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Forcing a Legacy

Chapter Text

Eleven days to my eleventh birthday.

That year, I really didn't know what to expect.

Not that it made any difference -- ever since I started living with the Dursleys, which was since I was a few months old, birthdays were just like normal days.

I would turn 11 a few weeks after my cousin Dudley, and his birthdays were not usual at all.

Dudley was a tall and burly boy with middle length curly dark brown hair and blue eyes. He had a very round face, and he always looked at everything with discontent, but he was wildly popular with girls.

Either way, Dudley always asked for two of of his favourite things. The newest model of mountain bike? He'd take two of that. Even when he asked for a cat, he insisted my aunt and uncle would buy him a couple of them.

It was the first time uncle Vernon and aunt Petunia had said no to Dudley, and the reaction hadn't been nice to see. Dudley had sulked his entire sixth birthday, and even refused to eat cake.

Either way, his parents, which were my adoptive parents, went all the way to try and make his birthdays very special, and then they'd have no money left for me.

 

For his eleventh birthday, Dudley's friend Malcolm had bought him three tickets to the zoo. Since his new girlfriend Lucinda had to sit that one out, Malcolm insisted that I came along.

Not that I was friends with any of Dudley's friends -- I felt out of place at school just like I felt everywhere else, so I tried my best to blend in and not to be noticed. However, they didn't know how rough things between the Dursleys and I were either. When Malcolm had offered me the ticket, I was sure he was doing it out of the goodness of his heart -- though, to be honest, I asked myself how someone so kind could be Dudley's friend. I couldn't just say no to him, it was the first time someone asked me to hang out.

However, I would have rather staying home. Petunia and Vernon would be driving my cousin and his friend, and so I'd have time to spend alone reading about soccer.

I'd always wanted to play soccer, but for some reason, I was never able to. It was a good mix of my father's genes -- he was skinny and small in height, everybody said I looked like him -- and the fact that the Dursleys would have never paid for the lessons. However, reading about it made me feel like I was someone different. In another world, I could have been a champion.

"Oi, are you coming or not?" Dudley asked, opening the door to my room.

It wasn't exactly a room -- more like a little cellar.

I followed him after the house and into the car.

 

When we arrived at the zoo, it suddenly came to mind that I had no desire to be there at all. I had to zone out most of my cousin's conversations, because they were along the lines of,

"Have you seen this snake? I bet I could make it do whatever I want to, like those people in India!"

"That's sweet, mate," Malcolm replied. I had the distinct feeling that, sometimes, he wasn't listening to Dudley either. Or perhaps, I was just projecting my thoughts.

"Mum! Dad!" Dudley shouted. "I want a snake for my birthday! Imagine all the things I could teach it to do!"

Aunt Petunia became very pale in the face. "Why don't you choose a puppy, instead? Or we could give you the kittens you asked for."

"Mom! The kittens were so five years ago."

"Either way, the cage of the snake wouldn't go well with our kitchen decorations," Petunia commented weakly.

"Or perhaps," I couldn't help but add. "You could just tell Dudley the truth, which is that he will never be able to teach the snake any trick, and is more likely to end up the snake's dinner."

Petunia looked a bit shocked, because I usually knew better than to reply with such witty words. I mean, I had tried to, a couple of times, but I recognized early on that it only made things worse.

Or maybe, the look on her face was due to the fact that she knew just as well as me that Dudley was not able to teach the snake anything, and that it was more likely that the reptile could teach Dudley something than the other way around.

But Petunia and Vernon, as much as they would have liked to, never treated Dudley like a little baby. The thing they were more proud of was that my cousin, despite his physique, was very good at doing many practical things. With a brain that was, in my opinion, below average, but that did good at school exercises, Dudley was more skilled than me in just about anything.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to say Dudley was an idiot, even though he practically was -- he just was very much like the snake he wanted to buy. His brain soaked in all kind of information, and he was able to perform little tricks that would make parents and teachers very proud of him.

"You're just jealous," Dudley spat at me. "Because you're not good at anything. Your marks at school are way below average, and so is your face."

Malcolm snickered, and tried to poke at the snake. Luckily, it was behind a wall of glass.

I looked glumly at the animal. Perhaps I had been wrong in comparing it to Dudley. I couldn't imagine the creature being so vicious as to hit me where it hurt the most.

Not that I cared about my face, but I knew my cousin was referring to my scar.

I had a scar above my right eye. It was quite big, and even criss-crossed my eyebrow. It looked a bit lightning-shaped, and I couldn't help but think it was very hideous. According to Petunia and Vernon, I got it in the car accident where my parents had died. My aunt and uncle insisted I kept my hair long, to cover it, but no side-fringe could really hide it.

And while I was not okay at people staring at it, or singling it out, I didn't want to choose my haircuts based on one flaw of my physical appearance, so I kept my hair short the way I liked it. I had black wavy hair like my father's, and I kept it short enough that it had not begun to curl yet. In fact, it was different from Dudley's in texture -- it was more frizzy, and harder to comb.

I stared at the snake some more. I sometimes thought I could make things happen just because I wanted to.

Only small things, obviously. I would have changed my whole life if I had had the power. But small coincidences happened to me, and I couldn't ignore them. Things like, I hope today we're leaving school early, and then the sink of the canteen would leak, and they would have to let the students go home...

I tried with the snake. I really wish you could attack Dudley, I thought. Not killing him or harming him, because I was not as twisted as the Dursleys, and that was what they would have thought. No, simply giving Dudley a good scare...

It was as if the snake had heard me! Suddenly, the wall of glass disappeared, and Malcolm and Dudley ran away, screaming in fright.

"Mom! Dad!" Dudley was screaming. "I don't know how, but I know Harry has something to do with it!"

Vernon gave Petunia a concerned look.

"If they come looking for him, we'll have to tell him the truth," he said. He was whispering, and thought I wouldn't hear him.

"Whatever happens," Petunia replied. "I'm not leaving Dudley out of it, like Lily did to me."

Chapter Text

I did not have a lot of time to focus on Petunia's words. The days went by without her saying anything else about me or about Lily, my mother, and I kind of forgot about it.

That was until my eleventh birthday.

That day, the first thing Vernon did was check if we had received mail, and soon announced, "I have a letter for... Harry Potter?"

That was weird. Nobody ever wrote to me. It was often as if nobody cared about my existence at all. I doubted the mail wouldn't be something from school -- perhaps they would kick me out because of my grades.

Or worse, a prank Dudley's friends played on me.

"Can I read it?" I asked, after three minutes of silence. I already knew what the answer was.

As expected, Vernon's face became very red. "Of course not!" he roared, and he proceeded to tear the letter in two parts.

I felt my heart sink deeper into my chest. "Today is a special day," I said. "Perhaps the letter came from one of my mother's or father's friends. They probably wanted to write me to tell me..."

"To tell you what?" Vernon asked. "You aren't special enough to have people lining up to tell you 'happy birthday'. Nobody who knew your parents knows you live here, and besides, your mother and your father did not have any friends. They were just like you."

"Well, your mother and father's best friend is in prison, actually," Petunia added, in a way that made me think she wasn't joking.

I almost wanted to ask them whether I could write to him, or visit him, but I realized something. I wasn't a masochist. Who knew what he was in prison for -- Petunia's tone made me think it certainly wasn't for shoplifting.

Vernon looked so angry that, for a moment, I thought he'd be angry at Petunia too. "You don't have to tell him anything about Lily's life!" he said. "You know the saying, give someone an inch and they'll take a mile?"

Petunia looked like she wanted to bite back, but didn't. It must have been stressful for her not to be able to talk about her sister.

"Can I read the letter?" Dudley asked then.

"Which letter?" Vernon asked.

"The letter for Harry."

"We don't talk about the letter."

"But if it is so impossible that someone wrote to me something for my birthday," I said, "why don't you let me read it?"

 

A few hours later, I found myself laying in bed with a pack of ice on one of my eyes, that was getting swollen. I could overhear Vernon and Petunia talking in another room.

"Perhaps, we should move away from here," Petunia was saying. "They know where we live now."

"Bollocks," Vernon replied. "They certainly won't come looking into our house. Let them try! I bet even people like them would be afraid, if we called the police on them."

"You're forgetting that they can be dangerous too, when they want to," Petunia said, quietly. "Not that I'm worried about Dudley, mind you. The boy is surprisingly strong and bright for his age..."

"Yes, we have raised a wonderful son," Vernon replied.

In that moment, somebody knocked on the door.

"Didn't you say they wouldn't come looking for us?" Petunia asked Vernon.

"Let me deal with them, whoever they are," Vernon replied dismissively.

When the door opened, I heard somebody talk in an accent that I couldn't quite place. Scottish, maybe?

"Git awa' fae 'ere! let me see th' laddie!"

I knew that the man was talking about me. He had a booming voice, that was somewhat paternal, in a way.

"Vernon!" I heard Petunia squeal. "He's huge!"

"Nonsense," the man replied. "A'm ainlie a hauf breed. Ye shuid see th' ithers o' mah kind."

"Your kind??" Vernon asked. "Well, we know nobody else of your kind, so you clearly have knocked on the wrong door."

"Na, a'm bonny sure a'm richt," the man said with confidence. "Isnae 'ere where Harry Potter lives?"

"There's no one named Harry Potter here," Dudley replied. I wondered for a minute whether he really didn't know my last name.

"Well, ye'r Dudley Dursley, aren't ye?" the man asked.

Judging from my aunt and uncle's reactions, I gathered Dudley had nodded in agreement.

"Such a good child!" Petunia was complaining. "We have raised him not to lie..."

I blocked out the rest of her words, and I opened the door to the cellar.

"Harry James Potter," I said. "That's me."

"Ah finally catch up wi` ye, Harry," the man said. He really was tall -- he looked like a giant, if giants existed. Well, maybe a half giant, I thought, reminded of his words. "Ye can call me Hagrid."

"And why are you here, Hagrid?" I asked him.

"Feel free to show yourself off, Hagrid," Vernon was saying at the time.

Hagrid replied to me. "I heard ye hadn't replied tae ony o' th' letters from Hogwarts. Happy birthday, by th' wey!"

"Letters?" I asked. "As in, plural?"

Vernon looked... well, I wouldn't say guilty, but he had a peculiar expression on his face.

"The letter you received today was not the first," he said then. "It was one of many."

"And they were for me? From Hogwarts?" I asked. I turned to Hagrid. "Who's Hogwarts, by the way?"

Hagrid looked a little lost. Then, he turned to Vernon and Petunia. "Who's Hogwarts??" he roared. "What's Hogwarts! Ye didnae tell him anything?"

He turned to me again. "it's th' schuil ye wull attend! Dumbledore haes made sure o' it."

"Who's Dumbledore?" I asked. When I saw the look in Hagrid's eyes, I quickly corrected myself, "What's Dumbledore, I mean."

Hagrid turned towards the Dursleys again. "Ah bet ye didnae even tell him he's a wizard!"

"A what?" I asked. Hagrid turned to me, once again.

"I'm sorry I hae tae go thro' this quickly. Ye'r a wizard, Harry. Schuil starts in a month. Schuil for wizards, I mean. Thare, ye'll be lik' yer ma 'n' pa. They were wizards too!
Dumbledore, th' head o' th' schuil, has made sure ye wid git th' letters, but yer aunt 'n' uncle thought better o' it. They're Muggles, meaning thay weren't born wi' powers." He took a deep breath. "What happened tae yer eye?"

"This scar?" I asked. "I had it since Mom and Dad died in that car accident."

"Nah, I meant.. Car accident? Yer parents have bin murdured by Voldemort! 'twas him wha left ye this scar. Voldemort wis an evil wizard, by th' wey."

I wanted Hagrid to go slower with all the name dropping, but it didn't seem like it would be possible.

"Tell ye what," Hagrid added. "I'm taking ye awa' fae 'ere, 'n' ah will explain on th' wey. We'll git ye a few hings for whin th' schuil starts."

I was about to follow Hagrid out of the door without looking back, when Petunia spoke up.

"No," she said. "You're not getting out of here with only one of them."

"What d'ye mean?"

"Dudley is not a Muggle. If Harry goes to Hogwarts, Dudley goes too."

Chapter Text

To buy the stuff we needed for the school, Hagrid took us to a place called Diagon Alley.

"Is this where wizards live?" Dudley asked.

I wasn't happy at all that he had to come along and crash my 'birthday party'. He was ecstatic that he could rain on my parade all he wanted. The result? I had been exceptionally shy for the whole time, and he had asked Hagrid countless questions.

"Nae exactly," he replied. "I mean... wizards live everywhere! But most o' thaim live in wee communities in Muggle villages."

Hagrid, then, took out an umbrella from his coat, and murmured something. A wall in front of us disappeared, and a street full of colourful shops appeared in front of our eyes.

I grinned. Dudley was trying to keep his composure, but I knew he must have hated the place!

In the first shop we entered, Hagrid already excused himself. "Boys, wait for me 'ere! I have seen someone in th' crowd that I know!" he explained, running away to chase somebody.

"Now that we're alone," I told my cousin. "Tell me what you have in mind! It's obvious that you're a... Muggle, whatever that is. Weird things have never happened to you the way they have happened to me."

It was Dudley's turn to grin at me, and his grin was almost vicious. "I don't have anything planned, but apparently Mom does... and whatever it is, she trusts that I can pull it off."

"Let me make one thing clear," I snarled at him. "When Hagrid takes us to that school, we'll tell them you're not a wizard. Better if we tell them before they understand it on their own..."

In that moment, somebody behind me coughed.

"Was your large friend looking for me?" the man asked.

"Dunno," I replied honestly. "Who are you?"

The man was dressed in weird clothes, and he had a scar on his wrist when he lent me his hand. It was two tiny punctures, like the bite of an animal...

"You can call me Professor Quirrell," the man said. "Since I'll be teaching you and your cousin at Hogwarts."

I wondered how much he had heard of our conversation. It seemed to me he had heard enough, but if he had, he wouldn't say Dudley was coming to Hogwarts with me.

"What do you teach?" I asked, instead.

"Defense against the Dark Arts... but Merlin's hat! You're Harry Potter!"

"Is Merlin real?" I asked. "I've been meaning to ask for a while. I mean, has he really existed...?"

"Who cares about Merlin! I'll be teaching the one and only Harry Potter!"

"And the great Dudley Dursley," Dudley said unhelpfully.

Quirrel blinked at him.

"Either way, how did you recognize me?" I asked.

"Your scar! Surely you must know. It's the sign You-know-who left on you when he tried to murder you. You know, right after he murdered your parents."

It seemed unkind to me how everyone was always able to tell the story with such cold blood. And I was mortified -- my scar! The part of my face that I never liked, the hideous thing I couldn't hide, was something everybody in this world remembered me by?

"You said you-know-who," I replied after a while. "But I don't know who that is."

"The darkest wizard of all times. We don't say his name, because saying important names such as this either bring very good or bad luck."

"But Hagrid said its name! It was something in French," I finally remembered.

"You know, half-giants," Quirrel said. "They're simpletons."

But I did not believe Hagrid was, and I was ready to bet there was something more to it.

 

A few minutes later, Hagrid picked us up.

"While I wis away, I bought most of yer textbooks. The schuil covers most finances," he explained us. "Now, ye need a wand."

I figured wands would make us able to do spells, and I couldn't wait to see what effect they'd have on Dudley.

In the wand shop, there was a skinny and small boy waiting for us. He was shorter than me, and I was already below average for my age. He had platinum blond hair, almost white, that curled near his shoulders. When he turned his head at me, two pair of steely grey eyes looked into mine.

"I'm Draco Malfoy," the boy said, without wasting any moment. "I see that you must be Harry Potter."

I glanced at Dudley, who would have no doubt ruined whatever friendship I could hope to make. He wasn't around. The thought didn't comfort me, but I looked back at Draco.

"Yes, I'm Harry Potter," I said. I was about to be offended, but it didn't seem like nobody in that world thought of my scar as hideous.

"Are you here to get your first wand?" Draco asked. "I am too. My father is that man with long blond hair who's talking to Mr Ollivander. Next thing you should do is buy a broom. I am buying one later -- I want to play Quidditch at Hogwarts."

"Quidditch?" I asked.

"So the rumors were true," Draco narrowed his eyes. "You were raised by Muggles. Quidditch is a sport wizards practice. I would explain the rules to you, but you'll see it in action when you get to Hogwarts. It's odd for the teachers to let people our age into the team, but I think I can become the Seeker of my house."

I wasn't understanding anything Draco was saying, so I didn't contradict him. I didn't mind that he seemed so sure of himself -- he looked like someone who was very ambitious and who put a lot of effort in things.

Like every time I tried to make small talk with a boy my age, my tongue felt like cement.

"I... uh... if it's anything like soccer, I want to try it out."

Draco looked at me, tilting his head. "It was nice talking to you, Harry," he said. He beamed at his father, and went to collect his wand.

I was a bit more happy too, when Mr Ollivander helped me choose the wand. I already have a friend at Hogwarts, I thought.

"What do you think of a wand made of holly with a phoenix feather as a core?" Mr Ollivander asked. "I'm not saying it's the best you can do -- it's the wand that chooses the wizard -- but I'll let you in on a secret... a very important wizard had this same wand."

I hoped it was Dumbledore. Or Merlin.

"Of course," I replied.

I notice, my heart sinking in my chest, that Dudley hadn't asked Mr Ollivander to prepare him a wand.

"Buy two of that," he whispered in my ear.

"What?" I was enraged.

"Two of the same wand," he said. "You're a brave wizard, the one who was not killed by the French guy, blah blah blah... I'm sure he'll understand if you tell him you need two wands."

"You can't use the same wand as me," I hissed. "It's the wand that chooses the wizard."

"Well, he said yours was one of the best, and I can't have less than that."

I was about to say that it wasn't what Mr Ollivander said, that a wand must be right for its owner... but what was the point of arguing with Dudley? I bought two of the same.

 

The instructions on Hogwart's letter on how to reach the school were bizzarre. But, when we got to the train platform, we understood what the 9 3/4 platform meant. A family of redheaded wizards was passing through a wall that was between the ninth and tenth platform. Dudley became very pale. I knew he didn't want to be there, but it served him well.

"Hold my hand," I told him.

"What?" he squealed.

"If you don't, your face will get even more squashed than it already is. By the wall," I said. "I am the only one with powers here."

"Why would you help me?"

Because if I don't, and Petunia comes to know, I thought, my face would look worse than yours when it's bashed into the wall.

But I didn't want him to know just how much leverage he had, so I didn't say it.

On the train, I sat as far away from Dudley as possible. I found myself in a seat no one had taken, near a good looking boy who was a bit tall and skinny, as if he had just started growing into a young man. He had pale blond-ish red hair and very light eyebrows. His eyes were light blue and cold in colour, but they had an excited gleam in them.

"You're Harry Potter!" he said.

"I know," I replied.

"I'm Ron Weasley! And I'm waiting for my friend Hermione Granger to arrive."

"We're not friends, Ronald," a girl who sat beside me said. "Not yet. You just gave me one of your Chocolate Frogs."

The girl grinned at me. She had bushy dark auburn hair, almost black, and had light brown skin. I thought she could have Iranian or Persian descent.

"I see you have already found a place where to sit, Potter," a voice drawled behind me. I already knew to whom it belonged, but it sounded harsher than before. "Too bad, I would have liked to introduce you to my friends."

I turned around, to find Draco with a couple of friends. A boy with curly light brown hair and a funny face, and a boy so large and tall that he could have been an eleven year old half giant.

"I guess I don't need to be friends with the like of you," Draco said, with a voice that sounded too rehearsed to be actually sorry. "Now that I can hang out with Martin Kowalski and Gregory Goyle."

Chapter Text

When we entered into the hall, four long tables were waiting for us to sit. Dumbledore, the headmaster, was with the teachers, in a separate table. He gave me a positive first impression -- he looked like a very charismatic sort of person.

"Today, you will be sorted into the Houses where you'll spend the rest of your days at Hogwarts," the headmaster said. "But remember, they don't define who you are. Each of you will take a test, to see which one of our teachers would be better suited to be your tutor. If you get Professor McGonagall, for example, you'll be sorted in Gryffindor. The houses are these: Gryffindor, for those who are brave but do not like studying a lot, you prefer adventures. Ravenclaw, whose tutor is Professor Flitwick, is for those who enjoy studying more than their peers, and who value intelligence above other things. Slytherin, whose tutor is Professor Snape, is for the very ambitious. And Hufflepuff, whose tutor is Professor Sprout, is better suited to the kind-hearted. It's the perfect House for you if you're into group studies and you do better when you're helping others."

While he was speaking, Dumbledore moved his hand, and a hat appeared in the hands of every student. I mimicked the movements of the ones beside me, and put the hat upon my head.

"First question," the hat spoke into my mind. "If one of your housemates dropped a pen and interrupted the silence of an important test, what would you do?"

"I... uh..." I had been so used to living in Dudley's shadow, that I still had trouble replied questions confidently. Nobody had ever asked for my opinion! I felt more tongue tied than I had been in front of Malfoy.

"I... I would help them," I said. "I would pick up their pen."

The hat went on to ask questions of similar nature, including a few that were easier for me to answer like, what would you do if one of the other students was harrassing another in front of you? Fight him, was my answer. It also asked, What is one trait that you value very greatly in others? And I was about to reply Loyalty, but then I replied Bravery. I realized that I wanted to stand up for people, but I wouldn't stand up very much for people like Dudley. They would have to be people who would stand up for me too.

After a row of questions such as 'You meet a troll out in the woods, what do you do?', a piece of paper appeared in my hands. It looked like a certificate.

On it, there were the percentages I score for every House.

"On my paper there's all four of them," I complained.

Dumbledore chuckled. "It's the same for everyone," he said. "Most people are a mix of things. You'll find out, when you're my age, that you'll have trouble fitting people in a box. But, read your scores. I'm sure one percentage is higher than the others."

I read my scores.

Gryffindor = 90%
Hufflepuff = 80%
Slytherin = 65%
Ravenclaw = 10%

I looked glumly at my certificate. I liked that Gryffindor was the winning House, and I could see myself as a Hufflepuff. Most of my answers gave away that I was a very loyal person. But the percentage of Ravenclaw meant that I had to be very stupid. And Slytherin... was I that ambitious?

Hermione, Ron's friend, seemed to notice my face. "Don't look like that, Harry," she said. "You heard Dumbledore. Those are the traits we consider above others, the ones that define our choices. Not the ones we have."

I glanced at Hermione's paper. She had scored 100% on both Ravenclaw and Gryffindor. She was a bit Slytherin too, so it couldn't be that bad.

"Yours is a tie!" I said.

"Yes," she blushed slightly. "I think I'm going to ask Professor McGonagall to be my tutor and put me in Gryffindor. I have read so much about her, she must be a great Transfiguration teacher."

"I'm Gryffindor too!" Ron joined us, excited.

I looked at Draco Malfoy. Judging by his paper, he was a Slytherin, and so were Kowalski and Goyle.

And Dudley?

I had almost forgotten Dudley was there too, because, on the train, he was sitting next to a cute girl with a shock of orange yellow hair that looked like it had been dyed.

"Don't cry, Pansy," Dudley was telling her now. "We'll find a way to see each other! Just because I'm not a Slytherin too..."

I had to give it to her; Pansy was not crying.

"Where are you, Dudley?" I asked.

"Gryffindor," he replied.

My mouth felt like sand. "Me too," I whispered.

Dudley's face was so horrified, it almost matched mine.

Why wasn't Dudley a Slytherin?? Of course, he had never been ambitious. And just because Draco and Pansy were in Slytherin, it didn't mean it was a bad House. Still, why did Dudley have to be Gryffindor?

Perhaps the test couldn't tell you you scored 0 everywhere, so sometimes it would have to make up a few percentages. Either way, I was stuck with him. Again.

 

As I discovered in the next few days, Dudley didn't want to hang out with me more than I wanted to hang out with him. He still hung out with Pansy, and he was becoming popular all over the school.

One of the first days, a very annoying pixie called Peeves called his dimissions because of Dudley. I never understood what had happened, but perhaps the pixie was too outraged that a boy who looked suspiciously too much like a Muggle studied there.

In fact, Dudley's wand wasn't working at all, and his grades were very low.

On Friday, we had our first lesson with the headmaster of Slytherin, Snape.

He was a man in his fourties with black hair and black eyes. He had that distant and careless look in his eyes that some Muggle Math teachers have.

"So, I'll be teaching Potter this year," he said. "Funny. I thought your scar would be bigger."

I looked around, to no one in particular, mortified.

A few students snickered. "Isn't that a compliment?" Martin Kowalski asked. Draco scowled at him. Martin was talkative and naive, two traits that made ask how more ambitious than Dudley he could be. However, he was much nicer than Dudley. I guessed that was why Draco scowled so much at him.

"There's something called sarcasm, Kowalski," Snape said. "I don't think a bigger scar would fit that scrawny face. But you're from America, aren't you, Kowalski? Tell us, what are you doing here in the UK..?"

While Martin was explaining that it was his grandparents that had been American, I saw Draco flinching a little late at Snape's words. I figured he didn't like how Martin attracted unwanted attention.

Snape taught Potions. I found his subject as confusing as I used to find Maths, hence the comparison. Aside from the comment about my scar, the Professor didn't seem to like my personality either.

"So," he said when, at the end of the lesson, I brought him a strange concoction that didn't look at all like the one on the textbook. "You've already found one subject at which you're not good at. That's unlucky. I used to know your mother, and she was good at Potions. Let's see how you fly tomorrow. I knew your father, and it seemed like he was good only at that."

I gripped my hand around the potion. For a moment, it looked as if it could have broken in two, but it didn't.

"For your information, sir," I said. "I am not my parents. And I'm not my scar either."

And I walked out.

Chapter Text

Neville Longbottom was a Gryffindor, and we sometimes spent time together. He was good at many things I wasn't, like Herbology, or drawing. He had this little sketchbook where he would draw the plants and write their names in crazy fonts. Sometimes, he'd show it to me, to help me study.

When we arrived on the field where Madam Hooch was waiting for us, he told me he was afraid he would have problems flying.

"I've never been that great at physical activity," he confessed.

I realized, sadly, that the same could be said for me. Snape's words still rang in my ears. I had said, with ease, that I was not my parents, but the truth was a harsher one. I already knew I wasn't good at Potions like my mother, would I, at least, be able to fly like my father? It would make me feel much closer to them.

Before the teacher arrived, Draco Malfoy sneaked up on Neville and took something out of his hands. At first, I had thought it was the sketchbook, but Neville said, "Give me back my diary! You can't read that!"

"A secret diary, huh?" Malfoy looked very pleased. "Well, let's see if you can reach me now, Longbottom."

Draco jumped on his broom, and began flying around in circles. He was very good at it, which made me feel a weird sensation of rage. I tried to shake it off -- I didn't think jealousy would become me.

I tried to hop on the broom Hagrid had bought for me in Diagon Alley. But, suddenly, the world started spinning around me and I started to feel dizzy.

Hermione grabbed my hand. "Harry!" she yelled.

I wasn't expecting it, because I had spent more time with Ron than I had with her -- she wasn't exactly our friend.

"Have you ever thought you might have problems with your eyesight?" she asked, when she got me steady on the ground.

She asked me a couple of questions, and she found out with horror that I was not able to do very well many visual things that included writing, drawing and playing sports.

"Harry! You have myopia!" she screamed, at last. "How come did no one ever tell you? And how come you've never told anyone the objects far from you looked blurry?"

"Let's just say, I used to live with Dudley's parents, and I don't think they would have cared about it at all," I said.

"This is horrible, I'll tell Professor McGonagall about it," Hermione said.

"It's his eyesight, not yours," Ron felt the need to stand up for me.

"Well, I clearly want to see better, don't I?" I asked, and hopped on my broom.

The reason why I felt dizzy before was this -- I was used to having myopia in normal settings and familiar situations, but not very much so when it came to flying! However, my lithe physique seemed to be perfect to ride the broom, and I could follow after Malfoy. I reached him in no time, mostly because he wasn't expecting it, and savoured the expression on his face. But, as soon as I took Neville's diary from his hands, Madam Hooch arrived in the courtyard!

"Malfoy, Potter, get down right now, before I give you detention!" she said. When we landed on the ground, she added, "But, I couldn't help but notice how good you are both at flying. I'll talk to Dumbledore, and see if you can become the Seekers of the Quidditch teams of your houses."

"Told you I'd become the Seeker," Malfoy told Kowalski, as if it was some kind of inside joke between the two of them. I couldn't help but recall that he had said those words to me before.

"I don't consider this thing between us settled, Potter," Draco told me, after the lesson. "So, let's meet tonight, for a duel."

 

I didn't know much about duels and didn't ask anyone about it. I wasn't confident I could beat Malfoy at it, but Hermione was not exactly a friend, and Ron would want to know if he could duel Malfoy too. Besides, I'd had the very strong impression Malfoy wanted to meet me alone.

That night, I went to the room where he invited me to fight. It was a room in the third-floor corridor where I'd never been before, and I hoped that the fact of being there wasn't breaking any rule.

As soon as he arrived, he said, "Lower your wand. I just wanted to talk to you."

"What?"

"Yes," he looked troubled. "We need to talk about Dudley."

"As a general rule, I try to think about Dudley as little as possible."

Draco arched an eyebrow. "I don't think that's true. Either way, we both can't stand him, right?"

"You can't stand him?" I asked, surprised.

"Of course not," Draco turned up his nose.

I was suddenly aware of the fact that the two had never openly socialized. I wondered if it was because Draco liked Pansy! It made sense -- a cute Slytherin girl, and she was seeing my cousin.

"What do you suggest to do about it?" I asked.

"I say, we pretend we're friends. Only for Dudley's sake."

"What do you get out of it?"

"Welll.... maybe not only for Dudley's sake. For my father's too. I think he wants me to become Harry Potter's friend. He surely must think you're great." Draco made a disgusted grunt.

"You're not helping your cause," I said.

"And you," he added. "You get out of it that, if you're my friend, Dudley stops bothering you. Also, we team up against him. So, if he troubles me, I tell you. And if he troubles you, you tell me."

I laughed. "That is the worst joke I've ever heard."

"I'm not joking," Draco looked really serious, so I thought his crush on Pansy had to be something that was tearing him up from the inside.

And I obviously didn't care, but, as much as I hated to admit it, I could use someone to be a part of my Anti Dudley club. Once, I've heard Ron say that he didn't look that bad, mostly because he admired how Dudley had a way with girls.

"Okay," I sighed.

Draco was about to walk up to me -- I was horrified, he wanted me to shake his hand -- when the floor under his shoes creaked.

We looked down. It was a trap-door!

Draco's eyes went wide. "What do you think is under there?" he asked.

I was about to reply, when we heard a voice through the speakers.

It was Dumbledore's voice!

"Please, everyone back to their dorms! A troll has been seen arond the school."

Draco snickered. "And they say it just like that. This whole place is about to fall apart. My father always says..."

"We're not friends," I reminded him, and started running towards the Gryffindor dorms.

 

I was looking for Ron, and thankfully, I found him in a corridor all alone. "I think I've seen Hermione!" he said. "We can't leave her alone when there's a troll on the loose!"

We headed in the direction Ron was pointing at. Soon enough, we found Hermione all alone, facing the troll!

"I'm sorry," she sobbed, to no one in particular. "I've been so stupid! Thought I could take it... I noticed there was something weird in the girl's bathroom ever since this morning, I should have said something..."

"What are we going to do?!" Ron panicked. "We don't know any spells."

"We don't need to," I said. "I don't believe a wizard is as only as good as their wand. I did magic even before I was in this place."

"But you didn't know where your limits lied!" Hermione complained. "You still don't!"

"If I can't do any magic with or without my wand, then there must be something else I can do..." I started to reason, "With or without my wand."

That said, I waited for the troll to strike and jumped on its back. I seriously considered sticking my wand in its nose. Then, when I was on top of its head I said, "Stupeficium!"

The troll went limp.

"Harry! It worked!" Ron beamed. "Wait... how did you?"

"Heard Dudley trying to say it to his cat," I replied.

Back in Diagon Alley, I had bought a beautiful white owl and named her Hedwig, while Dudley had bought an orange tabby cat and named him Fish and Chips, Chips for short.

"Thankfully," I added. "It never worked. But now, let's go. I'm sure the whole school will be looking for us."

Chapter Text

During the Winter holidays, I stayed at school. Students could choose whether to stay or to go back home. Well, most of the time, their families chose for them. The Dursleys had decided that Dudley would come back home and I would stay. Hermione went home to her Muggle parents, while Ron stayed at Hogwarts with me. His house was very crowded, so he said his parents didn't mind if one of their kids stayed at the school. But Ron had described Mr and Mrs Weasley to me before, and they had seemed like very nice people, so I reckoned it was my friend who didn't want to take up too much space.

On Christmas, I asked Ron whether wizards celebrated the holiday as well. "Well, yes, my father knows a lot about Muggles, and he told me we're like them on many accounts," he replied. "That's why I didn't think it weird when Hermione told me her parents are Muslims. There are Muslim wizards too."

I didn't have any gift to open, as usual. There was a tree in the Gryffindor dorm, and all the gifts were nicely wrapped under it. Neville got a new sketchbook from his grandmother, and he was beaming.

Ron opened his first gift. He had a few of them -- his parents, though not wealthy, were very thoughtful. "It's a sweater..." he didn't look too happy. "My mother knits them for every one of us, every Christmas." He even looked sheepish while he was saying those words to me.

But I had never heard anything as cool in my life. "Really?" I exclaimed. "That sounds so... that's amazing! I mean, does she knit them herself?" I looked at Ron's sweater, that was as good as the ones Dudley bought in shops.

"So, you won't mind if..." Ron passed me a package, his ears turning pink. "I mean, I told her it was a bit over the top, but..."

"Are you joking?" I asked. I opened it. There was a burgundy sweater in it, with my initial, H, written in beige. In fact, all of Mrs Weasley's sweaters had the initials of the people she made them for knitted on them.

"It's my only gift," I reminded Ron, who looked embarrassed. "And I love it!"

 

When we sat at the table, I noticed Draco Malfoy was looking at our sweaters. Ron noticed it too. "See... that's why I was embarrassed," he explained. "People like Malfoy always think they're a great deal better than me because they buy their own clothes in shops."

"I don't know Malfoy's mother," I said. "But I think that, if she had a skill, she would brag about it."

After the Christmas lunch, Draco went up to my table, waiting until there was nobody around. "I need your help during the holidays," he said. "Remember our pact? Dudley taught Pansy how to play Muggle chess, and now she's trying to get everyone else in Slytherin to play it. I need you to teach me."

"Because you want to impress Pansy?" I asked.

"N-no!" Draco looked bewildered, and red in the face.

What a liar.

"Listen, you know there are thousand of things I'd be doing rather than teaching you how to play Muggle chess," I said. "But since we have a pact..."

When we went to play chess in an abandoned room, Draco explained to me the rules of wizard chess.

"Pft..." I couldn't help but laugh. "Muggle chess is the very same! Except that Muggles must physically move the pieces."

Draco looked even more red than before. "Why must Muggles always complicate everything?" he muttered.

Either way, I played a game of chess with him.

 

When I left the room, I bumped into Dumbledore.

"Professor McGonagall told me about your eyesight," he told me. "I have a Christmas gift for you too."

He took me to his office. It was guarded by a Gargoyle, that asked him for a password.

When we were inside, he made me sit at the table.

"These," he said, and from his wand came two little and shiny things, "are magical contact lenses. You can wear them every day just like Muggles contact lenses. They work very well, better than most glasses. However... I think you need a pair of glasses as well, to wear from time to time. Like most magic, it wears out, unless it's a perfectly done Transfiguration. You'll need to change lenses every once in a while, though not as often as Muggle contact lenses, and on those days, you'll wear these glasses. Maybe, on days when your eyes feel tired too."

Dumbledore gave me a pair of glasses.

"You... didn't have!" I stammered. "You already got me the lenses."

"I, as your headmaster, believe you should have a correct eyesight," Dumbledore said, but he winked at me.

The glasses looked nice. They were square and black, and kind of looked like Buddy Holly's.

"Your father used to wear a pair just like that," Dumbledore said. He then noticed that I lowered my eyes, sad.

"Don't tell anyone," he added. "But there's a little secret that I want to show you."

I followed Dumbledore to a room near his office. There was only a mirror there.

"Look inside of it," he advised me.

I did. I gasped! My parents were there with me! My father looked just like me, with wavy black hair and tanned skin, but he had black eyes. My mother had the same green eyes as me and she looked like a 50s starlet, with curly bronze hair and a wide smile.

"Is it real? Are they there?" I asked.

"I'm afraid not," the headmaster replied. "This mirror shows you what you want the most in the world. What are you seeing? Your parents?"

I nodded, a little sad.

"I see myself buying a nice pair of wool socks from that little shop in Rome where I've been last year," Dumbledore said. "But either way, I'll change the location of the Mirror of Erised soon. It doesn't do well to dwell on things we can't change."

"Wait," I said. "The vision changed!"

It was true! Now the Mirror was showing me Hogwarts. I was seventeen, at my last year of school, and I looked really happy. Then, the mirror showed me another vision, someone with pale blond hair...

"What do you see?" Dumbledore asked.

"First, I saw me. Then, someone else. Someone blond..."

The headmaster looked startled, even shocked. "Sometimes," he said. "Sometimes, it stops working like it should. It's impossible to understand our heart's desires completely, even for ourselves."

However, his voice sounded weary and tired, and it made me ask whether he was hiding something that I needed to know.

Chapter Text

After the Winter holidays, Draco started bothering Neville more than before. I didn't know why he had a bone to pick with him and, since Neville was a friend of mine, it irritated me.

Neville, who was a very awkward kid, couldn't take a step without stumbling into something, and Draco would always snicker at him. Which was something that was low even for Draco, who always tried to act like he was classy and above most things.

Why he was so worked up with Neville, I didn't know.

Either way, one day, at Transfiguration, Professor McGonagall asked us to transform a mouse into a cup of tea.

I liked Professor McGonagall. She had really taken to heart the fact that I wanted to be a Quidditch player and, after Christmas, both Draco Malfoy and I became Seekers of our respective Houses. I had only played once against Hufflepuff, and our team had won.

The way the school was divided made me form a bond with students of certain Houses more than others. The lessons were usually split between two Houses, but in the afternoon, group studies were organized. Since the score on your admission test was mostly about the way you learnt, that meant that Hermione, who had scored a high point on Ravenclaw, often studied with people from that House or was invited to their projects. I had a lot of points on Loyalty, so I often hung out with the Hufflepuffs.

But, back to the Charms class -- Dudley was trying, really trying, to turn the mouse into a cup of tea. Since he was a Muggle, and the wand wasn't made for him, he only sometimes succeeded in a few easy spells, and Hermione told me that it was probably only luck.

The more Dudley stared at the mouse and repeated the words, the more it was clear to see that the rodent would die of old age before turning into a cup of tea.

"I don't know what's the problem with Gryffindors," Goyle commented. "So lame."

Martin and Draco exchanged a brief glance. Then, Draco spoke up, "That's true. I don't know who's worse between the two of them -- Dursley, or Longbottom..."

Neville became flushed, but then stood up to Malfoy. The thing with living with other Gryffindors was, I already noticed that they would always find the time to pick a fight. It was kind of exhausting, in a way.

"Stop it, Malfoy," Neville, who was not as shy as he looked, said. "We have already talked about it. It's not how you think. I..."

Draco looked panic-stricken. Then, he thought better of it and tried to bluff. "What are you saying Longbottom? Has Potter dropped you on your head? Since you're always together, looking at the plants..."

"Stop fighting right now!" Professor McGonagall said. "Malfoy, I really want to see how your cup of tea looks."

I looked glumly at mine. It still had the tail of a rat, but it looked like it was made of porcelain like the rest of the cup.

"I think mine looks good," I told Ron.

His freckled face looked a bit green-ish. "I have a rat," he only commented. "Let's just say that, if I were you, I wouldn't drink out of it."

When Ron and I left the classroom, Dudley bumped into me. I didn't think it was an accident.

"I thought Dumbledore had fixed your eyesight," he commented.

"I thought he fixed your wand," I replied.

If Dumbledore had never thought about fixing Dudley's wand, he should have had. That way, he would find out he was a Muggle and expel him.

"Not cool, mate," Ron said. "Harry doesn't need fixing. He only wears lenses to... to improve his eyesight, or something."

Dudley snorted. "I see now," he said. "I've been wondering -- if he could cure your eyesight, why not remove your scar?"

Ron was about to punch him, but I hold him back.

"I don't think Dudley is worth being expelled over," I said. "He probably won't be here for long. Besides, if it was worth it, I hope you'd let me do the honours."

"On the last day of school," Ron said. "We'll take turns."

The glance he received from Hermione made his ears turn pink.

"Don't mind him, Harry," Hermione told me. "If he's the reason why you're behind in your studies, just tell me. I believe I could find a way to find you a Ravenclaw tutor..."

"Thanks, but I'm not dumb," I said. "Or blind. I believe my grades will be better once I sorted out... important stuff."

Such as why Draco Malfoy wants to be my friend in front of Dudley, or where the trapdoor in the third corridor leads. I thought I'd have to check out the latter sooner or later, so I excused myself.

 

When I was in the third corridor, I couldn't stop thinking about my friends at Hogwarts. Why was everybody acting as if I needed help? Sadly, I had already noticed I was kind of famous in the wizarding world. Perhpas, Ron and Hermione acted that way because they couldn't believe I put up with all that shit even being famous.

But I was only famous because an old guy didn't kill me, and I didn't want to be. I would have preferred if my parents had been famous for that.

And then, of course, there were rumors. Some people claimed that Voldemort had tried to kill me, but that I survived... That was what had left me the scar...

Yeah, right. How could that even be possible? I couldn't even turn a mouse into a tea cup.

Lost in my thoughts, I noticed I was walking near the office of one of the teachers. I read the inscription on the door. It said it belonged to Quirrel, Professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts. The man I had met at Diagon Alley. I thought he was quite boring -- his lessons had been only theoritical so far...

The door of his office opened a little.

I made myself small in a dark corner, because I didn't want to be seen sneaking around.

From the door of his office, a snake came slithering out.

I recognized, with horror, what the punctures on his hands had been, back at Diagon's Alley. Marks from a snake bite.

Chapter Text

I turned, startled.

Draco Malfoy was behind me.

"What... what are you doing here??"

"I could ask you the same thing," he replied, his gray eyes on mine. "You're not the only one who's curious about the trapdoor."

"Either way," he added, after a while. "You looked like you were cowering in fear. Scared, Potter?"

"Not of you, if that's what you mean," I said. "A huge snake just crawled out of Quirrel's office."

I thought Draco would act tough, especially since snake was the animal of Slytherin.

He opened his eyes wide. "We should tell somebody," he said.

He was using the same tone he always used when we had to pretend in front of Dudley. The same conversational tone he had used at Christmas.

I knew better than to let myself be fooled from that voice.

"Yes," I said, calculating my words. "Let's tell Dumbledore."

"No," Draco said. "I want to tell Snape."

"Snape's a pain in the ass," I said.

"They all are," Draco said. "At least Snape is the head of Slytherin. If I come to him reporting something loose in the school corridors, he'll give points to Slytherin. You already won Gryffindor a lot of points when you fought that troll."

"I thought you wouldn't believe that I stupefied him," I said, a little startled.

"Please," Draco snorted. "It's not like I'm paying you a compliment. You must be used to fighting trolls, since you lived with Dudley."

I grinned. "Please, make way," I said, trying to act cool. "We tell either Dumbledore or Snape, whomever we find first."

We found Snape.

He was just as much a pain in the ass as I remembered.

"I'll take care of the matter with Quirrel myself," he said. "But Potter, you're out of your dorm and not supervised. Now, I know that you've been acting high and mighty since you've fought that troll... at least, this time you weren't one year old."

Draco looked pained. I wondered whether he was so thirsty for compliments that he would have taken this sarcastic flattery, as long as it wasn't about somebody else.

 

"But you, Malfoy..." Snape continued. "Honestly, I expected better from you. That's why I'll give you detention together, this evening. You shall go to the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid."

"Forbidden Forest? Hagrid? Professor, you must be joking," Draco said and, if I didn't know him any better, I would have thought he was genuinely scared.


That evening, we went to the Forbidden Forest and met Hagrid there.

"Dinnae worry," he told me as soon as he saw me. "It's not as dangerous as it looks..."

Hagrid was Professor of Care of Magical Creatures and he'd always been very nice to me and my friends.

"Worry? Me?" Draco asked, in the tone he used when we didn't have to pretend. "I'm certainly not scared of the Forbidden Forest and the stupid animals that inhabit it!"

But, while we were walking, he muttered under his breath, "My father should really hear about this..."

"Why are you always my father this, my father that?" I asked him, suddenly bothered by his cowardice. "It's not like your father can come every time you snap your fingers and salvage the situation, right?"

Draco looked lost for a moment, as if I had hurt him. Then, he had that horrible grin back on his face. "Maybe that's what fathers do. Oops, sorry. Not that you'd know."

I pointed my wand at him. "Stupe..."

"Stop!" Hagrid intervened. "What are ye boys doing? Don't make everything difficult..."

Just as he said that, Draco stumbled on a root and fell. By the time it got him to get back on his feet, we couldn't find Hagrid anymore.

"What the..." Draco commented.

I heard a weird noise. I put my arm in front of Draco, not to let him proceed.

I tried to squint ahead, even though the sky was dark.

Draco took his wand out of his pocket. "Lumos," he whispered.

A small light, like a torch, appeared in front of us.

What we saw in front of us was appaling! A man in his fifties, crouched down, drinking the blood from a unicorn.

"What for?" Draco asked me.

"Dunno," I replied, out of breath. "I didn't even know unicorns were real until now."

After a very short while, the man was gone, almost as if he had disappeared.

"Not to alarm you," a gentle voice behind us said, "But I have a suspicion, and it's not good."

We turned around, screaming. The person who spoke was a good looking man who was a horse from the waist down. A centaur.

"Who the hell are you??" Draco asked, pointing his wand to the centaur.

"My name is Firenze," he said. "And I live with my brethren in the forest. I think that the man who just drunk from the unicorn was Voldemort."

"Don't say his name," Draco hissed. He looked at me concerned, probably to see if I was scared.

"I say his name all the time," I said. "So, Firenze, if that man really was Voldemort, why would he be drinking from a unicorn?"

"That's the reason I said I thought it would be You-Know-Who," the centaur said. "Always been obsessed with living forever. It is well known that unicorn blood grants you a few more years, and makes you stronger. You know what happened that night, eleven years ago, when you, Harry Potter, got that scar. Voldemort was almost destroyed by the attempt."

Draco looked at me. "Must be terrible that everyone always know your name, huh?" he asked, in a tone he must have thought was comforting.

"Why are you trying to be friendly?" I snapped. "I don't see Dudley anywhere. Unless it was him drinking unicorn blood. Must have thought it would grant him magical powers."

Draco smirked, which proved my suspicions to be true. There was no friendship between the two of us, just a mutual hate for Dudley.

"Before you go back," Firenze said, holding my arm. "I have something to tell you, Harry Potter. We centaurs read the omens in the sky. Voldemort is back. He's looking for something at Hogwarts."

"Let's go back," Draco said, looking a little scared despite himself. "Somebody else drank tonight, and it wasn't unicorn's blood."

I had to agree with him, partly. Too bad that Firenze looked like a nice man. Creature.

"Thank you, but if you're concerned," I said. "You should not tell me. You should tell Dumbledore."

Either way, I did not forget about his words.

What if what Voldemort was supposedly looking for was beneath the trapdoor?

Chapter Text

Hermione insisted that I spent more time studying, so it was almost the end of the first year of school before I could act on my idea.

I mean, she wasn't wrong, it's just that I didn't want to face head on something that was clear -- studying had never been my forte, not even in Muggle schools. Learning about magic wasn't that much different. For some reasons, I don't know if they had to do with my personal life, with my learning style or with my attitude, I simply was too reckless to concentrate.

A really nice Ravenclaw girl a few years older than us really did help me in my studies. Her name was Padma Patil and she had a twin, Parvati, who was in Gryffindor. She was friends with Fred Weasley, one of Ron's many older brothers, who coincidentally had a twin too, George. Fred and George are both in Gryffindor, but they share study groups with Ravenclaws because they're seriously clever in a street smart way.

Ron has three other older brothers, Percy, who is prefect of Gryffindor, and Bill and Charlie, who are older and don't go to school anymore. He has a little sister, Ginny, who will start attending Hogwarts next year.

"Hey," Fred teased me, one day that I had just finished studying with Padma. "Someone's got a crush, eh?"

He savoured the look on my face for about a second, before bursting into laughter. "Oh! I see! You like boys, like Georgie."

"Come off it," George told him. "You don't have to tell everyone, you know."

"Just because you're not over your breakup with..."

"Don't say his name," George advised Fred. I had never seen him look so serious. The twins were both pranksters.

"Have you dated You-Know-Who?" I asked, trying to turn the whole thing into a joke before I had to say what I was into. I had never thought about it.

I had forced myself not to think about it.

"Nah, just one of the most popular boys at school," Fred said, winking at me.

"Just because you look like me, it doesn't give you bragging rights that I've dated... erm... that person," George said. "Either way, don't pay attention to Fred, Harry. It's him who has a huge crush on Padma."

In that moment, I was joined by Ron and Hermione. I was relieved.

"Harry," Hermione said. "I've been thinking about it, and you were right. We should really check out what's under the trapdoor."

"You two don't have to come along, if you don't want to," I said. What was I thinking, when I told them? Whatever was down there, it was probably dangerous.

"But we want to come!" Ron said. "You owe me this, since you didn't let me punch Dudley for you."

Hermione smiled with second-hand embarrassment.

I led my friends to the corridor on the third floor, and then into the room. I was glad that they didn't ask me how I found it. I couldn't just say 'this is where I played chess with Draco Malfoy, on Christmas'.

I opened the trapdoor. Thankfully, there were stairs under it.

When we followed them down, they led us to a small dim-lit room.

"I hope there aren't any spiders there..." Ron said.

In that moment, a man wearing a mask appeared before us!

"Bloody hell," Ron muttered, and looked for his wand. As many other Gryffindors, he always welcomed a good duel.

The man with the mask started throwing jinxes in his direction! Most of that stuff, we didn't even hear of it, let alone study it. Thankfully, Ron decided to take care of him. With a few Stupeficium and Expelliarmus, he didn't seem to be doing bad.

"Harry! Hermione!" he said. "You two go along, and look for whatever's hidden here!"

"Ron!" Hermione yelled, her dark brown eyes open wide. "We can't leave you here!"

"We have no choice," I said, though it broke my heart to leave Ron to duel that man. "If there is somebody guarding the door, it means that door leads somewhere."

In fact, behind the man there was a door.

Hermione and I hurried along, and opened the door.

There was a different room.

A sphinx, much like the one they have in Egypt, was the only thing in the room.

"Perhaps there's something hidden in it, in some sort of secret passage..." Hermione started saying.

"Stop right there, girl," the sphinx said. "Since I have heard it said that you're the brightest in your class, I want to ask you a questions."

"You said you heard," I commented. "From whom do you hear the rumors, down there? Snape?"

"Harry," Hermione shrieked. "What do you think you're doing? Now's not the time!"

"My question is not a riddle," the sphinx said. "I know who your father is. Muggle. Mr Granger. A dentist. Died three years ago, of cancer."

"See, Harry, are you happy now?" Hermione sobbed. "I don't think Snape could have known that."

"My question is -- if you knew of a way to bring him back, but that he was only a shadow, unhappy to be there, would you? Or would you let nature follow its course?"

I thought the answer was easy. I would have done anything to see my parents, even just once. Anything.

"Of course," Hermione replied proudly. "I would let nature follow its course."

The sphinx moved. Beneath it, there was another trapdoor.

"That was a good answer," it said. "Now I know that you have the heart, and the brain, to get hold of whatever is hidden here."

The passage was really small, big enough for one person.

"Harry, you should be the one to go," Hermione said.

"No," I croaked. "You heard the sphinx. You've got the heart and the brain. I don't. And Ron? I can't compete with his bravery. If the sphinx had asked me, I would have told it I wanted to see my parents again. I'm a rotten son, as well."

"Harry," Hermione said. "Ron is the bravest wizard I know... don't tell him I said that! And I might have the brains... but you're the most just person I have ever met. Which means that, if there's one thing that's right to do, you'll do it."

"Besides," she added. "You're meant to go. This is a metaphor for the Three Brothers."

"What?"

"It was briefly mentioned in a book in the library. A fairytale written by Beedle the Bard. Three brothers meet Death, and Death grants them a wish each. The first brother gets the Elder Wand, which is the most powerful wand of all. He's very combative -- that would be Ron. The second brother gets the Resurrection Stone, to see his family again. He was emotional, and missed his family a lot -- that would be me."

I blinked at her.

"Harry," she added gently. "The sphinx asked me the question, and not you, because it wanted to tempt me. I have replied the answer I thought was the right one, not necessarily the one my heart desires. The sphinx must have thought I was the most likely to be led into temptation.

Either way, the third brother gets the Invisibility Cloak. At the end of the day, his gift was the best of all, because he did not use it to escape Death. He was humble and wise, just like you."

"I do not feel especially wise," I said.

"But, you know what's waiting for you now, right?" Hermione asked me. "In the next room."

"The Invisibility Cloak," I realized.

Chapter Text

When I walked down the stairs beneath the sphinx, I found myself in a room with almost no light at all.

I was about to take out my wand and do the same spell Draco had done when we were in the forest, when I heard something slithering at my feet.

I looked down. I didn't need light to know that the thing that was crawling near my legs was Quirrel's snake!

I realized, then, that the man with the mask who was battling Ron must have been Quirrel himself. The lithe physique and medium height was just the same as our Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.

But why had Quirrel remained in the first room, while his snake was waiting for me there? Was it more important than its master?

At the very end of the room, on the wall that was opposite the door, there was a mirror. I realized it was the Mirror of Erised!

That was when Dumbledore had hidden it. Then, the headmaster must have known about this room, I realized. He must have hidden the Invisibility Cloak there himself.

I wondered whether the Mirror had something to do with the Invisibility Cloak. However, it was hard to make that connection with a huge reptile crawling near your feet and hissing at you!

I tried to send a few spells at the snake with my wand, while all the while I was asking myself why it was there instead of Quirrel.

Then, I took a look in the Mirror. Maybe, I could find a way to make whatever appeared there true. If only my parents could get out of there and help me...

But when I looked in the Mirror, I didn't see anything! Maybe, it was because I was in great danger. There was nothing I wanted more than to save myself, my friends, and perhaps the whole school, from Quirrel. What if that was impossible, and counted as if I didn't want anything?

But then I realized. In the Mirror, I did not even see myself. When I say I didn't see anything, I meant that there was the whole room with no one in it. No, there was something in a corner... a snake slithering!

In the Mirror, I had seen myself wearing the Invisibility Cloak!

I looked at my arms, and my legs. For some strange magic that I couldn't fathom, I really was wearing the Invisibility Cloak. This was not how the Mirror worked -- in fact, my parents had never been there with me. Not really.

But how was I supposed to kill the snake? I was very happy I got the Invisibility Cloak, but it didn't make me invincible.

Just when I was thinking about that, the snake charged and bit me.

Before I passed out, my last thoughts went to Ron and Hermione. What would happen to them? Who would find us?

 

I found myself lying in a bed in the nursery. Dumbledore was near my bed.

"I know what you're thinking about," he said, as soon as I opened my eyes. "You're wondering whether someone will bring you a nice hot cup of tea. I think, what the situation requires, is a cup of chocolate tea."

He gave me a warm cup in my hands. "Don't tell McGonagall, though," he added. "She fancies I'm an English Breakfast kind of man."

"Sir," I said. "With all due respect, I was thinking about a couple of other things. Like Hermione and Ron, for example. What happened to them?"

"Don't worry, they're alright. Your friend Neville warned the teachers that you were nowhere to be found and, thankfully, Hermione met us halfway. Ron has been harmed, but he's recovering. He only had a broken arm, which is, if you don't mind me saying it, very little damage for an eleven year old student fighting a man like Professor Quirrel."

"Oh, so you know who it was!" I said. "He wanted the Invisibility Cloak."

"I know, I know," Dumbledore replied cheerfully. "You have been very brave, and just. If you hadn't been so humble, and so pure at heart, the Invisibility Cloak would have never shown itself to you. That is why I won't feel even a little guilty if I say that, now, you are its rightful owner."

"But... I don't want it! Sir," I tried to reason. "One of my teachers would have killed to get his hands upon it. I don't feel like I could be trusted with something like that."

"Then, you're a much better man than me," Dumbledore said. "I was the previous owner. I have looked for the object for a very long time. I think that it will be better in your hands. The man who wouldn't fight for it is the man who deserves it."

"I... thanks," I replied. Since I had never heard such compliments from an adult before, I felt myself obliged to show him I was grateful.

And I was. Dumbledore was the best man that I had ever known, and I couldn't imagine me being better than him.

"Oh, right, I've been meaning to ask you about Quirrel's snake," I said then.

Dumbledore looked thoughtful for a minute. "I suppose hiding it from you would do more bad than good. You see, Voldemort, when he was still around, used to be able to turn into a snake. There are certain types of wizards that can turn into animals, and they're called Animagi. It's a difficult technique, but it can be learned."

"So the snake was... Is he still around?"

"We can't know for sure, nobody does. Let's just say that, that night when he failed to kill you, he was not killed either. The effort hurt him greatly, but I've always known he would recover, sooner or later."

"Good, he recovered just in time for me to come to Hogwarts," I muttered. "Great timing."

Dumbledore chuckled lightly. "Think of it as an opportunity," he said. "And then, you found the Invisibility Cloak. I will talk about this to the Ministry of Magic though, between the two of us, I don't trust their judgement much. They have always been very close minded when it came to Voldemort."

I noticed Dumbledore called You-Know-Who by his name, just like I did.

"Either way, we'll try to establish whether the snake is Volemort himself or another Animagus. I, in fact, highly doubt that it was simply Professor Quirrel's pet."

When Dumbledore left and I was alone sipping from my cup of tea, I realized something.

It was only a few days before I had to go back to the Dursleys, and, in case they asked me or Dudley about this school, I had no idea what it was that we could reply.

Chapter Text

Malfoy Manor was cold even in the summer.

I had never noticed it before, not really.

But then I went to Hogwarts, and I found out that a lot of things I was used to, they just didn't make sense anymore.

"Today is Harry Potter's birthday," I blurted out during lunch.

Not very subtle, but Harry Potter was one of the things that intrigued me the most about Hogwarts.

"Good on you for knowing," my father commented slowly. "Do you want to send him a letter? Perhaps a little present?"

He smirked. It was barely noticeable, but enough visible to make me wish I hadn't spoken. He was being sarcastic, obviously.

I would have turned pink, but, when I'm ashamed, my face manages to do something worse. It drains me of all color.

"You don't even remember my own birthday!" Martin, sitting on my left, mouthed.

"It's the 3rd of December," I replied coldly.

I didn't want to fight with Martin, but he never understood my own ambitions. He was a playmate my parents picked for me when I was too little to have any choice in the matter.

Harry Potter could be an achievement I could make for myself.

"What do you think of Harry Potter?" I asked my parents, too stubborn to pretend I wanted to talk about anything else.

"Of course, we are happy that he did, whatever he did, to save the world from the Dark Lord," my mother said shyly. "Isn't it what everybody wants to hear, anyway?"

My father was about to bite back, but she stopped him.

"We were nothing more than servants under his rule," she said, suddenly cold. "We were his slaves. You know it, too, Lucius."

At the word "slaves", my father smiled to himself and kicked something under the table.

I cringed. I had tried all my life to understand my father's motives, see the good person he could be. He certainly didn't make my job any easier.

"Ouch, Mister Malfoy," Martin whined. "I think that was my leg!"

"I'm truly sorry," my father said slyly. "I thought it was the House Elf. Sometimes it hides under the table looking for food."

He made a disgusted face as he said it.

"How are you getting on with your studies?" my father asked me. "I trust the tutors I picked for you have helped you during the summer. The name Malfoy still inspires loyalty to some people."

He looked at my mother as he said this. It seemed that my father missed the times when Voldemort was powerful, while my mother not so much, despite her own sister still being at Azkaban for the crimes she had committed under the Dark Lord's name.

"Good marks aren't everything," I bragged. "I'm one of the youngest Seekers in a very long time."

"So is Harry Potter. And, as you seem to be so keen to point out today, he's younger than you are, even if just by a couple of months. Not to mention, I seem to remember Gryffindor won the Quidditch Cup, so he's apparently a better player, too," my father replied calmly.

"Goyle's father told me there is one student whose marks are much, much worse than Draco's. Draco's marks are just a bit below-average." My mother came to my rescue.

"Yes," my father agreed cruelly. "Does he happen to be Dudley Dursley, the Muggle? Perhaps we should send the House Elf at school next semester. As long as they hold a wand, they're capable of magic just like anyone else. Well, maybe, they could not compare to the Dark Lord, but it doesn't take much to be more magical than Draco."

"I think your bloodline is too pure, Mister," Martin added unhelpfully. "Relationships with Muggles and Muggle-borns usually stregthen the magician's blood."

"I can't see why," my father said. "Zero multiplied by any number always equals to zero."

I was allowed to have Martin as a friend because he came from a family that had been very close to some American powerful Dark Wizard. But Martin's blood wasn't pure, and our families held different views about what that meant.

Apparently, Martin thought it made me weaker.

"Hogwards is really hard," Martin broke the tension. "To be fair, my marks aren't much better than Draco's. Now that I think about it, I failed my last Charms exam, so Draco is technically a better student than I am."

That was an outright lie, but, like many lies, it seemed to make my father happy.

At least for a while.

"Goyle's marks are pretty low too, Snape tells me." He replied. "If you keep hanging around with them, people will soon notice it's no coincidence you picked the only students dumber than you as your friends."

Martin ate a mouthful of porridge to keep himself from squeal in horror at being compared to Goyle.

"It's not true!" I said. "For instance, I'm not Dudley Dursley's friend! Even if Pansy Parkinson keeps on saying I should be! Perhaps I should be Harry Potter's friend! He and his friends are pretty clever. I might even have a chance to figure out how he did that thing he did to the Dark Lord..."

My father grabbed me by my shirt. "Now, you listen very well, boy. Whatever Harry Potter did, it was luck. There is no way he could have defeated Him because he was more powerful. Otherwise, why would a man like me didn't try? Did you think I was happy being treated as a servant?"

I shook my head no, suddenly extremely ashamed. My father was all-powerful, and always right. And who was I to state the opposite? Just some eleven-year-old who got jealous over Neville Longbottom, because he had caught Harry Potter's attention in a way I hadn't managed to.

"I'm happy the Dark Lord is gone," my mother spoke so softly she was probaby afraid Voldermort could hear her. "He didn't want his group of friends to have children, just for fear of eventually being overcome by one of them."

No wonder he preached those ideas of pure-blood, I almost said. In that way, nobody would ever have been powerful enough.

"Harry Potter managed to smuggle his Muggle cousin at school," my father mused, delighted by his own pun. "So, I'll give you that Draco -- he's either very powerful, or a very good friend of Dumbledore's."

"My parents are good friends of Dumbledore's, now," Martin added. "They say it's all a matter of boot-licking. Sometimes it's just hard to figure out whose boots to lick."

My father's face turned sour. Except for his Voldermort phase, the only boots he would lick until they shone were his own.

In the meatime, I found it simply increbidle that somebody as talented and as famous as Harry Potter always managed to be outshined by his dumb Muggle cousin.

I had begun to hate Dudley almost parodically during the summer, because it was the one thing Harry and I had in common.

"At least, you managed one thing right," my father said. "When I gave you all the right answers to be sorted into Slytherin, I wasn't sure you'd accomplish that."

I knew what he meant to say. I should have not cared, and see for myself where I got sorted. But, in the end, I had followed his advice. He always counted on my cowardice for his plans to work.

"The next semester, it'll be of the outmost importance to be in Slytherin," my father smiled in his cup of tea. "I dare say, anyone who's not in the House, might not survive."

Chapter Text

On my birthday, my uncle Vernon invited Mr Mason, a very wealthy man who lived in our neighbourhood, to "secure a huge order for his drill company".

Dudley and I had been instructed on what to say. We had to tell him that we both went to the same school, a very prestigious boarding school in the North, where we had two very different records.

Dudley had been admitted for his wonderful grades, and he was a perfect student. I was admitted as a charity case, and not only I wasn't very good, I was also rebellious, and they often caned me.

"That is, of course, true," Dudley told me when he was fixing his tie. "So, you shouldn't think of it as lying."

"Not a word of it is true," I hissed at him.

"Well, I am not a perfect student because who would want to be a bloody wizard anyway? But I'm pretty popular with girls," Dudley smirked and smiled at himself in the mirror. "While you... they don't punish you only because Dumbledore adores you, but you keep breaking rules. And, either way, your grades aren't much better than mine."

That was a low blow, considering Dudley kept taking Ds (Dreadfuls) and also had a few Ts (Trolls), which was the worst grade ever. However, he did good in subjects in which he had to study and repeat like a trained parrot whatever professors said, and so his grades were good enough that he wouldn't be expelled.

I never knew, actually, whether one could be expelled from Hogwarts because of their grades, but I was sad it wasn't happening to Dudley. A quick test, and everyone would have noticed he was a Muggle.

While Dudley was finishing putting grease in his hair, Vernon called for us and said it was time to eat.

Mr Mason fixed his eyes on me.

"I've heard you're quite the rebel," he said. He sounded slightly amused. "Petunia and Vernon said a lot of things about you."

Petunia chocked on her carrot. For the first time in her life, she had seemed to notice how all the talk they made about me in front of strangers could be mistaken for carefulness. While, on other days, they didn't actually talk about me that much, so I had never any doubt that they really didn't care.

For example, inviting Mr Mason over on my birthday? I wasn't giving myself any dumb idea on how they really felt about me. But maybe... I could have used that as a means to make trouble...

I looked at the pear and chocolate cake Petunia had bought, for Mr Mason, obviously.

"A cake for my birthday?" I asked, enjoying the horrified looks from everybody in the room. "You shouldn't have..."

"Return to your room, boy," Vernon hissed loudly in my ear. "You know we're not celebrating your birthday."

He grabbed me by the collar and started pushing me up the stairs. "You know what?" I said. Most of times, I didn't want to fight back. But this time, I couldn't be stopped. "Every time you invite someone over, and you treat me like this, you actually fool yourself that they don't see it! But they do! I don't think Mr Mason is especially dumb, though to be your friend, he actually might be..."

I never finished that phrase. Vernon threw me across the floor, and I landed on my butt with a violent thud.

"That is exactly why," he said. "You'll stay in your room without dinner. Since you can't behave..." before he went away, he kicked me in the face.

 

While I was wiping away the blood from my nose, I looked up and saw a strange creature gazing back at me. It took all my willpower not to scream.

"Harry Potter is hurt!" the creature was saying. "My master told me to make sure Harry Potter was safe... no... no... Dobby is a bad servant... Harry Potter was hurt on my watch..."

The creature was about to hit its head against the wall, when I stopped it.

"What are you?" I asked. "Who's your master?"

It only replied to the first question. "My name is Dobby. And you don't understand! If Dobby misbehaves, Dobby must punish himself..."

"It's not your fault that I was hurt," I replied, taken aback. Who could his master possibly be?

Dobby had a humanoid face with long ears and he was smaller and thinner than most people. He was not as cute as elves and fairies were in children's books, though. I recognized from the illustrations we had on books.

Dobby was a House Elf.

I tried to remember what we had learnt about it, because Hermione had been especially interested when we came to that chapter. Basically, years ago, a few rich wizarding families had House Elves that helped them in any matter. It was not illegal to have one now, but it was something almost nobody did, out of respect for those creatures.

I felt a knot in my throat. Dobby's master couldn't be too kind. It's true, they didn't want to see me hurt, but they had a house elf in the first place. Maybe it was Voldemort. Maybe he wanted someone to bring me to him alive.

While I was making that assumption, Dobby opened his eyes wide, escaped from my grip and almost hurled himself against the wall.

"Bad servant! Dobby did not reply to Harry's question! Master told Dobby to treat Harry like another master..."

"Don't punish yourself, just reply my questions now," I said. "Who's your master, and why did they send you to me?"

"Dobby's little master is Draco Malfoy," Dobby said. "And Dobby was sent to tell Harry Potter not to come back to Hogwarts."

I felt hurt. Then, I realized Draco Malfoy and I had never been friends. The moments I had spent with him had never meant nothing to him, he was doing all of that just to get back at Dudley, because he was in love with Pansy...

I heard somebody coming up the stairs.

"Quick! Hide!" I told Dobby.

The house elf hid in the closet.

Vernon entered the room again. "I've come to tell you something," he said. "Petunia and I have been talking about it, and we realized that this kind of punishment has never gotten through to you. So, we'll try with something different."

"Kindness?" I asked sarcastically.

Vernon's face became very red. "No, we won't let you go back to that school of yours. We'll ask Dudley to make a spell that makes you stay confined in your room."

"Dudley can't do spells during the summer," I said. "He will be kicked out of Hogwarts." I did not even know why I bothered explaining it to them.

"I don't think they will notice, since Dudley is considered a Muggle by law," Vernon replied.

"Let him try," I snarled. "I don't think a Hogwarts student is still considered Muggle by law, Dumbledore would never let something so careless happen! Besides, Dudley has never been good at magic. Perhaps he'll try to confine me, and it will result in something different."

"Maybe he will make that hideous scar disappear," Vernon said, disgusted. "And then you wonder why we never want to have you over when there are guests?"

"And by the way," Vernon added, before he left. "Your blood is on the floor. Wipe it away."

Dobby tried to talk sense into me, later, but I made him go away. He had had what he wanted after all -- I wouldn't go to Hogwarts.

Vernon gave me a few things to eat for supper.

On the first day, he did that every time the family ate.

On the second day too.

On the first week as well.

Then, one day, I heard somebody knocking on my window. I had never tried to escape from there because I was a clumsy boy with no contact lenses (the Dursleys didn't want me to wear anything magical) and I was afraid the fall would break my glasses.

I looked at the person who had knocked.

It was Ron! He was flying on... a magic carpet, like Aladdin's?

"Harry! Hop on! Hermione told me about the Muggle story about a magic carpet," he told me, when I opened the window. "Turns out, there is such a thing. Hermione's family is from Persia, and that's where the myth originated. It didn't take long for her to start reading Muggle books to look for new spells, sneaking away from her mother, obviously..."

At some point of the conversation, I hopped on the carpet and stopped listening to Ron.

"What's the matter with you?" he asked, then. "Are you sad?"

I've just been hit and almost starved, but no, I'm totally alright. Ten out of ten.

"Draco Malfoy sent his house elf to tell me he doesn't want me to come back to Hogwarts," I muttered instead.

I didn't know why, since I had many other problems, but those words hurt very much to say out loud.

"Where are we going, anyway?" I asked.

"To visit my family," Ron said. "I think you'll like it."

Chapter Text

"So, guess what I heard one day when I was eavesdropping on Mom and Dad," Ron told me at breakfast, pouring juice into my glass.

"You hear that, Fred?" George asked his twin. "Ron eavesdrops. What a rebel."

They often talked like that in front of Ron, but their tone was affectional. Percy had only said a few words to me the day before, and Ginny seemed pretty uncomfortable to be in the same room as me.

"I think she has a crush on you," Molly Weasley, Ron's mom, had told me.

When she noticed I couldn't find the words, she added, "Don't worry. I know my daughter, she's only infatuated because you're older and famous. But, once she gets to Hogwarts, she'll fall in love for the first time, and for real."

I couldn't help but agree with her, though deep down it embarrassed me to talk about those things with adults. I didn't know Ginny, but, for example, I had never been infatuated before and I knew that once I would fall in love, I'd be able to state the difference between the two.

"What have you heard?" I asked Ron.

"Don't tell anyone," he whispered. "But Lucius Malfoy, Draco's father, was a Death Eater."

"What.. are... those?" I asked.

"Oh, right, you don't know. Those are people who used to work for You-Know-Who back in the day. You know, he's always been very secretive, so they kind of did his dirty job for him."

"Neat," I replied.

"Are you even listening to me?" Ron complained.

"I am, and I am sure it's juicy gossip, but... how can I tell you in a way you'd understand? I'm not interested in anything related to Draco or his family."

At least, that was what I was telling myself.

"Do you know that Hermione's family goes every summer in holiday in Iran?" he asked then. "That sounds amazing. I wish we could do things like that..."

Ron's voice broke when he saw the look in his father's eyes. Arthur Weasley was a good man, like everyone in Ron's family, I hadn't known them for long but I kind of wished they were my family. Either way, he was also a bit eccentric, but proud. And rightfully so, I think it would hurt every parent to hear their son speak like that.

"I think spending the holidays here is way cooler," I beamed at Mr Weasley.

"Tomorrow," Ginny found the courage to join the conversation. "We're going to Diagon's Alley to get the things for Hogwarts!"

"She's very excited because it's her first year," Ron said. I remembered, and I tried not to blush at the idea that she had a crush on me.

Because of Mr and Mrs Dursley who would never be okay with it, I had never had the chance to tell anyone I thought I was gay.

I didn't want Ginny to be the first to hear that.

 

The day before, we really went to Diagon's Alley to get all of our things.

"Your rat is getting old," George reminded Ron. "Do you want to choose another pet?"

"I thought it was a mouse," I said.

"No, it's a pet rat," Ron explained. Then, he turned to the twins. "And don't cross your bridges before you come to them -- it's not like I can bury him before he's dead."

While Ginny was shopping for the books in the book list, I saw a pale boy with shoulder length pale blond hair. I hid behind a shelf, and listened to the conversation between Draco and his father.

"I thought you didn't... ow!" Ron complained. I had stepped on his foot.

"Okay, okay, I get it," he whispered. "Eavesdrop all you like, but share the juicy bits later."

I didn't know if I wanted to do that, but I nodded.

"You do realize that, this year, your grades need to be better than the last, right?" Lucius was telling Draco in a voice that gave me the chills. I had to remind myself that I didn't care if Draco's father was nice or not.

"I'm not the worst, I told you, Martin Kowalski is the worst in Slytherin," Draco lied. Not that he was the worst in Slytherin, he was too clever to be. But his grades were really bad, and Martin's were better.

"Talking to a few other parents, I heard the story of how Harry Potter and his friends saved the school from Professor Quirrel. And one of his friends, Granger, was raised by Muggles. Not only you know what I think about that, but, even if such things did not matter, and they do, she was not raised in the wizarding world. How can she be better than you?"

Draco did not reply. His body became very stiff.

"Not that being Harry Potter's friend is an honour," Lucius said. "He's just a pathetic Dumbledore bootlicker who was raised by Muggles just like Granger. If you ask me, I think the rumors are true. The most important thing about him is that horrible scar of his, and even the story of how he got it becomes very boring after a while."

Draco did not even breathe.

"Do you agree?" his father asked, voice full of poison.

"I... I do," Draco stammered.

I punched the shelf, and a few books came crashing down. But it made no sense -- since when did I care about Draco Malfoy? A spoiled child who had never worked to get something for himself. Who knew who he thought himself to be, just because he was that very good-looking. His gray eyes were cruel, either way, and his smirk looked like he had always stepped in mud and dirtied his shoes.

And I already knew he didn't like me. He didn't even want me to go back to Hogwarts.

"Are you alright?" somebody asked me.

I was about to snap at the person, who was a handsome blond man, when I remembered I had seen his face before.

On Ginny's school books! He was Gilderoy Lockhart, and he was our new Professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts.

"I... um... yes."

"I saw how you punched that wall," he said. "You might just be about to become my best student. Why, I've written a book where I say of how I defeated a tribe of trolls just by punching them..."

"Thanks?"

"Don't mention it." He looked at my scar. "You're Harry Potter! What a nice coincidence. My manager always told me if I were to invite another star at my book signings, I'd sell even more copies. But I've never met anyone quite as famous as me... until you!"

He grabbed me by the sleeve. I noticed, with horror, that there was a book signing going on. Gilderoy had, apparently, written many books about his wonderful adventures.

"No," I protested loudly. "No, let me go, I won't sign anything!"

"A humble enfant prodige," Gilderoy said. "I wish I was, but alas, ever since I got sorted into the house of Slytherin, I always knew fame and fortune would be waiting for me."

Before Lockhart could bring me to the table, a few photographers of the event rushed in to take pictures of myself standing next to him.

Things couldn't have been worse.

But oh no -- apparently, they could have been.

Draco Malfoy made his way towards us.

"Do you want Harry Potter's autograph?" Gilderoy asked him.

"We go to school together, and he's a loser," Draco said. "You can't really tell me he's giving away signed books for something he's done accidentally when he was one year old."

"I... I'm not," I started to say. "It's a misunderstanding." But Draco did not seem to believe it, so I added, out of spite, "You're just jealous."

He looked at Gilderoy, who had an arm around my shoulder, with an expression similar to despair. But then, he grinned. "Oh. Jealous... of you? When I come out of Hogwarts, I'll do wonderful things and you won't do anything, and everybody will feel foolish they liked you for something you did as a child. I wish people would forget it, but you know," he looked at my scar. "It's not like it's easy to forget about it."

"Maybe for you," I said. "Must have been since that time that your father is unemployed."

Draco looked like he was sick. And ready to punch me.

"Don't fight at my signing session!" Gilderoy pleaded. "Even though bad press is still press, like my agent always says. Still, don't."

Ron tapped gently on my shoulder. "We got your books, Harry. Let's go." He looked at Draco with a homicidal look in his eyes.

"Want my autograph?" Gilderoy asked Ron.

"Who's this bloke?" Ron asked.

"No idea, but he's been acting pathetic the whole time," Draco said.

"Have you looked in a mirror recently?" I asked Draco.

"Either way," I told Ron. "He's our new teacher of Defence Against the Dark Arts. Gilderoy Lockhart."

"Oh no," he commented darkly. "My mom's got his books. There's loads of incredible stuff in them -- I've always thought he was a phony."

"So, what do you reckon?" I asked. Draco had already went away.

"I think," George, who had heard the conversation, said, "that after what happened with the last Professor, this time Dumbledore has decided to go soft and choose one who won't be able to teach us anything."

Chapter Text

The 9/34 platform wouldn't let Hermione, Ron and I pass.

Hermione had offered to go to the station with Ron and I, and I had no doubt in my mind she was starting to regret it.

"I... erm... it's probably my fault," I admitted. "I mean, Dobby's fault... you know the House Elf I told you about? He clearly said Draco Malfoy didn't want me to go back to Hogwarts."

"But how could Malfoy be able to do magic like that?" Ron asked.

"Maybe it was his father," Ron mumbled. "Or maybe elves can do magic we know nothing about."

Hermione's eyes lit up. I could tell she was about to explain in detail how much she would have liked to study elves magic, when her expression became sad all of a sudden.

"We can't risk not going to Hogwarts!" she stomped her feet in frustration.

"Makes me ask whether there's another way to reach the school," I said.

"A way that doesn't break any rule? Not likely," she replied.

"Well, you decide," Ron said. "Which one would you prefer? Bend a few rules, or not going to Hogwarts this year?"

Hermione decided to listen to our propositions.

"I say we write a letter to Dumbledore to ask him to come take us to school," I said. "This way, we won't be breaking any rule."

"It takes too long," Ron said. "I say we borrow the Muggle car my dad's working on."

"I have another idea!" Hermione's eyes sparkled. "We could use my magic carpet!"

We looked at her, astounded.

"Your idea is the most likely to get us expelled," Ron said. "What if someone saw us?"

"You didn't seem to care when you used my carpet to go visit Harry," she replied slyly. "Besides, it was a very difficult spell. I'm sure Professor McGonagall would be very interested in taking a look at it, and tell me what I can improve..."

"Alright, alright," Ron said. "Magic carpet it is."

 

Hermione's carpet was big enough to fit the three of us. And, as soon as we climbed on top, it started flying.

"Do you know the way?" she asked Ron, who always wanted to 'drive', or whatever else you had to do. I admit I didn't understand how magic carpets worked.

"We'll follow the train," Ron said, pointing his finger beneath us. We could see the train to Hogwarts from there!

Hermione looked about to reply something, but she couldn't. The whole thing was crazy, but after all it had been her idea.

"Sure," she only said, weakly.

The travel was not one for the faint hearted, considering how many times I had my doubts the carpet would sustain our weight or that Hermione's charm wouldn't wear off.

However, we made it to the school in one piece.

Well, that was before we hit the Whomping Willow.

The carpet remained stuck on one of the branches, propelling my friends and I onto the ground below.

The first person who came to our aid was Professor Snape.

"Well, well, what do we have here?" he asked. "You see, Miss Granger, what happens when you play with fire."

"It's not like that! She didn't want to show off!" Ron replied angrily.

"The 9 3/4 platform wouldn't let us pass," I said.

"How funny," Snape said. "It even let pass your cousin, and I've heard rumors one of you was a Muggle in disguise. Or perhaps is it you, Potter. You certainly don't have better grades than Dursley in Potions."

Dumbledore followed shortly. Thank goodness for that. I didn't want to be the first twelve-year-old expelled for punching their Potions teacher in the face.

"This is certainly a unique way to get into the school, if I say so myself," he said. "In one of my trips to Arabia, I had aquired a magic carpet from a silk merchant. I know it takes a spell to activate it, and it's a difficult one. Congratulations to whomever of you was able to do it."

"It was Granger, sir," I told him.

"I expected no less," he said. "I can't give points to Gryffindor for this, since you broke more than a rule, but I hope Snape will understand if I don't expel the three of you."

 

On the second day, we had our first Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson.

Gilderoy Lockhart had been very annoying that day in the bookstore, so I tried not to look him in the eyes during class. I wanted to disappear.

It didn't work.

"I've heard about Potter," he said.

"We all have," Martin Kowalski said. Draco snickered.

"I mean, I've heard he went to school on a magic carpet," Lockhart continued. "What a power move! This is what I expect from my students... well, the ones who want to be successful in life."

"It wasn't only me, sir," I said. "It was my friends too. The carpet belonged to Granger, sir."

In fact, Hermione's magic carpet had been ruined beyond repair by the Whomping Willow.

"I don't understand," a Gryffindor named Dean Thomas said. "Why you haven't been expelled."

"Because," Draco replied viciously. "Potter needs Dumbledore to put him his contact lenses every morning, and Dumbledore knows that. Why, I bet Dumbledore even changes Potter's diapers."

"Guys, stop fighting!" Gilderoy said. "I've told you before. I think Potter needs to study more with Slytherins to achieve his potential. Was Slytherin the second House you scored on your test, Potter?"

"It was Hufflepuff, sir," I said.

"That is not a House," Draco said. "That's a joke."

"Malfoy, have you read all of my autobiographies?" Lockhart asked.

"What? Is there more than one of them?"

"Please, it's a saga. The Gilderoy Lockhart Series, as everyone should know. Well, if you'd read it, you'd know that people like you need people like Potter on their side."

"What do you mean by that?" Draco looked shocked.

"I mean that you are two of the male students with more potential, as far as becoming famous go. In fact, both of you have terrible grades. A way to fix those two things would be making you study together."

"No," Draco whispered. He looked as if the colour had drained from his face.

Of course, I realized. He would already have to see me every time we met up to talk about Dudley. He couldn't stand to see me more than that. Well, the feeling was mutual.

"Okay, okay," Lockhart said. "Sad to see a Slytherin who's not ready for fame yet. Potter, instead, will become the greatest star the wizarding world has ever seen under my guidance. I will become his manager, and you'll have to ask him for his autograph."

"I'd rather die," Malfoy replied.

"Hold on, hold on, I don't want to become a star. Much less have a manager!" I complained loudly.

Lockhart ignored me. "Class, let's open your textbook. Book one of the Gilderoy Lockhart Series, Gilderoy Lockhart and the Terrible Troll. I want you to read the first five chapters, and highlight every time I battled a dangerous creature or a dark wizard, and write down what weapons I used."

"I would feel much better about it," I told Ron, while I was reading from my book, "If his weapons weren't things like luck or love."

"Hey, don't underestimate the love the bartender had for him," Ron said half-jokingly. "Madame Muriel is my mother's favourite character."

Lockhart's first novel was short, though written in a snappy and catchy way that probably caught his agent's eyes. Though it was, as Hermione said, full of plot holes.

During the two hours of the class, most of the students were halfway the first novel. I'd always been slow at reading, even with Dumbledore's contact lenses, so I wasn't. But Hermione had finished it, and she said it wasn't that good.

"For our next lesson," Lockhart said. "I want all of you to read the first chapters of my second novel, Gilderoy Lockhart and the Pretty Pixie. I think you'll be able to tell that Madame Muriel won't be around for this one." Lockhart grinned.

"It's infuriating how such a clever and handsome man is a terrible author and an even more terrible person," Hermione commented.

"Yeah, well," Ron said angrily. "In my opinion, he's also ugly and dumb. What do you think, Harry?"

"I... I don't look at men," I replied awkwardly. "I don't have an opinion about... any of them."

"Are you sure you're alright, mate?" Ron asked.

"Sure," I replied, but in that moment we accidentally bumped into Dudley.

"How come you always bump into me?" he complained. "Do you get blinder every year?"

"Perhaps it's you who becomes dumber," I said. "I can't understand how you're fooling everyone, but they'll find out you're a Muggle. And they won't go easy on you."

"GO TO HELL!" Dudley spat. "You don't even know what I'm doing here."

"I don't," I agreed. "Do you?"

"Next time you talk to me like that," Dudley said. "I'll use my wand, and we both know I tend to make things explode..."

In that moment, he was interrupted by someone else.

"Hey Harry," it was Neville Longbottom. "I became friends with Ginny. And we were thinking... well, we don't want your autograph, but we believe Lockhart. You will become a big star."

I smacked my foreahead. I almost wished I hadn't found a way to go to Hogwarts.

Chapter Text

A month after school started, Dudley found the chance to make me pay for my rudeness.

"Very well," Gilderoy Lockhart was saying. "I've never taught a class, so I wasn't expecting kids your age to be this bright. You've already finished Gilderoy Lockhart and the Pretty Pixie, even though it was one hundred pages longer than the debut, and now you're ready to move on to the third -- Gilderoy Lockhart and the Shining Salamander."

Hermione raised her hand. "Sir?" she asked. "Can I ask a question?"

"Of course, I'm happy to add a few details to the books now and then," Lockhart winked. "My life has been too adventurous to be put into words, I only gave it a humble try..."

"Is it true that you can use Knockback Jinx to get rid of Pixies? It wasn't mentioned in the books, but I have read it in the library."

"Why would you read a book that isn't mine?" Gilderoy asked. Then, he laughed cheerfully. "Of course, miss Granger! As I said, I can't fit in there everything that happened to me. Anyone else have a question?"

My biggest question, after I had finished the book, was another. "I don't understand why it was relevant to the plot that the pixie was pretty," I whispered to Ron. Pixies were blue skinned creatures about eight inches long, which didn't look humanoid.

"Well," Ron whispered back. "In the book, it was the pixie who seemed interested in Lockhart, not the other way around. He probably didn't want to be courted by an ugly pixie."

"You two, in the second row, shut up," Lockhart said. "A shy student is holding out his hand."

We followed his gaze. The shy student was none less than... Dudley.

Ron and I snorted. Dudley wasn't shy, but he never had much to say during Defence Against the Dark Arts. It was a lesson that he, as a Muggle, could barely begin to understand.

"I was wondering..." Dudley said. "In the book, I have particularly liked that other jinx you have used to get rid of the pixies. Can we try it out with live pixies?"

All the other students started muttering at once, frightened. I, instead, decided to stand up to Dudley for once.

"Don't listen to him, he wouldn't be able to try out the jinx anyway," I said hotly. "He's a Muggle."

A few people looked uncomfortable, as if I had lost my mind. Nobody believed Dumbledore would let a Muggle in the school. I had trouble believing it myself. I even found myself questioning whether my cousin was part wizard.

"Who are you calling Muggle?" Dudley said. He pointed his wand at me, and said, "Stupefy!"

As it often happened, only sparks flew out of it. He probably wanted to scorch me, but he couldn't even do that.

I pointed my wand at Dudley before he could try out the jinx Gilderoy used on the pixies, and said, "Stupefy!"

We hadn't covered many spells in our lessons yet. I only knew Stupeficium because Dudley knew it, and a few others. We hadn't covered the basics rule of a duel, or how to simply disarm your opponent.

So, my spell hit Dudley right in the chest and made him fall backwards.

I didn't expect for it to work so well. Everyone who knew nothing of our personal history looked a bit horrified.

"Well, well, well," Martin Kowalski grinned. "I'll never say Harry Potter is a Squib anymore."

Gilderoy was red in the face. "Potter! Go straight to my office after the lesson!"

I felt my cheeks go red. Often, when Vernon hit me or Petunia was unkind to me, I wanted to fight back. I had the same urge every time Dudley bullied me. But to act on it... was I just as bad as them?

 

After the lesson, Gilderoy made me sit at his desk.

"My punishment will be replying to my fan letters," he said, a wicked gleam in his eyes.

"What?" I was surprised. I was expecting worse, but, at the same time, I really didn't want to write his letters for him either way. "I'm kind of a mess at writing and spelling," I excused myself. "No one would believe it's you, a published author."

"That's why," Gilderoy said. "You'll use this magic pen. Everything you'll write will come up in my handwriting, and written with my grammar style."

Lockhart tossed a pen to me. It was the same green as the banner of Slytherin.

When the Professor left the office, I started reading a few of the letters. Many of the fans told him they grew up with his books. Others told him how much they related to their characters. To a few women, it mattered very much to know that Madame Muriel was curvy just like them. One of those letters was from Molly Weasley, which struck me as weird, since I thought Ron's mother was very pretty in a motherly sort of way. Others wanted to know whether Muriel really was Gilderoy's girlfriend. After all, the books were published as autobiographies.

I tried to reply to every fan with poise and grace, as much as twelve-year-old could. It sickened me that Lockhart did not care about his fans at all.

When I was replying to Molly's letter, I heard a voice. It said, "The chamber of secrets has been opened."

I dropped the pen.

I was going crazy, I knew it. There was no way my imagination played such a trick on me. And besides, even if it had been only in my imagination, who was to say it wasn't crazy either way?

The voice said, again, "The chamber of secrets has been opened. Students from Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw beware."

I looked at the floor, to pick up the pen.

I shrieked. Near the pen, there was a snake! And twice as big as Quirrel's had been.

I tried to touch it. It seemed too strange to me that there was another snake at Hogwarts.

When I touched it with one finger, the snake disappeared. It had never been there! I had only imagined it all along!

I ran out of Lockhart's office. I met Gilderoy there, reading a few pages off something that looked like an old book.

"I..." I blurted out the first lie that came to mind. "I need to go to the bathroom, sir."

"You can use the one at my office," Gilderoy replied. "Nothing weird about it, you're not a girl. I was afraid one of them might steal one of my aftershaves, but after all..." he looked at my face. "Unless you like boys?"

I felt like a deer trapped between two headlights, and I really wanted to get out of that cursed office. "I... I'm afraid I might, sir," I replied.

Gilderoy blinked at me funnily, as if he had seen a crazy optical illusion. I darted down the corridor.

When I was far enough from Lockhart's office, I started breathing correctly. I tried not to think about what I told the professor, and decided to go back to my dorm.

If I had really lost my mind, after all I had seen a snake, the same animal I battled a few months before, then I needed to lay down on my bed a bit. Maybe tell the whole thing to Ron -- of course he'd understand.

But, before I could, I heard Dean Thomas talking to another Gryffindor -- Seamus Finnigan. "Have you heard?" Dean was saying. "They found proves that the snake Potter battled last semester was not You-Know-Who. He must be so embarrassed when he finds out!"

"I think," Seamus replied. "That he should write books like Gilderoy's. Harry Potter and the big snake fiasco."

The two boys bursted into laughter. I tried to tell myself to calm down, that they were only having fun.

But it was at my expenses.

I was about to tell them something, when I looked at the wall behind them. Slowly, a phrase started writing itself in a thick material that looked like blood.

'The... Chamber... of... Secrets... has... been... opened.'

And, under it, another sentence. It was smaller, and directed at me. 'Come to the chamber if you want to save your friends'.

"Are you seeing it too?" I asked Dean and Seamus. They wouldn't have been my first choice, but they were the only ones there. They looked at me as if they had seen a ghost. I suppose I looked frightening.

"What?" Seamus asked.

"On the wall!" I yelled loudly, like one afraid that he was losing his mind. "Written in blood! The Chamber of Secrets has been opened!"

"We... don't see anything of the sort," Dean replied. At my angry look, he quickly added, "There's nothing on the wall! Ask anyone, mate!"

In that moment, Dumbledore arrived.

"What happened?" he asked.

"Sir, look at the wall," I said. Surely Dumbledore would see it. I couldn't have become crazy all of a sudden.

Dumbledore looked at it. "It's a nice wall," he said. "I've had it built myself, with stones belonging to lakes. It has been demolished in the past, and it's fairly recent architecture, compared to the rest of the school."

"Sir," for the first time, I lost my patience even with Dumbledore. "That's not what I'm talking about... there's a sentence written in blood there..."

The headmaster looked at me concerned.

Seamus looked at him sheepishly. "Potter's lost his mind, sir," he explained.

Chapter Text

Filch was the school's caretaker, and a Squib. Squibs were born from wizarding families, but inherited no powers. Some of them choose to live amongst Muggles, other amongst wizards.

Filch also had a cat, Mrs Norris.

Mrs Norris had disappeared about the same moment I started yelling to the whole school crazy things about the Chamber of Secrets.

"Whatever happened to my cat, it's obvious that this boy's done it," Filch was telling Dumbledore.

"I need to talk to Potter alone, in my office," Dumbledore replied. "About what happened last semester."

I followed the headmaster gladly, though Filch looked at me as if to say 'it's not over'.

When we were inside his office, Dumbledore poured me a cup of tea.

"I've heard about the snake, sir," I replied.

"Don't beat yourself up," the headmaster replied. "Nobody could have known it wasn't You-Know-Who. Besides, you must agree that the snake wasn't an usual pet. If it would have been, Quirrel would have not let it guard the Invisibility Cloak. Something peculiar must have happened last year -- somebody, presumably You-Know-Who or someone who works for him, must have tried to confuse me on purpose."

I nodded in agreement. It would have taken the mind of a genius to fool someone like Dumbledore.

"So, don't worry about the rumors, you've done the right thing. And about the Chamber of Secrets..."

"So there is a Chamber of Secrets?" my heart skipped a beat.

"I'm not sure it's its proper name, but I think you haven't gone mad. See, there's an old legend about a chamber hidden in Hogwarts. They said a monster hid there, and that nobody knew how to open this chamber, but the heir of Slytherin could do it."

I had trouble breathing. "The voice I heard said people in Gryffindor, Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff should beware! This is why it hadn't mentioned Slytherin."

Dumbledore looked surprised that I heard voices as well, but did not comment.

"You see?" he asked. "You haven't gone crazy. What you're talking about matches the legends."

"Thanks sir!" I replied. "You really lifted my spirits!"

"Oh, and can I ask you a favour?" I added, blushing slightly. "Could you maybe... tell the students about the Chamber of Secrets?"

"Of course," Dumbledore replied quickly. "If the chamber from the voices and the one from the legends is one and the same, people need to know. I dare say that it would be dangerous to hide it from them."

 

So, the whole school got to know about the Chamber of Secrets, and things became a little less embarrassing.

But people started arguing, everyone wanted to be the one who found out who had opened the chamber, if anyone did.

Ron and Hermione talked about it all the time as well.

"I have just read about the Polyjuice potion in a book I borrowed from the library," Hermione said. "I'd love to try it! If only we had somebody we suspected, we could take their place and..."

"Hold on," Ron asked. "What does this potion do?"

"If you mix within the ingredients a body part, but it could very well be a hair, of a person, you'll become identical to them for a few hours! Maybe longer, but I wouldn't be good enough..."

"This year you're all about breaking rules," Ron widened his eyes.

"Only when it comes to knowledge," Hermione blushed.

I coughed into my hand. They looked at me. I had the most terrible idea in twelve years of bad ideas.

"I know who might have opened the chamber," I said. "Draco Malfoy."

"C'mon Harry!" Hermione protested. "You're just obsessed with him!"

Ron was nodding along to her words.

"I'm... what?"

I found irritating that they wouldn't fall for it. I needed to spy on Draco Malfoy. He hadn't spoken to me once since the school started, not even for the Anti Dudley alliance. I didn't miss him or anything, but the whole thing bothered me.

"Well," I said. "Dumbledore told me about the heir of Slytherin. If it's not Draco, it could be somebody from their House. Maybe even Snape. We should become Slytherins for a few hours and find out. Besides, you have to consider that I had been the one to hear the voices and see the writings on the wall. If it was part of an elaborate prank on me, Draco would be the most likely."

"Alright, but it might take me months to work on the potion," Hermione said. "And either way, I want to be Pansy Parkinson. I'd give anything not to be Goyle."

"Ron will be Goyle," I said, while Ron pretended to retch. "And I'll be Martin Kowalski."

"Okay," Ron replied. "It might be troubling to understand how to get rid of the three of them for a few hours, but, since even Hermione accepted, I'm in."

 

Not too long after that, we played our first Quidditch match of the year. Gryffindor against Slytherin.

Oliver Wood, captain of the team, tried to give me a pep talk before the game. Even though my head was elsewhere, I promised him I'd do my best.

After all, it was nice to play with friends. George and Fred Weasley were in the team too. But I had a huge problem -- Draco Malfoy was the Seeker of Slytherin. And how could I concentrate?

"Don't worry," Fred told me, before the game. "George's former boyfriend plays in Hufflepuff and, though it's awkward, we've never lost because of that."

"What's happened between me and Draco... it's nothing of the sort!" I complained.

Fred patted on my back, and didn't reply.

While I was flying on the broom, looking around for the Snitch -- because that was what Seekers did, try to capture a little flying golden Snitch -- I tried not to steal too many glances at Draco.

What was happening to me? Of course, the thought that in a few months I'd be impersonating Martin and interrogating him was making it hard to concentrate. I'd never gambled on something like that. It had to work.

While I was looking at Malfoy, something hit me.

I plummeted toward the ground, a pain unlike I've ever felt before in my right arm. It felt as if every bone, or at the very least a few of them, had been shattered. Everyone around me was screaming. I gathered that a Bludger, one of the balls we used in Quidditch, one made of iron, had hit my arm at full speed.

"You've got to hand it to them," Angelina, one of our players was explaining the teachers. "I don't know what happened, but it wasn't the Slytherins that hit Harry. It's like there was a curse on the Bludger!"

Gilderoy Lockhart was making his way towards the crowd. Even in my confusion, I could see his blond mane and his dashing red coat.

"Let me fix Potter's arm!" he said. "I have expertise. As anyone who was read my books knows, I have fixed many bones before."

He pointed his wand at my right arm. He mumbled a spell, and I heard a sound coming from my bones.

But the pain did not stop. Instead, it increased!

I let out a muffled scream, because I felt uncomfortable in front of a crowd.

"Somebody take him to Madam Pomfrey!" Hermione was shouting. Poppy Pomfrey was the healer who worked at the school nursery.

I felt a few people carrying me in their arms and taking me to the nursery. I did my best to ignore how painful whatever Lockhart had done to my arm was.

I must have passed out, because I found Oliver Wood there waiting for me, and I was in a bed, but I had no recollection of what had happened in the meantime.

"As captain of the team," Oliver said. "I wanted to be there. We won, anyway! You should have seen how Draco looked at the end of the game. How did George put it? He looked ready to kill."

I managed a very weak smile. "Do you know what Lockhart has done to my arm?" I asked.

"Oh yeah. Madam Pomfrey said the spell didn't come out right. It... inverted the positions of your bones, or something like that. She hid away your arm in a magical cast, because it looked hideous. Between the cast and the potion she gave you to drink, your bones will first be put in the correct position, and then heal."

Oliver's description made me feel even more exhausted than before.

"This is your right arm," Oliver added quietly. "Thank goodness it will heal pretty much overnight, but you'll feel it weaker for a while. Might be harder to play Quidditch."

"Or write," I commented. "Or do spells."

"Okay," Oliver said. I had never noticed how stiff he looked in social situations. "I'll show myself out."

"Thanks anyway," I blurted out. "For being there."

When Oliver left, Hermione and Ron came to visit me.

"I reckon that, at least, you won't feel alone. With so many visitors..." Ron said sheepishly, while he was giving me a chocolate frog.

"Ron," Hermione hissed. "We have to give him the news. Better now than later."

"What happened?"

"Neville Longbottom has disappeared."

Chapter Text

Professor Lockhart finally agreed that it was for the best to teach us a few moves. When it came to dueling, what you needed to know was this simple spell -- Expelliarmus. It was used to disarm your opponent of their wand. Also, their wand could become yours, which was neat.

"If you have understood the technique, we can start training right now," Gilderoy said. "Let's start with Potter against Malfoy."

"What?" Draco gasped.

"Remember when I told you I needed to make you work with Potter to unleash your potential?" Lockhart reminded him. "Here's your chance!"

Gilderoy's attitude towards me had taken turns for the worst. Since I accidentally kind of came out to him, he would often wink at me, as if to check out whether I found him cute. I also got the vibe that he thought I didn't find men attractive per se, but only him. It was disgusting to think about, but it was probably better to make him believe things were that way.

He hadn't given up on trying to become my manager yet. One day, Draco made a joke about Dudley, something along the lines of how I could have been able to smuggle a Muggle at Hogwarts. He looked proud of the joke, but the tone in which he told it sounded rehearsed. I wondered if that was the kind of jokes his dear old daddy made at family dinner.

However, it gave Gilderoy a new idea. "Just think about it Harry," he had said. "The title of your first book -- Muggles at Hogwarts and how to smuggle them!"

Draco positioned in front of me, and gave me the stink eye.

"Hey," I mouthed at him. "It wasn't my idea."

"Okay," Gilderoy Lockhart said. "You can start the duel on the count of three! One... two... three..."

I had the impression I said Expellarmius before Draco, right after the number three. But, apparently, I didn't. I felt my wand escaping from my hand and a roar of laughter.

But the most peculiar thing was, I heard a voice too. The same old voice spoke in my ear, and it said, "Neville Longbottom is in the Chamber of Secrets. He won't be the last, if you don't rescue him now."

I must have looked bad, because Gilderoy asked me if I felt fine.

"No," I said. "The voice.... it told me Neville Longbottom is in the Chamber of Secrets!"

Faces of students from Gryffindor and Slytherin looked at me, pale and in disbelief. I barely had a second to register what they thought must have happened, before Seamus Finnigan gathered the courage to say:

"I believe Harry Potter is the heir of Slytherin, the one who opened the Chamber of Secrets."

 

Of course, they couldn't prove it, but it didn't mean the whole school, or almost, didn't immediately fall for it. I mean, with all the voices I'd been hearing, I looked suspicious even to myself.

Thankfully, during the Winter holidays, Hermione was done with the Polyjuice potion.

Not that I really thought we'd find out Draco Malfoy was the heir of Slytherin, but perhaps someone else from that House was.

We met up with Hermione in the bathroom -- there was a neutral one, with plenty of options for students of all genders, the doors of each cabinet were enchanted, so that no one could intrude -- and she started preparing the three potions.

Thankfully, since the blend was magical, the hair of the people we had chosen seemed to mix with the rest. I might have been too squeamish to drink it, otherwise.

"Alright," Hermione said. "We'll drink together."

I felt the potion starting to change me as soon as I gulped it down. Turning into Martin Kowalski was not a difficult task, because he too had curly hair, only longer and lighter than mine, and he was thin and short, about the same height and weight as me.

Ron looked hideous as Goyle, but at least he and Gregory had a similar height. In build, they were completely different, and I wondered how awkward Ron must have felt with all of those muscles.

Hermione... well, let's just say that she wasn't beginning to look like Pansy! In fact, one of the first features to change were her ears, and she soon found herself with triangular, furry orange ears... the ears of a cat!

"No, no..." she started to complain. "I took one of Pansy's hair from Dudley's sweater! They are always snogging! How was I to know?"

Ron and I understood at once. The hair did not belong to Pansy's orange pixie cut, but to Chips, Dudley's cat!

"We'll take you to Madam Pomfrey right away," Ron said.

"No... word of this can't get out," Hermione shrieked.

"Don't fret yourself," Ron replied drily. "Soon enough you'll start meowing. After all, my voice is the same as Goyle's."

Hermione looked very pale. "We don't know how it works with animals," she protested.

"Wanna find out on your own while we're talking to Malfoy?" I asked. "I thought not."

We took Hermione to Madam Pomfrey, and met Draco in the corridor near the Slytherin dorms. That was lucky, because he knew the password and we didn't.

When we followed him inside, Draco turned towards Martin and gave him a huge grin.

I hoped Martin didn't look as awkward as I felt.

"So, what do you think about Potter being the heir of Slytherin?"

"Can't be him," Ron/Goyle said. "You know who the heir is, right?"

Draco narrowed his eyes. "Of course I don't, you stupid oaf."

"Might as well be Potter," I said, trying to act as cheerful as Martin usually did.

"Well you know what I think about him," Draco said, a look in his eyes that was very hard to read.

"I... um... no, I don't," I replied. Ron/Goyle gave me a strange look. But, after all, I was there to see what Draco thought of me!

Draco's face became a lot paler than usual. "You do, I have told you, I haven't told Goyle... that."

"Oh, right, that," I replied. Must have been the Anti Dudley alliance. At least, Draco still considered himself a part of it. I wondered if I wanted him to be a part of it, though.

"Speaking of other students, and what we think about them," I said. "There must be someone you find hot. Pansy Parkinson? I sure think she's cute!"

Draco looked at me/Martin as if I was a moron. "I thought you had the hots for Granger. But then again, you do seem have the hots for everyone..."

Now, that was something about Martin Kowalski that I did not want to know. Even Ron/Goyle looked like he was ready to punch someone.

"But, you, Draco, what do you think?" Ron/Goyle asked.

"About girls, or about the Chamber of Secrets?"

"About the Chamber of Secrets," Ron/Goyle said. "About girls," I replied, at the same time.

Ron/Goyle stomped on my foot.

"I have no opinion whatsoever on one nor the other," Draco said. "As the two of you already know."

He had that look on his face as if none of the girls at this school was worthy of being with him. Not that they missed out on a lot.

"Is it only me," he asked then. "Or are you two especially weird today?"

"N-no, we're not..." Ron stammered, which was not something Goyle would have done.

"I wonder where Pansy is," I said. "Perhaps snogging with Dudley."

"Dude, give it a rest," Ron/Goyle whispered to me.

"You know who you remind me of today, Martin?" Draco asked, puzzled. "You remind me of Potter."

"What? HOW?" I asked. It was not hard to act as if I was surprised.

"Well, your way of speaking reminds me of his," Draco said conversationally, as if we were discussing ice cream flavours. "And the way you move... your posture is not perfect, you lean on your left foot, like Potter does."

The fact that Draco seemed to know all of those things about me was... well, I wanted to think it was creepy, but I also found it interesting.

"We really need to go now," Ron/Goyle said. "See you later, at dinner."

When Ron stormed out, I did too. I knew what he had in mind.

"The Polyjuice potion doesn't work aymore, does it?" I asked. It was obvious that it was what Draco was hinting at.

"What... no, you still look like Martin Kowalski," Ron grimaced. "Though it will stop affecting us soon. So, Draco did know all of those things about you... gives me the shivers! What does he want to do? Kill you in your sleep?"

When he saw I did not reply, he added, "Why did you waste our time with all those stupid questions about Pansy, anyway?"

I shrugged. "Since we had the occasion, I wanted to dig up some dirt on him. See if he has any weakness."

Ron nodded, not convinced. "But if we can't find out who the heir of Slytherin is," he said. "We must at least find proof that it isn't you."

Chapter Text

Nothing much happened after the Winter holidays, certainly not anything that could make us understand who the heir of Slytherin was.

That was until February.

One day, Ron and I were hanging out in one of the bathrooms before the lessons started. We needed to exchange a few words about Dudley without no one eavesdropping.

"You know that the reason Dumbledore or Professor McGonagall have not noticed he's a Muggle yet is that they've probably been too busy, right?" he asked me. "They will realize it, sooner or later."

"Well, it's not my fault," I replied. "I mean, not to throw him under the bus, but technically speaking it's Hagrid's if it's anyone's. He must have thought my aunt would not let me go if I didn't take Dudley with me."

Ron shrugged, and looked in the mirror. "Harry..." he said that. "Look at that. Somebody dropped a secret diary!"

I looked at the object Ron had found on the floor. A crumpled old diary with a black cover.

"It looks... ancient," I said.

"Maybe it belongs to Longbottom, who's very scatterbrained," Ron replied.

"It looks like it has a few decades at the very least," I pointed out.

"That's better!" Ron grinned. "It surely belongs to one of the teachers! Perhaps they've been using it for a very long time..."

Ron opened the diary, and there was disappointment in his pale blue eyes.

"It's empty," he commented.

"Well, give it to me," I said. "I'll keep it. I'm sure Hermione will know a spell to read invisible ink or whatever this is. And if it's really empty, at least no one will miss it."

 

On the first half of the month, we kind of concentrated on the diary. Not even Hermione could find any spell to read it. We had to admit to ourselves that the truth was simply that no one had written a thing in it yet. I kept the diary most of the time with me, and I even tried to write in it, hoping to receive some kind of reply. I didn't, and Ron looked very pissed off that I ruined the first page.

On 14th February, St. Valentine, I received a letter for the first time in my life.

"This can't be for me," I told Ron and Hermione as soon as I found the letter on my desk.

"You're Harry Potter, it's not like the girls are not interested in you," Ron said.

"Thanks, what every twelve-year-old boy wishes for," I said,a little too loud. "To be fancied for his fame."

"Well, I'd bloody take that over nothing," Martin Kowalski replied. Apparently, the whole corridor had heard me.

"Open it!" Ron exclaimed.

I opened the envelope. There was written 'for Harry' on it. The calligraphy made it look as if whomever had written it had a shaky hand.

Inside, there was a poem. It looked so bad, it was obviously sarcastic. So, this whole thing was a joke. I winced, when I read it.

 

Your eyes are green like fresh cut grass,

 

I heard Martin Kowalski behind me, practically breathing down on me.

"They should have rhymed that with ass," he said. "Not that I know what yours looks like!" He put up his hands in a silent protest. "I just think that's the perfect rhyme."

I closed the letter. "Alright, Kowalski," I growled. "I'll take it from there."

 

Your eyes are green like fresh cut grass,

Everybody envies your success

Not with girls, you have no class

You play hard to get, and I know why

Because of the scar over your right eye

You hear voices and look a mess

I really wished I could wish you my best

But you're harder to get than Muggle chess

 

Muggle chess, all that talk about my fame...

"Malfoy!" I roared.

Draco looked at the letter, and snickered. "This does not sound like something I would write," he said amiably. "Perhaps like something Martin would write, if his writings had been censored."

"So this isn't from you?" I asked.

"A St Valentine's letter for you? From me? How hard did you hit your head this time, Potter? But I can do you a favour. I can tell you who's written it."

I didn't want to reply, but Ron asked, "Who's written it?"

"Ginny Weasley," Draco replied.

"This doesn't make sense!" I said. "Ginny does not loathe my scar, or my fame!"

"Merlin's beard, you mean she likes them?" Malfoy asked in a voice that made me think he was envious he did not receive any Valentine. "I had no idea she would stoop so low."

"Stop it, Ginny does not even like me," I protested.

"Uh, she does," Ron confirmed. "If only you'd noticed... she and Neville spent all year following you. Well, before Neville was, you know..."

"Harry could really be the heir of Slytherin after all," Kowalski said. "He might have killed off Longbottom because he was too stalker-ish."

"Nobody killed anyone," I said.

"You don't pay attention to your little fan club," Draco commented. "You didn't even know you had a little fan club. Makes you wonder whether Ginny really hates you right now..."

I was about to reply, when Malfoy noticed the little black diary in my hands and took it from me.

"Hey!" I protested. "Give it back!"

"Look at that," Goyle commented, though he was not usually chatty by any means. "Potter with a secret diary. Who knew he could write at all."

"If he couldn't, you would have met him in all the classes for below average people you take," Draco defended me, taking me by surprise. Then again, he probably was too used to snap back at Goyle.

Draco opened up the first page of the diary. He scrunched his eyebrows.

"What the hell is this?" he asked. "Dear diary, please tell me if there's something I need to know about the Chamber of Secrets... Potter, you know this is not how you use a diary, right?"

Malfoy's friends barked with laughter.

 

After the morning lessons, I met Dumbledore in the corridors.

"I need to talk to you, in my office," he said.

Ron and Hermione didn't look too surprised, but a bunch of other students looked worried. They probably thought the headmaster talked to me privately so much because of my terrible reputation.

Wasn't it true, in a way?

When I followed the headmaster to his office, he started explaining to me, "There's something I must show you. Honestly, I thought I'd tell you about this when you were older, but the right time is now."

"First of all," he said. "I know who opened the Chamber of the Secrets the last time. It was a student named Tom Riddle. I was about to tell the Ministry of Magic of the proofs I'd found, when there was another scandal. Hagrid, who at the time frequented Hogwarts, had kept a pet spider against the rules. The spider, who had grown into a huge beast, escaped from Hagrid's room and bit Tom Riddle. Riddle was sent back to the orphanage where he was from, to recover before the following year of school, and the disappearances simply stopped."

I wonder whether Dumbledore was telling the story as cautionary tale. I felt as if I was Hagrid, but instead of smuggling a spider at school I had smuggled Dudley. And as soon as my cousin hurt someone, I would be sent back to the Dursleys, who would probably send me to a care home.

"The reason why I'm telling you this," Dumbledore said. "Is because I did my research, and can confirm it's not the same person this time. You see, Tom Riddle was not the real heir of Salazaar Slytherin, the founder of the House. That, is a title that a very ambitious Slytherin can give to himself, either a Slytherin or one who scored high on their test. Though most of them are not evil, but we'll talk about that some other time."

"Didn't you say you wanted to show me somethng, sir?" I asked.

"Yes," Dumbledore showed me a silver basin. "This is the Pensieve, where people who have many memories, some of them complicated, keep their memories. I can show you one of mine."

The headmaster retrieved a memory. It looked white-ish and stringy.

I felt myself teleported inside the memory.

Dumbledore was a good looking man with light auburn hair. He was visiting a youth in an orphanage. The kid must have been Tom Riddle.

There was something weird about him, but I couldn't point out what.

The conversation had already started, and I could tell Dumbledore had told him he was a wizard.

"So, this is why I feel like I feel," the kid was saying. "Like my body isn't mine..."

I wanted to say that it wasn't like that for everyone, but perhaps the boy was in pain when he had to conceal his magic.

"If you come to Hogwarts, I can fix you," Dumbledore said. "I need you to trust me on this one."

"Who I was before... that person will be no more, right?" Tom asked.

Dumbledore nodded, and he had that gleam in his eyes he has when he is looking at one of his favourite students. I realized I was one of them.

"What happened to Tom?" I asked, when the memory ended.

"He trusted me and I trusted him. Worst mistake of my life. This is why I wanted to tell you this -- I don't think I'm making a mistake when I say that I trust you, Harry. You did not open the Chamber of Secrets."

Chapter Text

One morning, not long after Valentine's Day, I woke up with Ron already awoken, panicking on me.

"Wake up, Harry!" he was shaking me. "Apparently, it's been since yesterday evening that Hermione has been missing! Now, they officially declared her disappeared!"

"What?" I rubbed my eyes.

Sadly, Ron was right -- it hadn't been a nightmare or anything.

"What did they tell us, when they told us the Chamber of Secrets was true?" Dudley asked aloud to the other Gryffindors. "That if we ever found out who was behind the disappearances, we would have to tell one of the Professors! Well, I'll take care of matters right now!"

Percy, Ron's brother and the prefect of Gryffindor, looked really pale.

"We do not know who is behind the disappearances," he said. "Do not make a fool of the whole House."

"We do not know? You're kidding me, right? It's obviously my cousin. I've grown up with him, Weasley. I know he isn't quite alright in the head..."

"And who are you going to tell?" Ron asked defiantly. "Dumbledore? McGonagall? They wouldn't believe you."

"Maybe," Dudley replied. "But Snape would."

Even with the other Gryffindors protesting, and not all of them, mostly the Weasleys, Dudley really did tell Snape it was me behind the kidnappings.

That was why, the following day, the head of the Ministry, Cornelius Fudge, came to our school and asked to talk to me.

"You can tell the truth boy, you know," he said. "We'll try to be as kind to you as possible. You're only twelve, and Professor Severus Snape told us you've been... erm... a bit out of your mind, recently."

In that moment, Professor McGonagall opened the door. "I'm sorry to barge in like this," she said. "But I need to report another disappearance. Percy Weasley has been missing for the last four hours."

"The prefect of your House," Fudge told me. "Who could have looked into your case, if he felt the need to. I'm sorry to say this, but now everything leads to you."

I gulped. He had said he would be kinder to me if I admitted it. But I would not admit such a terrible thing that I hadn't even done.

"What happens," I asked. "If I don't admit?"

"Easy," he replied. "You will be expelled from this school."

I looked at Dumbledore, who had insisted on remaining by my side all through the meeting. I hoped the way I looked at him implied how desperate I felt. I could not be expelled from that school. Even the Dursleys would have never taken me back.

"Let's not get in over our heads, Cornelius," Dumbledore said. "Are you really asking on my behalf the boy to leave this school?"

"I'm afraid I am. At least, until the true kidnapper is caught."

"Well, then," Dumbledore said. "I'll be leaving Hogwarts until the kidnapper is caught, and Potter stays. I hope you'll consider this a fair exchange."

"Exchange??" Fudge looked bewildered. "Why should we leave the kidnapper at the school and ask the headmaster to leave? What do we gain from it?"

"Oh probably nothing, but you'll find I care very little," Dumbledore said smugly. "Besides, it's a question of honour and principles. Potter is not behind the disappearances."

"Please, don't..." I told the headmaster. I could not believe an adult would care so much about me to do something like this. But I could not only be grateful. I had to stop him, so he wouldn't hurt himself over our friendship.

"My decision is final," Dumbledore looked at me defiantly. He was stubborn, not even I could change his mind.

 

During the Spring, I was very depressed. McGonagall had become the temporary headmaster of Hogwarts, and she was doing a good job, but I couldn't help but cringe every time Ron said, "I bet Hermione would like her better than Dumbledore!"

One day, I snapped at him. "Albus Dumbledore has sacrificed his entire career for me," I hissed. "So I would shut up if I were you."

Ron shrugged. "Hey, you know what?" he said. "Hagrid, one of those days, asked me if we could do him a favour. And, since the disappearances have stopped for a while, I said sure. We could use a distraction."

That afternoon, we met up with Hagrid in the Forbidden Forest. Hagrid was the gamekeeper and taught us about magical animals.

"I need to show ye a friend of mine," he said. "Aragog's his name."

I choked back a very uncivilized word. Dumbledore had mentioned Aragog! He was Hagrid's pet spider at Hogwarts!

"'Matter of fact," Hagrid added. "'Twas him who wanted to speak to ye."

We did not ask him, but, as soon as Ron saw the spider, he started to scream.

"What's the matter?" I asked. "You're always so brave. You even dueled Professor Quirrel."

"Sp-sp-spiders are my biggest phobia!" Ron said in a high-pitched voice.

"I'll leave the three of ye to talk it out like old mates," Hagrid said.

Aragog turned his face at me. I asked myself how he could talk English, but I feared I wouldn't like the answer to this question.

"Dumbledore told me he's told you about Tom Riddle," the spider said. I didn't have to fill in for Ron -- I told him a few details. I realized I had left out the spider bite, and felt guilty.

"I wanted to clarify something," the spider said. "I've never bitten or harmed a human, and swore so to Hagrid when he took me in. But Tom Riddle... I don't know how to explain it, but he wasn't a human. Or at least, he looked the part. But creatures see what humans don't see. He was... different."

"Thanks?" Ron said. "Whatever that was for."

"I just need you to know what you're up against, in case he's back," the spider said mysteriously. "Dumbledore mentioned you two are very valuable. Otherwise, you might have become dinner for my family. They haven't sworn they wouldn't touch a human being..."

After that, Ron and I really had to leave.

 

One day in June, Ginny disappeared.

"Not cool, mate," Fred Weasley told me at lunch. "Whoever it is, they're after my family."

"They would have taken little Ron first," George joked. "Ginny is younger, but she's feisty. I don't envy whomever had to kidnap her."

"How can you joke at a time like this?" Ron asked.

The twins looked guilty for the rest of the lunch.

Back to our dorms, I was looking around for clues. Just because I had stopped hearing voices, didn't mean I wasn't meant to find the Chamber. I would find it, and bring the kidnapped people back.

In that moment, I remembered one of the spells Hermione had tried to see if the diary was written in invisible ink. I decided to try it again.

Something appeared! It had not been written by the previous owner, though, but it had been annotated by Hermione in invisible ink before she was taken away!

And it said where the Chamber of Secrets was.

I met Ron on the stairs, and showed him the diary.

"Come with me," I said. "We'll try to rescue Hermione!"

I could have said Ginny or Percy, but in hindsight I did not feel guilty I mentioned Hermione. Ron accepted, without question.

The Chamber of Secrets was behind a wall. The one where I saw the first message in blood, the one Dumbledore said was built more recently than the rest of the school.

He obviously must have tried to fix it after the last time it was opened.

While Ron and I were running there, we met Professor Lockhart.

"I should put you in detention," he said. "Running around instead of being in class. You don't even know the school was temporarily closed, after Ginny Weasley..."

"There will be no need to, if Ron and I suceed," I said. "We know where the Chamber is."

"Ah, well, of course you do, you opened it, Potter. Fudge himself says so..."

"I didn't," I hissed. "In fact, I want to fix things."

"You?" Lockhart gestured dramatically at us. "Two twelve-year-olds?"

"Then we have no choice," Ron said darkly. "We'll bring you with us."

"What??"

"Yes," I agreed. "At least, nobody will say there wasn't a Professor to supervise. And either way, you've battled so many creatures in your books! Even if there was a monster down there, you would know how to take care of it."

Gilderoy's confident gaze wavered. "I... yes, of course."

He had no choice but to follow us.

I was starting to think that maybe he was more useful than he let on. When we arrived at the wall, he said, "Oh, yeah, I know this spell!"

He muttered a few incoherent words, and the whole wall came crashing down. I gathered it was what happened the first time too, when Dumbledore had to rebuild it.

"Just one question," Ron asked. "If this how you enter, how come this person has been kidnapping students the whole year and the walll was still there?"

"This is how you do it when you want to bring down the whole thing without using a password, that I clearly do not know," Gilderoy said. "Besides, Weasley, what are you doing still there? Stupefy!"

Ron fell to the ground.

Gilderoy grabbed me. "Let's go in, Potter," he said. "You and I alone."

Chapter Text

As soon as he took me into the Chamber, Gilderoy said another spell under his breath, and the door locked behind us.

"Wait a minute, Professor," I said. "Don't you act like that. We still have to look for the monster..."

"There is no monster!" Lockhart exclaimed. "Or perhaps there is... but I don't know where it is, and how to use it!"

I blinked. "What?"

"Wake up, Harry Potter," Gilderoy grinned. "I'm the kidnapper. Back then, I really said the password to enter the Chamber. I just had to break down the wall, you know, to make sure nobody understood my intentions..."

"You're barking mad," I said. "That can't be true."

"Huh, you think so?" Gilderoy asked. "Then, reply to this -- why did you start hearing voices after I put you in detention?"

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

"It was the pen I gave you! It was enchanted. It started making you hear voices and seeing visions. And after all, there was a reason why the voices were coherent, and why they were about the Chamber... It's always been my purpose to lead you here!"

"Your purpose? But why, sir?"

"Wake up, kid! You're a threat! You-Know-Who tried to kill you twelve years ago and failed! All of us, the Death Eaters who wait for his return, would like to do his dirty job for him."

"And so your dirty job for him would be kidnapping all my friends and taking them here, so I would follow the clues all the way here?"

Gilderoy nodded smugly. "Really, there is something I'd like to add," he said. "I wanted so much to use this monster against you, but there is no monster here."

"Or maybe there is," I said defiantly. "It would only follow the true heir of Slytherin, and apparently you're not man enough to claim this title!"

Gilderoy Lockhart became red in the face. "I am one of You-Know-Who's biggest fans! How else would you call the owner of that little black diary I dropped in the bathroom, hoping you'd find it?"

"Wait," I said. "What does the diary have to do with Tom Riddle? Did it belong to him?"

"Yes, but not only. The Dark Lord put a very complicated spell on it. Back in his school days, when he was called..."

"Tom Riddle," I finally understood, with a shiver. The person I felt so much in common with, the former favourite student of Dumbledore, grew up to be nothing less than Voldemort.

"Yes, now, don't interrupt me," he said theatrically. "You talked to the diary, I presume? You wrote, and it answered?"

"No, it never answered any of my questions," I replied.

"Ha! I should have expected it. The ever so humble and down-to-earth golden boy Harry Potter. You see, the diary replies to people with a certain wish for power and fame. In exchange for a life sacrificed to the Dark Lord -- if he calls, we answer -- he gives us back fame and fortune."

"So, that's how you became that famous!"

"Well, not only that... you see, I really lived all the adventures in the books, give or take. But it was the diary that had granted me immense luck. And it also helped me in my endevours, every time I didn't know a spell, I would ask it and it would reply. It contains all the knowledge of the Dark Lord."

"As much as I find all of this very interesting," I said. "I shouldn't waste my time like this. Tell me where are the hostages!"

Gilderoy pointed at a place faraway in the room, a room that, by the way, looked like an underground cave. My friends and Filch's cat were there, and they looked like they were asleep. Or dead.

"What..." I started to say, when Lockhart stopped me.

"Don't worry, Potter, they are very much alive. I simply used a spell to keep them sleeping for days... or months, depending on the hostage. Tsk, I really do hope someone will be able to lull them out of their sleep in case you want to kill me or something."

"Dumbledore will be able to!" I said hotly.

"Well, I suppose you won't kill me either way, if I kill you first," Gilderoy said. "And besides, I made a new pact with the diary, once I was at Hogwarts. The day you caught me reading it out of my office. But then, you spewed some nonsense about how you like boys, and I realized you hadn't noticed anything. A piece of my willpower, of my soul if you will, to the Dark Lord, to help him rescuscitate, in exchange for eternal life."

"You're lying!" I shouted. "If someone knew how to live forever, that person would be Voldemort, and he would have tried it out already. Besides, he wouldn't tell everyone."

"Okay, maybe the pact was a bit more vague than that," Gilderoy gave in. "Perhaps it only made me invulnerable to most attacks. But what do you care? A twelve-year-old who only knows how to Stupefy won't be the death of me."

I looked around at the chamber. There were stones everywhere, and a cave, where, I suspected, was hiding a monster that not even Lockhart knew how to free.

Then, in a stone, I saw a sword.

I walked towards it. Gilderoy pointed his wand at me, uncertain, then followed my gaze.

"Oh, interesting," he said. "Never seen that one before, but there is a legend I've heard. Just like anyone who can be the true heir of Slytherin can open this room, and the most worthy one will be able to open the door to the monster, there is a worthy heir of every House who can do great things. That is the sword of Gryffindor. Only a true heir to your House can use it. Somebody must have placed it here, though -- it was not inside the chamber."

"Somebody? Why, it wasn't you?" I asked.

"Why would I do that? To give you a miniscule chance of winning this fight?"

I pulled at the sword, just like in the legends of King Arthur and the stone that Muggles told. The sword came out of the rock.

"What a nice little show," Lockhart said. "But you must also be able to use it."

He was, of course, right. I tried to take a swing at him, but the sword wasn't balanced for my weight. It would have been more suitable for a young adult.

"Keep trying, and perhaps you'll damage yourself before I can move a finger on you," Lockhart said. "Keep swinging, and you might hit your face and get another scar."

He underestimated just how pissed off I could get. That last joke made me want to try to hit him with all my might.

I dug the sword deep into his chest.

Blood was flowing everywhere. I felt guilty, all of a sudden. Even with everything he had done, I didn't know if I really wanted to murder someone in cold blood!

Then, Professor Lockhart grinned wildly. Blood stopped flowing. His wounds healed in a matter of minutes.

"It doesn't work," he said triumphantly. "The sword of Gryffindor doesn't work! You can't kill me, Potter! You can't kill me!"

I tried not to listen to him. If somebody had left the sword for me to find, it meant that it was useful. Maybe I could not kill Lockhart, but I could...

I picked up from the ground the diary of Tom Riddle that Lockhart had dropped on the ground.

"No, no," he growled. "Give that back to me!"

He must have thought I would have asked Riddle for answers, but I already knew what to do. I used Gryffindor's sword to pierce through the diary.

Lockhart started screaming, and I almost expected him to die, or to start fading away like an old photograph.

None of this happened. He was just looking, panic-striken, at his wand. "No... no..." he was muttering, almost incoherently.

He pointed his wand at me. "Avada Kedavra!"

I did not recognize the spell, but, judging by Gilderoy's expression, it must have failed. "Do you know what that spell is for, boy?" he asked, grinning like a madman. "Should have killed you! Why aren't you dead? Die! Die!"

Even though I knew my Professor was really a Death Eater, I couldn't help but feel a bit of pity. "What happened?" I couldn't help but ask.

"The diary that gave me fame and fortune also gave me more power than I ever had," Gilderoy said. "When I was born, I was almost a Squib. I went to Hogwarts with only a little more magic in my veins than your cousin. I was sorted in Slytherin because of my ambition, and people generally knew me for my good looks. It was only when I found this diary that I discovered what being a talented wizard was. Now... I'm back to the start. I can barely do Lumos."

He moved his wand in the dark. "Lumos," he commented sadly. The tip of the wand did not light up.

"Great, apparently I can't even do Lumos anymore," Gilderoy commented, and snapped his wand in two.

"Professor...." I started saying, but before I could complete the sentence I passed out from weakness.

Chapter Text

After I was nurtured back to health by Madam Pomfrey, I met Dumbledore in his office.

He looked proud of me, but also as if he already knew what to expect from me by now. I was a little disappointed.

"I'm keeping the sword of Gryffindor for now," he said. "It's not balanced for your weight."

"I noticed. Maybe you could fix it for me?"

"It's best not to change perfect things. We'll wait until you become an adult."

I nodded. I did not like the idea, but it made sense. In that moment, we were interrupted by an intruder.

Tall and thin with a mane of curling pale blond hair and a handsome but sharp face -- it was Lucius Malfoy, Draco's father.

"I'm... glad," he decided on the word 'glad', even though it was quite obvious he was thinking of another word. "You came back to this school, Dumbledore. Though I can't tell how dumb Cornelius Fudge has been to say Potter was the culprit. The true heir of Slytherin? You've got to be kidding me..."

"What do you want, Lucius?" Dumbledore asked.

"To see how things were going, that's all. Check out the school where my son goes, especially considering there are dangerous threats in that school."

"Not anymore," I said.

"Oh... you took care of this one too," Lucius drawled. "How... queer."

Somebody was trying to whisper something to me. There was something or someone behind Lucius -- Dobby, his House Elf.

I remembered that once Hermione had said that, in order to free a House Elf, you had to gift him a piece of clothing.

I looked at Dumbledore's desk. Gilderoy Lockhart gave him a nice set of fuzzy socks as parting gift. The Ministry was considering putting him in Azkaban's, but seeing how the events had deteriorated his health I could wager he'd end up in St. Mungus.

I took one fuzzy sock from the box and dangled it defiantly in front of Dobby and Lucius.

"Here, Dobby, catch," I said, throwing the thing to him before he could even notice.

"Dobby can't accept gifts from Harry P...," the elf started saying. "Oh! Is that a sock? Am I free, now?"

Lucius looked at Dumbledore. "It surely doesn't count... you've seen the boy! He did it on purpose!"

"I honestly can't say he did, for I am not in anyone's head but mine, and even mine is a bit too crowded at times," Dumbledore replied. "But it is so, Lucius, the elf is free. Otherwise, it'd be a waste of a perfectly good fuzzy sock."

In fact, Dobby was holding the sock in his hands, and didn't look like he wanted to give it back to Dumbledore anytime soon.

Lucius left, looking at me with hatred in his eyes.

Dobby remained for a while.

"Dobby has never gotten a gift before," he mumbled. "Unless you count when Master Draco gave him apples to eat in the evening, when the other Masters were asleep."

I looked at him, dumbfounded. After everything that happened, it was still a little confusing to think of Draco as someone who did good deeds.

"You know, Master Draco did not want Harry Potter to come back to Hogwarts," Dobby kept mumbling. "Master Draco knew someone would have tried to open the Chamber -- Death Eaters had been warned...."

I tried to believe Dobby, though it sounded crazy. Draco wanted to protect me from the heir of Slytherin?

"You can go now," Dumbledore told Dobby. "Enjoy your freedom."

Dobby bowed at the headmaster and, when it was the two of us again, Dumbledore kept on talking to me.

"Speaking of Slytherins," he said. "I know you can't stand Draco Malfoy. And that you've had your doubts about yourself, when you've been called the heir of Slytherin, because you scored high on their admission test."

I nodded. How could Dumbledore always seem to know everything about me?

"Well, Slytherins are not bad people per se. In every House there's bad and good. The difference is, it's easiest to single out the bad Slytherins. Every one of them is very ambitious, and they often become famous. It's easy to tell who had so much ambition it went to their head, like Lockhart. But there are famous people who have done good for the wizarding world who have been sorted in Slytherin, like the Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt."

"What are Aurors?"

"They defeat the dark wizards and keep order in the wizarding world. If I may say so, I think it would be the perfect job for you."

"You're right, thanks Professor!" I beamed. I couldn't imagine anything else I could want to do.

"However, even though you scored high on Slytherin," the headmaster added. "You scored higher on Hufflepuff. I think this recent event has shown us how much like them you are. Loyalty might perhaps be a flaw of yours, other than a perk. Lockhart knew that, if he went for your friends, you'd come too."

"That's what anybody would have done!" I replied.

"Ah, I wish it were so. But alas, you're very humble..."

I felt my cheeks burning.

"Back to Slytherin," I said. "I found out about Volde... I mean, Tom Riddle. He was a Slytherin, wasn't he?"

"Yes, but, even though I told you the House doesn't make the student, you shouldn't concern yourself like that. Since you showed Hufflepuff loyalty, I'll let you in Hufflepuff study groups and extracurricular activities. There's an Hufflepuff student that you might come to admire. His name is Cedric Diggory, and he is very similar to you."

"I will probably try to study with Ron and Hermione like I've always done, sir," I said sheepishly. "You know that."

"I do, and don't worry about it, it's just that we try not to confine each student to their House, since the way each person is loyal, brave, ambitious or clever is much more fluid than that."

I nodded, and, in a way, Dumbledore was right. And I knew Cedric Diggory a bit because he played Quidditch -- he looked like he would have made a good friend.

"Another thing I have to tell you, Harry," Dumbledore said. "And this time, it is of the utmost importance. You might have understood, on your first year at Hogwarts, that some people, Death Eaters especially, but me included, think Voldemort will be back soon."

"Yes, I gathered as much," I replied. "Even Firenze the centaur seemed pretty convinced."

"Well, as I told you when you saw that man drinking from the unicorn, Voldemort was not defeated when he couldn't kill you, but the spell bounced right back making him weaker. However, he is not dead, and could come back anytime. Which is why, I want to prepare you -- you'll have to go home soon."

"The Dursleys are not my home," I snarled.

"Yes, I'm sorry about it," Dumbledore said. "I really thought things would work out better. You see, I'm the one who asked them to take you in. I know your aunt Petunia may not seem like much, but I can assure you she was devastated when her sister died. It only made sense to me, at the time, to leave you with someone who was part of your family."

I tried to protest, but Dumbledore stopped me. "I know, I know," he said. "It was unwise, and it didn't work out for the best. And besides, they were Muggles, and, while I was thinking that you might not want to grow up famous, I see now that maybe an upbringing in the wizarding world would have been different, or better. But don't underestimate humble beginnings, Harry. I think they often make the man."

I wanted to say something snarky, but his faultless logic didn't give me much choice. Of course, as much as aunt Petunia was not motherly at all, she had never hit me. Dumbledore would have never left me with uncle Vernon if he had known what kind of person he was.

I found out I had no desire to complain about that, so I just nodded when I heard his words.

"What I was saying before you interrupted me," Dumbledore said. "Not that I blame you, mind you, reckless outbursts are pretty common in boys your age, well, what I was saying was that you'll go home soon. But I can't lie to you. When you'll come back in a few months for your third year at Hogwarts, I can't promise you Voldemort will not come looking for you here."

"What does that mean, sir?" I asked. I did not like the sound of it.

"Last year, I was convinced he was the snake, this year I thought, for a moment, that he could be the heir of Slytherin. But he was not any of those. So, I want to prepare myself and you for the next year. We'll start the lessons as if nothing happened, but when he comes, I want you to be ready."

"Why? Do you want me to fight him?" I asked, hopeful.

"Not at all, not at all," Dumbledore said. "You're too young. But when have I ever been able to stop you?"

I thought about the snake, that turned out to be Quirrel's pet, and about Lockhart who was kidnapping all my friends to lure me into my trap. I did not feel very heroic -- I kind of felt like an idiot.

'Next year,' I said to myself. 'I will not let anyone down.'

Chapter Text

‘You’re getting better,’ Martin said, after I managed to disarm him.

I laughed bitterly.

‘I think it’s because you’re somehow getting worse,’ I joked.

That shut him up. Martin wasn’t doing well at school. Instead, my grades had managed to get slightly better.

Probably because I had to do something — anything — to get Harry Potter out of my head. And so even studying more had felt like a good option. Better than hallucinating him in the Slytherin common room, for sure.

The thing was, I was so sure it was him. I didn’t even see him — he still looked like Kowalski. But the way he spoke, the way he sat on the chair like he was bracing for a fight… I almost can swear that he was touching his forehead when he was nervous, almost like he was looking for his scar.

Martin seemed to be thinking about the same episode.

‘I meant, you seem to be getting slightly less obsessed with… him,’ he coughed. ‘You didn’t even mention it’s his birthday today.’

Of course, I knew better than to do that now.

Not that it hadn’t crossed my mind… but it was a dangerous game — I wasn’t so sure my father couldn’t read it.

‘Is it?’ I asked, unconvincingly. ‘Do Chosen Ones have birthdays at all? Don’t they just form out of foam and come walking out from the sea?’

I smirked, but Martin was just looking at me slightly concerned.

What was the matter? He and Goyle used to laugh at my every joke.

He and Goyle, who had swore they had never been in the common room with me that day, talking about Pansy Parkinson. Even when my father had forced them to make them an Unbreakable Vow with him that they would always tell him the truth about me.

That had been a cruel thing to do to two twelve-year-olds. They weren’t even thirteen yet. It was unnecessary. If one of them broke the Vow, they would die. And Goyle was so bad with words and concepts, he could have been dead by accident.

My father was cruel.

It was something I had always chosen not to acknowledge, because my family was my safe place. But was it really?

I decided to file it under the list of things I would deal with later.

It was already getting pretty long.

 

‘You should ask Dumbledore for help, about your magic,’ Martin said, while he was helping my mother decorate a new wing of the house that my father had recently installed.

I immediately froze. Maybe his family, or the shambles that remained of it, were okay with Dumbledore, but my family wasn’t. My mother, however, nodded slightly, which meant that she would pretend not to hear whatever we were saying.

‘Dumbledore told me some things can damage your magic,’ Martin said. ‘Some… stuff that happened to you. In my case, it’s my parents’ divorce. Things got pretty violent towards the end. My mother almost Avada Kedavra-ed my father. She only said half the words, and without convinction, but it’s still a pretty traumatic thing to go through.’

‘Honestly,’ he mused. ‘The Kowalskis had always bad luck with women. They all get a little screwed up, in the end. Mate, I don’t get why I’m not Harry-Potter-famous. That’s a pretty big thing to happen to a one-year-old.’

‘Maybe you shouldn’t marry,’ I said curtly, ignoring the last sentence.

‘Nah,’ Martin decided. ‘They’ve always been blonde women, you know? So, no blondes for me.’

 

To be honest, I think there might have been some kind of… mental barrier that stopped me from being my best-magical-self.

I thought it had something to do with my family. My father had always kept everything a secret — the extent of his true powers (I just knew that he could be really powerful, and, apparently, a lot of people were afraid of him), what he really thought about…. Well, most things, really.

My father loved Dark Magic and Dark Artifacts, but these things were usually frowned upon. I had always looked up to him, but maybe I shouldn’t have.
If I had to be the kind of Wizard my father wanted me to be, I guess it made me wonder if I wanted to do magic at all. Maybe that was part of the reason I was so weak.

 

‘We’re practicing Quidditch tonight,’ my father announced as soon as he came home. He didn’t work, and I didn’t know how he spent his days and knew better than to ask.
‘I’m sick of having for a son a Seeker who can’t catch a Snitch,’ he added.

After a bucketful of Muggle tennis balls thrown in every direction except for where I was standing (either on purpose, or he was as good as throwing as I was as catching), mother announced dinner was ready.

‘You’ll wash the dishes when we’re finished,’ father told me. ‘Serves you right for making sure Dobby got sent away.’

I was about to bite back, when he added something else.

‘I expected better from you, Draco. Perhaps if the Snitch was Harry Potter, you’d be able to catch it.’

I wanted to laugh at the injustice of it all. As if I’d ever be able to catch Harry Potter.

 

Dinner was usually lonely. Most of my parents friends and families were at Azkaban. It would have been just me, father, and mother, if not for Martin. His family had decided to send him to Hogwarts, and so he was a guest of ours during the vacations and holiday seasons.

In exchange, I had been invited to spend my summer vacations in America growing up.

Strangely, I thought of Harry stuck at the Dursley’s, and it made me a bit sick.

This time, however, somebody had showed up.

And it wasn’t the occasional visit from Goyle’s family — they were on holiday in Greece right now.

‘Good evening, Draco,’ said Professor Snape. ‘Your father was just telling me of that time you thought Potter was in the Slytherin common room. You should have told me — I’d love to punish the boy. But since your father seems convinced he couldn’t have been there, after all, you should still have told me. I love making Potions to ease the life… of the feeble minded.’

‘I don’t know what happened that day, Sir. But they weren’t Kowalski and Goyle. They swore on it.’

Martin shuddered at the reminder. Then added something.

‘Seriously, Draco told me... The fake Goyle talked… a lot. For Goyle standards, I mean. You should have heard him, Professor. I mean… it was eerie.’

‘And you talked… about what?’ Snape asked, his lips curling maliciously.

‘Pansy Parkinson,’ I said. ‘Potter, I mean Kowalski, I mean, whoever it was, seemed interested to know if I had a crush on her.’

‘ Well, I hope you don’t,’ my father said. ‘We’ll find you a suitable cousin somewhere.’

Martin gave in in a high-pitched nervous laugh, and I joined in, desperately hoping my father wasn’t being serious.

‘And you, Kowalski?’ Snape asked. ‘Are you interested in Draco’s dating life?’

‘Of course not!’ Martin said, a little disgusted. ‘I already have a crush on someone, and I swore off blondes, anyway.’

‘Isn’t Parkinson dating Dursley?’ asked Snape. ‘Perhaps it is one of the Wonders of the Muggle.’

This time, my father and the Professor joined in a very forced laughter.

 

But, of course, I knew the truth.

Harry Potter had used some kind of enchantment to try to tell me to stay away from his step-brother’s girlfriend.

So typical of him to be so loyal to the point of stupidity. We really had to become friends, I resolved. Otherwise, he’ll just spend his life under the figurative weight of his big, dumb, Muggle cousin.

Only someone like him could let his own fame get overshadowed by Dudley’s. But maybe that was the way he liked it.

‘That’s such a pity Dobby’s not here anymore.’ My father’s voice brought me back to reality. ‘I really do miss having someone to kick around.’

Chapter Text

"So, dad, do you know how they call Harry at school?" Dudley asked my uncle Vernon. "The Chosen One, they called him."

I became really pale. "Nobody does," I said.

"My friends do, but they use it as an insult," Dudley replied. "And the newspapers do. I think it's because of that thing that happened when you were a baby."

"Well, duh," I said.

"Not that you don't know how to attract attention to yourself, boy," Petunia said with a nervous, uncharacteristically high-pitched voice.

My aunt and uncle had taken pretty badly the news that I saved the school once again. They insisted that none of that would happen if it wasn't for my desire to outshine Dudley in everything we did. Petunia kept comparing her son and I to my mother and her, saying that I got from my mom that desire to shine brighter than the rest of my family.

The last argument we had about it angered uncle Vernon, and I got a broken rib that hadn't healed yet.

"Today aunt Marge is visiting," Petunia added finally. "And I want you, Harry, to behave. What you and Dudley will say is the same old lie -- you go to an illustrious school up in the North, where Dudley takes amazing grades and is popular, and you're the charity case. When Dudley begged for you to go to school with him, 'cause he is such a sensitive boy, they just had to take you in. They saw the huge scar you got in the accident in which your parents died, and they felt pity."

I cringed. Every time, a detail was added to the story, making it more colourful and humiliating.

When Aunt Marge arrived, she and her dog sat on the couch and looked passively aggressively a everyone.

Marge was Vernon's sister -- I would like to point out that I was not related to her -- and she was a very judgy type of person. I knew that, secretly, even Dudley loathed her visits.

"How's school going, Dudley?" she asked in a fake honeyed voice.

"Great," he replied. "My girlfriend and I have been going strong for a few years."

I snorted. I couldn't stand to hear my cousin talking about Pansy and him as if they were an old married couple.

"I suppose you don't have a girlfriend," Marge looked at me. "Not with a face like... like that." She touched her forehead and right eyebrow, as if she was afraid a scar could grow on it any moment. "Scary... too scary..."

"We've told you already," Vernon said abruptly. "His parents were driving drunk, he was with them in the car, of course, and they crashed against a tree. They died right on the spot, and their son was injured."

"That's terrible. So terrible. I wonder which kind of parents would drive drunk with a baby in the car. Well, if that is the sort of people your parents are, you're lucky you even survived."

"That's what we all say, at school," Dudley snickered at his tasteless joke.

"Stop it!" I couldn't help but say. "My parents were very nice people! They weren't drunk drivers. They did not get themselves killed, they were murdered!"

Vernon closed his fist, as if ready to strike. Petunia opened her eyes very wide.

But Dudley flashed a grin and said, "Sadly, during the last year of school, my already dim-witted cousin has lost his mind completely. Perhaps after all the beatings. He started hearing voices and becoming paranoid. He sees things that are not there. I can probably find you a certificate...."

"No need," Marge looked at me, slightly concerned. "I believe it."

"No, I'll show you," Dudley said. He always kept his wand under the table. He did not know I had asked Dumbledore to treat him as any other wizard, and thus couldn't do magic outside of Hogwarts anymore.

Dudley moved his wand and whispered, "Accio" in a way Marge, who was busy feeding ham to her dog, couldn't hear him.

It was the spell for grabbing things that were far away from you, and I wondered what Dudley wanted to reach. I didn't have a certificate like that.

However, my priorities soon changed. Dudley hardly ever got a spell right and, as Hermione always said, it could have been very well only luck.

He must have pointed his wand at Marge, because there was the sound of an explosion. Her hair was in every direction imaginable, and her face was black as coal.

When Muggles such as Dudley used wands, the magic in the objects couldn't be controlled and often resulted in little explosions.

"What... what the hell," she said, then put her hand against her mouth. "Sorry, bad word. But what the heck, Vernon! What happened to your chimney?"

I closed my fists until my knuckles turned white. Dudley had been lucky again. Marge couldn't suspect him.

However, as soon as I saw an owl flying out the window, I realized. He would, at least, be expelled from Hogwarts.

Finally.

Aunt Marge left in a hurry, and Vernon swinged his fist right in my face.

"It was not my fault!" I complained, blood dripping out my mouth. "It was Dudley's fault! I swear..." I pointed at the owl. "Read the letter!"

"It's true," Petunia looked very white. "There's written here that he might be expelled from that school of theirs. A certain man called Cornelius Fudge," she made a disgusted face, "will have to talk to a certain Dumbledore, the headmaster, about Dudley's expulsion. But first, he wants to meet the boys."

"He won't go," Vernon said, his left eye twitching.

"What do you mean?" Petunia always thought Dudley was able to do everything. "He meets that sort of people every day. He was raised alongside one. He's a little man, our Dudley, and he'll know how to convince Caramel Fudge not to expel him."

"Cornelius," I said. "Cornelius Fudge."

"That's what I said, you irritating boy. None of this would have happened if you hadn't defended your parents."

"Dumbledore told me you were devastated when my mother died," I snarled. "But I don't think it was true. I think you were acting, to get something out of it."

Petunia looked at me in disgust. She threw the letter in my hands. "Here it says where you'll have to meet Fudge in a few days. Do me a favour, and start going there now."

If you find strange that Petunia sent away two thirteen year olds, don't worry. She changed her mind, but only after she made me spend the night outside. I wanted to fall asleep on the grass, but my owl Hedwig kept on tugging my sleeve. I realized what it meant only after a few minutes -- perhaps, there was a letter for me too!

I was right. Hedwig brought a letter for me too. It was from Ron. He was writing from... Iran?

I opened it. Inside, there was a picture of Ron, Hermione and Hermione's mother having a vacation in the place where my friend was originally from. They were all smiling, in the pictures, and Ron looked like a nice addition to the family.

I should have been happy for them. I really should have. But I couldn't.

I looked inside the house. From the window, you could see the television. I gasped, when I noticed Dudley was the one watching TV.

I couldn't believe my luck! To be popular at school, he would watch the TV channels hosted by wizards.

In that moment, they were showing the picture of a thin man of short stature dressed in rags. With chocolate brown wavy hair and grey eyes, you could still see that he must have been a handsome man once. The title claimed the man was named Sirius Black, and that he had escaped Azkaban.

I tried to remember if I had heard Azkaban before. Of course! It was the place they wanted to bring Gilderoy Lockhart before they decided for St. Mungus, the hospital.

Azkaban was a prison for wizards, and when people, and by people I mean Ron, mentioned it, they shuddered.

It must have been a really horrible place. I couldn't blame that man for escaping. However, I scolded myself. If I wanted to become an Auror like Dumbledore had said, I needed to think of what was just or unjust instead than in terms of fair or unfair. Besides, I didn't know who Black was. If he was a Death Eater, perhaps even the most horrible punishment would become him.


A few days after the Marge event, Petunia started acting a bit better towards me. She took me and Dudley to the Leaky Cauldron, the place where Cornelius Fudge told us to meet him. Then, she left, because she declared that she didn't think 'they would want to see a Muggle like her anyway.'

When Fudge arrived, he soon talked to Dudley. "Frankly speaking, I've heard rumours that you were a Muggle, and decided to ignore them because I didn't think Dumbledore would have been so foolish as to let a Muggle boy into one of the best wizarding schools in the world. And, after the news of a few days ago, I'm only more confused. Are you a Muggle or not?"

"No," Dudley replied, too smug for me to do anything about it. He took me by surprise. "It's just that, between my cousin and I, we don't have a lot of magic in our veins."

"Isn't your cousin the Chosen One?" Fudge raised an eyebrow, and looked at me.

I clenched my jaw. I had sworn I would have punched the first person who called me the Chosen One, but I decided not to do it, since it was Cornelius Fudge.

I gave it some thought, though.

"Either way, I talked to Dumbledore," Cornelius said. "And he told me he wants to keep an eye on you Dudley for the first semester or so. Then, there will be a hearing when we decide whether to kick you out or not."

"Why all the fuss?" I asked. "Why not expel him directly?"

"Dumbledore insisted."

Oh no. Dumbledore must have thought I cared about Dudley.

"And by the way," Fudge added. "We need to examine the case more toroughly because it's complicated. Perhaps I'll come up with a way to find out whether Dudley is a Muggle, and what we can do about it if he is. Nothing of the sort has ever happened before. Imagine if word got out. Hogwarts could close for good."

I became very pale and, to my surprise, so did Dudley. Apparently, he wasn't hating the school so long as he was popular and had a girlfriend.

I didn't know if I wanted him to hate it, but I knew I would have preferred if he didn't like it. I wasn't used to having things in common with him.

Hogwarts had never had the chance to become the safe haven where I was far away from the Dursleys and everything they represented. I didn't need Dudley to enjoy studying there as much as I did.

"The school starts in a few days," Fudge said. "I need to talk to Dumbledore. Hogwarts will need to be protected from Sirius Black."

"I heard about him," Dudley said proudly, obviously hoping he could lick Fudge's boots enough that he wouldn't be kicked out.

Dudley was one of those people who bullied their way to the top, but flattery was not below him.

"I've been meaning to ask," I said. "What he's done."

Fudge gave me a odd look, as if to say, 'you don't know?'

"He was one of those who worked for You-Know-Who," he said. "Killed a dozen of people."

"A Death Eater, then?"

"Ah... well, not exactly," he looked sheepish now.

I always had that effect when people mentioned Voldemort in front of me. But I didn't remember anything! I was too young when the whole thing happened.

"Go back home now," Fudge added glumly, whispering to me. "Between Sirius and your cousin's trial, you'll need all the strength you can get."

 

Chapter Text

When Dudley and I arrived at platform 9 3/4, I held his hand as I usually did to let him through.

"What did you do last year, without me?" I asked.

"I held Pansy's hand. And don't think I didn't prefer it that way! You think I haven't realized you are..."

I gulped. I figured if I didn't reply, Dudley would just let it go.

He did.

I had to remind myself that it was the last year I smuggled him at Hogwarts.

On the train, I sat next to Ron and Hermione. Hermione's light brown skin looked darker after a summer under the sun. Her dark brown hair, that had natural auburn highlights, looked more reddish.

Ron's pale face looked sunburned, and his red hair almost blond. The difference between the two of them was striking.

However, I realized glumly that I was the one who looked different. I didn't spend a summer under the sun. If I didn't look bruised in a few places, I still probably looked rough and my light olive skin was terribly pale, more than it had ever been, since, compared to Dudley, I usually looked more tanned.

I got permission from the Dursleys to wear the glasses Dumbledore got for me, so now I wore them most of the time.

I must have looked bloody ridiculous, or absolutely burnt out.

"Is everything alright mate?" Ron asked, after a few minutes of awkward silence. "You look worse than Scabbers."

Scabbers was Ron's pet rat. "What's wrong with Scabbers?"

"We took him on holiday, but he's about to kick the bucket," Ron said cheerfully. Hermione gave him the stink eye.

"You shouldn't be happy about that," she said.

"In the words of Dudley Dursley, 'if he dies, my parents will buy me the new model.'"

"Did he say that?" I asked.

"Yes, about Chips," Hermione jumped in. "He doesn't know a three year old cat is not old by any means. But apparently, he got tired of him. He abandoned Chips at the station, after you left him, so I took him!"

"Chips is yours now?" I had trouble believing Hermione could want something that belonged to Dudley. "Even after that time where you drank the Polyjuice Potion and became Chips?"

Hermione looked at me worse than she'd looked at Ron. "I was not Chips. I had a few characteristics belonging to a orange cat, but I was not Chips. Or either way, I prefer not to think about it that way."

"Well said, mate," Ron told her. "I prefer not to think I was Goyle either."

I had never noticed anything going on between my friends, but Hermione did not look happy that Ron called her mate.

In that moment, I felt a weird sensation. Did it have something to do with my friends' love lives? Because I did not think I was petty like that, but I suddenly felt really ugly, and bruised, and worthless.

Like no one could ever fall in love with me.

Then, the scar on my forehead started to hurt. With that, I recalled other kinds of hurt. The times Vernon had drank too much and I was left bruised, scarred, starved...

Before I noticed, I must have passed out, because I woke up in another wagon and a handsome looking man was looking down on me.

Maybe handsome wasn't the right word, but this man was tall and thin with an elongated face and sharp features while managing to look pleasant. His eyes were a kaleidoscope of colours between blue, grey and green and his short hair was light auburn.

"This is Professor Lupin," Hermione explained.

"Remus Lupin," the man said. "Pleased to meet you."

"What happened to me?" I asked. I knew I could be anxious, or feel sad, but I didn't know I could pass out because of it.

"There was... that thing..." Ron said.

"A Dementor," Lupin corrected him. "They are Azkaban's guards. Dumbledore insisted against it, but the Ministry decided to hire them to protect Hogwarts from Sirius Black."

"Do they have that effect on everyone?" I asked, hoping the Professor understood which effect I meant.

But most importantly, I wanted to ask, 'why is it always me?'

"They do," Lupin said. "In fact, your friends Granger and Weasley told me they started feeling very gloomy too. But they focus on one prey at a time, to do what it's been referred to as 'their kiss'. They suck all the joy out of you. It's worse than being dead."

Lupin stared out the window, silently. His face looked as if a Dementor was sucking all the joy away from him.

"The kiss -- that's what they do to people in Azkaban, sometimes," he added.

I found out someone else other than me who felt guilty in punishing someone elses' crimes. But Lupin was the Professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts, and I wanted to be an Auror.

In that moment, a pale face that I knew too well appeared in the wagon and looked me straight in the eyes with a mischievious grin.

"I heard you've seen a Dementor, Potter," he said. "What do they look like?"

"Like a big black shadow, but with a hideous face," Ron said unhelpfully. "Now, stop bothering Harry and go away."

Draco's intense grey eyes looked into mine for a while longer.

"I heard you passed out, Potter," he said, his voice almost curious.

Curious, but irritating.

"That's none of your business," I clenched my jaw.

"Oh, yeah, I just remembered," Draco snickered. "The Chosen One can't pass out! He must show his manly strength to the rest of the train. Well, Potter, listen to me -- it would be better if it was not a show."

"You dish it out, but you can't take it!" Hermione said.

"Potter can say to me whatever he likes," Draco said. Then added, "I wouldn't care about the opinion of someone like him."

The rest of the morning I felt worse than usual. Well, better than when the Dementor attacked me, but not much.

"Where is Chips?" I asked Hermione. I just remembered she had alledgedly adopted him.

"One of my friends is looking after him, because we can't keep him near Scabbers," she said. "A Ravenclaw I study with. Her name is Luna Lovegood and she's... well, she's peculiar, is the best way to put it."

"Why did she agree to look after Chips?" Ron asked.

"She thinks cats are the only animal at Hogwarts that's not immune to flea pox, an illness I don't think exists," she pursed her lips. "She wants to take a look at him. But don't worry! I'm pretty sure she won't harm him or anything."

"Chips is a tough cat," I reassured her. "Been through a lot. Survived every time Dudley tried to Stupefy him."

My words seemed to have made Hermione feel better, because she started looking more relaxed from that moment on. I, on the other hand, was wondering what I would do once back at Hogwarts. The Dementors would be on the grounds. How was I going to survive an entire year with those things let loose? Lupin said they had targeted me as if it had been an accident, but I feared there were people more prone to Dementors attacks than others.


The first lesson at Hogwarts that really caught my eye was the one with Professor Trelawney, our Divination teacher. Even Hermione liked it.

"I can't believe you really enjoy it," Ron said, surprised. "Sometimes, I believe it's just bollocks."

"It's different from my point of view, isn't it?" Hermione asked. "I was brought up by Muggles and, at first, even magic sounded like it was just bollocks. So, I don't see why I shouldn't keep my mind open for Divination. Mind you, it's a hard thing to do. But I like challenges."

"Besides," she added. "You know how I'm always studying Persian magic? They did believe in Divination."

As I said, I quite liked the class too, but I was not as enthralled with it as Hermione was. Perhaps because whatever Professor Trelawney asked us to do -- read tarot cards, look at tea leaves -- it all resulted in the same thing. There was something dangerous coming for me at the end of the year.

"You just don't want to believe it's true," Hermione told me softly on our second Divination lesson. "And I don't blame you for it. You've been in enough trouble..."

"Exactly!" I snapped back. "She could as well be making it up. Guess what happened to me both last year and the one before? A dangerous adventure at the end of the school year."

"Yeah," Ron snickered. "Seems like Death Eaters always wait 'til you've studied for your finals before they strike."

"Ron," Hermione hissed. "Not fun at all."

"I know, I know. It takes us and Harry quite a lot of months to figure out how to act... but the next time..."

"Ron! There won't be a next time!" I said.

"But Professor Trelawney..." 

Hermione wrinkled her nose. "Enjoying Divination will become even harder if you don't stop fighting about it. Perhaps I should have enrolled for History of Magic..."

A few days after that, we found out that Hermione really started taking classes of History of Magic too, even though she was already taking most of the classes, if not all of them.

"Sometimes I'm afraid of her," Ron told me. "Like, not of what she could to me, but of what she could do to herself. She'll work herself to death, I tell you."

"She's just very different from you and I," I shrugged. "We're not that clever."

"Yeah, right? However, I noticed that we can use our brains when we want to!" Ron seemed pretty excited about the discovery. "For example, when we battled Quirrell..."

I didn't know what to reply to that. I never felt smart at all.

During the first days, I tried to examine whether Dudley was being treated differently by Professors since he would have to attend a trial for using magic outside of Hogwarts.

Unluckily, it seems that either his charm or his bully attitude had won everyone ever. Well, perhaps not Professor McGonagall, but everyone else. I had a theory, growing up with Dudley. The more people see a spoiled child, the more they want to spoil them.

Even Professor McGonagall and Dumbledore, they didn't exactly like Dudley, but they found saying 'no' to him very difficult.

This made me think about Draco. I always considered him a spoiled brat like Dudley, but maybe he wasn't. He didn't have that aura around him, and nobody at school gave him more credit than it was due.

Just when I was spacing out in the corridor, I noticed Malfoy a few steps from me.

Oh, that must have been the reason I thought of him.

Draco was talking to Martin, but then he froze and looked at me.

I was getting tired of whatever his mind game was, so I started to leave.

He followed me.

I stopped. "What do you want?" I asked. "Okay, I passed out on the train. I admit it. Happy?"

Draco did not look happy but, then again, he never did.

"This was not what I wanted to talk to you about," he said.

"Really? Because it's what everyone else wants to talk about. That, and whatever is in store for me at the end of the year since Professor Trelawney kept seeing danger. And before that, there was the great snake fiasco, and the voices..."

"Stop it, Potter," Draco drawled sarcastically. "I already know that you're special."

It would have been nice if he had said that without sarcasm, but then again Ron and Hermione told me that all the time and it wasn't nice.

I didn't want to be special, I never wanted to. It only made me feel like I had a burden. I already felt responsible for the lives of everyone I loved, the fact that I was 'special' only complicated things.

"Potter, are you listening to me?" Draco snapped with urgency. "What I wanted to tell you is, I want to meet you tomorrow. Alone. We have to talk about your cousin."

Chapter Text

I met Draco in an unused room like we always did.

"I'm thinking, this year, with Dementors around, you've already got too much on your plate. You shouldn't stick with your cousin," he said. "I mean, less than usual. Just let him go. And, when his trial comes, don't defend him."

"I didn't plan to," I replied, though truth was I hadn't decided yet. "But I don't need you to save me."

"Oh, consider it a small favour asked on the basis that I want Dudley out of the school too," a vicious gleam appeared in his eyes. "But, if you knew what was waiting for you this year, you'd know you were way beyond saving."

"What do you mean?"

"Sirius Black," he savoured my expression. "What? They haven't told you? Not even Dumbledore? Of course, if Sirius escaped from Azkaban, it's 'cause he's looking from you. He wants to get the job done."

"What job?"

"Why, destroying your family, of course, he's the one who's told You-Know-Who where your parents were hiding."

I suddenly felt as bad as when the Dementor had tried to kiss me. The whole room was spinning around me. I started to feel weak in the knees...

Draco caught me steadily. "Whoa, Potter," he said sheepishly. "Don't pass out on me. I don't want to be found alone with you."

I got away from him as fast as I could. "Charming as always," I bit back.

I hated that Draco Malfoy had seen me weak. I was not weak -- I couldn't be. I would become an Auror and defeat Voldemort. I would avenge my parents. Dumbledore would be proud of me like a father.

"I want to kill Sirius Black," I said, the words out of my mouth before I even realized I was saying them.

"Oh no, I knew you would say that," Draco rolled his eyes. "If only I knew my words would get you killed..."

"What?" I asked sharply. "You would have told me sooner?"

"As strange as it may sound," Malfoy replied with a sneer. "Not even I want you to die a distasteful death. The Chosen One, more like a hot headed moron who tried to take on a duel a Death Eater at thirteen. You'd probably become the new ghost of Gryffindor, because that would represent your stupid House perfectly."

"I thought my death would be to your enjoyment any way it came," I said.

"You're really crazy, Potter. Thirteen-year-olds do not wish each other death. I do not wish you a death so ridiculous it would ruin the Christmas lunch of the Malfoy family for generations, because my father would tell everyone and he would never stop laughing. I would rather forget about you when school ends, as if you never existed."

"You'll never be able to," I said hotly. "I'm going to be the one to defeat You-Know-Who."

"And you say you don't want to be famous," Draco snorted. "Must be because when you were one year old, you couldn't hope to impress Dumbledore."

"What do you mean?"

"C'mon, it's ridiculous. You always mock me for the trust I put in my father, but you're always like 'Dumbledore said that, Dumbledore did that...'"

"You know, Draco? I've never heard you talk so much," I said, as viciously as I could. "You must really enjoy making fun out of me. Oh, I forgot. You don't enjoy anything."

I savoured the horrified look on his pale face, and then I left the room.

I did not feel fighting back was a very mature thing to do, but I had only been fair. He couldn't know how much I would let myself be obsessed by Sirius Black.

 

That day, later, we had our first Defence Against the Dark Arts class with Lupin. I tried to concentrate on the teacher and not on Sirius Black.

"Today, I'll teach you how to fight a creature that might leave some of you troubled," Remus Lupin announced. "So, if any of you feel freaked out, just know you can talk to me after the lesson."

We didn't share the class with Slytherins, thankfully. I could imagine Draco snorting and making a snarky remark. I tried to get him out of my head.

"This creature is called a Boggart, and, when it targets you, it will start looking like your worst fear. You must think of a way to make it look silly, and say 'Riddikulus!'"

"I don't think there's many a way to make your worst fear look silly," Hermione said, then blushed. She had never spoken out of turn during a class before.

"That's very insightful," the Professor said. "It's a difficult spell. But you'll find, even something that's only a bit humurous would work. The most important thing is to take away the fear from the Boggart, even if just one second."

"I want to be the first to try, then," Hermione said.

"Spoken like a true Gryffindor. Okay, you try first."

Hermione was very proud, so she shouted the spell the moment the Boggart appeared. It turned into a festive children party with clowns, but before, if my eyes hadn't mistaken me, it was a hospital room.

A few students, like Dean Thomas, saw Sirius Black. Other had phobias, instead of rational fears. Luna Lovegood, for example, Hermione's friend, was afraid of fish.

"Don't anybody make fun of her," Ron told Hermione and I.

"Excuse me," Hermione bit back irritated. "I would never make fun of a phobia."

"That's good, because I will obviously see a spider," Ron said.

In fact, he did. I had my doubts whether the party outfit and the funny expression Ron gave the spider worked, if anything, the spider looked more grotesque, but with a sound that reminded the crack of a whip, his Boggart disappeared.

It was my turn.

I was prepared for a lot of things. My Boggart would certainly look like a Dementor. Or like Voldemort. After all, I had never met him, but I had seen Tom Riddle as a young boy.

The Boggart appeared man-shaped, but it did not become Tom Riddle. It became a middle aged man with disheveled medium length platinum blond hair.

The vision lasted about a second, because my scar started hurting so much I had to scream.

I heard Lupin say, "Riddikulus!"

He was looking at the man as if he had recognized him.

In that second I saw him, he looked like Lucius Malfoy. Trust Draco to mess with my head. I probably had too vivid in my brain the image of his father chocking on his turkey every time he talked about my death.

After the class, my friends and I approached Remus Lupin.

"Who was that?" I asked, talking about the platinum-haired man.

Ron and Hermione looked curious too.

"I need to explain it to you privately," Lupin said. "You can tell your friends all you like, but better you heard it from me first."

My friends agreed, and left with Luna Lovegood, who was telling them how much she envied a certain Auror called Nymphadora Tonks, who apparently had 'pink hair to die for'.

"My only explanation as of why that man appeared in your visions, is that You-Know-Who might have passed a piece of his memories in you when he gave you that scar."

Lupin looked puzzled. "Though, the reason why You-Know-Who would fear that man is beyond me. I didn't know they met. If they have, this could change the history of the wizarding world as we know it..."

"Professor," I stopped his ramblings. "Who is that man?"

"Grindelwald," Lupin replied sharply. "Used to be a dark wizard, whose fame died down quickly only because he was eclipsed by You-Know-Who. But he has been defeated years ago by Dumbledore."

"May I ask how he was defeated?"

"Of course. Nobody knows, as our headmaster is very private and humble. He wouldn't share the gruesome details. But there are a lot of rumours about it -- some say he let a Dementor kiss him."

I froze at the mention of Dementors. Then, I realized something.

"That's it!" I said. "The Boggart knew. It was probably about to re-enact the scene. I think..."

I struggled to find the words. "I think I fear Dementors more than anything, sir."

"That's eery, that the Boggart knew," Lupin said. "But you're very wise. I fear the Dementor's kiss too, but for different reasons. You fear the lack of hope most of all, isn't it? You're very stubborn. You don't accept defeat."

I nodded.

"I, on the other hand," said the Professor darkly. "Fear what Dementors can do, with their kiss."

He spoke and looked as one who had been in Azkaban. Right now, he was gazing out the window, a little lost, like he had done on the train.

"Have... have you ever been to Azkaban, sir?" I asked.

"What me? Oh no, not me..." Remus Lupin replied with a nervous laugh.

"My scar hurt when I saw the Dementor on the train," I blurted out. "And when I saw the Boggart too."

Lupin looked at me sadly. "I don't think it's related to You-Know-Who. I heard once that there are cases when old scars hurt, something related to nerves... I think yours hurt when you're anxious, or depressed... when you're feeling things in an intense way."

"I'm not sure that's how scars work," I said.

"Trust me, yours is a magical wound. It's not so unusual for old scars to hurt. The way you got yours... I'm frankly surprised the hurt started this year."

It did not. Not exactly. I just felt it more deeply.

Lupin had the face of one who wanted to say some secret, but was wondering whether it was worth it.

"You know," he said slowly. "There is a way to defeat Dementors... I thought you might want to know about it."

"Yes, please, Professor!" I lit up.

"But, this is something that we teach to older students, usually in their fifth or sixth year, their final years... but okay, I think I could attempt to teach it to you."

He must have noticed how pleading my expression looked. I couldn't begin to imagine living in a world where I did not have to care about Dementors. True, I had encountered my first only a few days before. But after that, everything had changed.

"This spell is called Patronus," Lupin said. "And to channel it, you have to think of your happiest memory."

"What if your memory is not happy enough?" I asked. But it had to be. The fact that my life was miserable couldn't take away from me the people I loved -- Hermione, the Weasleys, Dumbledore...

"Sometimes it happens," Remus looked sad. "You know, I used to know your parents at Hogwarts. I know I don't look it, but I'm the same age as them."

"You don't look old, sir," I said. "You just look..."

"Like a beggar?" he asked cheerfully. "Well, nevermind that. I wanted to say, I was friends with both your father and your mother. A Patronus takes an animal form. Your father's was a stag. But your mother couldn't channel one. We later found out that it was because she did not have enough happy memories. She loved her sister Petunia to death, but Petunia was a complicated and judgy person and they did not really get along. Their parents were meaner to your mother, because she was a wizard and they didn't get that. Then, your mother had to go to Hogwarts, leaving Petunia behind. She felt as if she had betrayed her sister. She felt really really guilty about it for years. Then, in her final year of Hogwarts, her relationship with your father started to make her feel not only happy, but fulfilled. She conjured her Patronus, which was, in James' honour, a doe."

I was speechless. "Thanks Professor," I said. "I've never heard a story like that about my parents. I only heard a few comments from Petunia."

Like the fact that she would have to smuggle Dudley at Hogwarts because I would become like my mother, and leave him behind.

"Time's up," Lupin said, right after. "My schedule is very busy, so I'll let you know when we can practise your Patronus."

I nodded. "Thank you, Professor."

I only hoped I wouldn't meet a Dementor before that.

Chapter Text

On the first week of October, I still hadn't heard back from Lupin. There had been no mention of when Dudley's trial was going to be either.

The only highlight was the Map Fred and George gave to Ron.

"To loosen up a bit," Fred said. "We want you to follow in our footsteps."

"It's called the Marauder's Map, but we do not know who created it," George added. "I mean, the authors signed their names, but they used aliases. We borrowed it from Filch's office. It's a map of Hogwarts, that shows where everyone is at any time."

"When you say borrowed, you mean stolen, right?" Ron asked.

"We borrowed it, because at times it keeps going back to Filch's office -- when he takes it from us!" Fred said. "And then, we keep borrowing it."

"Wow, you're hopeless," Ron said.

George arched an eyebrow. "You are."

"We'll take the map," I said. "Ron, don't speak on behalf of Hermione just because she's not here to scold them. The map is fantastic, and it'll tell us whether Sirius Black has entered Hogwarts."

"Harry, there's hope for you yet!" George said happily, and gave us the Map.

"To make it work," Fred said. "You have to say 'I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.'"

"I love those guys," I said.

"No offence, but I would have never said that the Chosen One was that much of a troublemaker," Fred commented. "However, you did save the school many times behind the teacher's backs."

The Maurader's Map had been gifted to Ron in an act of brotherly love, but I liked it better than him. During the first few days that I got it, I started exploring the school with the Map and the Invisibility Cloak.

I'd never used the latter before because it made me feel sick for a while to remember how I got it. Sometimes I couldn't look at it without seeing Ron injured by Quirrell, Hermione talking about her dad, or without feeling the snake bite me.

 

Students who were thirteen years old or older could take trips during the week-end to visit Hogsmeade, a little village where wizards lived. To go, you had to have a guardian or a parent who signed the permission sheet for you.

The Dursleys signed Dudley's, but not mine. They wanted to give him more opportunities than I had, partly because he did not fit in at Hogwarts, and partly out of their usual spite.

The first visit at Hogsmeade had been organized in October, a few days after I found the Marauder's Map. When teachers asked the students who couldn't go, I found out sadly I was the only one whose sheet hadn't been signed.

Until Malfoy spoke up.

"Professor, I can't go as well," he said.

If there was anyone who was more surprised than me, it was Madam Hooch. I could almost hear how she was about to make some remark about Draco's indulging father, but didn't.

Maybe things were like I had thought. Maybe Draco's father did not indulge in every of his whims.

Since only Draco and I stayed behind, I thought I'd do something useful that I could tell Ron and Hermione later.

I took out the Marauder's Map and started wearing my Invisibility Cloak.

That was when I heard an irritating drawl behind me.

"What a nice cloak, Potter. A gift from Dumbledore? I wished the old man acknowledged that there are hundreds of other students at his school as well."

"Shut up Malfoy," I said. There was no use hiding the Cloak, since he had already seen it. "I won it my first year at Hogwarts, against Quirrell. According to rules of duels, it belongs to me."

Draco remained silent for a while, which I guess could mean that he either wasn't impressed, or that he hadn't listened to me.

"So, you're using the Cloak and this map to spy on teachers?" he asked.

"Well... when you put it like that..."

"Stop making a fool of yourself, Potter, I won't tell anyone. Just when somebody has a decent idea at this school. So, who are we going to spy?"

"There's no we," I said, very dryly.

"I know! We could spy Dumbledore. I bet you wouldn't have the guts, eh, Potter?"

I thought about it. It was a little unfair to spy on the man that treated me like a son, but I decided to show Malfoy that I was not a coward.

I shrugged. "Alright," I said.

Draco opened his eyes wide when I hid him in the Cloak beside me.

I looked at the Map. "I solemnly swear I am up to no good."

Draco furrowed his eyebrows. Well, I couldn't really see it -- it was dark, and he was so near to me I was starting to feel awkward  -- but I wagered it had been his expression.

"Who are Moony, Padfoot, Wormtail and Prongs?" he asked.

"The aliases of the people who wrote this map," I said. "Are you sure you won't show it to Snape? Because I could hit you with a Stupeficium, and perhaps you'd forget the past half an hour."

"Merlin's Beard, Potter, you're crazy. Stop threatening me," Draco protested. "I do quite enjoy breaking rules, in case you hadn't noticed."

We looked at the map.

"Look at that," I said. "Professor McGonagall is in the same room as Dumbledore. They're probably discussing something."

"Well, that's the perfect moment to spy on them," Draco said viciously. "They probably let the door open, since they expect nobody, or almost, to be at school."

I hated to tell him that he was probably right, so I didn't. I simply headed into the direction where Dumbledore and McGonagall were speaking.

Draco really was right. The door was open.

"I don't know when you will decide to tell Potter about Sirius Black," McGonagall was telling Dumbledore. I felt a bit disappointed that we were spying on a secret I had already been told.

"Every secret will be revealed in due time," Dumbledore said, as if he had more secrets than Sirius Black. "Potter is concerned with the possibility of You-Know-Who's return. I didn't tell him about Black too because you know how he is. He would go looking for him. 
With the Dementors Cornelius Fudge kindly put as guards of the school, all of our students are safe."

Professor McGonagall did not look quite convinced. "You know, it is very horrible that Sirius betrayed Lily and James Potter. He was their Secret Keeper. When I heard of how he told their location to You-Know-Who... well, frankly, I could not believe it. You know how the four of them were always together at school..."

She did not say who the fourth student who hang around with them was. Apparently, Dumbledore already knew.

"I know," he said. "I thought Sirius Black would have been better as Gryffindor, but he was a Ravenclaw just like Lily."

I held my breath. I never knew my mother was a Ravenclaw! I always assumed she was a Gryffindor, and so I never asked.

"He was very mischievious, and with the kind of smartness that outshines his peers, making him a bit arrogant, but it was all in good fun," Dumbledore continued. "Nobody thought he was going to do what he did. He and Lily were inseparable, sharing the same love for pranks. They were kind of like... the Weasley twins. And when they met James, it was hard to tell who was more enamoured with the idea of spending every minute with him -- his girlfriend, or his best friend."

"They even made him Harry's godfather," McGonagall commented sadly.

Suddenly, I found it very hard to breathe. Black was not a common Death Eater. He was my father and mother's best friend, who betrayed them. They must have loved him and trusted him, from what I was hearing. Had they even known that it had been him to turn them in, in the end?

"Potter," I heard somebody calling. "Potter, are you alright?"

Malfoy was still whispering, but I heard him loud and clear. When I realized he was holding me, to help me breathe better, I panicked and ran away. Since we were under the same cloak, he had no choice but to follow me.

I wouldn't fool myself that he would have followed either way.

I didn't know what to reply to Malfoy. I was, of course, not alright at all. But what could I tell to someone like him? I certainly couldn't tell him the truth and expect empathy from him.

I missed Ron and Hermione. They would have understood.

Draco, since he was still a human being, all things considered, took the Invisibility Cloak off of us and started to pat on my shoulders with a very trembling hand.

I jerked away from him, not really used to physical affection, much less if it came from someone like him. 

"I... I probably need to go now, Potter," he said gruffly.

I nodded, feeling really exhausted and pathetic.


After a while, I headed back to the dorms. I laid on my bed and did not wake up until I heard the footsteps of my classmates going back to the dormitory.

"Have you slept all day?" Fred asked me with a wink.

"No," I tried to look and sound cheerful, but my eyes must have been red. "I used the Map."

Ron opened his eyes very wide. "You found out something, didn't you?"

I nodded. "I'll tell you later."

"Yeah, it's probably for the best," Ron said. "I just remembered that, coming in, Hedgwig stopped by with a package for you. Madam Hooch asked one of her Hufflepuff students, Cedric Diggory I think, to give it to you."

"Couldn't she ask you, or one of the Gryffindors?" George snarled, uncharacteristically angry.

Ron winced. "It was a big package. She probably wants Harry to open it in front of a prefect, and Cedric is one. She simply asked him because she knew him, calm down."

George lowered his eyes.

"It's okay, I'll go," I said. "But why does it matter if I open it in front of a prefect?"

"Sirius Black," Neville explained darkly. "Who knows what he could send you, or make one of his allies send you."

I wanted to say that it sounded extremely ridiculous, but I couldn't blame Neville for repeating something a Professor had probably said.

I went to the Great Hall to meet Cedric Diggory.

He was a handsome student the same age as Fred and George with tousled light brown hair, golden and reddish under the lights, mischievious blue eyes and a wide smile. He was not my type, but he was definitely one of the most good looking boys at school. I knew I would not crush on him, because his attitude that Dumbledore had deemed so similar to mine was not something I liked that way. But, keeping my cool around him was going to be difficult.

"Hi, Potter. I think we can easily understand what it is," Cedric said, and smiled syly at the package. 

It was wrapped up in paper, but you could tell it was a broom. Cedric played Quidditch too, so it was only fair that he had known first the Gryffindor team was about to have a new, probably exceptional, broom.

"I already have one," I said, scratching my head. "McGonagall bought it for me my first year at Hogwarts. Back then, she said it was part of the school expenses, but I found out later it wasn't true..."

"So you're not loaded either, huh?" Cedric asked. "I only live with my father, Amos. We're not exactly rich."

"My uncle and aunt never gave me money, only bought me what was necessary for survival. You know what happened to my mother and father -- you all do. They died young, they didn't leave me much money. I haven't decided what to use it for yet. It sickens me, to think I could be wasting it..."

Cedric looked mildly impressed. "That's rough," he said.

I opened the package, and, of course, there was a broom in it. A Firebolt, the new model.

There was a letter, with the broom. Only three letters had been written on it.

"RJL," I said.

"Remus John Lupin!" Cedric corrected me, surprised. 

Chapter Text

I didn't get to use my Firebolt even once before someone took it away.

That someone was, quite obviously, Professor Snape.

"It could still be a cursed gift from Sirius," he said. "It wouldn't take a genius to fake the initials on the letter."

I suddenly felt like an idiot. I had never met Lupin out of class since the gift, so I never talked to him about it. Now, I had no proof that the broom really was from him.

Of course, I could tell Snape to ask him about it, but Lupin had been MIA for the past couple of days.

"Where is Professor Lupin anyway?" I asked Snape. "Does anybody even know?"

"Your Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher suffers from health problems," Snape said sharply. "Dumbledore knows about it. And you don't want to bother your professor, do you? So, let me keep the broom until he's well again, and then we'll ask him whether he sent it to you."

I had no choice but to accept, though I loathed that he had won the argument.

Later that day, I entered the dormitory to find Ron looking really panicked.

"I can't find Scabbers," he explained to me.

"Well, you can't really lose a rat," I said. "Or can you?"

Actually I had no idea. I started looking under the bed for Scabbers.

"How are we sure that it's him and not another rat?" Seamus asked. "Other Gryffindors have pet rats."

"Scabbers is old, and he's missing a finger on one of his paws," Ron said. "So yeah -- the worst looking rat you can find, is the one that belongs to me."

"Come on," I said. "Have you already asked Hermione?"

Usually, girls and boys did share dorms. There were then little adjacent rooms of a few students each, divided by gender, where you changed clothing and slept. I shared mine with Ron, Seamus, Neville and Dean. Sometimes we'd get visits from other males like Percy or Fred and George. There were, like in the bathrooms, special accomodations for certain students, though I did not know how they worked.

"Yes, before," Ron said. "I asked her whether she was sure Chips hadn't captured him and we had a discussion. She said Chips would never do such a thing."

The door to our room was open.

"Chips?" an amused voice behind us asked.

I turned around, blood freezing in my veins. Dudley was there, along with a couple hot headed Gryffindors that were his best friends.

"You mean to tell me your friend Granger took Chips in?" Dudley said.

"You mean to tell me your old cat has been around you this past few months and you've been too stupid to recognize him?" I asked, laughing.

Dudley's face became violet. "Don't push your luck," he said. "I am a real man, like my father and unlike you."

"You mean that, like him, you do your talking with your fists?" I asked.

"Do you mean... ?" Ron asked me, too horrified to add anything.

"Now I know why you three get along so greatly," Dudley continued. "You, Ron and Hermione. You're all into second hand things. There's no explaining how it applies to you, Ron."

"What about Harry?" Neville asked hotly.

"Oh, you didn't know?" Dudley asked. "Back at home, when he's not wearing the school uniform, all the clothes Harry has have been worn by me before. He's been getting my things for ages. Only fitting his best friend would get my cat. Frankly speaking, I'm surprised it wasn't him that rescued Chips. Even his "parents" had been mine before."

I tried to explain to Dudley that I did not see his mom and dad as parents at all -- in fact, I barely saw them as people -- but my words were lost in the noise caused by his friends' laughter.

"The Chosen One wearing second hand clothes," a bully said. "I bet it's enough to make you wonder why it wasn't you, Ron."

"Dumbledore once told me humble beginnings make the man," I said. I hoped Ron would apply the quote to himself, since he was the bravest person I knew, and I couldn't care less about his financial issues.

"You really believe what that senile old man says?" Dudley teased. "Then again, whatever makes you sleep at night, I guess."

I felt a bit guilty, afterwards. I got into a physical brawl with Dudley, and all of us kind of forgot about Scabbers.

 

The day after, we had another class with Professor Lupin. He showed no sign of illness but for the dark circles around his eyes. However, in the months where I got to know him, I had never seen him without them.

After class, I stayed behind to talk to him.

"I confirmed to Professor Snape that the broom was a gift from me," he said. "I had it delivered in hope that your classmates wouldn't think I liked you better than them. I was not thinking about Sirius Black... about how this would have looked.... I'm sorry that Snape took it away from you, and now everybody knows it was from me."

"And why did you give it to me, then?" I said, then I blushed. "Not that I thought you liked me better than other students, mind you..."

"I like your brutal honesty," he chuckled. "Hard to tell if you got it from your mother or your father. I told you they were my classmates when I went to Hogwarts. Perhaps one day I'll tell you about the broom, but it's a long story."

I nodded. I knew my father had been the Seeker of Gryffindor before me. From him I got my lithe physique and my below average height, both things that made me a great Seeker. Malfoy was even shorter than me, and I was willing to bet it was the only reason why were equals once we were fighting for the Snitch.

"I think today would be a wonderful day to teach you how to do your Patronus," Professor Lupin said.

My attention was diverted at once.

"You have to concentrate on a beautiful memory and say, 'Expecto Patronum," he explained. "It must be a very good memory, otherwise it wouldn't work."

I nodded, and tried it out.

Even though the Professor had said it had to be a very good memory, I didn't know one that would do it. I had things and people I was grateful for, but other than that...

I thought about Quidditch. In the air, I felt really free. And when Slytherin had won the Quidditch House Cup the previous year, I was really depressed.

I thought about when Gryffindor had won, the year before. That had been easily one of the best moments of my life. For the first time, I was not too awkward, too clumsy, too near-sighted to be good at a sport.

It wasn't working. I had my eyes closed, to concentrate better, but it wasn't working. I knew it before Lupin said it.

"I'll try with something else," I promised.

My second try -- the time I had seen my parents in the Mirror of Erised.

Of course, they weren't really there with me. They had never even known that I had seen them. But it was real, for me.

"Not working again," Remus Lupin said. "I am not a Healer specialized in psychology, but I know enough about suffering to know what's happening to you. Even when you do find good memories, there's suffering lurking behind the corner."

"That's right, Professor," I said. "I feel like I am being chased by Dementors."

"That's one way to put it, Harry. There are people whose minds feel that way, even though there are no Dementors near. It has something to do with trauma and suffering, or with a chemical imbalance. Or both. Dementors, however, find people such as you easy prey, because they feel like their work there is almost done."

"Of course," he added. "It's the other way around as well. People who are stubborn and don't question their motives too much don't let themselves be broken by Dementors in Azkaban. Many of the worst murderers survive. From my experience, to have that kind of stubborness, you have to be either a genocidal madman or a wonderful idiot."

"Erm... Professor?" I stopped his ramblings. "No one who's at Azkaban is a wonderful idiot."

"You're right," he replied, taken aback by his own very words. "Though I have something to ask you Harry -- do you believe the judicial system is always right?"

I felt as if a weight had been lifted. "No, I don't," I replied. "Actually, I feel relieved that you asked me this, Professor. Since last June, after a talk with Dumbledore, I decided I wanted to be an Auror. But ever since I heard of Azkaban, I began to question right and wrong... not everything about it seemed fair to me."

Lupin nodded. "Remember that you're young, and you can change your mind on what you want to be when you grow up as many times as you like."

"I am sure that I want to be an Auror," I said.

"Let's try your Patronus again," Remus said, with a slight smirk.

I closed my eyes again and concentrated on my first Christmas at Hogwarts. This time, there was no spite, and I buried deep inside me the memories of the other Christmases I had with the Dursleys.

I dwelled on the times spent with Ron during the winter holidays. I thought about Molly Weasley and the sweater she had knitted for me. Thinking about the winter holidays, I was reminded of when Draco Malfoy and I played Muggle chess. I wouldn't admit it at the time, but I had had fun playing with him.

I realized only later what I had done. I had to stop thinking about Malfoy, because there was no way I could evoke a Patronus with him in my memories!

I thought about Christmas morning, when McGonagall had wished me Merry Christmas with what I thought was motherly affection in her eyes. And Dumbledore, who gave me a pair of glasses that looked like my father's and the contact lenses. For once, my eyesight had been taken care of.

I heard Professor Lupin yelling, "You got it! Here it goes!"

When I opened my eyes, it seemed the Patronus had been forming for a while. It was a translucent stag.

"A stag! Like my father's!" I said excitedly.

"Yes," Lupin confirmed. He looked teary-eyed. It must have taken its toll on him to try to teach me such a difficult spell.

"I'm grateful," I said, out of breath. "I don't understand how I got it. I know I'm not the best student..."

The stag was shimmering in the air around us, and it was very beautiful to look at.

"What did you think about?" Remus asked. Then, he noticed he must have sounded impolite. "I mean, you don't have to reply... sorry, I was just curious."

"My first Christmas at Hogwarts," I replied.

"Speaking of which, Christmas will be in less than a week," Remus Lupin said. "Consider the broom I gave you a Christmas gift, and don't ask me about it anymore. I feel foolish now, for giving it to you and not being able to tell you the reason... but the past is the past, and I better not dwell on it."

"If I may," I asked, since I've always been a fan of the rule a question for a question, "What does your Patronus look like, Professor?"

"A wolf," he smiled to himself, as if that was some sort of joke.

In that moment, we heard footsteps coming from the corridor.

It was Professor McGonagall.

"Every student to their dormitory!" she said, looking at me. "We fear Sirius Black has tried to enter the school."

"What do you mean?" Lupin asked. I could swear he had rolled his eyes, as if to say it was nonsense.

"The Gryffindor dorms... well, come see it for yourself, Potter," McGonagall replied.

Chapter Text

My heart was beating in my chest. My ears were ringing.

I was looking at the portrait of the Fat Lady, Gryffindor's official portrait. It stood on the door of the dormitory and, to enter, you had to tell the lady the password of the week.

The portrait was now slashed by something that looked like a knife, or like animal claws.

When I went into the dormitory, all the students starting talking to Professor McGonagall at once.

"It is not enough that he had slashed the painting," Hermione said. "If he has entered, and he has entered," she pointed at footprints on the floor, "he needed the password. Someone must have told him!"

"And why in our dormitory?" Ginny asked. "What was he looking for?"

"Harry," Seamus Finnigan said.

"Or maybe... me," Dudley said, winking at Professor McGonagall and puffing out his chest.

"No, definitely not you," Ron said.

"Even though, if in his years at Azkaban, he developed a hatred for Muggles who illegaly go to magic school, I could understand," I said.

"Everybody shut up!" Professor McGonagall said. "And Potter, you best hope your cousin is not a Muggle. Cornelius Fudge will check out very soon, and tell us. But if he is, it's you who brought him illegaly into this school."

Suddenly, another thing was taken from me. I couldn't hope Dudley would be found guilty at the trial anymore.

"I was kidding, Professor," I lied.

"Alright, Potter," McGonagall said. "Though I quite admire your spunk, I must warn you not to joke too much about Dudley's powers. There are a few teachers, like Snape, who have been doing everything in their power to kick him out."

"It's always the Slytherins," Dudley shrugged.

"To be honest, I am one of those teachers myself," McGonagall said, a mischievious look in her eyes.

Then, she turned towards me.

"This week-end, if we found no proofs leading to Black, Quidditch will still be played. I want you to focus on that."

Her intentions were clear. I had already passed out on the train for Hogwarts at the sight of a Dementor -- what would I do at the idea that Black had been in my dormitory?

 

Obviously, no proofs that lead back to Black were found. Things were never that easy.

I did try to focus on Quidditch, but my mind was full of something else. Too bad I wasn't there, when Black was in my dormitory, I thought. I could have done something, handed him to the authorities... I could have had my revenge.

The day of the match, I was going crazy with fear of seeing Dementors on the Quidditch field. After all, they guarded all the wards of the school.

When the game started -- it was us against Ravenclaw -- I tried to keep my cool. But my mind was full of,

Sirius Black. Dementors. Sirius Black. Dementors. Sirius Black betrayed my parents. They loved him, and he killed them. Dementors can sniff my fear and my weakness, the things I've been trying hard to hide.

Oliver Wood brought me back to reality.

"Potter," he hissed, as he flew next to me.

It was enough of a warning. I loved Quidditch and everyone who played in my team, and I would not disappoint them.

However, after ten minutes of looking for the Snitch, I felt as if I was choking and couldn't breathe.

Nothing made sense anymore.

The Chosen One was just a mask that I wore because underneath I was nothing.

I was a failure, and if Voldemort came back, I'd disappoint everyone.

I looked up. A Dementor! And it was so near the audience of the game! I had to warn somebody. I had to... that must have been why I was feeling so shitty.

I pointed at the Dementor, without quite taking in what I was seeing and without understanding the faces of my teammates.

Then, my broom started plummeting towards the ground.

Later, when I woke up, I wasn't in infirmary. I was still on the ground, with the Weasley twins and Angelina Johnson looking at me worriedly.

Then, I heard a booming laughter, and Dudley was in front of me.

"You fell for it!" he laughed. "I can't believe you fell for it! I can't wait to tell mom and dad about it!"

"What happened?" I asked, trying to get myself to sit, and scratching my head.

I had an idea, but it would have been too humiliating.

"Dudley dressed up as a Dementor," Ron snarled. "It was a tasteless joke!"

I felt the whole world crumbling around me.

"But..." I said. "But I thought it was real! How could I think it was real?"

I sounded hysteric even to myself. All of my friends looked a bit sheepish.

I suddenly noticed Draco Malfoy was there as well, and the look on his face could only be described as 'furious'.

I bet he would have loved to be the one to come up with it.

The whole accident happened on the last day at school before the Winter holidays. Dudley, thankfully, did not stay at school during the holidays. And Professor McGonagall warned him that when the lessons would start again, they would decide the day of his trial.

 

The day school re-opened, Dumbledore gave the news to everyone, in the Great Hall. I would have loathed to receive the looks Dudley was receiving from everyone, but he only cared about being the center of attention.

I heard Malfoy talking about Dudley with his friends in the school corridor.

"I heard he will get kicked out," Goyle said. "I'm scared."

"What for?" Malfoy scoffed.

"If they start kicking out students," was the mysterious reply, "I'm afraid I will be next."

"Do you even know what they're kicking him out for?" Martin Kowalski asked him.

Goyle shook his head no.

"First, he used magic outside of school," Kowalski explained. "Then, it was ruled that he might not have used magic after all because there's always been rumours of him being a Muggle. Does any of this apply to you?"

Goyle shook his head again.

Malfoy rolled his eyes. "You know what? I really do hope he'll be expelled," he said. "In fact, if I had one of those Potions that make you lucky for a day, I'd use it to make sure he was expelled. And after what he did at the Quidditch match? I mean, dressing up as a Dementor? That was so tacky..."

"I agree," Kowalski said. "Though I couldn't care less about him."

His eyes lit up. "Of course," he added. "If he was kicked out, I could become luckier with the ladies. As of now, most of them want him."

Draco made a sound as if he was pretending to vomit. "If it's true, though, I can't believe it," he added then. "A Muggle at Hogwarts!"

In that moment, Dudley, who was probably eavesdropping just like I was, appeared out of nowhere and jumped on Draco, punching him in the face.

The scene really was too hideous to watch. I mean, it was Draco Malfoy, but I would never see Dudley bullying somebody without doing anything about it. Besides, Draco was probably tall and big half as Dudley was.

When Dudley tried to punch him again, I put myself in front of Draco.

Dudley's punch broke my glasses.

"Potter, why are you always where you shouldn't be?" Malfoy asked displeased.

"You could try to say 'thank you'," I said, taking off my glasses to see how much they'd been damaged.

Draco only snorted. He grabbed my hand to see how the glasses were holding up, and winced when he saw how cracked the glass was.

"Look at me, Potter," he commanded.

I wanted to joke, to ask him what he would do if somebody ever refused to obey him, but I didn't think it was the right time.

"Your nose is bleeding," he commented matter-of-factly.

In that moment, Professor Snape arrived, storming down the hall.

"What happened here?" he asked. He looked at Draco, Dudley and I. Dudley was unharmed, Draco had his hair disheveled and his uniform torn in a few places. I had my glasses cracked and my nose was bleeding. It didn't take a genius to figure out what had happened.

"Malfoy was making fun of me, because of my trial," Dudley said. "Said it's better if I go home, because..."

I saw a gleam shine in Dudley's eyes. I knew that look.

My cousin was not especially clever, but he was enough to be subtle. That look in his eyes meant he was about to lie.

But you only knew that if he manipulated his mother many times to get her to believe you had started the fight he started.

"Because I am really good at theory in most subjects, and I have a Slytherin girlfriend," Dudley said. "Malfoy was afraid I would outshine him. I'll also grow up to be a foot taller than him."

Snape arched an eyebrow. "Did Malfoy say that?"

"He didn't need to. It's obvious. I bet he's concerned his famous father would be happier with a son like me."

I did not know why I did it. I couldn't bear to hear it any longer. I hated Dudley when he was a bully. I hated when he lied.

Besides, the things he said were a load of crap.

I silently told myself that what I was about to do did not mean I was like uncle Vernon. Dudley and I had fought before, but catching him unprepared was not my style.

While he was adding something about Draco's frail health, I punched him straight in the nose. Not harder than he had punched me, I suppose, but I tried to make it sound like I meant it.

".... Potter," Snape commented. "What a barbaric act. You really are your father's son."

"What do you mean by that?" I asked.

Snape ignored me. "I expected you to fight your fight with spells and not fists. I do not know why I did. You're the possibly dangerous blood-thirsty kind with not a lot of brains. It shows on how you always follow every trace that leads to You-Know-Who. You're the revengeful type."

"I would be too," Dudley said, holding his nose. "If somebody had left half my face disfigured."

Snape looked at him coldly. "Don't push your luck. I won't ask you to my office in the hope you soon won't be a student of this school. Potter, follow me to my office."

"Professor..." Draco said in a whisper. "Potter hasn't done anything."

"Of course he did," Snape blinked. "He punched his cousin. Or have you been blinded by Potter's not disfigured side of the face? Are you one of those who think him handsome?"

Draco's face flushed of all colour.

"I'm not half disfigured, sir," I replied, hotly. I was already in detention, so why not push my luck? "I thought you knew what that looked like, since you're half disfigured yourself."

Snape was not really ugly, but he made no effort to look good either. With his hair that looked like he didn't wash it and his clothes that looked like he never took care of them, he wouldn't be too different from Remus Lupin. But he had that mean look in his eyes I had already seen in a few teachers. Like they couldn't wait to make you suffer.

That look in his eyes, and that alone, was enough to make him hideous in my eyes.

"Potter. Follow me. Now," he said, as he was talking to somebody dim-witted.

When I followed him to his office, Snape said, "I'll tell you what I meant about your father. Privately, because I do have a bit of honour."

"Really, sir? I couldn't tell."

"Why are you pushing your luck, Potter? You must know I was considering telling Fudge that you brought your cousin here. Either way, I used to fight a lot with Sirius Black back in the day. Yes, the murderer. Your father, once, took Sirius's side and punched me in the face."

I felt gratitude to my father, for having shown such a lesson to a bully like Snape, though I couldn't help but wonder if the teacher would be kinder to me if I was not my father's son. I also wondered how could my father have loved a person like Sirius.

"I know," Snape continued. "That you have something in your pocket that you shouldn't have. Give it to me."

I could have played dumb, but I showed him the Marauder's Map.

Snape looked at the names written there.

"If you don't mind," he said. "And even if you do mind, I'm keeping it."

Chapter Text

One day in April, Professor McGonagall announced that during the following month, in May, Dudley would have to face his trial with Cornelius Fudge.

I couldn't even begin to think about how much it would have wrecked my life. There were three reasons, mostly, and they scared me even more than Dementors had.

1 -- I had brought Dudley to Hogwarts. It was possible that I would be kicked out too. I had lied, covered for him, and helped him cross the portal at the train platform.

2 -- I couldn't help but feel guilty. For some reason, Dumbledore had overlooked the fact that Dudley was not a born wizard. But, after Dudley had succeeded, probably only with luck, to imprison me in my room with magic one summer, I had asked the headmaster to make sure the government controlled him. Dudley did not know, and thus he kept using his wand without knowing that this time he would be caught.

3 -- I didn't want to live to see uncle Vernon's reaction. He probably would have blamed me even if it was not my fault, nobody knows what he would have done if he had known for a fact it was my fault. Because this time, it was.

When Professor McGonagall announced the news to the class, I couldn't take it in anymore. I ran out the door.

Since I could hear the laughters of the students who thought I was a bit of a freak, I sat on the grass of one of the school's gardens. At first, I didn't hear somebody sitting beside me.

I turned around. It was Malfoy. He had heard everything, because Slytherins shared that class with us.

I shoved him lightly.

"Hands off, Potter," he said. "It's not like I want to get close to you to hit you with a cursing spell. I looked for you because... I was curious of something."

His voice was softer, reminding me of when we had talked for the first time and he had seemed like he could become a great friend. I decided to give him a chance, which must have proved how desperate I felt.

"Ask whatever you want," I said.

"Why do you seem upset when people mention your cousin's trial? You should be happy to have that stupid oaf out of here. He also puts a dent in your ability to form social relationships."

"I have friends, and you don't have to approve of them," I specified.

Then, I explained him the first two reasons of why I didn't want Dudley to be kicked out. I found myself having trouble talking about the third, because I had never told anyone. Not even Ron and Hermione.

"I don't want to see... how my aunt and uncle will react," I said finally.

"Oh, I should have expected," he muttered back, disgusted. "You and your loyalty..."

"When I decided to trust you with this, I didn't sign up for the sardonic comments as well," I said.

"To be honest, you accepted before you knew what you were signing up for."

He grinned at me, in a boyish way. It was hard to remind myself that he was a thirteen year old boy like me. It was hard not to think of him as the Death Eater's son. But I owed it to him to try.

"It's not about that," I said. "I can be actually mean to people I don't like. You've seen how I am with Dudley -- I am not actually much better with his parents. But my uncle Vernon has always been mean to me, ever since they took me in. At some point during my childhood, he started drinking and he became violent. Even Aunt Petunia, who's not kind to me, sometimes is scared of him. I... I don't know what Dudley thinks about it. I've never asked."

Draco looked at me as if to say I cared too much about others, but did not say it. But I knew for a fact that he acted in a similar way with his family -- he put way too much trust in his father.

I realized, suddenly, that my offhand comments must have seemed like tasteless jokes to Draco.

He did not know his father was a Death Eater.

"Do you mean your uncle Vernon is violent... to you?" Draco asked, after a long pause.

I nodded. "No, he's never touched his wife and his son," I said. "He fancies himself one of those wealthy man from Surrey who respects the concept of family. And the concept of having like this perfect little family neighbours should be jealous of. I'm just not that part of that family."

Draco bit his lip for so long I was afraid it would start bleeding.

"Say something," I said.

"How often?" he asked. There was a murderous expression in his eyes. I tried not to think of how much it reminded me of his father.

It also made him look attractive, in a fucked up sort of way. I tried not to think about that too.

"I don't want to talk about it," I replied.

Draco closed his eyes shut, as if to say this reply was enough.

I was feeling vulnerable and exposed, but in a good way. Draco was one of the biggest bullies at Hogwarts, but the look on his face was enough to make sure he would never use this against me.

So, I started taking off the robe of my school uniform. I took off my sweatshirt, and lifted my shirt.

Draco opened his eyes to find me half-naked. His grey eyes drained of all colour.

"What are you doing, Potter?" he whispered. He turned around to see if somebody had seen us.

"Come closer," I said. I tried to ignore the fact that Draco looked like he was about to be sick.

Draco looked at my chest. He was trembling like a leaf.

I took his hand, and let him touch a few faint scars on my abdomen.

"I didn't know you had scars," he said, and withdrew his hand as if he had touched a flame. "I mean... except for..."

He touched his right side of the face. I lowered my eyes, embarrassed. I noticed Draco was embarrassed too.

"Since you trusted me with this... I thought I wanted you to know I deserve your trust," he said. "Kind of."

He gave me a pair of glasses. I had only been wearing lenses since Dudley's punch.

"You kept them for three months?" I asked quietly.

"You know I'm not the best wizard around..." Draco shifted uncomfortably on the heels of his boots. "Took me months to get it right..."

"Well, thanks," was all I managed to say.

I wish I could have said more.

 

The day after, Hermione spoke up for the first time during a lesson. I guess it had to mean every one of us was changing a little in our own way. After all, we were thirteen.

Snape asked us to gather the ingredients of a Potion, and when Neville asked him for help, he simply replied,

"Just read the book."

But the book was often wrong, and everybody knew it.

That was why, half an hour later, when I checked Hermione's potion it looked moldy green instead of lilac.

Never had Hermione been so wrong in class excercises before.

"Granger," Snape said. "I was willing to bet your luck couldn't last forever. Of course, someone raised by Muggles can't recognize when a Potion needs Abraxan hair..."

We all held our breath. Judging people with Muggle blood did happen, but it was considered in poor taste. I had never even had a word from the bullies in Gryffindor about it, since they were Dudley's friends.

And the bullies in Slytherin, which was the House with the most rambunctious students other than Gryffindor, were friends of Martin Kowalski, whose grandfather was a Muggle.

"Well, perhaps I would have known," Hermione said, furious. "If you had bothered to teach us your subject.... sir!"

That said, she stormed out of the room.

When we met up later, for Divination, Ron was practically giving Hermione a standing ovation.

Professor Trelawney was starting to get on my nerves with her predictions of my death. I knew Hermione had said that it was important to keep our mind open. And that Persian wizards studied this subject. And I knew that the fact that I had been stressed recently was probably getting in the way.

Still, it was hard for me to appreciate the subject as I should have, and I couldn't help but add Trelawney's predictions to the list of my problems.

After class, she wanted to talk to me.

"Sometimes," she explained. "A force that I call the Oracle takes over my body, and I say prophecies. What do you make of that?"

"With all due respect, Professor, I'm sure someone at St Mungus will tell you better than I what it is you should do."

"Ah-ah. So funny," she patted on my shoulder. I jerked away, since I did not like to be touched.

"The reason I've told you is, I've felt it starting to take control for the past twenty minutes, so it will happen, sooner or later."

"Well, you're the one who can see the future," I shrugged.

Professor Trelawney nodded, and her eyes became milky white.

Oh no. The spirit of the Oracle really was taking over.

As I soon found out, prophecies did not have to rhyme.

Or make sense.

"The Dark Lord..." Professor Trelawney whispered in a guttural voice. "Is on the rise... he was a Seer... like myself... us Seers, we're all connected...."

"Professor," I stopped her. "I do not think Tom Riddle was a Seer..."

But after all, what did I know? There was so little that I knew.

"Why?" she asked, drinking from a bottle of orange juice. "What have I just said? Sorry, Potter, my throat is sore right now."

I nodded, and I let her drink.

"Have you ever been... mistaken before?" I asked her.

If the Dark Lord was a Seer, perhaps he knew how all of this would end. He already had so much more power than I had.

"Nope," she replied. "The ability comes from my grandmother. She said a prophecy about a Dark Lord and who would defeat him."

She put her hand to her mouth. "I probably shouldn't have said that. Now, you'll go looking for it."

"I believe destiny is what we say it is," I said. Because if it wasn't, then I was royally fucked.

 

The month of May arrived, and the day of Dudley's trial did too.

They asked me to be there. It was messy. I was blamed for taking Dudley along. Dumbledore was blamed because Hogwarts is usually enchanted in a way Muggles can't see it, let alone for a few special cases. Fudge kept insisting it must have been Dumbledore to lift the enchantment and let my cousin enter.

I agreed, and though I did not know why the headmaster would have done it, I did not ask. This was how much I was beginning to trust him.

However, when Fudge asked for my opinion, I told him I disagreed, to show Dumbledore I was on his side.

I do not remember exactly what was the punishment Fudge gave Dumbledore when he interviewed Dudley, but he let him off easy. He did not lose his job.

He told me he didn't see fitting, for now, to expel me from Hogwarts. I was the Chosen One, after all.

"Whether Dudley will be expelled or not, is something that we will announce to him and him alone," Fudge told me. "Your cousin might take weeks to prepare, and I am not sure he will tell you in the meantime. But, if our assumptions are right, and he's a Muggle, what will we do about you?"

"People like Harry Potter must learn and stay at school," Dumbledore said, putting too much trust in my abilities. "The greatest potential can be wasted without the proper education. It is imperative that those destined for greatness learn how much they can from their guardians and tutors."

Fudge couldn't say no to something like that. Instead, he said I would not go to Hogsmeade in my whole school career, not even if somebody signed the sheet. I would stop playing Quidditch, and I would have to work during the summer in a Ministry of Magic department that had something to do with Muggles, I don't remember.

The month of May arrived, and I did not hear from Dudley.

However, it could only mean my greatest fear had become true.

Dudley had finally been expelled from Hogwarts.

Chapter Text

Thankfully, I did not have time to dwell on it too much.

That afternoon, while I was taking a walk in the park with Ron and Hermione, we saw a little grey-ish brown animal moving in the grass.

"It looks like Scabbers!" Hermione said, excited to prove Chips might not have killed Ron's pet after all.

"That's true!" Ron admitted. However, when he tried to catch the rat, it started running away. It was very fast.

"It's heading in the direction of the Whomping Willow!" Hermione said.

While the animal was just a little blur in the grass, Hermione was right. We followed it.

The rat disappeared near the roots of the tree. It looked as if he had found a way to get...

"Has he gone beneath the tree?" Ron asked, as if he could hear my exact thoughts.

"Should we follow it?" I asked.

"Oh no, that's crazy," Hermione said. "You know I usually back up all your plans, or at least, I'm learning to, but this time... might be probably better if you get another rat, Ron."

"Maybe, it wasn't even Scabbers," I said. I felt one of my legs tingling.

Ron coughed into his hand. "Erm... Harry?"

"What?" I asked. I felt something gripping my leg.

Hermione screamed. I looked down.

One the tree roots had wrapped itself around my leg!

I tried to struggle, but couldn't get free.

"I've read about it," Hermione said. "You don't have to try to break free. Kind of like Chinese handcuffs."

"And let the tree take me where it took Scabbers?" I asked.

Ron became really pale. "You told me that it wasn't Scabbers."

"He said 'maybe,'" Hermione corrected him. Then, she yelled again. The root of the tree had caught her too.

"Oh fuck..." Ron said. "You know I'm not very good at magic. I don't think I can get you out of this one."

Something flashed in Hermione's eyes. Determination, maybe. However, I didn't like it.

"Okay," she said. "When you tell me your stupid plans, you're usually right. Guess we have no choice but to follow Scabbers."

She tried to break free of the root, that arched in the air like it had been wounded, and caught Ron too.

"You know, I have a feeling," I said. "That the rat wanted us to follow him. To show us something."

I didn't. I only said it to lighten up the atmosphere.

Ron and Hermione fell for it. "You better be right," Ron said glumly while the roots were taking us under.

 

Under the Whomping Willow, there was something that resembled a little wooden house. It had a few rooms.

When the roots let us down gently, Hermione threw her hands in the air.

"The Shrieking Shack?" she said. "That's it. I'm quitting."

"What is the Shrieking Shack?" I asked.

"Abandoned house in Hogsmeade," she replied. "People used to believe it was haunted."

"Great, just great," Ron muttered.

"Hogwarts has ghosts," Hermione hissed at him. "You eat lunch every day with Nearly Headless Nick."

"But he's not of the vengeful kind," Ron said, as if there were different ranks of ghosts.

When Hermione noticed my face, she said, "I'll explain the differences between ghosts to you another time, okay?"

I nodded. "You're wrong," I said. "We can't be in Hogsmeade. We're under the tree."

"We're not under the tree. We went through a tunnel. A magical tunnel. Listen, I tell you this is the Shrieking Shack! I've seen pictures."

We heard a voice behind us.

"The girl is right."

We turned around. Long chocolate brown hair and grey eyes with a mischievious twinkle in them. A sly smile that reminded me of the Weasley twins.

It was Sirius Black.

Hermione pointed her wand at him. I appreciated her courage, though I didn't think it would do any good.

"I am not here to harm any of you," he said. "In fact, it was you who trespassed into my territory."

"We were only looking for Ron's rat."

Black arched an eyebrow. I found myself thinking that his grey eyes kind of looked like Draco's.

"His rat?" he asked. "A little brown animal, about thirteen year old and with a missing finger in one of his paws?"

"He does have the missing finger," Ron said. "I do not know his age."

"Ron's rat can't be thirteen!" Hermione protested. "The same age as us!"

"To be honest," Ron said. "It hasn't been in my family for long. It was sold to me at the animal shop for half the price my first year at Hogwarts."

Sirius Black looked a bit puzzled.

However, he went into another room and he came back with a fuzzy animal in his hands.

"Is that your rat?"

Ron looked at Sirius, surprised. I knew that my friend was thinking what we all were thinking. Sirius Black did not look dangerous.

"Yes," Ron admitted finally. He was keeping his distance from Black, but he was not too far to see that the animal in the criminal's hands was Scabbers.

In that moment, the shadow of a man appeared from another room.

"Not now, Remus," Black snarled. "We have visitors."

"Remus?" Hermione asked, her voice high-pitched. "Remus Lupin, our teacher of Defence Against the Dark Arts?"

A man with light auburn hair stepped into the light. "The very same," he replied darkly.

And then the fear really swallowed us whole. The whole situation had just gotten a thousand times worse.

If Black was dangerous or not, I wasn't scared as long as he let us out the Whoping Willow alive. In that moment, the idea of avenging my parents was not looking too ideal. Black looked like a thin, pathetic man instead of a criminal mastermind, and I found out I wasn't looking forward to bring him to the Dementors.

Not before I heard his side of the story.

But finding out that my Defence Against the Dark Arts was on his side -- that was terrible. Too terrible. The man who taught me the Patronus. The man who said he knew my parents...

I figured something out.

"You," I said, pointing at Lupin. "You are the fourth student who always hang out with Black, my mother and my father!"

"Yes, I am," Remus replied glumly.

Black, who was thin and emaciated, looked close to passing out. Remus put a hand on his shoulder steadily.

"I should have understood it before," Black said in a whisper. "You're Harry! You look like both of them..."

I must have looked at Sirius with an angry look in my eyes, because Remus Lupin said,

"Harry, listen to what we have to say. I'll be damned if you can harm Sirius before you know the whole story."

"Tell me," I said. "The whole story."

"I think it goes back at school," Remus said. "When my friends found out I was a werewolf. I had been bitten when I was a child."

Sirius yelped at the thought, as if he was in pain or enraged.

"You're a what...?" Ron asked.

"Of course, it makes sense!" Hermione smacked her head. "Why you often call in sick. The same times as when there's a full moon up in the sky. And the way you look so sickly... I mean, no offence, Professor."

"What did your friends do, when they found out?" I asked.

"They became Animagi. An Animagus is a wizard who can transform into an animal. My friends would become their animal form to keep me company when I was a wolf. Your father, Harry, was a stag. Sirius was a black dog..."

"What was my mother?"

"Your mother? Oh. She wasn't much a friend of ours back then. We had aliases..."

"The names on the Marauder's Map!" I said. "Prongs, Padfoot, Moony and Wormtail."

I scrunched up my nose. "Who is Wormtail?"

"He was a student called Peter Pettigrew," Sirius snarled. "Been friends of ours for the seven years of school, but our relationship was always on and off because he was a timid and coward guy. We thought there was nothing wrong with it, until he grew up to be a double-faced bastard."

"Stop, they're children," Remus said.

"Either way, Peter's animal form was a rat," Sirius pointed at Scabbers. "This rat."

"I... I don't believe you!" Ron said. "I did not use Peter Pettigrew as a pet."

"When you say it that way, it sounds mildly inconvenient," Remus replied. "But we assure you he is who we say he is. Change back, Peter, it's been thirteen years now."

"Yes, change back, Peter," I said. "I'm still waiting for someone to tell me the story of how my parents have been betrayed, it must as well be you."

"Don't..." Remus started warning me, his face very pale.

But it was too late -- Scabbers was turning into a man! A short, ugly looking man with mousy brown hair the same colour as Scabbers' fur. He had only four fingers on one of his hands.

"Why have we never heard of a Peter Pettigrew before?" Hermione asked.

"Because," Sirius said grinning. "The world believes him dead. I went to Azkaban charged with his murder."

I was not completely ready to admit Black looked innocent, but I was forced to believe he was. He must have been. Perhaps he hadn't betrayed my parents, if he hadn't killed Peter Pettigrew.

But if he hadn't betrayed my parents, who had?

In that moment, someone else entered the room and joined us.

It was Severus Snape.

"How did you...?" I asked.

"Marauder's Map," the professor replied. "Do you remember when I took it from you? Your names disappeared from Hogwarts. Well, actually, they didn't. They are somewhere in the park near the Whomping Willow."

"You should have never taken what wasn't yours!" Sirius spat at him.

Snape looked at him coldly. "Could have guessed that someone like you would end up serving thirteen years in prison. Or don't you remember the hell you and your friends gave me at school?"

Sirius clenched his fists. "It was you who started it! Don't you remember... first year? You mocked me because I showed up wearing black eye make-up."

"Well, that's a bit of a laugh," Ron said.

"People should be able to express themselves, don't you think?" I asked. "Things like who you love or what you wear... they don't matter."

"You're right," Ron said, surprised.

"You look like you have never thought about it," Hermione replied. "But better late than never."

"I just said eye make-up was a bit funny," Ron's ears became red. "My brother is gay!"

"Which one?" Snape asked.

"Doesn't matter, besides nobody said Sirius was gay," I commented.

I was gay and I did not wear make-up.

"He just looked it," Snape said. "Do you remember that time Potter broke my nose? I mean James Potter."

"You deserved it! You called me faggot!"

"Sirius, they're children," Remus said.

"That's what that monster said!" Sirius replied. He was shaking now. "I can't believe Dumbledore let him become a professor!"

"Either way, what were all of you doing here?" Snape asked. "Family reunion? Potter with the man who betrayed his parents and the third wheel in James and Sirius' relationship?"

Lupin became really pale.

"Isn't tonight full moon? Why aren't you changing into a wolf? Who was that bit you? Oh yeah... Fenrir Greyback."

Sirius snarled and jumped on Snape as if he was a dog.

"Who's Greyback?" Ron asked.

"A monster," Remus said. "A werewolf that likes to change people, especially children. And my stepfather."

Snape and Sirius froze. Ron and Hermione looked as if they were about to be sick. And me?

For the first and only time, I felt grateful that the man I was living with was only Vernon Dursley.

In that moment, I remembered there was someone else in the room. Peter Pettigrew! What had happened to him?

I heard, "Stupefy!" and Snape went limp.

"What did you do that for?" Sirius asked. "I've waited thirteen years to beat that motherfucker up."

"Sirius, there are kids here... you know what? It doesn't matter," Lupin said.

"I wanted to tell young Potter my story," Peter said, his face distorted in a pathetic attempt at puppy dog eyes.

"If you really a double-faced coward who faked his death right after my parents had sacrificed themselves, you will have to work harder to win my respect," I said.

"And well," he continued, as if he hadn't heard me. "I decided to stupefy that nosy teacher so he wouldn't have anything to say about all of this."

"Perhaps," I grinned. "You won't have to work that much harder."

Chapter Text

Sirius took the lead of the conversation.

"No," he stopped Peter Pettigrew. "I'll tell."

Remus looked at him. "Are you sure...?"

"If I don't tell the truth, do you think he will?"

"Let's start it off this way, Harry -- I was charged with the murder of Peter Pettrigrew. They said I disintegrated him, that all that was left of him was one of his fingers. I was also charged with treason, of conspiring with the Dark Lord, for they said I gave up your parents' location. But I didn't. I didn't do any of that."

"I need to hear the whole thing before I decide whether to believe you," I said. "If you didn't betray my parents, who did?"

"He did it," Sirius pointed his finger at Peter, who was cowering in fear.

"I... I don't know what he's talking about!" Peter whimpered.

"That's the oldest excuse in the book, mate," Ron said. Then, he shivered. "Ugh. I'd never thought Scabbers could have been a person, let alone someone like him."

"Only a person like him would be enough of a coward to stay in the body of a rat for thirteen years," I replied.

Sirius nodded. "You see, Harry, I was James and Lily's Secret Keeper. I was very proud of it too. Only, one day, not long before they were betrayed, Peter Pettigrew convinced me to give this position to him. I feel guilty now, so guilty that I think I might really deserve my time at Azkaban."

"Don't say that..." Remus said.

"Well, not really deserved it, or I wouldn't have escaped," Sirius Black grinned. I decided that he looked a bit eccentric, probably mad from his time at Azkaban, but that the more he spoke the more I believed him. "But this thing has been eating me from the inside out. You see, I was young and gullible, and Peter used one of my weakenesses against me. It would never work now. And let's add to that the fact that I never suspected Peter capable of doing things like that! In fact, I was convinced he could help your parents better than I could."

"How could that have been possible?" I couldn't help but ask. "Dumbledore said you were like a brother both to my mother and my father."

"Dumbledore talked to you about me? About the fact that I was a friend of your parents?" Sirius looked horrified.

"He didn't," I said. "I eavesdropped."

Black grinned. "You're so much like Lily."

"I want you to tell me why you gave up your position as Secret Keeper to Peter Pettigrew. Why you thought my parents would be safer with him."

Black's face darkened. Maybe it was not my place to ask, but I needed to know the whole story if I wanted to trust him.

"I am, as you might have understood from Snape's words, a homosexual," Sirius said. He looked at Ron. "Meaning that I like boys."

"I know that," Ron protested. "My brother is gay." He looked at Snape, to check if he was still sleeping. "George."

"You didn't have to out him," Hermione said.

"He's not exactly in the closet."

"Well... Peter was afraid someone with my secret could be corrupted. And I thought back then, that maybe I could have been. You see, it's not easy to be gay now, but it was even harder back then. And I come from a famous wizarding family, who fathom they're better than anyone. My mother, father and brother already treated me very badly because I was rebellious and wore make-up, and things worsened when I was sorted in Ravenclaw instead of Slytherin. Especially considering my score on the Gryffindor test was so high that Gryffindor and Ravenclaw were almost a tie."

"Like my test," Hermione said. On her face, there was the expression of a brave young girl who thought Sirius very brave. But, there was also the expression of someone who thought her admission test was worth more as a career than thirteen years in prison.

"I guess the make-up and the rebellious attitude were not only things that came from the heart -- I liked to rebel. I liked to be different. It would have been very much worse, however, if they had known such a thing about me. Of course, they already canceled me out of their family tree when I went to Azkaban. Even though many of them should have gone there in my place, as Death Eaters."

Death Eaters, grey eyes, a difficult family...

"Are you related to Draco Malfoy?" I asked.

"Lucius' son? He's my second cousin twice removed," Black replied. "Why? Is he your friend?"

"Not exactly," I received terrible looks from Hermione and Ron. "I mean, he's very uptight and self-centered, and he often talks about his money, but I have reason to believe he is more than meets the eye."

"I hope that's true," Sirius mused. "It would be great to have a living relative that I do not hate."

"Sir, I would like to tell you that we have nothing against you," Ron took one for the team. "As I have already mentioned..."

"Yes! We know it! George is gay! Yell it to everyone, won't you?" I replied, irritated.

I got weird looks from everyone in the room, even Peter Pettigrew. I felt guilty all of a sudden that they wouldn't know for a while what was troubling me.

Because, since I had never had a crush on anyone, I thought the moment to come out could still wait. And because uncle Vernon would take it as bad as Sirius' father, and I already had to deal with the fact that Dudley had been expelled.

"To be honest," Ron replied after a very long pause. "George is bisexual."

"So am I," Remus Lupin replied.

We all looked at him bewildered.

"Are you and Sirius Black...?" I asked.

"We're working it out, since he has just got out of Azkaban and he's hiding," Lupin replied. "Besides, I don't know how that would be taken if people knew I was your professor, and I already am a werewolf! But we got in contact since he escaped, and we found out we've been liking each other since Hogwarts. Right now, I'm just helping him out, I gave him the passwords of the dormitory. In case there was an emergency and he had to tell Harry the whole story before he was captured. I never knew he'd use them recklessly!"

"I was looking for the rat," Sirius replied. "And by the way, Harry asked, so better give him answers -- yes, we're an item."

They looked at each other, still a bit uncomfortable with the word.

"James and Lily wouldn't have been happy," Sirius said.

My heart started pounding in my chest. Just the kind of news I wanted to hear about my parents!

"They would have been ecstatic," he added, after a long pause.

 

"So," I snarled. "Who is it to blame for betraying my parents? Peter Pettigrew?"

"Yes," Sirius replied, "And when I confronted him about it, he cut off his finger and turned into a rat. See, when you turn into an Animagus, you have to fill out a lot of papers at the Ministry. But, back then, we only became Animagi to keep Remus company. We didn't do any of the necessary. So, nobody knew Peter was a rat, and when they came for me and I told them, they wrote me off as crazy. You see, there's history of insanity in my family... my mother..."

Remus patted on his shoulder. 

"Do you admit it?!" I asked Pettigrew. "Because you see, I don't care whether you admit or not -- it must be true. Everything leads to you!"

"Harry..." Hermione said. "Your feelings are very noble, but we haven't learned any spell we could use against Pettigrew. And thankfully, because what we need to do is make him stand a trial and get him in prison in place of Sirius Black."

I agreed with her, and Lupin and Black helped us tie up Peter Pettigrew who, for being a traitor, was not much of a villain. He was too scared to try to put up a fight.

Then, we left the Shrieking Shack by the way we got in. We all agreed it would have been better to find Dumbledore and tell him all about it before anyone could report Sirius was here.


While we were walking out and we kept our eyes on Pettigrew, a lot happened. Mostly, Sirius and Remus talked to me so much I began to see them as friends.

Remus told me, "You know, the Shrieking Shack is not haunted. It is the place where I used to go when I was a student here and I would turn into a werewolf. What people would hear was my shrieks."

And, "James stood up to Snape most of all, but he was not a bully. He was a bit rambuctious -- he would get into fights. He, sometimes did the talking with his fists. But I became his best friend because we both liked books and he had a great charisma, like the one the Greek heroes must have had in battle. A true Gryffindor. Sirius, instead, was Lily's best friend."

And, "James was a Seeker like you. He once told me he wanted to buy you a broom for your thirteenth birthday. The best broom there was. So, I bought you the Firebolt because he never had the chance."

Sirius told me, "Since I am your godfather, perhaps we can arrange for you to live with me. That is, if we can prove Peter is the guilty one."

And, "Did you know that your father was Jewish?" I didn't. "I am Jewish too," Black added. "On the Black side of the family. Black is an old Jewish surname. After the mess that happened in the Muggle world during WWII, people on my father's side stopped saying we are Jews, but we are. After I met your father, I reconnected to my old culture."

And, "You remind me of your mother, and that's a very good thing. But you also remind me of your father, and that's complicated..."

Sirius never got to explain why it was complicated. In that moment, Peter Pettigrew broke free of his bonds.

A Death Eater like him, we shouldn't have underestimated him.

"Keep calm," I told everyone. "He can't tell anyone Sirius is here, because people believe him dead, and they'll ask him why he isn't."

"Yes, but he might cause a mess and that will make people come here," Sirius replied. "Then, I'll be seen."

"We have no other choice," Ron said darkly. "We split. Hermione and I will run after Peter Pettigrew. If we can't tie him up back again, at least I'll be there to tell people he used to be my rat."

Remus nodded sternly. "I'll go with you. Sirius, Harry, try to get to Dumbledore steering clear from the Dementors. Should the worse happen, both of you can make a Patronus."

"I don't think mine works anymore, after Azkaban," Sirius said.

"What did it use to be?" I asked.

"A big dog, similar to a wolf."

"What is with your Patronus all looking like the animals you can turn into?"

"Different reasons. Mine is a dog and James is a stag because that is our spirit animal, as Native Americans would call it. Same reason as why we turn into those animals. But Lupin... he once told me his Patronus became a wolf when he enbraced the wolf inside him."

"Can they change over time?"

While we were speaking, we were also walking.

"Of course," Black replied. And then, "Oh no."

We were near a stream of water, and there were Dementors there.

It seemed as if they recognized Black, for they started attacking him before he could make his mind up about anything. It was left to me to protect my godfather.

"Expecto Patronum!" I tried.

And tried. And tried. It wouldn't work.

Just when I was about to pass out, I saw a Patronus on the water. It was shaped like a dog. But not one of those dogs that looked like wolves.

The last thing I remember was asking myself who the hell could have saved us.

Then, I hear voices and I knew, I just knew, that those people would see Sirius with me, think him guilty and take him away back to Azkaban.

Then, I really passed out.

Chapter Text

I woke up in the Hospital Wing. Ron was there too, with a broken arm that Peter must have given to him.

"It's over," he whispered. "I'm sorry Harry. It's over. Peter escaped from my grip and when Sirius was captured and we told Fudge he was innocent, Snape said he knew Black back from school and that he knew him enough to prove he was guilty."

I felt as if the whole world had shattered. "They didn't believe him, right? Who could buy something like that?"

"I don't know if they did, I just know they didn't listen to Hermione and I. Sirius was taken back to Azkaban."

I was about to pass out again. Sirius was innocent. He was my godfather, and a friend. It had been Peter Pettigrew to betray my parents and he was free.

In that moment, I noticed Hermione was there too. She wasn't in a hospital bed, though. She was looking at me both determined and concerned.

"I swear I wouldn't have used it if it wasn't for school," she said. She checked to see if nobody was listening. "But what if I told you there was a way to turn back time? I know it sounds crazy... but I can't stop thinking about... what if we..."

"That's not crazy," I replied, my heart skipping a beat. "I'm in."

"Okay," Hermione took a deep breath. "The object that will make us turn back is called a Time Turner and Professor McGonagall gave one to me at the start of the school year to be able to take more than one class at a time -- yes, that's how I managed it -- the rule is, you shouldn't run into the past you. It would kill you both simultaneously."

The Time Turner looked like an antique pocket watch.

"You should give me your hand while I wind it," Hermione said. Then, she looked at Ron. "Oh. I'm afraid you can't follow us. Not with your broken arm."

"You sound like a Professor," Ron muttered.

"One last thing," I said. "Wind it to this morning. I need to find a way to save Dudley."

"Are you kidding?" Ron asked. "Your Muggle cousin is definetely out of Hogwarts and you..."

"I know what you mean, but Vernon and Petunia won't be kind to me if he is expelled. And I can't play Quidditch anymore."

Ron shrugged. "I see what you mean."

When I was about to hold Hermione's hand, the door opened. But it wasn't Madam Pomfrey.

It was Malfoy.

"Stop right there," he snarled. "I've been eavesdropping everything."

"And what do you mean to do about it?" I asked.

Surprisingly, he took a few steps and held my hand. "I want to come with you. Black is my second cousin twice removed. Maybe my family seems like it would be proud to know him in prison for helping the Dark Lord, but that's not quite true. Even back home this is a stain to our reputation. If you say he's innocent..."

I thought of how little chances we had to follow through before a teacher found us.

"Alright," I groaned, and I held his hand.

 

The Time Turner took us that morning, outside the room where the trial was taking place.

"I can't enter, because I was already there," I said sadly. "If only I could have played the part of myself, I would have changed some of my answers."

"Well, I wasn't there," Draco replied. "Perhaps there is something I can do."

I thought Hermione would tell him off, but a little light twinkled in her eyes.

"Polyjuice potion!" Draco said, showing us a little bottle. "I took it from Snape's office to make Sirius drink it and turn him into Pettigrew, or the other way around, but I guess we could use it for Dudley and then find another way."

When he saw our horrified expressions, he said, "We need to find Dudley before the trial. Then, I'll pluck one of his hair out and drink the potion."

We all agreed to it, though it seemed very unlikely that Draco wanted to help us without asking for anything in return.

We found Dudley out of the room where Fudge was about to talk to him.

Malfoy stupefied him and got the hair.

We all knew what the plan was. He had to pretend he was Dudley, and reply to the questions like Dudley would. Then, there was the second part of the trial. The one where everyone but Dudley and Fudge had to leave the room and my cousin would do spells, proving he was not a Muggle. This time, my cousin would not fail. Because this time, the test would be taken by Draco.

It was too early to help Sirius, so Hermione and I had to wait outside the whole time.

"I really hope we can fix everything up," I said. "But at least Dudley won't have to leave."

Hermione nodded, a bit uncomfortable. I could tell it was too early for my friends to support my decision.

When Draco/Dudley came back, and started to look like himself again, I explained the second part of the plan.

"I think the moment where everything went wrong is when we split, and the Dementors attacked Sirius and I. Otherwise, we would have made it to Dumbledore and we would have told him about Peter Pettigrew."

"And you think Dumbledore will do the right thing?" Draco asked with a sneer.

"I am sure of it," I replied, irritated. "If anything the fact that Peter Pettigrew is alive must prove something, and before we couldn't even bring proof of that."

So, we agreed to split up again. I wasn't sure it was going to work out considering what happened when we had split up before.

But Hermione insisted it was the only way. She had to catch Peter Pettigrew right after he turned into a rat and escaped, and Draco and I had to stop the Dementors.

We waited, hiding in the forest, until it came the moment that we got out of the Whomping Willow. I looked at Draco, half expecting him to comment something on the fact that we let him in a juicy secret, but he didn't.

He was looking avidly at Sirius and Remus from afar, as if trying to memorize our conversation. I was glad none of us had mentioned Remus being a werewolf.

Then, we followed the other Harry and Sirius near the stream of water.

I will admit that I did not particularly like seeing myself from the outside, since I've never been a huge fan of the way I look.

When they got to the stream, and the Dementors started circling around us, Draco said, "You need to tell me what's the spell for sending Dementors away, Potter."

"I'll take care of them," I said.

"What if you can't?? Take a look at the other Harry -- see how affected he looks. You've always been an easy prey for them."

"Alright alright, but I'll try first," I said. "You have to point your wand at them, like that, think of your happiest memory and say 'Expecto Patronum'".

I noticed the look on Draco's face. "You don't have happy enough memories?"

He shoved me. "You shut up, Potter! I wonder how a poor orphan like yourself has any happy memories."

"Don't overreact, I wasn't insulting. Lupin told me that my mother didn't have happy memories as well before she met my father."

"Oh," Draco's face became violet.

"Here they come!" I whispered.

Then, I pointed my wand at them. I tried the same happy memories as before.

"Expecto Patronum! Expecto Patronum!"

It wasn't working. Why did it always take so long to work?

"How do you know if it's working?" Draco asked.

"Your Patronus, the spell you conjure, is like a semi trasparent animal. Mine is a stag, and I don't see it appearing anytime soon."

Of course. How stupid I had been. A stag would never appear. Instead, a dog had appeared.

Could that have been...? It was crazy, but we could try.

"You try," I told Draco.

"What?" he asked, panicked.

The Dementors were on both sides of the stream, and they were starting to feed on the future me as well. Draco started gripping me, as if he didn't want to let me slip away, which was news.

"Expecto Patronum!" he said. He was gripping me so tight it was a miracle he wasn't tearing my uniform off. But his touch was gentle too.

"Expecto Pat... shit, Potter! It will never work!"

"Of course it will!" I replied. "Think of something happy!"

Draco started holding onto me as if the success of the spell depended on it. He exhaled, and tried again.

"Expecto Patronum! Expecto Patronum!"

I was almost expecting to see a snake slither out of the wand, but the animal that came out of it was four legged.

Everything was blurry, so I couldn't really make it out.

But one thing was sure. It was a dog.

 

And then, we were in the Hospital Wing again.

"I don't know what it is you changed," Ron said. "Frankly, I still remember Dumbledore talking to Snape like, two minutes ago."

"We can't change the past, or it wouldn't be the past," Hermione said. "You know what I mean? We lived it as it was, and as it ever will be. But, we can change small things, that hopefully..."

In that moment, as if to confirm her words, Dumbledore entered.

"Snape won't be too happy about it, but I showed Fudge the rat you brought me, Miss Granger. It really did turn into Peter Pettigrew without too much of a fuss. This will change things."

"Will he go to Azkaban instead of Black?" Draco asked.

"Well, let's say it's not that easy. But Black will face a trial, and we hope it will go better than the last time. If you care to hear an old man's opinion, I'm sure your godfather won't come back to prison, Harry. I am positive Peter Pettigrew could even confess to the whole thing once he's faced with a judge and a jury. After all..."

His face became dark, before he added, "I know them well. They were my students."

"Speaking of which," he added, after a while. "I think, as students, you need to say goodbye to your Professor Lupin. After the exams, he'll be resigning."

"Why?" Hermione pleaded. "It can't be because we found out he's a werewolf! I swear, we are not afraid!"

"I know, I know," Dumbledore chuckled. "I will really be too old for my position the day I make the mistake of thinking you three are not amongst the bravest students I've ever had. And you Malfoy? Well, you're certainly interesting..."

Draco scoffed at that.

I found myself wanting to tell Dumbledore about Draco's Patronus, but then I thought that the headmaster probably already knew the potential of each one of us.

"No, no," Dumbledore assured us. "He simply said he wants to become Black's lawyer. He studied magical law right after Hogwarts. He is confident he can keep his former friend out from Azkaban."

I couldn't help but smile at that. The days where I could go live with them had never seemed so far away, but at least they were free, and things were looking up.

Before the day ended, I got a visit from Dudley too.

"You know I'm not magical or things like that," he said. "But I know that, when you and your friend Stupefied me, you took my place at the trial. So, I'm not really good at saying thank you, but... I owe you one."

I must have blushed violently. "Do not think of it as a favour that I want you to repay me," I said. "It was... it was the right thing to do."

"No, no, I'm a man of my word," Dudley said. And, even though he didn't look really honourable, not even back then, I kind of understood why he was a Gryffindor. "If you ever need my help, I'll pay back the favour."

Chapter Text

I used to think of myself as somebody who only meant as much as his family did.

My father had taught me that, and my mother had nodded along.

My father's achievements were my achievements, and the other way around. This was why he always pressured me to get good marks, and try to be the best.

It made sense to me. Family used to be everything to me.

Now? Not so much.

I was pretty sure that I was the reason Harry Potter's soul hadn't been sucked out from Dementors, and I certainly couldn't tell anyone. Not my mother, not my father, not even Goyle or Kowalski.

But, for the first time, it didn't matter.

I was a part of something much bigger than myself -- Harry Potter was important. And I could be the footnotes in the chapters of his story. Not because of glory, but because of...

Well, I couldn't find the words. Concepts such as 'doing the right thing' still sounded strange to me.

At first, the Dementors had made me afraid. I didn't know what Harry felt like when he was near them, but I couldn't help but feeling my father's voice telling me what a failure I was, seeing my mother pleading with my father to get rid of all our Dark stuff, and he finally hitting her. My aunt Bellatrix laughing in my face when we went to visit her at Atzkaban.

All the times I wondered if the Malfoys were really the legacy my father thought of, or if being a Malfoy, or a Lestrange, simply meant to be destined to be psychotic.

Or worse, cruel.

Every time somebody had accused me of being a Squib, or when I was a child and my mother was afraid I was developing an Obscurious.

But none of these things mattered, I found out, when I held on to Harry's for dear life. He was trusting me.

It was what I always needed -- somebody to trust me to do the right thing.

Because I would have tried my hardest to do it, and, somehow, Harry knew it.

 

When I was at the trial instead of Dudley Dursley, I realized my father was right -- I was a coward, just like he always said. I almost soiled my pants at what would have happened if I was found out. But I couldn't walk away, could I?

I was the perfect Dudley Dursley -- I was magical, but not powerful enough to make Cornelius Fudge raise his eyebrows, or to shock anybody into thinking I couldn't have passed off for a Muggle on a bad day.

They only asked for simple spells, which was almost a pity. I noticed that, after a while wearing somebody's else's face, I wasn't so bad a Wizard as I thought. With the weight of the Malfoys off my shoulders, I could almost pass for a mediocre student.

In a way, it was for the best that nobody had seen me producing anything remarkable. Maybe, in another place and another time, I could have. And the simple knowledge of it already makes me a little more happy.

 

I wanted to brag with Martin about my Patronus, but I couldn't. I almost wished Harry didn't live with his lame Muggle relatives. We could have met up at Diagon Alley, looked at the new model of broomsticks in the shops, talked about my Patronus...

 

Couldn't I just write him a letter, or something?

"Dear Harry Potter, Happy Birthday! Now, please, compliment me on my Patronus that nobody else can know about, thanks to you."

I almost wrote myself back a reply just for the sake of it.

"Draco, or should I call you Malfoy? Or Whats-his-name? What's the big deal, couldn't brag with daddy? Too bad he can't actually find out he has a powerful son.
P.S. If you don't plan on caring about Ron, Hermione, Neville, Ginny, and all the rest of my fanclub anytime soon, don't bother writing me ever again."

Ah, that would have been such a laugh! If we really did things like that, I could have kept myself entertained all Summer thinking my hardest for snarky replies.

"Are you looking for ways to keep yourself entertained, Mister Malfoy?" Snape, who was a dinner guest, asked me.

As I always said, I wasn't sure whether my father could read my mind or not, but I definitely thought Professor Snape could.

It was very challenging not to think of embarrassing things when he was around, or of things such as stealing his Polyjuice potion, for that matter.

My father pierced me with his gaze. As every Hogwarts school year ended, he only grew more unsufferable towards me. He must have understood my marks weren't going to raise themselves, or I wasn't going to practice flying on my broomstick, when I actually couldn't stand heights.

"Draco has no time for distraction," he replied to Snape, even though it felt like he was talking to me. "The Dark Lord is going to rise again pretty soon, and the Malfoys are going to be first in line, when it happens."

"Then get a bloody ticket," Snape replied. "There are many of us who want that honour."

I tried not to listen. My father often talked about the Dark Lord, but my mother had assured me it was all an obsession. He said that sometimes he needed to be stopped, or he would be at Saint Mungus by now.

I knew he liked Dark Magic, but I never had any cause to believe he had sided with Voldemort, all those years ago. There was no evidence, and he wasn't at Atzkaban.

Should he be? Had he killed someone?

Perhaps entire families, like Harry Potter's?

If the Dark Lord was back, would Harry be in danger again?

"I was surprised to hear the Muggle stayed at Hogwarts," commented my father, after a little while.

"I was in the committee," Snape said. "There wasn't much we could do about it. His magic might have been weak -- his potion was barely drinkable -- but it was magic nonetheless."

"I say, let's wait for the Dark Lord to rise," my father smirked. "Then he'll be the one to choose who's worthy of owning a wand, and who's not."

Martin laughed nervously. I wished he wouldn't do that. My father smelled his fear of him from miles away.

"Even if He comes back," my mother said shyly. "How can we be sure that we would be spared?"

"You're such a coward, woman," Snape sneered. "Sorry, Lucius, but I've got to tell you something -- if you had a baby with anyone else, they might not have grown up to be so weak and indecisive."

"I know, but for the first while, we were forbidden to have sons, do you remember Severus? He was afraid of some prophecy, some baby who would overpower him. Then, when he finally relented, all the good ones were taken!"

He laughed. I hoped he was joking. A part of me still loved him. I wondered how that worked.

My mother, red in the face, excused herself from the dinner table. I watched sadly as her soup went cold. She hadn't eaten a spoon of it.

"Were you so close to Mister Voldemort?" Martin broke the silence.

"Mister what?" Snape almost choked with his mouthful of soup.

"Lord Voldemort, sorry, is Mister too American?"

"No," Snape said. "It is too friendly. You shouldn't even call him Voldemort in the first place, although I heard he doesn't mind it much nowadays -- helps people to know who we're talking about, when we say he's back."

"Would people even wonder?" I couldn't help but say.

"You forget, bless your little childish heart," my father's mouth twisted cruelly. "That our world is full of Half-Bloods and Muggle Borns. Do you really expect somebody like Dudley Dursley, or, whats-her-name, Hermione Granger, to know who Lord Voldemort is?"

"I expect Hermione Granger to know a lot more than you do, actually," I couldn't help but say.

"You watch your mouth," my father said, while Martin's was hanging open.

"You don't know anything about the real Wizarding World. The only reason I don't punish you for your words, is because the idea of punishing my only male heir disgusts me. You should do like an House Elf, and punish yourself until you start acting like a real Wizard. If that ever happens. And, just remember, just because Harry Potter, your new idol, was born stupidly brave, you don't get to imitate him."

Harry... I had almost forgotten. If my father was really that close to Lord Voldemort, he would have been one of his most loyal followers. I needed to tell Harry the truth. That I was one of them, even though I didn't want to be. That I was sorry that people like my parents killed people like his parents.

That he could trust me. Like he had always done, because everything had changed, but nothing was different.

Chapter Text

I tried my best not to talk to Dudley for the whole summer.

It wasn't easy. However, I could not bear the look in his eyes as if he owed me something, which was ridiculous and absolutely not true.

I had done it for myself. I had done it so that uncle Vernon couldn't beat me to a pulp when he found out his only son had been expelled because of me. I had done it so that aunt Petunia couldn't say I was like my mother, who left her behind when she went to Hogwarts.

Just like my mother, I would have felt guilty if Dudley were to have less chances than I had. Which was stupid, because Dudley was a Muggle. But our most intimate fears don't always have to make sense.

Then, one day near the end of the summer, Dudley stopped looking at me like that and spat into my pancakes, something he probably thought was an enjoyable prank, so I think it was safe to say he had forgot everything.

I stood up. My chair fell behind me.

"What have I told you about manners?" Vernon roared in my ear. "No smashing chairs or... or throwing things!"

I had made the mistake, that summer, to throw one of my socks at him when he spoke ill of my father. It's not like the sock would have hurt him anyway.

Petunia said that it was to be expected. That boys our age were crazy because of the things happening in our bodies. Except Dudley -- Dudley was perfect.

And, as the perfect son, my cousin would take a trip one week before the start of Hogwarts with his Muggle pals (people he only hang out with in the summer).

Growing from spoiled child into somewhat ambitious young man, Dudley found new ways to become irritating to everyone who knew him. He stopped counting on his fingers all the presents he got from his birthday (always ranging from 30 to 40), and started asking for a few very expensive things. This year, he officially got only a body lotion (I joked that he waited special occasions to bathe, Vernon didn't take it well) and all the relatives invited at his birthday, all from Vernon's family, looked at him with dreamy eyes. Because you see, while on paper the body lotion had been the only gift, Dudley had also got a mountain bike and permission to go on a tour through the English countryside with his friends for a week.

So now, Petunia and Vernon, could not only say that their child was spoiled. They could say he was independent too.

"Dudley spat in my pancakes!" I complained to Vernon. I don't know why I even bothered.

"Let Dudley be a child a while longer," Petunia said. "Next week, he'll become a man and stay away from home for the longest time."

"I would have been the first to get away," I said. "If only you let me go to Hogwarts without him." In fact, our time at Hogwarts did not seem to count as staying away from home, since we were together.

"Speaking of that horrible school that almost expelled our wonderful son," Vernon replied. "Don't think I forgot that your friend is coming to visit you tomorrow. Tell him... no weird things in our house!"

Maybe because he drank, but sometimes uncle Vernon did not make a lot of sense. I mean, he knew that we couldn't use magic outside the school!

And by the way, he was right. Ron had told me indeed that he was coming to visit.

 

The next day, I found out Ron wasn't alone. He had brought along Ginny, Fred and George as well.

"Where's your overfed cousin?" Fred asked.

"It's not fun," Ginny said. "To make fun of overweight people."

"I only said it because Dudley sucks."

"Still isn't." Now that Ginny was thirteen, she was starting to look more like a woman, and I noticed she was a bit overweight too, looking like a mini version of Mrs Weasley, with her delicate features and long bright red hair.

I did not like girls that way, but there was no denying she was pretty.

"Dudley is on a tour of Surrey's countryside or something," I said. "On a bike."

"I've seen bikes in dad's workshop," Ron said. "How can Muggle ride those things? You are more balanced on a broom, I tell you."

"Speaking of brooms," Ginny said. "Erm... I mean, Quidditch, since Dudley is away perhaps your uncle and aunt will let you come to see the Quidditch match with us?"

"Today? I could ask them." I had never realized wizards must have played Quidditch games. I never stopped to think about it. But now, the idea of seeing one of those matches suddenly seemed very appealing.

"Well... we leave tomorrow, and it lasts two days," George said. "It's Ireland VS Bulgary. It's the final match of the Quidditch World Cup. We vote Ireland, of course. Our family's from there."

"Georgie wishes he could vote for Bulgary," Fred said. Then, he mimicked his twin's voice, which did not take a lot of effort, since it was only a bit lower than his, "Viktor Krum is sooo dreamy!"

Krum must have been one of the players for the Bulgarian team. I never had a crush on celebrities, but for girls and boys our age it was common. I hoped I wouldn't find too handsome any of the Quidditch players.

"I think I could come!" I said. I waited a few five minutes before anyone could think I accepted because of Krum. Which wasn't even true, but I was becoming a bit paranoid. "I mean, Dudley will be away for the whole week, and I don't think my uncle and aunt will want to remain alone with me. But, the ticket?"

"Our cousin Barbara had to come with us, but she stayed home," Ron looked sad. "I like Barbara, we always played together when we were little, but now she doesn't come to magical events and doesn't hang out in magical places because she's a Squib. She insisted on going to a Muggle school."

"Dad loves asking her all kinds of questions," Ginny laughed. "This is probably why she decided to sit this one out."

 

Convincing Mr and Mrs Dursley was not hard at all, and I met up with Ron and his family the day after.

"This," Arthur Weasley told me, showing me an ashtray, "is not only a cute little Muggle vase..."

"Erm, sir..." I tried to explain.

"But also a Portkey! Every inanimate object can be turned into a Portkey. Touch a Portkey, and they'll immediately bring you somewhere else. In this case, I enchanted it so that it will transport us to Ireland."

Ireland? Was the match so far away from home? I savoured the look on Dudley's face when I told him that, while he was riding his bike for a whole week, I had been abroad.

"Great, dad," Percy said. "Couldn't you enchant something bigger? How are all of us supposed to touch that thing at the same time?"

"I hadn't thought about it," Mr Weasley replied sheepishly. "We'll divide in three groups."

In three groups, it was possible, considering we were nine. I traveled with Mrs Weasley and Ron, and our group was the last.

"How did you find the travel?" Ron asked me when we arrived.

"Confusing? It took about a minute. I didn't even know there were such things..."

"Well, since you can't apparate or disapparate inside of Hogwarts, I think it works for Portkeys as well? Not like there is a rule against them, but Dumbledore prefers us to travel safely and together on the train."

I nodded, because that was my opinion as well. I looked around. We were near the stadium, in a big field. There were lots of wizards from all around Europe.

"Now's the good time to ask," I asked Ron. "How many wizarding schools are there in Europe?"

"Oh, lots of them all over the world," Ron was eating chocolate frogs as if they were popcorns. "In Bulgary there's Durmstrang, for example. Viktor Krum is seventeen, and he still goes there. I think there should be all of his schoolmates here, or something. Hey, I wonder if Bulgarian girls are pretty...?"

"Ron!" Ginny said, very ashamed, and covered her face.

"What? You're weird. I can't even want to flirt with a Bulgarian girl, now?"

"Flirt? I wish you didn't say that," Ginny laughed.

I found myself agreeing, because I thought the time where Ron and I would have the girls and boys talk was still far from our minds. I knew it was far from mine.

"Speaking of pretty girls, do you know that Hermione's here too?" Ginny asked slyly.

"Her... what?" Ron asked. "You should have told me!"

"What would have you done? Combed your hair?"

"Well, yes, for starters! I mean..." he noticed how it must have sounded. "I mean... you know how she is. Always critizing everything."

We met Hermione shortly after, but thankfully she did not hear that.

"I was wondering whether the whole Irish team was so broke they had to sit in the tents like the rest of us," a voice behind us drawled. "But then I saw Potter and Granger, and realized the red heads belonged to the Weasleys."

Ron, Hermione and I turned around.

It was Lucius Malfoy.

Oh no. If Lucius was there, then maybe Draco was too? I remembered the last time I saw him. He had helped me. He had held onto me and saved me with his Patronus. What if he thought I owed him one?

"Why don't you hang out with your adult friends, instead of harrassing teenagers? Assuming you have friends," I snarled.

"Harry..." Hermione whispered.

"No, let him talk, he has a point," Ron said.

"I do have friends. In high places. Unlike you, you're only friends with trash. Mr Karkaroff, Durmstrang's headmaster, is my friend. Which is why my family is here to cheer for Bulgary."

Family. That must have meant Mrs Malfoy and Draco.

And then I had the most stupid thought. What if Draco had grown during the summer? I only grew a few inches each summer. If I kept up growing like that, thanks to my father's genes and my diet, I would never reach five foot seven. Draco had only always been shorter than me, but things changed. What if he was taller now?

I tried to squint at two blonde people in the distance. "Is that Draco?" I whispered to Ron when Lucius did not seem like he would pay attention. "Is he taller than me?"

"What kinda question is that, mate?"

"I don't know," Hermione replied. "Looks like."

In fact, after a few minutes, a pretty petite blonde woman who looked like she had stepped in shit and her son joined Lucius.

And Draco was taller than me. It was probably only an inch. Maybe two. It certainly was less than three. But he was taller than me.

"You're tall... well, taller," I couldn't help the sarcasm. While I was smaller, he stood at five foot three, same as his mother.

"Draco became a man over the summer," Mrs Malfoy said. She must not have known how creepy that sounded. "We hope he won't stop growing."

"Of course not," Lucius Malfoy growled. "How about you, Potter? Have you become a man yet? You seem a little short, or is that an ideal height for men in your family? We always mocked your father because he was small, back at Hogwarts, but even he was half a foot taller than you."

I had not become a man yet, though Petunia kept saying that the time was right because I had mood swings.

"I will only repeat what I said before," I told Mr Malfoy. "Why don't you go talk to adults?"

"Because I like to talk to parents of some of Draco's schoolmates, but you don't have parents, so I talked to you. You also saved the school two times and your cousin once, and you are friends with the headmaster. Here's why," Lucius smiled like a snake that was about to devour its prey.

Draco grinned apologetically at me, but I did not grin back. I couldn't help it -- I feared he always talked shit about me with his father.

He probably did not even tell him the important bits. Like how he saved Sirius Black and I with his Patronus.

"The match will start this late afternoon," Percy Weasley warned us. He had started working for the Ministry, and he had become more bossy than Hermione. "So, we should probably go check out our seats.In the meantime," he wrapped his arm around my shoulder. "Can you tell me what's between you and the Malfoys?"

I looked at his arm. I did not know how to tell him that I did not like physical affection, so I let it go.

"Nothing," I shrugged. "Just mutual hate and indifference."

"That did not look like indifference."

"Don't tell your mother I said that, but can you please mind your business?"

Yep. Mood Swings.

"Of course, you're right." He was silent for a while. "You know, to make up for my lack of politeness, I'll tell you something in advance. Hogwarts, this year, is organizing something huge! In collaboration with Durmstrang and with the French school Beauxbatons."

"I hope it's our own version of the World Quidditch cup!" I said, excited.

"Well... let's hope so. You know that I actually don't know? But Drumstrang's Seeker is Krum. The same boy we will see play today."

"Fred, George and Ron have already told me," I replied. "By the way, do you know how to become like him? A professional Quidditch player while one is still at Hogwarts?"

"I... I don't think you could do that," Percy replied. "Dumbledore wants us to focus on what we study at school. But it's only four years, eh? And most of us find a job as soon as school ends, just like me."

I followed Percy to our seats. They weren't the best in the house, probably because of the Weasley's financial issues, but I still found admiring that they even had the luck to find seats at all. I also felt very grateful that they had brought me along.

"So, what do we do in the two hours before the match start?" Ron asked. "The seats are numbered, it's not like people will steal our place."

"You're right," Molly Weasley said. "First of all, we go to the bathroom, so none of you can ask me during the game. Second, we meet a friend of the twins who is here too!"

"Who, mom?" Fred groaned.

"Cedric Diggory!"

George became very pale.

"Remember when I told you," Fred asked me, "that George used to date someone from Quidditch, and he's not over their breakup yet? That person is Cedric Diggory."

Chapter Text

I tried not to feel like George was giving me second hand embarassment, because he was.

I don't know if you've ever found yourself in a situation where you are supposed to talk to one of your friends and his former boyfriend, in front of their respective parents, acting as if you don't even know they've been together.

I was not the best of friends to either Cedric or George, but it was not easy.

"Hello Cedric," I said, because, if you didn't consider the twins, I was the one who knew him best. Ron and Ginny had barely talked to the guy. "There's... erm... a lot of people from school here."

I said it to kind of give the message to Mrs Weasley that it wasn't anything special that we met the Diggorys.

I should probably not do other people's dirty work -- everyone looked at me awkwardly.

"Ain't that right?" Amos Diggory said. "It's only the World Cup! And not too far from home either. But I forget, Harry, you haven't been raised as a wizard. How stupid of me! It must be weird for you, this situation..."

"Muggles have stadiums too, but I had never seen a concert or a match before. Erm... do wizards have concerts?"

"Of course!" Fred looked offended. "We have bands too! The Weird Sisters, for example, my favourite band."

"Oh."

"How does all of this look to Muggles?" I asked. "Is it enchanted in a way they won't see it?"

"Yes, like Hogwarts," Ron said. He confirmed my previous doubt. Someone -- Dumbledore maybe? -- must have found a way to let Dudley see Hogwarts.

Or maybe my cousin had magic in his veins.

"So, are you here for Ireland?" Cedric asked us.

"Of course," Ginny replied mildly annoyed. In fact, most of the Weasleys had the green shirts of the team.

"Yeah, I see that," Cedric laughed. I never thought being good-looking could be used as a weapon, but it occured to me that it could. If Cedric hadn't been that handsome, and with that I mean if he hadn't had a face that also look genuinely nice and kind other than attractive, I would have hated him for the way he made George feel.

If attractiveness was a weapon, I was screwed.

It came to my mind that even Draco Malfoy used his good looks like that, but in a completely different manner. With a scowl that made it clear he hated everyone and everything, he looked uglier than he was. I thought that maybe he used that as an advantage. If he smiled more he'd be pretty like Cedric, and it was clear Malfoy did not want to be a pretty boy.

When we were going to the bathroom, George stayed behind to talk to me.

"I've seen the defiant way you looked at Cedric," he said. "So I wanted to say... I fear it's my fault. I haven't explained it well. It is awkward for us to see each other, but we've both moved on. He's dating a very nice girl from Ravenclaw and I like someone else from the Quidditch team. Our Quidditch team."

I tried to think of our players, and, since George was bisexual, I decided it had to be Angelina Johnson, who was a friend of the twins.

"Who's the Ravenclaw girl?" I asked.

"Zhang Qiu," he said. He pronounced it as Chang Cho. "She's Chinese."

"So," Hermione, who joined the conversation said. "I am guessing her first name is Qiu? You know, Chinese people often introduce themselves with the family name before the given name."

"What?" she added, when she saw my face. "I've been studying Middle Eastern and Asian magic, so I come across a lot of Chinese wizards."

I had no doubt about that. Hermione loved biographies, and read the books of the most famous wizards to learn from them directly. I had a feeling she'd already exhausted the resources of books of English wizards on our first year at school.

Granted, just like they didn't have most technical appliances and bands, wizards didn't write a lot of books either.

"Qiu is really nice," George added. "I hold no grudge against her. We even study together sometimes."

Hermione shrugged. To her, study groups were a bit like a race to see who arrived earlier, or learnt the most. I guessed she thought them amongst the most awkward things to do with your former boyfriend's new partner.

Her words about different cultures and magic made me think about what Sirius Black had said. My father was Jewish.

Jewish people where originally from Middle East, like Hermione, but they had scattered around the world during the ages. Recently, most of them had been in Europe. I guessed my father was one of the European ones, because he did not look like Hermione. However, I recognized his olive skin, black eyes and curly black hair must have been Jewish traits. Maybe even his small height as well. I had heard Jews were small, but I wasn't really sure.

Of course, I knew what had happened to Jews during WWII, the Muggle genocide Sirius told me about. You couldn't be raised by Muggles and not know about it. I wondered, for the first time, whether it had something to do with me as well. Had members of my family been killed or deported?

Either way, I didn't have a lot of time to think about it. As soon as we got back from the bathroom, the match didn't take long to start.

Before the game, there was a show with blonde girls dancing around. I found it a bit sexist, but it was not my place to judge. I was glad when Ginny said that too, and agreed with her.

"They're Veela," Ron explained. "Their society is not like ours. They're creatures like sirens, or mermaids..."

"So, does that make it alright?" Ginny complained. "They're not even human."

"I don't know, they're not really my type," I said, hoping not to give too much away. "Blonde and with that air of coolness... pale grey eyes... they kind of look like Draco Malfoy with a wig."

Ron's jaw dropped. "Is that how you see them??"

"What do you mean?" I gulped.

"Everyone sees them differently, based on what they like," Hermione said. "But Veela are not shapeshifters, and those ones are only girls. So, people who don't like girls, like me, for example, see them based on their idea of beauty."

I hoped it was what was happening to me, but it was truly disgusting either way.

Ron pointed his finger at me and laughed, but his laughter was almost as nervous as Kowalski's.

I felt sick.

And Malfoy was at the game. He was at the game, and he had talked shit to his father about me all summer. He hated me, even after all the things we went through, and he was at the game, and he was taller than me.

But I was not obsessed with Malfoy, I'd never been, so I blamed it all on my mood swings and let it go.

The match had to last about four hours, with intermissions, we'd been told. Then, there were other things, like the Veela's show, or all the bathroom and eating breaks, and that was why it all lasted a few days.

"I'm sorry," I told Ron, looking at the schedule for the game, "but I feel like this is a way of robbing us of more money."

Oh, no. Shit. Ron looked pale. I had forgotten they had paid for the tickets. I had forgotten their financial issues. I was a terrible friend.

"I mean," I explained sheepishly. "A Quidditch game ends when the Seeker catches the Snitch. So, we can't be sure Krum won't catch it in the first half an hour."

"Aidan Lynch," Ron muttered in horror. He still looked pale.

"Who?"

"Aidan Lynch," Ron pointed at his green shirt. "He's the Seeker for Ireland. You know, the team we should be here for."

"Either way," I said, hoping to cheer him up. "This is easily the coolest place I've been so far! And I've been at Hogwarts. So, you know, the ticket was worth that at the very least."

That made him grin. The place was really cool, I did not even have to lie. Lots of people, magical objects flying around, there were even little drones that dropped pop corns and snacks on our laps.

"We heard you, Harry," Fred told me. "So, George and I came up with an idea! If we took all the snacks we could find, we'd have for about a year, and we could even sell them! We'd gain back the price of the tickets!"

"Stealing candies, maybe from children?" Ron said. "No way, that's an awful idea."

"Not from children," Fred said. "Well, the brownies from the lactose intolerant ones maybe. But many middle aged men and women won't pick up the candies and snacks drones leave them."

The first part of the match started. The Irish team was way better than the Bulgarian one, which made me happy I was cheering for them. Yes, Viktor Krum was very good, but so was Lynch. I found it a sad thing he was underrated because he was older. Besides, with pale blonde hair and light eyes, he was kind of good-looking...

No. I had to stop thinking about people who looked like the Malfoys.

I did not even find the Malfoys good-looking. Right? Right??

I tried to distract myself, focusing on the game.

During the first intermission, I looked around and noticed the twins were right. Many older people had let their snakcs and candies fall from their laps, while they were too busy shouting and cheering. I decided I would help Fred and George pick them up, and keep a few to myself that I would give to my friends at Hogwarts.

 

At the end of the day, it seemed like the match was about to come to an end. The Irish team had scored most of the points, but Krum was so near to catching the Snitch, I realized he would probably get it before Lynch.

"I've asked Fudge, who is a few seats away," Hermione whispered to me.

"You what??" I asked. Was she nuts? Why would someone talk to Fudge willingly?

"I asked him about the game. He said if a person catches the Snitch, the day after is spent in a different way -- games, autographs and photo sessions with the players..."

I was lucky it had been organized that way, because, when Hermione finished speaking, Krum caught the Snitch.

Hermione gulped. "Well, he sure is fast."

 

That evening, we were heading back to our tents when we lost sight of Ron's parents for a while.

"I'm soiling my pants," Ron said.

"We've been through worse," I joked. "Who were you with, Hermione?"

She blushed slightly. "I decided to go with Luna Lovegood and her father. You know, my parents wanted to take me, but they can't see..." she gestured hopelessly at the stadium.

"Hey, it's alright," Ron said hotly. "I mean, it's not alright! It's bloody unfair! But you know, it is what it is."

"Wow, so wise," I joked.

We heard a few people screaming.

"Well, now I soiled my pants," Ron muttered.

"Watch out!" we heard a voice behind us.

Great, now I was even hallucinating Draco Malfoy.

Wait. He was really there. He just hadn't talked with his usual arrogant drawl.

"Death Eaters," he explained, almost sheepishly. "They're coming."

"Is that a joke?" Hermione asked, her voice shrill.

"Look, why would I joke? You're Muggle born, and here without parents, Weasley is one of nine from one of the most infamous pure-blooded families. And Potter... well, he's the 'Chosen One'. They'll come for you first."

I walked up to him. I was looking him straight in the eyes.

 

Oh no. I forgot I was shorter than him now.

"Say it, if you want to scare us in some pathetic way," I snarled.

"Scare you? Potter, your brain really is the size of a pea. I am trying to save you!"

I turned around to look at Ron and Hermione. They had started running away in the direction of the Weasleys' tent, that they must have found while I was busy fighting with Draco.

I started running in their direction, but the whole sky lit up. I felt Draco taking my hand, and hiding me behind a bush.

I looked up at the sky. There was a shimmering image there. It was a skull with a snake protruding from its mouth. 

"What the hell is that? So tacky," I commented.

"Wow, Potter, you must be quite the connosseur of dark marks."

"....but a skull with a snake protruding from its mouth? Really?"

"It's because he could become a snake, I think," Draco said. He looked confused.

"He as in You-Know-Who?" I asked. "Is that a Death Eaters mark?"

"I think so," he replied. He looked taken aback. "Well... it can't be anything else, can it?"

I wanted to ask how could Death Eaters be there, at the game, then I realized they looked like any other person. If Ron had been right, rumor on the street was that Draco's father was one of them.

Could he have been the one who send out the Mark? Would Draco be safe, living in a house like that?

Or was Draco on their side, and he was taking me hostage in the bush?

I tried to break free, but I couldn't.

"You -- really -- have -- a -- deathwish, Potter!" he snarled through gritted teeth. "Don't go away from here!"

I think he had understood that I didn't trust him, and he lowered his head. But what was I supposed to think? It was not like that bonding time we had when he conjured his Patronus had changed us. It was a war, and it had been lasting from before we were born. For a coincidence, or a joke a cosmic force had played on me, I was one of those the bad guys wanted to kill more than everyone else. Hell, it was probably only me and Dumbledore and a couple of good Aurors on top of their lists.

Want to know how this made me feel? Alienated. Detached from everyone around me. With a weight on my shoulders. And like the last thing I wanted was to be in a bush with the son of one of the bad guys.

However, Draco was right. I couldn't just jump into the midst and let one of the Death Eaters see me.

"What do I do?" I asked.

"Wait," he said. "Perhaps they'll disappear without killing anyone."

I tried to jump up. He stopped me, and I landed on my ass. He looked at me concerned, when I yelped.

"They might murder people, and we're not doing anything about it!" I snarled. "Let me go!"

I was trying to tell myself that Draco wanted me alive because he was fourteen, and he was my friend, and not because his father had asked him to bring me to You-Know-Who alive.

It was hard to believe in something as this, but I closed my eyes and I pretended it was the truth.

Chapter Text

When the hype had died down, and it seemed obvious that there were no Death Eaters around, Draco grabbed my hand and helped me out of the bush.

The only people there with us were a handful of men from the Ministry of Magic, including a man I had seen before, a certain Barty Crouch.

I remembered that I had seen him because Percy had started working as his assistant.

I noticed that all the politicians were looking at someone... or something...

In the midst of them, there was a House Elf.

Even though the Malfoys were a backwards family, they weren't the only one. And so, there were other families that did the things they did, like owning a House Elf.

"Did you know...?" I asked Draco.

He gestured me to stop talking, and I heard Barty Crouch pleading to the men. It seemed that the elf was his.

"Please," he was saying. "Winky can't have done anything!"

"She could, if she had had a wand," Cornelius Fudge replied.

I made my way towards the men. Draco grabbed my arm, but couldn't slow me down.

"Why? How does that work?" I asked.

"Oh, Potter, it's so easy to forget that you haven't been brought up here," Fudge said.

I clenched my teeth. Not only I hated boot-licking, but it was one of those made up phrases people told me all the time, along with 'Oh, I forgot that you've seen your parents die! You act like a normal fourteen year old', or 'Oh, I completely forgot about the scar that splits your forehead and criss crosses your eyebrow'.

Well, they didn't say it like that, but it was what they meant.

"It works this way -- the wand channels the wizard's magic. It only works for the spells correctly if you are a wizard. But it can result in a boom or in a lucky spell if any other creature wields it, because wands are magic in itself."

So, Dudley could still be one hundred percent Muggle just as we thought. This was why wands kind of worked on him, the way Fudge thought they would work on Winky. The only mystery remained as to why he could see Hogwarts, but I told myself I'd probably find out soon enough.

"Even though a lucky creature could succeed in a spell, I find it extremely unbelievable that Winky was able to call on the Dark Mark," I said, thinking how impossible it would have been for Dudley.

"Well... I guess..." Fudge grumbled.

"Thank you, Mr Potter! Thank you!" Barty Crouch said, almost kneeling in front of me.

"Don't you get tired of this?" Draco whispered.

"Oh believe me, I do," I replied, with more honesty than I wanted to let slip through.

"Then, I guess, since it wasn't my Winky," Barty Crouch added then. "It must have been someone else. I don't know who, but looking for a Death Eater should not be that hard."

"I've heard," Draco told me. "They all have matching tattoos."

From his words, I seemed to gather that he did not know whether his father had one. I wanted to ask him, but I thought it would not be very nice. Then, finally, I saw the Weasleys coming for me.

"Harry!" Mrs Weasley bellowed. "We were so scared! Don't disappear on us again!"

I thought, perhaps for the first time, of the fact that while they could never take the place of my mom and dad, they were starting to feel like family.

 

We were in Diagon Alley, and the fourth year of school was about to start.

Ron and I had been horrified to find out that we needed to get ourselves robes.

"What does it mean exactly?" I asked.

"Robes are like suits, formal attire for a ball," he replied. One thing that I wouldn't have thought at first -- he was always knowledgeable. Not only he was brought up in the wizarding world, but he explained with patience and logic. "Most of them look hideous, in the second hand shops where I've seen them before."

I might have mentioned that, before Quidditch, I was never really good at physical activity. The only thing that seemed worse to me than dancing was dancing in front of everyone in a hideous robe.

Not everyone was of the same opinion, though. Ginny was very excited, and she got a beaufitul green dress from Molly.

"Green looks good with red hair," Mrs Weasley explained to me.

"I won't wear green robes," Ron complained. "Why can't I get something that used to be dad's?"

Molly and Ginny had a similar size because Molly was not really tall. In Ron and Arthur's case, it was the other way around -- Ron was really tall for our age.

"I already gave my old robes to George," said Arthur. "The only Weasley who's dancing with a boy, he needs to look his best while doing so."

"Oh, come on!" Ron said. "I'll dance with a boy too. I'll dance with... Harry."

"No," I replied.

"Well, what do you mean the only one? I'll be dancing with a boy," Ginny reminded her parents.

Molly patted her on the shoulder. "You don't have if you don't want to," she said, as if boys her age were slimy and ugly creatures.

 

At the end of the day, Ron and I really had to go to shop in Diagon's Alley.

"I'd feel better if you hadn't told me they were hideous," I complained.

"You have more money than I do," Ron said. "Go buy a new one."

"More money than you do?" I couldn't help but be enraged. "My parents died at twenty-one, it's not as if they were full of gold! They did leave me a small sum, but I'm not going to waste it on robes."

"Sorry, mate, I thought you were loaded," he patted on my shoulder. "Dudley told me."

I counted to ten before I lost my temper. I really wanted to punch Dudley, not Ron, I told myself.

I looked glumly at the robes. I couldn't find one that would look good on me, or fit me quite right.

"This is not your average second hand shop," Ron told me. "It's a usual shop, with a second hand department. Go talk to the lady who's working here."

The lady, as Ron had called her, looked like she was in her twenties and she was looking at everything mildly annoyed.

"I'm not the owner of the shop," she said, when I tried to casually let slip in the conversation the fact that I wanted her help to buy a robe. "I'm only working here, but I'm good with fashion. I'll let you know. Follow me."

"No," I gulped, when I saw where she was heading. "The second hand department."

The robes looked more antique in style than Muggle suits. And, while even the newest ones looked like what a bishop would wear, the second hand ones were just terrible. They had collars, and frills, and they looked almost Victorian era. I guess they would have looked good on me had I been handsome, but I didn't think I was.

"Let's see..." the shop assistant said. She did not look like anyone at Hogwarts, but more like a Muggle. She had hair up in a ponytail and when she talked she always puckered her lips. She wore a lot of make up, but I guessed Ron would have found her cute. I thanked he was in another section of the shop.

"Your skin is a bit tanned, and the undertone is olive," she said. "Your eyes are green, your hair is black. Most colours look good on you."

I blushed and hoped Ron didn't hear. Even I, who didn't like girls, knew how embarrassing all of this was for boys our age.

"But," the shop assistant added. "You are very short, so I don't think you're tall enough to wear a man's robe. I'll help you find something in the children's section."

The conversation was getting worse. "Thanks, but I'd rather get a man's one. I'll get it fixed."

"Oh, poor thing," she said dramatically. "Why don't you buy a new one directly, then?"

I really did not know how to reply to that. Thankfully, I heard the sound of steps coming my way, and I realized Ron was coming to save me.

It was not Ron, because the steps were coming from the other part of the shop.

It was... Draco Malfoy?

Why was it always him?

And this time, he was not alone. Lucius Malfoy was there too.

"Potter, you should really listen to the shop assistant and get something from the children's section. After all, Miss Parkinson knows her job."

"You're Pansy Parkinson's sister?" I asked the girl. I could see the resemblance -- she and her sister were more stylish, looking almost like Muggles, though Pansy looked more punk than the sister.

"Yes! And you're... Harry Potter? Excuse me while I swoon!" She did not seem about to swoon.

Draco snorted. "He's just like anyone, really," he said. Then, he looked at his father, and remembered that probably Lucius expect him to talk shit about me all the time. "Well, poorer and shorter than most, but you know..."

"His cousin's hot," Pansy's sister said. "Quite the latin lover. He's dating my younger sister, you know?"

Draco put on his murderous Nobody-Talk-To-Me-About-Dudley face.

Even Miss Parkinson seemed to get the gist.

"I have already purchased my robes," Draco said. "Why don't I help Potter out?"

Lucius looked at him quizzically. "Erm," Draco coughed into his hand. "I mean, the boy has been raised by Muggles and is piss poor, but he's famous. It would honour the Slytherin House if I helped him get his robes."

"I don't follow your train of thought," Lucius said coldly. "Though I can't say that I often do."

When Draco was about to walk towards me, Lucius gripped one of his legs with the handle of his walking stick. It looked like it must have hurt, but I was in no position to say anything. I loathed the way Draco always made fun of me in front of his parents, almost whiping away every trace of friendship we'd ever had.

"Remember," Lucius told his son. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

He let Draco go, and the boy came staggering towards me. I had to resist the urge to push him to the ground. First, I was not a sadist, and second, I knew about cruel father figures. Still, it was hard to resist the urge.

"So, Potter," he said.

"What?" I asked. "Oh, you're the shop assistant, now? Or you're a fashion mogul all of a sudden?"

"Calm down, I do not want to talk to you about robes."

That said, Draco grabbed the first second hand robes he put his eyes on, a slim black and white thing that might by miracle even fit me, and threw it in my hands.

"So there," he said. "Just as you know, black and white goes with everything. Now, will you listen to me or not?"

"I guess you know," he added when he was getting no reply. "What is going to happen at Hogwarts this year."

"Yeah," I beamed. "The Quidditch World Cup."

"What?? No... Potter, you're so dumb. No, the Triwizard Tournament."

"Oh," I was suddenly sad. "What is it?"

Draco's murderous gaze was back again. "You don't fool me, Potter. I know you will do whatever you can to compete. And I'm here to tell you not to do it."

"Why does it seem like you always want to watch my back?" I asked. "Next time you want to make sure I'm safe, ask dear daddy to kindly remove his long-sleeved shirts, and check whether he's got the Dark Mark tattooed."

Draco looked as if it was taking him all his might not to punch me.

"The Triwizard Tournament is a game where only one student from each school, this year it will be Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, will compete. Three wizards against each other, and usually not the underage ones, but every time the rules change, so you never know."

"Oh," I said. "I get it now. You don't want me to compete because you want to compete. I would certainly beat you in the selections."

"Don't be so sure," he replied. He looked pissed. "I have a way more influential family, and they are alive. I have been brought up in this world, and while most of the professors do not exactly like me, nobody hates me like Snape hates you."

"Nobody hates anybody like Snape hates me," I shrugged.

"Well, if I'm right, and Dumbledore tells you to compete, don't," Draco said. "People die there."

"As if you'd care," I replied hesitantly. Maybe he would. The truth was I couldn't be sure, since it was hard to keep track of his mood swings.

"What do you want me to say?" Draco snarled. "That I'm only telling you not to do it because I'm sick of the fact that you're more famous than me? Okay, I am sick of the fact that you're famous. But not because you're more famous than me. I am Draco Malfoy -- my father is a respectable, famous and powerful wizard..."

I noticed that his voice cracked as he was saying that, as if he was finding it harder to believe it those days.

"And my mother too!" he added, instead. "I come from an influential pure-blooded family that's related to the other influencial families. So no, I don't want to be you. I am already me. And I know that sometimes, it is a burden, and that we feel like we're playing roles..."

"Maybe you," I spat back at him. "What are you playing, now? The protective friend or the coward rich jerk?"

Draco recoiled, as if I had slapped him. But I guessed he already knew he was a coward rich jerk. I mean, how couldn't he?

Of course, he wasn't a coward all of the times. And even when he was, it was because he did not act as sudden and swift as I did and had more time to think things through. But I had just broken into his armour, so I was not about to tell him that!

"See? I finally left you speechless," I said. "You shouldn't underestimate me. I've been in enough battles to know where to hit if you want to hurt and where to hit if you want to kill."

I must not have fought enough battles, because Draco's mocking smile was back again.

"Oh, so which Potter are you today?" he asked, smirking. "The beloved student, golden boy, Dumbledore's bootlicker or the barking mad Potter who's fought You-Know-Who so many times he's starting to act paranoid all the time?"

He put his hand over his mouth. "Oh, but I forget! You failed at that, if it was ever what you set out to do. You only fought You-Know-Who once, when you were a baby, and couldn't do a thing about it. The others have been failures -- the first year it was a pet snake, the second a fraudulent writer, and the third... well, the Dementors were real enough, weren't they? But I was the one who chased them away. You were shaking and crying like a little baby. Face it, Potter, you're scared of your own shadow. You've battled nothing, and you're the only one who's getting worked up over it."

I pointed my wand at him. "Another word and I strike," I snarled. "I swear, I do not even care if they expel me..."

Draco backed away like the coward that he was. "Alright," he said. "Perhaps I went far to prove my point, but when we get to school and they explain what the Tournament is, remember my warnings. You said you want to become an Auror, but don't burn yourself out before you have the chance to."

I tried not to listen to him. The decision whether I entered the Triwizard Tournament or not was not mine to take. I would ask Dumbledore for his opinion, and do what it was it would please him.

 

Chapter Text

Dumbledore did fill us in on the Triwizard Tournament the first day of Hogwarts. He told us the same things Draco had told me, including that there had been cases of students getting injured during the games. A few times, there had been deaths, which was the reason why the Tournament hadn't been played in a long time. But this year, they said those schools decided they wanted to give it another try.

They didn't say why.

Dumbledore showed us a golden cup in the great hall. "It's the Goblet of Fire," he said. "The only way to choose the student from each school that will be competing without prejudices. The students who want to take part in the games must write their names on a piece of paper and drop it in the goblet. On one day that we will decide, the goblet will spit out the names of the students that it deemed worthy."

"So, does the action happen here at Hogwarts?" Fred asked. "Will the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang be coming here?"

"In due time, yes," Professor McGonagall replied. "In fact, Hogwarts is also the place where the tournament will be taking place."

"One last question," Ron asked. "Do you have to be of age to compete?"

"Yes, age seventeen and over," Professor Flitwick said. He looked at me and a few other Muggle raised students apologetically. "Wizards become of age at seventeen."

"Oh no..." Fred complained. "It's only a few months away for George and I! This is so unfair, it matters the year you were born, surely, not the month..."

"I'm sorry Weasley," Snape replied dryly. "Rules are rules. If you're sixteen or younger, you can't compete."

What made it worse for the twins was that all of their friends, Cedric Diggory, Angelina Johnson, the Parvati Twins and Oliver Wood seemed to know they would be of age in the next few months and wanted to take part in it.

Me, I wasn't sure I would have wanted to compete either way, but it seemed like a waste of a good opportunity for a future Auror.

I decided to tell as much to Ron and Hermione when they asked me, and we didn't talk about it again.

 

That was, until the second week of school. We'd just had a lesson with our new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, Alastor Moody. He used to be an Auror, and he was paranoid and driven mad from all he'd seen. He also had scars in basically every place of his body, and he had a glass eye.

It unnerved me how much I did not want to end up like him. I also felt guilty -- I did not know him enough, but he seemed like a good person, and he certainly was a great teacher. We had already learned so much in the first two lessons!

When we had just finished the lesson, Ron, Hermione and I were walking in the corridors, and the subject of the Triwizard Tournament came up again.

"It's not that I want to attract attention to myself or something, I swear," I said. "But I feel really at ease only when I'm useful, and learning Defence Against the Dark Arts makes me feel useful, kind of like when I'm playing Quidditch. If the Tournament had been open to everyone, I would have at least tried to compete. I know it would make me feel a lot less restless..."

"Are you feeling restless because of what happened during the Quidditch World Cup?" Hermione asked.

I was glad she had found that out on her own. I really wanted to tell my friends about the Dark Mark, the fear in me when I realized that if there were Death Eaters around, they would have looked for me next... Draco had said it best. I was afraid of my own shadow. But, I had reason to be. Dumbledore told me he would keep the sword of Gryffindor until I was ready. He told me I could become an Auror. Of course he expected me to fight Voldemort to the death, even though I did not know what was the reason behind the fact that I had already defeaten him once.

But, if Dumbledore was asking me to fight, he was expecting me to win. He would have never asked if he wasn't. And so, I needed to train as much as I could.

I did not say any of that, but I think the faraway look in my eyes made my friends understand that Hermione was right. After all, they were very receptive.

Unluckily, they were not the only ones who had listened to what I had to say.

Draco Malfoy and his sidekicks appeared soon enough. Why were they always walking so close to us, either way? It made it impossible to get a bit of privacy.

"So, Potter, you would like to be seventeen to join the Tournament," Draco taunted me. "It's just like I thought, then." He sized my small frame up and down. "Why don't you wait for your balls to drop, first?"

I gripped my wand. Before I could do anything rushed, I decided to reply, "How do you know about that, Draco? Oh yeah, I remember -- it was your mother that told me you became a man over the summer. Your mother, who looked like she was taking some kind of drug because she loathed being there with the rest of you. Of course, I would too, if your father and you were my family..."

In that moment, it was Draco's turn to grip his wand. He pointed it at me, and started saying something. He never finished.

Somebody had turned him into a white ferret, and was making him bounce up and down.

"Stop it! You'll break his ribs, if not his back!" Martin Kowalski begged someone. I turned around. That person was Moody.

In that moment, my argument with Draco seemed very far away. I lost all my respect for the Professor immediately. Who could do something like that to a fourteen year old boy who stood about five foot three?

"Yes, you stop it, Professor," I growled, getting worried looks from Ron and Hermione. "I started it all by saying his mother was on drugs."

Moody arched whatever was left of his right eyebrow. I tried not to concentrate on the fact that I had a scarred eyebrow too.

"You really did say so, Potter? You didn't look like the type, from what Dumbledore has told me."

"But Draco said Harry... Harry..." Hermione looked too scandalized to finish the sentence.

"He only spoke the truth," I said. "My balls haven't dropped yet. Draco knows that, by the time they do, I would have already become quite taller than him. A head taller, at the very least."

Hermione, when she heard me repeating the sentence, covered her face in her hands. Ron looked mildly sick.

Moody finally dropped the ferret. A little too late, in my opinion. The animal turned back into Draco, but I didn't dare look at his face to see if he was in pain. Because he surely must have been.

 

In the following weeks, I couldn't stop thinking about it. Partly because it was not easy to forget -- the other Professors, including Dumbledore and McGonagall, the ones I admired the most, declared what Moody had done was terrible and that if he would harm another student, he'd be expelled.

"I don't think this teacher will last to teach us Defence Against the Dark Arts more than the usual year they all last," Seamus Finnigan commented wisely.

I was sad, and didn't often speak. I wanted to talk to Draco, tell him that I had not enjoyed it in the slightest, but I felt too guilty about it. He had the right to hit me for saying something like that.

The truth was hard to ignore. I only said those things about his family because I did not know what it was like to have one, so how would I know if relationships with parents were a complicated thing? Well, I knew for sure that I would Stupefy a student for making remarks about Vernon's fondness for the bottle.

Hell, I gripped my wand first, when Draco made that joke about puberty.

I decided that maybe becoming an Auror was not such a great thing. What if they were power hungry, like Muggle politicians and policemen? Moody had certainly done that thing to Draco only because he wanted to. And he probably thought that whatever he wanted to do, he had the power to accomplish it.

But otherwise, how could I defeat Voldemort?

The lesson we had with Moody a few weeks after his spell, only made me understand how little I still knew of all the things I needed to know.

"Today," he explained. "I'll teach you the three Curses. Not to use on a fellow student, keep that in mind."

"No," I whispered. "You keep that in mind."

All of the students burst into laughter, even the ones I did not know.

"Potter," Moody looked at me. "Tell me about the three Curses instead of interrupting."

"I do not know about them, sir."

"I thought you'd be more prepared -- Dumbledore told me you wanted to become an Auror. It's the Killing Curse, the Cruciatus Curse and the Imperius Curse. The Killing Curse is the fastest and surest way to kill another wizard, and it's what You-Know-Who used on you when you were a baby."

"I don't know," I said.

"What do you mean you don't know?"

"I don't know what it is he did," I said. "I do not remember any of it! I was too little. And there were no other witnesses, were they? Perhaps he decided to spare me or something."

"Perhaps he... Potter! Are you purposely trying to ruin my lesson? Are you making fun of me?"

"I'd like to believe, Professor, that if I wanted to make fun of you, you'd understand the jokes at the very least. Otherwise, that would mean I'm not very good at it."

More laughter.

"I really do not know why Dumbledore talked so highly about you," Moody growled. "Now, Potter, come show the classmates how the Curses work!"

"Professor!" Parvati shrieked. "You don't mean to kill him, or 'cruciate' him?"

"No, the third curse can be used on a person with little consequence. The Imperius curse."

He made me walk up to him, and pointed his wand at me. Then, he dropped it.

"Go back to your place, Potter. But now, listen to the lesson very clearly, especially when I say how to resist an Imperius curse. You'll need it for the lesson after this one."


It was the middle of October, and it was my most chaotic year at Hogwarts yet, when Moody asked me again to show to the class how to resist the Imperius curse.

It was a curse that made whomever cast it on you able to control you. I knew how to resist it, a bit, but it would have been different with a little experience. I tried not to crumble when Moody was asking me to kneel, but resulted in falling on one of my knees with a loud snap.

It didn't take a genius to understand that it was the second time that a Hogwarts Professor broke my arm or my leg. In that moment, I cursed Dumbledore for the naivety he had when it came to choosing teachers.

"Are you alright?" Ron asked me, when I was in the Hospital Wing. "That was such a horrible thing to see. Of course, Hermione says we're here to learn. But I'll let you in on a secret -- she's worried about Moody as well, and she obviously takes your side."

"Why isn't she here now?" I asked, touching my knee lightly to see if it had already healed.

"Oh, I forgot to tell you! They announced last minute that the other schools are coming here! I think it had been planned all along, but was kept as a surprise. You know how Hermione is, she wants to make an impression on everyone..."

I stood up on the bed. "But that means that students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will drop their names in the Goblet of Fire, and we'll read the names of the winners!"

"Well..." Ron scratched his chin. "Yes."

"Then what are we waiting for??" I asked. "Don't you want to see who will compete in the Tournament?"

After I pleaded a bit, he decided to go with me to the Great Hall. After all, my knee had healed almost completely.

The other students were already there. The French school was composed mostly by wealthy blond students, which reminded me that Malfoy was a French surname, after all, and made me ask whether all French people looked like that. I decided that it was a stupid thought, and not to waste my time. 

Both the male students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang looked pretty hot, though the last ones in a rougher and darker way, but I filed that thought under the list of the stupid ones that would waste my time as well.

Of course, amongst the Durmstrang students, there was Victor Krum.

Thankfully, the three schools did not take up too much space. Since wizards are less in number than Muggles, Hogwarts had always been too big for its students. I already knew almost all of them by name, and most of the ones my age were my friends. If I had to come up with a number, I'd say there were give or take between ten and twenty students for each House and for each of the seven years of school.

When the students from the other schools stopped introducing themselves, which took quite a while, they dropped the names in the Goblet.

I noticed the headmaster for Durmstrang was Lucius Malfoy's friend, Karkaroff. Beauxbatons' headmaster was a half giant, Madame Maxime. She sat next to Hagrid and they started chatting. It looked as if they were... flirting?

"Well," Dumbledore said with his charismatic and booming voice. "Now, I will ask the Goblet of Fire to let us know the names of the worthy wizards who will compete."

"I have a question," Madame Maxime interrupted with a lovely French accent. "Does it change things, that the names of the Hogwarts student have been there for a longer time?"

"Clever question," Dumbledore said. "And no, of course. The way the Goblet works is different. It starts activating... now!" 

Dumbledore pointed his wand at the goblet, and it started looking as if it cointained fire, with little flames licking the cup and sending sparks in the air.

We all cheered at his spell, done effortlessly.

"Best not give me credit for that," the headmaster said. "It's the goblet's merit if it looks like that, I merely activated it. And now, soon enough, the three names will come jumping out, as if the flames hadn't disentegrated them."

In fact, a piece of paper soon jumped out.

"Durmstrang's champion," Dumbledore said, reading it. "Is.... Victor Krum!"

We all cheered, though nobody was surprised.

Another piece of paper came flying into the headmaster's hands. "Beauxbatons' champion is... Fleur Delacoeur!"

One of the prettiest and wealthiest blonde girls, one of those that looked related to the Malfoys, started shouting and crying, so I guessed she had to be Fleur.

The final piece of paper rested on the table. "Hogwarts' champion, at last, is... Cedric Diggory!"

We all cheered, even George Weasley.

But then, something happened. A fourth piece of paper came flying out from the Goblet.

"Stop it!" Karkaroff said. "We only need the first three."

"You underestimate it," Dumbledore defended the goblet. "See? The flames stopped moving now. It only gave us one more piece of paper. I wonder what it is for..."

The headmaster unravled the piece of paper, and became white as chalk, as if he had witnessed someone die.

"What does it say?" Madame Maxime asked.

Dumbledore gulped. "It reads, Harry Potter."

Chapter Text

Of course, the rules of the Tournament were strict. If the goblet had spat out my name, I had to compete.

And, of course, now that I had to compete, I'd never wanted anything less in my life.

I kept telling people that I did not put my name into the goblet, but they had trouble believing it. Even Ron and Hermione.

"I mean," Ron told me. "I know you haven't done it, because I trust you, and because I know there was no way to break through the barrier around the goblet that only let the seventeen year old students in. I should know, Fred and George tried anything. Still, you have to admit it is pretty weird, how worked up you got when you heard they were reading out the names..."

I didn't bother explaining, because he would come around to believe me fully. At least, that's what I told myself.

And then, there were the other students, all the ones who hated me or never liked me much. They took it as an excuse to like me even less.

One day, I heard Dudley talking to Goyle.

I stopped to hear, because I did not know either of them was capable of starting a conversation.

"How much do you think my cousin is going to last in the Tournament?" Dudley asked Goyle. "I bet five pounds he gets injured during the first ten minutes."

"I bet ten that he dies during the first ten minutes," Goyle snickered. "That would be cool."

I heard someone muttering a curse, and Goyle's face started becoming green and slimy.

"Malfoy!" Goyle complained. I did not know they called each other by surname too. Uh. That was weird. "That is not cool!"

I looked at Draco, and when I saw how fierce he looked, with his usually stylish blond curls all in a mess, my heart skipped a beat. I couldn't help but feel guilty. The last time, he had gotten hurt over me, and this time he defended me from Goyle's jokes.

"Hey, Malfoy," I said, putting a hand on his back. "Thanks, and by the way, that time with Moody, I..."

"Potter!" McGonagall's voice brought me back to reality. "The press is here."

"What do you mean the press?"

The press consisted in a journalist, Rita Skeeter, who had to interview the four champions of the Tournament, her entourage who had to take our pictures, and so on...

I wore my glasses in most of the pictures, in a pitiful attempt at trying to cover my scar. Not that there was a single person around who didn't know I had it.

I also got off-hand comments about it from wizards I first met, like "I expected it would be bigger."

Instead, Rita, looked at it, and said, "Keep your glasses. I expected it would be smaller. But then again, I'd expected you would be bigger."

Rita started asking me all the wrong questions. I had quite enough time to look at her. She was a middle-aged woman, kind of pretty, I guess, with dyed orange hair and a slim body. She seemed a little dazed when she talked, not too different from Draco's mother, and I felt pity for her. However, I would have felt more pity if she wasn't trying to turn my life into a living hell.

She asked me about my parents, about the Dursleys, about fame, and about girls -- and I swear she looked at me as if she knew I was gay.

I blacked out most of the interview though, because mentally I was a mess, and I felt like I was on the verge of a breakdown.

 

But when the morning owls, a few days after, delivered us the newspaper Rita wrote for, even I knew that what she had written was not at all what I had told her.

The title of the article was:

THE CHOSEN ONE HAS CHOSEN SOMEONE

And it read,

'We got to hang out with the famous Chosen One this week, and let us say a couple of things first to our female readers. Our hearthrob is fun-sized, but very attractive, so there's hope for him yet. However, romantically speaking, there might be no hope for us. We had the luck to see the young Champion of the Tournament during a normal day at Hogwarts, being defended from malicious bullies by a certain Draco Malfoy.

Yes, it does appear from our insiders that Draco and Harry are an item, and here at the editorial board we have already started calling them Drarry. Even though we know that this will come as an unpleasent surprise to all the young girls in love with the five foot boy who saved all of us from You-Know-Who, rest assured that the heir of the Malfoy family takes good care of him.

We started wondering whether our Golden Boy needs a protective boyfriend because he's too short to defend himself, so we asked his tall, mysterious and hot cousin Dudley for a scoop.

"Harry's always been short," Dudley Dursley, certified Gryffindor hottie comments, "At first, I thought he was a girl."

So, young readers, if you're still looking for a bachelor, you might have found your funny and handsome prince in Dudley yet.

But, back to his more famous and slightly more boring cousin, our Chosen One still bears the scar from his battle with You-Know-Who, that happened when he was only one year old. He says he does not want to let us in on the secret that made him defeat the Dark Lord so young, and we can't help but wonder whether he has a few tricks up his sleeve for the competition as well. We surely know that, when we saw him with Draco Malfoy, he exterminated all of us as well with only a look from his mesmerizing green eyes.

Maybe that is how he defeated You-Know-Who as well.

The scar Dumbledore's favourite student bears from the battle is hideous and gigantic, covering most of his forehead and an eyebrow. It's slanted and crooked, and we couldn't help but wonder whether it looks like a lightning bolt on purpose or for some case of misfortune. It sadly tries to destroy the boy's good looks, but with his thin and muscular body and his tanned skin, it is pretty much impossible.

We can't help but wonder what the other half of Drarry thinks of the scar. We hope he knows how brave his boyfriend is, even though not brave enough to come out of the closet for our interview with Rita Skeeter (read below).

Rita: Sadly, we can only ask five questions to each of the Champions, but don't worry. We will write a full reportage about you. So, let's start off with your parents. They died when you were young, didn't they?

Potter looks at me with tears in his highligther-green eyes. He looks like he's on the verge of breaking down, but clenches his perfectly shaped jaw.

Potter: Yes, they were James and Lily Potter. They died young, battling Voldemort and they were very brave. I want the whole world... [here Potter takes a handkerchief and blows his nose] to know their names.

Rita: But your cousin tells me you've been raised very kindly by your aunt, who took you in. Would't you say they're your family too?

Potter does not wipe away his tears, in the fashion of many feminine men who do not think themselves above tears. He stares off in the distance, and spaces off for a minute.

Potter: I have no family.

Rita: Of course, take your time to process. Speaking of which, how do you handle being famous? I've been studying the effects of being famous on the mentally unstable, and...

Potter looks at me with a burning gaze, constellations of stars shining in his green slightly hooded eyes.

Potter: I've never wanted to be famous.

Rita: Okay, last question. What do you think about girls your age? Is there a certain someone?

[redacted -- our insider had already seen Drarry together, but did not mention it because of privacy rules that states what we can say or not say to the Triwizard Tournament Champions]

Potter looks at me, mouth parted in surprise, as if he knows his secret is out. He furrows his black arched eyebrows, and looks defiantly at me again.

Potter: NO.

Rita: Last question. How does it feel to be the youngest Champion? Did you put your name in the goblet of fire?

[redacted -- editor Barnabas Cuffe has let Rita Skeeter know later that this was not amongst the questions she could ask]

Potter: Where is the restroom? I need to use the restroom.

 

I slammed the Daily Prophet upon the table.

"Who reads this piece of trash?" I snarled.

"Everyone, why?" Hermione asked.

Ron took a look at the newspaper. "Is the interview true, at least?"

"No."

"Well you do kind of... talk like that," he snickered.

"Come on Ron, it's not funny," Hermione said.

"Ron, Hermione," I said, as I grabbed their wrists and walked out the Great Hall. "I need to tell you something."

I took a deep breath. "I do like boys."

"Neat," Ron said.

"What?"

"Cool. At least we won't fight over girls."

"But you don't... like that particular boy, do you?" Hermione asked.

I shook my head.

"Oh, good, you would have been so screwed."

"I am screwed anyway," I said. "I mean, Drarry, come on..."

Ron laughed. "Sorry," he added. "It's not funny."

"Besides," I added. "The whole article was trash. She does not call me by name once!"

Hermione looked like she was about to argue, but read it again. "It's true," she admitted.

 

The Winter holidays were approaching, and in November we'd have to do the first of the three tasks of the Tournament.

I had no idea what I was up against.

I had spent the best part of a few days trying to avoid Draco, Dudley and pretty much everyone who was not Ron or Hermione. It was harder in the morning, when both Draco and I received hate mail from people all over England. I guessed there had to be people, young people probably, who would have been okay with us if we were a thing, which we weren't, but it was too much of a scandal not to draw attention.

I even got a letter from Cornelius Fudge that warned me not to do anything rush or stupid. He was so disappointed in his Chosen One, he basically managed to call me a moron. At some point, he even asked whether Draco was attracted to dim-witted people. But every morning I could proceed with the day as if nothing had happened if I didn't hear from Lucius Malfoy or uncle Vernon yet.

I hoped Draco hadn't heard from Lucius.

I kept thinking life would have been easier were I not so easily recognizible. I kept wearing my glasses, hoping to pull a Clark Kent. I got very sad when none of my friends got the reference.

But, of course, I had worn my glasses in my promotional photos as well. I realized people recognized me less frequently when I was wearing contact lenses. I also decided I would let my hair grow so that it would cover my scar.

I had never done that before, but Rita Skeeter's malicious words about it kept appearing in my mind. I had already noticed that it looked lightning shaped, and I found myself fearing that people would ask about it. 

I was wearing a Gryffindor gold and red hat all the way down to cover the scar, trying not to be recognized, when Martin Kowalski stopped to talk to me.

Shit. Kowalski. One of Draco's friends. I had tried not to pay any attention to Draco for the past few days, so I had no idea what he told his friends. He probably said the article was trash, laughed out loud when Rita made her cruel jokes about me, and told his dad to fire Rita.

Martin recognized me. "I could recognize you for the highlighter-green eyes alone," he said, in a mocking tone. But Kowalski was never cruel, only a bit goofy, so I didn't take it to heart.

"So happy for you and Draco, mate," he added then.

I did not know what to reply. Why did Draco let him believe...? Was he playing a trick on me? Had he been avoiding his friends as well as his enemies?

I decided that, unless I spoke, Martin would never know the truth. But the tongue felt like wet cement into my mouth.

"Either way, aren't you distracted by all those new Beauxbatons and Durmstrangs hotties?" Martin asked dreamily. "I'm glad you're faithful to Malfoy. I only like the ladies, but this year there's too many pretty faces and I don't know who to look at. Yesterday I whistled at Fleur Delacouer but Draco told me it was a sexist thing to do. Better this way, men in my family never had much luck with blondes..."

"Kowalski," I asked. "What do you want?"

"Oh... yeah... speaking of girls. I have developed a crush on one of your friends recently. If I show you the first task of the Tournament, will you put a good word with her so she knows I exist before I ask her to the ball?"

The ball. I must have looked like I had just had a heart attack. There was the ball coming that winter, and people probably expected me to go with Malfoy.

"How do you know what the first trial is?" I asked.

"Yesterday, after the thing with Fleur happened, Goyle said I was pathetic and tried out a curse on me. He's not very good and he only knows the ones children use as jokes, so I got stuck with a full bladder. I wanted to use the restroom, but there wasn't any cabinet empty. I don't know what people were doing -- snogging with the new students probably. Ah! Snogging! I'm starting to use English slang!"

"Martin, will you get to the point?" 

"Okay, so basically, I had to pee somewhere, right? So, I went to the forest."

"The Forbidden Forest?"

"Yes, and when I was there, I heard a sound, and followed it. The things I've seen... they must have been there for your task. I just know it. Follow me."

Reluctantly I followed him into the Forest. I wonder, at the Malfoy house, what was the payment for staining the reputation of the youngest heir. Perhaps Kowalski had been bribed by Lucius to bring me to the Forest and kill me. It could happen.

We didn't have to walk much to see that people there were training... dragons.

"I didn't even know they existed," I told Martin, "and now I have to battle them?"

"Take inspiration from my grandfather Jacob," he replied. "New York city baker, Muggle. He became famous for his bravery in defeating Grindelwald. First, he and Grams joined the wrong side, but then they changed side, and well... the rest is history. But my point is, he lived until thirty without knowing magic existed."

I was really trying to listen to him, but I had eyes only for the huge, scaly, fire-breathing dragons.

"The task is in two days," I told Martin. "The second of November."

"You can do what you do best," he shrugged. "Fly. Oh, and remember, tell your friend Hermione that your other friend Martin wants to go to the ball with her."


A few days later, at the task, it was not hard to pretend to be appaled when they explained we would have to get a golden egg that had been put into a Dragon nest with the other eggs. And the Dragon watching us.

I barely remember what Cedric and Fleur did, because I do not remember having been more scared in my life. I did not want to die in the first ten minutes and prove Goyle right. I did not want to die before I told people the Drarry article was false.

I remember that Krum used his broom too. After all, he was a professional player. I had to expect it.

When it was my turn, I flew better than I ever had before. I snatched the egg, made the crowd cheer, made the dragon very angry at me and got part of my clothes burned.

At the end, Victor won the first task. He played Quidditch for a living after all.

But I was second place. And I was alive, for the moment.

Chapter Text

The ball was approaching, and I had no idea what to do. 

I had to ask Hermione on behalf of Martin, and I was surprised to hear she accepted.

"I can't believe she's going with someone else," Ron complained. "I would have asked her, sooner or later..."

"You've got to give it to Kowalski, he did not wait to ask the most popular girls first and use her as a last resort."

"Please, he's Kowalski. He's probably been asking girls since September."

I sighed.

"I don't see what your problem is," Neville told me. "You're going with Malfoy."

I blushed. "Who? Me? No, that magazine was full of trash. Malfoy and I are so not a thing."

Neville looked disappointed. "I'm going with Ginny," he said. "I honestly thought Hermione would be going with Ron, and you'd be going with Malfoy, and we'd all have fun..."

Maybe in another life, when uncle Vernon was not my caretaker and arrogant handsome blond boys did as much as to look at me.

"I'm going to ask Fleur," Ron decided.

"Oh no, you are so not going to do that," Seamus said, impressed.


A few days later, Ron returned with the news that Fleur accepted his invitation. For a while, the Gryffindor dorm couldn't talk about anything else. People even asked Ron to share the recipe for the love potion. I know I should have stood up for him, but I was happy nobody was talking about Draco and I anymore.

But my happiness didn't last long. That day, Dumbledore asked me to go to his office.

"Best to focus on the ball for now," he told me. "Even students like you need to be distracted once in a while. Then, after the holidays, you'll think about the second task. There's a clue in the golden egg that you got from the dragon -- I have already told the others as much. But, now, I fear we have to talk about Draco Malfoy."

How could Dumbledore, of all people, believe that trash??

"The article was false, sir," I replied. "I have no interest whatsoever in Malfoy."

"I know the Daily Prophet lately isn't living up to its name. However, I wanted to talk to you about it. I think you've reached that age where it would not be unwise for me to say, that I respect your choices no matter whom you love. But, even though I shouldn't have prejudices against my students, Malfoy is not the person I think would be best suited for you."

"I assure you, sir, that it has never crossed my mind..."

"Mind you, Potter, I'm your headmaster. I am no father figure. It would make me a very lucky guardian but, alas, life has made it so that you are only a student to me. However, I'd never tell you a single word of this, if not from experience. You see, I have had many students all over the years, and, while I try not to play favourites, it isn't impossible that some of them do not become like my children to me. It is human nature, and we can't tell the heart what to do.

I once knew a student very much like you. Curious, stubborn, full of life and love. A golden boy. He had so much power, people believed he was destined to greatness since birth. But he fell in love with the wrong person. 

The boy he fell in love with... he never loved him back. He tried, very hard, because the golden boy was his most intimate friend, but as I said you can't change the ways of the heart, and of the body, and the boy had never liked other boys, nor will he ever. He broke his intimate friend's heart. Things between them had never been the same again.

And the golden boy felt like he had lost his tether. He gave in to too much power, and... well, it's not for me to say how his story ended, perhaps you'll meet him one day. Let's just say that a broken heart is no laughing matter. It changed things, forever."

"So you think, sir," I asked, too curious to stop myself. "That if I liked Draco Malfoy, hypothetically speaking, he wouldn't like me back?"

"Dear boy," Dumbledore said pitifully. "I do not read hearts and minds. My knowledge is not as vast as the sea. I am but an old man with a passion for fuzzy socks. But, I have lived long, and I know the ways of the heart. I have talked to Draco Malfoy many times, as his headmaster, and it is clear he's a young boy on a wrong path, with little empathy and clarity. Anyone who'd enter a relationship with him, much more a naive boy like you, is set out to be destroyed. Especially someone who had little love and has nothing to be compared with. You have to guard your heart, Harry, because it takes a while to understand what we're worth if we have always been worth nothing before."

I let the headmaster get carried away. I could tell that, at some point during the conversation, he had shifted from teacher to father figure, and I couldn't even begin to say how warm that made me feel, inside.

"I'll help you tell people the article was false, if that's what you wish," Dumbledore added then. "And speaking of Malfoy, today he and Kowalski pulled a prank on Snape during the lesson. I believe the second task of the Tournament was discussed, and Snape brought up the article. I need to see him in my office after you."

I got out of the office before I could risk meeting Malfoy.

Later, I heard Martin and Draco had been punished. They couldn't dance with their partner, but they had to show up as bartenders.

I knew it was a terrible thing, and that if destiny existed I would have to pay, but I asked Hermione to the ball before Ron could. After all, if he hadn't been lying, he was going with Fleur.


The day of the Yule Ball had finally arrived. Ron tried out the outfit he got at the shop. I had left before I could see what it was he got.

"Mom and dad never tell me to choose the cheapest, but I do," Ron complained. The robes were brown and dusty pink, making him look even paler and giving his light red hair dusty blond highlights.

"You like boys, Harry," he said. "Tell me, how do I look?"

I had to count to ten not to strangle him. "You look better than you think," I gave my honest opinion. Ron was tall, almost looking like a sixteen-year-old, and the robes gave him a nice figure. "Don't worry, though, you're not my type."

Our dorm was soon flooded by our friends. Neville Longbottom had nice blue robes, which made me notice for the first time that he was more handsome than I had given him credit for, with short brown hair and blue eyes. 

The twins looked good, though George's robes, the ones that belonged to Arthur, were better than Fred's. 

"That's okay, Padma doesn't care what I'm wearing," Fred explained. "It's how I'm wearing it."

I liked how the Weasley brothers were more confident in their old robes than I expected, even Ron. I had been too afraid to try on mine.

"Come on Harry, you try yours," Neville said. "I think Ginny is waiting for me."

I tried on my robes. Black and white, and kind of dapper. I was more tanned at Hogwarts then I was back home, because I spent the whole year playing Quidditch in the sun. With white clothes, my skin was glowing more than usual. I had let my hair grow a bit longer on my scar. It hadn't been growing for long, but I could fool myself that it was starting to cover it nicely.

It didn't even look too big on me. Well, not too much. The trousers were too long.

I stomped my foot. "I knew!" I complained. "Malfoy chose them wrong on purpose!"

Everybody looked at me weirdly, and I realized how my words sounded.

"Hermione will like you either way," Ron said helpfully. "I know she thinks you're cute."

We went to the Great Hall. I suddenly felt guilty that I snatched Hermione from boys who could like her the way I couldn't. She was beautiful in a dusty pink dress that looked like it could have been in a matching set with Ron's robes.

But then, I saw that Ron was dancing with Fleur. For real! And she looked beautiful as well. Hermione looked jealous. She kept looking at Ron.

"Look at him, he's glowing," she said through gritted teeth. "The nerve of him! He manages to make those ugly robes look good."

"Erm... Hermione..." I said. "Perhaps you should look at me more often. I mean, I don't mean to bother, I know I ruined the Yule Ball for you. But it would be amazing to convince Dudley I'm straight before he tells Vernon and Petunia."

Speaking of Dudley. I was mad at him. He had decided to show up wearing a Muggle suit to make a statement, and he looked much better than me. He sometimes stole looks at my robes, and laughed about it with the girl he was dancing with, which changed every half an hour.

"But, Harry," Hermione said sweetly. "For it to work, you need to look at me too."

I noticed my eyes kept wandering to the bar. I blushed despite myself. Draco was wearing one of those new black and white robes that made him look like a priest, but one detail was not lost on me.

His robes and mine, though mine were older and used, looked like they could be matching. I immediately felt angry.

"I need something to drink," I growled.

I walked up to the bar. "Careful not to trip on your trousers, Potter," Draco said with a mischievious smile.

"You bastard," I hissed. "I know why you chose these robes for me. So, people would compare us, and see how the new version looked better on you."

"Please, Potter, I would have got you the new version, but you were too broke, so..."

He did not dispute the theory that he did it to show they looked better on him.

"What game are you playing?" I asked.

Draco gave me a cup of mulled wine. I didn't know whether it was only there for the seventeen-year-olds. It didn't matter.

"I don't drink," I gave it back to him.

"I was watching you," Draco said, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. He pointed at the ballroom, as if to make sure I understood when and where he'd been watching. "You're letting your hair grow longer."

"Mostly on my face," I agreed.

Draco was silent for a while. 

"Do you want to know why Martin and I were punished?" he asked.

"Tell him!" Martin agreed. "And then, he'll tell Granger."

"Basically, Snape started asking us if we thought the article was true. He then said he would never expect you to like boys, Potter, but that it explained why you got along with your godfather. Then, he said you only moved on to me because Granger had big front teeth that made her look like a rodent. That was when we cursed him. We covered his face in pimples."

"Why are you telling me that?" I asked.

"I thought you should know, because you can't look past my money, Potter. There's a person behind it."

Martin looked impressed, and mildly horrified. I realized he and Draco must have been drinking wine.

I went back to dancing with Hermione, but it wasn't the same with Draco's gaze on me. I did not know what he was doing. Dumbledore was right, as usual. I did not know anything about feelings, and about love, and my life at the moment was a little too complicated to sort it out.

I realized that the past few weeks had given me the wrong impression, because of the article. But Rita Skeeter was a liar, and Draco was insufferable and straight as always.

When the ball ended, Hermione and I overheard a conversation between Ron and Fleur.

"I know you only asked me out to make that girl jealous!" Fleur complained. She had a thick French accent, but her English was very good. "Well, just know there is a reason why I accepted, too! I wouldn't be caught dead with a boy like you!"

People were staring, and laughing. I was beginning to feel angry, but Hermione even more so. She looked so fierce, I was a little afraid of her.

"Then why did you accept, then?" Hermione asked. "Just know there are girls who actually think Ron looks perfect in those robes."

"Perhaps those girls are only friends to him," Fleur said. Which was confusing, because I thought it was Hermione that she was jealous of. "And she wanted to be seen with the prettiest girl here!"

"What's your problem?" Hermione growled. "If I was as dumb as you, I wouldn't care about how straight was my hair, or of how I looked. It's my brain I would be worried about."

Fleur looked close to tears. "But I can't tell the truth!" she started wailing. "I've seen how you all treated Potter."

Everybody froze. "So what?!" Fleur cried out. "I like girls, okay? And only girls! And I was lying! I am not the prettiest here! I wish I was! I wouldn't be so distracted."

"Oh. Erm... I'm sorry," Hermione said.

Fleur stormed off, but we saw her again later in the evening, dancing with Angelina Johnson.


A few days after, Rita published another article. It was not about Fleur's sexuality.

"I bet she's fuming," Cedric said. "She's not exactly accepting, and three of the Champions are queer."

"Read the article before you look so smug," Qiu told him. "It's horrible either way."

It was. A trashy article about Fleur and Hermione. It often referred to Hermione as the 'Iranian Muggle-born' and to Fleur as the 'young blond Amazon'. 

"The bitch!" Hermione protested. "I bet she's racist too!"

"I've never heard her curse," Ron whispered to me. "That was hot. And scary. And hot."

"Why don't you tell her how you feel?" I asked.

"No, I can't. It's complicated. It's unrequited."

It couldn't be unrequited. Hermione said Ron looked perfect in those robes, which required imagination she did not usually have.

I read what the article said about Ron. It reported that the two young women were fighting over the same 'stallion', Harry Potter's 'tall and not-scarred best friend'. It also said that 'Weasley is proof that poor men are often more exciting, due to their wayward lifestyle.'

Ron looked furious. "You don't know how people treat you when you're poor!" he explained to me. "To read on the newspaper that you are poor, as if it's something to be said! It's... it's a form of abuse!"

I believed it, but something in his words offended me. "You mean I don't know because I'm loaded, which now you know I'm not, or you say I don't know because people don't say I am poor? I have never had a pair of glasses before I came here, Ron, wake up. People don't say I am poor because I don't have a family. It's not that I have little -- it's that I have nothing."

I walked away. I met Cedric Diggory in the hall.

"I want to give you a clue for the second task, one queer Champion to another. I would have told Fleur, but she's from Beauxbatons. Go to the bathrooms and put the egg in the water."

The bathrooms were bigger than the restrooms and they had showers and bathing tubs.

"I'm sorry, by the way," Cedric added, patting on my shoulder. "That you couldn't dance with Draco."

Chapter Text

I grew a few inches taller during the winter holidays.

I felt more mature and collected too. I decided to try to focus more on the tasks and less on my reputation, so, one day, I took the golden egg to the restroom.

Just like the toilets, every student who had access to the room could enjoy privacy and quiet. However, I did not enchant the lock of the door. There was only a limited number of tubs, so I used the Prefect and Teacher room. I figured it was less likely that they had to bathe at the same time as me, considering they were less in number than the students. The boys restroom was in one corridor, and the girls in another. Gender neutral student could use both -- the doors to the rooms were basically always locked.

In the room there was a huge bath tub that looked like a small swimming pool. It was very cool, and one of the reasons I liked staying at Hogwarts was bathing there. Back at home, I had ten minutes of cold shower, because I could not waste the warm water before it was Dudley's turn.

At Hogwarts, the water was magical, and you could say 'warm' every time you wanted it to get a bit hotter, or 'cold' if you wanted it cooler.

I took off all my clothes and submerged in the bath with the egg between my knees.

The egg was in the water, but it wasn't opening up or anything.

"Come on, open up!" I said. I tried to take the top half away from the bottom half.

In that moment, I heard the door opening. I asked myself whether it was worth it to hide under water, with the egg, but maybe whoever it was wanted to use the tub!

It was Dumbledore. I felt a rush of relief. If someone could understand, that person was the headmaster.

"Oh, Potter! I'm so sorry," he said. "Alas, I'll choose a different time for bathing. But, since I caught you here, and I'm terribly sorry to disrupt your privacy, let me give you an advice for that egg."

"I hardly think it's fair, sir."

"But so it was my coming here. And the Triwizard Tournament tests your loyalties, and your abilities to communicate as well. Are you of the opinion that the other students never ask for help?"

I shook my head, a little confused. Sometimes, I didn't understand whether I'd impress him more by saying yes or no.

"There's something inside that egg," Dumbledore pointed at the thing between my knees. I immediately felt uncomfortable of being naked, and gripped it tighter. "A mermaid's voice."

"Mermaids are often in Muggle stories as well," I said. "Aren't them the attractive girls with the fishtail who drown sailors?"

"Not quite," Dumbledore replied. "I mean, in the legends, yes, of course. In reality, not quite. They are similar to Dementors, in a way. They want to give you a feeling, instead of wanting to take away another. But many men, including sailors, have often found out they give too much, which is like taking away too much. They went mad. Other people don't fall for their charms at all, be it for loyalty or personal reasons, so the mating calls of the mermaids disgust them to the core."

Dumbledore might have noticed my wavering expression. "I think I can say those things to you, Potter. You're becoming a man in body and mind. In that egg, there's a mermaid voice. You need to listen to it."

"So, I'm sorry for asking sir, but will each one of us be able to hear a mermaid's call? Isn't that a bit too dangerous, for the second clue?"

"In fact," Dumbledore replied. "It's not part of the clue. It's part of the second task. I'm telling you now, so that you can make a choice."

"Which choice, sir?"

Dumbledore was walking away. "Oh, no. So foolish of me. No one lets in on so many secrets as an old man waiting for a warm bath. And yes, you do have a choice. But it's reckless and dangerous, even for you, so I wouldn't recommend it. If you desire my opinion, that is."

"Which choice?" I asked again.

"You can either listen to the mermaid under the water, submerging in the water as well, or open the egg in the water but listen to the voice outside the water. You will not have the water covering your ears, and the mermaid's voice will be enough to make you feel like she's calling even though she isn't. Why am I telling you that? Ah, because then, you'd already be ready for the second task. There's hardly a man that falls for it twice."

But I wasn't attracted to girls, so I wouldn't fall for it. What did Dumbledore say about people who weren't interested in the call? They would be disgusted, shaken to their core.

But how hard could it be? And, if I listened to the voice outside the water, Dumbledore would be impressed with me. I just knew it.

"But I can't open it, sir," I said. "I tried."

"If you want it to open, Potter, you'll find it will open."

I tried again. This time, it did open, and I heard the mermaid's voice. She was talking about rescuing people under water. About reaching what you wanted the most. She wasn't calling, but I felt it all the same.

It was a feeling, like the Dementor's. But I didn't feel depressed, or worthless, or a useless waste of space. I felt as if the mermaid could reach me everywhere, leaving no sense of privacy left. It was a feeling unlike I've ever felt before, but strangely it reminded me of being beaten up. It left you hollow inside in a similar way.

After a while, I found myself out of the bathroom, wearing my uniform, and with no recollection of how I got back in the corridor again.

"Potter," Dumbledore was there. He looked worried. "I shouldn't talk so much. But you know you don't always have to do things the hard way, don't you? I can't help but blame myself. Children your age often want to impress their parents, and their cries of attention, though not literally speaking, surpass even the ones of newborn babies. I'm afraid, at some point during our beautiful, intimate, discussions, you've started to think of me as family. I am afraid, Potter, that we should distance ourselves a little more. You're an outstanding boy, brave, noble and valuable. I can't have you throwing yourself away like that."

I still felt dazed thanks to the mermaid's magic, and I was starting to feel as if there had been really a Dementor around.

Dumbledore looked gentle again. "Don't overthink, Potter. It is a great man's losing battle, overthinking things. Of course you'll always have a family at Hogwarts, just do not cross some lines. Now, you know what you need to learn for your second task."

Yes. Breathing underwater.

I went to look for a person whom I'd always known would help. Neville Longbottom, not one of my very best friends, but his loyalty to me was unlike any other.

"I know you're good. Like, exceptionally good, at Herbology," I told him. I'd never been, and we often studied together.

Neville nodded. "What is it about?"

"Is there some kind of herb that makes you breathe underwater?"

Neville smiled mischieviously. "Is that for the second task?"

I nodded.

"There's one, in one of my books," he replied. "I'll get it for you, because the name escapes me right now."

Half an hour later, Neville was back with a big old book.

"That's the herb," he said. "Gillyweed. It makes gills grow on your neck. Oh, don't worry. They go away after three hours."

"I think I'll be able to make it in less than three hours," I said, though the mermaid's riddle left me confused. Did I have to save people, or to choose whether to reach what I wanted the most?

The mermaid. I felt a strong headache, and a bit of nausea when I was reminded of her. She hadn't been there herself, but it hardly mattered. Just like Dementors, it was her essence that counted. They were more human shaped, but that didn't mean that they were women instead of evil creatures.

"Do you think you could get me a Gillyweed before the second task?" I asked Neville.

"I could ask Professor Sprout to give me one, say it's for underwater exploring," Neville said. "I've always wanted to explore the plants in the Black Lake."

Of course, the Black Lake! It was a body of landlocked fresh water on the southrern parts of the Hogwarts ground. That must have been where the second task was taking place. The lake was also where Draco, Sirius and I met the Dementors.

"Thank you, Neville!" I said.

In a few weeks, I'd have to grow gills to save someone, or multiple someones, from the mermaids in the lake. My nerves felt as if they were on fire, but I was pretty sure I could manage it.

 

The day of the second task arrived. I had been concentrated on figuring out how to stay alive and how not to get terrible grades in the meantime. I also couldn't shake off what happened with the mermaid, but for some reason talking about it made me feel a little ashamed, so I never told anyone.

The day of the task, Ron and Hermione were there, cheering for me. I took it as a sign that they hadn't been kidnapped by the mermaids.

When the moment came, the Champions gathered in front of the Black Lake. Cedric, Fleur and Viktor had all found a different way to breathe underwater. Cedric had a bubble around his head, that somehow didn't manage to make him look stupid looking, Fleur had a potion with her that she was about to drink, and Viktor had a piece of ground that he was about to swallow in a mouthful. It was similar to my herb, and it would probably give him fish-like qualities. 

I munched on my herb right before jumping into the water.

Fuck. It was cold.

I had a hard time adjusting to my gills, and the cold water was paralizing the bottom half of my body. However, I felt reassured knowing that once I had already heard the call, the mermaids would not come for me again.

In fact, I saw a few of them. They were creatures so little human shaped, that whomever thought they had to be female because they called on sailors must have had a prejudice against women. They had blue-ish skin, yellow hair that looked like seaweed and claws. They looked nor male nor female.

But they didn't bother me. I wonder whether the other Champions were falling for their words, and were already half mad. I remembered Dumbledore's words. He never specifically said you were safe if you didn't like girls, he said you had to have personal reasons or loyalties. Probably the mermaids didn't really have a gender, but that was not the reason I felt disgusted.

I was probably a person that would have found most advances disgusting, if they did not come from the person my heart was after.

And, talking about people, I was trying to figure out who it was I had to save.

I saw a blond person tied on a rock.

Oh no. Draco Malfoy! Someone must have believed Rita's trashy article.

But it didn't matter. I had to save him.

However... what if it was a trap? Perhaps the thing my heart desired the most was saving everyone, even my enemies. 

But leaving him to drown, if it was really him, was not an option. I started cutting off the ropes with my nails and with my teeth. At the end of the job, I think my hands and mouth were bloody, but I didn't really care. I took Draco in my arms, and swam towards the surface of the water.

I didn't think my three hours were up, but under there you couldn't really tell.

When I swam to the surface, Draco in my arms, a lot of people cheered. But other people booed. And, for once, I realized it had nothing to do with the fact that we were two boys.

I looked around. The other three Champions were already out of the water.

"What did you see?" I asked them.

"My little sister," Fleur said. "I've always felt as if I needed to protect her, to save her."

Fleur looked sad. I was horrified.

"Come back!" I said. "You can still save her! Look, if your enchantment has worn off, I'll save her for you!"

Everybody looked at me as if I was going mad. Well, I was. None of them had saved the people in the Black Lake!

"Who have you left, Viktor?" I screamed, loud enough for everyone to hear. "I'll get them for you. I'll get Fleur's sister, and your person."

A few people snickered. I didn't care. I didn't wonder why. People were mean.

Viktor looked sad, just like Fleur had. "It was my manager. He's like my father to me, but he has heart problems. The thing I'd like the most is for him to be healthy and always be there for me."

I was horrified once again. "I'll go," I promised. "Gillyweed lasts three hours. Wait here for me."

I was about to dive back in, because I noticed my gills felt really uncomfortable when I did simple tasks like screaming, or breathing.

"Wait, Harry, stop!" Cedric called out. "I've seen my mother."

I nodded. "I'll get her."

Then, I reminded Cedric telling me it was only his father and him. I froze.

"I've seen my mother. That is how I understood the mermaids were shapeshifters. She wasn't really my mother, she couldn't be."

"Oui, that's what I thought too, and Cedric confirmed," Fleur said. "I knew they could never be as cruel as to tie my sister to a rock. They become who we want to save the most."

I looked horrified at Draco. He was starting to turn into a mermaid.

I felt the world crumbling down on me. How could I have believed the teachers would take it that far? Was I really crazy?

A few moments later, I was on the podium, without gills and with my clothes back on. I had gone to third place. I should have been fourth, but the judges admired my bravery. Cedric was first, Fleur second and Krum fourth. He had left his manager down there, not because he didn't care and not because he had realized it was a trick, but because he had never developed full gills from his spell.

"Have you heard the mermaid's call?" I asked Cedric, when we were on the podium.

"What do you mean?" Fleur scrunched her eyebrows. "You can only hear it out of the water. It's how sailors get pulled in."

I felt like I had been cheated, but I couldn't point out why and when I let that happen.

A few days after, another article from Rita was published. It was called 

THE CHOSEN ONE'S HERO COMPLEX

And it said,

'It was truly heartbreaking to see our scarred Champion trying to save his blond paramour from the waves of the water. Though if we saw young Malfoy tied on a rock we probably wouldn't do anything different, it is plain to see our Chosen One is scared to lose those he loves, very much like he lost his heroic parents. Terrified, even. Plagued, crippled by fear. The young hero must believe the world a much bleaker place than it is, thanks to the tragedies that befell him, because we all heard his anguish cries when he thought the other Champions had failed to save whom mattered the most. Our insiders confirm the bespectacled hero has been like that since birth, obsessed with the thought that a terrible death could take away whomever he loves.'

I slammed the newspaper on the table.

"If I were you," Hermione commented. "I'd start asking myself who her insiders are."

Chapter Text

Since I owed Neville a favour after the Gillyweed, I couldn't help but notice the love-struck look on his face every time he saw Ginny.

"I thought you and Ginny were together," I told him once. "You went to the Yule Ball together."

"As friends," Neville yelped. "Sorry, Harry, I wouldn't bother you with this. But Ginny and I met up in the second year, when we believed you were innocent and kind of became your fan club. I was obsessed with you back then... but don't worry! It's over now. But Ginny... she still likes you."

"I don't think so," I replied. "I never got the vibe."

"I assure you she does," Neville said grimly, and went back to studying. He didn't like burdening other people with his problems.

"You know what?" I asked. "I owe you one. I'll ask Ginny if she wants to take a romantic walk along the Black Lake with you..."

"Harry!" Neville said, throwing a pillow in my face.

But I really asked Ginny, some time later, and she accepted.

 

One day, Sirius and Remus went to visit.

"Harry!" Remus greeted me. "We have amazing news! The Ministry absolved Sirius. Peter Pettigrew will go to Azkaban, and Sirius is free. Forever."

Remus smiled fondly at his partner, but Sirius looked really tired and worn out. He had grey streaks in his hair, he was thin and emaciated. It looked like the time Remus and he had spent trying to convince people he wasn't guilty had been devastating on him, probably making him focus for the first time on his thirteen years at Azkaban.

Sirius did not say anything, which wasn't very much his style, and only grinned at me.

I hugged him.

"So, Harry," Sirius asked later when I sat with them for tea. "I heard about the Triwizard Tournament. How are you holding up?"

I thought about the fire scorching my clothes. The mermaid's call. The public panic and humiliation I felt at the second task. But none of that could live up to my worse nightmares, the ones were You-Know-Who was back and awaiting to kill me, or my loved ones.

"Not bad," I replied. "So far. The thing that's bothering me the most is Rita Skeeter. Here, read."

I handed them the Daily Prophet. "I'd like to find out who her insiders are."

"Well, this one says they've been knowing you were afraid of losing people since birth, and only your cousin could say such a stupid thing like that," Remus said. "So, I'd talk to him if I were you."

"I have a theory too," Sirius added darkly. "But I still need to test it."

 

I went to talk to Dudley as soon as I finished the conversation with my godfather.

"I heard the murderer is free forever," Dudley said. "What a pity. It certainly pleased dad to know you had a godfather in magic jail."

"He's not a murderer!" I replied hotly. "And he told me something about you!"

Remus did, but I couldn't help but enjoy Dudley's horrified expression.

I handed him the newspaper. "Is it you? One of the insiders?"

"Yes. Just as you know, they pay me. You should probably be less loyal and give them dirt on the other competitors. Maybe next year you could afford a set of robes without having your sadistic boyfriend buy you one that's too large..."

I punched him in the nose.

"You. Do. Not. Tell. Vernon. About. This," I growled. "You understand?"

"I'll do my best," Dudley smirked, grabbing my hand and twisting it in an awkward position, until I heard the sound of my wrist being broken. "But I can't promise anything."

"So what?" he added, looking at my pained expression. "Go to the Hospital Wing and they'll fix it in a minute. But don't tell me what to tell or not to tell my dad, because you can't go to magic nursery over the summer."

 

A few days later, Sirius and Remus returned to visit me.

"They told us to knock it off," Sirius grinned. "Or otherwise, all the first years will ask to have their parents over all the time. I hadn't thought of it! Between my parents, and the monster who raised Remus..."

Remus patted on Sirius' shoulder, as if to calm him down. I thought Sirius probably had a lot of trauma to deal with, from his childhood too. It unnerved me how much I still wanted to become like him.

"Either way," Remus said. "While we were waiting for you, we talked to Fred and George Weasley. They told me their dream after Hogwarts is to open a joke shop, but I understood they were holding back because they didn't have a lot of money. But I, as a lawyer, know that there are sums that could be given to young people who start activities, so I asked them whether I could be their lawyer, and they accepted."

I was speechless. Remus had been so kind, and I was so happy for the twins.

"We caught your little friend!" Sirius told me with a wild look in his eyes. He was holding a jar, with a little insect inside of it.

"Is that an Animagus?" I asked. "Who is it?" I found myself hoping it was Snape.

"Rita Skeeter," Sirius replied. "My theory was right. She, just like us, hasn't signed any paper, so nobody knows she's an Animagus. We could keep her here until the Tournament ends."

I looked at Remus, worried for my godfather's mental health.

"I came up with that," Remus said, a twinkle in his eyes that made me understand he wouldn't stop at much to protect those he loved.

 

The day of the third task was one of the last days of the school year, and it arrived much more quickly than I was expecting it to.

Dumbledore showed us what the third task was, and I couldn't help but feel terrified.

A giant maze had been built inside the Quidditch field. You'd have to fight monsters and solve riddles while you were in there, until you reached the center. At the center, you'd find the Triwizard Tournament cup. The person who reached it could have a chance to win even if they were at the third or fourth place, because this task was worth a lot of points.

Before I entered the maze, my eyes met Malfoy's.

I was suddenly reminded of how we had avoided each other pretty much the whole year. Even after he had defended me from the Dementors the year before. Even after I told him about uncle Vernon, and he still was the only person who knew about all of my scars. Our fights didn't seem to mean as much, in that moment.

When his eyes met mine, he whispered something. He was far, but I could read it from his lips. Good luck.

The walls of the maze changed every time you decided to go in another direction, much like in many Muggle movies I'd watch before. But that was hardly a surprise -- even Hogwarts' stairs often changed direction while you were going from one classroom to the other.

I could hear the other Champions stupefying pretty much what was in their way. I was reminded of Moody. He had managed to ruin the school year too, with his curse on me that made me break my leg and with his wicked spell on Malfoy. But, he had been a good teacher. I found myself thinking that if Stupeficium didn't work on some of the creatures in the maze, I could use a Cruciatus curse. The idea made me feel sick immediately, to the point where I almost threw up. All I had to do was picture my classmates faces when the spell had been explained, Ron's wonder at the idea that such a wicked spell existed, Hermione's uneasiness at the idea that they taught you something like that at school.

And Neville... the look on his face said that whoever did something like that, whoever even thought of it, was a monster.

I almost let the first creature, a pixie, hit me. It started tugging on my hair and punching my face while I was lost in my thoughts.

I stupefied it. It shouldn't have been that cold-blooded, but after the thoughts I had on the Cruciatus Curse, I couldn't pretend the Stupeficium spell fazed me much. It was probably my most used spell, along with Expelliarmus.

I told myself I had to learn crueler ways. That was not going to be how I defeated Voldemort. The Killing Curse would do, and they couldn't exactly teach you that, so I had to find other strengths and rely on them. I was reminded of Gryffindor's sword, that I had won on my second year at Hogwarts, and I realized Dumbledore was keeping it until I was old enough to use it.

I decided I would talk to him about that, after the Tournament was over. Life was not all fun and games.

While I was lost in my thoughts, I was trying to get to the center of the maze.

But I found myself in front of a Sphinx.

I was reminded of when Hermione had to reply to the Sphinx' question during the first year. The Sphinx might have even been the same one. Back then, it was a choice. Would she bring back her father from his death?

I didn't know what I'd reply if the Sphinx asked me something like that.

But this time, it voiced a riddle,

"“First think of the person who lives in disguise,

Who deals in secrets and tells naught but lies.

Next, tell me what’s always the last thing to mend,

The middle of middle and end of the end?

And finally give me the sound often heard

During the search for a hard -to-find word.

Now string them together, and answer me this,

Which creature would you be unwilling to kiss?”

"A spider," I replied, without even thinking about it.

"Good," the Sphinx said, and opened up to discover an underground passage.

"Thanks," I replied. I was not the smartest person in a room, but many times I thought better than most when I was in a battle. "It's always the spider or the man, in those things."

"And you know..." I added. "I do not think it was the man."

I laughed at myself for the cheeky joke, wasted on a Sphinx, and entered the underground passage.

My laughter soon had to end. I felt myself falling. The underground passage did not lead to the center! It was only a trick.

I landed on my butt, and found myself in a dark room, with skeletons in it.

I had to tell myself that it was only an illusion, because how could that room be under the Quidditch field?

Maybe a Sphinx could create a false underground room under its paws. It would explain the legends of Muggle who were cursed when they went into the pharaoh's tombs. Perhaps it had never been the real tomb, but an illusion.

I decided that it was the case, and proceeded.

A skeleton got up on its feet and started talking to me. 

"Beware," he said, I think he was a male one, "the Dark Lord is back."

"He'll gain a new body soon!" a female skeleton shrieked. "Don't worry. You'll help."

The male skeleton cackled. "You've always wanted to help. But which side will you be helping, Potter, in the end? We know what happened to your parents. We know what happened to you, when you were a little baby."

The female skeleton touched my forehead. "I know about how you got that..."

The male skeleton added, "We know what your mother has done. Follow us..."

"No, no!" I yelled, trying to get free of them. "Stop! Stop!"

I found a sword on the ground. The Sword of Gryffindor, back to me once again. Perhaps I would always find it when I needed it the most.

I used it to destroy the skeletons, trying to cut through them, and I found a way to escape. I started running, hoping it would take me out the room.

What if nobody would ever find me?

I started sweating. Thankfully, I saw the light soon enough. There were stairs, and I got out the underground passage.

There was one thing I was trying not to think about. 

Of course, magic existed. I was a wizard in a wizarding school! 

But people went crazy all the time. There were rooms for mentally ill people at St Mungus. Maybe I was going crazy, as people often accused me. 

I filed that under the list of things that weren't concerning me right now. 

But... was it really not concerning me at the moment? What if I was the only one who had seen the skeletons in that room? What if I was going mad right in the middle of the maze?

I felt somebody patting on my shoulder lightly.

It was Cedric Diggory.

"Hey, Harry," he said. "I know I shouldn't help you, but I saw you there, looking a little lost..."

His voice broke. There was tension between the two of us. I noticed that it was because of Rita's articles.

I had always told my friends they were full of trash, but I had been staring into space for a couple of minutes at least, like she had accused me of doing. Cedric wanted to point that out, without being mean.

"What do you mean, helping me?" I asked.

Cedric's face wasn't reassuring.

"Look in front of you," he warned me, gently.

I did. In front of us, shining on a podium, there was the Triwizard Tournament cup.

"We can grab it together," Cedric said. "You were here before, but you didn't take it. It's as much yours as it is mine. Well, actually, it's more yours than mine..."

"Okay," I accepted.

We looked at the cup, and started taking a step towards it together.

In that moment, a knight in full armour stepped in front of us.

You couldn't see under the armour, but I thought I recognized his voice.

"Stop there, you little Champions," he said.

"You say Champions as if it was a slur," I pointed out.

"Do I? Oh well... I'm a bit rusty. You can't get to the Cup unless you fight me."

Oh, I knew who he was. That was going to be easy.

"I still have my sword," I said. "I'll fight you."

The knight braced himself. Fast as the wind, I cut off his left leg, his right leg, his left arm and his right arm.

Cedric winced, but then he noticed no blood was coming out.

"You haven't won yet, little scoundrel."

"Really?" I said, "Do you want me to finally behead you, Nearly Headless Nick?"

The Gryffindor ghost started taking off his armour, and his ghostly limbs re-appeared where I cut them off.

"Seriously?" Cedric scoffed.

"The idea was having you face a ghost, and I thought a duel wouldn't hurt nobody. Others would have started running away at the sight of me."

"It wasn't bad," I told the ghost.

"Ugh. You Gryffindors," Cedric said. Then, asked, "Do we still grab the cup at the same time?"

"Yes!" I said.

We grabbed it.

But we started feeling ourselves being teleported away.

The cup was a portkey.

Chapter Text

But when I found myself in the place where I had been teleported, I was alone. No signs of Cedric.

This time, I was sure I couldn't be going mad. I was in a cemetery, and I couldn't be making up all of it. Nothing, in fact, was familiar at all.

Looking at me, there was a man in his fifties with hair parted in the middle, in the same style as Lucius Malfoy and Draco Malfoy. His hair, however, was mousy brown, not platinum blond. HIs body was scarred and it reminded me of someone who had taken possession of something that was not his. I didn't know how to explain it any better -- the man moved as if he wasn't in full control of the body.

A group of about twenty men and women with black clothes were there too. One of them was Lucius Malfoy! My heart skipped a beat.

I tried not to stare, hoping he hadn't noticed, but honestly my chances were very slim.

In fact, the man with mousy hair said, "We've been waiting for you."

I recognized him, for I had seen him before. In the memory, he was younger and had the look in his eyes of an ambitious but desperate young orphan. However, even back then, he looked as if moving his own body was something that pained him. I wondered why, but perhaps there were things about You-Know-Who that not even I could begin to understand.

Because the man in front of me was Voldemort.

"The last fourteen years, I've lived as a snake, my Animagus," Voldemort explained. His voice wasn't exactly snake-like, but it sounded croaky and like it hadn't been used much.

I gulped, wondering what he meant when he said they were waiting for me. And who could have enchanted the portkey.

I tried to look Voldemort in the eyes, as defiantly as I could.

"You were waiting for me?" I asked. I winced. "Where is Cedric?"

"We took good care of him," a woman with long and curly black hair said with a smirk.

"What?" I couldn't help but ask. The words could only mean one thing...

But no. It would have been impossible.

"Tell you what," the woman with the black hair said. "We'll show you what's left of him if you do as we say."

"What's left of him?" I asked.

"His body!" the woman laughed out loud.

"Shut up, Bellatrix," Lucius said.

"You... don't care if I recognize you," I pointed out, surprised.

"You either won't live to tell, or will never be believed," Voldemort said. I noticed his English was accentless.

"You see, my years as a snake made me very weak. This body you see was created by magic. A very dark and very difficult spell. However... it's not exactly mine yet. Before it is, I need your blood for a spell, Potter."

"My blood?" I was horrified.

"Not your blood specifically, any blood would do. But you ruined many Death Eaters, Gilderoy Lockhart, Professor Quirrel, Peter Pettigrew..."

"Wait. Was Professor Quirrel really a Death Eater?"

"I'm disappointed, Potter," Voldemort shrieked. "We meet at last, and you can't keep your mouth shut. So foolish, so irresponsible of you..."

Lucius grabbed me, and pushed me against a tombstone.

He drew a knife from one of his pockets.

"Where are you going to take the blood from?" Bellatrix asked. "His face? You could give him another scar! He could get one from every time he meets the Dark Lord."

Lucius looked at the eyebrow that wasn't criss crossed by the scar. Bellatrix noticed it.

"Oh, you're trying to grow your hair over it. Cute. I wonder what you'd do if we gave you another one," she said. "Over the other eye. Or... I know! We could chop off one of his hands. After all, the more blood we get, the better it is..."

I tried to break free from Lucius' grip. He looked at my body, as if to decide where to cut. He decided for a usual cut along the arm, but, when he started cutting, he was closer to the wrist than I expected.

I wanted to beg. To plead. But whatever I could give, they didn't want that. They were taking my blood, and it wasn't even a huge price, to know what had happened to Cedric.

I lost so much blood, my arm started to feel numb.

"You went way over the top, Lucius," Bellatrix squealed in delight. "I think you enjoy it, after all."

"Shut up," Lucius advised her again. "If you keep bothering me, I'll have no choice but to make them put you in Azkaban."

Voldemort looked at them with an expression similar to empathy. 

"I need all of you," he said, convinced. "All of you are important. Don't you see it? You will build a new world, with me. First, I need to come back. People have to cower every time they hear my name. And then, I can do what I've always set out to do..."

Voldemort had a cup in his hands, filled with a dark red liquid. I noticed with horror that the liquid was my blood.

Was he going to... drink that?

I tried to break free from Malfoy's grip. I couldn't stand the thought of Voldemort having a new body because of me. I couldn't stand the idea of him drinking my blood either, as if I was some kind of sacrificial lamb.

"Oh, Potter," Voldemort said. "You fell for it. You really thought I'd let you see Cedric's body and go free? As if I'd let you escape me twice! Really, what would that say about me? Tsk-tsk."

He pursed in lips in a mocking way.

"You're right! I'll end you right now... with my... sword!"

I looked around. The sword hadn't been teleported along with me.

"Your sword...?" Lucius mocked me. "How quixotic."

I snarled at him.

I still had my wand. Perhaps I could go for one of the curses Moody had taught us. But he had taught us how to defend ourselves from it, not how to do them.

Still, when Voldemort grabbed his wand and said, "Avada Kedavra!", the killing curse, I had to do something.

The only thing that came to mind was pointing my wand against him. I thought of the first spell that came to mind, and I'm ashamed to say it was a Stupeficium, but it didn't matter.

Even though my spell was considerably weaker, the two met in mid-air, creating a collision.

The weirdest thing happened. When the wands collided, I had a clear memory of my parents death. A memory a one-year-old couldn't have. 

My parents were crying, and hiding from Voldemort. I was watching everything from a crib. Then, Voldemort killed my father. I heard him cry out to my mother to escape, to protect me. It was his last words.

Then, my mother knelt in front of me, and pointed her wand at me. She whispered something, a spell. 

A few minutes later, a younger Tom Riddle entered the room and pointed his wand at her.

My mother screamed, blasted by his spell. I remember feeling in pain, as if my head had split open in the place where Voldemort had pointed his wand at me.

The place where my scar rested.

I did not remember him saying, 'Avada Kedavra'.

I was brought back to the cemetery at once.

"What's happening?" a male Death Eater said.

"The wands met mid-spell," another clarified. "I wonder..."

Sweat was dripping down my skin. I was wondering whether Voldemort's spell would hit me if I let down my wand. But I couldn't hold back forever.

I dropped my wand.

Voldemort's spell hit me right in the chest. Everyone must have thought I was dead. I wasn't, because I had shielded myself from the Avada Kedavra. It was the force of collision of the two spells that had hit me straight in the chest. I found myself laying on the ground, eyes closed, with give or take twenty Death Eaters holding their breaths.

I realized that if the cup was a portkey, it had to be somewhere. I needed to get Cedric's body, grab the portkey, and I would be back at Hogwarts.

Cedric's body. How was I supposed to explain that to Qiu, to George, to Dumbledore, to Amos Diggory, to everyone?

Cedric had been teleported a few minutes before me. I tried to convince myself it wasn't my fault. But it kind of was. Even the fact that the cup was a portkey that led to the cemetery wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for me, and for who I was.

But what other people failed to understand was, I never had any choice. It wasn't as if I could just decide not to take part in the Tournament. I tried, but rules were rules.

I exhaled. I only had one shot. If I failed, I'd be dead.

But, that meant I couldn't bring Cedric back, because I had no idea where he was.

I promised myself I'd be back for him, even it meant looking for the next few months. Even if it meant crashing Voldemort's lair. After all, there was the small chance that Cedric was not dead yet. Only kidnapped.

Yeah, right, I told myself. You probably can't find him because they've blown him to bits. I bit my lips to try to concentrate on something that wasn't the horrible voices in my head.

As I said, I only had one chance.

I got up from the ground, and started running, even though the Death Eaters were sending curses my way, and, judging from the blood I was losing, a couple of them had hit me. 

I grabbed the portkey, and found myself in the middle of the Quidditch field.

The maze wasn't there anymore. There was only I, almost emptied out of my blood, and a lot of concerned faces looking down at me.

"We dismanteled the maze," Professor Karkaroff started explaining. "We couldn't..."

"I know," I said, my voice raspy. "Cedric... I couldn't..."

"We know," Madame Maxime said.

"He's dead," I yelled. "They took him!"

"Calm down, Harry," Amos Diggory said sharply. "My son is not dead. My son is the winner of the Triwizard Tournament."

I looked around in disbelief. "What?"

There was a podium. On the first place, Cedric was still there, without a cup. I had the cup in my hands, I noticed, it was the portkey. Fleur was second place, with a silver cup, and Krum was third, with a broze cup.

"Potter is the real winner of the Triwizard Tournament!" Kowalski stood up and said. "Look at him! He's got the cup in his hands!"

"Bloody Slytherins," Amos Diggory whispered.

Dumbledore shut him up with a look. "I understand what Kowalski means. Potter has the cup in his hands, therefore he's the one who got to it first, therefore he's the winner. But, you see, the final obstacle was the ghost of Gryffindor, Nearly Headless Nick, who had to call out for the winner. And you were there with us, Kowalski, so you heard Nick announcing Cedric as the winner."

"Potter was nowhere to be found, we had to take down the whole maze," Amos Diggory said. "And he's not in the right mind to be a winner, either. He's just said my son was dead!"

A whisper of voices confirmed that Diggory was right and that yes, I did indeed lose my mind in the maze.

Karkaroff got the cup from my hands without even helping me get off the floor. 

"I can't wipe off the blood," Karkaroff said. "Suit yourself, Diggory."

I looked around. Ron and Hermione couldn't look away from me, horrified. Martin looked mortified. Next to him there was Draco, and he looked like he was ready to go on a murdering spree.

"I thought Cedric was dead..." I said weakly. "Voldemort -- he's back! He's the one who made me believe they killed Cedric. And he was... he wasn't a snake! He had his real body. But he couldn't take full control of it. So he made a spell, using my blood, and now he's got control of his body again!"

Dumbledore looked at me with a steely look in his light blue eyes. Amos pursed his lips. Cedric, Fleur and Krum looked worried.

"I know what happened to the garçon," Madame Maxime said. "The maze was full of dangers. He must have been in the underground room under the Sphinx."

All the adults, the teachers, the judges, nodded in agreement.

"I have been, before!" I confirmed. "Then, Cedric and I grabbed the cup, and it took me somewhere else. To... a cemetery!" 

I looked at Cedric. He was there! He could tell people that I was there with him, and that I disappeared. Cedric looked away.

I felt betrayed, and it was not something I expected from someone like Cedric, the loyal Champion of Hufflepuff. But I was desperate, and so I didn't even try to understand him. He must have had his reason.

It must probably have been a while since his father looked that proud and happy, maybe since the death of Cedric's mother.

I waited a couple of minutes.

"Have you heard me?" I asked then. "I said Voldemort is back!"

Karkaroff pointed his wand at me. "Stop saying that name."

"Calm down, Professor," Minerva McGonagall said. "He's lost too much blood. He should already be in the Hospital Wing by now."

I looked at the faces of the adults. 

"You don't believe me," I realized.

"I wouldn't put it like that..." Madam Hooch said. "But you must be really confused right now."

"Please," Professor Snape interjected. "The boy must be mad as a hatter to say You-Know-Who is back. That, or he's..."

"Spit it out, Severus," Professor Sprout said.

"Well, things are this way. Potter lost the Tournament where his ego has been inflated even more so. After all that bad press and everything, he must have realized whatever miracle he worked to have his name in the Goblet of Fire wasn't worth the risk. Now, he's trying to convince you he's lost because of You-Know-Who, so you'll let him win."

"I don't want to win!" I said, even though maybe it would have been fair.

"Are you implying that Potter is lying to us?" Dumbledore asked.

"And that we would fall for it?" McGonagall added.

"He believes you would," Snape replied dryly. "He is the only person who survived You-Know-Who once, it wouldn't make that much of a difference if he had survived twice."

Nobody knew how to reply to that. They left me bloody in the middle of the Quidditch field, and they crowned the three Champions.

Dumbledore gave me a hand and helped me up. "I know it may not sound like much," he said, helping me walk to the Hospital Wing. "But I believe you."

He wiped the blood away from my face. 

I didn't know how much it would take me to the Hospital Wing, but one thing was sure, I wanted to get there and wake up at the end of the school year.

I did not want to see anyone anymore, not even Ron and Hermione.

 

Chapter Text

I woke up the next day to find out that Moody did believe me in his own way.

He had retired from his teaching position to look for You-Know-Who.

Of course, it made me feel better, but only slightly. Everybody knew the teacher was a bit screwed in the head.

That morning, Dudley came to visit.

"Will you be staying at St Mungus, or will you return home? I'm sorry, but I need to know what to tell Mom and Dad. Only about your new boyfriend, or also about how you've lost it in front of the entire school?"

I felt close to passing out. "You wouldn't," I said, because, if anything, his vocabulary wouldn't have the terms to explain it.

"What a wretched place," he replied, looking at the sole of one of his shoes. "Still glad I wasn't kicked out. And I know I owe you one, I just want to decide on my terms when to pay back the favour."

I winced. "You know it doesn't work that way, right? Erm... if I may ask, why do you keep looking at your shoe?"

"Bloody old school, full of insects and everything," he said. "Just this morning I squashed a bug under my shoe."

I had a weird feeling. "Let me see it."

Dudley gave me his shoe.

Just as I feared, it was Rita Skeeter, who had probably found her way out of the jar Remus put her in.

"I'll take it," I said, trying to get the bug away from the shoe. She wasn't dead yet.

"Gross," Dudley said.

"She's a wizard," I explained, knowing he never contradicted me when it came to magic. "I need to let a Professor know, and she'll be taken to St Mungus."

"With you?" Dudley beamed.

"Sorry, but not," I replied. "I'm coming back with you." I wasn't sure it was a good thing at all.

After Dudley, the first person who came to visit was Dumbledore.

"I'm sorry," he said. "That the others don't believe you. It is not because their hearts are not good. Such a hard thing, believing. Most of them will come around on their own terms. It will not be the same thing, of course. When people don't believe you, you feel it here."

Dumbledore touched lightly the point of my chest where my heart was.

"And sometimes when they come around to seeing your point of view, it's too late."

I nodded, trying to look like I was not about to cry.

"What about Ron and Hermione?" I asked. "Do they believe me?"

"Oh, yes, they do," Dumbledore said. "And they've been defending you from every remark. But adults are different. All the teachers here love you very much, Harry. And some of them believe most of the things you said. But they can't help wonder if you're confused. I think I can say without any arrogance on my part that I'm the only one who believes you completely. Thankfully, I'm also the headmaster. So, if we ever run into proofs that Voldemort is back, I can warn the whole school and hope they'll take me seriously."

"I can't imagine someone not taking you seriously, sir," I commented.

"Can't you? You're a remarkable boy, remarkably honest for your age. People don't take me seriously all the time because my words differ from theirs. You're in a harsh position. You've just learned what we all grow to learn. That an adult only takes themselves seriously."

I was starting to feel sad and defeated, with the only consolation the thought that at least somebody believed my words fully.

"If you don't mind me asking," Dumbledore asked. "May I know the full story? If you wish to tell it, of course. You haven't said it to anyone yet, and you'll be surprised by the healing effect it has on your soul. Much like mandrake tea for your body. Want a cup?"

"Um... no thanks?"

"Muggles take it too, not that you are one," Dumbledore insisted, passing along a cup. The faraway look in his eyes made me wonder whether he was thinking about Dudley.

"Thanks, sir," I said, starting to drink. Since the tea was good, and it was starting to make me feel better, I decided to tell my story. It was important that somebody knew.

"Someone must have put a spell on the Tournament Cup," I said. "Because it was a portkey. It led me to this cemetery. And I was scared, because the sword I found in the maze was not there. And Cedric was not there. So, when a woman, I got her name, it's Bellatrix, said that they had already disposed of Cedric, I believed them. They offered me an exchange. My blood for a spell, in exchange for Cedric's body. I accepted. Only Cedric wasn't dead."

"Bellatrix is an unusual name, only one comes to mind," the headmaster said. "Bellatrix Lestrange, Narcissa Malfoy's sister."

"Is she Draco's aunt?" I asked.

Dumbledore nodded. "Don't be ashamed when you say you exchanged your blood for Cedric's body. It was a very noble thing to do. Never ask for apologies when you act out of the goodness of your own heart."

"There's more, sir. Voldemort was there, and he looked like a man. Sort of. He had shoulder length hair, parted in the middle."

"What colour was his hair?"

"Brown, sir, and he... he drank my blood. He said it was a dark spell that would make him the rightful owner of the new body."

Dumbledore could not conceal the worry lines that appeared on his face.

"Did it shock you?" he asked.

"I still have trouble talking about it."

"Good. I mean, don't misunderstand. You are still the very same, inside, if you are shocked by a thing like that."

"There's more," I added. "He talked about coming back, scaring everyone with his name and his deeds, and build a new world with his allies. Then, he tried to kill me."

"And you escaped him again?"

I exhaled. "That's the part everyone finds hard to believe. I wouldn't blame you if..."

"On the contrary," Dumbledore said. "It wasn't only luck that you escaped him once. And if one can do something once, they can as well do it twice, or three times..."

"I tried defending myself," I added. "When the wands met... the strangest thing happened."

"Would you like to talk about it, perchance?"

"I... I saw memories from when my parents died. But it didn't make any sense! I did watch them die, but I was only one year old."

"Hmm... interesting. And yes, you shouldn't recall it, but it does something to you, watching your parents die. You did witness it, after all. And you were harmed, you still have the scar to prove it. And only because you don't recall, it isn't like it didn't happen."

I nodded. 

"Is that all?" he asked.

"In my memories... my mother put a spell on me. I think she was protecting me."

"That does make sense," Dumbledore said. "I think it is what saved you, but I need to study the matter further."

"Thank you, headmaster," I replied. "I was almost finished with the story. Then, I dropped the wand, and Voldemort's spell hit me, but it had weakened. I took advantage of the moment the Death Eaters considered me dead, and I escaped."

"Such bravery, I would have hated to miss that ending," Dumbledore agreed. "I'll leave you... tea and biscuits."

He moved his wand, and a trailer full of food appeared.

After him, it was Ron and Hermione's turn to visit.

"We do believe you, of course," Hermione said as soon as they entered.

"Well, she kept saying that having proofs and data would have been nice... ow!" Hermione smacked Ron's arm.

"It would have been nice, to get everyone else on our side too," Hermione explained hastily. "But I believe Harry. First, because we've been through everything together. And second, did you see how he looked? The maze couldn't have been that dangerous."

"Hey, it's alright," I grinned. "The most important thing is, you believe me."

"Of course," Ron said gruffly. "And I would hug you, but, you know... you're probably in enough pain as it is."

"Yes," I winced. "That's right."

"So... who else came to visit?" Hermione asked.

"Dumbledore," I said. "I can now say three people believe me. Because I'm not counting Moody."

Hermione and Ron laughed. I found myself wishing the next year would bring a lot of moments like that. I already knew it wouldn't be the case.

"Dudley came over too," I said. "Complained about an insect under his shoe. It was Rita Skeeter."

"Did he really...?" Hermione asked.

I nodded. Ron started laughing more than before.

"You'll crack a rib," Hermione said. "Either way, where is Rita now?"

"I gave her to Madam Pomfrey, to take to St Mungus. She wasn't dead yet."

"I bet she tried to escape from the jar to see the third task of the Tournament!" Ron said.

In that moment, they stopped talking. A person had entered the room.

Long legs, blond hair and icy grey eyes.

Draco Malfoy.

"Now that You-Know-Who is back," he told me, crossing his arms. "You will regret not being on my side."

Ron and Hermione looked incredibly sorry. Draco noticed them.

"Can you two please go away?" he said, flushing purple. "I need to talk to Potter alone."

Ron looked at him as if to say, This isn't over.

"I can handle Malfoy, please," I told my friends as I watched them leave.

"So, you were saying...?" I asked then. "Will I regret not being on the side of the murderers and the torturers?"

Draco walked up to my bed, as if ready to strike me. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"So, which side is yours? Because I've seen your father and your aunt yesterday. But don't worry -- I only told Dumbledore about your aunt."

The tension in his shoulders seemed to relax. But the horrified look in his eyes was still there.

"On my side," Draco said. "I could protect you. You said it yourself that my family is amongst those who would kill you. You're so dumb, sometimes, Potter... I've always wanted to..."

He started running his fingers in his wild white blond hair.

"Wanted to?" I asked softly. I was happy that, after everything we've been through, the good and the bad, it seemed like the tension between us was easing as well.

"I've always wanted to be your friend! You are so daft, Potter. You'd sooner believe the Anti Dudley alliance. When have I ever used those meetings to talk about your cousin? No, I wished you were a friend to me since Diagon Alley, when we talked about wands. And Quidditch."

I remembered Dumbledore's words about Draco. I was left feeling very confused. Draco seemed to know empathy and clarity, but Dumbledore was never wrong.

And if he was, well, it felt like a betrayal to think it behind his back. The only adult who had my back completely. I was about to disappoint him, and I felt my heart ache.

"You believe me," I told Draco.

"Out of all this, you only got that I believe you?" Draco asked, clearly offended. 

"You do," I said, amazed. "And you have no reason to. Why do you believe me?"

Draco looked at me wide-eyed. I realized that he didn't need a reason.

And that was the kind of belief that made me feel warm inside. There wasn't a because, Draco believed me just because he did.

In fact, he replied, "I just do."

I was about to talk, to let him know how much that kind of belief fueled me, but I realized other things needed to be said.

"You'll be in trouble, at home, if you're my friend. And people will think we're boyfriends."

Draco recoiled, as if I had punched him.

"You know that's true," I added, grinning. "But don't worry. They'll stop thinking it soon enough when they see us hang out together without kissing or touching."

Draco looked horrified that I even dared to talk about it.

"I never thought you would," I said. "Didn't you think me reckless? Stupid? Daft? Arrogant? Dumbledore's bootlicker?"

"Stop saying nonsense, Potter," Draco looked paler than usual. "Do you accept? Are we friends or not?"

I laughed. "Officially, yes. Though I think, deep down, we've always been."

I winced. Laughing made my ribs hurt.

"Are they giving you some kind of drug to take the pain away?" Draco asked, frowning.

"Not sure," I was just happy. "But if we're officially friends, you don't have to be like that."

"That's my normal self," he replied. "And you need to accept it, if we become friends."

I had always accepted him. I always would. Even though I didn't like him. Maybe I even hated him. But somehow I couldn't do without him.

However, he didn't need to know. Not yet.

"Either way," Draco added, biting one of the cookies. "Don't worry about me and the troubles at home. I can look after myself."

To see Malfoy not a stranger or an enemy, but a friend, someone on my side, had always been my wish ever since the first year of school. But I couldn't be fooled, if Dumbledore was right. And like any good thing, I didn't trust it to last.

It was not Draco's fault. I had trouble relying completely even on Ron and Hermione.

"Same for me," I replied roughly. I wanted to take things slow. If I rushed into it, I would destroy it. 

I realized, however, that one thing was different than with Ron and Hermione. Silences were more awkward. Perhaps it was only because there was nothing to talk about. No inside jokes. No common experiences shared, as part of the same House. No adventures together, not yet.

Then, Draco asked, "Did my father hurt you?"

The only thing we shared was the same hurt, from that damned war that started before I was born. The one that took on a whole new meaning since I was one year old, and my parents died. People would always expect Draco and I to fill our roles, for the rest our lives.

Just because I liked mine, it didn't have to mean that he liked his. Or mine.

"Yes," I replied. I wanted to lie, but there had never been lies between us and I didn't want to start. "He's the one who cut my wrist."

I showed him the scar.

Draco looked as if he was about to pass out.

"I understand if you don't want to do this," I said.

"We're not doing anything," he replied. "We're just friends. It's... ugh, Potter. Why do you always think in terms of being forced to do something? It's something we are, it's not something we do."

I laughed.

"What? Why are you laughing now?"

I laughed because there would always come a time where I'd say something naive, and there would always be a time where I made him snap at me, and that made things simple, and simple things were good. They allowed me to breathe, without too much of a weight on my chest.

"Because," I replied. "Now I know that I'll always be able to make you angry. I didn't want to miss out on that."

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

I heard my father tell Snape he would slip Veritaserum in my dinner soup.

I heard him saying it wasn’t the first time he’d done it.

No wonder I had often found myself telling him things that should have stayed hidden.

But I had learned ever since I was a child to protect the secrets close to my heart.

There were things he would never find out.

 

Kowalski’s family had moved to Godric’s Hollow — all the way from America! So now I was the only boy in Malfoy Manor.

I didn’t think Martin could make that much of a difference, but I often found myself even colder and more frightened.

His parents had decided not to trust mine with the Dark Lord around, in the end.

It was stupid.

Kowalski would have been safer at my side, where he could pretend he hated having Muggle blood.

But I understood why he wouldn’t do it — why he couldn’t do it. And his parents weren’t Death Eaters, like mine. Everybody thought it was like being Voldemort’s friends, but they were more like slaves.

 

Martin had been my first real friend, and it pained me to admit how much I missed him. I thought I wasn’t so weak. Growing up, my magic hadn’t improved much, but my resolve had. I would earn the respect of my peers, one way or another.

Friendship was a liability, my father said. But, in reality, I had stopped thinking about it that way long ago.

Martin was the only person who knew I liked boys.

I had found out when I was small, and got a crush on some popular Seeker that played for England that season.

It was just a small thing, but it felt devastating, and life-changing.

To cover up my obsession with my parents, I started practicing two things I’m still very good at.

Lying, and acting completely disinterested when I’m not.

Still, my father could be very receptive and he noticed I kept thinking about Quidditch. That’s what got me my first broom, and the private lessons from one of his friends to practice.

And I was afraid of heights, but I couldn’t say.

So the secrets kept piling up.

The summer I got my letter from Hogwarts, I was in America at the Kowalski’s house. I suddenly decided I wouldn’t leave for school without anyone knowing.

So I tried telling Martin, but either I couldn’t find the right words, or he just wouldn’t get it.

So, I pressed my lips against his very quickly. They barely brushed. I didn’t like him that way. Even with my Quidditch crush completely forgotten after a few months of pining, I never fell for Martin.

‘Holy crap,’ he just said, pushing me away. ‘You’re blond. Don’t you ever do this to me again.’

And we never talked about it ever since.

Last year, in school, he fully bought Rita Skeeter’s trash, though. I let him believe it.

It was the closest to the real thing that I’d ever had with anyone, anyway.

Probably that I’ll ever have.

And I didn’t even get that much shit for it, either.

At home, it would have different. I doubt Death Eaters are into this kind of thing. Love, I mean. In any form it takes.

My father wasn’t shy about letting my mother know she was useful just to procreate.

And he was the best of them.

Or so I had to believe, after I met all of the others.

 

That night, Harry’s birthday, I went to my room briefly before dinner. We would dine with Death Eaters, like it had become customary to do.

I would eat my soup full of Veritaserum like a good boy, and then I would try to lie to my father and see where it got me.

I was surprised to find a letter for me waiting on my desk. I never got personal mail. My father had made sure the concept of privacy was non-existent. Only at Hogwarts I found out everybody has their own things to think about, and they didn’t like me putting my nose in everybody’s business.

It was probably from some of my friends, but they had been naive. There was no way my father hadn’t read it already.

I saw that it was addressed to ‘Draco Malfoy, His Own Room, Malfoy Manor.’

It was still sealed. I pointed my wand at it and whispered ‘Revelio!’

The letter had been charmed, like I suspected.

If anybody who wasn’t me opened it, it would burn to ashes to the ground.

Clever. That must have been Hermione’s idea.

I shuddered to think what would have happened if my parents had tried to open it.

I would never get to read the words, probably from Harry, and I would be overdosing on Veritaserum in a few hours.

Which was still likely to happen.

My fingers couldn’t stay put long enough for me to open the seal, I sliced it open with the switchblade I carried in my pocket, almost slicing my hand open.
A few drops of my blood stained the letter.

I cursed loudly.

 

I had to get my mother. I wouldn’t leave her alone. She would get blamed for my disappearance, she would get killed. Or maybe, if she crawled hard enough, if she submitted herself to my father’s rage, and maybe promised him another heir…

But I couldn’t let that happen. Not while I could still prevent it.

I loved her, even though she barely acknowledged my existence. I could still find pieces of myself loving my father, so my love seemed to be able to encompass almost anything.

I found her in her rooms.

 

‘We have to go, Mother,’ I pleaded. I had already told her everything a thousand times. ‘There’s a safe place for us.’ I even kept touching my jetted pocket in my coat, ready to show her the letter, if she asked me to.

But she didn’t. She wasn’t listening to me. She kept interrupting me, saying ‘Draco, Draco, Draco’, very nervously.

My father would have made her shut up. He would hit her and told her to listen, in that murderous tone of his.

She would have complied.

For a brief second, I thought I could do the same. It would be so easy, and she could thank me later, when we were both safe.

But I didn’t.

And then she started screaming, covering her ears, and I was absolutely sure my father would find us any minute.

I wasn’t going anywhere tonight.

 

‘Tonight we have a very special guest among us,’ my father announced.

The table was crowded. My family was there, along with my aunt Bellatrix Lestrange. Other Death Eaters. Fenrir Greyback, Goyle’s father, Snape. Other people I didn’t know, or whose names I didn’t care to remember. I tried to memorize at least their faces, to be able to tell Harry something.

‘As you all know, there is someone treacherous among us,’ my father said. ‘I’m very sorry to say he’s my own blood, but then again, you all probably are.’

He grinned mischievously. ‘I drugged his supper today, so that the Dark Lord can interrogate him without him trying to play hero. It seems he is quite taken with Harry Potter.’

Yes dad, when I was eight years old and quite taken with Bilius Lynch, you bought me a Quidditch kit. What are you going to do now?

A few people snickered. Some of them probably believed in Rita Skeeter’s words.

I was afraid. I was too cowardly to face my own father, and that was bad enough, but the Dark Lord?

Then he entered the room.

It was the first time I saw him — Tom Riddle, like Harry called him.

The first thing I noticed, and it was hard not to notice, was that his long hair was parted and styled like mine, and my father’s, even though the colour was different. It made me want to chop mine off.

Luckily Tom Riddle, much like Rita Skeeter, asked all the wrong questions.

‘Do you like Muggles, Draco?’ he asked, stroking my chin.

I had nothing against Muggles, but it wasn’t hard to pretend. All I had to do was think about Dudley Dursley, the scars Harry showed me, that no one else had ever seen. I hated those Muggles.

‘No,’ I said, trying to concentrate on the Dursleys in particular.

‘Do you think somebody is less worthy because they have Muggle blood in their veins?’

I bit my tongue until it bled, slipped my careless mask on, and spoke the truth, just like the drug told me.

‘Do you, Tom?’ I said, removing his hand from my chin. ‘Your blood is much dirtier than mine, I’ll have you know.’

A lot of chaos erupted. I didn’t remember much after that. There were a lot of questions, and biting my tongue, and blood. I think all of it came from me. At some point, my father punched my nose.

‘Stop!’ Tom Riddle screamed. ‘I can deal with the boy’s disrespect on my own.’

He turned towards me.

‘If you think you’re too smart for Veritaserum, there are other ways to make people tell the truth. Crucio!’

Chapter Text

I woke up, sweating, from the nightmare I'd been having all summer.

Death Eaters. In a cemetery. Sometimes, when I arrived they had already killed Cedric. Other times, they tortured Ron and Hermione in front of me. There were times where they tortured Draco. There were times where they killed me.

All things considered, the latter was the one that scared me less. If only it wasn't for the fact that for once I had something to leave behind. My friends. My mission to take down He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

I had, at Hogwarts, something that resembled a family. I had...

I felt a pillow smothering my face.

"Why are you calling out your boyfriend's name in your sleep?" Dudley asked me.

"What?" I murmured, trying to get a pillow and a six feet cousin off of me.

"You keep saying 'Draco, Draco, don't give in! Don't let them cruciate you! Lie! Lie!'"

The blood in my veins froze. I never knew I talked in my sleep. Had I been doing it all summer?

"Shut up," I whispered. "You can't let uncle Vernon hear you."

"I'm not afraid of him," Dudley puffed out his chest. "You say you've battled monsters, and you're afraid of my dad? I think you're a liar."

I was not afraid of his father. Okay, maybe I was. But it all started when the Dursleys took me in, and I was one year old, and they started treating me like I was their servant or something. And it progressed when uncle Vernon started drinking, and hitting me. The more he drank, the worse it got.

We were at the point where Dudley had only teased about 'my boyfriend' trying to laugh it off as a joke, and what I got was two cracked ribs, a black eye and a punch on my mouth that split my lip.

Now, Dudley was trying to scare me with the idea of telling his father that Draco and I were really boyfriends. He was curious to see how he would take it.

Dudley had inherited a sadistic mindset from his father.

Of course, Draco and I weren't really boyfriends.

"I'm waking up now," I said defiantly. "And if you tell about Draco, I'll tell them Pansy broke up with you."

Dudley became very pale. "You wouldn't."

"Not only that," I added. "I'll say Pansy broke up with you because she caught you shagging Rita Skeeter."

Dudley made a start, with his hands ready to strangle me. I escaped, and started running. Thankfully I was fast.

I could almost fool myself that we were two cousins chasing each other, playing games. Too bad my cousin was huge for his age, and had murderous and homophobic thoughts.

We ran into the garden.

"Dudley!" Aunt Petunia called. "Breakfast is ready! And don't run outside in socks and pajamas, what will the neighbours say?"

Dudley did not pay her any mind. He kept chasing me, until we reached a nearby park and I laid in the grass.

"So unfaithful of you," I said, between laughs, "to smash Rita under your foot. Did she make you angry?"

"Don't joke, Harry," Dudley said, between breaths. "I swear I'm going to kill you."

I felt a terrible feeling, as if the weight of the world had come crashing down on me, and I couldn't laugh anymore.

Perhaps it was Dudley's words. He said he was going to kill me, like the Death Eaters did in my dreams. Like Voldemort did to my parents.

Now that I remembered, way too cleary for it to be possible, but I remembered all the same, I had nightmares about that too.

I was about to start screaming, or crying. Why was everything so unfair? How would my next year at Hogwarts be?

Then, I noticed Dudley had started feeling unwell too. He was lying on the grass, and he was mumbling, "Too much pressure. Have to do... what they say... feel... alone..."

I looked around, certain of what had happened. There was a Dementor, and it was trying to kiss Dudley!

I pointed my wand at the Dementor, and raised an eyebrow. "Really? Of all the people you could kiss?"

Dudley started screaming at the sight of the wand. "You're doing that!" he said. "Make it stop!"

"Did aunt Petunia drop you on your head when you were little?" I asked. "You go to Hogwarts. You know what a Dementor is. Why, you can also tell your new friend about when you dressed up as one of them during the Quidditch match. I'm sure it'd be flattered!"

Dudley looked at me as if I had gone crazy. I admit I felt pretty much unstable, but that didn't mean I didn't have everything under control.

"Expecto Patronum!" I yelled.

Dudley looked at me, and didn't stop until the Dementor went away. 

"You know you can't use magic outside of Hogwarts," he said. "I do remember that! Ha! You'll go through a trial just like I did!"

I felt the blood in my veins freezing. "No, come on," I protested. "Nobody has seen me. Dementors shouldn't even be here in the first place!"

But a few hours after, when we were home, and I was locked up in my room without breakfast because I had hesitated before protecting Dudley, deciding to make fun of him instead, I got the letter.

I'd have to be tried before the start of my fifth year of Hogwarts, at the Ministry of Magic.


A few days later, I went to visit Sirius and Remus. I'd stay there until the school year started.

When I arrived at their house, I was happy to see  Draco was staying there with us. So, he did get my letter! I was so afraid of what could have happened to him, since he lived with a Death Eater -- his father.

I refrained from giving him a hug. It felt like it would have been awkward to hug another fifteen year old boy. I mean, I hugged Ron, but it was different.

Besides, Draco had quite a lot of scars and bruises.

"He only arrived here yesterday," Sirius explained. "We have tried feeding him tea and biscuits, but he's hard to get to know. Kind of like a cat you have to tame."

"That's not nice," Remus said. "The boy is here. And he's been through a lot."

"I know what I say," Sirius reminded him. "His family is my family. I wouldn't put it past them to use Curses during dinner."

Draco nodded slowly. He looked less arrogant and much more like an exhausted little boy once he was in Remus and Sirius' care. Just like me, he had never known adults like them before. But he didn't know how not to act wary around them.

And I thought I had trouble letting people close!

"So, in this house," Draco explained to me, probably because explaining things still felt like something he was sure he could do. "We have over Aurors and other people who believe You-Know-Who is back. So, a lot more people believe you than you think."

"Dumbledore comes over too," Sirius said. "I think he's convinced most of the Aurors."

Draco couldn't help but roll his eyes. One of the main differences between us -- he'd never liked the headmaster much.

In that moment, someone knocked on the door. I hoped it was Dumbledore.

"Kingsley Shacklebolt!" Remus explained. He opened the door, and a man with dark brown skin entered.

I remembered him from Dumbledore's conversation about the Houses. He was the brave Slytherin Auror.

But Kingsley was not alone. Along with him, there was a cute looking girl, with pastel pink hair and a friendly smile. She was as tall as me, but I could tell she was in her twenties.

"She's a new Auror," Kingsley explained. "Nymphadora Tonks."

"Call me Tonks," she said, grimacing at the sound of her name. "Pure-blooded families give the stupidest name to their children."

"You're my fourth cousin!" Sirius grinned, as he hugged her. "Or my third?"

"I think the name Sirius is a good name," I said. "It's like the constellation. And I always thought Draco was a really cool name as well."

"Did you, Potter?" Draco asked, teasing.

Tonks looked sad. "See? Nymphadora is still not as good."

"Why are you here?" Remus asked. "Did Shacklebolt tell you about the Order of the Phoenix?"

"That's the name Dumbledore gave us," Sirius explained.

I suddenly felt very uncomfortable that Dumbledore had created the Order of the Phoenix based on what I had seen, without even sending me a letter. And he was one who never did things randomly.

"Yes," Shacklebolt said. "Tonks is young, and I have to train her as an Auror. She's passed her test two years ago. But I wouldn't have brought her along if she hadn't insisted. She believes you, Harry!"

I nodded and smiled at her, grateful. "Oh, don't worry," Sirius said. "More people believe you than you think. Then, of course, there's the Daily Prophet..."

"What does the Daily Prophet say?" I asked, sweat dripping down my neck. Draco looked at me, and for a wild moment I thought he was about to reach my hand.

"Rita Skeeter is still in the hospital," Sirius said grimly. "But the other journalists are not much better... they seem to have decided to make it part of their magazine to contrast your opinion."

"Do you have copies of the Prophet around?" I wanted to know.

They had. One of them said, 

HARRY POTTER LOSES TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT, TRIES TO BLAME YOU-KNOW-WHO 

I scoffed. Of all rumors, I couldn't believe the one about me making up the whole thing to distract from the fact Cedric had won was the one most people believed.

There was another headline,

IS THE DARK LORD REALLY BACK, OR IS POTTER'S MENTALLY UNSTABLE? GO TO PAGE 34 TO READ THE INTERVIEW WITH OUR PSYCHOLOGIST THEODORE ABBOTT

"Since the interview is with a psychologist, I already know what they're going to say," I commented dryly.

Another one said,

FAMOUS SURVIVOR OF YOU-KNOW-WHO'S MURDER SPREES TRIES TO BECOME EVEN MORE FAMOUS BY CLAIMING HE HAS SURVIVED, AGAIN

"Come on," I said, my eyes burning with humiliation. "This is ridiculous! And maddening. It is the truth, and it's dangerous not to believe it! They should be ready to strike back in case he does return, convince the people..."

"We know," Remus said, putting a hand on my shoulder. "But the Ministry is behind this too. Fudge has never liked Dumbledore much, and has always underestimated He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Besides, they have quite a few Death Eaters there. Over the summer, they offered a part-time job to Lucius Malfoy. You know, something to do in his spare time, since he doesn't need to work for a living..."

Draco grimaced, an expression of pain on his face if he did as much as remember his father.

I wanted to tear the whole world apart. How dare that monster lay a finger on my friend?

"That other couple who works there, I think they're Death Eaters. The Crabbes," Sirius said. "I think she's Umbridge's secretary, and he a janitor."

"They are Death Eaters," Draco confirmed. "Father invited them over a couple of times. They were amongst those who wanted to have children, but back then You-Know-Who told his followers not to procreate, in order to not be distracted by family. My mother insisted... either way, Mrs Crabbe changed her mind."

"Ah!" Sirius snorted. "Probably for the best. I think she's Mr Crabbe's cousin, and that they always had the same surname, even growing up. They're a bit older than us, and I remember we used to say that, back at Hogwarts..."

"It was you who started the rumor," Remus said quietly, looking at Tonks and Shackebolt apologetically.

"I think it's funny," Tonks said, probably to lighten up the atmosphere.

"Did I?" Sirius asked. "I must have seen them in my family tree somewhere, along with all the other partners who are also cousins. Sorry, Tonks and Malfoy..."

"We have a family tree painted on the walls of the kitchen," Draco said. "Did you have that too?"

"I kept checking out whether my cousins were hot, in case they wanted me to marry them," Sirius joked. "I thought your mother wasn't half-bad, but I only liked boys. Bellatrix, on the other hand..."

He made a disgusted sound.

"Knock it off," Remus said. "Don't be too intense in front of the kids."

Lupin's worried face said that Sirius's dark jokes had probably worsened after thirteen years in Azkaban.

"But you like it when we're alone," Sirius looked sorry.

"Don't worry about that, we could use humour sometimes," Shacklebolt said. "And, as a Slytherin, I've heard a lot about the Black family. And after your years at Azkaban... well, let's just say that I thought you'd be less funny."

Sirius shot Remus a look that said, 'See? I won them over!' 

I wondered if Draco was going to be forced to marry his cousin. The thought horrified me so much, I almost looked around to see if there was a Dementor.

Oh no. The Dementor. I hadn't told anyone yet.

"Speaking of Death Eaters at the Ministry," I said. "I hope no one will find an excuse to expel me from Hogwarts -- I used magic outside of school, and I'll be tried in a few days."

"Magic outside of school? Really?" Draco arched an eyebrow. "Haven't you learned, after what happened to your cousin?"

"It was so hard not to use magic outside of Hogwarts," Tonks said dreamily. "I'm a Metamorphmagus, I can change my appearance at will. But the only thing I change when I'm not on a mission is my hair."

"You haven't been on a mission yet," Shacklebolt reminded her, not unkindly.

"But if you're looking for someone young who can change their appearance, here I am," Tonks shrugged.

"Can we please hear why Harry is about to be expelled?" Remus asked, looking like a parent who has to take care of a bunch of toddlers.

"I defended Dudley from a Dementor," I explained. I noticed nobody in the room looked very satisfied with the answer. "Look, there was nothing else I could do! The Dementor was about to kiss him..."

"Gross," Draco said.

"That's what I said too," I commented.

"My question is, Dementors are more likely to try to kiss you if you are thoughtful, and have a personality that makes you depressed or anxious under pressure," Sirius said. "Also, if you've been through a lot. I survived it because I was very stubborn, and tried to see the bright side in everything, but they almost got me. How does that description apply to Dudley?"

"I think my aunt and uncle put him under a lot of pressure," I said. "He has never chosen anything for himself. I used to think that it made him spoiled, but it also takes away his free will, you know? He has been forced to go to a magic school even though he's a Muggle, and an ignorant one at that. Dudley hates everything and everyone who is a bit different. He must hate it at Hogwarts. He must want to go to a Muggle school with his friends very, very much."

"Then why did you go all the way to save him, at the end of the third year? Wasn't it better to leave him with the other Muggles?" Sirius asked.

"The choice wasn't about that. It was a mix of things. Fudge would have asked Dumbledore to retire. I would be expelled too, or at the very least banned from Quidditch. My uncle Vernon would have beaten me to a pulp..."

"Does your uncle beat you?" Sirius roared. "James would have never wanted...!"

"Well, he's not around to stop it, is he?" I couldn't help but ask.

The temperature in the room dropped of a few degrees.

"You don't get to talk about your father like that," Sirius said weakly. "He died protecting you..."

I immediately felt very ashamed. "I know, I know. I've seen it happen, when my wand met Voldemort's. Or do you all think it's only in my head?"

Everybody looked at me weirdly. "We best leave," Shacklebolt said, tugging Tonks on her arm and basically dragging her away.

"I am sorry," Sirius told me. "I shouldn't have brought up your father. What I meant was, I would have never wanted this for you. My parents beat me up too. I'm sorry. I didn't know you had been left in the care of your aunt and uncle with no wizard checking you out, and I didn't know things would be like that. I'm not sure who decided... I was in jail..."

"It's alright," I replied. But I began feeling very uncomfortable with the thought that it was Dumbledore who decided I would stay with the Dursleys.

I held my head in my hands. "Relax, Potter," Draco said, shifting his tone from comforting to aggressive, as if he wasn't used to us not being rivals.

"School starts in a week, assuming they don't expel me first, and everybody thinks I'm crazy,  that I'm a sore loser and that I'm dating you. On top of that, I keep having nightmares and mood swings, and Voldemort is back. How can I relax?"

"Start by taking breaths between your sentences," Draco pointed out.

"And, if I were you," Sirius said. "I'd start working on my speech at the trial. Before you even need to worry about anything, you have to know whether you're in still in the school."

"Sirius..." Remus started saying.

"No, he's right," I replied. "I probably should. After all, the trial will be tomorrow morning."

 

Chapter Text

Let's get this straight -- I wasn't expecting the trial to be easy. I knew those kinds of things usually weren't. 

Still, I didn't expect for the woman to ask the most questions to be Dolores Umbridge.

An important member of the Ministry, she was the one who had Mrs Crabbe, the Death Eater, as a secretary. She insisted Dudley had to stay, because he had witnessed the whole thing.

Luckily, Dudley owed me a favour, and he probably agreed to repay it that way.

"Now, what I'd like to know," Umbridge said, after she heard the whole story, "is what exactly a Dementor was doing in Surrey, in a Muggle settlement."

"I didn't ask it, your honour," I replied, mocking politeness. "I was too busy trying to make it go away."

I couldn't help my mouth, sometimes, but I probably should have had. It was not the kind of answer you gave to someone in the Ministry.

I wasn't expecting a person on the jury to ask such a dumb question, though.

A few people in the room snickered. It made me feel a little braver, even though I didn't take my time to check out who they were.

"What are you trying to prove, here?" I couldn't help but ask. My mouth couldn't get me into trouble, if I asked the right questions, gave the right answers. It was a lot like playing chess, but I had played chess with Draco Malfoy, so I knew what it was like to play under pressure.

"Are you trying to prove the Dementors were really there? If they hadn't been, why the spell I conjured was a Patronus Charm? Do you think I wanted to show off to my friends, to parade my Patronus in front of my cousin? Maybe to show off my bravado and masculinity..."

The judge hit the hammer. "Such talk is not appreciated in court, Potter. You should go to Azkaban for that alone, but, since I can't sentence you, perhaps an expulsion from the school of witchcraft and wizardry would be enough."

Another member of the jury spoke up. He was one of Fudge's minions, but I never got their names right.

"I object," he said. "I expect nothing more of the boy, considering the lack of education in his upbringing and who his father was. I wasn't a friend of James, but in the English wizarding community most of us know each other well, given that we are less in numbers than Muggles. I can say with confidence that his father was as defiant as him, always purposedly making tasteless jokes. Along with his mother's rebelliousness, I don't think we could have asked for anything different."

"I object," the judge said. "We're not studying genetics."

"You haven't replied to my question yet," I tried to fake that I was calm and polite. "Why would I conjure a Patronus if I wasn't being attacked by a Dementor? Do you think my cousin and I were trading Patronuses, like trading cards? Do you think I went all 'mine is a stag, what is yours?'"

"If you want to walk away unscathed," Lupin whispered to me. "I suggest you to close your mouth forever."

But he was smirking.

"We are only notified that someone had used their wand," Umbridge said. "We do not know why."

I was reminded of Winky and her accident at the Wizard World Cup.

"That should be easy, then," I said. I took my wand out of my pocket.

A few people in the room shrink further from me, horrified.

But I gave my wand to Dolores Umbridge.

"You can perform that spell, that one they use to see what the wand's last spell was," I said.

After that, there was a pause where adults could smoke and talk to each other about why they should or shouldn't accept my proposition.

I was very nervous.

"You didn't have to sass them," Dudley told me. "You do it all the time. Pretty pathetic. It's cause you have no muscles."

He looked at his arms in wonder, and shrugged.

"Well, what are you doing?" I asked. "Besides checking out your muscles. You should be helping me out! You said you would."

"Of course," Dudley said. "I don't want to owe you a favour forever. And I don't want you to stay home having fun while I go to school, so the time has come."

I furrowed my eyebrows. "Wait... do you really think I have fun at home?"

Dudley did not reply. "What can I say to them you haven't already said? I will testify when they ask me to. Though I don't know how those things were -- your boyfriend took my place, remember? I never talked to these people before."

Before the pause ended, Lupin walked up to me.

"I know why you said what you said," he told me. "You find slow people unnerving -- something your father and Sirius agreed on. But, if you want to come back to Hogwarts, you should at least make the effort."

I was sad he didn't get the rules of my game. "I was pointing out where they were wrong," I said. "Either way, why don't you come back to Hogwarts?"

He made a face like he'd been punched. "What?"

"Now that you cleaned Sirius' reputation, you can come back to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts. You were the best Professor I ever had. Well, except for Professor McGonagall..."

Remus smiled. "Sometimes people forget you're still a kid, and I forget it too. Sorry if I talk to you as if you were an adult. But, as a werewolf, parents don't trust me around their children. And as a werewolf who has a boyfriend..." Remus grimaced.

"I don't think you couldn't help yourself, if you were to transform," I pleaded. "Besides, Snape will continue preparing the potion..."

Remus took my face in his hands. "I'm sorry," he said. "It's better this way. I don't trust myself to..."

Somebody coughed behind us.

"Hogwarts has already found its Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher," Umbridge said. "That is I."

I made a face at her. 

"You're not funny, Minister," Dudley said.

Dolores Umbridge made an expression like she had swallowed a box of chocolate frogs gone stale. "It's the truth, Dursley. Fudge decided not to leave the school completely in the hands of Dumbledore, who is an extremist who believes in You-Know-Who's return. Somebody else had to be there, to check things, and I was considered the most qualified."

I wanted to say many things to her, but I had to bite my tongue. I don't know why I did. I wasn't sure I wanted to go back to Hogwarts now.

"Now," Umbridge said. "I believe we'll return to your trial, Potter, and we'll see whether you'll be worthy to be a student of mine."

I tried to tell myself Dumbledore would never let her teach. Her secretary was a Death Eater!

"After a lot of discussions, we decided not to show ourselves too scandalized by Potter's requests and salacious jokes," the judge said. "And to formally accept his query. We'll test his wand, and see if the last spell really is a Patronus Charm."

"It is!" Dudley said, though it was clearly not his time to talk. "I've seen him do it. I testify."

"Thank you Dursley," the judge said dryly.

"You're welcome, sir," Dudley said in a pathetic imitation of Vernon's best side, the ones he showed to strangers he wanted to befriend or manipulate.

The jury made a complicated spell on the wand, and the last spell I used it for re-played for the whole room.

A silver stag, clearly a Patronus Charm.

"Admitting that the boy really conjured it to fight a Dementor," Fudge said. "Because the other options appeared quite bizarre, I believe the case is closed. Potter will go back to Hogwarts to study for his fifth year at the school."

Remus tried his best not to cheer. So did I. Dudley looked mildly happy, and, even though I knew it wasn't for the right reason, I couldn't help but feel a bit warm inside.

While we were walking out, somebody bumped into me.

It was an easy mistake, since I was still small for a boy my age, though I've grown a bit taller than Draco Malfoy. 

But the person must have done it on purpose. He was Lucius, and he knew exactly what I looked like and how tall I was.

"Forgive me Potter," Lucius said with an evil streak in his voice. "You're so... easy to squash."

For some reason, it sounded like a threat. It wasn't a good joke, but he made it sound like if he wanted to hurt me, he could.

"I think I hold my own," I replied angrily.

"That is true," he sneered. "You do have the habit to get out from the most insufferable situations. Tell me," he leaned closer and whispered. "How will you repay Dumbledore of everything he's doing for you?"

I felt a shiver down my spine, because of the way he said it.

"This time Dumbledore's got nothing to do with it," it pained me to say that, recently, he had little to do with everything that happened to me.

Lucius shrugged. "If the headmaster had been someone else, you would not step foot into that school again. Not after your little tantrum at the Tournament."

"What I mean is," he whispered, grabbing my arm. "So far you faced no consequences for everything you've done. In general, or to me personally. You freed my House-Elf. You took my son. But, beware, Potter. You'll pay soon enough."

He let go of my arm. I was shivering, and usually nothing makes me cower in fear.

I wondered whether I should have told Draco about his father, but I decided some things were best left alone.

I returned to find Sirius pacing around the room.

He kept repeating, "it doesn't make any sense...", "it doesn't make any sense..."

"What doesn't?" Remus asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"You could as well ask what does," Sirius said. "But what Draco told us doesn't make any sense."

Some other time I would have asked whether they were sure that Draco wasn't only leading them on, but I didn't feel like saying it. Draco was a friend, and I trusted him. Not on all accounts, but he certainly wouldn't do something like that.

"He says You-Know-Who has been to their house," Sirius explained. "For dinner."

Remus' eyes went very wide.

"And when he was there... well, he talked to the Death Eaters. Tried to make them reason. He didn't act and look snake-like like Dumbledore and the magazines always said. He was very much like a weak man. But there's more. Draco said that he looked possessed. He often talked about events that happened before him as if he had been there."

"I also told you," Draco said. "That I'm pretty sure he does it only to impress the Death Eaters."

"I don't think this is all there is to it," Sirius snarled back.

"Suit yourself. But what do you think? That he's actually been there?"

I waited a minute, to see where the conversation was going. Then, I decided to speak up.

"You know, once Professor Trelawney had a prophecy right in the middle of class. About You-Know-Who. She said he was a Seer like him. Maybe it's true. Maybe he can also see the past."

"You-Know-Who a seer...?" Remus asked. "I don't mean to doubt Professor Trelawney, but perhaps her prophecy was not correct. I'm sure people would know if Tom Riddle was a Seer..."

"But what do people know about Tom Riddle, after all?" Sirius hissed. "Sorry, Remus, if I act so nervous about it, but You-Know-Who. The person who murdered James and Lily, dining in the Malfoy Manor and talking about all of the things he thinks he's seen... makes me wonder why I can't go there and kill him right on the spot!"

"Sirius..." Remus started saying.

"No!" I stopped him. "Sirius is right, and he should say it. I want revenge too. If he's not hiding, if he's out there, then what is the Order of Phoenix for? If we take him by surprise next time he goes to eat with the Malfoys, and Draco can tell us, if all of us go, and Dumbledore too, we can surely take him down."

Remus looked at Sirius and I, sighing.

"I admit that Lily, James and you were everything to me," Remus said. "But perhaps I did not think of you as a family. I'd give everything I have, everything, Sirius, even my own life, to avenge them. But I just realized that Lily was like a sister to you. She pretty much let you take the place Petunia had in her life, and you were glad to find a substitute for Regulus..."

Sirius lowered his eyes, as if he had been reminded of what kind of person his brother was. Probably a very bad person, like his parents. They were all very different from him.

"And James! James was more like a brother to me," Remus said. "At first. But, I saw how you always looked at him, even when he wasn't looking at you. You adored him, Sirius. You worshipped the ground he walked on."

Sirius laughed, embarrassed for the first time since I'd met him.

"I mean, it's true!" Remus laughed too. "He was like a big brother to you, wasn't he?"

A brief shadow passed on Sirius' face, but he nodded.

"I'd rather have Sirius as an uncle any day, instead of the Dursleys," I said. "And he's my godfather. Why can't I live with you, now that he's free?"

"Well," Remus explained. "Maybe in a year or two, we can arrange. But you have been legally adopted by the Dursleys, and we can't..." Remus gestured at Lupin and himself. "Legally adopt you. As a couple of men, and as a monster."

"Do we have a threesome with a monster?" Sirius asked.

"The monster was me."

"I hate it when you talk about yourself that way!"

"It doesn't change what people think," Remus put a stop to the conversation.

"Would we have to do it the legal way?" I pleaded.

"Dumbledore would insist," Sirius said. "He wants your life to be, and I'm quoting him now, 'as normal as possible, for the boy who lived.'"

Draco grimaced at that. My heart skipped a beat. I hoped he wasn't making fun of me.


Dumbledore did come to visit, the day after. I had so many questions, but most of them were spiteful, so I hold my tongue.

Draco barely acknowledged his presence in the room. How he managed that, I don't know. Our headmaster can be very impressive.

"Do you have any questions?" Dumbledore asked, after he had greeted me as if nothing had happened.

"Yes," Draco said, biting an apple in a defiant way, as if he wanted to tear it apart with his teeth. I tried not to think about that. "Why are we called the Order of the Phoenix?"

"I was talking to Harry," Dumbledore said, amused. "But I'm always up for a discussion. We are called the Order of the Phoenix for three reasons, and, as everybody knows, three is a magical number. First, there was an Order of the Phoenix years ago too. One that included people who can't be a part of it anymore, like Harry's parents, or Neville's. So, it's like the new Order has risen from the ashes of the old one."

I wondered whether Neville had been orphaned by Voldemort too. Maybe that was why he lived with his grandmother.

"Second reason, You-Know-Who is back, much like a phoenix who's risen from its ashes. And third... phoenixes are my favourite animal, and my Patronus. I do have a phoenix, his name is Fawkes."

"I'd like to see him, Professor," I beamed.

"One day, when the timing is right, you will," Dumbledore said. "He's very shy. However, I did not know Fawkes could interest you. Now that I do, I'll let you two meet."

I was excited, because, while I had seen many strange beasts during Hagrid's lesson, I had never seen a phoenix. I wondered whether Fawkes died sometimes, then rose from his ashes.

"I like birds," I said, hoping not to sound too thrilled.

"We know, Potter," Draco said, scowling. "You have an owl."

I tried to not to look at him as if I wanted to murder him. It was better if Dumbledore didn't know that we were friends, and that there was still bad blood between us. Since there was no hiding from him that we were friends, I had asked Draco to join the Order, at least I had to act cool about it.

"I need to talk to Dumbledore alone," I told Draco. "Would you please leave us?"

Draco rolled his eyes. "Fine, is it saving the world stuff?" he looked at his apple annoyed, before giving another bite.

"No, it isn't," I replied. Draco shrugged, and left the room.

"You know," Dumbledore said. "That I'm surprised as to why he's here. Surprised, but not shocked. It was easy to see, since you have a honourable disposition, that you'd save him as soon as you heard his parents were Death Eaters. Not everyone can be saved."

"He can," I replied hotly.

It was the first time I disagreed with the headmaster, and it didn't feel nice. But, someone like Draco, a problem child with an abusive household, shouldn't have be put in Slytherin, which was a House like any other but had a bad reputation because many dark wizards had gone there. Amongst his classmates there were also children of Death Eaters. The head of Slytherin was Snape, who was not a Death Eater, but close.

Boys like Draco were set up to fail, and nobody cared.

"Why didn't you write me letters?" I blurted out.

His eyes were wide. "You know very well I can't. What would people say if a headmaster only wrote letters to one of his pupils?"

"But everybody thought me crazy. You started the Order, and didn't even tell me about it. I had to find out from Sirius and Remus that their house was a safe place, and that's what I told Draco. And then there was the trial, and I found out about Umbridge, and..."

I noticed tears had started swelling up my eyes.

"After everything you've been through," Dumbledore said, patting lightly on my head. "I know you can't trust me as you should, and believe me, I struggle with that. But, deep down in your heart, I want you to know this -- I won't always be there for you, but I will always support you. I wish I could be there but you know... times are changing."

It didn't feel like enough, but it had to be. I tried to hold on to that.

 

Chapter Text

On the train, I met Ron and Hermione sitting in the usual seats.

"Have you received the letter?" Ron asked excitedly.

"What letter?" I asked. "The only letter I received was the one where I was invited to stand trial in front of the Ministry if I wanted to come back to Hogwarts."

"See?" Hermione told him. "I told you he hasn't received it. Probably Dumbledore thinks he's got too much on his plate."

"We both received it, Hermione and I," Ron said. "The letter that invites you to become a prefect. We thought, well, I thought, that you must have gotten it too..."

I felt jealous, and irrationally angry, but it passed soon enough. I knew I didn't have the best grades, and I had made peace with that long ago. I was too busy trying to save the wizarding world, and, besides, I'd never liked studying much.

It was likely that the prefects weren't chosen according to their grades, since Ron had made the cut, but I couldn't blame the teachers for seeing potential in my friend, who was always in my shadow.

I patted his shoulder. "I'm proud of you two, really," I grinned. "And I hope it means I won't get detention!"

"Harry...!" Hermione laughed.

In that moment, a blond girl arrived. "Can I sit with you?" she asked Hermione.

"Of course," my friend replied, though she looked a bit taken aback. "This is Luna Lovegood, remember? My friend from Ravenclaw. The one who takes care of Chips sometimes."

"I've always wanted to see a cat up near," Luna said, with an elfish grin. 

Ron and I exchanged confused looks.

"I mean, everything is more interesting if you see it in detail," Luna added. "Why should animals be different? People and objects are often not what they seem, when you get to look at them closely."

Luna was pretty, with a long nose that still looked cute in her face, white blond hair almost the colour of Malfoy's and blue eyes. She was really thin and tall for a girl, much taller than me.

"I don't have a lot of friends at Hogwarts," Luna blurted out. "Dad always told me people would think I'm different. Back at home, my peculiarities are considered the norm. Back at home, everything peculiar is in its right place. However, don't be sad for me, I have Ginny and Neville."

"Ginny and Neville?" Ron asked, confused.

"Yes, you're Ginny's brother, right? I heard so much about you," she turned, to look at me. "Who are you, instead?"

My voice felt dry and unused. I had cut my hair during the summer, trying not to let the words of Rita Skeeter get to me. So, the scar on my forehead was still visible.

But she didn't know who I was.

"My name is Harry," I replied. "Harry Potter."

Luna laughed, embarrassed. "Oh, right. You were in the Triwizard Tournament. Sorry, I voted for Krum. I reckon most girls did."

"The Champions did not win by votes," Hermione said, her voice shaking a bit.

"I know," Luna said, stubborn. "But I found that out too late."

"You mean to tell me that you do not know about Harry?" Ron asked. "I mean, what happened to him when he was one year old?"

"Why should I care what happened to Harry when he was one year old? If he wants to tell me, he will," Luna said cheerfully. "It would be rude to ask him as soon as I got his name. It would be like asking him how he got the scar."

"Ask him," Hermione insisted, as if to check out whether Luna was playing a game.

"I don't think he wants to tell," Luna snorted. "But I think he got it during a Quidditch match. He shouldn't mind. He still looks good."

I felt myself blushing. "Well... no... I got it when I was one year old. You-Know-Who cursed me with the Killing curse, and it backfired somehow. I got this scar on my forehead. He had just... he had just finished killing my parents."

I lowered my eyes.

Luna's eyes filled with tears. "I'm sorry," she said. "That You-Know-Who is the guy you tell everyone is back, right? He seems like a very bad person."

Hermione, Ron and I exchanged horrified looks. 

"Get out," I snarled, trying to push Luna from her seat.

Thankfully, Ron grabbed my right arm and Hermione grabbed my left.

"Harry... I think she's serious," Ron said.

"I do not really know about You-Know-Who," Luna excused herself. "My father never mentioned..."

"But your father is the editor of the Quibbler!" Hermione protested. "A famous magazine..."

"The Quibbler has always been known for its alternative articles," Ron said, wrinkling his nose.

"I have a copy here! The latest," Luna said dreamily. "Want to read it, Harry?"


After a few hours of travel where I tried not to look at any of the articles, because some of them were along the lines of, 'Does eating chocolate frogs cause ulcer?', and I didn't really want to know, the train arrived.

We usually had to take carriages that took from the station to the school grounds. That year, the carriages were pulled by horses that had a skeletal body.

Oh, not to mention wings that resembled a bat's and a face with reptilian features.

When I found myself face to face with one of those horses, I cowered away.

"What are those?" I asked.

"What?" Hermione wanted to know. "I don't see anything strange."

"Those winged horses!" I said. "They're pulling the carriages. Unless I'm the only one..."

"I see them too," Luna joined the conversation. "They're called Thestrals. Only people who have witnessed a death can see them."

"But..." I struggled for words. "I haven't witnessed a death recently."

"Are you sure nothing of the sort happened in the maze?" Hermione asked shakily. "Maybe something your mind isn't letting you remember, because it was too traumatic."

"But who...?" I asked. 

Hermione shrugged, uncomfortably.

"Are we sure we believe...?" Ron started to ask. He didn't know how to finish the sentence without offending Luna.

"Well, I did read about Thestrals," Hermione explained. "I just didn't know they pulled the carriages, that's all."

"That's weird," I muttered. I hoped I would find out soon enough why I could see the beasts.

While we were looking at the horses, Draco Malfoy arrived and patted me on the shoulders.

"Guess who's prefect of Slytherin, Potter?" he asked, in a mocking tone. He probably knew I wasn't a prefect.

I had to count to ten before I insulted him. Why at school Malfoy was back to his annoying self? Not that he had ever stopped being annoying, of course... but at school he was worse.

"Congratulations," I said. I tried not to say it too dryly.

Draco took a bow. "Thank you, Chosen One."

I refrained from punching him, and, when I did, I found out that, after all, it wasn't that bad to be mocked if we were friends. I could laugh along.

I grinned at him.


On our first day, we were welcomed by Professor Umbridge alongside Professor Dumbledore. Apparently, she wasn't joking when she said the Ministry didn't trust our headmaster to run the school alone.

"I forgot to tell you," I told Draco and my friends. "It came up when I was in the Ministry..."

In fact, they were watching horrified a completely dressed in pink Dolores Umbridge who was giving the students about the same speech she'd given to me, only a thousand times worse.

"Of course," Professor Umbridge said, at the end of her speech. "You all know I don't mean to say Potter is deranged, or a danger for the other students here. And I didn't mean to say Albus Dumbledore was foolish for trusting him. But, I hope you all will have to agree if I say that it's best if the Ministry keeps its metaphorical eye on this school."

Most of the students cheered. Sadly, though many of them were very afraid of You-Know-Who and trusted Dumbledore to keep them safe, the rest, and it was the majority of them, was too blinded by their fears to even admit the Dark Lord could really be back. 

After dinner, Ron, Hermione and I walked up to Hagrid's hut.

"I wonder what he thinks of Umbridge," Ron scoffed. "I seem to remember he could never stand phony people."

That was true, because, even though Hagrid was very kind, he was not a fool and only let a few people close. Perhaps it came with the abuse he faced for being a half giant, but the kind of insufferable, fake nice people like Umbridge had never been his friends.

When we arrived, it took him a while to open the door.

"Don't tell me Hagrid is getting stranger too, this year," Hermione said.

When he opened the door, our friend was wearing an oversized white shirt with an oversized black tie.

"How d' I look?" he smiled at us.

"Um... nice," Ron swallowed. "Are you going out tonight!"

"No, it's naught for tonite!" Hagrid grinned. "It's for me marriage, to Madame Maxime."

"Madame Maxime?" Hermione echoed. "I didn't even know you two were dating..."

"Yup," Hagrid said, fixing his tie. "Gettin' married in a couple months. I'll see what I can do to invite the three of ye."

I was about to say that if the wedding guests were all half giants he shouldn't bother, because that would have made us feel awkward and out of place. Then, I remembered Hagrid and the bride were half giants, and I decided not to offend them.

We were walking back from Hagrid's hut, when Ron said, "If Hagrid gets married, maybe he won't be around to teach until the end of the year!"

Hermione kicked a pebble. While she was frustrated with Hagrid's reckless teaching, she liked the half giant as well as us. 

"As a first day, it couldn't have gone any better," I joked.

"Say that again, Potter!" someone said, and threw something at me.

I felt something slick and wet on my face.

"It's hyppogriff dung!" Ron exclaimed, disgusted. 

The boys who threw it were the two Gryffindor bullies, friends of Dudley. Andrew Kirke and Jack Sloper.

I felt my face become hot. If you considered the other two Gryffindor closer to my friends and I in age, Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas, hadn't believe in me even the time of the Chamber of Secrets, I was really done for.

"That's a horrible thing you did, Andrew!" Hermione said, pointing her wand at him. "What have you done that for? Apologize to Harry!"

"Only because his girlfriend's asked me to?" Andrew replied. "Oh right! You're not his girlfriend. You're one of the girls who threw themselves over Ron to see if poor people were better in bed."

Ron and Hermione became purple in the face.

"Yeah, Harry is Draco Malfoy's girlfriend!" Jack said.

Andrew high-fived him.

"Jerks," Hermione said, and muttered a curse. Jack and Andrew's faces became full of pimples.

"I can't believe you did that!" Ron exclaimed, admired. 

"I know a lot of curses, but I tend to keep them to myself," Hermione said. Then, she said some kind of cleaning spell, and got the dung away from my face.

"Thanks," I muttered. "I need to find a way to tell people Malfoy and I aren't together."

"You also need to find a way to tell people You-Know-Who is back, you know, in a way they believe it," Ron said, then winced at his own words. "I'm sorry. It's just that... after what happened with Luna, you have to practise your people skills."

I wanted to complain. To say they could have started by sending me letters during the summer, so I would remember what it was like to talk to someone who was not the Dursleys. But I didn't.


The first week of school, we decided to focus on the two messages that I had to get through to people. 

Telling my classmates that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was back was the most difficult task, because I was called names wherever I went. People threw things at me, laughed at me, even went as far as to make jokes about my family. To my surprise, Draco started hanging out with us more often and defended me in a few occasions.

But that made the part about telling people I was not dating Draco more difficult. And I was called names for that too -- Dudley came up with Harry Poofter.

Not funny at all.

When Draco heard that one, we all had to hold him back because he wanted to Stupefy Dudley, or worse.

I wondered whether he was thinking about the jokes Dudley would make up about him.

"You really need to tell people the truth," Ron said, that day. "It's a catchy nickname. It's going to stick like wildfire."

"You tell people the truth, if you think it's that easy!" I snarled. "People don't believe me, and apparently they don't believe Draco either, since his best friend Martin Kowalski keeps asking us out on double dates!"

Draco's expression was hard to read. 

"Why don't you... get together for real, then?" Ron asked.

"It doesn't work that way!" I replied hotly. Just because I like boys, I was about to add. But Draco didn't know and I wanted to keep it that way.

"Do you think I like boys, Ronald?" Draco asked in his usual drawl.

Ron was still a little bit afraid of him, and did not reply.

In the end, Professor Umbridge was the one to tell people Draco and I weren't together.

She always gave a speech in the hall during lunch, some kind of stomach wrenching speech about why you had to trust the Ministry when they assured You-Know-Who was not back.

One day, during that first weeks, she also added, "The Daily Prophet is a great outlet for the news, but you shouldn't believe everything you read. Especially from Rita Skeeter, who retired last spring. Certain rumours of love tangles between our school were not true, as I had the honour to check as a Professor here."

I didn't even ask myself why she did it -- I simply assumed Lucius had pulled a few strings in the Ministry.

And Umbridge liked to stick her nose in other people's affairs, for she also added, "As you know, Rubeus Hagrid, your Professor of Care of Magical Creatures, will get married early next year to his fiancee Madame Maxime. But, since Madame Maxime, other than being a half breed, is also the headmaster for Beauxbatons, the Ministry is not sure we can approve of the marriage. In fact, questions are being asked about what happened during the third task."

"It was about time," I said. "To find out who turned the Cup into a portkey."

The hall went so silent, I realized Umbridge must have heard me.

"What we're trying to find out, Potter," she said dryly. "Is who or what messed with your mind. Admitting that someone did, and not that you had been on the brink of losing your mind for a long time."

Angelina Johnson stood up. "You can't decide who Hagrid is going to marry!" she said. "Love shouldn't work like that! Besides, the French had lived at Hogwarts for months, and they were decent people!"

Umbridge looked at her coldly.

"Well... congratulations! You won yourself a job, Angelina. You'll become the Hogwarts-Beauxbatons emissary. Meaning that you'll spend the rest of the year there, keeping an eye on the French school."

At first we were all horrified, because she was sending Angelina away from the school and the country. And Quidditch? Angelina loved it! What would our team do without her?

But she blushed slightly, and told the rest of the table, "It won't be that bad."

I remembered how she had danced with Fleur at the Yule Ball, and smirked. 


During the third week of school, something happened. I couldn't keep all my anger inside anymore.

I had tried, for the longest time, to keep calm every time Professor Umbridge taught Defence Against the Dark Arts.

The truth was, my mood swings were pretty much out of control since what happened at the cemetery, everyone still thought I was a liar, or crazy, and Dumbledore hadn't talked to me yet.

So, it was very hard to manage to keep my nerves still when I had to hear Umbridge teaching a lesson she knew nothing about.

One day, I slammed my book shut.

"You can't teach us only theory, we need practice too," I said.

"What?" she asked, a malicious look in her eyes. "You'll agree that, except for Moody, who was a bit out of his mind, you can't let students fight each other in a classroom. It's unsafe."

I wanted to bite back, but couldn't. I hadn't liked Moody too much either. He had almost broken Draco's back just to teach him a lesson, and had smashed one of my knees during class.

"I don't mean we should try out the Curses on each other," I said. "But, and let's be serious here, there are other ways to practise! We need to learn a lot more than this, considering that..."

"That...?" Professor Umbridge asked, raising one eyebrow.

"That Voldemort is back," I said weakly.

She looked at me furiously, but her expression soon changed to pity.

"I don't even know why they let you at school, Potter," she said. "You need to be cured. Perhaps at St Mungus they'll find a room for you?"

"I'm not crazy," I growled. But it's not like one can never be too sure.

Umbridge played with her wand. It didn't look menacing -- she never used it. "Let's see your resume, Potter. The first year, you almost slayed Quirrel's serpent by saying it was You-Know-Who, who was a wizard who could turn into a snake, as we all know. The second year, you attacked Gilderoy Lockhart saying he was a Death Eater, and claimed you'd been hearing voices all year because of an enchanted pen he gave you. What a pity you also used some kind of magic on him that has left him in St Mungus for three years and he barely knows who he is. The third year you were too preoccupied getting your godfather out of Azkaban, and the fourth year... well, we all know what happened."

I had to admit my resume, as she called it, didn't sound good.

"Now, Dumbledore has told me you would like to become an Auror," Umbridge added. "Is that the curriculum you'd like to offer? Or would it be wiser to concentrate on your school grades, that certainly need to be higher in order to work for the Ministry?"

"I don't think, after having met you, that I'd still like to work for the Ministry," I said.

A few of my classmates gasped, and covered their mouths with their hands.

Professor Umbridge walked up to me. "Potter," she hissed. "Out of all the things that you say happened to you, I think no one has ever taught you a lesson."

I thought of uncle Vernon. It didn't seem the moment to talk about that.

"I think, Professor," I replied. "That you're not very good at teaching lessons."

Professor Umbridge gribbed her wand so tight, I was afraid it would snap in two.

"I need to take precautions with you, Potter," she said lightly. "I have noticed you have a pattern of getting rid of your Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers. The first one questioned, the second in the hospital, the third escaped with your godfather, and the fourth believed your words and went after You-Know-Who. I don't know what game you're playing, but it stops with me."

I was not playing any game, but, if I was, she'd end up in Azkaban.

I hoped the way I looked at her was able to tell her that.

"What do you suggest to do, Professor?" Hermione asked. "Harry has been through a lot, please, don't punish him. He's just telling the truth, please, he was right the other times as well!"

"I think it was established that the snake wasn't You-Know-Who," Dean pointed out.

"But Lockhart was a Death Eater -- he opened the Chamber of Secrets!" Neville said hotly. "I should know -- I'd been kidnapped."

Professor Umbridge looked at him defiantly. Then, lowered her gaze. "Of course, children. Potter can't be wrong every time. I think it was the fact that he'd been right once, with Lockhart, that inflated his ego."

"Voldemort really is back!" I objected. "I was in the cemetery. I know what I've seen!"

"If only it was enough, to see things for them to be true," Professor Umbridge said. "Don't say that name anymore, Potter, and never talk to me that way again. I'll meet you next week after my class in my office."

The look on her face said that she knew how to keep my mouth shut forever. I promised myself nothing she would try would work.

In fact, what if Voldemort wanted to strike at the school, and nobody believed me? I had to find another way to convince my classmates soon. 

 

 

Chapter Text

I was in the cemetery.

Draco was there too, tied to a headstone. His father kept hitting him with the Imperius and Cruciatus curse, and he kept screaming, "Tell me the truth! Tell me the truth about Potter!"

I walked to them, to stop Lucius somehow. I raised my wand at him. But, before I could say the words, my mother appeared. She was a shimmering image, much like a ghost.

"Please, don't do this, Harry," she pleaded. "There's got to be another way. You were never meant to end up like that."

I wanted to tell my mother that it was a war, and what did she know about wars, really, when it dawned on me that she knew much more than I did.

In fact, in that moment, another ghost appeared. My father. He looked just like he did in the pictures, very much like me, but without the almond-shaped green eyes and general good looks I got from my mother. I didn't think of myself as good-looking, but I was more on the pretty side while my father was rough, his handsomeness an acquired taste.

"Lily!" he said. His face had the same aura as a Greek hero's, much like Lupin had told me. "What are you doing, talking to him? Get the boy away from here! Save yourselves!"

Then, he screamed, as if he was in a loop replaying his death. My mother's ghost knelt in front of me and murmured a blessing I could not hear.

Then, she screamed too, a painful, horrible scream, and her image started breaking apart in front of my eyes.


I woke up screaming.

"Does he really have to do it every other night?" Dean Thomas asked. I realized that he thought I was still asleep. "Some of us are trying to sleep..."

"Would you knock it off?" Ron asked. "Show a little pity, won't you?"

"If they don't take him to St Mungus soon," was the reply. "I'll ask to change dormitory."

"You can't, and you bloody well know that, there's too little of us," Ron replied angrily. "But sure, you try that, because next word you say about Harry's nightmares, I'll murder you..."

I was really relieved to hear those were the things Ron said when he thought I was asleep. He didn't think me crazy like all the rest, then. Well, I wasn't exactly relieved that he was going to murder Dean.

"I'm awake," I announced, rubbing my eyes. "I'm sorry. This is the first time I realized I screamed in my sleep."

I tried to pass it off as something to be said lightly, but I couldn't. Either way, it was true. Just like I'd never noticed I talked in my sleep before Dudley pointed that out.

"Get some rest," Ron told me. "Today's the day you're meeting Umbridge after class for the punishment."

I shivered. Not the best moment to be reminded of that.

"Listen," Ron whispered. "If I could, I'd ask you to sleep with me. Like brothers, you know. But they wouldn't let us. Fred still sleeps with George when he get nightmares."

I was about to reply that I did not know the twin had nightmares, but after all, why not? We all had something we feared, it was not a burden I had alone.

"That's kind of you," I replied, touched that he considered me so much like a brother. "But you're right. They would never let us."

"You can ask Neville Longbottom," Dean, who had apparently heard us, said. "I'm sure he'd be grateful you even thought of him. He wouldn't even mind it if it was three-way thing with Malfoy..."

Ron shut him up with a pillow on his face. "I told you," he said. "I was going to murder you."

I was a little embarrassed. "Ron... you don't have to..."

"What? You think I don't understand because I wasn't at the cemetery? And the year before I was in the Hospital Wing when you saved Sirius? But before that, I had broken my arm only because I was involved in one of our adventures. And the year before, Gilderoy Lockhart kidnapped my sister! You know that she's still in shock about it, right? Not only she was kidnapped, but she told me Gilderoy wanted to kill her as well, because you weren't coming to save the people he abducted. And I... I really thought I was going to lose her, back then. And she's my little sister, mate. And the year before, when I duelled with Quirrel, he hurt me really bad."

"I know what you're trying to say," I replied, enraged. "That it's all my fault. I told you and Hermione time and time again that if you didn't want to help..."

"But we wanted to! It's just that it's hard. Much like you want to help, when things happen, but it takes its toll on you. Same thing happens to us."

"I don't help because I want to. I help because I have to."

Ron did not argue with my logic, even though he could have.

"Well, see it that way then -- we have to help you, because you're our best friend, and you'd never be able to do everything on your own."

While it might not have sounded like a pep talk to most, it helped me sleep safe and sound for the rest of the night.


Later that morning, Professor Umbridge asked to see me after class, like we had already established.

While I was waiting in the corridor, I met Qiu and Cedric.

"Harry!" Cedric said. "We did it. We announced in front of the whole class, this morning, that we believe you. After all, I was in the maze too. I saw you disappear."

"You could have said you believed me sooner," I said, the words out before I could think them through. 

Cedric lowered his eyes.

"Harry," Qiu said. "You don't know everything..."

"We don't have to tell him," Cedric said. "He's right. I've been feeling guilty about it all summer."

"Cedric's father is very afraid of losing him," Qiu explained to me anyway. "After Cedric's mother's death, Amos has never been the same. He often told his son he would ask him to leave the school if there was any danger, so Cedric couldn't tell him that he believed You-Know-Who was back."

"I understand you," I told Cedric. "I really do."

Perhaps it should have taken me longer to forgive, but I related to that story. We were both orphan boys, good with Quidditch, loyal with friends, but not exactly good at learning or at people's skills. In the Muggle world, there would be no place for us and our magic, while at Hogwarts we had a home. I had already protected my rights to stay at Hogwarts by lying and cheating the way of my Muggle cousin through the school, more than once.

"Oh, good," Cedric said, taken aback. "Either way, the secret is out. Now everyone knows we believe you, and dad will find out, but... it was the right thing to do."

I nodded again, but this time Umbridge opened the door of her office before I could say anything.

"I'm in detention," I explained briefly, and entered the room.

"Well, well, Potter," Professor Umbridge said. Her office was pink and decorated with picture of cats. I wondered if they were her cats or if she dutch taped the pictures she liked the most from the magazines. I decided I did not want to know.

"It wasn't easy to find a punishment that would fit the crime," she added. "You see, I have to tell people you're crazy or deranged. It's the only way to slow you down. But I know that you're not. What you really are, in fact, is a nasty liar."

"You can prove that I'm not," I said. "There's a potion..."

"You think I care to prove it? The fact that the Ministry doesn't believe you is enough for me. Besides, such techniques could work if somebody cared what happened to you. Like Dumbledore. But where is he, now?"

"Dumbledore still cares what happens to me," I replied. "Touch even as much as a hair on my head, and you'll find out."

She looked at me in pity. "I think we'll find out that it's the other way around," she said, and showed me a whip.

"You don't seriously mean to whip me," I said. I had heard that it was very painful, and flogging could even lead to death.

"I won't do it," she replied. "I won't dirty my hands with your blood. Why, your mother was even part Muggle, so I have acquaintances who think your blood is even worth less than most. The whip will do it by itself."

"What?" I asked.

"What did you think? It's magical. I'll ask you what happened that night in the maze, and every time you'll lie by saying You-Know-Who is back, the whip will hit you automatically. Start by taking your shirt off, Potter."

"You realize," I said, panicking. "That I could just tell a lie, meaning telling you what you believe is the truth, and I won't be hit?"

"If you tell the truth, that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is not back," she replied. "I won't be the only one to know. Your message will be broadcast to the entire school, and you'll be banned from Hogwarts."

"So I lose either way?" I asked, through gritted teeth. "I thought someone like you would want to buy me in some way."

In the end, it wasn't worth it to tell a lie. I let the whip hit me in the back. At first, it hurt like hell, but the pain subsided.

I think I had told her You-Know-Who was back about five times before she stopped.

"This," she said. "Will only be the first time, if your attitude doesn't change. We can arrange simpler ways for you to tell the truth, if the proposition I offered today wasn't to your liking."

 

Our Quidditch team had been missing a Chaser ever since Angelina had been sent to France. A few days after Umbridge's punishment, we asked people if they wanted to try out for the team.

Amongst other Gryffindors, both Dudley and Ron showed up.

"Okay," Oliver Wood, the leader of the team, said. "I want to see Ron for last, so no one will think we're making preferences here since George plays Quidditch too."

"Hey!" Fred complained. "I play Quidditch too. "We're both Beaters!"

Oliver, usually stern and of a few words, became quite red in the face. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to forget, Weasley..."

"Hey," Fred complained again. "Why do you call him George, and you call me Weasley?"

Oliver became redder, and mumbled something under his breath about captain's duties, or something.

Dudley sucked at Quidditch, but not as much I would have thought. I found it really annoying that he could do most of the things he set out to do.
 
Thankfully, Ron turned out to be a much better Chaser. It must have been in the blood, because all the Weasley boys were very good at Quidditch, and Ginny's favourite class was the one with Madam Hooch.

"Our final decision," Oliver Wood announced. "Is Ronald Bilius Weasley!"

"Knock it off, Oliver," George said. "How come I'm George, Fred is Weasley, and Ron is Ronald Bilius?"

Our captain flushed purple. "You know how I am with formalities.... George... I mean, Weasley."

By the look George gave at him, I understood there was probably something going on between the two of them.

I remember when I'd been told George had moved on with someone on the Quidditch team. It had never been Angelina!


Professor Umbridge started taking more control in the school. One morning, she announced that the Ministry had given her the power to sack Hogwarts Professors if they taught things not permitted by the Ministry.

"I'm happy Hagrid will leave because he's getting married, and not because she sacked him," Ron said at lunch. "Because, let's be honest. She would."

Nobody could contradict him.

"Today, I'll start visiting every class you have with every one of your teachers," Umbridge said. "But, since not even I can be in two places at once, I'll keep an eye on..." she produced with magic a piece of paper, and started reading something from it. "Gryffindors. Fifth year."

"Go figure," Hermione said. "Harry, did you really have to piss her off?"

I had trouble talking about Umbridge without losing my cool. I hadn't told anyone about the whipping.

"You know he's just told the truth," Ron said affectionately. 

Our first lesson that day was with Professor Trelawney. When Hermione started clearing her head from the doubts, and started embracing the art that her ancestors had practised, she became very good at Divination. She'd even started liking Professor Trelawney as a person.

"Students," Umbridge said in a sickly sweet voice. "Opinions?"

"Well, if this lesson isn't a steaming pile of garbage," Dudley told Professor Umbridge. "Nothing else is, and I don't like magic much."

Her eyes became very wide, almost as if they could pop out from her face. "You don't like magic much?"

Dudley nodded.

"Well, if this isn't peculiar... but we tried you, Dudley Dursley, and you had magic in your veins."

"I don't like the creativity of it," Dudley explained.

"Well... that I understand. If I ever run into problems with Miss Granger and Mister Weasley, I could make you prefect of Gryffindor."

I laughed.

"Sorry, Potter?" she asked. "Is our two weeks of detention not enough for you to keep your mouth closed?"

"Two weeks?" I asked weakly.

"Of course," she replied. "I was thinking of dividing the days throughout the school year, to let you rest, but if you want we can do the whole process right away. Starting this evening, and ending in twelve days. After all, the line won't write itself."

The line? What was she talking about? She did not make me write lines.

"The line?" I asked.

"Yes, 'I must not tell lies'," Umbridge said. "That's the line. You don't remember, Potter?"

It wasn't that I didn't remember. I didn't know.

With the whipping, she was carving the line into my back! Of course it would take so long to finish!

Since very few people would survive from something like that, I had already noticed the whip cleaned the heals automatically after it inflicted them. However, the pain and the scars both remained. I wouldn't bleed out, but I would endure all the rest.

When the lesson was over, Professor Umbridge said, "You don't have use for a lesson that teaches you about all those bad omens. Always predicting death... but we're not in the dark ages anymore. Professor Trelawney, you can start preparing your suitcase."

"What?" the Professor knew it was a possibility, but apparently wasn't expecting it.

"Yes, you don't teach accordingly to the new laws of this school," Professor Umbridge said. "But you can remain here in the kitchens, if you want."

"She's the kind of woman who looks down on other women as well," Hermione snarled. "What if we started telling her that she can't take the whole school? What if we tell her that she can't send away the Professors we know and love?"

"I've heard you, Granger," Umbridge said. "Would you like to write lines with Potter?"

"No!" I said hotly. "No, Hermione, I'll tell you later..."

"Be careful of what you tell her, Potter," Umbridge replied. "Be careful that your mouth doesn't spill any more lies."

But I was not afraid of her, because I already had gained two weeks of detention and I doubted she could do worse. Besides, Hermione would have to believe me, since the lines were already starting to form on my skin.

Hermione stormed off, angry that her favourite teacher had been sacked and that she'd just been threatened. I tried to follow after her, but bumped into Draco in the corridor.

"I haven't heard from you in a while, Potter," he drawled.

'If we're friends,' I was about to say. 'Stop calling me Potter', but for some reason I could not explain, I liked that. He called me Potter as if it meant I was a person, and not the Chosen One.

He started to slow my running, and grabbed my shoulders. A hand went on my back, and I went very still.

"Don't touch me," I snarled. "Sorry. Not only I don't like physical touch but... let's just say I have two weeks worth of detention with Umbridge."

"What does that have to do with your back?" Draco said, then his eyes opened in realization. "No."

"Yes, I'll show you later," I replied.

"Who said I wanted to see your bare skin, Potter?"

I flushed. "I didn't mean it like that. Look, you've seen scars no one knew about one other time too. You have to tell me..."

We went in an unused room, and I let Draco lift off my sweater and my shirt.

"Does it say something?" I asked.

"Yes," he said. "Imus... what is Imus?"

"It's the beginning of I must not tell lies," I must have become very pale. "It's what she means to write on my back."

I could not see Draco's face, but I heard him tense every muscle in his body.

"She can't..." he started saying, but then thought better of it.

"You know what? We can't waste away this school year," he said, helping me get the shirt and sweater on again. "We need someone else to teach us Defense Against the Dark Arts, someone who knows, who's battled You-Know-Who before. Someone who could probably come up with a plan to defend the whole school if it came down to it."

"If only we had this person," I replied. "Dumbledore hasn't talked to me since the summer."

"This person is quite obviously not Dumbledore," Draco smirked. "This person is you."

"No," I said. Draco was the only honest person I knew. He couldn't turn me into what he needed, like most people did.

"Think about it."

"I'm not that person. I thought you knew that I was not..."

"I know all of the things you're not," Draco said abruptly. "Which, to my dislike, makes me very aquainted with all the things you are. And you would be the person this school is looking for."

Chapter Text

In the end, I accepted. I had to. Somebody had to do something about Umbridge anyway.

We had our first reunion in a pub in Hogsmeade. The people who were interested were far less in number than Hogwarts' students, so I didn't know if it came down to it, if we could manage to defend the whole school, but we could try.

Other than Draco, Ron, Hermione and I there were a few people older than us in each House, and people we knew well such as: Fred and George Weasley, Martin Kowalski, Luna Lovegood, Ginny Weasley, Neville Longbottom, Zhang Qiu, Cedric Diggory, Hannah Abbot and a handful of other students around our age.

"I've got a question," a buff guy said. He was one of the ones I didn't know very well. "Why Harry?"

"What do you mean, McLaggen?" Draco asked. "Why not?"

"Well," McLaggen replied. "Wasn't he crazy or something? Word on the street is that he is..."

"But, Cormac," Ron said. "We all gathered here because we all dislike Professor Umbridge. I don't see how you can both dislike her and believe her words..."

"Well, it's not just her words, isn't it?" Cormac asked. "I mean, everyone says Potter's lost it..."

"Harry Potter tells the truth," Draco said. I wondered how he was going to manage to have my back without telling the whole school that his father was a Death Eater, but I hoped he'd find a way. "I have been there with him, when the Dementors attacked Sirius Black. And I wasn't there in the cemetery, but Cedric was, and he said explicitly that Harry disappeared after they grabbed the Cup."

"That's true," Cedric said again. "Which reminds me -- I'm sorry, Harry, you probably should have shared the first place with me like we'd agreed."

I didn't really care about winning first place, but of course it would have been nice if I could. Every boy my age desired to be good at something, to win every once in a while, the only reason why I didn't care wasn't because it was below me. It was because after all that happened at the cemetery, it was hard to care about something like that.

"That's alright," I replied. "I shouldn't have been there in the first place. I didn't put my name in the Cup."

"So, who did?" Martin Kowalski asked. "I mean... not to doubt you. It's just that I've always been curious..."

"I still don't know," I couldn't help but reply. "I think Dumbledore is taking care of that matter too, alongside others."

"I have my theory," Luna said, her eyes shining. Martin noticed he was sitting next to her, and blushed violently. I remembered him telling me that he had no luck with blondes. "I think Professor Moody did it. After what he did to Malfoy, it isn't so hard to believe. And then, he retired to chase after You-Know-Who. Makes you ask whether he'd known all along, and wanted Harry to defeat the Dark Lord before he could. Or maybe he's a Death Eater in disguise."

"When we met you at the start of the year, you didn't know who You-Know-Was," Hermione couldn't help but comment, impressed. "And now you sound so... prepared."

Luna shrugged. "I'm a Ravenclaw. I do my research. Besides, the idea that a dark wizard has been killing people around the year of my birth, and I didn't know it? And now, he's back and he can try to kill us again. How have the rest of you lived all the time with that concept?"

"It's in our history, blondie," Martin smirked. "My grandparents became allies of a certain other dark wizard, Grindelwald, because he made them believe he would approve their union -- grandad was a Muggle. But then, they switched sides and helped Dumbledore defeat Grindelwald."

"That story doesn't sound like you think it sounds," Draco told him. "As I always tell you."

"One time, a bad man came into our house," Luna said dreamily, apparently paying no mind to Martin's words. "He was a wizard like us. Mom tried to kill him, but her spell backfired, and she died. I was there! I've seen it happen. Now I know the bad man was probably a follower of this You-Know-Who..."

We all looked at her horrified.

"That's terrible," Ginny said, holding her hand. "How old were you?"

"Nine, but that's okay, I don't want to talk about it," Luna said, a bit too abruptly. "Either way, I asked Dad why he's never told me about You-Know-Who, and he said it was because of you, Harry. He said he couldn't imagine being you when you'd come to Hogwarts to find out that everyone has known who you were all along. Other children had bedtime stories about you. The rest knew all about you anyway. Dad didn't think it was fair, so he raised me not to know. So, I could go to Hogwarts and have my own experiences, and maybe befriend you, without knowing all of it."

"I think it wasn't very smart of him," Hermione tried to say. "It's practically impossible not to find out who You-Know-Who and Harry are as soon as you go to Hogwarts."

"I appreciate Luna's dad's effort all the same," I joined the conversation. "When I arrived here, I didn't know anything about myself. Hagrid gave me a one minute resume. I had to find out all in a few minutes that I was a wizard, that my parents hadn't died in a car crash, and that the scar on my forehead wasn't from said car crash. It was pretty much something it took me months to get my head around. Then, I found out I was famous too, because I survived You-Know-Who when I was one year old, and changed the fate of the war forever. But I was just a baby, I have no real recollection of it. It was... It's still crazy if I think about it."

I looked at Draco, hoping he'd get the meaning of my words. "There's only a few people who have treated me like I was just like everybody else. It was good to know that I could still be anyone, instead of little old me who defeated You-Know-Who when he was a toddler."

"You're cooler than I gave you credit for," Hannah Abbot said, opening her eyes wide. "I thought you, like, bragged about it all the time."

"Harry's not like that," Ron snarled at her. "Glad you opened your eyes."

"Ron, don't start bullying the members of the..." I started saying. But my voice stuck in my throat. I was about to refer to us as the Order of the Phoenix, then realized it was better not to divulge Dumbledore's secret name.

I coughed. "We need a name, and we need it soon," I said.

"What are we going to do?" an older Slytherin asked. "Learn how to defend ourselves from the Curses?"

"Ah... well, that too," I replied. "Though there isn't a safe way to practise. But mostly, you need to know a bit of everything if you need to defend the school from You-Know-Who. Draco and I could teach you how to do a Patronus Charm, for example. From Hermione, you'll learn the Curses, and from Ron how to think quickly in battle. He knows a lot of things about reflexes when you're duelling, things like that. I admit that I mostly make it up as I go, he's the expert."

"And you?" McLaggen asked. "Why are you the boss? What do you have the offer? Other than the Patronus, that can't be too difficult, since the little blonde twat in Slytherin can do it too."

"Don't talk to Draco like that," I snarled.

"Please. The fact that he's part of us doesn't mean you can delete all the years when he, Kowalski and Goyle bullied everyone in the school."

"We never! It was only Goyle," Martin said desperate, taking a quick look at all the girls in the room. "Or maybe it was pranks! I don't know, okay? But I've never seen you before, Mr All-Brawns-and-No-Brains."

"You've bullied me just now," McLaggen looked close to tears. Or fists. Whichever came first.

"This isn't bullying," I specified. "Look, I know I don't have a lot to offer, okay? But I've faced danger more than anyone else at this school and it wasn't only You-Know-Who. I heard a mermaid's call. I broke a mermaid free from a rock only using my nails and my teeth. I snatched an egg from a dragon, and burned myself in the process. I've had bones broken and healed since I was a child. I went in the underground passage under the Sphinx in the maze, where spirits of the dead tried to drive me crazy. I've battled Quirrel and his snake, and you all wouldn't call it the great snake fiasco if you knew I won one of the three Deathly Hallows in combat, the cloak of invisibility. I have unmasked Gilderoy taking all of his power away from him, for it was borrowed by You-Know-Who. I set free his hostages. I battled Dementors to help my innocent godfather escape from prison. And that's only part of that. I've probably done a few other things I don't even remember. If you need the help of someone who's seen it all, well I'm not saying that's me, but let's jut say I've seen a few things."

I noticed everybody was looking at me with their mouths hanging open. Especially Draco. He couldn't hide the look of admiration in his eyes.

 

When the two weeks had passed, not only Umbridge had finished carving the whole line on my back, but she told me I wouldn't play Quidditch anymore as long as she was around.

That was really too much to take. Not that I enjoyed people giving me permanent scars and drew the line at Quidditch, but it was what I liked to do. What I was good at doing. Like Neville's Herbology or Ginny's flying lessons. 

What really made things worse was that Dudley took my place in the team. He obviously wasn't cut out to be a Seeker -- that much was clear. He didn't have the right physique. But Umbridge didn't care about Quidditch. She only cared about making my life a living hell.

"Wait until I tell Dad they finally started punishing you, and they let me take your place in the team," Dudley told me. "He's going to send the school money, or something. I can't wait to see his face..."

I punched Dudley in the face. It wasn't the first time, and I wasn't proud of what that said about me, but I couldn't just stand there and listen to him taunting me forever either.

I was summoned to the headmaster's office. Umbridge said she would have liked to punish me, but Dumbledore showed up for the first time in months to say he'd take care of it.

I was still angry at him, but, after I'd witnessed what Umbridge could do, I was especially glad that he'd saved me from such a fate. Not that he knew what happened. I was struggling with indecision on whether to tell him.

"So, Harry," he said, and offered me a cup of chocolate tea. "I know you would have liked to hear from me more."

My anger subsided, but did not go away. "You're right, sir," I managed. 

"But, I see that, all things considered, you're handling things very well," the headmaster said.

Was that how it looked like, on the outside?

"I... I don't know if I can take that compliment, sir," I replied. "I haven't been feeling up to my game since my wand met Voldemort's. I keep having nightmares. And Professor Umbridge... she's a nasty person."

"Not that I don't trust you," Dumbledore mused. "I do. She seems like an awful person. But do you have evidence as to why you consider her nasty? Did she say or do something? Of course, even if she did, I have my hands tied. You should probably tell Cornelius Fudge, when it concerns her... sadly, there's not a lot I can do."

I decided not to tell him. Weirdly enough, it made me feel rather ashamed, and so I had only mentioned bits and pieces to it to Ron and Hermione as well. Nobody had seen the whole line on my back yet. I was afraid of what even Malfoy, with his nerves of steel, would think of it.

I was afraid he was going to think it was hideous. I missed the days when the only scar that really concerned me was the one on my forehead.

"But, sir," I said, finally realizing that there was another thing I could say to Dumbledore, to let part of my burden go. "There's something I need to tell you. I hope you will find it proper. My friends and I... and a couple other students... we noticed how Umbridge isn't suited to the task of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. I want to start teaching classes to other students. Without being found out, of course."

For a little moment, I was afraid he'd hate me. He'd tell Umbridge. How could I hope to get away with something like that?

"I appreciate that," the headmaster said instead. "You know the Ministry is doing all it can to tie my hands behind my back, but I wanted to prepare my beloved students in case of a fight. You don't know how grateful I am that you're doing my dirty work for me, Harry. Pray your loyalty and bravery never leave you. I think it... it seems like you're helping me build an Army against You-Know-Who."

"We could call it Dumbledore's Army," I told him. I tried not to sound too excited.

His eyes shone mischieviously. "I rather like it," he said. "Dumbledore's Army... DA, so no one will ever know."

He winked at me.


We found a room at Hogwarts, with Dumbledore's help, called Room of Requirement. It turned into the room you needed at the very moment, and no one could break into it and see the same thing as you.

There, we had our first Dumbledore's Army lesson.

Draco hated the name. He looked close to vomiting every time I mentioned it. I decided that I had to fix that simple issue between the two of us, and warmed him up to Dumbledore.

Sadly, the headmaster had shown a lot of kindness where it concerned me, probably because I was an orphan and he was starting to see me a son, as he had once let it slip. But Draco, who had bad parents and was sorted in the House of his family cheating on the test, well Draco had been hurting for a long time and no one ever noticed. He must have added the headmaster to the list of adults who didn't care about him.

"Is your detention over, Potter?" he asked me, a murderous look in his eyes.

As much as I appreciated him calling me Potter, we had to work on that too. I wondered when he'd start calling me Harry, and if he ever would.

"Yes," I whispered. "It's over."

"I want to see..." he started saying.

"Later, Malfoy," I replied through gritted teeth. I put a certain emphasis on his surname, to let him know I couldn't think of us as intimate until he called me Potter.

Of course, I didn't mind the reminder that I had my father's surname. I remembered once, when I was a child, I had asked uncle Vernon why my surname was not Dursley. He replied that I should have been grateful that, even though my dad was a scoundrel, he had stuck around and recognized me. Then, Petunia muttered a few words about my dad being unsufferable as a person, but a devoted husband to my poor dimwitted mother.

Even then, I knew enough about the Dursleys to understand my father probably wasn't an unsufferable scoundrel, and my mother wasn't dimwitted, so I rejoiced at the idea that my father had been a devoted husband.

It was before I realized I liked boys. I found myself thinking that it would have been nice to become that kind of husband.

And now I knew the whole thing. Potter was my surname, and it came from James Potter, a mischievious, Jewish Gryffindor. Friend to Remus and Sirius. Devoted husband to Lily. Killed by Voldemort because he was defending his family. Not a drunk who crashed his car and killed his wife.

"Why are you staring into space and smiling, Potter?" Draco asked dryly.

I couldn't say that I was thinking about my parents without sounding lame, so I didn't reply.

"I think," I told the class. "That we should start by channeling a Patronus. Have you ever heard of a Patronus Charm?"

I proceeded to explain what Lupin had explained to me.

"You go first, Ginny," I said, then. "We don't need a Dementor, or a Boggart, if you know what you're doing, you'll succeed."

"Why her?" Draco snarled. "She's too young."

"She's only one year younger than us, it's not really much," I replied, confused. "What's the problem?"

Draco lowered his eyes sadly.

"Okay, then Fred and George go first," I said. "I bet they have recent memories to think about." I looked at them as if to say I knew of George, and understood.

"The Ministry accepted our request to open the shop, and they'll loan us the money!" Fred agreed.

"And I'll think about... Quidditch lessons!" George exclaimed.

Everybody looked at him weirdly.

"What... as long as it's good enough..."

The Patronuses of the twins were a Hyena for Fred, and a Coyote for George. The students cheered at their effortless spell.

Ginny was second, with the Patronus of a Horse. Qiu's was a Swan. Hermione's was a otter, and Ron's a Jack Russell.

"Why is it always the Weasleys?" Draco asked me.

"Why aren't you doing yours?" I asked him.

"Because you know I can do it," he replied.

"Yes, but why don't you show it to the class?" I pressed on.

Draco went still. I realized with horror what was going on.

"It was only luck. I haven't been able since."

"You're here to learn," I said. "I'll teach you."

It wasn't only luck. Draco was better at magic than he thought he was.

I was afraid that whatever memory he'd hold on to, after the way his father had broken him, it was not enough anymore.

Chapter Text

One night right before the Winter holidays, I had a horrible nightmare. I was in Voldemort's body, and I had broken into the Ministry. I opened the door to an office, and pointed my wand at somebody...

That person was Arthur Weasley.

I did not say Avada Kedrava, the killing curse. I think I used the Cruciatus curse, which made me very ashamed, but after all it was a dream, and I was not Harry. I was Voldemort.

I did not even feel as if I was dreaming, though. It felt more as if somebody had found a way to send me some kind of vision.

That was why, when I woke up, I tried my best to wake Ron up too.

"Wake up, wake up!" I resisted the urge to slap his face. "I think something happened to your father!"

Ron woke up, startled. My words had shaken something in him.

I told him everything. 

"Harry..." he said sheepishly. "It's obviously only a dream. Don't you have nightmares every night of Draco being tortured? Or of your parents dying?"

"I swear to you, this time it felt different!" I tried to make him reason.

"Well," he said. He looked scared. "There's obviously one thing left to do. Tell Dumbledore."

We waited for the headmaster to let us into his office. 

"I have a portrait of every headmaster who ruled Hogwarts before me," Dumbledore told us, stroking his beard. "I could probably ask one of them to check in at the Ministry, and another at St Mungus. They have a portrait of them too, there, and the headmasters can choose which portrait to inhabit."

"What?" Ron asked, panicked.

"What's the issue, Ronald?" Dumbledore asked. "You grew up as a wizard. I'm sure you've heard of portraits. What about the Hogwarts portraits? The Fat Lady, to whom you give your password every night?"

"I didn't think they were... real people," Ron said, clearly meaning ghosts or something of the sort.

Dumbledore chuckled, and did not reply.

After ten minutes, one of the headmasters was already back.

"Sir Dumbledore," he said. "Arthur Weasley has been reported attacked at the Ministry about half an hour ago. He's in stable condition, and he can speak, but he rests at the St Mungus hospital. He said he did not recognize who attacked him, for he was a man wearing a completely black cape, but he's seen the face of his attacker. Blond hair, parted in the middle."

"Lucius Malfoy!" Ron exclaimed.

"It doesn't make any sense," I said. "It was You-Know-Who, in the dream."

"Arthurt also reported the attacker had heterochromia. His two eyes were one blue and one brown."

"It could have been You-Know-Who," Dumbledore said, though he had paled at the description of the man. "Using Polyjuice Potion."

The headmaster in the portrait scoffed. "Yeah, right. That would make sense, but then again, You-Know-Who is not really back, so..."

"So rude!" Ron scolded the portrait. "Who are you?"

"Phineas Nigellus Black," the man said, and I noticed his wild black curls and grey eyes. "Sirius Black's grandfather. I heard he's dating a werewolf these days, and a man on top of that! If only I could get out of this damned portrait..."

"Well, you can't," something furious shone in Dumbledore's eyes. "And not a word about those matters anymore, or off you go."

He pointed his wand at the portrait.

"Professor," Ron asked our headmaster. "Can I take a day off to visit my father in the Hospital?"

"Of course," Dumbledore said. "But first we must warn your bothers and your sister. And I have to ask the Ministry for permission, but, if things go well, I reckon I could give you your permission sheet tomorrow."

"Can Harry come too?"

"Yes, please, sir," I pleaded. "Arthur is more of an uncle to me than my real uncle is. I want to know how he is too!"

And I couldn't shake off the horrible feeling that I was the one who attacked him, even though it had only been a dream.

"Of course, dear boy," Dumbledore said, patting my head.

I blushed at that, and Ron smirked.


The day that followed that horrible morning was even more eventful. We had to tell the other Weasleys as well. Fred and George tried to laugh it off, like they had done when Ginny had been kidnapped, but they couldn't hide the fact that they looked about to cry.

Neville was with Ginny, and he looked close to tears too.

"Don't worry," he sniffled. "If your dad makes sense, and he's been able to give a description of the attacker, he's out of danger. The Cruciatus curse hasn't killed him, and he didn't suffer any side effect. He would be... he would have lost his mind..."

Ginny looked at him, speechless, as if Neville had never said things like that, had never been so close to crying. After all, most underestimated him because he was clumsy and shy, but Neville was a real Gryffindor through and through, scoring one hundred percent on the test of his house, and he knew how to be brave when the time came.

"My parents," Neville felt like he needed to explain. "That's what happened to them. Cruciatus curse. They... they lost their minds."

We looked at him horrified, even though the Weasleys were probably horrified for different reasons than Hermione and I. But Neville was right, Arthur was still sane.

"Who did that?" Ginny asked finally, arms crossed and a furious face that matched McGonagall's when someone interrupted her class with a tasteless joke. "Who did that to your parents, Neville?"

"Bellatrix Lestrange," he mumbled. "A Death Eater."

I remembered her. Draco's aunt. The crazy woman in the cemetery who suggested they scarred the other side of my forehead. The one Sirius said he'd puke his guts out at the idea of marrying her.

"Neville's parents were in the Order of the Phoenix," I said, and I explained briefly to the Weasleys, Hermione and Neville what the Order was. I left out that we were still meeting, and where.

Neville was beaming at the idea that now he knew one thing more about his parents.

"Are they still in St Mungus?" Ginny asked. "Do you want to come with us to the Hospital tomorrow, Neville? We'll ask Dumbledore. So you can visit them."

Neville nodded, looking at Ginny as if he couldn't believe she had spoken to him first. I realized that, even though I had set them up on a date, they'd never went further than that.


That afternoon, we had a lesson of our own Order of the Phoenix -- the Dumbledore's army. In light of what had happened to Arthur, Hermione told everyone in detail the effects of the Polyjuice Potion so no one would be tricked again.

I tried my best to remember all I'd learned from Moody's lesson and explain how to resist a Cruciatus curse. Of course, my classmates had had that classes too, but perhaps they weren't paying attention then as they should have had. I was the only one who had listened to them knowing full well how high the possibilities were of a Death Eater doing it to me.

Well, Draco too. But I noticed he often didn't practise the exercises, leaning on one of his long legs and looking at me as if to say he'd rather be doing something better. But I knew the idea of the DA had been his, so I didn't worry. He probably liked to give off the idea that he was, in his own right, one of the teachers.

When everybody emptied the room, Draco remained.

"You still have to show me your scars, Potter," he said. He winced at his own words. "Well, you don't have to."

"If you stop calling me Potter," I said.

"Okay, the Boy Who Lived," Draco replied in a mocking tone.

"Oh, I see," I replied hotly. "You'll never stop playing this game."

But I couldn't be mad at him. Not really. He was the one who'd been so broken by his father he couldn't cast a Patronus anymore. He was the one who wanted to check if I was alright.

I lifted off my shirt. 

Draco looked at my back, and frowned. I was afraid his expression was one of disgust, I couldn't see his face very well from where I was, but from his heavy breathing I noticed it was pity, anger, and something else I couldn't place...

Draco didn't like boys, I knew. But we were fifteen, and we'd turned into men the year before. I played Quidditch every day, which meant my physique was starting to become lean but muscular. I had strong arms, and large shoulders. It must have counted for something.

"I hate her," Draco said, touching my scars. "I hate her, and if I could destroy her, I would."

I turned around, alarmed at the sudden violence in his voice. I tried to put my shirt back on, when I lifted my eyes.

Since Hermione had insisted we decorated the room according to the festivities, we had prepared it nice and clean with Christmas, Winter Solstice and Hannukah symbols.

Draco and I were under a mistletoe.

I looked at the arrogant boy who'd always been my enemy, but also a sort of intimate confidant. He would always tell me the truth, even when no else did. He was the only one who touched me, even when I said I didn't want to be touched. And his touch never felt out place.

He was a victim of this war, as much as I was. He'd been broken by his father in many little pieces, and there was no saying if he would ever be alright again.

Draco didn't like boys, but I did.

I closed my eyes, leaned into him, and kissed him under the mistletoe.


A few hours later, I was in my dorm, with my head in my hands. Crying.

"What happened?" Ron asked. "My father isn't dead, is he?"

"Oh," I sobbed. "Oh, no. I just messed something up."

"Why? What did you do?"

"I had my first kiss."

"What, mate? And before I did? I'm telling you something -- I don't want to cry when I kiss someone. I didn't know it felt like that..."

"It won't, for you," I replied. "You won't kiss a straight guy."

Ron seemed to remember who I'd been in the room with, and his face became so pale you could only see the freckles. "No," he said, with the voice of someone who was on the verge of vomiting. "No. Harry. Tell me you didn't."

"I did," I sobbed. "I want to curse Hermione and her mistletoes."

Ron started jumping and cheering. "Draco and Harry under a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G..."

"Shut up, I don't want the whole dorm to know," I hissed. "And you can't tell anyone. Merlin's beard, if he doesn't kill me, his dad will."

But Ron was beaming. "I don't like Malfoy," he said. "But that's okay. I'm not the one who has to kiss him! But you, Harry... oh, you won the jackpot. You've always been obsessed with him, and he with you, and now you can turn this obsession in hot makeout sessions. You're living the dream."

I was livid. "I wasn't... he... no, Ron, you don't understand. No makeout sessions for Draco and I. Ron. Ron, listen to me. I ran away."


"What?" Ron stopped jumping. "You kissed him, and ran away? Like a total twat? Like a hit and run?"

"It was not like a hit and run," I paled.

"Dude, that's exactly what it is. You hit, and you ran. But that's alright. You'll see him again, and you'll explain."

"No," I clenched my jaw. "We'll never talk about that. Never."

Ron shrugged. "If it suits you. Please, at least tell me you've used your tongue, that it wasn't just a smack on the lips."

I nodded. "I used my tongue."

Ron became pale again. "Ugh. I'm not sure I wanted to know."


The day after, the Weasleys, Neville and I went to St Mungus to visit our relatives. I kept getting jokes about me being recovered for insanity, so it gave me chills when I saw how people in that department were.

Other than Neville's parents, who barely recognized their sons at times, and had trouble even recognizing themselves other times, another person we knew was there. Gilderoy Lockhart.

When we entered the room, he pointed his finger at me. "Him!" he yelled. "That was him! Catch him! The man who stole my powers!"

"He's fifteen and five foot four," Fred said dryly. 

I noticed the look in Gilderoy's eyes. He was faking, and not very well either, but who was to call him out? He hadn't really gone crazy. But he'd rather stay at St Mungus and pretend he was than telling everybody how he got his powers in the first place.

What would that sound like, a boy nearly a Squib who made a pact with the Dark Lord to become famous and powerful in exchange for becoming a Death Eater?

"Last time I saw him, he was... he was three foot tall," Gilderoy said, exaggerating his crazy parody. I found it very disrespectful to real insane people. "And purple. He was... a monster! No, a goblin! Somebody call Madam Muriel!"

A nurse, who wasn't Madam Muriel, but probably played the part for Gilderoy, took him to bed and gave him medicine.

Neville had seen him through. I saw him clench his fists. "He can't get away with that," he said. "Only because he prefers it to Azkaban."

"Don't worry, somehow we'll tell the truth about him as well, one day or the other," I replied. 

My eye caught someone else I knew in another department. A red haired lady who shared the room with Arthur.

"Speaking of truths we'll have to tell, before they come back to bite us in the bum," I whispered to Ron. "Look who's sharing the room with your father."

Rita Skeeter had only told people she had a terrible accident and she had momentarily lost use of her right hand, the part of the insect that Dudley had squashed the worst under his shoe. I thought it was the universe's way of sending her a message.

When she saw us entering the room, she stopped the therapy she was doing for her hand. "It'll become like new," she said, mostly to herself. "Oh. What have we here? Potter, you've become quite a looker. But not like your friend, Ron, if I say so myself. You poor people really have a lot of charm, other than wanton ways..."

Ginny snarled so aggresively it was a miracle she didn't spit fire like a dragon.

"Oh you too, seem the pretty and easy type," Rita said. "Don't worry. I didn't forget you. And who else do we have here? Oh, Neville Longbottom. You've become so handsome! Such a shame that in my articles I described you as an ugly little boy... who will believe me now?" she laughed uneasily.

"She's mad," Ron said, then noticed the look in Neville's eyes. "Well, madder than Gilderoy at the very least. You know. I don't know how to say those things, but she doesn't make a lot of sense."

"You wouldn't too if you were a bug and my cousin squashed you under his shoe," I mused. "But yes, she's never been... usual. And while that would be a great perk in a journalist, she's judgy as well."

"Me? I don't judge anyone!" Rita said, looking a little lost. "I'll be the first woman to win the Merlin's Literature prize!"

"I'm sure there's been one before," George muttered.

"No, there hasn't!" Rita complained. "Not for journalism."

"Let's not waste our time with her," I suggested the Weasleys. "Let's check out how your father's doing."

Arthur Weasley was explaining merrily to his wife all the things he'd learned about Muggles during his hospital stay.

"The Healers know I am restless, and so they give me books to read!" he was beaming. "Some of them are about Muggle Studies!"

Muggle Studies was a real subject, even at Hogwarts. I always used to snicker at it, but one day I realized I would have found it obvious, if Muggles knew of the existence of wizards, that they'd study us.

The two species were different, and I had to avoid the mistake to think one was better than the other.

Dudley, of course, took that class, and he was the best at it. He even got a higher score than Hermione, who had been raised by Muggles just like us.

That was because Dudley was a Muggle, and he liked being one.

"I'm so happy you've come to visit me too, Harry!" Arthur said, after he finished talking to his sons and his daughter.

"Well, of course," I said, emotional. "You're like an uncle to me. But... I need to tell you something... Mr Weasley. Yesterday morning I had a nightmare. I was You-Know-Who and I was attacking you. It happened at the same hour as you were attacked."

"Harry," Mr Weasley furrowed his eyebrows. "I know what I saw. I'm not confused."

"I know, I know," I rushed to explain. "But maybe You-Know-Who had drunk a Polyjuice Potion. What I mean is... be careful, okay?"

"I certainly will," he replied cheerily.

"One last thing," I asked. "You don't blame me, right?"

"Oh no. You haven't done anything, you've only dreamt about it," he replied. "And even if you had, I wouldn't still blame you."


Later that week, when most students had gone home for the holidays, Dumbledore summoned me again.

"The nightmare you had about Mr Weasley," he said. "You only had it because You-Know-Who found a way to break into your mind. Powerful wizards can do that, you know. Get into your head like that. But there's a way to stop it, and, after the holidays, I'll start teaching it to you privately."

"Start teaching me what, sir?" I asked.

"Occlumency."

Chapter Text

After the holidays, we went to Hogsmeade for a week-end. That summer, Vernon had decided to sign my sheet as a 'birthday gift', at least it was something he could get me for free.

"Hi, erm... Harry," Hannah Abbot told me when we were wearing our coats. "I was wondering if, at Hogsmeade, you'd like to drink a butterbeer with me at the Three Broomsticks."

Hannah Abbot was a Hufflepuff I'd barely met before. I remembered her from the Dumbledore's Army, though. She was one of us.

"Of course," I accepted. Maybe she wanted to talk about DA stuff.

When I turned around, I found Draco facing me.

"I didn't know you liked girls, Potter," he drawled.

I felt my ears becoming very red, thinking about the kiss. "What does that have to do with anything? It's not like it's a date."

"Oh, I assure you, she thinks it is," Draco said dryly, putting on his coat. "And by the way, have you forgotten about the interview?"

I hadn't. Hermione had come up with the idea that I had to do an interview for a magazine. A real interview, unlike Skeeter's. We had organized it for that day -- Draco had suggested he could be my chaperone.

I didn't know what he was doing it for. It was still hard, sometimes, to recognize that we were friends. There were a lot of unspoken sentences between us.

"Well, it's not that way, I..." I tried to reply. But I'd be damned before I told Malfoy I was gay.


I met Hannah in the pub first thing in the morning, because I didn't really want to miss out on the interview. I wondered if Draco was right. Perhaps there had been a moment, in our teenage years, when something had changed. Now, if a girl invited a boy out, it wasn't to become friends anymore. I couldn't pinpoint when that changed, or even if I'd do that with a boy. Sometimes the whole dating thing seemed complicated and unappealing to me.

However, the kiss I gave Draco still lingered on my lips. I couldn't relate to much of what people my age said about love, but I could relate to that. I'd never felt that way before, and it certainly wasn't the same feeling I had at the idea of Draco being my friend.

"So," Hannah told me. "I think you and I are... meant to be, Harry. Because you see, I believed you since the start."

I almost spit out my butterbeer. "What?"

She smiled shyly. "I know you're the type to take things slow. And I heard the thing between you and Malfoy wasn't true, so I couldn't help but wonder if you swing this way.... instead of the other."

Shit. I couldn't come out to her, but I couldn't lead her on either.

She didn't wait for me to reply. "You see," she said, "my father was murdered this summer. You haven't heard the Daily Prophet talking about it, have you? Of course, they reported his death as a heart attack. But I know better. He was killed by an Avada Kedavra. I just know. It was You-Know-Who."

She looked like she was about to start sobbing.

"Erm... not to be a prick," I replied. "But how do you know that?"

She started crying into her cup. "Other people have been killed in the neighbourhood. They can't have had all heart attacks, can they? And a man was spotted on the crime scene. People say he was blonde, with a blue eye and a brown one."

I felt as if somebody had taken the air from my lungs. Voldemort's new disguise. And Cornelius Fudge was trying to cover everything up, if he didn't say anything about the reports, and didn't even comment on Arthur's description of the man.

I noticed Hannah was still sobbing, and I'd been staring into space for a whole minute.

"So, Skeeter was right," she said, defiantly. "You don't like girls! And you are a conceited little brat who only thinks about himself."

"I know I'm not the only one who's lost somebody," I croaked. "I'm terribly sorry about your father. I just..."

I just don't know what to say.

"You think you're better than me because your parents died as war heroes! As if my father was not a hero just because he didn't have time to protect me before he died! I understand why you like Malfoy so much -- you both think you're better than anyone!"

I was really confused, and, when she mentioned my parents, my scar started hurting as if my head was splitting open. I heard my mother's cry. I put my hand to my forehead.

The last thing I remembered was being soaked in Hannah's butterbeer.


A few minutes later, I found myself out of the pub. Somebody was holding me in their arms.

It was Draco. It was probably time for our interview.

"I didn't want to drink booze anyway," I said, to no one in particular.

"What happened, Potter?" Draco asked, his voice surprisingly soothing. "You've been out for twenty minutes."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Not speaking, barely moving..."

"I... it was my fault, I think. I messed it up terribly. Sometimes I don't know what to say or do when I'm talking to people. She started telling me about her father, who she thinks was murdered by You-Know-Who, and I... I couldn't make her understand that I cared. But I do care. A lot."

I gripped my knuckles tight, and tried to get free from Malfoy.

"Why would I be doing all of this, if I didn't care?" I snarled. "Of course I care. I'm just... I'm just shitty at showing it. And then she started saying how I think I'm better than anyone because I'm a conceited little brat and I think my parents are the only heroes who've been killed by You-Know-Who."

"Did she say that to you?" Draco's eyes were wide.

"Why?" I tried to joke. "Did you want to be the only one to tell me things like that?"

Draco didn't look amused. "I've never said things like that. Are you alright now? You can't go to the interview if you aren't."

"My scar hurt, before," I replied. "The one on my forehead. But I've heard scar tissue can still hurt, especially one you got from a magical wound."

"Does it hurt often?" Draco asked. "A lot?"

This was the question he would have asked in a mocking tone if things between us were like before. But things weren't that way anymore, and it made me ask whether Draco had always cared. In his own way.

Before I could reply, Draco's finger touched my scar lightly. It sent a jolt of electricity through my body. 

"Well," somebody coughed. "You're here for the interview, aren't you?"

The person was a middle aged man with blond hair. 

"My name is Xenophilius Lovegood," he introduced himself. "And I'm here to interview you for the Quibbler."

When we sat at another pub, I told Xenophilius how much I appreciated that Luna had grown up without knowing who I was.

I saw the look of pain in Draco's eyes. I thought, for the first time, that he must have grown up hearing a lot about me too. Perhaps his father was the kind of person who made him feel ashamed all through his childhood that he wasn't the Chosen One. Perhaps his father was the kind of person who tried to twist all the stories, and made me look like the bad guy.

Or perhaps I was the hero in the stories, but Draco had been brought up to be the villain.

"Yes," Xenophilius told me. "It was the only sensible thing to do. See, you're not only a hero. You're a person, too."

"I know," I said.

"Oh, so you're aware," Draco said affectionately.

I couldn't help but give him the stink eye all the same.

I told Xenophilius everything. All I'd seen in the cemetery, how I did not put my name in the Goblet of Fire. What happened with Gilderoy and with Rita Skeeter, even though I did not know whether I'd have to pay for it. I only let out Dumbledore's Army, Umbridge's punishments and the fact that Dudley was a Muggle.

It was not easy to talk about my scar, or Voldemort, or my parents. It was not a piece of cake to talk about what happened in the cemetery either (I didn't mention Lucius). Every time things got hard, Draco gripped my hand under the table. I didn't ask him to stop, I found that weirdly comforting.

Walking out of the pub, we met Hannah Abbott again.

"I'm sorry about the butterbeer," she said. "But you mortified me! Why accept to drink a pint with me, when you're clearly... like that!"

She pointed at Draco and I, looking comfortable with each other, though we weren't holding hands.

"I'm sorry, if I thought this was a date, I wouldn't have accepted," I tried to excuse myself. Draco pursed his lips, probably trying not to laugh at my efforts.

"And either way," I added sheepishly. "Whatever you think you understood about me, please don't tell anyone. Otherwise what Umbridge has told everyone, about me and Draco, well it was the only good thing Umbridge ever did... so please, don't ruin it."

This time, Draco buried his face in his hands, embarrassed or amused, I couldn't tell.

 

Dumbledore and I had our second Occlumency lesson not too long after that.

"You have to hide your memories from me," he warned. "Play pretend you're wearing a shiled. Otherwise, I can see everything."

I felt him trying to get into my mind. Maybe that meant that, at least, when wizards did that, you felt it. Or maybe the headmaster had tried not to be subtle on purpose.

Memories started flashing into my mind. They weren't in any chronological or logical order, but they were important. The Dementors, my mother screaming, Hermione, Ron and I talking to Sirius and Remus, me kissing Draco Malfoy...

I tried to cast out the headmaster from my brain. This was something he really did not have to see.

"Interesting choice of memories, Harry," he said. "Because even though you think you don't have a choice, you always have. So, some part of your psyche is choosing what to show me, but you can also use this process to choose what not to show me."

I would have never chosen to show that memory to Dumbledore. Unless... maybe part of me wanted to make him understand how I was, strived to be accepted, like one would do with a parent?

But he had already told me what he thought about it. He was afraid Malfoy was going to ruin me. 

Not if I ruined him first. And that was what I was afraid would happen. Not only Draco couldn't possibly feel that way about me, but what would that say about me if I were a shitty boyfriend? What if I couldn't words just like I didn't find them with Hannah? As I often did not find them with Ron and Hermione, and that was why I still haven't told them of important things, like Vernon beating me?

"We need to try again," Dumbledore said.

This time, my last thought had been of Vernon, so my memories were from my childhood. Stupid things, really. Nothing too meaningful. However, they were humiliating. Dudley getting a beautiful chocolate cake with red fruits on it for his seventh birthday, and insisting, with the same sadism he got from his father, that I wouldn't have to eat any part of it.

Aunt Petunia telling me that my mother was stupid, reckless, and that she'd never amount to nothing. She was very much like me. We both could never hope to be appreciated in society because we were not normal.

I'd never stopped to ask myself what she meant. I just knew that I didn't know, back then, that she was talking about being wizards.

Uncle Vernon hitting me. I remembered that time when I ruined Dudley's party with our schoolmates insisting that nobody brought him gifts because he had enough at home.

It was petty of me, I know. And pretty low to try a move an entire classroom against my cousin. If anything, it could have been done with more grace. But I was nine years old, and pissed off at my 'family', and I'm going to admit it, pretty jealous that Dudley got all the nicest things and I didn't.

So, almost anybody had listened to me, as usual. But a few of them showed up without gifts, and Dudley threw a fit, and that really 'ruined his image at school', as Vernon put it, and he hit me very hard after that.

Not because of Dudley's presents, but because, in his peculiar view of the world, why was I always the one who wanted to take away nice things from them? It was not their fault if I was an orphan, and it was not their fault they couldn't love me like they loved Dudley. My parents had been drunk drivers who got themselves killed and dropped a baby Vernon had never seen on the Dursley's doorstep. Vernon was a very normal type of man, when he was sober, so what did he have to do with me and Petunia's strange family? And did I want them to fight, and make Dudley cry, just because I had no family of my own?

At least, that what was he told me. And that was the time where I got the scars on my ribs that I showed Draco.

"Harry," Dumbledore tried to shake me from my thoughts. "Harry! I do not think you wanted to show me all of that."

His voice cracked in pain, at the end of the sentence. His eyes, behind his glasses, looked close to tears.

"You're right, sir," I said. "I can't do it. I'm sorry."

"Let's try one more time," Dumbledore said. "Third time's a charm."

That time, my thoughts had started spiralling in taking Dudley to school. As usual, my thoughts did not have a logical order. It was my most private secrets -- the fact that my cousin was a Muggle, and the fact that I was pretty sure I had a crush on Draco Malfoy.

I casted the headmaster out of my mind, successfully. It did not matter that he had seen Draco and I kiss. We were under a mistletoe, and not every boy likes girls. I wanted him to think that it was a mistake. He couldn't know how purposeful it was.

Because ever since I'd met Draco in the broomsticks shop, I'd never had eyes for anyone else.

"Well done, Potter," he said. He was about to clap his hands and congratulate me, when the door opened.

It was Umbridge.

"I've just found out of these lessons you're giving Potter," she snarled. "Casting dark wizards and You-Know-Who out of his mind? You shouldn't let him become more paranoid than he already is. I got permission from the Ministry to ask you to retire from your position of headmaster if things went too far. And things have gone too far."

"I've been expecting this for a while," Dumbledore said, "I'll prepare my bags at once."

"What? Sir??" I was on verge of a panic attack.

"Don't worry, I'll be back," he winked at me. "When times change. There's always a storm before a rainbow."

I wished I could believe that it was true. In the meantime, other people had entered the room. Professors Snape and McGonagall, who were trying to make Umbridge reason.

Snape was followed by Draco Malfoy.

"What are you...?" I asked him. I always had the nicest choice of words.

"Taking advanced Potions with Snape," he said. "Hey, come with me, Potter, I need to show you something."

He grabbed my wrist.

"But Dumbledore..."

"There's nothing you can do about that."

I followed Draco to a room that looked suspiciously like Snape's office. Draco showed me a Pensieve. 

"I've seen one," I said. "Dumbledore's."

Draco looked annoyed. "Well, this one is Snape's. And you don't need permission to see their memories!"

"Why would one do that?" this time, it was my turn to be annoyed.

"I said I wanted to show you something," Draco insisted, and caught a memory with his wand.

We landed in Snape's memory. He was at Hogwarts, walking in the park. And, amongst his peers...

"You can see your parents here, Potter," Draco said, not too kindly, but I appreciated the thought.

My father and mother looked just like they did in the pictures, but more alive. You could see them moving. They were talking to each other, and both of them looked like me, but they didn't move like me.

They did not clench their jaws, or closed their knuckles, or jumped every time someone touched them. It was eery to see, and to imagine, I might have looked as carefree as my mother.

Because my father was stiff, though in another way. He held himself like a war general, walking like he believed he owned the world. I was in Snape's memories, so I could see our teacher looking at him like he hated him.

But Draco said, "Your father looks cool," and that somehow was enough to convince me too. 

My father was reading some complicated book about duels, and, from what I gathered from their discussion, my mother had talked to him first, commenting the book.

Now, they were cracking jokes about it, both of them sharing a passion for witty humour and complicated books.

I was not clever like them, but that was alright. I liked to believe that if they had been there, they could have taught me.

A short boy with sandy hair approached Snape. "Do you still want me to... do that thing with the potion?" he asked.

"Of course, Pettigrew," Snape replied. "I want you to switch the potion I give you with Lupin's, the one that doesn't make him turn into a werewolf."

I snarled. "I can't believe Snape was that much of a bully," I told Draco.

He never replied. His image disappeared.

I felt myself being dragged away from Snape's thoughts.  

"What were you two doing in my office?" he asked dryly.

Chapter Text

Along came the fifth year exams, the OWLs, and the teachers started asking us what we wanted to do when we grew up.

I always thought I'd want to be an Auror, like Dumbledore had suggested, but I find myself asking if I could become a Healer instead.

I'd seen them in the hospital, and I remembered thinking that there was hardly a job more useful than theirs. They could save lives on a daily, or graduate in the wizarding version of psychology or psychiatry.

Of course, if I wanted to defeat You-Know-Who as a grown up, being an Auror was the best career choice. Perhaps I should stick to that. Healers didn't have many chances to fight the Dark Lord, and win.

I decided to keep that as a second option -- I'd mention it to my teachers, but I'd stress how much more important being an Auror would be.

And, either way, with Dumbledore gone, I felt a bit like I was betraying his judgement if I chose a different career path. I knew he never wanted for me to blindly follow his advice, but only to think on my own. Either way, I felt like his choice was always the best choice. He knew better than me if I stood chances at winning the war.

During the practical part of our OWLs, Umbridge gathered us in a room and asked us to perform spell. But Fred and George, who arrived late, showed up with their brooms!

"What are you planning to do?" Umbridge asked, already furious.

"Well," George looked at Oliver Wood sadly, but quickly changed expression. "This would have been our last year at this school, but we already have a job waiting for us, so..."

"So long, Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry!" Fred yelled, and pointed his wand. Sparks started flowing out of it, and a dragon that looked like it belonged in a Chinese carnival.

The twins hopped on their brooms, savouring the effect their spell had on the classroom, and flew away, escaping from the windows of the Great Hall.

"That was... the most foolish thing I've ever seen," Oliver Wood said stiffly. "I need to talk to George Weasley... at once."

Umbridge stopped him. "Not before you take your OWLs, Wood, unless you have a career already waiting for you. The Weasleys might think they do, but, if I belonged to a family as poor as theirs, I'd take my studies more seriously."

Ron and Ginny became very pale at that.

"That's not fair," Parvati Patil said, stomping her foot. "I know Fred has worked his arse off to get the shop going, and I bet George did the same!"

Of course, Professor Umbridge wanted her to be the first to execute her spells.


When it was the turn of the theoretical part of the test, my stomach was less knotted than before. I always did better in practice than in theory, and I must have got a high score in practice already.

We were divided by Houses, and the Slytherins had done their theoretical test first, because they were usually better in theory than in practice. 

I took a look in the classroom where they were exercising. Just like we did, they were starting off with the most basic spells. I saw Draco lifting a glass in the air.

When his eyes caught mine, I smiled at him, and waved my hand. He looked startled, and his glass fell to the floor, destroyed.

I silently hoped it wouldn't damage his score, but I couldn't stop grinning.


A few days after the OWLs, I had the most horrible nightmare.

It felt real, just like that time with Arthur Weasley. 

But this time, it was about Dumbledore. You-Know-Who had found him in the place where he was staying, since he couldn't teach anymore. 

I'd never thought about it, but the headmaster must have had a house he used in circumstances like that.

The person who broke down the door was Tom Riddle the way I'd seen him in a cemetery, but his colouring was more similar to the recent descriptions of him. I couldn't realize why it was so. A Polyjuice Potion gone wrong? Perhaps it was fading. I still remembered how panicked I was when my scar showed up on Martin Kowalski.

Dumbledore looked at Voldemort with a mischievious gleam in his eyes. "You've finally come," he said. "Just like I knew you would."

"Stupid old man," the other replied. "You'd do anything to save that foolish boy, Potter. I finally realized that perhaps I should end you before I end him."

"I'm afraid I will have to battle you, if you tried," Dumbledore replied.

"I'm keeping you prisoner, for now," Tom Riddle snarled. "But one word from you, Albus..."

I had never realized they were on first name basis. Not even Draco and I were.

Ugh, what a stupid, childish thought. Why did I think of Draco in a time like this?

I looked at the room. It didn't look like a house. It looked like it could be a hidden room in a place I had already seen. Of course! The architecture reminded me of the Ministry of Magic.

"Whatever you wish," Dumbledore replied. "Just don't harm the child."

Tom Riddle lifted his wand. "Very well, my old friend. Crucio."


I woke up, screaming.

"Same old dream of your loveboat tied to a grave in the cemetery?" Ron asked.

I found out that I actually was too angry to reply.

"No, it felt different, like that time with your father," I said, panting. "But this time, You-Know-Who has kidnapped someone. It's... it's Dumbledore!"

Ron looked pale. "Shit. Have you seen where he's keeping him?"

I nodded energetically.

"You don't mean to go there, do you?" he asked.

"Well..." I started wearing my uniform, and pacing around the room. Thankfully, it was almost morning. "I don't know. I mean, yes, I have to. I have to rescue Dumbledore. But, we could talk to Hermione about it."

When it was morning, and we were eating breakfast, I told Hermione everything. I did not even bother to comb my hair, and I think I looked a bit crazy.

But it didn't matter. I wanted to ask Hermione for advice, but in my mind there was no doubt Dumbledore had been kidnapped.

"I have an idea," Hermione thankfully said. "We could contact Remus or Sirius, and ask them if Dumbledore has been reported missing by the Order."

I raised one eyebrow.

"That's... not a bad idea, actually," I conceded. "But it will take too much time."

"Oh, don't worry, doesn't Remus come to visit you every other week-end? He hasn't shown up in a while, and today is Saturday."

Hermione was right, and we met Lupin outside the school.

"Professor Umbridge told me Sirius and I shouldn't visit so frequently," he excused himself. "She said that it's a boarding school, and so parents shouldn't be here that often."

I proceeded to tell him about my dream.

"I'm sorry, Harry, but my hands are tied," Remus replied. "Nobody in the Order has seen Dumbledore in a while. Not since he was sacked by Umbridge. If you're right... but what if you aren't? It's just a dream."

I went back to the dorms, furiously. I kicked a few pebbles in my path.

"I've decided," I told my friends. "I'm going. I can't risk Dumbledore being hurt, or worse, because of me. I'm sure he would understand."

"I'm sure Dumbledore would want you to stay safe, Harry," Hermione said carefully.

"But would he want do die?" I yelled. "I don't want him to die! He's the person that's most like a parent to me!"

I started running towards the Room of the Requirements.

"What are you doing, Harry?" Ron asked.

"I'm calling a meeting of the DA," I said. Hermione had made a spell on the wall of the room -- it was a bell that, if I rang it, would warn all the members of the Army with a mental message that a meeting was about to begin. "In case you haven't forgotten that we're supposed to be the Dumbledore's Army."

But, while I was about to reach the room, I met Professor Umbridge.

"Where are you running to, Potter? And why aren't you at lesson? I'll meet you in my office."

"No, I have better things to do," I replied.

Umbridge hit me with a spell. I realized the words she said a minute or two after they left her mouth.

Imperio.

She was good. Better than Moody, because Curses are better if you mean them.

Ten minutes later, I felt rather ashamed. I couldn't have helped but telling her everything. Between her Imperius Curse, much stronger than Moody's, and her threat of Cruciating Ron and Hermione in case I didn't speak, I told her about the Dumbledore's Army.

I was the worst friend ever. And the worst person. Dumbledore and all of my friends would be in trouble, and it was only because of me.

I couldn't stop crying.

"You know that this is something that I'd never do, right?" I asked Ron and Hermione. "This is... this not something I'd ever thought I'd do."

"We can't blame you, she used a Curse on you," Hermione was seething with rage. "And she wanted to use another one on us! Harry, you're fifteen. I mean, you're amazing and everything, but how could you think you can get out of every situation unscathed? She's a Professor, an adult, who used an Imperius Curse on you."

In the meantime, Umbridge was asking the students from the Dumbledore's Army to come to her office.

The first who arrived were my most loyal friends, because, instead of being pissed off, they must have figured something must have happened. Luna, Ginny, Neville and Draco.

"Good, Malfoy, you've come," Umbridge said. She probably expected something different from Draco, who was the heir of an important family. "I know you must have been in the DA only to spy on them, don't you worry. Seize Potter."

Draco looked at her defiantly, as if he couldn't want anything more than to correct her. But then, he walked up to me and took my hands, tying them to my back.

But he also shot me a look, as if to say he was stalling for time.

"Now, now," Professor Umbridge said. "Potter, Granger or Weasley, tell me what you were doing running around the corridors. No, better, Potter, tell me what you meant when you told me you had better things to do instead of coming to my office."

Draco tried his best not to laugh.

"My memory is fuzzy, I thought you had asked me when you used Imperius on me," I said. "Perhaps you should have had."

"You foolish boy, I can use it any time I like," Umbridge said. 

Draco was having a hard time trying to control himself, and this time he didn't look like he wanted to laugh.

I looked at the people in the room. There was six of us, against one. It was a crazy idea, but it was worth a shot. Dumbledore deserved better than for me to give up.

"I had a dream," I explained. "You-Know-Who's been sending me dreams, as of lately. I don't think he does it on purpose. I know for a fact that he's holding Dumbledore captive, and I wanted to rescue the headmaster."

Umbridge looked really close to losing her cool. "Where is Dumbledore being kept?"

If I had told her the truth, she could have gotten there before us. She knew the Ministry of Magic better than I did. 

I did not trust her not to spoil everything. Heck, maybe she was even on You-Know-Who's side. She was cruel enough.

"I can't tell you that," I grinned, savouring her expression.

"Malfoy," she snarled. "Bring Potter to me."

But Draco pointed his wand at her, "Stupeficium!"

We used the time Umbridge would take to recover to run away. I broke free from Malfoy's grip, and my friends followed me.

"Are we going to rescue Dumbledore?" Ginny asked, excited. "I want to kick some butt."

"What she said," Neville echoed her, a bit more shyly.

"Of course," I said. "Try and follow me, we'll meet up out of the school."

I looked behind me, at Draco, who was in a corner all alone. "Come with us," I said, almost pleading.

Draco only nodded. He'd been using words less since I kissed him, and I was afraid I had ruined everything.

Like I had ruined Dumbledore's Army.


We met up outside of the school.

"How are we getting to the Ministry of Magic? You can't apparate or disapparate inside the school grounds," Hermione pointed out.

"I know the way," Luna said. "Trust me."

She took my arm. "You're bleeding, Harry," she mused. "Why is that so?"

I had a terrible memory that I wasn't recalling before. "Everything is still fuzzy, but... I think Umbridge ordered me to hurt myself when it seemed as if the Imperius Curse wasn't working."

Draco cursed under his breath.

"Don't clean the wound yet," Luna said. "They like the smell of blood."

"What?" Ron asked, panicked.

"Don't freak out," Ginny replied. "I'm sure she doesn't mean spiders."

I saw them before Luna. 

Thestrals. The skeletal horses that I didn't know why I could see yet.

"Oh, I see," Hermione said, when she looked at what must have seemed Luna stroking the air. She explained the existence of Thestrals to everyone else in the group.

"Have you always been able to see them, Potter?" Draco drawled.

"Not always, since the start of the year."

He furrowed his eyebrows. "Weird. What happened?"

I didn't reply. 

"We're six," Hermione said. "They're three. I think it's plain how this works."

"Yes, but how do we mount horses we can't see?" Ron argued.

"Besides," I added sheepishly. "We're seven. I invited Draco."

"Okay, who here can see Thestrals?" Ron asked.

Luna and I raised our hands. Neville, to my surprise, did too.

"My grandfather," he explained.

"So," Luna said, "I can take the big one. I've always wanted to mount one of them."

She was right -- one of them was definitely bigger than the other two.

"And I can take Hermione and Ron with me," she finished.

Hermione looked close to throwing up, at the idea of riding an invisible skeletal horse with only Ron and Luna to help her. 

"Dumbledore is dying," I hissed at her. "There's no time to complain."

"I'll take Ginny," Neville said.

"Which leaves me," I did the math. "To ride with Draco?"

"No time to complain," Hermione grinned at me.

If I had to ride an invisible skeletal horse with someone, my first choice wouldn't be my arch-rival turned friend whom I had just kissed. And who hadn't still spoken to me, not really, since I kissed him.

But Hermione was right.

 

We arrived at the Ministry of Magic. We parked our Thestrals on the garden at the entrance, and entered the building.

"Won't people see us?" Hermione asked. 

"I've thought of it," I said. I covered Draco and I with my invisible cloak.

"Nice, but won't people see the rest of us?" Hermione asked again, deadpan.

"The rest of you are not as famous as Harry," Luna saved me. "Come with me, and I'll tell people my dad is making me do an interview, and you're my staff."

She flashed a journalist badge at us.


I described the look of the room to my friends, and we all started looking for it. Draco and I were trying to stay a few steps behind.

My stomach was in knots. I was afraid he would want to talk about the kiss.

Thankfully, the cloak made you invisible, not silent. Still, it was a very awkward situation. Being two almost grown teenagers under the same cloak, and trying not to take too much space, felt very intimate.

We had to walk basically shoulder to shoulder, if not nearer than that.

"From what Harry told us of the room," Hermione said. "I think it's deeper in in the Ministry. I don't know how You-Know-Who got there, but it is probably a room where you can get by getting rid of a lot of security."

"Thank Merlin we have my badge," Luna said cheerily.

Ginny and Neville exchanged looks. Like me, they were hoping people took the Quibbler that seriously.

All things considered, either Xenophilius Lovegood had a better reputation than I had given him credit for, or people take all journalism seriously. Luna's badge got us in a few doors, until we found ourselves walking corridors that were almost empty.

"We can't get in Azkaban for that, right? Right?" Ron asked, panicked.

"Do I have to remind you we're here to save Dumbledore," Ginny replied annoyed. 

Draco took his distance from me, almost disgusted, and threw away the cloak.

"We're surely almost there, Potter, and there's no one around either way," he said, brushing the dust off his shoulder.

Every movement was calculated, even the disgusted expression of before. Did he hate me that much?

I could have cracked a joke. Said it wasn't the first time we'd been near, and that we'd been closer than that before. But the joke would be on me, not on him.

And besides, there were five people watching.

"Neat," Luna said. "How'd you get one of the Deathly Hallows, Harry?"

"I told you at Hogsmeade," I replied.

"You said you won it by duelling Quirrel, not how," she replied.

"I might not have been completely honest on the details -- it was Ron who duelled Quirrell, I took care of his snake. And it's a long story," I said. "It was in a room under Hogwarts. Quirrel wanted it too, but Hermione, Ron and I went through three trials that were reminescent of Beedle the Bard's tale of the Three Brothers. That's when Hermione understood, that the item that was guarded down there had to be one of the Deathly Hallows."

Draco looked annoyed.

"Then," Luna smiled. "This means that the other two exist as well!"

The Resurrection Stone and the Elder Wand. I'd never thought about it before.

At the end of the corridor, there was a white room with a danger sign on it.

"This must be the room," I said. I opened it.

The inside was just like my dream.

The stone floor, a gateway with a veil that protected it, a marble table and many shelves on the walls with things I couldn't make out on them.

Only one detail was missing.

Dumbledore and You-Know-Who weren't there.

Chapter Text

Well, there was nobody at first.

Then, from behind the shelves, a few faces grinned at me and made themselves recognizable.

Death Eaters. The same faces I'd seen in the cemetery. Bellatrix, Lucius, all the ones I didn't know.

Not only I had betrayed the Dumbledore's Army, I had brought all of my friends to a Death Eater reunion.

"It was a trap," I hissed. "It was a trap! You don't have Dumbledore! But that time with Arthur Weasley..."

Bellatrix looked at me with her lips pursed. "We have no idea what you're talking about."

I felt Draco's unsteady breath on my neck. 

One more thing I'd never forgive myself for -- I had handed him over to his family. Now they knew he was with me, that he was on my side.

"What do you mean you have no idea?" I snarled. "You sent me the dreams! Well, You-Know-Who sent them, probably! Your rank is so low you've never even heard of it?"

"I can assure you, Potter," Lucius said, looking at his son distastefully. "That, even though it is a nice coincidence to have you here, we had no idea you'd barge in on us like that."

They really looked incredulous. I tried to fight the panic that was fighting inside of me.

"You're lying!" I shouted. "Otherwise, how would I have known you were here? You're only trying to write me off as crazy!"

"But it really is, a nice coincidence," Lucius drawled in a voice that was similar to his son's. "Because you see, we were talking about you."

"I have an idea!" a man who looked as unstable as Bellatrix shrieked. "You," he told another Death Eater. "You work for Remus Lupin, right? You're his secretary. Tell him that the boy, Potter, is here at the Ministry, and is in trouble. So, he and the other ones, like Black and Dumbledore, will come here to rescue them!"

"Are you mad?" the secretary replied. "We don't want to take on the adults too."

"Yes, and You-Know-Who hasn't been showing up to any of our meetings," Bellatrix pouted. "I don't think he'd come right now."

"Bollocks," Lucius replied. "He's always wanted a chance to kill Dumbledore, and dumb boy Potter's just given him one. If we gather the adults, the Chosen One will have handed us over all of his friends and allies, and that would be a nice start of the evening. It might even make it easier to kill him, as main course."

I looked at Draco. He was furious. He wanted to reply something. He really did. But, as usual, he couldn't talk down his father.

"Don't you dare," I pointed my wand at the secretary. "I've already made one mistake. I won't make another. I certainly won't endanger all of my friends."

"We really might use back-up," Ron muttered.

"What if it was your mother and father?" I snarled at him. "Perhaps it's them too. I wouldn't put it past them to collaborate with Dumbledore."

Ron and Ginny looked really pale at the idea that their parents might have become a part of the Order of the Phoenix. It wouldn't be so strange.

"You don't even want to know why we were talking about you, Potter?" Bellatrix cackled. She pointed with her wand at one of the things on the shelves. 

They were crystal balls, like the ones Seers sometimes used.

"Those are prophecies," she said. "And there is one about you!"

I felt as if the whole world had shattered around me. "What?"

I lowered my wand, and the secretary made a run for the door.

"NO!" Neville screamed, and hit him with a jinx.

The man had something that resembled pimples all over his body, and they looked as if they were about to explode leaving nasty wounds, but he still escaped.

"Don't blame yourselves," Bellatrix tutted. "It is important. A prophecy about Potter -- not everyone can say they're featured in one of those. And you, Longbottom, you are clever, you're just too reckless. Don't worry about that, you only got that from your parents. I should know. I'm the one who Cruciated them into madness."

Neville let out an impressive growl, and pointed his wand at her.

Ginny lowered his arm gently. "I understand," she said. "But if you jinx her, you won't get away with it."

"Yes, your bitch says it best," Bellatrix agreed.

Neville became red as a beet. "She's not..."

"Don't you dare call her that," Ron snarled, so loud he covered Neville's words.

"Does anyone want to know if the prophecy is really about Potter?" Draco asked, an impressive effort not to make his voice shake. He was trying not to look at his father.

I would have put a hand on his shoulder. I would have hold his hand. I even would have kissed him again, if that would have stopped his voice from shaking, but we couldn't.

Not in front of his father and aunt.

"We've heard it, before you came in the room," Lucius said, trying not to look his son into his eyes as well. "A silly old thing. The only good thing Trelawney has ever said in her life."

"Trelawney?" Hermione shrieked, enraged. "Our teacher?"

"Oh no, no, the prophecy is much older than that," Lucius said. "Her grandmother, who was a Seer too."

"So how can it be about me and You-Know-Who?" I asked.

"It isn't," a man with short brown hair and a handsome face, ruined by the evil look in his eyes, said. "Though it could be, since prophecies predict the future. But it's about a dangerous wizard who will threaten everyone whose blood is not so pure, and a Chosen One destined to defeat him. They say this Chosen One will be chosen by the dark wizard, as his equal. That it was born by those who thrice defied him, and that would be your parents, and that he's born at the end of July."

"So," I said, quite aware of the looks I was receiving from everyone in the room. "The prophecy says I defeat him. So, what am I waiting for?"

"You idiot boy," Lucius snarled looking at Draco and me. "I'll never understand why so many take a liking to you. Bartholomew was not finished with the prophecy. It also says, 'either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives.'"

The echo his words had in the room was too much for everyone. The Death Eaters were cackling, but a few of them actually looked worried about You-Know-Who's fate if I was prophesized to kill him.

My friends looked worse. Ginny was close to tears, Neville was already sobbing, he'd been since he heard about his parents, but he held his head up high and clenched his fists. Ron looked as if he'd been Stupefied, and Hermione had the look on her face she always had when she tried to solve one of the impossible Potion problems Snape gave to us when he felt particularly vicious.

Luna looked a bit out of place, which was not her usual out of place, but a different kind. Of course, I realized, just like the others, she was already mourning me, but she'd known me for the shortest time. Draco...

Well Draco looked like he'd just had a heart attack, and at first I was afraid somebody had killed him when I wasn't looking, but he was standing straight, at my side.

Me? I was blacking out most of the conversations. People were talking and hitting each other with spells, but I wasn't hearing any of it.

The truth was, I'd made my peace with it long ago. It was quite obvious, that it would either be him or me. How could I escape to him thrice?

Three times. The same time my parents had defied him. Three would also be the times it took me to kill him, I knew. Prophecies usually worked like that. But, the next time would be the last.

I told myself I'd made my peace with not reaching adulthood, but the truth was that, at fifteen, nobody wants to hear something like that.

Draco was talking to me.

"What?" I asked. I looked at him. Many things had happened while I was staring off into space. Now Draco had the crystal ball in his hands. I could see one of the interns who worked at the Ministry had scribbled my name on it.

"I was only saying, you'll be the one to defeat him," Draco said.

"What do you mean?" I asked. I resisted the urge to slap him. "You can't be sure, only because you want things to be that way."

"The prophecy is there for a reason," Draco tried to convince himself. "And he has tried to kill you once already, without success."

He looked sadly at the crystal ball. "Do you think he really wouldn't die if somebody else killed him? Maybe you're jointed in some kind of way?"

Yes. I wanted to scream. Not sure if I was relieved or angry. Yes. We were jointed. I remembered when our wands had met, showing me my parents. He had hit me where the scar on my forehead formed. We had been jointed then, in some kind of way.

"You might be right," I only replied. "But we need to figure things out. If I really am the one to defeat him, I want to either succeed or die trying."

In that moment, the door opened.

I felt my stomach tied itself even more than before. Remus and Sirius, joined by Tonks and Shacklebolt, had entered the room.

Bartholomew tried to Curse Tonks as soon as she entered, but Ron defended her with an Expelliarmus.

She looked at him, beaming. "You're a brave boy," she said. "Do you have an older brother?"

Ron looked at how young she looked, younger than her age, and probably had a minute of weakness. "I'm the only one."

"Don't listen to him," Ginny snarled. "We've got lots of older brothers."

In that moment, Bellatrix, who was not above playing dirty, grabbed Ginny by her wrist.

"Leave her alone!" Neville said, and hit Bellatrix with some kind of jinx.

Ginny looked at Neville gratefully, and he blushed violently.

"What is that?" Sirius asked Draco and I. I realized he was talking about the crystal ball.

"It contains a prophecy about Potter," Draco replied dryly. "We'll talk about it later."

Lucius, in fact, was making his way towards us.

"Draco," he said, in a mocking tone. "I've always had the fear you'd be the downfall of my family and I tried, I really tried, to turn you into a better man, but your cowardly mother's genes kept showing up. Just between the two of us, what is Potter offering you in exchange for your favours?"

"What do you mean?" Sirius snarled. "And by the way, the boy's mother is from my family, and he's doing what many of them has always been too cowardly to do, so don't call him a coward."

"Oh, yes, he'll end up like you," Lucius replied. "A pathetic homosexual who was about to rot in prison."

Sirius snarled at the description. I tried my best not to look at Draco.

A pathetic homosexual? Perhaps his father only wanted to taunt him.

"What do you mean, sir?" I pointed my wand at Lucius.

"What is Potter offering you, Draco, in exchange for information about where we are? Because I imagine that this is how he found out, not with the dreams. Does he bed you, Draco, in exchange for your loyalty?"

Draco and I both became red in the face.

"Don't be vulgar, Lucius, they have no idea what you're talking about," Sirius growled.

Lucius looked at his son with a gaze that could cut glass. "I think they do," he replied.

I wondered, for a brief minute, if Draco had told his father about the kiss. But of course not. He'd be in danger too, even though I forced myself on him.

"Oh," Sirius let out a raspy laughter. "Oh, ah! I see! You believe all that bullshit Rita Skeeter wrote!"

Lucius became very pale. "I took legal charges against her articles," he replied, but not let any of us know whether he'd believe them in the first place.

Sirius squinted, to look at Bellatrix in the distance. She was trying to hit Remus with a variety of Curses.

"I'm terribly sorry," he told us. "My cousin's trying to steal my husband."

He probably thought it was beneath Lucius to attack Draco while I was there, but I didn't. As a matter of fact, I didn't think it was beneath Lucius to attack his son in general.

So, I held my grip tight on my wand.

"Oh, moving," Lucius commented. "But don't think I'm going to kill Draco when there is so much I could still teach me."

I pointed my wand at him, at the thought of how he was going to break him.

"Say one more word and I'll kill you," I snarled. "I need practice if I want to murder You-Know-Who on the first try."

Lucius arched an eyebrow. "You wouldn't. You've got guts, I'll hand you that, but, in the end, you're Dumbledore's innocent little protege. Oh, I'm sorry," he covered his mouth with his hand. "Dumbledore did not show up to rescue you, even though he was the only one we might have been afraid to take on. But you hadn't noticed that, had you? You're too slow."

"He's not slow," Draco couldn't help but complain, "he just has too much on his plate to look at all the details."

"Oh, is that what you tell yourself when he ignores you? Cute," Lucius replied.

I was trying to follow their conversations, to make sure Lucius wasn't going to do anything horrible to his son.

But, at the same time, I couldn't help but feel bad. It was true. Dumbledore had been ignoring both the Dumbledore's Army and the Order of the Phoenix for months, and he didn't even show up when seven of his students found themselves in the same room as You-Know-Who's most loyal Death Eaters.

"Before we get rid of the sinner," Lucius said, keeping his icy cold eyes on his son. "Let's get rid of the tempter, shall we?"

He pointed his wand at me. "Maybe You-Know-Who is the only one who can kill him, but that part wasn't clear," Lucius said.

In fact, Lucius had had the same idea as his son -- it was not clear whether the equal power and joined lifeline meant we could be the only ones to kill the other.

"Either must die at the hand of the other," I repeated, my brain working unusually fast under pressure. "That's what it says. I just remembered."

"Oh, bummer," Lucius said. "But it won't kill me to try, will it? In any case, brace yourself. It might hurt you a little, or give your scar a twin."

He pointed his wand at my forehead. "Avada Kedavra."

Everything happened too fast. Draco had pushed me out of the way, and I landed on my side, crushed under his weight.

At first, I was afraid it meant Draco had been killed by the spell, but he'd been too fast and he hadn't been hit.

However, the crystal ball escaped from his hands, and came crashing down on the floor.

We exchanged horrified looks. 

We would never hear it fully, and know whether Bartholomew had left something out on purpose.

We would never even know if what the Death Eater had reported was the real prophecy at all.

"I don't regret that," Malfoy said abruptly then, trying to get me on my feet. "You're worth more than that, Potter."

I couldn't really tell whether he meant it, or whether he was stating the obvious. If his father had Cruciated me into madness, who'd defeat You-Know-Who?

Still, I felt a lot better when he said that, and I think I even grinned.

I looked around at my friends. Thankfully, they were holding their own.

Except for Sirius. He was fighting with Bellatrix in front of the arch, the one covered with a veil.

And when one of her spells hit him, he landed inside the veil and disappeared.

"No," I whispered, too shocked to make a sound. I ran there to check.

Sirius was nowhere to be found.

"What happened?" I asked to anyone who wanted to hear me.

It was Hermione who replied. "I've read about it," she pursed her lips. "Do you hear those voices?"

I did. "It's dead people's voices. It leads to a part of the Underworld."

"Is there an Underworld?" I asked her, afraid the shock of losing Sirius had been so hard that it had finally made me crazy.

"Physically, not theologically," she said. "There is a place where souls rest that can be reached. It's not heaven or hell, or whatever else you might believe in. Those souls haven't passed on yet."

"Then, perhaps, he can be reached! He can be saved!" I said.

"I wouldn't count too much on it, I'm sorry, Harry," a gentle voice said, behind me.

I turned around, to find Dumbledore stroking my hair.

"The Death Eaters have escaped the moment I arrived," he explained.

'You could have got here sooner', I wanted to say, but I bit my tongue not to get the words out.

"I need to tell Remus," I mumbled. "If there is a way, he'll find it..."

Dumbledore held me in his arms.

"You've done too much for tonight," he said. "Shacklebolt has fallen too. Don't think about it for now, Harry. The dead must be honoured, but the aftermath of their deaths is for the living to survive. I'm sure they understand."

That is the last thing I remember, before I passed out in his arms.

Chapter Text

A few days after, I was in Dumbledore's office.

The days in between had passed quickly. I'd been in the Hospital Wing for most of the time, and I felt numb all of the time. None of the teachers blamed me if I couldn't concentrate.

Not a lot of people knew about what happened at the Ministry, but Cornelius Fudge couldn't deny that he had many Death Eaters working there -- it was the only way to explain things.

So, he admitted publicly that You-Know-Who was probably back, and asked Professor Umbridge to retire. 

Dumbledore came back as headmaster of the school, and summoned me in his office.

"I want to talk about the prophecy," I told him.

I'd tried to play my cards right. At first I wanted to ask him about Sirius, but the headmaster and I had different opinions. I thought my godfather could still be rescued, while he disagreed.

However, he couldn't deny he'd known of the prophecy. Dumbledore knew a lot of things, and was already born when Trelawney spoke it.

"Yes, the prophecy," he pursed his lips. "I hope you'll forgive this old man for not mentioning it to you before. See, Harry, we are in charge of our destiny. I didn't think it was quite right to give you the impression your fate had already been written, because it is nothing of the sort."

In a way, it was already written. I had to defeat You-Know-Who, and the process would be enough to kill me. But it was better not to talk about that. And I trusted Dumbledore, if he said destiny is not written, it was not written.

"You see," he said. "It was only after you were born that we understood the prophecy was about you. Your parents had, indeed, defied You-Know-Who twice, and the third time would be when your mother put that blessing on you."

He touched my forehead.

"Do you know about the blessing, sir?" I asked, almost jumping out of my chair. "When the memory of the murder replays, I hear my mother muttering a blessing to me. But I couldn't make out the words."

"Like many blessings, it's probably in an ancient tongue," Dumbledore agreed. "But your mother was the best witch of her year. She was like your friend Hermione, but with a mischievious streak. She was one of those who prefer to learn things by experimenting other than reading, so I'd wager she tried the most complicated spells in her lifetime, and maybe even created new ones."

I was impressed. Every time I heard something about my parents, I couldn't help but think I wasn't as amazing as them.

"However, in this year when I've often been away, I studied what kind of blessing your mother could have put on you, and I reached a conclusion," Dumbledore said. "It's a spell made out of magic and love. It's a blessing that usually works best on young children, because their minds are pure. See, you've heard your father die. You were one year old, so you probably wouldn't have the memory in the future, but you knew what happened. It was something that burdens even a little child that age, to understand their parents are gone and won't be there anymore. And the violence of it! So, before your mother was about to die, she put this blessing on you."

"That I forgot everything that happened," I finished for him.

"In a way, yes. You wouldn't have had memories of it anyway, since you were too young. But to see your parents die, it can wreck your body and soul. Lily protected you from the trauma. But last year, when your wand met Voldemort's, the impact of his spell destroyed the blessing. That is why you now have nightmares, and recollections, of your parents' deaths. Your memories are too clear to be the ones of a little child, but with the blessing going away, you remember the burden for which it was placed on you. Growing up, as a one-year-old who's seen their parents die, you would probably have had nightmares and phobias anyway. But now you also have this, how would you call it, fake memory, of your parents dying."

"This is why I can see Thestrals," I realized. "I've even gone as far as wondering whether I'd seen somebody die in the cemetery, and forgot about it. But this is the real reason, isn't it?"

"Precisely," the headmaster confirmed. "I bet you thought that your parents deaths didn't count because you were too young to understand about death. But a one year old child, much like an animal would, knows something is wrong if you kill their parents in front of them. If they scream for their mother, and she isn't moving anymore. If their father will never come to hold them in his arms. A baby knows what death is -- they just process it in a different way than ours."

I was starting to get the creeps from the headmaster's accurate descriptions, so I just nodded along.

"The prophecy," I added then. "You said you only understood it could have been about me when I defeated You-Know-Who as a baby. Why? Who did you think it applied to before? Did you have any ideas?"

Dumbledore became very pale.

"When I was young," he said. "There was another dark wizard, whose name now is hardly mentioned. But Remus Lupin told me you had seen him in your Boggart. You saw the scene of the Dementor performing the kiss on him. You might have had this subconscious memory from your studies, since the defeat of this wizard is discussed in many books."

Indeed, I remembered reading about it in my first year at Hogwarts. Perhaps, I had read about the Dementor too, and forgot about it.

"Yes, I am familiar with his name," I said. "Gellert Grindelwald. The books say it was you who defeated him, sir. I mean... even your trading card in the chocolate frogs say so."

A mischievious look shone in the headmaster's eyes. "Does it? I haven't eaten chocolate frogs in a long time. Next time you get your hands on them, Harry, you best give me one. Perhaps there'll be your card too in one of those packages one day."

"Why did you mention Grindelwald?" I asked. "Was there a time where you thought the prophecy was about him?"

"Precisely. And the hero in the prophecy.... it reminded me of someone I've known a long time ago. Suffice it to say, things have turned out in a very different way. But this boy, he was an orphan very much like you, though his parents were not dead -- they had simply given him away. But this is a story for another time. Let's just mention a few things, to be fair. He was born at the end of July, very much like you. And there was a time where I thought Grindelwald had chosen him as his equal. As for his parents defying Grindelwald three times, at the time I had an idea about what it could mean, but it seems so silly now."

"You were the one to defeat Grindelwald," I said hotly. "So, the hero couldn't have been this other guy."

Dumbledore smiled sadly. "I'd like for you to know his name," he said. "It was Credence Barebone."


A few days later, I talked to Draco again.

Things were already very awkward after the kiss, not to mention how bad they'd gotten after his father's remarks at the Ministry.

"I'm sorry about your godfather," he told me. "I was starting to like him too."

"He can be saved," I replied.

I didn't even know whether I believed in it. It was just the reply I gave to anyone who asked. Because, if Sirius was dead, and couldn't be saved, I didn't know what I'd do.

I didn't even know if it would have been worth living, while I had to stay alive and fight.

"How about your father?" I asked then. "Has he been giving you hell after what happened at the Ministry? I mean, I'm thankful you saved me, but..."

"When Fudge had to admit he had Death Eaters running around in the Ministry, he sent raids into the homes of everyone who's been suspected. My father has been sent to Azkaban."

"I'm sorry?" I didn't know how to phrase it so that it didn't sound like a question. I was sure that having a father in Azkaban must have been a really awful thing, but that father was Lucius Malfoy.

I felt relieved that he'd been imprisoned, all things considered. I wouldn't have to ask myself what he'd do to Draco anymore. He wouldn't threaten Draco's mother anymore, and who knew what he'd do after he'd seen with his own eyes his son joining our side.

Not to mention, he'd tried to send a few Curses my way as well, so I really slept better knowing he was not around.

But Draco looked sad, and I wished I had different things to say. Some way of offering comfort.

"I'm really sorry," I added then.

"You don't have to play pretend, Potter," Draco looked irritated. "I know how much you'd like to play cop with all the Death Eaters."

'Well yes,' I wanted to reply. 'Because those are the people who killed my parents, and who killed Sirius. And those are the same people who made Neville's parents become mad, and who threatened to kill my friends and I on a daily basis'.

I counted to twenty before I replied.

"You might be right," I conceded. "But it doesn't matter what I want, or who's wrong and who's right. I'm simply sorry that your father is in Azkaban, and I'm telling you this like I would be telling it to any one of my friends."

Draco only smiled slightly at that.

"Speaking of which," I added. "I haven't asked people to forgive me yet, for bringing all of you to face the Death Eaters, and for destroying the Dumbledore's Army."

"Well, things have turned out right," Draco replied easily. "We're all still alive, and Umbridge hasn't been around enough to punish us for the Dumbledore's Army."

"It's not fair either way," I said, shaking my head. "I shouldn't have done that... I don't want to endanger my friends."

Draco looked me in the eyes as if he was about to say something important, when in that moment Dudley patted a big hand on my shoulder.

"I've heard you've done one of your disasters, again, cousin," he said. He was wearing his Quidditch attire, as if he often did since Umbridge had made him the Seeker. "Though I didn't understand much of what was going on, as usual."

"If you really want to stay in a wizarding school, you should at least make the effort," Draco snarled at him. "Especially when it's life and death situations. It's serious if you don't know about You-Know-Who or Death Eaters. They are real, and evil, and they'll come for you first."

Dudley looked at him like he was crazy only for entertaining the notion of a dark wizard. He was looking at Draco like a Muggle would. "Yeah... right. And one of them is your daddy, and now he's in magical prison. That much I understood."

Draco snarled again, and gripped his wand very tightly. For a moment, it reminded me of something Sirius would do, and I felt my heart squeezing in my chest.

"Take off your Quidditch robes," I told my cousin. "Dumbledore is back, and he'll restore things to how they were. You're not a Seeker anymore."

"Thankfully," Dudley replied. "As much as I liked being the star of everything, even the sports, I have always hated flying on a broom. I want to have children, one day!"

He took off part of his Quidditch attire, and threw it on the floor. "One thing that I'll miss about Umbridge, though," he added thoughtfully. "If only your friends Granger and Weasley had been punished for the Dumbledore's Army, she would have made me a prefect."

"And you would have liked to?" Draco asked. "I doubt it. You don't even like magic, or this school."

Dudley shrugged. "Harry is not one, so it would have been cool."


Draco and I were soon joined by the other people who'd been in the Ministry with us. Not only Ron and Hermione, but Ginny, Neville and Luna too.

From that moment on, something would have made the seven of us feel more united than the rest of the other students. We'd been in a life-or-death situation together.

"Potter's been trying to tell me it was all his fault," Draco warned the others. "So, now he'll probably ask you to forgive him or something. I didn't."

"What do you mean you didn't forgive him?" Hermione asked angrily.

"There's no need to forgive him," Draco replied crossly. "We're all on the same side. We know there are risks to take. If you want to forgive him, go ahead. But if I wasn't in the DA, I would probably have been a Death Eater, so Potter doesn't need forgiveness from me."

The others looked at him, mildly impressed.

Except for Ron, whose left eye started twitching every time he made eye contact for too long with Draco after I told him about the kiss. I guess it was because he couldn't lie to his face, he still found him intimidating. He was afraid something in his eyes would show that he knew, and somehow accepted it.

Oh, and once he'd also told me that he had second-hand embarrassment, because Draco was an acquired taste, but I thought that part was made-up.

"Draco is right," Neville said after a while. "You don't need forgiveness from us."

"Maybe I've been feeling this way because the only person who has to forgive me isn't here to do so," I said glumly.

"So, do you think Sirius is dead, too?" Hermione asked in a tone she must have thought of as careful. "Don't blame yourself for that too."

"He can be saved!" I replied automatically. "And if he can't, then it's fully my fault. I'll always be too afraid to face Remus to tell him how I feel, so I lost the two of them. And thankfully my parents are already dead. Imagine if they lived long enough to see me killing their best friend?"

"Stop it, Harry, you haven't killed him!" Ron said, trying not to attract all the attention on us.

It wasn't easy -- many people had already turned their heads.

"I know a thing or two about the dead," Luna said dreamily. "If you want, I can tell you."

I decided to take a walk with her, hoping it would cool me down. Secretely, I was afraid she'd make me angrier in some way, with some superstitions about the dead that only her and her father could believe in. But I had to try.

"If Sirius is really dead, and it's a big if, because the Veil isn't where the souls of the dead go," Luna told me. "You might be relieved to hear that some of the dead still visit us."

"Like Nearly Headless Nick!" I exclaimed. "Of course, Luna, thanks! Hogwarts has ghosts!"

"Oh... no. That's not what I meant," she said. "There are three different kinds of being dead. The Veil -- kind of like a mythical underworld. Nobody has gone there and came back, but if they keep it in the Ministry this means they're studying it, like my father had already told me. It's a place where lost souls go, the ones you'd say are in coma. Then, there are the Not-So-Passed-On, or at least, that's what my father calls them. They have a duty to fulfill, become a Hogwarts portrait or a Hogwarts ghost, and so they stay here on Earth. They will be released, in the future, when they have fulfilled their duties. And then there are the Passed-On, like your parents and my mother. But, she visited me once."

I must have raised an eyebrow, because Luna continued.

"What did the voices say, in the Veil? You told Hermione you heard them too."

I tried my best to remember. "One was saying, 'sunlight, peace, green grass', I thought it was to lure you there. And another was saying, 'a castle like the ones in the stories, surrounded by my loved ones and my pets'. Wait. Is that what they were missing about life on Earth?"

Luna did not reply. "When my mother visited," she said. "I asked her what the afterlife was like. She said everybody goes to the same place, so you don't have to worry, but of course you must make your best on the Earth because when you die, they'll show you how you've wounded all the people you wounded before you go to the afterlife. But she also said it to do it out of the purity of your own heart."

"Did she tell you, how the afterlife was like?" I asked. I was trying my best not to sound a little pissed off.

She nodded. "She said there's a place for everyone, where you can meet those you loved in life, and even people you'd never met before! But, there's also a personal space, like an embodiement of your soul, where you can create the space of your soul and invite other people there. Her personal space is a library with all the knowledge in the world, every Ravenclaw's dream! She said she invites other people from her House all the time to read there."

I admit I was having trouble not telling Luna how crazy I found all of that.

"So, do you know now what the voices were saying?" she asked then. "They were trying to pass from the Veil to the afterlife. That's how it works. If Sirius stays still, he can wait that something or someone that theters him to the Earth brings him back here. But other people feel it's their time to go, and they were going."

"They weren't saying what kept them tethered to the Earth," I realized. "They were saying what they wanted their afterlife to be like."

Luna smiled at me. "See?" she asked. "Even if Sirius was gone, he wouldn't be gone-gone. If he's like my mother, he'll find a way to come to visit you."

Chapter Text

The first time Snape uttered the word ‘Legilimens’, I had been able to disarm him.

After some bickering, and a few curses, I was not so lucky.

For some reason, he kept digging to find my most private moments with Harry.

Of course, he acted positively repulsed each time they played for him.

But I felt a strange satisfaction.

There was something liberating in showing him who I was, who I wanted to be with.

I was proud of Harry, I was proud of loving him.

I was extra proud that he had kissed me.

Even though he had ran away immediately, and I still didn’t know if he meant it.

Even Kowalski hadn’t run after I kissed him, Snape had pointed out.

Yes, he had dug that deep.

After witnessing what my father was capable to do, I knew that he deserved to be at Azkaban. I couldn’t play the part of the naive little boy any longer, as much as sometimes I still wanted to.
It was hard for me to unite the love that I still felt for my family, both taught and natural, and my feelings towards them now.

I thought they were harmless. They were not.

I thought I was safe. I wasn’t.

I thought they cared what I thought, who I wanted to be, who I desired to protect.

They didn’t.

 

My mother still lived with me. She wasn’t a Death Eater. She was impossibly numb to everything.

Snape told me she wouldn’t have come if she heard me screaming.

So far, she had proved him right.

 

Sometimes, I was afraid I felt my father in me. I found myself wishing I could kill somebody.

Sometimes it was Snape. Sometimes it was the Dark Lord. Sometimes it was my own father, or Vernon Dursley. In my nightmares, it was Harry Potter.

 

‘Your mother is under the Imperius curse,’ Snape told me one day. ‘She has been for many years now.’

He sneered.

‘Now that I think about it,’ he added. ‘She was under it even around the time you were conceived.’

I flinched. Despite my own father’s claims of aristocracy, Death Eaters had proven time and time again they could really be the lowest scum.

‘Your father used to be second-in-command to the Dark Lord, right before Potter defeated him,’ Snape mused. ‘But nowadays he’s a shadow of what he used to be. Pathetic, and power-hungry, he failed even in raising a proper heir.’

‘You failed even in producing one,’ I commented dryly. ‘What was the matter? Even drugged or under a Curse, women still wouldn’t lay with you?’

He punched me, then.

‘I could ask your mother right now,’ he said matter-of-factly. ‘I doubt she would have any say in the matter. I could even Curse you to force you to watch.’

‘Brutal,’ I commented, unimpressed. I was sure the Malfoy name still had a little bit of power, with the right people. He would not rape my mother. The Dark Lord’s plans were more important. And he was here just to make sure they could take place.

‘I know why you’re acting cocky,’ Snape commented. ‘It’s because you’re finally a part of Potter’s little gang of admirers. Did he kiss them all with tongue? Or was it just a concession for his arch-enemy? I guess what I’m asking is, does he fuck people to make them switch sides?’

‘As much as the Dark Lord,’ I said dryly. ‘Or Dumbledore. I can’t still figure out around whose finger you’re wrapped.’

‘Stupid boy! Do not talk of things you do not understand! You can wipe that smile off your face. Remember how you felt that one tiny time you managed to conjure up a Patronus? I’ll make damn sure you’ll never feel that way again. From now on, I forbid you to spend any more with Potter.’

I laughed, relieved. I should have known it wasn’t going to be so easy.

‘Now, I could threaten you like your father used to do. But we’ve seen how much that worked. Or I could curse you. But I’m sure Potter taught you some way to fight it off. Even his own father could never stay under the Imperius Curse for long. Of course, you’re weaker, like your mother. But it’s too risky. No, I found a way to make the Dark Lord happy, to punish your family, and to keep you away from Potter all at once.’

At first I thought he was going to kill me. But the reality sounded much worse to my ears.

‘ The Dark Lord needs more Death Eaters,’ Snape said. ‘Welcome to the family.’

 

‘Does it hurt?’ I asked him once, talking about the Dark Mark.

‘Only if you don’t want it,’ he smiled.

 

It was like being branded with a hot iron, not that I knew anything about that. I couldn’t tell if Snape was being very slow on purpose. I promised myself I wouldn’t scream, but after about four seconds in I started and I never stopped.

Ten minutes after, the work was done.

I felt feverish by then, about to pass out.

I took a look at the tattoo of the serpent and the skull that now rested on my forearm.

‘The design is sure tacky,’ I heard myself drawl before my eyes closed.

 

Snape had been right, though. There was no way Harry could find out about me being a Death Eater. He would have never trusted me again, maybe even think I was being treacherous right from the start. And the only way to prevent him from seeing it, was not being remotely close ever again.

What’s more, I couldn’t know if it was dangerous. What if he touched my arm to get a grip on me and his scar started burning?

What if he touched my arm and summoned The Dark Lord? I knew it was the way it worked.

You touched your mark to ask him to Apparate next to you, and your Mark started burning black and hurt like hell when he wanted the same thing from you.

Its natural color was red, and it was barely visible, a bit like a scar.

 

In all my nightmares, I killed Harry Potter.

I started feeling selfishly comforted by the thought the Dark Lord would want to do it himself.

 

This didn’t mean he didn’t have plans for me, like Snape had already announced.

He started being at my house more and more often, instructing me on what I had to do.

On one of the rare days he wasn’t there, I got a letter from Harry. I burned it without reading it, then sent an owl saying to never write to me again.

Martin Kowalski had stopped hanging around with me ever since my father went to prison. I wanted to tell him it wasn’t that much different than when his mother had tried to Avada Kedavra his father, but it obviously was.

I wanted to tell how much I missed hearing him complaining about it. And I wanted to finally give in and admit that he was right, it was a shitty thing to do.

But I got to see him just once, briefly, under Fenrir Greyback supervision (probably because he was the scariest, being a werewolf, a Death Eater, and probably a freaking pedophile, if one read between the lines when he talked.)

We just had dinner and I took a walk around the Potter’s old house. It was near the cemetery. Harry had probably never seen it.

Martin’s parents were neutral about the Dark Lord and his plan. Which wasn’t really a thing, but they were Americans, so it sounded amusing.

Foreign policy and all of that.

Martin didn’t talk to me and kept looking at my arm in an accusatory way. The mark was covered, but he must have guessed by how easily startled I was every time somebody tried to grab me by my arm, which happened a lot.

I had to give it to him — the look in his eyes was betrayal, but he wasn’t scared.

It was less like ‘You sided with the bad guy!’ and more like ‘Dude, we were just getting popular, now I’m never going to score with Hermione again.’

I scowled at him.

He could still do whatever he wanted, while I only came back to Hogwarts because I had something to do. Otherwise, I would have never risked my classmates and teachers finding out about the Mark.

 

I started fearing seeing Harry again. If there was one thing I learned, was how stupidly loyal he was. He wouldn’t give up on me. He couldn’t even give up on his dumb Muggle cousin.

Which meant that I would have to make him.

And there was nothing I wanted less than that.

Except for he to figure out I was a Death Eater. Anything would have been better than that.

I could almost picture the betrayed look on his face.

And even if I could convince him I had been forced to take it, why do it, only to break his heart again when I would do what the Dark Lord had asked me to?

Of course, I was already coming up with ideas on how to stall, but it was a dangerous game, especially monitored closely by Snape, who could read my mind.

And if I didn’t do it, the Dark Lord would have killed me, and the rest of my family.

I wouldn’t play with their lives like that, not even my father’s.

I felt like Potter would disagree with me on that one. But he would kill all Death Eaters if he could, so we hadn’t that much in common anymore.

Chapter Text

That summer sucked more than usual, with Sirius' death and all the wizarding magazines calling me the Chosen One.

No, I didn't get them by mail, but Ron and Hermione wrote to me very frequently. Hermione had started the habit of cutting out the worst articles about me and pasting them with glue on her letters.

She thought they were funny. I didn't.

And speaking of letters, I had found the courage to write Draco that I was in love with him. Pretty risky, I know. But, I had realized it had been very coward on my part to kiss him and run away like that.

Besides, even though his father was at Azkaban, he probably still received visits from Death Eaters frequently. I wanted him to know what he meant to me.

Before it could be too late.

But, he sent back Hedwig with a letter that simply said, 'Never write to me again.'

So, Draco Malfoy not only wasn't in love with me, but he also hated my guts for confessing to him.

I kicked the trunk where I kept all of my school things. No, that summer was the worse by far.

I tried to read Hermione's last letter. She had pasted an article from the Daily Prophet. Everybody believed me now, that was why they called me the Chosen One. And someone at the Ministry had cleared the floor where the battle had taken place, and found the crystal ball. Nobody would know what its verses said. But the fact that there was my name on it was unmistakble.

And I was right about You-Know-Who. I'd been right all along. So, the prophecy probably said I was destined to defeat him. See, when they put their minds to it, even the people at the Ministry knew one and one made two.

I recognized why Hermione had sent me the article. It was written by Rita Skeeter, finally out of the hospital.

THE CHOSEN ONE -- BUT CAN HE REALLY CHOOSE?

'Some people, [me, ed.] have always referred to the young hero as The Chosen One. There's something in those bright green eyes and square jaw that made me understand Potter was the messiah we'd been waiting for. Besides, the only thing that would be more glamorous than defeating You-Know-Who once would be defeating him twice, and Potter has already defeated the Dark Lord once at one year old. It only makes sense for him to defeat him again in adulthood, with his powers expanded to the full capacity of an adult male. 
Still, there is a tragedy at the core of it. He's being called the Chosen One, but can he really choose? From his future career, he's going to be an Auror to defeat You-Know-Who, to his love life (our insiders say things got rough with his Slytherin paramour due to the pression of both families), we wonder how much of his life is in his hands.
We presume it's only fair. In Harry's big strong hands already rest all of our futures, of course there's no space for his as well.
'Tis a pity, though'

I crumpled the piece of paper, threw it on the floor and started stomping it with my foot. It was crap. Nothing but crap. It wasn't even well written.

But Rita was right. I had no control over my life at all.

Something slipped out of the envelope of Hermione's letter. The reader's comments from the week after the article was published.

"What do you mean, pression from both families?" a man I didn't know asked. "Potter has no family."

I started yelling and shredding the pieces of paper.

Every wizard had always known me, but now it was worse. They had no respect for me, even though they knew I had to save them all.

In that moment, uncle Vernon opened the door.

"Would you stop screaming like a savage? Last year it was in your sleep, now do you have to do it in daylight too? What if the neighbours hear?"

I stopped abruptly. Every summer Vernon drank more than the last, and thus was more violent and mean. Lately, he'd been cruel.

"There is somebody looking for you," he added then.

I followed him down the stairs, trying not to make a sound. I was sassy with the Dursleys at first, even though I was often punished for it. But, in the recent years, Vernon had beat any will to create conflict with them out of me. Now, I simply did my best to pretend I didn't exist, like they asked.

I just wasn't very good at it.

The person who opened the door was Dumbledore.

At first, I took a painful breath. I didn't really feel like seeing him after all that had happened, me betraying the DA, Sirius dying. But Dumbledore had been an honest friend to me, and he had talked about the prophecy, and about my mother's blessing.

"I need to have a few words with the boy first," he said.

When I followed him out into the garden, he lowered his eyes to look me in the face.

"I hope you'll forgive me," he said. "It was me who insisted you came to live with the Dursleys when your parents died. But I didn't know they were like that. You see, I knew Petunia. She was your mother's sister, after all. But I had no idea that your uncle Vernon indulged in the pleasure of the bottle. He didn't use to."

I grinned at him awkwardly. What could I tell him? Of course it wasn't his fault. He had just done what he thought he had to do, and by giving me to Muggle parents, he was probably wishing for me the same anonymity Xenophilius had wished for. I could appreciate that.

"I think," Dumbledore said. "That your cousin Dudley isn't as lucky as you think, either. Growing up spoiled like he was, it will ruin him. In a way, they have ruined him more they have ruined you."

I held my breath. "With due respect, sir," I said. "I don't think so." I pointed my finger at my face, when a spiderweb of bruises yellow and blue was starting to form.

And even if the Dursleys hadn't beaten me, they never made me feel loved or welcomed. They scared me into submissions and often made me go to bed without eating first.

"Ah, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Dumbledore said. "I spoke without thinking, and it is not my style. Not my finest moment. What I meant to say was, such a good attitude like yours hasn't been tainted. Who knows what Dudley could have grown up to be."

It was the first time I disagreed with the headmaster twice in the same conversation, and felt too awkward to let him know. However, I was of the opinion that people made themselves. I had witnessed Draco becoming a boy worth knowing after all the crap his family had put him through.

Draco. I probably should stop thinking about him. Only being reminded of him, I still read the words of his letter seared into my brain -- Never write to me again. I suddenly felt very ashamed.

Uncle Vernon interrupted our conversation.

"So," he asked Dumbledore. "May I know why you're here?"

"Ah, yes, I'm taking Harry with me," the headmaster replied. "I need him to meet someone. Our new teacher."

"Dudley told me you changed Professor for Defence Against the Dark Arts every year," Vernon said gladly, as if this was enough to prove the whole teaching system of the school was rubbish.

"This new teacher will teach Potions," Dumbledore commented mildly.

"Has Snape finally retired? Have you sacked him?" I couldn't help but ask. "I've always suspected he was a Death Eater!"

This time, it was Dumbledore's turn to disagree with me -- something that hadn't happened often either.

"I hope you know better than to talk about things you don't understand," he replied. "Snape has been a teacher of Hogwarts since he was done with school, and I trust him deeply. Do you think you know him better than I do? Of course, I admit, he's a bit hard on the children."

"Good, good," Vernon commented.

"So, Snape will be teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts," I understood. "Please, Professor, you can't..."

"Potter, my decision is final," Dumbledore said dryly. "Now, come with me to meet Slughorn, your new Potions teacher."

I secretly hoped he was better than Snape. I couldn't stand two awful teachers in a year.

"You see," Dumbledore told me amiably on the way. "I haven't gotten around to convince my old pal Horace Slughorn yet. But, I think, when he knows you, he won't be able to say no to the offer."

I wanted to ask whether we couldn't let Snape teach Potions like before and finding ourselves a decent DADA teacher, but I recognized this as a chance I had to take. Maybe, I'd finally get better grades in Potions.

We arrived at the house of Slughorn. It was nice and clean, and in a Muggle inhabited neighbourhood.

"Why does he live in a Muggle area?" I asked.

"Oh, but that is not his house," Dumbledore chuckled. "I suspect he's hiding there not to be found by Death Eaters. Sometimes wizards do that -- with houses of Muggle who are on vacation. With a spell, it's pretty easy to pack in a bag everything you have and take it around. Well, only if you didn't have much from the start."

"Why would he accept to teach at Hogwarts, if he's hiding?" I asked. "People would know where to find me."

"He'd be under my protection, and the protection of the school. I know you might find it hard to believe, because many a tragedy has befallen you since you've been my student, but usually the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is the safest place to be."

I nodded. I didn't find it hard to believe. Hogwarts was my safe place, and I was surrounded by teachers I knew and loved. Even all the times I'd been attacked, I knew I had people to help me. Even Madam Pomfrey in the Hospital Wing, who took care of every injury.

"A few words on the odd man we're about to meet," the headmaster warned me. "He is a Slytherin, and interested in fame like most of them. He's one of the good ones, like Shacklebolt was, but he's a bit obsessed with his trophies. And so, as a Hogwarts teacher, he wanted to befriend the most gifted students."

I felt a sour taste in my mouth. "So that is why you brought me here," I couldn't help but say.

A Chosen One. The prize Slughorn had been looking for for his entire career.

"I really can't lie to you, Harry, because we do not lie to people we love," Dumbledore said. "We can try, but it would be foolish. See, that is exactly why I brought you here. But not because of what the magazines say about you. No, because you're one of the youngest Seekers of your generation and you're a lively and bright student. You survived the Triwizard Tournament, and Slughorn knew and liked your parents. I was hoping that having him as a teacher would make you feel closer to them. You see, he took quite an academic interest in your mother."

I felt bad for having judged him so harshly. Of course Dumbledore knew I wasn't an expensive toy to show around. It's just that I had trouble trusting anyone, those days.

We knocked at the door, and when Dumbledore said some kind of password that sounded suspiciously like a dessert I'd eaten at the Three Broomsticks, the door opened.

"The passwords I use with my friends are usually the name of a food I like," Dumbledore told me. "I'm sure you've noticed, the password to get into my office at Hogwarts is usually the name of candies or sweets."

I had noticed, and it made me smile the idea that Dumbledore had such a pattern when choosing his passwords. He really was the most extraordinary adult I knew.

"So," Slughorn said, when he came to open the door. "Dumbledore. And I see you brought Harry Potter, like you promised."

I was starting to feel like currency, but I told myself it was not Dumbledore's fault. Slughorn seemed like a great teacher, so what if he wanted to use me for him to come teach at the school? It wouldn't be the worst thing that people had used me for by far.

"Are you sure this is Potter? A bit scrawny," Slughorn commented. "But... oh yes, that is your scar alright. Come in, dear boy."

I followed him into the house. I could tell he'd kept the Muggles decorations, but a few trophies and magical objects here and there were his.

I did not like very much the idea of wizards inhabiting Muggle houses, even if they meant nothing by it and didn't destroy anything, but I decided to keep this to myself.

However, one thing I had noticed of the wizarding world, even the wizards who treated Muggles with respect, never went as far as treat them as if they were equal species. It wasn't an area I knew a lot about, not having studied all the history books like Hermione, but it was plain to see that Muggles were always treated... well, differently was an understatement.

"I'm sorry, Harry," Dumbledore said. "I couldn't help but read your mind. You see, when you practised Legilimens with a person before, your most vulnerable thoughts are open to that person. I could have kept it to myself, but I decided to tell you, in case it wasn't something that would scare you if it came up in the future."

"I know you would never do it on purpose, sir," I replied. "Our lessons have been interrupted, but, if you're willing to teach me again, I'll protect my own thoughts better and they will stay hidden from you too."

"Since we're at it, I'd like to spare a few words on your thoughts about Muggles," Dumbledore said. "I think you're right. I've always been of the same opinion, and I've always tried my best to give Muggles who wanted to be a part of our world a chance to feel welcome. Your cousin Dudley, for one, or Jacob Kowalski, Martin's grandfather. However, we need different, fresh insights in our old traditional society. If you or Hermione Granger became Aurors or politicians, you could use your Muggle upbringing to make us see things differently."

I nodded, a bit embarrassed that we often talked about my future career. Those days, I wanted to take things one day at a time.

"So," Slughorn told Dumbledore. "If I came back to Hogwarts, like you asked me to, would I be able to create a new Slug Club?"

"No rule against it," the headmaster blinked at him.

"What is a Slug Club?" I asked.

"A Hogwarts club where I gather with the most talented students," Slughorn said.

"It sounds pretty elitist," I replied.

Slughorn laughed. "That's about the same thing your mother said as well! Lily Evans. It took me a while to comprehend her, but I think I can say she's the best student I ever had."

I couldn't help but feel drawn to his words. I do wanted to know more about my mother and father.

"Your father was a member of the Slug Club," he said, reading my expression. "One of the most talented. He was a rebel, hard to contain, always speaking out of turn to the teachers to confront them on most things. But, at the end of the day, he loved reading books and being informed on facts, and he soon became friends with Remus Lupin, who was a bookish kid too. Your mother, on the other hand..."

"She hang out with Sirius Black," I said, pain in my chest making me feel like my heart was being torn apart.

"The two of them managed to make your rebellious father look boring," Slughorn confirmed. "At first, I didn't know if they were welcome in the Slug Club. More trouble than they were worth, I thought. And I didn't want to cause any fuss, Lily and James were almost enemies at first. They both wanted to be the most intelligent person in the room. But your mother was less bookish and more..."

"Caught in experiments, or so I've heard," I finished his sentence once again.

"She was the best at Potions," Slughorn said. "She, and that creepy little kid Snape who tried to court her once or twice, probably fooled by the common interests they had. But don't you look so disgusted, your mother didn't like him, and their quarrels never had the teasing quality her first fights with your father had. At the end, Snape stopped trying to pursue her. I didn't think it meant very much to him either way. He soon tried with other intelligent girls."

An evil, and somehow more pathetic, version of Martin Kowalski, I thought.

"But you said you trusted him," I turned to Dumbledore. "Do you hear what Slughorn has to say about him?"

"It's hardly a crime, to court the girls in your class," Dumbledore replied. "If you tried it, Harry, I would have nothing to say about it."

I blushed violently, because he'd seen me kiss Draco, and so between the two of us there were some words that hadn't been spoken, but that were there nevertheless.

"Either way," the headmaster added cheerily, as if he'd never said what he just said. "Snape was not a good student, no. And the more I talked to him as an adult, the more I understood what he felt for your mother was a passing fad. Otherwise, I might have trusted him less as your teacher. Or more. It's not an easy decision, in those cases. But, I know the man Severus Snape is now an adult, and one thing I'll say about him is that he's reliable."

Reliable. He said it as if it was all the Snape had going on for him. He said it as if his standards about teachers were that low.

I resisted the urge to slap myself, something I wanted to do every time I thought something uncharacteristically unkind about people I liked. Where did my loyalty lie? Was I becoming the person who betrayed the Dumbledore's Army? Did my recent trauma turn me in someone who would betray Dumbledore himself?

I did not want to think about it that way, so I shut my eyes tight, hoping no one would notice the turmoil I was going through.

I had lost Sirius. Dumbledore was the person who was more like a father to me. All sixteen year olds fought with their parents, right? I would have argued with my father if he'd been there.

But that was the same excuse I'd told myself when I started discussing with the headmaster the year before, so I told myself not to think too much about it. It would pass. Things like that tended to last less if you didn't concentrate about it.

"So," Slughorn was saying. "If I came to Hogwarts, you wouldn't mind being part of the Slug Club, right, Harry? It's for the most talented students, but not only. You'll know interesting people there. Who knows, maybe even a girlfriend. The past and the attractiveness are two qualities I prefer, but in your case you proved one can be famous even if he comes from a middle class family and has a hideous scar on his forehead -- I think you'd fit the picture of my club nicely."

I did not know what to reply to that. I didn't want to make Dumbledore lose his grip on the man, but I would have minded very much. I did not want to be part of some elite that would probably leave out my friends -- Ron, because he was poor, Neville because he was clumsy, Hermione, because she was not conventionally attractive according to some, Luna, because she was considered crazy, and so on...

Ginny, if her upbringing didn't count, could probably be a part of it, and I'd have a friend there. But Draco, talented, handsome and rich, was sure to be a part of it, and I didn't think I could risk seeing him again.

"I'll certainly think about it, sir, and let you know," I replied.

Dumbledore looked at me and raised one eyebrow.

"I mean, of course, to be asked to be a part of the Slug Club like my parents before me, that would be an honour sir," I replied.

I hoped he didn't notice how fake my voice sounded. I wanted to strangle myself, just like I would have strangled anyone who believed in that bullshit.

I wasn't too concerned with what my parents thought of the club. My father and Remus had joined together, because they wanted to show off their knowledge. I was part of a Quidditch team because I loved it, but also because I was good at it.

If I'd been as clever and cultured as my parents, I might want to be part of the Slug Club too.

But I wasn't. And since I was reckless, and nervous, and had just been rejected by the only boy I ever liked, the next school year at Hogwarts didn't look very promising.

Chapter Text

After our visit, Dumbledore told me, "I don't think there's any need for you to go back to the Dursleys. They're probably not expecting you there."

"Will I stay with you, sir?" I asked.

"Better than that," the headmaster chuckled. "You'll stay with the Weasleys. Your friend Hermione has come to visit them too."

I knew Hermione spent quite a lot of time with the Weasleys during the holidays and I'd always felt a bit jealous. 

When I arrived at the Weasleys house, they were all waiting for me. Thankfully, they knew I was coming.

Charlie Weasley was there too, with a wild air about him and long hair. I knew he trained dragons in Romania for a living, but I had never seen him for more than a couple of minutes since his trips back to England were always brief.

Bill Weasley, instead, had just been promoted to a job at Gringotts. I wanted to ask him how it was going, when I was interrupted.

"Don't disturb Bill," Percy told me. "He's too busy making heart eyes at the Auror."

"The Auror?" I asked.

"The Ministry sends Auror to check in from time to time in the houses of the wizards who are known for opposing You-Know-Who, and mom and dad are quite infamous for that," Ron said proudly.

"So," Ginny added sleazily. "The Auror that was assigned to us was Nymphadora Tonks. You know? Young, pretty, blue hair? Was with us at the battle of the Ministry?"

"I know," I replied. "Though she had pink hair when I met her."

I explained what a Metamorphmagus was to my friends, who looked astonished.

"I'm happy I'm not one," Hermione took one for the team. "Society tries to tell you too much what you should look like. As a young girl, I would have probably used to it to straighten my hair or fix my teeth."

"You're right. Very good Aurors can transfigurate that well, but it's not the same thing," Ginny said. "But I do think Tonks is pretty cool. All that power, and she only uses it in her missions or to dye her hair? I don't mind if Bill looks at her. My brothers all had nice taste in girls and boys so far. Though I still don't know what to expect from you, Ronald..."

Ron blushed.

"Let's change topic of the conversation," Hermione proposed nervously. "Today we should get the results of our OWLs! I'm so glad you are here to celebrate with us, Harry."

"Oh, trust me," Ron said darkly. "You're the only one who has something to celebrate."

 

A few owls from Hogwarts arrived soon with the result of the exams.

Hermione read her first. She had scored the highest grades on every subject, except for Flying. She had always been a bit clumsy.

"Uh. Nice. Mine looks the exact opposite of yours," Ginny commented. "But still, high enough to be admitted to the next year of school without too many problems."

"With those grades," Ron told Hermione. "You could choose out of all the jobs in the world! Have you already thought of what you're going to do?"

"The teacher," Hermione replied. "What's that face? I want to be like Professor McGonagall. You don't even know how out of place I felt at Hogwarts at first, it was the teachers and the books that made me feel I belonged. But, I think the journalist might be a nice career as well. What's happening to Harry is proof we need better journalism."

Ron's grades were average. When he put his mind to it, he studied better than I did. Like Ginny and the other Weasleys, he was good at Flying.

I already knew I had a good grade in Flying as well. All of us who played Quidditch had to be exceptional at it, not to fall off the broom in the middle of the game. I realized, with shock, that the other grades weren't as horrible as I feared as well.

I was good at Transfiguration, and very good at Defence Against the Dark Arts. I didn't suck at Potions as much as I thought. I wasn't perfect at History of Magic, Herbology or Care of the Magical Creatures, but my grades were good enough to be an Auror.

Barely, but it was enough.

Molly Weasley wanted to see my OWLs as if she was really my mother. I knew she didn't want to be. She had so many children to take care of, already! And it pained me to admit I did not see the Weasleys as often as I would have liked to.

But she felt like family. All of them felt like they could have been my family. Perhaps an aunt, an uncle and cousins who were more family than the Dursleys were. They didn't have to necessarily be my new mom and dad.

"You're good at school, Harry," Arthur said, even though I knew he was sugarcoating it. "You could really work at the Ministry if you keep up this way. Remember, the last two years at Hogwarts are the most academically challenging, but the most rewarding. I was a scoundrel, but during the last two years I set my mind straight..."

"Arthur," Molly gestured for him to shut up. "Besides, why don't you tell this to Ron as well?"

The look in her eyes made me understand they had already argued about Ron's future.

"He wants to be a professional Quidditch player, and you know I support him fully," Arthur replied happily.

The twins started to laugh.

"I'm sorry," George said. "I really thought it was a joke."

The other Weasleys looked at Ron with a sorry expression in their eyes.

"It's not that I don't support him," Molly said. "I would just like for him to think about his future in a more serious way, and maybe trying to pursue a job that he really likes, but that is more likely to become a reality..."

Hermione looked at Ron, a bit sorry too. "There's loads of cool jobs for a wizard," she said. "Your brother Bill trains dragons! And George and Fred's joke shop is unlike anything I've ever seen! I mean... think about it. Muggle jobs are very dull compared to yours. My parents are both dentists."

"Fascinating," Arthur said, between bites of meatloaf. "Healers specialized in teeth."

 

Ron looked glumly at his plate. I realized he was serious -- he really wanted to be a professional Quidditch player when he grew up.

Come think of it, it was not fair that Victor Krum could start when he was at school and my friend couldn't even hope for his future. Most people would say he was less talented, but I do believe talent can only take you so far, if the rest is luck and money.

It would have helped him understand I was on his side, but I decided not to tell him that. I didn't want to appear even more cynical than I really was.

I had also tried not to mention anything about being an Auror, because it was kind of pointless to bring it up again. I still haven't made up my mind whether it was the career I wanted, or only the more convenient.

But Tonks, who couldn't know that, said all of a sudden, "I think you'll like being an Auror, Harry. You could work for me, at first, the way I did with Shacklebolt."

Her voice trembled. As far as I knew, she hadn't taken so well Kingley's death and Sirius' disappearance. 

I could only nod to that. "I think that would be an honour."

"I have never understood," Percy said. "Why Aurors need to train as interns before they go on missions. They must have been exceptional already, to pass their tests."

"I'll never understand, instead," Bill bit back. "How you've been Barty Crouch's intern for over a year and still hadn't realized he was a Death Eater."

Percy became very pale.

Barty Crouch Jr used to work at the Ministry, but he was one of the Death Eaters in disguise. He was Bartholomew, the good looking man who had told me about the prophecy.

"Please, don't fight," Ginny said. "And in front of guests. This is so uncool."

I realized that, ever since Ginny's meaningless crush on me had begun to fade, she started seeing me as some kind of older brother. But she thought of Hermione differently, and as a younger girl I often had the impression she looked up to her.

I'd never thought about it that way, but Hermione had been an important part of Ron and I's adventures and I could see why younger girls thought she was badass.

"That's alright," Tonks said, her hair shifting to violet. I think it was a reflex, because she was nervous. "Aurors, like many other people, learn how to do their job better when they can see older Aurors on action."

"Yeah, that's right, I suppose," Percy replied. I could see his issue was not really with Auror's interns, but with something I didn't know. I had the uneasy feeling he didn't approve of his brother's choice in girls.

"Have you heard about Remus?" Tonks asked me.

My heart felt like it was shattering in a milion pieces. "What happened to him?"

"He went beyond the Veil," she said, her eyes teary. "On purpose. He's trying to get Sirius back, he believes he found a way."

"If he says he's found a way, I choose to believe him," Hermione said, looking at me as if to tell me not to lose hope. "Remus is not a stupid man."

"Perhaps a bit suicidal, now that he's lost his partner," Ron muttered.

"What are you trying to say?" I snarled. "That he's gone for good?"

"We do not know what his chances of bringing Sirius back are," Tonks rushed in to explain. "But he's established a mental connection with Dumbledore. It should warn the headmaster if anything happens to him, and so far he's still alive. Which means, there is life beyond the Veil."

 

 

A few days after, we were at Diagon Alley, where we were supposed to buy the new books with the discounts the school automatically gave to the students, suited to each family's financial situation. 

When we were there, I caught sight of a blond head. I didn't need for the boy to turn around to know who he was.

Draco Malfoy.

I hid behind Ron.

"What's the issue?" Ron asked. "You've talked to him again after you kissed him."

I shushed him. "If it's all the same to you, I really don't want your siblings or your parents to hear about this," I snarled.

"Okay," he lowered his voice. "But really, what's the problem?"

I really did not want to tell Ron about the letter. Not only I didn't want my friends to know I was into Malfoy, it would have been awkward to explain, since we'd been enemies for all of our school lives, but I also did not want them to know that he had turned me down.

And Malfoy? How would I even face him from now on?

However, I still felt duty towards him. I couldn't just stop loving somebody, especially if that somebody belonged to a family of Death Eaters and needed somebody checking out on him.

 

I followed Draco into the street, because of course it was the only way to make sure he was safe without having to speak to him. I slipped on my invisibility cloak, and did not stop to talk to Ron when he asked me what I was doing.

He exhaled. "Okay, I guess," he said, when he understood. "Take care."

Draco was in a dark neighbourhood near Diagon Alley, a place where mostly dark wizards dwelled.

I didn't like it. But who was I to judge? I'd been wrong in sending him that letter. I didn't even know if he was living only with his mother, or with other people too. And what if the other people really were Death Eaters? It would have endangered him to know he was sending letters to me, and receiving them.

I felt almost glad he told me never to write him again. Almost. My chest still hurt too much at that, and your heart doesn't stop loving just because it's complicated.

When Draco entered the shop, I followed him inside. I tried my best to be careful, and not to let the door close up on me.

I glanced at the street before I entered, and caught the name of the alley. Knockturn Alley. I did not know why there could be something so conspicuous as a dark wizard alley in plain sight, but I decided to ask no questions.

And either way, who would I have asked them to? The owner of the shop Draco had just entered had one of those looks upon his face that made you wish you were never born. And if he was looking at a young Malfoy like that, how would he look at the Chosen One who materialized out of thin air from an invisibility cloak? No, I had to stay hidden.

"This is Borgin and Burkes, right?" Draco asked, looking mildly disgusted at something that resembled human fingernails.

The owner of the shop grunted. "It is,"

"I expected something a bit... different," Draco replied, and in my mind there was no doubt that what he really meant was 'fancier'.

"Have you come on behalf of your mother?" the man asked. "I heard about your father."

He did not say he was sorry. What a disgusting man. Even I would have offered my sympathies, and Lucius was not on top of the list of people I'd missed if they went to prison.

"No," Draco said, but his voice was a little strained, and I understood with gut wrenching clarity that, by now, I knew what he sounded like when he was about to tell a lie. "I need to get a few things for myself."

I looked around, but averted my eyes when I caught a glass eye that seemed to be staring back at me. I wondered if the shop mostly sold body parts.

"We mostly deal in cursed objects," the owner told Draco, almost answering my question. I tried to close my mind and hide my thoughts like Dumbledore had taught me.

Draco hold up in his hands a blood stained pack of cards. "But, do they also have a function?"

"Of course, you arrogant boy," the man chuckled. "You remind me of your father."

Draco's mouth tightened in a straight line, and I felt a bit uneasy too. It seemed Lucius was not really popular, not even amongst dark wizards, and that his son had been cursed to inherit his bad reputation.

The owner of the shop showed Draco something that looked like a hand. I hoped it wasn't a real one.

"This is the Hand of Glory," he said, "It's not only a cursed object. It also gives light only to the holder. What do you think about it, nice, isn't it? You could go around in all manner of places without being seen, but you would have eyes in the dark."

Draco looked at it lightly horrified, but I caught interest in his eyes. Whomever had sent him to do their dirty work seemed like they could be interested in those kinds of things.

"I admit, this could be rather useful," Draco drawled impatiently.

The man looked at where I was hiding. "It's almost like an Invisibility Cloak, in a way."

Shit. There was no way the man hadn't understood I was there. But how...? Perhaps I had to train myself to be as quiet as possible when I wore it. But, since the cloak was a very rare item, probably the only one in the world, I realized something else too.

The man must have been a Death Eater. Not that I had any doubt, but apparently the Ministry hadn't found him guilty. With a shop just like that, he was hiding in plain sight. The Death Eaters must have known I owned an invisibility cloak. Why, Dumbledore himself had never forgot to mention it when he remembered the whole school of my quests, at the assemblys. The headmaster seemed to find it very flattering that a student had been able to retrieve one of the three Deathly Hallows. The only one who was hidden at Hogwarts, I supposed.

My heart skipped a beat at the thought. Of course the other two items must have existed as well, as Luna had said. If only I could have got my hands on the Resurrection Stone... for Sirius...

But it was wrong. Hermione had told me how the story ended. The people brought back to life were nothing but ghosts, not too happy to be back to Earth in the first place.

Besides, Remus had promised he was going to take care of that, and he was still beyond the Veil as we spoke, so I decided to trust his judgement. Even though the thought made my heart ache even more.

I decided that, if I found a way to escape without being captured by the owner of the shop, I'd be more careful in how I used my cloak from that moment on.

"How does it work, sir?" Draco asked, holding the Hand of Glory, slightly disturbed.

"Call me Borgin," Borgin replied. "You have to put a candle in it."

"I'll let you in on a secret," the man added. He looked at where I was, as if he was contemplating whether I could hear such a thing. He shrugged. He apparently had decided that I couldn't really be there. "If you buy Peruvian Istant Darkness Powder to cover your steps, it will become even more difficult to follow you."

Draco's eyes lit up, not in happiness, but in resignation. As if he couldn't oppose to whomever was asking him to buy the item, so he could at least make them proud by buying the powder as well.

A thought crept into my mind, like a poisonous snake. What if Draco had become a Death Eater himself?

I felt as if all the air had been cleaned out from the room. I had to try not to take strangled breaths, though, because they would have heard me. But what if my doubts proved to be true? What could I do to save him from such a fate?

In the meantime, Draco was looking at the hand very much like I had looked at it. It was very human-like.

"Don't you worry," Borgin snorted. "It's made of wax. It's only meant to resemble a human's. Though if you like body parts, we have other things you might like buying..."

Draco nodded his head in disgust, but at the last moment he put on a cold, calculating expression in his eyes. It managed to make him look a snob like his father.

I couldn't help but admire his bravery for a moment. I couldn't recall why I'd called him a coward.

Maybe because fighting with him had always been fun, and I missed it even in that moment. It was like duelling, but with words. And it had always given me the impression that he teased me because he cared about me like I cared about him.

Well, I'd been wrong on that regard.

"Legends say it can unlock any door," Borgin added, looking fondly at the Hand. "But of course, if you buy it, you'll find it out for yourself."

Draco looked like he had run out of words. Mimicking his father could only go so far, especially since he'd spent the last year at Hogwarts trying to get out from under his influence.

And his father had gone to Azkaban, but only to let him inherit his cruel, wicked lifestyle.

I wondered whether Draco hated me. I didn't think I'd ever know, since I didn't plan on talking to him again. I couldn't blame him if he did. If I wasn't who I was, the Chosen One, he would have never had to step in his father's shoes. If he had become a Death Eater, it was probably because even Lucius had understood I had the hots for his son.

So, if Draco hated me, good. I hated myself too. I was willing to bet he started hating me from the moment I kissed him. Must have been a horrifying experience, to have the most different boy from you in the world to kiss you. The one who kept fucking up your life, and everybody else's lives all over again, but whom everybody thought was so important.

My thoughts of self-hate stopped right in time to follow Draco out of the door. Thankfully, I made a run for it gracefully enough, and Borgin did not seem to have noticed my presence more than he did before.

Outside of the shop, I wondered for a few minutes what to do. Take off my invisibility cloak? Talk to Draco? But what would I have told him? Would I have pathetically begged him to understand that I loved him, or would I have tried the opposite approach, telling him I didn't really care? So that it would put some distance between us?

In the end, I didn't do anything. I watched him walk away, and I went back to my friends.

Hermione looked at me worriedly when I took off my invisibility cloak. I probably looked like I had seen a ghost.

"Harry! What were you doing?" she hissed.

"Stalking Draco Malfoy," Ron replied darkly.

Chapter Text

On the train that took to Hogwarts, Draco did not sit beside me.

I don't know why I noticed -- he never did. And even though things between us were different now, they had also taken a turn for the worse recently. Sometimes I'd forget for a minute about his humiliating reply, and then the memory would come crashing into my mind with the same brute force.

I'd never admitted I liked Draco Malfoy because I had already lost so much -- I wasn't ready to lose him too.

But there were two of us. And, even though I didn't have to force myself on him like with the kiss, I didn't have to lose him if I didn't want it. I'd be damned before he was turned into a Death Eater.

"I'm going to the toilet," I told Ron and Hermione after about twenty minutes of awkward silence. In the corridor, I slipped on my invisibility cloak.

The toilet was obviously only an excuse. I looked at all the train compartments until I found one where Draco Malfoy was sitting alongside Martin Kowalski. In front of them, Goyle was with Pansy Parkinson.

I admit I had a hard time keeping track of Dudley's love life, but I knew he and Pansy weren't together anymore. It had happened during the Triwizard Tournament, which, now that I think about it, had been such a shock that I thought of my life in terms of before and after the Tournament. It was a mix of things -- the public pressure, the mermaid's call, seeing Voldemort, getting back the memories of my parents... one of those days Dudley and Pansy had broken up, and I never really gave a shit about it.

Well, I did now. What if Pansy wanted to try her luck with Draco?

They seemed to laugh and chatter like old friends. There was a level of intimity I'd never seen before, but I soon realized it wasn't romantic, or sexual. It was the level of intimity Draco had with Martin -- as if Pansy knew some things about his life usually Draco didn't mention. I had the feeling both of them knew that the Malfoys were worse than they were letting on, but they didn't know Draco's family like I did. You know, the kind of sharing I did with Ron and Hermione. Both Draco and I had trouble opening up, and in the moments we'd been together we'd been uncharacteristically honest.

"Have you heard about the Slug Club?" Pansy asked. "I'm betting the old man won't let me in because I have dyed hair. Ugh. Old men, I swear!"

"You dated Dudley," Martin said. "You don't get a saying on men if you've only met the worse of the species." He winked at her.

"Are you trying your luck with me, Kowalski?" she replied. "I told you -- no more boyfriends after Dudley."

"So, girlfriends then?" Draco asked. There was a mocking tone in his voice, like it was an inside joke. I hoped the inside joke wasn't, 'oh, so you're queer like Potter'.

"No," Pansy replied tight-lipped. "Besides, you're both too immature for me."

"I wasn't asking for me," Draco became very pale. "We are not close friends, but even you know it would never work between the two of us like that. Besides," he added, with an arrogant drawl. "I don't even like you."

My fists were so closed that I felt my nails scratching my skin. I was terribly hard not to acknowledge that I could have been there, teasing Draco. And I did it much better than his so called friends did.

"So what if I want to have fake orange hair?" Pansy asked, tugging a lock of her newly dyed orange bob. "Ginny Weasley has real orange hair and I bet Slughorn will choose her for the Slug Club. She always gets chosen for everything."

At the mention of Ginny, Draco's eyes darkened.

"Yes, she has a way of getting what she wants, usually," he commented, a bit unkindly for my taste.

"Well, Pansy, that's your fault if you want to look like a Weasley," Goyle snorted."You have to pay the price."

Draco and Martin did not laugh. I guessed Martin, in his long career of playboy, had probably tried his luck with Ginny as well.

"He won't choose me as well," Martin shrugged, talking about Slughorn. "I'm American. Even though I live in Godric's Hollow now! Near the old house of Potter's parents."

"Has Draco built a shrine there?" Pansy asked. "Do you live and work in the temple?"

Martin and Goyle laughed so hard that I had the feeling it was nothing but a tasteless joke. Shit. They probably knew I liked Draco, and teased him about it. After all, it might have been for Rita's articles only.

And besides, I was concentrating on something else as well. Was my parents' house the way they left it? Why had nobody ever told me about it? I wanted to visit it. I didn't even know where it was they had lived. Dumbledore must have known, why hadn't he told me? And what about Ron and Hermione? I was willing to bet they knew too.

The topic of the conversation had already changed once or twice but I hadn't followed it.

However, Goyle added, "More likely Lucius had built a shrine there, the last place the Dark Lord had been seen for a long time. He also killed two of those who defied him the most there. In a way, that night he won too."

I did my best not to take off my cape and start punching him. Perhaps, the sense of the shrine was the same in Pansy's joke. I didn't have to think that everything was about Draco and I's fake, short-lived, relationship.

"Speaking of Lucius," Pansy said. "What will you do all the time, Draco, now your daddy's not around?"

It was unkind. His 'friends' were unkind to him as well. Another reason not to get worked up on the joke.

"I've moved on to better and bigger things," Draco drawled.

Shit. This was his confession time. He was about to show his Death Mark. I just knew it.

"Do you mean him?" Pansy asked, curious.

Draco nodded.

I was not expecting Pansy's reaction. She started laughing really hard, the laughter she had made at her joke was nothing compared to that. 

She looked at him, and then cupped her face in her hands. "Did you really have to say 'big'?"

Draco smiled sleazily. Martin started laughing too, until he was out of breath, and I was afraid somebody was going to call a nurse.

I understood, and felt my ears become very red. Either Draco liked another boy, or he was making fun of me. If it was the latter, then maybe he liked boys after all. But he wanted to use me, to see the Chosen One up close, and when I told him I really loved him, he had to put an end to it.

I wondered what even his fake friends would think of him if I told them. In that moment, I was only humiliated. I did not know what was worse -- if he was talking about me, or if he wasn't.

But, from the tone of the conversation, he certainly wasn't talking about Lord Voldemort.

I looked at him. I wanted to do a lot of things. To take off my cloak. To confront him. To shake him, to make him tell the truth. Was he even interested in me, or in boys in general? Was he a Death Eater? Did he hate me?

But, in that moment, I noticed something that made my heart jump in my chest. His nose. It didn't look as it usually did. It had been broken, and hadn't been fixed properly. I wondered who did such a thing to him.

It didn't matter that I had my nose broken before too. Nobody could lay hands on Draco Malfoy. I had made sure the only person who did that had been sent to Azkaban.

But, apparently, Lucius wasn't the only person.

Until a moment before, I would have been happy to be the one to smash his nose, but I wasn't so sure anymore. I had to give up confronting him again, like a coward, and went back to Ron and Hermione.

"Mate," Ron said as soon as he saw me coming back. "You were spying on Malfoy again, weren't you?"

"What?" I asked cheerily.

"You're such a big liar," Hermione teased me. "Who uses the invisibility cloak to go to the toilet?"

"A very private person," I replied. "I'd hate for people to open the door of the cabinet and see me naked."

"Well, admittedly, you could do that, you are weird," Ron conceded. "And a bit paranoid. But! Don't make me change topic. You were spying on him, weren't you?"

My silence spoke louder than words.

"Harry, this has to stop," Hermione said. She looked bewildered. I could understand. When I came out to her, I lied saying I didn't like Malfoy, and she didn't even know about the kiss.

"You don't understand," I leaned in closer to them. "I'm pretty sure Draco has become a Death Eater, and I intend to find out if I'm right."

 

 

Snape started off his career as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher teaching us about jinxes.

I hated how right I've always been about that man. Ever since I met him, I'd always had a gut feeling something about him wasn't right. And Hermione had tried many times to make me change my mind, but it doesn't take a genius to understand a Professor who bullies their own students isn't a good person.

"Potter," Snape singled me out. "Since all summer I've been reading about you, I find it is unneccessarily difficult to get you out of my head. Please, come show the next jinx to the class, so I have a reason for thinking about you."

He looked at me with the same expression he would have used if he had seen me kissing Malfoy. I felt a little light-headed, but soon found out I was happy to remember he didn't know.

"Have you been reading all summer about Potter too?" a Ravenclaw called Marcus Belby asked. "The new Lockhart book?"

"What?" Snape asked in a disinterested tone, though I couldn't say I blamed him.

The last thing I needed was a book about me.

"The fictionalized autobiography of the year he spent at Hogwarts teaching Harry," Marcus replied proudly. "Gilderoy Lockhart and the Charming Chosen One."

"I can't say I've read that," Snape replied, looking as if he was about to recoil. Once again, the feeling was mutual. "No, I've read all those Daily Prophets articles. People can't talk about anything else since the prophecy, but no one has even heard it. I wondered whether it's a publicity stunt."

"Organized by whom?" I couldn't help but ask. "My management? Heck, I think my poor, ignorant, Muggle aunt and uncle from Surrey sure use every chance they get to exploit my fame. In fact, uncle Vernon is proud to call himself my manager, other than a kind loving uncle who's never sent me to bed without dinner or who's never beaten me senseless just for having more magic in my veins than his dimwitted little man Dudley."

I realized too late all that I'd said. I was simply too tired of pretending things were alright.

"Thank you for oversharing, Potter," Snape said, after the long silence that had followed my words. "I'm sure I won't forget a word of it as long as I live, and I didn't even care about it in the first place."

"Like you didn't care about my mother after she said no to you for the seven hundredth time?" I asked.

"I would prefer you weren't so tasteless as to throw your dead parents in the careless, arrogant soup of your words," Snape replied. "Just because You-Know-Who is really back, it's not like we have to take you seriously and not propose St. Mungus to take you in. If I were you, I'd spend there at least a couple of years to get my faculties back. Or if the problem is another, and it's that you haven't been educated, well, sorry for commenting on your long rant from before, but I did think going to bed without dinner and being beaten senseless would have other effects on most children. Of course, you always have to be special."

"You wanted me to show something to the class," I snarled.

"Yes," Snape said. "Sometimes, spells can't be done with words. And so, you have to learn how to do non-verbal spells too. I'll jinx you, Potter, and you'll have to use a non-verbal Shield-Charm. Think you're up to that?"

In the first lesson, which had been shorter and more basic, he had told us about non-verbal spells.

"Yes, sir," I replied.

Snape sent a jinx at me. I'd never know which jinx it was -- a serious one, or not. I protected myself with the shield, and that was it.

"Of course, Potter is always the best at everything," Snape said. "The rest of you can try to live up to his standard, if you can."


After the lesson, I was pretty pissed off. "He didn't have any right to act all condescending about it," Hermione told me. "You've been pretty good! And yes, you did tell him a few things that were out of place, but it's that way between you and him..."

"Yes," Neville who was walking behind us backed me up. "Take Professor McGonagall. Harry could have started a fight with her last year when she said he wasn't good enough to be an Auror, but she also said he wasn't good enough yet. She appreciates our efforts to get better. She's the one who told me I need more confidence, because I've never had any before."

"Professor McGonagall is a good example," Ron said. "Thanks Neville. You see, Hermione? Harry never picks a fight with her."

"I know it's not your fault, Harry," Hermione added. "It's just... I mean. This year things will be hard for you. They were hard for you last year too. People believe you now, but you lost Shacklebolt and Sirius. You know about the prophecy. You think Draco, who was your friend last year, has become a Death Eater. I'm only saying, take it easy. You explode with Snape because you've been keeping it all inside. You can't keep it all inside any longer."

"I know," I replied roughly. I really did not want to talk about it. "I promise that I'll try to keep everything under control."

Hermione pursed her lips. I knew that was not what she meant. But, like I said before, I was never good at sharing. And, as much as I loved and trust her and Ron, it has never come easy to me to let them in. I couldn't let ayone quite as close as I wanted to. Of course, every time I tried I was rejected. Just like with Draco. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"Look on the bright side," Ron added. "You've always been good at Defense Against the Dark Arts, focus on the lesson, not the teacher. And maybe Potions will be better with Slughorn."

 

So far, we had only had a few uninteresting classes with Slughor, which he spent talking about his past pupils and the people destined to become his new favourite students. He also bragged about his achievements -- a lot.

But the first day we started working on a Potion, he raised the stakes more than Snape had ever done.

"If you get this Potion done correctly," he said. "You'll win something. First person who brings me the Potion done as it should be done, will get a vial of Felix Felicis, Liquid Luck."

I looked at Hermione. Her eyes were shining in determination. 

"It will make the drinker of this potion very lucky, make them win at everything they try to achieve," Hermione whispered to me. "But it only lasts a day, and it's expensive and rare. It shouldn't be taken too often because it causes recklessness and the risk of becoming addicted."

"Ha," Ron commented. "I wouldn't mind being addicted to that."

Hermione gave him a very sour look.

I glanced at the little vial on Slughorn's desk. If I had won it... I would have used it to find out whether Draco was a Death Eater, and to confront him on the kiss and the letter. I had the feeling the potion made you feel braver as well.

"I myself have used this potion twice," Slughorn added, confronting a few suspicious looks from students. "It resulted in two perfect days. This could change the course of one's life, so, of course, use it well."

"Oh, I just remembered," Hermione whispered to Ron and I. "It can make you feel so high, you have to beware of when the effect is about to wear off, 'cause you'll feel very low, which can result in troubling circumstances. It's more trouble than it's worth, if you ask me."

"Okay, then, make a rubbish Potion on purpose," Ron suggested. "Otherwise you'll win it, and I don't want to see it going down the sink."

"I'd probably gift it to someone," Hermione said unexpectedly. Then, she glanced angrily at Ron. "Of course, I'd be happier if this person used it for the right reasons."

I opened up my Potions book. For the sixth year, the Weasleys had gotten me the books while I was stalking Draco Malfoy, so I didn't check them out first. But the money my young parents had left me before dying was limited, so I had to buy used books.

I took a look. It was so scribbled, inside, it was hard to see the potion underneath.

"Oh, shoot," Ron commented. "I didn't know Mom got you that one. She didn't do it on purpose. She doesn't want to upset people outside the family. If it makes you feel better, it was probably for Ginny or I."

"Your mother wouldn't do that, to any of us," I replied. "The cover was in perfect conditions." I showed him.

Even on the inside, the person who had scribbled over the Potion had a nice calligraphy and the things they had written didn't look like ramblings, or school gossips...

I looked closer. It was another way to create the potion! And, by the looks of it, it was way quicker than the one explained in the book.

It was, as one might say, a shorcut to create the potion shown in the book.

I took a deep breath. I wanted the vial of good luck, didn't I? Well, then, things weren't too difficult. It was only one way or the other. Follow the instructions of the book, which were hard to comprehend because Snape had never taught us much, or follow the easy and nicely explained shortcut, that maybe would result in a completely different potion?

After all, how was I to know it wasn't there as a joke?

But I had to get my hands on the vial. I owed it to Malfoy to find out what had happened to him. And the only way to be faster than Hermione or Marcus Belby, the Ravenclaw Slughorn was taking a liking to, was using the shortcut.

I followed very carefully the instructions of the former owner of the book. It reminded me of the time when I had found Tom Riddle's old diary, so I felt a little spooked out. What if this had belonged to Tom Riddle too, and following his shortcuts would result in binding my soul to him?

But our souls were already jointed in some way, since the only way to kill him was to end myself too. I tried to shake away the thought from my head, but, if anything, it made me want even more to follow the shortcut. Nothing that could happen to me would be worse than that.

I looked at Hermione's potion. It already looked lilac, while mine was a deep violet-red. I could see that hers would be ready in a matter of minutes.

I suppose I had to be happy for her. She'd get the potion and give it Ron. And Ron would understand that his crush on her was probably requited, I mean, the two of them had never been exactly subtle. And I trusted Ron, though he was reckless, to use the potion for the right reasons. He'd probably use it to give us a chance against You-Know-Who, 'cause that was the friend he was.

But I needed to know if Draco was a Death Eater.

I looked at my own potion again. This time, the colour was fading into lilac, and it looked silky, even more so than Hermione's.

I raised my hand, silently hoping Slughorn wasn't like Snape, who pretended not to see the students he didn't like when they raised their hands.

"I think mine is done, sir," I said. "Could you check it out?"

It was hard to ignore the deeply shocked looks by the people in the room, even Hermione, who wanted nothing to do with the potion.

Slughorn took a long look at it, and mixed it with a wooden spoon, to check out how thick it was.

"Congratulations, Potter," he said. "You've just won a vial of Felix Felicis."

Chapter Text

"Harry," Hermione told me a few days after. "I don't mean to tell you that you can't keep the potion, but... it was the book, wasn't it?"

"What?" I feigned indifference. I found it very offensive that she had jumped to conclusions so quickly, even though I knew I'd never been the best at Potions.

"Your book," she said, her lips pursed. "The one you and Ron were saying was scribbled on the inside. It was a different way to make the same potion, wasn't it?"

I couldn't exactly lie to her, besides Hermione was so much into studying that it suddenly seemed cruel to keep it a secret. 

"Yes," I replied. "But I didn't tell the two of you, because I took the risk without knowing if it would have paid off! I had no idea whether the potion I was making would turn out to be the right one, or whether the different instructions were a joke."

Hermione looked at me, then at the book.

"Go ahead, read it," I said. "I don't mind sharing it with you and Ron. It's not like I want to be the only one who's good at Potions when it's not even my own achievement. I don't mind if you use it too, I really don't."

"Thanks, Harry," she said, grabbing the book. "That's very kind of you, but first... we need to understand to whom it belonged."

"What do you mean?" I felt my heart sinking into my stomach. "There's no name tag on it, so it could take all year, and I was intending to keep it."

"I knew you were," she said. "But there's a clue."

She showed me the first page. I'd never looked at it, because to me it wasn't relevant to whom it belonged.

"Property of the Half-Blood Prince," she said, then shivered.

Half-blood was a slur for people who had Muggle blood. It was stupid. Only a handful of people had 'pure' blood, and they were all related to each other -- the Malfoys, the Blacks, the Lestranges, the Weasleys, etc... it was all part of the same family, even though the Weasleys were very distantly related.

Only very few people still used the slur. I was willing to bet it was people like Lucius Malfoy, but I'd never heard it said out loud by anyone.

"Well, he's reclaiming the slur," I said, because the look on Hermione's face could be described as shocked into silence.

"He?" she asked. "How do you know it's a 'he'?"

"Prince," I said.

"It could be a surname," she said. "I'm pretty sure I've heard it before. And besides... maybe they like the term prince better than princess or royal. You can't really tell only by that."

I wasn't sure of how it worked, because I wouldn't have liked the term princess, but I decided to keep it to myself.

"So, we might never find out their name," I added, taking back the book. "But this nickname surely belongs to some sixteen-year-old at Hogwarts, not to a dark wizard."

"Do what you want to," she said. "But Harry... be careful. You've been raised by Muggles just like me, so it's hard to imagine for the both of us, but many objects in the wizarding world are cursed. It wouldn't be news to anyone if this book was cursed too."

I knew Hermione meant well, so I just nodded, but in my mind there was no doubt that I'd keep the book.

A few days later, Ron announced at lunch, "Hagrid is back!"

Hagrid had, in fact, spent the previous year in France with Madame Maxime. My friends and I decided to visit him as soon as possible, in the little house on the Hogwarts grounds where he lived.

But, when we arrived, he had bad news to share.

"I'm sorry, but I won't be teachin' ye Care of the Magical Creatures this year," he said. 

"Come on, we missed you last year!" Hermione said, and, to my surprise, she sounded sincere.

Hagrid lowered his eyes. "The missus and I are goin' on honeymoon," he said.

"Hagrid! This is... amazing!" I replied. I had taken a look around the room.

Our friend was packing his bags, fitting inside of them a lot of weird clothes and objects that didn't look very useful. A few dragon eggs were almost slipping out of a suitcase.

Hagrid took them in his big hand and fitted them nicely into the suitcase, but the balance was precarious and only temporary.

"Ay, dragon eggs," Hagrid confirmed. "They should hatch in the South. We're going to Africa."

Hermione looked out of words, so she offered her congratulations once again. I knew she was asking herself how could Hagrid take it so well, to stay away from us and other students for the second year in a row.

The look on his face made me think there was something he wasn't telling us, but I didn't pry. Perhaps it was only that I didn't understand very much grown ups and their relationships. As an half-giant, it must have been difficult for Hagrid to find a mate of the same species, let alone a mate he liked.

Besides, as a boy who liked boys, I knew a thing or two about unconventional marriages, and I could tell Hagrid's was not the most conventional type.

When we were walking back from Hagrid's hut, Hermione suddenly stopped in her tracks. "What if there's a reason why Hagrid is never at school anymore?"

"What do you mean?" Ron asked. "You're not very romantic, you know. Of course there's a reason, and she's called Olympe Maxime."

"You're on first name basis," Hermione replied, a bit shocked.

"Well... it's nothing of the sort... I just have a good memory," Ron said, and I did not doubt him since he'd never shown interest in half-giants before. I couldn't help but snicker at the stupidity of his and Hermione's couple problems.

If only I had less to do, I could have played match-maker between the two of them, because I was sick of my heterosexual friends taking years to sort out that they had a crush on each other.

"Well," Hermione added hastily. "You-Know-Who came back last year, like Harry said. And Hagrid disappears and goes to France. This year, the papers have confirmed Harry's words, and Hagrid says he can't teach this year as well. Isn't it a bit suspicious?"

"It is," Ron said. "But I don't think Hagrid is a coward, so if you do..."

"It is suspicious," I confirmed their words. "But it was Umbridge who asked Hagrid to go away. And today, he looked guilty and sad. Do you think that maybe Hagrid has... you know?"

"What?" even Hermione had trouble believing me. Her eyes were red, her gaze disappointed. "Helped You-Know-Who?"

I didn't nod, but they read it on my face.

"I think you need a break from all of this," Ron told me seriously. "Since you're starting to doubt Hagrid as well."

 

One day, when we were having Potions again, I looked at one of the exercises and noticed something funny. 

The Half-Blood Prince hadn't only written shortcuts for most of the potions in the book. They had also written down a few rare spells, that I'd never read about before.

The one my eye caught was called Levicorpus. The thing with the spell was, it was only written there with a basic explanation of how to move your wand, but there wasn't anything about its effects, so I couldn't just use it on whomever I wanted to.

I found myself waiting for the right moment to use Levicorpus. Perhaps I could use it on me. But what if it had an unpleasant effect? I could use it on someone I disliked, so it wouldn't make that much of a difference. But how could I be so jaded as to use a potentially dangerous spell on someone, even if it was Dudley or Goyle?

When Slughorn passed close to my desk, I closed the book istintively. He gave me the stink eye.

"Read the potion from your textbook, Potter," he said, eyes chilly on me. "It's turning green."

I silently cursed myself because I'd been thinking about Levicorpus. When I opened the book, the Professor took a look at it. I hoped there wasn't any rule against used books with shortcuts written on them.

But he only smiled and whispered, "I've seen it before. It belonged to one of my students," and proceeded to walk away.

I couldn't hope to get away with it, but it was now or never. "Wait, Professor," I called him. I leaned closer, and whispered, "Have you ever heard of a spell called Levicorpus?"

His eyes shone. "Not many can say that they have, but I do. An advice, Potter, if you won't tell anyone that I told. Use it on someone that you don't like very much, or, as I should say as your Professor, don't use it at all. Yes, go for the latter, and I'll sleep more comfortable tonight."

He winked at me, and left.

But, as every time Professors tell you that you shouldn't do something, it only made me wanted to do it more. Besides, what if the spell was dangerous enough that I could use it on Death Eaters? I had to practise it.

 

The occasion presented itself soon enough. Now, to be honest, I stopped thinking about it after a while. It was obvious that following Slughorn's advice was for the best, as much as I didn't want to.

But, a few months after, Dudley finally talked to me. 

"I heard what you said about me and Dad in Defense Against the Dark Arts," he snarled.

I gulped. Dudley had failed many classes during the OWLs, so I almost never saw him anymore. DADA was one of the classes he wasn't taking anymore, which was why I had spoken so ill about him.

In a way, it was better for everyone involved. Now that many teachers, including Snape, didn't see Dudley that much anymore, his presence at school went a bit unnoticed and people didn't complain about him anymore.

"And how can you be sure that's the truth?" I decided to play the only card I held, but I was nervous. "After all, why would I tell people about uncle Vernon? I'd never done it before. Why should I start now?"

Dudley didn't seem to take the bait. "I don't know and I don't care, but you said I was dimwitted and didn't have magic in my veins."

I was surprised. "I didn't know you cared about that. You're always proud to tell me that you have no magic. I thought it was something that you knew. That you liked, about yourself."

"You don't want me to be better than you," Dudley spat at me. "You've always resented me for it. If we had been in a Muggle school, I would be better than you at everything, and we both know it."

"Believe me," I said sourly. "Hogwarts is my safe place. I do not want you here."

"They were about to kick me out, stupid liar," Dudley did not seem to have full control over himself. "They kicked me out and you stopped them, doing some weird magic of yours. What? You think I haven't noticed anything at all? You think I would just think it was natural that your boyfriend took my place and pretended to do magic? Only because you wanted to ruin my life."

"I do not want to ruin your life!" I yelled. "I only don't want to ruin mine. Selfish, yeah, I know. But they would have kicked me out too, and I'd be damned before I'd get myself kicked out of Hogwarts. It's the only home I've ever known, it's the only place for people like me."

Dudley looked at me with something that resembled a deep fury in his eyes. It took me by surprise how much he looked like his father. I took a shaky breath.

"I don't know if you've noticed, but even here people think you're weird," he only said. "With what happened to you as a baby, and that ugly-ass scar, and the fact that you're always paranoid, and the fact that you like boys..." he looked around. "People here are a bit more like you, I admit that, but you're all freaks. Both with the magic in your veins and your perverse interest in Malfoy, face it. Nothing about you is normal. Nothing about you is natural."

I gripped my wand very tight.

"Stop it, Dudley," I replied. "I... I don't want to lash out. Or hurt you. You're the only one here who wants to ruin someone else's life. Mine. Listen, I don't know why my aunt insisted to make you go to Hogwarts. I understand if you feel... alienated. But don't, just don't."

"Don't what?" he asked. "Ruin your plans to take down You-Know-Who? This whole world is crazy. You're crazy. You keep... doing all that crazy stuff like saving the school. And you think you're so important. You have this belief that everything you do is super important and no one can interrupt it. Face it, you're more like Dad than I am!"

Oh, I wasn't going to let this slide. I couldn't. He couldn't have possibly compared me to that monster.

"You're his son," I said, trying very hard to keep my nerves steady. "Aren't you Dursley always saying how much I am like my stupid, reckless parents? It seems that you all have this belief the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. I can't be like your dad."

He looked me down, as if trying to see where I was bruised underneath my clothes.

"Well, he did try to raise you," Dudley replied. "You've got to hand him that. You might not like the method, but maybe it's what works for you. You're ambitious just like him, so maybe something did get through."

I pointed my wand at him.

I won't make up excuses for this last part. I wasn't thinking straight. I was only in so much pain, and I wanted a way to make him stop talking. 

I don't want to say that maybe I am a bit ruthless. And if I am, I sure hope it wasn't my uncle who made me that way.

"Levicorpus," I said.

Dudley started being lifted into the air, until he was turned upside down and some invisible force seemed to be holding him from his ankles. His trousers fell down, and his underwear was showing.

Everyone laughed at his underwear.

I felt my ears go red. This wasn't what I intended to do. Of course, I didn't know what the spell was about to do. Maybe, something even worse. But I'd never do something like that. It was something a coward, a bully, would do. It was a stupid prank, and I wasn't sure I liked the Half-Blood Prince anymore. Snape soon joined us with an angry look on his face, and I turned around and ran away.


A few days after the accident, we went to Hogsmeade. I still felt guilty, but I didn't say no to the opportunity. I needed to think about other things for a while. Maybe Hermione was right -- it was time to take a break.

I didn't want to keep that many secrets anymore, so I told my friends about Levicorpus.

"If this isn't proof that you have to get rid of the book!" Hermione exclaimed. "Or at least let Professor McGonagall check it out."

I liked Professor McGonagall, but she was like Hermione. She would have taken the whole school year to check it out to make sure she hadn't made any mistake.

"No way," Ron defended me. "He only needs to be careful what he uses, that's all. The potions never hurt nobody, and Harry was letting me see them too. My grades have become much higher since then. I need to have good grades, Hermione. Not everybody was born with your brain."

"Why do you need good grades in Potions?" Hermione asked unkindly. "You want to become a professional Quidditch player growing up."

Ron did not know how to reply to that.

"The spell freaked me out, and I would have probably risked being kicked out, if it wasn't that nobody likes Dudley," I admitted. "But that doesn't mean I want to get rid of the whole book. Ron is right -- I won't touch the spells anymore."

Hermione seemed convinced, but only barely so.

"I think it's very uncool, the way Dudley treated you," Ron said then, since I'd told them a few things about that too. I had given them the very short version of what had happened with uncle Vernon as well. 

Maybe it was only an impression, but they didn't seem to be looking at me quite in the same way. It was exactly what I feared, but somehow it hurt me less than I thought it would. Nobody, not even my two friends, looked at me as if I was conventional anyway.

Well, someone did. I was sure Draco was not above finding me special, everybody did. And I wasn't flattered in the slightest, they all had their reasons. And perhaps, once he got to see the Chosen One up close, he realized he'd always hated me. That was the version that made most sense, with whatever had happened between us, and with his friends' jokes.

While Ron was telling Hermione something about how even Quidditch players need to have good grades, to sound more clever in their interviews or something, I took my head between my hands and sat on the snow.

"Their quarrels are familiar," a voice behind me drawled. "Goyle and Martin have spent the whole trimester arguing like that."

I looked at him. Draco was a light at the end of the tunnel, all icy blond hair and icy grey eyes in the snow. But, I reminded myself, I was still mad at him. It was the first time he'd spoken to me since the letter, and here he was, joking like we were good friends.

He sat next to me. I tried my best to look at Ron and Hermione, whose faces were now so close they looked about to kiss or strangle each other with no in between.

"Somehow, I doubt that," I joked dryly.

"Nope, just like that," Draco said, convinced. I asked myself whether it was a gay joke. I told myself not to give him the satisfaction to care either way.

"How have you been, Potter?" he asked. I could see his mind moving, trying carefully to skip all the parts about the letter while trying to remain friends either way. I wondered what he needed me for. Had he been asked to bring me to the other Death Eaters?

"You'd know that," I replied sourly. "If you didn't tell me to stop sending you letters. My uncle is still the same, if not worse. I have lost Lupin too, now. He went looking for Sirius behind the Veil. Oh, and, as you know, I finally know I was really destined to kill Voldemort."

Draco looked angry. "You know very well why I couldn't reply to your letters, I'd been living with Snape."

Oh. I wondered how much he knew about us. It gave me a little hope about Draco sending me that reply.

"You think you might have replied differently, in another case?" I asked.

"I don't think so," Draco replied icily, putting his facade back on.

But what Draco had always underestimated about me, was that I wasn't dumber than him just because I was more reckless. Just like that time I had beaten him at Muggle chess, I could take calculated steps too, and if I'd been preparing since I was eleven to take down the Dark Lord step by step, Malfoy was an easy prey.

I told myself to proceed carefully, that I had the whole year to find out whether he'd joined the Death Eaters. It was better, in a way, that he lived with Snape. I could now focus on finding out whether Snape was a Death Eater too, something I'd always thought and wanted to tell Dumbledore for a while.

And I still had my vial of Felix Felicis. I wondered for a minute whether it was the right time to drink it.

"I'm sorry about Lupin," Draco said then, and put an hand on my shoulder. I recoiled from the touch, but tried not to show it. I put a hand on his arm, hoping that it would hurt the place where he might have been marked.

Well, not that I hoped he'd feel any pain, I just couldn't care very much and -- fuck, Dudley was right. I was ambitious and ruthless, and for the first time I could see why I had scored so high on my Slytherin test. But there were probably Slytherins with more honour than me.

I had never felt better than anyone else just because I was a Gryffindor, even though it was the toxic trait of other people in our House. However, it was the House of the chivalrous, where the ghost, Nearly Headless Nick, used to be a knight. And let's just say that I wasn't feeling very chivalrous.

In that moment, we heard a scream.

I let go of Draco's arm, alarmed.

In that moment, Professor McGonagall reached us.

"Katie Bell," she said. "A Gryffindor one year older than you. She was given a bottle of wine from a man she did not recognize, to give Dumbledore to drink. But she, who had a teenage weakness for alcohol, tried it first, and now she isn't feeling well. It seems the bottle had been... cursed."

A very Death Eater thing to do. I looked at Draco. He lowered his eyes, almost guiltily, as if he couldn't hide it from me.

And, in fact, I knew what he'd done. He'd used my feelings for him to distract me, while a friend went to give Katie the bottle.

I was humiliated, and I had no choice.

I had to tell Dumbledore.

Chapter Text

A lot happened right before the Winter holidays. One day, Dumbledore asked me to go to his office.

He showed me the Pensieve. "It's been a while since I showed you something here, and I'm still not sure it is useful to dwell on the past," he smiled bitterly. "But, you'll need to be able to defeat Voldemort very soon. I won't be able to train you personally when you're out of Hogwarts."

In fact, he had started training me personally in the past few weeks, both physically and continuing to teach me how to protect my thoughts.

"This is from Tom Riddle's childhood," he explained. "I know you've always felt spooked out every time you saw your arch nemesis as a young man. You never told me, but I know. It's more than usual, he's the man who murdered your parents. But more than that, I know you've noticed how much he doesn't look or move like a normal person."

"Yes, sir," I said, "I did notice that."

"That's good, because that means you have an eye for detail. Now, I'll show you one of the most disturbing memories I have of a young Tom. When we're done, I want you to tell me why you think he was the way he was. Consider it a small exercise."

Dumbledore let me follow him into the memory.

There was a younger version of the headmaster talking to an eleven year old Riddle. He had his usual mousy brown hair and intelligent face, he was charming and handsome though a little weasel-looking. In that moment, I had to refrain myself from feeling pity for him. He was drenched in sweat, and looked like he had a fever. In fact, he was in the Hospital Wing.

"I want you to tell me what the voices said," Dumbledore said, looking right through at Riddle, but with a gentle voice. "All of it."

Riddle looked scared, and he couldn't help but remind me of myself. He heard strange voices, like I had when I was about his age, he was an orphan who thought of Hogwarts as his home and Dumbledore as the person he admired the most in the whole world.

"I've never been to Hungary, have I?" the boy asked.

"That's not for me to know," the headmaster replied mischieviously. "But since I found you in an orphanage, no, I don't think so. I would have asked you whether it's Hungary you're really from, but you know who your father is, don't you, Riddle?"

There was defiance in the way Dumbledore had spoken the surname, and the boy snarled. It looked as if his father had been an asshole, unlike mine. But, I told myself, that could not be the only difference between the two of us. Who raised you did not make you, and it was uncle Vernon who had raised me. In a way.

Tom Riddle did not add anything for a while. Then, he spoke again. His voice felt different, and, though I couldn't pinpoint how, it still gave me the chills.

"He knows," he said, whiny. "Sometimes. He has moments when he's aware."

"He's not real," Dumbledore replied gently, and this gave me the chills even more, because it meant that the headmaster knew what the boy was talking about it. "You've got to fight it. I know he seems real, but he's not with us anymore. The little life he had left has already moved on. He's not with you anymore. It's just an impression."

Maybe they were talking about a dead loved one. Did Tom Riddle speak to his dead father? Perhaps it was like when I'd seen my parents in the Mirror of Erised or in the graveyard. Maybe I was a little crazy too.

But Tom said, "Then why does he take the lead, sometimes? A lot less than he used to, but, like before, you heard him. He... he doesn't know about me."

I couldn't make out what was happening, but it was too horrible. Whatever was happening inside Tom's head, it was not your usual brand of loony. And I had nothing against that, because I'd been traumatized too, and I acted recklessly too, and I had had hallucinations too.

But whatever Tom had going on, it felt different, and my scar started hurting.

Dumbledore looked at him with a face that appeared a bit studied, which did not surprise me. The headmaster was always honest and kind, but he had a sly side too. He often decided which face to put on when delivering the blows to the people he didn't like very much, like Umbridge or Fudge. He'd never looked at me like that.

"You've been hurt," he told the boy gently. "I can't even begin to imagine what you've been through. All your loss... You can't expect to be adjusting more easily than that. But, give it time, and we'll see it through together."


The memory around us disappeared. I was still shivering.

"So, what have you learned from it?" Dumbledore asked.

"He didn't listen to you, did he?" I bit back, angry at Tom Riddle for not trusting his headmaster. "He had to give you time, he would have helped you. I'll never be like that, because I listen to you."

Dumbledore looked amused. "Is that what you learned from it? It wasn't my intention. I didn't mean to make it sound like I was threatening you."

"You didn't," I quickly corrected myself. "Why? What was the right answer?"

Dumbledore chuckled. "Dear boy, there isn't a right answer. I asked you what you learned from it, because it's my greatest flaw. I keep looking at the past, and I never seem to be learning. Maybe, this time, you would have done my learning instead of me. Though I suppose I won't be able to escape destiny forever. Every action has its price. Which is why I ask you, do you really think you would have ended up like him if it wasn't for me?"

"I... I don't know. Probably. Yes. We're very similar. Though I can't even begin to understand what it was that he had going on, I suspect he had issues. Growing up in a tough environment... can do bad things to you."

"That's surprising, coming from you," Dumbledore said. "I'm sure you've had your share of suffering, but it never did bad things to you. You're untainted."

I chuckled sarcastically. "You don't know the half of it."

"Look at me," Dumbledore commanded. "You might not trust yourself. But I do. You're reckless, and nervous, and uptight. Dear boy, you're under stress. You're not a monster and you will never be. Tom Riddle... there was something unusual about him that he had since he was very very little."

"I suppose one might say the very same about me," I laughed awkwardly.

"It was not something unusual, it was a tragedy," something flashed in Dumbledore's eyes. "Stubborn boy, aren't you? I confess to you that I won't be anything less than honest. Yes. You did risk becoming like him. It's... I think it was your mother's spell that protected you. You don't need to know the details of it."

"How do I know I won't turn into him in the future?" I asked.

"Because I trust you not to."

 

A few days after, there was an important Quidditch match. I realized that, with everything that had been going on, I didn't really care anymore about what happened on the field. Of course, I loved Quidditch, and I was still good at it. But the wait of a game did not wreck my nerves like it used to.

It could not be said the same thing for Ron. During breakfast, he looked ill. I realized it would have been the most important game he'd ever been in.

"Are you sure you're alright?" Hermione asked him.

Ron looked close to puking. 

"We don't know what it is," Ginny joked, in a manner that reminded me of Fred and George. "The Quidditch match, or the fact that I started dating Neville and he can't stop shutting up about how amazing I am as a kisser."

"It's the Quidditch game, but you're not helping," Ron snarled.

"Well, I believe in gender equity in my relationships," Ginny said. "So I'll do some bragging. Neville is a great kisser too, and he's much hotter than most of you have given him credit for."

"I've always thought he was good-looking," I blurted out. "Heterosexually, objectively speaking," I added, though I did not think there was a single person who still believed I liked girls.

I still hadn't used my vial of Felix Felicis. Of course. The right moment with Draco hadn't presented itself yet. I took it out from my pocket.

"Look, Ron," I whispered. "We still have this, for the game." I shrugged.

He looked at it, wide-eyed. "You wouldn't," he said. He looked like he desired it. I felt a bit sad at the idea that he did not believe in his own natural skills enough to tell me not to drop it in his drink.

"Maybe I would," I replied. 

In that moment, Dean Thomas started talking about something that happened during a lesson with Snape, and Ron turned around to listen. I moved fast enough, so that he didn't notice me.

During the game, Ron was much better than usual. He was a Keeper, which meant that his role was to guard the three goalposts. He didn't let a ball in. We were ecstatic.

Well, the others. I was too busy looking at the audience. Was I wrong, or wasn't Draco there to cheer with the other Slytherins? Maybe he was sick. But when had he ever been too sick for Quidditch?

I almost fell down from my broom twice before Ginny told me to look at the field. She didn't know what was going on, but she sounded so bossy I decided not to contradict her.

At the end of the game, while the rest of the of the team cheered for Ron, Hermione approached me.

"That wasn't the right thing to do," she said.

"What?" I asked.

She poked me lightly on the arm. "You know."

"Oh, Felix Felicis? Of course I didn't drop it in his drink. I only made him think that I did. What? Don't look at me like that. Slughorn told me that it's illegal to use it during sports tournaments."

"Oh, you sly...!" Hermione said, but never finished the sentence. I didn't think it was a nice word. But, she looked happy.

"So, it was all Ron, then?" she asked.

"Yep, that's the way he is when he's relying on his skills, without pressure," I replied. I remembered Dumbledore telling me I was under stress. I wondered whether I would have defeat Voldemort sooner, without the pressure.

Well, the vial was still there.

"You need to tell him. Now," Hermione said. "He deserves to know. Though I can't imagine how much it'll inflate his ego..."

"Okay, but you have to congratulate him," I replied. "You know, tell him he was good, things like that."

"Deal," she said, though she was looking at a girl who was talking to Ron.

When we reached our friend, the girl introduced herself, "I'm Lavender Brown," she told me, "A Gryffindor as well. I don't think we've talked before. Well, as a girl in Gryffindor, I've talked to Desdemona before."

"Hermione," Hermione corrected her.

"Oh, how foolish! I did remember it was the name of a character from that Muggle writer, Shakespeare!"

"He was a playwright," Hermione corrected, though there was no need, I doubted it made any difference to Lavander.

"Well, Hermione, I was just telling your friend that he would have been better as Keeper when my boyfriend was still on the team, he was the best Seeker, unlike Potter."

I was seething with rage. Hermione was too.

"What do you mean, better?" she asked. "He didn't let them score any point."

"Who is your boyfriend?" I wanted to know, instead.

I noticed Hermione looked less worried, now.

"Dudley Dursley," Lavander replied dreamily. "We began dating only recently, but he's hot stuff."

I wished I could unhear that.

In that moment, Draco came out of the school entrance, to join the other Slytherins. It was very fishy, that he'd joined them only after the game.

And because of his gaunt cheeks and the bags under his eyes, there was no mistaking it. He looked seriously ill.

 

 

Right before the Winter holidays, Slughorn organized a party for his Slug Club. We hadn't heard anything beforehand, but he said that, after every of his lessons, a student would be held back after class and asked officially to join the Slug Club. They would meet the other members at the party, where, of course, there would be twice the number of people, because he encouraged to bring a plus one.

I didn't know a lot, but I gathered that Ron was the first to be asked to join, after what happened during the Quidditch match. Ginny was asked too, making Mrs Weasley very proud, as she wrote her son and daughter. To have both of the Weasleys who were going to Hogwarts that year be part of the Slug Club!

The membership of none of the members remained a secret for long, considering there was a considerably small amount of students at Hogwarts and the very young ones couldn't join. Besides, no one who was asked to remain after class couldn't keep it a secret for long.

The second who was asked to join was McLaggen, whose name, I found out, was Cormac. Actually, I couldn't remember whether I'd heard his name before, but I made a mental note not to forget it later, since we'd been in the DA together and it would have been embarrassing. Then, it was the turn of Blaise Zabini, a Slytherin that I didn't know very well, but who played Quidditch.

In Ravenclaw, Marcus Belby and Luna Lovegood were asked to join. I realized he hadn't asked any Hufflepuff, but it was not my place to speak up.

Then, after the last of his lessons before Winter holidays, he asked me to stay behind.

I expected it, really. I was a legacy, he'd had my father and mother before me. I was the Chosen One, and people those days treated me as if I'd been a long-awaited Messiah. It was tiring.

"So, Harry," he said. He tried to play it cool, as if we didn't both know it was the reason he asked to teach at Hogwarts in the first place. "What do you think about joining the Slug Club?"

I thought about it. I couldn't say no -- nobody had. But perhaps I could try to make it fairer. "When I first joined this school of witchcraft and wizardry," I replied. "We were given aptitude tests to see how we would respond to certain situations, and the answers we gave at eleven changed our whole lives. I know I'm a Gryffindor, the sword of Gryffindor came to me twice when I called. But, the headmaster promised us we wouldn't be treated unfairly or differently because of our Houses, because, at the end of the day, it was just a test sheet and our answers were given when we were children."

Slughorn nodded. "I don't see what this has to do with anything, but wise words, Potter."

"Ever since then," I snarled. "Dumbledore's promise was broken time and time again by the teachers. The head of Slytherin, Snape, is a coward, and mean, and he treats his students like they're being set up to fail. People never include Hufflepuffs in extra-curricular activities. Ravenclaws are only valued for their brains. However, back then Dumbledore told me none of us were so different from one another, that a Gryffindor could be exceptionally clever or loyal to a fault. The same went for people in other Houses. So, I'll join, but I'll give you a deal."

"I'm listening," Slughorn looked curious. "And I'm willing to bet you scored quite a lot of points in Slytherin, Potter."

"Hufflepuff too, because, as you'll notice, I'm very loyal to those whom I love and admire," I replied, feeling a little guilty of the boot licking. "The deal is, the Slug Club has seven members now. Get them up to twelve, and invite three people from every House. Yes, Hufflepuffs too."

Slughorn frowned. "But Gryffindors are up to four, now," he said.

I had overlooked it. Oh, no. I couldn't let down Ginny and Ron. "Drop McLaggen," I suggested, thinking about how he had acted during the DA lessons. "He's not as exceptional as he seems."

"Ah... well," the professor shrugged. "If you say so..."

McLaggen was dropped, and I felt guilty, I really did, but the numbers became equal in each house. There were Ginny, Ron and I for Gryffindor, Marcus, Luna and Lisa Turpin for Ravenclaw. For Slytherin, there were Blaise Zabini, Martin Kowalski and Pansy Parkinson, while for Hufflepuff there were Ernie MacMillan, Justin Finch-Fletchey and Hannah Abbott.

Yes, the one who asked me out on a date and drenched me in Butterbeer, but I couldn't ask Slughorn to drop her too.

At our first reunion, where we had to talk about the party, Slughorn seemed pretty happy of his new team. He congratulated me for the idea, and made a tasteless joke about how nice it would have been to have Cedric for Hufflepuff if he hadn't already graduated. His House did not take it so well, since the feelings Slughorn had about them were known. He also flaunted Martin as his first American student.

I talked to the other members about who we wanted to bring to the party, but most of them had no idea. I knew who I wanted to bring, but I didn't think he'd accept.


The day of the party came. I still hadn't asked anyone. I had a suit that I bought for events such as this, after Dudley had rocked one at the Yule Ball. I realized it had been a while since I cared about the way I looked, but I wasn't so bad. I had a muscular and lean physique thanks to Dumbledore's training, and I didn't look so much like my father anymore, except for the olive skin and dark curls. But the fine bones in my face and the cheekbones, not to mention the almond-shaped green eyes, made me look a lot more similar to my mother.

I had also grown a few inches. At five foot five, it was probably the height I'd have as an adult too. And it wasn't much, I still considered myself a runt, but it was something. Draco was shorter than I was.

In the corridor, I bumped into Ron, who was asking Hermione. To my surprise, she accepted. If anything, to spite Slughorn. She was enraged she hadn't been considered for the Slug Club. I already knew Ginny was bringing Neville.

I met Draco in another corridor. "Would... youliketogotothepartywithme?" I asked, too fast for anyone to make out.

He frowned at me. "Why, Potter, I thought you'd never ask," he cracked a joke, but with a dry tone.

"So, you want to come?" I asked.

"No," he replied.

I felt as if the world had shattered around me. But, I had to keep my nerves steel under pressure. Like Dumbledore had taught me.

"I know you don't want to talk to me anymore," I said, with such courage that I asked myself whether Hermione had slipped Felix Felicis in my cup of tea. "And I also know why. But, it doesn't matter to me. I knew you wouldn't have taken it well, so I want you to know -- you want to avoid me? Fine. But I do not want to avoid you. So, if you have nothing better to do, come to the party with me. I won't try anything funny."

Draco looked surprised I'd been so brave. "Okay," he shrugged. "My father used to be a member of the Slug Club after all."

But, when we reached the room where Slughorn was hosting the party, the professor stopped short in front of Draco.

"I'm afraid it isn't possible," he told me. "To bring a male plus one to the party."

"Bloody hell, professor, you should have told Ginny as much," I replied dryly. "I'm pretty sure her plus one is a boy."

Draco chuckled lightly, as if he couldn't help himself.

Slughorn looked at me. "You're just like your mother," he decided. "Or your father. I can't decide. Both were a pain in the ass. But you know what I mean, Potter. Malfoy has to sit this one out. And not just because he's a boy, but because he is who he is. His father is in prison."

"Yeah, I guess that stains the reputation of the Slug Club," I grinned.

Slughorn looked, for a moment, as if he was about to hit me. In that moment, we were joined by Snape.

"Don't you worry, Slughorn," Snape said. "Nobody has ever met Harry without wanting to lay hands on him. Why," he said, eyeing Draco on my side, "On more than one sense, if you get what I mean."

We both blushed very violently.

"I heard you trying to kick Malfoy out from your party," Snape added. "Don't you worry about it. I'll escort him to the Slytherin common room myself."

I thought of Malfoy's broken nose. I thought of when he had recently talked -- he'd told me he was living with Snape. I thought about my fear that both of them were Death Eaters.

In that moment, I decided. I would sit the party out as well.

I slipped on my invisibility cloak, and followed Snape and Draco.

Before they reached the common room, the DADA professor stopped to talk to his student. "Draco, I don't know what you're doing around the Chosen One in a time like this, or have you forgotten about what the Dark Lord asked you to do? Well, I'll give you a clue. When the Dark Lord asks, he's not asking. He's commanding. And what you're about to do will break Potter's heart, so I warn you -- steer clear of him. Otherwise, which side are you on?"

I had to run away before they heard me breathing shakily.

Not only Draco was a Death Eater, Voldemort already had a mission laid out for him.

Chapter Text

Some nights, I dreamt the whole world was burning.

I had started the fire, and to see the destruction of all I'd come to know and love didn't bring me the pain I was expecting. In a way, it made me feel relieved.

But I knew what I had to do. Defeat Voldemort. There was no other way, really. And, even though I could have died trying, I had made my peace with that too.

I think, in a way, I'd always known. The way I never became too intimate with Ron and Hermione, not telling them about my past, about my scars, as if I already knew it wasn't going to matter, in the end. It wasn't part of the final sacrifice.

And many times, I had pushed Draco away. Let him go when he was the one who wanted to avoid me.

But, there was a tiny possibility that I could be the one to kill him, not the other way around. 

It was something very small to hold on to, so I didn't get my hopes high, but it was what convinced me to do what I did the first day of the Winter holidays, when I noticed Draco had stayed at Hogwarts.

Of course, he wouldn't come back to his house. He didn't have one anymore, lived all summer with Snape, but Snape was a teacher, and a Death Eater.

I approached him, during lunch. It was such a bold move, to walk to the Slytherin table. But, much like the time I asked him out at the party, I found out that if I had nothing to lose, I had nothing to fear. Perhaps I wouldn't have the need to use my vial of Felix Felicis to confront him, after all.

"I want to talk to you," I said, trying to sound like I didn't care either way. "Privately."

Most boys at his table erupted into laughter, and joked about 'Harry Poofter'. I clenched my teeth, trying my best not to let it get to me.

"What did you want to tell me?" Draco asked me.

"I'll be staying here too," I started to explain.

"You don't say!" Draco commented. "I mean, no offense, Potter, but you have no family to go back to."

I counted to twenty like Dumbledore had taught me. 

"Since my father is Jewish, and I never really showed that I cared about that, but I do care," I finished. "I want to celebrate Hanukkah this year. You... I'm not sure how your family tree works. Black is Jewish, but I don't think you are."

"You wanted to ask me whether it could interest me?" Draco asked, a bit wide-eyed. "Well... I don't really care about Christmas, it's a bit too Muggl-y for me, so count me in."

I was happy he had accepted, because I was doing my best not to blush. I had only asked him because I wanted to spend the holidays with him, there wasn't a real reason.

I felt guilty all of a sudden. As Dumbledore had said, I wouldn't stay at Hogwarts for long, and I needed to learn everything I could on how to defeat Voldemort. I couldn't risk becoming a pathetic, dimwitted individual every time Draco was around, because my tongue got stuck in my throat and I couldn't think clearly.

Besides, he was not only Draco. He was a Death Eater too, and I intended to make him confess as much.


"You know, Potter," Draco told me as we were lighting a candle. "That Hanukkah is not on the same day as Christmas. It has already ended on the 13th of December."

That time, I couldn't help but blush violently. To hell with everything Dumbledore had taught me -- there were no lessons in how to deal with someone like Malfoy.

"This is useless then," I said, almost throwing the Menorah away from the table. I only noticed I was about to do that when Draco caught my hand. "Bloody useless. I hope my father isn't looking at me now, because what would he say?"

"He'd say you are trying your best," Draco mumbled, as if he didn't want to get the words out. "Give it a rest, Potter, you're always trying your best. Don't die from stress or something."

We both knew it wasn't stress that was going to kill me.

"We can light all the candles," Draco added, because I was not speaking. "And eat all the candies. This year, it's been this way. We can try next year as well."

Yes. Next year would be perfect. My last year at Hogwarts, and Draco and I might have less friction because I would have already unmasked his identiy as Death Eater.

And he'd never have to do the thing that would break my heart, whatever it was.

"Next year," I promised him, but I was promising my father, not him. Next year I'd do everything right, the Jewish way.

Draco and I lit the candles, ate the candies and for a moment I forgot about everything else.

Looking at it later, I didn't think I'd ever had that much fun in my life.


During the Winter break, a man called Scrimgeour went to Hogwarts to talk to me. He had an important role in the Ministry of Magic.

"I know you haven't been known to be informed on what happens at the Ministry," he told me. "But have you have ever asked yourself why, after what happened last year, we believe now that You-Know-Who is back?"

"Because... you couldn't play dumb anymore?" I asked.

"No," he pursed his lips. "Fudge retired. And I took his place. My politics are different. I do believe that you are the Chosen One, and I am one of the reasons the Chosen One propaganda has reached the level you see now."

"Thanks for nothing," I replied.

"I see that you are just the way Fudge and Umbridge told me," Scrimgeour tried to pretend like he wasn't fazed by my words. I almost admired him. "I do not judge you, Potter! I know things can't be easy for you. But, I couldn't keep on doing my job like I used to without meeting you in person. My credibility was about to go down very fast."

"You're here to ask me a favour," I understood. It seemed similar to the way Slughorn had treated me. To the way everybody treated me those days. "I wish you'd come to the point sooner."

"We have begun arresting Death Eaters," Scrimgeour said. "Like Lucius Malfoy. Though he's already asking other people in the Ministry to re-evaluate his case, and his words have caused quite a reaction. Both negative, and, I'm afraid to say, positive."

I felt sick to my stomach.

"The people are uncertain," Scrimgeour added. "Whether we're doing the right thing. What I would like for you to do, is to come visit the Ministry from time to time, where you can release statements that you agree with what we're doing. Because you agree, don't you? You want to keep the Death Eaters in Azkaban."

I suddenly felt so sick I was about to recoil.

"Let's get this straight," I said. "You want to parade me around like some kind of a circus animal?"

"No, no," the Minister said. "Seriously, boy, you're the Chosen One. What kind of Chosen One would you be, if you don't give people hope? You have to reassure them. They are scared. Think of your parents. They died young, they weren't that much older than you, all things considered. What would have your parents thought, if they had known there was a Chosen One? Think of how terrorized they must have been in the battle against Voldemort. Don't you want to help people believe?"

"Don't mention my parents," I snarled. I didn't want them to think as terrified, young, inexperienced, or weak. And it was not because they were heroes in my eyes, in fact my time as a Chosen One had taught me all heroes are weak.

No, I didn't want to think about it because I loved them, and to think of them as terrified hurt me like a knife twisting in a wound.

"So you'll think about it, won't you?" Scrimgeour added cheerily. "You must. I mean, it's the right thing to do..."

"What has Dumbledore told you? When you asked him? Because of course, you asked him before you asked me."

Scrimgeour pursed his lips again. "He said the decision rested on you, but that he didn't think it was for the best..."

"I knew it!" I exclaimed. "You wanted me to do it behind Dumbledore's back!"

"Well, not exactly, you see, he would have come around," Scrimgeour tried to save his hide. "Besides, I hope you know you don't have to do everything the old man says..."

I was enraged. "The old man? Is that the way you talk about the headmaster at the Ministry?"

The Minister threw up his hands in defense. "You must understand, the time Umbridge spent there teaching gave us an insight on how backwards Dumbledore really is sometimes..."

"You say I am your Chosen One, but you trust Umbridge?" I asked. "Well, we can't be talking about the same woman..."

"I know she was hard on you, and for that I'm sorry. I wouldn't have been."

"Hard on me?" I yelled. "Hard on me." I started taking off my shirt.

"What are you doing, Potter?" Scrimgeour looked around, but we were alone. "I really can't be found alone in a room with a naked underage person, you don't know how politics are..."

But I had already bared my back, and I was showing him the whip scars that said, 'I must not tell lies'.

Scrimgeour exhaled sharply. "The Ministry did not know about this," he sounded sincere. "But please, wear your clothes again, Potter. Alright, I will not mention Umbridge anymore, and I will not mention your parents, and I will not mention Dumbledore..."

I almost rolled my eyes. He was making it sound like I was delirious and couldn't be worked with.

"But," he finished. "Would you do it? For the people? Please?"

I did not know what was the right answer. But I trusted Dumbledore.

"I'm sorry, but I decline," I replied.

He looked at me as if seeing me for the first time. I realized that I stopped being the Chosen One, the mighty saviour of all, and became a pawn in the game we were all playing.

The king in a game of chess.

"So, you're Dumbledore's man?" he asked. "Through and through?"

"Yes," I grinned. "You can quote me on that."

 

After the Winter break, I finally was summoned to Dumbledore's office, and I used it as an excuse to talk about what happened with Scrimgeour.

"I'm pleased by your reply," Dumbledore said, and he looked moved, like one would be if their son or daughter surprised them. "But, and I need to stress it, you are not only your wonderful heart. When you were a child, it was perhaps the first thing one noticed about you. But growing up, I've come to admire how resourceful your brain is. Promise me, you won't always follow the advice of an old fool, and you'll think with your own head as well."

"You're not an old fool," I was enraged. "Don't let other people get you down, sir."

"Ah, the advice of the young," he smiled. "Though I do need to hear it sometimes. I've always suspected I was very young at heart. Why, perhaps this is why I decided to become a teacher. I can't help but see myself in all of you, success after success, failure after failure."

"You'll only have success from me, sir," I replied.

"Failure is success in its own right," Dumbledore corrected me. "You learn only from your mistakes, Potter. Which is why I haven't forbidden you to see Draco Malfoy, though you knew how I felt about it. It pains my heart to say it, because I wish you welll, but you will learn from that mistake. In time."

"I'm simply using my own head, like you asked me to, sir," I replied smugly.

"Ah, that is the Potter I've come to know and love," the headmaster said. "Please, don't ever lose that fire. I was afraid the recent discoveries in your battle against Voldemort had put some of it out. But, I see you're your old insufferable, sarcastic self."

"The very same, and I truly think it gets worse, with age," I mused.

"I need to ask something from you, Harry," Dumbledore replied, switching to first name basis like he always did when he was too caught up in our conversations. "I realize it is not fair of me. I've already trained you differently from the other students, and you have just declined an offer from the Ministry. I know people asking things from you because you're the Chosen One makes you feel like a bird in a cage. Even though some birds, like my phoenix Fawkes, don't mind cages."

He turned around, to feed something that looked like bird food to his phoenix. Sometimes Fawkes died and regenerated from his ashes, and he spent some time looking like a chick. He looked a few months old, now, and I couldn't help but think he was adorable, but I tried to get my mind back to the conversation.

"But Fawkes only like cages," Dumbledore said. "Because sometimes I let him free to go wherever he wants to. Humans don't need to be trained to be free. And so you don't have to put yourself in a cage for others. But, Harry, my offer is not something that I need from you because you're the Chosen One. It's a simple quest, that it will help us defeat Voldemort, and that is why I'm asking you. We're the only ones who know what we're doing, and besides, you already know about Pensieves and going there to retrieve memories."

"You want me to retrieve someone else's memory?" I asked. "And from whose Pensieve?"

I hoped it wasn't Draco Malfoy. I could settle for Snape. Perhaps a memory that would show Dumbledore he was a Death Eater after all.

"During my own quest to take down Voldemort, which took me most of my life, and also most of my last year," Dumbledore said, explaining his sudden absence from my life. "I have asked wizards to give up, willingly, the memories they had with the Dark Lord or Tom Riddle, to reach a conclusion that I wanted to reach. But, you must know that there is a way to tamper's one memory, if you're ashamed of it, for example. And I recently noticed, the memory I got from Slughorn had been tampered. You see, he had taught Tom Riddle here at Hogwarts."

"That is why you wanted him to come to the school," I realized.

"Do you blame me?" Dumbledore asked.

I shook my head quickly.

"What I need you to do, is to retrieve the real memory from Horace. He must still have it somewhere. Remember, you must ask for it, because it is not the rightful way to take things without consent."

"I think I can do that," I replied, mostly because I did not want to let him down.

"Are you sure?" Dumbledore asked. "In this memory, he wasn't talking to Tom Riddle so, don't worry. You don't have to see him, if it upsets you. In this memory, he was talking to Karkaroff. Yes, the headmaster of Durmstrang. Why we need the memory to defeat Voldemort? Well, that will be clear soon enough. Once we have it, we'll watch it together."

I was very excited now. "I won't let you down," I promised.

"Oh, and Harry, don't rush headfirst into it," Dumbledore warned. "It will require a lot of skill. And maybe," he winked at me. "A vial of supernatural luck. That is, if you haven't used it yet."

I was keeping it for Malfoy, but I shook my head. "No, sir, and I suspected it would have come in handy to defeat Voldemort, in one way or another," I said. "Maybe, as a child, I would have used it to play Quidditch, but now... I know there are more important things."

That was true, as much as I wanted to drink the vial to find out whether Malfoy was a Death Eater, as soon as Dumbledore had mentioned the quest, I knew it was when Felix Felicis would come in handy. Besides, I had some time to plan it out. I could make up a way to find out about both things during the same day...

"Ah, you're very right, as someone like Voldemort can't be kept around to spread his reign of horror any longer," Dumbledore said. "But do not think defeating him is more important than Quidditch."

He put a hand on my chest. "Here, in your heart, you know what is important. And, if you're as wise as I think you are, you know little things and great things are both important in their own right. Defeating Voldemort, playing Quidditch. Studying for your career, talking to the boy you like. Solving mysteries, hanging out with your friends. Everything must be important for your life to have balance."

He took his hand away from my chest and squeezed my shoulder. "Why, I believe the training is paying off. You're becoming more muscular."

But there was only a part of his conversation that I was really interested in.

"You said talking to the boy I like, and before, you mentioned Malfoy," I said. "You know that about me... and you don't care?"

"Why would I care?" Dumbledore asked. "I've never understood people who cared. Why, I knew about Sirius Black as well. But matters of the heart do not require an explanation."

I was reminded of his story, about a golden boy so much like me, who fell for the wrong person. Another man.

"Are you... like me?" I asked reluctantly.

Something shone in Dumbledore's eyes. "No one is like you."

I was becoming frustrated. "You know what I mean."

"I've had students like you before," he replied. "But no, dear boy, I am not like you."

I was a bit disappointed because, really, it would have made sense for Dumbledore to be gay, and then he could have been the kid in the story, the one who was so similar to me.

But then again, I told myself it was already enough that he knew, and understood. And while he disapproved of Draco as my choice, he wasn't trying to put any distance between the two of us.

"Do you want to train a little?" Dumbledore asked. "Then, I'll let you go."

I took off my robe and my shirt because training made me sweat. He winced at the words on my back, like he had already done many times before.

"Maybe they'll heal completely," he assured me. "Though it's hard to tell, with scars."

Tell me something I don't know, I thought.

During the physical part of the training I had to use an old and rusty sword Dumbledore said belonged to an ancestor of his, and learn how to fence. Because, one day, if I proved worthy, the sword of Gryffindor that I got out of the stone during the second year of school would finally become mine, and not for a little while like in the maze. 

"Your training is hard," the headmaster said. "Gryffindor's sword is a lot lighter, and more practical. But wizards don't use swords anymore, so forgive me, but this was the only one I had laying around."

"Will I use the sword?" I asked. "Against Voldemort?"

"I don't think so," he replied. "But you need every asset you can lay your hands on, and the sword of Gryffindor chose you when you took it out from that rock. It's like the true heir of Slytherin, something Lockhart apparently wasn't, who can will the monster to be released from its chamber. Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff have similar legends. Of course, it doesn't have to be a descendant of an Hogwarts founder, it could be anyone who proved true to their House."

"What can Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs do?" I asked, trying to slay a manikin.

"They can become the owners of an object like the sword. A diadem, for a true Ravenclaw, that makes possible for them to ask any question to the universe and receive an answer. And a cup for Hufflepuff, if you drink from it you can shapeshift into someone or something for a whole day. It could be anyone or anything, works better than Polyjuice potion."

I was surprised there were so many magical items and no Death Eater was trying to get their hands full of them. But maybe they were trying, maybe that was what they did all day when they weren't killing people. 

"What is on your mind?" Dumbledore asked.

"So many important objects," I told the truth. "Between those and the Deathly Hallows, makes me wonder who can get their hands on them."

Dumbledore looked surprised I even thought about it. "Oh no, you need not concern yourself with matters like that."


As I left the room, I met Draco again. He had hideous shadows under his grey eyes, and his nose looked like it had been broken again.

"Who did that...?" I asked.

"Oh no, Potter," he snarled. "You don't get to ask that. After all the shit you put yourself through, and you never accepted a helping hand..."

"I can't think of a single thing that has happened to me where I had any choice in the matter," I replied dryly. "I'm not as self sacrificing as I look, mostly I never had a choice."

Draco looked surprised. I realized he did not know that.

"We have very different lives," he said, though I could see he related to my words. "Spending Hanukkah with you was a mistake."

The words hit me, like he knew they would. I had trouble not showing it on my face, but I did my best. I never wanted to be caught off guard, and he wasn't an exception.

"So, I suppose I shouldn't even say hi to you, when I see you," I added.

"Attaboy. You were the one who told me he was not giving up on me. But you can't give up on me if you've never had me."

"You're the real self sacrificing little shit here," I said. "You just think I can't take that you've become a Death Eater." 

Draco looked absolutely shocked and horrified, and I felt smug that it had been me to put that look upon his face, but only a little bit.

Mostly, I was hoping he'd give in to rage and stop being so secretive.

"I came here to tell you something, Potter," he said.

"Oh, how fitting to the story you've spun in your head where we barely know each other," I replied.

"I just thought it was something you should know, because I heard a teacher talking about it," he said. "And besides, it's not my fault if you kiss strangers."

I let that sink in. 

"What have you heard?" I asked. Usually, the rumors were about who wanted to kill me.

"Your godfather and his boyfriend are back from the dead," he said. "They somehow found a way out of the Veil. Whatever happened to them, and in whatever condition they are, is yet to know. But, they are back with us again."

My heart was pounding so fast I couldn't concentrate on the world around me. I began to suspect I was having a stroke. I'd gotten so used to consider the both of them dead, well, Sirius at the very least. I didn't know what to do with the notion that they were alive.

"You're welcome," Draco said, when I wasn't replying. "Maybe now you'll stop being an asshole. Not that I'll be around you long enough to find out."

And with that, he stormed off.

Chapter Text

As things of that sort often went, when Malfoy told me that he didn't want to see me anymore, I became obsessed with him.

I wanted to find out what happened to him, what was the quest Voldemort gave him, and stalking him did not seem such a bad idea anymore.

One day, when I was having breakfast, Hermione coughed to catch my attention. I realized I'd been staring at Malfoy the whole time, and that the Slytherins were snickering at me.

"What's the deal?" she asked. "Between you and Draco?"

"Can I tell her?" Ron wanted to know. "I think I should tell her."

"Don't," I said.

"Okay," Hermione looked at me weirdly. "But yesterday, I've seen you sneaking in the dungeons, where the Slytherin common room is. And the day before that, when Lavender said she'd like to go to France with Dudley, you abruptly stopped their conversation to ask whether the Malfoys are from France. And they are, by the way, which I think you already knew, because two years ago I heard you comparing Draco to Fleur Delacoeur... and Merlin's beard, Harry! This obsession has been going on for years."

I shrugged. "It's not an obsession. I only want to find out if he's become a Death Eater."

Hermione drank her tea. "Um. Sure."

"Can we please change subject?" Ron asked, his left eye twitching, because he had to keep the kiss between Draco and I a secret. "Let's talk about Ginny for example. She says she wants to be called Ginevra."

"Nice to see someone else outgrew the pet names in your family," Hermione said. "Other than George."

"I'll be damned before I let people call me Ronald," Ron replied darkly. 

"Do you think Draco is his real name?" I asked. I looked at their horrified expressions. "Come on, it has to be. It's too cute to be a given name. And it could stand for many things, Draconius, Dragomir, Dracula..."

Hermione looked pale. "Really? Dracula?"

"Oh what an idiot I am," I put my hands on my head. "Tonks told me the given names of that family often come from constellations! Of course. I don't know why I asked."

"You don't know?" Ron asked, his voice high-pitched. "You seem to be having some kind of problem."

"Yes, Harry," Hermione tried to look cheerful. "You should think about something else. Here, eat."

She passed me a scone.

"You're right," I beamed. "Think about something else. My training with Dumbledore. I should probably learn how to fence better, the sword he's given me always give me shoulder pains."

"Maybe don't think about that. What about girls?" Hermione asked.

"Hermione! Have you forgotten?" Ron hissed. "Harry likes boys."

Hermione threw up her hands. "How am I to know he doesn't like girls as well, like George?"

"Because Harry likes Draco Malfoy!" Ron said, through gritted teeth. "He kissed him."

Hermione looked at me, ashen. "Oh. Oh no," she looked like she was about to recoil. "Oh no, Harry, don't. Don't. It will destroy you."

"Kind of too late for that," I replied, drumming my fingers on the table, and stealing another glance at the Slytherins. Martin gave me the finger.


A few days later, and I still had no news of Draco. I needed to get my priorities straight, and concentrate on how I'd get Slughorn's memory. 

I was about to decide what to do, where to go, when I caught Ron looking out the window of our room with a parodistical love-struck look on his face.

"Are you... alright?" I asked.

"Yes," he exhaled. "I mean... no. Until I don't have Lavender, I'll never be."

"Lavender?" I asked, amused. "I thought you liked Hermione. Or is too two years ago?"

"Hermione?" Ron looked offended. "I barely remember who she is. No, Lavender is the queen of my heart."

"Yes, yes," I chuckled. "Now, reply, what have you eaten recently?"

"What kind of question is that?" Ron looked angry. "A bottle of sparkling cider was all I drank. Why?"

"Why have you drank a bottle of cider?" I asked instead.

"Because," he slurred. "It's Valentine's Day, and someone left it for you. Oops, my bad. I'm sorry, Harry."

"I don't drink... stuff," I protested, because it was not exactly booze. "And I've been lucky this time. It's a love potion. Follow me, I was already going to Slughorn anyway."

"Love potion?" Ron roared into laughter. "Lavender doesn't like you, does she? You can't take her away from me. The whole school calls you Harry Poofter."

He noticed the look on my face.

"Crap. I'm sorry, Harry, really..."

"Doesn't matter," I tugged his sleeve and brought him with me, not caring that he bumped into a room decoration because he was much taller than me. "It's the potion talking, not you."

And so, I had to go to Slughorn with Ron. Maybe I could have tried Snape. He still knew about Potions, and he could be training Draco privately... but no, Slughhorn was better.

But why did Lavender leave a love potion? She liked Dudley, not I.

When I met her in the corridor, I tugged her on the sleeve too, and asked her as much.

The look on her face could only be summed up as disgusted.

"Ugh! Who? Me? No, I sent it to the wrong room. It was not for you! I mean, no offense, but your scar give me the creeps," she giggled. "I mean, no offense, but it's, like, very ugly. I hope you'll find a man or woman who's into those kind of things too."

"If Dudley can find a girl who's into idiots, it won't be a problem," I said, sugar-coating my voice. "But I thought he liked you back. What was the potion for?"

She started to cry, and it didn't look like she was going to stop anytime soon.

"I only wanted to prove his love for me," she bawled her eyes out. "He says... he can't date a girl. He'd rather go free. But he does make out with me. He doesn't want to take it further, though!"

"Listen to me," I said, not really pitiful. "Dudley has been brought up by Muggles. Do you know what they tell Muggles about wizards? They lie. They say a female wizard is a witch, very ugly, with warts and all. They say they have no heart, and that they like to beguile men. I hope he'll never know about the potion."

Lavender stopped crying, and her eyes were red. "Thank you," she said, sarcastic.

"You're welcome," I replied stiffly. "At least your magical abilities aren't in the middle of your forehead."

After we left Lavender, we reached Slughorn's room. I recognized it wouldn't be the right moment to ask for the memory, and I felt a little sad about it.

Slughorn sighed, when he saw Ron. "Valentine's Day. Typical."

Ron was complaining about how much an asshole I'd been to Lavander. I doubted he wouldn't have done it either way, but I suspected part of it was because of the potion. I asked Slughorn to remove it at once.

"Sometimes," the professor said. "I think it would be funny to leave them as they are, you know, play Cupid..."

"Sir," I pleaded. My voice felt rough and unused. "You can't leave him like that."

"What? Hahaha, no, I was only joking," Slughorn chuckled. 

He couldn't blame me for not trusting him fully. Surely he must have noticed it looked like there was a curse on the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, even Umbridge had noticed the downfall of all of them. And she had been no exception.

Of course, Slughorn didn't teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, he taught Potions, but it was the same to me. He was a new teacher, one I hadn't learnt to love and trust, and, besides, he'd played Dumbledore before, giving him a false memory.

While he was nursing Ron back to health, I thought I'd make small talk before it was too late to build a relationship. How would he give me the real memory, if he didn't trust me?

"You knew my father very well," I said. "And perhaps my mother even better. I heard it from your words -- you liked her very much."

He exhaled sharply. "I think it's safe to say your mother was my favourite student. Teachers either loved her or hated her, but her potential was unusual. She was witty, and clever in ways most people were not. She knew how to make everybody in the room feel like a fool, but she wasn't a stranger to fun. She often laughed and joked with her friend Sirius during the classes. She didn't really care about respecting the authorities, and that is something you have inherited from her. But there was no other way to put it -- she was bright, terribly bright. Both in the sense of sharp, and in the sense of being like a light to everyone around her."

"The more people talk about her and my father," I said. "The less I feel like them. They were very bright students, as you put it. I don't feel like I am the sharpest tool in the shed."

I'd always told myself that it was alright. It was one of the prices I had to pay, because they were dead, and they'd never been able to raise me as smart as they would have wanted to. However, genetically, I feared there wasn't much I had taken from them.

"Are you sure?" Slughorn said, while Ron was dozing off into sleep. I hoped it was the right outcome of Slughorn's anti-love potion. "You seem to me very witty, and you pay attention to details. That is why you're good at fighting. You're stealthy. And I think you know it, but you play pretend you're dumber than you are."

I crossed my arms, suddenly uneasy. "Why?"

"Because you're a soldier. It's the role they sewn on you. You have to listen to Dumbledore, do as he says, there's little space left for your real possibilities. You have no life outside taking down You-Know-Who, you were born without choices. It suits you, to play dumber than you actually are. And mind you, you don't come off as stupid either, since you have that kind of mind that is required to defeat the most evil wizard of all time. But the part you play, mixed with your idiotic bravery and loyalty, they do not paint the best picture of your brains."

I felt myself becoming very hot. My cheeks were burning worse than Ron's, who looked feverish.

"You crossed a line, sir," I said. "Dumbledore is not like that. I'm not the way you say I am. Not at all."

Slughorn looked at me sadly. "I have seen a lot of things and known a lot of people, Potter. I know the ways of the world. I've seen things I haven't told anyone else, and there are secrets that I keep..."

"Oh, I have no doubt about that," I replied hotly. It was my professor's turn to flush.

"Your friend is ready to go," Slughorn said sharply, when Ron opened his eyes. "Feel free to show yourself off."

I left, taking Ron along with me. He was muttering something incoherent about how I always seemed to piss off everyone, and I had to refrain from kicking everything and everyone in my way.

I hoped I hadn't made such a mess that not even Felix Felicis could fix it.

 

A week later, I was luckier. Not with Slughorn, but with Draco. I overheard one of his conversations with Snape, and slipped on my Invisibility Cloak.

"I can't believe Potter used this room last year," Snape was saying, and it dawned on me.

He had been training Draco in the Room of Requirement.

"He's not exactly what I'd call sharp," Snape added, to Draco's benefit, since he wasn't adding anything.

Well, Snape was not the cleverest man around, either, since he hadn't even thought I could have been spying on them.

I mean, come on. Everybody knew I had an Cloak of Invisibility. Why did they keep making things easy for me?

Draco grunted something in reply.

"Until I don't hear something foul about Potter leave your mouth," Snape told him. "You won't be ready. You'll never be ready until you're at his beck and call. Why, Potter is the very arch nemesis of You-Know-Who. Except for Dumbledore, but we'll take care of that soon enough."

Under the cape, I gripped my wand. Was that Draco's quest? To kill Dumbledore?

I had to put a stop to it. I couldn't let the boy I love kill my only family. But, at the same time, maybe Draco wanted to. He'd never liked Dumbledore. I felt my heart exploding into my chest.

"Potter," Draco measured his words. "Is an asshole. He doesn't leave me alone. He's a stalker. He's paranoid. He means trouble. I think... if given the chance, he could destroy the world as well as save it. He's a loose cannon in the body of a runty sixteen-year-old."

Snape looked satisfied, though not quite. "You don't mean all of that. And besides, you're shorter than Potter."

"If someone had an ugly nose, wouldn't you say it? If you really despised that person?" Draco asked the professor. "But your nose isn't exactly..."

"Not a word," Snape snarled. "Remember your place. I taught it to you time and time again, but, in case my lessons had failed to make their way into your brain, I'll let you in on a secret. The remaining Death Eaters are using Imperius on certain members of the Ministry to convince them to let your father go free. In a few days, he'll be out of Azkaban. The charges against him will be dropped, and considered nasty rumors someone spread about an important member of the wizarding community."

Draco became very pale. "You can't mean that."

"I do," Snape said. "I tell nothing but the truth. Which is something you and I don't have in common. Now, for the last time, what do you think about Potter?"

I wanted to take off my cape, and plead to Draco to join our side. Dumbledore would help him against his father. He'd shelter him. He'd teach him how to be good, and kind, and all the things the Death Eaters wanted to take away from him.

"I am afraid of Potter," Draco replied. "He won't leave me alone. I had never felt the need to stop him before. I thought he was easier to handle. I was wrong. Now that I want to stop him, I found out I can't. Potter is relentless. You can't have an opinion that doesn't match his. You can't have a plan that disrupts his plans. You can't tell him you don't love him back, if he loves you. Potter has decided not to let life take anything else away from him, and he wants it. Everything. Potter won't stop at nothing until his friends are safe and Voldemort is dead. In fact, he won't look twice at what he tramples on his path. The people he taunts, the ones he leads on, the ones whom he deemed dangerous are never treated with mercy. Just think about our old professors, or Rita Skeeter."

I was shivering. Draco couldn't possibly be painting my picture. It looked nothing like me. Then why was I beginning to feel as if his words were an adequate description? Maybe he knew I was there, and he was trying to lead me on.

I remembered Hermione telling me that Draco would destroy me. He did. But I destroyed him too.

"I don't think you're quite telling the whole truth, yet," Snape said. "But that is the closest thing to the truth about Potter that you've ever said. Tell me, Draco, are you attracted to the things that scare you? Are you afraid you'll be one of the things Harry will destroy and trample on on his way, while you've loved him all along?"

This couldn't be happening to me. It wasn't the right moment. Everything about it was wrong. I couldn't take off my cloak and declare that his feelings were requited.

Besides, he knew. He had told me never to write him again, when I sent him that letter. 

I knew now that Draco was using the Room of Requirement. I was one hundred percent sure that he wanted to kill Dumbledore, and that Snape was putting him up to it.

But, I wasn't sure how I'd use this information. I didn't feel that brave anymore. My knees felt very wobbly.

Voldemort had destroyed my family when I was one year old. For the first time, in the long game between him and I, I had something to lose. And he was using it against me.

 

A few days after, I finally decided to make myself presentable. I'd barely slept, I hadn't combed my hair, and stopped wearing contact lenses, so I was back at the Buddy Holly glasses.

"You look like a crazy scientist," Ron told me. "Especially now, that you're crazy good at Potions."

"You're good too," I yawned. "It's the book."

"Not really," Ron said in a mocking sing-song voice. "If all books were written that clearly, now, we'd all be good at school, wouldn't we? The shortcuts are very useful. But they don't magically make you good at something. There isn't a foolproof way to explain Potions that will make everybody good at it. That means you have talent, hidden there somewhere."

I smiled lazily, thinking about my mother.

"How do you know about scientists, either way?" I asked.

"Dad loves Einstein," Ron replied. "His idol, and one of the reasons he loves Muggles. Oh, him and an ancient Italian Muggle called Leonardo da Vinci. Yep, dad has his priorities straight."

When Ron was finished helping me look decent, we met McGonagall in the corridor.

"Potter, Weasley, nice to see you," she said. "Actually, I was looking for you, and Granger too."

"Here I am!" Hermione said, and appeared behind us. It seemed like she had bat ears when teachers were around. Ron looked mesmerized at her hair, a very dark chocolate brown that turned her curls into a reddish colour in the sunlight.

"Weasley, pay attention," McGonagall scolded him. "There are two people who wanted to see the three of you, and I should perhaps start off by saying they have been through something anybody else has been through, so be careful around them. They're still under the weather."

"Sirius and Remus!" I exclaimed. "Take us to them!"

Professor McGonagall obliged.

Sirius had grey streaks in his dark hair, and there was almost no light in his light grey eyes, but he didn't look that different. He'd never looked that healthy since Azkaban.

The worst was that Remus matched him now, with identical grey streaks in his light auburn hair, and an haunted look on his face.

But, all things considered, they looked happy. Because they were together.

"I can't stop telling Remus how much of an idiot he's been, to try to get me behind the Veil," Sirius chuckled affectionately.

"What was I supposed to do? Let you die?" Remus asked. "I already know they won't let me marry you, both because we're two men, and because I'm a werewolf, but I'll be damned before I decide to let you die in your thirties, Sirius. I didn't help you escape from Azkaban for nothing."

Sirius looked a little lost for words, which was something that never happened. I savoured the calm and the love between them, the air feeling like it was the remenants of the static after the storm.

Draco and I would never have something like that, but in that moment I knew I wanted it. I'd never wanted anything more.

I remembered Draco's words, 'He wants it. Everything.'

It was the truth. I wanted my friends, I wanted my godfather, I wanted the true love of my life. I wanted to feel closer to my parents. I wanted Dumbledore alive, and I wanted to kill Voldemort.

Was that a good thing, or a product of my lonley childhood? I didn't know, but what I wanted, I'd try to get.

I would get my hands bloody, and my nails dirty, and my face destroyed, and I'd go through the fires of Hell before I'd let anyone take Draco away from me.

Remus and Sirius had given me the idea.

Because if a happy ending didn't exist, we could create one ourselves.

Chapter Text

I never had a chance to talk to Draco for almost a month, but that was okay. Taking my time was okay. Dumbledore always said good things come to those who wait.

In Spring, Hagrid was back from his honeymoon, but, a few days later, he announced he didn't want to teach at Hogwarts anymore.

"This is preposterous!" Hermione complained, while we were making our way to his hut. "He can't just quit!"

"He's been weird for a long time," Ron commented. "Well, weirder than usual. We need to find out what's going on with him."

I touched the pocket of my robe, where I kept the vial of Felix Felicis. I could have used it to get the truth from Hagrid. But, unlike Slughorn, he was a friend. I had the feeling, in my guts, that I wouldn't need luck to find out what was going on.

In fact, when we arrived, Hagrid looked teary-eyed. "Looky here," he said. "My three favourite students."

He sniffed into something that looked dangerously like his tablecloth.

Hermione stomped her feet on the ground. "You don't get to say that to us," she cried. "Not when you're about to leave anyway."

"Well," Hagrid looked around, to make sure nobody was listening. "Listen. Dis doesn't have anythin' to do with the three of ye. 'Twas my decision to leave. I should have asked him to do his dirty work himself, so to speak."

"What do you mean?" I pleaded. "Whose dirty work? Voldemort's? Lucius Malfoy's? Hagrid, don't leave us hanging on."

"We don't blame you," Ron decided. "We know you're a good person. If someone put you up to do something you didn't want to do..."

Hagrid waved away the conversation with a nod of his big hand. "Shouldn't add anythin'," he replied. "I'm already in trouble as it is. Aye, it was good knowing ye. And remember, be prepared for whatever will happen."

"If things get better, will you be back for our last year at Hogwarts?" Hermione asked.

"Of course," Hagrid said gruffly. "Though I doubt they will. Trouble just started. I'll be in France with me new lady, but don't worry -- France is not too far. 'Am positive we'll see each other again."

As much as we begged him not to go -- he even accepted our proposition that we could write to him and send him letters via owl -- his decision couldn't be changed. He didn't want to stay there, and endanger us, as he put it when he let the secret slip once again.

We had to let him go.

"Hagrid was almost about to betray us," I commented sourly. "Well, if this isn't the worst news I've ever heard."

Hermione was crying, so I put awkwardly a hand on her shoulder.

"He was never about to betray us," Ron said, protectively hugging Hermione. I was relieved she was in so much shock she couldn't Stun him. "He stopped before they asked him to. Besides, we learned something new."

"What?" I asked.

"Who knew that Hagrid could read?"


But the surprises didn't end there. A few days later, when Hagrid really gave his dimissions, we followed him into the woods.

Really, it had been my idea. And not because, as Ron had put it, I was in my 'stalker phase'. But if Hagrid was working for You-Know-Who, I told my friends, we really had to know.

We didn't discover as much, but we overheard Hagrid talking to Dumbledore.

"I wonder who'll take me place," Hagrid was sniffling. "I've heard talks of Fenrir Greyback at the Ministry, but folks say he's a monster."

"Well," Dumbledore said calmly. "He's a werewolf."

"Ye know I didn't mean it like that," Hagrid replied. "I liked Remus Lupin. No, Fenrir was the bloke who bit Lupin when he was a child. His adoptive father, he was."

I couldn't help but shiver, though we had already heard the story, or part of it, from Lupin himself.

"They say he can't be trusted around children, that is true," Dumbledore replied. "And in more than one sense. Don't worry, Hagrid, he'll never teach Care of Magical Creatures. Besides, the Minister told me, no more werewolves or other creatures. Too bad. I knew a certain distinguished Italian gentleman in my day, called Sanguini, who was very good at Defense Against the Dark Arts. Alas, he would have made a fine teacher, but he was a vampire..."

I didn't hear the whole conversation about Sanguini. As soon as I had heard about Fenrir Greyback, I had started running towards the castle.

At some point, Ron caught my arm.

"What's the issue?" he asked. "I mean, I know it's upsetting."

"We really like Lupin too," Hermione said softly. "I know that this is very hard to hear..."

"Fenrir Greyback," I whispered. "I can't remember how, I can't remember when, but I am sure Draco mentioned him before. He's a friend of Lucius, and he often visited them."

"You don't think...?" Ron asked.

"No," I replied. "But I can't be sure. And just the idea that Fenrir could have thought about it..." I clenched my jaw. "This has been going on for way too long. I have to find Draco. To tell him what he means to me."

I explained briefly to the two of them about the letter, but also about what had ignited my hope once again. The conversation between Draco and Snape I'd overheard.

But when we got out of the woods, we saw the most unlikely of people. 

Lucius Malfoy. Apparently, the Imperius curses had done their job. He wasn't in Azkaban anymore. In that moment, he didn't look like an evil Death Eater, but more like a gentleman who'd just stepped in cow shit. And he was talking to none other than Slughorn.

"I need to see my son," Lucius was saying. "Why isn't he in the Slug Club? Slughorn, bring him here. The three of us will talk about it over tea, and I'll try to buy his way in the Slug Club as best as I can."

"You don't mean with real money?" Slughorn chuckled.

"Oh, no, of course," Lucius lied. "How rude of you to point it out. I was part of the Slug Club too, in case your old brain doesn't remember."

Hermione and Ron were looking at the scene horrified. I touched the vial of Felix Felicis in my robe.

Slughorn. Lucius Malfoy back from Azkaban, who probably had his son and I on his black list. Draco in the same room as the two of them.

I knew what I had to do.

My friends understood all of this, or at least, part of this, after all I'd told Ron I needed to talk to Slughorn, but couldn't do anything to stop it. The potion was already burning down my throat before they could even open their mouths.

"You'll regret this, Harry," Ron said.

"I won't," I replied. "That's why I did it."

Now, things had to go my way. That was why, when Draco arrived with the face of a dog that's been beaten, Slughorn turned towards me. 

"I think, if this is to become a little reunion of the Slug Club," he said. "My new favourite student has to come along to check out the new talent. Lucius, I don't know if you've met the boy who's taking the best votes in all my Potions exercises. Harry Potter, come here."

"I know about the Chosen One," Lucius said sourly. "I didn't know he was good at something."

Draco looked at me worriedly. Lucius was looking at us as if he was a bird and we were worms. No doubt he was thinking that this was his lucky day.

But, he was wrong. It was not his lucky day. It was mine.

Slughorn took us to his office to drink tea. There weren't enough chairs, so he made Draco and I sit on the couch.

While Slughorn and Lucius started talking about a lot of things from back when Lucius was a student, I decided I had to try my luck with the three of them, but not at the same time.

I tried with Lucius first. He was the toughest of them all, and nothing could go well with Draco if Lucius was there.

"I think, sir," I said, trying out my luck, and how much of it I'd won. "That, just because you're out of Azkaban, doesn't mean the Ministry is done controlling your estate. In fact, I don't think it would be very safe for your family to keep living there, until all precautions have been taken."

"I was declared innocent, Potter," Lucius snarled. "I don't know what game you're playing. Surely you can't be so dull as to think it is your Potions teacher who decides if I'm found guilty or not."

"Not him, but the new Minister," I said. I wondered how luck worked. Did it work also on people who weren't in the same room?

It turned out that it obviously did -- it was luck, after all. A letter from Scrimgeour arrived half an hour later, declaring all of which I'd said before.

Lucius became very pale upon reading it. "You'll be sorry, Potter," he only commented. "If I ever find out you've worked your way through the Ministry against me. I wonder how you've become their bitch, what with the Chosen One propaganda and everything, I mean, I wouldn't have to wonder, but I wouldn't have pegged you for the attractive type."

"Stop shaming my student," Slughorn frowned.

But it didn't make sense. Luck had to work my way. It meant Lucius could threaten all he wanted, and nothing would happen.

Well, not on that day, at the very least.

"On the contrary, many people, sir," I replied. "Find me very attractive."

In that moment, there was a loud crash out of the window. McGonagall was shouting at a first-year Hufflepuff for blowing up a tree, and the birds that nested there started flying away, causing mayhem.

Lucius went out the door to see what was happening. In my mind there was no doubt that he wanted to punish the young student himself.

"Whatever you're doing," Draco told me. "Stop doing it."

His voice was detached, though not quite cold. He was never as good as he liked to be as preteding he didn't have feelings for me. 

I'd always been better at that.

"I don't know what you're talking about," I replied, trying on purpose not to sound cold. I wanted that moment to make things right between us.

But what he replied made my blood freeze cold in my veins.

"Felix Felicis," he replied. "I know."

"So," I had to admit. "Now you know I used it to make things right between the two of us. This is how much I really care."

"Great, you care, now," he replied sarcastically. "But what if Dumbledore told you to go against me? What if the only way to fight Voldemort would be to go through me first?"

"You have an exaggerated sense of your importance," I couldn't help but say.

"You can use Felix Felicis all you want," he cocked an eyebrow. "You'll never get lucky like that. Besides, using it for me is pathetic. I'd never know until now how pathetic you were."

I looked at him as if he'd smacked me. I had no words left.

"Oh, was that all it took to leave you without words? I would have said that sooner," Draco replied. "Or is that because you can't believe Felix Felicis is doing that to you? What did you think it was? A love potion? Do you think it can force people to have feelings for you, if they don't in the first place?"

"But you do," I said. "You told Snape. I heard."

It was the wrong thing to say.

"You fucking stalker," Draco couldn't help the dirty word. It was okay, though. If Felix Felicis was working, except that for the two of us, it meant Lucius and Slughorn were probably fighting off a bunch of furious birds.

"Okay, Draco," I gave in. "I am everything you say I am. I am a stalker, and I'm ruthless. And it's pathetic of me to expect this from you when I've never been good to you. You were the son of a Death Eater, so it was hard for me to see our roles reversed. But I do, now. I see your point of view. I've been bloody mean to you."

"Tell me something I don't know," he crossed his arms.

"You're joking, but I will," I said, serious. "If it comes to you or Dumbledore, or if it comes to you or killing You-Know-Who..."

Draco turned his face away. I took his hand.

"I'd put you first. You don't understand. Draco, I will put you first."

He turned towards me, with his lips parted as if he was about to kiss me first this time. As if my words were all he needed to put our pasts behind us. And they weren't, but they were a start.

However, Snape entered the room in that moment.

"Potter, Slughorn will be back shortly to talk to you," he announced in his drawling voice, so unexpressive compared to Draco's drawl. "Malfoy, you can train with me. Advanced Defense Against the Dark Arts."

I looked at Draco, while he was walking away. I couldn't believe Felix Felicis would do that to me. Take away Draco when we were about to kiss, make him train with Snape, and whatever their training was, I knew it wasn't Defense Against the Dark Arts.

But fate had other plans. I still needed what was left of my luck, and Snape had said Slughorn wanted to talk to me.

The Potions teacher arrived shortly after. In my head, it was enough time to make plans. If I retrieved the correct memory soon enough, I'd use the remaining hours of the day to chase after Draco and Snape, and hear one of the two say what I feared. That the boy I loved was a Death Eater. And then, I'd attack Snape, and my spell would not fail, because luck was on my side.

Besides, I had read a terrible spell in the Half-Blood Prince's Potions book, and I did not know the details, as usual, but it looked wicked enough to be used against the man who was trying to turn Draco into a monster.

Slughorn coughed, embarrassed by the silence. "What were we talking about...?"

In that moment, I noticed something I wouldn't have noticed in most days. Not for lack of trying, but because the timing had never been right. 

I knew the smell, and I'd seen the signs so many times, but some people hid it better than others.

Slughorn drank, and a lot.

I was reminded of the worst moments where my uncle Vernon was terrible to me. Things I'd never told to anyone, things I doubted anyone would ever even know.

I tried my best not to gag, though I felt as if my insides were about to spill out.

However, Slughorn had just drank, so it was a good thing. He was more confused now than he would be in a few hours time. I had to use the moment, coldly detaching myself from the past memories of abuse.

I opened a cabinet he had in his room. I had already took a look inside it when he had retrieved from there the potion he'd given Ron. There were bottles inside, too.

"Haha, Potter, what are you doing?" he hiccuped. "Oh, a fine vintage. I'm afraid you've learned my secret."

I wondered whether the Potions teachers had started inheriting the curse of the DADA teachers after Snape had changed his subject. I couldn't understand how Slughorn, with the all the secrets he was holding from Dumbledore, could last more than a year at the school.

"I wouldn't tell anyone, sir," I replied. "I'll put it away."

I felt very guilty when he was caught in my trap. "No, no, you know now. Pour it into a drink. Or make it two. But I can't let underage students drink, now, can I? Hahahahaha, so stupid of me."

Whatever Slughorn had done to aid Voldemort, it was huge. Some people drank because of the things they'd seen. Slughorn was that kind of person.

My uncle wasn't.

I poured him a little wine.

"So," I decided to press into another weak spot. I'd done it once, surely it couldn't be too bad to do it twice. "I think it's nice that, every time we talk, you tell me something about my mother."

"Teaching your mother was the only thing I'd done right," he nodded. "Too bad she died the way she died..." he hiccuped again. "I have always felt guilty about it. You know, your mother was just like you in a way. She did not have a family."

"But, she did," I said. "Her sister Petunia. I'm living with her, now. And my grandparents must have loved her very much, because they both died shortly after she did. They were young, but they still couldn't take it. I'd always felt... as if my aunt did not deserve any of this."

I closed my hands into fists, because it was Slughorn's turn to bare his emotions, not mine.

"Yes, they must have loved her," the professor slurred. "But when she went to Hogwarts, it put a great deal of damage in her relationship with your aunt. Your grandparents were Muggles, and they got to live with Petunia all year round. At the end of the day, they took sides, and they took your aunt's side. I think they felt very guilty when she died. They never took the wizarding world very seriously."

I felt oddly sick at the thought of how Voldemort had destroyed not only my parents, but my entire family. I wondered whether my father's parents were alive. There were so many things about myself I didn't know yet.

"So I, a bit foolishly, have always felt a bit like I was her father," Slughorn added. "Stupid, eh? Hahahaha. I know you do not see me as a grandfather. But don't worry, Harry, she never knew either how much I fatherly loved her. I kept it to myself, and it was worse when she died, because I blamed myself."

"Sir," I looked at him, raptured by his words. I did not even have to fake. "Why? What happened?"

He took his wand, and retrieved a memory from his head. "I should have given this up long ago," he said. "Look at it when you're with Dumbledore. He has a Pensieve. Just, one thing... don't blame me. I didn't know what I was doing."


I practically ran away from the room, hoping I was still in time to find Draco and Snape. Slughorn had put his memory inside a vial, and I would go to give it to Dumbledore after everything had played out.

Felix Felicis lasted a day, but I had used it for so many things, I felt like it was about to run out. Luckily, I found Snape and Draco before it did.

Snape was telling Draco something about his plan against Dumbledore. Draco was refusing to act.

I finally heard the confirmation I'd been waiting for.

"You can't side with Potter," Snape smirked. "You're too late for that. You're a Death Eater now."

I took off my Invisibility Cloak, and looked at the two of them defiantly.

"What in the hell..." Snape started saying.

I pointed my wand at him. "Sectumsempra!" I said.

I did not know what it did. The Half-Blood Prince had warned to use it only in a very aggravating situation. A life or death situation. But it was what it was. 

Snape had turned Draco into a Death Eater, and it didn't feel any better just because now I knew.

Snape got out of the way the last second, and put Draco in front of himself as a shield.

I watched in horror as the spell hit Draco Malfoy. His skin started tearing apart in many little wounds, where blood was pouring out.

I should have trusted Hermione. I should have thrown that book away. Of course, it couldn't change what Snape had done. Even if I had used a Curse, the professor would have put Malfoy in front of him.

But, in that moment, I couldn't help but look at the blood on the floor and know I'd done it. 

It was the most horrible thing I'd ever seen, and I'd done it.

I had just told Draco I would put him first. So why didn't I see it coming? I should have never trusted that book at all.

"I'll get help," Snape said, and the look in his eyes brought me back to reality. "Potter, at least fifty points will be taken from Gryffindor. I'll alert the whole school that you used dark magic against an unarmed Slytherin."

"I used it against you, sir," I hissed.

"Shall I say that? How do you think that would sound?" Snape asked, and left the room.

I looked at Draco. I wanted to remain by his side until someone arrived, it was not like I could clear my reputation either way.

In that moment, I swore to myself I'd always hate the Half-Blood Prince, whomever they were.

Chapter Text

I spent a few days doing everything in my power to avoid everyone. I barely showed up to my classes. I knew there were a lot of rumours going around about Draco and I, including that it had been part of a lover's quarrel.

Many people thought I was dangerous, unhinged. Which wasn't exactly something I'd never been told before, the same thing happened almost every year at Hogwarts. The only difference was, this time I had the Ministry's approval. I had been labeled the Chosen One. The new teacher actually liked me, instead of despising me like most of the others.

So, I wasn't ready for the backlash, not that time. And consider that I still couldn't forgive myself for what had happened to Draco. Love tore you apart in so many ways -- I had just begun to realize it.

The only good day was the one where Dumbledore asked me to come to his office.

"You've heard about what happened," I said. I couldn't help myself.

"You retrieved the memory from Slughorn, I know," the headmaster replied, and in that moment, I didn't question him. I didn't ask him how he knew. "You did good."

"You must have heard about the other thing as well," I bit my lip.

"I know it must have been a misunderstanding, though, I must declare, I think it below you to use spells randomly without knowing their meaning. Because that is what Professor Snape told me. Where have you heard about it?"

I couldn't just lie in front of the headmaster. I showed him the Half-Blood Prince book.

"Interesting," he commented. He smiled slightly. "Such a coincidence that it fell into your hands."

My heart skipped in my chest. "Why? To whom did it belong to?" If I knew who the Prince was, I realized, I could make them pay.

Assuming they were still alive.

"First things first," Dumbledore declared. "Let's look at Slughorn's memory together."

I accepted, and we put it in the Pensieve.

We were instantly transported in Slughorn's past. The Potions Professor was talking to a young Karkaroff, whom I now knew as the headmaster of Durmstrang.

But, there was a small issue. The Karkaroff in the memory was older than Slughorn. Which just didn't make sense today...

"That is Karkaroff's grandfather," Dumbledore explained to me. "He's been headmaster of Durmstrang too."

I nodded, and watched how the memory played out.

"Why have you gone on such a long journey?" Karkaroff asked Slughorn. "Not for the pleasure to see me. I don't recall we've met before."

Slughorn shifted on the heels of his shoes. Even back then, he was a bit awkward and manic. "I came here to ask something about that artefact Dumbledore found at Hogwarts. He asked one of the teachers to bring it to you, where you study Dark Magic."

"This is not," Karkaroff enunciated, cold as Snape. "A school for Dark Magic."

"No, no, I know! I know! But, erm... Albus could use your help. And I decided to take the journey myself, because I'd been meaning to ask you something. You see, a student of mine, young Tom Riddle, came with a question that I couldn't answer."

"Ask," Karkaroff spit. I decided I didn't exactly dislike him -- he had spunk.

"About Horcruxes," Slughorn said, as if he was saying an obscenity. "A question about Horcruxes. He said that, here at Durmstrang, if I asked, you'd know what I was talking about."

Karkaroff, who was probably older than Dumbledore had been in that memory, shivered as if he had seen many terrible things. Horcruxes, whatever they were, must have reminded him of them.

"Do you know what a Horcrux is?" Karkaroff asked the Potions professor, who was plump and had huge, innocent, blue eyes. He looked as if he'd never heard Dark Magic being mentioned before.

But, Slughorn reminded to both Karkaroff and I who he really was, "Of course! I'm a great wizard, and an even better teacher. I'm the archetype of the Slytherin, ambitious and cold. I've thought about Dark Magic before. Not that I thought about creating a Horcrux, eh eh! But I read about it."

"I'm listening," Karkaroff said, as if to ask him to give proof that he really knew what it was.

"A Horcrux is an enchanted object, a piece of the darkest magic you can magic. The first one was created by Herpo the Foul in Ancient Greece, and none other have been heard of since. You sever a part of your soul and put it in the object, to achieve immortality. Though, I can't imagine anyone who'd do such a thing -- the kind of immortal life you get is not a life at all. To create a Horcrux, you have to commit murder of the worst kind. This means, not in self defense, not to protect someone else, and without guilt or regret. If you can commit a murder like that, and then find the spell to sever part of your soul, a hideous spell people prefer not to mention, well, then you can create your Horcrux."

"What did Tom Riddle want to know?" Karkaroff chuckled. "You know much more than you let on, Slughorn. I'm sure you answered every one of his questions."

"He asked, 'can one use a person as a Horcrux?'" Slughorn replied, horrified.

The temperature in the room dropped. Not only Karkaroff was shivering, but I was too, and I noticed that even Dumbledore looked fazed.

"Why did he tell me that you would know?" Slughorn find the courage to ask.

"Somebody asked me that question before," Karkaroff said. "But how can he know about it? I've never told anyone. What I said back then."

"So, the answer is yes," Slughorn said smugly. "Otherwise, there would be no point in keeping a no a secret."

"Too smart for your own good," Karkaroff muttered. "Yes, the answer is yes. Are you satisfied, now? Are you going to tell him?"

"Hahahaha, ehehehe, erm, not really, because you see... the boy wanted to know something else," Slughorn looked very uncomfortable.

"What? What else did he want to know?"

"He asked, 'can one create more than one Horcrux? In that case, can one use more than one person as a Horcrux?'"

The temperature in the room seemed to grow even colder.

Karkaroff looked like he was about to show Slughorn the door. But the teacher had already cornerned him once before. There would be no point in keeping a 'no' a secret, he had said.

"I suppose one could," Karkaroff said. "Now, go back to England. And you'll be dead on the spot if you ever tell anyone of this conversation. Oh, and one last thing..."

Slughorn turned around. "Yes?"

"I wouldn't tell Tom Riddle the answers to these questions, if I were you."


The memory was over, and Dumbledore and I were back in the headmaster's office. I dug my nails into my fists.

"If Tom Riddle hadn't been able to create a Horcrux, Slughorn wouldn't have given you the ruined memory," I told Dumbledore. "There would be no point in keeping a no a secret, he said so himself."

"Then, what I feared is the truth," Dumbledore replied. "I'd had my suspicions."

"But..." I couldn't understand how the headmaster could be so calm. "This means he's used a person as a Horcrux! He must have. Otherwise, why ask? Maybe more than one person..."

"We'll take our time in finding out who or what he used as a Horcrux," Dumbledore told me gently. "You see, you can use up to seven, and I doubt Tom Riddle stopped at people. If it was up to me, I'd start with the objects. There is one that I'd been eyeing, because it's a cursed, old object that is protected by many spells. I found it last year when I followed You-Know-Who's trail."

"Let's go there now," I said, without thinking.

"I admire your courage," Dumbledore replied. "And, while it is not my intention to put you in such a great danger, you're absolutely right. Now that we know that Voldemort has Horcruxes, we can't waste precious time. It's going to take a lot of research to find out what and who he used, and how many of them he had created."

There was one thing Dumbledore wasn't saying. At first, I thought he was playing dumb, because he didn't want me to freak out.

Then, I realized he didn't know. And, as much as it pained me to keep a secret from the headmaster, the only person I'd never lied to, I wasn't going to tell him.

That was why I could hear the strange voices from the Chamber of Secrets. That was why my scar hurt when he was around. That was why we had many similarities, and seeing his past spooked me out.

I was the person Voldemort had used as Horcrux. That was why he didn't kill me. He never even tried to. He just used me after the murder of my mother had severed part of his soul.

And, that was why none of us could live while the other survived.

Why wasn't Dumbledore seeing what was in front of him? Why wasn't he killing me? I would have understood. 

The only possible explanation was that the headmaster had too much goodness in his heart. He couldn't even begin to think something so vile about me.

But, the decision to sacrifice myself killing Voldemort had been made long ago. It didn't matter if nobody was ever going to find out why I'd done it. The result would be the same.

I followed Dumbledore out of the school, excited, despite what I'd just learned, for what was our first quest. I imagined I would have many moments like that before I gave myself over to the Dark Lord. After all, I had to destroy all his other Horcruxes, whatever the number was, before I destroyed myself.

We reached a cave that wasn't too far from the school, if you teleported. And we could teleport as soon as we got out of the school grounds.

The cave was in Scotland, just like Hogwarts.

"We only arrived here because I knew where it was," Dumbledore explained. "But it's hard to reach. It has taken me almost all of the last year to get to it."

Inside the cave, there was something that looked like an altar, with a cup on it. It was one of those ancient looking cups, like the Holy Grail. 

"Is that the Horcrux?" I asked the headmaster.

"No," he replied. "But, to get it, I must drink from it."

I soon realized why it would be impossible. The cave didn't have a floor, it had water. There was a boat, yes, but I could see shadows looming under the surface of the water.

"To get to the Horcrux," Dumbledore said, "You need to get the boat. Only an adult wizard at once can take it."

"I'm sorry, then, Professor," I replied. "One of us will have to stay behind. I'm an adult too."

Dumbledore chuckled. "You young people, so eager to grow. You may be an adult in heart and body, but you're still an underage wizard, and I'm sure the spell doesn't count for sixteen-year-olds. Voldemort never thought someone so young would make it this far in the quest to destroying his Horcruxes."

We took the boat to the small island in the middle of the cave, where the cup was.

"Unluckily, I know a bit about the Emerald Potion," Dumbledore said. "Look at the inside of the cup."

The cup had a locket inside it, but it was drowned in a green liquid.

"This potion can't be Charmed, or anything else," Dumbledore said. "The only way to get it out of the way is by drinking it. And this is why two people are required, something Voldemort thought he had taken care of when he put that spell on the boat. You see, drinking this potion will torture the drinker, so they need someone else by their side."

Dumbledore was about to drink from the cup, but I was horrified.

"Sir, you can't do it!" I pleaded. "You're... well, excuse me, but you're old. What if it kills you? And besides, you're the headmaster of Hogwarts, the best wizardry school in the world! You've trained me all year for situations such as this, let me do it."

Dumbledore looked at me, and for a moment I was afraid he'd tell me 'no'. That I was too valuable in the battle against Voldemort, that he liked me too much as a person.

But he didn't, and, in a way, it was worse. I was really a grown up, now, who had to take careful, painful steps in the battle against You-Know-Who. Dumbledore gave me the cup to drink from.

"This was not how I envisioned it," he said. "But I understand. Things might have to go this way. I'll be here for you, don't forget that."

"Okay," I replied sternly. "And remember, I want to get these Horcruxes as much as you do. So, if I tell you to make me stop drinking, make me go on."

Dumbledore was about to reply, but I stopped him.

"I know how these things go, if Voldemort put it here, it'll probably feel like torture. Don't make me stop."

He nodded, and started drinking it.

After the first sip, I didn't know how I could do the others. I had only drank about one third of the whole potion, but I immediately started having chest pains that were a thousand times greater than the ones you get when you're panicked. It felt as if somebody was stabbing me repeatedly. I couldn't even breathe.

"I can't," I whispered. I didn't know how Dumbledore could even hear my voice. "I'm sorry, I can't..."

He made me drink again, just like I asked him.

The pain was still there, and I wasn't getting used to it. But it wasn't the only thing.

I started feeling like I did when there were Dementors around. Scenes from my childhood started playing out.

I was happy nobody could see them. I'd always pretended, both for my sake, and for Petunia's and Dudley's, that Vernon was just a terrible, alcoholic man who hit me too hard when he'd had too much to drink.

The truth was worse. He was a sadist. In my memories, I was locked up into my room with nothing to eat or drink, and it went on for days. Sometimes, he'd open the door to check on me, and his violence would make me forget about everything else, even the thirst and the hunger.

I remembered blood dripping from my mouth, my nose, my eyes...

In that moment, though, I could feel the thirst. I was thirstier than I'd ever been. I felt as if I'd just spent a week in the desert. My throat was burning, and before I noticed, I was screaming for water.

I noticed Dumbledore had made me down the remaining potion, and it was what was causing me that terrible thirst.

"It's over," he said affectionately, stroking my hair. "It's over. I would have never been that strong."

There was real admiration in his voice.

"Water," I asked, and I looked pleadingly at the water all around us. Dumbledore filled the cup, after he took out the locket, and gave me water to drink.

I drank as if I'd never had anything to drink in sixteen years of life. Even when I drank all of it, it wasn't anywhere near enough. But the Cave had other plans.

As soon as Dumbledore had taken the water, the shadows looming under the surface started making their way towards us. It was...

It was corpses! But they were moving!

I pointed at them, my voice still raw, my mind still in shambles. "What are those?!"

"Inferi," Dumbledore said. "Apparently, another myth Voldemort made come to life. An army of undead."

They were about to attack us.

"I see now why destiny let you drink from that cup, instead of me," Dumbledore added. "Thank you for sparing me the horror, Harry. My skills are needed elsewhere."

He conjured a wave of fire from his wand, and hit the Inferi. Enough of them scrambled away, and we took the boat back to the entrance of the Cave.

Every time one of the Inferi tried to attack us, Dumbledore hit it with fire.

"In case you meet them again," he told me. "Flames and light is what they fear most of all."

But I wasn't really listening. I was feverish, and I couldn't stop trembling. The memories I'd seen in the Cave, many of them, all in the same style, kept replaying in my head, and I wasn't aware of how deep I'd buried some of them before they had made their way out of my thoughts.

After years that people had been accusing me, it was happening. Potter was finally going crazy. I chuckled lightly, and Dumbledore took my hand, worriedly.

Not too long after, we were back at the Hogwarts tower. We were about to go to Dumbledore's office. It had been a really eventful day, what with the realization of being an Horcrux, and what had happened in the Cave. I realized, amongst all the things I'd seen and felt, even the way I'd felt violated when I heard the mermaid's call was replaying in my head. I did my best to shake it off.

What I really needed was a good night's sleep. The only problem? Who knew if I could sleep again.

What I wasn't expecting, was to meet Draco at the entrance of the upper room in the Tower.

"Have... you come to talk to Dumbledore? Or me?" I asked stupidly. I must have looked terrible, judging from his pale face and haunted expression.

That was when I realized I wasn't the reason Draco had that look in his eyes.

Snape was already in the Tower. He had used my Invisibility Cloak.

"Give it back to me, you monster!" I said.

"Potter," Snape replied. I noticed he was holding Dumbledore hostage, pushing him against a wall. "Death Eaters are already over the school. For once, your little idiotic brain was right. Dumbledore had been wrong to trust me."

"I knew what I was doing all along," Dumbledore said. "Men deserve second chances. Or third." He looked at me. "In case I don't make it out alive, trust me that one day you'll know why I kept Snape here, to teach children."

Draco pointed his wand at the headmaster. In that moment, I noticed he didn't really want to do it.

"You can always change side, Draco," Dumbledore said softly. "Join our side. I know you love Harry. It wouldn't be so difficult, would it?"

"Don't listen to the old man, just be done with it," Snape said. "Do you remember what the Dark Lord told you? He would take your mother against her will, and murder Potter. And Fenrir said if the Dark Lord let him do it, he'd do it the other way around."

Draco looked at Dumbledore again. With such threats against him, I had no doubt what he was going to do.

But Draco said, "Expelliarmus," and Dumbledore's wand fell to the ground.

Draco pointed his wand at Snape, who started making his way towards the door. He was right in front of the window, when Draco said, "Avada Kedavra!"

Nothing happened.

Snape laughed. "You and Potter are cut from the same cloth. Even he never means it, like that time in the cemetery. It only works if you mean it..."

In that moment, he lost his footing, and the evil chuckle on his face disappeared.

We all watched, stunned, as he fell down the window.

I ran to Draco, even though I was still in a lot of pain, and I was still thirsty. "You've done the right thing," I whispered.

Dumbledore was looking at Snape with a shocked face.

"Well," he said. "I believe we can get rid of the Horcrux now. A funeral will be held for your Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher tomorrow morning."

Dumbledore took out the locket from his robe. He gestured to me and Draco to go to him. I realized I'd been hugging Draco, and I was still holding onto him when we reached the headmaster.

"It belonged to Salazar Slytherin," he said, and opened the locket. Something came out of it. A piece of paper.

It said, "I've been here before. This isn't the real Horcrux. I took the real one. Signed, A.D."

"Albus Dumbledore?" I asked.

"No, I can't have done something like that and have forgotten about it," the headmaster looked troubled. "Besides, I'm not the only person around with these initials. I have a few suspects in my mind."

"So, the Horcrux was a fake?" I asked. "The Cave? Was it all for nothing? The pain, the hallucinations...?" I stumbled, and Draco caught me.

"Yes," Dumbledore replied. "I feared things could go this way. But don't be sad, Potter. You showed your cold blood and strength for what it was, back in the Cave, and I'll always be grateful to you for it."

Chapter Text

When Draco, Dumbledore and I left the room, the fact that Snape had been killed had already spread between the Death Eaters, and they left the castle.

However, in the little time they'd been there, they had been already able to cause trouble, harming many students, but no one had been killed -- that I heard of.

I met up with Ron and Hermione, who were in healthy conditions, but Ron became very pale as soon as he met Ginny, who had a lot of blood on her face.

"It's not all mine," she said toughly. However, her voice broke. "Bill. You should see him, though..."

We followed her into the Hospital Wing. There were a lot of students and teachers there.

"Why hasn't anybody been killed?" Draco asked. "I mean," he added, when he saw Hermione's face. "I know Death Eaters don't stop at anything."

"Oh, Death Eaters, is that what you heard?" Ron threw up his hands. "Lots of creatures here as well, giants, werewolves, vampires..."

I wondered briefly whether Sanguini had joined the dark side.

"So...?" Draco asked again.

"Okay, fine, I was about to tell you anyway," Hermione said. "Slughorn still had some ingredients of the Felix Felicis potion, and he made the prefects of every House take a sip of it. Then, we defended people from our Houses, and organized the battles."

"That's impressive," I said.

"I know!" Hermione laughed. "I never thought I'd be able to do it! I never had any doubt about Ron, though. Do you remember how he battled Quirrel in our first year?"

Ron blushed. "Ginny is pissed at me," he only said. "She says she wanted to be the one who did most of the fighting."

Meanwhile, we approached Bill's bed. He didn't look very good. In fact, he was ashen and there were dark shadows under his eyes.

"Why was Bill here?" I asked.

"The Death Eaters started their attack as soon as you and Dumbledore left Hogwarts, so, quite a few hours ago," Hermione explained. "In the meantime, we called reinforcements. Tonks, Lupin and Sirius were here too. And so were Percy Weasley, and the twins, but they're all better off than Bill."

Ron took his wrist, and soon became as pale as his older brother. "He doesn't have a pulse! How come he doesn't have a pulse?"

I was about to reply, to try to find some words that would comfort him, when Madam Pomfrey arrived. "Worry not, Ronald, your brother is not dead. Even though, this might come as a shock to you..."

In that moment, Arthur and Molly Weasley entered the room. "We came as soon as we heard..." Molly started saying.

"I was about to say," Madam Pomfrey told her. "This might come as a shock to you, but your son has been bitten by a vampire."

The Weasleys became very pale. "Will he... you know... survive?" Arthur asked, while Molly was sobbing, her face in her hands.

"Yes, but he will become a vampire," Madam Pomfrey said sheepishly.

"You should have said sooner!" Molly growled. "I like my sons and daughter alive, no matter what happens to them. One of our favourite people in the world is a werewolf, so I'm not worried about Bill."

"Who knows what will happen now, though," Arthur said sadly. "With his engagement..."

"His what?" Ron asked.

Tonks arrived in that moment. She coughed, to clear her voice. Her hair was spiky and a creamy yellow, that looked almost blond but not quite. "Bill is engaged to me. IS. He still is."

Arthur looked at her. "Really?"

"Yes, really," she said, amiably. "I won't stop loving him just because he's a vampire. And I don't think he'll stop loving me. Well, he can try," she grinned. "I'm an Auror after all. I know how to fight my own fights."

"Maybe you will become a vampire as well," Draco pointed out. "You know, take the bite."

I looked at him astonished, but Tonks was beaming. "Well," she said, curling her hair around her finger. "That sounds cool too!"

"How are Sirius and Remus?" I asked her. "I heard they fought today."

"They're looking better," she said. "And they want to petition the Ministry to let men marry each other. They said they'll never let them, since Remus is a werewolf, but they want to give hope to people like them."

"But even Muggle men can't marry each other," Hermione noticed. "And sometimes, their society is more advanced than the wizarding world..."

"More advanced?" Draco asked. "Perhaps in some matters. But people in the wizarding world are not all like my father. Wizards are more open-minded than Muggles on most issues... I believe they might even make those marriages legal before they become so for the Muggles. And consider we can be believers, but we do not follow the Church."

That was enough to shut Hermione up, and I could see she wasn't happy that now there was someone as clever as her in our group of friends, but she and Draco seemed to get along with each other.

"Either way, Remus proposed to Sirius," Tonks concluded. "He said if it becomes legal, and if they have no issue with the fact that he's a werewolf, he wants to marry Sirius. And Sirius said yes!"

 

A week after the events, when the school was about to end, I found myself alone with Draco. We had spent quite a lot of time together, and none of it had been easy. We still had so much pressure, what with me being a Horcrux, and the Cave, and Snape's passing. I never liked him, but it was still traumatizing in its own way to see him convince Draco to become a Death Eater, betray the whole school and then fall off of the Astronomy Tower.

I had explained Draco about my fear of being a Horcrux, but he said he didn't think I was. I did not insist. I chose to put him first, like I had promised him.

"So..." I said awkwardly, when we were walking in the park. I could never find words, with Draco. It was annoying. "I was thinking... now that things are over, I mean, kind of, do you want to be my boyfriend?"

"Well, that depends," Draco arched an eyebrow. "Do you want to be my boyfriend? Because you don't sound so sure, Potter."

I blushed. "Well... yes, I do."

"Okay," Draco said. 

Was it that easy? I never knew it could be so easy.

Draco kissed me on the lips. I had already understood that, for a long time, he'd been waiting for the right moment to make the first move. I leaned into the kiss, and it was so much better than the awkward first time.

After a few minutes of making out, I stopped.

"I think..." I said, "I don't want to make this awkward, but there are so many things I want to ask you. I'm sure you feel the same. Our shared history is a bit troubled."

"Why were you often mean to me?" I asked him.

He shrugged. "Because it was easy. Because it was my father who always told me I had to dislike you, and I trusted my father above everyone else. Because you were mean to me too. Because there are other sons of Death Eaters at school, and they'd tell their parents how I behaved. Choose what you prefer, Potter."

"I think that they're all true," I replied, confident. From his smirk, I understood it was the right answer.

"Why were you mean to Neville?" I asked then.

"Because I thought he was in love with you, and I thought you might like him too."

I laughed at that one.

"Is it always going to be this way, Potter? Because between me and you, it doesn't feel much like being boyfriends."

"For a while, there are things I want to know," I said. "And we can also kiss."

"You're such a tease. Tell me something about you that I don't know."

"Okay," I said. "In my first year at Hogwarts, Dumbledore showed me a mirror that would show me what I desired. I saw my parents, and you. And in my second year at Hogwarts, it was Gilderoy Lockhart who broke my arm during Quidditch, and who enchanted the pen I used for detentions to make me hear voices."

"So, you ask me why I've been a bully, and I get all the details about the Chosen One's adventures," Draco remarked.

"I know, it doesn't sound very fair," I admitted. "Was it you who sent me that Valentine, in second year?"

Draco shut his eyes, humiliated. "I... yes, but it was Martin Kowalski who wrote it. We were young, and he'd told me he had always had luck with girls. I believed him. The poem was a bit saucy, I edited it a bit before it got into your hands, but it was terrible either way."

"If I'd known it was yours, we would have been together since that day," I said. "I always liked you. One more thing about me -- I found Godric Gryffindor's sword in a stone, and I pulled it out. Always in second year. Now, Dumbledore has it, and he's been giving me fencing lessons. He'll give me the real sword next year."

"My turn," Draco said. "I knew about the Chamber of Secrets, and I asked Dobby to forbid you to come to Hogwarts."

"I knew that one," I replied, and Draco looked shocked.

"There were Veela at the Quidditch World Cup," I said. "For me, they looked like you."

"Why were you mean to me, Potter?" Draco asked then. "Other than I got it coming."

"I had about the same reasons as you -- I'd been taught you were bad news. It was easy. It was satisfying. I'd never met anyone who looked at me without seeing me as the Chosen One, but you were infuriating too. And I think I'm more of an asshole than people give me credit for."

Draco smirked, "that's for sure."

He leaned closer to me, and kissed my forehead where I had the scar.

I jerked away from him. 

"Shit, I'm sorry," he said. "I'm not good at these things. I've never... before. You didn't like that, did you?"

"No, I did," I replied shakily. "It's just... I... nobody has ever touched me so gently before. I... I totally wasn't expecting it."

"You don't have to justify your reactions," Draco snarled. "I know all about your bastard uncle, and I'd kill him if I could. Come here."

In fact, I had instintively crawled away from him. I sat next to him in the grass.

"My mother put a blessing on me, before she died," I said. "When my wand met Voldemort's in the cemetery, the blessing was broken, and my parents' death really hit me. This is why I have nightmares now, and I can see thestrals."

"Let's stop playing this game," Draco said.

"Talking calms me down," I admitted, shrugging.

"The bottle Katie drank, it was for Dumbledore," Draco confessed. "But I wouldn't give it to me, and so Snape decided he'd be the one to give it to him, and I would have to distract you. But Snape wore a disguise, and Katie didn't recognize him."

"She's better now," I said. "Don't blame yourself."

I was starting to get why he didn't like the game. I wasn't so fond of it anymore either.

We stopped playing it, but not before I had told Draco about the Cave, and he told me about his mother under the Imperius curse.

After that, we both stopped finding it funny. I lied in the grass next to him. "Is it okay if for now we don't do anything?" I asked him.

"You told me you wanted to be my boyfriend a few hours ago," Draco said. "Don't rush it, Potter."

I put my head on his chest, and I fell asleep.

 

A few days later, I was summoned to Dumbledore's office. I showed up with Draco.

"Oh," the headmaster said, when he noticed who I'd brought. "Is this how it's going to be?"

"Yes," I replied. "I trust myself to make better and clearer decision when Draco is next to me. I could never really think about things until my mind had a spot reserved for him."

"Translation, you were too horny," Draco said.

"Please, not in front of Dumbledore," I hissed.

Dumbledore chuckled. "Kids... I suppose I could take a liking to Malfoy as well. After all, maybe at times the apple do fall far from the tree. And I don't think anything I could tell Harry could remain a secret anymore. Though, I must say, Harry, I'm quite surprised. I thought you knew how boundaries worked, and, only because now you have a significant other, it doesn't mean our talks will be different from before. You know how I like to talk to you for hours, the two of us alone."

I blushed, chastised. Draco looked at the headmaster weirdly.

"I can come back alone other times," I said. "I take our talks very seriously. But these days I've been feeling stronger with Draco. We've been together for so little... I think it is what I needed, after the Cave, and after Snape."

"Of course, of course," Dumbledore replied softly. "My dear boy, do not misunderstand. Your happiness and safety is the only thing I wish for. In fact, I'm not here to tell you about Horcruxes or Voldemort. About that, we'll talk next year. Which, now that I think about it, is fitting for our guest. If he wishes to come when we discuss war plans, I believe Malfoy knows quite a lot about the other side."

Draco blushed.

"I asked you to come here to discuss your Potions book, the one that belonged to the Half-Blood Prince," Dumbledore added. "I was replaying our conversation from the day of the Astronomy Tower battle, and I remembered I never told you who the book belonged to."

Draco became very pale, probably thinking about Sectumsempra.

"Whoever it is, I will wreck them," I said. "I can't believe I ever tried out that nasty spells. Even the one before, with Dudley. It was horrible. I regret the tips they gave me, even if I became good at Potions."

"Hush, hush, dear boy," Dumbledore said. "The book belonged to your mother."

I felt a knot in my throat. "No, it doesn't make sense. She would never... and the Prince, isn't that a name that would fit a boy better?"

"I know you find it hard to believe, but your mother was mischievious."

"Those spells are pure evil."

"But, unlike you, she knew what they did, and so she only used it for the right reasons," Dumbledore explained. "You see, your mother was in the Order of Phoenix, as you know. So, she let me know those things that I'm now telling you. Snape become a Death Eater in his sixth year of school," he looked at Draco, who blushed, when he said that.

I held Draco's hand.

"And you also know that Snape was after your mother, because she was good at Potions like him. But, what you don't know, is that the attentions he gave her were creepy and unrequited. She was very smart, and from the time she found herself forced to spend with him, she noticed he was a Death Eater. And so, she started making up spells. She knew she'd have to use against them Death Eaters one day soon, why not use them on the Death Eater who tried to go with her against her will? One day, Snape tried to touch her inappropriately, and she used Sectumsempra on him. She felt guilty, afterwards, but also a little smug. That was the most unique thing about your mother. Her sense of right and wrong was very wide and it was different from ours, but in the end, her heart was always in the right place."

His words had a soothing effect. If things went that way, then I could understand... she'd never use the spells unless it was an emergency, and thinking about it, it was great that she could come up with them in the first place. I was very proud.

"Why the Prince?" I asked.

"I never knew, and never asked," Dumbledore shrugged. "Perhaps she liked it better than Princess. Sometimes it's all that it takes. Words are just words, Harry. We can make them ours."

"I wonder what she would think," he added then. "If she knew her son had a Death Eater boyfriend."

I jerked, not believing Dumbledore could make such a comment. "Draco is not like Snape, he's been forced to take the Dark Mark," I said, horrified.

"It was just an old man's curiosity," Dumbledore justified himself. "Perhaps she would have supported the decision very much. She was, indeed, rather unconventional."

"Speaking of Snape, by the way," I added. "You've never told me why you kept him as a teacher even though you knew he was a Death Eater. Oh, and from your words, sir, I seemed to gather that you knew he was a Death Eater before you asked him to teach."

Dumbledore lowered his head, and I felt a bit guilty. "As I've told you, I like to give people second chances. You see, when Voldemort was defeated, on the day where he gave you that scar, Death Eaters were still around, all of them who hadn't been caught, and it was a lot of them. I remembered Snape from school. He seemed sorry about all he'd done, and I'd been meaning to give some of them a second chance, because I've done very foolish things in the past as well, and I'd be nothing without the people who gave me another chance. I must add, however, that I am very sad things turned out this way. I'd never expected for Snape to betray the whole school, and, while I am grieving, I must admit that I do feel a bit of relief at the idea that this great institution of wizardry has one enemy less."

"I understand completely all of your reasons, sir," I said quickly. "And I think that, maybe, when you told me to stop digging deeper when I realized Snape was a Death Eater, it was because you already knew, but you had already forgiven him. Is that right, sir?"

"Yes," Dumbledore replied soberly. "You always had a very sharp mind, Potter."

"So," Draco asked. "Can we go now?"

"Wait a moment," the headmaster replied crossly. "I haven't told Harry everything. You see, I have told you that we were not here to discuss war plans, but there is something that it would be unfair not to let you know. I have thought about it for a while and I consider it best if, next year, you start looking for Horcruxes. I will, of course, give you all the advice you need, but I must stay here at Hogwarts to act as headmaster."

"Of course, Professor," I replied. "I'll find as many as I can, without losing all my classes."

"Classes? Oh, Harry. You misunderstand. You see, I thought it best if next year you do not come to Hogwarts."

"But..." I couldn't stop the words from pouring out. "What about Draco? Ron? Hermione? Ginny, Neville and Luna? I have a family here. I feel at home. I... I want to play Quidditch. I want to get good grades, and graduate, and I... I want to see Professor McGonagall again..."

"I'm sorry, Harry," Dumbledore looked at Draco. "I thought you made clear you set your priorities straight, and that school wasn't one of them. You've never been very good."

"But I am! I am trying to be!" I pleaded. "I had good grades on my OWLs, and I wanted to study to become an Auror, or a Healer!"

I was about to lose control, so Draco grabbed my arm.

"Whoever told you you'd be fit as a Healer?" Dumbledore mused. "It's not the career choice I would have envisioned for you at all. I'm sorry, Harry, about this decision. I truly am. But, even though I've been wrong many times in my over one hundred years of living, I've never been wrong about you. You can't focus on both the school and taking down Voldemort."

My head was spinning. He would have his way, I knew. I had always loved and respected Dumbledore too much to consider go against his judgement, but it was clear to me now. 

If I ever wanted to go against Dumbledore, I had no means to win.

"Please, don't do this to me, I love Hogwarts," I said. "I love my friends. Please, I want to graduate. Even Dudley will graduate."

Draco grabbed me by my shoulders. "If it's any consolation," he said, looking at Dumbledore as if he wanted to strangle him. "I will go with you. I will lose my last year too."

"Thanks," I replied. "But I don't want you to..."

"And I'm sure," he added. "That, if we asked them, Hermione and Ron will go with us. I overheard Hermione talking about the war with Voldemort one of those days, and she told Ron that she'd heard some wizards can go back to school and take their last year later in life. She said she'd do that, if it came down to it. I'm sure she would, they both would, for you."

"But that is the problem," I said. "I don't want them to do that for me."

"But I will, and they will, and you don't get to decide that," Draco replied. He sounded so confident, that, for a moment, it was enough.

"So," Dumbledore said. "If your decision is final, I will alert the other teachers, and you can ask tomorrow night Granger and Weasley what they think about it."

I felt as if somebody had twisted all of my insides, but I was right. There was no winning against him. I didn't even know how to start to fight back, let alone win the battle.

"Yes, sir," I replied. "Draco and I will go look for the Horcruxes."

Chapter Text

For the first time ever, probably, Harry got two birthday cakes that year.

Sirius and Remus, with whom he was spending his summer vacation, had baked him a giant chocolate cake. I had also baked him something.

I had gotten pretty good at it, ever since my father fired Dobby, and got me to do all the housework as punishment.

Once, he said, he should have expected this would have made me swing the wrong way.

But he was not merely tasteless, he was also, of course, wrong. I had figured out my identity years before that moment.

Long story short, I wasn’t an exceptional cook, but I wasn’t so bad either.

I made him a little strawberry cheesecake.

He loved it (perhaps the thought most of all) and kissed me. In front of everyone.

It was amazing, and a little upsetting at the same time. I still didn’t know it could be like this. Loving somebody, and being loved back. I used to love my family with my whole heart, but they didn’t feel the same. They acted like my feelings were a very strange disease I’d gotten when I was born.

 

Harry and I were ‘officially’ together — his friends were more pleased than Dumbledore about it, but not that much. We kissed a lot. Remus and Sirius let us sleep in the same bed, even though nothing happened in it. It was the only way neither of us had nightmares.

We still asked each other questions. Simple stuff, like our favorite colors. Mine was green, but not because of anything related to Slytherins. I didn’t tell him that, though.

We both stopped talking about our pasts. It was both too painful for the one who told the story to relive it, and for the other to listen.

We both agreed one day we’d use a Pensieve to show each other the worst bits. Even though I didn’t know what could have stopped me from trying to curse the Vernon Dursley from the past, when that happened.

The reality was, we savored each moment we were together, but we also wished we could let down our guards sooner.

Harry was convinced he was an Horcrux and wouldn’t probably last the year.

I was convinced either Voldemort, or the Death Eaters, would find me and execute me much sooner than that.

 

Harry had invited a few friends to the birthday party. He asked me if I wanted to have someone over, and I picked Martin Kowalski. Harry agreed that he was fun to have around.

‘I can’t believe your luck,’ he said now, cornering me when I was trying to get something to drink. ‘You’ve been pestering me about your crush on Harry Potter ever since we were like what, eleven?’
I gestured for him to speak lower, but it was too late. A few people, including Ginny and Hermione had heard. They were looking at me with a little more respect now.

‘Sometimes wishes do come true,’ I drawled a little.

‘Yours, maybe,’ he whined. Then he realized he sounded like he was saying all my wishes had come true. I scratched lazily a spot on my arm, seeing if that was enough to make him feel guilty.
It worked. He winced.

‘I’ll tell you something funny,’ he said instead. ‘Goyle said that he thought that we were a couple! He said it was mainly because Americans are a little different anyway, for ‘driving on the wrong side of the road’ or stuff like that, "

‘You should have let him believe it,’ I shrugged. ‘It would have been nice to see how long it was going to take for him to figure it out.’

Martin smiled slyly. ‘Not long, I reckon. Nobody can take a look at you or Potter when you’re together and imagine either of you is dating somebody else.’

‘Even before you really started seeing each other,’ he pressed on. ‘All that hate you gave each other sometimes… it was a bit over the top, to be honest. You don’t think so much about a person you don’t care about. You don’t go to such lengths to be noticed…’

I let him trail off, as he went out in the garden, following a blonde head.

 

I was about to rejoin Harry, when somebody else came up to me. It was Hermione. She looked a bit sheepish.

‘You don’t like me,’ I guessed.

‘I’m still learning to,’ she conceded. ‘And Ron as well… maybe others, too. But the blame lies also on you, you know.’

I nodded.

I normally wouldn’t put up with this if it wasn’t for my boyfriend, but then again, it’s hard to switch sides while having your reputation intact. Maybe the Kowalskis could school me on that.
‘I really don’t want to do this, especially not on Harry’s birthday…’ Hermione almost pleaded. ‘But I need to know if You-Know-Who isn’t just using you to get to Harry…’

‘And would you trust my word?’ I asked.

‘If it were convincing, I might’ she insisted.

‘You dishonor me, Granger,’ I scoffed. ‘Being romantically involved with someone only because the Dark Lord asks me to? I would never stoop so low.’

"Oh," her eyes flashed. "So now being with Harry is 'stooping low'?"

That wasn't what I had meant at all, but it must have been how it sounded.

"If you say so," I smiled.

"Then answer my question, why do you do it?"

"Because I'm really, really, really into it."

 

I waved at her and look to rejoin Harry before one of his friends/bodyguards could sabotage our relationship.

"A lot of people talked to you today!" he noticed, happily.

"Yeah, a lot of people tried to warn me to stay off you," I said. A bit maliciously, since Hermione had been the only one. But she had been the one to tell me others thought it, too.
"I don't understand," his brow forrowed.

"There are two possible reasons, Potter. Either I'm as bad as my father, and a menace to society, or all your friends are in love with you."

He chuckled. Like that would have been impossible. Both statements were very likely true.

"There are two possibilities, Malfoy," he teased. "Either you're a bit misunderstood, which is a bit fascinating, I got to admit, or you've been too much of a smart-ass smug little shit to everybody in this room for so long they still don't know how to act around you without pissing you off."

"Well, they do, piss me off," I said. I sighed. "I just wished they liked me."

"I like you," Harry reasoned. "They can learn to like you too. WIth a lot of less kissing involved, obviously."

I smirked. And I was the smart-ass, smug little shit?

Remus and Sirius had heard us. To be fair, they have always been very accepting of me. Sirius was even related to me, on my mother's side, even though it was only remotely. But it was good to know not the whole family tree was rotten to the core.

My father's, on the other hand, it probably was. But I couldn't have everything.

"Are people giving you trouble again?" Remus asked me.

"Yeah, that thing I've got on my arm doesn't help either."

Not only it didn't help, it was one of the main reasons Harry and I didn't exactly spend our whole time making out. If you did so much as touch it, the Mark would have conjured Voldemort and all the other Death Eaters.

I asked myself how the others did it. If they were extra careful, or just didn't mind sending out the alert in a state of undress.

Sometimes, I'd fear one of the members of the Order of the Phoenix would suggest to use me as bait to call up the Death Eaters and send them all to Azkaban.

Sometimes, I was the one who was being called. The tattoo burned like struck with a hot iron, but I could still choose not to manifest myself. I obviously never chose otherwise.

"Dumbledore's still looking for a way to remove it," Sirius said.

I nodded, but seriously doubted such a method existed, and even Dumbledore's eagerness to find it. The headmaster simply didn't like me. Once, I had gone to him presenting this matter myself, and he had said 'there was nothing much to do except to saw dear old boy's arm off' and even chuckled. Like that was supposed to be fun.

But he told me that, if the Dark Lord died, it would have faded away, leaving only a scar in its place. A little lighting shaped. Like Harry's. I kind of couldn't wait for it, even if it was going to cover a nasty bit of my forearm.

"Maybe we could bandage it, or something," Harry said. "Like it's a wound."

"It's an insult to all wounds," I couldn't help but say.

"It is a wound in a way," Remus said gently. "They gave it to you against your will."

They were right, of course. But, for some reason, I still wasn't ready to play the part of the hero. I felt like I needed to atone for my family's legacy. For my part in it.

"It's okay," I lied, because when it ever was? "I don't think that would change anything."

Harry, who came up with the idea, looked a little hurt.

"But it was good thinking," I couldn't help but tell him. "If you think of something else, I'd love to know. Even though, you already have so much to think about..."

"I told you I was always going to put you first," he replied stubbornly.

So typical of me, to ask the Chosen One to choose me. And so typical of him to appease.

"There's no need to blush like that, Draco," Remus encouraged me, patting me on my shoulder. "You may be not one of big statements, but you always put Harry first too, in your own way. Ever since the beginning. Harry is just trying to pay you back."

It was back again. The blind panic of being disrobed of my villain clothes only to forcibly wear the hero's attire.

"I should have done way more," I could only say.

"We all should have," Sirius added, probably thinking that he shouldn't have let James and Lily die in the first place. Sirius had this in common with me -- we both could punish ourselves endlessly.
"I want everybody to be happy from now on," Remus said. "It's Harry's birthday, and we've got all the rest of the year to whine about how unfair our life is."

He was right. Besides, he would have more reasons than most of us to feel always depressed, and instead he always tried to cheer everyone up.

When I grew up, I wanted to be more like him.

 

That night, I waited for everybody to fall asleep, when I woke Harry up.

"I still haven't given you your birthday present," I said mischeviously.

He took up his glasses from the bedside table. He looked so cute, confused, and with his hair all over the place that I could kiss him.

Then I remembered I really could, so I did.

"I like it," he said. "But isn't that what we do everyday?"

"Ha ha," I said dryly. "The present is a little..."

"Bigger?" he asked.

"I was about to say 'more meaningful'. I swear you are the horniest Chosen One I've ever seen."

"How many have you seen?" he asked smugly, and, oh my god, I realized, that was a pun, too.

"Sorry to disappoint," I said. "It's nothing touchy, or naked-y, or inappropriate."

He yawned.

"Are you... not interested anymore?" I asked, wide-eyed.

"Well, of course I am!" he said, and I could see he meant it, but he couldn't hide the vague disappoint that I wasn't going to take our relationship further.

"Well, I came up with this myself," I said. "For Christmas, I'll just ask you for a list."

"It'd be pretty long," he snickered. "You get it? Long?"

I groaned. "I shouldn't wake you up at this hour of the night. Your brain is all jambled. You're starting to sound a bit like Rita Skeeter."

That sobered him up.

"You said you had something for me?" he coughed, like he was trying, unsuccessfully, to pretend the previous conversation hadn't even happened.

"Now, that's more like it," I drawled appreciatively.

I gave him the gift. It was wrapped in a nice paper with drawings of Snitches flying around.

"In the dark they look a bit like bees," commented Harry.

I rolled my eyes. That guy had beaten me at Quidditch every single time and thought they looked like bees?

"Thank you," he said seriously. "Even the paper itself is very nice."

"Just open it," I blushed.

He did.

"Is that... a copy of Hogwarts: A History?" he asked, puzzled.

I could understand the lack of excitement. It was one of the mandatory books at school. It meant he already had one, had already sweated through it, and probably already hated it.

"It's not any copy..." I said, suddenly unsure. "It's my copy. I wanted to give you something of mine, and that would remind you of the school. And it's all scribbled with my thoughts, as a bonus. Most of them are of you, and they are, well, quite nice, actually, so you deserve to know them. Besides, if you bring it along in our quest, it could tell us something more about some objects that could be Horcruxes. I bet some of them could be hidden at school, too."

Harry kissed me sweetly.

"Thank you, that's a very nice thought," he said. "I agree with everything you've said, except the last part. I think that, if some of them were at school, Dumbledore would have gotten rid of them."

"Let's agree to disagree," I said, kissing him again. I didn't put that much trust in Dumbledore, and he knew it. Putting me first had never been putting me first saving the world -- it had always been putting me first Dumbledore, despite the bad opinion the headmaster had of me.

It was a little too creepy to think about.

I liked that he liked being with me. That he liked having stuff that belonged to me. I felt the same way. I wanted all of him all to myself. I couldn't bear to think he really was an Horcrux. That would have let too much space for the Dark Lord, and Harry was just Harry. Not the Chosen One, and not some small piece of his arch nemesis either. Just a boy I met at school, and with whom I had fallen in love with.
And it meant the world.

 

"That's too bad you get to hang out with them, and I have to go to school," Martin told me the morning after. He still had half a day to spend at Remus and Sirius' house, before going back to his parents as agreed.

"School is so lame, and without you... But your family is probably searching for you or something, now that I think about it, so you probably shouldn't go back anyway. One thing, though. Do not think of me as a coward, just as somebody with very highly developed survival skills: if anybody asks me about you, I haven't seen you in a while, okay?"

I shrugged. "You do you," I said. "It's not like I'll be there to say otherwise."

"Man, I wish I could go," he sighed.

"It's a dangerous mission, Martin," I said. "It's not like you could change sides every few minutes."

As a testament to his character, he didn't look offended.

"I could totally get in Hermione's graces if I went," he plotted. "Or even Ron. Maybe you're right, Draco, and boys are more willing to stay with each other..."

"This is so not how homosexuality works," I drawled, a little pissed.

"Do you think Neville, Ginny and Luna will want to come along too? If they do, maybe I can sneak in. Ginny's not too bad. And Luna..." he blushed furiously. "That's just too bad that Luna is a blonde, my friend, that's all I'll say about that."

"I surely hope they are not coming," I said. "We would attract too much attention. And Hermione and Ron are already basically together, or so Harry told me."

"Really? And what have you told him of my feelings for Hermione?"

I shrugged. "I compared Ron and Hermione to you and Goyle. You know, in terms of sidekicks. Or maybe Harry did."

Martin was outraged.

"It's okay," I said. "I can always tell him he doesn't love you back, unless you wish otherwise..."

"Now you're just playing with me," he scoffed, but he still looked scared half to death.

"If you really want a girlfriend so bad..." I said.

"My definition would be that I'm attracted to somebody who's female-presenting, or female identifying," Martin corrected me.

"Okay," I conceded. "Then you should stick at Hogwarts. There will be many more occasions there. Especially without me robbing you of all the spotlight."

I was just joking, but he replied, dead serious, "Don't worry about it, mate. I know you never did it on purpose."

"I'll miss you like Hell," he added then. "Maybe that's just everything I wanted to say."

"I'll miss you too," I said, strangely touched. We had been raised together, but basically never acknowledged that we were a bit like brothers, in a way.

"Try not to get killed," he said, sniffling on my shoulder. "Especially by one of yours. That's the trouble with switching sides."

"Try not to prepare too many love potions, and then try them on yourself," I bit back. My voice broke with the realization I really wasn't going to come back to school. "I heard it's really unhealthy," I added.

"Yeah, remember that time some Slytherin boys saw me and called me Narcissus?" he laughed, high-pitched. "And you barged in saying not to talk disrespectfully about your mother?"

"Well, that stopped them," I reasoned.

"And man," he sniffled a little bit more. "I'm really sorry for the side-effects of the love potions and all the time I spent in the bathroom..."

"To be fair, I think you were bound to spend your time like that, anyway," I joked.

"I'm really going to miss you," he simply said.

 

"Do you have anyone you have to still say goodbye to?" I asked Harry later. "It can be really heart-breaking, you know?"

Chapter Text

Living with Draco at Sirius and Remus' house was a dream come true.

I did not know if I trusted it to last.

That was why, even when Hermione and Ron started getting tired of all of our make-out sessions, I never put a stop to it.

Well, also because, I didn't really want to.

And for the first part of the summer, I wake up every day crying out, "No, no, not him! I didn't want to do it!"

Always the same old nightmare -- the scene of me using Sectumsempra against Draco replaying in my head. After the first week, Remus and Lupin saw fit to ask me if I wanted to sleep with Draco.

I hadn't had a nightmare since.

One day, while we were eating toast, Draco said sadly, "I'm worried about Tonks and Bill."

I was glad Ron and Hermione weren't living with us, though I had suggested it, they declined -- they were staying at the Weasleys.

"Why?" even though Bill was not the member of the family I knew best, I started feeling anxious as if I'd been Ron. I kind of considered the Weasleys my family, well, more so than the Dursleys.

Draco winced. "Tonks is a member of our family. I've heard comments, before I stopped talking to my relatives. Many people were unhappy about this marriage, what with Bill being a Weasley, and a vampire. You-Know-Who loathes any kind of mixed marriage -- I'm just afraid he'll come for them first."

I stopped eating.

It was not Draco's fault for bringing it up. I was healing, but very slowly. It wasn't easy to eat every time Remus and Sirius gave me a plate full of delicious food, because I'd never felt that way before. Worried about the future of the whole wizarding world, worried about my friends, but with something nice and safe that was tethering me, keeping me grounded.

It was a feeling very different from the other summers. I could wake up without combing my hair, because nobody would make fun of the fact that it was curlier and frizzier than Dudley's, and I could wear what I wanted, even pajamas with short sleeves, even though it showed some of the scars on my arms and legs. And I was not afraid somebody would break my glasses anymore -- or make fun of the most hideous scar I had, the one on my forehead.

Draco's Dark Mark would become a lightning shaped scar once we defeated Voldemort. I didn't want to let him know how much I looked forward to that moment, because it sounded lame said out loud.

"I think we need to look out for Bill and Tonks more than the others," I said. "We could tell them to hide away safely, perhaps in a place that is enchanted so Voldemort can't find it, and the other Weasleys can go there too. There is a spell... somebody has to keep the secret, and they're the only person who can tell Voldemort. My parents did it, before Peter Pettigrew sold them out to the Dark Lord. That is how they died."

Draco looked horrified, and as if he didn't want to eat anymore either.

In that moment, Sirius joined us. Ever since he had something to do, which was looking after us, he looked ten years younger than before. He was the kind of person whose biggest fear was not being useful.

I thought I could relate to that.

He threw a newspaper on the table.

"The Daily Prophet?" Draco arched a blond eyebrow, looking a bit like the snob little kid I thought I hated. "We don't read that trash."

"Yes, well, even trash can come up with interesting articles," Sirius said. "I don't like those journalists much more than you do -- they kept insisting I had to be guilty of the crimes I was accused, before Remus came up with the genius idea to use a Pensieve to see my memories, and Dumbledore confirmed with his advanced magical knowledge they hadn't been tampered with. But, still, speaking of Dumbledore, I thought Harry might want to read it."

The article was about our headmaster. It was a throwback of how he had defeated his arch-nemesis, Grindelwald, because there was some kind of recurrence.

"It seems interesting," I said, not able to hide from my eyes how much I wanted to hear about Dumbledore's adventures. "But I told you how I'd been feeling... about his decision."

I had told Sirius everything. How I didn't want to be unfair with the headmaster, the man who loved me and raised me more than anyone, but I really felt like a bird in a cage when he asked me to leave Hogwarts.

He asked me to do something I didn't want to do, and the answer was never going to be no, and he only asked because he knew. I still felt short of breath every time I thought about it.

"I know, I know," Sirius sighed. "And I can't say I agree with his decision -- I know how much you wanted to graduate. I mean, even your terrible cousin will. But, I think that it's noble for you to concentrate on the battle, and I know James and Lily would be proud."

I smiled at that.

"And Harry... perhaps I shouldn't be the one to tell you, I miss your parents like crazy, but sometimes it doesn't hurt to feel a bit of affection from people who are still with us, too. Remus and I are very proud."

I smiled a little broader at that.

Draco looked uncomfortable, like every time I talked too long about feelings with any of my old friends. I thought he felt like he was third-wheeling me and all my past relationships.

He also wasn't good at joining conversations where love, kindness and heroics were the main point of the discussion. I didn't know why he never tried to act like a good guy too, because let's face it, when standing up to his family, he had showed some kind of honour too.

A honour that I didn't know if I would have showed, where I in his place. My loyalties where something people had to earn, because of the fact that my uncle and aunt had made me grown up feeling detached from everyone, the people that I trusted and would die for were very few, and the people who had raised me were not amongst them.

"So," Draco coughed. "Let's read the article."

"I'll leave the room, in case reading bores you and you want to take things further," Sirius winked at me. "It's what I'd do, anyway..."

When Sirius left, Draco muttered, "Your perversions really shouldn't be encouraged, Potter."

"Perversions?" I arched an eyebrow. "We're into the same things. I bet I haven't been asking things you haven't thought about."

"No, I meant..." Draco blushed. "I want to take it slower."

I thought about how, most days, I still hated physical contact. I thought about the few times Draco and I had hugged, when I had squinted my eyes shut to really give in to the hug without saying anything unpleasant.

And I liked it. I really did. But it was difficult, and complicated, and I realized something.

"I want to take things slow too, but I also want to be genuine," I said. "If I feel like making love with you, I want to do it. I feel like... I know things have to be taken slow, but then there are the right occasions. And by the way, you know I've been dying to see..."

"Potter!" Draco roared, throwing the newspaper in my hands. "Read."

"I mean, perhaps you've been dying to, too..." I added, "And what I'm saying is, for the first time, we could use the rule, 'look but don't touch'."

"If you don't start reading, I think nothing will stop me at using some kind of jinx against you," Draco said, and though he was saying it to humour me, he knew I liked fighting to make up later, it still was too early, after I'd cursed him, so I kept my mouth shut.

The article said,

'Nobody was there when the illustrious headmaster of Hogwarts finished off his nemesis Grindelwald, but the story is legendary. The Hungarian wizard, who moved to Bulgaria in his early childhood, was considered guilty of crimes against both the Muggle and the Wizarding community all over the world, counting amongst his followers even American Muggles and Wizards.'

"Martin's grandparents," Draco said. "Don't worry, they changed sides last minute."

"I know," I replied. "Dumbledore told me Martin's father was a Muggle, but that he gave him a wand to fight. He knows Dudley is a Muggle -- I never knew why he keeps him at school."

"Perhaps not to anger your uncle," Draco said, almost spitting after he mentioned Vernon. He hated him especially.

I shrugged, and I kept reading.

'It is known that Dumbledore did not kill his opponent, but he gave him the fate that's always been considered worse than death. During their final battle, Dumbledore called a Dementor to suck Grindelwald's soul.'

"I knew that too," I said. "This is what the Boggart showed me in third year. A blond man, with hair styled like your father's and yours. Remus told me he was Grindelwald, and he stopped the Boggart before it could show me what I feared the most -- the Dementor's kiss."

Draco looked at his hair in a mirror, and parted them on the side. He had let it grow more uneven, and now it looked kind of different from his father's and Grindelwald's. I felt guilty I made the comparison.

"Is that what you fear the most, Harry?" he asked. "The dementor's kiss?"

"Harry?" I asked. "Is this how it's going to be? I don't know if I can get used to it."

"I thought about it, and decided that we need to get on first-name basis before I show you all my good bits. Besides, how long has it been since you last called me Malfoy? You started calling me Draco without even noticing."

"Either way, yes," I replied, serious and stern. "What I fear most of all is the lack of hope..."

I smiled, and changed tone of my voice. "Even in bed."

Draco threw the newspaper at me again. "Read, Potter."

'What is the juiciest bit of news, is that our journalist Rita Skeeter found out that Grindelwald had previously driven apart Dumbledore and his siblings, young Ariana who died mysteriously, and older Aberforth who has never been as involved in important saving-the-world business like his younger brother. But what is even more juicy is that Grindelwald could count between his followers a younger Dumbledore, Albus' little brother Aurelius, whom his father had before going to Azkaban, and who was given up to adoption right after he was born.'

I stopped reading abruptly.

"What's the matter?" Draco asked.

"I never knew," I scratched my neck. "I mean, there is a family tree in Dumbledore's office, and once that I had to wait for him for a long time, I looked at it. I had seen Aberforth and Ariana on it, but never Aurelius, and he'd never mentioned him. Besides, with his father being in Azkaban and all... I didn't know about any of that too."

"Well, it's good that tomorrow Dumbledore is coming to visit, or so I heard," Draco said. "I was a little annoyed at first, because I don't think we should have seen him so soon after he asked you to leave Hogwarts, but at least now you can ask him about his family."

I didn't know if it was a good idea -- I didn't want to confront him so soon, but perhaps Draco was right. Dumbledore owed me one.

 

The day after, Dumbledore came to visit.

"You need to change the place where you're hiding every once in a while," he warned Draco and I. "We put a lot of spells on this house, but you need to go to other of our hiding places as well. This afternoon, you'll go to the Weasleys, where you'll remain for a while. And then, don't worry, you can come back there. I've already sorted out everything with Arthur and Molly."

Draco looked at me as if to say, 'this is your chance.'

"Sir," I coughed. "I happened to read the Daily Prophet's new article about you..."

"I'm sure you know that you can't believe everything you read," Dumbledore's eyes flashed mischieviously.

"I... yes, sir, of course, sir, but I've been wondering... I think you might have mentioned Aberforth or Ariana once or twice, but why have you never mentioned Aurelius?"

Dumbledore's face became very dark. For a moment, I was afraid he was going to hit me.

But of course, he'd never do such a thing. He'd never even think of it. It just went to show how much Vernon had fucked me up.

Dumbledore's mouth curled into a relaxed smile. "Well, dear boy... you never asked."

"That is true, but how could I? I didn't know..."

"You never asked anything about my family, or about me," he added. "And so I never said. You know, one of the things you learn with age -- don't tell more than they ask of you. It is the proof of how much they care, of how much they want to hear..."

"But I do want to know everything!" I protested. "I do care about you, sir, a lot!"

He looked at me sadly. "Forgive me for my wording. What I mean is, you don't always show how you feel, Harry. You dive in headfirst, without asking questions."

He looked at Draco, who blushed.

"Don't beat up yourself, it's who you are. But, if it comes up again in the future, then yes, asking people questions show how much you care about them. But, of course, you grew up not being cared for..."

"I'm not like... like him!" I couldn't help but say. "I know how to love, even if I hadn't been loved."

Dumbledore looked at Draco. "Him?"

"Voldemort, obviously," I specified. "I am not..."

"Don't fret, dear boy, your life has been nothing like his," Dumbledore commented mysteriously. 

"But Aberforth is A.D. isn't he?" I asked. "The person who found the Horcrux before us."

"Aberforth is old, and dead now," Dumbledore said. 

I felt guilty. Of course I never asked, I fucked everything up every time I talked about family with anyone! 

"But then it is Aurelius," I pressed on. "I mean, it must be!"

"Trust me," Dumbledore flashed me a dark look. "It can't have possibly been Aurelius."

 

Dumbledore then gave Draco Polyjuice Potion to drink.

"To get to the Weasleys' house, you need to drink this, it will make you look like Harry," he explained. "This is the only way to leave the house without being spotted."

"Oh, yes, because two Harrys are less suspicious than one," Draco replied, smirking.

Dumbledore only replied, "No, but maybe they will see you and think it's him, and it's the real him who's the most valuable."

"But I don't want people to do this for me..." I started to argue weakly.

Besides, I felt strangely insulted every time someone called me valuable, as if I was a piece of meat.

Draco drank the potion. He became a few inches taller, his skin one or two shades darker. His eyes became luminous green, and his hair and eyebrows black. The scar appeared on his forehead -- I winced when it did -- and, in a few words, he became me.

"If I were you, Draco, I wouldn't take off my trousers, lest you spoil the surprise," Sirius said.

"Sirius!" Remus flashed him a look and looked at Dumbledore apologetically. "I swear, you have never learned how to act around children..."

"Oh, the things I told the first-years when I was Draco and Harry's age..." Sirius agreed, dreamily.

 

 

"So..." I cleared my voice, while Draco and I were leaving the house. "How do you feel about being in my body, Draconius?"

I wanted to test out whether he had a different name other than Draco, but when he looked at me through the cool gaze of my icy green eyes, I felt positively terrified.

Did I often look at people like that?

"Draconius?"

"I just wanted to try it out."

"Merlin helps you, Potter," he drawled, and it was eery to hear it in my voice. "I've always thought you were clever, but your three brain cells become rabid in my presence. Or you're too lovesick to think properly?"

"I think it's the latter," I replied sadly. "But mostly... I've never been happy before. I'm trying that out, too."

"If you don't stop your blabbering," Dumbledore warned us. "Nobody will have a hard time understanding who is who."

I blushed at that. 

I didn't know if I really wanted Death Eaters to think Draco was me. That meant they could capture him, or do with him as they pleased, and I didn't want for that to happen.

"You know," Draco admitted, as if Dumbledore had never stopped our conversation at all. "I feel the same way as you."

I felt my heart beating very loudly in my chest.

Thankfully, we reached the Weasleys' house before we encountered any Death Eater. Even though they must have been around, because we saw the horrible show of a few Muggle bodies torn apart.

"Fenrir Greyback," Dumbledore commented.

"How do they explain that, on the news?" I asked, but I knew. There had always been ways, all throughout history.

"They don't care," Dumbledore replied sadly. 

"If it comes down to it," I replied hotly. "I won't care either."

Draco looked at me worriedly.

"What??" I asked. "They ruined my whole life. They ruined your whole life. They kill and maim innocents, and all in the name of You-Know-Who, and should I let them?"

"You need to be safe, first and foremost," Dumbledore replied, instead of Draco. "We can't let have a Barty Crouch Jr, or a Lucius Malfoy, kill you before Voldemort tries to."

When we arrived at the Weasleys', all of Ron's siblings wanted to talk to us, to ask how we were getting along. Thankfully, Draco still looked like his normal self, if not a little more flustered and disheveled.

"I need to teach you an important spell," Dumbledore told Draco and I, gathering us away from the crowd. "Weasley and Granger too."

It was soon obvious to all the other members of the family that 'Weasley' meant Ron. My friend joined us, looking purple in the face like every time someone called him out in front of his siblings.

"Ginny Weasley will come back to Hogwarts for her last year, and she's only in her sixth as of now," the headmaster explained. "While your older brothers should no doubt already know of this. There is a time when you won't be able to rely on your wand to make spells, and so you must use another way. It's less effective most of the time, and less accurate, but it saved many lives nevertheless."

"I know about it!" Hermione said cheerfully. "Snape taught us a bit of it during our sixth year. Wandless magic!"

"Now, I need to add a few important piece of information, but perhaps Granger wants to explain?"

"Yes, sir," Hermione accepted. "Wandless magic is very volatile if not done properly, and only a very skillful wizard can practise it. Then..." she frowned. "How come you teach it to every person in the seventh year?"

"Because you should leave Hogwarts knowing how to do everything, or almost," the headmaster replied. "But to the three of you, it's more important than that."

"Four," Draco said.

"Yes, excuse me dear boy, to the four of us it's more important than that. You need to learn wandless magic in case you have the chance to go against a Death Eater and they use Expelliarmus, or break your wand."

Ron gulped visibly. He was often the bravest of us, but in the sense that he had more fears than I had to face. Well, according to the classic definition, that was true bravery. However, it didn't mean Ron wasn't often scared, even now that he had faced countless dangers.

"And here I was, thinking that Bill and Tonks' marriage was going to be the hardest thing I would face this summer," he said. "Now, I have to learn in an afternoon what seven-years learn in... well, a year."

"Not in an afternoon, no," Dumbledore chuckled. "But in a few days? Yes. However, I wouldn't ask you if I didn't think you were good enough to do it."

"Bill and Tonks are getting married?" I asked instead, a bit angry I wasn't invited.

"Yes, in a few days," Ron read my expression. "And you were invited, but... they thought it was best not to let you show up, since people are looking for you and everything. The few Death Eaters who can still pull strings at the Ministry are using quite a lot of Imperius curses these days, to avoid that people like Lucius Malfoy go back to Azkaban."

"So, they are using their power for other things as well," Hermione finished the sentence. "There are lots of wanted posters with your face on it, Harry, and they promise a big sum of money to whomever brings you to them alive."

"So, I can't even go to the wedding," I commented sourly.

"You can, if you use a disguise," Ron said. "With Polyjuice Potion, or a bit of red hair dye, really, since my family is mostly composed by red-headed people. Two people received an invitation, but declined. Both my uncle Gary and my cousin Barbara, you know her, the Squib. The one that had the tickets to see the Quidditch World Cup, but sat that one out because Dad asks her about her Muggle school."

"Is that why she's sitting out the wedding as well?" Draco asked.

"I'll take her place this time too," I said.

"Harry," Ron looked like he was about to be sick. "I know uncle Gary is a bit old for you, but Barbara, well, she is a girl, in case you didn't notice."

"That's true, I don't think a long red wig, make-up and feminine clothing will make me look like a girl," I said sadly. "But we can try this out."

"Just one question... why?" Hermione asked.

"Because," I replied, grinning at Draco. "If I play pretend I am a girl, there will be no questioning as to why my date to the wedding is a boy."


After luch, Dumbledore came to talk to us again.

"I will start teaching you wandless magic," he said.

"That's so unfair," Fred, who overheard, commented. "We left school before it was the time for us to learn wandless magic!"

"You should have thought about it back then," Ginny replied, trying her best not to laugh.

"That's not cool," George told her. "We just stood up to that horrible Dolores Umbridge. Really, George and I deserve a medal, like some soldiers..."

"If you really want to," Dumbledore said, smiling slightly. "You can stay around to hear what I'm telling them. But then, you'll have to practise on your own! I can't teach more than three students at once. I'm getting old."

"Four," Draco said, but his reply was covered by the twins who started thanking excitedly the headmaster.

Either way, Dumbledore had heard it. "Please Malfoy, don't think ill of me. I just still remember very vividly when Harry and his friends were a trio."

"Let's start off by saying that we rely on the wand," Dumbledore said. "But it is an European invention. Other wizards, like the African wizards, for example, only started using it during the last centuries."

"However you put it, that's a very long time," Fred commented.

"Could have been longer," George argued.

"Wandless magic was not taught at Hogwarts for the longest time, I only introduced it recently, because of Voldemort," Dumbledore continued. As useless, he was the only one who didn't call Voldemort You-Know-Who except for me and, sometimes, Draco. "I can also practise it nonverbally but, if you will excuse me a lack of modesty on my part, I am one of the very few wizards in the world who can do so. Now, does anyone know of Accidental Wandless Magic?"

"I do," I replied, feeling inebriated that I had something to share with the class. "It's what children who don't know they are magical do before the age of eleven. I performed it, accidentally, like the name says, on Dudley. We were at the zoo, and he was taunting a snake, and I made the glass disappear. And the snake got to Dudley..." I scratched my head, embarrassed. "Well, it didn't attack him, or you'd know. He complains a lot."

"Yes, that's exactly that," the headmaster said. "And you, and a lot of other children, didn't need a wand. But it wasn't controlled magic, as you yourself said, it is accidental and volatile. When I met your mother, Harry, in her first year, she was the wizard who knew the most of everyone I'd ever met how to control her wandless magic. She already used it as a child to grow flowers, or to land safely when she jumped from trees. She was always... unique, as I told you."

Like every time someone told me about my mother and father, I started to feel a lot more at ease, and less anxious.

For the rest of the day, we practised wandless magic, and I was already starting to see the results.

Chapter Text

A few days before Tonks and Bill's wedding, Dumbledore interrupted the lessons.

"There is something else I need to talk about to the four of you," he said, very serious. "Unluckily, this was planned before I had any idea Draco was going to join the trio. I have something to give to the three of you. Consider it a small gift that will help you along on this quest."

Draco looked sad. For once, the headmaster seemed to take his feelings into consideration. "I believe, Draco, that, though I am not a seer, there will be a special gift for you, in the future," he told my boyfriend. "I seem to understand your place in the battle will be of the utmost importance, and you'll get to use a very special object. But I can't do anything for you, now."

Draco nodded, out of words because Dumbledore had never been so kind to him. Well, there was a first time for everything, and I was glad to see the two most important people in my life getting along.

"For you, Hermione," Dumbledore said, and handed her a copy of a fairytale book by Beedle the Bard. "Harry told me that, in your first year, you were already aquainted with the story of the three brothers, though you'd been raised by Muggles. It was something about you that left me impressed, and it was only the first thing out of many to come. However, you're an avid reader like me, and you'll agree when I say that, every time we read a book, we understand it a bit differently than the time before. Such is the power of words. So, there is no reason to stop reading not even the most fantastical stories -- they will teach you new real life lessons every time. Besides," the headmaster winked at her. "You've seen Harry's invisibility cloak, so you already know these objects are real."

"All of them?" Ron asked, impressed. He'd always been interested in the Elder Wand.

"I didn't forget about you, Ronald," the headmaster said. "Here's your gift. A Deluminator, an object of my own design. It takes and release light. But it has another function, and I'll let you find that out on your own. Many people think Hermione the brain of the trio, but I believe you are very skillfull as well, and I have no doubt this object will help you during the quest. Let's just say," he winked at Ron as well. "I'd use it if I had to come back to my friends."

"I would never leave my friends!" Ron complained.

"No, of course not, otherwise you'd be at Hogwarts now," Dumbledore agreed. "But you have family here, and family at Hogwarts, your sister Ginny. With the help of the Deluminator, you'll be able to leave the quest any time you want, without the risk to lose your friends in the process."

Ron still didn't look too sure. The quest for the Horcruxes hadn't started yet -- he didn't want to think about leaving already. He also didn't want to think about Ginny being in danger, and I could relate to that.

I'd never wanted to think about Ginny, Neville and Luna having to face the same kind of issues we would encounter, though the possibility was high, and very likely.

"And for you, Harry, last but not least," Dumbledore said wisely. "Something I'd been meaning to give you for about five years now. I believe you finally deserve it, and maybe now you know how to wield it."

My heart skipped a few beats when Dumbledore handed me the sword of Gryffindor. In my hands, it was much ligther than the old rusty sword the headmaster had made me train with. I had no trouble wielding it at all, and I showed it to the headmaster cutting the air all around me.

"I don't think I want to be near you when you're wielding that thing," Hermione said, irritated.

"You've got to admit he's good at it," Ron commented.

"I'd like to know when, with all due respect, Professor," Draco told Dumbledore. It was clear in his voice he didn't have all the respect that was due. "Harry will have the chance to use a sword. He's got his wand, and now you've taught wandless magic to all of us."

"Horcruxes have to be destroyed, and I'm afraid a curse won't work on an object," Dumbledore replied darkly. "The sword will have this function -- destroy every Horcrux you find."

I was feeling exhilarated. I'd never had anything so useful before. I mean, of course, I was the Chosen One -- when it came to battles, I often tipped the scales. But a sword that destroyed Horcruxes? I'd never had anything so cool, so amazing, before.

 

"I am afraid Harry will concentrate on the sword every hour of every day now," Ron commented the day later, when I was training in his living room, trying not to kill the furniture. "When he needs to try on the disguise of uncle Gary, to see if he can come to the wedding."

"He's being Barbara," Hermione said. I almost sliced the couch.

"What?" Draco sounded mortified.

"Believe me, I don't like it either," Hermione's eyes flashed. "But I've thought about it, and it's our only option."

"George will be bringing Oliver Wood," Ron said. "I'm sure uncle Gary can bring Draco. Hey, don't look at me like that. He's a young uncle, in his early thirties."

"Draco is seventeen," Hermione's voice was almost high-pitched. "And by the way, that is not the only reason. You see, we don't have enough time or enough ingredients to pull off the Polyjuice Potion. If we dye his hair red, and try to cover the scar, I'm afraid he'll still look too much like Harry. But, if he wears a whole disguise, nobody will look at him twice."

"Oh, I doubt that very much," Ron replied crossly.

I put down the sword before the urge to use it to impale myself became too strong. "I think I get a say in this," I said.

"I thought you wanted to be Barbara the whole time," Draco commented, and he didn't look into the idea at all. 

I shrugged. I really didn't care either way. I mean, I didn't want to be uncle Gary who liked little blond boys and brought them to the wedding either.

"Okay, let's dress you up in Ginny's things," Hermione said. "And I bought you a wig."

"Why do I think this is going to take, like, hours?" Ron complained. "Hours we don't have?"

Ron was right -- though I've always considered myself kind of pretty boy looking compared to the rough handsomeness of my father, I didn't look too girlish. My jaw was too square, my nose too straight, my eyebrows too black and too pronounced. I might have been decent as a boy, when you didn't look at the scar, but I was hopeless as a girl.

Hermione made me try on the wig. I wanted to complain that red hair wouldn't suit me at all, but Barbara was a redhead. Besides, Hermione's skin was darker than mine, and her hair had reddish undertones. I thought she didn't look bad, so I didn't complain when she adjusted the dark red wig on my head, and my skin looked even more tanned in comparison.

"Bloody hell, you look like an ugly version of your mother," Ron said, amazed.

"Hey, you don't get to talk to my girlfriend that way," Draco snarled. "She's not ugly, she's just differently pretty."

Ron snorted, and Hermione and I laughed.

"Stop acting like cunts," Ginny commented, who'd been overhearing the conversation from another room.

"We're not making fun of girls, we're making fun of Harry," Ron said. "There's a difference."

"Harry is so bad at being a girl, but that's because he... well, it's all a game, really," Hermione added. "If he wanted to try on the wig and make-up for different reasons, I would have helped him look his best without the laughter."

"You could do that either way," I was mortified, but my comment made Ginny ease up, and she laughed too.

"You already have long black eyelashes," Ginny commented, walking in the room. "Ah, I'd kill for those. No mascara for you."

"But we need to shave off those eyebrows," Hermione said, critically. Ginny nodded.

"Shave off?" I whimpered. "No, I'm out of here. They would take too long to grow again, and I don't mean to go around eyebrow-less."

"Well, that would certainly make you less recognizable," Draco pondered.

At the end, nobody wanted to torture me, so they shaved only little bits of it, and applied white, sticky, make-up on what remained, so that Hermione could draw them again with a reddish brown pen.

"Rouge on his lips," Ginny said.

"Of course, Harry, you have nice, full lips," Hermione told me. "Barbara's look will have to work on them, if the rest fails."

Ron couldn't stop laughing. Draco had never looked more mortified in his whole life. He had the look he would have had if he'd been the one who was having a make-over.

It would have taken a lot less to make him look like a girl, but it wasn't a choice. I was the wanted one.

They applied red lipstick on my lips, and eyeshadow on my eyes. I really looked different, though not beautiful by any means.

"We should cut the wig," Ginny said.

"And give him short hair? Never," Ron was horrified. "If people look at the hair, they won't look as much at the face."

"Thank you, Ron," I hissed.

"No, I meant, we should make it layered," Ginny explained. "I've always cut my hair myself, so I know how to do it. We should cut a few locks shorter than the others, because this long bob kind of look doesn't work on his face."

Ginny cut a few locks of hair shorter near my jaw. The wig looked a bit unruly, and the shorter locks of hair covered the squareness of my jaw, instead of folding behind the neck.

"Now that's more like it," Ron commented. "I'd never noticed you had a jaw so angular I could cut myself on, but now I don't know if I'll look at you the same way."

"I had noticed," Draco said. "And you don't get to dirty-talk my boyfriend, Weasley."

"We also need to give you a side-fringe," Ginny added, and winced. I knew what caused the reaction. My scar was still visibile even under all the layers of make-up, and everybody had been doing their best not to say it out loud.

But I knew. I knew Barbara would have looked prettier if it wasn't for it, and I had felt it loud and clear even though nobody had said it when Hermione had trouble drawing my left eyebrow, and when she had applied the foundation.

It was there, and it was big, and it was lightning-shaped, and, without Polyjuice Potion, nobody could do anything about it.

Well, nobody but Ginny. She'd always been stubborn like that. I heard 'zap!" and a side-fringe formed in the first part of the wig, falling droopily on the left side of my face. It covered everything, even my left eye, but everybody in the room cheered.

I tried to look at Draco. He seemed to have understood how mortified I felt, and he wasn't cheering.

But, he said, "I admit this might work."

Of course, the person in the mirror did not look at all like me. She really looked a bit like my mother, once Hermione and Ginny were done with her. My nose was too straight, but it wasn't like there weren't girls with straight noses or angular faces -- we just needed the disguise to work really well.

"Of course," Ginny said sheepishly. "You can't use a hand to move your fringe, not even if you get the urge when you're speaking."

I nodded. "I know how to hide myself, I won't speak either."

Draco rolled his eyes. "Maybe it really will be fun. Harry not being able to make horny comments about me all the time."

"We really didn't need to know that," Hermione replied, looking a little pale.

 

A few days after, it was the day of the wedding. We had already explained to all of Ron's brothers, and to his parents, that I was in disguise as Barbara.

Fred, who was taking his girlfriend Padma Patil, kept laughing, but he swore he could refrain when he was with the other guests. George, as predicted, was taking Oliver Wood. It seemed like the two of them had gotten together officially, after all.

Charlie, a brother I'd seen less than others because he lived in Romania and looked after dragons, had a very pretty Romanian girlfriend. 

That left Ron and Ginny. Ginny was taking Neville, and for the first time in years, they gave me the impression that they were both into each other, and Neville's crush was not unrequited.

Ron was taking... Hermione.

"Why haven't you told me that you and her...?" I sputtered at him.

"Don't act so rabid, it is not becoming of Barbara," he said. "And besides, we're not anything. We're just trying it out, okay? We both have issues."

I didn't get it. They were heterosexual, and they'd been courting each other for years. "Issues...?" I asked more softly.

I tugged on Barbara's dress. Why did she have to wear one? It was the late 90s, girls could surely wear trousers at a wedding.

"And show your crotch?" was Draco's reply. "Not a chance."

I didn't think all of my trousers were revealing, but we all agreed not to try our luck.

"I am the last of six brothers, you really don't think I've had my moments when I think I am not worth anything?" Ron asked me darkly. "And I am the famous Chosen One's sidekick, and, in case you haven't noticed, my family is piss poor, and people care about things like that, like they care about the fact that you're an orphan."

"But Draco doesn't... Hermione wouldn't..."

"But it changes the way we act around people, okay?" he asked. "We're both taking it slow. She... I've never noticed, because I'm not the brightest, but she is afraid," Ron lowered his voice. "Of being a failure."

"Hermione?" I asked.

"Yes, she wants to prove she's worthy of being in a magical school though she's been raised by Muggles. That's why she obsess over getting good grades. And back home? She wants to prove her Muggle mother that being at Hogwarts is not a waste of time. She also wants to show her mother that she doesn't have to worry about her. She's always acted like the adult because her mother kind of taken most things for granted after her husband died. Hermione is not only particularly good, Harry, she wants to be good. She doesn't want to weight on anyone's shoulder."

All of their problems were easily solved, I thought. Hermione could weight on Ron's shoulder, and he'd feel chosen by someone for once. But, of course, if I told them of my problems, they would think they were easy too. It was just a matter of point of view.

"Okay," I blinked the fringe away from my eye. Ron put it back in place. "Okay, you do you. Take it slow. I'm just... I'm really happy for you, mate. I know you've liked her since forever."

"Even though we're in a war, and Bill is a vampire, and all that, lots of people will be showing up," Ron warned me then. "Talk as less as possible, and don't move the hair out of your eye."


After the wedding, at the party, I went to Draco.

"You're wearing a dress," he commented, his face red and the veins in his neck very tense. "It... it shows your legs."

"Please don't remind me," I whispered.

We sat at a table near an old man and an old lady, since Draco figured they couldn't be Death Eaters in disguise and I figured that their eyesight was probably bad.

However, the two did not pay any attention to us -- they were too busy talking to each other.

At a certain moment, though, the man coughed, and looked at us, as if afraid we were going to join the conversation.

It made me want to. I hated people like that -- who's to say I am interested in what you have to tell all your old snotty friends?

"This is Draco Malfoy, yes?" he asked. "I am Elphias Dodge, a very important wizard, you might have heard of me. I used to be friends with Dumbledore back at Hogwarts."

"And I am Muriel Weasley, Bill's auntie," the red-headed woman said. "You are...?"

"Barbara Weasley," Draco said coldly. "My girlfriend."

"Oh. So the rumors about you and...?"

Crap -- Rita Skeeter had really messed up our lives. They would see me for who I was. The wind would blow away my hair, and they would see my scar.

But Muriel just laughed hastily, "I know about George, of course," she said. "But I do not believe there are as much as them as the media want us to believe. You're welcome to sit with us, Barbara dear, I haven't seen you since you were little."

I nodded, and grabbed the glass of water I was drinking without letting my wig fall out of place. Draco put a protective hand on my shoulder, and another on my waist, that was really uncalled for, but I didn't mind it.

When I looked at him, though, he gave me an innocent look as if to say, 'what? I have to pretend I like Barbara'.

"We were talking about Dumbledore," Elphias said. "Do you know him well, Barbara? Even though you were raised in the Muggle world?"

I nodded eagerly. "Why doesn't she talk?" Muriel looked concerned. "Did the Muggles cut out her tongue? I've heard such things about Muggle schools, Elphias!"

"I'm a bit shy," I whispered in the softest voice I could find. It was also a bit rough around the edges. But I figured it could have been worse -- maybe Barbara talked a little foxy, that was all.

"Of course," Muriel did not look convinced, but she did not say anything. I suddenly developed a strange fear. What if there were people in the room who had known my mother? I looked terribly like her, once the wig covered almost everything but my full lips and one almond-shaped green eye.

In fact, when Sirius and Remus, the only other two people who knew about it, had seen me before, they hadn't said anything, but their mouths were agape as if they'd seen a ghost.

"What were you saying?" Draco asked. "About Dumbledore?"

"Oh, we were discussing the article we read in the Daily Prophet about him, the one that said how he defeated Grindelwald," Muriel replied. "I do believe, dear, that I can understand why you lef the wizarding world -- it must seem very horrible to you, all that is happening."

Muggles were horrible too, but I put on my worst sad puppy dog eyes, and Muriel seemed convinced.

"Actually, we were discussing Dumbledore's family, mentioned in the article, but never really talked about by the headmaster himself," Elphias said. "Of course, I went to school with him, so I knew about Ariana and Aberforth, but he found out about Aurelius only later in life."

My heart skipped a beat. Then, Dumbledore wasn't mysterious only with me, because I hadn't asked him! He didn't mention his siblings to anyone!

"How could he?" Draco sounded outraged. "An orphan boy named Aurelius Dumbledore..."

"But he wasn't," Elphias said. "Back then, his name was Credence Barebone."

Credence Barebone.

My scar started to hurt, and I did my best not to touch it under the wig.

I remembered Dumbledore telling me, "Id' like for you to know his name. It was Credence Barebone."

Hold on a minute. What were we talking about? The prophecy.

Dumbledore had also said, "This boy, he was an orphan very much like you, though his parents were not dead -- they had simply given him away. He was born at the end of July, very much like you. And there was a time when I thought Grindelwald had chosen him as his equal. As for his parents defying Grindelwald three times, at the time I had an idea about what it could mean, but it seems so silly now."

"I've heard Grindelwald fought with Ariana and Aberforth," I whispered, very sweetly. Draco looked at me surprised, as if to say 'don't push your luck!'

"Did they ever," I pretended to blush, to buy more time and adjust my voice. "Fight back?"

"Oh yes, very sad story," Elphias said. "At poor Ariana's funeral, Aberforth, who was convinced Grindelwald had killed her, and he might have been right, fought with Gellert right in the place where they were holding the ceremony. It was a mess, and it ruined the funeral for everybody. He accused Gellert and Albus of being an item, and tried to curse Gellert, you see. Probably the Killing Curse, if somebody hadn't stopped him."

I knew what Dumbledore had meant, and I would explain it to Draco later.

"As for his parents defying Grindelwald three times, I had an idea about what it could mean, but it seems so silly now."

Well, I knew what the idea was. First time, the first son, with Aberforth trying the Killing Curse on Gellert. Second time, the second son, with Dumbledore freeing himself from Gellert's ideals and fighting him, and third time, the third son, Aurelius, the one who would defeat Grindelwald if Dumbledore hadn't defeated him first.

But wait a minute...

I had a burning question, but could I ask it in the present situation? I looked at Draco, and thankfully, he seemed to connect the dots.

"The article mentions Gellert driving Dumbledore apart from his siblings, and now you're telling us of Aberforth's accusation... were Grindelwald and the headmaster of Hogwarts friends?"

"Oh very much so, in their adolescence," Muriel replied. "Yes, there were rumors... But rumors are just rumors..."

She had said that about Draco and I, but in Dumbledore's case I knew it to be true, and it was another thing I would tell Draco later -- the headmaster himself had confirmed to me that he'd never liked boys.

In that moment, we were rescued by a boy just an inch taller than me wearing a mask that made him look like some kind of dragon. He had curly light brown hair, that managed to be blond-ish and reddish in the light, as if it was gold or bronze.

When he tugged on Draco's sleeve, and said, "Come with me, now!" in the tone of one who wanted to be rescued more than do the rescuing, it wasn't hard to recognize who he was.

"What are you doing here, Kowalski?" Draco asked.

"Lots of people were invited, I was too, but don't say my name out loud like that," Martin pleaded. "Don't you see? Too many people have seen me with you, and I don't want to be recognized. Look! I'm wearing my snake mask!"

"Snake?" Draco asked displeased.

"For Slytherin. But snakes don't have faces, you know? Well, not exactly, so I had to settle for a dragon..."

"Who are we rescuing you from?" Draco wanted to know.

"A blonde who's taken a liking to me," Martin pointed in the direction of an ethereal looking blond girl, much taller than him and wearing a lion mask.

"That... makes sense," Draco said soberly. "We're rescuing you from a tall blonde girl who likes you too much. Well, I did know you were afraid of blondes."

"They're all crazy, and she won't be an exception," he whispered. "She's Luna Lovegood."

I knew. I could recognize my friends. Also, I've seen her dad. But I couldn't talk, so...

"Why is she wearing a lion mask? She's in Ravenclaw," Draco said. "She couldn't have had the same idea as you."

"Bill was a Gryffindor," Martin explained. "I asked. She's also got a badger one, because Tonks was in Hufflepuff."

He arched an eyebrow. "Luna and I danced for about an hour, but I left when I recognized her. She hasn't recognized me. Listen, Draco... who is your pretty lady friend?"

He winked at me.

"Listen, Kowalski, you know that I..." Draco started saying.

Martin was about to make some other compliment at me, but the sound died in his throat. "Is she... Potter?"

Draco nodded grimly.

"What the hell?" Martin asked.

"Everybody take cover," Tonks said, in that moment, running towards us. "Death Eaters have been spotted near the location!"

I tugged on Draco's sleeve, and Martin felt obliged to take Luna with him, and the four of us hid under a table while we waited for the danger to pass.

Or to arrive.

Chapter Text

"Hi Harry," Luna told me dreamily. "You're short for a boy, but not for a girl. You have beautiful legs. You should wear a dress more often."

"So should you," Martin replied, then made that face like 'what's gotten into me', and laughed in a weird high-pitched way.

Luna did not reply at first, and Martin bit his knuckles and flashed a desperate look at Draco.

"Thank you Martin," Luna finally said, fluttering her eyelashes. "I've watched you from afar, at school. I like your laugh."

"Thanks, I got it from my grandfather," Martin replied.

"Would you two give it a rest?" I hissed. "We're supposed to be hiding from Death Eaters."

"Yeah," Draco added glumly. "And the rest of the people have already left the place."

As much as I was reassured that my friends were all safe and sound somewhere else, when I noticed Draco was right, panic took possession of my body.

In that moment, the door was kicked down by a very tall man, and a Death Eater who wore the mask they always wore looked around, as if to make sure the place was really empty. We crouched under the table, but it was hard, since there were four of us.

Even though the Death Eaters wore masks, and not too different from Martin's dragon one, they took it off most of the time, not really concerned with being recognized. The man took it off, and we recognized Barty Crouch Jr.

In that moment, I gestured to Draco to give me the invisibility cloak -- I had asked him to keep it in a pocket of his jacket, in case it came in handy.

The four of us couldn't fit under it -- while battling Barty Crouch in drag was not the brightest idea I'd ever had, I gave the cloak to my three friends. Luna and Martin were clueless as to how battle a Death Eater, and I didn't want Draco to be hurt.

But Draco fit the cloak on Luna and Martin's shoulders and told them, 'go'. They took off, invisible, and left the place.

Before I could protest, Barty Crouch Jr threw the table upside down, finding Draco and I in each other's arms under it. I was about a hundred percent sure my wig had fallen out of place.

When Barty smiled crookedly, every little doubt dissipated.

"I didn't know you were into those things, Malfoy," he said, gripping me by the wig. "And for you, Potter, I've never thought I'd see you in a dress..."

"I hope you won't tell my father about this," Draco said, then blushed. For a moment, he had spoken as if his ties with his family hadn't been completely severed.

"Now that you mention this, I certainly will. Or I could mess with him, and tell him you have a Muggle girlfriend," Barty said, and was about to put his hand on my dress, when Draco pointed the wand at him.

"I will have no trouble using the Cruciatus curse against you," he said calmly. "If you so much lay a finger on Harry."

"Alright, alright," Barty said, and let go of me. "Do you know I could kidnap you, get the money, and bring you alive to the Dark Lord?"

"You can try," I said, while at the same time Draco said, "Imperius!"

He was forcing Barty to make his way for the door, and it was working, if it wasn't for the fact that the Death Eater forced himself to rest a minute. "You may have won this time," he said, fighting against the urge to leave. "But don't think you'll win all the rounds. You-Know-Who is still trying to use you, Draco! You've never been a quick study! If you don't close your mind, like Snape taught you, he'll reach you sooner or later!"

When Barty couldn't fight off the urge to leave anymore, we left the place and were rescued by Sirius and Remus.

We didn't talk to each other, on the way home. The weight of all I'd find out about Dumbledore was starting to catch up with me, along with the fact that I was wearing the stupid dress and wig, and everything that had happened with Barty Crouch Jr. And Voldemort was still trying to use Draco, whatever that meant.

I just couldn't take it anymore. It was not as if I was so disenchanted as to hope we'd have fun at the wedding, but I surely weren't expecting to be such a big fiasco.


The day after, we were at Sirius and Remus' house, because it was where Dumbledore had said we should move after our stay at the Weasleys'. Hermione and Ron were there with us, but it was Draco and I most of the time.

"I didn't think you looked bad, yesterday," Draco told me while we were going through old letters and photographs that belonged to Sirius and Remus. "I simply like you better as you usually are, that's all."

"And I'm glad," he added with a smirk. "That there's still something left of your eyebrows."

I resisted the urge to shove him. 

"Do you think we're doing the right thing?" I asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Taking it slow," I blushed. "Not with each other, but against Voldemort. We have no real plan, except to look for the Horcruxes, and we're not doing that."

"I though you were waiting for Dumbledore to tell you where to look first."

"I am, but then yesterday's wedding happened, and..." I couldn't help but feeling a bit embarrassed. "People are moving on, Draco. Some are getting married, others are taking over the world. What are we doing?"

"We could do both, if you'd like," Draco teased.

"This is... not what I was thinking about. Think of us now, we're sorting through old things. It's true, I like to read about my parents, and most letters are from them, or to them. But it doesn't help us in any way. We need a plan."

"That's okay, we'll come up with one," Draco said. "When the time comes. We can come up with something later, discuss it with your godfather and your friends. For now, let's focus on the letters. I didn't exactly bring you here to read about your parents. It was Remus who asked me to sort through his things. He wants to make photo albums of the past."

"Alright," I said, feeling a little grounded, because I needed a quest, even a small one, like creating a photo album. "So, we take the photos from these letters, and gather them together, sorting them through the years? And what are we going to do with the letters?"

"No idea," Draco replied. "I think they're here only because some of them contained pictures. You see? There's also Sirius' diary over there. It has pictures of him, Remus, James and Lily inside. We should save them."

"I didn't think they'd be okay with us reading it, though," I said, but I grabbed it as soon as Draco had mentioned it. If there was an object that could help me understand my parents better, it certainly was Sirius' secret diary.

"I don't think they'd really care, unless he's hiding something," Draco shrugged. "But it was written years ago, so I don't think anything there is secret anymore. Suit yourself, if you want to read it."

It was my turn to shrug, and I started reading pieces of it, the parts that were next to the photographs.

It had quite a lot of pictures of my father inside.

The first caption was written during his third year at Hogwarts,

'Lily is sad every time she has to go home for the summer, because her parents take Petunia's side, and turned her into a spoiled brat that Lily said she doesn't recognize anymore. So, every September, when she's back, it takes her a while to warm up. I know how she feels, and I wish I could say it to her, but I'm not sure she would believe me. Regulus, my brother, is a wizard, and he's younger than me. But he's everything my parents wanted in a son, and they have no regret whatsoever treating me like absolute garbage every time he's there to remind them what a wonderful heir they already have. They will try something funny, I know, to make sure their homosexual son does not get the inheritance, and that his little brother will.

To me, Lily is a sister, she's my real sister. But I think she has a different definition of family, and I can't force her. She thinks of Petunia too highly for what the brat deserves, and I know for a fact that even though she says I'm her brother, I'm not family like Petunia is, and I'll never be.

It's been a few days since I caught Lily checking out James Potter. He's not a Ravenclaw like us, he's a Gryffindor. He's friends with that stiff guy Remus Lupin who caught me slipping a love potion in the drink of a first-year to try out a prank, and gave me one month of detention in the library -- I mostly ended up studying with him, and getting all my grades higher.

This was last year. But Remus once you got to know him wasn't a total bore, and James looks pretty hot. I am kind of sad Lily noticed him first. He's got those brilliant ideas about honour and he's just like a Gryffindor should be...'

I adverted my eyes. It gave me a weird feeling, to think Sirius might have found my father hot. I mean, of course, it could have happened, but... the diary was becoming too intense.

I started taking out all the pictures. However, I couldn't help but notice the tones in which Sirius always wrote about my father -- it looked like he had had a crush on the man all right. Thankfully, he'd spent quite a lot of time with Remus as well, which confused me, because they seemed like they had potential even back then.

"I am not sure reading someone elses' thoughts is the best idea," I told Draco.

"You're blushing furiously, what have you read?" he asked. He was only joking, but I didn't feel like exposing Sirius.

"Nothing, it's just... reading about my parents when they were young gives me such a strange feeling," I replied.

"Remus, in his letters, seems like he's been in love with Sirius since they were young," Draco said, making me feel guilty about what I wasn't telling him. "I like the story of how they met --- when he gave him detention just to study with him. I think they were already off to a nice start."

I could only nod, hoping he didn't hear me swallow any remark that was about to leave my mouth.

Of course, Remus and Sirius were a married couple, and they loved each other a lot, what did it matter if Sirius had had the hots for my father??

I decided it was one of those things that were simply too embarrassing not to be said out loud, but that at the same time I didn't know how to break it to Draco. Thus, it was making me become crazy.

"I think," Draco said, putting two photographs in the first album. "That you really look like a mix of your parents. I wished I didn't look like my father so much."

That stopped whatever was going on in my mind. "Don't say that... you're very handsome. It's not your fault who you take after, it's not like I'm a fucking saint just because I have my mother's eyes, and she was good."

"People sure act like it," Draco said.

"I admit your looks can be... unsettling," I said, referring to his pale blond hair and icy grey eyes. "But you are very handsome, and... I can't flirt. I never know what to say. Let's put it this way -- I'm attracted to the way you look."

"Wow," he raised an eyebrow. "What a flirt."

"I told you I'm not good at those things," I protested. 

"I was afraid you'd find me... well, not ugly, but something like that," Draco admitted. "It's been stopping me to be naked in front of you. I look like a much sicker and shorter version of my father. I didn't think I had anything worth seeing."

I couldn't believe my ears. "What?" I asked. "You're much hotter than me. I have already taken off my shirt in front of you countless times, and I have all those horrible scars everywhere, even on my back... why it's not surprsing," I added sourly. "Since I have one on my face. It's not like I can hide them or anything."

"Don't you dare talk about yourself like that," Draco said. "It's not your fault, and every one of them represents something you've been through. I have a fucking Dark Mark on my arm!"

"How is that any different?" I wanted to know.

He sobered up. "It's not. I'm just saying, accept yourself the way you are, Potter, scars and all, because it's what you get for being who you are..."

"I've never asked to be the Chosen One," I said. "I don't want to be. And Vernon certainly didn't beat me because I was the Chosen One."

Draco didn't say anything, but I read it in his eyes. He did, in a way, because he could never stand that I was more famous and important and magical than Dudley.

"You're more than that," Draco only said. "And you're certainly a whole lot more than your scars. Besides, if it helps, when you took off your shirt in front of me, I've never thought of them. I never think of the one on your face either."

"Well, you're the only person on this Earth."

"Yes, maybe I am, but how can I make you see that... yes, alright, it's a part of you, Harry. Fine, I said it. It's quite a famous scar -- everyone in the whole bloody world knows about it. But I don't look at that when I'm talking to you. I'm looking at your face, like one would do with a person, like one would do with a person they like very much..."

I stopped Draco with a kiss, and after that others followed. We didn't look at the photographs again, after that.

 

When Draco and I had finished making out, we brought Sirius and Remus the photo albums we had already prepared.

"I've been meaning to ask," I said conversationally. "Do you remember the article you made me read about Dumbledore? Have you read it first?"

Sirius nodded, trying to squint at a class photograph taken of all the fifth-years Ravenclaws. "I had such horrible hair," he said. "People back then convinced you shaggy hair was the latest fashion..."

"You still have shaggy hair," Remus said.

"Well, it looks better now," Sirius replied. "At least now I know of the wonders of the comb..."

Draco coughed into his hand. "We were talking about Dumbledore."

In that moment, Hermione and Ron stopped doing whatever they were doing and joined us. I realized I didn't want to know if they'd been snogging. It was not that I did not support them as a couple, but I was feeling a certain second-hand embarrassment.

"What about it?" Hermione asked.

"It mentioned his siblings," I replied. "Two of them, I already knew. Ariana, died tragically when she was very young, and Aberforth, a rough man who'd never had a great impact on Dumbledore's life and decision, died of old age quite recently."

"And?" Ron asked. "That's what you get when your headmaster is over one hundred years old."

"That's not the point. The point is, the article mentioned another brother. Aurelius. They said he had sided with Grindelwald. Then, I heard your aunt Muriel talking to Elphias Dodge about this article, at the wedding. He gave us more information. He said Aurelius was adopted, and that he grew up with the name of Credence Barebone."

"Maybe he was making it up," Ron commented.

"The problem is, Dumbledore had mentioned a certain Credence Barebone. Said he was somebody that he once knew, whom he thought had the makings of defeating Grindelwald. He said he thought, at first, that the prophecy was between Credence and Grindelwald."

"You're thinking Aurelius is the person who took the Horcrux?" Hermione asked.

"Yes, but Dumbledore told me it was impossible."

"It is," Sirius joined the conversation, a dark look on his face.

"Well, who else could be A.D.? I don't think it was Aberforth before he died," Draco said. "It doesn't look like something he would do."

"Aurelius Dumbledore was an Auror," Remus thought out loud. "It would make sense for him to know about Horcruxes, and try to hunt down You-Know-Who the way, as a young boy, he must have tried to take down Grindelwald."

I nodded. "See, Sirius?"

"I told you that it's impossible," Sirius snarled. "Aurelius Dumbledore, Credence Barebone, the person you're talking about..."

He paused.

"What?" Hermione asked.

"He was in Azkaban," Sirius finally said. "Still is, I reckon. I should know -- I met him there."

We were all silent for a couple of minutes. 

Then I said, "He could have sent someone else to do his bidding."

"What?" Remus asked. "Please, don't jump to conclusions."

"You do have a fervid imagination, sometimes," Hermione agreed.

"I need to check for myself," I said. "I'll never forgive myself if I don't. No, don't look at me like that. You haven't drank the Emerald potion, you don't know what it's like. I hate to think I did all of that for nothing, I..."

"Hey, it's not your fault," Draco put a hand on my shoulder. "It was Dumbledore who brought you there, who told you you had to drink..."

"I didn't think Dumbledore could be wrong about something," Ron said worriedly.

"Well, he didn't know this Horcrux was fake, didn't even suspect it," I rushed in to defend him. "He'll be as devastated as I am, if not more, if we never discover who did it. Besides," I added. "This person must have the real Horcrux."

My friends looked at me, very pale.

"So, what are you going to do?" Ron asked.

"Easy," I replied. "Since Dumbledore isn't giving us a lead on the first Horcrux, we'll take it ourselves."

"You don't mean you want to visit Azkaban," Sirius laughed. "They don't accept any kind of visitors, and you're wanted by the authorities..."

"I'd never go as Harry Potter," I replied.

"Oh no," Ron grimaced. "He's taking the Barbara thing too far."

"That was not... what I was thinking about."

"Oh, too bad," he shrugged. "The dress might have convinced a few guards..."

"Ron!" Hermione elbowed him.

"So, who are you dressing up as?" Sirius asked. "Uncle Gary?"

"Who is uncle Gary?" Remus demanded. "I didn't think he had any uncle Gary on either side."

"No," I replied. "We're not doing it now. We need a bit of time, to find the ingredients, and let the moon become full. Polyjuice Potion."

"I was worried," Remus said. "There is another transformation for which you have to wait a full moon, and I didn't want to be the werewolf you'd take along to break down the prison bars."

"It's not funny, Moony," Sirius told him.

"Oh, now you know how it feels when I have to listen to your self-deprecating humour all the time, Padfoot."

They were looking at each other as if they wanted to strangle the other and then make out later. It was the worst thing of having a boyfriend -- I now recognized that look.

"So," Hermione's voice was shrill, on the edge of panic. "You want the four of us to drink Polyjuice Potion to pose as Azkaban guards, and get out Aurelius Dumbledore, who could be a killer or a Death Eater for all we know, and ask him if he can take us to the first Horcrux?"

"Precisely," I replied. "But we don't have to make him leave his cell -- we could perhaps only interrogate him. That depends on how much he's willing to say, and what information he'd trade for his freedom."

"That seems... quite cold and calculated, but I like it," Sirius said sheepishly.

"Sirius is right," Draco added, surprising me. "It is quite cold and calculated. It is also, at the same time, reckless and stupid. But it's the only idea we have for now. And you couldn't think looking for Horcruxes could be more fun than this, or easier than this, right? Breaking into Azkaban posing as guards..."

"Is something that would give you the Dementor's kiss, if they ever find you out," Ron finished the sentence.

"Is our best bet for now," Draco said. "And, it might be just me, but I thought we'd be doing more dangerous things. Finding Voldemort's lair, defeating Death Eaters... This is something we need to be able to pull off, but if we do pull it off, there will be no immediate consequences."

"Unless Aurelius is a killer who'd murder us," Hermione said. "Does anyone know what he's in Azkaban for?"

"His old crimes," Sirius explained. "Such a weird condemnation, as if whomever put him there wanted to be rid of him once and for all, without being able to give receipt on his new life as an Auror, where he'd never done anything wrong. But that person dug up his past, when he aided Grindelwald and used his powers, as a misguided orphan child, to try to destroy the city of New York and kill people. He did kill someone once, the son of a politician."

"He doesn't sound like someone I'd visit, and interrogate," Hermione gulped.

"But Sirius said his life as an Auror was righteous," I insisted. "And Dumbledore himself kept Snape at school to give him a second chance."

"We've all seen how that second chance turned out," Ron said darkly.

"Yes, but I can't ignore what Dumbledore told me. He said he'd given Snape a second chance, because many people have given him a second chance, and those people are the only reason he's the man he is now."

"Speaking of Dumbledore," Hermione reasoned. "Maybe he felt safer with his little brother in Azkaban. His family life must have been more difficult than you give him credit for -- even his father went to Azkaban. He can't be happy about it, if Aurelius was innocent, Dumbledore would have broken him free before. You know he's always known how to pull a few strings."

I knew Hermione was right, but I also knew Aurelius was A.D. He had to be.

"Alright, we'll just ask him," I conceded. "We will not break him free, not in exchange of information, not for any reason at all. Are you happy now?"

"A bit," Ron replied, still thinking about Dementors.

"So," I said. "Are you in? I recognize this might seem like a suicidal mission, but it's also our only option."

Ron sighed. "I don't think we have another choice."

"Come on, it might be fun," Hermione said, surprising everyone. When we took a look at her, she blushed. "I mean, it's a terrible idea and I would have never said it was okay, in the past, but people change and I..."

"I love you," Ron said, amazed.

"Nice timing, Ronald," Draco muttered, savouring Hermione's mortified expression. "Either way, yes, I'm in. Whatever you come up with, Potter, I'm along for the ride."

I looked at Remus and Sirius. Sirius stroked his chin. "It is risky..." he said softly. "I can't imagine someone wanting to go to Azkaban for any reason, I'm sorry."

Remus put a hand on his shoulder. They reminded me of Draco and I.

"I agree with Sirius," he said. "It is too dangerous and I don't support your decision. But I see where you're coming from -- I want to help you find the Horcruxes."

I looked at him, hesitantly.

He looked back at me, a commanding look in his eyes. "I'll help you prepare the potion."

Chapter Text

In the end, there was nothing else we could do, so, when the day arrived, we drank the Polyjuice Potion. It wasn't easy to have something that belonged to the Azkban guards without breaking into the prison, so Sirius decided to help us. He posed as the big black dog he could turn into -- after all, the guards had never seen him in that disguise. It was the disguise he'd used the last time, when he broke free of his cell.

When he was back, he had a few human hairs in his fur.

"How did you?" Ron asked. "Wait, I don't know if I want to know."

Sirius waited for Hermione to grab the hair, and shifted into his normal self. "They belonged to the four guards that were guarding Azkaban. There wasn't personel back in the day, because the Minister thought Dementors were more than enough. But, since more and more people have escaped, Scrimgeour appointed these four wizards to guard the entrance. I fought with them and... well, humans lose hair more quickly that you imagine, it's not like I had to pluck it from their heads on anything. Think of the hair you leave on your sweater, for example."

"I don't," Ron said.

"Well, you have short hair, but the rest of us do," Sirius looked very calm. "I knocked them out only for a while. But Remus gave me this other potion, that makes people fall asleep. While you get changed, I'll put them to sleep, and you can wear their clothes."

"Do you have to strip them to their underwear?" Hermione shrieked.

"Bah, I'm a married man, there's not much I haven't seen anyway," Sirius shrugged. "You just wait here."

After a while, he was back with the clothes. Hermione, Ron, Draco and I had divided the hair in which we thought was the best manner -- she had the longest one, and we had the shortest. 

"Of course, it doesn't mean anything," Hermione said. "Ginny's hair is shorter than Sirius."

In fact, ever since the start of the summer, Ginny had started sporting a fire-red pixie cut.

We drank and, thankfully, we had had the right idea. Hermione turned into a Eastern European looking woman in her mid-fifties with long, curly, strawberry blonde hair. Ron turned into a man that looked so much like Karkaroff, I took a step back. But probably it was the angular face and the black hair and black eyes.

"You and Hermione look about the same age, and similar ethnic background," I teased them. "Perhaps your guards were a married couple."

Ron's ears became red, and it was something that was so Ron-like that I could almost see through the disguise.

When I drank mine, I became an athletic man with short blond hair and a dazzling smile. "I wished I looked like that all the time," I said.

"You look so much better, Potter," Draco said, which was a lie, but I loved him for saying it.

I looked like the Quidditch player I thought so cute, the one from the Irish team, what was his name? Aidan Lynch.

Draco, instead, had a vampire-ish appearance, with long-ish, sleek black hair.

I feigned like I was about to faint. "Sanguini!" I said.

"Shut up, I'm not a vampire," he grumbled. "At least, I'd know if I was, I think. Your disguise just looks more... glowing."

"Don't bite me," I replied.

"Don't talk dirty, or people will notice there's something wrong in a minute," Hermione hissed.

"The people?" Ron asked. "You mean the criminals? I bet nobody is even guarding a security camera, or something like that. Dad loves them, from the Muggle world. Here, we could use a spell, or a painting... but does it look to you like someone is watching us?"

Hermione pursed her lips. "No. Then why are we dressed as guards?"

"In case a criminal doesn't report us to the authorities, hoping they get out of here sooner if they rat us out," Draco said. "So, golden-haired-boy, stop your flirting."

"Look, we have name tags," Ron beamed. "Mine says..." he frowned. "Ivan Pavlovich."

"My disguise is English, instead," Hermione said. "Not Eastern like we thought. Her name is..." she gasped.

"Come on, why do the names have to be so bad?" I asked. "Mine is Stefan Lynch."

"Talk for yourself, Lynch," Draco hissed. "My name, apparently, is Paolo Mezzanotte."

"You could be Sanguini's descendant, or vampire lover," I said. "He's Italian too."

Draco resisted the urge to hit me.

"What's so bad about your name?" Ron asked Hermione.

She took a breath. "Disgrace Dewdney."

"That's a mouthful," Ron/Ivan agreed.

"Disgrace...?" Hermione/Disgrace asked.

"It's an old, traditional wizarding name," Ron said.

"Stefan Lynch..." Draco/Paolo told me. "You're the middle brother in the Lynch family. I knew he worked for the Ministry. His younger brother is Aidan Lynch, the Quidditch player..."

"Oh," I said, and noticed I had an Irish accent for peraphs for the first time. "I thought Aidan was hot."

"I liked the older brother, when I was younger," Draco blushed.

"It didn't take a lot to figure out you both had a thing for Quidditch players," Hermione rolled her eyes.

"You really shouldn't say things like that here," Ron said. "All of you. Especially you, Stefan. No more saying Aidan is hot, okay?"

I nodded. It wouldn't take too much work -- I still thought Draco was hotter. Even in the disguise of Paolo Mezzanotte, he had something going on. Maybe it was his expressions, the way he moved. Insufferable, but hot.

"So," Hermione put on a bossy voice. "Now we look for Aurelius."

Azkaban was an island in the middle of nowhere, and there were so many Dementors around that just being there gave us the chills. I didn't know how the guards could hope to survive. Perhaps Scrimgeour didn't care if they did.

The only way we had been able to Apparate there was because Sirius had already been there, and it's the better and only safe way to Apparate, to go where you've already been.

We found him quickly, because, even though it had other issues, navigating Azkaban was not complicated.

Even though he'd been in a cell for years, he was a good-looking man in his eighties or nineties. He didn't look a day younger, perhaps you could even say he looked older, but in that ethereal and not-so-frail way Dumbledore looked old.

The similiarities ended there. Aurelius had black hair streaked with gray, and half-lidded black eyes. His facial features were different from our headmaster's, more pronounced, and Southern or Eastern looking.

"Why are you here?" he asked, and though he had asked in a grunt, I was surprised to hear his voice sounded frail and soft. If you could judge a man's innocent from his voice, then Aurelius' voice had nothing apparently bad or mean in it.

"To ask you a few questions," Draco said. "We know you're in Azkaban. We don't know what for."

Aurelius smiled bitterly, and his smile was a little creepy. It was the expression of someone who wasn't used to smiling, but was trying it out for our sake.

"I already told everything they need to know to the Ministry sixteen years ago," Aurelius said.

And it struck me.

First, he had an American accent. And second, he had been arrested the year Voldemort vanished. The year my parents died.

"We found your Horcrux," I said, instead, crossing my arms.

Aurelius stood up. He was sitting, before. "My Horcrux?" he looked like he knew exactly what I was talking about.

"So it was yours," Hermione said. "But how...?"

"I have people on the outside," Aurelius replied, and I understood we would never get a full sentence from him. He looked incredibly shy.

"Did this person bring you the real Horcrux?" I asked.

Aurelius nodded, and took an object from his robe that looked very much like the fake Horcrux. "It didn't work," he said softly. "That's when I realized I'd been right. He has only two Horcruxes, and I knew about them already."

"Only two? Why, when you can have 'til seven?" Draco asked.

"Very powerful," Aurelius said.

"And you expect us to believe you know what they are?" Hermione interjected. "Also, why are you telling us all of those incriminating things?"

"I know you're not who you say you are," the man said calmly. "I was an Auror."

We looked at each other uncomfortably.

"You seem like such a good man, why..." Hermione cried out. "Why have you killed those people?"

Aurelius flinched. "I was... young. My adoptive mother... she hated wizards. She beat me. I didn't know I was a wizard. She tried to beat the magic out of me. It grew stronger, inside of me. I couldn't control it anymore. It... it became much stronger than me."

He looked at me, not pathetically like Peter Pettigrew did when he was looking for help, but with a steady expression in his eyes. "You understand. A bit."

I nodded. "It's not like it has happened to me, but it could have," I said. "Wait. How do you know who I am?"

"You went looking for Horcruxes. Besides, I've seen you as a little boy, Harry."

Ron pointed his wand. "Let's get out of here," he said. "He's crazy."

"I'd like to believe what you say," Hermione said. "But he's not. He seems good, and he makes a lot of sense. He doesn't want to escape from here, or he would have told his people on the outside to let him out. I believe he'd be better out of here, helping us."

"Have you gone mad?" Ron was bewildered.

"I'm not the person I was anymore," Hermione replied. "Like I said before -- I might not take risks all the time, but one thing I know. I understand when a risk is worth taking."

"I agree," I said.

"You've all gone mad," Ron protested.

"They're right," Draco stopped him. "Aurelius knows about the Horcrux. We need him."

Aurelius was looking at us like a lost puppy would. He didn't look more dangerous than Sirius had looked when we had first met him -- perhaps less, since he was a lot less reckless as a person.

"Alright," Ron said, opening the cell. "But swear you'll stay with us, or at Sirius and Remus' house. We can't really lose you."

"I'm not an idiot," Aurelius complained very weakly. "I didn't want to leave here. I deserve the punishment for my crimes," he lowered his head.

I remembered -- he was not only the scared boy who killed the politician's son. He was also a former ally of Grindelwald. He was the younger brother of Dumbledore, who'd never have to know we got Aurelius out of Azkaban.

I bit my lips until they bled. But it was done. Aurelius was out, and he didn't look menacing. Draco was tugging on his sleeve, and he was following blindly, though he was taller than all of us except Ron.

Because the effect of the Polyjuice Potion was starting to wear out.

"Shit," I said. "Let's go, quickly."

When we got to Sirius, he looked quizzically at Aurelius. "The promise was you wouldn't get him out."

"He knows about the Horcruxes, both of them," I said. "And he was an Auror."

"Both, as in, two Horcruxes only?" Sirius asked.

Aurelius explained quite a few things to him in his whiny, soft voice, while something that resembled a radio but was probably more magical started broadcasting an announcement.

"Bloody hell, it's probably about us," Ron said.

But it wasn't. It was about Hogwarts.

They said it had been attacked by Death Eaters.

"Ginny!" Ron gasped. He looked at the Deluminator in his pocket.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I promised I wouldn't use it, but it's Ginny..."

"Go!" Hermione protested. "She's your little sister. We would never make you choose."

Then, she kissed Ron on the lips.

"I needed to do this," she gasped. "This is in case you don't find your way back."

"What if I do?" Ron blushed.

"In that case, we'll see. After all, we will crash at Sirius and Remus' every once in a while," Hermione blushed as well. "Now, go!"

 

Remus took the news that they had to hide Aurelius in their house much worse than Sirius had, but he was a lawyer, and his husband used to be in Azkaban too, so he didn't say anything especially crude about it.

A few days after, Ron wasn't back yet.

"We need to go to Godric's Hollow," Aurelius said. "The second Horcrux is there."

"Godric's Hollow?" my heart skipped a beat. "It was where my parents lived."

"I know," Aurelius replied mysteriously, and I was reminded of the fact that he'd told me he knew me as a child.

"Why don't we start off with the first?" Hermione asked.

Aurelius winced visibly. "It's the most difficult."

So, we took his word for it, and we went to Godric's Hollow.

"I don't like the idea that Ron won't know where to find us," Hermione said. "But our search needs to continue."

In front of my parents' house, in Godric's Hollow, there were a lot of messages people had left there -- on the signpost, on the walls. It was people of every age who knew my father and mother, or people who believed in me. There were a lot of corny messages about what it meant to them that I was the Chosen One, and it was corny, but it was beautiful as well. I knew having 'fans' was exhausting, but they were people, at the end of the day, and people are allowed to believe what they want to, if it gets them through hard times.

Draco pointed at something that was written on the door.

"That message," he blushed. "I knew who wrote it. Kid was the son of a couple of Death Eaters."

I was surprised. "It must have taken a lot of guts, considering who their parents were," I said.

It was the wrong thing to say -- almost as if I was comparing my beloved, heroic parents to his. His childhood must have been very bleak and cold, but it was nobody's fault if my parents were better people than his.

"I mean, that's not what I meant," I stammered. "I just meant, what if their parents caught them... I can only imagine your father in that situation..."

"I always know what you mean, Harry," he smirked. "And a good thing too, considering you never make a lot of sense."

"Where are the others?" I asked.

"They went into the house," he said, frowning.

It was the truth -- Hermione had followed Aurelius inside the house.

"But that is the house of my parents," I protested, and stormed inside. Draco followed me loyally.

"Won't someone tell me why we're searching here?" I pleaded, and shot Aurelius a dirty look.

He didn't look fazed. He touched my forehead very lightly, with one of his fingers. "This," he said. "You know what this is."

I did not reply -- I'd never told Hermione about my suspicions, only Draco.

"You think you're a Horcrux," Aurelius said. "You're not. But he was trying to create his second Horcrux on the night your parents were killed. That, is the sign that he tried to use you as a Horcrux. He tried to get inside of you, and your mother's blessing protected you, leaving you this sign."

"It's a scar," I replied. "And how do you know so much, either way?"

Aurelius did not answer. "When he found out he couldn't use you as a Horcrux, his spell..."

"Backfired and killed him," Hermione said. "For a while."

"No," Aurelius replied sharply. "That's not how it went."

He spoke as if he'd been there.

I knew he hadn't.

"Since his spell did not backfire, he might have created another Horcrux," he gave me the sword of Gryffindor. "Brought this along. See something of value, and destroy it."

I couldn't believe my ears. "See something of value and destroy it?" I demanded. "Are you mad? In my parents' house? Never will I ever destroy their belongings."

"Why?" Aurelius asked. "Does it matter, to them?"

I was about to go through him with the sword. I knew he'd had a terrible life, and he'd spent time in Azkaban, but he didn't have to be an asshole about it.

"When you see a Horcrux," he added then, more softly. "You know. Especially if you've studied this field for years, like I have. You didn't look like a Horcrux, Harry. If you show me some objects, I can tell you if they are Horcruxes."

It was the longest sentence Aurelius had ever spoken, to us, at the very least, and he had a haunted look in his eyes by the time he was finished. I had no doubt his adoptive mother probably hit him every time he spoke out of turn. I tried not to relate to him. The last orphan I'd related to had turned out to be Voldemort.

Hermione went in one direction, and Draco and I went in another.

"I know you did not like the idea of disposing of the things that belonged to your parents," Draco told me. "But, if you ask me, I find it very creepy how wizards let everything the way it was. Almost like it's a museum."

"What do you think of me?" I chuckled sourly. "I do not like it either. I don't want my family to be this... larger-than-life thing. I am quite content with being able to look at my parents' house the way it was, but I wish I was someone else, someone usual. And that my parents were usual people too. Why, they'd probably be still alive..."

"And Voldemort," I touched my scar awkwardly. "Would have never tried to use me as a Horcrux."

"Are you sad? Now that you know?" Draco asked.

"Yes, I mean, it doesn't feel good. Before, it was only a suspicion, but now I'm sure of it. And, while I'm happy I'm not a Horcrux, it sucks that I could have been. It's horrible that he even tried..."

"I know," Draco said, and shut me up with a kiss.

"Don't make me wish to take things further," I pleaded. "Not in my parents' house."

Draco rolled his eyes. "One day we're in Azkaban, the other day in your parent's house... why, your parents probably made you here, Potter."

"Don't say things like that," I was feeling a bit enraged.

"What? It's the truth," Draco said, which, in a way, was worse.

But I'd never fooled myself that my parents were different than I was when they were about my age. It just felt awkward to think of your parents like that, like how it was awkward to find out Sirius had the hots for my father.

You just never thought of your parents like that, as a general rule.

"You wouldn't like if I commented things like that about your parents," I said.

"But yours were nice, at the very least," Draco replied. "You said as much before."

Wait... was Draco the kid?

He stood up, interrupting the make-out session. "Forget it," he said.

"I want to know, first. Are you the kid...?"

"I said forget it," Draco repeated. "Let's look for the Horcrux. There will be a lot of making out after that, for sure. Besides, Potter, that can't be the only thing that's on your mind."

He was smiling, though I felt a bit outraged. Was it the only thing on my mind? Just like I liked to fight only to make up later? In that moment, I was wishing very much that we would make up later.

Both Hermione and us returned to Aurelius with our arms full of objects. While my parents were not rich, they had a lot of valuable things. I think most of them came in their possession the way the sword of Gryffindor and the invisibility cloak had come into mine -- winning them.

Unless Dumbledore had given me both only because I was the Chosen One. I tried my best to get this idea out of my head.

Aurelius was looking at the Horcruxes the way a vet looks at a horse. I wouldn't be surprised if he started sniffing them.

Aurelius was taking his sweet time, but, so far, nothing proved to be a Horcrux.

"I'll search the whole house if I have to," he said.

I looked at Draco pleadingly. He took the hint.

"Are you sure the story went the way you told it? Perhaps the spell simply backfired. You weren't there. You can't know..."

"Trust me, I do not know about creating another Horcrux," Aurelius commented. "That was only a guess. But the spell did not backfire. That is very much not what slowed him down."

"Why don't you tell us everything?" Hermione pleaded. "Like what is the first Horcrux, for example. The one you're sure about. We could start with that."

"I will tell you everything in due time," Aurelius replied bitterly.

And in that moment he reminded me of someone, someone I used to look up to and adore, but that lately I didn't feel I really understood.

"You're just like your brother," I spat at him. "Albus."

I had understood that there was bad blood between them, but I was not prepared at all for the look in Aurelius' eyes. It was murderous, and for the first time, it wasn't hard to imagine him as the little boy who had killed people. As the person who had helped Grindelwald gain power.

"I don't know how much you know of my brother," Aurelius said calmly. "You must not know a lot -- I am nothing like him."

"Just like him, you're always keeping us on our toes," Hermione replied. "And then, it's not like there's nothing wrong in being like Albus."

I felt the strain in her voice. We had to make an effort not to call the headmaster 'Dumbledore' like we'd always done, for now there was another Dumbledore, illegally out of Azkaban, who was guiding us through the Horcruxes.

The thought made me so dizzy I got a bad headache. I didn't want to know what the headmaster would say about all of this. He was forgiving, and good, but one thing he was not was dumb.

"I will tell you all you need to know in a short time notice," Aurelius said then. "If Albus is the same I remember, he's been witholding things from you for a longer time."

We all exchanged surprised looks.

"I just wanted to make sure we could destroy the second Horcrux before we moved to the first," Aurelius was more chatty now than he'd been when we got him out of prison, but his voice felt forced every time the sentence was longer than a few words. "It would have made him weaker. I don't know what chances we have against the first Horcrux."

"Aren't you getting the news, from that radio thingy you have in Azkaban?" Draco asked insufferably. "Harry is the Chosen One. He's meant to defeat You-Know-Who."

"Is that so?" Aurelius' voice was emotionless. "Have you ever wondered whether prophecies were fool-proof? Because I have."

I remembered the headmaster's words. When he'd thought the prophecy was between Aurelius and Grindelwald, his younger brother might have felt the same way.

He might have even moved on from the idea, and decided it was about him and Voldemort. That might have been the reason he was tracking down the Horcruxes.

"Do you really believe Potter or I," Aurelius added then. "Have more chances than you or Granger to defeat him just because we were born at the end of July?"

Draco was silent. None of his beliefs about the wizarding world had ever been questioned. But then, Aurelius had been raised by Muggles, just like Hermione and I. What right did he have to explain to Draco how the magic worked?

"Prophecies exist for a reason," I said. "They must contain some truth. If they were a fable, nobody would believe in them anymore. The Ministry wouldn't have kept mine in a locked up room."

"Yours? Is it yours now?" Aurelius looked at me funnily. "I suppose it is. You've done what one should do with a prophecy -- you claimed it."

"Did I have another chance?" I exploded. "You were in Azkaban until a week ago!"

Aurelius looked around the house for the final time.

"What I feared was right," he added finally. "He only has one Horcrux. Let's get out of here, in a safe place, and I'll tell you everything I know."

 

Chapter Text

As soon as we got out of the house, ready for Aurelius to tell us what it is he needed to tell us, I stopped abruptly and looked at the walls of the house.

Draco stood beside me, and took one long look at the corny message from the kid of the Death Eaters. "Yes," he said, "that was me."

He looked embarrassed, with his head lowered. I read the message once again,

I have always supported you
And I always will
Not as the Chosen One
But as the bravest boy I've ever known
Promise me you'll kick some asses, Potter
I hope I'll be there to see it


I blushed, because, given my history with Draco, the words had a different meaning. He must have written it after we met.

"You know," Draco winced. "I wanted to write 'the bravest, dumbest boy I've ever known,' but it didn't feel quite right."

"Aw shut up," I protested.

"It's okay if you don't like it... I was young, and Kowalski was the real poet between us, anyway."

I thought of Martin's Valentine.

"I like your style better," I decided.

In the meantime, I heard Hermione talking to Aurelius. "You promised us you would tell us when we got to a safe place. Well, let's go to a safe place. Harry, Draco, follow me!"

"Isn't Godric's Hollow safe?" I asked, running behind them.

"Not really," Aurelius said. "There aren't a lot of places safe enough."

In that moment, something caught my eye.

Of course, how dumb I'd been. There was a cemetery.

My parents had to be buried there.

"My parents!" I yelled. "Stop, Aurelius! I want to see their graves!"

"So do I, if Potter needs a chaperone," Draco said roughly.

Aurelius gave us an appraising look. "I'm not sure this is the right time..."

Sadly, he was right. In that moment, we heard voices yelling. Wizards from the Ministry, perhaps Death Eaters, that wanted to find the man who escaped from Azkaban.

"I should really go," Aurelius said. He threw the Invisibility Cloak on Draco and I. "It fits two people at most, and no one is looking for you, Granger. Not yet."

"You promised us you would tell us!"

"And I will, when we meet each other again," Aurelius' voice was not commanding, if anything, a bit strained. "But I can't, if I'm in Azkaban."

He disapparated.

I pointed my wand at the wizards, who were looking at Hermione as if torturing her to get information was not below them.

"Crucio..." I started whispering.

Draco lowered my arm before I was done. "They don't have to know we're there. Hermione can defend herself."

He was right. I had to give him that.

We walked soundlessly into the cemetery, and used the time to look at the grave of my parents. There was one, for both of them.

There weren't flowers. I supposed my suspicions was right, and that I had no grandparents on my father's side as well.

But would have it took too much for Petunia to bring me here? Not even once a year? I wouldn't have asked for the world, just to give my parents flowers.

I felt like I wanted to destroy everything and everyone around me, but I couldn't. I couldn't give away where Draco was. 

So, I did what I'd never done before but have always wanted to, every time something was wrong. I simply held my head in my hands, and sobbed.

Draco looked at me, startled.

"What's the matter?" he whispered. "Is it because there are no flowers?"

"It's not only that," I sobbed. "My aunt... she could have taken me there. Even once a year. It would have been allright. I would have given them flowers."

"Harry, they know that," Draco said matter-of-factly.

It had never crossed my mind what were Draco's beliefs on afterlife, but if you lived in a world where things like the Veil existed, and where there were ghosts, why not? Of course, my parents were not ghosts, but maybe Luna's complicated explanation of afterlife was right...

I would have loved to believe her. Him. Both of them.

I nodded.

"Do you want to give them flowers now?" Draco asked. "Besides, we could consider this as... me meeting your parents, in a way. We're honouring them together. Come on, Potter," he used a commanding tone. "Do you really believe they don't know?"

I smiled, because it was easy to believe in Draco when he was like that. I supposed he was doing it on purpose.

Draco moved his wand, and made flowers appear on the grave. There were many of them, and very colourful. I had studied the meaning of flowers for Divination, and so I knew a few of them had a special meaning. Crysanthemums for loss, Hydrangeas for family, Heather for a kind of love that was longing, admiration...

I realized that one was probably meant for Draco and I, and I couldn't help but blush.

Draco added Lilies for my mother, the final touch, and lowered his wand.

"Wow," I said. But I couldn't help but steal a glance at the men who'd been talking to Hermione before.

"They haven't noticed I put flowers on a grave," Draco said sharply. "Give me a break, you wanted to Cruciate them."

I wasn't so sure -- I once heard it said that a butterfly can flap its wings in Peking, and in Central Park, you get rain instead of sunshine. But the flowers probably did more good than bad.

In that moment, though, I noticed one of the men pointing his wand at Hermione, and I decided we couldn't sit that one out. I got free from the Invisibility Cloak, and put myself in front of her.

I had to get out of the cemetery to do so, but I was fast enough. Thankfully my reflexes never fail me when it comes to protecting my friends.

"Harry Potter?" a Minister asked. "Why are you handing yourself over to us?"

"I'm not," I said. "Imperio!"

I wanted to use the same trick Draco used before. I knew the Curses were bad, but it didn't look especially cruel when he had used it to force Barty Crouch Jr out the door. However, I soon found I had a better use for the Minister under my spell, and I made him point his wand at his colleague.

"You wouldn't..." the other said. "It's a classic Death Eater move, you'd never, Potter!"

"Why," I said, "If you believe that I'm so good, are you trying to capture me?"

In that moment, Draco had joined us. The men were still, they did not know what to say, or what to do.

"I'll tell you one thing," I said. I could only hope my friends would follow through with my plan. "I am good, you'll see. There's no need to capture me, with or without Imperius Curse."

I lifted the Imperius Curse.

They looked at each other. "There must be a catch," one of them said, and pointed his wand at me. "Potter, lower your wand, or I'll break it."

I kept the wand in its rightful place -- in my right hand, looking at the face of a Minister who wanted me dead.

"Lower it, it's your last chance," he said. And, before I could even think about it, he shouted, "Expelliarmus!" 

My wand went flying, and the Minister caught it. In a terrible second, one of the worst of my entire life, he twisted it, until he broke it.

Hermione and Draco gasped. I, sadly, had seen something like this coming. After all, I knew wandless magic for a few reasons, now.

"Hold on to me," I told my friends. They did, and I thought of a spell that is usually used non-verbally. I apparated somewhere else.


Unluckily, though I had passed my Hogwarts exams, it was the first time I had to do it during a quest, and I thought of the first place that came to mind.

"Your uncle and aunt's house?" Draco asked, when he found himself in the wet cement near Private Drive, Surrey.

"He must have thought of a safe place," Hermione said, then bit her lip when she noticed how it sounded.

"This would have been the last place to come to mind, trust me," I said. "Though it's a very Muggl-y neighbourhood, so I suppose we're safe from the likes of the Ministry."

"They know where you used to live," Hermione protested.

"Yes, but do they expect me to come back?"

"It's Winter's Break at Hogwarts," Draco said. "This means that we will have to meet your cousin."

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that," I said, through gritted teeth.

In that moment, we saw a woman walking down the road. I looked around, to see if there were bushes where I could hide -- it was aunt Petunia.

She looked older, and sadder.

"Harry," she said. "What are you doing here?"

"What a welcome home," Draco drawled.

"This was never home," I replied.

"Well, I suppose it wasn't, no..." Petunia said sheepishly. "I'm sorry, if it means anything. I... I thought about it, and I started to notice I didn't have to be around someone like Vernon when he was so mean, and so drunk. I left him."

I should have been happy for her, but I wasn't. Of course, Dudley was having everything I'd always wished for, his last year at Hogwarts and a home-life without that drunken asshole around.

Everyone else seemed to read it in my eyes. Petunia looked like she was walking on eggshells.

"I married him because I thought we were of the same stock," Petunia said, talking about them as if they were a couple of purebreed horses, and, really, what did I have to do with people like that? "And we were, I guess. We both don't like... what's outside of the norm. But I realized... I wasn't always like that. And he only got worse. I thought he could give me a life that meant I wasn't only the unlucky sister, the dirty one, the one without magic in her veins because she was flawed..."

I was about to point my wand at her, but then I realized I didn't have it anymore. I tried to reach for Draco's, or Hermione's.

"Harry, I think she really means it," Hermione said.

"You made me think I was flawed," I told Petunia. "You talked crap about my parents every day. Is that how you honour my mother? All because you were jealous? And you... you married that beast. All those years, and you haven't done anything. Do you want to see what he's done to me? Do you want to see?!"

Petunia winced, undoubtedly asking herself why she didn't have a husband to beat good manners into me anymore. Why, she'd been the one who suggested it many times.

And I did believe that she was sorry -- people were complicated, and one thing didn't cancel the other.

In that moment, Dudley arrived.

"I heard you," he said quietly. "Dad scared me too."

For a moment, I felt a weight being lifted off my chest. And then, the world was crashing down again.

"You?" I asked. "You, who saw me many times being beaten up bloody...?"

"I have," Dudley interrupted. "And I hated it. Do you seriously think I could have liked it? One moment we were talking about stupid school stuff, you were telling me things about magic, and the minute later he'd made a bloody mess of your nose in MY room, with blood all over MY parquet..."

Draco snarled. 

I asked Dudley, "Oh, so is that the biggest problem?"

"Yes," he seemed sincere. "But there are others. And you can't see your father being like that without becoming scared of him..."

Dudley looked at me sadly. "You've lost your wand, haven't you?"

"What's it to you?" Draco hissed.

"Nothing," Dudley walked up to me, and gave me his wand. "You can have mine. I had it done the same as yours."

I remembered that -- it was from the time where Dudley liked everything he had to be a matching set.

"Thanks," I had to say. "But won't you need it at Hogwarts?"

"I'm not coming back," Dudley said simply. "It was your dream, not mine."

I looked at the wand, dumbfounded.

"Dudley!" Petunia cried. "You can't do that! You've never been a loser -- you've always been the winner!"

"But I won't lose, Mom," Dudley replied. "I'll win. Harry will defeat You-Know-Who with my wand."

I stopped Draco from punching him.

"Thank you, Dudley," Hermione said. "There's one thing we can do for you, before you give up on magic forever. There is a spell that changes memories..." I noticed her eyes looked teary. "I'll use it on a headmaster, the teachers and the students from a Muggle school. They will think you've been there all along."

"Thank you," Dudley said, uncertain.

"But remember, you have to study!" she replied.

Then Dudley looked at me, and he whispered, "They forced me to go to Hogwarts, you think I don't resent them?"

"What do you want to do? Come in?" Petunia asked. She didn't look at ease.

I thought about my parents' grave. "No thanks," I replied.

Petunia and Dudley said goodbye to us, and there were more tears than I expected. But they had been part of the living hell I called a childhood so I couldn't give them more than that.

"Do you blame me?" I asked Draco later.

"No, they might be sorry, but they are terrible people," he replied. "And I hope you don't mean to spend every Chr