mean, being unworthy to study magic?" Justin asked.

"That means only pure-blood wizards," Harry said. "Especially not Muggle-born people. Slytherin believed that only those of pure blood deserved to learn how to use magic. That's why he got into conflict with the other founders. If he had his way, neither Hermione, Justin or my mother could have studied at Hogwarts. Maybe even I wouldn't have been allowed to come."

"What is the horror to purge school that they are talking about?" Justin now sounded really afraid.

"They don't say," Hermione answered. "But the book states that over the centuries, many people tried to find the Chamber of Secrets, and no one ever succeeded. The author herself doesn't believe that the Chamber exists."

"Then why was it written that the Chamber of Secrets had been opened at Halloween?" Ron asked.

"Maybe someone finally found it," Harry suggested.

"You think?" Justin asked. He was obviously worried. "Does that mean that people like Hermione and I are in danger?"

"We don't know yet." Hermione closed the book. "I guess all we can do for now is to remain careful." Hermione looked very quiet for someone who just learned she might be the prime target of a monster who could Petrify people. "We should go. The Herbology classroom is beginning very soon. You're coming with us, Justin?"

"Yes."

The Hufflepuff sounded very eager to follow them.

Ginny hadn't eaten much for her breakfast, and it showed during her class of Potions. She made mistake after mistake, which caused Professor Snape to remove ten points from Gryffindor when her cauldron melted under her eyes, ruining one of her few precious robes. Things didn't get better during the Charms class in the afternoon, as she proved to be just unable to cast a levitation spell. Perhaps it had more to do with her thinking all the time about what Hermione read during breakfast. Was there really a monster attacking those deemed unworthy to study magic? But why attack a cat then?

Ginny wasn't helped by the other Gryffindor student she was paired with for this exercise.

"It will be the first Quidditch match next week-end," Colin Creevey said, not really caring about the spell they were supposed to practice. "Gryffindor against Slytherin. I'll bring my camera with me. Perhaps I'll get a picture of Harry when he catches the Snitch. I wish my parents could come, but they're not allowed. Only the players' parents can come. Anyway, I feel like they don't get what a Quidditch game is. They're Muggles, so..."

Having Colin talking all the time about Harry didn't make Ginny more comfortable, but he didn't seem to bother about the fact she was not saying a word. She didn't want to talk about Harry with him. She would just take the risk of looking ridicule once more, and anyway she wasn't in the mood for that.

The combining result of her empty stomach, what she learned about the Chamber of Secrets, Colin talking about Harry without stop, and the bad mood of her teachers made the day miserable for Ginny. She just wished it would end soon. Her levitation spells were so poorly executed that Professor Flitwick gave her additional exercises to do.

However, Ginny didn't have her mind on this. Instead, at the end of the Charms class, she went to the second floor. Finding the wall where Mrs Norris was hung up wasn't difficult, as the scarlet letters were visible from very far away. However, she could only see the red words well enough to read the message when she was only a few feet from it.

 

THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS HAS BEEN OPENED.

ENEMIES OF THE HEIR, BEWARE.

 

She read the message a few times. All that really seemed to be about the Chamber of Secrets. Ginny looked around. She had no memory of this place. She never came here. On her left, she noticed a door that was barely open. She walked towards it, and saw a sink on the other side. There was a symbol indicating these were toilets for girls. Some water was coming out from under the door. Another sign indicated these toilets could not be used. No, she really never came here.

The door slammed open, making her jump as Argus Filch appeared in the doorframe. The moment he saw her, he started yelling at her.

"What are you doing here? You want to revel in my cat's tragedy. OUT! NOW!"

Ginny was already running away as quickly as she could. She only stopped when she was far away enough, then she headed towards the Gryffindor Tower. On her way, she came across Draco Malfoy with his friends.

"Hey, look! Potter's second girlfriend!"

Ginny accelerated her pace, doing everything to ignore the laughter behind her, looking at the floor, swearing they would not see her redden, ignoring everything that was going on around her, wanting only one thing...

BANG!

She bumped into someone else, her bag ending on the floor, and most of her books and other things it contained, including ink bottles, falling to the floor and breaking when they could.

"Hey! You could be more careful!" a girl shouted at her while Ginny was recovering quickly her books before they were sullied by the growing pond of black ink.

"Calm down, Marietta," another girl said. "I'm sure she didn't do it on purpose. Are you okay?"

When Ginny straightened, her bag back on her shoulder, she found herself face to face with a group of girls from Ravenclaw. All were older than she was, and all of them looked at her as if she was a gargoyle. The only one who seemed to look at her with some kindness was the girl at the head of the group. This one was barely taller than Ginny, had long black hair, and was clearly of Asian origins. Ginny thought she had seen her before. And then she remembered. She was the Seeker who defeated Gryffindor last year.

Ginny almost ran past her and her friends, not looking behind.

"What's the problem with her?" one of the girls said behind.

"She's the Weasley girl. Weirder than all her brothers," another one said. Ginny heard some laughing before she got far enough to no longer hear them.

By the time she reached the Gryffindor common room, she was in tears and shouted the password at the Fat Lady.

"No need to scream, you know, little girl."

Even portraits saw her as a little girl. She walked quickly through the common room and went to her dormitory, where she drew up the curtains and stayed in her bed, silently crying.

Chapter Text

LILY X

 

The stadium was filled to the brim. Students, professors, other staff members and guests left no empty seat as the match was about to begin. Lily had been there last year, in the same place, for her son's first match. She had Molly Weasley and her daughter Ginny by her side back then. Today, Ginny was probably in the benches below, among the sea of red and gold flags, scarfs, and streamers. Three quarters of the crowd was obviously favourable to Gryffindor. Lily imagined that students were more than fed up to see Slytherin win every year. By her side, Molly was now sitting with her husband, who finally managed to attend one of his sons' games.

"It's been so long since I came here," he said when they met outside the gates. "I wonder if I'll recognize the pitch."

Arthur seemed quite at his ease though, talking with other parents, especially those who happened to be Muggles. From what Lily could tell, the father of one of the Gryffindor Chasers was a Muggle for certain.

"Hello, everyone. I am Lee Jordan, and welcome to Hogwarts' first Quidditch game of the season. Today, Slytherin versus Gryffindor."

The voice of the student who acted as commentator was heard by everybody through the stadium. Everyone, including Lily, stood up to cheer the players as they entered the pitch, flying on their broomsticks.

Lily quickly spotted her son, flying higher than his comrades. The twins, Fred and George Weasley, were hard to miss as well, and Molly and Arthur both encouraged them as they flew by them and raised their bats to show they were ready. Harry also waved his hand at her.

"For Gryffindor, the team from last year, who should have won the Quidditch Cup if it hadn't been for..."

"JORDAN! No favoritism!" Minerva interrupted the student. Arthur was laughing next to Lily.

"Lee, really? Always the same. I had forgotten how having him comment the matches was entertaining," he said.

"Sorry, Professor," Jordan said in the microphone. "So for Gryffindor, back from last year, the same excellent team Oliver Wood put together, Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, and Katie Bell as Chasers. Oliver Wood, the captain, as Keeper. Fred and George Weasley as Beaters. And as Seeker, Harry Potter!"

Lily joined the roaring of the crowd as the players of Gryffindor were raising their hands and arms under the support they received.

Lee Jordan was much less enthusiastic when he called the names of the other team.

"For Slytherin, the captain Marcus Flint, Adrian Pucey and Graham Montague as Chasers, Peregrine Derrick and Lucian Boyle as Beaters. Two new additions this year, Kevin Bletchley, brother of last year's Keeper Miles Bletchley, at the same position, and Draco Malefoy as their new Seeker. "

Most of the crowd shouted down the Slytherin team, but Lily could also clearly hear the cheers coming from behind the goalposts of Slytherin. Both team captains shook hands, then returned to their respective positions. The Bludgers and the Golden Snitch had already been released. Madam Hooch approached the central circle, and threw the Quaffle in the air.

"THE GAME BEGINS!"

Everyone cheered as both sides rushed on the red ball. Slytherin got it first.

"Flint got the Quaffle... He sends it to Pucey... A Bludger sent by Fred Weasley makes him lose it... Johnson recovers it... She passes to Bell... Bell loses it to Montague... He avoids a Bludger... He avoids Spinnet... He shoots... Wood stops it... The Keeper sends it back to Spinnet... She catches the Quaffle from behind... Flint takes it back... He passes to Montague... He scores!"

The green wave of Slytherin supporters exploded while the rest of the crowd booed them.

"Wood recovers the Quaffle... He passes to Spinnet once more... She avoids Flint... Then Montague... She throws the Quaffle to Johnson... Pucey intercepts it... He rushes to the goalposts... He passes to Flint... Flint kicks the Quaffle... He scores."

20-0 for Slytherin. Things were really not looking great. Gryffindor recovered the Quaffle again, and this time, it seemed everything was going well. Angelina Johnson carried it on a certain distance before she gave it to Alicia Spinnet. Spinnet expertly avoided two Slytherin players, then dove to avoid the third one, and sent back the Quaffle to Johnson. Angelina was about to score when a Bludger came in her direction. She avoided it at the last moment. It gave the opportunity to Marcus Flint to take the Quaffle from her hand. The captain of Slytherin then travelled through the pitch, right to the goalposts. He entered the scoring area, and Wood was there to stop him, but Flint stopped and made a pass towards Montague who was behind. Montague hit the Quaffle with his closed fist and score in the left ring. Slytherin now led by 30-0.

It became evident that the Nimbus Two Thousand and Ones that the Slytherins flew were faster than any of Gryffindor's broomsticks.

"Come on, Gryffindor, you can do it!" Jordan shouted in his microphone, earning him many supports in the crowd. However, Oliver Wood had just sent the Quaffle to Katie Bell that she lost it due to a Bludger and two Chasers rushing on her at the same time. And Graham Montague scored.

"Come on!" Lee Jordan at the same time than the crowd booed and complained about the advance of forty points Slytherin just got. "Where are Fred and George? What are they doing? Wait... Wait a minute. What's going on up there?"

Lily wasn't sure about what he was saying, but she looked up to fall on the sight of Harry, far over the rest of the game as usual, looking for the Snitch. Only there was something strange. One of the Bludgers kept targeting him. It became obvious after a few moments. the Bludger rushed on her son, was deviated by one of the Beaters who hit it hard towards another player, but the Bludger always rushed back towards Harry. The two Gryffindor Beaters were, as a result, busy protecting Harry while the Slytherins Beaters could focus their efforts on the Chasers.

"What's going on with that Bludger?" Lee Jordan asked. No one interrupted him, and no one answered him.

In the meantime, a new cling meant that Slytherin had scored once more. Lily saw Oliver Wood throw the Quaffle in frustration, and it was intercepted by another Slytherin Chaser who scored again.

"Slytherin leads, sixty points to zero," Jordan announced.

In the meantime, the Bludger kept stubbornly targeting Harry. Lily didn't understand. Bludgers were supposed to target all players, not only one. She never witnessed this in all the matches she saw in her life. But then, a whistle blew. Oliver Wood had called for a time out. As Fred, George and Harry headed towards the ground, the Bludger kept attacking them. Lily was relieved when they reached the grass and the Bludger finally left them alone. The grey clouds started to let rain fall at this moment.

"What's going on? Why is a Bludger only targeting Harry?" Arthur asked.

"I'm asking myself the same question." She remembered what happened last year, against the same team, when her son's Nimbus was cursed. "Someone must be tampering it."

"How?"

"I don't know. But I think I'll try to find out."

"Lily, where are you going?" Molly asked, but Lily was already going down the stairs of the tower. This made no sense. Quirrell was dead. It couldn't be him. And Dumbledore assured her that they took extra precautions to ensure that no teacher could smuggle Voldemort inside the castle within his own body. How could this happen now? Who could curse a Bludger so that it would only target Harry?

A name came to her mind immediately, of course. She kept it in mind, but she couldn't let suspicions blind her judgement. She hoped to arrive on the pitch so see what was going on, but by the time she reached the end of the stairs, the time out was over, and both teams went flying again.

"The match resumes," Lee Jordan commented. "Gryffindor takes back the Quaffle... Wait... Potter is no longer protected..."

Lily watched in horror as Harry flew high and the rogue Bludger rushed to him once more. He avoided it narrowly. Then again. And again.

"HARRY!"

The scream came out of her mouth despite herself. She was in the lower benches now, among Ravenclaw students from what she could tell due to their blue scarfs. Some turned to look at her when she screamed, but many more kept looking up to what Harry was doing to avoid the Bludger. In the meantime, Lee Jordan continued commenting.

"Oh, wait! Fred and George are back in the game! Look! They caught a Bludger."

Lily couldn't stop herself from looking at the Beaters. Why weren't they protecting her son? Instead, they were throwing at each other the second Bludger, while one of Gryffindor's Chaser flew behind them, the trio heading straight to the Slytherin goalposts at high speed. Marcus Flint almost caught the Bludger into his face when he tried to approach the Gryffindor Chaser. When they neared the Slytherin's Keeper, Fred and George split, and the Chaser behind them shot strongly in the right ring. For the first time today, the cling indicated a goal for Gryffindor, and the crowd erupted for Gryffindor.

"First goal for Gryffindor! First goal!" Lee Jordan was shouting. "The Weasleys' special move. One shot, one score. Efficiency of one hundred per cent, much higher than for Slytherin. Well, Bletchley, perhaps your Nimbus Two Thousand and One is not made for Keepers."

"JORDAN!"

"Sorry, Professor McGonagall. 60-10 for Slytherin."

The Slytherin went back to the offensive while Harry kept avoiding the rogue Bludger. Lily thought about throwing a spell to the iron ball. She didn't mind that it was against the rules. This ball was clearly tempered with, and someone was clearly trying to hurt Harry. However, she soon realized she could never have a clear line of sight, or target the Bludger appropriately. If she cast a spell, she risked injuring her son. She debated about what to do internally as the match continued.

Marcus Flint was heading towards the goalposts of Gryffindor, avoiding all obstacles, until Fred Weasley hit the normal Bludger on him. He lost the Quaffle which was recovered by Alicia Spinnet. She avoided Montague by flying under him, then passed to Johnson, who immediately passed to Bell when seeing Adrian Pucey running on her. Katie Bell continued her road for a time until Flint caught up with her and took back the red ball. He flew in the other direction, but both Spinnet and Johnson arrived on him. He avoided Spinnet by flying on his right, but fell immediately on Angelina who stole the Quaffle from his hands. She avoided the normal Bludger, but when she shot to the Slytherin goalposts, Bletchley stopped it this time and returned it to his captain. Flint flew through the terrain once more. He avoided all three Chasers from Gryffindor and arrived before the goalposts, inside the scoring area, but the normal Bludger once again made him lose his balance. He ended up making a pass to Montague, behind him, but he made it wrong, forcing Montague to extend his hand to try to catch the Quaffle. It was intercepted by Katie Bell, but Pucey hit the Quaffle with his fist while she rushed towards the other side of the pitch. As a result, the Quaffle ended up back with Montague, who hadn't moved. He shot and scored. Oliver Wood failed to catch the Quaffle by a few inches. 70-10 for Slytherin.

Despite this, the game was obviously taking another turn. Harry, to Lily's relief and increasing worry, kept dodging the Bludger. Her son went as far as flying just over the Slytherin section of the crowd. Shouts of fear came out of the students, although the Bludger hit none of them. If the person who tampered with the Bludger was on Slytherin's side, he may regret it now. Also, it was obvious that now that Gryffindor's Beaters were working with the Chasers, the tide of the game had turned. Gryffindor wasn't dominating, but from what Lily could see, Slytherin was no longer a dominant force on the field either. Their brand new broomsticks allowed them to fly faster, but it didn't increase the cohesiveness of their team. In fact, Lily noticed that each player was almost playing for himself, while the Gryffindors were playing together. As a result, a sequence of passes perfectly executed by Angelina, Alicia and Katie led to another goal for Gryffindor, making the score 70-20. Now, Gryffindor was scoring for each time Slytherin scored. The Nimbus Two Thousand and Ones didn't make the Slytherin team better than the Gryffindors. It only gave them an advantage in speed and reaction that allowed them to compete with a better team who used brooms of lesser stock.

Harry was now slaloming between the towers. The Bludger was flying though the structures, creating huge holes with them. Lily was glad that she had gone down, in some way. In the meantime, Adrian Pucey and Graham Montague put together some team effort. With a few combined passes, they reached Wood's goals. But when Montague shot, Wood stopped the Quaffle, and returned it to Alicia right away. Alicia didn't keep the Quaffle for long though. She barely made a few feet that Flint took the red ball from her. This time, when he shot, he scored, bringing the score to 80-20 for Slytherin.

The Slytherins cheered, but not for long because Harry rushed towards their benches at this moment, the rogue Bludger on his tail. He rose up at this very moment and the Bludger smashed the structure right below the Slytherin supporters who screamed in terror. Right at this moment, Gryffindor counter-attacked. And the rogue Bludger, which just came back to the pitch, was hit by one of the Weasleys when it was only a few feet from Flint. The captain of Slytherin got it right in the back, and almost fell from his broomstick.

"Bell got the Quaffle..." Jordan said. "She passes to Johnson right next to her... Oh, Montague just got a Bludger in his stomach... Johnson is rushing forward... Pucey comes behind her... Johnson passes to Spinnet who is way ahead. She arrives before the goalposts... A pass to Bell... She scores!"

The crowd exploded, making the stadium shake. Lily saw the Ravenclaws raising their hands in encouragement as the three Gryffindor Chasers raised their hands in unison. It was 80-30 for Slytherin.

"Wait, is that...?"

No one ever knew what Lee Jordan wanted to say. From the corner of her eyes, Lily saw the infamous Bludger rush to her son, and almost hit Draco Malfoy, the Seeker for Slytherin, by the same occasion. This interrupted Jordan's commentary. The boy and her son were not moving, facing each other. And Lily noticed something shining right next to Draco. Harry rushed towards him, and Draco screamed in terror. He probably thought Harry was attacking him. But he was wrong. Harry wasn't attacking Draco. He was rushing on the Golden Snitch that just happened to be next to Draco. When the Malfoy boy realized what was going on, he rushed to the Golden Snitch, but it was too late. Harry was ahead.

Slytherin had gotten back the Quaffle, but Lily focused her attention on her son as he was after the Golden Snitch. Draco closed the distance between them and hit Harry hard with his arm as he flew past him. The Bludger was after them.

"The Snitch narrowly evades Malfoy!" Jordan shouted. "Potter is going for it. And... WOW! They're in the trench surrounding the pitch."

What? Lily pushed the students in order to look below. She barely saw the red and green trails in the trench, followed by the rogue Bludger which ruptured a beam on its way. That couldn't be. Was it even legal? Could the Golden Snitch really go into that place?

In the meantime, Slytherin had lost the Quaffle after another failed attack. Gryffindor countered and got very close to the goalposts. Angelina Johnson shot, but Bletchley deviated the Quaffle just enough for Graham Montague to recover it and bring it all across the terrain, barely avoiding Alicia in the process who tried to stop him. However, his shot was blocked by Wood who returned it immediately to Angelina. The young female Chaser avoided with dexterity the two Slytherin Chasers who tried to block her way by diving down both times, and also avoided the normal Bludger, but Pucey took away the Quaffle from her by hitting it with his fist. Montague recovered the Quaffle before Katie Bell could take it. He then headed for the Gryffindor zone, and made a short pass to Pucey when Alicia tried to grab the Quaffle away from him. He avoided Fred or George Weasley when one of the two tried to block his way. Then Angelina came from a higher altitude and tried to take away the Quaffle from him, but Flint blocked her. Pucey scored. 90-30 for Slytherin.

Lily spotted Harry flying just over the trench on the other side of the pitch, before he disappeared underneath it again.

"Wood sends the Quaffle to Johnson... She avoids Montague... Makes a pass to Spinnet... Spinnet gives it back to Johnson... She avoids a Bludger... Pucey is behind her... She passes to Spinnet... It is intercepted by Flint... Who loses it immediately to Bell... Bell to Johnson... The path is clear in front of her... But Pucey is gaining ground... He gets a Bludger on the tail of his broom... Bell is going forward... She shoots! She scores! 90-40 for Slytherin, who cannot increase their advance it seems."

Indeed, the play of the Slytherin became more erratic. Their Keeper made a pass too quickly. It landed in the hands of Angelina Johnson who scored, bringing the score to 90-50. Lily saw Marcus Flint who looked like he was screaming after his players.

"Things are not getting better for the Slytherins, it seems. Flint is now screaming to his teammates. And Bletchley sends the Quaffle to... Wait! In the trenches. We see Malfoy and Potter! They're after the Snitch, shoulder to shoulder! Just over the trenches!"

Lily searched for them, and she saw them on her left, coming her way just over the trenches, like Jordan said. The Bludger was nowhere to be seen, but then he came out of nowhere and rushed in the face of the two boys. Lily screamed in fear, but Harry just ducked the iron ball by flying under it. Draco Malfoy didn't react quickly enough. He only avoided the Bludger at the last minute and hit a beam. Lily could hear the scream of the boy as he flew in the air, his broomstick gone, and fell hard on the pitch. He tumbled a few times before he came to a stop, and stayed flat on the back.

"MALFOY IS DOWN! MALFOY IS DOWN! THE SEEKER OF SLYTHERIN IS DOWN!"

Lee Jordan was shouting in his microphone. Lily barely heard the attempts from Minerva to calm him down, as the action on the pitch became more frantic. Graham Montague, probably distracted by the news of his Seeker's downfall, lost the Quaffle to Johnson, who pushed it out of his hands before recovering it herself. She then headed quickly towards the goalposts. Despite the fact she wasn't riding a Nimbus Two Thousand and One, she flew through the pitch very quickly, and as the Slytherins were probably still recovering from their loss, she threw the Quaffle and gave ten more points to Gryffindor. Slytherin's advance had melted down to a small thirty points.

But Lily didn't give much attention as she saw Harry flying after the Golden Snitch, his right hand only a few inches away from the small ball. It was then that Lily watched in horror the rogue Bludger coming back to attack. Harry didn't see him this time. The iron ball got his right arm hard.

Lily covered her mouth. Harry was barely holding on his broomstick. He extended his left arm, and made a wild snatch while he dove to the ground. He raised his hand just as he crashed on the ground.

"Harry Potter got the Snitch! Harry Potter got the Golden Snitch. GRYFFINDOR WINS! Gryffindor: 210 points. Slytherin: 90 points."

Lily barely heard the final score as she watched her son crash on the ground. At least, he didn't tumble like Malfoy. He slid on the back in the sand under Gryffindor's goalposts. She ran to get down the benches as screams of victory roared all around. When she finally made it to the pitch, she saw with horror, on the other side of the pitch, the rogue Bludger rushing on her son down on the ground.

She ran, drawing her wand in the process. But she was too far. The Bludger smashed on the ground where her son was. And again. Three times. She was still too far away.

"Finite Incantatem!"

She heard the spell. It didn't come from her. It streamed into the air and hit the Bludger right when he was about to smash her son on the ground for the fourth time. The iron ball exploded in the air. Seeing Hermione brandishing her wand, Lily thanked heavens that Harry and this girl were friends. A crowd quickly gathered around her son. Everyone was running towards him, from the public to the other Gryffindor players who landed next to him. Even Hagrid was there.

"Hey, Lily!" he shouted, but she was too busy pushing aside people to get to her son. Rain was falling on them, and Lily was completely wet, but she didn't care. All that mattered for now was to make sure her son was fine. When she finally caught a glimpse of him, she saw him lying on the ground, his face covered with mud. Gilderoy Lockhart was next to him.

"Not to worry, Harry. I'm about to fix your arm," the teacher said.

"Hey, what are you doing?"

Gilderoy looked up, and a huge, stupid smile appeared on his face. "Mrs Potter! How are you today?"

"Get away from him. You're not a Healer!" She pushed him, and he stumbled back among other students. Lily didn't care. She only looked at her son. "Harry. How are you? Where are you injured?"

"Only the arm, I think," he said. He writhed in pain when he tried to stand up though.

"Okay. We need to get him to the hospital wing," she said.

"On it!" The Weasley twins walked forward, and each seized her son by the arm. It caused him to writhe in pain further. Someone was taking photos in the background.

"Don't take him by his right arm! That's where he's injured, idiots!" Lily would probably have said the same thing if Hermione hadn't done it first.

"That's alright. I've got the situation under control," Lockhart said, trying to get close to Harry again. "I can fix his arm within seconds."

"You're an author, Lockhart. Not a Healer." Lily positioned herself between Lockhart and her son, cutting his way. Gilderoy didn't seem to be bothered at all by her intervention, as he kept smiling stupidly. Lily returned her attention to Harry as Fred and George carried him away, under applauses from the crowd around them. She followed in their footsteps.

A few minutes later, Madam Pomfrey was fixing her son's arm.

"You did the right thing by bringing him here," the Healer who saved Lily's life eleven years ago said. "It's best to leave it to people who know what they're doing. A professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts is not best placed to give the proper treatment." Madam Pomfrey turned back her attention to Harry. "It should be fine now. Try to stretch it quietly."

Harry did so. He stretched his arm slowly in all directions, opened and closed his fist, turned the wrist in all directions.

"Very good," Madam Pomfrey decided. "Just avoid abrupt movements for the next twenty-four hours. He may leave," she added for Lily.

The Healer walked away to take care of other people, including Malfoy who was complaining in his own bed.

"Well, it seems I manage to catch the Snitch no matter the surprise against Slytherin," he said, laughing.

"It's not funny," Lily cut short to her son's laugh. First it was his broomstick last year, now a Bludger. What would it be the next time? Still, a smile crept to her face. "All that being said, nice catch."

He smiled in return. He stood up. "I think my friends are waiting for me."

"The opposite would surprise me."

She let her son leave his bed and head to the door. Lily remained a few feet behind. The moment he got out of the infirmary, a small waiting crowd welcomed him with loud cheers. She watched Harry being carried away by a red wave made up of his Quidditch partners, friends and other Gryffindor students. If things were anything like in her time, the Gryffindor common room would be bursting with festivities for the rest of the day.

Harry waved his hand at her as he was carried away, and she waved hers at him. He more than deserved some good time after what happened during the match. Lily, on her side, had a few people to meet.

It wasn't long before she stood in Dumbledore's office once again, this time with the headmaster but also with Madam Hooch and Minerva.

"What should I expect next year? A Golden Snitch trying to get into his eyes to make him blind? A Quaffle that turns into a bomb the moment it gets close to him? Or a tower falling on him while we're at it?" she asked the small assembly.

"Rolanda," McGonagall intervened before Lily could go further, "do you have any idea what happened with this Bludger? How did it come to target Harry and only Harry?"

The referee and flying teacher shrugged her shoulders in lack of understanding. "I don't know. We never had any problem with that Bludger. The Gryffindor team used it for their practice yesterday, and it was behaving normally. I asked Mr Wood myself, and he confirmed it. And both Bludgers remained locked in my office until the beginning of the game."

"Well, someone must have tampered it in the meantime," Lily stated.

"Impossible!" Madam Hooch said conclusively. "My office wasn't entered. I verified."

"It might be helpful to examine that Bludger," Minerva began, "but I'm afraid Miss Granger's counter spell was too efficient. Is there enough left of it to examine it?"

"There's nothing left of it," Madam Hooch burst. "I'll have to command another Bludger now."

"Well, I will not miss this one," Lily countered, looking straight at Madam Hooch. "You must have realized that this Bludger wasn't behaving normally. Why didn't you stop the game?"

"Because I can't," she retorted. "It's against the rules."

"Well, the rules are stupid. These are children who are playing, not professional athletes who make a million Galleons per year." Sometimes, she found the people's infatuation and passion for Quidditch really stupid, borderline suicidal.

"Rolanda." Dumbledore spoke for the first time. "Please verify with the maker that there was nothing wrong with that Bludger. And get a new one for our teams. They will need it. You may leave." Rolanda Hooch left on the spot, obeying Dumbledore's orders. "I'm really sorry, Lily. Again."

"I can't believe that I thought this year would be normal. First, the wagon. Then this Chamber of Secrets. And then a rogue Bludger. I thought that without the Philosopher's Stone, things would be normal at Hogwarts."

"Things are never normal at Hogwarts," Professor McGonagall stated in a regretful tone.

"We're doing everything we can to protect our students, Lily," Dumbledore assured her. "Your son and all the others. But Hogwarts has its secrets, and even us don't understand them completely."

She looked straight at them. "What's this thing with the Chamber of Secrets? I know the legend, but is there really a monster currently wandering across the school?" she asked.

"Lily," Minerva tried to reassure her. "The Chamber is a myth that has existed for centuries. The castle was searched thoroughly by generations of headmasters, professors and students. No one ever found it."

"For now, only a cat was Petrified, and we don’t have enough proofs to be sure that the Chamber was opened again," Dumbledore stated.

Lily caught the word. "Again? What does that mean?"

Dumbledore looked guilty. Minerva was looking at him, eyes wide open. "The Chamber of Secrets was opened, fifty years ago, and a young girl, who was Muggle-born, was murdered."

Lily looked at Dumbledore as if she saw him for the first time. "The Chamber of Secrets is real? It exists?"

"It exists," Dumbledore confessed. "And we have no idea where it is."

"But it was different at Halloween," Minerva intervened immediately. "No one was killed. Only a cat was Petrified. No one was Petrified the last time, isn't it, Albus?" she asked the headmaster.

"In fact, people were Petrified, until a victim was found dead. It is still possible that whoever wrote this on the walls just wants to mislead us. It might be someone else, someone with great powers who Petrified Mrs Norris, and who wrote this on the walls just to distract us. Anyway, I don't understand how the Chamber could have been opened once again. Nor how."

Lily sighed, and looked away. She couldn't believe it. "So we have a wagon detaching itself from a train whose wagons are magically tied together and supposed impossible to separate, a Petrified cat, and a Bludger who keeps attacking the same player. Why do I get the impression that Harry is being targeted once again?"

"Harry was not there when Mrs Norris was Petrified," Dumbledore said. "He was with you at Godric's Hollow. This had no link with him. As for the train, we found out that someone somehow managed to break the magical links between the wagons. Magic left a trace. The Bludger will require investigation as well."

"Well, you better find out who tampered with it, because I'm about to remove my son from the Quidditch team if this keeps happening."

"Lily, it will not protect him," McGonagall said. "If someone really tried to hurt him, he would have found another way if Harry wasn't Gryffindor's Seeker. It would be unfair for him to stop playing."

"Find out who did this."

"We will," Dumbledore stated. Lily wished she believed him.

She didn't see Harry again this day. He was probably busy partying with his friends in the Gryffindor Tower, and she didn't want to interrupt them. Her son deserved some good time after everything that happened. She did see Molly and Arthur talking with their son Percy in the park, and she went to join their conversation for a little while. However, Lily didn't stay long. She had some revisions to do before another test next Tuesday. She left after half an hour.

Lily apparated back into the entrance hall of the building where her apartment was located. Someone left by the same way she arrived just a few seconds later. She climbed the stairs until she arrived into her apartment. The moment she closed the door, a shrill voice came from behind her.

"Lily Evans."

She turned right away, her wand brandished. But there was no one to be seen.

"Who's there? Show yourself!"

She wondered how someone managed to get into her apartment, but she would find out later. For now, she had to deal with the intruder, whoever she was. The voice was too high-pitched to be that a man. It had to be a woman.

It turned out that she was wrong though. The person who spoke was neither a man nor a woman. He came from behind the counter, and the moment he saw Lily, he bowed so low that his nose touched the floor.

"Lily Evans... It is such a great honour to meet you."

The creature was small, the top of his head barely reaching Lily's waist. He had large ears in the shape of bats, big green eyes the size of tennis balls, and wore a dirty pillow slip where holes had been made to allow his tiny and frail arms and legs out. Lily recognized what it was.

"Who are you? What are you doing here?"

"Dobby, kind lady. Dobby the house-elf."

Lily lowered her wand for a moment, but she straightened it right away. She knew that name. It was the house-elf who had come to visit Harry during his summer vacations, who begged him to not go to Hogwarts this year. She never thought that a part of herself might now agree with that elf.

"What are you doing here?" she repeated. She wouldn't take off her guard. Elves were very powerful magical beings, although they seldom used their powers because their masters forbade them to do so.

"Oh, yes, good lady. Dobby has come to..." The elf looked quite inoffensive like that, and Lily almost pitied him. Harry told her how miserable he looked when he paid him a visit, but this creature nonetheless entered her apartment against her wishes. "It is very difficult, good lady... Dobby wonders where to begin."

"Okay. In this case, just answer my question first. Why are you here?"

"To... To warn you... Dobby wanted to tell the truth to Lily Evans... He believed that... When he saw that Harry Potter... Dobby doesn't want any harm to come to Harry Potter..."

"Okay, I get it. You came here before. My son told me everything..."

"Harry Potter talked about Dobby to his mother?" His eyes were full of water, but Lily didn't think it was out of fear at the wand she pointed on the small elf, or even because he was sad. He looked about to cry out of joy. "Dobby never thought... Dobby never hoped that Harry Potter would talk about Dobby... to anyone. Even less his own mother, the great Lily Evans."

He burst into tears. Lily found it more difficult to keep her wand pointed at him, but her experience and her training as an Auror taught her that appearances could be deceptive.

"Dobby!" The elf seemed to come back to his senses in some way. He stood up again, but still keeping his hands together, as if pleading. "Why are you here? If there is something you want to tell me, you should tell me now."

"Oh, yes... Good lady, Dobby is really sorry..." She then noticed there were heavy bandages around his fingers. "Dobby just came..." He fell on his knees. "Dobby is begging the good lady Lily Evans to take Harry Potter back home. She must take him out of Hogwarts before it is too late."

For the first time, she took the elf seriously. That couldn't be a coincidence. The wagon, the Petrified cat, the rogue Bludger... Too many strange events happened to her son since the year started. What if this elf had really been trying to warn Harry?

"Dobby tried to keep him away," the elf continued. "Dobby thought that Harry Potter would go back home when he detached the wagon."

Lily's eyes widened, and her heart jumped. "It was you. You detached that wagon?"

"Yes, good lady." He looked to the ground

"Do you realize what danger you put my son in?" she shouted. She was targeting him with her wand very intently now. "And what about all those other children? Some of them are barely ten. You put them all in danger by doing this."

"Dobby is really sorry, good lady. He didn't know what to do. He just wanted to find a way for Harry Potter to get back home, to not go to Hogwarts. When Dobby heard that Harry Potter was back at Hogwarts, he let his master's dinner burn! Such a flogging Dobby never had, good lady... But Harry Potter must go home... Dobby thought that his Bludger would be enough to make..."

"Your Bludger!" Without thinking, Lily seized the elf by the neck and tackled him against the wall. "It was you, today! Do you realize you almost killed Harry with that thing!"

The elf was crying so loudly. Lily wondered if he heard her screams. "Dobby doesn't want to kill Harry Potter. He just wanted to save him. Better to send him home, grievously injured, than remain at Hogwarts, good lady! Dobby only wanted Harry Potter hurt enough to be sent home!"

She let him fall. This elf disgusted her by his stupidity and his actions. Harry could have died today because of his recklessness. She pointed her wand on him, ready to cast all the spells she could imagine to make the creature even more miserable than it already was. "I guess it was you as well, the writing on the wall? And the Petrified cat? You did that as well, just to scare him off the school."

"No... No... Dobby swears, he had nothing to do with what happened to that poor cat... The cat is why Dobby came to Hogwarts and made the Bludger attack Harry Potter... Dobby knew there was no time to be lost... Now that the Chamber of Secrets is open once more..."

The elf froze, his face showing utter horror. The elf went running against the wall, and started to hit his head again and again against it.

"Bad Dobby! Very bad Dobby! Very very bad Dobby!"

Lily looked in utter stupor at the elf punishing himself as she tried to process what he just said. Now that the Chamber of Secrets is open once more. He used those very words. Lily seized him, by his pillowcase this time, and tackled him against the wall again.

"Dobby! You're saying that the Chamber of Secrets is open?" The elf began to pound the back of his head against the wall. Lily took him in the air. He couldn't hurt himself with anything now. "Dobby, listen carefully. You did detach the wagon? You did tamper that Bludger, didn't you?" The elf nodded in affirmation. "But you didn't Petrify Mrs Norris? You didn't open the Chamber of Secrets." He shook his head very quickly. "Are you really telling me the truth, Dobby?"

"Good lady Evans... Dobby swears he is telling the truth... Dobby only wants Harry Potter to be safe!"

The creature was crying uncontrollably. And despite everything she knew that elf did, Lily found herself pitying him. She put him back on the floor as softly as she could, then looked straight in his eyes.

"Okay. I'm going to believe you, Dobby. I'll trust you, but you will need to trust me."

"Dobby trusts Lily Evans, good lady. It is true," he looked at her begging. She had a hard time reminding herself to not trust anybody during an interrogation. Her Auror training took over.

"Very well. You came to my son this summer. You warned him to not go back to Hogwarts. You already knew about the Chamber of Secrets then? You knew that it would be open this year?"

The creature shook his head. "Dobby can't tell, good lady."

"Why?"

"Dobby can't!"

He proceeded to hit himself against the table leg. Lily had to stop him again. She had to see it like any other interrogatory. Dobby was willing to say some things, but there were others he couldn't. Why? And why was he ready to come here to warn her or Harry about the Chamber of Secrets?

"If you can't tell me anything, why did you come here?"

"Because Dobby needs the good Lily Evans to put her son in safety. She needs to take Harry Potter out of Hogwarts before it is too late."

"Okay, but why are you telling me this? Why do you want Harry to live so much?"

Dobby looked at her. "Does the good lady Lily Evans remember how it was when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was at the height of his powers?"

"Of course, I do," she replied. Her throat tightened at those memories when everything seemed lost, and people died every day.

"We house-elves were treated like vermin, good lady. Of course, Dobby is still treated like vermin. But mostly, life has improved for my kind since you and Harry Potter triumphed over He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The Dark Lord's power was broken, and it was a new dawn for all of us. Harry Potter shone like a beacon of hope for those of us who thought the dark days would never end... Harry Potter must not stay at Hogwarts... He cannot die..."

The poor elf crumbled to the floor, weeping uncontrollably. Lily had heard more than her share of people saying that she and her son had given them back hope when everything seemed lost, when Voldemort was defeated. But most of these people were saying it too seriously or too pompously. It was an abstract for them, some kind of official version. The elf, on the other hand, really seemed to believe it. She understood now why Harry really pitied that creature. Judging from his general state, the way he was clothed, the marks of his injuries, it was obvious that he wasn't treated well.

She knelt next to him. "Dobby, I want to protect my son, me too. There is nothing more important in my eyes."

Dobby looked up hopefully at her. She was counting on that reaction, truth be told. "The good and kind lady Lily Evans will bring Harry Potter back home?"

She couldn't tell him that. "I need your help first. From what I understand, there are certain things you cannot tell me. I'm right?"

"Yes, Lily Evans, you are right. Dobby cannot betray his masters. He cannot say evil things about them."

So this meant that the elf's master were involved. She knew that elves were not to speak ill of their masters, or to disobey their orders. She had to thread carefully. She needed answers, but there were some Dobby would never provide.

"Okay, I get it. Dobby, do you know what is the monster inside the Chamber?"

"Dobby doesn't know that, good lady. Dobby barely knows anything. He only knows that Harry Potter is in great danger. Dobby wants to keep Harry Potter safe."

"Do you know how the Chamber of Secrets can be opened?"

"I... I... Bad Dobby!"

He went after smashing his head once more. Lily struggled to stop him from hurting himself.

"Dobby," she almost pleaded. "Stop that! Who opened the Chamber of Secrets? And why is Harry in danger? He is not Muggle-born."

"Dobby must go back home. Dobby must go back home!"

''No, Dobby. Tell me."

"The good Lily Evans must save Harry Potter. Lily Evans must save Harry Potter."

In a loud crack, the elf vanished. He had apparated.

Lily would have cursed if she wasn't better raised. She just lost her best opportunity to discover who was behind the opening of the Chamber of Secrets, to discover who was threatening her son this time. Well, in some way, she had answers to a part of her questions. Dobby did endanger her son, with the strange objective of protecting him. Or so he said. While following their Auror training, they were taught how to interrogate people, but also warned about never taking any information they got from a source for granted. However, judging from the distress state of the elf, he seemed genuine in his desires to protect Harry. If he really wanted to harm Harry, why come to see both Lily and her son, and insisting on removing Harry from Hogwarts? And the events seemed to give reason to the elf. Something terrible indeed seemed to be happening at Hogwarts. For now, only a cat was assaulted, but if next a student was...

Lily had to consider all eventualities. Could the elf have been sent by his masters to harm Harry? It could explain the wagon and the Bludger, but not why he warned Harry and Lily. No, this didn't make any sense. Perhaps his masters ordered him to harm Harry. Perhaps they asked Dobby to detach that wagon, to tamper with the Bludger. Though this wasn't what the elf said. He said he did that to stop Harry from getting to Hogwarts, to send him back home. Why lie? The answer to this question came instantly.

"To protect his masters."

She said the words. This was what the house-elves lived for. They had to serve their masters, obey their orders, protect them and their secrets. That was why even Death Eaters spoke freely about their evil plans in front of their own elves. Antonin Dolohov was captured and partly convicted on the basis of a testimony extracted through torture from his elf, who confessed he heard his master boasting about how he murdered wizards Fabian and Gideon Prewett, along with many other Muggles.

If Dobby was unable to tell her who opened the Chamber of Secrets, then it must have been because his masters were somewhat involved. Perhaps they were the ones responsible for what was going on in Hogwarts. And if they ordered Dobby to harm Harry, then they were responsible for what happened today as well. In all cases, Lily had to find out who were Dobby's masters. And there was one place in the world where she could get that information. However, she hesitated before she went there. She thought of Dobby, the elf who hurt himself for talking about masters who clearly mistreated him. What would happen to him? However, her thoughts were quickly replaced by today's memories of Harry being chased by that rogue Bludger, of that iron ball breaking his arm, crushing him on the ground. If that was what Dobby called saving someone...

Her decision was made. She took some Floo powder, threw it in her fireplace, and walked through it.

"Ministry of Magic," she stated clearly. A few moments later, she was in the atrium. The place was much quieter than during days of the week. They were Saturday, and although many employees of the Ministry of Magic worked during weekends, they were far from being as many as during the week. As a result, she had no problem getting into a lift. It only stopped at level seven before it headed straight to the level Lily was looking for.

"Level Four, Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures."

Lily didn't listen to the rest of what the voice had to say. She walked out of the lift straight away. She could hear noises made by all kinds of magical creatures across the place. Lily found a sign indicating the Being Division of the department and followed the arrows indicating how to get there. She arrived just as a large group of goblins were leaving, obviously unhappy. She stood aside to let them pass. They didn't thank her, and the few who acknowledged her presence only seemed to look at her in disgust. When they were gone, Lily approached an area filled with cubicles, like the Auror Headquarters. A tall man, round of face and with some overweight, came out of the area just as she reached it.

"Excuse me, sir." He stopped. His face was red, and he wore glasses. "I want to make a complaint against a house-elf. Who should I see for that?"

The man looked strangely at her. "A house-elf. What is the nature of your complaint?"

"Attempt of murder against my son."

The shock on the man's face couldn't have been greater. She thought that it was better to tell things straight from the very start, to the risk of looking brutal. "Are you serious?"

"I am."

"Where is the elf?" The man, who first looked skeptical, now took Lily very seriously.

"I don't know. He vanished in the air. He apparated."

The man with the red face looked at her with quite an astonishing gaze. "Follow me."

Lily did as he told her. They walked among the cubicles, most of them being empty, until they arrived at an office with a door. Lily noticed the name written on the door before they entered.

Amos Diggory.

Mr Diggory closed the door behind her. The office was small, but well furnished, and looked comfortable enough, to the opposite of Scrimgeour's office which was quite austere.

"Please sit, Mrs..."

"Evans."

The man was in the process of sitting in his chair, but stopped in the middle, stumbled, and fell. Lucky for him, he fell into his chair. He looked at Lily in utter surprise.

"Merlin's beard. You are Lily Evans Potter?"

Lily didn't think she would ever get used to those reactions. "Yes, I am. And Lily Evans is more than enough."

Amos Diggory remained unmoving for quite some time, stunned by her identity. He then shook her hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs Potter."

"Evans," she corrected.

"Yes... Mrs Evans. I heard you were following the training program at the Auror Headquarters, but I wasn't sure if I would ever actually meet you."

"Mr Diggory, excuse me, but there's reason to my presence here."

The man seemed to recover his spirits. "Oh, yes. You said that..." He frowned. "A house-elf tried to murder your son? Harry Potter?"

"Well, I'm not sure if we can tell that he actually tried to kill him, but he endangered his life for sure."

Diggory looked completely lost. He nonetheless sat back in his chair and took a piece of parchment on which he started to write. "What is the name of the elf?"

"Dobby."

"He's your house-elf?"

"No. I don't have one."

"Okay. Can you describe him?"

"Grey skin, I would say. Probably reaching my waist height. Very big green eyes. A long and pointy nose. Ears in the shape of bats, pointy as well. He wears a dirty white pillowcase."

"And what has he done... to endanger the life of... your son."

"He cast a spell on a Bludger during his Quidditch match at Hogwarts today."

"He did?"

"Yes. The Bludger was targeting my son, and only my son. You can ask whoever attended the match. They'll confirm the Bludger's behavior. Harry was lucky to get out of this game with only a broken arm."

"And you are sure it was this elf who cast a spell on the Bludger?"

"Yes. The elf came to my apartment a few hours later, and he confessed everything. Before he disappeared. I have no idea where he went."

Diggory scratched his head. "Strange. House-elves have great magical powers, but they never use them. I've never come across a case like this. Would you happen to know who this elf is serving? He may have received orders."

"I don't know. He wouldn't tell me the names of his masters."

The man in front of her pursed his lips. "That's in line with an elf behavior. And the name of the elf is Dobby, that's it?"

"Yes. I know you have a registry for all house-elves in Britain and Ireland. Do you think you might be able to find him?"

"Of course. Each house-elf must be registered at the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. That's the law. We should be able to track him down. And since that elf seems willing to use his powers, we will make it our first priority. Is your son okay?"

"His arm was repaired quite quickly by Hogwarts' Healer. But I would rather not have this elf trying to hurt him again."

"I agree. Rest assured, Mrs Evans, we take that kind of threats very seriously. We will find this elf soon. May I accompany you back to the elevator?"

"Of course."

They left Diggory's office together. The man quickly lost some of his seriousness as the business with the elf was no longer their conversation subject.

"Arthur Weasley talked to me about you," he said.

"He did?"

"Yes. We are neighbors. We both live near Ottery St Catchpole. He never talked to you about me?"

"We didn't have the chance to talk very much," Lily answered, wanting to be polite with the man. "We mostly saw each other when my son went to visit his son Ron at the Burrow. They're friends."

"So I heard. I'm sad that your son didn't get to meet mine when he stayed there. Cedric is going to Hogwarts as well. In fact, I think they might know each other."

"He never talked to me about him, but their paths must have crossed," Lily suspected.

"He's in Hufflepuff. Fourth year. Fifteen-years-old. First of his class. He's been chosen to play as Seeker for the Quidditch team of his house this year. I must go and watch him play in two weeks."

"I'm sure he will be fantastic."

"I certainly hope he will. And I know he will. My Cedric succeeds at everything he tries." The man was shining with pride. His face had lost some of its red. They arrived at the lift. "Well, I'll contact you as soon as we find the elf, Mrs Evans. If you ever need our help or remember anything else about it, or if he appears again, contact us. Here's my card."

He gave her one with his name and his address. "Thank you, Mr Diggory."

"Maybe we will see each other at Hogwarts, when our sons face each other on the Quidditch pitch."

"Maybe," she simply replied.

"Have a good day, Mrs Evans."

He left her to the lift, and Lily took it back to the atrium from where she returned to her apartment.

A few days later, when Lily returned home from her training at the Ministry, she found an official letter from Hogwarts. She learned by reading it that a first-year student was Petrified, and the school assured parents that every necessary measure was taken to protect the students and that all efforts were made to find the culprit as soon as possible.

Lily then went to see Dumbledore. Most of her doubts about the Chamber of Secrets disappeared when Dumbledore told her the name of the victim.

"Colin Creevey? I know this name. Harry wrote about him in his letters. The child was always taking pictures of him," she said.

"He was," Dumbledore confirmed from behind his desk. "We found him with his camera in front of his eyes. We hoped he might have taken a picture of whoever assaulted him, but the film was burned when we opened the device."

"Muggle-born?"

Dumbledore didn't need to reply. His eyes were saying everything. The Chamber of Secrets was indeed open, once more. Lily hadn't wanted to bother Dumbledore with Dobby's story before, but she told him everything now, feeling that every bit of information was vital to catch whoever did this. When she told Dumbledore the name of the elf, his eyes became worried.

"And you went to the Ministry with his name?" he asked her.

"Yes. I thought that maybe if we learned who he was working for, it might give us a clue about who was behind these events. And if the Ministry catches him, maybe they'll be able to obtain additional information from him."

Dumbledore looked very uncomfortable. "You should have come to me right after Dobby visited you."

"Yes, I know it now, but I still had doubts. I mean, he was behind the wagon and the Bludger, so I thought that maybe he was also behind Mrs Norris being Petrified. I wasn't sure yet if we were to believe that the Chamber of Secrets was really open."

"That's not the problem, Lily. I know that elf."

Lily was taken aback. "You know him?"

"Yes. He came to Hogwarts before... with his master. Lucius Malfoy."

Chapter Text

GINNY V

 

"AAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!"

"Ah!"

Ginny ran away from the large beasts that just jumped from behind a huge statue representing a knight. From behind, she heard Fred laughing hard.

"Come on, Ginny. It's only a joke."

But Ginny didn't stop running. Fred and George had spent the last two days surprising her by coming out of nowhere, wearing costumes made of furs, boils and teeth which scared her at every turn. She was afraid of her own shadow now. Her twin brothers were often very funny, but she would have liked them to be more like Percy right now.

It was Friday, last day of the week. It had been two days since Colin Creevey was found Petrified, late in the evening. Colin had been the one sitting next to her in Charms. He told her both his parents were Muggles. Ginny should have thought that it could happen. The Chamber of Secrets was supposed to shelter a monster who targeted Muggle-born students. Hermione said so in front of Ginny while consulting a history book on Hogwarts. Ginny should have warned Colin to be more careful.

The worst was that, like when Mrs Norris was assaulted, Ginny had no memory of that evening. She thought she remembered taking her dinner in the Great Hall, alone. Well, at least she thought that she remembered. But she wasn't sure if she remembered leaving the Great Hall. She wasn't sure where she went after that. She had talked about it with Tom in the last evening. He tried to reassure her, but Ginny was beginning to think she was mad. She had found feathers on her robes one morning, and she had no idea how they got there. Tom told her she should talk with Harry, that her worries about him were probably what made her feel so confused. She had to let him reassure her.

Ginny wasn't the only who was about to go crazy. All her comrades walked in the corridors in small groups, afraid that they might be the next victim. Even Harry didn't seem very happy. He should have been, after his victory against Slytherin for the first Quidditch match. Ginny had attended the game from the students' bench for the first time, and Harry's catch had been even more impressive than the first time. She was worried during the match, as the rogue Bludger went after him. She told herself that if he managed to get through a match with an uncontrollable broomstick, he could survive a Bludger that was only targeting him, but she had been afraid all the same, especially when the iron ball did hit him, breaking his arm. She was among the crowd that ran to him after he caught the Snitch and watched Hermione destroy the Bludger before it hit Harry who was now on the ground.

The celebrations in the Gryffindor Tower had been one of Ginny's best moments in Hogwarts so far. She wanted to congratulate Harry for his play, but she didn't dare, and remained as far away from him as possible while the party was going on in the common room. She spent nearly an hour describing the match to Tom that evening. The diary seemed very excited about it himself.

But now, Harry's humor had soured since Colin was Petrified. Ginny had found Colin a little annoying, truth be told. It was obvious that Harry himself wasn't pleased with the photos Colin took of him. Still, Colin had been kind enough to give her a photo of Harry during the Quidditch match. It was dipped into a potion that made Harry move on it as he flew after the Golden Snitch. Ginny had hidden the photo under her pillow, hoping no one else would see it.

Ginny was sad about what happened to Colin. She and Harry were not the only ones to be sad about it, or to be afraid. Not only first-years, but even older students, especially those who happened to have Muggle parents, and even Neville Longbottom, one of Harry's and Ron's friends, panicked. When Ginny arrived in the Great Hall to take her breakfast, it was obvious the general ambiance was not one for cheering. She spotted Ron and Percy sitting together. Harry and Hermione were not there, which was strange considering both usually hung out with Ron. Ginny decided to sit next to them for once, since Harry was not around.

Ron only seemed to notice her when she sat close to him.

"Hey, Ginny." His expression changed immediately. He looked at her as if Ginny had buttons all over her face. "You're looking so pale. What's going on with you?"

"Leave her alone, Ronald," Percy said. She was glad that Percy was there, for a moment, since he then broached the subject she dreaded the most. "Don't worry, Ginny. They're going to reanimate Colin, just like Mrs Norris. The same thing will not happen to you. Unlike Colin, you don't wander in the corridors late in the evening."

Ginny didn't answer as she put some marmalade on her toasts. She didn't want Percy to know that she had been out there too that night. She had gone to watch Harry train with the rest of the Gryffindor team, only a few days after their game. Now she remembered. That was where she was that evening when Colin was assaulted. She even remembered seeing him in the stands like her.

"Yes," Ron added. "Harry said it scared the hell out of him when he found Colin."

Ginny missed as she was spreading the marmalade on the bread, toppling the pot containing it. "Harry? He's the one who found Colin?"

"Yes. He was coming back from their practice when he stumbled on Colin who was lying on the floor. And the worst in all that, it's that Filch was following the traces of mud Harry left behind him, and he found Harry over Colin's immobile body. He started to accuse him. He says now that it's Harry who Petrified Mrs Norris and Colin."

"Ridiculous," Percy stated. "Harry doesn't have the knowledge or powers to Petrify someone. Even I couldn't do it, and I'm a Prefect in my sixth year."

"Anyway, Harry would never do such a thing," Ron stated.

"I totally agree with you, Ron."

Ginny didn't know it was Harry who found Colin. "But... How can Filch believe it was Harry who Petrified Mrs Norris?" she asked in disbelief. "I mean, he was at Godric's Hollow the night it happened, with this mother. Wasn't he?"

"Yes, he was," Ron confirmed. "But Filch has the intelligence of a Cornish pixie. No, Cornish pixies are bright in comparison to him."

"Ron, be more respectful of the school's staff," Percy reminded him.

"Why? You think Filch respects us? By the way, did you know that Filch was a Squib?"

"Filch is a Squib?" Percy seemed quite surprised on this one. "Well, I wasn't aware of that. Though now that you say it, I'm not surprised. It explains why I never saw him use magic or a wand."

"Maybe that's the reason why Mrs Norris was attacked first. She is the cat of a Squib, after all. I suppose that for Slytherin's heir, a Squib is just as bad as a Muggle-born wizard."

"We don't even know if this is the work of Slytherin's heir."

"You have to admit it looks like it. If you want my opinion, Percy..."

"Ron, Ginny is here. I think we've talked enough about this. There's no need to hear about more theories on Slytherin's heir. You'll just give her more nightmares than she already has."

They were almost talking as if she wasn't there. Ginny wasn't sure if she liked it better than Fred and George bursting from everywhere to make her jump. What was worse? Be acknowledged and scared, or left alone but ignored?

"Where is Harry, by the way?" Ginny asked.

"At the library, with Hermione. They wanted me to come with them, but I wanted to savor my breakfast. I guess they are trying to find out why Harry is hear..."

Ron didn't finish his sentence. He stopped in the middle. Percy didn't seem to bother with what Ron had been saying, but Ginny did. "Why Harry is what?"

"Nothing. It's nothing."

Ginny knew her brother enough to know that he was lying. He had the same reaction when he was caught stealing something in the kitchen or doing something he wasn't supposed to. Ginny wanted to press him with questions, but she thought better. Instead, she pretended that she had forgotten one of the many books for her Defence Against the Dark Arts class she had this morning, which wasn't difficult to believe considering the number they had, and left the Gryffindor table early, her toast still in her hand.

She finished it quickly and found herself in the library pretty soon. After over two months at Hogwarts, she knew her way around quite well. Ginny wanted to ask Harry if he noticed anything strange around Colin when he found him. Surely, he would tell her if she asked. So far, Harry had always been very nice with her.

She didn't see him when she walked into the library. The place was vast, so she began searching. And then, she heard his voice. Ginny was walking between two shelves when she heard him on her right.

"Have you found anything about a monster who could Petrify people?"

Ginny froze in her track. A moment before, she wanted to ask Harry about Colin, but now that she was close to him... What did she think? She couldn't stay in the same room where he was, let alone speak to him.

"Nothing." The frustrated voice of Hermione reached Ginny's ears. "And I can't find any explanation about these voices you're hearing."

"There has to be something. I mean, I hear a voice, I follow it, and I end up stumbling on Colin's body. Why?"

Ginny dared even less to speak. She knew it wasn't good to listen to other people talking behind closed doors or whenever their conversation was meant to be private, like it obviously was in this case, but she couldn't bring herself to move.

"I don't know, Harry," Hermione replied, obviously discouraged. "I mean, it could be a coincidence... But it is strange... Very unlikely."

"Do you think I should have told McGonagall about it?"

"No, Harry. We are wizards. Even in this universe, hearing voices is a bad sign. But you're saying it wasn't the first time you heard the voice?"

"No, it wasn't. The first time must have been not long before Halloween. I think I heard it maybe two other times before I found Colin."

"I don't see what it can be. But it is probably better if professors don't start thinking you are crazy. We better go now. The classes will begin soon."

Ginny wanted to move, but she couldn't. She was in an isolated section of the library. That must have been why Harry and Hermione chose this place to discuss in low voices. Only, the section was so silent that Ginny managed to hear distinctly everything they said. And now she was paralyzed by the idea of getting caught because she would make noises by moving, or by the idea of getting caught by staying there, unmoving, and that Harry and Hermione would find her when they walked between those shelves where she stood.

She was afraid for nothing though, because they seemed to have taken another route to leave the library. As a result, Ginny remained at the same place, her legs refusing to move for a very long time. She arrived late at her Defence Against the Dark Arts class, but Professor Lockhart didn't seem to care, or even to notice, as he was telling them about the time he was cornered into a telephone box by a werewolf.

Ginny barely listened for the whole duration of the class. Many students didn't listen just like her, including Luna Lovegood who sat next to Ginny. The place next to Luna was the only one left when Ginny had walked into the class. Luna, who everyone had taken the habit of calling Loony, was staring at the ceiling as Lockhart detailed how he caught the werewolf.

However, today, Ginny didn't listen because her mind was occupied by other thoughts. She thought about Colin who was Petrified. Maybe she should pay him a visit at the infirmary. There was also this discussion between Harry and Hermione she spied on. She hadn't meant to spy, really, but she heard what they said nonetheless. Harry said that he heard voices when he found Colin, and also before, and that these voices led him to Colin. What did it mean? How could Harry hear voices leading him to victims? Well, he was Harry Potter, so maybe he somehow could hear things that others couldn't. It sounded ridiculous the way she thought about it. Even Harry didn't seem to understand all that himself.

Ginny kept turning all these thoughts within her mind. She was trying to remember where exactly she was that evening. She remembered going to the Quidditch practice. She wanted to see Harry play again, while she still could. Winter was coming, and players would stop going to the stadium soon. However, when she tried to remember the moment she left the stadium, she couldn't succeed. Just like for Halloween, there were blanks in her memory. There were other times she couldn't remember what she had been doing for a few hours as well, especially outside of the class hours. She really wasn't feeling well. She almost fell asleep in the classroom.

They didn't have flying courses this afternoon, due to the weather. It was raining outside. After taking a small lunch, she went back to the common room. She was planning on sleeping, hoping it would make her feel better. She looked at Harry a little during lunch, wondering if she should ask him about these voices he heard. But she lacked the necessary courage and headed for the Gryffindor Tower without having spoken to anybody.

She walked in the corridor leading to the portrait of the Fat Lady.

"AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!"

George came out from behind another statue, covered with boils. Ginny squealed and almost ran into the Fat Lady. She gave her the password and took refuge into her dormitory. She climbed into her bed and took her diary. She was no longer afraid.

"I hate my brothers!" she wrote right away. Now, Ginny was angry.

What have they done this time?

She wrote everything to Tom. He was the only one who seemed to understand her.

Chapter Text

RON III

 

"How long do you think we have until the Polyjuice is ready?" Ron asked.

"It's a very complicated potion, Ronald," Hermione explained to him. "I think it should be ready by mid-January."

They were walking through the courtyards, coming back from a visit to Hagrid. Harry was with